A few months ago I asked my Canadian BFF if he would be so kind as to add some of his talented writing skills to my FTI world. In particular, I asked for three Journal's written by Kothari, one I needed quite soon and the others for Kothi's story which will be the next tale.
Imagine my surprise when in my Christmas parcel from Canada...I had thirty handwritten Journals!!!!
I asked for *dark* and *chaotic* thoughts from a male perspective, and what I received just blew me away #stunned.
So as a treat, I will give you each Journal in picture format so you might enjoy them as they were written. My Canadian knows where Kothari is journeying, and he has brought his thoughts to life exactly as I have pictured it.
Thank you my KBF!!! You so totally rock!!!! #superhugs
Thursday, 26 December 2013
Sunday, 15 December 2013
Okay, here is the Teaser for Chapter 12 as promised. We are taking a little trip to Europe. On a side note, Dante is one of the winning characters from last year's Character Competition on Facebook, so let's hear it for our lovely La Chica! She submitted so many great characters I chose more than one. Well done, babes!
“You did well, Michael. I am very pleased with this turn of events. Do as the woman has bidden you.”
“You did well, Michael. I am very pleased with this turn of events. Do as the woman has bidden you.”
The voice inside his head was filled with pride, a soothing warmth that made the vampire sit a little straighter in the hard backed chair as the emotions washed over him. It meant everything to him to please his master. His pleasure washed away all other abuses he may have suffered or would come to suffer in his life.
“Should I tell Louis about the call, Master? He is very angry with Thereasa. He will likely send a team over there to assassinate her.”
“Yes, he may just do that.” There was indulgence in the tone, that bordered on amusement. “It is no matter if he does. I think it highly unlikely he will succeed and it will be good opportunity to test their defences. Ensure that you are in any party he may send over, Michael. I will need your eyes and ears.”
More pride flowed down the mental link, causing euphoria to envelop the weaker mind. Michael’s mental voice oozed zeal; an obedience so complete the other persona had to dial back the emotions it projected to avoid rendering the vampire useless.
The results were instantaneous, disappointment cutting through some of the euphoria.“Master, have I disappointed you in some way?”
“On the contrary, Michael, I am particularly pleased with everything that you have achieved. You have endured much in my name. Continue as you are, and I may allow you another taste of that which you crave.”
“Yes, my Master. I will ensure I am your eyes and ears over there. Might I taste before I leave?
There was so much hope in the words, so much yearning, the stronger mind felt a moment’s disgust. He quickly dampened it to avoid detection. “We will discuss it when you return, Michael. Now, do as I bade.”
The other presence vanished, leaving the vampire alone with his thoughts. Michael took a deep breath and turned his head to the side, stretching out with his enhanced senses. He was still alone in the office gym, and the enshrouding silence from the other rooms told him no one from the coven was near.
It was early morning and the others had yet to surface. He had chosen the time specifically to contact him, relieved to be afforded some time to discuss Thereasa’s call before Louis returned from his trip. His leader was due back this morning and Michael was sure he would be able to justify his lack of contact with the volatile French vampire. He blame it on security concerns...at least, he hoped so.
Louis was a law unto himself most of the time, unpredictable in the extremes. His fury at Reasa’s betrayal was a cold burning rage that had everyone treading on eggshells. He had punished Michael on his return, even though he’d carried out the orders he’d been given by both Reasa and his coven leader. Still, it hadn’t been enough to dampen Louis’ wrath at the fiasco in Edinburgh.
Memories of excruciating agony clouded Michael’s thoughts, and he had to bite his lip not to issue a hiss as his most painful lesson sifted through his mind. He pictured red-hot coals, stoked in the furnace until they glowed white; a deep incision slashed down his torso, into which the coals were placed before he was allowed to heal. Oh, how he had screamed as his internal organs burned from the coals; he had healed, regardless, and the process had been repeated so many times that his babbling became incoherent.
All the while Louis had sat on his makeshift throne atop the dais in his audience chamber. The rest of the coven were seated on opposite benches, eagerly watching the punishment being meted out. Michael saw the cold hazel eyes of his Leader, felt them boring into him as he lay spread-eagled, naked on the cold tiled floor. He had been bound as uncontrolled screams had been ripped from him, his wrists a bloodied mess as the inquisitor had plied his trade.
“Where is she?”
It had been the only question asked, and it was the one question he had no answer to. His inability to offer up an acceptable response didn’t stop it being repeated as his insides melted down from the flames within.
An intense hatred for Thereasa burned in Michael’s soul as the memories continued to play out like a broken records. It was her fault he’d been tortured, her fault he had been punished for the fiasco that had happened. He was glad he might be chosen for the mission Louis would most certainly order He would hunt the traitor down; when he got his hands on her, she would scream...longer, and far louder than he had ever screamed. By the time he was finished with Thereasa, she would yearn for death!
“Now that is an interesting expression, Michael. Pray tell me…just who is it that engenders such hatred in you?”
The colour leeched from the younger male’s face at the sound of the voice behind him.
“Louis! I did not hear you arrive home.” Michael’s voice shook slightly and he had to swallow hard before he turned around. His coven leader was leaning casually against the wall beside the French doors that led out into the garden.
Louis was one of the closest things the European covens had to an Ancient. No one still living knew his real age. They just knew that if anyone stood a chance of reaching the illustrious two thousand year mark, it would be the barely tame vampire that was waiting for his question to be answered.
His hazel eyes displayed a weary patience; his black, wavy hair brushed the collar of his leather jacket in its inimitable, haphazard style. He looked to be in his late twenties, but his eyes told another story. The hard angles of his face held an austere beauty, the slash of his lips a harbinger to the cruelty that could be summoned at the drop of a hat. Everything about Louis St. Geraint spoke of power, a power that he did nothing to conceal His expression hardened further as he struggled to hide his escalating irritation.
“I asked you a question, vampire.”
His cold tone had Michael swallowing hard again. “Please forgive me, Louis,” he stammered. “I was startled at your arrival. I received a telephone call yesterday…from Thereasa. I was thinking of her when you arrived.”
The other vampire moved so quickly Michael had no chance to protect himself. Not that he would have been foolish enough to try to, he would never have dreamed of attacking Louis. Michael may have been prepared enough that he could have mitigated some of the damage. As it was, both arms snapped painfully and his spine shattered as Louis pounded him into the opposite wall.
“You didn’t think this was something I needed to know immediately?”
Louis’s icy tone appeared incongruous with the venom in his expression as his talons dug into Michael’s throat and left him gurgling.
“Uh, Louis, it might be easier for him to answer if you weren’t choking the life out of him.”
For a second there was only silence and then the coven leader slowly turned to survey the new arrival.
“I thought I told you never to come here again.” The words were issued in the same cold tone, their warning explicit.
The other male merely smiled, as he ran a hand through his short dark, wavy hair; almost a mirror image of the irate vampire before him.
“Maybe you should be thanking me for passing through. That is, if you wish to glean any information from that vampire you’re about to decapitate.”
His words sank in and Louis swung back around to look at Michael. With an annoyed growl, he let go of him and watched him sink down to the floor in a boneless heap.
“What do you want, Dante?”
“Like I said, I was just passing through the area and heard there had been a little excitement recently. I was intrigued when I heard it was your coven, Louis. It’s not like you to have problems.”
Dante entered the room fully, ignoring the recovering vampire as he kept his gaze firmly on the Frenchman. It was never wise to take one’s eyes off the deadliest predator in the room, and he was certainly no fool. Louis was barely in control, and appeared more volatile than usual. Something was amiss, something he had been sensing for a long time though unable to determine the cause.
So far, he hadn’t been successful in ferreting out anything useful, despite his endless travels. He knew there was a danger out there, something that could bring harm to all of the covens in Europe. As soon as he’d heard talk of trouble in Louis’ coven, he’d come back immediately. This was the most stable coven in the area and if it was being affected…the instrument of that disaffection had to be nearby.
“My coven is none of your business. I suggest it remains so; otherwise I may have to reconsider our non-aggression pact, Castillo. You did me a service once in the past. Do not presume that gives you carte blanche to become involved in matters that are none of your concern.”
Sitting down behind the desk, Dante levered the chair backwards until it rested against the wall. “Perhaps I can assist you once more? Has that not occurred to you, Louis? I hear you have recently lost one you valued highly. Perhaps I can fill that role for a short time until you find a more permanent replacement?”
At his words, the other vampire stilled completely. There wasn’t even an indication he was drawing breath as his eyes darkened to the point of turning feral. “Just what have you heard?”
Righting the chair, Dante turned serious, and allowed his true thoughts to show. “Be calm, my friend. The rumours are not common knowledge…yet. You know that I have a discreet network covering most of Europe. I picked up small snippets here and there and managed to weave them together to form a more complete picture. For the moment, none of the other covens are aware of the dissent within yours, and I came here in an effort to keep it that way.”
The Frenchman regarded him intently for a long moment, searching his open expression for any sign of deceit, and then he slowly relaxed and pulled up a chair to sit down. Behind him, the younger male was moving to make himself more comfortable against the wall as his body slowly healed from the damage inflicted.
“You ask for trust, when in the same breath you admit to having spies everywhere. Who are you, Dante, and why do you have such an interest in my coven?”
A low chuckle escaped from Dante’s lips unbidden, though his expression clouded. “You know who and what I am, Louis. You have always known that. You just can’t understand me, and therefore you search for something that is not there.”
Distrust remained in the coven leader’s eyes. “You expect me to believe that all you are is a reluctant vampire living his life in constant penance? That your sole intent is to move from coven to coven and help where you deem it necessary?” Louis barked out a laugh, devoid of any humour.
“Vampires are not altruistic, Castillo. Even those across the water who believe themselves better than us still do what they do for their own benefit. They may try to convince themselves otherwise, but they are lying to themselves. There is no we in vampire. Everything we do is ultimately for our own selfish needs.”
“I know you believe that, my friend, which is why I said you do not understand me,” Dante sighed, and leaned on the desk, his expression still clouded. “I do not lie to you, Louis. I am who I am; a reluctant vampire.”
He then smiled as a glint of humour danced in his pale brown eyes. “I quite like that. It sounds suitably tragic. However, we digress from the point of my being here. Your coven has lost a high-ranking member, and when I arrived, you were interrogating your subordinate. How may I assist you?”
He waited for his friend to weigh up his options. Louis wasn’t a fool and hadn’t lived so long by being weak. All through his coven’s history he had aligned himself with the strongest of vampires, choosing his allegiances wisely to build up his powerbase The Frenchman was now in the enviable position of having the strongest of covens and had no further need to seek alliances with some of his past cohorts. Maybe he would decide he didn’t need Dante’s help after all.
The silence stretched out longer and then finally Louis snapped his fingers at the young male. “Come here, Michael.”
The blond vampire rose on unsteady feet and painfully made his way closer. “This is Dante Castillo. He takes Thereasa’s position until I say otherwise. You will obey him as my second.” He didn’t wait for any sign of agreement. His entire coven knew better than to question one of his edicts.
His intent gaze turned back to the new arrival. “So, tell me what you think you know.”
A small smile settled across Dante’s lips as relief coursed through him. The odds had been fifty/fifty that Louis would accept his help. It was gratifying that he had. He ran an experienced eye over Michael and noted his healing was almost complete, though there was a shadow of fear still lingering in his eyes.
His gaze swung back to Louis. “It would appear you have drawn the eyes of the Northern American vampires to us. You’ve garnered the attention of none other than Demetri Bozic, himself, from what I’ve managed to learn. I’m intrigued as to why you have suddenly decided you want to tangle with Ancients, my friend. It’s not like you to be so reckless.”
“It was a simple information-gathering exercise which turned sour,” Louis growled, his eyes flashing with fury. “I presumed Thereasa could handle the imbeciles I sent with her, but she failed and it got out of hand. There was never any intention to tangle with the Ancients. The coven leaders merely wanted to know what was happening with the mixed matings and their offspring. Michael here, and the recently departed Bruce, became overly zealous in their task. Reasa was supposed to clean up the mess, but it appears she found her own fervour unexpectedly and decided to take matters into her own hands.”
He snapped his fingers at the younger male. “Speak.”
Michael swallowed hard in fear and also to test that his throat had healed enough to work. His voice shook as he began to talk. “Thereasa telephoned yesterday. She said she was being held captive in one of the wolf packs that are aligned with the vampires over there. She demanded to be rescued, said she had something to tell you that was a threat to all the covens. The call was interrupted. I heard her scream before the line went dead.”
Dante remained quiet, as he mentally added the extra information to what he’d already gleaned. The covens had suddenly decided to work together to determine the threat level from across the pond? Never, in all of European history, had the covens ever worked together for anything. Louis meant it when he said there was no we in Vampire. The fact that the coven leader had unwittingly offered the information—without appearing to understand the implications of it—definitely set off warning bells.
Thereasa had always been passionate, from what he remembered of her. One of the reasons he had liked her so much had been her unwavering loyalty to not only her coven, but also her leader. Now she was recklessly endangering her family? That was what the coven signified to her: the family that she had lost all those centuries ago, something she would have gladly sacrificed herself for. Had she discovered something so frightening that it was enough to cause her to abandon everything she held dear?
The more he heard, the more unanswered questions there were, and the more his unease grew. Something was very wrong and it appeared he was the only one who could see it. Perhaps he should go and visit the Ancients? Maybe they would have the answers he was seeking and he was wasting his time in Europe? It was definitely something he would consider; but for the moment, the threat level still felt too close to home.
“Are you intending to rescue the girl?”
Louis growled loudly and stood up, his chair crashing to the floor. “Betrayal does not warrant a rescue, but she can’t be left there. She knows too much about my coven, she knows all our safe houses and where I would most likely settle if they were compromised.”
Hazel eyes turned to Michael and bore into him mercilessly. “You deserve no reward for having failed me, vampire; however, I believe your hatred for Thereasa is second only to mine. Assemble a team. When you have, Dante will approve your selection and you will find Thereasa and kill her. Do not return until you have her head to show me.”
Michael stood up straighter, his eyes glowing with an emotion that was hard to define. His lips curled into the semblance of a smile as he nodded his head in agreement. “As you command.” Without another word, he turned and hurried from the office.
“Is that wise, Louis? You’ve just said he failed you before and this mess is largely his doing. Can you trust him to do as you want?” Dante was curious to why his friend had chosen the younger male. He had been expecting to be sent himself.
“All the more reason to send him,” the Frenchman answered, the first hint of a smile crossing his face. “He knows death awaits him if he fails me again, and I am fairly certain Reasa will die at his hands if he’s able to reach her. And if he does fail…well the Ancients will take care of him and I won’t have to deal with him any further.”
“Won’t that leave Thereasa alive if he fails? Won’t your coven still be at risk?”
Louis turned to walk out of the office, and Dante followed him into the main gym area, which was beginning to fill up with coven members arriving to train.
“If she intended to betray the coven, we would all be dead already, Dante. Whatever her reasons were for doing what she did, there is one thing I am willing to bet my life on and that’s Reasa would never betray this coven.”
“Then why kill her? You told Michael she had to die to keep the coven safe.”
The expression on the Frenchman’s face was chilling as he turned to look back at the one male he would have called friend, if he could ever trust anyone that much. “Because she betrayed me, and the penalty for that will always be death.”
Tuesday, 12 November 2013
“Annie! You’re back. For a moment there I thought someone had broken into the bookstore.”
Ashleigh’s voice shattered Rhianna’s concentration, and she glanced up from her book, startled by the other woman’s arrival. It was still early, just past six thirty. She hadn’t expected Ashleigh to arrive for at least another hour and a half.
“And you’re here very early. Did Nors kick you out of bed?” There was a teasing note to her voice as she set the book beside her on sofa and stretched to get some of the kinks out of her neck. She’d arrived at the bookstore a couple of hours ago, unable to sleep and not wanting to disturb Caleb. He appeared to be getting the first decent night’s sleep since they’d been apart; it had seemed a shame to disturb him with her restlessness. The bookstore had offered the perfect place for some uninterrupted solitude as she began reading the two books Anakatrine had selected. She just hadn’t figured on Ashleigh coming in so early.
Truth be told, she had missed the comfort she’d always found in the bookstore. As a vampire, her appearance no longer aged so being there daily had no longer been an option. It had been almost 15 years since her last visit. The running of the shop had been handed over to the pack, with different members rotating every few years to keep suspicion to a minimum. Ashleigh had taken the first five, and had just recently resumed that role again. Her youthful appearance meant she could pass as a younger relative if need be, but so far none of the patrons had appeared to notice anything unusual.
Rhianna knew that they would have to sell the place soon. The mere thought of it broke her heart, but keeping their secret was more important. She knew it would break Ashleigh’s too, and that was the reason the younger woman had asked to be the final manager. The blonde wolf had come to find the same inner peace in the bookstore as she did. It had helped her cope with the loss of her family, and it appeared to be a safe haven for her as she struggled with her current dilemma.
Rhianna hadn’t realised just how much she’d missed her sanctuary until she’d seen Anakatrine’s library. It was only then she’d realised that she shared the same love of books as the vampire Queen. Anakatrine had owned an extensive library. Rhianna had chosen to open a bookstore when she’d first lost Rafe. The synchronicity wasn’t lost on her, nor was the feeling that a sense of closure hung in the air. She didn’t want to think of that at the moment though, and was glad when her friend spoke.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Ashleigh sighed, running a hand through her wispy, blond hair. Dark, black circles shadowed her eyes and her face was etched with a deep frown. It was clear that she was struggling with the torrent of recent events.
“Same here.” Rhianna picked up an empty coffee cup from the table in front of her as she rose from her seat. “Coffee?”
Ashleigh nodded, her expression softening as she sat down on the sofa. Her eyes unconsciously scanned over the snug area of the bookstore where patrons could sip coffee while sitting on comfortable seats to read. It was her favourite part of the shop. Floor to ceiling bookcases separated it from the main part of the store, offering a semblance of privacy. She sat here often when she had things on her mind. “Have you seen Rafe yet?”
“I called him last night and let him know I was home. I had some things to do before I headed over, some research that may help us.” Rhianna returned with the coffees and set them down on the table. She took a seat next to her friend, her expression sympathetic. “Rafe told me you’re having a hard time with what’s been happening. Do you want to talk about it? I imagine you may have some things you would like to say to me personally, as I played such a large part in what occurred up at the Praetorian Compound.” Her tone was soft and encouraging; she realized that the emotions her friend was experiencing were in stark contrast to her normally sunny disposition, and therefore, part of her struggle.
There was a long silence as Ashleigh appeared to try to verbalise what was running through her mind before she sighed and ran a hand through her hair again. “I’ve often wondered how you do what you do and make it seem so easy, Annie. I don’t think any of us have ever realised how hard it is for you…not until now. I think I can understand a little, because I am so torn with everything that’s happened.”
She turned haunted brown eyes to the vampire. “Part of me was so angry that you didn’t allow Caleb to kill Thereasa, though I knew you must have had a reason for it and it would have hurt Liam to his very core. I know that’s wrong, but I still had those feelings. I’ve been working on understanding—or trying to—but it’s been hard having that woman in my home with Liam claiming her as his mate. I want Liam to be happy, but not with her.”
Ashleigh swallowed hard and reached for her coffee, needing something to occupy her hands. “Annie, to have such hatred for that woman in my heart, knowing that I’m hurting my son, is ripping me apart. I don’t know how to reconcile all these conflicting emotions. I want to be there for Liam, yet I find myself pushing him further away. I can’t bear the thought of losing him, but I can’t find it in my heart to forgive Reasa either.”
The self-loathing evident in Ashleigh’s voice weighed heavily on Rhianna. She stood up and took a few steps away, before pacing back towards the sofa, her heart filled with empathy for her friend. “I don’t always understand why Anakatrine chooses to do what she does. I just know she has a reason for it and I have to have faith in her. There is no denying that Thereasa has made mistakes, some truly appalling ones, but there is good within her.”
Kneeling before Ashleigh, Rhianna gently removed the cup from her hands so she could hold them tightly. “You know it’s natural to have these feelings, Ash. You almost lost your son and there is nothing stronger than a mother’s love for her child. You should spend less time beating yourself up for feeling this way and accept that it’s okay to be human.”
“I’ve tried, Annie. I’ve tried so hard, but I can’t see anything beyond the fact that she came here to murder my son.”
Ashleigh’s confession was full of misery. It was heart-rending to hear the conflict, the raw pain in her voice. “Stop and think of who you are…what you are, honey. You are pack and you are wolf. The mating instinct is a part of you; it shapes you personally and it shapes every Were in existence. The Vârcolac follow that same mating instinct. For Liam’s wolf to choose Thereasa means there is something worth choosing. She completes him, Ash. He needs her to help him with his empathic abilities and she needs him, too.”
Rhianna reached up to cup her cheek soothingly. “You found it in your heart to accept Freya—and Thereasa isn’t all that different from her. You welcomed Freya into your life for Nors’ sake and you saw how his love, and Dayton’s, was able to free her goodness. Your capacity to love and feel compassion is what makes you so unique, Ashleigh Bryant. You passed down that same love and compassion to your son. Trust in Liam. He knows what is right for him, just as much as Day did when he finally stopped resisting Freya. Thereasa will save three souls; Liam will save so many more with her at his side.”
Her cryptic words were intended to create curiosity and they succeeded. Ashleigh’s troubled expression turned quizzical, her head tilting to the side. “What do you mean?”
Rhianna smiled, quickly mulling over the pros and cons before she spoke again. “Honestly, I shouldn’t really say anything, because this hasn’t been discussed with anyone yet. Caleb and Gard know bits and pieces, but maybe this is something you need to know more than everyone else does right now. Perhaps this information will help you as much as it will Liam and Reasa.”
Sitting beside her, she leaned over to retrieve the book she’d set aside earlier. It was old and leather bound, and she stroked it gently as she considered her next words. “Liam’s abilities, his empathy, are like nothing we’ve encountered before. Oh, I know Anaktrine’s magical power seems limitless, but it appears her role is one of guidance for now. She is content to step in, but only when she feels there is no other option. While I was away I dreamed, Ash, and in those dreams I discovered that the vampire Queen had hidden away some of her library, hoping to transport those irreplaceable books to the future, to our time.”
The other woman regarded her with a confused expression. “Why would she do that?”
“Ana was always looking toward the future; she realised, so long ago, that there would come a time when we would need to unlock the knowledge bound between their pages.” Rhianna sighed softly, still stroking the book on her knee. “Gard has been the custodian of the books since the deaths of the King and Queen. He has recreated a portion of the library to store them, and he took me there recently. This book, Ash...I’ve been reading it for a couple of hours now. I can just feel that it will help Liam and so many others.”
Ashleigh was peering down at the book, her full attention riveted to what her friend was saying. If something could help her son, she wanted to know about it. “I can’t read the title. What language is that?”
Rhianna smiled, staring off into the distance for a moment, as if reliving a memory. “It didn’t occur to me that no one would be able to read them. Caleb and I can read them easily, but I assume that was most likely due to Anakatrine and Callain’s memories. The books were translated into the modern tongue of each era, as the ages passed. I believe this text is a version of Hattic and the title translates to Soul Searching.”
“I couldn’t understand why Ana picked this book out when I left the selection to her, but I’m beginning to now.” Rhianna’s expression held more than a hint of excitement; she was unable to keep it from her voice. “Ashleigh, the vampire race has changed so much over the millennia. From what I can understand—long before Anakatrine was born—they were more of a cerebral race. They had a range of mental powers that have long since been forgotten.”
“But they still have some of those powers,” her friend countered. “I know nobody really uses them for anything specific, but can’t Alexei mask his scent? Andrei…he can conceal when he is lying. There are other vampires who can spot deception, aren’t there? There must be other skills available too?”
Rhianna nodded, conceding the point. “There are still those who have managed to retain some of their enhanced mental abilities, but they pale in comparison to what the books tell us we once were capable of mastering. It’s as if we’ve regressed to the point that those powers seem…useless.”
She turned to face her friend, her lavender eyes aglow with excitement. “Don’t you see, Ash? Liam’s gift isn’t a new one; it’s an old one that has been given back to us.” She let that thought sink in as she watched the small blonde’s eyes widen in shock.
“His particular skill was a rarity, even back then, but it was one of the most powerful ones in existence. Empathy was predominately used as a counselling tool to help others, but there were those who viewed it as a very dangerous weapon. An elite group of Elders and Ancients existed who had the talent to Dream Walk…well according to the book there were.”
“What’s that?” Ashleigh queried in a hushed tone. The tiniest spark of hope ignited inside her as she continued. “If this book could somehow help Liam…maybe he won’t have to suffer anymore.”
“From what I’ve read so far, a dream walker can enter a mind and travel within another person’s sub consciousness, their dreams, on the psychic plane. I hadn’t read much beyond that point before you arrived, but the applications could be limitless. We know Reasa has strong empathic powers. There has to be others out there who share this ability. Maybe this method could be used to help the injured vampires at the Praetorian compound?”
Ashleigh’s mind whirled as a burst of chaotic thoughts rushed through her head. Her heart picked up a beat and there was hope in her eyes as she looked at Rhianna. “Reasa’s the only one who can calm Liam and help him shield when he has an episode. If she can teach him her skills, it will help to calm his mind. Together, you’re thinking they will able to do this dream walking thing?”
Rhianna smiled widely, nodding as her friend grasped the importance of the situation. “Maybe they could, Ashleigh. They may have the potential to wake up the Praetorians—or at least allow us to know if there is any hope for them.”
Ashleigh rose and paced over to the window to look out into the street. She was both excited and confused by what she’d learned. If what Rhianna said was true, it would be difficult to deny that Liam may actually need Reasa’s help. Also, she couldn’t ignore that Freya had done some reprehensible things in her past; in spite of that fact, she had come to love her sister-in-law with all her heart. Forgiveness wasn’t an easy concept for her to consider, but she’d already lost so many that were dear to her heart.
Liam needed Ashleigh as well as Reasa, more now than he’d ever needed her before. Was it such a leap of faith to step back and consider that maybe Reasa had to use her empathy adversely just to survive over in Europe? What did she really know about Thereasa’s life and what she had endured till now? She’d made no attempt to find out what motivated the former vampire. Annie was right, it was time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Turning slowly, she stared at the petite redhead sitting on the sofa watching her in silence. Annie had risked everything for what was right. She was the bravest person Ashleigh had ever met, and that had nothing to do with the soul of the vampire Queen that lived within her. It was time for Ashleigh to be just as brave, and just as determined to do the right thing.
A soft smile crossed her face and she nodded her head. “What can I do to help, Annie?”
Rhianna and Ashleigh headed over to the pack compound once Rowan showed up at the bookstore. Aaron and Jen’s daughter liked helping out on a part-time basis while she was finishing off another degree at the university. The latest venture was in teaching; the first one had been in computer science. Though she enjoyed all things computer related, she’d realised that wasn’t the type of career she wanted. She appeared much happier since she switched paths, and enjoyed helping out with the children’s story time session at the bookstore.
As Rhianna pulled up outside her brother’s house, she wasn’t surprised to see him waiting in the doorway. It was as if he had known she was on her way over, and it made her lips quirk in a small smile to see him standing there.
He strode to the car and had the door open even before she’d managed to take off her seatbelt. “Are you okay?”
“Rafe, I told you last night I was fine.” She laughed as she was scooped up in a big bear hug, and returned his embrace with as much fervour. It never seemed to matter to him that she was a vampire and technically stronger than he was. She would always be his baby sister to protect. “You worry too much.”
“That’s my job,” he answered with a lop-sided grin, turning to greet Ashleigh as she joined them. “I thought you were working at the bookstore today.”
“I was, but Annie had some important things to discuss that affect Liam. Rowan is taking care of the shop for the time being.”
Rafe turned a quizzical gaze on his sister who gave him one of her enigmatic smiles. “All in good time,” she grinned. “Caleb’s on his way over, so I want to wait for him. However, you can tell me how you managed to get your mate pregnant again without me knowing about it.” There was laughter in her voice which prompted a wide grin to spread over her brother’s face.
“I really need to tell you the facts of life? Thought you and Caleb had that one nailed down already, but if you need some pointers…”
“He’s been insufferable since we found out the babies are okay,” Lacey laughed, as she proceeded out of the house to give her sister-in-law a big hug. There was more than a hint of amusement in her voice as she looked at her smug mate. “He’s been strutting around like a proud peacock.”
Her teasing had the Alpha grinning as he gathered her to his side and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “Don’t let her fool you, Annie. She’s been lapping up all the attention the pack’s been giving her, too.”
The happiness exuding from the couple was warm and soothing. Rhianna’s answering smile was full of love as she gave each of them another quick hug. This was her family; when they were happy, she was happy. Things could have gone so much differently, and she was relieved that everything was okay.
“I need to head over to lessons, so I’ll catch up with you later.” Lacey disentangled herself from them and disappeared into the community hall, leaving the others to head into the Alpha’s study.
“Nors is over at the new warehouse preparing it for Monday’s opening,” Rafe said as he ordered coffee and breakfast to be brought to his study and sat down in the armchair beside the fireplace. “Do we need him here?”
A lot of the older businesses were being shut down or changing hands. The pack and the vampires were consolidating their finances and redistributing them into new ventures. Immortality and longevity were all well and good, but living longer required them to reinvest and reinvent themselves every so often.
“Ashleigh can fill him in later or if we need him, we can give him a call to come home.”
Rhianna was interrupted briefly when Lily knocked on the door and entered the study. She was carrying a laden tray and the Alpha immediately rose to take it from her. “You shouldn’t be carrying this in your condition.” There was disapproval in his tone, but also a trace of pride. He knew his errant pack member wasn’t required to do breakfast duties, but she was there every morning, usually before the other pack members’ were awake.
“I’m pregnant, Rafe, not sick.” The Vârcolac laughed, though her pleased smile let everyone know that his concern for her well-being was appreciated.
“You’re wasting your breath there,” Annie chuckled as she rose to give the younger woman a hug. Her eyes travelled over her face with intent before she smiled again, clearly pleased with what she saw. “Impending motherhood suits you.”
“We’ll revisit that in another month or so when I suddenly balloon out to the size of a house,” Lily quipped as she turned and left the room, passing Caleb on his way in.
“Are you trying to irritate me?” the vampire grumbled as he headed straight for his mate and wrapped her up in his arms. “You’re not even home for twenty-four hours and I wake up to find myself alone in our bed.”
Rhianna laughed at his peeved tone and cuddled closer to ease his separation anxiety. It was going to take her a while to alleviate her mate’s distress when she wasn’t at his side. She would have to put up with it until he was once again convinced he wasn’t about to lose her. “You needed the rest and I couldn’t sleep because of what we’ve discovered. I was only at the bookstore, Caleb. Not that far away.”
“Does someone want to tell me what you’ve discovered, and why we’re gathered here?” Rafe’s droll tone had everyone turning to look at him and it was Caleb who replied.
“I think your guess is as good as mine. When I went to bed, very little had really been discovered; however from Annie’s expression, it appears she knows something more?” Caleb phrased it as a question, moving to sit down and help himself to some coffee. He poured a cup for his mate.
As Rafe and Ashleigh grabbed some food, Rhianna quickly apprised her brother of Anakatrine’s rediscovered library and the books they hoped would help them deal with the European threat. The alpha’s expression turned incredulous the more information she imparted.
“Dream Walking?” Caleb echoed, when his mate got to that part of her discovery. He felt a bubble of hope well up inside at the mere possibility of help for the injured vampires.
“I think Liam and Reasa should have this.” Rhianna patted the leather-bound book on the coffee table where she’d placed it when she’d arrived. “I’ll have to use a spell to translate the text into English so they can read it, but that shouldn’t be hard. They are the ones who know most about their abilities. It makes sense that they would be the logical choices to read it through and determine what they can or cannot do.”
“You’re forgetting one little thing, Annie. Reasa is our prisoner, whether she is Liam’s mate or not. No one knows what kind of harm she could cause with this new knowledge. From what I understand, you didn’t strip her empathic abilities when you took her immortality.” There was a healthy dose of caution in Rafe’s tone as he frowned at the thought. He didn’t even blink at the fact she was going to employ magic to perform the translation.
His sister frowned too, pursing her lips as she regarded him. “Yes, she needs to be watched. I’m not disputing that fact; but how is she ever supposed to integrate with the pack if she continues to feel like an outsider, Rafe? Reasa has a strong affinity for vampires even though she’s no longer one. Providing her with the opportunity to help the casualties at the Praetorian Compound will give her a purpose. That’s something she is clearly lacking right now. It will also give her the chance to work with Liam and get to know him as a person. It’s a calculated risk in my opinion.”
“She’s already contacted someone outside the pack,” Ashleigh countered. “We don’t know the consequences of that yet. If Reasa can move around more freely, won’t that grant her the potential to place Liam in harm’s way? What if someone comes to rescue her?”
“I think we can all agree that Liam doesn’t need any protecting,” Caleb sighed, giving the younger woman a rueful smile. “On the contrary it’s the rest of us who need protection from him. I’m in agreement with Annie. We always use the tools that fit the job, and this empathy thing is what Liam and Reasa do best.”
Rafe nodded. Since the issue at Freya’s, he had been reassessing what was best for the pack; it was clear to him that separating Liam and Reasa would only lead to another episode. He in no way trusted the former vampire, but it was hard to dispute Annie’s reasoning. They would have to ensure that Reasa was closely monitored. That would mean putting their stronger-willed personnel on the task, and relying on Liam to retain enough pack loyalty to back them up if she proved stronger than anticipated. He’d already considered allowing them to go up to the Praetorian Compound.
“Fine, it’s agreed then. Liam and Reasa will research the book. They’ll also be permitted to go up to the Praetorian compound to see if they can be of any assistance. I want a Vârcolac presence around them though, just to ensure Reasa can’t manipulate any vulnerable minds to attempt escape.”
"I’m agreeable to that,” Rafe confirmed with another nod of his head. “I doubt any of the Vârcolac will have an issue with helping out.”
They talked a little longer, finishing breakfast as they discussed the best timing for the trip to the Praetorian compound. Despite some concerns, there was an air of excitement in the room. Things appeared to be moving, swinging in favour of the pack-vampire alliance. Whoever it was in Europe that had orchestrated the current conflict had no idea the consequences those actions were about to unleash.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
There were seven deadly sins in the world, and Destiny was sure she harboured most of them. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem for most, but in her case, it sucked.
Angels were supposed to be pure of heart, kind and benevolent beings. Their wings were white or soft pastel shades to reflect this, and they guided their humans towards rich, fulfilled lives. The Castaways were different though, not quite bad enough to be tossed down into Lucifer’s dominion, but tainted enough that they hovered on the outskirts of their more illustrious brethren.
Destiny’s wings were a deep, crimson red; her hair matching their vibrant hue, her skin a pale alabaster white. As if the darker colours were not enough to brand the Castaways, they each sported a mark of some kind, a tattoo that screamed out their origin. Destiny’s was flames of black and red that encompassed her left eye and flowed across her cheek.
The Castaways could shade their wings and hair colour for brief periods to fit in with their brethren, but the one thing they couldn’t mask was their highly visible marks. It was His way of ensuring they would always be known. Some of the Castaways raged against this perceived injustice, however Destiny didn’t mind. She embraced her mark as she did her very existence. It was part of who she was and she refused to be ashamed of it.
He had a reason for everything He did. Of that, Destiny was in no doubt. While some of her fellow Castaways looked towards Lucifer’s Kingdom longingly, others stared into the brightness of His Majesty. The darker Castaways believed all was lost, that there was only one course of action open to them. They had forgotten just who He was. They had forgotten that he gave all living creatures a choice.
Perhaps it was because her hue wasn’t as dark that she remembered more than some. Destiny wasn’t sure if that was the case, but she clung onto that belief as stubbornly as she flaunted her mark to her disapproving kind.
The rustle of wings and a darkening of the air around her was the only warning that she got before Cracken alighted beside her. The waters of the lake shimmered and darkened as the huge black winged Angel destroyed her peace and quiet.
“Still wishing?” Cracken asked, his deep, cold voice laced with derision. It was nothing personal so she didn’t take offence, merely shrugging her shoulders at his remark. No matter what words were spoken by the black Angel they all came out in the same tone. He was closer to Lucifer’s Kingdom than most, and that was reflected in all his mannerisms.
A lazy smile graced her exquisite features as she turned to view her friend. His wild raven locks fell haphazardly over his smooth brow, his black eyes shining with a cold humour. Cracken was beautiful, there was no mistaking that, but beneath that beautiful exterior was a cruelty that was effervescent. He could wound as easily as he could laugh, and he didn’t particularly care which one he did. Regardless of that, he was her closest friend, the one person with whom she could truthfully be herself.
“Always,” she smiled, casting her gaze back to the lake and supressing a sigh as the vista shifted towards the more insidious elements of human life. It was to be expected as Cracken was near, but it still vexed her no end. The darker the Angel, the more powerful they were and the portals to Earth shifted to their proclivities.
That was another anomaly that He had set in place, one the True Angels, as they called themselves, often questioned when He was focused elsewhere. The Castaways were stronger but they were also fewer. Utilising that strength would be foolhardy and therefore they chose not do, otherwise they would speed their descent into Lucifer’s dominion. Even Cracken, who stared wistfully into that abyss, wasn’t quite ready to give up his dream of living in the Light.
“Still lusting after your human?”
Destiny did sigh then, casting a sideway glance at Cracken before rising and stretching out her crimson wings. She had been sitting for a long time trying to find him, that glorious male who tempted her lust beyond measure. “Mind your own business.”
The black Angel laughed, a cold, sinister sound that sent a shiver down her back. “Isn’t it my business when the one I fuck every day lusts after another?” There was steel in his tone, danger lacing every word.
It made Destiny laugh, and she threw her head back, her riotous flame coloured hair cascading down her back. “You don’t care one iota for me, Cracken. I am one of many you take to your bed and you only come to me when the others can’t tolerate your appetites any further. Your liking for pain is your cross to bear. It is His ultimate joke at your expense.”
He opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again without speaking. What she said was true, and though the black Angel wasn’t averse to lying, he chose today not to. His lust ran high, but it was a cold, dark lust that exulted in pleasure- pain. When he used up his harem of darker Angels, he came to her, his soul almost replenished, enough that his touch was lighter, more erotic. He knew she would not countenance his baser hungers so stayed away until he had tamed them.
“You like what I do to your body. You beg me every time we fuck. Do you think your human could drive you so insane with need that your entire body quivers like a highly strung bow?” There was more humour in his words, along with a healthy dose of lust. He was tempting her as he always did, and her breasts swelled within the black bodice of her dress.
“I have no doubt he could,” she smiled, brushing her body against his and feeling the hardness that told her he wanted to do just that. The feel of his muscular chest against her full breasts was an aching caress, and she struggled not to moan out aloud. “You do not want me, Cracken, not in the way that humans want and care for each other. You are merely satisfying a biological urge you have no control over.”
A dangerous glint entered his eyes as he fisted one hand in her hair and slowly slid the other beneath the short skirt of her dress. Long, thick fingers teased her inner thighs as they moved upwards towards the core of her body. “As do you, Destiny, as do you,” he whispered, his gaze piercing her as he plunged three fingers deep within her body.
He was right. Cracken was always right, and she moaned out aloud as his lips crushed hers. Lust was the main deadly sin that dominated her being. The need to be taken, to take of others, to have her body worshipped into exhausted clouded all her better judgement. She knew he hadn’t caged his baser urges, knew if she let him continue she would regret it, but the feel of his hand against her, the feel of his fingers plundering her body was too heady to abandon.
Destiny surrendered to the dark Angel, her body turning to molten fire as he expertly teased and tempted her. She trembled from the assault on her senses, gasped as her dress vanished with just the power of his thoughts. Teeth bit into the fullness of her breasts, sharp and painful, as his fingers danced inside her most vulnerable place. Her small cry of pain was quickly eclipsed by the heady pleasure as he took her over the precipice, and her first climax turned her bones to molten lava.
Her eyes fluttered open, her breathing harsh, as Cracken continued to impale her body with his fingers. The black teardrops beneath his left eye appeared alive, the dagger on his brow appeared to be dripping inky blackness downwards. His mark was beautiful, it was dangerous and yet exciting, and she loved to watch it while he indulged his lust.
“Be quiet.” Cold, hard words, so at odds with the pleasure his hand was creating. His clothes had vanished along with hers, his beautiful face a mask of cruel intent.
She should stop this now, before he went too dark. There was still a smidgeon of humanity left within his gaze. He never usually came to her this wound up. She had no idea what he would do in this mood.
“Cracken...” she tried again, and he spun her around forcing her to bend over.
His thickness impaled her, and she cried out at the intrusion, not because it was painful, but because it was so gentle. Dread filled her for a moment, a sweet darkness that turned her crimson wings a shade darker. There were more ways to be cruel than to inflict pain. Cracken’s gentleness was a pleasure that eclipsed the harshest of pains.
Destiny’s wings unfurled to support her position as he withdrew and pushed back in with the slowest of movements. Her abdomen tightened at the delicious sensation, her own lust rising and wanting more. He refused to give it to her though, taking her with slow, deliberate movements, teasing every cry from her lips.
Cracken played her body like the most skilled musician, flexing his hips, going deep and then stroking into her with shallow movements. She quivered with each thrust, ground back against him demanding more. His pace remained the same, just enough to pleasure her but so slow her climax was a light year away.
“Would he give you this, sweet Destiny? Would he have the skill and forbearance to withstand his own needs to turn you into a boneless mess?” Cracken’s lips caressed her shoulder blades, his cock filling her until she was fit to burst.
“Bastard!” she grunted, trying to drive him deeper inside her. She ached for completion, ached to soar with the climax he denied her.
Cold laughter filled the air and his next thrusts were hard and fast. She had pleased him with her neediness so he was rewarding that desperation.
“Humans have no skill, no stamina. You long for something that will ultimately leave you unfulfilled. No one will ever surpass what I can give you, Destiny. You know it. I know it, so why bother lying to us both?”
“I hate you.” She didn’t really, she just hated what he could do to her. However, she knew he loved to hear those words. He craved to hear them almost as much as she craved to be with her human male.
He rewarded her again with more hard thrusts deep inside. She was so close...so close...she was almost there once more.
Cracken withdrew and she screamed out her frustration.
Spinning her around quickly, Destiny fell backwards onto the grass, lightheaded by the sudden movement. She protected her wings as best she could, though a faint jar of pain shuddered through her as she connected with the ground. Her pale blue eyes shot daggers at the laughing male above her, which only increased his amusement.
Straddling her body, his thick cock pressed against her abdomen, Cracken’s skilled fingers tugged at her breasts, twisting the aching peaks a tad too hard. She gasped and then groaned as the pain turned to pleasure, and he turned his assault to her swollen breasts.
“Hmmmm I don’t think I’ve seen your wings quite this deep a shade of red, sweet Destiny. Better watch out or they will be changing to black in the near future.”
“Never!” she ground out, arching up for more of his delicious torture even as her words belied her body’s demands.
“Never?” he laughed, his touch turning crueller. “Really?”
Destiny screamed as his tongue gently teased against her swollen peaks, her core throbbing for release. “Cracken...”
“What, sweet Destiny? Tell me what you want?”
“Fuck you!” She arched, defiance still in her soul, furious that he could play her so expertly.
“I thought you wanted me to fuck you, lover,” he chuckled, suckling at her nipples, rolling his tongue over them in sweet torture. He ground his cock into her abdomen, sliding up and down, letting her feel what could be happening inside her body if she was a good girl and played his game.
Destiny cursed him again, moaning and writhing against him, her entire nerve cells demanding completion.
“How I hate you, Cracken. How I loathe everything about you.” This time she meant it, this time she truly hated how weak he made her.
“But you still want me to fuck you, don’t you, Destiny? You loathe me but your wet little pussy is still begging to be filled by my cock.”
The smirk on his face was infuriating, the smugness of his tone a whiplash across her skin. “No...”
“Yes! Just say the words, Destiny. You know you want to.”
She couldn’t stand it a second longer. The gentle, unhurried swipes of his tongue against her breasts were a torture she couldn’t endure. She had to come. She needed it with a desperation she’d never encountered before.
“Fuck me! Please fuck me!”
“As my whore commands.” Cracken’s eyes shone with victory, his smile a cold, cruel slash across his face. He drove his cock in hard and deep, all teasing over with now he had achieved his goal.
Destiny climaxed immediately, but he continued to drive into her. It was evident that he was past caring about the game and was more interested in his own completion. Cracken’s long black wings unfurled as he fucked her, fluttering wildly as his body pistoned in and out of the tight, wet sheath surrounding him.
She soared again, exquisite pleasure flooded every inch of her body, but he wasn’t finished with her, he continued to push her further and higher. Destiny screamed out her next climax, shuddering uncontrollably as he pulsed within her and slammed in deep and hard. She felt the scalding heat of his seed filling her, heard the laboured grunts as his climax washed over him.
It felt like an eternity that he slammed into her body; it felt like forever that he filled her with his seed. Destiny knew it was only moments but when he slid from her core, her entire body ached with the force of his possession and the animalistic way he had taken her.
“You are such a pig sometimes,” she gasped out, turning to look at him lying beside her on the grass. His arms were behind his head, and his beautiful face was a mask of satisfaction.
His eyes fluttered open and he turned to look at her, a half-smile gracing his lips. “You love every moment of it, Destiny. Deny it if you must but we both know the truth of it.”
She did love it, despite her protestations. She loved it and it terrified her too because each time she lay with Cracken, her wings turned that little bit darker. If she allowed this to continue then it was only a matter of time before her soul would be just as black as her lover’s beside her.
She didn’t want that to happen. It was the worst thing she could ever allow to happen. Her gaze shifted towards the lake, towards the portal and the human male that tugged so at her heart. Something told her he was the key to her salvation, that she could somehow find absolution in him. She would do whatever it took to save her soul, even if that meant leaving Heaven to achieve it.