With my hand being held aloft in Eric’s and hearing his proud proclamation announcing I was their queen, those still gathered on the lawn roared in approval.
I had always been the odd one out. The freak of nature.
Up until my time in this realm, Great-grandfather had been my only true fan.
Without my gift, I might have assumed their cheer had been a performance. One meant to appease their king.
But I could read it just as well on their faces, as I could from their minds, the crowd truly was thrilled – proud even – that I was their queen and I felt something within me shift.
Logically, I’d known I was Eric’s bonded and wife and emotionally, I’d felt that way ever since we had completed our third blood exchange.
He was mine, as I was his.
But I’d never had any good experiences where queens were concerned, so perhaps it was my own preconceived notions that had kept me from fully accepting the weight of my new title and all that it meant.
Now, seeing the faces of those who called Amun their home and who had valiantly fought in defense of it staring back at me, I was starting to feel the significance of my new station.
I was their queen.
No matter Eric’s motives for making me so, the fact remained my charge of one had grown to encompass millions. And while defending his life and that of his child would always be my top priority, these people in front of me and those outside of the palace walls were his subjects.
In that moment I knew I would do all that I could to keep them safe as well.
The ancient seer’s words no longer felt as foreboding as they initially had. While I was still confused over her claims my destiny was unclear to her unseeing eyes, Eric’s beliefs hadn’t faltered one iota throughout her entire explanation that explained very little. Not once had he ever doubted that we were meant to be together.
Self-doubt was a flaw I seemed to be born with, but my faith in him was absolute.
If he believed I was destined for him, then I would put my trust in his unwavering conviction until I was able to believe it on my own. But it wasn’t my allegiance to Eric that I questioned.
It was my devotion to him.
I still worried my love for him – and his for me – would be what ultimately ended him.
But now wasn’t the time for ruminating over things that couldn’t be changed, so I focused on the present and turned towards Eric to inform him, “The three left alive have information.”
Bloodlust had gotten the better part of me throughout the attack on the palace, so I’d likely killed others who could have been more useful to us. There hadn’t been time to parse out their thoughts during the battle – not that I’d tried – but the three left alive at the end of the invasion had knowledge of The Brotherhood’s movements, so they had some value.
Before Eric could respond, the three I’d just spoken of were brought to stand before the king, with the help of the shifter I knew to be named Ajamu.
Willing to move their feet forward or not, it was hard to argue with an African elephant determined to make you move.
I hadn’t spent enough time at the palace prior to our departure for his southern estate to have formed an in-depth opinion of him one way or the other. But knowing his size and brute strength could come in handy in the coming war I made a mental note to get a better read on his thoughts once he was back in his human form.
For now I focused on the humans. Their thoughts were scattered, running the gamut from fear to rage, but it was the errant thoughts of all three of them that painted a clearer picture for me.
Something had gone wrong with their plans.
Considering they were the only three left alive of their group, one could surmise their plans had gone horribly wrong.
But even now, when they had clearly lost the battle and their lives could be ended at any moment, they were collectively holding their breath.
Waiting for…something other than their demise.
It was while I was trying to delve deeper into their minds that my focus was pulled in another direction by Alcide’s arrival at our backs, when he leaned in between us to say, “Quinn and his men have been secured and the palace has been searched. No other bombs have been found and the damage was minimal, so it was probably just a ploy to distract us from the attack at the south entrance.”
With his words, my mind had immediately gone from the three in front of us to seeking out the tiger’s the moment his name had been uttered, to try and get some answers while Alcide finished his briefing, when another explosion sounded in the distance.
Followed by another. And then another.
They kept sounding off, one after the other until the air was finally quiet once more. Regardless of the Were’s claims the palace was free of any more bombs, I’d kept both Eric and Pam within reaching distance, prepared to pop them away in an instant. But none of the explosions had taken place on the palace grounds and instead had detonated at various points around the city.
We didn’t have long to guess where.
The palace and surrounding grounds were blanketed in darkness a moment later, with the lights that illuminated the city winking out of sight.
“The power plant,” Eric growled, staring at one of the numerous balls of flames that could now be seen in the darkened sky.
Vampires could see perfectly well in the darkness and the two-natured, almost as well.
It would be the humans who would be left suffering in a blackout and it reminded me of what my great-grandfather had said of the coming war.
Like would fight against like.
Vampire against vampire. Were against Were.
Human against human.
So it had begun.
The celebratory mood disappeared in an instant, with the guards already on the move, heading to various locations throughout the estate where electronically secured doors and gates were no longer functioning. At the same time Alcide shook his head and sighed out, “That’s why they took out kitchen. Not to blow up who was on the inside, but what was on the outside.”
“The junction boxes for the palace’s solar panels,” Pam added, answering the question I hadn’t yet asked. Then pulling her phone from her pocket, she held it up out in front of her and said, “Cell towers too, I suspect. I don’t have a signal.”
Pressing on the comm link I knew all of the Royal Guard wore, Alcide snapped out for his men to respond several times before he gritted his teeth and stated, “Satt comms are offline too.”
But it was the sense of triumph coming from the prisoners that regained most of my attention, so I ignored the commotion going on around us and moved forward until I was standing in front of them to ask, “What did your plans entail?”
Unaware of my gift, they immediately shored up their nerves, expecting me to torture the information out of them.
They thought my silence was meant to intimidate them.
They were none the wiser I was hearing every detail they swore to themselves they wouldn’t tell me.
“The banks,” I offered aloud, as I turned to face Eric. “It’s a coordinated attack meant to cripple the infrastructure to punish those who side against them. There are others emptying bank vaults right now, knowing the alarms are no longer working and the first responders will be too busy dealing with the chaos caused by the explosions.”
But before orders could be given or movements made, I caught the thread of another threat and added, “The water treatment facilities. They’ve poisoned them.”
The eyes of the prisoners weren’t the only ones to widen at my statement. The eyes of all those who’d heard me looked just as astonished.
Vampire didn’t need water for their survival, but their food source did, as did every other breathing being.
With so much chaos being inflicted at the same time, I couldn’t be sure where our efforts should start.
Some queen I was.
In any case, as a group we moved en masse back inside of the palace. With the amount of Eric’s blood in my system, I could see in the darkness nearly as well as a vampire, but the interior of the palace was illuminated with the numerous flashlights held in the hands of the staff moving from room to room.
Both my ears and mind were on alert, now suspecting the attacks on the palace were part of a coordinated attack on the capitol itself, while Eric barked out, “Send guards to the hospitals, with orders to stand watch over the generators until the power is restored and get the names of every person capable of repairing the damage at the power plants. I want them woken from their beds and escorted to the facility to get working on fixing whatever needs to be fixed.”
Now in his office, he picked up the phone on his desk and held it to his ear, before slamming it back down and adding in a foreboding tone, “The landlines are down too. We are completely in the dark.”
It had taken hours to get a fair assessment of where Amun stood. Hours until the first reports started filtering into the palace of all that had been successfully targeted and destroyed by the terrorists. As much as I wanted to interrogate the prisoners – the weretiger among them – I refused to leave Eric’s side and his place was in his office, doing all that he could to restore order within his kingdom.
Looting had sprung up almost simultaneously with the blackout. Miscreants of all kinds flooded the city streets, taking whatever they could carry.
Torching what they couldn’t.
None of it made any sense to me. Fluent in all languages aside, I couldn’t comprehend the nature of some who thought it a perfectly good idea to try and raze their own city to the ground, just because the power was out.
The light of day would always reveal their misdeeds.
But it was the first time I’d ever been witness to the tactician in Eric – the strategist – and I was admittedly fascinated by him on a whole new level. He had survived for a thousand years before I had ever darkened his doorway.
I now knew why.
He seemingly kept track of a thousand little details and thought of a thousand more that needed attention from nothing but memory. His first priority was the welfare of his subjects and most of his focus was on them, while the rest of his attention was on keeping his kingdom secure from unknown threats.
My attention was solely on him.
Now being impervious to sunlight, the coming dawn wasn’t a threat, but I could feel the weariness within him as daybreak drew near. His new ability was still a secret from all but his Royal Guard, but if anything would drive him to reveal it, it would be this. Added to that, the arrival of the ancient one in our chambers that evening meant he hadn’t fed since the night before and regardless of his age and strength, I knew he needed rest.
I also knew he would stubbornly resist, if I were to suggest it.
We were very much alike, after all.
So I used his love for me against him. I would have felt bad about it in any other circumstance, but I soothed myself with the knowledge it was for his own good.
My vow had been to protect Eric from all others.
That included protecting him from himself.
Letting myself feel the effects of all that we’d gone through that night – the revelations of the ancient seer; the battle on the palace grounds; the aftermath of the terrorist attacks around the kingdom – our bond was soon flooded with lethargy.
It took all of my strength to not smile when his eyes darted my way, just before he turned to Herveaux and said, “I will continue to work from my chambers. You will keep me apprised of any new information.”
Without waiting for any response, Eric guided me towards his private chambers, only stopping long enough to give orders for a security detail was to stand watch outside of Pam’s chambers.
Clearly still affected by his child’s kidnapping, he wasn’t willing to risk her safety now that the other electronic security measures were offline.
Rasul met us along the way, handing me a prepared meal, as Eric spoke with the guards of the daytime security measures he wanted in place. And at my questioning look, he gave me a quizzical one of his own, while stating, “Forgive me for being presumptuous, Your Majesty. But given everything that has transpired this night, I doubt you’ve had time to eat.”
He was right, of course. Eric wasn’t the only one who needed fuel for his body. Usually I ate at some point in the day or night, but with everything that had gone on – from traveling back to the palace from the southern estate during the day, to the events of the night – I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten anything.
“Thank you,” I nodded in appreciation and returned his small smile before turning to follow Eric to his rooms.
Placing the covered dish on the nightstand beside his bed, I walked back towards Eric and gently began removing the garments from his body, guessing at the concern I could see in his expression and said, “I will keep watch over her during the day.”
Pam’s chambers were in the same wing as Eric’s, so I didn’t have to reach very far with my gift to insure her wellbeing.
Eric’s hands automatically began mimicking my own. What should have been a passionate – almost violent – encounter, fueled by the bloodlust of a battle hard fought and won, had been reduced to a tender show of affection, in light of all that had happened in the aftermath.
While Eric was undoubtedly – and rightfully – confident in his own abilities, he was worried.
For his kingdom.
For his subjects.
And I soon learned for me, when he pulled me down onto the bed with him and said, “You are tired.”
“You are tired,” I smiled knowingly and gently offered, “You need to feed and then rest.”
“As should you,” he volleyed back, with his eyes and his fingertips gently tracing over the various scars on my body.
The marks I had once thought he found displeasing, I knew now his only displeasure stemmed from them occurring at all.
It was sweet, although unnecessary.
As my great-grandfather had said, if not for the way I had been raised, I would not be the woman before him today. I would not be prepared to defend him. To protect him at all costs.
Every mark – every ounce of pain I had suffered in the past – was a small price to pay for the skills I now possessed.
Moving his body to hover over mine, his lips soon trailed after his hands – more reverent than anything else designed to solely arouse me – and a shiver worked its way down my spine when I felt his tongue lightly trace over the mark of Amun on my hip.
The ancient seer and Godric had left the palace at some point in the night. But no matter what she proclaimed, that mark was Eric’s.
Our thoughts were seemingly aligned because no sooner had it filtered through my mind, when I heard him assert in a hoarse voice, “Mine.”
His fangs snapped down and pierced my skin through the mark, with an unearthly amount of pleasure shooting through my veins. He’d never bitten me there before.
Considering I nearly blacked out from the nearly instantaneous orgasm it produced, I couldn’t wait for him to do it again.
And admonish him for not doing it sooner.
Still lost in the throes of ecstasy, I only knew he’d removed his lips from my hip when I felt another part of him invade my body and give my inner muscles the blessed relief of something to hold onto.
I doubted I would ever get used to the way he could make me feel. Every time we came together felt brand new. Each time seemed better than the last.
An eternity with him wouldn’t be long enough.
We would have to make do just the same.
The sun had already peaked over the horizon by the time I convinced him to go to rest. He would need all of his strength in the coming days to deal with the fallout of the attack.
But knowing the same could be said about me, I gave in to one last indulgence of gently brushing the hair from his face before reaching for the food at my side.
My mind had been on other things as I perfunctorily ate my meal. Keeping track of those standing guard over Pam, the tiger’s whereabouts (he was asleep at the moment, so I could glean nothing from his thoughts), and Alcide’s progress as he received updates on the work being done to restore the kingdom’s infrastructure.
From his thoughts I knew the power plant was in need of new parts to be made operational again. Some parts they had on hand, but others needed to be ordered and shipped. The problem with that was that with all forms of communication down, runners had to be sent in person. There were only so many shifters who could fly, but even so, he had guards dispatched to every nearby airport to commandeer helicopters to speed up the process.
It hadn’t taken long before reports started coming in that Amun wasn’t the only kingdom to suffer an attack. Zeus was hit, as well as Naranya, but no word had come in from Moshup yet.
Alcide wondered if the entire world had come to a standstill.
I wondered myself.
Before he had gone to rest, Eric had issued a royal decree to keep the goods and services going. Banking was all but impossible, so it was nearly impossible to pay for anything. Both goods and services were at a premium and supplies were dwindling fast, with a panic induced high demand.
For now, those who had the ability would work in new jobs to keep the kingdom running until the power could be restored and they could return to their previous employment. Looting had been kept to a minimum thanks to Eric immediately sending the majority of his guards out into the city, but the banks had been hit hard.
I suspected it was the work of an inside job and made a mental note to pass along my suspicions to Alcide later on.
So busy concentrating on everything going on around me, I didn’t notice the odd almost trance-like state coming over my body, until it was too late.
Unable to control my limbs, much less the ability to sound any kind of internal alarm to try and wake Eric, I could only muster the barest amount of surprise and a single word at what – or rather who – I saw next.
His name fell from my lips in a whisper, just as my eyes closed against my wishes and I felt the sensation of being teleported from the room.