"Did you miss me? Because I missed you," she said when the guard escorted her inside his bedroom. Out of habit, he stood when a lady entered, and she flashed him a brilliant smile. "A gentleman warrior. Who cleans up very well." She fanned herself with her hand. "I think I'm in love."
He didn't answer, and she didn't seem to mind as she casually scanned the room. "Retro Dracula. Not necessarily what I would have done, but then I'm not married to sun-proof shutters like you might be..." She shrugged, then headed for the bathroom. "Taking a shower if you don't mind," she said airily over her shoulder, making him raise his brows.
At the doorway, she unbuttoned her tight blouse and shrugged from it, leaving only a transparent black bra. She turned to him, revealing her scarcely covered breasts, he knew, just so he could see the creamy flesh spilling from the lace when she bent over to remove her boots. What he didn't know was why.
Was she truly mad? Most people who were mad didn't think they were, but she seemed to be proud of it. He was usually quick to determine people's motives. Yes, she wanted her freedom, but for some reason he knew she wouldn't sleep with him to receive it.
If he had to guess, he would say that she simply didn't see stripping in front of him and making herself completely at home in a stranger's bedroom as odd. In fact, he suspected she didn't see them as strangers at all.
As he stood, concealing his surprise, she untied the fastening of her silky skirt at her hip, and it too fell to the ground.
A fine gold chain around her tiny waist caught his attention. It was unusual, the design appearing very old, but it glinted like new when she moved. Once he could take his eyes from it, he found her in only that wispy bra and scanty, black underwear so intricate he was shocked anew. They were like a work of art - or a like a ribbon decorating one.
She gave him a teasing smile. "Vampire like?" she purred, unclasping the front of her bra to toss it with her other clothes. He scowled because he did like. Very much. He ran a hand over his mouth, wondering if her high, plump breasts could be any more beautiful. She had coral pink nipples that he could spend hours tonguing and alabaster flesh he wanted to cup and palm. He began to speak, then had to cough in his fist to continue. "You'll strip in front of a vampire when you don't even know his name?"
She gasped with mock horror and covered her breasts with her hands. "You're right! So what's your name?"
"My answer will be as forthcoming as yours. What do you want it to be?"
She smiled at that but then replied to the question, "Some kind of name that fits a battle-scarred, overgrown vampire warlord."
Battle-scarred? Overgrown? He wondered why in the hell he cared how she saw him. She was divinely wrought, but mad. He'd take his scars with his sanity. "Nikolai Wroth," he grated.
For the briefest second he thought he saw recognition flicker. But then she eyed him archly and breathed, "Oh, you are good. Wroth, the old word for rage? That's a bingo idea for a name." Her hands dropped. "I'll just call you by that," she said, then gave him a second look, shaking her head with a rueful smile as if she couldn't believe he was so clever.
...as a hatter.
She leaned back against the doorway, raising her bent arms above her head to grasp her elbows. Displaying her mouthwatering breasts and flashing a flirtatious smile that would've dropped most men to their knees, she asked in her whiskey voice, "Care to join me, Wroth?" She winked when she said his name and rolled her hips up off the doorframe.
"No," he bit out the word with difficulty. He didn't want her to know how his body didn't respond to her. His mind did, his vague memories of being human did. But not his body. He was the walking dead. No respiration, no heartbeat, no sexual need - or ability. Not until he found his predestined Bride and she "blooded" him fully. With his blooding, something inside him, some essence - maybe even his soul - would recognize her as his. He would see her as the one he was meant to spend eternity with, the woman he could love without measure, if one believed in that, and his body would wake for her.
In the past he'd yearned for his Bride because of the power she would bring him - he would finally be as strong as blooded vampires, his senses as acute as theirs - but he'd never missed the sex before this. And Wroth knew after this display that she was not his. For this should've blooded any vampire.
She shrugged, the simple movement a sight to behold, then turned the corner to the bathroom. When she emerged fifteen minutes later clad in a towel, she crossed to his closet. He was almost certain she'd used his toothbrush.
Which...charmed him for some reason -
The towel dropped, leaving her with only her chain and him with a view of her perfect ass.
He swallowed. "Have you no modesty?" Never in his life had he encountered a female so quick to be naked. Of course, he'd never in his life encountered a female who should so utterly be naked at any chance.
"Not at my age," she said as she began exploring his recently unpacked clothing. How strange to hear her say that when she looked so young. He found his head tilting to keep his gaze on her as she moved and bent. The chain swayed at her waist, and her long, damp hair cascaded down over her breasts. He stifled a groan at a particularly fruitful glance. A true redhead. He closed his eyes. And he couldn't have her.
"How old are you?" he grated, opening his eyes.
"Physiologically, I'm twenty-five. Chronologically, I'm...not."
"So you are an immortal?"
An amused smile played about her lips. "I am." She pulled on one of his shirts though it fell far off one shoulder and well down her legs.
"Why did you stop aging at twenty-five?"
"When I was strongest. Not for the same reason you were frozen at..." - she trailed off, eyeing him - "thirty-four?"
"Thirty-five. And why do you think I stopped aging then?"
She ignored him to continue digging. After a few moments, she plucked out an old bejeweled cross from his bag. She pinched the relic, holding it away from her, keeping her gaze from it. "You're Catholic?"
"Yes. It was a gift from my father." To help keep him alive in wartime. Wroth shook his head at the irony of just how well it had worked. "I thought I was the one who should be repelled by it."
"Only a turned human would say that. Besides I'm in no way repelled. With jewels like that? If I look at it, I'll want it."
"So you wouldn't want it because you're Catholic, I take it?"
"My family was very orthodox pagan. Can I have?" She held it forward, still not looking at it. "Can I, can I, Wroth?"
"Put it back," he said, fighting the unfamiliar urge to grin. With a pouty expression, she returned it, mumbling something about tightfisted vampires, then dipped her feet into his boots. When she turned to him with her hands on her hips, his lips almost curled at the sight of her, a mad pagan immortal swallowed by his boots.
"What did your mother feed you?" she teased. "Renaissance anabolics?"
His urge to smile faded. "My mother died young."
"So did mine." He thought he heard her murmur, "The first time."
"And I was born after the Renaissance."
She drew her feet from his boots and sauntered past him. "But not by much."
"That's true. And why do you think I stopped aging at thirty-five?" he asked again.
She frowned as if she didn't know where his question had come from, then said, "Because naughty Kristoff found you dying on a battlefield, decided you'd make a fine recruit, then made you drink his blood. Bit a wrist open, perhaps? Then with his vampiric hoo-doo blood in your veins, he let you die. Unless he was in a hurry, then he would've killed you. One to three nights later and voila, you rise from the dead - most likely with a frown on your face as you think 'Holy shite, it worked!' "
He ignored the last and asked, "How do you know the blood ritual?" He'd thought that only vampires knew the true way to turn a human. In movies and books, the change always came as a consequence of a vampire's bite, when in fact a human had more chance of turning if he bit a vampire.
"Like I said, I know everything."
Yes, but he was learning, if sporadically. She was an immortal, who'd been frozen physiologically at twenty-five. If she was pagan she was at least a few hundred years old. She knew of the blood ritual and that Kristoff "recruited" his soldiers straight from the battlefield.
When she scooped up her clothes, opened his door, then snapped her fingers for a guard down the hall, Wroth merely watched like a bystander.
"Pssst. Minion. I need these laundered. Very little starch. Don't just stand there gawking or you'll anger my good frenemy General Wroth. We're like this."
He couldn't see her but knew she was twining two fingers together.
Once she'd foisted her laundry, she closed the door by dramatically leaning back against it - as if to say he couldn't get away from her now - then glided over to him. As a rule, he observed, he calculated and he waited, but he'd never quite enjoyed sitting back and watching events unfurl as much as with her. Unpredictable didn't begin to describe -
She clutched his shoulders and straddled him.
Nothing between them but his pants and a few inches. He could even feel her heat as she knelt over him. She was definitely not his Bride or he would've ripped through his zipper to get inside her. His heart would beat, he would take his first breath in three hundred years, and in the space of one of those breaths he would be buried so deep in her tightness, wrenching her down on him... But nothing approaching that happened.
"Now, Wroth, we need to work some logistics out. When I'm kept as a pet, my care is very involved."
His brows drew together. "I have no wish to keep you as a pet."
"You hold me prisoner. You think to order me. How does this differ?"
"You're not a pet," he insisted. He couldn't think - her eyes were mesmerizing, her sex was inches away from his, and her pleasing accent was lulling.
She leaned in by his ear and murmured, "What if I want to be your pet? Would you like that, vampire?" Her fingers brushed their way over his chest, unbuttoning his shirt. She picked up his hands one at a time and set them on the armrests, giving each a squeeze as if to let him know she wanted them to stay that way.
With raised eyebrows, he let her. He wasn't about to move, and couldn't imagine what she would do next.
"If I was your pet, you could keep me for your pleasure, and I would serve you in every way you desire." She pulled his shirt open, clearly admiring his chest. "Hard." Her voice was breathy. "Scars." She moistened her lips. "I'd endeavor to blood you so you could wake at sunset with my mouth greedy on you while you clutched my thighs to drink from. You would go to sleep at sunrise still deep inside my body." Her hand was trailing down, her eyes raptly following the jagged scar that had been his deathblow. "I am here for the taking and ache for your touch."
She reached down and cupped him beneath her before he could grip her wrist. In an instant her seductive look vanished, though she showed no surprise that he wasn't hard. She felt around his cock, then arched an eyebrow to say, "Well, my word, Wroth. If you were hard, I wouldn't know whether to be tantalized or terrified."
Then with blurring speed she was off him, and in the bed, lying on her stomach, chin propped on her hands. She was utterly unaffected by what had just occurred, while he was angered and...shamed that she'd felt him like this. He wanted to show her hard...
"How do you plan to keep me here during the day? An unblooded Forbearer shouldn't be so hard to vanquish."
Vanquished by her? Amusing. "I'll send you back to the cell. You want to be my pet? I'll take you out and put you back in your cage at my pleasure."
She blinked at him. "You don't want to send me back. Who will entertain you? I can deal poker and make shadow animals."
He shook himself. This was just another instance of the Lore playing with them. She was not normal. He knew that anything he'd learned about females was inapplicable with her.
If she could be unaffected, he could pretend it. "I need you to answer some questions. I need to know what you are and what your name is."
"I'll answer your questions if you answer mine."
"Done," he said quickly. "Ask."
"Were you afraid when Kristoff stood over you?"
"I was...tired." Strange question.
"Most mortals would have been terrified to see the Gravewalker."
"Is that what he's called?" Kristoff would find that amusing. At her nod, he said, "Well, I'd seen a lot by that time."
"What's his agenda? Does he want to replace Demestriu?"
Wroth hesitated, then answered honestly, hoping that she would do the same. "He wants his crown back, but he doesn't want to rule over any faction but our own."
"Uh-huh." She raised an eyebrow as if she didn't believe him, then asked, "That was your brother in the dungeon?"
"Turned vampires don't usually have family within the Horde."
"Murdoch died in the same battle. I've two other brothers turned later as well."
"You're young. Yet you're a general. How'd you swing that?"
He was over three hundred years old. Young compared to her? "I refused the dark gift if certain conditions weren't met."
Her eyes grew bright with new interest, and she patted the bed for him to come sit with her. He felt he was on the verge of learning something, so he complied, resting against the headboard to face her, stretching his legs out. He almost laughed. The first time he'd been in bed with a woman in centuries, and she was easily the most beautiful of any before - and he could do nothing with her. He couldn't even drink her, though his fangs ached to pierce the pale column of her neck. Thank God he'd fed before she'd been brought up.
"Wroth, you countered with Kristoff as you lay dying?"
When she put it like that it sounded more reckless than it had been. As Wroth had lain in his own cooling blood, nearly freed of the constant struggle, the ongoing war and famine and plague, he'd told Kristoff, "You need me more than I need to live."
Kristoff had seen him in many battles and agreed. "I did counter. I was used to giving orders and would take them from no one but a powerful king. I wanted my brother turned if he was dying, and trusted compatriots as well. Kristoff complied." That wasn't all. Wroth had asked for sixty years so he and Murdoch could watch over the rest of their living family - their father, four sisters and two other brothers.
They'd needed only three months.
"You know, I'd heard of you when you were a human. Weren't you called the Overlord?"
This surprised him. "On kinder tongues. How could you have heard of me? Your accent isn't from the northlands."
She sighed. "Not anymore. I'd heard of you because I'm interested in all things martial. You were quite the vicious leader."
He felt his expression grow cold. "We were defending. I was anything I needed to be to see it done." He could tell by her reaction that she liked his answer. Her lips parted as she tilted her head at him. Then she sidled closer to him on the bed as if she couldn't help herself.
Her voice more gentle, she said, "But in the end you lost."
He stared past her. "Everything." The battle had only been like the final blow on a dying man. Prior to that, the enemy had scorched and salted their lands. Famine followed and there'd been no defending when plague erupted.
"Wroth," she said softly. He turned his gaze to her. Her eyes were so captivating in her elven-like face, so clear and lucid at this moment. "Let's make a pact, you and I." She eased open his legs to kneel between them. "Let's vow that we won't harm the other in this room." She pressed him back until he lay fully on the rolled pillow. What would she do next?
When he gave her one quick nod, she flashed him a warm smile that made him feel praised in some way. Her damp hair was spilling down over his legs, and with the back of her hand, she swung it to one side, baring her tantalizing neck. A rush of the innate scent of her hair swept him up, like a drug. Sweet and subtle, just like her skin. If she smelled like this, he couldn't imagine what she would taste like. He wished she'd bared her flesh in offer to him.
"Wroth, this is embarrassing," she murmured in a sensual voice, "but I think I've caught you staring at my neck."
"You did," he admitted, oddly feeling no shame to be contemplating his order's most reviled crime.
She brushed her fingertips over her skin. "Are you tempted to take a drink from me?"
In the worst way.
He wondered how many times Ivo had taken her and felt a spike of some unfamiliar feeling claw in his gut. "We don't drink from living beings. It's how we got our name." It was this order's pledge, their pact. Wroth had never tasted flesh as he drank. But then he'd never felt the smallest stir of temptation to before her.
"So we are never tempted to kill," he said, giving her the official line, which was true, but the whole truth was more complicated, and they kept the details they'd managed to learn secret. Living blood, blood not separated from its source, brought side effects with it. A vampire would suffer torments from it, such as his victim's memories. Kristoff believed these memories were what drove natural born vampires insane and made their eyes turn permanently red. As far as they could determine, the only way not to harvest them was to drink blood that had died, avoiding the evils - and the benefits.
"What if you drank from an immortal that couldn't be killed from that?" she asked, her words lulling again. He couldn't seem to take his eyes from hers.
A tricky question to answer without saying that the immortal would have far too many plaguing memories, multiple in number to a mortal. He answered her question with one of his own. "Do you want me to take your flesh, creature?" The mere idea of it made his words rough, his fangs ache.
At her titillated look, he feared she'd say yes, calling his bluff. What would he do then?
"Rain check," she answered brightly. Then, to his shock, she curled up between his legs, face nuzzling against his uncovered torso, and wrapped her pale, delicate arms and hands around his thigh.
"I never asked my questions," he said, staring at the ceiling, trying to sound casual about what was occurring. He'd seen a great many things in his life, but this female was throwing him.
"We have all the time in the world for that, do we not?"
He thought she kissed the scar on his lower stomach with her lips - and a slow little lick. He lay tensed, rasping, "At least tell me your name, creature."
"Myst," she whispered, then she fell asleep.
Myst. How fitting that she was named after something intangible and capricious.
Long after, he was still roiling. In sleep, his little pagan clutched his leg with her pink claws. And they were claws, sharp and curling, though somehow elegant. He ignored the pain, for it was little compared to the odd satisfaction of thinking that she clutched him for comfort.
He savored simply resting with her, doing nothing but watching as her hair dried into big, glossy red curls that spread out over his chest. For centuries their army had been constantly on the move, hiding in the shadows of the northlands in often grueling conditions, keeping their growing numbers secret. Everything had been about the war, all adding up to this attack, to furthering their cause.
He brought a curl up to his face to brush it over his lips. So soft, like her flawless skin. Tomorrow night, if she hadn't given him information - and he somehow knew she wouldn't voluntarily - could he lash her skin to get at her secrets? After Myst had cleaved to him so trustingly? Could he break any of her delicate bones and have her gaze at him with pain in those green eyes? If she'd been his Bride he wouldn't have to hurt her, would be forbidden from ever harming her - his life given over to protecting her.
He ran the backs of his fingers down her silken cheek, feeling her light, quick breaths warm on his stomach. He'd never truly felt the sting of envy in his life, had never envied other men except those who enjoyed peace in their land. He'd been born affluent, his family aristocratic, and fortune had followed him until the latter years of his mortality. To envy was to lack.
So why did he want to destroy any vampire who might be blooded by her?