“Chilax?” I chuckled, confused.
“It’s a mix of ‘chill’ and ‘relax’,” Fletcher quickly explained. “Norm and I were busy preparing your gift from us.”
“Gift?” Sam repeated. “Maybe you’re forgiven. What do you mean by ‘preparing’?”
A huge and very self-satisfied grin spread across his face. “Come see.”
Exchanging a smile with Sam, I walked with her hand-in-hand behind Fletcher. The other guests followed as Fletcher led us out of the parlour, down the everlasting pristine hallway, and out of the mansion. I frowned as I immediately scented fire and the unmistakable smell of meat cooking.
As we neared the white sandy beach, Sam gasped loudly. There was Norm flipping burgers, hotdogs, and steaks on a barbeque grill. Not far from the grill was a large bonfire around which some members of the legion stood drinking beer-flavoured NSTs. There was also a reggae band sitting there expectantly, waiting to be given the signal to play. And, in a typical beach set up, Norm and Fletcher had decorated the space with bamboo tiki torches, colourful lights, and lantern garlands.
Fletcher elbowed Sam. “Well, what do you think? I knew you’d be bored and miserable as hell in that parlour – ooh, no offense, your Grandness.” His expression was one of total innocence when he smiled at the Keja vampire not far behind him.
Antonio’s mouth twitched. “It’s quite all right.”
Fletcher mouthed ‘phew’ at Sam before speaking again. “Anyway, I knew you’d be more comfortable having a gathering like this.”
She hugged him tightly. “Thank you.”
Sensing Sam’s spirits instantly lifting, I nodded my thanks at him. In all honesty, I’d have preferred a barbeque on the beach to champagne in a grand mansion any day. It seemed that everybody else did, too, because the atmosphere became much more relaxed and there was a lot of laughing as opposed to formal chatter.
Fletcher had even set up a beach bar and elected Damien to be the cocktail barman, ordering him to wear a brightly coloured shirt that matched the ones being worn by the reggae band. He didn’t look too happy about that. Not only was Norm serving hotdogs, burgers, and steaks, but also baked potatoes, salads, and kebabs. None of it went to waste.
Hell, they’d even arranged for party entertainers to do fire eating and fire juggling. To add to that, they had provided beach balls and water guns for the more immature members of the legion – the ones who weren’t so unbelievably childish that they were burying each other in the sand, anyway. Yes, Fletcher and Norm had pretty much outdone themselves. I knew they’d mostly done it for Sam because they adored her, but I was still grateful.
Relaxing with Sam between my legs on one of the many beach loungers that were gathered around the bonfire, I laughed as Wes told funny stories about Antonio’s first years as a vampire. Apparently, he hadn’t been much different from me back then. I wondered if maybe one of the reasons he had selected me to be part of the legion was that he had seen something of himself in me.
“Evan,” drawled a sultry voice that had the effect of nails on a chalkboard to me. “Aren’t you going to tell us some stories about what Jared was like in the early years…maybe even his childhood?”
Of course Magda had known exactly what she was doing, just as she had known that Sam would instantly tense up. What Magda hadn’t known – I doubted that any of us had been expecting it – was that her hair was suddenly going to catch fire.
Eating her kebab, Sam watched in an almost detached interest as a screaming Magda shot up from the lounger beside ours, patting her hair. Then, still looking bored, Sam raised her hand and sent a gush of water at Magda, calming the flames.
With her soaking wet hair plastered to her head, a quivering extremely-cheesed-off Magda honed in on the amazing female between my legs.
Sam merely shrugged one shoulder delicately. “I did warn you.” How she managed to keep a straight face when the majority of people around her – including me – were shaking with silent laughter, I had no idea.
Somehow, Magda remained dignified as she left with her consort in tow. That was when everyone erupted into laughter again, not bothering to keep their laughs quiet this time.
Sensing Sam’s smugness, I couldn’t help smiling. Cupping her chin, I turned her head and brought her face to meet mine, speaking against her mouth. “You enjoyed that, didn’t you?”
She gasped in mock horror. “You can’t seriously be insinuating that I enjoy inflicting pain on another person?” She jiggled her head. “All right, I did. But she’s not a person, she’s a bitch who hurt you, so I don’t give a f**k.”
Who wouldn’t love a girl who’d set someone on fire for you?
The person who was laughing the loudest was actually Wes. He even nodded approvingly at Sam. I felt that she was surprised by it. I wasn’t. Earlier, I’d noticed that Wes was testing Sam. It might have ticked me off if I hadn’t been one hundred percent positive that nothing he did could faze her.
Sure, a huge part of me had wanted to tell him to back off and leave her alone, but then she’d have whipped my ass for fighting her battles for her. However, if she hadn’t passed his test I would have definitely stepped in, because the guy would have then done everything he could to separate us. I’d never let anyone, or anything, do that. Not even her.
Pain. So much pain. Every single part of me hurt, just as it had when the brothers had done something to me. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, I wanted to curse and writhe in sheer agony. But I couldn’t.
I couldn’t move at all, not even to open my eyelids.
I had expected Jared to sense my pain, to wake and help me. But I could hear him breathing evenly beside me, totally relaxed. Whatever was happening wasn’t simply paralysing me, it was interfering with my connection to Jared. And didn’t that just spook the crap out of me, increasing my panic.
The whole thing made me think of ‘intraoperative awareness’ – incidences when people who were anaesthetised could see, hear, and feel but were unable to move or communicate this in any way. Despite feeling like someone’s hands were tearing into me and rummaging around in my abdomen, despite feeling as though those same hands were crushing my insides, I couldn’t give in to that primal urge to scream.
Instead, I screamed in my head at the feeling of invisible, harsh, merciless fingers torturing my body and poking inside my head. Then, suddenly, the pain stopped, and I jack-knifed to a sitting position, panting as utter terror continued to flow through me.