Suck It Up, Buttercup – Kristen Painter

There was money. And then there was wealth. The penthouse apartment Belladonna Barrone had just entered was all about wealth. She took a few steps and stared at the spectacular space before her. The Wellman Towers was prime real estate on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Prime. If she had to guess, she’d estimate these units—at least this one, the penthouse—went for about seven or eight million. Without furnishings. This place—and this view—proved exactly why. Through the wall of windows and beyond the river, Manhattan sprawled across the horizon like an enormous beast of steel and glass, glittering with lights that outshone the stars in the night sky. The vibrant hum of life emanating from the city was almost audible. If she stepped onto the expansive balcony, it probably would be. “That view is unbelievable.” Donna breathed out. “This place is amazing.

” Pierce, the attorney who was also Donna’s new assistant, let out a low whistle. “Spectacular.” Artemis, vampire queen of the United States and Donna’s grandsire, nodded. “It is. But it needs to be impressive. It’s the governor’s quarters, after all.” “Right.” And Belladonna was now the vampire governor of New Jersey, something that had yet to fully sink in. But then, she’d earned the title barely twenty-four hours ago during a sudden and unexpected trial that had almost cost another vampire her life. That vampire, Claudette, was Donna’s sire and the previous governor.

Winning the trial (thanks to Pierce’s litigation skills) meant Donna had taken Claudette’s place, but also, thankfully, she’d been able to pardon Claudette and spare her life, as losing had earned the woman a death sentence from the Immortus Concilio, the vampire ruling council. “I know what you’re thinking,” Artemis said. “You do?” Donna had suspected before that Artemis could read minds. She nodded. “Claudette will have forty-eight hours to move her things out.” “Oh. Good.” Donna hadn’t been thinking that at all, but she wasn’t going to correct Artemis. The woman was a little too scary for Donna to cross that bridge. Although it was nice to know the woman hadn’t read her mind.

Really nice. Artemis was powerful enough as it was. Fortunately, Donna’s time as a mob wife had taught her a lot about when to speak up and when to stay quiet. “She can have longer if she needs—” “No, she cannot.” Artemis frowned. “You have a week to settle in and get your staff up to speed, then you can expect visits.” “Visits?” Pierce started jotting things down on his iPhone. Donna appreciated how thorough he was without her having to say anything. But then, the man was a world-class attorney. His skill set was a little wasted on being just an assistant.

His choice, however. And one she greatly appreciated. “At minimum, there will be one from the New York governor. And most likely the governors from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware as well.” “I see.” Crap. This was actually turning into a job. She hadn’t really counted on that. She had no clue what a governor did. Impostor syndrome was setting in fast.

“They’ll call ahead of time, right?” “Maybe. Probably.” Artemis shook her head. “Fitzhugh can be a bit of a loose cannon. He pretty much does what he wants, when he wants. He may just show up.” “And he is?” Donna asked. Pierce kept tapping away. Donna assumed he was taking down names. She hoped so.

Although she wasn’t likely to forget a name like Fitzhugh. “Hawke Fitzhugh is the governor of New York.” Artemis’s gaze held detached amusement and the slightest hint of bitterness. History between her and Fitzhugh, perhaps? “He considers himself quite the gift to vampire society. And females in general. You’ll see.” “Hawke? That’s really his first name?” “It is. This century, anyway.” “Well. Can’t wait.

” She could handle a man who was full of himself. She’d spent twenty-seven years married to one. “You may also get petitions for things others need or want done or would like you to grant. You’re under no obligation to see those vampires, or grant anything, but if you continually turn them away, you won’t be popular.” Artemis shrugged. “Ask Claudette if you don’t believe me.” “I believe you.” “Good. Find a balance, but make time for your constituents. That’s my best suggestion.

” “Thank you. I’ll do my best.” Artemis looked a little bored, but Donna supposed she probably was. Giving a tour of the governor’s place was pretty menial work for the queen. “This penthouse has five bedrooms, five baths, an office, a conference room, a salon, kitchen, dining room, two lounges, and a private elevator. There’s a gym and indoor pool on the first floor of the building. If something isn’t to your taste, or you need to repurpose a room, that’s perfectly fine.” A salon? Donna smiled. “I think it all sounds wonderful.” “Additionally, there is access to the roof and to the apartment below, which the governorship also owns.

Rest assured, both floors have been fortified with iron. The windows have all been coated with UV film too. Although that’s meant as a precaution, not a lifesaving measure. Understood?” “Perfectly.” Donna nodded with great seriousness, but the truth was, she didn’t need protection from the sun so long as she was wearing the blessed crucifix she’d had on when she’d been turned. The crucifix, a gift from her nun sister, Cammie, had been purchased at the Vatican and blessed by the pope. Donna wasn’t sure what part of that was keeping her safe from the sun, or if it was just her belief in a higher power, but whatever the reason, the cross’s protection was her secret. It would stay that way as long as possible too. Artemis went on. “The apartment below is where your driver and administrative assistant live.

There’s more living space available, should you like to install additional staff. The driver and admin are available to you at any time.” “Good to know.” Donna gestured to Pierce. “And my assistant?” “You can put him up in the apartment below, but most governors have their assistant in-house.” Donna nodded. “That’s what I thought.” Pierce smiled politely. “I’m happy to live wherever you’d like me to.” “Thank you.

” Donna would have to think about that. Having Pierce close had benefits, but she was just getting used to being alone. And liking it. Instead of giving an immediate answer, she walked through the living room, which she imagined qualified as one of the lounges, and into the kitchen, which had enough space for a breakfast bar and a table that sat six. Lots of polished concrete and clean lines with touches of charcoal, slate, bronze, and rose gold. It was darkly modern and sleek and very sophisticated. More androgynous than full-on masculine, but not so much that it felt oppressive. And not at all like the kind of place she would have pictured the vampire governor might call home. But then, she wasn’t sure what else it should look like. And it didn’t much matter, because she didn’t really plan on living here.

Did she? A new question popped into her head. “Is it mandatory that I live here?” “You’re the governor. It’s expected that you’re here occasionally. Well, more than that, I suppose. Enough to be considered regular.” Artemis frowned. “If something isn’t to your liking, there’s money in the budget to make changes.” “It’s not that, it’s just… Wait, there’s a budget?” “Yes. How do you think you and your staff get paid?” Artemis shook her head. “Don’t get too caught up in being here, though.

Your schedule is yours. As long as you’re fulfilling your duties, you’re good. Like I said, you must find a balance.” Donna was still focused on one of the first things Artemis had said. “I get a salary?” Artemis laughed. “I did mention that before. Did you forget? This is not a volunteer position.” “I completely forgot. Remember, I’ve been a vampire for less than a week. And it’s been a pretty crazy week at that.

” Artemis’s expression softened. “Forgive me. It has been. But you’re still much more…together than most at this stage.” “I appreciate that.” Pierce leaned in. “You’re doing very well.” She smiled at him. She was glad he was here. “Thanks.

” “Yes,” Artemis said. “There is a salary for you and your assistant. And obviously, whatever staff you need besides your admin and your driver, who is also your head of security. Like I said, there is also room for you to hire more staff. The governorship of New Jersey has deep pockets. Your admin can provide you with the budget. Bear in mind, my office audits every governor at the end of the fiscal year.” “So don’t be foolish,” Donna supplied. “Yes. This isn’t your personal bank account.

” Artemis smiled. “I doubt this will be an issue for you. But I tell you these things because I must.” “I understand.” Claudette’s downfall had come about because she hadn’t told Donna all the things she should have. There was no way Artemis would follow the same pattern of behavior. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have become queen. Artemis waved a hand. “If you have questions, you can reach out to me, but your staff can help you as well. They’ve been at their jobs for a while.

” Which meant they’d worked for Claudette. Donna instantly wondered if they’d resent her for what had happened. Or would they be happy to have a new boss? “Is there anything you’d like to know right now?” Artemis asked. “Otherwise, I’m done here. Feel free to tour the rest of the penthouse and stay as long as you like. It’s your residence now.” “I…” Donna was sure she ought to have a thousand questions, but none came immediately to mind. Pierce cleared his throat. “The elevator has a fingerprint scanner. Who will take care of getting us set up with that?” “Good question.

” Artemis’s smile didn’t entirely convey that sentiment, however, making Donna proud of Pierce for being willing to ask. “Either Donna’s admin or driver can handle that.” She looked at Donna. “Anything else?” “Not immediately. No.” Donna took a breath. “Wait. Yes. This building. Everyone who lives here, they’re okay with having such interesting occupants? All the late-night comings and goings?” “They are.

” Artemis’s eyes narrowed. “Because everyone in this building is either a supernatural or engaged in supernatural-related business.” Donna blinked. “Good to know.” “Your admin can give you a list of your neighbors, if you desire.” With another wave, Artemis nodded and headed for the door. “Be well. I hope you succeed.” “Thanks.” Donna frowned as Artemis left.

The door closed, leaving her and Pierce alone in the apartment. She raised her brows and looked at him. “So. I’m sure the rest of this place is equally amazing, but it feels weird to look around while Claudette’s stuff is still here.” He nodded. “We’ll have plenty of time to look around tomorrow. We have other things to do anyway.” “That’s for sure. We should get back to my house. I need to pack enough to allow me to stay here for a few days at a time.

” “Or,” Pierce started, “you could do some shopping and just stock this place accordingly. I believe that would be in the purview of gubernatorial spending.” Donna bit her lip. “You think?” “We can ask your admin.” “Right. And we still haven’t met her, or him, as the case may be. We should go do that.” “And meet your driver. Both introductions Artemis should have made.” “You would have thought so.

Well, let’s go meet them.” She put her hand on his arm and grinned like a schoolgirl. “This place, though.” He laughed. “It’s amazing. Do you like the way it looks, or are you going to redecorate?” “I like it. It’s got a very strong vibe. Like the person who lives here has it all going on and isn’t to be messed with.” He nodded. “I think that describes you very well.

” She shook her head, amused. “You have a very high opinion of me.” “One you earned.” The words of her therapist, Dr. Goldberg, about trusting in her own strength echoed in Donna’s head. “Well, thank you. I need to own that more. So the reminder is appreciated.” She took another look around. “It could use a few things.

Some pictures of the kids, definitely. A few plants, maybe. A litter box for Lucky.” She slanted her eyes at Pierce. “I should have asked about the pet policy.” He typed something on his phone. “Your admin will know. And what are they going to say, that you can’t have your cat? You’re the governor. You make the rules.” “True.

” She put her hands on her hips. “What do you think of this place? Would you change anything?” He gave it an appraising glance, then shook his head. “Like you said, maybe a few personal touches, but it suits me just fine.” Then he chuckled softly. “But I will be happy to take a room in the apartment below.” “I think…I’d prefer you here.” His brows lifted. “You’re sure?” She nodded. “I realize we’re still getting to know each other, but you’ve proven to be an incredible ally. And since I routinely drink your blood, we’re already intimately acquainted.

” “There is that.” “The truth is, right now, you’re part of my very small circle of trust. Having you close seems like the best idea. I don’t want to have to run downstairs every time I want to talk something over with you.” “That would be less than convenient.” She tapped her index finger against her chin. “Although, there is some value in having you in the other apartment, getting to know the admin and driver. But I suppose if they worked for Claudette without issue, they should be fine working for me. I hope.” “I can still get to know them.

” A more serious expression crossed his face. “You know I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.” “I do know that. You’ve already shown me that by defending me to the council.” She ran her hand over the kitchen countertop just to feel the stone under her fingers. “I wonder what your salary is. And if I have the power to give you a raise in case it’s not sufficient.” He grinned. “Probably something else your admin will know.” “Then let’s go meet her.

Or him.” “Artemis said there’s access from the penthouse to the apartment below. Do you want to look for it?” “I think for our first meeting, it’s better we show up at the front door and not suddenly appear in the living room or wherever.” He nodded. “Good call. First impressions and all that.”

.

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