Not that I was surprised. The widespread view that Sventés were the lower breed was always going to be an issue. But it wasn’t simply a prejudice thing in this case. Connelly and Kaiser had both witnessed me Merge with Jared during the attack. They both knew how powerful I was, and they would have no doubt relayed this to others. Still, as the large majority of the vampires here hadn’t seen this for themselves, a lot of them would have come here with their minds already made up − believing a Sventé could never protect them.

Well they could go jump up their own arse holes for all I cared. The only reason their behaviour bothered me was that I knew it was agitating Jared. The tension and edginess caused by last night’s events hadn’t totally left him, and the last thing I wanted, or needed, was for something to set him off again.

Unfortunately, I received a similar greeting – or lack thereof – from Rowan Murdock, another High Master, and his life-partner Marcia. Sensing that Jared had just about had enough and was tempted to comment, I placed my hand over his clenched one and gently relaxed his fist. Ordinarily, I’d give him a discrete pinch in warning, but I felt a bit shitty doing that when it wasn’t that he was being an arse; he was being more overprotective than usual because I’d been hurt by the brothers. It was pretty understandable, and I’d have behaved exactly the same way.

My mood improved somewhat when the squad, as a whole, arrived. Of course, each of them passed on genuine congratulations before heading for the champagne. I noticed that Jared had been a little stiff with Max, who found it as amusing as always. I doubted that I’d ever be able to convince him that Max no longer had any interest in me. But, then, I’d probably never be totally comfortable around someone who’d once pursued Jared, so who was I to judge?

Evan then entered with the last of the High Masters, Bran, and one of Bran’s consorts. Immediately Evan enfolded me in a hug. I saw that Bran’s consort, Alora, stiffened at that and I knew it was jealousy. Her body went even more rigid when Evan very subtly moved close to her. Although she wanted him, she had been resisting him. Maybe Evan would have let the matter go if this was just any woman. But the redhead wasn’t just any woman. She was the vampire that he’d seen in the vision he’d had through Luther; she was the one he had been waiting for – and it had been a fairly long wait – she simply had no idea of that.

Despite all of the female attention Evan received on a daily basis, he had always been indifferent to it. Well, not always. Apparently he had seriously enjoyed himself in his first years as a vampire, but it had come to an abrupt halt when he saw her in the vision.

There was utter determination in his eyes whenever he looked at her. He fully intended to have Alora and he was ensuring that she knew it. If the way she was averting her gaze was anything to go by, she did know it, and she was a little uncomfortable with his attention. Of course she was uncomfortable. Evan was pretty easy-going, centred, and even-tempered, but he had a presence about him that made people take notice. He could be very focused and persistent, and if that focus and persistence was directed at a woman, it would undoubtedly have her squirming.

Bran had obviously noticed Evan’s interest in her, but he didn’t care. From what I’d heard via another of Bran’s consorts, he actually batted for Fletcher’s team. Whereas Fletcher was open about it, Bran – a very reserved, private, quiet man – clearly had no intention of being so open. Having female consorts was merely a smoke screen. I knew that was the only thing stopping Evan from taking Alora away from the High Master.

Considering that Bran wouldn’t object to leaving her with Evan, I had to conclude that if there was some kind of resistance, it was coming from Alora. Apparently Evan was intent on crushing her defences. See, persistent.

“I haven’t put my gift on the table.” Evan’s hazel eyes – so like Jared’s, yet not – were twinkling in amusement as he spoke to me. “You’ll get it soon.”

Jared frowned. “The Binding gift is supposed to be for both of us.”

Evan waved his hand dismissively, making Jared snort. But a smile quickly appeared on Jared’s face when two more guests entered. A very tall, silver-haired Keja with a very regal air had strolled into the room with an elegant platinum-blonde on his arm. I didn’t have to ask who they were. I’d heard that Antonio’s Sire, Wes – who was also Bran’s Sire – was attending with his life-partner, and I knew that Jared cared about Wes and was looking forward to seeing him. He basically thought of him as a grandfather. As such, he was the only person who I particularly wanted to accept me.

He was also the only person who had a snake draped over his shoulders. I mean, come on, what was that about?

Wearing the hugest smile that was filled with pride and affection, he patted Jared’s upper arm. “It has been a while. Too long.”

“That’s your fault for not visiting more.” Jared regarded the snake warily, making me smile. He then went to introduce me, but Wes dived into a conversation with him about something or other. Oh, nice. I chose to believe that it hadn’t been a snub, but I still couldn’t help feeling a little awkward just standing there.

As if sensing my awkwardness, the Pagori female on his arm untangled herself from him and came to my side. “I can only apologise for Wes’ awful manners. He’s simply very excited to see Jared again. He’s just as excited to see you…although you wouldn’t think so,” she grumbled, shooting him an impatient but playful scowl that he didn’t see. “I’m Lena.”

I shook the hand she offered me, glad when she didn’t bow her head. It freaked me out whenever people did that. The way I saw it, I was just little old me − powerful vampire or not, the Heir’s chosen or not. “Sam.”

Her eyes flickered between Jared and me. “The bond between you both…it is very strong.”

“You have a gift that allows you to measure bonds?” I knew I sounded confused; I’d heard from Antonio that she was genekinetic.

Lena shook her head. “One doesn’t need such a gift to see that your bond is solid. In fact, it’s almost feral in its intensity. That is a very good thing. If you are going to spend centuries with someone, it is important that there are no doubts.”

I totally agreed with her on that one, which was why I still had my concerns about Jared; the more he persisted in freezing me out, the more I feared he would back out.

Tags: Suzanne Wright Deep In Your Veins Vampires