Here is chapter 3 Teaser..
Cassia Romanov brushed back the short blonde curl that refused to stay secured behind the bright green butterfly hair clasp at her temple. There was always one thick strand of hair that refused to do as it was told, a constant source of irritation when she was so intent on her work. The rest of her shoulder length curls were forced into a larger butterfly clasp at the nape of her neck, drawing the eye to the curve of her jaw and her slender neck.
She was completely oblivious to the admiring glances she was receiving from two of her pack mates and the one lone vampire in the hastily arranged lab. If she’d been less absorbed in her microscope, she would have noticed the heated looks from the male Weres and equally speculative glance from the female vampire.
Tall and sleekly built, Cassia was the image of her mother Cedar, carrying the same inherent grace in her posture, an aura of class oozing from her without any real effort on her part. The lenses of the microscope hid her pale blue eyes, her white lab coat failing to conceal the curves beneath, or the frustration she was experiencing.
It had taken less than two days for the vampires to obtain all the equipment required to set up a state-of-the-art laboratory at the Armand-Hanlon Compound. They had even worked to tunnel deep into the surrounding mountainside and build a sturdy wooden structure to serve as an entranceway into the lab. Another day and the lab was up and running, makeshift walls sectioning off rooms for storage and work areas.
Cassia had been drawn to the area to watch them, fascinated at the speed they had moved and how committed they could be when there was a threat that directly affected them. Of course, the ones who had designed, and built the lab had been individuals trusted by the Ancient Council. The news of the poison was still a secret to most of the vampire race, but clearly, work had to begin on trying to analyse it as quickly as possible so some had had to be informed.
With vampires never before having a need to become proficient in the healing arts, none of them had any of the skills the Weres possessed so it made sense that finding an antidote would fall to the Pack. Or that was Caleb’s take on the situation and pretty much what Caleb wanted, Caleb got, with the exception of executing Thereasa.
So, the lab was built into the mountainside in record time and Cassia’s natural leaning towards biological analysis was suddenly discovered to be a talent that was sorely needed. She’d spent the best part of the last few days buried in the lab, with the exception of the trip up to the Praetorian compound, working on the blood that had been provided by Demetri. Pietro de la Rios’s poisoned blood from Europe.
Her frustration was growing though as she strove to identify the compounds used in the poison. She could find very little, the toxin breaking down too quickly in the blood and some possible contaminants creeping in. She couldn’t be sure what was the toxin and what was a contaminant.
Lack of sleep, and failing to find anything useful was making her short tempered, and bending over the microscope for so long was making her shoulders ache. Groaning in frustration, she arched her back and brushed at the stray curl again. ““This is like looking for a needle in a haystack! The sample has degraded too much; I can’t be sure what is part of the toxin and what isn’t any more.”
Her abrupt movement caught the two Weres admiring her off guard and Cassia scowled. “Don’t you have work to be doing?” It was almost comical the way they quickly turned back to their benches and the experiments they were conducting.
“That was very effective,” Freya Eriksson remarked, her green eyes intent on the two males and the rush of colour suffusing their cheeks. Their heads’ appeared to dip a little lower and she smiled slightly as she moved across to the other woman. Her curiosity at what was happening in the laboratory had made her a frequent visitor and as she was adept at watching in silence, the Weres tolerated her presence.
She frowned as she looked into the abandoned microscope; not understanding what she was seeing and wishing she could. She had been reading book after book on biology and was starting to get a rudimentary understanding of it but was nowhere as advanced as the Weres. The urge to learn and help in some way was strong. People she loved were at risk from the poison and that wasn’t something she could tolerate.
“Is there some other avenue you could investigate?” Her question had Cassia’s brow drawing down as she twirled the errant curl, her eyes unfocused as she considered the question. Freya was certain there was no artifice in the girl’s action, that she was oblivious to how endearing it made her. She was simply a lovely young lady with a keen intelligence and sassy wit that made most people fall in love with her instantly.
For a moment, Freya felt an ache that her own daughter Elina didn’t have that same ease around others but she quickly brushed it away. Elina was Elina, unique in her own way and maybe too much her mother’s daughter. She had her father’s deep passion though, a strong sense of duty to those she loved. Her daughter would find her own path to happiness one day, she was sure of that.
“Toxins remain longer in the hair,” Cassia said, breaking the short silence. “In humans and Weres that is, I’m not sure if the same would be true for vampires. There would be no harm in checking though.” A hint of excitement was creeping into the Vârcolac’s voice, blue eyes starting to twinkle. “Freya, you may just be a genius!”
“Hardly,” the Ancient vampire drawled, though her smile widened as she inclined her head in the other woman’s direction. “Perhaps Mallen could request a sample from Pietro when he next attends him.”
Cassia was already shrugging out of her lab jacket and heading towards the door. “We don’t have time to wait for that. I’ll run across now and get the sample myself.”
“Cassia, wait! Pietro is not good around others right now. Perhaps you should ask your father or Andrei to speak with him.”
The younger woman halted, surprise on her face as she looked back at the Ancient. “I’m a Vârcolac, someone he feels obligated to protect even though we don’t need that protection. Why would he see me as a threat?”
Freya didn’t want to have the conversation in front of the wolves so she followed Cassia from the lab until they were out of earshot. “It’s not that he would see you as a threat. You have to try to understand the vampire psyche and please, don’t start shaking your head at me. I know you’re half vampire but your wolf tempers a lot of your other half. “
Cassia tried to contain her impatience and listen to Freya, but now she had a chance of finding an alternative means of unlocking the poison’s components, she was itching to get the required sample to see if she could analyse it and produce an antidote. “I get it, Freya, I really do. Pietro needs to come to terms with not being as invincible as he thought he was. I hardly think asking for a few strands of hair is going to psychologically damage him.”
The vampire took a deep breath and struggled to contain the irritation that was starting to well up inside her. Cassia was young and excitable, and her need to find the antidote was admirable, but she could hear that the girl was merely saying the words by rote with no real understanding of the meaning behind them.
“Listen to me child. Pietro has lost much of what he used to be. He carries his scars both physically and emotionally and is therefore unpredictable. It is best if he is allowed the space he requires and only those he trusts most come close to him. I say this for your benefit as much as his.”
It was the most passionate Cassia had ever heard Freya speak. The Vârcolac processed the words carefully, sensing an underlying concern in the vampire’s tone. That Freya cared for both her and Pietro was a sign of the slow changes in the other woman. She had walked a long road to become part of the pack and maybe still had a bit to travel, but she kept trying and that was a sign of the strength the Ancient possessed.
“Freya, I know you can probably relate on some level to Pietro’s seclusion but surely you’ve learned that becoming introverted, hiding from those who can help you is not a good thing? I promise I won’t do or say anything to make Pietro feel compromised but maybe it’s time someone new came into his world so he can start moving towards healing?”
Freya could see she wasn’t going to disabuse Cassia from her course of action. Maybe what she said was true. Maybe Pietro hiding away wasn’t a good thing after all. When it came to compassionate thought, Freya knew she wasn’t the best person to analyse a situation. She removed the hand she’d placed on Cassia’s arm, silently conceding to the Vârcolac.
Cassia hurried over to her uncle’s house, the vampire’s words still resounding in her head. She had to admit she was curious about Pietro, they all were. It was hard not to be when the man had left for Europe before some of them had been born. This unknown vampire had risked everything to try to determine what the threat was to the Vârcolac, and he had suffered immensely for that dedication. It was only natural the hybrid children would be curious about the male.
She found her feet moving faster the closer she got to the house and tried to slow down her pace. She was trying to ignore the faint niggle in the back of her head, something that had been pressing at her since she was first handed the blood sample of the man within the two story building. Her need to protect those she loved was already strong, but from the moment the sample had reached her, that need had been elevated to a higher level. It was only now as she was approaching the front door of Andrei’s home that realisation was setting in.
Why was she suddenly feeling so antsy? Why was the need to find a cure suddenly so much more important to her? And why hadn’t she noticed it until now? It was as if the knowledge had been buried until she made her decision to collect the hair sample.
Cassia rapped on the door, her head cocking to the side as she scented within. Loretta and Andrei didn’t appear to be home so she twisted the doorknob and entered. She was part of their family and they wouldn’t mind her intrusion. The pack was pretty relaxed as a whole and it was only the fact Weres were so uninhibited when it came to their sexuality that most people knocked before entering.
The door swung open just as a tall dark-haired vampire was descending the last of the stairs from the upper floor. The first thing Cassia noticed were his eyes, one the most amazing shade of hazel, the other as dark as a moonless night. Her gaze shifted infinitesimally, tracing the scar running from the corner of his right eye, down the curve of his cheek to end at his jaw, marring a strong face full of a male beauty that astounded her.
As her eyes wandered over his face, she realised that she was holding her breath and that deep within, her wolf was sitting to attention, perusing the male before them as keenly as she was. The black T-shirt he wore tucked into dark blue jeans left some of the scarring on his neck visible and she knew that where it disappeared to, beneath the cloth, was a place so sacred to a wolf it was a crime for it to be damaged in any way.
Cassia’s wolf threw her head back and gave one long baleful howl, startling her so much that she let out her breath and swallowed back the sudden need to cry for the male in front of her.
“Enjoying the freak show?”
Pietro’s cold words were like ice water flowing over her, allowing Cassia to gather her composure more as she blinked slowly at him. “I need some of your hair.”
Cassia would have dragged the words back if she could. Judging from the dark scowl twisting his face, Pietro was none too pleased at the request or her presence in the house. It had been the first thing that had come to mind as she’d tried to settle her wolf who was reacting unpredictably to the vampire. It was as if the animal was both furious for the vampire and furious at the vampire at the same time. Her reaction made no sense and until it did, she was going to be on edge around Pietro de la Rios.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be abrupt or invade your space. I’m Cassia Alexander and I’ve been working on your blood trying to find an antidote to the poison. The sample has degraded too much to be useful so I need some strands of hair to test for the toxin.” She managed to inject as much authority into her voice so he would see her as just another health professional like Mallen and not a threat.
He stepped from the last stair and turned right, heading into the living room and walking over to the French doors out into the surrounding forest. “So, you’re one of Alexei’s girls.” It was a rhetorical question.
She followed him into the room, her gaze slowly roaming over his wide back, her wolf moving restlessly as she took in every inch of the vampire. There was something very appealing about the male, something that called to both her wolf and the woman. She tried to tell herself that she was interested in him as a scientist. He was, after all, the first vampire ever to be scarred, a unique specimen among his kind. However, she knew she was fooling herself the longer her wolf prowled and paid attention to the male. There was something else about Pietro de la Rios…
“Since coming here I’ve been poked and prodded, and I’ve had sample blood taken by the pint. I’ve had medical staff and my friends trying to get inside my head to find out if I’m ‘okay’. I’ve had my flesh cut out time and again to see if the muscle and tissue will grow back undamaged. All I’ve wanted is to be left alone, to be given the time to fully heal so I can go back to my normal life and now you show up asking for more samples?”
The heat in his tone caused Cassia to sit down in one of the overstuffed red armchairs close to the open fire. There was a level of aggression in the vampire’s tone, and she was stronger than him, of which she was sure he would be aware. Being as tall as her parents put her at almost the same height as Pietro and she wanted to give the appearance of being less of a threat to him in case the aggression escalated. Freya was right in that he needed handling more delicately than most.
Pietro spun around to pin her with his mismatched gaze, anger burning within. “Today I’ve woken up to find the woman responsible for my scars is living two doors down from me. I wonder if there is anyone in this compound who could even begin to comprehend how that makes me feel. I’ve been informed of the circumstances of her arrival and yet I’m supposed to accept that my torturer is here and let it go. How am I supposed to trust the pack, to trust anyone here when they succour my torturer?”
Cassia took a deep breath, meeting his gaze and holding it. She had not been prepared for this and was surprised that he’d come right out and said it. The reason for his anger was clear, how to diffuse it was not so clear. Taking a slow breath, she tried to find some way to orientate him, to help him focus on what was important.
“Do you regret going to Europe, Pietro?” She held up her hand when he opened his mouth to speak. “No, think about the question before you answer it. Think about it very carefully. Do you regret going there to try to determine the threat to me and the other Vârcolac, or is it you regret some of the circumstances that occurred while you were there?”
She watched him frown, the scar on his face twisting with the movement. It still looked pink and tender and she wanted to press her lips against it, wanted to draw her tongue slowly over the mark to see if her touch would help speed up the healing process. It was a completely errant thought and she was stunned as it flitted through her head. It was so unprofessional, especially as she was here to try to help him. Her wolf was making an odd sound, urging her to get up and do just that. She had to fight with the animal to keep her contained.