“You’re telling me that story was real?”
“I have no idea. The point is, that’s how a
operates.” His hand hovered over mine, but he didn’t attempt to touch me again. “This one is the strongest I’ve ever felt, and it’s been in place for some time now. It has a good grip.”
"Define ’some time.’ ”
“Years,” he said, concentrating. “At least a decade, maybe more. And a decade isn’t a simple matter of ten years. For purposes of the spell, it’s measured as a percentage of your life span. You’re what, early twenties?”
“I’ll be twenty-four tomorrow.”
He shrugged. “Well, there you have it. For roughly half your life, someone has owned you.”
A new rush of blood flooded my face. I remembered a cultured, amused voice telling me that I belonged to him, always had and always would. I was going to kill him. “No one owns me,” I said shortly, but Casanova didn’t look impressed. “What does this
do, other than to warn people off?”
I soon wished I hadn’t asked. “The
is a strong magical connection—one of the strongest. During the Middle Ages, paranoid mages with nonmagical wives employed it as a variation on a chastity belt. I’ve also heard of it being used in arranged marriages, to smooth out initial awkwardness.”
He concentrated for a moment before continuing. “As far as I can determine, it allows whoever put it in place to know your emotions—your true ones, not whatever you’re trying to project—so you can’t lie to him. It also gives him a rough idea of where you are at any given time. He may not know your exact location, but he’ll certainly be able to narrow it down to a city, and possibly further.”
I remembered the arrogant jerk who I strongly suspected was behind this telling me that he had been able to find me once because he’d had help from the Senate’s intelligence network. Maybe he had, but it seemed there had been more to it. I wondered how many other times he’d told me only part of the truth.
“And, last but not least, it heightens the attraction between you, with each meeting becoming more intense. Eventually, you won’t want to run.”
I felt myself go cold. “Then nothing I feel is real.” I couldn’t believe he’d stooped that low. He knew damned well how I felt about having my thoughts or feelings altered.
The jerk in question was Mircea, a five-hundred-year-old vampire whose biggest claim to fame was being Dracula’s older brother. He’d also been my first crush. I hadn’t cared about his family name, or that he was a first-level master and a Senate member. I’d been far more interested in the way his rich brown eyes crinkled at the corners when he laughed, in the mahogany hair that spilled over his broad shoulders and in that wickedly perfect mouth, still the most sensual I’ve ever seen. Among his other titles, Mircea was also the vamp Tony called Master. It was something that should have made me question the sincerity in that handsome face a lot sooner.
doesn’t create emotions,” Casanova corrected me. “It isn’t a love spell. It can only enhance what is already there. Which is why it’s odd that anyone would have used it on you at what, age eleven, twelve?”
I nodded numbly, but the truth was that I didn’t find it odd at all. My mother had been heir to the Pythia’s throne before she eloped with my father. The fact that she’d been disinherited meant nothing as far as my chances for succeeding were concerned, however, because it isn’t the old Pythia who chooses the new one. The final selection is made by the power of the office itself. In all but a handful of instances over thousands of years, it has selected the designated heir, the one groomed as a successor by the old Pythia. But Mircea had gambled that I would be one of the exceptions and had spared no effort to ensure that I’d still be eligible when the moment arrived.
For reasons I didn’t fully understand, the heir has to remain chaste until the changeover ritual begins, and Mircea hadn’t wanted to risk a teenage infatuation removing me from contention. So he’d marked me as off-limits by putting a claim on me himself. Bastard.
“You said it boosts emotion,” I said, thinking about the first time I encountered Mircea as an adult. “Are you only talking about mine?” Mircea hadn’t appeared exactly uninterested when I saw him last, but it was difficult to be certain. Most vamps are excellent liars, but he is the undisputed, number one champ, possibly because it’s his job. He’s the Senate’s chief diplomat, the guy sent into tricky situations to get whatever they want through persuasion, seduction or deceit. He’s very good at what he does.
“No, it’s a two-way street, one of the spell’s big drawbacks in most people’s opinion.” Casanova leaned forward, apparently enjoying lecturing me. “Think of it as an amplifier on a stereo: every meeting edges it up a notch. You have to give it something to start with, but once it’s up and running, you’re on the path to obsession with each other whether either of you likes it or not.”
I turned away so he wouldn’t see my expression, and tried to ignore the hard knot in my chest and the tight ache in my throat. I didn’t know why I felt so betrayed. It wasn’t as if I had ever completely trusted Mircea. I knew that no master vampire, especially a Senate member, fell into the category of nice guy. He couldn’t have achieved his current position by being anything less than ruthless. But I would have given odds that he wouldn’t do something like this. Tony, yes; that I could see, but I’d foolishly believed that his boss was different. Stupid. Who did I think had trained him?
I looked back to find Casanova carefully expressionless. “You’re saying this is dangerous.”
“All magic is dangerous,
,” he told me gently, “under the right circumstances.”
“Don’t hedge!” I didn’t need my feelings spared, I needed answers. Something that would help me figure a way out of this.
“I’m not hedging,” he insisted. A woman let out a high-pitched scream and his eyes shifted to a spot behind me. “Damn!”
I looked over my shoulder to see that my three roommates had decided to take up darts, despite the fact that the bar was not actually equipped with a board. While I’d been distracted, Deino had positioned herself at one end of the bar and Pemphredo at the other, while Enyo stood in front blowing toothpicks at the hapless bartender. Before we could make a move, Enyo blew another mouthful of tiny projectiles, leaving the poor satyr looking like a very unhappy pin-cushion. The woman screamed again as a forest of little red dots sprouted on his chest, and Casanova gestured for her companion to take her away. He went to rescue his employee and I followed to rescue him. The girls sometimes listen to me—when they feel like it—although I get the impression that I’m considered a spoilsport.
Casanova sent the trembling bartender on a much-deserved break, while I placated the girls by fishing some cards out of my purse. It’s a standard tarot deck I received for a birthday present years ago that is charmed to act as a sort of metaphysical mood ring. It doesn’t do specifics, but its forecasts of the overall climate surrounding a situation tend to be eerily accurate. I was not happy to see the card that poked up from the deck as soon as I touched it.
Despite the common misconception, the Lovers rarely has anything to do with finding a soul mate or even having a good time. The Two of Cups normally indicates that romance is on the way, but the Lovers is more complex. It points to a looming choice, one that will involve temptation and pain. And, like the depiction of the card in my deck— Adam and Eve being thrown out of Eden—the final decision will have huge consequences for everything that follows. Needless to say, it has never been one of my favorites.
While I confiscated the remaining toothpicks and gave the girls their new toy, Casanova arranged for another bartender. Finally, we rendezvoused back at our table. “It all depends on your point of view,” he said, picking up the conversation as if nothing had happened. I suppose he’d dealt with worse over the centuries than a few bored grandmas. “Of itself, the
is harmless. But then, so was Melusine’s—as long as it wasn’t broken. Your version merely causes devotion to one person. If nothing interferes with that relationship, both of you live happily ever after.”
The fact that I might not want to live, happily or otherwise, in a magically induced state of mind was obviously not important. “What if something does interfere?”
Casanova looked faintly uncomfortable. “Love is a many splendored thing, as I have cause to know. But it has its ugly side, too. If anyone or anything is perceived as posing a threat to the bond, it acts to remove that threat.” He saw my impatience and elaborated. “Say a person, nonmagical obviously, was to take an interest in you. A norm would be unable to sense the
, so the warning would go unheeded.”
“What would happen?”
“It would depend. If the bond was new and the two of you had not spent much time together—if the amplitude, in other words, was set on low—maybe nothing. But the higher the volume, the more the interference would be resented. Eventually, one or both of you would move to eliminate the threat.”
“Eliminate? You mean, as in kill?” My jaw dropped. Mircea must have been out of his mind.
“It probably wouldn’t come to that,” Casanova assured me, and I felt my stomach unclench slightly. “Most suitors would exit quickly enough when you started screaming abuse, or your lover began threatening them.”
Great, I thought as my stomach went back to its former knotted state. I could go cuckoo’s nest at any moment, thanks to Mircea’s idea of insurance. “But what if the originator of the
wanted someone to seduce me?”
It wasn’t an idle question. Mircea had sent a vampire named Tomas to befriend me when the Pythia’s health began to fail. Lady Phemonoe, the Pythia better known to me as Agnes, had realized she was dying and had begun the rites that would free the power to go to a successor. And that had started a whole new ball game. Agnes could initiate the ancient ritual, but only I could complete it—by losing the virginity Mircea had guarded so carefully. He had designated Tomas to take care of that little item for him to avoid getting caught in his own trap. Mircea had been born before the notion of a woman choosing her sexual partners was fashionable, and Tomas was the servant of another master vampire and expected to follow orders. So, of course, neither of us had been consulted about any of this.
Tomas was one of those rare vamps able to mimic the human condition so perfectly that we lived as roommates for six months without me guessing what he was. We became close, although not as close as Mircea would have liked. I was reluctant to involve anyone in my crazy life and thought I was protecting Tomas by keeping him at a distance. But all it had done was force Mircea himself to have to stand in for the ritual.
As it turned out, we had been interrupted before the main event, something I’d been grateful for once my head cleared a little. Completing the ritual meant that I would be stuck as Pythia for life—a no-doubt extremely abbreviated period of time considering how much of a target that made me. Not that my life expectancy at the moment seemed all that great, either.
“The originator of the
can lift it for a particular person, ” Casanova confirmed. “I’ve heard of instances when the spell was used on heiresses by their guardians, to ensure that they remained chaste until appropriate suitors were selected. The devotion aspect of the spell was supposed to guarantee that they would happily accept whomever was chosen.”
I didn’t like Casanova’s expression. “What happened?”
He fumbled getting another cigarette out of a slim gold case. Considering how graceful his movements usually were, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like the answer. “The
fell out of favor because it tends to backfire,” he explained, lighting up. “Sometimes it worked, but there were cases when girls committed suicide rather than marry someone other than their guardians.”
At my appalled expression, he hurried to explain. “It is a very difficult spell to cast properly, Cassie. Devotion can mean so many things. The
is designed to ensure loyalty, but how many human emotions do you know that have only one facet? Loyalty easily transmutes to admiration—for why, do you think, would I be loyal to someone who is not, in some way, admirable? Admiration becomes attraction, attraction grows into love and love usually leads to the desire to possess that which is loved. You follow?”
“Yes.” Apparently, my body was a few steps ahead of my brain, because my arms had broken out in goose flesh.
“Possessiveness commonly develops an aspect of exclusivity—this person should belong to me and no other, we were meant to be together, that sort of thing.” He waved a hand, causing his cigarette smoke to weave drunkenly on its way towards the ceiling. I felt kind of like that, too. My brain was stumbling about, trying to make sense of this mess, and my emotions were all over the place.
“That leads to covetousness,” Casanova was saying, “which can convert to despair or hatred if thwarted. Even when cast properly, the spell often causes problems, with how many and what kind depending on the personalities of those bonded. And because it’s so complex, it can easily be screwed up. Most mages won’t even attempt it anymore. Your admirer is either a powerful magic worker or he knows someone who is.”
“He can afford the best,” I said absently. It must have seemed the perfect solution: leave me with Tony, one of his supposedly loyal servants, and put me under the
so I would remain untouched until he saw whether the power was going to come to me. It was a great plan, if my feelings were discounted. And, of course, they had been. Master vampires tend to treat their servants like pieces on a chessboard, moving them about with no concern over little things like what the piece itself might want.
“It can’t be Antonio,” Casanova mused, regarding me speculatively. “You were at his court for years before you ran away. The spell would never have allowed you to leave him, nor would you have wanted to try.”