“I turned Jennifer at Avery’s request.”
It’s a weak argument and I feel the need to correct him. “Jenn was dying because you bled her dry. Avery didn’t want to lose the only family member she had left so she threatened to kill herself if you let her sister die.” He doesn’t argue. “You persistently refuse to release my agápe and you have no desire to reform so I don’t have a choice. You have to die tonight.”
“I watched my sister go mad from the withdrawals after you took Avery. She killed herself in the sunlight. It was a gruesome death and it’s only a matter of time before my fate is the same as hers if you take Avery.” He stands before me with his arms spread wide, his signal to invite me to drive a dagger through his chest. “I saw Anna and said goodbye. There’s nothing more I need from this life so I welcome death.”
Killing him like this wasn’t going to be any fun. “You have no fight left in you?”
“I would have fought you to the death if Anna hadn’t come but seeing her changes everything. She is a ray of sunshine in my darkest hour even after all these years.”
I can’t believe I feel mercy for this monster but I understand him on some level. “And you’re sure you want to end it this way?”
“You must be anxious to have your agápe back,” he says. “Wouldn’t you prefer to kill me quickly rather than fight?”
Curry addresses Vincent’s coven. “What about the rest of you? Do you wish to die or go to the New Orleans compound and be reformed? Know ahead of time that it will be your demise if you choose to fight.”
The remaining vampires exchange looks but one speaks up for the group. “We choose reform.”
“Everyone is in agreement?” Curry asks.
“Yes,” they answer in unison.
“Very well.” I take the dagger from the holster around my waist and walk toward Vincent. He suddenly doesn’t seem the monster I once thought him to be. “One last time. Are you sure?”
“You’re doing me a kindness I don’t deserve.” He holds his position with his eyes closed as I prepare. I thought I’d feel a sense of justice or revenge but the feeling nagging at me has little in common with either. “Do it already.”
I’m experiencing emotions I haven’t felt since I was human. This agápe bond is messing with my mind because I feel sympathy for this known sadist.
Vincent opens his eyes and sees my hesitation. “My incisors ripped through the skin covering your agápe’s jugular only moments before your arrival. She’s lying across a blood-soaked bed right now fighting to stay alive while you try to decide if you should spare my life or not. Every second you stand here, her heart slows.”
Not another word is needed for me to make the quick upward motion to send the stake through his heart. I take joy in his gasp of pain but it’s him smiling instead of me. “Thank you,” he whispers as he falls forward into my arms. That’s when I know he was lying. Avery isn’t fighting for her life. She’s safe and her connection to me has never been stronger. “Tell her I’m sorry.”
I could ask why but it would be a waste of breath. Because I know the answer. And because Vincent Godfrey is dead.
I streak down the hallway toward Avery and feel my connection to her grow as I narrow the distance between us. I come to the third door on the left but don’t have to call her name. Her presence is stronger than ever before. It engulfs me, wrapping itself all around like a tight-fitting glove.
The door is locked to imprison her but it’s useless at keeping me out. Nothing–wood, steel, or any physical being–can stop me from getting through the walls and door separating us.
She beats her hand against the door because she knows I’m on the other side and calls out to me. “Sol! I’m here.”
I place my palm against the door and the sounds of her frantic pounding stop. I don’t have to see her on the other side to know her open hand is pressed against the same spot as mine like a mirror image on the other side. “I’m here for you, baby doll. I have to force my way through the door. Move back so I can come through without hurting you.”
I successfully kick through the barrier between us on the first attempt and I can’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt more relief than I do in this moment. I’m overwhelmed by it when I see her standing safely in the middle of the room and there isn’t a name for the minuscule amount of time it takes to have my agápe in my arms.
Sebastian once tried to explain the pain a vampire experiences when separated from his agápe. My mind wasn’t able to comprehend the degree of agony nor the instant relief when reunited but I understand now. Avery is my everything and the only thing I need to complete me. She makes me not broken anymore.
I hold her close but I’m careful to not squeeze too tightly. We’re speechless as we bask in our reunion because neither of us needs to say or hear words. Our connection is more articulate than any words we could say.
Curry is kind by giving us a brief moment before clearing his throat. “I don’t mean to interrupt your reunion but Sebastian is leaving with Vincent’s coven. And I’m anxious to have my own homecoming with my wife.”
I lift Avery from her feet into a cradle and she slips her arm around my shoulders for support while insisting it’s unnecessary, “I’m fine, Sol. I can walk. Really.”
“You could but you’re not.” She’s been through hell these last two weeks but carrying her out of this place of torment isn’t really about her. It’s about me proving I want to be the protector she needs and deserves.
I kiss her temple. “This will never happen again.” Curry opens the car door and I place her in the back seat before she slides over so I may sit next to her. Once inside, I gather her under my arm like a mother hen with her baby chick. I pull her close and press my nose to the top of her head. I smell his scent in her hair. On her skin. It’s permeated in her clothes. “I will keep you safe. I swear this to the gods upon my own life.”
Her eyes are closed and she doesn’t reply but she’s not asleep. I’m not sure if her lack of response is because she’s exhausted or angry. Perhaps she’s simply indifferent because she doesn’t trust me to keep her safe. I can handle fury–and maybe even expect it–but a lack of confidence in my role as her protector would break me.
We arrive at the compound and Curry is in the house before I open the door of the car’s backseat. I gather Avery into my arms and carry her into the compound to my quarters without stopping in the living room for the others to see her. Sebastian follows us down the hall and stands in the doorway as I place Avery on my bed.
He isn’t with the vampires from Vincent’s coven so I assume they are secured in the basement. “There isn’t time to make the ten-hour drive to New Orleans before sunrise so we’ll leave at dusk. They’re secured in the basement so you needn’t worry.”
“I’m not sure that’s a possibility.” I don’t think there’ll ever be a time when I’m not consumed with worry about Avery’s safety.
I move the wingback chair from the corner of the room and place it next to the bed. Avery’s lying so still. Her eyes are closed yet she isn’t sleeping. I’m afraid it’s a sign she isn’t able to bear looking at me. I’m terrified she won’t forgive me for allowing this to happen to her.
But that’s not what I feel from our connection. I sense relief. Pride. Love. But also despair.
“I’m going to step out so you can have a minute with Avery before Dr. Knight comes in to examine her.” Sebastian goes into the hallway and moves to close the door. “She’ll be in as soon as she’s finished with Chansey.”
We’re alone for the first time and I take Avery’s hand in mine as I lean over to press my forehead against it. She lifts her free hand from the bed and strokes her fingers through my hair. Her nails are gently scraping against my scalp and the hairs on my body prickle in response. It’s such a human reaction to her touch. “You’re placing blame on yourself but I won’t have it. None of this was within your control. Vincent’s dead and the others have chosen to be conformed by Sebastian. This nightmare is over so I refuse to relive it by not letting it go.”
I’m a vampire–an undead creature with a tortured soul–so it’s not my nature to let things go without dwelling upon the past. “I think I need to know what happened before I can let go and move forward.”
“You think you need to be tortured by hearing the things he did.” She knows me too well.
“I want to hear everything because I think not knowing is worse than hearing the truth. I’m afraid of becoming fixated on the unknown. I’ll drive myself mad trying to figure it out through our connection.” And in addition to my own punishment, I plan to use the information she tells me as a lesson well learned. It will be forever etched in my mind as a reminder of what happens when I don’t protect my agápe from other vampires.
I feel her reluctance. I see it in her eyes. But she’ll do this for me because I ask it of her. She’s unable to deny me the things I want just as I’m unable to refuse the things she asks of me. “I’ll tell you but I want you here.” She slides over and pats the bed. “I need to feel you against me. It’s been too long.”
She doesn’t have to ask twice. I slide into bed beside her and she places her head on my chest as she stretches her palm over the left side. “How long were we gone?”
I’m surprised by her question but I suppose I shouldn’t be. She’s been held captive in a house without access to light. “Two weeks and two days.” The longest sixteen nights of my existence.
“Time became a blur for us after the first night. The room where we were kept most of the time had no windows so we couldn’t decipher day from night. It was always cold and smelled damp and musty. The floor was stone and the walls felt rough so we guessed it was some type of cellar.” And probably full of airborne mold spores to make her sick. I pray none of them are toxic.