One week, two weeks, and then three, and nothing changed. Orcus was reporting back to Carson every other day with “updates” on progress, and what we’d “found” about Sebastian’s family, and what we knew about Sebastian himself. Stealing from the blood bank became a bit of a pastime, and much of Sebastian’s self-restraint came because of the pint packages. Sometimes he’d go through ten in a day and not eat for another two or three. Phyllida stayed with him through the process, teaching him to read, write, and execute basic math, with a level of patience that Orcus, Raechel and I combined would have had trouble managing.
Mr. Locke hadn’t seemed too terribly bothered about his daughter’s romance, but the two were never allowed to be alone together. Jo theorized that it was for Phyllida’s protection; Mr. Locke admitted it was because he was more concerned about how warm-blooded Sebastian might be. He pointed out, and I had to agree, that Sebastian was only eighteen, “and boys at eighteen typically only have one objective in mind.” It’s very true. “And while I don’t believe in the saying, ‘Boys will be boys,’ I do believe that it’s my job as Phyllida’s father to run interference when I think she’s in danger.”
“You think she’s in danger?” I asked. And here we had brought this plague upon the Locke family.
“Not grave danger, no,” Mr. Locke replied. “However, if Mr. Degas really does come from a wealthy sixteenth century family, he won’t be used to the word ‘no,’ more specifically a no coming from a young woman.”
The blood Orcus had been so desperate to attain finally was drawn, though it looked more like sludge, to be perfectly honest; not that Sebastian much understood or cared. He was busy reciting times-tables to Phyllida. Raechel and I had been duly frightened, more in the fact that we didn’t know what Orcus was planning, and we didn’t fancy having to deal with an outbreak of power-hungry megalomaniacs, as would indubitably be the case if Orcus was left to his own devices. As it was, the blood was being stored in a freezer in the laboratory, and while Raechel and I kept tabs on it – much to Orcus’ amusement – we knew the resident sociopath wouldn’t abuse it. Not yet, anyway.
True to his grandson’s word, Grandfather Storenton had had several bottles of phoenix tears stowed away, and he agreed to allow us the use of them for our experiments. Nothing was going the way we wanted it to, though, and on more than one occasion, Orcus upended a table in the attic. Raechel and I didn’t sleep there anymore, but Orcus did, and it was still the meeting place for when there were important issues to discuss as it was ground for Orcus to vent his fury. My mind wasn’t often on the subject matter of these meetings. I was examining information I’d stowed away on Orcus Locke years ago; his behavior wasn’t ordinary, and I couldn’t quite follow it.
It occurred to me, one afternoon, after I’d sat staring out of a library window for three hours at a bleak and grey sky. At first I thought I was being paranoid, but the fact that I had twisted the hypothesis every which way to fit Orcus’ odd behavior, and was still coming to the same conclusion, wasn’t making me comfortable.
Orcus Locke, as long as I’d known him, would never have set out on an attempt that he didn’t think would be fruitful, and a vampire cure was just the sort of challenge he relished overcoming. Every move would have been calculated, everything would be weighed and measured, and if found wanting, discarded. All would be drawn up on a whiteboard in the massive expanse that was Orcus Locke’s intellect. He would have known that his father knew about the attic hideaway; it was a logical conclusion. He was letting his father think he had the upper hand. It was a blow to Orcus personal pride, to be sure, but one he would no doubt suffer willingly in order to win the game. It was his version of a feint; it was his Marshall Swindle; and it was brilliant.
He’d known that his father would prove partial to me; he had to. He wouldn’t bring anyone along just to keep an eye on them, perceived territory or not. He had a troupe of boys to do that for him. He’d brought me because he knew I would be a distraction to his father. He wouldn’t have tolerated my impertinence or Mr. Locke’s interest otherwise.
Oh, yes, Orcus had calculated and measured out every step he was going to take on this game-board before the game was even set, and it all pointed back to his father. The question I couldn’t answer – and it made my stomach clench – was why? Why would he go to all the trouble to make life hell for his father? Why would he bring me along as a distraction? It wasn’t to keep his father out of the vampire cure; Orcus knew I was telling the older man, quite freely, what we were finding out down in the lab. It wasn’t Orcus’ modus operandi to do something simply for the sake of doing it, which meant that he wanted something from his father. It wasn’t money, and it certainly wasn’t power; Orcus was eighteen. If he wanted either of those immediately, a convenient accident would get it for him. He wanted something much more important. But what?
I posed the theory to Raechel after breaking into her room in the wee hours of the morning, and was more than a little relieved when she appeared to agree.
“Have you told Mr. Locke?” she asked.
I snorted. “Of course not. Can you imagine that conversation? ‘Mr. Locke, your son is under the impression that you fancy me, and I’m not sure it isn’t because he wants to divert your attention from. . . .’ well, something.” I knocked my head against the wall. “What though? What could Orcus possibly want that he would go to all this trouble to get?”
Raechel dropped her head down onto the table. “Why are you asking me this? You’re a researcher; why don’t you figure it out?”
“Because I’m confused!” I wailed. “I don’t like being confused, and ever since Orcus got us here doing all this, that’s all I’ve been! You’re smart, and objective. What would he want so badly that he’d risk us finding out in distracting his father?”
Raechel’s head came up again, and she eyed me almost angrily. “No matter how many times you ask me that, if I don’t know the answer, I’m not going to know the answer.”
We were sitting in her bedroom; Raechel was seated at the study table in the corner, and I was perched in the window seat. It was about six, and as I wasn’t able to sleep, I’d woken Raechel. She had been the dictionary definition of annoyed, but she’d let me in and we’d discussed and abused Orcus for the last half-hour.
“His dad’s clever,” she argued. “He’ll figure it out.”
“You can count on Orcus to be cleverer,” I said darkly. “D’you think if maybe we snuck a look at the family records we’d get a better idea?”
Raechel looked at me like I was from outer-space. “Why would he be interested in that? Since we’ve known him he’s always been interested in – ”
“Things that could further a cause he wanted to achieve,” I interrupted. “Yes, I know, but, Raech, this family has more money than the combined Roman emperors.”
“That’s an invalid point,” she said flatly, “as many a Roman emperor was broke and bankrupted the state.”
I rolled my eyes. “Split hairs, why don’t we? Fine; they’re richer than all the popes; will that do?”
She thought this over. “I suppose so, yeah. Seems about right.”
I huffed. “The point here being, the Locke family has a ridiculous level of wealth, maintained over generations. They are old, old money. Hell, they’re older than pretty much any kind of old money on any side of the pond.”
“What d’you mean, which pond?”
“There are two main ones for sure.”
“Fine. Pick one. The point is, there’s almost nothing they can’t buy. If his grandfather is keeping phoenix tears locked in a cabinet, what else might they have? If they have it, you can bet they’ll have it recorded somewhere in case of theft, as there’ve got to be other people in the world who’d want it. It’ll be something extra special, and Orcus will want it desperately.”
Raechel groaned. “Locke wants to own the world; we could be talking about anything.”
I nodded. “I know. It’ll probably be well-hidden, though. If he’s resorting to using me to distract his father from what it is he’s doing, then it’s something his father has been keeping an eye on, too, and so it’d be hidden. What do you think?”
“I think you’re being stupid,” Raechel said flatly. “Get over yourself, talk to Locke Sr., and thwart his son. It’s not as complicated as you’re making it.”
I stood up from the window seat. “Fine. I’ll talk to him; but if I die of embarrassment, your butt is haunted.”
“Could I come to your funeral dressed as the Grim Reaper?”
I paused. “That seems like it would be legitimately entertaining. Please do, so my ghost doesn’t die of boredom.”
Raechel snickered. “I see what you did there.”
“I did. Now go away.”
I obliged and slipped out into the corridor. Much to my chagrin, I came face-to-chest with Orcus. He smiled coldly. “There you are.”
“Were you looking for me?”
“Don’t be silly,” he said lightly, “of course I was. Why are you in McNab’s bedroom?”
“We’re having a tawdry lesbian affair,” I deadpanned.
“Interesting. Now why were you really in McNab’s room?”
I hesitated. “Er, girl – stuff.
He cottoned on to what I was saying; I couldn’t tell if he knew I was lying. “I see.”
“Yours, or hers?”
“Hers. She wanted to get it off her chest.”
“If she wanted an ear, she could have had mine, I’m much more sensible than you.”
“Puns? Really? Is this a fucking joke to you?”
“Well, thank God for your sense of humor,” I said (extra heavy on the sarcasm). “Now, what do you want?”
His eyes glinted, but his tone was professional. “You, in the laboratory. Something I think you ought to see.”
“Is it to do with the cure?”
“Can it wait until later?”
“No, it cannot.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “I’ve had another idea, but I want you there when I try it. Just to make sure.”
“Orcus, aren’t you always right?”
“Then why must I be there?”
He grinned, and suddenly caught up my hand. “You’ll just have to come along and find out, won’t you?”
I realized then that he was wearing his pyjamas still, and I looked away quickly. No boy should look that fetching in threadbare bedclothes.
“Orcus. . . .”
“Shouldn’t we be dressed?”
He smiled wickedly. “We are dressed, Mallory, darling.”
“Don’t call me that, and you’re wearing pyjamas.”
“As are you. . .darling.”
“Don’t call me that,” I repeated. “Orcus, we’re going to work in a laboratory, with chemicals extracted from a plant, and if we’re going to be doing what I think you’re thinking we’re going to be doing, we’re going to need to be wearing the proper clothes.” Anything to get him into something not those pyjamas. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to like a person to want to bang them.
His smile said that he knew what I was about. ‘Now, now, Mallory. We haven’t the time for that sort of thing.”
“Orcus, please,” I was more than ready to beg. I was not prepared to deal with this. I hadn’t been lying when I’d said it was Raechel or me dealing with “stuff.” I was lying when I’d intoned that it was Raechel’s issue. It was mine, and Orcus Locke was looking more than a little – er, appetizing. . .as he had been for the last week. I was appalled that my resolve was really beginning to crumble, but there was nothing else for it. A hormonal surge is a hormonal surge, and there is cock all you can do about it (pun intended, because I have no proper sense of humor).
He smirked, and I almost died. “If you behave.”
Damn. That could only mean one thing. I bit back a groan as we descended the steps into the lab.
Raechel was giving me the evil eye and a knowing smirk when Orcus and I finally made it up to the kitchen for breakfast. He looked more than a little ruffled, and I could feel parts of me beginning to bruise. Orcus was exceptionally pleased with himself, and it made me want to crawl under a rock and die slowly. Raechel, on principle, wouldn’t have minded murdering me for giving in to a distraction. As far as actually reacting to our mutually mauling each other, she really seemed quite smug.
“You realize, of course,” I said drily, “that due to this one incident, we’re going to be at each other’s necks more than ever.”
She sniggered. “I’m sure you will.”
“No!” I said, realizing my mistake. “Not like that!” Raechel descended into a fit of giggles; her manic laugh just made it all seem planned. “You’re quite pleased with yourself for being right about this, aren’t you?”
She paused, and then nodded. “I am. I feel a little bit like a cat that caught a bird.”
I glared at her. “You troll.”
Raechel giggled again, before schooling her face. “In all seriousness, did you get anything done down there? As far as the cure goes, not your new boy-toy.”
I pretended to be blasé about the whole matter. “A little. He wants to try incorporating the phoenix tears into the allicin compound, and then maybe in the alliin, just to see what happens.” I was seizing onto this topic of discussion gratefully. “We should have thought to have his blood collected as well; I regret not doing that now. Why didn’t we think of it?”
Raechel snorted. “We hadn’t had the idea then, and it didn’t occur to us that we might actually need our patient’s DNA.” A huge oversight all around, really.
I sighed. “We’ll see how the two elements react to each other first. For all we know it could be a catastrophe.”
Raechel hummed, and I slouched down into my chair, deciding to let my mind wander. Mayhap it would stumble across some important bit of information that would indicate what Orcus wanted from his father. It wasn’t a wise idea; my brain immediately started rehashing what had happened in the laboratory, and my face automatically turned bright red. It wasn’t a simple snog that was for sure. It was entirely shameful how lovely the whole thing had been, and I cursed myself for not demanding he put on proper clothes.
I gave myself a mental slap. Who exactly was I kidding?! Of course it was wonderful! He knew what the hell he was doing, and I now knew things about him that I hadn’t known before.; His raven hair was extremely thick, which explained why he always kept it so short; his hands were remarkably calloused, and given that he didn’t engage in the typical activities of most boys his age, I was left a bit befuddled. Orcus was also much thinner than I’d realized. He made up for it, to be sure, but if I held any concern for his welfare it would be a cause for worry.
Oh, yes, I’d found out much more about Orcus Locke than I’d known. That wasn’t all I’d discovered, of course, but I was endeavoring not to think about those things, as I was already sufficiently distracted.
In all honesty, if he initiated it again, I had no intention of saying no. He was damn good at what he was doing, and for the next week and a half, I would be more than a little receptive. The only trouble was what I was going to do after that. I glanced to where he sat at the breakfast nook, calculating in my head how likely and how long it would be before he made another advance. The look he was giving me said exactly, and I quickly looked back at my empty plate.
My mother was going to be furious, but that was okay. In any case, it was the last thing on my mind. I had just jumped into the deep end of the pool, and in a few days I would likely be gasping for breath (and not for the right reasons). I’d thought this would be a cinch, and I’d just realized how big a fool I really was. With any luck, my ancestors were rolling over in their graves that very moment.