A Matter of Loyalty

Chapter One: Silence

Gasping, I sat up and shuddered, my breath coming in a heaving lungful as I pushed the sheets away. They were wrapped around me and I pushed with my feet until the covers formed a messy lump at the end of my bed.

For a long moment, I sat there shaking in the darkness of my room, disorientated and unsettled. Slowly, I unwrapped my arms from around my body and turned my head to look at the glowing numbers of the clock on my bedside table.

It was only one in the morning and I was now wide awake.

Letting out a frustrated sigh, I ran a hand through my messy hair and slid my feet to the floor. I yawned as I stood but I knew there would be no more sleep for me tonight. I opened my bedroom door silently and crept towards the kitchen.

My parents' door was shut as I passed it but I knew there was no chance of them coming out to see if I was okay. After the first week of sleepless nights they'd given up and decided that I would sort through whatever was troubling me on my own. My mouth twisted into a grimace as I flicked the button on the kettle and began gathering the things I needed to make tea. I replayed that thought in my head. Whatever was troubling me.

I wasn't entirely certain myself. Almost every night since I'd returned from Germany, I'd woken up terrified. I didn't remember my dreams but it didn't take a psychiatrist to work out that I wasn't coping too well in the aftermath of the events of last semester.

Strangely, I suspected that I was having a hard time dealing with what had happened because I was so isolated now. My parents, out loud at least, appeared to think that I was suffering from extreme jet lag. What they didn't know was that every time I closed my eyes I pictured Will's face as he slid the knife into my stomach.

The teaspoon clattered from my hand to the bench as I stood there, struggling to breathe.

It took me a moment but eventually I dragged in a lungful of air, my arms wrapped protectively around my perfectly healed stomach. It didn't make me feel any less suffocated though. Straightening, I ran my hands through my hair as a couple of frustrated tears escaped my eyes. This should be getting easier, not harder.

I should be over this already but I just wasn't.

Suddenly, the house seemed claustrophobic and I wanted out. Before I could rethink it, I'd changed into a pair of jeans and a sweater and was walking along the side of the road, the boiling kettle abandoned. I just felt so betrayed.

Will was supposed to be my friend. We'd spent hours talking and he'd always been there for me when I'd needed him. Yet he'd been the one to stab me simply because I'd gotten in the way of his plans, whatever they'd been.

I felt hollow; like everything was falling down around me and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Frustrated anger welled inside me as I thought of how much I'd trusted Will. If it hadn't been for Chase being at the castle that night, I would be dead right now. There was just no escaping that fact and there was certainly no excusing it. For a moment, I suddenly wished that Chase would find Will and kill him.

But guilt followed closely on the heels of my anger and I felt bad for wishing that upon Will. Shaking my head, I decided I just wanted to know why. That was all. Will wasn't crazy and he wasn't a randomly murderous person; he must have had a reason for doing what he did.

Zander was his maker and Will honestly seemed to believe that Zander had deliberately decided to take away Will's human life in a brutal and traumatic way, even though that hadn't been the way it happened.

Still, in my mind that wasn't even enough of an excuse. Four years Will had been a vampire. In all that time, he'd never asked Zander why he'd done that to him. That was the fact that confused me the most.

No matter how I looked at it, I always arrived at a brick wall. I had a suspicion that it was a question that would never be answered. After all, Will had to die. There was no other course of action available and I knew that.

He'd gone way past stepping over the line when he'd blatantly attacked someone who was under allegiance to Chase Laliberte, even if he hadn't known it at the time. No matter what Will's knowledge or reasoning had been at the time, his life was forfeit. I'd seen it already with the shifters who'd tried to kidnap me from the academy and I would see it again with Will.

That thought didn't fill me with happiness, even considering what he'd done to me. I discovered I just didn't have the disposition for vengeance. I'd leave that to Chase.

Looking around, I realised I'd passed the small shopping centre near my house already and I had nowhere to go in this direction but towards the dark residential street. It didn't take me very long to realise how stupid I was being.

After everything that had happened to me while I'd been living a fairly cautious lifestyle here I was strolling down a dark street in a fit of anger. A shiver worked its way down my spine and I tried to convince myself I was being paranoid.

Opting for safety, I crossed the road and skirted the edge of the brightly lit shopping centre on the way back to my house. There was no movement in the area; not at one in the morning. The security lights were on though so it was easy to spot the sole car in the vicinity.

I realised uncomfortably that there was a man inside who looked to be about thirty. He was sitting in a fairly new car at the edge of the car park and unless I wanted to be completely obvious about my nervousness, I was going to have to walk right by the front of his shiny new car.

His head was bent to something so it was easy to keep a subtle eye on him as I walked past. I figured it wouldn't hurt me at this point to be cautious, even if he was probably completely preoccupied with whatever it was he was doing.

He looked up as I passed directly in front of the car. I noted the long hairstyle and pale complexion with a sudden twisting of my stomach that made me freeze momentarily. His eyes narrowed and stayed on me as I jerked my eyes away and forced myself to keep walking.

Oh for the love of God...

I prayed that there was enough distance between us that he wouldn't hear the way my heart rate had sped up. I suddenly wished I had a way to contact Chase. He would at least be able to give me some advice, maybe even some secret get-out-of-jail-free password or something. Anything.

I glanced behind me and gasped. The man wasn't in his car anymore. I couldn't see him anywhere. I threw away subtlety and began running. It wasn't all that far to my house and he wouldn't be able to get to me there.

But he wasn't after me, I told myself as I ran down a side street. Oh, why couldn't I have stayed inside my house? I ran a little faster in desperation. I'd survived too much now to be taken out by a random vampire.

Strong arms wrapped around me and a hand clamped over my mouth. I screamed against the cold hand.

'Be quiet,' he hissed into my ear.

Unlikely. I knew it wouldn't help me but I fought and tried to kick, bite and make as much noise as I could. I had a moment of shocked relief when he let go of me but then I was looking into his brown eyes and everything seemed to go a little dim. Panic welled inside me but I could do nothing except give into the sudden overwhelming fatigue I felt. My eyes closed.

'Is she awake?'

Was who awake? Whoever was speaking wasn't making any sense.

'Nearly,' another more familiar voice replied.

I blinked my eyes open, determined to find out what they were talking about. I found myself lying on a dark green leather sofa, staring at a pair of legs in black suit pants. My gaze shot upwards and clashed with a pair of curious blue eyes. He was tall and seemed naturally kind, an illusion probably helped somewhat by his wavy blonde hair. In short, he was gorgeous.

He was also a vampire.

I slowly sat up, noting the weakness in my muscles. What the hell had happened? I looked around and saw that we were in a luxurious sort of office. Desk, multiple bookcases, another vampire.

My eyes shot back to the brown-haired man who'd followed me from the shopping centre and my entire body locked up automatically.

'Who are you?' the blonde one asked me, his voice as gentle as his appearance.

I looked back up at him and found I couldn't say a single word.

He regarded me curiously for a moment and then seemed to realise my problem. He glanced over his shoulder. 'Audrey, go find some water for our guest.'

I watched Audrey go and felt a measure of relief, even if that was irrational. I was clearly being left with the vampire who had more authority. That was probably never a good thing.

He pulled the chair from behind the desk and sat down in front of me. 'My name is Ethan,' he told me gently.

His name wasn't familiar, unfortunately. I suddenly found myself wishing I knew more about vampire society. Would they take kindly to a random human knowing about them? Probably not, I guessed. I closed my eyes and bent my head. Why did this keep happening to me? First Chase and now this...

The door opened and I found myself taking a glass of water from Audrey. I avoided his eyes and drank. I'd never tasted water so beautiful in my life.

Ethan took the glass from my hand when I was done and placed it on the desk. He looked back at me and I knew it was going to start. 'Audrey tells me that you recognised him for what he was,' Ethan told me.

At least I knew why now.

'How do you know of our existence?' Ethan asked me and something in his expression belied his gentle tone.

I looked between the two of them, trying to work out my story. I considered telling them about Chase and then decided I didn't dare. He'd said no-one, after all. It was true that everyone at Kaiser knew about my connection to Chase now but I suspected that no one in the wider vampire community did. And when Chase made a decision, I'd noticed, there was always a very valid reason for it. Silence it was.

'I was attacked by a vampire,' I said eventually. And it was the truth.

Ethan's face showed nothing. 'Do you know this vampire's name?'

I hesitated. 'No.'

Movement caught my eye and I glanced over at Audrey. He simply stared back at me.

'You obviously survived that,' Ethan said. 'Who else was involved?'

He was impossible to read and I had no idea if he believed me or not. Being a vampire, I would guess not. I wondered what to say; I couldn't exactly tell him that I was saved by Zander.

'Do not think of lying to me,' Ethan told me calmly. 'I will know and I will have to kill you.'

Well. I nodded in acknowledgement of what he was saying. 'Then I will have to say nothing,' I told him after a moment.

Ethan's expression intensified. 'You're choosing silence?'

I swallowed nervously and realised I felt like crying. My throat was suspiciously tight. I was going to die tonight, I was sure of it. 'Yes,' I told him quietly, my voice strained.

Ethan glanced at Audrey and folded his arms, leaning back in the chair. 'You realise that I will have to kill you if you don't co-operate?'

I nodded slowly. 'Yes but... with all due respect, Ethan... I'm more afraid of the repercussions of telling you then not.'

The room was deathly quiet for a long moment. I stared back at Ethan, who gazed at me with genuine amazement.

'You would rather die than tell me who saved you?' he asked incredulously.

'Not really,' I told him honestly.

Audrey came closer. 'Who are you protecting?' he demanded.

This guy definitely had a temper. I tried to choose my words carefully but in the end I could think of only one answer. 'Myself,' I told him.

'And you think you would be safer dead than having given this person up?' Ethan clarified.

I nodded, my heart racing in my chest.

Ethan stared back at me for a long moment. 'You realise,' he said slowly, 'that if you were to answer my questions and prove that you are not an enemy of mine, I would be able to offer you protection.'

He leant forward slightly. I held still. 'Whoever saved you from being attacked by another vampire has done something punishable by death,' he informed me.

I felt my heart sink.

'And I see from your expression that you weren't aware of that,' Ethan continued. 'Tell me who it was and you'll have nothing to fear from vampires again.'

It was all very well and good for Ethan to say that. Unfortunately, I knew how two-faced a vampire could be. Besides, setting Chase up to take the fall didn't really sit well with me. Something hurt inside me at the very idea and I wondered just how attached I was to Chase. More than was good for me, anyway.

I said nothing.

Ethan sighed. 'I am not a person who enjoys torture,' he told me. 'So you are lucky that that is going to be my last option. But know that I will find out what you know eventually,' he warned me.

'Audrey,' Ethan said without looking away from me. 'Bring the other vampires in here. I want to know if anyone recognises this girl.'

Audrey disappeared without a word and I decided suddenly that I intensely disliked him.

'It would be a lot easier for everyone if you would tell me what you know,' Ethan said to me.

I nodded. 'It probably would.'

Ethan continued to watch me and I suddenly wanted to know who he was exactly. Clearly he had a position of power but I knew nothing about vampire hierarchies so I was completely clueless.

'Are you going to kill me because I know about vampires or because I won't answer your questions?' I asked him suddenly.

Ethan was surprised. Then he smiled as though he was pleased with me. 'Neither is really the problem,' he told me. 'There are some humans who know of our existence and we simply watch those very closely. The problem also isn't in your refusal to answer my questions. If you were the human of any vampire under my rule than I would simply go directly to that vampire. But as you won't tell me which vampire you are acquainted with and you also won't answer any of my questions I have to assume there is something going on that I would not approve of. This is something that I take very seriously.'

In that moment, I saw the ruthlessness behind Ethan's good looks. I nodded. 'I understand that,' I told him. 'I possibly even respect that.'

Ethan smiled. 'But you still refuse to answer my questions?'

I smiled apologetically, realising that if it weren't for my situation I might have even liked Ethan. 'Sorry.'

The door opened and a group of five vampires came in after Audrey. They were a diverse group; I noted one Korean man, a youthful-looking red-haired boy, a man and a woman of white European decent and a Japanese man. Well, they had been when they were alive.

Ethan stood and moved the chair to the side.

The red-haired boy shook his head. 'Don't know her.'

There was a general murmur of assent that no-one recognised me and Ethan shook his head. 'Next group, then.'

Audrey shooed them out of the room and returned moments later with another group of five. In the end, I was seen by close to twenty vampires – none of whom recognised me. I wasn't at all surprised by that. What did surprise me though was the fact that there were so many vampires in the vicinity of my home. I felt the beginnings of annoyance; Chase might have warned me.

After getting rid of the last group of vampires, Audrey returned and said something quietly to Ethan that I didn't hear. Ethan nodded and then looked at me.

'Go see what you can find out,' he told Audrey, his eyes still on my face. 'I want answers before dawn tomorrow.'

Audrey smiled unpleasantly at me. 'You will have them.'

I just barely resisted the urge to stick out my tongue at him. Oh, God, I was losing it.

Then he was gone and Ethan turned to look at me. 'Come along,' he said simply.

I eyed him warily, not moving. 'I'm not a threat to you,' I told him after a moment, hoping to get through to him.

Ethan smiled faintly. 'I know you genuinely believe that,' he surprised me by saying. 'Yet I would not be much of a clan leader if I did not conduct an investigation of my own.'

He glanced at the clock sitting on the wall before looking back at me. Ethan crossed the room and wrapped his hand around my underarm before pulling me firmly to my feet but in no way was he rough.

I didn't fight him as he walked me out of the room and down the hallway. There would have been no point. We walked in silence to the end of the corridor and Ethan opened a door. He guided me in before him and my heart sunk when I looked around the room. It was a simply furnished guest room but the window was covered with a metal lattice that I would have no chance of breaking through during the day.

'I'm locking you in now,' Ethan told me calmly. 'You should think about your situation very carefully. If Audrey doesn't find the answers I require before dawn tomorrow, I will have to kill you.'

I turned where I was and stared back at him, uncertain whether I believed him or not. We both understood what could happen if a vampire attacked a protected individual. 'And if he doesn't?' I asked.

Ethan's blue eyes were deadly serious as he stepped back through the doorway. 'We'll see shall we?' he said simply.

I was still as Ethan shut the door softly behind himself. The soft scrape of a key being turned echoed through the room and I let out a sigh before I crossed the room and lay down on the bed.

Suddenly, my sleepless nights didn't seem so bad anymore. Covering my face with my hands, I closed my eyes and prayed for the morning to come.

………

A/N: Welcome to my Kaiser novella! I hope you've enjoyed the first chapter. I'll be putting the rest of the chapters up very quickly (either tonight or over the next two days) because this novella is already entirely written. So, I hope you like it! :D