A little something I'm working on...
Chapter 1 Aine
More newscasts, more headlines. There was no way to get away from any of it. Feeds were bleating about it. Signals were blaring about the news. Even the stations that kept their distance from the subject in the past, focusing on the music, or the stories of the imagination, were letting their views be known.
War Against Vampires at an End.
Sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, doesn’t it? A lot of things about this new world would sound like something from a science fiction novel.
Cell phones? Laptops? MP3 players? Who needs to carry something around that can be damaged or lost? Now, we have lovely implants we are given when our bodies stop growing, chips in our head, that are tied into the optical nerves, letting us see what we need. A phone call to our friends? We see their smiling faces as we walk and talk. Music? We can watch the videos as we listen or sing along- and if we don’t sing along, no one else has to hear it either. Research for school? An old recipe like what grandma used to make? It was so easy to pull up, just think about it, and sure enough, you could see any and every thing you want or need.
You know those fun little diagnostic tools that they had on Star Trek? Yeah, our gadgets make those things look like kid toys for playing doctor.
You might think that we have to have a ton of money to even think about gaining access to all of this, but it’s not true. If you need something to function in every-day life, it’s available. A place to live? Medical coverage? Electricity? Water? Gas? Food? Transportation? Everyone has the basics. The taxes paid out would seem outrageous to an outsider, but when you look at everything we get- we get off cheap. There is always work that can be done if you’re not able to find a job on your own. Everyone does their part. We only need money to have fun. The more money you have, the more fun you have.
And if you’re the daughter of the King of all of this, then you get to have the most fun. But there are a lot of prices that have to be paid for that privilege. Like all that we have- there is a price to be paid. My fun life had a price too, though it wasn’t one I would have been willing to pay.
Those headlines that I can’t seem to escape… That is the price I must pay.
Vampires have always been around. Though, they have been around so long that not even they know where it is they came from. About three hundred or so years ago, people became more aware of their presence thanks to those lovely old horror stories. Around one hundred and fifty years ago, a vampire stole the wife of one of my ancestors and the war started. It was small at first, males of the Blood Moon Clan going after vampires and those who were rumored to have ties to them. When the media of the times made it impossible for vampires to continue to live in the comfort of anonymity, they “came out of the coffin.” Werewolves “came out of the forest.” Shape shifters “came out of the closet.” All those creatures that were thought mythical, we found out they weren’t.
My family had no qualms with the other kinds so long as they kept to themselves and didn’t interfere in their private wars with the Vampires. And my ancestors were grateful that the other kinds had made themselves known. It meant they could openly recruit others to their cause. Fight the Evil that are the Parasites who call themselves Vampire. A laughable army of less than a hundred who fought in secret seemed to grow into the thousands overnight.
The vampires had not expected that. Though they should have. After all, people only had what the horror stories had told them. Humans would be afraid. They’d want a way to feel safe. Such an army would give them that feeling of security. And over the generations, it became a duty and honor to serve in this army, fighting against the unnatural creatures that could steal your family with only a look.
The army grew and grew, until they rivaled the government. And when people began to count more on the Army than the government, well, a takeover wasn’t that hard when the entire population had no qualms with the ones taking over, and if fact were backing them in every way they could. So, a president was overthrown and a King was put in place. The crown passing from one generation of Bloodmoons to the next. The Monarch had been in place for the last six generations. And it would continue, but not in the way anyone would have expected.
“Aine! You get back to the Palace. Now!” The face of my father flashed before my very eyes. The King did not look pleased, and I really didn’t care. His face was a dark red, spittle flecking off from the corners of his mouth.
“Why should I? So I can be handed over to that parasite?! I don’t think so!” I closed the signal with a thought and continued on my way. I wasn’t stupid enough to take my bike. The soldiers would be looking for that. My bike was well known, especially among the soldiers.
My best friend was using it to give me a head start to get out of the city. It wouldn’t do me a lot of good. The very same implants that put the world at our mental beck and call also made it possible to be tracked. Once I was out of the city, the scrambler I carried would lose power. I’d have to cut the damn chip out myself since no doctor would remove it for me, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to do that without blinding myself. I was only worried about the blindness, death seemed like a fair price to get out of what my father had done.
I had the advantage of being able to blend in among the population. No one knew who I was by a look. They recognized my bike, the mantle that accompanied me with my escort, but no one knew what I looked like. My father had been paranoid if there was so much as a picture taken of me the vampires would get a hold of it and come take me. All those years of not being able to have my picture taken for fear of the parasites, and now I was to be handed over to them, a sacrifice in hopes of ending the war.
I cursed my brother, not for the first time, for having the bad taste to become lost at sea, presumably dead for the last seven years. I cursed my mother for what she did to me when he was announced presumably dead, leaving me with this curse of an existence. I cursed my father for playing high and mighty and promising me as a bride to the Leader of the Vampires in order to bring an end to a war in which the cost had become too high for both sides.
I ducked my head, trying to hide my face from the soldiers that were driving past in the tank-like vehicle, obviously searching for something…Me.
“Look! It’s the Princess!” I felt my heart still, fearing I had been discovered, but with a rush of relief I followed the pointing fingers and noticed someone speeding over one of the suspended bridges at a speed that was obviously too fast.
Demetri, you idiot! What are you doing?
“She’ll break her neck if she keeps driving like that!” Many more voices rose around me, in fear for the only heir remaining to their way of life. Most were echoing the fear I was feeling that my dearest and best friend was going to kill himself trying to buy me the time I needed to get out of the city.
Then, my keen gaze fixed on something that the others had yet to notice. A pack of creatures scrambling with supernatural speed towards the figure on the bike. I could tell by the agitated movements that the pack of creatures was almost rabid. I had no idea of how they had gotten into the city, the high walls were supposed to protect the citizens from such creatures, but yet they were within the safety of our civilization.
I bit my lip in indecision. I felt the tingling, the warning between my shoulder blades that was part of the curse my mother had forced upon me. But it wasn’t the pain and discomfort that decided me. It was the fact that the person they were chasing was my best friend, the one person I could always count on.
I pulled the silver blade out of my cane and screamed the warning. “WOLVES!” I pointed in their direction and the panic immediately sounded. Screams, shouts, crying. It was almost too much for me to endure. While the masses fled the bridge, I ran towards it, hoping to warn Demetri. “Demetri! There are Wolves coming in behind you. They’re rabid. Get to safety.”
“I’ll get to safety. You do the same.”
“Sorry, but you were buying me time. I’m going to return the favor.”
I reached the end of the bridge right as he drove past. I heard the tires squeal as he slammed the brake. I knew he intended to come back and drag me away if he had too, but the crowds were too much. Hundreds of bodies crowded around you made it nearly impossible to swerve around without harming someone.
“Aine! No! C’mon! We can get out of here!”
“And go where? Beyond the walls, this is what awaits us. The world beyond is full of this. Within the walls, we know my fate.”
One of the rabid creatures scrambled to a stop before me. He was grotesque. It was unnerving seeing the blend of man and beast. It was huge compared to a normal wolf. I had seen horses this size. It’s skin had become leathery, a mottled grey with spurts of coarse fur. I could see blood glistening where he had torn clumps of his fur from his body. His face-it was a mass of shredded flesh, fangs, and foam. I could see where he had ripped his tail off and it had yet to return. That was the thing with Werewolves, while their human bodies would heal almost instantaneously from smaller injuries, such as cuts, or broken bones, in their wolf forms they wouldn’t heal until they shifted again. It wasn’t a full moon, but the rabid ones- they shifted and stayed shifted until they died or were put out of their misery.
He growled at me, taking a step back seeing the silver blade. He could smell the metal, and he knew what it could and would do to him if I cut into him with the edge. He took a few paces back from me, but I knew he wasn’t retreating. He growled, foam flying from his ruined snout as he lunged for me. I ducked, bringing the blade up into his torso, right into the place I knew his heart to be. He yelped, a small whine escaping as he fell to the side. I yanked my blade free of his ribcage and quickly removed his head. Even with a pierced heart, they could attack until the silver caused the heart to smolder into nothingness.
I took several steps back and watched as the others stopped. These were less along in their disease, their forms less savaged by their own claws, more fur on their forms, males and females, all growling as they moved around me, surrounding me. I felt the space between my shoulder blades tingle and heard a soft noise in my mind, whispers that I could not understand.
Find the Alpha. Kill the Alpha. The others will be easier to pick off once the Alpha is gone.
I had no idea what was going on. Which one is the Alpha?
The biggest badass in the group. We are coming to help, but it will take us time. You may not last that long little girl, unless you take out the Alpha.
Who the hell are you?
I felt something like amusement come through in my mind. This was not something I was hearing from the implant in my head, this was something else beyond anything I understood. I am the Bogeyman. I look forward to meeting you if you survive. It makes me sad to think I made that deal now. I think I would prefer you to a spoiled child.
I couldn’t help it, I smirked. The amusement that came through this alien link was infectious. I looked around the ring of wolves that surrounded me. The biggest badass in the group was at my left. He didn’t look as bad as the one that smoldered a few feet from me, but he wasn’t far from it. His face was unrecognizable beneath the shredded flesh and foam. I had no idea of how to challenge the creature before the others could attack.
Kick the head of the one you have killed at him. He will take it to mean that you are giving him that one in early payment of the one you are going to take. He will attack and the others will wait.
I knew the distaste could be seen on my face, but I didn’t hesitate. I sent the smoldering head right at the Alpha. He caught it with a clawed hand and gave it a startled look before he threw it aside and gave a growling cry in my direction before he pounced at me. I brought the sword up and went right across his mutilated face. He yelped, falling back, a clawed hand going to his face as if to stop the blood from flowing. He looked at me, his murky yellow eyes enraged as he growled.
That strike seemed to have made him lose what little mind he had left. He scrambled at me, growling, clawing. It was all I could do to keep from being marked by the creature. I watched as the strikes I made caused his flesh to bubble and peel from his bone. It was nauseating to see. That grotesque face, missing flesh on the right side, revealing the jaw bone and the fangs, and the destroyed tongue every time he opened his mouth to growl or attempt to bite me…It was something that not even my nightmares could conjure.
Something in the distance drew the creature’s attention for the briefest moment, and I took advantage, swinging the sword and removing his head. It rolled away, the body falling to the ground. I pierced the heart with the tip of my blade to make sure he wouldn’t continue to fight, only writhe as his body continued to waste away at a much more accelerated rate.
Howls echoed all around as the creatures sat back on their haunches and cried into the rapidly darkening sky. The sound was too much. I had to cover my ears. The sword fell from my hand, clattering as the creatures continued to howl. It wasn’t long before I was on the ground next to it.
The bridge beneath me seemed to vibrate, lights flared to life on the bridge just as the last of daylight disappeared beneath the horizon. Tires squealed as several cars came to a stop, creating a barricade as if to keep the wolves from taking that route out of the city to retreat, as if that would stop them. Men climbed out of the vehicles, one pointed at me and said something I couldn’t hear.
Close your eyes. You don’t need to see what is about to happen. You will be safe. I swear it.
I closed my eyes, keeping my ears covered for good measure. If I didn’t need to see something, I probably didn’t need to hear it either.
A hand on my hands made me gasp before I reached for the sword by my feet. Strong hands gripped my wrists to keep me from reaching it. “Peace. Calm down, girl. You‘re safe. You did exceptionally well. Better than I would have thought. I wasn‘t expecting to find you alive when we reached the bridge.”
I opened my eyes and found myself looking at a pair of very nice shoes. We’re talking top of the line shoes that most people saved their money for months for to buy. The slacks were just as nice. The bent knees were level with my shoulders, but I was half-lying on the ground, not crouching as he was. He had to be at least six feet tall just going on how high his knee was from the ground as he crouched. His jacket made me grin. It was leather, cut in the style of a business suit. His shirt was silk, and he even wore a tie. His skin looked pale compared to what I was used to seeing on males, but most males I came into contact with liked to be out in the sun, the light tanning their skin. He had the most gorgeous green eyes I had ever seen, perfectly accented by the black brows. His hair was wavy, the shorter strands curly. It fell to his shoulders, and I could see there were streaks of red within the dark color.
He chuckled and I noticed a glint of fang behind his lips. Fear shot up my spine as I realized I was surrounded by vampires-vampires who had just killed a pack of rabid werewolves in seconds.
“Yes, I am the Bogeyman. I am also called Donovan Vladamir.” He extended a rather large hand, his palm up, his fingers unbelievably long. The gold ring on his middle finger looked ancient.
“AINE!” Demetri was trying to push through the wall of vampires that surrounded her. “Get out of my way parasite! If she’s hurt, truce or no truce, I will rip your fangs out!” I caught a glimpse of my friend through the wall of dark figures. He was about to use the motorcycle helmet as a weapon and slam it into someone’s head.
“Demetri?! I’m alright!”
“Let the boy through.” Donovan seemed amused about something. He took me by the elbow and lifted me from the ground with ease. I felt like a small child as he did so. He ducked down and looked at my sword on the ground. “You are a smart girl. You have silver accents on the hilt. It would keep one of my kind, or one of the other kinds from taking hold of it to use on you. I am beginning to regret my agreement more and more.”
He pulled a handkerchief from his pocked and wrapped it around the hilt so he could pick it up. He rested the blade on his arm and offered the hilt to me. I took it and took a piece of folded fabric from my pocket and carefully wiped the blood from the surface before I slid it back into the cane that acted as its sheath.
Demetri ran up and wrapped his arms around me before he took my shoulders and started shaking me. “What the ******** is wrong with you?!” My silver-blond hair came loose from the knot I had tied it in, hindering my vision.
“That’s enough.” Donovan’s hand closed around my upper arm and removed me from Demetri’s hold. He put me behind him, standing between me and Demetri.
“This isn’t any of your concern, leech!”
“Is she your sister?” Demetri shook his head. “Relative in any way?” Again, he shook his head. “Is she your woman?”
“What do you mean by that?”
Donovan shook his head slightly. “Girlfriend? Fiancé?”
“Then you have no business shaking her like a rag doll and it is my business. I do not stand for abuse towards women. I will not just stand by while you try to shake sense into her.”
“She almost got herself killed. Someone should knock some sense into her.”
“But that someone is not you. Her brother, her father, her betrothed, but not you.” Donovan turned slightly, eyeing her. “Where are the males of your family? They should not allow you out alone.”
“My brother’s dead, and my father and I are not on the best of terms at the moment. Demetri has been my best friend since I was a baby. He acts as my escort when I wish to go out.” I wasn’t lying. Demetri had been my friend and bodyguard since we were little.
“An unrelated male?”
Demetri smirked. “Not that it’s your business, but you’re more my type than she is.”
I could see a brow rise as Donavon took in the meaning of that statement. He grinned and turned back to face him. “Well, I do not share your interests in such things. But I can understand why her family would not be concerned with propriety in this situation.” He grabbed my arm and put me back in front of him, seeming to have assured himself that Demetri wasn’t going to do me an injury. “I was on my way to the palace to meet with your King. We saw signs of the Wolves on our way. I was searching for someone to warn when I came across your young lady. But she was already engaged. We came as quickly as we could. I’m afraid your Gate-Keepers were slaughtered. How did you come to be on this bridge, young Aine?”
“They were chasing Demetri. I wouldn’t stand aside and do nothing. If he would have kept going, he would have been safe.” I elbowed my friend and he nudged me back. Donovan only smirked at the camaraderie between the us.
“Well, if the two of you will excuse me, I must be on my way. It was interesting meeting you, Demetri and Aine, but I am late for an appointment to meet my fiancé.” His gaze flickered over me, and I saw a strange glint in his green eyes. “Such a shame.”
He turned his back on me and climbed back into the car.
Demetri pulled me over onto the sidewalk and we watched them drive off. Demetri began to chuckle before he started laughing. I couldn’t help it, I started laughing too. “I wonder how he will react when you’re not there, and he realizes that the Princess Aine was the same girl he met on this bridge?”
“I don’t know, but we’d better get the hell out of here before we find out.”
Chapter 2 Donovan
I couldn’t believe my luck. We had been holding on to our existence by a thread. Another few generations by human standards and we very well could have been wiped out.
Then, King Aidan Bloodmoon had sent his proposal. His daughter and his throne for thirty years in exchange to end the war that had waged in form or another for hundreds of years. It seemed almost too simple. I had been searching for a trap since I heard the proposal, but none had taken shape. I was feeling the first shred of true hope in my unnatural existence.
Now, I was on my way to claim my bride. I knew nothing of the girl. I hadn’t even known the Blood Moon Clan had possessed a daughter among their hierarchy. The family was so paranoid that it had been rumored that no one even knew what their children looked like, not even the vaguest description. For all I knew, the girl was going to be my worst nightmare, figuratively speaking. I feared she would be spoiled, selfish, only caring for what she wanted, and wouldn’t care what this union would gain both our races.
I didn’t expect the girl to be pleased with this arrangement. I even expected some form of a fight from her. I didn’t expect her to love me, just as I did not expect to love her. This was business, a political advantage that would aide both of our people. Mine would stop being hunted into extinction, and hers would be able to go outside at night without the feelings of terror that had taken hold of them these last two hundred years.
“Sir, the couple on the bridge-”
I thought about that girl. She was a remarkable creature with her pale hair and sapphire blue eyes. Just the thought of those eyes sent a thrill of something I hadn’t felt since I was human rush through me. I wished I could have come across that girl before King Aidan had sent his proposal. I would have liked a woman like that at my side in the times ahead.
“What about them?”
“The motorcycle the boy was driving, it looked to be something that a regular citizen would have issues affording with this economic state. He would have had to save every dollar for years to afford it, and he does not strike me as the type to do such a thing.”
“The girl’s weapon was silver. Perhaps it was hers, and as her bodyguard, he was driving it. I did not see this bike, so I do not know what to tell you.”
“Something just does not seem right.”
I shrugged. “I do not know what to tell you. Be at ease. We have enough stress to deal with during this upcoming meeting. I must prepare to be called vile names and have things thrown at me while a young woman threatens to stake me in my sleep. You should resign yourself to calmly standing by until she tries to follow through with her threats.”
“As you wish, Sir.”
Donovan couldn’t believe the things he was seeing within this city. There was no evidence of poverty. The streets were clean, the buildings in perfect repair. “How do they keep this place looking so good?”
“They pay nearly seventy percent of their earnings for taxes. Those who cannot find a job that suits them are compelled into jobs that help keep the city running and in repair.”
“They are content with this?”
“They like having things provided for them. Every person has unhindered access to basic foods. It is only restaurants and the like where they spend their money where food is concerned. They do not have to worry about not affording medical care, because it is all free, as are the prescriptions for medications. They do not have to worry about not meeting their bills, it is all provided. All they need do is work until they are not capable of working any longer, then they are cared for until the day they die. They understand they must work hard now so that they may rest later. The harder one works, the more money one has to spend on entertainments. I do not think it is a bad way to view things in life. And everyone knows they must do their share.”
“And the Princess, do you think she has the same attitude?” If so, our future together would be much more pleasant.
“The people talk of her rather highly. She is fairly young, but it is said her marks were the highest, she excelled at everything. She was trying different positions in the city to find what she enjoyed and would wish to do to do her share for the people. Her brother’s death threw all of that out of balance. She seemed to have no idea of what to do to run all of this, so her father decided peace would be in the better interest of everyone. He did not wish to see the downfall of everything his Ancestors had wrought with…” The other vampire lifted his hand and gestured to all that could be seen. “I understand that there were really no expectations of the Princess until her brother’s death. Then it seemed there were too many. She was more than willing to do her part, but taking on the role of heir was not something she seemed to be well suited to.”
“So you are telling me I may get a bleeding heart with an indecisive mind?”
The other shrugged. “It is possible.”
This was of no help or reassurance to me. There was so little known about my fiancé. Even the spies I had among the human population could tell me nothing. She was always concealed from view, so they could not even tell me if she was attractive.
“We’re here, Sir.” I nodded and waited for the footman to open the door. It amused me how he seemed to hold himself in place and refrain from running of screaming by the grip he held on my car door. I smiled in greeting and thanks, my fangs easily showing if the way he seemed flinch was any indication. The chuckles of my men meant they had noticed it as well.
Movement along the walls drew my attention. Soldiers seemed to be searching for something, but it was obviously not me or my men. “What is going on?”
“The King is awaiting you, Sir.” A man near the door stood aside and bowed, showing me the way.
I gave him a long look and walked, my men following. The Palace was not what I was expecting, but I had grown up in a time where castles were the epitome of power, status, and safety. This place, it was as if the entire city was the palace, the place of prestige and safety, and this was the well guarded heart of it all.
Out of habit, I and my men took note off every possible exit, and it was disheartening that there were not many. This was definitely a fortress within the city.
“Donovan Vladamir.” A man announced as we entered a rather spacious library. King Aidan stood in front of a large fireplace, staring into the flames. The King lifted his hand and motioned for me and my men to enter and take a seat.
“Thank you for coming.”
“It would be strange to simply show up for the Wedding. I would like to get to know the woman I am to marry somewhat before we are joined for the rest of her life.”
“I understand. It is why I made the announcement that the war was ended. There is mixed reactions from the populace. I’m sure it is similar among your own people.”
I had to chuckle at that. It was true. Some of my people were glad the war was ended. Some were hesitantly optimistic, yet suspicious. And then there were the ones who wanted to tear apart every human they came across, as if saying it was over would erase hundreds of years of deaths. “Yes. Mixed reactions. Such a pleasant way to say it.”
The King grinned. “I know you expected to be received by your betrothed, but she seems to have to disappeared.”
Anger and rage flashed inside me. “What do you mean, she disappeared?”
“More to the point, she seems to have run away. She got a hold of a signal scrambler, and we cannot lock onto her location. It took everything to get a message to her that I wanted her to return to the palace. My men will find her. Do not worry. She and Demetri are probably hiding out in one of their haunts. There’s only so many places they can hide.”
“He’s a shape shifter. He prefers males, so-”
“Your daughter has silver-blond hair and sapphire colored eyes. She is about-” I held my hand to about my shoulder height, “this tall. Pale. Carries a silver accented cane with a silver blade within it.”
“How did you know that?”
“She knew she was supposed to be meeting me? She said nothing.”
“You’ve seen her?”
“A pack of rabid wolves broke into the city. Your daughter was fighting them off with a sword when we entered the city.”
“That sounds like Aine.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell me who she was?” I felt angry, insulted. And afraid. That strong-willed girl I had been so attracted to on the bridge could have been killed, or infected.
“Did you ask her?”
I thought back on my conversation. “No. I did not.”
“She’s not one to volunteer information. You’ll learn that.”
I turned to my men. “Go and find the girl from the bridge. She’s probably trying to get out of the city. Bring her back here.” I turned back to the King. “With your permission, of course. They have seen her, and the bike, and her friend-though if he is a shape shifter, that is probably pointless. Plus, they have her scent, if she’s alive they will find her.”
“She knows how my men think, she will plan accordingly and anticipate them. Please, go with my blessing.” The King lifted his hand, and my men seemed to disappear from the room.
“How did she react to the news she was to marry me?” I was curious. She had barely reacted to my being a vampire save a spike of fear when I had smiled at her. She did not strike me as someone who gave into terror. No one would be able to stand down a pack of werewolves, more or less rabid ones. Or she was insane.
“She wasn’t pleased. She had no intention of carrying on with the war, but she refused to offer a marriage alliance of one of her children she may have in the future to secure a peace, and I am afraid I was forced to offer her since she is the only child I have. She gave me a look…well, if looks could kill, I would be dead. Then she shrugged and left the room. The next thing I had heard was from her maid who had gone to help her prepare for your arrival. My men have been searching for her since. They caught sight of her bike, but that was probably Demetri. He shows more care when riding than Aine does.”
“I will put a stop to that recklessness. I had told the boy only her brother, father, or betrothed could knock some sense into her. It will be a pleasure to do so.”
“Striking her will not help you.”
“I would never strike a woman. However, I come from a time when women would be locked in towers until they came to see sense. That would not require me to strike her. I will be sure to remind her of such things when she becomes difficult or puts herself at risk. I understand that women today are very independent, but I come from a time when it was a duty and responsibility to care for a woman. I take such things very seriously. As my betrothed, and eventual wife, it will be my duty to see that she is safe, and if she will not aide me by practicing more care where her safety is concerned, than I have no qualms with not letting her out of a room.”
The very idea of that girl, my woman, riding recklessly through the streets on something that offered her no safety or protection put ice in the deepest part of my abdomen. I was not accustomed to feeling fear, and the idea of her being harmed in such a way did exactly that.
I must have linked more strongly with her than I intended if I am that attached to her already.
“Put me down you ******** leech!” That voice sounded enraged.
“You goons put one scratch on my bike and I’ll rip you to pieces!” That voice sounded enraged as well.
Both sounded exactly like the Princess. “The shape shifter, Demetri, I take it?”
The King smirked. He looked less tired at the moment, as if watching me have to contend with his child and her companion lifted his spirits somewhat. “He’s damn good at what he does. When we found out he could shift into male or female forms, we hired him. He’s six or so years older than Aine. Growing up, they would often pose as twins. He can hold her shape so long he could parade as her for months and no one would know the difference. The only thing I’ve ever seen break a shift is true fear for Aine. He’s been beaten, tortured, trying to make him tell where my daughter was hiding. The shift only broke if she was found and he was in fear for what would happen to her. He’ll guard her with his life.”
“You make it sound as if I plan on letting him stay on as her guard.”
“He signed a lifetime contract. You really have no say in the matter, Lord Vladamir.”
“I could shorten that lifetime a great deal.”
“Aine wouldn’t stand for it, and you know it.” King Aidan was chuckling as two Aine’s were dragged kicking and screaming into the room.
“I hadn’t noticed it before, but they were wearing the same clothing. Is that a common occurrence?” I was wondering how that would work if they went to a formal occasion. Would she wear a suit to match him, or would he wear a dress to match her? I doubted the later, but the former seemed plausible.
“It is.” The King was grinning, his blue eyes sparkling. “And they spend so much time together, their scents mingle. It makes it hard for someone to use their sight or scent to identify Aine. I am curious to see if you can determine the correct one.”
My gaze narrowed and the gazes of my men dropped to the floor. They had obviously encountered that very problem and had brought both of the youths to ensure they brought the correct one.
I had enjoyed my sights of the girl who I did not know was my betrothed on that bridge. That fiery spirit, that determined will that allowed her to face down her adversaries so beautifully, it was intoxicating to think about. I had paid little attention to the girl’s scent, beyond my mind storing it away so I could use it to recognize her if I came across it again. I could not go by my scent memory to identify her.
A smile graced my lips as I stood before one of the two. I had a way to identify her.
You are being silly. You should make yourself known to me. The link was strong. The girl was so receptive to possible dangers that my unnatural ability to speak into her mind found no barriers. If you do not, I will be forced to do something to harm one of you. If it is you, your friend will reveal himself, if it is him, you will reveal yourself. It does not bother me to do this since you may be bringing it upon yourself.
I turned to one of my men and reached for the gun he kept tucked into the holster. I turned and smirked to the girl before me before I leveled it on the other. Just as I lowered the gun and tensed my finger on the trigger, all hell broke loose from the duo.
The one I aimed the gun at lunged forward, turning their body and trapping the gun between their side and arm. The blow they landed on my elbow caused me to pull the trigger and fire off several rounds before they knocked the weapon out of my hand. My other arm moved back to give me room to grab the one I presumed was the bodyguard masquerading as a female when a strong arm blocked my action. I turned my gaze onto the one I thought to be the Princess and the guard was smirking at me before he landed a hard punch to my jaw.
I hadn’t been bested, even by underhanded maneuvers in a very long time, even by vampire standards where time was concerned.
“Ever level a weapon on her again and I’ll make sure you meet your final death you parasite.” He took a step towards me, threat and violence radiating from his very form. The only thing that made me lift my hand to call my men off from their intent to attack was the fact that the real princess put a hand on the guard’s shoulder and pulled him back from his intended step. She saved the idiot’s life, and I was jealous for it.
“The two of you shouldn’t push your little games so far with me. If you intend to continue on in service to her, you will not allow the masquerade to go so far ever again if I am demanding to know her whereabouts.
A subtle gesture of my hands and four of my men moved to restrain the shape shifter while I grabbed the Princess. “Do you remember our conversation on the bridge?” She nodded. It bothered me that she hunched up, bringing her shoulders up as if to guard her neck from something. I couldn’t blame her, but I had hoped she would not be so fearful of such things right away. “Who did I say would be permitted to make you see sense? Do you remember?” She nodded again, but she didn’t speak. “I think, as your fiancé, that entitles me to make you see sense. You ever try to face down a pack of rabid wolves alone like that again, I will lock you away in a tower with no windows until you understand how fragile a human body is and you know to take better care of it. Do you understand me?!”
I gave a stern shake of her form. It wasn’t the rapid shakes that her guard had tried to give her, shaking her so that her head would rock back and forth causing her an injury, it was two hard shakes that moved her entire form to make my point.
She brought her hand up and I caught it before her palm could make contact with my nose. “Get your hands off me.”
Her tone grated against something inside me, something I kept locked tightly away. I felt my lips draw back and reveal my fangs in my anger. The ice I saw touch those sapphire depths of her eyes reminded me that she was not some simple human I had to show my dominion over, this was to be my wife, and I wanted to have things as pleasant as possible given the circumstances. Scaring her would not aide me in that regard.
“As you wish. But keep my words in mind. I do not repeat myself.” I released my hold on her and took a step back. Her gaze flashed with a promise of retribution, and I could only hope she would keep the silent promise I saw in those depths. “You may go change into something more appropriate.”
“I’d sooner go naked.”
My gaze flicked over her form. She had an hourglass figure and curves I couldn‘t wait to sink my fangs into, but that would have to wait. “I’d rather see you in such a state, but I think we will leave such familiarity and casualty of dress until after the wedding ceremony.”
“Also, that will have to wait until after the ceremony, but I’ll keep it in mind.”
She turned on her heel and headed for the door. A gesture from me and my men released her guard as well. He smirked and followed after her.
“Four of you go watch them and make sure they do not try to slip off again.” Almost instantly there were four fewer bodies in the room.
“That was well done. Would you have really pulled the trigger?” The King was sipping on a golden colored drink. From the scent, I figured it was whiskey.
“I figured one of them would react and give the other away. But if they were willing to carry the charade that far then yes, I would have pulled the trigger. I wasn’t aiming for anything that would cause an actual injury. A graze, perhaps, but nothing serious.” I smiled. “Your daughter strikes me as the type to need to know how far she can push an individual. She needs to know she should not try to push me. I am more than willing to butt heads with her if she desires and argument, but where her safety will be concerned is not a place she may push me. It is good she learns this early. It is also important that she understands I will follow through with a threat.”
The King only nodded and took a seat, gesturing for me to take a seat across from him. I moved and took a seat. “I’ve arranged for some bloodwine, and other such necessities for the meal when Aine is dressed appropriately. Would you or your men care for something before then?”
“We will be fine until dinner. Thank you. May I ask you some questions regarding your daughter?”
The King nodded, taking a sip of the whiskey.
“I have been told there were no expectations for her until her brother died, then there were too many. That is why you decided to make peace, because she would not be able to cope with ruling and waging war. Is that true?”
I watched as he took another sip of the whiskey, his gaze fixing on the fire. “Yes and no. Aine was expected to do her part for the population. A pretty face to smile and wave and lift spirits. She’s very good at it, even though few have knowingly seen her face. People see her and they can’t help but smile. I’ve been told she’s a genius, though I would not agree, but then again, she has used her intellect to give me gray hair. She knew her duty was to support her brother, keep an eye out for things the people would need while he found a wife and started a family while waging war, and it would be her duty to have children in case her brother was unable to do so.
“Would Aine have been capable of leading the people in her brother’s absence? Absolutely. Would she be able to wage war? You’ve seen her. With Demetri at her side, she’d be unstoppable if she wished. Both? Perhaps. Aine lacks a killing instinct. She won’t kill for the sake of killing. There would have to be a threat. Would you have been the threat needed for her to unleash all the hell needed to wipe your kind off the face of the earth? I don’t know. I do know she would have been content with a live and let live truce. But I couldn’t be sure your people would feel that way. This way, when I die, I die knowing that I did everything I could to ensure peace for my child and my people. Aine will come to see that in time, though I do not know if it will be in my lifetime.”
“Is she as selfish as she seems?” That was what I really feared, that she would only care for what she wanted and not care for anything else. Or anyone else.
“That is a difficult question to answer. I do not know what you consider selfish. If she has something someone needs, she is more than willing to share. If she has more than what she needs, I have seen her give away the excess. Will she give someone the shirt off her back if she doesn’t have another to replace it? No. But that is common sense. If she has the means to get another shirt, she will simply use those means to procure one for them. Does she like her independence and privacy? Of course. Does she like having someone tell her what to do even if it is for her own safety? Hell no. But you have to learn when to give on certain things. I understand there are some things that would mean no compromise, but many others, there is wiggle room. I hope you are good at wiggling.”
“You have had to wiggle a lot have you?”
The King nodded. “And having Demetri means a lot less wiggling on my part. She knows she cannot go out alone. He gives her the space she needs, but is capable of keeping trouble away if it arises. He is kind enough to warn me if she is in a foul mood and you will have to learn on your own how to deal with them. A way a father handles a bad mood and a husband will handle a bad mood are very different.”
“She said the two of you were not on good terms. Is that because of the betrothal?”
“No. That goes back several years. After her brother went missing, her mother lost her mind. In her madness, she hurt Aine, though I was not aware of it. I had just come back from leading a fruitless search and found my daughter tied down, almost dead, and my wife dead. In my grief, I blamed Aine. She never forgave me. And I have never asked for that forgiveness. I do not deserve it. Aine does not close her heart easily, and it is even harder to make her open it back up. You’ll do well to keep that in mind.”
“I am a practical vampire. I do not expect Aine to open up to me at all. If we can be civil towards one another, it will be a great relief and all that I ask for. More than that would be a blessing.” And it would be. I grew up in a time where such arrangements were commonplace, yet neither party was ever content. They would tear their home apart around them to spite the other individual. My parents had such a marriage, and I did not wish to ever take part in such a union, even if for only a few decades.
“You say that as if you mean it, but I saw that flash of jealousy.” Aidan grinned and sipped the whiskey. “But that’s alright. I can’t wait to see what it is she wears to dinner. She doesn’t like people telling her what to do.”
I could only hope it was something that wouldn’t set me to attacking her at our first meal…