Cursed By Destiny Page 7

“But why the brain? Weres pierce the hearts.”

“I think it is simply because vampires have traditionally valued the brain as the most important organ. We are intelligent and analytical. The weres believe the heart to be all-encompassing.”

In that simple statement, Misha had spoken volumes about the differences between himself and Aric. I continued to gape at him. “So then, like the weres, you transfer your power into the person you’re turning?”

“Yes, but unlike the weres, vampires do not risk death, should we fail. It either works or it doesn’t.”

“And this is how Uri turned you?”

“Yes.”

I couldn’t stop my cringe. “Did it hurt?”

Misha quieted, as if remembering. “It happened over a hundred and twenty years ago and . . . I still remember the pain.”

The thought of him suffering made me inexplicably sad, perhaps because, like him, I’d experienced my own share of pain. I placed my hands on Misha’s head and swept my lips over the fang sites. He grabbed my wrists, locking eyes with me as he stood. “Do not pity me, my darling. Look around. As you can see, it was all worth it.”

I didn’t bother to do what he asked. In my attempt to show him compassion, I’d inadvertently insulted him. Master vampires believed themselves gods who ruled the earth and there I’d treated him as my equal—or, as he saw it, someone beneath me. His dark expression brought me a sense of unease. “If you say so, Misha. Look, I’m tired, and Virginia is probably waiting for you. I think it’s time for bed.”

He didn’t release me right away. Just when I thought I might have to break his hold, he dropped my hands and nodded curtly. “Good night, Celia.”

It wasn’t a good thing that he reverted to calling me by my name—especially at such a volatile moment. “Good night, Misha.”

I abandoned the kitchen and hurried out the back door and onto the terrace, hugging my body tightly when I felt the first sting of the bitter night. Misha usually accompanied me or had someone escort me to the guesthouse. He didn’t tonight and in a way I preferred it. My mind tried to make sense of his actions and the sudden change in his mood. The more I analyzed the situation, the more I decided I was better off not knowing.

My sneakers crunched against the thickening snow in the garden, but the sudden alertness of my tigress slowed my steps. She veered right and left, searching for a way out of me and thrilled by the sudden aroma breaking its way through the flurries. I lifted my head to the sweeping sugar pine to my right, my lips parting at the sight of the dark figure crouching on the branches. He leapt and landed with the controlled grace of a predator, watching me as he rose.

Aric.

“You caught me,” he said quietly. I nodded, my breath lodged deep in my lungs. “I know I shouldn’t have come. But I needed to be sure you were safe.”

Five vampires emerged from behind the trees, their sharp hisses forcing Aric’s deep voice to morph into a challenging growl. They circled us, their vicious gazes fixed on Aric. “Try it,” he rumbled.

I stepped away from Aric and faced the lead vamp. “Go back to your posts.”

“The dog doesn’t belong on our master’s land, Celia,” he hissed, his incisors lengthening.

“He does as my guest.” My voice remained calm. My protruding claws revealed I’d skewer hearts like chicken if anyone laid a fang on my wolf.

The vampires advanced. “Move, Celia—”

“I’m not asking!” I snapped. “I’m ordering you to go back to your damn posts!” Misha had bequeathed me the title of Mistress of the House of Aleksandr when I first moved in. For the most part, his family and I ignored the so-called promotion. I rarely pulled rank, but I did then. Slowly the vamps withdrew, easing back into their hiding spots with audible swears and grumbles.

My breath released in a shudder only to catch when Aric’s heavy black leather jacket fell against my shoulders. The same jacket I’d given him on his birthday so long ago. I lowered my lids to beat back the raw emotions of our breakup. Months had passed from that awful night and still I hurt so much.

Aric’s brown irises flared as he gathered the soft leather against my chest. “You’re cold,” he said.

I backed away from him. “I—I don’t understand why you’re here.” He straightened, falling silent. Snow fell in thickening clumps, coating his dark brown hair and plastering the ends over his thick brows. I focused on the exhaustion creeping from his five o’clock shadow to the creases in his eyes. The silence and tension stretched between us. Eventually words found their way through my lips. “Come inside.”

Aric followed me through the garden and into the guesthouse. The lights flickered on, illuminating the green granite counter and stainless steel appliances. I kicked off my soggy sneakers and tossed my socks into the empty hamper in the laundry room. Without looking at him, I draped his jacket over one of the wrought-iron barstools and flopped onto the chocolate suede couch in front of the gas fireplace. I focused on the flames, the same flames I’d flung Barbara’s wedding invitation into. Traces of the jab she’d sent via courier were no longer evident. But the insult and the slap to the face lived on. I tucked my bare legs beneath me, ignoring the throb to my injured knee, and waited while Aric kicked the snow from his heavy boots.

He sat beside me, resting his forearms over his muscular thighs. The warmth from his body trumped the heat from the fire. “You shouldn’t be here, Aric,” I said quietly.

Aric pushed his wet hair from his eyes, taking in my visage. “I don’t mean to upset you, Celia. It’s the last thing I want. But I needed to see for myself that you weren’t harmed.” He swallowed hard. “It’s killing me that I can’t be around to protect you.”

“You’ll soon have a wife to protect and look after. Don’t worry about me.”

Aric dropped his head into his large hands. “Don’t.”

My eyes burned. I bit my bottom lip to hold back my sorrow. “Don’t what? It’s the truth.”

He angled his chin toward me. “Don’t remind me of what I have to do. If this goddamn war hadn’t broken out I never would have left you.” He paused as the first of my tears trickled down my cheeks. He never could stand to see me cry. I wiped my tears irritably with my hand. He reached for it and linked our fingers. We both stiffened as a surge of heat spread across my body.

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