New Kingdom: American Court Ch. 02byMicKay©
Racing through the night, Gabriel guided his Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren through the dark streets as Alena sat next to him numb from the news. Her sister was alive, but as a vampire.
He had refused to tell her more than the fact that Lia was not dead and she was considered the true mate, or queen, of the vampire king of America, Edward King. Alena knew better than to keep asking Gabriel questions that he had refused to answer. Sitting quietly at his side she noted the beauty of the machine transporting them. The sleek black interior matched the night and, without benefit of headlights, Gabriel guided them through the pitch darkness as though they were flying through the air. To describe the controls as high tech would be a gross understatement. She felt intimidated by the amount of knowledge needed just to figure out the ignition and gears. Glancing at the man who dominated most of the interior, Alena concluded that this automobile was built for him. Dropping her eyes to her hands folded in her lap, she wondered who had previously occupied the seat where she now sat.
"Only females worthy of being seen with him in this car," she thought miserably. "God, what happened to me? "
Interrupting her thoughts, Gabriel said, "We'll be there in twenty minutes. I don't know how much you remember about life in the mansion, so if you have any questions, ask them now," he offered with a glance in her direction.
"I don't know what to ask. I can't even think. I'm going to see my sister but she's not the sister that I've known for twenty-five years. So you'll have to excuse me if I'm just not concerned with vampire protocol."
"Damn it, Alena," he growled, slamming the brakes, "What the fuck happened to you?"
"Don't" she whispered, turning towards the window to hide the instant tears.
"Please don't," her voice resonating loudly in the confined space. "Just take me to see her, find an exception for me and return me to the world where I belong."
She turned toward him in time to see the fury rise and then hide behind his glimmering black eyes. The tightness in her chest became unbearable, like an invisible weight was lying on her breast. Concentrating on her breaths, she ignored the tremors in her hands and focused on gaining a façade of control.
They completed their journey in silence until Gabriel slowed the car and turned onto an unlit side road. "We're entering the property now," he informed her. "Just stay close to me and you'll be safe." The car slowed again when they reached an electronic gate with Gabriel acknowledging the guards before continuing through the entrance. The landscape changed from a deserted road to a manicured lawn surrounding the road that was now an obvious driveway. In the horizon, distant lights indicated their approach to a very large building.
"My God, Gabe, how big is this place?"
"It's the American king's mansion. I've told you that it houses Edward's entire court in addition to the several human families in service. Almost three hundred people live here not including the suites for visiting dignitaries. What did you expect?"
"Well, I didn't think it would look like the Holiday Inn Express but this looks like a fortress, or a cathedral, or," she paused, "a castle."
"Edward is a king," he chuckled, "with or without your approval."
Ignoring his jibe, Alena leaned towards the window trying to see the magnificent gardens running parallel with the drive. Tropical flowers adorned the view with a variety of reds, oranges and yellows. The mixture of vibrant blooms and landscape lighting resembled the sparkling inventory in a jeweler's display case. In the center of the lane, a black marble fountain, that surpassed the size of most family swimming pools, boasted a large structure barely visible despite the accent lighting.
As they neared the mansion, she noticed that every window, more than she could quickly count, was lit as though every room was currently being used. The front appeared to be a few hundred feet wide, and built with white stones glowing in the night. The overall effect was similar to a preserved, national monument but softened with the personal touches that identified this place as someone's home.
As Gabriel stopped the car, the mansion's front door opened and a man moved quickly from the entrance to the passenger door of the car to assist Alena.
"Congratulations on your success," the man said to Gabriel, who was walking around the back of the car.
"We'll see if 'success' is the right word," he replied, tossing the keys to the man.
Their exchange snapped Alena back to her reason for being there. The reminder, that Lia who was once presumed dead but was now in this house, spurred her to action. Racing up the stairs to the door, she abruptly stopped in response to a verbal command.
"Stop"! Gabriel growled. She felt the controlled strength of his hand as his fingers wrapped tightly around her arm. "I told you to stay by me," he said looking from her to the man who had greeted them.
Looking at that man, she noticed that his eyes held the same unnatural glint as Gabriel's. Although she felt no attraction to him, Alena could not deny that this man was comparable to Gabriel in stature, looks, and demeanor. He, too, was a vampire.
"His majesty and lady are waiting for you in the foyer," the man addressed Gabriel while staring at Alena. Gabriel merely nodded as he escorted her up the remaining steps closer to the door.
Responding to his gentle touch and knowing her sister was a few feet away, she felt her heart race as they approached the light streaming through the door. Even with her knowledge of young vampires, Alena was confident that she was safe. Crossing the threshold, her energy surged in anticipation of the reunion. As her eyes searched the room, a smile lit her face revealing the youthful dimples that had been hidden beneath her pain. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the woman. Long ago, Gabe had explained the change from human to vampire as a transformation from a diseased, decaying mortal to a mature, eternally young, body of perfection as Adam and Eve had been in the Garden of Eden.
There was no mistaking the woman for anyone other than Lia but gone was the wardrobe, which Alena had described as an advertisement for a cheap thrill, now replaced by the glamorous, dark blue dress. The self administered highlights were missing and now long, dark hair that would certainly feel like mink crowned her head. Even the dark eyeliner and deep shades of eye shadow were replaced by bright, natural skin accenting the brilliant green eyes.
Those eyes that stared at her revealed absolutely no recognition.
"Lia?" Alena said taking a step towards her. With growls, Gabriel moved in front of Alena while the man next to Lia pulled her behind him.
"I'm no longer Lia," the woman's song voice replied. "I'm now Iona," she offered while searching the visitor's face for something familiar.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Alena quickly said, "I forgot that you'd have a new identity," she looked to Gabriel for help but his eyes were fixed on her sister's companion.
When Alena followed Gabriel's stare, she saw that Edward King was staring at her. He looked like a man that was obeyed, not from fear, but from respect. His sapphire eyes, contrasted by the dark hair and brows, bore into hers as though he was determining her intentions. His big body, although a couple of inches shorter than Gabriel's six foot eight inches, stood alert, ready to protect his mate.
Taking a calming breath, Alena smiled and said, "You look beautiful, Iona. Although it's apparent that you don't remember me, I'm glad that you are alive and well." When she had finished, she leaned into Gabriel wishing she could absorb some of his strength. The awkward silence forced Alena to look back at the woman who had once been her sister and realize that while Lia was alive she was lost to her former life. Absorbing this truth, Alena stared at Lia with tears of this new loss ripping from her heart through her eyes.
As Lia watched this strange woman, she observed the range of emotions from excitement to misery and felt the pain of knowing she had somehow been the cause of this woman's sorrow.
"I'm sorry but I don't remember..," she stopped when the woman's tears poured over her cheeks. She stepped closer, pulling away from Edward, to see the woman's bottom lip tremble.
Lia tilted her head watching the woman's reaction. "I've caused your pain," she stated as the onslaught of tears burned into her soul. "I'm sorry. I don't understand any of this," she hurriedly started in explanation. "I'm new and I don't remember my former life but there's something missing and we thought that if you could accept me, then I would be able to adjust," she said as she took steps closer to Alena.
"Accept you? I don't care if you don't know me. I'm just glad to see you standing there," Alena said trying to smile at the woman. "Those of us, who don't have amnesia," she tried lightheartedly, "remember the pain of your disappearance and nothing can take away the joy of knowing that you're alive."
Smiling back, Lia said, "Tell me something, anything, about the old me."
"That's easy," Alena replied closing the remaining distance between them, "You had horrible taste in clothes. This," she motioned to Lia's dress, "is a major improvement. And we won't even start on your hair."
With a smirk Lia says, "I think my old self was just insulted."
"If I'd had a clue how well you would change, I would've dragged your butt here ten years ago."
Laughing as he approached, "She has turned out to be exceptionally beautiful," Edward said wrapping his arms around Lia's waist. "But I need to remind you that while I truly wish you to bond as sisters, the girl you knew will be legally declared dead and you will need to refer to her by her new name," he then looked at Alena to stress his next words, " even in your thoughts."
"I understand," Alena replied reinforcing the barrier between her mind and these strong vampires. Stepping back to Gabriel's side, she looked at him for guidance on the next step.
"I've explained that Alena's agreement to come here would also be her commitment to stay. Until she decides her fate, I suggest that she stay in my suite to ensure her safety," Gabriel suggested to Edward. "Meanwhile, I'm sure the ladies would prefer some privacy while reuniting and I have work to do. I'll see you later," he said to Alena before walking away.
His words brought back the harsh reality that, in her haste to see her sister, Alena had exchanged her life for the unknown. Looking to Iona, she wondered how they would start to form a bond.
Should she talk about the past or try to find a commonality in the present? The only link they ever had was their sibling blood bond. But even with their differences in character, their relationship had been strong. They would tell friends that they were two sides of the same coin. They might look and act totally opposite, but together, they represented a strong, united front. Could that be found again?
"Would you like to join me in the library?" Iona asked. "We could have some drinks and, oh, yeah, you need to feed."
"My dear, I believe humans prefer to call it eating or dinner," Edward said. "I will instruct the staff to bring food to the library for your sister."
"Thanks," Alena said before he walked out, wondering at his concern.
"The library is this way," Iona said turning to walk away. As she followed, Alena began to notice the interior furnishings that boasted of wealth, luxury and pride. The foyer was bright despite the black granite floor and dark wood trim. The white walls, illuminated by a grand chandelier, were adorned with large paintings.
"Probably originals by people I don't know and worth more than I could imagine," Alena thought, regretting her ignorance.
"I don't know them either!" Iona exclaimed turning excitedly.
"Do you realize that you just responded to my thoughts?" Alena explained. "Isn't that a bond that vampires only share with their mates, or something close to that?"
Staring at her sister, Iona hesitated before saying, "Until just now, I've only heard Edward's voice in my head."
"We used to finish each others' sentences before, when you were..."
"Human," finished Iona. "Do you think that maybe I still have some of that link with you?"
"I don't know, but something just happened and we haven't shared blood."
"No," Iona said with a wink, "But you do smell delicious."
"I'll need to come up with a response better than 'bite me' if I'm staying here," Alena laughed.
"Here we are," Iona announced as they entered the library. The room was dominated by the dark wood bookshelves that stretched from floor to the ceiling of the two story room. Thousands of volumes were proudly displayed on the shelves and desks throughout the room. Although vacant now, it was apparent that the room was frequently utilized.
As they sat together on the couch, servants brought a plate of sandwiches and chips along with a glass of tea for Alena's meal. Allowing her sister to eat but not wanting their new camaraderie to chill, Iona began relaying a story of the first time she had wondered through the mansion alone. By the time she finished, they were both laughing until tears ran down their faces. The conversation continued with questions from the one who understood the vampire traditions and answered by the one who had experienced the transformation.
After several hours of talking, Alena finally ventured to ask, "Iona," she started, "You said that something was missing and you could adjust if I accepted you. What does that mean?"
Dropping her head, she replied, "I know how much you've suffered since I left. Gabriel has told us how much you've sacrificed trying to find me. Edward intends to pay all of your debts."
"I wasn't asking for anything..."
"I know," she paused in thought. "It's difficult to admit how this happened. Apparently, you have a reputation as the good girl while I was known as the bad."
"Not bad. You liked to have fun but you were never a criminal or cruel to anyone."
"I've been told how the police wouldn't help you because of my reputation. I was last seen getting into a car with a guy that I had just met and you had warned me to avoid."
"The man from the restaurant?" Alena cringed at her sister's confession. "But that doesn't explain anything. You never cared if I approved of a guy."
"But this was different. It wasn't just rebellion but more of an addiction. I had no choice but to go to him," she stopped to breathe deeply. "When I did, he took me to a prison where I was to be killed by a very powerful vampire who had not fed for several months." Looking directly at her sister, she finished, "I was given to Edward to be his last meal."
"But," Alena started, "Edward's vow with the New Kingdom prohibits him from draining the lifeblood from a human."
"Yes, but he is a vampire. Survival is our first priority, secrecy is the second..."
"And the vow to protect human life is third," finished Alena.
"But he couldn't do it. No matter how weak he was, he wouldn't break the vow."
"Uh, why didn't they just kill him?"
"Because of his age and power, killing him is nearly impossible," answered Iona. "And, his assassination would have angered his allies, whereas his weakness would have supported the rebels claim that the New Kingdom is a hypocritical establishment with unrealistic demands forced on all vampires."
"The rebels?" asked Alena, "Is that the group of vampires who are killing Gabe's friends?"
"Yes," Iona said slowly smiling, "Gabe, huh? I have to ask. How is it that Edward's best friend scares the hell out of me – I've never spoken to him unless I'm giving him a yes or no answer and Edward is always present- but yet he's 'Gabe' to you?"
"I'd rather not discuss it."
"I sense some buried, ancient history is there," the younger sister said excitedly.
"And there will be no grave digging tonight," Alena's tone brought the subject to an end.
Once again, as though the thought of him beckoned his presence, Gabriel walked into the library.
"It's late," he said to Alena, "If you're tired, I can show you to my suite."
Looking at the grandfather clock, Alena was shocked to realize that she had talked with her sister until after two o'clock a.m. Suddenly, the adrenalin that had energized her through night was zapped from her body. "I guess I am pretty tired," she replied and looked at her sister, "Will I see you tomorrow so you can finish explaining everything?"
"Absolutely," Iona replied, "Edward would hire you just to babysit me!"
"You have to admit, you have a penchant for finding trouble," Edward said walking in behind Gabriel. "I'm still waiting to hear your version of the ruckus caused when you wondered the mansion alone," he said winking at Alena as he sat on the couch and pulled Iona onto his lap.
"You knew about that?" she giggled as he nuzzled against her neck.
Holding her elbow, Gabriel guided Alena from the library leaving the king and his mate together on the couch. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but since we will be sharing a bedroom for a few days, I thought you might want to get your rest before I need to sleep."
"Are you telling me that in a house this big, we have to share the same bed in shifts?" she asked.
"No. I'm telling you that as the only human in a house full of vampires and not protected as a donor, you need to be with me or in my suite to be safe."
Walking down the hall, Gabriel guided her to the elevator which opened instantly on his approach. Inside the car, Alena looked at her reflection of the mirrored walls. Was it only a few hours ago that she had stared at the same reflection dwelling on her loneliness? She was now in the house where both her sister and the love from her youth were living. Glancing again the reflection, she cringed at the site of her hair, face and clothes. While she felt better, she actually looked worse. With exhaustion added to the pale, gaunt features, she understood why Iona did not recognize her. She barely recognized herself.
When the elevator stopped, the doors opened into a small entrance before ornate double doors which Gabriel opened to access his living quarters. If the mansion's foyer and library were luxurious, there were no words to describe the elaborate wealth displayed in this masculine domain. Decorated in rich, dark colors, the living room had a large, overstuffed sofa, matching arm chair, and a huge plasma TV. The dark hardwood floors were partially covered with a beautiful rug from the Orient.
"The bedroom is this way," he said leading her through the rooms, "I've requested clothes and toiletries to be placed in the bathroom so you can shower and be comfortable."
"Thanks Gabe," she said looking him in eye, "for everything."
Staring at her, he ran his hands through his short, black hair, "We need to talk."
"After eight years?"
"In comparison to eternity, eight years should hardly register with me, but the last eight have been a self inflicted prison sentence," he said pulling her into him arms.
"We both agreed that we had reasons to stay apart," Alena whispered as he rested his forehead against hers.
"And two of those reasons have brought us together. How's that for irony?" he said tilting her chin up to give him access to her lips.
"It's been so long."
"Has time turned your heart against me, Alena?"
"No," she confessed, "but I got old."
"Old? No love," he whispered against her lips, "but you've had a difficult life. Let me fix it."
Before she could reply, he claimed her mouth. As she parted her lips, his tongue swept pass her teeth, teasing her mouth with gentle caresses that tingled through her body. Every memory of pain, debt, and worry was annihilated with his touch. One hand cradled her face while the other held her waist. She felt her blood rush to her head making her dizzy while signaling her body to make ready for him. As she forfeited her control, excitement surged through her, bowing her body into his, searching for evidence of his desire.