Grandfather Storenton was pleased to say the least by how quickly we’d come up with a possible solution to our quandary, and was equally pleased at our readiness to attack the experiment ahead of us. He was, however, more than a little perturbed at Sebastian’s newfound obsession with Phyllida, so Raechel, by now having been roused from her cot, was asked to keep an eye on him. I’m not entirely sure how Sebastian managed to not be mortally offended when she suggested we just stake him and get it over with, but it may have had something to do with the fact that he was staring rapturously at Phyllida as she explained the concept of modern art. Orcus was all for that idea, and seemed very disappointed by the fact that he would be required to let the vampire live for a few months more. I tried my hardest not to feel the same way.
Sebastian was more than a little put out by our asking about his toxic tendencies, but willingly donated his saliva. Obtaining his blood was a completely different story. It would require, said Grandfather Storenton, a friend of Mr. Locke’s, as the tools necessary for such an extraction weren’t to be found in the house. It put to Orcus another moral dilemma – I say ‘another’, but the reality is it was probably the only one he’d ever had: He would have to speak to his father, or allow me to speak for him, neither option being desirable. After a few minutes’ deliberation he decided that we would go together. I agreed on the grounds that he wait outside the study door and let me do the negotiating. He pointed out that it was a situation he was trying to avoid. I told him to sit outside with the door open so he could monitor everything without being seen, as his presence was likely only to detract from the validity of the conversation and request. It was another ten minutes of coaxing and arguing before he finally agreed, and we made the trek to Edward Locke’s study.
As we’d agreed, the study door was left open, earning a twitched eyebrow from Mr. Locke. I felt myself go a little red, and suddenly felt very self-conscious about what I was going to ask; I hate asking favors of anybody, friend or foe.
“By the way you keep staring at your feet, I’m going to venture a guess that you’re here at the request of someone else,” he said, the smirk crawling into place at the corner of his mouth.
I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and held up my chin. “Yes. We, uh, need to collect some blood samples from Mr. Degas, but we find ourselves lacking the necessary tools and experience required in that particular area.” Because I’m obviously the most qualified person the world to mend a torn ear.
Mr. Locke was, thankfully, a clever man. “My father-in-law told you about my friend, and suggested my help in the matter.”
“Er – yes.”
Mr. Locke’s smirk didn’t fade. “And why isn’t Orcus asking me?”
“We figured that would do more damage than anything, given the size of your competing egos.” I gleefully imagined Orcus grinding his teeth at what he felt was my impudence. “We agreed it would be in everybody’s best interest if I asked you.”
“Given your considerable lack of ego?” the man at the desk ventured.
I grinned cheekily. “If only Orcus were so clever.”
Orcus hissed something out in the corridor, but remained largely ignored.
Mr. Locke was chuckling. “Low blow, that, Miss Tourney.”
Mr. Locke was evaluating the request: His left index finger rested on his lower lip; it was a move Orcus often mirrored.
“All right,” he finally said. “I’ll give him a call. I can’t guarantee he’ll be as enthusiastic as you might like, but I’ll see if I can’t twist his arm for something.”
I nodded. “I’d say we appreciate it, sir, but Orcus probably thinks you exist to do his bidding; so I appreciate it.”
There was an indignant sound from Orcus, and his voice filtered into the study: “I can hear you in the corridor!”
I grinned again, and Mr. Locke’s eyes twinkled. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’re very welcome,” he said, pressing a phone to his ear. I retreated to let him make the call. Orcus was sitting in a chair just outside the door, his arms crossed over his chest, face set in his distinct scowl.
“You are not allowed to make jokes at my expense,” he retorted, getting to his feet and stalking away.
“I just did,” I retorted. “Anyway, who says I can’t?”
“Mmm,” I replied, making it very clear that his opinion meant nothing. “In the meantime, where do you keep the garlic around here? And how soon can we get started?”
“There is a market that specializes in what we want a few miles from the edge of the estate,” he said formally. “We’ll start there.”
It didn’t escape my notice that he’d said it was a few miles ‘from the edge of the estate,’ not ‘a few miles away.’ It was like he’d sunk to flouting his wealth in an attempt to impress. That likely wasn’t the case at all, but it was nice to imagine it. I almost smiled at the thought of Orcus trying to impress anyone.
“We’ll need a little of all of them,” I said thoughtfully. “Different types of garlic have different levels of potency; one or two might be more lucrative than the others.”
Orcus paused, thinking hard. “Obviously. My sole question is what elements in the plant make it deadly to vampires?” He fixed his eyes on me. “I’d like to see his reaction before we begin, as a sort of measure.”
I frowned. “You think it’ll be conducive?”
“Hypothetically, because he bit me, I’d take on the traits that make him the vampire he is.” He narrowed his eyes. “And I don’t think his Italian heritage will have anything to do with his reaction.”
“How do you know?” I challenged. “It might.”
“He collected the Y-chromosome from his father; the father makes the sex, therefore we must conclude that he wouldn’t be affected or protected from a garlic medicine by his mother’s heritage. She gave birth to him, yes, but the father makes the child.”
He couldn’t seriously think that, could he? “The father makes the child, but the mother makes the man,” I said. “He’ll react differently than lore dictates, just you wait and see.”
The trip to the market wasn’t the most interesting experience I’d ever had in my life bar-none. In fact, had we not been on a mission to destroy the vampire in Orcus, and hopefully the ones at the school, it really wouldn’t be a wholly remarkable detail. Granted, Orcus dropped hints to anyone who would listen about the relationship we didn’t have, but that was likely something he’d have done anyway, whether or not he thought he owned me. My only issue was that, for how many actually attractive young men there were in the market, he kept frightening them all away. I wouldn’t have minded half so much if he’d have let me make him out to be an ass, but he was stubbornly refusing me that particular craving. Apparently these boys had been on the receiving end of his wrath before, because one quirked eyebrow or stony face had them racing for the hills, apologizing for stepping over their marked bounds.
When we’d got what we wanted in sufficient quantities, we headed up to check-out, Orcus continuing to examine each bulb. He gestured to the purple stripes, frowning. “We’d best make extended use of these first.”
“The rocambole species, too,” I said, my eye on the cost. “Neither one will last past your expiration date. Which do you want?”
“Are you suggesting we test them independent?”
“You don’t expect to make the same level of progress by testing them all together, do you?”
His mouth was turned down into a scowl. “I want to be accurate, Mallory, not speedy.”
“We’ll double-check each other’s work, then,” I said, digging into my wallet for a bill. The girl behind the counter almost didn’t notice it she was so busy staring at my cursed suitor. “You work faster than I do, anyhow, so by the time I finish checking mine and yours, you’ll have a more conclusive idea as to what will work, and what won’t.”
He opened his mouth to contradict me, but at that moment God heard my prayers and his mobile device went off. He pulled it out and stepped away, the registrar’s eyes following him; I felt myself becoming greatly annoyed with her stupidity.
“Receipt,” I said shortly. “Please.”
She nodded and, still watching Orcus, tore a sticky-note off the dispenser and gave it to me. The handwriting was illegible, but that was hardly the issue. I snapped my fingers, and her face whipped around, eyes wide. I held up the sticky-note and she blushed, hurriedly taking it back and presenting me with the proper piece of paper. I tossed the garlic bulbs into a paper sack, and when I turned around again, she was still staring after Orcus.
“You know he’s dangerous, right?”
She looked back to me again. “Oh no!” she said. “He isn’t! He’s good, and gentle, and sweet, and – ”
“You’re delusional,” I said calmly. “He’ll use you for his own ends, none of which are safe, I assure you; and when he’s finished, he’ll drop you like a dead fish.”
The girl looked horrified, and for a second I thought she was going to slap me. “You don’t know him,” she said feverishly.
“I do, actually,” I said. “I’ve known him for the last nine years, and believe you me, he is anything but good.”
The idiot girl fixed me with what I suppose was meant to be an even more terrible gaze; in reality it made her look a bit like a blown up chipmunk. “He’s well-loved in this town,” she said coldly. “You should remember that before you say those things again.”
There was nothing for it, so I sighed and went on my way. Orcus did follow me, giving the girl at the counter one last charming smile before he went out the door. When we got back to his car, which was surprisingly beat up and trashed, the phone was away, and he was back to frowning; it didn’t cover up the wicked gleam in his eye.
“What?” I said, knowing I’d probably regret it.
He smirked. “That was Jo. Apparently McNab is about finished with our two lovebirds.”
I’d known I was going to regret it. “It had to happen at some point today.” As long as she didn’t kill him before we’d done our tests.
“I suppose you’d like to relieve her?” He laughed when I narrowed my eyes. “Perhaps not.”
“Raechel may hate them, but she’s far more self-controlled than I am, and if this is going to go anywhere, he’ll need to be alive.”
“You are far too generous, Mallory, with the gift of life,” Orcus said, climbing into the car. “He is a useless pest.”
I rolled my eyes. “Just because someone is a useless pest doesn’t mean they deserve to die. If that were the case, you’d have been killed a long time ago.”
Orcus laughed. “If only I were a useless pest. As it is, dear, I am far from that, and very much in demand everywhere I go.”
I scowled. “They only want you because they need your money.”
The smile didn’t go away, and I was a fool to expect it to. “A fact which nullifies your classification of me as a useless pest.”
I huffed. “Fine. Not useless, just a pest.”
We lapsed into silence as he pointed the car home. My silence was more out of irritation, his was satisfaction that I’d let him under my skin so easily. This boy was incorrigible, and there was absolutely nothing to be done for it. I suppose killing him was an option, but I needed his brain, and while he may have been effectively human, that was no guarantee he would actually die.
“Do you think you’ll ever stop resisting me?” he asked suddenly. I’d have been a complete and utter moron not to detect the dark hint in his voice.
I snorted. “You keep asking me that, and I keep telling you no.”
“I thought not,” he said. Another pause, and then: “My father likes you well enough.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I said, genuinely confused and somewhat taken aback by his attitude.
“What I said,” he snapped. “He likes you.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m not psychotic, unlike some people I know. It makes me easier to talk to, actually.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it, daft woman.”
I did know it; I was trying to ignore it. “Come out and say it then,” I snapped. “Don’t be shy about it now.”
Orcus skidded to a halt on the side of the road, his face set. “Who could blame him?” he said, scowl growing ever deeper. “You’re beautiful,” I snorted, “you’re of age, it’s your last year in school, you’re set to be an apprentice with Cunningham at the embassy in London; you’re intelligent enough for him – ”
“ – you get to the point in conversation, you know what the hell you’re talking about most of the time – ”
“ – you’re my academic rival, and let’s face it, my father isn’t exactly cheering for my success, is he?”
“You come from a decent sort of stock – ”
“Orcus, your father does not fancy me, and definitely not in that kind of way. You’re being gross and purposely obtuse.”
Orcus laughed. “Mallory-don’t-be-ridiculous,” he said in a breath. “Father doesn’t bother with women, particularly ones our age,” he said, his tone bitter.
“Why are you bothering yourself over something that’s not even real?” I retorted.
“I told you, Tourney,” he said angrily, “I do not share; not fame, not wealth, not glory, and especially not women.”
Common sense and past experience told me that if I lost my temper it would only make the situation that much worse. Taking a deep breath, I counted ten as slowly as I dared. “Orcus,” I said, my voice controlled, “I don’t belong to you.”
He jaw was set. “For now, anyway.”
“And your father definitely does not fancy me. I’m young enough to be his daughter, and he happens to be in possession of common sense - unlike you, apparently - and wouldn’t be inclined to do something so stupid.”
“That’s what you think,” Orcus growled.
I rubbed my eyes; it was clear I wasn’t getting through to him, and it was imperative that I do so. “Fine. Take us back to the – museum. . .we can relieve Raechel and get started on this.”
“I don’t want to start until tomorrow,” he said decidedly. “We’ll need at least eight solid hours available to us, and we don’t have that sort of time left today. For now we’ll look up what we can on the molecular structure.”
“No doubt found in your library?” I said.
“Naturally,” he replied. “Chances are not in our favor that Father’s friend will be available at our convenience; tomorrow will be devoted to checking Degas’ saliva.”
I frowned, not sure if I should be relieved that the conversation was back on the academic route. I wasn’t good at talking about emotions, and Orcus didn’t have any, so this was a subject best suited to us both if we weren’t going to murder each other in the car. “If there is venom in the saliva, a decent amount anyway, wouldn’t the blood be redundant?”
“I don’t think so,” he said shortly.
I’d forgotten that Orcus wasn’t doing this for anyone other than himself; I should be shot for being so stupid. I settled back into my seat, subdued and occupied by the direction my mind was taking. If there was venom in the saliva, we wouldn’t need the blood. Orcus was going to take it anyway. I stole a glance at him, not entirely sure what to make of it all. The herbal green orbs were narrowed in concentration, and an idea germinated in the back of my brain. He would use it in that way, too, I was sure of it….