Okay here is over half of the next chapter. It has not been edited and I really have no idea when I will submit to Lit as I haven't even sent it to be edited yet. But a special treat for SkyMullooly as she asked so nicely. And NO Sam it is not cos you smacked/pinched/rubbed any part of my anatomy :P hahahahaha!
Rafe looked around the room stifling down a need to sigh. A summons from his sister usually always spelled trouble of some kind and when she asked for various people to be in attendance, namely the ones who were now spread out in the closed off community centre; it set his warning radar off big time.
The mated vampire couples were there, Ash and Nors sitting with their heads together as always, his arm looped loosely over the back of her chair. Their body language screamed of intimacy, Ashleigh’s face radiant as she smiled up at her mate. There was no sign of the lost young girl who had suffered a weight of heartbreak at such a tender age. Happiness seemed to waft from the little blonde, contentment in the way she leaned into her mate’s body.
There wasn’t a day went by that Rafe didn’t feel thankful to Nors, the biggest vampire in the room, so scary and intimidating to look at and yet so loving and protective of not only his own family but also the pack. Without his devotion they would have lost Ashleigh to the grief that had once clung to her like death. He had loved her enough to bring her back to the pack and bring love and laughter back into her life. How could anyone not love him for that?
Rafe’s gaze turned to the Romanov twins, the volatile brothers who were fierce and protective but often hard to handle. Even after all these years there were still moments when either Alexei or Andrei tested his patience as Alpha, made him wonder why he was stupid enough to accept the role of being leader to everyone in his pack.
At the moment it was Andrei giving him all the headaches with Lily missing. Alexei was helping out as best he could along with Loretta to keep the more mercurial vampire at bay but it was challenging.
As always where the twins were so were their mates. Loretta had a thoughtful expression on her face as her eyes kept flickering to Andrei even as she listened to something her sister-in-law was saying to her. She was a striking woman, not tall for a Were but sleek with toned muscles that signified strength. Andrei looked at her, his brown eyes flashing with some untold emotion for an instant before his expression became neutral again. He turned back to his brother raking an impatient hand through his hair.
Cedar caught the look which passed between the mates and raised an eyebrow obviously querying her friend on it. Her blonde curls were tied back in a loose ponytail which Alexei was playing with absentmindedly with a faint curve of a smile across his lips.
Whatever was going on in that family group obviously wasn’t being discussed. Loretta confirmed Rafe’s suspicions by giving a quick shake of her head at Cedar. He did sigh then, mentally preparing himself for having to deal with whatever fallout would soon be coming his way. The Romanovs would test even the patience of a saint.
His gaze swept on coming to rest on Dayton, one of his most trusted Betas. The change in Cedar’s brother, a wolf who had lost his first mate and almost succumbed to madness, was remarkable. After decades of exile from the pack he had been home for a long time now, once more a valuable addition to his pack. He smiled constantly these days, teasing his mate mercilessly until she was ready to explode in a whirlwind of fury.
Freya was still coming to terms with developing a sense of humour. Only Day was insane enough to needle the Ancient vampire past the point of no return, confident that she’d never hurt him no matter what he did. Rafe watched him gather his scowling mate into his arms, kissing her soundly until she melted against him. He couldn’t help smiling as he watched them. Seeing them so happy together reminded him of the upside to being an Alpha.
The remaining people in the room where the Vârcolac. Liam was sitting on the floor as far back from everyone as he could get, his brown eyes full of concentration as he leaned against the wall. He was huge like his father, dark auburn hair hanging over shoulders so wide he looked as if he could barely fit through some doorways.
Liam broke Rafe’s heart on a daily basis. Not because he was hard to work with or had a mean bone in his body. No, he broke his heart because no matter how he hid behind his neutral mask, Rafe could always feel the muted sensation of pain down their Alpha bond. Liam hid it well but his empathy crushed him, overloaded him and threatened to break him.
Only the tall, willowy woman at his side could temper Liam’s agony. Elina Alexander was as stunning as her mother Freya, her skin porcelain white, her hair a crazy mix of browns, reds, golds and that one streak of pure silver she’d inherited from her father.
So serious and reserved, her face was almost severe in its beauty. She’d given up a piece of her soul to protect the cousin she adored more than life itself. Now she sat close to him, leaning into his body with her eyes closed. Rafe knew she was sharing her mental shields with Liam, helping him to buffer all the emotions in the room with so many people in attendance.
Cassia and Dara were less reserved than some of the other hybrids, but still separate from the rest of the pack. The sisters’ relationship was an enigma to all of them including their parents sometimes. They weren’t twins like their father but they gave every indication of being so the way they interacted together.
Cassia was the elder sister, sharing her mother’s curly blonde hair and blue eyes. Dara’s blonde hair was straight like Alexei’s her eyes the same shade of brown. Both wore their hair to their shoulders, both invariably dressed the same even if they chose different colours.
Arms wrapping around Rafe’s waist had his lips curling in a smile as he wrapped his arms around his mate’s. Her scent washed over him, soothing his tension and he leaned back against her. Lacey always knew when he was worried about something, always reached out to bring comfort to him.
“It might not be as bad as you think,” she sighed sliding around his body to rest against his chest as he hugged her tightly.
He could never get enough of his mate. She was everything good in his life, beautiful and loving with hair a pale silvery blonde that reminded him of moonlight. Her light green eyes were striking, her lips looking eminently kissable at that moment.
He indulged himself, rubbing her mouth with his to ground himself and ease more of the tension which was making his muscles ache. “This is Annie we’re talking about,” he breathed against her mouth. “Lily is God knows where. Kallum appears to have joined her and once again Kothari has disobeyed a direct order to attend a meeting.” His displeasure was evident as he finished speaking.
The final hybrid child, the only issue of a mating between an Ancient vampire and the very first Vârcolac, tested Rafe’s patience to his limits. Not only did he drive Rafe to insanity but also Aaron, the most pack orientated Beta and second-in-command of the Armand-Hanlon pack.
Aaron took on all the troubled pack members, worked diligently to integrate them and help them through any issues they had, but even he struggled to get Kothari to meet him halfway. Which was probably why it was lucky Aaron was over at the Hanlon pack with his family and also Lacey and Rafe’s sons.
Rafe would fill them in later on whatever happened at the meeting but it was just as well some of those who should have been there had been otherwise engaged. Aaron losing his temper wasn’t something which happened often but when it did he was downright vicious. Liam could do without that level of emotion battering at his mental shields.
“Oh Ye of Little Faith,” Lacey whispered as the door opened and Gard and Rayne entered followed reluctantly by their son.
The impressive vampire, one third of the triumvirate and over six thousand years old, strode confidently into the room his expression determined though a faint smile hovered over his lips. His arm was draped over Rayne’s shoulder, his mate moving with the sleek grace of the panther she was, her long black hair secured in her customary high ponytail.
Behind them came Kothari, his eyes hidden behind a pair of sunglasses so darkly tinted that not even the enhanced sight of vampires or Weres could penetrate the darkness. The most volatile and unknown of the Vârcolac, Kothari hid behind his dark glasses and silent demeanour never letting anyone get truly close. He was dressed completely in black, his wide shoulders encased in a black leather jacket full of silver zippers and studs.
Unlike the rest of the pack, Kothari’s hair was cut short tapering in sharply at the nape of his neck though the front was longer, falling in a wide sweep across his forehead. He was as tall as his father and just as wide and his body language screamed out the need to be anywhere else but where he was. Kothari was pissed and he didn’t care who knew it.
The only change in his demeanour was when he sighted Dara and Cassia. The first hint of a true emotion crossed his face and it was anything but pleasant. His expression turned hard, his lips thinning in a straight line of disapproval as he raked his eyes over the women.
“Kothi.” Rayne’s voice cut through the instant tension in the room at their entrance and her son’s head snapped round to look at her.
There was a brief pause and then his expression softened, his lips curving into a semblance of a smile. He dropped a kiss on the top of his mother’s head and walked further into the room, separating himself from everyone as he leaned against a far wall beside one of the many windows, his gaze peering into the night.
“Kids,” Gard rumbled rolling his eyes as they reached the Alpha couple.
Rayne shot him a reproofing look trying not to glance over at their son. He’d always been different but the older he’d become the more isolated he appeared. It concerned her greatly and she knew it concerned Gard too.
At home when they were alone, the hard mask dissolved and he was their Kothi, a hint of happiness on his face, a certain level of peace in his eyes. The moment they were in company he became the cold, hard stranger who now stood staring out the window, so alone it broke her heart. She didn’t know how to reach him when he was like this so she just loved him as a mother should, unconditionally.
“Where’s everyone else?” Gard was asking Rafe as she turned her attention back to the room.
“Demetri’s off to Europe for some reason and Mara’s at the Council chambers. Aaron and the boys are over at the Hanlon compound along with Jen and their three. Still no word on Lily and now Kallum’s vanished too. We’re just waiting for Annie and Caleb and we can find out why this gathering has been called.”
“Actually we’ve brought another couple of people with us,” Rhianna announced in her soft, lilting voice as she entered the room at Caleb’s side. Kallum was just behind them along with a vampire a few of them recognised.
“Karn?” Rafe frowned in confusion wondering why his sister had brought a Council Enforcer to the meeting. He’d met the sandy-haired vampire a few times when he’d been backup for a Were/Vampire Council meeting over the years. He knew there had to be a good reason for it because Annie would never endanger the pack but he didn’t like being surprised. Though he should be used to it by now when his sister was involved.
“Rafe,” Karn nodded his eyes quickly flickering over the room, taking in the various people he knew by sight, honing onto the younger attendees who were obviously the other Vârcolac. His appraisal was quick though his eyes rested a shade longer on the couple sitting on the floor at the opposite end of the room.
He stopped first on the male, his protective instincts flaring. His appraisal was quick, accurate, his concern deepening. The woman at the male’s side brought a different reaction -- anger. He looked at her and he felt his temper spike, his instincts perk up. He filed the information away to deal with a later time.
“There’s little point in beating around the bush,” Caleb announced as he pulled up two chairs beside Rafe and Lacey and sat down beside Rhianna. “With the exception of the children, everyone here is aware of the Praetorians and what their remit has been with regard to the Vârcolac. There have been some…issues regarding that which have recently come to light.”
The younger members of the group looked at each other and it was clear that there was some form of quick mental conversation occurring as was often the case with them.
“You mean the vampires that have been dogging our footsteps all our lives?” Kothari asked when no one spoke, his voice quiet and toneless. He didn’t turn to the room though his shoulders tightened slightly.
“He’s one of them. I recognise his scent,” he added.
“One of them?” Dara echoed unease in her tone as her eyes flicked around the room and finally rested on the man at the window. “We’ve been followed for years and you knew about it, Kothi? Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Why didn’t anyone tell us?” her sister asked sounding just as unhappy. Her gaze was on Kothari too, irritation dancing in her eyes. She was annoyed that one of them knew of these secret vampires and had chosen to keep quiet. It was so like Kothi to do something like that it was a wonder she was even surprised to hear it.
“The decision was made a long time ago to keep the Praetorians a secret,” Rafe answered calmly. “You were all so young when the first attack was made on the pack, the first attempt to reach you and cause you harm; some of you weren’t even born.” He smiled at Elina for a moment and then looked at Kothari briefly.
“You shouldn’t be angry with your parents or Rafe,” Rhianna added. “I needed to protect the pack, to protect you. The Praetorians seemed the best way of doing so at the time. We wanted you to have normal childhoods, as normal as possible considering your heritage.”
Elina shifted beside Liam, leaned into him slightly and rested a hand against his arm as though picking up a rise in his distress levels. He smiled briefly closing his eyes and rubbing his cheek against her hair.
“So not all vampires were accepting of hybrid children coming into the world?” Elina guessed correctly as she soothed her cousin unconsciously, strengthening her shields within his mind not realising her expression turned colder, more remote when she did so, her voice dripping with ice.
Karn noticed the subtle changes and felt his anger ratchet up a notch though he kept his expression neutral. He didn’t like what he was witnessing, was worried at Liam’s sensitivity levels and also the effect it had on the woman at his side. The warning signs were clear to him. How no one else was reading them was criminal. He wanted to yell at the others, ask them how they could have let things become so dangerous.
The ensuing silence was broken when Gard spoke addressing his son. “How long have you known about them?”
“Longer than Lily has.” Kothari turned from the window to look at his father before his hidden gaze swept over Dara and Cassia. Liam and Elina didn’t appear to be put out with what they were hearing but the sisters were not happy about it, were particularly unhappy with him. The corner of his mouth twitched in a satisfied smile.
“It was amusing watching Lily work it out. She doesn’t half get puffed up with her own self-importance when she thinks she knows something no one else does.” His words sounded harsh but there was an undercurrent of warmth in his tone, a hint of genuine affection.
Andrei growled softly and Kothari met his gaze for a moment and then nodded at the silent rebuke. Andrei didn’t like it when he felt someone was maligning a child of his. The vampire was already volatile. It was pointless antagonising him any further and Kothari genuinely adored Liliana and her wild ways even if he didn’t show it.
“How did you and Lily find out?” Rafe asked his gaze sweeping from Kothari to Andrei and finally settling on Karn who had been identified as a member of the Praetorians. If his scrutiny made the vampire uncomfortable there was no outward sign of it.
“My senses are sharper than the others,” Kothari answered. “I was about six when I first realised we had silent guardians shadowing our every movement. Lily’s senses are not as acute as mine but she has an agile brain and not a lot escapes her. She worked it out by the time she hit maturity.”
Andrei’s irritation faded his eyes boring into Kothari as he spoke. He couldn’t help but feel pride at his daughter’s intelligence, proud of the knowledge she’d been one of the few to have worked out a secret so closely guarded that most people didn’t know it.
“Lily would have seen the Praetorians as a challenge,” he mused almost to himself. He turned to look at Karn his eyes narrowing. “That’s where she is, isn’t it?”
Karn pursed his lips and then nodded. Mac had told him to attend this meeting, to bring Kallum with him to help. He’d thought it madness but Mac had been insistent. His opinion hadn’t changed but so far everything was going reasonably smoothly.
“We didn’t know who she was,” he answered carefully. “She managed to circumvent all our careful screening to become accepted as a Praetorian candidate. She was the top recruit in her class, the best soldier I’ve ever trained.”
His pride in his charge was evident in his voice as well as his affection for one of their own. Because of that Andrei found it easier to accept, his own pride escalating higher. His daughter had fooled everyone and been the best soldier. She was so much like him it was scary but he was proud of her anyway.
“How did she get past the final check?” Rafe asked suspiciously his eyes already dropping to his sister for confirmation. He was stunned at the news and not entirely happy about it. Seeing Rhianna’s sheepish expression ignited his temper.
“For the love of God, Annie, what were you thinking?” he ground out furiously, her guilty expression telling him all he needed to know. Once again his sister had kept a secret from him, one that directly affected a member of his pack. He was furious with her.
“You know the uproar Lily’s disappearance caused. How could you keep quiet when you knew she was safe?” Because Lily had been safe all this time only they hadn’t known it. She couldn’t have been safer living in the heart of the Praetorians.
“Sometimes the needs of the one is more important that the needs of many,” Rhianna answered, accepting Rafe’s anger because she knew it was justified on one level. It hurt though. It always hurt when she disappointed her brother even if sometimes it was necessary.
“Lily needed her freedom, Rafe. You would only have dragged her back here and despite the fact we all love her it would have been the wrong thing for her. You know that deep inside. And in my defence, I’ve only known a few days. I was just giving her a little time until she was ready to come home again.”
Rafe opened his mouth to retort fury still in control. Deep down he knew she was right, Annie was always right but he still wasn’t ready to let go of his anger. If she’d told him, explained her reasoning then he would have listened to her no matter what she thought. He trusted her decisions. His scathing words were silenced when Andrei spoke.
All eyes turned to the one person they’d all expected to be demanding they march up to the Praetorian compound and retrieve his daughter instantly.
“Lily contacted me earlier today,” Andrei continued in a quiet voice. “She has the same genetic flaw I have only it manifests itself in her wolf side rather than her vampiric side. She’s scared and a little confused but she’s found the one thing that can help her and she can only find it with the Praetorians.”
He paused as if struggling with the next words, as if they left a bitter taste in his mouth. “She’s found her mate.”
Loretta wrapped her arms around Andrei’s waist knowing how hard it was for him to admit this to everyone. When he’d told her earlier of his talk with their daughter there had been such guilt in his eyes. Convincing him that it wasn’t his fault had been hard but there was nothing he could have done to interfere with genetics. It was just a part of life they all had to live with.
Of all of them Alexei was probably the one who could most understand the agony his brother was experiencing having lived with it for so long. He laid a comforting hand on his twin’s shoulder, silently adding his strength to that which his mate was giving him.
“That changes things,” Rafe finally sighed though his eyes promised Rhianna they’d be having a chat later about just what was acceptable to keep hidden from him. She shot him a rueful smile, but her lavender eyes couldn’t conceal the distress she was feeling. He hated being at odds with his sister even more than she did.
Andrei’s acceptance, the shock of hearing that Lily balanced on the edge of crossing over as her father did was enough to soothe Rafe’s wolf. He was an Alpha wolf but he was also a man who knew that none of the people in this room would ever do anything to hurt his pack.
If he accepted that Annie was always right then he had to abide by her decision even if he didn’t like his lack of inclusion in it. He sighed again and reached over to ruffle her curls to let her know they were okay. He couldn’t stay mad at Annie for very long.
“It changes everything,” Kallum spoke for the first time moving to stand behind his father and give him his support. “It’s highlighted the fact we need the Praetorians in a different capacity now. Lily is thriving there and now she has her mate I know she’s going to be fine.”
He glanced around the room gauging everyone’s reactions to his next words. “Some of the other Vârcolac could do with spending some time with the Praetorians too.”
He expected uproar from the adults, denials of some kind but the reaction he’d expected came from a completely different direction.
“No.” Elina rose from her seated position beside Liam, her voice carefully modulated to hold no emotion.
“You can’t send Liam away where he doesn’t feel safe. It’s taken long enough for him to find a balance here among the pack. Strangers will be too much for him.” Her words were for Kallum but her eyes were fixated on the strange vampire in their midst whose cool blue eyes appeared to be boring into her soul.
Ashleigh was on her feet, too, worry etching her face as she looked at her son. “Elina’s right.” She hated sounding like an overprotective mother but Liam didn’t function well around strangers.
She turned pleading eyes to her mate. “Nors, you can’t let them take him away.” She could see indecision on his face, as if he was conflicted about the possibility.
“Ash, honey, no one’s said anything about Liam going but maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea?” Nors asked gently reaching for her hand. He was just as concerned about his son’s struggle to contain his empathic abilities but he could divorce his emotions to a certain degree, better than his mate could. If the Praetorians could help him in some way…
Disbelief crossed her face and he let out a deep groan. “Ash.”
She turned away from him to her Alpha. “Rafe, don’t agree to this. Maybe it would help some of the others but not Liam.”
Rafe was at a loss with what to do. Changing the whole concept of the Praetorians’ remit was staggering. Allowing vulnerable members of his pack to be spirited away went against every instinct he possessed. But deep down he knew that some of the Vârcolac needed more than he could give them.
A loud cough attracted everyone’s attention to Karn who was scowling blackly not the least intimidated by the people in the room. “I think you all seem to have forgotten one very important fact. You don’t get to decide who comes to the compound. I make the decisions and if Mac agrees with me then the decision stands.”
He stared down Rafe ignoring everyone else. “If you decide as Alpha that being with the Praetorians can benefit some of the Vârcolac then I will choose which of them I feel will gain the most good from the experience.”
Silence greeted his words though Kallum fought a smile. Karn was just as impressive as Mac when he was pissed. His words were also indisputable unless the triumvirate overrode him.
Rhianna shrugged her shoulders. “Mac has protected the Vârcolac most of their lives. We’ve never had cause to doubt his decisions and I see no reason to now. If you’re in agreement, Rafe, then Karn as his representative has final say as to who should go.” She looked at Caleb and Gard who instantly nodded their agreement. The triumvirate had given their approval; it was now up to the Alpha.
Rafe looked at Lacey, saw her unwavering support and knew she would back up any decision he made. It still didn’t make it any easier as he looked around the parents in the room. Their children may be grown but they were still their children and Ashleigh was already distressed over Liam.
But he had to balance the needs of the Vârcolac as well as the pack. “If the Praetorians can help then I have no objections to their remit being changed,” he finally said. “But if any harm comes to my people while in your care I will come down on the Praetorians with every able-bodied wolf I can find.”
“They are safer with us than in the pack,” Karn answered confidently. He’d already chosen the ones that needed help, had done so the moment he’d entered the room. He wouldn’t take them at the same time though. They already had Lily, one more would be enough to handle.
“You need to let us do things our way, though. No interference. I don’t do pretty words and tenderness and you aren’t helping the Vârcolac by doing so either.”
He strode across the room to stand in front of Liam, ignoring the woman at his side even though her scent was the one in the room he would from this moment on always find first among the Vârcolac. “You’ll come with me tonight.”
Ashleigh stifled down a gasp of dismay as Elina let out a long, slow hiss. “You didn’t hear me the first time, vampire. Liam is not up to going anywhere, least of all with an uncontrolled male like you.” Her tone was still devoid of emotion, her expression calm despite the hiss she’d given.
Nors was pulling Ashleigh into his arms to soothe her distress; Elina was fixated on the male who looked through her as if she didn’t exist. His huge size and pretty face, the inherent maleness of him which sparked something unknown deep within her, it all did nothing to counter the cold fury she fought to contain inside.
Karn turned his gaze on Elina allowing himself the luxury of scrutinising her now she was talking directly to him. He took in her heart-shaped face, her cold beauty and multi-coloured hair.
His lips curled in an unpleasant smile. “I heard you just fine the first time, Vârcolac. Repeating yourself isn’t going to change my mind. Liam comes with me and you’re not invited to the party.”
Elina’s mouth dropped open at his dismissive tone. She had to work hard to keep her emotions in check, something she hadn’t had to do for a very long time. “Where Liam goes, I go,” she managed to answer evenly while battling the unfamiliar emotion of hate which was quickly forming towards the vampire in front of her. His arrogance was outrageous, the way he towered over her unacceptable.
“Not in my compound you don’t, Missy,” he shot back instantly, his eyes hard, and his smile never wavering as the delightful creature matched wits with him and tried to stare him down.
He knew despite her cold aloofness her emotions were whirling deep inside her. He could tell because Liam’s stress levels were starting to escalate despite his expression never wavering. It was a little known fact that Karn shared one of the Vârcolac’s abilities. He could sense emotions which was why he was so good at what he did, why he was Mac’s second-in-command.
“You’re part of the problem so you need to be taken out of the equation,” he continued ruthlessly. “Now if that offends your sensibilities -- tough shit. You’ve helped cripple Liam so I’m not feeling particularly charitable towards you at the moment.”
Fury like nothing she’d never experienced washed over her. Green eyes began to glow as a loud hiss escaped Elina. “Who do you think you are?” She wasn’t even aware that her voice had risen, that her cold façade had cracked and Liam was wincing at her side.
“I’ve spent my entire life helping my cousin. I’ve been there for him every second of every day. Where the hell do you get off saying I’ve crippled him? You don’t even know him and you think you can come in here and make snap judgements about people?”
Karn growled facing down the furious woman who was making his gut tighten in need as she literally crackled with power and rage now her emotions had been released. She was fucking glorious and he knew one day he would have her. Not today because the timing sucked but one day soon he would have all that pent-up fire and passion in his bed. He would bathe in her and she would scream his name as they rolled in his sheets.
He dampened down the desire he felt, hid it from prying eyes and noses as he kept the smirk on his face, feasting on her.
“Do you want a fucking medal?” he barked. “What do you want me to put on it for you? Saint Elina – Black Widow to all who love her? You may not eat your lovers but you know how to cut a man off at his balls with your brand of love.”
His words whipped across her flesh, harsh and stinging but he kept going. The truth often hurt but it was undeniable. “You’ve made Liam so dependent on you he’s never had the opportunity to learn what he’s needed to protect himself. Great fucking job there, Missy. Let’s all give you a round of applause for your selfless act.”
Dayton let out a furious roar as his daughter went chalk white, a harsh gasp escaping her as she took a step back from the raw fury burning in Karn’s eyes. He was out of his chair in an instant ready to beat the vampire senseless.
Freya reached out and wrapped a hand calmly around his wrist, using her vampiric strength to halt her mate even though her own fury was bubbling deep inside her. She had made her daughter a promise twenty four years ago. She would keep that promise and so would her mate.
“Don’t interfere, honey,” she said levelly. “Elina is more than capable of taking care of herself and she won’t thank you for it.” She sounded reasonable though her eyes were almost bleeding to black belying the calm she was exuding.
Dayton shot her a disbelieving look, tugged at his wrist but she held firm. If he pulled hard enough she would release him but he could see that it was important to Freya that he allow their daughter to be strong even if it went against every protective instinct he had. He glanced at Elina but her gaze was on the vampire. She was completely oblivious to her parents’ family drama.
“You’d better be right, Freya,” he finally conceded unhappily, sitting down while still plotting as many ways to kick the shit out of Karn as he could think up.
Liam rose to his feet towering over Karn for a moment, his brown eyes thoughtful before turning to his cousin. He reached out and pulled her into his arms, for once being the one to soothe her.
“It’s okay, Elle,” he whispered stroking her hair gently. “Karn’s right on some levels just not all of them. He doesn’t know you, doesn’t understand what it has cost you to give so much of yourself to me. But I know and I will always be grateful for it even as I will always be ashamed for taking from you so selfishly.”
It was hard for Karn not to snort out loud, not to react to the tension in the room. He knew exactly what it had cost Elina all these years. His mouth may have said one thing but his mind was fully aware of the amount of damage suppressing her emotions had done to her.
It was as crucial to separate Elina from Liam as it was the other way around. Liam needed to learn to shield his abilities on his own but Elina needed to learn how to experience her emotions too. She was so close to breaking it was a wonder she hadn’t cracked earlier.
Elina swallowed hard staring into Liam’s face. She worked on her emotions utilising years of painstaking discipline to batten down her defences and construct the necessary barriers to shield her cousin from her distress. She stepped back knowing what it cost him to touch her.
“I regret nothing, Liam and I never will,” she finally answered, her cold eyes turning to look at Karn for a moment before she turned back to her cousin. “If you feel you need to go with the vampire then you must do what is best for you. Call me if you need me. And I’m so sorry for this.”
“Elle?” Liam’s confusion was nothing compared to Karn’s when Elina stepped around her cousin to face him.
Liam felt the surge of violence and braced for it as Elina’s fist connected with the vampire’s face sending him flying clear across the room to crash against the wall making it obvious she hadn’t contained her strength.
“That’s my daughter,” Freya sighed smugly into the silent room as Karn slid to the floor in a daze.
Elina stared at the male, cringed at the violence she’d committed. He had hurt her with his words and she’d wanted to hurt him back. She couldn’t even blame it on her emotions taking control. She’d made a conscious decision before she hit him otherwise she wouldn’t have apologised to Liam first. What kind of person did that make her?
Ashamed of her actions she crossed the room heading for the door as Karn struggled to his feet a wide grin on his face that contained nothing but delight. “Is that the best you can do, Missy?” he taunted as she walked passed him, her expression a mask of serenity. “I’ll look forward to the rematch.”
She ignored him and kept walking leaving the room with as much grace as she could muster after her shocking loss of temper. Liam was going away and for the first time in her life she had nobody to rely on her. The vampire was taking away the one person who truly needed her and she was battling a hatred towards him that threatened to consume her.
She was battling fear too because if she wasn’t needed to help Liam, if she had to admit that she had hurt her cousin more than helped him over the years as Karn had accused her, then she didn’t know how to deal with it or what else she had in her life. Everything had always been about Liam. If he was gone then she was all alone and that thought was more frightening than anything else.
Kallum broke the continuing silence with a bark of laughter. “Now I know why you’re single, Karn. Your chat up lines suck.”
“Truth hurts sometimes,” the vampire snorted, stifling down a groan. The witch had snapped a couple of ribs which would hurt like a bitch until they healed. It still didn’t stop him grinning though. Elina Alexander was glorious in her fury. It was just a pity she’d repressed her emotions so badly trying to help her cousin she’d inadvertently stifled her own growth. Learning control was going to be just as difficult for her as it was for Lily.
“Have we covered everything now?” he asked Rhianna, his gaze sliding to Rafe’s for confirmation. “I need to get back to the compound.” He was about done with his first foray into pack life though it had been pretty entertaining for the most part.
“I don’t think the pack can take much more at the moment,” Rafe commented somewhat dryly. Conceding control to the vampire had been a difficult experience. He wanted the other male gone so he could spend time with the others and ensure himself they were fine.
A quick glance to Liam and he nodded his consent for him to leave. The expression of relief which crossed the younger man’s face was enough to tell him he’d made the correct decision.
Liam crossed the room to say goodbye to his parents as Kallum turned to his.
“Lily’s fine,” he reassured them hugging his mother tightly. “She’ll be home tomorrow with Mac.” He watched his father intently, saw the instant he put two and two together and worked out the significance of Mac coming to the compound.
“Mackenzie?” Andrei growled softly conflicting emotions welling up inside him. He’d known Mac for centuries, had fought at his side a time or two. He knew just what the other vampire was capable of and also knew just how dangerous he was. Part of him liked that because he knew Mac could keep his daughter safe. Another part of him wasn’t best pleased though. Mac came with baggage, a past he’d never appeared to have truly recovered from. He was Lily’s mate?
Alexei started to laugh and slapped his twin hard on the back. “Who’d have thought Lily would pick someone as screwed up as you?”
That got Loretta’s attention and she frowned. “What’s wrong with this Mackenzie person?” She was overjoyed her daughter had found her mate but if there was something wrong with him…
“What’s wrong with Andrei?” Alexei countered with another laugh as Cedar nudged him to halt his teasing. She could see her friend was worried enough as it was. Having Alexei goad the other couple wasn’t helping matters.
“There’s nothing wrong with him,” Loretta answered firmly, sticking up for her mate loyally. Andrei may have his odd quirks but he was hers.
“There you go then,” her brother-in-law smiled.
At the confusion on Loretta’s face Kallum burst out laughing. “What my uncle is trying to say is that Lily has chosen a mate just like Dad,” he soothed her. “He’s a good guy, Mom, and he adores her. She adores him too.” The last was said for his father’s benefit.
Andrei nodded to his son and sought comfort in his mate’s arms. He was desperate to see Lily again, needed to reassure himself she was safe and well. Dealing with her mate at the same time would be a bit of a challenge but as he held Loretta close and felt the soothing calm she gave selflessly to him, he knew that if Mac gave his daughter that same balance then he’d accept him with open arms.
As Karn rounded up his charges he sensed Kothari watching him and turned his head to find the Vârcolac standing close by. He raised an eyebrow in query waiting for the other man to speak.
“You didn’t choose me,” Kothari commented a carefully constructed expression of curiosity on his face.
Karn snorted. “I choose those I think I have a hope in hell of shaping into the best they can be. You, boy, you don’t even know who you are at the moment. Until the day you decide who you are there’s nothing I can do for you.”
Kothari’s lips quirked in a brief smile which was gone almost as soon as it formed. “I think I like you, vampire. Doesn’t mean I won’t rip you to shreds if you hurt any of mine though. You should bear that in mind the next time you meet Elina.” He turned and walked away unconcerned if Karn was offended by his words.
“Nice talking to you,” Karn quipped back rolling his eyes and turning to usher Kallum and Liam from the room. Yeah, he was most definitely finished with the Armand-Hanlon pack for a long time. It was time to go home to the relative sanity of the Praetorian compound. He left the pack to their business.