Disclosure: Mine. Nobody else owns this and don’t let me find you stealing this!!! I actually cried a couple of tears for this chapter alone.
Pre-Edit Count – 2,467 Words
Song I listened to for this chapter: Storm by Lifehouse.
The following morning, a search happens in the house for Stella, everyone realizing at once that no one had seen her since the previous day. It takes almost an entire day and only after the entire family had been brought out to her aunt’s house, along with a search of room by room had Stella been found by her uncle on her dad’s side. He had found her curled up on the window seat under the cushions. Hidden by them as well as how tiny she suddenly looks. Her teddy bear looks larger than her, and normally that is half her size.
Mark kneels by her side, defeated by the look on her face, as well as the tear tracks marking her face. He doesn’t know what to do for this niece of his. He loves her, he is her godfather, but this is just out of his depth. Frankly, he can’t see a good way for all of this to end for her.
He runs through the people in her life, trying to find a way to make sure she gets the love and attention she needs.
Unfortunately, Adam is barely holding on, the only thing keeping him together is his son. His tiny newborn son that also has lost his mother and is alone in this world except for his father who sits there staring at him as tears stream down his face.
No, Stella’s stepfather can’t take care of her nor really himself right now. Neither can any of her family on her mother’s side. They are all lost, and it was only because of his father’s place as fire chief that his family knew of the tragedy. Nothing was coming from the family, they all seemingly shocked to silence for once in their life. His father had, in fact, had told them to wait, to see if they need them. The family has been close, but they had shut out the Kings since The divorce.
So when Selene had called panicked because no one could find Stella, his heart had dropped. He had rushed over with his brother and father in tow. They had all combed the house for her. In fact, he would have missed her as others had if it hadn’t been a flash of black that made him come to the window. When he had gotten closer, he had seen the brown hair peeking out from behind a nest of cushions. Which is where he is now, looking over his exhausted niece.
Before they had left the house. Mark had called Richard. Seems that Richard had been called by a friend in the hospital and he is desperately trying to find out what is going on. For not only did Richard want to know for his daughter’s sake, but for his own. He still loves-loved his ex-wife. Their lives were not in a good place when they got married, and they had tried to make it work for Stella. But soon they both decided that a life with sharing custody is better than being in a house where the parents hated each other and fought all the time.
Then Mark looks down as his mind realizes that Stella needs to go to Richard. It would be best for everyone, and more importantly, what is the ideal solution for Stella. He is barely 18, and not able to take care of Stella as she needs to be, for him to pay the attention that she needs to have on her. Also, Dianna’s family has been slowly pushing away his family, and they find that they see her less and less. So he really has not enough of a connection to have her latch on him as she needs right now.
Also, his father is just not able to take care of a child. Not since Mama died. Stella is his light, but anyone can see that he is barely living. No, his heart died with his wife. He goes through the motions of living, and yes, Stella is one that brings him out of his loss. He loves his granddaughter with a passion. As did his mother. To take care of her as her guardian? No. Stella will not be able to handle an additional loss to her family if she gets that close to her grandfather and he passes away.
Then there is his brother who has a son and a wife that he is taking care of, and there is just no way can they afford another child. At this time in their life, Stella would be a chore, and his niece deserves more than that. She will have issues enough with her mother dying, and to be treated like a burden, even though they would happily take her in…No. That would damage her even more.
Shaking his head, Mark pulls the small child into his arms and holds her to him. “What are we going to do with you, Kotyonok. (Kitten) He looks out into the evening, the short days taking their toll on the scenery outside. He shudders with the cold look outside the window she had looked upon and tries to think what she had been thinking.
He looks down at her. “I promise you, little one, that we will make sure that you will be in an acceptable place. No one wants you to be suffering to be with them. We will find a way to make sure your light is not snuffed in all this.” With a heavy breath, he turns and carries her out of the room to the house full of anxious people. Cradling her slight form to his in an attempt to give her not only warmth but the love that they all carry for her.
Outside the window, the raven cocks his head. Thinking through the words of the man who had carried its interest away and how to solve everything to make sure the little one will be alright.
When Mark had brought Stella down, the house had breathed a sigh of relief. Seeing her tear stained face had let them know that she knew. That had been one thing that all of them are sure that Stella had not heard, so it had worried them if she had left. Seeing that she knows, well it was one conversation that they didn’t have to have with her.
Her grandmother takes her from Mark’s arms, and after cleaning her face gently with a wet towel, she rocks her in her arms as she looks down, trying to figure out the same thing that Mark had already debated with himself.
Stella’s two families look at her, watching her. She finally looks up with tears on her face. “I can’t take her.” Shaking her head in her grief, not wanting this precious little one out of her arms, much less her life. But there was no other way she can see Stella having the life that Dianna would have wanted her to have.
She looks out over the family, “And none of you can either. This is no place for her right now. We are all grieving, and as she has shown, she can be easily overlooked. She needs to be with someone who will watch over her, love her and help her get over this.” She nods once swallowing any additional tears or words. This is her decision, and they will listen to her.
They all slowly nod, each of them had thought this over as they had searched the house. Who would take care of Stella?
Adam obviously couldn’t. He is wrapped up in the loss of Dianna, and when he surfaces, his only thoughts are for his newborn son. Stella was the last thing he was thinking of. Who knew what would become of her if she stayed with him. She already has shown that she would hide away with no thought of her own well-being.
None of the family can take her on. Not with the economy being the way it is. Nor do they think they can give her the attention that she deserves. No, most of them have young children they are caring for, or are too young themselves to take care of her.
Finally, Mark tells them his thoughts on the matter, “Richard is aware of the situation. Why not send her to her father? Who else will care as much for her?” He looks around, daring them to come up with anyone more fitting for Stella. He honestly thinks this is the best solution.
The rest look at each other, and finally her grandmother tells them, “Why not sleep on it tonight?” With that, she stands up and takes Stella upstairs into a room that she is staying in. She and her husband will talk late, but they will also watch over the oldest grandchild at the same time.
For who knows when will be the next time they will see her once she is given to Richard to take care of?
Once the house is dark, the raven moves in front of the door and transforms into a young man. The black hair was as dark as the wings of the bird, the hair shorter than when he last touched Stella, but the blue eyes were a bright dark blue, a startlingly odd color either as a human or a bird. Though some have thought his eyes black when he has looked at them when his emotions have the better of him.
Not caring about being spotted, Armando walks into the house, having gotten permission for all the homes of his bella Stella. He had not known what she was to him when he had seen her, but since then, some witches he knew had helped him put it together along with the information of Nash. Though the details are slightly different for him, since Armando is the only one like himself.
Back in his younger days, he had saved a family of Witches. In one of the few moments of an oddity for him at the time, he had accepted their service and has taken care of them over the time he has been around. They had been the ones who figured out that the babe in the hospital, his Bella Stella, is his mate. They are also the one who charmed the pendant he had made for her, along with other pieces he has put together for her over the years.
They are the ones who are still searching for the man who cursed him into this odd life he leads, not like any other on the face of the planet. All their spell work has discovered is that the man still lives, and is not like him or Nash’s people.
Looking around the house of Stella’s aunt, Armando moves to the room that holds the individual who matters more than any other on the face of this earth. His thoughts go back to the past as he moves.
The dark vampire had slowly moved with her flighty mother, needing to stay close to Stella and when they settled in Pittsburgh, Armando had done the same. He also has kept an eye on her, not wanting to interfere with her life too much. But the Dark Prince refused to allow any harm to come to her.
Sadly, the night her mother had died, he had been fighting a pair of what he suspects were False Ones on the other side of town. They had invaded his home, and he had killed them, then told the ruler of their species about the attack. Neither of them could find out anything, but now he finds it suspicious that his mate’s mother dies that same night.
The pain from when she found out had brought him to his knees in front of Afanasi. The ancient had been by his side, all the while ordering others to ascertain what was going on with Armando’s mate. He had talked the younger vampire through his pain, and when the vampire was able to stand up, he told him, “Go to your mate. Do what you need to secure her. I am not liking this set of chances. I will look into it and let you know.” He pushes him gently to the window while mentally checking on his own mate.
With a nod, Armando turns and morphing into his Raven form, takes off out the window to his mate’s side. He had flown as quickly as possible, not actually remembering any of the flight as he answers the call of his mate’s need. When he had gotten there, Armando had stayed in his Raven form while watching over her as she cried the day away. He had been disgusted with the failed attempts to find her and had called her uncle’s attention to her when the humans had failed to stumble on her the first couple times through the room.
He also had thought about their actions, while they had searched as well as before they realized that no one had seen Stella all night. Watching them, he could also tell that no one seems to want her. This had made him see red, and he had not been able to do anything, worried that he may actually hurt Stella’s family for their short thinking. At the same time, it had allowed him to think through the options. Armando had even considered the thought of himself raising her, knowing that she will never want for anything. However, he had decided that while it would be more dangerous for him, Richard would be a better bet for his Stella.
And best for her.
But he won’t stop there. He will also ask a friend of his to make friends with his Stella and family to give them that much more protection in case something else happens. He will make it that they will be the guardians of his little one. They owed him some favors, and with Afanasi backing him, there should be no problems.
That is what is making this foray into the home necessary. He will do what is needed to make sure they give Stella to her Father. Once he is sure of her safety, he will go ask for his Stella to be under the guardianship of the King of what most would consider the Southwest. If False Ones are indeed mixed into this mess, it would be harder for them to get to his mate there. However, this is all precautions. He would rather her live with her father until she is older when the two of them will meet. His princess of the light will be ready for him when he comes.
With those thoughts, the tall, dark man flashes through the house making the changes to people’s minds as well as making sure his mark on Stella is still fresh. When he is done, Armando leaves the dwelling and after nodding to the guards that Afanasi had given to protect Stella, he morphs back into his raven form, moving through the night to influence everyone else to do as he decided.
At the same time, Afanasi is concerned as he stares out into the evening and the scenery of Pittsburgh. As he looks at the river flowing with the lights of the city shining on it, he goes through what has happened. The attack on Armando is highly unusual and for it to happen the same night as Stella’s mother dying from a mistaken dose of Penicillin is highly unusual. Dianna and her family have been long known to be under the protection of the Kings. And the Kings are well known to be connected to him.
For someone to risk dying by his or even Armando’s hands, must mean there is a deeper plan going on. One that seems to mirror so many other little instances that have happened over time. Including Nuada’s losing the children of two of his closest supporters. For Nuada, who is more attached to his people than any of the other gods, including Afanasi’s own, to lose two different families of his people, something is happening.
For now, Afanasi had sent the guards out to defend Stella’s temporary home and knows that Armando would have plans. He smirks, for the first time, the Dark Prince as he is called, is actually taking control. His Lord has always told Afanasi to keep an eye on the vampire. And that he is to be protected and will be pivotal to everything in the future.
And as always, he has done as he was told. Though, Afanasi wonders. The last time he was told to watch over someone, it turned out to be the son of Hades. He wonders what the connection will be this time.
The dirty blonde, light blue eyed demon sighs, leaning back in his chair, checking on the bond to his little one, as Armando calls them. Unusual that the two of them found their mates. He frowns as he thinks on how Armando swears that he had blood in the container. But he will never deny that he is pleased by what the change in his destiny is.
No, Armando might remark on things, including his family in a scathing voice. However, his bella Stella as he calls her is precious to him. He has settled, and the change in the vampire is one that has been remarked upon throughout their world.
Though Afanasi still wonders at the blood that Armando has smeared on his Mate’s throat that had changed colors. Is this something he missed with his own Gwen? The blonde demon sighs as he settles back in his chair, waiting for word of what is going on. He will help out Armando and his little mate. And he will investigate further on what is going on, as well as the odd little things that Armando is finding with his mate.
The next morning, there is a pounding on the door of the house. Selene hurried to the door, wrapping her robe around her body and tying it with the sash. When she opens the door, she is shocked to see her ex-brother-in-law. “Richard!” AS she stands there with the door open her mouth hanging open seeing him in the last place she expected.
Her exclamation, along with his quick question of, “Where is Stella?” has a little girl fleeing into his arms.
He grabs and holds her close as she sobs into him. Richard had been surprised by the delivery of a plane ticket when he had been told they had been sold out but hadn’t questioned it. He would have to go back after the funeral and Stella will have to fly out to him, but he will be here for his daughter for the painful time she will have as long as he can be.
He had been livid yesterday when his brother called and told him of the search for Stella and that she had been missing for a day before anyone noticed. Richard understood grief. He himself was grieving. He still loves – loved Dianna. But to forget Stella?!?!?!?
That had been unforgivable in his mind. No, he had been determined to get here so he can take care of his little girl. He had been upset that no matter what ways he could think, there was just no way for Richard to get to Pittsburgh until after the funeral.
Now that he has her, Richard holds her and stares at Selena with his eyebrow raised and a questioning tilt of his head. The look of shame he gets from her tells him all he needed to know about yesterday.
With that in mind, he roughly tells her, “Stella will be coming to live with me after the funeral. I won’t forget about my little one for a day. When is the last time she ate?” He is rubbing the back of Stella as she cries into her, and moderates his voice as much as he can with the anger he is feeling for these people who used to be his family.
Selena shakes her head. “I am not sure.” She looks even more upset as she answers him slowly as if she is just now realizing the fact that Stella has not eaten in more than a day. Not including the fact that she never ate dinner that night since she had refused the beans and weenies.
Hearing this, Richard’s eyes darken. “How cannot you be sure? Look, I understand being upset by Dianna’s death. God knows I was a mess. But my first thought was of my daughter.” He is barely holding it together and only his light in his arms is keeping him from exploding.
She doesn’t need it right now.
“And that is why you should take her.” Stella’s grandmother descends the stairs, the rest of her family following. “Good morning Richard. Have you eaten?” As she indicates to Selena that she should allow the man inside the door.
At his stare, she chuckles. “I guess not.” When Selena still hadn’t moved, she rebukes her daughter, “Selena, allow the man into your house. We have food to make, plans to make and a future to decide for Stella.” Selena moves, and no question in anyone’s mind who is in charge of the family. Soon everything is organized, and they are sitting at the huge table in Selena’s dining room.
Her grandmother sits beside her husband at the head of the table, and she starts the dearly needed conversation off. “Do you wish to have Stella?” She folds her hands in front of her while she awaits his answer.
Richard shakes his head. He had never been under the control of this woman ever in his life. He informs her, “I will have Stella. I want her, she is mine. You guys obviously can’t handle her. I will be here to help her with the funeral. Unfortunately, I can’t take as much time as I wish off, but I will make sure everything is ready for her at home when I have to leave. When it is, I will have her fly to me. With the changes she is going to have to make to come live with me, I don’t want her hanging around while I clean out the bigger room for her. No, I want her and anything that Adam doesn’t want, including the dog, to come with her to my house.” This had been in his mind, and in fact, he has some of his coworkers coming in and helping clean out the room for him while he is here. The room is full of junk, and when he had looked at it, had quickly decided that it can all go. Anything to get it ready for Stella.
His friends had agreed, telling him that if they think there is anything he would want, they will box it away for him to go through later. They had also asked if Richard wanted them to repaint the room and so on. He had held off, wanting to find out more about what Stella likes to make sure the room would be comforting for her.
Bringing his mind back to the here and now, Richard looks at each and every one of them, while encouraging his daughter to eat her biscuits and sugar water with butter in it. “And what happened yesterday, better not happen again.” It is time for all of them to grow up. Richard will be getting lessons from his friend’s wives on how to cook, and he will make sure she is going to be well taken care of.
By the time they got up from breakfast, things had been taken care of. Stella will be coming to live with Richard in a week. He will be leaving in four days for home to make sure it will be ready for her. His brother and father will take care of Stella during that time at their house. And Noel will be coming along with Merlin, a black kitten Mark had gotten Stella a couple of months ago for Christmas.
Outside the window, a black raven watches it all. Approving of what is going on, as well as seeing Richard as the much better of the options left to them all. For he obviously loves and will put Stella first.
Which she will need.
Final count, 4,126 words.