1 – ALONE
A position on the Vampire Council brought with it a lot of pain and suffering to those who were entrusted with a seat of power. Hans was no different. Everything he used to enjoy doing had been limited to giving orders that would benefit the vampire kind and maintain some form of balance in Europe. Regardless of his desperate wish to fill his sire’s shoes, he could never become Vincent. His sire was two thousand years old when he perished in the fight against the demons at the Demon Gate. To this day, the Council’s hounds were searching the streets for the stray demons that escaped through the portal. Their presence was, indeed, visible by the number of dead humans piling up in the quiet communities across England.
Hans buried his hands in his short brown hair and sighed. He was sitting behind his desk at the new Council building. After the revival of the original vampire—Arthemis—more humans had been killed for no reason other than feeding someone’s ego. Hans was glad that the Royals had used the homeless for such a deed, and the mortals did not have enough time to take note of the existence of vampires. Hiding in the shadows had been the only way of life they knew. Being thrust into an open view of humanity who had great weapons of destruction, his kind would perish too quickly. As a Councilman, he cared for his people and had to stick to the original rules that the First Council had transcribed on the ancient scrolls.
A knock on the door forced him to leave his brooding state of mind and drew his attention to the person on the other side. He twisted the ring that was on his wedding finger, knowing that it was Perri by the pitter-patter of her heart. She waited for him to permit her entry.
He rushed to the door and opened it for her. “Is something wrong? I thought you were in the middle of unpacking your belongings.”
She smiled at him, drawing his eyes to the bright smile she wore that could light up any room. In the time that they had been away from Scotland to deal with Master Vincent’s funeral and the Council’s restructure, her blonde hair had grown long enough to reach past her shoulders.
“I don’t have many belongings, Master Hans,” she replied.
Hans frowned at the title she used. He instructed her to use it in the event where they were not alone. Being called that in private had somehow given him a terrible aftertaste in his mouth. They were eternally spirit-bound by a restless ghost who roamed their castle near Aberdeen. Since then, he came to realise how important she was to him. Her existence was like that of a moon in the night’s sky—needed to light his path. She brought life to the saddest moments. Even when Master Vincent had passed away, she was the one who held him together with her cheer and warmth.
Her expression became serious. She reached up to touch his face, and he stepped back.
“There is no one here,” she whispered, her voice coming out hurt. Her face told him that his dismissal of her touch caused her great pain.
Contrary to the relationship Lucious and Helena had, where both of them were part of the same soul, he and Perri were different beings. She was the pure, bright, loving human woman he had come to believe he did not deserve, and he was the darkness that fed on the blood of mortals and spent his days negotiating with unshakeable tyrants—the European delegates—about the territorial division and vampire law enforcement by the hounds. Two days ago, Lucious and Helena left to investigate the recent vampire deaths in Italy, and Hans was left to man the entire Council by himself. It was a task too great, even for someone who had observed Master Vincent as a Councilman for over four hundred years.
Perri knotted her fingers in front of her. “Don’t you want me to be here? Would you prefer it if I returned home?”
Hans took hold of her hands and lifted them to his lips, kissing the back of them. “I apologise for my behaviour earlier. I worry about you being here and yet I cannot bear to be apart from you for long. It is selfish of me to keep you trapped in this Council building while Lucious and I attempt to restore the Council’s power and reach.”
She shook her head. “It’s not selfish at all. I want to be with you. You are my…husband.”
He let go of her hands and retreated to his desk where he slid into his leather office chair. “I still believe it would be best to seek a way to break the spirit-bond. We do not know the dangers it may bring with it. And if either of us dies, the other will forever be unable to love another.”
“I am prepared for that!” she countered, striding to him. She placed her hands on his shoulders and leant in, her brown eyes burning with sincerity. “I don’t think I would ever be able to love another man. You are the only one I need. Unless it’s you who wants to be free of me…”
Hans pulled her down and seated her on his lap. He buried his face in the crook of her neck and listened to her excited heartbeat that thudded in her chest. “Do not ever for a moment think that I would want to abandon you. My duties take precedence, that’s all.”
She combed his hair with her fingers and kissed him on the forehead. “I know. That’s why I haven’t complained and do as you tell me.”
He wound his arms around her waist and kissed her soft lips, allowing her to take control with uncertainty. For now, such a small form of affection would have to satisfy him. He feared to dirty her. She was at a young age of twenty-two. She could decide to leave him or change her mind at any second. If she so wished, and chose a different path to becoming the woman of a Councilman, he would need to give up and support her decision. The life she was trying to live would bring her much sorrow. As the years pass for them both, she would eventually wish to have children or want to be turned into a vampire. He did not know if he could be the one to extinguish her life or if he knew anyone trustworthy enough who would not use their sire-childe bond for malevolent purposes later.
Perri pressed her forehead to his. “We can meet for dinner tonight.” She lowered her head and her voice. “Would you consider spending the night in my room?”
Hans pressed his lips together. Her blushing cheeks and meek voice had stirred his desire, but he had to control it. With her, he could not allow any room for mistakes.
“I am sorry, Perri. I have a hunt to lead for the possessed vampires tonight. You will have to eat alone.”
She smiled with faux cheer like she always did when he denied her something. “Another time maybe.”
He nodded, and she slid off his lap. With a goodbye wave, Perri left his office. For the next twenty minutes, he brooded over going after her and taking her in her room. She was innocent to the point where he knew not of what to do. His sire would turn in his grave if Hans hurt or upset her. She was like a daughter to Vincent, and Hans watched her grow up from a young age. For many years, he thought of her as a younger sister. And now that they were bound to each other, spirit to spirit, his hidden urges were much harder to conceal.
Letting out another heavy sigh, he returned to his paperwork that was quickly piling up on his desk in Lucious’ absence. There were too many emails and letters arriving from the remaining delegates who did not attend the first summoning and new Council coronation ceremony. They demanded an explanation about what had happened to those who died a month ago and the strange orders that came from the Royals who up and left the second Arthemis was gone. The only one who had stayed behind was Laclia, and she was in the middle of travelling across Europe, meeting with the delegates they had already responded to. She was due to return before the end of the year if things went well. With luck, they would gather another two Council members and restore the Council’s power in Europe that had become as fragile as glass.
He used a letter opener to remove the wax seal of the Cornelli family of vampires in Italy and began to read of their complaints.
It was impossible to get Hans interested in her. She tried pretty dresses Helena had suggested, grew her hair out, and wore makeup to bring out her maturity. Nothing worked on the man of her obsession. Hans was an unmovable rock, and it was making her wonder if he wanted to be with her or if he didn’t want to be mean to her because she was Vincent’s favourite servant in Scotland. She had missed Master Vincent and had made weekly visits to the mausoleum where his remains were stored. She knew it was strange but doing so made her feel like he was still there with her, listening to her woes.
She walked down a long corridor that led to the living quarters of the Council members and their partners. Hans had assigned a room to her in that wing. She had often overheard the hounds whispering about her and Helena’s presence there. They were scared of Lucious and what he might do if Helena was mentioned, so conversations about her friend were scarce, but Perri seemed to be on the tip of their tongue at all times. She was a human with no super powers or abilities unless she counted cooking and cleaning. Vampires could not ingest solid foods, and they didn’t particularly care if someone cleaned the huge castle-like building they were in. With four separate gardens, they definitely would need a gardener or two soon enough.
Should I learn gardening, too?
Her restlessness prompted her to grab the nearest hound—a vampire servant of the Council—and ask him for a dust cloth and cleaning materials. The blonde man seemed confused by her inquiry, so she repeated her request.
“Master Hans had not mentioned that you would be on the cleaning team,” he said in a bored tone.
“I want to do something to keep busy,” Perri countered.
He raised his hands in defence. “I don’t want to anger a Councilman by doing something that he did not order. Please find someone else.”
Perri blew out a breath. She couldn’t even take her mind off of things by cleaning. How was she supposed to get used to this massive castle and its grounds? Hans had forbidden her to explore without him by her side or her assigned hound, Lotte, who acted as her bodyguard. Lotte was a vampire woman who must have been turned in her late teens. She was friendly and nice on the surface, but Perri heard from Vincent that hounds did not choose to do their job because of their kind hearts. They were either being punished by the Council for some crime and had to serve a sentence by obeying orders or their sire sent them to improve relations with the Council members and gain more influence. Perri hadn’t been able to pinpoint which of the two boxes Lotte belonged in. The only things she knew about that woman was that she was created thirty-five years ago and came from some small town in Netherlands. She knew that Hans would not select someone who would hurt her to be by her side. On the other hand, could she trust a person she knew nothing about?
Her shoulders sagged, and she made her way to her bedroom. If she couldn’t clean, cook, or do anything without supervision, she would go mad. Then, an idea struck her. She rushed the rest of the way to her bedroom and looked for her phone. She spied it on the bed and dialled Rupert—the butler in the main house in Scotland. Three months ago, he told her about the journals he discovered in the storage room that belonged to Master Vincent. Hans had some of the older volumes sent off to translators in other countries. Maybe if she read through the translations, she could find something helpful that could aid Hans in his work or locate Master Vincent’s favourite place where they could scatter his ashes. After all, Vincent had lived for a very long time. She was sure that he had a lot of stories to tell and advice to give.
When someone picked up, she launched into the conversation, “Rupert, is that you?”
His laughter came through the speaker of the phone. “It has been a while, Perri. How did the service for Master Vincent go? Did the people he worked with give him a proper goodbye?”
Perri licked her lips and held the phone closer to her ear. She couldn’t tell Rupert that Vincent had received barely any attention from the vampires he had worked with for a thousand years. It was as if they didn’t care about his passing in the slightest.
“It was a good send off,” she lied. “I would like to look through the journal translations you’ve received. I may be able to find Master Vincent’s favourite place there. I’m sure he would appreciate us scattering his ashes there.”
“That’s a brilliant idea! You have thought of a good plan. Though, I am certain I don’t have to tell you that you should run this by Master Hans. He is the new head of the family, and we must respect his orders.”
Would Hans agree to take the remains from the Council’s mausoleum and bring them to Vincent’s favourite place? Not like she found its location yet. First thing’s first, she had to get her hands on those translations.
“Will you please send the documents to our new address?” she asked.
Rupert went quiet for a minute. “There are a lot of them. I don’t think it would be a good idea to send them all at once. So, I will post them out to you in separate parcels.”
“That’s a good idea.” Perri smiled. She was eager to get her hands on the old journals that belonged to the man who was like a father to her. “Thank you, Rupert.”
“It’s not a problem. Take good care of Master Hans while you are visiting him. He must be working hard to fill Master Vincent’s shoes.”
“I will, and I’ll call again to check in another time.” She ended the call. The rest of the servants at the main house didn’t know about her relationship with Hans.
Then again, she scratched her head, what is our relationship? They hadn’t gone beyond kissing each other. Every time she tried to initiate anything more, he shot her down, claiming he had work or was too busy to keep her company. At first, she accepted his words without complaint until doubts began to form at the back of her head.
Does he not find me attractive?
There was no other reason she could think of. And what about the odd question he asked her earlier about breaking the only connection that held them together. Without the spirit-bond, she feared that he would revert to treating her like a younger sister rather than a lover. Not like she was his lover yet. Helena and Lucious were doing fine after they reunited. They slept in the same room every night like a real couple.
What am I doing wrong?
She fell backwards onto her king size bed and buried her face in her hands. The constant insecurities that were eating away at her sanity were hard to keep hidden. At the same time, she couldn’t allow others to see her being unhappy. It would worry them. Too many things were happening in Europe with the vampires and lack of stability of the Council for others to fret over her silly thoughts. To remain by Hans’ side, she had to act mature and happy. She forced another smile that felt unnatural. Pretending was getting a little easier.