“You are young and immature, it is true,” the gravelly voice agreed. “But in a few centuries you will be suitably trained to take your place among us.”
“Why not just take someone who’s ready now?”
“We do not choose Oracles, they are foretold by prophecy. We have known for some time that if you managed to survive Morgana you were destined to join us.”
“Did it occur to you that I might have a better chance of surviving Morgana if you’d helped?”
“But we did,” Siljar reminded her. “We gave you the vampire.”
The tangled emotions oddly eased at the mere mention of Cezar. For all the trials and uncertainty she had endured over the years, not to mention the annoying attempts on her life, she wouldn’t change one damn thing.
Not when it had brought her an extraordinary man who would love her for the rest of eternity.
“Yes, I suppose you did, although I don’t think he’d appreciate it being put in those terms.” With a smile, Anna slowly lowered herself to her knees and bowed her head. “Thank you. I doubt that it was your intention, but you’ve given me more than I ever dreamed possible.”
There was no missing the stir of astonishment that rippled through the air. Obviously the demons expected this response at the offer of becoming an Oracle, not at the mention of Cezar.
“You speak of the vampire?” the hissing woman demanded.
“I speak of Cezar.” Her head lifted with a flare of pride. “My mate.”
There were several low growls and mutterings at her words, as if the announcement of Cezar being her mate wasn’t overly popular.
Too damn bad.
“An…unfortunate decision by the vampire,” a new, ominous voice rasped. “Not the first I might add. He is lucky that he is not to be punished again.”
“Punished?” Anna scrambled back to her feet. By God, she wasn’t going to stand aside and let Cezar ever be hurt again. She didn’t care who the hell these demons thought they were, she would battle them to the death. “For what? Protecting me against my demented aunt? Caring enough to save my life? It’s certainly more than anyone else has ever done for me.”
“She is right, the vampire did what was necessary.” Siljar overrode the mutterings, her voice holding a rich command that filled the vast cavern. “He has served his purpose.”
“Perhaps, but he will be a blessed nuisance for the rest of eternity. You know how vampires are when they’re mated,” a demon groused.
“True,” another agreed. “He will be forever hovering around the female. He will have to be restrained when the Commission is in private session.”
Her eyes narrowed. She’d been kidnapped from her bed, forced to meet the mystical, powerful Commission in nothing more than a T-shirt, and bluntly informed that she was supposed to become an Oracle rather than enjoy a peaceful future with Cezar. She was in no mood to listen to them speak about the man she loved as if he were no more than a pesky bug they wanted to squash.
“The female has a name, and I haven’t said that I even want to be on the Commission,” she gritted.
There was a collective gasp, the shock a tangible force in the air. Clearly they expected potential Oracles to leap with joy at the thought of joining their exclusive ranks.
“Anna Randal, you do not understand the honor that has been given you,” the gravelly voice chastised with obvious annoyance. “There has never been an Oracle who has turned away the opportunity to serve upon the Commission. Indeed, there is none who would not be eager to fulfill such a destiny.”
Anna shrugged. “Then you shouldn’t have any trouble finding someone to take my place.”
There was more muttering, most of it in a language she thankfully didn’t understand. She didn’t think they were saying anything nice.
At last it was Siljar who attempted to ease the rising tension. “That is not how it is done, Anna. We do not simply find someone. The Oracle is prophesized. It could be several millenniums before another is shown to us.”
They seriously needed to consider a new method of choosing their Oracles.
What if one of them died? Or wanted to retire? Or preferred to spend the next few centuries tucked in bed with a delicious vampire?
Oh…yes. A few centuries alone with Cezar were exactly what she wanted.
“Look, I don’t know what cosmic joke made you believe that I should be an Oracle, but I don’t want the job,” she said, her voice clear and determined.
This time there was no muttering, no foreign curses. Instead a thunderous silence filled the cavern. A silence that was far more terrifying than their earlier annoyance.
Anna swallowed a lump that felt the size of Gibraltar as she waited for the looming shit to hit the fan.Okay, that wasn’t probably the smartest thing she’d ever done. Even an idiot realized that denying a request from a powerful assembly of demons needed to be done with a bit of tact. Where the hell was her law training when she needed it?
Of course, it might be better to simply have her cards on the table, she tried to reassure herself. If they were going to kill her for her refusal then she’d just as soon have it over and done with swiftly.
When the silence at last was broken, however, it wasn’t with a lightning bolt or earthquake. Instead it was Siljar’s soft question.
“What do you want?”
Anna licked her dry lips. She would try to be more diplomatic, but she wouldn’t lie. This was too important.
“I want to complete the mating ceremony with Cezar and live in peace with his clan,” she said, her voice thick with the need that burned in her heart. “That’s all.”
“A moment,” Siljar demanded.
The darkness deepened around the forms until they were lost in shadows. It was almost as if they had placed a tangible cloak over themselves, shutting her out as effectively as if they’d slammed a door in her face.
Realizing her knees were shaking, Anna abruptly dropped back in her seat and sucked in several deep breaths. She wanted to believe this was all some horrible nightmare. That she would awaken to discover she was safely tucked in Cezar’s arms with nothing to worry about but whether to enjoy a private dinner with her mate or a few hours with her newfound friends. But the damp chill of the cave and smoke of the torch were all too real.
And downright uncomfortable.
Concentrating on her powers, Anna was able to warm her skin and send the smoke toward the back of the cave, but there was nothing to combat the hardness of the wooden chair or the queasy ball of nerves in the pit of her stomach.
Those she endured, for what seemed like hours, although it was probably no more than twenty or thirty minutes.
At last the darkness thinned so that Anna could determine the vague outline of the Commission and she slowly rose to her feet. It seemed a good idea to be ready for a hasty exit if things went to hell.
“We agree,” Siljar said.
Anna blinked in shock. She’d expected a thunderous lecture on duty, or bitter recriminations, or bolts of deadly lightning.
She hadn’t expected this mild capitulation.
It made her wonder when the ax was going to fall.
“What did you say?”
“You shall be allowed to keep your mate.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes,” Siljar agreed. “And as a concession to your extreme youth we will not require you to commence your duties as an Oracle for the next century.”
It was one of those deals that sounded too good to be true. With a frown she struggled to peer through the murky darkness.
“And at the end of that century?”
“You will take your place on the Commission.”
“Does that mean giving up Cezar?”
“Once mated it is impossible to break the bonds,” the hissing woman retorted in annoyance.
Obviously not everyone was happy with the Commission’s decision.
Anna refused to be intimidated. Stupid, but there it was.
“As you know, I’m a lawyer. I’d rather have everything spelled out in black and white,” she stubbornly said. “If I take my place as an Oracle, will Cezar be at my side?”
Cezar knew the minute he woke from his magically induced sleep that the Commission had come to take Anna.
There could be no other explanation. Viper’s defenses were impenetrable to all but the most powerful of demons. And, of course, there was the fact that whoever had entered the bedroom had managed to do so without him being aware of their presence.
Besides, the lingering scent of Siljar still hung heavy in the air.
Leaping from the bed, Cezar’s first thought had been to rush to the distant caves and physically fight his way to Anna’s side. He’d be damned if she was forced to face the Commission alone.
Then sanity had made an unwelcome intrusion as he yanked on the black jeans that Anna always preferred, and a plain T-shirt.
He could easily make his way to the caves hidden beside the Mississippi river, but for all his power he couldn’t possibly hope to enter them without the permission of the Oracles.