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

 

The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 2

I lie in the bubbles, staring at the dark vaulted ceiling, then at my own hair undulating in the water over my breasts. Dark golden tresses mingle with thin streams of the dead bastard’s blood that plague me with fear, a fear that subsides when the Marquis’s presence fills my head like an opiate.

I look up at him, looming tall and elegant and arrogant over me. His pitch black eyes make a demonic contrast to his clear-boned, ivory face, and his lips stir me in a way they should not. Rich dark hair frames the head I’ve painted so often with my bare hands, eager to feel him, to understand him. Now I’m half-successful at hating him.

He inspects me up and down, and I think there’s hunger in his gaze. A rough kind of desire that hurts more than pleases me. It seems to be an effort for him to turn and place the lonely rose he carries on the edge of the sink where my hand has been just minutes ago.

“Forgive me,” he says in his deceiving, luring voice, and makes to leave.

“Please,” I stop him, my voice a rasp. Tears well in my eyes. “Don’t have me do this again.”

He keeps his back to me.

“He wasn’t a victim, Saphira. He was a dirt bag who’s raped and killed. You did it for a good cause.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that you enjoyed watching.”

Pause. “I did not enjoy it.”

“You sound almost sincere.”

“Have I not always been sincere?”

Yes he has. More so than everyone else.

“Just tell me it’s going to stop. Tell me it will have an end some day.”

“When they’re all bleeding in the gutter, Saphira.”

“How many were they?” I sound desperate.

“You’ll find out soon.” His voice almost cracks. As I realize the implications for me, disgust makes me weak at the stomach again.

“Please, don’t,” I whisper through quivering lips, close to breaking.

“I told you, Saphira. I’ll make my revenge epic.”

***

The Marquis approaches from the darkness of the tunnel, a tall and looming shadow. My heart drums with anxiety that he might’ve known all along I was down here with Jeremy, that he might know exactly what was said between us. Showers of ice seem to roll down my back.

His steps pat the floor, bringing him closer, the rhythm of my heart going crazy. He draws nearer, now I can make out the ivory skin stretching on his perfect cheekbones and jaw, those haunting black eyes glinting in the weak light of the dungeons as he stops before me. He has the nose of a cunning predator and the lips of a sensual devil, lips my eyes keep locked on.

“What are you doing here, Saphira?” He switches on his hypnotic powers, only that this time he doesn’t use them to make me comfortable. The lower vibrations in his voice drive the fear deeper into my bones, paired with the chill of the dungeons, making it impossible to lie.

“I needed to escape the party. I needed away from the fakery.” My voice is shaky despite my telling a truth, only not the truth about why I’m here. I pray the strategy works.

The Marquis takes a couple of steps closer. His suit jacket is open and the upper buttons of his shirt loosened, his hands in the pockets of his pants. He’s sexy as vice.

“There is danger lurking in these catacombs,” he says.

His face lowers close to mine, the contrast between the ivory of his skin and the black gems of his eyes knocking me back. He winds an arm around my waist, slowly and flowingly like the snake he is, pulling me close to him. His flat abdomen is stone hard under his shirt that smells clean and fresh, mingling with the bittersweet scent of his skin. It gives me sensations I have no chance to repress. His power over me grows, and I lose a faint sigh. I feel my lids fall heavy to hood my eyes, unable to look away from his lips. Ashamed of my reaction, I struggle to speak up.

“There isn’t any danger greater than you, Marquis.” I’m tempted to say his name, Kieran, but that would expose my new access to information. I bite the craving to call him by his name off my lips, and sense his desire grow like thickening lava as he watches me do it. He presses me harder to him, my breasts swelling almost completely out of the corset and coming into contact with the fabric of his shirt.

“Then why do you take risks? You were down here with a man, wacky tongues murmur up in the ballroom.” His voice is an eerie whisper, his mouth touching my ear as he speaks. There’s threat slinking in his words.

I can’t speak, intoxicated with his touch and his scent. His free hand brushes my locks aside, his lips trailing down to the curve of my neck, touching my skin only so lightly as he talks.

“Was it Jeremy Simmons? Are you still into your ex?”

“No.” My voice is hoarse.

“Are you into me?” His breath tickles, and after that last word I feel his tongue warm and wet on my bare shoulder, licking it in one pressed stroke like a predator licks the blood off his kill. I shudder and wonder if it’s still human, or if it’s the split serpent tongue that had pulled out Vladimir Pukov’s stomach. His power on my senses increases, making my brain swim in a fuzz.

“Yes,” I whisper and moan as his lips close on my skin, both his hands now caressing my arms downward. The sharp sound of drawing metal penetrates through the blood thumping in my ears. I look down to see a curved dagger in his hand, his jacket and the lower part of his shirt now tucked behind a leather holster at the side of his waist. I should be afraid, but his power keeps me in a haze.

His arms go around me, and I feel the tug of the blade as it slits open the laces of my corset and more material further down my dress that pools at me feet. Slowly, his black eyes wandering hungry on my face, the Marquis guides me backwards into a cell that’s carved into the dungeon wall.

I only stop when my naked back bumps into what feels like chipped stone, bits of iron pushing into my flesh – a chain, I soon realize by the feel of it.

The Marquis’ eyes seek mine, compelling me to look into them. I’m an obedient slave as he stretches my arms to the sides and closes rusty iron cuffs around my wrists, the clang echoing in the dungeon. The cuffs are loose, but the iron bites into the heels of my hands when I let my arms slump. A fight out of them would surely leave me bloody.

He looks down at my bare breasts, my nipples hard in the chill. Once again I find myself before him in stockings and high heels, only that I’m hanging in chains, and only retain enough wit to feel ashamed for my goose bumps.

But they don’t seem to bother the Marquis. Licking his lips he looks hungrily at my body and begins unbuttoning his shirt, which he then removes in a shuffle. He stands bare-chested before me, the leather sheath of his dagger strapped close to his hips. He seems made of marble with perfectly defined sinews, his skin glinting hairless and shadowed only by the contours of his athletic muscles. He’s broad-shouldered and obviously strong.

His eyes seem to devour me as he unfastens the holster, drops it on the floor and undoes his pants. Every last inch of his revealed body is beautiful, and I hear myself sigh with desire as his fingers stroke the sides of my torso. He presses his lips on mine and parts them in a full, rich kiss. He enjoys it, I can tell by the way his body pushes into me, a low purr escaping into my mouth as he crushes me between his chest and the wall.

I can’t keep from manifesting my delight, arching and sighing and moaning as he covers me with kisses.

“Do you ever miss Jeremy Simmons’ body, Saphira?”

“I only want you,” I reply immediatly, unable to keep back the pure truth.

His eyes burn like coal. I cry out as he enters me, reaching deep, the pain mixing with pleasure.

“And you’ll have me.” He groans as he grinds powerfully into me, making my feet lift off the ground and my toes curl. “You turn me on so bad, Saphira, it’s insane.”

I fight myself, trying to keep the reply on the inside of my mouth, but I lose the battle. “You’re divine!”

The Marquis takes me vigorously, thrusting hard, groaning and kissing me wildly as he finds release. I climax at the same time, my legs flexing, my hands gripping to the chains. As soon as his mouth frees mine I can’t hold back and say his name like a prayer. Kieran.

When I look into his eyes they’re serpent slits.

“Where did you hear that name?”

I’m so, so, so busted, and yet the first thing that takes clear shape in my mind as my breath evens out is whether his passion has been for me or for the memory of Catherine Lancaster.

***

“Who told you?” the Marquis demands to know.

“It was . . .” I wish I could brace myself and hide. I stand naked and with my hands cuffed to the sides before the Marquis, the stockings and high heels making me feel like a prostitute. He shuffles his shirt back on, buttons up his pants and tightens his belt, his pitch black eyes striking on his ivory face. He’s taken me like a master his slave, and now he interrogates me like an inquisitor.

“It was Jeremy Simmons, wasn’t it?”

“Up in the ballroom,” I attempt a lie, but the grin crooking on his face tells me he’s not buying it. He pulls me hard to him. The chains holding my hands rattle, and my breasts crush into his chest, him being dressed and me naked making me feel vulnerable and worthless. His eyes are now close, defiant and even angrier than before.

“You were down here with him, weren’t you, Saphira? Did he give you my name along with the sob story of Catherine Lancaster and the stable boy?”

“Is that sob story not why you seek revenge?” I whisper.

He bares his white teeth in a grin that’s as threatening as the split serpent tongue that now moves between them.

“If you ever see Jeremy Simmons alone again,” he hisses, “I’ll make his head a trophy on my wall.”

I hear the jealousy in his words, and my heart flutters. I know this is sick, but I’m no less jealous of Catherine Lancaster.

“Jeremy is an Inspector. His murder would have the police all over you.”

“The police are already all over me, Saphira. But they have nothing except stories, like your ex, the Inspector boy.”

His serpent tongue slithers out of his mouth, making the finest hairs stand on my arms as it licks my cheek in a cold, wet stroke. He takes distance again, his black eyes nailing me in place. A patch of skin on his face seems to peel off like burning paper, revealing thick serpent scales the colour of ash as he lifts my chin with two fingers.

“Don’t betray me, Saphira,” he warns, his voice now deep but silvery, like a monster’s. “Or you’ll know a new measure of my wrath.”

I’m afraid of antagonizing him. He presses me harder to his body and lets out a sharp, piping sound that makes my ears buzz and my eyes scrunch, reverberating through the dungeons. In  response many steps march down the catacombs.

The Marquis holds me crushed to his chest, covering my nakedness but not our intimacy as his men appear, wearing dark suits and grim attitudes. It’s clear to everyone what happened between us, and it’s especially humiliating since my arms are still spread open, and in cuffs.

“A new dress,” he orders. “A comfortable one.”

One of his men hurries to carry out the command, while the Marquis frees my hands. I fall in his arms, my legs weak and my will numb. The hard sinews beneath his shirt feel like steel on my flesh, his glinting black gaze making me all too aware of the power he has over me. I’m stripped of clothes and of options.

A mighty awkward while later the man who went away returns with a simple dark-red strap dress, which the Marquis takes from him, then dismisses the entire team. I hear them whisper and murmur at the end of the aisle while I get dressed, the Marquis watching me from the gate of the cell. For a brief moment I think I read something more than jealousy in his gaze.

His white hand covers mine in a possessive gesture as I hook it around his elbow – at his invitation. Some of his men look puzzled when they see us, one of them raising a questioning eyebrow, as if he’s never expected such display despite our engagement. I recognize him as Stone Mask, one of the Marquis’ personal bodyguards. I still wonder why he needs security; it’s not like anyone in Northville stands a chance against him, and I doubt even Jeremy with his steroid-pumped muscles would really pose a challenge. Then I think of Ivan Basarab, the Slayer. But then again, Basarab doesn’t dare take on the Marquis head-on either . . .

We ascend back to the ground floor and soon we’re in front of the ballroom. The Marquis makes a show of our entrance, the pool of men in black suits behind us, our slow walk among the crowd attracting stares and whispers. The golden locks I managed to arrange my hair in before the party are now dishevelled, and my make-up surely patched and smeared, which makes me want to crawl away from sight, but the Marquis presents me like the trophy most worthy of having.

I identify Jeremy looking hard at us from amidst a group, his eyes furious, his overdone muscles clearly tense under his suit. I glance at the Marquis and notice the two have locked glares. I realize Jeremy has been hidden in the dungeons all along, heard and maybe witnessed what happened between the Marquis and me. The challenging grin on the Marquis’ face confirms, and I wish the earth would split and swallow me.

Nevertheless, what the Marquis does as he becomes ever more aware of my embarrassment is take me on a slow round of small talk with respectable families, one possessive hand on the small of my back, and pressing his cheek to mine all too often. His displays of affection – if fake or not – make me feel halfway good, but the measuring of the men from head to toes and the envious daggers the women shoot me add to my unease. Some of the men even prove unable to refrain from remarks such as,

“Yours is sure a fiery love story,” – accompanied by lecherous ogling when they think the Marquis and I are not looking – or, “Now, here’s a couple that can’t keep their hands off each other.”

I don’t believe there’s anyone at the engagement ball that can’t tell the Marquis and I have unleashed our passion recently, and probably also picture us ravishing each other in some hidden corner behind heavy velvet curtains. Luckily for me, the Marquis soon decides he’s shown off enough and ends my mandatory attendance.

“This was necessary,” he explains, and I almost take it as an apology until he reprimands through his teeth, “because they saw you follow Simmons out earlier, which made me look bad. Real bad. But the show just now should’ve made matters right.”

He leads me up the spiralling stairs to my chamber in the tower, and my heart drums wondering if he’ll take me again.

The heavy black door that starkly resembles the door to a medieval jail opens into the tower chamber with its few and rather gothic amenities. I walk in but the Marquis doesn’t follow me inside. When I realize this I turn to see him standing in the door, hand on the knob, looking at me as if he wants to eat me alive. We stare at each other for moments until he resolves to speak.

“Change of plans,” he says. “You’re no longer required to do . . . any of the things you’ve been required to do before.”

“You’ll no longer use me in your revenge?”

“I don’t know yet. But if I do, it’ll be in a different way.”

“Does this mean the engagement is off?”

“Wouldn’t you like that? But I’m afraid the engagement is still on –” an uncertain pause “– I still need you.”

“For what?”

“For now all you need to know is this – I won’t hear of you being alone with a man again, or I’ll have him skinned and roasted like a rabbit.” He stares hard at me to make his point. I catch roots in the ground.

“And you will not leave this place unencumbered,” he concludes. “Anything you need, Zed and his boys are at your disposal.” He motions at Stone Mask, and for a moment there I’m actually glad the Marquis has finally attached a name to the expressionless, steely-eyed face. I don’t know what to say, my heart beating like a rock in my chest, but soon after the heavy door falls shut my wit springs to life with a shot of despair – How am I supposed to meet Jeremy tomorrow?

***

The men keep around me, marching down the corridors and halls like a badass squad escorting a V.I.P., which annoys me more with each step. Truly “encumbering,” like the Marquis had put it, suffocating and strenuous, since not for one second can I forget myself and act normal. I have to keep the film of dignity I retained after they saw me hanging from chains in the dungeons, subject to the Marquis’ lust. I keep my back straighter than ever, my chin up and my attitude contained.

But when one of the men pushes the heavy double doors to the Marquis’ study, revealing my fiancé in conversation with Pretty Lauren, I can no longer keep back. Fury shows in my face for sure, and I can’t even remember if the man knocked first or not.

“Well, well, well,” I say and stalk to them in an aggressive catwalk prance that escapes my control. “Isn’t this an interesting visit?”

I stop by the Marquis, looking straight into his black eyes that make my legs feel weak. Still, the anger gives me a weird kind of nerve. I curl an arm around his lower back, the fabric of his suit caressing my palm as I brush over it, and raise my chin to invite him for a kiss. This can end badly, very badly, I realize. He doesn’t look like he intends to lower his handsome face and kiss me, which would make me stand a fool in Lauren’s eyes, but after a few seconds’ hesitation I realize it was just the stun. His lips press warm and soft on mine, making a buzz start in my lower belly, his bittersweet scent acting on me like a drug.

A bit dizzy and really nervous I peel my lips off his, staring up into his hypnotic black eyes, hoping to read his feelings and having forgotten why I just did what I did. Lauren clears her throat, thus reminding of her presence and my reasons. With narrowed eyes I look at her sitting with her legs crossed and arms on the chair arms. She glares a misty green glare at me, her make-up flawless, the dark red dress that matches her hair too short. A pair of high designer shoes seem to dangle from her white feet. Her skinny legs are naked to mid-thigh, her silk dress draped over her pointy-boned hips. She’s always been skinny but sexy nonetheless, and jealousy would eat at my jugular in a mighty way for finding her with the Marquis if it weren’t busy eating at Lauren’s. The jealousy in her pretty greenish eyes is the exact kind of balm I need right now. I give her an almost involuntary satisfied smile.

“And to what do we owe the pleasure?” I inquire sweetly, nestling my cheek at my fiancé’s chest. My fiancé. The idea and the feel of him make my heart flutter, and I must admit this situation has just turned into something rather pleasant.

“Miss Lauren was just telling me about a property her father has for sale,” the Marquis answers in her place, his voice a ripple of chocolate to my senses. My lids feel a bit heavy, and I know he’s unleashing his opium-like powers on me, but I make every effort to resist.

“Oh, and he sent his daughter to discuss the deal. I didn’t know you were real estate savvy, Lauren,” I address her.

The Marquis’ hand goes around my middle, and now we’re standing cradling each other’s lower backs, leaning on his desk. He doesn’t intervene to save Lauren from replying despite her glancing at him repeatedly before doing so, and seems to enjoy my defending his position as my man.

“Nice banquet yesterday. Hopefully the wedding turns out just as good,” Lauren changes the subject and stands in one rather jerky move. She pulls nervously at the rim of her dress as if she’s embarrassed, and grabs her purse form the corner of the desk. For a moment there I think she acts like a mistress who’d just been caught by the wife. I remember her envious stares last night while the Marquis took me on exhibiting rounds among the crowd to save his image in front of the guests after I’d been seen leaving with Jeremy. Speaking of Jeremy . . .

“You seem to have a weakness for my fiancés, but not all of them fall for red.” I measure her with a despising attitude, and feel like a bitchy idiot only a moment later.

“Saphira,” the Marquis pulls the brakes in a serious tone, but I try my best not to let it intimidate me. My body wants to keep glued to his hard torso, but my mind tells me to act, and I do, even if only to prove that I still have a will of my own.

“I need to go to town,” I say in a breath, turning to him as if Lauren weren’t even there. He shouldn’t have any reason to refuse the brilliant lie that I came up with. “I need to see Vivien for some floral arrangements for the wedding. Zed and his boys can escort me, if you feel more in control that way.” – I intend to make the visit to Billy the Notary only a “convenient stop on the way.”

The Marquis must like my thinking so seriously of the wedding, since his beautiful marble lips draw in a smile like none I’ve seen on his face before.

“Wonderful then,” he says, and looks at Lauren with a sharpness that stands in contrast with the warm smile he’s given me. “Miss Vivien’s house is exactly where Miss Lauren was going right now too.”

I freeze. I glance repeatedly from the Marquis to Lauren, and I realize this was a command she knows she has to follow. She is to act as his spy and, unlike the Marquis’ men, she can follow me even to the toilet. Whether she’s bound to him because they’re sleeping together or because he agreed to buy her father’s property, I don’t know. But I know that jealousy is showing its big ugly snout again, and this time darn close.

***

Enjoyed this? Let me know your thoughts in a comment, and stay tuned for Part III on Tuesday!

Previously The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 1. This is a compilation of The Marquis’ and Saphira’s moments together from the entire story.

Next: The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 3.

Read the entire Part 1 of the ENTIRE story here, and Part 2 of the ENTIRE story (“The Marquis”) here. Have fun!

 

Pic source.