She sighed and practically purred with contentment as he pulled the covers over her once again. This time without complaint.
His hand cupped her face, his thumb tracing the line of her cheek with loving tenderness. He could no longer fight his feelings for her. It was a battle doomed from the beginning. He knew the serenity of his blissful happiness wouldn't last, couldn't last, that he would lose her in the end. But, he no longer had the strength to resist the lure of happiness that she brought him, however brief it may be.
Despite his pessimistic outlook, a tiny voice deep inside refused to listen to the gloomy logic. Mine!
"And you're mine," she vowed belatedly. Although he was already half way down the stair case, she knew he heard her when he began to laugh. Their mind connection was definitely growing stronger he thought shaking his head, although unable to remove the smile of proud satisfaction from his face.
On entering the study, Narayan and Alex were both seated in the lotus position meditating. Before Alaric could retreat, Narayan opened his eyes and gave him a knowing grin, nodding his head in approval before resuming his meditation. He was pleased that his friend had finally found someone who filled the void in his soul.
"Damn." Alaric muttered. "You just can't hide anything from a vampire."
"No. And he can't even read your thoughts," announced Abby from behind him, her grin eclipsing the monk's.
"Hmm." Alaric gave Abby a smug smirk.
"You're positively glowing. And, her scent is all over you," she chuckled.
Alaric's face changed into a frown in a nano second. "Should I shower before we go?" he asked her. He had come to rely on Abby's counsel. Besides her unique skill in mind reading, she was uncannily wise, which had made her invaluable to him.
Since she had spent quite a bit of time at the Phoenix Night Club in recent weeks, she was also far more informed of what to expect than he was. Her inside knowledge of the people in particular, made her a precious treasure beyond compare.
Even without her extra skills, she was his progeny, his vampire daughter and with that comes a bond from sharing each other's blood. Even after centuries of existence they would feel akin to one another, similar to human family ties. A bond he was hoping to call upon tonight with another of his progenies.
"No. In fact it should go in your favour if they know that you're Cassie's mate."
"Mate? What are you talking about?"
"Cassie is your Mate. Everyone knows it, even Alex understands that. I've watched you, both of you, and neither of you function properly unless you're in close proximity to one another. Cassie even seems to suffer physically from any separation from you.…But you already know that," she pointed out casually.
"No. That can't be true." his anxiety leaped a couple of notches towards panic.
He knew without a shadow of doubt that he loved her, but he hadn't considered her attraction to him to be anything more than just that, a very strong attraction. He had convinced himself that regardless of what the Elders did to him as punishment, Cassie would recover from her infatuation of him and fall in love with a human male, get married, have children and live a normal, happy life. If Abby was right and this truly was a 'Mating', he has not only doomed himself to an eternity of misery but also Cassie,…when the Elders separated them. "I know I've crossed the line." An under statement of magnanimous proportions. "What can I do? I have to fix this."
Abby gave him a serious look as his inner turbulence flipped the switch in his brain from acceptance to denial. "You can't change what nature has intended for you," she said gently. "Have you considered that the Elders may have changed the rules recently? It wouldn't be the first time, would it?"
A very valid point, although his consternation to the contrary clearly overshadowed that possibility. Why would the Elders see a Mating with Cassie to be reason enough to change the rules they had enforced upon him over so many previous generations of her blood line.
He wasn't sure if he really wanted an answer to that question. Hope was a dangerous thing, at least in his case.
But still that inner voice kept up its cadence, Mine.
"Nothing stays the same forever. It's the universal law. Things change. There's no point stressing over something that hasn't happened yet. I think you would be best served diverting that energy into enjoying the happiness that you've found," she answered thoughtfully, her eyes resting momentarily on Alex's form seated peacefully on the floor.
Alaric may have lived more than two millennia, but as evidence was proving, when it came to Cassie, he was still ruled by his emotions every bit as much as any human.
Only a month ago, no one could have convinced him that such a thing was possible. He had been a recluse who neither cared about, nor had even the vaguest interest in anything or anyone. He had slipped into an emotional coma somewhere in the past millennia and hadn't even realised. He had thought himself immune to the horrors of the world and the mundane dramas of human life. At least that was until Cassie and her cousin Alex entered his home bringing a whirlwind of dramas with them and kick-started him back to life. Now, he was behaving no better than a teenager with newly discovered emotions and hormones raging out of control.
He sighed as he absorbed Abby's words. He at least owed it to Cassie to make their time together happy and fulfilling.
"Are you ready to go?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"What form of transport do you want to take," Abby asked holding up the keys to the Huayra.
Alaric thought for a moment. "The car is flashy, but I'm in the mood to ruffle a few feathers."
"The kind of transport that induces speechless grovelling?"
His blue/green eyes sparkled with roguish devilry as he flicked his hair back off his face and offered her his arm. "I think it's time that Sammael is resurrected back into the world, don't you?"
"Flying it is then." She praised excitedly. Abby loved her new life as a vampire.
Dray's ear piece crackled with static. "Say that again?" he asked Hawke.
"I said, you might want to come out here. That guy Alaric is back. Wants to see Saladin," he repeated.
Dray grumbled under his breath. Tonight was turning out to be one of those nights that seemed to roll from one pain in the arse situation to the next. Unfortunately as the head of security at the Phoenix Nightclub, it was his job to maintain the pretence of normality in and around the club's vicinity, things like keeping the vampires in line, keeping the humans alive and disposing of the occasional 'accidental' vampire related ones who aren't. It also entailed being Saladin's personal bodyguard. No one got within a bull's roar of Saladin without first being okayed by him.
Dray turned to enter the VIP section where Saladin sat entertaining his 'guests', aka dinner, only to find Saladin already heading in his direction, his expression eager and mildly amused, completely out of character for his brooding boss. This was not a good sign, when his boss smiled, someone usually died.
Yep, he was definitely going to be kept busy tonight.
"I've got this. Follow me." Saladin said, moving quickly through the crowd. He'd waited for this day for a very long time, although the fact that Alaric was coming for a visit now meant that trouble was following right behind him. Hell, what was he complaining about, he'd been bored out of his brain for the last two hundred years. If nothing else, he knew life was about to become a lot more interesting, at least temporarily.
Hawke stepped aside as Dray appeared at the doorway, though he remained tensed ready for trouble, his eyes never straying from the disturbing sight before him. Saladin moved with supple grace, his loose clothing hung from his fit and muscular body, neither concealing it nor emphasising it. He pushed past them both to get to Alaric, his electric blue eyes glittered with delight as he broke into a broad grin dimpling his cheeks and pulling his pencil thin moustache up at the corners and lessening the severity of his short anchor style beard.
Despite his Middle Eastern good looks, Saladin radiated a deadly power that very few had ever thought to challenge. He kept Dray as his body guard not out of concern for his safety but because he wanted a buffer against all those social climbing vampires who sought to become his BFF and in turn increase their own perceived importance within the vampire community. He had no interest in false friendship from parasitic grovelers who would quite literally try to stab him in the back at the first opportunity.
"Well Alaric, I see you've finally come out of the closet, or should I call you Sammael," he laughed as he slapped him on the shoulder.
Dray and Hawke looked at each other, baffled as to whether they should be welcoming Alaric/Sammael, preparing to fight him, or the third option, to run far, far away. Every vampire ever made had heard the stories about Sammael, the first vampire, the only true immortal with enough power to decimate an army single handed. He was the scary bedtime story you told new vampires to stop them from misbehaving.
Abby looked around them, carefully assessing the reaction of the crowd. It was easy to determine who was vampire and who was human among the potential patrons gathered on the sidewalk around them. The vampires were the ones staring with mouths gaping wide, while the humans ogled the group of deliciously attractive men like they were edible sex toys, seemingly oblivious to the pair of enormous silvery wings folded at the giant blonde vampire's back.
"Put those things away and come inside." Saladin nodded towards his wings. "I'm assuming you have something specific you want to discuss?" he enquired, slapping him on the shoulder once again.
The air around Alaric shimmered for a moment and his wings vanished. He was back to being a normal unassuming vampire.
"A couple of somethings actually and a favour to ask," Alaric replied, giving Saladin a hug of familiarity to greet his old friend.
Alaric entered the nightclub with Saladin, Abby and Dray following silently behind. People filed from the VIP room, relocating to the private nooks in the lounge area and dark corners of the club.
Reaching a quiet area in the far corner of the room Saladin turned his attention to Abby, extending his arms for an embrace. Not one for showy affection, she reluctantly complied. Grabbing her arms he looked her over carefully with satisfied approval. "Well Abby, it's a pleasure to meet the youngest member of our family at last," he said, ushering them towards the plush lounges. "I'm sorry I haven't introduced myself earlier but it was a necessity I'm afraid. Alaric and I have kept our association very quiet over the past centuries for the reasons I believe we are about to discuss. Am I right?" he asked Alaric who only nodded silently.
"Sammael, let me introduce Dray. He's the head of security here and a very trusted friend. Nothing happens around here without him hearing about it. He may be able to shed some light on recent matters," he offered. Alaric eyed Dray with scepticism until Abby nodded her agreement.
"I would still prefer to be called Alaric. It's been more years than I can count since I was known by Sammael, it feels foreign to me now. Besides, I'd like to maintain a low profile if possible."
"I think that ship has sailed," Saladin laughed returning his gaze back to Abby. She was his vampire sibling. They shared the same connection to Alaric and as such, a connection to each other. He had known from the first moment she stepped inside his club as a vampire, who her sire was. He knew too that she had a very rare gift which she used covertly as she blended into the crowd night after night, which was one of the reasons he had been so careful not to come into close contact with her before now. He harboured secrets he didn't want shared with a telepath, particularly a young sibling who may be put at risk by them.
However, given that Alaric had made such a monumental appearance as his alter ego, Sammael, it appeared that their history together and the secrets they shared were about to become common knowledge. He wasn't sure whether to feel nervous or excited by the prospect. Alaric's agitated state didn't instil much confidence. In all the years Saladin had known him, totalling in the vicinity of eight hundred or so, Alaric had always appeared composed and calm, the poster boy for Xanax, which was in stark contrast to how he appeared right now.
"So, tell me old friend, why choose now to bring Sammael back into the world?" he asked leaning forward, his forearms resting on his knees, his hands clasped in front of him eager for his answer. He could make a very accurate guess, but he wanted to hear it from his own lips.
"Ahriman has returned as you know. He is threatening something very dear to me and I find myself eager to ride the waves of that threat," he answered cryptically. Saladin gave him a humourless smile.
"You can prepare your abilities for what comes over the next horizon but you cannot control the tide that brings it. You are along for the ride. Pick the waves you wish to surf instead of trying to create them," he recited to Alaric.
"I see you haven't forgotten your time with Narayan," he chuckled with repressed mirth.
"No, those damnable quotes and philosophies of his somehow manage to stick with you," he replied reminiscently. "How is the old goat? I hear he's currently staying with you. We'll have to get together and have a proper family reunion."
"He has his hands full training my Mate's cousin."
"Mate! I see we have a lot to catch up on."
"Yes, we do. And my Mate is on the top of that list. The Guild has her on their hit list." The word Mate rolled off his tongue much more smoothly than it did an hour before, but still the implications of the fact practically gave him hives. Regardless of his anxiety, this was not the time to show his insecurities regarding his relationship status.
"Cassandra McLennan is your Mate?" Dray asked.
Alaric had to admit he was impressed. Dray certainly had his finger on the pulse when it came to accruing his information. "Yes." He answered in short.
He wasn't under control nearly as well as he would have liked. Just thinking about Cassie being in danger stirred his inner demon to life. The temperature in the room took a sudden dive momentarily until he got hold of his turbulent emotions once again.
"Ah ha. Now I understand." Saladin offered, as the gravity of his predicament sank in.
Dray shivered and took a careful step back, wary of Alaric's obvious power. A lot of things were beginning to make sense. Saladin's strength and healing abilities were unnatural even for a vampire, and he had an exceptional tolerance to sunlight, able to withstand twice as much exposure as any other vampire he had ever met. A consequence no doubt from being sired by the original vampire.
Meeting Saladin's expectant gaze, Alaric sighed heavily. It didn't come easily to him to probe such a trusted friend with those questions which weighed so heavily on his mind, especially when those answers could possibly implicate his betrayal.
"Saladin, I have a personal question to ask you," his indomitable tone cutting to the chase.
"Ask away," he replied stoically. Although he had nothing to hide, he couldn't help feeling like the boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar by his father. Bazaar really, considering how old he was.
"I am told that you have a relationship with one of the Guild's assassins, Mira. What exactly is your relationship to her?"
"Mira." Her name rolled off his tongue with a contentious growl. "She is a power hungry female who kept my bed warm a few times, but nothing more," he emphasised. "She had an interest in me when she thought I commanded the most influence in this region. Of course, she switched teams when Ahriman appeared. I haven't seen her for a few weeks." As much as he hated to admit it, it dented his pride to be cast aside so easily. Not that he had any feelings for her, because he didn't. He was just unaccustomed to be dumped.
Saladin looked to Dray for his input on her whereabouts.
"No one has seen or heard from her since the attack at the airport. The last we heard, she took the cup and the blonde male to somewhere in the Carpathian mountains." Dray offered. "I haven't had any confirmation, but I believe that the Guild has a stronghold up there. They haven't had a home base since WWII which is why it has been so hard to track them in the past. But, the reports I'm getting lead me to believe they're planning something fairly significant and need a base for their operations.
"Again, I haven't had any confirmation, but I believe they have been experimenting with radionuclides,…radioactive isotopes," he clarified when he was met by blank expressions.
"What would they want with radioactive isotopes?" Abby asked.
"I don't know. We can only speculate at his point I'm afraid."
"Alex would be the one to talk to about this. Physics is his area of expertise." Alaric nodded in agreement with Abby.
"Do you know if Mira's working for the Guild or Ahriman specifically?" Alaric asked.
"Knowing Mira, she would be working for whoever wields the bigger stick. There has been a change of leadership within the Guild, someone by the name of Morgan, although from what I can tell, no one has actually seen him."
"I'd heard something similar." Alaric agreed. They had to assume that Ahriman was the one pulling the strings. It would suit his own interests to replace the last Guild Master with his own pliable puppet.
"I haven't been able to find anyone who has actually seen Ahriman either."
"That's not good news. Is there any way to find either Ahriman or Mira?" Alaric queried.
"I'm working on it." Dray confirmed. "I've been informed that the blonde she took is to be used in some sort of ritual but I can't confirm this. Unfortunately that source is often …unreliable." Dray added in his usual apathetic manner.
Alaric looked directly into Saladin's eyes. "Is there any chance that Mira has discovered the location of the spear from you, either directly or indirectly?" This was the most pertinent question he had been hedging around.
Saladin didn't flinch at the uncertainty behind the question. It was a valid question considering he'd been sleeping with the whore bitch who had since tried to murder his sire's Mate, has stolen the cup of life and was now one of the Guild's most avid supporters.
And, besides all that, it had been him, Saladin, who was with Alaric when they handed over the cup to the Dalai Lama and placed the spear in its current hiding place. That made for a lot of incriminating evidence against him.
"No. Absolutely not." Abby nodded to Alaric to allay any doubt that might have lingered. Saladin was definitely telling the truth.
"Thank God." He felt like the wind had been whipped from his sails. His body slumped forward as relief replaced the tension in his muscles. He never truly doubted him but had to be one hundred percent sure.
"But," Saladin continued, a devious grin alighting his youthful face, "I may have been behind a rumour that the spear was being stored in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church at Axum."
"You mean, the treasury at the Church of our Lady Mary of Zion?"
"The one and the same."
"That's brilliant!" Alaric exclaimed.
Alaric and Saladin both broke out in jovial laughter. The in-joke was lost on Abby.
"What's so special about that church?" she asked.
"The Church of our Lady Mary of Zion guards the Arc of the Covenant."
"And that's important why?" she asked again.
"The building is heavily guarded. No supernatural creature can gain access to it. The building itself is protected by an impenetrable defensive magical ward and the priests who guard it are impervious to any forms of compulsion and glamouring. We know this because Alaric and I originally tried to hide the spear there." Saladin explained.
"I take it you didn't leave the spear there?" she asked.
"No. The power it contains is too great. There was no guarantee that at some point one of the priests wouldn't become corrupted by the temptation of that power. It would have left too much to chance."
"And, you couldn't leave it anywhere you had no access to it yourself, if the need arose." Dray surmised.
"Exactly. Like now." Alaric agreed.
"Leaking that false information hasn't bought much time though, I'm afraid."
"You've given me more than enough time to retrieve it myself, my friend. We can hope they'll waste a week or more trying every trick they have to gain access, before they come to the conclusion it isn't in there." He couldn't rule out the possibility there may be more than one search being conducted simultaneously in a process of elimination. Ahriman was too clever to put all his eggs in one basket. They learned that when he controlled Germany's SS in WWII.
"So, what about this favour?" Saladin finally asked.
"I want to get Cassie off the Guild's most wanted list. Since you're so good with rumours, I was hoping you could spread one that will deter any bounty hunters from pursuing her."
"You don't need a rumour. Just tell them yourself. To most vampires you're the boogyman," he chuckled. "I think you're all the intimidation they need to convince them to back off on your Mate."
A few minutes later the room was filled with every vampire in the club, considerably more than usual. The word was out that the living legend, Sammael was at the club, drawing in every curious vampire within a twenty mile radius.
Alaric stood to address them.
Alaric's assured and authoritative aura was a palpable thing, his dark clothes wrapped about his fit body with sultry sophistication barely concealing the physique they covered.
"I am sure by now you all know who I am. For those who don't, I am Sammael." Not a soul blinked in astonishment. Not that he should be surprised, between texting, Face book and Twitter, by now half the vampires in the world would know he had returned. "I have left you alone to live your lives in whatever manner you choose, but I'm here now to inform you that whoever chooses to join with Ahriman and the Guild, I will consider my enemy.
"Furthermore, any of you who attempt to harm my Mate, Cassandra McLennan, for the bounty on her head, will suffer a very painful and very slow death at my hand." His eyes glittered with lethal promise. A growing desperation to put an end to the Guild's threat to Cassie was rattling the cold logic he had always taken such pride in. His inner demon stirred restlessly beneath his skin, his power prickling the air around him.
Hushed murmurs and nervous whispers rumbled amongst the vampires as Alaric pinned each one with his deadly stare.
"I do not take orders from you," called a deep guttural voice from the back of the crowd. "You know nothing," the vampire blustered. "You're a washed up has-been. Ahriman will wipe the floor with you. He will be the greatest immortal to ever walk the earth. He has promised all his followers true immortality like him." He declared in oily tones in blatant challenge.
Alaric shook his head in disgust. This idiot was nothing but a weak minded porn destined for Hell. "If you believe the hollow promises he's making, I pity you. He is a self serving evil creature who has no regard for anyone but himself. If he becomes immortal, you will all find yourselves not his equals, but his slaves."
A silver haired behemoth rose to his full height in anger. With hands the size of dinner plates, he looked as if he could crush the world between them, and his fulgid wild eyes held the rage it would take to do it. A vile stench, the putrescence of a corrupted soul clung to him.
The Silverback was poised on the edge of a rapier but did not have the sense to back down and retreat, instead he took a defiant step toward Alaric and gave him a mock, open armed bow.
The temperature in the room plummeted, blistering the air with an icy chill as Alaric allowed his alter ego out to play. Every tiny particle of moisture in the humid nightclub air was snap-frozen, flittering to the floor in a mist of microscopic snowflakes. Drinks froze in glasses and the moisture which clung to their skin and hair froze instantly into a cloying skeletal crust in the subzero temperature.
But still the silverback didn't halt. He topped Alaric's height reaching a full six feet seven inches tall, and had twice his muscle. A genuine bad boy. But only a fool would play with this kind of fire. Of course, intelligence obviously wasn't his forté. He might as well have had 'strike match here' tattooed on his forehead.
A space around them cleared with alarming speed in expectation of the impending confrontation.
Alaric stood his ground, didn't move a muscle as the silverback circled him slowly, stalking him. The man was pure predator. The anticipation of the hunt, cornering his prey induced a euphoric pseudo orgasm in him. A natural born psychopath, a creature potentially more dangerous than he himself was, a blight upon the world, Alaric thought.
Alaric's awareness of him was intensely acute, as though someone had stroked the flat of a razor blade along his bare skin with the promise of a deep cut. Alaric's power coiled around him in preparation for the attack. Only his eyes moved as he caught the telltale diminutive alterations in his adversary's posture. A moment later the silverback sprang at him in a violent rush.
Alaric stood his ground without moving a muscle, allowing him his attempt at a killing blow.
Punching a hole into Alaric's chest, he ripped out his heart, it continued to beat its slow relaxed cadence in the palm of his hand. The silverback turned to face the spellbound crowd, letting out a triumphant war cry and brandishing his prize high above his head.
It was merely a show for the other vampires present. It wasn't going to change the silverback's fate. Gullible fool.
His excitement faded as the heart in his hand began to dissolve. Turning to face Alaric once more, his elated smile faded to consternation. Alaric was still standing and whole again.
Muffled gasps echoed around the room. The rumours really were true, they muttered.
"I will give you one more chance. Stand down now and I will spare your life," Alaric calmly declared.
"Never!" he cried in defiance. The dent to his pride spurred him on. In a frenzied move he attacked once again.
The air around Alaric shimmered as his silvery wings unfurled on his back. He stretched them wide open. The silverback seeing a possible weakness aimed his attack for the silky smooth and downy soft wings. A mistake he would not have an opportunity to make twice.
Alaric dropped low on one knee. In a slicing action he drew in one of his wings in front of him forcing a rush of frigid air around the room. The silverback realised too late that the edges of those pretty wings were as sharp and strong as any sword and as efficient as a guillotine, decapitating his head from his shoulders. His lifeless body fell at Alaric's feet disintegrating into dust.
"Is there anyone else who would like to challenge me?" he asked with an even voice as he snapped his wings in tight behind his back. Not surprisingly, there were no volunteers. Not a soul moved, or blinked.
"That went well don't you think?" Alaric asked after the room had cleared once again.
"I, for one, don't want to get on your bad side," muttered Dray as he stared at the remains of the vampire on the floor.
His intuition had been right. He did have a body to dispose of tonight, but fortunately it was nothing that a vacuum cleaner couldn't handle.