"It's a club," Francesca explained. "One where Daimons tend to pick off tourists who want to meet real vampires."

Well, didn't that make perfect sense? "What time does he go there?"

Andrei shrugged. "Any time between now and dawn."

"You are just so helpful, Andrei."

"I try to be, Princess."

"And you fail with such panache."

He ignored her sarcasm.

Sighing, Retta looked at Francesca. "I don't suppose I could talk you into just poofing me home again, could I?"

"You don't like to teleport. It makes you queasy. Besides, I thought you didn't like me anymore."

"I'm bordering on it. But you are the only family I have. Good or bad, and right now it's definitely bad. Let me go home and I will forgive you."

"I can't do that, Retta. Sorry. But trust me, this is for your own good."

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Fine then. Come morning, she'd slip away from them one way or another. She looked back at Andrei. "We are one hundred percent sure Velkan won't come to this hotel, right?"

"Oh, I can absolutely guarantee it. He wants nothing to do with your family. He only ventures here once in a blue moon."

That just made her all warm and toasty inside. "Then why do you run this place?"

He grinned at her. "The money. We make a killing on it."

Great, just great. "Whatever. I'm going to bed now. Give me a key and let me put this whole nightmare behind me."

Francesca frowned. "Aren't you hungry?"

"No. I just need to sleep and forget this whole day has happened."

Andrei went behind the counter to sign her in. "Would you like Dracula's Suite?"

Retta narrowed her eyes at him. "Keep pushing, Andrei, and you and I are going to play a game."

"And what game is that, Princess?"

"Find the Ball in My Hand."

He frowned. "I don't see a ball, Princess."

"Oh, you will, just as soon as I snap it off your body."

He flinched.

Francesca laughed. "She's teasing, Andrei. Her bark is always worse than her bite."

Wishing she'd left her friend at home, Retta took the key card from his hand. "Where's the room?"

"Top floor."

Without a word, Retta grabbed her suitcase and headed for the elevator. She got in and turned around to see Francesca and Andrei teasing each other as the doors closed. Pain sliced her heart. How she wished she could have her family back again. She'd adored her two little brothers. They had been one of the greatest joys of her human life. And a twinge of guilt went through her that she'd deprived Francesca of hers. She hated they'd been apart all these centuries.

But that had been Francesca's decision, not hers.

Sighing, she rode the elevator up to the room, and as soon as she pushed open the door she felt the need to go downstairs and hurt Andrei and Raluca. To say the place was tacky would be an insult to tackiness. The suite was large and airy, with blood-red walls that were decorated with every kind of woodcutting imaginable that depicted impalements.

She rolled her eyes as she headed for the bedroom, then stopped dead in her tracks. Unlike the sitting room, this one was done in black, white, and gray and was identical to the bedroom from Bela Lugosi's Dracula, where he'd bitten his fair maiden.

"You people are sick," Retta said, grateful that at least in here there were no reminders of her father.

Setting her suitcase down, she peeled her coat away from her body as she toed off her shoes, then headed for the bed. She'd take a little nap to get the edge off her exhaustion and then she'd see about finding a rental car to get back to the airport. One way or another, she was going to get out of this place and go home.

She pulled the covers back and tucked herself into the large bed that cushioned her like a cloud, and before she knew it, she was sound asleep.

But her sleep was far from peaceful. In her dreams, she could hear her father's voice calling out to her. She could see Velkan delivering the death blow that had ended her father's life as his serpent emblem drifted through her mind, over all the images.

You are the daughter of the dragon… Death to the Danestis.

She came awake with a start. Retta lay silent as she listened to a fierce wind whipping against her windows. But that wasn't what had disturbed her.

She sensed a foreign presence in the room. It was powerful and frightening.

Reacting on pure instinct, she quickly rolled to her feet and struck out at where she sensed the presence. There was nothing there but air.

Now the presence was behind her.

She whirled about to confront the intruder only to find herself face-to-face with the last person she expected.

Velkan.

He stared at her with eyes so black she couldn't even tell where the iris stopped and the pupil began. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a tight black shirt, he wore his long, wavy black hair pulled back into a ponytail. He still had the same sharply chiseled features. The same feral look that announced to the world this was a man who not only could take your life but one who would relish the killing.

God, he was unbelievably sexy. Tall and commanding, he made every part of her warm and breathless. And as she stood toe-to-toe with him, she was tormented by images of being held between those muscular arms while he made love to her. Of being kissed by that perfect mouth. Of fingering the long scar that ran from the outer corner of his left eye to his chin. A scar that in no way detracted from the beauty of that masculine face. If anything it added to it.

She couldn't even think as a wave of pent-up emotions seared her to the spot.

Velkan couldn't breathe as he stared into eyes so blue they reminded him of the summer sky he'd not seen in over five hundred years. The scent of her hung heavy in his nostrils, reminding him of a time when that scent had clung to his body. Her skin was still as pale as a snowy field. Her hair the deep auburn red of a fox.

Not once in all these centuries had he forgotten her beauty. Her scent. The sound of her voice calling out to him.

The sound of her voice cursing him to death.

It was a mistake to be here. He knew it.

Still he was here, staring at a woman he wanted desperately to kiss.

A woman he wanted to kill. He'd given her everything he had and more, and in return she'd spat at him. He hated her for that even as a buried part of him loved her still. He'd lived and died for her. Had died a death no human being should ever have to suffer. And for what? So that she could run from him and deny they'd ever loved each other.

His father had been right. Women were useless outside of the bedroom and only a fool would ever give his heart to one.

"What are you doing in my room?" she breathed, finally breaking the taut silence that was rife with their bitter emotions.

His gut tightened at the sound of her cadent voice that was so similar to what he remembered and at the same time alien. She no longer bore her native accent. Now she sounded like the women in the American TV shows that Viktor watched.

Velkan ached to reach out and touch her, but honestly he didn't trust himself not to choke her if he tried. Anger, lust, and tenderness were at war inside him and he had no idea which of them would ultimately win. But none of it boded well for the woman in front of him.

"I wanted to verify your presence with my own eyes."

She held her arms up in a sarcastic gesture. "Obviously, I'm here."

"Obviously."

She stepped back, her eyes guarded. "Well then, you can leave." She gestured toward the door.

It was hard to stand here when all he wanted to do was pull her into his arms and taste those mocking lips. The air between them was filled with their mutual hatred. Their mutual desire.

He still didn't know how it had come to this. How a man could love a woman so desperately and still want to kill her.

It didn't make sense.

A million thoughts clashed inside his head. He wanted to tell her that he'd missed her. He wanted to tell her that he wished she were dead. That he'd never laid eyes on her.

Most of all, he just wanted to stay here and soak in the beauty of her features until he was drunk on them. You are one sick bastard. This was a woman who'd abandoned him five hundred years ago.

He might not have much in his life, but he did have his dignity. Be damned again if he'd allow her to take that from him. With a curt nod to her, he stepped back and turned toward the window to leave.

"I want a divorce."

Those words stopped him cold. "What?"

"You heard me. I want a divorce."

He laughed bitterly as he looked at her over his shoulder. "As you wish, Princess. But make certain that you take a camcorder to the courthouse, as I would like to see the look on their faces when you present them with our marriage scroll and they note the date of it."

"That's not what I mean," she said coldly. "I want to be free of you. Forever."

Those words tore through him like a hot lance and did twice the damage. Grinding his teeth, he looked out the window, into the black night that had been his only solace all these centuries past. "Then take your freedom and leave. I never want to see your face again."

Retta didn't know why his words shredded her heart, but they did. They even succeeded in bringing tears to her eyes as she watched him turn himself into a bat before he flew through her open windows.

In spite of everything, she wanted to call him back, but her pride wouldn't let her. It was best this way. They would both be free now…

Free for what?

She was still immortal. And no matter how much she hated it, she was still in love with her husband. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she realized the truth. She should never have come back here. Never.

But now it was too late. After all this time, she knew the truth. She loved Velkan. Even with all the lies and the betrayal. He still held her heart captive.

How could she be so stupid?

Closing her eyes, she saw him as he'd been on the day they'd married. It'd been a small monastery in the mountains. For the first time since childhood and in order to honor her, Velkan had laid aside his armor and wore a simple doublet of black velvet. Still unrefined even though he was a prince, he'd left his long hair loose to trail over his shoulders. She'd been dressed in a gown of dark green samite and velvet, trimmed in sable that matched her fur mantle.

It'd been the only time she'd seen him clean-shaven. His dark eyes had scorched her as he stared at her and uttered the words that would bind them together before God.

What she hadn't known then was that Velkan's mother had been a sorceress who'd taught her son well. And while he and Retta had taken holy vows, he'd bound her to him with the darkest of arts.

Without telling her.

What he'd done was unforgivable. So why then did a part of her ache to forgive him?

Retta tilted her head as she heard a light scratching at her door.

"Velkan?" she whispered. Her heart leaped at the prospect of it being him again.

Before she could stop herself, she rushed to the door and opened it. Her jaw dropped at the sight of the last person she'd expected to be there.

Tall and blond, he was a far cry from her darkly sinister husband. And for the first time, she realized he was pale in comparison to the man she'd left behind.

"Stephen? What are you doing here?"

His light blue eyes were filled with sympathy. "My name is not Stephen, Retta. It's Stefan."

Before she could ask him what he meant by that, he blew something into her face.

Retta staggered back as her senses dulled. Everything shifted around her. Reacting on instinct, she kicked her foot out, catching him right between the legs. He doubled over immediately. But as she tried to close her door, her sight went black and she fell to the floor.

Chapter Four

Velkan landed on the balcony of his mansion that overlooked the quiet valley, and shifted back into human form. Five hundred years ago, this place had been accessible by a dirt road that led up the mountainside to his courtyard. It was a road he'd closed and let be overgrown two hundred years ago when he realized how often he watched it, waiting for Esperetta to return.

Now that road was completely covered by brambles and vines as the forest had reclaimed it. The only way to venture here was by flight or teleportation. Two things that helped to keep away anyone who had no business here.

Velkan paused on the carved-stone balcony to look back toward town. He'd already cleared out the Daimons who'd come to town to prey on the tourists and he still had hours before dawn. His house was completely dark and silent in the night. Viktor had chosen to stay at the hotel with his family—no doubt in fear of Velkan's mood.

And the man had every right to be afraid. Velkan didn't like surprises and Esperetta's arrival had definitely qualified as that. The Weres should have told him to expect her. What they'd done was unforgivable to him.




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