In search of Cassie several hours later, Alaric passed through what had once been known as the Great Hall. In recent years the hall had been converted into an enormous lounge room/entertainment/man cave, complete with a fully stocked bar and tournament sized antique pool table with enough space remaining to hold a convention. The only thing missing was a home gym.
Two fire places blazed fiercely at either end of the room warming the vast space nicely and yet somehow still didn't quite manage to eliminate the slight draft that circulated the large room. When in use, three large crystal chandeliers illuminated the frescoed ceiling two floors above providing the only artwork in the room. Burgundy painted walls remained relatively bare of ornamentation supporting only oyster shell wall lights which reflected a soft ambience, effectively giving the illusion of a smaller, more intimate space. In the centre of the room between the fireplaces, deep plush lounges faced an immense armoire. Along the back wall shelving lined with hundreds of DVD's and CD's interspersed between the lights.
Alaric stood silently by the door of the conservatory, a wondrous indoor tropical rainforest retreat situated off the great hall. He watched as Cassie relaxed in a high backed wicker chair, her feet up on the glass top table in front of her surrounded by an indoor paradise of plants, palms and water features. Her eyes were closed and surprisingly, a serenely peaceful expression suffused her posture. He'd expected her to be a highly strung and an agitated mess, maybe even to the point of needing medication. Generally speaking, under similar circumstances human females coped poorly with the kind of trauma that Cassie had been subjected to.
But then again, she wasn't an average human.
Seeing her so relaxed brought his own anxiety some relief, he could almost believe he'd at least made one right decision by bringing her here.
It was nearly seventy years since the last significant threat to the world had been eliminated. Complacency and arrogant self confidence over the years had resulted in him making several noteworthy mistakes in judgement recently, nearly costing Cassie her life.
To top it off, he'd underestimated the strength and determination of his enemy. The Guild had grown in strength and power. Vampires and who knows what else were counted among their members.
He couldn't afford to make any more mistakes.
He knew definitely that Ahriman was back the moment the cup was stolen. A warning rippled through the atmosphere, a low keening thrum from the ancients calling their defenders together once more.
A new battle was about to begin in the eons old war.
However, this time it was personal. This battle involved Cassie.
Silence filled the air except for the mellifluous trickling of water over the rocks and pebbles as it cascaded into the Japanese water garden. Even the rain beating against the domed glass ceiling and windows seemed muted, absorbed by the dense greenery surrounding her.
She was so beautiful.
He could never get bored of watching her.
Reluctantly he approached, deliberately rustling the leaves of the plants and walking with heavy steps, not wanting to startle her.
She opened her eyes and smiled. It stole his breath, and his heart.
"Sorry to disturb you while you're resting." His gentle voice stroked her senses, stoking the passionate blaze that seemed to be constantly smouldering inside her whenever he was nearby. The soft folds between her thighs became slick with moisture and pulsing heat.
His body stiffened, once again the pressure in his trousers intensified. A slight flexing of his lips was the only indication of his internal strain to hold himself in check.
"You're not disturbing me. This is your home after all."
If she kept smiling at him like that, he couldn't be held responsible for his actions, he thought.
His eyes raked boldly over her angelic face, then lower to the creamy expanse of her neck, partially covered but by no means hidden beneath the long golden waves falling about her shoulders, the ends enticingly shrouding her full breasts.
Goddamn. He was going to melt. Fire raced along his body and tore through his balls and torched his brain as her sweet scent saturated his taste buds. His fangs ached to extend.
In his kind, sex and feeding were intertwined. Sating one, fed the need to sate the other, although he couldn't afford to do either with her.
"I thought you would like to know that Lilith is back with your things," he announced, offering her his arm to escort her back to her room.
It was an innocent gesture expected of a gentleman, which he was trying his damndest to be, but a dangerous one in his case. Regardless, he couldn't resist the opportunity to touch her.
"Great. Lead the way," she smiled, her multi coloured hazel eyes twinkling at him.
He expected her to clutch the crook of his arm which he'd extended for her. Unpredictable as she was, she slid her hand from his elbow, down the inside of his forearm, her fingers and palm caressing the hypersensitive skin beneath the thin shirt, before clasping his hand in hers. His skin prickled with the heat of her touch.
For a moment he dared not move.
Sweet heaven's mercy.
The points of his fangs began to descend. He swallowed hard and willed them to retract. His cock was burning a hole in his trousers. Either that or someone had switched it for a branding iron when he wasn't looking.
"I wasn't resting. I was meditating," she remarked snapping his brain back into line with the strain of rusty gears.
"Oh. In that case, you may be interested to meet our new guest. He's a Tibetan monk from the Dalai Lama's temple. He'll be arriving tonight," he answered, flashing a perfect smile as he ushered her through the doorway before him, endeavouring to hide the evidence of his turgid masculinity.
Alex watched with impotent anger as they passed him at the pool table, muttering a string of curses when he spied their clasped hands. The thud of a ball hitting the timber floor, bouncing and rolling, reverberated through the huge room a moment later.
"I take it he's coming about the cup," she stated.
"Yes. It seems he's uncovered some information that might help us find out how they got the cup and who has it now."
Her brain wasn't working very well today. She should be asking more questions but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get her mind off Alaric and all the things she wanted to do to him and with him.
It was a good thing Lilith was back with her things, if she didn't get some underwear on, pretty soon she was going to leave a snail trail of the thick creamy slick threatening to trickle down her legs from her constant arousal he induced.
"Cassie. Mr Neumann," Lilith began as they entered her bedroom, giving Cassie her most sincere look of pity. "I'm sorry to say there wasn't much left to salvage." Cassie approached the bed to examine the remnants of her clothes.
Her heart sank.
Lilith patted her on the arm, a wooden gesture underscoring the artificial sympathy which oozed from her touch, causing Cassie to inwardly flinch.
But, she was grateful to have some of her things back, the few that there were, and grateful that Lilith had taken the trouble to help her out.
She managed a weak half hearted smile in return.
Alaric felt her disappointment as he watched her sift through the bag.
Guilt forged a hole in his heart. He was the cause of her misfortune.
"Your bathroom was a bit of a mess as well I'm afraid. There was dust and plaster everywhere so I took the liberty of getting you a new toothbrush and razor," she said, adding her reasons, "I know I wouldn't want to use anything again that was covered in dead vampire."
Cassie shuddered. "Thanks. I owe you one." Maybe she wasn't so bad after all. Maybe Lilith was just one of those people you had to get to know before she warmed up to you.
"Don't mention it." Smiling sweetly Lilith excused herself and headed toward the door.
Cassie placed the clothes in piles. She had one pair of knickers, two bras, one pair of sneakers and maybe two changes of clothes left, and even those looked like they'd seen better days.
She sighed, her shoulders slumped as she sank heavily onto the bed, holding her one and only pair of jeans in her lap.
She looked up at Alaric, her brows furrowed quizzically. "You know, I should be angry about this. This is all I have left," she sighed. "Because of that arsehole, almost everything I own is destroyed," she stated looking at the small pile around her and brushing the dust off her lap. "But, I'm not. More than anything, I feel …. Guilty," she confessed, perplexed.
"I mean, I am angry about losing everything, but I feel guilty about it too. It doesn't make sense. Was it my fault what happened last night? I don't know. Maybe it was. You told me not to go out after dark, and I did, and he found me. Everything feels all mixed up inside. I'm sorry, I'm babbling again."
Her fingers nervously fidgeted in front of her, picking distractedly at a stray thread on the hem of the jeans she held.
Self conscious of her dodgy mental state, her anxiety only increased. Ten minutes ago she'd felt so relaxed. She was giving herself whiplash from her gambit of sea-sawing mood swings. If she didn't get a grip soon her next place of residence was going to be a padded cell.
Alaric's exterior poker face was flawless. He'd perfected it centuries ago but he couldn't mask his internal feelings nearly as well.
He knew Cassie well enough to know that her normal reaction would have been one of predominantly anger.
Taking a seat beside her on the bed he lifted her chin with his forefinger. Her long dark lashes lifted to look at him as he reached across and covered both her restless hands with his and squeezed gently.
Her body stilled instantly. His touch was like sunshine after a winters storm, filled with warmth and joie de vivre.
He knew why she was feeling so out of kilter. It was the blood bond created when he healed her. Their unique combination together seemed to have formed a connection that went both ways between them. He'd never heard of that happening before. It was common for a vampire to sense a human's emotions who's blood he'd taken, could even sense their location if they'd taken enough blood.
But this was different. Cassie was definitely linked to his emotions. It was his guilt she was feeling, not her own.
A knot of anxiety settled in the pit of his stomach.
"It stands to reason that after everything you've been through, you would have mixed emotions," he reassured, damping down his thoughts and feelings, stilling his mind and emotions.
"Yes. No doubt you're right," she said, setting aside her clothes to sort through her toiletries.
It appeared that Lilith had also removed the mat of hair from her hairbrush. Not that she really minded under the circumstances, but it still creeped her out a little. It crossed the line into her personal space. Who did that, cleaned someone else's hairbrush? Brownie points or not, that was going a bit too far.
"Don't worry about the clothes," he said handing her a Black American Express card. "There is no credit limit. Buy whatever you need, on-line of course," he added quickly, scowling at her when she opened her mouth to protest her shopping privileges.
It was not negotiable. She wasn't leaving the Manor.
Overwhelmed by his kindness and generosity, her eyes welled up as a single tear slipped free.
Yep, she was headed for a padded cell.
Alaric traced its trail over her cheek with his thumb, his hand cupping her face.
"Thank you," she mouthed soundlessly, the words caught in her throat. She leaned into him and burrowed her face against his chest as a silent sob escaped.
He held her against him, one hand wrapped tightly about her waist, the other caressed the length of her tousled locks until her tears stopped.
Alaric pulled back from her gently.
"I think you should spend that money quickly before I change my mind," he said smiling that lopsided smile that would make angels weep.
Thank God she was already sitting or she might just embarrass herself again with her weak knees.
She sniffed and wiped her eyes. Relaxing, she laughed, a soft diffident chuckle. "Again. Thank you. I'll repay you when I can."
"If you say so," he said as he turned to leave her in peace. He had no intension of taking any money from her but if it made her feel better to think he would, he wasn't about to tell her otherwise.
She held up her one and only pair of knickers. A mischievous glint entered her eyes and the corners of her lips curved up in devious delight. She pictured in her mind's eye, the wonderful range of lingerie from Victoria's Secret, and how much fun she could have modelling it.
All of course available on the internet.
She turned at the sound of a growl, the type of growl that caused an electric current to race through her veins like pure liquid fire, engulfing her core. She clenched her thighs together to quench the sensation.
Alaric stood near the doorway, his back to her, stock-still, his fists clenched into tight balls by his sides.
Did he just growl?
There was no chance to find out for certain. Shouting erupted further down the hallway.