She nodded, more upset by the event than she’d have guessed she would be. “I know. I’m just shaken, that’s all.”
Lord Syler joined them. “It’s to be expected.” He turned to the group. “I want it known that from this day forward, the House of Bathory will always side with the House of Tepes. Cross them and you cross us as well.”
Grigor swore in Russian. “This is not the end of this, Tatiana. You may align yourself with whoever you choose; it does not change the fact that you are out for your own good and nothing else.”
“If you could read my mind, you’d see that’s not true.” She held Lilith tightly, surprised to find those words truer than she could have imagined. Nothing mattered to her so much as protecting Lilith, but that would never be a problem again. No one would dare come against them after word of tonight spread through the families.
Grigor stormed off, shouting for his things to be packed. Timotheius and Zephrim looked like they’d fallen into a state of shock.
Timotheius straightened. “We should adjourn the council. Grigor’s time as Dominus may have come to an end.”
“Yes, perhaps.” Zephrim nodded as both he and Timotheius looked at Tatiana. “What would you have us do, my lady?”
And for the first time since she’d entered the nursery that night, Tatiana smiled.
When Doc reached Chrysabelle, Jerem was crouched beside her in the square, trying to get her into the car. Jerem stood as Doc approached.
Doc glanced at the chains hanging empty from their posts. “Tell me what I saw on TV was just a trick. Mal’s in the car, right?”
Jerem shook his head. “I wish.”
As numb as Doc felt, he could only imagine how Chrysabelle was. “I can’t believe this. I didn’t believe it when the mayor made the announcement, and I don’t believe it now. He can’t be gone. He can’t be.” How many times had Mal saved his life?
“It was so sudden.” Jerem shook his head. “Something must have happened to change her mind. Unless she planned it all along.”
“Couldn’t be. I was supposed to be there, not Mal. The sun wouldn’t have done anything to me.” He never should have let Mal take his place. Dammit. Mal would still be alive now. He lifted his chin toward Chrysabelle. “How is she?”
“Refuses to leave.”
“Let me talk to her.”
Doc approached her like he might a wounded animal. “Chrysabelle?” He crouched beside her. She rocked back and forth, arms wrapped around her, tears cutting tracks in the makeup she’d used to hide her signum.
She didn’t answer, just stared blankly at the spot where Mal had been.
He wrapped his arm around her. “Let’s go home now.” Gently, he eased her to her feet. Jerem got the car door open. “Come on now, that’s my girl.” She slumped against him, her feet not really moving. Not wanting to make more of a scene for the cameras than they already had, he picked her up and carried her, putting her down again on the backseat. He shut the door and turned to Jerem. “Get her home. I’ll be right behind you.”
Too many minutes later, they’d cleared Mephisto Island security and pulled into Chrysabelle’s driveway. As Doc and Jerem got out, a red-eyed Fi opened the door. Behind her stood her the whirling gray storm that was Velimai.
“Tell me it’s not true,” Fi cried.
Doc held the car door while Jerem lifted Chrysabelle out and carried her inside. “I wish it wasn’t.”
Fi started crying softly. “How could the mayor do this?”
“I don’t know.” Doc pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head. She clung to him and wept. “Come on, now. Be strong for Chrysabelle.” And Velimai, who couldn’t seem to pull herself together enough to stay solid.
“Where should I put her?” Jerem asked.
Fi wiped her eyes. “Upstairs. In her bedroom. I’ll go with you.” She pulled away from Doc and led Jerem up the steps.
As they walked away, Doc shifted uncomfortably. Grief was not something he dealt with easily. Anger, yes. But Chrysabelle needed comfort, and anger wasn’t going to do that. “Uh, Velimai, could you help me make tea?” That’s what Chrysabelle had sent him to do the time they’d arrived to find her mother kidnapped by Tatiana. It seemed like a good activity.
Velimai solidified enough to nod. She pointed toward the kitchen, then moved in that direction. He followed.
“I guess you were watching it on the holovision?”
She nodded again and signed something he didn’t understand.
“I don’t know signing, sorry.”
She shrugged and didn’t bother trying to make herself understood.
“I’m surprised you’re so upset about a vampire.” He tried to smile a little, to show he’d meant it as a way of lightening the mood.
She just sat at the kitchen table, put her head between her hands, and stared into space.
Without much else to do, he started opening cabinets and looking for supplies. The kettle was already on the stove, so he turned that on, then went back to rummaging. He made a point of knocking a box out of the cabinet.
Velimai caught it before it hit the ground. She rolled her eyes at him and made shooing motions with her hands.
He got out of the way as she went to work. “Chrysabelle needs us to be strong right now. I don’t feel like it any more than you do, but it’s what she needs.”