One night, after I had come in from a job, Abraham asked me into his study. I could tell at once he was serious about something. Once I’d sat down and he’d poured some wine laced with blood for both of us, he got right to it.
“I’ve heard reports, Lash. There is a man who is not taking no for an answer sometimes from the women that work the streets in the Quarter.”
I knew what he was saying so delicately. He’d heard of Brianna. It was true she’d been the first I’d threatened into accepting, but not the last. I always paid them, though. Fuck them if they didn’t want me. They were whores. If they got paid, what did it matter? I sipped my blood and didn’t say anything.
“There have been deaths.” Abraham’s voice was regretful and sad.
I said nothing, planning to just stay quiet and wait him out. But Abraham was a master at that, and he outlasted me easily. Finally I spoke, changing form a little in my upset.
“I pay them, every time. Double the going rate. I can’t help that one of them killed herself. There was only the one who did that, Abraham.”
Abraham looked at me, his eyes tinged red with obvious anger. He said nothing, and for some reason that made me feel guiltier than if he’d yelled at me.
“I never hurt any of them! I just took my pleasure, is all! Is that so wrong?”
“I want you to stop,” Abraham said quietly. “If they say no, accept it.”
“I like humans rarely,” I hissed quietly. “The women are mostly fey, or other types of were.”
“Iso is still here. She is snake, like you. What is the problem?”
“She’s a bitch, and the nastiest slut to ever haunt a street corner. And sometimes I want a woman who isn’t asking me to hurt her or be rough!”
Abraham poured us another drink, this one of straight alcohol. He sat back and sipped his scotch. I sipped mine, still feeling guilty, hating the feeling.
“Look,” he said finally. “Would you consider taking a mate? I know by the way you talked a few months ago that you were considering the woman who lived here with you for a time.”
He meant Gretchen. I was glad he didn’t say her name. I’d grown to hate her in the weeks that had followed her death, for the selfish actions she’d taken and for the fact that she’d made me the instrument of my own children’s death.
“Call me Lash, Abraham,” I reminded him. “I have to be called that. I want my sisters safe. I have nieces and nephews aplenty now.”
“Sorry. Lash, I know your sisters are all on their second and third children. But you are still unmarried. It’s normal to want a mate. You are what, twenty-six? Twenty-seven?”
That sounded about right. I nodded. “You know there are no single women here of my kind, Abraham, not even with the influx of refugees from the North. There are only prostitutes, and even then, only Iso.”
“You know that is not true,” he said softly. “There is at least one young snake girl, close to twenty, who is not yet spoken for. She is very comely. I saw her with you at the theater a month ago, and also one other night having dinner at the Two Sisters.”
Ruby. “I offered for her already,” I said, embarrassed and ill at ease. “She refused.”
“Do you want her?” he asked seriously.
“She refused,” I said again in slow measured words. “She doesn’t want me. With the other males of my kind around here, the competition is fierce. She has many suitors, and can afford to marry a much richer man than I.”
“I can help. I can compel her father—”
“No! I was to be married before, back when I was only seventeen. My father did what you are offering to do, and it had a tragic ending. I don’t want to go through that again, or make someone my mate who doesn’t want to be.”
“Then is there a woman you ever knew who I might send for, to join you here? I know that another woman came to you, after your lover died. She left a month or so ago. She is welcome to stay here. If she does not want to be dependent on you, to work, I can find something for her. We always need cooks here, the way my werefalcons like to eat.”
“No,” I said, trying not to sound bitter. “Her life is on a faraway beach. I already asked her. I offered her anything she wanted if she’d stay.” I looked down. “She still left.”
“I apologize for causing you upset,” Abraham said quietly. “I just want there to be some woman here that would make it easier for you, Lash. A live-in mistress for you would be convenient for us all.”
No shit. Like I wanted to go out and be with hookers in alleyways. Christ.
“No,” I said, thinking of Britney. “There is no one else I was ever close to, or that I cared for, or even that I would trust to live here.”
Hell, even Char was dead. I remembered her, and all she’d done for me and mine. That memory made me realize more and more how stupid I’d been not to think more of her, as my father had. I probably should have taken her up on that offer the day she’d said she’d wanted a little—
“Then will you let me import a suitable woman for you?” Abraham said, breaking into my thoughts. “There are many weresnakes of your breed in the territory of Texas.”
“A mail-order bride?” I asked with interest. “They still do that?”
“Of course!” he said, smiling so his mouth creased faintly. “They can provide any kind of woman. Many are looking for husbands, especially those with children. There are many whose husbands have died or gone to look for work and not come back.”
Like Sam’s husband. No good bastard.
“Do you have a preference for hair, or eyes? Body type? Age?”
“Dark hair and eyes. Curvy, but not over two hundred pounds. I’m not too tall, so probably not too much taller than me.”
Abraham nodded. “Let me look into it, and get you some pictures, and details. The process takes a while, I’m afraid, as it is all done through the mail. And there is one regrettable thing.”
“Most of these girls are right off the farm, so to speak. They do not read, or write, or understand most concepts other that having enough food, and shelter.” Abraham shrugged. “But if they knew more, it’s true they most likely would not be on a mail-order-bride list.”
“Look into only those who would be willing to learn,” I said, throwing my caution to the wind. “Any woman who is really going to share my life must be able to read, and to write as well.”
“There are older woman, too,” Abraham said, as if he wasn’t sure how I would take it. “Women who were widowed, as I said. Women with children, and also without them, who still want to have children.”
“No children. I have my hands full with my sister’s children, now that Sam is staying here with me again. I’m looking for a mistress, not a mate. I’ll support and shelter a woman who lays me well enough to merit that, but I’m not going to marry her. That must be made clear. If some emotional tie develops in time, so be it. But I have had bad luck before. I’ll not put children in a position where they feel abandoned, if I decide their mother is not a good match for me. And I’m not going to sire any bastards.”
Abraham nodded. “I feel the same. I would grow too attached to children myself.”
Before I could venture a comment, he went on “Are any other skills important to you? Cooking, baking, sewing, singing, weaving, embroidery—”
Hmm. Cooking skills would be an asset. My mother had been a very good cook, and it was true, Sam wouldn’t be here forever to keep me in cornbread and fatback.
“—growing food, being able to drive a car? There are other skills, too—”
Abraham had too much information. “How is it you know so much about this?” I asked suspiciously. “Have you already been making inquiries for me?”
“It should be obvious,” Abraham said sadly. “I have no woman. All my attempts to have a companion have failed, Lash. They die within a few months, no matter what I do or don’t do, even if I try not to turn them.” He sipped his drink. “I know you’ve noticed this.”
I had. “Why do they die?”
“Something in my blood,” he said hopelessly. “I am not strong enough to create vampires, or at least that is what I surmise. But Jacob has said he will turn a woman for me, provided I find a suitable girl and she proves herself.”
“Proved herself” how? I was probably better off not knowing. Fucking Jacob. “But if she’s like you, you can’t feed from her, right?”
“Correct. But if she’s vampire, she won’t die,” he said firmly. “I care less about blood, and more about having a woman I care for as a companion.”
“Are you looking to have an Oathed One?” I asked, thinking of Danial and Brianna.
“I am,” he said, sounding both scared and happy. “If I can find the right woman, one I can love as I loved my wife.”
“What about blood?” I asked, now thinking of Bea and Victor. I’d heard nothing from them, but I assumed she was happy with her sister and her vampire lover.
“I can always feed from other women, Lash. But I want a woman to lie next to at night that will be with me for more than a few months. I miss the sound of a woman’s happy laughter in my chambers, or the caress of a soft hand teasing my attention away from my work. The sound of a woman’s gentle voice reading to me, as my wife used to do, decades ago.” He looked at me with hope on his face, and more than a little yearning. “I am needed by all the vampires in this city, Lash. I have a role to play for eternity. I want someone with whom I can be myself, who wants me and needs me, but just for me, for the man I am.”
I was getting all stirred up just listening to him. What he described sounded so wonderful. It was what I’d hoped for before, though my emotional defenses made me look for problems, wanting there to be some. If it wasn’t going to work, it was better not to let it get any farther than this.
“Can you trust Jacob?” I asked, giving Abraham a serious look. “What if she’s under his control somehow, after she’s turned? There has to be a reason he only keeps turned vampires around him as guards.”
“I don’t know,” Abraham said slowly. “But it’s true. I could petition other Rulers to do it. Dalcon has never refused to turn a human if a dominant vampire in his domain requests it. And other state Rulers can perform a turning, though those are much more choosy about who they allow to join their ranks.”
His voice turned a little anxious. “But you understand why I wouldn’t want to have Dalcon do it. You know him now, Lash, like you might not have before. I know of Brianna, of what happened to her, how he took her from Danial and then discarded her.” He gave me a pointed look. “Danial wanted your head after that debacle, Tryst.”
“He wanted your head, Trystan! And if Dalcon didn’t dislike him for some reason and have that longstanding feud with him, he probably would have given it to him. Danial rules Denver, or so I’ve heard. But Dalcon will not let him ascend any higher, despite the fact that he is nearly as old as Dalcon himself.”
No shit. Danial Racklan and Devlin Dalcon were brothers, and that feud had started back when they were mortal, most likely. But it occurred to me that Abraham didn’t know that, for some reason. Maybe it was a secret? It didn’t matter, and in any case, it was none of my business. I kept my mouth shut.
“My point is Dalcon would ask to bed any woman of mine when he turned her, as he does all women he turns. If I loved her, I wouldn’t want her to have to do that. Jacob, on the other hand, has said he will not even kiss her.”
I understood that. Who wanted another man getting some of your pussy, especially a rake like Devlin? Thank God I was snake and not vampire.
“Check into it,” I said, getting to my feet. “Let me know when you hear something. I’ve got work to do.”