I’d recognized his light immediately and instinct had me reaching for him only a second before Eric could. But regardless of my ties to him, my swords were at the ready the moment we rematerialized, called to my hands in the same split-second where I had to choose between the only family I’d ever known and the only family I truly trusted.
But pledge or no, I would end my great-grandfather myself if he dared to threaten my mate.
I knew Eric wouldn’t be happy with what I’d done, but I needed answers. Answers that would be difficult to get if I was too busy trying to keep them from killing one another and it wasn’t like Eric’s clock phone could reach Great-grandfather in the Fae Realm.
Staring hard at the only parent I would ever have, he smiled warmly in return and chuckled, “Well, hello to you too.”
My insides clenched, both seeing and hearing the warmth emanating from him. But I shook it off and warned, “You have two minutes.”
I hadn’t taken us very far. Just far enough that I would have time to hear him out before Eric and his berserker rage would be able to reach us.
And just far enough that I could point fingers – literally – and say, “You recognize the land, don’t you? The land belonging to my human kin?”
Calling him a liar, without actually saying the words, I was carrying on the proud family tradition of doublespeak.
It was nearly as useful as cloaking.
His expression didn’t alter at all, but I knew him well enough to see another kind of warmth emanating from him.
In the form of a flicker of anger behind his eyes.
The Prince of the Sky Fae didn’t take being challenged lightly.
Too bad for him the Queen of Amun didn’t have any fucks to give about that either.
He sighed – ironically, a very human gesture for him to make, all things considered. But he quickly reminded me he was anything but human and my only warning was his soft-spoken reply of, “Well, we will need three minutes, at the very least.”
A magical force – the likes of which I’d never experienced – seemed to wrap itself around my very soul and pulled me against my will. The ground disappeared beneath my feet and a colorless cloud shrouded my eyes, only to dissipate moments later and I found myself in the aperture that separated our two worlds.
Neither the Fae nor the human realm, we existed in the gap between them.
Eric was going to love that.
Shimmering windows on either side allowed us to view the lands just out of reach, but I couldn’t allow myself to become distracted by the vision of my former home, even though it was one I thought I would never see again.
But the sight of the Fae Realm was much easier to avoid than the gaping void in my chest at the disappearance of our bond.
“What have you done?”
The words left my lips in a choked out whisper and when my attempts to teleport myself back to the estate failed, I forced my swords into the air, ready to cut down the only person I suspected who could be capable of such a thing.
Because I refused to even think about the possibility Eric had somehow met his end in the seconds since I’d left him on the lawn.
Raising his own hands up, in a gesture signaling he meant me no harm, his next words reinforced that claim when he said, “I have done nothing more than given us a few uninterrupted moments, so I could speak to my great-granddaughter.”
If I’d had any air left in my lungs, I would have told him to get himself his own clock phone to use in the future.
As children, my cousins and I had always suspected he’d had other powers. Secret psychic powers that had allowed him to know when we’d been up to no good he’d have no way of knowing about otherwise.
Once we’d even spent an entire summer searching the palace for a crystal ball.
The expression he wore now reminded me of those days in my youth, when his eyes focused on me in concentration and he said, “You are bound to the vampire.”
He of all people should be addressing the vampire by name.
The vampire had saved his life, which was the only reason why I’d been there at all to bind myself to the vampire.
But I was coming to understand why Eric always referred to my kind as assholes.
I couldn’t be sure if he’d implied we’d been bound by blood, a ceremonial knife exchange, or a change in my surname on a piece of paper, but it didn’t matter.
None of those things were what truly tied me to Eric.
With his eyes still drawn to the rings on my left hand, I pulled his focus back to me by reminding him, “I was bound to him the moment I drew my first breath. You were the one who taught me that. But it is the man that I love with all of my heart and I will defend him against anyone who threatens him.”
But my implied threat was met with a sly smile that brought me up short, as did his response of, “Then it would seem that I have taught you well.”
Relaxing his posture, he took a step closer to me and said, “I have much to tell you and very little time to do so. I cannot risk being discovered here, so just listen to what I have to say and then you can return to your vampire.”
Damn right he’s my vampire.
“There is a war coming.”
“Is that what’s trending back home?” I huffed sarcastically, having heard those very same words from – perhaps – another of Queen Maeve’s husbands.
Admittedly, I likely would have worn the same confused expression he had, had it not been for Pam’s love of pop culture and social media.
It took me watching her favorite TV show to understand the words that always followed any written communication from her.
And it also explained her proclamation that ours would not be a Red Wedding.
But I didn’t trust him enough to tell him of Ailill. I couldn’t be sure they weren’t somehow conspiring together, even though I’d had yet to come up with a plausible motive to explain why my great-grandfather would care anything for the politics of this world.
Humans were beneath fairies. Realms included.
It was yet another lesson I’d been taught during my childhood.
But his now familiar warning had already left my ears when another one quickly took its place. The sound of Eric’s roar preceded him by only seconds, when he suddenly appeared on the other side of the shimmering window into the human world.
And by suddenly, I meant he’d flown straight into it, like a bullet.
The fact he’d bounced off of it didn’t stop him from coming at it time and again, relentless in his attempt to breach the barrier. Caring nothing for the injuries he was sustaining, his hands were soon covered in his own blood.
I couldn’t be sure if he could still feel my presence in his blood – when I couldn’t feel him at all – but I’d shown him the location of the portal on the Stackhouse property on the night of the predator’s funeral.
It may have been a lucky guess on his part.
But my guess he would be in a berserker rage had been way off the mark.
It was too tame of a description to depict the way he looked now.
He was nothing less than a physical manifestation of pure fury, with his fangs protruding from his lips – longer than I’d ever seen them before – and his eyes – usually so full of warmth whenever they looked at me – were now vacant, seemingly unable to see anything beyond his rage.
But it was the bloody tears falling from those same vacant eyes that made my heart lurch and the sword in my left hand dropped to the ground, so I could reach for him. But the shimmering glass might as well have been reinforced steel.
I was too human to be able to go through it alone. Not without my great-grandfather’s assent.
The magic of the portal should have kept Eric from being able to see it or me. And no one without Fae blood in their veins should have been able to breach the entryway, much less a vampire, which was why I only became more despondent, seeing him trying – and failing- to find a way through the invisible door. I wouldn’t have been able to enter, if I hadn’t been accompanied by my great-grandfather, but I didn’t give any thought to the fact Eric did have Fae blood running through his veins.
He had mine.
A lot of it.
So I could only surmise it was due to that fact – coupled with the stubborn rage of a thousand year old vampire king – that made his next move even possible.
For a brief moment, there had been a minute change in the barrier, flickering at the spot where his bloodied hands had left their mark, before appearing to fuse itself back together again.
But I hadn’t been the only one to notice it. The change in Eric’s expression was so miniscule, I doubted I would have noticed it had I not known him so well.
But it was there.
And the flicker of determination I’d seen filtering through his eyes quickly grew into an out of control inferno, while I watched – dumbfounded – unable to tear my eyes away from him, as he stared at the spot before angrily tearing into his wrist with his fangs. Sliding the hand from his opposite arm down his forearm, he forced the blood out of the wound even faster, until both of his palms were bathed in red and then slammed them against the invisible barrier like a battering ram.
Making a tiny – but meaningful – crack in the magical window.
But it was all he needed to start clawing at the breach he’d created and my eyes briefly flickered back to meet Great-grandfather’s, hearing him chuckle out, “Your vampire is very…determined.”
However I didn’t have the wherewithal to respond or even marvel over the fact Eric’s hand had begun to penetrate the portal’s entry because I fell to my knees, feeling our bond slowly seeping back inside of me. What had started out as a tiny fissure, like the beginnings of a leak in a dam, the force of it flooding back into my body grew in tandem with the size of the hole Eric made through the window, until I was nearly knocked over by the tidal wave of his emotions.
Relief and outrage were cresting high at the moment.
But I could certainly commiserate now that my lungs were gasping for air, as though they’d been denied that very thing when our bond had disappeared. But now I felt like I could breathe again.
Once again I reacted on instinct and reached out, grabbing onto his extended hand with my own. I don’t know what I’d been expecting – for him to pull me back into the human realm with him, perhaps – but my mind hadn’t settled on anything other than making physical contact with him.
But even addled, my mind was still shocked when his body was suddenly enveloping my own.
Because I hadn’t moved and was still on my knees in the place that separated our two worlds.
The hug lasted for all of a split second before I was pulled to my feet and my arms were held out at my sides. His eyes quickly raked over my body and the barest hint of satisfaction at what he saw pulsed in our bond before the sword I still gripped in my hand was torn away by his.
Shoving my body behind him, he turned to face my great-grandfather – who didn’t look nearly as shocked as I felt – but nonetheless, he too now held my dropped sword in his hand.
Eric held its twin up high as he seethed, “Let this be a lesson to you fairy. There is nowhere you can take my bonded where I will not follow. Now give her your blessing for our union, so we can be done with you once and for all.”
Was he seriously thinking now was the time to make sure our marriage was recognized in every realm?
If they had medication to combat feline allergies – as he’d once told me – did they make any that would help him focus? If I swallowed the pill, would he feel the effects when he swallowed my blood?
I made a mental note to ask Pam. If nothing else, I was sure my inquiry would be good for teasing him.
But refocusing on the present, by the way Eric had said done, I was sure he’d meant finally done – as in sending my great-grandfather into the Summerlands.
And at the moment, I couldn’t find any argument within me to voice.
I didn’t believe Great-grandfather had meant to keep me away from Eric permanently, but – kin or not – his actions were a violation of his own vow.
The one where he’d pledged my life to Eric.
As the Stackhouse elder had accused her grandson on many occasions – he was too big for his britches.
One would think that would be a more literal statement, considering how much he ate on any given day.
And my errant thought made me think I might benefit from a little of the focusing medicine too.
But it quickly disappeared, hearing Great-grandfather say, “Our agreement was that I would provide you with a defender, not a mate.”
The way he’d spat out the word mate made my hackles rise up.
Let’s just say he was lucky I didn’t have any lemons on me or else he’d be a shimmering pile of dust right now.
And I was angry enough that I would have had no qualms scooping it into one of those little magnetic boxes, like the one that contained Compton’s manhood, and giving it to Herveaux.
It only seemed fair for the head of Eric’s Royal Guard to have Royal Pixie Dust.
Granted, no one in our world hoped their child would grow up and marry a vampire. But I wasn’t really of that world.
The man standing before me had not only taught me that, but he’d been the one to set my course eight hundred years earlier.
Eric seemed to be of the same mindset because he lunged at my great-grandfather and the two of them put on a dazzling display of their swordsmanship, while he snarled out incredulously, “That you call her my defender instead of your great-granddaughter shows your true colors. That you would raise her to believe she was only good enough to spearhead my vanguard instead of seeing the priceless treasure she is on the inside shows you don’t deserve to call her your kin. You took her self-worth. You took her ability to reproduce so that I alone would ever be her only option.”
With every word spoken, his rage only grew, until I was sure he would burst at the seams when he seemed to redouble his efforts as he roared out, “You whipped her, like a disobedient animal!”
No he didn’t.
I never realized Eric and I hadn’t fully discussed my upbringing, but it was too late now. And Great-grandfather was quick to correct him with his own furious bellow of, “I NEVER struck my great-granddaughter!”
There weren’t very many words spoken after that, just a whirlwind of flying blades that left my hair swirling in the aftermath. One that I wasn’t sure would ever come to an end.
Fatigue wasn’t something Eric was susceptible to and my great-grandfather, well…
Let’s just say that my stubborn refusal to lose at anything was an inherited trait.
They appeared to be equal matches in skill level, so they were covered in equal amounts of nicks from the tips of their swords. However neither one had been able to land a significant – and thereby fatal – blow to the other.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling I was shirking my duties. I, of all people, knew Eric’s life was in danger, facing off against someone the likes of my great-grandfather. And without any weapon of my own to use in his defense, instinct once again took over.
Like on the night of Godric’s arrival, the tingling sensation normally confined to my hands spread throughout my body. Only instead of fighting against it, I welcomed it with open arms.
My hands rose up at my sides and the area surrounding me began to glow, but all it took for the dam to break was seeing my great-grandfather. Watching him fight against the very man he’d sworn my life to protect broke me in ways I never imagined and everything I’d been avoiding came to a head. Every emotion I’d set aside, wondering if he had in fact betrayed my trust in him, boiled up within me and seemed to bubble out of my very pores in the form of a white hot light.
Unable to direct its path, the detonation seemed to explode outwards from where I stood. The sheer force of it made my knees give out and my legs collapse, with my eyes losing focus. Everything else around me turned into one giant blur, but my ears still managed to register the sound of metal hitting the ground.
One of my swords, I’d assumed.
But not knowing whose hand it had dropped from, I panicked thinking it could’ve been Eric’s and forced my hands to my eyes, trying to forcibly rub them back to being able to see again. But when I felt my body being scooped up into familiar arms – coupled with the feel of something else – I was finally able to relax.
Our bond was intact.
I hadn’t accidentally killed him.
“Drink,” he ordered in a gruff voice, just as his bloody wrist pressed against my lips.
I wanted to argue that he’d lost enough blood already, but I couldn’t.
I was too selfish and wanted to reinforce our connection to each other.
My eyes were closed, while the comforting taste of his blood soothed me in ways I hadn’t the words to describe. But I didn’t need to see the owner of the next voice I heard to know Eric hadn’t been the only one to survive, when he said, “She needs sunlight to recuperate.”
He sounded tired, but pleased and I turned my head to see my great-grandfather now on the other side of the portal’s door.
Safely back in the Fae Realm – whether by his own choice or not, I had no way of knowing – but he wasn’t completely unscathed.
His clothes were torn and frayed, with his entire body covered in dirt and blood. He looked like he’d been caught in the middle of an explosion.
My lips turned up, knowing I’d been the cause.
The rumble working its way through Eric’s chest soothed me even more and it came out of his throat in the form of a low growl, as he said, “I know what my bonded needs.”
“As do I, vampire,” he snarled in return. “I have done all that I could in preparing her for what is to come. For what has always been her destiny to fulfill as it was foretold to me eight hundred years ago.”
That little tidbit had never been included in any of my lessons.
But instead of elaborating – it was Great-grandfather, after all – he merely shook his head, with his lips curling up into a haughty smile, as he asked, “Do you honestly think I raised her from birth – drove her harder than any other for the entirety of her life – simply for you?”
Without waiting for a reply, he went on to laugh without any humor and said, “You’re lucky she forgives you your ego. But know this…my great-granddaughter’s destiny may have been set eight centuries ago, but I’ve done everything possible to prepare her for it. And while you might not approve of my methods, they ensured she would be exactly who she needed to be. Both fierce and fearless, hard and soft, she is loyal, loving, and most of all, deadly to those who threaten what is hers.”
And then giving us both a significant look, he added, “She needs to be.”
Neither one of us said a word, with both of us feeling equal amounts of confusion, distrust, and fascination over everything we were being told. So there was nothing but silence, as we watched my great-grandfather magically do away with the evidence of his adventures in the aperture, before he again repeated, “There is a war coming.”
Eric tensed around me, but my eyes may as well have been making a ‘go on’ gesture, when he went on to explain, “A war that will involve every race, both supernatural and human. It will divide the lines of loyalty between them all and trust cannot be assumed based on origins. Humans will fight against humans. Weres against weres. Vampire against vampire.”
And then taking a deep breath, he looked older than I’d ever seen him before as he ended with, “Fairy against fairy.”
While we’d known there was some sort of discord working its way through the kingdoms, I’d had no idea it could possibly encompass, well…everyone.
But before I could ask any questions, his head snapped to his left and his eyes strained towards whatever he saw, before he quickly turned back to face us.
“I must go.”
Again, my insides lurched seeing the warmth in his eyes as he looked back at me. But when they turned towards Eric, it appeared as though he’d put his princely mask back into place.
And my jaw may have fallen open when – after everything that had happened that night – he simply gave him a curt nod, followed by his departing words of, “I give your union my blessing.”
The window into my former world disappeared before our eyes and that same magic that had forced me into the aperture, forced both of us back out of it. But Eric didn’t seem to be confused about any of it.
In fact, he seemed to know exactly where we were and what he wanted.
One bled into the other until it was impossible to distinguish between the two. But rising above it all was his all-encompassing love for me and when he crushed me to his chest, with his lips crashing down onto my own, I let my instincts take the reins once more.
And they were telling me I had a husband to claim.