The man was insufferable. Reed Edwards had been following Johnnie around all night, and Johnnie could not simply cast aside an Alucard. From somewhere in Canada, visiting vampire territories throughout the United States in search of a spouse. Johnnie had not paid much attention past that since it was hardly a matter that concerned him.
He was only there because his father liked the family to show a united front, and it had been a very long time since they had interacted with the DeLovely family—who were decidedly nicer than they had been the last time Johnnie remembered seeing them. But given their son and heir had rescinded his title and family to be with an imp lover… Well, causing a scandal greater than adopting a human did much to humble even the most arrogant vampires.
Thankfully, Reed had drawn a small crowd and Johnnie was able to politely withdraw and make his escape. He ditched the flute of sparkling rose wine Reed had given him and headed for the bar as quickly as he could without appearing indecorous. “Vodka rocks,” he ordered as the bartender drew close, and left the man a tip on the glasstop bar.
When he had his drink, he turned back to the ballroom, stifling a sigh.
“Missing your bodyguard?”
Johnnie turned and bowed his head as Ontoniel drew up alongside him. “Yes, but mostly I am tired of spending this party shadowed by Alucard Reed. I do not understand why he is spending so much time with me when the new DeLovely Alucard is here. She does not deserve to be treated so rudely.”
“I agree,” Ontoniel said, mouth quirking. “It would be an excellent match, especially since I suspect DeLovely is looking to move entirely and hand over their current territory to someone else. It is all speculation, of course, but I would not be surprised to see it in the next few decades.”
“I see,” Johnnie said. “All the more puzzling then that he is shadowing me. What does he hope to accomplish there?”
Ontoniel chuckled. “How can you be so aware of the criminal goings-on in our world but oblivious to vampire gossip?”
“Criminals are interesting.”
“I wish ‘interesting’ was not so often synonymous with ‘dangerous,’ but I suppose there is little point in rehashing that argument at present,” Ontoniel replied. “As to why he might be pursuing you, though I admonished him it would be a waste of time as you have a lover, it is likely because the Edwards family is two steps from being destitute. The family has never been very good at holding onto money. They marry it and quickly lose it.”
Johnnie took a swallow of vodka to hide a sneer. “They must be desperate to marry a human for what must amount to pennies to a vampire mind.” He had no small fortune to his name, but it was nothing compared to what vampires accrued over centuries.”
Ontoniel chuckled again. “I would not scoff at your fortune, but there is also the matter of your marriage trust.”
Johnnie nearly spit out the sip of vodka he had just taken. “My what.”
“You are my son. Did you think I would not treat you as generously as your brother?”
“Elam is the Alucard,” Johnnie replied. “Why would I need a marriage trust?”
“You are my son,” Ontoniel repeated. “I admit it is an old-fashioned tradition, but at the time I set it up, I was still clinging to many such traditions, and it made more sense to leave it than change it. I am surprised you never noticed or asked about it.”
Johnnie shrugged. “It never occurred to me. Why would I need a marriage trust?” It had not occurred to him he would ever marry, really. Certainly a vampire wouldn’t, and precious few others would want to tie themselves to the scandal and trouble associated with Ontoniel’s little human son. On the other hand, that was precisely what Reed was trying to do, apparently. “So he is willing to risk his family’s reputation, or what is left of it, by marrying a human for money?” He toyed with his cane and took another sip of vodka. “What exactly does he plan to do about Grim?”
“I could not say,” Ontoniel replied. “Knowing that family, however, you would be allowed to keep him on the side as some sort of play thing.”
Anger curled through Johnnie, and his already low opinion of Reed sank even further. “I see.”
“Try not to kill the man. He is only a desperate fool. I think his family realizes insisting on visiting us is only making them look worse, not better as they had hoped.” Ontoniel gently squeezed his shoulder. “I am off to play cards with Elam and Jesse. You should come join us until your bodyguard comes to whisk you away.”
Johnnie smiled faintly. “I may. I think I will step out for some fresh air. All the magic and perfume in here is starting to give me a headache.”
“See you soon, then,” Ontoniel replied and slipped away as quietly as he had come.
Still smiling, Johnnie finished his vodka and headed across the room to one of the small balconies in the back, gauzy curtains falling to lend some privacy to those standing on them. Thankfully, he came upon an empty one. His breath misted in the chilly, early winter air, a blessed relief from the overheated ballroom. Night Jasmine perfumed the air, and the distant music lent a dream quality.
If only there was a certain stupid bodyguard present to take advantage of the lovely little setup. Johnnie sighed and leaned against the railing, tilted his head back to look up at the stars.
A quiet cough made him jerk around, and he stifled another sigh to see Reed. Of course Reed had followed him. “Hello, again.”
Reed smiled. He was pale in every way, sharp-edged and bitingly beautiful in that way of all vampires. A way Johnnie had been told he shared nearly all his life, though it was only a few years ago he had learned it was because he was half-incubus. “I was sad when you slipped away, Master Johnnie. Meeting you, and spending time with you, has been an honor. You are everything I’ve heard about the notorious human son of Desrosiers, and more besides.”
“Oh?” Johnnie asked idly, looking back toward the garden. “Normally I hear only unkind things. How interesting that the rumors have changed.”
“Of course they’ve changed—even vampires can learn,” Reed replied and drew up to stand next to him at the balcony railing. He offered one of the champagne flutes he was holding, filled with that damned rose sparkling wine again. Johnnie hated the stuff. He preferred the cold burn of chilled vodka. “I brought you another on the chance you finished the first. It’s good stuff, yes? One of the finest wines my territory produces.”
Ah, that explained it. “It is quite remarkable.” It tasted far too sweet, as if that would make up for the otherwise bland flavor. “Are you enjoying the party?” He braced himself and took a large swallow of wine, if only to get the agony over with sooner, then took another.
He barely heard Reed’s reply as dizziness and heat rushed through him. The crystal flute tumbled from his fingers, the small bit of wine left in it splashing across the balcony and mingling unpleasantly with the Night Jasmine. Johnnie felt feverish, tingly. He stared blankly at the cane lying on the ground and wondered when he had dropped it. His heart was beating so fast it felt like it was going to pop. Pressing a hand to his chest, steadying himself with the other on the railing, Johnnie glared at Reed. “What did you do to me?”
Reed’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about? I didn’t do—”
“You did something!” Johnnie bellowed.
And then he felt it. Rather, realized what it was that was pressing in on him, curling around him, making him thirsty—hungry. Lust. He could taste it on Reed, could taste it more faintly from the ballroom. Rage and dismay twined together, spreading through him like thorny, poison-tipped vines. “You gave me a love spell.” He swallowed. “You fucking fool, you have no idea what you have—” He broke off as things he had only ever felt when he walked the dream plane washed over him.
Reed stepped forward and Johnnie shoved out with both hands, slamming into his chest and sending him stumbling back several steps. He stooped and retrieved his cane, then rose, pressing one hand to his chest again, where he could still feel the too-fast beating of his heart.
Reed’s surprise and dismay had turned into fear.
Johnnie laughed as the love potion faded, and his own powers rose up, too tangled up in his anger to be shoved down now. “How does it feel?” he asked, prodding Reed’s chest with his cane, then slapping his shoulder with it and forcing the fool to his knees. “How does it feel to be the one with no choice? No autonomy? How does it feel to have your desires turned against you, used against you? Was that your plan? To slip a love potion to the little human?”
“I didn’t mean—”
“I do not care what you meant!” Johnnie bellowed. He drew the cane back, slid his fingers over the runes, and pulled the sword. He pressed the tip of the blade to Reed’s throat. “How does it feel to be in my thrall?”
“Are you sorry?” Johnnie asked, voice softening, coaxing.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” Reed gasped out. He tried to stand, but the blade against his throat drove him right back to his knees.
“Did you want me in your power?
“Yes, but not like this,” Reed said, the word forced out, like he wanted to hold it back but was incapable.
Johnnie pressed the blade harder. “Well, how does it feel to be in mine? How does it feel to know that all I have to do is ask and you will give me anything so long as it is on the chance I will sate the need setting you on fire?”
“I can do whatever I want, precisely as you were going to do to me,” Johnnie replied. “You were going to take everything from me, so why should I not take it all from you? I can taste how much you want me, taste how well you would feed me. So give me everything that you would have taken.”
Tears streamed down Reed’s cheeks. “Whatever you want.”
“Your money? Your land?”
“Yes, all I possess belongs to you,” Reed gasped out. “It’s yours.”
Johnnie withdrew the sword. “Stand.”
Reed leapt to his feet, fury and want and terror making his body thrum, blowing his pupils wide, provoking more tears to join those already staining his face. “Please—”
Johnnie stepped in close and grabbed the front of his tuxedo, yanked him down. “Next time you think to feed someone a love potion, remember the time you gave one to a half-incubus and how awful it feels to be treated so.” He drove his knee into Reed’s groin, then punched him so hard his knuckles split and blood poured from Reeds’ nose.
He whipped around, saw his father and several other people standing there. Oh, god. What had he done? Johnnie shoved past them all and fled through the ballroom, barely making it to the restrooms before he threw up his dinner.
Pulling out a kerchief, he wiped his mouth, then flushed the toilet and simply sat there crying. He was not supposed to be an incubus on the mortal plain, what had happened.
“Johnnie.” Grim’s soft, gruff voice washed over him like a balm, and Johnnie turned to sob against his chest as Grim held him tightly. He felt the rush of magic as Grim transported them, then exhaustion and numbness washed over him.
He woke up in his bed in Ontoniel’s home, naked and curled up against Grim. He pulled away and sat up, saw a glass of water on the nightstand. He drained it, then settled back in the blankets, turned back toward Grim to find himself being watched. He stared into Grim’s eyes, beautiful in their plainness, warm and hazel and full of fondness. “He—” Johnnie cleared his throat, licked his lips, and tried again. “Hello. What time is it?”
In reply, Grim leaned in to kiss him, soft and sweet. Johnnie shivered, whimpered, pressed closer, relieved that all he felt was the usual fire that Grim always sparked, none of the sharp, hungry need of an incubus. When he eventually drew back, Grim rubbed a thumb across Johnnie’s lips. “Feeling better?”
“Yes. What happened?” Johnnie rolled onto his back, pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. “That idiot Reed gave me a love potion. It reacted badly, made me—” He closed his eyes, fighting a fresh wave of tears. “It made me act like a monster.”
Grim kissed the tears that slipped out, nuzzled against him. “You’re not a monster; you didn’t act like a monster. That little ass got exactly what he deserved. You were drugged. Of course you didn’t behave like yourself. Nobody does when given drugs like that. Stop punishing yourself, Johnnie. There were a lot of things you could have done to him, but all you did was give him a taste of what he tried to do to you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”
Johnnie opened his eyes and sat up, sniffled, and then sat up and lifted his chin. “As you should be. Some bodygua—” He oofed as Grim knocked him into the bedding and kissed him hard. “When did you show up?”
“Right after you fled. I saw you vanish. Asked what happened so I wouldn’t say something stupid, then went after you. That was last night, and it’s going on noon now. You passed out pretty hard, but I’m not surprised. You sure you’re feeling better?”
“Find out for yourself,” Johnnie said against his mouth, fighting back the fear trying to get hold of him. He was not an incubus here, except when drugged apparently, and he was not drugged now.
With a soft, pleased noise Grim did as told, until Johnnie was sore and sated and completely convinced he was back to his usual self.
They had just gotten out of the shower when a knock came at his bedroom door, and a woman slipped in, keeping her eyes on the floor as she said, “Master Johnnie, Lord Ontoniel would like to see you in his office whenever you are feeling better. Nothing bad, he wanted me to assure you, but there are matters that need addressing.”
“Tell him I am on my way,” Johnnie replied. When she had gone, he finished buttoning the dark green and jade vest he had chosen, then shrugged into a dark gray blazer and fussed with his jade green tie. He looked over at Grim, who wore jeans, boots, and a long-sleeved t-shirt that clung in distracting fashion, along with a new hat he had gotten from his mother for Halloween: black with a purple and red vampire. His grim reaper one had not survived their last scuffle with a dragon several months ago.
“Stop looking at me like that,” Grim said. “I do not want to have to explain to the Dracula that you were delayed meeting with him because I was fucking you. That sort of thing does not earn raises or promotions.”
“Promotions?” Johnnie’s brows rose. “Seeking to do something else with your time? Decided you have had enough of spending your days—” The rest of his words were lost in Grim’s mouth. “Do not try to kiss your way out of this. You said promotions.”
“I was being flippant, not serious.” Grim’s mouth curved in a smug grin. “No promotion in the enforcers could pay better than personal bodyguard and sex toy to His Most Imperious Highness.”
Johnnie picked up his cane where it lay on the bed and thwacked Grim lightly on the chest before heading toward the door.
Grim caught up to him in the hallway. “Stop hitting me.”
“No,” Johnnie replied and lightly thwacked his stomach, tossing his head and refusing to look pleased when Grim snagged his hand and kissed the back of it.
He reluctantly pulled his hand free as they reached Ontoniel’s office. He half-expected to see Reed and the rest of the Edwards family there, shoulders sagging with relief when the office proved to contain simply Ontoniel.
“John, how are you feeling?”
“Better,” Johnnie replied and gratefully took the tea Ontoniel poured for him as they joined him at the little table in front of the bank of windows at the far end of his study. “What is going on? I hope the Edwards family is not too angry—”
Ontoniel cut him off with a sharp, angry laugh. “They would have some nerve to be angry about this situation. No, they are not angry—they are terrified. Enough people, myself included, bore witness to the last bit of your altercation. We would be fully within our rights to order Alucard Reed executed.” He poured himself more tea, then continued. “However, as I am given to understand it, Reed acted foolishly and without complete awareness of what he was doing. He is out of line for slipping you any sort of potion, but he thought it was something far milder and much more harmless than what he did give you. He is also truly remorseful, so I am inclined to go with a lighter punishment—unless you feel differently, John. It is your decision in the end.”
Johnnie frowned. “Killing him will not accomplish anything. You cannot atone for your crimes if you are dead.” He and Grim had been responsible for numerous deaths in the course of his work, but it was not something they did lightly. “What is the lighter punishment?”
“Your demands were legally binding,” Ontoniel said quietly. “It is an extremely old-fashioned sort of punishment. I do not think I have heard of its being enacted since many years before we left France.”
“My demands?” Johnnie asked. “I only vaguely remember yelling at him. My only clear memory is of punching him.” Then running because he had been sickened by his own behavior. Even now, only Grim’s presence, the way Grim had made it extremely clear he did not act under incubus thrall, kept him from getting upset again. “I did say something, but what? I asked for…” He frowned. “His lands. His wealth, too, I think. It seems a touch melodramatic.” Grim snorted, and Johnnie kicked him.
“I have seen these things end with much greater drama and often simply tragedy,” Ontoniel said. He picked up a stack of papers and held them out. “Sign these.”
Johnnie took them, skimming the paperwork as he flipped through it to sign in all the marked places. “What in the world am I going to do with holdings in Quebec? I am not even allowed to hold a territory, your son or not.” He finished signing and returned the papers.
Ontoniel set them aside, looking at Johnnie with a pleased smile. “No, you cannot, but I am allowed to overtake them in your name, and I am going to trade them to DeLovely. Once they are gone, I will take over their current territory until I can trade it away to someone else.”
“So I am drugged and Desrosiers wealth increases tenfold,” Johnnie said, sitting back in his chair with a smile of his own, teacup perched carefully on one knee.”
“Precisely,” Ontoniel said. “You already have two percent of income from my territory in your marriage trust, but with this new territory, you will take the full ten percent that goes to the ruling family. When the property is sold, you get ten percent of that as well, and of course, the majority, if not all, of whatever else we obtain in the sale.”
Johnnie nearly tipped the teacup off his knee. “The full ten percent? That is ridiculous. I have no need of such funds.” Two percent of Desrosiers was already absurdly generous. How had he never known Ontoniel had set aside so much for him?
“It is your due in recompense for the assault, and rightfully so. Reed is getting off lightly in this transaction.”
“His family is losing their territory. That does not strike me as lightly.”
Ontoniel shrugged. “They were losing it, anyway. Once they have calmed down, they will likely find it is a relief to finally have done instead of bleeding out slowly. I believe Lady Wintry has family back in Germany; they will settle fine there. You get a fortune and now everyone is afraid of you because of you.” He smiled. “Not simply because of me.”
“I do not want anyone afraid of me,” Johnnie replied. He wanted them to stop seeing him as the weak little human Ontoniel coddled.
Grim smirked at him, following his thoughts as unerringly as ever. Johnnie kicked him again, picking up his teacup in time to save it and sipping at the dark, fragrant tea.
“I am sure you would like to be on your way,” Ontoniel said, “but return this evening for dinner. I will have more papers for you to sign, and Dracula Edwards has been granted permission to send an emissary to issue a personal apology—and likely he will bring a personal gift.”
Ontoniel’s face softened the way it always did when Johnnie called him that, something Johnnie had failed to notice for far too long. “Run along, then.” He stood with them and stepped in to hug Johnnie, which always left Johnnie stunned a moment. Drawing back, he gripped Johnnie’s shoulders tightly. “You are truly well?”
“Yes,” Johnnie said. “As long as I do not start acting like an incubus again.” He shuddered.
“The healers I consulted said it is likely something that will happen should you ingest further love potions, or fall prey to further love spells. So I think it in unlikely it will happen again. But you controlled it well. Now go, before I keep you here all day. I believe Rostislav and Jesse would like to see you, if you have the time.”
“Of course. I will see you this evening.” Grim stepped in close, and Johnnie slid an arm around his waist, taking the cane Grim held out with the other.
Grim bent to kiss him, and in the next breath they vanished.