Vampire Ash by Heather Renee

Chapter 1

Six daysof living in hell was the only way I could describe my time spent since Silas drained most of the blood from my body. Something I planned to never let happen again.

Rachel had given me a transfusion, assuming since I was technically human that there wouldn’t be a problem as long as she used the right blood type. She’d been wrong. My body had been furious about the intrusion of the foreign blood and seemed determined to make me pay for my actions.

First, there had been body chills so severe that my back spasmed uncontrollably and I couldn’t get out of bed. Then came the fainting and dizziness, followed by a fever that rose so high, my muscles seized up for a solid day until I spent two hours in an ice bath to lower my temperature.

Rachel and Nikki were by my side through every wave of torture. My appreciation for them had grown tenfold while my feelings for Maciah had become muddled.

He hadn’t come to see me. Not a single time. I should have expected it after the way he’d walked away from me once Silas was gone.

I didn’t want to admit it out loud, but I was hurting. My chest tightened every time I heard heavy footsteps coming down the hallway, and my heart formed another crack when Maciah didn’t appear in my doorway.

Though, whatever was happening between us—whatever he was upset about—would be figured out today. I’d woken up feeling normal for the first time in days. Maciah couldn’t ignore me any longer. Not until I’d said my piece.

The sound of Rachel humming caught my attention as I headed to my closet. The tune was low and something I wouldn’t have been able to hear just a week ago. My senses had been heightened over the last few days, and I wasn’t sure that was a good thing.

“Good morning, Sunshine,” Rachel called from the doorway.

“Morning. I’m getting dressed,” I replied from inside my closet.

She jumped onto my bed and lay down, propping her head up with both hands while watching me.

“Creeper,” I joked while looking for a shirt to wear. I’d been mostly unclothed while I was recovering. I wanted to find an outfit to lift my mood and make me feel good before I left my room.

She scoffed. “I’m pretty sure after all the times I’ve seen you naked, we’ve entered into official bestie zone, which means there can be no creepiness about me or my actions.”

She really wasn’t wrong about that.

“I was coming to see what you wanted for breakfast. Are you sure it’s a good idea to be out of bed already?” Rachel asked as I slipped a black V-neck ribbed sweater over my head. February had arrived, and it was cold as hell outside, so long sleeves for the win.

“I promise I’m all better. No fever, aches, or nausea since yesterday afternoon. I’m done being cooped up in this room. It’s time to get things done.”

She sat up, eyes wide. “Like what?”

“I need to speak with Maciah first and decide the rest after. If he wants to ignore me over the fact that I saved his nest by offering up my blood, then I’m not staying here.”

I wouldn’t lie to myself and pretend the thought of leaving didn’t hurt. I’d grown to care for these vampires over the last month of living with them. I trusted them, but I needed all of them to do the same in return. If Maciah couldn’t have confidence in my choices, there was no point in letting my feelings for him continue to grow, no matter how much I wanted him while in his presence.

“You’d really leave knowing that there are plenty of people out there who want you dead?” Rachel asked, worry lacing her words.

I shrugged after buttoning my favorite jeans. “I’ve been killing vampires for a long time now. This is bigger than anything I’ve been faced with, but I know how to be careful. Plus, none of the bloodsuckers that want me dead are close now that Silas got what he wanted.”

Rachel bit her lower lip and looked away from me.

“What is it?” I asked while stepping into my black boots.

“Well, we might have heard something yesterday that I didn’t tell you about yet.”

I finished pulling up the zippers and stalked toward her, my heels clicking on the hardwood floors as I moved. “And that would be what?”

“Maciah was going to talk to you about it,” she said.

I glanced around the room, shrugging my shoulders. “Doesn’t look like he’s followed through on that, so why don’t you?”

She sighed. “I probably should have rethought being besties with you. It’s going to get me kicked out of the house again.”

“Then, you can help me find a new safe house after we both leave. There really is no wrong choice to make here, Rach. Just tell me what you guys heard.”

Her eyes lit up at the idea of us staying together. Even though that might have sounded exciting in the moment, I knew she’d miss this nest too much to really enjoy living with me for the long term. Rachel wasn’t meant to live a life like I had before they found me.

“Okay, fine, but there are no takebacks on that promise.”

I held my pinky up to indulge her. “Pinky promise.”

She jumped up from the bed and squealed as her finger hooked around mine. “So, we got word from another vampire group in Europe that Dmitri is furious about his pseudo-brother being killed. Apparently, they made moves as soon as they got news of Rigo’s death. They’re closer than any of us realized, and he wants vengeance from the whore who killed his brother. His words, not mine obviously.”

None of that surprised me. I had a feeling that would be something we’d have to deal with eventually. I just didn’t think Dmitri would be acting so soon. Clearly, I’d been wrong about assuming he had more control over himself than Rigo.

“They don’t know who we are, though, so we have time,” I said. I’d rather be more focused on killing Silas before he became more powerful than anyone else who wanted me dead.

She sat cross-legged on the bed. “That wasn’t all we heard. Someone got video of you and Maciah running to the car that picked the two of you up. They know who Maciah is. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out who you are, if they haven’t already.”

My jaw clenched and teeth ground together. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about with Silas, Viktor, and Maciah. Why not add a fourth pain-in-my-ass to the mix. It was as if I was creating my own harem of pissed-off vampires. Look at me go.

“I’m going to go talk to Maciah now,” I said.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

My breath hitched at the thought of seeing him after almost a week apart, and her question made me hesitate, but only for a second. I needed to do this. I didn’t hide from my problems. I faced them head on, even when they made my stomach feel like it was filled with concrete.

It didn’t matter that I’d thought we would all work together. I couldn’t count on that any longer. The idea had been nice for the few weeks it lasted, but I should have known better. I’d allowed hope in, but I wasn’t going to let the disappointment that Maciah might be just like everyone else crush me.

Nobody would ever have that power over me again.

“It’s a great idea, and I’d like to do so by myself. Do you know if he’s alone in his office?” I asked.

She nodded. “At least he was when I passed by on my way to see you.”

Good. That was what I needed. Just me and Maciah. There was no reason to make a scene. We’d talk, and I’d make some decisions. Nothing more, nothing less.

“I’ll see you after I’m done.” I went to my dresser and tucked a stake into each of my boots before I left. Given that I didn’t know where I stood with Maciah any longer, I was back to being paranoid about the other vampires. I wouldn’t attack unless provoked, but I also wouldn’t be unprepared.

I waved to Rachel as I left my room. She was still sitting on my bed, concern creasing around her eyes. I couldn’t deny that I was worried as well. With every step I took down the hallway, breathing became harder and my heart beat faster than normal.

By the time I arrived at his door, my palms were sweaty, and I had to wipe them over my jeans. I thought I’d mentally prepared myself for this moment, but that obviously wasn’t the case. Regardless, I was there, and I wasn’t turning back.

My knuckles rapped lightly on the wooden door, and it cracked open, allowing me to view Maciah before he saw me.

He was sitting on the couch with his head in his hand, fingers tangled in his long hair. His dress shirt was untucked, and there were suit jackets and ties strewn across the cushions behind him.

Maciah’s head slowly lifted, and our gazes locked as I stepped into the room, closing the door behind me. He had dark circles under his creased eyes, telling me he hadn’t been properly feeding since I’d last seen him. I tried not to be happy that he looked miserable, but I couldn’t deny a small part of me was glad to see I wasn’t the only one affected by our time apart.

His nearly black eyes appraised me, causing chills to run over my skin. “Amersyn.” His voice was low and full of heartbreak.

I wanted to go to him, to hold him and make all this hurt between us stop, but that wasn’t why I was there. Maciah’s absence had spoken volumes. He’d made a choice just like I had, and I needed to stay strong, no matter how out of control my emotions were getting by seeing him again. For now, I was going to blame the heightened senses I’d been experiencing the last few days.

“We need to talk,” I said with an even tone.

“I was going to come see you today. I thought you weren’t able to get out of bed?” he asked without getting up from the couch.

“I’m better now. Can we talk, or are you busy?” I needed to get to the point before I forgot what I’d come here for.

Maciah stood from the couch. His shoulders were slumped, and his stride was sluggish. He made it behind his desk and took a seat. His hand brushed dark strands of hair behind his ear before looking up at me. “What did you want to talk about?”

I sat across from him, steeling my resolve to remain detached with my words and reactions. I wouldn’t feel bad for him. I’d been the one stuck in bed for days, the one who had almost sacrificed herself for freaking vampires.

Maciah had every opportunity to come to me if he’d been regretting his decision to walk away. Any hurt he was feeling was his own fault.

“I’d like to know what you’ve found out while I’ve been recovering,” I said, leaving out the fact that Rachel had already filled me in a little bit.

“Is that all?” he asked, sounding almost hopeful.

“There isn’t anything else to discuss, is there?” I asked in return.

He leaned forward, gripping the arms of his chair. “I guess not,” he snapped.

Mood swings much?

He didn’t get to be mad at me. I’d done nothing wrong. I wasn’t going to put up with his attitude, especially not after the week of torture I’d been through.

“I came here hoping to have a civil conversation with you, but if you’re still pissed at me, then maybe it’s best I left,” I said, hating the words as they came out of my mouth.

“How did you think I was going to feel after you almost got yourself killed?” he sneered.

“Better than having everyone die because we were severely outnumbered, but that’s not why you’re mad, is it?” I asked, because I wasn’t sure if he even understood why he was angry.

Maciah’s eyes narrowed as he crossed his arms, staying silent.

“Let me see if I can clear this up for you. The plan didn’t go the way you expected and that made you upset. You tried to gain control of the situation, but Silas had us in a lose-lose spot, further infuriating the leader in you. Me, someone who is supposed to be yours to protect, ended up doing the protecting. An action that scared and confused you. Maybe you didn’t know how to process those emotions, so you settled on wrath. When you didn’t know who to be mad at, you chose to blame me, the one who stopped a massacre from happening in your nest. Sound about right?”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” Maciah spat through gritted teeth.

“I think I do. Except, I didn’t expect this kind of reaction from you. Not for as long as you’ve dragged it out. I thought you had more sense. I thought you cared about me and respected me, but I was wrong.”

My fury rose as I continued to speak. Time hadn’t made any of this better. Maciah wasn’t the leader I thought he was. I wouldn’t sit here and argue with him. Not when I had more important things to worry about, like staying alive.

Some of the rage deflated out of him as his eyes lightened and he let out a soft sigh. “I still care about you, Amersyn.”

I scoffed. “You have an odd way of showing it.”

“You didn’t listen to me. I could have figured something else out. Instead, you put yourself in danger. How did you think that was going to make me feel?” His voice rose, but he wasn’t yelling. The tone was filled with anguish.

“I expected you to trust me. I’m sure you think I’m an irrational hunter who doesn’t know what she’s doing, but I knew the choice I was making, and it was the right one. If you can’t see that by now, then I’m not sure you ever will. The only reason I’d chosen to stay here was because I thought we could be a team. I was wrong, and that changes things.”

He stood and turned away from me. My throat burned with heavy emotions. This wasn’t what I wanted. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but I didn’t like the reality.

I moved to leave. I’d been through enough suffering as of late.

As I stood, Maciah finally spoke while staring out the window. “You were right.”

“Excuse me?” I turned to face him again, needing to be sure I’d heard him correctly.

“You made the right choice for the nest, but it wasn’t the right one for you and I thought you were going to die. I failed to protect you, Amersyn.” He twisted back toward me, eyes bright with emotions I couldn’t identify.

“You might have been called to be my protector, but that doesn’t only mean you’re tasked with keeping me safe. It also means that you’re supposed to support me, guide me, and stand by my side, even if I make a choice that you don’t necessarily agree with.”

When he didn’t say anything, I continued.

“Keeping me safe isn’t always going to be possible, and if you can’t accept that, then we’re done here. I won’t deal with whatever is currently happening every time things don’t go our way, because I guarantee you that’s going to happen several times over. There are three more vampires after me. Nothing about the choices we’ll have to make in the near future will be simple. I need you to trust me like you did when I killed Rigo on my own.”

Maciah closed the distance between us. His steps were sure and steady. I was standing in front of the chair and looking up at him as he reached for me.

The coolness of his touch caused shivers to race down my body and cracked open the fissures that had been forming in my heart since our time apart. I’d missed him more than I’d let myself believe.

“I do trust you, and I don’t want to be done with you. I don’t want you to leave. I’m sorry I didn’t come see you. I was ashamed and didn’t want to face the hurt I’d caused by not supporting you,” Maciah said, pulling me toward him.

I hesitated and kept a distance between us as I held my stance firm. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to respond to him. It was exactly what I’d wanted him to say, but I’d hoped for those words days ago.

He had made me care and then abandoned me. By the way my body and emotions still reacted to him, I knew he held a power over me that could crush my heart. I’d made myself a promise that I wouldn’t ever let that happen again. Yet, even as I stood there wanting to walk away, I couldn’t find the strength to pull out of his hold.

His grip tightened around my hands. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“But you did.”

“I’m more regretful of that than anything else. Can you find a way to give me a chance to fix this?” he asked, eyes darkening once again.

My first thought was to answer with no, but things weren’t that simple. Maciah wasn’t another hunter, and I wasn’t exactly human. This was different from my past. I could admit that to myself. My feelings toward him were stronger than anything I’d experienced before.

A part of me believed that Maciah wasn’t lying, that he was truly apologetic for his choices, but if I forgave him for abandoning me when I needed him most, then what did that mean for me?

I could be setting myself up for future hurt, and I wasn’t about that. I’d had enough of that in my life. It was the reason I’d always kept people at a distance. I hadn’t expected to worry about these emotions with vampires.

I didn’t expect to care so much.