Fallen grace, p.17
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       Fallen Grace, p.17

           Jessica Cartwright
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  Alex. Where is Alex? It’s the first thought that came into my mind. I had no idea how long I’d been unconscious for or worse what had happened to Alex. I opened my eyes to gain my bearings. My vampire sight allowed me to see through the pitch black. I could see the stone walls around me covered with years of moss and water stains. I looked up but I could not see the sky. I couldn’t see a door and the walls must have been at least 25 meters high. I had no idea how we had gotten in here or more importantly how we would get out.

  Finally, in the corner of the room, I saw Alex. He was laying on the floor with his back to me. My heart caught in my throat, he wasn’t moving. After a few seconds of sheer panic I saw his chest rise and fall. Alex was alive. Relief flooded over me like a warm wave.

  “Alex” I whispered. “Alex can you hear me?” I rushed over to where Alex’s body lay. He must have been freezing in this place. He was only wearing jeans and his Batman shirt. The sight of this made me smile. I flashed back to earlier that day when he had arrived in that shirt, laughing at the irony of him being the bat. He was so sure I would turn into a bat and fly away at the end of the night no matter how many times I told him not all the myths about vampires were true. I crouched down beside Alex touching his shoulder with my hand.

  “Alex come on you have to wake up. We need to get out of here.” Alex lifted his head slightly and met my gaze.

  “Grace? Is that really you?”

  “Of course it is.” I replied confused by his question.

  Alex looked unsure and repeated “Is it really you? They said you were dead. I saw them stab you.”

  I looked at Alex; he looked so scared I felt so much empathy for him. He knew so little about his own kind.

  “Alex, you know that not all of those myths are true. I can’t be killed by someone stabbing me, especially not when they stab me on the opposite side to my heart. I’ve told you before the Acelades protectors are not as smart as ours.”

  Alex’s arms caught me off guard. He threw them around me, holding me in a tight hug, allowing me to feel his relief.

  “Alex, Alex” I cried, attempting to break him out of the relieved state he was now in after realising I was alive.

  “What?” he asked holding my back in his arms looking at my face intently.

  “A stab to the chest might not kill me but it still hurts like hell so take it easy,” I replied extracting myself from his arms. I needed to keep my distance from him. The way he made me feel was not useful here. I needed to be a killer, a protector. In short I needed to do my job and keep him alive. I couldn’t believe I had allowed myself to become so distracted that I had risked everything and almost lost it all.

  “Do you remember how you got here?” I asked him hoping for some insight into how I was going to get us out of here.

  “No” he replied “it was pitch black and I was pretty groggy. How did you get here?”

  “I have no idea but I will find a way to get us out of here and get you back to the manor. Don’t worry Alex, I’ll figure it out.” I stood up and moved away from Alex. I needed him to believe that we would get out of this even if I was not sure myself. I had been in worse positions before, but at least then I knew what I was up against, right now I had no idea where we were or who was with us but I could make a guess and if I was right it was bad. Very bad. I began searching the walls looking for a clue as to how we had ended up in this chamber. I felt a presence behind me and I turned finding myself face to face with Alex, our bodies touching. I could feel his emotions pulse through me as if they were my own. Fear, anxiety, excitement, lust and love all of them flooding me.

  “Alex, you need to sit down, I’ll get us out of here but having you constantly in my face is not helping,” I stated coolly trying to keep my thoughts straight. I needed Alex to stay away from me so I could concentrate on the job at hand. It was hard enough keeping my own emotions in check without having to deal with his as well. Alex needed to return to the manor, to Lucas and Katherine. Then a new protector could be assigned for the rest of the detail. To do that, we needed to leave this place as soon as possible. Alex looked at me rejected.

  “I just thought…” thankfully his voice trailed off and I didn’t have to answer his question. I looked at Alex and sighed. He needed an explanation and I knew he would not understand or accept the truth and I didn’t have time to make him especially when I was having a hard time accepting it myself. I had always followed the rules, well mostly but now they seemed archaic and contrived.

  “I’m very good at what I do Alex, I make myself fit into any situation so that I can protect those who need it. I’ve done this for a long time. Just let me get us out of here and get you back to the manor, back to your life.” I replied flatly.

  Alex looked as though he was going to say something but it caught in his throat. He walked away from me and sat with his back against the wall, his eyes never leaving me. I could see the hurt I had caused. Alex was trying to be strong but I could see him crumbling. He had given up everything he knew for me, trusted me completely and here I was rejecting him. He didn’t understand how I could do this but there was no anger just pain. I had to remain cool, callous, uncaring, that was the only way to save him, maybe one day he would understand. I took a deep breath and tried to concentrate.

  I returned to looking for a way out. I could hear Alex breathing deeply behind me trying to calm his emotions. I didn’t trust myself to look at him. I was still searching for an escape when a door opened to my left. It had been invisible, made from the same stone as the walls. Light poured into the chamber and across Alex. I could see a figure in the doorway. The face remained in shadows from the light behind her but I would know that form anywhere. I ran to Alex using my body as a shield to protect him from sight.

  “Hello Grace” Lillian purred in her husky voice “It’s been too long and when I heard we were inviting Alex as our guest I just insisted that you join us”.

  I growled in response. I could feel the killer in me taking over as it always did. I would kill Lillian tonight of that I was sure. I readied my body to attack, focusing on Lillian whilst trying to see past her into the corridor. I wanted to see any clue that might tell me where we were being held so that I could arrange an escape plan. The bright lights illuminated a long passage way that was cream in colour and decorated with benign photographs of landscapes and hall tables with vases of flowers. I thought it an odd choice for an entrance to a prison cell but then the Acelades were unconventional. Lillian smiled at me as she took a step forward revealing two other henchmen who entered flanking her either side.

  “You can stare all you like Grace. You won’t be able to escape from here especially not with your very fragile little friend,” she smirked. I kept my eyes focused on the three vampires as they made their way towards me. I knew that we would have to let them take us. There would be more opportunity for escape once we were outside this room and given the Acelades flair for the dramatic, I also knew that they would not rush to kill Alex or myself.

  “I wouldn’t be so sure Lillian. Remember what happened last time you professed your certainty,” I replied. Lillian’s face tightened ever so slightly and I knew she was thinking of William.

  “You bring the bitch! I’ll take care of the prince,” Lillian spat towards her henchmen. They came towards me menacingly and I prepared myself for a fight. I could hear Alex’s shallow breathing behind me and his heart thumping. As the first vampire reached me, I hit him square in the chest with my palm, forcing him backwards. The second approached and I struck him in the neck with my fist. I was going to let them take us but I couldn’t resist the temptation of at least landing a few punches. A roundhouse kick to Lillian’s stomach forced her back and I leaned into Alex, my lips brushing his ear.

  “Just follow my lead,” I informed him.

  I allowed the first vampire to grab my arm, twisting it hard behind my back. The second stepped forward and kicked my knees hard buckling my legs
and forcing me to the ground. He held my ankles together and the two of them lifted me up. Alex whimpered and I shot him a look. Recovering quickly he swallowed as Lillian linked her arm loosely in his.

  “Come along dear. My daughter is very eager to meet you,” Lillian greeted him in a saccharine tone.

  My senses were hyper-alert as we were lead down the hall and into a large ball room. I could smell the fear emanating from Alex. It mixed with the overwhelming floral perfume of Lillian. The vampires constraining me placed hard pressure on my wrists and ankles sending pain through my extremities. I could hear them chuckling to each other as they observed their prize. My chest was tingling from its recent healing however the blood was still evident on my shirt. Its smell was sickly and reminded me of my loss of strength.

  If the circumstances had been different, the room we entered could have been considered beautiful with cream marble floors and gold inlay. The walls were covered with tapestries depicting forest scenes. At the end of the room I could see Benedict sitting stately on his chair next to a girl I assumed to be Scarlet. She was almost translucently pale with black eyes and raven hair that fell straight down her back. Stephan was standing behind her leering at me. His gaze moved to Alex and his teeth flashed. I felt my stomach clench as I counted seven Acelades protectors in addition to the two that were already holding me.

  When we reached the centre of the room the two protectors dropped me unceremoniously on the floor. I fell hard and attempted to stand, gaining a swift kick in my back for my troubles. I threw a dark look at its provider and was annoyed to see the grin he flashed at me. Alex was standing to my left looking at me terrified. He tried to move towards me but was stopped by Lillian. Meeting his gaze I was flooded with fear at the prospect of him being hurt. Turning away I focused on Benedict and Scarlet. I felt myself steeling for combat.

  “Well, Grace. I am sure this is not how you thought we would meet again,” Benedict smirked as he stood up from his chair and made his way towards me. Two protectors followed behind him.

  “The way we meet is irrelevant Benedict. The result will be the same,” I spat holding his gaze. I could hear movement behind me however Benedict raised his hand to stop them.

  “It was always the fire I liked in you Grace. Even as a human you had spark. It’s a shame you never wanted to join us. Your talents would have been appreciated.” He sighed gesturing to those around him.

  I refused to answer knowing that he was only trying to disengage my focus and make me act rashly. Swallowing hard I looked past him towards Scarlet who was staring intently at Alex. Her eyes were hungry as she appraised him. Willing my body not to react, I moved my gaze past her to the windows behind. They were partially covered by curtains but I could make out a skyline of a city with mountains in the distance. Focusing intently I could make out signs for hotels and fast food restaurants informing me that we were still in America. The exact location was undeterminable but our mere presence here gave me some hope. I knew that there were five protectors currently on rest in America at the moment. No doubt they were all on stand by for action by now.

  Scarlet’s eyes moved from Alex to me as she sighed brushing her hair away from her shoulder and playing with the strap of her floor length purple satin gown.

  “Grandfather, I tire of your banter with the girl. I have waited long enough for my other half to be brought to me. I wish to have some time alone with him,” She sulked looking from Benedict to Alex.

  “Of course my dear,” Benedict replied. “I am sure you have much to talk about,” he continued sneering at me.

  Lillian moved Alex towards Scarlet. His feet shuffled across the floor as he looked towards me desperately. His face was drained of colour as he looked at all of the protectors lined up behind Scarlet and at the intensity of her gaze as she watched his approach. I tried desperately to communicate with Alex telepathically to go with Scarlet and act as normally as possible. But as loud as I screamed the words in my head I knew he could not hear them. Scarlet eventually stood and swished towards Alex.

  “It’s a pleasure to meet you Alex,” she purred. “I have waited so long for you to accept our invitation.”

  “I… ah… forgot to read the RSVP date,” Alex replied, attempting to lighten the mood. I could tell that the Acelades did not understand his response but I found a small smile creeping onto my face. Undeterred Scarlet wrapped her arm around Alex pulling him in close to her body. I could feel the jealousy snaking its way through my body as she touched him. I could see the revulsion in Alex’s eyes and forced myself to control my reactions. If the Acelades found out that Alex was my other half, they would go to any extreme to use him to punish me. I needed them to take their time and allow Scarlet to try and woo him. It was my only hope to save us both.

  “How about we go to my parlour so we can get to know each other a little better?” she asked, looking up at Alex through her thick lashes.

  “Um, Ok I guess,” Alex replied, looking very uncertain despite Scarlet’s best attempts to appear desirable. I knew that Alex’s feelings for me would hold him until I could return. However if he allowed Scarlet to flatter him into consummation, there would be no hope. No hope for our survival or for us.

  Lillian smiled at her daughter as she made her way towards Stephan. “You two have fun,” she said as Stephan wrapped his arm around her waist. “And if you hear any screaming don’t be alarmed. We are just going to have some fun with Grace while you’re gone.” Scarlet nodded as she led Alex towards a door to the right of the room. Alex stumbled over his feet as he trailed behind her followed, by a protector who towered over him. Alex looked back at me pleadingly as he turned out of the room. I refused to meet his gaze knowing that this was not the way I wanted him to remember me.

  The door snapped shut and all eyes were on me. I could feel the hatred coming off the members in the room in white hot waves. I knew that whatever they had planned for me was not good. William had told me about his time in the Acelades home and I felt sick with the knowledge of their capabilities for inflicting pain.

  “Well, now that it is all taken care of we can have some fun,” Benedict addressed the room. “Since we have some spare time whilst Scarlet and Alex ah let’s call it ‘fulfil the prophecy’, we might as well make use of Grace.” Benedict walked towards his chair sweeping around as he sat. Lillian and Stephan took up seats next to him, all three attempting to bore holes through me with their stares. Risking another kick I stood up quickly and stepped away from the vampires behind me.

  “Are you honestly that naïve to think that I will allow this prophecy to be fulfilled Benedict? Or has your arrogance finally penetrated the last rational part of your mind?” I spoke, unwilling to hold my tongue any longer. Now that I knew Alex was out of the room I had every intention of killing everyone in it.

  The vampire closest to me lunged forward in retaliation to my comments. However, his reaction time was sloppy. As he swung out his arm I ducked, sweeping out his feet and grabbing his head as he fell. I twisted his head and ripped it from his neck. Before his body had touched the ground I threw his head to the side and advanced on my other guard. As the look of shock dawned on his face, I was already landing a kick into his abdomen as pay back for mine. He stumbled back as I punched his jaw upwards, leaping onto his back and removing his head from his shoulders. Landing softly I saw the look of horror on Lillian’s face. However Benedict was motioning for his men to resist the urge to join in the fray. Stephan was clapping condescendingly in my direction.

  “And exactly what did you hope that would prove?” Stephan spat.

  “I need to prove nothing to you Stephan. I was merely returning the favour for their earlier actions,” I replied shrugging as I stepped over the body to square myself towards Benedict.

  “My, my Grace. I see your skills have gotten better since the last time I saw you,” Benedict commented. “Still, always such a pity to see a girl fighting, hardly lady like but then again we can’t all be like
my Lillian can we?”

  “No, I guess there is only room for one whore in every city but I am more than happy for her to come on down here and test out her lady like etiquette,” I replied hoping to incite Benedict to send some of his bodyguards to me.

  “There is no way I would allow my other half near you. We are not all as reckless with our loved ones Grace,” Stephan interrupted. I could see Lillian stiffen and Benedict glance in his direction as a smile spread across my face.

  “How sweet, you really think you are her other half?” I asked Stephan, knowing that he had given away the game and was about to learn about the true ruthlessness of the Acelades.

  “Of course I am. Why else would I have conducted this mission? It has taken nearly 18 years but I have fulfilled the wish of my beloved,” he replied looking at Lillian, clearly wondering where my confidence was originating.

  “Poor misguided Stephan. You are not Lillian’s other half. Her other half was found long before you were even born, human or vampire,” I informed him.

  “That is enough,” Lillian interrupted. “Finish her off!” She instructed the Acelades protectors who were still standing to attention behind her.

  Four of the protectors descended in my direction whilst two remained flanking Benedict who looked thunderously towards his daughter. I smirked as the protectors attempted their best to look menacing as they approached. They formed a line and appeared to be trying to launch a frontal assault. I stepped backwards increasing the distance between us as I did. I noticed a glint of light reflect from the body on the floor. Upon closer inspection I noticed my knife slipped into the belt of the dead vampire on the floor. Clearly he had taken it from me whilst I was unconscious and intended on keeping it for himself. I knelt down as though I was preparing to launch myself forward and quickly retrieved my knife. As soon as my hand grasped around its ebony handle, I felt infinitely more confident.

  The vampire to my left came forward first. Ignoring his advance, I leapt to my right hoping to catch his counterpart off guard. I felt my knife plunge into his abdomen as I thrust him backwards. Stretching my body horizontally I landed a round house kick into the face of the protector on his left. He fell to the ground and I used this brief distraction to land a few blows to the face of the third and fourth protectors that were advancing. The vampire I had stabbed recovered first and lunged towards me. He made contact with my shoulder as I attempted to dodge his fist. Undeterred he continued towards me, forcing me to take a step backwards, aligning me with another protector. The two commenced fighting in formation landing counter blows as I fought to block and gain ground. I ducked a jab to my head and swung my leg out, collecting the feet of the vampire to my right. Grabbing his ankles as he fell I slid him towards me. I twisted his head hard to the left, feeling his neck snap and then back to the right, removing it from his neck. This focus allowed the vampire behind me to grab my arm twisting it hard behind my back and directing my body to face the other two vampires who were surrounding me. One of the vampires landed a solid fist into my abdomen, whilst the other’s hand made a connection with the side of my face. I could see Benedict, Lillian and Stephan observing this fight from their chairs as though it was some sick form of entertainment. I knew their hatred of me must be making the assault on me enjoyable to watch.

  As the vampires encroached again I leaned back kicking both of my legs up and making contact with their heads. Using this momentum, I landed and hurled my body forward throwing the third vampire free from my arm and into the bodies of the other two. Their momentary lapse in concentration was all I needed to insert my knife into the spinal column of one of them slicing his head clean from his neck. I advanced on the second; however he raised his arm to block my knife attack. Pulling down hard I moved his arm which was still lodged on my knife. I swung it behind his back, forcing him to act as shield against the other vampire. This brief reprieve allowed me to observe one of the Acelades protectors moving forward to protect Benedict from any attacks. The other vampire was encouraging Benedict to consider leaving for his safety. Benedict disregarded their concerns as I hoped he would and remained seated, watching the combat.

  The vampire struggled free from my knife and turned to face me. The second vampire attempted to move behind me. Knowing it would not be long before Benedict, Lillian or Stephan decided to leave, I acted quickly. I leapt towards the vampire, landing silently behind him, grabbing his chin and scalp until they were horizontal in my hands. The last of my combatants stared at me. The confidence was no longer present in his eyes. He stepped towards me hesitantly as I moved to reposition myself. I was feeling uncomfortable with my back towards the Acelades. Making a half hearted attempt to lunge towards him I invited his attack. As he swung out, I grabbed his arm and used it as leverage to spin his body away. I grasped his pony tail and his head remained behind whilst his body dropped to the floor. Straightening myself up I walked towards my adversaries, stepping across the bodies that now littered the floor.

  “I see your protectors haven’t gotten any better,” I judged as my eyes flicked towards Benedict’s bodyguards who were now standing so close to Benedict they were touching.

  “Now, where were we? That’s right. I was informing Stephan of your deception Lillian.” I answered my own question while still advancing. “Stephan, I find it hard to believe that you really thought Lillian was your other half. I mean you must obviously know about William, the man you were sent to retrieve for her from Russia that night.” I asked this while looking directly at Stephan.

  “What about him?” Stephan growled in reply, shrugging away Lillian’s arm. She attempted to placate him with pleas to ignore me.

  “William was Lillian’s other half!” I announced. “That is why she turned him into a vampire and why she was so desperate to have him returned to her. He refused to respond to her affections because of what she had made him and what her family stood for and so she had him killed.”

  I could tell that Stephan was attempting to process this information. He had honestly thought that Lillian was his other half and had obviously been given very different reasons for William’s capture and torture.

  “Enough with the lies! I think I would know if Lillian was not my other half. I know about pretending Grace. I have lived a lie with Katherine for the past 18 years, only getting to be my true self on ‘business trips’ when I returned to see Lillian and our daughter Scarlet.” He spat, settling himself back on his chair. Lillian looked relieved as Stephan met her gaze.

  “Believe what you will Stephan. But, when you fail this mission and believe me you will, they will dispose of you as they did William. Scarlet’s father or not, you are of little value you to them.” I continued speaking now as I stood in front of Benedict, waiting to see what his next move would be.

  “I think that is just about enough conversation from you Grace. You always were a talker weren’t you? Like informing William all about the Sempres and the life they would offer him or talking him out of our service. And in the end, you got him killed. If you had been able to restrain yourself Grace, William would be here today. These lies you are spreading will do no good. You are the reason William is dead.” Benedict said this softly from his chair. I could see Lillian avert her gaze at the mention of William’s death. This struck me as odd, but I had little time to focus on that now. Benedict had motioned for his remaining two protectors to attack.

  They responded quickly and were better trained than my previous opponents. Within a second, we were engaged in combat. These protectors were strong and fast. Their skill level took me by surprise but I recovered quickly. One of the protectors attempted to land a jab to my head but I caught his fist mid swing, feeling his knuckles crack as my hand closed. Spinning around I kicked the second protector hard in the stomach. I followed through with a punch to the head of the protector with the now broken hand. He stumbled backwards as I returned to land two blows on the second protector in quick succession. Returning my knife to my hand, I plunged i
t into the chest of the first protector. At the same time, I kicked my foot into his knees, bringing him to the ground. Retrieving my knife, I forced it backwards into the abdomen of the other protector who was fast approaching. Forcing him back, I quickly grabbed the head of the kneeling protector as he attempted to stand. His head was removed from his body before he had risen six inches. Discarding his head, I turned to face my final opponent.

  He stalked me. The wound to his abdomen was already beginning to heal. I knew I needed to act quickly. It was possible that Benedict had already summoned more protectors who would be here shortly. I did not want to waste any more time than absolutely necessary engaging in this carnage Alex was unprotected with Scarlet. I glanced briefly at Benedict, Lillian and Stephan. They looked less confident now than when they were surrounded by their eight protectors. Wasting little time on the last protector, I landed a hard kick and two punches to his body. Using his lapse in focus I moved behind him and tore his head from his neck.

  I moved towards the Acelades ready to take on my final three opponents. Stephan moved to stand slightly in front of Lillian in a protective stance. His arm was outstretched as a shield against her body. Lillian was also standing now, looking at me fiercely. Benedict was the only person who remained seated. He attempted in vain to maintain an appearance of calm.

  “Congratulations Grace. You have managed to dispose of our pawns. I am sure you will not find it so easy to make your way past Stephan.” Benedict baited me, gesturing towards a very serious looking Stephan. Without answering I moved towards Stephan ready to engage in combat. I knew from experience that I needed to be on my game. He was unlikely to be as easy as the other protectors and would be unforgiving if I made a mistake.

  Stephan stalked me slowly, obviously wanting to take his time and to give Scarlet the longest possible time alone with Alex. Not willing to prolong my absence from Alex any longer than absolutely necessary, I lunged towards Stephan. I managed to successfully land a jab to Stephan’s head with my right arm before he blocked my second attempt with his arm. He snarled at me before launching his own attack. He landed a kick to my abdomen before I blocked his fist which was heading towards my head. Of all the Acelades I had fought, Stephan was one of the most skilled. With every blow I landed, he had a block or a counter blow. I could feel the strength in his attack and the power he obtained from the blood he had drunk. I knew I was stronger but I had already fought eight Acelades and there was still poison running through my veins.

  Taking Stephan’s arm, I forced it behind his back and stamped my foot hard into the back of his legs. The sound of the door opening caught my attention briefly. I saw Lillian and Benedict scampering to exit the room. Stephan attempted to grab my throat with his free arm as he noticed Lillian retreating, leaving him only with me.

  “Lillian?” he called. His arm was flailing as he attempted to push against me to regain his stance. I twisted his arm hard against his body. There was no recognition on Lillian’s face. As she continued out the door, I could see the truth dawning on Stephan.

  “Lillian, come and fight!” he ordered.

  “I’m sorry Stephan. That was never the plan. You have served us well and will be remembered.” Lillian replied flatly. Then she left the room to the sound of the door banging behind her.

  “Hmmm, it seems Lillian no longer has any use for you,” I jeered as I placed my hand around Stephan’s chin.

  “I would not be so high and mighty if I were you,” Stephan said through gritted teeth.

  “Come now Stephan. Do not be a sore loser. You fought well and I will tell the others of that when I return with Alex.” I replied as I tightened my grip. I wanted Stephan dead before he could regain any power.

  “You don’t know what you are up against Grace. You think it is just the Acelades that want you dead and the prophecy fulfilled? How do you think I was able to infiltrate the Sempre family without the support of the Council? Not everyone is as honest as you would believe. There are things at work that you have no comprehension about. Have you never wondered why Benedict chose your brother? Or how Lucas just happened upon you that night?” Stephan spat.

  Refusing to process this information or to let urgent curiosity distract me, I twisted Stephan’s head hard until I heard his neck crack. I then reversed the movement and removed his head from his body. I was at the door before his head hit the ground. Stephan’s final words were still ringing in my ears. A dead man’s confession, what did he have to gain by revealing this information to me? I shook my head to regain my focus. I needed to find Alex and Scarlet quickly.

  The door led to a smaller parlour room that may have been used for ladies relaxing at a ball. I hesitated in the room, breathing deeply to try and follow Alex’s scent. My ears were straining to hear his voice. His scent was strongest to the left of the room and I could hear a whispered conversation. Scarlet was trying to convince Alex that they were meant to be. By the sounds of her pleas, he was refusing to accept it. I raced to the left of the room and through another door way into the main hall of the home. Noting the exit, I continued up the stairs, taking the two flights in five steps. I landed silently at the top of the landing and steadied myself. I knew Alex was in the third room on the right and the smell of his fear was gut wrenching. The protector who had left with Scarlet was standing guard outside the door. His back was to me as he looked outside the window, obviously bored with his assignment. To my left on the hall table was a brass plate I cautiously picked up the plate praying for its silent retrieval. Once it was in my possession I aimed it at the protector and threw the plate like a discus, decapitating the protector before he realised my presence. Moving forward I caught his body as it slumped to the floor, the carpet absorbing the noise.

  Now standing in front of the door I could smell the scent of burning candles, flowers and the overbearing perfume that Scarlet was wearing. Steeling myself for whatever I would encounter inside, I fought the fatigue threatening to consume my muscles and responded with a fresh burst of adrenaline. The door handle turned easily under my grip as I slipped into the room. It was a sea of organza and lace in various shades of reds and violets. There were candles and flowers on almost every available surface. The room consisted of a large four poster bed on one side and a sitting area with a chase and two arm chairs on the other. Alex was currently perched on the edge of the chaise with an array of champagne, chocolates, strawberries and oysters in front of him. I had to applaud Scarlet for her efforts in seduction. I knew that Alex would be able to refuse her and was aware of the warm sense of relief rolling over me.

  I could see Scarlet’s intense focus on Alex as I moved around the room in the shadows of the material hanging from the ceiling. I hoped that this focus would distract her from noticing my presence giving me the advantage of surprise. As I edged closer to Alex, Scarlet placed her hand on Alex’s knee. He recoiled at her touch.

  “You seemed to have worked your magic on this one Grace, it may actually take me more than an hour to break him,” she said, informing me that she knew I was near. Alex’s face was a mixture of confusion and hope at her statement as he searched for me around the room. I stepped forward from the shadows and walked towards where they were seated. Alex attempted to stand but Scarlet prevented his movement by shaking her head and tisking in his direction.

  “Now Alex, you are going to make me feel bad about myself. I mean after I have gone to all this trouble to make you feel comfortable and special, you try to leave me the minute another girl arrives.” She sulked.

  “That’s enough Scarlet. You will kindly remove your hands from Alex,” I said with far more civility than I felt. I wanted to race towards her and rip her head from her body but her proximity to Alex made me cautious.

  “Now Grace you know I can’t do that. Alex is supposed to be with me. It is written clear as day and I will not have anyone getting in my way, will I Mother?” Scarlet replied as Lillian entered the room.

  “That is true my princess. You have
been very clear about Alex,” Lillian confirmed moving to encompass the space between Scarlet and I.

  “Really Lillian, you actually think you have a chance against me?” I asked patronisingly.

  “I only need to hold you back until Scarlet and Alex have fulfilled the prophecy and then I have every intention of letting you live to see what you failed to prevent.” Lillian smirked.

  “Just remember Lillian that when I kill you and I will kill you, it’s for William.” I spat and launched myself towards her with full force. My body slammed into hers and I felt her breath escape as I threw her onto the floor, crushing the coffee table beneath her. Because my skills were better honed then hers I recovered quickly. I stood and pinned her neck to the floor with my foot. Both Alex and Scarlet appeared shocked by the quick commencement of combat. Using Scarlet’s momentary lapse of action, I grabbed Alex from her grip, shoving him to the other side of the room. I knew that she would quickly return to his side but it gave me a few moments.

  I grabbed Lillian’s arm and pulled her to her feet. As I went to turn her back to me, she landed a hard kick to my leg which buckled. Landing on one knee I swung out my other leg to knock her back to the floor. This time when she fell, I straddled her back pinning her arms down with my legs. Both of my hands were on her head. I had waited for this moment for over two hundred years. Lillian was the second last person I knew who had been responsible for William’s death and tonight I was finally going to have my revenge. I heard a cry escape from Lillian’s lips and a call to Scarlet but, without mercy, I snapped her neck from her shoulders. In that moment I no longer maintained any of my humanity. I could only feel the urge to kill surging through my body. My muscles though fatigued, were flooded with adrenaline and my senses were processing every sensation with unparalleled speed and acuity. Discarding Lillian’s head with disgust, I turned to face Scarlet. She was the last obstacle between Alex and safety. She was by his side, partly using his body as a shield. Her face was a mixture of hate, disbelief and uncertainty.

  “We can do this one of two ways. You can give me Alex now and I will leave you with your life or you can try and fight me, but you’ve just seen how that worked out for your Mother.” I snarled my voice unfamiliar even to myself. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Alex and I focused solely on Scarlet. I was terrified of seeing the disgust that I knew would be evident on Alex’s face after what he had just witnessed.

  “I think I’ll take my chances,” Scarlet shrugged.

  “As you wish,” I replied, shifting my weight to the balls of my feet and readying myself for action.

  “You don’t really think that you will get out of here alive do you?” she asked condescendingly

  “I don’t think it Scarlet, I know it!” I replied, scanning the area to pinpoint any more vampires and prepare out exit. Relief and confidence spread through me when I realised the only vampires left in the area were Benedict, Scarlet and me. Benedict had seriously underestimated my attack but now, I was not so sure that he knew I would be arriving. I had no doubt that my presence was Lillian’s idea. Stalking Scarlet, I closed the gap to within a metre. As I did so she moved slightly behind Alex, her arm protectively around his waist.

  “You’re young and inexperienced Scarlet. You think that Benedict and his henchmen will come and save you but you are wrong. There is no one left to save you. Your protectors are all dead. Your mother sacrificed your father to me and now she lies dead on your floor. Do you really think you can beat me?” I taunted her hoping that she would make a mistake and react.

  “You’re lying,” she spat.

  “Believe what you want Scarlet but there is no one here to save you.” I replied calmly, hoping to quell some of Alex’s fear with the knowledge that all that stood between him and freedom was Scarlet.

  “Grace,” Alex said his voice hoarse and dry.

  “I don’t think so,” Scarlet replied, sliding her hand over his mouth to prevent him from speaking.

  It appeared that Scarlet had more self control than Lillian and Stephan so I was going to have to make the first move. As I rounded the arm chair to launch my attack, I saw something that stopped me cold. Sitting on the table near the window was William’s knife. Passing Scarlet I moved to the table and grabbed the ivory handle holding it towards Scarlet.

  “Why do you have this?” I demanded, holding the knife so tightly it shook under my grip.

  “I thought I was the one who didn’t know anything,” she shot back. She was still focusing on Alex, running her hands along his jaw. I saw him ripple with revulsion.

  “I won’t ask again,” I replied. My voice was trembling with anger.

  “If you must know, it was my father’s.” She shrugged, clearly not understanding the significance. I attempted to understand what she had just told me but it was impossible. Scarlet was only 17 years old. There was no way William could have been her father.

  “You liar! That is my brother’s knife!” I spat and launched myself in her direction. I knocked Alex out of the way landing him on the chaise I laid into Scarlet taking all of my frustrations out on her. To her credit, she managed to land a few punches. She used her force to throw me back and this allowing herself to regain her footing.

  “I may be many things Grace but a liar I am not. My father gave me that knife for my eighth birthday. He said he didn’t have long to live and it was given to me by his teacher when he was a young man. If you don’t believe me then look on my dresser, there is a picture of my father there on the day he gave it to me. It was the last time I saw him.” Scarlet said this directing my focus towards her dresser. Despite my curiosity I refused to allow my focus to be moved. I stepped towards Scarlet grabbing her arm hard and forcing her towards the dresser. She picked up the photo to show me and I came face to face with William. My stomach clamped and my grasp wavered for just a moment. That was long enough for Scarlet to strike out and land a hard blow to my head knocking me face first into the dresser. She went to move towards Alex and I slammed out my leg blocking her path and tripping her in her gown. She fell hard to the ground. Selecting a statue from her dresser, I brought it down hard onto her skull. I heard the sickening crack and her eye lids fluttered into unconsciousness.

  As she lay on the floor I knew I should finish her but her words echoed in my head. If she was telling the truth about William then I could not be responsible for killing his child. I grabbed the photo from her dresser and ran to Alex. We didn’t have long before she regained consciousness and we needed to put as much space between this place and us as possible.

  “Alex, are you ok?” I asked looking him over for any injuries.

  “Yeah Grace are you?” he replied his voice full of concern.

  “Never better,” I said and he looked at me incredulously.

  “But all those men?” he continued

  “You underestimate my abilities. All of the protectors have been destroyed. I wasn’t lying to Scarlet about that. There were minimal injuries sustained and I heal quickly anyway,” I replied.

  My well-being established Alex stepped away. A fierce cold settled between us. His arms folded across his chest and his face was set like stone. I knew my rejection of him earlier was not forgiven and certainly not forgotten. What surprised me was that I cared that he was upset with me. The emotions of other people had not concerned me for many years. When I was a girl I used to become hysterical at the thought of my parents being disappointed with me. Once I became a vampire, my emotions, like the rest of me hardened. I was no longer concerned with the needs of others, until now. After a silent promise to make it up to Alex, I took control of the situation. Squaring my body to Alex’s I placed my arms on his and looked him straight in the eyes.

  “Ok Alex. I know you hate me right now but we need to get out of here so use that anger to help you. You need to follow me and go as fast as you can, alright?” I asked.

  “Fine,” he replied releasing his arms and struggling to keep his sombre expression.
  I took his hand and felt the electric shocks run from my fingers up my arm. Alex grasped my hand tightly and moved his body closer to mine. Sliding William’s knife into mine, I created the double edged dagger and held it in my free arm. Having the knife made me feel more centred and reminded me of the practice escape runs William and I use to complete during training. We moved quietly through the hall, the carpet cushioning our steps as we raced towards the landing. At the top of the stairs I pulled Alex against the wall and checked the entry for any company. When I was satisfied the route was clear, we descended the stairs at a run. I was constantly scanning the area for vampires. I could only detect Scarlet still unconscious in her room and Benedict somewhere in the bowels of the property.

  Knowing Benedict was weak and unprotected made my hungry for an attack. I wanted his blood to be spilt but I knew I couldn’t risk Alex’s safety. Scarlet was still a threat and every second we remained she had the opportunity to wake up. She would heal fast even from a cracked skull. Hesitating for a moment in the entry way, I swallowed hard and moved towards the large oak doors that stood between us and freedom. Grasping the handle I swung the door open and stepped onto the marble stairs. The night air rushed into my lungs and filled me with a sense of liberty.

  We didn’t linger long and I dragged Alex towards the white hummer parked on the circular drive. We reached the passenger side and I shoved Alex onto the chair, slamming the door. I was in the driver’s seat and hot wiring the car in seconds. The engine roared to life and I slammed my foot on the accelerator. The wheels screeched as we sped along the driveway, through the gates and out into the street. Not even attempting to drive with human traits I cut through lanes and headed towards the centre of the city. I wanted to be around humans and get lost in the hustle and bustle of whatever town we were in. This would help us slip into oblivion and then we could make our way to the Blackett Hotel.

  “We need to get to New York as soon as possible. Lucas and Katherine will meet us at the Blackett Hotel. But first, we need to lose this car. It will have GPS and the last thing we need is the Acelades tracking us. I hope you brought your wallet,” I informed Alex, not taking my eyes off the road.

  “Of course. But I don’t think I have enough to buy a car,” Alex replied incredulously.

  “Did Lucas ever give you a credit card?” I countered, hoping that Lucas had taken the necessary precautions.

  “Sure but,” Alex started.

  “Then you have enough money, believe me.” I said as I scanned the area for car dealerships. After about five minutes we came across a second hand car dealership that looked as sleazy as those characterised in the movies. Smiling to myself I turned into the lot.

  “Grace, wait!” Alex said putting his hand on the wheel.

  “What?” I asked irritated.

  “I agree we need a new car but look at us. No one is going to sell us anything looking like this,” Alex answered, gesturing to our clothes. For the first time I looked at my reflection in the mirror and understood what he meant. My clothes were stained with blood and dirt. There was a gaping whole in my shirt. Alex and I both had dirt caked onto our body and his hair stood in every direction.

  “You have a point. But we really don’t have time to go shopping right now Alex, so you’ll just have to keep up the rugged look for a little while longer,” I replied turning into the car lot.

  The engine was still running when the shady middle aged salesman started walking towards the car. I looked into the yard and spotted a greying Mercedes in the corner of the lot. Despite its old appearance I knew the model well and was confident it would get us to New York City in good time. The salesman opened my door much to my displeasure.

  “Can I help you with something little lady?” he said condescendingly.

  “How much for the Mercedes?” I asked abruptly.

  “Well it’s a real beauty,” he began as Alex came to my side. My impatience was growing by the second.

  “Cut the crap. You and I both know that the car has been sitting here for months on end with no takers, that’s why it’s in the corner of the lot. However, we are in a hurry. So, provided you can give me the keys here in 30 seconds we will pay the over inflated ticket price and give you a nice commission.” I offered, my face blank. I could see the fear growing in the man’s eyes. He knew there was something off about my demeanour and was torn between the sale and being involved in a crime. Looking over our appearance he chewed on the corner of his lip.

  “Listen. We are running away together and her father is a real nut bag. We need a car that he won’t recognise. We’ve obviously already had to run the gauntlet tonight and if you don’t want to help us I’m sure there is another dealership that will.” Alex pulled a Black Amex card from his wallet and ushering the man towards the office. I smiled at Alex impressed by his ability to put people at ease. Within minutes we were back on the road. It would take about four hours to get to New York so I tried to settle in the car. Alex was seated next to me, appearing to be calm and content. His confidence in my ability to keep him safe was overwhelming, especially as I was not sure of it myself.

  Over the horizon the sun started to rise and this filled me with a sense of hope. It was unlikely that the Acelades would attack during the day. This provided us with the opportunity to go underground. As the sun peaked over the mountains it burned into my eyes. The over exertion of the fight combined with the loss of blood and poison had weakened me. Grasping at the visor and trying to block out the sun, I squinted my eyes to ensure I could maintain control of the car as we travelled down the freeway. Alex ruffled through the glove box trying to see if the previous owner had left any sunglasses but to no avail. Slamming my foot down harder on the accelerator the car lurched forward as the scenery flew by. I had hoped to drive within the speed limit to avoid unwanted attention but this was no longer possible. The task of driving would only become more difficult as the sun rose higher.

  By the time we made it into the city the sun was beaming and a permanent state of nausea had set into me. Struggling to focus on the road and scan the area for vampires I was grateful for the tall buildings that cast shadows across the street. The strength was seeping from my body with a rapid pace. I knew that I only needed only to make it to the Blackett and I could recharge. Katherine and Lucas would be waiting there for our return if all went according to plan. But we would not be able to stay there long. Alex needed to be taken somewhere where his security could be assured. Trying to convince Katherine of that would be difficult. It was a fight to be faced when my strength had returned.

  “Are you sure we will be safe here?” Alex asked, breaking the silence.

  “Yes. Winter and Gabriel can be trusted to provide refuge,” I replied. I was hoping I was right but after tonight I was beginning to question everything.

  “Wouldn’t the manor be better? I mean the walls, alarms?” Alex questioned.

  “No! The manor has been comprised and god only knows what Stephan has told them,” I replied.

  “My father? He wouldn’t. I mean I don’t understand. Why would he have hurt you or let the Acelades have me? He would never try and kill me,” Alex rebuffed.

  “I don’t have… I can’t… There are things you don’t know about Stephan, Alex. Obviously I need to explain them to you but not now. I need to focus,” I said this more sharply than necessary.

  “But, I,” he continued.

  “Alex please!” I snapped, giving him a look that showed I would not enter into anymore discussion.

  Slinking back in his seat Alex began to fiddle with the dials on the radio. His anger was understandable given all that he had been through tonight. There was no easy way to explain what Stephan had done and he knew nothing of John. Clearly, this conversation needed to occur, but given my current state it was not going to be now. Sighing I returned to focusing on the road. I was engulfed by relief when we finally reached the Blackett hotel. Without slowing I pulled into the driveway and was approac
hed by the valet who eyed my car with great interest. Rolling down my window as he approached I could tell that he was human.

  “Can I help you miss?” the attendant said dubiously.

  “You’re expecting me,” I replied as recognition dawned on his face with the assistance of a Ben Franklin.

  “Of course, I’m sorry I didn’t recognise you. Please allow me to park it for you whilst you and your guest make your way to your room.” He stumbled as he opened my door.

  I gave him a curt nod as Alex joined me and we mounted the stairs to the Blackett Hotel. The gold and frosted glass doors were opened by an elderly distinguished gentleman who had worked for Winter and Gabriel for years. He never questioned their eternal youth and was well paid for his loyalty. The foyer of the hotel was a visual spectacular. This remodel, the boys had decided to focus on black, gold and frosted glass. The floors were black marble as was the concierge desk, which was completed with a gold bench top. There were gold and frosted glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling casting sparkles across the foyer. Gold low line lounges were surrounded by a black shag rug. In the middle was a glass coffee table covered with the latest issues of Vogue and GQ. To the left and right of the concierge desk there were stairs leading up to the second level where there was a dining room. The air was cool and crisp. As it cloaked my skin, I felt the tension releasing from my muscles and a sense of woozy relief overwhelmed me. I was seriously lacking nourishment and my body had taken a beating. Swaying slightly I headed towards the lady standing behind the desk. Alex instinctively wrapped his arm around my waist and I could barely stand the warmth from his body as it ran through me.

  “It’s ok Grace. I’ll take care of it,” he whispered in my ear as we approached the desk.

  “Alex, I am your protector,” I replied. My voice was not filled with as much conviction as I hoped and my inability to move away from his support did not help my cause.

  “Grace, you got me here. Now it’s my turn.” He rebuffed me and the turned towards the concierge who was waiting. She was eying the interaction between us.

  “Can I help you?” she asked.

  “This is Grace Kennedy and we have a room booked. There are some people waiting for us.” He said this, firmly attempting to have contempt in his voice.

  “I’m sorry sir. We do not have a booking under that name.” She smiled, placing her hands flat on the bench. All of the staff had been trained to never admit to having a protector staying in their hotel, to protect their identity. She didn’t know me but clearly had received the list of names not to be disclosed.

  “Aurelia Park,” I interrupted her, giving my code name for the Blackett Hotel.

  “Sorry my mistake, here are your keys. The lift is to the left.” She smiled as she handed over the keys gesturing to the lift.

  We entered the lift and I slumped against the wall. Alex smiled at me and stood back to give me space. The mirror allowed me to attend to my presentation before facing Lucas and Katherine. My appearance said that I looked as bad as I felt despite having fixed my hair and straightened my clothes. The nausea increased with every floor we passed. Exhaustion was eating at every cell in my body. I hoped to provide a quick assessment of the mission and then be able to retire for some rest. My hopes for this were not high given the intensity of the battle and the ongoing concerns for Alex’s safety. Arrangements would need to be made to protect Alex from Scarlet but there was no way I could focus on these in my current state.

  Taking a deep breath I focused myself and consolidated all of my strength. Preparing my blade I stood in front of the doors preparing for their opening. A quiet chime signalled our arrival and the doors opened. Holding my arm out to protect Alex I stepped through the door and inspected the hallway. I could not sense any unknown vampires in the area but I was taking no chances. Alistair was the only person in the hallway. Grabbing Alex’s arm we moved quickly from the elevator towards the door. Alistair was standing guard stoically when our arrival interrupted him.

  “Grace. Alex. I am so glad to see you!” he cried, rushing towards us, his face full of worry and concern.

  “Is everyone ok?” I asked, not wanting to allow Alistair to become distracted.

  “Oh yes,” Alistair replied, returning to his post. “Katherine was given a sedative by Lucas due to her hysteria. He has not left the room but I have heard him speaking with Marius.”

  “Thank you Alistair. Obviously I need to speak with Lucas immediately. Alex has had a frantic night and he requires some basic items to attend to his needs. Could you please contact the concierge and order the necessary preparations for him whilst I discuss the events with Lucas?” I attempted to make it sound like a request, however I was sure that he understood that he had been discharged. Despite his valiant protection tonight, he was still not in the fold and was not entitled to the information I was about to disclose. Alistair nodded and moved towards the second room. I could see the disappointment on his face and given his extraordinary performance tonight, I wanted to provide some acknowledgement. As he opened to door to the adjacent suite I caught his attention.

  “Alistair. You have done a protection assignment far beyond your training successfully. I will be sure Marius is made aware of your talents.”

  As he grasped the door handle I saw the pride creep over Alistair’s face. He swallowed hard and entered the room. With a deep breath I readied myself to face Lucas. Stephan’s comments had left me unsure about how to approach Lucas. I was torn between not wanting to believe that Lucas could have lied to me and the credibility of a dead man’s confession. I entered the room and my eyes found Lucas immediately. He was seated on the lounge wringing his hands. His tie had been discarded beside him and his shirt was crinkled.

  “Grace!” Lucas greeted me, his grave face quickly filling with disbelief. “Is Alex?” I stood to the side and allowed Alex to enter the room. Lucas moved to him in a flash. He gathered him in his arms a show of affection I had not seen before from Lucas.

  “My dear, dear grandson. I was so worried. Your mother has been beside herself. Are you hurt? Injured?” Lucas asked this sounding more like Katherine than himself.

  “I’m fine Grandfather. Grace made sure I came to no harm,” Alex replied through Lucas’s arms. Seemingly assured of Alex’s safety he guided him towards a chair and turned his attention to me.

  “Grace. I am in your debt,” he stated.

  “Lucas, I will hear of no debt. I can only offer my apologies for allowing the manor to be breached in the first instance. Stephan and the other Acelades came so quickly. Their attack could not have been anticipated. There is an obvious need to discuss the events of the evening but first I must feed. The poison and combat have combined to decrease my strength and we cannot be assured of when the next attack will occur. I would like to be on my game when it does,” I answered.

  “You will find the necessary sustenance in there Grace. I had no doubt that you would bring Alex back to his family and made the necessary preparations to accommodate you when you returned. You are by far the best protector we have ever had Grace.” Lucas complemented me.

  Making my way to the fridge I grabbed five bags of blood and continued to the next room. I barely had the door closed before I tore into the first bag. The draw of the blood was overwhelming as it poured into my mouth and down my throat. It was a healing tonic for my poisoned, exhausted body. The liquid gold was thick and heady as it sought out my every cell recharging and rejuvenating my aching body. I tore through the bags with gusto and drained them fast. As the fifth bag was discarded, I leaned against the wall giving my body a chance to enjoy the sensation. Within seconds my strength was returning and my senses were sharpened. Taking a deep breath I focused my thoughts and returned to Alex and Lucas. Alex was eating a hamburger and fries with gusto. The remains of a soda was at his side.

  “Forgive my absence. The night has been wearing on me and a return to full strength will be necessary in the coming moments,” I stated this
as I moved towards the lounge where they had settled.

  “When you are ready Grace,” Lucas waited patiently.

  “Stephan, Lillian and 10 protectors are dead. Scarlet was injured and Benedict fled,” I reported. Lucas nodded and Alex gasped.

  “What happened?” Lucas asked.

  “Stephan and Lillian were involved. He believed he was her other half and that he may have been the father of Scarlet. It was his mission to bring Alex to her and fulfil the prophecy. Alex obviously has a lot of questions but I felt you and Katherine were in the best position to answer those” I replied.

  “Of course,” Lucas replied as he turned to Alex. “There is much we have kept from you and for that I am sorry. Your mother thought it best for you to grow up with a mother and father and I allowed her these indulgences.”

  “Indulgences?” Alex said in disbelief. “The man I thought was my father just tried to kill my girlfriend and offered me to some crazy vampire that wanted to sleep with me and you call it indulgences?” His voice was rising as he stood and walked away from Lucas. I winced at his use of the word girlfriend, but was sure that Lucas was far more preoccupied with Alex’s anger than his description of me.

  “Alex. Your mother was pregnant and alone when your father was killed. Stephan offered her safety, security and a father for her unborn child. Can you not understand why she made that choice?” Lucas asked.

  “No!” he spat in reply. “Safety? Security? Look at how that turned out? Who was my real father?”

  “Your Father was a protector like Grace. His name was John and he was her mentor and friend. John was killed by the Acelades eighteen years ago and your Mother never fully recovered. I can’t expect you to understand Alex. But we though having a normal life away from the Acelades would give you the best chance at life,” Lucas’s voice was almost pleading with his grandson. It hurt me to see Lucas this way. It did not matter what Stephan had said, I was still loyal to Lucas.

  “Alex,” I said softly placing my hand on his, trying not to allow myself to become overwhelmed with the sensation. “I know you are angry but this is not helping. We are still in danger and need to organise what we will do next. I can tell you all about John once we are someplace safe. It would be my pleasure to talk about your Father.” Alex looked at me, his gaze holding mine as he swallowed hard and grasped my hand.

  “Ok,” he replied taking a seat next to me.

  “Lucas, the manor is no longer safe and I cannot allow Alex to return there. He needs to be placed in my custody for the next three months and neither you nor Katherine can know where we go. There is a traitor in the Council and until they are identified, no one can be trusted.” I informed Lucas solemnly.

  “If you think that is best,” Lucas said.

  “There is no other way Lucas. Stephan informed me that a Council member had helped him infiltrate the Sempre world. He had no reason to lie. He knew I was about to kill him,” I continued. Alex was shrinking slightly as I spoke of Stephan’s demise.

  “Well, if you see no other alternative,” Lucas conceded.

  “I wish there was but Alex’s safety is paramount. Word will spread about my appearance at the Acelades’ manor tonight and Galen will be out for blood. I have broken the peace treaty and engaged the Acelades in direct combat without provocation. You will need to distance yourself from my actions or he will demand your resignation. Call Marius and let him know what has occurred. Tell him Black Dawn. He will know what that means. You will need to issue a statement informing the Council that I was acting alone and have recklessly taken Alex hostage in some crazy attempt to secure the Sempre line,” I continued speaking, formulating my plan as I went.

  “Grace. If I do that you will be hunted by the Sempre and Acelades alike. I will not allow your reputation or your life to be ended like that,” Lucas argued.

  “There is no other way. You cannot risk your place on the Council and Alex needs to be protected. When this is all over Marius will explain this was a covert operation. I will be reprimanded lightly and welcomed back into the fold. For now let the Sempre protectors hunt us. It is better for them to find us than the Acelades.” I countered Lucas’s argument knowing that he was left with little option.

  “I don’t like this Grace,” he replied.

  “Neither do I but I see no other way to keep Alex safe. Alex, are you willing to leave with me?” I asked, already knowing his answer.

  “Of course,” he replied. He was unable to keep the excitement out of his voice at the prospect of three months alone with me.

  “Good. Then we should leave immediately. The longer we are here, the more chance there is that someone will find us. I keep a safety deposit box in the hotel safe. I will gather the necessary things and then we will be leaving. Alex, why don’t you clean up and see Katherine before we leave? Alistair has arranged for clothes to be brought to her room. You have 30 minutes. Lucas, I will need Alex’s documents, I assume that you have these prepared,” I asked him as I stood to leave.

  “Grace. You do not have to do this,” Lucas said, his voice filled with regret and something more that I could not detect. “I cannot expect that you risk this for me and my family.”

  “Lucas, I know there is much we need to discuss. I expect answers when I return with Alex and we have time for you to explain everything. For now be satisfied that I will return for those answers and prepare yourself.” I stated this and then left the room before my composure slipped. Obviously Lucas suspected that Stephan had made more than one dead man’s confession. Given his associations with the Acelades, Lucas could only imagine that it involved William and me. For now that was not important. My mission was clear. Compartmentalising my actions, I focused towards completing each step with accuracy and efficiency.

  Avoiding the lift I took the stairs to the basement of the Blackett Hotel and behind the boxes of linen and wine I located the hotel safe. Entering the code I stepped inside. The cool air was inviting. Box 47 contained various passports, currency, credit cards and a change of clothing. Clearing its contents, I returned to the stairs and exited on the 15th floor. Alex was several floors above me talking softly with Katherine who was too sedated to fully comprehend what was being said. Alistair stood outside in murmured conversation with Michael. In addition to the suite currently occupied by Katherine and Lucas, I kept a smaller room on this floor on a full time basis. Entering quickly I hurried to the bathroom to adjust my appearance. Alex and I needed to blend into New York and my current presentation had me looking like a murder victim.

  The hot shower was a relief to my muscles but I did not allow myself to remain there long. Once the blood and dirt were washed away I dressed quickly in jeans, black boots and a black satin blouse. Transferring the documents and money into a shoulder bag I grabbed an emerald trench coat and left the room. During the elevator ride to the 36th floor makeup was quickly applied. My hair was pinned back so that when I exited, my appearance looked presentable.

  Alex was still with Katherine and Lucas when I arrived. Alistair and Michael were standing guard.

  “You will need to look after them until a protector is assigned. I am sure Lucas will instruct you however, it is necessary for me to ask that you keep our secret. Alex’s life depends on your commitment to this plan. I know it is a great deal to ask but there is no other way,” I informed them honestly.

  “Lucas has always had our loyalty Grace and recent events have not changed that. As for you, your actions demonstrate the upmost regard for the Sempre family and therefore whatever your request we are happy to abide,” Michael replied kindly.

  “Thank you.” I nodded, and then remembered to ask about George.

  “He is fine. The Acelades left him once they had Alex. He remained at the Manor to ensure the women were safe. They are relocating to Lucas’s residence in Spain as we speak,” Alistair reported.

  “Good,” I stated and entered the room.

  Katherine was lying in bed with Alex seated beside her. Luc
as was seated nearby stroking Katherine’s hair. Alex had changed into jeans, runners and a navy sweater. A white leather jacket hung on the back of the chair with a bag of belongings.

  “Is it time?” he asked

  “Yes,” I replied returning to the doorway. I allowed them some privacy for goodbyes. I heard Alex hug Katherine as she stifled a sob. He then quickly embraced Lucas before appearing at my side. His eyes shone with tears but he maintained his composure. Lucas passed me a document folder with Alex’s passports and some cash. He gripped my hand during the exchange.

  Once we were inside the lift, Alex wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me towards him tightly. His lips met mine with an unexpected ferocity as my body moulded to his. My arms snaked up around his neck. My tongue found his as our kiss deepened. I could feel his pulse rising matching the burning heat that was racing through my body. Eventually Alex released me keeping my body close. His eyes were fixed on mine.

  “Before we left I just needed to make sure,” he whispered, his voice raspy.

  “Make sure of what?” I replied unable to stop the breathlessness of my voice.

  “That you were lying before when you said you didn’t feel the same way about me.” He grinned knowing that he had won.

  “Alex, I,” I started but was interrupted by the elevator chime.

  Alex released me still smiling and grasped my hand as we exited the Blackett Hotel and went out into the New York morning. The streets were filled with commuters and tourists so it was easy to blend in as a young couple taking in the sights of the Big Apple. Alex hailed a cab and I instructed the driver to take us to a private airfield in New Jersey. Before he could complain about traffic on the bridge I handed him three hundred dollar bills and bought his silence. Alex eyed me suspiciously but I signalled for him to remain quiet. Whilst it was unlikely that the Acelades would ever identify the cab driver, I could not take the risk of him overhearing our conversations.

  I took out my cell phone and called the airfield. Speaking in Spanish, I informed Jose that I needed a plane ready for take off in two hours. Eager to please, he hurried the pilot into action before my call ended. It was rare that I required travel and when I did, Jose was always willing to assist. He owned private airports in several countries and could always be counted on to provide transport with little notice. I had saved his daughter from an Acelades attack several years back. Although he was human Jose had a sense that I was not. He offered his support and the support of his family whenever I required it as gratitude for my help.

  When we arrived at the airport Jose met us at the gate. To our left I could see a jet prepared for take off. The pilot was boarding the plane. We walked towards the plane whilst I asked Jose about his family. He spoke proudly of his son’s acceptance into Harvard and informed me that his daughter had recently had her second child. Steering Alex in front of me, we ascended the stairs. I thanked Jose for his help and informed him to log our destination as Morocco. He nodded and left the runway never questioning my need for immediate travel or real intended destination.

  The interior of the jet was first class. There were leather recliners, mahogany tables and a large king bed in the rear of the plane. I noted that the kitchen had been fully stocked and an array of newspapers and magazines were provided. My attention was drawn to the bed. Looking at Alex, I noticed his gaze seemed focused in the same direction.

  “Wow!” Alex said.

  “Yup,” I replied, unusually lost for words.

  “This plane is amazing. I am telling Grandad that he needs to get one.” He grinned breaking the tension.

  Dropping his hand I headed towards the cockpit to speak with the pilot. Vincent was seated and was preparing the plane for take off. Like Winter and Gabriel, Vincent was a vampire who lived outside of the Council. He was my most trusted contact and a very skilled pilot.

  “Flight plan says Morocco but you are not dressed for a Turkish escape,” he stated.

  “Sometimes things change,” I replied.

  “The usual then?” he confirmed.

  “Yes. Thank you Vincent!” I smiled.

  “The human?” he asked, gesturing towards Alex.

  “A Council identified asset. He is under my protection.” I made it clear to Vincent in case of any confusion. After all he was a vampire.

  “I understand. The weather is good so we should be landing in the Emerald Isle without delay,” he informed me and started the plane’s engine.

  I exited the cockpit and returned to Alex who was sitting in a leather recliner preparing himself for take off. Selecting the seat opposite him and fastening my seatbelt, I sat back in the chair and closed my eyes. The jet moved forward gaining speed rapidly and was soon in the air. Now, safely out of New York, exhaustion crept over me. I looked at Alex whose stunning green eyes were now ringed with black. His complexion was looking pale and drawn. Releasing my seatbelt I moved towards Alex, taking his hand in mine. I led him towards the bed where he stood still, uncertainty filling his face.

  “Just to rest,” I assured him.

  “Hmmm, you promise you won’t try and take advantage of me?” he asked

  “I am so tired right now that moving my arms hurts,” I laughed as he lay down next to me, wrapping his arms around my waist. I laid my head down on his chest and I could hear his heart beating as his chest rose and fell with each breath. Our bodies curled into each other and I was filled with a sense of peace. Alex kissed my forehead lightly and I felt him drift off to sleep.

  “I love you Grace,” he murmured

  “I love you too, Alex,” I whispered, surprising myself with the honesty of my words.

  I allowed myself to remain in the comfort of his arms. The heat from his body burned against my skin. I knew a battle was about to be waged and that protectors from the Sempre and Acelades alike would be hunting me. My head was filled with questions for Lucas about my past. I struggled to contain the hope that William might be alive. Despite these heavy burdens the thought of having Alex to myself for the next three months was both exhilarating and frightening. The intensity of our relationship was already more than I could control. We were now faced with no interruptions, no supervision and no need to hide our true feelings. My thoughts drifted to various possibilities all of which had the effect of raising my adrenaline and combating sleep. Eventually, I focused on Alex’s breathing and allowed his heart beat to lull me to sleep.

  There we lay. The vampire and the human brought together against a common enemy and bound together by fate. Who knew what the future would bring. But for now, I rested calmly and contented in the arms of my other half as we headed to my home in Ireland and whatever lay before us.

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