Veil of Midnight (Chapter Seven)

Alexei had been kept waiting more than ten minutes outside his father's private chambers, his request for an audience given no more consideration than any one of Yakut's other servant guards. The lack of respect – the flagrant disregard – no longer stung Lex as it had at one time. He'd moved past that useless bitterness ages ago, in favor of more productive things.

Oh, in the deepest pit of Lex's belly he still burned to know that his father – his only living kin – could think so little of him, but the heat of constant, blatant rejection had at some point become less painful. It was simply how things were. And Lex was stronger for it, in fact. He was his father's equal in ways the hard old bastard could never imagine, let alone stoop to acknowledge. But Lex knew his own capabilities. He knew his own strengths. He knew without any doubt that he could be so much more than what he was now, and he yearned for the opportunity to prove it. To himself and, yes, to the son of a bitch who fathered him as well.

The snick of the metal latch as the door finally opened brought Lex's pacing feet to a halt. "About fucking time," he snarled at the guard who stepped aside to let him enter.

The room was dim, lit only by the glow of the logs that burned in the massive stone fireplace on the opposite wall. The lodge was wired for electricity, but it was seldom used – no real need for lights when Sergei Yakut and the rest of the Breed had preternaturally acute vision, especially in the dark.

The Breed's other senses were also keenly sharp, but Lex suspected that even a human would be hard-pressed to miss the combined odors of blood and sex that mingled with the tang of woodsmoke.

"My apologies for the interruption," Lex murmured as his father came out of an adjacent room.

Yakut was naked, his cock still partially erect, its ruddy length bobbing obscenely with his each swaggering stride. Revolted by the sight, Lex blinked, started to look away. He quickly thought better of it, refusing to give in to a weak impulse that was sure to be counted against him. Instead he watched his father enter the room, the old vampire's eyes glowing like amber coals set deep into his skull, pupils reduced to narrow vertical slits at their center. His fangs were huge in his mouth, points fully extended and sharp as blades.

A sheen of sweat coated Yakut's body, every inch of him livid with color from the pulsing hues of his dermaglyphs, the unique Breed skin markings that spread from the Gen One's throat to his ankles. Fresh blood – unmistakably human, yet weak- scented enough to indicate a Minion source – smeared across his torso and flanks.

Lex wasn't surprised by the evidence of his father's recent activity, nor by the fact that the trio of muffled voices in the other room were those of his current stock of human mind slaves. Creating and keeping Minions, something only the most powerful, purest bloodlines of the race were capable of doing, had long been an illegal practice among polite Breed society. However, that was among the least of Sergei Yakut's offenses. He made his own rules, dispensed his own justice, and here, in this remote place, he made it clear to all that he was king. Even Lex could appreciate that kind of freedom and power. Hell, he could practically taste it.

Yakut aimed a dismissive glance at him from across the wide space of the room. "I look at you, and I see the dead standing before me."

Lex frowned. "Sir?"

"If not for the warrior's restraint and my intervention tonight, you would be lying beside Urien on that warehouse roof back in the city, both of your corpses awaiting sunrise." Contempt edged every syllable. Yakut picked up an iron tool from hearthside and stabbed at the logs on the grate. "I spared your life tonight, Alexei. What more do you expect I owe you this evening?"

Lex bristled at the reminder of his earlier humiliation, but he knew anger wouldn't serve him well, particularly not when he was facing his father. He gave a deferential bow of his head, finding it a damned hard struggle to keep the edge out of his voice. "I am your faithful servant, Father. You owe me nothing whatsoever. And I ask nothing of you but the honor of your continued trust and confidence in me."

Yakut grunted. "Spoken more like a politician than a soldier. I have no need for politicians in my ranks, Alexei."

"I am a soldier," Lex replied quickly, raising his head and watching as his father continued to jab the iron poker into the fire. The logs broke apart, sparks shooting upward, crackling in the long, deadly silence that fell over the room. "I am a soldier," Lex stated again. "I want to serve you as best I can, Father."

A scoff now, but Yakut swiveled his shaggy head to regard Lex from over his shoulder. "You give me words, boy. I put neither trust nor confidence in words. Lately I can't see that you've offered me anything more."

"How do you expect me to be effective if you don't keep me better informed?" When those amber-hued eyes with their slivered pupils narrowed sharply on him, Lex hurried to add "I ran into the warrior on the grounds. He told me about the recent Gen One killings. He said the Order had contacted you personally to warn you of the potential danger. I should have been made aware of that, Father. As the captain of your guard, I deserve to be informed – "

"You deserve?" The question hissed from between Yakut's lips. "Please, Alexei…tell me just what it is you feel that you deserve."

Lex remained silent.

"Nothing to add, son?" Yakut cocked his head at an exaggerated angle, his mouth pulled into a tight sneer. "A similar charge was hurled at me some years ago from the lips of a stupid female who thought she could appeal to my sense of obligation. My mercy, perhaps." He chuckled, turning his attention back to the fire to stab again at the incinerating logs. "No doubt you recall what that got her."

"I recall," Lex answered carefully, surprised by the dry catch in his throat as he spoke.

Memories swirled out of the undulating flames in the fireplace.

Northern Russia , the dead of winter. Lex was a boy, barely ten years old, but the man of his meager household for as long as he could remember. His mother was all he had. The only one who knew him for what he truly was, and loved him regardless. He'd worried the night she told him she was taking him to meet his father for the first time. She said Lex had been a secret she'd been keeping – her little treasure. But the winter had been hard, and they were poor. The country was in turmoil, unsafe for a woman raising a child like Lex on her own. They needed shelter, someone to protect them. She prayed Lex's father would provide for them. She promised that he would open his arms to them in welcome once he met his son.

Sergei Yakut had welcomed them with cold fury and a terrible, unthinkable ultimatum.

Lex remembered his mother's pleas for Yakut to take them in…completely ignored. He remembered the proud, beautiful woman getting down on her knees before Yakut, begging that if he would not care for them both that he look to Alexei alone instead.

The words rang in Lex's ears, even now: He is your son! Isn't he worth anything to you? Doesn't he deserve something more?

How quickly the scene had spun out of control.

How easy it was for Sergei Yakut to draw his sword and slice that blade cleanly through the neck of Lex 's defenseless mother.

How brutal his words, that he had room only for soldiers in his domain, and that Lex had a choice to make in that moment: serve his mother's killer, or die along with her.

How weak Lex's answer had been, hiccuped through his sobs.

I will serve you, he'd said, and felt a bit of his soul desert him as he stared down in horror at his mother's broken, bleeding body. I will serve you, Father.

How cold the silence that followed.

As cold as a grave.

"I am your servant," Lex said aloud now, bowing his head more from the weight of old memories than out of deference to the tyrant who sired him. "My allegiance has always been to you, Father. I serve at your pleasure only."

A sudden heat, so intense it felt like open flame, pressed to the underside of Lex's chin. Startled, he lifted his head, flinching away from the pain with a hissed cry. He saw smoke curl up in front of his eyes, smelled the sweet, sickly stink of seared flesh – his own.

Sergei Yakut stood before him, holding the long iron poker in his hand. The glowing tip of the metal rod smoldered, red-hot except for the spot of ashy white skin that clung to it from where it had torn away from Lex's face.

Yakut grinned, baring the points of his fangs. "Yes, Alexei, you serve at my pleasure only. Remember that. Just because my blood happens to run in your veins doesn't mean I am opposed to spilling it."

"Of course not," Lex murmured, jaw clenched for the blistering agony of his burns. Hatred seethed in him for the insult he could only swallow and for his own impotence when it came to the Breed male daring him with his glower to make a move against him now.

Yakut backed off at last. He dragged a brown linen tunic from off a chair and shrugged into it. His eyes were still lit with blood hunger and lust. He let his tongue skate across his teeth and fangs. "As you are so eager to serve me, go and fetch Renata. I have need of her now."

Lex gritted his teeth so hard they should have shattered in his mouth. Wordlessly he walked out of the room with his spine held rigid, his own eyes flashing with the amber light of his outrage. He didn't miss the confused look of the guard on post at the door, the uneasy drift of the other vampire's eyes as he took in the odor of scorched flesh and the likely heat of Lex's roiling fury. His burn would heal – in fact, it already was, his accelerated Breed metabolism mending the seared skin as Lex's feet carried him into the main area of the lodge. Renata was just coming in from outside. She saw Lex and paused, turning around as if she meant to avoid him. Not fucking likely.

"He wants you," Lex barked from across the lodge, not caring how many other guards heard him. All of them knew she was Yakut's whore, so there was no reason to pretend otherwise. "He told me to send you in. He's waiting for you to service him." Cold jade-green eyes leveled on him. "I've been training outdoors. I need to wash off the dirt and sweat."

"He said now, Renata." A clipped command, one he knew would be obeyed. There was more than a little satisfaction in that small, rare triumph.

"Very well." She shrugged, padded over on bare feet.

Her bland expression as she neared said she didn't care what anyone thought of her, least of all Lex, and that lack of suitable humiliation only made him want to degrade her further. He sniffed in her direction, more for effect than anything else. "He won't mind your filth. Everyone knows the best whores are the dirty ones."

Renata didn't so much as blink at the vulgar remark. She could cut him down with a blast of her mental power if she chose to – in fact, Lex almost hoped she would, if just to prove that he had wounded her. But the cool flick of her gaze told him she didn't feel he was worth the effort.

She strode past him with a dignity Lex couldn't even begin to fathom. He watched her – all of the guards in the immediate area watched her – as she walked toward Sergei Yakut's chambers as calmly as a noble queen on her way to the gallows.

It didn't take much for Lex to imagine a day when he might be the one in control of all who served this household, including haughty Renata. Of course, the bitch wouldn't be so haughty if her mind, will, and body belonged entirely to him. A Minion to serve his every base whim…and those of the other males at his command.

Yes, Lex mused darkly, it would be damned good indeed to be king.