“You can’t be serious!” Eric said in outrage.
Godric had fallen silent. He looked up from where he sat on the floor. “Are you defying me? Arrest them all.”
“You’d have me arrest a corpse?” Eric said. “You’ve lost your mind.”
Rosalyn was astonished. “What exactly are you accusing Amleth of?”
Godric turned his gaze in her direction. He looked through her to some distant, haunted place. “Amleth hid the existence of this house from me. He hid the purpose of his outing from me. Either his pictures of you were a signal for someone else to detonate the bomb or his phone was used as the detonator itself.” His voice dropped to a hollow whisper. “Amleth has been compromised, to what extent, I do not know. Do you need me to spell it out further?”
“Yes, I do, actually,” Rosalyn said. “You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“I am a Sheriff. It is my job to draw conclusions, however unsavory.”
“The house was meant as a surprise, Godric. You can’t blame Amleth for wanting to surprise me.”
Godric stared blankly. “At what point did you stop enjoying your surprise, young one? Was it when a bomb went off in your face? Or was it when you woke in shreds and found your brother dying beside you?”
Rosalyn’s mouth hung open without a response. Eric tried to backtrack. “Slow down, Maker. Let’s think through this.”
“I have thought through this. The Fellowship is too disorganized and unskilled to pull off a hit of this nature. We found the humans sitting around waiting for a vampire to be delivered to them like a gift from the gods. It reeks of vampire involvement.”
Eric could not deny that elements of the plot did not add up. “Let’s table the matter of who has done this for a minute and consider the mechanics. I’m willing to entertain the idea that Amleth’s phone was compromised. But how? He wouldn’t risk his safety just for a little fun on the internet.”
Godric grimaced. “Amleth constantly risks his safety. He runs his household like a brothel with every dreg from the four corners of the Earth making free with his nest.”
“And yet it wasn’t the London nest that was targeted, so set your grudge about his security setup aside. Explain to me how he was tracked through his phone. Amleth is the best of us at IT. He knows what he’s doing.”
“That is precisely my point.”
Rosalyn gestured at Eric’s phone. It still flashed with Amleth’s photograph. Two circling cranes from her dress were nestled atop Amleth’s woven pants. “I checked that the picture wasn’t geo-tagged. None of the posts are. Amleth and I had a laugh about it, knowing you’d skin him alive if he wasn’t being careful.”
Godric was on his feet in a flash. “You had a laugh, you say? Are you still laughing? Am I laughing?” Eric shook his head in warning at Rosalyn.
She was not deterred. “Amleth’s account was hacked or his phone was traced some other way. He took me to that house to bond with me – a bond which you wanted me to make. You knew that’s what we were up to.”
“Posting a picture identifying your clothing could have been a signal, you naïve child. Why was he taking photographs of you? He may have sent them to someone else. You didn’t see. You hadn’t the first clue what was happening around you.”
Rosalyn cringed. “You aren’t seriously suggesting that he’s done this purposefully.”
“I’m not suggesting it. I am saying it.”
“Where is your head at that you could even consider such a thing?” she said. “He is your son!”
Eric tapped at his phone and flipped it around for Godric. The photo gallery was full of selfies with Rosalyn. “Amla took pictures of her because he loves her, Maker. Just like I do.” Eric glanced at Rosalyn and she saw he was serious.
Godric snatched Eric’s phone. His accent grew broad along with his rage. “How many times have I warned you that these devices are not safe? How many times? You do not listen to your pater!” Godric hurled the phone across the library. It smashed in a shower of plastic, destroying the oak paneling of the wall.
“Fuck!” Eric said.
Godric got in his face. “Oh no. Were those not backed up? Or do you use a cloud service that could be breached?”
“Exactly, Grandsire,” Pamela said, braving his wrath. “It could be that. Or it could be a DNS leak on Amleth’s proxy server. A bad update on the OS, even. Cookies sending tracking data – there are a number of possibilities.”
“Do not speak to me of hacks and leaks!” Godric seethed. Pamela shrunk back. “Who among you can determine these things? None of you. Having our family’s technical expert taken out by technical means screams of a strategic hit where we are now made weak. Were it me, this is exactly what I would do. Amleth learned to do such things from me. He was not tracked. He was the tracker!”
“Amleth didn’t do this to himself!” Rosalyn said.
Godric grabbed the diagram off the marble side table and shook the paper at her. “He was in the safest place in the house, Rosalyn. He intentionally positioned himself there.”
“He was hurt the worst!”
“He could have moved but he did not. He shouldered a bit of the blast to absolve himself but he misjudged. It shouldn’t have killed him, but he’ll be truly dead within the week. The humans added more dangerous materials without his knowledge.”
Eric kicked a chair in frustration and it blew apart. “Are you insane? Amleth said it wasn’t his phone ringing!”
“Why else would he look down at it?”
“He didn’t. Ros said he looked at the floor. You are bending the evidence to fit your conclusion. You have zero proof that someone tracked him this way. Zero proof his phone signal was used to detonate the bomb. A burner phone was attached to the explosives for all we know.”
Godric grabbed Rosalyn roughly by the scruff and pushed her toward Eric and Pamela. “This is the only evidence I need to know that there are more questions than answers about Amleth’s treacherous behavior.”
Rosalyn scrunched her shoulders protectively around her neck and held her hands up. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” Her fangs dropped so suddenly that she cut her lip. Godric shoved Rosalyn away before he hurt her. Rosalyn scrambled to Eric, who pushed both her and Pamela behind his broad frame. He crouched into a defensive stance.
Godric’s fists were balled at his side. “Amleth lied to me. He swore to my face and he was lying. I praised him as my spymaster and I blessed him with my blood, foul beast of a boy!” It was not clear whom Godric was addressing.
Eric tried reasoning with him. “I don’t believe for a second that Amleth lied. He may have only meant to drive by the house. ‘Show her someplace’, that’s what he said, right, Ros?”
“Yes,” she said from where she was clutching at Eric’s back.
“Did you not listen, child? He had the keys with him before he left. Costas is lying too. He knows more.”
“We will interrogate him,” Eric said. “But Amleth may have simply wanted to present the envelope to Ros. Maybe it was just confirmation that the house was his. Something could have changed as they were driving and he thought it wise to get out of the car.”
“He was very attentive to the other cars,” Rosalyn offered.
“See, Maker?” Eric said. “You simply don’t know. You are always the one warning me against rash actions.”
“What I know is that my infant Rosalyn does not get ‘high’ off my blood and lose her motor skills. That you do not lose your mind and behave erratically when you drink from me.”
“Amleth is excitable. You know this. He was deliriously happy last night. That is what my bond with him told me. You gave him every reason to be,” Eric said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
“Yes, it certainly has. He has had years to plan his revenge. He has betrayed me when it would hurt the most.”
“Lies, Godric!” Eric said, taking a step forward. “He hasn’t a single black thought in his heart for you. I would know.”
Godric dropped his head and let out a low, rattling growl. “Yes, you should have known. Why did you not know about the property he purchased?”
Eric was caught short. “I-“
“Exactly.” Godric struggled with himself. His mouth trembled. “I gave Amleth the gift of my sacred blood and reminded him of his place in my heart and he has brought destruction into my House.” A tortured sound escaped his lips.
Eric fell into a mixture of ancient Norse and Gaelic so rapid and desperate only Godric and the gods could understand his pleas. The pain etched across Godric’s features evaporated and the mask of Death settled in its place. He spoke very softly. “You have no authority in my Area, Eric. Do not interfere with my investigation further.” He moved, ghostlike, to the security panel at the doorway and rapidly reprogrammed it. He cast a wary look at his family, then turned sharply on his heel.
Within a matter of minutes, Godric swept through the household and brought their digital connectivity to a grinding halt. Isabelle followed him carrying a sacrificial basket into which everyone made offerings. The basket filled with the nest’s cellular devices, tablets, and laptops. Even the phones sitting on hard lines were pulled from their sockets. The splashy new hi-def smart television in the media room had no straightforward way to permanently disable its in-built wi-fi. Simply taking the cord was not enough. Godric cracked the huge LED screen over his knee. The wi-fi routers tucked in blind corners of the estate’s many rooms were ripped out. Still the Sheriff was not satisfied. Godric marched outside to the corner of the front yard, reached down into the green utility panel hidden in the grass, and gutted the fiber optics cables there with a jerk of his fist. The Area Nine Sheriffdom went full dark.
“Get moving,” Godric said to his wife once the disabled technology had been stowed away.
Rosalyn stared at him. “Why in the world do you want me to conduct Costas and Eva’s arrest?”
His eye twitched in displeasure. “Eric has made the unfortunate decision to decline my request. As a fellow sheriff, he has that right. You, madame, do not.”
“Amleth’s children will hurt me if they resist. They have every reason to resist! This is madness. Please, do it yourself.”
“Your Sheriff and Maker gave you an order. You’re questioning me?” He sucked at his teeth unhappily. “That ends tonight.”
Rosalyn furrowed her brow. “It’s a death sentence if they harm me,” she said in realization. Their pledged marriage gave Godric extraordinary leverage over others.
He shrugged. “Let us hope they do not harm you then.”
“You’re using our marriage as a weapon. I’m not comfortable with that.”
“I did not ask whether you were made comfortable by it. I gave you an order. Do it. Now.”
“You don’t let other people talk to you this way. Why should I?” Godric was not disposed to argue. He simply commanded her, strangling the frustration in her throat. “This isn’t over,” she managed to say. He raised an eyebrow and ushered an arm in the direction of the hallway. Rosalyn’s feet moved against her will.
Outside Amleth’s suite, Rosalyn palmed the security panel. It flashed an error screen. Godric said nothing. He reached past her and coded in. He had reassigned the security privileges on the estate. Not even Godric’s progeny could move about with total freedom. Amleth’s room now served as a de facto prison cell. Godric nudged Rosalyn inside.
Eva and Costas were bent over their maker’s bedside, holding vigil. They were sickly shadows of themselves, drained by grief and their attempts to heal their maker. Amleth’s condition remained unchanged. Costas looked past her to Godric in the doorway. “Please, Sheriff. Strike at Thea before it is too late. We need her blood. Amleth won’t last until the wedding. His spark is barely clinging to his body.”
“I will not jeopardize the best shot we have at capturing her. That is not the plan,” Godric said impassively.
“It wasn’t the plan for Amleth to be hurt. He wouldn’t have been hurt if you hadn’t gathered us all here like chicks under your wing.”
Godric blinked slowly, calculating. “It seems you no longer value the protection of my House,” he observed. The venom rose in his voice. “You will find the world uninhabitable without it.”
Rosalyn put a hand on Costas’s shoulder before he could shoot off a retort that would seal his fate. He jerked violently away from the offending touch. “Costas,” she chided and held out her hand. “This isn’t how Amleth wants us to be with each other.” Reluctantly, he took it. He was two hundred years her senior and it was two hundred years too many. Godric’s command forced her to tread where common sense would have sent her running. Constantine disliked her and she was about to give him a solid reason never to trust her again. She focused on the pleasant shape of his mouth, lest the bottomless black of his eyes unsettle her further. Surely true black eyes were one of the rarest traits on the planet.
Rosalyn poured her desire to help Amleth and his family into her fingers. “We’ll move heaven and earth to heal your maker. Right now, we need your help interrogating suspects.”
Suspects – as in he and his pale twin. Costas nodded and Eva said something. More half-truths spun from Rosalyn’s lips. She despised them. Too much of the vampire world hung by these sticky filaments. She had watched Eric weave silken lies. Amleth was the undisputed king of them. Everything the man said contained some playful mischief. If only he had uttered one single concrete thing the previous night. Then Rosalyn might have had something with which to combat Godric’s suspicions. She leaned over the hospital bed and stroked a tendril of Amleth’s singed hair. It was the only part of him not bandaged. She murmured a promise to find their attackers.
“Enough,” Godric said, cutting her visitation short. “I don’t have all night.”
Costas and Eva followed them down to the jail obligingly. Rosalyn did not look back to see their faces inside the interrogation room window. She did not want to witness the moment when they realized they had willingly participated in their own arrest. She had not been allowed into the basement before and she saw at least one reason why. The thick insulation on the walls swallowed up the basement’s sounds. No one would hear their screams from above. She could not bear to imagine what Godric was going to do.
Rosalyn’s knuckles hesitated over Michael’s door. She swallowed and knocked. There was a rustling as he checked the peephole and disarmed the door. He lit up upon seeing her. “Oh my god, you’re okay!” He threw his arms around her. Rosalyn stiffened. His neck pressed against her cheek. Her tongue darted out involuntarily. Michael moved before she could taste his skin. “Your hand,” he said, taking her by the elbow. “Jesus, you were caught in it. What happened?” He ran his hot fingers over hers and her eyes rolled back as she swallowed again.
“I need you to observe protocol, please.” He apologized and stepped backwards into the room, putting several yards between himself and her. She folded herself into a barrel chair in the corner, perching in it like a crow. “Everyone is very upset and it’s probably not smart of me to come here.” He sat opposite her on the bed, leaning back on his arms like a tanned buffet in a rust red shirt. It had definitely not been smart to come. “You look good,” she said impulsively.
“Oh. Thanks.” He puffed at the compliment.
“I wanted you to know I’m okay. I wasn’t badly hurt.” Just blown up and regenerated, she wanted to say.
“No one is telling me anything. Just that there was a bombing. “
“Sheriff Amleth was injured, Michael. Very seriously.” The press of tears behind her eyes would not release. Godric’s command to stop crying had held.
“Does he need me? I can -“
“No. I guess I needed to tell someone who would understand.” She needed a human reaction. She needed someone to grieve about it like she was grieving. No one talked about the shock of Amleth’s battered body. No one talked about the gore. Eric refused to speak about Amleth at all. Everyone rushed forward with the business end of horror.
“If there’s anything I can do, Ros…”
She put on a brave smile. “That’s sweet. You were so close to stopping it. I wanted to thank you personally. No one will forget that you tried.”
He appeared skeptical. “They won’t forget I didn’t stop it when I could have.”
“That is not your job. It’s Godric’s.” And hers, though she hardly knew which way was up. She had walked right into a death trap. The memory of the bomb flashed a wall of white in her vision, momentarily blinding her.
Michael licked his bottom lip and nodded thoughtfully. “Still. I’m really sorry I didn’t tell Godric sooner.”
She looked around the bare room. “Hugo was trying to get Sookie to spend time with him. Has she?”
“No, I don’t think she has. She prefers vampires. Says you all are ‘quiet’.”
“Have you hung out with her alone?”
He shook his head. “No way. Eric was clear that dating anyone in the retinue violated our agreement. Amleth too.”
That was news to her. “Amleth pulled you aside? What did he say?”
“That Godric could ban pets all he wanted but he couldn’t change your territorial nature.”
The possibility that she had behaved like a creepy stalker vampire revolted her. “Have I come off as clingy?”
“He said you threatened him.”
Rosalyn bit her lips. She hadn’t threatened Amleth – exactly. He had provoked her – sort of. Damn Amleth for his ambiguity. “Don’t repeat that,” she said. “That might get taken the wrong way just now. There are a lot of accusations flying around about who is behind the bombing.”
“Oh. Oh, right. Sorry. Besides, he told me that he would clean me up with a mop if I hurt you.” Rosalyn laughed and felt a wave of sorrow crash over her amusement. She could practically hear the purr of Amleth’s cultured accent and see the suggestive twinkle in his eyes. Only he could make a death threat sound enticing.
“Are you okay?” Michael asked.
She let out a shaky breath. “Not really.” Michael shifted on the bed and she caught Godric’s scent on him. Specifically, the sweet smell of her maker’s excitement faded on day-old clothes. “What else were you doing with Godric last night?”
Pink blossomed in Michael’s cheeks. “Ah, yeah. Um, I think he mistook why I came to see him.”
“He messed with you?” she said in surprise. “How?”
The color in his cheeks spread. “He, uh. I mean…He thought I wanted to feed him.”
“No,” he said, far too defensively. “The bomb went off. It shook us pretty hard here.”
Again she saw the flash. Rosalyn steadied herself. “But before the explosion, maybe you decided you wouldn’t mind it so much if Godric did feed on you?”
“I mean, what choice did I have?”
It was a tantalizing question. When Godric had fed on Amleth, his domination was savage and absolute. It was not at all how he drank from her. The thought of how he might twist Michael into submission with his unyielding arms made her fangs quiver. The milky white of Godric’s preternatural biceps would coil in blue stripes around Michael’s slick almond shoulders. Godric’s growl would draw Michael’s cry. His teeth would find the river beneath the flesh and the boy would squeak and squirm in pleasure as he did with her. He would have no choice but to glory in being overcome.
“No choice at all,” she murmured and smiled at Michael. “You’d like it.” He turned a rare shade of plum. “No?” she teased.
She wanted to know what he was hiding behind his silly threatened masculinity. The desire to have the whole truth welled up from her chest. “How do you feel about Godric tasting you?” she asked. Her influence glided through the timbre of her voice and flowed from her gaze. She realized this was her glamour. Michael was instantly under her spell.
“He’s so powerful, Ros. Having his attention? Capturing his interest? I’ve never felt so important before. It’s the same with you.”
“It thrills you.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, a little breathless.
Rosalyn broke her gaze. She had let herself get dangerously carried away. “That’s called being stalked, Michael, and it’s not a compliment. It’s deadly. The only thing you should want from a vampire is their desire to protect you from themselves.”
“Hey, that doesn’t sound like you.”
He wasn’t wrong. Those were Godric’s words coming out of her mouth, and in this moment, Godric was absolutely correct. Michael paced toward her. “Don’t,” she warned.
He stood over her. “What’s going on? You didn’t just come here to tell me you were alright.” His arousal filled the air. He set a hand on her shoulder and leaned down.
“You need to feed. That bottled stuff doesn’t cut it, does it? Your body is healing. Look at your poor little paw.” He tried to kiss her damaged hand just as Eric had the night before. Eric had taken his ministrations too far and Michael appeared intent on doing the same. He sunk to his knees and offered her his neck. Hunger rose in a throb between her legs and her fangs, and her hand automatically went to cradle his head. Michael urged her closer.
“Stand up slowly and step back. You are making yourself into prey,” she said.
“I swear I didn’t do anything with Godric. Please don’t be angry with me. I’m yours. Drink.”
She put a hand on his firm abdomen. It was not clear whether she was pushing him away or holding herself back. She panted and the smell of his hard sex and Godric’s faint excitement cloyed at her throat.
“It’s okay,” he said and nuzzled her. He reached to cup her breast. She made a swift decision and stood, knocking him over.
“I want you to stay here until things calm down. Okay? I’m sorry we keep bumping you around lodgings, but we’re very concerned about your safety. I’ll have Isabelle bring you fresh clothes.”
“Of course. Rosalyn -” He scrambled off the floor.
She went to the door, refusing to meet his desirous gaze. “And if you ever try to provoke me into biting you again, I’ll fire you. Understood?”
Michael went sheet white and nodded. “Yes, Madame.”
The door would not unlock. “Open this god damn thing,” she said in panic, then added, “Please.”
Eric was outside Michael’s room, leaning against the wall, inspecting his nails. “Not the comfort you were after?”
Rosalyn gave him an icy look. He pushed off the wall and touched the security panel on Michael’s door. It rejected him too. He raised an eyebrow and let it sink in. He could not have reached her if she had lost control. Eric took her by the arm and marched her down the hall to the guest suite he had used before Godric had moved him into the master bedroom. He still had access to this room. Inside, she plopped onto the edge of the bed and sighed. “Alright. Let’s have the lecture,” she said.
He bent down and caged her between two strong arms. “You already know why what you just did was incredibly stupid. You need to feed and fuck something. I’m very glad you didn’t.”
“I can’t have human friends, can I?”
“Not yet and not really ever again. Either way, Michael is not your friend.” Eric tipped her chin up. “You have me.” He pulled his shirt up and pressed her hand against the flat of his stomach. He forced her to feel his washboard muscles.
“What are you doing?” she said. “Stop it.”
“You have a very predictable tell, Ros. You like to touch your prey’s stomach while you feed. You always go for the abs when you’re about to strike.” He pounced over her, pushing her into the mattress.
“I’m not used to having men around me who have abs.”
“You thought it so loudly I came running. That could have been a disaster.”
“Well, it wasn’t.”
She was wearing one of Godric’s dress shirts and he nosed the crook of her neck where the collar spread over her clavicles. She heard the click of his fangs. “I’m proud of you, lillasyster. What made you stop?”
“I can still smell Amleth’s blood burning in my nose.” She shoved at him. Her fingers had absentmindedly kept wandering over the planes of Eric’s torso. He was clearly enjoying it. His own hands and lips had wandered too. “Funny how you always turn things into your gain,” she said miserably.
He sat back on his knees. “This isn’t about me.”
“It’s always about you, Eric. You’re all ‘you need to feed and fuck, Rosalyn, you have me, touch my rock-hard body’,” she said, imitating his deep voice.
“You want to eat your little twink across the hall, be my guest. I’ll be the one with a dead employee, which leaves you not only with a boy-band sized mess to clean up but one very pissed off brother. I’m under orders to protect him, no thanks to you.”
“Right. Do you ever not think of yourself first?”
“You cannot run to humans when you are in distress. It’s that simple. Master your emotions or your instincts will make your decisions for you. If you find you cannot, you turn to Godric or me.”
“And what, you’ll play the whore? How convenient for you.”
His face darkened. “In case you haven’t been paying attention, Maker’s paranoia is running riot. We need to get him focused on the real attackers. I thought we might put our heads together and figure out a plan.”
“That’s what you wanted to put together just now in your bedroom? Could have fooled me.”
Eric’s nostrils flared in anger. He stood back up and studied her, struggling with something. She could feel a ripple of questions rolling off him. They pattered, indecipherable, against her consciousness. “Fine,” he said evenly. “Learn as I did.”
“Eric, wait,” she said when he moved for the door. She spoke too late. The door had already slammed behind him.
Rosalyn found Eric in Godric’s private library. He had pulled out a horde of binders from the far side of the shelves where the oldest documents were stored. Disintegrating folios and faded letters cluttered the reading table. “Leave me,” he said preemptively.
She sucked at her cheek. “I’m sorry. I spoke unfairly. My head is all over the place and the upset in our bonds is -“
“Intolerable,” he finished for her.
She stood awkwardly. “I don’t know what you were trying to pull just now. That’s the second time in twenty-four hours that you’ve gotten sexy with me.” Last night, Eric had been explaining how silver particulate was caught in her wounds, causing temporary scarring, when the gentle kisses on her knuckles traveled feverishly to her mouth. His sudden lust confused her, as did how casually he dismissed it.
“Spare me your hand-wringing. If you need to have an existential crisis over your baby vampire libido and two second attention span, go do it elsewhere. You needed distracting. I distracted you. Problem solved.”
“It’s not that simple and you know it.”
“I did my duty as your bonded. How did the old songs go? ‘I am your shelter, I am your shield’, yada yada yada.” He scavenged through a pile of scrolls.
“Right. We’re only now getting around to acknowledging it. I should have realized sooner how serious a full blood bond is. You called me your ‘companion’ when I was sick. It’s not something vampires say lightly, is it?”
Eric made no reply. He dug around in the parchment, grumbling at its apparent disorganization. Antiquated bills were mixed with deeds and correspondence. Rosalyn took a seat in front of the reading table and folded her hands in her lap. “Godric was on one knee when he asked me to be his companion, Eric. I don’t know why you chose to fully bond with me. I don’t know what it means to you. I don’t know what you expect from me.”
“Gods preserve me,” he swore with a groan. “Do you have any idea how tiresome you moderns are? Always wanting to talk about your fucking feelings.”
She narrowed her eyes at his deflection. “Oh, come on. Vampires love to talk. We do all kinds of things with words. We made our bond in part with words. We can renounce it with words too, right? Is that just legalese talk about claims and rights, or is there actual magic involved that gets broken like a maker’s release?”
Eric dropped the box of scrolls he was holding in alarm. A shadow fell across his slanted cheekbones. “You speak of release and renunciation,” he said darkly. “Those are eternal words, Rosalyn. They are too big for your newborn mouth.”
She studied him and waited. She had his full attention. He licked his lower lip. “Renunciation would break our psychic connection. Forever.”
“It can’t be unsaid,” she confirmed.
“And our tie cannot be remade. Blood siblings can only sense each other when in proximity. They cannot communicate unless they make a temporary bond. You know those bonds are fleeting and weak. I do not want to speak of these things.”
“So our bond does mean something to you – enough that you don’t even want to contemplate its loss.”
Eric glowered at her. “Have you not had enough loss to tide you over?”
“You said you loved me tonight, Blondie.”
“What of it?”
“Did you mean it?”
“I said it, no?”
She shook her head in disbelief. “Is it really so hard for you to say yes?”
“Yes,” he said.
She laughed at him. Eric did not like it one bit. “You’re digging for compliments,” he said. “I expect such pathetic behavior in other people. Not you, Ros.”
She eyed him. “Tell me why someone as unattainable and aloof as you would trouble himself to bond with me.”
“You were turned by the most unattainable vampire in all creation. Ask Godric how much trouble you are worth if you’re feeling insecure.”
“You’re not Godric. It’s not the same kind of unattainable. He doesn’t have a clue how ridiculously gorgeous he is.”
Eric scoffed. “The entire ancient Mediterranean world coveted Godric’s beauty. He’s the textbook definition of a classic male youth. Trust me, he knows.”
“I’m sure it caused him no small amount of grief. Godric doesn’t enjoy his good looks. You do.”
“Of course I enjoy his good looks. He is my maker.”
She snorted. “You ass. I’m talking about you. I swear, there is nothing worse than a man who knows he’s pretty. Pretty men like you are almost always pigs the second they open their beautiful mouths. They mistake their vanity for personality.”
Eric put aside a sheaf of parchment and gave her a bored look. “If this is you trying to apologize for mouthing off to me, you’re doing a singularly bad job.
“Knock it off. You only pretend to be a pig and that’s why I’m pissed at you. You’ve been weird and disingenuous with me since the bombing. This isn’t you. You are gorgeous and smart and good – when you’re not conning everyone into thinking otherwise. You’re a freaking unicorn, Eric.”
“Ah. Whore, ass, pig, unicorn. Is this a round of animal, vegetable, mineral? I think you’re losing, newborn. I am vampire.” He dropped his fangs to prove his point.
“Why are you shutting down on me?” she growled in exasperation. “You’re not being sincere!”
“You don’t need my sincerity. You need my sword, my wealth, and my allies.”
“I need your love! I am trying to tell you, Eric, that I love you too. I hate the thought that I could have died without telling you. This is a nightmare. Why won’t you just talk to me about it like -“
“Like what, Ros? Like a normal human being?” he supplied. “Because I’m not. And I’m not ruled by sentiment. Now, if you’re done making a scene, I’ve got work to do.”
Rosalyn searched his disinterested expression. Whatever turmoil was beneath his mask, he was not sharing it. She realized, finally, that he was afraid. Terribly, crushingly, afraid. He leaned back in his chair, ever the arrogant prince, and kicked his booted feet up on the table. Sighing, she picked up a piece of vellum from the pile before them. “Can I help?”
“Do you read Latin? Attic Greek? No? Then there’s your answer.” He snatched the sheet back.
“What are you looking for?” she said, staving off the impulse to hurl another epithet at him.
“Anything in Godric’s old correspondence to remind him why it is impossible that Amleth orchestrated this disaster.”
“I don’t believe that Amleth did this.”
“I don’t need belief. The truth of Amleth’s loyalty is written in my bones. I’d sooner suspect myself of involvement.”
“Should we suspect you?” she said flippantly. She regretted it instantly. The glacial stare it garnered from Eric froze her veins. “Don’t answer that. I’m an idiot.” Rosalyn looked away in shame. Eric’s loyalty was unimpeachable. He was blood-sworn to his siblings and under a command to care for Rosalyn as Godric would. It was physically impossible for him to cause her harm. A rock dropped in the pit of her stomach. She had not considered the implications of Godric’s order. How much of Eric’s attention was truly his own? If his tender caresses and lusty outbursts seemed insincere, perhaps it was because they were.
Eric hummed a mocking laugh, reading her thoughts easily. “You had forgotten I must obey, hadn’t you?”
“Don’t pretend it’s all Godric’s command. You don’t mean that.”
“You don’t know what I mean, but that’s your problem, not mine,” he said. “I have zero desire to deal with your newborn bullshit. You’ve already wasted a quarter hour of my time.”
Rosalyn wanted to crumble in on herself. “Don’t ever touch me out of obligation.”
“That will be rather hard to avoid.”
“I’m under command too. I have to seek your care and accept it.”
“Daddy does like us to play nice.” He kicked his legs off the table. His pupils had contracted into alien pinpoints.
She lifted her chin and met his hard stare. “Then I guess we should assume my reactions are as disingenuous as yours. The difference between us, though, is that I choose not to be cruel and selfish. Love doesn’t make a coward of me.”
His wolfish grin faded. “Don’t you have another dress fitting or something to attend? Kindly fuck off – dearest bonded.”
The cold in his voice drew tears to her eyes and they burned as the tears refused to fall.
A/N: Ouch. Don’t hate me. Conflict=plot. Thanks for your patience as I worked out this chapter. Reviewers get unsupervised visits with Michael (wink, wink). Any idea whether Eric “I hate feelings” Northman will change his attitude?
Stay tuned: the wedding is coming up next. Can’t wait to share how this adventure unfolds with you. xx, M