Of Wicked Blood (The Quatrefoil Chronicles #1) - Olivia Wildenstein
I step out of the private elevator to find the door to my newly refurbished loft wide open.
I pat down my tuxedo for something I can use as a weapon, but all I come up with is a strand of black Tahitian pearls, six thousand euros in cash, and a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona. The Opéra de Marseille is a profitable place to pick pockets. Swearing under my breath, I pull an umbrella from the stand near the door and lunge into the apartment.
“Well if it isn’t Mr. Mary Poppins, my favorite thug.” Bastian sits on the leather couch devouring my stash of madeleines.
I toss the umbrella on the kitchen counter, then nudge his sneakers off my expensive coffee table. “Doors are equipped with this magical thing called a latch, little brother. Use it.”
He snorts. “Heard your car, so I knew you were on your way up. The engine on that thing is loud. I’m surprised the neighbors haven’t complained.”
Loud and beautiful. “I’d love to see them try.”
Bastian and I met in my third foster home, seven years ago. He was a skinny, bookish almost-eleven-year-old, with skin a shade darker than mine and a soul ten times brighter. I was thirteen and two full heads taller. I kept to myself and so did he. But then our foster parents took in two meathead strays with only a scattering of braincells between them. They got their kicks from slamming Bastian’s head inside his books, cackling when they bloodied the pages. The day I caught them at it, I broke their noses. For the next year, anytime they gave Bastian a hard time, I broke other body parts. Toes. Fingers. An arm. Finally, I got tossed out of the family. I took Bastian with me to the next homey hellhole, having developed a soft spot for the kid.
The only thing I might love more than larceny is that boy. And madeleines.
“I see you’ve come into some cash since I last visited.” Bastian gestures to the custom fireplace that runs along the bottom of the living room wall, then to the granite kitchen countertop, the le Corbusier stools, and the Noguchi glass and maple coffee table he had his dirty sneakers on only a moment ago.
Some is an understatement.
I smile as I appraise all the material beauty that is now mine. “Sold a lost Renoir.”
“Lost or stolen?”
“It was lost among a clutter of other masterpieces. Total shame.” I snatch the bag of supermarket madeleines from him.
He can eat anything else in the place, but not these. These are mine.
As I bite into one, I spy a thick, creamy envelope on the couch beside him. “What’s that?” I ask, my mouth full. “Christmas isn’t until tomorrow.”
“Yeah, not from me. My gift to you is my visit.” He holds the letter out—it’s big and square and made of quality vellum. “It was under your door. Found it when I came in.”
His thick eyebrows gather over the black plastic frame of his glasses. “It says Monsieur Rémy Roland. New underground persona?”
I take the envelope from his hands and swallow a dry clump of madeleine. Monsieur Rémy Roland a.k.a. Slate Ardoin is written in a deep-blue ink by an elaborate hand. “What the fuck?”
Bastian hums the Mission Impossible theme. “Rémy Roland a.k.a. Slate Ardoin, your mission, should you choose to accept it—”
My murderous glare gives him pause.
“Wait,” Bastian’s voice breaks. “Is Roland your . . . birth name?”
Ardoin is the family name given to me by the system. My first name was also a gift from the system, although, as far as names go, Slate isn’t exactly the easiest on a francophone tongue. Whoever was handing out monikers that day must’ve smoked one too many blunts.
Bastian knows his birth family’s past—Algerian immigrants who came upon life-crushing hard times and thought he’d be better off with someone else. Me, I’m a goddamn ghost. According to social services, I came from nowhere.
I read the fancy script again, then flip the envelope, run my thumb over a navy wax seal bearing an ornamental capital M laced through with a small, curly d. Pretentious. I break the flap and yank out a bundle of papers. A key drops out and lands on the tabletop with an alarming clink. Thankfully, the glass doesn’t chip.
As Bastian picks up the key, I read the cover sheet, a letter written in the same scrolling hand that penned the address.
My name is Professor Rainier de Morel. I am Acting Dean at L’Université de Brume. Founded in 1350