First of all... I'm so happy for the comments on Chapter 8! Oh yes and I've succumbed to my cheesecake craving and so no more sweet stuff here. =p
I will eventually edit to combine some features of each thread into the final draft but for now let’s look at the 2 possible ways that the plot could develop. I know I promised 3 but my evil little sister has wiped the third thread off my original work because she says no way in hell am I allowing Draven to marry another woman and have them all stay within the castle walls. LOL. I concur.
This is an unedited version so if there are any glaring mistakes, do forgive me. But I really want to sort out the plot because I can't continue writing the next chapter otherwise. So any comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is an unedited version so if there are any glaring mistakes, do forgive me. But I really want to sort out the plot because I can't continue writing the next chapter otherwise. So any comments and suggestions are welcome.
Once the door was closed behind him, Aramis led the beautiful red head wolf towards the sofas. Of course he wasn’t going to take a sip out of her. That would incur the wrath of her Alpha and Aramis didn’t think he’d like that. It was serious enough that his son had literally kidnapped this woman under her Alpha’s nose. That would have to be dealt with later on.
Aramis let out a long, resigned sigh. Why did Draven choose to mate with one of Keiran’s wolves? Or any wolf for that matter? For godsake! That boy had enough women, both mortals and immortals alike thrust under his nose for the past centuries and he chose this one?
Oh, she was beautiful alright; fair skinned, blue eyes and long auburn hair that looked like it was on fire all the time. He had no doubt this little wolf was just as feisty, if not more. However, she is still a wolf… and although she appears more docile than the last time he met her, he wasn’t sure if he’d be willing to lose another offspring to Keiran.
It was different for Fiona. She was already adopted into the pack before she came to him and thus her allegiance was never to him or their race. Besides, daughters and granddaughters alike were almost always dispensable, having to follow their husbands when they married.
However, Draven was not. He was aware that he would have to allow his first born to live within the pack, where his loyalties would no longer be to his own father or his race... but to his Alpha. Aramis didn't think he'd like that.
Humans have been intermarrying Vampires and Werewolves for many centuries but the latter two often stayed away from each other as much as possible. Aramis didn’t think conception was even possible between the two species. Or was it? He had really come to miss the feel of a child in his arms.
“You’re hungry,” he commented with a sigh, settling himself on a sofa opposite her.
She was nodding but she never took her eyes off him. Aramis gave a grunt as a response. Her stomach was literally bubbling in its own acid since the moment he met her. Turning to the phone on his table, he picked it up and called directly for his head of the household. It seems that some shopping is needed.
When he turned his attention back to the woman, he saw that she had begun to relax but her guard was still up. He didn’t blame her. She didn’t look like she even knew who he was. And he was beginning to think that she followed him only to spite Draven for manhandling her.
That thought put a smile on his face.
“I apologize for the rudeness that you witnessed earlier on. It is sordidly humiliating on my part to have raised a son like that.”
He watched confusion flicker across her face before she spoke, “I thought he was just addressing you formally when he called you ‘Father’… I thought perhaps you were a member of the clergy. Are you? You look too young to possibly be his father.”
Laughter bubbled in Aramis’s throat at her reply. “And how old do you think Draven is?”
She was biting her lips, as though thinking. “Probably around my age; thirty five at most.”
This time, Aramis didn’t bother containing his laughter, “When he was thirty-five, he was already a trained mercenary and bore witness to the Münster Rebellion,” he said in amusement. “That’s in the 1530s if I’m not wrong.”
Her eyes were wide with surprise. “Impossible!”
Aramis couldn’t help but frown at her response. “Surely you know who we are and what we are?” When she didn’t reply, he frowned deeper. This was strange. This woman had seen Fiona’s awakening and was even one of the few unfortunate recipients of her power. Surely she would know? Or had Draven tampered with her memories?
Aramis decided that it was better if he skipped the Vampire history for now. Her mind might be too fragile to recall too many things if it had been modified not too long ago.
“Well then, please forgive me for my lack of manners. It seems I have much to apologize for today,” he said with a smile. “My name is Aramis Culzean and I am the Lord of this castle… not in the religious sense of course,” he smiled again before adding, “The Lord below the Viscount on the peerage system.” When she nodded, he continued. “My eldest, whom you’ve already met, is heir to the title and born from my first wife. His brother and my youngest son, Alaron Culzean is born to my second wife. I don’t suppose you remember him either? He has quite a penchant for trouble that one.”
Amber was clearly fascinated. Aramis didn’t appear to be as cold hearted as Draven painted him to be. Maybe he was joking about Draven being born centuries ago. In fact, he wasn’t threatening her in any way and she wondered why Draven had been so upset and paranoid about his father. It made her all the more determined to get into Aramis’s good books. If she did it right, then she might not have to stay in the dungeon and even better, she might be allowed to go home!
As such, she almost had a compulsive need to stand up and curtsey before she replied. Was it the rule in the house to do so? She wasn’t sure but didn’t think it would be appropriate not to since he was clearly nobility and she was… nobody.
Clearing her throat, she got up and did what she thought was a curtsey and was about to introduce herself when she saw him get up on his feet, laughing.
“You’re doing it all wrong my dear. You’re supposed to place one foot behind the other and bend gently down with your body leaning slightly forward.”
Amber grimaced. What a way to make a mess of herself! She did as she was told and watched Aramis’s eyes smile as he observed her curtseying a few times.
“Good, you may put your hands at the side of your skirt and bow your head just slightly if you wish,” he added, watching her comply. When she was standing upright, he smiled and commented, “Actually… there is no need for you to curtsey when speaking to me.”
She was smiling back and shaking her head as she did a proper curtsey this time and introduced herself as Ambrosia Alexakis. He found it interesting that she did not use Keiran’s family name as her own… or maybe she didn’t want to be associated with them. Is that possible?
“Your father was called Ambrosius?” he speculated, watching her face frown in confusion.
“I… I’m not sure,” she stammered slightly. “I don’t… remember him. Did you know him?”
Aramis shook his head. The wolf looked young. If she said she couldn’t remember him, it could be that she was born during the war and lost him…
“No I do not my dear… but Alexakis is a rather common Greek family name and when I was still friendly with them, I know the daughters always took the feminine form of their father’s name.”
“Oh, I see…” she replied, rather impressed with what he told her. She really didn’t recall anything much and it surprised her to know that her name was Greek at all. She just thought it was a terribly old fashioned name…
Amber started frowning as though she recalled having said that before. Shaking her head slowly, she sat down once more, as though trying to chase after that fleeting thought… but to no avail.
Aramis must have sensed something was wrong for he came closer and peered at her with concern. He liked this young woman. She was there for his granddaughter and now she’s trying to be brave even though she had no idea what she has walked into.
She was good for his Draven… if only she was a Pureblood Vampire instead of this confused little wolf inside a human’s body.
“Come my child. You need to have something to eat,” he said, offering her a hand to get up. He noticed that she was a little weak and the grumbling in her stomach was more pronounced that it was a while ago.
The dining room that he brought her was reserved for the family use. He was pleased to see that there was human food already set on the table and also a goblet of blood for himself.
“Please eat,” he offered, pulling out a chair for her to sit. He watched with interest as she tore a chunk of bread and dipped it in some sort of stew in the bowl in front of her. Her eyes were fluttering, signaling that the food was good and she began to eat some more before realizing that she was the only one eating.
She immediately put down her spoon and looked up guiltily. “Would you like to have some?”
Aramis shook his head, “Do continue… It used to bring me joy to watch my second wife eat. Of course, she was a beauty to watch all the time but mealtimes were especially entertaining.”
Amber didn’t continue eating as told but gazed at Aramis with a sad look on her face. “You must have loved her very much… and you lost her.”
That sentence seemed out of place and he wondered for a moment if she was talking about him or about herself. Instead, he smiled and urged her to continue eating, getting up only a few minutes later to return to his office.
Not surprisingly, Draven was still there.
“Father! What have you done to her?” he asked in accusing tones.
“I would really appreciate it if you’d mind your tone with me young man.”
Draven simply gave a huff and glared at his father.
With a resigned sigh, Aramis sat at his desk. “She’s well. I just had her fed… human food of course,” he added when he saw the worried look on Draven’s face. “I give you my word that I will not harm her in exchange for your compliance. Rest assure that she is safe and return to your own chambers. I have no desire to prolong this conversation anymore.”
Draven was clearly aware of the dismissal but part of him was still worried. He knew that once his father gave his word, he will keep it but he was sure that the old man had something up his sleeves.
“I’d like to see her please,” he demanded in as civil a tone as he could muster.
“I’d like to see her please,” he demanded in as civil a tone as he could muster.
Draven gritted his teeth. He hated it when his father speaks with that sort of finality for it was impossible for anyone to continue arguing with him…
Maybe he was raised too well; taught never to speak unless spoken to, never to raise one’s voice against an elder and most importantly, to respect and remain loyal to one’s Sire who in this case were his parents.
Fine… I’ll admit it. I don’t dare to raise my voice and argue with him unless Amber’s here to give me moral support… not that she was giving me any. Tsk. She even conspired with the enemy!
Draven rolled his eyes at the recollection of how demurely she followed his father without any hesitation.
To spite me of course. Fine. I’ll give her the space she needs… to sulk.
“I’ll come back later to fetch her then,” he replied grumpily, fully aware that it was he who was sulking. “I lay my trust on your word Father.”
“I’ll come back later to fetch her then,” he replied simply. “I lay my trust on your word Father.”
Aramis gave a gentle nod as Draven started leaving the room.
“Ah… to be in love,” he murmured to himself, opening the stack of letters of returned RSVPs on his desk.
His smile was broad as he mentally took note of the guests who were coming. Putting the letters aside, he picked up his phone.
Someone on the other line picked up, “Elders Office.”
“Lord Culzean speaking. Put the line through to Léon please.” Léon was one of the two permanent Nobles sitting on the board of Elders. Aramis waited a few moments until the line was reconnected.
“Lord Culzean, how may I be of service today?”
“Have you received my invitation?”
“Yes I have sent my RSVP saying my family and I will be attending.”
“Very good. I need another favour old friend,” said Aramis.
“Yes of course, Aramis.”
“I wish to have the Council enforcers present at the ball tomorrow night.”
The other man was silent for a little while. “Are you afraid of a security compromise, Aramis?”
“Mmm, something of that sort. It’s more for insurance,” he replied with a broad smile.
“Very well then. I will have them present.”
“Thank you, Léon. That will be all.”
Aramis sighed as he placed the receiver down. It was a necessity. To be sure that his son does not violate their agreement, the threat of violence needs to be present. Draven shouldn’t have been so stupid to have brought his bargaining deal into this castle. If he had thought that bringing the Were here was to ensure her safety, then he was wrong.
Aramis would have her terminated on the spot should Draven refuse to uphold his side of their deal. Satisfied now that the matter of his heir was settled, Aramis placed another call to his other son…
“You what?” exclaimed Alaron, almost frightening little Alex off his lap. Alaron had taken a trip down to Pearl’s house for a visit and the boy had latched himself immediately to him the moment he entered.
“Father, this is ridiculous. You are having a ball tomorrow and you only let me know about it today?” he complained, looking down at his watch and groaned. It would take him five hours at least to drive up north. He listened while his father continued talking on the other end of the line, nodding ever so often before bursting out in a shocked, “What the hell!”
This time, Alex jumped off from Alaron’s lap for the Vampire was scowling at the phone.
“Damn right I will. I’m coming over right this minute,” he growled then disconnected angrily. The nerve of his Father!
“Alaron dear, is everything alright?” asked Pearl, walking into the living room. She had gone to the kitchen to get some tea and had rushed out when she heard him swearing.
“Oh… uh, yes. It’s a family thing,” he replied awkwardly. “Anyway, I have something important to ask you and I’ll be real quick about it because I have to leave soon.”
“Oh, ask away then!”
“Err… I’m not sure who to ask for relationship advice and I thought, since you’re a woman and all… surely you’d have more tips for me…”
Pearl was giggling as she sat down and ushered him to do the same.
“Erika I assume?”
Alaron nodded. “Why is it… as in… why does she cry but say there’s nothing wrong? And then sometimes she’s crying but she says she’s happy. How does that work?”
“Oh dear…” said Pearl with a laugh.
“Right. Then there’s the part where nothing I say or do seems to be the right thing and then she tells me it’s not what I did but what I didn’t do that’s the problem. How the hell is that even logically possible?”
“Alaron, you cute little thing. Well, it’s obvious she likes you and wants you to do something about it. So for example when she cries and says there’s nothing wrong, obviously she means there’s something wrong and wants you to ask her what. That doesn’t mean you’ll get an answer straight away of course but girls like that kind of attention I suppose,” giggled Pearl. She was obviously delirious with amusement at his plight.
“Who has time for that?” asked Alaron in utter amazement. “It’s like opening a door and then seeing another one and another one. You’ll never actually get inside the room!”
“Oh pish! Men are such ignorant creatures,” she clucked her tongue. “So what did you do when she started crying or saying that you weren’t doing things right?”
“I said sorry of course! But she doesn’t seem to believe them.”
“Of course she doesn’t. You’ve got to grovel a little dear.”
Alaron’s jaw dropped, clearly appalled at Pearl’s suggestion. Did she say grovel?
“Like on my knees?”
Pearl was nodding with an amused smile on her face. “Do whatever it takes. Flowers would be nice too and then of course make-up sex after that.”
When Alaron just stared at her, she laughed and continue. “Oh trust me… all husbands have done that. Just ask Mike… or Dominic or even Eian. Oh he’s tough alright like a cookie but inside he’s still warm and chewy and just as malleable.”
“Oh yes way. Now if you want her to like you back, then you’ve got to start treating her like a lady… not keep biting her head off at every chance,” she said in a nagging voice. “Don’t give me that look like I don’t know. I’ve seen you two. You’re always insulting each other or arguing. Sure that’s nice as a precursor to sweaty sex but you’re not going to get her to open up to you if you only snipe at her all the time.”
Alaron raised an eyebrow at her then pursed his lips in contemplation. Perhaps she’s right… well, mothers always know best don’t they?
“Okay, I’ll give it a try. I’ve got to go now Pearl. Thanks for the advice! I’ll come back for more if I need to!” he gave her a warm smile then started towards the door.
Aramis returned to the dining room and smiled when he saw that his guest had finished her meal.
“Do you know how to dance?” he asked.
“Oh… I don’t…” but he was already raising a hand to stop her and instead offered her a hand to help her out of her seat.
“I’ll teach you.”
“Oh, I’d rather not…” she started but he solemnly shook his head.
“First, we bow,” he instructed. “Then the man will offer his hand and you shall place it like this,” he continued, grasping her right hand and placing her left hand just beneath his right shoulder.
She jerked a little when she felt his right hand resting behind her shoulder blade but he didn’t seem disturbed by her discomfort.
“Trust me; some of my guests will be less civilized than how I’m holding you right now. It is then your right to make sure their hand remains here,” he warned.
“Why are we learning how to dance?”
“Ah, because I want you to come for the ball tomorrow night. I’m going to announce who he’s marrying.”
“My Lord?” she whispered, unsure about his request. “Wouldn’t it be painful for Draven if I attend this ball as well? Surely you are not so cruel?”
“You are my guest here, not my prisoner. I do not wish for you to be treated otherwise. Perhaps it would be a good way for you to help him choose the best wife.”
“Oh…” Amber wasn’t sure what to say. Yes, Draven’s kiss had knocked the wind from her lungs but then again, she didn’t remember much about him. What if she couldn’t love him back? Wouldn’t it be better to just let him get married then leave when she had the chance?
“Right now, let’s not get distracted. What I’m going to teach you is called a Viennese Waltz. It’s the opening dance and almost everyone will be involved.”
Amber snapped out of her thoughts and nodded, letting him continue, “We begin with the forward step, side, back then side again like this,” he demonstrated. “For this dance, you must count everything in threes, so one, two, three, one, two, three… there you go, very good.”
Amber wasn’t sure if she was going to feel good for much longer. Her head was spinning from the way he spun her around the room. He may call it a box step but she sure felt like he was twirling her around endlessly.
“Just follow your partner’s lead… you are doing great.”
When she accidentally stepped on his foot and lost her own footing, she let out a series of hysterical laughter as her butt hit the floor.
“Oh!” she gasped. “Good god! You sure can dance for an old man!” she teased and saw Aramis laughing as well.
“It’s years of practice my dear. Now would you like to try again?”
Amber got up on her own, refusing his help. Determination was all over her face as she concentrated on the steps once more.
“You’re not going to start teaching me some cha-cha or something are you?”
“Cha cha? You mean those things you youngsters like to do nowadays?”
“It’s not that young! I think I remembered dancing…” Amber started blinking. She remembered what? Sudden flashes of music, dancing… and a comment about an ice cube stuck to a chair…
“I think we should stop now…” said Aramis in concern. This was the second time that she was showing signs of fatigue. “I’ll see you to your accommodations.”
Amber tried to smile but her head was throbbing so suddenly.
“You will not return to Draven’s quarters tonight. I want you to stay in the East Wing. There should be some clothes in there as my granddaughter used to sleep here so feel free to use them. You will also find some of my late wife’s dresses. Take your pick of what you wish to wear tomorrow night. I will be expecting you,” he said with a smile, releasing her hand gently.
If it wasn’t for her headache, she might have protested but instead she merely nodded. “I see. Then I’d best be going.”
He brought her to the East wing himself, letting her into the same room that his late wife and then Fiona had used. It was only after he left that Amber flopped herself on the bed in exhaustion.
So many things had happened since she arrived here that she wasn’t sure what to believe anymore. As she stared at the ceiling, it occurred to her that she was in the East Wing. Didn’t Lord Culzean said something about housing his guest in the East Wing? If she was going to be here that would mean…
Amber covered her face with a pillow and groaned. Of course. Draven’s new wife was going to be in the West Wing with him. She was the guest… and the mistress.
The next morning…
“Alaron! You’re here?” Draven was shaken awake by his brother after having dozed off while waiting for Amber to come to his room.
“Duh. Father’s having a freaking ball tonight, in case you’ve conveniently forgotten. I’ve come here to kidnap you.”
“What! Have you gone mad Alaron?”
“I’m just trying to help!”
Draven ignored him and rubbed the sleepiness away from his eyes. “What do you mean tonight? The balls’s tomorrow, on the day of the Equinox.”
“Yes, which is today. Hello… it is six in the morning.”
“What!” Draven immediately shot up from his sofa and frantically searched his quarters for any signs of Amber. When he couldn’t, he turned fearfully to Alaron. “Have you met Father yet?”
“I plan on kidnapping you remember?”
“No! Where is she?”
Alaron was staring at his brother with his mouth hanging wide open.
“You kidnapped the wolf under her Alpha’s nose? Are you crazy? And you brought her here?!”
“Shut up brother and get out of here now.”
“I won’t! I’m not leaving you here to get married to some cold blooded woman!”
Draven stopped pacing and stared hard at his brother. “How did you know that?”
“Father called me yesterday to let me know that he’s going to choose a bride for you tonight.”
Whatever remaining colour on Draven’s face palled immediately. Did he miss something? “What’s happening tonight?”
Alaron raised his eyebrows and stared incredulously. “The ball?”
“He invited all the Pureblood families didn’t he… oh god.”
“Which is why we need to leave now.”
“I can’t… don’t you see? I brought Amber here as a guarantee that I’d marry whomever he chooses and have the heir. I thought he was just going to present the woman to me and then we’ll get her eggs hatching and be done with it. Oh but no… he has to invite all the debutantes and make sure that I do not disgrace the woman that I choose.”
Alaron stared blankly at his brother’s face before crossing his arms in irritation. “Just what the hell are you talking about?”
“You’ve been to our balls right Alaron? What do you think is the purpose of these things?”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “I just watch the pretty ones and then get bored afterwards.”
“Exactly. You’re just a little boy. No one pays you any attention. However, I’m like a piece of rare steak that has blood dripping all over. Everyone knows I have to sire an heir someday and my first wife has to be from one of the Pureblood families. So everyone expects the whole courting ritual once I’ve made my selection. The other families will extend invitations to us as a couple to various receptions, gatherings and what not. Not to mention I’ll have to go over to her house and meet her family and smile; pretend I like the woman and make silly talk and bow incessantly because I have to protect her family’s name as well as our own.”
“And the problem is…”
“It’s supposed to be just a transaction Alaron… I get her pregnant, then she delivers and she can get the hell out of our lives. That’s it. Father’s paying the family for our rights to keep the child and I don’t see it beyond that. But if the other families keep on calling upon us to visit for this party or that function… I don’t think I can stomach that… I don’t want to pretend she’s my wife when she’s just…”
“The baby maker?”
“Yeah…” whispered Draven with a sigh and slumped against the wall. “And I suspect Father’s kept Amber somewhere or worst, locked her up to ensure that I do not make a fool out of myself tonight. The moment I toe the line and commit some etiquette sin, he’ll probably have her killed.”
“Father’s not that harsh...” whispered Alaron, although he was doubtful of his words. “But brother… you know you’ve got to do this… Father did it too and he had you. Now it is your turn.”
The two of them kept quiet, each lost in their own thoughts for a few minutes.
Alaron felt sad for his brother. If he were born a Pureblood, he’d readily take his brother’s place and save Draven all the pain that he was feeling.
“Who knows? You might even like the girl Draven…” he tried say but then knew that it was useless.
Draven’s head was bowed down between his knees and Alaron didn’t want to acknowledge that his brother might actually be sobbing so he inched further away until he was out of the door.
His first stop was Aramis’s office. When he saw that his father was not there, he went into their drawing room and true enough his father was sitting on a rocking chair, staring up at a portrait… of his mother.
“Ah… Alaron, you’re here,” he spoke without turning back. When Alaron didn’t say anything or move from his position, Aramis offered, “Come and sit with me… please.”
Alaron moved closer to his father’s rocking chair but didn’t sit down as instructed. He simply stood beside him and stared up at his mother’s face. He missed her terribly.
Forcing himself to take his gaze away from the portrait, he looked down at Aramis and frowned. “Father… I want to talk to you about tonight.”
“You want to talk me out of finding a bride for your brother,” he said simply.
“Yes, if that is possible.”
“You know I can’t do that my son. We all have our responsibilities.”
Alaron kept silent for a long time before blurting, “Then what is mine? Am I just the useless son that you had without needing?”
Hurt was clear in Aramis’s eyes as he shifted his gaze from the portrait to Alaron’s face.
“I needed your brother… but I wanted you,” he admitted softly before returning his gaze to the portrait. “Sit down Alaron…”
Alaron was confused and hurt too. It was the first time that he had ever blurted out his true feelings to his father like that and they were finally going to talk about it.
“I’m sorry Father for my rudeness,” he began but Aramis simply shook his head.
“It is I who has to apologize. Your mother would have been very disappointed with me if she knew how I’ve treated you since her death.”
Alaron didn’t say anything but waited for his father to continue.
“I loved your mother so much. She was my life mate and I wanted to spend the rest of our centuries together. I wanted to turn her but she always kept procrastinating, saying that she wanted to live as a human for a few more years before she’d agree to turn.”
The knowledge shocked Alaron. He had always wondered why his mother chose to remain a human all those years. If only she had turned… she wouldn’t have died the way she did.
“You were the baby that was born out of our love for each other and I named you in the image of myself; three syllables, starting with an ‘A’. But I had no idea of course how to take care of children. Draven was raised by wet nurses and governesses and I expected the same for you but your mother would not hear of it. You should be grateful that at least you knew what it’s like to be loved by your mother… I’m sure your brother envies you for it.”
Aramis paused to close his eyes as though trying to recall a memory. “But then your mother died… raped and kill by those human bastards. I kept thinking, what if I had turned her earlier, what if I had been there for her, what if, what if... And I started to blame you for it. You were such a willful child. You ran away from home because I reprimanded you about something and your mother ran out in search of you… She shouldn’t have of course. She should have known you are an immortal that cannot die so easily. But she loved you and now she’s left both of us.”
“I’m sorry Father… I really am…” Alaron was blinking back tears. He had remembered finding his mother all broken and dead. The rage within him for her loss had made him hunt the men down… and that’s when he lost control and attacked Fiona’s family…
“It is I who should be sorry, not you…” said Aramis in a choked voice. “I couldn’t even look at you after she died. You were coping with her loss by unleashing all your anger and tantrums and I envied that because I couldn’t. Instead, I left you alone and withdrew into my own chambers when in fact we were two angry Vampires; angry with ourselves and wanting to lash out at each other,” he admitted with a smile.
Alaron couldn’t even bring himself to say anything anymore. His words were stuck in his throat and his eyes were welling so much that he couldn’t see clearly.
“I’m sorry that I haven’t been the best father to both you and your brother… but I love you both… in my own way.”
Alaron looked up, seeing the way his father smiled sadly at him and the tears began to flow.
“So how? Do you like it?” this came from the woman who had been fussing with Amber’s hair and face for the past two hours. Amber simply wrinkled her nose and examined her reflection in front of the full length mirror. She did not even recognize the woman looking back at her.
She was wearing a red velvet gown that hugged her body almost like a second skin. It made her cringe at first when the woman had suggested she wore it. It had been a sweetheart neck dress with a plunging backline that made it impossible for her to wear a bra.
“Edna, are you sure it is legal for me to wear this?” she asked worriedly, turning around to stare at her exposed back.
“Oh please Madame! The women who’ll be here tonight will dress much more daringly to catch the young Lord’s eye. Surely you don’t want to be a wallflower?”
Amber smiled. Oh yes, she’d rather be one! She didn’t think she’d like having any attention at all.
“I look like I’m on fire Edna… red hair, red dress… you even dyed my lips red.”
“You’re gorgeous… I never failed to dress the ladies of this house in anything but the best. So tut tut. We have to go now.”
Amber lifted her hands in resignation as she slipped into a pair of strappy shoes. She was dreading this ball and it hasn’t even started…
Draven was scowling. He hated social events and was hating it even more for every minute he stood waiting for his father to arrive. He was convinced that Aramis had had Amber locked up somewhere and he was eager to get over with this bride selection and tear the castle down to find her.
“You should probably relax,” said Alaron, slipping beside his brother. “Scowling like that won’t get you the ladies.”
I’ll scowl all I want. Now where the hell is father? I want to get this stupid thing over and done like now.
“Be patient,” he replied, ignoring his brother’s snarl. “Not all the families are here yet. It’s not even eight o’clock.”
“Whose side are you on huh?” snapped Draven, glaring at his brother.
“I’m a neutral informant. My job is to keep you sane throughout the ball tonight.”
“Yeah right,” he huffed, crossing his arms over his chest impatiently. The unmated females had been giving him the eye ever since he stepped into the room. It seemed almost inappropriate this time to claim he was gay seeing that this ball was organized for him to find a bride. That had always been his gambit and he was annoyed that he couldn’t make use of it tonight.
His sour disposition was suddenly interrupted by a silence from the orchestra, followed by an announcement that one of the Pureblood family had arrived. This was followed by another announcement and another. Clearly uninterested, Draven turned away only to face Alaron.
“Father’s here,” he pointed out and Draven turned. His scowl was immediately replaced by a shocked expression as he watched his father coming down the stairs with a beautiful woman in his arms. No, beautiful was too tame a word. She was drop dead gorgeous, sultry and dripping with sexual undertones.
“Good god… Amber looks like Jessica Rabbit,” said Alaron, trying not to gape.
Draven gave an inward groan. He had no idea who this Jessica Rabbit was but there was no way in hell that he was going to let his mate walk around looking like that. He gave a low growl deep in his throat, sounding like a prowling lion approaching its dinner.
He was halfway across the ballroom when someone cut in front of his path. He was about to throw his guest a murderous look when he felt a clap on his back.
“Ah, young Draven! I heard that you will be taking a seat on the board of Elders tomorrow!”
“Léon,” he acknowledged in surprise. Did he say tomorrow? And what was this Noble doing here? Surely his father had meant it for a Pureblood class only? Trying to sound as casual as he could he asked, “So, are you here on official Council duties or as my guest?” Draven tried to make it sound like a joke and was grateful that it worked.
Léon was laughing and said, “Both.”
Draven tried to hide his displeasure at this news. Why would the Council be called in on a social event unless…
His eyes darted around the room, picking out the few Enforcers amongst the crowd. Why that old, evil fart…
It took Léon clearing his throat to snap him out of his mental cursing.
“Draven, I’d like you to meet my wife, Pamela and my daughters, Calliope and Clio,” he introduced, beaming happily. Draven forced a smile on his face as he bowed his head slightly at the introduction.
“You named your daughters after the muses; how apt,” he commented politely. “They must be very intelligent.”
He vaguely heard what Léon was saying; nodding here and there, making appropriate comments along the way. However, his eyes were always glancing to wherever Amber and his Father were standing in the ballroom.
“Who is that delightful creature standing beside your father?” asked Léon, catching the line of Draven’s gaze.
“She’s a guest,” he replied between gritted teeth but before he could make an excuse to leave, Léon had thrust one of his daughters closer to Draven.
“The opening dance,” he simply mouthed and stepped backwards into the shadows. Draven’s mouth was slightly gaping. He had forgotten all about the dance! Looking down, he saw Calliope or was it Clio staring expectantly at him.
Damn! He was cursing in his head but smiling sweetly to the young Vampire who had just curtsied in front of him. She was young; probably just under a hundred years old but like all Vampires, never looked older than thirty. Draven knew that this was just a courtesy dance. She wasn’t a potential because she was of Noble birth and somehow that thought made him relax slightly.
“Let me, I am without a partner,” interrupted Alaron, taking the young Vampire away from Draven. Go on. Go to her. I know you want to.
Draven gave a silent prayer of thanks for his brother and hurried away towards Amber and his father. The orchestra had started playing…
“Good evening Father,” he greeted, the moment he reached the both of them. Without even waiting for his father’s reply, he took Amber’s hand gently away and led her to the centre of the ballroom.
The serenade for the opening waltz was beginning and the floor was soon filled with other couples. Draven held her right hand tenderly and placed his own right palm appropriately beneath her shoulder blade. He could feel the softness of her skin but chose to ignore it, just as he was trying to ignore his desire to look down unto her valley of voluptuousness. His mental health was already suffering from it.
“Draven?” she whispered. “You’ve got to start moving.”
“Oh,” he responded stupidly and fell into step with the others, twirling her with the grace of a seasoned dancer. She was smiling at him and Draven couldn’t help but recall the one and only time she had forced him to dance with her during Fiona and Eian’s wedding. In fact, she had called him an ice cube stuck on his seat. But he was no ice cube right now. His body was responding to her sensuous curves like an animal in heat.
“You look exceptionally breathtaking,” he murmured, looking into her eyes.
“Thank you,” she replied carefully, letting him twirl her once before slipping back into their hold on each other.
“Everyone’s looking at you,” he whispered, watching the way her eyelashes fluttered. “And everyone knows that I want to tear your dress off your body and take you right now.”
She had the nerve to blush and Draven couldn’t help but smile. On another occasion, she wouldn’t think twice about walking about fully naked. It was a Were thing.
He was sorry when the music faded and they had to stop dancing. He had caught his father’s eyes and read his mind telling him to take another dance partner. The longer he dragged the selection, the longer the night will be.
With a sigh, he released Amber’s hands and watched her step away towards his father. Apparently she found some comfort in his presence and Draven was thankful for that. She was the only Werewolf in a nest of Vampires.
“Doesn’t he look miserable?” Aramis commented as he watched his eldest son move across the dance floor with one female Vampire after another.
“Oh yes, he does,” said Amber dryly. “I’d wish he’d hurry up and make up his mind. I don’t quite like the way everyone is looking at me…”
“Well, they’re looking at you because you’re very beautiful and also a very unusual guest.”
“Unusual?” she asked with a frown. She’d think Aramis’s guest were the unusual ones. She’d been ask to dance by at least a dozen men in the room and everyone of them kept sniffing her neck like they were about to give her a hickey. Of course she didn’t think they’d be that daring on the dance floor but some of them had been unbelievably rude! Clutching her buttocks and groping down her back! It was then that she decided - no more dancing.
“So, who do you think would make my dear son a good wife?”asked Aramis, jolting her out from her thoughts.
“Shouldn’t he be the one to choose for himself?”
“Ah, but he already has,” said Aramis with a smile. “You already know that.”
Amber raised an eyebrow at his knowing look.
“But you’re still pushing forward with the announcement?” she asked wearily.
“I suppose it is inevitable my dear. This ball was arranged for that sole purpose and everyone has been looking forward to this announcement for centuries.”
Amber gave him a weak smile. Deep inside her, she kept hearing a strange sound that seemed to resonate with sadness but she couldn’t understand why. She knew that Draven loved her and that perhaps in the past she might have loved him back but right now? She didn’t know anything about him other than his name and the fact that he’s going to get married tonight.
The time period from yesterday when he brought her here to this moment of the equinox was certainly not enough for her to know him… much less fall in love with him.
This arranged marriage was the best for both of them. She’d rather be alone for the rest of her life than be trapped here as his mistress.
“My dear, it seems you are lost in thought,” said Aramis softly. Amber raised her eyes to look at him and saw that despite his comment, he seemed lost in his own thoughts too. His eyes were watching the way Draven moved from woman to woman, with the grace and politeness of a gentleman but none of the passion of a man looking for a betrothed.
“It is time,” he said after a while. “Come, let us find my two sons and prepare to make the announcements.”
After they found Alaron, the three of them walked towards the orchestra where a small podium had been arranged for the announcement to be made. Draven was already standing there, waiting for them.
Amber wanted to scream “No!” with every step she took behind Aramis but restrained herself. She could hear Draven’s thoughts becoming clearer and louder the closer she got to him and every single one of them were painful to hear. When they finally reached his side, Amber allowed herself one look at his face and instantly regretted it.
He was smiling but it never reached his eyes for they were void of emotions or recognition; refusing to settle on her; skimming past to prevent a betrayal of his true feelings inside. Amber wanted to say something but she didn’t want to shout her concern over the din of music and chatter. When she tried to speak to him in her mind, she found that he had put up some sort of barrier between them.
It hurt that he was trying to distance himself from her but she knew it was necessary. No crying or sudden outbursts of emotions could be tolerated in front of such an upper class audience. The realization humbled her and made her desperate to leave. She may be dressed in fine material and expensive jewels but none of them were hers; she didn’t belong here and most important of all, it made her feel like a cheap imitation of the woman Draven needed but did not want.
She knew what needed to be done. Once Aramis has announced the betrothed’s name, she will make arrangements to leave. She will not stay here a second longer and drive them both towards their insanity.
Aramis must have sensed her distress for he laid a gentle hand at her elbow as a warning for her to stay in place. As the lights dimmed, he stepped up to the spotlight on the podium and left her and his two sons in the shadows.
“It seems, the time has come for me to make a toast.” The orchestra had already stopped playing and Aramis’s voice seemed to echo across the room, causing everyone to pause and pay him attention.
A few waiters began filing through the crowd, passing out blood-filled wine glasses. Amber gingerly plucked one from the tray and peered curiously at its content.
“To my eldest son, heir to the title and my replacement on the Council,” he toasted, raising his own glass up high. Everyone did the same but murmurs of excitement scattered across the room. “It seemed not too long ago that we saw the union of my own beloved granddaughter and today I am happy announce another joyous union.”
Aramis turned slightly to beam at Draven but his son did not smile back but instead looked down on the floor.
I wish it didn’t have to be this way…
Amber flicked her gaze towards him and tried to reply but he was still blocking her.
“To the future Lord and Lady Culzean,” he announced, stepping backwards slightly to allow Draven to stand in the limelight.
Unfortunately he was looking up with confusion. “Father?” he whispered, looking around for the Pureblood that his father had chosen.
Take her hand before I change my mind
Confusion was still apparent on his face but Draven reached out for the only hand he wanted to hold and jerked her up onto the podium and into the light.
There were murmurs everywhere but then slowly the guests started clapping. Draven couldn’t resist but read the various thoughts running amok in the room. Some were shocked, some were appalled… a few of the female Vampires were cursing in their heads and the males… well; their thoughts of ‘heating things up’ with Amber were thrown out the window.
Draven smiled at that last thought. As if he was ever letting her out of his sight. Even though he was thrilled, he didn’t make any attempt to speak to her yet but instead squeezed her hand reassuringly. He was convinced that she too must be in shock at the sudden announcement.
After the many congratulations conferred –mostly to Draven – guests began to stream out of the ballroom and bade their farewells. It was only later when he managed to slip away that he found his father sitting down in his drawing room, staring at the portrait of his step mother.
“Are you happy now, my son?”
Draven didn’t reply instantly but waited a heartbeat, “I am thrilled Father… but I don’t think you are.”
“Tonight’s ball was meant to announce your betrothed… and so the deed is done.”
“But… what about the heir, Father?”
This time, it was Aramis who stayed silent for a minute before replying, “I will take care of it.”
Draven was frowning. “What do you mean you’ll take care…”
“I’ll marry again.”
NB: Alright, this is a satisfactory ending right? And Draven+Amber solved, albeit too easily of course. Whether or not Aramis marries now doesn’t really matter coz we’re happy our two darlings are allowed to be together. And as I was writing this, I was wondering, why didn’t Aramis think of this in the first place? Lol. But then, his second wife is the love of his life right… I don’t think he’d want to get married so soon after her death [5/6 years later].
Right, to the next one now
“Alright then, let’s put it this way. If you were to choose one woman in this room that would be suitable say for a friend, who would it be and why?”
Amber bit her lips slightly as she concentrated on the faces around the room. “For a friend you say? Like for yourself perhaps?”
“If it helps you choose,” he replied with a shrug.
Amber didn’t reply him. Deep inside her, she kept hearing a strange sound that seemed to resonate with sadness but she couldn’t understand why. She knew that Draven loved her and that perhaps in the past she might have loved him back but right now, she was a rational woman. She had been brought here against her will and she saw this marriage thing as a ticket out of here.
She didn’t want to be anybody’s mistress and Aramis knew that. So she was going to find for Draven a nice woman whom he would hopefully come to love and then she’ll ask Aramis for permission to leave.
Her eyes continued to roam around the room, glossing over the faces and bodies of the countless beautiful women until her eyes rested on a tall willowy woman standing alone. She was dressed elegantly in an off shouldered burgundy dress that trailed a little behind her when she walked.
“Is that lady over there married?” asked Amber curiously. “She doesn’t look like she wants to be here.”
“Your exact sentiments I recall,” mused Aramis before he followed her gaze to the woman in question and his smile vanished.
Dame Josephine. His first thought was that it had been so long since he had seen the woman that he couldn’t even recognize her at first. Had she come here alone? Or perhaps she had brought her children with her?
“Pardon me for a minute my dear, I’d like to have a word with her. Why don’t you ask Alaron to keep you company?” he said suddenly.
Amber found herself suddenly alone. The realization annoyed her for she could see a few men coming towards her, possibly wanting to have a dance. Shuddering slightly, Amber realized that this was probably the best time to make her escape. She didn’t want to be here a second longer…
She inched closer towards one of the patio doors, hoping that it would lead her straight outside. But before she could exit, she sensed someone coming towards her.
“Dance with me,” she heard him say and then felt a hand wound around her waist. She was about to snap at the man when he twirled her forward and she came face to face with her partner.
“I want to leave now,” he whispered desperately.
“You can’t do that… this ball is for you,” she whispered back even as they remained in step with the others.
“I can’t stand the thoughts that are flying around in this room.”
I can hear those bastards wanting to rip off… whatever’s left of this skimpy thing you’re wearing.
She could hear him growl almost possessively and it made her smile. Jealous?
Amber suddenly stopped mid step and stared at Draven. Didn’t they have this conversation before? Flashes of white walls and antiseptic smells came flooding her mind. Draven was telling her to put on his shirt… but why?
“Amber?” his voice was full of worry and concern as he led her away towards one of the chairs. “Do you want to lie down for a while?”
Not the hospital bed…
Draven stiffened at her response. Was she remembering things? Turning to search for Alaron, he made a mental plea for his brother.
“Hey, what’s up bro?” he said jovially but stopped the moment he saw Amber. “Is she going to be alright?”
“Yes. I’m taking her upstairs. Just… keep an eye out on things here for me okay? Let Father know where I am if he asks.”
He didn’t wait for Alaron to answer and quickly ushered Amber out lest she fainted and he had to carry her. That would be even more obvious than them slipping out quietly from the crowd.
“Dame Josephine,” greeted Aramis in what sounded almost like a whisper. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
“Ah, Lord Culzean… of course you didn’t know because you didn’t invite me,” she replied sweetly.
“Are you here alone?” he inquired suspiciously.
“I have every right to go wherever I wish- alone or otherwise.”
“Of course. I did not mean any disrespect.”
“Is that your way of asking me if I’m married?” she asked coldly, stifling a laugh when she saw him narrowing his eyes.
“It is not my place to inquire such details. I was merely wondering if perhaps you came to introduce a daughter… or two to my son.”
He watched her eyes ablaze with fire at his reply but her lips smiled sweetly at him.
“I wouldn’t think that’d be appropriate now would it Aramis?” she replied with a demure laugh.
“Then why are you here Josephine?”
There was a long pause before her eyes fluttered to meet his.
“To see my son choose his bride of course.”
NB: The purpose of bringing Draven’s real mother here is to extend a little of Thread 1’s proposal that Aramis marries in place of Draven. I feel it’s much more richer to explore his birth parents eventually falling in love for real or something like that. Also, so far, I have not included any matriarchs in my stories so I think this is a chance for a female character to lock heads with a character of authority on the subject of their 3 children. Hopefully she’ll also be the rallying point for the two boys and their mates and also provides advice for Fiona later on about her pregnancy.