Authors: Chloe Hart
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Blood and Absinthe, Book 3
CLAIMING THE VAMPIRE
Blood and Absinthe, Book 3
Copyright 2012 by Chloe Hart
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Jessica Greenwood loosed the arrows within seconds of each other, and all three pierced the center of the target.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Blind instinct had led her here, to the deserted target range behind her mother’s Newport mansion, but the instinct had served her well. The feel of the bow in her hand had eased her tension until she felt almost herself again.
At least until she started to walk towards the target to retrieve her arrows, and her elaborate gown hampered her long-legged stride.
She paused for a moment to gather her skirts in one hand. Too much material below the waist, and not enough above. In less than an hour she had to make her grand entrance into the ballroom, and the thought of so many people looking at her cleavage—such as it was—made her muscles tense all over again.
She ought to be used to formal balls by now, even if she’d never had to wear a gown quite this showy. She’d gone to her first at the age of thirteen, and dozens more in the ten years since. Her attendance at such functions was just one of her many duties as the queen’s daughter. And as much as she hated them, never once in all those years had she acted on the temptation to hide out someplace until it was over.
Jessica smiled grimly as she stopped in front of the target, pulling out her black-fletched arrows and replacing them in her quiver. She felt the same temptation now, but it was definitely the wrong night to give in to it.
It would be rude to stand up the guests at her own betrothal ball. And it would be particularly rude to stand up the other guest of honor—the Dark Fae prince she was meeting for the first time tonight.
She took another deep breath as she resumed her place fifty yards from the target. She still had a little time before she needed to go back inside—half an hour, maybe.
So for thirty minutes more she could pretend she wasn’t a princess. She could pretend she wasn’t engaged to a man she’d never met, a man who came from a race of Fae she’d always been told were evil and soulless. She could pretend she was a warrior with no duties more important than perfecting the skills of her trade.
She could pretend she was free.
Jessica nocked an arrow to the string, drew it back to her ear, and let it fly.
When she was down to her last arrow, she stopped. It wasn’t working anymore. The walls of her life were closing in on her and she couldn’t pretend she was anything but a prisoner.
A willing prisoner, she tried to remind herself. Her mother hadn’t ordered her to accept the hand of the Dark Fae prince.
Queen Talia had never needed to order her to do anything. She knew her daughter would always do her duty.
Jessica held her last arrow in her hand and tried not to let the hopeless horror crawl inside her again. In a month she would leave Earth forever, and go to live with Prince Kel in the Dark Fae realm.
And in so doing, she would bring peace between the two worlds. More importantly, she would make
world safe for generations, even if she wouldn’t be here to enjoy it.
She wouldn’t give in to self-pity. She wouldn’t.
But in spite of herself, she thought of Liz and Celia, who
be here to enjoy it. Liz and Celia, whose mostly human ancestry meant they were regarded with disdain by some in the Fae clans—but who were free to marry where they chose, for any reason they chose. Lust or passion or…love.
Or, as her mother called it, “all that human nonsense.”
Astonishingly, both Liz and Celia had used their freedom to join their fates with vampires.
Jessica shook her head slowly, running her finger over the tip of her arrow. The sacrifice she was making meant that Liz and Celia would live to enjoy their love. The fact that she would never experience such love for herself was of no importance.
She’d never desired love, or passion, or any of that “human nonsense”. All she’d ever wanted was to be a warrior. And even if she had wanted that kind of love—which she didn’t—she could never give herself so completely to another person.
And that, she supposed, made her the perfect candidate for an arranged marriage. She wasn’t capable of intense passion, the utter devotion she’d seen between Liz and Celia and their vampire lovers. She was a half-blood Fae, cold at heart and cold in bone, seeking only the pleasure that came from victory in battle and doing her duty.
She was gripping the arrow so hard the shaft dug into her palm.
She would do what was required, as she had done all her life. She wouldn’t be so cowardly as to back out now, as Liz and Celia had suggested when she’d told them about her betrothal to the Dark Fae prince.
Their concern had warmed her, but she hadn’t shown it. Instead she’d told them, stiffly, that she was proud to be chosen for this sacrifice—if it was a sacrifice. Her mother, after all, had assured her that she would be happy in her new life.
Not that Jessica was under any illusion that her mother viewed her daughter’s happiness as a factor of any importance. But then, neither did Jessica herself. And she would never dream of running away from her duty, abandoning honor for selfishness.
No, she could never take that way out.
Her hand closed over the arrow tip, and she hissed with the sudden pain. She opened her palm, frowning down at the blood trickling from the shallow cut. Careless, and stupid, to cut herself on her own weapon.
She should go inside now. It was getting late, and she needed to clean the wound before she got any blood on her white dress.
But instead of moving towards the house, she stayed where she was, staring down at the red drops on her pale skin.
In the battle against the demons in the Canadian Rockies, Jessica had come close to death more than once. She had never been afraid to die. And since there was no greater honor than to die in battle, that was the end she’d always hoped for.
It was too late for that now. There would be no more battles for her, certainly not before her wedding. And after…
Jessica curled her hand into a fist. What about after? In truth, she hadn’t thought much about what her life would be like once she was married.
There would be no shortage of demons to fight in the Dark Fae realm. All the demons who found their way to Earth came from that dimension. It was the source of demonic energy.
Surely the Dark Fae had their own warriors, then. Would she be allowed to join their ranks? Was it possible that her new life might hold the opportunity for brave deeds, for the oblivion that came with the fever of battle…and for the final oblivion of death?
But then she remembered the night she and Celia had gone into absinthe trance, and traveled by spirit into the Dark Fae realm. The Dark Fae believed they needed to infuse their line with human blood to strengthen it. They planned to invade Earth for the purpose of taking human slaves for breeding. The attack would come on the night of the winter solstice, when every Fae on Earth would be drinking absinthe as part of their most sacred ritual.
It was Celia who had discovered that the drinking of Faery absinthe weakened the veil between the worlds, opening portals between the dimensions and allowing the demons free entry to Earth.
Queen Talia hadn’t wanted to believe Celia when the young spellcaster had first told her people this. And she—along with the rest of the Fae council—had rejected utterly the solution Celia had proposed: to close the portals between the worlds by abandoning their most sacred ritual, and destroying their supply of absinthe. The absinthe that gave Earth Fae their powers, their strength and healing ability, and their long lives.
When Jessica had corroborated Celia’s story, her mother had been forced to accept it. But she still wasn’t willing to support Celia’s proposal. Instead, she’d gone into absinthe trance herself on a daring mission: to negotiate with the Dark Fae queen.
Talia told the other queen that if she tried to overrun the Earth with demons and take human slaves, she would be starting a war that would decimate both their races. Talia had proposed a truce instead—and a mutually beneficial bargain.
There were no pureblood Fae left on Earth, which meant that human blood ran through their veins—and it was that human blood the Fae believed they needed to prevent their race from dying out. So Talia proposed that the two races intermarry.
The benefits for the Earth Fae were obvious. They would be protecting the humans, which they had sworn to do; they would prevent the influx of demons and a war they might well lose; and they could keep their absinthe—along with their more-than-human powers.
And they would be infusing their own race with pure Fae blood. Talia had been one of many who bemoaned the dilution of the Fae bloodlines on Earth, as more and more of them mated with humans—and she was eager to ally their people with the powerful and pureblooded Dark Fae.
Talia offered the Dark Fae not slaves, but volunteers in a bargain that would benefit both sides. And as a show of good faith, Talia had proposed that the first volunteer be her own daughter.
When the bargain was accepted her mother was hailed as a hero—as was Jessica. The Dark Fae queen had sent messages back with Talia, assuring Jessica that she would be treated with all the honor due her noble birth. Her new life, she promised, would be a blissful one.
But her function in that life, however flowery the language the two queens might use to describe it, was as a royal brood mare. She was to bear children to the Dark Fae prince, hybrid children they hoped would strengthen their line.
That was her role in this transaction. They wouldn’t value her skills as a warrior, and they wouldn’t allow her to risk her life—or her uterus—in battle.
So it was too late for her to dream of glorious death. Too late to dream of making a brave end in combat, proving her courage as she shuffled off this mortal coil.
Death had never seemed like an enemy to her. Life had never been so sweet that she feared to lose it.
And now? Now that she was pledged to marry a stranger, and leave her own world behind forever?
Jessica closed her eyes. Why not admit the truth, in the privacy of her own heart? No one else knew or cared what secrets she kept there.
No one else would ever know that she longed for death.
She opened her eyes again and stared down at the arrow in her hand. She would never be so cowardly as to take her own life, but…it would be so easy. Jessica made her own arrowheads, carving them from obsidian, and they were sharp enough to make the wind bleed. One quick stroke across her throat…
You’d need to be committed. Fearless. A half-hearted attempt would be worse than none. You’d have to give yourself to death before you raised your weapon, so that the deed was accomplished before you struck. The moment between decision and action would be like the moment after you jumped off a cliff—those few seconds of free fall when you were already dead though your heart was still beating, with no hope of changing your course.
The gleam of moonlight on the obsidian was hypnotic. The hand that raised the arrow seemed to belong to someone else. Softly she drew the tip across her throat, barely grazing her skin.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
* * *
Hawk Blakestone crouched in the low branches of a maple tree and watched the Faery girl shoot arrow after arrow with deadly precision.
She was Queen Talia’s daughter, and therefore an enemy. But he couldn’t help feeling reluctant admiration as he watched her.
She was better with the bow than he was.
Of course it wasn’t really his weapon. He’d made it a point to become proficient with one, but in his years as an assassin he’d preferred to use a knife—or his bare hands. His targets had always been other vampires, and coming in close for the kill gave the other bloke a fighting chance.
Not that he chose his methods to be sporting. But by giving his targets the opportunity to contest the issue, he gave himself a constant reminder that he was never more than a hair’s breadth away from death himself. That reminder kept him sharp, gave him an edge.
And because Hawk had never done what was safe or easy, he’d survived for decades in a profession with a remarkably high mortality rate.