Several hours later Alaric arrived home. The sun had not yet risen but the sky had begun to turn a deep red on the horizon.
Slipping silently down the first floor corridor, he poked his head into Cassie's room. He expected her to be tucked in bed. No doubt she was still angry with him and he couldn't blame her. But when he stuck his head around the corner, she wasn't there. Her bed was still made. Fear struck its iron fist into his soul.
Where was she? He searched for Cassie's scent. Maybe she was curled up on the couch again or retreated to another part of the house.
He got nothing.
She wasn't in the house.
Sending out his senses further, he searched again and was instantly struck with a searing pain. Her pain.
With the desperation of a madman he ran from the house following his blood bond to her.
Panic overwhelmed him. Running through the trees would only slow him down. That was not an option. Leaping into the air, wings unfurled from his back taking him higher, above the trees directly to her.
Cassie woke just as first light was beginning to reach the forest floor. She felt cold even though the wolf that was wrapped around her was putting out more heat than a supernova. Her head throbbed and the stabbing pain in her knee made her jump when she tried to straighten it.
Sitting up gingerly, the wolf uncoiled behind her. She would have sworn there was concern in its eyes.
As far as she knew there hadn't been any wolves left in England for at least a century. But then this was Savernake Forest, the enchanted forest. Why shouldn't there be giant sized wolves living here too.
The wolf nudged her shoulder with its muzzle and whimpered, looking more like a love sick puppy than a ferocious predator. His eyes returned to the cut on her forehead still oozing with a slow trickle.
His eyes still glowed a golden yellow but less noticeable in the faint morning light. His thick grey coat boofed-up as he stretched himself. His muscles were obviously stiff from staying in the same position for so long wrapped around her, keeping her warm and protecting her.
"I don't know who you are but thank you. I don't think I would have made it through the night without you." She mumbled, giving his head a scratch.
He snorted and dipped his head bashfully.
Bashful. Now she was losing it. That blow to the head must have been harder than she thought. It was unnerving. It was like talking to a human in wolf's clothing. Intelligence beamed from those golden eyes.
He took a step forward, his face so close to hers, she could feel his warm breath against her skin. With a grunt he tentatively licked his tongue across her cut forehead, she jumped in surprise at the feel of his slightly rough tongue. Taking a step back he waited until she seemed composed again, before resuming his cleaning of the wound.
"Well. I seem to have made a mess of things." She told him. "How am I supposed to get home now?" It was a good half hour brisk walk back to the Manor from where she now sat beneath the Elder tree. Without being able to put any weight on her injured leg, it looked like she would have to wait there until someone came looking for her.
The wolf stepped back again. His head held high, and chest puffed out, he snorted to her and gestured his head toward his back.
He didn't mean for her to ride him back to the Manor did he?
Before she could put her thoughts in order, a whooshing sound above the trees caught her attention. A dark figure burst through the tree tops landing a few metres in front of her.
A man with silvery wings and glittering iridescent eyes.
She must be having some kind of freaky dream or she'd swallowed some magic mushrooms she wasn't aware of, because this was too much.
He must have looked as insane as he felt. What little colour she had in her face instantly drained away at the sight of him.
Alaric took a step toward her and she instantly put up her hand to stop him.
"Why are you out here?" he demanded. Not the opening line he should have used he knew, when she sent him a withering glare.
His eyes flashed towards the wolf who had come to stand protectively by her side.
"Marcus, thanks, but I'll take it from here."
Ignoring Alaric, Cassie turned to the wolf and gave him a hug around the neck. "Marcus. Is that you name?"
The wolf's head moved up and down in reply.
A low growl grumbled from Alaric's vicinity.
Cassie looked up. His eyes glowed and his fangs were fully descended. Jealousy cut a scathing course through him. Mine.
But then, he'd cast her aside the night before, yet again, and by the look on her face she was far from having forgotten or forgiven him.
Regardless, she was injured and cold and he was going to take her home. When he took another step forward she again halted him.
"Not on your life," she sneered. "I'm not going anywhere with you, thank you very much! You can just spread your wings and fly away home without me." Turning tentatively, she limped off toward the path, gritting her teeth against the pain.
"Don't be ridiculous. You're injured. You can barely put weight on that leg, how are you going to walk?" he demanded.
She shot him another look that would freeze the devil's balls.
A ripple of impatience threatened the unsteady hold on his fragile calm demeanour. There was an unmistakable air of challenge about her that touched his more primitive nature and threatened to expose the possessive demon within.
Energy rolled off him in palpable icy waves and the wolf cringed slightly, taking a wary step away from Cassie.
He felt as stable as a keg of dynamite with a lit fuse. The fact that he couldn't stop staring at her when she seemed hell bent on ignoring him, made the fuse burn that much faster.
"Where are you going? We haven't finished our conversation."
"I wasn't aware we were having a conversation," she countered, her voice holding an edge of censure. "As I recall you were about to dictate your opinion that I should go home with you, and I was ignoring you. Now if you don't mind, your mood swings are giving me whiplash." Turning away she took another tender step.
"You can't leave."
He watched her take yet another torturous step away from him.
"Stop. I'm sorry. Please just let me take you home," he pleaded.
"No. I don't want your help. Just leave me alone." Her voice trembled from pain and a broken heart.
"Dammit Cass, I can't let you walk all that way. Not like this."
Her whole body stiffened and her fists clenched. "Let me. Let me. Where do you get off thinking you have the right to control me. I'm following your rules out of need for self preservation, but you don't own me and you certainly don't get a say in what I do.
"Besides I already have a ride home thanks," she said flashing him a biting smile. "That's if the offer still stands." She asked turning to Marcus.
Her face was full of strength, shining with a steadfast determination. It was so sexy it was driving him certifiably crazy.
He was scum, he thought. He was worse than scum. Here she was hurt and bleeding and his mind was focussed on his cock burning a hole in his pants.
Marcus shot Alaric an anxious look. When he made no move to intervene, Marcus hunched down so Cassie could climb onto his back.
In silence Marcus carried Cassie back to the Manor with Alaric in-tow, brooding.
Maybe she'd been a bit hard on him but she was tired, cold and in pain, and her 'give-a-shit' button was broken.
The early morning sun radiated warmth on Alaric's face as he opened the back door into the kitchen to a delighted squeal from Mrs Philpot.
"Marcus, what a wonderful surprise." She yelled, running across the kitchen to greet him. "Oh my, Cassie what's happened dear," her attention quickly diverted to Cassie's bloodied state.
"A minor accident in the woods. Nothing serious," she said grimacing as she climbed off Marcus' back onto a bar stool, propping her leg on top of the bench. Her knee was now double its normal size and ached like a bitch. The cut on her forehead wasn't so bad. It wouldn't need stitches but it would probably take a day or two for the swelling and bruising to dissipate.
"Well love, we need to get you cleaned up before Alex comes down for breakfast, hadn't we."
Ah. Alex. Alaric winced at the thought of facing her over protective cousin. Well, he might as well prepare himself now for yet another argument. No doubt Alex would blame him for Cassie's accident, and rightly so. He couldn't deny it. It was entirely his fault.
"Marcus love, go get cleaned up. There are some clothes in the cupboard in the back room. I'll have breakfast ready for you by the time you're finished."
Cassie's ears pricked up at the mention of clothes. She took another good look at Marcus who continued to hover around her despite Mrs Philpot's instructions. A glint of humour filtered through his eyes and the corner of his mouth turned up into a grin.
Oh my God. He couldn't be….could he?
"Shoo." Mrs Philpot said to him again. "Out you go. You're not doing anyone any good here," giving Marcus a pat on the backside to get him moving.
"That goes for you too," chastising Alaric as well. "Leave Cassie with me. Everything is under control."
One last look at Cassie to satisfy himself she wasn't going to fall apart or pass out or ….the list was endless, before he too, grudgingly made a move to leave.
He wasn't altogether sure, but he thought her real anger might have dissipated. There was a glint of softness lurking in the back of her eyes. A look of forgiveness he desperately needed. Without that reassurance he felt antsy and tightly wound, just barely over the border from the land of impetuous irrationality.
"Mrs P, who exactly is Marcus?" Cassie asked warily.
Mrs Philpot chuckled. Her generous bosoms jiggled with her humour. "Well, Marcus is my grandson, just turned eighteen last month. He'll be leaving to join the Army in January." she stated proudly, "And he's a Lycan," she tagged onto the end with calm and premeditated prudence, her eyes seeking Cassie's for signs of disbelief.
"A Lycan, as in Werewolf?"
"No, Alex. I'm not going to any hospital. It's not that bad."
"Bullshit. You've sucked back half a box of pain killers and you're still in pain," he retorted.
"Look Alex, I don't have the energy to fight with you. I'm fine. I'll just keep my feet up for a few days. No big deal, ok."
"Sorry. Not good enough, You are the most stubborn and infuriating person I've ever met, do you know that," he chastised, pushing splayed fingers through his hair as he paced in front of her, exasperation wearing a crater sized hole in his patience.
"I've got three words for you. Pot. Kettle. Black." she replied.
"Fine. If you won't listen to me, I'll get someone who you will listen to."
Hardly likely, she thought. Her mind was made up.
Finding Alaric wasn't hard, he hovered expectantly just outside the door.
"I know you want to take her to a hospital but it's not safe. Until we know for sure Mira or one of the Guild subordinates doesn't still have orders to remove Cassie as a threat to them, she can't leave here, it's too risky." Alaric stated before Alex had a chance to even utter a syllable.
Although Alex understood the reasoning, he couldn't bear the consequences.
"Get a doctor here then," he demanded.
"Alex," Alaric began with as much compassion and as his raw nerves could muster. "Cassie has damaged her knee quite badly. She'll need surgery to fix it. Any doctor we call out here can only give her pain killers and sedatives to make her more comfortable."
Alex's frustration and anger were almost at breaking point but surprisingly, for once it wasn't directed at Alaric.
"There is something I can do though," he said, facing Alex with a wary eye.
"What is it? Can you heal her if you feed on her?" he asked tentatively, knowing that was how he healed her after Jarvis' attack.
"No. The chemical in my saliva can only heal surface wounds, not internal wounds. But,…" Alaric shuddered inwardly at the words he was about to speak. To do what he was thinking would most definitely increase his blood bond with Cassie to a considerable degree, but what else could he do, he'd run out of options. "If she ingests my blood it would heal her."
Without a moment of hesitation Alex replied.
"Fine. Whatever you need to do, do it."
It came down to a simple fact that neither he nor Alaric could stand to see her suffer.
"You understand that if I heal her, it will increase the blood bond we already have." Alaric was having a hard time getting a grip on Alex's change of heart toward him. Two weeks ago nothing would have pleased Alex more than to rip his head off, today he behaved like he had adopted Alaric into his family.
"If you heal her, I don't care. Besides if this blood bond thing is everything I'm told it is, having a direct tap into her brain is likely to drive you insane. Good luck with that." His smile was without malice, almost apologetic. "Besides, you still have to convince Cass it's a good idea."
Hmm. Truer words were never spoken.
"One question though." Alex said, stepping forward toward him and dropping his voice, "Will this make Cass a vampire?"
His honest and naive question shocked Alaric a little. It hadn't occurred to him that Alex might assume that as the result of sharing his blood with Cassie. He'd spent so much time with Narayan lately, he actually forgot for a moment that all this,… vampires, demons, werewolves and the like, were all still a new concept for Alex to wrap his head around. And still, without knowing the answer to that question, he had whole heartedly and without animosity, agreed to him giving Cassie his blood. Had Alex had a change of heart about vampires in general or specifically, him?
"No. No, she could only be transformed if she died with some of my blood inside her. Otherwise it will only heal her wounds and then pass from her system in a few days."
"But, the bond it creates is permanent?"
"Yes," he answered, a little more grimly than he would have liked.
Alex slapped a supportive hand on Alaric's shoulder and pushed him towards the door, towards Cassie.
A faint, wistful smile lightened her brooding face. He loved her. He admitted it. But,… there was always a but with Alaric. He still believed that any attachment between them was not possible, insisting that their current situation made it complicated. They would need to continue to be solitary but sorely smitten souls.
She could live with that for now, but only for now. Maybe.
The fact that he loved for her made all the difference,…or maybe it was all the pain killers kicking in that made it seem like a good proposition.
He pushed back his sleeve, brought his wrist to his mouth and bit down. His fangs sank into flesh, pierced the vein. A trickle of blood oozed from the wound as he pressed his wrist to her mouth.
She drank. Her lips parted and closed over the punctures, warm and wet, and she suckled him. Desire shot through him like an electric charge. She licked and swallowed, sucked harder. She clutched his arm, her delicate fingers weaving incessant caresses over his cool skin as an avalanche of sensation joined them together and she groaned in mindless pleasure. His breath came faster as he grew hard with arousal. Finally, with gritted teeth he pulled his wrist from her mouth, licking the wounds closed. Tasting her on his flesh, he shivered with barely checked covetous demand.
Warmth soaked into his soul. It felt strange and intimate, as if he had somehow expanded his awareness to encompass them both completely.
She looked at him dreamily as she licked her bottom lip, collecting the last of his blood there. The potency of his blood was ecstasy. A drug made just for her pleasure. She felt as though she was floating in space, she felt detached from her arms and legs, her head swam with thoughts and feelings that bombarded her senses. She felt drunk.
He held her hand tenderly and watched as the cut on her forehead healed and the bruising and swelling in her knee slowly subsided.
It was done now. He couldn't take it back. He would have to learn to live with the consequences. Although it was hard enough to resist her before, how was he going to manage it now with such an intense bonding.
What's done is done, he reminded himself.
"I know who you are," she said, slurring her words.
His head whipped up to meet her gaze, his heart stopped beating in his chest.
"I know who you are, Sammael."
"How did you figure it out?" he asked nervously, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Oh, lots of things really, but when you flew in with those lovely fairy wings of yours this morning to rescue me," she giggled drunkenly, "I knew for certain then.
"Who told you I can't be your girlfriend, anyway?" she asked miffed, her eyes beginning to droop with weariness as the healing hormone took full effect.
"The Elders have threatened to exile me to the underworld if I break an oath I made to them," he whispered into her ear, his lips softly brushing the fair skin of her neck just below it.
"They might control you,… but not me," she muttered defiantly, almost incomprehensibly as she drifted off to sleep in his arms.
Carefully picking up her still battered and bruised body, he carried her up to her bed.
The memory of the last time he had done this and the resultant erotic dream, fanned the impulse that nearly had him climb into bed with her, not in anticipation of a repeat performance, but for comfort, both hers and his. Just to curl his body around her and hold her until she woke, healed and safe.
But, he had other responsibilities that couldn't wait. He'd wasted the previous night wallowing in his own self-pity, now he had work to do. It wasn't just Cassie he had to protect, he was responsible for an entire world.
No pressure or anything.