A Night in Andrew’s Bedroom
Seventy-four years in the past….
“MAMA… MAMA… Mama… Mama… Mama….” Andrew giggled and ran through the house, down the hallway, and into the kitchen, dragging a stuffed wolf along by the tail in his wake.
“I’m in here, little cub.” Laura Reed turned from the sink. She wiped her hands on the dish towel, having finished the cleaning in the kitchen, and then focused on the naked young boy who had wrapped his arms around her knees.
“Love you, Mama!” Andrew smiled up at Laura.
Laura reached down and pulled the boy up to sit on her hip, his arms draped over her shoulders and the wolf toy dangling down her back. “I love you, too, but aren’t you supposed to be in bed? Where are your pajamas?”
The sound of slow shuffling footfalls coming down the hall preceded Max as he entered the kitchen. He appeared a bit frustrated and tired. “I thought I heard voices in here. The little hooligan escaped when I turned my back to get his pj’s from the dresser. I turned around. He and Scruffy were gone, except for the sound of giggling and the thumping of running footsteps down the hallway.”
Laura laughed softly. “Your son is as stubborn as his daddy when it comes to wanting things his way. But, cub, it’s time for you to be in bed and go to sleep.”
Max wrapped his arms around both of them, nuzzled his wife’s neck, then gave her a kiss on the cheek and a gentle hug before accepting the handoff of the child back into his arms.
“But I don’t want to go to bed. I’m not tired, and Scruffy wants to play outside.” Andrew frowned, his bottom lip sticking out in a decided pout.
“It’s dark out and time for cubs to sleep,” Laura insisted. She ruffled her son’s hair.
Max turned and walked from the kitchen, a squirming Andrew in his arms, Laura following close behind.
“I don’t wanna…,” Andrew whined.
“Too bad. Boys go to bed when they are told,” Max huffed, obviously getting tired of his son’s incessant complaints.
“Mama….” Andrew began to fake cry, rubbing his eyes with his little fists, as if trying to make the tears flow.
“You heard your father—to bed.” Laura chuckled at her son’s antics. “But once you are there, you may have one story, then lights out and time to go to sleep.”
“Yeah! A story!” Andrew cheered.
Max flinched, pulling his head away from his son’s screech of joy… right in his sensitive ear. “Tell me again, why did we want children?” Max grumbled as they walked into the powder blue playroom, scattered with carved wooden toys and a table covered with crayons and paper.
“Because you wanted a son and I wanted a family. Now hush,” Laura scolded Max. She pulled the covers back and watched as her son leaped from his father’s arms onto the bed. He dutifully held his arms up, and Max grabbed the pajama top and tugged it down over his son’s extended arms and then his head. Max handed him the bottoms. Andrew frowned as he inserted one leg through at a time with great care and concentration before pulling them up over his rump and scrambling to lie down with the stuffed wolf at his side. Laura draped the blankets over his little body and tucked him in before sitting beside him.
Max stepped back to stand by the door, as if guarding his most precious treasure, his small pack.
“Now, what story would you have tonight?” Laura asked as she brushed Andrew’s bangs to the side, away from his bright blue eyes.
“The First Prince!” Andrew begged.
“That old story?” Max watched his mate and his son.
“It’s kind of scary. Are you sure it won’t give you nightmares?” Laura frowned and glanced at her husband, who shrugged.
“The Prince… the Prince!” Andrew chanted.
“All right. But after this, it’s straight to sleep, my little cub.” Laura tucked the covers a bit more snugly around her son and grinned down at him. “Well, the story, as it was told to me by my mother, begins…. Long ago there were four magical races. Can you tell me what they were?” Laura prompted, knowing her son liked to answer that question.
“Shifters, vampires, the honored dwarves, and fae.” Andrew nodded solemnly.
“That’s right. Our people and the vampires were friends with the dwarves, but the fae were evil and manipulative. They wanted to rule the entire supernatural world and make humans their slaves. In those days, although we lived with the other tribes in peace, there were no governments, no rulers. The Vampire Council didn’t exist, nor had the royal family of the werewolves come to power. We were all just a bunch of clans, pressed up against each other for control of a territory and of the humans we hunted.”
“We used to eat people? Ewww!” squealed Andrew, giggling.
“No. We did hunt humans—they were looked down upon. Many of our ancestors felt humans were less than us, merely animals who could speak and reason.” Laura smiled down at her inquisitive son.
“We hunted them for sport and status. They made good prey because they were smart and were a challenge.” Max leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest.
“But now we know better and it is against our laws to hunt humans. We hunt animals to let our wilder, animal side out. For us, it isn’t the blood we crave, but the excitement of the hunt and the kill our beasts need in order to be whole and balanced. Vampires, on the other hand, require human blood in order to live, but do not desire the thrill of the hunt. So both our species have found ways to exist alongside humans.”
“But not the fae?” Andrew shook his head.
“No. The fae were vicious and blood crazed. They weren’t content with the land they controlled. They wanted more power and began trying to take it from everyone they encountered. First, they destroyed all the humans within their borders for the energy and power the blood gave them. Then they began attacking the villages of the dwarves and the wolves living along their borders. Nobody was prepared for the attacks, and entire villages were destroyed as the fae feasted on their blood, growing stronger and more deadly.”
“Nobody escaped?” Andrew’s eyes had grown wide, his voice a whisper in the quiet of his bedroom.
In reality, the first attacks had no survivors. It wasn’t until long after the fae had grown bolder, attacking large towns, that some were able to escape in the chaos of the fighting and raise the alarm. But for her son’s bedtime story, Laura skipped that part as she had no intention of giving him nightmares.
“Of course, some always escape in the chaos of a fight. They warned the others in the surrounding villages, who didn’t believe until they too fell victim to the fae’s fangs and claws. The lure of blood and power is such that the more you get, the more you want, and for the fae, there would never be enough. So the attacks became more frequent and more deadly.
“After a rather large town was attacked and destroyed by the fae, a group of vampires, dwarves, and wolves from the largest families met to decide what could be done. They decided the fae would destroy them all if left alone, and so they devised a plan to create a barrier, a place separate from everyone else where the fae couldn’t cause any harm to anyone but themselves. There they could live out their lives, fight their wars, and all without destroying the other peoples of the earth. It would take the power of all four of the magical races to create the barrier, but in the end, only three would be free to find a way to live in harmony with humanity and each other without preying upon one another senselessly.”
“What happened?” Andrew gripped the covers under his chin with his tiny fists, his eyes darting from his mother to his father and to all the dark corners of his room, as if expecting the fae to jump out at any moment.
“The dwarves dug deep into the center of the earth and brought forth a lodestone. They blessed it with great powers and sacrificed many lives in setting it in the proper place, so it stood on a ley line on the border between two realities. Most of the time, we don’t see other dimensions. If we do happen to come across a ley line, we feel a slight tremor—humans call it déjà vu. But with the lodestone in place, we see a curtain of power shimmering between the dimensions. It glistens at night, a slightly translucent barrier between our lands and those beyond, allowing us to see through the veil to the lush and green land beyond. Humans see nothing.”
“If it was so pretty, why didn’t we go there, instead of sending the fae there?” Andrew frowned, obviously thinking hard.
“Well, because at that time, both our people and the vampires were still dependent upon humans in one way or another. We didn’t want to leave them behind. The dwarves don’t require blood, as they have a different type of magic altogether. Their magic ties them to the land, and they need to have a connection to it in order to flourish. But of all the races, theirs was the most powerful. Dwarves created the veil that connected the realities, and with the blood of the shifters, the vampires, and the fae, the veil would be locked, preventing the fae from escaping back into our world ever again.” Laura grinned down at her son.
“So what happened?” he begged.
“Well, the vampires, dwarves, and shifters all sent fighters to be part of an enormous army and, when the fae attacked, they were ready for them. The battle took a very long time. Some say days, some say weeks, some say it was months of nonstop fighting and bloodshed. But in the end, the fae were subdued and forced across the veil, with the few remaining dwarves acting as guards. By this time, because of the organization needed to create the armies, our peoples had become much more centralized and, for each, a form of government was born. The vampires devised a council, which today governs us all. For us, our animalistic nature will submit to only the strongest and most alpha male among us. That man became king. His name was Henry the Gray.”
“But what about the prince?” Andrew giggled.
“Well, you see, now that we had the fae on the other side of the veil, the dwarves needed to return before the portal sealed and the fae regained their strength and tried to return. The fae are nothing if not tricky, and the elders were in a hurry to lock down the entrance quickly to prevent them from finding a way to escape. They gathered around the lodestone and began the ceremony, casting the spell that carved the words into the stone, which would seal the fae away for eternity. As the last drop of blood sizzled down on the stone, they realized there was a problem. The dwarves were coming back toward the barrier, but they seemed to move in slow motion, as if time itself were preventing them from reaching the boundary between the worlds.
“Prince Atol had become good friends with one of the dwarves named Ventall. In fact they were mates. When the veil began to crystallize into a solid form and disappear from our world, Prince Atol threw himself at the barrier. He reached through it with both hands, trying to grab hold of Ventall, to yank the dwarf back into our dimension. The two screamed that they would not let go. They would not be separated. The barrier could not be stopped. Atol’s father, the king, seeing that the barrier would cut his son in half before the dwarf would be drawn through, grabbed Prince Atol by the waist. He threw himself back, forcing his son away from the fading barrier. Prince Atol screamed and fought his father, but the barrier vanished from this world, taking Ventall, the dwarves, and the fae with it.
“Prince Atol snarled that he’d never forsake his love and would wait for Ventall to return. He’d guard the stone forever, and, one day, the barrier would come down and they’d be reunited. That was the last time anyone ever saw Prince Atol. It’s said that on nights when the moon is full, if you see a lone black wolf and you hear mournful howling, it is Prince Atol crying for his missing mate, still waiting for the day the veil falls so he can be reunited with his love and the dwarves are freed from the fae.”
“Will they ever be free?” Andrew mumbled, his eyes drooping sleepily, as his father flipped the light switch off by the door.
“No. The veil is forever,” Max’s deep voice whispered from beside the door. “Now, go to sleep, pup. Tomorrow is another day.” Laura rose to her feet and joined her mate. He wrapped an arm around her waist and ushered her out into the hall.
“I can’t figure out why he likes that old story. He asks for it every night. It’s so depressing.” Laura frowned as they stepped into their own bedroom, and she felt her husband nuzzle her neck.
“Who knows what prompts children, but it’s the story he likes to hear and I see no problem with him learning our history. We were a proud, strong people once. We were an honorable race before…. Well, it doesn’t matter now. Let’s just go to bed.” Max sighed and rubbed the back of his head.
“Stephon?” Laura asked.
“Yes and no. He’s there, listening in, but it’s not like he’s protesting or anything. I think I need to shift and go hunting soon. My wolf is restless,” Max mumbled as Laura rubbed his back and the two settled down for a nice quiet night.
“ARE WE there yet?” I mumbled from under the blanket, curled alongside Andrew, my head pillowed on his lap as he drove toward Denver. The steady thump of the windshield wipers kept time with my erratic nerves and heartbeat, as the miles whirred by beneath the tires of the Dodge Ram. We weren’t alone, of course. My vassals, Charlie and Tim, were following close on our heels, protecting us as they always did. They gave us whatever privacy they could, but were never far from sight.
“No, Lance. Just try to get some rest. I’ll wake you when we get there.” Andrew brushed his fingers through my hair under the blanket I’d pulled over my head, his touch soothing the itch to bolt and run. He could always settle me. Regardless of how badly my nervousness grew, a simple caress grounded me more surely than chains.
The plan was to live with Lord Basil, my grandfather. Thinking of him as my grandfather was going to take some getting used to. I had family of my own now… family besides Andrew.
After my party, Stephon disappeared. Andrew told me he did this every year, something about a yearly sabbatical, which he usually returned from in poor spirits. Nobody could tell me when Stephon’s birthday was. Seems the old—and I do mean ancient—vampire, for all his talk about birthdays and parties, refused to celebrate his own. So Andrew and I threw him a party he would never forget.
Damn weird, though. I knew he was prissy and stuck on propriety, but he appeared to enjoy the orgy it ended up becoming. Then Stephon disappeared into the maze early in the evening. No one saw him come out. The following morning, after he inspected the grounds to make sure we hadn’t messed up his impeccable gardens, we were packed up and sent to Grandfather.
Since I’d mated with Andrew, our mind, experiences, and understanding had become one. The time he spent at university with Stephon pursuing various interests and hobbies, all the years of his life, it’s all in there for me. He saw my loneliness and isolation, my will to survive and determination to live regardless of what the humans had told me. He experienced it all as if he were me. We’re two bodies, but our thoughts and spirit are one. Before, I was alone. I was good at protecting myself. Now, there was more to fight for. More to protect. More to love. More reason to live. I refused to fail him or any of them. They deserved my best, and they would get it.
I was used to fighting to keep myself safe… to stay alive. I had only ever risked myself, but when others are involved, it becomes more complicated. I wasn’t exactly comfortable with the responsibility of caring for others, but I was a prince and my people were being persecuted. I had freed Andrew, but his family and our people as a whole remained veritable slaves. I was the means to their salvation… no pressure there.
The big question was how to free our people while attempting to keep Andrew’s connection to his family hidden? In truth, it might not be possible to do so for any extended period of time. I wasn’t looking forward to stepping outside my comfort zone and making myself a target. I didn’t want to paint a bull’s-eye on my mate’s back either, but it was unavoidable. I needed everyone focused on me, on us, and not on the others supporting me behind the scenes. The only way to do that was by making the biggest spectacle of myself possible. But what would come next? What would it cost? In my experience, being the center of attention always came with a price.
“Sit up. Seat belt. Now!” Andrew hollered, pulling me from my contemplation back to the present. I threw the blanket onto the floor, sat up, and peered around as he floored the gas and the truck lurched ahead. The unmistakable squeal of tires braking hard and the crunch of metal on metal had me staring out the back window.
“What’s going on?” I scooted over to my seat on the bench and buckled, turning to glare out into the murky gray of morning. A black car was trying to run Charlie and Tim off the road, clearly trying to drive the larger SUV into the ditch. As I watched, a Jeep joined in the chase, jumping the median from the oncoming side, barreling down the interstate after us.
“We’ve got company.” Andrew stepped on the gas, trying to put as much distance between Charlie and Tim and ourselves as he could.
“We can’t leave them behind! If they have an accident and the weather clears, they’re toast out here in the open!”
Andrew glared at me briefly before returning his attention to the road, and letting off the gas a bit. “I’ll keep them in sight. Call your grandfather and have him send out help. We’re in his territory by now.” He took his eyes off the road for a second to meet mine. “I am not stopping, and Charlie would thrash me if I did. You are the priority. We’re being attacked because they want to get to you. Charlie and Tim are just in the way.” I cringed as the sound of metal on metal assaulted my ears, and I gawked back seeing Tim had forced the SUV into the car.
My phone started ringing where it lay on the dashboard. Tones of “California Gurls” by Katy Perry filled the cab, and I smiled despite the situation. Charlie was calling. I’d chosen the song specifically because the woman was always dressed in black leather… well, almost always. She resembled a cross between Catwoman, Lara Croft, and Xena, with black vampire-drone eyes and white skin. But Charlie was far deadlier.
I grabbed the phone and answered. “Yes, my guardian angel.”
“We’ll take care of them. Don’t you dare stop, you selfish bastard,” Charlie yelled into the phone.
“Now that’s no way to talk to your prince,” I griped back. I was just being stubborn. I didn’t want to leave them. I worried about them. They were my friends, and I couldn’t spare any of them.
“Andrew, once you’re gone, they’ll let up on us. They’re after you, not us. We’ll catch up with you. We know where you’re going. Hopefully they don’t.” Charlie knew both of us would hear, despite the phone not being on speaker. Even without our mental link, shifter ears are sensitive enough that we could both hear her. Of course, drone ears were practically as sensitive, and she could hear both of us just as clearly.
“I understand. Be careful, you guys. You know Lance will never forgive me for leaving you behind if you get hurt. As it is, he’s pissed as hell.” Andrew’s smug snort as I hung up the phone had me wanting to snarl.
Yeah, he was right. I was pissed and worried. I stared as the SUV slammed into the black car. The scream of metal had me cringing as the car was forced against the metal guardrail and head-on into the cement barrier of an off-ramp. The car tumbled, back end over the top of the car, to flip off the interstate and down to the crossroad below. I hoped no one was driving below for them to land on. It was one thing for vampires to go through a car crash. Short of beheading, they could heal from almost anything. Humans were another matter entirely.
Andrew was already accelerating. We were leaving the SUV, now battling the Jeep, behind us. I held back a panicked gasp as I watched the door to the SUV open and Charlie climb out onto the roof. One of the people in the Jeep—another assassin, sent to kill me—climbed out onto its roof to meet her. I hated leaving her to fight my battle. Yes, she was my bodyguard, and as a trained warrior drone, she was the essence of deadly, but I would never get used to that.
“Just don’t kill yourself, Charlie. I need you.” I wasn’t sure she could hear me, since we hung up the phone, but the fervor of her attack seemed to become even more aggressive.
“Call your grandfather. He can send them help.” Andrew placed a hand on my thigh and squeezed before returning it to the steering wheel.
Taking a steadying breath, I dialed the number my grandfather, Lord Basil, had given me before he’d left Stephon’s after my birthday party. We’d spoken every day since our introduction, and I was growing to like the man.
“Lance?” Grandfather’s voice flowed over the line.
“Hi, Grandfather. We’ve had a bit of trouble out here. We are a couple miles west of Denver. Andrew’s trying to get away, and I’m scared for Tim and Charlie,” I babbled into the phone, staring back at Tim and Charlie, who were getting smaller as we sped away, leaving them behind.
“Are you all right?” Lord Basil asked.
“Yes, but Tim and Charlie are trying to keep our attacker busy so we can escape. I think they are going to need some help.”
“I’m sending out guards as we speak. Just keep coming. Don’t stop.” Lord Basil spoke calmly, but the sound of moving air and running belied the tone. “It will be all right. My men will be there very soon to help, so don’t worry about Tim and Charlie. They are my two strongest children. They will be fine.”
“Okay. Thank you, Grandfather.” I disconnected the call as Tim and Charlie disappeared behind us. Turning back around in my seat, I drew my feet up to rest on the edge of the bench, and rested my forehead on my knees. This was the part I hated most about my new life with Andrew. Someone out there wanted me dead… and that someone was Brad.
THE EARLIER rain had given way to a sun-filled morning as we pulled into Denver. The air had a fresh, clean pine scent to it, reminding me of the pine forest surrounding our cabin in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was the only similarity as we drove deeper into the city and away from the natural world we were comfortable with. The industrial world of concrete and steel lined the roadsides until even the mountains were blotted out by human industry. A claustrophobic sense of dread took hold as I scrutinized the sterile concrete of the parking garage. We’d made it this far. We would survive this.
We arrived at Grandfather’s penthouse in Denver within the hour. Charlie, Tim, our guards, and two others who had to be Lord Basil’s men arrived within a few minutes of our pulling into the parking garage. We could have gone up to the penthouse without them, but after all the excitement, it was good to have a couple minutes of quiet before my nervous breakdown.
Charlie was right. We were the target. She’d called and informed me that when Grandfather’s guards had arrived and it was obvious we’d left them behind, the attackers had cut their losses and escaped. It was obviously lucky for them because Charlie would not have taken prisoners. As it was, they left without their dignity but still had their lives.