New Kingdom: European Court Ch. 04byMicKay©
"I have to buy new clothes for Joshua and Abigail. If you don't mind, reserve a car for me and let's keep this between us."
"No. I'll have one of the guards escort you. Agreed?"
"That will be fine," Alena agreed. "You know that I'm in favor of extra protection with the children."
"Good," he said pulling away from her. "Give me twenty minutes to arrange for a car and guard."
As Gabriel walked away, he stopped and watched his mate who had turned to face the courtyard below. With their connection broken, she could not know that he was still behind her. Taking a deep breath, she let her shoulders slump forward and placed her hands over her face.
When Alena turned, she was alone on the balcony and standing as tall and proud as before. She walked into the library smiling at the woman and child sitting on the couch. As she moved closer, she snatched a croissant and popped half into her mouth.
"Hello Emma," she said to the woman watching her. "I'm Alena. Abigail's mother. I understand that you've had quite an experience since you arrived in Italy. But I want to assure you that you are safe with us and, if you decide to leave, we will guarantee your safety."
"Why?" Emma whispered.
"I guess you can call it payment for services rendered," Alena answered and then held up her hand. "Abigail, your hair looks wonderful."
"Emma fixed it Mama. I was waiting for you but I saw Emma and ..."
"I'm glad to have someone help with that curly mass of yours," Alena smiled at the child. "Find your brother. Daddy will have a car and guard ready for us soon and we don't want to keep the poor man waiting."
"Joshua doesn't want to go," Abigail informed her mother.
"Tell him that if wants pants that cover his ankles, he will want to go," Alena said sending Abigail out of the room.
"I didn't want to say too much in front of her," Alena said sitting beside Emma. "Even at her age, she knows that she is peculiar as a child. She grows so quickly that part of me is sad to lose the baby but another part of me wants her to be an adult so she can deal with this life given to her."
"Why do you say it like that?" Emma asked. "This life given to her."
"Because she and her brother were not conceived as normal children," Alena started and then caught the eyes of the man listening from the shadows. "Anyway, they were created with evil intent and then treated as lab rats with tubes and bandages. When Gabe, my husband, got to them, they were in sad shape. He brought them home, we fed them, and here they are."
"That sounds tragic. Who would do something like that?"
"Their creation was funded by the fraudulent billing that you've been auditing," Alena explained. "So you can see why I feel indebted to you. In addition, I was the former director of the hospital's finance department, so I have a compounded interest in your work."
"I thought the former director died?"
"Are you really ready for an explanation?" Alena asked with a grin. "Ok, technically I was killed, not in a car accident, but by, uh, an enemy of our people. Emma, there is so much to explain and I will be glad to try to give you an abbreviated version but one of the seven needs to explain the details to you."
"Seven of what?"
"Brothers. There are seven who were created as vampires. Six were made kings of sectors of the world. Gabriel was the general who trained and led their armies against attacks. Antony is king of the European Court and Edward rules America."
"Rules America?" Emma asked.
"Yes, well, he rules the vampire kingdom in America but he is quite popular with the human race. Have you heard of the name Edward King of King's Enterprises?"
"Oh sure, he owns King's Foundation that purchased the children's hospital."
"And he's very popular with anybody who is anybody."
"You got that right," Alena agreed. "He is mated with my sister, Iona."
"Mated? And you mean your real sister? What are the odds of that?"
"Mated is considered a very sacred relationship between two vampires. It's more than just marriage. When I was human, Gabriel and I were considered married but when I woke as a vampire, the bond was much greater. He says that his feeling remained constant so the change occurred in me. But even when I was human, my life changed according to Gabe's. I adjusted to living in his nights when we were in the States and comfortable with him knowing all of my thoughts," Alena said and then paused.
"Living his nights?" Emma repeated.
"The seven brothers live by one time zone. Here, we are only one hour behind their natural clock so they enjoy the daylight as much as humans do. But in the states, New York is about seven hours behind, so we end up living in the night."
"But the movies ..."
"Have it wrong," Alena said with a laugh. "Anyway, yes it is my real sister mated with Edward and together, they make quit a flamboyant couple. Gabe and I gladly pale in comparison."
"You two seem perfect together," Emma said. "Like a fairy tale."
"We are and he works hard to make sure that I feel like a princess every day," Alena said and then added quietly, "I worry that I'm not strong enough for him."
"Why do you need to be strong?"
"He has so much responsibility on his shoulders that I want to be strong and not some weeping woman with silly demands."
"Uh," Emma said, "I saw his shoulders. I'm pretty sure that he can carry a lot more than you. Maybe he just wants you to be his support. Encourage him."
Nodding her head, Alena closed her eyes and leaned against the back of the sofa. After a few moments, she stood as though preparing to leave. She stood tall with her back rigid and straight. Emma thought she no longer possessed the warm character that she had enjoyed talking to.
"I imagine that Antony will arrange for a tailor or dressmaker to measure you and prepare a full wardrobe but in the meantime, I will try to pick up the necessary items while I'm out so you can feel a little more comfortable in your own clothes."
"That's not necessary," Emma said standing to address the woman. "I have a closet full of clothes back at my apartment. Besides," she added obviously embarrassed, "I'm not able to repay you for them."
"Money is never an issue with this family. If you want my advice, Emma, relax. Let Antony treat you like a princess for as long as possible," Alena said with a smile warming her features. "Feel free to talk to me about anything."
When Alena turned to the door, she was greeted by the sight of Gabriel leading Joshua and Abigail into the room. The little boy was obviously unhappy to be sent shopping with his mother and sister and was convinced everyone needed to know.
"Hey," the boy said, "I can stay here with Emma and keep her company."
"That's hardly any way to introduce yourself to our guest," Gabriel scolded. "I'm Gabriel Philandros and this miniature force of nature is Joshua. I understand that you've already met Abigail."
"Yes," Emma responded. "And my name is Emma. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"So now that we've met can I stay here?" Joshua asked. "I can protect her while you're out."
"What makes you think she needs protection?" Antony asked walking into the room.
"I could start by protecting her from you," the child snapped back. "I saw you wrestling with her on the stairs and she didn't seem to like it. Mama likes it when Dad wrestles with her so you must be doing something wrong."
At the end the child's comment, Emma turned her back to avoid being seen smiling, Alena stared at her son wide eyed, and Antony laughed out loud.
"Mama enjoys wrestling, huh?" Antony teasingly asked.
"Shut up!" Alena snapped. "Don't forget. We all now know that you do it wrong."
"Ok, everybody calm down," Gabriel said with a laugh. When his mate turned to him, he added, "Baby, you know we haven't found a lock that keeps these kids out of our room. Let's not keep our guard waiting longer than he already has. I'll walk you to the car."
"Emma," Joshua pleaded, "please let me stay with you."
"Uh, if it's ok with your parents, then I guess it's ok," Emma answered wondering why she was agreeing to babysitting the child.
Gabriel glanced at his brother who merely shrugged. He then looked at his mate and responded to her questioning eyes. Finally, after only a few second, he agreed to let Joshua remain at home.
"But if you do anything to cause her one moment of stress ...."
"Ok, Dad. I've got it," he said glancing at the pretty blond and then mumbled, "Jeez."
"Ladies, let's go to the car. Antony, I'll meet you and Edward in a few minutes," Gabriel said.
Picking up Abigail and wrapping his arm around Alena's waist, he ushered them quickly from the room. As Antony walked to the door, he turned and looked at Joshua who just nodded as though in response. When they were alone, the dark hair boy turned to Emma and gave her a heart melting smile.
"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you," he said sincerely. "Apparently I said something that was not appropriate."
"I'm fine," she said with a smile. "I may not be great company. I'm limited on clothes right now so I can't do much more than walk and sit."
"That's ok," he answered. "There not much else to do but walk and sit," he agreed and sat with her on the sofa.
When he reached across the table and snatched a pastry, Emma watched in amusement as he devoured the food and then reached for more.
"Would you like some juice to wash that down?" she asked reaching for a glass.
"No, thank you, we are limited as to what we can drink," he said and then watched for her reaction.
"I'm confused on the rules," Emma confessed. "Your mother explained that the vampire movies are wrong so I have no reference base of knowledge."
"Just ask me anything you want to know," he offered reaching for his third treat.
"Ok, where do you put all of that food?"
"Just joking," she said with a smile. "You must burn a lot of calories to be able to eat so much and not get fat."
"Mom says that I'm a growing kid so I need food for energy."
"That makes sense. You are bigger than your sister so I would have guessed that you are ten or eleven years old but I understand that you age differently than what I'm used to."
"Do I really look eleven to you?" he asked with a smile.
"Would you like to go for a walk?" he offered. "There's a maze on the property. Mom was supposed to take us yesterday morning but something happened. She went first and then came back and we had to stay in our rooms for the rest of the day."
"Oh, were you bad and being punished?"
"I don't think so but I never know what I've done to get punished anyway."
"My sister has a big mouth," he confessed with a smile.
"Ok, let's go see this maze," Emma said standing from the couch.
Then she looked at the child wondering if she were getting into something over her head.
"Uh, Josh?" she started, "Is there anything special you need when you're away from the house?"
"You're not going to get thirsty and, uh ..." she paused making a motion to her own neck.
"Are you serious?" he asked with a chuckle. "I've never bitten a person in my life. The thought of putting my mouth on someone's body is gross."
"The how do you drink?"
"We call it feeding," he explained. "And the New Kingdom has strict rules about blood. We can only take what is offered. It's donated and bottled."
"And you never bite?"
"It's like this, you like steak, right?"
"I think so," she answered and then explained, "I've never really had steak. Too expensive. But I like hamburgers."
"Ok, you take the meat but you would never sink your teeth into a cow to get to the food. Understand?"
"I suppose. In short, you're promising not to bite me."
"I promise not to bite you," he said with a smile.
As they walked through the balcony doors, Emma was overwhelmed by the beauty of everything around her. The flowers growing on the balcony were bright and cheerful and the house was well preserved and majestic. Holding the length of the robe above her feet, she quickly descended the stairs, eager to see the house from outside.
What she saw took her breath away. The house was truly a castle. It stood magnificent against the country scenery. She had no way of guessing how far they were from the city but she knew that no clubs or apartment buildings were anywhere near Antony Melchiorre's home. Staring at the building, she wondered if she could reconcile her opinion of the arrogant man, who she would have thought to be a playboy living in a penthouse suite in the city, with the man who she now knew as the vampire king of Europe.
"Emma?" Joshua asked quietly. "Is something wrong?"
"No," she answered with a smile. "Where do we find the maze?"
"It's behind the arbor," he answered pointed at the wrought iron archway.
"Let's go!" Emma exclaimed holding out her hand to the child.
As they walked toward the maze, several pairs of eyes monitored their progress. Sitting high in the trees, these men were thrilled to see the object of their plan walking right to them. Not only were they competing to be the first to grab the woman, they were unified in their hate toward her. While she had never harmed them intentionally, her liaison with the king had caused the death of their friends in the fire last night.
Their master was very angry about the second time his plans regarding the woman had been foiled. They had been promised a generous reward for bringing her to him. But they were also promised considerable torture if they failed as the others had. Looking at one another, each man began to slowly descend from his perch, swinging through the trees until each rested on the four corners of the maze. Only the fastest could claim the spots closer to the entrance.
Unknown to the assailants, three pairs of eyes were watching them.
"What's happening?" Edward said when he saw them move from their posts ahead.
"Oh fuck!" Antony said moving forward.
"Antony, no," Gabriel said grabbing his brother. "Stop. We won't let them hurt her but this is the third attempt on her. We need to see if they plan to take her or kill her."
"I'm not willing to watch them hurt her," Antony said pulling his arm out of Gabriel's grasp. "She hates me because of them. She thinks that," he motioned to the men, "is what I am!"
When the three brothers started scouting the property, they had agreed to do so by walking the perimeter, entering the area from behind the trees on the boundary line. They had quickly discovered the rogue vampires perched high above the trees searching for their prey. Alena had sensed them the previous day but was unable to locate them. Since she had not been their target, they had wisely refrained from approaching Gabriel's life mate.
But now, they were strategically placed on top of the evergreen shrubs watching the unsuspecting woman and child approach the entrance hand in hand. When Emma walked into the labyrinth of shrubbery, she immediately stopped and smiled nervously at Joshua.
"Josh? Would you hate me if I was suddenly chicken and didn't want to go through this?"
"No," he replied too seriously. "I should have listened to the mother and gone with her."
"I'm sorry that I'm not any fun," she said hurt at his disappointment.
"Emma," he said pulling both of her hands into his. "Will you please do me a really big favor? Run!"
Before she could ask him anything, the small boy shoved her with enough force to send her flying twenty feet back in the direction of the house. Landing on her hands and knees, she was able to jumped up and turn around ready to demand an explanation for his behavior.
What she saw paralyzed her with fear.
Standing around the small boy were four men similar to the ones who attacked her last night. While they had yet to touch the child they were advancing on him quickly with outstretched arms.
"No!" she screamed running back to Joshua.
The men stood back allowing her grab the child, who was resisting her help, and tuck him behind her.
"Leave him alone," she demanded.
"Oh we will," one man said and they all laughed. "It's you who we want to torture, Emma."
In less than a second, another man leapt in the air towards her but a blur of motion side- swiped the man, sending him to land farther away. Blinking in surprise, Emma saw young Joshua pinning the man to the ground. When another reached for her, the child leapt again to intercede. On the third attempt, Joshua was caught by one of the men and held by the neck.
Not caring that she was in the clutches of a powerful monster, Emma began crying and pleading for the child to be released. Laughing at her tears, the man holding Joshua flipped the child away as though he were an extinguish cigarette butt. He failed to see the child land on his feet and spring back at the attacker holding Emma.
Suddenly, Emma and Joshua were no longer alone. Antony appeared first ripping apart the first vampire he met and advancing to the next. Gabriel quickly ended the existence of the man who had held his son. And Edward grabbed the third who was running from Antony's advance.
With the only rogue remaining saw that he was outnumbered, he tightened his grip around Emma's neck until she could no long breathe. Then suddenly a restriction around his neck tightened. He dropped the woman and struggled to grasp at the small arms around his throat. Finally reaching behind him, he clawed at the face of his captor gaining a small reprieve from the attack.
Suddenly, the light weight of the attacker was pulled from the vampire's back and he turned to see a large man holding the child close to his chest. When he turned back toward the woman, he found he was face to face with the last person he would ever see. The big man with dark hair and black eyes did not need to speak but he still said one sentence.
"That was my son that you hurt."
With no more words, the giant pounded his fist into the vampire's chest with such force, the man's torso crumbled on impact. Holding his enemy by the hair, he shoved at the man's shoulder hard enough to disengage the head from the torso.
"Are you ok?" Edward said to the boy in his arms.
"Yeah, I guess," Joshua mumbled. "I didn't get to kill the enemy."
"Hey big guy, you held all four on your own until we got here. And I don't think your dad was going to let you have the pleasure of taking down that one. You fought like a soldier so let your old man have a little victory, ok?"
Antony's hands shook as he checked Emma's pulse. Relief was evident on his face and then confirmed when he smiled and nodded at the others. He gently lifted her unconscious body into his arms. He stopped before leaving their group.
"You fought well, Joshua," he said to the boy. "I only hope we can heal those scratches before your mother gets home. I seriously don't know if we can win against her."
Joshua smiled, happy that he was considered useful in the fight to protect Emma. He still wished that he had listened to his mother or had tried to sense any signs of danger before he had led her to this area. Suddenly he was lifted from Edward arms and smothered against the huge chest that he knew too well. No matter how strict his father had been, there was no doubt that the man loved him.
Carrying his son back to the house, Gabriel entered the library through the balcony doors and sat in the large recliner. Antony had brought Emma this far and was sitting on the sofa with her splayed across his lap. He gently held a damp cloth to her face while checking for any signs of injury. When she moaned his name, he pulled her closer to his chest and rocked her in his arms.