"Why would you do this?"

"Because I lost my mate to the hatred of an Order that should have never existed. There's nothing I can do about that, but you two have lost each other because you're both too prideful and stubborn to admit you're wrong."

"How could I ever tru—"

"Velkan!" Raluca snapped in a tone he'd never heard before as she called him by his name.

"You have seen that night through her eyes. It wasn't her fault. You kept the truth of her father from her. You never once let her know as a mortal how demented Vlad was. No one did. To her, he was a decent and caring father. She never saw his brutality. But you… you she saw.

On the night you met, you beheaded a man on top of her. She was just a young woman who'd been sequestered in a convent. Can you imagine the horror of that?"

He looked away as he remembered just how scared Esperetta had been. Her entire body had quaked in his arms the whole way home and she'd been racked with nightmares for months on end. He'd held her in the darkness and sworn to her that he'd never allow anyone else to ever hurt her again.

Until her father had killed her.

But that changed nothing. Esperetta didn't love him and he would never expose himself to that kind of pain again. "You ask more than I can give."

"Very well, but know this. The princess hasn't left your side since you were brought here. She could have tried to escape us, but she hasn't. She's stood watch over you like a lioness guarding her pride. And for five hundred years I have sacrificed my daughter and her happiness to watch over Esperetta for you. I've had enough of that. If the princess leaves, she leaves alone."

"I forbid it."


"I am your servant, my lord. My daughter isn't. If you want the princess guarded, then I suggest you do it yourself."

Velkan gaped at her words. She'd never spoken to him like this. Never once. "You're not serious."

"Oh, but I am. Francesca isn't getting any younger and I want grandchildren. It's time she was free to find her mate. You threw yours away by choice. Francesca should at least have the chance to be so stupid, no?"

He honestly had no response to that. What could he say? He was a fool. But how could he put aside the centuries?

How could you not?

"You lie there, Prince, in your bed alone. I'm going to book a flight out for the princess. She's a big girl. We'll let her find her own way in the world." And with that Raluca left him alone.

"Good riddance," he said sullenly under his breath, but even as the words left him, he knew better. He couldn't allow Esperetta to leave here. Not while the Order was out there. She wasn't strong enough to protect herself from them.

They were a cunning bunch.

He would simply go to her and…

Beg her to stay.

He flinched at the voice in his head. He'd never begged for anything—not even mercy while her father had tortured him. He would order her to stay. And she would… laugh in his face most likely.

You'll have to beg.

"Then she can leave." But he knew better than that. In fact, he was already stepping out of his bed. His emotions torn, he quickly dressed in a pair of pants and a loose-fitting button-down shirt.

As he started for the door, it swung open and almost hit him. Aghast, he watched as Andrei and Viktor entered with a large trunk between them. Esperetta followed them into the room.

He was baffled as they placed the trunk at the foot of his bed. "What is this?"

The men didn't answer. In fact, they refused to meet his gaze as they hastened from his room.

"There's another trunk that needs to be moved, too," Esperetta told them.

Viktor cringed as he looked at Velkan, then nodded. "Yes, Princess."

"What trunk?" Velkan asked, stepping closer to his wife.

"My trunk. I'm moving in."

"In where?"

"My room. Here."

Completely stunned and flabbergasted, he opened and closed his mouth, unable to speak.

Esperetta walked over to him and placed her finger on his chin before she closed his mouth.

"I know you don't trust me, but tough shit."

He would have gaped again at her profanity had her hand not prevented it.

"This is my home and you're my husband. I made a mistake and for that I'm sorry, but I'm through being an idiot."

He pulled back from her. "Dark-Hunters can't be married."

"Well then, someone should have told Artemis before she made her bargain with you and brought me back to life, huh? You were created as a married Dark-Hunter. I hardly think they can complain now."

She did have a point about that.


She ended his words with a kiss.

Velkan growled as she explored every inch of his mouth and buried one hand in his hair.


"No," she said, tightening her grip in his hair. "I won't hear any protests from you."

He laughed at that. "I wasn't protesting. I only wanted to say welcome home."

Retta drew her breath in sharply at his words. "Really?"

He nodded, but even so she could tell that he didn't truly believe her. But at least he was allowing her to stay. It was a start, and it was one that gave her hope.

The door opened again as Viktor and Andrei brought in the next trunk. They paused in the doorway.

"Should we come back later?" Andrei asked.

"Yes," Velkan said, his voice thick. "And take your time about it."

The men reversed course.

Retta laughed until Velkan kissed her again. Yeah, this was what she needed, at least until he pulled back and glanced at the trunk. "You didn't arrive here with trunks."

She bit her lip sheepishly. "It's symbolic," she confessed. "They're actually empty." Then she frowned as she realized he was dressed. "Where were you going?"

"No place."

She arched a brow at that as a sneaking suspicion went through her. "No?"

She saw him hesitate before he spoke in a deep, emotionally charged voice. "I was going to find you and ask you to stay."


He nodded. "I don't want you to leave, Esperetta."

"You're willing to trust me then?"

He hedged. "Well…"


He kissed her lips, melting her anger. "I will trust you, but only if you swear to never leave here again."

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and met that dark gaze levelly. "I will only leave if you're with me. Promise." Then she rubbed the tip of her nose against his before she met his lips and sealed that promise with a scorching kiss.


In all the centuries, Velkan had never bothered with the Order. He'd left them alone to run amok without his interference. But all that was about to end.

They'd threatened Esperetta and had almost killed her. Now that he had his wife back, he wasn't about to let anyone take her from him again.

Without preamble, he used his powers to open the door to Dieter's home. Velkan strode through the doorway as if he owned it. Dieter and Stephen looked up with a gasp, as did five other men.

And before Velkan could move, an arrow was shot at his chest. He caught it in his fist and tossed it to the floor. "Don't even try that again," he snarled.

"W-what are you doing here?" Dieter said as a fine sheet of sweat appeared on his forehead.

Velkan pinned each member there with a hostile glare that should adequately cow them. "I'm here to bury the proverbial ax. Where exactly I bury it is entirely up to you. Either we can bury it in the ground and let bygones be bygones or I can bury it in the heart and head of every one of you here. Either way, the persecution of my wife and her friend stops now."

Dieter stiffened. "You don't come in here and order us about."

Velkan shot a blast that knocked him off his feet. "Be smart. Take the out I'm offering you. I promised Esperetta that I wouldn't be a barbarian anymore. So I'm trying to be civilized about this and let you live even though the warlord inside me would rather I bathe in all your entrails."

"We are sworn—"

"Save it," Velkan snapped, cutting Dieter off. "I was one of the members of this Order five hundred years ago and I know the oath you've all taken. And I've taken a new one. The next man or beast who threatens my wife or my servants will not live to regret that stupidity. Is that understood?"

He waited until each man had nodded.

Velkan took a deep breath. "Good. Now that we have an accord, I'll leave you in peace."

Turning toward the door, Velkan caught sight of something from the corner of his eye.

Before he could react, a single gunshot rang out.

He snapped his head toward a corner of the room where Esperetta stood with Raluca, Francesca, Viktor, and Andrei.

Esperetta was holding the gun in her hands. Her eyes were narrowed on the men in the room. "Anyone else want to try and go for my husband's back?"

Velkan looked to see Dieter lying on the floor with a single gunshot in his chest. Stunned, Velkan met Esperetta's gaze.

She didn't speak as she moved forward to take his hand while the wolves stood their ground. "Gentlemen," she said quietly. "I think most of you have met Illie's family and I believe they'd like a word with you. Alone."

Stephen came to his feet. "Retta…"

"Save it, Stephen. You already told me what I needed to know."

Velkan wasn't sure what he should do, but as Esperetta pulled him from the house, he followed. And as soon as the door was closed behind him, he heard the screams of the men.

He stared in stunned awe of his wife. "I thought you wanted them spared."

"I'm not the girl you married, Velkan. I'm a woman who now understands the way the world works. They wouldn't have stopped coming for us. Ever. Frankie and her family owed a blood debt for what the Order did to her father. I say bon appétit." She stepped into his arms and placed a chaste kiss to his cheek. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For trying to be a gentleman when I know it had to go against every part of your nature."

He took the gun from her hand and threw it into the woods before he cupped her face in his hands. "For you, Esperetta, anything."

She gave him a speculative look. "Anything?"


"Then come and get naked with me. Right now."

Velkan laughed before he kissed her lightly on the lips. And for the first time in his life, he gladly submitted to someone else's orders. "As you wish, Princess."

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