Jean-Luc was so much the opposite, it was almost laughable to see them side by side. Jean-Luc Echarpe had sophistication down to a fine art. He was more than the grand coven master of Western Europe. He was a world-renowned fashion designer. At first, Jean-Luc had focused on evening wear, since he and his followers were only active during the night. But when movie stars had started wearing his designs, his business had mushroomed. Now he was on the cutting edge of everyday fashion with his line of Chique Gothique.
Jean-Luc was sporting a black tuxedo with a black cape lined in gray silk. He carried a black walking stick he didn't need. He was the most agile vampire Roman had ever met. Tall and slim, he could run up the side of a building without batting an eye. His curly black hair was worn with a disheveled look, and his twinkling blue eyes dared anyone to disagree with his taste.
Jean-Luc might look like a fop, but Roman knew better. The Frenchman could turn deadly in less than a second.
Roman nodded at his friends. "Shall we go to my office?"
"Aye," Angus replied for the group. "Gregori tells me ye have some new drinks for us tonight."
"Yes. They're the latest from my line of Fusion Cuisine." Roman escorted the men down a hall to his office. "The first one, Bubbly Blood, is a combination of blood and champagne. It'll be advertised as the drink of choice for those special vampire occasions."
"Formidable, mon ami." Jean-Luc smiled. "I have sorely missed the taste of champagne."
"Well, it still tastes more like blood, I'm afraid," Roman continued. "But the fizz is there. And the alcoholic content. You can get a definite buzz after a few glasses."
"I can vouch for that," Gregori added. "I volunteered as guinea pig and drank a bunch. Great stuff. At least I think it was." He grinned. "I don't remember much about that night."
Laszlo fiddled with a button on his rental tux. "We rolled you out to the car in an office chair."
The men chuckled. Laszlo blushed. Roman suspected the chemist was nervous at being in the company of three major coven masters. But then, Laszlo always looked nervous.
"Did ye get the whisky I sent ye?" Angus asked.
"Yes." Roman slapped his old friend on the shoulder. "Your fusion drink of whisky and blood is next on our list."
"Och, good," Angus said.
"I tried the Chocolood." Jean-Luc wrinkled his Gallic nose. "It was too sweet for my taste, but the ladies love it."
"They love it too much." Roman opened his office door. "That's why I invented the second drink we're introducing tonight. Blood Lite."
"A diet drink?" Jean-Luc entered his office.
"Yes." Roman remained at the door until all the men had entered. "I was receiving too many complaints from the women in my coven. They were gaining weight and holding me responsible."
"Umph." Angus took a seat in front of Roman's desk. "I've had a wee bit of grousing from my women, too, but it dinna stop them from wanting the stuff."
"They love it." Gregori perched on the corner of Roman's desk. "Sales have tripled in the last quarter."
"Hopefully, Blood Lite will take care of the weight problem. It's low in cholesterol and also has an extremely low blood sugar count." When Roman saw that Laszlo was hovering by the door, he laid a hand on the chemist's shoulder. "Laszlo is my most gifted chemist. Last night he received a death threat."
Laszlo studied his scuffed black loafers and twisted a button on his rental tux.
Angus shifted in his chair, his expression grim as he looked Laszlo over. "Who would threaten this man?"
"We believe it was Ivan Petrovsky." Roman closed the door, then crossed the room to his desk.
"Och." Angus frowned. "The Russian coven master here in America. According to my intelligence reports, he works as a paid assassin. But who would pay to kill yer wee chemist?"
"The Malcontents would want to kill anyone who is involved in the making of synthetic blood," Jean-Luc said.
"Aye, that's true," Angus agreed. "Is that the case then?"
Roman sat behind his desk. "We haven't heard from them since last October when they left their little Halloween present at my front door."
"You mean the explosives?" Jean-Luc turned toward the Scotsman. "You're the expert. Who do you think is the leader of these True Ones?"
"We have it narrowed down to three suspects." Angus loosened the lace collar around his throat. "I thought we would discuss it during the conference. Something has to be done about them."
"I agree." Jean-Luc tapped his walking stick on the floor as if to accentuate how strongly he felt. He had reason to feel strongly. The Malcontents had tried to kill him, too.
Roman clasped his hands on his desk. "If you don't have Ivan Petrovsky on your list of suspects, then you should add him."
"He's already at the top of the list," Angus said. "Why has he threatened yer chemist? Ye would make a more likely target."
"I'm sure he'll get around to me as soon as he realizes I'm responsible for this latest situation."
Angus narrowed his eyes. "Explain yerself."
Roman shifted his weight in his chair. "It's a long story."
"They always are." Jean-Luc gave him a knowing smile. "And they always involve a woman, n 'est-ce pas?
"In this case, yes." Roman took a deep breath. "Her name is Shanna Whelan. She's Ivan Petrovsky's latest mark. The Russian mafia wants her dead, and Ivan's working for them."
"Ye gave the woman yer protection?" Angus asked.
"But of course." Jean-Luc shrugged. "If she is a member of his coven, it is his duty to protect her."
"Laszlo was instrumental in her escape," Gregori explained. "That's why Petrovsky wants to kill him."
With a groan, Laszlo leaned over to pick up a button off the floor.
"So ye must protect the lady and the chemist." Angus drummed his fingers on the arms of his chair. " Tis a tricky situation, to be sure, but one you couldna help. Our most sacred responsibility as coven masters is to protect our followers."
Roman swallowed hard. The shit was about to hit the fan. "She's not a member of my coven."
Angus and Jean-Luc stared at him a full five seconds.
Jean-Luc blinked. Angus's knuckles turned white as he gripped the arms of his chair. They exchanged wary looks.
Finally Angus cleared his throat. "Ye're interfering with the assassination of a mortal?"
"Yes. I gave her sanctuary. I felt it was justified since she's being hunted by one of our kind."
Jean-Luc placed both hands on the gold knob of his walking stick and leaned forward. "It is not like you to involve yourself with the mortal world. Especially when it could result in danger to your coven."
"I.. was in need of her services at the time."
Jean-Luc shrugged. "We all have needs from time to time. But we have a saying in French - in the dark, all cats are gray. Why risk so much for this one mortal?"
"It's hard to explain. She.. she's special."
Angus banged a fist on his chair. "There's nothing more important than keeping our existence a secret from the mortals. I hope ye dinna confide in the girl."
"I kept her as ignorant as possible." Roman sighed. "Unfortunately, my.. harem couldn't keep their mouths shut."
Angus's frown was forbidding. "How much does she know?"
"My name, my business. Where I live and that I keep a group of women. She has no idea we're vampires." So far. Roman knew she was clever enough to figure out the truth.
Angus snorted. "I hope the lass was worth it. If Petrovsky finds out ye're hiding her - "
"He knows," Gregori announced.
"Merde," Jean-Luc whispered.
Angus grimaced. "Was he invited to the ball?"
"Yes." Roman crossed his arms on the desk and leaned forward. "The invitations went out before this problem arose. Petrovsky is invited every year as a gesture of goodwill, but he hasn't attended in eighteen years."
"Since the introduction of synthetic blood," Jean-Luc added. "I remember his reaction. He was furious. Refused to try the stuff and stormed out of the building, yelling curses and threats to all who betrayed his outdated ideology."