Helena’s new home was beautiful. The Royal vampires—mostly Ealdraed and Laclia—paid through the roof to gift this enormous castle to the new European Council, and she was lucky to be among the few who were permitted to stay there. Her luck didn’t end there. Perri, too, was allowed to remain there by Hans who seemed reluctant to admit his true feelings for the girl. Too bad for him, most of the vampires in the building and Helena had long since figured out that he was smitten with Perri.
Tonight was a night of celebration. Everyone had finally settled into their new home and new life. Why wouldn’t I be happy?
She looked at her beaded gold and green maxi dress in the full-length mirror that hung on the wall. Next to her, Perri was trying on a knee-length strapless purple dress that hugged her curves.
“Do you think this is too revealing?” Perri asked, placing her hands on her hips and giving another twirl.
Helena smiled. “Are you worried Hans will make you put on a baggy sweater for indecent exposure?”
Her friend pouted. “I wish! He may look at me now and then but never long enough to give me any clue whether he likes me or not.”
“Don’t think too hard about it. He’s probably shy around women.”
“He’s not shy around you,” Perri pointed out.
Helena shrugged. “I’m not the one he’s dating.”
“I don’t think we’re dating, either. I mean, these rings symbolise marriage, but we never actually got married. At the time, he didn’t seem to want to go through with it. If the spirits didn’t force us into a relationship, I think we would remain as strangers even now.”
Grasping her friend’s shoulders, Helena made Perri look at her. “Breathe. If he didn’t like you or didn’t want you here, you’d be in Scotland, cleaning the floors or dusting the furnishings.”
“You have a point.”
“Good. Now relax and let’s have fun. Alexander is bringing his girlfriend with him, and I am dying to meet the woman who has managed to melt his iceberg of a heart.”
“I haven’t met Alexander before. Is he a good person?”
Helena snorted. Alexander and good were definitely not the words she would ever use in the same sentence. He was arrogant, self-centered, stingy with money, and complained about her day and night. It was probably the gift from above that he found someone else to focus his attention on.
“Ladies, are you finished?” Lucious called, leaning his side against the door.
“Yes.” Helena looped her arm through Perri’s. She winked at her friend. “Shall we?”
Perri giggled. “We shall.”
They left the room, and Lucious, who wore a black tuxedo better than a GQ model, led them through the castle halls in the direction of the east wing where the Council’s offices, kitchen, dining room, two ballrooms, one of which was later converted into a training room, and the library were located. The living quarters of the Council members and their counterparts were in the west wing. The vampire hounds who worked for the Council had their own quarters located on the first floor of the castle. When Helena was exploring this monstrosity of a building, she had lost count of the bedrooms sometime after twenty-five. The bathrooms weren’t far behind in numbers, even though her vampire neighbours didn’t seem to use them for more than a shower after a hunt or to make sure they didn’t look like the dead first thing in the morning.
The few hounds who passed them by bowed their heads to Lucious. When her boyfriend wasn’t looking in their direction, she noticed their glares directed at her. Vampires didn’t like the fact that humans were involved in their politics. Not that Helena and Perri had the opportunity to sit at the big boys’ table and discuss the problems in Europe. But the distrust of the vampires around her kept her on her toes. She wasn’t welcome in their world as much as she no longer fit in with the normal humans. Her life had become tainted by darkness to the point where she lost track of what the word ‘normal’ meant. One of her best friends was a demon, for God’s sake! As far as Helena knew, that wasn’t the best conversation starter in the human circles unless she wanted to get splashed with a bucket of holy water.
Lucious stopped at the French doors that led to the main dining room and asked over his shoulder, “Are you girls ready to meet the guests?”
Helena smirked. “You’re more excited than we are. Is it because you and Alexander made up?”
He gave her a lopsided smile. “All thanks to you, my dear.”
“Then let’s go in and meet his better half.”
The three of them entered the grand dining room. Golden chandeliers decorated the ceiling and the light reflected off the tiny crystals made them twinkle like the stars in the night’s sky. To match the generous amount of light in the room, the furniture was an ensemble of whites and golds. The large table at the centre, that seated twenty, already had Hans, Alexander, and a beautiful redhead sitting there.
Helena’s eyes were drawn to the woman. She was young, probably in her mid to late twenties. Her skin was smooth and her gem-like amber eyes were glistening with happiness every time she looked at Alexander. She definitely liked the guy and looked stunning in a one-shoulder black dress.
Lucious took Helena’s hand, making her separate from Perri who quickly made her way to Hans’ side. He guided her to a seat and pulled out a chair for her.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, slipping into the offered seat and smiling at Alexander and his plus one. The girl was much more beautiful from up close. “Hi, I’m Helena. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She extended her hand across the table, and the girl shook it, returning her smile.
“I’m Abigail. I have heard a lot about you and Lucious from Alexander.”
“I hope it was all good things,” Helena commented, noticing Abigail’s Irish accent.
“He made it seem like you two went through a lot to get together,” Abigail replied.
Alexander cleared his throat. “Shouldn’t you introduce yourself to the others?”
Abigail glanced at Hans and Perri who offered up their names in turn.
They spent the next twenty minutes talking about Abigail and her dream to become a serious journalist. When she was describing how she and Alexander had first met, she animatedly used her hands to accommodate the story. “I had to wear the dullest clothes I could find. You know, a skirt to my ankles, granny socks, a blouse that’s two sizes too big, and glasses that covered most of my face. After the interview, I stumbled on Alexander’s Wednesday entertainment for his vampire clientele and ended up handcuffed to a chair in his office.”
Everyone burst out laughing, and Helena asked, “What did you do next?”
“I escaped, of course! My dad was a locksmith. There is no way a simple lock can keep me contained.” Abigail chuckled.
Lucious winked at Abigail. “If the Council ever decides to participate in a bank robbery, we will know whom to contact.”
Helena playfully shoved his shoulder. “You can’t be serious.”
At that, Alexander folded his arms. “She will not be participating in any Council business. It is too dangerous.”
Lucious lifted his glass of bourbon to his lips. “Do not fret. I would not dream of putting your woman in danger.”
“What about grand theft auto?” Abigail suggested. “I can boost a car or two if needed.”
Hans cleared his throat. “That certainly is an interesting skillset you have.”
Perri nodded. “Can you teach me? Is it hard?”
“It’s easier with the old cars, but with the right tools you can pretty much do anything these days,” Abigail said.
Helena’s brows rose. “Me too. I want to learn!” She hadn’t expected Alexander’s girlfriend to be someone so interesting and full of life. On the contrary, she thought his woman would be one of the world’s top models or an erotic actress. Abigail was a breath of fresh air, and Alexander seemed protective of her to a fault.
“We’ll be staying at a hotel in London for a week. You girls should come out with me sometime to explore the sights and the nightclubs. I can’t wait to see what this place has to offer.”
“I’m in,” Helena agreed.
Perri twisted her hands in her lap and nibbled on her lower lip. “If you’ll have me, I would love to join.”
Lucious caught Helena’s hand under the table. “You cannot go without an escort. It is too dangerous.”
Hans gave a nod of his head. “Indeed. There are a lot of people who cannot wait for a chance to harm us.”
Abigail’s smile crumbled. “Did I ask for too much?”
Shaking his head, Alexander interjected, “That is the reason why I didn’t want to take a seat on the Council that Lucious has offered me. I would be confined to these walls and Europe’s territory. Living a life like this is the same as being in a cage of your own making.”
Lucious’ expression sobered. “You may be right. It is not a life any of us chose without much thought.” He lifted Helena’s hand to his lips and kissed the back of it. “That is why I cannot thank this woman enough for staying by my side despite the limitations placed on her.”
Helena saw genuine warmth and love reflected in his eyes. Her heart fluttered, and she smiled unknowingly. Then, an idea struck her. “What if we disguised ourselves?”
Lucious shook his head. “It is still too—”
“Dangerous, I know,” Helena finished for him. “But we won’t go to a weird place. Alexander has a nightclub in the city. It will be a safe environment and no one will recognise us.” Helena fired a pleading look to Abigail.
“Absolutely,” Abigail said. “I will stake my reputation on making these girls the most unattractive, unpolished, cougar look-alikes. You won’t even recognise them, you have my word.”
Perri clapped her hands. “Oh, I used to love dressing up when I was a little girl.”
“See?” Helena said to Lucious. “We will be completely fine.”
Lucious faced Alexander. “Can I trust you to double the security and keep an eye on them during and after they are finished with their night out? I would prefer it if they had a couple of personal bodyguards.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Hans mumbled.
Helena crossed her arms and reclined in her seat. “You guys really should learn to trust us more.”
“My dear, it is not you I don’t trust, it is everyone else. If anything were to happen to you, I would turn this world inside out and upside down to find you until you were safely back by my side.”
“That would sound romantic if it didn’t also sound like a prerequisite for Taken,” Helena commented.
Abigail and Perri laughed while the men didn’t seem to get the joke.
Alexander rested his elbows on the table. “I will triple the security and assign a personal driver to the ladies. They will be safe as long as they don’t deviate from the plan.”
The women looked at each other and nodded.
Abigail clasped her hands together. “Looks like the fun is on!”
Helena raised a glass of her champagne. “Let’s have a toast.”
The others nodded and lifted their drinks of choice into the air.
“To new beginnings,” Abigail said.
“To new beginnings,” the others echoed.
Four in the morning arrived faster than Lucious had anticipated. Alexander and his woman declined his offer to stay the night. They were more inclined to spend their time in the hotel room that was a thirty-minute drive away. Lucious couldn’t blame them. Being in this castle was daunting. And, as he looked down at Helena’s sleeping form in his arms, he sighed. She appeared to be at peace, almost happy judging by the small smile that curved her lips.
He made his way to their quarters, careful not to shake her awake. During the dinner tonight, he meant what he said. He would take the world apart, brick by brick if she was gone from his life. That thought thrilled and terrified him. She had become an integral part of him. Without her presence in his daily life, he knew not what to expect.
Holding her up with one arm, he opened the door and walked in. He laid her on the bed, and she moaned as she rolled onto her side, away from him.
“I am pleased you had fun,” he whispered.
There was a light tap on the door, drawing his attention to Grim who had a sense of urgency about his posture.
Lucious covered Helena with the quilt and waved for Grim to follow him to the living area adjacent to the bedroom. Once they were behind a closed set of doors, Lucious studied the hound. “What do you have to report?”
“This came in just now, Master Lucious.” Grim produced a black envelope with a crimson wax seal on it.
Lucious took the envelope from the hound and turned it over in his hands. “Do you know what it is?”
“A challenge card, sir.”
His eyes widened. “You cannot be serious. Already?”
“It would appear so.”
There was no escaping a challenge for the seat of power if one was a Councilman. Lucious knew that he had no choice but to take the challenger on in the fight to the death or be executed for not complying with the laws. Had Helena not been with him, he would have chosen to end his journey. But to keep her safe and from harm’s way, he would fight with everything in him.
Lucious tore the letter open and read the information on the card. “The challenger will arrive in two days.” He met Grim’s fearful eyes. “Do not worry for my safety. I will defeat them, whoever they may be.” He slipped the letter into his pocket and added, “I want you to keep an eye on Helena. Keep her safe. Should anything happen, I want you to report to me immediately.”
“I will do as you ask,” Grim responded and bowed at the middle. “Should I get Jack or Andrea to spar with you in the training room?”
“Ask whoever isn’t out on the hunt. I will be there shortly.”
The hound left his quarters, and Lucious made his way back to the bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed and gazed at Helena’s sleeping face. Their lives were forever bound with a soul-bond. He could not lose to this challenger. For that, he needed to become stronger and force the other vampires to fear him. Eliza’s rule lasted for two thousand years for a reason. She was ruthless in her judgements and never showed a weakness to anyone, even those closest to her. It would be foolish of him not to take a page from her book and learn everything he could. If he wished to survive long enough to experience any happiness with Helena, he needed to win every fight that came his way.
He closed the door to his room behind him and scanned the hallway. The Council’s grounds were typically teaming with life when night came. Tonight, the silence was tangible. Lucious shoved his hands into his pockets and strode to the other side of the building where the training room was located. He would have asked Hans for a sparring match but knew that that vampire was busy taking a stroll with his lover in the gardens. It would be inappropriate for him to intrude on their time together. Hans was a good man and dedicated to his job as a stand-in Councilman. In Lucious’ eyes, Hans had the capacity to become a great man in years to come. He only had to believe in himself and step out of the shadow that Vincent had created. Such feats did not happen overnight, Lucious knew that. It would take years, decades even, to see Hans come into his true potential.
At the door to the training room, he paused and listened for the sounds coming from the inside. He picked up on someone using the targets for knife-throwing practice. Taking his tuxedo jacket off, he draped it over his arm and entered the room with a smile on his face.
“Andrea, it is good to see you keeping your skills sharp,” he commented when he identified the hound.
She stopped what she was doing, moving her arms to her sides like a soldier. Her soot-coloured hair fell around her shoulders, matching the black attire she wore from head to toe. “I heard from Grim you wished to spar with me. Do you want to do it now?”
Lucious nodded and tossed his jacket on the floor. He undid the buttons of his shirt’s sleeves and rolled them back until they reached his elbows.
In the meantime, Andrea stretched her arms and legs. “Would you like to work on your abilities or fighting?”
“I want to practice my fire ability, so I suggest you tie your hair to keep it from getting caught in in the flames.”
She rearranged her hair into a tight bun and rolled her shoulders. “Begin whenever you are ready, sir.”
Lucious closed his eyes and released the hold on his mental shields. The energy he had kept hidden spilt out like seawater breaking a dam. He heard Andrea muffling a groan. She was almost the same age as him in vampire years, but she hadn’t developed any ability. He had toyed with an idea of allowing the few hounds he trusted to drink his blood to strengthen them. But such an action could send them into a descent, and he could not spare any of them as the events were unfolding.
His irises were burning bright red when he opened them. The power of fire warmed his veins and spread from his centre to his fingertips. He raised his hand, palm towards her, and fired a fireball in her direction which she dodged with ease. It was becoming easier to control this power unlike the ability to see the future or his sire’s ability of speed. They were never stable enough for him to tap into them.
“This kind of attack is easy to avoid if you expect it.” Andrea threw a knife that brushed past his ear. “A counterattack could kill you if you’re not careful.”
“You are right. I should use it when the opponent’s attention is elsewhere.” He allowed for the fire to engulf his hand all the way to his wrist. Charging at her, he started fighting with his fists while keeping the flames alive.
Andrea dodged and countered his attacks. She managed to land a punch on his stomach when he was changing stances for better balance. The pain shattered his concentration and the fire extinguished.
She jumped back and planted her hands on her hips. “Your ability is unstable. If all it takes is one good hit, then you cannot rely on it in battle.”
“I know. It is hard to maintain the same level of concentration and focus on the fight at the same time.”
“Master Lucious, may I suggest you try meditation?”
He burst into laughter. “Do you want me to become the next Buddha?”
She rolled her eyes. “It allows you to get in touch with your inner self. If you think about it, you already do a brief meditation before you summon the flame. So, why not try to explore more options?”
“I have two days before my challenger arrives. I do not believe it would be a good idea for me to waste the days on daydreaming.” He conjured the flames again and turned his hand as he watched them dancing along his skin. His fingers curled into a clenched fist. “Let’s continue.”
Without further ado, he attacked her again.
NOTE: this is a draft.