Mia lay in bed late the next morning gazing up at the ceiling. She watched as the shadows casts by the tree branches outside her window danced across the white paint. She watched them swing back and forth, dip and hop as she listened to the wind whistling through their bare branches.
Winter had finally hit Stonehaven and it had come hard this year from what Sarah said. The first snowfall had brought ten inches of snow which was unheard of. And it hadn’t stopped there. It had snowed constantly for days, so much so that most of the roads through town were blocked because they didn’t have enough manpower to sweep all of them clean. They had been forced to close the local schools and university a week early for winter break because they didn’t want the students to injure themselves on their way to and from school. The students loved the snow, the adults that still had to make their way through it to work though, hated it.
Even with the help of the local Guild office, there wasn’t enough fire, water, and wind magic users able to keep the roads and sidewalks clear. Half an hour commutes were becoming two hour commutes. Cars and bikes were being left at home and the previously underused subway had suddenly become the way to travel. Now, subway cars that had been only half full at peak hours were now so packed, there was barely enough space to breath, much less move.
On days like today, when the cold had seeped through her apartment walls, she was glad for the thick comforters and no reason to leave her bed. If she really wanted to, she could stay huddle under her covers all day. That thought brought a wide smile to her lips and she snuggled deeper in to the warm blankets.
She was seriously considering just closing her eyes and going back to sleep for another couple of hours when her doorbell rang. For a long moment she just lay there with the blankets pulled up to her chin wondering if she remained perfectly still, would the person outside her door give up and leave. It’s not like it was someone she knew. Delilah and Ronan both had keys, and they usually let themselves in and made themselves comfortable without so much as a hello. Sarah didn’t bother with the doorbell and just rapped on the door. Marco could hardly be seen visiting her, so he never stopped by. If he needed to speak to her for any reason, he would call her on the new cellphone he had given her.
Mia couldn’t think of a single person she knew who would be stopping by at this time of the day. Therefore she saw no reason to get out of bed. She was very nice and warm and the floors of her apartment were cold even through the thick socks she wore. Having made up her mind, Mia turned on her side and snuggled deeper into her thick mattress.
She was just closing her eyes when the doorbell rang, and then promptly rang again. When there was no immediate reply, the person had the gall to start banging on her door. Most sensible people would have figured out by now that either she wasn’t home or that she didn’t want to be bothered. But obviously, the person at her front door was not one of them. When the banging got louder, Mia pulled herself out of bed very unhappily.
“Cold,” She grumbled as she placed her bright pink sock covered feet on the cold wooden floor and made her way to the front door. Whoever was out there better have a damn good reason for getting her out of her nice warm bed.
Mia threw open the door, prepared to let the person on the other side have it when the words died on her tongue. Instead all she could do was stare at the lone figure standing in the empty hallway.
“About time, I thought I would have to break the door down,” The woman said as they walked around Mia and right in to her living room, “Do you have anything to eat? I’m starving. I had to catch a red eye to get here on time. I thought for sure I wasn’t going to make it on time when the cabbie got stuck in the snow for like the fifth time. The food on the plane was god awful and then the damn cabbie took longer than I expected so I wasn’t able to stop and grab a bite to eat on my way over.”
She threw her black duffle bag on Mia’s couch as she stopped in the middle of the room and looked around the small living room. Mia hadn’t even noticed the woman had been holding a bag until then. She had been too surprised by her very presence to notice much of anything.
“Really, Mil, how the hell do you live in such a tiny place? Your room back home was like twice the size of this place,” The young woman remarked as she pulled the black beanie off her head, waves of crimson fell down her back as her gray eyes darted around the room. Pulling off her black trench coat, she threw it over the back of the sofa, exposing a slinky cashmere sweater over tight leather pants and knee high suede boots. Mia glanced down at her plain gray flannel pajama bottoms and pink kitten covered night shirt. It had been a long time since she had felt inferior to anyone, and she realized just how much she didn’t like it.
“What are you doing here Ada?” Mia asked as she shut the door and little too forcefully. It slammed with a crash that echoed down the hallway and to the stairwell at the end of the hall.
“What do you mean what am I doing here?” She asked with a pout, “Why wouldn’t I be here? When I heard from Marco that you had finally been found, I demanded that he tell me where you were. He didn’t want to at first, afraid that word would get back to some of our more conniving relatives, with Grandmother dead and all. He was afraid if they found you they might wish to do you harm, you being the heir and all. With you gone, one of them could ascend to Clan Leader since Emily doesn’t seem to be in a rush or anything to claim the seat.”
Mia bit back on the groan that wanted to escape her lips, Ada was always like this. Whatever she thought came right out of her mouth. There was no such thing as censorship when it came to the girl. If you wanted to keep a secret, you definitely made sure not tell Ada, which made Mia wonder just how Ada happened to find out where she was exactly. She couldn’t imagine Marco telling Ada her location. If anything, Ada had probably stumbled upon a conversation Marco was having with someone else and Ada happened to hear something she probably shouldn’t have. Which explained why she was here on Mia’s doorstep. If Marco wanted to keep her location a secret, what better way than to keep the loud mouth away from anyone who might try to do Mia harm with that information, but really, why did he sent her here?
“Serious Mil, don’t you have like a snack or something, I’m starving,” Ada whined, tossing her dark red curls over her shoulder.
“The kitchen is that way,” Mia said through gritted teeth as she pointed to small kitchenette that was separated from the living room by a bar. Mia wasn’t sure how she could have possibly missed it in her “tiny” room. “Find yourself something to eat. I’m going to make a phone call.”
Mia didn’t even bother to wait for a reply as she stalked back to her room, shutting the bedroom door behind her none too gently. She picked up the cellphone from the sight of her phone and hit speed dial. Her call was answered on the first ring.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Mia snapped.
“I take it she arrived safely then,” Was her only reply.
“Seriously? That’s all you’re going to say?” Mia’s tempered flared and the air around her began to glow.
“It wasn’t like I was given much choice on the matter,” Marco replied, his voice more hushed now as Mia could hear voices in the background getting louder, “I don’t have time to talk about this right now. I thought it would take her longer to arrive and had planned to have Delilah there for her arrival. But if you calm down for a minute and think about it clearly, you’ll realize that this isn’t as bad as you think. Ada is the only other blood letter in the family with close to the same talent as you. Not only that, but Ada has always been loyal to you. You’ll need someone like her in the coming future so deal with it.”
With that said, the other line disconnected and Mia was left sputtering her indignation to an empty room. With a growl she threw her phone on to her mattress and stalked towards her private bathroom. The only thing that was going to make her feel better right now was a hot shower and Ada sure as hell, better not interrupt that.
After a nice relaxing shower, Mia stepped out of the stall and into the steam filled bathroom. Wrapping a thick and fluffy towel around her body, she grabbed another towel to dry her hair. It had been such a long time since she had such luxuries as thick towels, warm comforters and a refrigerator full of food. When she had been living on her own, she had only been able to afford what she needed to survive. She had gotten used to living meagerly that even such simple things were luxury items to her.
As Mia Carlisle, she hadn’t been able to access any of Amelia Drago’s vast amount of funds. But with Marco’s help, she had been able to access some of her money and she had been able to afford to spoil herself a little. She sure couldn’t afford the life she once lived, but the small amounts they were able to siphon out of her accounts without anyone noticing was enough to make her new life much more comfortable.
When Mia’s hair was relatively dry, she hung the wet towel back on the rack to dry. Moving to the sink, Mia grabbed her tooth brush and toothpaste. After dabbing the bristles with the mint flavored paste, she shoved the brush in the mouth and worked on cleaning her teeth. While she brushed, she tried to decide what she was going to do about her current dilemma.
It wasn’t like she could keep Ada in her apartment. Although the place she lived in now was bigger than her previous residence, it wasn’t big enough for Ada to stay in. Her apartment only had one bedroom which she definitely wasn’t planning on sharing. At least, not with Ada, she corrected as the face of a certain golden eyed man popped in to her head.
“Stop that,” Mia scolded herself, as she washed the minty foam out of her mouth. She wasn’t supposed to be thinking things that like that. It was already a confusing situation between the two of them because of their shared past, she really didn’t want to make it worse. And besides, she wasn’t exactly sure how she felt about him anyway. It was just that, sometimes, like this, stupid thoughts like that would pop into her head. It’s not like she liked or even lusted after Nick. It’s just that the thoughts came unbidden to her to, just like now.
She knew it probably had something to do with the dreams she had been having recently. She couldn’t say what exactly it was she was dreaming about, because usually when she woke up she forgot just what it was she had dreamed about. But sometimes images, flashes of memory, would hit her out of nowhere and she would see or feel something she really shouldn’t.
Besides, it wasn’t like Nick liked her anyway. Although he had offered to watch over her at nights, that had been it. He never again mentioned guarding her, or even wanting to. Nor, did they even really speak to each other when they were together. So even if she was foolishly allowing her heart to desire something she really, really shouldn’t, it didn’t matter because she didn’t mean anything to him.
With a heavy sigh, Mia rinsed off her tooth brush and placed it back in the holder beside the sink. She should probably get dressed and check on Ada. It wouldn’t do her any good to have the woman burn down her apartment trying to warm up some of the take out leftovers in her refrigerator.
Walking back into her room, Mia quickly changed in to a pair of worn jeans and a long sleeve shirt. She couldn’t help but frown as she looked at herself in her mirror hanging on the back of her closet door. The woman reflected back in the mirror looked so drab compared to the woman waiting outside for her in her living room. But it’s not like there was anything Mia could do about it. She didn’t own anything besides jeans and long sleeve shirts. She had been trying to blend in, now stand out.
Raising a hand to her shoulder length pale blond curls, Mia stared at her reflection and for the first time in twenty-five years, she actually missed her auburn waves. She knew it would only take a bit of magic to bring them back, but really, was she truly that vain?
With a disgusted growl, Mia shut the closest door. When had her looks become more important that her life and her safety. There was a reason she had changed her looks and those reasons had still not changed. Her Grandmother may be dead, but she was still the heir to the Dragos Clan, and there were many in her family who would love to see her dead.
Opening her bedroom door, Mia came to an immediate stop when she smelled bacon and pancakes, her favorites. But what had given her pause was that she had run out of bacon and pancake mix a week ago and hadn’t had time to stop at the grocery store yet. Usually she and Delilah went on Wednesdays, but something had come up this week and they wouldn’t be able to go to the grocery store till Saturday, which wasn’t until tomorrow.
“So you work for the Guild? That must be so exciting, what do you do there?” Ada’s voice cooed from the direction of the kitchen. Mia brows turned down in a deep frown. Had her cousin let some stranger into her apartment without even checking with Mia first? Her apartment was her private space, her sanctuary. She didn’t let just anyone in. Ada had been lucky Mia had let her in. The only reason she hadn’t kicked her cousin out on her butt was because she couldn’t allow Ada to run off and let word slip of where she was.
Damn it, Mia knew she should have put up those blood wards when she first moved in. The only reason she hadn’t was because Marco reminded her that using too much of her magic would draw even more attention to herself. The kind of magic she would need to use to build a proper blood ward would definitely draw eyes in their direction. Besides, Ronan lived right next door, if someone were truly stupid enough to break in and survive long enough for Ronan to arrive, he would not do so for much longer.
At the time Mia had agreed with Marco. Right now though, she was seriously contemplating her decision. She was sure if she had really thought about it, she could have come up with something that would be an effective word without requiring her to use a lot of power to build in. She really shouldn’t have let Marco convince her so easily. But at the time, it had been right after the episode at the bookstore, and truthfully and that time, she really hadn’t wanted to use her magic any more than she needed to. After seeing the destruction she was capable of just by drawing on her powers, she hadn’t wanted to test how much more damage she could do by actually using them.
There was a familiar chuckle to Ada’s questions, which eased some of Mia’s irritation, but it still didn’t change the fact that Ada had let someone enter her home without her permission. Stalking down the short hallway, Mia turned the corner and walked straight into her small kitchenette. She found Ada sitting at the bar, a half empty glass of orange juice in front of her and one of Mia’s new blue ceramic plates that still bore smears of maple syrup and pancake crumbs.
“About time,” Ada said with a smile as she spotted her cousin, “You were taking so long I thought you had drowned in the shower of something. I was just about to come in search of you.”
“You’re food’s getting cold,” Her guest said as a plate of steaming hot pancakes drizzled in maple syrup and covered with bacon was shoved in her arms.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” Mia asked coolly as she grabbed the fork from the outstretched hand of her least favorite cousin right now.
“I rushed my meeting and got here as soon as possible,” Marco explained with an apologetic smile, “I brought bacon and pancakes, doesn’t that even count for anything?”
Mia made a noncommittal sound as she sat at the bar beside Ada and dug into her food while it was still warm.
“So what do you do at the Guild?” Ada questioned, “I had heard Grandmother had spies and all, but I didn’t realize you were one of them.”
“He’s the commanding officer of the Guild’s special-ops unit,” Mia said around a mouth full of food before Marco could answer. The smile on Marco’s lips tightened as he shot her a look. Mia just gave him a sweet smile back. Payback was a bitch, wasn’t it? Now he was just as invested as she was in keeping their cousin quiet. She was sure, it wouldn’t look good to their family to learn that one of their own was commanding the Guild special-ops division. After all, some of their own families had been targeted and dispatched by the Guild’s secretive unit. They would not look kindly at one of their own, especially if he had participated in some of those executions.
“Special-ops? Really? It that like those cloak and dagger operations you always see on those movies and on television? Those spy type shows?” Ada asked excitedly as she sat up straighter in her chair.
“Something like that,” Marco replied with a strained looked on his face. Mia’s smile just grew bigger.
“Wow! That must be so exciting. What do you need to join your team? Do you have to know how to fire a gun? Fight with your fists? Disappear in to the shadows?” Her cousin was nearly bouncing up and down on her stool she was so excited. “That sounds like so much fun. Do you think I could join? How cool would that be? Me, a guild spy?”
Mia almost spewed the food in her mouth, she wanted to laugh so hard. Instead she choked on a bite of pancake that almost got lodged in her throat. She coughed, grabbing Ada’s half empty glass of orange juice and swigging it down as fast as she can.
“Oh my god! Are you okay?” A hard slap against her back sends Mia’s crashing forward, the empty glass in her hand slips from her fingers and almost goes crashing to the floor. Marco’s quick hands are the only thing that kept it from shattering against her tiled floor.
Ada continues to slap her back as Mia tried to gasp out between wracking coughs that she’s fine. Finally, not being able to take the abuse any longer, she just slaps her cousin’s hands away as she sits up and tries to clear her throat and stop the coughs.
“That was scary. For a minute there, I thought I was going to have to perform the Heimlich maneuver which would have been awfully hard since I never learned it,” Ada said with relieved smile.
Mia could only stare at her cousin and shake her head. How on earth had such a ridiculously ignorant child been born to her family? It was like there wasn’t a single dark thought in her empty head. Sure, Ada wasn’t one of cousins from the main family like Mia, Marco and Delilah was. She was actually from one of the lower families, probably a third or fourth cousin. But still, shouldn’t some of Theodora’s evil have rubbed off on her. After all she had lived in the same manor as the woman for the last hundred and fifty years just like the rest of them.
“Ada, why don’t you go grab your things. I’m going to take you over to Delilah’s place to get settled in and then we’ll discuss matters once I’m done with work,” Marco said with a kind smile for the other woman.
“Oh, that would be great. I could use a warm shower and a nice long nap. I couldn’t sleep at all on the plane. There was just so much turbulence. I hate flying in the winter,” Ada spouted off as she jumped off the stool and wandered across the room to grab her coat and duffle which were still on Mia’s couch where she had left them.
“There some things I had to take care of at work that can’t wait. I was able to slip away for a few moments but I have to get back,” Marco told Mia in a hushed tone, “There are some new developments we have to talk about, but I want to wait till tonight when everyone will be there. I already spoke to Nick and Ronan before I left work. Ronan said he’d stopped by after he’s done with his shift and pick you up. I suggested we meet at Alistair’s house again but Ronan nixed the idea. He said something about some annual Christmas party Liz throws every year for the bookstore staff. They usually have it at the bookstore but because the shop in under renovations, they decided to have it at Rosen home.”
Mia nodded, remembering Liz mentioning something about a party the last time she ran in to her. Mia hadn’t really been paying attention because she hadn’t been planning to attend. They didn’t really celebrate Christmas, or any holiday for that matter in the Dragos Clan. Mia never really saw the purpose for celebrating them even after she escaped from her grandmother. She hadn’t seen the purpose for attending a party she was sure she wouldn’t enjoy, so she had just told Liz she would have to see if she was available and forgot about in the next second.
“So where are we meeting?” Mia asked, knowing it sure as hell wouldn’t be her apartment. Ronan’s neither. He had another bedroom in his apartment next door, but it really wasn’t that much bigger than hers. Mia had never been to Marco’s house, but she was sure he wasn’t quite ready to invite all of them in to his home life. Sure, he brought his wife and daughter over for dinner a couple of times to meet them all, but he wasn’t ready to invite them in to his home. With last night’s exception, most of the times they gathered were just simple dinners. Nothing big was ever discussed, and nothing life threatening mentioned.
A sly smile came to Marco’s lips and Mia knew his answer before her even opened his mouth. She suddenly regretted even asking the question when she should have been able to deduce it herself.
It was just one word, one simple word, but it filled her whole body with a tingling sensation she was really starting to hate. She felt her cheeks heating and she knew her face was probably bright red. She hated this. She hated these stupid emotions that made her feel things she didn’t understand and things she really didn’t want to understand.
Marco thought it was a good thing, a sign that she was changing. Isn’t that what she had wanted? To change, to become a better person?
Just because he had a wife and child, didn’t mean she wanted the same thing. When she saw Marco with his wife and child, she saw targets, a weakness that could be used against him. They made him vulnerable. All it would take would be once glance of the three of them together and every enemy he had would know exactly where to hit him.
Marco had tried to explain to her, that sometimes a weakness was worth having. He wouldn’t trade his wife or daughter for anything. Where she saw weakness, he saw strength. They made him want to be better, to be stronger. He told her, they gave him a reason to live, a reason to fight.
Mia had just stared at him for a long moment. She saw the determination in his eyes. The fierce protectiveness she had seen in the others. She decided not to tell him that she had also seen that light fade from their eyes when their lives did.
Marco had always been a powerful and skilled magic user, he was a fierce fighter, nearly undefeated. He had the respect of his men and the fear of his enemies. But as much as he had, there was one thing that he didn’t have, one thing that set him apart from Mia and people like her. He couldn’t detach himself from the kill.
Blood magic users were taught at a young age that the most potent magic was magic drawn from people who were at the peak of one emotion or another. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the magic. Most chose to use fear because it was easy emotion to instill. Others preferred sex, taking blood from a victim during an orgasm was just as potent and taking blood from a person who was so scared they couldn’t even scream. It truly didn’t matter what kind of emotion it was, all that matter was the intensity of it.
The stronger the emotion, the stronger the magic and the stronger the euphoria produced from the blood magic. Mia knew just how enjoyable the euphoria was. There had been a time in her life when she couldn’t live without it. She had taken life after life so that she could experience the high that came with blood magic. It had been her grandmother to point of that the euphoria, although quite pleasurable, was also a great weakness. In the blood high, the world around her faded and all there was, was the magic and her. If someone were to come upon on her while she was in the throes a blood high they could easily kill her. She told her there were two options, let the magic rule her, or she could rule the magic.
So her grandmother taught her how to go cold, to shut off all emotion and to take control of the magic. It was the reason her grandmother was so feared. No matter what the situation, she was always in control. The magic never took her over.
If Mia had truly wanted to, she could have killed her cousin’s wife and child before he could have even lifted a finger. She could have easily taken their lives without blinking an eye and used the magic from their blood against her cousin. As hard as Marco would have tried, and she was sure he would have fought as hard as he could, he still wouldn’t have been able to stop her. As strong as he was, as fast as he was, if she had truly wished to take their lives, nothing he could have done would have stopped her.
And that was the reason she didn’t ever want to feel for anyone what he felt for his family. Because although Mia would never hurt them, it didn’t mean someone else out there wouldn’t. As strong as Marco was, there was nothing he would be able to do to protect them because that is all he would be focused on, protecting his loved ones and their killer would know that.
As much as Mia cared for her new friends and family, she couldn’t let how she felt for them rule her. If it came down to protecting them or taking down the attacker, it would always be the attacker. Any hesitation, any second lost because of fear for them was one second too late. Her focus had to be entirely on the person trying to attack her. She couldn’t stop to worry about what might happen to them if she wasn’t fast enough, or if she wasn’t strong enough. She couldn’t have any hesitation or uncertainty or they would see it and she would lose.
Mia had decided then that she didn’t ever want to care for anyone so much that she would lose that one edge she had. There was a war coming, a war she would be in the middle of. If she wanted to survive, if she wanted the people she cared about to survive, then she couldn’t for a second lose focus.
And besides, if she were ever to truly care about a person that much, then she might as well kill them herself. For the instant this war truly began, they would be the first one targeted. No one deserved that.
So biting down on her bottom lip, Mia forced the tingling in her limbs to stop. It didn’t matter what her heart and body wanted. She had never let them rule her before and she wouldn’t let them rule her now. If she truly felt anything for Nick, then the best way to protect him would be to squash them before they could grow. She couldn’t and wouldn’t let him die for her. Even if it meant destroying Mia Carlisle, she would. He could not die, he would not die, not because of her.
Next: Chapter Three