He watched her leave, careful not to let his frustration show. None of it meant anything but now that he was forced to seek permission before feeding from sims, this was their dance.
“Bravo, Vladislaus, bravo,” Miss Hell clapped, her head shaking with laughter when Lena was gone.
“Oh, so we seduce our dinner now? Is that the new thing?” Bloodvein intoned dryly. He could not look more disgusted if he tried.
“No,” Vlad answered. But he was reduced to seducing his dinner. The curse saw to that and thus, Lena Cowder, VP of Business Development, had to be seduced. No matter how empty it made him feel.
“Oh stop Bloodvein. It’s obvious that Vladislaus enjoys playing with his meal,” Miss Hell said with a playful smack.
Bloodvein waved a hand in annoyance. “If playtime is what he needs, I know a vampire or two who would be pleased to serve their king in such a capacity.”
Vlad suppressed a shudder. Any creature that Bloodvein recommended was more likely to be casing him for weaknesses than giving him pleasure. Bloodvein had been eyeing Vlad’s position of power for decades. It was bad enough he was forced to roleplay Lena’s “bad boss” fantasy in order to get permission to drink her plasma, but better an idiotic round of roleplay than a knife in the back.
“My playtime is not up for discussion,” Vlad said flatly. “What business do we have to discuss?”
Miss Hell smiled as Vlad took his seat. “The incident with the witches has still gone unanswered. We know their magics aren’t powerful enough to overcome you so what shall we do to collect recompense?”
Mortals found her smile utterly captivating. Vlad had once upon a time too. They spent a few decades of the 1700s as lovers, though they parted ways amicably.
“My spies report that the coven has already begun rebuilding. There are two university students recruiting around campus,” Bloodvein added.
Vlad already knew that. Bloodvein’s spies were Caleb’s spies too. They fed him information without ever realizing it was going right back to Vlad. It was how he knew of Bloodvein’s various plots for seizing power.
“And if we don’t respond at all, it will be as if they won,” Miss Hell pointed out helpfully.
Just the thought of letting Miss Hell or Bloodvein loose on some unsuspecting students gave Vlad an anxious feeling in the pit of his stomach. He had been making excuses for months. That was his first mistake. A king didn’t make excuses. Josef Straud certainly never had and from now on, neither would Vlad.
“No,” he said simply. The anxious feeling retreated.
Bloodvein sucked his teeth and gave a sigh that turned into a growl. “No? No what? No to those two witches? Fine. Have it your way, pick a different pair.” It was a statement meant to insult Vlad, to treat him like he was some recalcitrant child incapable of making a decision.
Vlad gave him the same nonplussed look and repeated himself. “No.”
“Vlad,” Miss Hell’s voice was quiet. At first he didn’t know whether she was talking to him or Bloodvein but then she placed a hand on her forehead and inclined it slightly in Bloodvein’s direction.
The message was clear: Bloodvein, you idiot, shut up.
The message was not received. Gone was the slightly grumpy but bored aristocrat. Now he was shouting. “No? You can’t just say that! I lost good vampires in that fight. What’s your explanation?”
Vlad gave him a slow and feral smile, “A king doesn’t need an explanation.”
Miss Hell tried to bridge the gap. “If you have something else in mind, we’re open to hearing it. We thought this was what you wanted,” she purred. “But it can be done another way. Two witches did seem rather paltry for you…”
“Or you’re going soft,” Bloodvein hissed under his breath.
Vlad leapt out of his seat, grabbed Bloodvein by the neck and pushed him against the wall. He squeezed until Bloodvein gasped, his eyes turning red as the capillaries began to burst.
Had Miss Hell called his name?
Vlad wasn’t sure. And he couldn’t have stopped himself. He squeezed harder until Bloodvein’s windpipe gave a sickening crunch. It was over in seconds.
“You seemed incapable of watching your tone, so I did it for you,” Vlad’s voice was low and dangerous. He watched impassively as Bloodvein coughed and doubled over, clutching frantically at his neck and taking deep gurgling breaths as the bones around his throat began to reset themselves.
In a few hours, he’d be completely healed.
But in the meantime, the pain would be agonizing.
Miss Hell came up to Vlad, placing a hand on his back. “Now gentlemen, is that any way to behave?”
“On your knees,” Vlad bit out and watched with a distant satisfaction as Bloodvein dropped to the floor.
Miss Hell chuckled, but the sound was brittle. “Vlad, darling, it seems your mood could use a boost. After you’ve finished playing with your dinner, come hunting with me. It’ll give the witches a bit of pause while we develop a plan that’s more to your liking.” She gave Bloodvein a pointed look before returning her attention to Vlad.
He didn’t turn towards her, but tried to relax his shoulders and capture some of his old suave. He was King Vlad the Ruthless, not King Vlad the Crazy or Out of Control. This whole display was just more proof that something was wrong. The old Vladislaus Straud didn’t crack under pressure, he thrived under it. And yet, here he was nearly breaking Bloodvein’s neck over something they should have been united on.
King Josef, reincarnated, his conscience warned. But he ignored it. He wasn’t like his father. He just needed to get back to normal.
“I would be delighted, Miss Hell,” he lied.
“Wonderful! Enjoy your delicious little snack! Come Bloodvein, before our King decides next time to actually kill you,” she tugged at his arm and dragged him out the door, whistling cheerfully.
Vlad watched them go.
Are you sure about this? his conscience asked.