Here is half of chapter 15 :)
Lily sighed sleepily and rolled over. She was immediately struck by the fact that she was alone in the huge bed that dominated what was now her new bedroom. She wasn’t really surprised that Mac had come and retrieved her from Liam’s room. She had a sleepy memory of his strong arms lifting her up and snuggling into his wide chest. What did surprise her was waking alone again. She’d only spent two nights in the bed since mating with her vampire and both times she’d woken to find him gone.
The subtle sound of movement by the window attracted her attention and she pushed her wild hair from her face and rolled over again to see Mac sitting on the loveseat with a pensive expression on his face. Midnight black eyes bored into her, making her feel unsure for a moment before she strengthened her resolve and met his gaze unflinchingly.
“You seem to have an issue with staying in bed with me,” she commented with a yawn, before moving onto her back and staring up at the ceiling with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“Quite the contrary, sugar,” Mac drawled with a resigned snort. “Leaving you alone in bed feels like the most exquisite of tortures.” He rose and came to sit beside her, his long locks loose and falling over his shoulders as he searched her face.
“I don’t like arguing with you, Lily. I try my hardest not to but always seem to fuck up no matter how hard I try.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve been alone for so long, sugar. I don’t know how to be someone’s husband any more.”
Lily turned to look at him, her eyes questioning. “Husband?”
The slip of the tongue seemed to be the opening he needed to explain why he’d withdrawn the day before. But she looked so beautiful lying there with her hair fanning his pillows, and her face soft with sleep. He didn’t want to ruin the moment as he ran his greedy gaze over her features.
“Talk to me, Mackenzie. I’m your mate and whatever it is that’s bothering you, I’m here to listen. Please don’t shut me out.”
Lily’s soft words pierced him deeply and Mac took a deep breath, unable to deny that she had the right to know what was wrong as it affected her just as much as it did him. He knew he was being a coward trying to put the moment off for as long as possible.
Lily watched Mac, knowing instinctively that he was struggling with what he needed to say because he wasn’t shielding his facial expressions as easily as he usually did. She could also feel the roiling emotions he was experiencing through their mate bond. Whatever was on his mind was so important it was enough to unsettle him completely and that caused a shiver of fear to run through her.
What could be so bad to have Mac rattled so much? He’d handled all the revelations yesterday as if they were minor annoyances. Whatever it was must be personal and that meant it impacted on them as mates. She felt her fear ratchet up a little more and her wolf began to pace restlessly deep inside.
“Mac, what do you mean by husband?” Her voice trembled slightly on the last word. She knew that only humans usually used the ritual of marriage to bind themselves together. That her mate had chosen that word could only mean that in the past he had once been married before he became a vampire.
That was a surprise because the Mac she knew had always been a loner until he’d met her. It seemed strange to think of him being in love with someone else, of sharing tender moments with another even if it was so very long ago. Lily’s wolf didn’t like that train of thought, snarling so viciously that she quickly blanked her thoughts to pacify the beast. She somehow knew keeping control of her wolf right now was going to be one of the most important things she’d ever done in her life.
Mackenzie looked into Lily’s troubled face and reached out to cup her cheek. His touch was tender, lightly brushing her soft skin and marvelling at how perfect she was. He could feel her fear through their bond and knew his next words would cause her nothing but heartache. His Lily didn’t deserve to be tied to him for the rest of her life. She didn’t deserve the world of hurt that was about to come her way.
Taking a deep breath, Mac let it out slowly and tried to calm his thumping heart. There was no avoiding this conversation and he needed to be in full control to ensure that should Lily’s wolf react badly, he’d be able to contain the beast before it became too feral.
“I was married once, a very long time ago.” He paused and let the words sink in, giving his mate time to digest the news and taking an extra few deep breaths to calm himself further.
“Her name was Maria and she had the sweetest, gentlest of dispositions. Her hair was only a shade or so lighter than yours and her eyes were a deep emerald green.” Mac closed his eyes seeing Maria’s smiling face as if he’d only seen her a few days before. Describing her to Lily helped him to remember his wife as she was and not how he’d last seen her.
“When I was human I was a farmer, brash and not very good with ladies. I was rough and spoke little, but for some reason Maria saw through all that and found something worth loving in me. It was a different time then, Lily. Ladies didn’t approach men and show their interest. I guess Maria got tired of waiting for me to court her and despite being so shy decided to court me.”
Mac smiled, closing his eyes as he remembered the day he’d finished seeding the bottom pasture and made his way back to his modest holding. He’d been surprised to see what was obviously a lady’s horse chewing grass in the nearest pasture. On further inspection, he’d noticed the small figure sitting on his porch steps with a cloth covered basket at her feet.
Good day to you, Jonah,” Maria called out, a shaky hand fixing a pretty deep green bonnet on her head. “I was in the area and thought I’d stop by. I was planning to find somewhere to rest and eat on this lovely summer’s evening but was loathe to dine alone. I hope this isn’t an inconvenience.”
Mackenzie stared at the petite beauty before him, conscious of how hot and sweaty he was, and that she was a lady of worth, the Banker’s daughter no less. Why had she travelled out of her way to his meagre holding? There was no way she had been in the area. He lived in a secluded spot far from town or neighbours.
“Begging your pardon for my state of undress, milady,” he managed to stammer out when he remembered his basic manners. His chest was bare and he reached for his leather vest tucked in the waistband of his breeches. “If you give me a moment, I’ll get cleaned up and presentable.”
He moved around the house and out back, using the water trough to clean the worst of the sweat and dirt from his body and dunking his head in the cold water. His unruly black locks dripped moisture down his already wet body as he wrung his hair dry as best he could.
Mackenzie quickly hurried inside his holding via the back door and dripped water all over the dusty wooden floors as he walked through the small living room and into his bedroom. Grabbing a cloth to dry himself, he selected his Sunday best, a pair of dark brown breeches with course cotton shirt and matching brown waistcoat. He dressed and ran a bone comb through his hair before tying it back and grabbing his best hat to hide the messy locks as best he could.
It had been an age since he’d been to a proper barber. He couldn’t really afford to visit one so he tended to hack away at his hair with his knife until it was out of his way enough to work. Mackenzie was conscious that the delicate creature outside waiting for him was far above him with her pretty green dress with its bright yellow brocade of silk and lace. Why she had come to visit him was a complete mystery.
As Mackenzie stepped out the front door, he was once again struck by the beauty of Maria Malone and could only stare at her in awe as she turned to face him. She shyly appraised him with her emerald eyes and a faint smile curved lips that appeared a bit wide for so delicate a visage.
“You dress quickly for a man, Jonah,” she smiled. “Men always say it is ladies who take forever to attire ourselves but Papa always makes us late for a dinner party. Of course, our hosts always assume I am the cause of our tardiness but it is Papa. Only don’t tell him I breathed a word of that fore I shall be in trouble if he were to find out.”
Maria was aware she was chattering nonsense but her heart was fluttering wildly as she stared into Mackenzie’s steel grey eyes. From the moment she’d grown tired of waiting for him to court her and decided to do the deed herself, it appeared her heart had had a mind of its own.
Watching him stride back from the pasture, his manly chest glistening in the late summer sun, had almost made her swoon on the spot. The sweat and dirt were the signs of a good day’s honest labour, something for which Jonah Mackenzie was renowned throughout town for. His hard muscles had bunched and flexed as he’d moved with a feline grace that had taken her very breath away.
It was watching him approach and his attempt at courtly manners which had convinced her she was right in what she was doing. Being in love with Jonah Mackenzie was a heady thing; something she had considered was possibly a day dream rather than genuine emotion. Now she was standing before him in his finery and she knew her emotions were true.
“I’m relieved to have met with your approval, milady.” Mackenzie turned back inside and came out with his best table which he sat in the sunshine in the middle of the yard. He took the table cloth covering the food in the basket and laid it over the table before Maria shooed him away.
“I have cutlery but a chair or two would be helpful, Jonah.”
Mackenzie watched her begin laying the food onto pretty china plates she retrieved from the basket and then headed inside to get two chairs. They weren’t very good chairs, nothing fit for a lady, so he grabbed the hand embroidered cushion his Mama had made years ago and was his only remaining possession of hers. He noted, as he laid the cushion on Maria’s chair, that it was a lighter green than her dress and appeared perfect for the occasion.
“Why thank you, Jonah. That’s most thoughtful of you.”
The petite beauty’s praise made him blush and he looked down at his boots wishing he’d taken an extra moment to shine them properly. Truth be told, he was way out of his league with this lady and had used up most of what he remembered about the manners his Mama had taught him.
“Sit, Jonah, and please stop calling me milady. My name is Maria and I’d count it a great honour if you would address me as such.”
“Certainly, mil…Maria.” Mackenzie sat down, wishing on one hand the ground would open up and swallow him, while on the other, he was mesmerised by the pretty brunette sitting across from him.
One more glance into the sparkling emerald of her eyes, one more soft curving of her sweet, delicate mouth and he knew his life would never be the same after this day.
“She sounds lovely, Mac.”
Lily’s soft words broke him out of the memory and he was surprised to realise he’d told his mate the story of his first real meeting with Maria. He’d never shared that moment with anyone before. It was special to him and his now dead wife.
It felt good talking about it, remembering Maria in all her simple beauty, the elegance of her movements, her demure genteelness. It didn’t feel wrong sharing it with Lily and from the tender expression on her face, it hadn’t upset her or her wolf.
“She was,” he sighed softly, taking Lily’s hand in his and running his thumb over the back in slow movements. “I think I fell in love with her that day. It was very difficult not to love Maria, the whole town did. I expected her father to object to us courting as I wasn’t wealthy like he, but Maria had a strong backbone when she wanted something and she wanted me. I still don’t know why, to this day, she chose me when there were so many other more prosperous bachelors around.”
“Maybe she saw the same in you that I do?” Lily answered with a small smile curving her lips. “You’re one sexy male and you have an integrity that shines out for all to see. You are just so easy to love, Jonah Mackenzie.”
She rolled the name on her lips, amazed that her mate had hidden his full name from the world for so long. Jonah Mackenzie. It had a lovely ring to it and she wondered if maybe Maria had been the only person other than his family to call him Jonah. Perhaps that memory was so special to him he didn’t want to taint it by having others use his birth name.
Lily was surprised that she didn’t feel any jealousy or animosity towards the long dead woman who had once held Mac’s heart so completely and still resided in it from the expression on his face when he spoke of her. Her initial reaction had been to be jealous and her wolf had most certainly not been happy about another’s claim on her mate.
But as Mac had told his story, she’d been transported back into another time, a world so different it was fascinating to listen to. Mac’s happiness meant everything to her and she’d learned her lesson from the last time she’d learned about his more recent past and reacted without thinking.
Her mate had had a life before her and that was something she had to accept and could never change. And it was hard to think badly of anyone who had given her mate such happiness before they’d met, and her wolf seemed to feel the same way too as she’d settled down now and appeared less agitated.
“Maybe,” Mac answered after a slight pause. He could see questions in Lily’s eyes and was aware the time for procrastinating was long past.
“We didn’t court for long,” he continued. “Maria and I married that fall. She had no qualms about coming to live on my small holding. It took her some time to come to grips with her new world, but she dove into the farming life enthusiastically. We saved up for a few years until we could afford to add on an extra room and then Maria became pregnant with our daughter Sophia. The day my little angel was born was the happiest day of my life.”
Lily stiffened in shock, her gaze searching Mac’s face as he stared off into space, adoration shining in the depths of his dark gaze. Her mate had been a father? All this was new to her, something kept so secret that she doubted very many people knew of Mac’s history. To realise he’d had a daughter unsettled her wolf who began to prowl inside her again.
What had happened to Maria and Sophia? Why, even as Mac’s eyes shone with adoration as he relived the birth of his child, did she sense such deep sadness down their mate bond? Lily wanted the story to stop now, feeling her heart start to pick up at beat. Something told her what came next was not something she wanted to hear.
But she knew she couldn’t avoid it. Mac had changed yesterday at the compound and as he spoke the pieces started falling into place. He’d been fine up until her mom had mentioned having children. Now he was telling her about a child he’d once fathered. Her heart raced a little harder and she sucked in a deep breath to await the ending of the story.
Mac turned his gaze back to his mate and saw realisation beginning to dawn on Lily’s face. She was so intelligent, putting two and two together and getting the right result. In her eyes was a hint of fear and he could hear her heart beginning to race. Did she know what was coming or was she just guessing it was something bad?
His grip of her hand tightened and he kept her gaze glued to his as he went where he never wanted to go ever again.
“I was working the furthest away pasture one day when something told me I had to get home as quickly as I could.” Mac’s voice faltered as he struggled to keep control as the memory returned in an instant.
Running so fast, his heart beating wildly and in danger of bursting. ‘Have to get home!’
The urgency of the thought was like nothing Mackenzie had ever experienced. One moment he was working away and the next the compulsion to go home was upon him and he was moving before he even realised what he was doing.
“Maria!” Mackenzie burst through the last pasture, seeing the overturned washing basket with the clean linen lying in the dirt.
Maria would be annoyed at seeing her clean laundry getting dirty like that. Had Sophia overturned the basket? His two year old was rambunctious for her age, a little power house of independence but with a sunny disposition. It was hard to be stern with his daughter when she smiled her pretty smile at him. She well and truly had him wrapped around her little finger and his wife was always telling him off for spoiling her.
Somehow Mac knew that the spilled laundry was not due to his child. The sense of foreboding which had come over him earlier was stronger now, the image of the laundry increasing the unease he felt.
His wife usually answered his call in an instant. This morning there was only silence. He’d barely been away from the holding, an hour, maybe just a little more. He’d left Maria tussled and replete in their bed, the afterglow of their loving shining in her eyes and her breathy words of love ringing in his ears as he’d dressed for work.
He’d kissed Sophia’s sleeping head, gently stroking her black curls before leaving her room before he disturbed her awake. Maria liked half an hour to herself to get organised before taking on the whirlwind that was their daughter. He’d headed out to work with one final kiss for his wife, the routine which had become their daily life.
Now Mackenzie ran towards the open front door, a feeling of dread in his heart as he heard no sounds from Maria or Sophia. He slipped entering the house, falling to his knees and putting out his hands to stop himself. He connected with warm, thick liquid, frowning as his eyes adjusted to the darker interior. Had Maria dropped the coffee pot?
Colour came to Mackenzie and his heart stuttered in his chest as he stared at his hands. Red…so crimson as he turned his hands it looked almost black. Still warm but cooling fast. Still warm…
The anguished cries couldn’t be coming from him lips. The animal sounds, the disbelief and utter agony couldn’t be coming from his soul. Mackenzie tried to get up but slipped in the liquid again, an acrid scent invading his nostrils. He’d scented that smell before, when one of the horses passed.
“SOPHIA! MARIA!” Another anguished scream left him as he crawled across the floor following the crimson trail towards his daughter’s bedroom. The door was closed and Mackenzie staggered to his feet and burst inside.
Blood, everywhere, coating the once pink walls in an ugly spatter of red. The stench in the room was overpowering as was the sight before him.
Maria was lying on her back on the floor, her once emerald eyes coated with the white sheen of death. Her throat was missing, her no-nonsense workday dress saturated in blood instead of the plain dark grey he was used to. Her face was remarkably untouched, so white in pallor. Her right arm was stretched out towards a red and white bundle of rags lying half under Sophia’s small bed.
“No,” Mackenzie groaned, his heart shattering as he stared down at his wife. Bile rose in his throat and a ragged sob escaped him as he sank to his knees beside her. “Maria, please God no, not my Maria.”
It was as if he was possessed, denial blazing in his heart. He grabbed his wife by the shoulders and shook her, ignoring her missing throat. “Get up, Maria! Sophia needs you! I need you!”
Her head flopped sickeningly and the last of her warm blood pumped out of the tear in her neck. Mackenzie felt his soul die as he hugged Maria’s lifeless body to his and began to sob his anguish into the room.
“Not my Maria,” he wept. “Not my love. Dear God, please don’t do this to me.”
Mackenzie had no idea how long he wept as Maria’s body went cold in his arms. It didn’t even register in his mind that she had still been warm when he’d arrived, that whatever had happened to take her from him had occurred probably only a handful of minutes before he got back to the holding.
There wasn’t much rational thought in his mind until he remembered his daughter and stilled in his rocking of his wife.
“Sophia.” The word whispered out of his lips. He hadn’t thought anything could be worse than finding Maria dead but the fear in his heart for his daughter surpassed even that. Maybe she had escaped whoever had done this to Maria?
Again he knew he was in denial. Maria had been injured in the living room and had run to Sophia’s bedroom. A mother always runs to protect her child when danger is around and Maria adored Sophia as much as he did.
Mackenzie’s mind snapped back to the initial scene when he entered the room, Maria lying on her back with her hand stretched out…
“No! No, no, no, no, no!” He heard himself chanting even as his gaze returned to the bundle of rags half under the bed and saw a tiny white foot poking out.
Mackenzie’s heart stopped beating; horror invading his soul as he gently lowered Maria to the floor and haltingly moved towards the bundle. With gentle hands he reached for the tiny body covered in her bloodstained nightgown, and picked up the lifeless form of his daughter.
Someone was scraping cut glass through his body. They were doing it over and over again as a fire of agony tore through him.
“Wake up, Sophia,” Mackenzie sobbed, cradling his daughter in his arms and pressing his large hand against her ravished throat. “Please wake up for Papa, angel. Please.”
But he knew Sophia would never wake again. The deathly pallor of her skin and the coldness of her little body told him she had been dead longer than Maria, that his wife most likely had had to watch their daughter die before she was killed.
Mackenzie sat sobbing in a pool of blood beside his wife, cradling his daughter and holding Maria’s limp hand against their child’s body. They were a family and they did everything together. The only time they were apart was when he was out in the fields. If he’d been home today when whatever monster it was that had come calling had arrived, he’d have been lying beside his family, as dead as they were.
The tears wouldn’t stop; the cut glass grating through his body wouldn’t stop. His life was Maria and Sophia. They were his heart and soul and now they were gone, their end something so hideous and terrifying. He couldn’t bear the thought of how they must have suffered. He couldn’t bear the thought of living a life where they no longer existed.
Mackenzie still felt tears streaking down his face as he gently settled Sophia in her mother’s arms and took his knife from his belt. He wasn’t crying for himself but for the two beautiful angels who no longer graced the world.
“I’m coming, Maria,” he whispered as he lay down, their daughter safely between their bodies. “Papa’s coming, Sophia.”
Mackenzie rasped the knife across his throat, closing his eyes as he felt his blood begin to flow…