Fallen grace, p.16
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       Fallen Grace, p.16

           Jessica Cartwright
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  I woke early on Monday morning after a fitful sleep. Alex had left my room late in the evening after a thousand assurances from me that I was safe to be left alone. He still did not appear convinced as he left my room and I had heard him return twice during the night to listen for crying at my door. He had refused to eat supper with his mother and instead had Sienna attend my room with a tray of food. Alex’s ire towards his mother would not be calmed. This was not assisted by Olivia calling to speak with him about their reconciliation.

  After his departure, Lucas had summoned me to his study where he offered his sincere apologies for Katherine’s behaviour and overrode her directions to cease all relations with Alex. He also reminded me of Katherine’s status in the Sempre family and of the protector’s pledge and code. I accepted the rebuking from Lucas for my transgressions. I knew that I deserved far more serious reprimands based on my interactions with Katherine since my arrival at the Manor. It was unlike me to act outside our conduct standards, but Katherine appeared to have that effect on me. I sanctioned myself to act more appropriately and vowed to correct my behaviour so I could restore my standing in Lucas’s eyes.

  The first step would be to convince Alex to have breakfast with his mother. I slipped a forest green robe over my pyjamas and made my way barefooted to Alex’s room. I entered without knocking and found Alex asleep in bed. He was tangled up in his sheet suggesting his sleep, like mine was restless. I smiled at his GI Joe t-shirt and camouflage shorts. His hair was sticking out in all directions. I made my way silently over to his bed and sat on the edge. I watched him sleeping for a few moments, his chest rising and falling. I gently reached out and moved the hair from his face. His head instinctively pressed into my hand as a smile spread across his face.

  “Don’t you know it’s creepy to watch people sleep,” he said without opening his eyes.

  “Well I guess you’d better not sleep then,” I replied pulling the bedcovers away from him.

  Alex grunted and sat up in bed giving me a half sleepy smile and running his fingers through his hair. “I could think of worse ways to be woken up in the morning.” He grinned leaning towards me and kissing me unexpectedly on the lips quickly. A heat wave ran through my body and I instantly wanted more but settled for running my hand down his cheek.

  “You need to get up for breakfast,” I ordered

  “What are we having?” Alex asked quizzically.

  “We are not having anything. You are going to have breakfast with your mother,” I replied walking towards his wardrobe to find his clothes.

  “I certainly am not,” he said lying back down in bed.

  “You certainly are Alex. It’s important ok. You need to make up with her or else she may request another protector,” I answered him with a mixture of truth and deception. I handed Alex his robe and headed for the door.

  “Not so quickly,” Alex said grabbing my arm. I allowed him to pull me back onto the bed. Our bodies were laying side by side our faces only inches apart. I could feel the electricity arc between us and my body tingled with a mixture of anticipation and fear. I had never been in bed with a man before and I was immediately self conscious and nervous. Alex tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and ran his hand along my neck and over my shoulder before resting it on my waist. He propped his body up so he was resting on his side. Facing me, he kissed me slowly. His lips were firm against mine and his tongue slowly edged between my teeth and met mine. His mouth swallowed my bottom lip and his kisses became deeper. His arms wrapped around me pulling me closer towards him. Instinctively, my leg wrapped around his closing the gap between our bodies. My arms were around his chest as my fingers moved across his back. I could feel the subtle changes in Alex’s body as his kisses became more urgent. His hand began to move under my camisole and towards my breasts. His mouth left mine and followed the line of my jaw towards my neck and down onto my chest. I could hear our breathing becoming ragged and my body felt hot and sensitized in a way I had never imagined.

  He rolled on top of me so that his legs straddled mine. He kissed my shoulders and the top of my breast as my body shivered with pleasure. I looked into his eyes as his gaze met mine and the intensity was almost unbearable. He continued his mouth along my breast, his hands now inside my camisole and his fingers running along my bare skin. I placed my hand on his cheek and guided his mouth back to mine allowing my fingers to run through his hair and enjoying the feeling of his body twitching at my touch. The sound of the breakfast bell startled us back to reality. Alex’s frustration at the intrusion was evident as he groaned and rolled away from me. His breathing was coming hard and fast. I lay next to him willing my body to return to calm and admonishing myself for allowing this to occur. I needed to be disciplined with Alex and interactions like this would only make it more difficult for me to leave. I knew, even as I instructed myself, that there was no way I could resist him.

  “You’d better go to breakfast,” I broke the silence sitting up on the bed towards Alex.

  “I know,” he sighed. “Will you be in your room?”

  “Why don’t we meet out in the garden,” I smiled. “I think indoors might be a little dangerous for us.”

  Alex chuckled as his made his way to the bathroom. I let myself out into the corridor hurrying to my room so that the staff would not see my in my night dress. Once I was back in the safety of my room, I allowed myself to feel the remnants of Alex’s touch. There was no mistaking that he was my other half. The passion between us was growing at an alarming rate and I was unsure how I would handle it for much longer. I had never been a forward girl and had been taught modesty and reservation from an early age. But none of this seemed to matter when I was with Alex as evidenced by the events of this morning. I would never have imagined myself to act as I had, especially as I had only known Alex a short time and I was neither married to him nor intending to marry him. I looked at the picture of William and me on my bedside table. If he were here now he would be laughing and shaking his head at my behaviour. His little sister in love with a boy she shouldn’t be in love with and behaving as inappropriately as a lady could. I shook my head and made my way towards the shower.

  I knew Katherine would keep Alex for as long as possible at breakfast so I took my time in getting ready. I knew it was silly to bother with my hair and makeup given that Alex had already seen me this morning, but, nevertheless I carefully applied my makeup at the dressing table and twisted sections of my hair back into a bun leaving my fringe to sweep across my face. Despite the sun outside there was still a cool chill in the air. I dressed in faded denims, a caramel blouse with an ivory cardigan and brown ballet flats. Satisfied with my appearance, I sent Lauren a text message informing her that Lucas would be contacting the school today and I would call her tonight. I was already not looking forward to the inquisition I would face about Alex, but better to get it over with before we attended school tomorrow.

  I could hear Alex and Katherine still having breakfast and I used the time to reply to emails and provide an updated report to Marius. I knew there was little point in hiding my transgressions so I confessed all about my behaviour yesterday and expected to be informed that my next assignment would reflect my violations. Afghanistan or Egypt were likely destinations and I neither enjoyed the heat nor the sand that they entailed. At least I had six months relief at the conclusion of this assignment before I needed to worry. Eventually I heard Sienna and Martha removing the plates from Katherine’s parlour and I made my way down the stairs meeting Katherine in the hall. She was dressed in a soft pink skirt, blouse and matching shawl, her hair and makeup impeccable. She appeared startled when she saw me and stepped back to provide a safe distance.

  “Good morning Katherine. I hope you are feeling better this morning,” I said cordially.

  “Grace,” Katherine replied curtly.

  “I was hoping it would meet with your approval for Alex and me to spend the morning in the garden reading. You are welcome to join us if you are
feeling well,” I stated, focusing on keeping my voice even and my body relaxed.

  “I am well aware that I am able to join whoever I want in my home thank you,” Katherine spat.

  “Very well then we will be in the garden,” I replied turning away from Katherine and opening the door.

  “He will learn that I am right. And no matter how you act, just like John, he will pick me,” Katherine taunted.

  “No one is gladder than I that John found you Katherine. You gave him years of happiness and you have a son as a result of your union. I am not attempting to make your son choose between us. I am here to protect Alex and ensure that no harm comes to him. You wanted me for this assignment and I will fulfil my requirements completely. I do not want to be a source of discontent for you and I regret our interaction yesterday. I will be here for sometime and I hope that we can come to an understanding,” I said calmly, refusing to react as Katherine hoped.

  “I will never understand you,” Katherine said angrily.

  “That is enough Katherine!” Lucas said, stepping out from his library. “You are acting like a petulant child. Grace has apologised for her actions yesterday despite them being brought about because of your actions. I will not have this unrest continue. Grace is fulfilling her requirements as I have asked her. If you have issue with her tactics then you can address them with Marius or me.” Katherine looked as if she had been slapped and stared vengefully at her father before disappearing into her parlour. Lucas nodded at me as he returned into his library.

  Alex arrived in the hall later and as he made his descent I watched him. He was wearing white sneakers and denims on the bottom and I shook my head as I saw his shirt. It was a white t-shirt with the Batman symbol emblazoned across his chest. I cocked one eyebrow and looked at him. The smirk spread across his face as he came towards me.

  “What?” he asked innocently.

  “Batman?” I replied pointing to his shirt.

  “I am not entirely convinced that you were telling the truth about the transformation thing. I’m still holding out on being able to shape-shift,” he replied shrugging his shoulders. I laughed as he took my hand.

  Once we were outside I scanned the area for any other vampires. I could sense George out in the gardens as always. Alistair was in the garage cleaning my car again and Emma and Louisa were hanging out sheets on the line. Michael, Martha, and Sienna were in the house with Lucas and Katherine. I could not detect any others in the area and from my visual inspection the alarms appeared intact. Duke came bounding towards us from the side of the manor and ran around us in circles, his tail wagging until we finally sat down on the lawn. I was thankful that I had brought my sunglasses as the brightness of the day was wearing. Alex moved so his head was resting in my lap and commenced reading. I looked down at him infatuated by the way he confidently touched me. I was amazed at how comfortable he felt in my presence. After a few moments I picked up my book and started reading Mansfield Park for the fourteenth time.

  The morning passed blissfully. Duke sat beside us occasionally whimpering for a pat but otherwise just happy to be in our company. Michael was soon making his way over to where we were sitting informing us that lunch was to be served. An invitation was extended to me to join Alex and Katherine for lunch. I respectfully declined informing Alex that I would meet him in the conservatorium after lunch.

  Returning to my room, I intended to take a nap whilst Alex ate. Midday was the least effective time to exact a kidnap attempt and I was certain that I would hear the alarms before anyone entered the Estate. There was a knock on my door. After a wistful look at my bed I granted entry to Lucas and took a seat on the lounge.

  “I have spoken with the school’s headmaster and he has informed me in no uncertain terms that he is willing to oblige any request we have in an effort to avoid a law suit. It appears that the boys involved in the incident have provided full confessions that are congruent with your explanation of the night’s events,” Lucas smiled at me as he recounted.

  “I am not surprised. It is not exactly great for the ego to be beaten up by a girl,” I replied.

  “No. I would assume that would knock one’s self esteem. In any event, your class schedules have been altered and Alex will now attend every class that you attend. Also the boys will also not be permitted to attend your classes to avoid any further incidents,” Lucas informed me.

  “And will Alistair be permitted to attend Creswick as security?” I asked.

  “Alistair will be provided with security tags tomorrow when he arrives at Creswick and will be permitted to remain at the school for as long as you feel necessary,” Lucas answered.

  “Thank you for arranging those changes Lucas. Provided the sweep goes well this evening there should be no hindrance to our returning to school tomorrow,” I stated.

  “That would alleviate Katherine’s concerns about Alex missing vital education and provide you with a well needed break I would assume.” Lucas stated as he made his way to my door.

  “I will brief you when I return from our security check tonight,” I promised Lucas as he exited the room.

  Kicking my shoes away as I made my way to my bed, I allowed myself to sink into its gold covers. Closing my eyes I felt my body slipping quickly into sleep and allowed it to come. The dreamless siesta refreshed my body and mind. Even after waking, I lay with my eyes closed listening to the sounds of the Manor. I could hear the staff carrying out their tasks. Lucas was in his study consulting with a Council member from Burma about the next meeting and Katherine was listening to music in her parlour no doubt completing a needle point. I could sense Alex sitting on the edge of the bed watching me. His closeness brought back memories of this morning and I could feel my body flushing at the memory.

  “Someone once told me it was creepy to watch people while they slept,” I said rolling over to face him.

  “Is that so? Well I did go to the conservatorium but someone stood me up so I took creepy over rejected,” Alex quipped as he lay down next to me. “I didn’t realise that napping was in the protector job description.”

  “Argh! You’re hilarious, truly. I suppose I wouldn’t need to nap if people didn’t keep me up all night wandering past my room to check that I was sleeping making it impossible to sleep,” I replied.

  “Well, I just wanted to make sure you were ok. I care about you Grace,” Alex said disarmingly.

  “I am tasked with the role of keeping you safe Alex, not the other way around. And on that note we need to go to the conservatorium to meet Alistair,” I instructed Alex as I was leaving the bed and heading towards the door.

  “Why? Are we going somewhere?” Alex asked as his eyes lit up.

  “Not exactly,” I replied. “Alistair does more than just drive Lucas places. He is assigned to his protection for all non-critical events and hopes to become a protector himself one day.”

  Alistair was waiting in the conservatorium for us when we arrived. He was dressed in black pants and a black t-shirt in preparation for tonight’s mission. His face was serious and I knew that he wanted to prove himself. We joined Alistair who was seated on an arm chair of an ornate metal lounge set. The environment, with its amazing array of orchids, lilies, roses and other exotic plants was in direct contrast to the discussion we were about to have.

  “I have spoken with Lucas. Creswick Academy has made arrangements for our return to school tomorrow. Obviously, there will be increased security measures including Alistair driving with us to school each day. He will remain on the premises for the duration of our classes. Our schedules have been altered so that we will attend the same classes and neither Tristan nor his associates will be present in them,” I stated. Alistair and Alex both nodded, Alex was looking slightly concerned at my formal tone.

  “Tonight we will attend Creswick so that we can work out the most efficient routes for our classes as well as escape routes should they become necessary. Alex, you attendance at Creswick is conditional upon you agreeing to follo
w my directions regardless of the danger they may appear to place me in. Do I have this agreement?” I asked this knowing that Alex would not leave me. But that this agreement was essential for Alistair to feel justified in carrying out any action necessary to ensure Alex’s safety.

  “I agree,” Alex replied solemnly.

  “Good. If the Acelades make an attack on the school Alistair, you are to take Alex to a designated safe house. If they come to the school it is likely that they will also have operatives at the Manor. They will assume that Alex is no longer attending Creswick after the Fire and Ice Ball incident. I am going to arrange a room at the Blackett Hotel which is owned by some friends of mine, Winter and Gabriel. They are not aligned with the Council but they will provide refuge for you if I request it,” I advised Alex and Alistair.

  “I believe I have heard of them. They hold some rather unsavoury events if I am not mistaken,” Alistair commented not wanting to challenge me directly.

  “I do not endorse the actions of Winter and Gabriel but they have an alliance with the protectors. They offer us information, weapons and refuge and in return we look the other way when they engage in certain practices. Being a protector means seeing all shades of grey Alistair. You need to be prepared for that,” I said.

  “Of course,” Alistair replied suitably admonished.

  “Consider this an opportunity for you to develop your negotiation and contact skills. If the Acelades do attack, then taking Alex to any Council approved safe house or Council member’s house places them at risk and makes the task far more difficult. The Acelades do not know of the Blackett Hotel and he will be safe there until I return,” I continued.

  “How am I going to be safer with Alistair then with you? I thought you were the best?” Alex asked clearly uncomfortable at the thought of our separation.

  “I am the best Alex and they will expect that I will remain with you at all costs. By ensuring that Alistair removes you from the situation, it will provide me the necessary freedom to eliminate the threat. Once that is completed I will return to you and find a more permanent residence for the duration of the assignment,” I informed him. Alistair looked at Alex kindly. He clearly thought that Alex was concerned about his personal safety and not about our separation. This was good. The less people that knew about us the better.

  “I can assure you that I will keep you safe until Grace returns. I have protected your grandfather on many occasions,” Alistair pledged.

  “Thank you Alistair,” I stated. “Now, as for tonight, we will leave after dinner. Alistair, I would like you to feed at the conclusion of our meeting. Once you return I will go and hunt whilst Alex dines with his mother. We all need to be at full strength and prepared for any situation,” I ordered.

  Moving away from the lounge setting I removed my phone from my back pocket and called Gabriel. He picked up after the third ring, sounding sleepy and disorientated.

  “Gabriel, its Grace,” I greeted him.

  “Dear lord Grace, what the hell time do you call this? You know I don’t rise til sundown and Winter does become a cranky bastard if he is woken and it’s still daylight,” he replied.

  “I could not care less what kind of mood Winter is in Gabriel. I am calling because I need to secure a room at the Blackett Hotel. It needs to be top floor with rooms vacant either side. No one can know that I intend to stay at the hotel and it needs to be fully armed when I arrive,” I informed him, not attempting to make it sound like a request.

  “Anything else? How about complementary access to the mini bar or an in house masseur? This is our peak season!” Gabriel grumbled but I could hear him logging into his computer and making our reservation.

  “How long would you like the room?” he asked.

  “Let’s make it a week to week arrangement starting now,” I replied.

  “All set. I won’t bother asking why you need the room, I’m sure you’ll just spin the black op spiel. But just remember this favour the next time the Council decides to have a crackdown on personal freedoms.” Gabriel reminded me of our treaty.

  “Your lifestyle is safe Gabriel. Please inform Winter that your hospitality is priceless.” I ended the call. Alistair left the conservatorium to inform Michael and George of our plans for the evening before going to feed.

  I looked at Alex who was intensely studying an ornamental lily in a pot beside the lounge. His face was consumed with processing all of the information he was receiving. Taking a seat next to him I took his hands in mine, forcing him to look at me. Our hands were generating heat as our fingers intertwined. I could hear his heart beating and his blood pulsing through his veins.

  “Alex. Are you ok with all of this?” I asked. “I know it must seem overwhelming but I guarantee you that I will do everything in my power to keep you safe,” I promised.

  “It’s not my safety I am worried about. I don’t want to be separated from you Grace, not even if it is so that you can fight the Acelades. I don’t know what it is but when we are apart everything feels wrong. It must sound crazy to you like I’m a love sick puppy or something but it feels like my heart would literally rip in two if I had to leave you. I have never felt this way before and it scares me,” Alex admitted.

  “You’re a child of vampires Alex. Our connections form quickly and deeply. I am not surprised that you are feeling this way. I am fairly certain that I am the first vampire you have ever been attracted to and your body would be responding the way it was programmed to respond. Believe me, after a while it will settle and this anxiety will be a distant memory.” I lied heartened by the fact that even Alex was feeling the emotions associated with separation from his other half despite having no knowledge of its existence.

  “So this is normal?” he asked.

  “Of course it is. Just like our senses are increased so are our emotions. Your reaction to me is a result of that. I should have realised this would happen and reduced our physical contact so the impact would be lessened,” I mused falsely.

  “Well let’s not go crazy. I mean now that I know that this is normal I can’t see what benefit reducing physical contact would have,” he smiled cheekily, obviously relieved by my lie.

  “Hmmm, why am I not surprised that you feel that way?” I flirted running my hand along his face. Alex closed his eyes and breathed deeply as I touched his skin. The urges in my body told me to keep going but the protector in me knew that there was work to be done. I also knew that despite my recent behaviour I would not allow my decency to be called into question. In the end I was a lady and my upbringing did not lend itself to indulging in wanton urges.

  “Come now Alex. We have much to do before we leave tonight. Firstly you need to call Daniel and inform him that we will be returning to school tomorrow. I have already sent a text to Lauren and informed her of the news but I am sure Daniel has questions. You must make our new arrangements appear legitimate and necessary. I would appreciate it if you would keep conversation about our personal interactions limited. However, I realise that it is your prerogative,” I spoke to Alex as I left the lounge and made my way to the door. Alex followed smiling as I began to speak about us.

  “You think a lot of yourself just assuming that Daniel and I would talk about you,” he joked closing the space between us. Our bodies brushed against each other as we walked sending a tingling sensation through my body and unsettling my calm.

  “Am I to believe that you had no intention of discussing us? Have you met Lauren? Do you honestly think that she has not tasked Daniel with the job of sourcing every piece of information possible from you?” I asked with a certain level of incredulity.

  “True. I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Alex agreed with me as he made his way towards the stairs. “What are you going to do?” he asked.

  “I need to speak with Marius, my boss for want of a better word and then I will ready myself for the mission tonight. I suggest that you wear dark comfortable clothing.” I left Alex at his doorway.

So I will see you after dinner then?” he questioned.

  “Yes. In the mean time do not leave the Manor,” I replied and made my way to my room. Opening my laptop I sent a status report to Marius about our plans for the evening and the arrangements made at the Blackett Hotel. Marius would see to it that Gabriel and Winter were well compensated for our possible stay.

  I then set about readying myself for the mission tonight, feeling infinitely more comfortable as I changed into my usual protector attire of basic black. I tied my hair back into a ponytail and removed all my jewellery except the cross from my parents. It had accompanied me on every mission. My utility belt was laden with my knife, a gun and a lock picking set. Sensing Alistair’s return to the main house after feeding with Emma, I made my way down the stairs. I advised Michael that I would return within the hour and set out across the lawn.

  It was twilight and I could hear the forest was alive. I stalked through the trees silently as I tracked a herd of deer. As they came to rest in a small patch of grass near the river, I scaled a tree and slowly crouched onto the branch above them. I landed softly and struck two bucks, quickly stunning them. I fed from both allowing the power of their blood to renew my muscles and sharpen my senses. The warmth spread through me and released energy through my body. Feeding made me feel in control. It was a task I completed without error, something that had not happened since I had met Alex. This confidence was essential for the mission ahead. I needed to keep Alex alive and safe for the next three months and so far there had been two attempts by the Acelades in a week. This was going to be a long mission and they were only likely to increase their attempts as Alex’s eighteenth birthday drew near.

  I leaned against a tree for a few moments taking in the enormity of my situation. Not only was I tasked with protecting the heir to the Sempre family who had none of the strengths of being a vampire, but I was also trying to protect him from the only vampire who had ever escaped me, Lillian Acelades. Complicating my mission was the fact that my target was my other half. So I was violating a number of laws by having a relationship with him. As well as that I was trying to stop the prophecy from being fulfilled. The weight of the assignment overwhelmed me as no other task had in nearly 200 years. I wished for William or John to give me counsel but both were long gone from this world and I was all alone. Marius could never know about my relationship with Alex. At any sign of weakness he would relinquish my duty to ensure my longevity as a protector. There was no way I would trust Alex to any other protector or risk the disappointment from Lucas.

  Steeling myself, I tidied my appearance and began my return to the house. As I reached the edge of the forest I sensed a presence nearby. Another vampire was also in the forest. Torn between returning immediately to the manor and eliminating the rouge vampire, I decided to prevent the vampire from getting any closer to the manor. Walking stealthily through forest I saw the vampire up ahead. She was young looking, probably no more that 20 years old when she was turned. Her golden hair reflected the last rays of the sun giving her position away far too easily. She was dressed in denims and a navy jumper that hugged her figure. Carefully and silently I came up behind her. My knife was at her throat before she realised my presence. She gasped and attempted to turn out of my strong hold. I held my knife in one hand, securing both her arms to her side with the other.

  “Why are you here?” I demanded.

  “Who are you?” she asked the fear evident in her voice.

  “Answer my question and you may keep your head,” I replied.

  “I…I was told to come here and wait for someone to meet me. Is this part of the test?” She asked, her voice trembling.

  “What test?” I asked

  “To become one of you… an Acelades,” she replied hopefully.

  “You are on Sempre ground and will find no Acelades protection here. Who told you to come here?” I sought information, my mind processing a thousand possible scenarios none of them good.

  “They told me that I was to come here and wait. Someone would come to me and I would see why the Acelades are all powerful. If I proved myself, I would be under their protection.” She recalled this obviously still believing that this was part of her test.

  “What did they say you would see?” I growled.

  “I don’t know. They just said to look at the house,” she whined.

  That was all the information I needed. She was clearly a decoy for whoever was running boundary security and the real threat was at the Manor. If I had been with Alex undoubtedly I would have left to investigate an alarm breach leaving him open for attack. My knife cut cleanly through her neck before she realised my intent. Not bothering to start the burn, I flew towards the Manor.I resisted the urge to inform Alistair and Lucas of the threat knowing that any other vampire in the manor would hear me and give away my advantage. As I reached the kitchen I saw George sitting in the garden smoking his pipe. I was at his side before he realised I had approached.

  “George, the Acelades have begun another attack. I need you to inform Alistair and Michael. They need to get Lucas and Katherine out of here. Once they are gone, tell them to call Marius. He will know what to do,” I said this to George almost silently. George nodded and made his way towards the kitchen. Of all of Lucas’s staff, I knew I could count on George to follow my directions. He would protect Lucas and Katherine with his life. I hoped that it did not come to that tonight.

  Looking through the windows as I made my way around to the back of the Manor, I could not see any Acelades. I observed Michael in Katherine’s parlour obviously preparing her for immediate departure. As I passed the library Alistair was with Lucas. I did not have time to stop as I continued to where Alex’s bedroom was located. I scaled the ivy covered lattice work until I reached Alex’s balcony. Landing silently I kept in the shadow unobservable to the room. I could hear Alex talking to an unknown male in the room about the Fire and Ice Ball. His voice was even and calm. He did not appear afraid or even distressed at the presence of this man in his room. A feeling of cold nausea settled in my stomach. Why would Alex be talking to this vampire so openly knowing the danger he was in? And how did this vampire get into the Manor?

  Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I felt my body changing. The protector was taking over and I was ready for battle. I climbed through the open window immediately surveying the room. I found Alex immediately. He was sitting on the arm chair facing me indirectly. He did not notice me as I entered the room and was focused on the man who was seated in the opposite chair. I could not see his face but I knew he was a vampire. He had dark hair that was slicked back gathering at the nape of his neck. He had broad shoulders that were accentuated by his fawn coloured sports coat. I could see the collar of his white shirt above the jacket. He sat cross legged on the chair and I observed his cream slacks and brown leather shoes.

  Stepping forward hesitantly I opened my senses to gather as much information as possible. I could sense at least two other vampires in the Manor, one outside Alex’s door should he try to run, another located somewhere outside probably in a vehicle ready to make an escape. I heard Lucas’s Bentley come to life and flee the Manor with great haste. My stomach loosened slightly knowing that Lucas and Katherine were safe and I had only Alex to focus on. I decided that announcing my presence was the unexpected approach and therefore might be my best option. Clearing my throat I caught Alex’s attention and his face immediately broke into a smile.

  “Forgive my intrusion Alex. I did not realise you had company,” I said calmly continuing towards the chair of the unknown man.

  “Grace, I’m glad you’re here even if your entrance was a little unorthodox,” he replied nodding towards the window. “It’s weird you both came in that way.” He continued shaking his head.

  “Both of us?” I replied disconcerted that the vampire had refused to turn and face me. He appeared quite content to remain seated and continue his conversation with Alex.

  “My Dad,” Alex replied gesturing
towards the man in the opposite chair. Finally, the man stood up and turned to face me. A jolt of fear ripped through me as I saw those eyes, emerald green surrounded by red. I was face to face with the man who took William from me.

  “Grace, it’s nice to finally meet you. Alex has told me so much about you,” Stephan smirked, his eyes full of hatred and menace.

  “Stephan I presume.” I attempted to keep my tone civil as I walked towards him trying to scramble a plan for our escape. “It’s nice to finally be able to put a name to the face,” I said stonily refusing to break his stare. There was no use in pretending I did not know who he was and why he was here.

  “Alex was just telling me about the exciting week he has had,” Stephan informed me. I wondered how long he would keep up this charade. I knew it was only to keep Alex calm but eventually he would realise what was happening and then all hell would break loose. I only hoped Alex would have enough sense to listen to me but I doubted it. I looked at Alex who was smiling sheepishly after being caught talking about me.

  “Alex, I need you to listen to me. I want you to come here,” I said calmly not taking my eyes from Stephan.

  “Grace?” Alex asked confused.

  “I need you to trust me. Please just come over to me,” I restated gesturing for him to come to me. Alex started walking towards me when Stephan put out his arm.

  “Not so fast son,” Stephan ordered.

  “How dare you call him son,” I spat. I knew that right now this was not important but John was my mentor and I couldn’t stand to hear Stephan acting as if Alex was his. “Alex, get here now!” I growled.

  Alex looked scared. He was looking from me to Stephan obviously torn. He swallowed hard and started towards me again.

  “What good will it do Grace? I am sure you know by now that we are not alone and there is no way that you will leave here with Alex,” Stephan stated simply knowing he was right.

  Alex made his way to my side and I forced him behind me giving him what little protection I could. Fear emanated from him in waves his feet shifting as he placed a hand on my back.

  “Grace, what’s going on?” Alex whispered.

  “Shhh Alex, let me think,” I whispered back. My eyes stayed focused on Stephan who was walking towards the door.

  “I think you can come in now. She knows you’re here and we need to be on our way shortly. Scarlet is waiting impatiently I’m sure.” Stephan invited the other vampire in. He was unknown to me but bore all the marks of an Acelades protector with the family crest on his chest and crossed swords on his left forearm. He snarled at me as he walked into the room and stood just behind Stephan. Listening intently to all of the sounds around me, I wrapped one arm around Alex’s waist and stepped back towards the window.

  The vampire stalked me, his black vacant eyes filled with hate. I took a step forward and prepared to fight. I had hoped to at least get Alex outside before the combat commenced but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. Sliding my gun out of my belt I handed it to Alex.

  “If anything comes near you shoot it!” I ordered. Slipping my knife out, I moved my weight to the balls of my feet shifting easily from side to side.

  “She’s all yours, Charles,” Stephen offered as he stepped back.

  Focusing on Charles, I moved towards him launching an offensive attack. Landing a right jab to his chin I followed through with a roundhouse kick to his chest sending him across the room and into Alex’s book shelf. He was back on his feet instantly and leaping towards me. He landed a blow to my stomach and reached up to grab my hair. I caught his arm twisting it and throwing him into Stephan. He was unprepared for Charles and both fell backwards. Using this to my advantage I grabbed Alex and forced him through the window. Throwing him over my shoulder I leapt from the balcony and landed awkwardly on the ground, my feet buckling underneath me as I fell. My hands cushioned the impact of Alex’s head as it landed on the ground. He looked at me, shock filling his eyes. I looked up and saw George coming towards us.

  “George, you need to get him out of here. Call Alistair. He will tell you where to take him. I will finish these two off and meet you there. Take my car and don’t stop for anything!” I shouted this as George came running towards us. Lifting Alex up as I stood, we moved towards George.

  “Grace I’m not going without you,” he said pulling away from me.

  “Alex. You need to go now. This isn’t pretend! I can’t take them all and keep you safe!” I pleaded.

  “Come on lad. Don’t argue with her. She knows what she is doing and this is the only way you will keep alive,” George said gruffly taking Alex’s arm.

  Behind us I heard Stephan and Charles land on the ground. I turned around and saw the third vampire, who had been waiting outside, had joined them. They started towards us immediately making a v formation, preparing for an attack. I pushed Alex towards the garage and ran at the three men as they advanced. I landed a blow to Stephan before kicking the new vampire solidly in the chest and turning to punch Charles. Moving so quickly my body was blurred. I dodged blows as I attempted to land as many as possible. Stephan made contact with his fist to my face and sent me stumbling back. As I fell I grabbed Charles sweeping his legs out from under him. Once on the ground I placed my hands on his head and tore it from his neck. I turned and threw the head at Stephan. The vampire grabbed my arm and pinned it behind my back. I turned to face him and Stephan grabbed my other arm. Kicking furiously at both of them I attempted to gain leverage to free myself. Alex and George hadn’t left yet and I needed to stall long enough to give them a chance to get away. Stephan pulled something from his jacket and turned to me. I managed to land a solid kick into his chest sending him reeling back. He ripped my arm as he stumbled and I bit down on a scream. The other vampire moved in behind me and grabbed my arm leaving Stephan free.

  “Move her to face the garage,” Stephan growled.

  I struggled against him as I saw the stake in Stephan’s hand.

  “Seriously?” I quipped and I landed a foot into the shin of my assailant.

  “It’ll do the job,” Stephan spat as he lunged towards me. The stake plunged into my chest and I felt it crack my ribs as the blood poured out of my wound. The minute it entered, I felt the poison it was drenched in. My body immediately felt weakened and my vision blurred. I could feel myself swaying as my knees began to buckle. The vampire let go of my arms and I began to flail frantically attempting to make contact with either of them. Then I heard Alex scream as the car door opened and his feet crunched into the gravel.

  “Grace! Oh my god Grace!” he screamed. I saw him running towards me and tried to yell but my body was not working. I could feel myself losing consciousness. The last thing I saw was Alex receiving a hard blow to the face from the vampire whilst Stephan threw George across the lawn. Then there was nothing.

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