Abby woke, her body slick with sweat and shaking like a leaf. It was still two hours before sundown, well before her normal waking time. For such a young vampire, waking this early was almost unheard of. But, Abby's dreams had been so troubling she had slept fitfully since late morning. A sick feeling settled in her stomach. Her bond to Alaric was still growing but she had felt his distress and his pain through the preceding hours. Even earlier and more alarmingly, she had also felt Alex's pain and distress. Something had happened to them. Something bad.
She leapt from her bed and dressed for battle, black leather pants, a long sleeve t-shirt, leather jacket and her favourite knee high black boots, accessorised with various throwing stars, knives and blades.
Abby followed the scent of blood through the house, leading to the sitting room, almost bowling over Narayan in the hallway in her haste to get to Alex and Alaric.
While most vampires could tolerate at least an hour or two in sunlight before succumbing to it, Narayan's sensitivity to sun was far greater. He couldn't bear so much as a few minutes. He paced back and forth in the shadows just beyond the suns reach, his mood as black as midnight.
Abby had never imagined that the softly spoken and always cheerful monk could ever look so dangerous. His eyes glittered almost pure silver as his anger and frustration rolled off him.
"What's happened?" she asked him warily, her eyes almost as wide with fear as his were angry.
Not waiting for his reply, Abby raced through the room and out onto the patio. The clouded sky disguised the painful touch of the sun, but it was still there, prickling her skin, sinking deeper, the burn spreading throughout her body. Not a physical flame but a pressure inside her veins, expanding them, similar to the bends which a deep sea diver gets after a fast ascent. The longer she spent in the sunlight, the more pressure would build within her body until finally, her heart would explode. It was the equivalent of ripping out a vampire's heart and would leave her just as dead.
Regardless, she stood there on the patio, stared out onto the wreckage of the garden beyond and watched as Alaric and Cassie slowly made their way back towards the Manor, both looking as though they had just been to Hell and back.
Abby's heart skipped a beat. Where was Alex?
The sound of car tyres skidding to a halt on the gravel driveway was quickly followed by a door slamming. A moment later Saladin stood on the patio beside her, his body humming with fury and menace, barely maintaining self control. Abby gingerly took a step aside. Although she herself was now a vampire, strong and dangerous in her own right, it was still a shock to see just how dangerous her new family really were, each of them carried an air of regal countenance, supreme dominance and were impressively powerful. She was sure that if Alaric and his other two progeny, Saladin and Narayan fought an army bare handed, they would be the only ones left standing.
"What the hell happened here?" Saladin demanded as Alaric and Cassie reached the patio, their grim faces telling almost as much as their decimated surroundings did.
A vicious growl erupted from inside the house drawing their attention. Narayan had stopped pacing but his anger seemed to have intensified when he saw the state of Alaric and Cassie. He had watched helplessly from the shadows of the house as Alaric fought Ahriman, unable to help either of them, guilt and frustration fused into resentful rage.
"We'd best go inside, there's a lot to discuss." Alaric recommended, ushering them all in before him and closing the doors and curtains behind them to block out the sunlight, before guiding Cassie towards her favourite chair. The same chair she had been seated in earlier that morning when Lilith poured them some tea. Her skin prickled with goose bumps at the memory.
"No. I'd rather stand, if you don't mind." Her legs were shaky and her voice even shakier as she filled them all in on the events of the morning, Alaric joining the narration regarding the showdown with Ahriman and the Professor.
"Where did they take Alex?" Abby asked anxiously, her brows furrowed with her growing concern.
"I don't know. Ahriman said he was planning on keeping him around for a while. He wanted to keep him unharmed for whatever he has planned," Cassie replied.
"Don't worry, we'll find him." Narayan affirmed.
"Abby could track him." Alaric suggested. "You took enough of his blood last night when you healed him, you should be able to sense his location. I can show you how if you're willing to try."
"Of course I'm willing," she snapped, her own nerves frayed to the point of aggression. "Sorry. Yes, I can track him but I need to find him as soon as possible."
"I agree, but we need to get as much information on his location before anyone goes in there after him. We don't need any more surprises from Ahriman or the Guild. If Ahriman wants Alex alive and well for a while, then I think we can afford the time to make some plans." Saladin replied, his patronising tone raising the hackles on Abby's neck. She may be his latest young sibling, but she wasn't a child.
"You don't understand. Alex may not stay well for long if I don't find him soon," she paused to make sure she had their attention. "He's my Mate."
"Has Alex taken your blood?" Alaric queried tentatively.
Their faces all dropped as Alex's situation became clear.
"Fuck. This complicates things." Saladin cursed. His sentiments were repeated around the room with a rumble of expletive murmurs.
With a Mating bond having been created between Alex and Abby, although was as yet incomplete, Abby would have no trouble locating Alex. Unfortunately, every day that she was separated from him, he would grow weaker, if his genetics worked in the same way as Cassie's. This, on top of his already weakened state from blood loss the night before could be fatal if Abby can't get to him soon.
"I need to leave as soon as the sun sets," she insisted.
"You need to come back to the Club with me before you run off half cocked and get yourself killed on your noble quest." His eyes narrowed on her, looking her over carefully, as if looking for faults that only he could see. Once, long ago, Saladin had been a Warlord. He'd fought many battles, both physical and intellectual. He had no doubt Abby could hold her own physically, but mentally, and under such severe emotional stress…she was at a significant disadvantage. She was way out of her league for what she was running headlong into. She needed a crash course in Spy: 101. "Do you have a plan?"
"Not yet. I thought I'd find him and then work things out from there." That sounded like a recipe for disaster, even to her ears.
"You need a plan and you need to be prepared for any situation. You're not leaving until you to talk to Dray. He'll give you a few tips. I'm sure he's probably got a few gadgets you can take that might be helpful as well," he added using that patronising tone again.
Abby pursed her lips and glared at him but didn't respond. He may be an arrogant bastard, but she had to admit, he had a good point.
Banging and crashing in the foyer distracted their attention.
Instantly Alaric was in the hallway, fangs and eyes flashing with aggression, ready to tear apart the new intruder.
"Heel. I said Heel," Mrs Philpot screeched at the excitable oversized Irish Wolfhound 'pup', who was dragging her along the hallway.
Alaric's expression darkened. When did he agree to have a dog in the house, especially one as uncontrollable as this one appeared to be?
"Tilly. Stop!" she yelled, finally coming to a panting halt.
Cassie appeared in the doorway, a smile lighting her face. The moment the dog recognised her, she was off again, heading straight for Cassie, her tail wagging madly as she whimpered and barked her way into the room. Tilly jumped at Cassie, her large paws reaching her shoulders, laying a wet sloppy lick on Cassie's face, who could do little more than try and hold her ground and giggle at the pooch's enthusiastic greeting.
"Mrs Philpot, is there something you want to tell me?" Alaric asked testily, planting his fists on his hips, his frown and fangs flashing with dangerous menace. He wasn't in the mood for any more surprises today.
"I'm sorry. Mrs Harlow knew that Alex and Cassie were fond of the mutt and felt that Brian would have liked them to have her. I didn't have the heart to say no," she answered matter-of-factly, not perturbed in the least by all the fierce expressions on the vampires faces surrounding her.
The aging housekeeper looked around her, taking in their appearances.
"Oh my, love. Young master, what on earth has happened?" she gasped.
They related the events of the day once again as she opened the curtains just enough to discern the destruction outside. Her eyesight keen enough to spot Ahriman's body lying on the lawn and what she supposed used to be a human male.
"What about the bodies? Would you like me to arrange a clean-up crew…and the gardeners?" she asked, her nose scrunched up ever so lightly. The bodies were an eye-sore, but what tweaked her knickers was the thought of having to listen to Harold and his son Lionel, complain endlessly about the amount of work needed to restore the garden. For Lycans, they were a sorry pair, but unfortunately beggars can't be choosers. Regular landscape gardeners weren't permitted at the Manor. Maybe in this case she could get Alaric to make an exception, or he may have another couple of bodies to remove before they finished rebuilding the garden. If anyone could make her flip her lid, that pair could.
Alaric too, cringed slightly at the thought of Lionel and Harold spending more time there than they already did. "Thanks Mrs Philpot, the clean-up crew would be helpful but tell them to hold off until tomorrow. We need to see how much information we can get from the bodies first."
They discussed again everything that had happened in more detail and began plans to rescue Alex. Abby paced while Saladin called Dray, his head of security at the Phoenix nightclub and an intelligence expert.
"Well, on that note, I think I'll take the latest member of the household to the kitchen for some dinner." Mrs Philpot said, tugging the strong willed canine toward the door. Her plump cheeks flushed bright red as she pulled on the lead while Tilly pulled away equally as hard, hell-bent on getting something beneath the couch. With a final hefty tug, Tilly slid backwards still crouched on all fours. In her mouth was a wooden cup.
Tilly had the cup in her mouth and was lapping at the remains of Cassie's blood within it.
Before anyone else could react, Narayan dived to the floor wrestling the cup from her.
Hairy Hell Hounds.
If immortal blood drunk from that cup could create monsters from humans, what the hell would it do to that mangy mutt, Alaric thought.
Hopefully nothing. Nevertheless, he had to keep the dog now, at least long enough to make sure she wasn't a threat to anyone.
The room finally cleared. Narayan took the cup to the vault beneath the Manor, its magically sealed door still laying wide open after the Professor's procurement of the spear, and Abby left with Saladin just as the sun crossed the horizon, the inky black sky shielding the view of the macabre scene beneath it.
Alone again at last.
The room shrank as he closed in on her, erotic energy pulsing off him and making her skin tingle.
Cassie tilted her head up to meet Alaric's. Those gorgeous hazel eyes of hers glittering as they locked onto his, heating and making him feel like she was caressing him from the inside out.
What had been mild arousal suddenly became a high voltage blast of lust that seared his thoughts, blinding him to anything else but her and damn near had him taking her where she stood. The need to reclaim her as his, mark her as his, and wipe away the taint of Ahriman's touch was overwhelming. He made a desperate sound deep in his chest, sending a surge of passion roaring through her, uncoiling the need simmering beneath her skin, flaring it to a red hot burn.
She too felt the uncontrollable urge to claim her Mate, a desperation born from the certainty that death had separated them, however brief that may have been. She needed the warmth and security of his body surrounding hers, a comfort that only a Mate's touch could offer.
Alaric's arms hooked her about the waist, pulling her hard against him, her soft curves met the hard lines of his, gaining intimate contact with all her sweet spots. Her full breasts pressed against his chest, his thigh parted hers and pressed against her mound, her soft belly cradling his aching erection with just enough pressure to be considered torture. His tongue swiped her bottom lip while his hips rolled into her, putting pressure against the swollen bundle of nerves between the moist folds at the apex of her thighs.
She gasped at the shockwave of pleasure that rippled through her. Threading her fingers through the silky length of his blonde hair and locking them around his neck, she parted her lips. Instantly, his tongue penetrated, a domineering slide against hers demanding her participation. A manoeuvre she reciprocated with devastating efficiency.
She ground against him with an untamed urgency that swamped him with a fever so intense it blistered his skin. His thickly muscled arms locked her within their confines against his body as he lifted her higher, wrapping her legs about his waist and revelled in her heated shudder as his steel hard erection massaged her clit as he raced her to their bedroom, slamming the door hard enough to crack the frame.
Sharp, panting breaths from his tightly reined control faltered as a low moan dredged up from deep within his chest, vibration buzzing through his entire body and into hers as he laid her carefully on the bed. His whole body hardened from the way her body was exposed to him, her golden brown hair tumbling wildly in waves about her lithe form, her unbuttoned shirt, open, revealing the swell of her plump ripe breasts…and her belly.
Alaric's eyes filled with emotion as they locked onto her soft, smooth and flat abdomen where she nurtured and protected their child. Climbing onto the bed, he settled between her legs, his hands gently caressing her belly, his lips laying small adoring kisses all over it. And just like that, the burning urgency to claim his Mate was suddenly replaced by the need to worship her slowly and tenderly.
Alaric climbed higher up the bed. Cassie swallowed a lump in her throat, going lax in his arms as he rolled her into him. Her heart still raced, but her mind quietened under his caresses drugging influence. This was her home, in his arms. She felt safe and loved…and whole. He was the other half of her soul she didn't even know was missing until the first moment she saw him at the Phoenix nightclub a life time ago it seemed, but had in reality only been a matter of weeks. So much had happened and changed in her life, she would never be the same again, and she didn't want it to be.
Lying on their sides, her head resting on the hard expanse of his chest and their legs interlocked, his arms caged her sweetly against him as he continued his adoring kisses to her face and neck, and anywhere else he could reach without releasing his hold on her.
"I was so scared today," he confessed, his voice strained with emotion, reliving the pain he felt as he watched her die. "I was sure I was going to lose you."
"I thought I'd lost you too," her chest tightening on a silent sob.
Alaric tucked her into his body more tightly and soothed her with his loving caresses.
Her pain and fear lanced his soul, sending an invisible dagger through his heart. "Cassie," he said, concern evident in his tone. "I will never leave you. We have an eternity together and no one will ever separate us again," he promised with tenacious conviction.
"Then what is it, you're worrying me."
"I…I don't mean to," she answered softly.
Alex, he thought. He wanted to plough through her mind to the root of her pain and replace her fears with the reassurance she so desperately needed. Unfortunately he had little to offer. Until Alex was found and returned to them unharmed, Alaric doubted he could ease his Mate's heart or mind for her brother's welfare and safety.
He would however, leave no stone unturned to find him and would make the Guild severely regret ever starting a war with him. He had won this battle, but there was no doubt that this war was just beginning.
Alaric stroked her back until her breaths became slow and rhythmic and her body relaxed into him further. He held her sleeping form. Their bond was strong, even in slumber he felt her passion and hunger for him, and him alone. He hadn't realised how much she was a part of him until he thought he'd lost her. From the moment she stepped into his life, she took her place in his heart with an ease that took his breath away, filling the void as though it had been waiting for only her. She breathed life back into his barren soul and filled him with happiness and contentment. He couldn't imagine life without her now, and fortunately, he would never need to worry about that again. She was immortal…and his.
Silently he made a new vow.
Once, long ago, he had made a covenant with the Elders to protect the elements of his own immortality, the spear and the cup, and watch over his descendants, people who were no more than strangers to him, merely faces with names whom he had no emotional attachments. Now, with an immortal Mate, a child and a family he could call his own, his covenant had become eternal. He would protect and defend his family and the world they live in, as ruthlessly as necessary, until the end of time.
Mira answered her phone, snapping irritably at the caller. "Give me some good news."
"Lilith is on her way to you with Alex, but…" he answered in hushed tones, pausing when a figure appeared in the doorway to the Manor's patio, opening the curtains briefly to examine the scene beyond. He doubted that even Alaric's sensitive hearing could hear him from so far away, or see him amongst the bracken of the forest, but he wasn't willing to take that risk.
"But, what?" she snapped.
"Ahriman is dead."
If she wasn't already in a foul mood, that news certainly would have tipped her over the edge. Mira had been looking forward to killing Steadman, the moron entrusted to bring the cup into England. A simple task even an imbecile could manage. Except, this imbecile chose to stash some local Indian hooch in his bag, the same bag that he'd put the cup in. Not only did it draw the attention of the Customs Officers, but also the Alliance. Steadman's stupidity had cost Mira the life of her progeny, Cain.
Killing Steadman wouldn't bring back Cain but it would've made her feel a bit better. Now however, she wouldn't get that satisfaction.
"Where's his body?" she ground out between clenched teeth, her eyes glittering with fire and ice.
"He's laying on Sammael's lawn." He chose to use Alaric's alternate name to emphasise the fact that he, himself, was sitting in a very precarious position right now. "About twenty feet from the various pieces of one of the Merc's you hired."
"Well then, I suggest you get busy before you're caught, and clean up the mess," she snapped back. "Leave Ahriman," his body was of no use to them now, not worth retrieving. "Dispose of the human. Make sure there is nothing left behind that they can use to learn his identity." If they knew his name, the Alliance would know which cells of the military the Guild was recruiting from. And, any more interference from the Alliance could be detrimental to her own health.
"Of course. It's my specialty," he answered in a condescending tone. "I'm Lycan."
Mira ended the call and shoved her phone back into her pocket. Twisting around she glared at Steadman lying prostrate on the stone altar, hands and feet tied down. The corner of her mouth curled up in satisfaction at the fear in his eyes as he thrashed against his fastenings, and gloated that what he was about to go through was most likely going to be painful.
"Well?" asked Morgan beneath her hooded cloak.
"Ahriman's dead. Start the ritual." She answered apathetically. She may not get the satisfaction of killing him, but after this, Steadman's body would play host to Ahriman's soul and Steadman the person, would no longer exist.