The male quickly made his way to her and knelt in the fashion, fitting an Egyptian guard. He went down on one knee, placed his right fist over his left chest, then rested his chest on his knee. His left fist rested on his back.
“What is it, Luke?” Lara kept a calm composure and gave her full attention. Luke was vibrating with excitement.
“Three Matriarchs from the House of Scota arrived in the eastern parts.”
Lara’s heart dropped like a weighted stone into her gut. The storm Lara watched over the last few weeks grew increasingly stronger while her enemy approached. They will be here within a few days.
Lara kept her composure and returned to the scattered petitions on her desk. “Excellent work. Feed and rest if you must. There will be a meeting at dawn.”
“Yes, my Queen. Thank you.” Luke replied, then left the room, closing the door behind him.
The storm felt personal from the very beginning, and now she understands why. Lara quickly organized the documents, laid them neatly aside to come back to, and then promptly ran down below where Gabriel was training their newest vampire.
Gabriel preferred the dark underbelly of the mansion to train. The storage of humans and the caretaker’s quarters were there. The scent of human blood was a tool he used to break a vampire’s mind.
While he trained the young vampire, Gabriel kept his tendril dark for privacy. Lara could summon him through the mansion’s power; however, she now has an excuse to see the gorgeous male in his prime. Informing Gabriel that the house of Khalid Rahal is under attack is paramount to her plans.
Lara opened the door to see a magnificent vampire sheen in sweat, standing over a young male. Gabriel’s torso is nude, showing his perfect frame. The work of breaking a vampire’s mind strained Gabriel’s muscles, making them more define than usual.
Gabriel looked over his shoulder to see who dared interrupt. His gaze told her he was not happy with her intrusion.
Lara waited until Gabriel opened his tendril to speak. She must have his full attention. The news she bares is grave.
His eyes slowly softened to a look of concern. “What is it, Lara?”
“They are here, my mate. I must prepare for their arrival.”
“The Matriarchs of Scota. They have come to claim you.”
Gabriel’s body stiffened so slightly the only reason Lara noticed it was because of their bond. He left the vampire on the ground and approached Lara. “Then, I will go.”
“No, Gabriel. I forbid it.”
“What choice do we have?”
“I will think on it, my mate. There is always a solution. I only ask that you allow me to do as I must, no matter your judgment. Do not interfere with my decision. I cannot submit to you in this.”
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed as he studied Lara. There was more she was not telling him. Typically, he would demand her submission; however, Lara was the matriarch and was speaking to him as such. He cannot demand anything from her.
“As you wish, my Queen. I am almost finished for the night.”
“Of course, my mate.” Lara sent her love through the tendril then left to her chambers. Gabriel’s tendril darkened once again as he returned to his training.
Lara had been preparing for the Matriarchs of Scota’s return since she saw the storm three weeks ago. She sent her clan to the east to report any changes that they witness. Luke confirmed her suspicions. Lara put her plan into action swiftly.
Gabriel must never discover what is to take place. If he knew, he would attempt to stop her. He has the power to command her to do his will. Gabriel had always been protective of her and, on occasion, prevented her from doing what she perceived must be done. This time was different. She cannot afford his interference.
She must sacrifice herself to protect her heart.
The doors to her chambers opened automatically to allow her in, then closed behind her. A pillar stood supporting the ceiling nearby.
Lara lovingly touched the pillar to communicate with the mansion. “My friend, I will be leaving soon. You must defend yourself while I am away.”
“How long will you be gone?” The house rumbled.
“I am uncertain. You are fully powered, and it will protect you for at least a millennium. As long as my body lives, you will also.”
“Do not leave.” The voice is feminine and devoid of emotion. It speaks to Lara and Gabriel when it must, and no more.
“I must. You can never tell Gabriel or me what happens from now until I return. Gabriel must not learn of my actions. I may not remember you when I return. You must not tell me anything, do you understand?”
“I understand, Matriarch.”
“Good. At dawn, summon my clan to the throne room.”
“As you wish, Matriarch.” The mansion vibrated as it spoke.
Lara was connected to it mentally. Everything the mansion felt and heard, she felt and heard. Lara was aware of everything that went on in the mansion.
Lara swallowed the rising panic and continued into her study and began placing scrolls where they belonged. She hoped beyond hope this would end well. Gabriel will be extraordinarily unhappy with her plans. She could not risk him leaving her. If he left, she would die. Death is not an option.
Lara had made a home here. She would like to continue working and cultivating her land. It was peaceful, and she demands the same peace from the humans that dwell here. They had become her extended family. Thousands of more humans had requested to enter her territory and create a safe home. Her land was only three miles in diameter. Lara cannot accommodate every human in the western region, though she labors to create a working relationship between humans and the vampire.
Once her study looked tidy, Lara took a moment to recount all the preparations she had created. The confrontation with the matriarchs will only be the beginning of the end of a long feud. Lara had enough of their rivalry.
Satisfied she had done all she could, Lara climbed into bed. The mural of two tendrils in a lover’s embrace hung on a nearby wall. It was a nightly reminder that she was not alone. She was loved and wanted by a powerful male vampire who owns her heart.
Gabriel returned an hour later and curled up to Lara. She nestled into his arms, making him desire her. Lara’s wildflower bloom scent engulfed him. He breathed deeply and allowed his mind to relax.
The next morning Lara woke to an empty bed. Gabriel walked the gardens as he does every morning. He enjoys the early morning hours. The earth is fresh and new, and the breeze is cool. It is relaxing and allows him to prepare for the day to come. Today his thoughts are weighted with concern.
The house vibrated and summoned the clan to the throne room. The time had come to begin the heartbreaking task of abandoning everything. It was something Lara had prepared for but hoped would never happen.
Lara quickly got dressed in her Egyptian attire and called her staff. It was always floating near her spine in an unseen sheath waiting for her command, or an attack.
On the way to the throne, piercing green eyes that could command her with a simple look met her. Her heart skipped a beat as Gabriel approached her and offered a hand. Lara smiled and took his hand. Gabriel silently led her to the throne room then opened the doors. The clan of vampires (the youngest among them being eleven hundred years old) was already seated in the room. They were unaware of the matriarchs’ existence and what Gabriel did or why Lara made a home in the western region.
“My family, there are three very powerful matriarchs who come to the House of Khalid Rahal. The visit is not a friendly one. I had summoned you here to tell you I must release you. For your safety and my peace of mind, you must move across the seas. Find a home or build one yourselves.”
Gabriel’s displeasure seared their bond like a hot poker. He knew she planned to run. He had seen this before. Lara had defeated vampires much stronger than her. She shows cowardice and weakness by running from the matriarchs. The room erupted in protests.
“This is not a negotiation!” Lara shouted to quiet the clan. “You all have served me well. I could not be more proud of this family. It kills me to know you must leave. It would send me to my grave if you perished. I cannot protect you from what will come.”
“They are only three, and we are twenty. We will defend you.” One male called out.
“No. Take my warning seriously. If you do not leave this house and go across the sea, I will kill you myself even though it would grieve me.”
“Lara, you are letting your fear control you.” Gabriel projected.
“Stay out of this, Gabriel!” He is not her mate at the moment. She is the matriarch, and she has a duty to protect this land. Lara used her anger as a shield to her fear and her heartbreak from Gabriel’s judgment. No matter the consequences, she must not lose sight of what must be done.
“You have two days to gather your processions and make preparations. My love for you is strong. I wish all of you a long and filling life.”
Lara left the dismayed room and paced the foyer. Is she doing the right thing? If she defended her home, a war could break out. Too many lives will be lost. The matriarchs were not happy when Lara left with Gabriel. They demanded his head. Gabriel is her mate. Losing him would destroy her. Lara had every right to leave.
Lara went to the lounge to think. The fireplaces were warm and inviting. She gazed around the empty room and reminisced the many nights of celebrations and games. Humans and vampires alike filled these walls. Yes, she is doing the right thing. To save all that she loves and to prevent a war, she will offer her life for Gabriel’s. She only hoped she could survive it.
Gabriel leaned in the doorway with a grim expression. Lara reluctantly opened her tendril to receive her mate. His ire was almost as painful as the thought of being separated.
“I realize you do not like what happened. Please believe me. It is for the best.” Lara spoke respectfully and lowered her eyes.
His features softened. “I trust you, my mate. This would not be necessary if you allow me to go to them.”
“Their vengeance will not be quenched with your blood. They will want mine as well. Part of me hopes they will be foolish enough to attack me. I know this will end badly if they do. All I can do is wait.”
“They are attacking us unprovoked. The clan is right. We can overcome them. You and I are two thousand years older than them. Long ago, I witnessed you kill dozens of vampires stronger than you. Why do you run?”
“There are those loyal to them. It will become a feud I do not want to fight. Too many lives will be lost. Trust, I know what I am doing. Please allow me to work this out. I am the matriarch on this land. Do not interfere.”
Gabriel embraced Lara for comfort. “We will endure, my mate.” He could feel her conflict and fear. He wanted nothing more than to correct the situation.
On the second day, Lara’s clan pleaded with her to allow them to stay. She kept her wall around her heart up, and her emotions locked. Her steel composure told them her word was final. As the last one left, she broke down in tears.
Gabriel kept his distance while she grieved, as was the custom. It is never wise to be near a grieving female, especially one as old and powerful as his queen.
Lara loved each member as children. They were her family. She will not allow the matriarchs to harm them or use them as collateral to force her to do their will. She must not have anything to tie her to this place.
Lara composed herself by pulling her pain down deep inside and locking it away. She lived through grief and heartache in the past. She will continue to fight.
Lara touched a nearby pillar. “Prepare the dining hall for a feast for our guest. They will arrive tomorrow.” The house vibrated at her touch.
The kitchen, dining hall, lounge, throne room, and the chambers used by the caretakers and Lara’s room were the only rooms that could be accessed. The doors to the cellar, guest chambers, greenroom, or any other space was effectively closed and locked. Then it began to power down to stop any unnecessary power drainage to preserve itself. Lara will be the only one who could access the many rooms in the mansion.
Just after dawn, Lara’s land pulsed as six new footprints came.
“The matriarchs are here, Gabriel.” Lara projected.
He is walking the gardens as he usually does. Lara could feel Gabriel’s concern and helplessness. He wanted to command her to stop this foolishness and meet them. Lara would not be convinced. She is his queen, and he must submit to her in the end.
Lara stood on her steps with all the steel and grace one would expect from an Egyptian goddess. She watched as Ruth, Olivia, and Ann approached.
“Greetings,” Lara said.
“Greetings, Lara. How are you?”
“I am well, thank you. Welcome to my home. Please allow me to show you to your chambers to rest. We will feast in your honor tonight.”
“Thank you, Lara,” Ruth said and followed Lara into the mansion.
Lara closed her tendril from Gabriel. This task was too fragile for him to interfere with. Lara quietly showed each matriarch a room. They were the nearest rooms in the mansion. She did not want to allow them to roam the house.
A door opened on its own to allow Lara in. “Ruth, this room will be yours while you visit. I have human caretakers that help me run my home. They are mute and are not to be fed on or abused. The consequence of breaking my rules is death. If my house or caretakers are harmed in any way, I will see to it you heal them with your blood.” Her voice is respectful but left no room for misinterpretation. It is a tradition to respect the rules of a host’s home. Lara expects nothing less.
Lara nodded and showed the other two matriarchs their rooms, then went to her throne to wait. They may decide not to wait until dinner to make their arrest.
The throne was empty, and even the fire in the fireplace seemed cold and distant. A pillar rested near Lara’s throne chair if she ever needs to communicate with the house or give it power in a time of war. She gently touched the pillar with love.
“My friend, these are the ones who will take me. You must allow it to happen. Never speak of what you experience to Gabriel or me.”
“As you wish, Matriarch.” The house vibrated.
If it had feelings, Lara guessed the house was not happy with her and grieved the time they will be apart. It hurt her heart. Of all the places she had ever called home, this place was so much more. This land was build from her blood and power. It was a part of her like any other organ in her body.
Lara summoned Gabriel to the throne through the tendril. Soon after, a very handsome, powerful, green-eyed vampire entered the throne, stirring Lara’s heart.
“Will you tell me why you are going through extreme measures?”
He is referring to the mansion shutting down.
“How can I not? They have come to take you, Gabriel. The storm is here. They are not here on a social visit.”
“It has been a thousand years.”
“Yes, and they have a long memory. You did not work with them as I did in the House of Scota. They are tyrants, my mate, and they do not like my way of life. You are their excuse to destroy me.”
Gabriel pulled a spear down from a wall in the room. “Then, we fight. This is our home.” His growl rumbled with finality.
“I hope it will not come to that.” Lara knew it would not come to a physical battle. This may be her last night to gaze upon her mate. She wanted his presence for as long as she was allowed.
“If it does, I will be by your side, my mate.”
“My love for you is great. I do not know that I can love you more than I do.” Her tendril vibrated and begged Gabriel to believe her and never forget the depth of love she had for him.
Gabriel brushed Lara’s cheek with the back of his hand and looked longingly into her eyes.
“My love for you is greater still. You cannot know the depth of it.” He kissed her softly then stood beside his queen as he had done on so many occasions when her life had been threatened.
The house vibrated and hummed, indicating dinner was ready. Lara looked at Gabriel with love and determination, and then became the steel of the matriarch. It was time to dance.
Lara quietly stood and proceeded to go to the hall. It unnerved Gabriel. He had only seen his queen in this state a handful of times throughout the centuries. Her dark blue eyes glowed with a fire that demanded respect, and the icy chill one felt from her gaze made it impossible to remain standing. The object of her gaze had no choice but to kneel at her feet.
The confrontation never turned out well. A vampire would be killed or banished, or worse.
The three matriarchs appeared as Lara crossed the foyer with Gabriel in tow. They all glanced in his direction.
“Good evening. I hope you found rest in my home.” Lara said kindly, even though her posture said otherwise.
“Indeed. Thank you. You have an interesting home here.” Ruth replied with the same pleasantries.
“It meets my needs. Come. Let us feed our fill.” Lara said as she led them to the dining hall.
They all sat at one end of the long white table with Lara at the head of the table. Gabriel felt intrusive and decided to leave the matriarchs to feed elsewhere.
“Tell me about the highlands. How goes the war?” Lara asked as she motioned for the caretakers to begin.
The caretakers began bringing nude humans to Lara to make her selection. Once she did, they sliced the wrist and poured blood into goblets for the four matriarchs, and then cauterized the human.
“The war ended long ago, no thanks to you. The bear and the wolf forced us to retreat to the southern reaches of Scotland. The vampires were forced to leave the land and venture into France and beyond.” Ruth growled.
“I am sorry to hear that.”
“Lying is not becoming of you, Lara.”
“I am only being polite. You are my guest, after all. I can offer condolences.”
“Keep them. We have not come here for your pity. It has taken us a thousand years to find you. We are still looking for Una. You hide well.”
“I do not hide from you. If that were the case, you would still be looking for me. I simply came here to start fresh.”
“A fresh start will not erase treason.”
Angered boiled Lara’s blood. She certain this is why they have come. Hearing the condemnation from Ruth’s lips makes it real. “Gabriel is my pet. He has already been punished. I have said this before. You killed my clan before I traveled to this land. Is your vengeance not sated?”
“Their deaths are on your hands, not ours. We told you to hand Gabriel to us, and you refused.”
“I left the house as was my right. I no longer answer to you, nor does Gabriel.”
Ruth sighed with annoyance. “Where is Una?”
“Gabriel does not know. He made sure when he sent her away, that he would not know where the boat went.”
“It was a boat?”
“I believe so. He paid a traveler money to take her coffin. The traveler only mentioned he was going to the ports.”
Ruth stood from the table with anger flowing from her. Olivia and Ann followed. “We are leaving tomorrow. Bring Gabriel to me. He will go back to Scota to pay for his crime.”
Lara slowly stood, keeping her anger down and the mask of the matriarch on full display. The desire to end this now screamed in her mind. She must protect her land with her life. Killing Ruth will simply start a war she does not wish to wage.
“It is apparent you are more angry with me and my desertion than you are about Una’s disappearance. I make an offer.” Ruth looked surprised. She expected a fight.
“I offer my life instead of Gabriel’s. I will strip his memories of Una and the House of Scota. He will never return there. He will be unable to follow me. I will freely give myself to you if you allow Gabriel to live freely.”
Ruth pulsed power and sent a dagger tendril into Lara’s mind. Lara allowed it and lowered her defenses. “Give me your tendril.”
Lara presented her dark blue tendril to Ruth and made sure the defenses around the tendril were dormant.
Ruth searched Lara’s memories of the night she found out what Gabriel had done. Her eyes followed Lara’s hand with glee as Lara beat Gabriel to inches of his life then left his battered and bruised body on the ground. It was hard for Lara to see her toy in such pain. It had to be done. He committed treason.
Ruth pinched Lara’s heart and mind Strands. “Will you freely give your life up to us without a struggle?”
“I cannot promise not to struggle. I will not fight you, and I will allow you to take me.”
Ruth pulled away from Lara. “You have been found unworthy of your title and power, Lara. You will sleep for a thousand years, after which you will become human. You will grow old and die.”
“As you wish, my Queen,” Lara said and lowered her gaze in submission. “Allow me time to make preparations. There are those who rely on me to care for them.”
“How much time?”
“Possibly one month, my Queen.”
“You may do so if you bring Gabriel and erase his memories at this moment.”
“Yes, my Queen.”