Ascher ran down the stairs to the kitchen, hoping to avoid a nasty scene. The staff didn’t need to witness such a scene. He moved Ursula into the employee lounge and slammed the door.
She removed her shades, revealing blood red eyes. When her eyes met his, they softened while retaining their crimson glaze.
“I’ve had enough of your surprise visits! What the hell is your problem?” Ascher seethed at her.
“Father said you don’t want to seal to me. Is it true Ascher? Are you really calling off the sealing?”
He paced the floor, and then sat down. He didn’t love her, but he cared about her feelings. He formed the words in his head, before letting them slip from his lips. “Ursula, we’re too different. I don’t love you enough to tie myself down for eternity. So, to answer your question—yes, I’m calling off the sealing.”
Her face pained. “What? Ascher, we belong together. Old Klaus says it’s our destiny.”
“I can’t go through with it.”
“But we’ve made love. If you don’t take me, they’ll seal me to someone else, someone beneath me.”
It was classic Ursula to care about something so banal. She expected him to spend eternity unhappy, just to suit her. Did she believe him to be her own sacrificial martyr? Selfish bitch…Ascher slammed his fist down onto the wooden table, splinters wedging in his skin. “Is that the only thing you’re concerned about?”
“No. I just thought that, “she stopped mid-sentence, her face morphing into a leer. “If you don’t go through with it, you know what my father will do. He won’t have a choice.”
“I know what the covenants say. So does my family, Ursula. I do care about your feelings, but I’m not in love with you. I can’t spend eternity with you knowing how I feel. Be honest with yourself, you only want the bloodstone. Any feelings you might have for me are secondary to that desire, and I’m just a go between to get what you really want.”
“Ascher, I really do love you,” she whispered in a voice that seeped sincerity.
Was it possible that she really did love him? He hadn’t considered that possibility.
Her expression turned bitter, her bout of humanity brief. She glanced up, her eyes blazing at him. “It’s the human isn’t it?”
“Would you keep your voice down?”
“Why should I? She’s here, isn’t she?”
He growled, then spoke through clenched teeth, “If she was, it would be none of your business!”
“What has she done to you?”
Ascher grew impatient with her rambling. “I’ve gone through the proper channels. If Clive decides to retaliate against me, I’ll accept the consequences for my decision.”
“She doesn’t know what you are, does she?”
“What kind of question is that? Of course she doesn’t know!”
“Maybe she should know. That would surely change her mind.”
He grabbed her arm, twisting her back around. “Is that a threat? Are you really threatening me?” He flashed his own crimson gaze at her. “I wouldn’t do that, unless you’re ready to accept the consequences for your actions.”
A soft tapping of footsteps came down the hall. Shauna. They stopped in front of the door before the doorknob turned and clicked.
“Ascher,” Shauna called out, her voice quivering.
“Just a second,” he shouted. He gave Ursula a flash of his eyes, motioning her to put her shades back on. Ascher took three deep breaths, closed his eyes, and concentrated on calming down. When the mirror reflected his pale stare, he shot Ursula another warning glance before opening the door.
* * * *
Shauna walked in, and the thick presence of unrest made her nervous, putting her on edge. A beautiful woman—with a pale porcelain complexion, long dark hair, and the most curvaceous body she’d ever seen—sat at the wooden table.
Ascher visibly trembled, his face an unfamiliar mask.
Shauna spoke to Ascher while concentrating her glance on the mysterious stranger. “You never came back. I was worried.”
Ascher pulled Shauna behind him, his stance clearly a protective one.
Shauna couldn’t understand why. Surely, she didn’t need protection from her. His grip tightened around her arm, his knuckles straining with tension. Finally, she registered his firm hold and sent messages to her heart and eyes. She wiggled away from him. “Let go of me, Ash! What’s wrong with you? Who is she?”
“I’m fine and she’s nobody. Ursula was just leaving.”
“The hell I am…” The strange woman mumbled, an unsavory smirk turning up the corners of her pouty mouth. “Tell her, Ascher. Tell her who I really am!”
“Yeah, Ascher,” Shauna spoke in a mocking tone, her eyes becoming pieces of wet coal in narrow sockets. “Why don’t you tell me who she is?”
He froze, his youthful face chiseled with a mixture of shock, horror and anger. “There’s something you need to know.”
“Spit it out, Ascher. Tell her! Or, I will!” Ursula growled then flicked the shades away from her face. Her crimson eyes glowed at Shana with a demon's light.
Terror set in, worse than any horror movie Shauna had ever seen, more ghastly than any monster a mind could conjure. Shauna clutched her chest, stepping away from both of them. “Her eyes!” she screamed. “Ascher, what’s wrong with her eyes?”
The stranger giggled and continued piercing her demonized stare into Shauna.
* * * *
Ascher struggled to control his mounting rage. Not only was Ursula ruining his chances with Shauna but also her stupidity might expose them. He clutched Shauna closer. “Do you trust me?”
The floor vibrated underneath their feet. Shauna’s eyes became cold, the glare of distrust swimming in them. “No, I don’t! Why are you so nervous?”
“You left Katy alone. You should go back up with her. I’ll be up there in a little while. Okay?”
“No! I’m not going anywhere. I want to know who she is, right now, Ascher!”
“Please, Shauna.” He huffed with impatience. “Just do it!”
“No!” Shauna shouted while standing her ground.
“For cryin’ out loud…” Ursula groaned.
“I warned you, Ursula.” He growled, every part of him aching to rip her to shreds. She had nerve.
“You don’t warn me. Looks like you’ve been keeping a lot from her. Afraid she might not want you, if she knows about the real you?”
Ascher’s lips strained against clenched teeth, begging to curl up and release a menacing snarl. Control. He needed to stay in control. Push the anger back down and stem the raging desire to lash out at Ursula.
Ursula’s red eyes narrowed, taunting him, daring him to expose himself. He was strong in his gifts, but rage made her stronger. Her mind turned, fighting off the subliminals he hurled at her.
Ursula cackled. “That won’t work, dearest. It’s time she knows the truth.”
“Dearest?” Shauna questioned, her hands curling into tight fists.
Ascher reached for Shauna, but she moved away from him. “Don’t touch me!”
“Ursula, doing this won’t change things between us,” he uttered, knowing she’d never listen to reason.
“She still deserves the truth, Ascher.”
Ascher knew that Ursula wasn’t interested in Shauna knowing the truth. She wasn’t interested in Shauna’s feelings, at all. She only wanted revenge for what she considered a threat to her happiness. “Ursula, please don’t do this.” He couldn’t believe he was begging her for anything.
Ignoring his pleading, she continued, “My name is Ursula. Ascher and I are to seal in two days.”
Shauna drew in a staggered breath. “Seal, as in marriage?”
“Is this true?” Shauna demanded.
His head dropped in shame. “Yes, but…”
“So she is your fiancée? And let me guess, she’s the first.”
“Shauna, I can explain.”
* * * *
Shauna clutched her head with both hands while screaming, “No!” The windows cracked as she ran towards the door, fresh tears flooding her face.
Ascher grabbed for her—missing.
“No!” she shouted again. The ceiling rumbled, water raining down from the sprinklers. “Move!” she shouted, pointing towards the door. At her command, it flew open, nearly ripping off its hinges.
Ascher appeared in front of her.
She scowled. “Go away!” An unseen force moved him from her path. She turned, backing away from both of them, her eyes fixated on the two. Her finger twirled and pointed at each of them. “Stay!”
“I hope you’re happy now!” he seethed at Ursula then sprinted after Shauna, catching her before she hit the stairs. He clutched her, turning her to him. “Shauna please, just let me explain!”
A strange burn started in her legs. What’s happening to me? She’d had rage issues all her life, never anything like this. Her clear eyesight was now blurry and grey. The hall she’d seen for three months, and knew like the back of her hand, became an unfamiliar maze veiled by her fuzzy vision.
She took a step, stumbled and then regained her balance against the wall. “I told you how important honesty was to me, and you’ve kept this from me the whole time? You told me she was nobody—that it was only physical curiosity. It doesn’t look that way to me. She talks as if she owns you. You told me it was over between the two of you. How were you going to cover up getting married to someone else?”
“I wasn’t, please just listen to me---”
Shauna shook her head. “I’ve listened enough, I can’t trust you. Without trust, we have nothing. All you’ve done is feed me lies. You’re a liar! I despise liars! I can’t believe I was going to sleep with you, allow you to be my first.” She gripped her stomach and doubled over as she felt the nausea rising. “I’m going to be sick.”
He reached for her, again.
“Don’t touch me!” Every ounce of restraint left her body. Chaos now flooded her brain. She wanted to lash out. No, she needed to lash out.
“Shauna, just let me take you home. I promise I’ll explain things to you.”
“What part of I don’t want to hear your lies don’t you understand?” she growled through clenched teeth, her anger blazing directly into him. “Back!” she barked, pushing her hands away from her body and toward him. He flew back against the wall. “I don’t want to hear anymore lies!” She sobbed into her hands. “I hate you. I wish I’d never met you!”
“Shauna?” he whispered with pain and disbelief creasing his face. “You don’t mean that. You’re just upset. Let’s talk things through.”
“There’s nothing left to say, Ascher. Just leave me alone, I never want to see you again.”
“Shauna, I love you. Please. You don’t---”
“Oh, yes I do. I mean it and I quit! I can’t work here anymore.” She ran out the emergency exit, setting off the door alarm, sprinting into the night.