Where is Aria
The fires of hell swirled around Scorpio as he landed in the center of the pit. Screams of death split his eardrums. Claimed souls tore at his black silk pajamas, trying to claw his flesh. The stench of death assaulted his nose. He fell to his knees and searched the darkness for her, hoping that whoever had trapped him here had decided to spare her life.
"She's fine, for now."
Scorpio searched the shadows for the one who'd answered his unspoken thoughts. There. He looked through the transparent souls at Barista. The cover of darkness hid the vampire's expression. Scorpio's blood boiled. He should have killed his nemesis when he'd had a chance. He grew angry, remembering how Barista had ambushed him and Aria on the street in New Orleans. He balled his hands into fists. Yes, he thought, he should have killed that motherfucker then. If Aria hadn't stopped him, he surely would have.
His thoughts turned to the woman he hoped was still in his bed. The woman he had pursued for centuries until she finally gave in to him that Halloween night. Aria was more than a woman, however. More than a vampire. She was his soulmate, his blood, his breath.
"She's beautiful. I bet she tastes as good as she looks." The Italian vampire stepped from the shadows and grinned at Scorpio, the vamp's smug expression now fully visible in the glow of the flames. His dark brown hair billowed in the breeze along with the hem of his open black coat. Scorpio had detected Barista's growing attraction to his mate and had planned to finish him off. He didn't know why the Italian had brought him to Hell, and he was losing patience to find out.
"I will kill you!"
"You had your chance, Master Stansakopolis, and you fucked it up."
Scorpio struggled to his bare feet. No, he hadn't fucked it up. Aria had stopped him. That was the difference. For her, he would do anything and more. "What did you do with her?"
"Nothing. She is right where you left her. In your bed."
He narrowed his eyes at Barista. "How did you get through my barrier? You can't penetrate a master's dreams."
"It's a little trick I learned when I held your throne."
Barista stepped toward him and waved off Scorpio's question with the flip of his hand. Scorpio remained on guard, ready for battle. His nemesis' arrogance was pissing him off and had caused his fangs to lengthen to battle mode.
"That's not important. We can help each other," Barista said. "I can make you more powerful than you are now."
"I'm content with the power I have."
"But don't you want more? Are you really content with your little lair, your small territories, and your precious wife?"
Scorpio's bare, muscular chest heaved with anger. "I never wanted to be like you."
Barista smiled. "Does she know?"
Scorpio remained silent. What did Barista know about Aria? How could he possibly know anything about her?
"She doesn't, does she?" He inched closer to the master, but not near enough to be within Scorpio's striking range, and dropped his voice an octave. "Well, I do. I know her womb isn't dead yet. She can breed."
"That isn't your concern," Scorpio blinked. Damn it, he thought. How did Barista find out?
"It's the council's concern. They have been looking for her for ages, and you've had her squirreled away under your nose the whole time. I think they'd be interested to know her present location."
Scorpio crossed his arms over his chest. Now he understood why Barista had brought him here, to strike a deal of some sort. His rival wasn't stupid enough to kill him here. There would be an inquisition by the council first. Plus, without him, Barista would never be able to track Aria's movements.
"How did you find out?"
"That master you killed for her tried to strike a bargain with me. I couldn't believe what he told me. Now I know it's true."
Scorpio paced but was careful to keep Barista in sight.
"You've known all along," Barista said. "That's why you've never let anyone get close to her or let her out of your sight. But don't you see? Together, the three of us can rule the world."
"You aren't fit to rule in Hell."
He sighed. "I thought you'd see things my way. You've always been ambitionless. You could do so much with this vessel, but you're going to fuck it all away because you have feelings for her." Barista's expression became stormy. "Give her to me, then."
Scorpio stopped walking and snarled. "Over my dead body!"
"That can be arranged." Barista turned away but looked back over his shoulder. "You love her, I see. How touching." His tone changed from falsely pleasant to somber and dry. "You have three nights to decide."
"To either go along with my plan or choose how you will die."
Scorpio charged at the intruder in his dreams. Barista laughed and dissolved into mist, leaving his punch to land on nothing but air. He bolted upright in bed. It was well into morning. The gates had closed over the open windows, encasing the room in darkness. Sweat dripped in a steady stream from his forehead onto his bare thighs.
He glanced to his right. Aria was still there. In his bed. Her beautiful, nude body pressed against his. She stirred at his sudden movement. Her eyes fluttered open.
As time passed, he just stared at her, unable to do anything more. He would protect her from Barista and the council no matter what, even if that meant he'd have to give up his life in the process. She didn't understand how special she was, how much she meant to him. He won't tell her his secret. It would destroy her to learn he had known she was merely some sick sorcerer's experiment, having had a fresh womb implanted into her dying one as she was turned, and no one had ever told her.
Smiling, she reached up to massage his shoulder. He relaxed under her touch but remained on guard. After another mental sweep of his lair, he lay back down and turned onto his right side. She kissed him before turning her back and encouraging him to spoon her. He wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her to his chest. She was his lifeline. Was what had made a dead man want to live again.
He nodded, kissing her neck. "The worst."
She looked back at him before settling into his tight embrace. He was still tense from Barista's intrusion, but as he inhaled the coconut scent from her tresses, he slowly calmed down."Are you okay?"
He closed his eyes. Yes, he answered, not wanting to speak aloud so that she could hear the tension still in his voice. Everything is fine.
And it would be. He'd make sure of it.