“Are you planning to Turn her?” Jared’s shock was still pulsing in the air.
“Yes. I plan on Turning Lucy and Binding with her. But it means I have done everything the wrong way around – Binding after I stepped down rather than before. Ruling without a mate for support can be a very lonely life. I saw that you were headed down that same route, Jared, and I did not want you to make the same mistakes that I have.”
I quickly realised something. “You played Cupid, didn’t you?”
Antonio tilted his head, stifling a smile. “Perhaps. It is not why I offered you a position here as a commander, Sam. You are here because you deserve to be. But I confess I had hoped that if I forced you and Jared to work together, you would grow close. You seemed to be exactly what he needed, just as he seemed to be what you needed. And I was right, was I not?”
“Sneaky.” Jared ran a hand through his hair. “None of this means you have to step down yet.”
“No, but I wish to. As I said, I’m tired. I wish to retire, to no longer have to worry about the lives of others and to instead concentrate on my own. Do you have any idea how long it has been since I have seen the outside world? Being who I am, my life was always at risk, and I have had to remain on the island. I do not want that anymore, and I do not want it for Lucy. You two are more than capable of ruling. The vampire community has totally accepted both of you, has confidence in your ability to lead and protect them. The question is…are you prepared to take on the responsibility?”
It was more than a mere responsibility and, in truth, I didn’t feel at all ready. It was a huge step to take. Yes, I’d known it would happen one day, but I’d envisioned it happening centuries down the line, not now. But how could I place Antonio in a position where he had to remain ruler at the cost of his own happiness? He didn’t deserve that. “I’m in.”
Jared’s shock still hadn’t eased in the slightest. I could sense through our bond that beneath that shock was a slither of unease. I would never have guessed that he would ever have any reservations about stepping up when the time came. Yet, that unease was there. With anyone else, I would have said that was perfectly natural. But it didn’t fit Jared in this situation.
“I don’t like that you’re stepping down,” he told Antonio. “I think you’re easily capable of ruling for a hell of a long time, and I can’t imagine you not being Grand High Master. But…I committed to being your Heir, knowing this would eventually happen. If this is really what you want, I’ll support you.” He took my hand. “We’ll support you.”
The smile that spread across Antonio’s face was one of relief. “I would like for the Coronation to take place in two months’ time, if that works for both of you. This will give me time to tie up any loose ends.”
I nodded. “Sure.”
“Luther will serve as your Advisor, just as he has served as mine.”
The Gandalf lookalike smiled. “It will be an honour.”
“Sebastian will serve as your tracker. He will be as loyal to you as he has been to me. And do not forget that you will need to appoint yourselves an Heir at some point. It does not have to be immediately, but you will have to choose one eventually. And choose wisely.”
I wasn’t what anyone would call ‘wise’, so that would be where Luther and his advice would come into play.
“The tradition for the Coronation is that only the High Masters and any immediate friends and ‘family’ attend. The rest of vampirekind will watch via V-Tube.” That was basically the vampiric version of YouTube that could be accessed using the V-net, which was the vampiric version of the internet. “In a few days, I will announce the upcoming Coronation. For now, both of you get some rest.”
Once both he and Luther had left the apartment, I blew out a long breath and twisted in my seat to face Jared. “Well, that was unexpected.”
“And that was an understatement.” He scooped me from the stool and brought me to straddle him. “I can sense that you don’t feel ready for this yet.”
“It’s scary,” I admitted. There was no judgement in his hazel eyes, only understanding. “I can coach and command a squad of ten, but lead all vampirekind?” In vampire years, I wasn’t quite four years old. That wasn’t really much experience at this life to have such a high position. “I didn’t envision this happening so soon.”
He cupped my throat with both hands. “You can lead. You can do anything.” He gave me a soft, lingering kiss and slid his hands into my hair. “If you need more time, just say the word and I’ll talk to Antonio about it. He’ll understand. This isn’t showing weakness. It’s showing that you’re taking this as seriously as you need to take it.”
Unbuttoning the top buttons of his shirt, I snaked my hands under Jared’s collar and rested them on his broad shoulders. “I can’t ask Antonio to wait any longer to step down. Not after seeing how tired he is of all this. He’s been on this island for so long.” Every Grand High Master that had ever been appointed had remained concealed in order to be safe from any assassination attempts. “He deserves to have a life of his own. He hasn’t had one for a long time, has he?”
“No.” Jared trailed kisses along my jaw. “You’re a good person.”
He chuckled at the disbelief in my voice. “Oh you can be merciless, ruthless, and vengeful. And we both know you’re downright crazy. But you’ve got the biggest heart. And it’s mine. All mine.” His gaze blazed with a possessiveness that made me roll my eyes. Smiling, he gave me a pointed look. “Hey, don’t think I haven’t seen your reaction when another female comes anywhere near me. I really thought you were going to drown Joy in the pool that time. It was a shame that you didn’t.”
Joy had been Jared’s consort once-upon-a-time, and she hadn’t taken it too well that he’d ended his consort ways for me. When he’d been swimming in what I called ‘the bat pool’ – it was shaped like a bat with outstretched wings – outside Antonio’s mansion last week, she had taken to strutting up and down the side of the pool in the skimpiest bikini imaginable.
Coming upon the scene, I hadn’t been a happy bunny. She was constantly trying to get his attention, pathetic though it was. Before I’d even thought about it, my energy whip had been in my hand, I’d wrapped it around her twig-like body, and then plunged her into the pool. It had instantly become clear that anger management classes might be a good idea for me, because I’d kept her under the water for almost a full minute. In my defence…“If she wasn’t binging on slut-flakes, there wouldn’t be a problem.”