Emily sighed as she escaped to her private room at Karpathia's. It had been a long day and she was tired. She flopped down onto the bed and threw her arm over her eyes. It was so tiring being royalty, especially when so many of her friends and family hovered over her anxiously all the time.
Cullen had been gone for almost a year. It seemed like the longest time and yet it almost seemed as if no time had passed at all since he had left. She knew he was somewhere in Russia at the moment. He kept in almost daily contact with Dorian so she always had a fair idea where he was.
She's seen him once since the day Elizabeth had reappeared in their lives. It had been for Dorian and Alice's wedding as he stood at Dorian's side as his best man. It had been a bittersweet meeting. They had both smiled as if their hearts weren't really broken so as to not spoil Dorian and Alice's day.
They had danced together and even found a private moment to talk. Heads bent close together, they had asked how each other was coping, chatted idly about what they had both been up to. At the end of the day, once Dorian and Alice had left, Cullen had stroked her face lightly, his eyes haunted, and then kissed her gently and walked right back out of her life.
There was a knock on the door and Emily sighed and sat up again. "Come in," she called.
Janick popped his head around the door and smiled. "I thought you would have hidden in here, Highness," he said with a laugh.
"They're driving me nuts out there," Emily grumbled as he entered the room and closed the door.
"They're just concerned, Emily," Janick smiled, reverting to her name now they were completely private. "You've been working very hard these last months and travelling quite a bit too. Your friends have missed you. You are looking a bit peaky too. Are you drinking enough?"
"Yes, Janick," she sighed wearily. "I'm not as fragile as everyone seems to think."
"Just incredibly tragic as you waft through the halls, smiling sadly at all who pass," Janick said quietly. "How long are you going to wait for him, Emily?"
"Janick, please," Emily sighed again, standing and walking across the room to the small refrigerator she'd had installed a few months before. She took out a bottle and poured some sustenance into a glass. She waved the bottle at him but he shook his head.
"You know how I feel, Emily," he said softly. "I know you feel something for me too. If you just gave it a chance."
"Janick, we've talked about this many times," Emily said sadly. "I do love you and if there were no Cullen then maybe I would consider acting on those feelings but he's out there and one day he may come home."
"You can't blame a man for trying," Janick smiled, his expression rueful. "One day I may ask the question and get a different answer."
"You should find someone who can commit totally to you, my friend," she said softly.
"You can wait forlornly for Cullen to come home but I can't wait for you to come to me?" Janick asked with a raised eyebrow.
"It does smack of double standards," Emily laughed humorously.
"He doesn't deserve you, Emily," Janick said fiercely, striding up to her and catching her upper arms. "He had the most precious thing in the world and he walked away from it." He lowered his head and kissed her.
Emily stiffened instantly as she felt the unfamiliar sensation of someone other than Cullen kissing her. Janick's kiss was exciting in a different way to how Cullen made her feel. She felt herself start to respond as Janick's lips moved restlessly over hers, and she pulled away.
"Janick," she said breathlessly trying to halt this madness before it went any further.
"A moment more, Emily," he pleaded and kissed her again.
This time Emily allowed herself to respond, the plea in his voice almost breaking her heart. She allowed him to part her lips and felt a stirring somewhere deep inside her. It had been so long since a man had held her like this. Her body craved the touch of a man's love. And Janick did love her. His kiss was achingly tender and loving.
Emily slowly eased back from him. It would be so easy to surrender to him. To let him into her bed and even more fully into her heart. He was funny and smart and incredibly beautiful but he wasn't Cullen. And the tepid love she had to offer him would inevitably make him more miserable than he already was.
"I'm sorry, Janick," she sighed sadly. "I can't do this. Not to Cullen and not to you, my friend." She stroked the side of his face lightly. "I can't love you as you deserve to be loved. It would be disastrous for both of us if I tried."
He sighed and rested his forehead against hers. "Does your infamous intuition tell you so, Emily?"
"My heart tells me so," she whispered.
"I had to try, my Princess." He smiled softly. "I may wait another year and try again."
"I half thought as much," she said fondly.
She moved away from him and finished her drink. "So anything happen I should know about when I was visiting down south?" she asked.
Emily had taken it upon herself to travel to some of the other cities, to try and show her commitment to her people.
She turned when Janick didn't immediately answer her. "What?"
"You're not going to like this," he finally said. "Elizabeth showed up two days ago."
Emily felt as if she had just been punched in the gut. Her nemesis, the woman who was single-handedly responsible for all the misery she'd had to endure, had come back for a third time.
"I told her a century not a bloody year," she said furiously. "What did she want?"
"To speak to you," he answered. "I told her you were away and she asked to speak to Cullen instead."
Emily's face darkened further. "Does that bitch have a death wish?" she grated between clenched teeth.
"Be calm, Emily," Janick said softly. "I know this is upsetting for you but try to keep calm about it."
Calm," Emily half screeched. "If she hadn't come here that day I would still have my husband with me."
"Would you though?" Janick asked quietly. "Emily, it was only a matter of time before things would have come to a head between you. Cullen was struggling with the changes in you long before Elizabeth walked back through the door. She was just the catalyst."
Emily's anger evaporated as instantly as it had come. She knew Janick was right. Something else would have sparked the crisis between her and Cullen eventually.
"I don't want to see her, Janick," she finally said. "If she comes back ensure she knows that she is not welcome here."
"Yes, Highness," he answered. He watched his Princess walk wearily over to the bed and sit down.
"When are you leaving again," he asked when she didn't say anything further.
"Tomorrow," she sighed, lying back against the pillows. "I'll be gone a week this time."
"Can't you take more time to rest, Emily? We barely see you here anymore. Your people wonder why you are constantly absent."
"They are safe in the excellent hands of you, Dorian and Liam," she answered, closing her eyes. "I find it almost unbearable being here with all my memories, my friend. I find it easier visiting new places where there are no memories to haunt me."
Janick frowned and then sighed softly. "I will leave you to rest, my Princess," he said and quietly slipped from the room.
Emily felt tears behind her closed eyes and a sob broke free even as she tried her hardest to keep a tight reign of her emotions.
She needed Cullen so badly. She needed to hear his voice. She did what she had vowed never to do to him.
"Cullen?" she called with her mind.
"Emily, what's wrong?" he answered instantly, surprise in his mental voice as well as concern.
"Nothing," she sighed sadly. "Everything. I just needed to hear your voice. I'm sorry, I promised myself I would never do this to you. Sometimes the ache is just so unbearable."
"Emily," he whispered sadly. "Is there no one there to help ease your distress?"
"Janick offers on a daily basis," she answered, knowing that it was not that kind of easing he had been thinking about. He was silent for a long time.
"And your answer to him is?" he finally asked, his voice strained.
"I tell him I am waiting for my husband to come home," she whispered.
"Emily," Cullen groaned and she felt instantly contrite.
"I'm sorry, Cullen," she said with a sob in her voice.
"Don't be," he whispered gently. "I have thought of doing this many times myself. I just never worked up the courage to do it."
"This must be akin to pulling the wings off butterflies," she breathed. "Taking something so incredibly beautiful and then torturing it needlessly. Do you regret this, Cullen?"
"No," he said softly. "Somehow just knowing that if I really needed to hear your voice all I would have to do is call to you has gotten me through some very rough nights."
"Oh, Cullen, I miss you so terribly," Emily sobbed.
"And I, you, my sweet Emily," he admitted sadly.
"Nothing has changed though," she said what he was thinking.
"I'm sorry, " he whispered. " I so want it to be otherwise, Emily."
"I know," she answered.
"Emily," he whispered. "If it ever becomes so unbearable again,"
"I won't call to you, Cullen," she finished his sentence for him.
She felt him linger a moment longer and then he was gone. Emily curled into a ball and wept.
Cullen lay on his bed and wished he was home with Emily for what had to have been the ten thousandth time since he'd left. Hearing her voice just then had been so bittersweet. It was almost as bad as seeing her at the wedding all those months ago. His need for her warring with his desire to run as far from her as he could.
The aching sadness in her voice tore at his heart. She had been crying and she was all alone with no one to turn to. Except for Janick. Neither Liam nor Dorian had said anything about the other vampire's interest in Emily. So Janick was in love with Emily. Was she in love with him too? He had thought he'd detected a slight waver in her mental voice when she had said Janick's name.
Cullen felt his fists clench as he wondered if anything had happened between his wife and the other man. He was God knows how many thousands of miles away and Janick was right there with Emily, day in and day out, letting her know that he was there for her if she tired of waiting for Cullen to come home.
The thought of Emily with someone else was too much for him to think about. And yet he stayed away from her, breaking her heart as surely as he was breaking his own. What right did he have to care about whether Emily was seeking comfort in another man's arms. She was a passionate, loving woman. Should she be consigned to living like a nun because he couldn't make up his mind about whether he was going home or not.
Cullen groaned and tried to erase the image of Emily weeping alone and then Janick appearing at her side when she was low and vulnerable. Of Emily opening her arms to the other man, welcoming him into her sweet embrace. The thought was pure torture.
He sat up and grabbed his cell phone. He called Dorian.
"Why didn't you tell me about Janick?" he said curtly when his friend answered.
"There's nothing to tell," Dorian sighed.
"So he's not in love with Emily?" Cullen asked archly.
"He is but she is keeping him at arms length," Dorian said. "She only offers him friendship, nothing more. How did you find out?"
"Are you at the club? Is Alice with you?" Cullen asked.
"Yes," Dorian answered. "You still haven't told me how you found out."
"Send Alice to her, Dorian," Cullen whispered. "She weeps and she needs someone with her."
He heard Dorian say something to his wife and then he was back on the phone.
"She called to you?" his friend said shocked. He was aware that neither Emily or Cullen had ever used the link between them since they'd parted.
"Something tonight must have upset her greatly, Dorian, for her to reach out to me," Cullen sighed. "What?"
"I don't know, Cullen. She's only arrived back less than two hours ago. She went straight to her room, barely stayed ten minutes in the common room with us before pleading tiredness."
"Did Janick go to her?" Cullen asked, his voice strained. "He was foremost in her thoughts when we spoke."
"Damn!" Dorian snapped. He cursed under his breath. "I'm going to seriously do him so damage. He must have told her that Elizabeth stopped by a few days ago."
"Elizabeth!" Cullen hissed. "What the hell did she want?"
"None of us know," Dorian said. "She asked for Emily and then for you when she was informed Emily was away. She left after finding out you were not here either."
"He must have told her then," Cullen said. "Elizabeth is about the only thing that would upset Emily enough to reach out to me. If you find out what Elizabeth was after let me know. You're sure about Janick, Dorian? There's nothing happening there?"
"For now, Cullen," his friend answered. "I can't give you any guarantees though. Emily does care about him. She may decide that you're never going to come back and decide to turn to him instead. You take that risk being apart from her."
"I know," Cullen whispered. He hung up.
Emily heard Alice slip into the room. Her adopted sister climbed onto the bed and slid an arm around her waist, cuddling into her back.
"Cullen sent me," she whispered softly and then hugged her friend harder as she began to weep even harder.
Emily felt as if the tears would never stop but they did eventually. Alice soothed her and whispered word of love patiently as she wept. She finally sat up and kissed Alice's cheek.
"Thank you, Alice," she said quietly.
"What set you off?" her friend asked worriedly.
Emily hugged her knees, looking at her friend. "Janick kissed me tonight."
"Oh," Alice said quietly. "How do you feel about that?"
"Confused, surprised that I responded for a moment, guilty for doing so," Emily sighed softly. "Then he told me Elizabeth had been here and everything was just too much to deal with and I called to Cullen."
"There's nothing wrong with being lonely, Emily. It's only natural that after so long you would enjoy the feel of a man's kiss," Alice said with a little smile. "You are a young, vibrant woman and you have needs just like the rest of us. Don't be so hard on yourself. As for Elizabeth, I have no advice on that one. I just can't understand the woman at all."
"Me neither," Emily admitted. "My initial reaction was fury at her coming back but now I'm wondering what she wanted with me. I scared her pretty badly the last time she was here. Why did she come back so soon?"
"Who knows? The woman is a law unto herself, Emily."
Emily decided to cancel her next trip in case Elizabeth returned. She found herself curious to know why the woman had come. She was surprised to find that she actually enjoyed being back home. It was not as painful as it once had been being surrounded by her friends and family.
Janick had retreated back to a safe distance since their kiss. Emily was relieved about that as she cared about him very much and she would have hated to have to halt their friendship if he had become too insistent about his feelings for her. Talking with Cullen had only reinforced how much she loved and missed him.
Dorian or Liam tended to be around her whenever Janick was near anyway. She wondered if Cullen had detected something in her tone that night. Had he set their friends to protect his wife from the other man's amorous intentions? She smiled at the possibility.
Elizabeth returned on her third night back. She watched the woman walk slowly towards her in the common room and immediately sensed a difference about her. Her body language was less confident, more humble. Emily was surprised at the change.
The other woman bowed lowed when she reached her.
"My Princess," Elizabeth said respectively. "You granted me leave to return if I learned to curb my vicious tongue before the century was out. I have come to humbly beg your forgiveness and to ask if I may talk with you on a delicate matter."
"Rise, Elizabeth," Emily said, her expression thoughtful. "You seem to have made a remarkable turnaround since we last met. May I ask what prompted this turnaround?"
"It was you, my Princess," Elizabeth answered.
"Me?" Emily said surprised. She watched the other woman closely and then stood.
"Walk with me Elizabeth." She turned toward the private quarters.
"Emily?" Liam said, a note of concern in his voice.
She smiled reassuringly at him and motioned for Elizabeth to follow her.
"You wanted to speak with me about something," Emily said once they'd entered her room and the door was closed. She walked over to refrigerator and poured herself a drink. She didn't offer the other woman one.
"It's about Cullen," Elizabeth said taking a deep breath.
Emily nodded for her to continued, too afraid to speak out loud.
"You were right about me," Elizabeth admitted. "I was jealous of you when I came here. It was a huge surprise to me to discover that I was still in love with Cullen."
Emily raised an eyebrow in surprise and Elizabeth smiled softly.
"I did love him once a very long time ago," she smiled. "I fell in love with him the moment I saw him, he was so beautiful, so chivalrous. It was a different time then, not as enlightened as it is now. Vampires guarded their existence very closely. We were together for almost a year before I discovered what he was. At first I was horrified when he told me and then I found what he was exciting. I was always beautiful but suddenly I could always be beautiful, it called to me like a drug."
She paused and swallowed and Emily took pity on her and went a poured her a drink. The other woman sipped her drink then continued.
"We married and then Cullen turned me. I found my new life intoxicating. I loved the taste of warm human blood in my mouth. I over indulged. Cullen tried to reign me in. He was very patient with me, kind and loving. But I craved the excitement of stalking my prey and taking what I wanted. Even then, Cullen only took just what he needed. He never killed. I was different. I took everything."
"Why?" Emily asked quietly. "Why kill?"
"I was out of control, heady with the power I suddenly had. I was young and wild. Cullen tried to stop me. He loved me so much. The guilt he felt every time I killed tore him up inside but still he loved me. Still he tried to teach me how to live our lifestyle without taking life. Eventually I chafed to be free of him. I was tired of his stifling me. But he wouldn't let me go. Even though I was slowly killing him with my actions, he still tried to save me. So I lied to him. I told him I'd never loved him, that I really knew what he was right from the very beginning. He believed me and he let me go."
Emily stared at her for a moment and then she held her hand out to her.
"Come here, Elizabeth," she said softly.
The other woman approached her slowly and sat down on the bed.
"Why did you really leave Cullen?" Emily asked gently.
Elizabeth started to cry. "Because I loved him so much and what I had become was destroying him. He'd made me and I was killing innocent humans. You know how he is, Highness. He was taking responsibility for my every kill. The only way to save him was to leave."
"Oh, Elizabeth," Emily sighed. She hugged the sobbing woman.
"Everything was fine and then Cullen met you," Elizabeth continued. "I was insanely jealous when I heard. I knew there had been no one else serious since me. It made being apart from him easier. I knew he would never forgive me even though I had turned my life around. I stayed away as long as I could and then I heard a whisper that things were not so rosy between you anymore. I went to Karpathia's to see Cullen but he looked at me as if I didn't exist. I was distraught but happy to learn that he was no longer with you. Then I heard he'd married you and you were now royalty. Well, you know what happened then."
"Why are you telling me this now, Elizabeth? Surely you've heard that Cullen and I separated the very day you came here."
Elizabeth wiped her face and sniffed.
"That night, I saw the way Cullen looked at you and realised what he had felt for me paled in comparison to how he felt about you. I wanted to hurt him because it was killing me knowing that I had destroyed whatever chance I'd had with him. That's why I said the things I did. When you pinned me down on the table and I saw the rage in your eyes as you protected him, I also realised you felt just the same way about him. When I went away I sat down and had a long hard think about my actions. I knew I had to try and make things right so Cullen would be happy again. I thought if maybe I sat down with him and told him the real truth then maybe he would finally let go of the pain and hurt and finally be healed so he could be with you."
Emily closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
"It's a lot more complicated than just your part in it, Elizabeth," she finally said.
"Not really," Elizabeth protested. "Cullen won't allow himself to be happy. He doesn't feel he deserves to be after the killing I did when we were together. Haven't you ever sensed that about him?"
Emily nodded slowly. "I even said it to him once. I had no idea why he felt the way he did, I assumed it was something to do with you but I didn't know exactly why."
"Cullen is punishing himself for my actions," Elizabeth said. "I have to stand up and take responsibility. He has to know that he's not responsible so he can forgive himself. He has to know that I left because I loved him, not because I hated him. Maybe then, he'll realise that he deserves to be here with you. He's inventing excuses to be apart from you, Highness, to punish himself. The punishment is twice as devastating to him because he knows how much you're suffering too."
"Oh, Cullen!" Emily groaned.
"I'm so sorry," Elizabeth whispered.
"Thank you for telling me," Emily said softly. "I'll try to get him to come home and talk with you. Will you stay in touch so I can let you know if I can convince him?"
"I'll call in every night, Highness."
"I know this is hard for you, Elizabeth," Emily said. "I know it took great courage for you to come forward. For what it's worth, I forgive you for any wrong you have caused me. I hope Cullen also finds it in his heart to do so."
"Thank you, Highness, but making this right is the only thing I really need. If I can do that then maybe the next six hundred years will be more bearable for me."
Elizabeth left and Emily contemplated her next move. The other woman had read Cullen so accurately. Now that she knew why he believed he didn't deserve to be happy, there was a chance of finally healing her husband. Emily felt a bit of hope for the first time in a long time. If she could just get Cullen home. She lay on the bed.
"Cullen," she called softly.
"Emily? You said you wouldn't do this again," Cullen groaned. She could hear pain and also anger in his voice.
"You need to come home, Cullen, now," she told him, keeping her mental tone firm. She knew he would balk at the request.
"I can't do that, Emily," he said harshly, after a long pause
"You have no choice, Cullen," she replied. She made her voice, colder, harder. "Your Princess commands your presence. Come home now."
"Don't do this to me, Emily," Cullen hissed, his anger winning over the pain.. "Don't use your position to force me back."
Emily fought back her own pain at having to do this to him. "It's not up for debate, Cullen, I have issued a command. Do you intend to obey it?"
The next pause was longer. The silence screamed inside her head as she waited for his response.
"I'll be there within the next three days, my Princess," Cullen finally said dully.
Emily breathed a sigh of relief.
"I can't believe you would do this to me, Emily," he added and the anger was back in his voice. "When you've concluded your business with me I am filing for divorce."
Emily sucked in a deep breath as pain lanced through her chest. She only hoped that he would think differently once he'd had a chance to hear Elizabeth out.
"You are such a contradiction, my husband," she finally said sadly. "On one hand you tell me I do not fight hard enough for you and on the other, when I do fight for you, you seek to punish me by ending out marriage permanently," she sighed softly. "Very well Cullen, if you wish a divorce when we have concluded our discussions, I will not contest it."
Cullen was livid with anger as Emily's voice faded from his mind. She had used her position against him, something he would have sworn she would never do. If he had been closer to her at that moment he would have cheerfully wrapped his hands around her throat and squeezed hard.
His violent thought shocked him and he shuddered and closed his eyes. He'd done that once before to her and the end result had been four stitches in her head and a severely sprained wrist. The pain and guilt he had felt afterwards had almost destroyed him. Now he wanted to hurt her again. It would be different this time, she was vampire now so she would heal quickly.
Still even thinking of hurting her physically made him feel sick to his stomach. 'Why now, Emily?' he groaned silently. What was so important that she had to force him back now? He wasn't ready for this. His feelings for her were still so confused and conflicted. Even the threat of divorcing her hadn't changed her mind.
Cullen paced around his room. He had heard the pain in her voice when he had said that. The words had seemed to be ripped from his mouth before he could stop them. She was hurting him and he wanted to hurt her back. Did he really mean it? Pain engulfed him and he closed his eyes again, trying to shake it off. Could he really divorce Emily? His heart thudded wildly in his chest at the very thought of losing that precious tie with her. He groaned out loud and began to pack. He had to harden his heart. He would get through this summons and then he would file for the divorce. This had to end, prolonging it was slowly killing them both.
Emily walked into the common room and saw Dorian and Alice sitting with Liam. She went to sit beside her family her expression grave.
"What is it?" Liam asked. "What did Elizabeth want? Has she upset you, Emily?"
Emily shook her head. "No, she actually brought me a small ray of hope," she said quietly.
"What did she say?" Dorian asked, taking her hand in his and squeezing it lightly.
"Let's just say I now know why Cullen runs so hard from me," Emily sighed, smiling at the blond vampire. "Hopefully once Cullen hears what she has to say, things will be different."
"Cullen's coming home?" Alice said breathlessly.
Emily smiled sadly. "Kicking and screaming all the way," she answered. "He is livid with me at the moment. I had to issue a royal command to get him to come."
The three vampires stared at her in shock. "How did that go down?" Dorian finally asked.
"As you would expect," she sighed softly. "My husband wants a divorce."
Alice gasped at the raw pain in Emily's voice as she said the words. She threw her arms around her friend. "It won't happen, Em," she whispered harshly. "We'll all make him see sense."
Emily hugged the tiny woman, seeking comfort as Cullen's words resounded in her head. "I fear it may really happen, Alice," she said sadly. "There may be nothing any of us can do about it."
She pulled back and looked at her family. Their own pain was clear to see. She knew they ached for both her and Cullen.
"Maybe it's for the best," she finally said, her voice sounding so small.
"You can't want a divorce," Dorian all but hissed in shock.
"No, Dorian, I want my husband home with me for good," she smiled wanly. "But this whole 'will they? won't they?' situation is just too damaging for everyone. Not just Cullen and I but for all of you too, stuck between us. A resolution to the whole thing just seems to be the best for all."
"You're giving up," Alice said tearfully. "I thought you'd never give up, Emily."
"So did I, Alice," she whispered forlornly.
Emily rose and went back to her rooms.
"We have to do something, Dorian," Alice cried as Emily walked away.
Dorian and Liam's faces mirrored the distress in hers.
"What, love?" her husband asked gently. "We've all tried talking sense to Cullen. Nothing we've ever said has penetrated the shell he had wrapped around himself. What more can we do?"
"I'd like to kick the living daylights out of him," Liam said angrily, his expression dark. "How can he hurt Emily like this? I used to think that their love would conquer the world. Instead it has consumed them both until they are only shells of their former selves. It's just not right."
"Maybe Emily is right," Dorian mused. "We are all so consumed by what is going on in their lives. Maybe it is time for this to come to an end, one way or the other."
To be continued....