Chapter Nine

A Starlit Kiss

Corbin found himself roaming the halls of Allender Manor soon after the discussion of necessary precautions to safeguard against Gallus' dastardly intentions concluded among his gathered family. He searched the great house for Amanda, who had slipped away from the gathering as soon as she sensed the concerns at hand were properly addressed with suitable solutions. Both she and Gideon agreed upon taking over any and all responsibilities for the Allenders which would require them to leave the safety of the manor, such as buying groceries and any other necessary errands. Gideon sternly warned against leaving the manor for any reason, even in daylight, until the threat of Gallus was eliminated.

Corbin had wasted no time in suggesting that Lydia be pulled from the academy, citing that he and Gale had already been discussing the idea of homeschooling her for some time. Though Lydia frowned at the idea of leaving the academy, she appreciatively understood the protective intentions behind the decision. The precautions agreed upon by those gathered did little to put the Allender household at ease from their heightened state of alarm thrust upon them by Gallus' malicious intentions, but they at least took comfort in knowing steps to were taken to ensure the safety of one and all. Gideon had brought the discussion to a close by solemnly vowing to eradicate the threat of Gallus as soon as possible.

Corbin wandered past the back doors leading out to the manor's stylishly designed patio and caught sight of Amanda through the doors' twin glass panes. His keen night vision, aided by his gift, would not allow her to hide in the unlit darkness of the patio outside the manor. He paused after approaching the doors, to take in the sight of the dark-haired beauty with the moonlight complexion who he had given his heart to. She was staring up in thought at the twinkling night sky with her arms perched against the stonework of the patio's encapsulating waist-high walls.

Finding her lost in thought was not uncommon for Corbin. She was afterall nearly a thousand years old, though her physical appearance was that of a lovely young woman in her early twenties, and she had centuries upon centuries worth of experiences to contemplate from time to time. This was different though, and Corbin sensed it. This was a burden of old come back to haunt her from the darkest corner of her being. He saw beyond the deserted expression on her delicate visage to the turmoil which her telling eyes could not hide as she gazed upward into the night. Masking her true feelings was a habit she had learned long ago for survivals sake, but if one cared enough to know her as intimately as Corbin did, her protective facade became paper thin.

He opened the door with the intention of finding someway to console his lover's troubled state. She broke her stare to acknowledge him with a fleeting smile that he returned as he stepped outside and eased the door shut behind him. She turned around, leaning back against the stone wall which rose to the small of her back, and folded her arms as she watched Corbin approach with a care free swagger meant to put her troubles at ease. He glanced upward at the stars, then matched her leaning posture beside her as they shared a fond gaze for a few silent moments.

Amanda's demeanor shifted with a creeping grin to the flirty, fun side of her personality which Corbin's presence often brought out, but then it flickered away under the sincere glow of his gentle eyes which reached out to her with the knowledge that something troubled her. She turned her face away abruptly, causing Corbin to push off the stone wall and hover near her with concern.

"What is Amanda? What is it about this Gallus that frightens you so?" he asked caringly.

Slowly she turned back to him, tossing her long black hair away from her face with a quick throw of her head. The usual, unwavering strength in her gray eyes was gone, replaced by a mixture of fear and worry that caused them to tremble as they studied Corbin, who suddenly wanted desperately to wrap her in his arms until whatever troubled her was gone forever.

"You," she uttered, to Corbin's surprise.

"Me?" he asked, arching his brow in confusion.

"Yes. Gallus wants more than anything to hurt me, and he knows about us, he knows that taking you from me will cause me the worst pain I've ever felt," she admitted with the rare sight of tears forming around her eyes.

Corbin's urge to comfort her with his arms could be resisted no longer. He pulled her close to him with a smothering embrace, burying his hand in the sea of hair on the back of her head when she nuzzled her face lovingly into his chest. She squeezed him tight after slipping her arms around his waist, being careful not to let her feelings take control of her vampiric strength which could easily crush him.

After a long moment Corbin arched his head back, away from the heartfelt embrace so he could look into Amanda's eyes when she floated her gaze upward after detecting his movement. She was unwilling to loosen her hold on him, which was just fine with Corbin, whose locked arms didn't want to withdraw either. He tried to ease the troubled look on his lover's face with a steady, confident expression.

"Don't worry, we'll get through this, like we always do," he assured. "I mean, look at Jarell. He's been trying to wreak havoc on all of us since I returned, but we always manage to best him somehow. We'll best Gallus too," he added.

Corbin's words did little to sooth the worry so visibly scrawled on Amanda's pale, beautiful visage; but his confident stare did not falter as he kept his purple eyes glued to her. Without the slightest break in her troubled expression, Amanda uttered the root of her fears with a sobering bluntness to her feminine voice: "But Jarell doesn't want to kill you."

The weight of her statement caused Corbin's dauntless brow to cave a bit and his assuring eyes suddenly began to struggle at hiding his own troubled thoughts. He reset himself quickly following a deep gulp, restoring his former unwavering look of confidence which only amplified his handsome appearance. He brushed away her grave fear with a mocking grin intended for Gallus.

"True, but Gallus came at us when we weren't prepared with his little army of mad vampires and we're still standing. He failed, and that move is gonna cost him now," Corbin vowed, with a brief flare from his purple eyes bearing witness to the resolve behind them.

"But Bergstad is ripe for Gallus' taking. He can replenish his ranks in no time," she argued with a foreboding tone before looking off in contemplation for a moment. "I just have to find out how he's able to control them so completely."

"Hey," Corbin said softly as he flexed his grip around her to regain her attention. She returned her troubled gaze to him, finding an even deeper well of resolve behind his caring eyes. "You're not in this by yourself, so don't start thinking you have to face him alone," he reminded, knowing her impulsiveness all too well.

She bowed her head slightly under the shadow of guilt. "But...this is all my fault. If I had only killed him all those centuries ago..."

"Don't!" Corbin strongly interrupted, causing her words to cease though she kept her head down. "This is not your fault, just like Jarell is not mine. We can't blame ourselves for the madness aimed at us by others."

Corbin witnessed a fleeting, comforted smirk flash across Amanda's buried face. "You sound like Gale now, so rational and supportive. I hear the echo of your mother in those words," she remarked.

"Well...um..." Corbin grasped for a response, but the unexpected yet welcome comparison to his mother caught him off guard. He was quickly reminded that Amanda had known her also, which gave her remark that much more meaning.

"Lanorra, he called me Lanorra," Amanda mumbled as she slowly raised her head, giving Corbin's scrambling mind something to focus on. "I haven't heard that name in a very, very long time," she added.

"La-norr-a," he said slowly, testing each syllable on his lips as if savoring the name. "I sometimes forget about your birth name," he admitted, somewhat intrigued by the notion that at one time she was not Amanda.

With her troubled look now replaced with a rare expression full of regret, full of a desire for atonement for the guilt she felt on behalf of Gallus' attack against those she held dear; she reached out for Corbin's restoring love with a question. "Which name would you prefer to call me by: Lanorra or Amanda."

Corbin lifted his eyes up to the night sky in seemingly deep thought for a moment, then brought them back to her with the fervor of an unconditional, unwavering love which always caused her ancient heart to flutter when he would cast such a gaze upon her. She waited expectantly for his answer, which began in the form of his boyish smile.

"I prefer to call you...mine," he said playfully, but with a sincere air to his words.

Amanda tilted her head, amused by his answer while basking in the warmth of its meaning. Finally, a genuine smile lit up her face while she cocked a playful brow over her eyes, which were no longer dimmed with burdens of dread and guilt. For Corbin, it was mission accomplished.

"Come here you," Amanda ordered affectionately as she stretched her face toward his, inviting him for a kiss. He complied only too happily and the two reeled their hugging arms in tighter as they joined in an endearing kiss on the patio under the starry night sky.