Mrs Philpot gasped and Lilith squealed in shock as the vase filled with beautiful flowers she was holding, shattered on the floor.
Although she'd been startled by Alex and Cassie's abrupt entrance, it was the appearance of Alaric next to her in the doorway, naked, dripping wet with only a hand towel clutched about his waist that caused her to loose her grip on the glass vase.
"Cassie. What's wrong, what happened?" Alaric's eyes were wild with panic.
A wave of fear had crashed into him so violently, he was sure something had happened to her. He'd rushed from his shower, barely thinking enough to grab the hand towel on his way out the door. Stepping forward he was halted as all the women in the room shouted at once.
Cassie rushed toward him, concern for him replacing her fear of a moment before. Concern for him? Why should she be concerned for him?
Mrs Philpot crouched beside him. "Lift your foot you silly man. What were you thinking?" she growled.
Forcing his eyes from Cassie he looked down. Lilith too had crouched beside him, her handkerchief in her hand dabbing at a cut to his foot.
Oh. The broken vase. He was standing in the middle of the broken glass.
"Lift your foot." Mrs Philpot demanded again, slapping his calf for his obstinacy.
Unperturbed, Alaric returned his gaze to Cassie, captivated by the tenderness and concern on her face. His attention shifted to the heat in her eyes, their touch was akin to physical contact melting away another layer of ice that surrounded his heart.
He had the features of a Greek God. Short, blonde locks fell over his forehead and nape in wet spikes that dripped cool drops of water onto his heavily muscled shoulders, arms and broad chest. His washboard abs bunched beneath the smooth skin, beaded with moisture.
He shuddered as her eyes ranged lower, fixing on the small towel about his waist as best he could to disguise the first hint of the bulge beginning to form beneath it. Her eyes flared with hunger.
Down, her eyes continued to rake over him, lingering on the tree trunks he called thighs, to his calves and finally to his feet and his naked toes she dreamt of sucking on.
There wasn't an inch of him not worth ogling.
"Young master, sometimes I worry about you. Lift. Your. Foot." Mrs Philpot bellowed, her patience fraying.
Absently, Alaric lifted one foot allowing Mrs Philpot to remove the shard of glass imbedded in it, the wound closing instantly. His body continued to heal the smaller cuts, expelling the slivers of glass as a matter of course.
He couldn't keep his body from reacting to Cassie's visual scrutiny of him. His fangs peeked out from behind flushed lips.
He drank in her sweet scent, it clung to him, invading every pore, getting high on it. If he could simply roll around in it or soak in it, he would.
"I'm so sorry," Lilith apologised.
Appearing not to hear her, Alaric ignored her.
"Cassie, what happened, what were you so frightened of?" he asked her again.
"It was the forest. There was something in the forest." She stammered, her mouth dry. She swallowed hard and licked her lips, her cheeks flushed as her eyes beat a path over his taught body once again. Alaric barely stifled the growl in his chest threatening to rumble free.
He was a hairs breadth away from losing control and kidnapping Cassie up stairs to his bed and… Oh, God. Get a grip.
"What's all the commotion?" called Narayan rushing into the kitchen, the Professor close on his heels.
The Proessor chuckled when he saw Lilith crouched at Alaric's feet. How long had she tried to get that close to Alaric's naked body, unsuccessfully.
"This was your fault." Lilith glared at Alex. "If you hadn't barged in here like that, this wouldn't have happened." She snapped caustically.
"Don't blame me for this, you spiteful shrew." Alex was doing his best to tone down his vitriolic reply. Although there wasn't a person in the room who hadn't been exposed to his fiery temper, he was determined to rein it in, although the effort took all his fortitude to hold himself in check. His body shook with the effort.
Looking in Narayan's direction, the monk nodded to Alex, his eyes glinting his approval. The time he'd spent with Narayan and Abby the night before had given him an insight into his own behaviour. He wanted to learn more self control and fortunately Narayan had agreed to teach him. Who better to learn from than a Buddhist monk with more than five hundred years of experience.
"I don't have time to clean this mess up. I have a date." Lilith announced. "Mrs Philpot, be a pet and put those flowers in a new vase?" she ordered with a sardonic leer.
"Who died and made you Master of this house?" she replied incredulously, her hands coming to rest on her generous hips.
"Oh, I'm sorry, did I forget to say please?" Sarcasm dripped sweetly from Lilith's barely civil words.
"Even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness, particularly if you're in a hostile environment." The disapproval in Narayan's voice snapped Lilith's head around, pulling her attention into sharp focus on him with a snarl.
She had only known Narayan twenty four hours and already his proverbial quotes were getting on her nerves.
If he thought she would be intimidated by a room full of vampires, he was sadly mistaken. She'd been dealing with vampires for more than ten years and she was pretty sure she knew all their weaknesses. They should be intimidated by her.
"We'll talk about this later." The Professor bristled at Lilith. He'd noticed a change in her behaviour recently that he didn't approve of. She could always be a bit surly, but lately she had become downright rude and disrespectful. Disappointment and concern tugged at him. There had to be a logical explanation. The change started when Anil was murdered and Cassie and Alex became involved. Could she be jealous of Alaric's interest in Cassie, he thought. No. He disregarded that hypothesis immediately. Although she'd always seemed to have been attracted to Alaric in the past, she had her own man now. A man who seemed to bring a light into her eyes when she talked about him that he'd never seen before. Maybe it was just a clash of personality between her and Alex combined with stress of the recent events. That had to be it. Still, he intended to have a good talk with her when she was calmer.
Alaric made a hasty retreat from the kitchen with Cassie in hot pursuit.
Rushing ahead of him, she stopped across the foot of the staircase, blocking his escape. She felt as though she was being drawn to him, pulled to him by some unseen force. She cleared her throat as she slowly inhaled, fighting for control.
Lifting his eyes, they lingered on the long bare curve of her throat where her vein pulsed a rapid beat. His fangs ached with a swift, brutal hunger.
She shivered, a tremor racing up her spine at the intense lust, pure driving need she saw in those eyes.
She was only distantly aware of her surroundings. All that mattered was getting closer to him.
Moving to step around her, Cassie moved with him, her hands settled on his chest, not to push him away, not to pull him closer. Just to touch him, to feel the cool warmth of him. His body temperate was only a few degrees cooler than hers, the temperature of tepid water, but the feel of it made her body burn.
Alaric had imagined the sensation of her hands running over his skin a hundred times. Had experienced the ethereal touch through her dream, but nothing could have prepared him for the actual reality. He shuddered beneath her exploring touch, his arousal tearing at his restraint.
She wanted to taste him, kiss him. She'd dreamed of his kiss. A kiss she was certain she would never have, going by the way he continually dodged her.
As she stood there in front of him, he couldn't help wondering how those lush lips would taste under his own. How they would feel wrapped around his tongue, or even better, his cock. His fingers lifted to trace the slender curve of her neck, his mouth watering. He wanted to run his tongue down her neck to the pulse at the base of her throat, and wrap himself in her sweet scent.
"How did you know I was afraid?" she asked. The tone she used was firm, no nonsense, but her voice was as smoothly seductive as moonlight on silk sheets. The contradictions were enough to almost drive him insane.
She watched him with equal parts frustration, innocence and hunger.
Her eager eyes bore into his with an intensity that made him itch and burn.
Heat pulsed through the moist folds between her thighs as her soft fingers continued to gently explore the hard expanse of his chest. His hard male nipples stood to attention, as did his steel hard cock.
Swallowing hard, he grabbed her hands to still them but did not remove them.
Dammit, if she didn't get her scent of arousal away from him soon, they were going to have a very big problem. It was killing him. It was hot, liquid sweet and he was dying to lap at the soft cream he knew was spilling from the heart of her sensuous need. It would be as rich and sweet as the finest liqueur.
"It's called a blood bond. When I healed you and tasted your blood, it created a bond between us. It means I can feel when you're afraid." There was a quiver of strain in his own voice he'd not heard before.
He tamped down on the heat rushing through his blood like a goddamn volcano set to blow, and tried to concentrate on being normal. Polite. Harmless. Penitent.
"Does that mean you can feel everything I do?" she asked. Alaric sweltered under the rapacious hunger in her nearly breathless voice. He began to melt under the sultry attention of her fingers raking lightly over the hard muscles of his chest, snaking lower, down over his washboard stomach toward the top of his precariously placed towel.
Cassie had no idea how much her touch tormented him, how close to the edge of control he was. She only knew that she needed him more than she needed to breathe.
His hands grasped her shoulders pulling her closer to him as his head lowered, his eyes firmly fixed on her flushed lips he was desperate to taste.
Footsteps approached down the hall shocking him back from the edge of the abyss he was hovering over.
Saved by the bell, in more ways than one.
Only one more second and he would have been lost.
He didn't want to lie to her but he had no intension of telling her the truth either.
Lilith appeared in the entrance hall on her way to the door for another date with the nice policeman, Detective Renkin. Poor bastard, Cassie thought.
"Alaric, I'm very sorry about the vase. I can see that you've healed already though." She stated in her nonchalant manner. Her eyes shifted from Alaric to Cassie, studying their body language. Alaric tightened the towel at his waist and angled his body away as her gaze slid over the bulge tenting the towel.
"Think nothing of it. Now if you two lady's will excuse me, I need to change." Smoothly sidestepping Cassie, he dashed up the stairs like the hounds of Hell were after him, leaving the two women to stare after him.
"Well. What do you make of that?" Lilith asked offhandedly, an irreverent smirk painted on her face as she turned on her heel and headed out the door. Her handbag clutched under her arm, a corner of the blood stained handkerchief protruding from her overstuffed bag.
The front door closed behind her silently.
Cassie slowly sank down onto the steps holding the bannister tightly for support as her body seemed to lose all strength. He was gone again, and once more she was left in lonely solitude. A hollow void invaded her soul tightening her chest, leaving her gasping for breath.
Further down the sparsely lit hallway the study door creaked softly. Measured footfalls of a near silent vampire approached her.
Not now, Cassie thought. She did not want to face anyone right now. What she wanted was to find a hole she could crawl into and hide herself and her humiliation. She was a glutton for punishment, she knew it. She was the one who kept coming onto him and he rejected her every time. When was she going to learn to just keep her distance.
The problem was that when he was near, her mind and her body were separate entities. She seemed to have no control over what her body did and her mind was helpless to watch as another embarrassing moment unfolded.
She was getting closer to that straight jacket and padded cell by the day. Goddamn men.
She quickly got to her feet and turned to head up the stairs, but it was too late.
"Abby." Cassie smiled half-heartedly.
"What was all the noise before?" she asked. There was no need to ask Cassie what had her so despondent and forlorn, she had projected her distress so loudly it would have given her a headache if she were still human. Yet another benefit to her new life, Abby thought.
"Long story." She sighed heavily, heading back down the stairs. "Alex and I might as well explain it together."
Alaric slammed his bedroom door, his heart hammering hard enough to break a rib.
Two minutes with her and he was back to being hot and hard and raging for release, which only made him pissed off, out of sorts and so damned aroused that breathing had become an Olympic event. He probably would have hyperventilated to death if he actually needed oxygen to live.
Dropping the towel, he fisted his cock and with gritted teeth attempted unsuccessfully to give himself relief. What was wrong with him?
The need to feel her sweet lips sucking the sensitive crest of his cock had his entire body tightening to its breaking point. Or, to bury himself deep inside her, thrusting, pounding into her. His entire body trembled, his cock screamed for release that wouldn't come.
He growled in frustration and punched the wall gouging out a large hole in the plaster and the stone behind it.
Dressing quickly, he moved silently through the house, retreating down into his private chambers in the bowels of the Manor. A few hours in the gym could do no harm. It probably wouldn't do him much good either, but the alternative was not an option. Cassie was off limits.
Damn it. Damn it to hell. He wanted her. And he couldn't have her. Even fantasising about her had become dangerous, now that his emotions weren't entirely his own. He felt the lance of fresh pain from his rejection of her pour through him, ripping at his mind. The weight of the knowledge that she was hurting so badly because of him weighed heavily on his heart, like a stone threatening to crush it.
He couldn't do this.
He couldn't be around her any more.
His sense of obligation would not be swayed.
"You actually saw the Elder tree?" The Professor asked again.
"Yes. It's as big as a fucking skyscraper." Alex elaborated, quickly backtracking his words feeling self conscious of his language with Abby standing so close next to him. "I mean, it's huge. The biggest tree I've ever seen, and I swear it knew we were there. You could almost feel it thinking. I know that sounds weird, but you could."
The Professor sat down hard on one of the bar stools.
"That's incredible. Humans aren't supposed to see that tree." Mrs Philpot said. Although she had known about the tree most of her life, she had only seen it for the first time herself a year or two ago.
"Why is that? Is it because the fairies protect it?" Alex asked.
"No. How do I describe this." The Professor answered. He rubbed the back of his neck, then chewed on his bottom lip, trying to decide how to explain it in the simplest manner, clapping his hands together when he got it. "That tree is a bit like a private telephone, a direct line between the Elders and those of us here on Earth who are working to keep the Underworld from rising." The Professor said.
"So, how come Alex and I saw that tree?" Cassie asked.
"I don't know." The Professor scratched his head perplexed. "I really don't know. But seeing that tree means you've come to the attention of the Elders for some reason."
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" queried Alex warily.
"Again, I don't know," puzzled at how entangled the cousins had become in their war against the Guild and the Underworld. It was no coincidence, that was one thing he was sure of.
"What were the voices we heard in the forest? Were they the fairies or something else?" Cassie asked.
"Should we avoid going near that tree or even the forest for that matter?" Alex asked, shooting Cassie a quick look, knowing full well she intended to head back to that tree tomorrow regardless of the Professor's answer.
"Most likely it was the folks from Fey you heard." Giving them both a sober look. "If you've come to the attention of the Elders, they would've been curious about you too." The Professor clarified.
"They wouldn't have meant to scare you though. There's nothing in there that could or would harm either of you," added Mrs Philpot.
So much for keeping Cassie out of the forest, Alex thought.
"Are we likely to see a fairy in the forest and how would we recognise one if we did? Are they four inches tall with rainbow coloured glittery wings with sharp pointy teeth, or what?" Cassie probed.
The Professor and Mrs Philpot laughed together, sharing a knowing look between them. Fairy tales had a lot to answer for.
"No, love." Mrs Philpot said still chuckling. "They're between six to seven feet tall, probably dressed like warriors and they have no wings. Only the angels have wings and the Fey folk you're likely to see are only half angel."
Cassie's brain ticked over with all the legends and tales she'd either read or studied about involving half breed angels and fairies. It was right on the tip of her tongue but she just couldn't quite reach it. Her brain was so clogged with thoughts of Alaric it was a miracle she could remember her own name. It was so damned annoying. Correction. He was so damned annoying.
"Alex." Narayan called. "After dinner you can start your training."
Cassie wondered at the transformation on Alex's face. He was genuinely excited to study the Buddhist teachings with Narayan. His smile warmed further when Abby squeezed his hand in encouragement.
A sudden pang of sadness struck her. She didn't want to go back to her old life. She didn't want Alex to back to his. Somehow this place, these people felt like home, their family. She didn't want to loose any of it.