“I already gave you my answer and my answer is ‘no’.”
“But I can help.” Celia crossed her arms and stomped one foot, somehow managing to glare down her nose at me, despite the fact she was a good eighteen inches shorter than me. “They like me. They’ll listen to me.”
“Just because they like you doesn’t mean they’ll listen to you.” I paused, trying to think of the best way to phrase my next words without offending anyone within earshot. “They’re animals. They don’t necessarily think the same way we do.”
“That’s not nice.” Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears and the lower lip she’d stuck out in a pout began to tremble. “They’re my friends and they want to help find Lizzy.”
I “would have given quite a bit in that moment for Theo. Or Rian. Or really anyone who was better equipped to handle tears. Unfortunately, neither man was in a position to help.
“Celia….” I trailed off, unsure what to say and far too tired to try and make up some bullshit excuse she would see straight through. “Fine.” I shook my head and shooed her toward Eamon. “You have to stay with him, okay? That’s the deal.” I watched her skip off, sliding her tiny hand in to his giant one and beaming up at him.
“I don’t suppose I need to tell you that allowing her to do whatever she wants is not the best way to teach her discipline.” St. Germaine handed me a travel mug filled to the brim with coffee. Granted, the thing looked and felt as if it cost more than my entire outfit but there was no denying it was, in fact, a travel mug. Since I was relatively certain he didn’t drink coffee, I wondered what he used it for normally. Something must have shown on my face because he arched his brows, his lips twitching. “It’s brand new. No need to worry about ingesting the blood of some poor waif.”
“And now that’s all I’m going to think about, thank you very much.” I took a sip, widening my eyes as the scalding hot liquid rolled over my tongue and down my throat. “This is… quite good.”
“One of the qualifications for being considered a truly excellent host is the ability to make an exceptional cup of coffee.” He snorted out a quick laugh. “Even more so when the host in question does not drink the substance.”
“Right.” I took another sip and wondered when the heat and the caffeine would kick in. “I’ll put that on my list of things to do, right behind find the monster who wants to kill me and rebuild the house which lasted centuries until I inherited it.”
“People used to believe sarcasm was something which took no skill. Suffice to say they have never met you.” His smile faded to a frown, his brows drawing together over his nose. “You’re shaking.” Shrugging out of his overcoat, he draped it over my shoulders and turned up the collar, his fingers brushing the bandages covering my throat. “You’re colder than I am.”
“There’s no need to exaggerate.” Even if my toes did feel like ice cubes in my insulated boots. “And to address your original statement, I know giving in to her isn’t the best idea but until someone else comes up with one, it’ll have to do.”
“When you first moved in across the street and took over leadership of the Covenant, I believed you to be tough as nails, practical to a fault, and unencumbered by so many of the pesky emotions that plague humanity.” Reaching in his slacks, he pulled out a thin cigar, clamping it between his teeth before lighting it. He inhaled, holding his breath for a moment before exhaling a cloud of smoke. “I can only assume it’s your recent trauma which has caused such a drastic change in your character.”
“I’m going to take that as a compliment instead of the insult I’m sure you meant it to be.”
“Not an insult, merely an observation.” Another round of inhaling and exhaling followed before he turned to me, all traces of his normal sly nature gone from his face. “Guilt and worry will make you weak. They will also get you killed.”
“How did I miss it?” There wasn’t a point to lying when apparently I was as transparent as glass. “I mean, I knew she was unhappy. I knew she was having problems. Ever since… ever since….”
“Ever since the little bastard in the basement spent a few hours torturing her?” St. Germaine clucked his tongue and shook his head, his lips turning down in obvious distaste. “It’s always the youngsters and the ill-bred who feel the need to play with their food. So plebian and crass.”
“And I know she didn’t have the easiest time growing up, not with her mother dying and her father being an alcoholic and the Covenant treating her like crap. But I was good to her.” I glanced at the Comte. “Wasn’t I? I know you were watching and keeping tabs. Was I good to her or was it all in my head?”
“No, Jude.” He laid one hand on the top of my head, the small gesture from the man who didn’t believe in true emotion almost reducing me to tears. “You didn’t imagine it. You were good to her. Unfortunately, you couldn’t give her what she believed she needed.”
I nodded, too choked up to speak. After a few minutes, I swallowed hard and said, “Do you have video chat on your phone?”
“Yes.” Pulling it out of another pocket, he pressed a few keys, waiting a moment before launching in to a flood of French. After a few minutes, he passed the phone to me. “Here. You’ll need to make it short since I do believe this hunt you’ve been working so hard to organize is finally ready to begin.”
I nodded. “I just want to see them.” I needed to see them. Even though I knew they were absolutely safe, I still needed the reassurance.
So when whoever was holding the other phone pointed the screen at Anne, babbling as Faux Hawk/Hodge tickled her stomach, and then Margot, her surly expression matching that of Stumpy/Masters, I tuned out everything around me and focused on my children.
Even though I knew it was probably only my imagination, I would have sworn they’d grown in the few days they’d been gone. They looked plumper, rosier, even Margot, who I suspected would wind up being an avid user of sunscreen. Anne was giggling—at least that’s what I told myself, although Dr. Rosenthal would probably say it was gas. Margot looked to be in a serious starting contest with Stumpy. Actually, she looked to be winning the contest.
They were healthy. They were happy. They were safe.
The only thing which would have made me happier was if they were all of those things here with me.
Blinking away tears, I handed the phone back to St. Germaine, waiting until he disconnected the call and returned the phone to his pocket. “Okay. I’m ready.”
The sooner this was finished, the sooner he could bring my children home.