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Summary:
AKA The Greatest Story Ever Told, by the Greatest Historian of the World. Aro's lived, figuratively speaking, for three thousand years. Ever wonder what he's seen and done?


Notes:


16. Affair

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One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret
Never to be told.

I couldn’t believe it. I had been so desperate to try to find a way to touch Anna and then little vixen kissed me! When she did, her Story was so dramatically different than what I had expected.

Her capture as a human. The months spent under torture. Her dead children. Her abusive husband. Her turning.

Even Adelina would have a difficult time trying to turn Anna’s fears onto Anna without aversely affecting herself.

Then: her life as a vampire. Her overwhelming horror at having to feed on humans. Her growing self control. Her years as hetaerae. The beginning of Lamia’s myth. She had not fed on those children at all. She had taken them from homes where they were abused or from parents who could no longer care for them, raising them as her own. The young human male who had appeared to face the vampires at Belverde was one of her “children,” grown and fiercely loyal to his vampire “mother”.

Meeting Piero. He had offered her understanding, a stable position, taken in her “children” without a single doubt. And she had used her amazing power to help him achieve levels of strength he never would have before. Because her power was astounding.

She could manipulate the desires of others. By spending time with her would-be victims, she learned all about them: how they formed their decision, what their beliefs were. Armed with this knowledge, she could deftly invade their unsuspecting minds—she could become a mere voice in the back of their heads. And then she would slowly manipulate their thoughts, shape them and form them as she needed, until they were unknowing slaves under her will. The vengeance of a queen once stripped of all control.

The only drawback to her ability was the time she needed to spend with her victim in order to affectively control them without their noticing. If she did not understand them well enough, she might risk inducing out-of-character thoughts and actions, and, if they did notice, they could fight her off.

It was what had happened with me. It was why I had managed to keep her from fully controlling me. She had risked it all because she needed to know why Piero despised me. She had risked it all because she wanted to escape from Piero.

For in Piero’s quest for power, he had learned how to fight Anna’s ability until he was immune to it. Then, he had tried to control her. She had tried to flee, tried to kill him, tried to kill herself… when she met me, she was desperate. Seeing Piero’s disdain of me, she had hoped that it was only a mask to hide his fear of me: she thought that perhaps I had some sort of means to destroy Piero, even if I was killed in the process. She had kissed me, giving into my demands, hoping that some sort of physical contact would strengthen her control over me and eliminate any resistance I had against her.

She had not counted on her body’s reaction to me. To be fair, I had not counted on my body’s reaction to her either.

Her lips moved under mine, grazing, biting, both gently and violently. A study of contrasts within a few seconds. A cool tongue fanned across my lower lip, begging entrance. Instead, I pressed a small kiss to each corner of her luscious mouth and avoided the center. I decided to torture her as much as she had me. I drew away. The smallest whimper greeted my actions.

“Where are you going?” Anna’s hands tightened around my robes.

“I know what you are trying to do. You want me to believe that you care for me so that I might give you what you want. But I will not be deceived that easily. If you will excuse me.” I turned around—and froze. I could not move. A voice whispered, beckoned, urged me to stay. I tried to fight it—and almost fell over in pain. I had fallen under her influence again! But how?

I heard Anna slowly approach, felt her arms map my back, her fingers slowly push my hair away. “You are not leaving.” Her breath ghosted over my neck and I could have sworn I felt goose bumps rise. Her lips pressed against the sensitive skin between my neck and shoulder.

She knew I wanted her. When I had turned around, my eyes had lingered a moment too long on her and she had realized I was bluffing. She had then used my longing for her to invade and resume control. Observant, conniving siren.

“See?” She taunted, running a nail gently down my neck. “You don’t want to.”

“You never specified exactly what I needed to do to have you,” I replied unsteadily. Her touch was maddening. I reached up to clasp her hand. “Did I simply need to bow to your every command?”

“Perhaps, but no,” she breathed. Her thoughts ran, thinking of plans and discarding them within seconds. “Two days’ time. Follow the river to a copse of trees. Inside of it is a small pond, secluded and private. Meet me there if you truly want to know what it will take.”

And she was suddenly gone. I was not surprised. She had been incredibly fast as a human, almost inhumanly so. As a vampire, she was even faster than Lidia, something I had once thought impossible.

I stood alone in the garden. A soft breeze grazed against me and I could almost feel the ghost of her touch lingering on my arms, back, neck, face. I shivered. My hand rose to grasp my shoulder, the place where Anna had rested her hand. Traces of her scent clung to the fabric. I inhaled deeply, reveling in the alluring fragrance for the briefest moment before I turned and strode into the palazzo.

I needed to find Caius. I hurried through the halls, trying not to draw attention to myself. Finally, I found him near the entrance, one arm wrapped around Adelina’s slender waist.

“Caius!” I called as I half-walked, half-ran to him.

“If you’re looking for your dearest friend, he just left,” Caius responded.

“Along with his rat-like assistant and your favorite harlot,” Adelina added coyly. Caius smirked.

Ignoring Adelina, I faced Caius. “I need to speak with you. Privately.” From the look on my face, Caius realized I was serious. He nodded and followed me into a deserted room, away from the hubbub of the festivities. Adelina trailed behind us, quiet as well.

“What is it?” Caius asked when I closed the door behind us.

“Piero is a much deadlier adversary than we had imagined. He is trying to seize control of Italy. He is attempting to trick all Etruscan covens into attacking the Latins. The war that would result would destroy most on both sides so he could then overcome the remnants easily and establish himself as a regent for the Persian king. He is actually one of Xerxes’ advisor, here under his orders.”

Adelina gasped, her eyes widening.

“How do you know this?” Caius whispered. Shock and disbelief laced his words.

“Anna,” I answered simply. “I was able to get close enough to touch her.”

“If this is true, we are all in danger. Are you quite certain of this, Aro?”

“Absolutely.”

Caius nodded once, his eyes hard. “We must inform Marcus immediately.”

“But the celebration,” Adelina interrupted.

“The party is not important,” Caius replied.

“I know that! But we cannot simply barge in and force everybody to go home. We cannot afford them learning about this, especially in this way. And if they were to believe that we fear something, it would be all the worse.”

“She has a point.” I nodded in Adelina’s direction. She smiled briefly in thanks.

“All right,” said Caius. “But we must warn Marcus and Lidia as soon as possible.” Adelina and I nodded.

We returned to the celebration, but remained distracted. We concentrated on the danger looming in the horizon, one we could not ignore.

Surely, you have heard of the powerful Persian Empire in your history classes. Xerxes was human, but his advisors—the ones that held the true power—were not. Neither was a small contingent of soldiers: vampire mercenaries brought in for their talents at killing their kind. They had tried to invade Europe before while Darius was king, but were defeated at the hands of the Greeks. It seemed like they were trying again. Except this would not be a simple battle over the supremacy of land: they had already been once defeated, so they would fight for their pride. This meant they would be that much harder to defeat as they would be willing to go to any length in order to restore their dignity.

These thoughts tossed and turned in my head as I pretended to be enjoying myself. Finally, in the dark hours before dawn, the last of the guests left. We immediately pounced on Marcus and Lidia. I quickly repeated what I had told Caius and Adelina to almost identical responses.

“Are you sure?” Marcus questioned.

“Yes,” I responded emphatically.

“And so this quarrel of Aro’s now involved all of us.” Lidia smiled ironically. “Whatever shall we do with you?”

“We need some way of keeping a close watch on him. Do you think you might be able to contact Anna again?” Caius asked me.

“Yes. I’m meeting her in two days’ time.”

A pregnant pause greeted my words.

“I see you waste no time. You are well-matched.” Adelina blinked. I frowned at her.

“How did this come about?” Marcus queried.

“It appears that Anna despises Piero and seeks some way to escape him,” I answered after a moment.

“But she’s his mate,” Adelina argued, surprised. “How could she?”

“She is not mated. He has taken her for his mate, but she does not reciprocate the feeling.”

“So we can use her to maintain watch over Piero’s moves,” Caius concluded.

“That could work. Aro, what do you think? You’re the one who knows her best. Can it work?”

There was another question behind Marcus’ words. He knew that, with Anna already against Piero, it would be easy for me to seduce her as his enemy. Rather, he meant whether I would be willing to do it.

“There’s no reason for it not to work,” I answered—and unknowingly sealed Anna’s and my fates.

Two days later, I left Volterra after nearly having to after nearly having to set Marcus on Lidia to keep her from following.

“But what if you need help?” she argued.

“I am perfectly capable of fending for myself.”

“But what if it is a trap and Anna is an unknowing victim like you?”

“Doubtful. Piero is jealous. He would not leave her alone for any amount of time with me, even if it meant my death.”

“But how can you be sure?” Lidia persisted.

“Lidia, go back!”

“But Aro—”

“No!”

Finally, she turned away. I ran to the river and followed its course uphill, watching as it slowly narrowed. The trees grew taller and more closely packed as I walked. A dense shade cooled the temperature. Her scent grew stronger with each step, leading me on until I finally broke into a brightly lit clearing. The light danced on the surface of a small pond and the soft green grass growing around it.

Anna stood on the edge, letting the water lap at her feet. She wore a simple white tunic, holding the hem away from the water. Her only pieces of jewelry were golden earrings swaying softly with the breeze.

“You’re lucky,” she said without turning around. “I’ve spoken to none about this place. It’s my escape when things become too tedious.”

She dropped the hem of her gown, allowing the water to climb up the silk. Her bare arms glittered in the sunlight. She slowly turned around. Her red eyes ensnared me and the witty comeback I had planned died in my throat.

The sunlight passing through the fine gown made it almost translucent. I could see the soft curves if her body under the material; I could clearly imagine what was hidden from view.

“There was a time when I lived in Greece,” she continued softly. Her eyes never moved away from mine. “Athens, to be exact. Only those women termed indecent had any freedom, so I allowed myself indecency. I became hetaerae, famous and infamous throughout the polis. Famous for my charm, my wit, my talents,” she smirked. “Infamous for my prices. Because I had a different price for each man. If they pleased me, then I allowed them my company at almost no charge. If they did not please me, I made it nigh impossible for them to have me.”

Finally managing to form words, I said, “And what of me? Have I pleased you or displeased you?”

Anna’s smile grew. “Your mind is fascinating. I’ve never met someone like you before. Your price is simply to answer three questions.”

“Three questions?” I blinked. “That’s all?”

Anna nodded once.

“All right. Let’s hear them then.” I braced myself for her questions, knowing they would be of the kind I would not be able to answer.

Anna’s hands reached into her hair and pulled out a plain comb hidden among the tresses. The inky strands tumbled down her shoulders. “Have you loved women before?”

Her question caught me entirely off-guard. “Yes,” I responded cautiously.

“Beautiful women?” Her left hand closed around the broach holding the tunic around her left shoulder. Slowly, she unfastened the broach, allowing it to fall at her feet. The tunic slipped slightly, revealing more of her pale skin.

“Yes,” I answered. An emotion I had not felt in a long time raged through me with newfound energy. Lust. How I wanted her at that moment. But I forced myself to remain still, to wait for her final question.

Anna’s right hand rose with painful slowness to the other broach. “More beautiful than me?” She unclasped it and the tunic slowly slipped down her body, petals opening to reveal the flower within. She stepped away from the gown and towards me, pausing when her hands could rest on my chest. I gently took one hand and brought it to my face. I kissed each fingertip before pressing a kiss into the middle of her palm and the tender skin of her inner wrist.

“There are none more beautiful than you,” I said. Anna smiled and closed the little distance between us.

Her kiss burned. A delicious fire awoke within me, fueling desires I had long ignored. My hands snaked through her long hair, winding around the dark tresses and using it to guide her, to open up places on her supple body for my lips to kiss.

Why describe what happened on the soft green grass? It suffices to say that I even kissed her shadow—and a little more.

In the days that followed, we sought more stolen moments. Blazing kisses and promises of greater things. There was no love between us. I knew why she gave herself to me; she did it out of revenge. It was her way of spiting Piero. I have to admit—as attracted as I was to Anna—I also used our affair as a way of hurting him. What joy would I feel when he realized that the one he considered his mate had been sleeping with his foe!

However, as the days passed, I returned to her, not out of hatred for Piero or to keep an eye on his actions, but because I was slowly becoming addicted to her.

As I had guessed after I first met her, Anna was unlike any woman I had met before. Sensuous, intelligent, witty, strong. Arrogant, sadistic, selfish, cruel. She was a drug, something that I knew would hurt me but that I could not give up. As time passed, few things happened worthy enough to report to my coven, but still I chased after every moment we could be alone. We flirted with danger. If Anna was not careful enough when she washed off my scent from her or if Piero decided to follow her one day and found us, the consequences could have been dire. Still, we continued even after my coven told me to stop, even after we began to hurt ourselves more than we could have ever hurt Piero.