Chapter One ~ Bloodlust Denied

The rich, tantalizing scent of feminine blood drifted on the warm breeze, igniting every sensitized nerve Alexius possessed. Raw need scorched through him and he turned toward the source, ignoring the three young ladies who fluttered their eyelashes and pouted their lips in a vain effort to halt his departure.

He no longer desired their bodies, their mouths or their weak, insipid blood. For the first time in millennia excitement coursed through his veins as the intoxicating aroma of the unseen female permeated his mind, his flesh, the marrow of his bones.

The dark garden of the London townhouse was strewn with glittering lanterns, leaving few places to hide for the young ladies in their finery and the gentlemen who hid their base desires beneath a veneer of social mores.

His prey wasn’t here, among these simpering virgins or their preening mamas. Yet her evocative fragrance spun through his senses, silken tendrils enticing him to her.

He left the property and paused on the cobbled pavement, inhaling the summer air.

Again, her scent teased him and his heart, which had no earthly reason to beat, thundered in his chest, pounding blood through arteries and heating his body as nothing had heated him in years without number.

But where was she?

He swept his preternatural glance along the deserted street, then cast his psychic vision farther. Shimmers of disbelief clouded his rising impatience.

How far from him was she?

It didn’t matter how far she was. He’d find her, because she called him.

The refined garden square of St James faded into the distance, and the dank underbelly of London rolled over him like a fetid corpse. Whores called out to him, reached for him, their already dead eyes following him. But tonight they weren’t enough. Their polluted, weary blood offended his senses and revulsion skittered along his spine at the thought of slaking his hunger with any but the one he sought.

He turned into another dark alley, the stink of decay and despair wrapping around him in an unwelcome caress of death. But threaded through every beat of this misbegotten city her scent throbbed, rich, vibrant. Closer.

So close he could taste the sweetness, savor the texture, feel the thick luscious fluid as it pumped down his throat. Lust stirred deep in his groin, thickening his shaft and the haunting melody of a single violin scarcely penetrated the heavy thud of desire that pounded through his temples.

And then he saw her, captured in the flickering light of a single lantern. Long black hair cascaded down her back and slender arms arched above her head as her lithe body undulated to the exquisite strains of the violin.

She appeared oblivious to her captivated audience, and Alexius ignored the dozen or so drunken men gathered around her. They were of no consequence. This woman was his, and he intended to have her.

The intricate crescendo sank into his brain, pounding in tandem with escalating lust. The woman spun faster, heedless of the broken cobblestones, heedless of his deadly intent. Focused only on her own pleasure in the music, in the movement, in the sensuous cocoon she wove.

With dramatic flourish, the shadowy musician ended the solo, the final note echoing through the dark alley like the call from a lover long since forgotten. Yet still Alexius couldn’t move toward her, as if he were still enchanted by the magic eroticism of her dance.

She flung back her head, her wild hair framing her face, and looked directly at him. His heart, no longer a slumbering organ, slammed against his ribs, pulses escalating.

He hadn’t felt so alive in millennia.

The irony amused him, but only fleetingly. Her breasts strained against the flimsy material of her bodice with every erratic breath, and her musky arousal meshed with the scent of her blood and the fresh fragrance of her skin. Desire throbbed at the sensory image of a phantom hand grasping his cock, and savage hunger shredded his control.

One smoldering glance sent the rest of her admirers slinking back to their own private purgatory until it was just the two of them. And that damned shadowy violinist.

He held out his hand. Waited for her to come to him.

The way his chosen ones always came to him.

Her white teeth flashed in a mocking smile for the briefest second. Alexius tensed as an eerie shudder crawled along his spine. He had seen that smile before.

But he’d never seen this woman before. And after tonight, he would never see her again. He thrust the thought, the uncertainty, the memory, into the bottomless, foul chasm of his mind.

“Come.” It was a command. Again he offered her his hand.

“Why?” Her voice was breathless from her dance, husky with desire. He fought the urge to go to her. He never had to encourage a woman. Once he made his choice, her capitulation was inevitable.

Despite himself, he took a step toward her. “Because I’ll make it worth your while.”

It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t merely her blood he craved this night. He wanted to fuck her, empty himself inside her and hear her scream with pleasure as he indulged his bloodlust. Afterward, all she would recall would be the orgasmic thrill of their encounter. And if she never regained her previous strength or ability to dance like Terpsichore, that was just the way life was.

A bitch.

She clasped her hands around her hair and held the black curls high off her neck. He froze, his thoughts colliding. Her gesture was horrifically familiar, as if he’d witnessed her doing it a thousand times.

“What makes you think you can afford me?” Her hands dropped to her sides, and her hair tumbled over her shoulders. Her eyes never left his.

For the first time in centuries the core essence of who he was, what he was, fractured with doubt. His victims never questioned him. Women never denied him. Yet this black haired seductress dared both.

“Name your price.”

Her hips swayed in an erotic curve, obeying the sensual strains of music only she could hear. “My price is your soul.”

He laughed, the sound shocking to his ears. When was the last time he’d laughed aloud?

“You’re welcome to it.” He offered her a sardonic bow, reminiscent of the dandies who flocked to the assemblies. She didn’t respond in like manner. Instead, she flicked the shadowy violinist a sideways glance.

Her pimp, no doubt. If he interfered, he would die. Alexius shot him a damning glare, a warning to keep his distance. The shadow didn’t move.

“Does your soul mean so little to you?” Her voice was even, but he heard the undercurrent of censure, buried so deep within her words, he knew she was unaware her true feelings had escaped.

A thread of intrigue tangled with his amusement, inexplicably heightening his desire. He couldn’t recall ever conversing intelligently with his intended sustenance before.

“I’m sure you’ll make the sacrifice worthwhile.” Except he had no soul to offer. He was sure a few guineas slipped into her tempting cleavage would satisfy her instead.

Again she flashed her smile. Again the sense of deja vu slithered through the void where his soul had once resided.

“Oh I’m sure I will.” Promise threaded through every sultry word and finally she stepped toward him. But still she didn’t take his proffered hand.

“Do you have lodgings close by?” He thought of his luxurious country residence, and for one incomprehensible moment considered taking her there. To allow him time to savor her delights in comfort instead of an anonymous fuck in a dingy hovel.

Madness. What difference did it make where he had her? The conclusion to this evening was already in motion.

“No.” She sounded amused by his question, as though she found his fastidiousness quaint. “Don’t you have a carriage?”

“Not tonight.” Damn, but he’d procure a carriage from an unwary traveler if that’s what this exotic creature desired. “Is that your preference?”

She shrugged, diverting his attention to her bare shoulders and exposed cleavage. Her creamy breasts all but spilled from the confines of her bodice. His cock jerked at the thought of ripping the narrow velvet ribbons that barely covered her modesty and exposing her to his gaze.

Velvet ribbons. For the first time he noticed the softness of her gown, the richness of the fabric. The material was fit for a duchess, yet this woman wore them in such a manner as befit the most common of whores.

The strangeness fueled his lust. It had been forever since a woman had caused him to think beyond how her blood might taste.

“I have no preference.”

Her voice was melodic, pleasing to his ear. Not the voice of poverty or despair, but one that could grace the most refined society ball.

Perhaps she was a courtesan, fallen on hard times.

With a ripple of disbelief, he realized she still hadn’t taken his hand.

“Then allow me to find us suitable accommodation.” Without waiting for her answer, he took the final steps toward her and curled his fingers around her upper arm.

Her heated skin branded his palm, and lust sizzled through his veins. His balls tightened and his cock hardened beyond all sanity. The flickering light danced over her face, her parted lips, and her eyes were dark pools of mystery. But still she made no move to touch him.

“What game are you playing?” His voice rasped, scarcely recognizable. “Do you require payment before you deliver?”

“I’ll deliver.” Her warm breath grazed his jaw, unbearably erotic. “And you will pay.”

He slid his other hand around her neck. The cool silk of her hair caressed his knuckles, as the tips of his fingers caressed her tender flesh. He inhaled her fresh, clean scent, rose petals and raindrops and something else, something he had never before encountered. Something dark and dangerous and so violently arousing, it momentarily obliterated the overwhelming lure of her luscious blood.

She tilted her head, exposing the pale column of her throat to his ravening gaze. Without conscious thought he lowered his head, and drifted his mouth across her tempting skin. He could feel the frantic beat of her pulse vibrating against his lips, against the tip of his searching tongue. His fangs pierced his gums, aching with need and want and rising desperation, yet unaccountably he held back.

Echoes from another time whispered through his mind, but the time was now and the echoes were the seductive strains of the violin. Yet the music was inside his brain, inside his empty heart, twisting through his veins and pounding along his rigid shaft.

He nibbled kisses along her throat, savoring the sensation of her fluttering pulse, the torture of feeling the rush of her blood beneath the flimsy barrier of flesh, and the evocative scent of ethereal rose gardens.

“I could take you now.” His hoarse whisper teased her earlobe. This woman aroused him to a degree he’d long since forgotten existed.

“Then take me now.” Her panted command arrowed straight to his throbbing cock, the sensation so acute for one incredulous second his fearsome control wavered.

No woman could exert such power over him. He would come only at his own command and no one else’s.

Still cradling her nape, he relinquished his hold on her arm and slid her gown over her shoulder. He wound a velvet ribbon around his fingers and tugged sharply. Her bodice gaped and he saw a tantalizing glimpse of erect nipple.

He cupped her breast, its satisfying weight filling his hand and in the wavering light, he could see the faint tracing of veins beneath the vulnerable skin.

So tempting. So why didn’t he simply slake his lust, fuck her and take her and end this agonizing scream of want that consumed every nerve he possessed?

His lips closed over the puckered nipple, and her gasp of shock only served to increase the power of his lust. Gently he sucked on the firm flesh, when every throb of his engorged cock demanded he plunge his fangs into her. That he drink from her full, temping breast, suck her sweet blood from her, and satisfy this ravenous frenzy.

He flicked his tongue over the hard bud, and her fingers raked through his hair, pinning his head more securely to her body. Involuntarily a smile twisted and the tips of his fangs grazed his lips.

She wasn’t as indifferent to him as she tried to pretend.

With monumental effort, he forced his fangs to retract, the searing pain of denial ripping through his gums, shredding him from mouth to groin. A primeval groan of protest rasped along his throat but he increased the pressure around her nipple. Sucking, tugging, milking pleasure from her aroused flesh, from the way her fingernails gouged into his scalp.

“Harder.” Her breathless command stoked his lust, but he obeyed no man’s command, let alone a woman’s. Instead, he dragged his lips from her wet peak and heard her gasp of protest as the night’s breeze brushed against her nakedness.

For one eternal moment as he looked into her dark, lust glazed eyes he saw only pure desire, a need as all-consuming as his own. A hunger for consummation and gratification and wild, mindless coupling.

He angled his groin into her, forcing her to acknowledge the extent of his arousal. To show her how hard he was, how hard he could ride her.

Her eyes glittered in the light of the lantern, eerie, intoxicating. She returned his pressure, grinding herself against the bulge in his breeches until insanity hovered in every frenzied note of the violin, in every erratic rasp of this woman’s breath against his mouth.

Sweet, pure breath. No hint of the gin soaked depravity that permeated the shriveled souls of so many broken whores.

Not broken. No whore. Whispers of thoughts, meaningless, fragmented. He didn’t care who she was, or what she was. Only that she was here in his arms and he intended to extract every last drop of pleasure from her body before he claimed her lifeblood.

Why?

No answer. It didn’t matter why, only that he desired such novelty.

He grasped her gown, so fine, so flimsy, surely so unused to such rough handling, and fumbled for her smooth thigh.

Fumbled? Outrageous. Blood pounded against his temples, ignited his brain. He hadn’t fumbled with a woman’s skirts since he’d been a raw boy and that was long ago. In another world, another life, when he’d believed in forever and had no concept of the futility of eternity.

Slender fingers caressed his erection, tugged him free of his restraints. A groan slid from his throat and he looked down, entranced by the sight of her delicate hand holding his throbbing cock. By the sensation of her fingers grasping him, yet unable to encircle him. By the knowledge that soon he would thrust into her welcoming pussy and fuck her until she lost the last remnants of her control and screamed her pleasure into the dark night sky.

“I want you.” There was an edge of desperation in her voice and triumph seared through him, hot, unbridled. He stroked the tender flesh of her thigh, then slid one finger across the damp seam of her sex, tangling her soft curls.

Fingernails scraped along his shaft, intensifying the unbearable ache consuming every particle of his body, and invading his mind with shards of scorched lightning. His finger slid into her wet cleft and she grasped him with such force, a ragged moan escaped as he envisioned her clasping his cock in such an intimate embrace.

“Get down.” Her breathless command came from nowhere, and her hands shoved roughly at his shoulders, propelling him backward.

He gripped her wrists and her fragile bones seared his palms.

“Don’t play with me.” Gods, he could scarcely keep his teeth from her, and if she tried to deny him what they both wanted, he’d likely sever her neck in blood fuelled frenzy.

Her teeth flashed; a mirthless smile. “Sit, so I may straddle you.” She shoved him again, and his calves hit a crumbled stone wall.

A command such as this required no denial. He sat, and watched her hike her skirts to her knees and straddle him as she had promised.

Feminine thighs gripped him, muscles strong and firm, and he molded the curve of her waist and hips, forcing her down on his straining shaft. Instead of complying, she resisted, her strength shocking considering her slenderness, and with another of her strangely familiar smiles, she trailed her fingers across her exposed breast.

Air hissed between his clenched teeth as she caught her erect nipple between finger and thumb and rubbed the rosy tip. Her other hand raked back her long black hair and she tipped her head to one side, exposing the length of her naked neck and shoulder and breast for his uninterrupted viewing pleasure.

“Do you mean to torture me all night?” The words seared his throat.

For the fleetest second she hesitated, as if his question was unexpected. Her hand slid from her hair, tangled curls dancing to their own erotic melody.

“I don’t mean to torture you at all.” She sounded oddly unsure. “Only offer you release.”

He laughed for the second time that night, perhaps only the second time that century.

“I accept your offer, most gladly.” He twined her silken locks around his fist and pulled her toward him. “If you will allow me the same favor in return.”

Her fingers curled around his shoulders and her eyes were so dark, so filled with passion, he almost believed there was something more, something sacred—something he’d lost forever and had never wanted to recapture in all his decades of wandering this cursed Earth.

But as her breath escaped in a long gasp, as she swayed her hips above his searching cock, the insubstantial moment vanished. All he could see, all he could feel was raw desire emanating from her, as potent and potentially lethal as his own.

Slowly she lowered herself to him, heightening his desire until the need to impale her, to possess her, to claim her for his own was the only coherent thought pounding through his mind. Her fingers dug into  his shoulder, her breath panted against his mouth and then she sank onto him, hot and tight and wet, sheathing him so securely sanity shattered.