The palace had changed a lot since Brianna's reign. It looked like nothing so much as a modern mansion. No smaller in size or less impressive than before, but far more inviting. Like some place you'd actually want to live, rather than a symbol of power.
There was also no longer a throne room. Jack held court, if you could really call it that, in the back garden. He sat in a lounge chair beside a swimming pool, wearing silk boxers and a silk robe, smoking a cigar and drinking Scotch. I sat on a camping stool before him.
Aunt Cindy stood behind Jack, a martini glass in one hand, the other resting on the back of Jack's chair. She wore a white satin robe, tied so loosely at the waist that the corners of her breasts were visible. Her blonde hair was held up in a bun. Her facial features were a bit more mature. But her figure hadn't changed a bit. She still had a killer lower body and a nicer pair of breasts than a woman as toned and fit as she was ought to have had.
Iva stood behind me, shielding me from the setting sun's rays. At least, that's how I chose to look at it. You could also say she loomed over me, casting a shadow down upon me. True enough, either way.
I hadn't gotten more than a fleeting look at her, but I was pretty sure that she looked exactly the same as before. Hadn't aged even a little. Which, I noted in passing, fit both with the idea that our aging was determined by our power and the one that emphasized the amount of time we'd spent in the mortal world.
Jack, in contrast, looked a lot different. He'd packed on several dozen pounds of muscle. Whereas before, he invited comparison to a beanpole, having been all height and virtually no bulk, he now cut a rather imposing figure. His face could have been chiseled from stone. Actually, all of him looked that way. His jaw had grown wider, his brow more prominent. And his dark hair was lightly flecked with gray. Except for his temples, which were more than lightly flecked. He looked powerful and confident. Yet, I thought, weary as well.
I wondered what everyone else looked like. Especially my mother.
"Can I offer you a drink?" Jack asked, swirling his glass.
"Please," I said.
Iva snapped her fingers then handed me a glass, saying, "You've been gone a long time. We missed you. So much." Her voice was flat, almost wooden.
I ignored her tone and sipped my Scotch. It was smooth for how strong it was.
"A lot has changed," Jack said, in a rather more amiable tone.
"I would imagine," I said. "I heard dribs and drabs, but I feel pretty out of the loop."
Jack puffed on his cigar. "Yeah, we need to fill you in on a lot. And same goes for you, I'm sure. You look good, by the way, for a man who's been held captive all this time."
I heard Iva mumble her agreement to the last part. But from her, it sounded more like an accusation than a compliment.
"Thanks," I said. "So do you. Power suits you well."
It was Cindy's turn to murmur to herself.
Jack laughed. "I'm not sure it suits any
of us well. I feel like it's been a lifetime already. I'm never on top of everything. Seems like the good days are the ones where the number of new fires that spring up is only one or two more than the number of ones I put out. I honestly don't know why it hasn't all gone up in flames already."
"Heavy is the head," I said.
Iva mumbled something again.
"Trite but true," Jack said. "But I'm sure you don't want to hear me whine about it."
I didn't reply. "So what all has changed?"
"Well, some of your kin are no longer with us. But there've also been a few additions to your family. Iva tried to tell me I shouldn't get them permits. Shouldn't be helping your family produce still more potential claimants to the throne, she says. But most days, I think I'd be glad to pass it all off to someone else. Someone younger."
I raised an eyebrow. "Permits?"
"You didn't know that we're not supposed to reproduce without approval from the Patriarch? I know, it sounds crazy. Like we're vampires or something. But apparently, as long as the overall birth rate in each court remains low enough, it's all but unheard of for a request to be denied, so it's mostly a formality. Mostly. Keeping the overall number low enough does mean that I have to pick winners and losers though. So my loyal supporters get to have as many kids as they want, while I have to say no more often than I'd like to anyone who isn't politically important. But no matter how much sense there might have been in it, there was no way I was going to deny my cousins that right. Besides, it's not like Todd or Natalie are likely to be grooming their kids for power. They've never cared about that."
"Just like Liz Orwin never cared about power," Iva said. "And yet, we got Brianna. One day, one of those children will
sit the throne. I assure you. When that day comes, you'll regret how blithely you dismissed my concerns."
"Even if you're right about that, and one of them does make a play for the throne, I'm not sure I'll regret
it," Jack said.
My aunt snorted.
I shook my head. I couldn't believe I didn't know that we couldn't reproduce without permission. And not just from the king or queen.
But that was something to worry about later. "Who's no longer with us?"
"Oh, he just means Dom and Brianna," Cindy said. "Everyone else is fine. My baby isn't cruel, like your other cousin."
I nodded. The cold pit in my stomach faded at the news that everyone else was fine. But it didn't leave altogether. Whatever problems we might have had, I wasn't glad to hear that Dom had suffered the same fate as Brianna. It wasn't surprising. I'd pretty much assumed he had as soon as I heard about Brianna. He wouldn't step aside quietly unless she commanded him too. But I wished it hadn't been necessary.
"He didn't even resist," Iva said. "And he knew what was coming. I think he was tired of it all, to be honest."
I could almost think she was lying, but it didn't seem like her to do so.
Thinking more about it, Dom had never really ceased to surprise me. I never did quite get a handle on who he really was. And now, I never would.
Damnit. I'd spent years of my life wishing him dead. And now that he was, even though he'd served the queen who'd exiled me and was thus indirectly responsible for me being held captive for more than two years, I couldn't help tearing up.
"Well, the queen and her Shadow were the only casualties of the otherwise bloodless coup, yeah," Jack said. "But your sister has all but retired. Married a mortal and is doing her best to live the life of a soccer mom. And I've banished Tara and her children. So in a sense, they're not the only ones who are no longer with us."
"What his majesty is trying to tell you is that your family has had a lot of trouble falling in line," Iva said. "Besides your father, that is."
Jack flashed an impatient look at his aunt before turning to regard me with a softer face. "Well, obviously your family hasn't really gone out of their way to show that they've made their peace with the transition, as my lovely Shadow has pointed out. But I didn't exactly expect them to be pleased to see the throne pass back to Farrier hands."
Iva cleared her throat. "All the same, it would be nice to have at least one member of your family swear fealty. Perhaps even become a vassal."
"Would send a strong signal," Jack said with a sigh.
"I'd be more than happy to," I said. "I owe you my life. Can't thank you enough."
Cindy smiled, tension I hadn't noticed before easing from her shoulders. "Whichever way the wind blows," Iva mumbled. It was just barely loud enough for me to hear. Jack and Cindy probably couldn't make out her words.
Jack raised his glass to me, and for a moment, his voice sounded upbeat. "Good to hear, man. Good to hear. I knew I could count on you. But I didn't want to force it."
We clinked our glasses together. "Of course," I said. "Be pretty ungrateful not to."
"And wouldn't that be a first. Ungrateful," Iva whispered. Again, her words were just barely audible. For my ears alone.
I ground my teeth together, but held my tongue.
"Right now, I've only got these two lovely ladies, my brother and his wife," Jack said.
"So where is Mark anyway?" I asked. "I'd love to see him. And meet the wife."
"You'd love April," Jack said. "Sometimes, I can't help but wish she was more powerful, for my own selfish reasons, but they're really perfect for each other."
"Good," I said, and meant it. It must have been plain in my tone of voice because Cindy smiled when she heard me say it.
"Anyway, they're serving as ambassadors to the First Autumnal Court. It was them that negotiated your release, in fact."
Interesting. "So you said Natalie is also married. Anyone else?" I asked.
"Todd. Also a mortal. But she knows what he is, and they're still active. They visit here fairly often, with their two kids. Sean is twenty-two, and Melanie nineteen."
"They're going to need to be watched," Iva said. "We're hoping you can get close to Todd again, even though it's been a while. His children are getting strong fast."
I whistled. "I didn't realize I was gone long enough for that." Except I had. I'd figured that twenty-five to thirty years had passed in the mortal world. Plenty of time to raise and initiate a new generation. So that part fit.
What didn't fit was that Iva had made it sound like Todd and Nat hadn't had kids until after Jack had already taken power.
"How long have you been king?" I asked.
I heard Iva inhale sharply.
This time, even Jack seemed to dislike either my tone or my words. But the sour look on his face passed quickly enough. "I'm sorry we couldn't get you released sooner. We didn't have anyone to trade him for you. Brianna wasn't in the habit of taking prisoners. She Devoured the few confirmed spies she caught. Or had Dom kill them. It wasn't until-"
I cut him off. "You don't have to explain yourself to me, your grace."
"And you don't have to call me that," he said, with a grin.
I smiled back. "I was just trying to get the math right."
"A little over two years," he said.
I nodded. That made sense.
I took another gulp of Scotch. "I'm not surprised Todd's kids have a lot of potential. He was probably the least interested in learning what all he was capable of. But I never thought he lacked for raw power."
Jack pointed his cigar at me. "Exactly."
"What about Natalie? You said something about her being a mother."
"One son. Patrick. He's twenty. To best of our knowledge, he doesn't even know about his heritage. But you can only keep that from a child for so long," Jack said. "And Todd and Holly do take their kids to visit once a year or so. So he may well have experimented with Mel, even if Nat has been doing her best to keep him away from it all."
"And you?" I asked. "You never married?"
He reached up, squeezed his mother's hand. "No," he said. "I don't go back to the mortal world as often as I'd like. Simply can't afford to be away for long. Brianna had just about brought us to the brink of war with Silas. He would have been all too happy to absorb the Third Autumnal Court. Maybe, maybe
allow us to continue on as a principality. Walking things back from the brink has not been easy. And to think how many firstborn sons and daughters of our lesser nobles I had to pledge to him." Jack shuddered. "But tensions definitely have defused a bit. We might even be back to more or less normal relations soon enough. If a few ideas I've got on that front pan out, I just might be done. May not even name a successor. Let it be sorted out by ritual again."
Aunt Cindy massaged her son's tense shoulders. "Whatever you think is best, dear."
I was tempted to look over my shoulder. But I felt pretty confident that I could guess what Iva's reaction was anyway.
"As long as Tara doesn't become queen," Jack continued. "Might as well put Brianna back on the throne. If you could persuade her to be more
reckless. There'd be war for sure."
I cleared my throat. "If you don't mind my asking, why'd you only banish her then? Why not\ldots you know\ldots just\ldots?"
Jack rubbed his forehead with the hand that held his glass. "Don't have the stomach for it. Apparently, I should have enjoyed Devouring Brianna. But I didn't."
My stomach went weak. What did it say about me that my reaction had been so different?
Probably just what Iva seemed to assume.
"Anyway, there will be plenty of time to catch up more later. I'll be throwing a party in your honor tomorrow. But for now, I'm going to slip in the pool and cool off."
"It'll be great to see everyone again," I said. "Thanks."
"No problem," he said as he got up and eased his robe off. "Hang around as long as you want, by the way. You're free to come and go as you please. If you want anything just let one of us know." Then he walked over to the pool and dove in.
Iva came out from behind me and took Jack's place in the lounge chair.
"So tell me more about Sean and Melanie," I said to my aunts.
"Sean's a lot taller than anyone in your family. Which is odd, because Holly is one of the shortest women I've ever met. And he makes even you look out of shape," Iva said.
Cindy sighed. "And he has perfect hair. And perfect teeth. And he's so sweet."
"I'm not sure he's any more ambitious than his father, thankfully," Iva said. "I think if he wanted to, some day, he could give Silas a run for his money. That boy is just too damned gorgeous. And completely sure of himself. But not in an obnoxious way. No, Sean is very much aware of both his virtues and
his faults, few as they are."
"That does sound like quite the package," I said. "Are you sure he's Todd's kid?"
Cindy laughed. "Your brother married well. Holly is the same way. Not a pretentious bone in her body. Yet neither would you ever accuse her of doubting herself. And you wouldn't guess she wasn't one of us if you didn't know. She is absolutely gorgeous
Figures. Without even trying, Todd won at everything. "What's Melanie like?" I asked.
"Hardly anything like her mother or brother. She's got that desperate need for approval that most women go through when they're young, only she's got it real bad," Cindy said. "She tries to come across as confident, but she just exudes insecurity."
"That's too bad," I said.
"What it is, is dangerous," Iva said.
"She's also irresistible," Cindy said. "Might be headed for the Olympics in gymnastics, and it shows. In all the good ways, at least. She somehow still has nice feminine shoulders, relatively small but perfectly toned arms, and the kind of breasts women have to tell themselves are fake to avoid being driven insane with jealousy. Of course, they're not though. It's just not fair. I would kill to have her body."
I started to tell her she had nothing to be jealous of, but swallowed my words. Iva would think I was trying to get off the hook or something. Maybe if it was someone other than Cindy, I would have anyway. But we'd never been so close that I felt like it made me an asshole to let her comment go unchallenged.
"Holly has really embraced our lifestyle, you know," Cindy said, changing the topic. "She wants to be Elevated."
"Meaning?" I asked.
Iva got a good chuckle out of that.
"Well, we don't do it often," Cindy said. "So it's no surprise you haven't heard of it. I hadn't either until she asked about it. It's when we turn a mortal into one of us."
"The thing is," Iva said, "you need approval of the Patriarch for that too. And in this case, we're not talking about a mere formality."
"I see," I said. "And would Jack be willing to go to Silas with such a request?"
"I wouldn't advise him to, but I think so, yes," Iva said. "We're not in much of a position to be asking favors from Silas though. So, you see, Holly might be frustrated with Jack. She also happens to have two children who are learning how to use their abundant talents frightfully quick. See where I'm going here?"
"Enough," Cindy said at last. "We've dumped a lot on him, don't you think?"
"Of course," Iva said. She stared at me coldly before heading inside the palace.
By the time I staggered into the guest room, it was almost midnight. Jack didn't used to be able to hold his liquor like that. Keeping up with him had been stupid.
I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.
It felt like someone shook me awake a moment later. Probably wasn't true, but the disruption was about as welcome as it would have been had that been the case.
Aunt Iva plopped down on the bed beside me. "Late night?"
"Not really. Just too much alcohol. Anyway, you're still up, so you're one to talk."
," she said. "It's morning, buddy." She ruffled my hair. "By the way, I thought you knew that we can sober up with but a thought, if we want."
"Yeah, I know. I guess I was just too drunk to think of it," I said, groaning as I sat up.
I realized this was probably the first time I'd ever seen Aunt Iva without any makeup on. She looked good. I wouldn't say she didn't "need" makeup, because women who thought themselves so naturally beautiful that they didn't "need" it weren't doing themselves any favors. No woman needed
makeup, but none looked worse with it on either. At least, not in my mind. Maybe that made me a superficial asshole. I don't know.
Still, Aunt Iva was
naturally beautiful. Well, supernaturally, to be precise, but still.
She wore the kind of sleepwear that was actually comfortable, rather than the kind that the women of my family usually wore.
In short, she looked every bit like she'd just woken up.
If I hadn't been so hung over, I'd have noticed that before
she pointed it out.
"Can we talk?" she asked.
I cleared my throat. "Well, I'm up now," I said. "So go ahead. Lay into me."
She frowned. Was that actual guilt I saw there? "Well," she said, turning to face me directly and tucking one leg under her. "You've changed, haven't you?"
"Are you serious? I know I said it wasn't so bad being held captive by Silas' sister, but I was still held captive. And though he only came by once a month, the days Silas came to visit were not all that pretty."
"I guess that's not exactly what I meant," she said. "But still, if you've come back harder, I don't think it's because of what Deirdre did to you. Nor Silas."
"So what did you mean?" I asked.
She sighed, her very generous breasts rising and falling. "You're overflowing with power. I can feel it. It's," she drew a deep breath. I felt her Libido swell. "Well, it's intimidating, to be perfectly honest. And you carry yourself differently. That strange mix of confidence, nervousness, innocence, ambition, and concern for others that you used to have seems to have been whittled down to a wary survival instinct. I couldn't believe the way you casually referred to members of your own family being Devoured. But then, I also couldn't believe the way you obviously teared up when you heard that I Devoured your brother. So I know that some of the old you is still in there. What I want to know is how much. And whether the ambition you used to exude has been forged into steel, or has faded away."
"That's a mouthful," I said. I reached out and laid a hand atop hers. "I'm not sure I can give you a short answer. I'm not sure I know
"So did they make you Devour someone? Or was that done voluntarily?"
"Nothing you haven't done."
"I had no choice," she said, pulling back from me.
I withdrew my hand. "How do you know that I did?" I asked.
"So tell me you didn't. Tell me what your plans are now that you're back. Tell me I shouldn't be worried about my nephew's fate."
"I didn't, I have none, and you should, but not because of me."
Iva raised an eyebrow. "That so? Then who?"
"Dunno. But you heard him today. He sound like he's willing to fight for his throne?"
She sighed and shook her head.
"But that doesn't carry any weight with you, does it? So, what, do you still hate me because I refused to let you make me your vassal? Is that it? You know Brianna was spying on us at the time, right? If I'd have agreed, she'd have Devoured me."
"And I suppose you knew that at...nevermind. I don't hate
you, Frank. You know that. I was just," she paused, ran her hand through her hair, "disappointed. And scared. It's a good thing I've had so much practice running and hiding. Your cousin was a lot of things, but she was no Silas, thankfully."
I took her hand in mine, squeezed it firmly.
She offered a tenuous smile. "Okay, let's make this easy. Just swear to me that you have no desire to take the throne."
"No," I said flatly. "Can you swear the same to me?"
She chewed on her luscious lower lip. "That's not the point."
"Well, of course you trust yourself."
She tried to hide a shudder. "I felt the warmth drain from the air when you showed up."
"We were outdoors," I said.
"My point exactly."
"Look, Iva, I've always liked Jack. As far as I can figure, it will be a step in the wrong direction for our court when he's gone. But, no, I won't deny that when that day comes, my hat may be in the ring. That doesn't mean I'm looking forward to it though."
She nodded slowly, averting her brown eyes. "I guess that'll have to do for now."
"It doesn't have to."
Iva laughed, slapping my hand away. "You're not really up to that right now?"
She reached out and squeezed my nose between her fingers, the way she'd used to, and said, "I intend to keep a close eye on you, Frank."
The tension I almost hadn't noticed was present faded with that little gesture. I pulled her in for a long kiss. A soft, tender one.
She came away smiling. "I'm glad you're back," she said as she slipped out of my bed and headed for the door. Just before leaving the room, she added, "Mostly."
An army of servants in black livery, faces hidden by masks, milled about the backyard, carrying trays of hors d'oeuvres and drinks. There were also masked women dancing on poles and in cages. A few belly dancers made their way around the yard. None were hard on the eyes, but they appeared to be mortal.
Jack's tuxedo looked like he might have borrowed it from James Bond. Cindy wore a red shawl and a sequined white evening gown that reached all the way to her ankles, but hugged her curves so tightly that it could hardly be called modest. Her hair was tied up, a bit of it left loose to cascade down the side of her face. Her red heels were taller than she usually wore. Iva wore a slinky red cocktail dress with white rhinestones over the bust. The dress only reached halfway down her thighs, displaying a good portion of her shapely, if slender, legs, which were adorned by sheer black stockings. Her pretty feet were squeezed into sleek black patent leather heels. Her hair was closer to gold than its usual dirty blonde, layered, and hung just past her chin in the front, but no farther than her ears in back.
They both looked amazing. But what I was really looking forward to was seeing the members of my family that I hadn't seen in nearly three years. Or, in the case of the youngest generation, ever.
With Mark undercover, Natalie retired, and Dom and Brianna Devoured, that really just meant Mom, Dad, Todd, and his wife and kids.
Or so I thought. To everyone's surprise, just a little after everyone else arrived, Natalie showed up with her husband and her son.
Todd looked basically the same. A bit older. Less like a ripe young stud, more like a mature and debonair ladies' man. Especially since he was wearing a three piece suit. If you'd asked me what Todd would look like in a suit, I'd have said like a fish out of water. But either he'd grown up a lot, or I underestimated him, because he looked natural in it.
Dad hadn't changed a bit. Maybe there was just a little more salt and a little less pepper in his hair, but otherwise, he looked exactly as I remembered. And while he too was dressed formally, I was more used to seeing him that way.
The same went for my mother. Well, maybe her face bore a few
more signs of maturity, so that now she looked a little closer to thirty. But her skin remained radiant, unblemished, and reminiscent of porcelain. Her hair was as lustrous as ever, and still mostly an exquisite glossy black, with the loveliest red highlights that stood out whenever she had a light source behind her. Her black evening gown, mostly open between her hips and bust, accentuated the extreme hourglass figure that I'd missed so badly.
Natalie had changed the most, though not necessarily because she looked older. There was no sign of the fake tan she'd been so fond of in her youth and her hair was back to its natural dark brown, without any blonde streaks. The effect was striking. She finally looked like her mother's daughter, with that creamy white skin and dark hair.
Not for the first time, I cursed myself for not noticing how beautiful she was in the past due to an inability to look past her tan and dyed hair. Whatever color her complexion and her hair, she had always had one of the prettiest faces I'd ever seen. Not quite as pretty as Brianna, but at least as pretty as Iva. And she had a damned killer body too. Her breasts were oversized relative to her figure, which was tight and athletic. Her ass was not large, but was entirely too well rounded and heart-shaped not to command respect.
She wore a cream colored dress that fell only half-way down her thighs. Two triangles, the same exact shade of brown as her hair, covered her full breasts. Her shapely legs were bare, and her brown heels matched her dress and hair perfectly.
Holly and Melanie looked more or less as my aunts had described.
The former was a tiny little thing. A bit short of five feet tall, and thinner than any of the remaining members of my family. For me, that was entirely too thin. But I had to admit that, though her breasts were small, compared to her tiny frame, they were not inconsiderable. She also had a face that, in her youth, must have been as painfully beautiful as Brianna's had ever been, because even now that she was well into her forties, and showing it since she was a mortal, she was still stunning. She had an ultra fair complexion and jet-black hair that fell halfway down her back.
With that hair, that skin, those lips, lashes and brows, I thought that if you told people who didn't know us that she too was my mother's daughter, they just might believe you.
Her lack of a figure was a real disappointment though. At least in my mind. She wore a shimmering green cocktail dress that barely covered what passed for an ass. Some men would have loved the way it exposed her bare legs. But her legs were no curvier than a pair of Q-tips, and that wasn't doing it for me.
Her daughter was another story. Melanie had a body unlike any I'd seen, save in comic books. Still not quite my style, but I'd take her thick, muscular legs over her mother's any day. And, as Cindy had said, it made absolutely no sense that she could have such large breasts given her meaty figure. They weren't nearly as big as my mother's, but they were around the same size as Iva's. And Iva's were hardly modest. Yet her ass was no less solid than Nat's or Cindy's, and a good deal larger than either. Her hair was more red. Not red-brown, like Brianna's, but red
, like Tara's.
Just in case anyone might mistake her for being shy or modest or something, she wore a white leopard-print dress that barely covered her big ass or generous breasts. She also carried a matching purse. Her body language and hungry stares alone were more than sufficient to demonstrate that she was no wallflower though.
My heart raced. Each of the six women was incredibly attractive in her own way. From the petite Holly to the athletic Melanie to Mom's soft and generous curves, they all had amazing bodies. Few men could look upon the women of my family and not find at least one of them to be damn near perfect. If you rounded up a dozen men and asked them which of the six women was hottest, odds were each one of the women would be chosen by at least one guy. I couldn't say the full spectrum of female beauty was on display there. Of course it wasn't. All six women were white, and besides Melanie, all six were exceptionally fair-skinned. None were particularly tall, even if Holly and Mom were the only ones that were truly short. And so on. But even so, there was a certain amount of variety on display, and it was intoxicating.
I wondered if the women felt the same was true of the men. Patrick was about as thin as Jack had once been and had the trademark fair skin and dark hair of the Orwins. He had a look about him that must just have killed the types of girls that like their men wounded and brooding. Sean was tall, tan, blonde, disgustingly handsome, and had a body that would be no more out of place in a comic book than that of his sister. Nat's poor husband, Rob, stood out like a sore thumb. His goofy smile and light step bespoke a good-natured personality, and he was far from ugly. In any other room, he might even have stood out. But he didn't compare to the supernatural studs surrounding him. And he hadn't listened to the advice I could only assume my sister had provided regarding apparel. He'd chosen to wear jeans and a wrinkled button-down while everyone else was in at least semi-formal attire.
After thinking about it some more, I decided that if you rounded up a dozen women and asked them which of the men in the family was hottest, there'd be a very clear winner. Sean was tallest, prettiest, and had the widest shoulders, biggest arms, and narrowest waist. Unless she had a thing for older men or really skinny guys, I just couldn't see how any woman could look at us and not pick Sean. There might at least be a little variety if you asked who their second favorite was though.
I went around and introduced myself to the new members of the family. What I really wanted to do was go catch up with Mom. But once I did, it wouldn't be long before we snuck off somewhere, started fucking each other silly, and didn't stop until the sun came up. It wouldn't do to let that happen without meeting everyone first.
Sean was confident without being arrogant. He was a bit loud, and had a tendency to dominate a conversation. Between that and his excessive good looks, I kind of didn't want to like him. But he was self-deprecating at times, and only a little slower to build other people up than he was himself. True, no matter the topic of conversation, it tended to come back to being about him. But he laughed at everyone else's jokes and paid everyone compliments, compliments that sounded sincere however much it felt like he was making a point of finding some way to flatter everyone around him.
If he'd been a mortal, he'd have been destined for either elective office or the upper echelons of corporate power. As one of us, Iva was probably right that he'd be a future Patriarch if he'd had the ambition.
What he lacked in ambition, though, his sister more than made up for. If left to her own devices, she'd have talked about herself as often as her brother did. But every time she tried to make the conversation about her, he'd gently steer the ship right back on course. Her attempts to make sure that I noticed her sexuality were anything but subtle. And she was pretty catty towards her mother, taking every opportunity that she could to remind us that her mother was a mere mortal, or point out how much smaller her mother's breasts were, or mock her mother's fashion sense. Not that I thought anyone who wore leopard print was in a position to criticize people on those grounds. Nor did I even see anything wrong with the way Holly was dressed to begin with.
That said, she was also plainly nervous as hell. Her voice shook a few times. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back again, and gulped down drinks like the Prohibition was going to make a comeback at midnight. And when Holly and I started to discuss the social construction of gender norms and the politics of regulating sex, a topic that seemed to interest Todd and Sean not at all, causing them to quickly start up a side conversation about football, Melanie had come alive. She'd also, in the process of offering some intelligent thoughts, forgotten to try so hard to act sexy.
After that, I wanted to tell Melanie to take a step back and realize that between her athletic achievements and the intellectual firepower she seemed determined to hide for fear of intimidating guys, she had enough going on without trying to be the ultimate object of male desire. Hopefully Cindy was right that it was just part of being a teenager. It couldn't have helped that her brother was so fucking perfect in just about every way. That probably didn't include academically, but something told me that if and when Mel graduated college summa cum laude, that wouldn't really put her anxiety to rest.
I could definitely see why Iva was worried about this one.
Patrick, on the other hand, I didn't get much of a read on at all. He was very quiet. Most every question I asked of him elicited a one or two word answer. He liked industrial music. When he mentioned that he played guitar, I asked if he was any good at it. All he said was, "No." Besides music, he liked horror fiction and video games. But he thought just about everything else under the sun was lame. Including family functions.
Before long, I decided I'd earned the right to go talk to my parents. Mom embraced me in a tight hug while Dad slapped my back.
We were still discussing my captivity, though I kept trying and trying to change the subject, when the party ground to a complete halt.
Iva and Cindy screamed simultaneously.
I closed the distance between us in a fraction of a second. No one else was far behind.
Jack lay in his own blood. Some of it leaked into the swimming pool. Crimson tendrils slowly spread outward through the blue water.
Patrick backpedaled, bloody fist upraised. "Long live the king," he said.
"What did you do?" Natalie shrieked.
Dad restrained his two sisters, both of whom looked ready to attack Patrick.
The rage pouring off of Iva made my teeth chatter.
"I thought you'd be happy," Patrick said, looking at Natalie. He didn't seem to be aware of anyone else. "You left when the throne was stolen from our family. Now we have it back."
family!" she screamed. "I left because I couldn't bear to watch people I love do such horrible things to one another!"
Rob grabbed Natalie, hugged her tight. He glowered at his son, but didn't seem to have any idea what he should say. I couldn't blame him.
I gathered up all my power, transported us to a bubble affixed to the mortal world, and dropped a heavy veil on everyone. Priority one was to get a succession ritual underway, lest Patrick's words be taken as establishing him as the new king.
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<a href="http://www.lushstories.com/stories/incest/homelands-pt-2-ch-04.aspx">Homelands Pt 2 Ch 04</a>