Bloodbound (an ALPHA-series Novella)

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Chapter 4

"I like the cut, but the color doesn’t compliment her skin tone", the Council dryly commented after briefly giving me a look over.
That was a No. Again.
"We also have the dress in rosé", the sales assistant offered, her friendly smile never slipping. Considering this was already the eighteenth dress I was trying on, it came close to a miracle that the woman still kept her cool.
"Let her try it on", the Council ordered, turning his attention towards his iPad again.
"This is getting ridiculous!", I burst out. "Can’t we just take the rosé one and call it a day?"
The sales assistant looked at me as if I was the crazy person here.
"The Markov-Foundation charity ball is an important event for the humans", the Council explained in his usual cold voice. "Many leading figures from politics, the media, and the economy will attend. Besides, I have a reputation to uphold."
"Then why insist on taking me there?"
"Should we marry, you will frequently attend such events with me. I want to make sure you can handle as much."
Another test, of course.
"Only that I have not the slightest interest in getting married!", I reminded him. "Are you not afraid I’ll mess things up on purpose?"
The Council rose from his cushioned red chair and crossed over to me.
"Is that a threat?", he asked dangerously soft.
"Maybe", I said, bravely holding his gaze.
"I didn’t save your lot out of the goodness of my heart. I don’t have a heart."
It was a calm confession, which made his statement sound all the more dangerous. After all, the vampire was infamous for his cold-bloodedness and feared, not only amongst his kind, but throughout the whole supernatural world.
"My help always comes with a price, and in this case, your cooperation is my price. So, if the safety of your loved ones is worth anything to you, I would strongly recommend you pay up."
The Council went back to his cushioned chair.
"Didn't you say you have the dress in rosé?"
"Y-yes, please wait a minute", the sales assistant hurriedly replied. "I’ll go and get it."
Turned out the treatment Adele had given me the other day had been nothing but a glimpse of the real horrors human females went through when they got serious about dolling up. The ball was supposed to start at seven, yet the people – a team of five, to be exact – the Council had hired to "make me presentable" already showed up shortly after lunch. My firm believe there must have been a miscommunication was quickly proven wrong. Before I knew it, I was shoved into a reclinable chair and all sorts of different tinctures applied on my face while my finger- and toenails were washed, trimmed, and varnished. My hair was next, and when that was finally done, they got back to my face.
"What we did was only a basic skincare routine", was the bewildered answer I got after I had dared to ask why, in the name of the goddess, they started working on my face again.
"We haven't applied any make-up yet."
Of course. Silly me.
I almost cried when they declared they were done for good and I was allowed to get up.
"Will do", was the Council’s meager reaction to my transformation. Just what a woman wanted to hear.
"After three hours, it better does!", I grimly mumbled.
"The media will swarm around us as soon as we will leave this car", the Council warned before we arrived at the location. "Don't mind them. I will do the talking. Just stay by my side and smile."
To emphasize his words, he flashed me a charming smile that gave me goosebumps. The vampire might fool the humans with this "look how nice I am"-facade, but if the last days had taught me anything, it was that the Council was a selfish, emotionless, cunning asshole.
Instead of an answer, I imitated his smile, which earned me an amused look from the bloodsucker.
"You are a quick study."
He had not exaggerated. Upon exiting the car, dozens of reporters, flashing cameras, and microphones greeted us. My eyes teared up almost immediately, and I had to fight the urge to cover them with my arms.
"Mr. Night, please look here!"
"Mr. Night, who is the lovely lady?"
Mr. Night was probably the name the Council went by in the human world. The guy had a twisted sense of humor.
"A short interview please, Mr. Night!"
"Any comment on the Winterwald stock scandal?"
"Mr. Night, is it true you secretly dated Mrs. Kennedy?"
It was madness.
"Take my arm – and don’t forget to smile", the Council whispered in my ear, offering me his elbow.
Overwhelmed by all the lights, humans, and noises – and goddess, don’t get me started on the smells! – I instinctively followed his order and tucked my arm into his.
Contrary to what I expected, the vampire did not go straight for the entrance. For some absurd reason, he made us parade over a red carpet first, pausing every few steps to let the gathered reporters take photos of us.
Smile!, I reminded myself over and over. Don’t forget to smile! Soon, all of this will be over and you'll be back at your farm!
Inside at long last, the flashing and screaming suddenly stopped, but the badgering continued. It seemed like every damn human in this hall was determined to have a conversation with "Mr. Night". Not a few of them addressed me as well, but I stayed quiet and tried my best to keep the smile that was plastered to my lips since we exited the car somewhat genuine.
The best part of the evening was hands down the auction and the performances in between. I could just sit, watch, and relax without a single soul pestering me – it was paradise! The joy was over all too soon, however, and everybody flooded the dancefloor. Well, it was a ball after all.
"Would you do me the honors?", the Council sweetly asked, holding out his hand.
"I thought you would never ask!", I replied just as sweetly, the words dripping with sarcasm. As if I had a choice!
"You are quite the decent dancer."
A compliment out of the Council’s mouth? Wonders never cease!
"You sound surprised."
"I am."
He whirled me around with more force than necessary, his dark eyes holding mine prisoner.
"And that is a rarity."
I swallowed, not comfortable with the direction this conversation was going in.
"I am hungry", I lied. " Will one dance suffice? By the looks of it, you won’t be in lack of a more than willing replacement for me."
I nodded towards the edge of the dancefloor, where several women eyed the Council with hungry eyes. Being so close to the him, his cold hand holding mine, his gaze eating me us as if he intended to suck me dry any second ... I needed to get away from the vampire. Fast.
"One dance will suffice."
Relief washed over me and the second the music stopped, I slipped out of the Council’s grip. Without sparing him another glance, I headed straight for the buffet.
"Did you think you can get rid of me that easily?"
At one of the tables, a furious-looking man stood in front of a pregnant woman who had her hand protectively draped over her swollen belly. From her chair, she looked up at him with disgust.
"How did you get in here?", she wanted to know, her voice cold as ice. Even though she was still seated, she radiated no less of an intimidating energy than the man.
"You better withdraw that ludicrous lawsuit! Do you really think you have even the slightest chance against me?"
The woman didn't falter.
"Seeing how you stormed in here in a poor attempt to frighten me, I guess my chances of winning are even better than I initially thought."
She tried to hide it, but her pale complexion and the slight tremble in her hand showed that beneath her tough shell, he had managed to get to her.
"You think you are so clever, don’t you?", he spat. "We’ll see how long you'll be able to keep that arrogant attitude of yours once I won and the custody of the child will be awarded to me. In the end, it's going to be your reputation that's ruined, not mine, and you can kiss your precious CEO-position goodbye!"
The woman pressed her lips together and sweat started to show on her forehead. No matter if she was at fault like the man claimed, or innocent – it was obvious the woman was stressed, and that wasn't good for the baby. Why was nobody stepping in to stop the two? Either the people ignored them, or they kept silent and watched the spectacle from afar.
I put my hands on my flat belly, recalling my pregnancy. A pregnant she-wolf was treated like a spoiled princess in our pack, and everywhere I went, my packmates would do their best to make me happy and help wherever they could. One time, when John and I had quarreled out of fun, the farmworkers had come to my aid in seconds, scolding my mate for his incautious behavior. It had taken me minutes to convince them that we were just joking around. Imagining being in the same, lonely position as the woman ... it broke my heart.
"Oh, there you are!", I happily exclaimed, putting myself between the man and the woman who both threw me a confused look. I couldn’t just stand there and watch this any longer. Someone needed to act!
"I’ve been searching the whole ballroom for you! You promised we would pounce on the buffet together, or were those just empty words?"
"Patience has never been your strong suit", the woman laughed, playing along with me. She understood. "Then let’s hurry before you starve. Nobody knows as good as me how obnoxious you get when you are hungry."
I helped her up and we linked our arms like old friends.
"Having a healthy appetite is nothing to be ashamed about!", I shot back, acting offended.
The woman leaned over to bring her lips closer to my ear.
"Thank you", she whispered.
"Are you okay?", I asked, turning my voice down as well.
She nodded.
"We are okay."
The words sounded genuine.
"I am Maya, by the way."
"Evangeline. But friends call me Eve."
"Eve it is, then."
We filled our plates to the brim and then claimed the seats reserved for the Council and me.
"You are the date of Christopher Night?", Eve asked surprised after spotting his nametag on the table.
"I am." Why deny the obvious? "But I would appreciate it if we could leave him out of this conversation."
I was afraid that had come across as rude, but Eve just blinked innocently and said: "Leave who out?"
As it turned out, Eve was just as big an animal lover as me, so we ended up exchanging countless anecdotes of the many furry family members that had accompanied us in our lives so far. It was nice having my mind taken from the Council and his schemes for some time, and Eve seemed like a nice person.
"I enjoyed our chat, but I think I am going to head back to my hotel now. It's been a long evening", she said after a little while. "Can I have your phone number? Maybe we could meet up someday for a coffee."
"I don’t have a phone, and I am usually not much of a traveler either", I confessed. She knew I lived in Canada.
"A country girl through and through, I see", Eve chuckled. "Well, in any case, it was really nice meeting you, Maya. I hope our paths cross again someday."
"Me too." But I highly doubted it.
Evangeline had barely left when the Council returned.
"Grant me one last dance and we are done for today", he offered.
"One last dance", I sighed and pushed to my feet.
"Official outings like this are a necessary evil, but it will be enough if you accompany me only once in a while", the vampire declared as if our mating was already a done deal. To make matters worse, this dance was a slow one and I was pressed against the Council’s chest the whole time.
"After tomorrow, my Alpha’s debt is paid", I reminded him. "Henceforth, I owe you nothing."
"Most women would kill to be with a powerful man like me." If the vampire wasn't lacking one thing, it was confidence. "Doesn’t it intrigue you at least a little? All the things I could offer you ..."
"... are worth nothing to me", I finished.
"I like challenges."
I averted my gaze, hating how his dark, emotionless eyes were so intensely focused on me.
Only you can give me what I am searching for: Unrestrained Control.
How could I, a simple farmer, help him gain any sort of control?
He is just messing with you!, my common sense piped up. A vampire – the Council at that – mating with a low she-wolf? The mere thought was ridiculous! Our species had completely different lifestyles, and Caleb would never hand me over to the Council without my consent – which I wouldn’t give in a million years!
Bear with it for another day, then you'll never have to see that vampire again!, I consoled myself.
To my utter delight, things turned out much better than I had expected. The next morning, Adele informed me the Council had an urgent matter to attend to and couldn't spend the day with me as planned.
"The Master is very sorry for not being able to deliver this news himself and say his goodbye in person. He sends his sincerest apologies."
"Oh, I am sad to hear that", I lied while mentally dancing with joy. "But I guess it can't be helped."
Much to Adele’s disappointment, I declined the Council’s offer to let her and Sebastian take me on a shopping trip through Paris – at his expense, of course. I preferred spending the day playing with Queen and finishing my work on the garden in front of the library. Around dinnertime, Caleb and the warriors came to pick me up, thus finally putting an end to my imprisonment.
Every minute the car drove away from the vampire’s apartment, my heart grew lighter. Those black, soulless eyes of the Council and the cold, possessive way he had looked at me would haunt me in my nightmares for the rest of my life. At least, my sacrifice hadn’t been in vain. Thanks to the Council’s warning, Caleb had been able to evade the trap the Alpha king had set up for him.
"I hate to admit it, but the damn bloodsucker saved our asses!", Grayson growled after Caleb had finished telling their story.
"Are you sure you are okay?", Caleb asked worried, piercing me with his Alpha-gaze that demanded the unadorned truth. "Being our savior or not, if the Council mistreated you in any way ..."
I shook my head.
"I am fine. He didn’t do anything inappropriate." ... for the most part, I silently added.
"Good", he said, but his eyes were still clouded with worry and guilt. As Alpha, he must have felt horrible giving one of his she-wolves into the keeping of the Council. Knowing Caleb, in my case that self-reproach weighed all the heavier on his soul, considering I was his dear childhood friend.
"Stop being so hard on yourself all the time." I put my hand on his arm, waiting until he met my gaze. "I know you had no other choice, and I really am fine."
He put his hand over mine and gave it a short, gentle squeeze. Sometimes, gestures said more than words ever could.
At home, my family anxiously awaited my return. Everyone had come: my parents and grandparents, my brothers and their mates, my uncles and aunts with their children, and John’s parents and siblings. Having heard from my little adventure with the Council, they had made themselves comfortable in my kitchen and the living room and flocked around me the second I came through the door, bombarding me with their worry. It took me over an hour to convince them I was fine, and another one to assure them I was very much capable of staying alone.
"My baby girl in the house of the Council – goddess, I still can't believe it!", my mother sobbed, giving me a concerned look-over for the hundredths time. "Are you sure you don't want to stay with your father and me for a couple of days?"
I gave her a big hug.
"Thanks, but I'll manage."
I gave my father a goodbye hug as well and my parents reluctantly turned around and headed home.
Even though that chaotic family of mine was a handful, I loved each and every one of them from the bottom of my heart. Still, after John’s death and the loss of our child, being around them, seeing them together with their mates ... it wasn't easy. I didn’t resent them for their happiness, never could. But being forced to witness all that I had lost, all John and I could have had, should have had ... It was too much for my shattered soul to bear. So, I kept my distance from them as best as I could, as I did from everyone else in the pack. I knew it was a coward and stupid thing to do. I knew running from the grief wouldn’t get me anywhere. What I didn’t know was how else I should deal with this terrible pain that threatened to break my heart with every breath I took.
You are still young. You might change your mind one day.
I inwardly snorted at how easily the Council had discounted my sorrow over my mate’s passing. How could an outsider ever claim to understand the depth of a werewolf’s mate bond? On one hand, the vampire’s detached statement had enraged me. On the other hand, I couldn’t help somewhat pity him. I doubted an emotionless pragmatist like him had the capacity to love someone the way John and I had loved each other, trust someone with everything in him. The vampire willfully condemned himself to a lonely and empty existence, closing himself off to the mere possibility of love. Yes, losing John had broken me, had killed the happy-go-lucky Maya I had once been for good. Yet, I wouldn’t want to miss the time fate had granted us together, would always choose knowing and then losing my mate over not knowing him at all.
There is no use in fretting over that vampire, I told myself. Live and let live. What was it to me what the Council believes or doesn’t believe? It’s not like we’d see each other again.
Little did I know how naïve I had been back then.

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