Authors: Lacy Danes
Tags: #Dragons;Vampires;Witches;Historical;Hot Brothers;Strong females
No one understood his need. Blood was the only way he kept his wits. His power. His glow.
He traced his lips, and the salt-and-butter taste of blood on his tongue from three days past echoed a cutting memory. Saliva flooded his mouth, and his hands tremored once more. Thundering desire pushed him into fits of temper. They said this was all to find his mate. What would he do then? No more blood? He closed his eyes. What a folly. There was no mate for him. He took what he wanted. Nothing stopped him. He would bite the woman beside him, and his poison blood would kill. He fisted his hands. He needed that rush, that certainty, that control.
She giggled and stared up at him from her seat in his carriage.
What was her name?
Oh, indeed. Lady Elizabeth.
The blood of a well taken care of woman fed him in a rush that lower-class temptation did not. Though he had discovered he despised the smell of blood from those who had consumed garlic. He chuckled. He sounded the elite he was. The sides of his lips quirked up.
They would arrive at the Zir London home. He would satisfy his carnal cravings for the next several hours. He trailed his finger up the lady’s forearm.
More nervous giggles escaped from her lovely ivory throat.
He stared at the long column of flesh, the skin tight and throbbing, the pulse his teeth would slice through as he took his fill of her.
She was willing. More than willing. He would bed her, then feast. His own blood would fill his venom pouches and stream into her. Her blood from that moment forward would turn sour and dissatisfying. She would then fall away, and his valet would dispose of the lovely Lady Elizabeth. He never asked where the bodies went. He didn’t wish to know. Besides, the spell Ferrous had given him years ago always removed the suspicious thoughts from concerned people’s minds.
He stumbled down the carriage steps and held his hand up for her. She too swayed on the uneven ground caused by brandy. The butler said nothing as he opened the door, and Ilmir guided his guest up the stairs to the third floor. His rooms here resided in the attic. Only one additional room was on the floor—the guest room. No one ever came to visit. Why would they? He closed the door. “Miss Elizabeth.” He stepped toward her. She did not move.
“Lady Elizabeth,” she corrected and grasped the velvet of his deep red greatcoat.
His brow pinched. She crumpled the fabric. His blood surged, and his gray-gloved fingers wrapped about her throat. He tipped her chin back. “Take off your gloves.”
She whimpered, and the salty smell of her heated skin flooded his nostrils. Indeed. Tonight would be epic. Slowly she slipped the gloves from her hands.
“Good. Now lift your skirts and spread your thighs. I want to watch as you slide your fingers deep inside your loveliness.”
The throb of her pulse against the taut skin in her thrust-up neck increased.
Her feet slid apart on the wood floor. His own heartbeat thundered in his ears. He needed a taste. No… The one thing he would do was give her pleasure beyond anything she had known, before he took her life.
A loud thump came against the wall beyond the headboard where Astrid rested. Rested. Indeed. Her heart fluttered. She was not asleep. She could not sleep. She squeezed her eyes shut. Horse hooves clopped on the cobbles outside, and the wheels of carriages going down the street echoed in the dark. Her eyes drifted open. Light poured into the dark room. At night, the city was aglow.
Her mind raced and her skin burned with awareness. A woman whimpered on the other side of the wall. A heady warmth smothered her. She sat up. Astrid had heard similar sounds on the Isle, but none where she slept. She threw back the blankets, walked to the wall and pressed her ear to the smooth surface.
Muffled sounds met her ear. But nothing she could make out.
She frowned, grasped her robe and pushed her arms through the wool sleeves. She held her breath as she tiptoed out of her room and into the hall. The only other room on the floor was to the left of hers.
“Ilmir’s room,” Fina had said when they arrived at the late evening hour.
Hers was the only guest room in the house. Well, if he intruded on her slumber, she would ruin his fun too. This impulse was wrong, but this was her week, and he was part of her name-day wish. To bring him back to the family. To make him see he too was Zir. She raised her hand to knock on the door.
A woman moaned in deep pleasure on the other side.
Her eyebrows rose. That sounded delightful. What was he doing to her? Did they kiss? Astrid’s hand lightly wrapped the doorknob instead and squeezed the cool metal. Chills and fever raced her skin. She had never seen a man and woman together. Horses, pigs, birds, certainly.
She wanted to see what went on beyond the door. Her chest tightened, and she struggled to inhale. Today was her name day for another thirty moments.
She needed to see. She closed her eyes. In her five and twenty years, she had not been kissed, not once, and especially not in the way that came from the other side of the door.
“Turn so I can unlace you.” As if in a rush of air, Ilmir’s voice slid through the keyhole in the door. Astrid’s hand turned the knob. The door slipped open without a sound. She stepped in and closed the door, placing her back against the wood.
Ilmir glowed pure white in the black room. Glowing light lit the woman pressed against the wall. Her creamy white skin was bare. She wore nothing, no clothing at all. Her legs were parted, and her hands wrapped her stomach. Ilmir stood back, watching. The woman whimpered.
“Slip your right hand down between your thighs. Find your bud and, with the tip of your finger, trace circles around the hard flesh.” Ilmir’s hands fisted on either side of his hips.
Astrid inhaled and tried to still her own heart. Gooseflesh pebbled in a wave along her skin.
Ilmir’s head tilted slightly toward Astrid and then back to the window. He stepped forward. “No. Like this.” He placed his still-gloved hand on top of the woman’s lower curls and rubbed.
Astrid’s same muscles tightened and tingled. She swallowed hard. She would watch all. Every bit. His tongue slipped up the woman’s neck to her ear. “I am going to bring you so much pleasure that you will be exhausted before I take my desires from you.”
Those same words echoed through Astrid’s mind and struck deep in the dark sexual place she kept such experiences. She caught a moan in her clenched teeth.
“Oh!” The woman licked her bottom lip and then dragged her teeth across the plump flesh.
Astrid could see everything lit up like the sun. But there was no sun. Ilmir glowed as bright as the piecing rays when the light pushed through the black of a storm. He was the visual of that same bright feeling that energized her from within and washed through her when she watch a storm roll in off the coast. An uncomfortable ache intensified between her thighs.
He had saved her when she was eight, but he had been everything except a hero since.
He pulled the woman’s hands up, fanning her fingers out one by one on the smooth wallpaper. Her fingers clenched and then loosened.
He continued to move his hand between her thighs.
Astrid tipped her head back against the door and inhaled deeply. Her hand slid down to push the fabric of her thin nightdress into her own folds. She found the spot that made her toes curl, and pressed. Sensation zinged through her.
His hand took up a rhythm between the woman’s thighs, and Astrid mirrored her motions to his.
His white hair covered his face. What torment did he do to the woman with his tongue?
“You want this? To watch me?” Air blew against Astrid’s ear. Had she actually heard him speak?
“This will not end well for her. You know that. If you stay, you will not scream when I bite her.”
He spoke to her on the wind, and he would bite this woman once he was done. Astrid could not look away. Certainly she helped feed Hudson and Grandmum blood, and then there was the sadness of the deaths the Zir caused. She just had not expected this. Not right here, right now. As she watched. No. She could not stay. She slowly turned away and let her hand drop from between her thighs.
Her hand on the doorknob, she stilled. She couldn’t let him kill that woman. Knowing his intentions made her just as guilty. She turned back to the room.
His laughter silently wrapped her. “What, dear? Do you wish to speak?”
“Quite so.” She spoke in a loud, purposeful tone into the room. “I am sorry to intrude, sir. And truly pardon, ma’am or my lady or whoever you are. But you must leave.”
The woman shrieked. Ilmir pulled back from her and stared at Astrid. His glow dimmed, as did each beat of her heart. Astrid rushed forward and gathered the woman’s clothing from the floor. She thrust the garments at her.
The woman blinked and clutched the clothing to herself. “Are you his wife?”
Astrid laughed. “No. Never.”
“You find that funny?” Ilmir’s face scrunched up.
The woman pulled her chemise over her head, and then her dress. She stared at Astrid and slipped her satin slippers onto bare feet. Her corset and stockings tucked under her arm, she flung open the door to the hallway and disappeared.
Ilmir leaned back against the wall where he stood. His blue eyes sparked with annoyance, and his lips turned up into a wicked smile. “You realize you may have saved her for tonight, but the thrill of being caught in the buff by you will only have her calling on me again tomorrow.”
“The thrill? You are truly mad. No person wants what just happened here.”
“You can’t be that naïve. You found pleasure in watching me with her. Others find pleasure in being caught.”
“I have no inkling of what you speak of.”
“You didn’t find watching me pleasure her satisfying?” He pushed from the wall and was in front of her by the time she blinked. He inhaled. “Your body says otherwise.”
“May I?” He slipped off his left glove and held up his bare hand.
“May you what?”
“Stand still.” With his gloved hand, he lifted her nightdress up above her hips. “Inhale.”
She inhaled, and a sweet musky scent filled the air.
“That is you when you are aroused.” He let the cotton fall back to her ankles. “Unless you plan on allowing me to finish my night with you, I suggest you leave.”
“You would not dare bite me.”
“Did I say anything about biting? Nibbling, maybe.”
Her mouth dropped open. “You… Never.”
“So you keep saying. Yet you still stand here.”
She glanced down at her feet, then back up at him. “I’m leaving.”
“The door is right behind you…and open.” He turned away and walked to the small window by the side of the bed. He threw the sash wide.
Cool air rushed in and nipped at her bare toes.
He turned back to her. “Leave.” His eyes glowed deep sapphire. “I will not give you another chance.” The air whipped against her thighs like a switch.
Astrid flinched as a long-ago the memory cut into her mind. A man chased her down a muddy street. His long black hair puffed and bobbed back, and his thick middle restricted his knees from going too fast. She giggled, certain of her escape, then slipped in the mud. Hands flailing, she dropped the bread and landed on her knees. Thick fingers grasped her hair and pulled her back to standing. The tree branch slashed her thighs first, then her back. She cried out and twisted, but he kept hitting her. She was only six years old.
Panic tightened her throat. She turned away from Ilmir and ran. She didn’t go back to her own room. She fled down three flights of stairs and into the servants’ hall. She darted under the kitchen worktable and into the dark.
Clutching her knees to her chest, she rocked back and forth. What in all the world just happened to me? Ilmir’s words had brought back a memory she had not thought of since that day. She snagged her lip, and more tears fell. She wanted Ilmir to do as he suggested. His words were no suggestion. Ilmir and that memory… No. She could never let him touch her that way.
Or could she?
The chatter in the house was beyond annoying. What was the time? Ilmir rolled to his side and pushed up to sitting. Damn Zir. Zir women and blood drinkers.
He stood and pulled the bell for water to be brought up to his room. He turned back toward the door. On the wood between the door and the rug lay one white glove. What happened last night? One moment he was on his way to blood oblivion, and the next… The energy from Astrid came through the door and slid up his spine. Complete and utter distraction. What was she doing here?
She had said never, and she was correct. But never what?
Never his wife, for certain. If he bit her, she would die.
Never let him touch her?
That was an event altogether different, and seeing her standing there touching herself as if he touched her would be his unbinding. His resolve never to engage with her cracked just a bit and then crumbled.
There had always been an energy to her that he wanted to follow. And, indeed, follow was the correct word. He was thankful he saw her only when on the Isle. While there, he was in his cups and irritable, as he had no way to feed his glow.
She was here. In his space, this time.
Water arrived, and he bathed. He then pulled on dark gray pantaloons and a crisp dark gray shirt. His valet tied a white-and-gray-striped cravat about his throat and then helped him into a golden waist vest adorned with shimmering dark shell buttons. The final touch, his new coat made of dark purple velvet that was lush and soft to the touch. He studied his reflection in the mirror.
He was a ghost. Pale skin with pale eyes, and white hair. The bright colors might not enliven his complexion, but they lifted his mood. He ran his hands down the slick silk fabric and closed his eyes savoring the texture… Softer than a woman’s skin. A pang of hunger pinched his stomach.
His morning ritual lasted longer than that of a female’s, but his appearance was worth every tick of the clock. The attention to detail drew the eyes of all, and that he learned to use to his advantage.
He opened his door and headed down to the parlor for his morning tea and cream. The noise increased stair by stair. He turned into the parlor, and his body tensed from the energy in the small space. He would not spare the damn Zir women a glance. He would retrieve his tea and cream, then head to Samgor’s Den to spend the rest of the day playing cards, away from here.
Carriage wheels clattered on the cobbles out front. He stared at the door. Never mind repast here. He would simply eat at Samgor’s. He went for the door and out into the carriage.
Astrid stepped up into the carriage before Celeste.
Ilmir sat in the middle of the seat, his legs spread wide. “If I have to share this cab with anyone, there is only room for you.”
Astrid peeked over her shoulder at Celeste. “Do not fret. I need to talk to Grandmum anyway. We will see you at Branigan’s.”
Astrid took a step back to exit the carriage.
Ilmir’s fingers wrapped about her gloved wrist. “Oh no. We have much to speak about.” He pulled her into the cab and pushed so that she sat directly next to him on the seat. He hit the roof of the cab with his fist, and the conveyance lurched forward. Her sweet fresh smell filled the carriage.
“You will not interfere again,” he stated in a calm, flat tone.
“I did no such thing. I simply watched you.” Her forehead wrinkled, and she stared at him with a glare that shot pinpricks up his spine.
“And then interfered.” The muscle in his left cheek twitched.
“Only to save that woman’s life.” She scooted as close to the window and away from him as possible.
“You don’t know her. Why should you care if she lives or dies?”
Her jaw tightened. “Why does that matter?” She shook her head. “The rest of the family hates what you do. You cause them grief and have done so for years. You need to stop biting.”
“Biting women is what all of us do.” Did she truly think otherwise?
“But you enjoy it.” Her words spat out angrily, but her tone held a question instead.
“Indeed I do. I do not dwell on guilt when the benefits of doing what I do are so capital.”
“How are they wonderful? You have not found your mate. You just kill and kill and kill.”
Ilmir turned his head and stared out the window. Kill and kill and kill. “You know nothing about me. You accept that Grandmum and Hudson need blood to survive, that they too would kill if they had no pigs to drink from. You accept that the other Zir brothers also bite and kill to find their mates. But you judge me harshly because the blood is what keeps my powers alive. I am not Jordan or Madoc or Ferrous. I do as I do to survive.”
There. Hopefully she understood. They rode in silence. The beat of her heart so close put him on edge. He fisted and flexed his fingers. “Why did you come into my room last night to watch me?”
Huge brown eyes closed, and a rosy blush rushed to her cheeks. She snagged her lip with her teeth, and her fingers gripped the edge of the carriage seat between them. “I have never… Well, I have never seen anyone ever…”
“And you have never yourself.”
She opened her eyes and stared at him. “No.”
“And you wanted to know what the act looked like?”
“I know that seems foolish, but I did.” She stuck out her chin. Such adventure she sought. He wanted to reach out and cup her face in his hands before anyone else did.
“Do you still?”
She turned her head to gaze out the window. “Indeed.” The word came softly, like a feather on the wind.
He slid his hand closer to hers on the seat. He needed to touch her. Show her. He lightly rubbed his little finger along hers.
She jumped but didn’t remove her hand. Her heartbeat increased, and she continued to stare out the window.
His own blood warmed, and heat flooded him. He parted her small finger away from her ring finger, then pressed his fingertip to the carriage seat as he had his hand to the wall last night. Sensation sparked his fingers. He wanted to feel her wetness on his hands, but for now this would do. He caressed this one small part of her body while mimicking his fingers’ movements from the night before. He needed to show her. Not only what she wished to see, but that he was more than simply a killer.
He grazed his fingers along the back of her hand and then dipped each fingertip into the matching crevice between her fingers and caressed her palm.
She stared at his hand wrapped about hers, then up into his eyes. Irresistible. Her tongue wet her lips. He leaned forward to capture her lips and stopped.
No. Not yet.
He hovered a breath away from tasting her. “I will show you.” His throat tightened. The urgency to display her naked before him surprised him. His pantaloons grew tight.
“You kill the women you bed.” Her expression stayed soft, but her eyes muddied to unease.
And that was why his desire to be nice to her was a folly. He pulled back. “Most, but I do have restraint.”
“I certainly have never seen anything but indulgence.”
She had just witnessed it and did not see it.
The carriage came to a halt, and the footman rushed to open the door. Ilmir gently removed his fingers from her hand. The door opened, and she glanced out at the walk, then back to him. “I will consider what you have said.”
She stepped down to the dirt and turned to face him. “When will you be back at the house?”
“I will return after dinner. You will answer then?”
She would consider and let him know when he returned. A smile turned his lips. This one distraction would make the endless woman chatter in the house tolerable. Or the chatter would kill him.
Grandmum walked into view. “This way, Astrid. The day will be grand.”
“Indeed, today will. You will be splendid when this is all done.” Celeste grasped Astrid’s hand, then giggled. “It has been forever since we have been to town for shopping.”
The carriage door closed, dampening the annoyance.
Hopefully after this visit, forever and a hundred days would pass before they returned. He tapped the top of the cab, and the carriage lurched forward.
Astrid’s stomach fluttered, and her heart beat in her throat. She swallowed hard. How could such a small touch make such sensations? He had touched her hand. Nothing else. Her body reacted as if he had caressed her most intimate parts. She crossed her arms about her stomach. “A new act,” she mumbled.
First last night and now today, she’d exchanged words with him. She wished to bring Ilmir back to the family and for all of them to be free of the vapors he created for everyone. Maybe this was part of that. But his offer was not about being good. His offer was for her. To show her what she wish to know about being sinful.
Astrid followed Grandmum into the shop that was called Branigan’s.
“You will need gloves and slippers, a new corset and stockings. Oh, this is grand.” Celeste beamed. Celeste shopped for her dresses in Paris, as had Fina. Astrid’s tastes were not so fanciful. She liked to run to the shore and breathe in fresh air.
“Good morning, ladies.” A woman shopkeeper stepped from behind the counter. Her pale hair hung in loose ringlets around her face, farming crystal-green eyes.
“Good morning.” Grandmum walked up to the woman. “We are here to see Cherish.”
“This way.” The woman turned and headed toward the back of the store. She slid back a curtain and stepped past. The air around the curtain rippled with iridescence, and she disappeared. Grandmum followed, as did Celeste and Fina. Astrid stepped up to the threshold. She placed her hand through the opening, and her hand rippled and then disappeared. She pulled her hand back. There was no sensation to the disappearance. How odd.
She strode into the opening and out into a large room. Wingback chairs and chaises scattered about, creating a comfortable atmosphere. There was a large crescent-moon crystal chandelier that hung above a circular table in the middle of the room. Several smaller tables lined the walls, and above each stood a candelabrum, where different colored flames flickered.
Astrid followed Fina toward one of the smaller tables. A slender woman with pale curly hair and dark olive skin sat talking to a plump woman next to her. The woman turned toward them. Her deeply wrinkled face made her appear the same age as Grandmum.
“Good morning.” Grandmum wrapped both her hands about the older woman’s outstretched hand and gently shook it. “I am delighted you were able to stay in town a bit longer to meet my special friend.”
Grandmum turned. “This is Astrid. The one I told you had quite the show saying her name-day wish.”
“Well, from what you said, I agree she could be helpful to all of us. Please sit.”
Each of them pulled out a plush, upholstered high-back chair and sat. Astrid was closest to the younger woman. In the middle of the table sat a copper bowl similar to the one Ferrous had on his casting table in the library
The older woman stared at Astrid. Her gaze darted from Astrid’s face to her hands and back again. No matter how hard she scrubbed her hands, blood, ash and dirt stained the nails brown. Astrid slid her hands under the table.
The older woman smiled. “There is no need to be afraid. Show us your hands, dear.”
“I am not afraid. I am simply curious what this is about. I had the impression I was to purchase a dress for the theater tomorrow night. So you can see I am a bit confused as to why I am now sitting in a secret room behind a dress shop.”
Grandmum glanced at the others. “That is my fault. I should have told you more, but I wanted you to be surprised.”
“I am certainly that, but may I please have more information?” Astrid’s palms grew clammy.
“If you show us your hands”—the younger woman sitting next to Astrid turned her palms up—“I will give you all the information about what we are, and your future.”
Astrid turned in her seat toward the woman. “What is your name?”
“I am Regina, and this is Cherish.” She gestured toward the older woman. “Every woman in this room is otherworldly. Most of us for the use of magic, but others like these three…” She pointed to Grandmum, Celeste and Fina. “They are different creatures altogether. We come here as often as we like to talk about craft, struggles and triumphs. But we too have seen a darkness in our own that scares us. Your grandmum witnessed your name-day wish and the light and power that you threw into the room. We wish to see what that is about. Oh, and don’t fret, you will have the finest dress for the theater that you desire. Branigan’s truly is a dress shop. May I?” She pointed to Astrid’s hands.
“I suppose so. I don’t see any harm.” She placed her hands on the table in front of Regina.
Regina picked up her left hand and flipped it over. She brushed the creases in Astrid’s palm, then did the same to the other hand. She turned to a small table that sat between her and the older woman and dipped her finger into a clear shimmering liquid. Holding her finger above the back of Astrid’s hand, she flicked three drops. The cool oil-like substance stayed in perfect droplets on her skin.
“What is that?” Astrid stared at Regina.
“It is a mixture of oils, silver dust and dirt.” Regina then smeared the liquid into the back of Astrid’s hands. “Vis os.”
An energizing tingle swept from the damp spot on the back of her hands straight up her arms. Her teeth chattered, and she moaned deep in her gut. Show them what happened on my name day. The light. The sounds. The magic.
“Vis dem hvad der skete på min navnedag. Lyset, lyden, magien,” burst from her mouth. She didn’t understand a word of what she’d just said aloud.
A bright light came from the ceiling, and a loud boom echoed in the room. A strong breeze blew the candlelight above their table out and then lightning burst down from the ceiling.
Astrid shrieked. Everyone else pushed back from the table.
Yellow lines circled the wood’s edge, then leapt into her hands. Light danced along her skin. Astrid grinned. Lightning did not hurt. The sensation traveled down her legs and went straight out through the floor.
She pushed back her chair and stood in one quick motion. “What was that?”