Okay guys! I'm not back yet but I am feeling very guilty about keeping you all waiting for more of Hearts and also for my lack of response to Tweets, DMs and general email correspondence. So here is half of chapter 5.
I have no idea when I will be posting the complete thing to Lit...maybe next weekend but I wanted to give you all something to say I haven't forgotten you and thanks for all the kind words of support these last few weeks
I have no idea when I will be posting the complete thing to Lit...maybe next weekend but I wanted to give you all something to say I haven't forgotten you and thanks for all the kind words of support these last few weeks
The silence in the kitchen of the Romanov household was chilling. Loretta stood perfectly still in the doorway, her dark brown eyes concerned as she watched her mate carefully.
Andrei’s face was devoid of all expression, his body so tense it gave the illusion that he’d break in two from the slightest touch. His usually brown eyes had bled into the thick blackness of his feral state. Wicked black talons tapped against the back of the wooden chair he was gripping.
The sharp crack of splintering wood broke the silence and Loretta started, a barely audible squeak escaping her lips. Fear rushed through her body unbidden as memories of another time quickly surfaced. She had last seen Andrei in this state when he’d thought they’d lost Lily. He had exacted his vengeance by dismembering a vampire named Roberto, and all the while insanity had swirled in the depth of his eyes.
Something had to have happened to Lily. Nothing else could bring him so close to the killing edge. Her fear ratcheted up as he turned slowly to stare at her, his attention drawn by the sound she’d made. There was nothing civilised in his expression, nothing of the man she loved.
“Andrei?” Her voice shook and her eyes were anxious as she kept her gaze fixed on his. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her, but until he told her what was wrong she could only guess that something had happened to their daughter. She could only detect an icy chill through their mate bond. It was so cold it was freezing her very soul.
“Who told Lily about the Praetorians?” His question was asked in a cold, reasonable voice. There was no heat or anger in the words, and that made his words more chilling than anything else.
“Is Lily okay?” she countered, ignoring his question, needing assurance that her child wasn’t hurt and suffering somewhere.
Thick silence fell across the room for a long moment and then Andrei breathed out slowly. “Loretta, when I ask you a question I expect it to be answered. Who told Lily about the Praetorians?”
Again it was asked in an even tone but Loretta wasn’t fooled by the calmness. One wrong move and Andrei was going to explode. While he might not hurt her, there was no telling what he might do to anyone else he met.
Despite his coldness, Loretta knew he would have answered her if Lily was hurt in some way. Her fear abated at that thought and she focused on his question, a frown marring her face. “No one would have told her about the Praetorians, Andrei. No one would have told any of the children about them.”
“Then why the fuck did my daughter just ask me if she was a monster? And why did she just say that the fucking Praetorians were there to keep people safe from her?!”
The furious roar and red hot rage suddenly burning down their mate bond almost made Loretta stagger backwards. The depth of Andrei’s fury worried her, but she almost sighed with relief. She may not know how to deal with his coldness, but she knew how to handle his anger.
“I don’t know why she said that, but I do know that no pack member privy to the knowledge of the Praetorians would ever tell Lily about them. You know that too, Andrei.”
He fell silent again, his body taut with the strain of holding himself in check. He continued clutching the broken chair as Loretta moved further into the room to stand behind him and rest her cheek against his back. She didn’t touch him with her hands, merely allowed her body to press against his until her scent began to seep into his pores and he slowly started to relax.
Andrei looked down at the mangled chair and slowly released his death grip. Hot, spicy cinnamon swept over him while soft, delicious curves pressed against his back. His red-hot fury began to ease as he breathed deeply, letting his mate soothe him down with her wolf’s touch and her heady scent.
Reason returned and he released his vampiric side. His talons disappeared and his eyes returned to a light shade of brown. He felt Loretta’s hands slide around his waist and he leaned back against her, his arms coming to enfold hers around his stomach. A shaky breath escaped him as he realised how close he’d come to crossing over completely, to becoming nothing but a mindless killing machine.
“She thinks she’s a monster,” he whispered. “How could our baby think she’s a monster, Loretta?”
Andrei turned as Loretta moved to slip into his arms. “Something must have frightened her,” she said. “She’s alone without the protection of the pack and she’s very powerful. Lily has always had a buffer for her abilities here, but out there she has no one.”
Andrei dropped his head to bury his face in the side of her neck, inhaling her scent deeply to calm himself down. His mate’s words made sense even if he didn’t like hearing them. His daughter’s refusal to come home had infuriated him, but the fact she thought she was a monster had broken his heart. The thought of Lily hurting at all was enough to send him over the edge.
“What are you saying, Loretta? Are you implying that by protecting her we’ve somehow stifled her growth? And that she’s out there with powers and abilities she can’t control?” He didn’t want to ask the question but he knew he needed to hear the answer.
His mate took a deep breath and stroked a hand through his long hair soothingly. “It’s possible we’ve done more harm than good,” she answered truthfully. “Lily and the other children were never given the chance to test the limits of their abilities. Until we give them that chance, there’s always the potential they’d be overwhelmed by outside stimuli.”
Loretta knew that not all of the children had this issue. Liam did and possibly also Kothari, but the others had more grounded personalities.
“So you’re saying this is my fault?” Andrei’s tone was harsh as he pulled away, heat in his eyes as he glared down at her. There was a hint of accusation in his mate’s words which turned his tone defensive. He didn’t like to be proven wrong about anything, least of all the way he raised his children.
“We couldn’t leave them unprotected, Loretta. We couldn’t assume that our children weren’t still at risk just because there were no further attacks on the pack.”
She agreed with him wholeheartedly in one respect, but in another she couldn’t disagree with him more. She was gravely concerned about her daughter’s well-being. She wanted to know where Lily was and she wanted assurance that her daughter was all right. Her fear for her child sparked her own temper and her eyes flashed with molten heat.
“Yes, when they were children we did need to protect them, Andrei,” she snapped angrily. “The problems started when you and Alexei wouldn’t let them grow up. Lily isn’t five any longer. She hasn’t been five for a quarter of a century but you’ve been hellbent on keeping her that age and this is the inevitable result! We don’t know where our daughter is. We know she’s frightened and alone somewhere and she won’t come home or let us help her because she’s terrified you’ll cage her again. So do I think this your fault, Andrei? You’re damned fucking right I do!”
The venom in her voice startled him and he blinked at her in surprise. The start of their relationship had been rocky but over the years they’d learned to work together in a peaceful harmony that had always soothed the feral beast that lived deep within him. His mate was usually more supportive, but now she was looking at him not only with anger but also disappointment.
He instinctively reached out through their bond, wanting to wrap himself deep within it but he couldn’t get close to her. She’d done something to mask their mate bond, had withdrawn from him completely until all he could feel on the other end was a sense of emptiness. For a moment he could only stare at her open-mouthed. Had she severed their bond? Was that even possible?
She stepped back from him, shaking her head as she held up a hand to keep him back as he went to follow her. “No, Andrei. My child is out there hurting. She won’t even contact me to let me know she’s okay because she’s afraid I’ll try and convince her to come home.
I’ve done my best to be a good mate to you. I’ve spent the last thirty years catering to you, running interference between you and our children so they could be happy. And what do I have to show for it? Our son spends more time out of his home than he does in it and our daughter has run away.
I’m losing my children because I’ve failed to protect them. Oh, I might have protected them from physical injury and attack, but I’ve failed to protect them from emotional harm.”
Tears filled her eyes as she looked at him, pain welling up deep inside at the disbelief on his face in response to her rejection. She loved Andrei so much; he was the other half of her soul, but right at that moment she didn’t like him and that was hurting her almost as much as it was hurting him. Her wolf howled miserably inside her.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I should have been protecting them from you, Andrei,” she whispered hoarsely as the tears started to fall. “I never knew that by loving you I was failing them.”
Andrei carefully blanked his expression and fought his need to pull his mate into his arms and comfort her. He knew she wouldn’t accept any overtures from him, not while she was this upset. Her words were lancing through him, slicing him like knives. He wanted to deny them, wanted to protest his innocence but he couldn’t make the words come.
Loretta didn’t want to hear denials anyway. Her expression said it all, her body language screaming at him to stay away. There was a gulf a mile wide between them and he didn’t know how to bridge it. “What exactly are you saying here?” he finally asked.
It was a fight to keep his tone neutral, to hide the sudden fear inside him that had nothing to do with his errant daughter and everything to do with the woman standing before him.
“I’m saying you have to find a way to fix this, Andrei. I love you but you’re hurting our children and I can’t stand by any longer and let it continue.” She held up her hand again when fury crossed his face and his mouth opened.
“I know you don’t mean to hurt them. I know you think you’re protecting them but you’re destroying their spirit, Andrei. Maybe not so much Kal because he’s Alpha enough to withstand it, but Lily is so much like you it scares the life out of me sometimes. She needs more than a domineering male ordering her around. You can’t force her to do what you want her to but you can ‘lead’ her in the right direction.”
Andrei stared at her for a long silent moment, battling down his anger. The last few weeks had wreaked havoc on his emotions. Worry for his daughter and the constant effort to suppress the urge to kill something or someone had taken its toll. Only Loretta and Alexei had been able to temper the wildness in him, and he took a deep breath to examine just what that wildness actually was.
Guilt. It washed through him like a tidal wave. It was hot and ugly and crippling. His rage was based on his feelings of guilt, of knowing that he was responsible for Lily running away.
He took a step back from Loretta and turned away from the accusation in her eyes. He didn’t want to see that expression on her face, didn’t want to admit that he’d let her down so badly he’d put her in the position of having to choose between him and their children.
She was his life, the very reason he woke each morning. He didn’t know how he was going to cope if he’d destroyed their bond. He didn’t know if he could cling to his sanity, if the children would be enough to hold him to reality if Loretta left him.
Loretta’s scent wafted over him just before her arms slid around his waist from behind. He felt a rush of love flow down their mate bond. He stiffened in surprise before relief washed through him as he realised their bond was still there, that she hadn’t severed it somehow.
“I just wanted to keep them safe,” he ground out hoarsely, turning in her arms to drag her hard against his chest. His body shuddered as tears threatened, his heart racing wildly in his chest. “I’m so sorry, Rose. I would rather die than hurt you or our babies.”
“I know, love,” Loretta whispered, clinging to him tightly, rocked by the sheer intensity of his emotions flowing through her.
She’d wanted to stay angry with him, wanted him to understand the consequences of his actions, but Andrei’s emotions were always erratic at best. He felt everything so intensely that it was sometimes just too dangerous to allow him to experience his emotions without tempering their effect.
When he’d turned away from her she’d unmasked their bond so she could be prepared for his next move. The complete self-loathing she’d experienced was more than she could stand. He was her mate. She couldn’t stay angry with him when he hurt so badly.
“Are you going to leave me?”
She’d never heard him sound so uncertain before. He did nothing to conceal the thick fear in his voice, his arms crushing her tightly to his chest.
“Only on the day I finally stop breathing,” she sighed trying to inject a little humour into her tone. “I may be pissed at you, Andrei, but you should know by now that I keep what belongs to me.”
She raised her head to look at him, her expression serious. “If I believed for one second that you deliberately meant our children harm that would be a different matter. I know you love them. You’ve made mistakes, love, but they’re not irreparable ones. You’re just an overprotective father. If you can finally understand that now, then we can work together to reassure Lily that she doesn’t need to hide from us any longer.”
“She doesn’t have anyone out there to protect her,” Andrei said in a haunted voice. "Now that she knows of the Praetorians, she’ll most likely shadow herself so they can’t track her. She’ll think they’ll report back to us.”
That concern had also occurred to Loretta but she kept her worry hidden. Having Andrei freak out was more than enough. Lily didn’t need to have both parents out of control.
“You could both try trusting her,” Kallum said drolly, striding into the kitchen and heading over to the fridge. He could feel his parents’ eyes tracking him and deliberately kept his thoughts neutral just in case they tried to sneak in and try any weird mind shit. He wasn’t too sure just what mental skills his father had gained over the years as he creeped closer to his second millennia.
He was tall like his father, his shoulders broad, his chest well-muscled but not to the point of being overdeveloped. His brown hair had taken on a lighter tone to mirror his father’s colour more than his mother’s. He wore it long like most Weres and vampires, though it was tied back with a leather thong at the nape of his neck.
His waist was trim, his stomach taut and his long lean legs appeared to go on forever in the washed-out blue jeans that clung to him like a second skin. Kallum knew he cut a pretty package. With their own good looks, his parents couldn’t possibly produce a child that wasn’t easy on the eye.
But he didn’t let it go to his head, which was why he was decidedly popular with the females in the pack. He had his pick of unattached women and he enjoyed himself liberally, but he always treated them with respect and he never bedded more than one woman at a time. For however long or short a time he was with someone, they got his undivided attention.
The air was thick with tension in the kitchen and he could tell his parents had had one of their rare fights though they looked like they’d made up. He’d come home the moment he’d felt Lily’s distress and she’d screamed at him to go away. He’d known she would reach out to their father. She always did when she became frightened. He’d had a feeling his mother would require some help.
Pulling out some cold meat to make a sandwich, he risked a glance over his shoulder at his father. Andrei’s eyes were riveted on him as he’d expected, suspicion on his face as if he knew Lily had contacted him. He swung his gaze to his mother and she too had a similar expression.
He felt a rush of love well up as he watched them. They were by no stretch of the imagination a typical family but they loved each other fiercely.
“Where is she, Kal?” his mother finally asked, her hand stroking lightly over his father’s chest.
Kallum shrugged and went back to making his sandwich. “I don’t know where she is but I know she’s fine. She contacted me a little earlier to let me know she was safe.”
He considered how much he could to tell them without his sister feeling he was betraying her. He loved his parents dearly but Lily was his to protect, she was a Vârcolac and he protected all of his people. She watched his back as he watched hers.
Part of him realized in that moment that he’d probably been tempering Lily’s wildness over the years just as his mother had tempered his father’s. Now he could hand off that task to the man she’d gone to claim.
“She’s found her mate,” he finally answered, taking a deep breath while he waited for the eruption from his father. When nothing came he risked another look at them. Stunned shock was on his father’s face. His mother looked equally as surprised but there was a slight smile on her face.
“Now Andrei, before you explode you know there’s no way to fight the mating pull,” Loretta said quietly, as perplexed as her son by the lack of reaction from her mate.
“But she’s just a little girl,” Andrei hissed out, his shock starting to transmute into raw fury as his eyes began bleeding to black.
Kallum snorted loudly. “Dad, you have no problem whatsoever with me bedding half the females in the pack. Lily’s a year older than me. She stopped being your little girl about twelve years ago. Believe me, all the unattached males in the pack certainly noticed when she grew up. You’re probably about the only male that didn’t.”
Andrei opened his mouth and then closed it again, no words coming out as he stared at his son. He was all too aware of Kal’s sexual prowess within the pack; hell, he was proud of the man his son had grown into. He was an Alpha to his very core, protective and strong but with a vein of deep compassion running through him.
If he could look at Kallum as a grown man then he had to acknowledge that Lily was a grown woman too. He took a deep breath as he battled his conflicting emotions, tried to really listen to the words his son had said.
Lily was half-vampire and half-Were, a mix of two very sensual species. She’d never had a chance to explore that part of her personality because he’d wanted to kill any male that had even looked at her with sexual heat in his eyes. He hadn’t been willing to let her grow up. He hadn’t wanted her to leave him.
He looked down at Loretta, the weight of his sudden realisation in eyes. He let out a deep groan as she quirked an eyebrow at him. “If I’ve fucked up in any other way, please feel free to hit me with it all at once so I don’t have any other nasty surprises creeping up on me,” he finally said, his tone clearly unhappy.
Loretta couldn’t help the smile that crept across her face. Her daughter was out there somewhere but just hearing that she was tracking her mate had settled her concerns because that meant she wasn’t truly alone. Her mate was with her and he would protect her. That knowledge was enough to soothe most of her worries.
“And who said you couldn’t teach old dogs new tricks?” she teased lightly, watching emotions dance across Andrei’s face as he worked his way through them. “You know the power of a mate, love. You know what a man will do to protect what’s his. Lily isn’t alone out there. She’ll be safe.”
Andrei did know the power of a mate. He knew exactly just what he’d been willing to do to keep Loretta safe. He’d done terrible things in the past when she was threatened. He wouldn’t hesitate to do far more terrible things if she was in danger.
Somewhere out there was another male who felt that way about his daughter. While he could never be completely happy that this male was taking his Lily from him, just knowing that she was with someone who would give his life for her settled him down a bit.
“What did she tell you about this mate?” he finally asked Kallum, reluctantly conceding that there was nothing he could do to stop the mating even though he dearly wanted to. He knew it was his problem, not Lily’s or the male she’d chosen. It would be hard to work through the issues but thankfully his own mate would help him through it.
Kallum finished his sandwich as he watched his parents, swallowing down a glass of milk. “Not a lot, but she sounded pretty determined.” He started to laugh. “She told me to fuck off and leave her alone so I figured I’d give her a couple of days’ breathing space before getting in contact with her again. I suggest you give her some space too. Trust in her. She knows what she’s doing.”
“She was frightened, Kal. She told me she was a monster.” Andrei’s tone was harsh.
“Dad, she’s so much like you at times. I’m sure you’ve done things that have frightened you. I know she’ll work through it and only become stronger because of it. You have to let her discover who she is as a person. She obviously couldn’t do that here at the compound. She’ll come home when she’s good and ready.”
Loretta walked across the kitchen, pride shining in her eyes as she looked at her son. Kal leaned down and embraced her, feeling her lips brush his cheek gently.
“You are the most amazing young man,” she sighed softly. “I’m so proud of you, Kallum. I couldn’t wish for a better son.”
He tried not to puff up too much from the warm approval in his mother’s voice but he was fighting a losing battle. He may be an Alpha male and was sure of himself in that role, but he would always crave his parents’ love and approval. He squeezed Loretta in a big bear hug, revelling in her warmth and love.
A moment later his father squeezed his shoulder, respect apparent in his eyes when he turned to look at his son. “You’ll keep us informed when you speak to your sister again?”
“I won’t let anything happen to Lila, Dad. I love her just as much as you do.”