“This does not please me in the slightest, Lukas.”
Lukas wasn’t a man who flinched very often, but in the presence of a vampire king, he was cringing at every word from Phaeron. The ruler sat on his dais, his hands clasped in front of him as he glared down at the alpha warlock. Lukas, for his part, refused to meet Phaeron’s eyes as he wanted to avoid falling under the vampire’s spell. Though he was a powerful warlock, Lukas’s own powers couldn’t hold up against Phaeron’s and he wasn’t about to try.
Not with Phaeron being so angry.
“Lukas?” the vampire king thundered. Despite himself, Lukas flinched again at the anger in the king’s words. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Nuh—nothing.” Oh, how Lukas hated the way his voice trembled. In his peripheral vision, he could see the vampire king’s mouth turn up in a deadly grin. He wasn’t going to look up into those eyes. He wasn’t going to grovel.
He was an alpha warlock, dammit. He shouldn’t be afraid of anyone. Much less an old man.
Not that he’d ever gotten a good look at Phaeron—he refused to look the vampire full in the face for fear of falling even more under his control. For all he knew, other than the sensuous curve of the vampire’s lips and his salt-and-pepper goatee, Phaeron could have appeared as young as him or as old as time.
“Nothing, Lukas?” Phaeron’s voice was cold, barely above a whisper, although it ricocheted in Lukas’s mind. “Four years ago, you were supposed to bring me an omega warlock. I was supposed to have my army started. My species is dying, and we can't create more vampires without the hybrids the omega warlocks can bear. Add their power to mine, and I could rule Pristat. I could rule the world.” The vampire’s teeth gritted and clenched. “I may be ageless. I may be all-powerful. But. I am running out of patience.”
“I’m sorry, Your Grace.”
Phaeron issued a low hiss. “I do not have grace for those who fail me.”
“I promise, just more time.”
A tapping noise made Lukas whip his head to the right, just a fraction, to see Phaeron tapping his fingers against the armrest of his throne. Long, elegant fingers, with fingernails that looked too wicked to be for show. He imagined those hands—claws, more like it—around his throat, tearing into the soft flesh there, feeling his blood rush out.
The one word sent Lukas’s brain into a tailspin. His mind went blank, numb, as he failed to comprehend what that word meant for his future. He’d done everything in his power to try to fulfill Phaeron’s every whim, against insurmountable odds. He’d been all over Pristat looking for more omega warlocks. The thing was, omega warlocks were hard to find in his country. Whether it was because they were cowardly and afraid to face their fate, or because they were facing oppression from their own communities and families, he did not know. He’d offered suspect families money, trying to buy omega warlocks on the black market.
Either he wasn’t offering enough or these families weren’t afraid enough. He’d been turned down every time.
He didn’t care. He tried everything to find them. Bartering, begging, stealing, There wasn’t anything Lukas would have done to avoid hearing a word like no from someone like Phaeron.
And so, he panicked.
“Your Grace, I—”
“Stop calling me that, warlock.”
Lukas gulped down the lump in his throat. “I did everything I could. Everything. These past four years—”
“Were apparently too generous, Lukas.”
Lukas started hyperventilating, his vision going black. Even more terrifying, this wasn’t due to Phaeron’s powers. This was because of Lukas’s own fear, which he found was a potent power in and of itself.
“I won’t kill you just yet,” Phaeron said, and to his utter horror, Lukas found that he released his bowels in relief. The wet sensation between his legs was an embarrassing reminder of everything he had done that failed the king.
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“I have another way,” Phaeron murmured, so softly Lukas barely heard it. “Besides increasing the bounty for omega warlocks, I have a way of...sniffing them out.” For a brief moment, there was silence. Then...
Lukas’s hair went on end as he heard a low growl rumble throughout the throne room. Animalistic. Brutal. Feral.
Just as deadly as a vampire.
Lukas dipped his head lower, breathing shallowly, not wanting to see. A clicking sound surrounded him, and it took him a moment to realize what it was.
Claws against the red marble floor.
“My, what big eyes my werewolves have,” Phaeron murmured, his voice amplified by more growls. All around Lukas, he could see furry bodies press around him, their paws rapping on the floor.
“My, what big noses they have,” Phaeron continued.
A body brushed up against Lukas. He brought his hand up to his mouth and bit down on a knuckle to keep from screaming.
Phaeron paused, as if for effect. “My,” he said in a satisfied tone, “what big teeth my werewolves have. And no omega warlock in my realm will be safe.”