Cupping her face, he lightly covered her mouth with his, tenderly licking her fang, giving her one last taste of blood.
The sweetest good-night kiss. Then back into the secure cradle of his arms.
So why did she still feel a shadow of misgiving? Why did she feel like she had in fact just sold her soul to the devil-and there was a no-refund policy?
No, no. What woman wouldn't love this god, this decadent lover with power and money, who seemed to worship her body?
If he told her he loved her right now, she'd say it back. And she'd mean it.
But he hadn't said it. And he'd never told her he was sorry for everything he'd done to her.
I'm Lothaire's fool. . . .
Lothaire had exactly zero kingdoms under his control. None of his vendettas had been carried out and all of his plans had been upended.
Yet a languorous relaxation spread through him. His lips continued to curl of their own accord.
The satisfaction he felt from stroking Elizabeth's hair as she slumbered against his chest . . . indescribable.
He'd pleasured her with his body, stoking her need, then sating it. He'd fed her with his blood until her skin was warmed. Now she slept deeply-while he safeguarded her with the strength he'd earned through eons of survival.
Of course she loved him. He knew she'd been about to tell him earlier. So her loyalty was his. . . .
Lothaire had taken great pains to rehearse that transformation wish, and the ring had done exactly as bidden. Which meant that tomorrow he would give her a gift no other male could offer.
When she absently worried her bottom lip with one of her adorable little fangs, he sighed.
The Enemy of Old fucking sighed.
Dear gods, it'd finally happened to him.
Then his own fangs sharpened. I will kill anyone who tries to take this feeling away from me.
At twilight, Ellie woke with no grogginess. One second she was asleep, the next awake. Weird.
She found Lothaire gazing down at her with a disconcerting tenderness, his tousled hair hanging over one of his eyes.
If he'd been gorgeous before . . . Lothaire looking well loved was breathtaking.
In a gravelly voice, he said, "Good gloaming."
A vampire version of good morning? "Uh, you too."
"How do you feel?"
Mentally? The jury's still out. Body-wise? Amazingly good. Though she refused to admit it.
Ellie didn't want him thinking he could continue to get away with this high-handedness where she was concerned. If she was going to make a vampiric life-oh, dear Lord-with him, she needed to nip this behavior in the bud.
She shrugged. "I feel okay. It's definitely different." She had no twinges, despite their aggressive sex.
But I also have no craving for my usual waffles.
"What are you thinking about?"
"I miss food." With a pang of sadness, she rose, feeling his eyes on her body as she never had before.
"I'll be your breakfast. I've replenished out of the refrigerator. Come, Lizvetta, you love the way I taste. And I know just how you prefer to tap my . . . font."
So smug. She gazed at him in the bed-it looked like a murder scene. The mattress was shredded. By her claws? Blood was everywhere.
She flushed to realize she'd never offered him her own blood. Did that make her a selfish lover?
He followed her gaze, seeming proud of the destruction. He cast her a self-satisfied smile as if he'd just won an argument. And for some reason his fangs were so . . . incredibly . . . sexy.
Her mind seemed to blank. Lick them, feel them in me. She rubbed her tongue over one of her own.
That sinful vampire could make her a mindless sex slave if she let him.
She shook her head hard, then strode into her bedroom to throw on some clothes. She didn't trust herself to be naked around him.
When she opened her closet, she broke the knob clean off the door.
"You'll get used to the strength," he said, suddenly behind her. As she gaped at the doorknob, he added, "It's not a bad thing to be strong."
With a swallow, she set the knob on a shelf and painstakingly began to dress, careful not to destroy fabrics that felt as flimsy as cobwebs.
Lothaire gazed on with an enthralled expression, as if he'd never seen her naked before-or maybe he just didn't want to let her out of his sight. "Admit it. Vampire sex is better."
Atomic blast. "Doesn't matter. Lothaire, we need to talk."
"We will." He reached for her, drawing her close, until she could feel his erection like a steel rod against her. "After we spend again, and you feed from me once more. Dorada will return at midnight, but afterward, I have a surprise for you-"
"Now. Please get dressed."
Seeing she was serious, he shrugged. "I'm feeling very magnanimous right now."
The victor. If he'd been arrogant before, now he was insufferable. It chafed as never before.
He traced away. When she returned to his bedroom, he emerged from his closet fully dressed. Just as they had so many times before, he sat at his desk, she on the settee.
"Tell me, Elizabeth. What can't wait until later?"
"Lothaire, you can't make decisions for me again."
"Of course I can."
"No, we start this thing as equals. Say it."
"I can't say that. Whereas you, my love, retain the ability to lie, I do not."
"What was that?" She'd misunderstood him.
"We are not equals, Elizabeth. I have thousands of years of knowledge over you. The bloody wisdom of ages."
The room seemed to rock.
"You are my Bride, my most cherished possession, and I am your mate and technically your sire. I will make decisions for us, and you will trust me to know what's best."
"How can you say that?"
"You didn't want to be a vampire, but you ended up loving it."
"Loving one night of it. The rest remains to be seen!" She tried to tell herself that he just didn't know better than to say these things. As Balery had explained, Lothaire was emotionally insensitive because he'd never learned how to-or why he might-behave differently. Be patient, Ellie. . . . "Lothaire, promise me you'll never take my choice away again."
"I'm going to take care of you for the rest of my life, doing whatever is necessary to ensure your safety. If that includes making decisions for you, then so be it."
Her lips parted. She was now a vampire, and he was still treating her like shit.
It's never gonna end.
An eternity of living with this arrogant ass?
"No, Lothaire, this bullshit stops now! Or I'm leaving you. Do you understand me? I don't have to be with you-and I'd rather be alone than be constantly treated like a child."
"Your blood is still high. This will ease in time." He gave her an indulgent look. "I'll forgive these rash words for now."
She sputtered, "Forgive? Let's talk about who should be forgiving who."
"Whom," he corrected.
"Shut up! I'm in the right here. Remember all those things you did to me? Threatening my family? My mother and brother? Sending my ass to prison? You never once apologized to me. You never once asked forgiveness-from me. You just commanded your pet to get over it. And only after you recognized that I was your Bride, once the lightbulb had finally flickered on in your thick head."
"And you told me you would get past these things!" he snapped. "You vowed it."
He looked stunned, as if this possibility had never occurred to him. "Then you've already betrayed me!"
"Did you think I'd just shrug off everything in the space of a couple of weeks? I couldn't-especially when you hadn't changed whatsoever! And all of that went on before you turned me into a blood-drinker against my will."
"Making you a blood-drinker should negate any offenses against you!" he yelled, shooting to his feet. "You should be even more beholden to me. I toiled for years to find that ring! I risked my life again and again-and I do not court death lightly!"
"I never asked for this." To be Lothaire's "made" creature, to be his possession. "I never asked for you!"
"You told me you accepted this thing between us, that you accepted me. I took your words for truth and trusted them. I trusted you!"
"You lied, too," she cried. "You told me I'd never regret this. Right now I do, with all my heart! It's becoming crystal clear that this will never work between the two of us."
At that, his furious expression transformed into a cruel smirk. She despised that look. "One problem. You've fallen in love with me. You won't be able to live without me."
He thought he had her at his mercy; she ached to hurt him as much as he continued to hurt her. "No, I haven't fallen in love with you."
After last night, I have completely fallen in love with you. But as ever, she didn't want him to know of her feelings, didn't want to give him yet another hold over her. Besides, love didn't conquer all. If she'd learned one thing growing up in a hardscrabble community, it was that sometimes love wasn't enough.
"And again, you lie to me," he said, but she thought she saw a flash of doubt in his eyes.
"Love or not, I'd decided to give us a chance. But you're ruining it. You're ruining everything with your arrogance and selfishness-everything!"
He seemed to not even be listening to her, his mind seizing on one thing: "You do love me. It's obvious. Even if you hadn't told me-oh, how did you put it?-that 'what we feel between us isn't something that everyone experiences together.' "
"Didn't I tell you that the night I realized you were truly gonna kill me? What wouldn't you have said in my shoes?"
"We end this now, Elizabeth. You're acting foolish."
"Of course I am the one acting foolish. Never you. Because I'm demonstrably your inferior! Isn't that how you put it? How could I ever love someone who treats me like a dog? You expect me to have tender feelings for a man who captured me, tormented me, was secretly planning to destroy my soul. What do you think that would say about me? Would you want a woman who allowed an asshole to treat her this way?"
"If you haven't been falling in love with me, then what have we been doing for these three weeks?"
"We? I have been surviving! And I did whatever it took."
In a quietly ominous voice, he said, "That's all this was to you? A ruse?"
"How could it be anything more? Tell me, Lothaire, I want to know. Convince me why I should love you."
"Because any other female would! Yet you feigned affection for me?" His eyes blazed with wrath.
It . . . frightened her. Which only made her madder. "Always in the back of my mind I thought of all you'd done."
"Will you do whatever it takes to survive once more? You have no idea how to trace or get blood. You are completely dependent on me. If I have to use your thirst to keep you as my captive, then I will."
Any trust she'd managed to feel for him had just been violated-beyond repair.
She felt her lips drawing back from her own fangs, felt them sharpening as memories assailed her. "I've decided to let you go to prison this eve." "I'll kill your family with delight. . . ."
The fear and frustration that had built and built now boiled over. "I never want to see your face again."
"Too bad, Elizabeth. You're stuck with me. Not for a few decades, not for centuries. You're tied to me forever. That girl and boy offspring you talked of? They'll come from me-or no one."
"I'm leaving!" She turned toward the door, striding down the hall, flinching when she recalled those things chasing her the night before.
"Leaving me?" He traced in front of her with a mocking laugh. "Even if you could get through the boundary, where would you go?"
She strode around him.
"Where could you go that I wouldn't find you?" He followed, taunting her, even though her feelings were raw, her nerves frayed.
They were now in the living room where he'd brought her that first morning-straight from the injection bench.
He'd thrown her around, shoving her to the floor. "Where would I go?" she asked. "How about the same place my family went-where you couldn't find them! Eventually, I will get free."
She thought she saw a flare of alarm in his eyes, but his own aggression quickly overran it. "Resign yourself to the fact that you will never see them again! They are dead to you, just as you are to them."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"They believe you died in that prison escape, shot to death by a guard. They will never know the truth, pet."
And with that, her mental rubber band . . . broke.
Instead of checking out, I'm gonna lash out.
She snatched up a vase, hurling it at him. "I hate you! Only a fool could ever love you!" Then a lamp. "Ugly on the inside!" She swooped up the decorative sword she'd threatened him with that first day. "Why don't you try throwin' me across the room now!"
In a snide tone, he said, "Hag called you feral before. Hag had seen nothing."
"I'll kill you!"
"You'd never hurt me. Deny it all you like, but you do love me. Use your little sword to convince me otherwise, or accept that you're mine forever." Again he laughed.
His laughter flayed her, cut like a knife. Wild with confusion, she raised the sword, wishing she could cut him back.
When he advanced on her, she cried, "Get away from me! I can't . . . I can't be here now! Just leave me be!"
"You can't be here? And yet, I'm not letting you go."
"I told you to stay away! I'll swing!" Red covered her vision. Literally.
Bloody tears. Dear God, I have blood for tears now. Can't see.
"You could never wield that blade against me. Now, stop acting like a child, and put it away before someone gets hurt."
She screamed with fury, but she could still hear his laughter.
Can't stop screaming . . . sword hilt crushed in my grip . . . blindly swinging the blade-
The laughter stopped. Was that a thud on the floor? She swallowed, dizziness engulfing her.