Glad to see you survived.” I commented, my attention sliding to the woman that clung to his side.
Bridgette met my stare, her eyes strong and slender nose upturned as she nodded respectfully. She’d once looked at me like I were the enemy, analyzing the way I stood and moved as though she were searching for weak points, but not anymore. She seemed completely at ease in this quaint little house, perched on the arm of the antique sofa with a glass of what I knew to be blood in her hand.
She wasn’t the only one in the room, though. There were a few other Vampire’s, most of which had been here for a few weeks now. Two men around Asher’s age, one with hair as pale as snow and the other with curls that mirrored Giovanni’s, though they were a tad bit more unruly, were situated on a set of recliners just off to the side.
“Well, when you told me this one here was alive, I had no choice but to get back to her.” Deacon grunted, his ice-cold gaze thawing when he turned it towards Bridgette.
Asher, who had been quietly observing everyone, gestured to the large map sprawled out on the coffee table.
“What is this for?”
Deacon extracted himself from Bridgette, who frowned at him like she hadn’t gotten her fill of his touch, which she probably hadn’t considering they both almost died recently.
The man I was still coming to terms with as my uncle extended his hand for Asher to grasp.
“Alpha Asher, I’d say it’s nice to finally meet you, but I’ve heard all the rumors and know that most who cross your path don’t stay alive for very long.” He grunted, a hint of amusement weaseling its way onto his face, softening the sharp angles that must’ve belonged to my father’s father.
Asher shrugged but didn’t hesitate to stare Deacon down with his golden-flecked eyes, taking his hand securely in his own.
“That’s typically because they threaten what’s mine. I don’t sense you’ll make that mistake though.” He mused, his lips twitching and eyes darting down to where I stood when I jabbed my elbow into his ribcage.
‘Play nice…’ I said through the mind-link.
“Seems like it’s a common occurrence that smart, powerful women end up saddled with hot-headed men.” Deacon snorted, glancing back at Bridgette.
“Who better to keep us in line?” Giovanni said smoothly, a ghost in the corner of the living room.
“See? He gets it. Though from what I hear, Lola gets herself into a fair amount of trouble as well.” Deacon chuckled, quickly rubbing at the stubble on his face before tapping the surface of the map. His finger landed on the forest that surrounded this little town, the border to the safe haven we’d constructed. “We’re setting up a perimeter around the town. I did everything in my power to make sure we weren’t followed, but we don’t have magic on our side. The witches do.”
Dina appeared in the doorway, her eyes wide and voice harsh.
“You said ‘we. Does that mean Spence is here too? Where is he, Deacon?” Her words trembled as a note of fear slithered its way into her throat.
I’d seen Deacon in action, and he was just as intimidating as my father, but his range of emotions was far beyond that of the previous Vampire King. Sadness rippled across his face, tainting the blues of his eyes until they grew darker in color.
“He was wounded badly, Dina.” Was all Deacon said before Dina surged forward.
She and Bridgette must’ve had some sort of standing with one another, because the auburn-haired Vampire didn’t stop Dina or seem threatened by her in the slightest. She stood back and let Deacon handle things, even though her expression was a tad pinched.
“Don’t tell me you fucking left him there.” Dina spat, her eyes dark as unlit coal, burning with a fire void of light. “I swear on everything that you love-“.
“Of course, I didn’t leave him there. Fuck, Dina. You know I care about Spence more than that.” Deacon grunted, staring the ferocious Vampire down with equal parts anger and understanding. “He was the only one that was hurt. Surprisingly, everyone else made it out alive. There were no casualties. I think he’s been waiting for you, fighting off death until you got here.”
I heard what Deacon said, that part about no one dying, but it quickly slid into the background when he led Dina to the small staircase beside the fireplace. It was the first door at the top of the stairs that he took her to, still visible from where I stood. The moment the door cracked open, I heard her ragged gasp hit the air, followed by the scent of charred flesh.
It twisted my stomach, flipped it inside out and embedded itself onto every inch of my memory so that I’d never forget.
While Deacon and the others went over evacuation routes, perimeter checks, and the works, I tried and failed not to focus on the sound of Dina’s voice slipping through the crack in the door. Her whispered promises were answered by a groan or rasp, one that sounded like it was filled with such excruciating pain that I had to bite my tongue several times to keep the tears at bay.
When all of our stomachs were growling, starved from both the long trip and spending the night without a hint of sleep, we took our meeting into the small kitchen while we ate. The little retro refrigerator was only stocked with blood and various types of alcohol, making me even more grateful Mason had thought to pack a cooler full of food.
“Always being hungry comes in handy, doesn’t it?” He said smugly, smirking at both Clara and I.
She swatted his shoulder but grinned around bites of her sandwich.
“Hell yeah, it does.” Sean said through a mouthful of sour cream and onion chips.
“Protection magic isn’t my strong suit, but if there’s any sage lying around, I can try a spell that helps deter unwanted visitors.” Clara suggested, flicking her curls over her shoulder when all eyes turned on her. “I’d need someone to run me around the perimeter though.”
Mason swallowed a bite of his sandwich to chime in.” I can handle that part.”
“I’m sure you can.” Breyona murmured, sharing a smirk with Clara.
Deacon nodded, clearly deep in thought as he stroked the stubble coating his jaw. “Hm, it certainly wouldn’t hurt.”
“Unless the witches did follow you and are close by. Won’t they come running if they smell another witch’s magic around the place?” Bridgette countered, her legs swaying from where she sat on a clear part of the countertop.
“If they did follow, they’re going to come running either way.” Clara retorted, her lips thinning.
Bridgette hummed softly. “True. She’s right, then. I don’t see what it could hurt either.”
“Chase and Stefan, think you can find some dried sage for Clara here?” Deacon asked the two Vampire’s hovering along the outskirts of the room, leaning against the doorway as far from the rest of us as they could get.
“No problem, boss.” The one with hair pale as snow nodded, his eyes roaming over my face before he and his curly-haired friend, left the house.
The front door closed with a soft bang. There were enough curious looks being thrown around for Deacon to explain who the hell those two were. Apparently, there were plenty of Vampire’s here that wanted to help, they just didn’t know how.
Shortly after getting to the safe haven, Deacon sprung into action and had gotten a list of volunteers who would be willing to help with perimeter checks and act as guards that watched the main road from the forest. At the top of that list were Chase and Stefan, two Vampire’s from low-born families that wanted a chance at a life where they weren’t seen as scum.
The two were still wary about seeing me as their Queen, but I didn’t mind. Expecting blind loyalty was foolish. If I wanted it, I’d have to earn it. Which is exactly what I planned to do; I just wasn’t quite sure how.
After going over plans some more, Asher, having decided the risk was worth it, told Brandon to bring the group of warriors to the safe haven. They would make the perfect patrol team during the daylight hours when the Vampire’s had to retreat indoors.
As the guys were going over that list, divvying up the different shifts, Dina emerged from the bedroom, her face twisted into a look of sheer determination as she stormed downstairs.
She squared up to Deacon without a sliver of fear in her body, her fists clenched like she was seconds away from swinging.
“What are we going to do about this, Deacon? I want that witch dead.” She snarled, giving him no time to answer as she craned her head in my direction and spat, “You and your messed up magic said everyone would survive. That ain’t surviving. He’s-He’s all burned up…in so much pain. You’re our fucking Queen, right? Do something, then! That fire witch hurt one of our own, hurt my mate.”
For a moment, all I could do was stare. Her dark skin was practically glowing from rage, coated in a thin sheen of sweat that reflected off her eyes and bared teeth. I placed my hand on Asher’s arm, barely noticing when his deep growl was cut short. I was too fixated on Dina, on the emotion she invoked and how it rattled in my chest. The sight of her struck me deep, bringing an errant thought to the surface of my mind.
Her fearlessness and rage, it was almost awe inspiring and bordered on animalistic in nature. I’d never met a Vampire that embodied those qualities so effortlessly. Dina reminded me of my own people, of their tenacity and sheer willpower.
Dina would’ve made a good werewolf.
If things had gone differently, I might’ve felt the twitch of magic tickling my nerve endings, but the alarm we’d long ago set up in town began screeching, echoing through the streets in an ominous tone that meant the enemy wasn’t just nearby.
They were here.