(Time was a wretched bitch of an enemy)
Godric held Cara’s questioning gaze for a long moment, then reluctantly left to join the other slightly pinker vampires as they entered the den. They had obviously taken the time necessary to feed well before leaving for the meeting. Although they supported the so-called mainstreaming movement, all vampires knew that feeding from live donors was necessary for maximum benefits. As they were entering a situation with unknowable variables, they needed to be at their most alert and capable. Even Isabel and Godric planned to feed from bagged blood during the trip.
Godric considered his increasingly difficult-to-control reactions to Cara and determined that he, himself, should consider a live feeding in the near future…maybe even several live feedings at this rate. This errant realization surprised him. It had been a very long time indeed since he had felt the need to feed from a live donor. Bagged and bottled blood had more than adequately met his basic requirements, meaning he did not have to waste time seeking prey or dealing with donors.
This suited him quite well although from time to time he did miss the chase and the moist throbbing of a heartbeat beneath his fangs…which reminded him of Cara…which reminded him exactly of why he suddenly needed to plan a feeding from a live donor. And soon. He considered himself very fortunate to have developed such extraordinary self-control over the centuries. Otherwise he knew beyond any doubt that, as strongly as he desired Cara, he would have already fucked her half to death by now…he tried not to even think about her blood.
He studied his retinue. In vampire terms, the others were agitated about the upcoming meeting, meaning to mortal observers they moved and spoke maybe three percent more than usual. They stood around the den in a loose group discussing strategies and the agenda for the trip.
Cara listened as best she could as she and Sarah finished preparation of the Weres’ evening meal. The one huge pot of soup had magically morphed into two huge pots of soup by the time she finished adding all the ingredients, so she no longer had any worries about whether there would be enough to serve all the Weres present. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to feed the temporary guards or not, but she certainly wouldn’t turn anyone one away whether it was her home or not. Food was food and was meant to be shared.
Some of the many temporary guards were staying at the house to protect it (and her) during the vampires’ absence, but quite a few were traveling with the vampires. They would need to eat their evening meal quickly and then leave. So…supper would come early this night.
As she finished with her preparations, Cara overheard Alaric and Godric discussing strategy philosophies. “Divide and conquer” was apparently running neck-in-neck with “united force”.
“United force,” she quietly interrupted from the kitchen.
“What?” Godric looked surprised by her interruption, but appeared glad enough to speak with her.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help overhearing y’all. To give you the benefit of my brilliant yet unasked-for opinion, I think you should go with “united”. Divide and conquer works best when you know who your enemy is. But when you’re unsure, you need to maintain the offense, and in an unknown situation, you and yours need to have each other’s backs. So…don’t divide. Unite.”
Alaric and Godric stared at her, then at each other, then back to her.
“You…you heard us?” Alaric openly displayed an amazingly un-vampire emotion: shock was distinctly evident in his sea-green eyes.
Cara laughed then grinned at the males. Alaric was definitely adorable in that old-timey barbarian sort of way. He might not have been an actual barbarian, but he certainly gave off that vibe. A leather tie secured his long blond hair, and black slacks and a black silk shirt barely contained his stocky, muscled frame, but his face showed his eons of experience.
Cara blinked, unsure of what all the fuss was about. “Y’all need to slow it down and speak up a little, but yeah, of course I heard – you’re standing right over there. And I really do think it would be to your benefit to show a tight, united front since you don’t know what you’re walking into. Too bad you don’t have any bugs you could plant down there. Who knows what you might hear then.”
Godric just had to go and cock that brow.
“Hey, I value people’s privacy a lot more than most, so I’m not usually one for eavesdropping, but when you need to know something for safety’s sake, you need to know.” Cara shrugged.
Alaric exchanged a look with Godric then sped off. Godric looked very slightly guilty for a split second until the doorbell rang.
Cara later realized that she might should’ve been more alarmed when five vampires (and the two Weres present) went into immediate alert mode. Instead, she shrugged and went to help Sarah ready the serving area for the soup, salad, dressings, bread, and pies.
Ryan answered the door for DesChamps after checking the monitor. Cara set another soup bowl, salad plate and dessert plate out. Somehow she wasn’t surprised to see the packmaster in time for dinner, but she didn’t mind a bit. He was a genuinely nice older man who just seemed a bit lonesome.
Godric invited DesChamps back to his office. He figured this would be an excellent time to change Anderson’s assignment. There was no way he was going to leave that mangy little mutt roaming around free especially when he was half a state away. Mark, he would tolerate for now…at least he was respectful.
As soon as Godric and DesChamps reentered the common rooms, Cara let them know that dinner was ready whenever they were.
Because there were so many Weres, it was decided that they would eat in two shifts with those accompanying the vampires sitting first. Cara was somewhat familiar with a few of them, including that smartass Anderson who seemed confused about why he was eating with the “wrong” group.
DesChamps clarified the situation for him. “Anderson, you’re with them.”
Anderson balked. He glanced over at Cara who was studiously ignoring them all, then he glared at Godric, who glared right back. The little prick wanted to argue, but even he knew to obey his packmaster. It also occurred to him that no one could out-glare a determined vampire. He would bide his time.
Godric glanced over to Cara to see her reaction to the current pissing contest only to find her gazing out the kitchen window. He again wondered what in the darkness could capture her attention so fully.
There! That particular expression flitted across her face again, yet once again it was gone in an instant. There was something about that expression that ate at him, something that he did not like. If he had noticed it happening when they were face-to-face, he could easily have asked outright what was wrong, but since it was such a fleeting phenomenon witnessed courtesy of a reflection, he had to let it pass. For now. Immediately she reverted to her normally cheerful persona. What an enigma…
Gervaise called his attention away from Cara and the window to focus on their preparations. For the next half hour, the Weres ate while the vampires planned, gathered documents, and double-checked everything possible, including their hidden weapons. The moment the first shift of Weres finished, the second shift sat down to hurry through their own meal. No one would leave until the property was properly guarded. Sincere compliments were freely given to the cooks, but everyone felt the rush.
Although the meeting was in Charlotte, it wouldn’t take them long to arrive even though flying was necessary. Godric had his own private airstrip close by and it was permanently stocked with three private jets holding various numbers of passengers. Transportation would never be a problem for him.
Finally it was almost time for the vampires to leave. After visually ensuring that Anderson was safely installed in one of the black SUV’s taking them to the airstrip, Godric sped back to the kitchen to have a last word with Cara. Isabel just shook her head as she waited by the door.
Cara tried to ignore all the eyes studiously not watching her with their master and didn’t even bother pretending a fascination with the dishes she was preparing to wash. She’d just emptied her hands and turned to face him when she found that he was much closer than she’d thought.
He could not help but smooth a fingertip down the pink curve of her cheek. As she leaned a bit into his touch, he cupped her cheek in his palm. “All totaled there are twelve Weres and six vampires guarding this estate during our absence. I estimate we will return within the next five hours or so. If we are detained, I will call. Now, Cara, promise me you will not leave this house until we return.”
No matter how softly he spoke the words, this was the closest Godric had ever come to giving her an order. Normally her problems with authority would have reared their ugly little heads and caused one hell of a scene. The frisson of anger was already gathering in her lower back as tendrils started crawling up her spine, but the concern she saw in his cobalt blue eyes stemmed the tide and soothed her ire. This wasn’t an order so much as a strong, heart-felt wish.
She nodded. She couldn’t make herself say the actual words, but she would do as he…asked.
“Godric, shouldn’t you take more guards with you, though? You don’t know exactly what you’re walking into over there.” Concern glowed softly from her darkened brown eyes as she bit her lower lip. She didn’t stop her hand from sliding up his hard chest and resting over where his heart should have beat. He was so close, his scent so intoxicating, his eyes so blue.
How rare it was to hear her say his name! And the way it sounded coming from her plump, pink lips…the same lips she was worrying with her blunt human teeth…his fangs dropped to full attention. Fear, fear for his safety, spiked her sweet, fragrant blood with a sharp, acrid scent. The warmth of her hand over his heart…his low purr thrummed in the air.
He smoothed his thumb over her ever-so-slightly swollen bottom lip, slid his palm into the hair at the back of her head, and held her in place as he lowered his lips to hers.
Surprise parted Cara’s lips, and that was all the invitation Godric needed. He had not meant to kiss her at all…and certainly had not meant to taste her so fully. He had not meant to so thoroughly explore the depths of her sweet mouth nor had he meant to rub and tease with her tongue in such an exquisite imitation of the act his body so desperately craved.
When she quietly mewed and slowly smoothed her hands up his chest to lightly caress his throat before encircling his neck, he certainly did not mean to back her into the counter. He did not mean to further deepen the kiss and grind his painful erection into her body.
When he finally felt her need to breathe, he reluctantly withdrew just enough to allow her to do so, then lowered his head to reclaim that poor, worried bottom lip for a few more seconds of timeless bliss.
Slowly, with supreme reluctance, Godric raised his head and memorized the sensual haze softening his Cara’s face. For a long second her eyes remained closed and her kiss-swollen lips remained slightly parted, and he could not tolerate the thought of any other male seeing her like that. That look…that look was for him alone and he would slaughter anyone who tried to take her from him. He immediately cradled her face into the safety of shoulder and simply held her strong and close for a long minute.
Time was a wretched bitch of an enemy. He had to go. With utmost reticence he moved a step away from Cara and gazed into her still-dreamy eyes before soothing his thumbs over her dark brows. He kissed her forehead and walked determinedly out the door.
It was going to be one hell of a long evening.
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