19

There was a palace in the middle of nowhere in the Romanian countryside. After the sixteen hour flight and four hour drive it sprung up on the horizon like some glorious glittering gem. In reality it didn't actually glitter or shine and from the outside it seemed more like a massive fortress of stone. It wasn't as large as Crimson Hill or Versailles but it was still fairly large. Behind our black limousine was a line of others. Apparently every important vampire had been invited. Every Patriarch and Matriarch, every Prince and Princess and Master, every Council Member. Every important vampire across the entire world had been given an invitation. And judging by the line of that proceeded our arrival, I couldn't imagine there being any space at all. Because there's no such thing as a basement right? My lips twisted and I glanced at Aleksi who was staring blankly out of the window. Nikolai however was the opposite, his lips were parted as he practically gapped at the large looming stone building we quickly approached.

"Colette and Evan are performing tonight, in Elizabeta's honor. I'm not going, if I you want to go have Nikolai accompany you," Aleksi spoke, turning his attention to me.

"I don't think I will. W-why aren't you?" my words were met with a supremely unamused look. Oh, you know why. He wouldn't be here if it wasn't the best opportunity to get Vlad to peacefully step down.

"Tomorrow is the rehearsal dinner. We're meeting Estella and the others after," Aleksi continued almost completely ignoring my question. "Also, you're to be completely nude in underground levels. Vlad was adamant about all of the old rules applying."

"O-oh," My lips pursed. "But not during the wedding?"

"No, not during the wedding. But during the reception…and the rehearsal dinner. You won't be seated but kneeling on a cushion like before and our rooms are in the lower levels. You'll be expected to be nude there as well, but there will be a robe for you in my color."

"So I'll be n-naked the entire time?"

"Yes." Aleksi answered me with that typical shortness. Something about that simple word made me press my knees tightly together as I felt that warmth spread from the apex of my body. It was funny how that one little word could make me melt. It wasn't the word so much as the way he said it. The thought clearly pleased him greatly, a little smile snuck across his lips and didn't fade. "You're blushing," he purred after glancing to me. My eyes fell to the carpet of the limo as my teeth sunk into my bottom lip.

"D-does this mean you'll… you'll…" I trailed off and blushed. I couldn't bring myself to say it for some reason. It's too late to turn back now. Just say it 'Does this mean you'll fuck me?' You've shared a bed with two men at once.

"Say it," Aleksi commanded, his voice drawing my eyes to those sensuous lip. Suddenly my lips and mouth felt dry and with a swallow I gathered the courage to say those words.

"D-does—" Nikolai coughed drawing my attention and making me flush dark red. I had forgotten about him. Here he was an arm's length away and Aleksi made me forget all about him with a few simple words. My blush deepened and I let my hazel gaze sweep over Nikolai who was no longer focused out of the window but rather staring directly at me. My fingers nervously fanned through my hair and I let out a trembling breath. The hours of travel had taken their toll and my curls were falling into loose waves I was self-conscious about my appearance sitting across from two perfect Adonises. My fingers smoothed over my black suede skirt, and I tugged up my knee high boots. My eyes went to my reflection in the glass and I smoothed my lip line corralling the bright red cream into place. I looked passable in my eyes, and as a rarity, miss manners was silent as I straightened my coat tying the belt a little tighter. I seemed to always be cold now.

The limo stopped, the driver got out and opened the door. The three of us filed out into the brisk winter chill. My body shivered violently at the nip of the wind against my knees and exposed flesh. There seemed to be no escape from the cold, not even when we entered the palace. The moment we were through the door Aleksi took my coat and I felt exposed in so many ways. There were vampires milling around and the moment my pulse hit the open I could feel the attention shift to me. My fingers toyed with the buttons at the wrist of my blouse, the little pearls were freezing between my fingertips. Everyone appeared to pause what they were doing to look at us. The silence that enshrouded the corridor was uneasy and the clacking of my heels on the ornate black granite and gold floor just seemed deafening as we made our way to the elevator. Aleksi's hand closed around mine and my body relaxed against his as the doors opened.

Inside the elevator had eighteen buttons, I couldn't help furrowing my brows as I contemplated how big the mansion really was. On the surface it seemed moderately large, but with addition of eighteen floors below and two above it seemed massive. However, it would have to be to house so many vampires. Aleksi hit the button for the seventh floor and the elevator whisked us below ground.

The differences between above and below ground were stark. Above ground everything had that old world opulence, big windows, high ceilings with frescos and all of the gilded pomp and circumstance one would expect in a house of someone considered a head of state hundreds of years ago. Below, however, was much different. Everything was modern and bright. The corridor we walked down was dark with chic industrial looking gray burnished metal panels and a dark floor with lights that ran above and below. There was something about the hallway that made it feel like it went on forever. The only adornment on the walls were room numbers that appeared every so often. The doors themselves were flush with the wall giving the illusion of them being hidden. We walked for a while and turned a corner before Aleksi took a card out of his wallet and stuck it in what looked to be a slot in the wall. The door beeped, clicked and opened inward revealing a massive living that was all black, white with that bright shade of red as an accent.

In the middle of the room a large black glass coffee table dominated, in the middle of it was a small rectangular glass vase full of red and white roses. The walls were stiflingly dark, and the furniture that surrounded that black glass table was boxy and white leather. Two large couches full of red and white pillows lit from above by those tiny little circular lights recessed in a black drop ceiling that looked to be large panels of polished stained wood. Beside the table was one of those open fire places where the flue was just an overhanging wall which was white. Midway up the wall was a large television. It seemed very much in line with Aleksi's tastes.

"The room on the left not full of toys is yours, Nikolai," Aleksi spoke without looking up at him as he walked over to the kitchen area and opened the fridge and retrieved one of the canisters and a glass. "Are you alright? You look freezing."

"I'm alright," I smiled at him and he snatched my coat off of the counter where he had laid it. Before I could protest he was draping the heavy red wool over my shoulders.

"You're a horrible liar, Autumn Darling," he kissed my cheek and returned to the counter and that canister of blood. I rubbed my neck where he usually fed from me. There wasn't so much as a scar it had been so long since he fed from me. I missed it.

"When are things going to go back to normal?" I asked pulling the coat tighter around me.

"Are you ready for things to go back to the way they were? I've been through something similar. I know it takes time to heal mentally more than anything. They told me you were chained up for a few weeks and then cuffed to a bed for the rest of the time. You haven't really spoken about it, and I don't want to push you."

"Do you want me to talk about it?" I furrowed my brows, and he sighed at me a little frustrated noise. He didn't answer me until he had drained a glass of blood. When he had finished and his teeth were pink he set the canister in something that looked like a wine fridge but I could feel the heat coming off of it when he opened the door.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"I…" I shook my head.

"Autumn," he chided me with a sigh. "If you're not ready to talk about it, that's fine. I'm not going to push you. I've had a similar experience so at least I know not to attempt to try and fix you. I know there's no fixing it. I'm patient enough, and I love you. So when you're ready… I'll be here."

"So you won't… until I can talk about it?"

"If you can't talk about it, you're not going to want me to tie you up. You'll freak out and I don't want to feel you flinch from me. If you'd like be vanilla for a while, I'll be gentle with you. But you haven't touched me and you're hesitating. What's the saying… the ball is in your court." He smirked.

"Why didn't you come get me?" The question brought tears to my eyes. It had been a few weeks and I hadn't been able to ask it until now. He wet his lips and walked over to me, and wrapped his arms around me.

"It wasn't for lack of trying. I tried. I found Wyatt not two hours after you went missing. Colette and I tortured him for days and he gave us nothing before he died his final death. Vlad refused to help me, I went before him and bared my throat begging for forgiveness and assistance. He rejected me. Then I found out where Gregory was, he moved by the time I got there. I found nothing but a handful of Sun Cross humans and none of them were any help. Nikolai went to the police day one about it, but we didn't hear from them until the second week. They told me about the others, how the Sun Cross had been abducting people since the day of the big attack. I never stopped looking for you, but the Sun Cross is a wall, and to them I'm… the anti-Christ. None of them would tell me anything. They found you because a Photography student at the university was testing out a new lens and snapped a picture at random. The guy saw something funny in the photo zoomed in on it and it turned out to be someone covered in blood screaming in agony. He turned the photo over to police and the next day they went in. I tried but I failed you. I don't know why they took you, and that bothers me. But I know why Vlad was there…" he trailed off and held me tighter. "Vlad didn't break the Sun Cross before… he culled it. My whole life I've realized that there are always two sides to everything. The public face and the private face. Publicly Vlad opposes the Sun Cross… privately he's sympathetic to them."

"Maybe Vlad had them take me to punish you?"

"No. Vlad didn't know they had you until a handful of days before the police found you. I don't think Vlad knew what they were doing either. I thought they took you to get back at me, but that wouldn't explain why they dosed you with Vaxilphan."

"Maybe they were looking for the Seer?"

"No, I don't think they were. Wyatt would have told them. I think they were looking for a mortal who could break vampiric ties like you can. Only Vlad outside of Nikolai, you and myself know you can do that. It's a very rare talent. I'm going to ask Byron about it at some point while we're here. If anyone would know it would be him or Estella."

Suddenly there was a loud knock on the door. I jumped drawing a startled breath.

"Servant Services," a female voice called through the door.

"Fuck," Aleksi cursed under his breath releasing me. "One minute," he called in response.

"Servant Services?" I asked watching Aleksi walking to the door.

"They tend to each Vampire's servant making certain they're… appropriately attired. They'll paint your nails, curl your hair, do your makeup. They'll do this every day you're here make sure you fit my specifications exactly."

"Why does it seem like you're not happy about it?"

"Because I'm not. But… I suppose it does have its advantages," he spoke the last bit before he opened the door. On the other side was a severe looking woman with her gray hair in a high and tight bun. She wore a strand of pearls at her throat and a simple, elegant black boat neck top and knee length skirt. Her eyes were a steely blue gray that made me shiver with a glance. Only one other person could make me feel so utterly self-conscious with a glance, and that was my mother. With a glance I was an eight year old again, my fingers franticly traced over my clothes.

"Aleksi! I'm so happy I finally get to pretty someone up for you. Though she isn't quite what I expected."

"And what did you expect Claudia?"

"Someone not so pretty. You have an ego on you Aleksi. You are usually loathe to not be the prettiest in the room." The woman teased as she entered the room.

"I'm standing right here," the words just slipped out.

"Clearly she has not been with us long. Such a mouth on her, you'll need to correct that," she continued as she pulled a cart into the room full of cosmetics and hair styling implements. Aleksi shot me a look but softened after a moment.

"Autumn knows her place. No need to run off and report to daddy my mouthy servant. She's been through a lot lately."

"I miss the Aleksi that would have walked over and slapped the girl across the face for speaking out of turn." The woman pouted as she approached me. Her long, thin hands reached for me and I flinched. "Calm yourself, girl. I've been stripping and primping servants for the last twelve hours."

"Short staffed?" Aleksi asked as he walked over to me and placed his hands on my shoulders. That familiar touch rendered me utterly docile as those thumbs trailed between my shoulder blades. Claudia stripped me and lead me into the bathroom with Aleksi.

"You have a remarkable body. I'm here to help that body of yours gain your master prestige. You want to please Aleksi don't you?" She finally spoke to me as she roughly bathed me and scrubbed the makeup off of my face. "She really is a remarkable specimen, my congratulations." The woman addressed Aleksi as she stepped away from me letting me raise from the bath as he lingered in the doorway.

"You have no clue," he smiled at me. "She's usually very well behaved. No one can compare to her. She's my world, Claudia."

Claudia dried me and gestured for me to step in front of the mirror. The bright blue light knocked all of the golden undertones from my skin I looked washed out and pale as she attacked my long black hair with a round brush and a blow dryer as Aleksi continued to watch me, ours eyes locking from time to time.

"She's certainly easier to work with than most. Tristan's wife refused all of my makeup suggestions and spoke the entire time. Clearly he didn't explain how things would work here." Claudia grumbled as she started curling my hair and a smirk spread my lips. The idea of Leslie sitting through this was laughable, she'd have a conniption. "Oh look at that smile! It's like she has a little secret."

"Leslie is her best friend," Aleksi added as Claudia pinned the curls in my hair.

"Ah, you and Tristan always were thick as thieves. You should have seen Estella's servant when I finished with him. The contact lenses she picked made his eyes almost as blue as yours. She's always so careful you'd never look at him and know that probably the week before he was covered in bruises."

"Estella likes to show off how well she treats Byron. She has that pedigree of being a Renfield, she has to set that immaculate example that her crop strikes don't bruise," Aleksi sighed and crossed his arms. That breathy noise drew my attention as Claudia pinned the last curl in place.

"What of your pedigree, Aleksi? If anyone has the weight of their bloodline on their shoulders it's you. What do you think? Gold and Red? Black and Gold? Black, Gold and Red?"

"Black, gold and red," Aleksi replied. I watched in the mirror as Nikolai peeked over his shoulder at me.

"Jesus, I was told you two look alike but…" Claudia glanced at them and shook her head. "Do you share her?" I blushed at the woman's question. She however held nothing in her tone that suggested it was taboo at all. Aleksi opened his mouth as his gaze went to mine in the mirror. Without the heat from the curling iron and blow dryer I found myself shivering again, as much from cold as from Aleksi's heavy gaze.

"Yes," he answered after a moment.

"Lucky girl," Claudia whispered to me as she started applying liquid foundation to my face with a soft makeup sponge. When she had finished with my makeup she started rubbing oil into my skin while I stared at my heavily made-up face. The eye was bold, heavy black eyeliner traced with gold and red shadow. My lips were colored Aleksi's bright shade of red. The lipstick didn't feel greasy like bright reds tended to, the color seemed to almost dry on my lips as Claudia finished smoothing the oil over my body. "Would you like to do the honors? It's exactly what you asked for." She spoke as she produced a slender red lace and leather collar that had a small round cameo that hung from the D-link, like an I.D. tag someone puts on their dog. Alexi stepped forward and took the collar from Claudia. He leaned his head against mine for a moment, the heat that came from his body made me ache. I attempted to lean back against him but he took a half step back. His hands closed around my throat for a moment as we watched each other in the mirror.

"I love you," he whispered to me before releasing my throat only to line up the collar and fix it in place with the cameo nestled at the dip in my cameo. "But I hate this," his hands trailed to my sides his fingers easily finding the dips between my ribs. "I'll force feed you cheesecake if I have to. Don't skip any meals here, okay?"

"Is that an order?" I smirked up at him.

"Mhm," he purred before kissing me.

"Well i-if you insist," I whispered into his mouth when the kiss broke. He took a step back from me and my eyes went to my face in the mirror. I was expecting to see that bright shade of red smeared across my face and his, but it wasn't. Aleksi stepped away from me.

"On that note, I'm going to have them send something down," Aleksi called as he left my line of sight. Nikolai had gone as well. They left me alone for the first time since I got out of the hospital. Something about being alone with a stranger made my pulse beat fast and frantic. Meanwhile, Claudia was busy picking the bobby pins out of my hair, freeing the careful curls. I shifted, my arms crossed over my breasts as I tried to calm myself.

"Can you—"

"Almost done,"

"I kn-know b-but can you just—"

"No, I'm not going to stop. I have eight other servants to attend to."

"Pl-please just. I n-need…. Please," my thoughts hardly made sense to me as I started nervously fidgeting and felt my skin grow hot with and almost angry frustration.

"Calm do—" she didn't get to finish, with the squeal of metal the mirror shattered, the light bulbs all popped that cart of makeup flew out of the door of the bathroom and Claudia was slammed against the wall behind me. I couldn't say anything as I looked around the devastation I had caused. The bathroom was now pitch black, only lit by the meager light from the hall. The faucet was mangled, the metal looked like a crumpled ball of paper. Claudia pulled herself off of the ground and smoothed her skirt, the marble on the wall was splintered and cracked with no distinct origin. And all of this happened in half a second, Aleksi ran in with Nikolai as I leaned against the vanity trembling. They pulled me into their arms, and whispered soothing nonsense to me. Claudia loomed over us and picked the remaining bobby pins out of my hair.

"It's okay. Shh," Aleksi whispered. "I'm here… we're here."

"I'll send someone to clean up this mess," Claudia called before I heard the door open and close.

They walked me back into the living room of the suite and sat me down on one of the couches. Aleksi quickly produced his phone and started a conversation that I just couldn't follow as I slowly recovered from my freak out. My hands were trembling and I felt like I was going to shake apart. Aleksi was there to quiet my hands, folding his around mine those amazing eyes raising to meet mine. His gaze shifted to Nikolai who was behind me with his arms around my waist. I was saturated by that soft cocoon of resonance.

"Estella is going come by and take you to her rooms while they clean up in here." His voice was abrupt, those words leaving his lips as he returned his heavy attention to me. I could feel both his and Nikolai's desire muted and dulled by their concern. "I have to go take care of some business but Kolen'ka will be with you."

"Oh, al-alright," I nodded a little as Nikolai rested his forehead against my shoulder. I stared into Aleksi's eyes, really stared. My clairvoyancey pressed against him, and he fought me but in the end that legendary power won. One might think it a bad idea to peer into the future of someone like Aleksi. Seeing his future gave me the distinct sensation of being thrown forward. I could hardly make sense of the images I saw, pale flesh, blood, myself in the throes of ecstasy under him. The last thing I saw was Aleksi attacking Dorian. Aleksi wore his black jacket, and a red scarf with his tight black jeans with the hole at the knee. It was the same outfit he had on as he beside me holding my hands, only in the vision his clothes were covered in blood. Aleksi threw Dorian down a hallway like he was a ragdoll. He then took two steps forward and jumped his body turning into mist and shadow before he landed on top of Dorian pinning the pleading vampire to the ground. Without hesitation Aleksi darted for Dorian's throat like a snake and ripped the flesh open. He spit the cartilage and meat to the side and raised to stand over the wounded vampire. Aleksi wiped his mouth of Dorian's blood and clearly mouthed the words, 'something to think on,' before he wiped the blood off of his jacket and threw that bright red scarf on top of Dorian's twitching form, anointing him in that intense crimson before walking away without a second glance.

The vision surrendered me, leaving me staring face to face with Aleksi. I smiled. I don't know why but the thought of the lengths Aleksi was willing to go for his revenge pleased me. He even showed mercy, violent, painful, mercy. I wanted to kiss those lovely lips of his, but I couldn't bring myself to close the mere inches between us. Vlad was supposed to fix everything and he had turned everything into a mess that Aleksi was fixing. As I looked into those ethereal eyes I knew that he planned more business than discussing Vlad stepping down. No, there was blood in those cerulean irises. That fleck of visual anger belied the placid expression he wore. As we stared at one another I could feel our power press back against one another with every breath I took, a slight pressure messaging every inch of my body. I understood him far better than I ever had before, and for the very first time I was okay with the unspoken dirty deed that he had planned for this excursion.

"Gregory's here isn't he?" I asked my voice scarcely a whisper.

"Mhm," his lips twitched but didn't pull into a smile.

"Blaine too?"

"Yes," he hissed with delight, the corners of his eyes pulled a little but that smile only lurked under the surface.

"Someone should end them." I didn't offer anymore. Perhaps I was a bad person for it but my capacity for forgiveness had been surpassed the moment that Blaine insinuated that he'd break me.

Aleksi pressed those soft lips to my forehead with those fangs brushing between my eyebrows. Nikolai nuzzled my neck placing a kiss over my pulse. Both of them stepped away from me afterward their quick kisses leaving me utterly frustrated and supremely aroused. There was a knock on the door that coaxed a guttural grave grumble from Aleksi's lips. His hands fell from me and he left the couch to open the door as Nikolai peeled himself from my back.

Estella was on the other side of the door, her long blonde hair was loose in messy natural waves. Her makeup was done in those peacock colors she was so fond of. That husky voiced green-eyed blonde didn't look a damn thing like an investment banker lingering in our doorway in low rise jeans, an emerald tank top with a royal blue knit cardigan tied at her waist. Byron shadowed her in the hallway naked but not unadorned. No, at his throat was a peacock blue collar. That color popped against his translucent flesh making all of his tattoos seem so much more vivid than I remembered them. His large creamy hazel eyes were ringed with black eyeliner and highlighted with peacock blue and gold shadow. With a smirk he nodded to me as he caught me staring, I blushed and looked away. My attention found its way to Nikolai, and I wondered for a moment if they were friends. You do realize that is a completely ludicrous idea, correct? Their proclivities aren't exactly the type of hobbies discussed in polite company.

"Oh 'lecksi you're spoiled," Estella declared, green eyes falling on me before returning to Aleksi. "Can you believe they're having the wedding here? We haven't been here since the early nineties. And I loath the servant code being in place. It's like he thinks this is still the eighteen hundreds."

"Servant code?" Nikolai asked raising a brow. Estella looked at him like she saw him for the first time.

"Yes, Niki. It's the old protocol for Servant behavior at vampire gatherings. Back in a time when servants were by large disposable they were expected to be nude at all times, never make eye contact with a vampire, never speak unless spoken to. Obedience was prized back then too. Those with the prettiest most obedient servants were envied. So I say again, Aleksi you are spoiled." She smiled at Aleksi and he rolled his eyes.

"I'll come get you both when they've fixed the glass, and everything else," He reassured me, flashing me a quick and exceedingly charming grin before closing the distance between us. His arms wrapped around me and he kissed me deep and slow letting me feel out and probe his mouth as our tongues caressed slowly and my body trembled as I felt my skin grow hot and my sex grow hot and oh so wet. My neglected needs sprang to life with that kiss and for the first time my desire flared pulsing at the apex between my thighs as my nipples grew rock hard. In front both Estella and Byron, well look at you. It's just going to get worse you know… how long do you think it'll be before you've added Byron to your list of lovers. Blush colored my cheeks as a gasp broke my throat with the end of the kiss. The five of us went our ways after the kiss. Aleksi went to seek out Dorian and I followed behind Nikolai and Estella. I wasn't nearly as self-conscious of my nakedness as others were of theirs. Several servants passed with their eyes down cast and their hands attempting to cover their nakedness as they trailed behind their masters. Byron was a thing of amazement, he managed to walk with his head held high while at the same time keeping his eyes downcast. The look gave his eyes this almost dreamy heavy lidded quality. I followed his example, my body slipping into ballet posture as we walked to their rooms. Still I could see the eyes of Vampires who passed in the all openly leering me.

Estella's rooms were furnished very similarly to her room at Crimson Hill. Everything was Peacock colored. Royal blue, emerald green, navy, burnt sienna and gold tantalized the senses. The furniture was a mix of the ultra-modern and the Victorian. One couch was an antique chaise covered in lush royal blue velvet and strewn with pillows in those brilliant shades. Those globed drop lights hung from the ceiling on black wires that gave the bulbs the illusion of being stars in an artificial night's sky. The walls were dark wood paneling with two walls having a beautiful mural of a peacock with its glorious tail spread wide splayed across them. The sitting room was very Estella, a mix of genuine warmth and calculating coldness. Estella didn't stop when she crossed the threshold. She continued walking until she disappeared into a room off to the side. Byron gestured for Nikolai and I to follow Estella as he locked the door behind us.

Nikolai walked like he knew where he was going, so I followed. The room was mirrored on all four walls with an antique chaise in the middle with little silver D links at the four legs. There were stocks in a corner that were ornately carved and painted with peacocks in great detail. My mouth hung open as I stared at the room, Byron joined us and sat on his haunches on an ottoman by the door. Estella hummed as she pressed one of the mirrors and it slowly slid out from the wall to reveal a cabinet full of various floggers.

"What do you think, love? The soft one? We both know Niki can take quite a bit, but… it is her first time."

"The brown leather riding crop, Mistress," Byron replied with that unshakeable enviable confidence. "If it so pleases you," his little afterthought, their inside joke as she turned around and stared directly at him. He however, kept his eyes forward.

"Someone is getting the white one," she warned before turning around and retrieving two riding crops from the cabinet, one white leather and the other a deep brown. She held the brown one out to me by the handle and I swallowed. "Oh, go on it's not going to hurt you. Think of this as… interactive therapy." I furrowed my brows.

"You want me to beat Byron?" I asked as my eyes swept across the room to him.

"No, Silly Girl. You're going to learn to take control. This was Aleksi's idea. He was actually enthusiastic about it almost more so than Nikolai…almost." She snickered and those bold eyes slipped to Nikolai for a moment before returning to me. "You know what to do."

"B-but what about his…his tattoos?" I furrowed my brows. I was worried about ruining the careful artwork that covered his torso.

"As long as you don't break the skin they'll be fine. Now, look at him. He wants this, Autumn. He's probably wanted this since the first time he laid eyes on you. And whether you realized it or not, you have too. Subs make fantastic doms if they can find enough courage to push themselves… find that courage. We'll be back in a bit to check on you." After her speech Estella turned to Byron and swatted him hard on the bottom with the crop. He yelped as that white leather made contact with his flesh and she pointed at the door with the flogger and he followed obediently. Estella closed the door behind her leaving us alone in the room of mirror.

Nikolai stared at each other in silence as my fingers nervously fidgeted with the handle of the crop. You can't do this. You're not a dominant, you're a natural submissive. I can do this. Do you think Aleksi will still want you if you do? I shook Miss Manners' nay saying sentiments from my head and Nikolai took a half step towards me.

"N-no. H-hands at y-your side… b-back wh-where you… where you were," I pointed with the crop like Estella hand and like he had done so many times to me. He returned obediently to the space he had occupied prior. I had seen what he liked on the extreme end of things. I had pulled needles from his flesh as he moaned in pleasure and canned his bottom until he came without stimulation. I didn't have it in me to do that.

My pulse leapt in my throat as my body was flooded with adrenalin from the possibilities. It was almost ten minutes before I was able to gather the courage to touch him. My hands were shaking as I unzipped his coat and pushed it from his shoulders. The heavy fabric hit the ground with clunk as the zipper struck the wood floor. I secretly lamented the loss of his living warmth, even when freshly fed he still was far from as warm as he used to be. My fingers sought out the buttons of the black polo he wore. I unbuttoned them before I pulled the shirt over his head revealing that amazingly defined tattooed torso. His adam's apple bobbed as my fingers stroked down his lower abs to the waist band of his jeans that rode just under his hips. I felt his whole body freeze as I unbuttoned the button fly and pushed them down making certain to slip my thumbs into the band of his underwear to take them down too. There was something beautiful about his desperation. I could read the tension in his body as he fought to keep his arms at his side.

"Would it be easier if we played out a scene?"

"Shh!" the reaction seemed automatic, my wrist flicked the tail of the crop against his upper thigh with a loud crack. He moaned and I gasped at what I had done.

"Apologies, Mistress," Nikolai whispered in a soft calm voice. However, as soft and calm as his voice was his body was the opposite. I watched as that swollen flesh between his thighs raised to its full turgid length. Seeing that visual sign of his enjoyment and desire tickled something inside me, making me stand up a bit straighter. I trailed the crop down his chest and watched as he trembled a little with that sensation that I knew oh so well. I traced his jaw with the leather of crop and took a step back from him.

"St-step out of your clothes a-and t-tell me what you did," I said as I took a seat on that beautiful couch crossing my legs. Nikolai practically drooled as he watched me, swallowing he took a step forward out of the pile of his clothes and stopped a foot or so in front of me.

"I don't understand, Mistress," His brows furrowed.

"What you did when they took me. You said Estella grounded you, t-tell me how," I commanded balancing the crop on my knee. The door creaked and Aleksi walked in, missing his scarf. Without hesitation he walked across the room and sat beside me placing a kiss on my cheek.

"Don't let me interrupt you," Aleksi chimed as he leaned back watching me.

"She brought me to her Penthouse at The Arms, and we—her, Byron and I—played games. Mostly fetch and carry, where she would have us crawl across the room and pick up an item in our teeth and carry it across the room while she flogged us. Sometimes we would play endurance games, where she would… find creative ways to cause us pain and see who would cry first."

"Did you enjoy the games?"

"Yes, Mistress."

"Would you like me to play those kinds of games with you?"

"If you think you would enjoy it, Mistress." Aleksi sucked his teeth at Nikolai's answer and leaned over my shoulder.

"That is a non-answer," Aleksi whispered into my ear. His hot breath on my neck made me grab the crop white-knuckled as my teeth set into my bottom lip. "A non-answer should always be met with the harshest reaction on a bottom like Kolen'ka. Even though you are testing the waters don't hesitate to spare the soft spots, but even then ten gentle taps under the glans should remind him that the response is undesired." His phone vibrated and he checked his text messages before stuff his phone back in the pocket. "My rules." He whispered as he slipped his hand between my thighs his dexterous fingers immediately finding that needy throbbing nub at the apex of my body. Those slow tiny circles he traced made me point my toes and stifle a moan. "He's yours, Autumn. I only have two rules, one he is not allowed to cum inside of you. And two, he cannot make you cum. Maybe I'm greedy, but I want your pleasure all to myself." As if on cue I shivered into an orgasm as Aleksi slipped a finger inside of me to probe at that my fluttering folds. "Mm, you're so tight." He breathed against my ear as I shuddered. He held me until I stopped trembling and then stood. "I'll be back in an hour or so," He approached Nikolai and smeared my juices across the younger vampire's lips before leaving the room as he licked the remnants of me from him like a happy cat savoring cream.

The door closed and I held the crop in my hands bending the semi-ridged leather a little. My heart was still thudding in my breath and I could feel Nikolai's anticipation. I didn't even process what Aleksi had said until the door clicked and then my head snapped towards it. Was that what acceptance looks like? Don't get your hopes up. With a sigh I turned back to Nikolai.

"Come here. You gave me a…non-answer and you know that's not part of this."

"Of course, Mistress," his tongue snaked out and licked at my nectar that Aleksi had left on his lips. I stood and his eyes followed me as I walked over to him and trailed the tail of the crop up his shaft. The quick caress of the leather made his throbbing length drip a large drop of pre-cum from the tip. I watched the slow drip and resisted the urge to trail my tongue across him to catch it on my tongue. Instead I raised my gaze to his and tapped just under the head of his drooling member with the crop. He cried out but made no motion to stop me.

"Did you know what Aleksi says? You're not worthy to cum inside of me. I agree with him." I growled as I continued to tap him with the crop. His hips twisted.

"Oh please. Please touch me, Mistress," he begged as I increased the intensity of my smacks, keeping a steady rhythm. "I'll do anything, please my love." He pleaded as his hips danced seeking out the pain of the crop instead of moving from it.

"Mmn, no."

"May I please… please cum, Mistress," he panted digging his nails into his thighs. I leaned against him as I continued to flog his member which was harder than steel.

"Yes. Cum for me, Niki," I whispered into his ear as I continued plying his length with quick harsh caresses from the crop.

"Ah! Fuck!" he hissed between clenched teeth as his hips jerked forward and I dropped the crop. He sobbed into my mouth as I seized his lips and kissed him hard. His hips rode the air as he spattered himself with that thick white saline discharge.

With a giggle, while he was still trembling from his climax I pushed him down and slowly licked up every last drop of his cum. I played special attention to every spot that I knew would gain the softest sigh of pleasure from him. He moaned softly and wrapped his arms around me.

"Fuck, I love you," He murmured sleepily kissing the top of my head even as tears still glittered in the corners of his eyes.

"Umm… do I need to put cream on you? I know after care is important."

"You didn't hit me that hard," he smiled at me. "Everything I've been through was worth that."

"After care is important! You're still crying," I reached up and wiped away one of his tears.

"I'm fine, but I wouldn't mind being held."

Nodding I sat up and pulled him into my arms, leaning back against the chaise. We just sat in silence as I held him and ran my fingers through his hair like he once did to me. I felt so much better for it. It was like someone had opened all of the windows and aired out my soul like it was a musty attic. Aleksi eventually returned while we were still on the floor. He had changed, and was wearing a red tank top and black satin pajama pants.

"Join us?" I asked flashing him a smile, that he returned pulling me back against him and placing a kiss on my forehead.

"How do you feel?" He whispered softly nosing against my ear.

"Better," I leaned my head back and kissed his neck.

"They finished repairing everything, so we should probably head back to the room."

"Are you going to attack Nikolai?"

"Did you break either rule?"

"No."

"Then, no I'm perfectly fine. Vlad was right about we needing to strengthen the bond between the three of us." I blinked up at him. No way.

"Who are you and what have you done with Aleksi?"

"Ha. Ha. Nothing. I'm simply being practical. In reality Nikolai is an extension of me so you're still mine. In the end the world could explode and I couldn't give two fucks less as long as you still loved me and were still mine. Almost losing you…really almost losing you taught me that somethings aren't worth fighting against. Am I a little jealous? Not as much as before. I like Nikolai. I got to know him more while you were missing and I guess that's helped. He's not a rival. He doesn't want to take my place. He's fine being at your back while I'm at your front. And I'm fine with that as long as you love me best." He kissed my shoulder. "C'mon lets go sleep in our rooms. After spending all day either standing or sitting on the plane my back needs a bed." He stood and held his hand out to me. I nudged Nikolai with my knee and took Aleksi's hand. We walked back to our rooms and I fell asleep sandwiched between the two of them with Nikolai's forehead pressed to my shoulder and my head against Aleksi's chest.

Leading up to the wedding everything seemed to almost be too perfect too be true. For once Aleksi seemed to be genuinely accepting Nikolai's affection for me. The three of us were stronger for it. We spent most of our time sequestered by choice in our suite watching Netflix and that angry tension between the two of them faded. Nikolai also stopped acting like a brat. After that night he quit intentionally provoking Aleksi and we fell into a happy little routine.

The rehearsal dinner was awkward for me, but more or less uneventful. A few people gave toasts praising Vlad and Elizabeta, dutifully stroking the egos of those who were more or less their King and Queen. I spent the entire meal on my knees on a satin pillow of Aleksi's bright color. Trying to eat a meal with the plate on the floor while on a pillow was almost impossible. Nikolai remedied it for me by feeding me bite by bite while Aleksi smiled down at me smugly. If I didn't know better I would have thought this was what he had wanted all along.

On the morning of the wedding I showered before Claudia showed up and dressed me. She pulled a red sheath dress from a rack under her cart and chose everything I wore right down to the lacy bright red panties. She curled my hair, and applied my makeup and then left flashing a smile to Aleksi who was lounging on the couch flipping through the channels on the television wearing only his pajama pants. When I walked out of the bathroom he stood and walked over to me sweeping me into a tight embrace. His mouth found my neck and he fed from me for the first time since I had been kidnapped. I moaned as his fangs sunk into my throat just above that collar of red leather. My fingers trailed back through his long dark hair as I trembled in his arms.

"Oh, Aleksi," I panted with heady desire as he tapered his feeding to lazy laps of his tongue.

"Mmm, my Autumn," he purred against my throat before raising to his full towering height. He then turned towards the room and yelled something in Russian. I picked out one word in the flurry that left those lips flush with my blood, he said Kolen'ka. Nikolai left the bedroom rubbing his eyes. "I have to go for a little bit. I'll meet you two at the wedding sit near Estella." His arms almost reluctantly released me and he sighed a little.

"Where are you going?" I asked. I grimaced a little. Should I have asked it? Was it my place? Yes, you're his girlfriend. He said on national television you're not his submissive, Autumn. You're more than that, stupid girl.

"I have a meeting with someone. Nothing to worry about it's just some old business I need to take care of." That is one vague answer, the only way it could have been vaguer is if he said he was going to take care of some stuff. I ignored Miss Manners and nodded to him.

"Well, hurry back. I'll miss you."

"I'll miss you more," he blew me a kiss before he stepped into the bedroom to change. Less than three minutes later he emerged dressed in a European cut black suit with a bright red pocket square and a black button down shirt with a few buttons around his collar unbuttoned to show a flash of his glabrous pale chest. "Grand ballroom on the ground floor, once you get up there just follow the signs. I'll be back before you know it." He pulled me in for a quick kiss before he left.

Nikolai paused as he left I watched him tilt his head to the side as the door closed like he was listening to something. He then turned to me and his lips turned up at the corners just a little.

"I need to take a quick shower. Will you be okay?" he asked lingering near the bathroom door.

"I'll be fine." And I actually meant it too.

"Alright, I'll be fast," he added before closing the bathroom door. Once that door closed it wasn't at all what it had been like before. I didn't panic, I didn't feel that apprehension that made my hands shake and my pulse beat like a desperate caged animal. Instead I sat on the couch and flipped through the channels searching for something in English. I still hadn't found anything when Nikolai opened the bathroom door towel drying his hair. My eyes watched hungrily as he practically glided across the floor with that innate dancer's grace. What drew my eye the most though was that tattoo on his back that read my name in that clear script. A few minutes later he stepped out of the dark of the bedroom dressed exactly the same as Aleksi. They looked so similar when clothed that it was astounding. Nikolai's hair was now the same length, the only difference was the once golden brown had not quite darkened to black yet. Instead his hair was almost tarnished bronze in color. In certain lighting they could pass for twins if not for Nikolai's smaller mouth.

"Ready?" he asked as he buttoned his jacket.

"Sure," I stood and smoothed my dress.

"Just think, before you know it you'll be getting married," he smirked at me and kissed my cheek.

"I'd have to get engaged first and then…what about you?"

He scoffed. "What about me? Do you think I'd leave your side just because Aleksi put a ring on your finger?"

"Wouldn't he expect it?"

"I don't think he would. I think he's finally accepted that the three of us need each other."

"Maybe." I shrugged as we started down the hall. We were silent as we made our way to the grand ballroom.

Even outside there was a wall of noise, that persistent murmur of a crowded venue. The walls and ceiling were draped in white silk and red roses were everywhere. It was a very romantic setting, the light of the room was muted candle light that came from a large crystal chandelier lit with actual taper candles. Music started to play and every rushed to their seats. We sat next to Estella on Elizabeta's side. Tristan was one of the groomsmen, and Colette a Bridesmaid. Evan was there but Garrett wasn't, he sat on the other side of Byron and waved to me with a small smile as I sat down. And then the Violinist stood up and they started playing Pachelbel's Cannon in D. And I watched as the procession started their way down the aisle. The flower girl was actually Margot who walked beside another slightly older girl I didn't know. They threw red rose petals a top the white that was already there. The procession was dressed in Elizabeta's pale shade of blue. And once everyone else was in place everyone stood as Elizabeta started down the aisle with Aleksi beside her. She was actually crying behind her veil and for a moment I forgot I hated her and Vlad. Aleksi whispered something to her and she smiled and squeezed his hand. There was something beautiful about him giving her away even if he looked glaringly out of place in almost all black. I couldn't place my finger on it but my eyes misted a little as he raised her veil presenting her to Vlad. He left a thumb print of blood behind on that immaculate white tulle.

The vows started once we had all returned to seated. They weren't in English or any language I could place, I was betting they were in Elizabeta's native tongue whatever that was. Aleksi returned to sit beside me and Nikolai scooted down one seat. He took my hand and kissed my knuckles drawing my attention. When the ceremony was over and everyone stood to clap at the exit of Vlad and Elizabeta Estella leaned towards me.

"I know why they took you," she whispered, her voice so quiet I could barely hear it. "They were looking for a link back to the first known vampire, a Thracian King named Illyrian. Vlad knows if someone has enough of Illyrian's blood they'll have power to rival him. What he doesn't know is the link to Illyrian has been under his nose the entire time." She turned and looked at Aleksi for a moment before her attention shifted back to the exiting party. I turned to Aleksi and looked up at him, he smiled at me he clearly hadn't heard what she said, then again I could hardly hear myself think with the deafening clapping.

The reception was in another room above the ballroom the ceremony had been held in. We were seated at a table in roughly the middle of the room with Estella, Winston, Tristan, Colette, Evan, Byron, Xavier and Leslie. Evan was complaining about having been unable to invite Garrett because he was a werewolf. He was cranky because of it and eternally pouting. Aleksi stood after a few moments,

"You guys go up, I'll be right with you," he quickly interjected fastening the single button of his black jacket. The others just nodded and stood.

"Do I go up too?" I asked.

"Yes, Leslie is going, and you have more of a steak in this than she does," Winston answered with a quick smile. Nodding I stood and straightened my dress. We all approached the main table in force, and when we were half way there Galina joined us from seemingly nowhere. You weren't supposed to wear white to a wedding and apparently that stopped Galina from looking like the ice princess of Russia like she usually did. Instead she wore a pale grey sheath dress with a similar cut to mine, only around her hem and collar glittered with I could only assume were diamonds by the way the light danced when it hit them.

We reached the table the same time Aleksi did. He was carrying something in each hand that I couldn't make out because of the low candle light. He was the one who stood in front of the table first.

"A wedding gift," Aleksi spoke in the smooth even voice as he set two severed heads on the table. "I solved your problems for you." He grinned at them and Elizabeta smirked, and Vlad looked anything but happy. "You'll recognize Gregory and Blaine I hope. It was all within our bounds I assure you. I issued challenge and Winston witnessed Blaine's failure and Galina witnessed Gregory's. Also Wyatt was a traitor and he died a traitors death… I would have brought his head but I couldn't think of a way to travel with it."

"I knew you had it in you," Elizabeta beamed at him with parental pride and joy.

"That being said. Vlad, you over stepped your bounds, and I'm here with the Patriarchs and Matriarch of the Pacific Northwest region, and Galina Mistress of the Western Asian region. We are kindly asking you, Vlad, oh great Uniter, to step down as Master of the Pacific Northwest and to return it to Tristan of whom it was rightfully entrusted to prior to your great awakening," Aleksi stood straight backed as he spoke with his chin raised a little. He could have made a great leader if he wanted to.

"Certainly," Vlad answered with grin. "But what will your role be? Colette is Tristan's second, so what are you?"

"Isn't it clear, Vlad?" he gestured to the heads on the white table cloth before them. "I'm his enforcer."

"That will make the Sun Cross in the region your problem."

"I know," Aleksi clipped out before turning around and taking me hand leading me away from the group.

We returned to our room without saying a word. Nikolai, however, didn't follow us. The entire time Aleksi had this small little smile on his face and I would almost say he was excited as he unlocked the door to the suite. He swallowed as he opened the door and held it for me. Inside the room was lit by what looked to be a hundred candles and fire hazard. Rose petals littered the floor and I was so thankful for the waterproof makeup I wore as tears started welling up in my eyes as Aleksi closed the door behind me. He led me to the middle of the room and knelt on one knee before me and took my hands in his.

"Oh my god," Really? That's all you can say? Oh my god, you sound like a moron. Keep your trap shut before you embarrass us more. I pursed my lips and swallowed.

"A month and a half ago, we danced Giselle together on stage. I had originally planned this huge ordeal to take place on stage, in front of thousands of people so there could be no doubt in how much I love you. But…you were taken from me and then I realized that it's here when we're alone—just the two of us—that we show each other all of the parts of us the world isn't worthy of seeing. It's all of those parts that makes me love you. So I'm asking you now… when we're allowed to show each other all of those parts; Autumn Sadie Darling, will you marry me?"

"Yes." I answered before he could even get the ring out of his pocket. The speed of my reply coaxed a chuckle from him as he produced a white gold ring with a large princess cut ruby flanked by two slightly smaller diamonds. Slipping it on my finger, he practically attacked me with his mouth kissing me hard and pulling me against him. And for once in my life everything seemed to actually work.