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Freebies: Death's Mistress 

 

Warning: Spoilers ahead.  If you have not yet read Death's Mistress, the second Dorina Basarab book, please skip this page. 

Author's Note: I love this scene, partially because it's set at home, and I really enjoy the house scenes in this series. But mostly because it has a lot of Claire. I love Claire, but she didn't get as much face-time in this book as I wanted, mainly because this chapter failed to make the final version.

So what was wrong with it?


Well, actually, nothing at all. That's the thing about cut scenes, some were cut because they deserved it, but others ended up being taken out for any number of reasons that have nothing to do with quality. In this case, the problem was length: the book was already running long, and including this scene would have also required adding several others, which would have made it even longer.

What was it about?

Originally, instead of going to a bar to drown her sorrows (after having absconded with Ray by tricking Louis-Cesare) Dory went home to report to Claire. The idea was to give the reader a chance to catch his or her breath and to...well, that was just it. The chapter provided a nice scene between Claire and Dory, and also served to recap the situation up until then. But ultimately, that just wasn't enough to justify the length, not only of the scene itself, but of the scenes which would have had to follow in order to set up the situation with Cheung for the following night. So, ultimately, it had to go.

But I'm happy to finally have a showcase for it, and hope you enjoy reading it at much as I did writing it!



Lost Chapter: Death's Mistress

     Forty-five minutes later, I opened the kitchen door to light, cooking smells and laughter.  Gessa was at the stove, standing on a stool and stirring something in a huge pot.  Sven and Ymsi were at one end of the kitchen table, playing chess, and the boys were at the other, chasing animal crackers. 
     A local fey bakery made them, and since most fey don’t feel like they’ve really fed unless the meal puts up some sort of struggle, they had animated them.  Aiden was stalking a string of tiny monkeys that were headed down the table leg, while a herd of bison thundered across the surface.  And straight into Stinky’s open mouth. 
     Gessa looked up at me. “Claire thinks you dead.”

     I frowned and checked my watch. “It’s not even two.”
     “I tell her, but she say you not answer phone.”
     I pulled my cell out of the duffle and sure enough, there were about twenty messages.  I hadn’t heard it because I keep it on vibrate when on a job.  And because I hadn’t had it for most of the night. 
     “Where is she?”
     Gessa shrugged. 
     I sighed, dropped the duffle and turned back to haul the rest of Ray through the door.  I should have phoned, but I’d gotten out of the habit. Still, it probably hadn’t been fun for Claire, sitting home all day in the sweltering heat, waiting for word that didn’t come. 
     At least I had good news, sort of. 
     I hustled Ray’s body in the door, but didn’t get much further. The hole over the thresh hold contracted tightly around his left foot, like a hungry mouth. On the highest setting, the wards automatically excluded anyone who wasn’t considered family and the house had never liked vampires anyway. 
     “At least we know upgrades work,” Gessa said, checking out the hole.  It appeared to have grown some new, jagged edges that were gnawing busily on Ray’s shin.  It must not have been too comfortable, because his arms were flailing around and his head had started screaming.  
     “Hold still a second and I’ll get you out!” I told him, yanking on the leg.  He ignored me and one of his wildly waving arms clipped me upside the jaw. “Point your toe! No, down, down! Your foot is caught under something!” I gave another yank, at the same moment that Ray decided to pay attention. As a result, he all but flew out of the hole, taking me with him.
     We hit the table, causing the horde of remaining crackers to scatter into the middle of the chess game. The twins roared disapproval as their armies stopped fighting each other and went after the interlopers.  A couple trolls netted a lion, an ogre was trampled by a miniature elephant, and Stinky dove after a bear and grabbed a chess piece instead. 

     All the other pieces stopped what they were doing to watch in horror as their fellow soldier was gulped down in one mouthful. Then they charged, leaping on the perpetrator with tiny weapons flashing. I rescued Stinky before they did too much damage, sat Ray in an empty chair and went to get a much deserved hangover started. 
     I found Claire on the back porch, watching the trees whip back and forth in the wind.  She apparently hadn’t been able to stand the heat, or possibly the mayhem, in the kitchen, and had come out here with dinner.  A mostly uneaten roasted veggie sandwich lay on a plate by her elbow and an empty beer bottle was in her hand. 
     “Dory!”  She rose half out of her chair, such a look of relief on her face that guilt started gnawing at my gut. 
     “I should have called,” I told her, setting a bottle on the table. 
     “It’s been almost seventeen hours!”
     “Things got a little complicated.”
     “I can see that,” she said, checking out my outfit.  “I don’t think I ever remember seeing you in an evening dress.”
     My hand unconsciously went to the shoulder strap, smoothing it down. “Yeah, well. I need to go change.”
     “I think it looks nice. I like all the—” her hands fluttered around. “Strappy things.  How
do you keep them in place?”
     “They just sort of stay,” I said, trying not to feel the warmth of a rough hand adjusting them.  Or the rush of guilt that followed. Damn it!  At least I’d left him clothes. 
     I kicked off the torture device shoes and groaned as my arches sank back to a human angle. “Those are strictly car-to-the-bar shoes,” Claire said, smiling.  “I don’t know how you wore them all night.”
     Because I wasn’t on my feet for most of it, I didn’t say. One of the little Swarovski bows had landed upside down on the dirty boards.  I went and turned it right side up, and placed them carefully by the door. 
     “Anyway, I think I know where your rune is,” I told her, to change the subject.
     “You found it already? Where is it?” She had the look of someone who planned to run out into the night after it. And that wasn’t something I wanted to see. Louis-Cesare might consider Elyas a lousy duelist, but that was the assessment of a champion and didn’t mean Claire would find him an easy target.
     “It’s more accurate to say that I might know who has it,” I told her, breaking the wax seal on the bottle. “It was sold last night at auction to Ming-de, the Chinese empress.”
     Claire looked confused. “But the Chinese don’t have a—”
     “The vampires do. She’s head of their version of a senate.”
     Claire paled. “How do we get it back from someone like that?”
     “We don’t. Luckily, it was stolen before she took possession.”
     “Luckily?” she demanded, as I looked around for a glass and realized I’d forgotten to bring one. 
     “It was taken—maybe—by another vampire. But he’s not a consul, and there’s a better than average chance that he killed that guard of yours to get it. So it should be possible to prize it away from him.”
     I headed back to the kitchen, and Claire followed. “But Jókell was a trained fey warrior.  How could any—” her voice cut off abruptly. I turned from grabbing a glass out of the cabinet to see her standing in the kitchen door, gaping at the table. Or, more accurately, at Ray. 
     Shit. I’d gotten so used to him that I’d forgotten how gruesome the reality could be. But her expression let me see him with new eyes.
     I don’t know what kind of bath he’d taken, but it hadn’t done much good. He was dead white except for where blood had dried in a black crust about the stump and dribbled down the front of his chest, matting the whispy chest hair. A flap of skin had detached from the side of his neck and was sagging dispiritedly against his shoulder. And then there was the whole missing head thing. 
     “Um. Sorry. I—”
     “What is that?” Claire screeched, her voice returning all at once. 
     “A vampire,” I admitted. “Look—”
     “You promised you weren’t going to do this anymore!” she said accusingly.
     I blinked. That wasn’t the reaction I’d expected. “Do what?”
     “Bring one of those nasty things home to milk some kind of poison or whatever out of it!” 
     “That was a demon.”
     “Same thing!” She grabbed Ray under the arm pits and started dragging him toward the door. “We still haven’t gotten the floor repaired from the last time something leaked out and—” she broke off with a shriek as the body she was carrying began struggling. 
     She jumped back, like a housewife who had just seen a mouse. But the image was ruined when one arm morphed into a huge, taloned paw that whacked Ray across the room, through the door and into the hall.  I got my back against the door before she could flow through it—the woman could change in an eye blink—and finish him off. 
     “It’s okay. He’s—sort of a friend.”
     “Friend my ass!” Ray yelled, from the duffle. 
     Claire looked from the duffle to the hall and back again. “He’s—that—what--”
     I sighed. “He’s a vampire. They can live in pieces for a while.”  She stared at me.  “It’s complicated.”
     “It’s horrible!”
     “Yes, well.” It was hard to argue with that one. 
     “Why is it here?” she demanded.
     “He’s been helping me. Sort of. It’s a long story.” I went to retrieve my glass, and when I turned around, Claire was squatting by the duffle. She unzipped it before I could stop her, and peered inside. And lost what little color she had.  
     “Take a picture; it’ll last longer,” Ray told her. 
     “I can’t believe this,” she muttered. 
     “He won’t bite,” I promised. Ray and I had had a little talk on the way back. Currently, his master, two other master vamps and the senate all wanted him dead or seriously inconvenienced. I might not be his friend, but I was currently his best chance for ending up a whole man again. In return, he’d promised to behave. 
     Claire zipped the bag and looked up at me. “I need a drink,” she said fervently.
     “The porch bar is open for business,” I offered, and she nodded gratefully. I got down another glass and grabbed the whiskey. Then I went looking for the rest of Ray.  
     I found him across the hall in the living room, playing with the household cats. Or vice versa.  Jackanapes, the black one with green eyes, bit him on the leg as I came in the door, then scampered away before Ray could figure out where to aim a kick. The vampire stumbled back into Miss Priss, the fluffy white one, who as usual was lounging in the way, waiting for someone to trip over her. Ray obliged, hitting the floor on his back and presenting a perfect target for two mean-minded fur balls. 
     I rescued him before they did too much damage and shoved him back into the hall. 
     Claire flattened against the wall. “What are you doing?”
     I paused at the kitchen door. “He has to go somewhere.”
     “I’m not having that thing near my son!”
     “I promise you, he’s not a threat. He’s--” 
     “A vampire!” she said severely. “They’re never less than dangerous.”
     I arched an eyebrow. “Tell that to the cats. They were about to eat him.”
     Claire just looked at me, so I sighed and changed course. I bumped the back door open with a hip, my arms occupied with glasses, bottle and vampire, and she followed me out onto the porch.   
     “You were going to tell me how someone overcame an experienced fey warrior,” Claire said, as I did the honors.  
     “The guy who killed him is a first-level master vampire. Trust me, he could do it.”
     Her eyes narrowed, probably because she’d noticed the lack of a name. “And this vampire would be?”
     I paused, bottle in hand. I’d known this was coming. “Here’s the thing,” I told her.    
     “There is no ‘thing,’” she said quietly. “The rune is a Blarestri family relic. It must be returned.”
     “Yeah, I got that. But it’s not so simple. You remember Louis-Cesare—”
     “He has it?”
     “No.” I handed her a glass half full of amber liquid. “But the guy who does is holding a servant of his.”
     “A servant? You mean another vampire?”
     “Yes. And if he doesn’t redeem her soon, she’ll die. The--”
     “She’s already dead!” Claire said, looking with disgust at Ray, who had parked himself on the couch. He’d crossed his hairy shanks, possibly for modesty’s sake. I threw him a quilt. 
     “There’s dead and then there’s dead,” I said, not wanting to get into the metaphysics of it. 
     “They’re nothing but walking corpses! You know that!”
     I stopped, my glass halfway to my lips. Claire had always had an issue with vamps, one she’d never bothered to hide. Not that unusual; a lot of mages did. It’s not hard to hate something that considers you food. But I’d never heard her state it quite that plainly before—or that callously.
     “I’m half vampire,” I reminded her. 
     She shoved that aside with a gesture. “Yes, but you’re not like them!”
     “I’m not?” I folded my arms. “I have their reflexes, their sight, their hearing. I heal more or less like them—the younger ones, anyway—and I fight--”
     “You don’t drink blood! You don’t prey on people!”
     “I won’t argue with the blood part, but I prey on people all the time. It’s a large part of
my job.”
     “You prey on things. Dead things.” Her face wrinkled in disgust, and I suddenly regretted bringing Ray. If ever there was a poster child for the difference between humans and vamps, he was currently it. “You can’t hurt them! They don’t feel anything!”
     I thought back to Louis-Cesare’s face when he told me about Christine. And later, when he watched me slide down his body. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”
     “They’re monsters, Dory!” she said, looking at me incredulously. “Nothing but monsters! And we’re talking about my son—”
     “Who is part dark fey,” I said sharply. “Something a lot of people would also consider a monster.”
     Her head jerked up like I’d slapped her. “You can’t—if that’s what you think—”
     “It’s not what I think,” I said, striving for patience. I was tired and my head hurt. And I hadn’t expected to come home to an argument after busting my ass for her all day. “My point is that everyone’s a monster to someone. Most vamps think I fall into that category.”
     “Does Louis-Cesare know who has Naudiz?” Claire demanded.
     “Yes, but--”
     “Then don’t you think you should at least give me that much?” Her eyes were glittering and her face was cold.  I’d somehow managed to royally screw this up in what?  Five minutes? That had to be a new record. 
     “I can’t,” I said flatly. “If I do, you’ll go after him—”
     “You’re damn right I’ll go after him!”
     “—and he’ll kill you!”
     But Claire wasn’t listening. She’d obviously been sitting here, getting more and more
wound up all day, and she wanted something to do. Or, preferably, somebody to kill.  “We’ll see!” she told me, jumping up. 
     I grabbed her arm. “Calm down for a minute and listen. You need to understand—”
     “What? That you’re putting the needs of some…some thing over Aiden’s? I got that, thanks!”
     “Louis-Cesare isn’t a thing,” I said, starting to get angry myself. “And I just spent the better part of the day trying to help your son!”
     “Nobody asked you!” she said, eyes flashing. “I said I’d go myself—”
     “I didn’t mind doing it,” I told her, exasperated. “I want to help. But—”
     “It sounds like you want to help this vampire!” 
     “There’s a way we can all get what we want,” I snapped, my patience going out the window. 
     “There’s only one stone, Dory,” she told me softly, dangerously. “And it’s Aiden’s!”
     “Are you threatening me?” I asked carefully, putting down the glass.
     “I’m telling you plainly, I won’t have my son’s safety jeopardized to help one of those horrible—”
     “You’ll have the damn thing tomorrow,” I said, cutting her off. “And for the record, that “horrible” thing was willing to work with me to try to help your son, a boy he’s never even met. That’s what gave me the chance to betray him.”
     I left and went upstairs, slamming the door behind me. Claire called after me, but I ignored it. She might be spoiling for a fight, but for once, I wasn’t. I didn’t want to argue, didn’t want to talk, didn’t even want to think. I’d wanted two things all the way home—a drink or three and bed—and if I couldn’t have the first, I was damned well going to have the second. 
     My nightwear is basically my daywear, once it gets too frayed for regular use. I pulled a long T-shirt over my head, then felt my mattress. Dry, but lumpy. In other words, back to normal. I sat on it and wondered where that betrayal comment had come from. 
     I hadn’t done anything to Louis-Cesare that he hadn’t done to me first, and I was going to help him get Christine back. He was just going to have to wait a day or so, that was all.  There was absolutely no reason to feel any guilt.  Or anything else. 
     I was hanging the gown in the closet when there was a tentative knock on the door. I opened it to find Claire, red-eyed and visibly upset, standing on the threshold. She thrust a pair of torture devices at me. “You left these.”
     “Thanks.” I took the shoes.
     “I’m sorry,” she blurted out. “I just—I can’t seem to think straight anymore.”
     “It’s okay,” I told her, just wanting to go to bed. 
     “No,” she shook her head. “No, it’s not. It…I feel like nothing I do helps. It’s my job, keeping Aiden safe, and I can’t do that; lately I can’t seem to do anything. Except yell at people who don’t deserve it.”
     “He looks to be in pretty good shape. And I probably did deserve it,” I admitted. “If our positions were reversed, I’d be mad as hell at you for keeping something like this from me.”
     She looked up, her lashes wet, her face surprised. Like she hadn’t expected me to admit it. “But you’re still not going to tell me?”
     “That would be a no.”
     “Why are you trying to protect me?” she demanded. “If I can handle the fey, I can handle this vampire!”
     “You handled the fey because you knew something about them, and because you had a talent that worked in your favor. Neither of those things is true in the case of a master vamp.”
     “You think he’s more powerful than…than this?” she waved a hand to include the wreck the fey had made of the house. Or possibly the people inside it.  
     “It’s not a matter of degree,” I said, struggling to explain something I’d never given that much thought to myself. “It’s a matter of difference. Fey and vamps both have power, but it doesn’t manifest in the same way. It’s like the old adage about an elephant trying to fight a whale; it’s a totally different skill set.”
     “And yet you seem to think this vampire would win.”
     “He did win,” I said bluntly. “If he really did steal Naudiz, he killed a fey warrior to get it.  And one of the royal guards no less.”
     “He probably took him by surprise.”
     I shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. We’ll probably never know. But we’re not talking about a guard here, we’re talking about you. And your other half is still an adolescent.”
     “It’s not only my other half that can fight.” 
     “Null powers only have a limited effect on vampires; their magic is too different,” I reminded her. “Not to mention that there won’t be just one vampire. He’ll be surrounded by family in a place of his choosing. You wouldn’t stand a chance.”
     “And you will?” she demanded. “How is it any better for you to face this creature alone?”
     Because I don’t have a fiancé and a little boy waiting on me to come home, I didn’t say.
“Because I’ve been doing exactly that for centuries, and I’m good at it. The fey may kick
my ass, for the same reason a master vamp would very likely kick yours—because I don’t know how to fight them. But vamps I know. You’re going to have to trust me on that.”
     “It’s not you I don’t trust!” she said vehemently. “This vampire who wants to work with you—”
     “Wanted.” She looked confused. “That was before he had all the facts. Right now…I doubt he even wants to talk to me.”
     That didn’t seem to clarify anything for her. “But…if you’re not working with him, why are you so adamant about getting his servant back?”
     “What difference does it make? I’m not going to let him have Naudiz; that’s what you’re really concerned about here, right?”
     She gripped my arm. “I’m concerned about you! Every time anyone I know has trusted one of these things, they’ve ended up regretting it. I don’t want you to get hurt trying to help me.”
     “I’m not going to get hurt. I’m not working with him; probably won’t even see him.” And if I did, it wasn’t likely to be pretty. “But if I can get the woman back as well as the stone, I will. You’re not the only one who stands to lose someone you care about if we don’t work this just right.”
     Claire frowned, like she’d really never thought of a vampire’s family equating to a human’s. “This servant. She’s that important to him?”
     “She’s his mistress.”
     For some reason, she suddenly looked stricken. “I’m sorry.”
     “There’s nothing to be sorry about. Tomorrow, you get the rune back, he gets Christine, and this will all be over.”
     “And what do you get, Dory?” she asked softly.
     “Some sleep,” I told her firmly, and closed the door.