Home > Their Reign (The Rite Trilogy #3)

Their Reign (The Rite Trilogy #3)
Author: A. Zavarelli

 

 

1

 

 

JUDGE

 

 

I hold Mercedes’s shoe in my hand and free the fabric of her dress from the post. There was no one in the woods. I knew there wouldn’t be. I look around the deck for traces of blood and am relieved when I don’t find any. Taking my phone out, I scroll to Santiago’s number and step back inside.

“Get some men out here,” I tell Raul as Santiago’s phone rings. I look around at the destruction indoors, walking through the living and dining rooms to the hallway and up the stairs to her bedroom. The phone goes to voicemail, so I disconnect. I’ll try again in a few minutes. He’s probably sleeping.

In the closet, the stack of shoeboxes is undisturbed. She never even got to where she’d stashed the money. The bed has been made since the last time I was here but otherwise, the bedroom is untouched. In the bathroom, there’s an overturned makeup bag. A tube of mascara that’s rolled under the pedestal sink. Her various perfume bottles are intact, though. All lined up neatly along the counter.

I study that, finding it odd. The mirror isn’t smashed. I expect it to be. I recall the television downstairs hadn’t been touched either.

Back in the bedroom, the laundry basket of men’s clothes I’d seen when I’d first come here is gone. Georgie probably came by to pick it up at some point.

On my way downstairs, I notice how one of the framed photos along the wall is crooked, but the rest are straight. I adjust it and look at the picture. It’s the three of them, Georgie, Solana, and Mercedes, in one of their aerial yoga classes.

Once downstairs. I walk into the kitchen. I hear Raul talking on the phone calling men in. A beautiful vase of multicolored tulips stands on her kitchen table. The bright morning sun settles on them. There must be two dozen flowers, and they’re fresh.

I turn and face the rooms, noticing how the couch cushions have been upended, and the coffee table is on its side, but the large sculpture of a ballerina lacing up her slipper is still standing in its place, untouched. It’s a pretty piece. There’s a stack of hardback books beside her. I can tell they’ve been artfully placed.

“Sir,” Raul says.

Puzzled, I turn to him.

“They’re on their way,” he says.

“Thank you.” My phone rings, and I look down to see it’s Santiago and answer.

“Judge, you called?”

“Oh, yes,” I take in those books again, the ballerina, the pretty flowers in their vase. “Apologies, Santiago. It was accidental. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“You’re sure? It’s not like you to accidentally call me.”

“I’m sure. I’m still a little out of sorts I guess.”

“Alright. Good night.” Santiago keeps strange hours. Ever since the explosion that disfigured him, he has lived in the dark. Until Ivy, at least. Mercedes adjusted her schedule, staying up until all hours and sleeping the mornings away until I broke her of the habit.

“Good night, Santiago.”

After disconnecting the call, I walk toward the counter dividing the kitchen from the living room and dip my fingers into the small potted basil plant. The soil is moist. Georgie and Solana have been taking turns watering the plants. The man I have checking the house once a day has seen them come and go. I haven’t stationed anyone to remain on site. I didn’t think it was necessary.

But I did install a camera.

And as I reach up to pick up the innocuous little eye from the highest shelf, I see the little red light still blinking. Still recording.

“Raul, can you stay here until the men come? I need to go to my office.”

He clearly finds that strange but nods.

I switch the camera off, drop it into my pocket and walk out the door, my panic upon arrival changing, morphing into something else. Anger. Betrayal.

The fresh lashes burn with the heat of it, and when I climb into the driver’s side of the car, my breath hisses at the contact of the seat and my raw back. I start the engine and drive to my office, dialing a number as I do.

“Councilor Hildebrand’s office,” his secretary says.

“This is Judge Montgomery. Is the Councilor in?”

“Yes, sir. Just a moment.”

Within a few moments, I hear a click and then Hildebrand comes on the line. “Judge. How are you?”

I don’t hear concern. More curiosity. I wonder if he watched the recording they always make to keep a record. Wonder if he enjoyed what he saw. I neither like nor trust Hildebrand. But I understand him. Men like him. And I know how to maneuver around them.

“I’ve been better,” I say.

“Yes, I suppose you have. You should have let her take her medicine. She earned it, and you know it.”

“Let’s put it behind us.”

“It wasn’t appropriate, Judge. You, a Sovereign Son.”

“And she a Sovereign daughter, let’s not forget.”

He ignores me. “A future Councilor yourself.”

“There isn’t even a body yet. Your counterparts may find the topic disagreeable considering the circumstances of any future appointment to The Tribunal.”

He chuckles. “Montrose is close to eighty. How much longer do you think he’ll hold on to his seat?”

Hildebrand is nearing sixty as far as I can guess. “Let’s have that discussion another time.”

“How are you, though? I saw some of the footage. He was… brutal.”

“As I expect he was instructed to be.”

He clears his throat. “I need to be in court in a few minutes. What can I do for you, Judge?”

“Tell me Vincent Douglas’s location.”

“Now, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I would hate to see the same thing happen to him as did his sister. That’s not who we are as a Society. Besides, Ms. De La Rosa more than earned her punishment, and I’ll remind you that you chose to stand in her place. If this is about vengeance, I cannot assist you.”

It’s my turn to chuckle as I pull into the parking lot of the courtroom where my office is located. “No, Councilor. I am not interested in vengeance. I’d like to know his location so I can be assured Ms. De La Rosa is safe.”

“He will not come after her. He gave me his word.”

“Well, then by all means, if he gave his word, let’s close the matter.”

“Don’t be flippant.”

“Where is he?”

“Answer me a question, and I will do the same.”

Calculating bastard. I climb out of the car and lock it. “What do you want to know?”

“Why did you do it? Why invoke Vicarius? No one has in my lifetime. And for you to do it for her, a woman who is not your family, not your blood, not anything to you.”

Ah. But therein lies the crux of it all.

She is not merely something to me.

She is everything.

I stop walking, as if just realizing it myself. Because Mercedes was right the night I told her about Theron. About my fears. I am an idiot. I have feelings for this woman. Powerful feelings. Even as I know and have always known that a wife was not in the cards for me. A family of my own would always be denied me. The stock I come from would not allow for that. I know it. My grandfather knew it. And I’m pretty sure it’s why Councilor Hildebrand is in such a rush to get me seated on The Tribunal. He sees my potential.

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