Prince of Blood – Capter I

Loves, as you know, I’m constantly working on a new book, and right now I’m deep into the one for February–book 3 of the Dracula’s Bloodline series, Prince of Blood. I’m very excited about this book, and I thought I’d share the cover and the first chapter with you guys. Let me know what you think. First, here’s what the book is about:

anagratiu_ebook (1)

Dracula exists.

For centuries he’s been lurking in the underworld, searching for the one woman whose blood can make him invincible—Dracula’s Grail.

Bad things happen to the men who date librarian Ruxandra Len, as if she’s cursed. If she’s ever to at least lose her virginity, she needs to find out why. Through a scholar interested in her curse, she learns that her bloodline connects to the legend of Dracula. Intrigued, she travels to the Carpathians to learn more about him. But what she finds is a truth darker than legend.

The Prince of Blood fascinates Rux. His dark energy weaves a web of enchantment around her, making her crave him like a drug. But just as the Dark Lord thinks she’s ready to surrender her blood, the deepest shadow of her past emerges. Can Vlad Dracula defeat an even older, darker legend, and protect the woman who means the world to him in more ways than he likes to admit?

 

CHAPTER I

Rux

 

I have a stalker. Not the kind to send flowers, chocolate, or even dick pics. No, he sends my dates skidding under speeding buses, or slipping on tiles and cracking their skulls in the men’s room. Wanna date me? Might as well watch Final Destination just to warm up.

He’s a shadow. A curse. Kept me a hormone-raging virgin to date—I’m twenty-three. But, no matter how many men this curse puts in the hospital, there’s always a new guy eager to dare the fates. Today, as I do my hair and prepare for work, one of them goes wild.

‘I can meet you anywhere.’

Bling.

‘Shall I pick you up from work?’

Bling.

‘Or we can meet for lunch at the cafeteria.’

Bling.

‘Why don’t you text me back?’

Bling-bling-bling as his texts hit my cell, the display flashing on the bed until I pick it up. A glance at the guy’s profile pic that appears along with the text shows a long face, baldhead, big nerd glasses. He looks like a middle-aged science freak with mental issues. Half as bad as the leather jackets and tattoos, but I still block him.

I swing my purse on my shoulder and close the door behind me.

Half an hour later, on campus, the elevator opens at the library level, leaving me a corridor away from my workplace. A smile along with the occasional nod is my default response to greetings—most students know Miss Len from the library, and they think I must have taken special notice of them, too. I didn’t. No, believe me, I do like people, and I love the vibe of campus life, but I try to avoid close contact. It drains me.

Carrying a mocha to go in one hand, I’m groping in my purse for my staff card when I see him. The guy from the profile picture is standing right in front of the library doors where I can’t avoid him. I stop in my tracks, my jaw clenching.

Tall and willowy, he looks nervously left and right, pushing his thick-framed glasses up his nose. When he spots me he stiffens and clutches his briefcase like a shield to his chest, sweat glistening on his baldhead.

“Good morning, Miss Len,” he says in a rickety voice as I approach. His upper lip twitches over mousey front teeth.

I try to walk past him. He grabs my elbow, and my heart beats harder, but it’s more with rage than anything else. I’ve had so many daredevils pushing for a date that it’s not even funny anymore, it’s fucking annoying.

“Please, Miss Len, just listen.”

“No, you listen.” I take a step closer, not even bothering to struggle from his grip. “If you insist, bad things are going to happen, okay? This isn’t a fucking game.”

He swallows hard, and I pull my arm out of his grip. He lets me walk by him to the library entrance, but then he calls after me.

“I think I can help you get rid of the curse, Miss Len.”

I stop with my staff card in my hand, looking over my shoulder. That’s a first, nobody offered ‘help’ before.

“Aren’t you the one who’s been messaging me like crazy since five in the morning?”

“I am. But I wasn’t writing because I wanted to dare the fates and ask you out. But because I think I know why this is happening to you.”

I turn to him, giving him a once over. I have to admit, he doesn’t fit the pattern of the daredevil. He seems terrified to be even talking to me, clutching that briefcase like his life depends on it, sweating everywhere, eyes wide behind the glasses, upper lip trembling over his front teeth.

He’s probably never been on a date in his life, much less with a notorious cursed woman. The other guys were the leather-wearing, Harley-revving kind of bad boys, race pilots, even high-profile gamblers that would have made hundreds of thousands if they got into my pants without breaking a bone.

“Don’t take this wrong,” I begin, my tone softer. “You seem like a decent person. But don’t you think I already tried everything?” I motion to the elegant library doors behind me. “I’m a librarian. I know how to do research, and research I did to exhaustion.”

“But did you look down your own bloodline?”

My silence encourages him to walk over.

“You probably went the classic way,” he says, talking too fast to still hide his lisp. “You’ve probably been looking for similar cases in history, researching the kind of stalkers who created the illusion that supernatural things were happening, you probably even looked into myths and legends. But you never stopped to wonder why it’s happening to you of all people, have you?”

“I did, but I never used it as a research angle. The other similar cases in history didn’t seem to be related by blood. I feared researching my bloodline would be a waste of time, unnecessary effort—because it would be an effort. I’m adopted, with no ties to my biological parents.”

The nerd looks left and right to ensure privacy, then he leans down to me and whispers.

“Miss Len, forgive me for being so direct, but I think your bloodline leads back to Vlad the Impaler, the Prince of Blood. And I think he is related to your curse.”

It takes a moment until I realize—he’s making fun of me. A feeling of betrayal and anger engulfs me. For a moment there he had me fooled, thinking he was a decent guy.

“You think this is funny?” I say between my teeth.

“I know it sounds crazy.” He gropes in his pocket until he finds a handkerchief, and wipes the sweat off his baldhead. The smell of perspiration wafts over. “But let me tell you how I came to this conclusion.”

“Stun me.”

He looks around again, as if watching for spies.

“Not here. Please, meet me for lunch. I promise this isn’t a date, and I will explain everything, but we need complete privacy. Trust me, Miss Len, this will be worth it.”

He looks into my eyes full of hope.

I let the entire thing go through my head. What do I have to lose? I tried all the logical ways, I might as well give the impossible a chance.

“All right. But you better have convincing arguments.”

“I do, Miss Len. Thank you for your trust.”

“No, no trust yet.” My tone goes softer. “But hope. It’s been years, and I’m getting tired of this whole curse business.” Not to mention I’m yearning to feel a hot male body pressing on mine at least once in this lifetime, which won’t happen unless I finally lose the curse that’s been stalking me for years. I look the nerd up and down again. “Where?”

We agree on a pub downtown. We have to avoid running into people who know me, simply because they would stare and eavesdrop, so he says he’d reserve a booth.

When I ask him the obvious—isn’t he afraid of the curse?—the nerd says he isn’t; he’s certain it applies only to men who have certain intentions with me, and who actually make a move.

He finally leaves, his step quick and jerky, betraying he’s excited. I turn around, sliding my staff card through the device to get inside the library, wondering if a Dracula enthusiast could really hold the answer to my problem.

***

“I’m Dalton, by the way,” the freaky nerd says as we sit awkwardly across from each other at the pub. We’re in a booth by a crown glass window, everything around smelling old and moldy.

“Nice to meet you, Dalton.”

Awkward silence.

“So,” I break the ice. “You a Dracula fan?”

“Dracula is an interest of mine, yes.” He pauses, and looks back down into his cappuccino. I roll my eyes, my shoulders sagging.

“Okay, listen. I’m not a people person. I became a librarian because I preferred books to people, so please don’t put strain on my very poor socializing skills. You wanted to share your theory with me, but now you’re having me work for it. So please, if you have something to say, just say it, or give me something to read and extract the information myself. Like I said, I’m more comfortable with that than with conversation anyway.”

He blinks behind those big glasses.

“As a matter of fact, I did bring reading material,” he says, and bends to the side to pick up his briefcase from the floor. He opens it, and uses both hands to take out a big, medieval book with a beautifully carved silver cover that catches the light filtering through the crown glass.

My jaw drops.

“Where in the world did you get this?” I whisper, touching the book with the reverence I would touch a shrine, my eyes drinking it in.

“You know what it is?”

“I know it’s a highly valuable medieval artifact, worth hundreds of thousands,” I whisper.

“So you’re certain it isn’t a fake.”

“No, it’s real.” I hesitate, but then I tell him how I know. “My entire family deals in rare artifacts and books. Hundreds of originals and fakes have passed through my hands, all I need is a glance to tell.”

So much silver in my hands at once makes my scalp prickle. Great joy begins to build inside my lower belly, rising to my stomach—that same feeling I got every time I touched the rare books dad examined. It’s all I can do to keep myself from going high with the feeling, my eyelids fluttering as I drink in the beautiful carvings of what looks like gargoyles with tongues sticking out of their mouths.

“Well then, read the title,” Dalton encourages.

Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Blood.

And, under it, also carved into the cover, Year of our Lord 1449.

“Why would they put the year on the cover?” I whisper.

“Because this isn’t a book, Miss Len. It’s a chronicle.”

“Please, call me Ruxandra. Or Rux—easier to pronounce.” I touch the book tentatively again, opening it with reverence.

“Ruxandra—a Romanian name. It’s your name that drew my attention in particular when I heard about your curse.” He stands and moves over to my side, so that we can look into the book from the same angle. “May I?”

He starts turning pages. The gentle but expert way in which his fingers move, turning fragile yellowed page after page, the writing faded but coiling beautifully fascinates me. All chapters seem to have a date instead of a title. He stops at July 5th, 1450.

“These chronicles have been recorded at a medieval monks’ monastery,” he says, but then loses his battle with shyness again. It seems talking to me is a continuous struggle for him.

He’s now too close to me, the smell of perspiration and dank old suit wiping away my book-and-silver induced feeling of euphoria. His upper lip trembles over his teeth, and the page quivers between his fingers.

“The language,” I begin in a soft voice, trying to make this easier on him. “It doesn’t look Romanian, it looks German. Old German.”

“It is. The scholars leading the monastery were from Nürnberg—you must have heard about the Nürnberg Chronicles that documented the life and actions of Vlad the Impaler.” He looks at me when I don’t reply. “Sorry, I don’t know where to start, because I don’t know how much of the Impaler’s history you’re familiar with.”

“Honestly, not much more than what I saw in Dracula movies. But—” I narrow my eyes, going through my memories. “My mum is some sort of Dracula scholar, a fact that I never really took seriously.”

“So your mother might be aware of your family ties with the Impaler,” he says, his voice jumping with hope.

“Rather my dad. He’s… Well, his ancestors come from the Carpathians. But he doesn’t talk about it much. He never did while he was still here, in Britain.”

Dalton nods, his lips pursing.

“I heard about your dad in aristocrat circles. He’s a character that intrigues me—Radek Len, the dealer in rare books and artifacts.”

“My dad is a very private man. He’d hate to know he drew attention. But we didn’t come here to talk about him and his dealings, did we?”

“We might have to talk about them, in order to clarify your connection to the Impaler. Just look at the big picture: Your father, Radek Len, coming from the Carpathians, dealing in rare books and artifacts. Through him, you had enough experience with rare books in order to recognize a medieval original at once. And your mother is a Dracula enthusiast.” He looks at me as if from here the conclusion is obvious.

“But all this is irrelevant, Dalton, because I’m adopted. Wouldn’t it make more sense that we focus on my biological family, if it’s my bloodline that matters?”

“Depends. Your adoptive family seems related to the legend, too. And then there’s your name.”

I frown. “You mentioned that. What does my name have to do with it?”

He turns his attention to the book and puts a finger on a certain word.

I look down at the medieval page, my eyes fixing on the word right above Dalton’s finger. I don’t need to know the language in order to understand what it says.

Ruxandra.

I glance at word in front of it, and the one after.

Lady. Basarab.

“You see, there has been a lot of speculation regarding Vlad Dracula’s first wife,” Dalton begins. “Most sources refer to her as Elizabetta, some as Anastasia, some blatantly wrongly as Cneajna, who was actually his mother. But the noblewoman Vlad married in his youth, soon after he came back from his soldier’s training at the Sultan’s court, was Ruxandra. She was only seventeen at the time, he wasn’t much older either. They fell in love like only heart-driven teenagers can fall in love.

“But their romance was short-lived. Upon the Turks’ first attack on Dracula’s castle, Ruxandra threw herself from the window of their marital chamber, and perished into the river flowing at the bottom of the castle’s rocky base. To this day, the river carries the name of Lady’s River. Before she jumped, she told the servants who struggled to keep her back that she’d rather die than become a slave to the Turks.

“Days later, when Vlad returned from battle, Ruxandra’s lifeless body was lying inside the castle chapel. The priests damned her, telling Vlad that her soul was forever lost; suicides would never be allowed into the kingdom of God. It is said that was the day Vlad lost his soul. The day when he started on a blood-shedding frenzy, impaling every one of his boyars that he thought might have betrayed him and driven his wife to kill herself, and hating the Turks with a passion.”

He turns the page, magic filling the booth at the rustle of old paper and his voice. I don’t think I’ve been so taken with a story since grandma Magda used to tuck me in.

“This chapter was written in 1449, while Ruxandra was still alive. But it tells a slightly different story than the official one I just recounted for you.” He pauses for the effect of his words, drinking in the fascination in my face.

“Well,” I invite.

“Seems Lady Ruxandra Basarab held a secret hidden within the walls of this monastery, where this chronicle was written. In later chapters, this book reveals that her suicide didn’t have to do with the Turks, but with this secret. She killed herself before the Turks could torture the truth out of her.”

“And what was the truth?” I push, looking at the beautiful writing again. The monks’ hands had moved with care and reverence—writing itself was an art back then.

Dalton lowers his voice, filling with gravity and magic. “Seems Ruxandra had pledged herself to a demon, performing a ritual at this specific monastery. It was a very special demon, that could only be summoned and bound on Holy ground. Must have been a fallen angel or a very ancient spirit, because it is said only those have access on holy ground.” He looks me gravely in the face, turning pages. “The next chapter tells of people in the village mysteriously dying if they said the slightest bad thing about Lady Ruxandra. Once, a boyar expressed his dislike of the Lady, and Vlad wasn’t there to defend her honor. She just looked at him with her—” He looks into the book, quoting. “Deeply black eyes, the black of the demon. The man fell to the ground, taken by violent convulsions that killed him.” He looks at me again. “There are mentions of Ruxandra’s demonic spells over the boyars in later chapters as well, many cases in which people died after she’d given them the ‘black in her eyes’. Now, returning to what is happening with you, six centuries later….”

I wait for him to continue, but he keeps staring at me as if I should have already understood, and now he expects a reaction. I shake my head, frowning.

“I’m sorry, I still don’t see how this whole thing led you to me, or determined you to link my case to this—” I gesture towards the book, looking for the word. “Story.”

“Can it get any clearer than this? Lady Ruxandra’s name, her eyes.” Again that pause and expectant look—after all, it’s so obvious, isn’t it? Because of my ink black eyes I must be as evil as a woman who’d pledged her soul to the devil.

In moments like this I remember why I resent human contact.

“You know a lot about Lady Ruxandra,” I say, a long-forgotten meanness seeping into my voice. “But I must wonder—how much do you know about me?”

“I knew that you were adopted by two high-profile traders in rare artifacts and books before you told me,” he says eagerly. “Both people of powerful secrets. You, their daughter, are haunted by a curse that puts your suitors in hospital. The papers flared with stories about you, but your father soon managed an injunction. Still, the articles were enough for me.” He looks at me with the pride of someone who thinks they know everything, and that they know you better than you know yourself. God, how I want to slap it off his face, but I refrain, speaking slowly, clearly, but through my teeth.

“Well, I see that you already know enough to understand me and my story fully. I only have a few details to add, not much, really. My adoptive parents were very loving, and for a few years things were amazing. But then they disappeared, leaving me with my grandmother, Magda—a former librarian who taught me the craft. I haven’t seen them in many years, not even when my father managed the injunction. He did it from a distance.” The meanness swells in my heart, and I snort bitterly. I can feel the blackness in my eyes deepening, and Dalton leans back, obviously growing scared.

“I know that look in your eyes, Dalton. It’s how people used to look at me in school—fear and suspicion. All because of the way I looked. The starkly white skin, the eyes ink black. You know what they called me? Samara. It didn’t sound so bad at first, because I didn’t know who Samara was. I Googled her, though, and found out soon enough. Watched The Ring, and realized I wanted to scare the shit out of the bullies, just like Samara did. Especially those always hanging by the lockers, laughing and pushing me around. One even hauled me against a locker and lifted my skirt, pretending to fuck me from behind and daring all the others to laugh.” The meanness turns to satisfaction, which surely shows in my grin. I can feel my eyes become even more intense, and Dalton pushes himself against the back of his chair.

“That’s when it first happened,” I say darkly. “One of his friends had a sudden change of heart. The smile suddenly wiped off his face, and he decided to attack the guy molesting me, punching him hard in the face and breaking his nose. So it was a man made of flesh of blood who stepped in, not some supernatural power that made him convulse and die. Soon though, people forgot, and a new kind of bullying began.

“The guys started betting on who would relieve ‘Samara’ of her virginity. So one of the school heartthrobs, one I had a crush on, asked me out. I accepted, eager to be kissed by him—unaware of the bet. But before he touched my lips after the movie’s, some stranger stepped in and beat him to a pulp. It was a while until things became more refined, with the ‘saviors’ no longer appearing and beating my dates, but acting from a distance, orchestrating accidents in men’s rooms and involving even crane hooks. Now, you’ll understand if I’m firmly convinced whoever is behind all this is a man of flesh of blood, not some demon. A man who’s been watching me for many, many years. And you know what? For a long time I was grateful for this stalker. Because, deranged or not, he loved me.”

I lean even closer, forcing Dalton to lean his head back, the skin folding under his chin as he tries to put distance between his face and mine.

“And love was something I craved like a starving dog. I’d never been so precious to anyone before, I’d never felt so worthy. Even my parents,” I continue, forcing the information into his head. “They tried to love me, but they failed. Sure, they left me with a caring grandma and kept sending money, but still—they weren’t there. They couldn’t find a good reason to keep me by their side. I wasn’t enough. But this stalker….” I lean back again, relishing the story in my head. “He loved me, and I didn’t want him to go away. I wanted him to show himself. At first, I didn’t research in order to get him off my case, but to bring him closer. It never worked, for some reason. He must enjoy just meddling with my life from a distance, never involving himself physically, it must be some kind of fetish for him. But I want to have a real relationship, so I grew tired of his games. Now tell me, Dalton, how could this be related to Dracula?”

He swallows, his Adam’s apple moving up and down. I wait for an answer, eyes fixed on his without blinking. He glances at the book and points shyly to it.

“May I?” he whispers gutturally.

“Please.”

Slowly, he turns a chunk of pages, then again a few of them one by one until he reaches chapter 31st of October 1460. He waits again as if he expects me to feel enlightened only by looking at it.

“I must remind you, Dalton, I don’t understand German, much less the medieval version.”

“Sorry, I forgot,” he says quietly. Sure, he’s been too taken with my intensity. “This chapter talks about one thing that always puzzled historians—how did Vlad the Impaler win battles with an Ottoman army that outnumbered his by thousands?” He taps the page with his finger. “This account says that Ottoman turned on Ottoman as if some demon possessed them to turn on their own—just like the first guy who punched the bully in the face. Imagine a battlefield, it says, one army red, one silver. The red one is a bundle of crazed animals tearing at each other, while the silver one simply forms the shape of a five-pointed star in front of their opponents. In the end, they finished the survivors, and impaled them.”

I don’t understand why he’s telling me this at first. But then my synapses start firing again.

“I understand where you’re going. The same demon, the one that Lady Ruxandra pledged herself to, probably in exchange for the demon helping her husband in battle, must have influenced my protectors as well. But I never had anything to do with pentagrams, demons, and I don’t take soul pledging very seriously.”

“For a woman with the word ‘curse’ attached to her you sure are very skeptical.”

“I’m just realistic, Dalton,” I conclude, hands on the table as I decide I’ve heard enough, and make to stand up. “There are no such things as curses, stalking demons, or reincarnations for that matter.”

“No? Then how do you explain this?”

He moves on to the last page. My brain freezes.

I’ll be damned…. I drop back into the chair.

***

 

Enjoyed this? Let me know what you think in a comment, I’m always happy to hear from you 🙂

Yours,

Ana

 

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