Wave after wave of searing, slick rapture.

But the intensity continued to build, almost frightening her. Her eyes flashed open. "L-Lothaire?" she whispered as her sex helplessly continued to spasm, empty. "It won't end!"

His fiery gaze was locked on hers. He spoke foreign words to her that she didn't understand, but they throbbed with ferocity, with hunger.

Those eyes . . . lost in them.

Finally, her release subsided. With a whimper, Ellie collapsed over him, burying her face against his neck.

I'm out of my depth.

She'd never known anything like this. There were orgasms, and then there was coming!

Wrapping his arm around her neck, he yanked her beside him, drag-

ging her close until her breasts pressed hard against his side. She had no other place to put her hand but on his heaving chest, above his thundering heart.

Emotionally stunted, sexually desperate, she repeated to herself. That was the only reason she'd just screamed in abandon with the male who was bent on killing her.

The vampire who'd bitten her lip for blood.

After a hesitation, he rested his chin on her head. Just when she thought they were acting like normal lovers, he grabbed her wrist and shoved her hand into the wet heat of his pants. "Eager little Elizabeth. Feel what you made me do."

Without thought, she closed her fingers around his damp shaft, still semihard. When it pulsed in reaction, she sighed softly. The first one she'd ever held.

She longed to see it, to kiss it. Never had she been interested in giving head, as he'd called it. But now she licked her top lip, imagining it was the swollen crown. . . .

"If I wasn't so spent, I'd make you clean me up." He sounded angry, but then he leaned down to brush his lips over her ear. "With your tongue."

She shivered at his husky tone. As she pondered whether he was serious, and what her own reaction might be, he said, "The blood kiss didn't bother you."

"I was kind of in the moment. I pleased you, didn't I?" She gave him a squeeze, earning a growl. "Made you yell to the rafters?"

He suddenly went tense, clutching her wrist hard. "All your effort was in vain, little pet." He yanked her hand away. "Your pathetic attempt to garner my affections failed. You can't compare to Saroya."

Without another word, he disappeared.

Chapter 25

Wallowing in a human, just like my father.

Appalled with himself, Lothaire traced into his bathroom, stripping for another shower. As the water sluiced over him, he pressed his palms against the wall, grappling for calm.

In the throes, he'd wanted to consume Elizabeth, so frenzied he'd reverted to his native tongue.

He'd never lost control like that, couldn't remember ever coming so hard-as if he'd been dismantled like a puzzle, then slowly pieced back together.

And he hadn't even claimed her.

He would never forget the look in her eyes when she'd grabbed his hair, yanking him close for more of that blood-drenched kiss.

I'll never forget coming like a fountain as my Bride orgasmed over me.

No, no . . . she wasn't his Bride. Being near Saroya before had primed him; Elizabeth had merely been in the right place at the right time.

If Saroya had bothered to rise, she would have wrung that staggering ejaculation from him. Saroya would be the one intriguing the living hell out of him right now.

Of course.

Still, he kept replaying what had just occurred with the mortal, finding himself aroused all over again. Just moments after that kind of release?

He scowled down at his rampant cock. This will not do.

He'd ridiculed Elizabeth's intentions, expecting to be amused by her inexperience. At the very least, he'd expected her to feign desire. Instead, she'd been desperate to come, working his seed from him without using her mouth or hands.

By riding him. Wantonly. Which made him imagine her naked, riding other things. My thigh, my mouth . . .

Elizabeth had said she'd had boyfriends enough. How many had she practiced on to be able to move like that?

How many had been just like him, lost in her, powerless to do anything but spill beneath her? Lothaire's fangs sharpened with aggression at the thought of her with another.

At least none of her "boyfriends" had taken her virginity. He wondered why she hadn't squandered it. Lothaire hadn't been there to interrupt every swimming session with young males, and obviously she enjoyed her sexuality.

As did I.

He smirked. Elizabeth's maidenhead belongs to me alone.

His smirk faded. He would never know her like that. He could only claim Saroya.

Never to experience Elizabeth's unbridled passion? Never to inch his cock into her dripping sex?

So he'd be no different from all her other conquests.

His fist shot out, connecting with the wall. Marble crumbled; his erection waned.

He wanted to kill anyone she'd been with. To annihilate them all. Horde vampires were notorious for seizing on sudden ideas, acting on stray impulses. Just as his mind was about to seize on murder and his seven little tasks became eight, he heard her marching into his bathroom.

Curiosity ruled him once more. What would she do?

He turned to lean his arm against the glass, resting his forehead on it. "Back for more, pet?" he said casually, though he felt anything but. She'd marched in with her breasts still bared, her shoulders back. His fists clenched, his cock distending once more.

She looked impetuous, her eyes defiant. She flipped that mane of hair over her shoulders, which almost earned her a position in his shower.

"I'm here to remind you of something."

Of what, of what? Pleasure rippled through him, almost like amusement. But his tone was bored. "Hmm. Remind me?" Why was his voice hoarse?

Ah, from my shocked yells to the rafters.

She snatched up his discarded pants from the floor. "When you do recount my clumsy attempts to Saroya, be sure to mention the part where I rode you like a lazy horse and made you cream-jeans faster than a fifteen-year-old schoolboy squeezin' a tit for the first time." She flung his pants into the shower. "You might wanna get these cleaned." She turned on her heel and sauntered out of the room.

He stared after her. Cream-jeans? Lazy horse?

Unbidden, his lips curled into a grin.

After washing off and changing into the most modest of the sleepwear choices-a long, white silk nightgown-Ellie crossed to her bed.

When she eased into it, she sighed at the softness that greeted her.

Never knew sheets could feel like this. Here she lay, clad in silk, nestled in the finest linens she'd ever imagined, basking in the sizable bed-even though it lay on the floor.

She was being kept in a paradise of a prison, by a red-eyed jailer who doubled as a walking sexual fantasy.

A jailer who'd awakened something in her tonight, something Ellie instinctively feared she wouldn't experience with others.

Just as she began fretting, wondering how she was going to live without the ecstasy she'd discovered with Lothaire, she remembered she likely wasn't going to live at all.

Rubber-band snap. Snap. SNAP!

Finally, she calmed, her whirring mind slowing. Just as she was dozing off, a dizzying sense of vertigo hit her; when she opened her eyes, she was standing in his room. Traced me again?

"Entertain me," he commanded, taking a seat at his desk. He was shirtless, barefooted. His damp hair hung carelessly over his forehead. So gorgeous, too gorgeous.

"Entertain." She rubbed her eyes. "That wasn't part of the job description."

"I believe the job description was for you to do whatever I command. Besides, you're clearly dressing for the job you want and not the job you have, and my Bride will entertain me after we spend."


"Dance, monkey, dance. That it? Lothaire, I'm exhausted."

"Do pizdy. Don't fucking care. Sit. Speak with me."

She hesitated to return to that settee, but eventually sank down with a huff.

"I find I have questions about you. Amazing, considering it's . . . you. But I can't control my curiosity."

"What do you want to know?"

"Why are you still a virgin?"

She didn't want to tell him the real reason, that she'd feared getting pregnant with some high school boy, feared having to abandon her long-held dreams-of a fulfilling career, a doting husband, and lastly, when she was ready for them, kids.

So instead, she said, "I guess Saroya somehow resisted your charms all those times you went off killing together."

"I've never gone off killing with her."

"She just went out by herself and murdered? Why?"

He shrugged. "She used to take sustenance from the act. Now I guess it's habit."

"That doesn't make sense."

"Suppose you no longer needed to eat to live, but you could eat. Wouldn't you miss the taste of food, the ritual of meals?"

He had a point. Ellie loved to eat.

"You didn't answer my question," he said. "Did no prison guard try to deflower you?"

"Most of them were decent."

"But not all? Did any of them . . . touch you?" His expression darkened, his fangs seeming to grow.

He's going round the bend again. And when his eyes grew vacant, her senses went on red alert.

"Slow your fucking heart!"

She cried, "Maybe I could slow my fucking heart if you'd stop fucking yelling at me!"

"I hold your fate in my hands, yet you show me disrespect at every turn."

"You haven't earned my respect."

"It could be today that I dream of the ring. Then you'll be gone forever."

She crossed her arms over her chest. "You love holding that sword over my neck. Are you trying to make me go crazy like you? Make me check out mentally before I do physically?"

"Is it a possibility?" he asked in all seriousness. At least he'd calmed down a fraction.

"How much more do you think I can take?"

"You'll take whatever I give you-"

"And I'll like it?" She rolled her eyes. "Do you torture everyone like this?"

He grew still as a statue, his voice dripping with menace as he said, "You don't know the meaning of torture."

"You do? Have you only dished it out or been on the receiving end?"

"Both."

She wished she wasn't curious about him. But . . . "How were you tortured?"

"Take the worst agony you can possibly imagine, multiply it by a thousand, then suffer that every second for six hundred years. And that was merely one among many times."

"Six centuries?" He's exaggerating. He has to be. "Is that why you're crazy?"

"Partly. Also because of the memories."

"Did you see mine when you slept last?"

"So far, no recollections of coal dust, leaking roofs, or the pungent aroma of myriad critters sizzling in old cooking lard."

He made it sound so awful-but what she wouldn't give to be back there right now! "You watched me more than you'd let on."

"I had to learn about you, investigating your belongings, spying on your shuddersome family."

She gasped. "You were in my home?"

"I have a home. You lived in a conveyance."

"It's bought and paid for. No one can ever make us leave." Unlike the land it was parked on.

The Va-Co representative Saroya had killed had been sniffing around Peirce Mountain for a reason. Deep down, it was laden with coal. Va-Co had begun putting pressure on the family to sell. When that hadn't worked, they'd gone after the mortgage bank.

Though Ruth and Ephraim and the rest of the family had been cobbling together payments, it was only a matter of time before they defaulted on their loan.

"You are so proud," Lothaire murmured, his tone perplexed. "And I cannot comprehend why."

She choked back a retort. Cool it, Ellie. Get information. "Tell me what Saroya's like."

"Vicious, contemptuous, fearless. She's a queen whom other queens would bow down to."

Ellie quirked a brow. "A vicious female who doesn't mind you spending so much time alone with the beautiful Hag?"

"The fey and I are not involved."

"Saroya's agreeable to having all those heirs you want?"

"She will give me as many as I desire," he said coolly.

Deflection? "Don't you want to get started on little vampire princes?"

"I can't claim her until she's in an undying body, else harm her with my strength. Remember? Pop."

"So that's the delay." Or was there more? Saroya could still satisfy the vampire. Perhaps the goddess didn't enjoy sexual situations? "I have a hard time imagining that kind of strength."

"There are four things that make a vampire more powerful than his brethren. Bloodlust, a beating heart, Dacian blood, and age. I'm a vampire gone red-eyed with bloodlust, a Dacian with a beating heart. I've lived for millennia, growing stronger over the endless days of my life."

Great. She'd been nabbed by the Hulk of vampires. Then she glanced up. "You're a real Dacian?"

"Ah, that's right-you've been reading after school. My mother was Ivana Daciano, heir to their throne. I am Lothaire Daciano, now the rightful heir."

"But they're thought not to exist."

"Of course they exist. Immortals can be just as bad as humans, thinking that if they can't see something, it must not be."

"Your interest lies in the Horde and the Dacian thrones?" When he inclined his head, she said, "If you're so powerful, your subjects must be hankering for you to be their king."

He made a scoffing sound. "I intend to subjugate one kingdom and lay waste to the other."

"And then what?"

His blond brows knit. "What do you mean?"

"Laying waste, subjugation? There's got to be a reason for doing these things."

"Pure gratification."

"How long will that last? A hundred years? A thousand? Surely you have an ultimate goal?"

He rose, abruptly enraged, all towering intimidation. "I have an Endgame!"

Round the bend. He muttered to himself in Russian, then jerked his head sharply in that way insane people did-as if he'd just seen or experienced something no one else had.