8

For the next four days I read books, slept, and talked to my brothers on the phone. Camille kept me company when she wasn’t helping around the community. I was glad she had adjusted to everything, even with the chaos happening around us. I also liked that she could relate to my predicament, getting into so much trouble that I was grounded with security posted outside of my door.
“My mom was pissed when she found me with a boy once,” she confided in me. “She had been drinking most of the morning and half of the night, and she was a violent drunk, so…” She sighed and pulled her legs into her chest. “She beat the hell out of both of us, though he got away.”
“How old were you then?” I asked.
“Fourteen. The cops came that night, and I haven’t seen her since…I don’t think she even cares how I’m doing…Anyway, I know angry, and I think Shori’s more concerned for you.”
I rested my head against hers and sighed. “I hope she will come to understand.”
“You were desperate to keep your…guys.” I smiled. “I didn’t think love at first sight was real.”
The thought of Ciaran’s eyes, his scent, his need when we first looked at each other returned the need for me to feel him inside me again. I closed my eyes and licked the moisture back into my suddenly dry lips.
“What was it like?”
I lifted my head to look at Camille. “What?”
“He was your first Ina, right? It can’t be the same as with a human.”
“The sex?” Camille nodded. “Oh…Well, the parts are the same.” Camille chuckled. “But…for a little while I got to be a symbiont, bitten over and over, his venom running through my blood…” I rubbed my neck for a moment as I envisioned Ciaran suckling and kissing it, but I stopped. “Then, the taste of his blood…It’s different from a human’s but just as filling.”
“How…dark.” I chuckled and leaned my head against hers again.
#
We received clearance to travel up to New Brunswick on the fifth day of my restriction. We would be among the first group of families arriving throughout the week, living so closely to the Davescu manse. My mothers gave me an hour to pack before we drove to the airport. Not having spoken to me for the week I had been confined to my room, I didn’t expect my mother-Shori to speak to me ever again, and she stood in my door as I finished packing without a word.
We met Stacia and Jessica outside. Marta would stay behind with the children, and we, with the four symbionts we each chose to accompany us, drove up to the airport. The flight covered two hours, so I watched the clouds pass beneath us until we circled the acres of land the Davescus held and landed in Bathurst Airport. Even above it, the Davescu mansion looked vast, but once we arrived in front of it, it dwarfed us. The brick mansion was four stories high and covered more than an acre. Jakob Davescu stood as still as a marble statue at the top of the twelve steps leading to the front terrace. His light blonde hair glowed against the full moon, and his blue eyes sparkled as he smiled. He took the stairs and met us halfway.
“Be welcome, Matthews family and symbionts. I’ll show you to the eastern wing.”
“Thank you, Jakob,” Momma said as we followed him inside. “We understand you and your brothers have devised a good placement for everyone attending.”
“Yes, we certainly tried to keep each opposing party as far removed from each other as possible. The Gordons will be down the hall from you, as will the Ahkmatovas, Braithwaites, and Leontyevs.”
It had been a couple of years since we had visited Momma’s elderfathers. I couldn’t wait to see them again, though I knew to also expect a lecture. My second elderfathers showered us with gifts, but just as easily would scold us for doing wrong.
Jakob took us to our rooms in the east wing, and we all unpacked and got situated. My room was painted a soft indigo with a deeper blue paisley painted against it. The canopy in the center of the room was made of shining brass, with layers of cream curtains shielding the bed inside. All of the furniture was made from dark cherry wood and had brass handles carved in curving shapes that almost reminded me of Ina script. I walked to the bay window and sat against the softest cotton I’d ever felt. I closed my eyes with a sigh of relief I didn’t know I held.
“You look tired,” Heidi said as she approached me.
Thinking about it, I felt tired, too. “We don’t fly often.”
“Here.” Heidi offered me her wrist and stroked my hair when I took it graciously. I drank from her and sat back, feeling more or less the same. I think something in my face said as much. Heidi shared a strange look with Clint before looking to me again. “Why don’t you go to sleep, sweetie?”
I nodded. A rest would do me well, especially as we waited for our families and the others to arrive. As they left me, I traded my clothes for an oversized night shirt and crossed the room to the canopy. A small step ladder stood at the base, so I took it and crawled into the high bed on the other side of the curtains. Large pillows covered a third of the bed, and I sunk into them with another sigh and closed my eyes.
I didn’t expect to sleep for more than two or three hours, but Aidan awoke me, pulling away the curtains with a fierce snap. “You’re sleeping the night away, little mate,” he said as he crawled onto me. He sniffed my neck before he flicked it with his tongue, as though testing my skin.
“Aidan? How did you get here?”
“All mansions have secret tunnels, Ruby. No Ina would look in the fireplace.”
No one but my Aidan. I wanted to smile, but I paused in thought. “What time is it?”
“You should ask what day it is.” He unbuttoned my nightshirt and cupped my left breast. It felt sore, as though I’d slept on it awkwardly, and despite his gentleness, I winced. Aidan climbed off of the bed and crossed the room. “You slept through yesterday.”
“What?” I sat up too quickly and put a hand to my head as the bed swayed. “How? I’ve never slept that long.”
“Because you’re pregnant.”
“What?” I was disoriented and failed to produce better words, but I now understood why I felt so strange. The dizziness and disorientation came from near torpor, when an Ina had not fed for days. I missed one, and already my body was draining my energy for a life I just learned was inside of me.
A covered dish sat on the table beside the window. Aidan brought it to me and revealed a raw steak. Suddenly, it was the only thing I could think of. I tore away the first piece and nearly swallowed it whole before stuffing more into my mouth. Aidan sat back down, watched me with a smile on his face, and waited patiently. When I finished, he set the plate on the nightstand, pushed me gently back down, and licked the blood from my chin and neck. I hummed as he bit my breast and swirled his tongue around my nipple. After he sampled my blood, he then undid his jeans, adjusted himself and entered me. I hadn’t even realized how aroused I was, but I moaned louder than I wanted to from the jolts that ran down my legs and up my body.
“Shh, everyone will hear you,” Aidan whispered, chuckling into my ear.
For that, I bit into the nape of his neck. His shock was expressed with a gasp, and his voice melted into low, strangled hums as I drank of him. We were already close to the brink and writhed fast against each other until we pressed our mouths together to muffle our screams. As I lay there catching my breath and enjoying the exhaustion I felt, Aidan slid down to kiss my belly, flat as it would be for half of my term. I ran my hand through his red locks, and we shared a smile when he looked up at me. Then, he carried me to the bathroom where we showered and made love again. Afterwards, he lay on my bed while I dressed.
“Everyone should arrive just before sunrise tomorrow,” he informed me. “Your families are all here.”
“Where’s Ciaran?”
“He’s restricted to his room until the Council begins.”
“And you aren’t?”
He gave me a wicked smile. “I am, but I figured if I were to be punished, it needed to be for something more than being bitten, my dear.”
I nodded as I returned to bed. Aidan pulled me against him and laced his fingers through mine. I enjoyed the serene smile on his lips as he looked at the contrast. We lay there quietly for a time, and I thought of his fathers. “Will you defend them?”
When Aidan spoke, his voice was hard. “Our fathers knew what they were doing and that it could jeopardize our union with you. They taught us never to lie for anyone, and they lied to us. No.”
Families were killing each other, sending symbionts to kill. Fathers and sons were now fighting, too. We truly were at war. I wanted to know why and how it had come to this, why now.
“I wish none of this were happening.”
Aidan sighed and held me tighter. “So do I.”
There was a light knock on my door. Heidi’s voice came through. Aidan kissed my fingers, sat up, and craned down to kiss my abdomen again. “Perhaps this one will have red hair,” he whispered, “so we can populate the world with black and red Ina.”
I stifled a laugh and pulled his face to mine for another kiss before he grabbed his clothes and slipped away through the fireplace. Once the way was shut, I climbed down from the bed and crossed the room to open the door.
“You’re awake,” Heidi sighed and kissed me. “You slept forever.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“It’s okay…Do you know you’re pregnant?” I nodded, so she did, too.
She escorted me down the large corridor. The gold and jade runners along the floor portrayed leaves and flowers floating away in an imaginary breeze. Gold frames encased the mirrors and paintings on the walls. We passed my parents’ rooms and came to a parlor at the end of the hallway. My mothers and sister spoke with Konstantin and Vladimir Leontyev, my second elderfathers. Their eyes all turned to me. Heidi left me with them.
“My little Shori,” Konstantin said as he stood. I came to him, and he wrapped me in a warm hug.
“Hello, Konstantin. I have missed you.”
“And we you,” Vladimir said as he approached. I transferred into his embrace. “We have much to discuss, it seems.”
“Such as how Aidan Sullivan got into your room,” Stacia added. When I turned to look at her, she nodded with a soft smile. “His voice carries, child.”
“Places such as this have hidden entranceways. It’s not uncommon, nor is your behavior,” Vladimir added towards me. “You know the Sullivans are more involved than they would have us all believe, and you know when judgment comes down on them, their unmated sons could be taken away.”
“And now they have no unmated sons,” I said, indignant and proud of myself. Momma gave me a sharp look, which I met without hesitation.
“She refuses to see the gravity of these mistakes she continues to make,” she said to her elderfathers.
“And have you sat her down to explain, child?” Konstantin asked her. She looked at him, then lowered her head. “Right. Well, we can talk about the other matters after you have done so. Until then, we will be in our rooms. Stacia, Jessica.”
My mother-Stacia and Jessica obediently followed Konstantin and Vladimir out of the parlor so Momma and I could speak. For a minute, I thought she would remain defiant and not talk to me, but she patted the space beside her on the dais. I crossed the room and sat beside her, and she looked into my eyes with earnest and sincerity.
“I should have come to you earlier, but I was angry. Some things I forget I need to explain to you, such as the details of the potential consequences of what you did. People, Ina as well as humans, can be spiteful. We had to call the other prospective families to apologize and tell them you had already bonded with the Sullivans. Most of them were upset. If they choose to do so, they can ostracize us, tell their related families to do the same. Your children, even Marta and Jessica’s children could go unmated based on your reputation.”
“But that’s not fair,” I had to say.
“And do you believe what you did was?” I lowered my head, but Momma lifted my chin. “I was much younger than you when I met Daniel again, and he was the same age as Aidan, so he was far more mature. You and Ciaran are at such a difficult hormonal stage in your lives. I know it’s hard to control your feelings, and we could see the attraction between you two. Mistakes like this, however, have long-term effects, if the other families aren’t as forgiving as we would like.”
“I’m sorry, Momma.”
She stroked my cheek, then placed the same hand on my abdomen. “You’ll need at least two more symbionts. We anticipated your growth spurt first. I can’t imagine you’ll have a pleasant first season if it comes now.” She grew quiet for a moment. “I know you love them. I just hope, for you, that they had no part in this feud.”

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