Hearts of Warriors Ch. 20byJazCullen©
...and so we come to the final chapter of Hearts of Warriors. Thank you for all the votes and comments, I've enjoyed reading them all :)
Try not to lynch me at the end of this chapter LOL. The next story carries on from the end of this one and will be written, I'm just taking a little hiatus as I've previously said :)
Mikothebaby you have been a complete star!!! Thank you so much for all the time you've given me.
And a special thank you to E #yourock ;)
Liam stood beside a wooden door in the kitchen of the Praetorian house. It led downwards into the basement that ran the length of the main building and it was the door that separated him from her, the woman who had tried to kill him. The sounds of raised voices from the sitting room should have concerned him, but it didn't dent his focus on the sound of the heart beating beneath his feet, the fast rhythm signifying the fear and stress the woman was under.
He wanted to go to her but they wouldn't let him. Karn had threatened to have six Praetorians sit on him if he tried it and only Lacey's calm intervention had stopped the tension from escalating. They eventually reached a compromise. Liam could guard the only exit from the cells to reassure him no harm came to the woman, and he would stay above ground until the others arrived to discuss the way forward.
Karn was still angry, venting that anger at anyone who would listen. His voice was the loudest, the others more muted as they answered him. Liam tuned out the words so he could listen to the most wonderful sound in the world, the beat of his mate's heart.
Who was she? What was her name? Why had she come here with death in her heart? Those were only a handful of the questions on his mind. He wanted to ask her everything, to know everything about her. He wanted to breathe in her scent, to open his mind, and share himself with her. He wanted her to see him, to look past what he was and see the man. He wanted everything, but for the moment, he had to be content with listening to her heartbeat.
Liam knew he should be concerned that she'd shot him. She may have been aiming at Karn at the time but he was under no illusions that he wouldn't have been her next target. It had hurt like hell and the feel of the poison running through his veins had been a burning agony until his genes kicked in and neutralised it. He should have been concerned but he wasn't. He'd take that pain any day if it meant having the exotic creature enter his life and complete him. She was worth every second of the agony.
The sounds of people arriving interrupted his thoughts and he glanced at the kitchen door scenting the air. His Alpha was here, having arrived after a side trip to check on Lily. He'd assured them she was well and safe with Mackenzie. Liam was relieved to hear it, sure in his mind that everything would be okay. Now the scents greeting him confirmed the two people he was most concerned about had arrived, Caleb and Annie.
He thought he would have an ally in the vampire queen and he would need it to counteract the fury he could feel wafting from Caleb in waves. His brown eyes watched the doorway intently, until the petite figure with long auburn curls appeared. Rhianna stood there watching him, her lavender eyes revealing no hint of her thoughts.
"Will you join us in the sitting room, Liam." It wasn't a question, more of a statement.
"I can't do that, Annie. The door will be unguarded." He couldn't remember ever saying no to her before, but he knew there was nothing she could say that would convince him to leave his mate unprotected.
Her lips pursed and a frown marred her brow for an instant before she nodded. There was a flash of something in her eyes, the hint of the woman hidden within. There was a subtle change in her voice as she nodded once more and turned away. "We will discuss this again shortly."
Liam watched her leave, a feeling of disquiet washing through him. Usually Rhianna was smiles and understanding. The woman who had just spoken to him was anything but. It appeared that the vampire queen was close to the surface and that didn't bode well. He needed Annie's gentle compassion, not the judgement of the vampire queen.
Liam shivered, his disquiet increasing as he rested his cheek against the door and listened for the sound that had suddenly become his world. He felt Elina's mental presence in his mind, helping him to keep the tentative hold on his defences and soothe his anxiety. No one would hurt his mate. No one! He didn't care who they were, he would not allow anyone to harm her.
Rhianna walked into the sitting room her eyes meeting Caleb's as soon as she entered the room. Her mate was still furious, the depth of that fury barely contained. She could see it in his eyes and knew he didn't understand why there was even going to be a discussion over what had happened. From the moment the news had reached them, he'd been in a rage like none she had ever seen before.
She had tried to soothe him, tried to speak to him about events, but it appeared he held her to blame for what had transpired. They'd had their odd disagreements over the years but nothing had touched them as this had. Caleb had muted their mate bond, shut her out completely. Every time she tried to reach him she was met by a brick wall, both physically and mentally.
It was black and white to her mate He had decreed his edict twenty-five years ago after Ashleigh and Loretta had been kidnapped and tortured. The pack was under his protection and no Were was permitted to be harmed by a vampire. The penalty was instant death and in his mind, the European vampire had to die.
His anger at her was palpable. She had told him the vampire would bring no harm, that she was crucial in saving three souls and he'd believed in her, trusted in her judgement. From his perspective, it appeared that she had failed. Liam had been harmed and the poison had been deployed on what should have been safe ground. If he hadn't listened to her, then possibly events could have been different.
It mattered little that Rhianna hadn't known Thereasa would get close to one of the Vârcolac. Someone had been hurt and he judged her because he didn't believe she would have prevented it from happening if she had known. Most of her shunned from thinking that she would have, but another part of her looked at it pragmatically. They had learned much from the attack. Thankfully, the Vârcolac were safe from the poison.
Moreover, she was still convinced that Thereasa would heal three souls. That hadn't changed despite the violence, of that she was sure. Caleb refused to believe that though, and that meant they were at odds. Rhianna was so used to working with her mate, of being in complete harmony with him. The current schism between them was something she hated but would have to endure. Events had to play out the way they were meant to otherwise they would lose two, possibly three souls. Rhianna couldn't let that happen.
Surveying the room slowly, she shivered as she took in the high level of tension. The Vârcolac were all here standing off to one side in a group. The only one missing was Lily but she'd had her own drama today and was safely with her mate. It was better that she wasn't here, not in her condition. Things were about to get very ugly and the poor girl had been through enough stress as it was.
Her lavender gaze focused on her brother talking quietly with Lacey close to the Vârcolac. It wasn't surprising that Rafe and his mate would adopt a protective stance between the hybrids and the glowering vampires. They were pack and the Alphas protected their own. She expected nothing less from her brother and for a moment, her mind wandered back to another meeting so very long ago. That day Caleb had been determined to protect the Hanlon pack. He had done it for her to safe Rafe's life. Now most of the same players were in attendance, only they hadn't come together for the good of the pack this time.
Rafe met her gaze with a solemn expression. They had talked earlier and he'd told her he had reluctantly asked Nors and Ashleigh to remain with the pack. They had wanted to come to protect their son but this was way past a simple family matter. He hadn't wanted to ask it of them but there was still the chance another assassin could be around and he didn't want the pack depleted of its best defences. Once Ashleigh had had a chance to speak with Liam and reassure herself he was okay, she'd finally agreed, which had settled Nors down.
Rafe moved towards her, concern in his eyes. They hugged tightly and for once Caleb didn't perform his usual theatrics of extracting her needlessly from her brother's embrace. Rhianna had never thought she'd see the day that she would miss that irritating quirk of his but she did. Rafe quirked an eyebrow, his expression darkening more.
"What the hell is going on here, Annie? I trusted my pack members to you and the Praetorians. I never fought you over anything and now we've come to this? Have we descended to pack against vampire? To family pitted against family?"
"Have faith in me, Rafe, please. I won't allow any harm to come to the pack, you know that. Trust me." Rhianna whispered the words though she knew everyone in the room could hear them. The sound of a breaking glass resounded in the quiet room but she didn't turn around to look at Caleb. Instead, she gave Rafe another hug and stepped away from him so he could return to his mate's side.
As he walked away, she sighted Gard and Rayne also standing close to the Vârcolac, another sign of what were clearly divided loyalties. Gard was a vampire, part of the pack, and a member of the triumvirate. Technically, he was being pulled in three different directions. Their eyes met and she read clearly what he wanted her to know. Where it came to today, his allegiance was to his son. She couldn't fault him on that.
The vampires all congregated close to Caleb, Demetri and Mara at his side, Karn and the Praetorians flanking him like a personal army. Karn's expression was closed, his inner thoughts hidden, but she knew he was like the others, divided loyalties pulling at him. One female vampire...that was all it had taken to test the loyalties of each and every person in the room. Her presence was worse than the poison used on Pietro. That had brought them together. This woman had the power to tear them apart.
All that stood in her way was Rhianna and her soul felt encased in ice as she regarded everyone silently. How in hell was she supposed to do this alone? She didn't have Caleb's backing, in fact, he was her main opposition. By the time this was over, she didn't even know if she would have him in her life anymore. It broke her heart to look at him, to know that come the end of this day he might walk away and never look back, but events had to play out this way. If that meant she lost her soul mate then she would have to find a way to endure it.
Rhianna Armand hadn't been alive long enough to have the wisdom required to resolve this situation. But there was someone else who had...Anakatrine.
She would have to concede complete control to the vampire queen living within her, effectively doing what Caleb was so afraid would happen and what lay beneath his current mood.
She wasn't completely unaware of what had prompted their opposite stance. He was afraid he was losing her, that she would become Anakatrine and she was about to do just that to ensure everything happened that needed to happen. Everything that made her Annie would be forced into submission. She hadn't willingly given up control of who she was before, and she was afraid of what the consequences of that would be.
Caleb's angry gaze tore at her heart and forced her hand. The only person who could stand up to the might of Caleb was Anakatrine. She had to trust in the other half of her soul, that she would do the right thing.
"Well?" Caleb's tone was cold, unlike anything he had used with her before. It spoke of the level of his disappointment and rage. It had Demetri's head swinging around sharply to regard his friend in surprise. Everyone looked between them, the tension level in the room escalating higher.
"Liam is disinclined to join us," Rhianna answered, refusing to look away from her mate's irate glare. She watched disbelief cross his face before it hardened further and his voice came out like chips of ice.
"He doesn't have a choice in the matter, Rhianna. Why Karn allowed this madness to continue is beyond me. He knows the law. The vampire should have been executed."
The object of his fury shifted uncomfortably to his right. Pale blue eyes searched the room until he found what he was looking for. Elina Alexander was watching him, her face expressionless, her gaze intent. She regarded Karn for a long moment before she shifted her gaze to Caleb. "Liam wouldn't allow it."
Karn had been turning to address the Ancient but his head swung back around and he pinned Elina with surprised look. She was effectively defending him. Her eyes flicked to his briefly once more but they were cold and flat giving nothing away.
The Ancient appeared oblivious to the glances passing between them, his expression hard. "Since when do Liam's wishes overrule the law?"
"Since he claims the woman as his mate." Kallum stepped forward, moving past his Alphas. "If you harm her, you harm Liam. We cannot allow that to happen, Caleb. Mates are sacrosanct."
"You cannot allow that to happen." The Ancient repeated the words slowly, his voice dropping and becoming colder with each word. "Do you think you and your fellow Vârcolac are above the law, Kallum? Do you think you have the knowledge and wisdom to lead our people when you've barely been on the planet a quarter of a century?"
Kallum held his ground, enduring Caleb's wrath. There was so much at stake. His own thoughts and feelings were conflicted about the fate of the would-be assassin but he knew that he had to protect Liam and this was the only way they could, by standing firm with him and hoping the consequences wouldn't tear them all apart. He had to try to find a way to get the vampires to see reason.
"You know I don't, Caleb. I know you view this as a challenge to your authority but it isn't meant that way and deep down you know that. You're allowing rage to cloud your judgement. You don't want to harm Liam any more than anyone else here. Taking the woman's life will kill him. Would you stand idly by and let someone take Annie's life? Would any mated couple?"
Liam is not mated to that woman!" Caleb roared, his voice so loud some of the Praetorians took a step back. His eyes blazed furiously and he took a step forward.
Rafe moved instantly, placing himself in front of Kallum. "Calm down, Caleb." His stance was protective, his wolf close to the surface in preparation of the vampire going feral. There was a subtle sound of movement around the room as the tension reached critical mass, everyone positioning themselves for potential hostilities.
"You too, Rafe? What about you, Gard? Anyone else in this room who thinks they're above the law?" Caleb's eyes stopped on Rhianna, his fury almost a living thing. He pointed one long talon at her, appearing unaware that he was halfway to crossing over. "You said she would cause no harm! You were wrong, Rhianna." He gestured around the room. "Look at the harm she's causing! I should never have listened to you!"
His condemnation hurt but Rhianna couldn't deny his words because she agreed with the harm Thereasa was causing. However, Caleb was blind to the fact that there were two people causing the current disaster waiting to happen. His own arrogance was fuelling the division and helping to pit pack against vampire, families against each other. It had to end.
Demetri started to try to intervene, concern on his face at his friend's loss of control. He stepped forward, reaching out to place a restraining hand on Caleb's arm but Rhianna halted the entire room with a raised hand.
"Enough, Callain." The words were said so quietly but all eyes turned to the petite redhead. Her lavender eyes were blazing with light, an aura of power wafting from her body. The physical shape belonged to Rhianna, however there was no disputing who was now in control of her body.
Everyone took a step back with the exception of Gard and Caleb. Rafe stared at his sister, concerned that he couldn't see his Annie in her eyes. It wasn't often Anakatrine revealed herself, but when she did, it always unsettled him even after all this time. Only the knowledge that Annie would return soothed the Alpha as he pulled Lacey close and gave the vampire queen her space.
"Really? You're going to go there?" Caleb's coldness appeared to increase, his eyes hardening as he glared at his mate.
"You give me no option, Callain." The vampire queen crossed the room to stand before him, no hint of softness on her face. "When you stop listening with your heart and only hear your rage, that is time to overrule you, my mate. I take no pleasure in it but I will do what is right."
"My name is Caleb and my mate isn't here at the moment." He was so furious that she'd pulled this stunt. He was hard pressed not to throttle the woman before him and couldn't remember a time when he'd been so livid with her. She was betraying him, siding with the others and effectively telling their people that she didn't value his decisions.
"Semantics and you know it," Anakatrine sighed, a frown marring her brow. "You never used to be this intractable. You were alone for too long this time. This has to end and end now. I will not have vampire pitted against pack, family against family. I have worked too long and too hard to let everything fall apart now. We have, Callain. Did we die for nothing all those centuries ago? Are you willing to sacrifice everything because of your wounded pride?"
He continued to glare at her, his expression resolute. His silence told her that he would not be dissuaded, that he felt his was the correct stance and she was in the wrong. His refusal to be one with Callain; his complete lack of faith in her hurt the vampire queen as much as it hurt Annie. It appeared both Callain and Caleb could be stubborn beyond bearing.
"Annie is going to need you very soon, Caleb. What transpires this day will wound her soul as much as you feel yours is being wounded. I suggest you think about that. There are many people who will be hurt this day, your mate as much, if not more than most."
The dire warning in the vampire queen's voice had Caleb pausing. The part of him that was Callain knew just what she could be capable of for the greater good. She would make the hard choices and live with the consequences. His Annie was much more compassionate, much easier hurt. "What are you going to do, Anakatrine?" The first hint of softness entered his tone as he stared down at her.
"What is necessary to protect everyone, and end this madness now." She turned from him and looked to the open doorway. "Bring the woman here, Liam."
Liam heard the vampire queen's words and considered the wisdom of defying her. His need to protect his mate was strong but the power in her order was something that had to be obeyed. Opening the door to the basement, he headed down the steps and to the room that held the woman. The steel door was so thick it would even hold a Vârcolac. Mac never did anything by halves and he'd planned well when he'd had the house built.
Opening the door, Liam held his breath as his gaze fell on the woman who set every nerve ending alive in his body. She was the most exotic creature in the world with her dark skin and jet-black hair to her shoulders. She looked up as the door opened, green eyes meeting his, hatred blazing from their depths. He was tempted to unlock the strict hold he had on his mind but refrained. While he wanted to reach out and savour the striking beauty's mind, he knew the weight of the emotions above would crush him.