Faerie lights had been draped between the street-lamps, creating a fallen star’s effect that was eerily beautiful against the darkness of the sky. The red carpet was a darker red than she anticipated, the fine fabric a flutter of activity from the flashes of the photographers.
Gently escaping from Dread’s grasp she made her way towards the entrance of the hotel, not wanting to take attention away from anyone else. The interior was just as beautifully decorated as the outside, a selection of large round tables having been placed around the edges of the grand room, all draped in white linen with silver candelabras. Located at the centre was a large wooden floor placed in front of a pop-up stage. A podium was set up between two display stands, displaying the Children of The Moon’s logo as well as a selection of photographs. Accepting a glass of champagne from a member of the wait staff
Alice placed herself with her back against the wall, able to see the entrance as well as all the guests already walking around. People chatted amongst themselves, ball gowns and tuxedos mingling as each person tried to compare their wealth of diamonds and expensive watches. Alice recognised a few familiar faces from television, a well-known architect as well as a famous movie actress. The Mayor of London was chatting happily to someone beside the stage, his big gut bursting at the seams of his tuxedo.
“You must be the infamous Alice Skye.”
Alice spun towards the woman who spoke, her dark hair blending into the black ball gown she wore on her tiny frame. Standing at barely five feet, Valentina looked nothing like Alice thought she would, her black boatneck dress emphasising her flawless pale skin with a fitted bodice flowing into a floor-length silk skirt. She looked almost like a child playing dress up.
“Councilman,” Alice greeted, nodding her head gently.
“Dread has told me so much about you.” Valentina smiled, her ruby red lips tipped at the corner. Alice fought her instincts not to step back from the predator’s smile. This woman is powerful.
“All good things I hope.” Alice met her eyes, her own smile wavering as she saw the sombre depths. She thought Dread was old, but this was…
“Alice, it is time to take a seat,” Dread interrupted, grasping her arm and pulling her toward a table. “Mistress Valentina, I hope you make time for me later, we have much to discuss about your trip to London.”
“Bonsoir Commissioner Grayson, I was just speaking to your Alice.” Her smile was full this time, fangs peaking as white tips against her lips. “It is rude to interrupt us women, non?” A gentle laugh. “How is my youngling doing? He only has praise for you and the organisation.”
“Your watchdog is doing well.”
“As expected,” Valentina nodded. “My Danton has been with me for centuries, I do miss him back in Paris.”
Watchdog? Alice thought, sipping her champagne.
Danton’s her watchdog?
“If you trust me to do my job, then you should be able to remove your mole from my Tower.” Dread forced a smile.
Valentina let out a laugh. “Mon ami, we wouldn’t have put you in such a prestigious position if we didn’t trust you,” she said, dark eyes narrowed.
“Alice, be careful of the Mistress,” Danton spoke quietly in her ear, careful for the other vampires not to overhear.
“Do not underestimate her.”
She fought not to reply in anger, only remembering at the last minute he wasn’t actually in the conversation. How long has he answered to Valentina? Where were his loyalties? Saving the thoughts for later she did a quick sweep of the room, trying to find him amongst the staff.
“Please, take your seats,” a mechanical voice asked.
“Ah.” Valentina reached out to touch Alice’s hand, her palm cold as she gave it a little squeeze. “It looks like we are almost ready mademoiselle, please find me later. I would love to chat more.” She let go slowly, her fingertips lingering on the pulse on Alice’s wrist before she wandered off towards her seat.
“Alice, we’re over here.” Dread guided her with a hand to her back, pulling her seat out for her when they got to their designated table.
Questions bubbled up her throat, her mouth opening to ask before she quickly closed it. It was the wrong time and place, there were too many ears. She needed to get her head back in the game, she could interrogate Dread and Danton later.
“Something smells off,” her earpiece rattled.
Alice tipped the champagne flute to her mouth, pretending to drink so she could reply. “What do you mean?”
“I smell something acidic, but can’t tell where it’s coming from,” Rose replied.
“I’m in the kitchen.”
Alice thought about that for a second. Rose’s nose was closer to her panther than human, could smell scents everybody else didn’t even know existed. “D?” Alice whispered quietly, making sure her head was down. “Go see if you notice anything unusual.” Vampires had sensitive noses too, albeit not as good as a shifter.
The reply came swiftly.
A waiter dressed in black slacks and a neat white shirt came up to the table, a blood red napkin draped over his right arm. “Could I get anybody some drinks?”
“Order me a glass of the Chateau du Sang,” Dread replied before anyone else could get a say in. “My companion will just have a glass of water.” He quickly added before Alice could order herself.
Scowling, she clutched her champagne closer.
You’re working, remember, his eyes glared.
Yeah, well technically, so are you, her own eyes replied before he turned into a conversation with the man beside him.
Fuck sake. She savoured a small sip of her champagne, enjoying the bubbles as they burst on her taste buds. There were only two people she could have a wordless conversation with, have a strong enough bond to be able to read their expression. Dread had brought her up, had been her parental guardian since the death of her parents.
“Are you sure you would not like some fresh blood, sir?” The waiter asked Dread. “Anybody holding a red napkin is available,” he said as he tipped his throat, holes marking the lightly stubbled flesh.
“I would like fresh,” a man opposite interrupted, his grey hair slicked back in a modern style, a complete contrast to the Victorian style suit he was wearing. His fangs were long and pearl white, a shade similar to his pale, yet withered skin. The thing with vampires is that you couldn’t really tell their age at a glance, he could be ten years undead or one hundred, his aged skin unusual amongst most Vamps. The majority of humans applied to be changed before they became thirty, the wrinkles that the vampira virus couldn’t remove were fixed before his turn.
From the number of wrinkles, Alice guessed he had been turned before The Change, where vampires, as well as all Breeds, hid among the humans. From the state of his skin, his life before wasn’t a prosperous one. His lady friend, on the other hand, was clearly new, her pupils dilating every time somebody came close, her tongue licking the inside of her lips. She would have been around twenty-five when she turned, as per the law stating all candidates must be in prime health and between the ages of eighteen and thirty-nine. Before the laws, the death rate of the newly turned was around eighty per cent, the virus temperamental, which was one of the reasons why The Council created the candidate process. The second reason was an agreement with the humans back when they were negotiating Breed citizenship that vampires – who were the only Breeds that were originally human – could only be turned under a strict process. This gave the Norms a false sense of control so they didn’t have to worry that they would be overrun with the living dead.
“So do you let your date order for you every time?” a male voice beside her asked.
“Excuse me?” Alice spun toward the dark-haired man. “He isn’t my date,” she replied before thinking.
Bollocks, yes he was.
“Well, that’s going to make flirting a hell of a lot easier.” The stranger’s mouth erupted into a full smile, highlighting a single dimple in his left cheek. “The name’s Nate Blackwell.” He held out his hand, flaring his chi in greeting.
“As in Blackwell Casino?” She felt his chi brush against hers, fuzzy in its sensation. Blackwell Casino was one of the newer skyscrapers built in the southern district, a beast of a building that stuck out like a sore thumb against the protected Victorian structures that surrounded the expensive area.
“That’s the one.”
“Alice.” She clasped his hand, allowing some of her own chi to reciprocate, just enough to seem polite, but not enough to encourage.
“Alice.” He seemed to taste her name on his tongue. “Pretty name. Haven’t seen you in these circles before.”
“I don’t normally get invited,” she replied with a genuine smile.
“Well, I hope you get invited to many more.”
“One, two. One, two.” A man started to tap the microphone on the stage, testing the sound.
“Looks like it’s about to start.” Alice continued to sip her champagne, ignoring the water the waiter had placed beside her.
“Then I guess I will be chatting with you a little bit later,” Nate said with a wink.
“Welcome everybody to the tenth consecutive charity gala and the first for ‘Children of the Moon.’ If you could please put your hands together for the charity patron, Markus Luera.”
The speaker on the stage clapped, stepping down as another man took his place. Markus Luera was dressed in a tailored dark blue suit with black bow tie, his white beard was a shock compared to his jet black hair that was spiked up at every angle possible. Holding a cane against his tanned left arm he held his hand over his breast pocket, smiling to the crowd before turning towards the central table.
“Mistress Valentina, it is a pleasure you could join us.” He gracefully bowed, dipping his head before standing straight. “It is an honour that you would grace us with your presence for a charity so close to home.”
Mistress? Alice studied Markus Luera carefully, noticed the nervous gesture of his hand as he tugged at his cane. Mistress was Valentina’s title from other vampires, as a member of The Council she stood for all the Vamps, was essentially their leader, their voice. ‘Mistress’ was supposed to be a label of respect. Or fear. Which meant Markus Luera was a vampire, one with a tan.
Vampires don’t tan.
Valentina smiled at the attention, waving elegantly from her seated position. “Monsieur Luera, I’m interested to hear from the guest speaker, I hear he has been exceedingly generous.”
“Then I will keep this short and sweet, Mistress.” He turned to address the crowd. “Friends, I have gathered you here today to highlight the great work ‘Children of the Moon’ have been doing for the local children affected by their horrible inflictions. The actions of my fellow board members have helped over one hundred younglings with their life-changing conditions, building moon rooms for the children to live out their final days safely. As it stands, we are closer than ever to a cure, every donation counts towards a future where children who are born with the vampira virus will be able to live to an age where they can survive the transition.”
The room was quiet, everybody listening intently as Markus passionately spoke about the condition that had affected around five per cent of children. They still didn’t understand the disease, couldn’t comprehend how the virus could attack a child while still in the womb of a parent who wasn’t a vampire.
“As you have all paid the £10,000 entrance fee you are all greatly thanked by the children who are still going strong, and by the children who are yet to be born.”
Holy shit, this cost £10,000 each?
“But my next guest has gone far and beyond to help out the children. He and his family have donated a total of one million pounds over the last year to help build a research facility here in London. Please welcome with open arms, our guest speaker, Mason Storm.”
Alice choked on the final bit of champagne, the bubbles bursting in her throat as she tried to control her breathing. Eyes around the table shot to her in annoyance, sniffing and tutting in displeasure at the disruption. Dread silently handed her a napkin, his attention not wavering from the stage. Coughing into the linen, Alice watched as Mason smiled to the audience, their applause loud and over the top. Her heart skipped a beat once she noticed the other man who joined him on stage. Anger, embarrassment, and, weirdly, excitement all flowed across her brain too fast for her to really decipher. Her emotions were chaotic as she watched Riley stand beside his father, a beautiful redhead clinging to his arm.
You have got to be shitting me.