Sylvie stared blankly from the porch swing as Elias pulled away in his Lexus, waving one last time from the window as he disappeared from sight.
She lifted her hand weakly to return the farewell but let it drop in her lap as the tears burned her eyes.
They’d married weeks ago, skipped a honeymoon for ‘safety purposes’, and since then, his responsibilities at the office had increased so much that he was driving there every second day, sometimes staying overnight.
While she knew he was faithful, she couldn’t help the very human jealousy that burrowed inside her each time it happened.
Elias often asked her to go with him, but she would just shake her head and remind him that corporate wasn’t the place for her.
She sighed and bit her lip, staring at the spot on the road his car last was. Maybe she should go with him next time, even if only to use the time alone as the forbidden ‘honeymoon’.
“He won’t be long,” Kian said from the doorway, making her jump a fraction. He moved like a shadow when he wanted to.
Smiling with genuine pity, he reached out and brushed his fingers across her cheek, his gentle touch making her heart twist further.
“I know,” she groaned. “It just hurts. Every time.” Her words sounded hollow in her ears as she stared up at his pretty face.
Rowan jogged across the lawn shirtless from the shifter cabins, the new builds wafting fresh pine and sawn wood scent. Sylvie inhaled and sighed as he pounded up the porch steps and offered her a sweaty kiss. When she only grunted in response, he kissed her again on the cheek, making sure it was an extra slobbery, sweaty one drawing a reluctant grin to her face.
“Did you want to come and see the progress? We just finished the cabins and long drop.”
She contemplated following him to see all his hard work when her belly cramped and Elias’ mate mark tingled. It happened more often after their wedding and their sexy wedding night together.
As if their bonding as a foursome triggered her abilities more, her mate marks would react strangely whenever she thought of one of them. Or all of them.
“Maybe later if that’s okay.” She splayed her hand across her collarbone and swallowed deeply, and Rowan curled his hand around her wrist.
“Are you in pain?”
“No... Not physical anyway.”
Rowan hummed and sat on the porch between her legs, wrapping his arm around her calf and stroking her shin. “It must be quite intense for you. Your marks would drive you crazy, compelling you to stay close to your mate. But you have three.”
She softly buried her hand in his long dark hair and rubbed his scaly. “Yeah, it is kind of confusing. I just want to chase after him, but I also feel rooted to the spot.”
Rowan chuckled and turned his head, pulling her hand into his and kissing her palm. “You must love me a lot, then.”
Kian cleared his throat from the door, and she turned to him, blushing, his wide eyes and raised brows drawing a laugh from her. “I love both of you, obviously.”
“And I, you, Princess. Have you eaten yet?”
She sighed and stood, pulling Rowan up beside her.
Rowan’s head snapped to her. “It’s midday.”
“I just forgot.”
“You’ve been forgetting a lot lately. There’s food in the fridge,” Kian took her hand and guided her inside. “I’m gonna go with Kerensa and strengthen the ward. Will you be okay today?”
Sylvie walked to the fridge and pulled out the leftovers from the night before. “I guess.” She shook her head, trying the rid the blues she was feeling and tried again. “Yes. I’ll be okay. I’ll go train with Rosie or something to keep my mind busy.”
“Good idea,” Rowan said, kissing her cheek ten times in quick succession before excusing himself back to work.
She watched him go with hooded eyes and contemplated calling him back just to watch him leave again, but Kian’s smirk caught her eye from across the counter.
“Nothing.” He grinned and said his goodbyes, leaving after a quick kiss as Sylvie ate her fill.
The bustle of shifters outside building their new homes, relocating their old cabins and adding new structures made her house feel like a public establishment.
More than once, she caught shifters staring at it with awestruck faces. They made her feel like a zoo animal. Revered and adored, but a wild, exotic creature nonetheless.
“Vee! Vee?” Rosie ran through the front door into the kitchen and froze, seeing her stuffing her mouth full of food.
“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt.” Instead, she spoke a million miles a minute, giving her no time to respond.
“Natalie and I are going to set up a running track for the shifters along the ward lines. We made some little markers from fabric we’ll tie to the tree, and we were gonna invite you, but you’re busy, but maybe you can catch up? Okay? Yes? Good. Okay. I Gotta go, Natalie is waiting for me. Bye!”
She ran out the door, ginger ponytail swishing across her back before Sylvie swallowed her mouthful.
“Bye,” she called after her with a laugh. That woman sure knew how to make an entrance and exit.
She followed Rosie’s path soon after changing and worked up a sweat following the dangling knots of fabric tied every few metres on the smaller birch trees. A few shifters smiled and waved from the new cabins littered through the forest, and she returned them, pressing onward to avoid any conversations.
The beaten path grew smaller, and the ground underfoot began to look fairly undisturbed despite the fabric still waving at her in the wind. She paused to take a breath and wiped her brow. Her fitness had taken a minor hit after the wedding, the stress of getting the shifters within the safety of her homes wards taking priority over training for a while.
She didn’t expect a response and shrugged when she didn’t get one. The women were probably already finished their run and enjoying some morning tea. Sylvie rubbed her mate marks, smiling when Elias’ one hummed as if he were doing the same thing at that moment.
“Alright, lazy bones,” she muttered. “Let’s go.”
Running until her muscles numbed, she shoved aside bushes and branches in her path with little hesitation. It wasn’t until the sounds of the forests ebbed, and all she could hear was the whooshing rush of blood in her ears did she notice things were amiss.
“Well. What’s this then?”
She spun, panting and raising a brow as an unfamiliar face with telltale red eyes sneered at her. “What are the odds? Just the pet I’ve been waiting for.”
The Vampire spun a long whiplike weapon in his hand and stepped closer.
“You can’t be here,” Sylvie growled, matching his forward steps with backward ones of her own. “We’re warded.”
“I don’t see any wards around here. Do you?”
His twisted smile and singular raised brow forced goosebumps to erupt across Sylvie’s sweaty skin.
“Don’t bother yelling. Nobody will hear you.”
He spoke as if he knew something she didn’t, and she faltered slightly, changing her stance as she shuffled to a large enough tree.
“Uh uh uh.” With that, the whip shot out and wrapped around her ankle. With no time to even look down, the Vampire reared back his arm and yanked her across the ground as her fingers clawed into the dirt, panic distorting her mind.
“Kian! Rowan!” she screamed as loud as her voice allowed when a sudden sharp pain bit into her nape, and everything grew fuzzy; her body flopped limply, and her eyelids drooped lower and lower until darkness took her away.
First, the sensation of her wrists returned, the weight of her body forcing freezing metal to bite into her bones and twist at an awkward angle. She groaned, moving them in a different direction as the next sensation returned; an ache in her neck and a burn around her ankles.
Peeling her eyes open, she took in the dank space. Wet cobblestones surrounded her, filled with hairline cracks, and a tiny window showed a light scene of lilac skies outside on her right, the scent of flowers and vines filling her nose.
To the left was a metal door with a small slot at eye level and another along the floor, probably where food was meant to be delivered, but there was no tray of slop waiting for her. She’d seen enough movies to anticipate what might happen next, but the low grumble through the bricks in front of her made her jolt in her chains.
The manacles looped over a thick black hook that reminded her a bit of her shibari fun, but she wasn’t too optimistic for any pleasure this time. She groaned again as her wrist cramped.
“Would you shut up? I’m trying to sleep.” The voice held equal malice and grit as if its owner had been locked away in the darkness all his life. Maybe he had. A twinge of annoyance made Sylvie scrunch her face as she spun on her tiptoes and stretched out her wrist. “Ow!”
“The other- shut up.”
Sylvie fumed, spinning back to the voice. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise my pain would be so inconvenient to you!”
“Well, it is!”
Before she could throw vitriol at the annoying voice, the door beside her screeched open, and a very smug face greeted her. “For fuck sake-”
“Shut your mouth, you treasonous slut. I should cut your tongue out.”
“My apologies,” she bowed her head with as much sarcasm as she could muster. “Always a pleasure, my liege.”
The teeth-rattling crack across her face came without warning, and her head flew back, blood immediately pouring down her face. The warm liquid coated her t-shirt quickly as Hayes prowled into the dim light of the window.
“I look forward to breaking you.”
A gut punch stole the breath from her lungs, and her chin dropped to her chest as she coughed and wheezed. Once her breath returned, she broke into a humourless laugh, tilting her head back to find Hayes’ eyes.
“Something funny?” he asked, baring his fangs.
She laughed harder, wincing as her ribs flared from inhaling too deeply. “It’s just that you looked so pathetic lying on the kitchen floor like a little bitch. Some King you are.”
The next hit impacted her thigh, the bone snapping with an impossibly loud crack, the sound reaching her ears a millisecond before the agony radiated through her lower body.
“Noone knows where you are, and no one is coming to save you. Not even your precious master.”
“Oh, I plan to,” he grinned, reaching around her head to grab a fistful of hair. When he saw her furrowed brows and clenched teeth, he chuckled.
“Don’t fret. I already told you, I don’t want my brothers sloppy, and I mean sloppy seconds.” He released her head and tugged a white kerchief from his pocket to wipe his hands.
“But this,” he gestured to her sweating, shaking form. “I’m going to enjoy this.”
Sylvie coughed and spat a glob of blood at his feet. “And I am going to enjoy killing you.”
Hayes just grinned then, pacing behind her faster than her body could follow. “I can see why she wants you dead.”