After Valeria’s party, Dante avoided the Castro family. For days, Valeria had tried to get in contact with him with no replies.
A week went by and Isaac found himself trailing behind Valeria as they walked through Dante’s family mansion and into the gardens behind the home. Workers floated around them as they headed through the maze of flowers and bushes to Dante’s favorite outside lounging area. In the middle of a maze was a large oak tree.
There, Valeria found Dante sitting under the tree, turning a tiny black box over in his hand.
At the sight of Valeria, Dante stood up and paled.
Isaac halted at the entrance of the small grove, watching as Valeria stopped in front of Dante.
“Why won’t you talk to me?” Valeria had demanded and reached out to touch Dante.
He dodged her touch and cleared his throat. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
“There has to be!” Tears fell from Valeria’s cheeks as said, “Did…did you find out, then?” During the week without Dante, Valeria came to that conclusion and Isaac couldn’t do anything but agree that that had been the problem.
Now that Valeria was able to confront him, the emotions spilled from her. She wept into her hands and said, “I’m so sorry. I love you, Dante. Please…talk to me about it.”
Dante looked to Isaac, who shook his head and kept his distance. There was so much for Dante to say and yet nothing to say at all in that moment. He had no idea what to do, especially with his hands, which he lifted as if to comfort Valeria, and then dropped.
He cleared his throat again. Valeria looked up, eyes blurry with tears.
Dante gritted his teeth to hold back tears as he stepped forward and took Valeria into his arms.
They whispered between each other for a while.
Eventually, Isaac couldn’t wait any longer. The sun was setting and at sunset that evening, Valeria and Isaac had to go to the sorcerers’ meeting out in the woods. That night, they were to decide when Valeria and Thomas would wed.
Tragically, Dante and Valeria had limited time together.
“Come on, Val. We have to go,” Isaac said as he approached them.
Valeria nodded and whispered into Dante’s ears. Isaac watched as Dante’s eyes widened and a short-lived smile appeared on his face.
She planted a quick kiss on Dante’s lips before parting.
Isaac and Valeria left the estate in a hurry. As head of the next coven, Isaac had to be the first there, aside from his father. On the way, he didn’t ask Valeria about Dante. In a way, he wanted nothing to do with it, so that when the time came for Valeria to give up Dante, she couldn’t blame Isaac.
Unfortunately, she would blame him no matter what.
Dante did something that night that neither Valeria nor Isaac had ever forgiven him for. Once the brother and sister left his presence, Dante sat back against the tree, leaning his head against the wood, and closed his eyes. During Valeria’s visit, she had told him how much she loved him and that some things were better left unknown. She withheld a secret from him and made sure that Dante knew.
But what secret?
Dante had to find out. He jumped up and headed the way Valeria came. He saw their carriage down the road, which almost disappeared over a hill west of his home, and ran after them, hiding yards away so that he wasn’t detected by them.
Their carriage veered off onto a back road and parked in a small clear area in the forest. Then both Isaac and Valeria climbed out and headed into the trees of the forest. Dante could hear them bicker with each other as he trailed behind them.
They stopped when they found a cottage in another small clearing. A young man and two young women stood at the door waiting for the brother and sister. Dante watched as Valeria and Isaac greeted them.
His heart ached when Thomas placed a hand on the curve of Valeria’s waist and whispered to her. Valeria gave Thomas a faint smile as he ushered her into the cabin and closed the door behind everyone.
Dante approached the cabin’s window and dropped down below it. There, he stayed, listening to the hushed conversation inside the cabin and watching the area around him for anyone else to come.
He heard many familiar voices, including Isaac’s and Valeria’s parents. There had to be at least twenty people in that cabin.
It was that night that he found out that they were sorcerers and the reasons for Valeria’s betrothal, and that both Isaac and Valeria played a major role in the sorcerers’ plans.
Upon learning all of this, Dante formulated his own set of plans. No matter what, he would elope with Valeria and overcome all the obstacles these sorcerers put before him.
● ● ●
After leaving Valeria’s room, Dante had only sent orders to Conner before heading to his room and locking the door behind him.
Now, he was staring at a pint of blood with which he drowned in vodka. He sighed and turned around in the chair to face his wall of collections. There were trinkets, both magical and ordinary, and frames of significant photos he collected over the years.
Then he turned his gaze to the glass case sitting in the middle of the counter, which held most of the collection. In it was the very box that held his engagement ring. He kept it in hope for the moment Valeria would wake up and accept him back into her life.
Now, Valeria wanted nothing to do with him.
His cell phone vibrated on his desk. He opened the message with a sigh, fighting a wave of dizziness from his drink.
It was a message from Conner, saying, “Korinna is trying to get to Isaac.”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Dante said as he lurched to his feet. He fought the dizziness of his intoxication and stormed out of his room, heading to the first floor of the estate.
Several of his coven members walked throughout the hallways. As Dante walked through the halls in search for Korinna, a small crowd approached him. At the head was Morgana, whom he ignored as he passed by.
“What’s going on, Dante?” She asked, pouting as she hurried to keep up with his pace.
“Leave me alone,” Dante said as he reached the end of the staircase to the first floor. The crowd mumbled to one another as they dispersed, but Morgana stayed by his side.
“Are you drunk?” Morgana questioned as she stepped in his way.
“Just—get out of my way,” Dante hissed and glared. When he tried to move around Morgana, she grabbed his arm.
“Master, you seem a little disheveled.” She smiled. “Here, let me help—”
Dante shoved her to the side. Morgana stumbled and caught herself on a lounging couch. She scoffed in utter surprise and watched as he stormed down hallway to the basement. Just as he was a few yards from the door, it opened and Korinna froze in the threshold.
Her metallic eyes widened in horror as she was caught red-handed.
Dante’s face reddened with anger and just as he opened his mouth to yell, Korinna gripped his shoulders.
“D, are you drunk?” She questioned, trying to distract him from the fact that she had been downstairs, meddling in things she had no reason or need to be involved with.
Dante placed his hands on her shoulders and moved her away. His anger was hot enough to burn away the last remnants of intoxication. He snarled in her face, “I must talk to you—alone.”
● ● ●
Korinna found herself in front of Dante’s office for the first time in a few months.
It was always the bad situations that led her to his office, but that didn’t bother her too much. Korinna fantasized that her visits were like erotic visits between a teacher and a bad student. Images of Dante taking his punishment out on her through more sensual ways drifted through her mind as she followed him to the very desk in her fantasy.
She wetted her lips as Dante slammed his office door behind them.
He turned to her, his eyes blazing with fury, and barked, “Sit down.”
Yes, sir, Korinna thought and settled into one of the leather chairs sitting in front of his desk.
Dante paced on the other side of his desk, keeping his distance from her as he thought of coherent mode of lecturing. His fangs dug into his bottom gums as he clenched his teeth and took deep breathes.
“Conner told you to leave it alone, didn’t he?” Dante hissed. “I told you, didn’t I?”
Korinna gulped. “Yes, you did.”
“And what’ve you been doing?” Dante growled and halted mid-step to slam his hands on his desk. “Fucking up everything I’m trying to hold together.”
“If Isaac escapes, he will kill you. You do realize that?”
Korinna’s jaw snapped shut. There was no point in answering. He would just cut her off and continue ranting.
That was exactly what he did. “You selfish, foolish, ignorant little girl!”
“Little girl?” Her jaw dropped. “I am fully woman, Dante. When are you going to notice that?”
“When you start behaving like one!” Dante scoffed. His fingers, not manifesting claws for nails, dug into the wood surface, creating small craters. His fangs shone like thin ivory as they protruded from his seething, open mouth. “You are possibly the most foolish woman I have ever met, Kori! I thought I had raised you better than this. You are a child. That’s all you act like. You do whatever you want to get whatever you want while completely disregarding the reality around you. It is horrid to watch and I will not stand for it any longer. I will stop you from meddling. You think just because you’re half-succubae that you can defend yourself in a world of predators? You live in a house full of vampires, girl. One day, while I’m not watching, someone will break through and tear you apart.”
“Is that what Conner is saying?”
Dante barked out a short laugh and shook his head. This ignorant foster child of his was becoming something else altogether. For the last year, he had been ignoring the changes in Korinna. Now, he could no longer do that. Not when there was so much at stake.
“You think you do such a great job hiding your schemes?” Dante looked up at Korinna, who looked back with a lifted chin and a cool, annoyed gaze. “This is all pathetic. I am done, Korinna. No more.”
“It’s because of her, isn’t it?”
Dante scoffed. “She isn’t part of this.”
Of course Korinna had to bring Valeria into this, as if it brought Dante at a disadvantage.
Well, it just fueled his anger even more. In his rage, he slammed his fist in the lamp on his desk. It was thrown so hard that the cord snapped from the main brass body and shattered against the solid wall.
“Goddamn it, Korinna!” Dante clutched his temple and swore he felt a vein bulge from his temple. “Don’t you ever listen to me? To anyone? You think that you are the smart one here? The right one? None of what you are doing is right. You can’t continue fucking with Conner. You can’t continue blackmailing my subjects—”
“How do you know about that?”
“The blackmailing?” Dante gritted his teeth.
“No…with Conner.” Korinna’s demeanor had gone from arrogant asshole to an embarrassed child caught red-handed.
Oh, this was priceless, he thought. “I’ve known all along. It’s my job to know.”
Ah. Dante chuckled and shook his head. Priceless. This girl before him was ashamed, not because of the things she had done, but that Dante found out. It wasn’t in Korinna to realize that she was in the wrong—but to be embarrassed?
He had no other choice but to break what little piece of heart she had, to force her to see the reality around her, and to grow up.
“You are a daughter to me, Korinna.” Dante face away from her and sighed. “I have no interest in you other than as a father. I found you when you were eight. That’s all I’ll ever see you as—an eight-year-old.”
“But…” Finally, it seemed Korinna’s armor was cracking. She swallowed the lump in her throat, wet her lips, and stood.
Dante stood at his desk with his palms flat on the surface. He closed his eyes and kept his head low as he continued to relax. With everything happening so quickly, he felt his body tense like a cord tightly wounded.
Korinna moved to comfort him. Just as her hand was about to touch his shoulder, his hand shot out and smacked her away. She moved back. Her mouth fell open in astonishment.
Dante hissed, “Don’t even try. You’ve ruined it, Korinna. I can’t continue to let you convince yourself that I’m lying, or let you go on like this.”
Words caught in Korinna’s throat. Seeing Dante like this, so vulnerable yet so defensive, made her realize something: maybe this situation was bigger than her. All this time, Korinna had holed herself up in her own delusion. Her realization didn’t change how angry she was. But for that very moment, she stopped thinking about herself.
His head jerked up in surprise. “Huh, really? That’s a fucking first.”
He straightened and with a sigh, motioned for the door. “I’m making arrangements to have you watched until we get this whole situation settled. Do not try to persuade them away from you, Korinna. I’ll have you thrown into a cell otherwise.”
“W-what?” Korinna’s jaw dropped for the umpteenth time. Anger boiled in her chest as her voice reached a new octave, “I just apologized and you’re ignoring it? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Dante—”
“Do not yell at me,” Dante snapped. “Your apologies are just words—I can’t trust just words, only actions. Since you came of age, you’ve lied to my face and done the exact opposite of what you’ve promised me. You’ve fucked your way through my coven, completely destroying your reputation, and you’ve blackmailed every one of my council members. Time for redemption was up weeks ago.”
Korinna’s jaw clamped shut. There was no way she could talk her way out, was there?
That moment of self-enlightenment was gone. No matter what happened, she couldn’t accept Dante’s decision. She was not some peasant that his highness ruled over. Korinna would not be treated as such.
“Go,” he snapped. “I’m done with you.”
“Fine.” Korinna turned on her heels and left the office, slamming the door shut behind her. In the empty hallway, she took a moment to compose herself.
An idea formulated in her head then.
If Dante was going to treat her like some slave, then she was going to rebel against the king.