ERIC WAS OVERWHELMED with happiness at sensing and smelling his mate. Then he saw her running to him like in a dream. She had long, curly brown hair, honeyed eyes, and a plump mouth with a crossbow upper lip—red as blood, red as love. She was stunning, and a pureblood vampire like him.
However, his happiness was short-lived because she stopped, looking terrified. He didn't understand why. He even turned around to see if there was something scary behind him. Then he saw her run in the opposite direction—her heart beating fast from fear.
She used her superspeed to flee, but he followed her. He wouldn't let her escape after waiting centuries for her. Why was she running away? What was going on?
“Uncle? Don't scare the woman!” Anna warned.
He ignored his niece. He had to talk to his mate and understand why she had run instead of jumping into his arms. Why did she look terrified?
The girl was weak, because he caught her fast.
“Let me go! Let me go, you monster!”
That request caught him off guard, and he let her go. As soon as he did, she ran to the weirdest place: the far end of the compound where the empty holding cells for the prisoners were located.
The vampire woman closed the silver door behind her, burning herself in the process. Then she leaned against the wall—the farthest she could from him—crouching down and drawing her knees to her chest. Putting her head down, she covered it with her arms and hands.
Eric stood outside the cell, trying to understand why she was reacting like that.
“What the hell is going on?” Anna asked, stopping beside him. “Why are you chasing our guest?”
“Who is she?” he asked, flustered and breathless. He didn't look at Anna. His eyes were caught by the sight of the frightened girl, hiding her face against her knees and sobbing in the corner of the holding cell.
“That's Beth ... She was ... Wait, why did she run from you?”
He stepped forward with erratic breath. “I have no idea. I'm not trying to hurt her ... It's just that ...”
“What?” Anna asked with an edge of panic in her voice.
“She's my mate,” he whispered, leaning closer to the bars.
“Don't touch it,” Anna warned, pulling him back from the silver bars that would hurt him. “Let me talk to her first, Uncle. You need to be patient. She’s been through a lot and needs to understand that we don’t want to hurt her and that you aren’t him.”
The ground seemed to disappear under his feet as he balled his hands into fists. Wobbly, he stepped back as pain grasped at his heart. “He hurt her, didn't he? He hurt ... my ... mate.” Eric’s vision blurred with tears. His voice came out shaky and, at the same time, powered by anger. “I’ll kill him, Anna! I will. I can’t believe he had her. He hurt her!”
Anna placed both hands on his face, wiping away the tears that rolled down his cheeks. “I promise you that he will pay. But you need to let me talk to her. You need to control your anger so you won’t scare her even more.”
Eric nodded, placing his hands over hers. “How could he do this?”
“I doubt he knew she was your mate. But he’s a sadist. You’ll need to be patient.”
Eric raised his head to stare at his weeping mate. His body trembled as he clenched his hands into fists and took deep breaths to calm his rage.
“Beth,” Anna called to the vampire woman.
Eric registered his mate’s sadness and fear. Clenching his jaw, he focused on what was happening, fighting the dizziness.
His niece walked forward and grabbed the silver bars with her hands. Being a hybrid, she was immune to the adverse effects. Her voice came out soft. “Beth, this isn't Alaric. Look at him. Please, look at him.”
Beth kept mumbling incoherently while rocking her body back and forth.
“I need to go to her,” Eric mumbled as his body responded to his uncontrollable need to be near his mate. As he moved, Anna turned around and held him still, preventing him from entering the holding cell. “She's my mate, Anna. I want to go to her. I ...” His heart was pounding fast, and his body was shaking with nerves. After feeling the glorious sensation of happiness at finding his other half, the only thing that prevailed was the feeling of hopeless because of what had happened to her. Plus, she was scared of him. The chances of being happy were crashing down around him because of what his hateful brother had done to his mate.
Anna entered the holding cell and kneeled in front of Beth. “Elizabeth ... Beth, look at me.”
Eric concentrated his senses on the girl’s reaction as Anna grabbed her hands and tried to make her look at her. Beth’s sobbing made it harder for him to stay away. He longed to comfort her.
Beth’s body shook when she spoke. “You said I would be safe here. What twisted game are you people playing?”
Was he really the cause of all her panic?
“You're safe,” Anna promised.
“No, I'm not! How did he do that? How!? How was he able to trick me like that!?”
“Do what?” Anna asked, turning her head to look at Eric. “Who are you talking about?”
“Him,” Beth said with a trembling voice, pointing a finger at Eric.
“Do you mean Eric?”
“Eric?” Beth frowned at the name, cleaning her tears.
“Do you want him to leave?”
“Eric, could you leave for a bit while I talk to Beth?”
Eric frowned and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I most definitely will not. She is my mate,” he stated. “I don't want her inside that cage. Please bring her outside. I promise that I won't touch her.”
“I won't go out with him there,” Beth mumbled, hiding her face against her knees. “I'm not ... I’d rather die. How did he do it? How was he able to finish the spell? Was it all a lie? Are you working with him to trick me?”
“Beth ... you need to breathe deeply, relax, and look at the man outside without panicking. It's not Alaric.”
“You’re lying ...”
“I'm not. They look alike. At least at first sight, they do. But that's just because they’re brothers.”
“Brothers?” Beth mumbled before her voice came out with an edge of panic. “My mate is Alaric's brother?”
Anna nodded. “Beth.” Anna softened her tone. “Eric is the youngest son, and he's my uncle. He isn't Alaric. Look at him closely. He’s similar because they’re brothers, but Eric is kind, and he would never hurt you like Alaric did. I can swear to you that Eric isn't anything like Alaric. You don't need to be afraid of him.”
Biting her lower lip, Beth combed her hair with her fingers and looked at him.
Eric moved closer to the bars, his eyes lingering on the tearstained face of his mate. He hoped that she could see the differences and understand that he wasn't going to hurt her. As their eyes met and the mate bond pulled at him, the need to be next to her and touch her arose again.
“I'm not like Alaric, Beth,” he mumbled. “And I'm really sorry for not finding you sooner. I didn't know. I ... don't know how to apologize for what he did to you ...”
“Uncle, don't ...” Anna whispered.
Eric witnessed new tears falling from his mate’s eyes as Beth sobbed. “I should have died.”
Anna held her and caressed her hair.
Her words felt like a knife into his heart. Was she rejecting him for being Alaric’s brother?
His voice came out hoarse when he spoke again. “Beth … please …”
He didn’t know what to say or do. She kept sobbing as if all the pain in the world had taken over her soul. The same pain that threatened to take over his.
Anna looked at him as she rubbed Beth’s back. “She’ll come out when she’s ready. Be patient.”
“I promise, I will.”
Eric sat on the floor and waited until she was ready to come out and talk to him.