Lust was within the realm of her knowledge.

She had experience enough with it from all her truck-cab flirtations. And when growing up, she'd learned much by simply keeping her ears open. She'd been raised in Appalachia, for God's sake.

Not to mention that the women in her family had made sure Ellie knew how to handle the opposite sex, because in times past, everything depended on men.

She remembered her granny telling her, "Men are like coal boilers, Ellie. If you find a man you reckon to keep, you got to feed his belly every day, make him burn for you, then release some steam purty regular, or you ain't ever gonna get him to work."

Hell, Saroya could take a lesson from Granny Peirce!

Ellie watched Lothaire pacing so aggressively, imagining the pain he had to be feeling down there. And in his mouth, too. He kept running his tongue over his fangs.

His fangs are sharp, yet my skin isn't marked anew; his shaft is raring to go while my body's untouched.

Saroya, that silly bitch-who'd had time yesterday to amass a new wardrobe, wax her privates, and get her nails done-had consigned her vampire to this condition?

Then left him in another woman's company . . . a woman who looked exactly like her?

If she's stupid enough to leave him unsatisfied, Ellie half-jokingly thought, then maybe I ought to feed his belly and release his steam. Turn him to my side.

She stilled.

What if she . . . did?

Could she win him over? Tempt him until he preferred her over Saroya?

Her eyes went wide. If there was a way to get rid of Ellie, maybe the reverse was true? Then she could coax Lothaire to cast out Saroya!

I could get my body back. My life back!

The vampire paced, reaching one end of the spacious room a split second before the next. His movements were as dizzying as her thoughts; for the first time in years, she realized, Maybe I . . . maybe I don't have to die.

Ellie could bed Lothaire if she had to. She could close her eyes and pretend he wasn't evil and that she didn't hate him to the core of her being. Surely.

You didn't seem to mind when he was licking all over your neck, Ellie.

At the memory, her nipples tightened again, but she forced herself to ignore her reaction.

Could she let him have her? Risking bodily harm? Pop . . .

What choice did she have? If all it took was a ring to be rid of Ellie, sooner or later Lothaire was going to find it.

Then Saroya would win.

Never.

I'm gonna seduce Lothaire. Make myself irreplaceable to him. But she knew that would take more than merely seducing his body.

If I were an ancient immortal, what would I want?

Energy, surprise, excitement.

Ellie could keep him on his toes, keep him guessing. She'd win over this vampire's mind as well.

Then they'd boot Saroya's ass to the curb, and Ellie would own her jewels!

I don't have to die. My future is in my hands once more. She would use everything in her arsenal, all the lessons she'd ever learned, drawing on all her truck-cab follies, her vices and victories.

She'd pit her country wisdom against his worldly-and otherworldly-knowledge.

My fate boils down to making a vampire want me more than he does a goddess.

Lothaire paced, raging inside. Dawn had come and gone, the night over.

And Saroya was dormant. Which meant she had no desire to see him. Even after he'd explained to her that his lusts couldn't be quelled. Even when the burgeoning pressure within him had turned to pain.

That bitch! I'd been right about her, I predicted this. Saroya would wait as much as a month to rise? While he was out battling for them?

Where was the loyalty, the unity between them?

His suffering mind could hardly process this situation. He should have forced her into his bed yesterday-instead of buying her goddamned clothes!

With a bellow, he swung a fist, crushing an antique whiskey service.

Never had he wanted a woman who didn't desire him back.

"Lothaire?" Elizabeth murmured. "I need to tell you something."

"Then say it!"

"It's embarrassing. I'm not going to shout it across the room." She twisted her hair up, leisurely tying it into a knot.

She played with those silky strands as if she knew just how it affected him. Eyes riveted, he imagined she'd bared her neck for him.

Bared it in invitation. His shaft throbbed harder. "Tell me."

She crooked her finger. "Kindly come?"

He rubbed his tongue over a fang, then traced to stand just in front of her. "What?"

She stood, going up on her toes. When she laid her delicate hands on his chest, he nearly shuddered.

At his ear, she breathed, "Lothaire, I can tell you're stiff as timber."

That was . . . unexpected. Another near shudder. "You think I didn't notice?"

"Just wanted to let you know that others could too."

"Look at it, Elizabeth." He pinched her chin and pulled her head down. "Would I ever be so deluded as to think that could go unnoticed?"

She kept staring down at his shaft even after he released her. His own head fell back.

Can feel her pretty gaze on it.

He envisioned pressing her to her knees, then feeding his cock between her lips. He'd command her to suck it until there was nothing left of him. . . .

She murmured, "Maybe you want to come back in here afterward."

"After what?"

"After you go take care of that."

"You assume I need to tend to myself." After the first stroke, he'd be right back with her, roughly groping, desperate to spend with her. Or rather, with Saroya.

My Bride. Who won't deign to see me. Then fuck her. He would use this mortal for his own pleasure. And if the fancy struck him, he'd make her luscious little body come, climaxing so hard that the goddess would still be feeling it when she did make an appearance.

"You are going to tend to me, girl."

Elizabeth displayed no fear, no surprise, just took his measure with studying gray eyes.

"You're not going to fight me?"

"No. All I ask is that you shower off the blood first."

"What's your plan?" With a sneer, he said, "Perhaps you'll try to make me want you more than I do Saroya?"

Elizabeth raised her brows.

"I've predicted every move on your chessboard, every play you could possibly make. This is the only move open to you."

"Maybe that's exactly what I plan."

Another sneer. "Then I'll give you a chance to demonstrate how badly you want to sway me. When I return from my shower, be wearing the red silk gown and go to your knees before me."


Just as he was tracing away, he heard her murmur, "I'll make sure you'll be . . . pleased."

Chapter 22

Ellie masked her shock until he'd traced away.

The vampire meant to just use her in the most cursory way imaginable?

Wrong, on so many levels. First, she'd never gone down on a man before. She'd limited her encounters to third base, a soft third-grinding fully clothed to climax. No muss, no fuss, no pregnancy. Ideal for her.

And second, she needed Lothaire to desire her so much that he would choose her above a deity.

There'd be no seducing his body and his mind if she was just a vampire receptacle.

Ellie had suspected he would crave wonder, surprise, excitement. Now it struck her that the surest way to surprise him would be to disobey his orders.

As she hurried to her own shower, she debated her options.

On the one hand, Ellie needed to obey him so as not to risk her family. If she were gambling with only her own life, then this would be a no-brainer.

On the other, if her plan succeeded, she could win the jackpot-her body back from Saroya and maybe a chance to escape Lothaire, preferably with a pocketful of jewels to improve her family's financial situation.

After a quick shower, she threw on a robe and sat at her dresser. Since he seemed to be partial to her hair, she pinned it up loosely-just to let it down in front of him. Then she used some of Saroya's makeup. Mascara, lipgloss, a little eyeliner.

But when it came to dressing, Ellie wasn't so sure. She stared with dismay at the red teddy in her lingerie drawer.

She wasn't embarrassed to wear it-no remaining modesty and all-but she didn't want her encounter with Lothaire to go as he seemed to plan it: her in a teddy giving him a mouth hug, then him leaving without a word.

In the end, she donned sexy undergarments, but chose to wear another pair of jeans and a tank top, a red one in compromise. She even pulled on stiletto boots.

When she'd finished dressing, she checked herself out in the mirror. Her jeans and her top were both skintight, her high-heeled boots sexy. But even she could see the outfit needed something. . . .

With a swallow, she yanked off her top, removed her bra, then pulled the top back on. That'll do it.

She imagined seeing herself from his eyes. What would I look like to a millennia-old vampire? The jeans accentuated the curves of her hips and ass. Her breasts jutted against the thin material of her top. He'd probably want to touch her there.

Just thinking about his hands on her made her nipples hard. Not gonna beat myself up for desiring a bastard like him. She was anticipating this because she was emotionally stunted-and sexually desperate-from prison.

The outfit was sexy, but not as much as the gown he'd wanted her in. I'm gambling with chips I can't afford to lose. She exhaled, about to change-

Lothaire appeared in her room, his hair still damp, clad in another expensive outfit. She briefly wondered why he'd redressed but figured he would want to intimidate her-or leave directly after his blowjob.

Showtime, Ellie.

He looked lustful, his body tense. "I gave you an order." He traced to stand just before her, gripping her elbow. "You defy me, when I'm already on the verge of rage? I could kill you so easily."

"But you won't."

"I might. Though I won't intend to. In case you haven't noticed, I'm quite mad."

In a deadpan tone, she said, "I think you're just misunderstood."

Double take from the vampire.

"Besides, Lothaire, could your chess game recover from a move like that? You're not so far gone that you'd risk losing everything."

He cast her an appraising glance; she made a mental note-learn how to play chess.

"You understood what would happen if you disobeyed me."

She forced herself to give him her brightest smile, as if she were delighted with him. "Oh, I didn't reckon you really wanted me to wear that."

He raised his brows. Didn't I?

Drawing on every ounce of courage she possessed, she said, "Definitely not the first time we're to be . . . intimate."

"And why not?"

"You'd want me to feel comfortable. I'm more comfortable in jeans."

His grip tightened. "Do you truly believe I give a fuck about your comfort?"

Courage, Ellie! "I told you I would please you, didn't I?"

Dropping her arm, he strode through the connecting doorway to that settee in his room, with no doubt she'd follow. He reclined against the back of it, his long legs stretched in front of him.

He clasped his hands behind his head, saying in a snide tone, "I'm ready to be pleased. And, of course, to be seduced away from Saroya's clutches." He sounded like he was just stifling cruel laughter. "Proceed."

"You think you know my plan-and you don't believe I have a shot in hell."

"None whatsoever."

"But you're still going to let me try?"

"I welcome your most inspired endeavor. Though I hardly think it's fair-since you wouldn't have been able to practice your seduction skills in prison. Or perhaps you had been able. Who knows what goes on behind bars?"

His expression was so mocking, stinging her deeply, like a wound. "This is funny to you?"

"Uproarious."

"And what will Saroya think about what we do?"

"I'll be sure to recount all your clumsy attempts to supplant her-so she and I can laugh about them together."

Ellie narrowed her eyes. Yes, his mocking stung, but he hadn't cowed her; he'd just waved a red flag in front of a bull. He's never had a country

girl.

An earthy, dirty-mouthed girl-whose very life was on the line.

She could throw him for a loop. She recalled overhearing boys talking about her in high school: "You ever been parking with Ellie Peirce? It's life-changing." She decided then that she knew just enough about males to be dangerous. He'd underestimated her at his peril.

Reminded that everyone had always underestimated her, she put her shoulders back and strode over to join him, noticing his gaze was locked on her braless breasts. His bulging erection almost made her falter, but when she reached him, she straddled his lap, resting above him on her knees.

"I want to call the shots tonight, Lothaire."

"You?"

"Yeah, I'll do all the work. You just sit back and relax after your busy day doing evil. Will you keep your hands to yourself?"

"Unlikely."

"You said you might hurt me if you touched me."

"Which is why I demanded head, Elizabeth."

"Surely you're not scared of the mortal virgin driving the truck? Of course, I do have some experience that you might like."

He pinched her chin again. "Ah, I'm to enjoy your parking skills."

She flung her head back out of his grip, but still smiled at him. "When the only tool you own is a hammer . . ."

"Every problem begins to resemble a nail."

Of course he would be familiar with her favorite saying.

He absently licked a fang. "I can't wait to see exactly how you'll . . . drive."

Then I'm gonna give you a ride you'll never forget.

Chapter 23

She mulishly defies me while giving me a mind-scrambling smile.

What was she thinking? The idea that Lothaire would choose this ill-bred peasant over the goddess of vampires? Laughable.

But, oh, he looked forward to Elizabeth's inexperienced campaign to sway him. "Do show me how you're superior to a deity. Or are you losing your nerve?"

He'd quickly get bored with her game, and then he'd rip off that top and fondle those big, pert breasts of hers for the first time. I'll tongue those nipples straining against the material.