4

“The jet was seen over Penobscot Bay when there was an explosion near the front of the cabin. It crashed just miles outside of Rockfort, Maine. As you can see, the firefighters are still doing what they can to extinguish the flames. We don’t know how many passengers were aboard.”
We all watched the news brief in silence. Fire was just as deadly to Ina as the sun. Once the fires were put out, there would be no chance of survivors. Poppa pulled his phone from his pocket. He stood still after he dialed two numbers, his face blank, but he was anxious. After a few moments, he nodded.
“Lucas, hello. This is Daniel Gordon. Was your flight okay?” He nodded. “Good. Wait one moment. I called Kean as well. He hasn’t picked up yet.” He waited a little longer, but soon he sighed and nodded. “Kean, hello. This is Daniel Gordon. Did you touch down safely?...The Vetrovs’ jet crashed. We’re watching the news…No, the firemen are still putting out the flames…Yes, I will call them now. The rest of their symbionts need to know immediately.”
The Vetrovs’ symbionts would need to find other Ina to bond with and soon. While our venom quickly restored cells in our symbionts, it also produced more blood, and as the Vetrovs were now presumed dead, their symbionts would die of a stroke or heart attack without other Ina to lower their blood pressure.
“Was there a gas leak, do you think?” Brook asked. She understood what the pain would be for the Vetrovs’ symbionts once they were informed.
“I can’t say,” Poppa said quietly.
I thought of Artem Vetrov’s symbiont speaking to his wife earlier. She had told him to ask us to let them stay one more day. I couldn’t push his words from my head.
“Ruby?” Momma fluffed my ponytail. “You’re thinking about something.”
“I overheard one of Artem’s symbionts on the phone earlier. He brushed it off, but his wife didn’t want them to fly home tonight.” Everyone traded looks, silently concluding there was a connection.
“Iosif, call Dale,” my father-Philip said. “Tell them to signal the others to keep alert. We’ll continue investigating later.”
#
Kean was the most beautiful male Ina I had ever seen, and while his demeanor hinted that he knew it, he was always kind. He kept his hair pulled back with a leather thong, his thick, dark hair tamed against the back of his neck. His features were softer than other Ina but still defined, and when he smiled down at me, his slender, ice-blue eyes shined. That night, he dressed as though he had just left a royal wedding: crisp white shirt, silk steel-gray vest and tie, well-tailored black slacks. I imagined it was because of the men in his family that movies and television portrayed some vampires as the tall, exotic figure with the long, dark hair.
“It is good to see you again, Ruby,” he said. His British accent was strong, his voice deep and smooth, and my name rolled off of his tongue like water.
I didn’t blush often, but my cheeks grew warm whenever he spoke to me. “Be welcome, Kean.”
Behind him stood his sons, and the one on his right side was obviously Aidan. He wore his hair longer than most Ina males dared to wear it, even twice the length of his father’s, and it wasn’t just a subtle red, like auburn. It rolled down his back as one fiery copper stream. His large eyes were a darker blue than Kean’s, almost violet. He caught me staring, and his nose wrinkled as he gave me a devilish smile.
Kean looked over his shoulder. Aidan straightened his face, so I knew he had been scolded. I smiled, then locked eyes with the one on Kean’s left. “Ruby, these are my sons, Aidan and Ciaran.”
Ciaran was a demure version of his father: his dark hair cut short, parted and slicked away from the gentle angles of his face. The only way to explain how I felt as I looked at him was that I wanted to touch him, and I could tell he desired the same. His dark blue eyes—I supposed this was a trait from their mothers—were full of hunger, and his scent, a cool misty smell, pulsed at me with a strong need.
Poppa placed a hand on my shoulder, and I realized too much time had passed with us staring at each other. “Be welcome,” I managed, swallowing.
“We will leave you now,” Wayne said. I heard the smile in his voice, but he had already turned to walk away when I glanced back at him.
And then, we were alone. I offered Aidan and Ciaran the couches across the room and sat in Wright’s chair, tapped my fingers against the arms for a moment before I decided to begin differently than I normally would.
“You both seem well in control of yourselves, despite my scent.”
“Our fathers taught us proper manners,” Aidan explained. Had I closed my eyes, I would have believed I still spoke with Kean, his voice just as deep and smooth. “You’re quite intoxicating, but we can behave ourselves…” He smirked. “For now.”
I wondered if his task was to make me lose my own control, or if he was a natural flirt. Either way, I looked down at my hands when my cheeks warmed again. “I appreciate your honesty.” I lifted my head and met Ciaran’s eyes. Though younger, he was the more serious of the two. He sat straighter and had yet to smile. “Had you heard much about me prior to your decision?”
“We had,” he nodded, his voice softer than Aidan’s. He kept his eyes on me for a few beats before he glanced down at the table between us. I tucked my legs beneath me to stop myself from squirming. “Our fathers wanted us to know as much about you as possible, to gauge our interest in you.”
“We had only seen a photograph of you two weeks ago, wasn’t it?” Aidan looked to Ciaran, who nodded. “We already liked you, but when we were finally allowed to see you, you were too adorable to refuse.”
“Do you always talk like this, Aidan,” I suddenly needed to ask, “or are you laying it on?” Ciaran made a noise that might have been a cough to cover a laugh, and Aidan frowned at him. I decided he just liked to flirt and felt badly for being so frank. “I’m sorry…”
“No need to apologize, my dear. I come off as abrasive to most I meet.” He tapped Ciaran’s knee and then sat further back.
I really liked these two: how easily Aidan spoke to me, how Ciaran looked at me. I looked to him for my next question. “Knowing what I am, without even seeing me, what made you ultimately decide to pursue this union?”
“I assume you mean regarding your human DNA?” I nodded, and he gave me a stern look. “Unlike many humans, and unfortunately some misguided Ina, our fathers and we know that one drop of blood cannot define you. You are more than just Ina, but you are Ina, and our children will be, too.”
Though he still had my question to answer, I knew then that I would choose him and Aidan as the fathers of my children. As controlled as they were, they couldn’t hide their attraction to me—not my ability to give them darker children or my fertility—and I don’t think they even tried to. They wouldn’t just be my mates. They would love me.
#
I lay in Dale’s bed that night as he slept. My thoughts kept me awake, so I pricked his hand and suckled it for something to do. For as long as I had lived, there had never been cause for alarm for more than burglars or strays. If there were more to the plane crash, if someone had targeted the Vetrovs because they courted me, then we were all in danger. I tried not to think like that. There had been nearly a century of peace since Momma’s families had been murdered. The Silks couldn’t legally attack us for another two centuries without being executed. My brothers hadn’t been harmed when they chose their female family. It had to be a coincidence.
“Ruby.”
Ciaran’s voice came as clearly as though he lay beside me instead of Dale. I sat up and hesitated for a full minute. Then, I left my symbiont to go downstairs to the front door. Ciaran stood there when I opened it. I stared up at him in shock, took his hand and pulled him inside, closing the door.
“You shouldn’t be here,” I said.
“You’re right.” In the dim light, his pupils throbbed. He stepped away. “I apologize. It was a moment of weakness.”
“Why did you call me? Anyone could have heard—”
The speed at which an Ina moves never surprised me, but the impact of my body smacking against the wall behind the door knocked the air from my lungs. When I inhaled, all I breathed was Ciaran, his body pressed to mine, his face against my shoulder as he scented my skin. I closed my eyes and relaxed into his touch, his fingers tracing my sides. I shuddered as he dragged his nose up my neck. He was aroused against my hip, and as much as I suddenly wanted him inside of me, I knew I couldn’t let him.
I forced myself to say, “You have to go.”
Ciaran sighed. I should have pushed him away then, but I wrapped my arms around his waist and rested my head against his chest. He ran a hand into my hair and held me tightly with the other.
“My fathers didn’t say it would feel like this,” he said, his voice hard with aggravation.
“There are so many others to contend with. I suppose they didn’t want you to hope for it, just to not have it happen.”
“I want you so badly.”
“You will have me. I will mate with you and your brother…but we have to wait.”
Ciaran held me tighter then, but he slowly broke away. I stroked his face and pulled it to me to kiss each cheek. He kissed my eyes and my nose, tiny pecks that did nothing for us but had to suffice. He pulled away from me, and I skirted around him to open the door.
Kean stood there. His eyes were fiery, his mouth firmly set. One glare from him, and Ciaran hurried back towards the guest house. I very rarely got into trouble and never adjusted to the feeling of guilt and fear when it rattled my stomach. Kean’s eyes were hard to read as he turned to look at me.
“I am glad you favor one of my sons so much, Ruby; however, you are in the middle of a process here. You have to act more responsibly. If you had bound yourself to Ciaran before giving the other families the honor of even thinking they have a chance, the consequences, though not dire, would be great. You are being watched very closely, and the last thing you want anyone to say was that you were unable to follow our ways.”
He was right. Too many people had tried to discredit Momma’s Ina blood. She spent most of her life after she lost her memory learning how to be Ina again and always followed the laws to prove she was more Ina than anyone else. I couldn’t ruin that.
“Forgive me, Kean.”
“Ciaran should know better as well. We must leave as soon as the sun sets tonight.” He nodded to me before he turned to leave. “Shower before your parents smell him on you.”

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