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The Vampire King by Sheila Clover English - Chapter 10
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Chapter 10

 

     There would be no hiding from Cyrus.  Bronte stood where she was as he made his way toward her.  He stood in front of her, but did not look at him.

     “It has been a while since I saw you last,” Cyrus said as he looked at her disheveled appearance and the evidence of her abuse.  “As I recall, the last time we were together you had put a stake in my heart.”

     She couldn’t look at him.  She felt broken and lost and could not bear seeing triumph on his face.  She looked down at the stone floor seeing nothing.

     “I recall that you had tried to make me a vampire against my will,” she offered in defense.  Her voice was small and its tone did something unexpected to his heart.

     “At the time I’m sure that seemed a fate worse than death,” he told her as his hand went to her chin and brought her face up to look into his own.  There were tears there about to fall from eyes that appeared so hollow and tired that he couldn’t look at them and let her face go so she could look away.  His expression never changed and his tone was still indifferent, but it was a lie.

     “Yes, Cyrus,” he heard her whisper, “At the time I had no idea there were worse fates than that.”  She never looked at him when she spoke, but the words twisted his insides until he could barely breathe.

     Cyrus turned to Seth then and that one was watching the two before him very closely.  There was measured tension filling the room, but no one moved to violence.

     “Seth,” Cyrus said his name although he already had the man’s attention, “I have been asked by King of Immortals to see to the safety of his daughter.”  The announcement didn’t seem to surprise Seth, but he did not look happy.   Cyrus had Bronte’s attention now with the mention of her father. 

     “Rohan has no jurisdiction here as you know,” Seth said calmly.  “There are rules Cyrus.”

     Cyrus moved so quickly Bronte never saw it happen.  He was suddenly right in Seth’s face and the tension level rose. 

     “I don’t need you to tell me the rules Seth,” Cyrus said tones that would allow no argument.

     “I did not mean to offend you Cyrus,” Seth said calmly, “I only meant that Rohan is not welcome here.  I would hate to have the girl given false hope.”  As an afterthought, and as though Cyrus was not right in his face in a threatening stance Seth looked about and made an additional comment, “Where is your servant Cyrus?  The dark one you call Felix?”

     Cyrus backed up then and they spoke as though everything were fine between them.

     “Felix could not make the trip.  My other servant has been sent for and should arrive tomorrow,” Cyrus informed him.

     “Very well,” Seth said.  “Until then you may use my servant Ennis.”

     One of the servants that helped to put Bronte on the torture device stepped forward and offered his assistance.  Cyrus nodded to the man and allowed him to lead him up the stairs to his chambers above.  Bronte wondered where they would put the vampire king, and wondered how far he would be from her.

     She watched him walk up the stairs without another glance in her direction.  She felt lost when he disappeared.  He had saved her before, but that was before she knew who he was, and before she had accidentally stabbed him with a stake. 

     She realized her heart was slamming hard in her chest.  She wasn’t sure if she were affected by him because she feared him, or because he she might find a way to ask his forgiveness and then for his help.  She didn’t have time to contemplate such things and Seth’s shadow passed over her and she looked into his angry face.

     “If I see you speak to Cyrus I will kill Carol,” Seth said evenly.  “Do you understand me?”

     Bronte nodded.  She had no doubt that Seth would kill Carol.  Seth cared for no one but himself.  Carol would be a small sacrifice to prove his will would be done at all costs.

     “I want you to go to your room until I call for you,” he instructed.  He nodded to one of the servants and she was escorted up the stairs and to her chambers.  For the first time since she had come to the castle she was locked in.

    

*          *          *

 

 

     Bronte heard the key go into the door and she looked expectantly to it as it opened.  Carol walked in and sat the white gown on her bed without a word.  When she left the door was not locked and Bronte dressed and began her routine.

     When she arrived downstairs Carol was no where to be seen.  Bronte wasn’t surprised since Carol had shot Cyrus and was most likely afraid of retribution.  Seth stood as she came in, just as he always did.  Something was different this night.  There was food on the table already.  The servant escorted her to her chair and she sat down.  Seth sat and then she heard someone by the hearth and turned to see Cyrus coming to join them.  He sat down, but there was nothing in front of him, not even a glass of red wine.

     She couldn’t take her eyes off of him.  He was as handsome and graceful as ever.  She hoped that she would see a glimmer of something that might indicate his feelings toward her, but there was nothing, neither good nor bad.

     “Eat,” Seth brought her attention to him with the single word.

     Bronte looked at the fare, but was not hungry.  She knew she should eat while there was some semblance of safety while Cyrus sat at the table.  She couldn’t make herself do it.  She was tired and felt lost and struggled not to hope that Cyrus might help her.

     “I’m not hungry,” she said quietly, not looking at Seth.

     “Suit yourself,” was his only reply.

     Bronte looked up when the door to the dining room opened and a lovely red haired woman scantily clad in sheer cloth walked in followed by a buxom blonde in similar garb.  Bronte had never seen them before and no idea what they were doing there.

     “As I am the host to such an honored guest,” Seth said and it brought Bronte’s attention to him.  “It is my pleasure to provide both nourishment and entertainment to the king of all vampires.”

     As Seth said the words the two women walked around the table to stand before Cyrus.  Bronte had the feeling that there was etiquette as well as rules that had to be followed when the Vampire King deigned to call.  The women stood there expectantly and Cyrus looked them over like the gift they were meant to be.  His eyes cut to Seth and he nodded.

     “I will take them both,” Cyrus said and it elicited a hearty laugh from the other vampire.

     “Your reputation is well deserved I see,” Seth said in reply.

     Bronte didn’t know what to say.  She doubted she was supposed to say anything at all.  She had been through so many traumas that she thought she could turn off her emotions like a faucet.  With all that had happened to her, with everything she had endured she thought this was the least of her problems.  But then why, she wondered, did it seem to cause her the most acute pain in her breast?  Had her ordeal caused her to lose her mind so completely as to be affected by anything that Cyrus did? 

     She looked away from all of them and stared down into her lap.  She had no idea why she was there.  Did Seth suspect that she once had feelings for the Vampire King and was he looking to dispel her foolish feelings by showing her how little Cyrus cared for her?  She could have told him not to bother.  Regardless of what she had ever felt for Cyrus he would never forgive her now.

     “What is this?” Seth asked, but when Bronte did not respond he repeated it using her name.  “Answer me Bronte.  What is wrong with you?”  Saying her name brought her out of her own thoughts and she looked at him quizzically.

     Seth stood and walked slowly in her direction.  Her eyes followed his every move.  She had no idea what he was asking of her and it caused her to feel afraid.  He stopped and leaned over with his hand extended toward her face.  She held very still as he caressed her cheek with his thumb.  It came back and Bronte saw the wetness there.  She hadn’t realized she had been weeping.  She never made a sound.  She had never screamed when she was tortured either.  She was as confused about the tears as Seth apparently was.

     “And here I thought you were made of stone,” Seth said as he examined the wetness.  “But perhaps it is that you are made of ice, and you are beginning to melt?” he smiled at her then, but she showed no expression.  Another tear fell, but was the only indication that there was any inner turmoil at all.  Seth frowned down at her and then glanced to Cyrus.  The women were at his feet rubbing themselves along his legs as though they were cats.  “Or, perhaps it is only Cyrus who can make you weep?” he asked it as though it angered him.  “Do you weep for the Vampire King my love?” he asked and waited for a reply that did not come.  He snatched her hair and pulled it back as he lowered his face close to her own.  “You show great disrespect for my king with your weakness,” he spat.

  Bronte looked into Seth’s unforgiving eyes and she put her fear away like she did every time she had to deal with the insane man.

     “They are only tears,” she whispered, “They cannot possibly harm him.”

     They were interrupted by the sound of Cyrus’ voice.  “Leave her Seth, and let us be entertained.”

     Seth looked from Bronte to Cyrus then.  “Are the women not entertainment enough?” he asked.

     “They are nourishment, and I will be most entertained by them, but I crave something more,” he seemed to be looking for the right word, “fulfilling.  Something more unpredictable perhaps?”

     Seth looked at Cyrus suspiciously.  “What do you suggest?” he asked.

     Cyrus looked around the room as though he were bored already.  “A game,” he said.

     Seth moved away from Bronte and walked closer to Cyrus.  He appeared to be intrigued at the thought of a game with the Vampire King.

     “What game?” Seth asked.  He stood so close that one of the women moved and began to rub her face up and down Seth’s leg.  He didn’t seem to notice just as Cyrus didn’t seem to notice them. 

     “A guessing game,” Cyrus said and he pushed the other woman away so he could stand and walk to the fireplace.  “It is said that the daughter of the Immortal King will bare a birth mark.  I say we wager on who finds it first.”

     Seth looked pointedly at Cyrus.  “Have you seen her naked before?” he asked.

     “No, have you?” Cyrus countered.

     Seth smiled then, “No.”

     The men seemed to trust one another at their word and they both looked to Bronte.  She was shaking her head at them.  She did not want to be their night’s entertainment.  She did not want them to touch her, and she did not want to be naked in front of them.

     “What is the wager?” Seth asked then as he turned back to Cyrus.

     “I want to bed the girl,” he said without hesitation.

     That caused Seth to pause and consider.  “She will not give herself to you,” he informed Cyrus.  “You will lose the possibility of gaining her power.”

     “That may be so,” Cyrus said as though it didn’t matter to him, “But she bled me, and she must be punished,” he informed the other man.  “Besides Seth, do you really think I need more power?”

     Seth considered it.  With Cyrus it was hard to tell what was a game and what was real.  He had no doubt that the girl would not go freely.  If Cyrus wanted to take his revenge her and lose his opportunity to gain more power it could only work out for the best, Seth thought.  Bronte didn’t have to be a virgin for him to take her and gain her power, she just had to give herself willingly.  After a night with Cyrus she might just do that.  He thought he had nothing to lose.

      “And what would you require Seth?” he asked of the other man. 

     Seth also did not hesitate in his request.  “Your blood.”  The blood of the Vampire King might give him more power than he could hope to obtain through the girl.  Seth found himself smiling at his good fortune.

     Cyrus looked at the man carefully.  “Agreed.”  And the game began.

 

*          *          *

 

     “Will you stand before us of your own accord Bronte?” Cyrus asked her.

     She didn’t want to do it.  She did not want them to touch her, but there was little doubt that this was going to happen.  She could go to them on her own, or they would tie her down.  She stood then and walked toward the two men.  Seth seemed surprised, but Cyrus showed no such indication.  She reached around behind her and unzipped the dress and let it fall to the floor.  She wore a white silk slip beneath it and matching underwear.  She stepped out of her shoes and away from the gown.  It was all she was going to offer freely.  She stood there and looked passed them.  She looked into the light of the fire just as she did when she was beaten.  She would not acknowledge them as they did whatever it was they were going to do.

     “You are the host, you go first,” Cyrus was being extremely polite and Seth nodded in acceptance.

     He walked around her twice before he stopped in front of her.  His smile never reached her, but she gasped when put his arm around her and lifted the slip to expose her panties.  His strong hand moved between her legs and parted them and he held her upright.  He examined her there carefully and before he stopped he looked again to see if she would show a reaction to him.  There was nothing.

     “I would have sworn it would be there on her thighs,” Seth said with some humor, “She acts as though they are golden.”  He laughed then at his own remark.  He walked over to where Cyrus stood.  The women had found their way to him again and rested at his feet.  As he walked away they moved to Seth who allowed them to grope him all they wished.

     He stood in front of her and blocked her view of the fire.  She held her eyes level and refused to look at him.  When he made no move she finally looked up.  Something in his look would not allow her to remove her eyes from his.  There was something there that she wondered if she would ever see again; concern.  She had been treated like a thing and did not expect to see such emotion from Cyrus.  It was almost her undoing and she felt tears threaten behind her eyes.

     In a flash he took her shoulders and turned her around.  It surprised her, but she didn’t make a sound.  She now looked at the dining room table which was empty.  She felt Cyrus move her hair to one side and slip the small straps of her slip from her shoulders.  She reached up to keep the garment from falling away, but she did not put the straps up again.

     “Come Seth,” Cyrus said.  “Look here.”

     Bronte could feel another shadow at her back.  She heard Cyrus speak again.  “Watch.”

     When he said it she felt him bring two fingers up to caress across her shoulders.  As he touched her she felt an energy infuse her body that she had never felt before.  His fingers trailed a line that started from one shoulder and went across the base of her neck to the other shoulder.

     Seth watched as Cyrus grazed her soft skin with his hand.  The trail left the outline of markings that could not be seen before Cyrus touched them. 

     “How did you know?” Seth asked part in awe and part in anger.

     Cyrus smiled and backed away.  “It is the mark of the Vampire King,” he answered.  He had not been certain, but it stood to reason that if she were his she would bare his marks.

     “You knew,” Seth accused.

     “I suspected,” Cyrus admitted.  “But I was not certain.”

     Tension between the men was heavy enough that Bronte could feel it at her back.  She wanted to look at them, but thought to remain still and quiet instead.  The significance of Cyrus finding the mark began to infiltrate her troubled mind.

     “I will have her prepared for you right away,” Seth said and his voice was far to accommodating and it caused Bronte more concern.

     “See that you do,” Cyrus said.  He walked around her then to look into her face.  She kept her head down until the women came into view at his feet.  She was not going to look at them.  She moved her chin up in defiance of him and of her feelings.  Her eyes locked with his green ones, but she could not read his thoughts.

     He moved and the women moved.  He nodded to Seth who still stood behind her and he turned to walk out.  The women stood and followed without a word.  When Bronte was left alone with Seth she turned.  He was unhappy with her.

     “Put the gown on,” he said. 

     She did as he said and she heard the doors open behind her.  She heard the wheels, she saw the shadows, she knew the drill.

 

*          *          *

 

 

     A knock came at the door and Cyrus stood to answer it.  The women lay on his bed where he had fed and left them.  The servant, Ennis, entered.

     “My King,” he bowed and then stood.  “The girl has been prepared.  Should I bring her?” he asked.

     Cyrus cast a glance at the bed and thought that would not be wise.  “No,” he answered, “I will go to her.  Take me now.”

     The servant opened the door and Cyrus could smell her.  There was the an odor of blood and he wondered if Seth had struck her when he left.  The servant left them and Cyrus locked the door.

     She was sitting in the window away from him and he walked to the fire that was blazing in the room.

     He had no way of knowing if she had come to care for Seth.  It was incredible to consider, but she remained there with Seth and had not asked for his help yet.  Until she did there was nothing he could do.  That was the law.

     “Are you waiting for Seth?” He asked as he stood at the fire in the hearth.  His eyes never left her and he wondered if she was hiding.

     “I am always waiting for Seth,” she answered.  Her tone made him wish she would look at him.  She sounded broken and forlorn.  He was about to speak when she continued.

       “I wait for him in satin gowns to save the life of my only friend here.” Her voice sounded practiced as though she were giving a rehearsed monolog.  “He comes to me every night and asks if I will give myself to him.” She paused as though recalling each of those nights in detail.  “I always say no.”

     Cyrus turned his back to the warmth of the fire and concentrated on her form in the darkness.  Something about her moved him.  Something about her touched a soul he thought lost centuries ago.  For a moment he wondered what it would have been like had he approached her differently.  What if he had tried to win her affection, instead of steal it?  It was not in his character to be a patient man.  Still, there was an innocence, a tenderness, about her that called to him and asked him to show mercy.  He was not intimately familiar with mercy, and he struggled even now to stay near the fire, and not demand that she answer him why she had left his protection.  She had brought this all on herself when she left him, but he still wanted her.  He wanted her not only because it would ensure his reign as vampire king, but because she was enticing to his senses, and because he knew he could keep her safe if she would but allow it.

     She remained silent.  She felt damned, she felt tired, and she wanted to go home.  But, there would be no mercy for her here.  There would be no release from this hell.  She had thought Cyrus a callous brute, but now she knew she was mistaken.  Cyrus was kind and gentle compared to Seth.  She wondered if Cyrus would take her from Seth.  She wondered if Cyrus was capable of such a thing.  It seemed as though politics or some kind of vampire etiquette kept Cyrus from just taking her away from Seth.  It occurred to her that her torment would be over if only she would give herself freely to one of them.  Cyrus was the lesser of two evils and she stood then to approach him and make her offer in exchange for her freedom.

     She felt dizzy as she stood, but she concentrated on the dark figure in front of the fireplace.  It was too hot once she stepped away from the window.  Her back ached with the fire of its wounds.  The white gown was flawless in the front, but in the back it was stained with blood. Movement caused the pain to flair.  She stopped halfway to the hearth and her salvation.  She felt weak and regretted refusing her supper.  She wavered a moment and then her vision blurred.  She was going to fall and there was nothing to grab hold of.  Cyrus only stood there watching her, offering no help.  Was she really going to give herself to this man?

     Cyrus was acutely aware of her every move.  His curiosity was peaked when Bronte stood and began to walk slowly toward him.  She wore no expression that would tell him of her intent, but she was approaching him so he stood to wait for her.

     She seemed reluctant to move forward.  She stopped and he wondered if she would turn from him now.  The smell of blood wafted again through his sensitive nostrils and this time he knew it was fresh.

     Bronte felt her knees buckle beneath her and she fell to them.  Her hands kept her from falling any farther, but she could not rise.  The heat from the hearth assaulted her bloody back as she slowly lowered her face to the cool stones and held still until the wave of nausea and dizziness could pass.

     She heard Cyrus’ quick intake of breath, and then she felt his shadow cross her as he moved to stand in front of her.  He knelt down and placed a cool hand on the back of her neck where no wound marked her.  His cold hand felt wonderful and she wished there was some way he could cool the heated destruction that was her flesh.  She thought to beg him to kill her, but knew that he would never do so.  He had too much to gain from her life and she doubted he would take it.  She was doomed to endure Seth’s attentions.  She had to live to protect Carol.  She wondered if the vampire king could protect her if she promised herself to him.  That would have to be a stipulation.

     Slowly Bronte moved her neck and Cyrus’ hand fell away.  She pushed herself up using the palms of her hands and the slight movement caused a cascade of heat to wash over her severed muscles.  She was broken, heart and soul, and she knew it.  She would do anything to stop this.  She would humble herself before the vampire king and beg his mercy.  She would give her body to him and allow him to take the power he thought would be his when he was done with her. Her usefulness would be over once he had claimed her.  Still, it would not be Seth.  There was satisfaction in that.  It was a morbid satisfaction though, to know that she could beat Seth only by giving herself to Cyrus.  It wasn’t really a choice, but it was better than this.

     Cyrus felt an overwhelming rage as he looked at her tattered flesh.  He thought about the nights his hand had caressed that silken flesh and now it was bloody and torn.  Seth would be punished for this.  The time would come, and Seth would know his wrath.

     Bronte had attempted to move so Cyrus leaned back to allow her more room.  He wanted to help her, but was afraid he would only cause her more pain.  She lifted herself to a sitting position on her knees.  Her skin was pale and the thin sheen of perspiration gave her skin a false glow as the fire reflected off of it.  Her hair had fallen from its place atop her head and now the barrette that had held it together lay open on the floor before her.  She had swept it to one side when she realized it was falling and it kept the silken strands from falling in the blood and gore.

     To Cyrus she looked close to death and his need to protect her became overwhelming.

Something about seeing the marks on her skin that matched his own made him feel that she did indeed belong to him somehow.  She was his, legend or no.

      She was staring forward, not seeing anything and he worried about her sanity. She turned her head to face him and his heart burned at the helplessness he saw in her eyes.  Those same eyes that defied him, mocked him and captivated him now held a shadow of who she once was.  There was sadness and despair.  He could not pull his eyes away from hers.  She struggled to say something, but it was difficult to understand her.  She recognized that she was having a hard time speaking coherently and it only served to frustrate her.  He watched tears form and she tried again to speak and was again unsuccessful.

     He stood and walked to her bedside where he had noticed a glass of water.    Cyrus smelled the water to ensure that there was no poison or drugs.  It was only a glass of water.  He took it to her.

     She stared at it for a moment and then looked to him.  There was mistrust in her eyes, but she took the glass. She had never been granted water before, but perhaps Seth didn’t want Cyrus to know how extensive her treatment was there.   Her eyes never left his as she drank in small sips.  She handed the glass back to Cyrus and he sat it down on the stone floor beside him.

     “Take me from here Cyrus,” she finally managed.  “Take me from here and give your protection to Carol and I will give myself to you.”

     Her words were a double-edged sword.  He wanted her.  He wanted the power he would receive from having her.  He wanted to teach Seth a lesson.  Still, it would not be as it should.  She had to give herself willingly and without force.  She would give herself willingly to him, but it would still be by Seth’s force.

     He had no intentions of taking her.  The game had been a ploy to speak with her without Seth’s interference. 

     “I cannot,” he said.  His anger flared as he realized the position he was in.  By all rights he could not take her until she was no longer under duress, but he could take her from Seth’s castle if she went willingly.  “I cannot claim you like this,” he said in gentle tones.  “But, I can take you from this castle.”

     Bronte felt so defeated then.  If Cyrus did not claim her, Seth would never allow her to leave, and he would take his anger out on Carol just as he had promised.  She couldn’t allow that. 

     “I can’t go unless I know Carol will be safe,” she whispered at him.  Talking was so difficult and took so much energy she wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep it up.

     “Even if I offered protection to Carol, Bronte, Seth would not honor it.  He will take his revenge on us both and innocents will pay with blood and life.”  He wanted her to understand the truth of it.  Seth was not supposed to do a lot of things he did, but he was a powerful vampire and many of his indiscretions were covered up by his underlings.  Cyrus knew Seth was not following the law, but he was buying his time until he had claimed Bronte and secured his position before taking the ultimate revenge on his adversary. 

     Her frustration and pain won out and tears slipped down her cheeks.  Cyrus would not help her, or could not.  It didn’t matter which.  She would remain at the mercy of Seth and she could not do that.  Her despair opened up and showed her the future she would have; endless nights of pain and torture. 

     She lifted one pale hand and rested it on Cyrus’ cheek.  She leaned forward and placed a soft and gentle kiss on his lips and then moved back to look into his remarkable green eyes.  Those eyes held a hint of confusion then and she marveled at the fact that she had never seen him be anything but arrogant and self-assured.

     “Show me mercy Cyrus.  Find power from another.  Be merciful and take my life. Release me from my pain,” her whispered plea echoed in the small room, and it filled his heart with fear.

     “No!” he hissed in anger at her.  She was to be his salvation and he would not let her go.  She had no understanding of how important she was to his race, to the humans should his race fall to Seth, or how important she was to him. 

     He did not like the feelings that washed over him.  They were foreign as so many of those she elicited from him were.  They caused him pain he could not ignore or take revenge for.

     “Can you take the pain away Cyrus?” she asked quietly as though his angry reply had not touched her. 

     To him she sounded like a child.  She was truly good and kind and she did not deserve the life she would be cursed with.  That part of him that wanted to protect her surged forward and he became warm as his power filled him.

     “Yes,” he said and she found she did not fear him as she watched his eyes wash from their brilliant green to a glowing red.  “Yes, Bronte, I can take away your pain.  But you must realize that only I can do this for you. Seth cannot.  It is only I who can offer you release from this pain and despair.  So you must make me a promise now,” he said with authority.

     She didn’t care what he would demand of her.  She would say yes to any terms.  She needed to think clearly and she could not do so with her body wracked with so much pain.  She nodded in acceptance before his terms were put to her.

     “You must promise never to try and kill me again,” he told her. 

     He smiled then and she wondered if she had finally lost her mind.  He could demand anything of her at that moment, did he not realize that?  He offered her release from her torment, and in return asked only that she not try to kill him.  She felt confused.  Was he teasing her?  She wasn’t sure she could make any judgment on his request, but she knew she could fulfill it.

     “I promise,” she said to him. 

     He nodded at her acceptance and picked up the empty water glass.  He threw it toward the hearth and it shattered there.  He picked up a jagged piece and walked back to Bronte where she remained on her hands and knees.  She watched him silently.  She had no idea what he would do, but she didn’t care.  He had promised to help her, and she believed him.

     He removed his shirt and bared his forearm.  His eyes locked with hers as he slit a deep cut into his flesh.  She looked away.  She could not watch him bleed.  She had seen enough of his blood to last a lifetime.  She watched his shadow on the floor.  She heard him approach her and felt the first few drops of blood hit her back.  Her deep and quick intake of breath attested to the sensitivity of her flesh there.  The blood was pouring over her now and she realized that the pain had begun to subside.  Blood overflowed and spilled beside her.  She watched it as it dried quickly in front of the fire.  Soon she felt the rush of his blood in her system where it had found access through the deep cuts of her back.

     “Stand,” he instructed her and she did so.  She turned to face him now, feeling the wounds on her back healing at an incredible speed.  Feeling his blood infuse with her own.  It was only a small amount, but she knew that was all that was needed to heighten her senses and give her a rush of power.

     He held his arm so that the cut would fuse.  He stepped closer to her and looked down into her upturned face.  He saw the faint color of health begin to crawl slowly up her face and knew that his blood had found its way into her.

     “My blood is inside you,” he said quietly.

     “I know,” she replied.

     His hand reached out to her and cupped her face at her jaw.  She did not move away.

     “You should not have left my protection,” he said as he looked into her dark blue eyes.

     “It didn’t feel like protection at the time Cyrus,” she told him and he felt the weight of her words. “It felt like betrayal.”

     “So, are we now even?” he asked.

     She thought about it.  She wasn’t sure if they were or not.  He had purposefully lied to her about who he was, she had accidentally stabbed him.  She did leave him bleeding though.  She knew he was hurt and she left him there.  She nodded at him then thinking that perhaps they were even.  She wasn’t sure what that would mean, but it felt right to allow her anger with him to go.  He had hurt her heart, but it was nothing that could not mend.  It was nothing compared to what Seth had done to her spirit. 

     “Yes, Cyrus,” she finally voiced, “We are even.”

     His eyes were still on hers and she could see that he was pleased.  He leaned in slowly toward her, but she did not back away.  She thought that she should.  She recalled that this was not over and that Cyrus would still want the power, but she felt differently now.  She wasn’t sure that Cyrus did not deserve the power he thought she could give him.  He wanted to ensure that Seth did not spread his evil and gain his own power.  Bronte thought that keeping Seth out of power was essential. 

     Cyrus was not sure why she had not backed away, but he continued to approach her, watching for signs of hesitation.  As his lips touched hers he watched her eyes close and he allowed himself to feel the softness of her. 

     His lips upon her own were the promise of safety and she needed that.  She needed him.  Then she felt the stirrings that always came when he kissed her.  She was not sure they would come this time.  She wondered if she would ever feel anything again after all she had been through, but she felt it.  Perhaps Seth had not broken her entirely.  She did not feel fear of discovery from Seth as Cyrus kissed her.  She did not worry if Seth would be displeased over it.  She didn’t feel as she thought she might, as though kissing Cyrus would be in defiance of Seth.  What she felt was the tiniest stirrings of heat and butterflies.  Seth’s kiss had not produced such feelings.  She thought of the markings they had found on her back and the energy she felt when Cyrus touched her there.  For the first time she considered that perhaps Cyrus was right.  Maybe he was her destiny.

     His hand fell to her shoulder as he brought himself even closer.  He felt her hand go to his face and it was warm and soft on his skin.  He pulled back to look at her.  Her eyes opened and her thumb caressed the fullness of his bottom lip.

     “Did you feel it when your hand touched the markings on my body?” she asked.  She wanted to know if he had felt the sudden rush of energy, or if he given to her.  She wondered what he had thought of finding them.

     His eyes grew intense as he considered the importance of her admitting that she had felt something.  He had felt it too.  It had been incredible.  Had he not been trying so hard to hide his surprise he might have thought to take that power boost at that moment and tear Seth’s heart out. 

     “Yes,” he whispered at her, “I felt it.”

     She was studying him then and he was not sure what the significance of it was.  She looked at him as though she were seeing him for the first time.  There was confusion, but there was something else there. 

     He felt his body grow tight just from the way she looked at him.  She did not look broken and desperate at that moment.  At that moment she looked as though she knew exactly what she wanted.  His hardness grew and he felt his fang lengthen as it became clear to him that what she wanted was him. 

     Before he could claim his next kiss he saw her look away.  She seemed to be listening to something and he opened that sense up to its usual acuteness and took in the sounds of the house.  He heard them immediately. 

     “The whisperers,” she said so quietly he thought she hadn’t meant to say it aloud.  She stepped back from him then and began to stare at the door.  He watched horror wash over her features and could hear her heart beating loudly in her chest.  She swallowed hard enough for him to hear it and then she glanced at the hearth. 

     Bronte knew the fire there was sufficient, but she walked over and put another log there.  She was tired.  She was always tired.  There would be little sleep unless the fire was big enough.  Her mind locked into the routine she had grown to know.  She had to build a bigger fire if she were to sleep at all.  She forgot what she was doing before and she stared into the fire, listening for the sounds of the whisperers and looking for falling soot.

     She could hear them outside the door.  She knew if she looked she would see the shadows moving at the crack at the base there.  She didn’t look there anymore.  She had stopped days ago.  She only watched the fire now.  It was important to watch the fire.  Her mind understood that the fire was important to her survival from the horror of the whisperers. 

     She backed away slowly and was startled into a sharp cry when her back hit the solid frame of the man standing there behind her.  Her back was completely healed and there was no pain there, but her mind had forgotten he was there and she took a moment to recognize him.  Then she turned and put her hand on his chest.

     “Don’t go near the fireplace Cyrus,” she said in low tones.  She glanced over her shoulder to ensure that no soot was falling there and then turned her attention back to him.  “They can come in through the fireplace.  We have to keep the fire lit at all times. We mustn’t fall asleep and let the fire go out.”

     He stared down at her with mixed emotions.  He was worried again for her sanity.  He was angry again at Seth for the wounds he saw in her eyes, in her soul.  He was touched that she felt the need to protect him. 

     She looked again over her shoulder and he called to her. 

     “Bronte,” he said and she looked at him.  “I will send them away.”

     She looked at him in obvious confusion.  A wrinkle appeared between her brows and she cocked her head to one side.  He nodded and stepped away from her toward the door. 

     “Don’t open the door,” she whispered in alarm at him as he stood there.  He turned and saw the fear.

     He placed his hand on the door and bent his head slightly as he listened to them. 

     “Fear me,” she heard him say in even tones at the door.

     To her utter amazement the sounds ceased.  Her eyes were drawn to the crack at the base of the door, but there were no shadows.  She turned and looked at the fireplace.  She strained to hear them, but there was only silence outside her room.  She stared at him as he walked away from the door and came to stand in front of her.  She looked up at him then, but she didn’t see what it was the whisperers should fear.  She looked around him at the door again, but there was nothing there.

     “Do they fear you Cyrus?” she asked as her eyes moved from the door to his face.

     He only nodded in answer.  “Should I fear you?” she asked meekly.

     In his mind sprang to life the word “yes”, but he could not bring himself to say it, even though it was true.  It was a natural response to him to instill fear and he had to stop himself and consider it this time.  He did not want her to fear him.  He did not ever want her to fear him.

     His hand floated in the air toward her face and she held still as it rested on her jaw softly.  His thumb stroked her gently and he leaned down toward her lips.

     “Do not fear me,” he whispered as his lips touched hers.  She was soft and plaint and he looked down at her when he withdrew.  She looked very tired and he knew that Seth had not allowed her to rest. 

     Her eyes opened to him and there was a vulnerability there.  She trusted him.  She did not fear him. 

     “Do you want me to watch over you while you sleep?” he asked seriously. 

     Her hand came up and rested on his own at her face.  Her eyes shown with unshed tears of relief and gratitude and something he had seen before, but had not thought to see again.  The hope she had when he was Quinn lived there in her eyes at that moment and he held her close as though he could capture that look for himself.

     “Please,” it came out desperate and his heart beat in his chest without his will.  It sprang to life to tell him that she still affected him.

     He lifted her up in his arms and carried her to the bed.

     “I want out of this dress,” she said as she scrambled to her knees of the bed.  She hated the dress.  She hated all the dresses.  She moved to the other side of the bed and stood beside it.  She unzipped the dress and let it fall as she had done earlier.  She didn’t care that her back was covered in his blood.  There was nothing she could do about that tonight.  She left only the slip and the silk underwear in place and then looked across the bed at him.

     He pulled the covers back.  The room was hot and she would not need them, but he left the sheets pulled down only halfway so she could climb beneath them, which she did.  She lay on her side waiting for him expectantly.  She would not be able to sleep until he was beside her.  He removed his clothes, but she was unafraid of his nakedness.  He climbed in beside her and she came to him.  He gathered her to him and her head rested on his bare chest.  Her arms held on to him as though she were afraid he would leave her in the night.

     “Don’t leave me Cyrus,” she whispered onto his skin.

     His arms reflexively brought her closer.  He knew she did not want to be left at the castle in Seth’s care.  He knew she wanted him to take her with him when he left.  He would take her with him, he just wasn’t sure what he would do once they left the castle.

     He felt her body grow soft as it molded itself to his own.  He watched her eyes flutter close and he watched her while she slumbered.

     He pushed out with his power as he lay there.  He tried to get a fix on who was in the castle, or what.  He already knew that Seth could hide himself somehow and he did not feel Seth’s presence.  He felt others though.  There were fledglings, ghouls and humans.  He pushed out farther and felt his power connect with the vampire outside the castle.  That one was making arrangements for them.  They would not spend another night in this castle.