Two men walked into the room eyeing each other and the two large Kindred men standing imposingly at the end of the conference table.
“Mr. Stravros, Mr. Douglas, I’m King and this is my associate Anson. Please have a seat,” King offered cordially.
Anson was eyeing the men in a way that he knew wasn’t comfortable for either of them. He was taking in everything about them to try and figure out how these men left Piper alone.
Tristan was a tall lanky man. He looked uncomfortable to the extreme being there. He was fidgety and sweating. Darius was shorter, stocky with muscles. He looked angry and his eyes kept scanning between Anson and King like he was on guard. Smart, that was a much better way to approach two Kindred that wanted answers.
“Why are we here?” Darius asked after taking a seat.
“Because I decided to cut through the shit of playing nice. I have a feeling both of you are going to give me the same answers. I don’t need to waste my time rehashing it,” Anson responded.
“You said this was about Piper. Is she okay?”
“She’s fine. She’s under our protection.”
Both of the men exchanged glances that told Anson they knew something.
“He said he’d leave her alone,” Tristan ground out.
“Who’s he?” King asked.
Both men exchanged another glance.
“Listen. I know both of you for whatever reason decided to leave Piper at the altar. There had to be a reason because from what I know of her, she in no way fucking deserved that. She didn’t deserve it once and she sure as hell didn’t fucking deserve it twice. Now tell me who contacted you and what the hell they threatened to keep you from her.”
Darius glared at him. “You don’t fucking know her.”
“You’d be surprised. I know she’s a shell of the woman she had to have been before she met you two. I’m not saying you didn’t have your reasons. I’m here to find those reasons out.”
Tristan spoke up first. “I was contacted at work,” he said clearing his throat nervously. “At first it was just a letter warning me to stay away from her. I ignored it because I knew she was still getting messages from someone occasionally. We contacted the police numerous times. As we got closer to the wedding, I started getting voicemails on my work phone. The voice was distorted and told me not to marry her. That he’d kill her, that he’d kill me.”
“Did you believe him?” Anson asked.
“Honestly? No, I didn’t take it seriously.”
“The letters started coming with pictures.”
“Everyone I love,” Tristan answered. “The morning of the wedding I received a delivery. I thought it was a wedding gift. When I opened it there were pictures of my parents, siblings, my niece in preschool. He was in the park where she was playing. He sent a video clip on a flash drive of my nephew at college three states away playing basketball. He was there, the fucker went there. His messages said that he didn’t care how long it took, how long he’d have to wait... If I didn’t leave Piper, he’d kill them. He’d make it look like an accident. Picking them off one by one. If I went to the police, he’d start whether I left Piper or not,” Tristan said, choking on the words. “Their addresses, their daily routines, how he’d hurt them, the accidents he’d make happen. There was no doubt he had a plan to pick each one of them off.”
“You believed him?” King asked.
“I had to. He tracked them all down. He sent their schedules to me. He knew when my mom went to water aerobics. He sent a picture of her car with what looked like it could have been a bomb under it. He said that was how easy it would be to kill them all. I couldn’t risk them or Piper. So I left. I stayed away hoping that everyone would be okay. I still get pictures as a warning. I’ve been sick with it for years. I even got married... I just hoped he’d see that I wasn’t going to be around her ever again.”
Anson watched the man carefully. He was tired and scared. There was no doubt about that. He’d lived in hell for years. How he found someone that could live with the parts of him that were broken meant he had found a woman worth keeping. Letting his eyes slide away from Tristan, he looked to Darius. The tough-looking man was gritting his teeth, his jaw twitching. His fists were clenched on the armrest of the chair like he was ready to punch something.
Darius looked up at Anson then King. “The same thing, down to the pictures and schedules. He took photos holding the IV bag of my grandmother in her nursing home in Texas. He had a needle next to the tube. I got pictures of my sister when she was pregnant sitting in a café. It looked like he was acting like a waiter, delivering a drink to her. Not before he took a picture of the drink next to a pill of some kind. I knew it was a threat he could kill her or her baby. The schedules of all my family were sent. I got audio of my nephews trick-or-treating one year. He was there with them, near them, close enough to hear their voices. I couldn’t risk any of it. He swore he’d stay away from them and Piper. That he didn’t want to hurt her, but he would to keep her away from me. All I had to do was not marry her and disappear. My family still isn’t talking to me for not showing up to the wedding. I’m pretty sure my father wrote me out of the will. I didn’t care. It was for her.”
There was silence in the room as the four men looked at each other. Anson wanted to hate them for breaking Piper. They could have been stronger, braver, but it really wasn’t about that. It was about the reality of someone willing to pick apart their families one by one. What would he do, or more so what wouldn’t he do, if someone was threatening his family or his Clan? These men didn’t have his resources or his ability to protect multiple people. They did what they thought was best. Break one heart to save so many more lives.
“I need details. Whoever this is hasn’t left her alone. He’s stepping up his game. Do you have any idea who it might be?”
Darius spoke first. “I had her list out anyone she thought it could be. She had a reason why every single one of them couldn’t really be possible candidates. I know it might not even be someone she knows. That’s scary enough. It could be someone that just met her once and became obsessed.”
“It could, it could also be someone right in front of her. It could be one of you,” King remarked.
Both men filled the room with anger. Anson almost smiled. He knew King was testing them.
“I loved her. It killed me to do that to her,” Tristan said angrily.
“I still love her. I’m not over her. How do you think I felt knowing how much it took to get her back from her first wedding? I had to do it to her again knowing she might not recover this time,” Darius said, there was less anger in his voice and much more regret.
“How is she?” Darius asked, looking right at Anson.
“She’s exhausted. Mentally and physically, she says there isn’t enough of her heart left to ever love again. Her paintings are angry and full of pain.”
“You’ve seen her paintings?” Tristan asked.
“Yes,” he answered, offering no further explanation.
“Does she trust you?” Darius asked, his keen eyes searching for something in Anson.
“She does,” Anson said the words and hoped that he wasn’t lying.
“How are you going to fix this?” Tristan asked.
King answered this time. “We are going to catch him. That’s the only way to end this for everyone. He needs to be behind bars.”
“He needs to be dead,” Darius said with a growl that sounded more Kindred than human.
“I’d agree but we have to work within the human laws.”
“I thought Kindred had other rules,” Tristan broke in.
“When it comes to Kindred problems, yes. But this issue is distinctly human. That means we find him and turn him over to the police. If you’ve been smart, you’ve kept everything he sent you.”
“I have all of it in a storage unit,” Darius answered.
“I have everything too, I thought I might need it someday.”
“Then that’s where we’ll start. I need all of it here today. I don’t want this to keep dragging on,” Anson demanded.
Both men nodded. “Is that all?” Tristan asked.
“No. I think you need to talk to Piper.”
Both men immediately went on the defense. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Tristan started.
“What good will that do?” Darius added.
“I get that both of you had your reasons. But she didn’t get enough of a reason from either of you. She was left standing in a wedding dress. Can you imagine what that felt like? To face not just her family but yours as well?”
“I know, my sister still talks to me but only to tell me what a shit I am. I take it. I take all of it to keep them safe. She told me that Piper didn’t even cry. She said she just turned off. She was like a robot as she took off her dress, packed up her things and got the next flight home. My sister said it was worse than if she had cried and screamed,” Darius said quietly.
“She needs to hear that from both of you. Piper needs to hear that you did it out of love and not that you didn’t want her.”
“Fuck,” Tristan said, dropping his head into his hands.
Darius leaned back in his chair. “She deserves more than that.”
“Well, for now, this is what you can offer her. Don’t try to give her any false hope about anything else. You keep to why you left, why you didn’t explain yourself, and don’t you dare try to make her feel all right about it. She doesn’t need that right now. Her feelings about both of you are in the past. Her future depends on both of you letting her have that future, whatever it may be.”
King gave him a look and knew Anson was all but staking his claim on the human. The men didn’t understand what was behind his words. Anson didn’t want Darius trying to get back with her after they caught her stalker. Piper didn’t seem like the type to backtrack... but he wanted to be sure.
“What’s she to you?” Darius dared to ask.
“None of your fucking business, that’s what.”
“I think it is. We’ve both loved her,” Darius shot back.
“Past tense,” Anson calmly said.
The man glared at him but Anson didn’t give a fuck. He didn’t want any confusion.
“King, would you mind asking Eden to bring her in?”
King pulled out his phone while Anson kept his eyes on the men. Both sat up in their chairs and moved their eyes to the door. After a few minutes there was a knock. The door opened and Eden walked in first, her eyes moving over all the bodies in the room. She was looking for danger and Anson could have hugged her for that.
Piper came in right behind her and her eyes went straight to his. That punched him right in the gut. She looked relieved to see him. He nodded slightly and winked at her, and his heart leaped when she smiled briefly in response, and then her gaze went to her exes. He watched her body tense, her shoulders came up.
“Piper, why don’t you come sit next to me,” King suggested. He was on the other side of the table from the men and Anson was glad he’d offered. He didn’t want her any closer to the men than she had to be. He watched her shoulders drop as she straightened her spine and quickly stepped to the other side of the table.
King pulled out a chair for her and Eden flanked her. Piper clasped her hands together on the tabletop.
There was a tense moment in the room before Tristan broke the silence. “You look good, Piper.”
“Thanks, Tristan, so do you.” She turned her attention to Darius and took a deep breath before letting it out. “Darius,” she said quietly.
“Hey, Pips,” he said.
Anson kept his eyes on her and saw her almost smile.
“Piper, I know you didn’t want to do this, but you need to know that your stalker has been harassing them since you started dating them. It hasn’t stopped,” Anson said gently.
Her eyes flashed to his and she frowned. She went between the men and Anson back and forth. “I don’t understand.”
Anson gave both men a sharp look that told them both to start talking.
“Piper, this person threatened everyone. Mom, dad, even Kayla. He went to her preschool. He said he’d kill them all if I didn’t disappear. He said if I told you anything, or went to the police, he’d start picking them off. I wanted to protect you. I wanted everyone to stay alive,” Tristan said, his voice choking on the last word.
“Couldn’t you have said something? Why did you leave me on our wedding day? I died inside!” Piper couldn’t help but shriek and she noticed that everyone in the room flinched, except Anson.
Piper’s anger was building and even though it was directed at the men, it was bigger than that. She needed to get it out. Even though he wanted to go to her, Anson stayed still. These men had to defend themselves and he understood what got them in the position they were in, but that didn’t have any bearing on Piper’s feelings. She’d justified their rejection over and over. He didn’t think that she was going to be able to do it again.
“Baby, I’m sorry,” Tristan said.
“Don’t call me your baby. I’m not! I know you got married. You always were terrible at locking down your social media. You have a child! You knew how long I’d been dealing with this. You think I wouldn’t understand? You think I couldn’t handle it?”
Darius spoke up, “You don’t know the shit this person said. He detailed what he’d do to you if we didn’t leave. The sick, fucked up things he’d do to our family. We had a choice between breaking your heart or watching someone we loved die. I’d rather you hate me for the rest of your life if it meant you’d be alive.”
Anson kept his eyes on Piper. She was holding on so tight. Her eyes were flooded with tears she hadn’t let fall. They were coming and he knew he’d be the one to soothe her after this was over.
Tristan added, “I don’t know Darius but I’m sure he made his choice for the same reason I did. I loved you. I would have done anything to protect you. I chose to hurt you and myself to keep you alive.”
“Tristan, we had so many conversations about how to make this guy stop. We had a plan!”
“We did. But it changed. I’m not going to tell you what he said to me. You don’t need to hear that shit. But you need to understand that I did it for you.”
“We both did. I know I never thought you’d forgive me. And that’s fine, because seeing you here, healthy and alive is enough for me. I’ll take the pain of the past knowing you’re still here,” Darius said.
Anson didn’t want to like these guys, and he didn’t, but they both seemed to be telling the truth. These men were scared shitless. They had been mentally tortured and Anson didn’t consider giving in to that a weakness. If it was his family, his mate, he’d take all the pain on himself. It looked like these men chose that route too.
Piper made a keening noise and Anson resisted diving across the table to pull her into his arms. “You left, you left me holding everything! I was alone and scared and thought it was all my fault. That there was something wrong with me! I don’t understand any of this.”
“Piper, from what they’ve told us, this stalker has gone above and beyond to make sure both of them knew he’d do whatever it took to hurt their families. He traveled and came into close contact with their loved ones. They made a choice, right or wrong, but they suffered to protect you,” King said, his hand touching her arm.
Anson couldn’t stop the growl that rolled out of him and King’s eyes shot to his. King removed his hand and sat back in his seat, a knowing look on his face.
Eden wrapped her arms around Piper and she leaned into her. Anson didn’t mind that. Eden showing affection was surprising, but clearly, Piper felt safe with her.
“I’m sorry, Piper. I really am. But I wouldn’t change what I did. No matter how much it hurt you. I’d do exactly the same thing. If that makes me an asshole, a horrible person, I’ll take it.” Darius was holding his shit together though Anson could see he wanted to punch something.
“I feel the same. Call me every name in the book. I know my family and you are safe. That’s all I can ask for. Your forgiveness would be nice, but I don’t expect it,” Tristan added.
There was a pause as the parties looked around. Piper was crying into Eden’s shoulder and Anson didn’t see what more could come of this.
“Gentlemen, I think we’ve all said enough. If you can provide access to those items you kept as soon as possible, I would appreciate it. I’ll keep you updated on anything pertinent. If you want, please leave contact information that Piper can have if she wants to contact you.
“No problem,” Darius said standing. “I’d be happy to talk to you again, Piper. I really wish you the best.”
He turned and left the room. Tristan stood and stared for a moment. “I really hope to hear from you.” He followed Darius out and King went behind them leaving the three of them alone in the room.
Anson wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but he really wanted her in his arms, not Eden’s. Before he could say anything else, Piper jumped up and ran out of the room.
“I got this,” Anson said to Eden.
“I really hope you do. That is one cracked china doll.”
“She is, Anson. But be gentle.”
Anson didn’t need Eden telling him how to handle Piper. Not that he had a fucking clue how to handle anything, but he was going to go with his gut.