Collins’ eyes briefly glistened with anger. “Actually, I’m going to need time alone with them. They might feel pressured or intimidated if you are nearby.” His tone was pleasant, but his eyes were cold. “You don’t have a problem with that, do you, Gerald?”
I gave the bloke a sad smile that said, ‘Oh you really don’t wanna play like that with Jared’. My mate had been raised by someone who played mind games, which meant three things. One, Jared could spot those games a mile away. Two, he had absolutely no tolerance for them. And three, he knew exactly how to handle people who played them.
“Why would it be a problem?” Jared looked sincerely confused – it was a total slap down, an implication that for Collins to be a problem, Jared would have to actually care. Translation: ‘You’re not important enough for me to give a flying f**k what you do.’ For someone who clearly thought they were extremely important, it had to have chafed. Collins’ face turned crimson with both embarrassment and anger as he marched away.
A gaping Jude approached with Ava and Cristiano. “Tell me I imagined all that.”
I sighed. “I wish I could.” As Antonio appeared beside me, I asked him, “All right, what’s the deal with these two? Please tell me it’s some kind of sick joke.” His grim expression confirmed that it wasn’t.
Cristiano, who came to my other side and shot me a brief look of concern, asked Antonio, “Seriously, is all this for real?”
“I’m afraid it is,” replied Antonio sadly.
“But you don’t believe there’s been a complaint,” Jared detected, pulling me close to him and, in effect, away from Cristiano.
“If there has, I do not believe it has come from the squad.”
“Then who?” Ava asked Antonio.
“As the Heir’s mate, Sam will always have enemies.If these people cannot harm her physically, they will hurt her in other ways.”
That would have happened in any case. I had a talent for offending people. “I’m pretty sure the answer is no, but I have to ask if there’s any chance you can put this crap to an end?”
“I am sorry, Sam, but for the Prelature to be impartial, it has to be immune to all authority. One of my predecessors once tried to challenge it, and that did not end well. If I was to interfere, it would look bad for you – as though you are not confident that their decision will clear your name. Fredrick would certainly see it as such.”
“Not to be a bitch, Antonio…but what possessed you to choose him as your first-born?”
“I Turned him centuries ago when he came to me with evidence of not only the existence of vampires, but of my being one. Back then, people were much more superstitious and they often staked perfectly innocent humans who were simply ill. Collins promised to withhold the evidence if I Turned him. He was not a bad person…just very misguided, very unhappy because he did not feel that he fit amongst his own kind. I had felt the same during my human life. I truly believe that becoming a vampire helped me as a person.
“But Collins…he felt short-changed because his gift is not very substantial and the Keja hypnotic beauty could not make people ‘love’ him. It was not enough that women desired him. He wanted them to adore him, need him, and be obsessed with him.” Antonio shook his head. “Nothing was ever good enough for him. Nothing ever fulfilled him. Some vampires within the nest that I was part of back then were similar to him, and they all left as a group. I did not hear from Collins again until I was made Grand High Master. He came here, liked what he saw, and asked to stay. But when it became apparent that he expected to be made Heir simply because he was the first vampire I ever Turned, I made it very clear that things did not work that way. Offended and angry, he left. This is the first time I have heard from him since then.”
After a short pause, Jared spoke. “Would he make something like this up out of jealousy? I mean, would he try to get to me by using Sam just because I have the position he wants?”
Antonio pursed his lips as he considered that. “Collins can be slimy and vindictive, but I’m not sure he would do something like this as he is a stickler for rules. I will contact the Prelature and find out if this is an authentic complaint. In the meantime, be careful, Sam. Do not give them anything to use against you. You are a fantastic commander – we all know that. You do not need to act any differently than you normally do. But…try not to kill Collins or Eloise, that’s all.”
“I can’t make any promises.” I went to head back to the Command Centre.
Jared’s hand engulfed mine. “No more work.” There were then familiar flutters in my stomach as he teleported us away. We reappeared on a narrow path in the rainforest. He shrugged. “You wanted to take Dexter for a walk – or a slither, whatever.”
This wasn’t about Dexter, though. This was Jared trying to keep my mind occupied on things other than the black cloud hanging over us. I could sense that he was just as angry as I was, but he was doing his best to put it aside so he could calm and comfort me. I squeezed his hand. “Thanks.” Knowing Dexter was currently twined around my waist, I peeled up my t-shirt and said, “Novo.” The Latin word for ‘change’ was enough to make the four-inch long tattoo become a live one and a half foot long snake. His colouring was presently pearl-white, indicating that he was excited. Of course he was excited – he loved being in the rainforest, hunting for food.
Dexter’s tongue briefly flicked my chin, and then his intelligent and very observant gaze landed on Jared. Dexter shot him what could only be described as a ‘mind how you step’ look. Jared simply rolled his eyes. Dexter then slinked down my body and began slithering along the ground.
“I can’t believe all this is really happening.”
Wrapping an arm around my shoulders, Jared pulled me close to his side as we walked along the narrow path in the same direction that Dexter was heading. “You know the squad aren’t behind this, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. But it doesn’t mean this whole thing isn’t pissing me off.” Considering that I would soon be ruling all vampirekind alongside Jared, I’d be losing the position of commander anyway. But the point at play was that if Collins’ report recommended that I be wiped of my position, I would no longer have the support of the Prelature. Without that, no Prelate would be prepared to perform the Coronation. As such, there would be no ascension. In addition, people might once again be wary of me if the Prelature ruled that I wasn’t fit enough to lead my squad and that I exploited them.