Thursday, February 18, 2016
The Little Prince
Nirvana, Zhere Ghan’s club, was packed tonight. At Nirvana, so the adverts promised, the customer was king. The main floor housed the bar, restaurant and dance floor. Upstairs was a second, more intimate bar for parties and assignations. Downstairs were the special rooms. Here all whims could be indulged, and word of any indiscretions would never pass beyond the ornate doors. More exotic whims came with a higher price, with the same privacy guaranteed.
Such policies appealed to a certain segment of Talbot’s Peak’s population. Especially the wolves. Especially the lower-ranked wolves. For a few hours in a private room, every wolf was an alpha. The empty wallet afterwards was worth it.
But not tonight. Not for Devon Hancock.
He slouched at his table in the upstairs suite, and paid no attention to the limber she-wolf currently performing on the stage. “Old leg-lifter,” he muttered into his cocktail. “Old mangy flea-bus.”
Rakshasi draped herself across him and nuzzled his neck. This was an old refrain. Most of the time he was a pleasant assignment: fun, free with his money, exciting in bed. She’d quickly learned, however, to keep him away from excess drink. Too many Punjabi Punches and he tended to turn morose. She much preferred the devil-may-care heir to the Hancock fortune who, she was certain, had fallen in love with her. Who she, against her father’s orders, had found herself falling in love with.
Yes. She, Rakshasi, trained assassin, daughter of Zhere Ghan. In love with the son of her father’s greatest rival. Karma was a bitch indeed.
She’d been told to get close to him, glean what she could of his sire’s doings from him. Kill him, if the situation called for it. That last had been swept off the table some time ago. How her father would roar if he knew!
Her brother Tasman, the club’s manager, prowled along the edge of the room, as always aware of everything. Though not aware of her shifted allegiance. That tidbit she’d kept to herself. He nodded fractionally to her with a wisp of a smile. Keep up the good work. She faked a smile and nodded back.
“You know who I feel sorry for?” Devon said abruptly. “Charlie. Here’s to you, Chuck.” He raised his glass and drained it. A waitress in a skimpy harem costume hurried over to bring him another. Rakshasi waved her away.
“Charlie?” she asked. “Is he a wolf?”
“No, no. Prince Charles. The human. Big shot British ape. Now there’s a dude with a destiny. He was supposed to be the King of England. That’s the only reason he’s here. Heir to the friggin’ throne. And what happened to that? His mom is what happened. The old bitch won’t get off the seat. Won’t retire, just won’t freakin’ die. Where does that leave Charlie? He’s been raised his whole life just for this one thing and now it’s not gonna happen. When Her Maj finally does keel over, Charlie’s pup will be King. Not him. His entire life’s been a waste. He might as well cash it in right now. His time came and went while he was playing polo and waving at the crowds.”
He glared into his empty glass, then stared about for a waitress. Rakshasi caught his face in her hands and turned his head toward her. “This is about your father again, isn’t it?”
“What, me? Mad at Daddy?” he snarled sarcastically. “Now why would I be mad? Just because he hasn’t bothered to train me to take over. Just because he barely talks to me. Always busy. Always the big bad wolf. I might as well not even be here. Why the hell did he even have pups if he never planned to step down?”
Rakshasi laid her hand on his crotch and let her claws out, just a little. Ah. Now she had his full attention.
“Perhaps,” she suggested, “he’s waiting. Waiting for you to challenge him. Prove yourself worthy to lead the pack. Isn’t that how it’s done among wolves?”
Devon blinked, as if this had not occurred to him before. “You think that’s it?”
She moved her hand and slid onto his lap. Her rough tongue brushed his lips. “He fears you,” she whispered. “Your quickness, your youth. How much the other wolves admire you. He won’t give up his power. You’ll have to take it.”
He glanced uncertainly at his cocktail glass. “Is that how tigers do it?”
“Tigers don’t bother with succession. They carve out their own territory.” As she was doing now. A life apart from Father, away from the machinations of the Ghans. Why be content to be a wife, when she could be a queen?
True, a queen of wolves. But wolves were predators, only little different from a cat. And wolves ruled this little piece of America. She could live with that. It was enough to satisfy her, but only if Devon came with it.
All he needed was a nudge in the right direction.
“It doesn’t have to be a public challenge,” she purred. “Private would be better, in fact. No support, no guards.”
Devon paled. “You mean kill him?”
“Not necessarily.” She shrugged. “Defeating him should be enough. He’s old. Ruling a pack so huge must wear heavily on him. He’ll probably be relieved to have you beat him. I understand wolves admire shows of strength.”
“But he’s … ” Devon swallowed. “Big. Bigger than me. He keeps himself in shape.”
“That can be dealt with. I can teach you. Tigers know how to take down prey larger and stronger than themselves. You have only to want it.” Her hands on his face turned demanding. “Do you want to be king?”
For a moment he wavered, and so did her heart. Then his eyes hardened, and she relaxed. There was her predator. Her king wolf. “Yes. About time. About damn time, by Lupa.” He caught her hand in a grip that thrilled her. “You’ll help me prep?”
She had been trained to kill in a dozen different ways. This move would all but kill her father. She relished the idea. “I can teach you how to compensate for his size, plus a few things he won’t be expecting.” Such as a tiger in charge of the Hancock lands. A tiger who was not Zhere Ghan. She savored the taste of that notion as well. “And afterwards … ”
He smiled at her and shoved the empty cocktail glass aside. “I’ll bet there’s a room free downstairs. Would you like a taste of ‘afterwards’?”
“My lord,” she murmured, as her mouth moved to devour his.