Xavier (Vampires in America #14) - D. B. Reynolds
Catalonia, Spain, 1859
XAVIER FLORES Prospero raced into Barcelona far ahead of his companions. He’d been in Madrid when he’d known, just known, that his Sire was dead. Every vampire on the continent would have known that someone powerful had died, but Xavier had known who it was—Vampire Lord, the Lord of Spain, Josep Alexandre, centuries old, a power beyond reckoning, and in an instant, he was gone. Xavier’s grief had been real, his fury unmatched. For if Josep was dead, someone had killed him. And that someone was now Lord of Spain, except . . . . His far- reaching sensitivity to the balance of power told him that the vampire who’d murdered Josep was too weak to rule, unable to contain the power released with the vampire lord’s death. And that left the territory leaderless, its vampires desperate and gasping for the strength and leadership they needed to survive.
By all accounts, the murderous fool had managed to escape the city before being killed himself, but the result had been utter carnage, as one vampire after another went on a killing spree in a bid for power. No one had managed to hold the territory—which encompassed all of Spain— for longer than a few days. Xavier hadn’t needed anyone to tell him the territory was in crisis. He was powerful enough to sustain himself and his vampire children without a vampire lord’s assistance, but most vampires weren’t. In every city and village he’d passed through on his race back to Barcelona—every place where one or more vampires had lived—he’d had to linger long enough to revive dying vampires, to share his blood and make them his, to save their lives.
And still the challenges and killings continued. It was a constant noise in his head, his instinct straining to forge a connection to one new ruler after another.
But he’d finally reached Barcelona, the center of Spain’s vampires because it had been Josep’s home for the hundreds of years he’d ruled. Racing down the crowded streets, Xavier ignored angry shouts and thrown objects from pedestrians protesting his horse’s thundering passage, until he pounded through the gates of Josep’s home, his mount’s hooves skidding on the polished stone in front of the dead vampire lord’s mansion.
Leaving the horse to the care of his companions, who’d been close behind him when they’d drawn even with the city and would arrive soon enough, he stormed up the steps two at a time and walked into a bloodbath.
The entrance hall, once a gaudy excess of gild and crystal, now stank of old blood and worse, much worse. The pink marble that had been imported from Italy to grace the floor was now dark red with blood stains, the grooves between the huge slabs still slick and shining. Jesu Crist, how many had died here? And why? Vampires didn’t bleed like that when they died, which meant humans had been slaughtered like cattle to feed . . . hell, he didn’t know whom. The instincts that had told him the territory was in turmoil hadn’t provided any names. It didn’t work like that.
Xavier walked deeper into the mansion, more cautious now. If vampires had been reduced to butchering humans, there was no telling what state they were in. He was confident enough in his ability to destroy anyone who dared attack him, but he wouldn’t enjoy having some feral beast of a vampire launch itself at him from hiding and sink fangs into his flesh. Dios mio, wasn’t that a disgusting thought?
He turned and found Chuy, his lieutenant and the first of his vampire children, moving slowly into the room, his expression reflecting the same revulsion that Xavier himself was feeling.
“Walk carefully, Chuy. I don’t know what’s going on here, but there are almost certainly a few mad ones lurking about.”
“Where will you go, my lord?”
“There’s only one choice, my friend. Forward.” At a grim nod from his lieutenant, Xavier strode deeper into the wrecked mansion, confident that his back was covered.
“Xavier.” A familiar figure appeared in the open doors to what had been Josep’s drawing room.
“Dênis.” It was an effort to keep the dislike from his voice, for all that he and this vampire shared the same Sire, and had lived in Josep’s court at the same time. “You’re alive.”
Dênis gave an elegant shrug. “The one who killed Josep was not a serious, or even intentional, contender for the territory.”
“What does that mean?”
“He attended one of Josep’s weekday receptions. You remember the kind. No