As he fed, I longed to wrap my fingers in his hair. Sebastian loved to be petted, especially when he drank. Determined to do so, I tried. My heart sank when I realized I lacked the energy. My languid limbs refused to obey. My body was dying, scattering to ash from the inside out.

The light from the fireplace dimmed. I watched the reflected licks of flame and fire dance across the ceiling, creating shadowy figures and shapes that mingled together. I listened to the sounds of his rhythmic swallows and lowered my lids when they became too heavy, allowing my eyes to drift closed.

Everything I thought it would be. Everything I hoped.

This was our moment. I’d finally gotten what I’d wanted most.

I didn’t want it to end, holding on as long as possible.

Darkness swirled, becoming dark.

Then, there was nothing.

Chapter Three

I lifted extremely heavy eyelids, lashes fluttering rapidly against my cheeks. I was disoriented and confused, trying to remember where I was and how I had gotten there. The room was dark. A fire in the hearth had nearly gone out. I shifted and found I was sore, but in the most wondrous of places.

Suddenly the night before came rushing back, and I thrust a hand to my face. My fingers landed on my nose and bare cheeks. Oh no. I couldn’t conceal my identity without the mask.

“Are you looking for this, Katja?”

I stilled at Sebastian’s voice, heart hammering.

I remembered the kiss before dying. It was everything I’d heard it was and then some. A drifting off that ensured a host didn’t feel any pain. I remembered the draws at my neck, the weakness, the lethargy, and the moment I had finally surrendered to his power by closing my eyes.

I’d died. I knew I had. He’d drained my very life’s blood.

Sebastian walked around the side of the bed, tossing my mask and blonde wig to the floor. He was wrapped in his thick plush black velvet robe, his contrasting blond hair uneven around his neck and wide shoulders. The bed sank beneath his weight and I peered up at him. Dying without pain I had contemplated but not this.

Would I be punished?

Would I experience a slow, agonizing death minus a beheading?

“Marietta told me of your plan.” He regarded me closely, his blue eyes bright in the dark room. “She said you wouldn’t be swayed to leave well enough alone, regardless of what she said.”

“It’s not her fault.” I tried to defend the house witch and control my panic. I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble for my choice. “I would have done the same thing with or without her help.”

Amused, Sebastian said, “Marietta will receive no punishment. She helped you because I allowed her to do so. I gave her my permission.”

With heart pounding, I found the courage to ask, “Why did you let me to believe you didn’t know? Why didn’t you call me out? Why play along?”

“Katja.” He bent over, urging me onto my back. “Do you know why blood slaves are virgins?”

I nodded, suddenly solemn and torn. “Our blood is pure, it’s more potent.”

“No, love.” He shook his blond head. “Though that is what we tell our blood slaves to make the need for purity credible.”

“I don’t understand,” I murmured.

“Vampire royalty can’t claim a bride who comes into a family tainted. Just as they cannot claim a bride who doesn’t choose a life with a vampire for eternity of her own free will.”

“A bride?” I echoed, frowning.

“Yes, sweet, a bride.” He smiled and brushed the hair that had fallen across my forehead to the side. “Keeping our existence secret is of paramount importance. As our numbers dwindled, we were forced to look at mortal society to find eternal companions. The chemistry must be there, of course, which is why we allow a ten-year period for slaves to become attached to their masters. But only those who would willingly offer their lives to be with one of us are worthy of the honor of being changed. It’s rare, to be sure. Most mortals aren’t willing to sacrifice their life for love.”

Sebastian stood and removed his robe, allowing the plush material to fall to the floor to reveal his magnificent body. “I am honored to be so fortunate.”

“B-but,” I stammered in confusion, almost losing my train of thought at the glorious sight of his naked frame as he returned to the bed. “I don’t understand. I remember what happened.”

“Do you?” he asked, slightly arrogant, one of his least desirable traits.

“Yes.” I glared at him. “I died.”

“No.” He bowed his head and exhaled against my lips. “You were reborn.”

His mouth felt warm—lips too—and I shoved at his chest. “What did you do? What have you done to me?”

“I changed you,” he said simply, without a trace of remorse. “You’ve taken enough of my blood in the past to ensure a shift from mortal to immortal upon a draining. While your body transformed I’ve waited, anticipating the moment you finally opened your eyes.”

“Why,” I whispered, slightly afraid. I knew nothing of created vampires, only those born.

“I love you, Katja Arianna Morgan.” He spoke with a familiarity that revealed he knew far more about me than I was aware. “I have since I saw you on the platform at Telliandria’s auction. Even then, standing before the lords and ladies with your head held high, I knew you were special. But…” He sighed, hands forming into fists. “As your time in my keeping passed, I feared you wouldn’t choose to come to me. I thought I was going to have to let you go.”

“You told me we couldn’t be together, Bastian,” I reminded him, recalling the tears I shed when I questioned our future and he broke my heart. “You said it could never happen, that making love to one another meant death.”

“And I didn’t lie,” he replied tenderly, caressing the curve of my cheek. “You did die to your mortal life. But in the doing you have been reborn. It is against our laws to tell anyone outside our kind that only the selfless giving of life is worthy of the gift of the change. Had you not come to me as you did—with love and no fear for what it would mean for you—I never could have claimed you.”

Desperate to hear it, I asked breathlessly, “Do you really love me?”

He nodded and smiled, flashing fang. “Allow me to show you how much, Katja. I’ve dreamed of how it would be when we could truly be together. After your little show earlier, I know I am not alone in harboring fantasies.”

Smiling at the desire in his eyes, I tossed the duvet aside and bared my naked body. The air sizzled, electrified and charged between us. His lips descended and I opened my mouth in welcome but found things were markedly different. His flavor was headier, his scent more prominent.

Behind it all was the most luscious smell…

“It’s your hunger.” He groaned. “I feel it beating at me. You need to feed.”

His solid erection pressed against my thigh as he slid between my legs and brought other impulses to mind. I found myself pushing at him, forcing Sebastian onto his back. His cock was fully erect and jutted proudly from the light scattering of blond hair along his thighs.

I didn’t ask for permission, crawling on hands and knees until I reached him. With one hand I cupped his heavy sac, massaging the sensitive tissue carefully. With the other I gripped the base, brought the head to my lips and licked the skin around the tip that formed the crown.

“I’m glad to see my library has been put to good use.” He clasped the sheets with his fingers, just as I had when he pleasured me with his mouth. “Exceptionally good use.”

I grinned, finally understanding why I’d found erotic novels on the table near my journals. “You left them for me on purpose, didn’t you?” I said and then licked his cock.

“Of course,” he hissed, pausing as I took his head into my mouth and sucked. “Every time I returned to our chamber and the scent of your desire hung heavy in the air, I knew you’d been reading them. It took every ounce of self-control I possessed not to toss you onto our bed and eat you up. I wanted to hear you scream my name over and over again.”

I moaned, picturing him doing just that. He brought a hand to my head and twined his fingers into the strands. He didn’t instruct me this time, enjoying the slow and sensual exploration of my mouth against his straining flesh. This time I worked to take more of his length, trying to relax my throat. Before long he pumped his hips and pushed my head down to match the movement.

“I’ll come if you keep doing that.”

I stopped long enough to offer, “Don’t fight the feeling.”

He didn’t.

His thrusts were rough now, his hand at the back of my head almost violent. He came in a rush, cock jerking as wave after wave of his pleasure spilled onto my tongue. I sucked greedily, unable to get enough. I devoured him, drinking him down. He tasted different—salty but no longer bitter.

Like this, he was addictive.

“One day in our future, I’m going to go by the gentlemanly adage,” he told me in a hoarse voice, “ladies first.”

He changed our positions in a smooth motion and propped me against the pillows. He lowered himself, coming between my legs.

“This time I’m tapping this vein,” he said, parting my thighs for easy access.

Sharp fangs skimmed the sensitive skin of my inner thigh, followed by the caress of his tongue. Then I felt a fiery white-hot pain shoot from the area. I braced myself for the ecstasy that always followed his bite, holding my breath, quivering in anticipation. Pleasure bloomed, radiating from his bite, but the miserable burn didn’t go away.

He growled as he drew on my pierced flesh, fingers rough as they slid beneath my thighs and cupped my ass. I brought my hand to my mouth to muffle any cries before they escaped. Sebastian’s bites had always been kind and gentle. They had never beenquitelike this. Pain and pleasure consumed me. As much as I adored the tenderness of his lips, I also craved the harshness of his teeth buried in my skin.

I wanted them both—needed them both.

“What’s happening?” I thrashed as he held me in place, aching for something I didn’t understand, driven by the dull throb in my abdomen that spread through my torso.

Sebastian licked my thigh to seal the punctures. Then he moved, coming to the apex of my thighs. Taking his time, he licked in small laps, driving me mad, leaving me gasping for breath.

“Please,” I begged, gyrating my hips. “Please.”

He slid his tongue between my folds, bringing his hand around. His fingers invaded my tight center, forcing the snug walls to part. I knew it wouldn’t be long until I climaxed—something that never should have been possible, considering. Everything was hypersensitive. Sounds, scents, feelings, sensations—everything was magnified. As the crest arrived and my body exploded, I lost the ability to formulate words. The bed supported me as I shattered, shaking and trembling, arching my back.

“Bastian,” I croaked and sagged weakly into the pillows, unable to move and gasping for breath.

My lover appeared above me, palmed the back of my head and brought my face to his chest. “You must feed. Drink from me, love. Take what you need.”

I almost asked how such a thing was possible when I felt my incisors lengthen, growing sharp against my lower lip. He pressed my mouth to his throat and held me.

“Drink, beloved. Take from me.”

My nostrils flared, going wide. I could smell his blood. The most delicious of aromas. It sang to me, enticing me to sink my teeth within and gorge until my fangs no longer ached.

“Drink.” He sounded impatient, his voice nearly breaking with emotion. “You can’t know how long I’ve waited. No other but brides are permitted to pierce the veins of a vampire. Taste me. Bring me into your body. Deliver yourself into my keeping. Claim me, love. Give yourself to me.”

My lips came back instinctually, baring the razor-sharp edges of my teeth. I followed the path of my nose and allowed it to guide me. Drawing out the moment, I scraped the sensitive tips of my fangs against his flesh until I could no longer bear it. His skin made a soft pop as my teeth broke through, the vein beneath giving way as a gush of warmth splashed against my tongue. The instant I pulled the liquid into my mouth everything went warm. I basked in waves of comfort, love and security.

“Katja,” Sebastian sighed lovingly, playing with strands of my hair just as I did when he fed. “My love. My bride.”

With each swallow my body grew stronger. Lethargy evaporated, replaced with a strength and fortitude I had never known. I drank deeply, savoring blood that was as rich as the finest Bordeaux.

Sebastian finally interrupted me. “Not too much. I don’t want you to be ill. We have unfinished business.”

I closed the tiny holes with my tongue and lapped at his skin. Sebastian said the gesture was a vampire display of affection. When I opened my eyes and lifted my head I truly saw my love for the first time. He was beautiful, a god among men. His skin was so fair it seemed to glow.

“I love you,” I said without thinking, caressing his face.

“And I love you,” he mirrored the sentiment hoarsely, “for eternity, Katja.”

He shifted me and I spread my legs to straddle him, bringing my feet around and behind his waist. Using one arm to lift myself, I took his cock into my free hand and guided him to the pulsing outer lips of my sex. Fisting himself, he fed the wide head into my core inch by slow inch.

“So good.” He leaned down to kiss me, his tongue trailing along my bottom lip. “I knew you’d be like this. I’ve dreamed about this moment so many nights. It’s been hell keeping my hands to myself.”

“I never knew it could be like this,” I said, pressing down on his shaft, shivering with the anticipation of cradling him inside my body.

He pulled away to gaze lovingly into my eyes. “It’s not. Believe me. It’s only going to get better. It’s ingrained in our kind, to ensure we always remain with those we have chosen to share our life. As the time passes your pleasure will grow. We’ll share everything with each another—life, love, blood and pleasure.”

As I settled on his hips, his cock buried deep inside my pussy, I imagined us a hundred years from now. I’d never even considered this would be the outcome of my actions. But here I was, claimed for eternity by the only man I had loved, and ever would love.

That notion in itself made me flush. I ground against the nest of hair between his legs until I felt his sac at my ass. Sebastian growled, grasping my ass in his hands. He lifted me, forcing me to retreat from his shaft, bringing me up until only the head remained inside.

“Get ready,” he warned in a deep, throaty voice. “I’m going to make you come so hard you’ll think you’ve truly died and gone to heaven.”

I did scream with the first thrust of his hips. He brought me down on his cock, impaling me. The head of his shaft bumped my cervix, digging into the giving skin. As my sex clenched around him Sebastian moaned. Throwing his head back, long blond strands drifted along his shoulders. He repeated the motion, lifting me and then bringing us together. We both cried out, enraptured by the bliss, clinging to one another.