Family Ties - (Book 3 of the Marvelous 3 Saga)

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37 - Finding a Way

It was Nick and Elijah’s intent to move Leo, Alexander, and Kiara into their own home as soon as possible. But Kiara’s intense focus on her studies to complete her accelerated MD program had taken precedence, leading to growing tensions within the Blackbourne Manor.

Although Kiara spent the majority of her time either in her room or at the library, Alexander and Leo practically lived in her bedroom, much to Elijah’s dismay. The immortal predators were quite literally stepping on each other’s toes.

Even as months flew by with holidays allowing the families to spend time with each other outside of their regular duties, the patience levels were wearing thin. Elijah, in particular, grew weary of running into a half-naked Leo every evening he visited the kitchen for a midnight snack.

Elijah ran his fingers down Marshala’s naked waist. Her body moved in rhythm to her breathing as she fell deeper into her slumber. He glanced over at Nick lying on the other side of her. His hand was wedged between her thighs and his face was pushed into the back of her neck. Elijah smiled fondly at this uncanny family that he had formed. He never imagined that they would end up here.

He quietly got out of bed and headed to Evangeline’s old room. He could hear light snoring as his feet led him to the small bed surrounded by stuffed animals, toys, and children’s books. Elijah crouched down and smiled fondly at the young wolf. Nikolai had grown so big, he could hardly believe how quickly time flew by. He gently sifted his fingers into the toddler’s curly hair as he tenderly stroked his head.

Suddenly, Elijah’s ears twitched when he heard a strange noise coming from downstairs. It was nearly 2 in the morning, and yet someone was in their kitchen. Ever since he caught Cole throwing parties at the manor in his absence, Elijah had established strict rules that no one was happy to obey. He feared another vampire had wandered into their home.

He quickly whisked out of the room and nearly flew down the stairs before he crept towards the kitchen. Elijah’s nails elongated and his eyes slowly bled red as he prepared to attack whatever intruder was in their home. He heard grunting and quickly flew into the kitchen. He grabbed the intruder by the neck and slammed him up against the fridge. His fangs were bared and his claws sharpened.

“HOW DARE YO- Leo?!”

Leo stared at Elijah with wide eyes and a piece of bread hanging out of his mouth. “Heeeyyyyy…. Elijah…” Leo said hesitantly.

“I thought you went home hours ago?” Elijah asked, releasing him.

“So, the thing is I did go home… but then I came back,” Leo said sheepishly.

“You came back to raid the fridge?” Elijah asked with a quirked brow.

“I’m actually getting food for Kiara. She was hungry.”

“But why are you here?” Elijah asked impatiently.

“...because I was hungry,” Leo smirked.

“Good heavens,” Elijah groaned. “Get out.”

“But-”

“Now!”

The Head Vampire and the Alpha Wolf tried to be understanding, but even their Head Priestess witch lover was starting to lose her patience.

“Stop! Mama! Ughhhhh,” Nikolai groaned as Marshala rubbed a wet rag over his face.

“Well, Nikolai, if you actually put the food in your mouth instead of everywhere else, I wouldn’t have to scrub you down like this,” Marshala sighed as she tried to wipe applesauce off of his face.

“He’s a messy eater like his Papa,” Nick grinned.

“Can’t stand you, Volkovs,” Marshala groaned. “How the heck did you manage to get it on your back- okay, you know what? Bath time,” she said, picking her son up from the floor.

“NOOOOO!” Nikolai whined. “Papa!”

“Nikolai, you know when it comes down to me and your mother, your mother always wins,” Nick said with his hands up in surrender.

“Good answer,” Marshala smirked as she carried her son up the stairs. She walked down the hallway and went to open the bathroom door, but it was locked. She could hear giggling and moaning and groaned as she knocked on the door.

“Coming!” she heard Kiara squeal from the other side. Marshala tried to wait patiently until the door finally flew open and a burst of steam blew in her face.

“Ooh… sorry, Marshala,” Alexander said. He stepped out of the steamy bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. His long, wet black hair fell past his shoulders. His light blue eyes were barely seen behind the tresses dangling in front of his face. He had an arm wrapped around Kiara who was also sporting a towel around her naked body.

“Shoot, sorry!” Kiara said, rushing to the bathroom window. She lifted it open. “Just give it a minute to air out. Hi, Niko!” Kiara beamed as she kissed Nikolai on the cheek. Nikolai cheesed as he planted a wet one on her cheek as well.

Marshala sighed again as Alexander and Kiara quickly moved past her. She walked into the bathroom and let out a loud grown to see Alexander’s hair in the drain. “Alexanderrrrrrrr!”

Alexander rushed back towards Marshala and looked where she pointed to the hair in the drain. “Shit. Sorry, Marshala. I never used to shed before. Actually, that’s probably from when Kiara was pulling my hair while I-”

“Please just remove your hair and get out!” Marshala snapped.

Eventually, Nick and Elijah took it upon themselves to be more proactive in helping Leo and Alexander find a place for them to live. While Kiara focused on her studies, the brothers went hunting for apartments. But the task had proven itself to be rather challenging, for deeper issues resided within Alexander’s mind about their current situation.

“I don’t like it.”

Elijah looked at Alexander startled. “You haven’t even looked inside,” Nick said.

“Not the house,” Alexander sighed. “This. This arrangement you guys made an executive decision on without consulting either of us.”

Leo folded his arms across his chest and stood next to Alexander. He looked up at what must have been the 30th apartment that Elijah and Nick had brought them to as a potential spot for them to move into. “You want the three of us to live together but separate from you guys cause you’re tired of hearing us fuck her all the time,” Leo shrugged. “I get it.”

Elijah cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Primarily because it is safer for all of us, but especially Kiara, if you were both in the same vicinity of each other rather than across town. It will be easier for us to keep track of who is where. Marshala and Kiara are the most vulnerable of our blood bond. Thus, it is important we stay close to each other.”

“But also because you sex fiends won’t stop fucking, yes,” Nick smirked. “Not trying to hear all that every day.”

Leo rolled his eyes as he smirked at Alexander. “It’s still not right,” Alexander sighed.

Elijah looked at him confused. “Alexander?”

“Kiara deserves better than this,” Alexander said. “She deserves to get married and have children. Live a long and happy life. With Leo. I can’t give her that. Any of it.”

“Seriously with this shit again, Blackbourne?” Leo said annoyed.

“You know it’s true,” Alexander said. “Vampires don’t marry. The witches would never recognize such a union. And they are her family.”

“What are you saying, Alexander?” Nick asked.

Alexander ran his fingers through his long hair in frustration. “I don’t know...” he sighed. He glanced at Leo, and they had a brief conversation with their eyes before Leo scoffed in annoyance.

“You’re being stupid,” Leo said to him. “You’re like three times my age and still stupid as shit.”

“Leo...” Alexander sighed. “I’m just trying to think about what’s best for her.”

“No. You’re not,” Leo said snidely. “You’re fucking pussyfooting. You’re projecting the insecurities of your own damn past onto her, acting like ‘it’s what’s best for her’ when you know damn well what’s best for her is us. Both of us.”

Leo walked up to Alexander and stared him in the eye. “This is a two for one deal, Blackbourne. You made a promise to her,” Leo said.

“And I intend to keep that promise,” Alexander said quickly.

“To be there for her,” Leo continued.

“I will be.”

“At all times. Emotionally and physically.”

“I get it, Leo-”

“Do you?” Leo snapped. Alexander exhaled as he averted his gaze. He wasn’t ready to get into it with Leo again.

Leo felt Elijah touch his back and glanced over his shoulder. “I would like to spend some time with my brother and talk things through. Think about it for a little bit, and we’ll revisit this,” Elijah said.

Leo looked back at Alexander who seemed to be having an argument in his own head. He would have preferred to talk to Alexander himself, but he figured this was a vampire thing. Alexander needed his brother. “Sure...” Leo sighed as he left with Nick.

~

Alexander sat on a large boulder, looking over the lake. His mind was a flurry of thoughts. He could still feel Leo’s anger and frustration. It was the first time since their soul bond that he had felt a slight disconnect. But Leo knew him well. Too well. Leo knew exactly what was plaguing Alexander’s mind.

“What was your plan, Alexander?” Elijah asked, interrupting his thoughts. Alexander glanced at his brother. “Kiara is your mate.”

“I know.”

“Then what-”

“Elijah... I have never felt more human than when I am with her. For decades, I’ve seen myself as a monster, but with Kiara, I feel...real. And the thought terrifies me because then I have these... human desires that cannot be acted upon. The world will never accept us. Not the three of us at least. At university alone, she was bullied for being seen with me and Leo. I don’t want her to suffer because of me. What kind of life can I give her? I don’t feel worthy of her...” Alexander said.

Elijah sighed as he perched himself next to Alexander. “You know... I did ask Marshala to marry me years ago...”

“Kiara is the last LaFleur in her bloodline, Elijah. I will not take away her family name by giving her mine,” Alexander said. “It wouldn’t be right. Not after everything she’s been through. Everything she’s done. She should wear that name with pride. And it’s far more significant than ours. That name has saved countless lives. Our name...” Alexander trailed off, not wanting his mind to wander back to thoughts of his father.

“It is moments like these when you remind me that you understand mortals far better than I do, Alexander,” Elijah said. Alexander looked at his brother and gave him a small smile.

“Hey, Blackbournes!”

Elijah and Alexander looked behind them to see Rhea and Cole walking in their direction. “Rhea,” Elijah smiled. “What a pleasant surprise. What brings you here?”

“She came to see me, obviously,” Cole smirked.

“How do you see anything with your head so far up your ass?” Rhea said, smirking at Cole.

“Well, shit, Elphaba! That was cold,” Cole laughed. “I’m a little hurt, to be honest.”

Rhea rolled her eyes and set her gaze on Alexander. “I actually came to see Kiara. She’s waiting to find out if she got accepted into that clinical program. The letter should be arriving in the mail soon. She’s hoping to start after she’s done with her program at Excalibur.”

“That’s exciting,” Elijah said. “What clinical program is this?”

“Mm... something Bourbon-Ryans Foundation? Beagle-Rickards maybe?” Rhea tried to guess. “Something BR, I don’t know! But she may have the opportunity to be a licensed medical practitioner, and you know how badly she’s always wanted that.”

Alexander smiled fondly. “It would provide her with a promising future...”

Rhea looked at him curiously. “Something wrong, Alexander?”

“He’s vampire PMSing. All emotional and second-guessing if he deserves Kiara,” Cole rolled his eyes.

“Shut the fuck up, Cole,” Alexander snapped.

“You’re not actually second-guessing your relationship with her, are you?” Rhea asked. “Of course you deserve her. I mean you’ve already given your life for her. There’s no-”

“Of course not,” Alexander said quickly. “I love Kiara more than anything. I would never leave her. But, she only started staying with us for school. Moving in with just her, me, and Leo seems... inappropriate. I know I sound a bit... traditional, but, I just feel she deserves so much better than that.”

“It doesn’t help that your line of witches doesn’t recognize the marital union of a vampire to, well... anyone,” Elijah added.

“I guess not...” Rhea said, thinking. “They’re pretty stubborn about that kind of stuff. But you guys are supernatural. I mean we all are. Who says we only need to do things the human way?” The three vampires looked at her curiously, waiting for her to continue. “Okay,” she said, situating herself. “So check it.”

“Here we go,” Cole rolled his eyes with a smirk.

“Shut up, Dracula,” she said, ignoring him as she turned to Alexander. “So, it’s true witches refuse to recognize the union of our people to vampires. And a lot of that has to do with our history. Your kind is notorious for hunting witches down, using us, and killing us. Which I know is not your way of life.”

“Aww, shucks! There was a time you hated us. And now you love me,” Cole said, nudging her. “It’s because I’m so fucking irresistible, isn’t it?”

“Bitch, if you don’t let me finish!” she snapped at him.

“Honestly, Cole!” Elijah said irritably.

“The responsibility of a witch is to protect humans and maintain the balance of nature. So no, they may not recognize a human ritual like marriage if it’s to a vampire... at first. But you don’t really need a wedding or a ring to pledge your life to Kiara. There’s this thing called... The Branding,” she explained.

Both Elijah and Alexander leaned in, giving Rhea their full attention. “I believe I may have heard of something like this... It’s an enchantment, isn’t it?” Elijah asked.

“Something like that...” Rhea said, trying to gather her thoughts. “The Branding is... kind of archaic... It was used back in the times when vampires enslaved our people to do their will. It’s like an extreme parallel of a vampire and a wolf’s mark. The Branding shows ownership. It permanently and visibly marks a vampire, leaving a scar that can never heal.”

“That sounds sketchy,” Cole said with a quirked brow.

“Actually, it’s right up your ally, Cole,” Rhea smirked at him.

“So, this mark...would signify that Kiara owns me?” Alexander asked.

Rhea nodded. “It’s not something a vampire would normally get since it’s sort of an act of submission, and-”

“I’ll do it,” Alexander said quickly. Rhea looked at him startled. “She does own me. Mind, body, and soul. I want her to know that. I want everyone to know that,” Alexander said, looking suggestively at Elijah.

“Are you implying-” Elijah started.

“Marshala owns you too,” Alexander interrupted. “Always has if you’re being honest with yourself.”

Elijah sighed with a smirk. “I’m not really sure how Marshala would feel about this.”

“I think she’d appreciate it,” Rhea said. “It’s a display of your love and devotion to her. Far more significant than some piece of jewelry.”

“Will Kiara feel the pain of the branding?” Alexander asked.

“No,” Rhea said. “The magic will make it so she doesn’t even know.”

“Then I say we do it,” Alexander said, hitting Elijah in the chest. “You and me both. For our women. Our mates.”

“You sound like a teenager getting his first tattoo,” Cole smirked.

“Pretty much,” Rhea grinned. “Oh! And we should have a celebration! To make your final union public and official! Once the witches see your branding, they’d have no choice but to recognize that.”

“A celebration?” Alexander hesitated.

“Kinda like a party!” Rhea said excitedly. “With flower crowns, and lots of food, and music, and dancing, and-”

“See, this is why we don’t involve you, witches, in anything,” Cole teased her.

“Oh shut up! Marshala and Kiara would love it!” Rhea was practically bouncing with excitement.

“I’m glad you’re so enthusiastic about this, Rhea, but... we don’t know the first thing about planning such an event,” Elijah said.

“I’ll take care of it!” she blurted. “Oh, and I’ll get Ava involved. And Cole and Peter and Levi can help too!”

“Now hold the fuck on,” Cole protested.

“Come on, Cole! These are your brothers! Kiara and Marshala are both tied to you anyway. Do something sweet and unselfish for once,” she said, nudging him. “Besides... you’ll get to spend more time with Ava,” she smirked as she wiggled her eyebrows.

“I hate you,” Cole muttered.

~*~

“Come on... come on...” Kiara said, checking her P.O. Box at the local post office. She grabbed the envelopes and quickly flipped through them. “Dammit...” she groaned. She slumped against the wall, feeling beyond disappointed.

“You look like you got a letter from the IRS or something,” a voice said.

Kiara looked up to see a pretty dark-skinned girl with a pixie-cut hairstyle walking towards her with a backpack slung over her shoulder. “Girl, please. I gotta have an actual job for the IRS to come after me,” Kiara snickered as she looked through her envelopes again. “Which I was hoping would be the case when I checked my mail...”

“Mm, give it a minute,” the girl said, opening up a P.O. Box a few feet away from Kiara. “My stuff has been taking FOR.E.VER to arrive. Like you think these people would have figured out how to utilize technology to make this process run just a little bit better. But nah, fam. They prefer working like cavemen.”

Kiara laughed out loud. “It’s true! They should be ashamed. Maybe you can give them a few tips.”

“Maybe,” the girl smiled. She pulled a package out of her box and opened it up to see a pack of cookies. “Ahh yes! Auntie Angela sent me those good ass cookies she makes. She really does love me.”

“Care package?” Kiara asked with a raised brow.

“Yea,” the girl laughed. “I was in DESPERATE NEED of one. It’s hard assimilating.”

“I’m Kiara,” Kiara said, holding out her hand. “I’m guessing you’re not from around here.”

“Sasha,” the girl said, taking her hand. “Nope. I just moved up here a few weeks ago from Philly for an internship tech program at Excalibur University.”

“Nice! That’s my school!” Kiara said. “I was going to head up there in a little while to take an exam. You wanna come with?”

“Sure,” Sasha said, closing the mailbox.

“You look a little young to be attending university,” Kiara said, walking outside with her.

“Because I’m a bloody genius,” Sasha smirked.

“Well damn! Alright, girl. I see you,” Kiara laughed.

“Sorry. I should have said that with more humility. But I am a genius according to Mensa,” Sasha shrugged.

“Damn! You’re part of Mensa?” Kiara asked, startled.

“Was accepted as a member at the age of 14,” Sasha grinned as she followed Kiara onto the bus.

“That’s badass,” Kiara said, leaning on the pole. “I’m no genius, but I have a love for the medical field. I was a practicing nurse for a while with my BSN before I went back to school to study medicine and rare diseases. I’m almost done with my final year.”

“You remind me of my cousin,” Sasha said. “She’s a doctor. Loves working in the medical field so much she created a whole-ass foundation.”

“See? That’s some major black girl magic right there,” Kiara chuckled. “I’m not trying to reach that level. But I do aspire to reach a more influential level. Taking a crack at curing the ‘incurable’.” They both hopped off of the bus and headed up the campus steps of Excalibur University.

“That’s really cool,” Sasha said. “I respect that.”

“I just have to pass my final exams first,” Kiara laughed.

The security at the front stopped them. “Student ID badges,” he said.

Sasha handed over her ID badge. “I’m new here.”

“Sasha Johansson,” he said, reading her ID. “You’re good to go.”

He grabbed Kiara’s ID badge and read it before looking at her. “You’re still banned for another week.”

“I HAVE TO TAKE AN EXAM!” she blurted.

“Alright. But as soon as you’re done, you’re out of here,” he said, motioning them along.

Kiara rolled her eyes as she walked with Sasha inside. “You’re banned?” Sasha asked.

“I clocked a racist Becky in the face for spitting on me and calling me a slut,” Kiara shrugged.

“What?! Bitches be trippin’,” Sasha said. “I would have caught a felony had it been me.”

Kiara chuckled. “Girl, listen-”

“Angel!”

Kiara turned around just in time for Leo to swoop her up in his arms. “Leo,” Rhea said, tapping his shoulder. “This is the reason why she got into trouble in the first place.”

“Oh right,” Leo said, putting her back down.

“Hey guys,” Kiara smiled. She glanced at Peter leaning nonchalantly against the wall. “Peter?”

“We finally convinced him to register for classes,” Rhea smirked. “Nick and Marshala pushed him through in admissions.”

“Sounds about white,” Sasha smirked sarcastically.

“Oop-” Rhea said startled. “And who’s this?”

Kiara cringed. “Rhea, Leo... Peter... This is my new friend, Sasha. She started at Excalibur a few weeks ago, right?”

“Right,” Sasha said, adjusting her bag. “And what are you guys like... adopted brothers and sisters or something?”

“It feels that way sometimes,” Rhea grinned up at Leo. “Leo’s like the annoying brother I never wanted.”

“Ouch, RiRi,” Leo said, playfully pinching her in the side.

“Rhea is my best friend,” Kiara said to Sasha. “Leo is my boyfriend. And Peter is my...”

“Hmm... perhaps, vampire brother whose fate is tied through a century-old blood bond orchestrated by a mad tyrant,” Peter quipped. Kiara, Rhea, and Leo looked at Peter wide-eyed.

“And I’m the queen of Wakanda,” Sasha rolled her eyes. “It was interesting meeting you weirdos, but I’ve got to meet with my school counselor. Kiara, let’s catch up sometime, yea?”

“Yea! See ya, Sasha!” Kiara waved her off.

“Seriously?” Rhea said to Peter.

Peter shrugged. “What do I care? Not like she believed me. Mortals are simple.”

“Not that one,” Kiara said. “She’s a genius. She’d give you a run for your money, Peter.”

“Please...” Peter muttered. “There’s not a mortal alive that doesn’t aggravate me. I’m leaving.”

“Nuh uh!” Rhea said, grabbing Peter’s arm. “Not until you register for classes.”

Kiara chuckled as she watched Rhea drag a reluctant Peter down the hall. She felt a pair of large hands slide around her waist from behind her. “I missed you, Angel...” Leo said, kissing her cheek.

“I missed you too, Leo,” she said, turning around in his arms. “But we can’t be like this in public...”

“I don’t really give a damn, Angel,” Leo said. “I don’t care what people say or what they think. Whether they have a problem because you’re black and I’m white, or I’m a wolf and you’re a witch, or that I’m sharing you with a vampire. That doesn’t mean shit to me. I love you. We both do. That’s all that matters. You’re all that matters. And I’ll fuck up any son of a bitch who has shit to say about it.”

Kiara smiled up at him, feeling overwhelmed by his words. She held her breath as he ensnared her lips in a passionate kiss. She loved knowing that no matter what, her men would always be there for her.

“Disgusting.”

Kiara glanced behind Leo to see Jenny standing with her hands on her hips and a few of her friends loitering behind her. Her nose still looked slightly crooked from when Kiara punched her. “I thought you were banned from this place,” she snarled at Kiara. “Look what you did to my nose!”

“You look better,” Kiara snarked.

“And you’re still an ugly, ghetto ass bitch,” Jenny snapped at her.

Leo growled as he spun around on his heels and headed straight towards Jenny. “Listen up you little punk ass bitch motherfuc-”

“Leo!” Kiara said, grabbing his arm and pulling him back. “I don’t want you getting in trouble over her, okay?”

Leo’s nostrils flared as he turned his back on Jenny and faced Kiara. “Only for you, Angel... I would never hit a woman, but I swear she’s testing my last goddamn nerves. I might just sick RiRi on her ass,” he muttered lowly.

Kiara chuckled as she grabbed his face between her hands. She gently stroked his beard and gave him a soft kiss on the lips to calm him. “She’s not worth it, Leo...” Kiara said. “I have one final exam to take. Walk me to class?” Leo smiled as he grabbed her hand.

“Kiara, did you tell our so-called ‘star’ quarterback that you’re fucking other men like the slut you are?” Jenny persisted. “Or does he have no self-respect either?”

“It’s okay to have insecurities, Jennifer, and by the sound of your constant bitching, you have quite a lot. But there’s no reason to project them onto others.”

Jenny spun around at the voice that just called her out to see Alexander and Cole walking past her, both wearing dark shades. A couple of the girls standing with her swooned. They watched in awe as the two Blackbourne brothers walked by. Their mouths dropped when they saw Alexander dap Leo before wrapping his arm around Kiara to give her a soft, sensual kiss on the lips.

“You look beautiful, iubita mea...” Alexander smiled against her lips.

“And you guys look so funny wearing shades indoors,” Kiara chuckled. “I mean really?” she teased.

“Don’t make fun, little thing. Our eyes are still sensitive. This is still your fault,” Cole smirked.

“Excuse me!” Jenny blurted. “What the fuck is wrong with you people?! Are you sick in the head??”

“Fuck off, Jill! You’re embarrassing yourself,” Leo said. He grabbed Kiara’s hand and turned around.

“IT’S JENNY!” she growled.

“He knows,” Alexander smirked. “He just doesn’t care.” Alexander locked his deep blue eyes with Jenny, giving her a look so dark it made her swallow and take a step back. “Leave. our girl. alone,” he threatened. “Final warning.”

“And do yourself a favor and get a life, will you?” Cole sucked his teeth. “I mean shit, not even I’d fuck you.”

“That’s rude, Cole,” Alexander snickered as he turned to follow Leo and Kiara.

“You say that like I’m supposed to give a fuck,” Cole laughed as they both walked away.

Jenny’s mouth parted in shock. There was no retort left in her.

~*~

“Cole and Peter will take you home after your exam,” Alexander said, tenderly rubbing his thumb across the back of Kiara’s hand.

Kiara leaned back against Leo’s chest as he tightened his arms around her. She looked up at Alexander standing in front of her. A warm smile painted his face as his light blue eyes scanned the details of her face. Kiara noticed a few people passing by, looking at them strangely. One of the witches, in particular, gave her a scowl of disapproval.

“Eyes on me, Kiara,” Alexander said. He grabbed her chin and gently turned her head to meet his gaze.

“Don’t worry about them, Angel,” Leo said, comfortingly kissing the back of her neck to calm her.

She took a deep breath and tried to smile. “Where will you guys be?” she asked.

“We... have some things to take care of,” Alexander said, glancing up at Leo.

“But, we’ll see you later tonight,” Leo said, kissing her temple. “We’ll celebrate your passing cause we know you’ll ace this exam.”

“Thanks, guys,” she said, cracking a grin as she stepped out of Leo’s embrace. She stood on her toes and wrapped her arms around Alexander’s neck. He palmed the back of her head and held her body flushed against his as he buried his face into her neck, inhaling her scent. His long black hair curtained her face as she held him tightly.

“We love you, iubita mea,” Alexander said, pulling back from her.

“I love you guys, too,” she smiled. She gave them both a quick kiss on the lips before she headed inside the lecture hall.

~*~

“So, what’s this great idea you came up with?” Leo asked, walking down the steps of the university next to Alexander.

“Actually, it was Rhea who came up with the idea,” Alexander said. He opened the door to his car where Rhea was sitting in the backseat.

“FINALLY!” she blurted. “What took you guys so long? Hurry up! The Victoria Secret sale ends in like an hour!”

“Uh... what are we doing again?” Leo asked.

~*~

“Sit still,” Rhea ordered. She rubbed a viscous, clear oil over Leo’s bare naked chest.

“I can’t believe you made me agree to this,” Nick muttered to Elijah. Elijah grinned as he knelt on the grassy ground next to Nick, watching Ava rub oil on his chest.

“Make sure to stoke the fire with the rod, Rhea, so it gets nice and hot,” her Aunt Giselle said, stirring a mixture in a small bowl.

“Yes, Auntie.” Rhea stuck an iron rod into a fire pit, waiting for it to get hot. She turned around to Leo, Alexander, Elijah, and Nick kneeling on the ground. They were in the hidden part of the forest that she and Ava used to hide during the great war before her Aunt Giselle and Uncle Bernard took them under their wing.

She still remembered how terrified she was even after being reunited with her family, after witnessing her parents’ brutal murders. The young wolf Leo Volkov was like a knight in shining armor for her. But the relief was merely temporary as more death soon followed after. Rhea shook her head as she walked over to help her aunt finish putting the contents together for the ritual.

“I still feel like a ring would have been much simpler,” Leo muttered to Alexander.

“We’re still getting her a ring,” Alexander said, looking at him. “Didn’t you read my text?”

Leo groaned. “When would I have had time to read it between you kidnapping me from school and this?!”

“Excuses,” Alexander smirked.

“Just so you boys know,” Giselle started. She turned around to face the four of them with the bowl in her hand. “A ritual like this is irreversible. Centuries ago, vampires used to enslave our kind to do their bidding. They would perform a similar branding on our people as a blatant display of ownership and denial of our self-agency. They were unkind, unruly, violent, and they had no sympathy for our people. That attitude carried on for generations up unto the great war, in which hundreds of our people were massacred in one of the greatest genocides of our kind in history.”

Alexander swallowed hard and looked down, feeling the harsh pang of guilt. “We couldn’t even... begin... to express how sorry we are,” Elijah said remorsefully. “...for... well for-”

“I don’t see why you’re apologizing,” Giselle said. “You and your brothers were some of the only vampires that fought for us.”

“Many more witches would have died if not for you and your brothers,” Nick said, looking at Elijah. “I would have lost Shal if not for you.” Elijah raised his brows in surprise as he locked Nick in a gaze. He nodded at the alpha with gratitude as a smile painted to his face.

“You have nothing to feel guilty for,” Leo said to Alexander. “So stop blaming yourself. You know I hate that shit.”

Alexander raised an amused brow. “Is this you admitting that you care about me?”

“Of course I care about you, you asshole!” Leo growled. “And fuck you for making me say it out loud!”

Alexander couldn’t help but laugh. “You have a way with words, Volkov.”

“Shut up,” Leo smirked at him.

“No, neither of you have anything to feel guilty for,” Giselle said, standing in front of Alexander. “To agree to such a ritual is not just a remarkable act of submission, but it is truly a testament of your love.” Giselle placed a finger underneath Alexander’s chin and tilted his head until she locked him in a gaze. “Your mates will see that... and so will the other witches. You have nothing left to prove after this. Alright?”

Alexander cocked his head curiously. “I feel like you’re speaking directly to me...”

“Because I am,” she smirked. “You are one of the most empathetic and feeling vampires I’ve ever met, Alexander. Truly unique and one of a kind.”

“He takes after his mother,” Elijah smiled at Alexander.

“He’s annoying as shit, cause I can feel all of that,” Leo smirked at Alexander. Alexander shook his head with a grin and looked back up at Giselle.

“Stop blaming yourself for things that are not your doing,” Giselle said. “You deserve Kiara. Do not try to convince yourself otherwise. Understand?” Alexander nodded as a small smile came to his face.

“Oh, so when she says it, it’s all good. But when I say it-” Leo snarked.

“Leo, shut the hell up,” Nick laughed.

Leo rolled his eyes as he watched Rhea approach him. She knelt down in front of him and pressed a soft, mushy substance against his left pectoral. “Did you ever think you’d see me doing something like this?” Leo asked her.

Rhea smirked as she continued to smear the substance. “Doing something crazy for the woman you love? Hell yeah. You’ve always been reckless.”

Ava approached Nick with one of the hot iron rods. “And you’re sure Shal won’t feel this?” Nick asked quickly.

“Positive,” Ava nodded. “Just... take a deep breath.” The smell of burnt flesh filled the air as Nick slightly cringed from the rod searing into his skin.

“You alright there, Leo?” Alexander asked. He glanced at Leo who was being branded by Rhea.

“Course,” Leo cringed. “I can... barely... feel it...”

“Liar,” Rhea smirked.

“Don’t do me like that, RiRi. A Volkov never shows pain. Right, Nick?” Leo said, glancing at his brother.

“Fuck that. This shit hurts like hell,” Nick cussed as the rest of them broke into laughter.

~*~

Kiara headed down the campus stairs as she sent a quick text to Cole.

“Hey, Barbie!”

She looked up startled at the random voice to see a bubbly blonde standing in front of her with an inquisitive look on her face. “Did you... did you just call me ‘Barbie’?” Kiara asked.

“Yea, you look like a damn Barbie doll. Long legs, perky tits, nice ass. Things we both have in common. No wonder Alexander picked you,” Rose smirked. Kiara looked at her like she was crazy before she turned around and walked away. “Wait,” Rose said, running next to her. “That was supposed to be a compliment. Alexander’s a picky guy.”

Kiara looked at her with a raised brow. “So, first you randomly show up at his house, and now you’re confronting me at my own school?”

“Technically, I’m not at your school, just on the sidewalk. Daddy Elijah strictly forbade it,” Rose shrugged.

“...Daddy... Elijah?” Kiara said, confused.

“Fuck yeah. I’d let his sexy ass spank me any day. Rawr,” Rose purred.

“He’s already in a relationship,” Kiara said quickly.

“Son of a bitch!” Rose groaned.

Kiara shook her head in disbelief and turned to walk away. “Oh come on! Why do you keep running away? I’m trying to be friendly here! Let’s talk girl-to-girl. Get... coffee or whatever shit you mortals do,” Rose said, following her again.

“Why would you want to be friendly with someone who is mated to a guy you used to sleep with?” Kiara asked.

“Alright, so I get you’re only a mortal who clearly knows about our kind. So, I’ll try to say this in a way you’ll understand. I’ve known Alexander probably longer than you’ve been alive. He sometimes goes through these phases where he thinks he wants to ‘settle down’ and have a somewhat normal life, which I always tell him is fucking stupid. I mean shit, dude, you’re a fucking vampire. What the hell is ‘normal’ for us? Am I right? Oh wait, of course, you don’t know. You’re human,” Rose chuckled to herself.

“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Kiara said, cutting her off. “Slow down for a second. Just what the hell are you talking about?”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Mortals, I swear. Basically, Barbie, this thing you have with Alexander is very temporary. I’m just trying to warn you now so you don’t get your heart broken. Or worse, your throat torn out when he gets too hungry, or is done with you and decides to move on to the next pussy.”

Kiara just blinked at Rose like she was crazy. “You’re legit out of your freaking mind,” she said angrily.

I’m out of my mind?” Rose asked, startled. “You’re fucking both a wolf and a vampire. Two creatures who are notorious for how much they hate each other. Honey, if there’s anyone who’s crazy, it’s you. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out how that works, since last time I fucked Alexander, he hated wolv-”

Rose immediately went flying into the air until her head smashed against the brick wall of a building. She slid to the ground and touched the back of her head where she felt blood. She blew her blonde curls out of her face and looked up to meet Kiara’s angry green glare.

“I’m gonna need you to not talk about ‘fucking’ my mate,” Kiara said tensely. “Or I’ll do a lot more damage than that.”

Rose’s eyes bulged. “You’re a witch?!”

“Duh! Mention Alexander again, and I’ll burn your ass to a crisp,” Kiara snapped.

Rose smirked as she leaned back against the wall. “Well, shit... that’s actually kinda hot. Now I get why he likes you.” Kiara sucked her teeth and did a 180. “So... is that a ‘no’ to the coffee?” Rose asked from the ground.

~*~

“Peter, can you at least pretend to care?” Rhea begged.

“No.”

“Fine. Then, hold this, you little grouch,” Rhea said, placing a couple of bags in his hand. Peter groaned as he leaned back against the wall of the jewelry store watching Rhea scan the glass case with Leo and Elijah.

“That one’s nice,” Leo pointed.

“That’s far too big,” Elijah shook his head. “This one exudes regality.”

“Alright, you pompous prick,” Leo scoffed. “Alexander, what do you think?”

Alexander stopped talking to Nick and walked over to Leo and Elijah. He peered inside the glass and eyed the mixed ruby red and amber stone ring. “It looks like something a vampire queen would wear,” Alexander smirked. “Shouldn’t we get her something more... human?”

“That’s boring,” Leo grinned. “Vampire queen ring it is.” Alexander shook his head with a smirk as the jeweler pulled the ring out and placed it in a box.

“Good, good,” Rhea said, grabbing both of their arms. “I’ll stay with Nick and Elijah to find their ring for Marshala. Cole and Peter will help you guys pick out suits, cause I know your lame asses don’t have one. Talking about you, Leo. And I don’t mean that thing you wore to Kiara’s ceremony.”

“Shit, RiRi, you’re so mean today,” Leo pretended to whine.

“She’s so bossy for such a tiny mortal,” Alexander teased.

“I know. I’m regretting recruiting her for this,” Leo snickered.

“Oh, you guys got jokes, huh? Both of you would be lost without me,” Rhea said, shoving them towards the exit.

“Why do I feel like this was all a big mistake,” Alexander sighed.

“You got that too, huh?” Leo grinned.

“GO!” Rhea blurted.

~

“This might possibly be a fate worse than death,” Peter muttered as Cole adjusted his suit jacket.

“Can’t attract pussy wearing pussy-repellent clothes,” Cole smirked as he pushed Peter in front of the mirror. Peter hissed as if he were repulsed by his own image. “You look good, Blackbourne,” Cole grinned.

“I look casket sharp,” Peter said, giving a sarcastic, fake smile.

Leo smirked as he adjusted his tie and eyed himself in the mirror. “I hope all of this doesn’t freak her out,” he said to Alexander. “We’re just assuming she’ll be okay with this.”

“She’s already ours. We’re just making it official in... her world,” Alexander said, fixing his cuffs.

“I’ve been madly in love with Kiara for longer than I can remember. I’ve always wanted to make her mine. Love her and take care of her the way that she deserves. Not gonna lie, Blackbourne. Never imagined I’d be sharing her with someone, let alone a damn vampire,” Leo smirked.

“Likewise,” Alexander chuckled. “But then... I never thought I’d find someone closer than a friend in a wolf either.” Alexander and Leo shared a warm look before Leo punched him hard in the shoulder. “Ow, what the fuck?” Alexander laughed.

“Don’t get fucking sentimental on me, you damn bloodsucker,” Leo teased. “There was a time I wanted to kill your ass.”

Alexander rolled his eyes. “I mean I still feel that way from time to time.”

“Shut the hell up,” Leo laughed. He stared at himself in the long mirror, fixing his collar. “Our kind will always hate each other. There’s too much bad blood between vampires and wolves for that to ever change. There will always be those who will never accept us and what we have with her.”

Alexander raised a brow at Leo. “Fuck them.”

Leo grinned. “Damn straight. Fuck them.”

“Oh, please do...”

Alexander and Leo looked up to see Rose leaning against one of the pillars, eyeing them from head to toe. “Are you serious right now?” Cole muttered. “Who let this dirty broad in here?” he yelled in the store.

“Rose, what the fuck?! Are you stalking me?” Alexander asked angrily.

“I’m just trying to imagine you guys having a steamy threesome but with me in the middle instead of the Barbie doll.” She glanced at Leo and sensually bit her bottom lip as she looked him up and down. “Never fucked a wolf before, but now I’m intrigued. I bet you’re huge,” she winked.

Leo looked at her in disgust. “The fuck?!”

“This is getting embarrassing. I hope these carnal urges never make me look this... pathetic,” Peter said, shaking his head.

“You’ve never even screwed a woman, little Blackbourne. You have no idea what you’re missing out on. Though... I could show you. Care to volunteer, Alexander?” Rose smirked.

“This has got to stop, Rose,” Alexander said. “I get you’re trying to adjust to your new life, but I don’t want any part of it. I’m done being kind. Move the fuck on.”

“Jeez,” Rose muttered with her arms crossed over her plump chest. “You sound just like your little Barbie when I visited her after-”

Before she could finish her sentence, Alexander grabbed Rose by the neck and slammed her against the mirror, cracking it into multiple pieces. “You stay the fuck away from her!” Alexander sneered as his fangs bared.

“Mm, choke me harder, daddy,” she teasingly giggled.

Alexander sucked his teeth in disgust. He released her, and she fell to the floor laughing. Rose chuckled, highly amused with herself. “This is what I missed, Alexander. Your rough-handling. It was always such a huge turn on. No way your mortal Barbie can handle you. And a witch at that! Like are you serious, Alexander? Has it gotten that bad for you? It was only 15 years, baby.”

“I fucking swear, Rose. You go anywhere near her again, and I will kill you,” Alexander threatened.

“See... I don’t even know if I can take you seriously because those are words you used to say right before you blew my back out,” she smirked. “There’s no way that fragile little witch can handle both of you. Not like I could...”

“Fuck this shit,” Cole said impatiently. He walked up to her and grabbed her by the arm. “Take the hint, you horny ass Goldilocks. Nobody wants you around.” Cole pushed her outside and completely out of the store.

“So...” Leo said, looking at Alexander who was still fuming. “What you really meant to say was that vampire chicks are fucking crazy as shit.”

Alexander muttered. “Particularly that one...”

“You should have just killed her,” Peter shrugged.

“Elijah would not allow it,” Alexander groaned. “But if she does this shit again...”

“We rip her damn head off,” Leo finished.

“Yea... that...” Alexander sighed.

“What the hell???” the store clerk blurted. He walked up to them, looking at his broken mirror and all the glass on the floor.

“Err... sorry... We’ll pay for the damages,” Leo cringed.

~*~

Kiara’s hands trembled as she held the cream-colored envelope in her hands. “Oh my goodness, Kiara! Seriously?” Ava whined. She sat on Marshala’s couch across from her with her camera phone handy.

“Kiara, you’ve been staring at that envelope for like 20 minutes!” Marshala said exasperated as she held Nikolai on her hip. “Just open it!”

“You can’t rush this, guys!” Kiara blurted. “This could make or break me!”

“Girl, you’re exaggerating! Just open it!” Marshala rolled her eyes with a smirk.

“Open it, already!” Ava insisted.

“Open it, aweady!” Nikolai blabbed.

“You tell her, sweetie,” Marshala chuckled.

“You know what NI.KO.LAI! How about you open it since you think you all big and bad now that you’re saying full-on sentences and having full conversations,” Kiara smirked as she held up her envelope. Marshala bent down and Nikolai quickly snatched the envelope out of her hand. “Wait... I was just kidding...” Kiara said, reaching for it again.

“Nope, too late,” Ava snickered. “Tear that thing up, Nikolai.” Nikolai looked at the envelope before putting the edge in his mouth.

“NIKO!” Kiara whined.

Marshala chuckled as she took the envelope. “Like this, sweetie,” she said, helping him tear it open. Kiara cringed as she watched Marshala and Nikolai remove the letter from the envelope. “Kiara LaFleur,” Marshala read. “Thank you for your recent application to The National B-R Clinical Program for medical professionals.”

Kiara covered her face, terrified of the next words to come out of Marshala’s mouth. Marshala pouted. “We regret to inform you...”

“...oh no...” Ava sighed. Kiara immediately grabbed a couch pillow and pushed her face into it, preparing herself to cry.

“... that you have been accepted as Lead Medical Practitioner in our Massachusetts branch, overseeing the Rare Diseases and Medicinal Treatment Division,” Marshala smirked.

Kiara immediately dropped the pillow as she stared at Marshala wide-eyed. “I GOT IN?!”

“You got in,” Marshala grinned.

“OH MY GOD!” Kiara screamed. She jumped up from the couch and did a dance.

“Hey, guys,” Rhea said, walking in with Leo and Levi. “Woah, Kiara! Pulling out some moves.”

“I GOT IN!” Kiara screamed. She ran and pounced on Leo as he caught her in his arms.

“That’s awesome, Angel!” Leo beamed, holding her up on his waist. “I knew you’d get in, baby!”

“This obviously calls for a celebration,” Rhea smirked. “What do you say, Kiara? In the mood to go out tonight?”

“Hell yea!” Kiara said, kissing Leo’s cheek. She slid down his body till her feet touched the floor. “Like dinner or something?”

“Or something,” Rhea smiled. “Let’s go look for something cute for you to wear. Ava, you take Marshala.”

“What? Rhea, I can’t. I have to take care of Nikol-” Marshala started.

“I’ll watch Niko,” Ava said, nudging Marshala towards the stairs. “Come on!” Rhea and Ava gave Leo and Levi a knowing look before escorting Kiara and Marshala away.

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