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So last month, Hayden made a life-changing decision. If you missed it, be sure to read Episode 5 first because his undead life is about to get complicated…
The tranquil sound of pre-dawn birds soon replaced the din of London’s thriving night life. I kept my window down as the limo entered the posh neighbourhoods, enjoying the cool air on my skin. The streets where rich folk lived even smelled marginally better than the rest of the city. ‘Is it just me, or does London reek even more to the cursed?’ I did not bother facing Seraphina when I posed the question.
‘We do have enhanced senses, yes. But you can tune them out with practice and learn how to use them to your advantage when hunting.’ Seraphina’s hand rested on my shoulder, squeezing my aching muscles. ‘You feel tense. Not that I blame you since I haven’t exactly prepared you to meet the Duke. I’m sorry about that Hayden.’
Sighing, I turned to look into her golden eyes. ‘Any formalities I should know about?’
‘Wait until I present you, then give him a simple neck bow and address him as Sir. Although the first time you talk to him, you should call him Your Royal Highness.’
‘Wait, is the Duke part of the human royal family?’
‘Technically, yes, but only because his benefactor descended from nobility. The peerage doesn’t recognize him because he is officially dead. All the cursed royal bloodline members throughout Europe are the same. There are dukes in all the major cities and the king currently resides in Moscow.’
My brows jumped up my forehead. ‘Why Moscow?’
‘Largest population of both humans and cursed.’
The car stopped outside a redbrick mansion with cream panelled windows and classical columns. I whistled as I took in the view. ‘Ostentatious much.’ I followed as Seraphina dragged her feet up the steps and through the extensive corridors; our footfalls echoing on the marble floors. Fake candlelight flickered in the chandeliers as we passed countless rooms. After heading down a spiral staircase, Seraphina stopped at the closed cellar door and knocked three times. A burly bald man in a simple black suit greeted them with a silent nod before moving aside to grant us entry.
The dimly lit room contrasted to the warm tones of the hallway. Dark red wallpaper, black marble tiling, and thick cobwebs added to the crypt aesthetic the place had going. An elaborate leather chair perched atop a dais along the far wall and from his seat, the Duke scowled at us beneath wispy strands of jet back hair. As the solid door slammed shut behind us, I jumped an inch off the floor.
The Duke snickered and stroked his long, braided beard.
Seraphina led me closer to the wretched man and curtsied. ‘Sir.’
‘Hmph. My wayward daughter returns already, bringing her latest fledgling no less.’
I shot Seraphina a look. Daughter?
Ignoring me, she kept her eyes forward. ‘Yes, sir. I present you with my fledgling, Hayden Black. Hayden, I would like to formally introduce you to The Most High, Noble and Potent Prince His Grace Ambrosius Hemlock, Duke of London.’
Christ! What a mouthful. I bowed as instructed. ‘Greetings Your Royal Highness.’
He scanned me up and down before glaring at Seraphina. ‘Your insolence has further polluted our bloodline, Seraphina. This is what happens when you curse the riff raff. They have no sense of decency.’
Blood boiling, I inched forward. ‘Excuse me Sir—’
‘Quiet!’ His voice boomed, rattling the china tea set on the tiny table beside him. ‘You have done enough damage tonight, Mr. Black. Do not add disrespect for your elders to the shitshow. You’ll do well to learn your place in this world, not that I trust my daughter to tutor you accordingly. Perhaps I should enslave you and teach you some manners myself.’
‘Please, Sir, no!’ Seraphina cried. ‘He hasn’t done anything wrong. Do not punish him for my indiscretions.’
Ambrosius huffed. ‘Fine, but I insist on Hayden taking etiquette and deportment lessons from one of the Duchesses’ ladies.
Seraphina gulped, adopting the stance of a nervous child rather than maintaining her usual self-assured air. Her peaches and cream complexion even turned a sickly shade of white. ‘Yes, Sir.’
A few finishing lessons did not sound so bad, albeit dull and tedious. So why did Sera react like that?
‘Let’s get down to business, shall we?’ Ambrosius shuffled up to the edge of his seat and snapped his fingers.
‘Excuse me, Sir,’ I began, ‘but I have a fledgling—’
‘I know why you are here, Hayden. Has my daughter taught you nothing? I sensed another join my bloodline the moment you cursed your fledgling.’
A maid approached, handing me a stack of forms.
‘Complete the paperwork and give it to my secretary. She will also book your lessons when you speak to her. Daphne will show you where to go.’ He gestured toward the maid who stood before me.
She curtsied to the Duke before striding toward the door.
I waited for Seraphina who remained immobilized where she stood. ‘Sera?’
‘You are dismissed, Mr. Black,’ insisted Ambrosius.
Glancing at me, Seraphina simpered. ‘Go. I’ll meet up with you after.’
Exiting the room felt like an uphill climb. I hated the idea of leaving Seraphina alone with that callous prick, even if he was her father. A multitude of questions swam about in my mind. Why didn’t Sera tell me she was also part of the noble ranks? A duke’s daughter? How did that even work if fledglings aren’t offspring? And why worry about my etiquette lessons?.
Daphne showed me into a spacious office, brighter and warmer than the tomb I emerged from. ‘You can fill out the paperwork in here.’
Two desks inhabited the room, one clearly intended for my use because the other was occupied. When my gaze landed on the Duke’s secretary, I froze.
A familiar flurry of red curls bounced about when she looked up from her work, meeting my eyes with equal trepidation.