|Las Vegas, Nevada
Coldfire scanned the letter again
and again, as if repeated viewing could change the printed text.
Such luck was not with her.
Although she was, as a gargoyle
soul trapped in a robotic body, supposedly immune from the physical effects
of emotion, it felt as though her heart had plunged into her stomach, which
then knotted. No tear ducts lined the glass orbs of her optical receptors,
but she was sure she did not imagine the stinging of tears.
"My love?" The concerned rumble
was the voice of her mate, and it was followed by the whir and hum of him
rising to his feet. "What is it?"
Her throat was not capable of
clenching and rendering her unable to speak. All the same, she could not
bring herself to utter the words. She handed him the letter instead, with
a hand that should have trembled.
Coldstone took the paper and read
it, his brow ridge furrowed in concentration. His face could still show
expression. He smiled.
Golden fists clenched with a slight
metallic squeal. "You're pleased?"
"Aren't you?" he asked, his smile
turning to a puzzled frown. "They are coming home. I thought that's what
you wanted, what you had been wishing for these past four years."
"Every night, it seemed," Coldstone
said, brushing his knuckles against the cool curve of her cheek. "I know
how you've missed them. I would have thought that this would make you happy."
"I have missed them," she said.
"Our sons, our children, of course I've missed them! A part of me died
when they had to leave this place. When she drove them away."
"As I recall," he said, "we
suggested that they go."
"We'd not have had to, if not
Expression, yes, and now his was
that of someone treading on thin ice. She knew his soul as she knew her
own. He was inwardly debating the wisdom of defending Godiva. She was their
employer and in effect their leader, and he retained enough of the old
traditions to respect that. Yet he also knew that it was generally ill-advised
to contradict one's mate, especially when the matter involved a female
such as Godiva.
"Do you fear that she might still
" Coldstone trailed off meaningfully. He shook the letter, paper rattling.
"This would seem to indicate "
"But that's just it," Coldfire
cried. "Our sons are coming home, and I should be delighted! I should be
relieved that they've found new loves to keep them from falling prey to
that indigo harlot. I should weep with joy for Gabriel, whose past has
been so sorrowful. I should welcome the female he has chosen for his mate."
"Then why do you not?"
"Because she is human!"
He opened his mouth, closed it
with a snap, shrugged.
"I like Liz Dorsett, I
do," Coldfire said, despair ringing in her tone. "She is a strong-minded,
capable woman, independent, admirable. I would have been honored to call
her ally and friend. I like her family. They are good and decent people."
"Yes," Coldstone said. "And Gabriel
She couldn't flinch, but she wanted
to. "I know."
"Then what is the matter?"
"They are our sons, my
love. Gabriel and Angus are the only offspring we will ever know. They
are all that remains to prove that once, we too were flesh and blood. That
we lived, and loved. What use is it, if we cannot go on through our children
and their children?"
"We have all the clan's children,"
"No! Perhaps once, that was sufficient.
The world has changed. Our clan has changed. Do you think that the hatchlings
at Wyvern are in any way ours? They are not! Our hope, our line, ends with
Gabriel and Angus. And what have they done? They've chosen humans to love
and as glad as I am for them that they will not lead loveless
lives, I grieve for the grandchildren that we will never know!"
Coldstone actually took a step
back from this tirade. "My brother, Goliath, has never regretted his Elisa.
They have Amber "
"Thanks to the magic of Avalon!
How likely do you think it that either of our sons will be so fortunate?"
"Avalon!" he said, sounding relieved,
as though he had seen a way out. "You told me that you laid three eggs.
One of them must still be on Avalon. So, our line does not end. It will
"You cannot know that."
"What else would you have me do?"
he asked. "Forbid Gabriel to take Liz as his mate? You said yourself how
much he has already lost. Do not take this last chance from him."
"I do not begrudge Gabriel his
happiness," she said. "If ever anyone in all the history of this sad world
has earned it, Gabriel has. But see the example he sets for Angus! By choosing
Liz, he leads Angus to think that when he and Jeannie are of age, they
too can become mates."
"I do not think that Angus needs
that example set for him," Coldstone said. "You forget, he was raised by
humans. Would you rather he or Gabriel fell in love with one of the dinosaur
"They are more like us, yes, but
are they akin enough to breed? We do not know. And it should not matter.
The choice is theirs."
"I had hoped that you would understand
my feelings in this, my love."
"I do," he said. "But it is not
our decision. We were given a second chance, and might otherwise never
have even known Gabriel and Angus. Whatever else, we should
be grateful for that."
Coldfire ached to sigh. An intake
through her cooling vents did not quite seem the same. "I am grateful!
By rights, we were dead long before they hatched anyway."
"So let them be." Coldstone took
the golden mask of her face in his hands and peered into her receptors.
"Let them find their own way, and be happy for them. They wish to come
home. Gabriel wishes to present his mate to us. That is what is most important."
She let herself be drawn into
his embrace, metal against metal and flesh. He stroked the back of her
head as if he could still feel the soft tresses of her hair. With a low
clank, she leaned her brow against his shoulder.
"You are right, my love," she
said. It wrenched again at her nonexistent heart to say so.
"What worries me," Coldstone said,
"is Godiva. Whether she will
interfere. I do not think she was pleased
when Gabriel and Angus went away."
"She certainly was not," hissed
Coldfire. "She nearly ruined Gabriel, and would have sunk her claws into
Angus as well. It would have meant nothing to her, nothing but a night's
pleasure. The whore!"
"You should not speak so "
"She is our leader."
"In name only. Just as this is
a clan in name only, and a poor excuse for one at that. The only reason
that she keeps us here is because she needs us to contribute to her illusion.
You and I, Hoshi and Ohta, we give her claim a legitimacy she would otherwise
not have. But there is no clan-bond among us. Godiva does not even know
the meaning of the word. If she did, she would know better than to try
and lure males from their mates!"
"She stands little chance of that."
"It hasn't stopped her trying,"
Coldfire said darkly. "Hoshi told me that she had spoken of it to Godiva,
asked her to leave off with her attempts at Ohta. Do you know what Godiva
did then? Do you know what she said?"
"I suspect it might have had something
to do with Hoshi joining in," Coldstone said.
"The very thing! I do not doubt
for a moment that were I flesh and blood, she would suggest the same to
me." Without raising her head, she added, "And wipe that lustful look from
your face this instant, if you please. Even were I flesh and blood,
I would never play at love with her."
"I did not know that your hatred
for her was quite this fierce," Coldstone remarked.
"She taunts me," Coldfire said,
breaking the embrace and turning away.
"Taunts me. Making much of the
fact that she can feel, that her robotic body is so much
more lifelike and sensitive than mine. That she can pass for a genuine
gargoyle. Which is a lie! Genuine gargoyle, my tail! At least I have the
soul of a gargoyle still, while she has barely a soul at all. She cares
for nothing but physical sensation. She mocks love, and she is in truth
He touched her shoulders from
behind. "My love "
"I've told her so. I've asked
her how it feels to know that while she is desired by men and envied by
women, it is only as a sex object. Only as a slightly better version of
those inflatable dolls purchased by the truly sad and desperate."
"You said this to her?" asked
Coldstone in alarm.
"I told her that for all her fame,
she is not liked by a single living being. That she has no friends,
only an endless string of meaningless affairs. That she is a thing,
not a person, and all anyone will remember about her is that she was as
wanton a whore as any who ever sold themselves on the streets."
"You actually said this to her?"
"That no one will ever care who
she is, only what she is. That eventually, when she has exhausted
every possible position and combination, when she grows bored with her
parade of lovers, she'll someday awaken to the realization that no one
in all the world cares for her."
"I cannot believe that you said
this to her."
"Oh, I did," said Coldfire, relishing
the memory. "Of course, I was very angry at the time, but it is all true."
"What did she do?" He was looking
at her with a new awareness, as if he had never seen her before and was
wondering what other facets of her personality he might have missed.
"Told me that I, in turn, was
a fussing, frigid, jealous prude of a mother hen."
"And Hoshi, who had listened quietly,
intervened before we could come to blows. She has that calming way about
her, Hoshi does, and got us to walk away from one another. She could not,
however, quite wrench an apology from either of us."
"When was this? Why did
you never tell me?"
"It was shortly after Gabriel
and Angus left. I did not want to burden you with my troubles."
He turned her to face him. "Your
troubles are mine, my love. I knew that you were no friend of Godiva, but
had I known she treated you in this way "
"What?" She tilted her head and
looked up at him. "You would have challenged her? You would have taken
us away from here? No
I did not want either of those. I enjoy this city,
which accepts us, which lives so much by night."
" he grumbled.
"Hoshi told me that she had had
a similar confrontation with Godiva."
"Why do I find that hard to believe?"
"Perhaps without the viciousness
and name-calling," Coldfire amended. "But Hoshi, rightly perceiving that
she and Ohta as the only true gargoyles are vital to Godiva's acceptance
as leader of a clan, went to her with an ultimatum. That Godiva stay well
away from Ohta, or they would leave and let it be known that she was unfit,
both as leader and as gargoyle."
"And Godiva accepted this?"
"Hoshi also threatened her."
Coldstone scoffed. "What would
she have done? I grant you that Godiva is no warrior herself, but she is
twice the size of Hoshi."
"Not with violence, my love. Hoshi
said that she would contact the family of Sabra Indrani, and let them know
precisely what had become of that wheelchair-bound lady. Both her body,
and her soul."
"Ah," he said.
"That, according to Hoshi, did
the trick. Godiva has no wish for her true identity to become known."
"So, should she then attempt
with Gabriel or Angus
"Would I do the same as Hoshi,
do you mean?"
"To protect my children and preserve
their happiness? Of course I would! And if Godiva dares to suggest
that I should prefer her to a human for either of my sons
why, I'll rip
those golden locks from her scalp by the roots, and strangle her with them.
It would not kill her, but it would be ever so satisfying."
"Perhaps, though," Coldstone said,
"there is some other way. There must be."
He was a marvelous lover, but he
Godiva rose from the bed in a
fluidly graceful motion that did not disturb the slumbering man. His long,
slow, droning breaths continued. Behind closed lids, his eyes flicked,
and a hint of a smile rested on his lips.
Dreaming. Dreaming of her, maybe,
and the hours they'd just spent and the many, delicious, varied acts they
She stood for a time, watching
him, tail swaying lazily.
What was his name again?
Oh, yes. She filed it with the
others, automatically alphabetizing the list. The very extensive list,
of which the corresponding one of female names was only half as long. She
didn't have anything against enjoying a woman. Far from it! But only men
could really satisfy her, really give her what she needed.
But if that was the case
wasn't she satisfied? Why was she, after such a pleasant evening, still
Leaving him sprawled across a
bed that wouldn't have been more rumpled if an army had marched over it,
Godiva went into the bathroom of her suite. A click of a switch and hidden
lights came on, gleaming off marble and tile and chrome.
Myriad mirror images paced her
as she moved to the large shower. Sleek limbs, jutting breasts, glossy
even after more than fifteen years, she sometimes had trouble
believing that the goddess-like image in the glass was truly her.
Fifteen years, and nothing was
sagging, nothing was going grey, nothing was wrinkled or faded or old.
She was eternal in her youth, suppleness, and beauty.
Only when she spent too long gazing
into her reflected eyes did she see something else. A haggard wreck of
a crippled body, hunched over the controls of a wheelchair. Aged beyond
her years, ugly beyond all reason.
Shuddering, Godiva blinked her
gaze away from the mirrors and turned on the steaming jets that shot from
all sides of the shower compartment. She extended one shapely dancer's
leg, testing the temperature with her arched and clawed foot, then stepped
in. The hot deluge cascaded over her, forming sluicing streams between
her wings and breasts.
Washing six feet of thick blond
hair was a chore, one that made her wish for a bathtime companion. Some
of her lovers stayed awake long enough to shower with her afterwards, but
the majority of them collapsed into a nearly comatose condition, as the
current one had done.
She didn't hold it against them.
If they still had energy, she'd much rather it be put to better use.
But if all his energy had gone
to that, and so successfully, why did she feel this way? Her body still
tingled with afterglow, her nether regions had the sweet ache that lingered
after one vigorous climax after another. And still she felt
How did she feel?
Not unfulfilled, not exactly.
Not dissatisfied. Empty, somehow.
As if nothing that had happened
earlier really, well, mattered.
What an absurd thing to think.
Of course it mattered. It was what she had wanted. Or thought she had,
at the time.
Maybe it was because her conquests
were always too easy? Maybe it was because her lovers these past few years
had all been human, and she craved something more?
Preposterous. She didn't want
a challenge. Life had been her challenge, mere movement, mere existence
without pain and pity and horrible seething envy. All she wanted now was
ease, luxury, and glorious sex.
Except that, while good, it fell
short of glorious somehow.
Maybe she did need a gargoyle.
If that was the case, it was going
to complicate things. She didn't want the hassle of vengeful she-gargoyles.
When had the idea of stealing
even the most devoted male away from his mate soured for her? There had
been a time when she would have relished it, the triumph of seducing them
against all their best intentions, the knowledge that their jealous females
would be furious
furious but too late to do anything but fume.
And it would be so easy, too!
Then again, maybe that was
it. The ease. Maybe, despite her earlier thoughts, she did need
a challenge. When she knew she was the most wanted female in the world,
when she knew she could have any man with a glance and a deep breath and
a snap of her talons, what was the fun?
Sticking her head into the spray,
Godiva wondered at herself. Of course that sort of thing was fun! It was
power, the power of allure, the power of sex.
After fifteen years, though
"I'm bored," she said into the
hiss of the water. "I don't believe it. I'm bored."
She groaned. Rivulets trickled
through the backswept quills of her tiara-like ridge and dripped from her
Bored. Essentially immortal, with
centuries ahead of her, and she was tired of it already? That didn't seem
fair. She knew that living forever wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Her time with Demona had taught her that much.
it was crazy and she knew
but maybe there was more to life than endless fabulous sex.
Being alone was terrible.
She'd learned that much from Demona, too. No one to trust, no one to
"To care about," Godiva said,
making a sour face. "But that's no good either! What's the use of caring
about someone when they're just going to get old and ugly and die on you?
Ugh. Sentimentality. Fuck that!"
She slapped the controls, turning
the water to an icy blast to drive these unwelcome notions from her mind.
Loneliness. Boredom. How stupid
With the suds rinsed from her
hair, she emerged and swathed herself in a succession of fluffy white towels
with the Coventry logo embroidered in each corner. Concealed vents blew
air against the mirrors, clearing away the steam. She wrung out her hair,
then stood beneath a warm fan, letting towels fall away one by one.
A discreet light blinked on her
console as she came out of the bathroom, slipping into a silky robe. Her
lover had turned over, snoring muffled in satin pillows, his world-class
buttocks in full view.
Beyond him, through the sheer
gauze that draped the window, the fantastic skyline of Las Vegas sparkled
against the riotous desert sky. Sunset light still ruled in the west, vibrant
airbrush scarlet, violet, deep gold. Godiva ignored the signal long enough
to take in the view, as always amazed that such a city should have sprung
up where there would otherwise be no sane reason to live.
She went to the console and pressed
the message button, reading cool blue letters that scrolled up a glassy
"What new act?" she asked no one.
"Who hired a new act without consulting me? I am still the owner around
The message was from Hoshi, and
Godiva frowned. Demure though she might be, the little Japanese gargoyle
was getting more and more independent. Uppity, even. True, she did handle
most of the actual management of the hotel, and she was more or less the
official liaison to the varied entertainers, but the Coventry was still
What did they think she was? Just
some empty-headed bimbo with no sense for how to run a business?
It brought her up short. Come
to think of it, she had been leaving an awful lot of the running of the
place to the others lately. For, oh, about four or so years. During that
time, she'd devoted herself to her performances, her parties, and her series
of affairs. She only took cursory glances at the quarterly reports. Why,
for all she knew, Hoshi could be robbing her blind.
She dressed hastily in a gold-and-black
sequined halter and matching skirt with slits up both sides nearly to the
hip. Her hair, still damp, she combed into a modified French twist and
clipped it with a swirl of black enamel pin large enough to double as a
medieval buckler. A dash of golden glitter over each eye, a quick touch-up
on the metallic flake paint that adorned the claw-tips of her fingers and
toes, a spritz of her own signature perfume, and she was ready.
The Coventry was all Olde English
ambiance and cacophonous jangles from the casino floor. Waitresses in bloomers
and corsets hurried past with trays full of drinks. Godiva was aware of
heads turning in her wake, some of them belonging to patrons who hadn't
torn their attention from the slot machines or blackjack tables since lunchtime.
As she passed through the doors
into the second theater, she stopped in shock. When had all of this been
done? She conducted her private concerts in the smallest of the Coventry's
three venues, with the largest revolving one being reserved for the big
Shakespearean productions. This one, usually used for magic acts and musical
numbers, was not as she remembered it.
How long had it been since she'd
come in here? It was her own hotel, but she was so busy
still, she should
have been aware of work of this magnitude!
The stage was covered with see-saws,
trapezes, nets, large silver hoops, barrels, hanging rings, parallel and
uneven bars, and other objects that she couldn't immediately identify.
The lush wine-colored velvet drapes were gathered in folds to the sides.
Looking up, she saw that the domed ceiling was likewise crowded with equipment.
It looked like an acrobat's nightmare.
A small group sat in the front
row. She recognized the golden glint of Coldfire first, Coldstone beside
her. Hoshi, black hair caught up in a bun pierced by two scrimshaw ivory
chopsticks. A gruff, unfamiliar man in a tailored white shirt.
Godiva went down the aisle, past
curved booths of wine-red upholstery and small round tables. The quartet
looked around as she drew near, and rose to meet her.
The man, in his late fifties perhaps
and with hard-edged, heavy features, extended a hand. "Madam Godiva," he
his voice deep and thickly accented. "I am Egor Dyakanov. It is an honor,
and a pleasure."
"Thank you," Godiva purred automatically.
from Russia, I take it?"
His nod was brusque.
"I am glad you could join us,
Godiva-san," Hoshi said, bowing over her folded hands.
"I am glad you thought to invite
me," Godiva said, no longer purring. "Given that it is my hotel
Coldfire's eyes flashed, but before
she could speak Hoshi bowed again. "It is a surprise for you."
"It certainly is."
"I hope that you will like it."
"I don't know. Maybe you'd be
good enough to tell me what this is about."
Egor Dyakanov cleared his throat.
"It is our hope that you will be able to help some of my, uh, countrymen.
Perhaps this is not the right word. But they have come from the valley
of the Volga river, looking for a new life in America."
"I offered them an audition here,
Godiva-san," Hoshi said. "We had an opening. Please to sit down and watch,
and then decide."
"You took some liberties with
the remodeling, I see," said Godiva, an edge in her tone. "How long did
this take? How much did it cost? Why wasn't I consulted?"
"As I said, it is a surprise."
"I don't like surprises."
"Oh, you'll like this one," Coldfire
said. "I am quite sure of that."
Suspicion narrowed Godiva's eyes.
"What's this all about?"
"Watch," Coldstone suggested.
"This," she said, snapping her
wings into a folded position and sitting down, crossing her legs at the
ankles, "had better be good."
Hoshi gestured above and behind,
to the electronics control booth windows with their dark glass. The lights
in the theater dimmed.
"This is their first American
performance," Dyakanov said. Although he looked otherwise calm, he was
methodically shredding confetti bits off the napkin that held his drink.
Music swelled. Mussorgsky. A
Night on Bald Mountain. Spotlights raced each other around the stage,
lighting the silvery equipment in green, blue, purple, red. And then, in
a frantic blur of motion, the stage was full of gargoyles.
Gargoyles. Diving, leaping, tumbling.
She was dizzied trying to follow any one of them long enough to get a good
look. Never had she seen anyone move with such lightning speed. One sprang
into the cupped hands of another, was flung, executed a flawless back-over-flip
onto the raised edge of a see-saw, catapulting a third in a spinning somersault.
At the apex, a limber tail snared a trapeze.
She couldn't even be sure how
many of them there were. She had only impressions of wings, chests, tails,
flowing hair, muscular legs. Then, as one soared directly overhead to continue
his dazzling routine on the rings above them, she had a brief but unobstructed
view of a marvelously sculpted male physique.
His skin was burnished steel,
his hair a full mass of light-blond, and he wore only a pair of briefs
that very much lived up to the name. They were brief, tight, and an iridescent
shiny white. And they bulged as if someone had stuffed a cantaloupe down
It dawned on her that she must
look like the village idiot, gaping at the amazing sights spinning and
whirling by. But she didn't care.
There seemed to be at least half
a dozen of them, and mostly males. They glided in flips and turns and aerobatic
contortions that she had never imagined, always seeming doomed to crash
into one another, or rip off their wings diving through blade-edged hoops
hanging in midair.
The music ended in a flourish
with the five gargoyles lined up at the edge of the stage. Only five; she
had thought there were more just from the constant blur of their frenzied
activity. All wore tight and skimpy white, all were varying shades of grey,
and they glistened with sweat in the beams of the spotlights.
The two males on the ends were
stockily built, bat-winged, not an ounce of fat on them. One, at the left
end of the line, was pewter in color and bald as an egg, with a crown of
stubby horns covering his scalp. The other had silvery skin and frosty
hair cropped so short it was almost shaved, and a brow ridge that grew
in squared-off crenellations that made him resemble the rook from a chess
Inward from them were two more
males, broad shoulders tapering to narrow waists and trim hips. Their wings
were tri-taloned. One of these was the steel-grey male that had passed
over her. The other, his skin the color of a storm cloud, had five horns
sweeping back over a shoulder-length mane of jet black hair. His tail ended
in a bony knob shaped like the head of a sledgehammer.
The female in the center had the
short, powerful build and thick thighs of a gymnast. Her complexion was
silvery, her hair cropped into a dark pageboy through which rose a double
row of fine horns. Her wings were batlike, but set at odd angles to her
shoulderblades so that, when closed, they lay flat down her back.
The five of them clasped hands
in a row, raised them, high, and then bowed. They stood up again, smiling,
as the house lights came up. Hoshi applauded, joined moments later by the
metallic chime of Coldfire's hands.
"May I present," said Egor Dyakanov,
with a grandiose wave, "from left to right, Ivan, Dmitri, Sonia, Alyosha,
and Fyodor: The Karamosovs of Volgasclan!"
Coldstone, who could nearly have
been one of them with his white hair and blue-grey skin, was less than
Godiva was too stunned to clap.
She ran her gaze from one end of the line to the other, drinking in these
magnificent gargoyles in their almost indecently skimpy white briefs
the female, nearly as flat-chested as a boy, wore a tankini top that she
hardly needed. The way they held themselves
performers, conscious and
proud of their bodies, exuding stage presence and raw magnetism
And to think, less than an hour
ago she'd actually believed she was getting bored.
"I still say it is deceitful,"
Coldfire, more giddy from relief
than she could ever have been from the celebratory champagne cracked open
to seal the deal, only laughed.
"Does this not bother you?" he
"My love," she chided. "They are
a good act, a wonderful act. They'll be a great success for the Coventry.
What better place for a troupe of gargoyle acrobats than the world's only
"Did you hear her?" She laughed
again. "Well, the theme of the hotel is Olde English, but I suppose
in this case we can make an exception. Ha! As if she weren't sitting
there looking for all the world like a hatchling at first harvest feast!"
"All of this, though, to distract
her from Gabriel and Angus?"
"It isn't just that, my love,"
"To distract her from you, and
Ohta, and any of Goliath's clan who might want to pay us a visit. I've
invited them again and again, to come and perhaps even bring the little
ones, but Angela, Elektra, and Aiden all seem to have this mad idea that
Godiva would sink her claws into their mates. If she's finally got all
the males she can handle, the rest of us might just know a moment's peace."
"I have told you many times that
she holds no appeal for me," Coldstone said. "This distrust is disturbing."
"I trust you, as I ever have!
With my heart, my life, my very soul. You know that. It is that blue she-devil
I do not trust."
He muttered under his breath,
clearly not mollified.
"You must admit," she said, stroking
his hair, "that Hoshi's plan was far less volatile than mine. Quite ingenious,
really. Seeking out the Karamozovs, arranging their journey here, having
the theater remodeled, and all in secret."
"I agree that a brilliant and
devious mind burns in that sweet and dainty little head," he said, "but
did anyone think to perhaps warn these gargoyles what they're facing?"
"I suspect they'll figure it out
very quickly." Coldfire glanced at the clock. "It's been half an hour since
she offered to give them the grand tour. So, she's likely already got them
in her bed."
"Which of them, though?"
She patted his head. "My love,
what ever makes you think she'd limit herself to one at a time?"
He growled. "It is not right.
Why should any female need more than one male? Was I ever less than enough
"Never. But she is not like us.
She is not a gargoyle, not inside where it counts. Her soul is a human's,
and we know what they are like."
"Should not these others know
that? It seems to me that you sacrifice them to save the rest."
"Perhaps I am. Perhaps I am putting
the welfare of my sons, and my mate, before that of strangers. But is that
so wrong? Would it be better if I shredded the membranes of Godiva's wings
and hurled her from the topmost balcony?"
Coldstone recoiled. "Such thoughts,
"You do not see her as I do,"
she said. "You pity her."
"I suppose that I do, yes," he
"What you fail to realize, my
love, is that she is evil."
"Evil?" he echoed, askance.
"Not in the sense that our former
sister, Demona, was evil," Coldfire said. "Hers was evil with a purpose,
evil in the guise of believing herself in the right. What she did, misguided
though it may have been, she did for what she thought was the good of her
clan, and the good of our kind."
"I think that there are those
who would argue with you," he said. "Angela, for one. And myself
turned me into a monster, remember? She trapped our souls with that of
my brother if evil you speak of, remember him! and tricked us into
"And yet, if not for all that,
we would not be together now."
He sighed. "There is that."
she has no purpose.
She is the purest form of evil, that of selfishness and unthinking greed.
Demona's motives may be understood, if not condoned. She cared deeply,
in her way, for her clan and for all gargoyles. Godiva is none of that.
Godiva cares for one thing only herself."
"It's like Christmas in July,"
Godiva murmured, fanning herself. The air conditioning in the hotel was
working perfectly, and the desert night had little to do with the deep
violet flush in her cheeks.
The visitors were admiring the
spacious suite to which she'd brought them after the tour. It would normally
have been reserved for high rollers, but the ordinary quarters for the
live-in staff and entertainers would not do. Not at all.
For one thing, the staff living
area was much too far away from her penthouse.
For another, the Karamasovs had
stated a preference for shared living space. They were clan, they said,
and hadn't been apart from each other for more than a single night
since the five of them had cracked shell, fifty years ago.
Their existence had been kept
secret by the government of the time, but they had seen more than one of
their clan members whisked away for secret study, or put to use in weapons
programs. They had, like Godiva in her other life, grown up during the
Cold War, when the threat of nuclear holocaust loomed large in the minds
of every thinking creature. But, like many gargoyles, they had viewed war
as a human problem. Whether that had remained the case once the bombs started
well, they'd never know.
"This is lovely," said Sonia,
the female of the bunch, running her fingers along the surface of a sideboard.
"So much room
so much luxury
and all for us?"
"All for you," Godiva said. "I
hope that you'll find we can fulfil your every need."
Fyodor, the male with the crenellated
brow ridge, gave a low rumble of interest that vibrated all the way through
Godiva and left her light-headed. When she looked over at him, he caught
and held her gaze with a frankness that left no doubts. Not that she had
entertained any doubts in the first place.
like a kid in
a candy store
Alyosha, he of the steely skin
and shaggy blond hair, was slouched in an overstuffed armchair with his
wings draped over its arms and his long legs stretched out. He didn't speak
much, but she had not missed how his eyes followed her every move. As if
he was content to bide his time, to wait, confident that she would come
She hardly knew what to do first.
Or, more to the point, who to do first.
The other of the largest males,
the one with the bald and knobby-horned head, was Ivan. He'd offered her
his arm as they'd proceeded to the elevator. She was quite certain that
the way his hand the backs of his knuckles also knobbed, making her wonder
with swooning speculation just where else he might have those intriguing
bumps brushed the sideswell of her breast was no accident.
Dmitri, the black-haired one,
had a sort of smoldering, shadowy demeanor that reminded her of someone.
About five minutes after meeting him, she realized that the someone was
Jericho, who'd been of that same pent-up obsessively passionate ilk.
They explored the rooms that would
be theirs, now that their manager had signed Hoshi's carefully-designed
contract. Five years. Five years at the Coventry, six shows a week with
two nights off, generous pay.
Fringe benefits yet to be determined,
but likewise sure to be very, very generous.
Godiva closed her eyes and contemplated
those benefits, and was swept by such a wave of arousal that she staggered
on her feet. Ivan was there in a flash, solicitously putting an arm around
her, letting her lean against him while she recovered.
Her hip was snug up against the
front of his briefs. She pressed into him for a second, and flicked the
spade-shaped tip of her tail against his ankle, then turned a brilliant
smile on him.
"Thank you, Ivan."
"Anytime," he said.
Their accents were just yummy,
their words formed with lots of tongue and intriguing mouth movements.
"Would you like to see the rest
of the hotel?" she asked. "I could show you the roof."
Alyosha stretched in the chair,
the motion lifting his hips and drawing shiny white fabric so tight that
she thought it would burst. "I would like to see the roof."
"If I may
?" Ivan offered his
arm again, but black-haired Dmitri slipped in before him and twined Godiva's
hand around his own elbow.
"My turn, brother, I believe,"
"And mine," said Fyodor, taking
her other arm.
Sonia, the one factor about which
Godiva remained unsure and worried, alleviated her concerns with a throaty
chortle. "I think you find my brothers vying for your attention already,"
she said. "Thank the Dragon for that
they have been nearly crazed with
no other females around."
"So, none of you are mates?" Godiva
A chorus of no's from the males
and another chortle answered that.
"They are my brothers!"
"In our clan," Fyodor said, "it
is custom that you only take a mate from outside. We were getting too weak,
you see, too
what is word? When there is not enough new blood to keep
the hatchlings strong."
"Inbred," said Godiva.
"Yes, inbred." He indicated himself
and the others. "That is why we are all so close in the same color."
"Sonia is our only sister," Ivan
said. "So we may not mate with her."
"I am not ready for a mate anyway,"
"Ah, none of us are," said Dmitri,
smoothing a strand of black hair behind his horns. "Commitment. Hatchlings.
Responsibility." He made a disgusted noise.
Fyodor hastened to say, "Not all
of us are fearing commitment. Some of us are more serious-minded."
"That's a shame," Godiva said,
favoring him with a smoky look. "I'm not. Why settle for one mate when
there are so many delightful possibilities?"
"I did not necessarily refer to
myself," he said, backpedaling as fast as he'd spoken in the first place.
"I only meant in general, yes? Gargoyles in general. Not me personally."
"Like Hoshi and Ohta, or Coldfire
and Coldstone," Godiva said. "They are very much mated, nauseatingly committed,
and totally off limits. Just a word to the wise."
"We understand," Alyosha said,
finally rising from the chair and stretching again, turning as he did to
show off his chest, his back, and his tail to excellent advantage.
She took them up to the roof,
which was designed with many small hidden nooks and balconies that afforded
views of the city and privacy at the same time. Below, seen through a haze
of netting, was the shimmering blue jewel of the private staff pool. The
gargoyles exclaimed over the rising spires of the Excalibur, the heaven-spearing
beam from the Luxor, the light-show at the Shangri-La, the Bellagio's fountain
display, the hourly cataclysmic fireworks eruption over at the Vesuvius.
Standing at the rail, Godiva was
pleased but not especially surprised to feel a surreptitious hand caress
the small of her back. She arched into the stroke, and leisurely turned
her head. Ivan was at her side, seemingly gazing out over the city, but
he threw a sidelong glance her way, and she smiled.
The atmosphere was definitely
charged. It wasn't a matter of knowing that she was going to have them.
It was only a matter of when. And they knew it, too. Sonia's words to the
contrary, Godiva picked up no sense of competition from the males. Cooperation,
instead. They worked together too closely, depended on each other even
more than warriors might, to be at odds.
"You are an incredibly beautiful
female," Dmitri said. "If I may say so."
"Feel free," she replied, chucking
him playfully under the chin with her fingertips. "I never tire of hearing
Sonia looked amused. "Should I
leave the five of you alone? Or would you rather have dinner first?"
"The meal is probably ready by
now," Godiva said. "If you're hungry, we can continue the tour later."
"Have we not seen everything?"
"Not quite everything." She held
his gaze. "The view from my suite puts this one to shame."
"That, I should very much like
to see," Ivan said.
The midnight supper that Hoshi
had arranged was in one of the smaller, exclusive dining rooms. She had
even been foresightful enough to make sure that the table was surrounded
by backless stools instead of traditional chairs, since everyone but Egor
Dyakanov and Giles Murdock, her human hotel manager, needed the wing room.
Coldfire, on duty in the security
control center, begged off but her mate was present. Even Ohta, who normally
shunned social gatherings, was drawn from his greenhouse by the prospect
of meeting more gargoyles.
Godiva could hardly keep her mind
on the meal. She was much more interested in dessert. And it wasn't like
she really needed to eat. She could enjoy the flavors, but her energy derived
from electrical sources, be they conventional or by way of galvanic skin
Like some of the professional
athletes who'd notched her bedpost from time to time, the five acrobats
had prodigious appetites. They ate with gusto and delight, though she noticed
that all five avoided the alcoholic beverages in favor of glass after glass
of heavily sugared ice tea.
Their manager was another story.
He picked at the food and kept the waiters busy with refills on his drink.
His manner toward Sonia led Godiva to wonder if there was something more
going on than she knew about. If so, it was on his end only; Sonia seemed
"I hope your guests and personnel
do not mind," Ivan said, "but it is much colder where we come from, and
we are not in the habit of wearing many clothes."
"Oh, just listen to me complain,"
Godiva said, taking a long, bold look at his body.
Hoshi danced daintily around the
topic of how she and Ohta had come to be in Las Vegas. Not even Godiva
knew the true circumstances of their exile from their clan, though she
guessed it had a sort of Romeo and Juliet color to it.
The acrobats, on the other hand,
spoke effusively about their home. Their clan lived in an ancient series
of interlocked caves overlooking the Volga river, caves that they'd fortified
over the years into defensible strongholds. They did a lot of fishing,
and had a great fondness for caviar.
From time to time during dinner,
Godiva was aware of subtle under-the-table footsies and tailsies. Fyodor
was on her left, Dmitri on her right, Ivan and Alyosha across from her,
and she made a game of trying to guess whose foot or tail touched hers
at any given time.
It was all far more intoxicating
than any amount of wine would have been. Her system couldn't gain the usual
effects from alcohol anyway, so, really, this was better. Much, much better.
She hadn't felt this way in years.
Oh, she was going to enjoy this!
"It was really nothing," Hoshi
said, ducking her head diffidently as she walked, with her mincing little
steps, between Ohta and Coldstone. "The idea was Coldfire-san's, not my
"She claims it was yours," Coldstone
"Well, it was from something that
she had said," amended Hoshi. "Some years ago, a remark, that it would
be best for everyone if Godiva-san had some distraction to occupy her time."
"But how did you find them, and
arrange this, all in such secrecy?"
A tiny smile flitted across her
doll's face, but she wouldn't tell.
Outwardly expressionless as ever,
"I demand an explanation! Don't
you know who I am? This is absurd. Where is Godiva? I want to speak to
The man, a racecar driver turned
television evangelist, had photogenic features and a superb voice. Even
in the state he was in, with a bathrobe on and his evening clothes clutched
to his chest in a bundle, he cut an impressive figure in his anger.
"I am afraid that will not be
possible," Coldfire said. She inserted her thumb into the electronic lock,
heard a clunk, and the door slid silently open to reveal a dimly lit corridor.
"This passage "
"Yes, I know," he snapped.
Its purpose was for personages
just such as him, those who could not afford to be seen coming and going
from Godiva's quarters, yet he was remarkably unappreciative.
Coldfire had been dispatched,
at an urgent, private, and not at all unexpected communication from Godiva,
to roust her earlier partner from her bedroom. Even as she steered the
blustering, protesting man into the secret corridor, a trio of chambermaids
would be busily at work tidying the suite.
"If you would rather go by the
" Coldfire said, letting her voice trail off.
He gave her an angry, embarrassed
look. Evidently, he did not like to be caught naked and snoring, with the
marks of Godiva's talons still fading on his back, by anyone. Not even
by a robot.
Not that she particularly relished
this duty, either. As deputy chief of hotel security, she supposed that
she should have been doing slightly more important things than riding herd
on Godiva's clandestine lovers.
She saw the evangelist out, making
no apologies for her employer's conduct and certainly offering no explanation.
Godiva was no acrobat, but she
was a trained dancer and contortionist in her own right. That came in very
handy when dawn caught her in the most awkward position of her entire life.
It was a dream come true. Surrounded
on all sides by male flesh that smelled of musk and leather and excitement.
She had been crouching over Ivan
as he knelt behind her with his hands on her hips, the thick and knobbed
length of him seated deep inside of her. Alyosha was in front of her, but
balanced in a handstand as his tongue darted between her legs and she sucked
him as far into her throat as she could. Not to be left out, Dmitri and
Fyodor were by her sides, each fondling a breast as her hands wrapped around
their jutting cocks.
One moment, they had been a heaving
and thrusting unit, all muffled moans and wet slurps. And then, the wide-open
curtains showed a sliver of light in the east, an arc, a hemisphere, and
all motion had ceased. A grating, crackling noise replaced the sounds of
passion. Godiva felt the four of them, already hard, already stiff, go
harder and stiffer.
Alarm seized her, but it turned
to hysterical giggles as she realized what had happened. Her giggles were
strangled around the stony rod, which would have gagged and choked anyone
else. She drew back her head, letting Alyosha slip from her mouth.
He remained exactly as he was,
poised on his hands and wing-talons, his feet still high in the air. His
tongue was now a rough curl of stone, lodged in her folds where it had
just seconds before been providing a sweetly tormenting counterpoint to
And Ivan, well, she certainly
knew where he was
the transformation into stone seemed to have
made him even bigger, almost uncomfortably so. She was stuck on him, impaled,
like a bug on a pin. His big hands were only resting on her hips, not circling
her wasp waist like a belt, or else she really would have been in trouble.
Her breasts were clamped in the
rock-hard vises of Fyodor and Dmitri's hands. Hers, at least, were able
to release their body parts, though the tips of their frozen erections
poked relentlessly into her thighs.
The four of them had crowded so
close around her that she was entirely hemmed in. She could have pushed
Alyosha over, and escaped that way, but he might have broken apart when
he hit the floor and she couldn't let that happen.
No, she'd have to be creative.
Or at least dexterous.
She looked up. Alyosha's knees
were slightly bent, but she should be able to climb out
except that his
cock was in the way. She would hate to hit it with her shoulder and snap
it off! She would hate that very much.
Easy enough to free her breasts,
by leaning back against Ivan. Disengaging from Ivan himself was her next
step. She flexed her legs, pushing with her calves and thighs, levering
herself up and off and turning at the same time to free her waist from
grasp. His hands remained holding an invisible partner.
Sinking down with what felt like
a fire hydrant jammed against the base of her tail, she considered.
Call for help? The computer console
was out of reach, even if she snaked her tail out. She did have an internal
communications system that would let her send an SOS, but
But just imagine the sneer that
wouldn't be on Coldfire's face, but would be in her heart, if they
found her like this. Word might not get around to the entire staff, but
she would rather not let any of them know. This was worse than the time
that a very married, very family-values politician had suffered a stroke
and died in her bed.
Her wings and breasts would make
it impossible to flatten herself enough to squeeze around. She might have
been able to go under Alyosha, but his hair, hanging down from his scalp,
had become a dense cluster of pointy stalactites.
She twisted sideways, slid backward,
and raised her knee. No good. Now her back was against Dmitri, his enticingly
curved protuberance snug in the hollow of her waist above her hip, but
her right leg was hooked over Ivan's knobby appendage and caught under
his hand. One of her wings extended out between Alyosha and Dmitri, the
other was bent and crumpled.
"Damn it," she muttered.
Trying again, she worked her way
up to a standing position. Slowly. Carefully. Her knee spur caught on Alyosha's
tongue and she winced, not wanting to snap that off either. Fyodor's cock
poked her hard in the breast.
" She had to laugh,
exasperated as she was.
Hunching her shoulders, she was
able to get her wings up and out. They arched over Dmitri. But now she
was bent double, with Alyosha's cock under her chin. Squirming, she scraped
her breasts along Ivan's face. She braced her hands on the bump-studded
crown of his head and pushed, trying to lever herself out. But her arms
weren't nearly as strong as her legs.
She rested her foot on something,
realized whose and what it was, hastily removed it. "Sorry, Fyodor."
This was getting ridiculous!
It was a damn good thing that
they'd been worth it.
Thinking about that, she couldn't
help smiling. They had been all over her the moment she'd closed and locked
the door to her suite. No pretenses
they knew what she wanted, and she
knew what they wanted, and everybody was happy.
Interestingly, there was no hint
of 'brotherly love' among them. They touched each other as little as possible
and then only for balance or support, concentrating their efforts solely
and splendidly! on Godiva.
She stepped onto Ivan's bulging
thigh and worked her other leg up until she had extended it over her own
head. Had Fyodor been awake, he would have had quite a show. Her tail coiled
around Dmitri, she grabbed Alyosha around the leg.
one, two, three."
On three, she heaved and swiveled
and pulled all at once, and the next thing she knew she was able to swing
her other leg up and out, flip over, and drop to the floor. She hunkered
there on hands and knees for a moment. She'd lost a few strands of hair
that had been tangled on their horns, spurs, and ridges.
But she was out, and now she had
one of the world's most unique modern art sculptures to decorate her room
for the next fourteen or so hours.
She'd have to remember to set
her clock from now on!
"And you're going to be strong,
right?" Liz Dorsett asked, the twinkle in her eyes belying the stern look
on her face.
"Resolute," Gabriel said.
"Better be," she said. "This is
The motor home, close to the largest
size legally allowed on the highways and byways of America, slowed as she
took the turn. They had driven from Montana, parking at truck stops and
rest areas during the daylight hours so that Gabriel and Angus could rest
undisturbed inside the vehicle while Liz and Jeannie Leister napped and
took turns venturing out for food.
Of the four of them, Jeannie was
the most nervous. Angus assured her repeatedly that she had nothing to
worry about, that nobody at the Coventry was going to know what she was
just by looking at her. She wasn't even a clone, not really. The child
of two clones, okay, but
Here, Angus' logic always fell
Gabriel heard his brother falter
in the rear compartment, and hid a rueful grin. Poor Angus. He had filled
out over the past four years, thanks to the clean air, open skies, hearty
diet, and healthy exercise regime that the gargoyles and the dinos both
"But you said that this Godiva
knew the original Anton Sevarius," fretted Jeannie. "What if she recognizes
"Fear not," Gabriel said. "Godiva
hardly ever bothers to so much as look at other females."
They crested a rise, and the demarcation
took Gabriel's breath away. Before, nothing but desert stretching off in
all directions, no signs of civilization except for the black scar of the
road. The glow in the sky could have been mistaken for daybreak. But then,
there it was. Las Vegas, clustered in the darkness like a pile of jewels.
Jeannie, who had only ever seen
the city on television, crowded to the front of the motor home and leaned
over Gabriel's shoulder to peer through the windshield. Like Angus, she
had reached her adult growth, becoming a tall and slim young lady with
clear skin and bright, intelligent eyes.
"Hey, sit down, you want us to
get a ticket?" Liz scolded.
A sisterly affection had sprung
up between the two. Liz had taught Jeannie to drive, ski, fish, ride, and
shoot. In return, and with the help of a sophisticated computer and lab
equipment that Jim Dorsett had reluctantly allowed them to install in one
of the outbuildings, Jeannie had done a few favors of her own for Liz.
She sat down and buckled up, her
quick mind already off and running to worry about something else. "Are
you sure the dinos didn't mind staying at the ranch?"
"It's what they want," Gabriel
said. "They are not yet ready to face the rest of the world."
"Or have the project track them
down," Jeannie said, chewing on her lip.
"The project cant touch them,"
Liz said. "Jim may seem like a flake, but he knows what he's doing. They'll
be fine. It's their home now."
"I guess," she sighed, and propped
her chin on her hands.
"What?" Angus asked.
"Well, they've got one. Lucky
them. A home, I mean."
"You miss your parents," Angus
said. "Is that it?"
not really, not my parents.
Sam, though. I hope he's okay. I know he's not really my brother. Genetically,
he's sort of
sort of my son, I guess
"But genetically, it doesn't matter,"
Liz said. "In your heart, he's your brother, and that's important."
"And I'll never see him again,
never know what happened to him." Jeannie, whose moods could be mercurial,
shook off her brief melancholy and leaned across to kiss Angus on the cheek.
"At least I get to meet the rest of your family!"
Gabriel reflected what an odd
pair they were. Angus, who, once the storms of adolescence had passed,
had turned out level-headed and chronically relaxed, taking the world as
it came. And Jeannie, a young genius who spoke thirty languages and would
have qualified for degrees in almost any science, whose restless mind was
always on the move.
They entered the city, a dazzle
of lights spilling through the tinted glass. Liz had to take a detour around
a block that was closed off for the filming of a movie, but eventually
she pulled into the RV lot behind the Coventry. The four of them got out,
looking up at the pseudo-Tudor architecture and an enormous hologramatic
sign advertising the new act.
Coldfire had written to him about
it, but Gabriel hadn't really believed it until this moment. A performing
aerobat gargoyle troupe
it sounded preposterous to him. But the sign
depicted two males springing onto the shoulders of two other males, then
a small female tumbled through the air and landed on their shoulders to
complete a sort of pyramid.
"Here we are," said Liz, and now
it was she, instead of Jeannie, who sounded nervous.
"All will be well," Gabriel promised,
putting an arm around her.
"And you're staying strong."
"What about you, Angus?" Jeannie
He jumped, blushed purple, and
looked guilty. "Me? Hey, I was never involved with her."
"Not for lack of trying," Gabriel
"I was a stupid kid then, okay?
I know better now."
"From the sounds of it, older
and wiser men than you still don't know better," Liz said.
"Yeah, well, they just need to
have Gabriel beat some sense into them."
"According to Coldfire's last
letter, everything is different now," Gabriel said
Still, it was his turn for an
attack of the nerves as they entered the Coventry's palatial Elizabethan
lobby. Coldstone and Coldfire could be watching them on the security monitors
already. That wasn't what he wanted. He wanted to see them face to face,
tell them in person.
Some double-takes followed them
as they crossed the large open space. Liz tensed, and almost shrugged away
Gabriel's arm. He glanced down at her questioningly.
She firmed her jaw, took his wrist,
and held him where he was. "I have to get used to it all over again, now
more than ever," she said. "It wasn't such a big deal back home, where
everybody knows me. Weird that I should be more worried about what total
"I've never seen anything like
this place," gasped Jeannie. "Except on television and the computer. It's
a lot bigger than it looks in virtual reality. A lot more
"Real?" Angus asked.
"Wow." Jeannie's blue-grey eyes
Descending the sweeping staircase,
engrossed in conversation, were several figures. Among them was Godiva,
and clearly it was she to whom Jeannie's 'wow' referred. Gabriel felt a
tightening in his gut.
"Ease up on the shoulder, would
you?" Liz whispered out of the side of her mouth.
He loosened his grip the tiniest
fraction. Godiva was even more stunning than he remembered, her hair piled
and dangling in ringlets like a Greek goddess, her figure swathed in cloudy
black shot with threads of gold, blue, and silver. But something about
her face had changed. He couldn't put a talon on just what was different.
Maybe it was the company she was
keeping. A quartet of grey gargoyles, in glossy black loincloths hanging
from gold belts, followed and surrounded her like an honor guard. Bringing
up the rear was a female, obviously related.
Behind the group, he recognized
Hoshi, and Ohta, both smiling and waving in welcome. The whole clan coming
out to greet them. Except
"Where are --?"
Coldstone's voice. He turned to
face her. Coldfire was at his side. Despite the bells and whistles from
the casino, Gabriel clearly heard Jeannie's throat click as she swallowed.
Liz took a deep breath.
"What's this, a cozy family reunion?"
Godiva asked, sashaying toward them with her devoted admirers in tow.
They were all so fit, muscular,
athletic, and toned that even Gabriel, who'd spent the past four years
leading a rugged outdoor life, felt scrawny by comparison.
"Hello, Godiva," he said.
"Gabe." She tossed her head. "Welcome
back. And Angus. How you've grown. Well, I'm sure you've got a lot of catching
up to do, so I'll run through the introductions."
She rattled off a string of names,
giving doting looks to each of the four males as she did so, and Gabriel
knew what was different. For the first time since he'd met her, Godiva's
reactions seemed genuine, not calculated and sultry, but genuinely cheerful
and at ease.
"And this is Sonia," she added,
indicating the female. "You remember Hoshi and Ohta. So, who are these
"This is Liz," Gabriel said, taking
her hand. "Liz Dorsett."
Strangely, as much as he had been
dreading this moment, he found himself almost disappointed at Godiva's
utter lack of challenge, spite, or jealousy. She was completely captivated
by her new conquests, and in her mind, Gabriel had ceased to be of interest.
"This is Jeannie," Angus said,
still keeping a wary eye on Coldstone's glower. He almost said more, almost
introduced her as his girlfriend, but thought better of it.
Jeannie excitedly greeted the
grey gargoyles in Russian. Here, Gabriel noticed a new complication the
female, Sonia, was sneaking peeks at Angus.
"Well, aren't we all just one
happy clan," laughed Godiva. She blew air-kisses at Gabriel and Angus.
"We'll leave you to your parents."
With that, she and her entourage
crossed to the casino, leaving Gabriel and Angus gaping identically after
them. It couldn't be real. It was too good to be true.
Coldfire's face didn't change,
but the relief emanating from her was as palpable as a breeze. It was tempered
by doubt as she turned to study Liz.
"Mother, Father," Gabriel said,
the words still coming harder for him than they did for Angus. "Will you
accept this female as my mate?"
The pause stretched out for so
long that he was sure they were going to deny him. And what then? Back
to Montana? Probably. He didn't care where he lived, so long as he had
Liz by his side. If his parents could not accept that, it was their problem,
and not his.
"If it's the breeding thing,"
Jeannie said diffidently, "I can fix that."
"What?" snarled Coldstone, looming
over her. "Are you a scientist?" His tone made the word an oath.
Angus put himself between them.
"Not all science is bad, Father. And Jeannie's the best, she really is."
"Wait, wait, explain," said Coldfire.
"Explain this. What do you mean?"
The instant she began outlining
her theories, all of Jeannie's nervousness fell away and she came truly
animated and alive. The technical terms soon left them all in the dust,
but her conviction shone through in every word and enthusiastic gesture.
She caught herself. "Sorry
get carried away. But it will work. I'm sure of it. That's one reason why
we wanted to move here. Better access to labs, libraries, equipment."
"You are willing to do this?"
Coldstone asked Gabriel, in a forbidding tone.
" He cast a glance at Liz.
"It's what I want," she said.
"I want kids. Gabriel's kids. And he's told me how much you were looking
forward to grandchildren."
This was addressed to Coldfire.
Speechless, she only emitted a whirring oscillation.
"Jeannie can do what she says,"
Angus said. "I know she can."
" Coldfire floundered, then
found her voice. "Isn't it dangerous?"
"I'm ready to take the risk,"
"Are you, Gabriel? You've lost
"Mother," he said, and it was
easier now. "I have, yes. And yes, I am afraid. But I trust Jeannie, and
I love Liz, and if it is what she wants, it is what I want."
"It might take a few years," Jeannie
warned. "Setting up the lab, getting the samples, splicing a viable embryo,
the implantation process
that's where I see the most difficulty, since
the biochemistry is so wonderfully different, the diverse physiological
needs of the mother and child
uh, sorry again. It's just all so interesting!"
"Well?" Gabriel pressed. "Will
you accept her?"
"Traditionally," hedged Coldstone,
"as nominal leader of the clan the decision would belong to "
"Yes," Coldfire said. "We accept."
Las Vegas, Nevada
"You tricked me, didn't you?"
Coldfire, who had been scanning
the same page of a magazine without really reading it, looked up. "What?"
Godiva wagged a finger at her.
"Five years ago. You did that on purpose. Bringing them here. Knowing that
they'd distract me from your precious sons."
"Hoshi made the arrangements."
"Yes, but it was your idea."
"No, it was her suggestion."
"Which you went along with."
"Perhaps," admitted Coldfire.
"It worked nicely."
"When their contract came up for
renegotiation, there was never a question of whether they'd stay or not.
In my mind or theirs."
"You never liked me much, Coldfire,
"Better now than before."
"You thought I was a heartless
Coldfire said nothing, turned
"Which," Godiva said, "I suppose
I was. For someone who'd always prided herself on her brains, I never really
stopped to think about what being Godiva meant to me. And what it meant
to everybody else. Now, look what you've done."
"What I've done?"
"You made me think. You turned
my glorious Coventry into an actual home, and the next thing you
know, we'll have to put up with the pitter-patter of little talons."
"The rookery was not my doing,"
Coldfire said. "Attribute that to Hoshi and Sonia."
"I'm sure that Angus had something
to do with it," she said pointedly.
Coldfire dipped her head in a
nod. "Well, yes."
She had privately been overjoyed
when Angus had announced his intention to take not one, but two mates.
Luckily, both Sonia and Jeannie were so busy with their respective occupations
of aerobat and scientist that he wasn't stretched too thin trying to be
mate to them both. The hatching of the eggs Hoshi's two, Sonia's one,
and all girls by the mottling on the shells was still seven years away.
"Anyway," Godiva said, "thank
Taken completely by surprise,
Coldfire could only look at her.
"For tricking me, and making me
happy. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you like me a little better
now. That's good. There's no reason why we shouldn't be friends."
Still nonplussed, Coldfire was
glad of the interruption as the door swung open. Seeing not Jeannie with
a progress report, but a proudly beaming Gabriel, she shot to her feet.
He was tenderly carrying a blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms, and gazing
down as if he held the very moon and stars.
"Mother," Gabriel said, offering
her the bundle.
She took it gingerly, feeling
the warm and living weight of her grandchild.
The little face, pink with a green-grey
undertinge, was framed by the buds of adorable little curlicue horns and
chin spurs. Like hers. Like Gabriel's. She folded back the blanket, drinking
in the sight of the infant. So small, so helpless! The wings were batlike,
the tail, like those of Coldstone and Angus, ended in a solid ball of bone.
The baby had Liz's eyes and her dark red hair, which already promised to
be as wild and unmanageable.
"Amber will be pleased," Gabriel
said. "She's not the only one anymore."
"He's beautiful, Gabriel," she
said. "He's perfect. What will you call him?"
"Lysander," he said. "It means
'liberator,' is a name from a play about Oberon and Titania, and it echoes
the name of his mother."
"Cute," Godiva said, taking a
quick look and wrinkling her nose. She shook her head. "Just don't let
him trash my hotel when he starts to walk, all right?" With a flip of her
hair and a swing of her tail, she strode away.
"She'll warm to him," Coldfire
said, touching the baby's five-fingered hand. Lysander cooed and gurgled
spit bubbles. "I would not have thought it, Gabriel, but even Godiva turned
out to have a heart."