Katelina finally gets her beach vacation, but it’s not everything she dreamed. How could it be with the companions she’s got? Strap in for a collection of six short stories about surf, sun, and… um… I mean surf, moonlight and vampires.
Sadihra rolled over and smiled at the vampire lying next to her. Wolfe’s dark auburn hair was fanned out around his head and his deep gray eyes met hers. She traced her finger over his muscular shoulder and down his arm, leaving a little trail of golden sand. When she’d completed the circuit, he pulled her to him and captured her lips in a deep kiss. She opened her mouth to allow his hot tongue inside, and let him explore the inner recesses of her mouth. His hands moved down her naked back, stopping at the curve of her hips, and her tongue sprang to life, parrying with his, twisting, contorting, entwining.
He broke the kiss and trailed his lips down her chin, over her shoulder and finally to her ear. His breath sent delightful goose bumps shivering over her body and she clutched him tighter and breathed his name like a sigh.
His warm tongue traced the cup of her ear, teasing the tiny ridges, and then he murmured, “Haven’t you had enough?”
She pulled back with a laugh to meet his eyes. “You know I can never have enough of you.”
“You say that…” He trailed off as doubt shadowed his features, but she quickly kissed it away.
“It’s true.” Now was not the time to let past mistakes ruin the brightness of their vacation. “But you have already had your fill of me,” she added teasingly.
He arched an eyebrow and suddenly pinned her to the sand. She struggled, if only to show she was dominant, but surrendered when his fangs brushed her shoulder. She licked her lips expectantly and tasted the residue of his blood.
They both jerked up, hands reflexively reaching for weapons that weren’t there, to find a red haired vampire dressed in a pair of speedos. It was Verchiel, an American Executioner. Despite his high office, Sadihra hadn’t made her mind up about him. This incident did little to help him in her eyes, though he wore an exaggerated look of remorse, hands clutched comically to his mouth.
Sadihra grabbed her shirt from the ground and quickly held it over her naked body. Verchiel batted his eyes innocently. “No need to do that on my account. I think people wear too many clothes.”
Wolfe snarled at him in German, and the redhead backed away towards the rolling surf, hands up in surrender. “Sorry, sorry. How was I supposed to know you two were here? You should put some sort of warning up next time. This is a public beach, you know.”
Wolfe charged him, one hand ready to strike, and the other holding his swim trunks over his nudity. It would have been funny if Sadihra hadn’t been so irritated.
She motioned with her hand and a wave of ocean water reared up and threw itself over Verchiel. Wolfe pulled back in time to avoid getting soaked, and Verchiel held his arms out in surprise. “I suppose I deserved that?” He broke into a wide grin and shook his head like a dog, flinging water everywhere.
Wolfe swore, and backed away as the redhead laughed. “Okay then, I guess you’re busy so I’ll see you later.” And then Verchiel seemed to evaporate; a wind walker who moved so fast she couldn’t see all of his movements.
“Idiot,” Wolfe muttered and stormed towards his scattered clothes. “He’s so annoying even the Höher Rat refused to keep him!”
The mention of the Sodalitas’ High Council crushed Sadihra’s amusement. As if Wolfe sensed her reaction, he paused and turned back to her. “It will be all right.”
“I don’t know.” She shook the sand from her bathing suit before she pulled it on. “They’re going to be angry and I don’t blame them. I defied orders.”
Wolfe’s expression was torn between comforting her and being stern. It was a touchy subject, and she wasn’t surprised when he went with the later. “Yes, you did. I was supposed to accompany Jorick and the others, and if I had they would have gone to the United States and wouldn’t have woken Samael.”
“No, Malick would have. Would that be better?” she snapped.
“The Kugsankal will deal with Malick when they’re ready,” Wolfe said dismissively. “Perhaps they’d have been ready sooner had they felt he was in danger of controlling Samael?”
“You speak for them now?”
Wolfe finished dressing. “When ordered to.” He met her eyes. “If you want to remain a Scharfrichterin so badly, then that’s something you need to learn.”
She buttoned her shirt over the clingy bathing suit and perched on a nearby rock. “Are you going to stop trying to get me dismissed?” He didn’t answer and she repeated the question with more venom.
“Fine! And when you die-” He broke off and looked towards the ocean, as if something in the distance had absorbed all of his attention. “We’re immortal, Sadihra, but not invincible. Jilsenna’s death should have taught you that, as it did me.”
Her chest tightened when he mentioned her sister. She could still see the labyrinth, smell the blood, and hear the screams. In her memory, Jilsenna dodged forward and then her body went stiff as the dark skinned wind walker slammed his fist through her chest. He’d looked up and met Sadihra’s eyes, and for a split second she’d seen the promise of her death written in them.
And if Cyprus hadn’t dragged her out of there, the promise would have been fulfilled.
“But what good is life if we have to spend it cringing in the shadows, afraid? You say you learned that we’re not invincible, but you go out on assignments without a thought. You battle, and you fight. You could be killed as easily as I.”
He opened his mouth to argue, then wisely closed it. “Because it’s my job, Sadihra. But it doesn’t have to be yours.”
“We’ve had this argument. I won’t stay home like a good wife while you’re in the field. I’m not weak.”
“I never said you were,” he snapped, exasperated. “Is it so wrong to want to protect you?”
“Yes and no. It isn’t wrong to want to look after someone you love, but it is wrong to constantly insist that they can’t take care of themselves. Wolfe, if this is going to work, you have to treat me as an equal, not as something weaker that needs your protection. Though I understand that old habits are hard to break, it is a new world now. The antiquated notion of what it means to be a female is just that; antiquated.”
“And how long will those attitudes last?” Wolfe asked skeptically. “You would base our relationship on a human social movement still in its infancy?”
“It goes beyond that! You know I’m capable. You know I can hold my own in a battle. I was allowed into the Scharfrichter for a reason. I deserve respect, no matter what social conventions humans or vampires embrace.”
“I never said that I don’t respect you, Sadihra. Yes, you are capable. Yes, your abilities are well developed, and yes, you can hold your own against most foes. But what happens when you find that one enemy you can’t defeat? What do you expect me to do when they bring me your medallion and say -” He choked off and shook his head.
She slid off the rock and moved to stand behind him. She hesitated and then laid a hand on his bare shoulder. “I understand, but you can’t hold me back because you’re afraid. It isn’t fair.” She paused, then added, “It’s selfish.”
He spun to face her. “Maybe I am selfish, but I know what it’s like to lose someone, and I don’t want to do it again.”
She held his gray eyes. “Neither do I. Does that mean you should quit the Scharfrichter? I already lost my sister on a mission.”
Wolfe growled in his throat and looked away. Sadihra’s cheeks flushed with success. Though he might not admit defeat, he’d lost.
“Fine.” He looked back to her. “Assuming the Höher Rat doesn’t relieve you of duty, then I won’t argue with you anymore under one condition. Marry me.”
She drew back unconsciously. “Wolfe…”
His expression turned grim. “I know how you feel about it. That it’s a trap designed to force women into the home, but you can’t win everything. You expect me to concede, then I will, but you have to, too. I believe it’s called a compromise.”
She ground her teeth, her sense of triumph gone. “When?”
“As soon as we get back to Munich and our schedules allow it. I imagine there will be some follow up to this assignment. I foresee one of us being sent to look into Malick, if not into Samael. Once that is settled we’ll have the wedding.”
She cringed backwards another step. She recalled her childhood and her own father. An angry drunk who let his wife raise the children and support the family while he administered punishment for imagined infractions. Sadihra could still remember his tirade after all the long years, “You should thank the heavens I married you, whore. How many other men would take you with a bastard child in your belly?” Then her mother would scrape and nod, and give him anything he wanted, as if he was some kind of god who’d saved her from destruction rather than a monster who had thrust her into a life of misery.
Sadihra’s hands tightened into fists at her sides. If only she’d been the oldest child, the one who couldn’t claim to share that monster’s blood. But that was her older brother Etherin. He’d run away on his sixteenth birthday, and Sadihra had memorized the parting words he’d whispered to her and Jilsenna, “When a man proposes anything to you, remember our mother before you agree.”
Wolfe crossed his arms impatiently. “Do you agree?”
His words brought her back to the present and she snapped, “It isn’t fair.”
“Is it fairer for you to have your way on everything? You say you want to be treated as an equal, but really you want to be my better. Everything is your way and I should nod and take it. I’m willing to compromise, Sadihra. Let me know when you are.”
He turned on his heel and strode up the beach, in the direction of the vacation houses. Sadihra started to call his name, then stopped. There was no point in talking to him when he was in one of his moods.
She walked in the opposite direction, splashing through the ankle deep water as the waves came in and out. Wolfe knew how she felt! He knew-
Sadihra jumped and spun to find Verchiel leaning against a palm tree. The speedos covered far too little of his wiry frame and she rolled her eyes. “You might as well be naked.”
“I can be, if you prefer.” He made is if to grab his waistband, then grinned. “You can shimmy out of that suit, and we could go skinny dipping.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Sadihra walked past him, but he was suddenly beside her. “That’s not very nice, especially since I came to see how you were after your fight with old crabby-britches.”
She jerked to a stop and glared at him. “Were you spying on us?”
“Ha ha! You did have a fight! I only guessed from your sour expression. So what’s it about?”
“None of your business.”
“I could just read your mind, you know?”
She stopped, hands on her hips and eyes narrowed. “Fine, then do it.”
He blinked. “What?”
“You heard me. If you’re such an amazing mind reader then do it.” A moment passed and Sadihra snorted. “I’m not as easy to fool as that little human. More than half of your ability is just guessing.”
“That isn’t true.”
“Of course it is.”
He turned suddenly serious and leaned close to whisper, “Why do you object to getting married?”
Sadihra jerked back angrily. “None of your business!”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to tie the knot with crabby-britches. You’re planning to stay with him forever, anyway, and if you change your mind you can always get divorced nowadays. Or kill him and be a widow. Whichever.”
She stormed away without replying. To her relief he didn’t follow, though his words stayed with her, and she tried to deny the logic in them. He was right that she planned to stay with Wolfe forever. Even during their time apart there had been no one else. She’d had offers, but she’d turned them down. He was the only one she wanted, and yet…
And yet, it’s a trap.
She walked the circumference of the island. Jorick and his human were snuggled down together under the palm trees, and she pretended not to see them. She wasn’t in the mood for a happy couple. Though she found it odd that the human was still, well, human. Why hadn’t Jorick turned her into a vampire? He seemed to be in love with her, but then perhaps he wasn’t as committed as he appeared.
Or perhaps she isn’t.
When Sadihra had made a complete circuit, she turned for the houses. They were two storied twins, made of drift wood and roofed in thatch to give them an island vibe. She expected Wolfe to be in the living room, but he wasn’t. She wasted a few minutes studying the map that hung on the wall and tried to find which of the many islands they were on. It was a hopeless task, so she abandoned it and resumed her search.
After checking the kitchen, dining room, patio, and bathing room, she finally found Wolfe in their bedroom. He sat on the bed, looking at something in his hand. When she stepped through the doorway he looked up quickly and stuffed the object on his pocket.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Nothing you’re interested in,” he said coldly.
He stood to leave but she blocked his path and dipped her hand in his pocket. She came back with a piece of cloth, like a handkerchief. Wrapped inside was a photograph of the two of them. Most of the colors had faded to red, but she recognized the moment. “Bernard’s promotion party.”
He jerked the photo from her hand and quickly rewrapped it. When he didn’t’ say anything she demanded, “What do you want from me?”
His eyes flashed. “I want you to bend once in a while, Sadihra. Everything must always be your way or no way. You don’t have to spend eternity proving your dominance. I’m not your father.” She made to slap him and he grabbed her wrist.
“How dare you bring him up!”
“Why? That’s what this is over. That what it’s always over. Do you think because you marry me that I’ll magically change? I’m not your father, and you’re not your mother, and, as you so often point out, the world isn’t that way anymore. You want my attitudes to change with the times, then so should yours!”
“-if you change your mind you can always get divorced nowadays.”
“I’d rather kill you,” she snapped.
“I’d rather kill you than divorce you and leave you to find someone else and flaunt her under my nose.”
Wolfe let go of her wrist and stepped back uncertainly. “Why would I? Did I flaunt anyone in front of you in the last ten years?”
“I don’t know,” she lied. “I wasn’t paying attention.” But of course she was. She watched everything he did and tried to guess what she was missing.
“Of course I didn’t,” he said dryly. “And why do you think that was, Sadihra?” She didn’t answer and he went on, “Because there was no point. At best they would be a poor imitation of the woman I really want.” He met her eyes and drew closer. “Whether you want to admit it or not, Sadihra, you are mine and will be mine until the world dies.” He cupped her cheek. “And I am yours.”
She caught her breath and gazed into his eyes. She could see his words mirrored there; see everything she’d ever wanted. He was right. Verchiel was right. She wanted him forever, so why did it matter?
“Yes,” she said softly.
Wolfe studied her and finally asked, “Yes, what? Yes you’re mine? I don’t-”
“Yes, I’ll marry you. Idiot.” As she said the words a weight lifted from her shoulders, as if the burden of the decision was so much heavier than any commitment could ever be. “But I won’t be chained to a kitchen.”
He cocked an incredulous eyebrow. “I don’t have a kitchen, only a single burner stove top, and I don’t think it would hold you.”
She had a sudden urge to smack him.