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Chapter 15| Victory

I gasped for air, trying like hell to latch onto whatever oxygen I could get, but how could I? My circulation grew sluggish as icicles formed in my veins, freezing my life source. My heart had worked itself into a frenzy, pumping for dear life, but it was all in vain.

"Is this what death felt like?" I whispered to myself.

"No, it's what the call of a 2000-year-old vampire feels like. No need to worry, you'll get used to it."

"A vampire? What the fuck?"

"If you would come out I could show you, Little Rose. Now will you come, or must I come fetch you?"

His words carried a chill that I couldn't shake, and the thought of what his touch could induce was enough to make me come out of hiding.

With one shaky leg in front of the other, I emerged from the thicket, entering the clearing. Immediately, my eyes fell on Michael's hungry gaze.

A gaze I only ever saw on Malachai.

Where was he?

My eyes moved to and fro in search of him when suddenly I was snatched by the waist and pressed up against a strong, broad chest. His familiar heat seeped into me, melting Michael's chill.

"She is mine, Cirini," Malachai said as he took in my scent.

Relief flooded my system as if he could feel my raging emotions, he reached under my shirt tracing soft circles along my abdomen.

"I'm here, Mina," he said as he pressed a soft kiss on my neck, nibbling the skin over my carotid artery. My legs tightened as I bit my tongue to suppress a moan. Oh no, not here, in front of all of these people I thought to myself.

His lips traveled up my neck, resting over the shell of my ear when he whispered, "Yes, here."

With slow and torturous intent, his lips traveled down the side of my throat. My pulse thrash against the softness of his lips as he resumed his assault over my carotid artery, sucking, licking, nibbling.

A moan broke free from my lips. I had forgotten where I was and who was in my presence until a sharp hiss escaped Michael's lips, slithering across my nerves as would a snake.

Knocking me back into my senses, I took stock of my surroundings that threatened to send me into another panic. What I opened my eyes to was enough for me to question my sanity.

Michael stood across from me with his fangs descended long, sharp, and glistening with saliva, slowly he licked his lips. His eyes completely blackened with desire.

I was shaking, as I looked from him to his men who had all assumed strategic positions around him. All of them regarding me with the same look as their leader.

Hunger.

Desire.

Vampires were fucking real.

"It wasn't too long ago when you moaned for me that way," he said tauntingly.

I felt Malachai's grip around me tighten.

"Shh," Malachai whispered, "I've got you."

"Amina," he said with a smile that made my skin crawl. When I had first met him, I thought he was so beautiful, but now he just seemed so vile. There was a darkness to him that I hadn't noticed back at Ascend, had it been a trick of the light?

"I must admit," he said, bringing me out of my thoughts, "I've lived two millennia, and never have I come across any creature in possession of such a mouth-watering scent."

He cocked his head, surveying me from head to toe, "Makes me wonder if you're even human, perhaps you were the product of an experiment by the brotherhood?"

"By now I'm certain we're all well versed in the brotherhood's knack for experiments, aren't you, Malachai?" he said as the smirk deepened on his face.

What was he talking about? What the hell was the brotherhood?

Upon noting the bewildered look on my face, Michael bounced on his toes in glee, "Even sweeter!" he exclaimed as he rocked back forth on his feet, "She doesn't even know, or at least she doesn't appear to." He clasped his hands in excitement, "No matter," he licked his lips, "It's nothing that cannot be remedied with a taste," he hissed as he stalked towards me.

A blood-curdling scream escaped my throat at the roar that bellowed around us. Frantically, I searched for the source, determined to be nowhere near it, only to realize the source was Malachai.

When had he moved from behind me?

With a forceful shove, I watched Michael fly back a few feet in astonishment. "She. Is. Mine. Cirini," Malachai growled. His words were hardly audible, muffled by the longest fangs I'd ever seen.

I was stuck somewhere between paralyzing fear and questioning my sanity for the millionth time. Malachai just roared, what the fuck is he? I hardly recognized the man whom I had spent the last 48 hours with.

His face was red with anger, murder was in his gaze, his sole focus, Michael Cirini, shit even I wanted to run. Cirini wasn't phased though, waving him off as he would an annoying gnat, all the while his gaze remained fixed on me.

"Yes, yes, you've said this a million times over," he said dismissively, Malachai growled a warning to him,

"Oh relax would you, Malachai?" he said nonchalantly, "Getting worked up is no good with silver in your system," he said as he eyed the dagger still wedged in his thigh.

"M-Malachai," I said with worry as I reached for him when I was suddenly pulled back by yet another set of hands.

"It would be wise not to interfere at the moment, Lu-Amina," Balfore warned. If looks could kill, he would have burned to death where he stood. Where the hell did he get off manhandling me like that?

"Please, Amina, I promise you he's okay. Trust me, I'm only trying to help you."

Realizing his sincerity, I nodded in understanding and his grip loosened knowing that if he let me go, I would run to Malachai. Smart man.

"Welcome to our world, Little Rose, where vampires, werewolves, and the like exist," he said with a deranged smile, "I'd suggest you acclimate as quickly as you can. After all," his voice lowered, "This is your world now."

I shivered in terror; his words held too much promise. I needed to get as far away from this creature as soon as possible.

In a flash, his eyes darted back to Malachai, "Quite frankly, it's very rare that the Goddess blesses any of her creatures with a mate twice over, but," he paused, "She would you, wouldn't she? Are you not her rare breed, her child of the night twice blessed?" he spat in contempt.

He looked away from him, focusing on me before continuing, "Mind the silver, Malachai. It won't kill you, but it is enough to weaken you."

Slowly, he walked past an ailing Malachai, making his way across the field towards me. Fear like I've never known crashed into me, threatening to knock me off my feet. Had it not been for Balfore's caution earlier, I would have hit the ground.

That was when I realized his men had surrounded me. Oddly enough, I felt safe; I was surrounded by creatures that until today I thought were the stuff of myths, and yet I knew that I would rather be protected by werewolves than be anywhere near Michael Cirini.

"Maybe you aren't so lucky, Malachai," he said as he stood before the barricade of men that kept me out of his reach.

"Amina Rogers," he said with a smug look on his face.

My heart dropped, had he known Aaron?

"Oh wait," he exclaimed, "It seems I'm mistaken, it's still Charles isn't it? Such a shame the wedding didn't happen."

My vision blurred at the mention of the future I was robbed of, the life that never came to be. Why would Aaron be associated with the likes of him? Did he know something about what happened to him?

I wiped away my tears to find that Michael was no longer focused on me, but on the confused look that adorned Malachai's face.

"Oh, you don't know?" Cirini said as he doubled over in laughter. Pure joy overtook his face, but it didn't reach his eyes though, no, only malice resided there.

"This is cruel, even for the goddess herself. What did you do, Malachai?" Michael asked as he watched Malachai yank the dagger from his thigh.

"What are you talking about, Cirini?

With a grunt, he picked himself up off the floor and began limping towards me. When I looked at the old vampire, I found that his attention was now on my bracelet.

He regarded it too intently as if committing every aspect of it to memory, from the sabers to the centaur, to my wrist, I could feel his gaze travel up and down my arm. Feeling uncomfortable and exposed, I hid my arm behind my back.

His eyes snapped to mine, I could feel the chill creeping in again. I held in the shaky breath that wanted out so badly.

"Pray tell me, where did you acquire that bracelet?"

Malachai stopped walking and stared at me, awaiting my reply. I looked down at the bracelet and back up at the men anxiously waiting for my answer.

It was just a bracelet, Aaron's bracelet, but why did it matter so much?

"It belonged to my late fi-fiancé," the words struggled to escape my lips, thinking of him was painful enough as it was, and it was uncomfortable talking about him in front of a bunch of strangers.

"And his name, Little Rose?"

"Well you already know, don't you?"

He chuckled as he bit his lips, "I will enjoy taming your fire. Nevertheless, it would bring me great joy if it came directly from your lips."

I looked him directly in the eye, trying to decipher why he needed me to say his name when he already knew it, but then I realized it wasn't for him. He wanted Malachai to know his name, and he wanted him to hear it from me, the question was, why?

I could feel the familiar pang of anxiety creeping in as my heart hammered in my chest.

My conscience was screaming at me, pleading with me to remain silent, "You'll hurt him," she kept saying, "You'll hurt us."

She was desperate, I was desperate, but what would be the point? Michael already knew, if I didn't say it, he would.

"Little Rose," he said, bringing me out of my thoughts, "I find that I've been very agreeable from the moment we met, don't you agree?"

He paused as though waiting for my response, but he didn't give me the chance to answer.

"You'll soon find, however, that I can be very disagreeable when that respect isn't mutual. I find it a tedious task having to repeat myself, so I will say this once and only once. What. is. his. name?"

The look in his eyes conveyed that he was seconds away from becoming unhinged.

In my mind's eye, it was like watching the screws secured to a large metal door loosen.

One by one they would come out until the deadbolt collapsed, leaving only the clatter of the deadbolt against the ground as my warning to run, except I was trapped.

The true monster was seconds from emerging. My mouth went dry, my tongue felt like sandpaper, too dry to bend and form any words.

"Make no mistake, I will cut down every wolf that stands before you and make you tell me for all to hear. Your mate is in too much of a weakened state to stop me anyway."

"A-Aaron," my voice came out with a rasp, "Aaron Rogers." I felt my conscience recede into the recesses of my mind, deep pervasive sadness overtaking her.

I'm sorry.

The smile plastered on Michael's face was odd and unsettling at the same time. Handsome as he may be, it didn't go with him at all. If anything, it only emphasized the vile nature lingering just beneath the surface.

What was odd was that he felt victorious at my revelation. Aaron was dead, what was there to be victorious about?

"Leave!" Malachai's voice boomed from across the clearing as he took long strides towards us. I hid behind one of his men, watching as he came to a stop in front of Michael.

"Quite a nasty situation you've found yourself in Malachai, whatever will you do?" The sarcasm practically dropped from his every word.

"Take your men and leave, or so help me."

He turned around, bowing before Malachai mockingly as though he were a king.

Checkmate.

When he rose, he gave his men the signal to evacuate. In a flash they vanished, only Michael remained.

Still facing Malachai, he called to me with a lilt in his voice, "Oh, and Little Rose? I'll be seeing you very soon."

I blinked, and he was gone.

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