But as she limped into the light of his chamber, he saw she was grievously wounded.

The acrid smell of charred skin and feathers wafted on the night air. The left side of her face sagged. Her eye was imperceptible under the swollen mass that stretched across her cheek, perhaps missing altogether. Her mouth had been re-formed into a gruesome sickle-curve, and, as if her chin were merely wax, bloody globules of flesh dangled from it.

Her shoulders were no longer flawless and pale. Patches of raw redness ringed blisters the size of his fist. Her left forearm was twice as thick as it should have been, and rows of singed feathers protruded from it. Her ring finger and pinky were elongated and rigidly held in a painful twist.

In shock and disgust, Giovanni’s mouth fell open.

Liyliy growled. “Have you not seen your own grotesque countenance?”

His hands jerked to touch the mottled scars that marred his throat, but he stopped himself.

Despite her ruined face, Liyliy’s voice remained a sweet alto. Shamefully aware that his own voice was a sickening croak, he replied, “It haunts my every waking minute.”

“That is why I’ve come to you.” As she spoke, a large blister on her cheek burst. Viscous fluid oozed out and dripped from her chin. She seemed unaware of it.

Giovanni could not keep the revulsion from his features. “Who did this to you?”

“The witch.”

She meant Persephone Alcmedi, the court witch who had marked Menessos. She was said to be the fated Lustrata as well. She hadn’t seemed like much, but to have mutilated a shabbubitu like this, she was clearly not to be underestimated.

Liyliy eased forward. “I want her dead.”

I bet you do. He understood how disfigurement could feed the need for revenge, but he was not a novice at negotiation. “So?” he asked, then remained silent, confident that she would make her offer.

The breath of magic crawled over his skin. He thought to retreat a step, but she clasped his wrists, lifted his hands, and began licking the blood from them. Though still wary she might seek to bespell him, he remained steadfast.

“Relax,” she whispered. “Let me clean you up.”

As her mouth moved along his skin, he had to shut his eyes so he would not see her ravaged face. He concentrated only on how her warm, soft tongue felt. And it felt good.

As she switched to his other hand, he felt a flare of magic again.

Her injuries were still fresh; she had not had time to adapt to the loss. That was the magic he’d felt. She was using her aura to help her see, to guide her movements—the lost eye would leave her otherwise struggling.

With this understanding, he relaxed and he gave in to the sensations created by her mouth, her lips. He shivered when her tongue flicked between his fingers and gasped as she sucked each finger, knuckle to tip.

“I know what you want,” she whispered.

Women always said that. They always meant something sexual. They never really knew. “And what is it that you think I want?”

“To see Menessos suffer, to watch him grovel at your feet before he dies.”

Giovanni opened his eyes.

“Seeing him in agony in front of his entire haven, torn and bleeding on the floor before his own throne . . . that only scratches the surface of what anguish I wish for him.”

“He will feel great pain if the witch dies.”

Giovanni lifted his chin, but said nothing.

“We have enemies in common,” she said. “Enemies made stronger by their union. So we must forge a powerful alliance of our own.”

The possibilities tempted him, but he was well aware he was no match for Menessos’s wizardry—not that he would point out his own weakness to another. And—quite clearly—even a shabbubitu was inferior to Menessos’s witch.

“You and I cannot do this.” He pulled his hands away and let his arms drop to his sides.

“Don’t deny me,” she said crossly.

“We can’t defeat them!”

“Of course not. But there must be others who would rally to our cause. You, with your position, with your hatred for him, you know who they are. You know where they are.”

Giovanni considered it. A few ideas sprang up. All of them were complicated at best.

Liyliy must have taken his delay as a precursor to refusal. “Don’t you dare hold your tongue. Speak! Tell me who we need to aid us”—her misshapen hand rose toward him—“or I will draw the names from your mind.”

He gave her a flat stare. “Threats are no way to begin a partnership.”

“We must act quickly.” Her fingertip stroked his cheek lovingly. “They grow stronger with each passing day.”

Giovanni was disgusted by her touch but wanted it to linger all the same. He turned and paced away. “We do not.”

“We will overcome any current disadvantage by increasing our numbers . . . if you will but give me the names.”

He stopped before the fireplace and grabbed the poker to jab irritably at the embers. Holding it made his injured hands ache, but he felt better with something solid in his grip.

Her undamaged hand encircled his arm. “There will never be a better time.”

She was right about that. If Menessos was ever to be brought down, it had to be now. It would be sweet to deliver the blow that knocked him from his pedestal. Then Giovanni would follow it by robbing him of what glory and success he sought with the witch and the Domn Lup. That would truly be perfect.

Giovanni faced Liyliy, and even though her wounds were hideous, he saw something very desirable. All I need is a sharp weapon to wield. Her need to retaliate had forged her into a shrewd weapon—one with a razor-sharp edge.

“We begin with your sisters,” he said.


Goliath stared into his closet at the plastic and pleather that dominated his wardrobe. The Goth persona suited both his role as Menessos’s loyal lieutenant and occasional assassin and his rank as the haven’s second-in- command. Also, the clothing enhanced his elongated scarecrow body in an effectively intimidating manner.

But he would not be donning the usual collar-to-ankle shiny black tonight.

His title had been elevated. He was no longer the unsmiling Alter Imperator. Now, he was the Haven Master.

His eyes closed as he shut the closet door, mentally sealing his former status—and antics—in the past. Turning his back on the old him, he faced a new future, and the new attire it required was dangling before him within a zippered garment bag. There was a silver tag on the zipper, and on it was written With much respect, Risque and Sil. Both women were Offerlings here in the haven.

He unzipped the bag.

Within was a trim-cut suit that combined Asian elements with a steampunk/vintage style. It was black, made of leather and velvet. The collar would be snug around his throat and had metallic silver thread stitched into an intricate design mixing regal fleurs-de-lis with laughing skulls. Large silver buttons and strategically placed rectangles of silver chainmail accented the coat without looking blatantly like protection. The cuffs maintained the trim styling, but, again, the silver stitching and oversized button added a majestic flair.

This new style blended what was with what would be, capturing his unique menace, as well as the formality, status, and respect of being a Master.

He had been assured that the dark suit was becoming on his rail-like frame, and that the contrast of his

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