Read an Excerpt
Narcise curled her fingers around the slender grip of her saber and steadied her breathing. Her fangs had sprung free, filling her mouth.
Her opponent leered at her, his own fangs thrusting long and bold as he lifted his own blade. Its silver gleamed red-orange in the low candlelight that danced around the edges of the chamber. The man was taller than Narcise, and much stronger, and thus he was certain he'd take her down.
That bravado, that certainty, was apparent in the haughty glint of his burning red eyes, the swagger in his step, and the ready bulge behind the flap of his trousers.
He wasn't fighting for his sanity.
But Narcise was fighting for hers.
She wore her hair scraped back in a tight knot to keep it from flying into her face. Her clothing was nothing more than a short, tight tunic that bound her breasts close, along with slim-fitting trousers. They allowed her not only freedom of movement, but also provided nothing loose or flowing for her partner to grab on to. Her feet were bare.
She started it, knowing her best chance was to take him off guard and to keep him that way. She rushed toward him, then feinted nimbly to the right as he lunged awkwardly and swiped his sword through empty air.
She heard the little gasp of anticipation for a good fight. It came from the spectators sitting just above them in the balcony, but Narcise spared no attention for her brother Cezar and his companions. She fought for the right to leave this chamber alone tonight, to be sent to her private room unaccompanied and untouched instead of with the man who now spun on his feet and leaped back toward her.
Her lips closed around her fangs, she pivoted and ducked beneath the swing of sword blade. She felt the heat of her own eyes, burning with fury and intent, and knew they glowed just as red-gold as the candles studding the walls and the blaze of fire in the corner. Blood rushed and pounded in her veins, her body's reaction to the desperation and fear she tried to quell.
Her opponent grinned as he vaulted over the table after her, his feet landing heavily on the stone floor on the other side. There were two chairs in the space as well, and a tray of food and wine that wouldn't get eatenfor Cezar liked to set the scene. It wasn't merely a battle, like that of the Roman gladiators, where the fighters were released into the arena. No, he had to make a story around it, create a setting.
It enhanced the pleasure of watching his sister fight for the right to sleep alone that night.
Narcise felt the stone wall behind her, and a flicker of fear as her attacker stepped closer, blocking her view of the space behind him with his bulk. He grinned down at her, his fangs glinting and his lips wet and full. Her mouth dried and she fiercely drove the apprehension back.
I will not yield.
She glanced to the left, drawing his attention that way, and then streaked like a cat beneath his arm to the right, somersaulting herself over the table and landing with a little bounce on two steady feet. A soft murmur of approval from the balcony reached her ears, but Narcise didn't give in to the distraction of those who watched her as if she were some trained fighting bear.
No sooner had she landed on the far side of the table than she vaulted back, once again taking her larger, slower adversary by surprise when she used her hands to spring from the tabletop and slam her feet into his hard belly.
He gasped, stumbled backward, and she followed him, her saber ready as she landed on the ground, standing over him. Before he could blink, she had the blade settled at the side of his neck, and, firmly in her hand, the wooden stake she kept jammed into the knot of her hair.
"Yield," she said, pressing the metal edge into the side of his neck.
If he did not, she had no compunction about using either the sword or the stake to send him to hell right then and there.
"I yield," he growled, his eyes flashing with red fire.
Narcise kept the stake in her hand and the blade poised just-so. "Drop your weapon," she ordered. She'd been caught unawares before by a challenger who'd yielded, only to attack her moments after she released him.
That had only happened once. And that was why she had yet another stake shoved in her tight sleeve.
With a furious grimace, he tossed the sword to the floor and, still with the blade in place, Narcise kicked the other one far away, under the table. She noted with grim satisfaction that the bulge of his cock had softened into nothing more than a little bag of flesh, hardly even filling out his breeches. She liked it when the bastards wet their trousers, but apparently this one hadn't been sufficiently frightened for his life.
"Too easy!" shouted Cezar from the balcony, his lisping voice rising with mirth. "She bested you too easily, Godya! You lasted a mere fifteen minutes. What a sot!"
Narcise ignored her brother and, keeping the blade in place, stepped back and motioned for the man apparently named Godya to rise. "Slowly," she warned, her eyes never wavering until he'd risen and she'd backed him out of the chamber, courtesy of the edge of her blade.
She'd made the mistake of underestimating her rival only once before. No one could ever say she didn't learn from her errors.
Not until the door closed behind Godya did she lower her blade and turn to look up at Cezar.
"So sorry to have ruined your evening's entertainment," she said, taking no care to hide her loathing for the man.
"No sorrier than I, dear sister," he hissed morosely. "I can't remember the last time you were bested and gave us a real show."
Narcise did. It had happened eleven months ago, when she'd tripped over the blade of her saber as it caught on the rug. She'd lost her balance and rhythm, and that was the end of the battle. Cezar's colleague, whose name she'd never cared to learn, had wasted no time in slamming her onto the table, holding her hands pinned above her head as he used his own blade to cut down through her tunic and tear it away.
In an effort to add to the entertainment for the audience above, he'd fondled her breasts with rough fingers, then, breathing hot and hard, shoved his fangs into her shoulder. He sampled her for a moment, drinking deeply as she fought against the reflexive rush of arousal that always came when her blood was released thus.
Then, with her torso bare and her wrists pulled behind her back, he'd dragged her off to what she thought of as The Chamber for the rest of the night.
She hadn't lost a battle since and, in fact, had sent three Dracule permanently to hell during three previous engagements.
Now she sneered at Cezar. "What a pity I didn't provide enough entertainment. I'm certain it would be worth watching if you had a big enough bag between your legs to take me on yourself."
And then I could skewer you with a stake and I would be free.
But of course, he would never risk it. Nor would he dirty his pasty-white hands.
Her brother was older than she in both mortal years as well as vampir years. He'd been twenty-two when Lucifer visited him and offered him a life of power, wealth and immortality. That was more than fifteen years ago, and he looked exactly the same as he had at that time. Even the crooked tooth and the awkward set of a broken jaw that had never healed properly remained unchanged. It was that malformed jaw that gave his voice the faint lisp.
Cezar had waited three years, until Narcise turned twenty, before he arranged for her to be offered to Lucifer. During that time, their elder brother, who'd become the voivode, or ruler, over Moldavia through his marriage, had conveniently died and Cezar had married his sister-by-law, thus becoming the new voivode. Their father and the original voivode had died just after their brother's wedding, and Narcise had come under Cezar's control shortly thereafter.
She always counted herself fortunate that she'd managed to lose her virginity to a man she fancied she loved before being turned into an immortal Dracule. And that female Dracule couldn't get with childfor they didn't have their monthly flow.
Since then she'd had little power over her own body.
The door behind her opened and Narcise didn't have to turn to know what was there. The rush of weakness flooded her and she gritted her teeth against the wave of paralysis.
It was, she thought dully as two of Cezar's thugs approached, a good thing that her brother liked to watch her win more often than lose. For, despite his earlier comments, Cezar would have the loss of a titillating form of entertainment, as well as a bargaining tool, if he didn't have his sister to beat up his friends and enemies alike.
Narcise remained still as her brother's men flanked her on each side. One of them fastened a cuff around her wrist. Woven of three brown feathers that were soft and delicate against her skin, and yet burned as if they were a branding iron, the bracelet leached her strength by its very proximity.
Her knees trembled but Narcise kept herself as tall and straight as she could. It never ceased to amuse her that, despite them being armed with the one thing in the world that could weaken her, there needed to be two strong, burly Dra-cule who escorted her back to her chamber.
That knowledge was the only thing that kept her hopeful as, day after day, she lived an eternity under her brother's control.
The knowledge that they were all terrified of her. God and Lucifer help them if she ever got free.
The first time Narcise set eyes on Giordan Cale, she was fighting for her safety.
It was yet another of countless evenings of entertainment for Cezar, and this time, he was seated off to the side on a raised dais with a single companion: a broad-shouldered man with tight, curly hair and handsome, elegant features.
Normally Cezar liked to display his sister's capabilities to a small crowd of spectators. It was his way of advertising her abilities. But tonight, there were only the two of them watching from the unobtrusive corner as she fenced and fought with some man who'd angered her brother.
Her orders, tonight, had been to fight to the death, and Cezar had warned that she wouldn't be released from the small arenalike chamber until she either killed her rival, or he bested herwhich didn't mean death for her, but something worse.
The poor fool was no match for Narcise, who'd been taught in swordplay and other acrobatic fighting skills by the best trainers Cezar could find. He wasn't about to have his favorite amusement killed by an overzealous suitor or an angry enemy.
Tonight, her opponent was a "made" vampir, one who'd been turned Dracule by another vampir instead of being invited into the Draculia by Lucifer himself. Narcise wasn't aware of what he'd done to insult her brother, for, in truth, Cezar could interpret the twitch of an eyelid or a simple cough as an insult. She didn't particularly care.
Nor did she spare much pity for the man. She couldn't afford to if she wanted to remain unscathed.
But as she whirled around to face her adversary, readying the saber for its cleaving blow, she glanced over and happened to catch the eye of her brother's companion. He was watching her intently, and she had the brief impression of a tanned wrist and hand settled with its index finger thoughtfully against his mouth.
She also noticed, in that blink of an eye, that, rather than focusing on her, Cezar sat back in his seat, covertly studying his companion. Without pause, Narcise finished her flowing movement, slicing the head from her opponent with a clean stroke.
Ending with her back toward the dais, and her audience, Narcise remained thus as she wiped her blade with a pristine white tablecloth. Then, with no acknowledgment to her audience, nor to the dead vampir whose damaged soul was filtering permanently down to hell, she stood, waiting for the door to be opened and her guards to appear. Grateful that tonight's competition had been relatively easy, she slipped the clean saber into its sheath.
She could hear the murmurs from behind her, the slightly sibilant hiss of her brother's voice, and the answering rumble of his companion, neither of which induced her to acknowledge them. Any intimate of her brother's was automatically an enemy of hers.
It wasn't until weeks later that she even learned his name.
Giordan Cale was all about money.
His ability to earn it, find it, inherit it, save itand then, to multiply it several times overwas what got him into the predicament he was in: an immortal lifetime in which to spend more money than Croesus ever dreamed of. In fact, it seemed that Giordan couldn't lose money if he tossed buckets of it into the Seine, or had the servants burn it in his fireplace, for the funds simply reappeared in some other formof a long-shot investment coming due, or even an inexplicable inheritance.
And it was precisely his flair with funds that drew him to the attention of Cezar Moldavi.
But of course Giordan had heard of the man.and his sister even before Moldavi arrived in Paris, for the world of the Dracule was exceedingly small and tightly interwoven. Despite the vast geography of the earth, the members of Lucifer's secret society traveled and resided in only the largest, most cosmopolitan of cities: London, Vienna, Prague, Rome, Morocco and of course, Giordan's beloved Paris. And they tended to congregate at the same private clubs, interacting in the same high levels of society, a happenstance which Giordan used to his financial benefit. He was the owner or a majority shareholder in the most luxurious and private of these havens in every major city except London. And, he determined, it was only a matter of time until he was established there as well.
He had an eternity to make it happen, no?
Cezar Moldavi had come to the City of Light after spending several decades in Vienna, where, apparently, there had been an unfortunate incident with another of the Dracule along with some increasing, unpleasant attention being given to Moldavi's propensity for bleeding children. There were those who risked their lives in order to hunt those of the Draculean world, sometimes even successfully. Giordan understood that Moldavi had decided it was best to evacuate from Vienna before one of those so-called vampire hunters was lucky enough to stake him to death.