Chapter 9

"Natalie, pay attention!"

I jumped, turning to look at the demon sitting in the chair in my room.

I frowned. "Sorry. I'm trying, really."

Nathan sighed. "You need to learn this stuff if you're going to be able to control yourself. It's not something Marcus can teach you, only another demon, so it's got to be me."

I knew that. Really, I did. He'd been trying to teach me about my power and controlling magic and crap like that for the last week, ever since I'd suddenly become Alintha's daughter. It was interesting, and I tried to pay attention. Really, I did. It was just easy to get distracted lately, and Nathan had been making me jumpy ever since I'd come back from Jacob's house. It was like there was this voice in my head screaming that he was a demon. He was trying to hurt me. I tried to push it away, knowing that it wasn't true, but it was a little hard to ignore.

"I'm sorry, Nathan. It's just really hard to pay attention to any one thing right now. There's suddenly so much going on around me."

It was true. I could suddenly hear conversations in the kitchen, and the sounds of sewing upstairs. Even noises from outside of Marcus' private wing. It was unnerving, to say the least.

"And if you would simply learn about these shields I'm trying to teach you, the noise would be less bothersome."

"It's not just noise, though. It's ... everything. It's all different."

He nodded. "And you'll get used to it in time, I'm sure." He chuckled softly. "You certainly have plenty of time to adjust now, between Marcus' mark and your own identity." He started to talk again, but I really wasn't paying any attention. Finally he sighed, giving up. "All right, Natalie. Go find Marcus."

I stood up, grinning. "Thank you, Nathan. I'm sorry I can't concentrate."

"It's fine. Not your fault. Maybe the vampire can knock some sense into you."

"Natalie," Marcus said, surprised when I showed up in his study. "I thought you were studying with Nathan."

I shrugged. "I was, but I can't really pay attention, so he sent me to you and hoped you could knock some sense into me."

He smiled. "You couldn't pay attention?"

I shook my head. "No, I couldn't."

"Were you thinking about something else?"

"No, I just can't get used to these senses. I can smell things I've never smelled before, and Nathan smells very much like a demon. It's distracting."

He gestured for me to sit on the couch next to the desk where he sat. "Distracting? Because he's a demon?"

I nodded. "It's like there's suddenly this instinct that says I can't sit in the same room as him. He's a demon, so he either wants to use me, own me, or kill me. I know that's not true, but that little voice in the back of my mind keeps saying that it is. It makes it very hard to focus."

"Do you get that sensation around me?"

I shook my head. "No, but you smell very much like vampire, and it's a surprisingly similar scent."

"So why do I not bother you but he does?"

I shrugged. "I don't know."

"How do you feel around me as compared to him?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"If I am to figure out how to keep you focused around Nathan, I need to figure out exactly why you react to him."

I sighed. "Well, with you I feel safe. I feel like you'll protect me from any harm." I laughed cynically. "This all sounds insane, like something from those crappy romance novels."

He shook his head. "No, it makes sense. I've already marked you as mine. It means I'm allowed to do what I want with you, and the demon in you acknowledges that. Nathan doesn't have any claim like that." He stood up and held out his hand for me to take. "Come, let's go visit Nathan together, and see if we can't find a way for this to work."

I looked at his hand, then took it slowly. What he'd said made sense, but it bothered me. I was his? I knew that, of course, but why did that make me feel safe? It should have made me feel nervous, edgy around him.

He led me back to my room, where Nathan was still sitting, thinking. I waited for that little voice to resume its protests, but nothing happened. Marcus led me to my bed, where he let go of my hand. As soon as he stopped touching me, that nagging started back up, though not nearly as loudly as it had been earlier.

I grabbed Marcus' hand again, and the voice quelled. Marcus frowned down at me, and I lowered my gaze. "It started again."

He sighed. "Well, I suppose we can take that as a good sign."


Nathan studied us carefully. "What is it?" he asked.

Marcus ignored him, answering my question instead. "It means you won't be weak-minded. If you're trying to put up a fight now, you won't be too timid around an enemy. You won't be so easily dominated as some might hope."

"What's going on?" Nathan asked again. We both ignored him.

"But why would people want to dominate me?"

Marcus sighed. "As the Daughter of Alintha, you will have inherited her powers when she died. That means you are the only demon able to control the dead. You are the new Queen of Spirits."

"And this matters why?"

"Because spirits are the only creatures the demons cannot control one way or another. They may not be able to rule the vampires or the angels or the shifters, or anything else in the common sense of the word, but they can negotiate with them. They can play to temptation, exchange one favor for another. Befriend them, even, as Nathan has done with me. Ghosts, zombies, spirits of the dead in any form, don't acknowledge that kind of relationship. They are uncontrollable by any means. Many demons would kill to have your power. Since they can't do that, they will try to control you instead. That's why Nathan needs to teach you the basics, so that you can figure out the rest on your own, and will hopefully be able to defend yourself when I can't."

"But he can't teach me anything if I'm reacting like this around him," I protested.

"Exactly. Which is why I'm going to join you in your lessons."

"What?" Nathan asked, surprised as he and I both stared at Marcus.

Marcus nodded, then finally decided to explain everything to Nathan. "She's reacting to the fact that you're a demon, like a female leopard would react to a dominant male. That's why she's having such a hard time concentrating around you. It goes away when I'm touching her."

"That makes sense," Nathan said, looking at me, clearly pleased with the discovery. "I'm surprised I didn't realize it sooner. I guess it just never crossed my mind."

Marcus nodded, but didn't say anything to that. "So what do you say we try this arrangement today, and see if it works better than what we've been doing. Then we can set up a schedule so I can arrange my meetings accordingly."

"Meetings?" I asked.

"What do you think being a Vampire Lord entails? I'm now in charge of keeping the peace among all vampires. That means I have to attend trials and punishments left, right, and center."

"Oh. Sounds depressing."

He nodded. "It is sometimes. Now, on with the lesson."

That first lesson went perfectly. I sat wrapped in Marcus' arms as Nathan taught me various techniques and consequences, and I gradually found myself able to start doing small things with magic.

The lessons went on for weeks, and I found out interesting facts about my family, too. Apparently my biological mother was a bit of a sweetheart, despite being a demon. Nathan had had a crush on her once, when he was still growing up. At that point she'd been a full-grown demon for almost a century, though, and had no interest in him. She'd been one of the ones to help him learn control, so he found it ironic that now he was helping her daughter with the same thing.

I also looked like her now. Marcus found an old painting of her in one wing or another of his castle-like mansion. When I'd come into my power ... her power ... apparently I'd gotten her looks too. My hair was the same as hers, my nose had the same little turn-up at the end. Her eyes had the same onyx glint that mine now had.

And that smile ...

That I'd had from the start. With its little tilt to the side as I smirked, as she smirked. The way it tugged on the corners of my eyes - of her eyes - whether I really felt the grin or not.

Nathan said she could have ruled the world with that smile, and that smile alone. I didn't believe him. No one could rule the world with their smile, even if it was actually the most beautiful thing. Hers wasn't, just as mine wasn't.

And Marcus and I grew closer and closer as my lessons went on. We often ended up just sitting and talking about things for a while after Nathan had left. Sometimes we would discuss the lesson of the day. Sometimes he would tell me about his current business in the vampire community. Sometimes, still, we would talk about my past, my family, both the one I knew and the one I didn't. He also started pulling down books from his library, and certain articles on the internet, and we would sit down while he taught me certain things about various species.

So we got to know each other very, very well. I learned exactly what made him mad, and he knew what topics upset me. I found out how to make him drop his mask set in place for the general public, and he found out exactly how to cheer me up.

Nathan decided to cancel our lessons one day, and since Marcus already had the period away from his vampire business, we went wandering outside for a while. It was my first time outside of his house since I'd gotten there. Other than when Jacob had taken me, of course.

"Natalie," he started, shifting uncomfortably. "There's something I've been meaning to talk to you about for a couple of days now."

I frowned, eying him suspiciously. "What?"

"There's a party that I'm required to attend. I am to bring one guest."

"And?" I prompted.

"I'd like you to come with me."

"Okay. Why do you seem so hesitant about it?" I asked, confused.

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, after what happened last time, I thought you might not want to ... you know. Do it again."

I laughed, flashing the smile I'd gotten from my mother. "Last time I didn't know hardly anything. I've learned so much more. Besides," I added, wrapping my hands tauntingly around his neck, "I can't accidentally offend the Lord of the Vampires this time, can I?"

He grinned, taking the invitation to wrap his arms around my waist. "Good. I'm glad you think that way. I was worried that you wouldn't want to get back up on the horse after your last tumble."

"I don't quit that easily."

His grin dwindled slightly. "Just don't get overconfident. You might not end up offending the Lord of the Vampires, but there will be other leaders at this party, and no one has yet to discover that Alintha's daughter has surfaced. You'll be getting a lot of attention, not all of which will be good."

I nodded. "Marcus, what else would I expect? I'm not an idiot, you know. I didn't expect you to have told the world about me. It's not your style. That means I'll be a surprise at this party, your trump card of sorts."

He blinked, looking down at me with surprise. "I wasn't even planning on using you like that."

I turned in his arms, wrapping my hands around his and leaning back against his chest. "You may not have been planning it, but that's how it's going to end up working." He stiffened. "Don't worry," I said, chuckling lightly. "I don't mind."

He tucked his face in the hollow beneath my jaw, tilting my head to make room for his. "You know, a few months ago you wouldn't have been so calm about this," he said, his warm breath tickling my skin and stopping my breath briefly.

"I've changed, Marcus. A lot."

He smiled, kissing my neck. "I know. Believe me, I don't mind." His voice was husky, and his grip around my waist tightened.

I closed my eyes and tilted my head further back, letting it lay limply on his shoulder. "Why do you say it like that?" I asked, my voice low.

He growled, the vibrations striking a nerve and sending sparks through my entire body. "Have you looked in the mirror lately?" he asked.

"No," I said jokingly. "What would I see?"

He licked my neck, and I gasped, my grip on his wrists tightening, forcing him to hold me closer yet. "You would see a beautiful, mysterious, powerful young woman, with all the confidence of an aged vampire."

I smiled lazily and turned my head to look at him. "Are you trying to seduce me, Marcus?"

He grinned and kissed me on the cheek. "I do believe I am. Do you have a problem with that?"

I licked my lips. "Not particularly, no."


The door opened suddenly, and Maria came running in, a frantic look on her face. "Master, I'm so sorry to interrupt, but it's Adriana. Something's wrong!"

He pulled away from me instantly, and ran back inside so quickly all I saw was a blur. I ran after him, surprisingly quickly, and the two of us left Maria in the dust, so to speak.

We found Adriana lying on the floor, a fevered sweat causing beads to form on her forehead. "Adriana," Marcus shouted, rushing to her side and kneeling on the floor. "It's gripped her too far." He carried her into the nearest bathroom and set the girl in the tub, running cold water while Maria fetched some ice. "If the fever doesn't lessen soon, she might die."

"Can you do anything?" I asked, clutching my arms around my torso as a sudden chill washed over me.

He shook his head. "I don't know."

"Can't you give her blood or something?" I asked. "That's what you did for me, isn't it?"

He nodded. "That worked for you, yes, but you have a much better immune system. Hers hasn't fully developed yet, and her heart would reject the blood."

Wrinkles formed on my forehead as I lifted my brows in worry. "There has to be something you can do. Turn her. Something!"

He shook his head. "If I turned her, she'd be stuck as a child for eternity. It's more of a punishment."

"Then let her decide what she wants to happen when she comes to! Give her a chance. Please!"

"Natalie, in this state, she might not even survive being turned."

"But you have to try something," I protested. "You can't just let her die like this."

"What do you want me to do, Natalie?" he shouted, whirling around to face me.

"I don't know. Something. Anything."

"Natalie, my options are to hope that she heals on her own, turn her and hope she somehow manages to survive that, or give her my blood, which will kill her. What is it that you want me to try?"

I threw my hands in the air, exasperated. "You're a vampire. Can't you heal or something? Isn't that one of the skills you're supposed to possess?"

He shook his head. "No, not when they're this close to -" He stopped and looked at me. "Natalie, you're brilliant. You can heal her."


"She's so close to death, I can't really do anything. But you control the spirits. Call her back before she's too far gone."

My eyes widened, and I backed away. "I don't -"

"Natalie, it's the only thing that has a chance of working. Try it."

"I don't know how."

He held out his hand, and I stepped forward to take it. "Remember Nathan's lessons. You know how to work your magic, now it's time to experiment a little."

I nodded, taking a deep breath as I calmed down. I closed my eyes, and tried to look for the girl's spirit, but I couldn't see anything but the back of my eyelids. "I can't find her."

"Try opening your eyes."

"Oh." I did, and the room was alight with swirling colors. Marcus was a bright blue beacon, while the girl beneath me was a fading green. "Adriana," I whispered, kneeling next to the tub and taking the girl's hand. The green flared briefly, then faded again. "Adriana, come back to me." Nothing happened. "Come on, Adriana. Help me out here. I don't really know what I'm doing."

There was no response. I looked up at Marcus, and he nodded, encouraging me to continue. "Try reaching for her spirit with your power."

I nodded and did as he said, watching as red tendrils of power flowed slowly from my hand and into Adriana's green blur. The red tentacle wrapped itself around Adriana's spirit and tightened until the girl's eyes opened, and the green flared back to life, burning as brightly as Marcus' blue spirit was.

"Adriana?" I asked, looking down at the girl.

"Natalie?" she said, surprised. "Where's Maria? What's going on?"

"You got really sick. Don't you remember?"

She shook her head. "No. The last thing I remember was Maria teaching me how to make my own button holes. Why? What happened?"

Marcus touched her forehead gently. "Her fever's broken. You did it, Natalie."

Maria came rushing in the door, a bucket of ice in her hands. "Oh," she muttered, then she dropped the bucket and rushed over to the girl in the tub. "Thank god," she muttered, stroking the girl's ratty hair. "Oh, thank you Marcus, thank you."

He smiled. "Don't thank me. It was all Natalie."

Her eyes widened, and she turned to look at me, still clutching Adriana. "You?"

I nodded.

"Thank you, Natalie. How can I ever repay you?"

I smiled. "No worries. I'm glad I could help, even if I don't think I could do it again."

"Sure you could," Marcus said. "Oh, and Maria? Natalie will need a new dress for the ball. Make one, or take her shopping. You know what I like."

She nodded vigorously, beaming at the two of us. "Oh, of course. We'll go shopping tomorrow. Eh, if that's okay with Natalie, of course."

"Oh, yes! That sounds like a great idea." That sounded like fun, actually. I was never really one to like shopping much, but I'd been cooped up in the same house for months. It would be nice to get out for once.

"The usual budget doesn't apply," Marcus said, smiling at me. "She can get whatever she wants, as long as I'd approve."

Maria nodded. "Yes, m'lord. Thank you for your help, both of you. I can handle it from here. You can go back to whatever it was you were doing before I had to interrupt," she said, blushing slightly as she looked at me.

Realizing what it was she was talking about, my cheeks started to burn. "Oh, uh-"

"Come on Natalie," Marcus said, holding his hand out to me. "Let's go get your practice for the day done and over with. Wouldn't want to upset Nathan, would we?"