Protect him.Rachel Caine
I know he thinks he doesn’t need it, but sometimes he does.
Sometimes we all do.
Forgotten Hollow Vatore Castle
Caleb’s arched eyebrows lowered, giving his face a grim expression matching his headshake and tone.
“Connor … I cannot believe you would even bother me with such drivel! I am a busy man and would have preferred a social call over such … nonsense!” his voice echoed off the stone walls of the castle’s parlor.
“Great-Grandpa, it’s NOT nonsense! It’s NOT! It’s important. Mortality is real. I got a reminder just last week, Charlie, our family dog, dying really brought it home. As far as I can remember Charlie was always there, and now he is gone. Mortality sucks a fat one! Facts. I just want to have your okay. Please.” Connor urged.
“Well, you won’t get it!” Caleb determined.
“She is related to you too, Keira is your … something too! Do you want to see her die!?” Connor challenged.
Caleb exhaled deeply. Vampires didn’t breathe, so this was always a sign of aggravation or annoyance.
“Connor. I know you are a vibrant young man with a great deal of things on your plate. Keira is also young. She has a lifetime of joie de vivre in front of her. Some say that mortals experience certain things differently. Sensations, tastes, such things. You want to take that from her?”
“I don’t want to take anything from her, I want to GIVE her something. Keira’s had almost 19 years to experience all that stuff so specific to mortals already. I mean, how much more mortal experiences are there that would be different from how I experience it? It’s not like her life would be over once turned. Just different, but still the same in a way.”
“That answer alone reminds me how immature you really still are. How would you know? You have never been a mortal. If Keira felt the urge to become one of us, don’t you think she would know how to go about it properly, seeing how she grew up around Vampires? Answer me this, boy, what is her last name.”
“Exactly. Do kindly remind me, what is MY last name?”
“Vatore. Look I see where you are …”
“No, you do not, Connor, or you would not be standing here bothering me with this rubbish. She is Riordan’s descendant. I have nothing but respect for my nephew, he has proven himself to me over and over, he has a very similar outlook on how our people should be governed. If you feel so strongly about this, you should talk to Keira first and foremost, and then she should talk to Riordan. He is, after all, her grandfather. If he deems this request feasible, he will take it to me and I will let you and Keira know my decision. She is my great-great-niece, to answer you earlier struggle. Boy, you ARE your grandfather’s mirror image at least in your behavior. Blaine has never been able to figure out family relationships, ironic, considering the current tally is 14 grandchildren and 7 great-grandkids. Which reminds me, Connor, there is no urgency to add to the number yet. Have I made myself abundantly clear?”
“Oh jeeze, not you with the birds and bees talk now too! Look, great-grampa, I am not gonna knock Keira up, chill. We don’t want that any more than you or our parents. All in due time, my man. We have a lot of plans, none of which include kids, and if you haven’t gotten the memo Keira and I are above average as far as intellect goes. We are both super-smart and understand human anatomy and reproduction. I am a doctor; I KNOW how to prevent babies, bruh. Good effing grief! Lame way to distract from the ACTUAL topic. You think I am 5 years old? What’s next, a lollipop, cookie and a coloring book?” Connor ranted.
“Watch your manners! I have walked this earth for over 500 years, I have climbed and clawed my way up the ranks, I have seen things I dare not even speak of, I KNOW things, I am not ‘great-grampa’ or ‘your man’ and certainly nobody’s ‘bruh’. Unbelievable. You won’t get my authorization to turn your girlfriend and if she happens to get turned ‘accidentally’ all of a sudden, I will hold you and her accountable in the worst ways possible! Was that clear enough now?! Was that it then? Anything else you needed?” highly annoyed, Caleb barely kept his composure to compliment Connor out.
“Nah, not really. You keep talking in circles here. So, you want me to ask Riordan if he’s okay with it?”
“What?! Have you not been listening AT ALL?!” Caleb roared.
“Sure, I have, but you are using a lot of words to say no, and no is not acceptable to me, great-gramps. Not with all due respect. Keira IS a Vatore after all, remember? Her being a Vamp would make hella sense.”
Caleb’s eyes gleamed at his great-grandson’s response, but he relaxed.
“Harness your insolence, boy! I have ways to punish you that would make you think twice about ever speaking to me this way again! Be gone now, before I forget to be merciful.”
“Oh, is that an applied example of your ‘kind & just governing’? Threats? Silence those who question you? Yeah, that’s such a new concept, never been tried before. Sounds a helluva lot like Dictatorship to me! Spoiler alert, always fails eventually.”
“Connor Cameron! I am warning you!”
“Sure – Heil Grandpa!” Connor saluted …
San Myshuno Connor & Keira's Apartment
Some hours later, the door to Keira and Connor’s apartment was unlocked, pushed open angrily, and Keira stomped inside, slamming the door shut behind herself, mumbling curse words.
“Entitled prick! One day, I swear it, he will choke on his misogynistic ways!” she ranted at nobody in particular.
Looking up, she found a brooding Connor on the couch, looking away from her.
“Are you not even gonna ask why I am upset? Does ANYBODY care about ANYTHING anymore?!” she ranted on.
Connor turned his head to face her, and Keira shrieked looking at a deep dark black eye.
“CONNOR! Oh my God, what happened to you?”
“Caelan happened! Son of a bitch.”
“Why would you get into a brawl with a creep like Caelan!?! Do you have a death wish?!”
“Long story. I mouthed off to Caleb, he called Caelan to have me removed and I … well … didn’t want to be removed. Unfortunately for me is Caelan older, stronger and a much more experienced fighter … so, Connor’s got his clock cleaned and now has … this. That’ll be fun to explain fifty thousand times at work tomorrow.”
“Unbelievable!” Keira mumbled, while pulling out her phone, before he could react, she had snapped a photo of him and started typing.
Not even fifteen minutes later Connor knew whom she sent it to, the living area of the apartment was now crowded, voices talking over each other. Hailey, Chase and Colton arguing with Caelan, Maddie had stayed home to watch the three toddlers, when another person appeared.
The room got quiet instantly, as her eyes focused on Connor. She walked over, it was like the world had stopped turning for a moment, holding its breath.
Scarlett studied Connor’s mangled appearance, eventually cupped his face, turning it this way, then the other, finally planting a light kiss on his cheek.
She turned around and walked over to Caelan, her eyes firmly locked into his.
“How dare you?” her tone was dangerous.
“I had to. Father ordered me to …”
That was how far he got before receiving a fist into his face so hard that it threw him backwards, landing him on his back, Scarlett standing over him like an avenging angel.
“NEVER, EVER, touch my grandson or any of my children and their offspring again! I am going to have words with father now to remind him of that as well!” a dark cloud remained as her words still echoed out.
“Ah – crap!” Caelan said, jumping up and everyone could see the big dark eye he now sported, before he vanished into a dark cloud.
Forgotten Hollow Vatore Castle
Arriving at the castle, Caelan could already hear loud words from his father’s study, so he rushed in to find his older sister and their father in the midst of an argument.
“You are forgetting your place, Scarlett Rose!” Caleb roared at her.
“No. No, I am not, YOU HAVE, father. My children are off limits, as are their children, to anyone. If they mess up, I will handle.” her tone was eerily low and sharp.
“I AM your leader!”
“And I am the boy’s grandmother! If there are problems with my immediate kin, I get called and I will handle! Especially if now your leadership includes having my Vampire Executioner brother punch an 18-year-old boy, who is guilty of doing the right thing, coming to you asking for approval, as we all are supposed to do! Maybe he forgot his manners, he is a teenager. YOU are a grown man; you have lived many a lifetime. So, who is more immature, I ask you!? Shall we consult mother on this topic?! I am quite sure I know what she will tell you!” Scarlett’s tone was still edgy.
“I can see where those children and their children get their insolence from! Leave your mother out of this! Know your place, Scarlett!” Caleb ranted.
“My place? My place, father? That’s rich. Oh, I found my place. Took me long enough, but my place is by Blaine’s side, as his wife, mother of his children, protector of them and their children after them. THAT is my place and my paramount focus and that is what I defend. You know why? Because no matter what I did, how hard I tried to prove myself, my oh so modern father rather chose his nephew to be his right hand, instead of me, because I am a woman. All because the other Vampires might not like a woman leader or even second in command. No, your sister’s illegitimate child with a mortal was a much better choice in your book than your own damn daughter, because of his anatomy, even though everyone knows Riordan had come THIS close to going insane after losing his first wife. Ri didn’t even want that job, I did! I do not think YOU should lecture ME on sound choices.” Scarlett’s tone was acidic.
“Scarlett, my petal, you are mixing apples with oranges here.”
“That’s how you make a well-rounded juice, father. By mixing different things. Pleases different tastes, mixing the old with the new, the bitter with the sweet. You seem to have forgotten your own teachings about kindness, compassion, patience and all those other things that make a good leader. I haven’t. I remember EVERYTHING. I remember back before you became the sole regent of the darkness you were one of many, answering to a counsel. Maybe then you really couldn’t choose me, but you could now, yet, decades after you became the sole leader, still nothing for me but crumbs and complaints about raising my descendants strong and with a mind of their own. YOU know I would have been the proper choice, to be your right hand, then and now, blood of your blood. You KNOW I have the leadership qualities. You KNOW I am every bit as strong, skilled and powerful as Caelan and Riordan, if not more so, and in case anyone forgot, I’d be happy to demonstrate. Yet, everything I have in life I had to fight hard for, endure heartaches, I even was going to set Blaine free to be a good member of the first family. Unfortunately for me, you didn’t see my sacrifices, were too worried about confrontation. I got a second change with Blaine and found my place. My family. Wasn’t that what you used to preach? Yet, when it comes to my young grandson, your great-grandson, you suddenly do not worry about appearances. I do. I very much do! Connor is not the kind of child you sic my twisted brother on!”
“Hey – watch it!” Caelan protested, but the glare his sister shot him silenced him.
“I admit, Caelan went a little too far, I will hold him accountable.” Caleb told Scarlett, his tone mediating.
“Oh, father, no worries, look at him. He has already been held accountable. By me. And here goes my warning again, in front of our great, just leader this time: Caelan, if you or any of your cronies EVER lay hand on any of my blood ever again, there will be repercussions much worse than a shiner. And I will hold YOU personally accountable for it too, father. Lead and guide your hearts out, I bring forth all the respect you are due, but my family is MY kingdom, where I make the rules.”
Caleb exhaled sharply, while Caelan came over to him.
“That was … out-of-the-ordinary. Think she’s pregnant again? Could be hormones running amok.”
Caleb whacked him in the back of the head.
“One more word and I will even those eyes out for you, son!” he snarled, pointing at Caelan’s noticeable shiner, then walked off.
Grimacing, Caelan remained.
“How did I end up the bad guy. I did what he ordered, as I am supposed to, and my sister’s bratty grandson tried to punch me first. And then my damn sister goes rogue! I need a drink! Screw this bullshit!”
San Myshuno Connor & Keira's Apartment
Back at the apartment, everyone had since left again, Keira snuggled Connor.
“My poor baby. But why were you at Caleb’s to begin with?”
“To ask him something. Something important. Pertaining to you. And me. Us.”
“Keira, I am not an idiot. I just wanted to get the authorization. Just in case. Like my dad had done with my mom. Still took them over a decade until she was ready, but he already had the okay. You’d think with the last name Vatore you would have been an easy answer for him. Instead, now I have to go to my shift with a fuckin’ shiner. Bad enough most people don’t take me serious as a doctor cos I look so young. See an 18-year-old and think I am a nurse or a med student when I know more about this crap then all the doctors combined!”
“Connor … people don’t expect real life prodigies. Happens to me too. The reason I was so upset was because the damn Gallerist I work for treats me like a maid and a secretary. He won’t let me near customers to help them understand and buy the right art. Sends me on coffee runs and makes me clean. That’s not what I studied for either. But baby, look at me. If I am ready to be like you, I will let you know. And we will make it happen, somehow. My grandpa is Riordan, you KNOW Riordan has Caleb’s ear. If I play my cards right, Ri will support it and he will get Caleb to say yes. But I am not ready to be … not-mortal anymore. Okay?”
“I wasn’t just gonna turn you …”
“Oh, I know. And you know we will figure this out when we are both ready, and we will try to play by the rules when the time comes. But man, the women in your family are priceless. Your mom was ripping Caelan a new one before Scarlett even arrived and then -damn – that was some fierce ass girl power there. I thought for a moment Caelan would fight back. Man, those two would have shredded our beautiful new place. We would NEVER see that security deposit again.” Keira said.
“Oh man, so much for fitting in with mortals. Whose grandma would go and lay a dude like Caelan out, because I have a big mouth and got a knuckle sandwich for it. Oh man. I think any other Vamp would have tried that; they’d be nothing but dust settling in the breeze. Literally. And now she went to the castle. I feel like I should go to, since I caused all this. Then again, I already pissed Caleb off big time, and he exploded into long-winded lectures. Not sure I need seconds.”
“Scarlett the Momma Bear – extreme level. Stay out of it. Scarlett’s got this, and we both know she is Caleb’s favorite. He wouldn’t do anything to her. No matter what.” said Keira.
She started kissing him, he responded in kind, until he froze up.
“What now? Does your eye hurt?”
“Doesn’t feel great, but not as bad as it would for a mortal I guess.”
“Well, see. You always hated the Vamp thing. Comes in handy though sometimes.” she kissed him again, he halted.
“Keira – Caleb said something that just resounded in my head about … well … procreation. I am out of … things. We used the last one last night and I totally meant to get new ones, but ya know, my day didn’t exactly go as planned. So, we shouldn’t .. ya know … take it further. Not tonight.”
Keira laughed, then grabbed her bag, pulling out a package of condoms, tossing them at the table.”
“Why would you have a package of … those …. on you?”
“Duh, Connor. I knew we were out, I was there when you used the last one, remember? So I stopped and got new ones on the way home.”
“Oh, right. Of course. I guess girls can buy those too. Well, thanks for … remembering.”
“Oh Connor, you’re priceless. You are literally the hottest virgin ever.”
Connor jumped up, visibly offended.
“I am not a virgin! YOU of all people should know that! Same reason I know for a fact you aren’t and since when you haven’t been!”
“Oops, stepped onto the male ego by accident. Relax, Con, I meant you act like one sometimes. You seriously sometimes are a walking, talking oxymoron, a Chippendale body, total genius, but the emotional intelligence of Forest Gump. OH MY GOD, I finally get why your mom’s nickname for your dad is ‘Gump’! Oh, that is hilarious!”
“I am NOT a virgin, haven’t been for years and I don’t act like one, nor am I a Gump. I graduated early from high school AND college with highest marks and honors! I am a resident in my final year because I pick everything up so fast and my diagnosis rate is spot on. Now, your Aunt Annaleigh taught me a few tricks only Vampires could do, but that’s beside the point. Fact is, I diagnose fast and accurate.”
“Okay, so that makes you a nerd. And a dork. Nerdy dork. Dorky nerd.”
“Stop it! I am not a nerd either! No man wants to be called that by their girl!”
“Goodness, you’re touchy. You’re hunk, you don’t need compliments. But you’re also a nerd. And a little Gump-y. Very sexy and hot, the combo.”
“I am going to take a shower. Tired of all the abuse.” Connor turned, heading for the stairs.
“Run, Forrest, Run!” she teased, receiving a one-finger salute, making her return it in kind.
“Yeah, straight back at ya, lover!”
Things changed when she joined him in the shower a little later …
“Room for one more, Fang? I scrub a mean back – and I brought my own brand-new box of little raincoats for little Connor. Care to break into them with me?”
“Not in the mood, you bag of flesh.” Connor grumbled without turning to her.
“Aww, look who’s all pouty and biting back now … punny me.”
“You’ll think biting here in a minute!”
“Yeah yeah … then bite me, maybe that’ll make your mood better again, old grumpy Gump. I dare you, nothing we haven’t done many times before, because SOMEONE constantly forgot to pack a blood bag to go to school outings. And at the dances, football practice, games, prom, … everyone raided the vending machines and Connor was turning into a raisin … or would have, had it not been for quiet corners and me letting you nibble. Earned me the nickname Wednesday Addams, but I didn’t care, because I got my grumpy Vampy’s back. Always. And he knows that.” Keira had started taking off clothing, approaching the shower slowly while talking.
“Okay, okay … enough talk … you coming in or not?” Connor reached over, pulled her into the shower with him and silenced her with a kiss, as both their day turned a more pleasant direction.