“Thank you again for doing this mom.” Kieran bent down to brush Gemma’s fur. The puppy they’d taken in when Colin was a baby was now a huge, grown ass dog. But his son loved her and she loved him. Taking care of two small children and a canine was hard though. It felt like his mother had just left and yet here she was, back at their request to help with the new baby.
The last three months since Cynthia was born had put a strain on Lorde, she coddled the newborn and was irrationally protective. He was at his limit and was feeling more and more irritated by his wife. Calling Eva and asking her to come back had felt like the safest, sanest thing to do. They needed the help and he needed the buffer. His mother seemed a little despondent though and Kieran wondered if she truly meant it when she said they could call on her anytime.
“How’s Matt? I thought he’d be able to make it this time.” Kieran stood up with a smile. Matt had yet to meet Cyn. He noticed how her shoulders stiffened at his step-father’s name. Was something wrong? “Is he okay, mom?”
“He’s fine, love.” She patted Kieran on the shoulder. “He’s showing Tyson around next week but he’ll come right after that.”
She still looked a bit worried but he lost his chance to probe as they both turned at the sound of a crying infant. “And there’s my cue,” Eva said. She patted him on the arm one more time before heading upstairs to the nursery.
Kieran watched her go, worried.
“The building can sleep up to two hundred students, seventy-five full-time staff members and numerous temporary staff. It has a state-of-the-art pool room, athletics center and computer room – several in fact. We are only at fifteen percent capacity right now but we hope that will change in a year or two.” Matias showed Tyson and his bodyguards around the grounds, pointing out a few key areas of interest. It was important to him that the prince left feeling invested. They didn’t need his money but if he liked what they did here, his influence could go a long way in getting more children in the door.
Right now the school was in its infancy and parents were cautious about where they sent their children to learn. Tyson was Eva’s family but distant enough that she couldn’t claim to have his ear. This visit could change the international community’s perception of their school. And if all went well, they could be talking about creating satellite sites around the world!
“It’s wonderful Matt.” Tyson clapped Matias on the back with a smile on his face. “I’m an easy sell, you know that.”
Matt smiled back at the prince. He liked Tyson. The man was only a few years older than Alistair and reminded Matt a great deal of his step-son. Matt sometimes forgot that his wife and son had royalty in their backgrounds. “I’m glad to have the reminder.” Laughing, they walked onto the soccer field with Tyson’s bodyguards a few feet away to give them some semblance of privacy. “We want to be a well-rounded academy and since I played a little myself in college, I managed to convince Eva we needed the extra square footage for a field. What do you think?”
“I can’t play sports to save my life but I don’t begrudge those that can.” Tyson smiled again, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
They were halfway across the field, chatting about the upcoming World Cup when the sky suddenly grew dark around them. He and Tyson looked up in confusion at the darkening sky. Matt heard someone running towards them and he turned around to see Zane come looping over to them. The werewolf’s senses were more attuned to disturbances and his reflexes were swifter than the other guards. Matt had just enough time to think that he’d made the right choice in picking the young werewolf to be on the prince’s guard detail before the world exploded around them.
Coughing, his ears ringing, Matt lay on his side, trying to figure out what happened. He turned his head to the side and his eyes widened at the destruction he saw. There was a hole in the middle of the field they’d just been standing on. He himself was several feet away. He looked to the other side to find a body lying close by. Matt blinked slowly, trying to focus. After a few minutes he tried to rise and sucked in a shallow breath as he felt a sharp hot pain at his side. He couldn’t lift his head to see what was wrong but when he patted the area gently with his hand, it came back bloody. He was hurt. How had he been hurt? The ringing in his ears wouldn’t let him think. Calm down. Don’t panic. Think! He lay on his back and tried to remember what happened. He’d been walking, talking, laughing… With the prince. Zane had run towards them, screaming for them to take cover and there had been… there’d been an explosion! Oh dear God, were the children okay? He need to get up and see if anyone else was hurt. He needed to find Tyson!
He craned his neck around, trying to see if anyone was moving. He heard screaming and… Yes! Someone was walking towards him, a woman. Matt sighed in relief. Until he saw that she had a gun in her hand.
She walked over to him, crouched down by his side and said, “That looks like it hurts.” The woman placed the gun down on the ground and looked at it with disgust. “Never did like weapons. So easy for someone to use against you. Got that one from one of his majesty’s guards. Silly little man.”
“W-why?” Matt tried to take a deep breath but the burning in his side wouldn’t even let him think straight. He tried to sit up but his back stayed planted on the ground. All he could do was look up at her. Her voice clamored in his head, he knew that voice. Only, the face didn’t fit. It couldn’t be! If only the ringing in his ears would stop…
“Why what? Why attack you, why kill you?” The woman pulled his head up so she could whisper in his ear. “You took something from me and now I’m going to take everything from you.”
Matt blinked, trying to focus and keep the darkness at bay. “Who are you?”
She sighed and let his head drop back to the ground. “I’m offended. I haven’t changed that much! Okay, maybe I had a little work done.” She jerked up, whirling around to throw a fireball at the guard that had tried to sneak up behind her. “Stay down!”
Matt knew now, without a doubt. But she had changed, drastically. Her hair was prematurely grey and shorter. Her facial features were off somehow and her powers… She’d never been able to do that before but he could sense her magic now. And like all magic, it left a distinct imprint in the air. “M-Michelle?”
His sister looked back down at him and smiled. “So you do remember me. Fantastic!” She studied him for a long moment, taking in his wounds. “You’re not going to make it, you know. Anything you’d like me to tell your loved ones?”
“Why are you…doing this?” He should save his breath. He needed his energy to try to reconnect his link to Eva. It had been severed when the explosion hit; a defense mechanism so she wouldn’t feel his pain. But she would be worrying now and she needed to know what was going on. He just needed to focus!
“Why? Because I can. Because you all deserve to die for what you did to me. Because you chose that bitch over your family, over me!” She spat on the ground. “Because I want vengeance and I won’t rest until I get it. It’s not my fault that you got caught in the crosshairs. You should have left her alone, like papa told you to.” Michelle looked around, a small smile on her face. “It’s a shame, really. This is a good place. Full of so much knowledge. So many little minds to mold. I wonder what the parents would say if they knew one of the teachers was a murderer.”
Matt had started to fade but snapped awake at that. Fear gripped his chest as he said, “You leave those kids alone. They’ve done nothing to you!”
She laughed. “Oh, that’s rich! You think I’m the bad guy here?” She wiped tears from her eyes. “I was talking about you, little brother. Did you forget already? Has your conscience allowed you to sleep at night?” Crouching back down beside him, she lit another fireball and stared at it as she spoke. That small ball of flame terrified him. If she burned his body… “How quickly you seem to have forgotten that you murdered Glasgow. That Papa to died because he thought I was gone. That you made my daughter an orphan.” Her voice was so low, he could barely make out her words. The fire in her hands was reflected in her eyes and again Matt wondered where this new power came from. What dark magic had she been dabbling in? How strong must her hatred be that she would kill her own brother?
She was insane, she wasn’t the same sister he’d grown up with and had admired as a child. That Michelle had been quick to laugh and slow to anger. She’d taught him how ride a bike, had comforted him when he got hurt. That woman had instilled in him his sense of confidence and love of magic. This woman was evil, deranged and could very well get away with everything. Eva would never think to look for Michelle, not unless he could leave her a message. He needed to reach her but it was so hard to focus with the agony ripping down his side.
Finally, her words registered. Her daughter! She has a child? “What?”
“Stephanie. My baby girl,” Michelle said, oblivious to Matt’s thoughts. “Didn’t the eyes give her away? You’ve had years to stare into them. They look just like yours.” She cocked her head and let the fire cocooned in her hands dissipate. “No, never wondered? Your lack of imagination disappoints me, Matt. Anyway, she needed to be with family and since you killed her father, I figured it was only fair you raise your niece.”
Matt lay silent and still. Steph was his niece. He’d been instantly attached to the little girl and people often mistook her for his daughter once they saw her eyes… He’d always been secretly grateful about that. She was his niece! He couldn’t think about that now. He had to stay focused. He didn’t have the will to talk anymore but he was doing everything he could to get a message to Eva. They were bonded and she would know he was dying. She would know… He could at least leave her information, if his sister didn’t burn his body. Fear and anger battled for dominance within him.
How could she do this to him?
Mustering up the last of his reserve, he lifted his hand until it touched Michelle’s face. He had to reach her. He wouldn’t let her get away with this, he wouldn’t allow her to hurt Eva any more than she already had. He centered his thoughts, pushing down the fear, the anger and the pain. Michelle hadn’t always been like this. They’d once been close, been happy even. And even now, knowing what she’d done, knowing he was about to die at her hands, still he loved her. “She – she is perfect, Mich… She…” He took a deep breath, ignoring the pain that flared up in his chest. “I love you. No matter what… happened, I love you.”
He let an image of them playing in their sun-dappled living room come to mind – it was one of his earliest memories of them. He’d been happy, had felt safe and loved. He’d trusted his older sister with every fiber of his being. You would never hurt me… He projected that image onto her and then let his hand drop. It was all he could do. He was out of both strength and magic.
He was out of time.
Michelle looked down at him, her expression softer and brushed her hand through his hair. “It was never about you, Matty. It’s always been her.” A tear slid down her face as she stroked his cheek. “She took everything from me.” Leaning down, she kissed him gently on the cheek and whispered, “I’m sorry but she needs to suffer.”
Matt could do nothing but watch as she stood and walked away. A part of him ached for her and the pain he saw in her eyes. Something had snapped in Michelle and he couldn’t help but feel partly responsible. He had killed Glasgow. Not physically but he’d suggested to the man that he walk into a river. And he’d kept persuading him until the thought had become embedded in Glasgow’s mind and started to sound appealing. At the time, he’d felt justified – Glasgow had been the reason he lost his son! But if he had known about Michelle, if he had stopped to think about what losing his father would do to Alistair… And Stephanie – his niece! No, he couldn’t blame Michelle for her anger but that hatred had started way before Glasgow, before Eva was even born. It was a wound that had begun to fester the day their father had come home, crippled by magic that had protected the London family for decades. Magic stronger than anything his father had ever encountered before, Fae magic. The same magic that Michelle was now toying with.
He lay there, his body growing cold as the blood loss grew. Soon he would lose all feeling in his extremities. Matt stared up at the night sky and thought of his wife. Her smile and her warm citrine eyes. The way she sometimes held her tongue between her teeth when she was painting and the way she could make him feel like the strongest man in the world just by cuddling up to him. Her ever-changing hair… They had spent too long afraid of loving each other. Wasted years wondering if the other person could truly see past their flaws. Tears began to flow from his eyes as he remembered her warm skin, her delicate hands, and her beautiful voice. He’d fallen in love with Eva the moment he met her and the time they’d had together hadn’t been enough. Even if he had lived to be a hundred, it would never have been enough.
He thought of the home they’d built, the life they’d made together. Their children, his children, not by blood but in every other way that counted. He took a deep breath, the pain in his side and chest submerged under the blessed numbness that came with death. He thought of his family. I love you more than there are stars in the sky, more than the moon and the sun, more than life itself.
Eva had just put baby Cynthia down for a nap and was walking down the hall when she felt it. It was like someone had taken a sharp knife to her spinal cord and her legs suddenly crumpled underneath her. She lay sprawled on the carpet, unable to breathe.
Then the real pain hit. Matias!
She searched frantically, trying to find the mental cords that tied them together but they were gone, they were all severed. But how, why?
Matt? Can you hear me? His mind had been a comforting presence in her head for the last twenty years, so much so that its absence felt painful.
There was no response. No feeling of warmth and security, just cold dread. Silence. She dug deeper inside herself, hoping that she was wrong. But no, there was nothing. No trace of him at all.
He was just… gone.