The air nipped at our skin while gold and burgundy leaves swirled all around. As we exited the fae door, I pulled a silk shawl around my shoulders, but it did little to stop the cold from settling into my bones. Na’min took a deep breath. His cheeks already rosy from the wind, he looked down at me and smiled.
“I love this time of year in your realm. The colors are beautiful and the air feels fresh and alive.”
“It’s my favorite season too.” I turned back to look at the door. that had started my journey. It was bittersweet going back to Vancouver. I was going to miss so many people, but they didn’t need me anymore. The new government was running smoothly and I had been just sitting and nodding for the past three weeks. This wasn’t my home and it was time I got back to where I belonged.
“We are going to miss you Cassandra. I know it’s time for you to go, but please promise me you’ll come back. I’ve lost so many people that I’ve loved, I don’t want you to be one of them.”
I took his hand and enjoyed our exchange of power. “I’ll come back and visit. I love you and Ruby. Anyway, if I don’t come back she’ll come to Vancouver and drag me here.”
“I would help her. The fae owe you such a debt, if you ever need anything, please ask. You’ve brought hope and light back into my life.” He looked back at the door. “Maybe even love.”
I knew it. He and Ruby had grown close. I knew there was a romance brewing. A relationship between a Brownie and a Fae would have been frowned on once upon a time, but maybe now in their new enlightened society, relationships of any kind could be accepted.
The government was made up of all fae for the first time. I had brought that in and it was the best thing I had ever done. I had entered a captive and exited royalty. I thought the door would always remind me of what happened to Declan, but now it was a symbol of how much I had grown and how much I had accomplished.
If Na’min feeling free to love a lesser fae, someone who had strength, integrity and beauty all in one diminutive package, was even a tiny bit my doing then I was going to think of this place as something good in my life. Declan would always be in my heart, but I was ready to let go the last vestige of guilt his death had wrapped around my heart.
I reached up on tip toe and kissed his cheek. He pulled me to him and wrapped his arms around me. “Shall we go?”
I laid my head on his chest. One last journey using fae magic. I was determined to stay conscious this time. Na’min was one of the most powerful fae in the realm, if he couldn’t make it a smooth ride, no one could. The wind stopped its attack and we were in our own space, between here and there. Pressed together, we were on the precipice of becoming one being, our bodies defying the laws of physics. I could still see my surroundings, but a thick fog had drifted around us, making everything seem far away and faint. My whole body felt numb and then pins and needles started to prickle under my skin. Things turned dark and cold. I shivered and Na’min tightened his grip. Then as quickly as it started it was over. The sun was once again in the sky and I welcomed its warmth on my back. We were standing besides a large building, which I hoped was the Edmonton airport.
We had already said what we needed to and I had already cried a river while saying good-bye to Ruby. Na’min and I weren't done with each other. We would meet again. When we exchanged our last hug, I didn’t want to let go. Pulling away I ran for the terminal. I turned once to wave good-bye and he was already gone.
I was supposed to stay in the fae realm for another two weeks, but Ruby got tired of me tearing up every time I thought about leaving or every time I thought about Lucius being back in Vancouver. He had been gone only three weeks and we talked every night on the phone, but I missed him terribly. I decided this morning that it was silly to stay any longer and I was going to surprise him by coming home early.
Na’min wasn’t certain he could get me all the way to Vancouver so we decided on the Edmonton airport. I'd go the rest of my journey the old fashioned way. The airport was bustling with people and the noise drowned out any coherent thought. I hadn’t been around so many humans in a long time. We really are a loud and smelly race. The fae never seem to smell bad.
Lucius had left to find Quintus. His sire had been missing so long, that foul play seemed a certainty. He tried to convince me he had everything under control, but Lucius wasn’t a very good liar, at least not to me. His voice was strained and as the weeks went on, he avoided talking about what was going on. I got vague statements, “like I see some progress” and “things are getting better”, it was like dating a politician.
My gut told me things were bad and he was trying to protect me. I was having none of that. We were a team and I was going to show him things were better when we worked together. When the plane touched down in Vancouver I had to restrain myself so I didn’t push everyone out of the way in my rush to get home. It was like proximity fueled the urgency to be where I belonged.
Despite my impatience in no time I was in a cab driving towards Quintus’ home. I hadn’t been there since the night we fought and Killian kidnapped me. It felt like a lifetime had passed. I had butterflies in my stomach that were so active, I expected to see wings poking out of my stomach. Lucius had always been there for me and now I was going to have a chance to repay the favor.
Even if it meant that some of the people who worked for him weren’t going to be happy to see me. I had survived the fae and they hadn’t exactly loved me when they first met me. I could survive being hated by a few vampires. Most work places had their share of gossips, but vampires were notorious for spreading rumors, whether they were true or not. I knew Lucius and I were the topic du jour for a great many jours when Quintus came home from Alberta alone.
The cab winded its way up the driveway. The glass front of the house shimmered in the sun, making it look like the ocean below. I paid the cabbie and ran towards the door, I froze with my hand on the doorknob. I didn’t know if I should walk right in or knock first. I decided to take the direct approach.
It was nearing mid-afternoon and by now even some of the younger vampires were starting to join the fray of activity in the house. Quintus’ had the windows tinted so there would be no accidental burning of his employees. Windows that blocked UV were a very useful advancement for vampires. New faces swam among old friends and acquaintances. Every one zipping this way and that, while I remained mostly ignored.
“Eli do you…” Well I guess Eli was ignoring me. He brushed past me with not even a blink of acknowledgement. I tried a few more with no success. Then I spied Christopher. We had started about the same time. He was a novice which meant he had been turned less than ten years ago. He smiled when he saw me and I felt immediately better. Christopher owed me one. He had been having a hard time adjusting to life in Quintus’ employ and I knew he just hadn’t had the right job.
He had been a computer programmer and they had him working on security. I put a word in with Quintus and in no time he was in charge of IT. The office computer system was given a much needed overhaul and Chris was happy to be doing what he loved.
“Cass, so great to see you back. I’ve missed you.” He scooped me into his arms and I was being squeezed in a vice dressed in an oxford shirt and dark jeans. One swing around and he planted me back on the ground.
“You’re the only one who’s glad I’m afraid.”
“Don’t mind them Cass, they’ll get over it. Yes, it was like a twilight convention in here for a while. Team Quintus was the main camp. They were fierce and the most vocal. They really wanted to see you guys together. Of course, it didn't hurt that he was the boss man and the one who paid them. There were a few team Lucius, but they had to keep it on the down low. Quintus was easily angered when he came home.” He gave me another quick squeeze. “I was always team Cass, you needed to be with who was going to make you happy. The silent treatment won’t last for ever.”
Kill me now I was a twilight novel. “You’re sweet Chris. It’s good to know I still have one friend here. Where is Lucius? Is he here?”
“Yes, he’s in Quintus’ office, he asked not to be disturbed, but I know that doesn’t include you. I didn’t think you were joining us for a couple weeks.”
“I decided to surprise him. He isn’t expecting me. I just had a feeling he needed my help.”
“Between you and me we can use all the help we can get doll face. You know I love the boss man, but he practically ran this place alone and with him gone we’re lost and the learning curve is a steep one.”
I didn’t doubt for one second that was true. Quintus was a control freak, he had the energy, brilliance and the experience to run things almost by himself. That was now biting the people and area he loved in the ass. Killian would have been able to help with Seattle, but that certainly wasn’t an option.
“I promise, I’ll do whatever I can to help out.”
“Just cheer up the big guy, he’s been growling and snarling at everyone.”
He continued on his way and I headed to Quintus’ office. My heart started to race and I had to slow myself down before I broke into a run. I felt like a giddy school girl and I swear I almost giggled. My hand shook as I reached to open the door. I had missed him so much.
Walking in the smile fell from my face. What I saw punched me in the gut and I had to hold onto the door to steady myself. I had pictured my lover sitting behind his desk working away. Instead, Lucius was sitting on the couch, next to him and by that I mean glued to his hip and draped over him like a second skin, was the most stunning woman I had ever laid eyes on. Her flawless café latte skin was on display in a pair of tight shorts and a skimpy tank top. Straight shiny black hair and bangs were a perfect frame for her amber eyes and plump lips.
His posture was open and comfortable. They knew each other, he was relaxed with her being that close. She looked up first, barely glancing at me before turning back to Lucius. “Our food is here Luca. Let’s eat I’m starving.” She gave him a pat on his knee and leaned into him, I felt my heart being squeezed.
I couldn’t hear if she said anything else. My mind was racing. Our food. Vampires could make drink from a human and make it no more exciting than eating a sandwich, but when they wanted to, they could satisfy other hungers as well. The feeling could be better than even the most mind blowing sex. I could only imagine what it was like when two vampires shared that experience.
I felt panic and tears threatening to surface, I choked them down with every bit of my will. That school yard fear came back to me. I wasn’t good enough. He had finally seen that. It was a feeling that had been buried deep down. It didn’t come from my parents, it didn’t come from some psychological trauma. I was born with it. A fear that one day the people I loved wouldn’t love me back. I wanted to run from the room and throw up all over the driveway, but my second choice was going to have to do. With a smile pasted across my face I stood my ground and waited for my boyfriend to notice I was there.
Lucius wore a puzzled look, which turned into a beaming smile. “Goldilocks, what are you doing here?”
I was in his arms before I could blink, leaving the draper with only air to cling to. My hands laced around his neck as he swung me around. Filling myself with his touch, his smell, I tried to calm myself down. He gave me a brief peck on the lips. It felt like a slight, but I knew my perception of events was being skewed right now by the green eyed monster.
“What are you doing here? I wasn’t expecting you for at least two weeks.”
I was angry, hurt, jealous and a thousand other things, but under it all I was so happy to see him. It was just muted by everything else. “You sounded stressed on the phone and I wanted to come help.”
The long legged slut, I mean woman, rose up and glided across the floor. “I guess this isn’t lunch then?” She wore a predatory smile. I had a feeling like she still considered me on the menu.
“No, sorry, Cassandra this is Ysabella. Ysabella this is Cassandra.”
“Nice to meet you Cassandra.” Her face didn’t look like it was nice to meet me.
“Nice to meet you Ysabella.” Neither of us made a move to shake hands, not even a fist bump.
“Ysabella is an old friend. Quintus and I have known her for a very long time. I was at the end of my rope between running the territory and trying to find Quintus, so I called her to co-ordinate the search. She knows him almost as well as I do. If anyone can find my sire, she can.” Oh good an old friend he depends on in a crisis. The only way it could be better was if she had big boobs. Oh wait. Nope it really can’t get any better.
“Do you have any leads?”
She flipped her silky tresses over her shoulder. “Nothing concrete, but I haven’t been at it very long. I’ll find him. I always do don’t I Luca.” What was with the Luca? Gag.
She had a slight Italian accent and it made everything sound like sex on a stick. “You haven’t failed me yet Bella.”
“Has Quintus went missing before?’
“Missing no but when we’ve went our separate ways I could always count on Bella to help me find him when I wanted to get in touch.”
“I have found you a time or two as well.” She flipped back her head and elicited a musical titter. Not the loud guffaw I was famous for. Then her hand touch his arm. Where was a fae I could drain so I could make her human again when I needed one?
“Yes, you have.” He looked down on her with a warm smile. Things in the emotional department just got a whole lot easier. White hot anger allowed me to hold back the waterworks.
“Well I’m sure you two want to catch up. I have a few leads I want to follow up on. Hopefully I’ll have news for you soon Luca.” She hugged him, kissed both cheeks, smiled and left the room. What? I don’t get a kiss.
When she shut the door Lucius tried to pull me into his arms but for some reason I was resistant. “Cass?”
He started laughing. There was no respect for rage filled woman these days. “Are you jealous?”
“Jealous of who? Sophia Loren? Of course not. Why on earth would I be jealous of someone who looks like her, hanging all over you like a second skin, calling you Luca and thinking that all I am is a tasty snack.” Well maybe I was a little jealous.
I knew the minute he saw I was hurt and not sharing his joke. “Jesus Cass, please don’t do this. You’re the only woman for me. Quintus and I have been friends with Bella for almost 600 years.”
“Friends?” My voice caught in my throat leaving part of the word unsaid.
He paused a second too long. “No, more than that. We’ve been lovers but that was a long time ago. She was with Quintus for a time too, but Bella is a free spirit, she doesn’t like to stay in one place too long. We have been strictly friends for a very long time. Bella is not someone I would want to spend my life with.”
“Okay.” Lucius was such a good man. Deep down I knew he wouldn’t cheat on me, but he had called her and asked for help. He hadn’t asked me and that’s what truly felt like a betrayal. “I’m glad you were honest. Were you really going to share a meal with her?”
“No, I respect what we have too much for that. I’ve been having a hard time eating lately. Little sips here and there, but no one tastes as good as a certain jealous blond I know.”
I felt silly for being jealous. Well not silly, that woman was sex on heels, but I knew Lucius was mine and only mine, I should never question that. “You should eat soon then” I leaned into him, tilting my head to expose my neck.
His chest began to vibrate. “Sorry Babe, I have to take this. It’s the emergency line.”
He fished a cheap cell phone out of his chest pocket and answered. “Liam calm down and talk a little slower.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, I’ll be right there. Who tipped you off?” He was growing redder and redder. Anger distorting his face.
“I’m not a fucking idiot, I know this isn’t good. You want to tell me anything else Einstein? Fuck.” He threw the phone across the room and it shattered into a million pieces.
He looked defeated, running his big hand through his hair, he shook his head in resignation. “I have to go Cass. I need to take care of something. Why don’t you settle in and I’ll be back soon.”
“No way, I’m coming with you. Something big is going on and I haven’t been kept in the loop. That’s going to stop.”
“I… I don’t think…this isn’t exactly legal babe.”
“Lucius, no more games. On the phone you acted like everything was going well. I need to know what goes on here. I need to understand your life, if we’re going to be together then no secrets.”
We stared at each in silence. If he thought I was changing my mind we were going to be here for a very long time. “Fine, let’s go. I know better than to argue with you once you make-up your mind.”