Seth nodded, appearing to file that information away. “That definitely rules out vampire.”
“I thought we’d already established that,” Christofer said dryly, biting back a yawn when his gaze flickered to the clock and he noted the time.
“I’m going to have to leave soon,” Seth said, noting the time as well.
Christofer absently nodded as he picked up Cloe’s hand and brought it to his lips so that he could press a kiss against her palm.
“She might not be happy if she wakes up,” Seth said, pointing out the obvious.
“She’s going to be furious,” he murmured, already knowing that she was going to hate him and was damn well going to wake up from this.
“The shifter that you stole her from will-”
“She doesn’t belong to anyone,” he snapped, cutting the vampire off.
“Whether you like it or not, she was a shifter’s property. Someone marked this woman, claiming her as his property and that same someone is going to be pissed when he finds out that you stole her,” Seth snapped right back.
“I don’t f**king care,” he said, not giving a damn whether some f**king werewolf, and he’d been shocked when Seth had explained that they really existed, was mad that he’d changed Cloe.
The bastard could go f**k himself, because he’d be damned if he allowed anyone to treat Cloe like shit, especially since Seth had explained exactly what shifters did to their property. When he’d discovered what those marks on her back meant he’d barely been able to contain the rage inside him. The only thing that had helped was the promise he’d made to himself that one day he would find the shifter that had ripped her back to shreds so that he could tear the piece of shit apart with his bare hands.
“You’ll care when he brings his Pack after both of you, especially if Marta gets caught in the middle,” Seth said, making everything in him go still even as his vision dimmed out, taking on shades of red. “You’re going to have to accept the fact that you can’t protect them both, Christofer. One day that shifter is going to come for her and when he does, he’s going to make you pay and if Marta is around……..,” he let his words trail off, but Christofer didn’t need him to finish his sentence to know that if the shifter ever came sniffing around, he was going to be forced to make a choice, protect his sister, the person he loved most in the world, or the woman that he couldn’t stop thinking of as his.
It was time, Marta realized with a sad smile as she carefully ran her fingertips over the yellowed piece of creased parchment that she’d been carrying with her since she was a child.
The fact that it had survived a toddler carrying it everywhere, the time she’d spent locked up in that tiny room off the lab, their escape through Europe, their time living on the run and all the years she’d carried it in her purse, still amazed her. Christofer had been mad when he’d realized that she’d taken this picture, she remembered with a small smile.
Papa had forbidden her to go into Christofer’s room, but he’d been her favorite person in the world and sometimes when she got too lonely while he was having his lessons or when the nannies were vexed with her, she’d sneak into his room, sit in front of the fire and look through all of his drawings. She loved looking at his artwork. Even as a child she’d known that it was special. She used to think that Christofer used magic to create his drawings and statues the way that he could capture the exact detail of someone’s face, every perfection and flaw with such ease. It didn’t hurt that he’d agree with a chuckle and a wink as he worked, creating works of art that rivaled masters. To this day, she’d never seen any piece of art come close to her brother’s skill.
It wasn’t just because he could capture someone’s likeness perfectly and without a single flaw, but that he seemed to be able to capture the heart and soul of a person. It was in their expression, the tilt of their lips and the way they held themselves that made you believe that Christofer had found a way to turn people into images on paper and into stone and marble. She loved to watch him work, loved everything that he created, but this piece of aged parchment……
This was her favorite.
The paper was simple, the kind that he used to use when he was doodling. Some of the graphite had smudged over the years, but it was still just as perfect as it had been the day that she’d found it stuck inside of one of Christofer’s school books. It was a drawing of Christofer holding her when she was just a baby, probably only a few hours old, but the look of adoration on his face as he peered down at her had made her feel special, safe. He’d always made her feel that way even those times when she’d probably deserved a swat on the bottom, she thought, smiling as she ran her fingers one more time over the picture that she’d cherished for most of her life.
“I’ll protect them,” Christofer’s words carried up through the grate in her floor just as more pain sliced through her tired body, “I’ll protect them both.”
No, he couldn’t, she thought with a wistful smile as she picked up another bottle of the pills that Christofer didn’t know about. One by one, she began to swallow them, taking small sips of water every few minutes to help the pills go down. Once the bottle was empty, she carefully lowered herself to the floor and pushed aside the small throw rug that Christofer had given her one Christmas so that her feet wouldn’t have to touch the cold floor in the winter.
As quietly as possible, and praying that Christofer was still focused on what was going on downstairs, she pried open the loose board that she’d discovered after Christofer had bought the house for her, with trembling fingers and removed it. She was taking a chance by doing this while Christofer was home, something that she’d never done before, but right now she didn’t have a choice if she wanted a chance to tell him how much she loved him.
She reached for the shoe box that she kept in the space just as another shot of pain surged through her stomach and down to her legs, almost making her do the one thing that she’d been struggling not to do for the past year, cry out in pain. Gripping the edge of the opening tightly, she closed her eyes and calmed her breathing, knowing that if she didn’t Christofer would hear her heart racing and he’d rush up here to check up on her.
After a few minutes when her body started to go numb and the trembling worsened, she finally managed to calm her breathing enough so that she could reach down with an unsteady hand and push the lid off the box. On top was the letter, the one that she’d written a year ago when the doctor had told her the news.