/ Language: English / Genre:love_contemporary

Toxic

Eve Langlais

Either you’re with me, or you’ll feed me. Humans are for eating and I am not one to play with my food, so I’m baffled as to why one geeky mortal doctor makes me wish our kind could be together without my brand of love being toxic. As if suffering from human emotions isn’t problem enough, our world is about to engage in a war where our chances of survival are slim at best. And no one wants to listen. But, I didn’t become the general of the vampire Queen’s army by being diplomatic. Everyone will fight in the upcoming battle, or they’ll feed my troops and I. Either way, all things living will do their part. I am after all the Blood Countess, toxic lover to humans, vicious bitch to my enemies, and my word is law.

Eve Langlais

Toxic

Blood Countess series 1, 2011

Blurb

Humans are for eating and I am not one to play with my food, so I’m baffled as to why one geeky mortal doctor makes me wish our kind could be together without my brand of love being toxic. As if suffering from human emotions isn’t problem enough, our world is about to engage in a war where our chances of survival are slim at best. And no one wants to listen.

But, I didn’t become the general of the vampire Queen’s army by being diplomatic. Everyone will fight in the upcoming battle, or they’ll feed my troops and me. Either way, all things living will do their part.

I am, after all, the Blood Countess: toxic lover to humans, vicious bitch to my enemies, and my word is law.

Chapter One

I tapped the microphone and winced at the screeching feedback. I still couldn’t believe I’d ended up roped into doing a press conference-I would have preferred a visit to a sadistic dentist. But my wish for physical pain went unheeded and the moment of truth, so to speak, had arrived.

“Um, hi there, thanks for coming.” Nervousness, an unfamiliar feeling, made me fidget in front of the sea of reporters watching with disinterested faces. At least they showed up. I hadn’t been sure they would when I’d had my minions contact the various media outlets. Of course, my forthcoming announcement was momentous even if they didn’t realize it yet. With my next words, I would change the world as they knew it. And probably create a decent amount of panic-an entertaining perk to the whole affair.

I inhaled deep and said in a rush. “I’m a vampire.” My declaration made, I stood back and waited for their reaction-and even yummier, their fear. I’d actually prepared a speech, a long flowery thing with historic references to precede my coming out announcement. However, faced with humans who spent more time looking at their BlackBerries than me, I changed my mind. Besides, I preferred getting straight to the point.

My admission definitely caused a reaction in the crowd. They tittered and shuffled in their seats, turning to grin and whisper at each other. I returned their mirth with a glacial stare. How dare they laugh at me!

One smirking fellow called out, “Gee, I’m so scared. Please don’t eat me.” He laughed at his own weak joke. I didn’t. And the man-courting a death measured in heartbeats-decided to further his comedic career. “So, did you get your teeth filed at the same dentist as that other vampire charlatan?” Guffaws and high fives met his mediocre humor. I still wasn’t amused.

I knew of the fake vampire he spoke of. He and the other charlatans of my kind would be dealt with. “I assure you that everything about me is real.” And the real me truly wanted rip his head off. The fact I couldn’t pissed me off, especially when I heard the jokes they bandied about with raucous laughter.

I had a joke for them. What do you call a human who mocks a vampire? Dinner.

My nails elongated and dug into the wood of the podium creating deep gouges. My eyes bled black, I couldn’t stop them as my ire grew, feeding my dark side. A few of the reporters squirmed under my gaze and went silent, but others met my eyes and instead of the flinching I’d grown accustomed to, roared louder.

My face tightened and I pursed my lips. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. They’re just stupid sheep. But for someone as old and powerful as I, disrespect wasn’t something tolerated, from anyone.

“I don’t usually give warnings but in this case, given what I’m trying to accomplish, I will. Cease this laughter before I make you all-” I paused seeking something suitably nasty without being harmful-I was well aware of the cameras trained on me, just waiting for a misstep they could broadcast to millions. “Um, if you don’t listen, I’ll make you cluck like chickens.”

Wrong answer. Waves of fresh laughter erupted. I fumed as my plan for my grand come out was buried in a sea of mirth and disbelief. Courtesy be damned. Time to make them believe.

Standing up, I felt my power, cultivated over centuries and made greater by an obscene amount of kills, race through my body. I drew upon it with my will, my indomitable will, and then used it.

“Quiet,” I boomed, my voice echoing out like a sound wave and stunning them into abrupt silence. Wide eyes stared at me, they had no other choice. I’d frozen them in place with the esoteric force I wielded. I levitated up and over the podium because the time, it seemed, had arrived for a more up close and personal chat. I sank gracefully down to the ground directly in front of the first row of humans. I flicked at a piece of lint that dared mar the sleek black leather I wore. Cliché, but I enjoyed the suppleness and look of skin-tight leather. And the blood came off it nicely, too, for the times my dinner fought me.

I beamed widely at the reporters, my fangs-all natural of course-flashing as I let them drop from my gums. “Now, as I was saying, I am a vampire, and not just any vampire. I am the Queen’s general, her most loyal servant and spokesperson.” And next in line for the throne if someone actually manages to get past her safeguards and kill her. Not that I wished her dead. On the contrary, I preferred my current queen keep the headaches and annoyance that came with being ruler. That, and I couldn’t stand the sycophants that surrounded people in power.

I released my will and like puppets with their strings cut loose, several of the crowd slumped. One reporter, his eyes wild with fear-my favorite look after adoration-stumbled from his chair and raced out of the room. The rest of the reporters, though, gathered their resolve and leaned forward raptly, the scent of a story, the story, overriding fear and common sense. Stupid humans.

Questions suddenly ambushed me from all sides. I frowned at them, my expression much like the one a parent bestows upon unruly children and they immediately silenced. One reporter, a petite female, raised her hand timidly.

I inclined my head with a cool smile. “Go ahead.”

“Who are you?”

“I was known during my human life as Countess Elizabeth Báthory. But, isn’t the better question, why am I here announcing my existence and that of my brethren?”

The humans leaned forward.

“We are tired of hiding our nature. The introduction of blood banks and willing donors has made it unnecessary for us to conceal ourselves anymore.” What a crock of crap. The real truth I hid, for I didn’t think the humans were ready to hear of the coming war that would see their numbers decimated if my kind did not step in to help. Even as it galled me, I’d come to the realization-with the forceful prodding of my queen-that we didn’t have a choice but to team up with the humans to save them. We were talking, after all, about our food source here. If they died, I’d go hungry. A hungry vampire translated into a grumpy vampire, which, as any idiot could figure out, was not a good idea.

The same brave woman who’d asked my name fluttered her hand again and I nodded at her to speak. “But aren’t you afraid that people will panic at the news of your existence and hunt your kind?”

I smiled, not a very nice smile judging by the blanching faces and the way they leaned back from me. I even heard a whimper-how sweet. “Might I suggest that any attempts to cull my kind will be considered an act of war. And trust me,” I said angling forward and lowering my voice. “You do not want us as your enemies.” The smell of fear radiating from them assured me they understood.

An older gent at the back lifted a hand. “Are you the countess that history claims bathed in the blood of virgins?”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, bloody hell. First of all, it wasn’t exactly my fault. The vampire who turned me was accidentally killed, and with no one to guide me and my newly found hungers, yes I went a little wild. But that was hundreds of years ago and I’ve learned to control myself since.” And the reports that I’d killed over six hundred virgins, wrong. In those early days I was ravenous, and my body count went well into the thousands. Not that I’d admit that to the mortals. The fact we relegated them the same status as cows wasn’t something they needed to know.

“Do you still kill people?” the same reporter queried with a tremor.

“Of course not.” I lied. “In this day and age, blood is easily acquired via willing blood donors or purchased from blood banks.” The young ones with no control were forced to use the chilled blood-warmed in the microwave, ick. The older ones, like myself, fed off the vermin in the world, usually to the death. The inhalation of their last drop of blood imbued with their life force was a potent cocktail if you could handle the screams in your head as their essence fought joining a vampire’s psyche. But in the end, my will always won, and like the Borg on Star Trek, I assimilated them all. And my power grew.

“How many vampires are there?”

I inwardly smiled at the expected question. “Many, and we live among you without notice.”

I could tell several in the crowd weren’t crazy about this knowledge. They’d dislike even more knowing the number of people from the ranks of our loyal servants we had close to the President. We even had a member of congress who was a vampire. We’d given that well placed political ally the gift of daywalking; achieved through the collaboration of several witches and great sacrifice. Personally, I preferred to stalk the night.

More comfortable now that the reporters realized I wasn’t going to eat them-even if I was tempted-the questions started piling up on top of each other again. I raised my hand for silence and got it. “That is enough for now.” Then in a move meant to awe them, I drew shadows around my body, cloaking my presence. Invisible to their sight, I slipped out amidst their collective gasps of surprise and wonder.

My limo waited for me on the street under a look-away cloak that caused mortal gazes to slide over its presence-although, in an odd twist, meter maids always seemed to notice and leave tickets. I slipped into the backseat and the car pulled away from the curb. Thank hell that’s over. I pulled out my phone and dialed.

“Is it done?” the answering dulcet voice asked without greeting.

“Yes, my queen.” My respectful tone was sincere. I loved my queen because she was the one who’d saved me so long ago from myself and the villagers who would have killed me.

“Excellent. Follow the plan for the moment, and if there are any changes I will let you know.” The queen dropped her regal tone to say almost in a whisper, “And now the lines have been drawn. Let us hope our daring act is not met with chaos.”

What she meant was hopefully the humans didn’t freak and start sharpening stakes. If we could somehow end up accepted by the humans for what we were, then perhaps the others who hid in shadows would come forth and join us. Death was coming, and to survive-much as it irritated me to admit-we’d need the help of every race on the planet.

And if they refuse to join our army, then they’ll feed us as we fight to save the planet from extinction.

* * * *

My announcement made the eleven o’clock news, and by morning every broadcast and newspaper had a piece on me. The headlines were predictable.

Vampires are coming out of the coffin

Lock up the virgins

Garlic good for your health and against vampires, too

One rag magazine had a simple, We told you so!

At least I looked great in the pictures and videos; although, I did make a note to have my hairdresser lighten my hair a bit.

In this age of technology, it didn’t take long for my announcement and everything else vampiric to go viral. Vampire movies and books made a rapid resurgence, selling out, while across the internet, vampire blogs and websites popped up all over. Every single fact-and fiction-about my kind cropped up for commentators and the public to dissect and analyze. Heck, even the Twilight actors had something to say-and to those who wondered, I was on team Volturi. Did I mention I liked rooting for the bad guys? Although, I wouldn’t have minded taking a bite from that Jacob fellow.

Back to my new found popularity, as expected, along with the believers and hordes clamoring to meet us-and donate their blood-came the skeptics. “Camera tricks,” they claimed. Mass hypnosis. Telekinesis powers. The theories against my existence rolled out in staggering amounts, working against what I hoped to accomplish. Personally, I wondered if I grabbed one of those nonbelievers and ate them if I’d convert them? My queen forbade me from trying. Spoilsport.

The humans, though, and their questioning nature made me wish I’d fought harder for my idea. Worldwide human subjugation. In other words, make them all blood thralls and thus automatically on our side. My queen didn’t like that idea either. Said free will was what made them into a more powerful dinner. She was probably right, but given the conflicting reports revolving around my state of being and that of my brethren, I had to admit the idea of food that didn’t talk back was gaining appeal.

My initial coming out announcement required some repeat performances and even a few duo shows where I brought along another vamp. After the fourth media circus, I refused to do any more. Going on Larry King-who’d agreed to come out of retirement just to talk to me-and CNN wouldn’t make a difference because some people just would never believe.

The expected crazies-those not locked in loony bins-showed up both denouncing our existence and calling for our death. A conundrum that once again my queen refused to let me address. We had strict orders to not eat the annoying humans-yet. But the morally indignant and religious fanatics would be the first to go when the war arrived and we needed to bring some snacks along for a quick pick-me-upper.

When I realized the humans were still a ways off from accepting us as partners in the society we built-they just fooled themselves if they thought they’d created it-I went back to my regular job of keeping an eye on the vampires and the increasing danger to society as a whole.

As the vampire queen’s general, I oversaw our safety whether from exposure by a careless vamp or a menace from an outside source. Under my strict rules, our society flourished without the power and mind games of the past. It’s funny how a couple of decapitations could encourage the majority to follow my laws.

However, all my edicts were of no help to the coming menace. The one foretold in the Mayan calendar. The calamity predicted by Nostradamus himself. The precognitive nightmare I’d suffered-my first and only dream since my turning.

Daemons were invading our world. In single digits so far, but if all the auspices were correct, that was just a prelude to the upcoming main event.

Hell’s coming to earth, and unless I find a way to stop it, we’re all going to die.

Chapter Two

“No fucking way.” I ranted in my office as I read the email from the queen’s secretary.

My minion and blood servant Annabelle stretched lazily on the couch and queried, “What’s got your panties in a knot?”

I scowled at her, but she just grinned unrepentantly. Over forty, my age before I’d turned, she looked great-blonde, fit and tanned, the bitch. Her apparent youth and health were especially fascinating considering she’d fed me as one of my sheep for almost twenty years. Soon, I would bestow the gift of the change on her, not necessarily something she’d survive. If she did live through her death and turned into a fledgling, I would miss her. Young vampires always ended up consumed by blood lust. It would take many years for her to regain her mind, if she found it again at all. I’d miss nibbling on her when that happened; her blood was quite tasty since she followed a strict diet. My version of chocolate. Mmm.

I pushed aside my hunger as I returned my focus to the email currently pissing me off. “Read this,” I said, sweeping my hand towards the screen.

Annabelle sat up and leaned forward. She read aloud, “As expected, our coming out has caused quite the furor, but so far no signs of mobbing humans or an increase in stake production. However, the call to understand us is great, thus in the spirit of openness and goodwill, the regency has decided to allow one of its loyal subjects to answer the questions of one highly regarded scientist and doctor. As general, I expect you to put yourself at the discretion of Doctor Raphael Angelus. Be candid and allow him to conduct his tests. We already know what he will find. Oh, and Elizabeth, don’t eat him, please. By order of your queen.”

Annabelle laughed.

I glared at her. “It’s not funny.”

Annabelle tittered louder. “Oh, please, she signed it with a happy face. Like how can you say no?”

I growled. “I’ve just been ordered to be a guinea pig for some human.” I said the word human with distaste. The queen seemed determined to test my loyalty and this latest harebrained idea was really pushing it. I didn’t submit to the pawings of humans. They submitted to me.

“Hey, it could be worse,” she said with mischief glinting in her eyes.

I arched a brow at her. “How could this get any worse?”

“He could be old and ugly.”

“I take it he’s not,” I replied dryly.

Annabelle jumped up and leaned over to tap furiously on the keyboard of my laptop. “I read an article about him recently and it had a picture of him. Here, see for yourself,” she replied as she tilted the screen towards me.

I wanted to pretend disinterest. Who cared what he looked like? But dammit, with more lives than a cat, I couldn’t fight curiosity. My deep seated need to know everything made me look.

Oh, he is a handsome devil. Tousled blond hair, clear blue eyes hidden behind a bookish pair of lenses and a sensual mouth made for biting. Just the type of snack I liked to enjoy when my hormones craved something carnal-what a shame my partners never survived. “Good looking in a nerdy way or not, I’m still not crazy about the idea of letting him poke and prod at me.”

Annabelle shrugged. “Suit yourself. Me, I wouldn’t mind stripping for him and letting him search all of my cavities with any of his body parts.”

I laughed at her shameless comment before I dove on her for a satisfying nibble on her neck. As her rich blood rolled down my throat, warming me and speeding up my heart, I wondered if I’d get a chance to snack on the good doctor, in the interest of science, of course.

Yum.

* * * *

Several days later

The doorbell rang and I scowled. My dreaded guest had arrived.

I smoothed down my silk blouse and already wrinkle free skirt. I recognized my nervous gestures as a way of controlling my environment-or so the psychiatrist I’d eaten and absorbed claimed. I didn’t like my queen’s plan of offering me up as a white rat for human experimentation. But I couldn’t disobey a direct order.

I’d managed to get my way in at least one respect and that was the doctor would reside here with me while he probed me. It took some finagling and an investment in medical equipment that my kind didn’t require, but I refused to put myself in a strange location under the control of humans. To my surprise, I didn’t have to argue long, and so the time had quickly arrived along with the man who would dissect me without killing me.

Talks with my queen also ended up with the decision that broaching the coming menace would be at my discretion. In other words, if I didn’t kill the doctor and he wasn’t a complete moron, I’d let him in on the secret. We needed to start getting some outside views on the situation. Our usual tactic of eat the enemy was not exactly feasible given what we would face-and the fact the marauders tasted bad.

Would this Dr. Angelus end up owning half a brain or would he be an intellectual idiot? I’d reserve judgment until I met the man.

In the meantime, I’d done my own research on the fellow only to grudgingly admit the man had some impressive credentials. He came with all kinds of degrees and masters from medical to psychological along with some science. My head ached already imagining all the big words he’d force on me to prove his human superiority. Still bottom of the food chain, though, I thought with a smirk.

I heard the front door answered by Adolphus. Too old to feed me, but still useful in other matters, he acted as my butler. From my spot in the parlor I waited and listened impatiently to the murmurs. After what seemed an interminable wait, footsteps approached and I posed against the fireplace. First impressions were everything.

In a pompous tone only prideful servants achieve, my elderly butler announced my dreaded visitor. “Dr. Raphael Angelus to see you, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Adolphus,” I said in my snooty lady-of-the-manor voice.

In walked the doctor and out whooshed my breath. Somehow, he’d looked a lot smaller in the pictures. In person though, the man towered-good thing I’d worn my stupidly high heels, it put me at his chin. His blond hair was trimmed shorter than the image I’d seen, but his eyes were the same clear blue behind his scholarly glasses. His lips quirked into a smile at my perusal-I’d soon wipe that look from his face.

As I glided towards him, my hips swishing hypnotically, I took in the rest of him from the broad shoulders stretching the ill-fitting suit jacket, to his big feet encased in scuffed loafers. The man looked like a text book case of geeky professor, and given his many layers of loose clothing, I couldn’t tell if his width derived from fat or muscle. Not that I truly cared, because after all, his only purpose was to test and observe me as the first vampire guinea pig. Once he’d learned the truths we’d selected as safe to impart, he could relay his findings and thus calm the human masses. Lulling them into a false sense of security. I almost bit my lip as I tried not break out into a villainous laugh.

More nervous than expected, my mind rambled in circles trying to distract me. It didn’t work. I was still much too aware of him. His scent tickled my nose, clean and fresh with a mouthwatering maleness. I inhaled deep. The sound of his heart beating drove me wild. It thumped in my mind like a sensual music. He came across as utterly delicious.

His gaze slid up and down my frame as thoroughly as I’d inspected him, but unlike other human males, he didn’t flush or tent his pants even though I oozed sexuality-on purpose of course. Like a tap, I could turn on beguilement with just a thought. To no avail with the good doctor, it appeared. I found his lack of reaction odd. I cocked a hip, licked my lips and smiled at him. And again, he didn’t respond as he should have. Instead, as if I were asexual, he thrust out a hand.

“Countess Bathory, thank you so much for agreeing to see me.”

Taken aback at his lack of interest in my feminine charms, I didn’t immediately respond. Then, in a lightning flash, I understood. He’s a man lover. “I am delighted to be of service, Dr. Angelus,” I said with false enthusiasm as I stuck my hand into his to shake it. A shiver shot up my spine as our skin connected, a warm tingle that ran up and down my body before it centered itself in my cleft-a surprisingly pleasant sensation. Startled, I took a step back and let my hand slip from his. He seemed to notice nothing amiss and turned abruptly from me to head back out to the hall.

I gaped at his retreating body. Where is he going? I didn’t give him permission to leave. With the choice of yodeling after him like some fisherwife or scurrying after him like a peon, I chose neither. He was here to examine me. He’d have to come back.

I draped myself on a couch and had little time to ponder my strange reaction to him and his lack thereof to me. He returned almost immediately-his gait smooth and unlike the shuffle I’d expected of a man who spent days in labs. A thick briefcase dangled from one of his hands and a laptop case from the other. He set them both down and opened the fat one. He rummaged for a moment and pulled out a notepad. He immediately jotted some notes. His head bent over his task, he said not a word to me.

Curiosity burned me, but I refused to give in and ask what he noted. I’d find out later when he slept and I snooped through his things. Privacy was for stupid people who didn’t have enemies. Me, I trusted no one.

The scratching of his pen stopped and he raised his eyes to meet mine. “Sorry, but I wanted to write down my first observations.”

“And they are?” I asked before I could curb my tongue.

I could have sworn mirth flashed in eyes, but he dropped his gaze too quickly for me to be sure. “Um, I wrote that you are an attractive woman appearing to be in her mid to late twenties.”

I preened at attractive-maybe not as immune as I’d surmised. “I was forty when my human side died,” I supplied.

“Really?” his eyes rose to meet mine again and I pushed a little power at him, a little hey, don’t you think I’m hot mojo. Instead of drooling, he looked away.

I frowned.

He scribbled again.

I tapped my nails on the wooden armrest of the couch, the rat-tatting sound loud in the almost silent room.

He stopped writing and looked up again. “Sorry, just writing down your age at the time you were turned.”

“You could have looked that up on the internet,” I replied, wondering at the fact he didn’t even know such a basic fact about me.

“I didn’t want to taint my findings by doing research on you beforehand,” he explained. “So, I hope you’ll excuse me if I take a lot of notes or ask a lot of questions.”

As answers went, his made sense. “I’ve been told to cooperate, so ask away.”

“If you don’t mind me asking, you said you were forty when you died yet you look much younger. Is this common for older humans who are changed into vampires?”

I almost bristled at his calling me old; however, I reminded myself he’d guessed my exterior age as much younger. “Oh, I had to work at regaining the beauty of my youth. I bathed in the warm blood of several hundred virgins before I was able to reverse the telltale signs of aging.”

My response startled him and he peered at me with his mouth rounded in an ‘O’ of surprise. “Seriously?”

I smiled with a lot of teeth. “Totally. It’s why I was arrested and convicted.”

He knelt in front of me scribbling. “Tell me more.”

“How about I start from when I was turned?” A day I still remembered vividly.

“Can you just briefly summarize your life up to that point starting with what year you were born?”

I leaned back and remembered back to a time when I was still so ignorant… so human. “I was born in Hungary on August seventh, 1560. I had a normal childhood. As was usual for the time, I was married by the time I was fifteen to Ferenc Nádasdy. We had several children together.” Precious darlings whose faces I could still clearly see in my mind. I skimmed over them. “Some of them lived, some died as was common for the time.” The grief I’d suffered at their early demise still stung hundreds of years later. Unbeknownst to all but my queen, I kept a watchful eye over my few remaining descendants who’d changed their names to escape my legacy of murder and blood. Too bad for them, they still carried my genes.

“Did they know of your change?”

I shook my head vehemently. “No. Once I was turned, I prohibited my children from visiting me.” Not out of shame for my newfound status, but because I feared losing control and eating them.

“So how were you changed? Who did it?”

“It happened in the year of 1600. My husband was away at war, again.” He’d spent most of our marriage elsewhere, the ideal situation for an arranged marriage like ours. “I was in charge of the castle and the defense of our lands. The last night of my humanity, a storm was brewing and the household had just settled itself for the night when a knock sounded.” It was so easy to slip back in my memories to the moment that changed me forever. I could still hear the echoing, ominous thud as someone braved the wicked weather to knock at my door.

My servants huddle in the common room, their fearful eyes trained on the main door to the hall. Dressed in my sleep wrap, I chide them for being foolish and superstitious. I open the door, the coolness of the night and the dampness of the pouring rain making me shiver. At first I see nothing, but a crack of lightning illuminates the courtyard. I let out a small scream at the sudden looming figure of a stranger dressed in a heavy cloak.

His low voice emerges from the depth of his hood. “I apologize for the lateness, fair mistress; however, my carriage has broken down. If I might humbly request a bed for the night, in the morn I shall depart, seeking aide in repairing my carriage.”

Raised to be charitable to others of my caste, something evidenced by the cut of his cloak and the richness of the fabric, I hasten to invite him in. “Enter and warm yourself by the fire.” How little do I know I invite my doom.

My servants know. They cling to each other, cringing and staying as far as they can get from the gentleman. When kind tones do not move them, I resort to harsher words. My servants scuttle to wake the slumbering coals in the fireplaces and set a kettle to boil. The stranger warms his pale hands in front of the fire and turns as I approach. He removes his cloak and I am struck by his handsome features. Darkly attractive, his pale skin is offset by his ebony hair. I find myself lost in his eyes and for the first time in my life, I feel desire.

My heart races and I can only watch as he approaches me. He strokes a slender finger down the column of my throat. I swallow and tremble, caught like a fly in the web, except, unlike the fly, I am not sure if I want to escape his sultry promise.

“Such beauty, slowly caving to the demands of age,” he says, shaking his head almost sadly.

“Such is the way of life,” I answer breathlessly.

“And if you could have your youth returned, and walk the earth forever?”

“A fantasy,” I scoff. “And even if possible, at what price?”

“Your humanity.”

I want to step back from him at his frightening words. I suddenly wonder if I should have heeded my servants. But hindsight cannot save me. I remain frozen as the stranger leans down and brushes his lips over the edge of my jaw and down my neck. His cold embrace chills me and fear sweeps through me.

“Please don’t,” I whisper.

“Oh, but I think I shall,” he murmurs. Then he sinks his teeth into me. The pain makes me whimper, but a prisoner under his spell, I cannot run or cry for help. Instead, I stand there as he sucks at my skin, the sound of his swallowing loud in the room.

His arms come around me and support me when I slump to the floor. He draws me back up, and still he drinks even as my vision blurs and my thoughts float hazily.

I wake the next day in my bed, heartily believing I’ve had a nightmare. My mirror, though, tells me otherwise as I see the vivid red punctures in my throat.

I run wildly through the castle, screaming for my servants. They ignore my cries and bar me from leaving. I barricade myself in my rooms, piling furniture in front of the door. It doesn’t stop him from coming.

This time he doesn’t just drink my blood, he takes my body, showing me for the first time a woman’s pleasure. But in his erotic embrace, I also find the end. As I thrash in the throes of death, he gashes his wrist and holds the leaking wound over my mouth. I try to seal my lips shut, but the agony racing through me opens my mouth in a glass shattering scream. A drop hits my tongue, the coppery taste, salty and repugnant. I turn my head in refusal, but he forces me back and when I scream next from the pain, he places his slit wrist in my mouth. He pins me and I cannot prevent the thick blood from pouring into my mouth. It rolls down my throat, gagging me. With a choice of drowning or swallowing, I ingest what he gives me. The pain reaches a crescendo and I pray for death. I get what I wish for.

I die that night, and for the next few days, I lie in my bed as a lifeless corpse. Even in the shell of my body I am aware as my humanity is discarded and a new me is born. When I finally rise, an improved version of myself, I am hungry.

So very hungry.

My dark lover brings me food in the form of a catatonic servant. I don’t want to hurt him. I’ve known Georgi since childhood. I cry and try to run, but my creator holds me. He forces me to smell Georgi and his sweet scent is too much for me to resist. My mouth waters and I scream at the sudden tearing pain in my gums. My creator lets me fall to my knees. With trembling hands, I reach up to touch pointed teeth. I moan in despair.

My new lover kneels beside me and strokes my hair. “Hush now. We must not show weakness. You are one of the elite now, and you must feed.”

“But must it be humans?” I cry.

“Think of them as rabbits. Now come, eat and discover true strength. Drink of his essence and live forever.”

I want to cling to my humanity, but I cannot fight the lure of the blood-and the promise of immortality. I throw myself on the human and I force myself to forget his face and his name. My teeth scratch the skin and a trickle of blood teases me.

“Bite him,” urges my dark lover as he lifts my skirts from behind. My thoughts are frenzied, but I do as I’m told. I bite down as my creator takes me with a forceful thrust. Warm, pulsing blood, fills my mouth, stroking my taste-buds with its sweetness. I devour my first human down to the last drop as my dark lover avails himself of my flesh. The shudders of my body as the life leaves my victim confuse me. They are too painful for an orgasm. My creator laughs at me as he pulls away from my body. I barely hear him as he explains I have ingested the spirit of the man I killed, a spirit that will forever be a part of me. The soul of the human fights me, a psychic battle that leaves me hoarse from screaming. My body aches from the thrashing. But in the end, I win.

The horror of death and its whiplash doesn’t stop the hunger though. Night after night, I hunt and kill. I cannot help myself, for my dark lover disappears. And alone with my insatiable lust for death, I go slightly mad.

And thus my time as the Blood Countess is begun.

Silence reigned when I stopped talking, the story of my creation not a flattering or pretty one. Unfortunately, too many tales of my atrocities, both real and imagined-and actually worse than recorded-were common knowledge. I left some details out, such as the fact we absorbed a person’s essence, their soul if you would, at their moments of death. Some things humans just didn’t need to know.

“Who was your creator? What happened to him?” Dr. Angelus chewed the end of his pen after he asked.

I laughed. “He told me his name was Valor. I never knew where he came from. I discovered later that he was killed by a father who came across him as he was having his way with the man’s daughter.” Out of a sense of duty to my creator, I killed the father, then bathed in his daughter’s blood.

“So what happened next? Did you move away from your home? When did you discover that bathing in blood would turn back the signs of age?”

I smirked. “What happened next was I fed my newfound hunger. I killed nightly.” Ahh, what a glorious orgy of death those years were. With each spirit I consumed, I got stronger. And crazier. “It was quite by accident that I discovered if bathed in blood, I could reverse the mark of time on my body, virgins’ blood being the most potent. I learned on my own how to bind my servants to me so that they would obey. They brought me victims from outside my lands and helped me grow stronger. But, not strong enough to save myself when they came to arrest me.”

“Who arrested you?” He stared at me raptly, my morbid story fascinating the researcher in him.

His expression surprised me. I’d expected horror, disgust, even condemnation, but instead he scribbled away as I spoke, his excitement obvious. “I was arrested by a council of my peers. The villagers not under my control complained that I was killing them. So they came to investigate.” Oh, the dilemma. They hadn’t wanted to kill me, a noblewoman, but at the same time they could not allow me to continue to kill. “I was never formally charged, and I retained enough of my wits to ensure I didn’t reveal too much of my new nature. In a quandary, they placed me in my rooms and bricked up the entrances, leaving only a tiny slot for food.”

His jaw dropped. “That must have been awful. How long were you locked away?”

“Too long,” I growled. “I wasted away without blood to sustain me. I could only manage the occasional nibble on a wrist when I caught it slipping my food through the hole. Several years after my imprisonment, I began debating killing myself. But then she came and liberated me.” I paused. It always awed me how she’d come to my rescue and saved me. Forgiven me for numerous sins and taken me under her wing. I owed her everything.

“Who saved you?”

“My queen did. She released me from my prison and taught me about vampires. How to feed unnoticed. What we were capable of.” The most important thing she’d given me, though, was friendship.

All this talk of my past and how I’d lost my humanity made my spirits sink. And there was only one cure for that.

I leaned forward, the material of my blouse parting and revealing my braless state, a fact the good doctor noticed. He didn’t have a choice given that in his kneeling position they were right in front of his face.

“Thanks for the background,” he said straightening and turning from me. “I’ll probably need to ask some more questions later, but this will do for now.”

I watched his back as he stuffed his notebook back in his bag. I’m beginning to think the doctor is hiding his true reaction to me. Curious, I stood and glided over to him on soundless feet-a cool vampire trick for sneaking up on dinner. “Would you like for me to show you to your room?”

He didn’t jump as expected. In fact, he didn’t turn to face me at all. He just picked up his bags and, clutching them to his midsection, nodded his head. I moved towards the hall, turning my head only once to give him a sultry smile and check he followed. I caught him unawares-my favorite kind. I got a brief glimpse of his face, tight with strain, but as soon as his eyes met mine, he wiped his face of all emotion.

He can try and hide it all he wants. The doctor is not as immune to my charms as he’s trying to make me believe. I did so enjoy a challenge.

I showed the doctor to his suite, a large room done up in dark blues and mahogany furniture. His suitcase was neatly lined up at the foot of the massive bed.

I flopped onto the bed as he placed his briefcase and laptop on the surface of the wide desk I’d had brought up for his use. I twirled my hair as I watched him trying to pretend I wasn’t there. “So, given you humans like to sleep at night, did you want to wait until tomorrow night to see the lab?”

Squaring his shoulders first, he turned to face me. “If I’m going to be examining you, I guess I’d better adjust to your schedule. It’s my understanding from the vampire stories I’ve read that your kind are allergic to the touch of the sun.”

“Bloody UV rays,” I replied. “We’ve got scientist working on a sunblock, but given our tendency to burst into flame, they’re having a hard time finding volunteers to try out their attempts.” I didn’t mention that the older we got, the more we could stand small doses of UV. A girl did need her secrets after all.

“What about cloudy days?” he queried.

I grinned. “Only if I want a sunburn.” While cloud cover reduced the amount of UV rays filtering through, they were still present. “So, Dr. Angelus, are you ready to see your lab?”

“Please, call me Raphael, or Rafe.”

And you may call me your fantasy and nightmare rolled in one was what I wanted to say, but I behaved instead. “My friends call me Ellie. Now, Rafe, if you’ll follow me, I shall show you the Frankenstein lab I’ve had setup.”

I rolled off his bed and sashayed out of his room and across the hall to the large room I’d had converted into a state of the art medical facility. The hospital bed in the middle of the room beckoned, and I lay down on it with a theatrical sigh. “I’m ready, doctor, when you are.”

“Are you ever serious?” he asked, wandering around and checking out the toys I’d bought for him to play with.

“Oh, I take this very seriously,” I replied-after all the fate of both of our kinds were at stake. “But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. It’s like love making. Sure you can suffer it with arms and legs spread as your partner grunts over you, or you can have fun with it.” My husband, when I was still a human, had never managed to please me despite his boasts of being an exceptional lover. As it turned out, I wasn’t cold and unresponsive. I just needed the right male incentive and skill. Of course, my choices since I’d become a vampire were limited given my deadly touch. Not that the death of my partner stopped me if the mood hit.

“You like speaking your mind, don’t you?” Rafe replied as he fiddled with the dials of the ultrasound machine.

“Sometimes,” I teased. “So, when do I get naked so you can have your wicked way with me?”

His body went still and he paused a moment before answering. I smirked at his back. Oh yeah, nerd boy isn’t as calm and cool as he’d like me to believe.

“No need to disrobe. We can do the initial measurements with your clothing on.” He turned to face me, his blank mask in place. “Don’t worry, when I want you naked you’ll know it,” he said. I almost fell off the table at his unexpected innuendo. He lips tilted into a mischievous grin before he turned to another piece of equipment, leaving me wet and horny.

This might be more fun than I anticipated.

Two hours later, I’d revised my opinion. Weighed, measured-even my hips which after several children in my old life were a little wider than I liked-and blood drawn, my annoyance over my involuntary guinea pig status came back. Irritable, I took it out on the person pissing me off.

“So how come you have so many degrees? Couldn’t make up your mind?”

“I’m curious,” he said with a shrug, jotting more findings down in the notebook I now hated.

“Are you married?” I asked.

“No.”

“Girlfriend?”

“No.”

“Dog? Cat?” I rattled items off and he kept replying no.

I fumed as I sat on the medical bed. I kicked my feet petulantly, bored and hungry.

“Do you have a significant other?” he asked surprising me. His eyes lifted to meet mine.

“No. Why? Would you like to apply?” I said sweetly, batting my lashes at him.

He didn’t reply as he moved around me. Even out of sight, though, I could smell him. I inhaled deep, even as it roused my hunger, for he smelled damned good. And I wasn’t talking about his cologne. Human scents varied; understandable given their different personalities and choices whether they be food or lifestyle. I thought I’d come across every perfume a human could adopt, an erroneous assumption. Raphael was like chocolate, a deep rich, melt in my mouth goodness. Contrary to popular belief, I could imbibe human food. It just didn’t actually curb my hunger.

He, on the other hand, would.

I jumped off the table and made for the door.

“Hey, where are you going?” he asked.

“I need a drink,” I muttered, stalking out the door. I called Annabelle, not aloud, that was for crass humans. I paged her through the link I shared with all my blood servants. It was only as I went to open my bedroom door, and my waiting buffet, that I realized Raphael had followed.

I whirled with flashing eyes. “What?” I snapped. My hunger already ravenous became more pronounced as I looked upon him and heard the beating of his heart. My irritation swelled as I fought my natural urge to feed off the human.

“I was hoping you’d let me watch.”

I think my jaw dropped. Of all the things I expected my shy doctor to say, that wasn’t it. “Perv.”

He blushed.

I smirked.

He cleared his throat and wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Sorry, if my request seems forward. I was more interested in how it was accomplished and how your, um, food sources, reacted.”

“And if I told you I like to get my blood while naked from the inside of a woman’s thigh as she grips my hair and pulls it?”

My panties experienced definite wetness as his eyes went slightly out of focus and he shifted his stance. I peered down to see if any tenting was happening, but his damn loose trousers made it impossible to tell.

He cleared his throat. “Um, perhaps I should leave.”

I sighed. “No. Stay. I was just joking. I don’t play those types of games with my food.” Often.

He trailed hesitantly after me as I stalked into my room where Annabelle already rested on my bed. She lay on her side and held her head propped with one hand. Her eyes sparkled with mischief when she saw who accompanied me.

“Ooh, a threesome, why didn’t you tell me, Ellie. I would have worn something more appropriate.”

I wanted to growl as I noticed her skimpy attire of tank top and short shorts. Whoa, jealousy? Since when do I feel that? Here less than a day and already the human doctor had messed with my head and comfortable life.

I kicked off my shoes and crawled onto the bed, my skirt riding up and giving him a view that I hoped he enjoyed. Annabelle rolled onto her back and in a melodramatic voice that made me stifle a giggle said, “Oh, creature of the night. Take me, I’m yours.”

She craned her head sideways, exposing her neck, but I went for a more intimate spot, one I’d never fed from before on her. What could I say, my audience of one made me rash.

She gasped as my lips brushed her creamy thigh, but she spread her legs so I could settle between them. I sensed her pulse, a fluttery sensation that beckoned me as the blood pulsed through her veins just below the thin layer of skin. I sank my teeth in and with a moan, Annabelle arched on the bed.

I sucked the coppery fluid to the sound of Annabelle’s pants. As part of my predatory nature, my fangs contained an aphrodisiac that relaxed my victims and turned what should have been a screaming, horrifying act into a pleasurable excursion.

I heard movement and saw Raphael move into view, his hands clenched at his side, the notebook he held forgotten as he stared at me feeding. Annabelle’s hands slid down to twine in my hair, pressing me against her skin. I pushed a little extra power into my bite, and she writhed, mewling. She let go of my hair to slip her hand inside her shorts.

I waited for Raphael to run from the room shocked. To blush at the very least. But he just stared, the only sign of his agitation-or arousal-the tic on the side of his jaw. There was no mistaking Annabelle’s climax when it hit. She screamed long and loud, her whole body shuddering and jerking with the force of it. Content-if hornier than hell-I withdrew my teeth and pressed my lips on her oozing wounds. A push of power and the bleeding stopped.

I rolled to my back, my head resting on Annabelle’s groin and smiled lazily at the doctor. “Make sure when you type this up later than you mention it was absolutely delicious.”

He turned around and fled with stiff shoulders. I was torn between laughter and frustration. The man made me want to kiss the stiff right out of him, and then kiss him again to stiffen the part I longed for.

“That was naughty,” Annabelle murmured. “But fun.”

I patted her on the thigh. “Thanks for the show. That will teach the doctor to look into things humans are better off leaving alone.

“I don’t know. I got the impression he found it hot.”

“Gee, me sucking on your thigh while you masturbate, what man wouldn’t?” I’d learned over the centuries the perversions that set a man’s pulse, along with other things, racing.

“No, actually that part disturbed him. I’m talking about before when he followed you in here. The man’s interested in you.”

I scoffed at the idea even as I wondered. Mr. Prim and Proper interested in a naughty vixen like me? Too bad he was human.

Chapter Three

Sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned after Annabelle left. I wanted to blame my insomnia on the coming calamity, but truthfully, I had a doctor on the brain-instead of between my thighs.

I couldn’t understand my fascination with him. Is it because he’s making such a concerted effort to thwart my attempts at seduction? Not that I would actually bed the man-he was no good to my kind dead. But still, I’d never met a human before that I couldn’t beguile. It didn’t bode well that my powers seemed to hit a brick wall when directed at him. What if he saw or heard something he shouldn’t? My power to shift memories needed to work or else he would end up another notch on my already eroded bedpost of death.

And that led to my other problem with Raphael, Rafe of the golden hair and blue eyes. Where did the urge to rip off all his clothes and have my wicked way with him come from? As a woman, I felt desire and arousal, just not very often. Like my hunger, I fed it on demand. Never before, though, had my erotic longings made me want to lose control, and for a human no less.

Unable to fall asleep, I went roaming the silent halls of the house. Dawn was broaching the horizon, not that I saw it. The automated shutters had already shrouded all the windows, blocking sunshine’s insidious attempt to roast me alive.

I decided to pay a visit to the makeshift lab I’d created. I entered the room, the blinking of lights from the softly whirring machines bright in the gloom. I drifted my hands over the bare work surfaces, not finding a shred of paper or Rafe’s prized notebook. Stumped, I wandered back into the hall, fatigue still out of reach.

I resumed my trek of the halls. I almost fooled myself into thinking I was on an aimless jaunt, an undirected stroll that led me right to the door housing my disturbing guest.

I paused outside the carved wooden panel, my sane inner voice telling me to go back to bed. I never listened to the voice of reason.

I opened the door without a whisper of sound. I eased into the dark room my eyes dilating like a cat’s to see. Silence reigned. Is he even here?

A vivid image of him in another bed-another woman’s bed-made me momentarily see red. An insane reaction to a man I’d just met and didn’t particularly like. Then I heard it; the soft inhalation and exhalation of someone breathing.

The tension I hadn’t even noticed tightening me, slid from my body. I glided over the carpet to the bed, the draperies on the canopy a veil between me and the slumbering doctor.

I pulled the diaphanous material aside and gazed down upon the serene sleeping features of Dr. Angelus. My tormentor in more ways than one, and someone my instincts screamed to kill. I knew my life stood on the threshold of something momentous, a second sense if you would that from here on in, everything would change, and somehow, he would play a part. Whether or not that role would end up a positive one, though, only time would tell.

In the meantime, I’d treat him as the enemy-someone not to be trusted and that needed close watching.

And speaking of watching, I couldn’t seem to turn away. I gazed down upon him, his fair skin with a hint of stubble. His full, sensual lips. His ruffled hair.

His breathing hitched and I held my own breath wondering if I’d made a sound to wake him and alert him to my presence. Do I want him to find me, here in his room?

His sleep cadence resumed and I deflated with a hint of disappointment. Get a grip, I told myself as on silent feet I made my way to his desk where his laptop sat, the dratted notebook at its side.

I knew I courted discovery if I booted up his computer, so I grabbed the notebook instead. I opened it onto gibberish. Well, not quite. The chicken scratchings inside were obviously writing, just not in a language I understood. And considering I spoke and wrote in five languages, the fact I didn’t recognize it seemed odd.

Just another mysterious facet to the doctor and one more reason to distrust him even as my intrigue grew. The rustle of fabric had me placing the notebook back and with shadows drawn around me, fleeing the scene of my crime.

I made a beeline to my room, shutting the heavy door behind and for good measure locking it.

I’d hoped to find some answers in my nocturnal wandering, instead I found myself even more confused than before. And struggling with emotions I thought long dead and jaded.

I had no interest in getting entangled or emotionally involved with anyone, especially not a human. But despite all the reasons and arguments against it, still I couldn’t erase Rafe’s presence from my mind, nor could I ignore the reaction of my body to him.

Maybe I was just overdue for some loving. I reached into my nightstand and pulled out my trusty rubber dildo. Long, thick and always hard, it had the added benefit of not talking and not dying when I was done.

I looked at it and sighed. I dumped my pretend phallus back in my nightstand drawer. I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm or energy for some self-pleasure, not when what I really wanted to feel was the true warmth of a living cock. I closed my eyes and couldn’t help picturing Rafe on top of me, unclothed of course. Having never seen him naked, I used my imagination.

In my fantasy, the human doctor had rippling muscles and thick forearms, all the better to hold him up to pound my soft flesh. My body trembled even as my mind imagined Rafe ducking his head to suck at a prominent nipple, my body arching in delight. In real life, my cleft quivered wetly.

Dammit

I rolled over to go to sleep, forcing my mind to dwell upon anything but the sexy Rafe. However, my body and mind still refused to cooperate. Instead, I realized how cold and lonely my bed seemed. How nice it would feel to have a body-a certain male body-spooned around me.

I punched my pillow sending feathers flying.

That’s it. Tomorrow, I start looking for a boyfriend-the nonhuman kind.

Chapter Four

I awoke frustrated in more ways than one. Tied to the house and the human doctor that I needed to remain available for, I couldn’t go out in the field and see firsthand what my reports from my staff were telling me. In a nutshell, what I gleaned was that things were going from bad to worse. The daemons that had already crossed over were becoming more brazen and brutal-to the humans at least. They’d stopped more or less hiding in the shadows, a drastic change to their game plan which seemed designed to bring attention to themselves. I wondered if their switch in tactic had to do with our trying to sway humans to our side.

Of course that kind of thinking meant I thought the daemons were more than beasts. Ha, I refused to give those hulking monsters that kind of status.

Disturbing reports aside, I had other tasks awaiting me. I needed to prepare myself for the doctor by ensuring my hungers were sated.

I feasted in the privacy of my room from a pair of blonds-eye candy that liked to do naughty things to each other while I watched and ate from them. Well fed, and self-pleasured, I figured I could handle the good doctor today without the same lapse of control I’d experienced the day before.

I hated it when fate, with a nasty sense of humor, came back to bitch slap me.

Rafe walked into the dining room where I was serenely drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. One whiff and all my preparation went out the window. Seeing him looking scrumptious with his serious expression I longed to corrupt was like getting sucker punched all over again-in the pussy. Forget dry panties, I soaked myself with his first casual smile and hello.

He seated himself across from me along with a plate of food. I mumbled a good morning and hid behind my paper. My flimsy barrier didn’t stop smell and sound though. I could hear the sounds of him chewing and swallowing. Catch the tantalizing scent of the soap he’d washed with intermixed with a musky aroma which was all his own. I fought the urge, but lost the battle with myself. I lowered the newspaper and gazed upon him hungrily. The jerk stared at his plate of food, oblivious to me. How does he do that? This whole ignoring me thing really grated on my nerves.

“What’s the plan for today?” I asked in a curt tone, determined to make him notice me.

He didn’t look up as he answered. “Well, there are more tests I’d like to run with the equipment upstairs, but I’d also like to see some of your abilities in person if you don’t mind.”

I knitted my brow. “You saw me eat. What else do you need to watch? I warn you right now, I’m not into people watching me have sex.”

I got the blush I’d angled for and I grinned at his discomfort. So sue me. I enjoyed getting a rise out of him, especially given how hard it was to get him react.

“No, I don’t need to see that,” he hastened to correct me. “I meant watching you do some things involving your speed and strength.”

He wanted me to show off. “No problem. How about you grab your notebook and tag along as I train with some of my troops?”

“Perfect,” he exclaimed as he jumped up. “I’ll be right back.”

I sighed as I found myself watching his ass as it walked away from me out into the hall. Damned loose pants. I still couldn’t tell if he had a bod worth fantasizing over or not. Which made my reaction to him even stranger.

At least I could go out to the training yard and work out some of my frustrations-my poor soldiers. Given my present mood, they’d never know what hit them. I drummed my fingers impatiently as I waited for Rafe to return. He did so quickly, his dratted notebook in hand.

I stood and motioned for him to follow as I led the way downstairs to the gym I’d had created. Massive in size, I hadn’t dished out for padded mats and the like. The whole point was to win against your opponent, and I wasn’t about to molly coddle those who failed. A few hard crashes onto the concrete floor provided the incentive to stay on their feet. The walls I’d covered in shatter proof mirrors, the reflections bouncing around, confusing the fighters. I found them an effective tool for training. It forced my troops to learn to trust their instincts instead of their eyes. I’d also stocked the gym with every weapon imaginable. A vamp never knew what he or she would face from daemons or other foes determined to end our existence. I forced them to learn how to both defend and use the items from a simple kitchen knife to a sharpened stave. I expected nothing but the best from those who served under me, and in return, they got to live.

I could hear Rafe furiously scribbling as we entered. I inhaled deep the scent of violence and enjoyed the musical sounds of combat-in other words, grunts and thumps. Those two things meant my soldiers were working hard, determined to beat anything that dared step in their path.

I shed my zip up sweater to reveal a skin tight tank top. I left my black yoga pants on. On occasion, I made my subordinates fight naked, because, as I liked to remind them, menace could arrive at any time and in any form. What I didn’t mention was how entertaining I found their swinging cocks. The females in my ranks used snickering as a means to throw the males off. I wondered if that tactic would work with the daemons who thus far appeared as only males.

I stretched my limbs as I sauntered towards the action. I didn’t make it to the mat when a change in the air currents made me whirl and knock a vampire aside. I grinned at Jerome after he lifted himself from the floor.

“You almost managed it,” I said with encouragement. “Keep trying and maybe one day you’ll catch me and win the prize.”

I’d challenged my soldiers a while back to sneak up on me. If they managed to take me down, I’d promised the winner a night with me. To my inner preening satisfaction, they’d been trying their damnedest to get me. And while none of them had yet succeeded, I could admit they’d gotten a lot better since we started.

My presence noted, my ranks of men and women stopped their sparring and cleared a circle for me amidst them.

“Looking good,” I encouraged them. “But, you need to practice more on working as teams. Your enemy might be bigger and stronger than you. Heck, they could be as nasty as me.”

Chuckles met my announcement. They knew I didn’t boast, but hard ass as I might be, I took care of my own, and they loved me for it.

A shift in their attention wasn’t needed for me to know Rafe approached. I’d never lost my awareness of him, a tickling radar that made me want to bang my head on the wall in incomprehension.

“This is Dr. Angelus,” I said gesturing in his direction without looking. “As most of you have heard, he’s been sent by the humans to examine us. I expect you to treat him with the utmost courtesy, in other words, please be reminded he is not to be hurt or used as a snack. And Jasmine,” I said turning to the petite vampiress who eyed Rafe with interest. “No playing with him.”

Jasmine’s full lips pouted, but given her taste for human men-she had a harem at home-I figured the extra warning was warranted. Besides, if anyone got to touch the doctor, it would be me. And only me. I never did acquire a knack for sharing.

“All right then,” I said clapping my hands. “Team up in groups of four. Let’s see how you do against me. And remember, do your best because-” I paused to smile coldly, “I’ll be doing my best to take you out.”

I saw Rafe stiffen from the corner of my eye, his mouth opening as if to protest. But I ignored him as the first squad came at me.

I spent the next few hours tossing, smacking, and in general hurting my soldiers, all the while offering a commentary on where they’d gone wrong. It worried me that even with all our training, they still couldn’t take me down in groups of four. Although, at least they now managed to land blows whereas six months ago I would have danced around them, unharmed. Of course, I did have the unfair advantage of being much more gifted than them in terms of speed and strength. But I didn’t have the centuries needed for them to grow older and more powerful. Thank goodness, these recruits, the greenest of all my soldiers, weren’t yet needed in the field.

But I dreaded their fate if called upon too soon.

Workout over, I grinned as I mopped my sweaty face and watched my soldiers limp off to the showers.

I’d almost managed to forget my silent observer. Okay, that was a total lie, but at least, I’d managed to distract myself.

“That was quite impressive,” he said as he tucked his notebook under his arm.

“Glad you enjoyed the show.”

“Can I ask why you’re training them so hard? It’s almost like you’re preparing them for something.”

Having not yet decided whether or not to let the doctor in on the secret of the world apocalypse arriving soon, I lied. “When you have an eternity to look forward to, you need something, a regime, to keep you from going mad. Since our kind tends to be attacked and persecuted by those who see our diet as monstrous instead of necessity, knowing how to defend ourselves is a skill all of my kind need to learn and it gives them something to do.”

His blue eyes narrowed behind his lenses. “Why do I get the impression, you’re not being a hundred percent truthful?”

I chuckled. “You’re being paranoid. Haven’t I cooperated fully with everything you’ve asked so far?”

I didn’t wait for his reply. I sauntered off to find my room and a shower. I looked once over my shoulder to see if he followed and stumbled as I caught Rafe staring at me with smoky eyes. A look he quickly shuttered. The man was like a robot who could turn it on or off at will. I unfortunately couldn’t. I raced away from him, suddenly hungry, a craving ache that wouldn’t dissipate no matter how many pints of blood I imbibed.

Chapter Five

Sleep proved unattainable as I tossed and turned all day long, my body and mind restless. Just before sunset, I gave up and rose to prepare for the night. A really long shower later, I still felt like the dead. My attempt at humor with myself did nothing to improve my mood.

I breakfasted on Reginald who also doubled as my chauffeur, but as I sucked on his neck, much as I tried not to, I couldn’t help wishing I had a different neck at my mercy.

Disgruntled, I snarled at my staff, who, used to my mood swings, stayed well out of my way. An hour passed, then two, before I went looking for Rafe.

I found him-big surprise-in his lab-A.K.A, his medical torture chamber.

“Ah, there you are,” he said turning and greeting me with an absent smile. “I wondered when you’d show.”

I tried not to gnash my teeth. I’d assumed he’d come looking for me. It galled me that all this time he’d been waiting for me to cave and come to him.

Just like the previous day, he wore shapeless garments covered in a white lab coat. His blond hair was deliciously rumpled though as if he’d run his fingers through it.

“What’s on the agenda today?” I asked, perching myself on the bed.

“Some Q &A first if you don’t mind?” His eyes briefly met mine from behind his lenses.

“Ask away.”

“Garlic? Does it keep vampires away?”

I giggled. “Only if you have a sensitive nose that can’t stand it. Me, I love a little Italian flair in my blood.”

He shifted as he noted my response. “I already know you’re allergic to sunlight. What about crosses and holy water?”

I rolled my eyes and sighed. “No matter what the religious institutions might want people to think, we are not evil, ungodly creatures. I can not only wear a cross without harm and gargle holy water, I can walk into a church, fuck a priest and not even sweat.” My crude claims didn’t even faze him.

“Does your kind believe in God?”

I was surprised at the intentness of his expression as he asked me this. “There is no God, not like the bible claims anyways. Although, I do have reason to believe there is a Satan.”

“How can you believe in one and not the other?”

“Let’s just say I have my sources and I have it on good authority that there is a realm out there that could aptly be named Hell, and it’s ruled by a creature whose title is Satan; I’ve never seen irrefutable proof of Heaven, however. It could exist, but in either case, I do know people’s souls don’t depart this planet for either damnation or eternal fields of sunshine.”

“What do you believe happens to the soul instead then?”

“When you die, your soul, the energy that animates a body is released to be reborn again in a new body.” Or absorbed by someone like me.

“You believe in souls, yet you don’t believe in religion.”

“Souls aren’t religious, they’re proven fact.” I frowned at him. “Why all these questions on religion? Are you like some closet fanatic who’s going to pull out a stake and scream death to the vampires?”

His lips quirked. “Just curious. I’ve noticed most humans have strong beliefs when it comes to the existence of God along with Heaven and Hell.”

Something about the way he said humans struck me as odd. But I ignored it in favor of a question that interested me more. “And what do you believe?”

“I believe in God, the one God, and I know in my heart Heaven exists.”

I laughed. “A man of science who believes in religion? How odd.”

“No odder than discovering vampires exist.”

“Touché,” I replied with a rueful grin. “On to the next question.”

“Can you turn into a bat?”

I almost fell off the bed I laughed so hard. “No,” I gasped.

“And I know you’re not a walking corpse,” he muttered scratching on his notepad.

Gee, I wonder if my having a heart beat gave that one away. I kicked my feet as I waited for him to ask his next myth related query.

“Can you turn into a mist and float through cracks?”

I grinned and shook my head. I didn’t mention I could cloak myself in shadows. Not all vampires could do it, and I reserved the right to keep certain things to myself.

“Levitation?”

“I can float above the ground for a few minutes, but if I try to go too high gravity grabs me with a vengeance.”

“What about hypnotizing people?”

I waggled my fingers at him and rounded my eyes. “Ooh, you will now cluck like a chicken.”

He tapped his pencil on his notebook. “Nice try, but I saw the press conference. I know you have some power to manipulate people.”

“Yes, yes I do. But not all my kind have the same ability. I’m a lot stronger than your average vamp and thus have more powers.”

“Can your mind control be fought?”

“Funny you should ask considering your mind keeps refusing my requests.”

“And what have you tried to get me to do?” Rafe asked with a ghost of a smile.

“Well, for one, I keep trying to convince you to take off your damned coat and shirt so I can have a peek at your bod.”

“Whatever for?” he asked his forehead creased in puzzlement.

I grinned toothily at him. “To see if you’re hiding a six pack or a margarine tub.”

He blushed and pushed at his glasses on his face. “Okay, on to the next question.”

I chuckled at his discomfort.

“Teeth? They retract into your gums I’ve noticed. Is it painful?”

I shook my head. “Only the first few times. And just so you know, they aren’t like regular enamel teeth. They’re more porous and exude a relaxing agent when we use them to feed.”

“Fascinating,” he murmured as he scribbled madly. “Will you allow me to take a sample?”

“Sure,” I replied benignly. “And I’ll even allow you to try it out; just say when… and where.”

He didn’t rise to my challenge; although, I’m sure I caught him smiling before he turned away. He fiddled with some dials on one of his machines as he spoke to me over his shoulder. “Okay, I already got measurements for your body the first night. Today, we’re going to take a look at your internal parts. I’m going to start out with the ultrasound and then we’ll move onto x-rays.”

“Okay, let’s get this over with,” I grumbled. I lay on the bed only to sit up again when he turned and handed me a paper gown. I arched a brow. “Seriously? You want me to wear this oversized Kleenex?”

“I don’t want your clothes to get slimy with the gel I use for the ultrasound probe.”

“Ooh, probing. I’m in.” I chuckled as I tugged my shirt off in front of him. He quickly averted his face, then his whole body. I smirked at his back as I finished disrobing. I returned to the table and stretched out, naked as the day I was born. “Ready,” I sang.

He turned around and did a double take. “Um, where’s the gown?” he asked in a thick voice.

“Oh, that thing? Too scratchy. Besides, I’m perfectly comfortable in the buff. Feel free to join me if you feel overdressed.”

He blushed and I thought he was cuter than ever. He took my blood with shaking hands and I thanked my high tolerance for pain as the trembling needle didn’t exactly feel great. But once the pain was gone, I had nothing to take my focus away from him. Oh dear.

I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the tantalizing scent of his skin just barely covering the network of veins that I longed to plunge my teeth into. I tried to deafen myself to the steady thumping of his heartbeat, music like no other. But with his hands palpating me and checking my musculature among other things, my body, despite my clenched teeth, grew aroused. My cleft soaked the skin of my thighs and my nipples hardened into points.

Lost in my own misery I didn’t notice at first that my calm and cool doctor wasn’t so blasé. My ears eventually heard the increase in his heart rate, the way his breath caught and his hands kept inadvertently stroking me.

Aha! I knew he was hiding his attraction to me.

I opened my eyes to see his face flushed and his eyes out of focus behind his lenses. Finally, I had his attention and it had only required me getting naked. I sat up and faced him. For once, he didn’t turn away. His fingers brushed at my cheek, and I leaned into his touch, like a cat looking for a petting except my brand of purring was deadly.

He moved in closer and I knew I should walk away. The rational part of me screamed to put a stop to this even as I acknowledged the fact I’d intentionally maneuvered him into this position. But since when had I ever done the right thing?

I met his questing lips. The touch of his mouth on mine sent an erotic shiver through me, one that tightened my nipples even further and started a throbbing in my cleft. I didn’t stop him when his hands came to rest on my hips, bigger and rougher than I would have expected of a man of science. He pulled me closer to him, the hardness of his cock, even through his bulky layers of clothing, pressing against my lower tummy and spiraling my desire. His kiss deepened and I parted my lips for him, I even allowed him to slip his tongue into my mouth. I couldn’t stop myself from enjoying the arousal he incited, a sexual excitement like I’d never imagined and one which unfortunately couldn’t go any further. Not if I wanted him to live.

I bit down on his tongue, gentle enough so as to not break skin, but hard enough to grab his attention. The idiot man groaned, and for a moment his grip on me tightened. Why, oh why, did I suddenly have to acquire morals? I pushed at him and he stepped back. His eyes burned with arousal, but all too quickly, his usual placid expression slid back into place. I wish I knew how he does that because I am anything but calm right now.

“That was interesting,” he said breaking the silence.

I scowled. “You shouldn’t have done that.” I lied. I wanted him to kiss me again, naked while fucking me.

“Why not? Sexuality seems to be a large part of your persona, a fact you’ve made blatantly obvious.” He brushed a knuckle across my bare nipple and I shuddered, for a moment fervently wishing he’d follow with his mouth.

I mentally shook myself. “Fine. I made you kiss me because I’m a vampire slut. Now write it down in your little notebook and don’t do it again.” I hopped off the bed, afraid to look back and see the puddle of my desire soaking the sheet.

Raphael, though, wasn’t ready to let me go and he caught my arm as I went to flee his presence-and to find something I could fuck without killing.

“Why are you so upset? Are you involved with someone?”

I peered back at him incredulously. “No.”

“Then where’s the harm in a kiss?” he asked, trying to reel me back into his arms. I just braced my feet and let my superior strength keep me away from temptation. To my surprise, he was stronger than I’d given him credit for and I almost went stumbling back against him.

I scowled at him. “A kiss is fine. It’s the rest that’s dangerous.”

He grinned at me, a masculine smile that seemed out of place on his scholarly face, or had I misjudged my sexy scientist? “I think I can handle some hot sex.”

“Not with me you can’t,” I replied shaking my head even as my hormones cried for me to give in. “I’m toxic.”

He frowned. “What do you mean toxic?”

“Sex with me is toxic to humans,” I replied with a shrug. “Or more accurately, my orgasms kill your kind.”

The jerk laughed. “If that’s a boast of your prowess, then I’ll admit I’m intrigued.”

I growled. “Idiot. While my saliva causes euphoria and my blood given in a certain sequence can turn a human, my pussy juices, especially the fluids released during climax, have something in them, some deadly ingredient. If it comes in contact with the skin of a human, it kills them. There is no cure. So while you can kiss me, you’ll never fuck me, not unless you want to die.” He gaped at my announcement.

Upset with myself and him for having the nerve to be born human, I whirled on my heel and left, hitting my room for a change of clothes. I stomped down to my office, my annoyance simmering the further I went without him chasing me down. I don’t care how petty it is of me. A part of me kind of wishes he’d overlook the whole death by pussy thing just for a chance to get with me. Jerk.

In order to stifle my aroused libido, I buried myself in some printed reports of daemon sightings. They were arriving more frequently as the barrier between our world and the demonic dimension thinned.

So far, with the help of the dark faeries, we were keeping ahead of the invasion. But I knew it was only a matter of time before a large wave broke through. I knew our queen was working on bringing the humans and their armies into the knowledge loop, but I wondered if we shouldn’t speed things up. We needed the human scientists to start work on weapons that would prove effective against the repulsively strong daemons. And on that same note, I also wished more special beings would step forth to join the fight.

The merpeople had yet to respond to our request to patrol the seas, but I couldn’t imagine them not defending their territory, so I wasn’t truly worried about them. The dwarves refused to involve themselves, claiming the affairs of man did not concern them. They further claimed that if the horde poured into the world bent on destruction, they would wall off their surface accesses. So helpful. It also made me send a note to the gardener to buy some more garden gnomes. They looked enough like the troublesome dwarves that I’d have fun venting some frustration in my next training session. The pixies and faeries of light stubbornly refused to listen to our warnings. They tilted their stubborn chins, claimed we were evil and thus not to be trusted.

I gnashed my teeth as I imagined showing them how evil I could be if they kept pissing me off. I’d gladly pluck their little wings off until they agreed to join the coming fight.

Negotiations with the shifters were progressing well, but given their divisiveness among the varied animal clans, it was slow moving. But if we could get them on our side they’d provide an invaluable source of strength. I’d also heard tantalizing rumors that they were capable of withstanding sex with a vampire. An intriguing idea which, if true, would increase the pool of available lovers.

But back to the primary problem. Daemons and the difficulties we’d encountered killing them.

What I really needed to do was capture one of the pesky creatures and bring it back for testing-the deadly kind. In order to fight the enemy we needed to know more about it. Find its weaknesses. So far we weren’t faring well in our battle with them. For every daemon we took down, we lost at least one or more of our kind. The humans, without our inborn weapons, wouldn’t stand a chance unless they were forewarned and armed themselves. Therein lay the reason for the whole coming out fiasco. Get to know your friendly neighborhood monster so you can team up when the bully comes to town. I still thought we should have just glamored those in charge to do our bidding. But, many of my kind were eager to escape the shadows and join society. Idiots. They could live in the spotlight and make targets of themselves. I intended to return to hiding in the shadows as soon as my roles as spokes-vampire and guinea pig were over with.

Thinking of my current role made me think of Raphael. I scowled. Blasted man. Why couldn’t they have sent me some old, grizzled scientist instead of Mr. Hottie?

A lightbulb-a dim, none-UV kind-went off in my mind. The best way to get his focus off me and, in return, me away from him was to give him something new to play with. Say, like, a daemon. Not only could I vent some frustration hunting down one of the beasts, Rafe could prove useful dissecting it. Besides, at this point, I’d cooperated as much as I intended. He knew enough about my kind to compile a report. So why not send him away?

I shushed that voice in favor of the one that said Rafe could help us in our fight against the Legion coming. Tearing daemons limb from limb was well and good, but against the horde we’d face, not too practical, not given our current kill ratio. As general to the queen-and in a sense, all of humanity-I needed to know their weak spots. Where to ram my fist through their flesh and pull out their beating heart-or if they didn’t have a heart, whatever passed for one.

I also needed to find out more about their powers. Like other than their nasty stench and extremely bad breath, did they have the power of beguilement we enjoyed? Or the ability to cloak themselves in shadows? So much I need to know, and yet, I was stuck in the mansion with Dr. Temptation.

Although technically, I wasn’t restricted to the house. In order to keep my promise to the queen, I just needed to keep myself available to the doctor. The fact I didn’t plan to allow any more testing didn’t enter the equation. Much as he made me want to ride him like a cowgirl while I sucked on his jugular didn’t erase the fact that his knowledge and skills were needed. He’s an invaluable tool, and I would be doing my queen a disservice if I were to send him away just because he makes me hornier than a rabbit in heat.

Illogical or not, I liked my decision. Now, the next question was did I bring him with me as I hunted down the daemon? Or should I leave him at home and bring back the unconscious carcass for him to play with?

Of course, either way, first I’d have to tell him what the real motive in our declaring ourselves was. How did you tell a human that the Mayans were right? The end was coming. We’d just translated the date wrong. And it wasn’t outer space we needed to fear, but another dimension, the Hell realm.

It made me wonder if maybe Heaven also existed. After all, Hell ended up being a real place, just blocked off a long time ago from accessing our world due to planetary rotations and whatnot. Thinking of Heaven, though, led to the question of were angels real? And of even more interest, what would they taste like?

A knock on my study door had me calling out a sharp, “Come in.”

I expected Annabelle, my late night snack, instead I smelt the delicious aftershave of one not-on-the-menu doctor. I hid behind my reports, not wanting to face him yet, not with the memory of his kiss-his achingly hot touch-still fresh in my mind.

“I’m sorry,” he said his low timbered voice shooting shivers down my spine.

“Apology accepted. Good night.” I wasn’t sure what he was sorry for. Sorry for kissing me? Sorry for not being able to fuck me without dying? Did it matter?

He sighed. “You’re really not like human women are you?”

It was a rhetorical question so I didn’t bother answering. Besides, even among my own kind I was considered different.

“I’ll see you tomorrow evening then.” I heard him turn and move towards the door.

“Wait.” I really hated the way my mouth had a tendency of talking before I knew what I was going to say. “How about we go on a fieldtrip tomorrow?”

“Sure. Where to?”

“Somewhere possibly dirty, so wear dark clothes. Oh, and skip the aftershave.”

“Why?” he queried.

I lowered my reports and looked him in the face. His blue eyes met mine and I smiled the toothy grin of a hunter. “Because where I’m taking you, you don’t want to smell too edible.”

He didn’t blanch, just nodded his head and, with a ghost of a smile hovering on his lips, turned on his heel to leave.

As for me, I flattened the last report I’d perused.

I’d found a daemon, or so I thought given the sketchy details. Humans missing. Strange sounds and lights. And the most telling tidbit, blood splatters. All kinds of clues that made me think I’d found a beast, and not too far from the house either. Excellent.

Tomorrow, I’d catch the foul one and bring him back to Rafe. My version of candy and flowers for a human I couldn’t have.

Chapter Six

I spent another day barely sleeping, too caught up in my fantasies revolving around the untouchable doctor. I’d thumbed through my black book looking for a fuck buddy to call, but none of them had the tousled blond hair, blue eyes and geeky look I craved.

I made do with my vibrator, but even though I climaxed, I found myself more sexually frustrated than ever. I decided I needed better toys. I left a note for Annabelle to invest in some heavy duty hardware, anything to help scratch the erotic itch I couldn’t shake.

I was disgruntled and on my third pair of panties by the time I met Raphael in the front hall. As requested, he wore black from head to toe, and he even had a black leather bomber jacket that made me arch a brow. He looked like a good boy turned bad, in other words, totally freaking hot!

“Did you go shopping with a biker?” I asked to mask the fact I wanted to peel him and eat him.

Rafe looked down at himself then up at me with a grin. “You said black. And weren’t you the one who told me leather is easier to wipe the filth off.”

Actually I’d said blood, but I wouldn’t split hairs. He looked good, damned good, and when I approached and sniffed him, he smelt even better.

I growled.

“I didn’t put any aftershave on,” he said raising his hands.

“Doesn’t matter, you still smell like food,” I grumbled, heading out the door and into the fresh air, away from his tantalizing scent.

“Where are we going?” he asked as he followed me out.

“Hunting,” I said swinging a leg over my motorcycle parked out front. I patted the seat behind me. “Think of it as an up close look at how a vampire takes down prey.”

“Are you going to kill someone?”

Humans and their morals-what a drag. “Who me?” I batted my lashes at him. “I’m not after a human if that’s what you’re worried about. Now, are you getting your ass on here or not?”

“I guess this is your way of telling me you can’t fly,” he said, swinging onto the bike behind me.

“I wish,” I said, gunning the throttle. “Hold on tight.” His hands came around my midsection and with a chuckle to myself, I peeled out of my driveway. His grip tightened and I wondered if my curious doctor was frightened. A moment later I revised that thought as his erection poked my backside. More like excited.

He leaned forward and yelled in my ear. “How good are your reflexes on this thing?”

I smirked at his challenge. I poured on the speed and as the speedometer crept higher and higher, weaved in and out among the traffic. I was in perfect control of my machine and loved the speed.

He shouted again to be heard over the motorcycles engine noise. I should have told him not to bother. I could hear his heartbeat still with my enhanced senses.

“Not bad, but what if you’re distracted?”

I meant to ask, “Distracted by what?” but I almost crashed us when he showed me. He slid his hands down to rest on my spread thighs. And then he went between them, the heel of his hand rubbing at my crotch.

“Holy fuck! What are you doing?” I yelled as molten heat shot through me.

“Just checking,” he whispered in my ear followed by a wet swipe of his tongue which had me wetting my panties.

What had happened to my shy doctor? I pinned my lips tight-both sets-as he chuckled behind me. The pressure on my crotch lessened, but he kept his hands on my thighs. Something I was all too aware of. I’d have to have another talk with him about the dangers of rousing me. A woman, and a vampire at that, could only take so much before she snapped, and if that happened, the brief bliss we’d both enjoy would be tinged with regret as I buried his lifeless body. Or I could turn him, a thought that should have had little to no appeal given my dislike of blood thirsty fledglings. But considering how Rafe affected me, the idea had merit. I stowed the thought for later perusal.

We drove for about two hours before I reached the place in my report. An industrial area that at this time of night was vacant of humans, most of them anyway.

I stopped the bike and stepped off, instantly missing the warmth of Rafe’s body hugging mine.

“So you going to tell me what you’re after?” he asked peering off into the darkness.

“How familiar are you with the concept of daemons?”

I thought I heard him choke and I whirled to look at him.

He returned my stare placidly. “I know of them in theory and from fiction. Why do you ask?”

“Because tonight, if we’re lucky, we’re going to find the reason why vampires came out of the closet.”

“I don’t suppose you’re going to elaborate.”

I grinned in reply as I headed off into the darkness. He followed behind and I grudgingly had to admit, for a human, he moved almost as quietly as I did.

I wasn’t sure where the daemon might be hiding, or even if it had stayed in the area. But given their territorial tendencies and the secluded nature of this area-plenty of hiding spots-I had a hunch it hadn’t moved on.

I just needed the right bait to get it to come out. “Hey Rafe, we need to split up so we can cover more ground. If you see something, don’t engage it, just holler for me.”

I could have sworn I saw his eyes twinkle, but he turned to lope off into the darkness and I chalked it up to the light glinting off his glasses.

I paralleled him, leaping up to the top of the containers and silently tracking behind him. I drew my power around me to cloak me even further and watched my libido disturbing doctor as he peeked around corners, searching blindly.

Given the daemon taste for human flesh, I figured Rafe would tempt the beast out of hiding and then I’d soar in for the rescue.

At least that was my plan until something hit me in the back and sent me tumbling to the ground. I hit the packed earth hard, but immediately rolled in time to miss being impaled by the sharp claws of a daemon.

Holy fuck. The beast was huge, bigger than the daemons we’d faced previously. And uglier, too. He sported a pair of curling alabaster horns with sharp points, a perfect match for his filed teeth. His black skin gleamed with moisture covered in an icky slime I knew from experience would burn my skin.

“Well, aren’t you a handsome boy,” I crooned as I jumped to my feet.

The creature drooled in reply and I shuddered, especially when I saw the saliva hit the ground and sizzle. Mental note to self: do not kiss the daemon.

I circled the monster, sizing him up and waiting for the right moment. When the opening didn’t miraculously arrive, I just charged to make one. I hit the beast in the midsection and we barreled backwards into a container with a loud thud.

I’d underestimated the daemon’s strength, though. Its arms came around me in a bear hug that squeezed the breath from me and trapped my arms.

Stuck, I leaned forward instead of away from its grasp and sank my teeth into the oily black skin of its neck, my lips burning at the touch.

I immediately spat out the foul tasting blood. “Eew,” I exclaimed as the daemon screeched.

But the creature loosened its hold on me and I stepped back to deliver the killing blow. Palming my knife of purest silver, I slashed and sliced at the hulking brute. We danced back and forth, it slashing with its claws, me with my razor sharp dagger.

The daemon’s movements got sluggish, the loss of blood from the dozens of cuts that oozed ichor, affecting it finally.

I grinned in triumph and prepared to strike the killing blow.

So then my old friend fate-that bitch who hates me-arrived to fuck me over.

Arms thick as saplings wrapped around me from behind, squeezing me in a tight vise that forced the breath from my lungs.

Fuck! I’d miscalculated. There were two daemons, not one. I struggled in the implacable grasp of the beast holding me, especially when the one I’d grievously injured approached with a leering grin.

I guess I should have waited for my troops to arrive before engaging the enemy. Then an even scarier thought overtook that one. Rafe. He wouldn’t stand a chance against these brutes.

“Run, Rafe,” I yelled, amplifying the sound of my voice. I didn’t manage to say anything else for the daemon in front of me punched me in the face.

My head snapped back, but I refused to show pain. “You’re going to have try harder than that,” I taunted.

The daemon hissed and held up its clawed hands in front of me, its intent to slice and dice me clear. Me and my big mouth. While I would eventually heal, getting cut up definitely would suck, not to mention hurt.

A flash of white from the corner of my eye filled me with relief-my men are here finally. I yelled, “About time you guys got here. Get the tranquilizer guns and take these bastards down.”

Apparently the daemon holding me didn’t like my plan for it whirled us until my back was against a metal storage unit, then it commenced to bash my head against it. Harder and harder. It fucking hurt. The attempt to crush my skull along with my constricted chest in its boa like arms made me close my eyes as the world spun nauseatingly around me.

I found myself slipping into a soothing blackness, and barely noticed the daemon releasing me. Everything in me ached. But I hadn’t lived over four hundred years only to swoon like a damsel because of one itty bitty daemon ambush.

I forced my eyes open, but found myself unable to focus. What I did see was blurred and bright. I thought I saw the flash of a sword wielded by a being that shone white, but when I blinked-a long blink that might have lasted a few minutes-I opened them to see Rafe kneeling before me.

“Run,” I gasped, some stupid sentimental part of me not willing to see him killed.

“Shh, it’s okay.” He stayed on his knees as he checked me, shining a pen light into my eyes and palpating me for injury.

“I’m healing,” I grumbled as I struggled to sit, hard to do with his surprisingly strong hands holding me down.

“You need blood,” Rafe replied in a tight voice.

“My people will have emergency blood bags in the van. Have they secured the daemons?”

Rafe looked away from me. “Um, well, see-.”

His explanation was cut off by the shouts of my people as they poured into the area and surrounded the daemon which I could now clearly see as my body healed the damage. The black beast lay on the ground, a hole from its side pouring blood. Only the gentle rise of its chest let me know it lived. Of the other daemon, only a black sludge remained. Someone or something had killed it and I wished I could take the credit.

I frowned. Wait, if they just arrived then who saved me? I looked at my benign doctor with suspicious eyes. Dressed in black and definitely not carrying a sword, he obviously wasn’t the blurry white figure I’d seen saving my ass. Then again, given my mental state at the time, I could have possibly hallucinated.

Questions would have to wait. I had more important things to deal with. I picked myself off the ground and brushed off the dirt as I gave my crew directions for taking in the daemon. A big fucking bastard compared to the punier ones we’d fought with before. I hoped it wasn’t a harbinger of the hordes to come. If I, one of the stronger more vicious vampires, couldn’t handle one of them alone, then how would the puny humans fight them?

I hoped that Rafe would find the answers. Find a way to save us all from the sure death approaching. And if he didn’t, then just maybe I would take the pleasure to be found with the good doctor before the daemonic hordes arrived.

Chapter Seven

We put the daemon in the wine cellar, the thick stone great against possible scrying and mind games. The chains I’d had installed as a just-in-case were sturdy enough to hold the creature. The magical wards the witches set around the place were added as an extra precaution. And for a last security measure, tubes from a pair of IV drips were inserted into its arms. All of the action was being monitored from a control room lined in lead. At my signal, those who manned the drip would either crank up the tranquilizers on the left or the undiluted cyanide on the right. We weren’t sure the cyanide would work, but I was willing to try anything.

I stood across the room, my hand on my dagger in case I needed to go medieval on the daemon’s ass. In other words decapitate it. All the precautions in the world didn’t mean squat if the daemon was more powerful than we expected.

Rafe walked around the still slumbering daemon, measuring and taking notes. I’d had time while we drove back to think-me on my bike and him in the van with the daemon which he found more fascinating than me. I narrowed my eyes as I watched Rafe at work.

Something or someone had helped me when I’d lost the upper hand to the daemons. It still galled me that I’d needed help in the first place. Losing did not sit well with me, and I vowed to go on a feeding binge to increase my strength. But I put thoughts of a more rigorous feeding regime aside to return to the fact that my team weren’t the ones to save me from the daemons. Everything pointed-illogical as it seemed-to Rafe. Human doctor or something else?

I looked at him, really looked at him. He still wore the baggy clothes, but I remembered well the feel of his body against mine, and even with his bulky clothes, I recognized a body shaped by muscle, not fat. The fact he could resist my personal brand of charm, something unheard of among humans. The strength he kept displaying. How he was the only thing around when I came to after the attack. I kept staring at him, noting his glasses, one of the reasons he appeared so harmless. I acted on a theory.

Quicker than the human eye could follow, I swiped his lenses and dropped them onto the floor. My feet, encased in shitkicker boots, ground them into shards and bent metal. “Oops,” I said.

Rafe’s lips tightened and his eyes flashed, not with anger, but with light. Now that definitely wasn’t a reflection off his glasses that time.

“What did you do that for?” he asked.

“You don’t need them,” I stated baldly.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed.

“What? Aren’t you going to deny it?” I taunted.

“No, you’re right. I don’t.”

I couldn’t believe he so readily admitted the ruse. “So, why the disguise?”

“Would you believe people tend to take me more seriously with them?” He gazed at me, and, without the barrier of his lenses, I got the full impact of his eyes. It took my breath away and I found myself unable to look away. Sure, I’d found him handsome before, but now, with his jaw hard and his eyes glinting, he was beyond delicious. He looked dangerous, and not at all the shy and awkward doctor I’d taken him for. How could I have been so blind?

I didn’t fall for his obvious lie. “Whatever you say, Clark Kent,” I quipped. “Care to tell me what else you’re hiding?”

He turned from me, but I wasn’t letting him escape that easily.

“I’m onto you,” I warned as I pressed myself up against his back. I craned on tiptoe to lick his neck. I enjoyed his shudder and felt an answering warmth flood through me.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, his voice low and thick.

I ran my hands around his waist and up the hard planes of the stomach he hid. His body tensed and I placed a soft kiss on his nape. “Whatever,” I murmured. What started out as a teasing game for me to get him to talk or let something slip rapidly devolved into desire.

My hands brushed up over the fabric of his shirt and rubbed across the hard nubs of his nipples. His breath caught and quicker than a human could move, he’d turned and pinned me against the wall. I had a moment to see his eyes blazing with light before his lips came down hard on mine.

Unlike his previous gentle kiss, this one screamed possession, and strength. I squirmed as he ground his body against mine, liquid heat pooling in my sex. I moaned as his tongue slickly stroked mine. Never before had a man kissed me so passionately. Nor had I ever responded so wildly. I clutched at his broad shoulders through the fabric hiding them and moaned into his mouth.

I almost cried when he moved away.

“The creature wakes,” he announced. He’d slipped his usual placid face back on, but he couldn’t hide the glitter in his eyes or the gruffness of his voice. The insane attraction I had for him reciprocated.

I raised trembling fingers to my lips. Human my ass. What on earth is he? And an even better question, am I toxic to his kind?

I planned on finding out soon. Right now, though, I had an ugly snarling daemon to deal with.

“Hi handsome,” I drawled moving to stand protectively in front of Rafe. Call it instinct in case my doctor-contrary to my belief-ended up being breakable.

The daemon snarled at me, its fangs dripping and its eyes glowing red.

I rolled mine in reply. “Oh, drop the theatrics, big boy. I’m not a gullible human. Who are you and why are you here?”

The daemon snapped its teeth. I bared mine right back. The creature’s wet, throaty chuckle, I’m ashamed to say, made shivers dance up my spine, and not the good kind. “What are you?” he asked in a scratchy voice pleasant like nails on a chalkboard.

I winced. “Ooh, I’d hate to hear you singing Christmas carols. As for what I am, I am a vampire and unlike the humans, I won’t be pushed around. So start talking.”

The beast leered at me. “Are the men in your clan so weak they rely on a female to protect them? Never fear, when my brothers arrive they will teach you a female’s place.”

I dropped my eyes to the daemon’s groin and noticed his shriveled sack and rod. “Gee, I hope all your kind aren’t so poorly endowed. I prefer something I can actually feel.”

The daemon roared and lunged forward only to snap short as the chains held him.

“Should you be antagonizing him?” Rafe asked, coming to stand beside me.

His words drew the baleful glare of the creature. It sniffed and then stretched its mouth into a grin. “A shining one. What a treat. It would appear reports of your extinction were false.”

“What’s he talking about?” I asked turning to Rafe.

“Not now,” he murmured.

I glared at him. I didn’t like secrets I wasn’t privy to. The good doctor and I would need to have a talk later on.

The daemon laughed. “Does the bitch not know what you are? Not that it matters. Your kind never did have the nerve to stop us before.”

I waited for Rafe to defend himself, but he remained silent. I drew the beast’s attention back to me. “I don’t give a shit what he is. I asked you a question. Who are you?”

“Death.”

I kicked the daemon in its tiny balls. It bellowed and thrashed.

I tsked him. “Next time I ask you a question, answer it. While my friend here might be the nonviolent type, I promise you, I am anything but.”

The daemon wheezed. “I shall delight in hearing your screams when I free myself and take you as your cowardly lover looks on.”

“First off, he’s not my lover,” I said stiffly. “And secondly, I asked you a fucking question, now answer it!” I punctuated my demand with a hard shot to the creature’s ribs.

After the creature’s bellowed died down, I asked again nicely. “What’s your name?”

With a glare I found entertaining, the daemon spoke. “I am known as Akrza. And by capturing me, you have signed your death warrant.”

“I’m so scared,” I said theatrically as I pretended to shake. I leaned in closer to the daemon and said in a low voice. “Now Akrza, you’re going to tell me what you’re doing here.”

“Or else what?” the creature said with a smirk. “My ribs have already healed. So do your worst.”

I slid my dagger from its sheath and stroked its sharp edge, the skin of my finger slicing open. “Oh, I know how quickly you heal which is why I’m going to enjoy fucking you with this,” I said with a nasty smile. “And if you still don’t answer, I start cutting pieces off, starting with your puny dick.”

A tug on my arm sent me stumbling after Rafe, who with the gig almost up, was no longer even attempting to hide the fact he wasn’t human. He towed me along with more strength than I liked.

“What are you doing?” he hissed when he finally stopped and faced me.

I met his agitated gaze with my calm one. “Getting answers. If you can’t handle it, then leave. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to kill it. Well, at least not until after you’ve run some tests on it.”

“But threatening him with-.” He couldn’t say it and I smiled coldly.

“Fucking him with a dagger? Listen here, I don’t know what you are, but from the clues Akrza has dropped, I’d say your kind are the nonviolent type. That’s fine. You want to lie down and die for your morals, go ahead. The daemon isn’t going to spill his secrets because we smother him in kindness.” Rafe’s lips tightened but I forged ahead. “So yes, I’m going to threaten and even follow through with something it will understand. Extreme pain. I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty, not when it means possibly saving millions of lives.”

Rafe’s face creased in puzzlement. “What are you talking about? It’s just one daemon. And a contained one at that.”

I snorted. “If only. I don’t have time to get into it right now, but let me inform you that war is coming, and unless we do something, the prognosis for life isn’t looking too good. Now stay or go, I don’t care, but I will do what’s necessary to protect my kind and those that feed us.”

I pulled out of his grasp and stalked back to the daemon, my mood black. I brandished my knife and with a smile to make a human wet his pants, slid the sharp point down the center of the daemons’ chest right down to the shriveled root of its cock.

It swallowed. I grinned. “Where were we? Oh, yes, you were going to tell me why you were here? And while you’re at it, I want to know when the invasion is coming.”

The beast chuckled, a rattily and rusty sound. “Much as I’d like to watch the shining one squirm as you torture me, I have nothing to hide. You might kill me, but I am just the advance scout, paving the way for the army that comes.”

I heard Rafe’s intake of breath. “When will it happen?”

The daemon flicked a forked tongue in my direction and its eyes glowed. “Soon. The planets are moving into place and the barrier between our worlds thins.”

“I don’t suppose there is a way to stop it?” I knew it was a futile question, but I had to ask.

The beast laughed. “You cannot stop us, for we are Legion. As soon as the worlds align, the march will begin and victory will be ours.”

“I hate to break it to you, but we won’t be lying down for the invasion. As a matter of fact, with your help, we’re going to find out just how many ways there are to kill you and your kind.”

“I’ve given you all the aid you’re going to receive,” grunted the beast before biting off its tongue.

I’ll admit, it shocked me, not the fact the creature had so calmly removed a part of his body or the blood spurting from the daemon’s mouth, but the way the tongue twitched and moved on the floor. Eeew!

Rafe rushed forward to stop the gush of blood, but I walked away knowing the daemon had bested us. Suicide-a fanatical move to prevent us from learning something.

Too late. In a moment of insight, I discovered what I need to know.

I just wish it was better news.

* * * *

I’d just finished typing up my report in my office when Rafe stalked in, still dressed in his leathers. I yawned, the long night catching up with me as the sun struggled to rise.

“Can this wait?” I asked as I stood up. “I’m bushed.”

“Why didn’t you tell me the daemons were planning to invade Earth?” He bristled as he crossed his arms and glared at me.

Once again I cursed my stupidity in falling for his false geek exterior. The man exuded masculinity. “Why do you think I brought you along with me on the hunt? The plan was to dazzle you with a new creature to dissect and slowly divulge their plans for invading Earth. But wait, you’re not human and you already knew about them. Imagine that, you also lied to me.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “I didn’t exactly lie. I just omitted certain facts.”

I snorted. “Whatever. You can leave now. You got what you came for.”

“I’m not ready to go yet. There’s much we need to discuss.”

My temper flared. “No there’s not. I’m done making you, whatever you are, privy to our affairs. You can go tell whomever you’re truly working for what you’ve learned and then go hide your heads in a hole.”

Rafe’s breath whistled out of him, his frustration clear. “My people don’t believe in violence.”

“Well, bully for you. I guess I should count myself lucky you came to my rescue earlier then. That was you with the sword right?”

He nodded. “It was necessary to save your life.”

“Ooh, lucky me.” And had he not seemed so reluctant about doing it, I might have even perceived it as hot. No one ever came to my rescue, except the queen that one time. Now, I came to everyone else’s rescue. Screw the knights in shining armor. This beauty of the night came to your rescue with pointed fangs and skin tight leather, then as a thank you, sucked your blood in payment.

“It’s not easy for my kind to take a life or even injure another, no matter how heinous they are.”

“No, of course not,” I taunted. “You and so many others would rather sit on your high fucking horses and look down on those of us willing to dirty our hands. Then condemn us even as you reap the benefits.”

He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It’s not like that.”

“Really, then let me ask you, will your people join us in rebuffing the daemons?”

He shook his head and I snorted.

He looked pained. “It’s complicated.”

“There’s nothing complicated about fighting to survive.”

“It’s not our battle.”

“Well, it is mine, and I will do whatever it takes to ensure I and my kind survive, which also means saving the humans. And as far as I’m concerned, anyone who doesn’t join us in our fight for survival shall feed us to keep us strong.”

“You make it all seem so black and white.”

“It is.” Live or die, could the choice be any more basic?

“If you understood what I was-”

“I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass what you are. You could be a purple people eater or a fucking mythical unicorn. I’d still expect you to step up and be a man. To fight against the daemons and the certain death they’re promising.” A nasty idea floated free. “Unless you’re a different type of daemon? Is that why you can’t fight?”

He looked horrified. “No, most definitely not.”

“So you’re just a pussy.”

“Would you stop that,” he snapped back. “This has nothing to do with courage.”

“Or a lack thereof. Sure, whatever. Get out.” I waved my hand dismissively at him. I never could abide cowards.

“I can’t leave yet.”

I faced him and met his troubled blue eyes with my dark ones. “Oh, yes you can.” Attraction or not, I wouldn’t betray my people for a man who hid secrets and refused to fight. I called my people through my mental link with them. They flooded into the room and at my silent commanded gripped Rafe’s forearms.

He sighed with resignation. “This isn’t over, Ellie.”

“That’s Countess to you. Only my friends may use my real name.” I turned my back as my people escorted him from my home and life. The door slammed shut, but the expected elation at getting rid of him didn’t materialize.

I didn’t understand the gnawing pit in my stomach. Feeding didn’t banish it. Sleep merely helped it grow.

And alone once again, annoyed, horny and frustrated, I did what I did best. Caused havoc.

Chapter Eight

For the next couple of days I kept myself busy. It didn’t stop me, however, from thinking about Rafe. Is that even his real name?

I watched his press announcement to the humans where he glossed over some of my bloodthirsty habits to present us as human beings albeit with a specialized diet.

His calm reassurance, though, did nothing to stop the fanatics from sharpening their stakes. Apparently, no matter how benign we were painted, the humans just weren’t quite ready to accept us. Churches found themselves bursting at the seams as thousands returned to the religious fold and sermons preaching intolerance for the evil creatures-like me-ran rampant.

News reports from around the world held disturbing tales of humans stabbing people with wooden spikes. The ironic part was none of those killed were actually vampires.

And while a loud rabble of humans clamored for our annihilation, muddying the media with their rabid venting, the daemon incursions spiked.

Through my worldwide network, I received reports from cities all over citing new daemon sightings and atrocities. I sent out double squads, teams of eight vamps or more to take care of the problems, but with our limited population and resources, I was finding it harder and harder to keep up.

Hence my current meeting with the queen. I’d flown by private jet to Calgary, then hired a car to drive to her castle hidden from human eyes in the Canadian Rockies. A pretty place if you didn’t mind the cold and isolation.

I wasted no time upon my arrival, immediately seeking my queen out to establish a new plan of action.

I paced her throne room, my heel boots clacking on the marbled floor. “We need to bring the humans into the fight.”

“They’re not ready.”

I whirled to face Lily-a name I used to address her only in private-where she sat slumped in her throne. Her usual proud bearing wilted under the growing pressure. Never before had I seen her so defeated, and this before the battle was fully engaged. “I don’t give a crap if they’re ready to handle it or not. If we don’t tell them, they’re going to die. Besides, don’t you think they’re about to start noticing that more and more people are dying? It’s kind of hard to hide bodies torn to pieces and eaten. Has it occurred to you who they’re going to blame first?”

Lily sighed. “I know we’re about to get tarred, but truthfully, I’m more concerned about the widespread panic once we announce the daemons are coming.”

I flung my hands up, my tone and body language beyond exasperated. “Coming! They’re already bloody here.”

“And so far, you and the army have managed to take care of them.”

“For how much longer? I’m stretched thin. Too thin. We need numbers to bolster our ranks or they’re going to wipe us out even before the main forces arrive.” If only fledgling vampires weren’t so damned blood thirsty, I’d go on a creation binge and increase the ranks of the army myself. “How are the talks with the shapeshifters going?” With them at our side, we’d have the strength and numbers to stall a while longer.

Lily’s eyes sparked. “Stubborn animals. I had them this close,” she said holding her fingers a half inch apart. “Then, wham. All of a sudden all the alphas started beating their chest like the primates they are and claiming they needed to choose one leader to hold sway over all the clans.”

“So they hold an election and choose one.”

“I wish,” Lily sighed. “They’re holed up in my guest quarters right now trying to decide who will battle who for control of the clans. They claim it could take weeks for a final decision.”

I slumped onto the steps leading up to the dais and lowered my head to my knees. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

“What about Dr. Angelus? Have you thought about approaching him again? Ask him to speak to whoever is in charge of his people.”

I growled in reply. I’d of course told Lily that Rafe wasn’t human even as I hid how he’d affected me. Some humiliations didn’t bear repeating. I also didn’t mention the fact that Rafe had called me daily asking to meet since I’d booted him from my house and life. I had no interest in speaking to him. Lying jerk. He’d made it clear he and whatever group he belonged to wouldn’t be making a stand with us. “Rafe and his people are a dead end I refuse to waste time following. You know our only choice is to tell the humans. They need to arm themselves and prepare for the apocalypse.”

“Just give me a little more time,” my queen pled.

It angered me to see her acting so helpless. Over the years while I’d grown harder, she’d gone in the opposite direction and grown softer. No, that wasn’t the right word, she’d become more diplomatic as she prepared us for the day of our eventual outing. Turned out she needn’t have bothered. Movies and books had done to our reputation what actual acts couldn’t. Well, the acts that came to light that is. “Fine, handle the humans whatever way you like. But I want it noted that as your general in charge of your protection and that of our people’s, I think the time to arm the humans is now.”

“Duly noted.”

“In the meantime, may I talk to the shifters and reiterate the need for speed in their decision?”

Lily eyed me with trepidation. “Ellie, you’re not going to do anything crazy are you?”

“Who me?” I smiled at her, and not reassuringly judging by the frown knitting her brow.

I left the throne room with the sound of my queen’s resigned sigh drifting along with me. I thumped down the halls, the clacking of my heels and the vicious scowl on my face scattering those in my path. I loved my queen, but I really felt she was putting the petty fears of humans before common sense. Yes, what we had to say would freak them out, but it wouldn’t get any better a day, or two, or even a week from now.

Frustrated, I made an executive decision and headed towards the wing housing the guest quarters where the alpha leaders of the shapeshifters were residing with some of their people while negotiations occurred. I had a simple solution to our current problem with them. Sorry Lily, but in some cases, talking just isn’t the right route to take.

The vamp guard I had posted outside the guest wing stood up straighter at my approach.

“Don’t interfere no matter what you hear,” I instructed, striding past him into the gathering area for guests. My eyes quickly scanned the space, taking in details. The ceiling stretched above me almost three stories, the upper levels ringed with balconies where a few faces peered down at me with curiosity. The main floor contained scattered couches and chairs filled with a few human types who also didn’t look upon me with the right level of respect-or fear.

One large brute-who stank of bear-stood at my approach. “We are done talking for the day,” he told me in a gruff voice.

“I’m not here to talk,” I replied.

He smiled at me. “Ah, well why didn’t you say so, sweetheart. I’m always up to pleasing a lady.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, please, cub. Give it a break. The only thing that would please me would be you and your buddies getting your shit together and signing the agreement.”

He scowled at my rebuke. “We will sign the treaty when we can come to a consensus on a leader for all the clans.”

“So what are you waiting for?”

“The strongest, of course,” he said, flexing his impressive biceps.

“Let me get this straight. Whoever fights and wins gets to be in charge?” I questioned.

“More or less.”

“Perfect. I challenge you all.”

There were gasps and the behemoth in front of me chuckled. “But you are not a shifter.”

“Is that all it takes?” I replied sweetly. I shifted, my form melting and reforming into that of a large black kitty. I’d once ingested a whole big cat shifter pride who’d pissed me off by eating one of my servants. Apparently the assimilation of so many souls in quick succession gave me a power that most vamps didn’t have-and I wasn’t about to let them in on my secret. And I didn’t consider my answer to Rafe a lie-he’d asked if I turned into a bat. I couldn’t. He should have asked me about other animals.

I roared and swished my tail while the wide eyed alpha beheld me with a hanging jaw. I melted back into my human shape-complete with clothing, which I’ll admit I didn’t understand-and smiled. “Now that we’ve ascertained my eligibility, I repeat my challenge for leadership of all the clans in the coming war.”

“Never. I won’t follow a blood sucking bitch,” he snarled, no longer smiling.

“Pussy,” I taunted. “What’s wrong? Afraid a woman will beat all of you?” Growls erupted around me and I grinned wickedly.

The big guy in front of me gave me a fierce scowl. “There’s only one of you and a dozen alphas. You won’t win, so butt out. We will choose a leader for the clans in our own time.”

“I’m tired of waiting,” I growled. “None of you seem to grasp the fact that we are about to face an enemy of gigantic proportion. Fuck you all. I’m done being nice. Now we do things my way. All alphas not willing to bow to me as leader will meet me in the courtyard in ten minutes.”

“And if we don’t?” he crossed his arms over his wide chest.

“Then you are of no use to me, and I will have you all placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” His face flushed red with anger.

I stepped closer and met his glare. My tone emerged low, but I amplified it so all could hear my words. “I am the general of the queen’s army. I am also a really nasty bitch when pissed off, which would be right now. I would suggest you take my offer because I can guarantee one thing, I will follow through. If you’re not with me then you’re against me, and unlike some other cowards out there, I have no problem eliminating all of you to protect my back.”

Something about my words, tone or posture must have convinced him I spoke truth. That, or I was just more alpha than him. Shifters had a tendency to bow to those stronger than them, a trait I intended to cash in on.

“What are your terms?” he asked through gritted teeth.

“If I win, I control the tribes during this crisis.”

“And if you lose?” asked a male voice to my left.

I didn’t bother turning my head. I kept my eyes locked on the big guy. “If I lose?” I shrugged. “Not going to happen, but if it does, then tell you what, you can all pack up and go home to hide in your caves, or dens, or wherever you park your furry asses when you’re not acting like obstinate children.”

And with that temper firing comment, I pivoted on my heel. I could feel the burning stares boring into my back as I strutted out to await my challengers.

I hoped there were several as I had a lot of frustration to work out.

Why is it I’m the only one who grasps that we need to come together now and prepare for the coming invasion?

Speaking of preparing, I stripped off my coat and blouse, leaving on only my black sports bra and stretchy black jeans. I enjoyed the feel of the cool evening air as it brushed over my skin, its touch hardening my nipples. I kicked off my boots, my bare feet providing a better grip on the paving stones of the courtyard.

People filed out, mostly shifters judging by the smell, but I also sensed some of my brethren, too, come to watch their general wrangle the animals back in line.

I stretched and warmed up, not truly a necessary act, but it helped focus my thoughts-well, one thought-win. I didn’t bother listening to the whispers rising from the huddled alphas. They could strategize all they wanted. I didn’t intend to lose.

“Come on. I haven’t got all night,” I called out, impatient at the delay.

The herd dispersed to ring the open area I’d chosen for the fight, and the battle for power began. They threw the minor alphas at me first. I yawned as I batted away their feeble punches. I didn’t even grimace as they rained blows on me. Heck, I didn’t even waver. When I’d felt they’d had enough time to take me out-unsuccessfully-I dropped them with a single blow and placed my bare foot on their throat.

After the fourth borderline alpha, I laughed aloud. I could see their plan-tire the vampire so that when the big guns came at me, I’d lack the strength to take them out.

Idiots.

I took care of the first round with ease. The watching crowd stopped jeering and instead glared at me with angry stares. “Ready to concede yet?” I asked.

Growls and booing catcalls answered me. Thus did the next round of attacks start with a tougher bunch of alphas. They were wiser to me by now and circled me cautiously before darting in to attack. I took them down with well-aimed kicks and blows. Several even shapeshifted into their animal forms with no success. I beat them all.

A light sweat covered my body, and my blood pumped fluently from the exertion. Nothing like a good workout to feel better.

My frustration mostly abated-and now being worn as bruises by the losers-I smiled at the last alpha standing, the behemoth from inside.

“Okay, big boy. Get your ass over here for a beating so I can be declared champ.”

“Cocky bitch,” he snapped. “Just because you beat them out doesn’t mean you’ll be able to take me. The leader position is mine.”

“Then I guess you should have done something about it before I had to butt in. Too late now. I’m not putting up with any more shit. You said the last one standing gets to be leader. Well, that’s you or me big guy, so let’s see how your pretty muscle does against little ol’ me.”

The massive alpha’s posture screamed pissed-off and despite my threats, he stalked towards me, stripping as he came to show off impressive musculature. Unfortunately for him, though, he wasn’t a match for my strength-actually neither were my brethren, including my queen. The only beings that actually came close, and recently surpassed it, were the daemons.

I smiled at the approaching alpha and bared some teeth. I couldn’t resist taunting him some more. “So did you want me to let you make a good showing or just get this done?”

He didn’t reply, just gave an inarticulate cry of rage and charged at me, his body rippling into that of a grizzly bear-a huge one with massive freaking teeth. Such a predictable move.

I met his charge without changing shape. I tackled his immense furry body, my momentum tumbling us to the ground. My hands wrapped around his throat and squeezed. He thrashed, snarled and snapped his teeth at me. I snarled and gnashed my teeth right back. The furry body shifted into something with skin. The behemoth’s hands came up to pry my hands from his neck. He also used his weight to roll our position until I lay under him.

I smiled up at him. “I know you like to be on top, but…” I rolled us again so that I ended up straddling him. “I prefer to be the one in charge.”

I finally allowed him to feel my full strength, my hands pinning him helplessly. I prepared to mark him, something I hadn’t done with the others. But with this stubborn fellow, I needed more than just a victory. I needed his loyalty. Putting myself in charge of the clans was all well and good, but I needed someone they’d actually listen to who could relay my orders and ensure things were done my way.

The alpha’s eyes widened as he caught my intent. He struggled fiercely beneath me, his body bucking as he attempted to throw me off. I clamped my thighs tighter and leaned in for a bite.

He bellowed in rage as my teeth punctured the skin of his neck. His wasn’t the only one crying out. A furry body came flying out of nowhere only to get batted down by someone who’d entered the ring of our battle. Intent on taking some of the alpha’s nourishing rich blood-which most vamps wouldn’t eat because they said it tasted funny-I ignored whomever came to my unnecessary aid. Truthfully, a whole football team could have tried to tackle me and I would have still kept my grip on the bearshifter’s neck. No one came between me and my food.

The body under me softened, and when I felt the erection poking at me, I knew he was mine. I gave one last suck, then released him.

As I stood, a familiar scent drifted past my nose and my most recent attempt to cure my frustration was washed away in an instant. I ignored the urge to turn and look at him. I had more pressing business to attend to.

The shifters surrounding my makeshift battleground fell silent. Shock and disbelief shone in their faces.

“Is there anyone else who wishes to challenge me?” I gazed around, but nobody would meet my eyes. “Then I hereby declare myself leader of all the clans for the upcoming battle.” I could sense their misery at my words, their shame. I took a little pity on them. I’d gotten what I wanted, control of their clans. Now, I would give them back a bit of dignity. “Because of my many duties both now in preventing the incursions and the upcoming battle, I have decided to choose one among you to act as my lieutenant. You will obey his orders as if they came from my mouth or face my punishment. Rise Ursic.” My servile bond with the werebear gave me many things, including his name, and the fact he liked Chinese food.

His eyes still looked about somewhat vaguely, but at my proffered hand to help him up, he shook off his daze and bounded up.

“Ursic, as my lieutenant, I place you in charge of the clans in my absence.” I turned my gaze to the crowd. “Does anyone wish to contest his right to act as my second?”

As expected, the appointment of one of their own to lead them-after me of course-placated them to a certain extent. More so when Ursic, with a roar no fully human throat could utter, bellowed, “Death to the daemons.”

And that quickly I went from being surrounded by hostile shifters to back slapping ones.

I made sure my bafflement at their abrupt change in attitude didn’t show in my face. But I couldn’t stop the flush of heat when a familiar voice whispered in my ear. “We need to talk.”

Leaving the now celebrating shifters, I strutted away from Rafe, not even sparing him a glance. A part of me feared if I did I’d forget why I’d kicked him out of my life in the first place.

Stubborn man, his long stride caught him up to me and I forced myself to look ahead instead of to my side where I could sense him-and even worse, smell the unique aroma that tickled my hunger and wetted my panties.

“Go away,” I muttered.

“Not until you hear me out.”

“I am not interested in your excuses.” I also don’t trust myself not to jump your body and take what I want. Although, on second thought maybe I should. The idea had merit for not only would I assuage my lust, I’d discover if my touch was toxic to his kind. But stupid me, I didn’t want to kill him which I didn’t understand. Was I growing sentimental in my old age?

He grabbed me by the arms and stopped me-completely. I struggled against his grip, but hot damn, even worse than a daemon, the man-make that being-didn’t budge. I didn’t like it one bit. “What the fuck are you?” I refused to look him in the face, keeping my gaze locked on the neckline of his shirt. I knew only too well how lost I could get in his eyes.

“I’ll tell you, but first can we go somewhere more private.”

I thought about saying no, but I suspected in a battle of strength the jerk would win. Not exactly something I wanted my subordinates roaming the halls of the castle to see. “Fine. We’ll go to my quarters. But this better be good, or else.” Or else I’ll probably jump you and ride you with a wall shaking scream.

His grip on me loosened and I led the way through the maze of passages to my suite when I was in residence.

As soon as I closed the door behind me, I whirled to face him and crossed my arms over my chest, a chest still clad only in a bra. His eyes were drawn to my shadowy cleavage. I wanted to say something snappy, but his intense blue eyes-lens free-rose to meet mine and my mind went blank. Well, not completely. I couldn’t help but notice how freaking delicious he looked. Clad in tight, faded jeans that delineated his package and a body hugging white t-shirt, my mouth went dry and moist heat pooled between my thighs.

“I really wish you wouldn’t stare at me like that,” he groaned.

“Like how?” I asked licking my lips.

He made an inarticulate sound before suddenly appearing right in front of me, his body pushing me backwards until I hit a wall. His lips swooped down to capture mine, and despite the reasons to stop him, I arched into his embrace. I could say all the lies aloud that I wanted. The truth had never changed. I wanted him-bad. He seemed to share the same overwhelming passion, for his kiss took my breath with its intensity.

His hands skimmed up my bare waist to brush the bottom edge of my sports bra, the skin-to-skin touch electrifying. My breathing hitched, and I moaned as he parted my lips with his tongue. I met his oral thrusts with eagerness, his sweet taste arousing me even more.

He ground his groin against me, the hardness of his cock evident even through our layers of clothing. I clawed at his shoulders, pulling and tugging at the fabric, desperate to feel his skin against mine.

Screw undressing, I’d shred the clothes from him. Something about my out of control reaction woke me to what I was allowing. And enjoying.

I pushed at him and he released me reluctantly. He didn’t move away, though, and he stared down at me with blue glowing eyes. “Don’t,” I said in a soft voice so unlike me.

My gentle plea creased his face in what I would have sworn was pain. His hands slipped from my body and without their warmth, I shivered. He moved even further away, his stiff back the only sign he held his emotions under strict control. I understood him better now that I’d had time to analyze his actions during our time apart. I knew right now he struggled against his baser-sexual-needs and as per his habit, instead of showing weakness, he walked away to compose himself. Fine by me, for I needed some breathing space to push down my hungers-especially the one for blood made even stronger by my battle with the shifters.

“I don’t think now is the time for us to talk,” I said when he didn’t turn to face me and stayed silent.

“Will there ever be a good time?” he replied in a dry tone.

“I’m hungry,” I said, almost wincing at the plaintive note in my words. “I can’t think straight on an empty belly.”

“Fine, order in,” he said sitting down and facing me, his placid expression firmly in place.

“What? Aren’t you going to offer yourself up on the menu?” I quipped.

“I’m not food.” He said the words flatly.

When he didn’t budge or say anything else, I got annoyed. Stupid jerk, first he shows up after I make it clear I want nothing to do with him. Then he gets my libido and hunger raging. And does he satisfy at least one of my needs? No. He just sits there.

He wasn’t the only one who could play mind games. I used my mental link to call one of my castle humans, then I sat down to face him, my own serene expression a match for his.

“I thought you were hungry.” He eventually said when the silence went past stilted into downright uncomfortable.

“I am. Dinner should be arriving any minute.” At his raised brow, I said, “Did I forget to mention during your study that all my blood servants share a mental connection with me? Silly me.”

His jaw tightened. “Seems you forgot to mention a few other items. Or should I say lied.”

“Oh, the kitty cat thing. I never lied. You asked if I could change into a bat. I can’t.”

“Semantics,” he growled.

I smirked in reply.

The door to my suite swung open and closed shut. I enjoyed the look on Rafe’s face as he got a look at my dinner.

Anthony, a young, extremely good looking human male strolled into the room and knelt at my feet.

“Mistress,” he said bowing his head.

“Come here, my pet,” I said patting the space beside me. The cushion sank lower as Anthony sat beside me. I didn’t turn to look, I was much more interested in the expression on Rafe’s face. He said not a word. He didn’t have to. His tight lips, glittering eyes and the forming tic in his jaw said it all.

I stood and turned to face Anthony, who gazed up at me with his chiseled perfection, a beauty that did nothing for me but I would use. I straddled Anthony’s lap, enjoying the breath Rafe sucked in. I tossed over my shoulder a casual, “Are you sure you want to stay? As you know, my food sometimes gets frisky when I eat.”

“Just get it over with,” he replied through what sounded like clenched teeth.

I gave a throaty chuckle before leaning forward to nuzzle the soft skin of Anthony’s neck. I sank my fangs in, injecting him with my euphoric saliva and adding a push of power to make it extra potent. Anthony groaned aloud and his hands came around my body to cup my buttocks. I didn’t usually allow my food to take liberties with my body; however, I couldn’t help niggling Rafe. Petty perhaps, but then again, I’d never claimed sainthood.

I listened intently for Rafe’s reaction as I sucked the coppery blood, but Rafe remained silent. Well, that’s no fun. I pushed more power at Anthony along with a naughty thought. The hands on my ass tightened and kneaded my full cheeks. Anthony also began to gyrate his hips against my cleft which was snug against him in my astride position, and I could tell he was very happy to be under me.

Apparently Rafe wasn’t enjoying the show as much as he had the first time when I’d munched on Annabelle, for I heard him get up and leave, slamming the door behind him.

I refused to let disappointment claim me; after all, I’d wanted a reaction. I won, but why do I feel like such a loser?

I pushed away from Anthony who lolled on the couch with a blissful smile on his face and a wet spot on the front of his jeans. Human males were such simple creatures.

“Get out.” My words were curt, but Anthony didn’t seem to care as he floated out with a dreamy expression. Alone, I paced, hating that a part of me wished Rafe would come back. Even worse, I had to fight an urge to go after him.

Agitated, I threw myself on my bed in the adjoining room and fell into a restless sleep. A sleep punctuated with dreams of fucking Rafe. Worshipping his body. Screaming in ecstasy even as he thrashed and died beneath me, the toxicity of my love poisoning his body.

Awake, I might sometimes forget that my touch is deadly to most, but my mind knows better. If only my heart would listen.

Chapter Nine

“What the fuck is he doing here?” I ranted. I’d woken up in a foul mood, and having had time to shake off my surprise over seeing Rafe, realized that he’d not appeared in this hidden place by accident.

“Who are you talking about?” Lily asked as she finished coiffing her hair in an elaborate chignon in front of the mirror.

“Rafe,” I growled.

“You mean Dr. Angelus? I invited him, actually,” Lily said with a smile as she turned to face me.

“You what?” I sputtered. “Why would you do that? He lied to us about being a human and used that lie to get close to us, to examine us. Doesn’t that worry you at all? He could be the enemy, for all you know, gathering intel. What the fuck were you thinking?”

“He’s not our enemy,” Lily stated with assurance.

I frowned at her. “And just how can you be sure of that?”

“Call it intuition.”

Sometimes Lily could frustrate me, especially when she pulled her all-knowing shit, but even I had to grudgingly admit, thus far, she’d always ended up right. But even if Rafe and his kind weren’t foes, another fact hadn’t changed. “Fine. I won’t throw him in the dungeon, but I still don’t understand why you’d invite him. He’s made it clear his people won’t help us, so I don’t see his use.” And I can’t be around him without wanting to kill him between my thighs.

“Help or not, I want to know who and what he is.”

“What? Didn’t your intuition tell you?” I asked sarcastically.

Lily arched a brow at me and I clamped my lips shut. Friendship only went so far. “I actually have a fair idea of what race he belongs to, but I prefer to deal in absolutes, not conjecture.”

It didn’t surprise me Lily had an inkling of what species Rafe belonged to. Oldest of all the vampires, her knowledge surpassed several times over what the most learned scholars could claim to know. I’d tried in the past to discover her history, how she came to our lifestyle, but somehow she always managed to evade answering. Liking my head on my shoulders, I’d never pushed the issue.

“I don’t understand why you need me present while you sate your curiosity,” I complained. I really wanted to leave before he arrived and threw me even more off kilter. Not that I’d fully regained my balance since meeting him. The jerk. I hated the lack of control he created in me.

“I want you present so you can hear what he has to say because I got the impression from your report on your dealings with him that he knows something about the daemons. As my general, I would have thought that fact alone would make you want to pick his brain.”

I simmered at her logic and refused to reply. Childish, petty, I didn’t care. Rafe brought out the human in me.

A knock sounded. “Speaking of whom, that must be him.” Lily waved her hand and the door to her parlor swung open on her ghostly will.

I turned away from the doorway and the man standing in it, but not before his image burned itself into my mind-and my heart beat sped up.

I tried counting humans jumping over a fence-naked-to distract me, but the rumble of his voice shot that plan to hell.

“Your majesty, thank you for seeing me.”

Lily tittered and I gnashed my teeth. “Oh, Dr. Angelus, the pleasure is all mine.”

“Please, call me Rafe.”

While they made idle chit chatter and seated themselves, I paced over to the window and gazed down upon the inner bailey. The moonlight lit the courtyard and the blurring action of my troops. On my order, the vamps in my army practiced their daemon takedown skills to an avid audience. The sidelines were jammed with my newly allied shifter’s, Ursic at their head.

The plan was to have the alphas learn what we knew of the daemons so they could devise strategies to incapacitate the dark creatures with the least amount of casualty possible. Their rapid healing ability made them, like the vamps, able to attempt the more daring moves that would kill a human. We’d vetoed the use of guns for battle because the risk of casualty to our own was much too high. Besides, the daemons fought with their fists, so the least we could do was beat them at their own sport.

Watching my troops didn’t hold enough of my attention, the awareness of Rafe behind me too hard to ignore. I also couldn’t stall forever. I turned to face the man I both longed for and feared. When I finally awoke just before sundown I’d come to the realization that I cared for Rafe. More than cared. I didn’t want to see him hurt or killed, especially by me. The shock of it still had me reeling. Other than my queen and my children, lost to me a long time ago, I didn’t care for anyone. Not entirely inaccurate, I cared, but not to the crazy extent Rafe inspired. It had even occurred to me that I’d perhaps fallen in love with him. Ridiculous of course. The man was a liar and an admitted coward. But even knowing how much he pissed me off, I couldn’t help wanting to throw myself at him and at the same time protect him. These conflicting, so human emotions were why I had to get rid of him.

This decision did not make me a happy vampire general and it showed in my tone when I interrupted. “Cut the crappy small talk. I think it’s about time you told us what you are. Then while you’re at it you can explain why you and your kind are too chickenshit to join us in our fight for survival.”

Lily’s mouth rounded into an ‘O’ of surprise, but her eyes glinted with humor.

Rafe’s eyes glittered as well, but I didn’t recognize the emotion in them.

Lily spoke first. “I apologize for my general’s brash manner, but she does have a point, about divulging what you are that is.”

Rafe sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Very well. But I warn you, it’s kind of unbelievable.”

I rolled my eyes. “Gee, and vamps, shapshifters and daemons aren’t?”

He shot me a rueful smile before sucking in a breath to say, “I’m an angel, an archangel to be exact.”

I laughed. “Fuck off. What do you take us for? Gullible ninnies?”

Rafe stood and, with his blues eyes holding mine prisoner, he changed and my jaw hit the floor.

Rafe grew taller, wider and began glowing bright enough to make my eyes hurt. But that was nothing compared to the massive snowy wings that sprang from his back.

“Holy shit.” I sat down hard on a chair.

“Believe me now?” he said with a wry grin and a flutter of his wings.

“I think there’s no doubt your claim is true,” Lily replied dryly. “Now sit and tell us what we’re missing.”

“Yeah, because if you’re an angel, then aren’t you guys supposed to fight daemons?” I hadn’t entered a church or read a bible in quite some time, not that it actually hurt me. I just didn’t see the point once I turned. But my recollections on angels were quite clear. The army of light fought that of darkness. Or used to. What changed?

Rafe’s glow faded and his wings shrank until they disappeared again. He sat back down and I wanted to bang my head on the wall for not realizing from day one that he was far from a geeky human. How could I have missed the power residing in him? His otherness? His better than human good looks?

I simmered silently on the chair I’d commandeered. It didn’t sit well that he’d so aptly pulled the wool over my eyes. I watched him with predatory eyes, looking for an outward sign of his angelic nature, but found nothing. One thing is for sure, if he’s an angel, then there`s no way we can ever get together. Forget about me killing him with my toxins, I bet Mr. Goody-two-shoes’ holy cum would probably kill me first.

“So what gives, Rafe? Why don’t the angels want to fight against the daemons? I thought that was what you guys did. You know, the whole army of light thing.”

“It’s not that we’re cowards,” he began.

I made a buzzing sound. “Wrong answer.”

He glared at me. “Would you let me speak?”

I returned his irate stare with a glacial one of my own. “Why? So you can give me a list of excuses?”

He turned his attention to Lily. “May I have permission to throttle her?”

Lily’s “Yes, you may,” went almost unheard under my screech of annoyance.

I jumped up from chair in a move meant to tower over and intimidate Rafe, but he sprang up as well and ended up looking down on me. “I am not afraid,” he said through clenched teeth. “And I want to fight.”

“Then why don’t you?” I shouted as we glared at each other almost nose to nose.

“Because, if I join your battle, I’ll be banished from Heaven forever.”

Well, that kind of took the wind out of my sails, but I had plenty of blustery hot air to take its place. “Then maybe you should reevaluate if Heaven is a place you want to be,” I retorted. Even as I said the words, I wanted to shake my head at myself. Duh, of course, he wants to go back to Heaven. Isn’t that what we all want? To live forever in sunshine and happiness. Except for me of course. Somehow a sunburn for eternity didn’t sound like fun and besides, I’d probably had my membership to Heaven revoked after my first kill.

“Believe me, I’ve been giving it a lot of thought,” he grumbled sitting back down with a sigh.

His words stunned me, and a girly part of me that I wanted to choke wondered if perhaps I played a part in his inner battle. Something occurred to me, and with a knitted brow, I asked. “Wait a second. If you’re not allowed to fight the daemons, then why did you come to my rescue? Doesn’t that mean you’re already banished?”

He shifted with an uncomfortable look and I gaped at him.

“You didn’t tell them did you?” I accused. “An angel and a liar.” I whirled to Lily. “See! I told you he couldn’t be trusted. He can’t even be honest with his own side.”

“I couldn’t let you die,” he interjected in an angry tone.

“So tell your leaders the truth then. Surely, they’ll understand.”

“In Heaven, things are pretty black and white. Thou shall not kill is a rule we all must follow or face banishment at the very least.”

“But they’re daemons!” I exclaimed. “Angels are supposed to stand against them. What the fuck?”

He shook his head. “Our days of combat against the daemonic forces reside in a past my kind would prefer to be forgotten. And as for my actions, I can’t deny hiding the truth. If it were known I’d taken a life, even one as foul as that of a daemon’s, I’d be yanked back to Heaven with no hope of returning to earth, ever.”

What? Rafe leave forever? The idea didn’t sit well with me. Even if I couldn’t have him, I wanted to at least be able to enjoy the torture of wanting him and seeing him.

“I don’t intend to tell anyone about what you did. Actually, even better, tell people I saved your ass. I do have a reputation to maintain.”

Lily’s giggle rang out reminding me that my conversation with Rafe was under observation. “How fabulously entertaining. And while I’d love to discourse some more, one of my servants is calling me. If you would both please excuse me.” Lily, with a grace that women envied, took her leave of us. It didn’t escape me that I was all alone with Rafe in the cavernous receiving chamber, a room which suddenly seemed a lot smaller. I needed space -and time to process what I’d learned.

“I’m also needed elsewhere,” I said jumping up from my seat and moving towards the door.

“Wait,” he called.

I ignored him and left the room.

“I want to talk to you,” Rafe called after me as I fled up the hall.

I walked faster in reply until I was almost flying. The jerk moved even faster and I ran into a brick wall that grew hands to steady me.

I glared up at him even as my body warmed in pleasure at his closeness. “Go away.”

“I can’t.”

“Why? Did the big angels in charge order you to watch the slaughter?” I still hadn’t learned the real reason for his kind abstaining from combat, and I didn’t really care. In my world, you’re either with me or against me.

“No. Actually, I’m supposed to be staying away from you and everyone else involved in the upcoming war.”

I grimaced as he told me yet more things I didn’t want to hear. “Then why are you here? I mean, seriously, you’re like in the heart of the upcoming chaos.”

He sighed. “I’m here because I can’t help myself. I can’t stay away.”

He let go of me and whirled, his hands scrubbing a messy path through his blond hair.

I wanted to ask what kept him here, but found myself strangely afraid. Suck it up buttercup and stop being a pussy. “Can’t help what?” I knew what I wanted as an answer even if I couldn’t say it aloud.

Blazing blue eyes turned to meet mine with a stare that sucked the breath from me. Intense and smoldering, the swirling emotions were almost too much to bear. “I can’t help but want you. And I can’t seem to find the strength to stay away.”

There, he’d said it. The words I wanted. The words I craved. The feelings I shared. The fantasy that could never come true. “You can’t have me. Toxic, remember?” My attempted smile quivered as my emotions fought me, despair in the forefront.

“We don’t know for sure,” he said as he grabbed me about the waist and pulled me into his hard body. I allowed myself to enjoy the feel of him against me, the fleeting brush of his lips across my temple, the gentleness he offered and I’d long ago forgotten in my determined pursuit of blood and power.

The ruthless Elizabeth, the woman known and feared as the Blood Countess, would have taken what he offered and said screw the consequences, even should they end up deadly.

The new Ellie, the one who’d discovered her heart hadn’t died with her humanity, cried; the fat and hot tears rolling down my cheeks. He stroked the liquid with the pad of his thumb and even through my bleary vision-and shame at my emotional state-I could see the pain on his face.

I hated this visual display of my weakness. I also hated that I couldn’t convince him to stay away-far away where temptation wouldn’t work against us. So, I did the only thing I could. Under the guise of bitchiness-which I used to mask my protection of the first man I’d ever truly loved-I gave him the one ultimatum I knew he wouldn’t honor. The one thing I could use against him in order to save him.

“Toxic or not, I still can’t be with a man who won’t stand beside me as I fight darkness.” I flung the words at him like an accusation, my tone dripping with disdain.

“I’ve told you why I can’t.”

I pushed from his warm embrace, my body shivering in cold-a frigid sensation that spread from my shrinking heart. “If you truly cared for me, you’d protect me and fight by my side.”

His face tightened with anger. “You would have me blatantly break my vows? Give up everything I’ve ever known. And you, what would you give in return?”

The words tumbled from my lips, unbidden and shocking. “I’d give you my heart.”

His eyes widened in surprise, but before he could reply, I fled, drawing shadows around me to hide. I ran blindly, the tears washing down my face in waves, in partnership with the wrenching pain in my heart. A stabbing agony that made me gasp as I heard him call me, his voice anguished and pleading.

I ignored his call and shoved my surprising emotional reaction back into the locked room of my mind-the walled fortress where I’d banished my humanity and feelings. Calmness restored, if taut with tension, I weaved the hidden paths of the castle to a place known only to myself.

But hiding from the angel who made me want to care was easy. Hiding from myself and my misery proved a lot harder.

Chapter Ten

I managed to avoid Rafe the rest of the night, not as easy as it sounded considering everywhere I went my human staff, with wide eyes, told me about the blond giant looking for me. The vamps knew better than to say anything, but I could see the mirth in their eyes, a laughter I quickly dispelled with my scowls and barked commands.

I wrapped up my affairs and left marching orders with my subordinates. I wasn’t needed here in person. The age of technology made me capable of doing my job from anywhere in the world. So I flew back home to hide. Not the estate I’d commandeered for the human announcement, but my true home hidden in the heart of Hungary and far from prying eyes-and one sexy angel.

But even while hiding and nursing a broken heart-with lots of blood and vodka-I worked hard. Reports were piling in at an alarming rate as daemon sightings increased. The addition of the shifters to our ranks meant I had enough squads to take care of the problem, but only if the daemons kept appearing in single digits.

Even worse than the snowballing daemonic events, though, was the fact the human press had caught on to the murderous sprees. As I’d warned, the vampires were immediately blamed for the surge in torn apart bodies being discovered and the high numbers of humans going missing.

The queen, in an attempt to placate the humans, finally issued a press statement via video from the safety of her hidden castle. I watched it on CNN and shook my head, the cynic in me already anticipating the result.

Lily looked sweet and innocent as she faced the camera squarely. “…most definitely not responsible for the heinous murders being committed. The culprits are true monsters. Actually, the correct term would be daemons. My new friends, it is my grievous task to inform you that our world is being invaded…”

I listened to the rest of her prepared speech where-too late-she announced the coming threat. I then waited for the backlash which occurred three seconds after her taped broadcast ended.

The news anchor with a grave look of disapproval began his attack with, “This is what you get when you allow monsters to roam freely in our society: death and mayhem. The vampires would like us to believe it is some new force at work with these killings. I say we need look no further than the monsters who feed us this lie to hide their actions…”

In a bitchy mood, I fired off an email to my queen with just three words. Told you so.

My victory, however, didn’t make me happy, not when the stakes were so high. I wished the humans would have reacted like my queen wanted. But she’d vastly underestimated mankind and their intolerances.

I’d expected this, though, and already had the vamps who’d come out since my announcement evacuating their premises as we waited for the furor to die down. I wouldn’t risk lives with hope the humans would try and resolve this peacefully. It wasn’t a kind and caring gesture on my part. The more vamps available for my use in the coming battle, the better my odds of surviving.

I spent a week in my web, a big mama spider with spying tendrils spinning out in all directions, snaring all kinds of invaluable information. I learned a lot, such as the fact time was running out. But inaction and desk sitting never sat well with me, and with a lot of pent up frustration-an annoying amount caused by Rafe-I jumped at the chance to get out and kill something. More specifically, some daemons.

The nasty bastards mistakenly invaded the town I considered under my personal protection. A mistake they would pay for.

I armed myself with silver daggers in thigh sheaths before setting out with my personal guard. Eight huge vampires I’d created myself and who owed their allegiance to me and me alone. I’d also trained them myself and knew they were capable of taking on anything I threw at them. I’d need the muscle because lucky me, the raids on my town showed evidence of daemons teaming up; a pair at the least, possibly even three.

I looked forward to testing my strength, and that of my guard, against them and seeing if all our training would pay off.

Like wraiths of death, I cloaked us in shadows and we crept through the town, waiting for the telltale stench of the foul ones.

Hours passed without a sign, and I’d just about decided to move outward from the town to the surrounding forest when the panicked screams rang in my mind. And my heart went deathly still.

“They’re in the castle.” I barked at my men to hurry as I ran swifter than any known creature back to my castle. I could sense the fear and pain in my human blood servants as the daemons hunted them down and cut a swathe through their ranks. I also shared that intimate connection with the vampires I’d created and bound to me. Through my link with them, I experienced their rage and shock as they fought for their lives-to no avail.

So quickly did I move that I lost my guard, but I cared not. Blinded by my anger, only one thought prevailed-make the bastards who’d dared invade my home pay.

I screamed in rage when I felt Annabelle’s fragile flame of life snuff out. My fury pulsed in me, an almost visible power. I stalked into my own castle courtyard, noting with dispassionate eyes the strewn bloody corpses.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” I sang as I stood in the middle of my chosen battlefield-a graveyard of faces I’d once known. I raised my arms to the sky and threw my head back as I pulled on the power that coiled in me, my voice booming. “Come and meet your death you bastards.”

I sensed more than heard the thumps as several large bodies hit the ground, surrounding me. I counted an appalling eight daemons, a number to make even the most stalwart shiver. But I refused to give in to fear. And I would have my revenge, bad odds or not.

Facing me was a brute with rust colored skin. It leered at me with jagged teeth. “Sooo… this is the female who thinks to stop us.” His sibilant words slid across my ears discordantly.

However, he’d said something I found interesting. “Heard of me have you? Then you should know, I am a woman of my word.” I bared my own teeth at him.

The foul beast chuckled, a sound accompanied by the thuds of approaching footsteps. My men had finally caught up. Time to make them pay.

“Take care of her guards,” hissed the leader. “I want the woman for myself.” The daemon made an obscene thrust in my direction with its groin where a stubby erection poked forth.

I laughed. “You’ll need a bigger sword than that if you think you’re going to tame me.”

My taunting words made him roar, and I smiled even as I flashed him my middle finger. He probably didn’t understand the gesture, but I quite enjoyed it. As the sounds of my guard clashing with the daemons rose to flavor the night sky, I dove at the red skinned leader. Sour or not, I’d taste his blood.

The wily bastard met my charge, barely budging as he braced his cloven feet. I hit him hard then ducked away, evading its slashing claws. Thus did we dance, our music the scuffing of shuffling feet, the thumps of landing fists and the grunts of pain and exertion. I added my own deadly notes to the cacophony of sound with the whistling sound of my blades. The lead daemon proved fast, but I moved even faster. My silver daggers arced and flashed as they caught the feeble light from the moon. Each thrust leaving an oozing line on the beast’s skin. My pointed kicks driving the breath from it. My exhilarated laughter, tinged with a madness I’d succumbed to a long time ago, sending the daemon stumbling back, its eyes widening as I stalked him.

“How dare you touch what’s mine,” I growled, the power I’d absorbed over the centuries pulsing inside me.

The leader licked its blackened lips and skipped back out of my reach. “You are strong for a female. Instead of fighting us, you should join us. We could use some strong females to birth the next generation to inherit this place you call Earth.”

I gaped at the creature, stunned at its offer. “Like fuck. I’d rather die than allow your kind to touch me.”

The daemon stopped retreating and grinned with all his pointed teeth. “Then consider your wish granted.”

Too late did I notice that not only had the battlefield grown silent, but the link to my guards was severed, their deaths at the hands of the daemons leaving me alone with-I counted-the leader and three more to take on still.

They closed in, but I refused to let fear shake me even as I knew the end approached. Since my turning, I hated letting others make my decisions for me even when it came to my imminent demise. I dove sideways and went to greet death on my terms-fighting like a rabid bitch to the end.

I moved in a blur, tugging on my innate power to enhance my strength and thus increase the ferocity of my blows. I managed to take one, two, down, but even with my speed, I couldn’t hope to prevail against them all.

I slowed, my adrenaline ebbing as my power, sucked dry, sputtered and died. I now keenly felt each blow, kick and slash. I hit the ground hard on my knees, wavering as I struggled to remain conscious. My vision blurred and pain, that unforgiving mistress, gripped me, but I refused to cry out. I wouldn’t beg for mercy even as I fell flat on my face.

And then night turned to day, or so it seemed as a brilliant light enveloped the courtyard, and with my eyes squinting at the illumination, the blows raining upon me stopped. I sucked in a breath-bad mistake because it fucking hurt-and struggled to sit up. I failed miserably, but I did manage to roll over. I blinked my eyes, then blinked again.

I’d heard of avenging angels, but hearing and seeing? Two totally different things, especially when the really pissed angel was fighting for you. Like some kind of guardian angel, Rafe had arrived in all his glory-and damned if I wasn’t glad to see him.

His snowy white wings, which should have proven impractical, actually gave him an advantage as he leapt up into the air and then plummeted down behind the remaining daemons. He wielded as sword of pure white light-bright enough to make my eyes water-like he’d been born with it. Each move he made, deadly in its efficiency. His face was a grim mask of anger and his eyes blazed with blue light. Even injured, I couldn’t help the jolt of longing-the surge of love.

He’s fighting… for me.

I would have loved to have basked in the warmth of knowing how much his actions proved he cared. But almost immortal or not, I’d lost a lot of blood, and darkness grabbed me and snuffed my consciousness.

Chapter Eleven

I woke to burning pain, the kind that made me want to weep and cry like a human. Damned daemon claws. Breathtaking agony or not, though, I needed to get up and find out what had happened-is Rafe okay?

I winced as I sat up, only realizing belatedly I wasn’t alone. For a moment, fear gripped me as I wondered if I’d ended up the captive of the daemons. Then a familiar musk surrounded me as strong arms helped me sit up, and that answered one question at least. Rafe’s alive.

Relief flooded through me at the knowledge, and my heart raced as I tried to find words, some way of adequately expressing what his coming to my rescue meant to me. All I came up with was, “Thank you.” Lame, but how could I express how much I appreciated what Rafe had sacrificed? He’d forsaken his kind to rescue me. He’d possibly lost his place in Heaven to protect me. He’d given everything… for me. I was both humbled and overjoyed-and the teensiest bit terrified that he would regret his choice.

He propped me against some pillows, and then his hands slipped away as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Concern shone in his blue eyes and his lips curved into a bittersweet smile. “Don’t thank me for doing what I had to. Heavenly law or not, I couldn’t stand by and watch you die.” Okay, not exactly a declaration of undying love, but I’d lived long enough to read between the unsaid lines.

I wanted to say so much to him-Thanks for coming to my rescue. Thanks for forsaking your kind. Thank you for caring-but expressing my emotions had never come easily to me. The truth-I love you-stuck in my throat. All I managed to say with dropped eyes was, “How did you find me?”

“I told him where you were hiding.” My queen-the consummate meddler-swept into the bed chamber. Taking in my surroundings-stone walls, rich brocade tapestries and high ceilings-I realized I must have lain unconscious for quite some time because they’d brought me back to the castle in the Rockies. I remembered nothing of the trip, a disturbing realization which brought home just how vulnerable the attack had left me.

“My people?” I already knew the answer, my link to them a gaping spot in my mind. Lily’s sad shake of her head confirmed the worst.

I closed my eyes in order to compose myself. To my shame, I couldn’t prevent the tears that leaked from my closed lids as the faces of those who’d died in my service ran through my head like a macabre video. From human thralls to vampire progeny, almost thirty lives snuffed because I’d failed them all. My mental anguish hurt worse than my wounds. Never again would Annabelle tease then feed me. Never again would any of them fill my psyche with their comforting presence and loyalty. Sorrow enveloped me and wracked me with sobs, an overwhelming emotional overload like I hadn’t experienced since my turning.

Rafe stroked the back of my hand as I trembled, especially when I realized how easily he could have died, too. In coming to my rescue, he’d placed himself in danger. It chilled me to know a handful more daemons and he could have been lost, too. I was doing him no favors by making him choose me over the safety of Heaven. On the contrary, my selfish desires were putting him in harm’s way. Not for long.

“Go,” I whispered. “Go back to Heaven. You shouldn’t be here.”

“No.”

“Please,” I pled, my voice cracking.

“Leave us while I tend her wounds,” Lily said in a commanding tone.

“But-”

Rafe shut up and even though I didn’t hear Lily speak, I could imagine her face. She could convey a lot with a single look. Rafe didn’t stand a chance. The door to my room thudded shut and I sagged. My shoulders shook and the tears poured in hot rivulets as I broke even further, the humanity I’d locked away pushing forth and claiming me in its emotional grip.

“Shh.” Lily wrapped herself around me, rocking me like a child, offering me comfort which I, in my weakness, soaked up.

I cried my heart out, shedding tears for those I’d lost, for the one I needed to push away. Lily held me as I poured out all my pent up frustration and sorrow.

However, grief couldn’t clutch me forever. I’d seen and done too much in my life to succumb to it for more than a moment. In short order, I dried my tears and snorted in a very unladylike manner into the kerchief Lily handed me.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, ashamed of my display, and in front of my queen no less.

“Sorry for what?” Lily asked as she pulled my bandages away to check on my healing progress. “There is no shame in showing grief for the passing of those we care about.”

I said nothing in reply as Lily tended my wounds. Admitting I cared aloud still felt too much like weakness. I concentrated on other things, less human concerns, like the damage done to my body. The daemons’ claws had left their mark, and the poison they’d injected with their slashing touch infected my usually resistant body. Dirty creatures. I found the pain of my injuries helped me regain my focus even if emotionally I felt like a tautly wound wire that would snap at the slightest pressure.

Lily laid her hands on one of my seeping, foul smelling wounds. Then she used magic, a healing magic that none of our kind except she enjoyed.

I sucked in my breath at the burning agony as she bled the toxins from me, my third and final session as she informed me. With each jolt of gut wrenching pain, the wound in question began to heal, so I bore it with gritted teeth-although, a part of me kind of wished I’d remained passed out for this part. What could I say, I preferred dishing out pain as opposed to receiving it.

To distract myself, I recounted my shameful blindside and the battle I’d almost lost-a first for me. The carnage of my people she’d seen firsthand and a fragile part of me thanked the fact I didn’t need to go into detail about their demise.

Clarity returned to me as the discomfort of my injuries lessened and a disturbing fact sprang free to the forefront of my mind. The daemons, with their attack, and even worse, recognition of me, had clearly shown they had access to information thought secret, such as locations of lairs.

“They knew who I was and where to find me,” I announced grimly to my queen.

“I know,” she replied softly. “And you’re not the only one.”

Anger burned alongside shame as Lily informed me my castle was only one among several others invaded. However, I was the only one who’d escaped alive. Elsewhere, the results ended up fatal and bloody with vampires slain along with their human slaves. Daemon coordinated attacks that made me realize, as Lily washed my now mostly healed skin, that we’d fooled ourselves into thinking the daemons were unaware of us and our plans to halt them.

Realization hit me like a ton of bricks followed by a piano and an anvil. The previous attacks on the humans had only been feints. A testing, so to speak, of our defenses. Having learned what they needed, the daemons had banded together to take out what they perceived as their greatest threats before the arrival of the main army. My kind, the only ones to really understand and recognize the danger they posed.

I shared my revelation with Lily, who nodded her head. “They fooled us into thinking they were little more than brutal beasts. We shan’t make that mistake again.”

“You mean whoever takes my place. I’ve failed you and my brethren. It is only right I step down and let another take my place.” Altruistic of me? Not really. I’d flunked my test as protector and honestly believed I didn’t deserve my position.

“I refuse your resignation.”

“But, because of my short sightedness, dozens died.”

Lily’s eyes blazed darkly as she retorted. “And because of your vision, you’re the only reason we might even stand a chance when they come. If you’ve failed, then so have I for not listening to you when you warned we needed to prepare. Like others, I kept hoping and praying the approaching doom still lay far into the future.”

“And it still might.”

“Don’t placate me,” Lily snapped. “If there’s any fault, then it’s mine for not acting sooner. But unlike you, I’m not ready to give up.”

I snarled at her implication. “I haven’t given up. Nor am I scared.”

“Then stop the caterwauling and instead start thinking of how we can prevent this happening again.”

“We can’t prevent attacks if our information network has been compromised. The only defense I can see working is if we can form groups large enough to repel any attacking forces.” Already, plans formed in my mind of calling my brethren back home-manning, or should I say vamping the ramparts so to speak. Only in large numbers could we hope to repel with fewer casualty any future attacks like the one I’d barely survived.

“I’ll put the call out that it’s time to come home then,” Lily said, closing her eyes and communicating with her thralls.

“You do realize if our information network is compromised, it’s just a matter of time before the daemons appear here?”

“Good, because I’d say we have a score to settle, don’t you?” Lily’s innocent beauty transformed for a moment into that of the predator she was at heart.

I could only grin in reply, my cockiness reasserting itself. “We won’t be caught unaware again, I promise.” And I meant it. I would not fail my people again. My funk dispelled, I had to ask the question burning on the tip of my tongue. “Why did you tell Rafe where to find me?”

Lily shrugged and smiled. “He looked so miserable when you left. Moping about and what not. I had to do something. I truly think the man is in love with you.”

“He’s not a man. He’s an angel,” I mumbled even as my heart beat faster at her words.

“Whatever. You both have the hots for each other. So why fight it?”

“Because.” Did I need to write her a list?

“Are you still worried you might kill him like we do the humans?” she asked, cocking her head at me.

“Considering sex with us is toxic to most beings, wouldn’t you be?” I replied sarcastically.

“And if I told you angels are immune?” Lily’s sly smile rang bells in my mind.

I frowned at her. “And just how would you know that fact when even he doesn’t?”

Lily’s casual shrug didn’t fool me for one moment. She had access to more knowledge, at least where angels were concerned, than she was letting on. But I found it hard to task her given she’d just paved the way for me to be with Rafe. Suddenly, I didn’t find myself so tired or despondent anymore. And I was anxious to see Rafe.

Naked.

Of course, I still hadn’t changed my mind about sending him away, back to Heaven where he’d be safe. But before I threw him out of my life, I couldn’t deny myself one selfish taste of his lust-and if my hope was right, his love.

Chapter Twelve

Lily left me with my thoughts and my body mostly healed, the red lines scoring my body, a faint reminder that would disappear in a day or so. My mind tumbled in disarray over the news she’d imparted, the fact Rafe could handle my touch. I ordered up several of my thralls, finding myself really hungry after my ordeal, and as I sucked on their necks one after another, I tried not to think of Rafe. Easier said than done. With the green light from Lily, my excuse of being toxic no longer acted as a barrier to us being together.

I loved him. I couldn’t deny that fact any longer. He made me feel things I’d never imagined, and not just physically. Had I suffered only from lust, I think I would have handled the Rafe situation with ease, but having my heart involved complicated things. Like, did he love me, too? Doubt, another aspect to my mushy feelings that I didn’t enjoy at all. And unlike other things I didn’t like, I couldn’t just kill this problem or tear its head off.

I finished eating without coming to a decision, but at least I felt a lot more like my usual strong self. I thought long and hard while I showered the grime from my body.

To do or not do Rafe? A crude question, but one of importance, at least to me. My selfish half said “Hell yeah!” However, my newly discovered softer side asked if it was fair to use him and then discard him. Even worse, both sides of my psyche wondered if having a taste of him and the pleasures I’d find in his arms would make removing him from my life even more painful.

Self-indulgence won. I couldn’t, make that wouldn’t, deny myself a last chance at happiness. A fantasy moment that I would treasure and use as inspiration in the upcoming battle with the daemons.

Decided, I toweled off and walked out into the bedroom, nude.

I stopped dead at the sight of Rafe lounging on my bed. A modest woman would have covered her bare parts. Thankfully, I lacked that kind of stupidity. I stood tall and proud, my nipples tightening at the glowing interest in his eyes.

“Come here,” he ordered.

I put a hand on my hip and cocked it. “Whatever for?” I asked with a playful smile.

“Your queen told me there’s no danger. We can be together. So no more excuses.”

Lily meddling again, but I didn’t mind in this case, not when it meant I could finally have what I wanted most-Rafe.

“What happened to my shy and geeky doctor?” I asked.

“A façade.”

“That must have been hard.”

“Not as hard as my cock.”

His crude words made me flush. Talk about switching extremes. “You know, you’re pretty bossy for an angel.”

He just smiled and beckoned me closer.

I approached him slowly, undulating my hips for his appreciative, hungry gaze. I stopped at the foot of the bed. “Aren’t you afraid I’m still too weak from my ordeal?”

Rafe snorted. “You? I doubt it.”

I grinned. I had to give him credit, he understood me all too well. “So who gets to be on top?”

Apparently he did, for in one fluid movement with a speed to match-perhaps even surpass my own-I found myself under him, and lucky me, he was very happy to be on top.

His heavier body fit perfectly over mine, the hardness of his prick nudging the apex of my thighs. Only one thing marred this perfect moment.

“Why aren’t you naked?” I complained.

Rafe rolled off me and stood beside the bed. The bastard teased me, stripping his shirt off slowly to reveal sculpted abs. He unbuttoned the fly of his jeans, and I licked my lips, eyes trained on the prize I’d won. He pushed down his jeans and his black briefs to reveal the cock I’d ride in a moment. Long, thick and bobbing eagerly, he didn’t disappoint, on the contrary, my excitement went up a notch.

I crooked my finger at him and, with a grin, he covered my body again with his, and I just about swooned in delight. Skin to skin, the effect blew my mind. I tingled all over and impatient, I clasped him to me tightly, my arms wrapping around his neck to pull his lips down to mine for a scorching kiss. My thighs I let fall open, welcoming his body between them. The nudge of his shaft head against my wet slit made me moan against his mouth.

The desire he’d incited in me since day one raged out of control. I wanted him so badly. Needed him…now.

“Fuck me,” I panted, unable to wiggle my hips forward enough to sheath him.

He tore his lips from mine and gazed down at me with those glowing blue eyes of his and his lips quirked. “So soon. I wanted to explore you first. Taste you. Stroke you. Lick-”

I pulled on my power and rolled us so that he lay on the bottom with me straddling him. Just as quickly I seated myself in one fluid motion. I sighed in pleasure even as his hands grabbed me about the waist, his fingers digging into me as his cock twitched inside the warmth of my pussy.

“That’s better,” I purred with a wiggle.

He sucked in a breath and his grip tightened. I splayed my hands on his chest, and leaned forward slightly. I meant to take control, but Rafe fooled me yet again. Under me, pinned by my body, he should have been helpless, a victim of my lust. But instead of lying there and letting me set the pace, he took over. Caught by his hands on my waist, I could only cry out as he slid me back and forth against him, the sensual friction against my clit making my channel tighten.

“Kiss me,” he demanded, and for him and him alone, I obeyed, leaning down to taste his lips. Lost in his embrace, he used my lack of attention to flip us over again, the joining of our bodies not interrupted. On the contrary, my back no sooner hit the mattress than he pushed into me even deeper, setting a fast and hard cadence with his thrusts.

I held on tight for the ride, too distracted to protest his domination of our bed play, too lost in the bliss of his steady pounding to fight for control. I wrapped my legs around his waist, my mewling cries the only encouragement I could utter.

He didn’t need my words, though. Through passion glazed eyes, I observed him-his intense eyes staring down at me, the muscles of his neck corded in strain, the sheen of sweat that glazed his perfect torso held above mine on forearms corded with strength.

The pleasure in me kept building, a coiling intensity that sat on the cusp of my orgasm. It felt so good I almost wanted to stay at that peak forever. He slowed his pace for a moment, long enough to grab my legs and push them towards my head, exposing and spreading me wide for his thrusts. In that new position, he drove into me even deeper, his pumps a steady barrage of strikes against a sensitive spot inside I’d never even known I had. I went over the edge with a scream.

I bucked and cried out as I shuddered under the waves of my orgasm, the muscles of my sex clamping tightly around him. I felt him tense up, his body giving one final thrust before stilling, and exploding inside me.

I panted, as the rapture calmed and sanity began to return. I wanted to speak, but words became lost as Rafe, still inside me, began moving again.

My body, too sensitized, squirmed.

“Enough,” I gasped. “I can’t take any more.”

“Oh, yes you can,” he informed me. He caught my hands when they would have pushed him off. He trapped them over my head and even as I struggled, I couldn’t break free. When his head dipped so his mouth could capture a nipple in his mouth, I stopped trying to buck him off. He re-ignited my desire with his mouth all the while pumping my still quivering sex with his cock. His lips sucked at my puckered bud, drawing it into his mouth which sent a jolt straight down to my cleft.

I longed to clasp his head to me, but he held me prisoner. I would have thought being trapped would have made me mad or panicked. Instead, his show of dominance excited me.

His mouth toyed with breasts, one after the other until my head thrashed. Like a signal, he suddenly stopped his torture, and even worse, removed his cock.

I opened my eyes to protest, but using that incredible strength of his before I could say anything, I found myself lying on my stomach. Then my knees.

He pulled my ass up and his thigh nudged my knees apart. Understanding what he was getting at, I braced myself on my forearms to get in a proper hands and knees position only to have a firm hand between my should blades push me back down so my backside remained in the air while my upper torso was flat to the mattress.

It occurred to me to get annoyed at his man handling of me, and wonder where the hell this alpha persona came from, but he thrust into me, and well, given it felt good, I decided to nag him about it later.

Then I decided to not nag him at all for along with his steady pumping of me, his fingers found my sensitized clit and stroked it. Intense pleasure shot through me and I found myself slamming my ass backwards in time to his thrusts, each bounce seating him deep inside.

My sexual experiences until now had consisted of a quickie where I came then left-or ate, depending on my mood. So when I felt the coiling of a second orgasm, I was surprised. I’d never imagined my body could go through that kind of tumult so quickly again. Especially considering how hard my first climax had shook me.

He worked me faster, and while his one hand stroked my nub, his other reached forward and tweaked my nipple. That did it. My climax struck, a never-ending tremble of pleasure that rocked and rolled me. And still he plowed my channel, his rapid thrusts acting as an energy source to keep my pleasure coming-and coming some more.

I went past screaming to moaning helplessly, too weak from bliss. I noticed when he finally achieved his own pleasure, just because he finally slowed his movements until he was still inside of me. His cock, though, buried inside my sex, quivered, which in turn made me tremble with aftershocks.

We collapsed sideways on the bed, our limbs tangled, our bodies sticky and for me at least, more content than I’d ever been. And surprisingly enough, without even a nibble on his flesh.

He cradled me in the warm cocoon of his arms. I’d never snuggled before and would decapitate the first person that made fun of me for enjoying it. The closeness of this act was even more bittersweet knowing that soon I’d never see him again. Even our fabulous love making wouldn’t change my stance. I wanted him safe and unfortunately, I was the furthest thing from that state as you could find.

Rafe’s hands tenderly rubbed me, an intimate act I soaked up and would remember later when despair would inevitably hit. How I wished things could be different. That we’d met hundreds of years ago and had time to enjoy each other before the approaching cataclysm. A time to indulge in the affection I’d discovered for him and the pleasure he could show me.

A chance to say, “I love you.” As soon as I heard the words spoken aloud, I slapped my hand over my run away mouth.

In seconds, I found myself flat on my back-again-with Rafe over me, his hands pulling mine above my head. I blushed at the intense expression on his face and looked away.

“Don’t hide.” Embarrassed, I ignored him. “Look at me,” he commanded in a soft tone.

I swear the man had some sort of power over me-some kind of angel mojo-because I obeyed, turning my head back to face him. Once my eyes locked onto his, I couldn’t look away.

His lips curved into a smile so sweet, it made me ache, especially knowing it was all for me, the evil hellion who was about to send him away whether he wanted to or not.

“I love you.”

I just couldn’t accept his words without a fight though. “But I’m a bloodsucking bitch.” I didn’t have the most flattering view of myself at times. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t ashamed, but being with Rafe made me look at myself and see what I took pride in as flaws in his eyes.

“Yes, you are,” he stated gravely. “But diet and attitude aside, you’re also a very caring woman who has bravery in spades. I’ve never met anyone like you and I’d like to think I’m better for it.”

Okay, like wow. What could I say in the face of the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me? My eyes filled with liquid-damned dust.

“I don’t deserve you,” I said, my voice tremulous. Rafe brought out the human woman in me, emotions and all. If I didn’t love him so much, I’d kill him for making me what I perceived as weak.

The door to my room banged open, hitting the stone wall and bouncing.

But I’d already rolled out of bed to meet the visitors who’d saved me from the sappiest moment ever.

Chapter Thirteen

They barged into my bedroom, a half-dozen giant hunks with billowy, white wings. I admit, I should have probably done more than gape at them, but dressed in loin cloths that left the rest of their impressive physique bare, I’m ashamed to say their rippled muscles had a hypnotic effect.

“Can I help you?” I asked in my best regal tone while trying to ignore the fact I stood stark naked beside my lover who also happened to be an angel. A quick glance sideways at Rafe confused me, for his expression didn’t appear surprised. On the contrary, he looked resigned. Don’t tell me he was expecting them?

The tallest of them stepped forward, a dark haired giant who, while attractive, didn’t draw me like Rafe did. He spoke in a low baritone. “We’ve come for Raphael.”

I frowned. “How did you get in here?” In other words, why had the guards let them by? And whose ass would I be chewing out later for allowing them to disturb me?

They ignored me, which really pissed me off; however, my anger quickly turned into confusion as Rafe walked toward them, his back straight with his arms held out in front of him. It took me a moment to comprehend what was happening, the handcuffs the tall dark one pulled out of nowhere, though, cleared things up quickly. They snapped around Rafe’s wrists with a snick that made my stomach sink.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

Rafe turned to face me with sad eyes. “They’ve come to arrest me and bring me back to stand trial.”

“Trial for what?”

The tall dark haired one snorted. “Consorting with evil, for starters.”

Rafe shot the angel a dirty look. “She is not evil. You have no idea what you’re talking about, Michael.”

My heart swelled even if the expression on my face remained neutral.

“What about killing to defend her?” The giant named Michael crossed his arms over his wide chest and looked at Rafe coolly.

“Daemons,” Rafe spat. “Remember them, the truly evil ones?”

Michael’s lips tightened but he didn’t reply.

I didn’t like the undercurrents in the room. “Rafe, what are they going to do to you?”

My lover faced me and his gaze softened. “I’m sorry, Ellie. I thought we might have longer.”

“You mean you knew they’d come for you?”

He nodded his head.

“But they’re taking you back to Heaven, right?” Heaven equaled safety for Rafe in my mind. I would have preferred a little more time with him before the separation, but at least this way, I wouldn’t have to break his heart by pushing him away.

“He’s going home to face his punishment,” Michael said with a dark glee I recognized all too well.

My heart froze as I imagined all kinds of horrible punishments-with my history, some of the things I pictured were quite gruesome. And I mentally chastised myself for overreacting. His kind didn’t believe in death or violence. Except… I didn’t like the resigned look on Rafe’s face.

I asked again, “Rafe, what are they going to do to you?”

Rafe ducked his head and Michael chuckled. “What’s wrong? Afraid your whore will burst into tears when she finds out you’re slated for death?”

Over my dead fucking body. Naked as the day I was born, but furious, I stalked toward the bastard who thought to kill my love. If death lay in Rafe’s future, then by damn, I’d keep him by my side to face the coming hordes instead of sending him to a senseless one meted out by cowards.

“No.” Rafe’s head lifted and his eyes met mine, stopping me in my tracks.

“But they’re going to kill you.” I really hated that my voice cracked with emotion, displaying my weakness to the group of angels I longed to tear apart with my bare hands.

“And if you try and stop them, they’ll hurt you. I knew this would happen when I decided to help you. But I love you, Ellie, and even knowing my fate, I’d do it again.”

“Stay with me. I can call the guards and we’ll take care of these bastards.”

Rafe shook his head, his expression sad. “They’d just send more. I’m sorry, Ellie. I love you.”

I read the good-bye in his eyes and I ran towards him, but the angels clumped together around him, and a warm breeze smelling of sunshine and flowers swept into the room along with a bright light that made me shut my eyes. When I blinked them open, they were gone.

“No!” I screamed and railed, dropping to my knees on the cold stone floor. Forget the pain of my dying, this was so much worse.

Lily arrived and exclaimed, “What happened?”

“He’s gone,” I sobbed.

“Who’s gone? Rafe? Where did he go?”

“They took him. The fucking angels took him and they said they’re going to kill him for being with me.” I raised my tear streaked face to her and saw the sorrow in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Ellie.”

“Don’t be sorry,” I said, pushing myself back up to my feet. “Help me save him.”

Lily shook her head. “I wish I could, but Heaven is a place hidden from me. And even if I could find it, I need you here, fighting the daemons, or we’ll all die.”

I wanted to scream at her that I didn’t fucking care about anyone else, but it would have been blatantly untrue. Much as I loved Rafe, I couldn’t forsake my kind to go haring off to save him. My tears ran anew at the knowledge he would die and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.

I fell back to my knees, the pain too much to bear, and even Lily’s comforting arms and magic could do nothing to heal the wound where my heart used to reside.

But vengeance and violence would.

Heaven should have thought twice before waging war with me because once I was done kicking Hell’s ass, I would be coming for them, and I would show them no mercy. The Blood Countess would avenge her lover by feasting on the blood of his condemners.

And I would enjoy it.

Epilogue

I missed Rafe horribly, and I’d woken a few times since his arrest to find my face damp with tears. A few days had passed without word or a sign from him or any other angels. I wanted to believe he lived, that he’d fought his captors and escaped. Perhaps he waited for a safe moment to rejoin me. A foolish fantasy, but it gave me a sliver of hope that I refused to extinguish, a ray of hope to use in the upcoming battle.

The day of reckoning arrived sooner than I wanted and without much warning; although, its appearance was unmistakable. The sky went from a sunny blue to a roiling black. My BlackBerry began beeping like crazy as reports started rolling in to tell of portals opening up and spilling out daemonic armies. The good news was the Legion of Darkness hadn’t arrived in the numbers I expected, but that one bright spot of info wasn’t enough to stop the ensuing pandemonium among the bleating humans.

I’d prepared for this moment, though, since Rafe’s abrupt departure, drinking and draining every stray daemon I found, their bitter blood potent, and imbued with surprising attributes. Forget shapeshifting into a big cat, I’d inherited some even cooler powers.

I no longer feared the daemons-it would be like the hunter fearing the buck he takes down and eats. Rather, I perceived them as a time consuming nuisance standing in the way of me and my real target-Heaven. But while I bided my time and saved my brethren-along with our human sheep-I’d hone my deadly skills.

I went outside and used my more powerful levitation skill-a daemonic perk-to float up to top of the castle ramparts and the highest pinnacle I could find. I surveyed the dark landscape around the castle and its grounds, the sun unable to break the barrier of dark that Hell had brought upon us. But even without that deadly ball of fire in the sky, the world was anything but cold with the furnace of Hades on its doorstep.

It occurred to me to send a thank you note to the Legion of Darkness, for in banishing our sunlight, they’d freed me and my brethren to roam the earth no matter the time of day. Their first deadly mistake. Their second was pissing me off in the first place.

I hoped my brethren and the world was ready for the coming battle. I’d warned everyone, even if there were those who pretended not to hear. I’d tried to prepare them, and now, ready or not, everyone would have to fight. The true battle for life was about to begin and whether a being was human, vampire or something in between, there were only two choices-fight or die. My original motto of fight or feed me was adapted by Lily so as to not frighten the humans, but in my mind the intent still resided.

Standing on the castle turret with the wind blowing the stench of brimstone in my face-Hell’s own fragrance-I barred my teeth and shook my fist.

“Bring it on.”

I am the Blood Countess, and by the time I am done wreaking devastation, all will know my name and, even better, fear it.

* * * *

In the land of eternal sunshine

Rafe stared up through the bars of his prison still alive by a quirk of fate that saw his execution delayed for the moment. As long as he lived, there was still hope and a chance to escape. And when the moment presented itself, he’d take it and rejoin Ellie, his mesmerizing dark mistress. My love.

He sensed it when Hades returned to their dimension, the planets aligning for the first time in millennia. All of Heaven felt it-and trembled.

Rafe closed his eyes and thought of Ellie.

Wherever you are, my love, fight hard, stay safe and know that I love you.

It killed him to sit here in a cell while she fought to stay alive, and even more altruistically fought to save the world. He should have been by her side, protecting and aiding her. Instead, he’d become a victim to the Heavenly politics he hated so much.

A clicking sound preceded the door to his prison swinging open, startling Rafe from his inner musings. He stared in shock at the people framed in the doorway.

Salvation had arrived.

Rafe grinned and then laughed at this unexpected twist of fate.

I’m coming back, Ellie, and I hope you don’t mind, but I’m bringing a couple of friends.

About the Author

Eve Langlais, who is in her mid thirties, has been married 11 years to a wonderful man who gave her three beautiful, but distracting children aged ten, seven and four. A military brat, she was born in British Columbia but ended up living all across Canada. She now resides with her family, that also includes two cats and a guinea pig, in the historic town of Bowmanville, Ontario. If you want to get to know her better visit her website at http://www.Evelanglais.com or friend her on FaceBook.

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