Taste of Torment Page 40

She gave him a playfully impatient look. “So, what have I missed?”

“We were just talking about Imani and Paige.” Evan looked at me then. “I heard that Paige was having second thoughts about staying here, worried that people would be told how she’d healed me, you, Max, and Stuart. She didn’t want to become someone’s tool that was put away until the next time The Call surfaced.” Which was totally understandable.

“Antonio doesn’t need to tell anyone anything. The only people who knew that some of the people here had been tainted were Bran, Covington, Langley, Collins, Eloise, and Quentin. The first five are dead, and because Quentin was so grateful for all Antonio’s help and for us rescuing his brother from the humans, he agreed to let Ryder wipe what had happened to us from his memory.” The Pagori had a psychic hand that could search a person’s mind and even steal specific memories, though he couldn’t wipe away years of memory.

“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?”

“Nah.”

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.”

(Jared)

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?”

“I do.”

“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.”

Since I was watching all ten of the guys closely, I saw the effect that this emotionally had on them. Hell, not even the mostly emotionless Butch had been untouched by that, though he tried to cover it quickly by bowing his head.

Jokingly, Sam added, “I mean, really, how could we – in good conscience – hand over those awkward sods to another Commander?” The guys just laughed. “They’ll be thought of as the personal squad of the Grand High Pair. Oh and Fletcher, you’ll be remaining our PA.”

Unreal as it was, Fletcher was actually crying and dabbing his eyes with a tissue, while an amused Norm was patting his shoulder.

Sam continued. “The next few matters are kind of close to my heart. There will be no consorts within The Hollow from this night forward – anyone who knows me will no doubt find this amusing, but I don’t care.” And they did find it amusing; the entire room was laughing. “Bonk as much as you want, but if you want exclusivity, you give those girls – or blokes, in some cases – a better title than ‘consort”; that’s all I’m saying. I hope this will become a trend worldwide, but that’s up to you.

“As for anyone who doesn’t want their maker at the Binding ceremony, they don’t have to have them there – sod their rights. Also, the act of Turning humans against their will is punishable by death from this night onwards. Hey, if you’re going to take someone’s human life, why shouldn’t I take your vampire life?” And that was a pretty good point. It was a point a lot of people would agree with, since almost half of the population hadn’t chosen this life for themselves.

“And lastly…”

Lastly? She should have been done by now.

“As part of rebuilding the legion, I’ll be introducing an all-female squad.”

Smiling, I groaned. I shouldn’t have been at all surprised.

“My hope is that the females in this room by the names of Alora, Jude, Ava, Paige, and Imani will accept a place in that squad – you have all earned it.” Going by their pleased expressions, they intended to accept her offer. “Sebastian has agreed to help me scout for other additions to the legion as a whole. So if there’s anyone out there – male or female, Pagori or Keja or Sventé – who thinks they have what it takes, I look forward to meeting you. For now, though, I’m going to say goodbye so I can go spend some time with my mate.”

As everyone clapped and cheers rang out, I turned to face her. “An all-female squad, huh? I should have seen that coming.”

She smoothed out the collar of my shirt. “It will make things interesting.”

Before I had the chance to agree, Luther and Sebastian joined us on the podium, bowing – and, thus, freaking Sam out again.

“The bowing is not necessary,” she assured them.

Sebastian smiled at her fondly. “We just want you to understand that we have pledged our loyalty to you.”

“A few words of explanation could have cleared that up just fine,” she told him.

“We will serve you as we have served Antonio,” vowed Luther…who was just the person that I wanted to speak to.

While Sebastian chatted with Sam, I took Luther aside. “I wanted to ask you something. Your visions…do they always come true?”

My question clearly surprised him. “No. Most of them do, and most of them are extremely accurate, but not all. I have come to think of them as warnings rather than glimpses of what is coming.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if what I see is something bad, it gives me the ability to find some way to prevent it from happening. That would suggest that the future is not set in stone. We can change it.” He studied my expression for moment. “Your vision did not come true,” he guessed. Although Luther could help a person have a vision, he never saw that vision for himself.

I jiggled my head. “Part of it did. The thing is…I was happy in the vision. No, not happy. I was content. So the vision wasn’t bad, although I’m happier and more content with the way things are now.”

He thought on that for a few seconds. “Then maybe the vision was a warning. A warning that if you remained on the path that you were then on, the future ahead of you would not be one of total fulfillment.”

That would make sense. Back then, I hadn’t believed that I was built for relationships or that there was any point to them. I’d been fine with being mostly alone, with only having consorts. Maybe I would have been reasonably content if I had continued that way because I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. Now though, I couldn’t even imagine being without Sam. It was her who had changed my perceptions on relationships. “In other words, it was a warning to get my shit together?”

Luther chuckled. “Yes, I would say so. I have had my fair share of those.”

Feeling better, lighter, I smiled and patted his upper arm. “Thanks, Luther.”

“You do not need to thank me. I am your Advisor now.”

“Just don’t think that means you need to be a constant companion for Sam and me. It’s obvious that you and Sebastian spend so much time with Antonio because he’s a close friend. You should continue to do that. I can teleport to you if I need your advice – which will probably be often, but you know what I’m getting at.”

“You are telling me to ensure that I live my own life and not to allow my position to dictate who I am.”

“I once made that mistake. I don’t want you to do the same.”

He nodded. “Then I will take your advice, as you will take mine. Now go and rescue your mate from Sebastian – he is teasing her about how her initial doubts to attend the try-outs could have led to her missing out on all that she has now. She is not impressed.”

Glancing at her, I realised that no, she wasn’t impressed at all. I smoothly came to her side. “Thanks for keeping her company, Sebastian.”

Taking the hint, he nodded and walked away, seeming extremely too amused for Sam’s liking.

She gave me a grateful look. “I have to wonder if he’s curious about how much my whip hurts. Surely common sense told him that this is not the right time to wind me up.”

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