Loves, the release date for Prince of Obsession is approaching fast! The 18th of January is just around the corner, and guess what? On the 3rd, just a few days from now, the manuscript will be ready to go to my ARC readers (readers who receive the e-book in advance, for free, and post a review on Amazon.com and/or Goodreads on the release date). If you’d like to hop on my ARC team leave me a comment or send me your e-mail details to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you the book as soon as it’s set to go out. Until then, here’s what this sequel to Prince of Midnight is about, and the first chapter:
Carpathian prince Radek the Handsome no longer turns into a monster at nightfall. But does that make him any less wicked than his brother, Lord Dracula?
Three nights before their wedding, former journalist Juliet Jochs storms out of Prince Radek’s castle in the Carpathians, determined never to return. Five years later, she makes a terrible discovery—the true reason why Radek broke her heart, and its connection to Dracula.
The Prince and Juliet meet face to face again when he comes on business to her city. He tries to keep cool when she probes his shady dealings, but his craving for her grows possessive, obsessive and even dangerous, striking with a vengeance after their time apart. Stalking her from behind mirrors at night, he can barely contain his dark lust. But can he afford to lose control now that he’s so close to attaining the very goal for which he sacrificed Juliet years ago?
For the first time in years I’m facing my notorious older brother, Vlad Dracula. Yes, he’s as real as it gets, and just like the cliché describes him—shiny fangs, blood-red lips, cruel bony face.
The Old Priest brought me to his cave deep in a thorny mountain forest, the stalactites above us dripping water in some places, blood in others. Vlad still likes to impale creatures, and he doesn’t miss a chance to set an example among his vampires. I heard he likes to impale them upside down, making them resemble bleeding bats.
“I must say, little brother,” his voice bounces off the wet cave walls. “I was disappointed not to get an invite to your wedding. When is it again, in three days?”
I remain still as a statue, determined to wait the show out. Vlad grins, his predator canines glinting in the undulating light from the cave water. Large, with a black cape hanging on broad shoulders, he’s sure earned his title as Dark Lord.
“Tell me, Radek the Handsome,” he continues, placing special emphasis on my old title. The chains on his boots clamor as he steps down the stairs from his black throne towards me, his vampires hissing all around the cave and retreating fearfully into the cavernous tunnels that radiate from it. “How long has it been since you and I last saw each other face to face? A century? More?”
“Since the Nazis,” I say evenly.
“The last time we actually worked together.” He stops a few feet away. He’s taller and broader than me, and still not beyond trying to intimidate me. My jaw tightens as I try not to flash a silver blade at his throat.
“Before the truce,” he continues when all he gets from me is a cold stare. “The truce when I was generous enough to give you my castle and my scepter.”
“You didn’t have much of a choice but cede them to me. Be grateful I didn’t continue to hunt you down, you would have lost.”
He squares his shoulders, a big dark presence, only the face white and angular. “You know damn well you wouldn’t stand a chance if I was immune against silver and if I could walk into the sunlight.”
“But you’re not immune to silver, and you cannot walk into the sunlight,” I say, cocking an eyebrow and balling my fist to feel the silver blade strapped to my forearm under the black leather jacket.
Cruelty glints like blades in his dark irises, his jaw clenches for a moment, but then he relaxes and gives me a large, perfectly white grin.
“I didn’t ask the Old Priest to bring you here in order revive old conflicts, little brother.” Fuck, I hate it when he calls me that. “I’m here to claim what you promised me.”
I frown at him. “I never promised you anything.”
“No?” He looks at me with fake confusion, then starts pacing around me. “One night six months ago you met the Old Priest at church, and told him you’ll send me the girl when you’re done with her. Now, not only that you failed to deliver what you promised, but I find that you’re about to marry her, and I’m not even invited. That hurts.”
He stops in front of me after a full circle, now closer than last time, forcing me to look up at him. Anger boils inside of him, I can tell by the way his vampires hiss, restless, pulling deeper inside the tunnels. They sense him. The Old Priest, now one of these creatures as well but much uglier, presses himself against the cave wall to the side, shivering.
“What do you want, Vlad?” I say between my teeth.
He spreads his arms, the cape making him resemble a huge, regal vulture. “It’s easy. I want what you promised me. You told the Old Priest Juliet Jochs was a classy beauty in great genetic form.” He stresses the last words just like I have months ago. “You said she’d be very nutritious for me, and I could use nutritious right now, to be honest.”
My eyes become slits. “You know I’m marrying her in a few days. Besides, why now? You could have staked your claim right after the final battle, three months ago.”
“I’ll only say this, little brother, a mere reminder, really. Our truce only stands if both of us keep our promises.”
It’s my turn to start pacing. “To be honest, Vlad, I’m kind of losing interest in Juliet Jochs. I’ve been consuming her freely for months now, and well, you know me. I’m bored quickly.” I halt and look around, spreading my arms. “By the way, what kind of a welcome is this? Why doesn’t anybody offer me a cup of wine?”
Vlad grins, probably knowing what I’m doing. He nods and signals towards one of the tunnels with two claw-like fingers. To my surprise—however masked—the one hurrying over is Victoria, or rather a new version of her. She’s even thinner than before, her hair half dark half white, and messy as if she’s slept in hay. She also resembles a hologram because, due to the midnight monster’s curse, she materializes in more dimensions at the same time, and in none fully. Twelve equally-disturbing looking women follow her as she moves to an adjacent tunnel to pick up wine and cups—she manages to materialize completely when she grabs things—then walking over, keeping her eyes down.
I resent looking at Victoria because I resent what she’s done, but those other women do unsettle me, because I’m partly guilty of what happened to them. But it’s imperative that Vlad doesn’t pick up on the slightest trace of emotional weakness on me, which is hard. He’s literally known me for centuries, since the day I was born.
Victoria is now cursed to always be surrounded by the women she’d kept in the dungeon for so long, the living corpses who spit black, foul body liquid at people, infecting them with the Black Plague. She’s basically the one who turned them into what they are today, so she has to pay the price. She can’t move around without them, the Bloody Maries always floating around her like shadows.
“I’m surprised to hear that, Radek,” Vlad says as Victoria is pouring wine. “If you’ve lost interest in Juliet Jochs, then why marry her? Why tie your destiny to hers forever—because it is forever for us.”
“Merely a strategic alliance.” I pick the medieval cup of wine from Victoria without giving her another glance, as if she’s truly nothing more than a slave. “Juliet Jochs can make it big in the Western world, and she can serve my purposes there. I have money, but she has the connections, the influence, and the open doors.”
“Then, if all she is to you is a tool, you wouldn’t mind passing her on to me afterwards, would you?”
I look at him calmly, pondering, twirling the wine in my hand. “I would mind, because I hope to be using her for a long time. That’s why I’m marrying her. And she wouldn’t be much use out in the open if she couldn’t walk into the sunlight, or if the slightest touch of silver would make her writhe in pain, would she?”
Vlad looks me up and down. “Who are you trying to fool Radek? This woman healed you of the midnight monster, and gave you love that infiltrated your very flesh. You risked your life for her a few months ago.”
“It was the first time I felt something for a woman, Vlad, sure I was confused. I mistook gratitude for love, deep sexual attraction for emotional connection. I may be old, but these were new feelings to me.”
Vlad grins and, for a moment, it doesn’t look so vile.
“Little brother,” he says, almost a whisper. “I remember that sweet confusion.”
Memories come back to me and, for another moment, my animosity against Vlad drops. “Ruxandra—”
“Ruxandrs. Long ago.” He takes a deep breath, and snaps out of it. “Before we get melancholic, let’s get back to the true reason why I asked to see you today.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“I’ll be completely honest. I wanted to present you with a choice—you either give Juliet Jochs over to me, or you help my get the one thing that will reinstate my powers forever. The one thing that will make Dracula invincible again.”
The blood drains from my head. “Dracula’s Grail…”
“Refuse, and it will cost you Juliet Jochs. Even if you are telling the truth—which I doubt—and you’re no longer in love with her, you must care about her a great deal. In the end, she healed you of the midnight monster, and loved you even as a disgusting creature.” He holds up his big hands with the long, dangerous claws. “Which means you wouldn’t want these on her, would you?”
Vlad and I look hard into each other’s eyes. We both know—what I say now will determine whether the war between us starts again or not.
“If you refuse to help me,” Vlad slurs, “I will kill her, little brother. I’ll hunt her down and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot protect her every second, not from me. Sooner or later I will get her.” He bends just a little bit closer to me, glancing from the corner of his eye to Victoria. “And, if by some incredible chance I don’t succeed, someone else will. Your future wife has made some pretty nasty enemies. So. What say you?”
I ponder, my fists clenched and my muscles flexed under the leather jacket, the silver blades pressed against my sinews.
“The one thing that will reinstate your full power,” I grunt through my teeth, “Dracula’s Grail, isn’t easily found. And, if found, it’s not easily obtained. For centuries secret societies have tried to get their hands on it, and….” I stop before Victoria, the Old Priest, or the vampires get ideas.
Vlad grins dangerously. “Don’t pretend you didn’t try to get your hands on it yourself.” He bursts into wall-shaking laughter. “What, you didn’t think I’d see through your schemes, little brother? Only that you were planning on using the Grail against me, probably eliminate me for good. But I suggest you don’t even think about it. You see, if I die, things will become even worse for Juliet Jochs. The last thing I’ll do is order these guys to sink their fangs in her.” He motions around the cave at the tunnels full of vampires. “Or their claws and curses,” he mentions with a wave of his hand towards Victoria and her Bloody Maries. “And you know my subjects are forced to do my bidding even in my death.”
I look around from under my eyebrows, gaging the danger. Vlad sure has built a powerful army. Victoria’s type of monster is new, and she’s not the only oddity he’s added to his collection. I look at the Old Priest and the Bloody Maries.
“What can I say, Vlad,” I hiss. “You leave me no choice.”
Radek is back! Thank God, I’ve been worried sick since he went to see his brother.
With an ecstatic smile on my face, I hurry down the castle stairs to the vestibule where I heard his voice. But he’s gone before I get to him.
As I follow his voice from one room to another—wonder whom he’s talking to—I’m led through the dimensions from one narrow passageway to eerie lonely room, to yet another passageway and another room. I stop, facing a wooden chair beside a crown glass window, like in some absurd theater play.
“No more dimensions games, Radek,” I call out, growing angry.
He’s been avoiding me for weeks, and it’s becoming increasingly hard for me to keep up my enthusiasm about our upcoming wedding. I’m glad to the moon and back that he returned safely from his meeting with Dracula, which had me biting my nails in terror, but now a more long-term, nagging worry returns—he’s been neglecting me. Why?
I notice a door in a corner, and stomp to it, my cheeks now burning. The door leads me to my own chambers, where I’m alone again. I curse in frustration.
He relocated me to these chambers two weeks ago, and went out with strange business every evening. Gone are the nights when he held me pressed to his naked body, and kissed me all over like his life depended on it. At least now he’s letting me see Lazarus—a newborn vampire—and Magda—a hundred-year-old witch—down in town. They’re my only friends. I didn’t tell them my worries about Radek losing interest though, because I didn’t want to admit them to myself, but I did turn to some tricks to reawaken his passion. Tricks I learned before I even knew Radek, before I knew anything about the Hidden World, before I knew the paranormal was as real as banks, cancer and David Bowie.
Tonight I’m wearing one of those white silk negligees that Radek likes so much. I even procured a set of cuffs to spice up what I hoped would be lovemaking.
Startled, I turn swiftly and find Radek leaning against the doorframe. He’s got a bottle of wine in one hand, and crystal wine glasses in the other.
“I’m sorry. Did I scare you?” He walks over smoothly like the prince he is, black suit jacket open, revealing a lean but muscular body under it. My heart aches at how beautiful he is.
He places the bottle on the medieval desk by the window, a bad-boy smile on those lips like red roses, his ivory face perfect and somehow detached. I think I catch the perfume of another woman on him. I gather the silk night robe tighter around me, watching him pour us both wine, struggling with my anger and burning cheeks.
“So, I gather the meeting with your brother went well?” I manage as I take the glass he gives me.
“Wonderfully. The truce stands solid. He was a bit hurt we didn’t invite him to the wedding.”
I snort. “Is that why he summoned you? To reprimand you on that?”
“And to make sure I wouldn’t attack him, now that I emerged even more powerful from the battle three months ago.”
I hold his stare. “Aren’t you taking this a little too lightly? The battle was terrible, we both almost got killed, and—”
The perfume of the other woman wafts over again as he shifts and leans on the desk.
“Who were you talking to earlier in the hall? I heard you,” I demand.
“Just our new housekeeper.”
“Our new housekeeper smells of pastry and Mr. Proper. Not Chanel No 5.”
He looks at me in that specific way men do when they’re thinking of a lie to tell. For a moment I hope the lie is good, because I really want to believe it. But, instead, Radek grins widely and opens his arms in a come-on-babe gesture. I’m sure the earth has just been pulled from under my feet. No, no, no, he isn’t doing this to me.
“Juliet, I actually didn’t even intend to keep this from you.” He looks to the door and calls a woman’s name, but I don’t register it. It’s like my brain is protecting itself.
My jaw drops when a blonde with a killer body dressed in a red negligee steps like a cat into the room.
“I thought maybe it was time we spiced up our relationship,” Radek says. “One on one, things kind of got stale.”
The image in front of my eyes is swimming, giving me a hard time believing this is actually happening. A part of me is screaming to scratch his eyes out, but another part just says,
“You feel our relationship has already grown stale? After only three months in which we’ve loved each other freely?” After you risked your life to save mine, after I healed you of the midnight monster, after I gave everything up for you, after, after, after.
I stand frozen with the glass of wine in my hand.
“Please, Juliet, be reasonable,” he says as the blonde stops by his side, a white hand with red polished fingernails snaking on his shoulder. He takes it and kisses it, forcing me to blink as if to wipe the image away. No, this can’t be really happening, he must be putting up some kind of show.
“I’ve been limited by the midnight monster for so long,” he continues. “Now that I’m free of it, I can do things I couldn’t even dream of before. It’s been six hundred years of prison inside my own body, hiding my deadly secret. Now I can finally enjoy life and sex to the fullest—thanks to you, of course.” He grins at me, and the playboy glint in his eyes spears me. “I can finally enjoy things I dreamt of for centuries, like a threesome with two beautiful women, fully naked.”
I just stand here like a statue as the blonde closes the short distance between us and caresses my face seductively. The part of me I recognize wants to spit her in the face and call her a whore, but….
I just snort, looking her up and down appreciatively. “Wow, what can I say, Radek. She is indeed beautiful. But I’m afraid I’m as straight as they come and, if you still intend to go ahead with the wedding in three days, I suggest that you send her back to where you found her.”
The woman opens her mouth to speak, and I cock an eyebrow, stunned that she dares believe she has a say in this.
“Why so bitter, milady,” she says in a thick Slavic accent. “I’ll gladly please you as well.” But I can see the delight behind her cat-like blue eyes hooded by heavy mascara—she already feels she’s better than me, her heart is swelling with self-esteem thinking the prince will even forgo his wedding with me for a night with her. But no, he won’t give her this satisfaction. Will he?
My heart sinks as I watch his hand touch the small of her back, grazing her spine. Her eyelids flutter at his touch, her hand moving away from my face, cupping her own breast.
“I want to marry you, Juliet,” Radek says as he strokes the blonde, “but not in the terms we had until now.” He looks me straight in the face. “I want an open relationship.”
A sharp pain goes through my heart, heat flushing to my cheeks. I hear my mother’s words in my head, words she told my sister and me a felt lifetime ago. ‘Life will kick us in the face. And our lovers. Our lovers will kick us in the face.’
I stare from Radek to the blonde, who now leans against him, massaging her own tits and looking provocatively into my eyes while Radek watches what she’s doing over her shoulder with an I’ll-do-your-every-hole grin. Her lascivious stare tells me, ‘He prefers me, boring long-time girlfriend’.
On the outside, I remain calm. On the inside, I’m on fire. I square my shoulders and push out my chin, placing the glass of wine gently on the medieval desk—ignoring the part of me that’s raging to throw it into Radek’s face.
“I’m not in the mood for wine today. Or a threesome. Radek, I would like to leave the castle now, and I’d like to find my way easily.” This means no games with the dimensions like before.
He looks me in the face, his stare growing deep and hard. It’s like he wants to carve my features into his memory. Is this what he wanted all along? Was he determining me to leave him so that he doesn’t have to be the one walking away?
“Are you sure about this, Juliet?”
I snort and smile. “Hypocrite.”
We just look each other in the eyes for moments. He doesn’t even blink, his feelings unreadable beyond the fact that they’re intense, while my heart is crumbling to pieces. My skin burns all over, but the rage of the moment enables me to keep my ground, which I’m mighty grateful for.
“I will ask Lazarus to come get my things later.” I look them up and down one last time. “Ask the housekeeper to have them ready. It’s the last thing I ask of you.”
Radek’s voice stops me as I head to the door.
“I have a final request from you as well.”
I glance over my shoulder. “Yes.”
“It’s about our other arrangements.” He leaves the blonde by the desk, walking towards me. “I’m still willing to honor all our other plans besides the wedding. I’m willing to buy Herald Gruff’s e-zine, which you will then run. Of course, in exchange for you building a credible and likeable public persona for me in Germany, securing me people’s approval.”
“And influential people’s trust,” I finish in his place.
I feel him close behind me, but he doesn’t answer. With a bleeding heart and a huge lump in my throat, I walk out the door. Soon after that I’m running out into the night, the white silk robe floating behind me as hot tears stream down my face. I run until I fall to my knees at Magda’s door, sobbing hard, bracing myself as if to keep my body from crumbling to pieces.
I stare out the window, leaning with my hands on the sidewalls. It pains me to have hurt the woman that I owe my life and my very humanity to, but it was for her own good.
“You think she’ll still help you in the Western World?” Irina asks from behind me. She’s laid down on Juliet’s bed.
“Get up,” I say evenly.
“I will,” she says seductively, “but only if you turn around to watch me do it.”
Anger grips me, but I manage to keep my tone calm. “You, in her bed. It’s a sacrilege that I don’t want to witness. Get up.”
“You really do love her,” she whispers.
“Lord Dracula was right,” she continues when I don’t answer. “You were truly marrying her for love.”
I ponder. How do I put this? “If you look into the life Juliet and I led together this last month, you’ll find out that we grew apart before my meeting with my brother tonight.”
“But she is important to you.”
“Of course she is important to me. She healed me of the midnight monster, and used intense love to do it. I’ll always be grateful to her for it, and in her debt.”
“But do you love her back, prince?” Her voice is pleading, making it clear she’s desperate for me to deny it. Given that she’s one of Vlad’s vampires, I better play along.
“Not enough to tie my life to hers forever,” I say, turning around to find her now sitting on the bed like an unhappy child. “She will be useful to me in the Western World because she wants to make sure I’ll honor my promise to her friends, the witch Magda, and Lazarus. I promised that I’d fight for the good guys, and use my power to back them up in the war against evil. Lazarus is also a vampire, by the way.”
“I know. I was one of those who bit him in the final battle three months ago.” She licks her lips, remembering the taste of him on the one hand, and trying to seduce me on the other. The strategy flops miserably.
“That’s not why I brought you here, Irina.”
She pouts playfully, but I can tell her disappointment is real.
“Too bad,” she says. “I have talents, you know. You would’ve liked them.”
“This isn’t about me.” The problem with living forever is that you come to see straight through people. “This is about you wanting to feel more valuable than Juliet. But, to me, no woman has ever been more valuable. She’s unique, and special. I may not desire her the same way I did in the beginning, but she’s still the only woman that’s worth something in my life.”
Only part of that is true, but I manage to mask it well. Another thing that comes with an unnaturally long life is a strong grip on the display of one’s emotions.
Irina keeps sitting on the bed, doing nothing to signal an intention of leaving. I exit the room without giving her another glance, making things as clear as they get. I may still need her later, but right now the least I can do for Juliet and my own aching heart is not giving this lustful vampiress satisfaction.