She turned to follow her group, but hesitated, letting others funnel past her into the antechamber. A feeling of dread was welling up within her. What the heck? She frowned.
As the last people passed her, she took a reluctant step forward. No, no, no! Again, she stopped. Frowning, she placed a hand over her racing heart. Leave. She backed away, and in the next moment, realized why her instincts had spoken up. There was a heartbeat of silence. Then all hell broke loose.
An eruption of screams. Suddenly a stampede of frightened people came crashing toward her like a massive wave. She was easily swept up and flung about in the mindless tide. Dully, she spotted flashes of movement. When she found her footing, she didn’t relate it to the decrease in people. She met eyes with a woman across the room. Suddenly, the man—Aro—latched onto her neck. The next instant, a bloodless body was on the ground.
She scrambled back, running into a heavy wooden chair. Without thought, she scurried beneath the antique table. Her hand blindly clutched the thick wood leg as she watched the slaughter. It couldn’t be called anything else. Tears welled in her eyes. Husbands tried to protect their wives. One man’s hand pressed protectively over the swell of his wife’s belly. A moment later he was dead. Then she was dead.
A little boy with sandy blonde hair was crying, face red as he screamed for his mother. People ran frantically about him as he sat on the ground. Another moment, his little body was tossed negligently to the stone floor. She looked at the closed eyes, the parted lips. Blood seeped out onto the stone floor, cooling as it reflected the dim torch light.
She lifted her gaze and saw one of the monsters. He looked about for his next victim. She almost sobbed when those red eyes landed on her. In a blink, he was before her and she cried out as the chair was flung from her grasp. It splintered against the stone wall. She looked up in horror. Red eyes, alive with hunger and…excitement? The next thing she knew, she was dangling off the ground, staring straight into his face.
Charlotte awoke with a start. Her head swung about, searching her surroundings. Lush silks gleamed in the moonlight, and a dying fire crackled from the hearth. All in all, not where she should have been.
Pushing into a seated position, she hunched over with head in hands. Her cheeks were wet and she sniffled, wiping away the tears.
. . .
Marcus paced for several moments, then returned to his seat. Fists clenched, he silently brooded over his predicament. Aro approached and held out his hand. Wordlessly, Marcus allowed the contact.
He threw the chair aside and plucked up the human by her nape. He bared his teeth. She gave a cry… Marcus beat back the image in anguish. Gods, what have I done? She’d trembled in fear—arched against his grip, grimacing in pain. Tried to pry herself free. From me. He could have snapped her neck without realizing what she was to him.
Marcus paced. How could he rectify his errors? She, his mate, had seen him at the worst possible time. To wait so long, and for this? For him to botch their meeting? He’d attacked her. He imagined going to her, only for her to scream in fear.
How could he have been so blind? Why hadn’t he sensed who she was? He could have spared her that sight.
After a moment, Aro sighed and stepped back. “Ah, yes. She is so young,” he mused. “But if shown our better nature, she will come to accept a new life here.”
“Perhaps it would be best to turn her now.”
Marcus’s gaze snapped to Caius. He growled harshly, standing to face him.
“Now, now,” Aro said, holding up his hands. “There is no need to be alarmed. Caius was merely making a suggestion.”
“She won’t understand if she’s still human,” Caius murmured, speaking directly to Marcus. “If she’s turned…”
“Then she will experience the thirst first hand,” Sulpicia finished. She looked to Athenadora. “Perhaps Athena and I might first speak with her.” The second female nodded in agreement.
“No,” Marcus hissed. His impassioned tone caught them off guard. “She will not be frightened so soon after what has occurred.”
“Yet she cannot be sheltered from our kind, brother. The sooner she begins to know us the faster her fear will be erased.”
“Sulpicia is correct, brother,” Athena agreed.
Aro placed his palms together in thought. “Alas, we none of us truly recall what it is to be human,” he sighed. “Though I feel she may prove beyond our expectations. I am rather interested to see how she will adapt over the coming days. No doubt, she will make an excellent addition to our family.” He looked to Marcus. “I saw in her memories that she is quite openminded. She will not be too difficult to win over, my friend.”
“Yet if she has family, she will resist,” Caius reminded them. “Again, brother, were she vampire, the impossibility of returning to her old life would be before her.”
Marcus slammed his fist on the table, smashing it in two. “I said no! She will not be turned against her will.”
“Do you plan to let her grow old and wither before your eyes?”
Marcus’s jaw clenched and he turned to Aro.
“What else have you seen in her memories?”
Aro smiled gleefully. “You two are well matched, similar in a multitude of ways. I intend to leave the hidden gems where they lay for you to discover.”
“Do you plan to ignore the issue at hand, then?”
At this, Aro subtly looked heavenward as the two brothers squared off.
“It is not your concern,” Marcus snarled. “Let it be.”
“You should turn her now.”
“It will have to be done,” Cauis snapped. “If not by you, then by the gods, I will turn her myself.” A mistake. In a flash, Marcus had the other vampire pinned. “You will not touch her!”
Caius freed himself, yet didn’t stop his case. “With each passing second that she remains mortal you tempt the Fates.”
“She will be given the choice.”
“She will be given the illusion of choice,” he countered. “And what if she sees through that?”
“You have been like Death for too long, brother. If you will not seize your own happiness, then we must do it for you.”
Marcus growled low.
Athenadora placed a hand on Marcus’ arm. “Please, Marcus, understand that we long for you to return from your abyss. We worry that we will lose you again, this time forever.”
Aro stepped forward. “I suspect,” he began, “that the human will be more understanding than you expect. Besides, you can be rather charming when you wish it, brother. She will enjoy you very much.” Marcus stiffened. The double entendre was thick, yet its underhanded nature did as intended. My mate…enjoying me. Immediately, his thoughts veered onto a baser path. He imagined her beneath him, writhing as he drove her to climax.
He was, in fact, so taken with this image that the sound of an approaching heartbeat managed to remain unnoticed. It wasn’t until a knock sounded at the door that he snapped back to the present. “Enter,” he bit out, voice constricted. The large door opened and he immediately regretted his sharp tone.