Authors: Jaide Fox
“And you agree to exchange yourself
for your father?”
Bianca nodded. “But I must
“He is ... already gone.”
Her composure cracked.
“What? Is he ... dead?” She feared what he would say, yet feared not
knowing. If he’d harmed her father--
His jaw hardened. “No. I sent
him home on your horse when you entered my domain.”
How could he leave without
seeing her, without knowing that she’d come for him? How was she to trust this
man’s word, when she had no reason to believe anything that issued from his
Bianca whirled to run from
him, but the knight grabbed her arm, halting her. “When he awakens, he will be
in Raedan once more.”
Bianca turned on him, feeling
her anger and grief settle on her face. “You use foul trickery. How can I
He watched her steadily a
moment. “In your heart you know I do not lie. But hear this: I pledge on the
eternal damnation of my soul, your father has been released. In time, I will
release you to go to him ... once you have performed a service for me.”
Her pulse sped at the feel of
cool metal gripping her arm, at the firm set of his lips. She could not deny
his words--he spoke the truth. She sensed no life but her own here, not her
father, not Beast. She was alone with this man--this death knight or whatever
he chose to call himself.
She felt bereft at the loss
of her father’s presence, but it was what she’d wanted after all—for him to be
safe at home. She was young enough to handle the stresses of enslavement—her
father could not.
Bianca sighed, pulling her
arm free of his grip. She was at his mercy then, until he had what he wanted.
“So be it. But I ask a boon. Lift your helm. I would see the ... man ...
whom I would call master and know his name.”
A corner of his mouth lifted,
almost a smile, but far too cynical to be pleasant. In an old courtly ritual,
he lifted her hand and bowed low over it, pressing cool lips against her skin.
“As you wish Lady...?”
“Bianca,” she said softly,
watching as he straightened and reached up to pull the helm from his head.
He removed it and tucked it
under one arm, regarding her boldly. Her heart froze at the deadly beauty of
his eyes. Deep set, they were a piercing blue as dark as the vast depths of
the ocean. He seemed to sense her stricken state and took advantage, allowing
his gaze to roam down her body with sinful deliberation. The intensity of his
gaze swept over her with near physical sensation, heating chilled flesh with
Briefly, her thoughts turned
chaotic, carnal. A vision flashed in her mind of two bodies writhing in
ecstasy, of covering his naked flesh with the silk of her hair and the wet heat
of her mouth. Just as suddenly, the vision cleared and she was freed from
Something of the past? Was
she picking up on the thoughts in his head, or had he planted a seed inside her
own mind? She couldn’t know, but knew with a certainty that he wished only to
strike a nerve. It was obvious that he meant to toy with her in whatever way
he pleased until he had gained his objective.
He impressed her as more than
what he seemed, an enigma, a contradiction of forces bound inside one
tumultuous soul. His eyes reflected that strange quality, as though his existence
was a torment to himself, and inexplicably, her heart reached out to him. She
pulled herself from the brink of folly before it was too late, before she could
lose what good sense she still possessed.
“What are you called?” she
asked, disturbed to hear the almost breathless quality of her voice.
“Damian Alessandro,” he said,
and smiled, though it did not reach his eyes. It was as if no joy could
penetrate his shell.
She regretted her brashness
in coming alone, but knew she’d had no other choice. The men-at-arms would
have never allowed her within miles of this accursed place. With that thought,
Bianca remembered suddenly that she’d failed to retrieve her things from the
pouches on Beast. She turned away, kicking herself mentally for not removing them
when she’d stopped.
Beast was long gone by now.
“My things.... I have nothing.” Her words lodged in her throat. “Not even a
farewell from my father.”
She felt the heavy press of
his hand on her shoulder. “I will tend to your every need ... until you give
me what I desire.”
Damian had thought the old
man exaggerated her qualities. Instead, he’d hardly scratched the surface of
the truth. Thick, rich locks pooled over her shoulders like ink, emphasizing
the paleness of her skin and the fragile, blue lacework of veins pumping life
through her body. The delicate bones of her face formed classical lines, and her
smoky eyes were prominent, enigmatic, and kind. But her appeal was more than
physical—despite her loveliness. It was an inner light that drew him
inexorably to her, that pricked the blackness consuming his soul.
Long had it been since he’d
encountered a woman of pure heart, and she tempted him in ways he’d not
imagined. Inside something stirred, a sensation he had long forgotten, and
denied, through the centuries. For what was desire but a fuel, an emotion of
energy and vibrancy ... the creation of life ... and no part of his existence.
Damian tightened his hand on
her shoulder, no more feeling her flesh than he could the air stirring his
hair. His only sensation existed in his mind’s imaginings, a torment to what
still remained of his sanity. He could not
her, could not smell
her hair, nor taste her skin, though the temptation was there, nevertheless.
A temptation to appease the
sudden, fierce longing, to resume his human form and take her was near
overwhelming ... to lay her on the ground and splay her legs wide, sink his
turgid flesh deep within her and feel the liquid heat consume him in a riotous,
Abruptly, he tore himself
from the thoughts, removing his hand from her shoulder and the enticing appeal
to do what he should not. He could not risk it. He had but one night in a
hundred years to recapture a single moment of life, to resume his human flesh
and feel the world as a living being. The promise of it had been his only
solace in these dark years, the only thing keeping him from utter madness. An
unwilling woman could not satisfy his desires, and the torment of having slaked
his lust but for so brief a time would send him over the edge of sanity when it
was torn away on the morning as his curse returned full force.
No, he must see her merely as
a means to an end. For he was tired of this existence, weary of the yawning
blackness teasing him with blessed oblivion but never nearing his reach. Death
had remained elusive for longer than he cared to remember.
She turned to face him, piercing
him with a stare of shaky confidence and expectancy. “What do you wish of me,
He tried to smile, to set her
at some ease. “You must call me Damian.”
She nodded, and feathery
strands of hair blew across her face, clinging to her lips. She brushed them
away, a simple, sensual gesture that captured his attention fully.
“Very well then. When would
you like me to begin my service to you?” Bianca asked.
She was eager to be gone. He
could not blame her. The ways of the living were lost to him. “Any time you
are ready to be free,” he said.
“What must I do?”
He narrowed his eyes,
studying her. This was what he wanted, what he’d sought for years and given up
hope of attaining. Those that knew of the curse had long since crumbled to
dust and been reabsorbed into the earth. He couldn’t expect her to know or
suspect ... and yet his hope flared anew in her presence. If only she were
willing to use her power for him. “I require you to ... heal me.”
Bianca frowned. A look of
doubt passed across her face, lightening the smoky gray of her eyes. “You are
immortal, are you not? I don’t understand....”
He turned from her, unable to
face the condemnation he knew would show in her eyes once the truth was
revealed. It should not matter to him. His feelings, he knew, had vanished
with his humanity, but she’d broken through his armor of ice somehow. If she
saw him as he truly was, no more than vacant armor and a translucence of flesh,
she would run from him in terror. How ironic that he looked akin to the
necromancer he had destroyed.
“I am accursed. This form is
but illusion alone. Beneath this armor, lies only the shell of my spirit. You
must heal me with your touch, as you banished the cold when you laid fingers
upon my breastplate.”
She hesitated, and he could
see her uncertainty in her face. “I do not think I can.”
Damian faced her, his jaw
tight with anger. He should have realized she would try to elude him. “If you
want to gain your freedom, you will.”
“Perhaps if I knew the
“It is nonsense. The curse
has no meaning or purpose other than to drive one insane. It is the blow he
struck me which keeps me in bondage.”
She sighed softly, shook her
hair back from her shoulders. “Very well then. If ‘tis an injury....” She
reached up to touch his face and he pulled back abruptly.
He’d not been touched in so
long. A painful longing reared, and he fought to control it, to bring the
beast inside down.
“It must be done,” she said
softly. He nodded slowly, his eyes wary, and allowed her to cup his jaw in her
palms. “You’re cold,” she whispered and closed her eyes, concentrating.
Damian watched as a slight
crease marred the space between her arched eyebrows, studied the dark sweep of
her lashes and the movement of her eyes behind her lids. He could not feel her
as he wanted and dared not hope, but it rose without his urging, defied his
will. He could not doubt it when he felt the pang of disappoint as the red
glow from before failed to reappear. She suffered no pain as she held his
face. Something was wrong.
Slowly, she opened her eyes
and looked at him, dropped her hands to her sides. “There is naught I can do.
You are beyond my talents.”
A cold, deadly anger fueled
the rage he’d held in check, a fury unleashed by the hope dangled before him
then snatched away. She had not tried. He could not see how her touch could
have banished the icy shell surrounding him before, yet she now lacked the
power to free his spirit from captivity.
Fire flashed in her gray
eyes, and she pulled back from him as if stung. Then he
. Knew in
that moment that she refused to heal him out of spite. He’d not harmed her
father. There had been no other way to entice her to come. He
her heart she didn’t believe he deserved to be healed, that he was a monster
... ever the death knight. If she had thought he deserved mercy, she would
have been able to give him what he wanted so desperately.
He whirled away from her,
unable to stand the scorn in her eyes. A growl of rage and agony poured from
his throat, filled with the agony and longing he’d pent-up for centuries.
Winds and flame rose with his voice, battering the hall, flames reaching toward
the ceiling as the banners ripped to shreds in the teeth of the wind.
Distantly, he recognized her
sharp cry of fear, heard the soft patter of her feet on the stonework.
She would not leave him.
The heavy outer door slammed
shut before she could reach it. She hurled herself against the door, her fists
knocking against the wood. A hollow ringing sounded in the hall from her
pounding. He crossed the short distance in seconds, clamped his hands on her
shoulders and made her face him.
“You cannot leave,” he said,
his voice a hiss of sound through his tight jaw. “Until you heal me, you will