“Lauren?” The small blond rose swiftly to her feet, a bright smile lighting her pretty features.
“Yes your highness?” she asked softly.
He leaned against the doorway, studying the girl as he fought against the anger surging through him. Other than the few times she had arrived to tend to Arianna, he had seen her only briefly before. He may have fed off of her in the past, he did not recall doing so, but her reaction to Arianna’s presence here led him to believe that he had and that she had thought far more of it than he had realized. “I’d like to know why you think you have the right to lay your hands on my blood slave, for anything other than to help her in the way that I told you to?”
She looked puzzled, confused as she frowned at him, but Braith had not missed the flash of fear that darted swiftly through her eyes. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t play with me,” he growled, swiftly losing patience with the girl. “I will not hesitate to rip your throat out.” Her eyes widened in true fear, her mouth parted slightly. “Now tell me, why did you feel you had the right to hurt her?”
Her mouth opened and closed for a moment, she did not know how to respond to his question. “Your highness, I uh… I uh…”
“Have we encountered each other before you were summoned here?”
The color drained from her already pale face, he could see the tears that bloomed in her eyes just as her lower lip began to tremble. Her reaction gave him the answer to his question. He did not feel bad about the fact that the encounter obviously had meant more to her than it had to him. What he did feel bad about was the fact that Arianna had suffered abuse because of his forgetfulness, and extreme lack of caring about the girl before him.
Her head fell back, her eyes widened as he moved to stand before her. Fear radiated from her, but beneath it all he could sense her hurt. “And you felt that gave you the right to treat my property poorly?” he grated.
A single tear slid down her face, her lip began to tremble even more. He was indifferent to her obvious distress, her race meant little to him, and she meant even less. “I am sorry.”
“Yes, you are. You are not to return here.” He grabbed hold of her chin, drawing her attention sharply back to him as her gaze darted to the doorway behind him. He knew that Arianna had entered the room; her presence caused it to brighten considerably. “Don’t look at her,” he growled. Lauren’s eyes widened, for the first time terror began to radiate from her as she began to shake within his grasp. “You are to leave here and never return, if you step foot in this palace again your life is forfeit.”
The girl gasped, the color drained from her face. Being barred from the palace was a social punishment that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Not only that, but she had just lost the wages and prestige that this job had awarded her. “Do you understand me?” She managed a small nod, batting back the tears that swarmed her eyes. He released her, disgusted by the feel of her skin beneath his hand. “Get out.”
The girl scurried away, shooting only a brief glance at Arianna before she fled the room. He turned toward Arianna, surprised by the fierce frown marring her features, and the dark anger simmering in her eyes. “You didn’t have to be so mean to her.”
His eyebrows shot up as he stared at her over top of his glasses. “Are you defending the girl?” he inquired, trying to keep the disbelief from his voice.
Arianna tilted her head slightly. The light streaming through the windows highlighted the deep red of it. She was still wearing the nightgown, but in the daylight he could see through some areas of it. Something new began to curdle through him, rising up out of the hopeless pit that had been his soul for so long. He did not know what was going on with this strange girl, why she affected him like she did, but for the first time he admitted to himself that whatever she did to him was deep, profound, and something that he had never experienced before.
He knew that she was special, that she always would be to him, but for the first time he admitted that he was not going to want to part with her. He had been keeping her here, under the delusional assumption that he would one day trade her off. He realized now that he never would. He may not be using her in the way that a blood slave was supposed to be used, but he wasn’t ever going to allow someone else to use her in that way either.
What it all meant, he didn’t know. But for now, he simply knew that he wasn’t going to let her go and he wasn’t going to let anyone else near her, especially someone that might hurt her.
“I’m not defending her,” she said softly. “But you didn’t have to be so mean to her. You were the one that forgot about her and brought her here to take care of what she mistook as her replacement. That’s an awful thing, you hurt her.”
His eyes narrowed upon the frail slip of a girl. Was she really scolding him? Was she really questioning his way of life, and the things he did? She was a child for crying out loud, a human child. His hands fisted at his side, he fought the urge to go to her, to shake some fear into her because he was beginning to realize that she did not have a healthy enough dose of fear for him.
“Am I supposed to care?” he grated.
She blinked in surprise, her crystalline blue eyes widened in disbelief. Then, she shook her head, her eyes cleared and her chin jutted slightly. Her hands folded demurely before her, but he was beginning to realize that it was just an act. There was nothing demure or weak about this girl, she may play it off well, but there were many layers beneath her docile exterior. “I suppose not,” she said softly, even her voice had taken on that decorous tone.
“She also hurt you.”
Arianna shifted slightly; though she remained outwardly meek he sensed the raw anger that spiked through her. “That doesn’t make what you just did right. You took her job and her pride away from her. Two wrongs don’t make a right, or at least that’s what my dad always told my brother’s and I.”
Despite his frustration with her, and his growing urge to shake her, his interest was piqued by her words. It was the most she had talked about her family since arriving. “How many brothers?”
She shrugged absently, her fingers nervously played with the sleeves of her nightgown. Her eyes were sad, distant as her thoughts turned toward her family. It was the first time she hadn’t looked angry or frustrated with him this morning. He found her preferred the anger to the sorrow that engulfed her. “Two. Anyway you did not have to frighten her. She was simply jealous because she thought that I was a threat to her, when it came to you.”
“And why would she think that?”
Arianna shrugged again, sighing softly as she folded her arms over her chest. He did not miss the slight wince of pain the action caused her. “I don’t know. She was wrong of course; I mean I am most certainly not a threat to her, or anyone else. Especially when you were feeding from her…”
“I was what?” he interrupted her rush of words sharply.
Arianna’s blue eyes widened slightly, she began to fiddle with her nightgown sleeves again. “Feeding from her.”
“I don’t know where you got your information, but it is wrong.”
“Oh,” she said softly, her forehead furrowing slightly. “Oh, I see. I thought…” her voice trailed off, she shook her head slightly. “I must have misunderstood her, or you. I simply assumed that though you may have forgotten about her, that the wounds on her were from you.”
“You think I would forget her that quickly.” She shrugged softly, but there was a hint of remorse in the set of her shoulders. “You really think that little of me?”
Her mouth parted, she bit hard on her bottom lip as she watched him with new interest. “I don’t know what to make of you,” she admitted honestly. “I really don’t. This whole situation…” She held her hands out before her, her gaze darted over the room before turning back to him. “I don’t know what to make of any of it. It’s scary and it’s disconcerting, and I am so far out of my league here that I have no idea what is going on. I don’t know if you’re playing with me while plotting my death, I don’t know what the hell is going on here. I’ve heard the stories and I’ve seen the damage your kind can do. I don’t know how to play these games; I don’t understand the anger and resentment that festers here! How the hell am I supposed to know what to think or what to do?”
Her voice was ragged and filled with raw emotion by the time she stopped speaking. Her shoulders were heaving, her eyes wide and earnest. For the first time her façade completely crumbled and he was able to see the terrified, angry girl beneath the timid exterior. She took a ragged breath; her shoulders bowed again as she folded her hands before her once more, but they both knew that she could not un-ring that bell.
For the first time he began to understand how she truly felt. She had kept so much of it hidden from him, but in that one brief moment she had laid it all bare. He started to see her in a new light, and though he had known something more lie beneath her prim exterior, he began to truly see the pride and heart of this trapped, cornered girl. He felt the stirrings of a new emotion and was surprised to realize that it was sympathy, something that he had never felt before, and had never thought to experience.
“Well, anyway, she thought more of what transpired between you,” she finished softly.
Braith clenched his fists, struggling against the strange feelings stirring within him, feelings that would only make him weak. Feelings that he could not allow himself to experience. “I don’t care.” The words were sharper than he had intended, but he didn’t like the thought that the girl had even mentioned such a thing to Arianna, and he didn’t like the fact that it even bothered him.
It also served to remind him of the fact that he was hungry. There were a few different women that he would often visit when the need came upon him, but he found that the idea of feeding from them wasn’t appealing at the moment. Especially not when he had Arianna standing across from him looking unbelievably innocent and striking, and smelling deliciously wonderful.
His veins thrummed with hunger, his hands fisted at his sides. He recalled her words about having to take anything from her by force, he wondered if she still felt the same, or if maybe, just maybe, she might allow him to feed from her. He didn’t think that was very likely, not when she still looked at him with fear and distrust most of the time. And not when she believed that he tossed women, and especially humans, aside like they were nothing. Though, if he were to be honest with himself, he usually did.
He had tried to be as gentle with her as possible, but after the events of today he realized it was going to take a lot to earn her trust if he wanted it. And he was beginning to understand that he just might want it. He wanted her trust even more than he wanted the blood he could hear thrumming through her veins, and smell in the suddenly stifling air of the room. If he was going to get that blood, then he was going to have to get her trust.
It was strange to realize this; he was used to getting what he wanted, whenever he wanted it. He was used to women throwing themselves at him, not ones constantly challenging and refuting him. And she wasn’t even quite a woman, not yet anyway. She was young, and she had known so little in her short life. Yet she was strong willed, vibrant, and far more willful and alluring than any woman he had ever known.
“How old are you Arianna?”
She was startled for a moment and then her mouth curved into a soft smile. “Far younger than you, I’m sure. But I’m seventeen.” Though he had thought her older, he was not surprised by the tender age. “How old are you?”
“Far far older. Nine hundred and fifty two.”
Her eyes widened considerably. Her mouth parted slightly. “Wow.”
He managed a wan smile. “Yes, wow. I am the oldest of my siblings.”
Curiosity lit her features. “How many siblings do you have?”
“Two brothers and two sisters. This is not common knowledge in your world?”
She shook her head. “There is little known about the royal family. It is mostly just rumors and guessing. We don’t give much thought to the people that have taken so much from us, other than trying to survive from day to day.”
She met his gaze head on, a trait that he admired even though her stubbornness and inability to look past what he was were beginning to aggravate the hell out of him. He decided to let it go for now, to continue to bicker with her would get neither of them anywhere, other than frustrated.
“Come here; let me take a look at your ribs.”
She sighed softly, and for a moment he thought she was going to defy him, but instead she came slowly toward him. She stopped before him, her hands folding in front of her. He examined her carefully, admiring the fact that she did not flinch when he pressed against her wounded ribs. “They should be good in a few weeks.”