Awakened (Book 2 in the Ariya Adams Trilogy)

Book 2 of the Ariya Adams Trilogy: Awakened is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

Awakened-ebook sharpened

Synopsis:

Nothing is ever quite as it seems, at least not for Ariya Adams. She’s only recently discovered the supernatural world is real, and that world wants something from her. Her blood. Her unique ability to heal both werewolves and vampires with only a few drops gives Ariya a great power. However, that power has put her in unfathomable danger.

James, her sexy vampire boyfriend and Protector, has done well keeping Ariya safe in the past. When a new, more powerful and manipulative evil comes into play, it may prove to be more than they can handle, especially when their forbidden affair makes Ariya more vulnerable to the deceptive new enemy seeking to control her. Her grasp on reality will be tested and twisted as she battles to save James, her friends, and herself.

Despite her determination, she may be faced with a pain greater than she ever imagined. Even the most powerful abilities have limitations, and this time, the power of her blood might not be enough to save those she loves most. If all else is lost, will Ariya survive?

**SNEAK PEEK: Chapters 1 & 2 of Awakened**

Chapter 1

“All right, Caroline and Nick are in the lead, followed by me and James, then Mom and Dad. Well, you two are working hard and I know you’ll get some points soon,” I announced to a round of good-natured laughter.

“I think your father and I concede. We have nothing on you guys, and it’s already one in the morning. Come on, Brian. Let’s let these kids have some fun.” My mom patted my dad’s leg as a subtle let’s go cue and then kissed me on the head. “Goodnight, everyone.”

“Goodnight, baby. Be good,” my dad said, kissing my head as well.

My parents walked out of the room leaving Nick, Caroline, James, and me alone for a speed round of Catch Phrase. We had been playing with my parents for an hour already, relaxing and having a fun, quiet New Year’s Eve. Well, maybe not so quiet while we were screaming out answers in the game or blowing on the noise makers my mom had brought out at midnight.

“All right, boys versus girls! Let’s go!” Caroline smiled as she hopped up to switch spots with Nick. “Ready?” she asked the boys. “Go!”

Nick and James started going back and forth, trying to rack up as many points as they could. They knew enough about each other after being friends for about a hundred years that they were pretty good at this, but when I glanced at Caroline, she smiled back at me as if to say, we got this. The buzzer went off, signaling the end of their turn. “Not bad, boys, but I don’t think ten points will be good enough,” Caroline smirked.

Nick pressed the game into her hands while planting a kiss on her lips. “You aren’t beating that score, babe. I don’t care what you think.”

I glanced at James, who shrugged slyly, proving he agreed with Nick. I stuck my tongue out at him, and he smiled, causing the butterflies in my stomach to flutter out of control. He easily had me wrapped around his finger, and sometimes I couldn’t help but think he must know that fact so well.

“We’ll see. Ready, Ariya?” Caroline smiled wickedly at me, and I nodded, pulling my gaze away from James. I knew if I stared any longer, I wouldn’t be able to think of anything else.

“Christian Bale was the best…” she said, starting our turn.

“Batman,” I answered without hesitating.

“Your only date with Johnny was at a…”

“Carnival.” I thought I saw James frown at that and tried to flash him a reassuring smile.

“I can’t believe you went out with Johnny,” he muttered.

Johnny was roommates with Riley, my other best friend. Nothing serious had ever happened with Johnny. It dawned on me that James probably knew about that already since he had been looking out for me since I’d started school at Kingsbrook. Oh, what embarrassing things he had seen!

“No interrupting!” I laughed playfully.

Caroline continued shooting questions at me. After a couple more, I worried time was ticking down. We were really good at this game though, and so I was pretty sure we already had more points than the boys. “The one thing you hate most being dressed in?”

“Sequins.”

“Riley’s summer job.”

“Mascot.”

Time! It has to be time!” Nick yelled.

“You do this on a star…” She rushed to squeeze in the words.

“Wish!” I shouted.

As soon as I had, the buzzer went off and Caroline jumped up. “Twelve! That’s twelve, guys. Sorry about your luck.” She danced around, rubbing it in their faces, making me giggle.

“You guys are ridiculous at this. How is it possible? I’ve known James longer!” Nick said, shaking his head. That comment just made Care laugh at him more. “You’ll be punished later for embarrassing me,” Nick teased her, and I beamed over at them.

As I looked on at their playfulness, I could feel exhaustion hitting me. While Caroline and Nick continued to tease each other, I snuggled back up into the couch and shut my eyes.

It wasn’t until the most luscious lips began trailing down my jawbone that I even realized I had fallen asleep. I smiled, knowing the lips belonged to him.

“Ariya, bedtime,” James whispered softly in my ear.

Holy hell. James’s voice did embarrassing things to me. I blinked my eyes, expecting the room to still be lit up, only to find we were surrounded by darkness. Apparently, I had passed out completely instead of just shutting my eyes to rest a minute.

“Mmph,” I muttered an unintelligible sound.

Caroline’s chuckle sounded from somewhere in the black around me. “James, just throw her over your shoulder. She’s terrible to try to wake up.”

I grinned at her comment, despite my exhaustion. I felt James move his arms around me and didn’t protest. He picked me up as if I weighted nothing at all and we began moving, I assumed out of the living room and upstairs.

“Did I tell you that you smell like Christmas? Pine needles, and snow, and Christmas.” I smiled at him lazily as my arms rested on his shoulders while he carried me. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I sounded drunk. I’d only had one glass of champagne before midnight though, so that was not the case.

He chuckled softly. “Not in that much detail, but thank you, Ariya.” James flicked on the lights in my bathroom and set me down before turning and propping himself up against the headboard of my bed. Clearly, he wasn’t concerned with the parental check tonight.

We’d been at my parents’ house for a few weeks now. Our arrangement was that girls sleep in my room, and the boys have the guest room down the hall. However, since my guests are vampires, they can sneak around quietly and quickly unnoticed. That meant that the original sleeping arrangements lasted only long enough for the parental check, which I still got even at twenty-one years old.

The parental check consisted of my dad poking his head in a couple minutes after we were upstairs and settled in, and then again around sunrise. My guests always switched back to their designated rooms before he came back in the mornings. My parents had no clue what was going on, or at least I hoped they didn’t.

My dad is overly protective, but I am his little girl, his princess, and an only child. Everyone else in my life is over protective anyway, so, I’m used to it.

It was hard to believe New Year’s Eve had come and gone. It felt like we’d escaped in a bubble far away from everything, but I knew we’d only just paused reality, and that eventually, we’d need to push play again. This past year had been difficult in many respects and yet amazing in others. I’d gone from being kidnapped, mauled and nearly killed, to finding out James, my boyfriend, who also happens to be a vampire and my designated Protector, has a dead mother who might be very much alive, and possibly after me. It’s been interesting to say the least. And yeah, I’m dating a vampire. It still feels strange, this new world I’m a part of. This was all news to me last semester. No biggie at all though, right?

It’s not just James that is a vampire either, Caroline and her boyfriend Nick are also vampires. The three of them are part of a select group, designated to protect members of a bloodline endowed with the ability to heal vampires who have been staked. Yep, along with discovering that vampires, werewolves, and warlocks exist, I also discovered I was part of this bloodline. I was a descendant of a long line of innocents who were watched over until they either had a child of their own and turned, or had a child of their own and remained human without the gift of healing. I wasn’t thrilled at the having a child part of the equation, but I wasn’t known for being much of a rule-follower in this new life. So for now, I could relax.

It barely seemed believable that less than two weeks ago, the heinous werewolf Devon had enacted his insane plot to kill me. What’s worse, he’d even enlisted the help of my great-great-grandmother, Emma—who was a vampire by the way, didn’t look a day older than me, and could even be considered an ex of James’s. Yes, Jerry Springer would be delighted to meet us all. I’m still alive, obviously, which means his attempts failed. Actually, he’s now rotting in a grave somewhere next to Emma. If it weren’t for James arriving when he did, I don’t know that I’d still be here.

The thought gave me chills. It was through that awful experience that we’d discovered this healing ability of mine also applies to werewolves, not just vampires as was the assumption for centuries.

One good thing that did come out of it all was the information Emma gave us before she met with her final death. It was through her that we learned of Audrey, James’s mother. James had spent over two hundred years thinking his mother was buried in the ground, but Emma’s information suggested she might have been alive the whole time. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the elation of a happy reunion. If James’s mother was alive, we weren’t sure it would be a good thing. In fact, there’s a possibility that she may be siding with the werewolves who have been after me, or after my blood to be more precise. What Audrey’s motivations could be, if she was in fact siding with them, we don’t know, but we needed to find out, and soon. Our lives seemed to depend on it.

I finished up in the bathroom and crawled into bed, snuggling up under the covers facing James.

“Where are you?” he whispered brushing my hair back from my freshly cleaned face.

“Just thinking of how wonderful it has been here. You haven’t been your stern Protector self. I like it,” I smiled, embarrassingly wide, up into his ice blue eyes.

As my Protector, James was under very strict rules to keep me safe. From the moment we’d met, there was something more there, and we’d headed down a tough road of trying to push our feelings aside. Besides an extremely passionate kiss or two, and stolen glances here and there, we were semi-successful. Then, when I was almost killed, all bets were off, and we decided life was too unpredictable to be without each other.

So now he was with me, breaking Protector rules, but still with me.

“Stern, Protector look?” he smiled and leaned into me, wrapping his hand in my hair and kissing me.

“Mhmm,” I managed to get out before leaning back to explain. “You shut yourself off from feeling anything. I can see it. But here, you’ve been open. Letting me in.”

James paused and watched me as I spoke before shaking his head and turning his attention back to my mouth. “I’ve never let go before,” he sighed, brushing his fingers gently over my lips.

He leaned down and placed his mouth over mine, claiming me like I was his own personal property. Fine by me, I thought smugly, reveling in the fact that my own personal GQ model was gracing me with his presence in bed. He really did belong on magazine covers so the whole world could appreciate his beautiful face, not in small towns watching out for me.

I’d never in my life been kissed the way James kisses me. There is something there behind his passion that I didn’t think was possible. My breath hitched as we melded closer together, and then, much to my disappointment, he pulled back.

“You’ll be tired tomorrow,” he said and kissed me one last time before pulling me back against his flawless body.

Reluctantly, I snuggled into his chest as he stroked my hair. My frustration dissipated quickly as he continued the motion. He made me feel so secure, so safe. James did quite a great job of helping me explore this new intimate side of me. I never seemed to get enough of him. I was sure his resolve tonight would be gone by tomorrow and the thought pacified the newly unquenchable side of me, a side I hadn’t known existed before James.

“How have things been with your dad here?” I asked him.

James and his father didn’t exactly see eye to eye on things, well on just about anything. Marik, James’s father, was very much against James breaking the rules with me, breaking any rules really. Marik was my mother’s Protector, which meant any time I spent with my parents meant he and James were thrown together.

James kissed my forehead. “There is no need to worry about me, Ariya, I promise you. Things are fine. We are both staying out of each other’s way.” He spoke so reassuringly that I almost believed him, but I knew he didn’t like it.

I pressed myself up against him, not wanting there to be any space separating us.

“You’re going to be the death of me, Ariya,” James said as he leaned down to plant another kiss on my lips.

My entire body froze. I knew he didn’t mean for me to take it seriously, but that was my biggest fear. He felt me tense and pulled his head up, searching my face. He seemed to get it and closed his eyes for a moment.

“Ariya, it’s just an expression.”

“No, I know. I know,” I said, trying to convince myself as I said the words.

How could I explain to him what I felt? He didn’t understand how scared I was for all of them. The Protectors would fight to stop anyone from hurting me, risking getting hurt themselves even. Part of me thought I was being irrational. I could save them after all. But I had no idea if I could save them from everything. It wasn’t like we had tested how far my abilities could go.

James stared at me another minute or two before speaking. His forehead creased and he looked even steamier than he normally did. “Do you have so little faith in me?”

“I do have faith in you, James. I know you’ll keep us safe, but what about you? That’s my concern,” I said quietly, no strength to my voice at all.

Our prior fun-loving mood was long gone as fear crept in. Caroline had been working with me on my emotions, teaching me to take deep breaths and letting me know if I was overreacting. I’m sure she’d be telling me to do that now as panic welled in me, thinking about James’s safety.

We’d discovered that irrational emotions were part of the stupid “gift,” and they were uncontrollable for the most part. I hated how it felt like a jumble in my head all the time. I would feel varying emotions throughout the day, and as a result, was also tired and sometimes even exhausted by the evening. According to the bloodline legend, that was all supposed to change after my twenty-second birthday, and let me tell you, I could not wait.

“Ariya, everything is going to be okay. I’ve survived two hundred and fifty years, haven’t I? I’ll be here for you,” he whispered, brushing his mouth against mine softly.

He pulled back slightly and lay facing me with a look on his face I couldn’t quite name. I would say love, but we couldn’t be in love yet.

You’re in love already, Ariya, the thought snuck in. But that was overemotional me. James was a centuries old vampire. He didn’t do things like fall in love quickly.

He kissed my forehead, bringing me out of my thoughts. “Go to sleep, Ariya. Everything is going to be okay.”

I’d been prone to nightmares since the time I was tortured by Devon. Sleeping with James brought me some comfort. I’m not sure how it’s possible that James’s presence has such a strong effect on my dreams. I didn’t want to get too caught up in what that meant because I didn’t want there to be something else making me feel dependent on him. I wanted to be strong on my own.

I sighed into his chest and let the gentle rhythm of his hand caressing my arms lull me to sleep.

***

I woke up New Year’s Day feeing secure, probably due to the fact that James had yet to leave my side. I stretched out, sighing, remembering what a wonderful New Year’s Eve it had been.

This was the year I was graduating college, the year I’d finally be twenty-two and not be such an emotional wreck, or so I hoped. I pushed the thoughts of gloom as far away from me as possible and rolled over snuggling underneath James’s arm.

“I know you aren’t asleep,” I teased and felt his smile on my shoulder where I’d squeezed in.

“I was thinking about this trip.” By trip, he meant to Colorado, his home, where we’d begin our search for clues about Audrey. He sat up and watched me as if waiting for a reaction to something. “I think I should go alone.”

I gaped at him, not bothering to hide my surprise. “We were supposed to all go together. Why do you want to go alone?” I couldn’t understand the sudden change.

“You know why, Ariya. It might not be safe. We don’t know where Audrey…” his voice trailed off as he searched for the right words. “If it is her, we don’t know where she is,” James said carefully.

“Emma told me that I came to them when she had me last year. They basically picked out that school for me. They are in Mineral Point. They aren’t here.”

I was getting upset because his lack of emotion meant he was in his Protector state of mind where nothing I said would faze him. We were finally getting to a good place, and when he made decisions on his own, it reminded me of the distance that had been between us before. Deep breath, I reminded myself.

“Emma lied about a lot of things, Ariya. She could have lied about that, too.”

“She thought I was going to die! She had no reason to lie to me about that. I wasn’t supposed to survive being taken by her.” The frustration cracked through and all I saw was red. “Am I just going to stay locked away until this passes? What kind of life is that? If I didn’t know about you, I’d still be doing everything like normal and going wherever I wanted to go. You have to let me live, James. You can’t guard me like this.”

I knew that argument wasn’t a hundred percent valid since I wouldn’t have been going to James’s home if I didn’t know about him, but the overall point was still true. He couldn’t just keep me locked up and he knew it. He always argued that I needed to live my life. Well, then he has to let me do that, I thought and continued talking.

“We’re all going together. That’s what we decided.” I tried to make it sound like my statement was final and that it was for the benefit of all of us.

The truth was, I was being selfish. I didn’t want my friends to go somewhere where I didn’t know what was happening. Given my aptitude for such varying emotions at the drop of a hat, I wasn’t sure I could handle the roller coaster of waiting around for news on how they were, while I sat around with nothing to do.

He paused looking at me. Unable to meet his steady gaze, I put my head on his chest. That seemed to soften him up. “Okay. Okay, Ariya. I didn’t realize it was so important to you. I’m sorry,” he murmured, hugging me close. His hand splayed over my back and his fingers carved small circles, calming my nerves almost immediately.

“You better go before my dad comes in. He’ll kill you. I’m surprised he hasn’t suffered a heart attack already from you being so close to me this whole trip,” I said into James’s chest. My father was not a fan of boyfriends, not that I’d had many, which made James even worse because it was clear how serious it was.

“You’re his world. We have that in common,” he said as he kissed the top of my head before hopping out of bed and winking back at me. “Get up. I’m sure you’re hungry.”

“Are you hungry?” I teased.

“Ariya, I’ve been hungry since I met you.” He shut the door behind him, leaving me to let my recently gutter-minded brain decide what he meant by that.

I shuffled around preparing for the day ahead. I told my mom the night before that we’d help put the decorations away from the festivities. After an entertaining breakfast, entertaining only because the vampires liked to play games with me while they pretended to eat in front of my parents, James and I headed up to the attic where we would store everything until next year rolled around.

We managed to get up into the attic, which contained just enough room for James to stand. I started digging through the boxes. Pushing through the couple closest to us, I found space to set the extra Christmas and New Year’s decorations towards the back of the small space.

“You can set them here,” I motioned, turning to face James, but he wasn’t paying attention to me. His gaze was focused on a box that I couldn’t see the label of. “James?” I asked, trying to get his attention.

He slowly turned to me. I was so taken aback by his sad expression that I almost gasped. “What’s wrong?”

I walked over to him quickly and noticed the box he’d found. It was labeled “Ariya’s Future Family.” My mom had made the box when I went to college. We had gone through the spare room that had all my childhood things in it because it was her goal before I left to create a guestroom in our house. I inhaled sharply. I knew James didn’t want to have a conversation about this, but we were about to be forced into it now.

He had told me before that he couldn’t give me a family. It was one of the many reasons he originally stayed away from me. Vampires didn’t procreate, and he believed I wanted a family more than anything. I had at one point been extremely keen on it. That was, until I met him. Now, I wasn’t sure that I did care to have a family if it meant I wouldn’t have one with him.

“James, this was made before I met you,” I said hesitantly, not sure how to dispel his sadness.

He nodded but went through the box anyway. “These were yours?” he asked and held up my velveteen rabbit and the book that went along with it.

I nodded my head yes, remembering reading that book with my mom over and over, always wishing for a different ending. I had wanted the rabbit to be able to be real and stay with the boy. Ironic, seeing as I was human trying to stay with James, I thought.

“It was my favorite story.” I smiled a small smile at him, wanting some kind of positive reaction back.

“Ariya…”

He started to speak, but I cut him off. “Please stop thinking about it, James. I know what I want.” I walked up to him and put my hands on his waist, trying to get him to look at me.

“No, you don’t. You could have all this,” he said, closing the box back up and placing it back where he found it. “You’re going to be a wonderful mother, Ariya.” He kissed my head, pulling away.

What? What in the world did that mean? “I don’t think I’m going to be a mother, James,” I argued back. What was he thinking? Did he forget that being a mother meant not being with him?

“You don’t know that. Come on, let’s get back downstairs before your dad gives himself a stroke about us being alone together,” he said and tried smiling at me.

“Don’t do this again. Don’t pull away from me!” I begged, walking right back over to him. “This isn’t something we have to decide right now, and it’s not something I want to argue about, please.” I looked at him, trying to will him to stop over-thinking everything about our future.

He smiled briefly again before heading towards the stairs and holding his hand out to help me down out of the attic. All I wanted to do was shake him and tell him he was crazy if he thought I was going to turn away from him. That wouldn’t be what he wanted to hear, though. If I said that, he’d probably turn away himself, thinking that I was wasting my life. Plus, it was his job to make sure I popped out another kid in the bloodline, wasn’t it? That was the purpose of keeping the bloodline safe. So that they could live a normal life and have a family and keep this damn “gift” going.

I sighed, shutting the attic door a bit harder than I needed to, and I didn’t look at James as I walked past him.

Chapter 2

We packed up our things later that day and prepared to head to Colorado. My mom teared up the way she always did when I headed back to school. She never changed, but it was okay because I got watery-eyed too and tried to cover it with a yawn.

“Judy, Bryan, it has been perfect as usual,” Caroline said and hugged them both. Caroline used to only call them Mr. and Mrs. Adams, however they read her the riot act saying she was like family, and if mom and dad wasn’t going to be used, then she was only allowed to use their first names.

With everything going on in our lives, leaving made me worry about my parents’ safety. The only thing that made it easier to say goodbye to them was knowing James’s father would be watching out for them. I didn’t particularly like Marik, but he was the leader of all the Protectors, so he was competent at what he does.

We told my mom and dad that we were visiting James’s family home for the last part of our winter break. James insisted on buying my ticket as the vampires had everything planned out already. I pouted about that, but they ignored me. Like Caroline, they all seemed to be well-off and acted like it was no big deal to spend six hundred dollars for a flight to Colorado. Whenever I did try arguing, they brushed it off and told me it was nothing.

I tried to accept it. I knew there were plenty of battles to be had with them, and I had to be smart about which ones to pick. Money was one I could let them have.

My parents and I always drove to Mineral Point when I headed back to school, so arriving at the airport with James, Caroline, and Nick instead felt strange. I couldn’t remember the last time I had even been on a flight. We got through security in no time, and the flight wasn’t a long one at all. Soon we were in a rental car heading to some remote cabin that I’d only heard James mention once or twice in the time I’d known him. He said he had trained there and his grandfather had turned him there. I also knew that his parents and grandfather didn’t live very far away from each other. Colorado seemed a random place for them to gather.

“How did everyone end up in the US anyway? Weren’t the Protectors with the bloodline in Germany?”

James smiled, almost proudly. “Marik was born only days before my grandfather was turned. My grandfather sent him and my grandmother to the states when whispers of threats to the bloodline began spreading. America was as far away from Germany as he could get. It was dangerous for them to travel without my grandfather, but perilous to stay lest they be discovered. When the Great Battle was over, my grandfather was the sole surviving Protector. He’d been saved by your ancestor, and after that, he knew he had to save her in return. He knew he had to take her away and there couldn’t be a trace of her, or she’d be in danger. When he could, he reunited with my grandmother and Marik, bringing your ancestor along with him.”

I was always in awe of James when he spoke of the past. The way he opened up and his willingness to teach me about the long shared history between our ancestors made me feel closer to him. “Where at in America?” I questioned, not wanting him to stop.

He flicked his eyes towards me, his smile spreading at my obvious enthrallment. “They started off in Jamestown. My grandfather and grandmother raised your ancestor as their own. Her name was Cianna. She and Marik grew up close. Apparently, they were practically inseparable even with a five-year age difference. They all moved to Colorado when Marik was a teenager to begin training. There were others that my grandfather had begun turning by then, trying to rebuild the Protector legacy.”

James usually referred to his father as Marik. While I loved listening to the history, he made his father sound like just another part of the story, like someone he didn’t even know. The thought made me sad, and I noticed James had stopped talking.

“Cianna is a pretty name,” I commented, trying to distract him from any negative thoughts.

I wanted to know more, ask James what he meant by Cianna and Marik being close, but since he hated talking about his father, I stopped myself. I smiled at him in thanks and turned my attention outside the window to watch the snowy landscape as we passed through.

We drove for three hours. The car tilted up on a steep road, and I was surprised at the lack of a path in front of us as we made the trek uphill. I tensed once as the car felt like it slid, but it was quickly corrected, and I saw James smirk at me.

“She goes after the bad guys without a second thought, but tenses in a car on an icy road. What will we do with you?”

I crossed my arms over my chest in a fake glower, but couldn’t stop the grin that spread across my face at his teasing.

We pulled up to a large, isolated log cabin minutes later. We hadn’t really passed anything for miles, so to come up across the place surprised me. It really was smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

When we stepped out of the car, everything was silent. Snow seems to have a way of making that happen, dampening any and all sound. Pine trees were sprawled out as far as I could see. The untouched snow around us added to the stillness hanging in the air. It was beautiful, and I smiled to myself as Caroline spoke aloud what I had been thinking.

“I always forget how peaceful it is here,” she said, shutting the car door softly behind her.

Nick looked like he was pausing to take it in for a moment, too. I glanced around again. Closing my eyes, I breathed in deeply. It smelled like James. It was just like I’d told him, pine and snow. When my eyes opened, James was watching me. He looked at me questioningly.

“It smells like you,” I remarked sheepishly.

“I told you, I was turned here.” His warm smile made my stomach drop as he stood there, surrounded by the snow-covered backdrop.

“Is this your grandfather’s house then?” I asked. Would I meet him?

Was. He’s dead.”

I stopped walking abruptly. James had never mentioned that his grandfather had died. I had just assumed he was still alive. James just nodded signaling that it wasn’t really something he was going to talk to me about so I didn’t push it. It did leave me wondering why he’d never mentioned it though.

Instead of questioning James, I turned my eyes to take in the sight of the cabin in the woods covered in snow. It was breathtaking. It looked like we’d stepped into a painting. I couldn’t wait to see what the place looked like lit up.

“James, it’s beautiful here,” I said, unable to hide my awe.

He looked over at me. “It’s the one place that actually felt like home, until recently.”

The way he said it was so different than his usual tone. It was wistful and wanting. James usually sounded stronger, and it was hard to imagine something truly getting to him. I smiled at his remark and wondered if Mineral Point was home now to him.

We walked inside the cabin and James flicked on the lights. The place was just as stunning inside as it was out. The main room was open and spacious. There was a fireplace in the center with the most comfortable looking couches I’d ever seen surrounding it.

There were three bedrooms along the perimeter as well as the kitchen. James informed us that the media room was in the basement. There were no stairs besides the ones that were to the right of the entrance leading down, so the basement was the only other part of the house.

For being a small place, it certainly felt expensive. There was state-of-the-art everything in the main room and kitchen. A flat screen TV hung on one of the walls of the living room. The kitchen was equipped with a top-of-the-line stove, microwave, refrigerator, a wine cooler, and a mini fridge.

“Who lives here now?” I asked, trying to take everything in.

“Protectors can use this as they wish. Mostly it’s only higher ups and me, or Marik, occasionally,” he said as he continued turning everything on.

“You are a higher up, James,” Caroline replied nonchalantly, as if it was silly for him to categorize himself otherwise.

He didn’t acknowledge the comment. Instead, he walked back over to me and took my hand. “You know where everything is. Make yourselves at home.” He nodded over towards Nick and Caroline. He tugged at me, pulling me away and maneuvering me down the hall towards one of the bedrooms. “This is my room.” He pushed the door open and I stepped into his world.

There was a picture of him and his grandfather and another of him and Nick pinned up to a bulletin board above a sleek, metal framed desk. No other pictures could be found in the room, but there were books lining a black bookshelf in the corner opposite his desk. I remembered seeing books at his place in Mineral Point, too. There’s just something sexy about a man who reads, I thought. A computer sat on the corner of the desk, but there was nothing on the walls. It looked plain, but tidy.

“Neat freak,” I teased, and he smiled that gorgeous, perfect smile. I was heated at once. “Should we christen your bedroom?” I raised my eyebrow as seductively as I could, but my voice came out in a stammer.

He looked at me with a warm and loving glance under that cute quirked eyebrow, then ran a finger slowly across my collarbone and pressed his forehead against mine. “I’d love nothing more, but I don’t think you’re ready for that. Not yet.”

I was going to retort that I actually was ready, but was overcome with self-doubt almost immediately. Normally, this would not have been my reaction and I could feel it was something outside of my control tugging at me. The stupid hormones that came along with this ridiculous gift were getting the better of me once again. Where was Caroline to tell me I was being irrational?

Chewing the inside of my cheek, a nervous habit that I wished I could kick, was drawing James’s attention so I turned away towards the bookshelf to shield myself from his careful gaze. I walked closer to the books and pretended to be browsing through them. Instead, I continued to think about how I wasn’t as good as Emma or he would have tried to be with me already. He had slept with her, and if they had dated as briefly as he had implied, then that didn’t give them long to be getting to know each other before they did. Emma hadn’t held back the details of their intimacy.

I frowned. “You don’t want to?” I said, hurt, finally turning towards him.

James walked over to me shaking his head as if my question was absurd. He took my chin and tilted my head up. “Of course I want to, Ariya. You’re not easy to say no to.”

“And she was easy to say yes to?” I asked, pulling away from his tender grasp. I hated being that girl, the insecure and jealous one. I despised it, actually, but the feeling was strong. He was my first serious boyfriend which didn’t help things, and on top of that, I didn’t know how I was supposed to act.

I knew he could tell I was talking about Emma and his brow creased at my statement. He looked furious, but then again, he also looked hurt.

“Emma? You think I had sex with Emma?” he questioned, and I could hear the hurt more in his voice now.

“She told me about it and rather enjoyed giving me the details, too.” My voice was quiet, and I realized I was embarrassed to have this conversation with him. I didn’t want to talk about how he slept with someone I’m related to. It felt wrong. I shifted uncomfortably.

“And you believed her?” he asked.

My eyes shot up to meet his. “You…you didn’t?” My voice squeaked as the question came out. Emma lied? Duh, Ariya, I thought. She always lied. How many times had Nick and James said it was brief thing that happened with her?

“Ariya, we went out twice. We kissed once. What did you think? I told you it wasn’t long that we were together. We weren’t even together,” he continued babbling in a fit of frustration that was quite unlike him. “I swear to you, nothing like that happened.”

“She was so convincing though.” Relief flooded through me as I processed his words. He shook his head and brushed his fingers across my cheek. I was on a roll so I continued trekking down the path we were on. “Have you ever?” I would be foolish to think in two hundred and fifty years that James had never had sex. He was a walking advertisement for women’s fantasy’s everywhere.

To his credit, he didn’t get uncomfortable with the question. “Yes,” he said, actually hiding a smile.

“How many times?” I asked, curious for more information from him, but trying to come out with my questions in a calm and unconcerned manner.

He hesitated, tilting his head as he regarded me. “A couple,” he smirked before continuing. “Do you mean how many women?”

I nodded.

“Eight. All vampires.”

Eight was a lot less than I would have thought for someone that looked like a walking sex ad. “Did you love them? How did you know them?” I took the plunge, wanting to know everything.

He looked at me for a moment, as if deciding whether or not to tell me, and then sighed. “I’m not proud of it. Believe it or not I was a gentleman before I turned. I was focused on my job and wasn’t interested in relationships. The first time was soon after I turned. Everything is different. You feel more, experience more, and want more. It’s a powerful feeling, when you first turn.”

I waited, looking at him expectantly as he paused. It was too late to take my question back now. I silently braced myself for the rest of his answer and nervously bit the inside of my check again as discreetly as I could, hoping it would go unnoticed.

“The first time was a one night thing, and like I said, I’m not proud of it. Two were vampires I dated for awhile. It didn’t work because I was focused on my job. The rest were just random.” His eyes flicked to mine almost as if he were ashamed. He didn’t need to be. We hadn’t known each other then.

Heck I wasn’t even alive, I added wordlessly.

“Besides that, there hasn’t been anyone. I know I keep saying it, but I’ve been focused on my job, Ariya.”

“You’ve only been intimate with eight women?” I asked, shocked.

He smiled, again, more seductively this time. “No, but that is all I’ve had sex with, though.”

I nodded catching his drift and hating that I did. “So is it because I’m not a vampire?”

He’d never had sex with a human, he’d admitted that much, so perhaps that was what was holding him back with me. Although, Caroline told me Nick loved it when she was human, so I wasn’t sure why it would be an issue. It was that, or he was still on his whole hang up from last year about the bloodline not being able to mix with the Protector line, which was stupid since we knew that wasn’t the case.

“No, it’s not. Ariya, I told you I want to. I know you though, and I know that you haven’t had sex before. I want you to be sure, and I don’t think a whim decision in a cabin would be what you imagined. Plus, I don’t think we should yet.” He walked up and kissed me hard. “But, that doesn’t mean we can’t do stuff.” He smiled wickedly and threw me onto his bed.

I couldn’t help laughing before he quieted me with his lips. All the previous self-doubt was gone. James made me feel like I was special. His kiss made me feel like there was nothing in the world he wanted more than me. I felt adored, which, up until him, was something I thought of as simply an out of reach, fairytale feeling.

His lips pressed to mine, and while the force of his passion made the kiss hard and needy, his lips were full and soft. His tongue traced the outline of my bottom lip, and he pulled me on top of him. My hair fell in my face and he brought his hands up to hold it back and tugged gently to get my attention.

“I don’t know how I lived in a world that you weren’t a part of for so long. You’ve changed me, Ariya. I’ll do anything to keep you safe.”

His words wrapped around me like a blanket, and in that moment I knew, he was it – my soulmate, the one, whatever the words were. We were created for each other, and I wasn’t going to let that be taken from me by anyone.

I bent down, taking his lips in mine, trying to convey that I felt exactly the same way. James’s hands slowly inched up my leg and cupped the back of my thighs, pushing me into the hardness that now drew all my attention. It took everything in me not to start dry humping him like a fifteen-year-old faced with their first sexual encounter; you know, the one where it doesn’t register that clothes aren’t supposed to be worn during such activities. Fortunately for me, he was way past those years, proving that point as he worked his hands teasingly over my thighs and towards the button of my jeans.

“Take them off,” I said hoarsely.

He took his freaking time with the task, much to my frustration. He watched my agitation, which only seemed to goad him on more. My gaze followed his finger, while I tried desperately not to shiver as he ran it around the waistline of my jeans, dipping it in just enough to leave me about to beg for more. He lifted me so that we were standing next to his bed as he ran his lips over my neck and tugged my jeans slowly down my legs. His movements were torture, and as soon as they were low enough, I kicked them off and jumped, wrapping my legs around his waist, desperate for some kind of friction. He knew exactly what he was doing, and it was turning me on even more. I was sure he knew that, too.

He grabbed the nape of my neck with one hand and my lower back with the other, crushing our bodies together. Again, way too slowly, he lowered me to the bed, crawling over the top of me seductively. Then, before I could realize what was happening, he flipped me over so that I was on top of him again. He began moving his hips in a rhythm that brought me impossibly close to the edge considering James was still fully clothed. Everything was new to me, the passion and intensity, all of it. I felt different with James. I was always shy before with guys, and while I still wasn’t a sex goddess by any means, once he locked me in his embrace, I was never afraid.

I pulled away from his lips in order to breathe. Gasping, I rocked back up and away from him, throwing my head back. His hands slid under my shirt and around my stomach. Holy hell. I lost the ability to be coherent as he continued with his hands down my body, touching me as if he were an expert, never once stopping his hips from grinding in to me.

My treacherous breathing picked up, following the intense rhythm of our bodies, giving away how unaccustomed I was to this kind of intimacy. He pulled me down to his mouth and rained kisses down my neck, biting my ear lobe gently.

In my heated state, I lost track of time. I don’t know if the pleasure he unleashed in me lasted seconds, minutes, or hours, but it was long enough to have my whole body tightening around his until I found my release. His mouth was back on mine half way through my fit of convulsing and he held me tightly.

“James,” I gasped in again, shuddering, and collapsing against his chest.

When I opened my eyes, he was grinning up at me. “Feeling better?”

“Oh, hush,” I scoffed, feigning anger.

When my body finally calmed down, I tried to snake out from his grasp. More than anything, I wanted to return the favor and give him some relief. However, his arms locked around me, stopping me from getting anywhere.

Pouting at him, I knew fighting him was useless. He wouldn’t ever let me do anything to him. It was something I didn’t understand, but the first time I asked, he said to drop it and that he needed some time. He claimed he was more than happy to spend every night watching me come apart. What he didn’t seem to comprehend was, I wasn’t happy with only that arrangement, even if it was earth shattering for me.

I sighed, but he ignored me, holding me tightly in his grasp and running his hands through my hair.

I lost track of time, as I usually do with him, and was only snapped out of the trance by the feeling of James’s lips kissing my forehead. I was turned over and seconds later he dangled my jeans off his finger next to the bed. I snatched them, feeing a slight blush come over me, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I jumped up and shimmied back into them.

“Let’s go find Caroline and Nick.” He grinned again and walked out giving me a moment to figure out how to compose myself enough to be in public again.

****

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