1899, Ohio River Valley
Leaning against the tree, I attempted to catch my breath but pain from multiple wounds not only stole the air from me, but took my fabled strength as well. Six feral vampires thrashed on the forest floor, their death throes reminiscent of a beheaded chicken, flopping around because the body hadn't recognized the creature was dead.
My family tracked a kiss of vampires that had entered our territory, leaving behind human casualties and drawing unwanted attention. Under no circumstances were paranormals to reveal their existence to humans. To do so meant an immediate death warrant. Father had sent of help and until reinforcements arrived, we took turns watching the kiss, preventing them from taking more lives if we could.
Two days ago they'd disappeared, leaving no trace as to where they'd gone. Father speculated the kiss caught wind of one of our watcher and fled. So it was a great surprise when I accidentally found their camp on my way home. Cloaked in shadow, they didn't notice my presence when I rounded the thicket expecting to find a human campsite. I had planned to return to my father's house and report their location but a hunter and his young son stumbled onto the vampire's camp. Judging by the animalistic behavior several of the vampires exhibited, we'd suspected that at least four members of the kiss were too old and had gone feral. So instead portraying themselves as humans, the leaches fell on the newcomers like rabid dogs. There was nothing I could've done to save the man and his boy for there was only one of me and more than a dozen of them. But still, I tried.
When I stepped from my hiding and unceremoniously tore the heart out of the closest man, the creatures who were still sane recognized the type of danger I brought, scattering like a flock of startled birds. Only five remained behind, too far gone and lost in their madness to flee like a sensible paranormal. They dropped the humans they'd ravaged and attacked me. I was faster and stronger but they had numbers and insanity on their side. Though I triumphed in the end, I'd still been gravely wounded.
Pressing my palm against the gaping wound in my side, I attempted to staunch the flow of blood where one of them attempted to gnaw her way through my abdomen while her kissmates held me down. Each vampire left behind ragged wounds, nothing I couldn't heal from given time, but the pain cause by the venom added to the agony my body felt.
A sense of foreboding that had been plaguing me throughout the day sharpened to a fine point and suddenly, all I wanted was to go home and see Griffin. He would cluck over the injuries and angrily lecture me for my foolish actions, but regardless of his reprimands, his touch was ever tender, always reminding me how much he loved me.
Pushing off the tree trunk, I carefully stepped around the twitching bodies. Another twenty minutes and they would finally lay still. The hunter and his son hadn't moved from where the vampires had dropped them, but I needed to make sure they were dead and not going to accidentally rise again. Shame washed through me at the unseeing eyes staring skyward. I berated myself for the illogical emotion. Questions niggled my conscious. Could I have been better prepared or quicker? Had there been a way for me to intercept the two humans before they'd stumbled onto their doom? The answer was no but I hated useless death and I always asked myself the same questions when an innocent fell to evil.
When I climbed to my feet, I lost my breath again. Blood soaked my shirt, seeping through my fingers pressed against my side. When I took a step, my boot squelched and dizziness assailed me. The smart thing to do would be to stay put and allow my body to heal, but the silver tie that bound me to my husband tugged as if beckoning me to hurry. The irrational fear that I wouldn't see Griffin again hounded me, and I pushed aside common sense to go home.
With each step, I gritted my teeth against the sickness taking hold as the vampire venom worked its way through my body. I was immune to vampirism, but I would be gravely ill for weeks. The beginnings of that illness already made itself known. To get my mind off the agony gripping me, I looked forward to seeing Griffin and his bright smile that lit his honey brown eyes from within. I anticipated the touch of his soft hands as he tended me. Watching him always brought me a sense of peace. Though we had to hide what we were to each other I wouldn't change one thing. Behind the doors of our home, he was mine to love and cherish.
By the time I stumbled onto the clearing our cabin sat in, the night had waned to early morn. Candles burned in the front windows and my heart squeezed seeing my husband had waited up for me. Breathing hard, I shuffled hunched and aching to the porch, the wood creaking under my boot when I stepped up. I grabbed the post to the awning over the porch to steady myself, a wave of harsh dizziness threatening to put me on the ground. My senses went on alert and I paused, the bitter tang of foreign magick that didn't belong on my land coated my tongue.
Foreboding returned full force but was immediately forgotten when Griffin opened the door, as if he'd been waiting just on the other side. Smiling through the nigh unbearable pain, I drank in the sight of his tired eyes and rumpled clothing. His dark skin glowed warmly in the candlelight and I couldn't wait until he put his hands on me. But when he didn't step out of the house to help me, I knew something was wrong. Then I caught the strange scent again… It was all over Griffin and wafted from the interior of our home. Did we have a guest? Was that the reason for Griffin's standoffish behavior?
I reached for Griffin, blood coating my fingertips, and he flinched away, his expression turning to one of revulsion. Pain lanced through me, adding to the agony of my injuries. Never had Griffin not rushed to my aid or denied me his touch when he knew I needed him. When Griffin met my gaze, my bewilderment turned to dread. No love or affection was reflected there. For the first time, distaste marred his countenance and I swallowed thickly when I realized that look was all for me. What happened to make him regard me so?
"Griffin," I implored, not quite believing what my eyes were telling me. How had he come to be smothered in another's scent, another's magick? The answer was obvious and became more so when the scrap of a hard sole sounded behind Griffin and the scent of desire mixed with the magick.
"You cannot come in." Griffin's lip lifted in a sneer, his expression twisting with revulsion. "You'll have to take shelter at your fathers, Grim. I'll have your belongings transported there in a week's time."
All the battering I'd taken from the vampires didn't compare to stab of this single verbal blow from Griffin. He was sending me away. "I don't… let me in and we can talk about this. Surely—"
"No, Grim," Griffin spat. "There is no talking about anything. We are through. This has been coming for a long time now. We are too different, you and I. I've been craving to be with someone more like me but have been too embarrassed to tell you. A couple of weeks ago I met Marcheso Aldo in Cincinnati. He's a master warlock and I want…" Griffin dropped his gaze to my hand still outstretch and trembling.
He couldn't be throwing what we had away. We loved each other almost from the moment we'd met. Our relationship wasn't perfect, and by the standards of my people I was considered very young being under one hundred years old. But despite the age difference between Griffin and me, we had thrived together, our love growing stronger year after year, or so I thought.
The way Griffin looked at me, as if touching me would taint him in some way, I was beginning to wonder if I'd been living a lie, blindly loving someone who only pretended to have great affection for me.
"Don't. Please, Griffin," I begged. I was fumbling to hold onto us, refusing to believe it was suddenly gone without warning.
"Stop." Griffin gaze flicked back to me, devoid of any warmth I'd naively hoped would be there. "Don't you understand what I'm saying? I don't want you. I don't even love you anymore much less like you. I haven't for a while. Don't embarrass you or me by making a scene, just go home to your father so we both can start new lives." A coldness radiated from Griffin that sucked the light from my soul.
I took a staggering step back, vision blurring through tears. I wanted to argue, to wail, to fight Griffin on this sudden change but the words lodged in my throat. The agony from my wounds and the vampire venom created a haze in my mind, muddling my thoughts while the searing pain of Griffin's confession made breathing difficult. I couldn't think and the chill of Griffin's unforgiving stare forced me back another step and then another. I wanted to press upon him that I loved him, but just looking at Griffin and his suddenly shuttered expression, those heartfelt words would fall on deaf ears.
When I turned away, I stumbled, almost falling and barely remaining upright. When I heard Griffin close the door, the finality of the situation washed over me. My heart cracked open and I released a wail of heartbreak. Griffin was the most important person in my life and somehow I'd lost him. As I staggered down the road toward my father's homestead, the bitter sorrow caused by Griffin's rejection turned to burning hatred for the man who'd captured Griffin's heart, Marcheso Aldo. For the first time in my life, I wanted to commit murder. But doing so would change me irrevocably, and that I wouldn't allow, no matter how much I hated a warlock I'd never met. I needed to be a better man than that, and with every footstep I pushed down the soul-sucking malice until the only emotion left to me was a heartsickness that threatened to eat me alive.
The strike of horse's hooves on hard packed earth drew my attention to the road ahead. A rider came into view. I should hide in the forest. Strangers would have too many questions about how I'd acquired my wounds, but I didn't care anymore. My vision blurred again as the vision of Griffin's cold stare came to mind and I swayed even as I stifled the need to wail again.
The galloping horse skidded to a halt in front of me and the rider hopped off. "Cain." I called my brother's name. He surged to catch me as I toppled forward. With his strong arms around me, I gave him my weight and a sob broke from my lips before I could call it back. I soaked up the immediate comfort he gave me, keeping at bay the chill that threatened to seep into my core. I tried to answer Cain's questions, but my lips were numb and my throat closed over the words that Griffin had shunned me for another.
How was I supposed to walk through life without him by my side?
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