But retreating into my own head wasn’t fair to Jared, was it? Not now that we were Bound.

What made me feel even guiltier was that he hadn’t complained, hadn’t even commented on it, despite that he must have wanted me with him one hundred percent right now. He’d given me that time, that space. But that time was apparently over. With a heavy exhale, I rose from my seat and went to him.

He swivelled his chair to face me and gripped my hips, pulling me to stand between his legs. “Hey,” he said gently.

Resting my hands on his shoulders, I bit my lower lip. “I’m sorry.”

Slipping his hands under my t-shirt, he pressed them against my back to pull me closer. “So you’re done?” No judgmental words or looks; only total understanding – now I felt even guiltier. “I know you’re worried about the guys. I wouldn’t expect anything different. But you’re letting the stress of it all get the better of you.” Again there was no judgement there. “I hate seeing you like this.”

I understood, since – likewise – I’d hated seeing him an absolute wreck after the wacko brothers had kidnapped me.

He squeezed my hip gently. “You don’t have to go it alone when shit happens, Sam. Not anymore. I’m here.”

“It’s like a mental reflex, but I’ll work on it.”

“Good, because I want my mate back. I miss her. I miss her giving me attitude, and teasing me, and cursing me to hell and back.”

My smile mirrored his. “And she’s missed you.”

“That’s an extremely good thing because I plan to?” He paused at the knock on the door. “Yes?”

“Antonio is here to see you,” announced Fletcher. There was an odd note to his voice that made me frown.

Jared rose to his feet. “Let him in.”

Antonio breezed into the room with his guards and pit-bulls in tow. He also had two unfamiliar Kejas with him. “Sam, Jared…I would like you to meet Eloise Montana and Fredrick Collins.” Really? Because he didn’t sound as if he’d like us to meet them at all. In fact, he didn’t appear pleased about their presence either. “Fredrick is also one of my vampires.”

“I’m the first vampire he ever sired,” added Collins, cocky and self-satisfied by that fact.

I hadn’t met many vampires that had been sired by Antonio, so I was instantly curious about him. The impeccably neat Collins was average height, had short mousey hair, watchful beady eyes, and looked like he’d be right at home in a corner office. And I didn’t like him. It was an immediate feeling that I couldn’t explain. Every instinct I had severely disliked this bloke. His gaze ran over both Jared and I studiously. Something not holy on the side of the angels glinted in those eyes as he focused on Jared.

Moving my attention to the smartly dressed Eloise, I saw that the tall, slim female was staring at Jared and smiling. People stared at him like that all the time, but there was something in her eyes that told me this wasn’t the first time they had met.

Running a hand over her long mane of coal-black hair, she practically purred, “It’s good to see you again, Jared.”

Yep, I was right.

Antonio’s brow puckered. “Oh. I did not realise that you two had already met.”

Without moving her eyes from Jared, she told Antonio, “We met briefly when I came to attend a gathering here many years ago. Despite the meeting being brief, it was certainly memorable.”

In other words, you bonked her.

Um…yeah. He sounded loathed to admit it. It was just the one time and was nothing but a quick f**k. In fact, I was wasted that night. Remember, baby, it was only ever the Heir they wanted.

I mentally rolled my eyes, exasperated that he persisted in believing that his status and his looks were all that women thought he had to offer. But this wasn’t the time to have that conversation again.

“It’s an honour to meet the Heir.” There was a bitter edge to Collins’ words. Ah, jealousy. “You must be very proud to have been selected for the position.”

Eloise slid her gaze to me. Distaste glinted in those eyes. “You must be the famous Sventé everyone’s been talking non-stop about.”

“You have me at a disadvantage,” I told her. “You’ve heard much about me, but I’ve never before heard anything about you.”

Jared cocked his head at Collins, still ignoring Eloise – wise decision. “I can say the same about you, Collins. It’s odd that I’ve never heard of Antonio’s first-born. In fact, in all the time I’ve been here, you’ve never once visited. Not even for the Binding ceremony.”

Collins flushed. “It wasn’t possible. I have…commitments.” The bloke didn’t even visit his own Sire? A Sire who anyone would be lucky to have? What a prick. I’d have proud to have a Sire like Antonio.

Seemingly uncomfortable and also a little pissed off, Antonio spoke to Collins. “I think it is time that you told them why you and Eloise are here.” Something in his tone had the hairs on the back of my neck raising.

Collins, someone who clearly had an overinflated sense of self-importance, straightened his posture. “Eloise and I work together as representatives within the Prelature.”

The Prelature was the office of the Prelates – a body of vampire ministers that had the authority to perform and administer various rites such as Bindings and Coronations. These ministers also had the authority to enforce order, and they had ‘representatives’ who were simply paper pushers that dealt with any cases put forth to the Prelature. It was therefore useful in that it could deal with small squabbles or issues, alleviating Antonio’s workload. It existed outside of all forms of authority in order to be totally neutral, and was older than even the concept of the Grand High Master. Of course, most vampires sought out Antonio in times of trouble, but there were some who preferred to stick to the ‘old ways’ and turned to the Prelature.

The Prelature didn’t deliver death sentences or imprison anyone, and it didn’t deal in corporeal punishment. In fact, the Prelates disapproved of such things, but they weren’t always lenient. The Prelature’s punishments came in the form of official reprimands (simply public warnings), exile (banishing vampires from their nests), monetary fines (even so far as taking away all the vampire’s belongings; for those who had spent their very long lives accumulating wealth, this hurt), or even dismissal of their positions in cases of gross negligence.

Tags: Suzanne Wright Deep In Your Veins Vampires
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