“This is not about you,” Max bellowed. He stalked across the plush carpet of the guest suite of the diRossi estates.
Nica drew her legs up, and then realized that made her look chastised. She was, she knew, but she had her pride and she stood by her decision to tell off Crandall and his cute but too submissive boyfriend. She stood, crossed her arms, decided that wasn’t the right body language either. She dropped her hands to her sides and stifled a sigh.
“Stop posturing,” Max said. “And if you must have a temper tantrum, do it elsewhere, because it is not going to affect my decision on this matter.”
“Says the king of them,” she muttered.
Max straightened. He seemed to grow three inches, and he already stood a foot taller than Nica. She met his deep blue eyes and then quickly lowered her gaze. “I won’t apologize,” she said.
“I don’t care how you do it, but you will offer your services, and make sure they accept your help and confidence.”
Nica kept her eyes on the floor until Max moved away. When she looked up, he stood in front of the glass door to the balcony, staring out into the night. It struck her, as it often did around the older Immortale, how tragic and brooding they really were. Like all the movies and novels were modeled after the ancient, jaded members of their species. She wrinkled her nose and, once again, promised herself she’d never end up like that. For now, she still related better to humans than the immortal blood but, as Max assured her since the first night she met him, well before she understood what had happened to her, that would change with time. Time changed humanity while the Immortale constantly struggled to keep up.
“Do not pity me, Nicoletta,” Max said to the night.
“I don’t,” she whispered, but wondered if maybe she did just a little bit.
Max turned, a slow smile spread across his lips. “This decade has been unpleasant, but there have been many more worth living. I am nowhere close to the place where Judas now resides.”
“I didn’t think so,” she said. She did believe that. His moods were often somber, and even dark, but Max had a friendly, jovial side when his ever-constant responsibility to his family would occasionally ebb.
She crossed the room to stand beside him. She did so soundlessly because Max would appreciate her attempt to hone her preternatural skills.
“You’re getting better,” he said.
“You’re still reading my mind,” she replied.
He chuckled. “Even the stars change. I never cared much for the science of it, but they burn out, they fade under the light of the cities, and they shift through the sky as seasons roll from warm to cold to warm again.” He sighed. “Yes, I’m melancholy tonight. I can think of no sure strategy to end this quickly. Judas’s life is not the only one at stake.”
“Because I’ve already told you many times, I do not nose around in your thoughts intentionally.”
“I’m trying not to scream them out.”
Max nodded. He folded his hand behind his back. “You have quieted somewhat since you arrived in Boston. Who’s been helping you?”
She smiled, and because she’d fed recently, blushed a little. “I’ve been spending time with Nico’s twins.”
“The wolves?” Max laughed at her shocked expression. “That is what they call them. Romulus and Remus, yes? The wolf babes of Rome. What do they teach kids in history classes nowadays?”
Nica blinked, staring at him for several seconds, and then she pulled it from her memory. “Oh, there was this cute guy in history class. He was a bassist with chocolate curls and nothing but comic book t-shirts. I never got the connection because his music rocked, but then I never saw him actually reading comics either.” She shrugged. She glanced up to find Max watching her intently. “I didn’t pay much attention to the teacher.” She held up her hands, palms up, as if balancing imaginary weights. “Hot musician… balding fat guy who thought puns were funny…” She laughed. “I vaguely remember Rome’s founders being raised by wolves though, now that you mention it.”
Max laughed along with her. “Not much has changed then. You still get distracted by long-haired men.”
Nica shrugged, but had the grace to be embarrassed too. “I’ll go talk to the Blood Hunters, but Max, they need to respect me and what I can do for them.”
“That’s up to you.” He nodded, and then added, “But they are not Blood Hunters. Do not encourage that title. It has not been earned.”
“They hunt us.”
“Yes, but they are mortal. My brother, he is one of the last true Blood Hunters. Perhaps, when this is over, I’ll tell you about them.”
“Promise?” She flashed him a playful smile.
Max smiled back, and because they were rare, Nica knew it to be genuine. “I promise. Now go take care of your responsibilities, or we may never have an end to this.”
“You put too much faith in me, Max,” Nica said doubtfully.
“And you do not put enough in yourself.” He waved her away, dismissing her, and turned back to the night, staring at what could be the present, the past, or nothing at all.