Thankfully, Reuben, Damien, and Denny were recovering well from their injuries – albeit slowly. Cristiano, Jude, and Sebastian had also been badly hurt, but they had almost fully recovered. The main thing was that they would recover. The same sadly couldn’t be said for many of the other vampires that had been injured. Paige had been too exhausted to help them all – in fact, she’d passed out after a while. Our allies had also lost some of their vampires during the battle. Furthermore, those who were Bound to another vampire effectively caused the death of their mates when they died.
So many deaths. So many pointless deaths.
Unsure if the walls were vampire-soundproof and not wanting to wake anyone, I spoke quietly. “We should hold a remembrance day.”
Jared’s eyelids slowly opened. “A remembrance day?” His voice was also quiet.
“For all those who died last night. They deserve to have their memory and their sacrifice acknowledged and honoured.”
He cupped my face, brushing his thumb over my bottom lip. “That’s a good idea. We’ll do it as soon as we’ve fixed this place up.”
I sighed, knowing my eyes were glistening with tears. “There’s so much damage.”
“Hey, don’t cry,” he said gently, dabbing a kiss on my forehead. He slid his hand around to my nape and began to massage it soothingly. “Wes, Quentin, and all the High Masters have offered to help. Add their vampires to ours, and we’re talking hundreds of people. I think we could have the place looking good again within a couple of weeks. It’ll definitely be done in time for the Coronation.”
“I’m a little surprised that not even one person has objected to us replacing Antonio due to the hybrid thing.”
Releasing my nape, he combed his fingers through my hair. “I’m not. The High Masters witnessed you agree to Covington to give up your own life in exchange for the lives of everyone here.” His eyes darkened with anger as he added, “And we’ll be having a separate conversation about that very soon.”
I was surprised that he hadn’t already lectured me over it, considering that the anger he was feeling had been simmering close to the surface since yesterday evening.
“Plus, they would be idiots to go against someone as powerful as you, particularly considering what I’d do to anyone who even thought about it.”
“No one will forget what you did to Covington.” I wouldn’t either. I had a strong stomach, but even I’d been disturbed by it all. I hadn’t been disturbed by Jared, though. I’d always known that he was merciless, so I wouldn’t have expected anything different. The second Covington had put a knife to Antonio’s throat – the only decent paternal influence Jared had ever had – he’d signed his death warrant. It was really that simple. The fact that Covington had also wanted me dead had only made the entire thing worse.
“That was the whole idea. No one’s going to forget any of what happened. Every vampire who wasn’t there will hear the tale – it’ll most likely be exaggerated ten-fold, but that can only be a good thing.” Fisting his hand in my hair, Jared rested his forehead against mine. “I swear I almost died when you told Imani to cut the bond. You can’t ever do anything like that again, Sam. You can’t sacrifice yourself for other people – not even for me.”
“You would have died,” I softly pointed out, trailing the tips of my fingers up and down his back.
His smile was sad. “I wouldn’t have survived the breaking of the bond, baby. Not here.” He took my hand and held it over his heart. “I’d have been a f**king shell without you.”
“But at least you would have been alive.”
“I’d have been breathing, sure. But I’d have been dead inside.” Though his voice was still low, it had turned gruff as his tightly controlled anger began to seep to the surface. “I’d have stuck around long enough to avenge what had happened to you, but that’s all. You wouldn’t have saved me by having Imani cut the bond. And if you think the others would have wanted you to sacrifice yourself for them, you’re wrong.”
I remembered the others objecting. Even Antonio, who had had a knife to his throat, had been angry with me for doing it. “You wouldn’t have offered your life for everyone else’s?”
He pinned my gaze with his. “No. Dying would have meant being without you. I can’t do that. If that makes me selfish, there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’ve told you over and over, Sam, you come first. I know that no one’s ever put you first before so you just can’t grasp that or understand it. But you come first to me.”
It was bewildering, scary, and yet also sent a blaze of warmth shooting through me.
“You don’t need to keep risking yourself to feel worthy of everyone’s loyalty – and don’t say that’s not part of why you do it, I know you.” With his eyes still holding mine, he absentmindedly began tracing my collarbone with the tip of his index finger. “You are worthy. You’re worthy of everything that you have. The people here, the squad – they’re all loyal to you because they respect you and they care for you.”
“They shouldn’t. I’m stubborn, sarcastic, so direct it’s?”
“You’re you – that’s all it takes for people to like you and respect you. A lot of people who are straight-shooting…they’re only happy to be so blunt when talking about others. They’re not so upfront about who they are, what flaws they have, and what their issues are. But you don’t hide who you are. You don’t act. You don’t play mind games. People always know where they stand with you.” He slid both his arms around me and held me tight, lightly nipping my mouth. “It’s part of what I love about you. It’s what drew me to you in the first place. Of course your husky voice and your delectable body had a lot to do with it too.”
I smiled against his mouth. “That’s because you’re a randy bastard.”
“I don’t hear you complaining.”
“Why would I complain? I highly benefit from it.”
He fell silent for a minute, studying me intently. “You know, the idea of dying hadn’t really bothered me much before I met you. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suicidal or anything, but I was fine with being rash and impulsive. The things I’ve done with my life since becoming a vampire – joining the legion, becoming a commander, being appointed as Antonio’s Heir – I’d always thought of it as making the best out of a bad situation, out of a life I’d never wanted. That was why I was never what anyone would call ‘happy’. You changed that. You made me like this life, made me want it, and made me glad to have it. You made me want more.”