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Lizbeth (The Days of Blood and Roses)
Latest CVS novel and sequel to 'OF&P'. It's difficult being a teen in vampire society.
|Amina runs Lissa's blood through a sleek portable device while Darius checks her neurological responses. My wife dutifully follows his fingers with her eyes, answers his banal questions, and slaps his hand when he snaps near her ear. Sylvie's office may not seem like the ideal place for a medical exam, but all parties involved are too frightened to test Lissa's emotional responses to a laboratory atmosphere.
I attempt to escape and check on Liz and Bry a couple of times, but the look of fright that passes over my wife's face forces me back into the chair at her side to deliver a kiss to her temple. With me in her sightline she seems calm and rational, almost confident. If I move behind her, she becomes agitated and begins reverting, verging on panic.
"Liss, it's ok, you're safe, sweetie," I soothe as I squeeze her hand, smiling as affectionately as I can.
This is met by her lips pursing as her face contorts with worry. "I know I'm safe, Will."
Ah, realization hits me upside my head. She's scared something will happen to me. Going by our track record in this building, on this specific floor, she has every right to be.
"You're right. Not going anywhere without you, love."
From behind her desk, Sylvie observes her friend and former sparring partner, her expression a mixture of sadness and anger. Lissa was the only vampire in Chicago who could best her with weapons, but the shell curled up on the chair warily obeying Darius's commands appears too frail to even hold a sword.
When a clean bill of health is given, Liss springs up and drags me to the door. I put on the brakes as we near the elevator. "Liss, sweetie, slow down."
"I want to see the girls...now."
Checking my phone I bring the downer, "They still have over an hour, love. If you make your grand entrance now, there is no way they will finish, and Baz insists he wants them fully trained as soon as possible."
Damn her pout is cute.
With a stomp of her foot she protests, "But I want to see my babies."
"In sixty minutes, sweetie." Kissing each of her eyes and then softly to her lips, I insist, "I feel the unwavering urge to listen to our brother with regards to our daughters. He has much more clarity than either of us, Liss."
She crosses her arms over her chest with a huff. "Fine."
"Besides, Deirdre got the short end of the stick when you came home."
"Dre?" The adorable pout transforms to concerned frown. "What happened to Dre?"
"When you took those first steps into accepting you were home, you didn't recognize her or Sylvie. You also did not approve of them being in our house. Took to growling at them whenever they were in the room." I pull her hands from her mouth as tears fill the rims of her eyes. "Shhh. She doesn't blame you, sweetie. But I'm certain she would love to see you now. See how good you're doing."
"Ok," squeaks out as she lets me lead her onto the elevator and then out into the foyer of IO.
A familiar rumble of conversations, debates, and shouts across the large room greet our ears, but Liss tugs my hand, wanting to stand out of sight and observe for a bit. I oblige by cuddling her to my chest near the wall, listening to the flutter of her nervous heart.
"Is this too much, Liss? We can head home, have Saf bring the girls after they are done training."
"It's not too much, just a smidgen disorienting. We went from quiet house, to noisy streets, to quiet office, and then here." Lissa pulls back and looks to me. "I think I'm ready, but don't let go of my hand. Overwhelming need to know where you are at all times."
"I won't, love."
While I let her direct me slowly into the room, my eyes check the occupants. The ones who spot her first pause in mid-action to stop and stare at her in shock. A ripple of silence travels across the floor as all eyes shift to focus on my wife, who blushes deep into the maroons.
Cat approaches us first, her dark brown eyes asking me if it's safe to approach. I nod and whisper to my wife, "You're doing really good, sweetie."
When my boss reaches us she smiles warmly and asks, "How are you, Liss?"
Making a point to meet Cat's gaze, Liss answers, "Had better months. I think. Can't remember much of this one."
"Well it's good to have you back safe and sound. We missed you, the whole crew."
My wife's head bobs around, searching for someone in particular. Upon spotting a downtrodden Dre standing well behind the other officers in EO, Liss lets go of my hand and beelines for our friend, practically knocking her over. Dre cries inside the fierce embrace as Liss apologizes.
"Why are you apologizing? Stop that." She straightens and wipes her eyes as she sniffs back her tears. "Uh, don't you dare feel sorry for not recognizing me after that drugged up torture. And may I say I am completely impressed with how well your husband is doing. We were all certain it would take weeks to get you in here."
I may be blushing, my face definitely feels very hot all of a sudden. Rarely do I get verbal praise in front of my colleagues. When I do, it is usually tempered with an insult of some kind.
Soon enough all of IO and EO has put in their time reaclimating Liss, and we end up sitting and chatting with Sam and Kaelhyn. The dark circles under their eyes are testimony to the late nights they have spent running down leads and teasing apart puzzles. We are brought up to date on the various side projects EO has taken on across the Eastern Hemisphere, along with Kaelhyn's newest discoveries inside the virtual Egyptian maze. She assures me they have everything under control, and there are too many ears in the room to give us full disclosure.
After several minutes Liss asks, "Where's Dwayne?"
My Scottish podmate's face morphs as she tears up, her face glowing bright red. "He's helping Perish and Cass. At least that's what I think he's doing...I haven't spoken to him since we parted ways to bring you home."
The maternal instincts kick in for Liss, her arms wrapping around Kael. "Hey. He would never do anything that could possibly make you unhappy. And I have video proof of how much he loves you, sweetie. When you arrived in IO, he stopped hitting on Will, and started asking me about dance lessons and romantic gestures. Wanted me to infiltrate your mind and give him all the major intel."
"I know. I just miss him." Kael snorts as she laughs, shaking her head and untangling from Lissa's hug. "Ugh. Couldn't stand the guy for years, now I love him so much I have become romantic gelatin. When the hell did that happen?"
With a smile Sam answers, "I think it happened when he screamed like a baby on that roller coaster at Six Flags. Or maybe it was when he programmed the interactives to play some sappy song you love so he could go all Broadway musical in the middle of IO when he proposed. Then again, he bought you that super sweet katana and trained you to take down Daiki."
"I hardly think headbutting Daiki can be counted as fighting technique."
Liss holds up her hand and laughs. "All's fair in sparring with the big boys, Kael."
I marvel at this, watching Lissa warm up through girl talk. Sam catches me staring and smiling, but she doesn't call me out, she keeps the ball rolling as they delve into other sweet and funny Dwayne stories. Cat eventually rounds up the crew to get back to work, and I kiss Liss on the forehead before checking my woefully neglected reports while she wanders to the interactives.
As expected, the vampire world has not come to a screeching halt while I nursed my wife back to reality. I close my screens and stand, stretching my tired body before approaching my wife as she studies the case files active on the wall. Her entire body positions differently, on edge and ready to strike. When I near, I see the little trickle start from her nose, and grab a tissue from the nearest desk as I spy her eyes shift, the tiny tick no longer overtaking her whole body, but there none-the-less.
While pressing the tissue to her upper lip, she looks to me and sets me at ease, "I'm good, residual effects according to Darius. Lost too much blood, and the transfusions aren't taking all the way. Apparently I have a stubborn retro. They'll stop in a couple of days. My eyes should be less creepy then too, and hopefully the annoying ticking will go into remission. He says I'm doing much better and am out of the woods so to speak."
I kiss her forehead and burrow into her neck. "Was sitting there for the whole evaluation, love. And after watching you here today, you are surpassing all expectations. What's catching your eye?"
"Not my eye, my ear. There's a piece missing, I can hear it in my head...the voice that had Lizzie, the one on the phone. I'm trying to pull the picture up in my head, but I can't remember what he looks like. She didn't say anything to you?"
"I'm the dad, she refused to discuss all romantic entanglements. Actually, I probably didn't want to hear about her romantic life. Also a little pressed with your disappearance."
"You are the reason I kept going." She points at the conditioning notes lit up on the wall. "Why else would I have survived what Zachariah subjected me to? And this is what he bothered to fucking write down. I can't truly remember most of it. It's becoming less pain and more anger...more accurately wrath."
"Well, hopefully your wrath will be centered on Zachariah, and not be steered by some odd conditioning or implantation. As much as I would love to tie you down to our bed, I would prefer it was not in self defense."
Her smile spreads so cutely I want to drag her back home. When her hand touches my face I tremble, swallowing down the guilt-driven nausea over not walking her to Science that fateful day.
"This is why you're a great husband. I love you. I can't imagine the fears and uncertainties you felt, and I want nothing more than to run away and love you."
She pulls me in and kisses me deeply, wrapping around me. I feel the heat rise in my body, my desire flooding my cells, filling my being. I lift her up, holding her against me, and she shudders, her breath quickening.
I laugh as I point out, "Poor timing. Do you think we could leave the kids here at school and head home early?"
"Hmm, I would like that. Isn't there a neglected kilt back there somewhere?"
"I seem to remember a very sexy velvet dress. If we include those pointe shoes of yours..."
I don't register the commotion behind me as the vampire in custody is hauled from the elevator, heading for an interrogation room. His guards, George and Gymea, apparently have no idea Lissa is in IO, letting Vincent speak freely into the cavernous room. "Lissa! So good to see you again! How was your stay in Morocco? Was it relaxing? They miss you so much there, and Zachariah tells me life isn't nearly as exciting with you gone.
"I had the privilege of wooing your daughter just before your departure. Have you checked your Lizbeth's eyes lately? Now that she's a vampire her emotions will be so much easier to read. Speaking of bonding, how's the mongrel you chose? The one you're insistent on remaining with? Is he worth all the pain?"
As the taunting starts, Lissa's demeanor changes to something I've never seen. She transforms to feral, some unknown power exuding from her core, a low growl coming from deep within her. The last words set her off, and no one registers her rapid movements in time. She tackles Vincent five feet beyond his starting point while she bites him solidly on the neck.
The blood pours onto the floor around his head as she hisses, "Hello, Vincent. While you're still conscious, remember this, no matter how far you go, how far you run away, I can find you. Your stench is clear even hiding amongst a million people. I will find you and bleed you dry."
It takes three officers to remove her, and by then I'm at her side, grabbing her solidly around her waist. Lissa wipes the blood from her mouth as EO yell for medical intervention.
"I'm the only vampire qualified to give medical support in this room, and he can rot in fucking hell! This bastard tried to kidnap my daughter! He threatened to torture Lizbeth!"
The room goes silent as I turn her to me, but the chilling stares afforded Vincent do not bode well for his longevity. As George glances to Gymea, I feel the electricity exchange.
Lissa's venom in her speech sends the chill up my spine, "He's the one. He's the one who tried to take Lizzie. He was in the video kissing her. It was his voice on the phone, he was going to take her." She lurches at him again, and it takes all my strength to hold her back. "You fucking piece of shit! You better hope they send you to Morocco tonight. I will fucking kill you. Start praying, Vincent, maybe God will forgive you before I sever your head from your fucking body."
Grabbing her face I force her to look at me, "Liss, they have him." When I look to the guards they nod, and I lose my composure instantly, "When did you know this? He was here the entire time in this room, helping investigate Lissa's disappearance, and he helped orchestrate it?"
Catalina grabs my arm her voice soft and concerned, "Will, calm down, Lissa did enough damage. Safi called a couple of nights ago to order the containment through Eva. Lizbeth told him about a boy named Vincent who was trying to date her until Lissa disappeared, and then he was gone. Safi figured it out. He confirmed the identity with your daughter, and we hunted him down. He's in custody." Her eyes dart to the writhing mess on the floor. "And on the off chance he escapes, your wife will find him and destroy him. Go check on the girls and let us do our jobs."
I cringe at the fact she said girls. We have been trying so hard to hide Brylee from this insanity. If they, them, the other guys, don't see her as another Achilles heel for Liss, then she stays safe. Then we only need to surround and protect Lizbeth.
As EO tends to the bleeding traitor on the floor, his screaming fails to subside, irritating the last of my stretched nerves. While I try to get my anger back under control, I take in the blood surrounding Lissa's mouth.
"Liss, you need to clean up."
She storms to the nearest bathroom with me close behind, the other officers twittering with the excitement. Luckily the words on their lips give me reassurance. They hold just as much loathing for Vincent as we do at the moment.
Liss emerges in all her impatience, not willing to wait for the elevator, so I follow her as rapidly as possible down the stairs. When we hit the training floor she sprints down the hallway, then comes to a dead stop. She turns and places two hands firmly on my chest, pushing me backwards, honing in on my gaze with hers.
With a sinuous grace she walks into the training room, and I spy Brylee standing defiantly in front of Daiki. His spotting of Liss sends him into contrite and...that is a lot of bowing. What the hell happened with him?
A low rumble precedes Lissa's words, "Bry, are you alright, sweetie?"
"Mom!" Our baby girl leaps into Lissa's arms, her legs wrapping around her waist.
Through Bry's sobs of relief I hear Liss ask, "Sweetie, what is going on here?"
When Bry scrambles to the floor and proceeds to stare at the ground, I stiffen and march in. The last time I saw Bry shy away from anything she was sporting a large bruise on her cheek from her drunken mother. We sat through years of therapy to bring out the normally confident woman we love so much.
As she consistently remains focused on the floor, a spark niggles in the back of my mind. Why won't she look at us?
"Show me your eyes, Bry." Holy...freaking hell. "Is it him?" My fingers point to the man who can slice and dice me for a salad buffet. She nods and I blurt out to Daiki, "And you?"
He holds up both hands and nods his head to the wooden slats at his feet. "I have remained honorable. We are working through this in a completely respectable fashion despite the inconvenient time."
I take Brylee from Lissa's hold and embrace her protectively, all my fatherly instincts taking control of the evil glare aimed at an increasingly nervous Daiki. "It's bonding, Daiki. How are you older than me? Did they not have this in Feudal Japan?"
Liss flings up her hand to cut me off. "This is between him and Brylee, Will. They need to work this out." Then her finger rotates and points at him with all her maternal power. "If I have to, I will lock you both in a room until you work it out. I do not tolerate denial and unjust pain. I have a feeling you are just as stubborn as she is. The stone walls surrounding the tower of her heart are very high and thick."
After running his hand through his ink black hair and sighing, a knowing smile translates to his lips. "Yes, and the battlements guarding mine are just as formidable, yet she is already chipping through."
Bry whispers near my shoulder. "Can we go now? As much as I want to dissect whatever the hell this is, I want to go home."
"Yes, sweetie. Let's get your baby sister and go home."
I turn with my strawberry blonde daughter firmly in my embrace to hear from Daiki, "Not yet." We all turn to the determined man standing powerfully before us. "Brylee Stinnen, I have bonded to you for a reason...you are my soulmate. I have never looked for you, but found you just the same. You are bright and vibrant, as well as infuriating. My regimented life is at odds with your Bohemian tendencies. We will work it out, but I need to have a long and hard discussion with my duty. I may falter, but I will always be respectful."
Bry smiles, the genuine one that glitters in the corner of her eyes. "Yeah. I have to have a long discussion with my Bohemian. She is not all that convinced I should need a man, no matter how wonderful his Japanese ass may be. Slow and sure, right?"
He clicks his heels together with a mirthy bow. "Yes, Bry. Slow and sure. If you don't beat me silly, we will mesh our relationship phobias."
Under a current of crazy, Liss grabs me and Bry. "Great. All the confidence in the world. Shakespeare would be beyond proud. See you when you finish getting cleaned up. Where the hell is Lizbeth?"
With a bullwhip motion, Brylee and I snake into formation behind Lissa. The blue-eyed light of my life, glances back at the handsome guard left alone in the training room, his sweaty and worn form relaxed and happy despite our chaotic exit.
Well, hopefully we have one down, safely on the road to happily ever after. Bry has always been the daughter I worried about. Even during the debacle that was Robert, Lizbeth kept her head and wits about her, never giving up hope in finding her bonded love. Brylee was resigned to a few fun dates and moving on. How ironic it was her guard, someone she may have never met had our lives not been thrust into danger again.
Daiki rarely joins our group for poker or parties, choosing a solitary life after centuries of conditioning that loved ones are weakness to be used against you. If Lissa hadn't been kidnapped, Bry may have never met him. If Lissa hadn't been her legal mother, Daiki may have never journeyed this far down the path to an honest bonded relationship. He respects my wife above anyone else in this court. She was the reason he took Brylee's writ. She was the reason he came to this court.
I am roused from my reverie by my wife's hand slamming violently into my chest, cutting off my forward progress, almost bringing me to my knees with the impact.
"What the hell, Liss?"
"Worst case scenario, Will? What's the worst case scenario with Liz? What is it? Don't look, just answer me now."
I speak rapidly trying to stay focused on Lissa as Brylee sucks in her breath and squeezes my hand, "Lizzie's bonded to that monster upstairs. The one she wouldn't tell me about, the one who tried to take her."
Lissa eases and then caresses my cheek, her arms wrap around me as she kisses me, pressing her body to mine, igniting all my nerves. I gasp and feel her smile against my lips.
It takes all my concentration to voice my thoughts, "Not fair, Liss."
"Not meant to be, Will. I promise not to bite him, you need to promise not to kill him."
Liss pulls away and lets me take in the scene. Lizzie lies with her head on Saf's stomach, his fingers combing through her hair as they talk quietly. She sits up and spins on her butt to face him and....Brylee maneuvers between me and the open door as I stand fully upright. I have no idea how to process this. Safi is kissing my daughter. Lizbeth. Saf is fucking kissing my baby girl.
"How long?" grinds out between my teeth. When Bry whimpers due to my vice like grip on her arm, I break and pull her into a hug. "Oh, shit. Baby. I'm so sorry. Shhh."
"Daddy, she's really happy. Like over the moon, she has what you and Mom have."
"Ok. Ok. I'll be good, sweetie."
I feel Lissa's hand against my shoulder. "Nod and agree, Will."
"Why?" I grimace at my rhetorical question.
"Nod and agree. Repeat after me, 'I'm letting the mother of my daughters go in there right now to assess this. I will keep my feet firmly planted here and try to not freak out.' Repeat it, Will."
"Liss, what is going on? When did he bond? Oh shit. He was trying to tell me in the kitchen. He was finally over Eva and had fallen for someone else, but he was afraid her parents wouldn't accept him. I was teasing him about Dre and I coming to the conclusion that he was the best option for Liz. Fuck me. He told me to keep thinking that. And I was thinking that. I practically prayed he and Liz would bond. How long have they been bonded? How far has this gone under my nose?"
"Will, do you want to ask them those questions swimming in your head, or are you willing to let me go in there and evaluate this before you devastate our daughter? I'm actually feeling relieved she's bonded to Saf."
The warm smile facing me forces me to relent, "Nodding and agreeing, staying right here." I glance back at my friend as he kisses Lizbeth, kisses her the same way I kiss Lissa. "Bite him anyway. Goddamn it. What the hell happened?"
"It's Saf. He would never hurt her. He worships the ground she walks on. Let me start to untangle this."
Full of clashing emotions, I stay at my post while Lissa goes to check the two vampires on the floor up close. Liz excitedly pops off the ground and grabs her mom in an intense hug. Lissa isn't prepared for her daughter's newfound strength and almost falls over. She regains balance before she slyly kisses Lizzie's forehead and then checks her irises.
After her inspection, Liss pulls back, looks to both of them, and then says something to Safi, causing him to retreat out the side door at top speed. The blush spreading across my daughter borders on neon magenta. She knows what her mother is looking for and reluctantly looks back into Lissa's eyes. I can't make out exactly what passes during discussion, but Lizbeth relaxes and offers a full view of her irises. Lissa looks to me with raised eyebrows, causing Lizzie to turn to the door. I can see them from here, but can't choose if I should be relieved or terrified.
The pain that shoots across my daughter's face decides for me, and I ask Bry, "Is she that much more scared of me than Mom?"
"No offense, Dad, but..." she pauses and puffs out an exhale. "Mom has always celebrated us growing up and moving into adulthood. Every time we make a step towards being women, you get this hurt expression and take it as a personal affront. Liz takes it all personally. I am the duck."
"Water off your back. True. You are very wise, wee one. Hold me while I face my worst fear?"
"I should find it insulting you are happy I am bonded to a guy who is struggling with our relationship, but you are terrified of Liz bonding to Saf, the most stable and loving guy I know."
"You leaving the nest and spreading your wings shows I did good...did my job well. Lizzie...that's gut punch that I'm losing my babies." Hey, that actually made sense. Good for me, figuring this whole psychology thing out. Maybe I can..."I will be totally fine with Liz running off with Saf if you promise to live at home forever. How about that?"
"Ok." I watch her facial muscles as her eyes study her sister, twitching between smile and faraway longing.
"Ok? You will move in permanently to appease Dad?" pours out with a thickened brogue, my astonishment evident.
"Permanently, no. Until you can come to grips, yes. Daiki and I have a very long journey ahead. Liz and Saf were on the bullet train before they even realized they were mutually bonded." Her sweet face turns to me with a broad, innocent smile. "Besides, it will be nice to be the only child with you as the doting dad for a while. Liz had a few years alone with you before you started letting me stay for extended periods of time." From the corner of her mouth, she asides, "Totally appreciate that, by the way. Without you and Mom, pretty sure I would have run away from home and ended up hooking in downtown LA."
"Don't say things like that. It makes me want to scrub my brain with bleach." Cuddling her close and kissing her head I concede, "You moving back in would be nice for us as well. What about Donna?"
"She can visit every other weekend," she says with a shrug to me, and a wink to Lizzie.
"Pain in the ass who moonlights as the best father in the known universe."
I kiss her mess of curls multiple times before acknowledging, "Great pep talk. Let's go put your sister at ease, she looks like she might explode."