Looking at the housekeeper, Ginger, I said to Costa, "I can easily find you a lovely pastry chef from San Francisco or Europe. They will be more than willing to learn to make delicious scones to your pack's liking."
Effectively I battled the argument for the housekeeper's job. She had pissed me off and I was trying to be good. The woman's viciousness would have been admirable in a vampire, even a werewolf, but as a human servant it wasn't appreciated. I wanted to do some damage, but knew there were boundaries inside the werewolf territory. Marcus watched the byplay without offering any suggestions. But he wasn't protesting either, so I continued my tormenting.
Ginger shivered as I deliberately looked into her face. She defiantly spit out, "I don't care! This vampire isn't welcome in my kitchen."
Her sweeping gesture with her hands would have been more impressive if she had had an audience of her helpers but they'd fled and she was stuck with Costa, Marcus and me.
Marcus growled, "Natasha has been promised safety under Archer's roof. She's allowed free passage anywhere. No harm is to come to her while under Archer's protection. You don't want to answer to Archer, now do you?" Ginger's face crumpled as she figured out she'd overstepped her boundaries and there would be a reckoning. She shook her head negatively but wisely kept her trap shut.
I smiled, my fangs extended slowly. I licked my teeth while caressing the knife I'd picked up off the cutting board. I might be dressed like a kindergartener's dolly but I still had my teeth.
Harry peeked into the kitchen saying, "Is there a problem?"
"Ginger here thinks we vampires aren't much more than pond scum and that we're in her way in her kitchen." I didn't bother to mention her mocking me because Harry would have seen it through my eyes. I was still tied to the mysterious vampire by more than just the blood I'd taken earlier.
He laughed and said, "Oh, we are so much more than mere pond scum."
Both Costa and Marcus had stood back once Harry arrived. He commanded the werewolves' respect. Deservedly so, I thought. I felt the pull of his power and intentionally pricked my finger. I deliberately brought the blood to my lips and laved off the blood while saying, "I really am getting hungry." It wasn't true but Ginger's face drained of all color while her heart raced. The fear coming off her was a banquet of meat. Had I been starving I could have fed off her energy for days. As it was I smiled and sucked my fingertip.
Harry made a tsking noise that sounded amused and indulgent at the same time. A chill of excitement ran through me and I waited. It didn't take but a second for Costa to react.
"Damn you, woman! You aren't worth the fight. You're banished to the basement and I'll let Natasha deal with you how see fits after we have our meeting. Archer doesn't need you that much." Ginger quivered and ran at Costa's words. Marcus wisely kept his mouth shut but looked at me with a glint of hunger in his eyes. I guess the blood from Harry running through my body called him regardless of the taboos of cross-supernatural blood taking. Having tasted Harry, I didn't blame him for the temptation.
Together we went back to Archer's meeting. Renee was looking smug and I made eye contact with her briefly. She flashed me a wicked grin and I could tell she'd passed some sort of test they'd conducted while Harry and I were out of sight. We knew she'd have called us if she was in danger. Archer tilted his head to Harry and said, "Everything okay?"
Costa materialized from behind us with the smoothness only the best help could do. Given he was also werewolf, the built in speed helped, along with the innate gracefulness. His tones were soft as he said, "We will be looking for a replacement for Ginger soon I fear."
Two of the weres on the couch stiffened. They looked like they wanted to object. I figured they were fans of good baking. Marcus loped over to stand by Carlos and Renee without a word.
"I see. You can update me on the reasons after our discussions. Natasha, I apologize to you for anything my servant did to make you uncomfortable." Something obviously had silently passed between Costa and Archer alluding to what Ginger had done. I found it interesting that whatever supernatural magic Archer possessed, it seemed to include mind reading of some kind.
"Not a problem, Archer. I've been promised some time with your gal after we are done." I heard a hiss of air from one of the werewolves on the edge of the group. I guess Ginger was popular. Too bad she was a bitch.
"Thank you for your understanding. Well, I've decided we have a problem." I found it curious that Carlos wasn't taking the lead but then it wasn't his territory exactly but one of the pack houses that was part of his holdings. I figured it was more along the lines of the president talking while the CEO watched.
Harry chuckled. "Something like that. What are you proposing?"
Archer rolled back on his feet and said, "I think we need some play time together. We need to explore the others strengths and find commonality. If werewolves and vampires are to fight together we need to learn how to play together. Our pack finds the paths in the dark with our mates and brothers' eyes."
With a dozen werewolves and only three vampires it felt slightly uneven, but then we'd make sure they didn't figure out we'd have the advantage. Harry caught my gaze and nodded. It was nice to have two strong vampires at my back and I was curious about the 'rules'.
Clapping his hands together he said, "We can choose whatever form desired and need to find four elements. Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. We can work in teams of four. Renee, since you are to be in our family you may pick the werewolf to run with you but it can't be Carlos. You have plenty of time to bond with him after the union." A chuckle went around the room.
"The quests need to be done in four hours. You can bring your elements back to Costa, he'll act as referee, if that meets your approval." He looked to Harry.
"Not a problem. Do we vampires have to be on different teams?" It was a good question.
Archer seemed to consider the question but I knew that he'd already figured out what he wanted to do before we even agreed to the game. I felt there were layers of hidden meanings in the game. Harry had a bemused look on his face and I knew he'd already anticipated the outcome before Archer replied.
"This time we'll let you three stay together. With one of our pack it will even out the balance, as we are all familiar with the territory. Well, except for Lee, Marcus and Carlos -- they are new to our land for the most part. They need to be within other groups for obvious reasons." Carlos tightened slightly at the intentional slight of his knowledge but Marcus just grinned.
Renee seemed to come to a conclusion as she had finished her visual sweep of the lounging werewolves.
"So I can't pick Carlos, Marcus or Lee?" She made it seem sweet and innocent but I could feel her intensity. She wanted Archer to commit to something.
"No, you just can't pick Carlos. You are welcome to pick anyone else. I just wanted you to know that they are not as skilled in our lands." Lee hung his head but didn't say anything. Marcus' eyes sparkled in amusement. I could feel the humor in his body. I wondered if Archer was mistaken in Marcus' lack of knowledge. I wondered how many times Marcus had snuck into Archer's territory and explored.
"Okay, I'd like Marcus to be on our team. We have a rapport." Renee pronounced while Archer laughed.
"Oh, my, you really do want a challenge!" His amusement fell flat as we all smiled. We'd fought with Marcus by our side at Dark Whispers and somehow we thought there would be some rules that weren't being revealed. Games with vampires and werewolves implied bloodshed just around the corner.
Marcus flashed a grin at us and said, "I'd be honored to be part of your team. So, Archer, what's the prize for this little game of yours?"
Laughing Archer said, "Does there have to be a prize? Isn't the joy of being able to run in our true forms in the night enough?"
"No," Marcus walked behind the sofa where the two werewolves were still looking put out by Ginger's job reversal and trailed a hand on the top. Both werewolves stiffened and sat upright avoiding his fingers. As Carlos' lieutenant and second-in-command I found it amusing. His reputation had gone before him. I knew Marcus could be a heartless killer and so did the werewolves. Renee had made a good choice. I knew he had scoped out the lay of the land and would be equal to the task.
"So Costa, do we have a prize?" Archer looked to Costa.
Costa walked to the wall safe and opened up the space showing array of weapons. He found a small mahogany box and handed it over to Archer with a nod. Seeing the weapons something popped into my mind. Why would the werewolves need such weapons when their bodies were all the war craft needed? Fangs and claws along with supernatural strength should be equal to any encounter with humans from my own experiences. I liked my blades to kill because I'd come up during the time when weapons were an extension of my hands. My blades also served to severe vampires' heads from their spines when doing corrections for Simon.
I felt an odd sensation and noticed Harry arching an eyebrow to me. I immediately put it together. The weapons, swords and axes weren't holdovers from their youth but carefully gathered armaments necessary to kill supernatural creatures. Since most of them fell into the same choices I had in my own weapons room, I knew they were for killing vampires as well.
Clapping his hands together Archer pronounced, "That is perfect!"
He pulled a key from his pocket and dramatically opened the well-crafted box. With a flourish he turned the opened box to reveal deep blue velvet lining and a large gold tooth. It was roughly two inches in length and smooth. It wasn't a real tooth but rather an art piece. I could see thin scrolling around the top and grew dizzy looking at it. It was a powerfully charged magic item and Harry looked stunned.
"Quite the prize, Archer. The Solomon's Fang, I assume." A ripple went around the room. I mentally searched through my mind. It rang in my memory as an artifact from centuries ago. It wasn't related to werewolves but vampires. Harry nodded and said, "Am I correct?"
"Yes, very good eye, Harry." Archer seemed subdued by the look Harry gave him. I felt the power between them surge as Harry took Archer's measure and released the shocked werewolf. Archer stumbled and put the artifact down on the desk.
Then the teams were divided up between the remaining werewolves. I noticed Archer and Carlos were on separate teams. The competition had taken on something more than a simple game between the newly joined creatures. There were layers of meaning being tossed with the glances. It didn't matter to us as our team was already formed. Marcus had joined us silently while watching the strategizing around the room. The weapons were still in plain sight reminding me of the werewolves' duplicitous natures. They kept their animals leashed inside and Archer's possession of the vampire relic was unexpected.
To be continued ...