"There was a human in here."
I held my breath for a few seconds then let it out. I turned and smiled.
"Yes, Cerebus, there was," I said in a light tone. "But she is gone now."
"Is she your thrall?" he demanded.
"Yes," I lied, glad vampires couldn't read each other's minds. "She comes every day."
Cerebus frowned. "You need nourishment that often?"
"Not necessarily," I said, trying to think of a solid enough lie.
Cerebus chuckled. "Ah yes. I forgot there are... other needs you desire."
I decided to neither confirm or deny his comment. Instead, I just looked upstairs.
"You may go up now," Cerebus said, correctly interpreting my look.
I nodded once and left, feeling those terrible black eyes on me. I went down the hall and passed by my office. I could still smell her and quickly shut the door. I knew Cerebus would pass along the message but I didn't want it to be more obvious than it already was. I finally reached my father's office. I knocked twice and he admitted me in.
"There you are, Cian," my father said. "How did the-"
"My thrall satisfied my needs," I interrupted, hoping he'd understand, and he nodded.
"I'd like to introduce you to the rest of our members."
There were four other male vampires and two female vampires. The first stood and bowed at the waist.
"I am Donn," he said. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Cian."
"Likewise," I said with a bow of my own.
"Eilif," the second male vampire said. "I share my fellow vampire's pleasure."
The third stood. "Emilio," he said but with a frown.
The fourth male vampire jumped to his feet enthusiastically.
"Kern at your service, Lord Cian!"
I smiled politely and bowed. When the first female vampire stood, I thought desperately to what Viveka had taught me.
"Jezebel," she said haughtily, holding out her hand.
"For women, you kiss our hands. ... A little rough but it's the best I'm going to get."
I took her hand gently and brushed my lips on her knuckles.
The second came over quickly. She had the same energy Kern had. She even curtsied.
"I am Karayan! I'm Kern's sister!"
I kissed her knuckles and she giggled.
"Inappropriate," Jezebel hissed but she didn't seem to care.
I took my seat beside my father, sitting stiffly.
"I want to thank you all for coming today," my father began. "It's been a very long time since we've had the pleasure of everyone together all at once. I want to give credit where credit is due, though. The only reason we were able to get together is because of my son. He will be succeeding me in ten years. Once I reminded him of this, he desired to have everyone come together so he could have a formal meeting."
"Why do you have a thrall?" Cerebus demanded, having come in during the introductions.
"Sometimes I am working so late I don't get the normal blood before it goes sour. Having a thrall helps me with that."
"They also assist in... other ways," Donn said with a wink.
"We have not- It's not like that," I said finally. "We did her a favor. This is her way of repaying it."
They stared at me.
"A human agreed to be a thrall?" Kern asked.
"My thrall is not the reason we are here today," I said and they fell silent. "I have requested this meeting because I want to know each of you as personally as I can. The humans believe I am the heir to the throne of their kingdom which is part of the truth. The other part is I am the heir of the Romani clan."
Apparently, they didn't know that. I glanced to my father but he just smiled. He had intended I be the one to tell them. Typical. I cleared my throat and the whispers died away.
"I know the majority of you have not agreed to many of my father's rulings. When I step up, I will hear your concerns. However," I added at the skeptical looks on their face, "I will not be biased on my father's opinions. I respect him greatly but, ultimately, it will be my time to rule. Do you disagree, Father?"
"Not at all," he said. "Is there anything else you wish to say?"
"No. Thank you for coming."
We all stood and they either bowed or curtsied as they left. When the door closed, I let out a long breath.
"I haven't been that nervous in a long time," I admitted.
"You did very well," my father complimented.
"How are things with Viveka?"
"She returns tomorrow for a test," I said.
My father chuckled. "This is good for you, Cian. I know you don't think so but it is. I was surprised you thought to kiss Karayan and Jezebel's hands."
I shrugged. "That was something Viveka was insistent I do."
He smiled. "We should go down for dinner."
I sighed. "Very well."
My mother woke me at the crack of dawn. I grumbled and got dressed.
"Now, you'll start down in the foyer as usual," she said and I nodded. "From there, Viveka will instruct you."
I sighed when I heard a knock on the door. Here we go. Mother shoved me to the door and I glared at her. Viveka stood there in a stunning silver dress, her orange hair curled and a shawl wrapped around her shoulders.
"Good morning, ma'am," I said, doing my best to remember everything.
She curtsied. "Thank you, Lord Cian."
Again that expectant stare. Oh, right!"
"After you, ma'am."
She smiled and winked at me.
"Your palace is very impressive," she said, looking around.
What was she leading to? Come on, Cian! You can- Oh!
"Would you like a tour?"
"I would love one," she beamed and I began to walk away. "Ahem," she said quietly.
I turned red. "Right," I breathed. I offered her my arm. "Wh-Where would you like to go first?"
"Do you have a library?" she inquired.
"Yes, we do." Silence and she cleared her throat again. Shit. "It's this way."
I walked up the stairs quickly.
"My Lord Cian, it is quite difficult for me to continue at this pace," she panted.
Oops. "My apologies, ma'am. I.... Er.... I'm excited to show you the library," I blurted.
"Oh? Is it your favorite room in the palace?"
"Second favorite," I nodded.
"What's your number one favorite?"
"My bedchambers," I said then opened the library door. "Here is our library. We have over 400 books with many on each subject. I've always been interested in fiction, though."
"Do you have a favorite topic in the fiction subject?"
"Vampires," I said without thinking.
"This is a lovely room," she nodded.
From below, music began to play.
"Oh! An orchestra!" she said.
"So?" She shook her head a little. "I mean, so would you like to dance?"
"I would love to. Lead the way!"
I turned and headed to the throne room. My heart was pounding. What if I fail this test? Would I have to keep doing it over and over? Then I found myself thinking that it wouldn't be so bad if she was my teacher each time. I frowned. No. Erase that thought, Cian!
The music was coming from the throne room. My parents were already dancing and I felt a tad bit of relief that it wouldn't be just the two of us. Remembering she said to be gentle, I took her hand softly and placed my hand on her waist carefully. I counted then began to dance. She was staring at me for a few seconds before clearing her throat carefully.
Oh! The compliment. But which to choose? Her hair? The dress that complimented her body? Those blue eyes?
"Your blue hair dress eyes are beautiful," I stammered finally.
She giggled. "Um... thank you. You're a wonderful dancer, Lord Cian."
"Thank you. You are as well. I haven't had a dance partner that moves as smoothly as you do."
You're making a fool of yourself, Cian!
I took a deep breath but that just made it worse when I got a whiff of her perfume. Did she dress like this on purpose? Was it to throw me off?
"I'm rather hungry," she said. "Do you perhaps some food I can eat?"
"Of course," I said quickly and stepped back.
She looked a little surprised at my abrupt end but took my arm. We walked over to the dining hall. Inside were two people I didn't expect to see. It was Chester and her mother. What was Chester doing here?
Her mother stood up. "Welcome to our home, Lord Cian," she said brightly. "I'm so glad you could come."
"Th-Thank you for inviting me." I though for a second. The chair! "Here, Miss Viveka, please let me help you to your seat."
"Why thank you," she said in a slightly surprised voice.
I sat beside her. Chester was at the head of the table and I realized he was to act as the head of the household. I fidgeted in my seat then stopped when Viveka cleared her throat quietly. Chester cut up the turkey then passed the food around.
We started eating after Chester took the first bite. It was silent at the table. What did she say about-? Oh!
"Thank you very much for preparing this meal," I said to her mother.
She giggled. "Oh, you don't need to thank me. It was Chester who prepared it."
"Then thank you, sir."
Chester just nodded, obviously still mad at me. When we were done eating, I though. Her mother was collecting the plates. That's right!
"You have been a wonderful host, would you like me to collect and clean the dishes?"
"That's very kind of you but you need not worry. You are our guest."
I waited. No one offered me coffee or tea. Did that mean it was time to say goodbye? As if on cue, her mother and Viveka yawned.
"The food was delicious but I must return to my family." I stood and held my hand out to her mother. "Thank you very much for a wonderful meal."
I kissed her hand and shook Chester's. His hand squeezed mine painfully. Viveka gestured with her head for me to follow her back to the foyer.
"So? Did I pass?" I asked.
"You did indeed," she smiled. "There were a few things but I saw you correct yourself which is just as important as getting it right. I'll meet you at home," she added and I saw Chester and her mother nod before leaving. "Well, I guess you'll only be stuck with me for twice a week." She curtsied. "Good evening, Lord Cian."
Without a second though, I took her hand and kissed it, lingering there.
"Good evening... minx," I whispered and she rolled her eyes but she was smiling as she left.