He's marched into the room. His stepfather Aiden is grabbing onto his shoulder. Since he was young his father Aiden had been the father that that his real father had never been. Justice wasn't surprised that he would be the first person to see the puncture wounds on the side of his neck.
The throne room is a familiar place and King Nero is standing by the golden blinds with the members of his Elder King's guard. As Justice walks in he can see his face flush with embarrassment when he recognizes some of the faces of the Elder King's guard. Milan, Lucca, Camilla, Coco and Sinclair are standing next to King Nero. They are the top of the top in Eden. They are the most important vampires. The city had once been home to thousands but with the war against outside rogues the population was dropping. More than ever strong vampires like the Elder Guard were needed. Roxanne is also in attendance. She's not a member of the King's guard but she acts as Nero's advisor as she was with Nero's father and as she would be when Justice became king. They look like they are having a serious conversation which makes this just the more weird for Justice.
“Show him,” Aiden says.
Justice hesitates. He knows Aiden has the best intentions at heart but it's still embarrassing. When the older vampires stare wondering why Aiden would interrupt the meeting like this.
“It's nothing...” Justice struggles.
“Show him Justice.”
Justice pulls off his scarf and shows the bite marks in his neck. The other vampires are looking on. Camilla and Lucca walk forward. They had a reputation. If these two loud mouths knew he'd been attacked every vampire in Eden would probably know soon enough.
“Bite marks,” Camilla announces.
“He's been drained.”
It was against the law to attack a prince. Justice knew that it would mean death for the person who did it. He still felt embarrassment more than anything especially when his father walks up to him examines his neck, steps back and crosses his arms.
“What happened?” His father asks him.
Justice sighs, “I'm telling you. It was nothing.”
“Fine. Go away then,” Nero explains.
Aiden steps forward at that moment, “Nero seriously? Your son has bite marks. You can't just tell him to go away.”
“If he was weak enough to let someone get close enough to bite him then he deserved what he got,” Nero explains shaking his head, “He needs to learn the hard way. Aiden you need to stop babying him.”
His father had always been...tough. Tough was an understatement. Justice had grown in the years to resent his father. Nero was everything that he wanted to be. He was strong. He was decisive. He was powerful. It sucked having a father who never aged. It sucked having a father who was strong, handsome and beautiful.
Even now looking at his father it was hard to deny the fact that he resented him. He was jealous of him. He'd admit it to himself.
A part of him even...hated him.
“What if it was the AB?” Captain Milan responds.
Captain Milan was the top of the Elders. He was the one that the others listened to. They all exchanged looks. Justice wasn't sure exactly what the term AB meant. He was a little confused.
“AB?” he asks.
The others don't seem too interested in answering the prince. It was how it always was. Every time his father was in the room Justice was just wallpaper. The only person who would even give him the time of day was his stepfather.
“It's an old term of endearment we used to have for Santos,” Aiden explains, “It's his blood type.”
“Did Santos bite you?” the King asks Justice.
Justice returns a glare at him. He'd been threatened by Armando, a much older veteran of the King's Guard for whatever reason. He wasn't afraid of Armando though. That wasn't the reason he was hesitating now. He was hesitating because he knew that they were all afraid of Santos. He didn't know why. Santos biting him didn't really help his case much either.
Still...there was something about Santos that Justice couldn't let go.
“No,” Justice lies.
He's protecting him. He's protecting him because even though Santos attacked him while they were kissing and about to have sex it was the most manly Justice had ever felt. His manhood had always been stepped on by King Nero. People always said he was the lighter, slimmer, weaker version of his father. When Santos was kissing him though he didn't feel like that. He felt like the most powerful vampire in Eden.
And he wasn't about to just let that go because of a stupid ass bite.
“Well there you have it,” Nero explains, “Now let's move on from these childish accusations and talk about something important.”
The others are scared to challenge Nero. Justice looks at Aiden. He can see it coming from a mile away. For the longest Aiden had always been the one to stand up and oppose Nero. They fought like cats and dogs. And in the end that was what pulled them together in a relationship.
“Santos is a problem, whether he bit Justice or not,” Aiden acknowledges.
“What do you want me to do?” Nero asks, “Bury him alive again?”
The others in the room get quiet. Justice is confused. They must have forgotten he is in the room. He'd heard little small talk from regular King's guard about Santos but no one really ever said too much. It was just like all of Eden had a secret that they were trying to keep and if you weren't around in that time you weren't supposed to know what happened with Santos.
Coco shakes her head, “I've never been a fan of Santos but we've done enough to that boy.”
“What if he's back for revenge?” Milan asks.
“Maybe he deserves his revenge,” Nero explains, “And maybe we all deserve to pay for what happened to him.”
Justice is confused. His father had always been tough almost to a fault. He had always been extremely conservative. He was what they called a 'true vampire'. He was cold, unemotional and precise. He never regretted any of his actions. The fact that Nero was sitting here regretting his actions was confusing. Since when was he upset about something like this?
The only one in the room that seems to be agreeing with him was Coco. Coco was an Elder Guard and also the Dean of the Vampire school that Justice had graduated from just a few months ago. She wasn't known to be the nice or soft either. Like Nero, Justice was confused that Coco seemed to have a soft spot for Santos.
“I'm not saying to bury him,” Aiden states, “I'm just saying lets keep an eye out for him. I loved him just like you did.”
“Wait what?” Justice asks.
All eyes turned to him. Their secrets were coming out. He should have just shut up and been a fly on the wall until he learned the truth but now they were looking at him. He was the young vampire who didn't know their history with Santos and didn't understand the resentment of the Elders against him.
“You should leave,” Nero states.
Justice doesn't budge. He stares at his father, “You were in love with Santos?”
“Engaged...” Lucca whispers.
“ENOUGH!” Nero barks so loud that Lucca takes a few steps away from the King.
Everyone in the room gets quiet. They've hit a sore topic. It's clear. Justice crosses his arms. He turns around. He's about to leave but then he stops. He can't keep backing down every time his father barks at him. Justice knew he had to grow up and he had to become a man one day. He had to demand the respect from Nero one way or another.
Now that he knew his father once loved Santos, he realized that he wanted Santos more than ever.
“He bit me,” Justice states.
“What?” Nero asks, “So you just lied?”
“He didn't attack me though. I asked him bite me,” Justice lies with a confident smirk on his face, “It turned me on. Right before I had sex with him. He said it was the best he ever had.”
There it was.
Aiden starts to shake his head, “JUSTICE! What the hell were you thinking?”
Aiden continues to go in on him. He doesn't care. He knows he's going a little above and beyond right now by saying that but it's all worth it. It's all worth it to see Nero's face. Nero grimaces. He has a gold darkness that illuminates his face.
For the first time ever the wise king didn't know what to say.
It's Milan who seems to use this speechless moment of the king to get in his own agenda, “This is exactly why we had to act.”
Aiden looks at his brother, “What are you talking about Milan?”
“Bring him in,” Milan states.
At that moment Sinclair leaves the room. Justice recognizes him to be nothing more than a henchman of Milan. Milan was smart and precise but he was also relatively spiteful. Justice had a bad feeling when in the next moments Armando is dragged into the room. Armando and Justice make eye contact. Armando is a handsome man, cool, calm and collected.
Aiden stares at him, “I didn't think I'd be seeing you around here anytime soon.”
“I had something to deal with,” Armando explains.
“What did you do?” Nero asks with a sharpness in his tone.
There is an intense look on Armando's face. He faces with Nero. Many people looked down when King Nero looked at them like that. Armando wasn't looking down though. He stared Nero in the face. They made eye contact.
“I did what you weaklings couldn't. Santos won't be an issue any longer,” Armando states.
He is bold. He doesn't show emotion. There is a silence there that I don't understand. It's almost like has rehearsed this. Lucca and Camilla drop their mouths when Armando uses the word 'weaklings' in regards to King Neros. Those are fighting words and they all know it. Justice can hardly help to stand still as these two people show down. Armando was a legend in Eden. There were books written about him. Still. King was king no matter how you looked at it.
Nero crosses around the table that he's standing behind. He faces Armando. They look at each other. There is heaviness there. It's so heavy. The tension is so deep.
“What. Did. You. Do?” Nero asks Armando again.
“We locked him in a room with a Thirst...” Milan says.
Milan is smiling as he says it. Jaws drop. Justice had never seen a Thirst in person but he knew about them. Ever vampire in Eden had known about them. A Thirst had attacked the school three months ago killing 50 students. It'd taken all of the Elders to take down the Thirst. The fact that this sort of monster was locked in a room was too much.
Justice could feel his heart racing. He barely knew this boy but everyone was looking at him. This was homicide.
It happens almost immediately when Nero attacks Milan.
Nero grabs Milan by his neck. He chokes him up, lifts him high into the air with a power that few had ever seen from a single vampire. In the next moment Nero body slams Milan into the ground. There is a slight crack and Milan lets out a shrilling cry.
That is when Nero looks over at Armando, “You'll pay for this. With your life.”
Armando shakes his head, “I plan to. I can't live with myself after what I've done but it had to be done. And if when I do die it won't be by your hands.”
“We'll see about that,” Nero states walking forward.
The other Elders aren't far behind. The majority of them are descending around Armando now. Aiden doesn't stop them. He's just standing there shocked.
Armando has a coat on. It falls to the side as the vampires approach him. The look in his eyes gets a little tragic.
All hell is about to break loose in the quarters and that's when the huge doors of the throne room open.
The doors are thrown open as if by some sort of giant! Two seconds later none other than Santos walks into the room dragging with him the body of a Thirst.
I walk into the room. The thirst is heavy. It's a 300 pound beast. The eyes glare at me as I walk through the room. I notice my father standing there. Armando. Not much ever surprises him. Not much ever takes him by shock but this does. He saunters backwards, tripping over his own feet and landing on the ground. He stares blankly. I might as well have been someone rising from the dead yet again. The truth was that I'd been counted out many times before.
“If you all are plotting to kill me...” I let these vampires know, “You may need to try harder than this. I'm fuckin' hard to kill.”
I swing the 300 pound beast in front of me. My wounds are deep. My scratches are deep. I've been losing blood. My entire body feels like it's about to give out. I want to say something else. I hold out a finger. I want to curse. I want to throw a tantrum in that room but I don't have the energy. The Thirst has taken everything from me.
It doesn't matter if I say anything else. They are all speechless.
I've made my point already and with that I just fall over.
I wake up in a hospital room. Eden hospital were the same as regular hospitals. They were bustling with doctors and nurses. I still feel weak and realize that I'm connected to some saline. I struggle to get up at that moment but the nurse quickly runs over and puts a hand on my chest.
“No moving. Order of the king,” she states.
“This place smells like death.”
“Well from what I hear you don't have that problem,” she responds, “You took on a thirst by yourself? That is suicide. Looks like the local reporters are drawing for this story.”
Eden reporters were the worst from what I could remember. If 100 years had past god knows how bad they had gotten. I watch as she puts a thermometer in my mouth. There is another nurse standing not too far away just smiling.
“Technology doesn't seem to have gotten much better.”
“We haven't had much exposure to the outside world in more than 100 years because of the rogue blockade,” The nurse responds at that moment, “Terrible things. Those rogues. Only thing worse than a rogue is a Thirst.”
“The articles say that you are the son of Lilith. That true?” another nurse asks.
“Valerie---don't be rude,” the main nurse tells the nurse staring at me at that moment, “Why don't you go notify the King that the AB is alive.”
The AB. They were still calling me the AB because of my blood type. I guess after all those years of forgetting about me all it took was for me to kill a Thirst and all of a sudden I was back in the newspapers. The other nurse disappears and I turn to the main nurse. She is studying me up and down making sure that all my vitals look good. It's rare because she is one of the rare vampires that actually look older than 35. This woman actually looks middle aged. I'm not sure of her true age but she seems to be quite mature.
“The thirst I killed---what exactly are they?”
She explains with a nonchalant scientific approach, “Some say that they are true vampires. What we should be. You see vampires are monstrous creatures but by drinking blood we remain somewhat human. A vampire stuck somewhere in between being a human and a Thirst.”
I shake my head.
“I'd never felt something like that.”
“You're damn lucky to survive.”
“Luck didn't have anything to do with it lady,” I tell her.
That is when I hear the footsteps walk into the room. When I see the nurse jump over herself and bow at the person walking in the room I know that it must be Nero. Nero has an entourage of King's Guard with him. He immediately tells them to go wait outside and they don't hesitate.
Nero stands to the side of the bed. He has on a blazer that is buttoned with no shirt underneath it. I can see the beginning of his upper abs underneath his blazer. Then I see a bracelet around his wrist. I recognize the bracelet almost immediately.
It is a Lucky One. It's an ancient bracelet that belonged to Eve in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of time.
“Are you feeling better?”
“You come to finish me off?”I ask Nero.
Nero's face wrinkles up. Even as I'm annoyed with his presence I can't help but to be attracted to him. He's always been my world. He's always been my heart. Too bad after 100 years he couldn't say the same thing about me.
Nero takes a swipe at his full juicy lips with his long red tongue. It's not done in a sexy way even though he turns me on when he does it. He's doing it more in a hesitating way.
“I had nothing to do with trying to kill you,” Nero states.
I squint at him, “Forgive me if I don't turn my back to you. I'm not in the trusting mood now-adays.”
“May I come closer?” Nero asks.
“I don't need to ask your permission,” Nero states, “I'm king now.”
I give in with a grunt and an eye roll, “Then do what you want.”
Nero walks closer to me. He sits on the edge of my hospital bed. The closer he gets the more I realize he smells so fucking good. The smell is brisk and clean. He smells like a fresh bath on a cold winter day. There is so much masculinity in his scent when he approaches and immediately I regret having him come so close.
“I've had Armando and Milan arrested for their plot,” Nero tells me.
He says it as though it should make everything fine. My father who I trusted with my life just locked me in a room to die. It'd take a lot more than a jail sentence to make me feel better.
I shrug my shoulders, “Everyone betrays you. Sooner or later.”
“I never did,” Nero responds.
I break out in a hearty laugh at that moment right in Nero's face. I can tell he's taking it to heart because the softness in his expression changes into this hard one. It's weird seeing nice Nero being all hard and authoritative. He's reminding me more of his adopted father King Arie. King Arie was the one who sent down the executive order that I was the son of a dangerous woman and I needed to be buried underground.
“And getting married wasn't betrayal?” I finally ask him.
There is silence for a moment. You would think he would be preparing for us to have this conversation and I assumed that it would all just come out. I was assuming that Nero had this amazing excuse that would make me feel way better about this.
Instead of some amazing excuse Nero just shakes his head, sighs and says, “I tried to wait for you.”
He isn't even looking me in the eye as he says that. I didn't cry when my father locked me in a room to die. Now tears were falling down my cheek. The hot tears burned my face. There was a sadness that raged in me. I felt sorry for myself. Even now when I look at Nero I see the gruy I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with and he's just looking at me like I'm nothing.
“You married...him. Of all people. The same person who betrayed me?” I ask shaking my head at the thought of it.
“I waited for an entire LIFETIME for you,” he explains.
“You said forever. You told me we were forever...”
“We still can be,” Nero states.
That's when Nero grabs onto my fingers. He attempts to hold my hands. My reaction is extreme. It's more extreme than I think it would be if he were to do it. I push him off of me, jump off the bed and run to the other side of the room. You would think Nero was turning into a Thirst by the way I'm looking at him.
I point my finger at him, “Don't you dare do that...”
Nero hesitates, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean---I shouldn't----I'm sorry.”
He attempts to grapple with his words again, muffles them up and just apologizes a few more times. I wipe my tears. Fuck the weakness. Weakness had made me fall in love with him in the first place. He grabs onto his forehead, tilts his head up and exhales deeply. I don't know what he was thinking by grabbing my hand and attempting to give me some sort of hope. I'd lost hope a long time ago.
“Did your husband have something to do with the Thirst?” I ask him.
He shakes his head, “No. I had a really long discussion with Aiden. He swore up and down he had no idea what his brother was plotting. Milan starved out a vampire. It was up to Armando to lead you there to be killed by the thirst.”
“Didn't work,” I shake my head.
“How'd you do it? How'd you kill it?”
“It came at me, all fangs and claws. And I just realized I couldn't die yet. So I fought back,” I explain plainly.
“You're the first to ever kill a Thirst by yourself,” he explains at that moment, “The Elders usually have to team up to do it. That kind of power is useful to have. You'd be beneficial if you became a King's Guard.”
“I didn't even graduate school back then,” I state.
“You came very close,” he replies, “Plus you proved yourself. I'm the king remember. I can make you one if you would like.”
“You're offering me a job.”
Nero shrugs, “I'm offering you one.”
“What do you get out of it?”
“Maybe I get to be around you more,” Nero explains, “Maybe I get to just figure out this...”
“There is no this.”
Nero looks away. He studies the wall, “Maybe you're right but I think we owe it to each other to at least make sure of that. Don't you think?”
“No I don't think. You're married.”
“I would have postponed it if you wanted.”
“No. I want you to do what you want to do. Do you love him?” I ask Nero.
Nero looks at me. He sucks on his lower lip. This is hard for him. Nero is struggling with this. He glares at the wall. He's not taking this well. I can see it in his eyes. This is the worst for him.
“Not like I love you,” is Nero's answer.
“That's not what I asked.”
Nero struggles at that moment, “You're not being fair! You were buried for 100 years.”
He's trying to change the subject. Now he's throwing it back on me. The love of my life being just a few feet away from me is hard. There is a part of me that wants to give up this bullshit run in his arms and just feel his heart beat over mine. I wonder if there is a part of him that would abandon whatever the fuck he had going on with Aiden for me. These are two parts that aren't going to merge though. These are two parts that thrived 100 years ago.
That was a long time.
“You said forever,” I tell him.
“You slept with my son.”
“Is that what he told you?” I laugh.
Sure it had gotten hot and heated between me and Justice but I hadn't slept with him. Nero standing here right now accusing me of that was hilarious. That's when I notice how hurt he looks though. Nero is damn near struggling with the idea that I may or may not have slept with his husband.
“Is he lying?” Nero ask.
I think about it at that moment. I want to hurt Nero. I want to make Nero pay.
“No. We fucked,” I told Nero.
He looks away and gets up off the bed almost immediately, “Nice visit. Please consider joining the King's Guard. We'll need you.”
“Oh now you want to leave.”
Nero is angry. His voice is holding back the anger under this royal, sexy exterior but on the inside I know he wants to scream at me and go the fuck off like he used to do when we were young. Instead he is cool and collected more like an older vampire. He's reminding me of an Arie or an Armando instead of the passionate Nero that I used to know.
What had happened to all that emotion Nero? Where were you keeping it?
Why were you hiding it?
“There's nothing else we needed to discuss,” he responds assuredly but then asks with a blunt misdirection, “Is there?”
I shake my head, “You never answered my question. Are you in love with Aiden?
He nods, “Yes. Yes I am.”
Betrayal is something you don't take easy.
I sit around at night thinking about Armando. I just want to ask him why he betrayed me. I can't sleep that night. He was supposed to love me. He was supposed to protect me. There was a time Armando had gone up against his king for me. Why now all of a sudden did he want to destroy me? Hadn't he seen how I suffered? Why would he want to add to the list?
The thought of it all keeps me up all night.
I open my blinds and I look out at the sky. The sun doesn't ride or set in Eden. It stays an eternal dusk just on the horizon. This was the oldest city in existence. This was the city of Vampires. It was safe haven where vampires came to feel at home.
This place had to be destroyed.
The voice is a low mutter. At first I think I'm imagining it. I'd spent 100 years in a box. Imagining voices wasn't the weirdest thing that could have happened. However the voice gets louder in my ear. It seems to be wanting me something.
The voice is so distinct. It's impossible. I know it is. She cannot enter Eden. However there were times I'd heard her voice before. Just like the times I had heard it before I don't know how to react. There is a chill that goes up my spine from fear but there is also a comfort. There is a rush of endurance that fills my body.
The voice is direct.
It's leading me somewhere. I open the door and walk into the hallway. The hallway is empty. This building is the home of a lot of King's Guard. They stay here in order to stay close to the King and do what he needs to get done.
The voice is leading me down a corridor. There is a door at the very end of the hallway. My mother is trying to show me something. As I walk down the hallway I notice several men walking towards me. At first I think they are guard and I get a little nervous but soon I realize that they are just regular aids in the building.
“Excuse me,” I ask the aid.
“Do you know whose room that is?” I ask.
“Sir that is Prince Justice's room,” he responds.
With that him and the other man walk away. Now why would the voice be coming from Justice's room. What was my mother trying to show me?
I walk over to the room and just as I approach the door I realize that it is locked but it hadn't been closed all the way. So I am able to push the door open slightly.
I approach slowly into the darkness, blending into the night.
I can't hold back my shock with what I see.
“Well I'll be damned,” I state.
Justice is there. Justice isn't alone. He's wrapped up under the sheets...butt naked with none other than AIDEN!
To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com