Even before we boarded the ferry to cross to Mystic Isle, I felt the energy of the ocean on a whole new level. It was immense and powerful, as was the storm brewing. Dark clouds circulated above us, wind pushing waves to build, and lightening lit the sky. The ferry rocked with each wave that struck against it, spraying water over the sides, saturating the deck. It was a newer ferry, with a cabin and stairs leading below deck. I didn’t comment on the tinted windows of the cabins. Emmanuel regarded the entire ferry with disdain. He didn’t suggest going below deck as some passengers had to take cover from the storm.
I hadn’t been to my childhood home in over a decade, and my heart pounded in anticipation. The storm fit in with my mood, even with the risk of a lightening strike. The memories I had here weren’t pleasant, but to get to Elliott, I pushed past them. I literally braved the storm.
The radio played soft music, but every five minutes, it would turn into an alert. I’d weathered hurricanes as a kid on this island, and I had no doubt the storm coming was at least a category two.
The sun set by the time we reached land, and I was surprised to find the streets weren’t as busy as I remembered. I saw, as we walked through downtown, that shops closed early now. Strange, because it was tourist season. There were no cars except the ones parked, and the ghost town made the hairs on my neck stand up.
“Emmanuel.” I gazed around. “Something’s wrong.”
“The isle is a Nest.”
“Run by vampires. We shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t be here.”
“How can you tell?” I ignored his last statement. The isle creeped me out, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. From what I could see, the buildings looked nicer than I remembered. Something was off.
“The ferry was the first sign. Tinted windows. Look at some of the shops, houses, and cars. More tinted windows. The humans are locked inside their homes, some have barred their entrances. Vampire stench covers everything. How much further is your Manor?”
“On the other side of the isle. The ferry doesn’t go to that side.”
“The ferry shouldn’t come here at all. This is a death trap.”
I gave Emmanuel a side glance. His body tensed, his gaze darted around, fists clenched at his side. When I stopped, so did he, not moving an inch from my side. “We need to get indoors. Preferably a church. I bet the ones around here have been heavily fortified. I saw the sign when we got off the ferry. This is an old settlement, and the churches would have been built to withstand the weather. Easiest places to fortify are made of stone.”
Instead, we found as we continued further onto the isle, there were no churches. I remembered them, but in the places I thought they should be, newer buildings now resided there. Each contained tinted windows.
“Why get rid of them if they don’t hurt vampires?” I asked after mentioning the losses.
“I didn’t say churches hurt them. The real question is why Creeden didn’t mention this.” His statement confused me. I knew Creeden came here in search of Elliott, and we knew he was a vampire. What was the big deal with not mentioning a Nest?
The last few rays of sunlight disappeared as the Manor came into view. Thunder clapped over us, and rain blanketed everything in seconds.
Elliott opened the door before we were on the top step. I didn’t miss his irritation, but it wasn’t present when he spoke to me.
“Welcome home.” There was an underlying tone in his voice that I noted as Emmanuel stiffened. “Yes, stupid Were. There’s no use in running. Stay by her side.” Elliott moved aside to let us enter. I didn’t understand until I passed through the entry way. I then understood Elliott’s mood. I understood why the Weres were nervous about Elliott’s Grand-sire.
I couldn’t distinguish the Coven leader’s strength from the ocean until the door shut behind us, separating the forces.
Elliott’s Grand-sire stood when Elliott led us into the parlor. His strength left my mouth dry, and I halted mid-stride. Emmanuel slipped past me, separating me from the vampires. The Grand-sire’s effect on my Empathy was different than the effect the ocean had on me in an unpleasant way.
I hadn’t expected this. I thought I was prepared to come home, but the vampire’s sexuality stunned me. He threw off major erotic vibes that made my legs quiver. He wasn’t handsome, but the way he carried himself made up for it. If it weren’t for his eyes, gleaming with sharp white intensity, I would almost think him harmless.
“How interesting,” The vampire said, bowing slightly to welcome me. “My sons were about to explain where they’ve been, and what that delicious smell is. Clearly, it is you.”
Emmanuel growled, but the vampire ignored him. His eyes were on me, a smile on his lips too toothy for my comfort. “Nero, my cousin, Kaira. Kaira—”
“Your Grand-sire, yeah.” I held Nero’s white eyes, trying not to react to his predatory gaze.
“Pleasure to meet you.” Nero motioned to the arm chair he’d occupied seconds ago. “Why don’t you sit? As I understand, this is your Manor.”
Emmanuel grabbed my arm when I tried to pass, and Kasen growled. Nero tisked, but I wasn’t sure at who. “Let go,” I told him, keeping my gaze on Nero.
“Not smart,” Emmanuel hissed.
“I mean your charge no harm,” Nero said, attempting another sharp smile. His teeth were extended, his reaction to my Energy. Was it turning him on? “You are exquisite.” He gave me a once over.
I didn’t like his compliment. Chills licked my skin, but I pushed the fear down.
“Let. Go,” I told Emmanuel with more force. He growled again, but let go. Pushing away the fear didn’t work. My hands filmed over, but I was sure it was the only reason he complied. I still tried to use the film to my advantage. To show Nero I could be dangerous, too.
I walked toward Nero as he waited, the smile fixed on his face. If this was his attempt at being human and harmless, he was failing.
“My sons are afraid I’ll hurt you.” He sat after I took my chair. Nero’s tone was friendly, but his eyes were not. He was excited by me. I didn’t know why, but the reason made me nervous.
“Maybe they’re nervous about what will happen if you try.” Not the smartest thing for me to say, considering I couldn’t control the Energy. He didn’t need to know that, nor the film had come and gone on its own.
Nero gazed at me, his eyes wide. After a second, he threw back his head and laughed. “It would be interesting,” he said at last. “To see who would survive.” His eyes slid past me to gaze at Emmanuel, the predatory expression still visible. With his strength, I doubted he’d fail at hiding his strength if he wanted to. “Alas, child.” He met my eyes again, “Destroying you would be a waste.”
My eyes narrowed on him. I tore my gaze away to look at Elliott. “When the man came, the non-human, what did he want?”
“You, of course,” Elliott replied, looking unsure and unhappy.
“How did you end up almost…dust? Do vampires dust?” The last bit was said to myself, in what I guessed was a loss of sanity. Vampires. Fae. Weres with Bonds. Being a living firework. My brain was done, I was certain. I was also certain now wasn’t the time to lose it.
“I guess he wasn’t partial to vampires unable to help.” Elliott raised his eyebrows at me with a shrug. “Where is the Daughter of Drite. That’s what he asked me.”
“Kaira,” Some of Emmanuel’s anger overflowed his wall as he spoke, “we shouldn’t be talking about this in present company.”
“Why? Are you afraid Nero will learn something about me?” I met Nero’s eyes again, “I’m new to this, but from what I hear, and see, I’m powerful.”
“You remind me of someone,” Nero told me. “Someone long dead.”
“Kaira, that’s enough.” Emmanuel’s tone held urgency.
“Aye, lass. That’s enough.” Kasen spoke for the first time, softly.
Nero ignored him, his white-hot eyes still on me. “Tomorrow night, come to my Court. I believe we could help one another.” If he felt threatened by me at all, he hid it well. His body remained relaxed in the overstuffed high back chair, but my presence interested him more than I liked. He was too intrigued, and I was determined to follow my instincts.
Nero could prove to be a tough enemy, and he scared me.
“I must respectfully decline your invitation.” I tried to mimic Kasen’s tone, the slight warning in it.
My answer irritated Nero, but only a fraction. “My dear, I could command it.” He had the tone down perfectly, sending shivers down my spine. “In fact—”
“She’ll be there. With me.” Emmanuel’s quick response resulted in my loss of composure for a heartbeat.
“Excellent.” Nero regarded Emmanuel with bright eyes, interested. “I look forward to it. Elliott, be sure they’re dressed for the occasion.” He threw to my cousin without a glance in his direction.
“Of course.” Elliott’s tone made me study him closer. As much as I felt like things between Elliott and I hadn’t changed, they had. Watching Elliott struggle for control was evidence of what happened in the time passed.
And if I needed more of a reminder, I could look in the mirror.
“You leave at first light,” Elliott said, coming back into the parlor.
Elliott ignored me, turning his fury to Emmanuel. “You shouldn’t have brought her here.”
“Careful, vampire,” Emmanuel growled.
“We made it clear if he found out it would put her in more danger. You bring her here, knowing.”
“It seems to me he’d have found out either way.” Emmanuel’s jaw clenched. “As the two of you were about to give her up.”
“Why did you agree to going to Court?” I stepped in between Emmanuel and Elliott before either one drew blood.
“Nero would have commanded it,” Elliott, instead, answered. “We would need to comply.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means they’d take you against your will,” Emmanuel snapped. “My Second would, without a doubt, neuter me before killing me, then Elliott. It’s still a toss, but we’ll find out soon enough.”
My face grew cold as the blood rushed from it. “He’s coming here?”
“Your Second should kill you,” Elliott muttered.
“What happens if I leave before Court tomorrow night?” I cut off the arguing before it started.
“Nero won’t let you off the Isle if you don’t,” Elliott said.
“It doesn’t matter whether you stay or run. Creeden won’t stop looking for you. Better to let it happen sooner than later. It’ll piss him off otherwise.”
“I don’t want anything to do with him. Or the Bond. I barely feel it right now. I want to keep it way.”
The fact I wasn’t mad at Creeden for his reaction irritated me. I felt guilty for his current travels, and his anger, even if it wasn’t my fault. The Weres had a way of doing things, and whatever this Mating Bond was, it was serious to their way of life. Even with the brief stay at the Reservation, I understood tradition was not lost on the Pride.
I felt small in a huge world, I tried to square my shoulders, and hold his gaze.
“Nero isn’t the negotiating type. Especially when he sees something rare. He will Mark you. You don’t want that.”
Behind me, Emmanuel cursed. “He’s right. It truly won’t be good for your health.”
“He’d take my freedom?” I glanced at Emmanuel. “So would the Pride. So would the humans.”
Elliott was irritated with me now, but his answer surprised me. “Then I’ll need to get you adequate clothing for tomorrow night.”
“Adequate clothing?” I asked, at the same time as Emmanuel said, “Creeden won’t allow it.”
“Creeden will have to play nicely. He’ll be out numbered.” I glanced from Elliott to Emmanuel, finally agreeing this was a bad idea.
My Manor changed a great deal since Elliott remodeled to fit his new life style. Mirrors were removed around the Manor, and weapons lined the halls. I had no idea if he could use them, but I couldn’t deny the number was impressive. Tinted windows were installed in every room, except for my bedroom. That was curious. His need to guard himself from the sun everywhere except my old room.
It was untouched and looked the same as the day I was taken from it. The memory was not pleasant. I did not go to the Hospital willingly. At the tender age of thirteen, I was introduced to a straight jacket. That moment scarred me for life. Perhaps that’s why Elliott couldn’t bring himself to enter my room. He’d left home, six months before his mother committed me, to live with his father. I was alone.
Minutes from dawn, Elliott paused outside of my door. If it weren’t for my Empathy, I would have missed his presence. I slid to a sitting position, but Emmanuel was closer. He bent in his chair to retrieve the folded paper Elliott slipped under the door. Ignoring the pointed look from me, he opened it, and his expression hardened. He crossed the room and extended it to me.
He spent the night in my room with me. He didn’t give me a choice. He’d slid my old desk chair against the door, secured the windows shut, and took his seat. Not once did he move. I had two hours of sleep, squirming under his gaze. Something about being watched as I slept unsettled me.
The note in my hands held an address. Underneath it, “Your twin” was scribbled in Elliott’s hand writing. My hands filmed over. Before I could attempt to stop myself, the paper disintegrated. I yelped, clawing at the paper. Couldn’t save it.
“No worries. Creeden can pull it.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant, but felt Creeden a second later. The Bond hit me less than the first time, but still took my breath away. His emotions overwhelmed me.
“You’ll want to meet him at the door before he gets to Elliott.”
Our last meeting didn’t go well, and I already felt his anger. There’s no way this meeting could go well. His first response to me said it all. He said it all. It can’t be with her. He didn’t want this Bond with me. He resented it.
My anger to his resentment confused me, but it was there. Anger strong enough it stabilized me. I stood, and took a second to give my legs a chance to work. This Bond wasn’t my fault, and being treated like a disease was unnecessary.
“He’ll rip Elliott to shreds. You must meet him at the door if you wish to prevent that.”
Emmanuel followed me downstairs, on my heels. I opened the front door, coming face to chest with Creeden. I hadn’t realized he was so tall. The man was three times my size in width, and a foot taller. My brain wasn’t functioning, respectfully. My will faltered, and I backtracked a step to meet his coffee colored eyes. Holy eyes. Intensity bore into mine for what seemed an eternity before his gaze hardened and met Emmanuel’s.
A silent exchange went on between the two of them. Creeden’s facial expressions didn’t coincide with his emotions. I may not know the actual words said, but his range of emotions were proof it was happening.
He’d been taken by as much surprise as me to seeing one another. For a moment I experienced his vulnerability through his surprise. He was also pissed with Emmanuel. That wasn’t my problem though. Emmanuel chose to come. He knew I didn’t want him here.
“Kaira?” Creeden glanced down at me. My name in his deep accented voice sent shivers down my spine. “Are you going to let me in?”
“Are you going to rip Elliott to shreds?” I asked before I could stop myself.
Creeden’s dark brow quirked. “Not today.”
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