Samuel's eyes were just eyes, and when he laid a chaste kiss across my wrist it was just a kiss, no extras. I rewarded his restraint with a smile.
"Ah, Samuel, always the gentleman," Auggie said.
"Something you could learn from," said the woman in white, who had to be Samuel's wife, Thea.
"Thea," Samuel said, a slight warning in his tone, but it was very slight. Jean-Claude had warned us all that Samuel's only weakness was his wife. She got her way most of the time, so when dealing with the Master of Cape Cod, you had to negotiate with both of them.
"No, she's right," Auggie said, "you were always a better gentleman than I."
"Perhaps," Samuel said, "but one does not have to say such things out loud." There was an edge of heat in his voice, the first stirrings of anger.
She bowed a body that was inches taller than his, bowed and hid her face. I was betting it was because her face just didn't look sorry enough. Her dress was somewhere between cream and white, and it matched her skin and her hair. She was all whites and creams and pearls. At first glance you might think albino, but then she raised her eyes back up to us both. Her eyes were black, so black that her pupils were lost in the color of her irises. Her lashes were golden, her eyebrows gold and white.
Muscles played under her thin arms as she stood and smoothed her long dress around her body. Her coloring was odd, but not outside human norms. Her white-blond hair fell to her waist. Her only jewelry was a circlet of silver set with three pearls, the biggest in the middle and two smaller to either side, surrounded by tiny but brilliant diamonds, so that the light flashed and winked as she moved her head. Her pale neck was smooth and unadorned, with no gill slits. Jean-Claude had told me that when they wished, the maids of the sea--his phrase--could look very human.
"May I present my wife, Leucothea. Thea." He took her by the hand and drew her into a low curtsey.
Did I curtsey back? Did I tell her to get up? What should I do? What Could Meng Die have done that was taking Jean-Claude this long to sort out? She was so on my shit list.
Not knowing what else to do I offered her a hand up. She took my hand, raising a softly startled face to me. Her fingers were cool against my skin.
"Are you helping me rise like a queen taking pity on a commoner, or do you acknowledge that I am your superior?"
I helped her to her feet, though she moved like a dancer and hadn't needed the help. I dropped her hand, and said what I was thinking. When in doubt I usually do. "Okay, truthfully, I'm not sure who outranks who between the two of us. If Jean-Claude had been here then you could offer up to him, but it's me, and I don't mean to be insulting, but I'm just not sure who tops who here."
Thea's pale face looked surprised, but Samuel looked pleased.
Auggie laughed an abrupt, very human-sounding laugh, turning me to look at him. "Jean-Claude said you were a breath of fresh air, Anita, but such an honest breeze, I'm not sure we're up to it."
"I like it," Samuel said.
"Only because you are hopeless at deceit," Auggie said.
Samuel gave him a look. "None of us who have risen to Master of the City is without deceit, old friend."
The humor in Auggie's face softened, and faded. I realized that of almost all the other master vamps I'd ever seen, his face was the most mobile, the most expressive. Now it went suddenly blank the way all the old ones could do. "Fair enough, old friend, but you do prefer honesty."
Samuel nodded. "Aye, that I do."
"You like honesty?" I said. "Then you are going to love me."
There were abrupt laughs from at least two different corners of the room. In one of the corners was Fredo, slumping artfully, his black T-shirt a little bulky in places from all the knives he hid on his body. There were other knives out in plain sight, two huge ones on either hip like an old-time gunslinger. His dark face was set in laughing lines, his black eyes glittering out from the fall of his dark hair.
The other laugh had come from almost the opposite corner. Claudia was nearly six foot six, the tallest woman I'd ever met, and a serious weight lifter. She made the too-thin Fredo look frail. Her black hair was tied back in its usual tight ponytail. She wore no makeup, and her face was still startling in its beauty. Claudia cared less about looking like a girl than I did. But even with the weight lifting, her body was all woman. Without the extreme height and the muscles, she would have been one of those women who couldn't go anywhere without getting hit on, or at least leered at. She still got the leers, but most men were afraid of her, and they should have been. She would probably be the only other woman carrying a gun tonight. At the moment her face was soft with the laughter that was still bubbling in her throat. She had a nice laugh, deep and throaty. I wasn't sure I'd ever heard her laugh before.
"What's so funny?" I asked them both.
"Sorry, Anita," she said, voice still full of laughter.
Fredo nodded. "Yeah, sorry, but you, 'honest'? Jesus, 'honest' doesn't cover it."
Micah had to clear his throat sharply, and even Nathaniel's face was sort of glowing with the effort not to smile at me.
I fought not to get angry, and finally managed it. Bully for me. "I can lie if I have to." And even to me it sounded pouty.
"But it's not your nature," Fredo said, which was a little too perceptive for someone who was supposed to be just muscle.
"He's right," Claudia said, and she'd finally managed to control her laughter. "I apologize for the outburst."
"She is like you, Samuel," Thea said, "an honest heart."
"That would be a good thing," he said. And the way he said it made me finally look at some of the other people in his party. My thought about inlaws was a little too accurate with Samuel and Thea: they were offering up their three sons as possible pommes de sang for me. Which I found a little creepy, but all the vamps had patiently explained to me that most of the really old vamps come from a time when arranged marriages between powers was the norm, not the exception.
The twins were easy to spot, because they were identical. I knew their names: Thomas and Cristos. They had their mother's white-blond color, but the short careless curls of their father. They were both taller than their father, somewhere around five-ten like Mom. But their bodies were slender, not enough muscle development. I searched their curious faces and found them young. Very young. They had to be legal, or Jean-Claude wouldn't have agreed, but they didn't look legal. Maybe merpeople aged slower than humans.
The other son I wasn't certain of, because there were two dark-haired men standing behind the love seat. One of them met my eyes bold as brass. The other man wouldn't meet my gaze; he actually blushed, embarrassed. I was betting that was the son. Maybe he thought it was all as weird as I did.
"They are lovely, my sons, are they not?" Thea asked, and that brought my attention back to her.
I wasn't sure what to say to that, but finally said, "Well, yeah, I guess, I mean, I wasn't looking at them for that." I felt the blush crawl up my face and cursed myself for it.
She smiled. "Let us decide which of us is of higher rank, so I may introduce you to them formally."
I thought about it, looked at Micah and Nathaniel. They both shook their heads; they didn't know either.
"I have a thought," Thea said, and the tone in her voice made it clear mat she wasn't sure I'd like it. Her voice was melodious, almost like singing.
"I'm willing to hear it," I said.
"We are animal to call and human servant, but I am married to a Master of the City, and you are not. Would that be a way to decide who is higher tank?"
"Thea," Samuel said.
"No," I said, "it is a way to decide this. Marriage beats just dating, I'm okay with that."
Samuel frowned at me. "We were warned that you had a temper, Ms. Blake."
I shrugged. "I do, but Thea's reasoning is as good a way as any to decide which of us offers up a body part."
"You don't find it insulting to acknowledge her as greater than yourself?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No."
He looked at me, looked at me as if he were trying to see all the way through to my spine. It wasn't vampire tricks, it was just him trying to decide what I was, or wasn't. Once I would have squirmed under such a look, but not now. Now I just stood there and gave him calm eyes back.