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Fated (Chapter 10)

Pulling on a pair of capri yoga pants and a tank top the next morning, I yanked a brush through my tangled hair as my eyes swept over Stefan's sleeping form on the bed. He was gloriously naked and his arms were clutching a pillow against his broad chest, his face smooth in sleep. His long, muscled legs were stretched across the bed and the faint glow from the morning sun made his pale skin appear almost luminous. It was still hard for me to believe that this beautiful creature was mine for eternity if I wanted it. Did I want it?

Walking across the room to the large windows, my eyes took in the swell of the waves in the distance. I had avoided relationships for 28 years and presently I was considering spending an eternity of lifetimes with the vampire behind me. The thought intrigued and terrified me at the same time. I considered the odd changes to my body, the almost instant healing of his bite marks, the changes to my mental shields, our ability to read each other's thoughts….it was making my head swim and causing a familiar fear to rise inside of me. I squashed the fear down, knowing that I loved him and being with him was right.

I quietly left the room, my bare feet padding down the staircase to head for the kitchen. I'd just stepped into the living room when I noticed a strange man sitting on Stefan's couch. I froze in my tracks, unable to move.

His strange, heavily accented voice stopped me in my tracks. "You must be infamous Josephine I've heard so much about."

He was tall and thin and his long arm stretched across the back of the couch. His hair was wavy, salt and pepper in color. His skin had the familiar iridescent pale quality of a vampire, however his had an almost tawny tinge and his features reflected his Spanish heritage. His brown eyes were sharp and piercing, his mouth thin with a slight cynical twist to it.

Slowly inching backwards towards the staircase to the master bedroom, my heart was racing against my chest. I wasn't sure if my mental thoughts could wake up Stefan but I figured now was a perfect time to try since I was alone with a potentially unfriendly vampire. I'm sure my mental voice was loud and probably sounded frantic it screamed out to him. "Stefan! I need you to get down here. Now."

"Yes, I'm Josie. I'm at a disadvantage here since you obviously know me and I'm at a loss as to who you are. I wake up to find a stranger sitting on my boyfriend's couch. You have to understand why I'm confused." My voice sounded level, even as my heart continued its frantic rhythm in my chest. I continued slowly backing towards the stairs as I kept sending mental pleas to Stefan.

A deep, mocking laugh came from him, his legs stretching to cross at his ankles. "Boyfriend," he snorted, his eyebrow raising slightly. "I suppose you're right. I know everything about you, Josephine. You are more beautiful than Stefan said you'd be."

"Adolfo."

I let out a sigh of relief as I heard Stefan's voice at the top of the stairs. He was a blur as he came to stand beside of me, a possessive arm wrapping tightly around my waist.

"Josephine, since he is not polite enough to introduce himself, allow me to do the honors. This is my friend Adolfo Amaya.  He is on the Council, the one I contacted about our concerns," Stefan said, his voice sharp as he made the introductions. Glancing up to look at his face, my stomach sank as I observed the displeased expression on his face. When he looked down at me, his eyes were filled with regret. I knew this wasn't a social visit since it was apparent Stefan knew exactly why this vampire was here and it wasn't to catch up on gossip.

"Nice to meet you," I whispered, pressing myself closer to Stefan. I sent a mental thought to him, the tone cutting. "Now would be a great time to tell me what the hell is going on, Stefan."

Stefan's mental voice laughed sardonically. "He is here on Council business. We are going to need to go with him. Josephine, I need you to remain calm so he doesn't know we're communicating."

He needed me to remain calm?! This strange vampire was here to take us to parts unknown and I'm supposed to stand here and act like he's here for a cup of coffee? I took a deep breath and made the decision to let Stefan do the talking. He could easily pick through Adolfo's future to gauge his intentions.

"Stefan, you know why I'm here so let's cut the pleasantries. I need you both to pack and come with me. There's a private plane waiting for us," Adolfo said in his heavily accented voice, clasping his hands across his lap. His dark eyes roamed around the room before fixing his stare back at Stefan.

Watching as Stefan began to anxiously pace the room at a much faster pace than human speed, I uneasily sat down on the edge on a chair and chewed on my bottom lip. Lukas had warned us both this was going to happen. Even Stefan said they knew of me prior to us meeting. I wasn't expecting it to happen like this, especially from someone that Stefan said he could trust.

His mental voice was a warning in my head. "Vackra, we have no choice in the matter. We cannot refuse. We have to go with him."

He stopped pacing to stand beside of me, his large hand caressing the strands of my hair. I glanced up at him, our eyes meeting again. His sea blue eyes were resigned and his mouth was tight and grim. He addressed Adolfo without bothering to look at him, his eyes still focused on mine as he spoke.

"How long until we leave, Adolfo?"

Adolfo stood and walked to the far wall of windows. He pulled back the arm of his suit jacket, glancing at his watch. "We need to leave here within the hour. I'll be your escort until the Council convenes."

"Fine," Stefan answered. He grabbed my elbow and led me up the steps into the bedroom. He closed the door behind us and his face finally relaxed.

As I started to open my mouth to speak, Stefan placed his index finger over his own lips and shook his head. He moved to tap his temple, reminding me to use mental speak. I rolled my eyes, remembering him telling me this would come in handy.

Damn it if he wasn't right again!

"Can you see what's going to happen? You know I can't see our futures, Stefan."

He was a blur as he moved back and forth from the bed to the closet, opening a large suitcase and placing jeans, shirts and shoes in the bag.

"They are curious about you. It is not typical of a vampire to choose to be in a romantic relationship with a human and they want to evaluate the strength of it. Of course, they knew of you from my own mind as we discussed and I'm assuming Adolfo's questions piqued their interest. Start packing, vackra."

His hand pointed to the closet and motioned for me to start moving. My feet felt as if they were encased in cement as I walked towards the closet, my hands clenching until I felt my fingernails cut into my palms.

"How long are we going to be there? And what they hell do they want to know, Stefan?"

Turning away and not waiting for an answer, I focused on the closet and searched through the clothes Lukas had picked out for me. I mentally gave Lukas a thank you for his obsessive shopping behavior.

"Two days at the most, Josephine. They want to assess your ability and make sure you are not a threat. If it puts your mind at ease, I see us returning back to Bali. There are things that are variables. However, I see us returning together."

"Variables? What kind of variables?"

Stefan shrugged his shoulders as he began getting dressed. "That I do not know. Our gifts are not exact sciences."

Throwing up my hands in exasperation, I angrily pulled clothes from the closet and added it to Stefan's suitcase. I hurried into the bathroom and grabbed my cosmetic bag and toiletries from the sink, rushing back into the bedroom. Stepping back into the closet, I grabbed jeans and yanked a white smocked henley blouse from the hanger. Dressing quickly, I shoved my feet into a pair of ballet flats and ran my fingers through my hair to attempt to smooth the wild waves. I walked to the edge of the bed to stand beside Stefan, my hands trembling as I reached for the zipper of the suitcase to close the suitcase.

"You look beautiful." His thought was a whisper as he turned to encircle me in his arms, pulling me against the hardness of his body. His blond head lowered to brush his lips against mine gently and I let myself relax into the comfort of his embrace. I reminded myself that he said we'd be returning together. The thought of losing him or coming home without him tore apart my insides.

His mental voice was a whisper as it entered my mind. "Remember that I love you and I promise to keep you safe. For now, you need to follow my lead. If I tell you to answer in a certain way, it is imperative you do so."

Squaring my shoulders, I pulled away from him and my mouth was set in a grim line. "I'm so going to kick your ass when we get home, Stefan. This is the vampire bullshit you were referring to I assume?"

He chuckled aloud, breaking the silence of the room. He nodded and picked the suitcase off the bed with one hand. He hesitantly offered me his other hand, waiting for me to join him. I reluctantly put my hand in his and squeezed it affectionately.

Are you ready for this, vackra?

Releasing a resigned sigh, my shoulders drooped slightly. That was the million dollar question. I knew I'd never be ready to fly off to meet a council of vampires and rely on Stefan's mental queues to make it out alive but I didn't have a choice in the matter.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Let's go so we can come home."

***

The drive to Denpasar International Airport was silent and filled with tension. I clung to Stefan's arm during most of the car ride and Adolfo made no attempt to make any conversation as we drove along. I found myself looking out the tinted backseat window, the beautiful scenery a blur as my mind tried to make sense of what happened. Just this morning I was considering becoming one and now I was on my way to go before a Council of vampires that wanted to assess my abilities, most likely ridicule our relationship and all Stefan could tell me is that we'd be coming home together. On a scale of 1-10 on having a bad day this had to be a 40. Resting my head against the car seat, I turned my head slightly to look at Stefan sitting next to me.

He was staring straight ahead and his posture was rigid. The chiseled lines of his face were hard, his jaw set rigidly. One of his hands rested on my thigh and the other absently tapped on the seat. He was nervous and I was trying to figure out why since he'd assured me we'd be coming home together.

Closing my eyes, I mentally reached out to read his thoughts. The recurring theme in his mind was seeing us on a flight home together. The remainder of his vision was a jumble of black spots and blurs as his mind calculated the situation we were walking into, flashes of faces and conversation flying through his mind. His thoughts would change direction to focus on Adolfo and his mind became dark and sinister. I was almost dizzy from the speed of his mind working.

"Stefan? Will you talk to me?"

He didn't acknowledge my mental questions. His eyes sunglass covered eyes were fixed on the back of Adolfo's head. He was as still as a statue. A deadly, beautiful statue that had a case of nervous fingers.

I tried again. "Stefan."

"Josephine."

"You need to talk to me. I have no idea what's going on. Your vision has black spots and blurs. What does that mean?"

Watching as he swallowed heavily, the thick muscles in his neck tightened. "You need to stay out of my mind, vackra."

"Really, Stefan? Hello, pot and kettle. Have you met? You're inside my mind constantly. Explain the 'variables', please."

An arched eyebrow indicated his humorous surprise at my mental gibe. "There are things that I cannot see. If a person involved changes their mind, it changes the vision. You know this, Josephine."

Sighing heavily, I turned my head back to stare straight ahead. I noticed Adolfo's sunglass covered eyes glancing at me in the rear view mirror. For a brief moment I was tempted to have a 'Lukas moment' and stick my tongue out at him. He was a pompous jerk and he'd betrayed Stefan's trust. I could feel my temper flaring and the heat spreading across my face. Stefan's hand tightened on my thigh in response to my thoughts, his responding mental chuckle breaking the tension of the moment.

"You really need to stay out of my mind, Romeo. What is Adolfo's talent besides being a gigantic asshole?"

Stefan cleared his throat to hide his laugh. "His talent is useful in finding vampires. He is particularly adept at locating vampires that do not want to be found."

The magnitude of his words hit me like a sledgehammer. For over 900 years, he'd been a vampire that didn't want to be found. He'd traveled and been able to fade into obscurity even though he worked for the Administrative Board. Prior to meeting me, he would be called to complete an assigned task and when he was finished, his life of anonymity could resume. Did he regret finding and choosing to be with me since he'd previously lived so privately? I was putting him squarely in the spotlight of a life he didn't really like or want.

"Josephine, I have no regrets being with you. I love you eternally. I have spent 200 years searching for you. This is one of those minor details that we deal with and move on from. Do not worry about this."

He'd obviously been listening to my internal dialogue again since he'd answered my mental thoughts. I was getting ready to answer when I looked up to see us pulling up to a private airport hangar. Stefan finally turned to look at me, a tentative smile on his face. He intertwined our fingers, opening the car door and pulled me out behind him. We walked quickly to the unmarked jet, climbing the steps to enter the plane. Quickly scanning the interior, I noticed it was equipped with six leather seats, a small seating area with a kitchenette and a room I assumed was the bathroom.

"What about our luggage?" I asked, my voice sounding loud after the quietness of our non-verbal mental conversation.

Stefan led me to the two seats in the back of the plane, his thumb rubbing against the top of my hand. His mouth spread into a thin-lipped smile as he removed his sunglasses with his free hand, placing them on his lap carelessly.

"Adolfo can take care of it. It is the least he can do." Stefan's voice was severe and cold as he spoke of the vampire that had not yet entered the small plane.

I considered the tone of Stefan's voice for a moment. Something wasn't right with this whole situation. Stefan could see the futures of vampires, so why hadn't he foreseen Adolfo betraying him? Was this one of the black spots in his vision?

"Possibly. It is something I am unaccustomed to encountering. There is another party involved that I cannot see or that continues to change their mind, vackra."

Adolfo entered the plane, removing his own sunglasses and walking slowly down the aisle to sit in the seat across the aisle from us.  His arrogance from earlier in the morning was gone. He seemed almost regretful as he began to speak to us, his eyes downcast.

"Stefan, I understand why you're angry with me. I didn't mean for this to happen when I was doing my research. One of the members of the Administrative Board found out and demanded you both appear. I had no choice in the matter," he said, his heavily accented voice broke off in apology. "I'd rather not fly twenty plus hours to come here, then another twenty hours back to serve as your escort."

"It is irrelevant at this point. I specifically asked you to be discreet, Adolfo. How is a member of the Administrative Board finding out about your inquiries being discreet?" Stefan seethed, anger flashing across his face. His other hand was gripping the arm rest of the chair so tightly I could hear the metal groan in displeasure under the pressure of his grasp.

"I have known you for three centuries, Stefan. The last thing I wanted to do is jeopardize our friendship," Adolfo replied, adjusting his suit jacket nervously and flashing me an apologetic smile.

Shaking my head, I snorted in response. It was a little too late to try to make friends with me, considering we were sitting on a plane because of his little slip-up and he was the cause of Stefan's highly agitated state. I was hoping we'd make it to appear before the Council without Stefan ripping Adolfo apart.

"Consider it jeopardized, Adolfo. We will have plenty of time for you to atone for your mistake. Our friendship has met its end." Stefan's responding voice was severe and had an ominous quality to it. I instinctively knew that Adolfo's days were numbered from the double meaning of his words.

Their terse conversation was interrupted by the pilot's voice coming through the overhead speakers, advising us that we were cleared for take-off and to expect a brief stop in Tokyo to refuel.

Releasing Stefan's hand for a moment to buckle my seat belt, I reached back to lace my fingers with his again to prepare for take off. I gave him a shaky smile, sending him a heartfelt mental thought. "I love you."

A radiant smile broke over his face. He was almost glowing as he leaned over to kiss me, his lips soft against mine. "As I love you. Hearing you say those words makes all of this worthwhile."

As the plane began to taxi down the runway, I hoped that he still felt the same way when we returned.

***

Twenty hours later, we were landing at JFK in New York. The flight had been monotonous and tension filled. When I wasn't sleeping or having mental conversations with Stefan, I spent my time watching him alternate between glowering at Adolfo and pacing the length of the plane.

We stepped off the plane at another private hangar where a black sedan with tinted windows was idling, waiting for our arrival. Stefan led me to the car and opened the door for me, motioning for me to slide through so he could follow. He closed the door behind him, my hand firmly encased in his. I heard the trunk close and Adolfo got into the passenger seat.

"You must be Josephine." A female voice greeted me in a crisp English accent. I glanced up to see a pair of large brown eyes staring back at me from the rear view mirror. Her hair was long and pale blond and her voice was pleasant and proper, reminding me of an English school marm.

Letting out a tired sigh, I nodded. Was there a vampire out there that didn't know me? I must be the top news in the vampire world. "That's me. I guess everyone knows who I am."

"I am Lenora. I'm also on the Council with Adolfo," she replied, her brown eyes shifting to look in Stefan's direction. "Stefan, it's good to see you."

"Lenora." Stefan inclined his head slightly. My grip on his hand tightened and I found myself sliding closer against him.

"Do not turn your back on any of these vampires, Josephine. If you listen to nothing else I tell you, please remember to make sure I am with you and you are not alone with any of them."

Squeezing his hand to acknowledge his mental words, I took in the skyline of the city. It was all cement and noise, making me homesick for the green lushness of Bali. I hadn't been in the US for two years and all of the buildings and traffic were sensory overload for me.

We rode along in silence, pulling in front of a five-story Carriage house on the Upper East side of Manhattan. The heavy wooden garage doors opened, our car pulling inside of the building. I heard the garage doors close behind us and I felt the suffocating feeling of dread tighten in my throat.

As soon as the car stopped, Adolfo and Lenora were out of the car in a blur. Lenora opened the door on Stefan's side of the car and Stefan started to slide out, hesitating when he saw the look of panic on my face. "Josephine, I will not let anything happen to you. I promise you."

My eyes darted to his, nodding slowly. I slid across the seat to step out of the car next to Stefan in the garage. He pulled me close to his side and we followed Lenora and Adolfo to an elevator where the doors were already open and waiting for us to enter. We all filed in and Lenora reached over to press a button on the panel. The doors closed and the elevator jerked and groaned as it began to ascend to a higher floor. After a moment, the elevator doors slowly opened and we were led into a spacious room with four leather sofas, glass tables and elegant chairs. Beautiful artwork lined the brick walls of the house and gorgeous floral arrangements sat in the middle of each table.

There were three vampires standing at the windows, their heads turning in perfect synchronization as we entered the room. Lenora and Adolfo went to stand with them, leaving Stefan and I standing on the other side of the room with five sets of critical eyes taking in our every move.

A beautiful vampire swept across the room to stand before us. Her waist length hair was a deep chestnut brown and her expressive black eyes swept over me curiously. Her eyes moved to Stefan, lingering on him much longer than I would prefer. She motioned with her hand for us to sit down on the sofa closest to us. Smiling curtly, she turned and walked back to slowly lower herself on the couch facing us. The other vampires took their seats, still silently observing us. Stefan led us to the couch, pulling me down beside of him. He was still holding my hand, his grip possessive and soothing.

"Josephine, I am Sofia Mancini. You have already met Adolfo and Lenora," she addressed me, her voice soft with a thick Italian accent. She inclined her head towards the two other vampires. "This is Derek Collier and Nigel Ryan. We are all on the Council and are very interested in meeting you. Let us sit and talk."

At the mention of Derek's name, Stefan's body stiffened slightly. Surprised at his reaction, I wondered if this was this the same Derek he'd spoken of when he returned from his last assignment.

I didn't have to speculate for long since the look on Derek's face said it all. The dark haired vampire might have been handsome if not for the arrogant sneer on his sullen face. His gray eyes burned with resentment as he glanced first at Stefan and then to me. He snickered when he observed our joined hands, releasing a bored sigh and crossing his arms under his chest.

My gaze turned to Nigel. He was ruggedly handsome and his shoulder length light brown hair was tousled. Expressive hazel eyes flickered over us, nodding slightly. He was a large muscular man, appearing to be uncomfortable sitting on the small leather sofa.

"Hello?" My greeting came out sounding like a question, my heart racing wildly. The Council of vampires continued to visually observe me as if I were an anomaly, their faces a mixture of curiosity, aggravation and envy.

"Stefan, this is the woman from your visions? The one you have been searching for?" Sofia questioned him, leaning towards him in interest. Her lips turned up in a tight smile as she shifted her attention on me, her dark eyes were hard and filled with dislike as she scrutinized me. I could feel a tingling sensation against my brain, as if she was making an attempt to push her way inside. She was obviously unsuccessful as she sat back deeper into the couch, glancing at Derek and her brows pulling together into an affronted frown. She glared at me, appearing to be furious that her ability didn't work on me. She must be the telepath Stefan had spoken of.

"Yes," Stefan answered simply, turning slightly to look down at me, his handsome face serene. Our eyes met for a moment and a small smile touched his lips. "This is my fated."

"Josephine, how do you feel about Stefan? You know about what we are and you are not afraid?" Nigel spoke up, his voice inflected with an Australian accent. His heavy hand rubbed his chin as he watched my reaction.

"Tell him the truth, vackra."

Sitting up straight, I felt my jaw jut out in defiance. "I know that you're vampires. I'm in love with him, even considering to have him change me so we can always be together. As for being afraid, I've been more scared in the last 24 hours than I've ever been since I've met him."

"We apologize for our abrupt invitation. It was necessary to meet you." Nigel leaned forward with his forearms against his thighs. "We need to assess if you are a risk and your abilities."

"My risk? I love him," I snapped, looking around the room at each vampire. "I have no intention of telling anyone anything about your existence."

Stefan squeezed my hand lightly. "Josephine. I know you are angry. Do not let them provoke you."

Sighing, I squeezed his hand back. They were intentionally trying to make me angry. I needed to stay calm and answer their questions.

"And why should we believe you?" Derek asked coldly. His voice had a southern drawl that reminded me of Georgia. I didn't fail to miss the note of sarcasm in his voice. "You are just a human after all."

"You don't have to believe me. Here's the thing, Derek. I have no one to tell. My adoptive parents died four years ago and I have no living family. Prior to meeting Stefan, I lived a solitary life. I have my own issues, let alone causing problems for you." I was proud of how non-nonchalant I managed to sound, even though my stomach was twisting in knots with anxiety.

Derek eyed me for a moment, his gray eyes flat as stone. He looked towards Stefan and his eyes turned harder. A sinister smile broke across his face. "Stefan, you know the risks of choosing to play with your food."

Derek's words caused a deep growl to resonate in Stefan's chest, his jaw clenching and the muscles in his neck were tense and corded.

"Stefan, remember what you just told me. He's trying to piss you off. Let's get this over with so we can leave." I mentally implored him. He relaxed slightly before he spoke.

"I do not consider loving someone 'playing with my food,' Derek. In case anyone in attendance has forgotten Derek's indiscretion, let me remind everyone why it was necessary for me to have a discussion with him a week ago," Stefan said, his voice devoid of any inflection as his eyes bored into him. Derek shifted uncomfortably under the weight of his severe stare. "You threatened to expose our kind when humans started going missing after being seen in your presence. Your ignorance and arrogance could have exposed our existence. Yet you sit before me and have the audacity to warn me of 'playing with my food'? Inkompetent r?vh?l!"

The room was silent for a moment and Stefan's words hung in the air. Derek rose and walked to the windows, turning his back to the room. To say there was no love lost between Stefan and Derek was an understatement.

"She's a psychic like you, yet she also has a talent for reading emotions. Is she able to read you? Or any vampires?" Lenora questioned, flipping her pale blond hair over her shoulder. She turned her head to the side slightly, as if evaluating my talent.

"No, I can't read Stefan's future or emotions. Or any vampire," I jumped in to answer before Stefan could speak. The four vampires exchanged looks amongst each other.

"I have one more question. Stefan, you contacted Adolfo with concerns about changes in Josephine's body and the power of her abilities. Is this still something you are concerned about?" Nigel inquired. Out of this group of vampires, he had to be the most likeable and trustworthy.

Stefan nodded, running his free hand through his blond hair. "Yes, it is still a concern. Her punctures heal within minutes of me biting her. I deduced that it may be a side-effect of our blood exchanges."

A hushed silence fell over the room. Disbelieving and curious looks were exchanged between the group.

"You willingly offered your blood to her and she accepted? Most vampires would never willingly exchange blood with a human, unless if you were choosing to turn them," Sofia murmured in a mild, fascinated tone. She glanced between me and Stefan, then turned to look at Nigel.

"I did. It sort of happened in the heat of the moment," I muttered hastily, averting my eyes to observe the pattern on the rug. I had no desire to explain the circumstance to anyone, let alone this group of vampires.

"Stefan, Josephine. Please leave us for a few minutes so we can discuss the matter. We'll send for you when we're ready." Nigel waved his hand in dismissal.

Stefan inclined his head, leading me out of the large room. We walked down the hallway and entered a much smaller sitting room.

"Come. We need to sit and wait." Stefan crossed the room and sat down on the couch, opening his arms for me to join him. There was nothing I needed more at that moment than to be close to him. I curled against him, my head tucked into the crook of his neck.

"I needed this," I mumbled against his chest, snuggling closer to him.

"It is going to be fine, Josephine. Please do not worry," Stefan whispered against my hair. I felt him place feather-light kisses where his lips had been.

"I know. I just feel like this isn't over, Stefan," I murmured, leaning my head back to look at his face. He smiled down at me briefly before lowering his lips to mine. His kiss was gentle, slow and consuming. I could feel myself responding despite the situation we were in, my mouth hungry against his. He reluctantly lifted his lips from mine, chuckling lightly.

"I want you as well, Josephine. Let us take care of this business here and we can spend some time alone."

"We can stay here in New York for a day or two. Just the two of us." His mental words caused desire to burn deep in my stomach when I thought of the things we could do in a day or two. I hoped that our time in New York didn't include sightseeing.

I nodded, placing my head back on his shoulder. My body was close to exhaustion due to the stress of the situation, the 20 hour flight and the time change. I needed a bath, a nap and I just wanted to wrap myself around Stefan and forget about judgmental councils of vampires.

A knock on the door caused me to jump and Sofia peeked her dark head in the door. "Please come back in."

She led us back into the main room, my eyes sweeping over the vampires again as I waited for their decision.

Nigel spoke, his voice level and filled with authority. "We see no risk as to you being together. However, Josephine, we would like to ask for your assistance from time to time. You have the gift of seeing the futures of humans, which we cannot. From time to time we are faced with the problem of worrying about being exposed by humans. Your gift would be helpful on how to handle the human aspect of the issue."

"I'll help. I just want to go home," I readily agreed. I just wanted to see the ocean and feel the sand beneath my feet. Not to mention I was growing tired of feeling like a t-bone steak in a room of starving people.

"You both can go. Stefan, we'll be in touch," Nigel said, rising to signal the end of the meeting.

"I need to find a bathroom, Stefan."

He nodded, and I followed him down a hallway to a spacious bathroom, decorated in expensive red glass tile. Heading to the sink I splashed water on my face, taking in my tired expression. My green eyes were bloodshot and my reddish-blond hair a tangle of waves. I ran my fingers through my hair to try to smooth it, but it seemed to make it worse. Patting my face with a fluffy hand towel, I opened the door to see Stefan waiting on the other side. A smile of relief broke over his face as I rejoined him.

"Are you ready to leave?" Stefan asked, his large hand smoothing down the side of my face tenderly.

"Yes. Get me the hell out of here," I muttered. If I had the energy, I would have sprinted out of the building to escape. I settled on linking hands with Stefan and relying on the groaning elevator for my getaway.

We started down the hallway towards the elevator when a door opened, blocking our path. An otherworldly looking man stepped into the hall, his red hair shining under the bright overhead lights. His clear green eyes were large and almond shaped, his body compact and small boned. His very presence spoke of power and ageless strength. I could feel my mouth open and close as I tried to speak, feeling my heart racing out of control. Looking at this man was like looking into a mirror.

Stefan's arm wrapped possessively around my waist, holding me close to him.

"Josephine, I have been waiting for this moment for 28 years. You are everything I expected and more." His voice was filled with depth and authority. He was well dressed in a dark suit and shirt and his skin was pale with the same iridescent quality I'd come to associate as a vampire characteristic. "And Stefan Lifsten, you have found your mate. Wonderful!"

Eying him with a calculating expression, I was curious as to the identity of the vampire that looked like me and acted as if he knew me. And why was he so happy that Stefan had met me? Speechless, I could only stare at him in disbelief.

"Have we met before?" Stefan's asked, his voice smooth and guarded.

The man let out a laugh that resonated throughout the entire floor. He stepped closer to me, his green eyes sparkling as his piercing eyes searched my face.

"Stefan, you are always so pragmatic. I am Kian Ahearne. I am on the Administrative Board." He paused, a dry smile breaking across his face. "I am who you've been searching for, Josephine. I am your biological father."

My mind slowly closed in on itself like a falling house of cards, effectively shutting down and refusing to accept any other information. My knees buckled and I was aware of the hardness of Stefan's arms catching me as I began to collapse to the floor. The last thing I recalled was seeing Stefan's face hovering above me, his face lined with worry before everything turned black.

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