“So she and Imani might stay here permanently?” asked Alora.
“I hope so.” I had plans for them.
Able to read me well, Jared narrowed his eyes. “Something I should know, baby?”
He chuckled. “Fine. I guess as long as it’s not that you’re planning to run, it doesn’t matter for now. Besides, Evan…we have something to ask you.”
Evan stiffened, but his smile remained in place. “What?”
“Sam and I would like to ask you…if you’ll accept the position of Heir.”
Shock painted Evan’s features as his mouth started bopping open and closed like a landed fish.
Jared pinned him with his gaze. “This isn’t because you’re my brother – I need you to know that. It’s because you’re the one person we trust to do the best for all vampirekind and to protect those who need it. I know it’s not something you originally would have wanted, so I understand if?” Evan’s abrupt, solid, one-armed hug cut Jared off. “Is that a yes?”
Releasing his twin, Evan cleared his throat and nodded, doing his best to look cool about it all. “It’s a yes.” Evan turned to Alora. “Oh, but I?”
She put her index finger against his lips. “This doesn’t change anything. I still want to be with you. It’s a scary thought to one day rule, but I have a perfectly good role model in Sam.”
Me a role model? I inwardly snorted.
“You’re fidgeting,” Jared noted, tucking my hair behind my ear. That was when I realised that I’d been clasping and unclasping my hands. I instantly relaxed them, blanking my expression. Cupping my chin, he turned me to fully face him. “You don’t have to put on an act for me. It’s perfectly normal to be nervous right now. Hell, even I am. I don’t think this is something anyone can ever really be totally ready for – not even me, and I’ve had a hell of a lot longer to get used to the idea than you have. If you need more time?”
I squeezed his hand, shaking my head as much as his grip would allow. “Stop worrying about me. I’m as ready for this as I’m ever going to be.” And that was all I could really ask of myself.
Hearing someone delicately clear their throat, we all swerved to find Antonio. He smiled. “It is time.”
Five minutes later, Sam and I were standing hand-in-hand on the man-made podium of the parlour room while Antonio, who was in front of it with the Prelate, gestured for silence. It was the same Prelate that had performed the Binding ceremony. I hadn’t been kidding when I told Sam I was nervous, but luckily they were good nerves. Still, having all these people about to witness our Coronation and knowing that the whole thing was being shown live on V-Tube…it was a little unnerving.
“I realise that it is unusual for so many to be present at a Coronation,” began Antonio, addressing those witnessing over V-Tube. “But I think we can all agree that it was unusual circumstances that brought these vampires here. Their aid and support will never be forgotten. And neither will the actions of the pair you see here – Samantha Parker and Jared Michaels.”
Sensing Sam’s anxiety intensify, I comfortingly rubbed my thumb along her knuckles.
“I am sure you have all already heard the story of how she was willing to not only give up her bond with her mate but to sacrifice her own life for the lives of so many. I am sure you have also heard of how Jared defended his mate, avenged the harm that she and everyone here had suffered. These are people who will risk themselves for those who are under their protection, who will fight to the death if need be, who will avenge those that have suffered. I do not believe there is a bonded pair who would be better suited to rule and protect vampirekind.”
Antonio looked around the room then, addressing everyone. “And so I hope you will all follow and support them as I step down from my position and they rise as the Grand High Pair.” Sam’s hand tightened on mine as both Antonio and the Prelate joined us on the podium. They each laid a hand over our clasped ones, smiling.
The Prelate spoke then. “With everyone here as witness, do you, Antonio, relinquish your position as Grand High Master?”
“Samantha, Jared – will you both agree to lead in his stead?”
“We do,” she and I both said in unison.
“Do you accept their pledge, Antonio?”
Antonio smiled widely, proudly. “I do.”
The Prelate then recited a string of Latin and lifted our raised hands. And it was no more complicated than that.
Antonio’s smile widened as he stepped down from the podium and bowed. Everyone followed suit, including the Prelate.
Oh God, they’re bowing again! Sam was totally freaked out.
It’s all part of the formality.
When we step down, it’s going to be fun, not stiff and…weird.
Stifling a smile, I brushed my thumb over her knuckles again. When Antonio gestured for me to speak, I turned my attention to our audience. “Before I say anything else, I have to thank all of the people who came and joined us against Harry Covington. I also have to thank all of you for accepting Sam’s hybrid status. It was a change that was forced upon her, and she didn’t deserve to be punished for something that she’d never wanted by being hunted or targeted.”
To come after Sam would be to face the wrath of every single resident of The Hollow. Whether she realised it or not, they were as much her protectors as she was theirs.
“With regards to replacing Antonio, I’m torn about the whole thing. On the one hand, this position is an honour and it’s one that I’ll enjoy. But on the other hand, I’ll miss having Antonio as our Grand High Master. I’ll also miss my life as it is now…which is why Sam and I have decided that some changes should be made.”
The Prelate looked horrified by the prospect.
I squeezed her hand. “Want to take the floor, baby?”
She didn’t, I could sense, but I knew that she wouldn’t back out. We’d discussed in advance how this would go, and this was as important to Sam as it was to me. Taking a deep breath, she announced, “Jared and I won’t be isolating ourselves the way that rulers have done before us. It’s not in our nature to sit back and dish out orders while everyone else takes the risks. We like to be in the thick of things. That’s why, although we’ll no longer be Commanders within the legion, we’ll still be personally commanding the squad we have trained.”