A Matter of Loyalty

Chapter Seven: A Return to Normalcy

With Elliot's new status sorted, the three of us had all climbed into our stolen car and left my old university as quietly as we'd arrived.

Chase drove (which amused me for some reason – possibly I was more tired than I'd thought) and we ended up at a small two-bedroom suburban house just outside the city. It was shockingly mundane to step into such a normal building, even if I was accompanied by two vampires. Chase and Elliot went down the hallway and I guessed that Chase was showing the other vampire where he could spend the day. At that point I didn't really care.

Now that I was safe and the tension had all fallen away, exhaustion took hold of me and I found myself collapsing onto the soft lounge chair and closing my eyes in relief. My head lolled against the back of the lounge. Having time to be still though wasn't such a good thing. My neck actually ached and I couldn't deny that I felt a bone deep weariness from the constant stress I'd been under the past few days. It was like the thread of tension that had been holding me upright had been severed.

Chase was nowhere to be seen but I knew he was still nearby. It was the strangest feeling in the world. But, sure enough, as I was beginning to slip towards unconsciousness I heard a door close. Then Chase was standing in front of me and unscrewing the lid on a small bottle. I wondered if I'd actually gone to sleep for a moment or if he'd moved at vampire speed to appear so suddenly. He shook two tablets out onto his hand and held them out to me.

I opened my mouth to argue, took one look at his face and shut up. I wordlessly held my hand out for the tablets. I figured it was reasonably safe to accept them after the numerous times he'd now preserved my life. I popped them in my mouth and accepted the bottle of water that Chase held out to me. He waited until I was done and then took the water bottle from me, setting it on the coffee table in the middle of the room.

Too exhausted to be even mildly polite, I lay down across the couch. Chase bent over me and silently lifted my hair away from neck, inspecting the marks there. He didn't comment and neither did I. I was a little intrigued to see what he would say, now that it appeared we would be alone for a little while.

Chase pulled a cane chair from the corner of the room and sat down on it in front of me. 'Why did you not tell them you were under oath to me?' he asked finally.

I closed my eyes, wondering why I'd wanted him to speak. This was definitely a conversation I wished we could postpone until I could think straight. 'You told me to keep quiet about it,' I reminded him. 'I wasn't sure if that was still in effect. Besides, Ethan said you'd done something illegal.'

He was silent for a moment. 'You understand that Ethan would have killed you if you didn't manage to find your way back to me?'

'So he said,' I muttered.

Chase said nothing for a long time and I began to relax. I hoped he would just leave me alone and let me sleep.

'You have done well,' he said at last. 'It is fine for any vampire to know of your loyalty to me. I publically claimed you as one of mine during the incident at Kaiser and it will offer you some measure of protection.'

I just nodded, keeping my eyes shut.

Chase's fingers ghosted over my cheek. 'Sleep now,' he said quietly. 'We can discuss this tomorrow night when you've recovered.'

I nodded again, relieved that I was finally getting to sleep. Then I was drifting.

'Talia.'

My eyelids fluttered automatically but I kept my eyes shut, determined to get some rest.

'It is time to wake up, Talia,' his voice persisted.

The cool hand brushing over my forehead made me open my eyes, clashing instantly with his dark ones. I felt a jolting moment of disconnect when I realised the difference in the darkness.

'You slept throughout the day,' Chase said, obviously reading the confusion on my face.

'Oh,' I said. I hadn't even realised I'd fallen asleep. Blinking, I finally noticed that Chase had changed shirts. 'You showered,' I observed.

Chase inclined his head and stood. 'Yes. There are clothes here if you would also like to shower.'

I didn't need to be told twice. Swinging my feet to the floor, I quickly stood. 'A shower sounds amazing,' I said gratefully.

'This way,' Chase said, waving a hand towards the hallway.

Half an hour later I'd showered and dressed in a clean set of my own clothes I'd found waiting in there for me. I found this troublesome because I knew full well that this particular pair of jeans and the dark green jumper were ones that I'd had at my parents' house. And that wasn't even mentioning the underwear with them.

Padding down the hallway with my feet bare and my damp hair spread out over my shoulders, I found Chase waiting for me in the lounge room. It was only as his eyes travelled over the strange expression on my face that I realised Elliot was still absent.

'Something wrong?' Chase asked.

I stopped a short distance away from him, my eyes on his face. 'These clothes are from my parents' house,' I pointed out.

Chase inclined his head. 'I retrieved them for you last night once you'd gone to sleep.'

My eyebrows nearly disappeared into my hairline. 'You snuck into my parents' house?'

Chase lifted a dark eyebrow himself and looked at me as though I'd said something idiotic. 'I collected what appeared to be your favourite items of clothing,' he said, nodding to one side.

Turning my head, I saw my familiar dark grey duffle bag resting on the carpet, apparently full of my clothes. A pair of my shoes had been thoughtfully placed beside it. My eyes flew back to his face, a horrible suspicion filling my heart. 'You...'

Chase's gaze never wavered. 'You've been missing for four days now. How did you intend on explaining that?'

My mouth dropped open in shock. 'You... I can't just not go back!'

'And what alternative do you suggest?' Chase questioned with infuriating calm. 'What possible explanation could you give your parents – and the police – to explain where you've been?'

My heart constricted painfully. 'They called the police?' I asked quietly.

'Of course,' he replied, his voice a little gentler too. 'A missing person's report has been filed.'

I stared back at him, feeling my world fall away from me.

'And even if you could give them a decent enough explanation,' Chase continued, 'surely you realise that your parents would never agree to you returning to Germany.'

I swallowed, realising dully how everything had been ruined. Because everything Chase said was true. There was no way I could escape that fact. Even though I'd never been that close to my parents, my brief disappearance would surely make any parent uneasy about allowing their child to go running off to a foreign country.

So far I'd managed to keep my parents out of this. But now, even though they were still physically safe, for all they knew I could be dead. There really was nothing for it. Not when I knew I'd never be allowed to stay at my home. Apparently, that part of my life was now over for good.

And I couldn't even bring myself to hate Chase for it. He was much more than the vampire who'd taken me from my home now. That was something I couldn't deny. There was also the fact that, if I returned to Germany and never came back, my parents would never get mixed up in vampire trouble because of me.

'What... what do we do now?' I asked, dying a little inside at the defeat I could hear in my voice.

'Elliot will remain behind to finish things here,' Chase replied, his eyes never leaving my face. 'Then he will follow us to Germany.'

Something flickered at the edges of my consciousness and I looked at Chase suspiciously. 'What does Elliot need to do here?'

Chase gave me a pointed look that I interpreted with surprising ease. It meant that Elliot's task was Vampire Business and something I shouldn't concern myself with.

I gave Chase a look of my own. 'You know,' I said, voice bordering on being acerbic. 'If it hadn't been for me convincing Elliot to help me escape, he would never have pledged his allegiance to you in the first place.'

Suddenly, Chase was in front of me and his fingers were gently but firmly tipping my face up so that he could look into my eyes. 'So Elliot is your conquest. Is that what you're saying?' he questioned, a certain tenor to his voice that caused a shiver to run down my spine. But his mouth had curved into a small smile so I knew he wasn't mad.

Finding it impossible to look away, I couldn't help but smile. 'Oh, you can have him if you want...'

'How magnanimous of you,' Chase replied dryly, his hands leaving my face to rest on my waist.

And suddenly, I laughed for the first time in what felt like a very long time, true delight bubbling up inside me.

'But to answer your question,' Chase continued, 'I have sent Elliot to explain the new arrangement to Ethan.'

Every muscle in my body locked up automatically. 'But... Elliot effectively betrayed Ethan when he helped me... wouldn't that put him in danger?' I asked.

Chase was shaking his head by the time I finished talking. 'No. You were right when you gambled on my status, Talia. Ethan has less power in this region than I do.'

I stared at him, slowly putting the pieces together in my mind. 'So if Ethan is a clan leader,' I thought aloud, ignoring the flash of amusement in Chase's eyes. 'That would make you... please tell me you're not the region leader,' I couldn't help but say. I wasn't sure I wanted to know if he was. Ignorance could be bliss, after all.

Chase actually laughed at that. 'No, I am not. But I am one of her cohort.'

I blinked. 'Her?'

He smiled. 'Yes, our region leader is a woman although it would be foolish to underestimate her for such a reason.'

Picking up on the odd note in Chase's voice, I decided I really didn't need the gory details. So I turned to more relevant matters. 'You're in her cohort?' I asked to clarify. 'Is that what her group of vampires is called? The ones who act as enforcers in the region?'

Chase regarded me with interest. 'Elliot has taught you much,' he commented.

'Is that a yes?' I persisted.

'It is,' he replied but something shifted in Chase's expression and my eyes narrowed suspiciously on his face a moment before they flew wide. Chase merely smiled like he hadn't just slid his hands into the back pockets of my jeans. My mouth dropped open in surprise.

'You were saying?' Chase prompted.

'Uh...'

But honestly, it was a little hard to think with the way he continued to watch me, those eyes of his suggesting a number of possibilities. And perhaps even more honestly, after going for so long without kissing him, I wasn't sure I wanted to pretend anymore.

So with only a brief hesitation, I slid my hands up over his shoulders to link behind his neck.

'What do you want?' Chase asked softly and I knew that this was the one area of our turbulent relationship in which I had full control. It was a heady realisation.

Swallowing nervously, I realised the movement of my throat drew his attention briefly before his eyes returned to my face. 'You,' I replied simply.

The corner of his mouth tipped up. 'Good,' he said and then his mouth was on mine.

I kissed him back without hesitation; a quiet sound escaping my throat as he pulled me closer, our bodies just barely brushing against each other. It was enough to make my head spin and my stomach contract sharply in excitement.

Suddenly Chase pulled back and I blinked, surprised by his abruptness in ending our kiss. 'I should have sent Elliot the entire way around the country,' Chase murmured as he released me and put some space between us.

It took me a second to grasp what he was saying and I turned my head as the front door opened. I also found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with Chase.

Elliot found us in the lounge room and I was relieved to see he looked his usual self. He opened his mouth to speak to Chase but then hesitated, his eyes flicking the between the two of us. I looked away, knowing we were busted.

'You have notified Ethan?' Chase asked, breaking the sudden silence.

'Yes,' Elliot replied, an odd note in his voice – not that I blamed him.

'Good,' Chase said neutrally. 'Then we will leave now.' His eyes met mine just briefly before he turned away.

My heart thudded painfully in my chest because I knew what that look meant. It meant that I should get ready to leave and never return. I collected my bag from the floor where Chase had left it along with a pair of shoes and the three of us exited the house, all piling into a car that was waiting out the front to take us to the airport. I thought that having a chauffeured car was overkill but that was only my opinion.

'Compliments from Ethan,' Elliot informed me with a wink as we settled inside.

I couldn't help but smile at him as I shook my head. 'I'm guessing this wasn't just a nice gesture?' I asked, suspecting that it was an apology of sorts for having kidnapped Chase's human.

Elliot opened his mouth to reply, glanced over at the vampire who sat on my right and promptly closed his mouth. 'Are you looking forward to returning to Germany, Talia?' he asked instead.

I stared at him for a moment, stunned, before I turned my head to look at Chase. He met my gaze from his peripheral vision for a moment before turning his head away to look out the window. It was a clear statement that we weren't discussing this.

I summoned up every shred of irritation I felt and mentally pushed it towards the fine line that linked the two of us. I knew I'd succeeded when his mouth curved slightly. I gritted my teeth together in annoyance.

'Oh,' I said, turning back to look at Elliot. 'I'm having fun already.'

…..

A note on word usage: In this chapter, I've introduced the vampire "cohort". At first, this probably seems like it's an error because of the modern usage of the word. In Caesar's Gallic War however, a cohort was a unit of soldiers (600 men, to be exact). While the Kaiser cohort (so to speak) isn't 600 vampires, the word here means a group of vampires... rather than a group of the region leader's peers. I hope that makes some kind of sense! XD

A/N: So thanks for reading my Kaiser novella! I'll be posting the first chapter of the third Kaiser book tomorrow. The chapters will follow now at a more normal pace because so far, everything was pre-written. Now, we're on to all the new stuff!

Thanks for all your support so far! I really appreciate it :D