Lisbet allowed them in, stepping aside so they could enter. She closed the door behind them, locking it as securely as it had been before. When she was finished, she led them deeper into the dwelling, across more terracotta, white stucco and majolica tiles. The rooms they passed through were elegantly furnished with a range of antique furniture, creating a cosy atmosphere. The house itself smelt of baked goods and the only sound besides their feet was a television set on an infomercial channel, that could be heard faintly from another room.
The smell of pastry grew stronger and soon they were in the villa’s kitchen. It boasted many modern amenities, but had still managed to maintain a weathered, lived-in look. Erin found herself wondering who had first built the place, as they would have had no clue that vampires would someday invade it.
“Are you here alone?” she asked Lisbet casually. The teenager bent to remove a tray of chocolate cookies, then croissants from the oven, answering in a posh Chelsea accent.
“I’m sure you already know the answer to that wardens,” she replied, opening the Sub-Zero refrigerator door to remove more trays of unbaked goodness.
“You know who we are, that saves us some time,” Erin replied.
When Lisbet had placed the new assortment of pastry dough into the oven and set the timer, she beckoned them to follow her. “Didn’t someone in that god-awful place read my note?” she asked, hips swaying enticingly as she led them past numerous rooms, until they were in an open courtyard, which led them into a smaller villa.
“That’s the first thing we did, but we couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t written under duress. Now we see you here playing house, you’ve made it clear it wasn’t,” Zach answered. He bent his head to avoid colliding with the low ceiling and Erin stifled a laugh.
Not the time, she chided herself.
“This is my brother’s place by the way,” Lisbet informed them, turning to look at them briefly. “Father likes us to be close to him.”
“Won’t Aleksander mind you having strangers all over it?” Erin asked.
Lisbet laughed, “He isn’t here and even if he was it wouldn’t matter. They both dote on me. I’m the baby of the family.” She giggled lightly.
Not a care in the world, Erin thought, almost jealous. “Whenever this little sightseeing trip you’ve got us on is over, you have to know that we’re going to take back.”
“You can try,” Lisbet countered, giggling some more. “Here we are.” They came to a stop and looked past her to where she had wanted to take them. It was a tiny garden, no bigger than most of the smaller villa’s rooms, with a skylight. There were carved stone seats on both sides, one with a view of the sea and the other, the distant hills.
“This is my favourite place in the entire world,” said Lisbet. “The first time I came here five years ago, mother thought I was in France on holiday.”
“You’ve been seeing Nikolai … your dad for that long? How the heck did you manage to keep it a secret?” Erin wanted to know.
Lisbet twirled and laughed until she came to stop facing them. “Mother doesn’t care about anything but Praesidium, I could die and it wouldn’t matter.”
Zach stepped in, “If she didn’t care she wouldn’t have us out looking for you.”
Lisbet burst out laughing again and gave him the look of ‘you’re an idiot’, that all teenagers perfected. “That hasn’t a thing to do with me, it’s all about what people will think of her. Can you imagine? Her daughter runs off to live with her vampire dad? It’s priceless really.” She danced on her tiptoes, gracefully moving from one point to another, her ballet training shining through.
“Whether that’s true or not, you’re going back with us, you can take it up with Lauren when we’re back,” Erin said firmly, growing weary of the girl’s first world problems.
Lisbet stopped dancing and stared coldly at her. “I’m not going with you and you can’t make me.”
It was Erin’s turn to smile, “Course I can, why do you think they sent us?” She stepped towards Lisbet, who broke into a pretty grin.
“You probably shouldn’t do that.”
Erin’s gaze narrowed, “And why not?” she took another step.
“Erin … steady,” Zach warned, not liking where this was going, especially after witnessing what she’d done to the shifters just a day before.
Lisbet echoed Zach’s sentiments, “You should listen to your friend.”
Erin ignored them both, “Oh really? You can tell me all about it on the plane back home.”
Lisbet grinned, but this time it wasn’t pretty or warm. The expression in her eyes made her face look ugly and Zach, concerned, pulled his gun from its holster.
“Do you know what happened to the curious cat?” Lisbet asked them, her gaze shifting first from Erin slowly stepping forward, to Zach, his gun aimed directly at her. It didn’t contain wooden or silver bullets, but customised steel ones that would injure, not kill a vampire or dhampir. Lauren had made it clear that neither her daughter nor Nikolai should be mortally wounded. When the wardens refused to answer her question, Lisbet continued, her expression darkening with every word.
“The curious cat is a story I heard when I was young. He was a skilled hunter and had many mice night after night for dinner, but one day, he came upon what looked like a large tail.” As Zach listened, he moved away from Erin, so he had a clear path should he need to intervene. “The old cat, warned the curious cat about the tail from nowhere, but the curious cat was too excited and of course, too curious to leave it alone, so you know what he did?”
“I’m sure you’re going to tell us,” Erin said dryly.
Lisbet’s smile turned hideous. “When the curious cat got just close enough, the vampire . . . ate him.” On her last word the ground opened beneath them. Both Erin and Zach tottered and struggled to avoid falling into the unknown below, while Lisbet, knowledgeable about the mechanism, remained safely out of harm’s way. Erin had just enough time to whisper a protection spell, before they both completely lost their footing, and fell.