Bound by flames, p.15
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       Bound by Flames, p.15

         Part #3 of Night Prince series by Jeaniene Frost
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  His mouth slanted over mine again and he grasped my hips with both hands. A deep, searing thrust tore a cry from me, then another and another as he moved with barely restrained ferocity. His hands were brands on my hips, his body lava contained by rock-hard muscles. Pleasure mixed with sensations that felt too good to be pain, yet before this, only agony had made me aware of every nerve ending with such excruciating intensity. I began to whimper, yet my legs tightened around his hips, and if I clutched his head any tighter as I lost myself in his kiss, I might crush him.

  I screamed into his mouth as I climaxed so hard, my body felt splintered from the ecstasy. My arms dropped, my head fell forward, and the strength left me as suddenly as I’d been filled with my burning, uncontrollable lust. I was boneless, held up only by his grip, body, and the sensations that crested inside me like the popping of millions of champagne bubbles.

  He pulled my head back, lips curled with primal triumph as he stared at me. Then he dropped to his knees, taking me down with him since I couldn’t hold myself up. With a single, lithe movement, he was behind me, one arm locking me to his chest while his free hand slid between my thighs.

  The change in position took him deeper inside me. He moved with those powerful strokes that now felt like they split me down the center, yet my climax-induced lethargy vanished. I bit my lip to stifle the cries that built in my throat, then couldn’t hold them back as he thrust so deep, it pushed me forward until my forehead touched the pillar in front of us.

  Later, I’d be embarrassed at how loud I shouted. Every vampire in the hotel probably heard me. At the moment, I didn’t care. The pleasure was indescribable, and I braced against the pillar with one hand while raking nails from the other down Vlad’s thigh until I left scarlet tracks in my wake.

  His laughter taunted me not to stop. So did the emotions strafing mine, making me move against him almost as feverishly as his body continued to slice into mine. When rapture eventually broke over me again, it was mine as well as his, and when he laid us back against the cool marble floor, I wanted to roll over and kiss him, but I couldn’t move.

  It wasn’t a supernatural issue or a sign of dawn’s imminent approach; I just couldn’t summon the strength. My mouth still worked, and when I told him that, laughter puffed onto my back.

  “Allow me,” he said, rolling me over until I was cradled in his arms, our faces so close they were almost touching.

  “Everybody did leave, right?” I asked, only now wondering if we’d given anyone a free, explicit show.

  Another laugh. “Yes. I’d kill anyone who stayed to watch.”

  I smiled before deciding it took too much effort. “My second wedding night,” I murmured. “I guess it’s your . . . what? Third? Fourth?”

  He stiffened slightly, then relaxed when he realized I wasn’t jealous. Just curious. “Third human, first vampire,” he said, brushing his lips across mine. “And by far the best.”

  I smiled against his mouth. “No need for flattery. You already got lucky.”

  “You know me better than to think I would use flattery to get anything I wanted.”

  No, he wouldn’t. He’d consider that lying, and whatever flaws he might have, Vlad was also the most honest person I’d ever met.

  “Besides,” he continued, his mouth curling down. “My first wedding night was dismal and my second one was spent alone.”

  “What happened to make the first bad and the other lonely?” My voice was soft while I wondered if he’d tell me. Vlad rarely spoke about this part of his past, and after that tidbit, I was more than a little intrigued.

  He didn’t say anything for several moments. I’d just decided to change the subject when he spoke.

  “My first marriage was arranged by my father when I was a child, a common practice for the time. You know what happened during my boyhood imprisonment and how it affected me, yet I couldn’t break the betrothal without losing an important ally.” His smile became twisted. “And I couldn’t very well admit to my intended, her father, or anyone else that I didn’t know if I could stand being close enough to her to father children, as I was expected to do to continue the royal line.”

  I don’t know why this information surprised me. He had told me how his brutal treatment had caused him to hate being touched, even in casual contact. For some reason, I’d just assumed he meant by other men. Vlad was so sensual, insatiable, and dominating in bed; it was hard to reconcile him with what he’d just described.

  “Before the wedding, I made sure that I could, in fact, perform as required,” he went on, no emotion in his tone now. “It took several unsuccessful visits with whores who knew better than to repeat my difficulties before I could get through the act in its entirety. Then I married Clara and rushed through my husbandly responsibilities with as little contact as possible. I was relieved when she became pregnant because that meant I could finally stop.”

  My heart broke at how miserable he must have been, unable to talk to anyone because the emotional aftermath from his abuse would have been considered weakness in the fifteenth century.

  “I’m so sorry,” I breathed.

  Now the smile he gave me was jaded. “Don’t pity me. Pity Clara, who was forced to marry a traumatized barbarian who couldn’t show her any of the gentleness she deserved. Somehow, she didn’t hate me for it, and her pregnancy changed things for the better between us. Once I was no longer forced to bed her, I didn’t find touching her as repulsive, and feeling my child move in her belly was the first time after my captivity that I put my hand on another person and felt nothing except joy.”

  My eyes began to sting, but I wouldn’t allow the tears to come. The Vlad in front of me wouldn’t want me crying for the man he’d been. As stated, he’d take that as pity, and there was nothing pitiful about him overcoming the obstacles he had. I’d had no idea my question would unearth such painful and poignant memories, and the fact that he’d relayed them with his usual unflinching honesty was further proof that his inner strength more than matched his incredible power and abilities.

  “Clara loved you,” I said, my voice husky. “I felt it in the essence traces she left on you, so whatever guilt you feel over those early days, let it go. You must have made up for it.”

  His hand was a warm caress on my face, like the first rays of sun after a long winter’s night. “I tried, but you of all people know how difficult I can be to live with.”

  I held his hand against my face. “You might not be the easiest person, but who is? Besides, easy is overrated compared to you in all your spectacular, mercurial, enigmatic glory.”

  He smiled, a familiar arrogance now shading his expression. “I’ll remind you that you said that during our next fight.” Then he stretched, the movement making his muscles ripple in a way that claimed my attention long enough to miss the first part of what he said next.

  “ . . . second marriage was arranged also, but this one by me. The king of Hungary needed someone to marry his pregnant cousin before her condition became obvious, and I needed a new alliance with Hungary to reclaim my throne.”

  “Wait, Szilagyi was the king of Hungary’s uncle, right? So if you married the king’s cousin, that means Szilagyi–”

  “Is technically my father-in-law,” he finished, his mouth curling in a mocking way. “Proving yet again that no one has the power to enrage you more than family.”

  Did that mean I was technically related to Szilagyi, too, as Vlad’s wife? Without thinking, my hands tightened into fists. If so, then yes. Sometimes family sucked.

  “My second wife, Ilona, had little interest in me beyond a name for her unborn son,” he went on. “I had even less interest in her, so our marriage remained unconsummated, though when she became pregnant again, I claimed that child as mine, too.”

  “Why? Weren’t you mad?” Female adultery was a big deal back then and Vlad wasn’t the type to share.

  He sighed. “Ilona meant nothing to me, as I said. Furthermore, as a vampire, I couldn’t give her
children and it seemed wrong to deny her another chance at motherhood. She had been discreet with whoever her lover was, so there was no gossip about the babes not being mine. At the time, my firstborn son was the undisputed heir to my throne, so I didn’t see the boys Ilona bore as a threat.” His features tightened. “I was wrong. Szilagyi was behind my first son’s assassination, and in addition to personal motives, he also did it to put Ilona’s child on my throne after he had mine murdered.”

  Once again, he wasn’t sparing himself in this blunt retelling, and I had to bite my lip to keep from saying that I was sorry. I was, though. He hadn’t been much older than me by the time he’d gone through all these atrocities and heartbreaks. I doubted I would’ve made it with my sanity or soul intact, yet he had, even with hundreds more years of adversity piled on.

  I slid closer, wanting to dull the painful memories of his past by giving him something else to concentrate on.

  “Thank you for answering my questions, and now I want to tell you something personal. It’s not nearly as deep or important, but . . . I’m glad you’re the only man I’ve ever slept with. For years, my voltage issues kept me a virgin whether I wanted to be or not, but then I met you and it felt like . . . you were the one I’d been waiting for, even when I didn’t know it.” My voice caught. “Even with all the awful things that happened, if I was thrown back in time, I would still grab that power line because it’s what eventually brought me to you.”

  He kissed me, slow, deep, and with more tenderness than I’d realized he was capable of. Then he drew away, smiling but with a tinge of shadows to it.

  “I treasure the gift of your virginity, but if you’d given it to another I would still love you to the same dangerous degree. You are in my soul, and nothing you did before we met or will do in the future can change that. And to answer the question you’ve never asked me, yes, I do love you more than I loved Clara. If she were alive now, I would still choose you.”

  Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t speak. How had he known the secret anguish I’d felt wondering if I would ever come close to what he’d felt for her? It was ridiculous at best and selfish at worst to be jealous of a dead woman, but Clara’s memory had felt like a wall around Vlad I could never breach, and I hadn’t dared to hope that he would tear it down himself.

  “I don’t know what to say,” I choked out, still fighting back the tears.

  His smile was slow, challenging, and sensual. Before I registered what was happening, he’d swept me into his arms and was carrying me toward the bedroom.

  “You already said it: yes. Now, say it again.”

  Chapter 25

  The instant I came awake, I tensed, expecting my entire body to be engulfed in agony. After a few pain-free seconds, I dared to open my eyes.

  Not only was I not on fire, we weren’t in the bedroom I’d fallen asleep in. Instead of a crystal chandelier, billowy fabric formed a knot of roses in the center of the canopy above me. For a second, I wondered if Vlad had carried me into one of the villa’s other bedrooms, but a glance out the window showed unfamiliar buildings and a wide river below.

  Definitely not Vegas. The desert didn’t have rivers.

  “Good evening.”

  I turned toward Vlad’s voice, seeing him emerge from the bathroom. His black hair was damp from showering, but he was dressed in a pair of dark gray pants with a matching charcoal jacket. A pale silvery shirt softened the ensemble and platinum cuff links added a touch of elegance, if one didn’t already notice the richness of the fabric and the custom tailoring.

  I, on the other hand, was wearing only sheets and my hair was tangled enough for a hairbrush to cringe away from the challenge. What surprised me most was that I was also unchained.

  “You left me alone while you showered?” I gestured at the nearby window. “The spell could have made me jump through that!”

  “You wouldn’t have made it out of bed,” a familiar voice said to my right, then Marty’s head popped up from the space between the bed and the wall. “Hiya, kid.”

  Vlad arched a brow as if to say, You really thought I’d leave you unprotected? Meanwhile, I snatched at the sheets, which had dipped far too low. No wonder Marty had chosen to lie on the floor instead of sit in the chair opposite the bed.

  “H-hi,” I stammered. “And thanks.”

  Marty smiled at me. “No thanks needed. Happy to do it.” Then he gave a far more reserved glance at Vlad. “Since you’re done, I’ll show myself out.”

  He left, and the coolness between them reminded me of the conversation Marty and I had had right before Szilagyi attacked the castle. With everything else going on, I’d forgotten it. I still intended to address Marty’s return to the carnival with Vlad, but now wasn’t the time. Survival first.

  So I started with the obvious. “Where are we?”

  “New Orleans,” Vlad replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. The fragrance of soap still clung to him, adding a citrusy blend to his natural smoky, cinnamon scent. I found myself sliding closer and inhaling without thinking about it, then almost blushed as his gaze turned knowing.

  “We don’t have time,” he said, though his fingers trailed a warm path from my neck to my collarbone. “You slept later than I anticipated, but your body no doubt needed to recuperate.”

  At first, I thought he was referring to his sexual prowess since he’d more than exhausted me last night. Then my hands dove beneath the sheets to run over my body.

  “I can still feel essence imprints,” I said in surprise. “You didn’t do it?”

  Something dark flitted across his features. “Yes and no. I did burn your skin, but I didn’t cover you in my aura after, so all of the imprints you’re detecting are mine.”

  I couldn’t have been more relieved that I’d slept through the burning. Maybe exhausting me beforehand had been to my benefit in more ways than one. “Why’d you skip the aura part?”

  His sigh was harsh. “Because I will need to burn you again. You didn’t sleepwalk this morning, so either preventing you from linking to Szilagyi through his essence trail worked, or destroying your flesh weakened the spell. I believe it’s the latter. If I rendered you fireproof with my aura, I’d need to employ different methods to temporarily weaken the spell next time.”

  My stomach lurched while the macabre saying There’s more than one way to skin a cat ran through my mind. Yeah, I’d prefer the fire. For one, I’d slept through it. For another, it would be far quicker than any “different methods,” and if I woke up during the event, speed would equal mercy. Besides, I never wanted to associate Vlad with the horrible memories I had of my skin being sliced off. Even the thought made me shudder.

  Vlad caught it and another shadow flashed across his features. “I don’t want to do that, either. Burning you was difficult enough.”

  Guilt hit me. “I’m sorry. I’ve been so busy dwelling on how I would deal with this; I didn’t give much thought to how rough it would be for you.”

  “Nor should you,” he replied at once. “I’m not the one who’s been repeatedly tortured the past few weeks, first by enemies, then by me out of necessity. You need to be focused on your own needs, Leila. You’ll lose your mind otherwise.”

  He had his shields up again, and it hadn’t escaped my notice that over the past few days, he’d kept them up unless we were making love. He must not think I could handle what he was feeling when passion wasn’t at the forefront.

  “You’re wrong,” I said quietly. “I’m not the only one who’s been tortured. Szilagyi used me like a weapon to slice you open, and I know those wounds are still burning. You don’t have to hide what you’re feeling from me, Vlad. I can take it.”

  A humorless smile curled his mouth before he brushed it against my ear.

  “I’m not hiding my feelings from you.” His voice was so low, even at this proximity; I had to strain to hear him. “I’m hiding them from the other vampires I’ve made. Ever since I realized that the castle was under attack, all I’ve cared
about is your survival. If I have to sacrifice every person in my line to ensure it, I will. That’s why I’m blocking off my emotions. If my people knew how little I cared about them now, it would destroy the unity that I’ve fought so hard to build.”

  He kissed my ear after he finished speaking, then rose and tugged me up with him. I moved as if on automatic pilot, complying with his directive to shower because we had to leave soon.

  He stayed in the bathroom to watch, his aura crackling like it was made of hundreds of Roman candles. If I’d stared at the shower’s glass walls too long, he would’ve melted them. I supposed it was a sign of faith that he hadn’t already. Once I was finished, I dressed in one of the outfits he’d packed for me and then followed him out of the hotel, my mind still reeling.

  From the moment we’d met, Vlad’s concern for his people had been the driving force behind everything he’d done. He’d once told me that he believed in God and the final judgment, yet still wouldn’t change his brutal tactics because it was the only way he could ensure the safety of those who belonged to him. I knew he loved me, but to hear him say that he’d sacrifice every one of his people for me didn’t just shock me; it rocked me to my core.

  I didn’t feel worthy of that kind of love, especially from a man like Vlad. He was a centuries-old warrior who’d overcome everything that human and vampire life had thrown at him, and those had been some horrible blows. Furthermore, I knew a little about the members of Vlad’s line, and they were heroic people whose feats of bravery made my small accomplishments pale by comparison. Who was I? A ridiculously lucky girl who’d fallen in love with a man miles out of my league, that’s who.

  In addition to being awed, Vlad’s declaration also frightened me, for his sake. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, he did love me to that extreme, which meant that Szilagyi’s plan had a greater chance of succeeding.

  What if what Szilagyi had done to me did push Vlad into a reckless pursuit of revenge that would eventually get him killed? Who knew how long this war would last, and it had already gotten nastier and more brutal than we had ever imagined. If things got worse, would it push Vlad to the point where he was willing to do anything—even horrible things—to protect me? I couldn’t stand the thought of Vlad losing the best parts of himself over me. He’d been through so much and yet hadn’t turned into the monster that Szilagyi was.

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Gloria 7 November 2018 18:45
Iam not a robot