Chapter 3

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Cleo returned home later in the night, Alexander’s Lamborghini her mode of transport. Her usually vibrantly bright eyes were dull and noticed nothing but for the darkened scenery flashing by in a blur past her window. Her brother glanced worriedly over at her from time to time, but she didn’t register his concern either. When he finally pulled and stopped part of the way up her driveway, Cleo started, seeming to swim up to the surface of consciousness from a deep, long dream. She slowly turned her head to gaze at Alexander and managed a nod in his general direction.

“Thanks, bro” she said dully, undoing her seatbelt with sluggish fingers.

Alexander reached across and clicked it out for her. He grabbed her shoulder and forced her to face him again, his dark eyes serious on her face.

“Be careful, tonight, Cleopatra. Make sure he doesn’t come for you as well” he murmured darkly, patting her shoulder once before watching her climb out of the car.

Cleo waved slowly to him as she wandered dizzily, like she was tipsy, up her driveway and inside the house, through the unlocked front door.

“Cleo? Honey, is that you?” she heard her mother’s shrill voice call out from the direction of the lounge.

She had the barest presence of mind and awareness to roll her eyes; as usual, their parents, especially their mother, was only ever interested in the whereabouts and hobbies of Cleo herself, not Elara. No, never little Elara.

Cleo walked towards the voice and leaned against the white door frame, glancing in at her parents as they sat together, primly, at either end of the sofa.

“Yeah, it’s me” she mumbled tiredly. “Just me.”

Astra looked up at her oldest daughter, a frown on her face.

“What’s the matter, darling? You turned eighteen today, you should be thrilled!” she exclaimed concernedly.

Cleo snorted huffily and turned her back on the both of them.

“So did Elara, Mother. She did, too” she replied disgustedly, her mind marred by the sight of those black, fathomless eyes.

At that point, her father looked up from his newspaper and stared at her, his eyebrows raised slightly.

“We know that, child. Where is she, by the way?” Damian inquired coolly.

Astra glanced over at him, clearly irritated and slightly vexed by his words, so casually spoken.

Cleo shrugged, her eyes darkening even as she thought about Jayce.

“I don’t know. She’s vanished, Dad” she said plainly, not wanting to waste any time mincing her words.

Damian’s grey eyes narrowed as he shrewdly observed his daughter.

“Really, Cleopatra?” he asked calmly.

Cleo nodded and walked out into the dusky hallway leading to hers and Elara’s shared bedroom. There she fell face first down onto her bed and shut her eyes, pushing her tear streaked face into the pillow and letting sleep take her.

Elara woke up in a dark room, the curtains drawn to hide the light from her sensitive eyes. She couldn’t hide a smile; he really did know a lot about her. She sat up and looked around, taking in the black wall paint and heavy black lamp shade next to the bed on a small round table. There was a billowy canopy floating above her head, dark tassels dangling down from it almost to the silky black coverlet. Elara pulled her knees up to her chest and swung her feet off the side of the bed, waiting for the cool touch of the floor against her bare toes. She padded quietly across to the curtains and pulled one corner away just slightly, so she could see out of the window it hid. She couldn’t control the gasp that tore from her as she stared out upon a blackly ravaged land, the trees mere skeletons of what they used to be. Everything was burnt down to the ground, and the sky was a deep mauve colour. Why had the curtains been drawn then? Ah, yes, to keep her from seeing the terrible sight which awaited her when she eventually awoke. Elara pulled the curtain all the way across, revealing the entire scene to herself. There were no clouds scudding across the dark sky, there were no animals gambolling below her window and there was no sun, just a pale, waxen circle hovering up in one corner of the sky, passing for the moon.

She turned hurriedly, twitching the curtain back into place, when she heard soft footsteps enter the room behind her. Her velvet gaze met Jayce’s black, malevolent one. She reached up and combed her fingers through her hair casually, keeping her eyes on him as he moved gradually closer and nearer.

“What do you want?” she asked calmly, wondering why exactly he stopped moving a few feet away from her.

The corners of his mouth quirked upwards, and she saw that that was as much as she would get for now from him.

“To marry you” Jayce replied in a barely there murmur.

His short, simple words spoke of promises unfulfilled and unbidden. She saw that he did not want this, did not want to be wed to her, but she also saw he had no choice. She would make it easy on him.

“You don’t want to, do you, Jayce?” she asked quietly, her smile soft on her face.

Jayce looked surprised that she had used his name. But he shook his head slowly.

“No. I don’t. I’m sorry for that, for you. And for your role in this” he said eloquently, his eyes dark and sad.

Elara nodded and smiled, holding her hand out to him. He looked blankly at it and she took it back.

“Well, I don’t know if I want to marry you either” she replied idly.

Jayce raised one eyebrow at her.

“I’m not surprised, Elara. You mortals prefer to have a personal investment in your life mates, don’t you? Whereas, we don’t care” he told her, relaxing slightly.

Elara grinned back at him, her natural sense of humour breaking out of her. She thought he was funny, the way he talked, the way he acted, the way he stood around her. She was sure he didn’t mean to be funny though, so she would keep the laughter to the barest minimum.

“Yes, that’s what we like to do. Have a personal investment in our partners, Jayce. May I call you that?” she asked him politely.

He shrugged.

“As you wish” he replied coolly.

Her smile widened in her pale face. Yet he was paler still.

“Brilliant. I will then. You can call me Elara, or Jiminy Cricket. Whatever you want” she said, keeping a perfectly straight expression.

She watched him as his features twisted in his effort to understand what she’d just said to him. Elara reached forward and lightly touched his shoulder.

He jumped slightly.

“It’s okay. It was a joke. My sister used to call me that when we were little girls” she told him, smiling faintly at the old memory.

Still looking confused, Jayce nodded his head.

“What are you, exactly?” Elara asked, tilting her head to the side and appraising him from head to boot clad foot.

At that particular question, Jayce didn’t hold back his smile any longer. He grinned at Elara, showing off his perfect teeth. Elara’s eyes widened. His teeth were perfect except for the incisor on either side. Those two teeth were pointed at the tip and looked lethally sharp. His smile, though, made her melt, and she thought a glacier wouldn’t be able to stand up to the wattage.

“Vampire” Elara muttered to herself musingly, angling her body slightly away from him.

“Yes” Jayce replied softly.

Very slowly, with everything all finally sinking in deep now that she was fully awake, Elara turned back to stare at him.

“Jayce, when do I get to go back home?”

He met her searching gaze head on, utterly unrepentant.