platinum hair and pale skin would lend a fierce, penetrating quality to his so-blue eyes.

As he wrapped his body in his new clothing, he felt the importance of the title he was accepting more than ever.

Fifteen minutes later, he entered the Haven Master’s suite—rooms he would soon occupy—with a new confidence in his stride. He passed the stone altar and approached the seating area meant for private conversations with political VIPs. Here, two regal armchairs were placed directly across from each other. In the space on either side, two rounded leather couches completed the circular feel and could each accommodate six onlookers.

The rear wall was composed of stacked stone and a thick wooden mantel. The horizontal lines of it were broken only by a pair of white marble pillars flanking either side of a wooden door with iron studs set into it.

Altogether, it was an elegant room. Since they had moved the haven to Cleveland, this particular room was his favorite. Especially the armchairs.

In days to come, this would be his suite.

For the time being, Menessos remained in residence and now lay behind that massive door to the private chamber. Until his Maker dealt with the current problems, Goliath did not intend to press the issue of where he lay during his dead hours.

His feet carried him near the plush seats. He wondered if sitting there would complete the legitimacy of the authority that had suddenly become his. His fingers trailed the back of a chair as he rounded it. He was ready to place himself into it—

—until he noticed Ailo and Talto sitting on the floor in the corner, watching him.

They would not be witness to his first moment in one of the master’s chairs.

He passed by the regal armchair and with a toss of his head shook out his white-blond hair. Draping his lanky form across one of the leather couches, he glowered at the shabbubitum.

Their loathing for his master was understandable; thousands of years ago, Menessos had bound them and their sister, Liyliy, into stone. Only recently released, they were out of place in a modern environment. He didn’t like having them here, but he would not trust them where they could not be monitored, either. Damned if you do . . .

The main door opened and Meroveus, Advisor to the Excelsior and currently their esteemed guest, entered the suite. “She is back?” he asked.

“That is what I’m told,” Goliath answered. “If you’re referring to Ms. Alcmedi, that is.”

“I am. Is she here?”

Leaning on one elbow, Goliath reclined. “She required a shower.” He wanted to give his nose a quick pinch to indicate she’d reeked of the scummy edges of Lake Erie, but he refrained. He was a Master now; taunting disdain was no longer acceptable.

Mero headed for the iron-studded door.

Goliath cleared his throat.

In mid-reach for the knob, Mero stopped. His hand fell to his side and he turned on his heel. “I have been disrespectful. Forgive me, Haven Master.”

His sardonic grin flashed fang. “Does urgency always make you thoughtless?”

“I assumed that Menessos was still lord of these chambers, and that she was with him in the rear chamber.”

Goliath sat up, placed his elbows on his knees, and clapped his hands together. “Hear me, Advisor Meroveus, and do not forget my words: The former Haven Master may have extended you many courtesies, but barging into his private chamber—especially if you think Ms. Alcmedi may be attending him—would be particularly dangerous.”

Mero glanced at the main door as if he would leave, but there was uncertainty in his expression.

“To be honest,” Goliath added as he stood, “I have not yet made claim to these rooms, and, as you have assumed, the former Quarterlord is in the rear chamber. However, my Erus Veneficus has her own suite.” He used the formal title of the court witch for impact.

Mero blinked.

It seemed to Goliath that the other vampire had not considered that in declaring this the Cleveland haven and Goliath the master of it, Persephone would by default become Goliath’s court witch. Her services were now his to command.

“It is urgent that I speak with her,” Mero said. “Will you permit this?”

Goliath had not been able to confer with Menessos since he’d returned from retrieving the witch, but he knew that in any given situation buying time would serve him well. As the new master he could always shorten the time frame, but only if he had secured the option of having time at the outset. “She has been through an ordeal and I must insist that she be permitted to rest. Tonight, she will be troubled only for a medical examination. Surely, given the circumstances, you understand and will delay your interrogation until tomorrow evening?”

If Mero was displeased, he kept it from showing in his features. His hesitation, however, made it evident that he was weighing his options.

“As you wish, Haven Master, but may I insist that she not be permitted to leave the haven during the day tomorrow? If her condition is such that she requires rest, perhaps guarding against any . . . overexertion . . . would be wise.”

Goliath nodded. “I will consider your advice, Meroveus.”

At that moment, Menessos emerged from the rear chamber wearing a fresh, clean suit. His clothing had been soaked upon his return. The Offerling named Risque had attended him initially, and she informed Goliath that Menessos claimed he’d helped the Erus Veneficus out of Lake Erie. Her grateful embrace, he’d explained, had drenched him.

“Much better.” Menessos glanced around. “Am I interrupting?”

“Not at all,” Goliath said. “The Advisor came to see the Erus Veneficus. I have said she must rest and will not be questioned until tomorrow evening.”

Menessos nodded thoughtfully.

“I have other business that concerns both of you,” Mero said.

Menessos walked toward the seating and motioned Mero to follow. “Tell us, then, of this other business.” His tone was light and he avoided the armchairs, taking a place beside Goliath.

Mero chose to sit on the leather couch opposite them. He breathed deep to fill his lungs, straightened his spine, and said, “The witch must be taken to the Excelsior.”

In the corner, the sisters giggled evilly. It made the nape of Goliath’s neck prickle.

Menessos scowled at the sisters and gestured at the door. “Out,” he said. Without a word they obeyed. When they were gone, Menessos faced Mero and his tone dropped. “No.”

“Considering that she has twice—”

“I said no!”

Goliath could not help facing Menessos. He had seen his Maker angry many times, but it was rare that rage claimed him so swiftly. The sharklike glare Menessos aimed at Mero did not wane in its potency as the moment wore on.

Mero squirmed under that gaze and resituated himself on the couch. “And you, Goliath?” Mero asked. “As she is your Erus Veneficus now, what do you say?”

“Presently, I agree with Menessos. I want my witch here.”

“Then, gentlemen, you must give me an alternative solution.”

Since Menessos had sat beside him, Goliath took that as an indication he wanted to present a united front to Mero where the haven, and all the people included in it, were concerned. That meant Persephone as well. “Solution? Exactly what is the problem that you think requires my witch being taken to the Excelsior?” he asked.

Mero and Menessos shared a look, then Menessos answered. “The Advisor believes that she is a threat to vampires in general, as I am twice marked.”

Goliath laughed. “A threat to whom?”

Abruptly, Menessos sat straighter and glanced toward the door. A second later, there came a meek knock. Menessos rose to answer it. As he stepped out, Goliath caught sight of Persephone in a terry cloth robe. He feels her presence and runs to her beckoning.

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