Mitchell had a cold. He was coughing. His nose was running, and he was driving Amelia crazy with that stupid bell. The bell was something Eric had seen on TV and he’d thought it would be funny to give one to Mitchell. It wasn’t.
For most people, a cold was just that … a cold, but for Mitchell, well, he hadn’t been sick in more than eight-hundred years, and with the way he was carrying on about it, if Amelia didn’t know any better, she would have thought he was dying. He’d only been human for two weeks now, and it had been the longest two weeks of her life.
Amelia was pleased that life in Willowberg had returned to normal—quiet and uneventful. To her relief, and utter astonishment, Eric had stepped up, and with Megan’s help, he’d taken over most of Mitchell’s day-to-day town running stuff, whatever that was—Amelia still really wasn’t entirely sure. But Eric was actually good at it. Things were running smoothly, and for the first time in, well, since Amelia had arrived in Willowberg, there were no disasters to deal with. But most importantly, so far, they’d managed to keep Mitchell’s … condition, and Amelia’s change, a secret.
But the problem with keeping it a secret was that Amelia couldn’t leave the house. And not leaving the house meant being stuck twenty-four hours a day with a whiny, eight-hundred year old man with a cold.
Sunlight streamed through the French doors, making the marble floor glimmer where it touched. It danced off of the weathered black cabinets and granite countertops, coating the kitchen in a warm glow. The cherry wood island was littered with newspapers, and unopened mail was piling up in a toppled stack off to the side. On the top of the pile, Amelia spotted the electricity bill. Her brow knitted together and a pang in her heart made her swallow hard. The mail, the bills, all of it had been Mabel’s responsibility.
Amelia stared at the stack for a long moment and sighed. God, she missed Mabel. She squeezed her eyes shut for a brief moment, remembering Mabel’s bright, motherly smile and her warm embrace. The memory helped a little and when she glanced back at the stack, she made a mental note to go through the mail, and talk to Mitchell about paying the bills.
Amelia picked up the ladle and gave the chicken noodle soup a quick stir as it simmered on the gleaming stainless steel stove. She sucked in a deep breath. She’d always liked the smell of soup before, but now, with her new senses, it was fantastic. The salt. The chicken. Even the noodles had their own smell and mixed together, it was delightful.
The soft chime of Mitchell’s bell sounded, followed by a painful, hacking cough. “Millie,” Lola hollered. “I’m going to kill him if you don’t make that bell stop!”
Amelia choked on a strangled laugh. Lola. Their new relationship still seemed weird. Weird and exciting. As far as makers went, Amelia guessed she couldn’t have asked for anyone better, but it was still Lola. Grumpy. She had little tolerance for anything, and Mitchell was no exception, especially now that he really couldn’t do anything to her. In all honesty, Amelia thought that their family was giving Mitchell a hard time just because they could now.
“I’m on it,” Amelia yelled back. She grabbed a bowl from the cupboard and ladled out the steaming chicken noodle soup. Setting the bowl on the tray, she snagged a spoon from the drawer, and then turned off the burner.
The bell sounded again and she grinned. Who would have thought it would be her taking care of Mitchell? Amelia surely hadn’t. But she had to admit, even though he was driving her batty, she loved every minute of it. She picked up the tray, and made her way through the house to their bedroom.
As she wove through the crisp white hallways of their massive house, Amelia noticed that the rich wood floors were starting to look a touch dimmer than usual. Every surface she passed held a thin layer of dust and the windows were looking a bit grimy. Amelia had really tried to stay on top of the housework over the last two weeks, but by the time she got from one end of the house to the other, it was as if where she’d started had never been touched. She didn’t have a clue how Mabel had done it all, and Amelia was starting to think it would take an entire army to come close to keeping up with everything that Mabel had done.
Amelia sucked in a deep breath and swallowed down the pulsing ache in her throat that always seemed to appear when she thought about Mabel. When she was certain that she wasn’t going to burst into tears, she pushed open the door to her bedroom, juggling the tray in one hand. “How are you feeling, Mitch?” she asked, giving him what she hoped was a bright smile, but it felt a bit forced and stiff. She kicked the door shut with her heel and padded over to him, climbing the steps of the raised landing to the bed.
Mitchell looked up at her and croaked, “I’m dying, love. How do you think I’m feeling?” His nose was all chapped and cherry red, and his eyes, puffy and watery. He was curled up in their bed, with the bold blue comforter pulled up to his chin so only his face was visible, and he had a box of tissues beside him.
“Oh, stop being so dramatic. It’s just a cold,” Amelia said with a laugh as she perched on the edge of the bed, setting the tray on the nightstand beside him. He shot her what she thought was meant to be a dirty look, but it was ruined by a sneeze, and she laughed again. “I made you some soup.”
“My voice hurts,” he whined and sniffled. He grabbed a tissue and blew his nose loudly.
Amelia tried to forge her face into a serious expression, but it didn’t work. She giggled. “Mitch, I don’t really think that’s possible.”
“You know what I mean,” he said and groaned, and then he gave her the saddest puppy dog look she had ever seen. “Amelia, love, can’t you do some witchy thing and make this go away?”
“Oh, honey,” she said, trying to stifle another laugh. She failed miserably. “Suffering strengthens the soul.”
He arched an eyebrow at her, and Amelia wasn’t sure if the look he was giving her was disbelief or amazement. “You can, can’t you?” he said finally, after a long moment of silence. “Is this payback for something?” Disbelief it was, then.
Amelia smirked. “Now what in the world would I want to pay you back for?”
Mitchell frowned. Even without the bond, she could guess what he was thinking. It was written clearly in each one of the crinkled lines that were indenting his forehead. The truth was she had tons of reasons to want payback. Because of Mitchell, she had cursed all vampires, created vampire hunters, lost her parents, almost died—twice, killed someone, and now, she was a vampire. He had literally turned her world upside down. And that wasn’t even counting when he had taken away her free will without so much as telling her he was real and not just a figment of her imagination, or the lying and manipulating he had done to get her to Willowberg in the first place.
But he had also shown her what it was like to love and be loved, needed, and wanted. He had given her a new family. Shown her a new world. And brought her back to the world she had always been meant for. He had given her a new start, a new life, one that she wouldn’t trade for anything. Mitchell may have been a big jerk sometimes, but he was her big jerk, and she loved him (and sometimes hated him) for it. If she knew how to fix him, she would have in a second.
Again, she found herself wishing that the movies about vampires were real. So many of them portrayed vampires to have healing properties in their blood, and they did—kind of. Vampire blood could heal during the changing process, but that didn’t help them. Mother Nature, Amelia’s mother, had made it abundantly clear that Mitchell wouldn’t survive the change again—yet. His body needed time to adjust and strengthen, before it could handle another shock like that.
Amelia rested her hand on his forehead, brushing back his sweaty curls. “You’re burning up,” she said, feeling his cheek and neck with the back of her hand.
“It’s probably just your heightened senses,” he said, pushing her hand away.
She furrowed her brow, searching his chiseled face and taking in a deep breath, looking for the telltale signs of a lie. This was the eighth day he’d been sick and each day he only seemed to be getting worse. It was also the first day that she’d felt any sign of a fever on his clammy skin, and she was certain that the sour odor that was coming from him was infection.
He sat up and reached for the bowl of soup. After slurping a big mouthful, he said hastily, “Stop worrying. It’s just a cold.”
“Just a minute ago you said you were dying and now it’s just a cold?” Amelia glared at him long and hard. His heartbeat picked up, she could hear it thrumming rapidly in his chest and his breathing became strained, too quick, and too shallow. “What are you hiding, Mitch?”
Mitchell slurped another large spoonful. “I’m not hiding anything. I promise. It’s like you said, suffering strengthens the soul so I’m sucking it up.”
“Good,” Amelia said and smiled, although she wasn’t really convinced. She was pretty sure that he needed a doctor. She could smell the sour stench of infection on his skin and on his breath.
She watched him silently as he finished his soup. She could see that he was struggling, his hand trembled with every spoonful he brought to his lips, and she didn’t know what to do for him. If they took him to a doctor, they’d risk exposing his secret, and if they didn’t, he could get worse. If he hadn’t been a vampire for eight-hundred years, she wouldn’t have worried, but she couldn’t help but wonder what that could have done to his immune system. She fiddled with the blankets, tucking them around his legs and fluffed the cushions, trying to hide her building concern.
“How’s everyone coping?” he asked after he swallowed the last bit of soup. He reached over to the nightstand and set the bowl down. “I feel like I haven’t seen them in days.”
Amelia looked away from him, unable to meet his eyes. It was true. He hadn’t seen most of them in days. The truth was their family was avoiding him as much as they could. Seeing him so fragile was hard on all of them. Amelia had never really realized how much of a role Mitchell played in keeping them all together. She’d always been so caught up in fighting with him that she hadn’t noticed he was the glue to their little family. And without him being well, they were slowly falling apart.
She sighed. “They’re good I think. Eric and Megan have been pretty busy repairing the damage the hunters left behind. Ty hasn’t been around much. He’s been staying at his apartment more.”
Mitchell took her chin in his hand and tilted it up so she had to look at him. He was quiet for a long moment, his expression hardening as he searched her face, and for that moment, he almost looked like himself again—almost. If it wasn’t for that speck of guarded weakness in his eyes …
“I thought he was okay with what happened,” he said, his tone tight and tinged with doubt.
Tyler had never been okay with the whole drinking blood thing; Amelia knew that. But she had really thought he would have been able to get over Angelle’s attack on him when she’d lost her soul. And for a day or two, he’d been okay. They had been close. Really close. They hadn’t left each other’s side, but then, seemingly overnight, things had changed. Amelia almost wished they would argue it out, but they didn’t. Instead, they just ignored each other. Drifting apart.
“I thought so, too. He was, but I don’t know …” She sighed, a gusty sound. Mitchell dropped his hand from her chin, and clasped her hand, running his thumb along her palm in soothing circles. “He’s been pretty distant the last few days. Honestly, I think something else is bothering him, but he won’t talk to me about it.” And then, wanting to brighten the subject, she grinned and said, “But on the plus side, Erin is doing great. She has a date tonight.”
Out of everyone, Erin was the one person that Amelia worried about the most. Losing a soulmate to the final death couldn’t have been easy, not even one as vile as Tristan. But Erin … Erin was okay. Amelia figured she had accepted losing him long before he died, most likely when Amelia had destroyed the bond between them.
“With who?” Mitchell asked, although it came out more like a demand. She guessed some things would never change. Even as a human, Mitchell was still overly protective of his family and after all, Erin was one of his vampire children, or she had been until he had become human.
Amelia smirked; she couldn’t help it. She knew it didn’t matter who it was with, Mitchell would find something wrong with the poor guy. “With Drew.”
Mitchell groaned long and loud and then he shocked her. “I guess it could be worse.”
Was that an approval? Amelia wasn’t completely sure. “Drew isn’t so bad. He’s better than Tristan, that’s for sure.” Even though she said it, the statement lacked conviction. Tristan might have been psychotic and he may have tried to kill them all (Erin included) a few times, but in the end, he had still been Erin’s soulmate, and she had loved him, whether she had wanted to or not.
Mitchell opened his mouth to say something but then closed it. He scrubbed at his face roughly before looking back up at her, his sky-blue eyes taking her breath away. “Amelia, I want the bond,” he whispered. “I miss you. Even with you sitting here, I feel like we are worlds apart.”
Amelia held his stare. Her gums throbbed, and everything in her told her to just give in. She wanted to give in. She wanted to taste him, and to claim him. It was ingrained in her blood. The vampire inside her wanted nothing more than to see her name scrawled across his neck and to have the bond, and him, at her beck and call. And it was that very reason why she couldn’t—wouldn’t—give into the need.
“I can’t, Mitch,” she whispered, dropping her eyes. “I won’t do that to you.”
Suddenly, the door flew open, cracking against the wall. “Mitchell,” Lola hissed. Her eyes were blazing crimson and everything about the way she stood in the doorway screamed fury. “She’s not ready for that and if you keep it up, I’ll keep her away from you.” Her nostrils flared then, and her complexion turned paper white. She focused on him with wide, scared eyes and breathed, “You smell like death.”
Lola flew across the room in a heartbeat, and suddenly, she was beside Mitchell. She ripped the covers off of him and tossed an overabundance of cushions to the floor. Amelia sat rigid on the edge of the bed, watching her cautiously, as Lola scanned him from head to toe. She ran her hand along his forehead and cheek, as Mitchell half-heartedly swatted at her, grumbling something completely incomprehensible.
Mitchell started coughing, violently. His shoulders shook, and his chest heaved. Amelia shoved Lola aside and quickly reached behind him, pulling him up to a sitting position, and rubbing his back until the coughing eased up.
“How long has he smelled like this?” Lola growled, glaring at Amelia with barely hidden rage.
Amelia trembled slightly, completely involuntarily, and before she could stop herself, she hopped off the bed, putting some distance in between them. She had never seen Lola this mad before. Everything about her, from her tight and thin lips, to her flexed and twitching muscles, and her crouched, ready stance screamed fury and attack. Amelia opened her mouth to answer, but when nothing came out, she snapped it shut again.
“How long, Amelia?” Lola yelled, balling her fists at her sides.
Amelia cleared her throat, trying to dislodge the plum-sized lump that had formed, and whispered, “Just today.” She didn’t mean to whisper, but her throat kept closing up under Lola’s completely disappointed and extremely furious glare. She felt like a little kid who had been caught stealing.
“Lola, stop yelling at her,” Mitchell said calmly, with more than a little annoyance in his raspy voice. “I’m fine.”
It was a lie. Amelia could smell it and she could hear it. His heart hammered and a different kind of sweat began to bead along the base of his neck. She followed his gaze, noticing that it was focused on Lola’s chin. He couldn’t even look her in the eyes and say it.
Amelia’s stomach twisted and her gums throbbed. If she did it, just gave in and bit him, she wouldn’t have to guess. He’d be an open book. She’d know everything. She’d be able to see how bad this cold was. She’d be able to feel how much pain he was in, and he’d have access to her magic again. It could sooth him. It could help him. And you could hurt him, her conscious reminded her. Remember the burning pain the bond had caused. Remember the hatred it created between you. Remember. Remember.
Lola shifted her glare to him. “You’re not fine and you damn well know it.” Then she turned to Amelia and paced towards her. Her little floral summer dress brushed at her knees as she moved. She should have looked sweet with her blond pixie style hair cut, and soft features, but right then, she didn’t. “Why didn’t you say anything?” she demanded. A pinprick of red flared in the center of her eyes again. “You can’t keep this stuff a secret, Amelia!”
“I thought it was just the cold,” Amelia said, taking a large step back. “I only noticed it a few minutes ago. I was going to tell you.” And she was. She really was going to tell them. He needed a doctor. She’d already figured that out, she just hadn’t figured out how to get him to one.
“You should have gotten me immediately,” Lola snapped. “Don’t you get how serious this is? He hasn’t had a disease in over eight-hundred years. How do you think his body will handle it?”
Amelia blinked. What was she supposed to say? If Lola was so bloody worried then why hadn’t she been to see Mitchell in four days? Or was it five? Amelia was the only one trying to take care of him, and really, in her defense, it wasn’t an easy task. All she wanted to do was bite him. It was as if they had all forgotten what it was like to be a vampire living with a human soulmate. She had to be careful with everything she did around him. Between her magic and her new strength and the constant, relentless urge to bite him … well, it was hard to cope, and none of them were helping.
“Lola, that’s enough,” Mitchell said, through another round of hacking coughs. His face was flushed and glistened with a sheet of sweat from the fever. He clutched at his chest with one hand, rubbing it as the coughing eased, and gestured with the other for Amelia to come to him, but she didn’t. Her fangs were starting to poke through her gums, just a little, and right then, she didn’t want to get too close.
“Mitchell, she’s my child so back the hell off,” Lola snarled, shooting him a dirty look over her shoulder. Lola was vibrating, her arms shaking and her fists clenched. Her eyes washed red, and her fangs snapped down.
Amelia saw it happen as if it was in slow motion, although she knew that it was only her vampire senses kicking in. Mitchell tumbled out of bed, and planted himself nose to nose with Lola. Lola raised a hand, most likely to push him back in bed; she even touched his shoulder, and it was that touch that made Amelia lose it. No one touched her soulmate! Not even Lola.
Amelia’s fangs slid into place, a scarlet haze clouded her vision, and she lunged at Lola. Magic surged through her veins, steaming and sparking, mixing with her vampiric powers. Flares of crimson light shot from her in every direction, exploding in uncontrolled bursts from her skin.
Lola noticed Amelia a second too late. Her eyes widened and Amelia caught the scent of fear washing off Lola, thick as smoke. She grabbed Lola’s hand, wrenching it off Mitchell’s shoulder, and as she did, she sent out a blast of magic from the palm of her hand, searing Lola’s skin.
Lola screamed and yanked her charred arm out of Amelia’s grasp, cradling it to her chest. Her eyes went vacant for a moment. She was calling Luke; Amelia was sure of it, but frankly, she didn’t care. She glanced at Mitchell, making sure he was okay. He held her gaze for a long moment before he said, “Amelia, you need to calm down.”
Amelia ignored him and focused her blazing gaze on Lola. “Don’t you ever touch him again,” she hissed, her tone was acidic. She felt like a coiled snake, her muscles jumping under her skin, tightening and loosening, just ready to attack. An arm wove around her waist then, and Mitchell’s fever-hot chest pressed against her back.
“Amelia,” he breathed against her cheek. His hot breath puffed against her face, and tickled the fine hairs on her skin, soothingly. He didn’t say anything else. Just her name. His velvety voice surrounded her and his touch comforted her, like a fleece blanket on a cold winter night. She closed her eyes and leaned into him, letting the feel of his skin pressed against hers envelope her body in a steady stream of sparks. Her skin tingled, and her raging emotions began to calm.
“I would never hurt him, Amelia,” Lola said. Reluctantly, Amelia opened her eyes and let her fangs fold back into her gums. The last of her magic sputtered away and Lola took a few steps, closing the distance between them and caressed Amelia’s cheek, her eyes imploring Amelia to believe her. “You know that.”
“Hey, kiddo,” Luke’s booming voice drew Amelia’s attention. “I hear you’ve tried to burn my soulmate again.”
Luke was smiling, and his quizzical hazel eyes held humor. He walked into the bedroom, and took a seat in one of the marshmallowy brown leather chairs. He was in jeans and a faded blue T-shirt, and he looked completely at ease as he stretched his long legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankles. He looked the three of them over, all standing together, Mitchell at Amelia’s back, Lola at her front, and he frowned for a second, but it didn’t last.
Suddenly, Amelia felt sick. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, casting her eyes to the floor. Luke had always been on her side. No matter how childish she acted, or how mean she was, he stood behind her. He believed in her when no one else (not even Mitchell) had.
Dammit! She needed to get it together. Ever since she had become a vampire, she was like a smoldering fire that was just waiting to blow up when the littlest bit of fuel was added. She missed the clean white magic she’d had as a witch, and she loathed the flaming crimson light it had turned into. She didn’t know how to keep her vampiric powers separate from her magic, and when they mixed, it was explosive. She wished she knew how Mitchell had handled the magic when he’d used it through the bond, but in all honesty, she was too freaked out to ask him. Too worried that he would think she was weak. And her being weak was the last thing he needed to worry about.
“Again?” Mitchell asked, tightening his arm around Amelia’s waist. “Dammit, Lola!” he shouted, and then started hacking again. Amelia turned in his arms, and pulled his arm around her shoulder, helping to support him as he coughed, a painfully wet sound. She helped him back over to the bed, and when he was settled, she tucked the covers around him and handed him a glass of water.
Mitchell drank it greedily, finishing half the glass before he pulled it away from his lips. Amelia stood over him, wringing her hands nervously. She gathered a morsel of her magic, pushing it out towards him, picturing soothing waterfalls and birds chirping, and he smiled at her, a silent thank you, before he turned his attention back to Lola. “This is why she needs the bond. She needs help dealing with the magic.” His voice was hoarse and his expression strained.
“You’ve never helped her,” Lola said, exasperated. “It’s always you that pushes her over the edge.” She glided over to Luke, curling herself up on his lap.
“And it’s always Mitchell that brings her back,” Luke said sternly, looking down at Lola with hard eyes before shifting his focus back to Mitchell. “Do you think you can help her with it?”
Amelia didn’t give Mitchell time to answer. “It doesn’t matter ‘cause I’m not doing it,” she said, spinning around to glare at Luke and Lola.
Mitchell swatted at her as if to tell her to keep quiet. “I can help,” he said. “I’ve done it before when the power was too much for her and I can do it now.”
Luke seemed to be considering it. His intense gaze raked over Mitchell and Amelia sighed long and loud, but they ignored her. She guessed this was another one of those things that would never change. They had rarely listened to her before, why had she expected them to start now? She stood there for a few moments listening to them discuss whether or not she should bite Mitchell and solidify the bond. Luke listened to all of Mitchell’s ridiculous reasons, such as he missed her, and he thought that he could help her with her magic. It was all the same things that he’d said to her, over and over and over.
She tried a few times to interrupt and tell them it wasn’t happening. She wasn’t going to put Mitchell through that kind of pain and they knew damn well that if he hadn’t been able to control the bond, there was no way she’d be able to do it. But they ignored her, and when Mitchell shushed her, she sighed, a frustrated sigh. They went on discussing Mitchell’s health, and which doctor—if any—they could trust him with, which in Amelia’s opinion was retarded. He needed a doctor. They could all smell it. At this point, did his secret really matter? But Mitchell was pushing back, saying he didn’t need, or want, to see someone.
Amelia gritted her teeth and listened to them argue back and forth on what to do with him. And she was ready to start pulling out her hair in frustration when an idea dawned on her. She felt the start of a smile twitch at her lips. I can fix him. Right then, she was certain of it.
None of them noticed when Amelia grabbed her iPhone from the nightstand, and walked out of the room.