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Half Blood Heart
By quiethearted (QH Fletcher)


Grace Cantwell stood at the back of a small knot of people. The chill of the wall against her back was somehow reassuring after the unfolding insanity the previous weeks had provided. She pushed the fingers of a trembling hand through cascading blonde curls that framed her face as she sighed shakily. Grace wasn't entirely sure why she was at this gathering in the ballroom of Broadmoor Manor. Around her pressed the descendents of the founders of Broadmoor the town, milling and talking amongst themselves in low voices. She hadn't meant to be here, hadn't wanted to be here. She had made a horrible mistake in coming and had only wanted to escape back to the sanity that was her life, but Snow Broadmoor, the reigning matriarch and current Duchess of Broadmoor, had insisted. So now Grace stood, wishing to be anywhere else but here, and waited to witness the woman she had fallen so desperately in love with choose another woman as her bride.

Snow rose from the large throne-like chair at the far end of the room. "My friends," she began, her smoky voice carrying to all those gathered in the room, though she did not raise it above its usual dulcet tones. The crowd fell instantly silent as they always did when addressed by their Duchess. "The time of the Choosing has arrived. Let all who offer come forth."

Grace watched as the groups around her shifted and changed, families standing together, individuals moving forward into a circle with the Duchess at its head. The hum of voices grew as each new person stepped forward to join the ranks of those offering themselves to be bonded to Sable Broadmoor, who would assume the title Duchess at the moment she slipped her fangs into the unresisting Chosen one's neck, thereby sealing the bond that would hold the two together for the length of Sable's life.

Snow remained expressionless, her regal bearing setting her apart, even if her crown of white hair and obsidian eyes had not. She was visually every inch the queen these people believed her to be. Yet for all her aristocratic bearing, Snow's natural charisma did not have the consuming power of her eldest child and heir, Sable. The line of people that formed before the Duchess was shoulder to shoulder, and still others tried to squeeze in.

"If there's less that thirty when it's done, I'll be surprised," Diana Sterling said as she came to stand beside Grace, who started in surprise. "There's never been so many come to offer at a Choosing. If I wasn't already engaged, I'd be tempted to offer myself. I thought maybe you…"

Grace's only response was to issue a non-committal sound from her throat. She wanted to. God knew she wanted to, but she couldn't bring herself to walk out there and stand with all those hopefuls. Grace didn't think she could stand it if Sable walked by her without acknowledging what she felt, what they felt for each other. She knew Sable didn't want her here; she had directed her to leave Broadmoor before the night of the Choosing, and Grace had tried.

She'd been in her car headed for the town limits when she'd stopped and pulled to the side of the road to collapse in tears, draping her body over the steering wheel. So lost was she in her storm of misery that she hadn't heard the clop-clop of the approaching horse's hooves, hadn't known anyone was watching her until her car door had been wrenched open and she had found herself cradled in the lithe arms of Snow Broadmoor.

Once Grace had ceased crying, Snow had insisted she come back to the Manor and attend the event. Grace hadn't understood how that was supposed to help, but she'd been too emotionally exhausted to argue, simply moving to the passenger seat and allowing Snow to replace her behind the wheel after the woman had tapped her mare on the withers, sending it trotting back toward the stables alone. Now, several hours later, Grace found herself in the one place she had never wanted to be. What would Sable say? Would she even notice that Grace was there, or would she be so consumed by the Bonding flare that nothing registered outside the pull of her intended bond mate?

Sable had attempted to explain it all to her, but it made little sense to Grace. Even delving into the numerous volumes of family journals had not clarified the process for her. Grace snorted softly to herself as she remembered how she had, at first, thought it was some type of shared hysteria among the Broadmoor ancestors, this perceived belief that they were all dhamphirs -- half human-half vampire beings who fed on the blood of their followers. Grace had been sure it was some kind of warped cult that had existed for centuries below the radar of the authorities. Believed it, that is, until she had come across Sapphire Broadmoor feeding on one of the locals. There had been no doubting the fierce, gleaming eyes or the elongated fangs dripping blood. In a blink, the image had vanished, and it had appeared instead that Sapphire was just standing in a somewhat compromising position with her auburn-haired fiancé, Diana.

Alerted by Saph, Sable had found Grace later that night and explained it all, including the existence of a bond with an unknown mate that had existed since the younger of the two bond mates was born. Sable had been born with a pink birthmark, the stamp of the heir, so she knew her bond mate was younger. The mark had turned black when her future mate had entered puberty, solidifying the bond, but Sable would not know the person's identity until the bonding urge flared and the Choosing took place. Her mate would be present, drawn by some unknown force from wherever in the world she or he lived. Grace understood that least of all, that Sable wouldn't even know the gender of her life mate until the urge to bond became so great her dhamphiric nature drove her to feeding from and mating with that one person. None of it made sense, except that Grace was convinced that if she was the intended, Sable would have somehow known. What had existed between them had been purely the response of Sable's human side, which would be overpowered by the vampiric half of her blood when the time had come to choose a mate.

Grace watched the line of supplicants grow. She supposed she shouldn't blame them. According to Sable and Grace's own research, a dhamphir lived far longer than a human, though not for the eternity that was afforded a pure vampire. To live as spouse of the Duchess, assume the title of Count or Countess, and enjoy riches and perfect health for several of a human's normal lifetimes was a temptation that few could resist. That Sable was gorgeous with her gleaming dark hair, glistening black eyes and full pouty red lips, that she wore her sensuality like the finest velvet cape, only made the prospect that much more appealing and Grace ached at the thought of someone else touching what she wanted for herself. The rest could have the title and the money if she could only have Sable for her own.

"Dammit," Diana hissed, her grey eyes fixed on one particular woman. "This is Rayne's doing, I know it. If Sable chooses her, we'll all pay hell."

A murmur ran through the crowd as Ginger Marshall stepped arrogantly to the front of the circle nearest to Snow. With her tall, voluptuous body, flaming red hair, and flashing green eyes, the woman was beautiful, but that beauty did not extend below the surface. Grace had already had enough run-ins with the haughty woman to know as much. That bitch will make Sable's life miserable. Oh, no way in hell! Without another thought, Grace marched forward and tapped on the shoulder of a dark-haired young man. With a murmured, "Excuse me," she slipped between him and the person to his left, her wide blue eyes fastened on Ginger with more than a hint of threat. There was no way she would let Sable go to that freak without a fight. Ginger's simpering smirk only inflamed Grace's ire. You are going down, you red-headed hussy.

A commotion at the door drew everyone's attention as Sable was led into the room by her sister, Sapphire, and her maternal aunt, Rayne. It was well-known in the town that Sable's first official act would be to replace Rayne as the family counselor with Sapphire, an action Rayne was fighting in her own devious manner. Prior to Grace's coming to town, Sable had previously only shown a romantic interest in one other person, Ginger, who owed a familial allegiance to Rayne. The elder Broadmoor looked none too happy to see Grace in the lineup. Sable was escorted, almost half supported, to the center of the circle and left there, her lithe body swaying.

Grace fought down the urge to go to her. Sable's eyes were glazed, and her body seemed to be inundated with waves of trembling. It was as if she fought to hold in an explosive force that would consume her and all within her reach. Silence fell again as Snow stepped forward to stand facing her daughter, her hands resting on the quaking shoulders. She leaned forward and murmured in Sable's ear for a moment, the young woman stiffening at what she heard. After a moment, Snow stepped away and addressed her child, her voice effortlessly carrying to every ear present.

"Sable Broadmoor, it is the time of your Choosing. The mark of your birthright has swollen with the power of your bond. It must be relieved. Find your mate, my daughter, and assume your rightful place as head of the family." Snow's body seemed to ripple for a moment, and then she was simply no longer standing within the circle. There was only Sable, who fixed her eyes on the floor and turned slowly counterclockwise. She never looked up, just paused now and then before continuing to revolve. When she had come full circle, she began again, turning this time clockwise.

Grace's heart pounded in her chest. On each rotation, Sable had stopped, facing Ginger. Grace fervently hoped it was not an indication of where Sable's choice would fall. She bit her lip to keep from shouting her frustration as Sable began a third rotation, yet again reversing direction until almost three quarters of the way around she stopped, facing Ginger one more time. Grace's heart sank, and she bit harder into her lip to still the tears that threatened to fall. Even more humiliating than subjecting herself to this archaic ritual would be losing to that harpy who only wanted Sable's money and power while caring nothing for the woman herself. Unable to face witnessing the woman she loved actually choose that vicious hag, Grace took a half step backward, intent on fleeing.

No one saw Sable move, least of all Grace. One moment she was in the middle of the circle, and the next she had wrapped her Chosen within her strong arms. "Will you have me?" Sable rumbled in her deep, raspy purr as she shifted flowing hair away from a delicate white neck, baring it to her sight. A nod answered the question, driving the dhamphir to plunge needle-sharp fangs into a throbbing artery.

Grace sighed as the ecstasy of her lover's bite flowed through her body, igniting her passions and inflaming her heart. She didn't know if the future would bring heaven or hell, but while in Sable's arms she couldn't bring herself to care.

The End

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