“For surely a king is first a man. And so it must follow that a king does as all men do: the best he can.”
Forgotten Hollow Vatore Park
Nervously Riordan took the hand of the pretty woman next to him to lead her into the park, feeling like a teen boy on his first ever date with the prettiest girl in school, even though this wasn’t their first date. It had been decades since he last dated and it felt nerve-wrecking. The lines when exactly things between him and her turned from business to pleasure had become blurred, neither of them could say for sure. He had been to her apartment in San Myshuno many times, this was the first time he had invited her – or anyone who was not family – over to his still fairly new home. He had gotten tired of living with his uncle’s family, Caleb had finally deemed Riordan stable enough to live on his own again.
She stopped short, her hand pulling away from his, grasping onto his arm, as she protested.
“Ri, I thought I was going to see where you live. Your home, not a park. I am not dressed for a romantic late night stroll. Please don’t tell me you live on a park bench, just a few hundred yards away from the driveway up to your uncle’s gigantic castle?”
“I do indeed live here, Vatore Park, although I can do a little better than a bench. Follow me – please.”
“Castello Vatore, Vatore Park, … isn’t it a little presumptuous of your family to name everything after yourself? And why not at least add the word ‘memorial’ or something to imply a little humility?” Layla wondered.
“The Vatores are a very powerful family, not just around here. My uncle Caleb is practically a king of kings. No room for humility there, and it would seem rather ironic, all things considered. And wouldn’t the term ‘memorial’ imply remembrance of something in the past? Hardly possibly for most vampires, considering the immortal aspect.”
“True, you got me there. A king, no less, huh? So would that make you a prince?”
“More like the fool, there to amuse the king and do as he pleases.”
“You are no fool, Riordan. Don’t even try that with me. What some lack in humility, you have too much of. Neither is right. And you are definitely my knight in shining armor.”
“Hmm, tell me more, my beautiful maiden …”
Their story was quickly told. The young woman was a young aspiring opera soprano by the name of Layla Swan, who had the misfortune of having become the object of desire of a rogue vampire. When she kept dismissing his many advances, thinking he was just another misogynistic man like many others, back then she was still blissfully ignorant to the fact that vampires even existed at all, hence unaware of what and how dangerous her stalker really was, until her rejection upset him enough to punish her by turning her against her will, then leaving her in a very vulnerable state for a new vampire at the cusp of transforming.
All this eventually ended up on Caleb’s desk, once he found and punished the perpetrator he was reminded that he once had met his own wife, Breana, under very similar circumstances, she too had once been a new vampire abandoned by her master, Caleb took her on and they fell in love, which birthed a plan in his mind.
He had to practically force a very reluctant Riordan to accept Layla as his ward, officially to teach her the ropes of vampirism, while Caleb would never admit to anything, secretly he hoped it would evolve in a romantic way and finally help Riordan find joy in life again.
The rest, as they say, is history. Try as he might, Riordan couldn’t help but become enamored by Layla, fearful and resentful of vampires at first after what one of them had done to her, she eventually realized Riordan wasn’t like that, and they had gone out on a few dates for a few months now, careful baby steps as she was just as emotionally fragile and overwhelmed by the situation as he was, just for different reasons.
Tonight he had decided to take her to his home, a new home for him as well. After living with his uncle and his family at Castello Vatore for years as they helped him recover from the loss, he had moved into his own home again, a true vampire lair below Vatore Park, impossible to find unless you knew where to look.
Leading her to the secret entrance now, Riordan felt strange. Excited, nervous, hopeful. Layla was still very mortal in her ways, having only been a vampire for a few months now, everything was still strange and new to her and she was still not as emotionally numb as many older vampires were, a trait that repelled Riordan from dating his own kind, while the fear of losing again kept him from trying to find a mortal match again.
He unlocked the door and let her enter, watched her take a few steps and look around, curiously.
“Definitely screams bachelor.”
“Is that a bad thing or good?”
“Neither. Just looks as dark as your face often does.”
“You know how to fix that. All it takes to make me smile is a kiss by a beautiful woman.”
“Should we go topside and look for one for you then?”
“Very funny. Come here you.”
“Uh uh uh! Didn’t even offer me a drink first. Shame on you! What kind of gentleman are you?” she teased playfully.
“You’re right. How rude. What would you like, Layla?”
“I like how you say my name …”
“Really? I didn’t think there was anything special about how I say it.”
“Maybe it’s those fangs.”
“You have them too now.”
“I know. Still getting used to speaking without that ridiculous lisp they give you. How I am supposed to get through some difficult aria with those teeth is beyond me.”
“I find your lisp rather sexy.” Riordan mumbled, getting lost in her brilliant baby blues.
“So that’s why you brought me here, you dawg. A few dates, a few kisses and you deemed my ripe for the picking. Well, I’ll have you know, I am not one of those easy girls who sleep with a guy in a more powerful position after a handful of dates! I do not have a problem telling you no, even though you may be our leader’s right hand, just like I told that monster no who turned me. After all, not much more you can do to me now.”
“I would never hurt you. Not now, and not before. I am not like that.”
“I know. That’s why I came here. I trust you, and not just because you are my mentor.”
“Master.” Riordan corrected quietly.
“Hmm? What?” Layle wondered, slightly confused.
“It’s called master. I am your master.”
“Oh, you would like that, wouldn’t you?!”
“Layla, it’s just what it’s called. I didn’t make the rules, just enforce them. And teach them.”
“If you think I will EVER call you my master, you have another thing coming, Riordan Vatore! That’ll be the day!”
Riordan just chuckled and pulled her close, she wrapped her arms around his waist.
“How is that funny?” Layla wondered.
“It’s not. You just really reminded me of someone I used to know. Someone very, VERY dear to me. Someone whose loss really broke me. You just sounded almost exactly like her.”
“My LATE wife. We never divorced. We never would have. She just … ran out of life.”
“Sorry. Was that recently?” she asked softly.
“Not really. You’ll find that by vampire standards, time takes on a different meaning altogether. I even lost count, but think by mortal calculations it’s been 20 years ago, 25 maybe, or something like that. Yeah, our grandson Kai was young then. And our granddaughter Haley is about to have her 3rd child soon. It just got very quiet and so very lonely after she was gone. A deafening silence, inside and out.”
“I am sorry, Ri. I get what you mean. After being turned, it just all changed for me, so suddenly, I never felt this alone in my entire life. I really am struggling getting used to being … this. Did you struggle as much with getting used to it all, too? Or is it just me?” she leaned into him.
“I did struggle, even though I was born like this. My mother is a vampire, my father was a mortal, but I never got to know him. He resented me for what I was, but there were other people in my life, mortals, my uncle’s friends, they raised me like one of their own. Incidentally, that is where I met Anastasia. She was their daughter. We grew up together and just always belonged.”
“You are still really hung up on her, aren’t you?”
“Not to be too forward here, but I am beginning to let go, little by little.”
He gave her that look, one of those that say everything without saying a word.
For a while they just stood there, staring at each other, until she stepped closer, he let her without moving a muscle until she gently ran her hand across his cheek, then stood on her toes and kissed him.
After the kiss they stared at each other some more, until she whispered.
“Where is your bedroom?”
“Take me to your bedroom, Riordan! I am not one to throw myself at a man normally, so take it or lose it forever. I think we both need this, to mark new chapters of our lives. No use dwelling on what we lost, time to move on and why not do it together.”
Without a word he took her hand and lead the way …
A.N.: The title is a play of words on a popular chess move, marking the beginning of a game by relinquishing a pawn to the other player. Caleb is the chess player and the proverbial ‘king’ in our story, relinquishing Layla as a strategic move to Riordan ... maybe this marks the beginning of a new game of love for Ri.
The beautiful Layla Swan was created for my storyline by Audrey of “New Beginnings”