Elizabeth yanked her hand away from him, chin raised.
"She's a feral little human, isn't she?" Hag said.
"Elizabeth has not yet comprehended her place in the grand scheme of things." He gave the girl a measured shove toward the kitchen counter. "Sit down, shut up, and touch nothing."
She hesitated before sitting on a barstool, still bristling.
"What brings you here today?" Hag asked.
"I've come for a potion. I need to clear my mind to get to my memories." My Endgame is so close. Then he'd have everything he'd always wanted.
Then I'll finally understand the incomprehensible. . . .
"I need to focus." On something other than Elizabeth's allure.
Hag slanted doe-brown eyes at him. "Do you wish to discuss business in front of her?"
He shrugged. "She'll be gone soon. But she does need to eat until then."
Hag told her, "Go into the back room and look for a green chest decorated with leafy vines. Open the top and tell it whatever you wish to eat. Do not open the black chest decorated with spiderwebs."
When Elizabeth merely narrowed her eyes, Lothaire said, "Do as she commands. You should follow her orders just as you will mine."
Elizabeth rose with a huff, then sauntered into the back room. He heard a creaking hinge, then her enunciating, "Fun-yuns."
A second later in that country drawl: "Get the hell out!"
Over his shoulder, he ordered, "Eat something nourishing."
After a rebellious pause, she said, "Blo-berry waff-els. May-pole see-rup." Then she cried, "Hoo!" Excellent.
She returned with a laden plate and silverware, sitting at the nearby dining table. Now that she'd regained her equilibrium, she acted unconcerned by all this, but he knew the wheels were turning, could see that calculating glint to her eyes.
Yet I can't predict what she'll do.
She cautiously took a bite of her breakfast, murmuring, "Oh, my God, that's good."
Another bite, and another. She relished her meal in an almost sensual way. He wondered if she'd be like that in bed, savoring the taste of his skin. As I'd savor hers.
Hag was telling him something and he wanted to concentrate, but he kept hearing Elizabeth's fork on that plate, her little noises of enjoyment. He found himself rapt as she twirled a bite of waffle in syrup.
"Are you enjoying your vittles?" he grated to her.
"Prison grub tastes like trench foot. So, yeah, you could say I'm liking this." With a smug air, she added, "Plus, I'm enjoying the fact that I can do something you can't."
"Can't I?" He traced to the seat beside her.
With a challenging lift of her brow, Elizabeth held up a forkful of waffle. "Wanna bite?"
"You have no idea."
"Of waffle. Oh, but you're a bloodsucker." She gave an exaggerated frown.
He found it imperative to wipe that look off the mortal's face. Though he knew Hag was gazing at him in bafflement, he didn't give a damn. He grasped Elizabeth's wrist and took the bite.
At once, his taste buds screamed wrong! He hadn't masticated in ages and was clumsy with it, but eventually he could swallow the food.
Elizabeth cast him a surprised half-grin. "You've got syrup on your lip. Here." She licked her thumb and reached forward to smooth the syrup away.
The air between them was electric as he debated tapping her wrist for a drink to wash it all down-
Hag cleared her throat. "The ring, Lothaire?"
Reluctantly, he rose. "You still haven't seen it in visions?"
She made room for him to sit at the counter, stowing a pile of what looked like bird skulls. "I've had no more luck than you. It's hidden, with some very strong magics. Every time I try to uncover its location, I weaken my ability."
I can feel the mortal's gaze still on me. Which meant he was having difficulty keeping his eyes off her. He shoved his fingers through his hair. "Can you aid my concentration?"
"Possibly. But we have other concerns as well. La Dorada."
The Sorceri Queen of Evil. A few weeks ago, he'd located her slumbering in a hidden Amazonian tomb. She'd been half-dead, mummified for centuries in a sarcophagus, with the Ring of Sums on her thumb.
Though she'd had protection spells attached to her, including one guaranteed to wake her, Lothaire had ripped off her crusty thumb and stolen the ring.
And possibly he'd flooded her tomb with a tidal wave.
Perhaps I oughtn't to have brazenly stolen her most beloved possession off her body, waking her and potentially heralding the apocalypse?
I might've left her thumb. . . .
"I've seen Dorada in visions, have sensed her," Hag continued. "The Queen of Evil will stop at nothing to punish you."
A "Queen" was a sorceress who wielded more control over something than any other sorceress. When Dorada was fully regenerated, she could control evil beings-including Lothaire.
But he hadn't been concerned about her power, figuring that with the ring he could defeat her easily enough. Yet just when he'd been about to slip it on his finger, he'd been captured by Declan Chase.
"I'll deal with her once I've found the ring," Lothaire said. "We've got some time. Just seven days ago, I managed to cast her into a fiery chasm." When all hell had broken loose-or rather, when all the immortal prisoners had broken loose from the Order's holding cells-her zombie Wendigos had attacked him as a pack.
He'd defeated all of them, a particularly noteworthy feat considering he'd been starving, recovering from torture, mystically weakened, and unable to trace. Then he'd turned his hate-filled gaze to Dorada. . . .
Hag fiddled with a smoking flask. "The sorceress is already coming for you."
"Risen so quickly, has she?" After dispatching the Wendigos, he'd leapt over a crevasse to reach Dorada, casting her down. But she'd caught his leg. As they'd dangled, he'd done what anyone would in his situation-booted her in the face until her skull caved in and an eye popped out.
In the end, she'd plummeted into an abyss hundreds of feet deep.
"Yes, Dorada is rebounding from the injuries you inflicted-and from her mummified state. Lothaire, if you barely prevailed against her last time, and she is regenerating now . . . ? Her control over all evil creatures will be absolute in a matter of weeks, maybe even days."
Then she could command him to greet a noonday sun in an equatorial desert, which would kill even him.
Elizabeth coughed, hiding a grin behind her fist.
"Why are you amused?" he demanded.
"Sounds to me like you almost got your ass spanked by a chick. I don't know who this Dorada is, but I'm wishing her all the luck in the world."
Hag gasped. Lothaire slammed his fist onto the stool beside him, smashing it, splinters flying.
As he and Hag watched in astonishment, the mortal calmly picked them off her plate and out of her hair, then ate another bite of waffle.
Several realities had become apparent to Ellie as the immortals had talked in front of her like she was an oblivious toddler in a high chair.
One: Lothaire was having difficulty finding the ring that equaled Ellie's death.