Archon pressed a fingertip to his lip and silently studied the single red rose set in the middle of his bed. Like a royal sword of state, the bloom dominated the dark green damask of the bedspread. It even took command of the four tall posts and great carved headboard, glowing softly crimson in the low light of the room. Only his breathing broke the fixed silence of the room, of the entire house. He was alone, or so he thought. Julian was working late at the newspaper with Caitlin, and had taken his driver Billy to wait on him. The Prince found many excuses to stay close to the Byrne woman, having promoted her to managing editor when he purchased the paper. Archon longed for the moment when Julian would realize that his dalliance with the human would lead only to danger. Lillie was at The Haven. She had been attending to matters at her club day and night, not so much that The Haven needed her full attention, but that it gave her an excuse to be absent from the home she and Julian shared. Sasha and Cash were in Portland on an errand for the Prince. Daedalus had gathered his Nosferatu for a meeting in some dark isolated warehouse that only the Nosferatu knew. The house and grounds staff had gone for the night, except for four of Cash's Gangrels out at the gate and along the estate perimeter. Dropping his hand to his chest, folding his arms together, Archon reared back his head, deep in the beauty of this rose. Lillie, he thought. Lillie had left a Toreador rose in his room. He had argued with her days ago, and they had not spoken since. He thought it wrong for her to support Eddie Fiori in the recent conclave debate on who would control the licensing of Pacific rim imports. Julian wanted to allocate licensing and distribution through the markets controlled by Ventrue and Toreador. Eddie wanted to control it through his shipping outlets, dominated entirely by the Brujah. Lillie's support of the Brujah Primogen puzzled Archon, for it left her Toreador out of any licensing agreements. Finally stepping to the side of his bed, he picked up the rose and passed it under his nose. Its bouquet soothed him. Then a creak on the backstairs to the upper hall gallery broke the fragrant spell. He turned to his open door. A shadow leaned against the archway to his room. It was Lillie. He knew that lithe frame with the long legs and dark hair. Smiling, he presented the rose to her. "It is most lovely, Lillie. A kind thought or a peace offering?" "And what makes you think I gave you a rose?" "You would not be here otherwise." Stepping across the wooden floor onto the great Oriental rug at the room's center, Lillie squarely faced him. "It's a peace offering." After a pause, she added, "And a kind thought as well." "I'm touched. What has brought you to make such a gesture?" Lillie walked to the fireplace and dropped into one of the chairs before the hearth. "Eddie is selfish and heavy-handed." She swung one long leg over the other, her black stockings sheer against her pale skin. "And this is a revelation?" "He's even worse than before." Lillie then turned to Julian's sire and mentor. "He came to The Haven a few nights ago. He was proud and arrogant as ever, but this time, he has broken the Prince's law." Archon stroked the rose along one palm and studied the Toreador Primogen, waiting, knowing she would explain. "He has increased Brujah numbers, Archon. He has embraced against the Prince's will." "Why did you not say something to Julian?" Lillie averted her head. "I didn't believe Eddie." Archon let go a low laugh. "Lillie, I know you. Of course you believe Eddie. You thought it was to your advantage to keep the information from Julian, but now you do not. Let me suggest that you tell me why." With a soft rustle of her dress, Lillie swiveled in the chair, looking up to Archon as he moved to stand over her. Her voice almost a whisper, she said, "He knows that Cash and the staff are gone." In the next instant, Archon dropped the rose to the floor where it broke apart in an explosion of petals. He raced through the door and flew down the front stairs, his footsteps ringing throughout the hall and stairwell. He didn't care if Lillie followed. He had to reach the Gangrel sentry. He had to contact Billy. He had to warn Julian. The moment, he reach the gate, the headlights of a dozen cars strafed the night. Brujah. The clicking sound of metal on metal punctuated the murmur of idling motors as Cash's Gangrels targeted each car in a patterned sweep. After a tense moment, the engines shut off one by one until one door opened and the Brujah Primogen sauntered out. "It's rather late for a social visit, Eddie," Archon said through the closed gate. A slow smile lifted one side of Eddie's sharply chiseled face. Finally, he said, "I've come to talk to our Prince." "With so many as escort?" "We want to keep him safe." Eddie moved toward the gate. "We hear that his Gangrel bodyguard is absent." "Prince Julian is safe and well." Archon then looked back to the mansion, to the array of Gangrels behind him. He gestured to them. "As you can see." "I see nothing but a pack of gypsies." Archon then stepped to the bars of the gate. He leaned forward and folded his arms over his chest. After an edgy pause, his voice low and hard, he stated, "Take care that they are not Assamites." With that, Eddie drew a deep breath through his flared nostrils. He made no remark. He stiffened, then whirled back to his car, dove in, and before the door was shut, called out to his driver to speed away. Archon remained at the gate. He stood still, without moving, almost without breath. The Gangrels inched toward him, and when the racing motors faded down the hill and back into the night, Lillie swept down the mansion steps, calling out to Archon. Only then did he turn around. "What did he want?" she asked, wrapping her shawl tightly around her shoulders. The night seemed to have taken a sudden chill...in many ways. "Did he hurt Julian?" "No, he did not. He believes Julian is here." "But why would he -- " 'Toreador," Archon sliced her off. "When will you ever learn that your dalliances with this Brujah are going to be your undoing? Some Brujah have reason; they understand how Kindred are all integrated to our advantage. But this one -- this Eddie Fiori -- he will be to our detriment." Archon then marched back to the mansion, with Lillie trailing behind. The Gangrels stepped aside as the two Primogens passed up the stairs. "'I should have told Julian," she said. "There are many actions you should have taken. But you sit back to see which way the pendulum swings. One day, time will run out." "Are you going to tell him?" At the top of the steps, Archon stopped. "I must." "No, I must. Please," Lillie begged. "I'll tell him." "Only in my presence." She lowered her head, "If that's how you want it." "What I want is for you to know that Julian is Prince." "But I know that!" "Lillie, you still see him as your lover. And because you cannot see beyond that, you allow your jealousy to cloud your role as merely one of the Primogens under his reign. Take care that you make no offense against The Masquerade." With that, he marched into the mansion where they all lived -- he, Julian, and Lillie -- leaving her standing at the top of the stairs with the Gangrels staring up at her. Archon knew their thoughts. He wondered if she did, and if she did, he wondered if she would be alarmed. Upon returning to his room, he stepped into the red rose petals scattered across the floor. How is it that she understands the folly of her actions, he though, yet persists, only to fall back and request forgiveness? His private telephone rang. "Yes," he said plainly, scooping up the handset. It was Julian. After a short pause, he replied, "No, Julian. You must come home tonight. Events are underway that we must examine." There was another pause. "No, it will not wait until morning. You must come home, and you must come home now." After another interlude of quiet within the room, Archon said, "It has to do with Eddie and Lillie." Pause. "Good, and I would suggest that you have Billy take an alternate route home, something that the Brujah would not anticipate." When he hung up the phone, he turned to find Lillie retrieving the rose remains from the floor. "Is he on his way?" she asked. "You get your wish. He will not be with the Byrne woman tonight." "I'm so sorry." "You are being exceptionally penitent. What else is there that you have not divulged?" "Nothing. I told you that Eddie knew Cash was away and that he had Embraced without permission. That's all there is." He stared down at her as she looked up from her crouch with the petals in one hand. "Leave it," he stated flatly. Lillie rose and left the room. One red petal remained on the floor. At first, Archon wanted to tromp it, to smash it with his shoe, to smear it over the floorboards. Instead, he stooped down and picked it up, cradling it within one hand. The petal was Lillie. ### When Julian called to him from the stairs, Archon left his room to join his Prince in his office. A single lamp on the desk lit the room. Lillie was already there seated before Julian's desk. Archon gave her a slight nod and sat next to her. Julian perched on the corner of his desk. The rest of the universe lay in shadows around them. Only the three figures bathed in the soft light sat at the core of the world. Finally, Julian spoke, "Lillie tells me that you had an encounter with Eddie at the gate." "Yes, and did she tell you how it was that Eddie came to be at the gate?" Julian flashed his attention to Lillie. Archon watched her stir in her chair, then gather her pride and sit up. "I don't know how he found out that Cash has been gone for a few days and that Daedalus was out tonight, but he knew." "When?" Julian asked. "Three days ago...on Tuesday." Julian's face soured in disbelief. "And you didn't tell me?" "No." She lowered her gaze. "Why not?" "It didn't seem important." "When Eddie is concerned, it is important." "I'll remember the next time." Julian stood away from the desk and came around behind Lillie. 'There may not be a next time." "There's more," Archon said. Lillie quickly added, "Eddie has Embraced without your permission." Julian quickly stepped around to face her. "And this you also kept from me?" When she suddenly stood up and approached him, Julian stepped back. "Get away from me," he demanded. "What are you going to do, Julian?" she asked, her anger adding an edge to her words. "Are you going to send your Gangrels after them, like dogs after a poor animal? Are you going to hide in your mansion until they've done your work for you?" Julian quickly turned on her. "That's what they do! I am the Prince, Lillie!" "And I am the Toreador Primogen!" "Then conduct yourself as one, and not as some long past lover whom I allow to wind her way in and out of my life at will. That is going to stop, and it is going to stop right now." Julian then stormed to the other side of his desk. Lillie continued, "And what happens when Eddie finds out about Caitlin Byrne, Julian? What happens when he and his Brujah ravage her to get to you? Are you going to just say: 'This is going to stop and it is going to stop right now'? Huh? Or will you brutalize him for the loss of your human lover?" She paused for only a breath. "We need a Prince who has Kindred and The Masquerade uppermost and foremost in his mind. You are not that Prince, Julian!" "Do I say anything about your dalliances with the young men who catch your eye?" Julian sneered. "Your club is a haven for your little intrigues." "There is no comparison!" she fired back. Archon then stood and walked between the desk and Lillie. He turned to Julian. "Lillie is right, Julian. I cannot support what she does, but I can give some support to why." "And you called me back from my evening for this?" Julian said, gesturing between Lillie and Archon. "Excuse me." And he left the room. Archon sighed. "It would have been much better for you to inform Julian of Eddie's infractions and his awareness that Cash was away. You have been very unwise lately, especially for a woman so intelligent and savvy as yourself. First you support Eddie in his struggle for the import licensing, then you deny Julian important information -- information related to the one and the same Eddie Fiori." "What can I do now?" "Do nothing. You lack reason right now. Julian lacks reason as well. I will tend to Eddie." "You? How?" Archon smiled. "Do you think I would tell you?" With that, he left Lillie alone in the empty lamplight. ### When Billy parked outside the Dock Worker's Hall, Archon gazed up to the window where Eddie conducted the business of running the docks, of running the Brujah, of dreaming of taking the Princehood. "Are you sure you want to go in alone?" Billy asked. "'Wanting to' and 'having to' are two different things. Wait until I return. If I'm not back within an hour, leave and get Julian." The door to the building opened as Archon stepped away from the car. The ground floor smelled of dust and age. It was cluttered with tools and an apparatus here and there for the various dock workers, humans and Kindred side-by-side. If the humans only knew. Led to the stairs, Archon followed his Brujah escort up the creaking planks, across the short hall, and into Eddie's office. Eddie sat there staring hard at Archon. His eyes followed his guest until the escort left and Archon was seated before him. "I'm pleased that you came alone," Eddie remarked. "It shows that you might have a little trust left in that old body of yours." "Not at all, Eddie. But let's get down to business, shall we? You have broken the Prince's law." "There would be no Brujah left if we did not increase our numbers! How can a Prince be so cruel as to let a clan die out in his city?" Archon raised a hand to pause Eddie's pending tirade. "There is room for negotiation on this matter. You would do well to learn Cyrus's skills and patience." "Leave Cyrus out of this." "Very well. May I continue?" Eddie breezed one hand through the air and sat back. "What is your prime concern," Archon asked, "increasing Brujah numbers or taking the Princehood?" "I never said I wanted to be Prince." "You don't have to, Eddie. Everyone knows you think Julian has failed as Prince. Everyone knows you believe you should take his place. So, what is it -- more Brujah or the Princehood?" Eddie pondered a moment, then replied, "More Brujah. I want the Prince and our Conclave to recognize my right to raise the numbers of my Clan." Archon nodded. Neither he nor Eddie was stupid enough to think that this answer had changed how Eddie felt about Julian and the Princehood. "Then this is what you should do..." It didn't take long for him to explain to Eddie the legal reasoning that could be used to convince the Conclave and, through the Conclave, Julian. In fact it was a lot easier than he had expected. A small voice in the back of his head whispered that maybe he had underestimated the Brujah Primogen, but the rest of his mind immediately dismissed the thought. Eddie had been watched carefully by Ventrue since his arrival in San Francisco some thirty years earlier fresh from his and Cyrus' victory in L.A. It was Eddie's arrogance which made it seem like he had already thought all these things and that now Archon was playing right into his hands. Perhaps it was time to remind Eddie of some of his many mistakes. "The strongest problem will be to convince Julian. Without the support of the Conclave, you'll fail completely. Embracing Sasha Luna was a very bad miscalculation on your part, Eddie. You thought you could hit out at Julian and Cash in one go, but you never even considered that the other Clans might get involved. Lillie has always known what side her bread was buttered on. You see Julian only as the Prince, but to Lillie he is her lover first and Prince second." Archon took a chance that Lillie had never revealed to Eddie her attempt to keep her Toreador out of the final showdown over Sasha. Figuring Lillie deserved to get in a little trouble with Eddie he continued. "She was first to offer Julian her support against you. And you should have known that with Daedalus in charge, all Julian would have to do is convince the Nosferatu that the Masquerade had been threatened by your behavior. They would immediately join the Prince. Maybe Sasha seemed like just a little girl with a vague connection to the Prince, but she ended up having four Clans fighting for her." "How was I to know she was his niece? She could have been some little toy of his, or Cash's for that matter. All I wanted was to force Julian to negotiate like he did when he ended the Clan war. Ten years ago, Stevie Ray was allowed to increase the numbers of his Clan in exchange for supporting the Prince. Why should I get anything less? Ten years and I have nothing to show for it. My Clan is the second smallest in the city. I haven't threatened Julian once, haven't broken the Masquerade and the only time I disagree with him at the Conclave is when his plans are bad for my Clan. Julian gives no respect to Brujah Clan. The other Clans see it and follow his example. Tell me, Archon, how is my Clan to have faith in a Primogen that no one respects?" "Don't treat me like a fool, Eddie. You're not as innocent as you paint yourself. We know you were behind the takeovers of Lillie's clubs in L.A. They didn't just fall into Cyrus' hands by themselves. You've done many things to threaten both Julian's personal business and those of the other Primogens. That is why they don't respect you. What you tried to do could have gone very wrong. Frank Kohanek is still breathing down our necks. A Clan War would be very hard to keep secret. The fallout from such an act could have been fatal for all of us. Was that what you wanted?" "Of course not. We all remember Manzanita Springs. If other Princes decided that San Francisco was a threat to the Masquerade, we wouldn't have a chance in Hell." Archon had had to fight to keep his face blank when Eddie mentioned Manzanita Springs. Of all the people to find out what had really happened that night in 1985...but Eddie didn't know, couldn't know. He would have used it to his advantage many years ago. He looked at Eddie, but the Brujah Primogen was looking down at his desk. His head was bent so that reading his expression was impossible. Straightening his shoulders Archon dismissed the notion. Eddie was a greedy, violent animal. One had to be cautious in handling him as in all dealings with dangerous animals. But to assume that the man could actually have been planning something for over ten years was to give him too much credit. "Very well, Eddie. I think we understand each other. Make your proposal at the next assembly of the Conclave. I'll make sure Julian listens." Standing up to leave, Archon smiled amiably and reached across the desk to shake Eddie's hand while making a mental note to wash that hand particularly well before going to his day rest. They shook hands and Eddie summoned an escort to take Archon to his car. Walking towards the door leading outside Archon glanced briefly at his escort and was struck by a sense of familiarity. "What is your name, Brujah?" "Cameron, Sir." "Have we met before?" "I believe that outside my presentation to the members of the Conclave this is the first time since I first arrived in San Francisco." Nodding slightly Archon stepped through the door and headed for his car without a backward look. Thus, he didn't see the look of hatred that crossed the young Brujah's face and made his eyes glow with all the violence of the Beast. Forcing the Beast out of his eyes, Cameron turned and went to inform Eddie that the Ventrue Primogen had left. ***** "Thanks Cameron, that will be all." "Yes, Mr. Fiori." Leaning back to watch his Clansman leave, Eddie allowed himself a small mental sneer. Cameron was country Brujah. Polite when required but a little dumb. He would never be anything more than a foot soldier. Closing his eyes, Eddie thought back over the conversation. What had been said, what had been meant and how he could use it. Manzanita Springs. MAN-ZA-NEE-TAH. He could almost taste the word. Hopefully, the security cameras had picked up the expression on Archon's face when he'd casually mentioned the old incident. It had been a risk, especially since he couldn't afford for Archon to think that he, Eddie, knew too much and had to be eliminated. But if the cameras had caught Archon's face not to mention the rest of the conversation, it would be worth it. All conversation, however innocent, can be turned around and twisted into something it never was. His father, an Italian car salesman and con artist, had taught him that many decades earlier. Yes, having tonight's little talk on recording would one day prove beneficial. Just as having Lillie call Alexandra Serris a problem she wanted to go away on video might prove beneficial when it became time to elect a new Prince. But not yet. Just as it was also too soon to bring up Manzanita Springs. It would bring down Archon, but it wouldn't hurt the Prince's position. His heart, yes, his position, no. Eddie had watched Julian closely over the past decade and felt convinced that the Ventrue knew nothing of what had truly happened that night. And Archon would be sure to make certain that the other Primogen knew too. It would make Julian miserable to execute his own sire, but it wouldn't weaken him. Just as it would weaken but not hurt Julian to put Sonny to death. Eddie grinned. He had been thoroughly fooled by Sonny's pretense that he had decided to betray Julian.. The Prince had really planned that one beautifully. Still, Eddie knew one thing the Prince didn't. Sonny craved power the same way some people craved money, material goods or drugs. Sonny might have managed to convince Eddie that he was willing to betray his sire and Prince as well as his Clan. Yet Eddie had always planned to kill him once he himself had become Prince. There was something too cold about the guy. Besides which he'd learned from watching his own sire that there was no place for a traitor when you were trying to consolidate your power. But although he had recordings of Sonny feeding secret Kindred information to Frank Kohanek it was not the right time for that revelation either. Sonny's connection to the human cop could still serve as a way to discredit both him and Julian if properly set up to look like he threatened the Masquerade. Eddie knew better than to truly risk anything. The human cop would die the moment Eddie became Prince simply on principle, but it was still better not to risk anything, at least personally. Nevertheless, when the situation started playing in his favor he would play them all against Julian. Archon, Lillie and Sonny. All he needed was a couple more months, six at the most, and a little help. Help his sire would give him in return for Eddie's support in taking L.A. from another one of Archon's pathetic brood. Hmm, a few business acquisitions should do it. Some ventures to threaten the business interests of the other primogen would raise a lot of tension (and division, he hoped.) Lillie was still fuming over the loss of her clubs. Yes, just a few more months ..... Getting out of his chair, Eddie briskly put on his jacket. He'd go out for a snack, he decided, then come back to compose a message that would be sent by courier to Cyrus. Better not risk saying anything over the phone. Happy that everything was settled in his mind again, he left his office, wondering briefly what Archon thought had happened here tonight. ### Billy secured Archon in the back of the limo then pulled away from the docks, back to the hilltop mansion. "Was he any trouble?" Billy asked, referring to Eddie. Archon hid a smile. "He is so transparent," he responded. "He tried to put me off stride by mentioning Manzanita Springs, as if the Brujah there did not deserve my wrath. "Archon leaned back in the deep leather of the rear seat. "He is also stupid," he continued. "He took the option to increase the Brujah numbers, rather than address the issue of the Princehood." "You gave him that option?" Billy asked, his voice rising with disbelief. "Of course not. I gave him the illusion that he had such an option. For him to opt for the Princehood would deplete his numbers dramatically. The other clans would hunt them down." Driving along the boulevard toward the bay, Billy added, "The Gangrels would do it given any reason, but Eddie taking the Princehood would give theme great cause." "The Gangrels need to step back from this one." "Why?" "I have a feeling that this is between me and Eddie, and me and Eddie alone. No Julian, no clans, for that matter. I once made my will known to the Brujah. I can do it again." #### When they arrived back at the mansion, Lillie stepped into the foyer to greet Archon. She had a glass of wine in each hand, and following Archon into the front drawing room, she press one into his hand. "What did Eddie say?" she asked, anxiety rasping her voice. "About what, Lillie?" "What did you two talk about?" "If you are asking if we spoke of you, then the answer is that you were barely mentioned." With a whisper of "oh," she turned toward the window and gazed out into the night. "Well what is there to do?" "Nothing." "Nothing?" She spun back to him. "Julian's anger with me is beyond baring, the Brujah have multiplied their numbers, and you say that there is nothing to do?" "Ah, I thought you were asking for yourself," Archon said. "Let me elucidate: there is nothing for you to do. I would prefer that you pay more attention to your clubs, especially now that many more Brujah may find their way there." Taking a full sip of the wine, he then stated, "There may be an accident about to happen." "Accident?" "They happen all the time, Lillie." Archon emptied the glass and set it on the table near the front parlor door. "And we've all seen too much death." With that, he left for his rooms upstairs. *** "My Prince, there is a phone call for you from San Francisco. Archon Raine." Gazing at nothing in particular Cyrus continued folding the letter in his hands, a communiqué from his Childe Eddie Fiori, before placing it on the table in front of him. Finally he looked up at the servant. "Put the call through, but do not record it." "Not record...but...Sir --" "Are you unhappy with your life, Gerald?" The Prince's voice was neither angry nor threatening, merely bland, but the servant stiffened and quickly bowed to his master. "As you wish, my Prince." "Yes, Gerald, as I wish." Cyrus momentarily entertained the idea of punishing the young man for questioning his Prince, but decided against it. When making allies fear had always served him better than pain. After all why bother with actual torture when people's minds could do the work for you. Noticing a blinking light on the phone on his desk he went to answer the call from his old adversary. Each word of Eddie's letter fresh in his mind he had a good idea of what Archon Raine wanted to discuss with him. Half an hour later he hung up. There had been no surprises and as he had thought, there had been no reason to record the call as he usually did. Archon had a way with words and phrases. A replay of the conversation might cast a slight shadow of doubt on the Ventrue Primogen, but that would be entirely obliterated by the taint on Cyrus himself as he agreed to help his enemies against the machinations of his own Childe. Yet, he found the phone call quite satisfactory. He had begun to have his doubts about Eddie Fiori. Especially after the Embrace of Sasha Luna. The man had helped him take L.A from the former Prince, but had seemed to learn nothing in the process. Cyrus knew he was different not only from Eddie but from most Brujah. In general his Clansmen were violent and even brutal in the pursuit of power. Unlike Cyrus they valued shows of force above the strategies of politics. Eddie was like that, Cyrus thought. A sneer crossed his face as he recalled the vague wording of the letter from his Childe. No suggestion of a plan or a strategy, just a cry for help as if Cyrus didn't have enough to do in L.A. It never occurred to the Brujah Prince that Eddie might not trust his sire enough to reveal his plans in a letter. Instead, he sat down by the fireplace and began to plot while the light from the flames flickered across his face. He would go to San Francisco himself. Once there, he would be better able to judge the situation and decide which side to bet on. Perhaps Eddie could still be swayed to Cyrus' own way of thinking and what he fondly thought of as his cloak-and-dagger methods. Perhaps not. *** Humming to himself, Eddie surveyed the documents on his desk. Everything had been planned. Preparations were about to begin. In two months, he would ask his sire to commence his part of the endeavor to overthrow Julian Luna. Although his sire had yet to reply to the message that Eddie knew he had received two days earlier, there was no need to be concerned. The plan was perfect, all the cards where in his hands ready to be played whenever he wanted it. Every little detail had been carefully thought out the way Cyrus himself had showed him when they had plotted to take L.A. First, he would use his knowledge of Archon's and Lillie's mistakes to isolate the Ventrue Clan. Then, he would cripple Julian with the betrayals of his loved ones and the subsequent executions. It would all come down like dominoes... *** Ending his phone call, Cyrus walked out of his office and got into the car that would take him to a private airfield and a jet bound for San Francisco. It had been three days since he had received Eddie's letter and the first move had already been made. It would all come down like dominoes... *** Eddie's office was empty save for the Brujah Primogen and a lovely young woman he had picked up at a bar. Running his hands up and down her body, he watched the overhead light play with the undertones in her light brown hair. She was beautiful in a mysterious sort of way. The secrets in her eyes were what had drawn him to her. He'd always had a preference for mysterious women. He sensed the presence of others a millisecond before slightly taunting words disturbed the deep silence in the office. Eddie knew the shock would show on his face as he looked up at the newcomer. "Cyrus. I wasn't expecting you so soon." Too soon...the plan could not be implemented yet. He had meant to tell his sire that when Cyrus eventually contacted him from L.A. Instead, Cyrus had come here without any knowledge of Eddie's strategy. That had to mean that his sire assumed he was going to fail and had come to bury was he now thought of as a weak link. "You sounded a little desperate," Cyrus said. "Who's your playmate?" "Oh, just someone I met. Go on, sweetheart. Go get ready for dinner. Make yourself pretty." Thinking hard to try and figure out what trap Cyrus might have set in his way, he told his sire what Cyrus would expect to hear from someone he considered a weak link. "It's Julian Luna. He's always trying to clean up the Clans. Looking down his nose on anyone who's not old money Ventrue." "He hurt your feelings, Eddie?" Cyrus taunted. "He hurt business. My numbers are down." "And that threatens your standing as Primogen." "I'm sick to death of having to fight Luna to hold on to what's already mine." Eddie let a slightly petulant note creep into his voice. "You're thinking maybe what this town needs is a Brujah Prince. Someone who will let the Clans do business the way they want. Someone...someone like you." "You got it." Eddie made his answer light in its tone, but inside he was furious. So this was what Cyrus had in mind. An attempt on Julian's life in order to make Eddie Prince, and when it failed, Cyrus wouldn't have to worry about Eddie anymore. Assamites! The deadly Kindred assassins. That had to be it. Cyrus would have made sure things would look right on the surface so he would have had to hire an Assamite to attempt to kill Julian knowing full well that Julian's past as an Enforcer would make the job extremely tough. Cyrus was smiling. "And who better than your sire to guide you along." Yeah, who better, Eddie thought ironically. Out loud he said, "I'm really grateful for this, Cyrus." Cyrus shrugged. "Gives me a toe-hold in San Francisco. I'm gonna take over the state, Eddie." "That'd be something, Cyrus." Leaning forward as if eager to hear his sire's answer Eddie asked him, "Did you call in the Assamite?" He briefly cursed himself for letting slip that he thought Cyrus had called in one of the dreaded assassins, when he wasn't supposed to know that, but his sire didn't seem to notice. "You ever work with Assamites before?" Eddie shook his head. "No." "No one knows where they come from. But remember this. Once you send them in you can't call them back. No one can." Keeping his face eager was difficult as Eddie realized that Cyrus would already have given the Assamite orders to kill thus putting Eddie in a tight spot. Still, he played along. Now wasn't the time to let Cyrus know he understood what was going on. Obviously, when the time was right, he would have to implement his plans alone. Until then, he had to survive Julian's laws, Archon's manipulations and Cyrus' betrayal. "Can they pull this off? I'm taking a huge risk here." Cyrus smiled. "Assamites even take contracts for Nosferatu." "Then what's the problem? Send them in!" "Not so fast." Cyrus shook his finger at Eddie. "You have to show the other Clans that you're willing to reason. You have to sit down with Julian, first." Ah, the hidden olive branch, Eddie thought. This was where Cyrus would see if Eddie might become a puppet to the L.A. Prince. But it was too late for that. Eddie's plans didn't have room for Cyrus taking his time about who he wanted to support. Eddie would have to do things alone from this point on. "I'm tired of talking." As he spoke, automatically saying what Cyrus expected from him, Eddie let his mind wander back to another time, a different situation. ### "I am tired of talking, Cyrus. You will do as you're told or you will leave my city." The nasal voice of the Los Angeles Prince had always sounded slightly peevish to Eddie Fiori, like an old man embittered at his lot in life. Tonight though Prince Raphael sounded like a petulant child. He had all the arrogance of someone who expected to be obeyed and had yet to find out the true nature of the world. As he left the Prince's office with his sire and Primogen, Cyrus O'Patrick, he voiced his opinion. "The Prince is half insane Eddie. But only half, the rest of the time he is perfectly capable of holding together the other Clans against us Brujah. That was the reason behind this meeting. I'll see him again, somewhere public, a Toreador hangout perhaps, and he'll put me off again." "Then why bother Cyrus? I mean if you're already convinced he's not going to listen to Brujah?" "Because the other Clans are watching. This is their chance to see what they'll get if they support me. Once that's settled I'll be free to kill him. You see, Eddie, the thing is if I kill him now I'll still be able to take the position of Prince by force. But if I wait until the Prince has shown that he's the one unwilling to negotiate some of the other Clans will side with me. Not all of them, but enough to ensure that I wont have to keep fighting after I become Prince." ### How young he had been, then, Eddie recalled. Violence had been the only way he knew from the moment of his Embrace. Cyrus had taken him into his household from the very beginning. He had taught Eddie about the ways of the Kindred and the Masquerade and how to be a Brujah Primogen. It hadn't taken long for Eddie to figure out that he was being groomed for something and then Cyrus had sent him to San Francisco. The old Brujah Primogen had been pathetically weak. A puppet with Prince Archon Raine the Puppeteer. It had taken Eddie little more than a month to secure the loyalty of the other Clansmen. He had killed the Primogen himself making sure that no witnesses could run to Archon with the tale. Officially the Primogen was still missing although everyone had guessed what had happened. But without evidence the Prince had been powerless to stop Eddie from becoming the new Brujah Primogen. His next step had been to take over the Dock Workers Union, the most important union in town. Keeping Cyrus' words of restraint in mind for later he had decided that violence would speak faster than words amongst these people. Five people 'disappeared' and things were suddenly very favorable. It had taken him two years to ensure that things were completely under his control, then he had started thinking of the future. Having kept a close eye on the Ventrue community he had gained some knowledge of investment planning. A perfect opportunity had shown itself when a small Greek merchant company had looked to expand from their offices on the East Coast to the Californian peninsula. The plans had been solid, the economic benefits had been large. Already after three years the investment would have paid itself back and more. Except it never got that far. Leases ran into problems, smaller subcontractors cancelled their participation, competitors stole the clientele background and millions of dollars had been lost. It had taken only a couple of days to find the tracks that led back to the Prince of the City. When confronted with Eddie's rage Archon had been suitably apologetic and had offered to make up for his mistake. Had Eddie heard of this arms deal with some "business men" in Detroit? That had been Eddie's first encounter with the "glass ceiling." Archon Raine wanted to make sure Ventrue stayed on top of the city and the best way to ensure it had been to stay on top of the financial market. Brujah had been left in charge of all connections to the mob, ensuring that nothing could ever lead humans to Archon. To be fair, Archon had also been rough-handed with the Toreador, deciding what they should and shouldn't support in the world of arts. The Nosferatu had been forced steadily into the sewers, step by step, and the Gangrel had not even had a place at Archon's table. In 1985 his attitude had led to a Clan War. ### Cyrus was talking again. Eddie forced himself back to present events and tried his best to look interested. "Assamites are shape-shifters. They can make themselves look like anyone. Your best friend, your lover... or some broad you just picked up at the bar." Cyrus had Eddie's full attention now. Automatically, Eddie looked to the mystery women who still sat seated on a side chair in his office. One moment he was staring at a pretty brunette pulling back her hair in a barrette, the next there was Prince Julian Luna himself staring back at Eddie. The Brujah Primogen cursed himself resoundingly. Cyrus had pulled a fast one on him all right. But Eddie managed to screw his look of initial shock into an eager grin, for Cyrus' benefit. "Assamites only work for Princes. That's why I needed your help, Cyrus." Needed it like I need a day in the sun, he sneered inwardly. Eddie then mechanically filled in the rest of the conversation as he knew Cyrus expected him say. He was glad when it came to an end. Eddie leaned back in his tall chair and watched as Cyrus left the office accompanied by the Assamite. He was still shaken that Cyrus had planned his nasty surprise for Eddie so well, but then again, Eddie had already figured that Cyrus had called in the Assamites. Eddie gave a wide grin and stretched out his arms, and then pulled his arms back to rest his head snugly in the palms of interlaced fingers. What Cyrus *didn't* know was that Eddie had called in an Assamite of his own. Thanks to Cyrus' personal assistant, Gerald, Eddie had learned that when the price was right, the sneaky killers were just as willing to deal with Primogen as they were with Princes... Eddie's grin widened. What Cyrus also didn't know, was just how unhappy the L.A. Brujah were with the way their Prince was running the city. And it wasn't just the Brujah either. The Ventrue in L.A. were too weak to topple the current power regime but the Toreador in Los Angeles were not - a private detail that Lillie quietly but constantly hounded Eddie with for the past two decades. Finally, the two of them had put together a deal behind the backs of both Princes that would one day bloom to sweet fruition. So when Archon had appeared in his office alone the other night, Eddie had lead him to believe that he still coveted Julian's job, even though he'd said that what he really wanted was to increase San Francisco's Brujah population. Oh, Eddie wanted the Prince's job all right. But it wasn't necessarily Luna's job that he was after... However, until the time was ripe, appearances had to be maintained, and so he had sent over a full fleet of Brujah troops the night Lillie had informed him that Cash was away and Julian was alone with his new human lover. He'd known full well that where Julian was, but had let Archon think that he'd convinced Eddie that Julian was in the mansion and left in a huff. Eddie shook his head. When everybody believed you were just some dumb brute of a Brujah and Cyrus' brute at that, it was so easy to manipulate even the best of the manipulators. ### Archon sat behind his own mahogany desk, deep in thought. He was reading through for a second time the file that Julian had just presented him. The information was remarkably detailed, and if accurate, spelled trouble for the Ventrue. Or more specifically, for their business assets in city. He carefully closed the folder and looked up at Julian, who had been pacing the floor restlessly as a caged lion. Archon raised an eyebrow. "And you say Caitlin gave this to you an hour ago?" Perhaps he had underestimated the value of this human. But of course, Archon reflected, the Bryne woman hadn't received her reputation as San Francisco's most feared investigative reporter by chasing after butterflies. Julian stopped pacing to stand directly before Archon's desk. "Yes. I told you, I went to the Times at nine to pick her up for our date. She was working late this evening." Julian paused and a slight smile came over his face. "She often works late." "And how did Ms. Bryne know you would be interested in the latest matters regarding the licensing of Pacific Rim imports?" Archon inquired, already guessing the answer. "Her background research on me for her article was quite thorough," Julian stated. "Impressive, I'd say," murmured Archon. "Well, for once, Julian, I am glad for your affair with Ms. Bryne. If she hadn't alerted you to BenTron's recent acquisition--" "Yes, I know," Julian cut Archon off with a dismissive gesture. "She has no idea, of course, that the corporation is Brujah owned. But her assessment that this is just a diversionary tactic--" "Could Lillie have known about Eddie having initiated a hostile takeover?" Archon wondered aloud, cutting off his own prodigy in turn. "Lillie?" Julian said, his expression one of clear surprise. Then his features darkened with displeasure. "It's very possible," Archon stated, his own expression grim. "She and Eddie had been very cozy until recently." Archon reopened the file, quickly skimming its contents. "You see, here," he said pointing at a particular line in the text. "Here, here, and here." Archon slapped his hand on the desk. "I'd say we have all the tell-tale markings of Toreador involvement. Carefully disguised, but present nevertheless." Julian reached for the folder and quietly read through it. Curse that Toreador woman and her infernal intrigues, thought Archon vehemently. It all fell into place now. Her refusal to support Julian's allocation of licensing and distribution through Ventrue and Toreador controlled markets, in favor of Eddie's demand to control the imports through his own Brujah dominated shipping outlets. Lillie's support of the Brujah Primogen had puzzled Archon, for it left her Toreador out of any licensing agreements. But if the information Caitlin Bryne had dug up was accurate - and Archon had no doubt by now that it was - then Lillie stood to gain a pretty penny by backing Fiori's scheme, much more than Luna's own ideas. Archon tapped his chin. To think that he, a Ventrue Primogen, had been so mislead by what he now saw as careful Toreador manipulation - oh, that humble show of deference marked by just the right touch of fear - the night she had placed the rose on his bed and 'confessed' to knowing Eddie's outrageous acts of Embracing without the Prince's permission. What she had really wanted to do was to outwardly distance herself from the Brujah even as she continued to aid them behind the scenes. But to make her break with Fiori appear genuine, she first acted properly petulant over Julian's new fascination with Caitlin Bryne - petulant enough so that Lillie had just enough excuse to delay in reporting Eddie. Then the great show of humiliation and contrition as she realized the 'errors of her ways' that she manifested to Archon in breaking with Eddie, mixed with the perfect balance of jealousy over Caitlin when the two of them had confronted Julian with their news. "I apologize, Julian," Archon said wearily. "Sire?" Julian asked with clear puzzlement, looking up from the folder. "I'm afraid I *did* call you away from your night with Caitlin needlessly three days ago. When Lillie came to me, I badly underestimated her. I should have dealt with her myself." "Archon, what are you talking about?" Julian asked, a little irked. Archon proceeded to tell Julian his thoughts, noticing the increasingly dark scowl on his Childe's brow as he did so. "It makes sense," Julian said reluctantly, placing the closed folder on Archon's desk. Archon knew that tone well. Julian hated to be caught unawares as much as he did. "But why make herself a silent partner with the Brujah?" Julian mused, leaning himself back against the desk, his arms folded. "Last month she was still furious over having been ousted from her clubs in L.A." "Or was she?" Archon countered. "I wonder... All we have is her word and the Toreador Clan's grand show of indignation. At the time I thought it felt wrong. Lillie is far too savvy to let her holding simply 'fall' into Brujah hands." "So perhaps she got something in exchange?" ventured Julian darkly. Archon sighed and leaned back carefully in his chair. "Whatever it was, it must have been worth a great deal to her that she would part with those clubs. I think it best we contemplate what that 'something' is." Archon gazed into Julian's eyes and saw his Childe give a nearly imperceptible nod of agreement. Archon allowed himself a slow smile. "Accidents," he said. Julian raised an eyebrow. "They happen all the time, Archon," he said, matter-of- factly. Ah, Archon had taught his Childe well. ### "It's all set, Lillie," Eddie spoke gruffly into the phone. "Our time is finally come." Lillie smiled. "Lovely," she murmured. She cradled the receiver gently in her hands as she sat seductively at The Haven's bar, surveying the evening's patrons. She gave a chuckle. Her and Eddie's plan had always been stunning in both its simplicity and its duplicity. Cyrus' Assamite would soon kill Julian. Eddie's Assamite would soon kill Cyrus. The enmity between the two Princes was well known throughout the state. It would appear that the two rival Princes had been slain while trying to take the other out. Eddie would move into L.A. to fill the power vacuum while Lillie would step forward in San Francisco. Since both would support each other, they had the unprecedented advantage of having the backing of the Prince of a major city behind their quest for power. True, hiring the Assamite hadn't come cheaply for Eddie, so Lillie had agreed to hand over her more popular night cubs in L.A. to the Brujah as compensation. Currently they were under Cyrus' management, but within a week's time they should all belong to Eddie when he had secured his reign as Prince. To help him in that endeavor, the L.A. Toreador would place their influence behind Eddie's bid for supremacy. That influence combined with the weight of the L.A. Brujah who were secretly sworn to Eddie's cause, should be enough to see that his reign was a long one. In return, Eddie had already seen to it that the Brujah in San Francisco would back Lillie's claim to the throne. He had been recently adding members to his clan right and left so that if it came down to a show of force between Lillie's Toreador and the city's Ventrue, the Toreador would have all the soldiers they needed for support. The way Eddie and Lillie saw it, the only one intelligent enough to foil their plotting would possibly be Archon. But a decade ago, Eddie had discovered a way of neutralizing that particular threat, and within Kindred law to boot. Once events were under way, the only one with enough power to stop them was presumably Julian, but Lillie had seen to it that the Prince would be too distracted to notice the end coming. As if reading her thoughts, was ' by Eddie startled Lillie out of her smug contemplation. "Are you sure you can keep Julian's attentions elsewhere?" A note of concern had crept into the Brujah Primogen's voice. "Oh that won't be any problem," assured Lillie. "After all, I didn't just spend the past two years tracking down the perfect distraction for him in vain. Caitlin has him wrapped around her little finger and she doesn't even know it." Lillie smiled wickedly. Although Caitlin would never remember it, Lillie had been the one to suggest she pursue an article about Julian Luna, the mysterious Californian tycoon. Lillie had also been the one to secretly pass along information to Caitlin, enough to keep the reporter interested in her story until the evening she had finally met Julian. Lillie couldn't applaud herself enough over her having arranged Julian's new love affair. His fascination with Caitlin and fear of her finding out about his true nature occupied so much of his time lately, that he wasn't keeping as close an eye on his daily business affairs or the state of Kindred politics as he normally would have. Had Lillie still been his lover instead, he would have been more focused on Kindred matters. That would never do. Lillie had been outraged when she had sensed Julian's feelings for his old Kindred flame, Alexandra Serris, begin to resurface. That had been just before he and Caitlin were supposed to meet for the first time. So Lillie had swiftly moved to offset any potential damage by going to Eddie and asking his help in removing Alexandra's unwanted Kindred presence. And of course, throughout it all, Lillie played to the hilt the part of the scorned woman. As Julian became increasingly interested in Caitlin, Lillie continued to play for his affections, knowing that would further push him into Caitlin's life - further into his desire to live as a mortal among mortals instead of a Prince among Kindred. "There's no need to worry about keeping Julian busy," Lillie stated. "That's what Caitlin's for. Frankly, I'm more concerned about Archon." "Archon's history," Eddie said flatly. "Cameron will see to that - and no one will suspect we're involved. Cameron's reasons for revenge are well known among our clan." "And I'll see to it that it becomes well known among the Toreador as well. No one will be able to fault Archon's death. Just say when." The site of two Kindred descending the entrance steps into The Haven momentarily distracted Lillie. Lillie became concerned. Things were running too well now for any error. "Eddie, I'll have to get back to you," Lillie said quietly, then hung up the phone. Putting on a broad smile left the bar and made her way to the front of her establishment. The sight of two Kindred descending the entrance steps into The Haven momentarily distracted Lillie. Lillie became concerned. Things were running too well now for any error. "Eddie, I'll have to get back to you," Lillie said quietly, then hung up the phone. Putting on a broad smile left the bar and made her way to the front of her establishment. "Julian, Archon, good evening to you both." Archon nodded a slight greeting while Julian ignored her. Sudden fury engulfed Lillie, how dare he ignore her in public. "Is something wrong between you and Caitlin, Julian? Didn't she have time for you tonight? It's been a while since you came here." Again it was Archon who responded, "We have business here, tonight." "Oh, well, I'll just leave you to it, then." Lillie had turned away when Julian spoke. "Like Hell you will!" "Perhaps I didn't make myself clear." Archon allowed mockery to creep into his voice. "We have business with you." Julian's tone had momentarily frozen her, but now she quickly gathered her wits about her and turned back to face them a calm smile in place. "Why don't we go upstairs then? I'll just call for...wine." Julian's response was to grab her arm and physically force her up the stairs. Anger threatened to erupt, but she quickly showed the Beast down. They had to know something or Julian would not be this mad. Her Prince was a perfect politician. She had less than 30 seconds to decide how she was going to play this. Caitlin. The human woman could be used to explain nearly every act Lillie had been guilty of lately. If the two Ventrue thought they had her cornered, they could think again. When she was human London society had been ready to laugh her out of her first stage performance, instead she'd vowed them all with her acting abilities. Archon and Julian were about to learn that those skills had been honed not forgotten during the decades that had passed. In Lillie's office Julian showed her into a chair and stood towering over her. "Why did you support Eddie on the Pacific Rim matter?" Bingo. Raising her chin defensively Lillie looked up at Julian. "Because it served my Clan better. We gained more money from Eddie's ventures than from yours." Lillie nearly smirked at the look of fury on Julian's face. Her old lover might pretend to be angry at her betrayal but he was far more angry at her insinuation that Eddie Fiori might be the better businessman. "I would have thought that his taking your clubs would have kept you away from Eddie, Lillie." Archon said. Quickly letting her earlier anger at Julian's behavior surface, Lillie let the Beast show in her eyes. "We keep our friends close and our enemies closer. Isn't that what you told me, Julian? Of course, having to bend over backwards to support my Prince was what lost me the clubs in the first place. Too bad you're so involved with your human pet, Julian. Otherwise I might have had my clubs back by now. Still as things are it was definitely more beneficial to go with Eddie." Archon moved uncomfortably. Lillie was still hiding something, but she also had a point and perhaps now was the time to make it. "That part is true Julian. Business has suffered due to your attention to the human woman. When you first involved yourself with her you told me it was in order to control her and the paper, now you say you need her. Julian, you are Prince, The Masquerade must come first, regardless of your own feelings." Rising from her chair Lillie echoed Archon's sentiments. "Yes, Julian, you have to let Caitlin Byrne go." She allowed a small note of eagerness to sneak into her voice, just enough to push Julian in the opposite direction of where Archon wanted him to go. Julian laughed harshly. "Oh, you'd like that wouldn't you Lillie?" Refusing to meet his eyes, Lillie shrugged. "I want what's best for the Clans." Lightning quick Julian grabbed her by the arms and showed her up against the wall. "Let's just test my understanding here. You want what's best for the Clans. And you don't particularly care whether I come back to your bed. Fine!" He bit her lower lip softly, once, then a little harder before crushing his mouth to hers. Stop him. Have to stop him...The thought kept running through her head even as she surrendered to his touch. His mouth was so arrogant, impatient...greedy. He used lips and tongue and teeth and she was swamped by a wave of hot need. His or hers. It was impossible to tell. His rock hard body against hers, his scent embracing her. Ventrue, male, erotic...On a long throaty moan she drowned in him, going under for the third time. Even as the sound died away she was wrapping her slim legs around his waist, oblivious to anything but what he was doing to her. And found herself roughly thrown on the floor Julian standing above her completely calm. Giving her a mocking bow, he turned and walked out of the office, Archon right behind him. A sob escaped her lips before she could control herself. Then she forced herself to thinking about the upcoming events. Soon, Julian would be out of her life for good... **** "I'm sure Eddie." Lillie's impatience came across well on the phone. "Julian knows about my involvement in your recent business ventures with BenTron. But he believes I did it to get back at him for leaving me for Caitlin." "Well, everything's ready now. Cyrus' Assamite is going to kill Julian and mine will kill Cyrus. A week from now we'll rule California." After discussing a few last minute alterations due to Cyrus' unexpected appearance Eddie said his goodbyes and hung up. Rubbing a hand tiredly across his face he allowed himself one moment of total relaxation. This whole charade had gone on for far too long. Having to keep up appearances all the time, never relaxing his guard in case someone was watching. Twenty-three years. He'd been planning this for over two decades. If anyone in this town had ever known that Brujah were once reputed to be not only warriors but scholars, he'd made damn sure they forgot it. Always playing a part. Even with Lillie. Lillie Langtry, Eddie had fallen in love with her the very first time he saw her. Beautiful face of the Toreador Clan with the heart of a Nosferatu. That's how he'd heard Julian describe her once. A perfect mate for himself he'd thought. But Lillie belonged to Julian, mind, heart and soul. She didn't know it, or refused to admit it. From time to time she would pick other lovers just as there were others for Julian. But they meant nothing to her, just as they failed to take away any of her pain at every ounce of love Julian gave to someone else. She thought she'd been clever, diverting Julian's attention through Caitlin. Idly, Eddie wondered how long it would take her to realize the hole she'd dug for herself. Julian was the only thing Lillie truly wanted, but Caitlin was everything Julian wanted... No, Lillie would never forgive him for killing Julian. Just as he, Eddie, couldn't forgive her for being unable to love any other man. He'd tried. He'd courted her during his early days as Primogen, consoled her when Julian went to someone else's arms, supported her businesses and her occasional escapades. Pride had kept him from begging. At least he had the comfort of knowing he'd never humiliated himself that far. A bitter taste filled his mouth. He wasn't proud to hate her, wasn't proud to admit that all the love he'd once held for her had turn into cold fury. She'd done that to him. Turned him into less of a man, less of a human being. And now, now she had to die. Eddie had no intention of sharing California with her. Julian's death would make her hate him and she'd be his worst enemy. No Lillie had to go. He'd kill her in the troubles that would follow Julian's death. Then he'd kill Cyrus and take L.A. There was no second Assamite, of course, as much as he hated her now he'd felt no remorse cheating her out of her clubs. And as long as Lillie's death couldn't be traced back to him, the L.A. Toreador would still support him. Beautiful face of the Toreador Clan, may you rot forever in Hell... **** How did you apologize to a Prince for trying to kill him? How did you tell a lover that it was easier to loose him to his grave than to another woman? Especially a human one. Downstairs in the club the music was pounding and people were laughing. Upstairs all you could feel was a low, steady beat crawling along the floor and up the walls. Very vague. You had to put your hand to the cold, smooth walls to even sense it, or stand barefoot on the floor. Lillie was doing both. Yet she felt nothing, saw nothing. The people viewable through the two-way mirror didn't register on her mind. Her own reflection cast back to her by the dark glass distorted and became something else, someone else. Julian's face. Eddie's face. She should go. Julian was expecting her. Not because she had been invited or ordered to appear. But because every Kindred in the city knew she had stepped wrong. He knew she had no choice but to beg his forgiveness. Just as she knew he would give it. Not because they had been lovers, and not because they had been friends. No, Julian would forgive her for the sake convenience. One Clan without a Primogen was better than two. And that was worse. Much, much worse. For Lillie loved him with all of her being. She saw that now. For a while she had tried to forget it. Eddie's plan had been brilliant and for a while she had clung to it like a drowning woman to a robe. Even with Cyrus turning up too soon it had only taken small adjustments to set things back on track. Tonight was supposed to have been her first night as Prince of San Francisco. She would have called a meeting of the Conclave just as Eddie had. Having killed Julian Eddie was to have taken care of Cyrus after that meeting. Then he would have 'disappeared in actuality going to L.A. while Lillie united the Clans supposedly to honor Julian's memory. Except Julian hadn't died. Julian hadn't died and she hadn't wanted him to. If only Caitlin hadn't come to the club. If only she hadn't sat down at her table. If only... But she had and the human woman's words had woken her from her dream of a life without Julian. And reality had been a nightmare. Reality had been her car moving desperately and much to slowly through the traffic on the way to the Compound. Reality had left her car abandoned in a dark alley while she flew through the night praying for God to stop the clock and let her get there in time. But she hadn't. She'd been pleading with Eddie to tell her he hadn't killed Julian even as he dragged her back out of the house. She'd torn loose as he'd tried to get her in his car. Sick with grief and remorse she fled to Daedalus with Eddie calling after her. She hadn't sought out the Nosferatu for comfort or forgiveness, but for release. She'd been so sure Daedalus would take her life in return for Julian's. But Daedalus' punishment had been much harsher. He'd wanted to make her live with her guilt and his hatred. Then Eddie had called a Conclave meeting at midnight. And God help her, she had had too much time to realize what she had done. She had been contemplating a miserable and lonely future when Julian had appeared. Julian, Julian, Julian...Her mind had repeated the his name like a chant. In a trance she had risen going instinctively for Eddie's samurai swords. Julian, Julian, Julian, Julian. The sword had come loose of the scabbard without a sound. Julian, Julian, Julian. She'd stepped up behind Eddie without anyone sensing her intentions. Eddie had been talking and she'd said something. She couldn't remember what, she only remembered his face. The look in his eyes and the complete silence surrounding them. Surprise, shock, fear, understanding and anger. Eddie Fiori had died angry. The sword had cut through his throat like it was nothing and the trance had left her in a rush. She'd looked up at Julian and his eyes had been understanding, too. Dammit! She looked down on her hands and the blood on them wasn't Julian's it was Eddie's. Suddenly furious Lillie turned away from the mirror snatching up a vase and hurling it against the opposite wall. She was supposed to have been Prince. Instead she'd ruined everything for herself. She had to get free of Julian somehow, before he destroyed what little spirit she had left. Eager to face him now she stepped into her high heels, refreshed her blood red lipstick and went to get her car. On the drive to the Compound her eyes kept searching the people walking the streets. She was looking for Eddie she realized. Even though he'd have had no reason to be there while he'd been alive, she still looked for him. Part of her, she guessed, didn't want to admit that she had ruined all their plans. And for what? A man who preferred a human woman over her. She could have been free, and with Eddie as her ally all of California would have been at her feet. As she passed the guards and was admitted to Julian's study she asked herself why she had ruined both her own dreams and Eddie's. And found her answer. The Prince awaited her alone his back to her as he looked out at the garden below. She loved him. Needed him like she needed blood. A sick, twisted emotional addiction that had her overlooking all his affairs and allowed him to treat her any which way he liked. Julian Luna was a drug and she had killed Eddie to get another fix...Turning to face her Julian caught the look of adoration on her face. Walking to him Lillie put her arms around his neck, Eddie's death forgotten. "I love you." Eyes cold, Julian reached up and removed her hands, pushing her away from him. "I pity you."