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Savannah, Georgia January 2006
Eleanor whimpered from pleasure—not pain—as I tore away the leather laces of her corset. The smooth black material was warm from her skin. I unlaced the front and watched as the tight leather opened before me like a ripe pomegranate, spilling her breasts into my nimble hands. Any other night I would have suckled them, rolling the nipples with my tongue and nipping with my unnaturally sharp teeth. I would have followed the sinuous curve of the snake tattoo from breasts to belly with my thirsty mouth, then quenched my lust between her thighs. But on this night, rather than the sweet nectar of sex, I would be sucking blood. All her blood.
Tonight Eleanor would become a vampire, or die in the trying.
Ghostly voices whispered around us, alternately urging me on and begging me to stop. I could not stop. I’d given my word. Humans thought little enough of honor. The ability to follow through on promises or threats meant more to a vampire. At least it did to me. Broken promises had a tenacious way of following one around. Centuries ago, I was educated by my treacherous sire in the art of swearing without the intention or the means to follow through. Of course, becoming a blood drinker left little I could not do. Except perhaps defend the ones I loved.
Diana, my heart. If there had been some way to save you . . .
I’d set a task for Olivia, Alger’s precocious offspring, to further investigate the woman—the vampire—listed in her ancient book. Olivia had sworn on her honor she would not fail.
She had not failed. Not the one you seek . . . I swear it.
So I’d put away the horror and the hope that somehow, as Reedrek had claimed, my wife still lived, in a manner of speaking, as one of the undead. As one of us. Olivia’s pronouncement sent me back into reality. Lovely Diana died centuries ago and I had avenged her death. It was time to stop thinking about her and concentrate on Eleanor.
And just now . . . Eleanor needed saving from me, although she thought not. In this vampire-making business, all my beautiful consort needed to hear was that she would live forever and be bound to me for the next two hundred years—bound to her teacher, her lover, her maker. Not in a marriage, or even a “relationship” in the human sense. Either of us could choose to have others. But she would always be my blood kin, could call on me in need, would defer to my wishes. In the time I’d known her, she’d accepted little advice, including warnings from Jack, Melaphia, or even me. She had her own plans for the future, and I had promised . . . and I needed her.
We were set to begin. Melaphia had prepared Eleanor, removing her street clothes, taking a sample of her untainted blood, cutting a lock of her long black hair.
I rested my cool hand over Eleanor’s living, beating heart. She arched her back and sighed, holding my gaze with her own.
“Are you sure?” I asked one final time.
I took up one of her hands, kissed it, then slid a loop made from the leather laces over her wrist. She sucked in a breath as I tied her right hand above her head. After capturing her left and repeating the process, I doubled the laces and secured her ankles. I did not want her thrashing about; I was determined to do her as little physical damage as possible.
I drew in the smell of her excitement. She didn’t know enough yet to be afraid. We’d played these kinds of games before, never going beyond symbolic bloodletting and good furious fucking. Thinking of those times, I lowered my hand between her spread thighs and teased her open. She was slick with desire.
I was hard with bad intention.
I would give her what she wanted but first she had to see me, truly see me for what I was, and see what she would become. Closing my eyes, I allowed my hunger to rise. Bloodlust tightened my jaw, made my hands tremble. The invisible voices around us gathered and babbled louder as I felt my savage teeth extend. I needed every thread of control to open my eyes and smile.
Eleanor gasped, her dark gypsy eyes going wide at the sight of me.
“Do you see your killer angel now?” I rasped in a voice I barely recognized.
Her “yes” came out on a puff of warm breath. Her voice shook. “Save me or kill me. I don’t care.”
At that point, neither did I.
Oh, how my sire Reedrek would have loved this. I could almost hear the echo of laughter from his silent, earthbound tomb. His self-righteous offspring doing the abominable to an innocent human, out of love. On some level Reedrek would feel the change caused by the making of Eleanor, the tweak of his power. But he was buried too deep to enjoy the new energy source. It would give his maggoty mind something delicious to contemplate. We’d determined that a righteous killing was too good for my notorious sire. Better to have him completely powerless and alone in the constant dark—exactly what he’d planned for Alger, the closest I’d ever had to a brother, before Reedrek had been forced to kill him instead. Reedrek would remain awake but dead to this world. Buried under a constant supply of uncoerced blood—the new state-of-the-art blood bank we’d built with charitable contributions. Just thinking of his impotence sent a warm feeling through my otherwise hate-frozen heart.
And now, here was my Eleanor to think of, She Who Must Be Obeyed. It took a special kind of person to know what she wanted, and then to go about getting it. Eleanor wanted me. And as a woman used to giving orders, she also wanted absolute power over the men she’d had to please through the years. She was willing to face death for the opportunity to have both. My honor rested on not disappointing her. The future of my bloodline depended on increasing our number.
“Close your eyes,” I whispered, knowing somewhere in my blood-crazed mind that she would never forget this moment. Better to have merely pain to remember rather than betrayal by one she loved.
As though we were already connected, she did as I asked but answered my whisper with her own. “I love you.”
I sang a silent, dulcet song to her mind, calming, arousing, mesmerizing, as I lowered my face to within millimeters of her skin to draw in a long breath of her. She smelled of all things human: sun, heat, blood. I would miss those parts of her, but there were other things I would gain. My cool lips touched her fragrant skin in a farewell kiss. Then I bit down hard, like a lion taking down a gazelle.
The sound of her gurgling scream echoed through the room, accompanied by pitying voices of lost spirits. She was closer to them now than to me. Her spirit blinking in the dark, while her body writhed in my deadly embrace. As her hot heart’s blood rushed into my mouth I began to lose focus. It had been so long since I had been filled. In one last act of love I shoved my hand down between her thighs and felt her body buck in orgasm. Pleasure for the pain. For my sweet Eleanor . . . whose valiant heartbeat grew fainter, slower, until it stopped altogether.
I kissed her pale cool lips before picking up a gold knife and cutting a vein in my wrist, using my own—our mingled—blood to make the sign of the four winds.
Eleanor . . .
Dear one, come back to me . . . now.
After an interminable few moments, she made a fearful, mewling sound. Something I would wager she had not done in waking life since childhood. I fought off a choking assault of guilt. She wanted this, had begged for this . . .
Wake up, Eleanor. You are mine now. Come back.
With a shudder, her body rose from the table, levitating upward, then floated before me. I grasped a handful of her dark fall of hair as it swung free and brought it to my face.
Eleanor, sweet. Wake up.
She moaned, my name on her lips. I pressed her downward until her back touched the table, then replaced her sigh of surprise with my bloody wrist.
She opened her eyes wide, then ran a parched tongue along her lower lip before licking at the blood. Her lips and mouth knew what to do. The oh-so-familiar sound of her sucking sent waves of greedy hunger under my skin, transporting me back to other nights, other . . . pleasures. My cock stiffened to rock-hard attention and in another moment I was locked in my own unexpected, jaw-clenching orgasm. The sucking continued along with the pleasure as I strained to remain standing. We were both gasping by the time I managed to pull away before sliding to the floor.
* * *
I opened my eyes to darkness, silence, and cold stone at my back. Melaphia’s familiar dark face floated above me lit by the candle in her hand. She looked concerned.
“Are you alright, Captain?”
I felt much better than alright. My skin seemed hot enough to burst into flame. Then I remembered. Eleanor. I was filled with her blood, her life. The long forgotten ecstasy of being what I was created to be, a killer of humans, caused me to rise off the stone floor. Without effort I was standing.
“I’m well,” I answered, momentarily wondering how I must look to others—well fed, at the very least. Melaphia watched me with adoring eyes but made no further comment. I took the candle from her hand and approached the new coffin I’d had delivered. Eleanor lay inside, naked but less pale. She was sleeping. The snake tattoo undulated slightly as I touched the marks over her heart made by my teeth. Healing from the inside, the skin had already closed. Melaphia had cleaned away the blood I’d spilled.
“Jack helped me move her. He’s upstairs.”
I reached out to Jack’s mind briefly with my own and found worry. Not about Eleanor—about me.
“Thank you,” I said to Melaphia. “Please tell him to wait. I’ll be up in a few moments.”
Melaphia nodded before moving away. I heard her footsteps echo, then stop in the passageway, probably to attend her altars. There would be nothing more the orishas or anyone could do until Eleanor suffered through and, hopefully, survived her darkest night. I gently closed the coffin and locked it.
From the Paperback edition.