Treasured: Beneath the Shadows of Evil ~ Book Three 1 comment


© Jolynn Raymond 2013

My work is not to be copied, or republished in any form or format.

treasuredThis is book three in the trilogy. It is not a stand alone book.
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First there was Taken… 

Alliana was a young Gypsy woman stolen from her family, she was to be used and discarded, but fate had other ideas. Mikhal was the cruel and evil vampire lord, he was to be feared and despised for all of time, but destiny wouldn’t allow it. 

Then there was Torn… 

Mikhal never intended to care for Alliana, and she never intended to forgive him for the cruelty he inflicted upon her. Once love began to enter his heart, he vowed to make his unwilling bride happy in her new life. Try as he might to convince her he had changed, Alliana’s heart remained torn between the pain her heart could not forget and the tenderness Mikhal now showed her. 

Now there is Treasured… 

The evil his past created, threatens their fragile bond and all they hold dear. She will kill to protect her family. He will do anything to save the love he can once more feel. Who will win in the war between the horrors of his past and the promise of their future? Can their love survive the evil he wrought for a hundred years? Can love and goodness overcome terror and hate? Evil means to destroy their happiness. Can a love that is so fragile survive? Who will triumph when darkness once again comes to call? 

The final battle unfolds in Treasured… Beneath the Shadows of Evil Book Three

            Hungary 1500’s

 

Chapter One

 

Mikhal awoke, lying on his side, arm curled protectively about his new family on the massive bed. Little Mikhalen was awake and staring about, tiny fists waving, but no cry came from his mouth. He was content for now just to be warm in his mother’s arms. Mikhal knew that the babes would demand to be fed very soon, but for now, he preferred to allow Alliana the sleep she so obviously needed.

A bit of the color had returned to her cheeks, and she appeared to be resting peacefully and not to be in a great amount of pain, but there was still an unwelcome pallor to her skin, and dark circles under her lids that couldn’t be hidden by her long lashes.

He rose silently, and Mikhalen gurgled, making Mikhal freeze. He didn’t wish for the boy to wake his mother. Not yet. After but a moment, the child thankfully went back to waving his fists, and then fell asleep once more. Watching, smiling, Mikhal finally rose. He went to the door and sent the servant down to the kitchen. Alliana would need food when she awoke, and there was something else he needed. Something special that he’d never dreamed of needing in the last one hundred years.

Thalia arrived at once, her footsteps as quiet as she possible could make them, and paused a moment to look at her Mistress and the new babes before raising her eyebrows in a silent question to the Master.

Mikhal told the woman what he wished, and then went to sit in a chair near the bed so he could gaze at his family once more. This was bliss, pure and utter bliss, and he couldn’t be happier. While it was true Marishka was still out there, and true there may be other evil afoot, and he hadn’t fully gained his wife’s heart, he had been given such a precious gift in the family who lay before him, and it was almost overwhelming.

As Mikhal looked at them, he vowed then and there that he would continue to do what it took to become a better man, not just for Alliana, not simply to win her love, but because it was the right thing to do. He had to be an example to his children, for he wanted them to become loving souls, not tyrannical spoiled brats who had no idea how to treat people. They were a mix of vampire and human, and Mikhal had every intention of honing their human qualities.

These thoughts and feelings were very unique to him, and the beast in him rolled in his belly, discontent that it was being shoved aside and forgotten yet again, but Mikhal ignored it and focused instead on tiny Katia’s cherub face.

How could he allow her to be spoilt and selfish? How could he let her become what Marishka had been?  How could he allow her to instill terror and feed off the misery of others? The answer was simple. He couldn’t. It was clear she was quite human in body; he had felt the heat radiating off her when he held her, but her spirit was yet to be known. As for his son, he’d felt that the boy was of his loins more than his mother’s and because of that, Mikhal knew he would have to take a careful hand in raising his son.

When he had captured Alliana, it had been with the intent to create a child who would grow up and stand by his side. One that would help him conquer the world, but that was no longer the case. If his son was mostly a creature of the night, then Mikhal knew he was going to do all he could to instill the human morals of the child’s mother inside him.

Thalia returned with the registry book as Mikhal had requested, pulling him from his musings, and he took it to the writing desk, opening it up to the page where his and Marishka’s names had been recorded. He then took the quill and did something he never thought he would be able to do. He recorded the names of his children.

 

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Natalya stood nude, feet bare on the cold stone floor in the corner bathing area of her chambers, soaking a rough sponge in a bucket and running it across her skin over and over. She’d scrubbed the blood from her hands from the deliveries of the night, erased all traces of her toil, the sweat, the dirt, but still, she couldn’t rid herself of the feeling of Andor’s hands and mouth. The filthy, revolting presence of him, the scent, the taste… the memory.

She scoured at her breasts, her thighs, wincing as she bathed the deep gouges on the tender skin there, then soaked the sponge once more and squeezed it over her head, soaking herself again, but it wasn’t enough.

The water was turning cold, the puddle beneath her feet even colder, but still she didn’t stop. Once again she picked up the bar of scented soap and lathered her skin, covering every inch, then went to scrubbing once more. He was on her. She was tainted, dirty, and she had to become clean. Silent tears fell as she washed. Tears she’d held in for the long hours of Alliana’s labor, but now, now that she was alone, Natalya was free at last to let out her terror and pain.

As she bathed, and the silent tears flowing down her cheeks, Lucian strode down the hallway, heading for her chamber. He wanted to check on her before he retired. Something inside him urged him to go and see if she was well. Perhaps the terror of Elena had disturbed him; perhaps it had left him afraid that Natalya would be as deeply affected even though she presented herself as always being strong. He didn’t know and wouldn’t examine it further.

He told himself it was purely an act of protection. The woman had been targeted not once, but twice in the past few days, and he wanted to make certain she was well. He did not believe that the explosion in her potion’s room was an accident, and the attack by Andor, well that of course was quite intentional. Marishka wanted Natalya dead, and Lucian wanted very much to keep her alive.

He told himself once more that it had nothing to do with desire or the fact that he found her lovely and charming and had delighted in their kiss. It was simply because they now shared blood, and therefore she was his to protect. Nothing more.

Arriving at her door, he didn’t knock before entering. It had been an hour since the tower bells had proclaimed the birth of the new babe, and he thought perhaps she might already be asleep. If that were the case, he would simply pull back the protective drape and look to make sure all was well, then be on his way. It wasn’t a question of manners; it was simply a courtesy he was extending. He didn’t wish to wake her. She’d been through so much that night.

Entering silently he spied the open drapes around the bed and immediately deduced that she was not asleep. Looking around he didn’t see her, and began to worry about the reason she would be gone from her chambers when it was obvious she should have been abed. Then the sound of splashing water and stifled sobs coming from the tiny bathing chamber off to the left clued him in on her whereabouts.

What now? The sound of her tears moved him, stirred something new inside, a mixture of animalistic fury and a man’s caring. His beast also reacted to the thought of her wet and naked behind the bathing screen. She was vulnerable now, oh so vulnerable, just as his demon liked, but Lucian knew he couldn’t take advantage of the fact. It wasn’t right, and it certainly wasn’t an act of protection.

There was his Master’s decree and his own honor to prevent him, and there was something more. A feeling that he would harm her inside steal away some of her fire if he exploited her now. The feelings of needing to protect her rose up again, and he narrowed his eyes. It was unfamiliar. He lived for himself and to serve his Master. True he had protected the Mistress and this one as well in the past, but that had been on orders. This was different. This time he wanted to see to her; to make her tears cease. So now he had a decision to make.

He stood, watching, listening, mulling over his options, starring at the screen and the outline of Natalya’s body as she raised her arms above her head and squeezed the sponge. He could see every curve through the screen, every lovely inch, rounded and soft, and much to his dismay he felt himself harden at the sight.

She had taken a lamp behind the screen, and her shadow left nothing to the imagination. He became mesmerized, as he watched her running the sponge over her breasts, her thighs, her womanhood, rubbing furiously at her body, her wet hair streaming down her back like a water nymph.

His nostrils flared as he caught her scent, lavender and an earthy woman smell, so rich, so warm. His manhood began to respond even more, growing large in his breeches, but then the pressure of it, the intense fire and yearning brought him back to reality. She wasn’t his, now wasn’t the time. He couldn’t have her, couldn’t seduce her, and if she knew he had been watching her, if she knew he had heard her sobs, she would be furious.

He backed away and went to the chamber door, opening it softly, and backing out then knocking as he reentered. He still intended to see her, just not like that, not when she was so enticing and vulnerable.

Natalya cried out at the sound of the knock and the opening of the door. She knew it wasn’t a maid come to help her; she’d deliberately told her new servant that she wished to be alone, so that left only Mikhal the Merciless or Lucian.

“Whomever it is, I am in the midst of bathing and wish to be alone.”

“Finish woman and dress. I shall turn my back so you may maintain your modesty, but I insist on speaking to you.”

Lucian heard the sponge drop into the bucket and Natalya take in an indignant hiss of air, signaling the tirade he’d known would come.

“How dare you? I… Lucian this can wait until after I have rested. Is it possible you are not aware that I just spent nearly a day and night day delivering babes? My arms ache as does my back.”

“I am quite aware, Natalya. I am also aware that you were attacked and preyed upon by one of my kind. You were bitten and fed from, and though I gave you sustenance, you must still be weak from the experience. I simply wish to ascertain your health and to make certain your chamber is secure before I retire.”

She came around the bathing screen then, a worried look upon her face, wrapped in a dressing robe that had plastered itself to her wet body, leaving nothing to Lucian’s imagination. His eyes quickly looked her over; he couldn’t help himself, but then they settled back on her face; the look of fear in her eyes stilling a bit of the stirring in his loins.

“Do you think Marishka will come? Would she dare?”

“No, not Marishka, but there could be others such as Hannah. I do not think the fire was an accident, and Andor proved just how very ruthless and insane he and Marishka were or are. She is still out there, and we know not who is on her side. You are a strong force of protection for the Mistress and the babe.”

“Babes”

“What?”

“I said babes? You didn’t know?”

“I’ve been in my chambers. I heard the tower bells but nothing else. Lord Arcos has not come to see me since before the birth.”

“The Mistress gave birth to twins. A boy and a girl..”

“Then we shall have to be extra careful to guard them. What of the Mistress, is she well?” Lucian was thinking how small Alliana was and how quickly her pregnancy had progressed.

“It was not an easy birth, but all are well.”

“And you, Natalya? How are you?”

“I told you. I am weary.”

“Twas not that of which I speak.” His eyes held a new softness as they bored into her soul, making Natalya want to go to him, to lay her head on his shoulder and feel the comfort of his arms, but that was not was not to be. He hadn’t offered, and she knew they couldn’t cross that line. There were rules, boundaries, some of which she had created herself, and she didn’t want to be taken care of by any man.

She turned away suddenly as tears filled her eyes. “I do not wish to speak of it.”

In two strides, Lucian was behind her, holding her by the shoulders, turning her, gazing down into her tortured eyes. They were red rimmed from her tears only a while before and full of pain. Lucian gripped her shoulders tightly, and Natalya winced, making his fingers instantly loosen, but he did not release her as he forced back the anger he felt by both her tears and the audacity of the vampire who had done this to her.

“Natalya, simply look at me and tell me you are all right and I shall leave you be.”

She shook her head. What was this? Was he finding a sick thrill in her pain as Alliana said Lord Arcos had when he’d first brought her friend here? He was a vampire, and a very unemotional and detached one at that, never letting on how he felt, but that wasn’t how he was acting now. Was it the sharing of blood? Hadn’t he told the truth about the true meaning of the act?

“I need not look at you nor follow your orders, Lucian. You have no control over me, nor can you dictate my actions. I told you I am fine, leave me alone.” Her tone was bitter, caustic, meant to send him packing, but inside she was melting, ready to give in to the need to be comforted. She was trembling from his nearness and the emotional strain of the day, and she knew her hard exterior was about to crack.

Lucian spun her around, tired of being ordered about by this woman who had a strange draw on him. He shook her just once, and her head went back as her mouth opened in a cry of surprise and outrage, and then he forgot all reason and pulled her close, kissing to silence the tirade that was sure to come from his harsh actions.

His mouth claimed hers and Natalya stiffened as a jolt sent a shockwave through her and tingled up her spine. It wasn’t sexual, not really, just a sense of buzzing inside as the two became one. Lucian felt it too and wondered at it. He’d never claimed a female, never shared blood, and wasn’t certain how it would feel to take one after the act had been done, but he certainly didn’t find the sensation racing through him now to his disliking.

The kiss deepened as Natalya pushed against his hard chest, but he ignored her feeble protests, he could feel their connection, feel the heat. He wrapped his arms around her tighter, closing any distance, the thin, wet dressing robe creating only the tiniest of barrier between himself and her bare skin.

His hands entwined in her wet locks, holding her still as his mouth claimed hers, his tongue sweeping back and forth, taking, possessing, then caressing gently urging her to open up for him, to want him, to accept him.

She did, unable to help herself. Unable to resists the passions that flared between them or deny the wonderful tingling sensation she felt everywhere he touched her.

Fire sprang forth deep inside them both as the kiss deepened. Lucian still holding her head but moving his other hand lower to caress her back then cup her bottom through the thin, wet fabric of the dressing robe, pressing her against his hard body, letting her feel his desire, as her breasts were crushed against his chest.

She moaned a cry of longing and pain caught in her throat, sealed deep inside her by the force of his lips. She was so confused. This was wrong. She was married. She was no trollop to be used for pleasure, but his touch, his heady kisses were robbing her of her will, and that was something, which she treasured. It was all she truly had.

Danior had taken her freedom; Andor had stripped her power away completely, and she wouldn’t, couldn’t give it up for Lucian either. No matter how she desired him, if she let him take her now, he would become her keeper. It was the way of things.

His hand came up to caress her cheek as his lips moved to place feather light kisses on her neck, and what he felt under his fingertips made him freeze. Tears. Though she was responding to his touch, though there was an undeniable fire burning deep inside her, there were tears running freely down her cheeks, as well. This wasn’t what she wanted.

Lucian broke the kiss at once and looked at Natalya, seeing eyes full of accusation and questions. True there was passion and longing, but there was also rage and despair. He berated himself then, knowing he had used her like he’d sworn he wouldn’t. He’d taken advantage of her vulnerability, of her need for comfort, and had possibly crushed a bit of the spirit that made her so very special.

“Natalya, I…”

She struggled as he tried to pull her close again, tried to hold her, to comfort her, to be the tender gentleman he should have been from the start, but she shoved him hard and brought her hand up to slap him across the face, eyes blazing. He raised a palm to his stinging cheek then smiled. Nope, he hadn’t managed to kill her fire at all. It was very much apparent, and of that he was quite relieved.

“If you are quite done with your inspection, Sir, I will ask you once more to leave my chambers.”

Her lips were swollen, her hair gleaming a deep dark shade of wet copper, her cheeks ablaze with indignation, and her body, oh her body was so exquisite in that transparent, wet gown, but alas, he knew he had to leave. To deny his beast was a daunting prospect, but at least he had been able to return the fire to her gaze once more.

“Yes, M’Lady. I am quite finished and very convinced as to the healthy state of your welfare. Will we be traveling together on tomorrow’s eve?”

Natalya swallowed hard, doing her best to maintain her composure. Truth be told her head was spinning, and she could still feel the hands and lips of the handsome man before her, and sensation was not an unpleasant one at all. Disturbing yes, never before had she felt such things, but definitely not unpleasant.

“That will depend on the Mistress’s needs and my charges in the village. Rowen should be checked on, but I can do that during the daylight hours if Alliana wants me to tend her and help her with the babes in the evening.”

Lucian let out a low growl. Little fool. She would never be going beyond these walls without him again. True it was his fault that she had been attacked. He should have been there when darkness fell. Had it been light, the peril would never have found her, but never would she venture forth alone, be it by sunlight or by moon.

“Do you have a problem with that, Sir?”

“Tis not safe. I would think you were well aware of that now.”

“I shall ask the Master of the castle. I do not need your permission.”

Again with the supreme stubborn attitude he so admired. How was he to deal with such a woman as her? “As will I, Natalya. We shall see who wins this battle. Your welfare is the prize, and I am poised to fight for what I see is the only sensible decision. Have a good rest.”

Natalya said nothing, just watched him with eyes hooded to conceal her thoughts in much the same way he always concealed his. Finally, he gave her a small but distinct glare of irritation and spun on his heel, leaving her alone to rest.

She quickly stripped off the wet dressing robe and pulled a nightdress over her head, then went to the bed, knowing her sleep would be troubled. As for Lucian, he stormed down the hall, loins aching, temper flaring, seeking the peace of a restful slumber, praying that visions of the fiery red headed temptress did not invade his dreams.

 

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While Alliana lay with her babes and her husband, and Natalya bickered yet again with the insufferable Lucian, Marishka sat crouched in front of a small fire inside the cave where Andor had left her, gazing into the dancing flames, looking for her fairies, listening for their sweet voices.

She had stripped bare after Andor had left in search of food, feeling filthy and degraded in the once regal gown that was now no more than a rag, her hair matted, tangled, dull, hanging lank about her shoulders, and proceeded to dance around the fire. Hands over her head, twirling, swaying, trying to find the special place where her mind could be free, Marishka spun and danced, seeking the euphoria of madness.

She’d been without her precious milk of the poppy now for a day, and she didn’t like it, not one little bit, and the hunger pangs in her stomach annoyed her, as well. The cave was dank and dirty, cold and damp, and it certainly wasn’t fit for a Lady such as herself. There were no new gowns, no pretty trinkets, and no fawning fools to pay homage to her beauty. It simply wasn’t right.

Time after time she had teetered on the verge of complete despair, and the only thing that kept these thoughts from overtaking her and driving her down into a deep state of languid depression was the fact that Andor promised he would have her back at the castle soon. That, and the fact that he would be returning soon with a nice morsel for supper to appease her growing hunger and need to torment him.

He’d promised her a girl. She liked girls. They were so yummy when they were terrified and their flesh so soft under her harsh fingers. She liked how their sweet flesh bruised, how they cried and begged when she touched them in places that made their eyes go wide, and how they babbled out their terror, the scent of it filling her nostrils when she told them she would give them to Andor to rape and torture.

All of it made for wonderful fun and drove away the darkness that filled her mind these days if only for a little while. She missed her Hannah, her sweet little toy, missed her castle and her gowns, missed her regular meals and her dark, bloody play, and most of all, she missed her Mikhal.

Her body felt heavy and cold, and she was hungry, but Andor had yet to return. The first rays of the sun were touching the horizon, telling her that if he didn’t arrive soon, she would be forced to endure another day alone and hungry.

Where was he? He had promised her goodies, and knew his mummy didn’t like to be left all alone, bad Andor, bad boy. He angered her so very often now days, but inside Marishka knew she needed him.

Giving in to the hunger that made her skin crawl and her stomach growl, she stretched upward on her toes, intent on capturing one of the bats that had so recently returned to its roost. As her fingers clutched the furry little body she froze, stone still, listening intently. The tower bells were pealing, telling her that the brat had been born.

She shrieked causing the bats to stir, and squeezed the one in her hand, crushing it like a delicate flower, its blood spurting between her fingers as it made a small squeak of pain.

“So it has happened and so early too. Enid always said we know not what magick will do. I hope the Gypsy whore died in her bed, bled out like a pig stuck for slaughter.”

The image of Alliana lying pale upon the sheets, blood soaking the linens beneath her, cheered Marishka, and she grasped another bat, this time snapping its head then bringing the small body to her mouth and biting deeply. It was an undignified meal to be sure, but one had to make due. She would take her fill of the treat Andor brought to the cave but in the meantime she would satisfy her need and think on what the birth of Mikhal’s son meant.

Perhaps the boy who seemed to care for Andor could steal the child and make the Gypsy follow so all would be well. Perhaps things would still go as planned. Just because Hannah couldn’t serve her purpose didn’t mean the boy couldn’t serve his.

Oh, she wished Andor had come home. She was hungry and weary of living in this dank hole in the earth, and they had so much planning to do. It was time; it was finally time, and here she was, trapped in a dark cave by the killing rays of the sun, unable to reach the Gypsy who had destroyed her very existence.

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Alliana awoke to the warm feeling of her daughter nestled in her arms. She opened her eyes and gazed down at the downy-headed babe who had come as such a surprise to them all and her heart swelled with love.

She was simply perfect; her tiny hands were curled near her cherub face, her skin pink and smooth, her wispy lashes feathered against her cheeks. Alliana stroked her daughter’s cheek gently, savoring the feel of her and inhaled deeply, loving the smell of her, as well. Everything about her was warm and soft and just… perfect. She was just like a little angel.

Her hand then went to the cheek of her son, and she noticed an immediate difference when she touched him. Katia’s had been so warm to the touch, but Mikhalen was cool like his father, almost cold. The babe certainly looked as sweet as his sister, as human, but this oh so subtle sign made Alliana wonder if the boy carried more of his father’s beast inside him than his sister did.

She caressed his cheek, and he opened his eyes, the blue orbs darting about, taking in all around him. Then they focused on her for a moment, and in that instant it mattered not if he were a demon within, he was hers. Her son and he had come from her womb so he couldn’t be evil. He simply couldn’t. Her husband had good buried deep inside him so it stood to reason that her son would, as well.

Alliana looked up from her children, her eyes searching the chamber for her husband, knowing he wouldn’t have left his new family. She spied him at the writing desk running his hand over a large leather bound tome, a thoughtful expression upon his face. He looked so serene, so at peace, and it pleased her that she and their babes were the reason for his joy.

“What have you there, Mikhal?” Her voice startled him, and he looked up, smiling. He had been completely lost in thought, so intent on the miracle that had just occurred in his life, that he hadn’t heard her stir.

“Tis the family ledger. I have just recorded the births of our children. Twas something I never thought possible, Alliana. You have given me a gift that is so very special, wife. Words cannot express how I feel simply looking at you and our babes. I never dreamt of a family, never dreamt I would love like this. Thank you.”

Alliana blushed at his words. She was pleased, as well. Her life had come a long way from the night he had stolen her away from her clan. Once she had been imprisoned inside the castle walls and made to submit to him; once she had hated him. Alliana never dreamed she would be content, but now she knew she was. This was her home; her family surrounded her, and she had to admit that love had blossomed in her heart for the man who was her husband.

Mikhal saw the blush tinge her cheeks and the glow of happiness fill her eyes as she looked at him and her children. His eyes met hers, and he rose, staring deep into her emerald gaze, looking, hoping, pleased with her obvious happiness, but wishing for more. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he took her hands in his and brought them up for a flurry of kisses.

“I love you, wife. Can you find it in your heart to feel for me as I do for you? I have done you wrong in so many ways, and I know I can never erase that pain.”

“Tis all right, Mikhal. I am happy with my life here. Our babes, well look at them, they are perfect, and my heart swells with joy just to look at them.”

“Tis not what I asked you, Alliana. I am pleased that you are happy, but what of me?”

“I…” She wanted to say the words, knew he needed to hear them, but her tongue still froze as her pulse raced. ‘Trust him, he has shown you he loves you.’ her heart said, but her mind still warned of caution. If she professed her love she would finally and completely shatter the wall that had been protecting her heart all these past months.

Alliana looked at her husband again. Looked at his eyes and saw the love he held there. Saw the need for her love in return, and knew it was time. She couldn’t deny him or herself any longer.

“I love you as well, Mikhal I truly do.” Her words were whispered, and she had lowered her eyes as she said them, fear gripping her as they slipped forth, but once they were said, a rush of pleasure filled her. It had been the right thing to do.

Mikhal let out a whoop of joy then pulled her to him, paying heed to the tiny infants that lay between them, and held her tight, a low, soothing purr issuing from deep inside him.

“You won’t regret this, Alliana. You shall never regret giving me your heart. I will make you happy, all of you, you shall see. Your life here will be one filled with joy every day of your existence.”

He kissed her then, lightly at first, then harder as his heart swelled with emotion and Alliana kissed him back with the same fervor, her heart rejoicing, as well. She felt free for the first time in months. Free of the pain, free of her lingering fears, free to feel and love. True nothing could ever erase what had happened from her mind, but she had forgiven him in her soul. She felt cleansed and loved.

A sharp cry from Katia startled both of them and Alliana broke the kiss immediately, her mother’s instinct taking over, her need to tend to her babe overwhelming. The little girl opened her mouth and let out another howl, and Alliana murmured soothing words, even as she picked up the tiny girl and leaned forward, struggling to sit so she could offer up her breast.

Mikhal placed pillows behind her, and sat back, eyes wide in fascination as Alliana opened her gown and guided Katia’s tiny mouth to her nipple, stroking the child’s cheek to encourage her to take it and begin suckling. After a moment, the babe found what she was seeking and began to pull on her mother’s breast, content, as her tiny fists waved in the air.

Mikhal had noticed the glint of gold given off by the medallion right before Alliana had settled the child into position, but his question as to what it was slipped away the instant it had come. He had a daughter to watch. The scene before him was mesmerizing.

He stroked his little girl’s tiny cheeks, watching in amazement as they moved in and out, then wiped the tiny trail of milk that seeped from her mouth off her chin with a huge grin on his face. She was perfect, beautiful just like her mother, and the warmth of her skin had not slipped past his notice, nor did the beat of her tiny heart. She seemed fully human, but he supposed time would tell. Everyone had cautioned him about magickal babes.

As he watched his wife and daughter, overwhelmed by how lovely Alliana looked in this the most pure of acts a mother did for her child, Mikhalen began to fuss, showing he was hungry, as well.

Alliana looked from Katia to Mikhal, a small look of dismay on her face. She attempted to shift her daughter, who obviously was not finished with her meal, so she could bare her other breast, thinking perhaps she could nurse both at once, as Mikhalen’s cries increased.

Mikhal picked up his son and reached for Katia as well so Alliana could manage, but she shook her head as her fingers pulled the lacing on her nightshift further open, and she bared her other breast. The question was though, how was she to hold them both? Juggle them one above the other?

“I can summon the wet nurse, Alliana.”

Her face fell instantly. They were her babes; she would not have another feed them. “No, Mikhal, tis not what I wish. Give him to me.”

Mikhal did so reluctantly, and then moved to do as he had said. He would give her a chance, but he wanted the wet nurse here just in case. He didn’t wish his children to hunger, nor did he wish for Alliana to become overtaxed.

She move Katia just so, and was about to place Mikhal, whose cries had turned to shrieks of fury, to her nipple, when to her horror, her little boy began to change.

Alliana let out a loud cry of dismay, and turning back, Mikhal saw her staring at her son with a look of pure shock and terror on her face; her beautiful babe, her darling son who only moments ago had downy curls and gorgeous blue eyes, had worked himself into such a tantrum over being denied his supper that his demon side had come forth.

Gone was the cherub face with the tiny pouting mouth.  His forehead was wrinkled, his skin taking on a reddish hue and his eyes glowed amber with the fire of the damned.  Tiny needle like teeth had formed in his mouth where a vampire’s fangs would be, and his tongue darted in and out seeking the blood that instinct told him would nourish him.  His perfect little hands had grown talon like nails, and he was waving them about in his fury as he hissed and screamed.

Baby Mikhalen’s cries turned into earsplitting bird like shrieks as his anger grew, and Alliana’s panic rose with each decibel. Her whole body started to shake in terror, and her mouth opened and closed soundlessly in her panic.  Her sweet boy was not a boy at all.  He was a thing just like the other demons in the castle. She shook her head back and forth in denial, but her eyes showed her the proof.

Alliana pulled Katia closer to her, and laid Mikhalen down on the bed abruptly, scooting away with her daughter in tow, terrified of what her son had become as his cries turned to growls of rage mixed with hisses of fury. Mikhal watched the scene, his heart breaking to see his family in such turmoil, even as a mad rage fueled by his demon half filled him at the sight of his son being rejected by Alliana.

Once again both sides of him raged and this time, because of the helpless babe, his demon side was winning. He loved Alliana; he did, but she was his mate and the mother of his son, and to reject his child was unthinkable. It infuriated him to no end to see her cast off the boy like he was a horrid beast and move from him as if he were evil. What did that say of her true feelings for him if she could cast away the babe that had come from her womb?

“Feed him, Alliana. He is yours, and he hungers.”

She looked at him, eyes wide, not able to comprehend his ludicrous request not quite entering her numbed brain. He couldn’t possibly mean for her to take the boy to her breast. Not snarling, as he was, not with those teeth, not when he was like… this. Her son was a monster.

Mikhalen’s shrill sounds of rage increased in intensity as he lay on the bed, arms flailing, mouth opening and closing, face turning ever redder with fury as his eyes blazed.

“I told you to feed my son, Alliana!  He is hungry.”

“No!  I can’t. He…”

“He came from your womb. He is our son. Feed him, Alliana!” No longer did thoughts of the wet nurse fill Mikhal’s mind. Right now everything was focused on Alliana’s rejection of his son… of him.

Her whole body was trembling violently as she looked at the thing that Mikhal the Merciless wanted her to comfort and nourish, and knew she couldn’t.  It didn’t matter what he did to her, didn’t matter if he went back to being a beast himself and reverted to his old ways, she couldn’t.  Those teeth that face, those hideous glowing eyes, those claws, surely he would rip into her flesh if she put him to her breast. How could she feed such a babe?

Mikhal took several calming breaths, trying desperately to get a grip on himself, becoming enraged with Alliana wouldn’t help matters. Force was not what was needed.

“Alliana, please. He needs his mother. I know this is a shock, but he is only what I am. Don’t forsake the boy because of it.” His words spoke of little Mikhalen, but his eyes pleaded for himself, as well.

“I cannot feed him. Look at him, Mikhal, he shall surely tear me apart.”

Her refusal, her complete denial of their child, sent him over the edge, and his demon came forth. He snarled at her, wishing to tame her, to dominate, to show his mate what was right, even as the man inside him screamed at him to stop.

“I SAID FEED MY SON!

Alliana began to sob, loud gasping cries that sent a dagger into his heart, and couldn’t stop.  Her mind snapped, and she buried her face in tiny Katia’s chest as if to shut out the horrid reality of the situation.  Her baby boy was gone. A monster had replaced him. He was gone. Her beautiful son was gone. Her mother’s heart broke as her mind spun in horror.  She would never know the sweet pull on her breast from him, only pain and terror.

Mikhal looked at his wife, still in demon form, and had to dig deep within himself to find the strength to still the beast that wished to force its wishes upon its mate. He drew in a breath and did his best to block out the cries of his son, and went to the bed, determined to turn the situation that had become a tragedy around.

He sat and moved a hand to baby Mikhalen’s belly, jiggling the boy gently, trying to get him to stop screaming, or at least revert to his human form so Alliana could see him as a little boy once more, even as he reached for her and began to stroke her hair.

Alliana jerked back, expecting a blow, expecting some form of reprisal for her refusal to feed the babe, but instead felt only gentleness. She looked up at Mikhal, meeting his eyes, and saw the pain she felt in her own heart mirrored there, then looked back at little Mikhalen. The boy’s hellish sounds had diminished a bit, but he still held on to his vampire facade. Alliana bit her lower lip and shook her head sadly, looking back at Mikhal as tears coursed down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry but I can’t. Maybe in time, maybe when he… if he looks like my sweet babe again, but I can’t. I’m frightened. It’s not that I don’t love him; I do, he is mine, but… I’m afraid of him, as well. Please understand”

The man in him did. The part of him that understood and remembered what her pain had felt like when he had abused her and terrorized her, but the demon didn’t. The demon saw his son, hungry and rejected, lying upon the bed in need of his mother, but thankfully, the man won out though his heart broke.

“Very well, Alliana. I imagine the servants and the wet nurse are outside, having thought it best not to enter upon hearing your screams. I shall take him to her then and allow her to nurse him. Perhaps later you will be able to care for him. I…” The next words were hard for him because he didn’t feel her pain any longer; the empathy spell was gone but his own heartfelt pain that had to be akin to hers.

“I understand why you are so frightened. It is my hope that you will be able to come to accept your son as you have accepted me. He is but a babe and will not be able to control his impulses as I do, Alliana, but that is not his fault. He came from my loins, and to expect him to be pure human is a fool’s dream. Katia, on the other hand, well she will be your sweet cherub who is more like you, but Mikhalen, he carries traces of me, as it should be. Still, he is your son as well, and he needs you.”

Alliana didn’t respond. She looked at her crying son, heart breaking for she truly wished she could take him to her breast and nurture him, but she couldn’t. Part of her, the part that had suffered so, simply couldn’t. He looked too terrifying, and his fury seemed so utterly fueled by the evil being inside him. To see him like this shone a glaring light on the harsh reality that she had given birth to a child that was part beast.

True she had come to accept her husband, but he had learned to control his demon, her babe was a different story, and he would take some getting used to. It wasn’t that there was no love in her heart for little Mikhalen; she simply couldn’t hold him right now. The panic still raced in her breast, and her heart turned cold at the thought. Perhaps soon, perhaps when he was fed and… normal again, but not now.

 

Mikhal rose and picked up his son, cradling the boy gently. He waited a moment for Alliana to speak, to say anything to give him hope that she would truly love their son, but no words issued forth, so he finally turned and made his way out of the room, leaving a silent, broken hearted Alliana, and his tiny daughter Katia, though it broke his heart to do so.

Once in the hall he met the wet nurse just as he suspected he would, and they preceded to his chambers in silence, the nurse doing her best to hide her fear. A cradle had been placed there as well, in the event that Alliana would be moved to her rightful place in his bed, along with little Mikhalen in the future.

Neither the wet nurse nor Mikhal noticed the small boy crouched low in the shadows of an alcove near Lady Arcos’ door as they passed. Mikhal was too focused on his son and what had just transpired, and the wet nurse was busy looking at the child and fighting back her own terror.

As their footsteps, faded the child smiled evilly in the dim light. He’d heard everything of course, his vampire ears picking up each word. From the sound of it, the Master wouldn’t be back for some time, and he planned to put that time to good use. He would give the Gypsy bitch time to doze off, and then he would make his move.

After she did, he would sneak in and steal the infant girl to take to Marishka; the girl babe wasn’t as good as the son of Lord Arcos, but she would make the Gypsy come running just the same. He would grab the child, wake the woman, and run like the wind, warning her that if she made a sound he would gleefully tear the babe’s throat out.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Alliana sat hunched over in the massive bed that now felt so empty, clinging to her infant daughter, her human daughter, as her heartbroken husband took her other child away. Her tears baptized the babe’s downy head as she sobbed out her anguish. Part of her longed to take her boy into her arms and comfort him. Wanted to give him the love he needed and deserved, but then the image of him in his demon form, screaming in rage rose up in her mind once more.

She saw him for what he really was, and the image terrified her. His thick black locks that were so like Marishka’s. His eyes blazing with fury; his tiny face transformed to that of a beast. The talons that turned his perfect little hands into things of horror, and the snarls and hisses that had issued forth from her once angelic babe made her heartsick. And those teeth, those tiny teeth that would draw blood from her breast filled her with icy terror. Yes, his temperament and looks certainly made her have visions of her husband’s demented sister and the thought sent chills down her spine.

Marishka was related to her infant son, and like it or not, he could hold some of her inside of him, her blood, her ruthless evil, her insanity. What if her daughter had taken all that was good and pure and human, and her son only the qualities of the evil creatures of the night. While it was true that her husband had transformed, had seemingly found a balance between man and beast and brought forth the goodness in his heart, what was to say that her son would do the same? What if he couldn’t or didn’t wish to?

Could she love him then? Would the caring and love of his family, the guiding hand of his father be enough to steer him down the path of goodness and away from the evil that tainted him inside and drove him to instinctively crave blood and pain? Would they be able to teach him to be gentle and kind instead of bloodthirsty and wicked like Marishka? He had been so very enraged and had no way of containing himself. How would she handle such a child as he grew? Could love truly blossom in his heart the way it had in her husband?

So many questions and no answers, just a hollow place in her heart and a feeling of emptiness in her arms for the child she had shunned. Alliana sat straighter and gazed down at Katia, her perfect little babe, her darling who seemed to hold no traces of evil. She was warm, soft, sweet, human child. What would she be like as she grew?

Sighing, Alliana pulled her daughter even closer and nuzzled her downy head, breathing deeply, kissing the tiny babe who had finished her meal. She rocked her gently and sang a soft lullaby blocking out the images of the tiny boy who also needed his mother, as her eyes grew heavy. Then, knowing she was on the verge of sleep, Alliana settled Katia beside her, and lay down, pulling the furs around them both, hoping for sweet dreams, but knowing none would come. After a while, despite her broken heart, her eyes became heavy, and she finally found the refuge that sleep could provide.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

As his wife slept the sleep of pure exhaustion, Mikhal was sitting in a chair protectively watching as his son nursed from the breast of the wet nurse. The woman had balked at first. She’d been unable to help herself, cringing in terror when she had seen the tiny, razor sharp fangs that protruded from the babe’s mouth, but one look at the Master of the castle had convinced her that she had better do as she was told. The babe was fearsome, but his father was far worse.

She’d opened her gown and then raised tiny Mikhalen’s head upward, tears coursing down her cheeks, a cry of pain escaping her lips as the child had latched onto the nipple at the same time sinking his tiny fangs into the tender skin that surrounded it, then, quite contentedly, Mikhal had begun to enjoy his meal of mother’s milk and blood, waving his tiny fists in the air as he suckled.

It hadn’t taken long for him to return to his human form once his belly began to fill, but even then, he opened his mouth wider so he could have a few drops of the precious human blood mixed into his supper.

After a while, baby Mikhalen had drifted off to sleep; his tiny mouth opening, unlatching from the wet nurse’s breast, his hands falling to his sides, his body becoming relaxed, drawing shallow, irregular breaths.

Mikhal watched the scene in fascination, a sense of pride and extreme love filling him even as his heart still broke over Alliana’s rejection of the boy. It was clear that little Mikhalen was much like him with his fiery temperament and demon demeanor. His features resembled his Aunt Marishka’s, and Mikhal had a fleeting worry that the child would have trouble accepting the new morals his father had acquired.

What if the babe were like Marishka? What if he held much vampire inside that he was unable to find his human heart? The notion truly gave Mikhal pause, but then he dismissed it. With he and Alliana as parents, guiding him, showing him how to be caring, their son would not stray. That was if his mother would accept him. If Alliana didn’t, there was no telling what resentment would fester in the boy.

Determined not to allow that to happen, Mikhal went forth and took his son from the wet nurse’s arms, telling her that she would be set up in a chamber near his wife’s. It was his plan to have Mikhalen whisked away to be fed whenever he became fussy, so Alliana would not have to be confronted with the reality that her tiny babe harbored a monster inside just like his father. Perhaps in time, as the boy grew and learned to control his beast, the two would reach an understanding, but for now, Alliana and young Mikhalen would only share happy times together to help foster the mother and child connection that would be so vital in instilling compassion in a half vampire child.

He cradled the babe close to his un-beating heart as he strode down the corridor, talking to the boy, planting kisses on his crown of downy black hair, whispering promises of love. When he arrived back at Alliana’s rooms, Mikhal crept in quietly, thinking she might be asleep, and found somewhat to his relief that she was. He gave Mikhalen yet another kiss, then laid him in his cradle, and went to the bed.

Both of his girls were sleeping peacefully; Katia tucked into the crook of one of Alliana’s arms. Mikhal marveled at how much alike the two were, golden hair, pink satiny skin, soft, warm, beautiful. He bent down and kissed Katia, then moved to Alliana, brushing an errant lock of hair from her forehead, letting his fingers trail across her sweet warm brow.

Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled warmly, then her gaze clouded with worry as she remembered what had occurred before she’d fallen asleep. She began to struggle into a sitting position, wincing as she did so, but Mikhal quickly put a restraining hand on her shoulder.

“Tis fine. You rest.”

“Little Mikhalen? Is he all right? I’m… I’m so sorry, husband. I simply could not feed him.” Alliana’s eyes filled with tears at the memory of her little boy turning into a beast, and how her heart had shattered. It now felt like a cold lump in her chest and her throat felt too tight to take a breath. What was she to do? She desperately wanted to love him with all her heart and soul, but… how?

“Alliana, hush. We will work past this. I cannot deny that it pains me deeply, but part of me understands your fear. Perhaps in time…”

The words hung between them, words of hope tinged with despair, both knowing that if Alliana continued to be repulsed by her son that it would cause a break in the bond they had finally developed one that probably would never mend.

Baby Mikhalen was a part of Mikhal, and to reject the child was to reject a part of him. If Alliana truly could never love her son, then Mikhal knew she could never truly love him either. All of the hopes he had wrapped up in his foolish ideals of love hinged on the babe who now lay looking sweet and innocent in the cradle across the room, and only time would tell the outcome of their lives together.

“He is content once more, Alliana. May I bring him to you?” Mikhal knew that perhaps it was far too soon to force the boy on Alliana, but he needed her to accept the child.

Alliana’s mouth opened an instant refusal ready to spring forth, and then she closed it and bit her lower lip. “I want to husband. I wish to love him as a mother should, I truly do, but he frightens me Mikhal. I… he….”

“He is but an innocent babe, Alliana. Are you to hold his father’s crimes against him then?”

“No! I… that isn’t it, you have changed. I know that, but… Perhaps it was the shock of it all. He… He looks so much like Marishka, especially when his demon self comes forth. It sent terror through me, and I simply was unable to quell it. I have no control over my emotions, Mikhal. I know you can’t truly understand that, but please try. Part of me, the mother in me wanted to calm him, to nurture him, but when he became a hissing … thing, I panicked. It struck fear into my heart.”

“There is a part of that inside of me too. You know that.”

“And I still hold fear of it, as well. Your demon facade terrifies me. Please try and understand.”

“So you will not even hold him? Not even now when he is quiet?”

Alliana looked over at the cradle where her son lay. His tiny head was a mass of downy black ringlets, and his fists were waving in the air as he gurgled contentedly. He looked so innocent, so sweet, but was it all a ruse? Was he indeed the epitome of Marishka or did his heart hold goodness like his father’s?

“Alliana I shall take him from the chamber when he fusses. I swear. I shall not force you to accept him. I just wish for you to mother him when he is calm. Let him know you, let him feel your love. How can he learn to care if he is abandoned?”

Alliana stared at the cradle once more. Little Mikhalen looked so angelic, so sweet, so… human. His tiny coos filled the room and went straight to her heart. He was her son after all, had come from her body, and her mother’s arms ached to hold him.

“You will take him when he begins to cry?”

“I promise you. Until you are ready you shall only see him like this.” Alliana thought that it would be a long time in coming before she would be ready to tend to her son when he was in his demon form, but she didn’t share those thoughts with her husband. Instead, she simply nodded yes, and watched as her powerful husband went to the cradle of their child and lifted him ever so delicately with the widest smile in the world on his face.

The pride and the happiness she saw there made her heart swell with tenderness for the man who had once been her hated abductor. How could she harbor those feelings any longer? It was simple, she couldn’t. He was her husband and she had a family now, and magick or no magick, prophecy or no, this was her home.

Alliana moved over on the bed, nestling Katia close to her breast, and then smiled up at her husband, the invitation clear in her eyes. He beamed back at her and laid Mikhalen beside his tiny daughter, then slid into the bed, lying on his side so he could gaze at his new family, as content as any man ever was. He, Mikhal the Merciless, Master Vampire, had sired not one, but two beautiful children. Children he knew he would cherish for the rest of his days.

As they lay together as a family, bonded by love, he thought about telling Alliana the secret of his empathy curse. Surely now she would see that he still loved her and their children more than life even without the magick. Surely she would understand and believe in him.

He looked up from his babes to his wife and saw that his confession would have to wait for another time. His exhausted wife had dozed off cradling her children with a serene smile upon her face. Mikhal leaned in to kiss her softly then settled back, keeping one eye on his son lest he begin to fuss. As promised, he would whisk the boy away at the first sign of a tantrum, and would give Alliana all the time she needed to accept her vampire child.

As Mikhal watched over his family feeling as if almost all was right with the world, the angry little demon boy who had been so wronged by so many waited and listened to the gossip flying through the halls of the castle. No one paid him any mind. He was but a scraggly urchin, a thing to shove out of the way or kick for fun, but he had ears and he had a plan, one that would change the course of many lives in the castle, and he planned to implement it very soon.

 

Chapter Three

 

 

It had been close to a week since the arrival of her twins, and Alliana was recovering well, so well in fact that it irritated her to stay in her chambers, though she had to admit to still feeling pain from the birthing. Still, it wouldn’t have kept her bedridden, though she did have to take things slowly and rest often.

There were other reasons that kept her in her chambers and away from the courtyards she yearned for. Gypsy law insisted that a woman stay in seclusion for a fortnight after childbirth to keep evil spirits away from the mother and babes, and though she was far from her original home and family, Alliana cared about her old ways.

Mikhal had pounced upon the tradition when Natalya had mentioned it, ignoring the fact that Gypsy law stated the father must stay isolated as well, and simply agreed, all because he thought it was best for Alliana’s good health that she should remain abed in her chambers. Now, even though he spent many hours fussing over her, and she had the company of her children, it had seemed like a very long period of seclusion. Alliana knew what was considered right, and didn’t wish to go against customs, but she was restless.

Natalya kept her company throughout the day, she busied herself with caring for the children, and Mikhal spent as much time as he could by her side. All told she was very happy. Katia was her heart’s love, and small Mikhalen had found a place for himself deep in his mother’s heart as well. All she ever saw of her son was the tiny cherub human face he wore when he was in good temper, so to Alliana, her son was a little angel, just like his sister.

Someone, be it Natalya or Mikhal, always was in the chamber when she was accompanied her son. He stayed with her during the day so they could bond and she could cuddle him and nuzzle his downy head, but whenever the boy showed the slightest sign that he was going to fuss, Mikhal whisked him away as promised.

She had asked her husband the day following the horrible incident, if Mikhalen retained his human form when he nursed if he wasn’t in a fit before being given the wet nurse’s breast, but Mikhal had sadly told her no. It seemed the boy’s need was for a diet of breast milk mixed with human blood, and he always changed to his demon form before settling down to his meal.

Mikhal had assured her that the poor wet nurse was not being tortured in the process. The babe only made two punctures that closed up quite quickly after little Mikhalen had his fill. In truth Mikhal had hoped this information would change Alliana’s mind about nursing her son, but it had most certainly not. She couldn’t stand to think of her sweet baby boy looking as he had on the day he was born, for then he was far too much like her husband’s demented sister. She loved him dearly, but she couldn’t see him like that again. Not yet.

Both babes were thriving and eating well, or so she was told in young Mikhalen’s case. He was the picture of health, as was Katia. They were always kicking their feet about and waving their little arms as they cooed and gurgled. Both were a joy and very dear to her. Neither was more loved, neither more cherished. Her heart swelled with intense love and pride just to gaze at them, and to hold them was heaven.

That her son was taken away immediately upon the first sign of rage was never discussed after her one question about the well being of the wet nurse. It was simply done, and therefore harmony had been established. Mikhal was content to watch Alliana bond with Mikhalen in other ways, the child felt loved by his mother, and Alliana felt no fear for her son.

When she had tried to venture upon the subject of Mikhal’s feelings, he had hushed her, and told her that he had been prepared for the need of a wet nurse, seeing as how she had given birth to twins. Twas a common practice for those of wealth, and it was fine with him that Mikhalen was fed in that manner. He claimed it would be too taxing upon her to feed them both.

His face had remained loving and sincere, and his eyes never betrayed the pain he still felt inside at her revulsion over the part of little Mikhalen that came from him, so Alliana accepted him at his word.

While it was true that Alliana felt remorseful over the fact that she hadn’t taken the babe to her breast, she reasoned with herself that he spent all of his time being loved by her aside from the trips to the wet nurse. Her husband and the babes slept in her chamber, and little Mikhalen was whisked back to her as soon as he had been fed. By then he was content and sleepy and ready to be held or rocked to sleep.

Their routine was working well, and Alliana truly believed that time would conquer her fright. It was her fervent wish that someday soon she would be able to nurse her son. Truth be told, she wasn’t certain she would react in quite the same way as she had, but for now she felt it better to let him go to the wet nurse rather than have him sense the horror and subsequent rejection that she could possibly feel once again.

The mood of the castle had oddly enough taken on a merry tone that hadn’t been felt in nearly a century. Even the brooding Lucian had a sparkle in his eyes when he had been ushered in by an ever so proud Mikhal to see Alliana and the babes. Gypsy law forbade this; Alliana knew she really should have been kept away from all others, but her husband was far too proud of his family to not show them off.

The other vampire had gazed at the children in wonder, knowing that for his kind to have sired children was indeed something to rejoice in. He had even asked if he could hold little Katia, and had talked to her in some nonsensical talk that had Natalya raising her eyebrows in surprise before her gaze turned tender, and Mikhal chuckling at his behavior.

It had also made Alliana look at Natalya with questions in her eyes, but her friend had simply blushed and looked away. Where those two stood in relation to each other wasn’t quite known to Alliana. She knew Natalya harbored feelings for the dashingly handsome but often impossible vampire, but also knew her husband had laid a claim on Natalya, one which would have to be relinquished if Lucian wanted to court her.

The trouble was, Natalya still went to the village to see to her charges, and therefore, Mikhal felt he needed to keep her under the protection of the Master of the castle. Alliana felt his logic was faulty and had ventured to tell him so once, but her husband had turned glowering eyes upon her, asking her if Natalya had told her of Lucian being anything but a gentleman.

Alliana had let the subject drop after that. If the two of them, Lucian and Natalya, did indeed wish to be together, then they would have to work it out amongst themselves, and then talk to her ornery husband.

One of the things that had completely shocked then frightened Alliana was that Mikhal was planning a grand ball to celebrate the arrival of his children, and to show his appreciation of his wife to the world.

At first she had become terrified, remembering the banquet at which she had been introduced to his men. The debauchery and the screams, the disgusting minions lined up to kiss her hand, how she had vomited at her husband’s feet, and how angry he had been. But Mikhal, seeing the fear in her eyes and guessing the reason had assured her that this time would be very different. The men would be on their best behavior, and no one would be killed or harmed in any way.

It was to be a true celebration, not a means of humiliating and tormenting her like the first party had been. He’d gone on to apologize once again for his treatment of her then, and had held her close, whispering how much he loved her, until she had hesitantly said the words back. It was true, it was finally true. Alliana knew in her heart that she had finally allowed the love her husband so desired to blossom in her breast even though the words sometimes still were hard to come by. She had guarded her heart for so long against his cruelty that now, even when she knew she was safe, a tiny part of her tried to still the joyful words from flowing from her tongue.

Now the castle was a bustling place as everyone prepared for the ball that would take place in a month’s time, and though she stayed in her chambers ‘recovering’ like a proper lady and following the Gypsy laws, Alliana heard the sounds of wagon after wagon coming and going. Many of the room in the castle had been shut up during Mikhal’s reign, and now he wished for each and every one of them to sparkle, and for the castle to be the showplace it once was.

Chandeliers were forged and added throughout the halls to compensate for the shuttered windows, and in all the rooms, candles, candles, and more candles were brought from the village. The carpenters were brought in to fix old and decaying furniture and return it to its previous luster. The floors were polished until they gleamed. All about were the sounds of bustling accompanied by Mikhal’s booming laughter.

The change in him astounded her each time he came to visit. There was a look about him, like he had truly come alive again because of the birth of his children. Oh she knew that there were still dark aspects that were better left unquestioned, and she knew that though the village folk had nothing to fear in their comings and goings, there were those in the special kitchen area who had much to live in terror of, but Alliana simply refused to dwell on these facts because she couldn’t change them. Though laughter and merriment had come to the castle, Alliana knew all didn’t feel it. The beasts of the castle still fed, and their baser needs of instilling terror and satiating their lust were met as well, but she was in no position to stop any of it.

Mikhal of course, never told her these things, but Alliana knew all the same. Her husband may have changed, but that didn’t mean those who resided within the walls she called home had changed with him. They troubled her deeply, these acts of debauchery she knew still took place, but Alliana had no idea how to intervene.

The demons who lived in the castle fed on humans, it was as simple as that, and like it or not, it was them or the humans who served them, and Alliana knew her husband wouldn’t wipe out his clan of minions with a simple request from her. He was of them, even if he was genteel now. It simply wasn’t going to happen, so it was best to turn a blind eye and be thankful for the mercy he was showing those who lived on the land surrounding the castle.

And so, though she had been recuperating in her grand lady’s bed, she had been busy. For one thing, Mikhal had summoned an artist from the village that had come and spent a few afternoons making a sketch of her with the babes, sitting up in the grand bed in her finest dressing robe with Lord Arcos at her side.

Again this had gone against custom, for she should have been kept from the artist’s eyes, but Mikhal had wanted it so. Alliana had been unable to deny his request and in the end had reasoned that she was doing her best by staying in her chambers.

When the man had come with his satchel and parchments, she had cradled both children while Mikhal put an arm very possessively around them all. He had glowered at the poor man as he drew even though Alliana had whispered for him to stop. It wasn’t as if the artist had any choice but to be in her bedchamber and stare at her during the sittings. Mikhal had ordered it. It was just that his jealousy of another man gazing intently at his mate had gotten the best of him. So try as he might to please Alliana, Mikhal couldn’t refrain from sending a look at the artist time and again that made it clear he was to keep his eyes focused on the Lady’s face, and not the swell of her breasts.

Through it all, the poor man’s hands had shaken so badly at times that Alliana wondered how the portrait would turn out. The man was commissioned to paint a grand portrait of the entire family that would hang in the great room, and make a tiny locket for her as well, and she was very anxious to see them both.

Alliana had been busy with other things as well when she found herself alone with Katia, and knew she wouldn’t be disturbed. During these times, she did things to test her magickal abilities, seeing just how much control she actually had over the elements and how exactly she could invoke that control.

Some of the things she shared with Natalya, some she didn’t. Perhaps it was a lifelong feeling of inferiority when it came to magick and her friend that made Alliana hide her actions; perhaps she simply wanted to be alone to keep her embarrassment in check if things went wrong.

She had made the water in the barrel in the corner swirl as if caught in a whirlpool for her first attempt, then feeling more self-assured by her success, moved on to the fire. Knowing how things had a tendency for turning tragic when she and magick were meshed, Alliana held the medallion and concentrated on extinguishing the flames rather than sending them soaring. At first the fire flickered and danced, making her think she would fail, but then as if doused with a bucket of water, the flames went out. Smiling and clapping her hands, calling out to Katia who lay in her cradle that her maman had done it, Alliana had then made the fire ignite once more.

On this particular day, tired of lying abed, alone with Katia because Natalya had taken Mikhal to the wet nurse, she had gone to the tower room and played with the wind, making the clouds race across the sky then cover the sun briefly. When she had tried to summon a storm, she had failed, much to her dismay. Either she didn’t have enough power or she was simply too tired or not skilled enough yet. The experiment hadn’t depressed her though; it felt wonderful to have these powerful skills.

Alliana wasn’t certain how or when she would use them, wasn’t even sure what exactly the prophecy had in mind when it said she would be helping her people with her magick, or bring riches since she certainly couldn’t turn dirt into silver, but she was pleased none the less.

As she had sat and toyed with the wind a bit longer, basking in the sunlight streaming through her window, it suddenly occurred to her that she had never brought Katia up to the tower room. The babe would love the gentle breeze and the warming golden sun, but was it safe?

She had always thought of her daughter as being purely human. She was warmer to the touch than young Mikhalen for certain, and Alliana could hear Katia’s heartbeat when she laid her ear on the tiny babe’s chest. Mikhalen’s was so faint it was hard to hear. Katia also had never, ever, had an amber glint in her sweet blue eyes let alone turned into a demon child, even when angry, but was she human enough to withstand the sun? Could she be a daughter of the light? Alliana was almost certain Mikhal could never go out during the day.

Having doubts about what she was about to do but knowing she had to know never the less, Alliana made her way down the tower room steps and to Katia’s cradle. She picked up the small girl and bundled her tightly in the blanket Thalia had woven for the child, and then went back to the foot of the stairs.

“Forgive me, sweet one if I do you any harm, but I must know. There may come a time when you need to go outdoors. Besides, you shall be much happier if you can share the sunlight with me.” She parted the blanket and kissed Katia’s head, then covered her again and went upward, clutching the babe to her breast. At the top of the stairs, Alliana fumbled with the blanket, and reached inside for her daughter’s tiny hand and pulled it from the safety of the wrapping.

Alliana stepped into the sunlight, staring wide eyed at Katia’s fingertips that were bathed in the golden glow, ready to bolt down the stairs and plunge her daughter’s hand into the barrel of water, but to her relief, nothing happened. Katia’s tiny fingers stretched in the sunlight, then wiggled as she waved her arm and gurgled under the tight wrappings of the blanket.

“That’s right my little one, it’s sunshine. Isn’t it lovely, sweet?” Alliana slowly pulled the blanket from over her daughter’s head to reveal her merry blue eyes, her chubby cheeks, and her cherub’s mouth. “Do you like the sun, angel?”

Katia gurgled again and Alliana laughed and hugged the child close. “You truly are of me, my sweet. I love your brother. I do, I hold Mikhalen deep in my heart, but you and I are special. You shall have your mother’s human traits, and your father will instill his courage in you as well. You shall be perfect my little one and you shall never harm anyone.”

As she spoke the last words, a sudden flash of lightening split the air followed by a booming rumble of thunder. “Oh my, perhaps your maman is able to summon the storms after all. We had better get below.” Hurrying down the steps, Alliana raced to the safety of her warm, dry chamber and walked over to the bed.

“I am sleepy my angel. Would you like you take a rest with your maman?” Katia waved her fists and cooed. “Oh, you would? Perfect.” Alliana laid the babe on the bed and slipped out of her dressing robe, then climbed into bed while unsuccessfully trying to stifle a yawn. She cuddled Katia close and began to sing to her, a lilting lullaby from her own childhood that spoke of the nights spent in the small wagons circled around the fire, safely at home with her clan. It wasn’t a song of yearning oh no; it was simply one of remembrance, for Alliana was determined that both her children would know of her Gypsy heritage.

As Alliana laid down for a much needed nap, the small vampire boy in the hall who had waited and listened, smiled in the darkness as the Gypsy sang to her brat, knowing that soon she would be sobbing instead of singing and laughing.

He sat and listened, listened and sat, until no more words spilled forth, and then eased the chamber door open an inch to gaze inside. Just as he had hoped, the woman was asleep. Creeping in on silent feet, the tormented child who needed to lash out at the only person whom he was able, crept across the room to the grand bed and the tiny cradle.

He went to the cradle first, only to find it empty, then turned to the bed once more and saw the girl child nestled down under the furs next to her mother. The small vampire boy smiled, thinking how easy it was going to be to steal the child and exact revenge on those who had hurt him and killed his precious Andor.

He stepped to the bed and listened to Alliana’s breathing, making certain she was deeply asleep, then pulled back the furs and gently picked up the child, knowing he didn’t want to wake the Gypsy too soon. Once he had Katia in his arms; he backed slowly towards the door, out of reach, and then nipped at the child’s tiny hand, causing her to wail.

Alliana woke immediately and looked to the place where her daughter should be, only to find it empty. She then looked up to see the boy who had suffered so much because of her, standing in her chamber with Katia in his arms.

“Make a sound and I shall tear her throat out.” His words were hissed and as full of venom as a cobra.

Alliana nodded mutely as she moved to get out of bed, wincing in the process, her body still achy from the arduous childbirth she’d just been through, her heart slamming in terror in her chest. She held her middle and stood, swaying slightly, staring at the child, hers eyes full of questions, her mouth soundlessly asking why. The morning’s activities had taken much out of her, but Alliana was wide-awake now, awake and in shock.

“Marishka wants you and your brat. Tis your choice, I have the babe, follow or don’t. I will kill her. I think that she would be very sweet indeed.”

Alliana’s mind was in a whirl. How could this be happening? Marishka had actually managed to lure this boy over to her side, and now he had her daughter.

“Tis daylight. You cannot take her now.”

The boy reached out to pull a heavy fur throw from where it had been flung over the back of a chair.

“Tis storming. The clouds are so thick tis near dark as night, and I shall cover myself. Will you come or do I eat her here and now?”

“NO!” Of course, she would go. She would never let Katia be harmed. Part of her wanted to rush him, clawing and screaming, to beat him until his grotesque face no longer smiled its evil grin, but Alliana knew that wasn’t wise. If she moved, he would be on her daughter in a second. Then a thought occurred to her; perhaps she could change his mind in another way.

“I have powers you are not aware of. Perhaps it would be wise to reconsider your allegiance. I shall not harm you if you will but give me back my daughter. I have always been sorry for what was done to you in my name. Let me make it up to you now by allowing you to leave here unscathed. Otherwise… my magick.” Her words were whispered, a veiled threat, not meant to make the child panic, but to make him think and do as she asked. Unfortunately, they were the wrong things to say.

The boy puffed himself up indignantly, the rage he felt for the Gypsy bitch before him filling him anew. This was all her fault, and now she wanted to bargain and make threats?

“You’ve nothing that can stop me, Gypsy. You are but a weak human.” The words were spat out, clearly showing his disgust for her. It was clear he knew nothing of the tales of her magick, or had put it out of his mind.

Alliana reached between her breasts and pulled forth the gold medallion, holding it up in the light of the fire. “You are wrong. This has changed everything. Give me my daughter.”

The boy’s eyes shifted from the medallion to her face and back again, judging her words. The tales of her impending magick came back to him as he did so, and he began to doubt the wisdom of his plan, but he knew it was too late to turn back. He lifted Katia closer to his mouth, baring his fangs very near the babe’s throat.

“I’ll do it; I’ll rip her open before you can do so much as blink.”

Alliana froze, her eyes darting about. What could she do? The fire wasn’t an option; Katia would get hurt. She watched the boy with mounting dread as he backed slowly towards the chamber door; Katia clutched tightly in his arms; fangs poised to do as he promised.

“Come, or you shall never see her again, and be silent or she dies here and now.” With those words, he turned and ran, the sudden movement startling the child, making Katia’s cries ring out.

Alliana screamed and rushed forward, clutching the medallion and waving her hand in the air towards the door, not certain what might happen? A gust of wind blew through the chamber, catching the large plank of wood, slamming it shut, but it was too late, the boy had already slipped through.

Alliana shook her head in frustration as she ran forward; all she had done was to slow her ability to follow the little demon. As she fumbled with the door, she stopped and realized what she was about to do, rush outside once more without any real clothing or shoes.

Knowing the boy wouldn’t go far, and knowing she couldn’t be stopped in her quest because she became ill from the cold rain that was pummeling the earth, she ran to her wardrobe and pulled forth a cape and shoes, slipping her feet inside, then flinging the cloak around her shoulders before racing back to the door as her body protested in pain at the sudden arduous movement, screaming out for Mikhal in her heart and mind as she went, hoping the bond they shared would alert him to her peril. She prayed he would hear her, prayed he would come rushing down the hall and intercept the child, but even if he did not, Alliana knew she would follow the vampire boy to the ends of the earth or straight into the clutches of Marishka.

It didn’t matter; none of it mattered, her daughter had been stolen and she had to save Katia. Alliana knew she would do anything the demented woman wanted, if only she let her babe live.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

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