Amleth grunted as he blocked the kick to his head. “Dude, did she just snap something?” Michael said. The human had been banished to the corner of the gym after triggering Rosalyn’s prey drive one too many times. Amleth had allowed the boy to continue watching the lesson from the safety of the sidelines. His sweat and adrenaline filled the air and helped keep Rosalyn agitated. But if he called Amleth ‘dude’ one more time, the London Sheriff was going to put him back in their session as fang bait. Michael had taken their invitation to dispense with the whole ‘yes sir, please sir’ formalities a bridge too far. Besides, he need not try so hard to gain Amleth’s attention. For better or for worse, he already had it.
“Again,” Amleth told Rosalyn. She jogged backwards and began the routine once more. She attacked in a flurry of fists and feet. Amleth circled, ducked, and dodged her strikes. As they came into close contact, he began deflecting the blows, laughing madly as he went.
Rosalyn was a quick study. She mirrored his positions in her offensive stances. Their hand-to-hand combat intensified. Her strikes brushed past him. “More,” Amleth said. “Bring it. Come on, Ros! I know you’ve got more!”
“Get him, Ros!” Michael hooted from the corner. Rosalyn landed a cracking hit to Amleth’s shoulder and he made a strangled noise through clenched teeth.
“Nice work, kiddo,” said a voice from the gym exit. Eric leaned against the door frame, cutting a devastating figure in a smart grey suit. He had dressed up for his appointment with the tailor. Eric strode over to Amleth, clapped a large hand on his collar, and jerked Amleth’s arm downward with force. It popped.
“Dude! She dislocated your shoulder!” Michael said.
Eric and Amleth exchanged a look. “Michael, you are going to want to dial down the bro-han with Sheriff Amleth about ten notches. Stat,” Eric said. He lowered his voice. “How many times?”
“Four,” Amleth mouthed silently.
The number raised Eric’s eyebrows. “Impressive, Ros.” He inspected Rosalyn thoroughly for evidence that she had been treated too roughly. She batted his fussing hands away. Satisfied that she was unharmed, Eric slipped into Norse to explain that he had not had the chance to break Amleth’s bones when he was a newborn. Godric had forcibly separated them after Eric had been extremely naughty, so the world would never truly know whether Rosalyn had bested his record strength as a yearling.
“I’m sorry, Eric,” Rosalyn said. “All I got out of that was ‘four’ and ‘arm like the hammering blow of Mjölnir’. Can’t you just tell me in English first? I’ll learn faster.”
Eric snorted. “Not a chance. You do know Amla is letting you land hits, right?” He ditched his jacket and tie on the side of the mat along with his socks and shoes. Untucking his shirt and rolling his sleeves, he took a position in front of Amleth. “Now watch how it looks in real vampire time.”
Eric and Amleth began to spar. What had been balletic and measured with Rosalyn became brutal and lightning fast between the two men. They moved in short, rapid-fire bursts of blurring motion. Eric used his weight to his advantage, heaving vicious blows at Amleth, but Amleth’s lithe frame made him extremely quick and flexible. The extra three hundred years he had on Eric did not hurt either. They were well-matched opponents.
Godric slid an arm over Rosalyn’s shoulders as he joined her to spectate. She curled into his embrace. “You’re back early. Was your boys’ night out alright?”
“It was very nice. We were both eager to see how things were going with you.” He planted a kiss on her mouth.
Rosalyn whispered into the shell of his ear. “Can I eat now?” He had not let her feed before her lesson. She was ravenous.
Godric tipped his head in consideration. “Reaffirm your bond with Amleth. If he finds your technique acceptable, then you may have Michael.”
Rosalyn felt like a frustrated teenager. Being a newborn vampire was not dissimilar. “How will I know if I pass?”
“Don’t worry. Amleth will let you know if you’re off the mark.”
“Great,” she said without enthusiasm. “Another test.”
Godric looked at her queerly. “You’ve been breaking his bones all night, my love. He’s taught you to be dangerous, now you must also learn to be gentle.”
“What?” she said, horrified.
Godric patted her knee. “Let Amla feed from your neck. It’s a nice way to show your submission after pummeling him.”
Rosalyn gaped. “But he didn’t hurt me at all! Maybe a bruise or two, but they healed instantly.”
Godric smiled. “And that is why Amleth is the one training you in combat.” Rosalyn looked back to the mat where Eric had Amleth pinned. Amleth conceded. Eric punched him hard in the face anyway.
“Jesus,” she breathed.
Godric whistled at the two men. “Enough.” He turned back to his wife. “Go on. Have fun with Amleth. I’m going to work with Michael for a bit.”
Amleth’s guest suite was large, and yet the vampire’s larger than life personality was barely contained by the space. Rumpled clothes were strewn everywhere. Amleth breezily circled through the room tossing discarded shirts and pants into a hamper. Two overflowing steamer trunks occupied the center of the suite. They were old. Rosalyn traced her fingers over the ornate hammered ironwork and wood struts of one trunk. Amleth paused what he was doing. “Marking your territory?” he teased.
“Oh! Sorry.” She had forgotten that casually leaving her scent on others’ things was a cardinal no-no. “Just admiring. I didn’t think anyone traveled like this anymore.”
“They don’t. More’s the pity for them.” Amleth hunted for a pen in a pile of books and papers on the writing desk. He scribbled something down in a leather-bound diary. He wandered into the bathroom. She heard the clattering of toiletries. The shower turned on and she heard him get in. He had left the door ajar.
Rosalyn knew she should not let herself stare at Amleth while he pottered around – that part of her fascination with watching him glide among his mysterious belongings was his spellbind. She could not help it. She was anxious and curious about the man in equal measure. Sharing blood was an unavoidably intimate thing. Even though they were thinly bonded and they talked online, she did not really know him. She felt like she had followed a devilishly handsome stranger home for sex – and with her husband’s own vague admonition to ‘go have fun’.
Amleth was chatting blandly about his fondness for traveling on ocean liners and steam ships when he fell silent mid-sentence. He must have caught her staring in his direction or felt her thinking at him. “Apologies – I don’t know where my head is at. Did you want to join me?” he said.
Rosalyn froze where she sat on the edge of the bed. “Uh, no…I’m good.”
He resumed his lathering and rinsing. Amleth apparently took the ‘wash, rinse, and repeat’ directions on shampoo bottles to heart. No wonder his hair was so lustrous. There was a squeak of feet on tile and the thunk of the spigot being turned off. Amleth came out in a towel. Although Rosalyn knew his beauty was striking, she was somehow always unprepared for it. He was slim-muscled and smooth as oiled olive wood save for a sprinkling of dark hair that chased down his chest. The trail traveled below the twist of terrycloth at his defined hips, leaving altogether too much and too little to the imagination. Rosalyn averted her eyes. He smirked at her awkward shyness. “I had the scents of my meal, my children, Eric, and Michael on me. I may not be as uptight about blood sharing as Godric, but when you have me, darling, you will know it is me you are having. I expect the same. Now go wash.”
Rosalyn could not escape to the bathroom fast enough. She closed the door and leaned against it. Had her heart still beat, it would have been hammering in her chest. Amleth had laid out a bathrobe and fresh soaps for her. She prodded her bonds with Godric and Eric for help. They were silent. Godric had said something about the importance of building her own relationships with others. She supposed this was his idea of non-interference. He had fantastically odd ideas about when it was appropriate to control absolutely everything and when it was okay to disappear into the shadows.
She scrubbed herself quickly in the shower, only half noticing the gaudy gold fixtures that featured so prominently in the house. When she re-emerged, she found Amleth still bare-chested and wearing a loose pair of black fisherman’s pants. He was writing away in his journal. His wet hair curled darkly over his shoulders. The fact that Amleth was something like 1500 years old and not actually related to her was palpable now that they were alone together. Rosalyn remembered Godric chastising her in the desert the first time they had met. ‘Don’t you ever go wandering off alone with a vampire again. Never,’ he had said. So much for never.
Amleth looked up. “You’re only just realizing, aren’t you.”
“You are sheriff of London for a reason,” she said.
He gave a secretive smile. “Quite a few reasons.” He went to the bed and patted the spot beside him. “You’ve had more of your maker’s blood in the past twenty-four hours than most children get in a century. It’s obliterated most of our tie. You can’t even sense my good intentions.” He went to brush the hair from her forehead. She flinched. “We lose ourselves in the excitement of a fight. Even you, my little pacifist. You weren’t noticing then what you sense now.”
“You could kill me in an instant.”
“Less than an instant, darling.” Amleth ran a thumb over her cheek. He continued these microaggressions into her space as if to prove his point. “But I dislike even breathing the words aloud, Ros. I am your blood-sworn brother. You know you can trust me.”
He narrowed his eyes. Her skepticism offended him. “If Godric ordered me to drive a stake into my own heart tomorrow, I would do it without question. If my death could serve him better than my life, it would be my honor. I owe him everything.”
“That is…really melodramatic.”
“Is it? Eric slit his own throat for you. Did you think he was being melodramatic when he saved your life?”
Rosalyn exhaled. She had not quite thought about Eric’s sacrifice like that. She had not realized he told Amleth so much, either. “Eric didn’t hesitate.”
“No, and neither would I. I only wish that idiot had taken my calls when you were sick. I would have been at your side helping instead of wringing my hands not knowing why I was being purposefully kept in the dark. Again.”
“I am sorry I hurt you tonight,” she said in a small voice. “I had no idea. You encouraged me to fight harder.”
“And tomorrow I’ll have you fighting harder still. You’re a nasty piece of work for a newborn, madame. A bit more training and you’ll be able to handle weres and youngling vampires, no problem.”
“Yes. I thank the gods you are with us, but by Jove, Godric makes terrifying children. Which brings us to the matter at hand. You could do serious damage to one of your subjects on accident. Four of those hits were enough to break vampire bone.”
She flushed with embarrassment – and the vampire in her surged with excitement at her power. “Sorry.”
“Every single swing you took at me would have crushed a human body into a meat smear. We can’t have that, can we?”
“I can’t have you hurting Michael, Ros. He has a bright future.” She nodded hurriedly in agreement. Amleth leaned in to whisper to her confidentially. He was too close. Too ancient. Too beguiling. “Especially since I plan on stealing him from you.”
Rosalyn felt cold blood flush in her cheeks. “Amla, he is not a pet.”
“No, he isn’t…Yet.” He winked.
“He is mine.”
“We can share, no?” The mocking, seductive twist of Amleth’s mouth and the flash of his eyes beneath his dark brows was all it took. Something feral snapped in Rosalyn. She snarled and lunged. Amleth caught her by the throat before she even sensed him move. “Retract. Your. Fangs.” He tightened his grip minutely. Her teeth snapped back into her gums. “That, young lady, was unacceptably rude. I was just teasing you.”
“Let me go, Amleth,” she said, trembling.
“I haven’t dismissed you.” He pulled her closer to his face – toward his gleaming canines.
“I want to go!”
He gazed at her lazily. She swallowed. Her neck might as well have been encased in iron. “If you let your instincts reign like that in front of anyone else, you’re going to have a devil of a time as Godric’s consort. Eric is right. Godric has indulged himself and drawn out every second of your infancy. You ought to know better by now.” Rosalyn set her jaw. He released her with a frown. “Get out.”
She scrambled off the bed. “Godric said I had to renew our blood bond.”
He raised an eyebrow. “So he did.”
“But I am under no such obligation, am I? So get out.”
The security lock on Amleth’s door clicked loudly behind her as she left. Rosalyn cursed under her breath. That could not have gone worse if she had tried. Amleth’s rejection curdled in her stomach. Failure rung in her ears. And though she had not known what, precisely, she had expected out of the encounter, something like disappointment stung at the base of her throat.
Rosalyn waited outside the ball room where Godric was holding court. He was hearing a case between three underlings. They were disputing a property title. The legal jargon and petty arguments of the case washed over her in waves as her distress mounted. She was starving, she was upset, and she had majorly messed up. Finally the visitors left, nodding to her as they passed. She peeled around the door frame and made the long gangplank walk to Godric’s desk.
Godric looked up from his work. He said nothing and waited for Rosalyn to explain herself. “I, uh…yeah. That didn’t go so well,” she said.
“There’s O-neg in the garage freezer,” Godric told her neutrally. “We’ll give Michael a rest tonight.”
Despite him not having said a single, disapproving word, her new nature was dismayed. Her maker had asked her to do something – and she had failed. “I snapped at Amleth,” she confessed. “He teased me about taking Michael away.”
“And now you understand hunger. It fed your fight, but it starved your mind of common sense.” Godric folded his hands, ever a vision of serenity.
“I think I offended Amleth. He was promising me his loyalty and I was the one who ended up being untrustworthy.”
“Then you’ll find a way to appease him.”
“He’s not getting Michael.”
Godric nodded thoughtfully. “You’ll figure out what to do. Better to make these mistakes with your brothers than with real foes. They are here as your mentors.”
“I feel like you set me up to fail, Godric. I don’t appreciate your whole sink-or-swim teaching approach. You do realize I hold degrees in educational theory, right?”
“I am aware.”
“Then what do you have to say for yourself?”
He crooked an astonished eyebrow. “Nothing. Are you quite finished?”
Her face darkened. “No, I am not finished.” She planted her hands on her hips. “Where is the man who promised to communicate with me? You’ve had Eric literally throw me in the deep end of the pool rather than give me clear guidance. All Eric has done is lecture my fucking ear off since I rose undead but at least he’s told me what is happening around me. I’ll take his mansplaining any day over your silence. You’re pushing me into a relationship with Amleth that I don’t even understand and now you have the gall to say that sending me into his clutches half-starved was part of my schooling. That’s not a teaching method – it’s manipulative, medieval bullshit!”
Godric leaned back in his chair and leveled his gaze at her. He spoke slowly, hanging each word with a threat. “You do not speak to me that way in here. Apologize.”
“You know what? I am so not feeling the whole ‘Maker Daddy’, ‘court-is-in-session’ thing tonight.” She spun on her heel.
Godric was instantly an inch from her face, blocking the exit. “Apologize. Immediately. That is your hunger speaking and every single one of my subjects here tonight just heard you swear at their Sheriff under his roof.”
“Sorry,” she spat.
“For?” he demanded.
The words slid off Rosalyn’s tongue with acid. “For being disrespectful, Sheriff.” Godric allowed her to push past him. She had the distinct feeling he would never have permitted it in his younger days.
Storming down the hallway to the garage did little to dissipate her frustration. An hour later, Pamela found Rosalyn still hiding out there in one of the fleet’s convertibles. Rosalyn had her feet dangling out over a window and a half dozen empty blood bags on her chest. “Trouble with the boys?” Pam asked.
Rosalyn sat up. She had not thought to seek out her – whatever Pam was to her – for help. “This house is overrun with testosterone. How have you managed to stay sane with them?”
“You’ve got two options.”
“Just kidding,” Pam snorted. “You’ve only got one option, so not much of a choice at all.” Rosalyn flopped back down in the backseat of the car with a groan. Pam sidled over and leaned against the door. “Beat them at their own game, cupcake.”
“Great,” she said.
“Stop guessing when they throw you into an unfamiliar situation. Just suck it up and ask what they want. They’re men. They love to hear the sound of their own voices.” Pamela cackled. Rosalyn was not amused. “Ros, I know you’re a ‘can’t everyone just get along’ type, but you need to be the ‘make everyone behave’ type. You’ve got leverage now. Start throwing them into some situations of your own design.”
“They are all master strategists and politicians, Pam. I’m not going to win that game.”
Pam scoffed. “Godric is completely mad for you. Eric is disturbingly sentimental around you. The Area vampires adore you and half of the supes in America are waiting on tenterhooks to hear what you’re going to say at the New Orleans summit. I’d say you’re doing just fine.”
“So fine that Amleth just tossed me out of his suite like he’d ordered the wrong donor.”
“Amleth is a prima donna who lives for Godric’s approval. If it were me, I’d play on his vanity to straighten him out.”
“Thanks, Pam. I appreciate the advice.” Rosalyn sounded less than convinced.
Pamela clacked her long nails against the red sports car. “Being in this family is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got what it takes. Use the resources at your disposal. Eric can help you with Godric and Godric can help you with Amleth and I, well, I can help you with those hooves you call toenails.”
“Seriously. You are overdue for a pedicure.”
“Why do I suspect you aren’t offering to help me out of sisterly love?”
Pamela gave a showstopping grin. “Now who’s the straight-A student.”
“Godric hasn’t forgiven you for the fundraiser.”
“Forgiveness isn’t exactly in the old man’s vocabulary. Put in a good word for me, will you? And let me know when you’re free for a mani-pedi. We’ll talk shop then.” With that, Pamela pulled a box from the storage shelf and left Rosalyn to stew over the family’s convoluted politics.
Pamela was not wrong. Eric had given her valuable insight into Godric and Godric was certainly the final word when it came to both Amleth and the Viking. “But who’s going to help the boys with me?” Rosalyn asked the empty garage. A whisper of a smile traced across her mouth as the wheels in her head began turning.
Over the next several nights, Rosalyn filled her many roles in the household without missing a beat. She made sure to eat plenty each night before starting work, since apparently as a vampire she got outrageously, dangerously hangry. She assisted Godric and Isabelle with the Sheriff’s duties. She hosted their retinue and got to know more of the Area’s subjects. She ingratiated herself with the were-staff by asking them lots of questions about the estate’s security and praised them where it felt appropriate. Rosalyn even let Pam do her nails – twice – while they arranged and rearranged the wedding seating chart.
What Rosalyn did not do was cozy up to Amleth. She apologized for her lack of control and then proceeded to more or less ignore him. They had their combat sessions in the gym each evening at the appointed hour. She trained tirelessly to hone her skills and harness her strength. She asked him to push her harder, which he did, and she thanked him after each lesson. But otherwise, she paid him no mind. By the fourth night, he sidled up to her like an ignored cat. “Sookie was going to put on some Buffy tonight for everyone to watch. Would you like to join us?” he said.
“I’ve seen it. Thanks though.” Rosalyn turned to leave. Amleth caught her by the arm. She set her hand on top of his. “What’s up?” she said, focusing on how disappointed she had been by their private encounter.
“Let’s take a turn through the east garden.”
“I don’t really care for those gardens. They’re under surveillance.” Rosalyn continued to think hard on her regret, pushing her feelings through her hand. She had no idea if her empathy would work. Perhaps like Eric, she was acting selfishly and it would misfire.
Amleth’s expression shifted subtly. His green eyes glittered darkly. “Then let’s have a post-workout drink in my suite.”
“I’ve got other things to do, Amla. Sorry. Have a good evening.” Rosalyn breezed through the common rooms past Eric. He glanced up from a booklet of Sudoku puzzles he had balanced on one knee. When Eric looked back down, a tiny smile curled at one edge of his mouth.
Amleth tried again several nights later. He called to Rosalyn from the salon, where he was posing for his child Eva. Eva was a gifted artist and she spent most nights in front of an easel. Rosalyn found her sketching Amleth, who was wearing nothing more than his gold rimmed aviators and a well-placed knee. “Eva is going to paint us,” he said cheerily. “Shall we have our first sitting tonight?”
Rosalyn picked up several discarded drafts of Eva’s work and thumbed through them. “Pam booked a wedding photographer. She’ll get shots of us then.”
Amleth pushed his sunglasses onto the crown of his head and looked over his shoulder at her. His ability to shift shadow and light across the edges and hollows of his features was some sort of unholy supermodel power. He wielded his beauty like a weapon. “This would be a formal commission done in oil for my Sheriffdom, love. Not a wallet-sized photo to show off at parties. I’m going to lend it to the London Portrait Gallery. The Old World needs to know where you stand.”
And who she stood with, Rosalyn supposed, but she held her tongue. She shifted on her feet. “That sounds like a major undertaking.”
“It is. It is quite an honor to be invited to have your portrait displayed at the Gallery. You’ll be among the other notables of our kind. Eric wasn’t asked until the 18th century.”
Rosalyn toed the carpet. “All the more reason to wait, then. I’m nobody.”
Amleth sat upright in annoyance. “Regardless of whoever you think you aren’t, I am a Board Trustee. I’m not asking.”
“Of course, I’d be honored. I’ll talk to Godric about it.”
There was nothing clever Amleth could say. Rosalyn felt a ruffle of his frustration flutter in the remains of their bond as she turned on her heel and walked out.
Later, when no one was looking, Eric caught Rosalyn by the shirtsleeve and pulled her into a narrow utility closet in the hallway. He kicked the door shut with a heel. “You’re playing with fire,” he said huskily. He pushed her up against the wall and scented her deeply. Her power game with Amleth had apparently excited him – a lot.
“Is that a warning?” she asked.
“Fuck no. I love it. Make him beg.” Eric dragged his fangs over her throat. “May I?”
“Are you offering too?”
“Of course,” he said, and flipped the hair off his neck. The offer was more than tempting. The mad ecstasy of Godric’s blood in their veins coupled with the intensity of being fully bonded to each other sent them into a delirium when they shared. But Rosalyn was not about to let herself be distracted. She pushed the pad of her thumb against Eric’s canine and let him suck it. He closed his eyes and moaned.
She patted his cheek in reproach. “It isn’t a competition between you and Amleth to see who can get my blood.”
He licked his lips. “Didn’t say it was.”
She leaned upwards on tiptoes. “Then stop making it into one.” Eric trapped her thumb between his teeth and he grinned in delight. He let her go, but not before leaving his own bloodkiss on her finger. She studied it for a moment, then sucked it away with a pop.
At least Rosalyn knew she had Eric’s support. She was entirely prepared for this to blow up in her face.
By the end of the week, Amleth sought Rosalyn out in her part of the estate. He rapped his knuckles on the doorway of the library. “May I have an audience?” he said playfully. Rosalyn set down her book. She was reading up on modern religious fanaticism. He took a seat without invitation. “I know that – ” he began.
“We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot, Amleth,” she said, interrupting him.
“Yes, that was – “
“-I am not done talking.” Amleth blinked in surprise. He looked exactly like one of her colleagues when they assumed they could come into her office and take control of a conversation. Pamela had been right to remind her of her clout. This was her office now. And in a very real way, Amleth was her colleague too.
“Let me be plain,” Rosalyn said. “I tend to follow my heart and jump into things without asking questions. So let’s begin at the beginning. I don’t know anything about you.”
“I’m an open book.” He smiled beatifically in a way that drew her attention to his charming eyes.
“Open books don’t try to bedazzle their readers. I don’t appreciate you making sparkle eyes at me every time you want something.”
Amleth laughed out loud. “You, darling, sound exactly like Eric when he was young. He took great joy in punching me in what he fondly referred to as my quote ‘stupid beautiful fairy face’.”
“He still does, from the look of things. I hear you bossed him around quite a bit.”
“He desperately needed it.”
“Good thing I am not him. Don’t confuse us, Am. I’ve got a teleconference in ten minutes and I need to finish preparing.”
He glanced at her choice of reading material. “Is the Fellowship of the Sun up to something?”
“They are always up to something.”
“I’m happy to sit in on the meeting,” he said. “I often find that – “
“Were you asked to sit in?” Her question caught him short. “We will summon you if you’re needed. Let’s pick up this conversation another time.” It took all of her willpower not to excuse herself as she left the room. She hated being rude, but then, a man in her shoes would not think twice. Rosalyn scooped the book up and breezed out of the library. Her office, her workplace, her territory, she reminded herself.
Godric eyed her when she took her seat beside him. He said nothing. Rosalyn knew better. He saw and heard almost everything. After the meeting concluded, Amleth appeared at the far end of the court. He bowed. “Is this a good time?” he said.
It was not even remotely a good time. Their teleconference with the King of Texas had been tense and Godric was pissed about everyone’s incompetence. Someone with ties to the Fellowship of the Sun had tried to acquire explosives. The King’s guard had failed to catch the man. Godric flicked a finger at Amleth to approach.
“Rosalyn is making excellent progress in her physical education,” Amleth said.
“And?” Godric said.
“I’d like her to start working with other opponents.”
“You want her to spar with your children.”
“I wouldn’t trust her with anyone else. But I’d still like a more controlled setting. I want to know what everyone in the ring is going to do before they do it. As you know, we’ve not renewed our bond.”
“And why is that?” Godric said.
“Ask her. I’ve tried.”
Godric turned to his wife. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m not comfortable with it,” Rosalyn said. “It’s too fast. I don’t know Amleth. All I have is other peoples’ word that I should trust him and that we should have this connection. That’s not good enough for me.”
“Your maker told you to!” Amleth said in outrage.
Godric let his gaze wander back to Amleth. “My wife has not deemed the conditions sufficient to merit the gift of her sacred blood.”
A pained wrinkle crossed Amleth’s face. He nodded and left the hall without a sound. When he was gone, Godric sighed. “Was that the outcome you desired?”
“I think so. Why do I get the feeling you’re about to ream me out?”
“Tsk.” He pulled her into his arms. “I am so grateful for you.” When he pulled away, she was surprised to see a mist of tears in his eyes.
“What did I do wrong?” she whispered.
He gave her a reassuring smile. “I need to do rounds tonight in the city. Will you come?”
The noise and lights of Dallas sent Rosalyn’s head spinning. Godric kept a steel arm around her. There were people everywhere – eating on the sidewalk, tapping madly at their phones, bustling through busy carousel doors to appointments and destinations unknown. When she finally grew too overstimulated, Godric flew her to the top of the city’s tallest building. They stood together on the Bank of America tower and peered over the perilous edge. Hot wind whipped Rosalyn’s hair around her face.
“I used to come here a lot before we met,” Godric said.
Rosalyn watched the traffic – a city shrunk to toy miniatures beneath their feet. There must be hundreds of thousands of humans down below. At these heights, every single life seemed insignificant. Unreal. “I don’t like it,” she said. Rosalyn could sense the eastern horizon more acutely. Sunrise was hours away and yet her instincts reminded her she was more vulnerable at this elevation. The sun’s rays would touch this rooftop long before they crept over the horizon to meet the ground. “Don’t come here anymore. This is not a good place for you.” Godric looked at her, flustered. He had not meant to reveal so much by taking her here. Or perhaps he had needed to reveal everything. Rosalyn glanced eastward and she knew. This was a place for disconnecting with the world. This was a place for dying. “Get us out of here. Now, please.” Godric did not hesitate.
They landed outside a pharmacy. “I want to check something,” he said. Inside, the smells of packaged medicines and sick bodies were especially unpleasant. “Wait here.” His voice held a command. She was stuck by a bin of chocolates. She had not realized how much plastic and other chemical garbage was in processed food. It was revolting.
Godric paced down the aisles searching for something. He caught the attention of a woman in a red vest. She lit up upon seeing him. Rosalyn heard Godric tell her to meet him in the back.
“Problem?” Rosalyn said when he returned to her.
“Nope. Opportunity.” He guided her to the far corner of the store.
The woman deflated when she saw Rosalyn. Her nametag read ‘Grace’. She was the assistant manager. “I didn’t know you brought a friend,” she said.
Godric glanced at Rosalyn. “Her? My maker is just here to keep an eye on me. I’m young, you know? Let’s go into the back room.”
Grace hesitated. “It’s against store policy. Corporate could fire me.”
Godric did something Rosalyn had never seen him consciously do. He ran a hand behind his head and down the neckline of his unbuttoned Henley. “I thought you wanted me,” he whispered.
The woman quickly punched the code into the door lock and ushered them into the stock room. Rosalyn was fairly certain she had not been glamoured yet. Grace was simply desperate to get into her husband’s lying pants.
“Stay,” Godric said to the woman in a raspy bark. That, however, was a glamour. He breezed past her to a set of staff lockers. He opened one, rifled through a purse inside, and pulled out a handful of vials.
“V!” Rosalyn gasped.
Godric pocketed the vials and sucked at his teeth. “I knew you were looking for trouble, Grace, but this is criminal. Who is your vampire supplier? Don’t make me force it from you.”
The information tumbled out of her. Godric recognized the name and the smell on the vials confirmed it. The offending vampire was not, thankfully, a resident of Area Nine. It was one less trial for Godric to hold. Unfortunately for Isabelle, the culprit was from the Louisiana Kingdom she was about to inherit. Godric grunted in exasperation. Sophie-Anne had run Louisiana into the ground. “Ros, scent this woman and tell me what you find.”
Rosalyn inhaled. “She has wounds on her thighs.”
“But she’s not claimed. Which means, my love, that she’s fair game. Eat.”
“What?” Rosalyn stammered.
“She’s dealing and she’s been trading sex for illegal drugs in her workplace. She is guilty. My verdict is final. The human police will be here shortly. Drink up.”
Rosalyn’s body moved before she had made the decision. A hot spray of A-Negative hit the roof of her mouth and she forgot why she had been reluctant to feed off of someone without their explicit consent. Godric pulled her away far too quickly and his mouth crashed hot and needy on hers. “Gods, I can’t tell you what watching you feed does to me.” Her body responded to that too, and again Godric drew away from her. “Soon,” he promised, lips crimson.
They left Grace, former Assistant Manager and newly convicted V-dealer, to be booked and processed by the police. Godric kept the evidence for Isabelle.
Though Godric had flown Rosalyn to some of the key hot-spots in the dense heart of the city, they did the majority of their patrol behind the wheel. Godric took a scenic route, passing through winding neighborhoods with heavy oaks. He slowed for a stop light and took a deep breath. Rosalyn sensed he was readying himself for a tricky conversation. The ancient sometimes struggled with words like a hermit who had forgotten the society of others. She had more than a sneaking suspicion he wanted to discuss her standoff with Amleth. All she wanted to do was get home and have her way with Godric until the sun rose.
Godric tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “Not long ago, in anger, I said the wrong thing to you about your death.”
“When we argued. I didn’t say what I meant to say.”
“Oh. Well. What did you mean to say?”
“You must understand – and hear me out before you argue.”
He huffed a mirthless laugh. “You aren’t going to hear this like a vampire. You’re still very human.”
“Jesus, Godric. Just hit me with whatever you’re working yourself up to, please, so we can talk about it?”
“Very well. Killing you was the most erotic moment of my life.”
The light turned green and bathed them in an eerie pastel glow. Rosalyn sat in stunned silence. Godric’s unnerving stare did not waver. “Draining you with abandon, giving in to that most primal urge to feast on the one I desired most, draining myself over and over and over to fill you and bring you into the night until I myself was nearly gone, binding my soul to yours…” Godric swallowed, his face pained with pleasure. “It was exquisite. You are exquisite.” A car honked at them from behind.
“Creation is something very sacred,” she said. “I won’t pretend to understand.”
“I shared that same sublime death and rebirth with Eric too.” She nodded. It was still hard to conceive of the lifetimes upon lifetimes he and Eric had shared. Godric made a choked sound and cleared his throat. “I only gave Amleth death. I denied us the rest.”
A string of cars began honking furiously behind them. Heaven help the drivers if Godric decided to get out and dispute the matter. Blessedly, Godric let his foot off the clutch and the vehicle lurched down the lane. He drove several blocks before speaking again. “I don’t regret refusing to turn a child not of my own choosing. But I regret not seeing how I would choose Amleth over and over again. I brought him to the precipice of death. I have spent every night since giving him the life I failed to offer him. I am half his maker and I will never stop trying to make up for the other half I cannot be.”
“He is all you have left of Tarquin,” she said softly.
“Amleth is my child, Rosalyn. Try to love him a little, if only for me.”
“I care very much for him. He makes it easy! Amla is captivating and clever and he’s been so helpful. But Godi, to me he’s ancient and scary and I have zero idea what the boundaries are with him. I know I’m still thinking like a human when I assume I must be his kinda sorta step-mother. I don’t know what it means to be the consort of his adopted bloodline. Tell me what I’m supposed to do.”
Godric rolled his eyes away from the road to look at her. If she had meant to soften him by accidentally using Eric’s old nickname for him, it worked. “Do whatever you like with him, lover. He is mine, as are you. I will not tell you how to love him.”
“That is super vague.”
“No, it is liberating.”
“Amleth is way too pretty and flirtatious to not have clear boundaries. So is Eric, for that matter.”
“They tempt you.”
Rosalyn was not quite ready to admit it. “Doesn’t that make you jealous?”
Godric gave a sly smile. “You forget that I am the one who claimed them – and you. Each of you has tempted me in your own way. No one can change what you are to me, Rosalyn, certainly not with physical passion. We are vampire. We hunger for sensory experiences. Human reproductive drives are nothing compared to a vampire’s vast appetites.” Ros grumbled something noncommittal and fairly obscene. “If it makes you feel better, it is because you worry that I might be jealous of their attentions that I know I don’t need to be jealous. If you stopped caring about my opinion, I would certainly remind you of who I am to you and what I have to offer.”
“Yeah right. Heads would roll if someone laid a lusty finger on me.”
“Apart from your bloodkin? Absolutely. Don’t you even dare look at another supe for the foreseeable future.”
“I wasn’t planning to. I assume you’ll be following your own rule?”
Rosalyn furrowed her brow. “Eric…”
Godric stiffened. “Eric what?”
“Oh, it’s nothing, really. “
“Did he push too far with you? I’ll have his bollocks if he -“
“No! Nothing like that. Nevermind.”
Godric whipped the sports car to the shoulder and stomped on the brakes. “Eric what? Finish that thought. Immediately. I will order you, Ros. No secrets.” His tone was deadly. Nothing came between Godric and his progeny. In that moment, Rosalyn had a new appreciation for just how ballsy Eric had been to intercede in her and Godric’s spat.
“He hasn’t done anything. I don’t want to tattle on him for nothing.”
“You’ve been drinking from him. You’ve a better idea than I of what’s in his head just now. What is going on? I will not ask you again.”
“It’s just…He’s really into Sookie. I don’t think he realizes how much he thinks about her.” Rosalyn fiddled with the hem of her shirt. “That’s not good, is it?”
The muscles in Godric’s jaw strained. “No, it is not good.”
“It’s not just your prejudice against the Fae, I hope.”
“I’m not prejudiced against Fae folk, I’m prejudiced about our unreliable ability not to eat them. We are the predators. It’s our responsibility to treat them respectfully.”
“And you don’t think Eric will?”
“If he doesn’t realize what he’s doing, then who can say? It’s a problem. Getting tangled up with other supes mixes sex and power. This is what I’ve been trying to tell you, Ros. I don’t care about sex. I care about unequal power. It’s what someone can do and who they are that matters, not what they are. Sookie’s abilities and her family ties make her potentially dangerous to us. It doesn’t help that Niall and I have accrued a great number of blood grudges against each other over the years. Eric knows all this.”
“But, indeed. I’ve noticed his interest too. No good can come from it.”
“I don’t want to see Eric get hurt.”
Godric hummed in agreement. “Sookie doesn’t exactly inspire faith.”
“Maybe an inter-species relationship would help heal the past. Move us all forward?””
“That is a nice sentiment, dear, but in this case it is deeply misguided.”
“Eric deserves to have a mate.”
“Eric already has mates.”
“Who?” Rosalyn said, more than a little shocked.
Godric looked at her like she was insane. “Me? You?”
Something very foul in Old Gaelic passed his lips. Godric put the car into first and squealed back onto the pavement. “How in the name of all that is holy and undead can you not know this?” Rosalyn gaped. Words failed her entirely. “You are fully blood bonded with him, Ros! You chose it and you continue to choose it. Only if you renounce him or he you will your legal rights over each other end. You’re as good as married to him.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me!”
“I told you there was much to learn. You didn’t want to wait!”
“I didn’t realize I needed to pass the freaking bar exam to understand vampires. I thought mates were cosmically destined or something!”
Godric swore again. He took a long, measured breath, then spoke softly. “We still choose, my love. We decide how we grow our love and how we want to commit to each other. Every new day is a chance and a choice to risk our hearts. If we are wise, what we do with our fate is a decision, day by day.”
“That’s…wow.” Rosalyn looked at her husband and felt a rush of adoration surge in her chest. “Thank you,” she said simply, and hoped it could capture the enormity of her love for him.
“I won’t lie. Being bonded to Eric is an added layer of protection for you both. No one has tried to force him into a vampire marriage lately, but it’s always a possibility.”
Rosalyn let her head fall against the headrest. “You said vampire marriage outside of your bloodline was madness. Why?”
“It’s slavery. A monarch uses someone’s alliances, talents, and body for political power.”
Bone-deep, Rosalyn already knew the answer. “You’ve been married.”
“Yes. I don’t recommend it.” His voice was stony.
“He’s come close. A Queen goaded him into killing her consort to free up the job.”
“He did hard time in a coffin instead.”
Godric seemed surprised. “He shares a lot with you.”
“Well, the buttface is my lawful mate, I suppose.”
Godric huffed a laugh. “You aren’t angry then?”
“I should be, but…No. I get it. We can’t choose whether to bow and scrape to a monarch or submit to a more powerful elder, but we get to pick who we allow in our House. These are families we choose. It’s with kin that we are most free. I can choose my connection to them, and in turn my obligations to them.”
“Precisely.” He let out a nervous laugh. “You should probably let Eric know he can freely feed and fornicate again.”
“You don’t seriously mean to suggest that he hasn’t been getting any.”
“Not since you two bonded. I thought you were keeping him on a short leash on purpose.”
Rosalyn guffawed. “Poor Eric. No wonder he’s been on his best behavior!”
Godric laughed. “Yes, you’ve been – how do you say? – ‘cock-blocking’ him for months.”
“Will Dallas be safe if I turn him loose?” Rosalyn said, bouncing in laughter.
“Eric is many things, but he is always honorable. Even when he’s not exactly being a gentleman.”
“He knew I didn’t know any better, didn’t he. He just sucked it up and suffered because he didn’t want to upset me.”
Godric gave a knowing smile. “Like I said. Eric always behaves honorably.”
The rest of the drive home, Rosalyn grappled with the bombshell revelation that Eric was very much hers – and she his. It should have felt strange. Instead it felt…right. Her vampiric instincts were hyper-protective. She found herself more worried about Sookie than anything else. If she was already on Godric’s radar as a potential issue, then it should very much be front and center on hers. As they pulled into the driveway, a thought occurred to her.
“Is inter-species supe marriage outlawed?”
Godric snorted in offense. “No. We’re not that backward, Ros.”
“It’s just…what if Niall installed Eric where his great-granddaughter and heir lived because he’s got something bigger in mind? What if he’s trying to manufacture a political alliance?”
Horror overtook Godric’s features. It was painfully clear he had not considered this. “Between two of the most powerful supernatural families…across the Great Veil…” he said, connecting the dots. For the third time that night, Godric swore profusely.
His reaction did nothing to reassure Rosalyn. She found, much to her surprise, that her thoughts turned viciously bloody. “I’ll throttle that little bitch within an inch of her life if she messes with my Eric,” she said in a fanged hiss. “I will dog-walk that woman – and her Prince.”
Godric narrowed his eyes and leaned over the console. “Imagine that feeling, multiply it by eternity, then feed it with the darkest powers of the millennia, and you still aren’t close to conceiving of what I will do to protect those I call mine.”
Their eyes met in absolute solidarity.
Inside the estate, Rosalyn and Godric walked in silence. Their casual pace was carefully measured. Open talk of Fae treachery would pointlessly rile up the nest. Safely in their bedroom, Godric was stunningly quick to shift gears and unwind. He began putting away the clean laundry Isabelle had left outside their door – as though they had not just been shivering in bloodlust only minutes earlier. Rosalyn found she could not tune out the hectic energy of the night so quickly. The Fellowship was trying to arm themselves. She had fed on another human – the second donor of her undead life. And she had learned that when Godric had said he was giving her ‘all that he had,’ he had meant it. He had given her Eric – in every way. He was trying to give her Amleth too.
“I’ll sort things out with Amla tomorrow,” she said.
“A bond with him will protect you. It cannot be made permanent. It does not give him a claim over you. But if you scream, Rosalyn, he will come running. Faster than Eric, and with the weight of an empire behind him.”
Godric set a stack of sheets in the armoire. He did not turn around. “And Ros?”
“Don’t make me do things to remind Amleth that I denied him my blood when it mattered most. Making me tell him you didn’t deem him worthy tonight? That wasn’t fair.”
“Oh, God! Godric, I am so, so sorry!”
He shrugged lightly and faced her. “Apologize to Amla, not me. I am proud of you for standing your ground. You surround yourself with those who have earned the right to be there.”
“But I was a jerk about it!”
“You’re making Amleth work to deserve you, just as you did with Eric. I admire it immensely and I am in awe of your integrity. It is why we make a perfect pair.”
“Still. I should have known better. Adoption is such a sensitive thing. I didn’t mean to use you like that.”
“It’s not me I worry about.” He spoke kindly, but the warning was clear.
“I won’t hurt your babies, Godric.”
“Don’t hurt my babies, Rosalyn. Ever. Help me protect them. That is what it means to be the consort of this family.” His smile morphed into a grin. “And that is all your ‘Maker Daddy’ has to say on the subject.”
Rosalyn let out a relieved laugh. “You’re an amazing maker. Truly. How can someone so ferocious be so gentle at the same time?”
“Yes, well this amazing maker will never let you forget that you called me that. In my bloody court, of all places! Impertinent woman.”
“This from the ‘young boy’ who pretended I was his maker tonight!”
Godric spun the armoire doors shut and leaned against them. He bit his lip and ran a hand down his chest, over his groin. “You like?”
“Godric!” Rosalyn smacked playfully at him and he rumbled in laughter.
“What?” he said innocently. “I am done being maker tonight. Absolutely done. You are the older woman in this equation. Cougar!” That earned him a whack and his laughter grew.
“And what, now you want to be seduced, young man?”
A dangerous light danced in his eyes at the suggestion. “Did I ever tell you that I harbored very serious designs to enroll in your activism class?”
“Oh yes, lover. I had it all planned out. I was going to need a lot of supervision.”
“You irredeemable imp!”
Godric caught her by the arms and walked Rosalyn backwards across the room. “Show me, mistress,” he whispered hotly in her ear. “I’ve been truant. I’ve been unfocused. And Gods above, I have been tempted.” The sound of the word moaned in his mouth and made her weak in the knees. Rosalyn grabbed his wrist and whipped him around. He gasped as though he were taken off guard. Rosalyn guided him to the bed’s edge and shoved him down. She roughly claimed his mouth, savoring the taste of his tongue and the shape of his kiss. Their clothes did not last. When she had him pinned beneath her and nude, she sat up.
“Is this okay?” she panted. He nodded, his eyes dilated and glossy. She searched him hungrily.
“What are you going to do to me?” he said, his accent in more pronounced.
Rosalyn licked her lips. She stroked his strong masculine thighs. She touched the skin over his femoral arteries, then rudely spread his legs. “I want to feed here.”
He winced in ardent need. “Your maker can’t allow it, even if he wanted.”
“But does he want it?”
“Oh gods, he wants it. I’ll show you how,” he said, his breath falling in shallow rasps.
She nipped at the tender flesh of his thigh with blunt teeth. If only she could drink from him. “With Michael?”
“With someone else then first.”
“You like watching.” He moaned beneath her as she did something especially wicked with her fingers. “You more than like it.” He arched his back. Rosalyn sucked a path of kisses to the sensitive underside of his knee. Her hands were still busy elsewhere. “I’ve never seen you feed.”
His head popped up. “No.”
Their game had emboldened her. She rested against the column of his leg and tossed her hair back, defiant. “‘No, it’s true that I haven’t seen you’ or ‘no, you’re about to deny me something’?” She twisted her wrist before he could answer and his breath caught short. “Because my maker doesn’t believe in ‘no.'”
“Doesn’t he?” Godric said, writhing in excitement.
“He taught me there is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’, only consequences. Now, young man, you had better be ready for your consequences. Are you ready?”
“Yes, mistress. Oh gods, yes.”
“Accept them or you’ll be in trouble.”
Godric tried to agree. It came out in the sexiest of moans. Rosalyn bit his downy thigh as hard as she could. Godric grabbed at the sheets and roared as he came apart in her hands. He rode out his orgasm in shuddering waves before collapsing completely. Ros slid beside him with a satisfied smirk.
Godric lolled his head to one side. “You destroy me completely. Do you know that? I am yours.”
Ros kissed him sweetly. “Good.”
“Yes. Yes to everything you’re already cooking up, you clever minx. Just don’t think you can sex me up and get your way. Our bedding is not a strategy.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s a privilege.” She kissed him once, then twice for good measure. “Now roll over, rude boy. You haven’t even begun to learn your lesson.”
A/N: Thoughts? Leave a review! I love to hear from you and I try to respond to everyone. xx, M
The radio was on while Godric and Ros were cruising the streets of Dallas. Here is the playlist:
Neko Case, “Things That Scare Me”Nick Cave, “We No Who U R”
Marie Fisker, “Jack of Heart”
Agnes Obel, “Fuel to Fire”
The Middle East, “Hunger Song”