Chas opened his eyes. The room was dim with threatening dawn, a pale scrim of light cast over the furnishings.
He sat up, still feeling the remnants of last night's wine and ale. The empty jug sat on the table where he'd left it and the scent of stale hops permeated the chamber.
Narcise slept next to him on the bed, warm and close and smelling of sleep, of her. Fully clothed. Out of reach.
A rush of desire flooded him and he closed his eyes again, trying to push it away. He couldn't allow his thoughts to go along that route. Too dangerous, too degrading.
She was a practiced seductress. Aside of the fact that eroticism and sensuality always went along with the Draculia, he'd seen evidence of it when he came in upon her little tete-a-tete with the servant Philippe.
The poor sot had been out of his mind with desire and need...and the devil of it was, he had no idea what was happening. He had no control over himself or his actions.
Chas's mouth tightened and he settled on disgust. He'd not fall prey to that sort of lure. He'd never allow himself to be used thus, to lose mastery over himself. He recalled the fury he'd summoned when he dragged her up against the wall last night and threatened to kill her. He would. If she ever turned those lulling, coaxing, burning eyes on him, he wouldn't hesitate to do it.
He slid off the mattress, one of those rare people who hardly felt the effects of overimbibing. There was a dull, gentle pounding in the back of his head, but other than that, and the need for a drink of water, he felt as he normally did in the morning. Although it really was much too early to be up and about for a gentleman; normally one didn't see the light of the sun before noon.
Yet, despite the early hour and the large amounts of wine and ale he'd consumed, Chas's head was clear. He remembered everything from the evening before-including the way he'd had to fairly thrust Narcise away after getting so close to her in that moment of fury. Too close.
Especially when, after the surprise, her eyes had narrowed in interest and admiration.
He used the chamber pot-which was the cause for his early rousing-and then the water in the basin to wash his face and rinse his mouth of the vestiges of stale drink. Then he turned back to the bed.
The shift Narcise had taken to wearing as a night rail gapped away from her throat and shoulders, exposing delicate collarbones and the shadow of other delights deeper still.
Chas pivoted away, opting for the chair to finish his slumber. He remembered full well the feel of her body pressed against his when he shoved her against the wall, his face close to hers.
That had almost been his undoing...she was just there, in front of him. He'd even had a handful of her clothing, his fingers curling into the flesh above her breasts just before she shoved him away. His caution was just that much dulled by the drink, and the knowledge of what she'd been doing in the chamber with that servant boy still lingered in the back of his mind. His imagination filled in the details of what had gone on before he interrupted...what would have happened if he had not.
And as much as he'd attempted to drink himself into oblivion, he was fully aware of his body's response to her, his attraction to and curiosity about her.
Why did she have to be a vampir?
The pounding in his head had become stronger and he abandoned the idea of slumping in the chair and trying to sleep there. He'd fallen into...onto...the bed before she had last night, and she obviously had no qualms about sleeping next to him, and so why should he be concerned?
He climbed back into his place on the mattress, noting that the blankets were still warm from where he'd lay moments earlier, but that her hand had crept away from her cheek and now lay just beneath his pillow.
All thoughts of sleep fled as he settled down next to her, his face very close to hers, but yet distant enough that he could focus on her features. A soft, warm scent filtered from her hair and skin and he found it difficult to dismiss.
He found her impossible to dismiss.
The sun seemed to be taking her time rising today, and the chamber continued to be filled with indistinct shapes except in a rectangular patch beneath the window. But Chas could somehow make out the fringe of Narcise's dark lashes and the little accent line at the corner of her mouth. And he noticed, for the first time, a tiny beauty mark at the corner of her left eye.
Before he could stop himself, he reached and settled his hand, open, onto the cascade of hair falling over her shoulder. Slowly he traced its smooth sheen along her head and over her shoulder and arm, lightly, lightly...hardly more than a feather touch. Her warmth seeped from beneath the silkiness into his palm, and although she gave a little tremor in her sleep, she didn't waken.
Chas touched her again, sliding his fingers around a coil of hair that had fallen in front of her shoulder and hung like a corkscrew. Curling it around his finger, he rubbed the lock between two finger pads, then let it fall back against her bosom.
His heart had begun to swell and pound all that much harder, for he knew she couldn't enthrall him while she was sleeping. Which meant that what he felt-that deep tug, that insistent pull of attraction-was real. And it was strong.
He just hoped to God it wouldn't destroy him, for he didn't think there was any way to turn back.
She felt the same simmering attraction; he'd seen it when he interrupted her feeding on that youthful servant yesterday. She'd had the boy, but wanted him. Chas.
It was in her eyes when she saw him walking through the door.
A little pang twisted his belly. Yes, she wanted him, but he could never allow her to take from him as she'd done with the footman. He wouldn't lose that control, he wouldn't ever slip into that maelstrom of hunger and need that he'd experienced at Rubey's...that night where he was out of his mind with pleasure, with the need to have his blood freed, sopped up, drawn...
Chas swallowed the thick lump in his throat. Even now, a month later, the shame and humiliation made him ill. How could he have become so base, so depraved as to allow a servant of the Devil to control him?
But here was another temptation...a greater one. Narcise was beyond beautiful...she was also intelligent and brave. And she'd stayed with him when he was dying.
For God's sake, she'd even violated him...but to save his life.
What a turnabout that was for a Dracule.
A deep little tremor went through him and he closed his eyes. No. Not her.
And yet...he could not keep from touching her. It was as if a magnet drew his hand, his fingers, his attention to her.
It wasn't until he brushed a swath of hair back from her temple and cheek that Narcise stirred. She opened her eyes, and as soon as they focused, sleepiness fled. They flashed wide with surprise and then apprehension as she started with a slight jolt...and then her expression shifted just as quickly into confusion.
His heart pounded and desire shivered in his belly.
Her eyes were colorless and dark in the shadows, and he looked into them as he did the only thing he could think to do...he eased closer, sliding his hand around beneath her ear, and covered her mouth with his.
Despite the sudden rage of pleasure bursting in him, Chas took his time with the kiss...gently meeting her lips, curving into them, moving his against hers in sensual little circles.
She made a soft sound and began to turn her head away, but he slipped his fingers tighter around the back of her neck and pulled her close, turning the kiss deeper and more coaxing. He slipped his tongue into her warm, sleek mouth, pulled away and went back to nibbling on her lips, using the tip of his tongue to tease the corners. She trembled, at last kissing him back, her hand settling on his chest...not to shove him away as she'd done last night when he had her against the wall, but digging her fingers into the cloth there.
He wanted her, but he had no urgency, and their kiss went on and on...deep and long, and then gentle and seductive as they explored the taste and texture of the other.
When she twisted her face away at last, he saw that she was crying. That a little trickle had slipped from the corner of her eye and slid into the hair at her temple.
A stab of pain and fear caught him and he pulled away sharply. "What is it? Narcise?"
Good God, he hadn't expected this-from a strong, seductive woman like her.
She wiped the tear away and turned her incredible blue eyes onto him. There was enough light now that he could see how they brimmed with pain and sorrow, but she curved her lips into a little smile. "I haven't kissed anyone in a very long time."
"I'm sorry," he said uncertainly, feeling an unexpectedly soft unfurling inside him. It had been very easy to think of her as a hard, calculating woman bent on having-and controlling-any man in her path. But the expression in her face could only be described as heartbroken.
Her lips twisted wryly. "It's not for you to be sorry." Her gaze flickered away for an instant, and Chas began to ease back.
She looked at him and reached to tug him back closer to her. "Kiss me again."
He obliged, happily, despite the niggling worry in the back of his mind. He was beginning to realize that there were things about her that weren't obvious.
Her lips, so full and soft, covered his and drove all worries from his mind. He pulled her closer to delve deeper, tasting a bit of salt from her tears, and doing what he could to help her forget whatever it was that made her grieve.
Meanwhile, his free hand slid to the front of her chemise and found the little drawstring tie there. Loosening it, he slid his hand down the front of the gapping bodice as he trailed gentle kisses from her mouth along the slender curve of her jaw.
Her breathing changed when he found one of her breasts, closing his fingers around it and cupping its weight in his palm. Her nipple jutted into his thumb and he settled there, gently massaging its very tip as she shivered and sighed, rolling her body closer to him.
His breeches were tight and his shirt clinging hot and too heavy, but he was loathe to release her and take them off. Instead he pulled the drawstring even looser and tugged her bodice open more, down over her shoulders, so that he could slip south and close his mouth around her. She was sweet and warm, tinged with salt and musk, and he drew her deep into his mouth, sliding his tongue around her sensitive nipple. Around and around, darting and sleekly teasing.
Narcise arched into his mouth and he felt her legs shifting along his, capturing one of his breeches-clad thighs between hers in a sensual slide. He sucked harder, rhythmically, and she sighed, shivering against him as he dragged her hips closer.
When he pulled away to tear off his shirt, sitting back on his haunches, he saw her eyes burning, glowing red and orange and the tips of her fangs showing beneath her upper lip. A shaft of desire stabbed him low in the gut at the thought of those sharp points sliding into his flesh, of the bursting release of simmering need. He had a flash of her gouging him, goring into his shoulder or neck or arm, greedy and sensual, just as she had to that poor servant boy, and he forced himself to look away, fighting the temptation. No.
Disgust made his belly pitch and swing, desire and lust weakened him, and he nearly pushed her away when Narcise reached for his bare shoulders, closing her fingers around him. But instead, he went with her, his torso warm against her breasts.
She pulled him back down onto the bed as he fought the memory of the night he'd spent at Rubey's, bitten and dragged on in a whorl of red lust. His body craved the release, his cock full and ready, the feel of the blood flowing freely into her hot mouth, the pain and pleasure of her mouth, sensual and demanding.
When Narcise's hand found the buttons on the placket of his breeches, Chas felt his whole body stiffen in expectation and control. She slipped her hand down the loosened waistband and closed around his throbbing erection, using her thumb to tease its tip just as he had done to her swollen nipple.
Somehow, her chemise had slipped away, and next went his breeches, and they were flesh to flesh. His dark Gypsy skin, textured with hair, sleek with muscle, slid against her soft ivory curves. He felt her readiness, damp and warm, and turned his mind from the burning in her eyes as he parted her legs and pulled her on top of him.
She eased herself into place and his eyes fairly rolled back into his head as they fit together in a shaft of pure pleasure. Narcise shifted her hips, rocking a bit, and he felt himself gathering up into that coil of release...and then she leaned forward, her eyes glowing, her fangs exposed.
Chas's heart thumped madly, his neck throbbing, heat rushing through his body as she shifted over him, rocking, sliding, and then easing her hands up along his torso as she bent over him. His skin burned, his fingers dug into her arms, pulling her close even as he knew he should be pushing her away...but the lust had taken hold, and the red heat caught him, and all he could think about was her pressed against him, her breasts against his chest, her face buried in his throat... He wanted that sharp, stinging pain.
No, he thought, but he wanted it nevertheless. As they strained and shifted against each other, his muscles bunching and his blood surging, her soft panting warm against his throat, he imagined the slide of her into his skin, imagined the burst of pleasure, the heat flowing into her mouth as he would burst inside her.
"Narcise," he gasped, the lust rising higher, tighter, the bed rocking and shifting beneath them. Bite me. Take me.
She shifted and for a moment, he thought she was about to pull away, but then her lips were warm and moist against his neck. Desire flared inside him...yes, yes...her tongue, slick and hot, traced the tendon, the side of his neck.
He moved faster, gathered her closer, tipped his head to the side, baring his throat and shoulder. Please.
And then she shifted, and he felt her lips go wide against him and then the sharp stabs of pain, brief and hot, and then the burst of his blood surging free. Release.
He gave a low, agonized cry as waves of pleasure undulated through him. He exploded twice inside her, into her mouth, into the deepest part of her center as she heaved and shuddered against him, her face still buried in his neck.
Then...even as he filtered back from the edge of nowhere, the lust still vibrating inside him, Chas felt the competing rush of ugliness bubbling up. Sharp little pulses from the marks on his shoulder served as prickling reminders of his depravity, opening himself up to the pleasure of the Devil.
He closed his eyes and turned away.
Narcise slipped away from him, easing back to her side of the bed, exhausted and sated. She closed her eyes, still tasting Chas on her lips and tongue, still quivering with the last bit of pleasure.
Her body was warm and loose in a way that it hadn't been for so long. So very long. Their joining had been passionate, yet slow and tender, the desire coaxed from where she'd locked it deep inside her until it rushed out in a surge of completion.
It had been so long since she'd felt true pleasure...and yet, despite its truth, her joining with Chas left her with a hollow space deep inside. Confusion warred with satisfaction and when she felt him stirring next to her, Narcise welcomed the distraction and opened her eyes.
He'd shifted away, lying flat on his back, the back of his arm resting over his eyes. His chest-smooth slabs of muscle and dusky damp skin-still shifted with rough breathing. And a trickle of blood eased down along into the hollow of his throat.
Narcise realized that in the throes of passion and release, she hadn't finished tending to the bite. Her mouth dried in anticipation as she thought of touching his smooth, dark skin again, tasting the last bit of salt and musk mingling with the warm blood.
She lifted herself up onto an elbow, closer to him, and leaned over the rich, shining ooze. He stiffened, sensing her nearness, and she lightly closed her fingers over the squared-off angle of his shoulder as she bent to cover the bitemarks with her mouth. She'd barely begun to lick up the remains when suddenly he moved. His arm shifted, and at first she thought he was going to grab her closer to him again, but then she saw his face. Taut and dark and damp.
And then all at once, he erupted from the bed and lunged toward the table. Snatching up the basin, he vomited into it with great violence as he bent over the table. As she watched, curious and concerned, he lifted his face, swiping his mouth with a bare arm, then-all dark and naked and muscled-stalked over to the window and flung the contents out.
She winced, hoping there was no one below, and remained silent as he rinsed out the dish with water from its pitcher and dumped that below as well.
When he finished his own ablutions in the clean basin, Chas turned back to her. The expression on his face was carefully blank, but Narcise was distracted by the shiny spot on his throat she'd been tasting a moment earlier.
"Apparently I imbibed too heavily last night," he said coolly.
"You need give me no explanation for your illness," she replied, wondering why he'd felt the need to do so. And then she offered a defense of her own. "I hope you aren't under the impression that I enthralled you."
His mouth twisted as if he were either in pain or about to laugh, and he turned away, giving her another excellent view of his long, lean back and tight, square buttocks. His tousled hair nearly covered his nape, winging up every which way around his head and ears. She also noted what was, of course, absent from his muscular shoulders: the Mark of Lucifer.
"No, I am not under that impression," he replied. His attention slipped down and Narcise realized she was still completely naked, her chemise having gone the way of the bedcoverings during their lovemaking. She also realized, with a start, that for the first time in as long as she could remember, her body remained unmarked and smooth after coitus. No bites or cuts.
Chas was moving toward her, his eyes hot and dark. And determined. "But perhaps we should try it again," he said, "to be certain."
Narcise's heart thumped and she felt her body begin to tighten in anticipation. "Perhaps we should," she replied, wondering if this time she might banish the hollowness.
She saw that he was ready for her, his cock lifting and filling, his eyes burning in their own mortal fashion. But she wasn't prepared for him to turn her around, facing away from him. He eased her toward the bed, gently but firmly, until the fronts of her thighs bumped it.
"My God," he said as he pulled the hair away from her shoulders and neck. His fingers moved lightly over the faint rise of Luce's Mark.
It grew from beneath her hair on the right side and spread down over the back of her shoulder to just past her scapula: curling, rootlike tendrils. Hers was softer in shape and lighter in color than others he'd seen, most of which looked like cracks in shattered glass.
"Does it hurt?" he asked, still gently tracing over the Mark. His voice in her ear brought deeper, gentler shivers down along the side of her neck.
"Not now," she told him, curving her hands up and around to touch the back of his head. His hair filtered around her fingers, warm and heavy, and as she combed through, a renewed wave of his scent released into the chamber.
"I've seen Dimitri's Mark," Chas commented, sliding his hands along the curves of her torso as he lined himself up behind her. "It's thick and black and raging, as if it were filled with evil."
Narcise might have responded if he hadn't slipped his hands around to cup her breasts, if he hadn't begun to distract her thoughts by sliding his thumbs over her nipples.
He nuzzled the side of her neck, his lips full and the tip of his tongue a gentle, moist tease that sent gentle, insistent shivers through her. Narcise realized vaguely that there would be no sharp pain, no quick slide of fangs, no release from her pounding veins, and it was odd...but pleasant.
But as he eased her onto the bed, reaching around to the front of her, fingers exploring the depths of her quim to make certain she was as ready for him as he seemed to be for her, she realized what he was keeping her-and her gaze-facing away from.
Narcise could have been offended, or annoyed, but when he slid deep into place, her body welcomed him and she gave no more thought to anything except that delicious rhythm of pleasure.
And when she arched and shuddered, slamming back against his hips, her hands braced on the bed, he gave a low groan in her ear and surged one last time. She felt him find release, and allowed her arms to give way so she tumbled face-first onto the mattress.
Chas followed her, disengaging, and sliding his hand along her spine and over her bottom as he sank down next to her.
Narcise lay there for a moment, and as the last vestiges of bliss eased, she thought about what had happened...on all fronts.
He'd kissed her. He'd started this whole incident by kissing her...so intimate, so long and thorough and absent of the need for control...and she'd let him. She'd let him do something only Giordan had done. Was it to banish her memories and grief over him?
But she didn't want to think about Giordan now. He had no place in her thoughts, in her life, in this place with Chas Woodmore.
Yet... "Are we going to London?" she asked. Hadn't Cezar mentioned that Giordan was in London? Her heart seized up and she blanked out her mind.
"As soon as I can arrange it," Chas replied.
She glanced at him and noted that his face seemed only a bit less tense than it had earlier-despite two bouts of coitus. "Is something wrong? Weren't you satisfied that I didn't enthrall you this last time?"
The chagrin-and perhaps shame-showed on his face. "I don't fuck vampires," he told her flatly. "Because I don't want to be controlled."
Narcise pulled away, fury bubbling inside her. It was a welcome emotion, replacing her other softer, confused one. "But apparently you do fuck vampires, Chas, because you just did. Twice."
"I know," he said, misery flashing in his face for a moment. Then his expression was cold and flat again. "It was...incredible. You're incredible, Narcise, and, damn me to hell, I can't stay away from you." He rose from the bed with sharp, short movements. "I can't keep my hands or thoughts off you."
As she watched, confused and angry, he yanked on his breeches with a snap of the fabric, dragged on his boots and picked up his discarded shirt. "No matter how hard I try," he said, his jaws tight together, "I can't make you into the evil, manipulative demon I want you to be."
"Why do you want to do that?" she asked, affronted and yet fascinated in spite of herself. She was beginning to realize that his anger wasn't directed at her, but at himself.
"So I can kill you, damn it." With fury and rage surrounding him, Chas stalked from the room, still holding his wadded up shirt.
He didn't return until well after the sun went down, and this time, he didn't reek of drink. She'd spent the day drawing scenes from the window, using the pencils and paper she'd managed to charm from unsuspecting shopkeepers-and through Philippe-during Chas's feverish illness.
When he came into the chamber, she looked up briefly, then returned to her sketch. Much of Notre Dame's towers were visible from her window, and despite the irony of a soul-damaged vampire drawing a holy place, Narcise had spent much effort on the sketch. Now that it was getting darker, she was working from memory.
The emperor had ordered the area around the famous church to be cleared of old buildings, piles of garbage and debris left from the years of neglect during the Revolution. He insisted that the streets around the cathedral be emptied and widened for his upcoming coronation, which was to take place inside. Soldiers and city workers had been toiling over the project for the last month, and it would take well into the autumn before they were finished...or so Narcise had heard him complain to Cezar. Because of this, the coronation had been moved to early November.
"We're leaving Paris tomorrow," said Chas, sitting heavily on the bed. "I've made the arrangements."
She nodded briefly but remained intent on her work, trying to ignore the spike of apprehension in her belly.
"Your brother has the entire city looking for us," he continued. "But he isn't certain we're even together. That works to our advantage. We have to go during the day, so I've taken precautions for you. You'll be driving a cart with a coffin in back...which will contain me-a corpse dead from the plague. I'll stuff the box with old meat beneath me so as to attract flies, and to make a stink, and will fill your pockets with it as well. You'll dress as an elderly woman with a large hat and gloves to protect you from the sun and will be taking your dead husband to the country."
Silence reigned between them for a moment, broken only by the distant shouts from the street below, and a burst of raucous laughter from the pub beneath the floor underfoot. Her pencil scratched quietly as she shaded one of the windows in the square-shaped towers.
"Do you still wish to go to London?"
At that, she rested her pencil on the paper and turned to look at him. "Only if you can suffer my manipulative, evil presence," she said stiffly.
His face tightened. "Narcise, I'm sorry if I've offended you, but understand, I spend my life hunting and killing the Dracule. It's not often that I find one worth saving."
She tossed her head and looked back down at her work, lit by a nearby lamp. To her horror, it began to blur and she furiously blinked back the tears. She hadn't cried in decades, and now in the last week, she'd teared up three times. Was she growing soft?
"Narcise," he said, his voice softer. He rose and came to stand behind her, his fingers sliding gently over her hair. "You saved my life. You stayed with me when you could have left. I was a fool for saying those things to you today. It's just that...I'm beginning to have feelings for you, and it's not what I expected."
She turned to look up at him and read the bleakness in his eyes. "I'm sorry it's so difficult for you," she said, her voice emotionless.
He shrugged, a rueful smile curving his lips. "I am, too. Narcise, I am sorry." He drew in a deep breath and said, "I'll keep you safe. I have a secret place, a small estate in Wales where you can hide...where no one will find you."
She looked at him, her heart leaping. Wales was far from London; she knew that. "Yes," she said, knowing that her heart was in her eyes. "Thank you, Chas."
He gave that little shrug again and said, "And maybe you'll allow me to stay with you for a while." His grin was crooked.
"Of course," she said, and smiled back.
His gaze darkened and his lips parted slightly. "You are the most beautiful woman," he breathed. "God help me."
He reached for her hand and she rose from her chair, suffused for the first time with comfort and security. She trusted him, and somehow, he'd come to trust her.
As long as they made their safe escape from Paris, she would have the chance to be free of Cezar forever.