The fumes of swamp, steamed hot dogs and soured beer wafted up to Myst and her sisters as they perched on a roof above the chaos that was Bourbon Street.
There were rumors of vampires running about in New Orleans.
Vampires in Louisiana? Unheard of.
If there'd been only one account of leeches, then she and Regin and Nïx would still be back at Val Hall, their bayou manor, playing video games. But a demon friend had sworn he'd seen one - and a phantom had whispered that there was not just one faction of vampires, but two.
Myst's eyes darted over the scene, trying to remain focused and not notice the couples frantically grinding against each other in dark alleys. If Daniela was here she would blow them a kiss and cool them off, freezing hands to asses in mid-grope and making her sisters chortle and roll along the roof. Myst supposed that the Valkyrie were easily amused.
But focus was proving futile ever since her heart had sped up at the idea of vampires here. If for some reason they had come to the New World - which the Horde historically found vulgar and beneath them - that still didn't mean him.
Wroth. One of her true regrets in her life.
Every day, she mused that she shouldn't have left that vampire to suffer - she should have killed him.
Regin tossed her blade up, caught the point into her claw, then flicked it up once more. "You know, not that I believe there are actual vampires here - cause that's just whacky speak - but if there were, they should know that this is our turf."
"Should we ask them to rumble? Or maybe mash?" Nïx asked as she swiftly braided her waist-length black hair. "I've heard those can be a graveyard smash." Even sporting the old-fashioned hairstyle and an occasionally confused glance - she saw the future more clearly than the present - Nïx still looked like a supermodel.
"I'm serious," Regin said. "New Orleans may have once been the mystical melting pot of the world, but we control this place now."
"We can always send Mysty the Vampire Layer to battle them," Nïx said thoughtfully. "Oh wait, she'd run off with them."
Regin added, "Or use her famed tongue assault to flail the skin from their bodies as they inexplicably line up to sacrifice themselves."
"Har-de-har-har," Myst mumbled, half-listening. She'd been razzed about this continually. And she deserved it. She might as well have been caught free-basing with the ghost of Bundy. Of course others had overheard the jokes in the coven and the word spread. Even other factions of the Lore - like the nymphs, those little hookers - whispered about her unsavory predilection toward vampires. But it wasn't vampires plural, it was only one.
Wroth. She shivered. With his slow, hot fingers...
In her bed late at night, when she touched herself, she always fantasized about him, remembering his hard chest and harder shaft, imagining his ferocity, his intensity, if he ever found her again.
Truthfully, she thought he might have found her by now. She'd - accidentally? - given him her blood, possibly giving him her memories, which could lead him straight here. She often pondered that reckless kiss. She'd had no discernible intention of giving him blood, but hadn't she known in the back of her mind that his fangs would be razor sharp with her sisters' arrival? Had she wanted him to find her?
She shook her head, needing to stay sharp. Annika, Daniela and Lucia were down there somewhere.
"Lookit," Regin said, pointing down. "Men that big shouldn't get schnockered."
Myst turned her attention to a tall man who reminded her of Wroth from the back - why couldn't she get that vampire off the brain? - though this one was much rangier in build. The man leaned against another massive male, hanging on to him for balance as they walked. She noticed her claws were curling.
"Myst, can't you control that?" Regin asked with a fleeting glance at her claws. "It's embarrassing."
"Listen, I can't help it, I like big males with broad shoulders. And I bet under that trench coat he has an ass that begs to be clutched."
Nïx offered, "And it's not like she can put Band-Aids over them - "
"Holy shite," Regin exclaimed. "I see a glow. Ghouls, down by Ursilines Avenue."
"Damn it," Myst muttered. "In public again? They are hard-up recruiting then." Ghouls were maniacal fighters out to increase their numbers by turning humans with their contagious bites and scratches. They had green, gelatinous blood, and the parish of Orleans went gooey every time the coven fought them.
"Again." Nïx sighed. "And there's only so many times we can convince drunken tourists they're extras in a sci-fi flick."
Regin slid her blade into her forearm sheath. "Stargate part twelve is officially on location." She rose. "We'll go canoodle the ghouls. You keep a watch out for vampires." She made a ghostly wooo-wooo sound. "And try not to lift tail for any of them, 'kay?"
As Myst rolled her eyes, her sisters linked arms and leapt down, moving so quickly they were like a blur. As usual, no one could see them, and if they did in this Lore-rich city no one registered it.
Myst surveyed the glow from afar. It wasn't that extensive, so she knew they could handle it. As eldest, Nïx was strong and Regin was wily. Besides, Myst had new boots on and she'd be damned if she'd lose another pair to the epic battle between buttery soft Italian leather and goo. Too many casualties already. It was terribly saddening. Really.
Her attention easily fell once more to the man on the street, and she raised an eyebrow. If his front matched his back, she'd be tempted. It had been ages, literally, since she'd had a little some-some, and she deserved -
She sucked in a breath, springing back against the dormer. The drunk was no drunk at all she saw when he peered down an alley, giving her his profile. The body she'd been ogling was that of her "estranged husband," as the coven liked to tease her.
He stumbled not from drink but from weakness, his build different because he'd lost weight. And that was his brother Murdoch helping him - helping Wroth find her.
Shaking, she crept along the roof, pressing herself around the dormers, hoping to get away before he saw her. He stopped, lifting his head above the milling crowd, then swung around to her direction.
His gaze fell directly on her, his eyes black, feral and riveted to her with a look of utter possession. When Murdoch's gaze followed Wroth's, he gave her an almost pitying expression, then he slapped Wroth on the back before tracing away.
The blood left her face. She leapt to the roof of the adjoining building, gaining speed for the next -
She screamed as Wroth's gaunt visage appeared directly in front of her. Traced. She sprinted in the other direction, but he snatched her around her chest, pinning her to him, making her feel his erection thick against her. She elbowed his throat, dropped from his arms, and dove over the edge of the roof. She tumbled into a high-walled courtyard, landing on hands and feet, then scrambled up to leap out of the darkened space. But her speed was no match for his tracing.
He snagged her again, and though she fought, he was somehow stronger even in his condition - maybe because of his condition. One of his hands yanked up her short skirt.
"Wroth! Don't do this!"
"Five years of hell," he sneered, palming her ass roughly. "You deserve to be fucked till you can't walk."
She gasped, trembling. "So the warlord claims his prize? It figures that you'd take your Bride whether she wants it or not. You'd make me remember being forced?"
After a pause he bit out, "No. God, no." She heard him freeing himself. "Myst," he groaned, "just feel me." He took her hand and made her cup his heavy sack, then grip his shaft. Never had she felt such hardness. "Rub the head," he rasped in her ear, making her shiver as she felt the moisture. "That's as close as I can get without you. I need to fuck you so bad I'm sick with it."
With a bitter curse, he lowered his head, forehead against her neck, but he only thrust against her ass. "Can't stop," he grated, and she knew then that he wasn't going to take her body, just touch it, use it. Why would he refrain for her...?
His fingers strummed her nipple. Lightning. No, she couldn't want this.
His breath was hot on her and made her body go liquid. She could want it, just as she did every night in her lonely bed. The air was sultry, redolent with the scent of jasmine and even more moist than usual from the pounding fountain in the corner. No one was home. He wouldn't take her, so why not enjoy this for mere moments?
When she went soft in his grasp, lacing her arms back to lock behind his head, he growled and kicked his feet against hers, making her spread her legs. Shuddering, he ruthlessly shoved against her flesh, then threw back his head and yelled out just before he came. At the last minute he turned from her and began to spill his seed onto the ground.
She was frozen, unable to see, and for some reason it affected her more to only hear his reactions, the guttural groans erupting from deep in his chest. She felt the violent shaking, the strength in his wracked body as he clenched her through waves of pleasure.
It went on and on, each second that passed reminding her of how badly he'd needed this. Then he put his lips to her neck, clutched her ass and she knew he was stroking himself directly to ejaculate again. When she thought about how many nights he would have envisioned this, her head fell back against his shoulder.
The second time was impossibly even more powerful as he desperately kissed and licked her skin, squeezing one breast then the other, reminding her keenly of when he'd brought her to come that night in the dungeon. She wanted to join him - she wanted him to work those fingers on her next.
When he was done, he lifted her hair and brushed his lips to her neck, shuddering and breathing heavily. Her eyes closed and she was just about to say, "My turn," when he did the most bizarre thing.
He arranged his clothing again and pulled down her skirt, then he turned her to him to stare down into her eyes. He cupped the back of her neck hard to yank her to face him, but instead of drinking her, or hitting her, he squeezed her into his broad chest, his hand moving to the back of her head, tucking her into him with those powerful arms. Which was disconcertingly pleasant.
Curious, she let him embrace her, relaxing a fraction, and in return, he lowered his head to kiss her hair. Finally he set her back to face him. His expression was not as wild, but grim. "I've searched for you, Bride."
"Been right here."
"You've treated me ill, leaving me in that state."
"My sisters were going to kill you, but I saved your life. And you were about to treat me far worse."
"And licking my fang?"
That had been an accident! Still she raised her chin and said, "The least I could do since you were about to torture me. Consider it a memento."
His face hardened at that, but then he seemed to get his temper under control. "For five years I've envisioned the retribution I would mete out, constantly imagining making you pay for what you did to me." He exhaled a long breath. "But I'm weary of it, Myst, weary of carrying this. I want to look forward and get on with our life."
"From here I'm willing to start with a clean slate. We are even for our misdeeds against the other and we will forget about any past...indiscretions that might have gone on before we met."
"Indiscretions?" How magnanimous of the vampire to give her an empty score card. To fill back up.
"Your blood gave me more than a mere taste. How do you think I found you?"
"So you collected my memories?" Lovely. Did he now know she'd been utterly infatuated with him? Had he harvested all her knowledge about the Lore? "Did you enjoy telling your brother and your friends all about my life - my private thoughts and private...deeds?"
"I have never told anyone anything I've seen. Believe me," he added in an odd tone. "And I vow I never will. That is between us."
"Can you vow you'll never use information about my family to harm them?"
"Forget it, then. Doesn't matter anyway," she said, trying to wrench away from him. "There's no starting our life - even if you hadn't been about to do what that night? Break my fingers, my legs?"
He didn't deny these things. "That is in the past and you've paid me for that in kind. If it is consolation you want, know that I've suffered far worse than I could ever have dreamed to inflict on you. For these years, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't drink. The only thing I could do was fantasize about fucking you, with no relief."
Warmth bloomed in her belly, but then she frowned. "It doesn't console me. I just want you to let go of my arms and allow me to walk away. My kind abhors yours. And even if I liked you and you were decent to me, my sisters would kill you, and I'd be ostracized by every being in the Lore. There's no way I'd choose pariah-hood with you over my current life - which I happen to enjoy the hell out of - so back off. I don't want to have to hurt you again."
He raised a patronizing eyebrow at that, which made her bristle, then said, "I can't let you go. I'll never do that. Not until I die."
"I've given you a warning and I'll say only once more - release me."
"It will never happen. So what will make you accept this? A vow? Done. I vow to you that I will never use what I've learned to harm your family. As your husband I could never hurt them anyway because the end would be hurting you."
When she saw he was deadly serious about this, she realized playing with him was over. He was going to try to force her to live with him. Because he felt that was his right over hers.
No different from all the others. Her name should be Myst the Possession.
She wondered if she'd keel over dead if someone finally asked her to be with them.
"Wroth," she whispered, snaking her arms up his chest to twine her fingers behind his neck. He leaned down to hear her. "Do you know what it would take to make me your Bride in truth?"
"Tell me," he said quickly.
"The life leaving my cold, dead body." She kneed him, deciding at the last minute not to break his tailbone with her blow. When he fell to his knees, she backhanded him, sending him flying twenty feet into the courtyard wall.
He bellowed in fury, slow to rise as she sprinted down a breezeway nearing the wrought iron gates at the street. But he traced forward, snatching at her, brushing down her back with his fingertips, then snagging the chain. She screamed in pain when it broke from her.
Great Freya, not the chain. If he figured out its power over her, it wouldn't matter how strong she was as a Valkyrie or how well she fought. She ran for her life, busting through the locked gates, blowing them off their hinges to clatter and spark across the street. For two thousand years it had been unbreakable.
Don't hear, don't hear, run, escape from his voice...
"Myst, stop!" he roared, frustration choking him when he found only the fine, gold strand from her waist.
Yet she froze, nearly falling forward her feet planted so quickly.
She turned to him, sauntering back down the corridor to rejoin him in the courtyard. Licking her lips and smoothing her hair, she said, "That's mine and I want it back."
She reached for it, but he held it high from her. He was not magically inclined - he hadn't believed in the Lore until he was turned - but even he felt the power in the strand of gold. The power of what?
Lightning streaked the sky behind her. She must want it very badly indeed.
"Would you steal from me?"
"You've stolen from me. Years - you've taken years from me."
"I thought we were even."
"That was until you tried to unman me."
"I will be kinder to you if you give it back."
Her eyes were mesmerizing, and he had to shake himself. "We're past that point. All I wanted was to make my life with yours. And you left me in pain." Earlier, when he'd finally been released from endless nights of torture, he'd felt overwhelming gratitude to her - irrational, since she'd consigned him to it - but he'd known a measure of contentment for the first time in years. Then she'd lashed out again. "After tonight, I understand that you'll never be brought to heel." He clutched the chain, recalling earlier how she'd stopped so suddenly. "Unless..." He trailed off, staring down into her eyes, riveted to his. "Kneel."
Her knees met the stone as if she'd been shoved down.
His eyebrows drew together in shock, his breaths coming fast. "Shiver," he commanded, not quite believing...
She did, and her skin pricked as if with cold. Her nipples hardened and she hugged her arms around herself.
He knew his grin was wicked. Five years of imagining had never prepared him for this. "Grasp my belt."
She looked up with dread, was staring into his eyes pleadingly when he said, "Come."