Godric stood in front of the jail cell and contemplated the fate of the prisoner inside. Steve Newlin was an unremarkable dweeb. The so-called pastor was a man whose prominence was due almost entirely to his father’s untimely death. Like so many trembling, ineffectual sons, Newlin lived in a bright shadow whose light he mistook as his own. His hate was middling and uncreative, and spiraled from crippling daddy issues.
“Come on, Godric. Murder me,” Newlin taunted. “You know you want to, you blood-sucking leech. It’s in your nature.”
“Ah, yes. My ‘God-given nature’,” Godric replied. “If you do not like the creatures your god has seen fit to create, take it up with Him, not me. Of course, I am older than your god. I’m rather certain He had no hand in my making.”
“Because you’re the spawn of Satan,” Newlin sneered.
“Please. Lucifer VI is even younger. Isn’t that right, Ronwe?” Godric said, speaking to the prisoner down the hallway.
“Go fuck yourself!” Ronwe shouted back through the padded walls.
Godric shrugged. “Demons are a misunderstood people, Steve. Rude. But misunderstood. They certainly have nothing to do with your sins. You got here all on your own.”
Newlin tried to goad Godric into killing him again – right before he broke down and began begging for mercy. Godric remained impassive, hands jammed deep in his pockets. He rocked slightly on his heels, thinking. There was a moment when he would have liked nothing more than to summarily execute Newlin. That moment had passed. A hasty death – at the hands of an infamous and ancient vampire no less – would give Steve Newlin’s life undeserved meaning.
Amleth’s body lay not ten yards away inside his children’s cell. With every bleating beep and hiss of Amleth’s blood pump, Godric’s desire for a more sinister punishment grew. Godric preferred slow death. Death that came at an un-appointed hour, right when everything seemed safe and quiet. He made his decision. For the time being, he would condemn Newlin to his true calling – staggering mediocrity. Let a federal jail supply his meals and swab his filthy toilet. Godric could wait. He had all the time in the world.
He took Newlin to an interrogation room and went to work glamouring him. Extremism could not be stamped out, but it could be made tepid. And tepid extremism was a contradiction in terms. Newlin would bore his followers to tears. They would scatter. If all went smoothly, Newlin and his accomplices would be convicted by the human authorities on weapons charges and conspiracy to murder and they would sit, incarcerated, forgotten by everyone but Godric.
Godric spent nearly an hour guiding Newlin through his paces – leaving the shape of his hatred but removing the sting. Anything more radical would be obvious. Newlin would no longer inspire murder with his rhetoric. He would not remember his time incarcerated at the estate. He would be a watered-down version of himself, neither a turncoat traitor to his followers nor their martyr. Godric left him with a single fuzzy memory of their encounter.
“Vampires are not your enemies,” Godric told him. “There is something far worse that lurks in the shadows and in the cracks of time. You met this creature once.”
“I did?” Newlin said, his voice thick with stupor.
“You forsook the peace and love your god offers and sought out this creature’s darkness. Now you belong to him. When next you cross paths, you will wish for something as simple as death. Death is an ending, Steve. The nightmare that’s coming for you has no end.”
A trickling pattered on the linoleum floor beneath the chair where Newlin sat.
Godric worked on Sarah Newlin, Hugo, and the bomb maker in a similar fashion, plucking out their desire for vengeance but allowing their guilt to fester. By the end of his efforts, he was bleeding from his nose. Isabelle brought him a handkerchief and a drink with awed fear in her eyes. She had never seen a vampire produce such a powerful glamour. Godric took the handkerchief. He crooked an unimpressed eyebrow at the drink. Isabelle was pushing her luck.
The human prisoners were loaded into the back of an unmarked van and carted off to the local police. All save one. Godric let Eric deal with Jason Stackhouse. The fool had no part in the bombing. He had simply followed his prick into serious trouble.
Given a moment to himself, Godric had nothing to distract him from the wild, throbbing tangle of hungers inundating his bonds. His progeny were running riot through him. He watched through the observation window as Eric taunted and threatened Jason. The fear and testosterone and threat of violence in the air made matters a hundred times worse.
Eric took his time toying with the man like a cat would a mouse. When he finally turned Jason loose to find his sister upstairs, Eric stuck his head in the room attached to the interrogation cell. Godric was sitting in the dark.
Eric had not showered. The scent of Rosalyn’s innocent caresses and not so innocent bites wreathed his body and filled the little room. Godric appreciated his child’s candor. Nothing was hidden between them. Eric had spilled on himself untouched and smelled of frustrated desire. “Satisfied?” Eric said, mischief twinkling in his eyes.
“Are you?” Godric shot back, knowing full well he was not.
The Viking’s nostrils flared in amusement. “I’ll survive.”
“Perhaps you’re losing your touch,” Godric said drily.
“You’re just jealous,” Eric retorted.
“That’s one word for it.” Godric said. If he did not distract himself soon, he was going to collapse in a fit of frenzied desperation and start abusing himself like the pathetic, horny boy he was. Eric’s state was not much better, but Godric was getting slammed by his bonds from two sides.
Eric tried not to laugh. “You do this to yourself, you know.” He followed his maker down the hallway into the CCTV control room. Godric shut the door. No one could hear them there.
“What lesson have you learned?” Godric asked quietly. The glow of the control board cast an eerie pallor over his features.
Eric bowed his head. After a long moment, he answered. “Rosalyn is my equal. You’ve made sure of it.” His voice held a note of awe.
“Yes,” Godric said.
“I didn’t expect…” He cleared his throat. “I thought loving her would be simple, like with you.”
“Spare me,” Eric scoffed. “You love like god loves – totally and without mercy. All I had to do was surrender to your inevitability. It’s simple with you.”
“But not her?” he pressed.
“Her love is an offering. It is freely given but just as easily lost. My instrumental bullshit isn’t going to cut it.”
Godric’s low laughter filled the dark room. “No, it isn’t. It’s time to evolve.”
“Ros accused me of being ’emotionally unavailable’ and she is right.”
“I taught you to be that way. I apologize. It is no way to live.”
Eric dropped his head further. “I am the one who owes you an apology. I dishonor us both when I dishonor Ros. I refused to reciprocate with her as an equal and I treated her like a conquest instead of my bonded.”
“And yet here you are, the one who was conquered.” Godric smirked at his child, proud that Rosalyn had stopped fighting her innate possessiveness and claimed Eric properly. Proud, too, that Eric had been brave enough to submit to her. Even so, her scent and mark all over his eldest child made Godric wildly possessive. “Come here.”
Eric stepped closer. “Have I taken you for granted? Have I not shown you that I care?” His voice was clouded with concern.
Godric’s eyes combed over Eric’s body in consideration. A smile played on his mouth. He reached up and pressed a thumb into the dimple of his chin. “I am, as you say, inevitable. You are mine, Northman. Until the end of time.”
Eric stared at him with colorless eyes. “Prove it.”
Eric’s arrogance never failed to bring a flush of pride into his maker’s cheeks. Before Eric could goad him further, Godric had twisted his fingers in Eric’s hair and buried his fangs in his neck. When Godric was done, he stepped back, crimson-lipped and feral-eyed. “Have I made myself clear?”
“Crystal,” Eric said with a ferocious grin.
Godric ran a tongue over his bottom lip. “Does Rosalyn understand why getting you two reconciled was necessary?”
“Not really. She thinks you were being pissy about being challenged. She doesn’t know you well enough to know that you don’t throw your maker’s weight around out of selfishness. She doesn’t even realize what a huge sacrifice you made in not participating last night.”
Godric frowned. “What do you think?”
Eric gave Godric a patronizing look. “I think you’re going to hear all about it.”
“Will I ever get laid again?” he said.
Eric erupted in laughter and pulled Godric into a bear hug. Godric extricated himself from the Viking’s crushing hold and he pushed him toward the door. “Go on. Go hunt.” Eric did not need to be told twice. “And bathe, you degenerate,” he called after him. Eric’s chuckling echoed down the hallway.
Godric had his underlings gathered around his desk. Architectural renderings of Sophie-Anne’s estate were unfurled over the burled walnut surface. They were reviewing the battle plan. Pamela was mid-sentence, discussing exit doors and evacuation routes, when Godric’s head snapped up. Rosalyn had materialized at the far end of the great hall. “Everyone out. Immediately,” he ordered sharply.
The staff moved quickly, cutting their eyes at Rosalyn and exchanging knowing looks. She was holding a whip. They assumed she had come to receive a punishment. At the doorway, she growled at their snickering. The smiles ceased, and she was given the nods and dips she was due.
Godric watched Rosalyn prowl the length of the court toward him, eyes fierce and skin radiant from the infusion of Eric’s ancient strength. It took all his control to restrain his fangs and cock. She was a glorious terror.
She held the whip at arm’s length and opened her palm. The whip hit the desk with a thwack. “Where should we take this, Sheriff?” she said. He searched her face, trying to decide how poorly she would react if he begged her to destroy him right there on the Louisiana Kingdom’s blueprints. Did she even know how many times he could come before his body ran out of seed?
“May I?” he asked instead, before touching the weapon. He tucked the whip in his back pocket, adjusted himself in his pants, and took her by the hand. Sookie and her barbell-brained brother greeted them as they charged by the game room.
“Oh, hey!” Michael said, leaping off the couch.
“Not a good time,” Godric told him.
“Maybe later?” he called expectantly after them. Neither vampire answered.
In the garage, Godric gestured to the pegboard with the fleet’s car keys. Ros grabbed a set. She evidently wanted something fast.
“Is there any place I should avoid for security’s sake?” she asked when she pulled beyond the estate gates.
He shook his head. “Dallas is ours.”
“Good.” She peeled out of the suffocating confines of north Dallas’s posh neighborhoods and opened the vehicle up on the interstate. They drove in silence. The city was a blur of brake lights and neon towers. Tungsten streetlamps splashed across the dashboard in yellowed heartbeats. Rosalyn sped along fearlessly. Her preternatural senses understood what would happen in the choreography of cars and overpass lanes before it occurred. Godric’s eyes flicked between mirrors, ever watchful. He did not demand to know where he was being taken.
When she pulled up to the nature preserve south of the city, she turned to him. “Get us in.” He disabled the entry gate easily and she parked in front of the Audubon building as if it were regular park hours. She got out and peered up at the modern visitor’s center. It perched like a wooden wave over the rewilded marsh. Nearby, the river that split the city gurgled and rushed among the reeds. Night things rustled. The marsh was alive and listening.
Godric watched her, rapt with fascination. The building was a green design, constructed to mitigate its impact on the environment. The preserve had been a toxic dump when he had arrived. He had helped finance this project and the land had bloomed once more under his stewardship. It was one of the first things he had done as Sheriff. He wondered if she knew. “Do you like it?” he asked.
“It’s an improvement,” she said.
She held out a hand. He took it and she led him to the nature trail. Their footsteps were silent on the wooden boards. Even so, the insects and night birds still fell quiet when they passed. “They know we’re predators,” she observed.
“They stop singing for humans too. They don’t know it was humans that destroyed their land.”
“They can’t tell one parasite from another.”
Godric’s throat tightened. He expected such slurs from Steve Newlin. Not from her. “I had hoped we had more to offer than that.” She did not answer. The look of grim determination set across her features did not bode well for him.
They meandered the boardwalk. Rosalyn stopped at a viewpoint and leaned against the railing. The city sounds were at a muted distance here. A breeze lifted her hair from her neck. Rich, earthy smells surrounded them. Her beauty was almost painful in its perfection. His summer child. She carried all the elemental heat and boundless efflorescence of her turning, as Eric bore the driving ice and unfailing evergreen. At the moment, their scents were deeply entangled. The best of trackers would struggle to discern who was who. She had no idea this was but one of the many reasons he had wanted her to accept Eric’s blood.
“Our interdependence is so much more complicated than I thought,” she finally said.
Godric smiled, wondering if she had gleaned his thoughts. “Whose?”
“Our family. Vampires. Humans. All of the living beings.” The water beneath the walkway splashed with a ‘ploop’ sound. “The frogs and the fish,” she added.
“I did warn you that harmony would be a monumental task.”
She leaned over the railing on her forearms. He joined her to look out at the watery landscape. “Everyone has different needs,” she continued. “Different desires. It’s chaos that seems to be the rule.”
“We can only be responsible for ourselves in the clamor and the madness.”
“But we effect so much more, don’t we? Nothing exists for itself, Godric. The river beneath us doesn’t thirst for its own water.”
Godric reached out to her, kissed her cheek, and inhaled her hair. “What are you trying to tell me, my love?”
“You’re like the river – so many creatures are suspended in your power. We can’t survive without you. You steer the family through the ages. I can only trust the depth of knowledge and experience you draw on when you make your decisions.”
“But?” he said, waiting for her condemnation.
“You’re a force of nature. You don’t realize how much you are capable of destroying when you’re upset.”
Godric turned back to look at the expansiveness of the marsh. He sighed. “You are you very angry with me.”
“Yes. Last night you pushed when you could have asked.”
“I did ask, Rosalyn. Several times.”
“Putting me in time-out with Eric was a manipulation worthy of Roman. You didn’t have to lift a finger to achieve the outcome you wanted.”
The accusation stung. It hewed uncomfortably close to the truth, while still missing it entirely. “I only wanted a swift resolution. I don’t want to make your choices for you. Do you understand how easily my desires can accidentally become yours when I want something?”
“Yeah, Eric mentioned you drove him crazy with that early on – and that you freaked out and gave him bonding sickness when he called you on it.”
“I was a young maker, frightened of abusing my command. Now I’m an old maker with the same old fears. I am listening.”
“Your heavy-handedness has only taught me one thing. I’ve learned that you act swiftly and decisively as a maker, as a Sheriff, and as the patriarch. You’re completely unafraid of whatever consequences your actions might incur. Always better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?” He started to answer. “Shut up,” she told him. “You said you would honor my request for submission when I made it.”
“I have,” he said. “I am.”
She got in his face. “The equality you promised me doesn’t exist if you force me to take extreme measures just to get a word in edgewise. You control the hand that holds the whip. You make up the rules of engagement. You over-determine everything. I don’t want the mirage of equality. I want the real god damn thing. Our marriage is completely secondary to our relationship as maker and progeny.”
“My love, I tried to warn you about this -“
“Do you not see the irony of your own behavior? How dare you presume to teach me about communicating with a partner when you understand precious little about it yourself.”
“I -” he began.
“How dare you push me towards an intimacy with Eric when you’re shutting down on me in the same stupid way as him!”
Godric chewed his lip to hide a smile. “Don’t pretend that you don’t revel in the intimacies of your bond with Eric now that you understand it. It is a sacred gift – one you both needed to fully accept. We must be absolutely unified tomorrow night.”
Rosalyn crossed her arms. “Eric is a piece of work.”
“I know,” he said with all the pride and weariness of twelve centuries as his maker. He caged Rosalyn between his arms until the railing pressed against her back. He closed in on her throat, inhaling deeply. “As are you. There is nothing quite like how Eric leaves a woman all spun up and ready. To have you this way – “
“Do you have any idea how delicious you smell?” He mouthed hungry kisses along her jawline. “And you’re all mine. I can’t for the life of me understand why you resist him.”
“Because you’re the shape of my heart,” she whispered and he went weak in the knees. His fingers found their way beneath the hem of her shirt. Rosalyn pushed at his chest. “Godric, cut it out.”
“Oh, no, my love. I don’t think I shall. I’m burning for you,” he breathed into the shell of her ear.
“Stop.” She pulled his hands from beneath her blouse. “I brought you here to talk.”
Godric leveled his hungry gaze at her. “I will literally do or say anything right now to get you to take care of me. You’re not going to get honesty from me while you’re holding my body hostage.”
“You’re as bad as Eric wanting to skip to the resolution without working through the lesson. Listen to me.” She wrestled again with his roving hands. They had slipped down the curves of her buttocks. “Listen! What was necessary with Eric is beyond excessive to me. You can’t be the maker you were to him with me.”
“You left your whip in the car,” he said, grinding his hips into her.
“Do you actually think I’d drag you out to a swamp to beat you?”
He gave her a heated look. “Do what you must, lover. There is nothing you can do to me that hasn’t already been done.”
She shook her head in frustration. “Just what every young bride wants to hear.” She shoved at him.
“Rosalyn,” he growled, stepping back. “You’re screaming lust at me through our bond and your temper is goading my bloodlust beyond what I can control. I have limits.”
“And I have mine! I’m telling you your behavior is a deal breaker!”
Godric spun on his heel and paced down the boardwalk. He was gone for several minutes before returning to where she waited. He was only slightly calmed. “I am not afraid to learn from you,” he told her, his neutral tone forced. “Everything you do for me is miraculous and a first. Teach me. I won’t resist you as you resist me. You are angry with how I’ve tried to guide you.”
“You are as fascinated by my anger as you are with my love. This is a game to you,” she said.
He took her by the arms. She was dangerously close to making the same accusation she had as before, when he was equally on edge. “I do not, for one moment, view you or our relationship as an experiment. There is everything to lose in failing you.” He furrowed his brow. “Tell me.”
She ground her jaw. “No, you tell me. Are you happy with what you accomplished by locking me up?”
“You obviously want me to say no.”
“I hate games. I hate your tests. All these manipulative tactics are domineering, patriarchal bullshit and you’ve shown me, Godric, you’ve told me, that you want to rise above it. The crises we’re facing are not valid excuses for falling back on nasty old habits. Survival at any cost isn’t living.”
Godric huffed a laugh. “Which is precisely what I have taught Eric in your lesson. I said as much to him not an hour ago.”
“Right. Don’t think it was lost on me that you locked me up with him in part to have me straighten him out on your behalf. You fix your own mistakes with him, Godric. I didn’t join this family to help you all become better versions of yourselves. That’s a waste of my talent and energy.”
Godric narrowed his eyes. “That is certainly not what I mean when I call you my muse. You might inspire me, Ros, but it is my responsibility to guide us and everyone’s duty to do their own heavy lifting.”
“Good. Because I’m not your fucking cleaning lady. It’s not my job to fix the broken men in this House.”
Godric stared at her. “You grow bold, little vampiress, to hurl such course language at me. And you presume far, far too much.”
“I only presume what you promised.”
“Equality in our marriage? Yes. But not in my House. Not as your Maker. That’s not how it works – for you or anyone else.”
Rosalyn guffawed. “So why even pretend to call me your ‘consort’? It’s a meaningless title.”
Her words wounded him. “Meaningless? I allow your criticism. Encourage it, even. I listen to your perspective and I take it very seriously. You help me think critically and evaluate our challenges with fresh eyes. But I cannot fix the problems in my House overnight. They have been centuries in the making, as all vampire problems are. You’ve shown nothing but contempt for my choices as pater when I need your support more than ever. Help me, Ros. Please don’t tear me down.”
Rosalyn bristled, her nostrils flaring in disgust. “You’ve hidden Amleth like a bastard love child. I can’t begin to describe how much that upsets me. What other secrets are you keeping? Do you have other progeny?”
“I most certainly do not!” he said in outrage. The suggestion that he had unacknowledged offspring running around was grossly offensive. “You know precious little of how and why I have protected Amleth as I have. I’ve had about enough of this from you. You think I don’t know that it is only a matter of time before you chastise me about Pamela?”
“As a matter of fact -“
Godric leaned inches from her face, fangs dropped. “Do not, for one moment, mistake my complicity for docility.” Rosalyn’s jaw dropped. He prowled in a circle around her. “You do not appreciate my patience and benevolence as a maker. How unusual it is for our kind. How exceptional my rule as pater is among the ancients. You would have me confront all our problems head-on, like a blunt hammer. If it is direct confrontation you want, I may indeed oblige you, young one. But do not expect me to entertain your complaints when you do not like the results.”
Rosalyn whipped around, instinctively protecting her exposed back. “This doesn’t work for me, Godric.”
“Which part?” he snapped.
“Any of it,” she said in a bare whisper.
Godric’s fears dropped into his stomach like a stone. “The door does not revolve. You made your choice.”
“As did you. This marriage is all in or nothing at all. You’re hiding behind your maker’s authority. It takes two seconds to explain why I need to do something instead of commanding it. Two seconds to treat me like a wife instead of a child.”
“And it takes but a half second of questioning our hierarchy in front of the wrong people to reduce us to ash!” Godric’s voice boomed over the marsh. A flock of slumbering birds burst from the trees and took to the sky. “Gods as my witnesses, do you not recognize the precariousness of our circumstances? I don’t care that you question my leadership – I expect it of you. But I do care as your maker that you don’t understand the dangers of going about it recklessly! I have barely used my command with you. I’ve used it to keep you from eating people alive and to stop you from sharing dangerous information that could get us executed.”
“What about forcing me to arrest Costas and Eva?”
“I commanded you to arrest Amleth’s brood knowing full well you would do it gently and try to make amends with them afterwards.”
“To what end?” she said.
“To give you plausible deniability! So you could blame me and salvage a healthy alliance with them in the off chance this disaster isn’t actually their doing. I will always take the fall for my children. You think I am angry with Pamela for helping trick me into the fundraiser? I am angry that my idiot son did not know how to best protect her. She is young. She is my baby grandchild. And you are but an infant in our years.” Rosalyn’s lips trembled as she realized his strategy. Godric searched her face. “There aren’t enough hours in the night to teach you everything you need to know in these circumstances. Delegating crucial milestones to your brothers – letting them teach you to feed, to fight – I will never recover those lost opportunities, Ros. But I am willing to sacrifice anything in the service of your well-being. I am – how do you say it? – smeared poorly.”
“What?” Rosalyn said in a laugh.
“Buttered wrong?” he tried.
Rosalyn rolled her eyes. “You’re spread thin.”
“Yes. Beyond spread thin. I never would have turned you so quickly if I thought it would precipitate a war. Between the Council’s threat, the fragility of the Reveal, the Fae prince’s trickery, the damnable human zealots…”
“And Amleth. Don’t lie. You’re beside yourself with grief. You don’t even trust the people closest to you.”
Godric squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. “I am doing my best even as I know it is not good enough. You are right to think I am falling back on the old ways. Do you blame me? I must rely upon what I know works. I do not know how to advance our agenda for peace and equality and strategize in a multi-creature war all at once.”
“You ordered me to tell you how.”
“And do you have an answer for me yet?”
She shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t. I don’t know how. I don’t think it’s possible.”
He exhaled and took her by the shoulders. “This is your first true lesson from your maker. Remember this night, always. You must be willing to admit when you don’t have the answer. Never be afraid of your own ignorance. The first step to defeating it is recognizing it.” He gave a weak laugh. “It took Eric five years to learn this one.” Rosalyn started laughing. “You aren’t giving me much credit, Ros. I understand a great deal about communication. I know too that I’m not very good at it. I told you this when we met.”
She bit her lip in a suppressed smile. “You said you wouldn’t have ‘turned me so quickly’.” She looked at him questioningly.
“Yes,” he said, a smile threading across his face.
“When did you know?” she asked, astonished.
He looked up at her through dark, curled lashes. “You were mine the moment you reached out and touched me. You had no idea I had been watching you that night.” Rosalyn took his hand and caressed it with a thumb. She was speechless. He stroked her face with his knuckles. “Fighting a maker’s call is a fool’s errand. I was in denial. I didn’t think it possible that I wanted another progeny.”
“Maybe you’ve got it backwards, Maker.”
“Do I?” he said, amused.
“You were mine the second I chose you as my sire.”
At that, his smile grew. She reached up and kissed him deeply. He led her down the boardwalk to a pavilion set over the water. He pulled Rosalyn to sit next to him on a bench. “Choose me again,” he asked. He pressed her hand to his heart. “You leap so fearlessly into the unknown. That quality will take you through the millennia, just like Eric. It is the mark of a great immortal. Tell me you will marry me tomorrow. We will swear it in the blood before a thousand witnesses and be one, always.”
She furrowed her brow and took a long moment before responding. “You told me you wanted to experience an intimacy with me that you had never allowed yourself.”
He smiled fondly at her. “Yes, my love.”
“How many times have you been married?”
The blood drained cold from Godric’s face. “That has nothing to do with us.”
“How many times,” she ground out.
“Four. But -“
“It wasn’t the same as this?” she guessed.
Panic rose in his chest. He licked his lips. “We do not need to dig up the past to move forward together.”
“That’s where I disagree.” Rosalyn rose and stood over him. “That is exactly what needs to happen. Look me in the eye and tell me that everything that has gone wrong since you marked me in the desert isn’t about all the crap you’ve tried to bury in time and leave unaddressed.”
“Ros -” he said, trying to explain.
“You marked me and didn’t even tell me your name, Godric. You turned me without telling me that it was your dirty past putting my life in danger. I’d ask what is going to catch up with us next, but you don’t share yourself with anyone. You don’t even let your loved ones bear your name.” Godric did not have a clever response. “That’s what I thought. Your previous marriages. Out with it.”
He averted his gaze. He considered refusing. Shame burned bitter in the back of his throat. “The villain who turned me tried to loan me out on what would ultimately be very short marriage contracts in exchange for wealth and power. They never got their money’s worth.”
“Who were they?” she demanded.
“Gods, Rosalyn,” he gasped. “Please do not make me breathe their names.” He dropped his head into his hands. “They are all dead. Two were murdered before the ink on the contracts was dry. One I had assassinated to save myself. The other died by my hands outright for the things I was subjected to. In time, I destroyed their entire bloodlines in retribution.” He flicked his gaze up at her and dared her to push him further. “No one lives that benefited from my slavery. No one. Do not give life to their memory.”
He could feel Rosalyn’s suspicions – wondering how it was he became the bloodline’s patriarch. Her questions were not unfounded. He was relieved when she did not demand to know more. “What about your vampire lovers?” she said. “Is someone going to try to stake me for taking your sexy self off the market?”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” he scoffed.
“Really,” she said, unconvinced.
He chewed at his lip. “I am not an attractive prospect for others.”
Rosalyn stared at him for a long moment. “You’ve made certain of that, haven’t you? You keep everyone at arm’s length. You taught Eric to do the same. You tried to scare me off, too.”
He looked up from his knees where he sat. “And now you regret not taking my advice to leave and never look back. It is too late. You are mine. This will go far better if you do not struggle against me. As your maker, I will not let you go until you are fully fledged.” He dropped his head again, struggling against tears. A child’s rejection was every maker’s worst nightmare.
She uncrossed her arms and knelt. “I accepted your offer to be turned because I want to have a hundred thousand adventures at your side – as your partner, as your wife. If you weren’t vampire, I still would have chosen you. It will always be you, Godric.”
He cradled her face in his hands, mouth trembling. “You do not want to leave me, then?”
He exhaled in relief. “I am sorry I cannot give you a romantic wedding like one of your human fairy tales. You deserve so much more than the political theatre we must put on.”
“So do you,” she said sadly. “You’ve had nothing but horrid political marriages. I’m not going to be complicit and inflict another one on you.”
He dropped his hands and sat back. “What are you saying?”
She met his gaze. “I won’t marry you like this.”
Horror overtook him. “Rosalyn. No. Please.” His voice cracked.
She stood, keeping his hands in hers. “‘The House of Godric requests the pleasure of your company in celebrating a wedding’. The invitations don’t specify what the guests should expect. I choose you, Godric. I always will. Marry me in a sacred grove. Marry me with our family around us. Marry me in sight of the old gods. But, please. Don’t marry me in battle, where blood will be shed. I won’t give you something ugly. Not when you finally deserve peace and beauty. Not when our love sets joy loose in the world.”
A tear slipped down Godric’s cheek. He spoke in a whisper. “There is a place. An ancient place. We will take our blood vows there.”
“And tomorrow?” she pressed.
Determination spread across his features. “You will be my shield maiden. My warrior wife. And we will right the wrongs of the past – together.” Rosalyn licked the tear staining Godric’s cheek. He pulled her tightly into his arms and purred. “Come make love to me under the open sky.”
They retraced the winding boardwalk back to the parking lot and he led her to higher ground. In a grassy field, surrounded by the rewilded wilderness, they lay together as man and wife. Naked and worshipful, they celebrated their love, and the crickets resumed their song.
A/N: Thoughts? Theories? I look forward to hearing from you. You know what’s coming next. (Finally!). I can’t wait to get it out to you.
This chapter was brought to you by SO much Agnes Obel. Her album “Aventine” has pretty much continuously been in my ear as Ros and Godric’s new theme music.
Thanks as always to all my readers. Your vocal support is the only reason I keep writing. xx, M