Mastyr Vampire Gerrod, of Merhaine Realm, lifted a hand toward the human, Abigail, then let it fall away. She stood with her back to him, ignoring him, delighting in the wedding festivities, laughing often.
Sweet Goddess, even her laughter spiked his blood-need, which caused other needs to rise as well. His desire for her was never far away and deepened now, echoing through each cell of his vampire body, stiffening muscles and other parts, begging for sustenance, all kinds.
He should have been beyond such madness. He was three-hundred-years-old, for the Goddess’s sake. But ever since Abigail Kirkland had made her presence known and felt in Merhaine, he’d been held hostage by even the scent of her.
Like crushed rosemary.
He breathed in, his nostrils flaring. A full sliver of heaven in that delicate scent, with just enough woman beneath to rob him of rational thought.
And she a human.
He flexed his biceps: he was that mad. He had to work not to let his fangs descend, else everything he felt would be on display for even the lesser folk to know and understand. He wouldn’t let her humiliate him.
This madness was maddening.
He stood behind her, and a little off to her right side. He could almost see her profile. She knew he was there, but she was ignoring him. She had told him that his temper irked her and she wished he would be silent.
He could have her killed for saying such a thing to him, he, the Mastyr Vampire of the Merhaine Realm, one of the Nine Realms of North America. Did she not understand that he ruled this realm?
He should walk away. There were many at the wedding reception expecting his attention, several mayors, council members.
Yet he couldn’t do so since apparently his leather boots had rooted to the earth. What power was this she held over him? He had never understood, not in the entire year he’d known her.
As the best man spoke into the mic and delivered a slightly slurred toast to the groom, Gerrod’s gaze roved Abigail, his hunger increasing. Her bare shoulders tempted him, called to him, begged for his lips, his fingers, the full length of his tongue. His nostrils flared a little more. Her gown, a soft cream, revealed a portion of her fair back, a large window of skin that set his jaw to trembling. Her long red hair was curled and pulled forward to dangle over her shoulder in beautiful layers over one breast. She had extraordinary eyes, a beautiful light green. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so taken with a woman.
May the heavens help him. Abigail had teased his mating frequency into a frenzy and he was overwrought. Yet he could do nothing about it. The damn woman was human. He would no more give himself to such a ridiculous creature than he would bring forest gremlins into his bed.
He’d be damned first.
He felt a different frequency resonate, a warning within his mind. Derek’s voice telepathed along his Guardsman lane. We’ve got Invictus sign in the southeast.
Invictus. Not tonight. Damn and hell and back. The enemy was abroad.
Gerrod telepathed. Are you sure?
The red wind is blowing.
There were only a handful who could detect the telltale red wind, he and his castle Guard. Several on the Sidhe Council had sufficient power as well as his constant most cherished advisor, Vojalie. Some said the red wind was made of blood that the Invictus sweated when they took to the air. Vampires might have needed blood to live, but the Invictus took blood to sustain their unnatural bonds and didn’t care what they left behind, life or death.
Gerrod turned away from Abigail slightly. Can you contain? he asked.
I’ll need assistance. I’ve counted eleven in the breach.
The Invictus came from the wastelands in the south, the place they preferred to live once each vile couple invoked the perverted rituals that created their kind. Any combination of realm specie would do, so long as one of the pair was a wraith: Vampire, faerie, elf, troll, shifter, it didn’t matter. There were few true wraiths left, those that adhered to simple things like truth and civility, justice and the law. But they were always looked upon with suspicion, which couldn’t be helped at this late hour.
The Invictus killed without conscience, without reason and usually in a sadistic manner.
They were a scourge to be feared and to be slaughtered.
Once a wraith took an Invictus mate, the couple was sealed into a symbiotic relationship that tended to break down goodness and give rise to all that was bad. Thievery was preferred to hard work. Killing to the support and nurturing of life. Insular frenzied hedonism to the sacrifices of marriage and family.
When the Invictus took blood, the realm-folk screamed at the draining, no pleasure, all pain. Nor did the Invictus discern, all blood was acceptable. Specie, age, gender, none of it mattered. Just the living, that’s all the Invictus needed.
How far away? Gerrod asked. The wedding is still mid-reception.
Gerrod’s gaze swept in the direction of the bride and groom, a long-awaited fae wedding. They were fair of face, this couple, and toasting each other with bubbling cider. She was already with child, a tradition among the Merhaine faeries. A child was a promise of a blessed union between souls favored by the Goddess. Gillet, the groom, had served on his castle staff for the last century. He had waited a long time for his bride.
Now the Invictus, tonight of all nights. Why? Was there a reason? Had the festivities drawn them? Every media outlet across the realm had made a fuss over the couple. The Hollow County Enquirer had carried a daily piece on every aspect of the couple: The announcement of the forthcoming birth, the betrothal, and wedding preparations.
Even the Invictus would have known of the wedding. Many Merhaine notables were in attendance as well, several city mayors and council members.
Another team member, Jason, telepathed the battle frequency. The southeastern sector is clear tonight. Gerrod, shall I join Derek?
Yes, Gerrod pathed. Rest of the team, report? A world of pathways and frequencies had tremendous advantages. Long distance communication with those powerful enough to telepath, was a tremendous blessing. All Guards of the Realm could path.
The Invictus were ruthless combatants and never fought with anything resembling decency or honor. A decade ago, Gerrod had lost a valiant vampire Guardsman when an Invictus wraith threw a jug of gasoline on him and set him on fire, laughing all the while.
In the poorer southern regions, drug addicts and prostitutes, even in his realm, often went missing, never to be seen again.
Training had become more rigorous because of the increasing activity. Each Guard now knew to anticipate the unexpected, and training camps had been established for the purpose of evaluating any young vampire, fae, troll, shifter, or elf, who wanted to try for Guard status, male or female. The effort had brought some talent into the castle Guard. Muscle for muscle, however, vampires still had the advantage over other realm-folk so that most Guardsmen were vampires.
One by one, the remaining five Guardsmen gave an all clear for the rest of the realm, at least for now. Yet he felt uneasy. He lifted his chin and issued the orders, All except Jason, join Derek now. Jason, come to the castle grounds and patrol here but keep a low profile. And Jason, have the head of the patrols get the rest of the Guard out tonight, emergency levels.
His sense of uneasiness grew. At least his men had speed. They could lock onto their traveling frequencies better than all realm-folk. Though Jason was over a hundred miles away, he would arrive in less than twenty minutes. Not half-damn bad.
His gaze never stopped moving over the crowd, or into the forest, or even high into the night sky which was clear, star-studded, and just a circle of dark surrounded by the tips of ponderosa pine trees.
He loved the forest and the dark. Each realm had some manner of forest and dense woodland attached. Vampires needed a place to shelter if caught outside during the day. Tree canopies were necessary to those who had difficulty tolerating sunlight.
Even faeries and elves didn’t tolerate sunlight well. The realm world was, for the most part, a world of the night and of the dark.
He shifted his gaze to eye-level and bored his vision deep between the trees, hunting for the peculiar red-wind Invictus sign.
Sweet Goddess, but his land was in trouble, as all the Nine Realms of North America were, if the Invictus engaged in yet another uprising.
At least for now, the wedding party was safe and he could share in the joy of Gillet and his woman.
Abigail chuckled once more, which brought Gerrod’s attention sharply back to the woman who had been tormenting him for an entire year. Her laughter glided over his nerves like a fine oil, which simply sent his temper into the top of his head all over again. Why did the human have to be here and why, by all that was worthy in his world, did he have to be drawn to her?
He cast about for the source of her laughter. She looked off to the right so he followed her gaze. One of the trolls had imbibed far too much wedding punch and was listing about. He had already bumped into a few of the guests. Next he jostled a large vampire, who in turn picked him up by the lapels of his lavender silk coat, and glared at the troll face to face. The wedding guests drew a combined gasp.
Vampires were not known for their sweet tempers. Fucking understatement that.
But the troll smiled sloppily and kissed the vampire on the nose. The vampire grimaced, called out a loud growling ‘ack’, spat off to his left side, but released the troll. The guests breathed again and many chuckled, especially Abigail, as the troll turned and shambled away.
By all the elf-lords, the damned woman laughed too much.
More than anything, he wished he had never heard of Abigail of Flagstaff, a mere human, a bakery owner, the latter being the why of her presence in his realm.
He had opposed the Merhaine Council approving her partnership with a elf to open a bakery in the nearby county of Hollow, one of Merhaine’s seven counties. He had believed from the first it was a mistake. However, and this for reasons he could not explain, Abigail was a favorite among realm-folk. She had been providing the sweet-loving trolls, faeries, and elves of his realm with cupcakes—for all the Nine Realms, cupcakes!—for well over a year. His castle even had a standing weekly order with her Flagstaff enterprise, a place called Just Too Sweet! Yes, with an exclamation point.