A Glimmer of Hope
Chapter 1: Roni
Roni wasn't sure what he’d expected to feel out of his transition, but it sure as hell wasn’t this underwhelming sense of sameness.
He was still the old Roni. Same skinny arms, same bony knees under the thin blanket, and the same flabby middle even though he was underweight. It was hard to tell without looking in the mirror, but he had a feeling he was even scrawnier than before.
His hopes for waking up with an amazing body were crushed.
Except, if nothing had changed, why the hell was he so sore?
Roni ached all over as if he’d spent days stretched on the rack. Skin, muscles, tendons, they all felt too small for his skeleton.
Walking in, Dr. Bridget stated the obvious. “You’re awake.” She handed him a cup of water with a straw.
Roni pushed himself back on the hospital bed and gulped greedily, moistening his dry throat so he could ask the most important question. “How long have I been out?”
“Almost three days.”
He whistled. “That long?”
“Fuck, Sylvia must be worried. Where is she?”
“I sent her away to get some sleep.”
Disappointing. He had fantasized about Sylvia watching over him throughout the transition.
His expression must’ve revealed his thoughts because Bridget added, “We knew you were doing fine and that there was nothing to worry about.”
“How did you know that I was okay? Three days in a coma doesn't sound fine to me.”
Bridget smiled. “You were growing. That’s an excellent indicator that your body was working hard at transitioning. It needed to divert all its energy to the rapid growth.”
Grimacing, Roni lifted his arm. “Does this look bigger to you?”
She whipped out a measuring tape, wrapped it around his bicep, and noted the measurement on her tablet. “You lost three-quarters of an inch of muscle.”
He let his arm plop at his side. “That’s what I thought.”
“But.” Bridget lifted her hand. “You gained an inch in height, bringing you to an impressive six foot two. Your shoulders are also wider by one and a half inches.”
That explained the aches and pains. “No wonder I feel like I’ve been stretched on the rack. Everything hurts.”
“I can give you something for the pain.”
“Please. But none of those mind-bending drugs. Plain ibuprofen will do. I’m the ultimate anti-macho and welcome pain relief whenever available, but I hate mental fog. I’d rather suffer physical discomfort than compromise my brain.”
She chuckled. “I wasn’t going to offer you anything stronger than that. There is no need. Do you want me to call Sylvia?”
Bridget picked up the bedside phone and dialed. “Your guy is awake and asking for you.”
There was a happy squeal on the other side. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
He heard Sylvia as if she’d been talking on a speakerphone. “Unbelievable. The hearing, I mean.”
Bridget nodded. “Do you want to test your eyesight?”
She pointed to a chart on the wall. “Can you read the small print at the bottom?”
Even though the lights were dimmed and the writing was small, he could read it easily. “Amazing. Can you dim the lights even more? I wonder if I can still read it in near darkness.”
Bridget did as he asked, lowering the switch all the way down. “Give it a go.”
He squinted a little. “I can still read it.”
“What about smells?”
He sniffed. “I like your perfume. What is it?”
Bridget chuckled. “Other kinds of smells. What do I smell like under the perfume?”
Roni closed his eyes and concentrated. “Happy. You smell happy and excited.” It was so weird to be able to smell that and recognize what it was—kind of like taste. You knew sweet when you tasted it. The other scent, however, was not something one mentioned to one’s doctor. Roni felt his cheeks heat up but went ahead anyway. “And horny. I’m sorry, but you asked.” He was quite sure the doctor’s arousal had nothing to do with him. After all, she’d seen him in all his unimpressive glory. Besides, it would’ve been uber awkward otherwise.
Bridget was hot, but he was taken.
Her laugh was as happy as her scent. “You are right on both counts.”
She didn’t elaborate, which left him with an uneasy feeling. He had to find out. “Who’s the lucky guy?”
Bridget lifted a brow. “Do you need to ask?”
For a moment, Roni didn’t know whether he should feel flattered or threatened. On second thought, he was definitely flattered. Maybe that extra inch was what made the difference.
But then the rush of excitement helped clear his foggy brain, and he slapped his hand over his forehead. Evidently, the three-day coma had affected his memory.
When the guy had gone missing, Bridget had called Brundar, asking for his help. He in turn had dragged Roni out of bed and asked him to hack into several security cameras. Roni had managed to get the camera feed from Turner’s last known location, the entrance to the fancy restaurant he’d dined at that evening.
As they’d all watched the guy exit the place, get stabbed, and then get driven away by a fake valet, Bridget had sobbed openly.
She was way too cool of a chick to cry over an acquaintance, which made it obvious that the two were lovers.
“And the prize goes to the recently-transitioned guy on the bed.”
“How is he doing? All better now?”
“Yeah. Didn’t you see him at your transition ceremony? He came to watch you.”
“I was a bit busy being scared shitless and trying to keep from soiling my pants while reciting slam poetry.”
Bridget shook her head. “That stuff was awful. Did you write it yourself?”
“Yes, but most of it was based on gangster rap. Disgustingly offensive stuff, and coming from me it’s saying a lot. I have a dirty mouth but nothing like that.”
Roni didn’t want Bridget to think of him as someone who even listened to these kinds of lyrics. “It felt bad to let it out, and I would have never gone that far if not for Kian telling me to use the vilest slam poetry I could find. It worked, spurring his aggression enough to produce venom. Potent stuff too. Much better than that of the other guys.”
As far as he knew, Roni was the only Dormant who’d required four bites from four different immortal males to transition, starting with Andrew, then Onegus, then Brundar, and ending with Kian—whose bite had finally done the trick.
Apparently, that piqued Bridget’s curiosity, and she lifted her tablet. “Tell me about the differences. Did the effect of the other bites feel similar, and only Kian’s was different? Or was each bite unique?”
Concentrating, Roni tried to remember the details, which wasn’t easy given that after each bite his brain had gone on a pleasant vacation to la-la land. But one thing he was sure of—Kian’s had been the best.
“Andrew’s was the weakest. I don’t think he gave me enough before retracting his fangs. This was his first aggressive bite against a male, and he was probably afraid to overdose me, accidentally killing me. Onegus’s and Brundar’s were almost the same, except Brundar’s hurt less, which was a big surprise. The dude is scary, but his bite was very gentle and very precise. He has incredible control.”
“What about Kian?”
Roni smiled. “The difference between his and the others is what I would imagine the difference between pot and acid is. After the other bites, I had a short pleasant trip to dreamland. After Kian’s bite, I soared through psychedelic landscapes and felt one with the universe. That’s the best I can do to describe it, but it doesn't do the trip justice. His wife is one lucky lady.”
Bridget’s wince lasted a split second, but Roni caught it. Damn, he should’ve kept his big yap shut. All the immortal females were yearning for an immortal male’s bite, but only a few had been lucky enough to score one.
Actually, there were only three. Kri, Amanda, and Carol. Though only Amanda and Kri had the real deal—a truelove mate. Carol and Robert had gone their separate ways.
Eva hadn’t known what she was, let alone about the ecstasy of an immortal male’s bite. Syssi had started up as a clueless human, and so had Nathalie, Callie, and Tessa.
If not for Sylvia who kept him updated on the keep’s gossip, Roni would have known none of that. As it was, he knew the stories and the names of the participants but not the people involved. Getting to know everyone in his new family was going to be a slow process. Luckily, he now had all the time in the world, and Sylvia was the fourth clan female to score an immortal male—him.
The full impact of what had happened to him finally hit home.
He was immortal.
“When will I get my fangs?”
Bridget patted his shoulder. “Patience, Roni. Don’t expect to bite your girlfriend anytime soon. Your fangs will take a few weeks to grow, and it will take even longer before you’ll be producing venom. You can talk to Andrew and Michael. They can share their experiences with you.”
Poor Sylvia. She’d waited so patiently for him to transition, and now she would have to wait even longer for the coveted venom bite.
Chapter 2: Bridget
Bridget knocked on Kian’s office door then let herself in. “I want to talk to you before Turner gets here.”
“About?” He put down his pen and pushed away the yellow pad he’d been writing on.
“I want Turner to move in with me. It’s a temporary arrangement, only until the redecorating of his apartment is done. After that, I’m going to move in with him and leave mine to Julian.”
“Define temporary. Few days? Few weeks?”
“Probably a few weeks.”
Kian leaned back in his chair. “Is it my imagination, or is the guy slowly but surely worming his way deeper and deeper into the clan? If he cohabits with you, he will need access to the clan’s private parking level and to the elevators. What is going to stop him from snooping around? He already knows too much.”
“It wasn’t his idea. He suggested that I move in with him, but I have to wait for Julian to take my place in the clinic.”
“How soon is that?”
“He is coming back next week.”
“Can’t you wait until Julian gets here and then move in with Turner? I’m sure the redecorating can wait.”
“I could, but first of all I need to train Julian before he can start, then I need to be around for at least a few weeks in case he needs me. Besides, I don’t want to move into Victor’s apartment before Ingrid transforms it into a livable space. You should see it. The place looks as inviting as an insane asylum from the forties. Everything is white with polished metal accents.”
Kian arched a brow. “And you’re willing to risk further exposure of the clan because of interior decor? That doesn’t sound like you.”
Bridget crossed her arms over her chest. “I dare you to come see it and tell me that you would’ve been willing to live in that place.”
“Is Turner inviting me?”
“I don’t see why not. If he’s letting Ingrid do whatever she wants with his place, Turner must realize that his address is no longer a secret. Besides, what else is there to find out? He already knows most of our secrets.”
Kian rubbed his chin. “He doesn’t know how large our Guardian force is, and he doesn’t know anything about our other locations.”
That wasn’t exactly true. Turner didn’t know where the Scottish stronghold was, or Annani’s Alaskan retreat. But despite the tight security and secrecy around the village project, he’d discovered where the local clan was moving to. Kian would be livid when he found out the location was compromised, and Bridget was bracing for the blowout that would follow.
Victor had promised her he would tell Kian, but he hadn’t had the chance yet.
Hopefully, he was going to do so soon because she hated keeping it a secret from Kian. “He will know about the Guardian force when our offense against human trafficking starts. And as far as the locations, no one knows where Annani’s is, including you. That leaves Scotland, but it’s not like we have a map pinned to a wall somewhere. Unless someone tells him, I don’t see how Victor can find it. Besides, I believe he is trustworthy.” Fearing her guilt would’ve shown on her face, she’d avoided mentioning the village.
Kian raked his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know. I guess he is, at least as long as he thinks you’ll approve his transition attempt. It wouldn’t be logical for him to betray the clan he hopes to become a part of.”
With a sigh, Bridget slumped in her chair. “We both know that I’m going to approve it. I told Victor he needed to get the cancer under control first and convinced him to get chemo. He agreed. But even if that doesn’t work, I can’t forbid him to go for it. He is an adult, and he knows the risks. It’s his choice.”
Kian nodded. “I feel for you. That must be difficult.”
“It is. But what can I do? When life gives me lemons, I add sugar and make lemonade.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Thank you. So is it a yes?”
“How can I say no? I’m not going to confiscate the sugar you need for your lemonade.”
“When we are done, take Turner to William for his parking sticker and a thumbprint for access to the elevators.”
Kian snorted. “As if Victor Turner would agree to a locator cuff. The guy would amputate his own hand rather than give over that much control.”
Chapter 3: Turner
“I made room for your things in the closet.” Bridget reached for one of his suitcases.
Turner pulled his arm back. “I don’t need help.”
She cast him an amused look. “Right. Follow me.”
The woman was strong, but that didn’t mean he would let her carry his suitcase. His injury barely bothered him anymore, and even if it did, he would’ve sucked it up. He was a rational man and all for women’s lib, but there was a limit to how far he was willing to go. Some things, like carrying heavy weights and peeing standing up, should stay in a male’s domain.
As he followed Bridget into her walk-in closet, Turner was surprised to see how little clothing she owned. He hadn’t investigated a woman yet who hadn’t had her closet bursting at the seams. Bridget’s was less than half full.
“Did you get rid of stuff to make room for mine?” He put his two suitcases down.
“I did some cleaning up. It had been ages since I went through what was in my closet. Can you imagine that I still had several outfits from the sixties? I think it’s safe to assume those will never come back into fashion.”
It was a reminder that Bridget was much older than she looked, and that he still didn’t know exactly how old. “Are you ever going to reveal your age? Or is it going to remain a mystery forever?”
She walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. “I’ll tell you after your transition. No need to freak you out when you still think of age in human terms.”
He dipped his head and kissed her plump lips. “I take it that you believe I’ll make it?”
“I have to. Thinking otherwise is going to suck all the joy out of my life.”
Looking away, Turner hid a wince. He didn’t want to think about Bridget’s pain either.
She was an unexpected complication in his quest for immortality. When he’d come up with the idea, there had been nothing overly important he had to consider. Unlike most people, Turner wasn’t afraid of dying, and at the time no one would’ve been too devastated by his passing. Alice might have shed a tear or two, his son would’ve been sad for about a day, and his staff of independent consultants would’ve missed the good income he’d provided for them.
Maybe some of his clients would’ve bemoaned the loss of his valuable services.
That was about it.
His death would not have been a big deal to anyone.
But now there was Bridget. And his death was going to pain her.
When he’d set out to seduce her, Victor hadn’t expected to care for her as much as he did. She’d been a means to an end.
His mistake was not taking into account the law of unexpected consequences. He’d fallen into the web he’d so carefully spun to entrap her, and now they were both stuck inside of it—for better or for worse.
Bridget tapped his nose with her fingertip. “What are you thinking about?”
“Of how far we’ve come. I’ve never shared a home with anyone before.”
“Are you scared?”
“Scared? No, of course not. I’m curious and looking forward to a new experience.”
“Naturally.” Her smirk suggested she didn’t believe him.
“What should I be afraid of? Do you turn into a monster on nights when the moon is full?”
“Like a werewolf?”
He shrugged. “Any other creatures that turn into monsters on a full moon?”
“Not that I heard of. But I can turn into anything you want.” She waggled her brows. “Do you have anything specific in mind?”
He’d forgotten about that side of the thralling ability. When Turner had first met Kian, the guy had revealed who he was, and Brundar had provided the proof by vanishing himself, Anandur and Kian from sight, then bringing them back. It was all a mind trick. Brundar had manipulated Turner’s mind not to see what had been right in front of his eyes. He could’ve just as easily projected any other image, like turning the three immortals into chickens or werewolves.
“I don’t. Surprise me.”
“Close your eyes.”
A tingle of excitement rushed up his spine. “Okay.”
“You can open them now.”
The woman in his arms was still Bridget, plump lips, smiling eyes, and flaming red hair. “I don’t think it worked.”
She smirked. “Look down.”
“Holy shit!” Startled, he let go of her.
Instead of legs, Bridget had a long fishtail that sparkled emerald green. Quickly, he closed his arms back around her. Without legs, she couldn’t hold herself up, and if he didn’t hold her she would drop to the ground.
Bridget’s laughter filled the closet. “It’s an illusion, Victor. I still have legs, and I’m still standing. You can let go.”
Experimentally, he did, but just in case he needed to catch her, his hands hovered close to her waist.
Bridget remained upright, standing on her fins. “How do you like Little Mermaid?” She flipped her hair back. “We have the same coloring.”
Logically, he knew that what he was seeing was an illusion, but his mind responded instinctively to the visual stimuli. A fish couldn’t stand on its fins, and he couldn’t help but hold on to Bridget to keep her from falling.
Catching her around the middle, he brought her close against his body. “The Little Mermaid is a lovely young fish girl. I prefer my Bridget.”
“Oh, that’s sweet.” The tail vanished, turning back into a set of lovely legs.
A thought crossed his mind. “What if the story is based on a mischievous immortal who wanted to play mind games on the prince?”
Bridget tilted her head. “I’ll have to ask Annani. I wouldn’t put something like that past her. This is exactly the kind of prank she would’ve found hilarious.”
That was highly unlikely. Surely the goddess, the mother of the clan, was not into playing tricks on unsuspecting humans. “What makes you think it could’ve been her?”
“Several things. First of all, she is tiny, even smaller than I am, and at first glance looks like a seventeen-year-old girl. Secondly, she is stunningly beautiful, with red wavy hair that reaches all the way down her hips. And third, she has a mischievous streak the length of the Mississippi River. She drives poor Kian insane. He always worries about what she’ll do next.”
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When gods and immortals still ruled the ancient world,
one young goddess risked everything for love.
Promised to the power-hungry god Mortdh, the young Annani is determined to find a way out of the prearranged political union that would one day put Mortdh on the throne.
Even though Khiann is the son of a merchant and not a member of the leading circle, the handsome young god is a much more appealing choice. Now all she has to do is convince him that she is worth chancing an all-out civil war over succession and possibly his very life.