Wicked Matrimony – Legends and Lovers Read Online Logan Chance

Categories Genre: Alpha Male, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Vampires Tags Authors:
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Total pages in book: 1
Estimated words: 57576 (not accurate)
Estimated Reading Time in minutes: 288(@200wpm)___ 230(@250wpm)___ 192(@300wpm)
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Read Online Books/Novels:

Wicked Matrimony - Legends and Lovers

Author/Writer of Book/Novel:

Logan Chance

Language:
English
ISBN/ ASIN:
B0912PNC98
Book Information:


Draven Blackmoor is a monster.
A nightmare who haunts my dreams.
A vampire who stalks the night, hunting for his next victim.
The ruler of a modern kingdom that dwells in the darkness.

And I’m his only light.

I possess a power that makes me wanted by his enemies.
He promises to save me by offering his crown.
I have no choice but to marry him and become his queen.

But I won’t fall for his seductive charms.

I’m forced to live in his castle and spend time with him. Forced to prepare for a wedding to a man who frightens me into believing his lies.

Wicked royalty with no chance of redemption.

There’s only one thing he can’t force upon me—himself. Yet, the fact he stays away has me yearning for more.
I find myself memorizing every curve of his chiseled body. The possessive way his sinewy muscles flow each time he stalks closer.
The sensual way his lips curve upward in a sinister smile each time he talks to me.

His hungry, dark eyes make promises he’ll never keep.

If it’s my blood he’s after, I’d quickly give him mine. He’s irresistible. And that thought terrifies me. So much that I sneak away and escape to the mountainous terrain of the haze-shrouded forest. I’ll take my chances with the evil waiting to capture me, rather than risk my heart to a man without one.
However, I’ll never be ready for what’s waiting for me there.
Books by Author:

Logan Chance



Prologue

The stagnant air of Wallachia suffocates me as I hurry through the cobblestone streets of downtown. I don’t like being here at this hour. A man like me rarely comes to town. However, tonight I want something different. I want something more.

The Ottoman Empire has just waged war across Europe, and I want to roam the streets before I’m shipped off to battle.

Me, a soldier.

I’m too old, too set in my ways, to fight another man’s war. In my thirty-five years on this earth, I’ve never needed to fight.

But any man who can walk is sent to battle.

1792 had promised to bring change to our dying country, but now here we are, fighting for another country's freedoms.

I turn a corner, passing the blacksmith, hoping to make it to the tavern before it closes its doors for the night. My feet stomp through puddles as I pick up speed. The rain we received over the past few days has been excellent for the farmlands, but it won’t matter when the soldiers use our land as battlegrounds.

I tug at my shirt, trying to make the damn thing not cling so tightly to my body in this heat. I hustle down the street, the sweltering night stifling every part of my bones. I need a drink. I need a lot of things I’ll never get.

“Hi, there,” a prostitute in the street says.

My mind goes there for about five seconds, imagining the soft feel of a woman beneath me, but I continue down the street, not giving her a moment of my time. Why bother?

It’s not how I wish to spend my final night as a free man.

I stick to the shadows, because I don’t need the gossip mill talking about how I’m whoring around on the eve of a major war. I don’t need anyone spreading lies about me. I keep to my own. I mind my own business, and I appreciate the same respect.

I can’t escape the fact that tomorrow, I’m going to war.

To fight for a cause I don’t believe in.

A cause which has no meaning in my life.

A light down the alley catches my attention, and I turn my head, trying to focus on what I’m seeing. A man, in a long dark robe hanging off his body even though it’s a million degrees outside, stares at me, as if he knew I was coming.

“It’s a dark night,” he says, and I nod.

What does that even mean? I continue heading in the tavern’s direction, and I hear the click of footsteps behind me.

It’s him.

Moving closer.

Walking faster.

My heartbeat picks up. I have nothing to arm myself against a mugger. And nothing he can steal from my pockets. I never need money. Everyone knows my name, and they run me a tab wherever I go.

The bills always get paid.

I move quicker, almost in a full run. Sweat forms above my upper lip.

He reaches me, yanking me into a dark alley, bringing his cloak to wrap around the both of us.

I struggle to get away, but he’s stronger, like an otherworldly stronger, and I have no fight in me that can overpower this evil being.

He pulls me further down the abandoned street. Even the moon hides from the horror of it all. “The night is the perfect time for hunting…”

Before he kills me, because I know that can be the only thing coming, he stares into my eyes and stops. “I’m going to make your life so much better.”

Yet, he doesn’t.

He bares his teeth, his eyes turning blood-red, and I realize this is no man at all.

I try to call for help, but it’s over before I can even take my next breath. The moon peeks out of its hiding spot behind a cloud and laughs at me, knowing full well I’ll forever be a slave to its light.

Warm blood trickles down my neck as the thief robs me of my life. My eyes shut, closing tight, and the world fades away.

All sounds.

All feelings.

I can no longer feel the heat on my skin.

Am I dead?

No, I’m not dead… I’ve become my own kind of monster.

One

Allison

* * *

Section 325 is the cemetery of the university’s library. Books no one reads fill the dusty shelves, their category markers jutting out like tombstones. Especially high in the stacks, where law books flaunt their decaying spines. It’s late, nearly closing time, but I’m on a mission to find a particular book to finish my paper on historical vampires in the eighteenth century.

“Where are you hiding?” I murmur into the musty air, scanning the shelves before me.

Farther right.

Ah, god. Not again. It’s the same male voice randomly popping into my head over the last month. Worry coils in my stomach, and I shake my head to get rid of the slightly accented voice directing me.

I’ve told myself a million times the stress of trying to graduate with honors has manifested in a bizarre way, but has it?

“I am not crazy,” I whisper to myself.

We’re all a little mad, Allison. Now move yourself farther right.

If I ignore the sound, act like it’s not happening, it’ll go away. It’s only my brain dealing with the pressure of finishing my thesis on time. That’s all.

If you don’t move, you’ll never finish. Move.

“Don’t tell me what to do.”

The only response I receive is the low hum of the air system and the creaks of the building’s bones. I uproot my feet and continue the search.

At the end of the row, snug between Vicar Vampires and the steel rail of the shelf, I find the holy grail—Victorian Vampires: Myth or Legend by Donna Bixler.

“Tah-dah,” I whisper as I slide the heavy volume from its resting spot, ignoring the fact my inner voice somehow knew its exact location.

With it safely tucked to my chest, I scramble down the rickety stepladder until my red flats stand firm on the white marble floor.

A plume of dust tickles my nose as I brush off the faded front, letting my fingers ghost along the gold embossed letters. Tingles of excitement zap my fingertips.

“May you rest in peace,” I say to the unchosen books I’m leaving behind.

I’m spooked that I’ll hear the voice again, so I don’t bother putting the ladder away and hustle back through the coffin-like maze of shelves to my study area hidden in a nook of the empty library.

I plop down in my seat and gently place the book on the table. It really is a stupid assignment, but one that fascinates me every time I think about the topic.

Surely, there weren’t actual vampires?

After a week of research, I’ve concluded—obviously—people believed to be vampires must have had a disease, or something explainable through science. There are many diseases out there that can mimic a vampire’s symptoms.

Porphyria, for one.

It’s known in the modern age as vampire disease. Patients who suffer from its effects can’t expose themselves to the sun or they’ll blister and burn. They crave human blood because of a lack of iron in their own. Their gums recede, making their teeth appear fang-like.

This is what my paper will show. Vampires aren’t, nor were they ever real, and I will prove it. Bold font challenges my assertion when I open the book and read the introduction:

* * *

Set aside logic and accept not everything which exists is logical.

Touché. I caress the pad of my fingertip along my bottom lip, contemplating whether it’s easier to not believe than to accept unexplainable things exist. And then I plunge into the depths of the printed pages full of illogical history, unable to stop consuming the words.

“Still reading?” a male voice asks.

“Crap,” I yell, nearly vaulting to the ceiling from my seat.

Thankfully, my frightened eyes meet familiar blues.

In the shadows, leaning against a bookshelf, Simon chuckles at my distress. “You’re supposed to whisper in a library, Allison.”

Now that I know I’m safe, and it wasn’t in my head, I can grin too. “What time is it?”

“Almost three a.m. You’ve been here for six hours, at least.”

“Oh. I just got so into this book.” I close the cover so Simon can see it.

He crosses to read the title and leans his dirty-blond head next to mine. “Interesting. Obviously, they’re real. We should go before they catch you in here.”

“Who, vampires?”

He smirks, displaying a dimple. “No, silly, the security guards.”

I stand and stretch. “Are they really going to get mad at a student trying to study?”

He helps me pack my backpack with books. “They will if you’re doing it in the library at three a.m.”

I shake my head at his reasoning. “You’d think they’d want us to learn, day or night.”

“Oh, they do, but on their time.”

We sneak out of the library the same way I snuck in earlier—through the employee lounge with a keycard provided by my friend Veronica.

Simon twines our fingers together as we scurry away from the imposing brick building covered in ivy.

He’s a good boyfriend, coming to protect you in the dead of night.

My head whips to Simon as we sneak across the lawn.

“Did you hear that?” I ask, even though I know the answer.

He stops once we reach the safety of the sidewalk. “Hear what?”

“I… nothing.”

He tilts his head and an indent forms between his brows. “Are you ok?”

I nod, rolling my lips inward, unable to confess what’s happening in my head. “Yeah. Just paranoid security saw us, and we’ll get kicked out.”

It’s only a partial lie. Bainbridge University is one of the top colleges in the country, an elite institution, focusing on literature and history. It’s hard to get in—unless you can pay to play—but easy to get kicked out. For someone like me, who gained entrance with perfect test scores and a scholarship, not family monetary gifts, it’s even easier for them to punt you out of the hallowed gates. The university’s board is notorious for its strict standards, which is probably why my skyrocketing anxiety has me doubting my sanity.

“You’ll be fine,” Simon assures me, squeezing my hand, as if the confidence in his blue eyes can transfer from his palm into my body. “You worry too much.”

Will I be fine? It’s not just the impending paper that has me out of sorts. It’s everything. Once I graduate with a bachelor’s degree in the fall, what’s next? Like, what happens after college?

The breeze swirls around us, taking my desire to confess my troubles with it. “You’re right. Let’s go.”

Good girl. Listen to your boyfriend.

“Shut up,” I snip, before I can prevent the words from tumbling past my lips.

Simon stops beneath a streetlamp, its pale light illuminating the amusement on his chiseled face. “What?”

“Sorry.” I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose. “I was telling myself to shut up and not word vomit this fear in my gut.”

Tsk. Tsk. Lying to your boyfriend?

I grind my teeth together so I can’t argue with the snarky voice. I mean… I guess you can call Simon my boyfriend, even though we’ve not officially labeled our relationship. We’ve gone on a few dates, but most times, it feels more like a friendship than anything else. I think he feels the same way about me, because he isn’t into the physical aspect of our relationship… other than holding hands. He’s obsessed with my hands. It’s comforting, if not a little strange.

“You can word vomit on me,” he says.

“Another time. I'm too tired tonight.”

“Tomorrow then.” He tucks a stray strand of blonde hair behind my ear and accepts my excuse with no pushback.

We resume the trek to my building, and I already know tomorrow won’t bring a confession from me. He’d never understand why I’m teetering on the brink of madness. Simon is a history major too, but unlike me, already has his life mapped out. He wants to be a professor. And he’ll make an excellent one—genius, patient, and rocks an expensive sweater like no other.

That’s another thing contributing to this unwanted spiral into the pits of psychosis. His wealthy family isn’t keen on his career choice, or so he says, but they're very involved in his life. Most times, I think how nice it must be to have someone involved in your future. My parents are the polar opposite.

Sure, they provided everything I wanted, but they didn’t care if I was happy or not. There’s more to parenting than what you can buy in a store. I think the last time my mother hugged me, I was five years old. She had just returned from a jaunt in Paris, or maybe Greece, and she wrapped her arms around my little body and said she had missed me. Well, the trips after that became more frequent and longer, and she missed me less and less.

My father, well, he was always busy trying to please my mother, and I never could help him in that category.

“It’s a full moon,” Simon says, as we approach my dorm.

I look up at the dark sky. “Careful, there might be werewolves lurking.” I laugh a little.

He smiles and hikes my bag further up his shoulder. “They don’t exist.”

“Vampires don’t either.”

Simon and I have debated many times whether vampires ever existed. He believes the hype.

He gives a chin nod toward the sprawling dormitory. “Better head inside before I drop more facts on you.”

“Thanks for coming to get me. Sorry to keep you up this late.”

He gives me a quick peck on my lips and says goodnight. We part ways, and I rush into the dorm building, heading straight up to my room, bypassing Veronica’s. It’s too late to return the key. Roni’s been my best friend since I started here four years ago, so she’ll understand. My hands tingle as I hurry down the hallway, numbness creeping into my knuckles. A carpal tunnel side effect from studying too much. I shake them out and head into my room, turning on the light so I can unpack my things.

Bone-tired, I push the yellow comforter to the side and climb into bed. My eyes slide shut.

“About time, Allison,” the voice says as sleep pulls me under.

“The men of ancient times were more forceful than today’s man, and felt they had power over women,” my monotone professor drones on as I force my eyes to stay open.

Studying until nearly dawn was not a good idea. This morning, I had a tough time waking and would have slept straight through class if my alarm clock wasn’t blaring in my ear.

“Miss Lane, am I boring you?”

I sit up straight as the eyes of my classmates dart to me, glad they're not receiving his ire. “No.”

Professor Williams crosses to the edge of his dais, arms crossed, peering up at where I sit in the amphitheater seating.

“Tell me who I mentioned five minutes ago.”

Shit. I blink.

Catherine the Great.

I take a chance and repeat, “Catherine the Great.”

A minuscule grin turns up the corner of his lips, and he resumes the lesson. No doubt satisfied that I was paying attention.

He’s a pompous little ass, isn’t he?

It pains me that I stifle a laugh at the comment. I’m losing it. Goosebumps race across my arms, standing the fine hairs on end. The voice is coming more frequently, and what if it’s more than anxiety? Maybe I need a therapist.

My phone vibrates with an incoming text, and I glance at it while Professor Willams—ironically—carries on about life before technology.

“Need to see you,” Simon says in his message.

I text back that I’ll meet him at the campus coffee shop after class and tuck my phone into my bag to focus on the professor’s lecture.

After class, I pop in my AirPods and blast music to avoid hearing the voice again as I rush to Brewed Awakening. I step inside and spot Simon at a corner table in the back.

“Allison, hi,” he says when I drop down in the seat across from him.

“Is everything ok?” I ask, observing his glum appearance. His soft blue eyes are almost gray with sadness. Even his sandy-blond hair is strewn about and not in his usual gelled-to-perfection look.

He shakes his head. “There’s been a… situation… with my family, and I’ll have to travel back home immediately.”

I touch his arm. “I’m so sorry.”

“Will you come home with me?”

My eyes widen. “Um, I… uh…” My days blend as I try to think about everything I need to do. “For how long?” I ask.

“Just a few days, possibly a week.”

“What’s going on?”

“My uncle.” He sighs. “It’s a long story, but my whole family is in a state of emergency.”

“What kind?”

He glances over his shoulder as if he needs to ensure no one is listening. “I’d rather not discuss it here.”

“I understand.” My schedule flies through my mind, and I figure out what I can push around. It’s not an ideal time, but he needs me, and a break from everything might be what I require to clear my head of its unwanted visitor. “I just have to make sure I’m back in time to turn in my paper.”

Simon dips his head in agreement, looking like he’d offer to conquer foreign lands if it would assure I go with him. “Definitely. Thank you for coming with me. My uncle has kept our family together for ages. He’s like the glue, so if he needs me, I have to go.”

I don’t ask questions, instead I try to focus on things I can grasp. “Where are we going?”

“Transylvania.”

I lean forward. “Did I just hear you correctly?”

“Yes, we’re from Transylvania.”

“The land of Bran Castle, the legendary home of Dracula.”

“I knew that would get you excited. Sorry to cut this short, but I have some things to take care of before we leave.” He stands and together we head out of the coffee shop. “I’ll call you with all the details.”

I nod. “I’ll be ready.”

As soon as I’m back in my dorm, I rush around my room, packing all the things I’ll need for my stay in Transylvania. Later that night, when my head finally hits the pillow and my eyelids are heavy with sleep, he speaks to me.

“We’ll be together soon. Now sleep.”

And then he goes silent.

Two

Allison

* * *

There couldn’t be a better place to finish my paper than Transylvania, birthplace of Dracula. Simon holds my hand as we approach his family’s estate. Calling it an estate doesn’t do it justice, because it is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. Almost like a modern-day castle jutting from the lush green landscape. There are three towers on top of the white castle with conical spires pointing at the crystal blue sky.

“Wow,” I breathe out, staring at the sprawling structure.

Simon shrugs beside me. “Yeah, it’s home.”

When Simon explained his family and their wealth, he never spoke of castles in faraway lands. “Are you royalty or something?”

He turns to me. “Or something.”

The car moves closer to the front entrance, and I gawk at the monstrosity of a home. Nothing could have prepared me for this.

A few people wait by the colossal front door. Servants, I’m guessing. Or helper people. Whatever one calls their staff. I don’t have a lot of experience with this type of life, so I’m not sure of the correct terminology.

When the car stops, a gray-haired man in a black suit opens my door. “Welcome,” he says as he helps me out of the vehicle.

“Thank you.” I gaze up at the home before me, unable to take in the enormous structure at one glance.

Simon takes my hand, and we enter a marble foyer made less sterile by ornate urns filled with colorful flowers.

“Mother,” he says, dropping my hand and kissing a brown-haired woman, wearing wide-legged blue slacks and a white shirt, on the cheek.

She smiles, revealing a sparkling row of pearly whites. “Simon, so happy to have you home.” Her blue eyes land on me. “And this must be Allison.” She takes my hand, encasing it in her palms. “So thrilled you’re here.”

I grin, overcome with relief at her warm welcome. “Thank you for having me.”

The same man who helped me out of the car enters through the front door, carrying my luggage. “I’ll take these to her room, Ma’am,” he says to Simon’s mother.

“Thank you, Aston.” She focuses back on me. “You can call me Lina.”

“Such a beautiful name,” I tell her. “This place is”—I take in a deep breath—“spectacular.”

She glances around at the Renaissance artwork and suit of armor in the entryway as if they are as inconsequential as items from a second-hand store. “It’s just things. Once you get settled, we can take you on the tour.”

“I’d love that,” I say, smiling at Simon.

“Let me show you to your room,” he says.

We cross the floor, and I follow him up the wide staircase, marveling at the crystal chandelier above us. “You grew up here?”

“Yes.”

“That must have been amazing. I can’t wait for the tour. I have so many questions.”

Simon stops at the top of the stairs, turning to face me. “There are things about this place I won’t be able to tell you.”

“What do you mean?” My eyes widen. “Like mysterious legends?”

Simon continues down the hallway without answering, and I follow behind with goosebumps erupting on my arms. A slight chill lingers in the castle’s air, like there are windows open twenty-four seven.

“You said your family is in a state of emergency,” I say as Simon leads me into a room at the end of the hall. “What kind?”

With all the hustle and bustle of traveling, we haven’t discussed what’s going on with his family. When I broached the subject while we were waiting for our flight, Simon brushed it off. I’m not one to pry, but maybe I should’ve thought about what type of situation I’m getting myself into here.

Once again, he only offers me a crumb. “We can talk about that later.” He stops in the middle of the room, next to my luggage. “What do you think of your accommodations?”

I stop, my mouth hanging open in the spacious room the size of a living room. “This is all for me?”

Simon nods. “Yes, and I’ll be in the room next door.”

My eyes drift over the elegant, dark furnishings and land on the four-poster bed with a comforter and sheets the color of blood. A white canopy drapes over the top, matching the curtains flowing from the open French doors across from the bed. I step in that direction, wanting to appreciate the view of the castle grounds.

“Wow,” I say as I step onto the balcony overlooking a scenic garden full of shrubbery and bright flowers. “This is… just wow.”

Simon moves behind me, pushing my hair across my shoulder, placing a kiss on my neck. “I knew you’d like it here.”

I spin around to stare into his blue eyes. “I love it here.”

The sun hangs low in the sky, highlighting the gorgeous landscape. To my right, beside a rose bush, stands a man cloaked in the shadows cast from a tall tree.

From this distance I shouldn’t see his eyes so clearly, but they’re dark and watching me. Prickles of fire erupt on my skin, and my heart slams against my chest as if the devil himself just appeared before me. I spin back around and bump into Simon.

He wraps his arms around me, and for a moment, I feel safe.

But curiosity wins out, and I glance over my shoulder to see if the man is still there.

He’s not.

“Let’s shower and change and then we can go on that tour.” Simon suggests.

“Ok,” I say. “I want to hear about all the history.”

“Absolutely.” He releases his hold on me. “Take your time.” He leaves me once he’s shown me the en-suite bathroom and the location of all the toiletries, if I need them.

As soon as he’s gone, I make my way back to the balcony to see if the man from earlier is lingering there.

He’s not.

I head into the bathroom to take my shower. This is more like a spa, though, with luxurious marble flooring and diamond-shaped white wall tiles. A chandelier dangles from the ceiling’s exposed trusses over an oval tub sitting next to a wide window. I’ve never been more excited about cleaning myself.

Once I’ve washed the airplane ride off my body in the glass-encased rain-head shower, I move through an arched opening into what looks like a room for makeup and dressing yourself. There’s an armchair and a table with a tall mirror above it. Beneath the mellow lighting, I dress in black jeans and a white t-shirt, feeling a lot less fancy than my surroundings.

In my room, I throw on a blue sweater to ward off the slight chill in the air.

Simon’s ready to go when I text him.

He meets me outside my room, freshly showered and dapper. He’s combed back his damp blond hair and dressed in khakis and a blue Polo.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Yep.”

We walk down the hall, hand in hand, and he leads me down the stairs to the front entrance.

“I guess we’ll start at the beginning. My great-great-grandfather, Cornelius Blackmoor, built the home in the 18th century. He was an interesting character.”

“Sounds very ominous.”

He grins, squeezing my hand in his. “It kind of is. He liked to flaunt his wealth. They had the front door made in Barcelona, carved by a man who creates some of the world’s most famous castle doors.”

I run my hand over the intricate carvings in the wood, letting my fingers roam over each groove. “This is beautiful.”

“You haven’t seen anything yet.” He breezes through the foyer to a massive sunken living area with modern, red-leather couches mixed with vintage lamps and knick-knacks that look like they transported them from the 18th century.

I move toward the left wall, drawn by a tapestry of a man lying in a grassy field of daisies, with a woman in a white dress at his side.

Simon steps up beside me. “This is a tapestry made by a traveling artist that lived here for a while back at the turn of the century. Legend has it he fell in love with my great-grandmother, but she was to marry my great-grandfather.”

How sad to love someone you can’t have.

“What happened to him?”

Simon shoves his hands in his pockets. “Once she married, he left.” He moves away and walks out of the living room.

I rush to catch up to him. “I feel like there’s more to that story.”

“Isn’t there always?” Simon chuckles. “He left with my great-grandmother.”

I can’t help but pry. “What happened?”

“My great-grandfather went after her. He fought for her and brought her back here.”

“Did she want to come back?”

Simon studies me carefully before answering. “Of course she did. Why wouldn’t she?”

“Well, she left with the artist.”

“No, she loved my great-grandfather.”

The frown forming on his face tells me to drop the subject. I can see Simon is getting worked up by the implication his great-grandmother ran off with the man she loved, only to be ‘rescued’ by another man she was forced to marry.

“What’s in here?” I open a door to my left.

“A study.” Simon steps through the open door. “Nothing too interesting.”

The hell you say.

“There is a life-size woolly mammoth in the corner.” I step inside the room, trying my best to take in all the books on the shelf-lined walls. “So speak for yourself.”

He rests his shoulder against the door frame. “It’s a replica. My mother just had to have it.”

“I love her style.”

The French windows along the outer wall cast rays of light on the bold red rug covering the dark flooring. I move closer to the bookshelves and run my fingers along the spine of Ivanhoe, wanting to skip the rest of the tour and get cozy in one of the Victorian style chairs with a couple of these books. But the tour continues.

We move through the house, with Simon showing me all the distinct features of their home. He takes me toward the back of the property, below my room’s balcony, and into the garden.

My hands tingle the closer we get to the spot where I saw the person standing. Out of nowhere, a tall man appears.

Dressed all in black.

Eyes the color of coal.

Full lips twisted in a half-smirk.

Strong jaw covered in scruff.

I’m stunned by the rugged beauty of his face.

“Allison, this is my uncle, Draven,” Simon says, bringing me closer to the dark-haired man.

As if he swept the air from my lungs, I suffer for breath as I stare into Draven’s thick-lashed eyes.

Power emanates from the lean muscles of his body as he reaches out his hand, and I place mine in his. It’s cool to the touch, but heat flares in my palm. “Nice to meet you, Allison.” The way my name sounds in his mouth is familiar, like it isn’t the first time he’s said it.

“Hi,” I peep out, trying my best to look anywhere but into the intense eyes that threaten to pull me into their depths. “You seem so familiar.”

His eyes twinkle, and it only makes him more alluring. “I’d like to think you wouldn’t forget me if we had met.”

No, I certainly wouldn’t. He truly is a magnificent man.

Three

Draven

* * *

I would hope she wouldn’t have forgotten me so soon. Having Allison here, having her so close, makes my body ache in a way it hasn’t in centuries.

A man in a dark alley once told me he’d make my life better, but he made it so much worse. A kind of worse you wish you could undo, and Allison can help me do just that.

Simon’s hand at the small of Allison’s back stirs up a feeling inside me I’ve never experienced. It makes me rage at the contact. Mine.

She’s breathtaking—cornflower blue eyes, long blonde hair, and curves too sensual for someone her age.

The hints of currant that pump through her veins keep me on high alert. I stare at her neck, watching the vein pulse beneath her porcelain skin.

“Simon is giving me a tour,” she says.

“Ah, how about I steal you for a few minutes and show you the secret garden?”

“Secret garden?” Her lilting voice makes my body jolt.

“I wasn’t aware of any secret garden, Uncle,” Simon adds.

“Well, that’s why it’s a secret. Only I know about it.” I offer my hand.

She stares tentatively at Simon as if asking permission. Another thing that ticks me off about the two of them. When I sent Simon to America to stalk a prospective girl with the power, I never expected him to date her.

He nods, and she slips her hand in mine. A beguiling flush creeps up her neck. So innocent.

“Simon, you can stay here. I want to take Allison there alone.”

Simon shifts his feet, his eyes bouncing between mine and Allison’s. “Oh, ok. I’ll be here when you get back,” he says to her.

I can feel his protectiveness over her, and it makes me wonder what other claim he’s staked over her. I won’t let my mind wander there for very long, however, because I can never have her. And Simon knows he can’t either.

He knows our kind can’t be with her sexually until her powers manifest.

Together, Allison and I make our way down the brick pathway that leads us to an entrance concealed by tall topiaries in the shape of my least favorite animal… werewolves. Just a little inside joke for me. When I had this garden designed many centuries ago as a gift to my sister, I wanted a private place I could go to get away from the rest of the world.

Before I lead Allison through the topiary and down the steps, into the hidden area of flowers, I whisper to her, “You are not permitted in this garden without me, understand?”

Her big, glossy blue eyes gaze into mine. “I understand.”

The moment we enter, she presses a hand to her chest, dainty fingers splayed. “This place is breathtaking,” she breathes out. “You designed this?”

I nod.

She steps away from me, making her way to the lilies preening in the sun near the cascading fountain in the center of the garden. For a moment, I try to see it as she does. Over time, I’ve lost appreciation for it. Every type of flower you could imagine stretches for as far as the eye can see. Vibrant pinks and purples pop out at you at every turn. A labyrinth of hedges lines the back, blocking the garden from the rest of the world.

She stops to admire the rose bushes. “These are beautiful.”

“They are, but they’re also wicked. You need to watch yourself around them.”

“Wicked? How?” Her voice is so delicate it almost makes my heart crack in two. If I had a beating one.

“If you get too close.” I touch the plump red rose closest to her. “It bites.”

“The thorns?” she asks.

“Yes, you need to watch out for the thorns as well.”

She leans in, sniffing the rose I hold out for her.

Her neck is in plain view, and it’s so close. It takes everything in me not to sink my hungry teeth into her sweet skin. The smell of her blood wafts through the air, making my head fuzzy with desire, but I have to maintain control.

I lean in, almost tasting the sweet nectar of her crimson blood.

She beams, bringing her hand up to take the rose from my hand. “See, this flower isn’t evil at all. It doesn’t want to bite me.”

I step away. She has no idea how close I came to devouring all of her.

It makes me want to burst into flames.

I’ve never in my life came close to losing control as I just did with her right now.

Allison takes a seat on one of the wooden benches angled near the fountain, smiling wide. “It’s perfect here. I never want to leave.”

I smirk. “You should see the garden at my castle.”

“Wait. This isn’t where you live?”

I shake my head, joining her on the bench. “No, I live in the mountains. In a secluded castle atop one of the highest peaks in Romania. I frequent this castle often, so I do keep private chambers here.”

“Oh, I figured you lived here all the time. I know Simon said you were in some type of crisis.”

I turn to face her, baring my teeth. “And just what else did Simon say to you?”

She shrugs. “Not much, really. Did I offend you?”

She’s so pretty, it’s hard to stay mad around her. Besides, it’s not her fault my nephew was careless. What if someone at their college overheard them speaking of me? What if they were followed because of it?

I’ve tried for many years to keep my hunt for the girl who wields the power a secret from the other clans. And here Simon is, blabbing his mouth for all to hear.

“We need to head back. I need to speak with Simon.” I bound from the bench and Allison follows.

“I didn’t mean to cause any trouble,” she shouts after me.

I need to know what else Simon told her. I need to know if anyone followed him.

The moment we emerge from the garden entrance, Simon is there.

“Trebuie să vorbesc cu tine imediat,” I tell him in Romanian, letting him know I need to talk to him right away.

“Yes, sir.”

He knows never to disobey me. Never to challenge me. My family knows my word is law.

“Take Allison to her room and then meet me in my chambers.”

I leave the two of them right where they stand, heading back into the castle, walking up the grand steps to the second floor, entering my personal chambers and slamming the door shut.

I stalk to the mahogany desk in the room’s corner and grab my phone, putting a call into Viggo, the head of my security. A man like me doesn’t need much security, but he’s good to have around when I need an extra set of eyes. He answers on the second ring.

“We have a problem,” I say into the receiver.

“What’s that?”

“We may have the attention of the other clans on us.”

“That’s not good.”

“I know. Call your contact in Bogdan’s clan and see what you can find out.”

“I’m on it.”

I disconnect the call at the same time Simon enters my chambers.

“What were you thinking talking to her about things someone could overhear?”

He perches on the edge of my king-sized bed, bracing his hands on the black comforter.

“Draven, I don’t think we were followed. I told Allison it was a family emergency when no one was around.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Simon, let me explain something to you. She’s the chosen one. The one who wields the power, and yet, you act like she’s some ordinary girl.” My voice rises. “You treat her like she’s your girlfriend and you’re taking no actions to protect her.”

Simon stands. “That’s not true. I’m doing everything I can to keep her safe. I brought her here. I care about her.”

I arch a brow at him. “Does she care for you?”

Simon rubs at the back of his neck. “I think she does.”

“Does she know what you are?”

He shakes his head. “She doesn’t believe in vampires. She’s writing a paper to disprove them.”

I know all about this paper, and how her teacher said to pick a legend to prove or disprove. But I can’t reveal that to Simon, for obvious reasons.

“Interesting. Have you read this paper?” I chuckle to myself, wondering what excuses she’s come up with to disprove my existence.

“I’ve read parts. She says there’s some disease that exhibits symptoms…” He continues explaining the specifics of her research, and I find it fascinating. I’ve heard of the disease before, but it’s much milder than an actual vampire. The fact she thinks they could be the same makes me smile.

“What else have the two of you done? You didn’t sleep with her, did you?”

Simon stares back at me, almost challenging me. I can see in his eyes that he’s wanted to get between her pretty thighs. That he’s thought about it. “No, sir. I know if a vampire has sex with her, she’ll lose her power. Right?”

I’m not even one-hundred percent sure if that’s true, but I’d rather him believe it than not.

“Good.” My concerns ease, but only slightly. I still have the worry that someone overheard the two of them. “On the plane? Did you mention where you were taking her?”

Simon bristles at my question. “I did everything as you instructed.”

Simon’s one of two people on the planet that is related to me by blood. His mother is the other.

So, I trust him, but he’s young, and has let me down in the past. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

“We’ll need to protect her. Keep her safe. You know what that means, right?”

“Yeah,” he says.

But I don’t think he understands at all.

Because if I offer the protection of my crown, it won’t be him that marries her.

It’ll be me.

I flip through the old, leather-bound book on my desk, looking for an answer on whether intimacy with Allison will cause her powers not to manifest. So far, I can’t find a single word written about it. It’s dark in my study, just how I like it. I can barely see the words written on the pages, but it’s ok because I’ve memorized most of them.

When I first became a vampire, I scoured every resource looking for a way to undo it all. A way to fix the horrible things I’d done, but nothing was ever written about how I could do that. Until one day, nearly a hundred years ago, I ran across this book. It spoke of a girl who would wield the power of the light. A girl who would be able to turn dead to living. A girl who could change a vampire back to their mortal self.

I searched and hunted for that girl.

I’d almost given up, when clues from the book, telling what the girl would be like, called to me like a beacon.

Allison is that girl. The one I’ve been searching for.

However, if I know this, who's to say my enemies don’t as well?

“I see you’re still studying,” Viggo says, entering my study and flipping on the light.

It’s bright, and I hide my eyes, hissing my disapproval at the man I call my best friend.

“I’m just trying to see if there’s a clue or something I missed.” I slam the book shut. “She’s the one, right? I mean, it has to be her.”

Viggo shrugs as he sits in the leather wingback chair next to my desk. “I think so.” His eyes study me with concern. “You know Bogdan and Rao will be all over her once they find out. This could be bad for the vampire community.”

Every vampire belongs to one of three clans. The Blackmoor Clan, my own personal clan, the Vladimiri Clan, ruled by Bogdan Vladimiri, one of the most ruthless men I’ve ever met, and the Tavian Clan, led by Rao Tavian, a weak man who can’t think for himself.

There’s one area we’ve never agreed on: killing mortals for our personal food source.

Last century, it was easier to feed off humans, find unsuspecting mortals to drain for food. If a body went missing, communities didn’t have the resources to launch a full investigation. There was no such thing as a crime lab and DNA.

Now, with society moving forward into the technological age, our kind has to hide even deeper in the shadows, playing by society’s rules and finding new ways to get fed.

Bogdan and Rao still feed off the drifters of the world. People who no one notices if they go missing. However, sometimes they do.

It causes enormous risk to our kind, and we need consequences.

“I know, and I’m going to have to marry her to protect her.”

“I agree,” Viggo says. “She’s safer as your queen. It’s harder to attack a clan leader’s queen. Someone would be outright stupid to do that.”

I laugh. “Have you met Rao?”

Viggo breathes in and releases a long sigh. “You’re going to have to invite them both to the wedding.”

I’d already been thinking about this. How offended they’d be if I got married without the formalities of inviting the other clan leaders. “I know.”

“Do you think they’ll be able to tell she has powers?”

I shrug. “Not sure. I’m thinking at the wedding we need to make sure they never get too close.”

“On it.”

“And after the wedding, I’d like to send Simon and some men to spy on Bogdan and Rao.”

Viggo stands from his seat. “I can arrange that.”

I nod. “See to it you do.”

Because I can’t let Bogdan or Rao have Allison. I can’t let anyone have her… not even me.

Four

Allison

* * *

I never meant to get Simon into trouble. I’ve been sitting in this room for what feels like hours since Simon left to speak with his uncle.

Draven is an interesting character. The way he stared at me, like he could read my every thought, makes me feel like I have an internal blush warming my insides. My fingers ache, and I stretch my hand, wondering where the heat is coming from.

Is it from his touch?

Draven’s eyes held such mystery in their dark depths, and I couldn’t stop staring into them. Like a moth to a flame, he enraptured me.

And that is not good. He’s Simon’s uncle, for fuck’s sake. I should work on my paper instead of waxing poetic about an older man I just met.

I open my backpack, pull out my research notebooks, and plop them on the bed. My computer is in my other bag, and I move to retrieve it when there’s a knock on the door.

I open it and look up into the piercing brown eyes of Draven.

“Is Simon in trouble?” I ask.

Draven smirks down at me. “Simon is fine. We’d like you to join us for dinner in the main dining room.”

I glance at his snug-fitting black dress shirt and slacks and down at my jeans and t-shirt. “Should I change into something more appropriate?”

Draven’s eyes roam over my outfit choice and then snap back up to my face. “Your attire will do.” He turns in one fluid movement and walks down the hall.

He’s so brusque—so formal—that I’d rather stay in my room. But I’m hungry, and as a guest in their home, skipping dinner would be rude. I try to keep up with his hurried strides but fall behind until I’m practically running down the stairs to keep up with him.

When we enter the dining hall, there are extra people at the table. And my attire will not do. Everyone is dressed to the nines, and I’m perturbed Draven didn’t let me change into something a little more presentable.

Simon, dressed in a navy suit, and his mother, in a matching dress, sit near the head of the table. Even Lina’s hair looks regal, pinned atop her head in a plaited bun. She stares down her nose at me, and I can tell she’s also noticed my outfit isn’t right.

I’m burning these ratty jeans after dinner.

Another couple sits on the opposite side of the table from Simon and his mother, and a tall man, taller than any I’ve ever seen, sits at the head of the table. Simon stands and pulls out the chair beside him, motioning for me to sit. I slide past everyone, making my way over next to him.

“How will we make her a clan member?” the woman with black hair asks. She, too, stares down her nose at me, but not in the same fashion Simon’s mother does. This woman is most likely judging my entire existence, not just my clothes.

“I have a few ideas,” Draven says as he takes the spot at the opposite head of the table.

Servants wander around, pouring red wine into the fancy glass goblets with gold metal embracing the stems. They bypass mine, leaving it empty.

“I told them you’d probably just want a soda,” Simon explains.

“Thank you,” I whisper back to him.

“Tell everyone your idea,” the tall man with blue eyes at the opposite head of the table says.

Everyone gives their attention to Draven, for his big idea.

“I thought she could marry in.”

“You can’t be serious?” Lina’s puckered face shows off her disdain for Draven’s plan. “What are the other options?”

“Actually, it’s really only the one.” Draven does a lazy, one-corner smile, and my belly somersaults.

“No way,” the man sitting next to the raven-haired woman says. “Absolutely not. No one would ever believe that.”

“Allison, how rude of me,” Draven says. “I haven’t introduced you to everyone. These are key members of my… association.” The way he pauses and breathes out the word ‘association’ sends a chill up my spine. Like he doesn’t mean that word in the same way other people would use it. Like its meaning is something more sinister. Are they in an organized crime outfit? Am I sitting with the mafia? “This is Stefania,” he says, pointing to the black-haired woman. “Her husband, Arthur.”

I beam at them. “Nice to meet you.”

“My best friend, and confidant, Viggo.” He points to the man at the head of the table. “Everyone, this is Allison.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say, trying to ignore the look of disgust Stefania wears all over her face.

“Marriage is a perfect solution,” Draven says. “It’s that or offer her up to be served as dinner to the other clans. And I won’t have that happen.”

Whoever they’re talking about, it sounds serious. As is my hunger. My stomach growls so loud, Simon hears it.

“Hungry?” he asks.

“Starving.”

“Can we talk about this after our guest eats?” Simon says to the table.

“Viggo, a word?” Draven rises and leaves the table with Viggo following behind him.

A blonde woman enters the room, carrying a tray of food. It all smells so good.

Stefania and Arthur both leave the table to follow Draven and Viggo.

“Make sure she eats,” Simon’s mother says, leaving the table as well.

“No one’s eating?” I ask, glancing around the now empty dining room.

“They ate before you came down.”

“Did I do something wrong?” I ask Simon.

He shakes his head. “No. Now eat.”

The server sets a charcuterie board in front of me, heaped with an array of assorted dried meats and cheeses. Olives and grapes fill the edges. As soon as I eat, I can’t stop. I keep shoveling it in until Simon chuckles beside me.

“You’re hungry, huh?” he asks.

I wipe my mouth with the white linen napkin beside my plate. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was until they placed this food in front of me.”

He smirks. “There’s more where that came from.”

Another server enters and places a tray with an array of mini sandwiches on the table. There’s egg salad, a chicken sandwich with basil and tomatoes, and a turkey club. I select the egg salad and take a bite.

The food is divine.

As soon as I finish the bite, I stare up at Simon. “You’re not eating?”

“I’ll eat later.”

“Why don’t you eat now?”

In the time I’ve known Simon, I realize just now, we’ve never eaten together. Most times, it’s because I’m usually studying in the library too late to grab dinner together.

“I’ll eat later.” He changes the subject. “I’m sorry you had to hear all of that earlier.”

“Who’s getting married? Your uncle?”

Simon shakes his head. “No, he won’t be the one to get married. It’ll most likely be me.”

I set my sandwich down. “You’re getting married?” I’ve always heard about aristocratic families in foreign countries arranging marriages, but I never thought I’d be dating a man promised to someone else.

“Looks that way.”

“Oh,” is all I can say. I shouldn’t feel too bad. It’s not like we’re really dating.

“Oh is right,” he breathes out.

“I’m so sorry. Have you met her? Do you like her?”

I have a million questions about the arrangement. Was it made at birth? Does he know her? Do they at least get along?

Or is it one of those deals where he won’t see her until the day of the wedding?

“Yes, I know her.” His gaze meets mine. “It’s you.”

Wait, what?

I’ve never heard so many people talk all at once. Viggo, Stefania, and Arthur sit on the brown leather sofa in the study, while Simon and his mother stand behind it. Draven stands in the shadows, arms crossed, listening. It’s like everyone raises their voice to be heard over the crowd, each of us saying something about the impending wedding that I’ve just learned will happen really soon.

“Can you all just be quiet for a moment?” I scream at the top of my lungs. “The bride needs to say something.”

This silences the room.

All eyes are pinned on me as I try to make sense of this unexpected situation.

“I have a few questions. Someone said something about others that will try to kill me if I don’t marry Simon. Who are these people? And why can’t I just go home instead?”

“You can’t go home,” Draven snaps out.

“Why not?” I snap back. “What do they want with me?”

Stefania bounds from the couch. “The girl doesn’t even know her own worth. This is pointless, Draven. She’s not the one.”

“The one?”

Again, everyone speaks at top volume, shouting over one another to be heard. I pick out random words like death, light, power, and marriage. I can’t make sense of it all. Had Simon mentioned any of this back at the coffee shop, I wouldn’t have come to Romania.

“I thought you were the one in trouble,” I say to Draven.

He stares at me, and I want nothing more than to wake up from this and find out it has all been an elaborate dream.

I pinch my arm just to make sure it’s not.

“You’re not dreaming,” Simon says. “We’re marrying to protect you. There’s no other way.” He leaves his mother’s side and crosses the hardwoods to stand next to me. “I’m sorry, Allison, but we need you to be a member of our family, so we can protect you.”

“Protect me from what?” I ask, my voice barely audible.

“Stop this,” Draven booms. “You will not marry her, Simon.”

Simon frowns. “What do you mean? She needs a husband.”

“And that husband will be me,” Draven says, moving to stand on the other side of me.

“You?” I glare into his dark eyes. “You can’t be serious.”

“I’ll marry her, Uncle.”

“No, she’ll be marrying me.” Draven stalks out of the room, leaving too many unanswered questions in his wake.

I stare at Simon. “I am not marrying him.”

Simon places his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to.” He looks over at his mother. “Mom, he can’t be serious, can he?”

Lina volleys her gaze between her son and the others. “You know how he can get.”

“I want to be the one to marry her. This isn’t fair.”

Lina crosses to Simon. “I know you do. He has to have a good reason to marry her, dear.”

“Um, hello. Hi,” I quip, waving my hand. “I don’t want to marry anyone. I want to go home.”

“We’re long past that now,” Viggo says, rising from his seat. With a shake of his head, he leaves the room, probably to chase after Draven.

I roll my eyes. “Well, that’s all good and dandy, but I have a paper to complete and a life to get back to.” I leave the room the same way Draven left. They can’t seriously expect me to marry some stranger, can they? They can’t force me to do anything.

I march up the stairs, stopping just before I get to the second floor. From my spot on the stairs, I can see down the corridor into the room where Draven speaks with Viggo.

I creep on tiptoes to get a better listen.

“Why do you want to marry her?” Viggo asks.

“You think I trust a job like this to some kid? Simon is young. He’s naive, and we can’t put this on him.” Draven’s voice is deep and demanding.

“Are you sure that’s all it is?”

“Of course,” Draven bites out. “What else would it be?”

“I see the way you look at her.”

My defenses are on high alert when Draven laughs, as if the idea of being attracted to me is preposterous. “That’s highly unlikely. I only want to marry her to protect her. That’s it.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” Viggo asks.

“You should. When have I ever lied to you before? That plain girl doesn’t interest me.”

My mouth drops open. Who’s he calling plain girl?

With anger fusing itself to my bones, I head toward my room, so I can pack my bag and get the hell out of here.

Five

Draven

* * *

I’ve never lied to my best friend, Viggo Kelgar, but I’m lying to him right now. There is something about Allison that makes the thought of Simon marrying her ignite a fire in my veins. Saying Simon’s naive is the truth, but that doesn’t change how I’m feeling.

She’s special. And it’s not only her powers I find alluring. There’s something more.

“I’ll be the one to marry her. That decision is final.” I turn to look out the window of my chambers.

“As you wish,” Viggo says. “I’ll head back downstairs.”

As soon as he leaves, I stare out the window at the vast expanse of greenery that leads to the garden.

That’s when I see her.

Allison.

“Motherfucker.” I head out of the room, onto the balcony, and jump down to land right in front of her. “What are you doing?”

She stops, her eyes as big as saucers. “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“How did you end up right in front of me? Did you fly?” She glances around, trying her best to determine which direction I came from.

“I was here the whole time.”

She drags the strap to her bag higher on her shoulder. “Were not.”

“Was so.”

She shakes her head, getting a better grip on the luggage in her hand. “I don’t care. I’m leaving.”

A sharp burst of laughter escapes me. “You’re not.”

“Am too.” She shows me the suitcase in her hand. “I’m all packed and ready to go.”

“You’re not leaving, Allison. We need to get married.”

“I’m not marrying you,” she scoffs. “I’m leaving. You can marry the other woman in there.” She juts her chin in the castle’s direction.

“I’m marrying you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Oh, there’s something I can do. I can leave.” She tries to move past me, but I don’t let her.

“Allison, don’t make me do this the hard way.”

She stops, her eyes studying me. “What’s the hard way?”

“I pick you up like the petulant child you’re acting like and carry you back into the house.” I cross my arms, wondering what her next move will be.

“That’s kidnapping. I’ll call the cops and have you arrested.”

She’s funny, and a smile crosses my lips. “It’s not kidnapping if I’m trying to save your life.”

Now it’s her turn to laugh at my words. “It is kidnapping if I don’t want to go with you.”

“Kidnapping it is, then.” I scoop her up, her sack landing in her lap, and carry her bride-style to the entrance of the mansion, her luggage hanging in her other hand.

“Put me down,” she yells, squirming to break free. She drops her luggage, using her free hand to punch at my chest. “Put me down, you animal. This is kidnapping. You’ll be going to jail.”

I carry her through the front doors, depositing her on the armchair in the front room. “There,” I say. “I’ve set you down.”

Everyone joins us in the front room, and Simon drops to his knees on the floor in front of the chair, checking to see if she’s ok.

She’s fine.

I can’t wait until I’ve married this girl and Simon will no longer hang on her every whim. It’s annoying, and the fact it bothers me should make me stop and really think about what I’m about to do.

But it doesn’t.

Instead it ignites a primal instinct to claim and to protect.

“I’m not marrying anyone.” Allison grabs her phone from the back pocket of her jeans and swipes the screen with a shaky finger.

“You will call no one.” I stand in front of her, demanding her attention. “You won’t be leaving here anytime soon.”

Tears trickle down her cheeks, mesmerizing me. “I want to go home.”

Lina and Stefania step forward. “Let us speak with her. She needs some time to process everything.”

I nod, granting permission.

Lina holds out her hand, a motherly smile gracing her face. “Come with us, dear. We’ll explain what’s happening.”

Allison shakes her head. “No. I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want to go home.”

Simon leans in close, too close, whispering in Allison’s ear. He’s trying his best to comfort her, and again, the simple action bothers me more than it should, causing a ripple of envy to quake through my body.

“Leave us,” I roar, finally getting sick of everyone trying to help. “Leave us, now.”

Simon hesitates but finally rises. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I need to speak to her.”

The room empties as Allison remains seated in the chair. Tears free fall down her face, but she’s got her nose in the air, and a stubborn look of determination on her face.

“I won’t marry you.”

I stalk around the room, pacing with my arms behind my back, watching her, studying her every movement. “Did Simon ever tell you we’re royalty here in Romania?”

Allison blinks. “No, he didn’t… specifically.”

I step away from her, but my eyes never leave her lest she try to run away again. “Another ruling empire, not too far from this one, will want you if they find out what you can do.”

“Why me?”

“There are three empires, three clans, and I rule one of them,” I say.

“What empire?”

“Romania.”

She shakes her head. “That’s not true. I thought Romania’s ruled by a prime minister.”

“Well, yes. He rules and governs the country, but I rule the empire. A private kingdom, so to say.”

“So it’s not like actual royalty, then?”

“It is, and you should treat it as such.”

“Allison, tell me, have you noticed yourself having a certain… ability? Have your hands been tingling?”

She glances down at her delicate hands. “Well, yes, but…” Her words fall away as her head rises and her confused blue eyes meet mine.

“I know you don’t believe in the supernatural, but you need to rethink things.”

She sinks into her chair a little further. “Supernatural? Like powers and such? Is that how you flew down from your balcony?”

“I didn’t fly.” I stop pacing to stand in front of her chair, staring down at her.

“You did something that wasn’t quite human.”

“This is all a lot to take in at the moment. But if you trust me, I promise I’ll protect you.”

“From my powers?” She holds up her hand, turning it as if it’s a new limb.

“I can help you harness your power. Help you develop it.”

“What about the other empires?” she asks, her voice hushed. Fragile.

“If they find out what you can do, they’ll want to hurt you.”

“Oh.” She wraps her arms around herself, shivering.

“Do you trust me?” I ask.

“I… I don’t know.”

“I’m the only person in this world you can trust. Remember that.” I step closer, my hand extended.

She reaches for it, pulling back at the last second. “I don’t know who I can trust.”

“You can trust me, Allison. I’d die before I ever let anyone lay a finger on you.”

She takes my hand and I pull her up from the chair, wrapping my arms around her.

“Why?” she asks, breathless.

“Because you’re the only one who can help me right my wrongs.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know what that means.”

“One day you will.”

“I knew you’d call for me soon,” Harker says in a voice I assume she thinks is sexy. She saunters closer to the foot of my bed. “I always miss you when you don’t call.”

The tight red dress she wears does little to excite me.

She still tries, though.

After all these years, Harker still tries to entice me with her long legs and sultry moves.

It does nothing for me. Nothing like what taking one glance at Allison does.

I lie on the bed, waiting for supper to be served, but Harker is more interested in playing games than bringing me my meal. She’s a lust-struck junkie, loving the feeling of euphoria that drinking blood brings to a mortal.

“Enough, Harker. Let’s get this over with. I’m hungry.”

She turns away from the bed. Her raven-colored hair flows down her back, swishing with the sway of her hips. “You don’t want to work for your dinner?”

I fly from the bed, making my way to her in a matter of seconds. “Let’s get one thing straight…” I tug her head to the side so I can get a good angle on her neck and lean in, sniffing her skin. “I don’t work for anything.” I sink my teeth into her tender flesh, her blood entering through the small holes in my fangs and flowing down my throat.

She moans as I drink from her—turned on, as usual—and I roll my eyes, glancing out at the moonlit sky. The thought of draining her dry enters my mind. It’s quickly replaced with the horrid fact that if I drain most of her blood, she’ll turn, and I don’t want that. I don’t need Harker around for all eternity.

No, thank you.

Even though she’s begged for that very thing.

A few more pints and I’ll be satisfied. Harker squirms in my arms, the lust-struck hitting her hard, and I release her.

“What are you doing?” I ask, wiping the blood splatter from my chin.

“Catch me if you can.” She flutters around the room, like this is a fucking game of tag.

“I don’t have time for this.”

She stops in front of the balcony doors and crooks her finger at me. “Come on, Draven. All powerful being. Come and chase me.”

I transport across the room, making it within an inch of her, grabbing her neck. “I could end your life right now,” I breathe across her skin. “Kill you with one squeeze of my hand.”

Her green eyes challenge me. “Do it. Make me like you, please.”

I put pressure on her neck, letting her know I’m not playing around. “If I kill you this way, you’ll just be another dead girl no one cares about.”

“Do it. Turn me.” She tilts her head, displaying her neck to tempt me.

Part of me would love to drink her dry. I’ve been famished since Allison’s arrival. I don’t know if it’s having her around that’s affecting me, but the craving for more blood engulfs me.

I turn away, dropping my hand from her neck. “I won’t turn you.”

She sidles up closer to me and drags a red nail down my chest. “Why not? You know you want me. You know you want to ravage me like you used to.”

“No.”

“Yes. Why did you stop fucking me? You said I didn’t excite you, but is that true?” She palms my cock. “Do I excite you now?”

I step away from her. “Stop.”

“I know you want to fuck me.”

I shake my head at her misconceptions. “I’d never fuck you again. You do nothing for me.” The thought of snapping her neck enters my mind. It would be so easy, and no one would even question it. I could be done with this woman once and for all. The annoyance of her voice, droning on and on about things I have no intention of doing with her, bores me.

“I haven’t finished my dinner. Are you going to let me feed, or should I replace you?”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.”

Fear replaces the bravado in her eyes. She’s terrified I’ll make good on my threat. I’ve become attuned over the years to fear in a person’s eyes. It’s always the same anxious look. One I can recognize at the drop of a hat and use to my advantage.

She leans her head to the side, submitting to me.

Finally.

I’d have gotten rid of Harker years ago, but she’s got the AB positive blood that’s my favorite flavor. It’s a rare type to find, and one I don’t feel like hunting for again. Besides, it takes a lot to get a human to submit to being a feeding tube. Most fear it. Many squirm the entire time, and you end up accidentally sucking all their blood instead of just tasting it.

It’s taken me many years to master the art of drinking from a human and not killing them. Learning to not turn them took even longer. Simon turned more people into vampires than I care to admit.

I wrap my arms around her, drinking once more from the already open vein in her neck, closing my eyes briefly at the taste of her succulent blood.

When I open my eyes, down below stands Allison, staring up at us. Once again she has her baggage with her, and I rage at the sight, drawing away from Harker.

“Goddammit, Allison,” I say. “Go home, Harker.” I leap from the bedroom balcony, and land right in front of Allison. “I’m done playing with you.”

“You flew,” she breathes out. “Is that your power?” Her eyes snap at me, full of anger. “Actually, I don’t care. I’m out of here.”

“You’re going to make me do this the hard way.”

“I don’t care what way you do anything.” She moves past me, hustling down the back lawn.

As if she can escape.

I smirk. God, this is going to be fun.

In a split second, I catch up with her, sling her over my shoulder, and fly back to my bedroom.

Six

Allison

* * *

I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I can’t believe this is happening to me.

He’s flying.

Once his feet are on the floor of his room, Draven deposits me on the bed. All this talk of powers has made me lightheaded, and I try to get up, but Draven holds me down.

“Get off me,” I scream. I will never marry this man. Never. “Get the woman you were just making out with to marry you.” I saw him. He can’t deny any of it. I saw him kissing the neck of some woman with my own eyes.

“We’re trying to save you. Maybe I should let you just wander off this property so you can see what’s waiting for you on the other side.”

I push his hands off me, sitting up. “Maybe you should.”

“So be it.” He grabs me, throwing me over his shoulder once more and dashing to the balcony of his room.

I squeeze my eyes shut, afraid of what’s coming next. He flies through the air, and I cling on for dear life, feeling the whoosh of the wind through my hair. He lands in the field below. Then he jumps, and I’ve barely got enough time to hold on tight as he flies once more, ending deep in the middle of the forest.

“Put me down,” I say, pushing away from Draven’s body once we’ve landed safely on the mossy ground.

Draven drops his hands. “Sorry, I just wanted some privacy away from nosy ears.”

I fold my arms. Ha. Looks more like a power move to me. “Why?”

“There’s a man named Bogdan.”

Bog-who? “What does he want with me?”

“Nothing yet, but once he finds out what you can do…” His words fade away as he shakes his head, like the thought of it is too painful to bear.

“Oh.” This is all too bizarre. Is this real life?

“I want to help you.”

“Why?” I step back. “Why me?”

Draven pushes his hands into his pockets, and I take a second to study the man before me. Moonlight outlines his chiseled jaw. His eyes are so dark, I can’t see where they end.

“Because… I want to help you cultivate your power.”

“You want to use me? You want me to be your own private little weapon, is that it?” I can see right through this man. All his lies about caring about me. About wanting to protect me. He wants control over me too.

Everyone does.

“Allison, there are things you don’t understand.”

“Oh, I understand all too well. I know what you want. I won’t ever let anyone control me ever again.” My mother has done that my whole life.

“With them you’ll die. With me you’ll live. Make your choice.”

I blink, wondering if everything he’s saying is true. Will I die if this Bog-person finds me and discovers my power? I think about my hands, how they’ve been tingling for a while. How I can think of something that might happen, and then it does. How little things just never seem to add up correctly. Am I really magical? A small part of me trusts Draven. I can’t put my finger on why I trust him, but there’s something familiar. Something more. “Fine, I’ll marry you.”

Draven holds out his hand for me to take, but it’s my turn to stuff my hands in my pockets. He shakes his head at my antics, and I follow him through the shadowy trees.

Leaves whisper for me to run, but I stay with Draven. It’s scary out here, but I’m not afraid out here with him.

I should be.

As we emerge from the towering pines, I try to think about this man as my husband and what that entails. I won’t be expected to have sex with the man, will I?

“Will we do everything a married couple does?” My voice sounds timid, and I clear my throat when he doesn’t speak, only trudges forward. “Will we have to consummate?”

He chuckles softly.

“It’s a legit question.”

“No, I won’t be fucking you.” He turns around suddenly, taking all the air with him. His eyes are intense like twin flames as they burn into me. “Even if you beg me for it. I won’t ever touch you like that.” His voice in my mind vibrates.

I gasp, not sure why his answer has affected me. I should be happy we won’t be having sex.

But the tone of his voice, the way his eyes sear into mine makes my heart beat out of my chest. “It’s you,” I say. “You’re the voice in my head.”

“I am.”

“Why?”

He sucks in a deep breath, sniffing the surrounding air. “You’re aroused.”

“Am not.” How dare he? I march past him and across the grounds. Whatever spell he had me under is long gone now. “I’ll never beg you for anything. And stay out of my mind.”

“That won’t be happening,” he calls out from behind me, but I keep walking, until I stomp straight through the garden. Simon stands at the edge of the wide patio, illuminated by the castle lights. “Allison, can we talk?”

Draven ambles past me and stands next to Simon. I compare them. Light and dark. Sincere and sensual. Nice and asshole.

“Yes, let’s talk.” I grab Simon’s arm, pulling him past Draven.

We walk away and sit on a concrete bench near the side entrance of the house. Away from everyone except the stars in the sky, beaming down over us like they want in on the conversation too.

“Allison, I want to apologize,” Simon says. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”

“It’s ok. I don’t blame you.” I don’t. I blame his uncle.

He scrubs the back of his neck. “Well, once you hear this, you might.”

My heartbeat amps up, my hands tingling as I twist them in my lap. “What do you mean?”

“I knew about you before I went to Oregon.”

“Knew about me how?”

“My uncle has been hunting for someone with the power you have for a very long time.” Simon relaxes back on the bench, placing his ankle on his other knee.

“How did he even know about me?”

Simon shakes his head. “I’m not sure. He just told me to search you out, and if you were the one, to bring you back home.”

“If I was the one? So, the whole story about your uncle being in trouble, that was all fake?”

Simon smirks. “Yeah. I can’t tell you any more than that.”

“Why not?”

He chuckles softly. “You wouldn’t believe it.”

“Try me. I just saw a man fly from his balcony to the ground.”

Simon stares at me like I’ve grown two heads. “Fly?”

“Don’t play stupid with me, Simon. Your uncle did some weird flying thing. He didn’t fly like Superman, but he levitated or something similar. Whatever one does when they aren’t on the ground.”

“That’s his power,” he says. I wait for him to say he’s kidding, but he doesn’t.

“Does everyone have a power?” This is too far out of my element. I can’t understand any of this. Superpowers and people who want to control those powers? It’s straight out of a movie. “No.”

“You don’t have some crazy power, do you? Can you read my mind?”

This makes Simon laugh. “No, I can’t read your mind. Sometimes I wish I could.”

“Why?”

He sucks in a deep breath and then blows it out slowly before answering. “I’d kind of like to know what you think about marrying my uncle.”

“Oh.” I haven’t really thought much about it past the fact that I’m not doing it. “I don’t know,” I say to him.

Because honestly I don’t. It’s all so surreal. Like I’m watching someone else’s life play out instead of my own.

He studies his shoe and says, “I wanted to be the one to marry you.”

I feel bad for Simon, and I wish at this moment I liked him as much as he likes me. “Why don’t you stand up to him?” I don’t know how I feel about marrying Simon. Would he want to have sex? Would he expect me to be a proper wife?

At least with Draven I know he won’t be laying a finger on me, and it calms my nerves a bit.

“I wish I could go home, finish my paper, and just be done with this whole mess. How long am I expected to remain his wife? They can’t expect me to stay married to him forever, can they?”

Simon appears angry when I mention being Draven’s wife, and I wonder how badly this is hurting him. “No, just until your powers develop and we neutralize the threat.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that it will only be for a couple of months. A year tops.”

I pop up from my seat. “A year? I can’t stay here for a year. What about my classes?”

“I’m so sorry, Allison. We’re still before the withdrawal deadline, so you can get your money back and it won’t hurt your transcripts.”

“But…” My words fall away as my mind races over all my classes. All the time I’ve put into my studies. How taking this semester off will put me behind. “I’ll need to talk to the dean. I can study abroad. I will not give up my schooling.”

“You’ll be busy developing your powers,” a man’s voice says from behind me.

I spin around, staring at Draven, standing near a hedge. “Hiding in the bushes and eavesdropping on other people’s private conversations isn’t really your style.”

“You don’t know me very well at all.”

“I know.” That’s exactly the point, and I want to drive that point home because it’s just preposterous that we’re to be married.

“We’ll begin planning the wedding in the morning. It needs to be a lavish event, filled with the whole empire,” Draven says, more to Simon than me.

“Understood,” Simon answers.

“Sounds lovely,” I say, sarcastically offering my two cents, not that either of them pays me any attention.

Draven walks away, and I face Simon.

“I guess we should talk about our… er… relationship,” Simon begins. “I won’t be around once you’re married to my uncle.” He sounds defeated.

“You won’t?”

“You’ll leave to live with Draven in his castle. I guess I could visit, but mainly I’ll have my own mission.”

“Mission?”

Simon nods. “I’ll be spying on Bogdan, watching to make sure we know his every move.”

“You’ll be putting your life in danger for me?” I feel awful about this. No part of me ever asked for any of this.

Simon smiles, and again, I wish I liked him more. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me. Just focus on playing the part of Draven’s wife. There’ll be many events, and you’ll need to not raise any doubts about your relationship.”

“What do you mean?”

“Be believable, or they’ll suspect something isn’t right. You’re under the protection of Draven as his wife, but if they believe the marriage is a sham, they’ll have no choice but to intervene.”

I try to wrap my head around the implications of this ruse we’re trying to pull off. I still can’t comprehend it. Perhaps, I’m in shock. All I know is I possess a power that I can’t fully grasp yet. Why me?

Earlier, I broke down and tried to feel out my mom, which turned into her convinced I was high and therefore going to ruin any chances of a respectable marriage. To believe I acquired my power from my mother is laughable. She knows nothing going on in anyone’s life but her own. Selfish. Controlling. Dominating.

I don’t think she ever even really cared about me. Only the perception of our perfect lives, and how strong she is as a supermom, even though it’s more pretend than anything else.

I try to dig deep within myself, seeing if I can predict the future, wondering if everything will work out ok and I can return to school soon. Nothing happens. Nothing at all. I sink back onto the bench.

“Everything will be ok, Allison. I promise you I’ll take care of it.”

I love Simon’s enthusiasm for trying to keep me safe, but a small part of me doesn’t trust it. Not that I don’t trust him, because I do. For the first time since I arrived in Romania, I feel a sense of danger lurking in the shadows. It engulfs me, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand tall. I shiver, and rub my arms, trying to warm my temperature.

“Let’s get you out of this cool air,” Simon says, standing from the bench and offering his hand.

I don’t take it, afraid someone may be watching that might not believe I’m madly in love with my betrothed.

“Thank you,” I say as I stand. “But I think it’s best if we don’t show any affection toward each other.”

I almost want to say we should break up, but Simon has never truly felt like a boyfriend. More of a best friend, and I think if I mentioned it now, it would only make things awkward between us.

He’s my only friend here in Romania, and I don’t want to alienate him. So, I keep my mouth shut, and head toward the castle to meet my doom.

Apparently, I’m getting married.

“What do you think of this dress?” Lina asks me as I sit in her parlor on the third floor of the castle.

It’s like this woman has a dress factory in her closet, because this is the third wedding dress she’s shown me.

“Um… Do a lot of people get married here?” I ask, wondering why she has a variety of dresses.

Stefania and Lina share a look.

Lina coughs before answering, “No, well—”

Stefania cuts her off. “Might as well tell her the truth.”

My stomach takes a rollercoaster ride, twisting and turning with the thought I’m not Draven’s first bride, that he’s had many wives before me, so they keep a selection on hand for last minute nuptials.

“How do I explain this without sounding crazy?” Lina taps a red nail on her chin.

Stefania giggles. “I don’t think you can.”

“Fine.” Lina pulls a blush-colored gown from her rack and drops it on the settee. “Someday, I hope to find someone to spend the rest of my life with and having a few already purchased will save me time.”

Stefania shakes her head. “You just like to shop.” She looks at me. “She has a wedding dress obsession.”

This makes Lina’s entire face light up with laughter. “True. So which do you like, Allison?”

Right, my wedding. I appraise the dresses once more, moving closer to what looks like a vintage number all the way in the back. The satin and lace dress looks like something straight out of a gothic romance novel.

“Wow, this is beautiful. Can I try it on?”

“Of course,” Lina says.

I move away and step into the bathroom to try the dress on, and once the ladies zip the back, I stare into the mirror in awe. It’s a perfect fit. The off-the-shoulder bodice, covered in pearl beads and crystals, flows down my body into a train fit for a queen.

I look older, more mature. I look like I’m in love, ready to marry the man of my dreams, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This wicked matrimony I’m being forced into is anything but romantic.

“That dress was made for you,” Lina says. “It’s breathtaking.”

“I love it.”

I run my fingers over the beaded bodice as Stefania plays with my hair, styling it in an updo atop my head. “I think it looks amazing. What do you think, dear?”

“I don’t really know. I’ve never really thought about getting married before now.”

I know most girls will say they’ve been planning their wedding since they were old enough to play with Bride Barbie, but that was never me. With poor role models for a marriage, I never felt like a husband was in my immediate future.

Sure, one day. Way down the road. After college, when I finish my master’s degree. But not now, not at the age of twenty-one. I’m barely old enough to drink, and here I am getting married to a man I don’t even know.

“That’s ok, dear,” Lina soothes with an easy smile. “You’re going to be a beautiful bride soon.”

Since we’re all going to pretend this wedding is normal, it seems like a suitable time to ask about the woman I saw Draven with last night. “It’s a shame Draven has to marry me when he obviously has a girlfriend.” I can’t fathom why Draven would offer to marry me when his girlfriend probably isn’t too keen on the idea.

I mean, how could she be?

“Girlfriend?” Lina asks. “Draven isn’t the type of man who has girlfriends.”

“He had someone in his room last night. He was kissing her neck.” I pace the room, grinding my teeth. Oh, god. It’s worse than I thought. A booty call. Draven had some booty call in his room.

A look of what appears to be concern passes between Lina and Stefania. “I wouldn’t worry too much about her,” Stefania says, waving off my revelation with a flick of her pale wrist.

“I guess.” I stop moving, stretching my neck from side to side. If this were a real wedding, I would be genuinely concerned about my ​​fiancé making out with another woman, but I don’t care if Draven has fifty whores he wants to play with all night long. As long as he never touches me.

This isn’t a real marriage, and even though I must pretend it is, I need to keep reminding myself that it is very much not real.

Seven

Draven

* * *

“She has no choice,” I remind Simon as he challenges me.

“We could send her back to Portland and I could watch over her.” He’s like an oversized child, believing physical harm won’t come to them if anyone finds out about Allison’s power.

“I’ve already told you.”

“I could protect her just as well as you could.”

I step closer until I’m right in his face, mere inches from his nose. “You want to know the real reason I’d never let you watch over her?” Hot flames of fury burn in my cold, dead heart. “Because I know late at night, with her tempting body lying next to yours, you wouldn’t be able to help yourself. You’d touch her, kiss her, sample her sweet skin. You wouldn’t be strong enough to turn away. You’d fuck everything up just to get one touch of her.”

“No, it wouldn’t be like that. Promise.” Simon’s voice raises on the last word, and I turn away from him.

“Do you take me for a fool?” I ask, anger etching my every word. “Do you think I don’t notice how beautiful she is?”

A part of me wants to do the very thing I’m accusing him of doing if he were the one to marry her.

“How do you know you won’t touch her?” Simon asks as I turn to look at him.

“Because I can control my hunger. I can control myself.” I’m not sure if I’m lying or telling the truth, but every part of me wants to believe I will resist the temptation and not let my primal urges overtake me.

“You’re wrong,” he says. “I’d protect her, keep her safe.”

“Well, now you don’t have to. I will.”

Viggo steps up, listening to our conversation. “You need to trust Draven, Simon. He knows what he’s doing.”

Simon glares at Viggo. “I care for her.”

I place my hand on Simon’s shoulder, bringing his attention back to me. “I know you do. And you need to trust me. I can’t let anyone get to her.”

“Speaking of Bogdan. His movements have been tracked by my team, and he’s in Romania,” Viggo says.

“Where?”

He shakes his head, his brown hair falling into his eyes. “Not sure. I have men working on it.”

I keep tabs on Bogdan and Rao all the time. I have scouts who watch over them, making sure they’re not planning anything against me.

“I plan on helping the team after you and Allison are married,” Simon says.

“No way,” Viggo blurts out.

I hold up a hand to stop him from speaking further. “Hold on a minute. This might be a good thing.” My eyes soften as I stare at my nephew. “I trust Simon, so having him watching over Bogdan might work out in our favor.”

“I want to help in some way.” Simon squares his shoulders, puffing his chest.

I nod. “Yes, you can lead the team, and report back any findings. I have a feeling once we’re married Rao and Bogdan will come around a lot more. Viggo,”—I turn to face him—“I’ll need you to get with your contact, put your ear to the ground and see if anyone talks about our marriage. We have to make sure it’s believable. I’ll be hosting my annual ball soon, inviting other clan members. I’ll be sure to show off my new wife.”

“Make sure she’s playing the part of the doting wife. Because you’re not really the type of man to take one,” Viggo says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Viggo raises a brow. “Come on, Draven. You’ve been around for centuries and never once have you hinted you’d be open to the idea of marriage. We don’t need them asking questions, wondering why now you’re marrying someone you just met. A mortal, no less.”

I rub my chin. I know he’s right. Hell, I never have wanted to get married. Bogdan knows this, and I’m sure he’ll suspect something when he sees that I’ve married a random mortal.

“He’s going to see right through this plan, isn’t he?”

Simon steps forward. “No, he won’t. Draven, you can’t let your past predict your future. They don’t know you. You’ve never wanted to get married before because you’ve never found the one person who makes your soul complete.”

“Such a romantic,” I say to him.

He rolls his eyes with a bit of a laugh. “Nah, I just know what they’ll need to hear to believe this plan.”

Maybe Simon should be the one to marry Allison. No, what the fuck am I thinking? It can only be me. Because she’s just too tempting to leave in the hands of another man. I’m still not sure how I’ll resist her, but I have to keep reminding myself I can’t tarnish her, or she’ll lose her powers.

And nobody wants that.

“I always feel like an imposter in one of these suits,” I say to my tailor, Franz, who is working on my tuxedo jacket, making sure it fits like a glove.

“She’s a very lucky lady.” Franz doesn’t know this is a sham of a wedding. No one outside of our immediate circle does, and I plan to keep it that way.

“No, I’m the lucky one,” I say like someone who is about to get married.

Franz is satisfied with the statement and continues making tweaks to the black Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo. I’d be happier in something less formal, but this wedding has to look authentic. And it will.

I left it up to my sister and Stefania to handle the preparations for the big event. It’s been a few days since we’ve announced the upcoming nuptials, and they’ve already sent out invitations to half the vampire community.

Bogdan has already RSVP’d, and Lina has planned doves, flowers, menus, and the million other things involved with nuptials. It’s becoming a full-fledged thing, and it reminds me of why I never wanted to have a real wedding.

So much work for one simple day to pledge your love to another.

When I was younger, marriages between two people actually meant something. Nowadays, with the divorce rates running rampant, I wonder why people get married at all.

“I’m almost done here,” Franz tells me, stepping away.

“Thank you. The jacket fits like a charm.”

“You look dashing,” my sister says, entering my chambers. She signals Franz to leave us alone. Once he gathers his things and exits the room, she steps closer. “You’re about to have one hell of a show to perform.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I just worry they’ll just know something isn’t quite right when they meet her.”

“Nah, it’ll be fine, Lina. Trust your younger brother.”

She crosses her arms over her purple-velvet dress. “I do, but I’m just worried.”

“It’ll be fine. Either way, we’ll be on the lookout in case they want to try something,” I say, agreeing that we need to be on high alert.

Lina chews the corner of her lip, silent.

“What? I can tell you’re holding something back.”

“Are you sure you’re up for this?”

“What do you mean?” It’s not like my sister to question me.

“It’s marriage. You can’t rush off and do whatever you please now. You’ll have to be aware that your decisions affect another human being.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Draven, we can’t screw this up. We need to make sure this plan goes off without a hitch. It’s a lot for one person to handle.”

I smile. “I’m no ordinary person.”

Her eyes twinkle. “I know this. But I’m worried, nonetheless. Should we let Simon marry her?”

The thought of Allison married to another man causes a tornado of anger to blow through me, destroying my calm exterior. “No,” I snap. “She won’t marry anyone but me.”

“Draven?” Lina crosses the room, ending up right in front of me, brow knitted in concern. “You’re not attracted to this girl, are you?”

I laugh at her absurdity. “No, not a chance.”

Her eyes study me, looking for the truth in my words. She must not find it. “I don’t believe you.”

“You should. I have no interest in anything this girl offers.” I wish I could believe the words I’m saying.

There’s a knock at the door, and Simon peeks his head in. “I don’t think there’s anything left to plan. You’ve thought of it all, Mother,” Simon says as he enters the room and shuts the door behind him.

She smiles, turning toward her son. “It should be a lovely service. How’s Allison?”

“She’s a little worried.”

“Most brides are nervous on their wedding day.”

Simon stares at the ground before looking back up to meet his mother’s eyes. “Yeah, but not for the same reasons.”

“I know this will be hard on her, but it really is to keep her safe,” I say, staring at the two of them.

“The wedding is in a few days, and I’m nervous it won’t be believable,” Simon says.

“It’ll be fine,” I snap. “I can play pretend.”

“I know you can.” Lina smiles.

“Everything will be fine. And after the wedding, Simon, you’ll take the lead on the team.”

Simon agrees, but I’m not sure he’s completely on board with this plan. Sure, he wanted to be the one to marry Allison, so I understand his disappointment, but we all know I can protect her best.

I’m just wondering who’ll be able to protect me from falling for her.

Eight

Allison

* * *

It’s my wedding day, and I’ve felt jittery since I woke up this morning. If only my mother could see me now. I hope word of my nuptials never gets back to her or she’ll be livid. Her life plan for me is get a degree, marry a rich man after college, and pop out about two point five kids.

Even though Draven is the wealthiest man I’ve ever met, my mother wouldn’t be happy with the shuffled order of things. And that she didn’t select the father of her future grandbabies.

Not that she’ll be getting any. I never plan on having any children. Ever. A fact I haven’t told my mother yet. It’s not that I hate children, far from it, I just have too much to do with my life to be bogged down with the responsibility of raising a mini me.

Kids are a fun thought, but I want to travel and learn about the world. I have so many things I want to do that I don’t see how I could fit children in with my plans.

“Ready?” Lina peeks her head through my bedroom door. Her eyes go wide once she spots me in my wedding dress.

“Not really.”

“You look beautiful. Everything looks beautiful.” She touches my veil, her eyes roaming over me.

The wedding is taking place here, in Lina’s castle, and shortly after we say I do, Draven and I will head off to his castle in the mountains. I know the people we’re trying to convince will be here tonight, and I’ll do my best to pretend I’m madly in love, but I’m all sorts of nervous about going to live with a stranger. A man who can do things I can’t explain. I mean, I saw him fly from his balcony and land right in front of me without breaking any bones.

There are so many things I need answers to, but tonight, I need to play the part.

I worry I may play it too well. Draven is gorgeous, and every time he stares at me I feel my heart pump a little faster.

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” I tell Lina.

She hands me my bouquet of roses, bound with a white satin ribbon. “You look worried.”

I inhale and let it out slowly. “I’ll be fine.” I follow her out the door, ready to meet my maker.

I grab the bottom of my long white dress, holding it up, so I can take each step down the grand staircase slowly. Lina walks in front of me, looking like a goddess in an auburn dress to match her auburn hair. She appears pleased with the wedding, however, I’m sure there’ll be many people who won’t be happy. My mind wanders to Draven’s girlfriend. Will she be here?

I haven’t seen Draven since the night he eavesdropped on mine and Simon’s conversation. I’m also nervous to see him as well.

I follow Lina through the halls of her castle, hearing the cacophony of laughter in the distance grow louder with each step we take.

“How many people are here?” I ask, wide-eyed.

She glances at me from over her shoulder, her thin eyebrows arched high. “A few hundred.”

I visibly shake at her answer, and she stops walking.

“You’ll be fine, dear,” she soothes.

We round a corner, and Simon stands there in a slim-fitting black tuxedo, smiling at me. I breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of him.

“Ready?” he asks. “I’ll be giving you away.”

I laugh a little. “Seems appropriate.”

The doors to the outside garden are closed, and butterflies dance in my belly at what’s awaiting me on the other side.

I loop my arm with Simon’s and Lina opens the door, walking along a runway of blood-red fabric.

I get my first glance at the outside transformation and am speechless at the huge production to keep me safe. If I’d ever fantasized about a wedding, this is exactly what I’d want. Elegant. Sophisticated. Grand.

It’s like something out of a fairy tale.

The orchestra off to the right of the garden plays “Canon in D,” and we step onto the scarlet fabric.

Twinkling lights dance high above us, illuminating the smiling, curious faces staring at me. Lina said a few hundred people, but as I glance out at the linen-covered chairs lined on both sides of the garden, I realize there must be close to five-hundred guests.

I inhale the soft fragrance of the rose bushes as we make our way down the wide path. All the music, lights, and people fade away when I spot Draven waiting for me at the end of the aisle.

I swallow.

His eyes home in on me, a slight smile curving his delicious lips, and my lungs seize. Draven’s all in black, except a red rose blooming in his lapel, looking like the night sky eclipsing the light of my white dress. Purity and evil. Savior and sin.

“You look stunning,” he says in my mind.

I wish I could speak back to him, for only him to hear. I’d tell him all of this is too much for just me. That he looks stunning too. That everywhere I look, all I see is him.

I try to push the thoughts away as I step closer to Draven, unable to look anywhere but at him. He’s so captivating.

His eyes burn into mine as we reach the dais and Simon releases me to him. Arthur, obviously the officiant, joins our hands together. Draven engulfs my tiny hands in his, and silence falls over the garden. Arthur begins the ceremony, and I stare into Draven’s eyes like I’m in love, yet all I can think about is how intoxicating he smells.

Like a forbidden forest. One I should avoid, lest I never come out the same.

We pass over the vows quickly, and I try to calm my rapid heart.

“You’re doing great,” Draven says to only me. “Breathe.”

I inhale a cleansing breath. I feel calmer, as if he put some sort of spell over me. Is this another power? Or does he just have an ability to soothe my nervous temperament?

There is no time to think about it, because we’re being pronounced as husband and wife.

I forgot about the kiss.

I forgot his lips will have to meet mine to seal our pretend holy matrimony.

I’m not ready for any of it, as he sweeps me into his arms and plants his lips over mine. My mind spins as the feel of his mouth causes my whole body to ignite like a wildfire, spreading and incinerating every part of my being.

Blood pumps through my veins at a rapid pace, and Draven moans, ravishing my mouth, swiping his tongue against mine.

I cling to him, so I don’t fall over, and he steadies me.

He breaks the kiss suddenly and the sound of cheering fills the night air.

I’m spellbound, still feeling the brand of his lips on mine, trying desperately to catch my breath.

Thank god I won’t have to kiss him ever again.

A small part of me is sad at that thought, and I glance over at Draven’s smiling face. Can he read my mind?

I touch my lips, remembering the way his plush lips felt, wondering if we could try that once more.

For the mirage.

To play the part.

It’s all make believe.

“Allison, I’d like you to meet Rao Tavian, king of the Tavian Clan.”

I don’t know if I should curtsy or shake his hand. “Nice to meet you,” I say, bowing my head slightly to the stunning man in a navy suit. Ebony hair falls almost to his emerald eyes… which are not looking at me with friendliness.

“It’s so nice to meet you. This was a quick romance,” Rao says with a heavy accent.

“It blossomed rather abruptly,” I say. “Yet, I couldn’t be happier.” I fake a smile, hoping he can’t see right through my charade.

Draven’s hand lands at the small of my back. I can’t say I mind it at all. In fact, it’s nice having him here by my side as I meet person after person. I’ve never met so many people in all my life, and my face aches from smiling so much.

“We should get together soon. Maybe I’ll visit you at Draven’s castle,” Rao says.

Draven gives him a curt nod. “If we can tear ourselves away from the master suite. We may need a hundred years alone to ourselves.” He chuckles, and Rao follows suit.

I laugh along with them, trying to pretend my new husband didn’t just say he’d like to ravish me.

“It’s been a long time,” a male voice with the same accent says from behind me.

Draven and I both turn.

A sinister-looking older man with balding black hair stands there. He holds out his hand for Draven to shake, but Draven ignores it, raking his eyes down the man’s gray suit and red power tie.

“Hello,” I say, when neither of them says a word after staring into each other’s eyes longer than normal.

“Hello, my darling. You look lovely.” His cold voice trickles down my spine like ice, leaving chills in its wake.

“Thank you.” I’m not sure how to act, so I figure I’ll go with politeness until told otherwise.

“This is him,” Draven says in my mind.

Ah, the dangerous man this charade is for.

Draven smiles. “Bogdan, so happy you’re here. Meet my new bride, Allison.”

Bogdan studies me like there’ll be an exam on me later. “Well, I see why the rush. You are quite tempting.”

“Thank you.” He’s creeping me out, but I know it’s a power play between him and Draven, and I don’t want to ruin it by kicking him in the balls or something.

“Allison, this is Bogdan Vladimiri, king of the Vladimiri Clan, feared by millions,” Draven says, like the last part was meant as a joke, but Bogdan doesn’t laugh.

“Allison, there you are,” Stefania says, butting in as she leans in for a hug, and the moment she does, the tension-filled air surrounding Bogdan and Draven evaporates. “We need some girl time, gentlemen. Excuse us.” She leads me away from the group.

“Thank you for that,” I whisper so only she can hear.

“Let’s get you a cocktail.” Stefania winks. “Get you ready for your wedding night.”

My eyes widen at her implication that there’ll be anything happening besides sleeping, but I don’t reveal Draven promised he’ll never go there with me. “Let’s do it,” I say instead.

We weave through the crowd to the horse-shoe shaped bar near the dance floor, and she orders two glasses of champagne from the bartender.

“Now, don’t be afraid if he’s too powerful for you,” Stefania says while we wait for our drinks. “Your first time can be overwhelming.”

I don’t want to tell her I’m not a virgin. Sure, I may have little experience, but I do have some. Thanks to an old boyfriend in high school, and a guy in college. “It’s ok.”

The bartender hands us our flutes of bubbly, and I take a gulp of the chilly liquid.

“Draven’s a gentleman, so I doubt he’ll unleash his sexual prowess on you,” she says, and now it just went from awkward to highly uncomfortable listening to her discuss my sex life, or my pretend one.

“It’s fine. We really don’t need to talk about this,” I say.

“After the kiss you two shared, I’m sure you’ll be just fine,” Stefania says.

“Are you done with girl time?” Draven says, appearing beside me.

I stiffen, and slowly glance over at him. My face heats at the look of amusement he’s wearing.

“Yes,” Stefania says. “I’m sure you’re dying to get your hands on your bride.”

“Obviously,” he says with a smug expression. “We should dance together.” He places his hand on the small of my back, where he’s grown accustomed to touching me, and leads me onto the dance floor.

All eyes are on us as he signals the orchestra, and they play a slow tune for our first dance as man and wife. Draven wraps me into his arms and moves me across the dance floor.

The music is a cover of an older song. A song that’s usually faster, but this version has slowed way down. I love it as I listen to the lyrics about lovers coming together under the light of the moon.

“Your dancing is perfect,” I tell Draven.

His eyes meet mine, and he slows down to where we’re barely moving.

“You’re perfect.”

I blush. “You’re just saying that to soften me up.”

His thumb brushes against my lower back, searing me through the delicate material of my dress. “Why would I need to soften you up?”

“You know, because you’re going to put me to work as your wife once we get to your castle.”

“Put you to work, how?”

“Like Cinderella.”

Draven raises a brow. “We have maids, butlers, and chefs. You won’t have to lift a finger if you don’t want to.”

“Really?” I ask, never in my life having lived in such luxury.

“Yes.”

“Maybe I want to work.” I can’t just sit around while I wait to head back to my real life. I want more. I ended up withdrawing from my classes, but I still plan on working on my paper while I’m stuck away in Draven’s castle, playing his wife.

“Allison.” His voice is threadbare, his hand brushing a stray strand of my hair behind my ear. “You can do whatever you want to do.”

“Like go home?”

He chuckles softly. “Except that.”

Nine

Draven

* * *

The way her body feels sliding against mine as we dance is a dream. I wrap my arm tighter, pulling her closer as we spin around the dance floor.

We’re here to put on a show, and by fuck, we’ll put on the best damn show in all of Transylvania.

I must say… My blushing bride is playing the part perfectly.

When the doors opened, and I saw Allison in her wedding gown, I could barely breathe. I couldn’t contain the eruption of yearning for something unrecognizable.

The aroma of her blood wafts through the air, and I sense every vampire in attendance wants to take a taste. They know better.

They know she’s mine.

Allison’s stunning.

Every time I stare into her eyes, I see the light hidden deep within her. The way her blood flows through her body at a different speed and volume than other humans. The way she thirsts for answers.

It’s mesmerizing.

I breathe her in, wondering if she tastes as good as she looks.

It must be her power that has me seeking her approval. It’s her intoxicating blood that has me hanging on her every word like some love-struck teenager.

It’s nothing more than that.

As the song ends, I lean down to kiss Allison’s smooth cheek, letting my lips linger a beat longer than I should before leading her off the dance floor.

The surrounding crowd claps and cheers, and the corner of my lips tip up, relieved this wedding isn’t a disaster. Never in my long life have I thought about getting married, and honestly, I’m thankful I didn’t incinerate on the spot. As we mix in with the guests, I notice Harker standing in the shadows of the far lawn. Anger consumes me that she would show herself here, and if I know her, she’s not below causing a scene.

“I’ll be back soon,” I tell Allison. I nod my head at Viggo, and motion for him to follow.

As soon as we’re far away from prying ears, I glance toward Harker on the lawn. “Get rid of her,” I tell Viggo. “By any means necessary.”

“Understood.” He stalks off in the direction of Harker, and I turn around to find Allison standing a few feet away.

“Don’t want your girlfriend at your wedding?”

I grab Allison by the bicep and drag her into a nearby alcove. “She is not my girlfriend. Why would you even think that?”

“I saw the two of you making out in your room. You never mentioned her again. She loves you, it’s obvious.” She shrugs, like she couldn’t care less. “This is all make believe, so if you want your girlfriend to stay with us, I don’t care.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” I growl. “I don’t plan on ruining this charade for any amount of pussy that is thrown my way.”

She blinks at me, her luscious mouth opening and closing, trying to form words.

I lean in closer. “Don’t for one second think anyone’s pussy could take me away from yours.” I didn’t mean to talk about her sexually, but the way her eyes heat every time I say the word pussy turns me on in a way I’ve never known before. My heart pumps furiously right now, causing me to come dangerously close to doing something I shouldn’t.

She whispers a tiny “Oh,” and my cock hardens.

Our mouths are breath apart, and I want to kiss her like I did when Arthur pronounced us husband and wife. I only meant to give her a quick peck on the mouth, but when my lips touched hers, I couldn’t stop. Her warmth made me hungry for more. She made me want to wrap her in my arms and carry her to my chambers to have my wicked way with her.

I breathe her in. “Tell me you want me to think about your pussy.” I’m playing with fire.

“I… uh.”

I press my hard body against hers. “Tell me, Allison.”

Her eyes flood with desire, I see it there, and I’m sure she sees the same in mine. “I… I… No.”

“It doesn’t matter if you tell me or not, I’ll still be thinking about it. Wanting it. Picturing what it looks like.”

“Why?” she breathes out.

“Because maybe I like to torture myself. Maybe I like to play so close to the fire I remember what the heat feels like right before I get burned.”

She says nothing, just gazes at me as I step away.

“Let’s return to our guests, shall we?”

She swallows. “Yes, please,” she chokes out.

“And never question me again about having a girlfriend. No one could ever hold my interest like you can.”

And that’s not a fucking lie.

After the last guests have left, I watch as Allison slumps down in an armchair in the study. She’s exhausted, and she should be after she charmed the pants off all the guests. Her performance impressed me, but I can’t stop thinking about the way her blood pumped through her veins when I held her close in the alcove. How the artery in her neck pulsed with arousal.

She felt it.

She wanted more.

Playing with fire is a dangerous thing. I can’t have her lose her powers because I can’t keep my dick in my pants. I can’t be the reason we all lose everything because I want to taste her more than I’ve ever wanted anything.

She’s so tempting, and it’s going to be a rough night of trying my best not to touch her.

“I know you’re tired, but you can sleep on the way.”

She pops open her eyes. “We’re leaving tonight?”

I nod. “Yes. I’ve already placed your things in my car.”

“Can I change first?”

I nod again. “I’ve left an outfit for you in your room.”

She stands and brushes past me. “Thank you,” she says over her shoulder as she heads upstairs.

“You’re welcome,” I tell her in her head.

“Hey, I’m heading out to meet up with Vlad and Marco,” Simon says, speaking of the team of Viggo’s men he’ll use to spy on Bogdan. He enters the study.

“Let me know the minute you guys hear anything.” I place my hand on Simon’s shoulder. “I mean it, Simon. It’s dangerous and I don’t want anything happening to you.”

“I can take care of myself.” He brushes my hand off his shoulder with a smile. “But I’ll keep you updated.”

“Stay safe. And don’t let anyone know what you all are up to.”

“I will.”

Allison enters back into the study and holds out her arms to hug Simon. “I’ll miss you,” she says.

I stand back to let them say their goodbyes. I’m no longer jealous when I see the two of them together.

Maybe because Allison now has my last name.

Or maybe it’s because of the heat I saw in her eyes earlier. Either way, I stay quiet as they hug one last time.

“Be careful,” she tells Simon.

Even though she has no idea what he’s up against, she must sense the danger he’s facing. It’s part of her gift, knowing how vampires feel, and I wonder how long it will take for her to develop her powers.

We leave the study and follow Simon outside. I head closer to my Bentley, opening the back door for Allison.

She hesitates but tucks herself into the car without a word. I slide in after her. “Let’s head home, Han.”

He pulls out of the circular drive, and Allison rests her head against the window. Soon, she closes her eyes. I stare down at her, watching the rise and fall of her chest. The musky scent of her blood draws my nose closer to her neck, and I fixate on the vein pulsing beneath her porcelain skin.

I’d give anything to feed from her.

Right before she falls asleep, she whispers, “Can you read my mind?”

I wish I could. I wish I knew every thought running through her beautiful head.

But even I’m not that powerful.

Over the next forty-five minutes, Han winds through the dark roads, cruising up the mountains to my home. It’s an eighteenth century castle that has been updated with all the modern amenities I’ve grown to love over the years.

As soon as Han pulls into the drive, I wake Allison.

“Honey, we’re home,” I say a bit sarcastically, but feeling a pang in my chest after saying it.

She stirs, rubbing at her eyes as she opens them. “Wow,” she says as soon as she glances out the car window. “It’s just… wow.”

“I know,” I tell her, exiting the car and then reaching down a hand so I can help her out.

I lead her up the steps to my home.

To our new home.

Ten

Allison

* * *

Now I’m really in a fairytale. This rustic castle has all the history of twenty libraries stacked on top of each other, and as much charm as a zillion romance novels. The monstrous castle, with stone walls, shoots straight up to the heavens above, a conical-shaped spire on each end. There’s four altogether, and it looks medieval, but not as scary. Light pours from the long, slender clerestory windows, illuminating the castle for me to get a good view, and I smile at Draven as we walk inside.

He leads me into a formal living room with tall white walls and a travertine covered stone fireplace.

“You must like the colors black and red.” I try to take in the room all at once, looking at the vintage decor. Somehow, it all looks new and clean.

“You can redecorate if you don’t like it.”

I shake my head. “No, I… love it. Besides, I won’t be staying here that long.”

It’s like my words are a punch to his gut by the way he looks at me. “It doesn’t matter. I want your stay here to be a comfortable one. You can do whatever you want here.”

“Well,”—I stare at the black camelback couches with red pillows—“if I’m being honest, I might lighten it up a tad. Looks like a gothic vampire threw up in here.”

This makes Draven laugh, erasing the permanent brooding expression. “I’ll get you the interior designer’s number in the morning.”

I nod, trying to ignore the wild fluttering in my stomach from the sound of his laughter. Redecorating will be a pleasant distraction and a productive way to spend my time, although I can’t let it interfere with my studies. “I’m sure you have a garden here. I’d like to see it. If you don’t mind showing me.”

“I plan on showing you everything, Allison.” The way he says it sounds sensual coming from his lips, and a slideshow plays of all the things I would like for this man to show me if things were different. But they aren’t, so I hit pause on the porn playing in my brain and try to drag it out of the gutter. “Great, lead the way.”

He takes my hand and leads me through the grand hall. I like when he holds my hand. It makes me feel safe. I’m aware I should not enjoy the contact. But I do.

On our journey through his home, he tells me the castle was built for an emperor of the time, and how he’s updated it with everything from track lighting to central heat and air.

We walk through an arched opening into a formal dining room. Gold and black floral-patterned wallpaper covers the walls, and there is another stone fireplace on the far wall. It’s sophisticated but like the rest of the house, dark. The showpiece isn’t the vintage dining table but the birdcage chandelier hanging above it.

“That’s beautiful,” I say, looking up at the brass fixture. “What made you choose it?”

“Reminds me of how we all feel trapped sometimes, I guess.” He stares at it with somber eyes, then shutters the expression.

“That’s very poetic,” I whisper.

His gaze moves to me, and we stare at each other in silence for a beat before he continues the tour. In the hallway, we come to an antique credenza, holding pictures of Draven with his family and friends.

I stop.

“Who’s this?” I ask, looking at a photo of a smiling Draven standing next to an older man with the same dark hair and dark eyes.

“It’s my father,” he says, with a solemn tone.

It’s obvious his dad is no longer around, and I brush my hand down his arm. “I’m sorry. You two look a lot alike. I’m sure he was a wonderful man.”

“He was.”

As I look at the picture closer, I notice their old-fashioned suits. They’re both wearing knee britches and neckerchiefs beneath their long jackets. “Was this at a fair?” I ask, wondering if they entered one of those antique booths to get their picture taken.

Draven’s head snaps toward me. “Yes, something like that.”

“I love those,” I say, attempting to lighten the mood. “There's a picture of me out there somewhere on top of a piano with a feather boa around my neck, holding a Smith & Wesson.”

He grins. “Now that I’d like to see.”

We move along, our hands coming together again, until he reaches a set of French doors and pushes them open.

The minute we step onto the back veranda, I’m hit with a sense of majesty. The grounds are spectacular. A maze of flowers and greenery draw me forward with their beauty.

We take the few steps down to the earth, and their fragrant scent envelops me. “What’s this flower?” I ask, pointing to a deep burgundy, almost black, flower near the end of a row of bushes.

“It’s a chocolate cosmos.”

I lean down to inhale its aroma. “Mm. Sugary and sweet.”

He moves closer, bending to where our noses are practically touching, and stares into my eyes, sniffing the flower. “Smells forbidden. Touch it.”

I raise my head, bringing my hand to feel the soft petals. “Like velvet.”

“This flower is a depiction of passion, desire, and sensuality,” he whispers, his voice as smooth as the flower's texture.

“It’s unique.” I swallow. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flower this color before.”

He plucks the bud from its root and brings it closer to my face. “Close your eyes.”

I do as he says and feel the gentle touch of the petals against my cheek. He’s right, very sensual, and my insides blossom with lust.

He steps closer, running the petals down the length of my neck. “You have exquisite skin, Allison.”

I keep my eyes shut, squeezing my thighs together to squash the growing desire. I don’t dare say a word because I don’t want him to stop what he’s doing. My mind is still spinning from the wedding, and he calms the madness with each touch of the cosmos on my neck.

“I love your neck,” he whispers. “So fragile.” His husky voice turns me on in a way I’ve never experienced. A small voice in the back of my mind tells me I should put a stop to his actions, but I quickly tell it to shut up as he presses his nose against my skin. “Smells delicious.”

“I need one taste,” he says in my mind.

My eyes fly open, and he backs away abruptly, taking the mood with him.

“What happened?” I ask him.

It’s like he’s shocked or something. “I didn’t mean to speak in your mind just now.”

I step forward, feeling brave. “I don’t mind if you taste me.” What am I saying? Taste me how? Another kiss? A kiss to my neck?

He ignores my statement. “It’s time for bed. I’ll show you to your quarters.”

His sensual tone has vanished, replaced with a formal one, like I’m a guest enjoying a hotel stay. He grabs my hand, leading me back into the castle, walking at a brisk pace.

I don’t question anything, however, knowing if I do, he might snap and not help me develop my powers.

Inside, we climb the wide staircase in silence to the second floor and he shows me to a room larger than the one I stayed at in his sister’s castle. The dark bed would fit five people, and I wonder if I’ll be swallowed up by the black covers and red pillows. The theme really needs an overhaul. Ideas pop into my head about what I’d like to do with my room, but I don’t want to get too comfortable here. I don’t plan on staying long.

I need to keep reminding myself of this.

“Pink ottoman? Have you lost your mind?” Sylvia asks with such offense her brown bob bounces around her neck. “Mr. Blackmoor was very specific with how he wanted his castle decorated.”

It’s been a few days since we married, and true to his word, Draven contacted Sylvia, his personal decorator, and now here I sit, being lectured on textures and window treatments.

“The house needs a fresh perspective. It’s all so gloomy.”

Sylvia rears back like I’ve slapped her across the face. “Mr. Blackmoor’s favorite color is dark.”

I smile politely, picking up the cup of tea on the table full of swatches and designs Sylvia has picked out for my new room. “Well, now I’m queen of this castle, and I’d like to be able to breathe in my new home.”

Sylvia stares at her designs. “I guess we could lighten things up a bit.”

“Yes, my husband was just saying to me last night, right after we made love, that he wants me to be happy. I’d be happy with pink.” Of course Draven and I haven’t even come close to having sex, even though I have thought about it a few times.

After another hour of showing Sylvia a few rooms for inspiration I’ve found on the internet, she leaves and says she’ll be back tomorrow with new designs.

“I see you’re busy at work.” Draven enters the sitting room after Sylvia’s left.

“It’s really unnecessary for you to redecorate just for me.”

“No, I think it’s time I update this old place.” He glances at the red-velvet couch and black coffee table. “Rao is coming to dinner in a few weeks, so it’ll be nice having the place spruced up.”

“Oh, ok,” I say, happy I’m not redecorating this place just for me. “So, what should we do today?”

“We’re going to get busy.”

Heat travels to my inner thighs at his mention of getting busy, and I hate that my mind has wandered there. “Busy?”

Draven steps closer, a wicked smile crossing his face, like he knows what I’m thinking. “It’s time to test your powers.”

He leads me outside, a rustic leather-bound book under his arm, and I follow him like an eager student. I’ve always loved learning new things, and hopefully, I can know once and for all what this power is that I feel growing inside me.

He brings me to a field just past the garden, near the edge of the forest. “This book speaks of a woman who wields the power to encompass life.” He opens the book, turning to a page that’s been earmarked. “This passage here mentions how she’ll be able to hear the voice of the one to show her the way in her mind.”

I stare at Draven. “So, you’re supposed to teach me.”

“I am.” He glides his finger down the page. “In this part, it states that your powers are connected to your emotions. Once you can control your emotions, you can control the power dwelling inside you.”

I breathe in deep, trying my best to feel this power. Right now I just feel a bit chilly from the air whispering through the trees.

“Close your eyes.”

I do as instructed.

“Now, find your center, control your breathing, and listen.”

His request is a lot harder than it sounds, because my mind keeps racing, wondering if anything’s happening yet.

“Keep going. Breathe,” Draven says. “That’s it.”

As I work to clear my head, an energy travels through my veins, begging to exit through my chest. My center. I focus on that feeling, ignoring how the chill on my skin is gone and replaced by a scorching warmth.

“Yes, keep doing it, Allison.”

I have no idea what I’m doing that has his deep voice sounding excited, so I open my eyes.

“What the fuck?” A ball of light emits from my palms. “What is this?” I ask, afraid of it.

Draven looks at my hands with awe. “It’s your energy source. It’s the light.”

His eyes meet mine. “Do you feel it coursing through you?”

I nod. “I do. But what does it mean? I don’t know how to control it.”

“That’s what we’re going to work on. Controlling that power.”

In an instant, the feeling disappears, and I sink to my knees on the ground. In a flash, Draven scoops me into his arms, carrying me back across the field. My eyes drift close as his strong arms hold me close to his chest.

“Just sleep,” he tells me, carrying me through the garden, into the castle, and up to my room.

He sets me on the bed and pulls the covers over my body. “The book says you’ll be tired until your powers fully develop.” He kisses the top of my head as I drift in and out of consciousness. “Meet me for dinner when you wake.”

And then he vanishes from my room.

I close my eyes, letting sleep pull me under. When I wake, hours have passed, and the sun no longer shines through the bedroom window.

I sit up, running my hands through my hair. “What time is it?” I whisper to myself.

Draven wanted me to join him for dinner, and I’m starving. I swing my feet onto the floor, standing in a rush, because I need answers.

I drift down the staircase, heading into the garden to find Draven.

He’s waiting for me at a small wrought iron table. “There you are. How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine.” I take a seat across from him. “I need some questions answered.”

“Ask away.” He waves his hand for me to speak.

“Why can you talk to me? Can you speak to other people’s minds?”

He shakes his head. “Only you.”

“Is it because we have the same power?”

He stares at me like he doesn’t know how to break the bad news of something to me. “Tell me. I can handle it.”

He leans closer. “I don’t have powers.”

“What?” I ask, confused. “Yes, you do. I saw you jump from your balcony onto the ground below. That’s power. Will I be able to do that one day?”

“No.”

I pout a little, because well, that’s disappointing. “Why not?”

“Because you’re not the same as me.”

“That’s not fair. I want to be like you.”

He slams his fist on the table, and I jump. “You will never be like me. I’m a disgusting creature. A parasite of humanity.”

The chill in his voice causes me to shiver. “Draven, how could you say that about yourself?”

“Because it’s true.”

I reach out to touch his beautiful face. The face that’s so mesmerizing, I can’t stop staring at its beauty. “You’re none of those things.”

He scoffs. “You have no idea what you’re saying.”

“How are we different?” I ask, cradling his face in my palm.

He takes my hand, setting it on the table between us. “You’re the light to my darkness. The good to my evil.”

“I don’t understand.”

His gaze drifts over my mouth. “Someday you will.”

“I want to understand today.”

“You’re not ready.”

I stand. “Don’t treat me like a child. I’m ready now.”

He scrubs a hand along his jaw, his body tense. “Fine. I’m a different type of creature than you. A creature of the night. Where you have certain powers, I have others.”

I think about his words for a moment, trying my best to comprehend this whole situation. I’ve never been a believer in the paranormal, and I’m not sure what I’m getting myself into here. As I try to make sense of his words, Draven gets up and moves through the garden, leaving me behind.

I don’t follow him.

Not yet.

Instead, I watch his tall frame stalk through the night and the moonlight kiss his skin.

There are Gods and monsters, and I’m still trying to figure out which one I am. Is this real life?

Sometimes I’m not so sure anymore.

Eleven

Draven

* * *

For a few weeks I’ve worked with Allison to develop her power, and I have to say, she’s a quick learner.

She still asks a million questions daily. Many, I don’t have answers for yet.

I don’t know if there’s other people like her out there, or if she’s the only one. I don’t know why she has the powers she does. And I certainly don’t know what it all means.

But I do my best to show her the things I’ve learned from the book. I try my best to help her harness her power.

I’ve been on this earth so long, and nevertheless, I don’t have answers why things work the way they do.

Living for centuries is exhausting. It’s something I would never wish for another human being. It’s also the reason I won’t turn people. Harker asks every time I see her to change her. But I never will.

Because we are the damned, and there’s nothing good that comes from being a vampire.

I’ve seen a lot of dreadful things in my many years.

“What time will Rao be here?” Allison asks me over breakfast.

“Late.”

Allison takes a sip of orange juice. “Will I train today? I’m getting better about not passing out as soon as we’re done.”

I smile at her. “No training today.”

“Why not?”

Her questions work at my temple, making me edgy. “Because there’s something I need to do today.”

Rao will expect to feed tonight, so I’ll have to find the perfect prey. He doesn't feed from a servant like I’ve chosen to do. Instead, he likes to hunt his victims, taking them out into the forest to drink their blood by the light of the moon.

He doesn’t kill them, knowing our kind can’t take on the heat of the police, but occasionally he gets a little rough with his food, and although rare, a death or two happens.

So, I need to pick someone that won’t be missed.

“I have to go out for a while. You can work on your schoolwork while I’m gone.” I stare at the new living room set Allison picked out with Sylvia. The two of them are turning my home into something I don’t recognize, but a small part of me likes the brightness. Enjoys having Allison around.

She’s growing on me, and so is the desire to touch her, but I know better.

I leave her standing in the living room and head out the front door.

I despise hunting.

But it’s something I must do to honor the formalities that go along with the crown. I wouldn’t want to start a war between our clans over feedings. Even though I produce some of the finest blood in the kingdom, Rao still likes things how he likes them.

So, I leave my castle, moving toward town and once the moon shines bright, I’ll hunt.

A woman slaps her boyfriend in the back alley near the Penny Mart downtown. I watch in the shadows, stalking, analyzing. Would Rao like the scent of peppermint and lavender coming from the woman? Would he like the fact she has track marks up and down her arm?

Rao loves a bit of drugs mixed into his blood. Says it gives him a high like no other.

I’ve never tried it, and don’t plan on starting today.

I watch the customers of the Penny Mart come and go, but the woman with her boyfriend intrigues me.

Would anyone even miss them?

I follow along as they travel down the darkened street. It’s well past ten at night, but the two of them act like it’s morning, fighting loudly with one another. I stay in the shadows, trailing just behind the sparring couple, wondering if this will be my next meal. Wondering if I’ll even be able to drink from their blood. The drugs coursing through their system disgusts me, but I know Rao will appreciate this slight gesture.

I trail behind, listening to them bicker back and forth. She’s upset he slept with her cousin. He claims he was drunk, which to me is not a good excuse for infidelity. There’s zero excuse for it.

She yells and yells, leading him further and further away from civilization. If I’m going to take my prey, I need to act soon.

“Who are you?” the man asks as I move out of the shadows.

“I’m your worst nightmare,” I say back.

The man scoffs as the woman turns around. Her dirty-blonde hair hangs in her eyes as she tries to get a good look at me. She pushes it off her forehead and then glares at her boyfriend. “He’s good-looking. I’ll sleep with him to get back at you,” she says with a voice that’s been tarnished from years of cigarette smoke.

Her boyfriend rolls his eyes. “Charlene, that guy wouldn’t fuck you for all the money in the world.” He tilts his head at me. “Do you have money?” He steps closer, like he’s thinking I might be a good victim to rob.

I’m not.

I don’t answer. There’s simply no need to respond.

Charlene smiles, showcasing two missing teeth in her bottom row. “We like money.”

“Who doesn’t?” I ask. “Tell me, Charlene. Do you have family waiting for you back home?” I’d love to sit around and take my time with them, follow them to see if there is indeed a family waiting at home, people who would look for them, but the clock is ticking.

“She’s got a sister in the States.”

“Perfect.” Before either of them can do anything else, I move like lightning, streaking across and knocking both out. Thanks to my superhuman abilities, within minutes, I place them in the back of my car. The excitement makes my adrenaline pump, and I smile at the memory of hunting.

I’ve only hunted a few times in my life as a vampire, but I’ll never forget the thrill. Sometimes, it makes me want to return to the old ways. The time before missing people caused a team of police to hunt down their attacker.

I drive the unconscious couple back to my palace.

Viggo waits for me in the driveway. “Rao just arrived.”

I nod. “Please take my present for Rao to the forest.”

“Sure thing.”

I make my way into the castle and head toward the main living room, not wanting to leave Rao alone with Allison for too long.

Twelve

Allison

* * *

Rao’s fascinating in an emo punk way—thick black hair swept back on his head and wearing a slim-fitting burgundy suit—but the way his haunting green eyes stare at me leaves an uneasy feeling in my stomach. I wish Draven would return. Why would he leave when he knew he had Rao coming?

“I see Draven’s done some redecorating,” Rao says, glancing at the new navy rugs and cream-colored furniture with sunny yellow pillows. “It’s very… cheerful.”

I smile politely. “We felt the old decor was a bit dated.”

“That’s definitely true.” Rao moves closer, and I stiffen, afraid he’s going to sit right next to me on the couch. His musky cologne tickles my nose, and I swear he’s staring at my body like he wants to devour me. He drops into the armchair, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

“How long was the journey to get here?” I ask, attempting small talk.

“Not long. Draven mentioned you were a student in college,” he says, changing the subject.

I nod. “That’s right. History major.”

His thick eyebrow arches. “I love it. Smart girls are sexy.”

“Draven should be home any minute,” I say, twisting my fingers in my lap, feeling like I should dash out of here.

“We don’t need Draven to have a little fun,” Rao says.

Even though Draven said I would be safe as his wife, I don’t trust it. People are inherently good, unless there’s something they want more than the good running through them. Unless they want something bad enough to make them turn to the evil side.

I hear steps approaching and pray it’s Draven.

It is. My shoulders relax, and I feel the tension leave my body.

“Sorry I’m late,” he says. “I had other business to conduct.” He crosses to the glass doors leading outside and opens them. “Why don’t we head into the garden? It’s a lovely night.”

Every part of me wants to crawl away and hide. I know I need to play the part of this man’s wife, but I don’t like his friend. If you’d even call Rao his friend.

It’s all so political, and I hate it.

Draven smiles at me, nearly knocking me off my feet, and I attempt to smile back as he leads me out the back doors. Rao compliments the roses, and it all feels so fake to me. Does he really care about flowers?

I doubt it.

He didn’t come here to chat about gardening.

Why did he come here? His actions are so formal, like he’s putting on a show.

We take a seat, and Rao leans back against the Adirondack chair, smiling wide. “So, how’s the happy couple?”

“He suspects something,” Draven says in my mind.

My eyes are glued to Draven, hoping he gives me some sort of clue.

Rao and Draven speak about people I don’t know, and eventually, I tune them out.

“He thinks our wedding might be a sham,” Draven says for only me to hear.

It’s because we were married too soon. Doesn’t royalty normally have long engagements?

Rao goes on and on about a woman he knows, and I find myself staring at the chocolate cosmos, memorizing their color and style. I’m bored, and I start thinking about my schooling, about everything. If Rao suspects something isn’t quite right with our wedding, then it won’t take long until they know about my powers. I can feel my abilities strengthening every day, and I know I can’t wait around for these men to do as they wish with me. It’s all too crazy. This isn’t real life.

“I’ve brought you a present, Rao,” Draven says.

I yawn, my eyes drooping. It’s obviously fake, but I need to get out of here. “I’m getting tired. I’m going to bed,” I tell them as they speak about things I have no interest in.

Draven stands, holding out his hand to help me out of my seat. “I’ll be with you soon,” he says, kissing my knuckles.

My nipples strain against my bra in the wake of his lips brushing against my skin.

Rao makes a sound and straightens in his seat. He stares at me like I could be his next meal, and I’ve never wanted to leave a place more than I do right now.

“Night,” I say, leaving them both in the garden as I try not to look like I’m rushing back to my room.

I need to pack. I can’t stay here.

I think about calling Simon, but the thought is quickly replaced by the fact he’s Draven’s nephew, and family blood runs thick. If Draven wanted me back here, Simon would see to it I returned.

Once I’m far enough away from this castle, I’ll call Veronica to help me get home, or my mother. The thought of talking to my mother weighs heavily on me. She’s never been one for deep conversations. She’s never been there for me growing up. No, I’d rather call Veronica.

With my mind made up, I toss my things into my suitcase and sneak downstairs and out the front door, knowing the staff Draven employs are most likely occupied with tending to them in the garden or gone for the night.

Darkness provides cover as I race across the grounds and dip into the forest, hoping the road that leads down the mountain isn’t too far away. I don’t bother looking back at the castle I’m running from. There’s nothing for me there.

I run faster, escaping deep into the tall trees. After a few minutes, I worry I’m lost.

The sound of branches snapping in the distance has me stopping cold in my tracks. My eyes dart through the thick trunks surrounding me, listening for more sounds.

Murmurs drift through the air, as if there’s people talking just beyond the brush. I don’t know if I should run toward them or turn back the other way.

A woman screams, and I flinch, stumbling backward until I hit the rough bark of a pine.

“Shh, no need for all that,” I hear Rao’s voice in the distance.

It’s definitely Rao, and my mind spins in a million different directions. What is he doing?

Should I try to help?

I shake my head, nope. Fuck. That.

I head in the opposite direction, darting through the mist, but the voices sound like they’re getting closer. Before I know it, the noises are all around me. Up ahead, a light slices through the night, and I duck into a dense thicket.

My heart pumps furiously as I crouch and try to peer through the tangle of leaves, sweat forming on my upper brow.

Nothing.

Curiosity wins out, and I slip closer, moving through the bushes like a ghost until I see Rao in the distance, with someone else flanking him. It’s hard to see from here, so I inch closer, trying my best not to make a sound.

It isn’t until I get a few feet closer that I see him.

Draven.

A sudden coldness hits my core as I let out a blood-curdling scream at the sight of them hunched over two crumpled bodies… sucking from their necks like vampires.

Draven and Rao stop what they’re doing, whipping their heads to me, and I see their victims.

A lifeless woman lies curled into a ball next to a man, flat on his back. Both have faces frozen in terror.

Tears well in my eyes, as I try to make sense of what I’m seeing.

“Allison,” Draven says, blood dripping down his chin as he rises.

I back away. “No,” I whisper, wondering how on earth I can get out of here in one piece. This sadistic thing is happening right before my eyes. I can’t make sense of it.

My mind tries to think of reasonable possibilities.

Are they a cult that drinks from the blood of virgins? Or are they devil worshippers?

Pieces of the puzzle click into place. The powers. The superhuman ability of Draven flying. Talking to me in my mind. Their pale skin and otherworldly beauty.

Vampires exist?

I’m a stupid, stupid girl for coming here. I pivot and sprint away, but it’s no use because Draven lands before me, a dark angel with no chance of redemption.

“Allison, wait. I can explain.”

I laugh, but there’s no humor in any of this. “Explain? Get the hell out of here with that. I want to go home.”

I have to go home.

My fight-or-flight instinct has kicked in, and I take off running once more, knowing I’ll never be able to get away from Draven.

However, I keep trying.

Thirteen

Draven

* * *

I only got half a pint of blood in before Allison crept up on us in the woods and saw everything. I’m thankful she showed up, really, because I didn’t want any more drug-filled blood.

I’ve been trying to find the right way to break the news to Allison about me being a vampire, and although I didn’t want her to find out like this, I’m not upset that she discovered the truth.

“Stop acting like a child,” I tell her as she draws closer to the road.

“Leave me alone,” she yells. “I’m going home.”

Once again, I fly in front of her. “Please, let me explain everything to you. I won’t leave anything out, promise.”

She chews on her bottom lip as she thinks about my words. “Fine.”

Rao walks past, chuckling. “Thanks for the gift.”

I grab my phone, putting a call into Viggo. “Will you move all of Allison’s things out of the guest room and into mine?”

“I’m not staying with you,” Allison balks.

I reach out to touch her but think better of it and stuff my hands into my pockets. “There’s a lot you don’t understand. Come with me. Let me show you.”

“Show me?”

“Yes, follow me.”

“No way.”

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

After a little cajoling and promising everything but my left nut, I lead her back into the forest, away from where Rao and I feasted earlier. The couple, still alive, is now being taken care of by my staff.

There’s an opening in the forest where the moonlight hits, dispelling the pitch blackness, and I bring her there, turning to stare into her wary eyes.

“Just tell me,” she says, putting her hands on her hips.

As much as she’d like a logical explanation, there’s no explaining. And I wouldn’t even know how to tell her.

I lean closer to her neck. “Close your eyes,” I coax, fucking excited at the thought of tasting her blood.

She takes a hesitant step back. “What are you doing?”

“Showing you.”

Her blood pumps through her system at a rapid pace, and my nostrils flare at the currant and blackberry scent emanating from her pores. I lean in, letting my fangs emerge, and sink my teeth into her succulent skin.

She whimpers, but I wrap an arm around her waist, holding her to me. My cock hardens instantly as I taste the first drop of her blood. I moan, transformed by it.

I’m no longer this vicious beast, instead I have images of us living together, a house with a picket fence, children running around, so much damn laughter filling the place, Allison by my side.

“What are you doing to me?” she breathes out.

As hard as it is to stop, I do, savoring the last drop that will tide me over for the rest of my life. “Vampire,” I whisper in her ear.

“How? Vampires don’t exist.”

As soon as she says the words, I raise a brow. “You believe in your own powers, my powers, but not vampires?” I grab her, jumping into the night with her tucked safely in my arms.

She screams as our feet leave the earth.

I fly, taking her back to my master suite within minutes. Our feet land on the balcony, and I release her.

Her fingers flutter to the spot on her neck where crimson stains her porcelain skin.

“Don’t run away from me again, or else Rao will drain your blood.”

Her eyes hold mine in a feisty challenge. “You’re threatening me now?”

I hold up my hands in surrender, knowing I need to calm this situation. “Allison, I know you’re scared. I know you probably have a million questions.”

“It can’t be true.” She stares at me, not blinking. “You have a disease. I researched it for my paper.”

“What?”

“Porphyria.”

I laugh. “I’ve heard of the disease, and this isn’t it.”

“Yes, it is. You crave blood because you have low iron. You’re sick and doctors can help.”

I step closer, bringing my face mere inches from hers. “I’m a vampire. I was born in 1757. I’ve been on this Earth for centuries and seen more than you could ever imagine. I’m not sick, Allison, not in the sense of a curable disease. I’m a creature of the night.”

She shakes her head, her blue eyes full of shock. “No.”

“Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t make it untrue.” I rip the metaphorical band-aid off. “Simon’s a vampire too.”

She opens her mouth but stops.

“How do you think he could always find you on campus?”

She still holds her neck, even though her blood has clotted now. “How?” she whispers.

“Your blood. It smells unlike any other. Sweet. He smelled it too.”

She shakes her head, removing her hand from her neck. “No, I don’t believe you.”

“Allison, you hold a power that would ruin every vampire on this earth. They’ll all be hunting you soon.”

“I thought you said I’d be safe as your wife?”

I shake my head. “Things are difficult. It’s a time of great unrest.”

“Unrest?” She folds her arms. “What does that even mean?”

“Remember when I told you about the three vampire clans?” She nods, and I inch closer. “There’s a civility between us, each of us pretending to get along while we all plot secretly to stab each other in the back.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Politics. I believe the three of us should form a council of sorts.” I shake away my words, not wanting to explain all of this right now. Not when she looks at me like I’m a villain. There’s too much at stake to not keep pretending with Rao. He’s the weak link that I need to form my council. “You’ll sleep in my room.”

Her eyes grow bigger than I’ve ever seen them. “I’m not sleeping with you.”

“Goddammit, Allison. Will you just please do as I say,” I grit out, hyperaware of the anger creeping into my system.

“Will you be drinking more of my blood?” she asks, surprising me with her question.

“Not unless you want me to.”

Her eyes darken, roaming all over me, centering on the thick ridge straining my zipper. “Can vampires have sex?” Her mouth opens as if she’s shocked by her own question. “Crap, I didn’t mean to ask that.”

“Do you want to have sex with me, Allison?” I lean closer, caging her against the stone wall of my home. “Don’t lie to me.”

She swallows. “No.”

I laugh. “Liar. I can smell your arousal. Your blood is boiling with it.”

She tries to step away, but I’ve got her pinned. “I… I,” she tries to form a sentence.

“Don’t worry. I’ll never touch you.”

She reacts to my words as if I’ve slapped her across the face. “Why?”

I smile, knowing she wants my touch as much as I want to give it. “Because if I touch you, you might lose your power, and I won’t allow that to happen.”

I step away from her, knowing I can’t take this any further than I already have. I open the door that leads to my master suite, and usher her inside so I can clean up and wash away the blood from the man in the woods.

Allison stops in front of the dresser’s mirror and jabs her index finger at it. “You have a reflection.” she says, still trying to find ways to not accept the truth.

“All vampires have a reflection. That’s a myth Hollywood made up.”

“What else did they make up?” she asks as she leans closer to the mirror, inspecting the miniscule bite marks on her neck.

“Well, we don’t fucking sparkle in the sunlight.”

She catches my gaze in the mirror. “What other powers do you have?”

I move closer and put my hand to her warm neck, uncharacteristically relieved when she doesn’t flinch from me. “Prepare for a miracle.” I close my eyes, keeping my hand over the bite mark on her skin. In a few seconds, I feel her cells healing, stitching themselves back together. When I open my eyes and drop my hand, the wound has vanished. “Look at your neck.”

She leans in closer to the glass, inspecting the unblemished area. “Wow,” she says. “Can you bring me back from the dead?”

I shake my head. “Sorry, it’s only minimal scrapes and wounds.”

“What else?” She turns around to face me. “You can talk in my head. Can other vampires do that?”

“No, only me.”

“Can other vampires heal?”

“Only the strongest vampires have my ability.”

“What else?” she asks, eager for the knowledge.

I chuckle. “Let’s not worry too much about what I’ve got and focus on your powers.”

She looks up at me through hooded lashes, and with the light of the moon bouncing off her silky white skin, I marvel at her beauty. “Can I ask one more question?”

I nod. But I know what’s coming. Like everyone I sip from, she’s lust-struck. She’s in a state of arousal, I see it in her dilated pupils, in the way her nipples strain against her shirt. I’ve always seen it as a curse… until now. I’d like nothing more than to bend her over the bed and fuck it right out of her. Call me old-fashioned but I want her legs over my shoulders and my tongue in her pussy because she wants it. Not because a false aphrodisiac is pumping through her system.

She sidles up to me, stopping inches away. “What if I wouldn’t lose my powers?” She trails her hand across her abdomen, and I track her movements, wishing it were my tongue instead.

“What you’re feeling isn’t real. It’s an effect of the bite. It’ll wear off soon.”

“Why are you clenching your fists? So you don’t touch me?”

“I don’t want to touch you, Allison, because I might break you.”

“You can piece me back together again.” She steps closer and licks her lips, dragging her teeth across the plump lower one. Her hand slides up my chest and my resolve snaps.

“Then I don’t want to touch you because it’ll break me.” I wrap an arm around her, tugging her closer to my body, planting my lips over hers.

I explore her mouth, devouring her lips, relishing in how good they feel. I’ve been wanting to kiss her since the moment our last one ended.

She plunges her hands into my hair, combing her fingers through each strand, and I meld my body to hers, my cock painfully straining against my zipper.

She comes up for air from the kiss. “Maybe I want to break you,” she breathes out.

Our pants fill the room. It’s so tempting. Maybe I’m the one that’s lust-struck.

I stare into her eyes, knowing she can’t mean what she’s saying. “I can’t.” I’m trying my best to refrain from anything more, but I grow harder and harder by the second. “I can’t,” I rasp out, dropping my hands from her body.

“What if I don’t want my powers anymore?”

“You don’t mean that.”

She folds her arms around herself, hugging her body. “I just want to be normal again. I just want to live a life where people aren’t hunting me to kill me.”

“I promise you; I’ll keep you safe, but you can’t keep running away from me.”

She looks up at me with her big baby blues. “Promise?”

“Fuck, Allison. I’d promise you anything.”

She lifts her hand, placing it over the left side of my chest. After a second or two, she drops it. “I just wanted to see if you have a heart.”

I let out a breath, but still feel like I’m suffocating. “So, do I?”

“Well, there’s something beating inside there. It could be a cold, black heart, however.”

I smile. “It probably is.”

She stares at me skeptically, like she doesn’t believe me. Like there’s something bigger brewing just beneath the surface.

She’d be right not to trust us.

Fourteen

Allison

* * *

I feel like I’ve just come down from a sexual high. I’m still trying to catch my breath over the events of the past hour of my life. The quote from Victorian Vampires keeps replaying in my head. From Draven’s balcony, I watch him stroll toward Rao, who lounges on the patio, acting normal, like he wasn't just draining the blood from some unsuspecting people.

I turn away and step back into Draven’s room. Maybe I am just crazy, and this is all part of my madness.

I know I’m sane, though. The world around me is not. It’s hard to believe Draven’s a vampire. Even harder to believe that many vampires live among us.

It’s hardest to believe I’m attracted to one of them.

However, when Draven bit my neck, sucked my blood from my veins, it turned me on in a way I’d never been before. It’s sick, right?

Yet, it did.

It wasn’t how I’d expect it to feel. You’d think someone sucking your blood would probably feel like a deep cut, slowly leaking blood until you lose consciousness.

It didn’t feel like that.

At all.

It felt more intense. Like I could feel each drop of blood enter him, giving him power. It almost made me want to give him anything.

I know Draven mentioned it was something called lust-struck. But it felt so real. Did I only want to give him my blood because he put me in a trance?

I crawl on the bed and curl around a plump pillow. I’m not sure how long I lie staring at the shadows dancing across the wall before the door opens.

I don’t have to see him to know it’s Draven.

“Who were those people?” I ask.

“They were bad people. Lowlifes.”

“Do you only kill bad people for food?”

Draven comes into my line of sight, stopping a few feet from the bed. “I don’t kill anyone for food, Allison. I have servants I feed from. Like the woman you saw me with before our wedding.”

He explains there’s a law amongst his clan forbidding killing humans for food.

I sit up, processing what he’s telling me. She wasn’t his girlfriend, just a late-night snack. It’s all so weird to me, and part of me feels as if I’ve entered some alternate reality. Or a dream from which I can’t fully wake.

How will I ever come to terms with this?

“Will that couple become vampires?” I ask.

“No.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “They’ll be returned to where they were taken from, and they won’t remember anything. I know you don’t understand things, or why tonight happened at all, but the other clans feel differently about humans.”

“They kill people?”

“They do. That’s why I want to start a council, a governing body, with rules for all vampires to abide by.”

“I think you should.”

He blows out a short breath. “If only Rao and Bogdan would get on board with it.”

“Do people think I know that you’re a vampire? Or do they think I don’t know?”

“They think you already know about us. About all of us.”

He sits on the edge of the mattress. I’m nervous about sleeping in the same room with him, but not because I’m afraid he’ll touch me.

I’m afraid I might touch him.

He’s really so beautiful to look at, and I can’t stop thinking about the way he kissed me. The way his lips felt against mine. I yearn for more, wanting him to take all my power away with one push of his body against mine.

I don’t even know if vampires can have sex, but a part of me wonders if they can what it would be like. Would he be gentle or rough?

Would he suck more of my blood?

Because that feeling of him draining me felt more incredible than all the past sexual experiences I’ve had in my life combined. That’s not saying much, but it’s so crazy a non-sexual act like sucking my blood could work my body up the way it did.

“I had the staff bring your things here, so you can get ready for bed.”

“Thank you.” I swing my legs off the bed and move toward the en-suite bathroom where I find my toiletry bag and clothing on the marble countertop.

As I go through the motions of getting ready for bed, I try not to think about where I’ll be sleeping. There’s only one king-sized bed and is that where Draven will sleep?

When I peek out of the bathroom, Draven stands beside the bed, in nothing but black pajama pants that hang low on his trim hips.

I try to breathe when I look at him without a shirt. His chest looks carved from granite with each muscle and hard plane defined so perfectly. Like a creep, I follow the grooves of his abs down past his belly button to the thin trail of dark hair leading to the v accentuating what’s below his waistband.

“Are you sleeping in the bed with me?” I ask as I move further into the room, keeping my eyes on his face and off his body that looks very much alive.

His dark eyes drift over my pink tank and matching shorts. “Where else would I sleep?”

“Do vampires even sleep?”

“They certainly lie down when there’s a tempting woman in their bed.”

“So, is that a no?” I park a hand on my hip and Draven smirks, enjoying my discomfort.

“I don’t sleep, not in the way you do, but I will join you in bed… So you’re safe.”

A chill skates across my skin. “Oh, ok.” I move to the right side and pull back the sumptuous black comforter, slipping into the softness of the sheets.

“Besides,” Draven says, climbing into bed as well, “I already told you I won’t touch you.”

“I know.” I hate how he keeps having to remind me of this fact. I hate how my body craves his touch the more I’m around him.

He turns out the light, leaving only the soft glow filtering in from the bathroom. “Sleep tight, Allison.”

“Can I ask you a question?” I move to my side so I’m facing him.

“Yes.”

“I know you said you can’t touch me”—I can’t believe I’m about to ask this—“but I was wondering if you wanted to.”

His breathing picks up in the quiet room. “Do I want to touch you?”

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Allison, there’s no one in this world I want to touch more than you. I dream about what you would feel like beneath me. I imagine moving on top of you.”

I suck in a breath as he shifts to face me.

“I pretend I’m fucking you every night as I fist my cock,” he says in my head.

My breath catches, and I stare into his eyes. He looks at me as if he’s in pain. As if he can’t handle being this close to me.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” he says inside my mind.

“Same,” I murmur.

He nearly growls and throws the covers back, bounding from the bed. “I can’t lie here. I’m going for a walk.”

I lean up, resting on my elbows. “Why?”

“Because if I don’t I’ll break my promise to not touch you.”

He stalks across the floor to the door, leaving me alone with this ungodly longing. I drop back on the pillow and stare at the ceiling until my eyelids won't stay open. As I’m falling into a twilight sleep, that place between dreams and reality, I hear his husky voice in my head.

“Do you want me as badly as I want you?”

I don’t know if he can hear me, but I answer. “Yes, I do.”

“I know I can’t touch you, but you can touch yourself for me. Would you do that for me, Allison?”

“Yes. Yes,” I chant.

“Are you nice and comfortable in my bed? I enjoy seeing my wife in my bed, waiting for me.”

I glance around, wondering where he is and if he can see me right now. Can he hear me? Not knowing excites me more.

“I need you to use your fingers for me. Pretend it’s my hands all over you.”

I glide my fingers down my torso, wishing Draven’s hands were on me.

I can’t believe I’m really doing this right now, but I can’t stop, even if I wanted to.

“Touch yourself where you want me most.”

My fingers slip beneath the waistband of my panties, and I dip my hand lower, pressing the pad of my middle finger against my clit.

“Tell me how it feels. Does it feel good?”

“It feels so good,” I whisper into the empty room.

The door opens, and I sit up straight in the bed, not removing my hand from my panties. Draven enters the room, the look of pain written all over his face. He doesn’t come any closer as his eyes blaze over me.

“Are you doing what I’ve asked?” His voice is low, seductive, like he’s unsure of how I’ll answer.

“Yes, Draven. I need more.”

He takes one step closer. “I wanted to see this in person.”

I squirm in the bed. “I’d rather have you touch me.”

He grates through clenched teeth. “No. I won’t be able to stop if I do.”

I press my finger harder on my clit, rubbing. “I don’t care.”

He steps closer, eyes glazed. “I care.”

I close my eyes as I continue touching myself, wishing it were him instead. “I guess I’ll just have to do things myself.”

He takes a shaky breath. “I want that, Allison.”

“What else do you want?” I ask, feeling courageous, feeling more and more confident.

“I want you to rub your essence all over your body. I want to smell your arousal everywhere.” He rips the covers from my body, tossing them onto the floor. For a second, I think he’s going to ravage me, but he gains control, biting his bottom lip. “Take off your clothes. I need to see all of you.”

I’m so turned on at this point that I do what he asks as quickly as I can, hoping he’ll lose his control.

But he holds strong, staring at every inch of me as I undress.

Naked, I lie back on the bed. “Like this?” I ask as I spread my legs, slipping my hand back between my thighs. I’ve never been this brave with sex. Usually, I’m a turn-the-lights-off kind of woman, so this is new territory.

And I am conquering it.

Draven leans closer, his eyes flickering over my most private parts. “Show me how wet you are.”

I drag my fingers through my wetness, gathering it all over my fingers. “Soaked,” I whisper.

“Now rub your arousal over your beautiful tits.”

I do as he says, and he licks his lips. “I want to see you too.”

He palms the thick ridge in his pants, showcasing his hardness. “You want this?”

“Yes.”

“You wouldn’t be able to handle me, Allison.”

I think about his words. Would I be able to handle him? A vampire. Is it even physically possible?

“I’d like to try.” A line forms between his brows as if he’s debating. “Please,” I whisper when he doesn’t give me the words I’m waiting to hear.

“Let’s take it slow. Let’s get you off tonight.”

I run my fingers over my clit, needing the release bad enough to drop the subject of sex with Draven. “I’m imagining your hands on me, Draven,” I say, creating more pressure with the pads of my fingers.

“Are you being a good little wife? Are you doing everything your husband asks of you?”

I nod, circling my clit faster. “Yes, I am.”

He watches me with rapt fascination, groaning and running his hand along his dick. He doesn’t take his pants off, and I can tell this is torture for him.

It makes me want to perform a little better. Sexier. To drive him completely over the edge.

Drive myself over it as well.

I continue touching, rubbing, bringing myself so close to my release that I moan out, calling Draven’s name as he watches.

“That’s right. Come for your husband.”

I work myself faster, focusing on Draven’s raspy voice as he helps me reach my climax. “I’m so close,” I whine.

“I want to taste your blood while I’m deep inside you.”

I scream out, my orgasm hitting me hard as I remember Draven sucking the blood from my veins and how good it felt. I keep coming, wave after wave of my orgasm crashing through me like an endless ocean. I call out Draven’s name, but he’s no longer in the room with me.

I sit up, glancing around, wondering if I imagined him here the whole time.

No, he was real.

“Sleep, Allison,” he says in my mind right before I pass out.

Fifteen

Draven

* * *

“Did you sleep well?” I ask Allison as soon as her eyes open the next morning.

After Allison hit her climax last night, I had to leave the room as quickly as possible, or I would have fucked her raw. I was so turned on, way past my breaking point, and I had to rush to my private office on the third floor and jerk off to thoughts of annihilating her with my rock-hard sword.

I stroked my cock so hard I nearly ended up breaking everything in my office as I came. After that, I couldn’t lie beside her and sleep. I couldn’t do much of anything but wallow in my self-misery because I can’t be with her the way I want to.

“I did,” she says, rubbing the last of the sleep from her eyes.

I want to touch her in so many ways, but I must remain true to the course, so I’ve thought of an activity that will keep us busy, so I’m not tempted to devour her.

“I want to show you something today after you eat.”

She pushes the covers off her body, and I blink as her naked glory comes into view.

“Jesus,” I say, soaking in all her tender flesh. “I wasn’t expecting you to be naked.” My dick hardens at the sight of all her silky skin.

“I passed out last night.” She snags her pajamas from the floor and slips them on her body. “I guess I kind of needed that,” she says as a light-pink blush blooms on her cheeks.

“I think we both did.”

Her eyebrows raise as she understands my meaning that yes, I sought my own release.

“Just let me get ready.” She glides toward the en-suite bathroom, and I watch her ass sway away from me.

I’d love to bite it too.

After breakfast and we’re both ready for the day, Allison and I pile into my Bentley.

“Where are we going?” Allison asks as I pull away from the castle.

“I figured I’d show you what I do for work.”

Allison tilts her head at me. “I never really thought about you working.”

I laugh a little. “Yes, even vampires have to work.” I continue on the road that leads down the mountain and into town. “My work has let me lead a very lucrative life. Most of my clan members work for me. It’s made me a very influential member of the vampire society.”

“How so?”

I smile. “I’m a farmer.”

She laughs, sweet and lilting. “You don’t look like a farmer to me.”

I raise a brow, glancing over at her for a split second before returning my attention back to the winding road. “No?”

“Not even a little.” She turns to look out the passenger window at the passing landscape.

The rest of the car ride is silent, and I wish I knew what she’s thinking about last night. Was she so filled with lust that she let her body make decisions she normally wouldn’t have made?

We pass through the streets of downtown, the sun hiding behind the fluffiness of gray clouds. The thing I love about Romania is it’s never very sunny here. And if it is, I can remain indoors. Will I spontaneously combust into flames if the sunlight touches my skin? No, but it affects me. Makes me sick and scorches my skin like a bad sunburn.

I pull up to the curb in front of the largest brick building in downtown Transylvania. “Ready?” I ask, opening the door to my car.

“Yes.” She smiles wide, like she can’t wait to see what I do for work, exiting the vehicle before I can open her door.

Ferik stands by the entrance, ready to do my bidding. He rushes over and I toss the keys to my Bentley at him. “I’ll keep it close,” he says to me, sliding into the front seat.

Allison rounds the hood and steps onto the sidewalk.

“I’m your husband,” I say. “You should let me open your door for you.”

Ferik pulls away as Allison steps closer. “And I’m a big girl and can open my own door.”

I nod. “From now on, I will open doors for you. It’s not because I think women can’t do something for themselves, it’s because how will I keep you safe if you’re already out of the car before I can get to you?”

She presses her finger against her chin. “Fair point. I’ll let you open my doors from now on.”

I place my hand along the small of her back, steering her to the glass doors.

She looks up at the brick building full of character. “So you rent offices here?”

“I own this building. I own everything inside.” I open the door for her. “And now that you’re my wife, you own it all as well.”

She stumbles a bit and her head jerks to me. “I never expected any of that.”

I reach for her hand. “I know you didn’t, but it’s yours.”

I lead her into the front office and the red-haired receptionist, Ioana, smiles at us. “Mr. Blackmoor, we weren’t expecting you in while you’re on your honeymoon.” She stands from her desk, her red-tipped nails smoothing down her skirt. “Mrs. Blackmoor, it’s so nice to meet you.”

After introductions, I lead Allison out of the reception area, further into the building.

“What is this place? It looks like a doctor’s office.”

“It’s kind of like that. In a sense.”

“Do you heal people here?” she asks.

“No.” I smirk. “I’ve never thought of making that into a business.”

Allison squeezes my hand. “You should.”

We move through the office, and Viggo meets us at the end of the long hallway. “Hello there.” He holds out his hand to Allison, and when she places hers inside his, he brings it up to kiss it, but I know he’s really smelling her sweet blood.

“How’s business today?” I ask. Viggo’s been my business partner for as long as I can remember.

“It’s fantastic. Are you here to show Allison the lab?”

I nod. “Yep, sure am.”

Allison stares at me. “Lab?”

Viggo presses his palm to a security panel beside the metal door, and we enter the area where humans aren’t allowed. In the waiting room outside the lab, I explain my business to Allison.

“In this new age, where DNA tests are readily available and there’s a security camera on every corner, when somebody goes missing, people take notice. There’s roughly a million vampires on the earth today.”

Allison gasps. “That many?”

Viggo laughs lightly at her reaction. “That’s the number of vampires we know about through the census.”

“There’s probably many more we don’t know about,” I say. “If all of these vampires start killing people daily for food, the population would definitely take notice.”

“I would think so,” Allison says. “So what do you do here?”

“I’m in the business of selling blood.”

“Selling blood? How?” Her eyes widen. “Oh my god, like a human farm?” She steps back.

I step forward, reaching out my hand. “It’s not as bad as you think. The humans get paid very well, and they think they’re just giving a sample of blood to medical testing. No one gets hurt by this.”

Viggo steps closer. “Except for the occasional fainter if they stand up too fast after giving blood.”

“Can I see this farm?”

I open the door at the far end of the room and lead her into the lab where the blood is collected from vials and put into glass wine bottles for distribution.

She hugs her body because of the low temperature of the lab.

“So, people sign in, get their blood taken, and leave with a check because they think they’re helping with some medical study? You then take their blood, bottle it up, and sell it to the vampire community?” She stares at the machines that run the bottles of blood on a conveyor belt to package in boxes.

“That’s the gist of it.” I step closer. “I’m not the only vampire in the world who does this. I’m just the most successful.”

“It’s our secret ingredient that has people coming back for more,” Viggo says.

“What’s your secret ingredient?”

“A drop of lamb’s blood.”

Allison twists her face in disgust when I tell her the ingredient. “Does it make the blood better?”

“It works for us,” Viggo says.

Allison chews her lip, as if pondering something important, then asks, “What about that girl I saw you with? Why do you drink from her if you have this available?”

I move closer to her. “Sometimes it tastes better straight from the source.”

Because of the questions swirling in Allison’s eyes, I have an unexpected desire to say I’ll never drink from anyone other than her, but Viggo captures her attention and we continue leading her through the tour of my facility.

“So, how old are you, Viggo?” she asks him.

“Not as old as Draven, that’s for sure,” Viggo says. “I was born in 1899. I became a vampire when Bogdan wanted to create a few extra slaves to do his bidding,” Viggo says.

“How did you escape?” Allison asks.

He shrugs. “In the sixties Draven found me, offered Bogdan a good deal to let me come work for him.”

Allison stares at me. “What did you offer him?”

I grab a bottle of the blood, holding it in the air. “This. It was brand new at the time, and I knew I had an idea to combat our problems of ever-growing task forces searching for missing people.”

She grabs the bottle, reading the label. “DN-Ade,” she reads aloud. “Clever name. I get it, like Gatorade.”

A sense of satisfaction settles over me, tilting my lips into what I hope doesn’t look like a cheesy grin, happy she likes my product. “Exactly.”

“What about you?” She nods toward me. “How did you become a vampire? Was it Bogdan who turned you too?”

I shake my head, not wanting to tell my story about the time I was turned. “No, it was just some random vampire who left me in an alleyway to die.”

“Oh.” She touches my arm. “I’m sorry.”

I continue showing Allison how everything works in the lab, and after another hour, we head back to the front of the building and step outside. Ferik pulls up the Bentley, and I open the door for my wife. She slides into the car, and I nod to Ferik, thanking him for watching the car.

“Where to now?” she asks once I’m in the driver’s seat.

“I was thinking we should buy you a dress for the ball.”

“Um… what ball?”

“Every year I hold a masquerade ball, and this will be a good time for you to meet the other clans.”

She tilts her head. “Is that smart?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Don’t they all want to kill me?”

“Not yet, but once they find out what you can do, they will.”

“You still think it’s smart to hold the ball?”

I laugh a little. “It would raise more questions if I didn’t have the ball. I’ve been having them for years.”

Allison breathes in deep. “Ok, then I guess I’ll need a dress.”

“Let’s go shopping.”

She smiles wide at this idea, and I head to the designer shop, owned by my favorite vampire couple.

When we arrive, I park the car in the small lot in front of the building. Allison waits for me to open her door this time, and I help her out of the car, thankful she’s letting me protect her.

We enter the building and Kasha races around the glass counter along the back wall.

“Draven, hi,” she yells across the store. “Owen, come and look who’s here.” She bounces over to us, her long black ponytail swinging from side to side. Her blue eyes light up when she spots Allison. “I didn’t get a chance to meet you at your wedding. It was so busy.”

Allison smiles. “I met so many people that day I wouldn’t even know if we did or not.”

Owen walks out from the back room. His smile is quick and as he stalks over to us. “This is the woman who stole your heart, huh?” Owen asks, his laugh full and loud.

Kasha beams.

I nod. “It is.” I introduce Allison to them.

“I think it’s my heart he’s stolen,” Allison says.

“Good girl,” I say only to Allison’s mind, happy she’s playing the part so well.

“Glad you stopped by,” Owen says to me. “Did you hear about Grander Earlson?”

I shake my head at Owen’s mention of one of my London suppliers. “No, what happened?”

“He killed a woman as she was leaving the mart. Drained her blood right there in the back alleyway.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” I’ve known Grander for nearly a century. When I went into business, he was the first person who encouraged me to do so. He’s been a friend of Simon’s for even longer. “When did this happen?”

Allison pales. “What happens when a vampire kills?”

“He’ll have to answer to his clan leader,” I say. “Most likely Rao will put him to death.”

“How does a vampire die?” Her voice is tiny, innocent, almost like a child. Like the thought of death is too much for her to think about.

“Two ways,” Owen says. “Onyx-tipped arrow straight to the heart or detach the head.”

“Enough of this doom and gloom talk,” Kasha says. “Allison, I’m guessing you’re here for a dress, so let’s go find you a stunning one.” Kasha wraps an arm around Allison’s shoulders, leading her over to a rack of gowns on the side wall.

As soon as Allison and Kasha are rummaging through the mass of dresses, Owen motions his head for me to follow him into the back room.

“We were surprised when you got married,” Owen says, pulling a bottle of my DN-Ade from the shelf and filling two glasses. “I never thought you had it in you.”

“I just never met the right woman until now.”

Owen beams. “It’s crazy what happens to a man when the right woman comes along.”

I nod, bringing the glass to my lips. “It sure does.” I take a sip and set the glass down. “It’ll make a man change all of his beliefs for just one taste.”

Sixteen

Allison

* * *

“Try this one next,” Kasha says, draping a shimmery white dress over the dressing room door.

I take it from her hands, admiring how pretty it is. “It almost looks like a wedding dress,” I tell her.

“Crap, you’re right. Hand it back over. I have something in the back that would be perfect for you.”

Within a few minutes, she tosses over a black dress, and I hold it up by the hanger. “Wow, it’s breathtaking.”

I quickly slip it on and fall in love. The silky fabric hugs my curves, and the off-the-shoulder sweetheart neckline makes my breasts look amazing. It’s sexy with an off-center slit that opens high on my thigh but covers enough that it’s still classy.

“It’s perfect,” I say.

“No, you stay back,” Kasha yells.

“We just want to see,” Owen says.

Footsteps draw closer, but Kasha shoos them away.

“You can’t see her until the ball,” Kasha screams at the men. As soon as they’ve left, Kasha knocks on my door. “Can I come in and see?”

I open the door and she gasps. “You look like a queen.” She turns me around and lets out a low whistle at the backless gown. “Yes, a queen indeed. This is the one. Get dressed.” She’s very demanding with her Romanian accent.

I change back into my jeans and BU tee as Kasha slips the dress into a garment bag. Once I’m presentable, I exit the dressing room and head back into the store to find Draven.

“Ready?” he asks, standing there like a man who jumped off the cover of a GQ magazine.

“I am.”

We say our goodbyes to Kasha and Owen, thanking them for everything.

Once we’re in the soft leather seats of the car and driving away from the shop, Draven says, “I want to show you something.”

“Is it Bran Castle?”

He gives me a feigned look of offense, and it’s the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. “No, it’s not Bran Castle.”

“Ok, good, because I’m married to a vampire.”

He pulls onto a road that leads into the mountains and speeds up. “That’s always a good thing.” He grabs my hand, bringing my knuckles to his lips. He kisses my skin softly. “I’m taking you to where I grew up.”

My heart skips a beat that he’s sharing something personal with me. “Oh, I can’t picture you as a child.” I try to imagine what it would have been like for Draven to be young in the 18th century. “I bet you got into a lot of trouble.”

Draven shoots me a smile, and it’s the exact smile I would imagine got him into plenty of trouble growing up. He continues down the road, and I don’t dare move or breathe for fear he’ll drop my hand. It gives me a sense of belonging I don’t think I’ve ever felt before in my life. I sit back, looking out the window at the passing scenery, trying to imagine what it was like when Draven was a child. How crazy it must be to watch everything change before your eyes. “I bet it was a lot different back then.”

“It was a different world back then. You don’t realize time passing until you take a moment to stop living and look around. It’s then you realize time slipped by and you weren’t paying attention.” He stares out the windshield, winding up the curvy mountain pass. “It’s then when you get sentimental.”

I squeeze his hand. “I couldn’t imagine living over a century. All that history you’ve seen. You’ve been a part of so much.” My voice raises a bit, getting excited at the thought of seeing all that history first hand.

“At the time it’s happening, you don’t think about how future generations will look back on this moment and try to imagine what it was like.”

I twist in my seat. “What was the Revolutionary War like? Wait, no, the Civil War? Oh, what was it like when we went into space for the first time?”

Draven laughs at my overactive mind. “I love history just as much as you. During the World Wars, Viggo, Simon, and I were running our own missions, fighting alongside everyone else. Doing what we thought was right.” He drops my hand so he can focus on making a turn up ahead. “I wanted to be a part of history. To leave my mark.”

“Wow. I would love that.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” He pulls the car into a field of wildflowers with a crumbling stone wall surrounding a worn-down house. The roof is missing, along with half of the walls, but it’s easy to picture it whole again.

He parks the car and opens his door. I wait as he corners the front of the Bentley and reaches my door, opening it to let me out.

“This is where you grew up?”

He nods, pointing to the decaying home. “I was born in that house.” We move closer, walking through the field of flowers. “My father owned all this land.” He waves his hand, showing off all the land for as far as my eyes can see. In the distance, two mountains meet with a valley between, and it looks like something right out of a painting. “I bought the land when they wanted to sell it at the turn of the century.”

I turn my attention back to Draven, who stands in the field, hands in his pockets, staring at the house with a melancholy smile. “You wouldn’t love living through over two centuries of history because it can be overwhelming.” He steps toward the house, and I follow.

“Why?”

We reach a fence and Draven opens it slowly. “Everyone you’ve ever known always ends up leaving you. Everyone you meet. You watch them grow old. You watch them die. You can’t join them.”

I don’t breathe as he stares at his old home, wearing his sorrow on his face.

“I shouldn’t have been alive this long, but I am. It’s a punishment not even the devil could have thought of. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemies.”

The breeze caresses his dark hair, and I step closer. “I’m so sorry.” I try not to think about what it must be like to watch everyone you know grow old and die and not be able to die along with them. To start over, meet new people, just to have it happen again. I try my hardest not to think about when I grow older, how Draven will stay the same age. How long after I’m gone, he’ll still be here.

“I can see how living forever would get lonely after a while,” I say.

“You grow accustomed to it,” he says, as we walk into the skeleton of the house. “Until one day, someone comes along to show you just how dead you’ve been.” His eyes drift over my hair and burn a path across my face. And then a shutter slams down, blocking the emotion in his gaze from my view. “So, what do you think of my home?”

It’s not a home, but more of a stone structure around a dirt pile. I close my eyes, imagining what it must have looked like back in its prime. “I love it. I bet this house was beautiful back in the day.”

Draven smiles at me when I open my eyes. “It was. My mother would make bread outside here. We had maids and servants. My father was a boyar, which was basically like saying he was a nobleman.”

“Right. I’ve studied about the Romanian boyars of Wallachia.”

He nods. “My father was a respectable man.”

I step closer. “I bet he was just like you.”

Draven smiles. “No, he was so much better.”

He guides me through his land, showing me where Lina would hide, and he would have to try to find her. How they’d play for hours before their mother would call them home for supper. Draven lights up when he tells me the stories of his youth, and it makes my heart ache when I watch the way he stares at his land.

“I’ll never sell this land. They’ve offered me everything to buy it.” He stuffs his hands in his pockets as he stares across the field of flowers. “Once, a land developer tried to purchase it. He tried to take my land illegally until I bought his company out from under him and fired him.”

I laugh, shocked at his ruthlessness. “No one ever tried after that, huh?”

Draven steps closer. “No, everyone knows not to touch this land.”

I rest my head on his shoulder as we stare at the sun setting behind the mountain in the distance. “I love it here.”

His arm finds its way around my shoulders. And even though I shouldn’t, I might love that even more.

It’s been two days since Draven took me to his childhood home in the mountains. Two days I’ve had this odd feeling dwelling deep in my bones. One where I feel like my old life and new life are merging. And should they?

I’ve tried to keep busy helping Sylvia get the castle ready for the ball this weekend. I even carved out some time to work on my paper, which feels pointless. Vampires exist. The end.

School feels like a million miles away, and I don’t even know if I’ll ever return to that life.

Draven’s kept busy with work, leaving me to fend for myself most days if we’re not practicing my powers.

“What do you think of this?” Sylvia asks, showing me a sheer window treatment.

I nod, my mind no longer on window treatments or flower arrangements for the dining room. “Sure.”

Sylvia’s mouth turns downward. “Everything ok?”

I glance at her. “Yeah, it’s fine.” I can’t very well tell this woman all my problems. I wish I had someone to talk to. Someone who knows me and who could offer some sound advice.

“Excuse me,” I tell Sylvia, pulling out my cell phone, needing to hear a familiar voice. I pull up Veronica’s contact info.

“Allison, my god. I thought you fell off the face of the earth. Have you not gotten my calls or texts?” Veronica’s voice makes me instantly miss home.

“I’m so sorry. I’ve been so busy.” And afraid she’d ask questions I couldn’t answer. “I’ll try to call more.”

“Tell me everything. How’s Simon? Does his family love you?”

“Yeah, they do.” I can’t tell Roni I’m married. She’d hop a flight and drag me back home. I can’t confess I’ve got secret powers either. Suddenly, the idea of calling my best friend isn’t a good one. “I just needed to hear your voice,” I tell her, sighing into the phone.

“Allison, are you ok? What’s wrong?”

Veronica has an innate skill for reading my moods and knowing when something is wrong. It makes me wonder for a split second if she’s a vampire too.

“I’m fine. Just a little stressed with everything.”

“You work too hard. You need to put your coursework aside and just try to have a little fun over there. Get naked with Simon.”

I laugh, feeling some of the tension leave my shoulders. “Roni, I can’t believe you just said that.” I’d love to reveal that every part of me wants to get naked with Draven instead, feel the normalcy of girl talk, but I don’t.

“When will you be home?”

I sigh. “I’m not sure.” In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever go home again.

Veronica fills me in on what’s happening in her day-to-day life. It feels nice to forget about vampires and sexy husbands for a few minutes. My carefree existence in Portland feels like a lifetime ago.

After everything that’s happened, I can’t picture returning and continuing the life I once lived. When we say our goodbyes, I want to climb through the phone and go grab coffee with her. Sit in the coffee shop and act like my largest problem is whether I’ll turn my assignments in on time. But Transylvania is my new home, and that girl no longer exists.

And I don’t know how I feel about that.

Seventeen

Draven

* * *

“Bogdan hasn’t done much at all,” Simon says on our phone call.

“Good.”

“Vlad thinks he’s planning something.”

I scrub a hand along my jaw. “Why do you think that?”

“Just a hunch. It’s nothing. Bogdan hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary.” He’s silent for a beat before he asks, “Are you sure you want this, Uncle?”

“Of course I do. Don’t you?”

Simon takes so long to answer I check my cell phone to make sure I haven’t dropped the call.

“I do,” he finally says. “But sometimes the thought of it is hard to grasp.”

“I know. It’s hard for me too, but it’s the right thing.”

“Yes. Once I have more information, I’ll get back to you.”

I hang up knowing Vlad, Gregor, and Simon will do their best in tracking Bogdan’s movements.

Viggo blows into my office, his enraged face like a blustery cloud before a raging storm. “Rao’s letting him go.”

“Grander?”

Viggo nods. “Rao met with his other clan leaders last night.”

“I feel like he just wants to show off his power.”

“They know they’re about to lose it.”

I cross my arms over my chest. “He needs to be taken out. We need to form this council whether or not they want it. We can’t have people going around killing each other.”

“But how? Who would run it?”

“Me.” I sink into the leather chair behind my desk, shuffling a few papers that clutter the hardwood. “I have to be the one to take over.”

“Do you think Rao would go for it? You could try to get him on your side, offer him something he can’t say no to.”

I rub my chin. “I like that idea. Some drug-filled blood?”

Viggo mulls it over. “We could make a batch of that easily. Say we’re doing testing on the effects of heroin users. Offer tons of money. Druggies would come running to give blood.”

“I think so, but we need to offer it in such a way they have no choice but to say yes. Because if I can offer it, so can Bogdan.”

“How do you plan on doing that?”

“I’m not sure.”

Viggo laughs, sharp and hard. “You need to figure out what he wants.”

I raise a brow. “The girl?”

“Yes.”

I let his words marinate. “I’ll talk to him at the ball, get a feel for what he might be after.” Rao has left for London to deal with the Grander thing, and plans on returning for the ball, so I’ll have to feel him out then.

Viggo turns to leave. “Be careful.”

“Always.”

A few hours later, I leave my office and make my way outside to wander through the forest, which is my time to think and be alone, before heading inside for the evening. My thoughts drift to Allison as I navigate through the tall pines. To her innocence and how badly I want to feast on her. How I’ve wanted her since before I even met her. How this deep connection we share baffles me.

I move deeper into the forest, questioning why I’m obsessed with her.

Bloodlust. A person’s uncontrollable desire to maim or kill others. However, that’s not a vampire’s definition of the word. Bloodlust for a vampire means a savage passion to taste the blood of a human.

It turned us into beasts.

Inhuman.

I’ve never craved another person’s blood until the moment I met her.

I’m holding on by a frayed thread, trying not to take what I want. Watching her come, and hearing her scream my name, was too much.

My cock hardens.

“I need you,” I tell her in my mind. “Come to the forest. To our spot.”

Tortuous time passes as I wait for her to arrive. I lean against the rough bark of a tree, trying to control my breathing. Fuck. Why does everything boil down to this passion I have for her?

My growl rumbles through the forest as I rub at my hardness, wanting more than anything to have Allison on her knees, taking care of this insatiable erection I’ve got for her.

Sunlight peeks through the canopy of leaves overhead as I unzip my pants, pulling my thick cock out. I run my fingers over the tip of my dick, fisting it in my hands.

I yank my pants further down my thighs, cupping my balls in the other hand as I stroke my cock, full of cum ready for Allison.

It’s the blood that runs through her veins that has my fangs emerging. I hiss, growling through my mood, wanting to be buried deep inside Allison’s little cunt. My eyes close, rewarding the beast inside me with more strokes of my hungry cock.

I pump my dick in my fist, picturing the way Allison moved for me. How she came for me, tumbling into a sweet abyss.

I pant, my breaths coming out in brief spurts. I’m hungry, oh so fucking hungry. The only thing that will satisfy this craving is her.

One little taste won’t hurt, right?

I keep stroking when I hear leaves crunching not too far away.

Allison’s wide eyes meet mine. “Oh,” she says, as I keep stroking, tugging on my dick for her to see.

Her lust-filled eyes wash over me like a tidal wave, claiming everything in their path. She licks her lips and I nearly lose it.

“I don’t know if I can control myself much longer,” I groan out through clenched teeth.

She steps forward. “Then don’t. Make me your wife in every sense of the word.”

I lean my head back, biting my bottom lip until I taste my own blood. “Don’t tempt me.”

She’s wearing tiny shorts and a tight white tee. She removes the shirt, revealing no fucking bra, and I look at her pink nipples. “Is this too tempting?” she whimpers, and I growl once more, louder.

“You want me to fuck you against this tree?”

She nods.

I stroke my angry flesh harder, my eyes fluttering closed, knowing I can’t have her like I want her. What if I hurt her?

“And I want you to drink my blood as you do it.”

My eyes snap open and I move at warp speed, swooping her into my arms, pinning her against the large trunk of the tree, baring my fangs. “Careful what you wish for, Allison.”

“Do it,” she urges. “Leave your mark on me. Mark me everywhere. I want to feel it.” She gazes into my eyes, breathing rapidly. “Then I want you to take it all away. Heal my marks as soon as you’re done and make more.”

My heart thumps wildly in my chest. Have I finally met my match? My inner demon screams at me to fuck her against this tree. Show her who she belongs to. “Your blood makes me drunk. Is that what you want? You want me to fuck you while I’m drunk on your blood?”

She nods again. “Yes.”

Hearing that word tumble from her lips does something to me. Turns the beast on, making me wild with passion. “I don’t know if you can handle me.”

She touches my face, caressing my jaw with her hand. “I trust you to not hurt me.”

I blink, unsure if I trust myself not to hurt her. My cock is painful, dying to thrust inside her pussy, seeking her wet heat. “I’ll never hurt you.” My voice is harsh as I make a promise to her. I tug her shorts down her golden legs as her thighs shake. “Never.” My pulse pounds as I kneel before her.

I spread her legs, settling one over my shoulder as I rip her panties off. “And if I do hurt you, you’ll let me heal you. You’ll let me do whatever it takes to fix it.”

She stares down at me, eyes glazed over, panting. “I’m so turned on.”

I lean closer to her heat. “I know you are.” I bare my teeth to her. “Don’t be afraid. Let me make you all better.”

“I will,” she whimpers, and then leans her head back against the tree, closing her eyes, looking beautiful like the goddess she is.

I sink my teeth into the warm flesh of her thigh, feeling her blood enter my system, making me whole again. She moans while I drink from her, extracting the sweet liquid she offers so freely.

Not wanting to take too much so soon, I release my fangs and swipe my tongue along her pussy. She fists my hair, and I get to work eating the best part of her, swiping my tongue back and forth, focusing most of my attention on her clit.

Her nails dig into my scalp, gripping tightly as her moans grow louder. “Draven,” she calls out as her body shakes in my hold. “It feels so good.”

I keep sucking, and soon she’s coming undone all around me. My cock pulses, wanting to be deep inside her, and I thrust my hips forward, seeking relief.

But I find none, because I’m not sure if I should fuck her. Allison may want me, and I want her more than anything, but is this for the best?

As if she can sense my thoughts, she lifts my head to look into her eyes. “Please… don’t stop.”

“I don’t know if this is a good idea.”

“I don’t care if I lose my powers. I want you more than I want that.”

I stand, tugging her closer to my body. “That’s not what I fear.”

“What are you afraid of?” she whispers.

“I’m afraid I’ll lose all of mine.”

Eighteen

Allison

* * *

Draven’s a beautiful creature. More so when he’s vulnerable. His eyes looking lost. Seeing him now as he talks about his fear of losing his power has my chest aching.

“What do you mean?”

“Not here. Let’s get you out of the forest.” He scoops me up and flies into the sky, leaving my clothes behind.

I hold on tight, wanting him to taste my blood again soon. I don’t know why, but I love the feeling of his fangs piercing my skin, the way it feels when the blood is siphoned from my veins. I’ve never been this needy for a man.

He lands on the balcony of his master suite, and we slip into his room.

“There’s something I’ve never told you about your powers.”

I perch on the bed’s edge, dragging the soft throw blanket around my shoulders. “What?”

“The book states you’ll be able to cure us of our affliction.”

“What do you mean?”

He inches closer, standing before me. “It means you can turn us, make us return to our mortal form.”

My eyes grow wide as I shake my head. “Oh, my god.”

“I don’t know what will happen if I fuck you. I don’t know if you’ll cure me.”

I stand, letting the blanket drop from my body, and cup his face in my palms. “You don’t want to be human again?”

He stares at me with what looks like agony in his eyes. My heart breaks as he says his next words, “I don’t deserve it.”

I want to ask him what he means. I want him to open up and tell me all his truths, but I can see he doesn’t need that right now. He needs me. “I don’t want to change you,” I tell him instead.

He places his hands over mine, his hard length pressing on my belly. “I need you so bad.” His voice is pained as he says, “I need you so fucking badly. It’s worth risking it all.”

I step back, my knees hitting the end of the bed. “No. No, I won’t let you risk that.”

He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear, his finger trailing along the lobe. “I don’t know exactly how your powers work, but if you take mine from me, it’ll be worth it for one night with you.”

“It won’t only be one night. It’ll be the rest of your nights. I’m yours, Draven.”

He tugs me closer, his eyes bleeding into mine. “And I’m yours.” He leans down, capturing my lips. His tongue slides along mine and I grip his neck, pulling us down on the bed. He breaks the kiss and rises a bit to stare down at the rust-colored bruise on my thigh. He touches it, healing it, and the color fades.

“I like having your mark on my skin,” I say.

He smiles, a devilishly wicked smile, and bares his fangs. “Then let me mark you everywhere. Let everyone who sees you know you’re mine. I want you to wear my marks forever.”

I turn my head to the side, and he attacks, lying on top of me, pressing his fangs into the side of my neck. The initial bite hurts a little, but I squeeze my eyes shut, waiting for the pleasure to ease the pain.

He stops and whispers in my ear. “I’m going to bend and break you tonight, Allison, but I promise I’ll put you back together again in the morning.”

“Do whatever you want to me, and I promise I’ll try my hardest not to use any of my powers on you.”

He sucks my earlobe in his mouth, grazing it with his teeth. “That would be nice if you wouldn’t.” And then his fangs pierce the soft skin of my throat.

I wrap my legs around his waist, pressing my center against his hard ridge, hoping he’ll come inside me soon.

He removes his fangs from my skin, bringing his face within mere inches of mine, his chest rising and falling with ragged breaths.

I reach up to touch one of his fangs. “So sharp,” I say as I prick my finger on the tip of one.

“I like when you touch them.”

I slide my finger down it again, and he moans, his dick growing harder against my leg.

I reach down with my other hand, palming his thickness. It pulses, and I run my thumb over the tip, swiping the bead of pre-cum. My insides turn molten when he groans, rocking his hips, driving his dick up into my hand.

“I should explain something to you before we go any further.”

I still my hand. “Ok.”

“I’m going to fuck you hard. It’ll be animalistic and you’ll just have to hold on and enjoy the ride.”

I smile. “Rawr.”

He fists his dick in his hands, lining it up with my entrance, and pushes inside me, stretching me completely. “Fuck,” he rasps.

His hips move and he thrusts in again, and again, cursing each time. His hands slide over my breasts, pinching each nipple between his fingers. I’m speechless, talking with moans instead of words. It feels sublime, the way his body moves inside mine.

“Your tight cunt loves my cock.”

“Yes,” I call out, over and over.

He moves to a frantic rhythm, and I hold on, meeting his strokes as his body ramps up faster and faster. His length fills me, stretching me to the point of no return, causing a firestorm in my core. He moves his head, baring his teeth as he nips at my arms.

I can’t handle all the sensations happening at once, but I beg for more as the light of the moon filters into the room from the skylight above the bed.

Draven’s hands are all over me, fondling my breasts, running down my torso, gripping around my neck, tightening his hold, until I can barely breathe. “Can you handle me?”

I meet his hooded gaze. “Yes.”

“You handle me so well. Show me how deep you can take your husband’s dick.”

He loosens his hold around my neck and continues to imprint himself on my soul, slamming into me, causing a ripple of tingles to cascade through me.

My vision fades as my body soars closer to an orgasm. I feel my power taking hold, gripping me, and I push it away. I don’t ever want to change this man.

The way he watches me.

The way he cares for me.

How he protects me.

How he breaks me into tiny pieces and puts me back together again.

He moves like a wild animal on top of me, and flips me over so I’m straddling him, riding him, trying my best to hold on as he bucks beneath me.

“You’re so beautiful,” he murmurs. “You’re my queen,” he whispers, his eyes drinking me in.

I lean back, bracing my hands on his muscular chest. “And you’re my king.” He hits a magical spot inside me, and I come crashing down, my high so powerful I have to squeeze my eyes shut as I ride the waves of my orgasm, calling out Draven’s name.

He squeezes a nipple, telling me what a good wife I am, and I love when he calls me that. How I always want to be that to him. How this sham of a marriage has turned into something so much more real than I ever could have imagined.

“I’m going to come so deep inside you.” He groans, bucking wildly. “Fuck, Allison,” he says as his release washes over him so magnificently I can’t turn my eyes away from his stark beauty.

“You’re amazing,” I tell him once his body has calmed.

“That was only the beginning,” he says, running his hands over my neck to heal the wounds.

I stop him. “I was serious about wanting to wear your marks on me.

His eyes study me curiously. “When we’re done, I’ll leave the marks on your skin.”

I drop down beside him, curling into his side and kissing his skin. “Thank you.”

He traces lazy eights on my arm. “I guess I didn’t lose my powers.”

“I guess I didn’t either,” I say with a small smile. “I felt it,” I say to him. “Right before I was about to get off. I felt it all. I could have done anything. I need to learn how to harness that power even when I’m not having sex.”

This makes Draven laugh, a real laugh-out-loud moment. “Yes. Yes, you do.”

He leans in and kisses me—slow and lingering—like a husband really kisses his wife when they’re consumed by love. I run my nails down the length of his back and wrap my legs around him once more as he moves on top of me.

“I took it easy on you last time.” he says.

I blink.

He smiles. “Now fucking spread your legs. This is gonna be hard and dirty.”

Nineteen

Draven

* * *

Allison is the woman of my dreams. Only took me a few centuries to find her. To make her mine. But she is now. She is mine.

“On your hands and knees,” I tell her.

She’s a perfect wife, taking my orders like her life depends on it.

She gets on all fours, glancing over her shoulder at me, her blonde hair tumbling down the sides, while I kneel on my knees behind her. To have her here, in my bed, makes me feel things I’ve never felt before.

Things I never thought I could feel.

I run the tip of my cock over her wet slit, barely pushing into her, and then pulling out to rub her cunt once more. She pushes her ass back so I’ll fill her up.

“You don’t like being teased, do you?” I do it again, repeating the torture.

She moans out, long and hard, letting me know she’s ready for me to own her tight little body tonight.

Every night.

Because I’ll never be able to get enough of her.

“No, I need you,” she whines. “Now.”

I run my free hand over her back, up toward her throat, and wrap my fingers around the width of it, squeezing lightly. “I know what you need. I’ll always know what you need, because I own you. You’re my wife, and I know what’s best for you. I will give you my cock when you’re ready for it.” I rub the head of my cock over the cheeks of her ass, slapping them lightly with the thickness of my dick.

“I’m ready now,” she whimpers, crying out as she presses her ass against me. “Please.”

“I love to hear you beg me. Beg me to fuck you.”

“Please, fuck me. Drink my blood. Just give me something.”

My heart beats wildly in my chest. “That’s a good little wife, begging your husband for his big fat cock. Is that what you want?”

“Yes, please.”

I keep rubbing my dick through her wetness as she cries out she wants all of it. “Just remember, you begged for this.” I press the head of my cock to her entrance, and she arches her back.

“Oh, god,” she moans out.

I pull her neck closer to my mouth, ready to bite her. “God’s not in this room tonight, only the devil. Ready to sin.” I sink my teeth into her sweet skin, siphoning the blood from her jugular.

She groans and squirms, pushing her ass against me. “Don’t stop,” she pleads.

I know I’ll have to stop soon, or I’ll drink her dry. I can’t turn her.

I reward myself with a few more drops of her blood, and then abruptly stop as she cries out. “I can’t drink all your blood, Allison.”

She glances at me over her shoulder, her eyes on fire as she looks at me. “I know you can’t, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy every drop you drink.”

“You like pain?” It’s more of a question because I know she likes the way it feels when I bite into her neck, but I don’t know what pain threshold is too much for her, and I never want to hurt her.

“I like the pain you give me. I like the pleasure you give me too.”

“I’ll give you everything, Allison.” I thrust my hips, entering her balls deep, and she lets out a passionate cry. “Like that?” I ask as I continue to pump deep inside her.

“Yes, please… yes.”

I claw at her back, my nails breaking the skin, and lick up the wetness of blood each scrape leaves behind.

“More. More,” she screams.

As I pound inside her, I howl and groan, making the most primitive sounds. “You’re such a good wife, handling my cock so well. You make me so fucking hot,” I tell her, flipping her over so she’s underneath me, staring into my eyes, taking my cock like a good girl.

Now it’s her turn to rake her nails down my back.

“Yes,” I grit out as her nails break skin, causing me to hammer into her faster. I want to bite her again but am too afraid I’ll drain her. I try to control the urge but weaken with each thrust of my hips.

“Mark me,” she says, obviously reading my thoughts about how badly I need her blood coursing with my own.

“No.” I shake my head, slamming my dick into her, placing the hand that’s not holding me up around the base of her throat. “No, I don’t want to drink you dry.”

“You won’t. Just do it,” she orders.

I tighten my grip on her neck. “I’m the one who gives the orders.” I kiss her lips, sucking her tongue into my mouth, my body completely overwhelmed with lust.

She kisses me back with everything she has, and I loosen my hold on her neck, letting her move with the passion of this kiss. I keep kissing her, fucking her, driving my cock deep inside her as her legs cling to my waist, and her nails dig into my skin.

I’m enraptured, and she’s my savior.

In a split-second decision, as her body is getting off under me, I sink my teeth into her skin, harder than before, drinking the blood she offers me.

It’s so fucking good.

Each molecule flows through me, making me high. As soon as her body calms from her orgasm, I stop sucking, letting my body build toward its ultimate release.

I run a hand over her bite marks, healing her instantly, but I bite again, not taking any blood, just marking her skin to satisfy my need to claim her in every way.

She smiles, knowing exactly what I’m doing.

“You’re mine,” I tell her, just so there’s no confusion.

“I am.”

Allison moves her hands to my ass, pressing her nails against my skin, and I let out a groan as I come deep inside her. I keep bucking, harder and harder, only slowing when my climax lessens and lessens.

As soon as my body has calmed, I slide out and heal all the scrapes and wounds along her body.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she says. “I like wearing your mark.”

I kiss her forehead. “You just don’t need to wear so many of them.”

She snuggles into me. “I’m exhausted,” she says.

“Then sleep.”

And she does. It doesn’t take her long to pass out. I stare at her peaceful face and drop another kiss to her lips before climbing out of bed and dressing so I can take care of some business. She doesn’t stir as I leave the room. It’s hard to leave her, but I move through the house to my study and call Simon to see if Bogdan has done anything out of the ordinary.

Once Simon says he hasn’t, I end the call. What are Bogdan and Rao up to? Have they figured it out? Do they know Allison has powers?

I bound out of my chair when I hear a blood-curdling scream from upstairs.

Allison.

I fly up the stairs, damning every wall and door in my way.

“Allison,” I call out when I enter my room. But she’s nowhere to be found.

I rush to the balcony to see if I can spot anything on the grounds below.

“Where are you?” I whisper to myself.

A white stallion gallops away from the house, the rider draped all in black. Allison hangs on for dear life. She kicks and screams, and I fly from the balcony, trying my best to reach them in time. I can’t tell if it’s Bogdan on the horse. Simon said he hasn’t moved, but could he be mistaken?

My mind fills with scenarios as I close in on the horse. I jump, landing on top of the man, bringing him crashing to the ground along with Allison.

The horse slows once its rider is removed, and I snatch Allison away from the cloaked figure.

“Show yourself,” I demand.

The man removes his hood and Rao’s face comes into view. “I had to have her,” he says. “I can’t let you do it.”

“Do what?” I ask.

“Bogdan and I know she has the power to change a vampire into a mortal.”

“How did you hear that?”

Rao studies me, not answering my question.

I move Allison behind me, not wanting Rao to get his filthy hands on her. “Fuck you,” I tell him.

Rao leaps at me, and together we crash to the ground. I punch him in the face, not letting him get away with taking my wife. I land another right hook, and then another. I bare my fangs at him, letting him know I won’t back down.

Rao surrenders, like the coward he is, and I’m furious as I get Rao and Allison back to the safety of my castle. I’m enraged as I force Rao to sit in the living room, pushing him onto the large sofa, and I yell for the staff to leave the castle at once.

Allison sits on a chair, hugging herself. I check her over to make sure she wasn’t hurt.

“Draven, we can talk about this,” Rao says, rising from his seat on the couch.

“Sit the fuck down, Rao,” I roar, standing within an inch of his traitorous face.

“Draven,”—he holds his hands up in a surrender—“you have to understand. We’re worried about her powers, about her wiping out our race.”

“Who told you?” I start thinking about everyone I’m close to, everyone who knows Allison has powers, and try to think of who could have betrayed me.

“I would never wipe out anyone,” Allison whispers.

“Rao, she’s under my protection. You betrayed me by taking her.” It would satisfy me immensely to rip his head off and watch him bleed out, but I know I can’t kill a leader of another clan without backlash. I pull out my phone, texting Viggo to meet me here. Then, I text my sister, asking the same thing.

“She needs to be dealt with,” Rao says. “We can’t have her running around loose.”

“She’s not loose,” I yell at him, my anger so fierce Allison flinches. “I have her here, safe with me.”

“You know what I mean. What happens when word gets out that she can destroy our vampire race?”

Allison doesn’t speak, only stares at Rao with fear in her big blue eyes.

“Are you working with Bogdan?”

Rao blinks at me, and I hover over him, making him appear small in the room.

“Are you working with Bogdan?” I ask again, my voice raising with each word.

He shakes his head. “No, Bogdan has his own plans.”

“What are they?” I stand to my full height, making sure Rao knows he fucked with the wrong vampire tonight.

Now, he’s my enemy.

Viggo rushes in, and his eyes bounce from me, to Allison, to Rao. “What’s going on?”

“Rao kidnapped Allison,” I say. “Says he and Bogdan know Allison has powers.”

“Kill him,” Viggo offers, with no thought.

I rub my hand on my chin. “I’ve thought about that, but I’m not sure if killing the king of the Tavian Clan is in our best interest.”

“I could turn him,” Allison says, her voice barely audible.

We all face her. The more her idea bounces around in my head, the more I like it.

Once he sees I’m not shutting down her offer, Rao falls to his knees. “No, please. I need this. It’s all that I am. Bogdan will kill me if I’m human. If I betray him.”

“Thought you said you weren’t working with him.”

“We’re all going a little mad here,” he says. “Let’s all take a step back, breathe, reconnect, find a better solution.”

I scoff at him. Pathetic. “What would Bogdan think of you begging for your life like a coward?”

“We can figure things out,” Rao continues.

“What did you plan on doing to her?” I ask, knowing damn well I won’t like the answer he gives me.

His gaze moves to Allison with disdain. “I was going to kill her.”

I lunge for him, but Viggo is quicker in holding me back.

“Not like this,” he says. “Let Allison change him. Then we can use him for our benefit. We know Bogdan is coming after her.”

I take a moment to consider it. “I want to find out who betrayed me.”

Viggo nods. “After we deal with him, I won’t stop until I find out who it is.”

I move closer to Allison, whispering in her ear for only her to hear. “And after Rao’s done working for us, I’ll kill him myself.” I bend down on one knee before Allison’s chair. “Are you up for this?”

She glances at Rao. “I think so.”

“If you need me, I’ll be right here.” I stand, reaching my hand down for her to take.

She rises, and steps toward where Viggo has Rao pinned on the couch. He squirms but he’s not a match for Viggo’s strength.

Allison stops a breath away from Rao, holding out her hand and closing her eyes. “I don’t know if it’ll work.”

Viggo shrugs. “If he dies, that’s fine too.”

“Just do your best,” I say. “I know you can do it.”

A small beam of yellow light encases her hand as she stretches her arm out and touches Rao. He screams and a shudder trembles Allison’s body.

She jerks her hand away.

“Did it work?” Viggo asks, but no one needs to answer once we look at Rao.

Once we smell the blood pumping through his veins.

He no longer has that certain glow about him. There is color to his skin. There is life.

Has it really worked?

Rao stares at me, shock etched in his features. “Am I alive?” he asks, his voice softer than before.

“I think so.” I lift Allison in my arms, glancing at Viggo. “I’m going to take her upstairs.”

Viggo nods. “I’ll keep an eye on the human.”

I race an exhausted Allison up the stairs, holding her close to my chest. Before I reach the room, she’s passed out. I kiss the top of her head when I lie her down in my bed. “You did good,” I whisper.

Lina steps into the room, eyes full of worry. “Viggo told me you were up here.”

I turn to her. “Thank you for coming.”

“What happened?”

I give her the condensed version of events that just transpired, and then leave her to watch Allison while I go downstairs and deal with Rao. I’m still not sure if turning him into a human was our best idea, but it was better than ripping his head off his body, even though that’s what I wanted to do most.

“Bogdan’s plans. What are they?” I ask Rao as I enter the living room.

He cowers on the couch, as if he’s unable to process what Allison just did to him. His black eyes tear up as he stares at Viggo and me with complete horror.

“I… I…” He can’t formulate a thought.

Viggo kicks the bottom of the couch, and Rao jumps. “Get it together, Rao. Answer the question.”

“He wants to kill all of you,” Rao shouts. “You, Viggo, the girl, your family. Even half your clan. He wants to wipe them all out for good at your masquerade ball.”

“Who told you about Allison’s powers?” My voice is calm, but much like the eye of a hurricane, it’s deceptive.

Rao shrinks into the couch.

“Answer me,” I shout.

He’s still cowering when he finally answers, “I don’t know. Bogdan never told me.”

Anger pulses through my body, and I fist my hands. I should just kill him dead right here. Instead, I change tactics. “Why does Bogdan want my whole family dead?”

“Because he thinks you’re becoming too powerful. Too many people listen to what you say.”

As they should. “What do you get out of betraying me and helping him?”

“He promised me I’d sit by his side when he took over the entire vampire community.”

I laugh. “And you believed him?”

Rao shrugs. “Turn me back. I can help you.”

“Help me how?” I’m trying to process everything Rao just told me, wondering if it’s true. A man afraid for his life will say anything.

Rao begs for over thirty minutes about how he can help me, but I scoff at the thought. How can a mortal help me take down the biggest threat to my way of life? I tune him out after a while, more concerned with who betrayed me.

I stare at Rao, wondering what I should do with him.

Should I let him go? He’s no use to me. Or should I take his help against Bogdan?

Twenty

Allison

* * *

I open my eyes, and darkness is all I see. “Am I dead?” I ask when I hear someone breathing next to me.

“No,” Lina’s voice sounds through the stillness.

She flips on the lamp, and I squint my eyes against the light.

“What time is it?” I sit up, my head still groggy from my nap. It takes me a minute to focus on what day it is, and what all happened before I fell asleep. “Where’s Draven?”

“He’s fine. You’ve only been asleep for about an hour.” Lina smiles at me. “Phenomenal work on Rao down there.”

I swing my legs from the bed and stand. “Did it work? Is he no longer a vampire?”

Lina nods. “It did. They’re still deciding what they’re going to do with him.”

I study my hands, not believing I possess this power. “I’m sorry,” I tell her.

She rises from her chair and brushes the hair from my face. “Why are you sorry?”

I shrug. “I know every vampire in the world will be worried I’ll turn them.”

“You don’t understand. Many vampires don’t want this affliction.”

“I know. I would never force my power on anyone.”

Lina runs a hand down my arm. “I never asked to be a vampire.”

The sadness in her eyes causes an ache in my heart. “Do you want me to change you?”

Lina blinks at me, then lets out a heavy sigh. “No, I’ve accepted my fate. Besides, I wouldn’t want to leave my son. He likes being a vampire.”

“Oh, ok.”

Lina reaches for my hand, taking it in hers and squeezing it. “You can’t change anyone else. Not until we figure out a way for the vampire community to trust that you’re not trying to rid the world of our kind.”

“I’m not. I would never.”

Lina smiles, her blue eyes softening as she stares at me. “I know that, dear, but we need to let everyone else know it too. There will always be people who won’t understand your ability and who will want to hurt you. We just need to build a large army around you to keep you safe.

“I’m so sorry I’m causing so much trouble.”

She drops my hand. “It’s not your fault. Never think it is.”

I give her a hug, thankful she’s the one I woke up to. “Should we find Draven?” My mind wanders to what they’re doing with Rao. Will they kill him?

Will they use him as bait?

We leave the master suite and head downstairs into the living room where the three men are right where they were when I left.

Draven rushes over to me. “Allison, are you ok?”

“I’m fine.” I glance at Rao. “What will you do with him?”

Draven turns to face Rao. “Well, if he helps us like he’s promising he will, we’ll turn him back into a vampire once we’ve taken Bogdan out. If he doesn’t help, or betrays us in any way, we’ll kill him.”

“Do you think he’ll help? I mean…”

Draven nods, grasping my uncertainty of whether Rao is trustworthy. “I know, but I can’t let one of the clan leaders go missing right before my ball. Everyone will be on high alert. Panic will spread like wildfire.”

“I understand.” I stare into the eyes of the weak man on the couch. Rao took me as I laid in bed, sleeping, and now he’s cowering to Viggo and Draven like a broken soul. I can barely stand to look at the man who planned on killing me.

But I know Draven needs him. I know Bogdan is the real threat.

“Lina, will you stay here until the ball?” Draven asks.

“Of course, I’ll have the staff fetch my things.”

“It’s settled.” Draven moves closer to me, wrapping his arm around my waist. “I’m taking my beautiful wife to bed.”

Lina’s eyes widen as she stares between her brother and me. “You are?”

I smile at Lina, whispering over my shoulder, “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

She parks a hand on her hip. “We better.”

Viggo grabs Rao by the arm, hoisting him up from the couch. “Let’s go.”

“Take him to the cellar. If he gives you any trouble, come and get me.” Draven leads me to the staircase, and up each step. “Did you sleep well?”

“I did, but I missed you when I woke up.”

Draven lifts me into his arms. “You’ll never have to miss me ever again.”

I have so many questions I want answered, but they all fade away as Draven carries me to his room and joins me on the bed, kissing my neck.

He presses his lips over my mouth, and I open for him, letting his tongue glide along mine. It’s slow, passionate, sensual. It’s everything I need at this moment.

Draven removes his clothing, and then he undresses me. “You take my breath away,” he whispers, before fisting his dick in his hands.

I love the fact that I’m the one who can satiate that hunger in his eyes. That thirst that cripples him. That my body is the only thing he’s craving.

I know the feeling because it’s exactly how I stare at him.

Never in my life did I think I would love someone this completely. He makes me feel every emotion in my heart.

“I need to make love to you,” he rasps, his full length entering me in one gentle push. “I need to show you how much you mean to me.”

I grip his shoulders as he moves in and out of my wetness, covering my face with kisses.

I moan out his name, wanting him to suck the blood he so badly wants. “Do it.” I lean my head to the side, offering him my vein.

He only stares at me, his strokes deepening as each second ticks by. “I want to watch you unravel before I take what I want.”

I run my fingers through his dark hair, memorizing every feature of his face.

He continues pumping his dick inside me, stretching me, filling me almost to the point of breaking. “Good girl, Allison. You’re such a good fucking wife.”

I love the way his accented voice says the words, and I feel my body building to that pivotal moment. The moment where I’ll shatter with Draven’s arms wrapped around me.

He licks a path down my neck, across my chest, until he’s hovering over a nipple. “I love your tits.” His voice is barely threadbare before he closes his mouth around it, biting and sucking until I’m coming undone. He groans, and it tips me over the edge, tumbling endlessly. Colors and shapes blind my vision as I feel my body spark.

“Yes, come for me,” he pants, holding me tightly. “Come all over me.”

“Yes,” I moan out.

He sinks his teeth into my neck, and his body picks up speed. “Let me fuck you so hard you’ll know who you belong to.” His body moves over me, his hips thrusting, and I spiral into another orgasm as Draven drinks my blood.

“Don’t stop,” I beg, but Draven knows best.

I know he won’t hurt me. I know he won’t ever drink me dry. However, I also know if I beg, he’ll drink my blood, leaving me within an inch of my life. He knows what I want, and I’m learning what he wants—me.

He hammers his dick into me. “You belong to me. Remember that.”

“I won’t forget it.” I trail my nails down his back. “I’ll always be yours.”

He sprinkles kisses along my neck, his hand trailing right behind. “Mine,” he repeats.

Our bodies collide together, both of us crashing down, our orgasms nearly splitting us in two. After our bodies relax, he holds me close. He runs his fingers through my hair, and I could honestly get used to this. I want to get used to this.

“Mmm,” I purr as he pulls my back to his front, spooning us together.

“I like this,” he says.

I snuggle my body closer to his. “I’ll have to bring you back to school with me, when I return.”

Draven says nothing, and I glance over my shoulder. “What are you thinking?” I ask.

He kisses the tip of my nose, and I snuggle back into him. “Nothing. Now go to sleep.”

An uneasy feeling seeps into my bones, unsettling me as I close my eyes. I pull Draven’s arm tighter around me, hoping I never lose this man.

“You look amazing,” Lina gushes, putting the finishing touches on the blonde waves tumbling past my shoulders.

We’ve spent the day in the guest room, taking it over and turning it into a place for us women to get ready for the ball tonight.

Stefania, in a sky-blue dress, relaxes on the white chaise lounge in the walk-in closet, smiling wide. “Draven’s going to love it.”

I stare at myself in the mirror, barely recognizing the sophisticated woman in the floor-length gown. Lina’s eyes roam over my dress down to my strappy heels.

“I have something this dress needs. You can’t say no.” She rushes out of the room.

I laugh. “Wonder what it is?” I ask Stefania, who is still staring at the door Lina left through.

“It must be something special.” Stefania stands, smoothing down her satin skirt.

“Arthur won’t know what hit him when he takes one look at you,” I say.

Stefania swats away my words with her hand as if they’re a pesky fly bothering her with untruths. “We’ve been together so long he barely notices me.”

I arch a brow at the way the blue dress hugs her soft curves. “He’ll definitely be noticing tonight.”

Lina rushes back into the room. “Here,” she says as she places a gold crown encrusted with teardrop-shaped sapphires on my head.

I touch the crown, adjusting the weight of it so it doesn’t fall off. “I can’t wear this. It’s too beautiful.” It looks authentic, and that thought makes my stomach churn with nerves that I might ruin it in some way.

“Wear it. If I know Draven, he’ll love it.”

I stare at myself in the mirror, unable to believe this isn’t a dream. “I can’t believe this is my real life.”

“It looks perfect on you,” Stefania says. “You’re a queen.”

“Thank you.” I suck in a deep breath, to calm the fluttering in my stomach.

“I’m not sure what the men are planning on doing,” she warns me. “All I know is we need to stay alert. You never know what could happen.”

Wise words. My mind races with all the possibilities of what could go wrong tonight.

Twenty-One

Draven

* * *

In a new Tom Ford tuxedo, with my hair tamed, I almost look like the kind of man who could deserve someone like Allison.

Sadly, I’m not.

I’ll never be that man, and I can’t hold her back. I have to let her live a full mortal life. One where she’s free to go to school, fall in love, and not be tied to a barbarian who dwells in darkness. A man who has no right to someone so pure. So good.

She deserves better.

They all do.

When she mentioned taking me back to Portland with her, I realized Allison isn’t meant for this life. I can’t keep her in a cage. She needs to fly.

I straighten my black bowtie in the mirror, blowing out the breath I’ve been holding since the moment I decided to tell Allison to live a life without me.

In the vampire community, she’ll remain my wife for protection, but I want her to return to Portland. I want her to resume her studies and enjoy life.

“You look like you’re thinking hard,” Viggo says as he steps into the room, wearing a black suit and bow tie that matches mine. “I’ve got your mask.”

I take the velvet mask from his outstretched hand. “Thanks. Any news on who told Bogdan?”

Viggo shakes his head. “I’m hoping Simon will be able to tell me more. He’s been following Bogdan for a while now, so he should have seen something.”

“Good, I want this problem dealt with immediately.”

Viggo nods. “It’s not Arthur.”

“You questioned him?”

“And a little more than that. Then, I questioned Stefania.”

“They’re both good?”

Viggo nods.

I was sure it had to be Arthur. Sure, I’ve known the man for about a hundred years, but how well can you truly know someone? I try to think about the people closest to me. Who could have told Bogdan?

“Want to tell me what’s on your mind?” Viggo asks, interrupting my thoughts.

I snap back to reality, not wanting to mention all of my worries, so instead I tell him what’s really on my mind. “I’m just thinking about letting Allison go.”

Viggo raises a brow. “Go where?”

“Back to her real life. Back to the States.”

Viggo narrows his eyes, obviously not believing me. “She cares about you. You don’t seriously want to rip her away from all of this, do you?”

I’m not happy with my decision, obviously, because I care about her too. More than care, which is why I must do this. “I can’t make her happy.”

Viggo slaps my shoulder. “If anyone could make her happy, it’d be you.”

I stare into Viggo’s brown eyes. “Thanks, brother, but I’m not changing my mind on this. She deserves a life away from this world. Especially with me trying to create a new governing body. I don’t know. It’s just too much.”

“I think she should get to decide for herself, don’t you?”

Viggo’s right. But I know she’d pick me, and it's not what’s best for her. Sometimes you must sacrifice the things you want most for the greater good. Once everything has been handled with Bogdan, then she’ll have nothing to fear and can live her life peacefully.

The guests are arriving, so I tell Viggo we’ll talk about it later and we head toward the outdoor pavilion where the party is being held. I put my mask in place, tying the ribbon at the back of my head.

Viggo opens the French doors and as we step out, I spot Allison near the dance floor.

She’s breathtaking, dressed all in black with a black-feathered mask that adorns her beautiful face. I can’t tear my eyes away from her flowing blonde hair and the crown that sits atop her head. It’s the Blackmoor crown, and seeing it there makes me proud. However, that feeling fades quickly.

“You love her,” Viggo whispers to me.

“Obviously,” I admit. “But sometimes love isn’t enough.” I move through the crowd, shaking hands and saying hello to people as I pass them, not really paying attention as I make my way to the only person who matters in the world.

“Draven, this party is spectacular.” Allison beams, her blue eyes sparkling, and it slays my cold-dead heart.

“You’re spectacular.” I give a chin lift to the crown. “It looks good on you.”

She raises her hand to touch it. “I can’t believe this is my life.”

My heart drops at her words, knowing very well that this shouldn’t be her life. None of this should.

She should be out with her college friends. Studying over her classes late in the library like she loves to do. Having a life that isn’t always bogged down with danger and demons.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, clearly sensing my mood.

I fake a smile, not wanting to ruin her night before it’s even started. “Nothing. Everything is fine. Should we mingle?”

She parks a hand on her hip. “Not until you tell me what’s going on. You’ve got your serious face on.”

I laugh a little. “My what?”

“Your serious face. Like when you have bad news or something.”

I glance at the guests chatting around us and twine our fingers together as I lead her to a more secluded area. “We need to discuss something first,” I tell her, bringing her into a small alcove off the side entrance.

“What is it?” she asks, her eyes as big as gumdrops.

“Allison, I don’t want to hold you back. As soon as I take down Bogdan and start a council to govern the vampire community, you’ll be safe to lead a normal life. We won’t have to pretend anymore.”

Her blue eyes narrow. “Pretend? Is that what you’ve been doing? Pretending?”

I blink. I want this woman to know how much I care about her, but a part of me wonders if I should let her believe I was pretending the whole time for her own good.

She hits my arm. “Answer me.” Tears fill her eyes, threatening to spill over and finish me off.

“I wasn’t pretending,” I tell her, my body cracking in two, feeling the full weight of what I’m telling her, wondering if I should retract it all and its implications. I cup her face in my hands, bringing her lips within an inch of my face. “I wasn’t.” I crash my lips to hers, begging for the forgiveness I don’t deserve, but she gives me none.

She pushes me away. “I know what you’re trying to do. You think I don’t want this life. Well, you’re wrong. I love this life. I love you.”

I kiss her once more, savoring her taste, memorizing it. Trying my best to never fucking forget the way she melts into me every time I touch her. When I break the kiss, it’s like realization has dawned on us that nothing will ever be the same.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her, not really sure what I’m apologizing for.

Maybe all of it. The whole damn thing. Sending Simon out to find her, bringing her here and making her my wife, putting her life in danger… take your pick.

“After tonight, you’ll return to Portland.”

The tears that have been threatening to fall finally land on her cheeks. I brush them away, but she shoves at my hand.

“Why are you sending me away?”

“Because I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve any happiness.”

Her eyes grow bigger as she wraps her arms around my chest. “No. How could you ever think that?” She leans out of my embrace, her eyes seeking mine. “Tell me why you think you don’t deserve happiness.”

I glance over her shoulder, making sure we’re alone. “I’ve done terrible things in my life. Something that can never be forgiven. Something I’m hoping you can change for me.”

She steps out of my embrace. “What did you do?”

I take a few moments to gather my thoughts. Gather my feelings. I suck in a deep breath, letting it out slowly, memorizing every curve of her face. The soft sprinkle of freckles that race across her nose, the slight dimple she has in her right cheek. I notice it. But I can’t find the words to tell her what I need her to undo.

“It’s for the best you return to your life, after tonight,” is all I say.

Tears stream down her cheeks. “So that’s it? You’re just going to throw me away because you’re too stubborn to love me?”

“I’m sorry,” I breathe out.

“I need to be alone.” She darts off and the crown atop her head comes crashing down to the ground at my feet.

I pick it up, looking at the gold, cursing the God that would ever allow something like this to happen to one of his lambs.

I guess I’m the sacrificial lamb, never happy because I don’t deserve that love. I don’t deserve her.

I watch as she runs away from the party, wanting so badly to go after her, knowing I can’t ever give her what she needs.

But fuck.

I can’t let things end this way.

My feet follow her inside and when she rounds the corner by the kitchen, heading down the corridor, I leap and land in front of her. “Don’t leave like this.”

She cries, hitting me in the chest. “I hate you for doing this to me, Draven.”

“No, you don’t.” I take her hand and continue down the wide hallway that leads to my office on the first floor. “I’m not letting this end on a bad note.”

Within minutes, I have her in my office and on my desk, spreading her legs before me.

“No, Draven,” she whimpers, the tears finally stopping.

“I won’t let you leave here until you’ve forgiven me. Let me make this up to you by licking your sweet pussy until you come all over my tongue.”

“Draven, please don’t leave me.”

I don’t answer as I push up the material of her dark dress and dive underneath, searching for her panties. She’s already so wet for me.

I push her thighs apart, ripping the panties she wears from her body. I run my tongue through her wetness, and her fingers coil through my hair, tugging the strands, pushing my face closer to her sultry heat. My emotions are all over the place, pleading with my sanity to keep Allison close to me forever. I can change her. I can make her like me, the devil in my mind says.

She squeezes her legs around me, her body so close to unraveling before my eyes.

I push my tongue along her clit, sucking her everywhere. Right before she comes, I replace my tongue with my fingers and bite into the flesh of her left thigh. She screams out her pleasure and pain, and I swallow it all up. The blood enters my system, and already my mind has succumbed to the sensation of what her blood does to me.

Drunk.

Possessed.

Fucking insane with love.

I’m consumed by each sound she makes, stroking my fingers further inside her to get her to make more of them. She turns me on in the simplest of ways. The way her fingers grip me. The way she moans my name. The fucking smell of her arousal coursing through her veins.

Everything about this woman is perfection, and I don’t get to fucking keep her. She’ll never end up with someone who loves her more than me.

But hopefully, she will find someone she loves more than she loves me.

Because she deserves to know love.

My cock swells as her orgasm nears. I’m so turned on I can barely contain myself. I can barely handle the way her pussy moves against my face.

Her orgasm hits her fast and hard. She can barely breathe as I stop sucking her blood and move back to her pussy to give it all the attention it needs.

Her body rides wave after wave, never slowing down as she bucks beneath me. I stop for a moment just to appreciate the pure beauty of her.

As soon as her body has calmed, I lower her dress and pick up her lace panties, bringing them to my nose and inhaling the scent.

“Fucking amazing,” I say as I slide the ripped material into my tuxedo pants pocket.

“You can’t keep those in there.” She points to my pocket and smiles, like what we just did erased all the words I said earlier.

I hate it isn’t true.

“I can, and I will keep these panties forever. As a reminder of you.”

Her eyes well with tears as I kiss her temple. “Not that I’ll ever be able to forget you.”

She blinks at me, like she can’t believe the audacity I possess. I can’t believe it either. “As you wish.” She walks toward the door, head held high. “Let’s give everyone a good show tonight. Since that’s what you like to do.”

And then she slams the door.

The room shrinks around me to coffin-size as I stare at the wood, already feeling the emptiness without her. I can still taste her on my lips. I can still feel her in my soul. The memory of her will never leave.

It’s for the best, I remind myself.

Twenty-Two

Allison

* * *

I spot Simon as soon as I return to the ballroom. I smile. He smiles back. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my friend. We find a corner of the party where ears can’t overhear what I’m about to say. The night is young, the stars just barely making their appearance, and still, my soul feels Draven everywhere. I still won’t accept the fact he wants me to return to my life in Portland.

Being in Oregon feels like a million years ago.

I’m a completely different person than when I arrived. I’ve blossomed into a woman. A ravenous woman with a husband who can fulfill all my needs in the most wicked of ways.

“Draven wants to send me back to Portland,” I say.

Simon brightens like it’s a wonderful idea. “That’s great news. I’m so sorry I brought you here in the first place. I’m sorry you had to marry him.”

Simon doesn’t know I’ve fallen madly in love with his uncle, so I can’t fault him for the pleased expression on his face.

“I love him,” I whisper, tears threatening to drown me.

Simon blows out a breath. “Does he love you?”

“I think so.”

“But you don’t know for sure.”

I drop my head. “No.”

“My uncle doesn’t do love, Allison. I think if anything you should go back to Portland where you can be safe.

“He says I deserve a normal life.”

“He’s right. This life is no place for someone like you.”

“Someone like me? You all treat me like I’m some fragile flower. I’m a part of this world, whether you all like it, or not.”

I’m not sure what I expected from Simon. Maybe I expected him to be a friend and take my side, but I should have known he would never go against his uncle. Against his king.

I stalk away, heading back to the party, leaving Simon standing there watching after me. Why is everyone I know failing me right now? Near the back of the garden, I see Draven moving across the stage toward the microphone. As he stands there, he emanates power from his persona.

He’s majestic, commanding their attention as their king.

I weave through the crowd and watch from the perimeter. All that thick dark hair rumpled on his head from my hands. The fullness of his lips. The thick lashes around his dark eyes. His tall, lean body. I want to tell him to take me again, but harder than before. I want him to have me in the worst of ways. If he’s going to throw me away afterward, then I want him to fuck me one last time. I want to be his just once more.

A soft smile forms on his lips when he spots me, but his eyes burn me with their heat as if he knows what I’m thinking.

“You’re so fucking beautiful when you’re needy for me to fuck your little hot cunt with my cock,” he says for only me to hear.

I close my eyes, my face flushing with a blazing heat I can’t control. “I need you,” I say in my mind, not even sure if he can hear me.

“I know what you need.”

My eyes fly open, staring at him. “Did you hear me?” I ask him in my mind.

“Yes,” he replies.

I don’t understand how we’re able to talk to one another this way, but it has to be my powers progressing.

“And just what do you think I need?” I ask him back as he waits for the crowd to die down before he speaks. Or maybe he’s waiting for our conversation to end first.

“You need my rough hands all over your body. You need me to fuck you hard and fast, own you in every way possible, so when you go back home, you’ll never forget me.”

I’m dripping. “I could never forget you.”

Something flashes in his eyes at my words, and I’m so turned on, but the crowd is now silent, waiting for him to address them. As he speaks, I fixate on his every movement, memorizing every curve of his lips. Every sound he makes.

“I’m glad you were all able to make it here tonight,” he says, turning his attention to the crowd before him. “I hope you’re enjoying yourselves. I know there’s been chaos and confusion for many years. An unrest between the clans. I want to end all of that tonight. I want to start a governing body, a council, to help keep peace and order within the vampire community.”

The crowd erupts into cheers again.

I bite my lower lip, wondering if Bogdan will appear at the mention of the council he so desperately doesn’t want. He wants to remain savage in his ways, disrupting the perfect order of the vampires. He doesn’t like rules, and this much is obvious, he doesn’t like me. I’m a threat to his way of life. To his rule.

“What about the other clans?” a man near the front of the stage asks.

“Well,” Draven says, “I’d like to unite all the clans and, for the first time in our history, have peace and harmony.” Draven takes the microphone from the stand and carries it across the stage to a man standing there. “Does everyone know Grander?”

A few people nod and murmur their affirmations.

“Grander put a lot of worry on the community by killing a mortal. We need laws in place. We can’t go around killing mortals and drawing attention to ourselves. The police say the killing is unlike anything they’ve seen before, and they’ve enlisted the help of the FBI… which is bad for us.”

You could hear a pin drop as he continues speaking.

“Imagine if the mortals found out about us? They’d start small, kidnapping us to test in labs. Then, when they’ve tested all they could, they’d probably wipe the world of us. Who wants that?”

The crowd is right there with him, shouting and agreeing with every word that falls from his lips.

He explains a few more specifics of the council, like voting rights and other logistics, as I watch the crowd.

“Please, enjoy the rest of the ball, and we’ll continue this discussion soon. Just know that the council is now in order, and I’m its sole leader until I find others to rule with me.”

I step away from the crowd as Draven finishes his speech. I’m so unsure of everything right now, not wanting to return home to Portland. God. I don’t want to see my parents' disapproval once again.

I wander around aimlessly, ending up back in the house, drifting like a tumbleweed through the rooms, just wanting to escape the eyes on me. In the hallway, Draven’s voice sounds behind me. “There you are. I’ve been looking for you.” I stop in my tracks. He saunters toward me like a black panther and brings my hand to his lips, speaking over my knuckles. “I’m here to give you what you need.”

There’s zero question about what he means.

He’s here for one last fucking.

The final fuck. And now my body isn’t sure it can handle it. Or if it even wants to.

Because I don’t want some final farewell fuck with Draven.

No, I want him to have and to hold me forever, like our vows promised.

“I don’t want to go home,” I tell him, hoping it’s the last time I say it. “This is my home.”

He takes a hand through his dark tresses. “Allison, this is no life for you.”

“Says you.”

He pulls me into a bathroom and locks the door behind him.

The party roars a few feet from where we are, and Draven closes in on me, eliminating all the air from the tiny room. I can’t breathe when he stares at me like I’m prey to ravage.

“If you’re going to treat me like a whore and throw me away, then I want you to fuck me like one,” I say.

“Allison.” A muscle ticks in his jaw and then he moves in, lifting me onto the marble counter. His hands roam everywhere underneath the slit of my dress, pushing my thighs apart. “You want me to fuck you like a dirty girl?”

I meet his hungry gaze. “Yes.”

“You want me to fuck you hard? Fast? Filthy?” His mouth hovers over mine, and then he nips my lips, kissing me once. “You want it like that?”

“Yes, more than anything. I want to be your filthy slut.”

“My filthy slut?”

I’m soaked as I thrust my hips, begging for some sort of friction to relieve the ache. “Yes, only yours,” I whisper as he pushes a finger deep inside.

“That’s right. Only I can fuck this little pussy of yours. No one else will ever give it to you as good as me.”

“I know,” I tell him, wondering why he wants to punish me by sending me away.

The air sizzles around us, and he plunges another finger inside me, working my clit with the heel of his hand. “Fuck my hand,” he tells me. “I’ll never be able to get enough of my little slut.”

I try not to think about the future. Only now. Only right here in this bathroom, as he fucks me with his powerful hand. His rough hand that works me over, giving my body life.

“I’m so close,” I tell him.

“I know how close you are. I know this body. I own this body. You’re mine, Allison. You’re my whore,” he tells me, and I squeeze my eyes shut, my head falling back against the mirror.

“Then fuck me like it,” I tell him, wanting it all. “Don’t hold back.”

I want to feel it all. All the pleasure. And all the pain. All of him.

Twenty-Three

Draven

* * *

Allison doesn’t know what she’s asking for when she begs me not to hold back. It’s not like I’ve really held back anything before now, but just her words… Damn, they have my cock so fucking hard.

Having her play like she’s my slut turns me on, but I’d never think of her that way.

She’s not a slut. She’s my queen who needs to be fucked hard and good before she returns to her normal life.

I need this right fucking now. I need to not think of a nation ready to wage war against me as I take Allison’s body and bend it to my will.

“Don’t be gentle. I want it to hurt,” she tells me, and I lean my forehead against hers.

“I will never hurt you, Allison. Fuck,” I say, feeling the walls of her pussy grip my fingers. “That’s right, baby. Come for your master. Come for me, you dirty slut.”

She moans long and hard, and I place a hand over her mouth as she grows louder.

“No,” I stare into her crystal blue eyes. “Your sounds when I’m making you come are only for me to hear, no one else. Understood?”

She nods, her body arching as she comes on my fingers. She’s the most beautiful creature when her release slams into her.

I watch her, fascinated by the flush on her cheeks, the way she bites her lip. “You’re so fucking pretty when you come just for me.”

I unzip my pants, pulling my steel cock out, stroking the thickness. “That’s right, baby. You want to be a slut, then I’ll fuck you like one.”

“Do it,” she urges, her voice raw with desire.

I rub the head of my dick through her wetness, and she shudders at the contact, damn near bringing me to my demise.

Fuck, this woman.

She thinks I own her, but does she know that she completely owns my fucking soul?

I tease her opening, loving the way she mewls. “You want every single inch of this thick cock?” I ask her, her lips so close to my own.

She licks her ruby lips. “Yes, please.”

I thrust my hips forward, pushing my heavy cock inside her, my knees nearly buckling from the feel of her tight pussy. “Goddamn you feel so fucking good. Your cunt is dripping. Just like the little slut you are.”

“More, Draven,” she whispers, her body trembling.

“You like being fucked by your master? By your husband?”

She moans. “Yes.”

“I know you do, baby.” I lean my forehead once more against hers, wondering if she knows how she’s ruining me for the rest of my existence. Because I can never get over her. I’ll never stop thinking about her day in and day out, living in my own tortured hell.

But I deserve it.

I will own my punishment like the man I am and do the right thing by her.

I grab her ass, driving in and out like the beast I am.

Her pussy pulsates around me, and… Fuck.

“Allison, what are you doing to me?” I murmur against the shell of her ear, wondering how I’ll survive the absence of her.

Her fingers tug at my hair. “Love me, Draven. Please, just love me enough.”

I grip her hips harder, tighter, my cock so heavy with lust. So needy with the desire to come. To confess that she owns me. That I’d do anything for her. That I do love her.

That thought wages war on my psyche as I keep fucking her, moving in and out.

I want to tell her if enough is here on Earth, then I’ll love her through heaven and hell as well. I’ll love her for eternity because that’s how long my heart will beat for only her.

She moans through her orgasm, and I hold her close through the whole damn thing, feeling each quake of her bones, nipping at her collarbone as her body goes straight from one orgasm into another.

“Keep coming all over me. Keep showing me how good I give it to you.”

“It feels so good.”

“This cock fucks you so good, huh? You want more?”

She tugs me closer, deeper inside of her. “Yes.”

“Take it. Show me how much of it you can handle.”

She bites my earlobe as I keep hammering inside her, ready to come deep. “Draven,” she calls out, loud enough for the whole world to hear, and I no longer care.

I don’t care if everyone at the party can hear her cries. They’ll all know how well I’ve fucked her. How good I give, and how much better she takes.

I wish this could last forever. That I could keep her for the rest of my endless life.

Her chest heaves, and I run my fingers through her hair, slamming my lips to hers.

“I own your orgasms. I own your cunt. I own you,” I repeat to her, over and over as I follow the path to heaven with her, grunting through my own orgasm, letting her tight pussy milk my cock dry.

“You own me,” she says, hands on my cheeks, right before she lays a kiss on me so gently I shatter to pieces as I kiss her back, showing her without any doubt she owns me too.

However, I never say the words.

“You think you can lead this community to new heights?” Leonard asks, joining me by the bar.

I hated leaving Allison after our romp in the bathroom, but it’s a fragile time for my clan, and I need to show dominance in all things.

“Yes.” I tell him how the new council will work. Basically, we won’t have to live in fear another clan will ruin things for us. If word ever got out that vampires exist, it would create havoc for our kind. We can’t allow that to happen. There must be rules. Civilized structure.

I scan the crowd, trying to locate Allison. Moments before Leonard arrived to speak with me, she was chatting with Lina and Stefania. Now, she’s nowhere around.

Lina chats with a brunette woman and Stefania is on the other side of the room, speaking to her husband, Arthur.

“Where are you?” I ask her mind.

I wait for her to answer, but she doesn’t. Dread settles in my gut, and I excuse myself from Leonard. There is no shimmering blonde hair in sight as I move throughout the party, looking for my wife.

“Have you seen Allison?” I ask Arthur.

He appears perplexed. “No, not for a while. Is she missing?” He sets his drink down on a nearby table, ready to begin looking if I demand it.

“I’m not sure.” I speak to Allison’s mind once again, asking her where she is. “I can’t find her, and she’s not answering.”

“Answering?” Arthur gives me a questioning look.

I shake my head. “Help me look for her. Find Viggo. He can help too.”

Arthur follows me through the crowd, heading toward Lina.

“Have you seen Allison?” I ask Lina, worry crawling like ants across my skin.

“No, I was talking to her earlier,” Lina says, glancing around. “Everything ok?”

“Not sure.”

Within a few minutes, I’ve gathered a search party.

And that’s when I spot her mask and crown on the ground at the side of the castle.

“Allison, please answer me.”

Twenty-Four

Allison

* * *

I feel like I’ve slept for a million years. It’s cold, and my head throbs as I try to open my eyes. The pain in my head won’t allow it. A low hum plays in my ears, and I try to locate the sound. It reminds me of when I was a child and sat on the couch reading while the soft hum of the air conditioner floated through the air.

Life was simple then.

Something says who over and over again. The fog in my head clears, and I realize it’s an owl.

My eyes open like slits, assessing my location. I can’t remember what happened before I fell asleep. The ground is hard beneath me, and I spy the moon resting in the sky, looking down at me, telling me something isn’t quite right.

I try to sit up, but the moon wobbles in the sky, so I lie back down, closing my eyes, and try to gain my bearings.

Pine needles prick my skin.

I’m in the forest.

Images flash behind my closed lids.

A masquerade ball.

Draven.

Where is he?

“Draven,” I whisper, speaking to his mind.

“Allison, where are you?” His deep voice is panicked, rolling around inside my head. “Tell me now.”

My eyes finally open, and I look around to get any clues to where I am. I bolt upright, ignoring the pain in my head.

“The forest,” I answer back. “But I don’t know where.” I glance around. “I heard a humming noise. I think it’s a stream.”

“I know where you are. Sit tight.”

Relief floods my system. Draven knows where to find me. But how did I get here? A fuzzy image of the party forms. I was talking to Stefania and Lina and left them to grab something to drink. Someone came up behind me, and then it’s blank.

My mind is a black void.

Footsteps approach, and I smile, expecting to see Draven, but instead of ink-colored hair, I see blond.

“Simon, thank god,” I whisper-yell, unsure if whoever did this to me is lurking nearby. “Dra—”

“You’re awake,” he cuts me off, before I can tell him Draven is on his way. “I didn’t mean to hit you quite so hard.”

My brows squish together. “You did this? Why?”

However, he doesn’t answer because Draven drops from the sky, landing in front of me, like a dark angel, shielding my body. “Simon, we have to move fast,” he says.

“It was Simon,” I say into his mind.

Draven blinks and tips his head to the side, as if he doesn’t want to believe what I just told him.

“She’s not leaving right now,” Simon tells him.

“What’s going on?” Draven turns in slow motion. “Of course, she’s leaving.”

“You’re not changing me back to get rid of your guilt for what you did,” Simon yells.

Draven flinches.

“What are you talking about, Simon?” I push myself to standing.

“You haven’t told her your grand plan, Uncle?”

Draven’s eyes dart to mine.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say, giving Draven a sidelong glance.

Simon laughs, bitter and hollow. “Well, then let me explain it to you.”

“Simon—” Draven starts, but Simon cuts him off.

“No,” Simon shouts, “I refuse to do your bidding.”

“Someone tell me what’s going on,” I say. “Please.”

“Yes, tell her,” Simon grits out.

Draven turns to me with vacant eyes. “After I became a vampire, I had an insatiable hunger. I was starving and couldn’t figure out what I needed. It wasn’t until I returned home and saw Leonardo that I knew I needed his blood to cure the ache.”

“Who’s Leonardo?” I ask, feeling a tightening in my chest.

Draven swallows hard. “Lina’s husband. Simon’s father. He was working in the field, and I found him there. I attacked.” I cover my mouth as he casts his gaze to the ground and tells how he drank him dry. “I… I killed him. I couldn’t understand what had happened to me.”

My heart pumps at an alarming rate as he looks up at the heavens and screams his anguish at a God who abandoned him. “Lina found me over his body.” A tear glistens on his cheek. “I attacked her, sucking her blood but just before she was drained dry I came to my senses and stopped. But it was too late. It changed her. Into a savage like me.”

I can barely find my voice, witnessing the anguish on Draven’s face. “And Simon?”

“I changed him too,” he whispers. “I didn’t want Lina to live an eternity without her son.”

“And you want me to use my power to change them back.”

He nods, and my blood runs cold.

“But not you?”

“No. It will take eternity to pay back my sins,” he whispers.

I go to him, cradling his face in my palms. “Draven, none of that is your fault. You didn’t know. I’ll change them back, but you don’t deserve a life alone. You deserve a life full of all the wonders you can imagine.”

“Well, there’s one little problem,” Simon sneers. “I don’t want to be human.” His gaze lands on Draven, and for a moment, regret settles in his eyes. “So… I’ve made sure you can’t do that.”

I immediately recoil as Bogdan and a few men march toward me. Draven swoops out his arm, pushing me behind him. Rao is at the rear of the pack, and I grip Draven’s jacket when they step closer. All of them hold weapons, and I see the onyx-tipped arrows on the end of the crossbows in their hands.

“God at the family drama,” Bogdan says, filling up the entire space with his disdain.

“At least we have family,” I sass back.

“Let’s kill her,” Rao sneers, coming to stand next to Bogdan. “And then, let’s suck her dry.”

“Kill her?” Simon balks. “That’s not what you promised.”

Draven stiffens. “What did you do, Simon?”

Simon’s uncertain gaze bounces around the group of men back to Draven. “I… was tired of you bossing me around, treating me like I have no say in whether she makes me mortal. I’m over two centuries old. I’m not a child.”

Draven shakes his head. “I was protecting you. I’ve always looked out for you. You’re my family.”

“You were looking out for yourself. Your stupid council. For her.” Simon points at me. “I knew she’d do it for you, whether or not I wanted it. So when Rao said he had a way to stop her powers, I… set him free.”

“Fuck,” Draven mutters.

“Well, looks like Rao lied to you, fella,” Bogdan says. “You should really listen to your elders. It’s a hard lesson to learn, isn’t it? Not that I care about your mental well-being. I’m glad you’re so naive you believed it.” He aims his weapon at me, my forehead in the crosshairs of his arrow.

“Draven can’t save you now,” Rao says to me. “What? You think they wouldn’t turn me back into a vampire?”

“If I’m being honest, I don’t care.” I take a step back, hitting the tree trunk behind me. “It shows how stupid they were to turn you back.”

Rao’s eyes narrow. “Let me kill her,” he begs.

“No, we need her.” Bogdan tries to negotiate with him. “Don’t you see the value in what she can do?”

“Not really,” Rao sneers.

Rao bobs his head. “Stay back from her.” He looks at me like I’m a disgusting rat he never meant to touch. “I still think we should kill her. Cut the loose ends.”

“This ends tonight,” Draven says, low and so full of certainty a chill passes over me.

“Yes, it does.” Bogdan looks gleeful, like he can’t wait to rip Draven’s head off. I have no idea what Draven plans on doing to get us out of here when he’s outnumbered by these snakes waiting to strike, so I try to harness my power, call on the light, so I can battle the enemies all on my own.

But nothing happens.

Bogdan pushes Simon back, moving toward Draven, like he’s bored with their conversation. “Why would we want order?” Bogdan asks, holding a crossbow in his hands. “Why would we ever want a council that punishes us for being who we are? We’re vampires. We kill and feast on the blood of mortals.”

Draven inches closer. “You’re wrong. We need order to keep our kind alive.”

“How do you plan to keep that order? By using your secret weapon if people disobey?” Bogdan inclines his chin toward me. “Don’t think I don’t know what she is.”

“She’s my wife. I’d never use her like that.”

The forest fills with laughter at Draven’s words.

“We know the wedding was a sham,” Rao says. “Obviously.” He waves his hand to Simon, and I hate him for spilling all of our secrets.

Draven speaks up, his voice louder than I’ve ever heard him. “It wasn’t a sham. I love her.”

His words enter my ears, travel through my bloodstream, straight to my heart, where they cause it to beat only for him. A tingle starts in my wrist and spreads through my palm. And then things happen so fast, I’m frozen in place. Draven lunges at Bogdan, going for his weapon.

They tackle each other to the ground, and I watch in horror as Draven and Bogdan fight one another. I scream, trying to get closer to Bogdan so I can change him into a mortal, but with them tangled together, I can’t get any closer.

Simon tries to help Draven, but Rao grabs him, restraining him.

Bogdan rolls out of Draven’s hold and regains control of his weapon, pointing it at me. “I think you’re more trouble than your worth.” He squeezes the trigger, and things seem to happen in slow motion.

The arrow zooms toward me, and my heart slows to an intermittent thump in my ears.

“No,” Draven shouts.

Before it hits, Draven, my beautiful vampire, my savior, leaps in the way, taking the arrow to his own chest.

He falls to the ground.

Our eyes meet.

One last time.

I see the love in his dark eyes. I feel it. I can’t lose it.

Tears fall like rain as I drop to my knees, cradling his head in my lap. “Please no,” I beg. “Please stay with me.”

His dark eyes flutter closed, and then he’s gone.

Just like that.

No goodbye.

No nothing.

I try to pull the arrow from his chest, but the damn thing won’t budge.

Simon drops beside me, placing his hand over mine, helping me tug at the spear lodged in Draven’s chest. “No. I never meant for this to happen. I’m so sorry,” he says over and over.

My heart turns to stone, forged by hatred for the man who shot Draven. A light emanates from my chest, so bright and blinding I close my eyes.

Every emotion raging through me amplifies and expands, threatening to rip open my body and seek revenge.

“Allison. Allison,” a voice chants.

I open my eyes. Bogdan and his men lie dead at my feet, and I realize it was me that killed them. My power wiped them out.

Good.

Lina gasps when she sees her brother in my hands, and Simon draped across his chest, crying.

She rushes over, kneeling to the ground. “No,” she whispers. “What happened?”

I shake my head, tears streaming down my face. No words form on my lips. Because if I don’t speak it, maybe it isn’t true.

Arthur and Viggo assess the bodies, and I hold Draven in my arms, rocking him back and forth, begging him not to leave me.

Viggo grabs Simon as he cries his apologies. Arthur takes care of disposing of Bogdan’s body and the bodies of his men.

I stare at Lina, her eyes filled with tears like mine. I’m not sure how to reveal Simon’s betrayal of her brother. Not wanting to tell her any of it.

This can’t be the end of us.

It just can’t be.

I rock Draven in my arms, my tears dripping onto him.

I can’t lose him.

I can’t lose this.

I just can’t.

Epilogue

3 Months Later

* * *

“Allison, will you stay after class?” Professor Huggins calls out, just after she dismisses everyone.

I sigh, but nod, shoving my textbook into my bookbag. She smiles as I stalk to her desk, my hair shadowing my face.

“I loved your paper on vampires,” she starts. “Great work.”

“Thank you for letting me make up the course.”

She shoos away my gratitude. “Your paper was top-notch. I especially love the part where you mention if vampires were real, they’d be just like mortals. They’d seek privacy and want order.”

I nod, knowing I can’t tell her I have firsthand knowledge on the subject. “It seems plausible,” I say, like it’s a theory, not a fact.

“I found the last lines particularly moving.” She holds the paper and reads the words aloud. “If vampires were among us, I think they’d crave true love, just like mortals. And if they ever found it, their cold-dead heart would beat once more.”

“I’m glad you liked it.”

She hands me the paper, and returns to her desk. “See you tomorrow.”

I stuff the A paper into my backpack and head out the door into warm sunshine and fall colors.

Campus at this time of year is a beautiful thing.

A gold leaf falls from a tree, and I crunch it under my foot, listening to the crackle of it dying. There was a time when I never noticed little things like the leaves changing on the trees. How blue the sky is against the puffy white clouds. How the crisp air feels on my cheeks.

I pass the library where I used to spend my nights hidden away, instead of living. I still study now, don’t get me wrong, but the trip to Romania opened my eyes to the fact life is quick. It’s short, and you have to enjoy every trivial thing.

Spending time with friends.

Skipping class occasionally to watch the sunset.

Moving into an apartment off campus with a view of the mountains.

Finding the love of a man who’s crazy about you.

“How was class?” a voice says from behind me as I enter the living room of my apartment.

I spin around. “It was great. Got an A on my paper.” I wiggle my hips.

“Well, I would hope so. You spent three weeks just writing the damn thing.” Draven’s eyes smolder as they roam over my body. “I’ve missed you,” he says. “It’s been three hours since I last had you.”

I laugh. “You’re always ravenous,” I tell him. “And I love you.”

Draven wraps his arms around my waist, tugging me closer to him. “You know what else I’m ravenous for?”

I smile. “Let me guess… you want pizza again.”

“You must be psychic.” He leads me to the kitchen where a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza sits atop the granite countertop. “You just don’t understand. We never had pizza in the 18th century. All this time I’ve been missing this yummy amazingness.”

I laugh at Draven’s words. “Ever had blueberry pie?”

“No, never. Is it better than pizza?”

“It’s even better than sex.” I kiss his cheek, and he backs up.

“Whoa, there’s nothing better than that.” He scoops me into his arms, taking me over to the couch.

It’s been a remarkably busy three months since I killed Bogdan. Many people couldn’t understand how my power could kill another being, when it was meant to restore life to the undead, and the only thing I could come up with is that I was consumed with hate.

That emotion filled my heart, emanating outward, hurting everyone I loathed in its path. I’ve never felt hate to that degree, or that emotionally before, but Draven was dead in my arms, and I couldn’t breathe.

I held Draven, rocking him back and forth, for what felt like hours. Arthur, Viggo, even Lina, tried to get me to stop, to accept that Draven was really gone. But I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.

Then, something magnificent happened. Something I can barely even explain myself. My true love saved him. Brought his cold-dead heart back to life.

“Do you ever miss it?” I ask Draven as he trails kisses down my neck.

“Miss what?” He looks up at me and tucks a stray strand of hair behind my ear.

“Being immortal. Not having your powers.” I take in the flush of color on his golden cheeks. “Not being a vampire?”

He stares into my eyes, and my heart swells like it does every time he stares at me. “Allison, you’re my life. Anywhere you are, I want to be. You brought me back to life. I forgot what it was like to feel this way. So alive. So full of breath. I don’t miss any of it.”

I grip each side of his face in my hands, moving us to where I’m straddling his lap. “Not even a little?” I want to make sure he has no regrets. It’d be easy to have someone turn him back, but after that night, he told his family he didn’t want to be a vampire anymore.

He wanted to live a full life with me.

Shortly after everything happened, Lina met a mortal man, and had me change her too. She was still so upset with her son that she said she wanted to live a mortal life with the love of her life. His name is Daniel, an accountant, and they’re sweet together. Looks like she’ll finally get to wear one of those wedding dresses she hoarded.

Viggo ended up staying behind, setting up the council Draven constructed. After a long debate, and many countless hours of anguish, Draven set his guilt and Simon free. Simon swore never to hurt another living soul, and now he works with Viggo.

Draven pulls me close. “Are you asking me if I miss the vampire sex?”

I blush as my body comes alive in his hands. “No,” I say with a light giggle.

“Are you saying I can’t satisfy you now?”

I give him a playful nudge on his shoulder. “Oh, my god. No, Draven. You’re perfect.”

He really is. Even my mom thinks so. Like I said, it’s been a busy three months. Part of that was introducing Draven to my family and letting them know I’m in love.

Everything is perfect with him, and the sex just keeps getting better and better.

Case in point, Draven leans closer, capturing my lips with his mouth, tangling his tongue with mine. I grind myself against his lap, feeling his hardness growing. Before I can even finish my moan, he has me flipped onto my back. He pulls my jeans down my legs, discarding them over his shoulder.

“After this, we’ll order another pizza.” He tugs off his Dracula t-shirt. “Right now, I need to own you.”

“You already do.”

And he does own every part of me, forever and ever. As long as we both shall live. What started as an illogical love affair is the most logical thing in my life.

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