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Forbidden Love--Lycans and Vampires do not mate.
When Eve, a beautiful vampire, journeys to King Drago's castle, she doesn't expect the contempt and dislike the king shows her. He wants her off his royal grounds because he doesn't want to place his people in harm's way with her vile thirst. Vampires are evil, he says, ruled by the devil, feeding off innocents to survive. Eve doesn't care what he thinks. She has arrived at his castle for one reason. She wants her daughter.
Drago, a two-hundred-year-old Lycan King, cannot explain the lust heating his loins for this undead beauty. She has the face of an angel, yet she splays her sword like a warrior and fights like his best royal guard. In time, it is more than her beauty and fighting skills that interests him. It is her courage and bravery, her compassion and honour that makes him realise he may have done her a great injustice calling her evil. He soon discovers he is lusting after her like no other because she is his one, his soul mate. How can that be? He knows of no Lycan in existence who has ever claimed a vampire.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Anastasia Maltezos
Cover art by Martine Jardin
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Lycan Legend Two
To Leah, Chloe and Olivia.
The royal guard's face darkened with annoyance. "Wait here," he said and pushed the massive door in her face.
Eve released an impatient breath and stared at the ornate knocker. It was made entirely of gold and fashioned into the shape of a wolf baring its jaws. She grimaced beneath her covering.
The sun was strong and she kept her face down, lifting her gloved hands to secure the hood around her head. She prayed she didn't have to wait long. Her stomach clenched with hunger at the sweet, intoxicating scent of blood around her.
Focus, she told herself. Don't do anything stupid. She gritted her teeth and tried to block the scents around her, but it was so hard. After four hundred years, it wasn't any easier fighting the urge to feed off innocent humans, but she would rather die than give in to her vile thirst.
"Momma, why is that woman dressed like that? Isn't she hot?" a child a few paces behind her asked.
Eve knew she stood out like a sore thumb wearing her black cloak, covering her from head to toe, but it was either that, or burn to a crisp, another hellish side effect to immortality.
"Hush. Stop staring at her," a woman said.
She pursed her lips. If the King didn't come soon, she was going to knock down the massive, brass door and find him herself. For a split second, she was tempted to do just that, but common sense prevailed. She didn't want to start a war.
Grimacing, she tried blocking the scents pummelling her senses.
After she accomplished what she came for, she would feed.
* * * *
King Drago narrowed his gaze on his two royal guards, Nolan and Falk, entering the Great Hall. "Well, what do you have to report?" he asked Falk, not bothering to hide his impatience. "Does she remember?"
"Nay, Your Highness, she does not."
He swore roughly under his breath. "We need to know where Balkathan is hiding his pack. Tell Hesta I need results--now!" he growled.
"The healer said she is doing everything she can," Falk said.
"Tell her she's not doing enough! Go! And don't return unless you have good news."
Drago stared at his guard's retreating and clenched his jaw. For three weeks they couldn't get anything out of Katya. Three weeks! She was the only person who knew where Balkathan's lair was hidden and he feared her madness that was causing her memory loss was incurable.
He growled at his remaining guard, Nolan. "What is it? And it better not be bad news."
"There is a visitor at the front gate. She says it's imperative she speaks with you, Your Highness."
"Tell her to go away," he commanded.
"I told her you were busy, but she refuses to leave."
"Who is she?"
Nolan frowned. "She wouldn't give me her name and I couldn't see her face. She is covered from head to toe in a black garment."
"Is she as mad as our guest? The sun is strong today." Drago released an exasperated breath. "Damnation! Has all my staff lost their competencies? First Hesta and now you?"
"Forgive me, Your Highness, but she is very persistent. She said she would camp at the door and would not leave until she saw you."
Drago frowned irritably, his ire now directed at the faceless woman. "Does she want coin? Give it to her! I have no time for this."
"Nay, Your Highness, she said it is not charity she seeks."
"Damn her." He'd better see her and be done with her. He rose abruptly from his throne and glowered at his guard. "I'll give the wench one minute and then you can escort her off the castle grounds by force if necessary."
"Aye, Your Highness."
With Nolan following him brusquely at his side, Drago strode from the Great Hall down a corridor to the main entrance. He nodded at his two guards flanking the doors. Nolan opened one of the massive doors and Drago stared at the woman facing him. He frowned, trying to see her face. Nolan was right. She was completely covered. He furrowed his brow, wondering what kind of person cloaked herself under this blistering sun.
"Your Highness," she greeted. "Thank you for seeing me."
Even though her voice was calm, he detected a thread of annoyance beneath it. He deepened his frown. "What is your name?"
"And what is so important you wanted to see me about, Eve?"
"May I come inside?" She paused. "I don't like the sun."
That was evident, he thought, trying to see past the dark hood covering her face. He stepped aside and she entered his main hall. Her scent drifted around him and he stiffened violently, clenching his jaw. His animal's response to her feminine essence brought an involuntary rush of heat in his loins. His blood stirred and he cursed his aroused wolf.
"I'm here to take my daughter away," she began without preamble, turning towards him as she pushed back the dark hood covering her head. "I believe she is your prisoner." She removed her black cloak and flung it on the back of a chair.
Shocked, he flared his nostrils and inhaled sharply. It wasn't her words that stunned him--it was her face. She was a great beauty, with long, dark hair and blue eyes, but even that wasn't what had him transfixed. It was her skin. It had an ethereal glow that looked almost other worldly. He tore his gaze from her face and looked down at her attire. She was dressed in tight, black warrior garb with weapons attached to her waist and legs, which included daggers, a gilded sword and wooden stakes. By the Gods, was she ready for battle? He narrowed his gaze on her face.
Her piercing, blue eyes held him captive and for a moment, he felt bewitched. "Katya is your daughter," he said slowly, unable to see any resemblance. Remarkably, this woman didn't even seem old enough to have a full grown daughter. She looked barely older than his son who was away on his honeymoon.
"You are mistaken, Eve. Katya is hardly a prisoner. She has her own chambers and is free to walk the grounds."
Her mouth tensed. "My daughter walks the grounds with royal guards, Your Highness and you post a guard at her chamber door. As I said, she is your prisoner." She pursed her lips. "Where is she? I wish to see her now. You have no right to keep her here. She has committed no crime."
He stiffened in response to her tone. She sounded like she was issuing an order and he didn't take orders from anyone. "When was the last time you saw her?"
"Two years ago."
"Do you know what's become of her since then?"
"Yes," she replied as she tugged off her gloves and tossed them on her cloak that was slung over the chair. "She was bitten and turned by a werewolf two years ago. Since then, Balkathan has kept her prisoner in his harem. She escaped his lair a few weeks ago, travelled to your kingdom and you have kept her here against her will since then." She raised a delicately winged brow. "Will that do, Your Highness?"
A flash of annoyance coursed through his veins. Great beauty or not, her arrogance was beginning to irritate the hell out of him. More astounding was she mentioned the word werewolf as though she mentioned the weather. There was no fear on her face, no alarm, nothing. He stared at her expression and couldn't believe how composed she appeared.
"Do you know your daughter is not well? She is quite mad and suffers memory loss. We have been trying to help her."
"By locking her up? Do you think herbs, oils and teas are going to cure her?"
"She is being well taken care of. Hesta is the best healer in the land."
"Perhaps for human ailments--coughs, colds, aches. My daughter needs a powerful cure." Her expression hardened. "If you don't mind, I will see her now and we'll be on our way."
His patience snapped. "You cannot take her away. She has information we need. Besides, Balkathan will make attempts on her life and the only safe place for her is here in my castle."
Her expression went cold. "Do you really think your paltry band of Lycan guards can protect her from Balkathan's fleet of monsters?"
He clenched his fists at his sides. She knew what they were! He growled, narrowing his gaze on her and took a threatening step towards her. Irritated, he noted she did not retreat, but stood her ground, glaring up at him. Was this woman fearless, or was she as mad as her daughter? Mad, he decided because no one dared challenge him.
"How do you know of us?" he growled. "It is a secret we have guarded for two hundred years. You are not a Lycan. If you were, I would sense you."
"There are other immortals, Your Highness, immortals with powers more formidable than your strength and speed."
He grimaced, running his gaze over her face. There was only one other immortal race. No! She couldn't be. He detested her kind. It was a reviled race who drank the blood of innocents. A race ruled by the devil. They didn't look like her. She had the face of an angel.
"You are a vampire," he said hoarsely. He cursed his attraction to her, realising with disgust, the heat in his loins was still present. Apparently, knowing what she was hadn't lessened his lust for her.
"Yes, I am a vampire," she said. "And you are a Lycan. We're both monsters, so you can wipe that repulsive look from your face."
"Insolent woman!" His blood rushed to his face as he fought his inner beast roaring for escape. "Vampires are vile creatures who drink human blood for survival. You will leave this place at once. I will not have you harm my people to quench your bloody thirst."
His body went still as her cold expression slowly disappeared. He frowned, detecting a bleak and despairing look cloud her eyes. Her gaze wavered and he watched her lower lip quiver. An air of vulnerability surrounded her and he felt a sudden jab of discomfort. Had he hurt her feelings? An involuntary rush of guilt ran through his frame, giving him pause.
Grimacing, he snapped out of it. She was one of the undead, with no heart, no soul and Lycans were not supposed to feel sorry for Vampires.
* * * *
Eve swallowed hard and tried to stop her insecurities from surfacing. She didn't need the king to tell her she was a vile creature. She already knew that and had lived with the self-loathing for four hundred years.
Even feeding off animals enough to sustain her life and leaving them unharmed didn't change how she felt about herself.
"I only want my daughter. Have no fear for your people's safety."
His dark gaze narrowed. "How do I know that? Vampires have no control over their thirst and they feed on anyone, including infants and children."
"You'll have to trust me."
"Trust a vampire? I think not."
Eve stiffened. "My only goal coming here is to take Katya away. My vampire blood has a healing effect. One drop will cure her madness. So, if you don't mind, I would like to see her now."
"How do I know anything you've told me is the truth? What if you're an assassin sent by Balkathan to kill Katya? He wants her dead because she knows where he hides his lair." He ran an insolent, dark gaze over her. "You don't even look old enough to have a full grown daughter."
Angry and frustrated, Eve had had enough and she snapped!
* * * *
She moved so fast, all he saw was a blur. She sprung towards him and pulled his silver dagger from his waist, drawing it up to his neck. She bared her fangs and hissed up at his face, her eyes glowing red. "Proof enough I mean you no harm? If I did, you and your two guards behind me would already be dead. Now show me to my daughter!"
Drago raised a sharp hand to his guards. They were shifting, preparing to attack her and he growled at them to stop. "At ease!"
They grunted their response, reverting to their human form and Drago glared down at the undead beauty. "Your arrogance is astounding, wench. Men have been killed for lesser attempts on my life."
She tucked her incisors away and calmly handed him his dagger. "As I said, I mean you no harm." She took a step back and drew in a slow breath, releasing it as though all her energies were spent. "Please. I'm growing weary of this cat and mouse. I get it. You hate me because I'm a vampire." Her gaze flickered as though momentarily disturbed by some internal thought.
Drago's anger slowly evaporated as he watched her expression change. Was that sadness he detected?
"Well, I hate me, too," she said woodenly, "so let's move past this to a more important issue--my daughter. I can help her remember where Balkathan's lair is."
"How?" he asked. Curiously, he was more interested by what she'd said about hating herself. Hadn't he hated himself two hundred years ago when his castle had been attacked by Balkathan's army and he'd been turned?
"I can go into her thoughts. Vampires read minds and I can find her memories buried beneath her madness," she said quietly. "Please. Do we have a truce? We both want the same thing, the wellbeing of my daughter. I want to take her away with me and you want to know where Balkathan's lair is."
She was right. They did want the same thing. Katya's madness cured. He remained silent, staring at her.
He would be lying to himself if he didn't admit she intrigued him. She was powerful and arrogant, but there was something else he was beginning to discover about her that left him unsettled. For the first time, he sensed her sorrow, her pain. A small part of him deep inside stirred and reawakened. He understood that pain.
Clenching his jaw fiercely, he ordered harshly, "Follow me."
Eve stared at his massive frame as she followed him, his two guards directly behind her. She didn't blame them for walking so close at her heels. After all, she had pointed a silver dagger on the king's neck.
She flicked her gaze over Drago's impressive form and admired his arrogant and confidant stride. He was over six feet by a head, his royal tunic accentuating his chiseled arms, along with his flat, trim abdomen and his long muscular legs. The man was huge and she could only imagine how ferocious he must look in his Lycan form.
She was certain he was going to shift after she had pressed the dagger to his neck, but he hadn't so much as budged. All he'd done was stare down at her with a curious mixture of shock and annoyance on his face. She stared at the back of his head. His hair was black and looked like he'd spent the better part of the morning running an agitated hand through it.
She couldn't deny he was a handsome man and it had taken all her efforts to ignore his thrilling presence. She'd almost forgotten she wasn't human and had actually felt something. She pushed her disturbing thoughts away and glared at his back. Hadn't he called her a vile creature? That was hardly a comment from a man who found a woman attractive.
Drago stopped and turned around. "Katya's chamber is at the end of this corridor."
Abruptly, he turned away and strode down the hall before she could say a word. Eve scrunched her lips, trying to ignore the thick energy between them. She'd sensed it the moment she'd greeted him at the door.
Lycans were mating predators and she was starting to feel the effect of his beast's energy. She couldn't wait to take Katya and get the hell out of here.
She scowled. A mere gaze from his black eyes was all it took to produce nervous flutters in her stomach. She'd never felt this powerful attraction for any of the lovers she had taken the past four hundred years, not even for Caleb. At the thought of Katya's father, she immediately sobered.
He was a kind and gentle man who died too soon.
She inhaled slowly, knowing he was better off dead than living her hellish existence.
Drago stopped in front of a massive door and she pushed her disturbing thoughts aside. The royal guard standing next to the door opened it and the king stepped aside for Eve to pass. She gave the guard a cold look and then raised a brow at Drago. His mouth tensed. Satisfied that she had made her silent point that her daughter was more prisoner than guest, she walked into the room and looked around. She grimaced with pain as she stepped into a beam of sunlight. She snatched her seared hand back into the shadows and groaned.
"Can you…can you close the drapes?" she asked Drago. The agonizing throb on her thumb ebbed and she gritted her teeth, waiting for the pain to subside. Dammit, why wasn't she more careful? She had to pay more attention to her surroundings.
His dark gaze dropped to her hand and he strode to the windows and dragged the thick drapes together. Then he went to the dresser and lit the brass candelabra.
With grim determination on his face, he strode to her side and took her hand, his touch surprisingly gentle. She held her breath, staring up at him. He inspected the small scar forming on her thumb and she saw something wild leap at the back of his eyes.
"Will it go away?" he asked roughly.
"No. Vampires are severely allergic to the sun. We scar forever. And if our entire body is in direct sunlight for a lengthy period of time, we…" she paused, "burn."
A sound from the corner of the room drew her attention and she gasped, watching her daughter coming out of an adjoining chamber. Her scar completely forgotten, she stared at Katya and froze.
She looked terrible! Not the lovely beauty Eve remembered, but a gaunt woman with dark circles under hollow eyes and listless, long brown hair. Eve's heart thudded in her breast. Dear God, what happened to her child!
Katya muttered beneath her breath. "Dammit! Get off me!" She brought her hands up and dragged her nails along her cheeks and neck, leaving long, red scratches.
Eve let out a strangled sob and rushed to her side. "No!"
Her daughter turned and stared at her. "Who are you?"
Eve froze. There was no recognition in Katya's eyes and for the first time Eve was frightened. She saw the scratches on Katya's neck and face fade and she swallowed hard. "It's me, your mother. Dear God, what's happened to you," she said shakily. "Oh my God! My baby."
"My mother is dead. Is this a joke?" Katya threw Drago a dark look. "What are you up to?"
Eve snapped her gaze to Drago, but he wasn't looking at Katya. He was looking at her. "It appears you have a problem," he said quietly.
Her eyes burned with tears and she stiffened at the brief flash of pity she saw on his face. Angrily, she brought her hand up to her face and wiped an errant tear.
She turned to her daughter. "No, I don't have a problem," she said firmly. "I haven't spent two years looking for her to give up now." She gritted her teeth. She knew what she had to do and she wasn't looking forward to it. Going into another's mind was exhausting. Worse, she hated it because she was violating them.
Yet, in this instance, she had no choice. She had to see for herself what was going on in Katya's mind. Faster than a bolt of lightning streaking the sky, she sprung to her daughter and grabbed her face. Katya growled, her eyes turning amber and Eve knew she was beginning to shift, but it was too late. Eve had already locked into her mind and had sedated her before she could shift. She heard Drago suck in a harsh breath.
"Your Highness, how does she do that?" the guard standing by the door asked. "I've never seen anyone move so fast."
"Quiet," Drago ordered. "And stand guard! Her speed is no match for Katya's strength, so be prepared to attack if Katya shifts."
Eve wanted to tell him her daughter was under too deep of a trance to even bat an eye, but she refrained. She needed to concentrate and dig past the mayhem she was encountering in Katya's mind.
She saw images dancing in her mind's eye--all of herself in her daughter's memories-- embracing Katya, playing with her, brushing her hair, kissing her goodnight. She also observed other images of Eve teaching Katya the art of combat, showing her how to wield a sword and how to use a bow and arrow.
Eve's eyes stung with tears, but she kept on, pressing further into her daughter's mind as she remembered the night Balkathan's army attacked them.
Their village never stood a chance. Eve swallowed hard, ignoring the searing pain in her head as the memory resurfaced.
She told Katya she wouldn't be long as she went into the nearby woods to feed, but by the time she'd returned, she'd seen the bloody aftermath of Balkathan's attack. Villagers lay dead with their throats torn while all the houses burned with raging fires. A few remaining Lycans stayed behind, destroying what was left of the village and she attacked them as her heart raced with real fear.
Where was Katya?
The five remaining Lycans had been no match for her. She was a four-hundred-year-old vampire who had survived many wars, had fought many battles. She threatened the last surviving Lycan with a slow painful death if he didn't tell her where Balkathan had taken his prisoners.
The Lycan had laughed cruelly. "It's too late, demon bitch. All the prisoners have been turned. The men are going to his army barracks and the women will serve in his harem."
Before he could say another word, Eve had plunged her silver dagger into his chest. She searched for Katya frantically that night, amidst the debris and smoke and dead bodies, but couldn't find her.
Despair and fear filled her as she realised her daughter was one of the prisoners. Her daughter's beauty was unmatched and Eve realised with dread only a fool wouldn't place her in his harem--and Balkathan was no fool.
Eve inhaled sharply, opening her eyes as she stared at Katya's serene expression. She closed her eyes again and went deeper into her daughter's mind. She saw the suffering her daughter had endured in Balkathan's lair--the torture, the repeated rapes from Balkathan's wolves. Eve felt sick and dug deeper to see if Balkathan had raped her daughter. He hadn't. She almost sagged with relief.
The other women in the harem had accepted their fate, but Katya had fought back, bravely and courageously until the rapes had stopped and Balkathan had sent her to isolation in a dark and filthy place. Katya was starved. She wasn't allowed to bathe. She was given hardly any water to drink. In addition, her cell was filled with night crawlers of all kinds--crickets, worms, ants. A rage grew in Eve's stomach, rising to her breast, choking her. She wanted to kill that demon bastard for what he'd done!
No wonder her daughter had gone mad.
Slowly, she retreated from Katya's mind, placing her deeper in sleep at the same time. When she withdrew completely, she looked over her shoulder to the guard. "Help me put her in bed," she said huskily.
The guard rushed forward and lifted Katya in his arms while Eve drew back the covers. He laid her down and she covered her daughter. She blinked rapidly, refusing to cry as she stared at the sleeping woman who was once a happy, vibrant beauty with her whole life ahead of her.
Eve bent down and kissed Katya on the forehead, whispering, "I love you." She straightened, drawing in a long, shaky breath.
"Are you all right?" Drago asked deeply.
She gasped and spun around. He was standing directly behind her, his expression unreadable except for the telltale muscle working along his jaw.
She didn't respond as she removed her dagger from her belt and slit her wrist. Drago cursed roughly and grabbed her hand. He pressed his palm on her cut.
She looked up at his handsome face darkening with concern. "You're confusing me for a mortal woman," she said coldly. "I am neither, not mortal, nor a woman. I'm a vile creature, remember? Let me go."
His mouth was grim as he let go of her hand and she turned to her daughter. Leaning over her, Eve placed her wrist on her daughter's mouth and let a few droplets of blood touch her lips. Katya murmured in her sleep and her tongue flicked over her lips, licking the blood. Satisfied, Eve drew back.
"Go get Hesta," Drago ordered his guard. "Quick! Tell her she must stitch a cut."
"It's not necessary," Eve said. She lifted her wrist and they both watched her wound slowly fade and disappear. "It will take my daughter a day before her madness disappears. I've made sure she sleeps the whole time. She'll be ravenous when she awakens, so you must make sure there is plenty for her to eat." She stepped away from him. "I will take my leave now." She then went for the door.
"The housekeeper will prepare a chamber for you," he said abruptly.
She turned to look at him. "I won't be staying."
"Where do you think you're going? You must be here when your daughter awakens."
"I must go."
"You don't strike me as the kind of woman who gives up."
Her eyes welled with tears and she inhaled sharply. "I haven't given up," she said. "I know where Balkathan hides and I'm going to his lair to kill him."
Without saying another word, she left Katya's chambers. Drago cursed roughly and followed her into the corridor, grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. Her expression was defiant as she glared up at him. Her eyes welled up and a tear rolled down her cheek. She brushed it away furiously.
"You can't stop me," she said on a rising sob.
Drago's heart thudded in his chest. He understood her pain. Wouldn't he want to rip the limbs from anyone who harmed his son? "How do you propose to get past all his Lycan and vampire soldiers? It's suicide."
"I'd rather die than stand by and let him get away with what he did to my daughter."
"Balkathan deserves to die, but nothing will be accomplished if you march into his hideout without an army. The attack will require planning, strategy."
Her face quivered and his heart slowly thawed. He wished he could erase what he imagined were horrifying scenes from her mind when she'd gone into her daughter's thoughts, but he couldn't. For the first time in his life he felt helpless.
"Drago, my daughter was raped. Repeatedly. She was starved and beaten and…" Her face crumbled.
He was unmanned. Grimacing, he gathered her tightly in his arms and held her close to his chest. "I'm sorry, Eve," he said quietly. "I'm very sorry."
Even though she stiffened against his chest, he was surprised she didn't struggle out of his arms. He rested his head gently on the top of her head, tightening his hold around her. Slowly, his compassion faded as a more significant development arose.
In her tight warrior garb, he felt every contour of her body…the sultry curve of her hips, her firm breasts and her small waist. He stiffened. He knew it was comfort she wanted and if he kept holding her body against his, like this, it was more than comfort he was going to give her. He gritted his teeth. It was that damn leather outfit she was wearing. He fought his aroused wolf. Gently, he pushed her away and stared down at her pale face.
"I want nothing more than to plunge my own silver into that demon's chest," he said, "but Balkathan's army is huge. Bigger than my Lycan guards. To destroy him, we need to take him by surprise. My son is returning from his honeymoon in a few days. Twenty of my finest guards are with him. When they return, we will attack and I promise you, we will avenge your daughter. The best time to attack will be during the day when his vampires are asleep. It will lessen the numbers against us."
"I've travelled under sunlight before."
He took her hand and showed her the scar on her thumb. "A mere sunbeam scarred you. If something should happen and you're exposed to the sun, you will die. I will not allow that to happen, Eve." The thought of her burning to a crisp shook him and for the first time in two hundred years, fear pulsed through his frame. The realisation stunned him.
"I'm already dead, Your Highness," she said, her eyes dimming with regret.
Suddenly, something tight inside of him unraveled and before he knew what he was doing, he grabbed her shoulders and dragged her into his arms. He silenced her gasp with his mouth on hers and he kissed her. Shock reverberated through his frame. Her lips weren't cold and lifeless. They were warm and soft, their touch inciting a fire within him he thought long extinct. He gathered her body close to his and a rush of heat flared through his veins.
She tasted sweet and he deepened his kiss, moving his mouth hungrily over hers. This was madness. He wanted to taste all of her. He released a low groan and slid his hands over her bottom, pressing her body against his erection. Damnation, was she bewitching him with her vampire magic? She must be, he thought, because he desired her like no other. He hadn't meant to kiss her. He just wanted to prove to her that she was still a woman capable of feeling. Somehow that reasoning flew out the window the moment his lips touched hers. Now all he wanted to do was take her upstairs to his bedchambers and make love to her.
He cursed his inexplicable lust for her. Lycans did not mate with Vampires.
He dragged his mouth from hers and pushed her away from him. "If you were dead," he said, his breathing laboured, "your heart wouldn't race as it does now."
Her expression shifted, the passion he'd seen on her face disappearing. "I felt nothing. As you just mentioned, Lycans do not mate with Vampires."
Realisation hit him in the gut and he growled. "You went into my thoughts."
"I didn't mean to," she said. "It just happened. Besides, what harm is there when we both agree. This is madness."
Having her agree didn't sit well with him. "You lie. Your response to me was real."
"A very small remnant of my human self." Her face hardened and she went back to being the cold, undead beauty. "Balkathan's lair is a three day's ride from here. In bandit territory, behind the waterfall below Mount Trotus. That settles our deal. I will be leaving with my daughter after sunset." She turned away from him.
He knew he should let her leave, but for the life of him, he couldn't let her go. "Don't go." He clenched his jaw, realising what he was going to say next was ludicrous. He barely knew her, dammit, and she was a vampire. "Stay here with your daughter. I can offer you both a home, security, protection."
"Thank you, but I don't need anyone to protect me."
"Then stay for a few days, until your daughter has completely recovered."
She remained silent and he could tell she was thinking this through carefully. He also knew she loved her daughter very much and would think of Katya's comfort before her own.
"All right," she finally said. "I'll stay until Katya is well enough to travel."
He nodded, disturbed by the extent of his relief. "Follow me," he said.
He'd wanted to ask her so many questions about herself. When did she turn into a vampire? If she had a daughter, where was her husband?
Yet he refrained. He needed to keep his distance from her. In the short time he spent with her, he went from loathing her because she was a vampire to understanding she was a woman whose demons ran deep and there was also that small matter that she made his blood boil to distraction.
He had to stop it before he lost control.
* * * *
As she strode beside him down the long corridor, her thoughts kept going to their embrace. She didn't know if she should be disappointed or offended that he'd thought it was insane to kiss her. Yet, he was right. Vampires and Lycans did not mate. Could she fault him for thinking the obvious?
She had had lovers the past four hundred years, but none of those men occupied her thoughts as much as Drago did. She didn't understand her attraction to him and she wasn't about to analyse their connection. Vampires didn't have happily ever-afters, only eternal hell. The Lycans were the lucky ones because they stood at chance at love. Legend was there was one mate for every Lycan. She thought about her daughter and wished Katya would find her one, her soul mate.
He stopped in front of a door and opened it, moving aside to let her enter. She walked past him, her shoulder briefly skimming his massive chest, and she tensed, hurrying to get inside.
The room's lovely décor stilled her thoughts and she looked up in surprise at Drago's face. She couldn't tell what he was feeling or thinking because his face was etched in granite. "This chamber is too extravagant. I can sleep with my daughter in her room."
"Not until I know she's cured. You'll be safe here."
"My daughter would never harm me."
"She is a Lycan, Eve. Her strength is greater than yours and until she remembers who you are, you will stay here." He pointed to a small door in the corner. "That is your bath chambers. Lena will be your personal maid. If there is anything you require, let her know." He pointed to the white drapes covering the windows. "Those drapes will remain closed and this candelabra will be sufficient to light your room. Dinner will be served after sundown."
"I don't eat."
His mouth thinned. "Perhaps you can join me just the same?"
The less time she spent with him, the better, she thought. "I appreciate the offer, but I prefer to remain here in my chambers."
He narrowed his gaze on her. "Do you have any belongings that need to be brought in?" His gaze fell on her daggers and stakes strapped to her body. "Or anymore weapons?" he asked dryly.
"A horse that needs tending to?"
"No." She didn't think this was the time to tell him exactly how she travelled. "I'll just take a bath and retire for a few hours before the evening. I haven't slept in two days and I usually sleep during the day."
"As you wish," he said brusquely.
He was going for the door, when she realized something. "Wait!"
Slowly he turned and stared at her with his dark, brooding gaze.
"I just wanted to say thank you for looking after my daughter. She's all I have left and I'm deeply grateful to you, Your Highness."
He remained silent for the longest time as he stared at her. "Call me Drago," he finally said. "And you're welcome."
She remained lost in thought, seated on the edge of the bed for a long time after he left. She brought her hand up to her lips, remembering their kiss. Something inside her had stirred and awakened and a wave of emotions washed over her. Confusion, passion, fear. She could still feel his warm, sensual mouth on hers, his hard muscles pressing against her body.
Angrily, she rose from the edge of the bed and began removing her weapons. She had survived four hundred years because she had never let her heart rule her head. Warriors didn't let their guard down, ever.
Lycans did not mate with Vampires, Drago had thought.
Frowning, she pushed her thoughts of him away and ignored the little voice in her head that said she was far more interested in the king than she dared to admit.
She woke up late afternoon and tried to go back to sleep. After tossing and turning a few minutes, she got out of bed, releasing a frustrated sigh. She hated getting up when it was still daylight outside. She could tell by the sun's glow filtering in from the thick, white drapes it was sunny outside.
What was the use? She couldn't leave the castle and enjoy the beautiful afternoon. The only thought that gave her any sense of happiness was she would see her daughter soon.
Eve's worry about Katya returned. Her sleep had been restless thinking about her daughter and more than she cared to admit, thoughts of Drago, too.
Well there was nothing she could do now but wait until the sun set.
After washing in the bath chambers, she got dressed and left her weapons on her chair. She'd strap them on later when the sun went down. She had no use for them now, sitting in her chambers, waiting for the night to come.
She was a good ten stories up and her vampire hearing picked up the busy sounds from the courtyard below through the open window. Reaching for her cloak, she put it on and tucked her head in the hood, making sure no skin was exposed. She reached for her gloves and slipped them on. Once she felt secure, she went to her window and drew the drapes aside.
She breathed in the fresh, crisp air and looked down. Below she saw guards tending to their horses, villagers stopping by market stands and people milling about, enjoying the warm afternoon. A flash of envy rose in her breast. She missed the days when she basked in the sun, but it was so long ago she'd almost forgotten what it felt like.
Her gaze caught a little girl who couldn't be more than six years old by a well. She was holding a doll with one hand and tossing pebbles into the well with the other. Eve smiled. The little girl reminded her of Katya when she was little.
She leaned against her window pane and continued to watch the little girl toss pebbles. She wore a small print dress that draped her little body and fell to her knees. Her hair was the same colour as Katya's, chocolate brown, framing her cute face. Eve's vampire sight made out her cherubic cheeks.
She sighed with nostalgia, missing all those years she shared with her daughter before Balkathan's attack. Eve had known almost immediately she had given birth to a human child and she had thanked the Gods above for their mercy.
When Katya was born, Eve had decided her daughter would choose when she was old enough if she wanted her mother to turn her into a vampire.
Thinking of Katya, she saw the little girl bend and pick up a pebble with the same hand that held onto her doll. Eve watched her walk to the well and toss the stone in, her doll following.
Eve tensed, straightening. The hair at the back of her neck rose as she watched the little girl's shoulders crumble and shake. She was sobbing quietly. Frowning, Eve looked around the girl to see if her parents were close by. She saw adults all around the girl, but no one seemed to notice her.
A man stood close by, talking to a guard, and Eve silently willed him to turn around. She stiffened violently, watching the little girl walk to the edge of the well and peer inside. Then Eve grew cold. The little girl raised her body on the ledge and leaned over.
"Turn around, dammit!" she hissed at the man close by.
The thing she feared most happened. The little girl slipped and fell into the well. A violent stab of fear wrenched her gut as her vampire rose to the surface and she hissed, releasing her longs fangs.
She snapped her gaze to the man. "You imbecile! Turn around!" she hissed.
There was no more time. A moment had already passed and the child would drown if no one saved her. She knew it would be suicide with the punishing sun beating down on the courtyard, but she couldn't stand back and watch an innocent child die.
Grimly, she raised herself on the window ledge and vaulted through the air, clasping the hood and cloak close to her body. Her feet touched the ground and she sprinted towards the well. She heard gasps and screams as she sailed past stunned villagers. Without another thought, she flew in the air and dove like a sharp needle down the center of the well, her cloak catching a snug of mortar behind her, ripping from her shoulders.
Damn it! She'd worry about her cloak after she saved the child. As she dove, the well grew darker and colder, until she splashed in the water. She sputtered and gasped as she rose for air and looked around wildly in the small, round enclosure. She couldn't see the girl anywhere. Pushing her vampire sight to the full extent, she twisted around and looked again. Nothing. Taking a deep breath, she dove in the water and felt around, her heart racing.
She felt something. A tiny hand! Grabbing the little girl, she rose to the surface of the water and touched the little girl's chest. She wasn't breathing! The child was still and Eve couldn't see a flicker or movement anywhere on her sweet face.
A violent rush of maternal love splintered her soul. She hadn't been able to save Katya from the two years of torture she'd endured, but she sure as hell was going to save this child.
How could she make the child breathe? Thinking fast, she opened the little girl's mouth and breathed air into her little lungs. Nothing! She tried again. "Breathe, little one. Breathe!" she said, her voice thick with emotion.
Again the little girl didn't stir. Eve choked back on a rising sob and tried again, this time drawing a longer breath into the little girl's lungs. The girl choked and coughed, water sputtering from her lips.
Eve wanted to sob with relief. She held the child close to her breast. "It's okay, honey. You're going to be okay," she said, her voice breaking.
The little girl stared at Eve and her face puckered into a frightened scowl. "Your eyes! They're glowing. Scary red eyes!"
Quickly, Eve pushed her vampire down and she felt her fangs retreat, her eyes revert to their human blue. "Is that better?"
"Yes." Her little face crumbled.
She could tell the little girl was frightened and any second she was going to start crying. "What's your name, honey?"
"Becca. What are you? You're not like papa. He's a Lycan."
"I'm a vampire, honey. Are…are you a Lycan, too?"
"No. Papa said we choose if we want to turn when we get older."
"I see," Eve said slowly. So Drago's Kingdom was both Lycan and human and everyone born human was given the choice to choose their fate. Admiration and respect rose in her breast for the king. His rule was honourable.
"Papa said Vampires are bad."
"There's good and bad in all people, honey. Not all Vampires are bad."
"You saved me."
"That's right. So now you know I'm not bad." She felt something floating next to her and smiled. She grabbed the doll and gave it to her. "Here. I think this is yours."
"I want my mommy. It's cold here."
"I know, honey. I know." She knew she could hold the girl and fly straight to the top of the well, but without her cloak, she would burn the moment they hit the surface. Becca's teeth began to chatter and Eve held her closer. If no one tried to save them soon, she would have to use her flight to save Becca. The cold was too much for a six year old.
Her heart thudded, knowing Katya would be alone if something should happen to Eve. She pushed her morbid thoughts away and looked up. She couldn't think about that now.
"Hello? Hellooooo! Can anyone hear me! The child is safe!" she called loudly.
* * * *
"Your Highness! There is a big commotion outside. The blacksmith's daughter, Becca, has fallen into the well and some villagers say they saw your guest run like the wind and dove in the well after her. We don't know if either of them is alive."
"What?" he roared.
He rose and vaulted out of the Great Hall before Nolan finished speaking. Becca was the sweet child who kept asking him if she could sit on his throne. His heart thudded with dread. As soon as he stepped outside, another fear rose in his chest. The sun was at full peak and Eve had told him she'd burn to a crisp if she were exposed to it. Hysteria and panic was all around the courtyard as he ran towards the crowd near the well.
"She sprinted like the devil, I tell you! Covered in a dark cape," someone said. "She dove in the well like a demon possessed."
"I saw her leap from the window up there and land on the ground like it was nothing," someone else shouted. "Even our best Lycan can't leap that high."
"She's staying at the castle. She's a vampire."
"Dear God, I hoped she saved our little Becca."
The comments were running rampant around him as he reached the well and glanced at her cloak snagged on the edge.
"Hello? Hellooooo. Can anyone hear me! The child is safe!"
"Quiet everyone!" he bellowed.
All hushed except for a spatter of quiet, intermittent sobbing.
"Eve, can you hear me?" he roared into the dark depths of the well.
Her cry was faint, "Yes. Becca is fine!"
Thank God, he thought. "Stay against the wall," he roared. Ignoring Nolan who was about to toss a rope into the well, he tore his metal armour from his shoulders and dove inside. He heard screams behind him and Nolan yelling, "Your Highness!"
He landed in the water and rose quickly to the surface. It was pitch black.
"We're over here," she said quietly.
He waded towards the sound of her voice and felt around with his hand. He touched her cheek and growled softly in the darkness. "Do not be alarmed, Eve. I am going to shift in my Lycan form."
"I…I am not afraid," she whispered.
Of course she wasn't, he thought. She was the bravest, most courageous woman he'd ever met. Clenching his jaw, he released his Lycan. He wondered if she could see him in the dark.
"Give me the child," he said, his eerie Lycan voice echoing in the dark.
He felt Becca's little body up against his chest and gathered her gently in his arms. "Put your arms around my neck, child. If you hold on tight and do not fall, I will let you sit on my throne."
Becca screeched. "Oh, yes. Yes!"
Drago heard Eve chuckle in the darkness and his entire, nine foot frame went completely still. Her laugh was soft and pleasant and made a warmth rise from his gut to his chest. "I'll be back for you," he told Eve.
"I'll be here. I'm not going anywhere, not at least until the sun sets," she said.
He heard the smile in her voice and again his blood stirred. Without another word, he climbed the walls of the well, vaulting from side to side, until he reached the top. His villagers and guards cheered while he handed Becca to her father.
"Bring Becca to the Great Hall before dinner time," he told her father.
"To sit on your throne?" squealed the little girl.
Drago reached for Eve's cloak and pulled it from its confines. Without saying another word, he let himself drop back down into the well. He surfaced from the water and reached out with his taloned hands. He heard her inhale sharply. He growled softly, realising he was touching her breast. Withdrawing his hand, he pushed the cloak towards her.
"Here is your covering. Conceal yourself as best you can and I will carry you up."
He heard her movements in the water as she put on her cloak. "Okay. I'm covered."
"Wrap your arms tightly around my neck. Do not be alarmed. I am not in my human form."
He felt her arms go around his neck as she pressed herself close to him, her body stiffening for a split second. "Dear God, how big are you?" she whispered with wonder.
"Nearly the length of two men." He paused. "You cannot see me?"
She didn't say a word as he peered where her face was. Slowly, he saw two red, glowing orbs appear in the darkness. "I can see you now," she whispered.
"Hold on tight."
"And you'll let me sit on your throne?" she asked lightly.
"This isn't the time to be funny."
"It's nerves. I may burn to a crisp in a few moments," she replied, her tone wry.
"I won't let anything happen to you," he said and began his ascent.
Just before he reached the top, he paused and stared down at her.
"What are you waiting for? Just do it," she mumbled against his chest, but he detected a thread of fear in her voice.
"I'm making sure you are properly concealed."
Speed was of the essence. He had to get her out of here and back in the castle as fast as he could. "Hold on," he growled and vaulted in the air.
There was no time to acknowledge the wild cheers and applause the crowd made as he sprinted through the courtyard. His guards held the castle doors open and he sprinted inside, heading towards the grand staircase. He ran up the huge winding flights and sped down a corridor. He gently set her down before her bed chamber door.
He reverted back to his human form and opened her door. He heard her weary, relieved sigh through her hood as she entered the room.
* * * *
If Eve had a choice, she would have definitely preferred being drenched as she was now, than being burned to a crisp. Shaking the wet cloak off her body, she looked up and saw Drago dressed in his black loin cloth. He regarded her silently. Her stomach jolted at the magnificent sight of his muscular, towering strength.
"Thank you," she said.
"It is I who should be thanking you. That was a very brave thing you did. You risked your life to save a child."
She threw her wet cloak on a chair nearby. "No one knew she fell in." She puckered her lips. "There really should be some kind of gate by the well. You have too many children running about and all it takes is one second for an accident." The moment she spoke, she regretted her words. She sounded like she was reproaching the king for his lack of security on his grounds.
"You are right," he said quietly. "I do, however, have other security measures in place to protect my people from attacks from Balkathan."
Without saying another word, he walked to a paneled wall next to the armoire and pulled a lever. Eve gasped as the wall separated, revealing a dark tunnel.
"Only my people know of these tunnels," he explained. "Our human villagers hide in here in the event of an attack from Balkathan. They travel all the way down to a cavern where there is food and water. We had to use these tunnels on last month's full moon when he attacked."
"He was looking for Katya," she whispered.
"Yes. He sent thirty of his Lycan soldiers, but we were victorious with very few casualties."
"Thank God. I…I didn't realise. Forgive me for telling you your grounds lack security with the well."
He raised a hand. "You were right and I will have a gate erected tomorrow." He pulled the lever again and the wall closed.
She was relieved he didn't take offense. She was also aware he'd taken her in his confidence, showing her the tunnels. He trusted her and the thought warmed her.
"What matters is Becca is safe." She looked down at herself. "I'd…I'd better get myself dried off."
"Of course. Do you want me to send for Lena?"
"No. I'm fine. I'm…I'm going to try and get some sleep."
"As you wish," he said deeply and left her chambers.
Eve opened her eyes, feeling more refreshed and rested than she had in a long time. She didn't know what time it was, but judging by the dead silence in the courtyard below her room, it must have been well into the night.
She rose naked from the bed and reached for her clothes. Thankfully, everything was dry. After her weapons were secure on her belt and thigh strap, she brushed her hair. When she heard a knock on the door, Eve froze.
"Milady, it's me, Lena," a female voice called. "I've come by order of the king."
Relieved, she went to the door. Had she really thought Drago would come to see her? She opened the entry and stared at a young woman holding a bundle of clothes.
"Milady, the king asked that I bring you these. May I come in?"
She recovered from her surprise and stepped aside. "Please call me Eve. I…I just woke up. Don't tell me the king made you wait outside my door all night."
"Oh no, milady." Lena laughed softly. "His Highness isn't an ogre. My chamber is at the end of the hall and my Lycan ears heard you rise. I trust you slept well?"
"I did. Thank you."
She stared at the dresses Lena carried to the bed and frowned. "What are these?" she asked slowly, walking towards the bed. She picked up a royal blue gown with silver lace trim.
Lena smiled. "The king asked me to bring them to you."
Eve hid her own smile. She hadn't worn a dress in over three hundred years. "Thank the king for his kindness, but I have no use for them."
"I said please take them back."
"His Royal Highness said your clothes were wet."
She looked down at herself. "As you can see, they're dry now."
"Is there anything I can get you?" Lena asked, looking a bit confused.
A familiar stab speared Eve's gut and she froze. Oh God, not now. She gritted her teeth as her gaze dipped to Lena's neck. Eve could smell the blood pulsing through the young girl's veins. "No. Nothing," she managed to say. Please…please just leave, she thought. It wouldn't look good if she went from saving a life in the afternoon to taking a life in the evening. She gritted her teeth, summoning all her strength to ignore the sweet, tantalizing scent of Lena's blood.
"As you wish, milady," the young lady said and left.
As soon as the maid shut the door behind her, Eve gasped for breath and clutched her stomach. She could put off her feeding for an hour.
There was something she had to do first.
Drawing the drapes aside, she pushed the window open and lifted herself over the ledge. She stood on the large windowsill and stared down at the courtyard. Thankfully, she didn't see anyone below and promptly flung herself from the ledge, sailing through the air until she landed on her feet below. Her stomach churned with hunger, but she ignored it. She still had time.
She ran to the well. Quickly, she drew her dagger from her belt and pushed back the hem of her sleeve. With one deft move, she slit her wrist and stretched her hand over the well. She watched her blood spill and when she was satisfied there was enough of it in the water, she drew back her hand and watched her cut heal and disappear.
She heard a growl behind her and spun around. A dark haired woman dressed in a pale green gown stood behind her, her expression unpleasant as she ran a derisive glance over her. The hair at the back of Eve's neck rose.
"You must be the new guest at the castle everyone is talking about. The one who saved Becca," the stranger said coldly, glancing down at Eve's wrist. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing that should concern you." Eve did not like the woman.
The woman's face hardened. "You're poisoning our well with your vampire blood, aren't you?"
Eve narrowed her eyes. "It's not what you think. I'm not trying to hurt anyone. I suggest you leave and forget you saw me here."
The woman's eyes shifted to amber and Eve clenched her fists. So she was a Lycan. If it was a battle she wanted, she was going to get it.
"I'm sure Drago will be interested to know what you've done."
Drago? Did all the villagers address the king in such a familiar manner? She stared at the woman and realised she had to follow her. The last thing she wanted was Drago thinking she was trying to kill his people.
Pursing her lips, she followed the woman back into the castle.
* * * *
Drago's body went cold and he gripped the armrests of his throne. Nolan was talking to him, but he couldn't hear a word. It was Eve. He…he felt her. His heart thudded against his chest as he waved a dismissive hand at Nolan and staggered to his feet.
"Your Highness, are you all right?" Nolan asked.
Drago wasn't so sure. He was stunned at the powerful connection he was experiencing with Eve.
"Your Highness?" Nolan asked.
"It's nothing," Drago growled. "Leave me be."
He sensed her approaching the Great Hall and his gut jolted violently. He stared at the door, his heart racing like a thoroughbred in his chest.
He tensed his mouth as he stepped down from his throne's dais and stood with legs apart, hands clenched at his sides.
She entered slowly behind Gretchen and her wariness ran across the room and hit him. She was nervous. Grim-faced, he strode to her and stared down at her beautiful face. Up close, she didn't look as wary as he thought. She looked uncertain, almost frightened. The thought didn't make sense to him. Frightened was a word he would never use to describe her. His gaze ran over her tight, leather garb and he frowned, wondering why she wasn't wearing one of the gowns he sent her.
"Drago, I caught her at the well slitting her wrist," Gretchen began. "She was trying to kill us with her poisonous blood."
The room grew silent and all eyes turned on them. Drago kept his gaze fastened on Eve. "Thank you. That is all, Gretchen," he said firmly.
"She was tainting the well with her blood. The well is poisoned," Gretchen persisted.
"I said that is all!" Drago thundered. "Leave us." He shot her a harsh look. Damnation, the wench was getting out of control. He'd known for months he had to break things off with her.
"But, Drago, she was poisoning the water!"
"No, she wasn't," he said, turning his gaze to Eve. One drop of my blood will cure her madness, she'd told him. She wasn't trying to kill his people. She was trying to help them. With every turn of his head, this woman was proving herself to be a champion, a hero. He would have never believed in a thousand years a vampire of her valour existed. He drew in a ragged breath, realising he had done a gross injustice to her, thinking she was evil. She wasn't. His instinct had been right when he showed her his tunnels. She was honourable, her integrity unquestionable.
Gretchen released a low growl and left the Great Hall. Drago swept a dark gaze around the room and immediately his guards went back to what they were doing.
Grimly, he returned his attention to Eve.
She looked around the room, her expression nervous. "I…I didn't expect so many people here."
Her expression gave way to fear and he frowned. She looked terrified. "Do not fear my guards. They all know you are our ally." She nodded, but the fear remained on her face. "Let us sit down."
He saw her nostrils flare as she darted her gaze frantically around the room. "Can we…can we sit over there," she said huskily, pointing to his throne. It was the only isolated spot in the room.
A dawning realisation struck him and he narrowed his eyes. "You do not fear my men," he said. "You fear your thirst."
She gave him a look that was a strange mixture of fear, disgust and anger. "Yes." She released a strangled breath. "This is no good. I have to go. I'm sorry, but I'm not used to being around so many people." She took an unsteady step back. "I haven't…I have to…" Her expression flickered with suppressed emotion. "I'm sorry. I must go." And she turned and fled.
What a fool she was! All the Lycan blood in the room made her dizzy with hunger. Dammit, why hadn't she locked into Gretchen's mind and removed any memory of them at the well? She choked back a rising sob as she ran down the long corridors. Where the hell was the exit, she thought frantically.
Finally, she spotted a door and ran outside. A sharp stab in her gut made her wince with pain. Oh God, why did she put herself through this every single night? Prolonging her nightly feeding rite was only asking for trouble. And yet, she couldn't help it. She hated feeding. Even though the act gave her an exquisite rush of ecstasy, the remnant of her human self was still repulsed by it, even after four hundred years.
She ran into the courtyard, past the entrance, to the perimeter of the grounds. The castle was atop a vast mountain and she inhaled deeply, looking down at the village below lit by torches and lanterns.
Without another thought, she stared up at the night sky and sprinted into the air, flying over the village to a field past the town's edge. She landed firmly on her two legs and groaned, squeezing her eyes. Dammit, the pain was worse. She knew she could hunt for an animal in the village, but that was too risky. She didn't want to jeopardize a villager's life if she couldn't find a stray dog and her thirst consumed her. She'd have to find a wild animal past the fields in the forest near the horizon. Gritting her teeth against the hunger, she rose and sprinted high in the air, soaring through the flat fields.
She prayed she was going to make it to the forest in time. After what seemed like forever, flying through the air, she caught a movement to her left and gasped. She landed on the ground and narrowed her gaze on the spot. A fox! Relief flooded through her veins.
She was about to sprint through the air to catch it when her vampire hearing caught a rumble in the distance behind her. She spun around, stared into the darkness and froze.
A massive Lycan was running at incredible speed towards her. Even from this great distance and with the absence of light, her vampire sight still made him out. He was over nine feet tall, with a smatter of hair all over his massive, muscular body. The only covering he wore was a dark loin cloth over his genitals.
She bared her fangs and hissed at the approaching beast. The fox ran to safety and Eve hissed at the Lycan who stopped before her. Up close, he was even more terrifying. His jowls looked fierce enough to rip a stag in two and his amber eyes glowed ferociously. He was a monster.
She was too weak to take flight, too weak even to run, but she stood her ground and hissed up at him.
And then he shifted. The brows meeting at the bridge of his nose disappeared, the dangerous incisors faded away, the fierce talons withdrew. She stood there, dazed as she watched the muscular figure of a man take shape. It was Drago dressed only in a black loin cloth.
Her breath caught as she ran her gaze over his body and when she stared up at his face, she froze. His expression was both astounded and furious. "Why didn't you tell me you fly?"
"You never asked," she said before collapsing on the ground.
* * * *
He lowered himself next to her and gently lifted her on his lap.
She lifted her blue gaze to his and said huskily, "How did you find me?"
He ignored her question. The truth disturbed the hell out of him and he pushed it at the back of his mind. He ran his gaze over her face and frowned.
"What is wrong?" he asked abruptly, fear making his nape tingle. "You look weak, paler."
She licked her lips. "I…I need to feed." She glanced over his shoulder and squeezed her eyes. "Dammit, you scared the fox away." She winced, gasping in pain.
"Eve, what is it?" He tightened his hold on her and shook her gently.
She gasped for breath. "If I don't feed…I will die," she said faintly.
He grimaced and lowered her gently to the ground. He looked around wildly. Dammit, he could have helped her if only she'd come to him. The cooks always had fresh meat being slaughtered and prepared in the kitchen for dinner. They were always washing blood off the counters and floor.
Deeply concerned, he glanced at the open field. It was barren. The forest was nearby, but he didn't want to leave her alone while he searched for an animal. There was only one thing left to do. Grimacing, he looked down at her. All he saw were her daggers, her sword and a knife. Where the hell was her stake?
"Are all of your weapons made of silver?" he asked.
"What?" She blinked away her confusion until realisation lit her face. "No, you mustn't. Let me…let me die." She closed her eyes. "Please…I beg you…just take care of my daughter." She groaned as she clutched her stomach.
He shook her. "Answer me!"
"Your stake," he said roughly. "Are you carrying it?"
"Be…behind me," she said weakly.
Without saying another word, he lifted her and felt behind her. The stake was strapped to her back. He pulled it free and laid her down. His heart hammered in his chest as her breath came out in short rasps. Clenching his jaw, he drove the stake through his wrist, twisted it to make a deep cut and pulled it out, tossing it behind him.
Blood poured from his cut.
Quickly, he leaned over her still form and placed his bloody cut over her mouth. "Feed," he said hoarsely.
Her eyes flickered and she shook her head.
Drago pressed his wrist on her mouth. "Eve, feed on my blood," he said thickly. "You will die if you don't."
She opened her eyes and stared at him, her expression horrified. "I don't…feed on…humans," she said, her voice growing fainter.
He grimaced. "You forget I am not human. Now, feed."
She squeezed her eyes. "Dear God, forgive me," she said and grabbed his arm, pulling his wrist closer to her mouth as she began to drink his blood.
Drago stared at her face. Slowly, her colour returned. She moaned with pleasure and he was taken aback by the sheer force of his emotions. Damnation, she was drinking his blood. The thought should have disgusted him, but it didn't. Slowly, his loins began to heat with each draw she took, with each suckle she made and his penis grew hard.
Dammit, she was arousing him. He inhaled sharply through his nose, gritting his teeth. What manner of seduction was this that made him throb with intense pleasure and agonizing pain? He growled as he felt his body soaring to a place where he knew he would have no control. This ecstasy was more than he could bear and he gently tried to pull his wrist away, but couldn't. Eve had a tight hold on his arm and her euphoric expression told him she wasn't finished feeding yet.
He threw his head back and roared at the white hot pleasure washing over him. Dammit, he was going to lose control!
"Stop," he growled, but she continued to suckle his wrist. "Eve, I…said…stop," he groaned. If she didn't heed his warning, he was going to shred the leather from her limbs and drive his rigid penis into her warm folds.
He sucked in a harsh breath. He'd never contemplated rape in his entire life. Holding on to his last shred of sanity, he grabbed her hair and dragged her head away from his wrist.
He stared down at her serene expression, his chest rising and falling with heavy breaths. Her eyes were closed and she brought up her hand and wiped the blood from her mouth. Slowly she opened her eyes and stared at him.
"Thank you, Drago," she said.
He saved her life. Eve licked her lips, tasting the last drop of his blood and her heart raced. She wanted more of him, all of him. She licked her lips again and stared up at his dark, brilliant gaze.
"Stop doing that," he said hoarsely.
"Stop doing what?" she asked, but she already knew. She'd known the moment she drank his blood how aroused he was. How much he wanted her. She wanted him, too. She couldn't deny it. Not after what she'd done. Drinking his blood infused her with his life essence and bound her to him in a way that transcended logic. She was his on a level that surpassed the flesh.
"Stop licking your lips," he rasped.
For Drago it was still all about the flesh. He wanted to have sex with her. She could see it in his eyes, the way he couldn't tear his gaze away from her mouth. And lower, beneath his loin cloth, his rigid shaft that was pressing hard against her thigh.
She rose slowly and Drago followed suit. He stared down at her upraised face.
"How long have you been putting your healing blood in wells?" he asked abruptly.
"Since I turned four hundred years ago and discovered my blood's power to heal."
"You're four hundred years old?"
"And you've been curing people ever since without anyone's knowledge?"
She stiffened. "Curing an illness will never make me human again. Please don't glorify my actions. Anyone in my position would do the same thing."
"Would they?" His mouth tightened. "A vampire cannot control their thirst and yet you said you do not feed on humans. And tonight, you could have easily fed in my kingdom, but you came out here." He grabbed her by the shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. "You're more human than you realise, Eve."
"Let me go!" She struggled out of his hold and glared up at him. "I won't let you do this."
"Make me…hope." He reached for her and she drew back. "You are a Lycan. You have a chance at living a happy life because you have a destined mate. I am a vampire. And vampires don't have soul mates. Leave me alone. Find someone else to pass your time until you find your one," she added on a rising sob.
His face hardened. "I see. So that is what you think of me."
Eve immediately regretted her outburst. Hadn't he taken care of Katya the past month with shelter, food, clean clothes and a warm bed? Hadn't he been gentle and kind with Becca in the well? "I'm sorry," she said quietly, her energy spent. "I…I know you've been kind to my daughter."
His expression softened and he reached for her again. This time she let him gather her in his arms. She closed her eyes against the comfort of his embrace and felt an uncharacteristic rush of security.
"What makes you think vampires are destined to be alone?" he asked quietly above her head.
"I've been alone for four hundred years, Drago." She paused, inhaling shakily.
"What of Katya's father?"
She detected a hard edge to his tone. "He was a good man who came into my life when I was very lonely and needed to feel human warmth. I wanted to live like a human. I wanted to feel love. I was tired of death all around me." She drew in a shaky breath. "So I pretended to be human for a short while. Katya was the result of our first night together. I stayed with him in his home and managed to conceal what I was from him and the villagers. Everyone thought I suffered from an allergy of the sun and could only go out at night. I hated lying to them because they were all so kind to me, but the truth would have destroyed them." She paused. "Caleb died two years to the day of meeting him. One evening he was playing with Katya and his heart just stopped. The village healer said it was a heart attack and there was nothing anyone could do." She paused, swallowing. "My blood cannot revive the dead."
She looked up at him. "I'm grateful I met him. Otherwise I would not have Katya."
"When did you tell Katya you were a vampire?"
"When she was old enough to talk. It was our secret and no one ever found out. One evening, I went out to feed in the forest near our home. When I returned, I saw the devastation Balkathan's army of demons did to our village. If I'd been there, if I hadn't left, I could have done something…prevented some…" She couldn't speak.
"You couldn't do anything, Eve. Don't blame yourself for what happened."
"What do you know of what I felt? Drago, I could have saved some lives. I could have…have saved my daughter."
His face darkened. "You could not save any villagers nor your daughter any more than I could have saved the queen." He paused. "After Balkathan's army turned my castle, two hundred years ago, the queen couldn't live with what she'd become. The Gods were on our side that night because we managed to drive his army away, but it came with a dark price. The queen went mad. She refused to speak to me or our son, Vasilis. She kept herself locked up in her private chambers. One day I found her on her bed with a silver dagger in her chest. She killed herself and there was nothing I could do to stop it."
Horrified, she raised a hand to her mouth. "I'm so sorry, Drago. I didn't know."
Grim-faced, he nodded. "So you see, I do know what you feel. I could have placed her under constant supervision. I could have had Hesta care for her day and night until she grew well, but I didn't. I…I didn't know how mad she had become until the very end." He gave her an unreadable look. "Do you miss your husband?"
"We never married, but I do miss him. He was a kind man."
"Do you love him still?"
"I cared deeply for him, but I don't think I loved him. That part of me died when I turned all those centuries ago. I am not able to love."
His face hardened. "You love your daughter."
"That's different. I'm talking about the love between a man and woman."
Gently, she stepped out of his grasp. "I will always care for Caleb and think fondly of him, but he died a very long time ago. My heart has healed from the loss."
Their gazes met and locked and she held her breath. "And the queen? Do…do you miss her?"
"She died two hundred years ago and a part of me still cannot forgive her for taking her life. Vasilis took her death very badly, but I am thankful to the Gods because he has met his one, Alexandra, and they are on their honeymoon."
Eve thought about all the lives Balkathan had destroyed the past four hundred years due to his insatiable thirst for power and wealth. Her body stiffened. He was insane. She'd always known he was. She remembered the day his last shred of humanity disappeared. A mixture of rage and fear rose in her breast. She'd known for a long time she had to stop running. Her day was coming when she had to face him--and destroy him, but she was afraid of Balkathan overpowering her and trapping her to his dark side.
"Balkathan's reign of terror must end soon," she whispered, her thoughts still in the past. "This cannot go on."
"When Vasilis returns from his honeymoon, we will plan our attack. If it's the last thing I do, I will destroy him."
A flicker of doubt darkened her thoughts. "He fights with Vampires and Lycans. Can you really defeat him?"
"I will die trying."
She didn't like the sound of that. "Drago, he's powerful."
"I will fight him at close range and plunge my own silver into his chest."
It would be suicide, she thought sadly. "Drago, silver cannot kill him."
"What do you mean?" he asked sharply.
She paused. "You do not know?" She searched for the right words. "Four hundred years ago, I plunged my own silver into his chest and he survived."
He stiffened visibly, his face growing dark. "You fought him? Are you insane, woman? You could have been killed."
Hadn't he heard what she'd just said? "Drago, silver cannot kill him!"
He paused and drew his brows into a dark frown. "Are you certain it was pure silver you used?"
"There must be a reasonable explanation for this," he said.
There was, she thought, but he didn't give her a chance to explain because he drew her roughly in his arms and held her against his chest. "I forget you're four hundred years old and must have endured so much more than me." His grip tightened around her. "To think you fought him and could have been killed."
It sounded like he cared. "You thought I was a vile creature when you first met me, remember?" she mumbled against his chest.
He withdrew slowly, clasping her chin with his fingers and gently raised her face. Their gazes met and locked. "Eve, about that," he began slowly. "I didn't--"
He glanced over her shoulder and frowned at something behind her. When he returned his gaze to her, his expression was grim. "Damn! We've lost track of time. The sun will rise soon. We must go."
She spun around and gasped. "Oh my God! How long have we been here?" The horizon was already awakening with soft hues of gold and pink.
"Go!" he roared. "Fly!" He shifted in his massive, black wolf form.
She inhaled sharply and vaulted high in the air. She soared towards the mountain in the distance where the castle was. She glanced down and saw Drago in his wolf form matching her speed on the ground.
The sun was rising and she felt a tingle on her hand and face. "I'm not going to make it," she screamed.
In a few moments, the sun would be up and she would burn. My God, was this how she was going to die after all these centuries because she lost track of time?
The horizon brightened and she covered her face, rushing down to the ground. She heard Drago growl ferociously and peeked at him through her fingers. She watched him shift from his wolf to his Lycan form. He caught her before she hit the ground.
"Hide your face and hands against my chest," he growled in his eerie tone. "And don't move!"
And then he ran. Fast. She could feel them speeding through the fields, his arms holding her tightly and she prayed they would make it in time before the sun lit the entire sky. Heat penetrated her attire and a small section of her exposed ankle burned. She winced, squeezing her eyes.
"We're almost there," he growled.
She kept her eyes shut, panic welling in her breast. Before she knew it, she heard sounds of voices. They had reached the village. Hope flared in her breast, but she didn't dare lift her head just yet. Her ankle still throbbed and she knew she would scar, but she didn't care. It was better than her body bursting into flames.
He leaped distance upon distance and she knew he was vaulting up the mountainside trail. Then he ran on flat grounds.
"Quick! Shut the door behind me," Drago yelled.
"Aye, Your Highness!"
She knew they were in the castle, but she was too afraid to lift her head from his chest. After a few more minutes, he stopped and placed her gently on the floor. Slowly, she opened her eyes looked up at his sinister jowls.
His ferocity didn't frighten her. The expression in his amber eyes showed deep concern and with a low growl, he lifted her in his arms and strode in the room, kicking the door behind him with his monstrous limb.
He placed her on the bed and inspected her face and hands for burns. He grimaced when he saw the scar on her ankle.
"Why did you not wear your cloak?" he asked harshly.
"I didn't think I'd need it. I thought I would be back well before sunrise."
His monstrous face darkened with deep concern. "I'm sorry. It was my fault. I should have paid more attention to the time."
"I am unharmed."
He drew back and shifted in his human form. She stared at his body and felt her breath catch. He was still draped in his black loin cloth and her gaze travelled from his long, muscular legs to his trim, taut abdomen, up to his face. She stared at the curious muscle throbbing along his jaw.
She found him more dangerous and alarming in his human form than his menacing Lycan figure. More disturbing was she had just escaped near death and all she could think of was his arms around her, his mouth trailing hot kisses along her body. She rose from the bed, avoiding his eyes.
"That's the second time you've saved my life tonight," she said. She could sense the tension between them, thick and heavy in the room.
"I should let you sleep," he said.
Her gaze wavered under his penetrating stare and she made her way to the door. "Yes. Could…could you tell me where my chamber is?"
"You will sleep here. This is my bed chambers."
She drew a nervous gaze around the opulent room. "No. I'll be fine in my--"
"This is where you will sleep," he interjected firmly. "I'm just going to change and leave you to rest."
She watched him stride into a smaller chamber and she sat on the edge of the bed, waiting nervously for him to return. He came out a few minutes later with a towel wrapped around his waist. His chest glistened and his hair was damp.
"If you'd like to use my bath chambers, the basin has fresh water in it and I left a clean cloth for you on the side." He gave her a head-to-toe look. "Did you not like the gowns I sent you?"
"I don't wear dresses. I…I fly and fight better without the excess layers of a gown."
He flicked a gaze over her body, his eyes darkening.
She cleared her throat delicately. "I do thank you for sending them to me. They were lovely and if I was human I would accept them with appreciation."
He nodded and turned.
She watched him open the door to a huge walnut armoire. He pulled out garments. Without a drop of self-consciousness, he dropped his towel and she stifled a gasp, watching him dress. Her gaze ran over his long, tapered legs, his broad back, his taut buttocks and she willed herself to breathe. He could have been a bronze statue depicting an ancient god.
Garbed in his royal tunic, he turned around. "I will let you rest now. Goodnight, Eve. I will see you when the sun sets," he said.
She swallowed. "It's really good morning."
His mouth quirked. "Yes, it is." He paused, his expression turning sombre. "I'll have Lena bring you a goblet of pig blood when you rise."
In any other context, his comment would be deemed revolting, but in her situation it wasn't. His words touched her.
"Thank you. That's very kind of you."
He turned to leave.
"Wait," she said. Slowly, he turned around, his black gaze locking with hers. She couldn't speak as she watched his expression darken. "I…I…" Oh God! She knew she sounded like a fool, but a part of her didn't want him to leave. Embarrassed, she tried to think of something to fill in the thick silence as he continued to stare at her, his expression darkening with desire. "I wanted…er, to say--" She gasped.
Within three strides, he stood before her and dragged her in his arms. Before she could react, his mouth crashed down on her parted lips. Recovering from her shock, she placed her hands between them and tried to push herself out of his grasp, but it was impossible. His kiss was so hard, her head craned back and he trailed his hot, sensual mouth along her cheek and neck. He groaned against her heated skin and brought his hands behind her head as his mouth slid back to hers. Eve moaned as his lips moved seductively over hers, coaxing them to open. She felt his tongue against her teeth and she slowly opened her mouth, releasing a strangled moan as his tongue found hers. He tasted like wine and sweet fruit and she slowly melted under his sensual spell.
He ground her body to his and she gasped at the full extent of his arousal pressing against her. Savagely, he explored her mouth with his tongue and dragged one of his hands from her back to the front of her top. He growled from deep within his throat as he ripped her top down the middle. Eve felt heady and dizzy. His touch incited a fire in her veins she never knew existed. Her body tingled, her limbs melted and her feminine spot between her legs began to throb.
Her breasts spilled from her shredded top and he cupped one in his hand, kneading her mound until she was throbbing with desire. He dragged his mouth from her lips and bent his head. The second his mouth clasped over her breast, she choked on a scream. He suckled, laved and lavished her nipple and she ground her fingers into his hair, afraid her legs would give way and she would collapse from the sheer ecstasy she was experiencing. When she thought she could not take anymore, he dragged his mouth to her other breast.
Eve writhed and buckled in his arms, aroused to the point where she thought she was going to climax. Unable to wait, she slid her hand between them and found his rigid shaft. He growled as she explored his sex with her hand.
She stifled a scream when he lifted her suddenly and strode purposefully to the bed. He placed her down, his breathing hard and fast, and she trembled at the look of desire on his face.
"I want you, Eve. Not only for now, but for always," he said almost savagely, as he ran a hunger-filled gaze over her exposed breasts. He lay over her, his arms on the bed to brace his weight. He lowered his head and captured her breast's throbbing peak in his mouth.
Eve threw her head back and moaned, squeezing her eyes against the pleasurable pain darting down to the place between her legs that pulsed with exquisite fire.
A loud knock on the door jarred her and she stiffened. He looked down at her, his eyes darker, more compelling than she ever saw them, his face taut with desire.
"Whoever it is will go away," he said thickly.
The knocking persisted and Eve squirmed under his weight.
"Your Highness, it's Lena. I have to find Eve. Do you know where she is? Hesta needs her. She thinks Katya is awakening."
Eve grew cold, her passion immediately doused. Drago's mouth tensed as he rose, taking her hand and helping her off the bed. He went to the door and opened it.
"Eve is with me," he told Lena. "Tell Hesta we'll be there in a few minutes."
Eve's heart started to race. She was frightened to death. What if something had gone wrong when she'd placed Katya in deep sleep? Something must have shown on her face because after Lena left, Drago went to Eve and drew her in his arms.
His kiss lasted only a few seconds, but it still managed to make her knees buckle. He cupped her face with his hands and stared deeply into her eyes. "Everything is going to be all right," he said.
In four hundred years, no one had ever told her that and she didn't know what to say. Unable to speak, she stared up into his dark eyes and nodded as she felt an unfamiliar comfort with his words.
Eve opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling in her bed chambers. Her stomach churned with the oncoming heat of hunger and she pursed her lips. It was feeding time soon.
Her thoughts went to this morning. Hesta had been wrong. Katya had not been awakening. She had been having a restless sleep. Eve had stayed with her daughter until she'd settled back into a fitful slumber and then had gone straight to her bed chambers instead of Drago's.
She recalled their passionate encounter and her stomach jolted.
Hesta may have been wrong about Katya awakening, but Eve had seen it as a blessing in disguise. If Lena hadn't interrupted them--stop, she told herself. She couldn't think of what would have happened.
She inhaled slowly and glanced around her room. What time was it? She knew from the darkness, it was well after sunset. She rose and walked to the dresser. Moments later, the room was lit with the warm glow of the candelabra. She was about to go into the adjoining bath chambers when her gaze caught the brass goblet filled with blood and a note resting on its side.
Slowly, she picked up the note and read it. I will have Lena move your things into my chambers tonight. D.
He still wanted her to move into his chambers. The thought both thrilled and scared her as she reached for the goblet and drank the blood.
She removed her nightdress and went into the adjoining bath chambers. She washed quickly, went back into the bed chamber and picked up her clothes. Her ripped top brought an uncharacteristic rush of heat to her cheeks as she recalled the hot and passionate trail his sensual mouth had incited on her flesh. Her stomach fluttered and she released a tremulous breath.
Reality ran cold fingers down her back. Her time here was temporary. As much as she would have liked to explore her feelings for him, she wouldn't take the risk. Being with him would only end in heartache. Lycans mated with their one and he'd toss her aside the moment he found his.
After slipping into her pants, she rummaged through the drawers and found a black vest. Quickly she slipped it on and attached all her weapons on her straps.
She hoped Katya was up. The sooner Eve helped her daughter recover, the quicker they could leave.
She stepped out in the corridor and walked down the winding halls. Turning a corner, she stopped dead in her tracks and hid in the shadows. Her heart dropped like a stone to her stomach.
Frozen to her spot, she watched Drago and Gretchen coming out of his bed chambers. Eve held her breath as Gretchen threw herself on Drago and wrapped her arms around his neck. She heard Drago's low, deep growl rise from his chest as his arms went to the woman's waist.
Gretchen raised her face and kissed him. A fierce, hot stab of jealousy coursed through Eve's veins and she gritted her teeth. Suddenly, he growled and snapped his dark gaze to her vicinity and she inhaled sharply, jumping back further into the shadows. He saw her! Turning sharply, she ran down the opposite end of the hall before she could see anything else.
Her jealousy rose in her chest, consuming her and she choked back a rising sob. She stopped in front of Katya's chambers and took a deep breath, trying to compose herself.
She prayed her daughter was well enough so they could leave right away.
* * * *
Drago growled his annoyance and grabbed Gretchen by the waist. She kissed him before he could push her away. His heart thudded against his chest as a familiar scent drifted around him. Eve. Sharply, he withdrew from Gretchen's kiss and snapped his gaze towards the shadows. Eve was hiding in the corner. For a split second, he felt her anger and jealousy and then she was gone. Angrily he looked at Gretchen who still had her arms around him. She clasped his head, raised her face and kissed him again.
His mouth tensed under her lips and he tightened his hold on her waist. Slowly he pushed her away and glared down at her.
"That's enough, Gretchen."
Her eyes flashed ire and she growled under her breath. "Why now? We've been lovers for years, Drago. Why do you suddenly want to end things now?"
"We were bed mates, not lovers, Gretchen. There is a big difference. I never made you any promises. You've known from the beginning this would end at any time."
"It's her, isn't it? I've seen the way you look at her. Why, Drago? Why? She's a vampire, dammit!" She paused. "A wolf doesn't mate with a bat!" she spat.
Drago had had enough. "You are trying my patience, wench. I blame myself because I've given you too much freedom in the castle." He narrowed his eyes on her upturned face. "Heed this warning. You will not barge into my chambers ever again, is that clear?"
She flung herself onto his chest and threw her arms around his shoulders. "No. I know you still want me. We are Lycan. You can never desire her as you desire me." She pressed her lower body against his and ground herself against his loins. He felt nothing. No stirrings, no heat, no lust. He watched Gretchen's face harden as she realised his body did not react. Her face blazed with rage and she pushed herself out of his arms. "She's cold, undead. She drinks the blood of innocents!" she ranted with near hysteria in her voice. "I'll drive a stake through her heart before I let her have you!"
Drago's anger erupted and he growled, knowing his eyes were turning their eerie shade of amber. He was prepared to shift. For the first time she looked afraid and took a step back. "If I ever see you so much as ten feet from Eve, I will banish you from my kingdom. Am I making myself clear?"
Something on his face must have finally registered with her because her face went white. "You can't mean that. You don't actually love her! She's not human, Drago. Vampires are immoral and she'll never be able to control her thirst."
He'd thought the same thing before he got to know Eve, but he remembered what she'd done at his well with her blood and how she risked her life going out into the fields to find a wild animal to feed on. "She is more human than anyone of us will ever be," he said harshly.
Eve was brave, courageous and honourable. She was beautiful and passionate--he stilled his thoughts as something violent hit him in the gut and he swallowed hard.
He loved her.
"Leave now," he said. "And never step foot in my castle again."
Gretchen looked like she was going to persist, but thought better of it and sped down the corridor.
Drago ran a rough hand at the back of his neck. He had to see Eve. Now. He had to make her understand things were over between him and Gretchen.
He also had to tell her he loved her.
Turning abruptly on his heel, he went down the opposite direction Gretchen took. He knew Eve would be with Katya and he strode to her daughter's chambers.
He heard someone rushing down the hall behind him.
"Master! Something has happened!"
Tensing, he turned around and stared at Hesta. "What is it? Katya?"
She shook her head. "No. Katya is fine."
"Shouldn't you be with her?"
"I'm on my way there right now." She clasped her gnarled hands in front of her and gazed up at him with a perplexed look on her wrinkled, elderly face. "I beg your pardon, Master, but something has happened," she repeated.
"Well, what is it?" he asked as he continued to march down the corridor, the healer bustling to match his long stride. "I don't have time for this."
"Master, it's old man Wallace. I just came from his home. I was going to give him some more medication for the pain, but…but…"
"Speak, woman!" he roared. The only thought in his mind was seeing Eve. He didn't have time for the incessant rambling of his old healer. He tossed Hesta a quick, sideways glance and noted her shock.
"Master, it's his leg! His bone has completely healed and he walks!"
Drago stopped dead in his tracks and gave her a long look. His thoughts went to Eve the night she was at his well. "Don't be surprised if more of our human villagers are cured overnight."
She clasped her face, her expression lighting up. "So the rumours are true? Our vampire guest has cured all ailments?"
"It would appear so."
"Oh, bless her! She is an angel in disguise," Hesta declared.
"Yes. She is," he murmured as he opened the door to Katya's room.
Eve hugged her daughter tightly. "I missed you so much," she said, her voice breaking. "Thank God you're okay. I love you so much, my darling girl. I never gave up hope finding you."
Katya wiped her eyes as she drew away, sobbing gently. Her eyes glistened with tears as she ran her gaze over her Eve's face. "It's been so horrible, mama." Her voice caught and she drew in a shaky breath. "So horrible. He…he--"
"Hush, my darling," Eve said. A white hot rage welled in her breast at Balkathan. Bloodline be damned! She no longer cared of the consequences and she wanted him dead. "Let's not talk about that now. When you're ready."
Katya nodded, wiping her cheek with a shaky hand. "The king has been very kind to me. And Hesta, too. I remember everything now, the past two years in Balkathan's lair and the past month here in this castle. Mama, I've been so mean to Hesta and the king, but I…I couldn't stop myself…" She broke off and sobbed into her hands.
"Katya, it wasn't your fault," Eve said soothingly, taking her daughter's hand away from her face. "You haven't been well for a long time." Gently, she wiped her daughter's tears.
"How did you find me?" Katya asked.
"It wasn't easy. I went from village to village, until I came upon a tavern where there was talk Balkathan had attacked Drago's castle. The rumour was a woman was held captive in Balkathan's lair for two years who had recently escaped and was staying at this castle. Balkathan wanted her dead because she knew where he hid with his lair. So I travelled here and asked questions until I heard a man mention your name."
Katya's face fell. "Mama, what will become of us? What will we do? Our home, our village has been destroyed. Where will we live?"
She sensed Drago enter the room and stiffened. The scene with Gretchen was still fresh in her mind and she ignored him as she drew Katya in her arms. "I will take care of you, my child. I will find a way to keep you safe," she said huskily. "I love you."
Drago cleared his throat abruptly. "Katya, you and your mother have a home here."
Katya looked over Eve's shoulder, surprise lighting her face. "That's very kind of you, Your Highness. Mama, did you hear what the king said?"
Slowly Eve rose, turning around to face him. Hesta stood silently next to him. "Thank you for the offer, but as I told you, when my daughter is well enough, we will leave."
His face darkened. She could tell he was angry.
"And go where? You have no belongings, no coin and no home. Balkathan won't stop until he finds Katya."
Her daughter let out a frightened gasp and Eve shot him an angry glare. "Do you mean to frighten my child?"
"I mean to state facts. Your daughter will be safe here, as will you."
He was right. Katya would be safer in his castle with his Lycan guards protecting her. "Katya will accept your offer to stay, but I will not."
"Mama, no! You cannot leave me."
Eve was torn. She couldn't leave her daughter, but could not live with Drago either. Watching him for all eternity with his one would kill her.
Her breath caught. Something she refused to believe revealed itself and left her shaken.
She was falling in love with him.
Fighting to keep her emotions in check, she turned to her daughter. "You must rest now, Katya. We will talk about this later." She glanced over her shoulder to Hesta. "Is it possible to see about having a bath prepared?"
Hesta smiled. "Right away, milady."
"I will leave you two alone then," Drago said. He gave Eve a dark look. "You and I will talk later."
Without responding, she turned back to Katya and waited stiffly until he left the room.
Katya gave her mother a questioning look. "Mama, why do you dislike the king? He has offered us a home."
"I don't dislike him," she said.
"I saw how you two looked at each other. I…I think he cares for you. Why don't you want to stay here?"
"It's complicated, honey."
"I hope it's not because of me. Mama, I want you to be happy."
"No, honey, it's not that." She could see Katya wasn't going to give this up so easily. Eve released a weary sigh. "The king has yet to meet his one. If I were to be with him, do you think he would stay with me after he met his destined mate?"
Katya stared long and hard at her mother, making Eve increasingly uncomfortable. "Mama? Oh my God," she whispered, bringing a hand up to her mouth. "You care for him."
Eve stiffened. "I am grateful to him. He looked after you these past few weeks and for that I am indebted to him," she said, her tone brooking no argument.
Katya didn't look convinced and Eve blamed herself. She was a terrible liar. She prayed for the courage to walk away from him.
* * * *
Drago strode into his Great Hall. Nolan and Falk greeted him as he entered, but he was too deep in thought to acknowledge them. His thoughts were on Eve.
He sat on his throne and exhaled a heavy breath. The irony didn't go unnoticed by him. For two hundred years he had accepted his fate without a woman he could love, a woman who could rule by his side forever.
The irony was that he found his perfect mate, but she didn't want him.
Ortega strode in the hall. "Your Highness, there is a young girl at the gate who says she has important information about Balkathan. Information you may use against him."
Drago stiffened and raised his hand at Nolan and Falk who rose sharply. He narrowed his eyes on Ortega. "Show her in," he said slowly.
A few minutes later, a young girl walked in who didn't look older than sixteen. Drago stared at her and the hair at the back of his neck rose. Her face! It was luminous with the same subtle glow on Eve's beautiful face.
He growled softly under his breath and rose from his throne. The girl stood before him and curtsied, raising a pair of innocent blue eyes at him. He faltered. She was just a child.
"How is it a child has come to my gates with news of Balkathan?"
Tears welled in her eyes and she clasped her small hands before her. "I escaped his lair a few weeks ago. I couldn't return home because our village was destroyed. I heard about your kingdom and how you offer sanctuary."
"And you were turned into a vampire when he attacked your village?"
"Yes," she said quietly, darting a nervous glance at his guards.
"Come here, child. Sit by me and tell me what you know."
She approached him slowly, her expression fearful as she cast another nervous glance at his men standing guard behind her.
"Do not fear my men. Balkathan enslaves children, we protect them."
"Please, may…may we speak alone, Your Highness?
He understood her fear. His guards would frighten any child, whether the child was a vampire or not, and he gave them a quick look. "Wait outside."
They went outside and closed the door behind them. He directed his attention back to her. "What is your name?"
"Tell me, Dahlia, what do you know?"
"Well, it's not so much what I know, Your Highness, but more what you know."
All of a sudden he noticed a change on her face. The innocence left and was replaced with a malevolent look. His blood ran cold. Silently, he cursed himself for his foolhardy mistake and growled as his beast rose to the surface.
It was too late. She moved like the wind and she clasped her hands on his face before he could shift. The effect of her touch was instant. He grew weak as something cold penetrated his mind. He fought the iron grip she had on his thoughts. She was probing, digging, pushing deep into his mind looking for…someone. Katya!
Blackness overwhelmed him as his body sunk to the ground, his last thoughts on Eve.
Eve smiled at Katya's reflection as Hesta helped her daughter slip into a gown. It was the colour of chocolate and had delicate cream lacings trimming the low neckline. "You look lovely, Katya," Eve said.
Her daughter returned the smile through the mirror. "The king has sent me so many lovely gowns, I don't know which to pick from."
Hesta tightened the laces on Katya's back. "The master is a very generous man, my girl. Do not be fooled by his harsh exterior. Beneath him lies a man who has a big heart."
The healer gave Eve a long look, her weather-beaten face softening and Eve looked away nervously. The old woman was obviously--Eve gasped! She couldn't complete her thought because something fierce slammed into her stomach. Her breath caught and she stiffened violently. Drago! She grasped the armrest of her chair and rose unsteadily to her feet. Hesta and Katya stopped what they were doing and stared at her, worry lining their faces.
"Mama, what is it? You…you look ill!"
Eve felt ill--with panic and fear. Small tremors ran through her limbs as she tried to speak. She sensed him! She sensed Drago and he was in mortal danger!
She caught her reflection in the mirror. Her eyes were blood red and she bared her fangs. She hissed as she shot a glance at her daughter and Hesta. "This cannot be," she spat.
"Mama, you're scaring me. What's happened?"
There was no time to explain. She sensed the presence of one of her kind and Drago's emptying thoughts. "Drago's in danger!" she yelled. "Hesta, he's in the Great Hall. Alert the guards!"
Without sparing another second, she sped from the room and flew down the hallway. She sailed down the stairs and flew towards the Great Hall. The guards growled when they saw her appear suddenly.
"Balkathan's vampire is in there!" she screamed before she crashed through the doors and ran a frantic gaze around the room. She unsheathed her wooden stake from her back and splayed it out before her.
She saw Drago on his knees by his throne with a child-demon's hands on his face. Oh my God, was she too late? Flying through the air, she grabbed the girl by the hair and yanked her off him. She glanced fearfully at Drago and saw him collapse on the floor.
The child-demon hissed at Eve as she pulled a small wooden contraption from a pocket on the side of her gown. She flicked a lever with her finger and the contraption snapped open, taking shape of a wooden stake.
"You're too late!" the child hissed, lunging at Eve. "I already know where she is and after I kill you, I will kill her."
Eve sprang to the side, barely avoiding the girl's stake. She heard Drago groan and shot him a panicked glance. He rose unsteadily, his hands clenched at his sides. Slowly, he turned his gaze to hers and her heart wrenched at the look on his face. It was a mixture of rage and fear and something else she couldn't define.
"Protect Eve," he roared hoarsely to the two guards rushing into the hall.
The guards shifted into their wolf forms and lunged towards the child-demon. Eve knew it was suicide because their strength was no match for the young girl's speed and she sprung in the air between them.
"No!" Drago roared and he shifted into his Lycan form.
Eve faced the child-demon, the wolves growling behind her, and pointed her stake to the girl. "I have never killed a child before. Please, don't…don't make me do this."
Dahlia bared her fangs and hissed. "I am not a child." With lightning reflex, she flung her stake at Eve.
Eve heard Drago roar with rage and before she could react, his Lycan form vaulted between her and the stake. In one swift movement, it entered his abdomen and he groaned as he fell to the ground. Rage blinded Eve and she hissed, flying over his body to land in front of the girl. She plunged her stake into the child-demon's heart. The Lycan guards shifted back to their human forms and ran to Drago while Eve watched the child-demon's body disintegrate into dust.
She turned and saw one of the guards pull the wooden stake from Drago and she ran to his side, collapsing on the ground beside him.
Fear shook her as she watched him revert back to his human self. Relieved, she watched his cut heal and disappear. He rose from the ground and glanced at the ashes of the girl. Grimacing, he gave his hand to Eve and helped her rise.
Without taking his eyes off her, he roared, "Everyone out!" The guards immediately took their leave. "How did you know I was in danger?" he asked harshly once they were alone.
Eve snapped out of her daze. "What matters is, I knew," she said, trying to sound calm. The tremor in her voice didn't help concealing her nerves. What if the girl had thrown a silver dagger at Eve? Drago could have been killed. The thought left her numb.
His nostrils flared. "So you are starting to feel it, too."
"Our bond," he rasped and lowered his head to cover her mouth with his.
He crushed her body to his and kissed her with a ruthless passion that thrilled her. In the midst of all the danger they had just passed, she wanted him. Eve's heart dropped as the scene in the corridor with Drago and Gretchen swam before her eyes. She pushed at his chest.
"Let me…go," she gasped beneath his mouth.
He plunged his tongue into her mouth and began his sensual exploration as his hands ran up and down her back and lower to her bottom. She was beginning to melt. Moaning against the passionate onslaught of his kiss, her hands wound themselves around his neck and, without meaning to, she pressed her lower body against his. He groaned and she ran her fingers through his hair, pulling his head closer to hers. Letting caution run with the wind, her tongue mixed and meshed with his and she succumbed to the desire building in her limbs.
He withdrew briefly and murmured deeply, "My beautiful Eve," before he kissed her again.
She was soaring. And she didn't want this to end. She forgot about everything except this moment and how, for the first time in centuries, she felt like a woman. She felt passion and love and wanted to stay in his arms forever.
"Drago! I heard what happened!"
Eve stiffened. It was Gretchen's voice behind her. Slowly, Drago raised his head and held Eve against his chest.
"Take your leave, Gretchen," he said quietly over her head.
She caught the thick tension in his voice, as though the slightest tug would make him snap.
"So this vampire bitch has already put your life in danger. I knew it! She and her daughter are nothing but trouble and you need to banish them at once!"
Eve felt Drago's body go still and for a split second, she feared for Gretchen's life. Gently, she pushed herself out of his grasp and looked up into his handsome face. "I will go."
"No," he ground out. He snapped his gaze to Gretchen. "Guards!" Within a split second, Nolan and Falk entered the Great Hall. "Escort Gretchen off the grounds and never let her past the castle doors again. Is that clear?" he asked in a dangerously soft tone.
"Aye, Your Highness."
"Don't touch me," Gretchen spat at the guards. "I will go, just remember I warned you, Drago," she added, tossing him a hateful glare.
"I'm sorry," he told her once they were alone again.
Eve stepped away from him, hardening herself against the flash of regret she saw in his eyes. "She's right. Your whole kingdom is in jeopardy because of Katya."
"I will protect you both," he said thickly.
"No. I lo--I care about you too much to see you get hurt. Katya and I must leave." Grim-faced he reached for her and she sprung back with her vampire speed.
She heard trumpets blaring all around the castle and Eve frowned. "What is that?"
Drago clenched his jaw. "My son, Vasilis, has returned with Alexandra. I must go and see him, but I will come to you later. We must talk. Tonight."
"There's nothing left for us to say."
"I will be in my chambers in a couple of hours. If you're not there, I will come looking for you," he said firmly as he turned and walked to the door. "And I will find you." Their gazes locked briefly before he left.
She was not in his chambers in two hours. She was in hers. And when he opened the door and strode in, she was not surprised. She knew he would come looking for her.
"Drago, we can never be together," she said without preamble.
His mouth tensed as an intense heat lit his dark gaze. "If you are worried about Gretchen, don't. I ended things with her and what you saw earlier was Gretchen kissing me, not the other way around." His face darkened with desire. "I cannot fight what I feel. I want you to be with me. Stay with me."
"Until you meet your one? No, I cannot."
"So that is what is keeping you from me. That damned legend."
"Yes," she whispered.
"Eve, I cannot explain this bind I have with you, nor can I predict the future, but what I can do is tell you I have never felt like this for a woman in my life, not even for the late queen." He ran a shaky rough hand through his hair. "The legend is true. There is one mate for every Lycan, but the legend does not apply to me."
"I've always felt…alone. My people, my land and my kingdom are my priority. They depend on me for food, shelter, protection. When my own father died and I inherited his crown, I swore I would take care of this land and make him proud. I married the queen to bear an heir and I love my son deeply, but I've always feared the legend would tear me away from my royal duties."
"I don't understand."
His face turned grim. "I am like you. I don't believe in fairy tales. Not for me, in any case. I am happy for my son, but what happened to him will not happen to me. There is no Lycan Legend for me. I believe in the now and how I can keep my kingdom safe. I can't believe in ones and happily ever afters. Too many lives depend on me." He inhaled slowly and released a heavy breath. "You are ideal for me. You are brave, courageous, kind. You are strong and honourable."
"What are you saying?"
"Be my wife. Rule by my side. You are a warrior at heart with a strong, courageous spirit. Together, we can protect this kingdom and make it prosper. You have power, beauty, bravery, all befitting qualities for a queen."
Eve didn't know what to say. She was stunned. She could never marry him and once he knew the truth about her, she doubted he'd want her.
"I'm sorry, Drago. I cannot be your queen."
His jaw tightened. "You don't have to answer me now. Let me show you how right it could be between us." He took her by the shoulders and drew her in his arms, his dark gaze dipping to her mouth. "Eve, I want you," he said. "Let us be together now, in this moment, as man and woman."
Slowly, he lowered his head and Eve fought the urge to run from him. The look he gave her as his head came down made her stomach somersault. She wasn't going to deny herself anymore. She wanted this and would treasure this moment forever.
She closed her eyes and felt his arms go around her as his mouth met hers. His lips moved sensually over hers, her knees growing weak, and she slid her hands up his arms to his shoulders. She moaned softly against his mouth and ran her hands to the back of his head. She didn't want this kiss to end.
His hands came between them and he slowly unbuttoned her vest. Dragging his mouth from hers, he slipped the vest from her shoulders and cupped her breasts, giving her a bone-melting gaze.
"You drive me mad with desire," he said, his tone hoarse with need.
His hands slipped to her pants and he felt around for lace or ties. He gave her a quizzical look. "How do these come off?"
Slowly, she slipped her hands inside the waist band of her pants and slid them off her hips.
His face tightened with desire as her bare skin revealed itself.
She bent and lifted her feet from the pants, tossing them behind her. She stood before him, unashamed of her nakedness.
"Now, it's your turn," she said, her tone husky with unconcealed desire. She went for his tunic, but he grabbed her hand and shook his head.
"Let me. It will be faster." With deft and quick moves, he removed his royal garb and stood naked before her.
Eve ran her gaze over his body and shivered. He was perfection. She glanced down at his arousal and nearly gasped. It appeared his immense size wasn't only limited to his shoulders and biceps.
He bent and lifted her in his arms, his warm flesh sending thrills down her spine and carried her to the bed. He lay down beside her and ran his hands along her body, down to her womanhood, where she arched her neck and gasped as he slipped his finger inside her.
She writhed and bucked as he explored her core, darts of pleasure shooting up her spine. She reached out her hand and ran it along his strong chest, marveling at the beauty of his magnificent body. She went lower until she found his rigid staff draped in velvet and steel and clasped her fingers around him.
He sucked in a harsh breath and growled. Their gazes locked and she parted her lips in wonder at the look of possessiveness on his face.
His eyes turned amber just for a second and she frowned for a moment. She wanted the man, not the wolf.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. Your eyes just changed for a moment."
She wasn't even sure if he heard her because in the next instant, he was lying on top of her, bracing his weight above her with his elbows on the bed. She arched her lower body to meet his.
He stared at her, his face tight with desire and he positioned himself before he impaled her with a sharp, hard thrust, filling her. Her body immediately expanded to accommodate his size and she moaned at the exquisite rush of pleasure and pain throbbing at her center.
He looked deeply into her eyes, his gaze sultry and dark and a delicious shiver ran down her spine.
Slowly, he began to move and she matched his tempo and pace. He kissed her, his tongue warm and sweet and she surrendered to her mounting passion. Drago groaned softly against her lips and picked up speed. The energy between them was thick and hot and she felt truly human for the first time in centuries.
He made her feel like a woman, not the undead creature she'd become. And he made her forget everything. The only thing that mattered was her and him, embracing with a passion borne of need.
Her body felt like it was ready to snap and she turned her face and squeezed her eyes against the sheer ecstasy building in her limbs and bit into his arm. He groaned from deep within his throat.
A warm pool of pleasure gathered in her core and she raised her face and kissed him with a hunger she didn't know existed in her.
He made a deep, strangled sound in his throat and slipped his hands beneath her, cupping her bottom and ground her against his mounting thrusts and pulls. She threw her head back and bit back screams. She was soaring to a pinnacle where she would find bliss. She cried out as he ground his body to hers and she was hurled to her summit, spiraling out of control, over a precipice, her body quaking with the spasms of her release.
He made a deep, guttural sound and arched his head, his expression dark with arousal. With one final thrust, he spilled his seed into her womb and she dug her nails into his shoulders as her spasms subsided.
They lay in silence for a few moments, their skin sleek with sweat, the breathing ragged. Drago rolled to his side, taking her with him as he wrapped his arms around her.
Eve closed her eyes, sighed and basked in the glorious aftermath of her climax.
A strange, guttural noise alerted her and her eyes flew open. She looked over to Drago and saw his face etched in shock, his eyes turning amber. He pulled from her and staggered out of the bed, his hands clenched to his sides. He gave her a look she could only describe as astonishment. Eve grew frightened.
And then he shifted. He released his Lycan as his body grew, his face changed, his limbs stretched. He raised his head and howled long and loud.
Eve sat up sharply and slid back in one fluid move against the headboard, hissing and baring her fangs. She wasn't going to let him take her in his monstrous Lycan form.
Luckily that wasn't what he had in mind because he shifted back to his human naked form and stared at her with shock. "You were in front of me all along," he murmured. "I always suspected, our bond, my connection to you, but I never believed it to be true until now."
"What are you talking about?"
"You belong to me now."
"I belong to no one."
"I will not let you go. We are bound now for all eternity."
She had had enough. "I've been alone for four hundred years, Drago." She rose from the bed. Unashamed of her nakedness, she walked over to her clothes and started putting them on. With jabs, pulls and tugs, she dressed, angry at him for ruining their moment. She'd wanted to remember this moment with tenderness. She didn't want to recall his arrogance. "I've come to terms with my destiny. It's an eternity of nothing." She tossed him a glare as she buttoned her vest over her breasts. "I suggest you come to terms with your destiny. You said so yourself, your kingdom is your destiny." Dressed, she bent to grab her weapons and gasped. He moved fast and before she knew it, he was holding her in a vice grip around her waist, dragging her body up against his.
"Lycans control their turning except when they make love to their destined mate, their one and just now I couldn't control my turning. After we made love, I shifted involuntarily." His expression was tight with suppressed emotions. "You, my beautiful Eve, are my one!"
She stiffened, staring up at him like he'd lost his mind. "I…I thought you shifted because your wolf wanted to be released." She was dazed. "This is absurd. You told me earlier the legend didn't apply to you." She was still too shocked to contemplate the full moon rising tomorrow. "No Lycan has ever mated with a vampire."
"It appears we just did," he replied, his face grim.
"In…in the legend, the Lycan's one turns into a werewolf on the next full moon. What will become of me tomorrow when the full moon rises? I am already a vampire. What kind of beast will I turn into?"
"We will face it together."
She knew he would not be able to accept the biggest obstacle holding them apart. She watched him dress.
"I'm…I'm going to see Katya," she said and left him before he could say a word.
It was after midnight when Eve went to Katya's room and her daughter was getting ready for bed.
"I can't wait for the assignment I am to take for the king. I've been inside for so long, I'm looking forward to the outdoors."
Eve frowned. "What assignment are you talking about?"
"I thought you already knew. I will travel with a few of his guards in a few days to show them where Balkathan's lair is."
Anger bubbled in her breast. "No! It's too dangerous."
"Mama, we won't be riding up to Balkathan's front gate. We'll be a distance away. The king wants to attack in two weeks, but he wants to scout the territory first."
"I won't allow it! Katya, what if Balkathan has soldiers hiding in the woods, prepared for such invasions?"
"We won't make it as far as the woods, Mama."
"I don't care! You will refuse the king at once."
"Refuse me of what?" came the dry comment from the door.
Eve stiffened as she glanced up and saw Drago stride into the room. "How dare you ask my daughter to return to the place that nearly destroyed her?"
"Actually, I didn't ask her. She offered her assistance."
"Your Highness, I'm so sorry. I tried to tell my mother I offered to help."
He raised an imperious hand. "Don't worry yourself. I can understand why your mother is against it."
"I still want to do this!" Katya said firmly. "Mama, I want to help the king in any way I can. The lair's entrance is hidden, camouflaged and only I know where it is." She paused, taking a deep breath as Eve watched her silently. "I have to do this. You taught me all my life how to be strong and fight for what's right. You taught me never to give up, to be strong and…and to face my fears head on and fight them." Her eyes brimmed with tears. "Well, I fought hard when I was in Balkathan's lair. Some battles I won and the others I lost," she added, her voice trembling, "and now all I can think of is all those women and men imprisoned there who can't escape. All those people who didn't have someone like you in their lives to teach them how to survive. I escaped because of all the things you taught me." Her face hardened. "If showing the king's guards where the lair is will help those prisoners, I will do it."
Eve felt the back of her eyes burn. Drago was standing silently to her side and she could feel his gaze on her, watching her intently. She drew in a shaky breath. "Katya, my darling girl, I am so proud of you. You've already faced your fears with bravery and courage. Now, I must do the same." Slowly, she rose, casting a sad look upon her daughter and Drago. "You both forget, I know where his lair is, too. And it's time for me to do what I've been too afraid to face these past four centuries." She tensed, knowing how they would both soon react. "I will leave at once and attack Balkathan myself."
"I forbid it," Drago roared. "He'll have you killed before you enter his gate."
"No, he won't," she told him quietly as she met his furious gaze. She braced herself, knowing he was going to hate her in a minute. "Balkathan is my father."
"What!" Katya screamed.
Eve's heart fell as she watched Drago's expression change. He looked stunned. "Your father? Why did you never tell us?"
"When is a good time to tell people the demon who's been destroying villages and creating bloodshed is your father?" She paused, taking a deep breath. "He turned me into a vampire four hundred years ago, thinking I would rule with him and stay by his side forever. He'd already killed my mother because she knew he was insane and would never follow him." She winced at the expression on Drago's face. He was looking at her like he was seeing her for the first time. "I ran away from him and travelled as far away as I could. I stopped in China and lived in a temple with monks who took me in and taught me that my curse could be used for good. They taught me hand-to-hand combat and how to use every weapon with a skill, unmatched. Each generation of monks who lived, passed all their knowledge to me. I stayed with them for two hundred years. When I returned, I knew my father was still looking for me, but instead of facing him and fighting him, I hid and lived in the shadows, never staying in one place for more than a few weeks."
Calmly, she walked to the window. "The reason my father is so powerful and no one has been able to kill him all these centuries is he's the only known, surviving hybrid, both Lycan and vampire. I was there when a Lycan bit him one month after he turned into a vampire. Soon after, he turned insane and killed my mother. I have to kill him. Once he's dead, his army will be nothing without him to lead them." She sprung on the windowsill.
Drago roared, "No!"
"I've always known how to kill him. Both silver and stake at the same time through the heart and that is what I must do now, before I turn into the same beast he is tomorrow night when the full moon rises. No one has ever survived the curse of both vampire and Lycan." Her gaze wavered under Drago's impenetrable stare. She drew in an unsteady breath. "Tomorrow night, when the full moon rises, I fear I will turn into my father," she told him quietly.
"Eve, get off that ledge now," he said in a dangerously soft tone.
She ignored his veiled warning. "I will make Balkathan think I've finally returned to him and when he least suspects it, I will kill him." She looked at Katya and her heart twisted in pain at the expression on her daughter's face. "I love you."
"I said get off that damn ledge, now," Drago growled, his face darkening to a dark red
She smiled sadly at him. "You can't stop me. I'm faster than you and I fly. I love you, Drago." She then flew into the night, blocking the sound of her daughter screaming and Drago hollering bloody murder.
Drago stared at the window, his gut clenching violently. He had to find her before she got herself killed! He knew she wouldn't travel in the sunlight so he'd have to reach her before sunrise. Grimly, he looked at Katya and tensed at the look of fear on her face.
"Fear not. I will find your mother," he told her. Then he looked at an astonished Hesta. "Go see the prince. Tell him what's happened. I'm going after her. There is no time to waste."
"Master! You don't know where she's going," Hesta cried.
He could feel her now, passing the forest. Dammit, she moved like lightning! Soon she would be in bandit territory. "Yes, I do."
Shifting in his wolf form, he growled at the two women and vaulted through the window. After landing on his four massive paws, he sprang forward and ran towards bandit territory.
He knew she was well ahead of him. He had terrain to cover and she had air. He also knew now, why she refused to be with him. Foolish woman! Did she really think because Balkathan was her father, he would not want her?
She was nothing like that evil bastard!
He had to reach her before sunrise. He had to bring her back to the castle while it was still dark. The thought of losing her filled him with anguish and fear. He couldn't lose her now. He sped through the dry terrain of the fields, passed the forest and stopped. Panting heavily, he snapped his gaze around. She was close by.
Drago released three successive barks and snarled. Something wasn't right. Baring his jaws, he sprung towards a cluster of boulders in a clearing. Without stopping, he vaulted over a huge boulder and landed on his paws on the other side.
Three Lycans had Eve surrounded, their armour's crest decorated with a bold B. Balkathan's men! The biggest one had a wooden stake pointed on her chest.
Drago went insane with rage and lunged forward, his jaw clamping down on the Lycan's hand. The Lycan growled and dropped the stake as Eve sprung towards the other Lycan closest to her.
She used her vampire speed and caught him by surprise as she drove her silver dagger in his chest. The other Lycan sprung towards her and she fought him as Drago shifted to his Lycan form and faced his adversary.
Glancing back sharply to Eve, he was relieved to see her holding her ground as she sailed over the Lycan's head and landed behind him. He turned sharply to his opponent.
"What are you doing in this territory?" he asked. "Aren't you a little far from your dark lord's lair?"
"We are everywhere, fool," the Lycan snarled. "Balkathan has been keeping a close eye on your castle for years. Soon, the castle will be his and your people will bow down to him."
He lunged forward and Drago growled, sidestepping as he pushed the Lycan onto a boulder. Balkathan's werewolf smashed his head against the rock and Drago sprung forward, wanting to finish him while he was still dazed. He grabbed the silver dagger from the Lycan's belt and raised it above his shoulder when he heard Eve grunt.
Panicked, he twisted his head and watched her being hurled to the ground. "Eve!"
She snapped her gaze to his and the Lycan lunged forward with his stake, burying it deep in her chest. She screamed, clutching the stake and fell back.
Drago felt his heart stop. Without another thought, he turned to his opponent and stabbed him with his dagger. Eve's Lycan vaulted towards Drago, his hand upraised with a silver dagger, and growled ferociously.
Drago went cold with rage and stopped the Lycan's hand in midair, dragging his hand down into the demon's own chest. The Lycan slumped dead to the ground.
Fear pulsed through his frame as he collapsed on the ground beside Eve. Her eyes were closed, her face still and he grabbed the stake. Tears blurred his vision as he pulled the stake from her chest, raising his face to the heavens, roaring with anguish.
He lifted her in his arms and crushed her against him, burying his face in her neck. "Eve, no! Please don't go. I love you. I…love you," he said hoarsely.
He didn't know how long he held her, but at the first streak of sun lighting the horizon, he knew he had to return to the castle.
He lifted her gently and carried her as he walked through the forest and into the fields. He couldn't feel his heart. It was dead. Like his beautiful Eve.
After carrying her for a long while, he looked ahead and saw twenty horses thundering towards him, his son leading the pack.
Vasilis vaulted off his white steed and strode to him, his face dark with anger. "Father, a king does not leave his castle without a caravan of guards to follow the spawn of Balkathan. Have you lost your mind?"
Drago was numb with grief. "Would you not risk your life for your one?"
Vasilis's face dropped as he looked from his father to Eve and then back to his father. "Father?" he asked, frowning. His gaze rested on Eve's still face.
"Aye, my son. She is my one." Drago's voice broke and he took a moment to regain control. "My one is dead."
* * * *
"The master is distraught. He's been in the there all day and refuses to come out to eat or drink." Hesta rang her hands fearfully. "I have never seen him like this. Not even when the late queen took her life."
Lena placed her arm around the healer's frail shoulder. "Our king is strong, Hesta. He needs this time to grieve privately."
Hesta didn't look convinced and for a split second, Lena doubted her own words. "I don't know about that, child. He may be strong, but when a Lycan loses their one, their life is shattered. He worries me. It's already well into the night and he hasn't eaten a thing. I've been outside this door all day and night and I've heard him talking to Eve. He speaks to her as though he expects her to respond."
"Even Vasilis and Alexandra have tried all day to make him stop this madness, but he ordered them to leave him be."
"What are we to do?"
"Go to Katya. Console her. The poor girl has just lost her mother and she is beside herself with grief."
"And you? What are you to do?"
Hesta's eyes shone with tears. "I will stay here and wait for him to come out."
* * * *
Drago drew in a ragged breath, staring at his beloved. Her face was still and pale, her lips pink. He lowered his head and kissed her softly. She was cold.
He knew he had to let her go, but he wasn't ready. If he let her go now, he would never look upon her lovely face again. His felt his heart crack.
He held her hand and squeezed his eyes. "I love you, my darling. I will always love you."
The full moon began to rise, filtering in its glow through the window. The drapes were drawn and Drago stared at the sky, his hand tightening around Eve's. This was what she had been afraid of, this moment, the rise of the full moon.
He looked down at her face and swallowed hard. "You were never going to turn into your father. Your heart has always been strong, your passion for all life honourable." A tear slid down his cheek and he brushed it away. "Evil preys on the weak, my darling, and you were never weak. My beautiful, Eve," he continued, his tone thick with grief.
He squeezed his eyes and raised his head, drawing in a long, shaky breath. He had to leave her now. He had to say goodbye. Slowly, he opened his eyes and stared at the white orb rising high in the midnight sky. He threw back his head and howled long and loud, releasing all the pain and grief wracking his body.
When he fell silent, he lowered his gaze to Eve and stared at her face for the last time.
Suddenly, her eyelids flew open and he froze, staring at her amber eyes. "Dear God!" he rasped. "Eve!"
Her eyes turned red before returning to their blue. She stared at him with confusion.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice faint.
His heart soared to the heavens and with shaky hands, he cupped her face gently, lowering his head and kissing her. "You came back to me," he said gruffly. "I love you. My God, I love you so much."
Her expression softened and she took his hands and clasped them against her breast. Slowly she smiled up at him, her eyes glistening.
"I love you, too, Drago."
He would tell her later, regarding the colour of her eyes, and how she was now Lycan and vampire. Right now, he just wanted to hold her and never let her go.
"Why are you smiling?" Vasilis asked.
"I know there is a war on our horizon with Balkathan, but at this moment, I am very content. I am happy," Drago said.
He watched his son glance at Alexandra, Eve and Katya. "The women are getting along well," Vasilis remarked.
"They have a lot in common. They learned their art of combat with the same people. No doubt they are looking forward to practicing their skills with each other."
"Eve's daughter is very pretty," Vasilis mentioned as he glanced at Malek, his chief guard who was standing silently beside them.
"Yes," Drago agreed. He immediately knew what his son was up to. "Malek, go speak with her. Get to know her before your trip tomorrow. Engage in conversation. Look, she is glancing your way."
Malek's face was grim. "She was in Balkathan's lair for two years. I'm not so willing to trust the wench until I know for certain she is one of us."
Drago raised a brow. "She has offered to take us where he hides. We need to scout the area before our attack."
"She offered to take us there for battle or ambush?" Malek replied. "There is something about her I fear. I cannot place my finger on it, but I look upon her and feel…tense."
Drago stared at his royal guard curiously. "Aye, I know that feeling," he began quietly. "I felt it with Eve and my son felt it with Alexandra."
Malek visibly stiffened. "I beg your pardon, Your Highness, but it is suspicion I feel, not passion."
"I have assigned you as her personal guard. You will guard her with your life and make sure nothing happens to her. The queen has only agreed to this trip under the condition my best warrior guarantees Katya's safe return."
"Aye, Your Highness," Malek said.
Drago knew Malek wasn't pleased and he hid a smile. Malek was like a son to him, like a brother to Vasilis and he understood where his Chief Guard drew his concern. He was their strongest and bravest Lycan Warrior and he would die protecting them.
Drago brought his goblet up to his mouth and drank some ale, his gaze resting on his new queen.
Eve had left the women and was talking to Ariel, Alexandra's little sister, and Becca who were both seated on his throne. She said something to the little girls and they both giggled.
His heart filled with fierce love.
* * * *
Katya couldn't concentrate on what the princess was saying to her. She was too furious with the Lycan Warrior who stood proud and arrogant, filling the king and prince with doubts about her loyalty.
How dare he imply she was a spy! She was dying to march up to him and tell him she didn't need him to protect her on their assignment, but she refrained. Her mother had agreed to the trip on the one condition the king's best warrior looked after her daughter.
She tensed her mouth. Well, the arrogant Lycan Warrior was going to find out soon enough she didn't need anyone to look after her.
Coming soon: Lycan Warrior
If you enjoyed Lycan King, try Lycan Prince, the first book in this series.
About the Author
Anastasia Maltezos enjoys reading and writing all romance genres, whether it's a sweet contemporary, or a dark paranormal. Her heroes vary from high powered, corporate moguls falling in love with the girl next door, to sexy vampires searching for their lost love.
Love blooms in all forms.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents