I’d become a damn vampire after all.
I never wanted or asked for this.
What began as a one-night stand earned me a stint in prison, the attention of a shadow demon and rescue by three devastating—to my system—males along with the declaration that I was their foretold something…
To win this war and regain my freedom I had to give up part of who I am and become something other.
Now, Maddox calls me his mate, Fin labels me his lady, Alfred has declared I’m to be his queen. But I’m with Rogue on this one. I’m trouble and they have no idea what I’m going to do.
“The most dangerous animal in the world is the silent, smiling woman.” – Anonymous
Seven weeks, six days, and something like fourteen hours since I made the worst mistake of my life. Arguably, the last mistake of my life.
The little fucker was still out there, somewhere. I didn’t obsess. Not aloud. Not where any of them could hear me.
It was just narrowly four weeks since Maddox appeared in my cell and thrust me onto the next hellish level of my journey. The worst part? I liked him.
More than I cared to admit.
A scant few days with him, Rogue, and Fin, and then Alfred woke up. And in the three plus weeks since then, I’d not been out of Alfred’s sight for longer than a few moments. Even then, I was pretty sure the ancient asshole had eyes on me. Like right now, I sat on a rock in the middle of the garden and a dozen crows fluttered about or perched. They’d arrived as soon as I had.
It didn’t matter that Alfred had been ‘asleep’ when I dragged myself from his bed or that Fin had been sprawled on my other side. It wasn’t until this week that Alfred even let me spend any time with the others.
The fact that I’d started to miss them just aggravated me even more.
I’d lost count of how many times I’d died over the last few weeks. Something had changed. Irrevocably. Something he had to know because this morning, I’d also woken to clothes waiting for me. Alfred’s chambers were large, fit for a king. Furnished, it was filled with comfortable sofas and lounging chairs. My favorite—not that I had any interest in it mind you—was the fainting couch placed in the perfect position to look out the oversized windows toward the valley.
The sun streaked in through that window for several hours a day, and I could doze there and pretend to get a tan. Not that I imagined I’d get one. I hadn’t really tanned before.
The clothing had been new. The long-sleeved Henley and jeans had been like a gift to slide on after weeks wearing a rotating selection of robes and kitten slippers. Occasionally, I’d been able to steal a shirt.
It never lasted.
They, more often than not, shredded the shirts in their lust.
You might think it weird that I complained about that part. Succubus and all that, but even I had my limits. Not even a wrinkle of hunger pinched at me. I’d never been so full.
The fact that I craved any of them at all must be put down to the dementia formed by being trapped.
I despised Fin for his cheer and playfulness. I despised how he teased and dared me to play with him. I despised that even when I told him I detested him, he looked at me with sad, adoring eyes. I despised him for plucking at my thoughts, until I’d finally managed to push him out and keep him out. Even mid-orgasm, he couldn’t secret his way in anymore.
I detested Rogue for his icy demeanor and all-to-knowing eyes. At least he didn’t make promises only to break them. He didn’t pretend to like me, either. Worse, he pitied me. Bastard.
I hated Maddox because he made me care about him. He loathed that the others hadn’t kept his word. Not enough to help me escape them, but he’d promised all I had to do was listen and then they’d let me go. At least he had the decency to feel guilty about it. Not that I’d admit it aloud. Mate. He’d mated me or I’d mated him. I could pretend I hadn’t been involved, but I hadn’t forgotten the day he wanted me to bite him and I’d given in, or how it had unlocked something inside of me.
I didn’t want to care. I hated him for making me feel that way. Relationships and succubi did not mix. Not long-term. Now, I was his mate?
The dragon’s roars the day Alfred—that asshole—began my true “transition” echoed in my mind every time I considered my escape like the real bars on the cage they’d constructed around me.
Rubbing a hand against my neck, I sighed. The scar there had flattened and gone almost pure white against my skin. Even paler than the rest of me. The ridges, once defined and puffy, were smooth. The bites littering my arms, breasts, abdomen, and thighs had also faded, healing as if they hadn’t been.
The sharpness of my canines couldn’t be missed. Though they were hardly as sharp as the guys’, mine could pierce skin—Maddox’s, Fin’s, Rogue’s, and Alfred’s. The night before had also marked the first time since my arrival I hadn’t been drained nor needed to feed on any of them.
My transition or whatever was complete.
Not that Alfred—the asshole—had said a word. He’d merely cupped my chin, then stared at me for a long moment before he’d nodded and left me alone. Not a single sentence or utterance.
Fin crept in when I’d been working out my next steps, and he’d curled around me, asking for nothing, and even as hard as I tried to ignore him—it made me feel like the bad guy.
Why the fuck did I feel even an ounce of guilt over these guys? They didn’t deserve it.
What little loyalty I’d been cultivating died a swift and painful death the day Alfred found me in this garden. Not once had he bitten me anywhere but my neck. The flattened scar pulsed at the memory.
I hated him for that, too.
Aggravation struck flint inside of me, kindling a whole new fire. The door opened, the creak of it the only warning before the scent of coffee teased at my nose, but I didn’t bother with turning to look.
The rough scrape of denim over rock rasped in the bitterly cold air as the dragon settled next to me. The heat rolling off him buffeted the chill I’d been ignoring, and it took everything I had not to lean into him. Then he cheated and held the oversized tumbler of coffee in front of me.
Half of my grumpy fled when face to face with the giver of life. Shut up, I was more than aware of the irony. Yes, I was a vampire and a succubus, and coffee was the secret key to my soul.
Tipping my head to the side, I met his quiet gaze and did my damnedest to ignore the hope flaring in his eyes. The barest hint of a smile touched the corners of his lips. “Good morning, Kitten.”
My fingers collided with his as I took the tumbler, and he didn’t pull away as we both lifted it to my lips, nor did he look away as I took a long swallow of it. Of the four of them, Maddox was the one who’d been kept away the most. Alfred blocked him time and again.
This was the first time we’d been alone together since Alfred woke. Sighing, I lowered the tumbler and leaned my head against his shoulder. Maddox half-sagged as if someone cut the string on all his tension. He wrapped his free arm around me and pulled me close.
“You’re better,” he murmured, pressing his lips to my crown. It wasn’t a question. I was better. The soreness and the exhaustion were both gone. The sting from so many half-healed bites had been erased along with their marks on me.
“I suppose,” was all I’d comment on that, but I couldn’t help the “Missed me?” I added on.
“Yes,” he answered without hesitation. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.”
It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t even have to explain it. Alfred—the asshole—controlled everything. Apparently, even them. Though he didn’t throw Alfred under the bus.
“I’m here now,” he offered. “What can I get for you?”
Since he brought me coffee, I really didn’t need anything else. Well, at least nothing I would ask him for. I wanted to leave. But anytime I brought that up, there were always reasons I couldn’t.
I needed to finish transition.
I needed to have the shadow taint purged from me.
I needed to accept what I was.
I needed to be a vampire.
Well, mission fucking accomplished. But a million dollars said they wouldn’t let me leave now. Not with all the changes to the keep going on. It was open and airy now. Fires burned in many of the fireplaces. A generator had been added, and Fin even brought in a huge screened television and DVD player. No digital, not yet.
I guess WiFi was hard to get in Shangri-fucking-la.
“Kitten,” Maddox prodded gently, pressing another kiss to my hair and igniting a wave of tenderness I fought to ignore. I would not go soft on the dragon. I didn’t ask for this. “Tell me something I can do for you.”
The note of pleading wormed its way under my skin, and I scowled. I pictured his face when I slammed my knee into his nuts in that cell. The anger in his voice when he caught up to me, and the rumble of his growl when I sat in the corner and ignored him in favor of building my house.
A shudder went through me, and Maddox squeezed me. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said again. Maybe if I denied it enough it would be true. My house wasn’t really mine anymore. Alfred had pulled the whole thing apart and explored every inch of the construction when he fed on me, and then submerged me into his colorful and bloody history while I drained him. I knew too much about him now—the manipulations, the control, and the power he wielded without a second thought. His bonds with Rogue, Maddox, and Fin meant everything to him, and while Fin was more a son than a brother, Rogue and Maddox were definitely his brothers.
It went beyond fondness and friendship. They were family, and no matter how they bickered, they would never choose me over each other. Not even Maddox, who promised I didn’t have to stay.
His word only held value if his brothers backed it. That helped to insulate me from the tenderness swelling inside, deflating it.
A growl rumbled in his chest as I pulled away, but the arm locked around me loosened, even if he didn’t let me scoot far. I drank the coffee and kept my gaze fixed on the blue sky overhead. The scent of snow floated on the air. It was crisper, sharper, and more intense, just like everything else. Colors were deeper and richer. Scents far more provocative. And tastes? I could dissect every part of the coffee if I focused.
Fin had tried to tell me being a vampire wasn’t so bad when it added so much to my senses. Unfortunately, I could taste all the bullshit he layered onto those sentiments, too.
“I should probably eat,” I said, aware that expressing any kind of desire was the fastest way to getting Maddox to let up. I didn’t look at him as I slid off the rock. In addition to clothes, I’d also scored shoes. These were more like hiking or combat boots—all function and no style.
That was fine.
They were an improvement on kitten slippers.
Maddox was my heated shadow all the way inside. He trailed me up the stairs to the library where, as with every other day, a virtual buffet had been set out. There was always bacon. Since the first morning Fin brought it back to me, bacon had been included in every breakfast. I filled my plate and carried it over to my favorite chair near the fireplace. It had become my favorite because none of them could sit next to me.
Though Maddox settled on the floor right in front of me with his back pressed against my legs. I bit back a reaction and focused on eating. If the day followed pattern, it wouldn’t be long before my other keepers tracked me down. They often convened here each morning. Like me, Maddox ate. Fin had to have already been up since the food was here, but since I never saw it come or go, who knew how it arrived.
The shuffle of an unfamiliar step, however, jerked me forward in the chair, and I cut a look behind us toward the room.
A man I didn’t know made his way through with a cloth, wiping things down.
“That’s Anton,” Maddox said, as if the name alone explained everything. “He will serve as librarian here. There will be more retainers arriving. Some came in last night.”
I tracked Anton’s progress. As if aware of me, the brunet paused to meet my gaze, and there was a flash of teeth as he smiled.
At Maddox’s rumbling growl, however, Anton dropped his gaze and bowed to me.
Oh for the love of…
I turned my back on him and glared at the fire. The ‘retainer’ continued his task of wiping things down.
“They will not bother you, Kitten,” Maddox told me as if that was my concern. “They know their place.”
Did they now?
“Good morning, Beautiful,” Fin called as he strolled in. I took a sip of coffee and said nothing before returning to my food. He hummed as he stopped next to my chair, and his gaze rested on me like a soft weight. With care, he waited until I lowered my fork and then pressed a kiss to my temple. “Not talking to me today?”
The barest hint of a wounded tone crept into his voice.
“She’s hungry,” Maddox said with a scowl. “Leave her alone.”
I didn’t need him to fight my battles for me. “I also have nothing to say,” I tacked on, and then took another bite of bacon.
Feathering his hand over my hair, Fin tugged one curl. “You look better.”
He lingered for another couple of heartbeats, and then his hand fell away as he moved to collect his own breakfast. The sudden chill prickling over my skin warned me of the new arrivals, even if their silent footfalls didn’t. Rogue said nothing to me as he gathered his own drink and food. Alfred bypassed all of it and plucked me out of the chair despite Maddox’s snarl.
The dragon rose to follow, and the two glared at each other as I balanced both my plate and tumbler. Fortunately, neither fell. Honestly, I didn’t have time for this. I just wanted a meal in peace.
“You’ve had her for days,” Maddox said. “Leave her alone.”
“I’m not harming her,” Alfred countered. “Your mood, however, is far more dangerous.”
The smoothness in the words demanded we side with him. The asshole didn’t even have to try and compel me, it clung to every syllable and nuance. The stare-off continued until Rogue said, “Give her to me.”
Give me? What the fuck was I? A damn object to be passed around?
I’d struggle, but that would just end up making a mess. I wasn’t as strong as Alfred, no matter how much strength I’d gained. I wasn’t as strong as any of them for that matter. If they wanted to pin me, I wasn’t going anywhere.
The air crackled with agitation, then a second set of unfamiliar steps punctured the tension. This time, a woman made her way across the library toward us. Though, ‘made her way’ was too pedestrian a description. She practically glided. Dressed in silk and lace with a waterfall of pure midnight hair and eyes so dark I half-expected there to be stars glittering in them, she was probably the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
Ruby red lips parted as she smiled. “Alfred, my love…”
The ice plunging through the air completely smothered the fire. Alfred all but thrust me at Rogue. Well, at least he put me on my feet before passing me that way. Fin let out a low groan as Alfred faced the woman.
“Eleanor,” he intoned as he moved to meet her. Maddox settled a hand against my lower back, but it was Rogue who tugged me back toward the chair.
The woman paused three steps from Alfred to dip into a curtsey that nearly took her to her knees before him. The lace and silk sheath of a dress left nothing to the imagination. Her dark nipples strained against the fabric, already peaked and pebbled. As she straightened, we all got an eyeful of shaved cunt.
“I have missed you,” she said, her lyrical voice that of a siren as she stepped toward him.
It wasn’t my imagination as she cupped his face and rose to kiss him that her eyes flashed toward me. Our gazes locked as she pressed her lips to his, and it wasn’t a fraternal kiss of any kind. It was an open-mouthed, tongue twisting, wet kiss that bordered on the obscene.
She also made too much noise as she let out a little moan. I raised my brows because while her lust might be rolling like a cloud around her, Alfred’s was a cloudless day of disinterest, though he certainly didn’t push her away.
When she pulled away to offer him her throat, I rolled my eyes and moved back to my chair. Let him play with the vixen. I wouldn’t kick her out of my bed, except she was trying way too hard and that beauty didn’t extend past the surface.
As I settled, I found Maddox and Fin staring at me intently, and I raised a piece of bacon with a smirk and took a bite of it. The hiss of breath suggested Alfred had taken the offered bite and hadn’t been remotely gentle about it.
Hopefully, it fucking hurt.
Rogue let out a grunt as the woman’s liquid voice spilled over me. “My lord,” she whispered in a breathy ‘please fuck me’ voice. She had her hands on him, and he stared down at her with an unreadable expression. So much for turning my back on her, since she planned to continue her show in front of me.
Blood trickled from the wound on her neck. It was a trace amount. Negligible, yet she still arched her back to press her breasts to his chest and bare her throat. With almost practiced boredom, he bit her. There was no movement of his hands to cradle her as he sank his teeth in, and I doubted he had much time to drink before he lifted his head.
He spared me a look of distaste, as if finding my observation tacky. Too. Fucking. Bad. If they wanted to put on a show in front of me, let them.
Eleanor wasn’t done. She went to Fin next and slid her arms around him. He scowled, no pretense in his expression at all. When she pressed her lips to his ear, he moved his head, then caught her hand and lifted her wrist to his mouth. He bit down once, and she let out a moan, but he didn’t hold her there and, like Rogue, finished in scant seconds.
The apology in his eyes surprised me, but Maddox’s snarled, “Go the fuck away, Eleanor,” distracted me.
The woman paused in front of him and, as with Alfred, she went almost to her knees, but he ignored her.
“Have I offended you?”
Alfred moved into my line of sight, his expression utterly unreadable as he studied the pair.
“Just go away,” Maddox said, motioning her to rise.
“But I am here to serve as always.” Woman apparently didn’t get the memo of disinterest, because she all but flung herself at Maddox. His expression darkened, and heat ballooned out as he shoved her away without any care, then she landed on her ass right in front of me.
Surprise, hurt, and then rage slid over her gorgeous face, and she lifted those dark eyes toward me. Challenge flooded her expression, but she shuttered it at Rogue’s clipped, “Take the blood offering, Maddox, and then Eleanor can go.”
“I don’t want it,” Maddox argued.
“It’s not a matter of want,” Alfred stated. “The offerings are coming. All will be accepted in due course. Eleanor is merely the first.” He looked at me, and I lifted a middle finger while I picked up a piece of bacon.
Fin bit back a laugh, and Maddox’s furious expression turned amused. None of these reactions lasted as Eleanor moved to her knees and then almost crawled to Maddox.
“Just get it over with,” Rogue advised, and Eleanor’s back stiffened. I crunched the bacon, even if my appetite had gone away. More offerings were coming? Retainers were filling the keep?
Did that mean their isolation was ending?
Those distractions might give me the time I needed. The stand-off lasted another three blazing minutes. Maddox looked at me finally, and his expression made all kinds of promises I didn’t want him giving me. Like Fin, he went for her wrist, but rather than bite her, he just licked one of the drops of blood dribbling there and then dropped her hand like it burned him.
He hadn’t wanted her blood. At all. Disgust rolled off of him in waves, and anger coiled in my gut. Alfred shouldn’t have forced him. Still, my dragon moved away from the woman, who remained on her knees.
Undeterred, Eleanor rose to her feet and started toward Alfred, only to stop when he raised a hand. He motioned for her to twirl and then nodded toward me.
If I’d thought her spine had stiffened before, that was nothing on it now. She turned to face me.
Oh. Fuck. No.
The earlier rage rekindled in her eyes. Rogue had moved to stand next to my chair while Maddox bracketed it on the other side.
Smoothing the emotions away from her expression, Eleanor dropped to curtsey before me and then tilted her head, though every part of her seemed to vibrate in rejection.
I met Alfred’s gaze over her head, and he raised his eyebrows.
Ignoring Eleanor, I rose from the chair, and before I could put my plate or tumbler aside, Anton swept them from my hands and also offered me his throat.
Fin shook his head. Beautiful…
“Save it,” I told him. “This…isn’t happening.” With that, I turned and moved away from all of them. They wanted to trap me here, turn me, and keep me isolated, fine. Whatever.
“Fiona,” Alfred said in a tone that demanded I obey.
I paused at the doors to the library, but I didn’t turn around. “You know I wouldn’t take the warden’s blood bags either.”
Silence crashed through the room, and I shoved the doors open. What fondness for the library I’d developed died in front of the fireplace.
I wouldn’t take a meal in there again.
If they planned on having a parade of these fuckers coming to offer their blood, I’d rather be back in a cell.
I doubted they’d give me long, but I descended the steps and headed for the other wing. There were dozens upon dozens of rooms in the keep.
On the steps, however, I paused to glance into the great hall. There were easily half a dozen people moving around, setting up torches, chairs and huge tables. The floors had been cleaned and tapestries hung.
How were the retainers getting here?
Aware of someone watching me, I met the gaze of a younger vamp, his expression rapt.
I could use that.
I smiled slowly, and his own lips turned upward.
I could use him.
Because one way or another, I was getting out of here.