Redeemed (House of Night #12)(10)

“Gentlemen, life is glorious. Don’t you agree?”

The two blond heads lifted and turned in her direction. “Yes, Goddess,” they spoke together, as if by rote.

Neferet smiled. “As I often say, free will is a terrible burden. You are welcome for relieving you of it.” Then she commanded, “Get back to work.”

“Thank you, Goddess. Yes, Goddess,” they repeated, and obeyed.

So, she had used six threads already. No, seven, counting little Kylee at the front desk. Neferet glanced contemplatively at the nest of tendrils where they swarmed around the broken doors that led to the rooftop balcony, absorbing the last of Kalona’s dried blood. How many were there? She tried to count, but it was impossible. They moved too quickly and too often, and they tended to merge together and then separate at will. There did appear to be many of them remaining, though. And they had all grown larger, thicker, markedly stronger, after feasting.

I must make sure they remain well-fed. They cannot waste away—thus will my absolute control over the humans waste away.

Decisively, Neferet lifted the phone and punched zero for the receptionist.

“Front desk. How may I help you, Neferet?” Kylee’s perky voice answered on the first ring.

“Kylee, when I call you, the correct way to answer the telephone is to say, ‘How may I serve you, my Goddess?’”

Kylee’s voice flattened out, and with no emotion at all she said, “How may I serve you, my Goddess?”

“Well done, Kylee. You are such a quick learner. I need to know how many staff members are working here at my Temple today.”

“Six housekeepers, two bellboys, four room service personnel, and myself. Rachel should be working the front desk with me, but she called in sick.”

“Poor, unfortunate Rachel. But that leaves a lucky thirteen as my staff. Of course that doesn’t count the restaurant, though. Is it open today?”

“Yes, we are open for brunch until two o’clock every Sunday.”

“And how many staff are there today?”

Kylee paused and then counted off, “The chef, his sous chef, another cook who works the line, the bartender, who is also the manager, and three waitresses.”

“For a total of twenty. Here is what you will do, Kylee. Close the restaurant immediately, but do not allow any of the workers to leave. Tell them there has been a change in the management of the hotel and the new owner has called a meeting of all the staff.”

“I will do as you say, Goddess, but the restaurant is not owned by the Snyders.”

“Who are the Snyders?”

“The family who bought and renovated the Mayo in 2001. They own the building.”

“Correction, Kylee, my dear, they owned the building that was known as the Mayo Hotel. I control the Temple it has become. No matter. It will all be made very clear, very soon. All I need you to do for me right now is to gather every one of the staff members, restaurant and hotel, and direct them to report to my penthouse in thirty minutes. Afterward, I will do away with the staff meeting title and call it what it truly will become: an opportunity to worship your Goddess. Doesn’t that sound much more pleasant than a staff meeting?”

“Yes, Goddess,” Kylee repeated.

“Excellent, Kylee. I shall see you and the rest of my new supplicants in thirty minutes.”

“Goddess, I cannot leave the front desk unattended. What will happen if someone tries to check in or out?”

“The answer is simple, Kylee. Chain all of the doors through which one may enter or leave my Temple, lock them, and then join me with the keys.”

“Yes, Goddess.”

*   *   *

Neferet was going to have to find a different place in which to receive the supplications of her subjects. Her penthouse was far too intimate for so many humans. Nevertheless, she would have to make do temporarily. She’d positioned herself standing within the stained-glass doors that had been broken, now newly replaced by one of the two blond boys. She’d turned off all of the garish electric lights and commanded the housekeepers to bring candles to her chamber. Pillars and pots and votives covered the granite bar, the fireplace mantel, the marble art deco coffee table, and the large wooden dining room table. She’d also ordered the lanterns on either side of the doors to have the garish lightbulbs ripped from them and replaced with the warm, flickering light of two white tapers. She made a mental note to send one of her minions out for more candles—many, many more candles.

Neferet’s gaze swept around her penthouse, and she was pleased. Everything looked so much better, and she was so enjoying her second bottle of cabernet, thinking how much more she would enjoy it later, privately, when one of her supplicants offered to mix his—or her—blood with it.

Neferet had dressed carefully, glad none of her clothes had been disturbed while she’d been gone. She chose a dressing gown made of golden silk that clung to her body as if it were caressing her. As usual, Neferet left her thick auburn hair falling free in glistening waves around her waist. She did not adorn herself with a symbol of any other goddess. No upraised, silver embroidered images would ever be allowed on her person again—she’d ripped the last of those threads out herself.

Neferet had a new symbol. She had been considering it carefully, and she could hardly wait until one of her supplicants ordered the custom piece from Moody’s jewelry store and “surprised” her with a six-carat ruby shaped like a perfect teardrop. She would be effusive in her thanks and wear it always on a solid gold chain.

P.C. Cast, Kristin C's Books