Home > Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(5)

Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(5)
Author: Elizabeth Hunter

“Very well. How are things in California? Have you talked to your aunt and uncle lately?”

Ben had been raised mainly on the West Coast, where his aunt and uncle lived in wary alliance with the vampire lord of Los Angeles. Novia could have been fishing for information, but Ben’s gut told him she was just treating him like a fellow immortal and asking after his clan.

“Everyone’s doing great. It’s hot this summer. Really hot. Everyone’s asking how I survive without a pool.”

“I wish.” Novia plucked at the green silk blouse that matched her stunning eyes. “I’m relieved I don’t have to walk the city during daytime. I miss the sun occasionally, but not the heat.”

“And yet even with this summer, tourists are still pouring in.”

New York wasn’t just an international city for humans. It was a vampire mecca as well. The city that never slept was very attractive to vampires who could only operate at night. The business of immortal life had to be accomplished between dusk and dawn for vampires, which wasn’t as easy as it might seem.

Tenzin was so old she no longer had to sleep, but she was far from normal. And even Tenzin was limited by daylight.

Novia sipped a glass of red wine. “How’s your partner? I haven’t heard anything that indicates mayhem lately.”

“Then I must be doing my job right.” It was well known that Tenzin was the muscle and connection in their operation and Ben was the social animal. He tasted his scotch and soda. It was excellent, but he wouldn’t expect anything less from one of Gavin’s pubs. “Tenzin is doing well. Sends her apologies for not making the meeting.”

“She didn’t want to see me?”

“She was busy tonight,” he said. “Maybe we can set up a meeting for later this week. How’s Cormac?”

“Cranky,” she said. “But that’s normal for my sire.”

“Anything we can help with?”

“No, it’s family.”

Ben raised his eyebrows in question, and Novia rolled her eyes.

“It’s not really a secret,” she said. “Ennis is being… Ennis.”

The O’Briens were a clan. And if Cormac was the levelheaded and mostly legal leader of it, Ennis was the underhanded little brother who liked others to clean up his messes. Ben understood the dynamic between the two, but he chose to keep out of it.

“So your dad didn’t want to come for a drink?”

“He was busy tonight,” Novia said. “Maybe we can set up a meeting for later this week.”

Ben tapped the edge of his glass and smiled. “Touché.”

“I’m tired of hearing him complain about this,” Novia said. “Please, Ben. You’ll be doing me a favor if you can think of something. She refused the cash we sent. Twice.”

“We did offer to comp you the occasional job for your cooperation and generous welcome to Manhattan.”

“And we agreed to no comps, but only the interclan rate for services,” Novia said. “You know why my dad and uncles are cautious about accepting favors. Free work is a favor.”

And favors in the vampire world were subtle power plays. Who was owed and for what could quickly become a bargaining chip.

Ben mulled over the problem as he finished his drink. “What if…”

Novia raised her eyebrows.

“What if we consider the Rochester job a gift from Tenzin? I was barely involved. It could be a gift, not a favor?”

Novia nodded slowly. “A gift to the new landlord, so to speak?”

“Exactly.”

“So if it’s a gift… Cormac could offer a gift in return?”

“Tenzin would never refuse a gift from an ally. She’s too old-fashioned. Would that satisfy your sire?”

She narrowed her eyes. “I believe so. We may need some guidance on what would be acceptable.”

“There’s a shop in New Orleans that caters to discreet collectors. I’ll forward you the number.” Ben was glad he’d filed away the name of the shop who had emailed Tenzin about the new saber.

Face saved on both fronts.

Favor negated.

Balance restored.

And a beautiful woman on the other side of the table.

Ben smiled. “Now that business is finished, can I buy you a drink?”

 

It was after two in the morning when Ben strolled out of the Bat and Barrel and turned right on Grand. Heavy flirting with Novia O’Brien and two more whiskies had gone straight to his head, so he decided to take a walk. He unbuttoned the second button of his dress shirt and let the night air cool his neck as he walked toward home. Novia had left a half hour before for another meeting. Ben’s workday might have been drawing to a close, but hers was only starting.

He was halfway back to his apartment when he spied someone walking on the opposite sidewalk. It was a short woman with a familiar—and very unexpected—head of curls. He glanced at her. Looked back.

Ben stopped in his tracks, waiting for the woman to walk under a streetlamp. When she did, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“Chloe?” he said, his voice slightly raised. No need to frighten the woman if he was wrong.

The woman stopped and turned toward him with wide eyes.

“Chloe Reardon, it is you,” Ben shouted with a laugh.

“Ben?” The woman’s wide eyes turned from surprise to delight. “Ben!”

He leapt across the deserted street, ran toward her, and picked her up in both arms, hugging her to his chest. Then he swung Chloe around like a hero in an old Hollywood flick.

“Oh my God,” she said. “You’re crazy. Put me down.”

“What are you doing here?” He didn’t care how loud he was. He lowered her and smacked a kiss on her full lips, cupping both her cheeks in his hands. “You look exactly the same. Exactly the same!”

Her light brown skin might have been paler than when she’d lived in California, but the scattered freckles he adored still covered her nose. Her hair was cut in the same riot of curls she’d worn proudly in high school, a cheerful rebel among the pin-straight blondes.

Chloe was speechless, but he could tell she was pleased. Round brown eyes with thick lashes looked at him with delight. Her smile was enormous.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” she said. “You said you’d never come back. Why are you in New York? Are you visiting?”

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