A Song of Imperium
Piper Talbot had been silent for the ride from Nashville International to the AT&T building. She was silent as her driver opened the door, silent as she swayed her way to the elevator, silent as the grave. She was still and somber, despite the permanent music dancing in her mind, all of the way up to the 32nd floor where, when the bell sounded at the penthouse suite, she winced. It was a quarter step flat.
The Prince of Atlanta huffed and stepped off of the elevator and into the suite, smiling at the doorman without showing her teeth. She lowered her head, demure, and batted her eyelashes. “I believe Mr. Boudreaux is expecting me.” She crossed her hands in front of her, the soft, fox fur stole falling off her shoulders to rest in the crooks of her elbows.
Her dress was red and slinky, her lips and shoes colored to match, and it was in this order that the doorman noticed her. He swallowed hard at the line between her jaw and shoulder, the pale perfection making him feel all the predator. Piper licked her lips and sashayed toward him, reaching up to touch his tie.
“Do a girl a favor,” she said, staring at his chest, “and open the door for me?” Her eyes snapped up to his. “Now,” she said, more directly this time, with a weight and force of will for which the doorman was no match.
He nodded, sweating, and swiped his keycard before pulling the door open.
Piper put a hand to her chest. “Why thank you so much. Now, darling, give me the keycard and go wait in my limousine downstairs.”
He looked from side to side. “Ma’am, I don’t think I can…”
Piper interrupted him by putting a gloved finger to his lips. “Darling, this isn’t a discussion. Go. Now.”
He nodded, swearing, and caught the elevator before it closed.
When the door to his office unexpectedly opened, Martin Boudreaux stood up from his desk like a shot, reaching for the phone. The line was dead. He swore and placed the handle back in the cradle and rounded the desk to stand in front of it, bringing the full weight of his presence to bear against the person entering his Domain.
It was Piper who stood in the doorway. He allowed himself to relax ever so slightly. “Prince Talbot,” he said, placing emphasis on her title. “Please, come in.” He made his way leisurely back around the desk and gestured to the chair on the other side. “Have a seat. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Piper grinned and narrowed her eyes. She prowled into the office, one stilettoed step at a time, arms crossed at the wrist in front of her, looking around the room. It was standard, as Princely offices go. There were symbols to decadence and luxury and relics of ages gone by. A painting of Louis XV hung on the wall. An elaborate wet bar was embedded into the wall opposite. An iron gauntlet rested on a plinth inside a glass case in one corner. A pair of fencing blades were cross-mounted on the wall. A heavy Savonnerie rug cushioned the floor. The entire room cried out regency and upbringing, and Piper had had enough of arrogant men. Perhaps this one would be more pliant, she silently hoped.
“Martin,” she said, resting one hand on the back of the offered chair, “it’s so good to see you. How have you been? It has been so long since we have spoken. I believe the last time I had the pleasure, it was a traitor’s voice on your lips, was it not?”
Boudreaux frowned, crossing his arms across his chest. “We were all shocked by Ramona Stone’s treachery, I think. What can I do for you, Prince Talbot?”
The song in her mind swelled with turmoil, a storm writhing and crashing against the rocks of her patience. She stilled herself, letting the music crash around her.
“As you are well aware by now, the Camarilla has lost two cities in as many months,” she said, a melody on her lips. There was a play to this. A gentle song to be sung. “And I, for one, refuse for my Domain to be next.” She stepped around the chair to lean on the desk, her palms flat on the polished wood, breasts threatening to spill over the lip of her neckline.
“I am glad we agree on something,” Boudreaux said, locking eyes with her. “But I am sure you didn’t come here to chat about current events.”
“You can’t defend your city on your own, Martin,” she said with a smile. “We both know it. There’s Memphis on your west and Louisville to your north. All that remains is for the Alliance to decide they want the territory, and it’s the Roman all over again.” She straightened, covering her chest with the stole. “Unless you plan to follow former Sovereign Stone’s example?”
Boudreaux scowled. “I am loyal to the Camarilla, but I will not pledge loyalty to yours or any other Imperium. It’s not like you have cities falling over themselves to join.”
Bait taken, she pounced. “Lyon de Beaufain of Charleston. Jason Poole of Cincinnati. Alex Day of Tallahassee. Bartrand Villon of Birmingham. All of them are a part of my new Imperium. All pledging their allegiance to their common defense.”
The Prince sneered. “And why should I believe that? What do they have to gain?”
Piper raised her hands in front of her. “Oh, there are benefits to member cities. All Kindred Acknowledged in one Domain are Acknowledged in all Domains. Boons are honored cross Domain lines. Lots of opportunities for Status. Mutual defense and protection. Lots of upward,” she licked her lips, “mobility.” The Imperator rolled her shoulders back and crossed her wrists again, never breaking eye contact with the Prince.
He bristled. “And you suppose that those things matter one whit to me? That I would just hand away my rule of this Domain to you?”
“Oh, I think you’ll find that this Domain is mine with or without you, Martin.”
“Get out of my city.”
“Bend the knee.”
“I had hoped you were interested.”
Piper felt a wall of will crush down upon her, but she let it through. She wanted to see what he wanted her to do, wanted him to feel powerless.
“When I snap my fingers,” he began in a hypnotic, unlyrical tone, “you will walk right out of that door, go get back into your car, and go back to Atlanta, never to return to my Domain again.”
She said nothing, keeping his gaze. He raised his hand and snapped his fingers. Piper smiled, for the first time showing her fangs.
“No, I don’t think I will,” she said, in a melodious, even voice. “Martin, when I snap my fingers, you will go to the window, open it, stand before the open night, close your eyes, and wait for me.” She pushed his mind to the side with her own. He nodded.
“Good boy,” she said. She slid off one of her gloves and raised her hand high over her head. “Now.” She snapped her fingers, and Martin turned on his heel and went to the window.
He slid the lock and pulled it open, letting the night air swirl into the office. He stood perfectly in the center of the open window and closed his eyes. He stood there, just like that, and she groaned with pleasure and regret. She had never gotten to put her paramour in his place this way, but that was part of the fun of their relationship. The relationship she would never get back.
She sauntered over to him, idly tonguing one of her fangs. “I’m sure you will understand why it has come to this, Martin. Marcia killed Francis, and she must be made to pay for what she has done. And for that, I need Nashville and all its resources.”
Boudreaux sucked in a breath. “You can’t mean to use him…” he began, but she silenced him with an icy cold finger on his chin. She turned his face toward her.
“Oh, but I do, Martin.”
“You can’t possibly control him.”
“I don’t intend to. Now, the next time you would need use of your Fortitude, you will refrain from using it, yes?”
His head nodded, but his eyes screamed no. Then she pushed him, hard, out of the window on the 32nd floor. Before he even hit the pavement, she was already on her phone, a song in her voice.
“Send Raphael up. It’s time for Prince Darby to pledge his allegiance to the Imperium.”