|Your cart is currently empty|
Tears of a Vampire
What do you do if you're a seven hundred year old vampire who's sworn off the raping and blood-letting that marked the majority of his un-life? You go visit an old friend. That exactly what Vlad Dracula does, showing up on the doorstep of his former manservant - who just happens to have a beautiful, stubborn, headstrong daughter that draws Vlad's attention like a lodestone. Elizabeth DuBois has no idea what kind of man courts her - she only knows that she's more attracted to him than any milksop of her acquaintance. Vlad can only hope their love will be enough to sustain Elizabeth when she discovers just exactly what kind of man he is.
The term "old fashioned" would definitely more than apply to this more than five hundred year old vampire. He has a long history of keeping his women strictly in line using whatever implement was at hand; using both discipline and a deep seated love for those few he's chosen to share his unique life.
Alone again, hurt almost beyond bearing by the inevitable losses in his life, Vlad became a hermit for almost too long, but office temp Victoria Robinson was a horse of a very different color, and Vlad found himself intrigued by her intelligence and verve from the very start: but she needed someone to watch over her, and, perhaps, he was just that man.
Tears of a Vampire
Something in the blackness drew a deep breath, out of reflex rather than any necessity. He sat alone in the darkness of his book-lined study � no lamp or candle to light to the room, yet the predator in him could see as if the sun were shining. Another deep breath, but no ease of mind accompanied the action, instead he continued to worry the same thought: it was getting harder and harder to exist alone since he had tried to forsake the darkness of his soul for the light of forgiveness. He had much to repent for, and the scant few hundred years of general goodness could in no way begin to make up for the sheer violence and hedonism of his notorious career. Surprisingly, it felt good to know that he was honoring his Isabella’s last wish, turning toward the light as much as possible in character and conscience, if not physically. It was she who had brought about the change in his personality, and he knew he would take his dying step trying to live up to her pure, sweet love.
The Prince was coming. He was coming here. Today. Jacques Armand DuBois was almost beside himself with expectation. The house had been cleaned to within an inch of its life; the servants sparkled with their own anticipation of trying to get a glimpse of their elusive employer’s employer. The mistress of the house, Armand’s daughter Elizabeth, was the only person who had taken no notice of the impending arrival of royalty. Her heart was beating fast not because some faceless member of the ton was expected sometime late this afternoon, but rather because her favorite mare was foaling.
Kneeling in the muck with the horse’s head in her lap, Elizabeth crooned softly, hoping to ease Angelique’s obvious distress. Luke, the stableman, clucked his tongue disparagingly at the sight of Beth’s straggly hair, dirty fingernails and white muslin gown getting progressively blacker with each moment she spent in the stall. She looked up and grinned at him, and despite himself, he grinned back. “This is an old gown, Lucky. And even if it weren’t, I wouldn’t let it stop me from helping Angel in her hour of need.”
Luke had not needed to be told that. Animals were Miss Elizabeth’s downfall, as far as he was concerned. She was four and twenty, and should have been married long since with babes at her feet. Instead, she spent her time at the stables, with her many stray dogs and cats, or worse yet, in his opinion, with her father � reading and studying, of all the useless things for a female to do. His boss - her permissive, liberal father - had contributed to the fact she was a beautiful, intelligent, headstrong old maid with no prospects in sight, who had succeeded in driving away every suitor so far by either verbally dressing him down or emotionally freezing him out.
It was much later that afternoon that Prince Vlad of Szeklys did finally arrive at Armand’s small townhouse in one of the better sections of London. Armand bowed low before his Prince, who nodded in acknowledgement, then kissed the older-looking man on each cheek in the European fashion. “It is good to see you, Radu. How have you been?” The soft, rolling tones washed over him like a familiar smell, settling in the area of his heart. It had been almost a century since anyone had called him by his given name.
“I am well, my Prince. And you?” Armand motioned him into a wingback chair by the window then seated himself in the twin chair.
“I am old, my friend. Very old.” A sad smile passed over his unlined face.
“You certainly don’t look it, Sir.” And he didn’t. He looked like the old portraits Armand had see in the castle in Romania. The Prince was a tall, imposing figure, more so probably in his own time, when men were generally smaller. He stood approximately six feet, two inches, with very broad muscular shoulders and arms, remnants of yielding a heavy broadsword in so many successful campaigns against the infidel Turks. His blood red hair hung long about his face and down his back in waves and curls, a matching color to the mustache and small goatee under his lower lip. The paleness of his complexion let Armand know that he had not yet fed.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he knelt before his master, offering his wrist in nourishment. Vlad pressed it back against Armand’s chest, shaking his head, but Armand insisted, and Vlad accepted with a grateful murmur. Later, when he was satiated, they discussed their lives and brought each other up to the present day like the two old friends they were.
Their quiet conversation was rudely disturbed when Elizabeth burst into the room, almost completely covered head to toe with muck and ran excitedly up to her father to share the happy news. They both rose when she entered the room. “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!”
Armand was completely mortified by her appearance. He rarely found it necessary to adopt a stern stance with his daughter, who was genuinely a good girl, but this was beyond the limits. “Elizabeth Jacqueline!”
Her heart lurched at his disappointed tone. Her father’s angry demeanor and deep frown immediately cowed Beth. His opinion of her was the only one of consequence, and she couldn’t bear to have him unhappy with her. Elizabeth clasped her hands nervously behind her back, staring dejectedly down at the peep of a dirty-toed slipper from beneath the mud-encased hem of her gown. Armand turned a red, embarrassed face to Vlad. “I am so sorry for the interruption, my Prince. My daughter’s manners are usually much better than this.”
To his surprise, he noted that Vlad was fighting a grin. “Not to worry, Armand. You must introduce me to this charming creature.” No one in his right mind could describe Elizabeth as charming in her current state, but Vlad was ever gracious.
“Prince Vlad of Szeklys, this is my irrepressible daughter, Elizabeth.”
Beth curtsied deeply, for despite her rather unorthodox upbringing, her father had not skimped on the need for etiquette. Vlad bent and, with two gentle, gloved fingers beneath her chin, made her stand and meet his eyes. Despite the streak of mud that marred her lovely face, he recognized the fresh perfection of the creamy skin beneath. Her bright, almost violet eyes spoke of happiness and sunshine, and his body tightened suddenly with a need that had nothing to do with blood. “Such beauty need never bow to the likes of me.”
His shocking, startlingly blue eyes and deep, sensual voice insinuated themselves physically into her body, sending her heart pulsating madly in her chest. To Elizabeth’s shame and horror, she felt her nipples spike to tight, aching points and a slight dew collect between her legs. She had never reacted that way to any man, and that her body was responding beyond her control annoyed her enormously. His fingers remained unnaturally warm at her chin for heartbeats longer than was polite.
“P -please forgive my appearance, Your Highness.” Dammit, she’d never stuttered a day in her life! Why now, in front of him? “I was assisting with a foaling in the stable.”
“You must call me Vlad, Elizabet,” he breathed with the hint of a smile. “I trust all is well with the new mother?” Animals were near and dear to Vlad’s heart, although he generally sided with the predators such as wolves and cats.
Her smile radiated natural pleasure as she whirled like a little girl to grab her father’s hands with her grubby ones. “Oh, yes! Papa, he is the most beautiful little colt with a white star on his forehead!”
“You’re getting me dirty, Beth,” Armand chided gently, but with a broad, indulgent smile.
She seemed to be forever apologizing. “I’m sorry, Father. I’ll go change.” When she would have curtsied again, Vlad clucked his tongue in admonishment and held her up so that she could not manage a proper curtsey. She turned quickly, practically sprinting to the door.
At Vlad’s silent urging, Armand called out, “Wear something nice and join us for dinner, Elizabeth."
This stopped her. She hadn’t expected to be allowed to accompany them. “May I?”
He looked to Vlad for confirmation, and he nodded. Her company would inhibit their conversation, but he seemed quite taken with her, surprisingly.
“She is very beautiful, Armand,” he said thoughtfully when she had left.
Her indulgent father wore a wry smile. “How could you tell through all the dirt?”
Vlad seated himself. “She looks like your Julietta.”
Armand landed in the chair with groan. “She is her mother’s daughter, through and through. Smart as a whip, headstrong, but loving and warm and funny.”
“Ah. She must need a firm hand.”
Armand knew Vlad’s tastes. “Elizabeth is like a young pup, eager to please, easily guided � easily crushed.”
In a tired, sad voice, the centuries old vampire uttered three words Armand was sure he’d never hear. “I envy you, my old friend. I envy you.”
When Elizabeth reappeared, she looked much more presentable. Her golden-copper curls were pulled back into a simple chignon, face scrubbed clean and smelling lightly of Lily of the Valley. The shades of lavender dress accented her creamy skin and tiny waist � achieved with the artificial help of an uncomfortably tight corset - while small amethyst drops glittered at her ears, almost but not quite matching her eyes.
Dinner was an enjoyable event. Armand was amazed to see Vlad smile on occasion, but Elizabeth was like that. She brought out the best in everyone around her, man or animal. As Vlad was a combination of both, he supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. They retired to the study, when Vlad excused himself. Armand knew what he was doing � having eaten sparingly of the meal for Elizabeth’s benefit, he was going to rid himself of the unwanted and unneeded food. He returned shortly, and as the gentlemen reminisced, Elizabeth listened raptly, leaning forward toward the Prince.
Several times during the evening, she dissolved in a fit of coughing, remnants of a lung inflammation that plagued her as well as the occasional asthma attack. In general, her lungs were the weakest part of her, although she never let that stop her from doing anything she wanted. It was another reason that her father despaired that she had spent untold hours knee deep in muck in the cold, damp stable.
The miniature grandfather clock on the mantle above the roaring fire chimed ten-thirty when Armand, wincing as he heard his daughter succumb to yet another coughing spasm, murmured softly, “Bedtime for you, Elizabeth.”
Despite her obvious pain, Beth detested being sent to bed, especially when there was something much more interesting going on � and this Prince was turning out to be infinitely more interesting than her bed. “But Papa, I �” she wheezed until Vlad slid forward in his chair, laying his warm fingers full length against hers, so that his fingertips rested lightly in her palm. His touch had exactly the same effect on her as it had before, causing her nipples to tighten painfully, her breath to quicken and a dull ache to throb between her legs.
“Elizabeta,” his tone chided gently, “you must not argue with your father when he has only your best interests at heart.” He watched her back go up at his soft, deliberate rebuke, measuring her reaction curiously. She had such a bright soul. She reminded him of his beautiful Isabella and, though that pained him, he wanted to be near her. He needed to be with her. Here was a reason to get up in the afternoon. Someone to pursue and win, to challenge him and keep him interested. To hunt, for and with.
Armand almost expected his Beth to directly challenge the Prince, but to her credit she did not. Instead, she rose and kissed her father goodnight, warmly murmuring her love. To Vlad, she curtsied stiffly, no pleasure or smile in her manner, her voice cold as winter wind when she addressed him formally, “Your Highness.”
Duty fulfilled, she stalked angrily toward the door of the study, but Vlad, quicker than any human, met her halfway there. “All evening I’ve been Vlad, Elizabet,” he pointed out, willing her to meet his eyes. “Am I not in your favor because I dared remind you of your manners?”
Armand instantly recognized the set of his daughter’s head from across the room � chin down and jaw clenched � and nearly ran for cover. Elizabeth’s eyes flared at the man’s presumption. No one, not even her father, had ever taken that tone with her. Prince or not, she was going to put him in his place. “As you are not my father, my brother, or my husband, you may keep your thoughts on my manners to yourself, Sir.”
Vlad stood there, watching her, saying nothing. Suddenly ashamed at her outburst, especially knowing he was basically right � which she hated � her eyes crept up to his, and she found herself drowning slowly against the tide of his strong will. Vlad captured her small hand as his hypnotic voice crept into her head. “Your father will be coming to visit me at my new country home at the end of the week. It would please me greatly if you would accompany him.”
His hand touched hers, creating that same uncomfortably sharp spark of feeling all over her body, in the most embarrassingly intimate of places. Though he could have done much, much more, Vlad carefully reached out with his mind and planted only one thought in hers � “breathe easy.” Holding her eyes with his, he whispered, “You need never fear me.”
It was a very strange thing for him to say, she thought, but he was definitely an unusual man. Royalty was often quirky, however. Elizabeth’s will was a match for his � he had recognized that instantly - and although she found his unblinking stare unnerving, she was not frightened, nor was she bowled over by his dominant stance. “I -,” she swallowed convulsively, “I will have to check my schedule.”
A small smile played about his full lips at her obvious coyness. “I will hope that you can make the time to see the new litter of wolf pups I have there.” Vlad knew he’d caught her by playing on her love for animals, but didn’t gloat as he kissed her hand then released it, bowing low to her and clicking his heels in a courtly fashion. Elizabeth fled to her lonely bed, experiencing her first full night of sleep without bouts of coughing and wheezing in almost two weeks.
Vlad remained at the door, appearing almost as if he were in a trance. Instead, he was listening to the sound of her voice as it carried through the house, talking to her maid, cuddling with her pups around her in a big canopied bed. He liked that she seemed to treat everyone very much the way she did him � openly, happily, with a friendly air.
Armand rose and lit a cigar. “She is a handful.”
The words brought him out of his reverie. “You have had two wonderful women in your life, Armand.”
“I have been most fortunate, Viovode.” He executed a short bow to his master, in acknowledgement of Vlad’s role in his good luck.
Vlad took care of those who took care of him. That had been Armand’s role for many decades, until he’d met Julietta, and asked his master to release him from service so that he might live out the rest of his expanded lifetime with his wife and whatever children there might be. It had turned out that his Julietta had gifted him with his extraordinary Elizabeth, then died several years later trying to birth him a son. His grief had been so great he had nearly tried to crawl into the grave with her, until he realized that he still had a part of her in his baby daughter, who became everything to him. Money not being a worry after so many years of faithful service to the Prince, Armand took his daughter from her birthplace in Paris to London to grow up, ever mindful that he was still at the disposal of the Viovode if he should call.
This evening was the first time in over ninety years that he had seen Vlad, after whose first wife Elizabeth was named.
“I like her.”
Those words caused Armand to shudder inwardly, as he well remembered what violence Vlad could inflict on an unwitting soul. “I am glad she pleases you.”
“Why do you let her challenge your authority like that?” As a true alpha male, it was almost impossible for Vlad to resist a test to his dominance.
The older-looking man took a deep breath, thinking carefully before he spoke. “Elizabeth means no disrespect. She finds it hard to simply accept another’s control of her. She’s never been deliberately naughty, just occasionally thoughtless, usually in regards to her own health or well being. Beth has the softest heart since Julietta � the over abundance of stray animals in this house can attest to that. She can’t stand to see any animal hurt or starving. I’ve only ever found it necessary to punish her once, and on that occasion I think it truly was much worse on me. She’s very receptive to the slightest admonition in my tone or manner. I think she finds my displeasure or disappointment in her much worse than any punishment I could dish out.”
Vlad nodded, absorbing the information eagerly, taking all of it to heart with the intent of putting it to the test in the future. When he saw what he wanted, he knew it immediately. Vlad had been right to come back to England. Here was the purpose he had sought, all wrapped up in a beautiful, head-strong, intelligent package that he intended to unwrap slowly, layer by layer until she was laid bare beneath him, accepting him as her lover, her master, her husband.
Another New Years. A millennium, come and gone. Where would it end for him? He had given up wondering centuries ago. Vlad snorted derisively. He’d probably still be around to hear people bitch about Y3K, unfortunately. At least the world had improved in the way of creature comforts, and the technology! He didn’t eat that night � like a lot of nights lately - spending it instead in front of a television that was practically as big as the bed he was born in, watching the world celebrate having made it through two thousand years. There was nothing to celebrate about it. It was just a year, like any other year, melding into so many damned years. “Damned” being the operative word.
What was the line from that song? “Alone again, naturally.” Vlad had been reveling in a deep blue funk for the past forty years, ever since - . He viciously clamped down on the painful memory, but not quickly enough to prevent the tears from pooling in his eyes. He was the oldest of his kind, but all that meant was that he had lost the most � friends, families, wives, lovers, the list was never ending, and the idea of adding another name to that list was utterly abhorrent.
“Do something! Go out there and get involved,” his vampire friend Alexander had encouraged, to no avail. Finally, even he went his own way, saying, “Fine. Sit there and rot, reliving old memories. But why choose such a slow death?” He flipped Vlad a wooden stake. “Use it. Better to die quickly than waste away to nothingness. But before you do, you should write it all down. What a story it would make, huh, old man?” Though they looked the same age, Alexander was only about two hundred years old, to Vlad’s five hundred plus, and he had taken on the annoying habit of referring to Vlad as if he were the equivalent of a vampire senior citizen. Perhaps because that was how he was acting.
He hadn’t taken care with his appearance in decades, slipping back into the old ways before Isabella, although not quite all the way. Blood was much more available nowadays; there was no need to hunt, not that he had slipped quite that far regardless. No reason to undo the good behavior of the past three hundred years just for the taste of some wretched yuppie.
Although he was hardly stupid and had learned the lessons the Jesuits had beaten into him � sums, languages, history, Vlad had never considered himself much of a man of letters, fighting had always been his forte. At heart, he would always be a warrior, and damned proud of it. He’d defeated the Turks against impossible odds, driven off various “friendly” invasions... he had envisioned dying with his sword in his hand, not in the cross of Christ. But here he was, almost frail. Shrinking. Weak. Weaker than he’d been since the moment he learned Elizabeta’s cruel fate.
For the first time in a long time, he felt hungry. He had something to do � a reason to live. Well, exist, anyway. Alexander’s idea had merit. Vlad had a half a millennium’s worth of experiences in his old journals. With a new sense of purpose, he collected them, reminiscing through tears sometimes, and made some notes. But he realized that the scope of his mission was too much to accomplish alone. He needed an assistant. A Renfield, if you will.
A woman, of course.
Chapter One - Vampire's Rule
Victoria hurried into Cam’s office, her hands full of junk, as usual. Finally, annoyed and frustrated well beyond endurance, she threw her briefcase, her pocketbook, her laptop, and the can of soda she’d just wrestled from an ungrateful machine onto the burgundy leather couch and groaned.
“Argh!” For added emphasis, she stomped her feet, then, feeling much better for the tantrum, she told herself quietly, “Deep, cleansing breaths. In through my nose, out through my mouth.”
“Why are you doing Lamaze breathing‑ are you pregnant?” Cam asked quietly from right next to her. She screamed and jumped, hitting her ankle on the coffee table. Cripes, the man moved as silently as a cat!
“Oh, sonofa �” she wailed, noticing the huge run in her brand new nylons that went all the way up the back of her leg, like a seam should have.
Her boss waggled a finger at her. “Uh-uh-uh, you don’t want to finish that, now do you?”
Vicky grimaced. No, she didn’t. He’d been threatening to do something atrocious about her gutter mouth, and she had no doubt he’d carry out his threat to take her over his knee if he heard one more vulgarity on company time. She pouted exaggeratedly. “I was going to say ‘son of a gun’. Is that better, Boss?”
“Marginally,” he commented from behind his desk while Vicky flopped down on the couch. “I have a new assignment for you, about which I also have considerable reservations.”
Exhausted, but intrigued, she leaned forward. “How dangerous can being a temp secretary be? Where are you sending me to� North Korea? Iraq? Rwanda?”
“To 1473 Mulholland Lane, tonight, in about � ” he checked his watch � “half an hour.”
Victoria considered this for a moment. The only house she knew on Mulholland Lane was the old mansion, which hadn’t been inhabited in years. “To do what, exactly?”
Cameron threw a paper onto his desk and eyed her carefully. “To speak to a Mr. Sepesh regarding some word processing he needs done. To hear him tell it, he’s virtually housebound, and has no clerical skills of his own. It’s going to be quite involved, and as it will probably be mostly night work, he’s going to pay you time and a half even for your regular hours.”
“Cha-ching!” Dollar signs danced in her eyes.
He was wearing a less mercenary, more concerned expression. “I don’t think I like this, not one bit.”
She sensed � correctly � that he was one step away from vetoing this assignment. Cameron Deverell ran a chain of temp agencies across Massachusetts, and as he lived near Boston, he still kept his hand intimately involved in the running of this one, although, with his money, he could easily have left the day to day indignities to a flunky. Cam treated his employees like family, most especially the women. While conscious of the current sexual harassment law, he still managed to see to the safety of his female employees while they were out on assignments, whether they liked it or not. Vic didn’t, particularly, but she put up with it since they’d known each other for quite a while, well before she came to work for him. They were very good friends, and it made him extra protective of her. Try as he might, and as chauvinistic as it probably sounded, he made no apologies that sending a woman out to a man’s house at night made something twist in his stomach.
“It just doesn’t feel right to me, Vic,” he admitted.
She sighed heavily. “It never does.”
“He asked for a woman.”
“What’s he going to have me doing?”
“Word processing. He mentioned something about his memoirs.”
Vicky stood up, trying to get out the door before he had a chance to tell her she couldn’t go.
“Just a minute there, Victoria Regina.” The sound of her full name made her eyes roll dramatically. Cam grabbed her shoulders and Vicky looked up at him, noting that his eyes were a deep brown, with gold flecks. He wore his black hair closely trimmed � a remnant of too many years in the military � and occasionally sported a mustache. The breadth of his shoulders at this close range prevented her from seeing around him, but his size had nothing to do with fact. She doubted there was a spare ounce of anything but muscle on him, which he had loads of. The routine was so familiar she began to recite it brattily along with him. “You will wear your beeper. You will carry your cell phone and your pepper spray. You will only stay an hour this evening, and he knows that. You will use the limo to and from and if you don’t stop parroting everything I’m saying I am going to take you over my knee!”
The list was recited back to him sarcastically. “Beeper. On. Cell phone. Charged, and on. Pepper spray, full and peppery.” After showing him everything, she dumped it into her purse, then saluted him smartly and turned to go, but not before he laid a smart swat to her butt.
“You are too cheeky for your own good, little girl. That’s going to get you into trouble one day,” he growled, walking her to the door.
“I’m shaking in my boots.”
“You’re wearing sandals.”
“Call me the minute you get home, and it better not be any later than eight o’clock, if you know what’s good for you,” he called after her, realizing as he watched her get into the white stretch limo how much he really detested sending her to this guy, but he had no choice. Even the men he employed preferred to be home, eating dinner with the family at this hour. Vic was always available for any sort of last minute assignment. As she often said with a wistful grin, sometimes it paid to have no life.
Vicky walked up to the large French doors and rang the bell. The door was opened instantly, and she gave the thumbs up sign to Harry, the limo driver, so that he could feel free to leave. The man who extended his hand to her once she was inside looked like a well-dressed rock star. His long red hair hung in loose curls onto his shoulders, and he had the most startling blue eyes she’d ever seen. Few rock stars, however, would ever be caught dead in a three-piece suit. This guy filled his like it was made for him � if he could afford to occupy the Mulholland mausoleum then he very well may have had it hand made to his measurements, which were impressive. Up until now, Cam was the biggest man she’d ever seen. He made Cam seem smaller, although they were probably of much the same proportions � impressively broad shouldered, Y-shaped, muscle-on-muscle. Hm. Maybe he was a retired body builder, or pro wrestler.
“I am Vlad Tsepes.”
What was it about that name that sounded terribly familiar to her?
When she realized that she had been staring agog at the man for several minutes, she blushed bright red and laughed nervously, putting her small hand in his. Vicky had a good, firm handshake. She detested women � and men � who shook hands like an arthritic grandparent well before they were one. To her surprise, this gentleman turned her hand within his, and bent over and kissed the back of it gently in a very old-world gesture.
When he straightened meeting her eyes again, Vicky barely articulated, “Vicky. Vicky Robinson.&rd