Happy New Year's, my loyal fans! I am so, so, SO incredibly excited to announce that this is the LAST chapter of "Stolen Fangs."
Are you ready for the unveiling of the title of the sequel? Voilà:
Stolen Existence: The Awakening
And not to fear, because I am posting the last chapter of Stolen Fangs and the prologue and a sneak peak of the first chapter of Stolen Existence at the same time! Go to my profile to find the sequel, then follow it so you can get the latest updates! I am so excited to continue this story, I think the end of this book is a real cliffhanger (but, because I hate waiting for cliffhangers to pick up, I'm not leaving you hanging for long). I really hope you will all continue on this journey with Mariella, Dimitri, Violet, and the gang in "Stolen Existence: The Awakening." It's going to be so great. I'm super duper uper excited. Unbelievably excited.
Enjoy the last chapter of "Stolen Fangs" and the prologue to "Stolen Existence."
I love you all! Thanks for sticking this first leg of the story out!
Dimitri walked me back to my room, leaving me with a deep bow and a chaste kiss on my hand. I replayed the events of the night over and over in my head, like winding of a spindle of thread, except that there was no ending. There was no relief, no reprieve from my thoughts.
I woke up the next morning tired. My cheeks felt saggy, my eyes puffy, and a sour taste pervaded my mouth. I quickly swished Listerine through my mouth while wiggling into a sports bra and a leotard. I jogged quickly to the gymnastics room, spitting out my Listerine in an ancient relic-looking vase. I didn't feel too guilty.
After a quick warm-up routine, I threw my body through the most strenuous of moves, loving the feel of exertion. It was a tired high.
It was noon by the time I had finished. Dimitri came to find me to ask me to horse-back ride with him.
"Actual horse-back riding this time?" I asked him, shyness fully intact. Which it shouldn't have been; my decision was made; it didn't matter anymore.
He gave me a small smile. "A full session of true horse-back riding. Nothing more."
"I mean, not that I didn't enjoy our other activity, but-" I started.
"Mia, I understand. Completely. I agree that we should have a day of horse-back riding. We only have so long." There was a hint of regret in his voice. I puzzled at it.
Nodding, I followed him out to the stables and tacked up Ringi quickly. He was waiting outside for me on his steed, a patient, wistful look on his face.
I spurred Ringi on from a walk to a canter and flew past Dimitri. This was time for me, not for him. I needed to think, to contemplate on my decision.
It had weighed on me all through the night. I thought the weight of it would have vanished once it was made, but I kept thinking about all the shifting components of it, how everything would be accomplished. It was too much to handle, too much to sift through in one night of thought.
I kicked Ringi's flanks, urging her into a gallop. She loudly blew air through her nose. I wasn't sure whether that was a sign of contentment or frustration. Honestly, I didn't care.
The rough jostling of her movement underneath me took away the tension from my shoulders and transmitted it into my core and legs. After fifteen minutes of hard riding, when my stomach was burning and she was panting heavily, I slowed her down to a trot.
We came to a stop near the bed of a stream. Dismounting, I gathered the reins in my hands and led her over to drink, which she did greedily. Dimitri pulled to a stop next to me seconds later.
"It is a wonder your horse kept that pace for so long." He said, awe-struck. "Fortuna struggled to keep up."
"Just because he is a long-legged horse doesn't necessarily mean he can go fast," I said quietly. I didn't want to talk to Dimitri. It was too embarrassing to talk to him.
He obviously felt the tension that was polluting the air. A cold hand circled my arm. "Relax, Mia. You made the decision. It's almost over."
I took a deep breath in through my nose and exhaled through my mouth. It was over. I didn't need to worry about it anymore. The decision was made.
We rode home in amicable silence. I had nothing else to say, and, apparently, neither did he.
After soberly and objectively informing the family of Mariella's decision, we quickly moved on to addressing the constantly growing threat from William.
"The guards informed me of a security breach this morning," Giuseppe continued. "I would like to take extra precautionary measures in fortifying our estate, especially for the next week." He took a pause for dramatic effect. "We all very well know that William's forces have grown in number. I do not want to be overthrown by a man whose sole aim is to obtain absolute sovereignty over our people, our global community."
"He has also interacted with Mariella," I interrupted. Giuseppe shot me a stern look, but stayed quiet, allowing me to continue. "At the gala, when she finally accepted our existence."
"I remember," Jer adds in. "He did seem to take a particular interest in her."
"Everyone has taken an interest in Mariella, Jer," Zair counters. "She is unique."
"Jer is correct, though, Mother," I speak up. "He had that look on his face, and he was exuding that ugly smell of pheromones."
Zair tapped her fingernails against her chin. "It may be, then, that the time has come to tell Mariella about William. She has made her decision. There's no going back now."
Giuseppe nodded in agreement. "It's time she knows about him, Dimitri. I assume you would like the honor of telling her?"
I nodded. The rest of the meeting flew by me in a numb haze. All I could think about was revealing the truth about William to her, and revealing the truth about the danger she was in.
A knock on my door a couple of hours later stirred me from my thoughts. "Enter!" I yelled, unwilling to get up.
I felt a dip in the mattress. A hand on my knee.
"Mia." Dimitri said soberly. "We need to talk."
I pulled my face out of the pillow. "What's going on?"
He grabbed my hand and idly played with my fingers. "Do you remember the man from the gala who asked me how-" Dimitri fumbled for words. "Well you served me?"
I thought back to the night of the gala, when I had nearly escaped.
I was dragged to many people as he talked to them kindly. I guess that was understandable how people wanted to talk to him; he was heir to their throne.
"William, how nice to see you again." Dimitri plasters what even I can tell is a fake, plastic smile.
The "William" greets Dimitri the same way. "Yes, it's a pleasure." He extends his right hand, clasping Dimitri's elbow as Dimitri does the same to him.
William turns to look at me, smiling after a moment. "Oh, and is this the girl who has been top news lately? The half-and-half, as they call her?"
I stare at him skeptically, stifling a gasp when Dimitri pulls me slightly closer.
"Indeed." He says.
"Oh, my." William claps his hands together. "What a wonderful opportunity it is to finally meet you." He picks up my hand in a blur, slowly planting a kiss on it. I retrieve my hand as quickly as I can. He smiles at me; that creepy smile that scary people gave you, warning you.
"And she serves you?" William says, eyeing Dimitri and I. He laughs, a dirty glint entering his already ruddy eyes. "And just how is she?"
I look up to Dimitri, who glares. I don't understand what he is asking until I put it into what Katy would call "That's What She Said" context.
I barf a little bit in my mouth, but gulp the bile back down, a shot of pain wavering through me at the thought of Katy. She and Jeanelle must be worried sick.
"Fine, just fine, actually." Dimitri says, hugging me closer.
William smiles at him before his gaze returns to me. "I'm sure she is." He muses.
Dimitri clears his throat. "It was wonderful seeing you again, William."
"Yes." William says as we turn away. "It was splendid."
I shuddered at the memory. "You told me right after that encounter that you would explain who that was. You never did."
Dimitri rolled his eyes. "I thought I would be able to get away with it. Obviously not." He sighed. "William is a powerful foe of ours. He is a sadistic, disgusting leech, a pathetic excuse of a creature, yet no one has been able to stop him. He has been seeking to usurp Giuseppe for decades."
"Once the news of your existence spread, there were multiple bounties put over your head. You are quite the commodity in this world, Miss Clough." I raised my eyebrows in surprise. "William sees you as his opportunity to bring Giuseppe down. If he has Giuseppe's heir's potential fiancé under his control, the bargaining turns completely in his favor."
"So I'm just a chip, a game piece, in this war for power?" I asked, irritated.
"Yes." Dimitri responded unflinchingly. "In essence, whichever side has you holds more power." He moved at a slow human pace, laying me down on the bed and locking me against the mattress with the length of his body atop mine. "Which is obvious," he murmured as he nibbled my neck "Seeing the influence you have on me."
I wanted to know more about William and the threat he posed, I really did, but with Dimitri so close to me, touching me, his legs sandwiching mine, I couldn't focus. I took in a ragged breath as his lips met mine. No matter how many times he touched me, kissed me, I would never get over the feeling.
I undid the buttons on his shirt as I kissed down his neck, then trailed the path my fingers had made down his chest with my lips. He made a guttural sound that encouraged me. I got to his navel before traveling back up. I couldn't believe the effect I had on this man. It was unfathomable that he could be so electrified because of me.
He groaned and lifted himself up, hovering above my body as he looked down at me. "I have to finish my story." He murmured. "It is important."
I nibbled his earlobe, enjoying the fact that it sent a ripple of pleasure through his frame before I pushed him off of me as I sat up. "Okay. Finish your story." I told him mockingly.
He took a moment, closing his eyes and turning as still as stone before picking up where he left off. "William has initiated a few interactions with our guards around the perimeter. It is obvious he is searching for a way to get to you." I felt a knob of fear lodge itself in my stomach. "But I am determined to never let him touch you. At least while you are still partly human. Once you are a vampire, I reckon there will be no stopping you."
I looked down at a loose thread on the bedspread. "I already made my decision, Dimitri. It's over."
"It does not have to be," he growled. "Dammit, Mariella!" He picked up a vase on the nightstand and threw it with breathtaking speeds against the wall. It shattered. "Am I not enough for you?"
I shook my head, trying to will away the tears that were clinging to my lashes. "It's too much, too fast, too soon. That's all." That's all the explanation I was able to give, but I could tell he wanted more.
He was about to launch off into another speech about why I should change my mind, but I was spared by my bedroom door banging open.
Spared was not the right word to use.
Violet came charging in, tears streaming down her face. Her cheeks were flushed, her breathing was labored, and her blue eyes were glistening. I took in all of that the moment before she reached me, swung her hand backwards, and backhanded me.
"How dare you!" She screeched. The tears caught on the tip of her nose and the edges of her mouth before dripping down into the web of black hair on either side of her face. "How dare you be so fucking selfish! Fuck you, Mariella! Go to hell and go fuck yourself!" Another slap on my other cheek. Both were stinging now.
Violet backed away, panting. Her shoulders drooped dejectedly. She collapsed against the doorframe. "I thought I'd made a friend that understood my decision," she whispered, clutching at the fabric just on top of her heart.
With a tear-filled gaze and burning cheeks, I looked back at her steadily. "You thought wrong." My voice broke; I'd never meant to hurt her.
She twitched as she backed out of the room. The doorway gaped open behind her. I turned towards Dimitri. He looked at me sadly. "It is not just me you are hurting with this decision. The whole staff and my whole family have come to respect and adore you." He grabbed my hand lightly. "But that is not all. When you sacrifice yourself, it is not the only precious thing you will be destroying." He paused. "You will take my heart to the grave as well."
He slipped my hand out of his, kissed both of my cheeks and then my forehead tenderly, before walking out of the room, closing the door silently behind him.
I sat in the same position, reveling in the sting of Violet's slaps, the harshness of her words, the tender broken-heartedness of Dimitri's, the traces left behind by Dimitri's kisses, and I sat there for hours on end. I pondered how one decision could make such an impact, bring such destruction.
I sat some more.
Katy was 45 minutes late.
Where was she? It certainly wasn't a busy traffic day. I tried calling her for the seventh time, but, when it went straight to voicemail, I let the phone drop and meandered over to the freezer to grab some ice cream.
Once I was settled in on the couch, the Ben&Jerry's "Phish Food" ice cream nestled in my lap, I turned on the TV to surf the channels. The only semi-interesting thing on was the news, so I burrowed further into the couch before opening up the ice cream and licking it passionately, praying that I wouldn't get a mouth freeze.
Some miraculous story was on about how a dog saved a child from a burning building in Wisconsin; the only thing miraculous about that to me was how it seemed to push me farther into a lapse of boredom. A few minutes into the program, breaking news headlines flared across the screen. I rolled my eyes and popped another spoonful of Phish Food into my mouth.
"Breaking News. In the intersection of Red Way and Youle Boulevard, a crash occurred. 34-year-old Ryan Toose proceeded through a red light, crashing into the driver's side door of 17-year-old Katy Rassmussen's door. Medical helicopters were contacted right away, and the two are currently being placed in the Intensive Care Unit. Further information will be given later."
Mother came rushing into the room, and I remember her anxiously rubbing out the stain on the carpet from the Phish Food falling out of my mouth before she turned back to me. "Honey, are you okay?" What a stupid question to ask, I thought. I just found out my best friend is in the ICU, and you're asking me if I'm okay? My internal mind found the strength for sarcasm, although I couldn't even muster enough energy to speak. Yes, Mother, I just decided to let the ice cream fall out of my mouth so I can get a lecture from you later. That's it.
My father's strong arms scooped me up towards his chest as he walked me out to the car and lay me down on the back seat. The car ride to the hospital was a long, tense one. There were no smooth turns, and, although I am sure I hit my head many times on the car door from the motion, I didn't feel it. Absently, I was sure it would obtain feeling later.
My father scooped me up once again when we were at the hospital. The large, white protective walls reminded me of a washed-out insane asylum, and as I walked (or, was carried, rather) through the doors, I felt as if my parents were admitting me into the hospital.
So I thrashed in my father's arms, to the point where they had me strapped on a gurney to get up the flights to go see Katy. This only panicked me further, but, by the time we had reached the 8th floor (which was where Katy was) I had exhausted all of my energy and lay limp on the gurney. Hesitantly, they unstrapped me, but only so I could be carried by my father again.
And then we were in the room with Katy. Her sobbing parents leaned over her, forced into silence because of choking tears. Her younger brother, slumping in a chair on the far side of the room while, for once, not listening to his Ipod and showing emotion in his eyes. Then there were my parents, sympathizing with Katy's parents as my father put me down into a chair beside Katy's bed as they burst into tears too. I'm not sure how I looked, but I was pretty sure it wasn't pleasant. I stared at Katy, waiting for her to open her eyes and yell "Surprise!" Waiting for her to jump up and claim it was a big prank that was ultimately pulled for an early St. Patrick's Day. But she never did. The tubes that flowed into the crooks of her elbows restrained her. Her feet were bound to the bed, and her mouth was hooked up to a breathing helper. Cuts and gashes ran along her face. One particular gash looked really nasty. It lay on her right temple, and, even through the gauze applied there, I could see the blood pumping every time her stuttering heart dared to try. The heart monitor made inconsistent wailing shrieks, and every other minute, there was a doctor inside, applying a new gauze pad, or adjusting the IV's, or replacing the medicine bags with new ones. For what seemed like forever but really was just a 20 second lapse, the heart monitor whirred and flat-lined. Doctors came swarming in from what seemed every which direction, although there was only one entrance. At that point, Katy was wheeled away into the emergency room for another operation, causing all of the adults in the room to break down into full hysterics, leaving the children to be the adults. I did not cry; the anguish had left no room for tears. They would have to wait until some feeling in my body made room for them. So, instead of crying, I quietly sat in my chair, watching the small speck that was Katy on a gurney be whisked away down the hall.
I sprang into action when I was informed about Katy's accident. No regulations, no security, was going to stop me from seeing her. Dimitri allowed it.
We drove at an alarming speed to the hospital. Dimitri tried to talk to me about changing my mind, but I couldn't do it. There was no time to think about myself. I'd heard about the accident late. It had happened the day before. Katy was out of surgery, but not stable. I leapt out of the car once we got into the parking garage and bounded up the steps. Dimitri was by my side a few moments later, grumbling about how I was going to get myself killed if I didn't stay in sight. William was all that was on his mind.
The little whiteboard underneath the placard 32D read "Katy Rassmussen." I stopped the nurse outside of her room and asked her about the extent of the damage.
"Honestly? It doesn't look good. Both femurs are broken, and blood flow is not reaching her toes. Amputation might be in the works, if she survives. Multiple contusions and lacerations in the brain, as well as hemorrhaging. The murmur in her heart might be bad; we're ordering an echocardiogram for her today. One of her lungs is collapsed, and the other one is struggling to function. We're waiting to see if she makes it through another night."
I rushed past the nurse and into Katy's room as Dimitri mentioned a thank you. Jeanelle was by Katy's side, holding her hand between the plastic tubes. Katy's younger brother was curled up in a visitor's chair in the corner, fast asleep. Her parents looked up when I walked in, stunned. Jeanelle's face lifted up to look at me. She looked as if she'd seen a ghost.
"Mia?" She asked hesitantly, her eyes flickering back towards Dimitri. "Are you really here?"
I nodded. "I'm here." I walked farther into the room and around the bed to take Katy's other hand. "How are you doing?"
Jeanelle laughed incredulously. "How am I doing," She muttered lowly. "That's really funny, Mia. How am I doing? Let me tell you. One of my best friends disappears for months, then my other best friend gets hit by a car and is probably going to die, and then, my best friend who disappeared mysteriously reappears at my other best friend's deathbed to ask me how I am. I'm great, Mia. Perfect."
I looked down. "So that was a stupid question."
"Yeah, it was. Where the hell have you been?"
I risked a glance up at Dimitri. He was looking at me intently, apparently waiting for my answer just as eagerly as Jeanelle was.
"It's complicated, Jell," I told her honestly.
She leaned in. "Was it by choice or by force?"
I couldn't lie to her. "By force." She and Dimitri both sucked in a breath. How could I justify what Dimitri's family had done to me? There was no logic behind it to the ordinary world. There was no justifying kidnapping, no matter what I felt for him.
"Let's not concentrate on me right now, though, Jell. We can talk about it later, alright?" I coaxed her. She nodded, and began explaining to me in hushed whispers all that had been happening. I made eye contact with Dimitri. He could see through my lie. There would be no other time to talk to Jeanelle; I would never see her again after today. I was going to die.
Jeanelle and I went out into the hall to speak a little bit more privately, without the listening ears of Katy's parents. I asked Dimitri to leave us alone for a minute or two, and he did, but I was sure he was only a hallway away. He was listening.
"Are your parents glad that you're home?" Jeanelle asked. "How was it down at the farm, visiting your family?"
So that's what they'd told them. "It wasn't fun. They're all whack-jobs." I explained away, I lied until there were no more lies to cover up the truth. It almost sounded real to me. If Dimitri hadn't been around the corner, listening, I might have believed it myself.
I found him around the corner and nestled into his waiting arms. We both knew my decision, but neither of us could get away from the reprieve that we gave each other.
I convinced him to let me stay through the night, just to see if it would be the end for Katy or not. Maybe I'd see her soon on the other side of life.
I blinked my stale eyes open. Through the watery blur I read the time.
Rolling out my neck, I quietly opened the door to Katy's hospital room. I needed a little snack, Chips Ahoy cookies or Corn Nuts. Something, anything.
There was no vending machine on her floor, so I took the elevator down a floor. The machine struggled with my second dollar bill; I shoved the crumpled bill in one last time in frustration. It wasn't going to take it, and I had no more ones.
"Please, allow me." A smooth, warmly saccharine voice behind me crowed as it slipped my crumpled dollar bill out of the slot and slid a crisp one in.
I turned slowly. I knew that voice. His pale, washed out blonde hair jumped out at me first. Then the black, pit-less eyes. He towered over me.
"No thank you," I told him coldly.
"Please, it is the least I can do, considering all that you are about to do for me."
A warning flash of heat radiated through my body. Adrenaline. "I wasn't aware that I was going to help you." I replied, struggling to keep my voice calm. Dimitri, where are you?
"You see, my dear," he murmured, taking one small step closer. "You are the only one who can. You have given me the advantage I need to win once and for all. After you, things will never be the same." His hands came up to my cheeks. I struggled to pull away in vain. There was no escape.
"This will only hurt for a moment," He whispered. There was no adjustment time. White-hot lightning bolts of searing pain ricocheted through my brain, ping-ponging against the walls of my skull. I screamed out in utter terror. William's cool hands on my cheeks, the scorching destruction feeding on my head: that's all I felt.
It didn't spread. The pain only worsened in the concentrated area. I wanted to split my head in two. Ten vampires feeding off of me at once would be better. A car running over my leg would be better. As if far away, I heard a door open, and my name being called. I idly felt my legs crumple beneath me, and a high-pitched ringing wriggled its way into my ears. The cool pressure of William's hands was taken away, and then there was no reprieve. I managed to murmur to whoever was in the room "I changed my decision." before I fell into the bottomless white pit that was devouring my mind.