“Why me?” she demanded.
“I may be old by most standards, Anna, but not even I can explain the fickleness of fate.”
She made an impatient sound. “No, I mean, why didn’t you use the emerald all those years ago? You could have saved…”
Her words broke off at the flare of pain that raced through her at the thought of her family being senselessly slaughtered. How different it would have been if Morgana had been locked away and unable to destroy those who might have loved her.
The mist darkened and the sensation of ancient grief rolled over her.
“I mourn their loss as much as you, perhaps even more,” Arthur said, his voice low and raw with pain. “I felt each death as it occurred, like a dagger through my heart. It is a burden I must carry.”
Anna blinked back the hot tears that filled her eyes. “Then why?” she breathed. “Why didn’t you destroy her?”
The mist moved forward, bringing with it the sensation of calloused fingers closing around her hand that held the emerald.
“I was not as strong as you, Anna.”
She frowned at the whispered words. Even in mist form she could sense the stunning energy that swirled through Arthur.
“I don’t believe that.”
“I do not speak of my powers. They were considerable.” She sensed him give a rueful shake of his head. “Perhaps too considerable, since in my arrogance I began to believe I was beyond harm, despite Morgana’s endless treachery. But my heart was filled with anger. When I attempted to use the emerald it was out of my burning need for revenge, not justice. Too late I have realized that it was your refusal to allow anger or bitterness to rule your heart that allowed you to gain mastery over the stone.”
Anna slowly considered his confession. A part of her couldn’t deny a sense of relief that this man hadn’t willingly allowed their family to be destroyed, while another regretted the fate that had forced her into confronting the evil woman.
At last she heaved a rueful sigh. She’d done what had to be done.
Nothing could change that.
“What am I supposed to do with the emerald now?” she demanded.
“I will hold it for safekeeping.”
She lifted her brows. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know what devious games this man intended to play with his sister.
“Is that wise?”
He gave a shake of his head. “I am at last at peace, Anna. I have no need to seek further revenge. And in truth I believe it will be best if the fey world realizes that the emerald is beyond their reach.” She could sense his deep concern. “They are capricious and unpredictable, but they could be dangerous if they believed the vampires were holding their queen captive.”
Anna couldn’t argue his logic. If she were the one holding the emerald, the fairies might very well presume that her bond with Cezar would mean that their queen was at the mercy of the vampires. The last thing she wanted was some sort of demon war.
Besides, she was freaking sick and tired of being ambushed by one creature after another.
Releasing her hold on the stone, she allowed the spirit to take the emerald from her hand. There was a brief flutter of the mist and the emerald, along with Morgana, disappeared.
Anna breathed a renegade sigh of relief.
She wouldn’t be sorry if she never had to see that damn emerald again.
Cowardly, but true.
“Those fairies wouldn’t be so eager to rescue her if they knew the truth,” she said, recalling the fairies that had filled the farmhouse. “They don’t know that Morgana was responsible for your death.”
“No.” The mist darkened, a haunting sadness filling the ruined castle. “Someday the story will be told, but not now.”
Anna slowly nodded. She had hoped that she would discover the truth of her grandfather’s past, but she understood that there were some things too painful to speak out loud, as if the words themselves could rip open scars best left undisturbed.
“I…” Her words of comfort were cut off as the image of Cezar’s anxious face seared through her mind, a near painful compulsion to reach out to him clenching her heart.
“Anna, what is it?”
“It’s Cezar. I must go.”
“You are so eager to return to your vampire?” her grandfather’s spirit demanded.
She lifted a hand to rub her aching head. “He’s upset.”A soft laugh filled the air. “There might have been a day when I would have been angered at the thought of my granddaughter mating with a vampire, but now I feel nothing but relief he will always be near to protect you.”
Anna dropped her hand to regard him with a warning frown. “I’m not bad at protecting myself, thank you very much.”
“My beloved Anna.” The misty fingers trailed over her cheek in a fond caress. “You are so much more than I ever dreamed possible.”
She felt a sudden twinge of fear. There was something in the smoky voice that sounded very much like good-bye.
“Will we ever speak again?”
He paused, almost as if listening to a voice only he could hear.
“Once your fate has been decided,” he at last said. “Until then I am not allowed to interfere.”
“Oh, no.” Anna gave a sharp shake of her head. “I’m done with fate. All I want is a nice, peaceful life with the vampire I love.”
“I fear that destiny is not yet finished with you,” he warned in a rueful voice. “Now go to your vampire. I’m not of this world and even I can hear his anguish.”
Anna felt herself beginning to fade from the castle and, with a wistful smile, she watched as her grandfather shifted back to the shape of a wolf.
She didn’t care what destiny might want from her.
She’d done her duty and she intended to reap her rewards.
In the arms of her vampire.
Cezar kneeled beside the large bed in Styx’s mansion with his hands threaded through Anna’s lush hair. At his side, Levet studied the unconscious woman, his delicate wings twitching with unease as he attempted to inch away from the frigid waves of desperation that were pouring off Cezar.
His inability to rouse Anna had pressed his temper to a lethal edge and he was itching to kill something or someone to ease his frustration. Unfortunately, for the moment he needed the gargoyle’s ability to sense magic. Which meant he could do nothing more than glare at the creature with an icy fury.
“Well?” he snarled, making Levet jump with a nervous squeak.
The gargoyle cleared his throat and struggled to find his voice. “She seems…healthy enough.”
Cezar muttered a foul curse, his hand running a tender path down Anna’s cheek, lingering on the healing wounds that marred her perfect skin. He could tell she was healthy. She wouldn’t be healing with such speed if she weren’t.
What he needed to know was why she wouldn’t wake despite being far away from the crumbling Avalon.
“Then why is she still unconscious?” he gritted. “Is it magic? Did Morgana put a spell on her?”
Levet wrinkled his snout, the gray eyes troubled. “There is something that feels fey, but the scent is…”
Cezar hissed at the gargoyle’s uncertainty. “Curse your hide, the scent is what?”
“What does that mean?”
“I truly don’t know.”
“Then who would?” he snapped, furious that he had wasted his time with the impotent demon.
Wisely taking several steps from the furious vampire, Levet was still struggling for an answer when Anna abruptly stirred beneath Cezar’s fingers.
“Cezar?” she murmured softly.
A savage relief jolted through him as he lowered his head and touched his lips to the pulse beating at her temple.
“Anna,” he husked, allowing the scent of honeyed figs to sink deep inside him. “Anna, what is it?”
She forced open her heavy lashes to reveal a rueful amusement glittering in the hazel eyes.
“Leave poor Levet alone.”
There was the sound of flapping wings, and then without warning, Levet landed in the middle of the bed, a smug expression on his ugly face.
“Oui.” He reached out a stunted arm to pat Anna on top of her head, blowing a raspberry in Cezar’s direction. “Leave poor Levet alone.”
“Don’t press your luck, gargoyle,” Cezar growled, never taking his gaze from Anna’s pale face. Dios. He would happily kneel here for an eternity just to be near this woman.
“Ha. You are the one pressing your luck, vampire,” Levet retorted, his courage miraculously returning now that he was hovering behind Anna. “You should have seen him, Anna. There I was sitting in the kitchen, enjoying a delectable roasted pig, a pig I might add that I was forced to hunt and kill all on my own, not to mention roast, and then this demented vampire comes charging in, demanding that I drop everything to…” His words broke off as the lamps in the room began to glow and then flicker before the bulbs burst in a shower of glass. With remarkable speed the gargoyle was flying toward the door. “Fine, I’m going, I’m going.”