Dark Gold Chapter Seven


The wind blew up from the bay. Waves rushed toward the shoreline below. The stars glowed overhead. The night itself seemed far too beautiful to hide such a perverted, demented creature as nosferatu, the undead. Aidan lifted his face to the wind and inhaled sharply to sort out the information the night chose to share with him.

The vampire was high overhead, winging its way toward him from the ocean side, hoping the spray and sea salt would conceal his scent. Like Aidan, the vampire was wounded, and the blood spoor was easy to follow. Ravenous from blood loss, Aidan's fangs exploded into his mouth at the mere smell. Tainted blood was the last thing he wanted, yet without an infusion of blood, he would die soon. He had made a promise to himself centuries ago that he would never touch a member of the family that served him, no matter what the cost, and he meant to keep that promise. And Alexandria was far too weak; it would be dangerous for her to provide for him. She had no knowledge of the consequences to both of them should he lose her.

He had long ago begun to accept death, greeting the dawn as the only, inevitable choice open to him. But he was not prepared to relinquish his life now, when the possibility of happiness had finally come his way. He would fight. He would at least manage to save Alexandria and Stefan from their own folly. He would take the vampire with him into the dawn if that was his only option.

Standing up had increased the bleeding from the deep wounds on his thigh and temple, and a steady stream ran down his neck and over his shoulder to his arm and chest. A wave of weakness washed over him, and for a moment everything blurred. He blinked to bring things into focus, but it was only after he brushed at his eyes and his hand came away smeared with blood that he could see again. He waited patiently, breathing in and out, because he had no other choice. He had to bring the vampire down to him.

A large bat made a pass at his head, grimacing to reveal tiny pointed teeth. It settled on the ground yards from him, crawling toward him, stalking him.

"Come, come, Ramon, must we play these childish games? Come to me like a man or not at all. I grow weary of your foolishness." Aidan spoke softly, his voice compelling and hypnotic. "All your tricks will not aid you this night. If you choose to continue this battle, we will have done with it here and now. You cannot win. You know it. You feel it. You have come here to die at my hand. So be it. Walk like a man to your death." His golden eyes caught the starlight and glowed with red flames, the flickers of ruby matching the blood on his face.

The bat hesitated, then began to lengthen and grow into a grotesque creature with talons and a razor-sharp beak. The creature moved sideways, approaching Aidan but favoring its right side.

Aidan remained motionless, a statue carved from stone. Only his eyes were alive, flaming with deadly resolve.

His stare stopped the creature, intimidating it until it changed again, reshaping itself into a tall, thin, pale man with cold, pitiless eyes. Ramon regarded Aidan warily. "I do not think you are right this time, Aidan. You are gravely wounded. I will prevail, and I will take the woman for myself."

"It is an impossibility, Ramon. You may bray like a donkey, but no one, not even you, will believe your bravado. Come to me, and accept the justice of our people, as you know you should. You have committed crimes against all humanity."

"I have power! You are weak, a fool. Your life has been dedicated to a false purpose. Where are those you fight to save from one such as me? The humans you protect would drive a stake through your heart if they knew of your existence. Your own people have condemned you to a solitary existence, without even the soil of your homeland to nourish you. They have left you here alone in this place. Join me, Aidan. I can save you. Join with me, and we will take over this city. Do you not believe we deserve to do so? We can have it all. Riches, women. We can rule here."

"I have everything I have always wanted, my old friend. Come to me as you know you should. I will make your end swift and painless." He had to make it swift. Time was running out. His life's blood was on the ground now, his enormous strength draining away.

The vampire was edging closer, attempting to throw Aidan off with the illusion of bats winging right toward the Carpathian's blood-streaked body. Aidan remained still, those red-starred golden eyes never leaving Ramon's gray face.

The vampire launched himself. As he did so, Aidan felt Alexandria merge with him, pouring her strength, her will, her courage, her belief in him, into his mind. It was a priceless gift, and Aidan used it with all the speed of which he was capable. At the last possible moment he simply stepped aside, his arm locking around the vampire's neck, snapping it like a twig. The head flopped to one side, and Ramon began to howl, a high-pitched, agonized cry that went on and on.

Taking a deep breath, Aidan finished it, plunging his hand straight into the thin chest until he reached the pulsating heart. He removed the organ and flung it away from the vampire, stepping back quickly to avoid the spraying blood. Almost immediately his strength gave out, and he found himself sitting on the ground, helpless, open to any attack.

She came out of the darkness. Her scent reached him first. Though the smell of blood was driving him slowly insane, he did not attempt to utilize the vampire's contaminated blood to replenish himself. Then suddenly she was there, fresh and clean and pure in the face of evil. And he had tainted blood on his hands and death surrounding him. He could not look into her eyes and see the condemnation there. He couldn't face it.

"Stefan! Tell me what to do."

Her voice was musical, as soft as an early-morning breeze. To die with her voice in his mind and heart was not so bad. But Aidan did not want her in this place of death. "There is nothing you can do. Walk away, Alexandria. Go to the Carpathian Mountains, as you promised me." His eyes were closing, far too heavy to keep open. "Go to my homeland, and I will feel as if you took a part of me with you."

"Oh, shut up," she snapped impatiently, horrified at the sight of him. She didn't even glance at the fallen vampire. "No one asked you, Aidan. And you're not going to die. I won't allow that, so stop the macho act and cooperate. Come on, Stefan! What do I do for him?" She was already applying pressure to the worst wound, the one in his thigh. She had never seen so much blood spilled. It was a red river soaking into the ground. She concentrated on Aidan, keeping her gaze away from the fallen, disfigured bodies.

"He needs your saliva mixed with soil. Pack the mixture into the wounds," Stefan said quickly, kneeling beside them.

"It's so unsanitary!" she protested, appalled.

"Not for a Carpathian. Do it if you want to save him. Your saliva contains a clotting agent. Quickly, Alexandria."

"Dispose of the bodies, Stefan." Aidan issued the command without opening his eyes. He found himself floating in a dream world.

"Will you shut up?" Alexandria admonished. Spitting was more Joshua's talent than hers, but she did her best, making mud patties while Stefan dragged the vampire bodies to the edge of the curving dirt road and, using the gas can from the car trunk, began a fire.

The stench made Alexandria gag. She closed her mind to everything but what she was doing. She did not have time to examine why she was saving Aidan, why it mattered, but her every bone, every cell, her very soul cried out to her to do so.

Aidan appeared unconscious as Alexandria meticulously packed his deep wounds and lacerations. She knew he wasn't, though, that he was aware of her every movement; she could feel him in her mind. Somehow he had slowed his heart and lungs to impede the seepage of blood to give her time to seal the wounds with soil and saliva But his hunger was a living thing, crawling through his body with slow, torturous intent. It gnawed at him relentlessly; she could feel it through their mind link. He was very much aware of her living, surging blood, hot and beckoning, so close to him. The demon in him crouched just below the surface, threatening to break free.

Stefan returned to her side. "You must talk to him. Tell him he can't leave you alone. You won't be able to live without him."

"No way! He's arrogant enough as it is. That's all I'd need, to simper like some besotted idiot over him. He'd hold it over my head forever. And he's so egotistical, he'd probably even believe it." Even as she said the words, her fingers were tenderly pushing back clotted strands of hair, wiping the blood from Aidan's face.

Stefan frowned at her but refrained from expressing his opinion. "He needs blood. I will give it to him. You must drive us home. This fire will attract attention from the authorities soon, and we need to be away from here."

No.

Aidan's voice was strong in its protest, but only in her mind. She realized he was too weak to attempt speech it is too dangerous. I would kill him. I cannot take from Stefan.

She believed him. It was in the purity, the honesty of his voice. It was in the alarm in his heart and soul, his mind a raging protest. "No, Stefan, you drive. Aidan refuses to allow you to donate, so I guess it'll have to be me." She brushed back Aidan's hair again with gentle fingers. That's

what you're trying to tell me, right? I can donate but not Stefan. Don't say no, it isn't as if you haven't helped yourself before. Just do it, and don't argue with me, or I might lose my sweet nature.

And my courage, she added silently to herself.

Jam not certain you will be safe. Big deal. I told you, I don't have a lot to lose. This really isn't my kind of life. Go for it, Aidan. Just don't hurt me, okay? Never,

cara, he assured her. It took both Stefan and Alexandria to get him into the car.

His face was gray and etched with pain, but he didn't make a sound until they had him settled with his head cradled in her lap. "The spilled blood must be destroyed," he said. Only Alexandria caught the words. He was so weak, he could barely whisper.

"He wants you to clean away the rest of the blood, Stefan." Her heart was beating fast. This was it. She would die this night, giving her life for this man. She didn't know what he was, only that he was the most courageous being she had ever known. She wasn't certain that what she believed about him was true, or that she even liked him, but this was right. She knew it in her deepest soul.

Stefan swore softly. "We are bound to be seen, the longer we stay," he groused, but he hastily went back to the gas can he had left for the investigators and set to work on the pools of blood. It was necessary to remove any trace of Aidan's participation in the battle, and they had little time to do so.

Alexandria laid her head over Aidan's. "You can't wait. Do it now. But promise me you will always look after Joshua. That this insane life will never touch him. Promise me."

Always, cara mia. The voice in her mind was faint, and she knew they didn't have much time.

She felt his hand move first. His fingers stroked the slim column of her neck, sending a shiver down her spine. His fingers parted the buttons of the silk shirt, his shirt, covering her bare skin. The brush of his knuckles against the soft swell of her breasts sent flames licking through her blood. She relaxed into him, arching even closer so that his warm breath touched the pulse over her beating heart. The touch of his teeth scraping gently, erotically over her skin sent liquid heat pooling in her body, producing a heavy, unfamiliar ache.

She made a sound, a soft moan, as white-hot heat exploded through her when his teeth pierced her skin and sank deep. She cradled his head to her, drowsy with contentment, offering herself up to him. It was a sensual experience, her blood flowing into his body, replenishing damaged cells and tissue, warming cold muscles, bringing him life.

She could feel strength building in him even as it slowly flowed from her. It was like a hazy, erotic dream. And then he was in her mind, murmuring softly, seductively, words of love, words she had never heard, ancient, beautiful sounds. The car was moving, a vague swaying adding to the surreal timelessness.

Stefan drove the car up close to the side door and ran to lock the heavy iron gates behind them, nervously checking the skies. When he returned to the car, he was shocked to find that the situation in the back seat had changed so dramatically. Now it was Aidan sitting upright and alert, covered in blood but his color returned, while Alexandria lay motionless, gray-faced, like one dead. She looked small and lost in Aidan's arms, almost like a child.

Stefan looked away. He had spent a good portion of his life with this man, yet the reality of Aidan's existence was almost too much for him to accept. He knew in his heart that Aidan would never harm the woman, yet to see her like that, so still and lifeless, after she had displayed so much courage...

"Clean the car, Stefan. I will go to ground for a day or two. It will be up to you to field any questions if the police come around. You must protect the child and Marie from any intruders. Remember, no harm can come to you in this house at night, but vampires can use humans to do their bidding." Stefan helped Aidan from the car, watching as he reached into the back seat to lift Alexandria's limp body into his arms. "I know what they and their minions can do, Aidan. I will be alert for an attack," he assured him gruffly.

"Place blood inside the chamber for me this night, and then leave and stay away. Keep Marie and the child far from the chamber. It will not be safe for any of you until I replace the volume I have lost." He said it tersely, his strength already waning. Alexandria was a small woman, and he had taken all the nourishment he safely could from her, then had placed her in the deep sleep of his people to keep her alive until he could replace her blood loss.

He allowed Stefan to assist him through the house. Marie came running, crying out when she saw him. He heard the boy's feet on the hardwood floor. Aidan swung around, his golden eyes flaming with warning. "Keep the child away from me," he snapped, beating down his voracious hunger.

Marie stopped in her tracks, one hand pressed to her throat. Aidan was covered in blood and dirt, Alexandria lifeless, cradled in his arms. Blood and soil littered the hardwood floor on a trail from the door. Aidan's eyes were flaming red, his white teeth sharp and gleaming like a predator's.

"Marie!" Stefan's voice propelled her into action. She rushed to intercept Joshua before he could witness the horror of this night. Tears were pouring down her face as she caught the child up and began to run down the hallway toward the stairs.

Joshua touched the tears on her face. "Don't cry, Marie. Did someone hurt your feelings?"

She made an effort to gain control of herself. The house would have to be cleaned before the boy could come downstairs, so somehow she had to get him to sleep. "It's nothing, Joshua. I had a bad dream. Don't you ever have bad dreams?"

"Alexandria says if you say a prayer and think about really good things, you know, things you like, you'll have good dreams." Joshua rubbed his cheek against hers. "It always works when she does it with me. I'll say prayers with you like she does, and you won't have bad dreams ever again."

Marie found herself smiling at the simplicity and innocence in Joshua. She had three children, now grown, and Joshua brought back memories of the sweetness of childhood. She hugged him close. "Thank you, Joshua. Your sister is a very smart woman. You're lucky to have her." She stifled a sob. "And what are you doing out of bed at this time of night anyway? It's nearly four in the morning. Shame on you, young man."

"I thought Alexandria was in her bedroom, but she wasn't. I was looking for her." Joshua's eyes betrayed his fear of losing his sister.

"Aidan had to take her to a special place of healing. She's still sick, Joshua, so we have to have patience until he makes her better."

"Will she be all right?" he asked anxiously.

"Of course. Aidan would never let anything happen to her. He'll watch over her very closely. You know that."

"Can I talk to her on the phone?"

Marie laid him in the bed, pulling the covers up to his chin. "Not for a while. She's sleeping, just like you should be. I'll stay with you until you're sound asleep."

He smiled, a sweet, angelic smile that put warmth back into Marie. "I can teach you the prayer."

She pulled a chair up to the bed and took his hand, listening to his child's voice saying soft, innocent things to God.

Stefan wrapped an arm around Aidan's waist to support him. He could feel Aidan's disturbance at his touch and knew it stemmed from his battle with the ever-present demon within him fighting for control.

Aidan's enormous strength was drained, his hunger voracious, his need for blood so strong it ruled his every sense. It wrapped around his organs and crawled through his mind with burning need. "Hurry, Stefan, get out of here," he said hoarsely, trying to push the older man away from him.

"I will get you to the chamber, Aidan," Stefan said firmly. "You will not harm me. You hold your woman in your arms. She is your salvation. In any case, I have offered my life to you on more than one occasion. If it is your wish to take it at this time to save yourself and your woman, I have no objection."

Aidan gritted his teeth and clamped down hard on his predatory instincts. The will to survive was strong, the need for fresh, hot blood paramount. He tried not to hear Stefan's heart beating strong and steady, the pulse of blood surging through the body of this man he was so close to.

Once in the chamber, Stefan released him and backed away, knowing he was causing Aidan distress. He knew in his heart that Aidan would never harm him. He trusted the Carpathian far more than Aidan trusted himself. "I will bring the blood, Aidan."

Aidan nodded curtly and placed Alexandria's nearly lifeless body on the bed. He sagged down beside her, his hand curling around the thick braid of her hair. She had saved him, assuming she would die in the process. She had willingly, freely, offered her life for his. Their bond was much stronger than he had realized. She would never have survived his death. They were linked for all eternity, true lifemates. He had uttered the ancient words binding their souls together. Two halves of the same whole.

He sighed and lay beside her, inwardly cursing his need for blood. He could not go to ground without taking in more sustenance. He waited, the demon within him roaring and raging, until he sensed the human near, heard the soft pad of footsteps. The heavy door creaked, and Stefan placed several bottles of blood on the floor, then retreated, leaving Aidan and his lifemate alone in the chamber.

Aidan staggered across the floor and wrapped his hand around the neck of a wine bottle. He drained the contents and reached for the next one. Stefan had brought five full bottles, and Aidan consumed them all, and still his body craved more.

But with renewed energy from the blood supply, he moved the bed with a wave of his hand and opened the trap door to the cool, waiting earth below. It took concentration to peel back the layers of soil to make a space for his body and Alexandria's. Gathering her into his arms, he floated into the protection of Mother Earth. Aidan settled his frame around his lifemate and began the intricate ancient spells guarding the entrance to his lair. The trapdoor shut, and the bed above moved back into position. He closed the earth over them, around them, and slowed his heart and lungs as he felt the healing properties in the soil coiling around his wounds. His heart stuttered, his lungs rose and fell, and then all bodily functions ceased.

Stefan closed the door to the basement, knowing it could be days before Aidan made another appearance. He hoped he had brought him enough blood. Aidan would provide for Alexandria when he rose again and hunted his human prey. Until that time it was up to Stefan to guard the house, Marie, and young Joshua.

He found Marie cleaning the floor. She turned to him immediately, her eyes questioning. He held her tenderly. "He will live, Marie. Don't worry for him."

"And his woman?"

Stefan smiled tiredly. "She was amazing. She wants nothing to do with him or us, yet she saved his life."

"She will be his salvation. But you're right, Stefan, she doesn't want to be here with us." Marie sounded sad, her heart filled with compassion.

"She doesn't yet understand what has happened to her," Stefan said with a sigh. "And the truth is, I wouldn't want to have to face what she is facing. She doesn't understand the difference between Aidan and the vampires. She's been roughly used, and her freedom is gone for all time. Even her ability to be with Joshua is restricted."

"We will have to be patient with her."

Stefan smiled suddenly. "

He will have to patient with her. And she will stand up to him as no one in his lifetime has ever done. Modern American women are far different than what he is used to."

"You think it's rather funny, don't you, Stefan?" Marie observed.

"Absolutely. Aidan has never understood how you wrapped me around your little finger, but he is soon to find out." He kissed her gently and patted her shoulder. "I will clean the car and driveway, and we'll go to bed." He grinned suggestively.

Marie laughed lovingly and watched him go out into the night.

The sun was high in the sky, burning off the fog coming off the ocean. Marie and Stefan escorted Joshua to his school and lingered for a time outside, making certain no one was watching the boy. The morning paper had speculated that the two men found dead, burned beyond recognition, had most likely fought with one another. It was presumed that one of the men had accidentally drenched himself when he had thrown gasoline on the other. The blackened gas can found near the scene held the fingerprints of one of the victims.

Stefan avoided Marie's questions, not wanting to remember how he had pressed the hand of Ramon around the can. He wasn't certain he had covered every detail and was still nervous that the police would come knocking on their door.

When they returned home, however, it wasn't the police they found, but Thomas Ivan. Dressed in an expensive, tailored Italian suit, he was waiting somewhat impatiently at the front door. He carried an enormous bouquet of white and red roses mixed with ferns and baby's breath. He gave the couple his most charming smile, even managing a slight bow toward Marie.

"I wanted to stop by and see if Alexandria was feeling any better yet. I thought it might be a good time, too, to apologize for my rude behavior the other day. I was worried about Alexandria, and I took it out on you."

"She was happy to have her briefcase returned," Marie returned noncommittally. "She was given your message, and I'm certain she will contact you as soon as she is feeling up to it."

"I thought the flowers might cheer her up," Thomas said easily. He could handle servants anytime. As long as the lord of the manor didn't show up, he might get past the door this time. "Perhaps I could just take a peek in, wish her well. I'll only stay a moment."

The housekeeper didn't budge from her position. Standing directly behind her, looking every inch the Mafia hitman, Stefan remained deadpan. Ivan pushed down his temper. It wouldn't do any good to alienate these people. He needed to win them over to his side.

Marie shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Ivan, that would be impossible. Mr. Savage left specific instructions that Alexandria should not be disturbed - on doctor's orders."

Thomas nodded. "I understand that you have to do what you were told, but you see, I'm really worried about her. I just want to look in on her, see for myself that she's all right. What do you say? We don't have to tell Mr. Savage. I won't stay long, just a quick peek to assure myself that she's okay." He pulled several twenty-dollar bills from his pocket, crinkling them expectantly.

Marie's indrawn breath was indignant. "Mr. Ivan! Are you suggesting I would sell out my employer?"

He swore under his breath. "No, of course not. I just meant to give you something for the extra trouble."

"Alexandria is no trouble, Mr. Ivan." Marie deliberately misunderstood. "She is a part of our household. She's considered family, as is her brother. You do know her brother?" She knew very well he didn't, and her voice said it all.

Thomas Ivan was furious. This battle-ax was openly defying him. Deliberately taunting him. He wished he could have her deported, preferably to someplace cold and wet and uncomfortable. Instead he smiled again, clenching his teeth as he did so. "I was not implying in any way that Alexandria might be a bother to you. Perhaps your understanding of English is not so good. Where are you from originally?" He tried to inject interest into his voice.

"Romania," Marie said, "but I have no problem with the English language. I have been here for many years. We consider San Francisco home now."

"Is Mr. Savage also from Romania?" He was very interested in the answer to that. Maybe he could have the arrogant bastard deported right along with his hired help.

"I cannot discuss my employer with someone not known to me, sir," Marie said politely, her face expressionless.

Thomas knew the old hag was secretly laughing at him. He took a deep breath. Well, she and the caretaker were making an enemy more powerful than they knew. He had friends in high places, and they were foreigners. "I just wondered, because his accent is different from yours." He wanted to say more educated, more cultured, just to insult her, but he refrained. He could bide his time and wait for his revenge. He would bring the entire house down, have the police and immigration people swarming over the place in no time.

"Well, I'm sorry you feel you can't cooperate with me. I'm extremely worried about Alexandria. If you refuse to allow me to see her or to speak with her on the phone, I have no other recourse than to take this matter to the police. As a possible abduction." He thought he saw alarm in the woman's face, but the man behind her didn't flicker an eyelash. Thomas began to wonder if the man carried a gun. Maybe he was the enforcer in the group. The back of his neck began to itch uncomfortably.

"You go ahead and do whatever you think you should, Mr. Ivan. I can't go against my orders," Marie said firmly.

"Then perhaps I could speak to Mr. Savage personally," he suggested tightly.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Ivan, but that isn't possible at this time. Mr. Savage is not at home, and there is no number where he can be reached."

"How very convenient for Mr. Savage," Thomas sniped, his fury at being thwarted beginning to surface. "We'll just see how much he likes talking to the police!" He swung around, hoping the enforcer wouldn't shoot him in the back. His eye started to twitch the way it always did when he was upset.

"Mr. Ivan?" Marie's voice was soft and sweet, almost placating.

He swung around in triumph. At last he'd said something to scare the pair of idiots. "What?" he snapped, making a show of his displeasure with her.

"Did you want to leave the flowers for Alexandria? I'll see to it that she gets them. I'm certain they'll cheer her up, knowing they came from you." Marie was trying not to laugh at the man. He looked so silly, all puffed up with his own importance, so certain he could intimidate them. She was not looking forward to a confrontation with the police, but she could use the flowers.

Ivan shoved the roses at her and stormed off, in no way appeased by her feeble attempt to get into his good graces. These foreigners were going to be sorry they crossed him. They obviously had no clue what kind of power a man like him wielded.

Marie glanced up at Stefan, and they both laughed. "I know what you're thinking, you wicked woman. You want to use those flowers to drive Aidan crazy with jealousy."

"How could you think such a thing, Stefan?" Marie demanded innocently. "I simply could not abide such beautiful flowers going to waste. I'll put them in the refrigerator until Alexandria rises. They'll brighten up her room or, better yet, the living room."

Stefan kissed her lightly on the cheek and made to depart. "Aidan is in for some interesting times."

"Where are you off to? You aren't going to leave me here alone to deal with the authorities. That man is going straight to the police station, and they'll likely listen to him."

"He's sure to make them angry with his obnoxious demands, and Aidan is well known to the local police. He always donates to their causes, and he's been careful to maintain a good relationship with them. I don't think Mr. Ivan is much of a threat, but I want to take a look around and make certain everything is in place for their upcoming official visit," Stefan reassured her.

"We can always have them talk to Joshua if we have to," Marie suggested, vaguely uneasy, as she always was when Aidan was vulnerable.

"It will not come to that," Stefan assured her.
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