Home > Catalyst (Vampire Apocalypse #2)(2)

Catalyst (Vampire Apocalypse #2)(2)
Author: H.M. Ward

After a moment, Will broke the gaze and looked down at his chest. "If that's what you need, I will." He released her arms and started to peel off his coat. As his fingers worked the buttons on the front of his shirt, Kahli couldn't look away. She didn't know what he was doing. It was freezing, even with the fire right next to them.

"You saw the runes on my chest once before. Do you remember?" His fingers undid another button and his shirt began to fall open.

Now that he said it, Kahli thought she remembered something, but the recollection was fuzzy and faded, like an old photograph left in the sun, bleached white with all the details missing.

Brow pinching together, she nodded, "Vaguely."

Will pulled his arms out of the shirt, revealing his bare chest. His body was all muscle and smooth skin. Kahli stared, wanting to touch him, to feel the rise and fall of those muscles beneath her fingers. The thought shocked her. She tried to bury it, but Will smiled softly, like he'd already heard her. He took her hand in his and pressed the pads of her fingers to his chest.

Kahli couldn't breathe. She didn't know what he was doing, but she didn't pull away. "What are you - ?"

He cut her off, "Look. Read them. I know you can."

When Kahli looked down at his bare skin she saw a string of runes appear under her fingers. Will lifted his hands from hers knowing that she wouldn't pull away. As she slid her hand across his chest, rune after rune appeared. Some of them didn't make sense. They seemed to be more like symbols than words, but as her fingers grazed across his chest and down his side, Kahli recognized a rune. She slipped her fingers over his skin slowly, tracing a line down his side. As she touched him, blood-red runes seemed to burn under his skin, throbbing bright crimson, until her fingers passed over them and they faded back to the color of his skin. When her hand trailed down to Will's waist she stopped.

Swallowing hard, she looked up at him. Will was watching her, his lips parted slightly. "It's your name," she said, shocked. Will nodded slowly.

The moment felt surreal, like time bent and stopped. The two stared at each other. Kahli didn't know how much time passed before she spoke again. Will's blue eyes were locked on hers, holding her in place. They were so close, but when she dropped her hand neither of them touched. The runes faded, hiding his real name - the one the vampires could use against him.

Kahli moved her palm to his side again, hovering her hand over his warm skin. She wanted to touch him again, she wanted to feel the runes burn under her palm. Instead she hesitated, holding her hand less than an inch from his side. Her heart was pounding violently. Her mind couldn't make sense of it, of what it meant.

She pressed her lips together and tried to step away, but Will took her hand. "Say it," he commanded. "Say my name."

Kahli was wide-eyed. She shook her head. The name wouldn't tumble from her mouth. "No. It's enough to see it. I trust you. I believe you." It was what she needed, something of equal value - something equally damning - to be trusted with. She still couldn't believe he showed her.

"Then, why are you shaking?"

Kahli looked at her hand, her fingers next to Will's. He was so strong and her blood made him stronger. Blood. The thought jarred her. "Those are blood runes. They aren't the same as mine."

Will nodded, his thumb rubbing the back of her hand, tracing small circles on her smooth skin. "You're right. They aren't. They're more powerful, more binding. Marriage runes connect you to another person. They're a promise. I assume you have another rune with his family's crest?" Will turned over Kahli's wrist, the wrist that had the Section 8 brand, and examined it. "Maybe it was here? Under this one?"

"Maybe," she confessed, her lips slowly pulling into a smile. That was exactly where it was. Her wrist rune could only be evoked by her betrothed's blood. Until then, it would remain hidden. These were things that would have been part of the marriage ceremony, part of a life that was gone.

Will smoothed his hand over her wrist, and returned her smile. "I always liked that ritual. It was romantic, professing love like that, being bound to another person - willingly." When he said the last word, Kahli's insides twisted. They were not willing linked. Continuing, he said, "Mine are different. They're blood runes. There's nothing willing about them. I guess that makes me more vamp, than human." He smiled sadly. It was a difference between them, clearly marking that they were different.

Kahli nodded, "I suppose so," she said softly, staring at his smooth skin. Looking into his eyes, she asked, "How come I can see them? I mean, runes don't just pop up like that."

"Because vampires mark runes in blood, and my blood is inside of you. You can evoke my runes and read them. They respond to you, treating you like an extension of me." Will raised his hand to her cheek, and touched her soft skin gently with his thumb. The way he looked at her made Kahli's heart pound harder. He smiled at her and dropped his hand to his side.

Kahli's voice shook slightly as she spoke, "What are these?" She pointed to the pale flesh on his upper chest, sliding her finger over the spot and awakening the runes. They burned under her touch. "These don't look like any runes I've seen." Will shivered as the runes appeared under Kahli's finger, flashing bright orange, like flames.

He smiled sadly at her, "Property runes. They identify who I belong to, which vampire clan I serve."

Kahli could feel the weight of something, some decision he made long ago, crushing him. As he looked into her eyes, she wished she could fix it and remove that pain, but she didn't know what caused it.

"Who do you belong to?" Their gazes met and held. She could feel longing burst through his body, but nothing else. No name. No sign that said THIS GUY BELONGS TO with a name tacked on the end.

Will shook his head, "Can't say. It's forbidden."

She nodded slowly, wondering who owned him. Her guesses included the king, queen, and Reggie, but she wasn't sure. "How can you be marked by more than one owner?"

He smiled at her, "They can't see the runes. As long as their wills don't conflict, I can be branded by the entire Regent." He cringed thinking about it. "Thankfully, I wasn't that stupid, to let them all brand me. Not that I had much of a choice." He saw the question in her eyes. Will sighed and pushed his hand through his hair and responded, "Stupid mistakes. I made too many of them. That's all I can say, Kahli. I'd tell you, if I were able. Being able to talk to someone about it would be freeing."

Her throat tightened as she listened to him speak. He was a slave. For some reason, Kahli didn't see it before, but she did now. Kahli knew what it felt like to be trapped. The vampires held her captive for a few weeks, but Will, he was enslaved for years.

The way Will gazed at her made Kahli notice it, the sensation snaking through her stomach. It wasn't hers. It was Will's. When he looked at her, he saw hope. It filled him up and made him stronger. What hope could she possibly bring him? There was nothing she could do to save him. She couldn't even save herself. If Will hadn't followed her from the palace, she would have bled to death.

Looking into his eyes, Kahli knew she'd fight for him, free him if she could figure out how. The way he looked at her made her uneasy. It was like Will wanted to kiss her - or more. The thing that scared her most wasn't knowing that he was drawn to her, it was no longer being repulsed by his attraction. She had feelings for him. She felt it. Will was everything she would have wanted in a mate, but he was a vampire. His blood separated them. It always would.

Looking down, Kahli stepped back. Will didn't object. He turned to grab his shirt, pulling it onto his strong shoulders, followed by his coat.

"So." Kahli's voice was firm. She looked up at Will, understanding him a little better, wishing she knew him more. "How much of this assassination have you planned?"

Chapter 3

Cassie paced nervously as she watched the three empty beds in her room. Each fluffy white bedspread sat untouched with every pillow still perfectly in place. Moonlight cut through the tall window panes, casting a soft glow on the vacant beds. Cassie's fingers drifted across Kahli's bedspread as she passed it.

No one had returned, yet. They should have all been back. How long was dinner? In her dealings with the King, he was only after one thing, and when he got it, he tossed her out. She cringed and pushed away the memory. It's just nerves, she told herself. There was no explanation for it, but Cassie felt like she was going to wretch. From the time they came in and summoned Kahli, something didn't feel right. The last time she felt this way, something hideous happened. When the King was involved, they were always at risk. Add in this feeling and she was a nervous wreck, pacing and jumpy.

Before it was too late to leave the maiden's quarters, Cassie pushed through the doors. She managed to find Cole. He was wandering the hallways like he usually did. Cassie once asked him why he did it, but she didn't get much of an answer. Cole appeared to have an agenda, but she didn't really understand why. They were both trapped, bred to be in this place. Maybe acting like a spy made him feel like he had some control over his life. Besides, it was easier to pretend that he was Cassie's sentry, always nearby waiting to help.

"Hey," Cole said, when he looked up and saw his sister walking toward him. He was still dressed in his dinner suit. The dark blue fabric was supple. It was perfectly tailored to his body, accentuating his broad shoulders and narrow waist. The Queen must have called for him. He only wore that suit when he was summoned by her. Guards were stationed at either end of the hall, getting ready to usher them back to their chambers for the evening. The Queen liked everything to be orderly, and being confined to quarters at night made certain that they weren't doing anything naughty. Not that Cassie had anyone that she wanted to do anything naughty with.

Hurrying, Cassie walked so fast that she was nearly running by the time she reached Cole. A guard snapped, "Slow down!"

Panting, Cassie slowed just as she reached Cole. His expression pinched into concern as she raced toward him. Taking her by the elbow, he scolded, "We can't draw attention to ourselves. Kahli's already done enough of that. Ever since the Purging, the vamps won't leave me alone." They had found out he was stronger than they thought. Cole's guise was ripped away, and it was Kahli's fault. Before he had a chance to say more, Cassie cut him off.

"The King took, Kahli. She's been gone all night." Eyes wide, she looked up at Cole hoping he'd know what to do. Normally, she didn't panic like this, but something didn't feel right. Cassie was more than worried about Kahli. Her stomach churned like she had eaten glass.

Cole turned sharply and they started to walk back toward the maiden's rooms. Leaning close to her ear, he whispered, "When? I've been with the Queen and haven't heard anything. What happened?"

"Hours ago, before sunset. It's dark now, Cole. She shouldn't have been there that long. He invited Kahli to dinner and told her to dress up. She was nervous when she left. Something felt wrong, but she had to go. It's the King. It's not like we can say no thanks."

Cole held onto Cassie's elbow and he walked silently as she filled him in. Cole didn't say much, just nodding at the right times. He rarely spoke, because they were always being watched. Eyes and ears where everywhere. Cole didn't survive this long by acting like they weren't under constant surveillance, and while he didn't like how Kahli handled herself, he didn't wish harm upon her, either.

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