"Are you sure?"
He ran his fingers over the crease of her forehead. "Of course, love, I am. I will not let anyone take you away from me. And I sure as hell won't let them take me away from you."
She smiled, although her eyes were moist with pain and fear. "What if there's nothing you can do?"
"Why would that happen?" he said swiftly. "I'm in command of everything, Piper. My word is the law in that family now."
"They betrothed you to some other woman."
"A woman I do not know. A woman I do not love. They will understand us, Piper. I swear. I'll go there and break off my engagement. And then we can get married."
"You speak of dreams, Damien! This is reality. And we cannot be together here."
Damien's eyes rose to the blackness. "Speak some sense into her, my friend."
The man in the shadows stepped forward and nodded. "She hopes, Damien. But she doesn't want to hurt, so she's trying to convince herself now."
Damien took a deep breath. "Have faith, Piper. You know that we were meant to be together, don't you?" She nodded. "Then you'll see. Come, love, look at me." She did, and all at once her breath caught in her throat. It was always like this. Deep in his eyes, there was a flame that burned when she met it with her own fire. No one else could see it. No one but she recognized it. And it was only she who would battle and lose. Her arms rose to his neck, and she tiptoed to reach his lips. Then he would lean and cup her head, mash her mouth to his.
"We need to stop this, Damien," she murmured against his lips.
"Why? We're not hurting anyone."
"But we're destroying ourselves!" She pushed away and stumbled backwards. Her companion caught her by her arm and steadied her. "I love you too much! To the point of destruction! And I'm not even sure if I can really have you."
"You do have me!"
"No!" she cried. "You're Angela's. And I'm stealing every minute I have with you."
"I don't love Angela," he said softly.
"You're engaged. And I might be the one you love, but I'm still the sinner in this twisted triangle," she whispered. "She has your ring."
"You have my heart," he protested.
"What do I do with your heart when you give her your name and your children?"
"Piper, I love you."
"That's not enough now, Damien. I love you too, but does that mean we're going to be together?"
"My soul then. You can't deny that. You know."
She nodded. "Your soul. And my soul. Intertwined. But when will we be together in life, Damien?"
"Will you swear on your immortal existence, Damien? Will you vow that you will do everything within your power so that we'll be fulfilled?"
"I swear, Piper."
She smiled and approached him. Tenderly, Damien's arms opened, and she stepped into his embrace. Piper laid her head against his heart and sighed. "Why must we suffer when we know we were meant to be together?"
"The greatest love affairs have to go through the greatest torments," replied the man standing a few feet away from them. "Get through the obstacles, and you'll have eternity."
"You give us comfort," Damien said. He offered his hand, and the man clasped it tightly. "You truly are my brother. Now I have to go to the next town and break off my engagement with Angela. Take care of her."
"I always do, Damien."
Damien brushed a kiss on top of her head. "Go on with my brother, love. I'll keep my promise." He turned and walked away, and Piper felt as if a part of her was tearing inside.
She felt raindrops on her arms, and wondered if Damien thought to bring a coat or an umbrella with him. "Come, Piper. We can't let you get wet. I'll take you home."
He opened the black umbrella and held it over their heads. And then he took her arms and guided her through the puddles. Silently they walked. He noticed that she was crying, and his arm rose to wrap around her shoulders. "It'll be okay, honey."
"I love him too much. What will I do, Leo?"
He stood unmoving at the rocks, silent and expressionless. A man called out to him, and he vaguely remembered stepping closer to the cold wet man. Everything seemed like a nightmare. Try as he might though, he couldn't get out of it. He was gripped in its talons, and he could not shake free. The sharp wind was cold, blistering his skin, yet it was not more colder or uncomfortable than the dull throbbing fear in his chest.
"Master Leo." He turned to face the old man who had been working for their family for generations. "They almost have it pulled up."
Leo wet his lips, but soon the wind had blown them cracked and dry again. He nodded, without saying anything, because he was afraid that when words tumbled out of his mouth, he would not be able to stop them. And he needed to be strong for the family.
The men, up to their knees in the freezing ocean, erupted into yells, and grunts, and roars. Together they pulled in with all their might, counting simultaneously. From out of the turbid waters rose the dark wooden vehicle that made him catch his breath. IIt's not him. It's not him,/I he repeated to himself like a litany. A lot of coaches were this dark a brown. But, he realized, as the entire coach rose from the water and lay in the rocky shore, not all of them had their family crest on the door. "No," he whispered.
"Master Leo," Kirk began when he looked up at his master.
Leo held up a hand and shook his head. He turned and walked away.
"Master Leo, we need to know what you—"
"I need time alone, Kirk. Please." He strode away from the overturned coach that lay wet and destroyed on the shore.
A smile played on her lips as she waited for the coach to stop in front of her. She had been waiting for weeks to hear from him. And now finally he had come home to her. The wheels rolled to a halt in front of her house, and Piper stood from the rocking chair on her porch.
The door swung open, and the masculine boot that stepped out stopped the beating of her heart. "Oh Damien," she murmured. She was unable to wait there. Piper gathered her skirts and ran to the coach. To her surprise and dismay, it was Leo who emerged from the coach. "Leo! But where's—"
The look in his eyes caught her off guard. Leo held his hat in his hands, but said nothing to her. "I'll walk you up."
She shook her head. "Tell me, Leo."
He smiled at her, hoping to lighten the blow his words would strike on her. "He's gone, Piper." She stared back at him, not even a flicker in the intent brown eyes. "He didn't even make it to Angela's home. There was a storm last night. The horses must have gone out of control when lightning struck a tree close by. I went to the scene. There was a collapsed tree on the road. The coach fell off the cliff. Piper, Damien's gone."
Her hand rose to clasp the ring that hung from the chain around her neck. There was time to grieve later. Perhaps that was what Damien fell in love with. Unlike all the other young women in his circle, she had her feet on the ground, her head out of the clouds. She knew her priorities, and she was a pragmatist. She was practical before she was a woman.
"Where is he? Take me to him."
"There was no body. You know these waters, Piper. It could have drifted away. Or the sha—"
She slapped her hand over his mouth. "Don't you dare say it! Aren't you even holding a memorial?"
"Take me there."
Leo shook his head. "Piper, I can't. He's told you about mother, hasn't he? And father? Piper, Angela's family is there."
"Why would they have more right than I to be there when I'm the one he loved?" she demanded.
"You know the answer to that." Leo took her by the elbow and nudged her towards the house. "Go on, Piper. It looks like it's going to rain."
She didn't budge from her place, just faced him stubbornly. Leo shook her head and took a deep breath. "Come on. I'll take you. But we'll stay in the back. Don't talk to anybody." He lifted her up to the vehicle.
The still, unmoving body atop the cold gray slab rose up with a terrific cry. His harsh voice echoed in the moist dripping darkness of what seemed like a basement. He took in his surroundings, as an unnamed energy pumped in his temples. The room was strangely cold, but not freezing. With the ice-like air licking at his skin he felt hot viscosity pumping in his veins, and the contrast merged into the most erotic teasing he had ever felt.
His breathing felt unnatural. Curious, he raised his palm to his nose and exhaled. It was still the same process he had been used to all his life. He tried breathing through his mouth. Still the same, yet so different.
His fingers caressed the skin of his arms, and marveled at the silky smoothness that he suddenly found. Even the hair there seemed now like down. He breathed hot air at his arm.
The most apparent was the last he took note of. Repeatedly, he blinked to clear his sight, and time and again he saw that his surroundings, that appeared like a basement, did not fit his idea of the basement. Each and every piece of old furniture, box, barrel, glowed a deep red. "I must have died and wandered to the edges of limbo," he murmured. There was no way he could have survived that accident. He could still feel the electricity hum through the air and lightning struck merely feet away from him. The next moments converged into a blurred scene to him. But the crash of the carriage into the icy waters hundreds of feet below were all too real.
"Died? I wouldn't say that exactly." He glanced towards the source of the voice. A beautiful woman, so pale, with hair so blonde it was almost the color of moonlight, sat at the foot of the slab. "You are very much alive. More alive than you have ever been in your inferior mortal existence."
She was breathtaking. He watched in awe as the slender hand went down to his thigh. When she moved, she revealed the full-length mirror behind her. The reflection caught his eyes, and he shoved her away and strode towards it. "What the—" He grabbed the edges of the mirror and easily lifted it closer to him. Even as he marveled at the strength of his arms, he was horrified at the sight. "My eyes! What happened to my eyes?"
Within a millisecond the woman was behind him, hands moving up and down his upper arms, voice soothing. "Calm down, my love. Calm down." He took deep breaths. As he faced his reflection the redness of his eyes abated, and they returned to their natural blue.
He whipped around to face the woman. "Who are you? What's going on?"
Her lips curved into a welcoming smile. "I'm your mother," she answered carefully.
Damien took several steps back. "I don't know what the hell is going on here but you are definitely not my mother!" He gulped in a large amount of air and coughed.
"You don't need to breathe," she told him. "You are beyond breath, beyond heartbeat, beyond any mortal affectations." He did not answer. Damien stared back dully at her. "I have created you as you are now. You are a vampire." He did not have a response. Nor could he have responded. She continued, "You washed ashore almost dead, and I revived you the only way I knew. I fed you my blood."
"You are the devil!" he spat out.
She laughed. "I wouldn't go so far, my love. I am what I am. And now you are too."
"I don't want to be a living dead. And I do not want to be a walking blight, an immortal curse!"
"Were you by any chance a poet in your lifetime?" she taunted him.
Damien walked up to the woman. His memories have not fully returned to him. He prayed they would. "You have destroyed me!" Fully rejuvenated from his sleep, with the strength from her blood in his body, rage fueling his every movement, Damien drew back his arm and backhanded the lovely monster. "I will not be a vampire!"
He ran to the door and tried to twist the knob, but it was locked. He smashed his fist right through and kicked the door open. The people in the house screamed at the sight of him, shirtless, his mouth still smeared with the female vampire's blood, fury reddening his eyes, hair wildly mussed.
The female vampire bounded up to the door of the basement and yelled at him to come back. He did not even turn around to face her. "You can't do anything!" she screamed. "You have not even learned to master the creature you're become! You are bound to destroy all that you loved!"
"Leo, would you check outside to see if Brennan has arrived with the vegetables?" Piper looked up from the sink and peeked at Leo through the hair that had fallen over her face. It had been such a hot week, and she constantly prayed for rain. At least then it would not be so sweltering inside this pitiful hovel she lived in. "Right. I want rain but then I'd have all those scattered pans over the floor to catch the drips, huh?" She gave Leo a grin.
The man standing by the window peering for any sign of the boy sent on the errand turned to regard her. He took a deep breath. "This place is hopeless, Piper. I've told you that again and again. Why won't you listen to me and let me help you?"
"I can't accept your money," she sternly reminded him. "I'm not a kept woman."
"Of course you're not!" He walked closer to her and she looked up at his towering form before her. Leo drew out his linen handkerchief and wiped at the moisture beading on her forehead. "And I'll kill anyone who says otherwise. We have so many options, Piper. Why won't you consider them?"
"Leo, we've been over this." She pushed him away gently and turned to check on the boiling pot of two thin slices of pork. "It just wouldn't feel right."
"Don't tell me you've never pictured yourself as Piper Weston."
The ladle clattered on the sink. Slowly, she faced him. "You know I have."
"But not as my wife, huh?"
"Can you blame me? I met Damien first. And I loved him first. And I know you don't deserve to hurt in any way, Leo, but in my heart I know I will always love him."
"But he's gone, Piper. You love me now. Why can't you put the past behind you and let us live our life?"
She stepped forward and looped her arms around his waist. For the past months, she and Leo had shared every moment that they could remembering Damien. He let her cry on his shoulder, and she was there to listen to his own reminiscing when his family was so stoic and reserved that it would not speak about the lost member. Through those weeks, their need and anguish brought them closer together. Each secret and fantasy, each waking moment, was spent together that eventually they learned to see one another in a different way. "Because it wouldn't be fair to you. I still love your brother. I'm sorry, Leo."
"Hush," he murmured, running his hand through her hair as she leaned her head on his chest. "I'm not taking that against you. Truth to tell, I'd be more upset had you forgotten about him so soon. You can always love him, Piper. He was a fantastic man. But that is what it will remain. He Iwas/I, Piper. I Iam./I"
"I know, Leo. But I need time."
"All right." Leo pulled away and turned to leave. "I'll give you time." She walked him to the door. Before he stepped out, he dropped a kiss on her nose. "All the time you need. In one condition."
She smiled. Had Damien had this much patience with her, this much understanding? "Anything."
"You will not shoo away the men who will come tomorrow to replace your roof." She opened her mouth to protest, but he quieted her with a finger on her lips. "I won't have your deciding time lengthened by the damnable patter of rain on your floor."
The tattered coat hung loosely at legs, but almost popped at the seams on her shoulders. He emerged from the smoky alley clutching the clothing around him, as though he was shivering from the cold. He kept his eyes down. And so he did not see the approaching figure of another man, and they bumped into each other.
"What the fu—Don't you look at where you're going!?" The man was clearly inebriated. He pushed Damien to the wall. "Shit! Louts like you should be kicked out of this country!" Damien did not struggle, merely kept his sight down. "Look at me when I'm talkin' to you! Y' think yer too good fer me?" Damien still did not move. The man was incensed at Damien's lack of response. He gathered his spit and released it on Damien's stolen boots.
And he finally got his wish. Damien's flaming eyes raised to pierce him. Upon taking one look at the blood red centers, the man stumbled backwards. He started to run, but fell. Behind him Damien stalked the panicked drunk. Once more he fell to his knees, and Damien towered over him. "Oh fucking shit! Don't kill me!" the man screamed. He moved away, dragging himself through the ground. "Get away from you. Devil! Devil! Y' git!"
Damien's arm reached out to grasp the man by his hair. He would not drink this man's poison blood even if he were dying of thirst. Swiftly, he placed his hands on his forehead and nape and twisted. And then he let go, and left the wide-eyed corpse staring at the night sky.
He walked on. He was searching for something. He did not know what. But there was one memory niggling at his subconscious. He could remember nothing earlier than waking at that devil woman's basement. Yet from his day sleep he had images of other people, other places, other… stirrings. She called for her in his dreams, this faceless, nameless woman. She screamed for her in those horrific unconscious moments. She needed him. And Damien suspected that he needed her too. Maybe she was what we needed to be complete.
The rapid knock on the door shocked her. She immediately stood up from the dining table and approached the entry of the house. "Wait a moment!" she called out. Piper turned the knob and caught her breath upon seeing the arrival.
Leo leaned against the doorframe, a smile playing on his lips, clutching a bouquet of wildflowers to his chest. "Morning, beautiful," he greeted.
A giggle escaped her. No matter how many problems her life
had, he was always able to make her feel like a child again. Months ago, when
she had a fight with Damien, Leo would just knock on her door in the middle of
the night and declare, "The jester comes bearing fun." And then he would, in
that ridiculous skirting way of his, defend his brother and comfort her at the
"What meadow did you make bald this time?"
Leo grinned. "I'll pick all the flowers from all the fields in the world if that will make you happy."
Piper shook her head laughingly and stepped aside. "Go on in then," she told him. "I'd not have that in my conscience." Leo went into the house and strode into the kitchen. It was as though he were as comfortable in her small home as he was in his giant one. Reasonable enough, she guessed, since he had been coming in and out of hers for such a long time. He emerged with a tall bottle she used as a vase. Piper hurried to clear the center of the table so he could place the flowers. And then she set another place on the table. "Have something to eat."
"I've eaten at home," he assured her. Piper was sure though, that Leo knew there was not enough food for him to have breakfast there. Leo sat in front of her and watched as she finished the bread and coffee. "Why don't we take a walk? It's a lovely morning. You can still feel the dew in the air."
Leo was right. Outside, the sun was warm on their skin, and the air kissed their cheeks coolly. "Damien would have enjoyed this temperature. He liked riding at this time of the year," she said.
"Piper, I didn't come to talk about Damien."
"You didn't? You always come to talk about Damien."
"Not for a while now. Piper, I want you to marry me. You know that. I need your answer."
Piper took a deep breath and raised her eyes to meet his. "Damien always told me I'd be an exquisite bride December bride." She bit her lip to keep from sobbing. Leo drew her in his arms and kissed the top of her head.
The vampire crouched low outside her home. It had taken him long enough to remember, and now that he did, he would not let her go. "Piper." The name flowed through his lips like the benedictions he heard as a child, before he was damned. Damien straightened and knocked on the door. There was no answer. Muted explosions caught his attention. Damien looked behind him and saw the sparkling lights and raining colors streaking the night sky. He would first go to his old home.
Damien raised his arms high above his head and watched the earth fall off from beneath his feet. Soon he was floating, soaring, going towards the majestic fireworks just above the house he grew up in, and wondered, what celebration was calling to him.
The two ran, giggling like children as they stumbled through the long corridors that led to their new bedroom. He grabbed for her, but she narrowly escaped his hands. "No!" she squealed. "Not yet!" Piper turned around and saw him bearing down on her with a large smile.
"Come here, Mrs. Weston." His laughter echoed through the walls, enfolding Piper in its warmth. "You're mine now." He reached for her again and finally captured her. Leo trapped her in his embrace and drew her close. He bent to kiss the crook of her neck. "I'm overly excited to have you tonight, sweetheart."
She turned and rose on tiptoes. "I can see that, husband," she murmured. "Or should I say, I feel the truth of it."
With a low growl he took her up, carrying her towards the door. Piper let out a shriek and looped her arms around his neck. He crushed a kiss across her forehead. "You are my treasure. And I thank the heavens you consented to marry me. I don't care if you don't love me, Piper. I love you enough for both of us."
"Leo, I'm sorry," she whispered into his ear, her lips on his skin sending delicious shivers through his body. "I apologize for not having told you before. I've loved you for a long time now. I just… I didn't feel it was appropriate. Damien has only been gone for a while."
The door to their bedroom swung open, and Leo closed his eyes for a moment. She could hear the soft words coming out of his lips, and she could make out a prayer of thanks. When he opened them again, hers stared deep. And then she bent to catch his lips. "I love you," she whispered, and she felt the smile that curved his lips.
The vampire in the darkness trembled. He did not move. Damien stood, watching the horror unfold before his very eyes. The naked bodies moved over the silk sheets, reflecting what little moonlight entered the room. The moans that rose from the bed sent a chill through his bones. The sighs of pleasure screamed into his ears. His lips parted to let out the silent, tearing growl. Their ecstasy proved to be his undoing. Their loving burned his eyes, but he could not make himself turn around, or even shut his eyes.
Finally, the two were asleep. He walked towards the bed. The bare bodies gleamed back moonbeams as they sprawled on the bed, limbs entwined, wrapped in each other's arms. Her beautiful hair was fanned on the pillow, and some spilled on his brother's cheek. His breathing made the strands rise and fall.
He was filled with the urge to avenge himself. The betrayal was more than he could have imagined. His lips parted, and his fangs grew sharp and long, prepared to sink into soft flesh and suck the life out of the human form. He wanted to kill her first, because she was still as lovely and ethereal as the day he left her. He wanted to kill her, because he had believed that she really loved him. He wanted to kill her, because she dared to love again.
Damien bent and moved the hair away from her neck. The scent of her drifted and flared his nostrils, and he was reminded of days in the meadows, stealing kisses, laughing at antics, swearing forever. Piper moved and mumbled something in her sleep, and Leo's arms tightened around her. Damien's consciousness drifted into a world when she was meant to be his own.
He straightened and walked away, melting into the shadows at the corner of the room. Behind him, Piper's eyes fluttered open, and with a smile, she turned to face her sleeping husband. She rose on her elbow and watched as he peacefully rested. And then she decided that he was strong enough to be disturbed in her sleep. Her hand cupped his cheek and she kissed his eyelids open. He grinned and held her by the waist, pulling her body to his. Her limbs wrapped around his thighs.
And then a movement of the shadows caught her eye. She sat up and glanced at the corner of the room. Leo lit the lamp and saw nothing. A soft laughter. The flame was blown out of the lamp. And then the newlyweds began once more their dance on top of the silk sheets.