I plopped down on the couch closest to the windows. My dad and the dean were going at it over the board, grabbing each other’s pieces as if they were playing speed checkers instead of chess. I ignored them; I had a great view of the werewolves circling the gardens from the couch. I could also see the ones who’d come into the house while we ate.
They were lining the hallway like ghost-furred soldiers, looking like Scott usually did down to their see-through tails. They didn’t have his easy smile, though, or any visible signs of humor. They looked like bodyguards. They probably were bodyguards. Academics might not need them, but a vampire leader with the dean’s attitude would.
Eventually, I gave up watching them. It was like staring at the wallpaper. They didn’t do anything. Though in their case, that was probably a good thing.
“How’s it going?” I asked my dad. He grunted at me and waved a floppy hand.
The dean did a little better, if you can call giving someone an “I’d eat you, but I’m too busy to bother” smile better. “Are you a chess player, Tizzy?”
“No,” I said, not making eye contact. It was more to hide the adrenaline jolt that had just kicked my heart into to hyper-speed with his smile than because I was being rude. Spending time with him, even if he was doing nothing to threaten me, wasn’t getting easier. He had a perma-funk of ick that made my skin crawl. Kind of like the perma-funk of the parlor. The stuffed ravens I’d noticed earlier weren’t alone, their company in the form of sad, spotted birds mounted on stands. And I wasn’t even going to look at the animal skull over by a black and silver globe. It was like a skinned and boiled Predator. I didn’t want to know what the hell it had once been.
I was in a room filled with dead things. Including our host. My eyes drifted back to the chess table and the dean despite myself.
My dad moved his queen and hummed. “There! Do something with that.”
The dean barely glanced at the board before moving a piece. “Check. Tell me, Tizzy, did Damian run off to his room again?”
“I think so.” I honestly had no idea where he’d gone to other than not here. Smart boy.
My dad made another move. Even I knew it was a crappy one, and my sole experience with the game was watching “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” The dean shook his head and sighed. “How did you two meet, anyway? Through my daughter?”
Like he hadn’t sent Damian to the club on purpose. But I wasn’t going to say it in front of my dad. “Julia was involved, sure.”
“I have to say, for someone who hasn’t explored the town you seem to have made some interesting acquaintances. Vincent. My son.”
I sat on my hands so my twitching fingers wouldn’t give me away. He was ten times scarier when he was paying attention to me instead of the game. “May I be excused? I need to use the bathroom.”
His lips quirked. Maybe I’d hidden my shakes and how thrilled I was to be here from my dad, but not from him. “It’s the third door on your right, down the hall.”
I managed not to sprint out of the room, but it was close. I needed time for my pulse to slow down. I needed a chance to breathe and not have it filled with the rotten personality of the dean. But as I went past the first door in the hall, a hand grabbed my arm. I was dragged into the kitchen so fast that there wasn’t time to scream.
There was time to kick, however, and my foot connected with soft werewolf parts before I saw the soccer jersey. “God damn it! What the hell, Scott?” I scowled as he bent over, panting. I’d probably left a bruise on a part near and dear to him. “Are you trying to take ten years off my life?”
“What are you doing here?” he half whispered, half groaned.
I rubbed my arm where he’d grabbed me. “We were invited for lunch. What are you doing here?”
“Rorbauch doesn’t invite people over for lunch. He invites them over to make a point.” He straightened up, a red rash of pain marking his cheeks from my kick. “Vin isn’t going to be happy.”
“Is he ever?” I pushed the hair out of my face. My heart was starting to slow down, the loss of adrenaline leaving me drained. “My dad works for the dean. At the college. Trust me—it’s just lunch.”
He shook his head, and I swear I heard a warning growl. “Listen to me. Those guys with the fur and the tails out there? He only has the pack show up when he’s trying to make a point. If he’s not making a point with your dad, then he’s making it with you. I suggest you figure out which one of you it is, and then get the hell out of here.”
I snorted to cover the creeps going up my spine. The dean had the goon squad here to scare me. Or get my attention. Great. “I’d love to, but my father is too busy sucking up to him. Unless you know some way to stop a chess game early, I’m stuck.” Someone stomped down the hall, and Scott pushed me toward the stove, out of view of the doorway. I pulled away, tired of feeling like a stuffy being dragged by a little kid. “What are you doing here, anyway? Are you like a baby goon?”
He crossed his arms, his face back to red. “It’s my dad’s gig. I just pick up some extra cash helping out once in a while.”
“Whatever. If the dean is so dangerous, maybe you’re the one who shouldn’t be here.”
He laughed. “There’s a big difference between you and me, Tiz. For one, I don’t go around kissing the crown prince of darkness five seconds after I meet him.”
“Yeah? What would you do if he tried it again?”
I shrugged, my skin burning from my hair to my toes.
Scott threw up his hands. “See? Don’t let the whole ‘not dead’ thing fool you. Damian is as close to vampire as you can get and still have a pulse. And yeah, he’s cool, but only if you’re a supernatural. A guy supernatural.” He shook his head, his nose wrinkled. “For you, he’s toxic.”