"Sate myself with a human," he bit out with disgust. "With that human?"

"I give you leave to use her at will. Just save the claiming for me-and don't mar her skin further with your bites!"

"You ask much of me, female."

Time to stroke his ego. "This is but temporary, my king. I only want to be yours in all ways, to rule the Horde by your side. You are a great and powerful male. You deserve a queen to match you, Lothaire." She forced herself to smooth her hand down his chest. "Imagine an eternity of bloodletting together, hunting together, conquering together. . . ."

She knew he'd too long dreamed of these things to go unmoved.

Lothaire's need to rule over his brethren wasn't merely obsessive-it was pathological. Which fit into her plans. For the rest of time, she would strive for godhood, but for the present, she would accept ruling a kingdom of creatures who lived in the manner she had set forth. . . .

Feeding on others, claiming the night as her own dominion.

Of course, ultimately she would be the supreme ruler of these creatures, and Lothaire would be her fawning consort. "As your queen, I will lay your crown upon your fair head and rejoice as all night beings tremble before you."

His brows drew together, his yearning for this nigh palpable.

"Soon, my king," she murmured, just before another wave of dizziness washed over her. She moved to the edge of the bed, sinking down.

He shook his head hard, commanding her, "Fight her now. Remain with me."

"The girl's coming." Saroya irritably kicked off her stilettos. "There's nothing I can do, Lothaire. Just use her!"

"Blyad'! You don't know what you're saying. You rise tomorrow night, goddess, or suffer my wrath!"

Her lids fluttered closed and blackness took her.

Chapter 9

Ellie shot awake with a frantic inhalation.

Each time she rose was like fighting her way along a black, soundless tunnel only to break through with a rush of momentum.

Now she jerked her head around, finding herself in a dim room atop the softest sheets she'd ever imagined.

Not in prison- Memories of the afternoon returned like a crashing wave.

Lothaire's hot mouth against her neck. His fangs raking over her skin for blood. His tongue snaking to the drops.

She shivered. He'd tasted her blood. Oh, my Lord, vampires exist.

A demon possession hadn't been such a jump for a girl from Appalachia, home of serpent handlers, speaking in tongues, and the fabled Mothman.

But the idea of a blood-drinking vampire had sent her entire world askew.

And if that was true, then she had no reason not to believe Saroya was a deity.

Ellie threw her arm over her face, groaning in misery, "Oh, God."

"I am not the god you're referring to," Lothaire intoned from a murky corner. "Although to you, I might as well be."

She shot upright in the bed, squinting into the dark. His red eyes glowed from the shadows like embers.

"You!" Her nightmare continued. Fitting, since it was now night outside. The curtains were drawn back and a chill breeze blew between opened French doors. A skyline sparkled in the distance.

Another day of lost time. But she supposed all time was borrowed now.

Then she assessed her body. No blood?

She was dressed in a nearly indecent silk gown, with bracelets and rings adorning her. Long red nails tipped her fingers. No skin embedded beneath them? Saroya always left her with horrific scenes. So where were the corpses? "Did Saroya . . . did she kill while I was unconscious?"

"No."

Ellie exhaled with relief.

"My Bride was too fatigued, so we called it an early night." Since Ellie had seen him last, he'd washed himself clean of blood and changed to a black button-down and dark slacks. "But there's always tomorrow."

"If your aim is to make me miserable, just consider this mission accomplished." She always woke from her blackouts exhausted and famished. Even if she wasn't covered with blood, she felt grimy and used-up. "So what'd I miss?" She slapped her palm to her forehead. "Oh, yeah, last I remember, you're a vampire."

"I am." He was regarding her differently. But why?

How could she study a person when she was offstage for half of their interactions? She couldn't get a handle on his mood either. He didn't seem furious or crazy any longer-just held himself with utter stillness.

Like a predator.

She swallowed. "Did you drink more of my blood while I was out?"

In a snide tone, he said, "Somehow I restrained myself."

Relief made her brave, and she snapped, "Be sarcastic all you want to, mister, but you were tonguing my vein like a son of a bitch before I kicked toes-up."

"And you were loving it. Moaning and rubbing against me."

She gazed away in embarrassment. Because what he said was true. The pleasure she'd felt had been bewildering. . . .

"You truly remember nothing of the rest of the afternoon?"

She shook her head curtly.

"How maddening, to have no control over your body. If you hate this so much, then why rise at all?"

"Because this is my body." She thumped her nearly bared chest, and the bangles at her wrists clanged. "Mine!"

"Incorrect. I've staked my claim on it. And soon you'll relinquish it to another female."

He was going to cast out her soul! Ellie recalled how defeated she'd felt when he'd threatened her mother and brother-until she'd realized she still had one play left.

If she could get to a phone, she could make sure her family was hidden. Then there'd be no leverage for the vampire. Ellie could take herself out-and Saroya with her.

This raccoon ain't treed just yet. . . .

"If you were ready to die over this, then why did you not recede and allow her to rule you?" he asked. "You would have simply slept inside your physical form, with no more pain, no fear. There would have been no need for me to rid it of your soul."

"I was ready to die to take out a murderer who kills good men. Not to give her a free by-your-leave." She added the last absently, feeling as if something wasn't right about her body.

"Don't continue to fight me, Elizabeth. Anyone who crosses swords with me loses. It's merely fact."

"Huh?" Something was definitely amiss downstairs.

With increasing irritation, he said, "Crossing swords. You losing . . ."

"Yeah, well, maybe that's because you've never met anyone like me. I'm more stubborn than anyone you've ever encountered."

"A ridiculous statement, from an ignorant girl. I'm thousands of years old. I've encountered millions."

"Thousands? That's ancient!" she cried. "So bloodsuckers are immortal?"

"I'll give you a moment to wrap your puny mind around that."

"Mighty considerate of you. But no matter. I'm still more mule-headed than anyone. I can out-stubborn a mountain. It's just my nature." Dang it, why did she feel so weird between her legs?


Lothaire opened his mouth to say something, but she cut him off. "I have to use the restroom."

He exhaled in irritation and pointed toward a hall. "Through there."

Ellie rose from the bed, wincing at her pedicured but sore feet. A pair of stilettos lay at angles on the floor.

Heels, Saroya? That's just cruel. Growing up, Ellie had gone barefoot

a good seven months out of every year. In prison, they'd given her flip-flops.

Shoes were foreign, heels torturous.

Down a lengthy hallway, she spied the bathroom. The inside was spacious. A marble floor gleamed, counters to match. Plush towels too pretty to use hung from a heated rack.

When she turned to examine herself in the wall-to-wall mirror, she gasped at her reflection.

The black gown she wore was the finest silk, but it dipped down until her navel was visible. Her breasts were all but spilling out; the thin fabric clearly outlined what little of them was covered.

Being exposed like this might have embarrassed her, but prison-and communal showering-had drilled out any inkling of modesty she'd once possessed.

She had a stylish new haircut and a manicure and pedicure, but layers of makeup covered her face.

Her lips were bright red, her eyes done up with flashy shadow. She looked like a porn-star version of herself.

Makeup also concealed the scratch the vampire had given her. She scrutinized her neck and chest for more bites, but found none. So he'd told the truth.

Considering the way he'd licked that stream of blood earlier, she'd thought for sure he'd bite Saroya and finish the job. So why had he refrained?

Had Saroya given Lothaire her virginity instead? For all that Saroya had loved to murder males, she'd never enjoyed one!

Ellie pulled up the gown's hem, and nearly screamed. Saroya had waxed her-completely.

"What the fuck?" Bald as a cue ball. "Who does this?" Her face heated.

The bareness was so blatantly sexual. Surely Lothaire had deflowered her today.

She sat on the toilet, matter-of-factly feeling herself, gently probing inside. No soreness. Her virginity was intact.

So there'd been no sex and no biting? Did vampires even have sex? She recalled when he'd licked her blood. Her eyes went wide. "Oh!" He'd had an erection, had ground it against her back.

Perhaps psycho Saroya had denied him. If she was indeed a goddess, then maybe she thought sex beneath her.

So why the waxing?

Ellie emptied her bladder, washed her hands, then headed back to the millennia-old immortal waiting for her.

The bedroom was now lit. Recessed fixtures cast a muted glow.

Once her eyes adjusted, his face drew her attention, and she did a stutter step. The first night she'd seen him, she'd been too petrified to register much about his looks, other than: red-eyed demon!

Then earlier today, he'd been covered in blood. Now?

Dear God, he's . . . fine. All chiseled features and tousled blond hair. Even those creepy eyes couldn't detract from the rest of his face, just made him look like some kind of fallen angel.

Once she could pry her gaze from him, she noted other details-like the size of the room. "If only it wasn't so cramped," she mumbled, gawking at the height of the ceiling.

Decorated in shades of cream, the room was so spacious it was divided into study, sitting, and sleeping areas. The furniture was so ritzy, she feared to touch it.

Yet the king-size mattresses lay straight on the floor. "You got something against bed frames?"

"Vampires like to sleep as close to the ground as possible."

"But we're not on the ground floor."

"Twenty-five stories from it. I also enjoy having the penthouse."

She'd never been above three stories before! She spied an enormous park just beyond the balcony. "That's . . . Central Park?"

"What of it?"

She ran outside. Look at the pretty lights. Better than on TV-

When she reached the balcony railing, she was shot backward as though she'd run into an invisible wall. Just as she was about to land on her ass, Lothaire gripped her sides, holding her upright.

He drew her to her feet but remained close behind her. At her ear, he said, "Mystically protected, remember." He grasped her wrist, forcing her to touch the invisible border.

Her lips parted when she felt energy pressing back against her hand.

"You can't leave these premises in any way unless escorted by me." He released her but didn't move away.

"One jail to another."

"Precisely," he murmured, laying his palms over her hips.

She froze, not knowing what to do. They probably appeared to all the world like lovers taking in the skyline, instead of a vampire and his captive. Her skin prickled with awareness of him.

At length, he turned her to face him.

Would pay to know what he's thinking. "How do you move so fast?"

"I don't move fast. You, mortal, move slowly." Had his gaze dipped to the revealing V of her dress?

"And how do you vanish and appear?"

"It's called tracing-it's how vampires travel." He frowned at her, dropping his hands. "It's been a while since I've spoken to someone who knows so little about our world. Unbelievably, it's even less than you know about your own."

He started back to the bedroom, snapping over his shoulder, "Come."

She found her heels digging into the spot. The only thing that held a candle to her stubbornness was her inability to take orders. "You truly think you own me?"

He faced her with a bland look. "Yes."

Hate him! "So earlier, when you were fixin' to inform me how things were gonna be, you were basically gonna tell me that I'll be a slave up to the day you end me!"

"In so many words." He began circling her, an eerie prowling that spooked the hell out of her.

So she jutted her chin. "And where exactly will you be sendin' my soul?"

"Sending it? Hmm. Even I don't know where souls go after this existence." Circling, circling. "My only concern is that yours is gone from your body."

"If I don't take myself out before then."

"You won't. I'll use your weakness-your love for your family-to keep you from harming yourself."

"Are you really the kind of man who would kill a defenseless woman and a young boy?" she demanded, though everything about this male screamed that he was.

Holding her gaze, he answered, "I'll do it without hesitation to get what I want. I'll do it with delight if you continue to defy me."

He's an animal . . . so best treat him like one, Ellie. Show no fear.

"Beg me for their lives now, Elizabeth. Plead for them."

With more bravado than she'd ever feigned, she said, "You'd hate me worse than you already do. So I'll do you one better. I'll bargain with you."

"Bargain?" he repeated, seeming intrigued. Then his expression grew shuttered. "Only those with power can bargain. You have none."

"That's where you're wrong. I've prevented Saroya from rising a time or two in the past. I'll steel myself against her even more. I won't sleep or eat. I will think of nothing but how to bury her so deep inside, she won't ever see the light of day." Ellie thought he'd be furious at that.