Burke stood in the doorway watching Alistair read to Waverly. He had put Pax to bed with a story, of valiant Kings and strong knights. Burke was in awe at the man’s paternal instincts. Granted, he had raised four children of his own already. Sometimes, he let the young face fool him. Alistair was much more mature than he would ever be, because he had the benefit of many more years on his life. Why was he so miserable all the time? “I can take him,” Burke said as he watched Alistair lift the sleeping child. “I’ll put him in his crib.”
“Thanks,” Alistair mumbled. He handed the toddler over to Burke and ran his fingers through his hair. He waited a few minutes for Burke to return, thinking only of one thing, his children’s safety.
“You look stressed, can you please relax for a minute? We can have a quickie if that’ll calm you down.”
Alistair glared at the man. “I’m not all about sex. Alright? So stop with that talk. It just shows your immaturity.”
“I get it,” Burke said, unbothered. “I’m not your age. But, whatever. I’m just trying to be here for you, because it seems like everyone else around you is so preoccupied. If I didn’t care about you, would I have waited so damn long? Would I have let you lead me on physically? I’m here putting your grand children to bed for crying out loud. Alistair, open your freaking eyes.”
“They’re open,” Alistair said angrily. “I see everything, and I wish I didn’t.”
Alistair walked over to the couch and slumped onto the floor. “Sometimes I just wish that I never left Sunlit Tides. If I would have stayed there, things wouldn’t be so bad.” Then he would certainly be dead by now. Probably married to Madelynn, with watcher knew how many kids. His father Apollo would be alive, but Ethan wouldn’t. He probably would have never seen his siblings again and his daughters would have never been born.
“You don’t mean that,” Burke mumbled pulling Alistair onto the floor, so that they were both lying flat. “You have a lovely family, and the people of Moonlight Falls look up to you.”
“And?” Alistair asked. “Declan might not have gotten so strong if it wasn’t for me. Damian would have still been the head master but Altiere wouldn’t have been awakened.”
“Everything that should have happened, happened,” Burke whispered. “It’s why I’m here, and why you’re here. Are you honestly saying that you can look into those children’s eyes and say you wish they didn’t exist? Because that’s about the equivalent.”
Alistair shut his eyes tightly and enjoyed Burke’s warm embrace. “No. I love them. I’d do anything to protect them. That’s why I’m here and not at that Castle. Because I don’t want to be the reason those kids don’t have a grandfather.”
Burke kissed the back of Alistair’s neck tenderly. “I love you. I’ll say it now, and I’ll say it again until you understand.”
“I can’t say it back,” Alistair mumbled. “I’m afraid.”
“So am I,” Burke whispered back. “But, we can figure this out together.”
“You don’t understand a single thing that I’m saying, do you?” Declan asked angrily.
“I understand, but your demands won’t be met by me. You have to remember who is really in charge,” Damian answered.
“Who is the King? Me. I’m not some powerless head master,” Declan spat.
“A powerless headmaster that was able to turn your entire life upside down. You sold your soul to me before you sold it to Altiere, remember that,” Damian said calmly. “We have other things to worry about, like them.” He pointed to Caleb, Nerissa and Graciela. “Last time I held someone prisoner here, an annoying mage came, saved the day and married the poor fool.”
Declan was still angry, but he wouldn’t let that anger get in the way of what he was planning. “But this time, we want those annoying supernaturals…” He smiled. “I’m looking forward to seeing at least one of my daughters again.”
“I’m sure they’ll return the sentiment.”
“Of course, I was good to them.” Declan let out a bitter laugh.
“You ready?” Charlotte looked over at her sister. Getting in was too easy, but she knew it was because Declan was inviting her inside. He wanted her here.”I don’t know what is going to happen, but things will be intense. Declan is here. You know that right?” Charlotte didn’t know how Astra had left off with Declan. She was his favorite, no doubt. He always coddled her. “He visited you in Lucky Palms. That was the last time you saw him.”
Astra nodded. “I’m not a baby.” But she could feel her anxiety rising. She remembered clear as day his last words to her. “I’ll be back. Don’t worry.”
Astra took in a deep breath. “Those were his last words to me.” She wondered what he would say if he saw her. Was he expecting her as well? All of this time, part of her couldn’t believe her father was betraying his family. She held onto the hope that it was some elaborate plan to help out the Grays.
“He will say a lot of nice things to you. You can’t fall for it.” Astra was looking away, obviously conflicted. “Astra. Look at me. This is important. that man is a good liar. He played us from the beginning. He was even able to convince dad to leave me and Ade with Altiere. Be careful.”
“I promise,” Astra said. “I won’t let him convince me to do anything.” She hoped…
“Hello ladies, welcome.” The girls looked up at the man.
“Damian,” Charlotte growled.
“I’ve heard so much about you, it’s a pleasure to finally meet face to face. I remember you as a baby, so precious and adorable.” Her glare was piercing but he seemed unperturbed. “Astra, is it?” He turned to the conflicted girl. “You can go into the next room. That’s where your father is waiting for you.”
Astra mouthed sorry to Charlotte and began to walk away. She needed to talk to him alone. With Charlotte there, she didn’t think she would get the honest truth. Charlotte tried to push passed Damian, who stood firm. “You’re not going anywhere, we need to have a chat.”
“That’s my sister,” Charlotte said angrily. “You’re going to let me through.”
“I will not hesitate to kill your daughter if you so much as even move another inch,” Damian said coldly.
Charlotte wasn’t happy about it, but she obeyed. “Don’t you dare hurt her. Tell me, what do you want from me?”
“I can’t just say hi to my granddaughter?” Charlotte knew that her mother, Aria, was Damian’s daughter. But she would never consider Damian her relative.
“I don’t care what the specifics are,” Charlotte said angrily. “You aren’t my grandfather and you will never be. So don’t pretend.”
“You can deny it all you want, but the blood doesn’t lie. You’re more me than you even know. You have your mother’s fiery attitude and hair, but you have my cunning and fearlessness. You didn’t even hesitate to come tonight, knowing exactly what would befall you.”
“Oh no, my intelligence is because of my father. My real father. Don’t you dare take credit for something like that,” Charlotte replied.
“Again, say what you will. But you are my grand daughter and so I will offer this only once.” Charlotte eyed the man. She already knew what her answer would be. No. Never make a deal with a crooked vampire. “Don’t write me off before I even tell you. This will be one that you will want to hear out.”
“Then please, enlighten me.”
“Your sarcasm is delightful. Have you noticed anything strange about your daughter lately? Talking about monsters lurking in the darkness perhaps?” He could see Charlotte’s demeanor change but she refused to answer him. “That is not in her head. The voices are there and they want to tempt her into the darkness. It is a terrible fate.”
“Let me guess, you want my daughter to stay with you? Because that’s not happening at all.”
“Oh no. That is not what I desire at all. I would like your help when the time comes. If you help me, I can keep the darkness at bay. If not, it will always haunt your daughter until the day she dies, and even then she has the opportunity to succumb to it.” Damian simply shrugged. “It is something to think about. When the time comes, you’ll know what I want. At that time, if you make the right choice, your daughter will be safe. If not, then her undoing will lay in your hands.” He motioned for her to leave. “Go ahead and see Declan.”
“Charlotte, what took you so long?” Declan stopped talking as he saw the girl walk into the room. “Astra?” He couldn’t hide the shock on his face. He never thought that Alistair would let her venture to him. They had promised each other to keep her sheltered. To protect her from the terrors of the world. This was the conversation they had once he returned from his visit to Lucky Palms. She should have stayed there, and away from all of this.
“Daddy,” She whispered, unable to contain herself. “It’s really you.” Stunned momentarily, they both stood in silence, staring at each other. “You look good without your hat on, you should wear your hair down more often.” Did she really just say that? It shouldn’t have been this awkward to talk to her dad. He seemed like such a stranger.
“Thank you, I was trying a new look.” They were both avoiding the elephant in the room. Finally, Declan gave in. “You must want to know why.”
“Nope.” She shook her head. “I don’t care. I thought I did, but seeing you now, I realize that I don’t care. Because I know, even if your intentions are bad, that doesn’t change who you are or what you’ve done for me in the past. Charlotte may say otherwise, but I don’t care. You were there when I felt like my heart was going to explode.”
He pulled her into a tight hug. “I want to thank you for that. Because even if you want to kill me and my whole family, I’ll remember what you did for me. Daddy, I’ll always love you. No matter what.”
But he couldn’t utter those words back to her. He could only embrace the girl whose life he had ruined. For what? Power and security? “I don’t regret what I did. I only regret having dragged you into it. You are truly the only light I have.”
“I don’t expect you to see me and change what you planned. I don’t expect us to be a family again. I just wanted you to know how I felt. I am tired of running from this feeling. So, if after this embrace you want to wage war on my family once again, go ahead. But know that this means war. I will not allow my feelings to stand in the way of what I want anymore. If I have to kill you to keep Dad safe, to keep my nieces and nephews safe, to keep my sisters safe…I will.”
Declan pulled away with a smile on his face. “I am so proud of you.” It was as if for that small second, she saw the man she once knew. But she also knew that the minute they pulled away from that embrace, he was a stranger to her.
“Auntie Astra!” The voice belonged to Graciela. Astra looked to see that she had been there the entire time. Had she been that focused on her father? “Is my mom okay?”
“She’s okay,” Astra said. “I’m here to save you. I promise.”
“You know that I cannot allow that.” Declan was back to business. She guessed it was too much to ask him to let her niece go.
“If it’s a war you want, Declan, it’s a war you’ll get,” Astra said finally.
“Declan?” He laughed, a small pitiful laugh. “As it should be. Now, back away from the cell, now.”
Astra didn’t back down. “Hey, I don’t know who you are, with the pink hair, but please keep the girls safe.”
“Of course,” Caleb answered. “With my life.” He couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing. He had just been thrust into a war between families. Much more than that, a civil war amongst the Grays, somehow? There was so much he didn’t know about the situation he was in. But he could only hope that this girl was on the good side. For now, he’d make sure that none of the girls next to him would get hurt.
“Uh oh,” Graciela whispered.
“What’s wrong?” Caleb asked.
“She’s a mage but I never saw her her use her powers before,” Graciela replied.
Astra readied her wand for an attack.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Charlotte said angrily. “Not another freaking obstacle. Move aside human. I have no patience right now.”
“I’ll only need a moment of your time.” Something about this man was off. He carried himself so confidently, as if he had no cares in the world. “Charlotte.”
“Move, now,” She said angrily. “I mean it. Now.”
“Ouch, so hostile. Do you know who I am?” He grinned. “Mason Moon.”
She stopped. Mason. The same Mason her father had continually warned her about. “You’re working for these idiots? Great.”
“Am I?” He shrugged. “We made an arrangement, and once I get what I want there’s no reason for me to linger unless the offer is sweeter than the one I already have. But don’t worry, I’ll be sure to inform you where my alliance stands.”
“What kind of a deal?” Charlotte asked. “You know what? No. Forget it. I’ll deal with you another time. I need to get to my child and my sister.”
“Fine, go ahead then.” Mason stepped aside with a wide smirk. “Tell Jeffrey I said hi and that he owes me. He’ll understand what I mean.”
“Excuse me?” Charlotte demanded. “What?”
“Is there not someone you need to see?” Mason waved her off. “We’ll meet again if I have anything to do with it. Until then, best of luck to you.”