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

 

Prince of Obsession – Chapter I FREE

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 anaatcalin@gmail.com, 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:

Anagratiu_v4_Ebook

 

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?

***

CHAPTER I

Prince Radek

 

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.”

***

 

 

Juliet

 

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.

“Juliet.”

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.

***

 

Radek

 

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.

***

Prince of Midnight is live!

It’s the 20th of December and, as promised, Prince of Midnight just went live! It’s there for you to grab it, if you like, plus!–You won’t have to wait long for the sequel, Prince of Obsession. It will hit the Zon as soon as the 18th of January, and you know what? Get used to it. I have a new book planned for every month of 2019, so there will be a lot of fun! (And a lot of interesting stuff about vampires, shifters and other supernatural creatures)

The plot takes place in the Carpathians, is related to Dracula and Dracula’s castle, and the book is similar to the work of Christine Feehan. So, if you enjoy Christine Feehan books, you might love this one, too : )

Anagratiu_v3

Prince of Midnight – Chapter One

Loves, the muse is here, and I pray she’s here to stay 🙂 Here is the beginning of a new novel I intend to release for Halloween, Prince of Midnight. Let me know what you think.

Prince of Midnight

CHAPTER I

Juliet

My first press conference is a nightmare. We’re talking a monstrous gathering at the old Opera House that traps me between other reporters, more experienced than me, and more ferocious than my ribs can take. Their jabs to my sides are merciless as they battle for the best spots and best visibility to be picked for questions, but I’ll be damned if I give in.

“Move out of the way, blondie.” A guy around my age with ambition written all over his face tries to shove me. Gripping my overlarge smart phone to my chest with one hand, I hold on tightly to the rail before me with the other. Keeping a spot in the first row is always a struggle, my rather fragile frame suffers, my hair is electrified like a white-blond version of Jackson 5, but fuck it.

Hang in there, Juliet Jochs. For the prize.

My prize, my target, my beacon is Radek Matthayus, a prince from the Carpathians. Though I haven’t seen him in person yet, I know all there is to know about the scrap of public persona he maintains. In short, he’s young, eccentric, a Casanova, and so immensely rich that he can’t be clean. Where he comes from, clean businessmen don’t make it like he did. In only a few years he increased his family’s inheritance by no less than fifty percent.

“Ladies and Gents, I give you prince Radek Matthayus, our patron and benefactor,” the master of ceremonies finally announces, rubbing his wrinkled hands together. His lips draw in an ass-kissing smile, while his eyes turn to the spot where Prince Radek is expected to appear.

The commotion stills for a few blessed moments that allow me to fill my ribcage with air. Clapping of hands announces the prince is close. I crane my neck to get a glimpse of him as he walks up the side stairs onto the stage, his shadow licking the velvet curtain as he moves flowingly towards the master of ceremonies.

There are few pictures of him on the web, none of them clearly focused, but enough for me to recognize him. Tall, black suit, dark hair and blue eyes, his face too pretty for a guy, and too young for his notorious money-making skills. After the master of ceremonies thanks him with heavens and earth for buying the old Opera House and saving it from being torn down and transformed into yet another mall, Radek takes the mike.

“It’s an honor to become the owner of this magnificent symbol of your history.” His voice is musical, trapped somewhere in his boyhood years, hypnotically pleasant. It distracts me from what he says next, but I snap right back to myself the moment questions are announced.

My arm shoots up into the air at once with all the others but, no matter how hard I try, the master of ceremonies doesn’t pick me.

Of course he doesn’t. I’m a new reporter, and young ones are usually too ambitious for their own good. At least that’s what I heard him say once after a shadowy auction that Radek also won, but I didn’t get inside the auction itself to see it.

No doubt, the master of ceremonies knows I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. Is Radek Matthayus supporting corrupt officials in his country? Has he helped boycott all attempts of building infrastructure in order to block foreign investment? Who is he bribing in order to get his hands on the most valuable pieces of real state in his country and beyond, and what is his ultimate purpose for amassing properties all over Europe? He usually keeps his business shrouded in mystery, but the old Opera House is too much of a national gem, so it proved impossible to keep the transaction behind closed doors. The entire national press is here, from shark to small fish.

Blocking real questions is the only shield against exposure of dark affairs. Only inquiries about renovation make it to the stage, about other properties the prince intends to acquire, even a question about his love life. The prince is very private about it, but he gives the brunette who asked a seductive smile.

“Sadly, I haven’t met the love of my life yet,” he says in his musical voice that makes the brunette flush. Boy, is she obnoxious with those needle-enhanced lips and fake fingernails. I crease my nose.

“But I sure hope Cupid takes his aim on me soon,” he concludes.

The brunette isn’t the only one who sighs like a hopeful idiot upon his answer. This beautiful bastard has women at his feet, and he sure as hell knows it. He plays on it, seducing them, depleting them of attention, admiration, adoration, sex, then throwing them away like broken shells.

“Maybe Cupid’s arrows just splinter against your steely heart,” I call out on an impulse. All heads around turn to me, including Prince Radek’s. Eat this, pretty bastard. “Considering your looks and wealth, you must be spoiled for choice. I’m surprised you haven’t found someone to your liking yet. Unless you think none of your admirers is good enough for you.” I shrug. “Just sayin’.”

Prince Radek’s eyes lock on me. His irises are turbid blue, like murky water, impossible to see through. But one thing is crystal clear—behind them lies a poisonous snake.

“You’re prejudiced, Miss Jochs,” he muses, tilting his head to the side and narrowing his eyes. Startled, I glance from him to my nametag, then back again. Wow, what an eyesight.

“I don’t get around that much. Part of my work requires solitude, part of it bleak attorney offices and long negotiations, rarely ballrooms and select social circles, as you might imagine. I don’t actually meet so many women.”

He’s lying. He must be. His porcelain face that’s really too pretty for a guy compels you to stare. His skin stretches young and flawless over a masculine bone structure, his lips blood red and carnal. The more I look at him, the less I’m able to look away, and his feline smile tells me he’s used to that. The guy’s a born seducer, a magnificent beast that breaks hearts for the fun of it.

His attention leaves me shortly after our exchange, but he glances at me every now and again. Before he leaves, followed by his bodyguards, I manage to snap a few pictures of him with my smartphone. I check their quality a few times, delete the bleary ones, and keep two that Herald, my boss and crush, should be happy with. Oh, he’ll be so proud of me when he sees my interaction with the shadow prince all over national press tomorrow morning.

***

 

I wake up in the middle of the night from headlights flashing between the slats of my blinds. I glance at the electronic clock on my side-table. It shows a glowing red two a.m. that hurts my eyes—pale blue is a color that makes eyes sensitive even to a blur of snow.

My tongue sticking to my palate, I step into my slippers and drag myself to the kitchenette for a few long gulps of water when I notice my smartphone blinking a weird white. I frown at it with the water still in my hand, struggling to understand. It usually blinks green when the battery is full, red when it’s almost empty, never white. Confused, I pick it up, punch in the code and swipe. Then I drop it and the water like they burn. The glass smashes on the floor, but the phone remains intact after it hits the counter.

I analyzed and overanalyzed the pictures I took of Radek Matthayus after the conference, and I’m pretty damn sure he wasn’t looking my way in either of them. I’m also sure the last thing I did before I put away my phone was NOT looking at his picture, so why does the screen light up to it? And why is he looking straight back at me, like he knows where I’m standing and what I’m doing, when I know for a fact I photographed the side of his face TWICE?

The blue in his eyes seems strange too. Frowning, I bend down to get a better look. No, the blue isn’t strange. His eyeballs seem rolled backwards, revealing the whites, his skin pale, a ghost staring back at me. His blood red lips go pale as death, and a grin begins to stretch along his face slowly, the skin cracking.

I jolt backwards, knocking down the stool behind me. On the kitchenette counter, the screen goes dark. I don’t feel safe enough to fall asleep again, yet by the time dawn begins rippling along the horizon I’ve formed a reasonable theory in my head—Radek Matthayus is a powerful man who can pay big for manipulating technology. He must have had some tech wizard hack into my phone from some basement, and scare me witless as punishment for making pretty boy look bad all over national press. The more I think about it, the more my ego swells. One way or the other, the prince has taken serious notice of me.

 

***

Stay tuned for more next week! It will get dark and dangerous 🙂