Chapter One

Amelia Honey skipped upstairs from the cutting room of Grenville and Thrang bespoke tailors, one of the oldest on London’s Savile Row. Her stomach was doing flips with excitement, as it always did when she spent any precious time with Byron Debrek. Her lover’s international business commitments meant their time together was limited and unpredictable. That was the one and only thing that had troubled Amelia in the six months she had been dating Byron. She wasn’t reliable, and as much as Byron apologized for the cancelled dates and missed phone calls, it was hard when Amelia found herself at home alone on a Friday night, while other couples were spending the weekend together, having fun and binge-watching all the latest TV shows.

When Amelia reached the top of the stairs and saw Byron framed in the doorway by sunlight, holding a single long-stemmed rose in her hand, with the sexiest smile she had ever seen, she let her worries fall away. Life wasn’t perfect and she supposed that was part of Byron’s attraction. She was unpredictable and brought flash and glam into her formerly dull, grey life. None of that mattered now. They were going on a holiday together for two weeks, and she would get Byron’s undivided attention. She guessed Byron had suggested a holiday to make up for all the missed dates and appointments.

As she walked towards Byron, Amelia purposefully put an extra roll to her hips and got a thrill when, as always, her lover’s eyes followed them intently. She felt powerful—she, Amelia Honey, a tailor, could keep the attention of the enigmatic, rich, stunningly good looking CEO of the Debrek banking group.

Byron took her hand and kissed it softly. “Miss Honey, you are beautiful as always. This is for you.”

She took the rose from Byron and inhaled its perfume. “Thank you.”

Amelia’s heart hammered in her chest when Byron’s lips touched her hand, and she inhaled the scents of the rose as well as Byron’s aftershave. It was astonishing how much her life had changed since she had measured Byron for a suit for the first time six months ago. Byron had been coming to Grenville and Thrang since before she’d joined the staff. Amelia’s Uncle Jaunty, the Grenville of Grenville and Thrang, had always dealt with Byron privately, and Amelia had admired her from afar for a long time, before her uncle had given her the opportunity to take an appointment with Byron.

The appointment had been nerve-racking, scary, and exciting, all at the same time. They had a powerful chemistry from the very first, so much so that during their second meeting, Byron introduced her to some of the darker pleasures she had only fantasized about, here, on her workbench downstairs.

She had never felt so physically attracted to anyone in her life. When they were near each other, everyone else around them melted away and it took every shred of control Amelia had not to give in to their passion. She felt almost compelled to touch her, or be touched. There was much more than passion, though—she was falling in love with Byron, and she hoped this time together could cement their feelings and Byron would give her some kind of commitment.

“Are you ready? Your carriage awaits,” Byron said.

Amelia smiled and lightly traced a fingernail down Byron’s inky blue tie with white polka dots. “I just have to see Uncle Jaunty first, then make sure Daisy has everything she needs, and then I’ll be ready.”

Daisy, her apprentice, was fresh out of fashion school and eager to fill in for Amelia while she was away.

She grasped Byron’s tie softly. “I like this tie by the way.”

“I have to keep you interested, Miss Honey. Why don’t I come with you? Your uncle and I can share a drink while you get ready to leave.”

As they walked through the shop hand in hand, the staff and the customers averted their eyes. Byron seemed to have the ability to make people nervous or intimidated with just a look. Those looks made Amelia hot, excited, turned on, but never scared or intimidated. Byron had never given her any cause to be fearful—the opposite, in fact, she treated Amelia more like a fine piece of china, and sometimes Amelia really wanted to shake Byron up.

“Weren’t you supposed to phone me last night?” Amelia said as they walked to the back office.

“Ah…yes. I’m sorry. I was in Zurich, and a business meeting ran over. I thought it too late to telephone you after I got back to my hotel suite, but I promise to make up for it.”

Amelia stopped outside her uncle’s office door, and looked at Byron carefully. There was a little voice, a little jealous voice that often questioned whether Byron was alone when she went back to her hotel rooms, as she travelled all over the world. As she looked into Byron’s eyes, all she could see was passion and, she hoped, love—but Byron had never said the words.

She raised up on tiptoe and pecked Byron on the lips, deciding to ignore the nagging voice. “I hope so, no more business talk. We’re going on holiday,” Amelia exclaimed.

She knocked on the door and entered to find her uncle working at his computer. He stood and smiled when he saw them.

“Byron, wonderful to see you again so soon.” Jaunty walked around the desk to shake Byron’s hand. Jaunty was tall and impeccably dressed, never seen without a suit, his trademark bow tie, and the ever-present tape measure hanging around his shoulders.

“Good to see you looking so well, Jaunty. Is Simon well?” Byron said.

Jaunty put his arm around Amelia, and she immediately reciprocated, laying her head on his shoulder.

“Very well, thank you. I hear you are taking our little Amelia to Monaco. I hope you’ll take care of her.”

“Uncle Jaunty, don’t. You know I can take care of my myself.” Amelia nudged her uncle. She was secretly pleased he was so protective and cared so much. At eighteen, she had run away from her highly conservative and religious parents to stay with her uncle and his partner Simon.

She had always been forbidden from talking to or asking about her mother’s brother, but she did her research and secretly communicated with him, and eventually ran to London to get away from her suffocating home life—and to pursue her dreams of becoming a fashion designer. It was only natural that after graduating from the London School of Fashion, she came into her uncle’s business.

Byron placed her hand on her heart. “With my life. I promise you, Jaunty.”

Amelia kissed her uncle on the cheek and said, “I need to speak to Daisy and get my things. Why don’t you and Byron chat while I’m gone?”

“Of course, sweetie. Off you go.”

When Amelia went off to get her jacket and freshen up, Jaunty poured them a drink.

“Have you ever done this before, Byron?” Jaunty handed her a glass of whiskey.

“What do you mean? Go on holiday with a woman?” Byron asked.

Jaunty nodded. Byron crossed her legs and took a sip of whiskey. “No, I’ve never even taken a holiday before, with or without a woman.”

Jaunty sat back behind his desk, but seemed tense. “This must be serious for you, then?”

“Jaunty, if you have something to say, then say it.”

Jaunty looked entirely uncomfortable talking this way to her, but she admired his strength for doing it.

“Byron, Amelia is like a daughter to me and Simon. She came to us hurt, alone, and with her confidence destroyed by my sister and brother-in-law. We got her through college and gave her a safe place to live.”

“I know that, Jaunty. I know she thinks of you and Simon as her fathers.”

“She’s not one of those streetwise women I’m sure you meet on the European business circuit and at your glamorous parties.”

“You don’t think I’m toying with her, do you? I know sometimes I have to cancel our dates but—”

“You are my friend, Byron, and your father and I have been friends for years, and I know how difficult this kind of relationship will be for you and Amelia.”

The way Jaunty looked at her and the way he was speaking gave Byron pause to think he knew what she was, what her father was. She leaned forward and put her drink down on the desk.

“What do you mean?” Byron asked.

Jaunty got up and walked to the safe in the corner of the office. He spun the lock and the door opened with a creak. He riffled through some papers and then brought a photograph over to show her.

“This was taken on the first day I bought into the business, after Albert Thrang died. Your father loaned me the money to buy the business.”

Byron nodded. “I know—my father said he trusted you implicitly. That’s why I came to you, Jaunty.” Byron had lived her life as a man through the centuries when running an international business as a woman would have been difficult. As time went by, and the culture changed, she felt able to come out as her true self, but she was always naturally more masculine than feminine and expressed herself that way both in her clothes and sexually. Jaunty, as her tailor, gave her the discretion she needed, and never blinked an eye as he measured her up for her suits, and found her to be wearing a strap-on. This was just who she was, and he’d always accepted it.

“I know why you came to me.” Jaunty showed her the picture and pointed at the tall man in the picture who looked so much like Byron, except for the artificially induced salt-and-pepper hair.

“This was forty-seven years ago, and your father hasn’t aged a day.”

Normally her family didn’t keep up long-term friendships, so these difficulties didn’t arise. But Michal was very fond of Jaunty, so was Byron, and now she was falling for his niece. She had never planned on this relationship, but after the first taste of Amelia’s lips, she knew she could not turn her back on her, despite the many problems a relationship posed for someone like her, and despite vowing long ago to never ever care for a woman again.

Byron was reminded of that close friend from a long time ago who had prophesized that one day a young woman would come along and pierce her impenetrable heart. Byron had never believed it—until recently.

“I could never hurt her, and I would do anything to keep her safe, I can promise you that. This holiday is to work out what we can be together. I’ve never taken a chance like this, never let someone into my world like this.”

Jaunty let out a breath. “You need to be so careful, Byron. My girl is head over heels for you.”

This should have sent her fleeing in fear—it always had done before if any women she slept with got too close—but Amelia was different. She was her girl, shining with goodness, and that goodness lit up the dark parts of her.

Byron’s hearing picked up the sound of Amelia’s heels on the wooden floors. “She’s coming. You don’t have anything to worry about, Jaunty. Amelia is safe with me.”

 

 v

 

Amelia gave her uncle a kiss goodbye at the door of Grenville and Thrang, and said, “Give Uncle Simon a kiss from me.”

“I will. Keep in touch, okay, sweetie?” Jaunty said.

Amelia stepped back and allowed Byron to shake hands with her uncle, before saying, “I’ll email you lots of pics, Uncle Jaunty.”

Amelia looped her arm through Byron’s and was escorted over to Byron’s blacked-out Daimler. As always there were another two blacked-out limos parked behind Byron’s. Byron had explained early on that she travelled with a lot of security, due to her business, but Amelia had always found it strange that a banker needed so much protection, especially the unusual people who headed up Byron’s security team. Where other personal security people serving politicians or the rich and famous usually wore a standard uniform of a bland suit, Byron’s team wore black combat trousers and black combat boots, as if they were ready for war.

Waiting by the car to open their car door was Alexis Villiers, Byron’s personal bodyguard. Alexis was not quite as tall as Byron, with collar-length dark hair. She was stern, with a military bearing, and never smiled. Amelia had the feeling she didn’t quite approve of her, but maybe that was just her imagination.

Standing at the car behind was Bhaltair, whom Byron called Bhal and described as head of her personal guard. Bhal was an extraordinary looking human being. Amelia was sure she was over six feet tall and built like a warrior ready for combat, but unlike Alexis always had a nod and a smile for Amelia. Her dirty blond hair was short and messily styled on top, with one strand of long braided hair hanging down. There was something about her that just seemed out of step with this time and place.

Alexis and Bhal, unlike the others, wore long black military-cut leather jackets, with epaulets and silver buttons which Amelia guessed denoted some sort of hierarchy.

Alexis held open the car door, and Byron helped Amelia into the car. When the door closed, she watched Byron talk in earnest fashion to Alexis before walking around to join her in the car. Alexis gave a signal to those in the car behind and got in the front seat.

Lots of Byron’s life was strange if she thought about it for too long, but she chose not to dwell on it. Byron was here, and they were going on holiday.

Byron took her hand and kissed it softly. “Are you ready for an adventure?”

Amelia smiled and nodded enthusiastically. No, none of the strange little things mattered.

 

 v

 

They travelled fifteen minutes out of London to a former Royal Air Force base, now solely used for private planes. Byron’s limo drove through the entrance and straight onto the private runway area. Amelia gasped as she saw a huge airplane sitting on the tarmac. When Byron had mentioned a private plane, she’d imagined a small jet with a few seats, but this was huge full-sized 747. Where the airline’s branding would normally be, along the side and tail, it read Debrek International Banking Group.

Amelia looked at Byron and said, “That’s yours?”

Byron smiled. “It belongs to the family, but I am the head of my family, so yes, it is.”

Although she had known Byron for six months, her life was still largely a mystery to her. Byron never volunteered any information about herself or her family, Amelia always had to ask, and when she did she didn’t get very fulsome answers.

Before Byron suggested this holiday together at her family home in Monaco, she had begun to worry that Byron was married and hiding a wife and family somewhere. She had done as much research as she could on the internet on Byron and her business, but there was virtually nothing. The Debrek International Bank was one of the oldest and most successful private banks in the world. The bank was established in Venice in the fifteenth century, when the aristocratic Debreks settled there, but that was about all she knew.

“What are you thinking so hard about, Amelia?”

“That I’ve known you six months and this is the first time you’ve let me see your world. I know so little about you.”

Byron’s gaze met hers and then Byron caressed her cheek. “That’s what this is about. I want to take you into my world. I’ve never brought anyone to our estate in Monte Carlo before. Apart from my London penthouse, this is my most private space. I live an unusual life, but I want to share it with you.”

Amelia was genuinely touched by that. Byron was not used to showing emotion, she was used to dealing with black-and-white business information and figures, so offering to let Amelia into the privacy of her world meant everything to her.

“Thank you, I appreciate you letting me in. I want to know everything about you, Byron. I want there to be no secrets.”

Byron’s eyes flicked nervously ahead. “We are going to have a wonderful time.”


Chapter Two

They boarded the plane, and Byron showed Amelia around each part—the forward conference and meeting room, the large lounge area with comfortable couches, a full double bedroom to the rear, and Byron’s private office. It was the ultimate in luxurious travel.

They finally got into the air. Byron unclasped her seat belt and turned to Amelia, who was pinned back against the seat, and was gripping the armrests.

She placed her hand over Amelia’s and stroked her hair. “You can breathe now.”

Amelia started to breathe normally. “God, I’ve never liked flying. I thought this might be different because we have more space but—”

Byron silenced her with a kiss that made Amelia moan, and when she pulled back from her lover said, “I’ll take your mind off all your worries, mia cara.”

A smile broke out on Amelia’s face. “I like it when you call me that.”

“A vestige of my family’s Venetian heritage. My parents always use that language for their terms of endearment, and that’s what you are to me. Mia cara—my dear.”

Byron saw that Amelia was thinking hard. “You never mention your parents much. Will you tell me about them?”

This was the start of letting Amelia have a small glimpse into her world, to assess how a long-term relationship could work with her many family secrets, the most important of which was that the Debreks were a royal family of immortal vampires, running an international banking and business group.

The six months they had spent together had never been in Byron’s plans. She’d never intended to let anyone near her heart, because she knew what torment and pain falling for a human could cause.

At the start, Byron had kidded herself that it was just a bit of fun, showing Amelia a good time and teaching and opening a world of sexual pleasure to her, but if she was honest, Amelia had claimed a place in her heart from the very first look.

One summer evening two years ago Byron’s Daimler pulled up outside Grenville and Thrang. She’d instructed Alexis to contact Bhal and have her ready her people and the plane to leave London by ten o’clock at the latest. She needed to be in New York for her North American and Canadian regional meeting first thing, and she’d promised her cousin Angelo she’d have breakfast with her first.

Her door was opened by her driver and she walked straight into Grenville and Thrang. The shop had closed to the public and there were only a few staff sweeping and tidying up. She was met, as always, by Jaunty her tailor, who’d held out his hand and given Byron a warm greeting. There were very few people in this world that she trusted, but Jaunty was one of them. He had proven his discretion and loyalty to both her father, Michal, and herself over the course of many years.

Byron was about to tell Jaunty how brief her visit would be when she heard the sweet lilt of a woman’s laughter. She turned around and immediately felt her rarely beating heart thud like a drum. Coming up the stairs from the shop workroom was a beautiful young woman she had never seen before. She was naturally beautiful, not covered in make-up or wearing false nails like most of the women she met. She caressed the woman’s face with her gaze, and then her focus fell to the woman’s neck, where it zeroed in on her throbbing, vibrant pulse point.

She’d felt her mouth water and the pressure of her fangs as they threatened to erupt. In a second her mind was filled with a vision of making this woman moan as her teeth pierced her neck and she drank from her.

“Who is that, Jaunty?” Byron had asked without taking her eyes off the woman.

“That’s my niece, Amelia. She’s just graduated from the London School of Fashion, and she’s come to work with us full-time. She worked weekends throughout her college days, so you wouldn’t have seen her before.”

As soon as Jaunty said the woman was his niece, the prospect of getting to know her better was brought to an abrupt stop. She would never disrespect Jaunty by trying to seduce his niece into a no-strings encounter, because that was all she would ever give a human woman.

“She’s very beautiful, Jaunty. Look after her.”

From that day forward, Byron never got the image of Amelia out of her head or her heart, it seemed. Any woman she slept with, or drank from, the image of Amelia floated through her mind, and each time she went to Grenville and Thrang for an appointment, her craving for Amelia got worse.

Byron’s passion for the woman she had never even spoken to grew and grew, until she could not stop herself from meeting Amelia. The opportunity soon presented itself when Jaunty was in hospital and unable to make her appointment. Byron suggested meeting with Amelia. She thought perhaps when she met Amelia in the flesh, her hunger and attraction would wane, but she was so wrong.

“Byron? Did you hear me?” Amelia shook Byron from her thoughts.

“My apologies, what did you say?”

Amelia narrowed her eyes with mild annoyance. “Will you tell me about your parents?”

“Of course.” Byron cupped her cheek and gazed into Amelia’s bluish green eyes. She could get lost in those eyes for hours. In them Byron could see the light of Amelia’s unblemished, untainted soul, not weighed down by centuries of taking blood and killing when the need arose. She saw pure innocence that she wanted to drown in.

“No one has ever looked at me like you do, Byron.”

Amelia was pulled into her gaze, and the thought occurred to Byron, as it had many times, how easy it would be to compel Amelia to forget about her. Forget about what they meant to each other, and let Amelia go home and live a normal life. It would be the kindest thing to do for Amelia’s sake—she deserved so much more than a dangerous life with a vampire. Somewhere deep inside she knew that the day might come when she would need to do that for Amelia and walk away, but it would destroy all the good inside Byron, and allow the monster that she feared lived deep down in her soul to take over. She knew that.

“I will tell you all you need to know. This is more than a holiday. I’m trying to open up my world to you. I know I’ve not been the most forthcoming about my life, but—”

Amelia silenced her with a kiss, and then rested her forehead against Byron’s. “Shh, I know what it’s about, and I appreciate you having faith in me, and going this far for what we have together. We have two weeks, plenty of time to talk about your family.”

Byron sat back and smiled. “We don’t have to have just two weeks.”

Amelia suddenly looked concerned. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve cleared my schedule for a month. If you could be persuaded to extend your stay, we could have lots of time together.”

“But I can only stay away from the shop for a fortnight—”

Byron took her hand and said with satisfaction, “I spoke to your uncle and asked if he could do without you for longer. Jaunty owes me a favour or two, and he said it was fine with him if you are agreeable.”

Much to Byron’s surprise, Amelia looked angry and pulled her hand back abruptly.

“You spoke to Uncle Jaunty behind my back?”

Byron was taken aback. She did not expect this reaction. She’d thought she was doing a good thing, and besides, very few people ever talked back to her.

“Amelia, I just wanted to give us more time together.”

A fire that Byron hadn’t seen before erupted in her lover’s eyes.

“I don’t think you respect my job or my schedule.” Amelia’s voice went high-pitched and angry. “Did you think about the projects and clients that would have to be cancelled because I’m not there, and all to suit you? I have Daisy, an apprentice I’m teaching, and she’ll have no one until I get back.”

“Amelia,” Byron said firmly, “there really is no need—” Her lover’s anger drew Byron’s eyes to the throbbing pulse point on Amelia’s neck, the same point that taunted and tempted her to bite when they were making love. Byron’s mouth watered and she ran her tongue over her erupting teeth.

Her lust and hunger were disrupted when Amelia stood up abruptly. “I’m not some plaything who’s there for you whenever it suits you, Byron. After all the times when you’ve cancelled dates, and I’ve sat alone on Friday and Saturday nights because”—Amelia made air quotes and said sarcastically—“you have more pressing business that can’t be put off, and you don’t give one thought to my job, my life. I don’t want anyone making plans or decisions for me. I need some space.”

Byron was dumbfounded. What exactly had she done wrong? She stood up and called after her lover but she never turned around. Then she heard the bedroom door slam shut.

The flight staff who had been preparing drinks and snacks for them looked at Byron nervously. She doubted they had ever seen anyone talk to her like that, and they were probably expecting anger from her. Instead she straightened her tie, and said, “Carry on.”

 

 v

 

By the time Byron walked to her conference room at the front of the plane, some of her anger and annoyance had dissipated, as she took on board what Amelia had said. She did cancel plans and put the bank and clan business first, and realized she wasn’t giving Amelia’s job the same respect.

When she opened the conference room she found her Duca—the clan second in command—Alexis, and her chief of the Imperial Guard, Bhal, looking over security plans for the Debrek Monte Carlo estate.

They stopped talking immediately and both bowed their heads in respect. “Principe.”

Bhal looked to Alexis and said, “I’ll leave you both to talk, Duca.”

“Thank you, Bhal,” Alexis said.

Bhal bowed again on her way past Byron. Alexis must have felt the simmering frustration and anger from Byron, because she signalled to one of the human servants standing in the corner.

He walked over to Byron and without a word unbuttoned and rolled up his shirtsleeve and offered his wrist.

Byron shook her head. “Thank you, but no one has fresh while Amelia is so close, not until we get to the estate. Bottled will suffice, Francis.”

While he went to get Byron a drink, she said to her Duca, “Sit with me. I’m sure you heard our first little squabble.”

It was difficult to have secret conversations or arguments when you were surrounded by vampires with exceptional hearing.

“Yes, Principe.” Alexis sat beside her and Francis placed two crystal whiskey glasses in front of them.

He poured out what to outsiders might have looked like dark red wine but was, in fact, human blood. Although the Debrek clan fed from their trusted human staff and consenting humans, they always needed a supply of freshly bottled blood to drink when feeding straight from a human was inconvenient or inappropriate.

She lifted the crystal glass to her mouth and closed her eyes, allowing the deep, sweet scent of the blood to fill her nostrils. Her hunger for blood was always bad, and was getting progressively worse, being in Amelia’s company. The more she cared for her, the more she wanted to taste her blood. She had managed to cope and control her hunger and cravings so far by feeding from others, but it got harder every time. Amelia was like a drug, a temptation constantly laid in front of her, but one that she couldn’t take.

Being with Amelia was like being a recovering drug addict, but living with and loving the one drug your body craves. If she did indulge, Byron didn’t know if she could ever stop.

Byron tilted the glass and let the thick blood touch her lips. Immediately she could taste it wasn’t fresh—it wasn’t perfect but she would make it work. She imagined kissing her way down Amelia’s sweet neck, her fangs erupting, but taking her time and only lightly grazing her lover’s skin with her teeth, and licking and tasting the sweetness and smelling the scent of her neck.

Then, when she had held herself back as long as she could, quickly sinking her fangs into Amelia’s throbbing pulse point that so tantalized her.

When the thick, warm blood from her glass hit her mouth, her imagination was bought crashing back to reality. Nothing could ever substitute for Amelia.

She opened her eyes to see Alexis watching her intently.

“You can’t keep this up.”

Byron signalled for her glass to be refilled. “Can’t keep what up?”

“Stopping yourself from feeding from Amelia,” Alexis said.

“I can’t ever feed on Amelia. She is too perfect, too innocent to be ruined by the likes of me,” Byron said sadly.

She heard Alexis sigh and take a long glug of blood from her own glass.

Byron sat back in her seat and looked at the human servant. “You may leave now, Francis.” Once he exited she said, “I can feel you itching to say something, Duca.”

“Principe, I owe you everything, my life, my sanity—you gave me your trust and made me your Duca, your second in command. I find it hard to sit here and watch you suffer. You told me a long time ago—humans break, and then they break our hearts. You know, I know how that feels. I understood your attraction to her at the start. She’s beautiful, natural, so feminine, so gentle, but all I can see ahead is pain and hurt, just like I felt.”

Byron gave a hollow laugh. “She is all those things and more, and as gentle as she is, she is fiery when she wants to be. You heard our argument? Have you ever heard anyone talking to me like that, Alexis?”

“Not if they didn’t want their throat ripped out and every last drop of blood drained from their body,” Alexis said only half jokingly.

“I’m falling in love with her, just like I promised I never would, not after—”

Both Byron and Alexis looked down at their glasses of blood, and Byron swirled hers around the glass.

“Anyway, I know how much it’s hurting not to be my true self with her, but she’s in my every waking thought and in my dreams. I simply couldn’t walk away from her. This is why I’ve asked her to my estate. I need to work out how this can work, what I can tell her.”

“How do you tell someone you are a three-hundred-year-old, fourth-generation born vampire? The most powerful vampire in our world?” Alexis asked.

Byron sighed. That was the question, and she’d pondered it over her long life. It was one thing to explain to a human you were a vampire, but the Debreks were vampire aristocracy. Not only the oldest clan, but the most powerful. “I never have found a way to explain, or a reason to. With anyone I cared about, I always ended up walking away when their suspicions became too much.”

“You know what might happen if our enemies find out that you are close to someone?” Alexis said.

She was sure the end of that sentence was, like Anna, like Rose. Byron finished her blood, savouring every drop. “We haven’t heard of any moves by the Dreds in over a hundred years. I think now is the time to take a chance and see where this leads. I know this may end in pain for me, but I can’t turn my back on Amelia. She deserves more than sporadic dinner dates and snatched time together while I lead another life that she knows nothing about. She deserves a normal relationship, something that is very hard for me. Amelia is worth the effort and the risk.”

 

 v

 

Amelia’s outburst of anger was now down to a simmer. She riffled through her flight bag, trying to find her small make-up kit.

As she looked around the lavish bedroom, she almost forgot she was on a plane. How could she, Amelia Honey from a little village in the south of England, fit in with an aristocratic, multibillionaire banking family? Everyone who was connected to Byron, even the plane staff, looked like they belonged in a Hollywood movie. She thought of the gorgeous air stewardess who had brought them drinks, with her perfect model’s body and her perfect blond hair, and then looked over to the free-standing mirror in the corner of the room and saw an ordinary brunette with puffy eyes, and wondered what Byron could possibly see in her.

There was a knock at the door and someone walked in. She knew it was Byron without even turning around. When Byron was near she could feel her energy in the air and smell her cologne. It drew Amelia to want to kiss her.

“Amelia? May I speak with you?”

“You can do what you want—you do anyway,” Amelia said with an edge to her voice.

She heard Byron sigh and felt two hands rest on her upper arms. “Please, look at me?”

Amelia’s anger was already starting to waver at the sound of Byron’s voice. That deep, low burr made her melt inside.

Amelia turned around, and Byron’s hands slid to her waist. “Amelia, I’m used to thinking like a CEO. I don’t rule by committee. I thought you would be pleased, that the idea of a longer holiday would be a nice surprise. I wanted to make up for all the times I’ve let you down, when I’ve cancelled our plans and you’ve had to stay at home on the weekend, when I should have been treating you like the princess you are.”

“Byron, I left my mum and dad’s house because they controlled everything in my life—what friends I had, what clothes I wore, what music I listened to—and I felt suffocated. I have a life when you’re not with me. I think sometimes you forget that when you’re jetting around the globe, doing trillions of pounds’ worth of business. I have a job, I have friends, and you can’t just fly in and make decisions, and disrupt my life.”

Byron looked down for a few seconds and then cupped her cheek tenderly. “I’ve never been in a relationship before, Amelia. I’m following my instincts to try to make you happy. My instincts won’t always be right.”

The touch of Byron’s hand made Amelia want to forgive her instantly, but she realized if she wanted a long-term relationship with someone who had such an alpha personality, she had to make a stand or they would never be equals.

“I’m not one of your employees or security people following in your wake. I’m…that’s the thing, I don’t know what I am to you, Byron. Am I just a lover? Am I your girlfriend, or something else? Whatever I am, you can’t just disregard my thoughts and feelings.”

“You are not just anything, Amelia. You are my shining girl, and I may be a novice at this relationship business, but I want to learn, and I never want to make you feel like your parents did.”

Byron pulled Amelia closer, and heard her Duca’s words ringing in her head. Humans break, and then they break our hearts.

She was hesitant to give a name to what they were together, because as soon as she did, Amelia would be marked by the enemies of the Debreks. In the past six months, she had tried to forget about the reasons she had never allowed herself to become emotionally involved, but her feelings for Amelia had momentarily blinded her to the risks.

“Amelia, I don’t apologize. That’s not something I’m accustomed to doing—my business and my family live and die by my decisions. But I can see why you were angry, and I promise to learn to do better. Forgive me? I’ll take you home after two weeks if you wish.”

A small smile crept up on Amelia’s face. “I think I could survive a month with you, in the sun of Monaco.” Byron went to speak, but Amelia held her finger up to her mouth to silence Byron, and said firmly, “But I’ll only consider staying as long as Uncle Jaunty says it’s okay, and Daisy is coping alone.”

Byron smiled and kissed Amelia’s palm. “Consider me severely reprimanded.”

“I should think so too,” Amelia said with a small grin.

Byron felt such relief at Amelia’s forgiveness, though she still had those nagging doubts at the back of her mind, but with the newly consumed blood in her system, all she wanted to do was touch her lover. Every sense of hers was heightened, matched by intense emotional and primal needs for love and sex, and hunger for blood.

“Thank you. I told you when we first met that I’d show you the world, and a new world of experiences, and I will.”

Amelia slipped her arms around Byron’s neck and kissed her on the lips. “How about the mile-high club?”

The corners of Byron’s mouth crept up into a dangerous smile. “Why, Miss Honey, are you the same shy young woman I first met?”

Amelia unbuttoned the top button of Byron’s shirt, while she kissed her lips and along her jaw. “She was corrupted by a rich, sexy international banker.”

Byron kissed her lips softly at first, tasting everything she loved about Amelia, her goodness, her innocence, but their kisses soon became fevered. They were passionate with a great need to connect and touch and express that passion, and after not being together for two weeks, their need was desperate.

Amelia moaned as Byron pulled up her short skirt to touch and squeeze her thigh. Making love with Byron was different every time. As much as Byron liked to be in control and take Amelia on a sensual journey, pushing her limits for pain and pleasure, sometimes, and Amelia didn’t quite know why, sometimes Byron lost that little bit of control and became hot, needy, and desperate. This felt like one of those times.

Byron lifted her, and Amelia wrapped her legs around her waist. Byron walked them over to the fitted chest of drawers that ran along the side of the bedroom, just underneath the airplane windows.

Byron placed her down and urged her to lie back, and she had a sudden panic when she realized she was looking out to blue sky and clouds, and seemed inches away from nothing between her and the ground.

“Byron, I don’t—”

“Take my hand,” Byron said.

Amelia gave her both her hands, and Byron held them over her head. “Look out the window and trust me to keep you from falling.”

Amelia’s heart was pounding with both arousal and fear. She closed her eyes and took a breath. She felt Byron’s hand slip under her skirt, and cup her sex through her lacy underwear. Amelia opened her mouth and groaned.

Byron’s massage stopped when she said, “Open your eyes and trust me.”

Her flesh was hot and needy under Byron’s palm, and she wanted to beg, but knew that Byron wouldn’t waver. She held on, and on, while her hips moved trying to encourage Byron to continue touching her.

Byron’s hand did move then, but only to trace her fingers over the lace that was getting wetter by the second. “Trust me. I will never let you fall.”

Amelia couldn’t take it any longer. Her eyes popped open and she was faced with clouds, blue sky, and hundreds of feet to the ground. She gasped in fear, but soon felt Byron’s fingers slip past her underwear.

“Good girl, keep looking out.” Byron stroked her clit and slipped down to tease her entrance with the tip of her finger.

Facing her fear of heights at the same time as being touched so intimately was exhilarating. She pushed against Byron’s hand just to give herself the extra stimulation of knowing she couldn’t move. It was so good, and her body demanded more.

“More, more, go inside.” Amelia groaned.

“Anything you ask, mia cara.” Byron slipped two fingers inside her, and started to thrust.

It felt so, so good. Like she was falling from the sky, but flying towards an orgasm at the same time. Byron kept holding her hands down tight. She knew how Amelia loved to feel out of control of her orgasm, and she was. It was rushing towards her so fast, and felt like it was going to be so intense she couldn’t take it.

“Byron, I can’t.” Amelia moaned.

“Of course you can. I’m here. Let it wash over you. I won’t let you fall,” Byron said as her thrusts got faster and her thumb stroked her clit.

Amelia struggled as the intensity crept up on her, and she was helpless to resist the pleasure about to hit her. She was groaning continuously now, almost as if in pain.

“It’s too much. Too much,” she said desperately.

“Amelia, look at me,” Byron said.

As soon as she looked in Byron’s eyes, she knew she was safe, and her orgasm hit her. “Yes, yes, oh God.”

Amelia had never experienced anything like that. She tried to calm her breathing, and as she did Byron released her hands. She immediately pulled Byron down into a kiss. Amelia wanted to say, I love you so much, but had to bite her tongue.

Byron pulled back and smiled at her. “Welcome to the mile-high club.”

Amelia laughed and cupped her cheek lovingly. “Thank you.”

“I’ll always be here to catch you,” Byron said. “Always.”


Chapter Three

Victorija Dred groaned as the last of her victim’s blood flowed deliciously over her tongue and down her throat. She pulled back from the young servant’s throat, and let her body fall with a deadly thud to the floor of her bedroom.

She gasped inhaling the scent of blood as it ran messily down her chin and neck, dripped onto her bare chest, and began to seep into her crisp white shirt.

Victorija ran her tongue over her lips, determined to gorge on every last drop of warm blood. She heard footsteps heading towards her room, and knew who they belonged to.

The door opened and she said without turning, “Good morning, Lillian. You’re up bright and early.”

She turned around and smiled at her visitor. Lillian was a contrast to her messy state, and she always possessed the ability to look effortlessly well dressed, today looking extremely executive in a short-skirted business suit, her dark brown hair twisted into a bun.

Lillian sighed and Victorija followed her gaze to the bed where the other servant, a young male, lay with the last of his blood dripping onto the bed sheets, a breakfast tray left untouched beside him.

“Victorija, why do you insist on eating in bed? You make such a mess and your father will have no staff left if you continue to use them for food.”

In a heartbeat, she flashed across the room and pushed Lillian up against the wall, her hand around her throat. “Remember who you are talking to, witch.”

Victorija loved the shortening of Lillian’s breath, the fear she could produce in her, even though she and the witch were allies, but almost instantaneously Victorija smiled again. “I had a late night and needed a pick-me-up. As for my father, it won’t be his castle for long.”

In her family’s castle just outside Paris, the unwritten rule was not to use the human staff as food, so as not to alert the local population to their presence, but Victorija never liked rules. She let Lillian go and heard her gasp in relief. Victorija walked to her bathroom and said, “Is everything prepared for today?”

“Yes, my witches will be there for the meeting. Everything is set.”

Victorija leaned over the sink and tutted with dissatisfaction at the sight of the servant’s red blood all over her shirt. She quickly pulled it off, leaving her in only her black leather trousers, and ran her hands through her hair.

“Excellent.” She could feel the effects of the fresh human blood starting to make her body buzz with energy and sexual excitement. Her body needed release, and soon. She wetted a white washcloth and cleaned the blood off her face and chest, and walked back into the room to find Lillian at the window looking out over the grounds.

She could hear the fast beat of Lillian’s heart. She was clearly anxious, and it was hardly surprising. Today she was going to help Victorija and her supporters wrestle the crown from her father’s grubby hands.

Gilbert Dred had clung on to the title and role of Principe of their clan for far, far too long. Succession in those vampire clans with royal blood, like the Debreks and the Dreds, was meant to be an orderly thing. Since before her father’s immediate family was cast out from the Debreks five hundred years ago, the convention was that after a respectable number of centuries, or sooner if they wished, the Principe would hand on the leadership of the clan to their heir. It allowed the former leader to have a life outside the clan, a fresh energy to be brought to the clan leadership, and a different face to represent them in the human world. Unfortunately for Victorija, Gilbert was power hungry and didn’t really care about his daughter’s rights to the leadership, but removing a nearly indestructible born vampire was easier said than done. She was the only other born vampire in the Dred clan, and it would be dangerous to take him on by herself. That’s where Lillian was so important.

Today Lillian and her coven of witches would help her put an end to Gilbert’s tyrannical, old-fashioned regime. Victorija stepped behind Lillian and slipped her hands around her waist.

“I can feel you are tense, Lillian.” Victorija moved closer, and whispered in her ear, “You’re not having second thoughts, I hope?”

Lillian turned around, and answered a little too quickly, “Of course not.”

The plan to remove her father had been long in the planning and the making. She’d built up support secretly within her clan, vampires who were frustrated at the Dreds’ lack of expansion and control of the human population. Gilbert was content with what they had. He had become lazy and allowed the Debreks to grow stronger and stronger, while they stood still. The Dreds had been cut off from their Debrek birthright, and Victorija was determined to get it back.

Victorija had won over Lillian, a witch her father had importuned to his service, and who was leader of the French coven. For the plan to work, she needed her witch to remain calm. She looked into Lillian’s eyes and projected a feeling of calm and well-being.

“Everything will be fine. There is nothing to worry about.”

“There is nothing to worry about,” Lillian said in parrot fashion.

Victorija smiled and began to run her hands over Lillian’s body. “There, isn’t that better, Mademoiselle Witch?”

She leaned in and gave her a hard kiss. Lillian moaned and threaded her fingers through Victorija’s hair, apparently intoxicated with her.

Victorija prided herself on the fact that she rarely needed to compel the women she was interested in, only ever to calm them, as her charm was compelling enough.

She allowed one of her fangs to nip Lillian’s lip. The drop of blood fuelled Victorija’s excitement, and her sex demanded release, but first she had to get the plan clear. She and her vampires had worked too long and hard for anything to go wrong. Victorija placed gentle kisses on her neck and said, “Tell me the plan.”

Lillian groaned and tried to talk through what Victorija knew was a fog of lust. “When we are gathered in the throne room, I wait for your signal, then begin the incantation.”

She ran her hand up Lillian’s skirt and grasped her thigh. “Then when he falls, you must…?”

Lillian’s hands clutched at her bare back and shoulders, and she breathed heavily. “We keep him down until you have…”

When her voice trailed off Victorija turned her around, quickly raised her skirt, and dropped her own leather trousers. She could smell how turned on Lillian was, and proceeded to rip off her underwear and slip her fingers into her lover’s wetness.

“Until I have pulled his heart out, crushed it, and cut his fucking, smug, sociopathic head off.”

All Victorija could think about was coming and sucking hard on Lillian’s pulse point. She opened herself up, and began to thrust against Lillian’s pert bottom. Victorija groaned at the first touch of her hard clit on her lover’s flesh. “Mademoiselle Witch, you feel so very good.”

Her thrusting matched the thrust of her fingers, and the way Lillian was moaning and pushing back against her showed she was clearly enjoying it. She ripped open the collar of Lillian’s blouse and tasted her pulse point.

“Oh God,” Lillian cried out. “So good, but don’t bite me and mess up my neck. You’ve already had enough this morning.”

Victorija just laughed. She wasn’t going to fuck a woman and not taste her blood. She thrust harder and felt her own orgasm, powered and amplified by the blood she had already consumed, build fast, until her groin and lower stomach felt hot, burning, and ready to erupt. When Lillian’s walls started to grip her fingers, she sank her teeth into her lover’s neck. The taste of human blood multiplied her orgasm, especially as Lillian wriggled beneath her, and she thrust wildly into her. She drank until her orgasm subsided then pulled her fangs from Lillian’s neck, her lover’s blood running down her chin.

Lillian turned and pushed Victorija away angrily, while clasping her neck. “You said you wouldn’t.”

Vic pulled up her trousers and got a towel that was hanging over the dressing table chair. She handed it to her lover for her neck, and said, “You said that—I didn’t reply. I take blood whenever and wherever I want, Mademoiselle Witch. You should count yourself lucky you’re not lying there with them.”

She pointed to the two human bodies by the bed, and closed in on Lillian, holding the towel. “I didn’t kill you.” She smiled. “That means I like you.”

More truthfully, Lillian knew, Victorija needed her. When she didn’t… “I have your word that my witches will be safe when your father is removed?”

“You need me to say it?” Victorija said.

Lillian pulled the towel away from her neck and looked at her wound in the dressing table mirror. “Yes, I need you to say it.”

Victorija lifted her hand and kissed her palm. “I promise, Mademoiselle Witch. Your coven will be safe under my rule.”

And her control.

 

 v

 

After their flight, Byron’s Daimler set off with them for her Monte Carlo estate, or so Amelia thought. When the car stopped at a harbour, Amelia turned to Byron in confusion.

“I thought we were going to your house?”

Byron smiled and took her sunglasses from her top pocket. “We are.” She popped her sunglasses on, making her look even more suave and dapper. “Are you ready for another new experience?”

Amelia smiled. Everything about this holiday was a new experience, and she was loving every glamorous moment. On their journey from the plane, her gaze had been glued to the scenery and the people as they passed. It was like dropping into a world of a fragrance commercial. The sky was blue, the sun was shining brightly, the streets were filled with exclusive shops and boutiques, but the thing she noticed most were the people.

They were just how she’d imagined the rich and famous of Monaco to be. Sophisticated and richly dressed, and she admired the exquisite tailoring on show on the male population. Clearly bespoke tailoring was a big business here.

“What are we going to do?”

Byron winked. “I’ll show you. Wait here for a second.”

The car doors were opened by Byron’s staff and she got out. Soon Byron was standing by Amelia’s car door offering her hand, ever the dashing, dapper lover.

Amelia took her hand and stepped out of the car. She quickly had to hold down the hem of her dress as the gusty harbour wind tried to blow her dress up around her waist.

“Careful,” Byron said with a smile, “I don’t want to share you with any of my people.”

Byron offered her arm, and she slipped her hand around it. She was led down to the edge of the harbour and a waiting line of varnished wooden powerboats, the kind she had always seen actors and actresses travel in at the Monaco film festival.

Amelia took her sunglasses from her handbag and put them on before they walked down the steps to the water’s edge. Byron stepped into the boat, and beckoned Amelia to follow, but she hesitated.

Byron turned around and held out her hand. “Are you ready to get the wind blowing through your beautiful hair?”

Amelia was nervous, but as with all things she tried with her lover, Byron’s complete confidence and control of everything around her gave Amelia the courage to take that extra step. She took Byron’s hand and stepped in, and when she lost her balance, Byron was there to steady her.

“It’s all right. I have you, Miss Honey.”

She was led up to the seats behind the steering area, but Byron said, “It’s much more fun if we stand.”

“Where’s your house?” Amelia asked.

Byron stood behind her, one hand wrapped possessively around her waist and the other pointing over her shoulder.

“You see the tip of the peninsula over there?”

Amelia nodded. “Yes.”

“Just around there. It’s completely isolated, and the front entrance is only accessible by boat.” Byron kissed her cheek. “Very secluded, very private, and I hope you are going to love it.”

Amelia gazed up at Byron lovingly. “If I get to be alone with you, it’s going to be perfect.”

“I hope you feel that. I’ve put a lot of thought into making this a special holiday for you.”

Alexis cleared her throat, getting their attention. Amelia looked behind them, and Alexis and one other guard had joined them on the motorboat. Bhaltair and the rest of the guards filled the boats behind them. Again it struck her how much security Byron travelled with. Byron explained that financiers had many enemies, especially since the Debreks’ money helped finance most countries around the world.

Byron nodded to Alexis, who then gave a signal to the driver of the boat, and they set off. It was a bit scary to start with as they picked up speed, particularly because they were standing, but she soon relaxed feeling Byron’s arms wrapped around her middle, and her chin rested in the crook of her neck.

Amelia closed her eyes for a moment and enjoyed the refreshing wind in her hair, and the feeling of utter security in Byron’s arms. The words I love you floated across her mind. If only she had the courage to say them. But knowing Byron’s relationship history, or lack thereof, Amelia was not going to be the first to commit.

The boat jerked forward, and Amelia gave a little squeal and grasped Byron’s arms tightly.

“I’ve got you. Look out and enjoy the view.” Byron kissed her brow. “I won’t ever let you go.”

“Why do I feel like Rose in Titanic? There aren’t any icebergs around here, are there?”

Byron gulped hard, an unreadable look upon her face. “No, you’re safe.”

The boat picked up more speed with every second, and the faster it got, the more her heart sped up, and she started to feel the exhilaration of the speed and the view. All around them boats and multimillion-pound yachts bobbed around in the blue water in the distance.

Amelia chuckled to herself.

“Why do you laugh?” Byron asked.

“I’m just thinking about how my life now resembles some sort of American TV show. You’ve brought flash and glam to my life, Byron.”

“Flash and glam?”

Amelia nodded. “When I’m not with you, in London, everything is grey and drab, but then you come and bring colour, vibrancy, excitement, and my life seems full of possibilities. You see? Flash and glam.”

“There’s lots more of that to come. Look.” Byron indicated for her to look forward and she saw they were approaching the rocky outcropping fast.

The boat got closer and closer, and then, there it was. Amelia gasped out loud at the sight in front of her. The Debrek Monte Carlo estate was hewn into the coastal rock, and the stone medieval-looking building appeared to be both part home and part fortress. There were at least four stories, and behind the building the rocky coastline was covered in thick green trees. Byron was right. This was completely isolated.

“It’s stunning, Byron.”

“I’m glad you think so. You can only get to this entrance by water, and I thought you would enjoy this view as much as I do.”

As they got closer, Amelia noticed that beneath the walled lower level was the estate’s own personal harbour with boats of all sorts, and over the side of the harbour was a private beach with a swimming area marked by buoys.

“You really live here?” Amelia said.

“Part of the year. I’m mostly based in London and I have other homes all over Europe and the United States, but this is special to me. I come here to be myself, secure in its privacy.”

The boat pulled in at the harbour and Alexis and the crew disembarked. Byron whispered, “Come on,” then kissed her tenderly on the cheek. “Let me show you my world.”

Amelia felt that once she stepped into Byron’s estate, it would be the start of something special, something serious, just like she wanted. She knew how private Byron was, and for her to bring her here was letting Amelia into her trust, and that meant so much to her.

 

 v

 

Gilbert Dred sat on his throne, set on top of a raised dais. Victorija stood by his side, looking out over the throne room, full of his vampires.

Gilbert had a slight build, and Victorija had always assumed his feeling of physical inadequacy fuelled his sadistic tendencies. Everyone was afraid of Gilbert Dred, but now was the time for Victorija to step out from his shadow and take control.

“My daughter says someone requested an audience. That they have problems with my leadership,” Gilbert said.

Vic watched all the assembled vampires look to each other. Only some of her clan knew what was about to happen. She hoped that when they saw which way the wind was blowing, they would support her.

When no one was forthcoming, Gilbert stood and walked to the front of the dais. “Come on. Speak up. Does someone wish to say something? Hmm?”

His arrogant gaze ran over those assembled in front of him. There was an eerie silence as he watched and waited. Victorija looked to one of their vampires she had compelled to make a move, and nodded to him.

Gilbert bellowed, “Who amongst you is foolish enough to take on a born vampire?”

He laughed and turned his back to walk back to his throne. Just as he looked to his daughter, the vampire from the crowd shot to him in a flash, but Gilbert, being faster and superior to a turned vampire in every way, caught him easily, and held him up off his feet by the throat.

“You think you can attack me?” As he held the male vampire in the air he addressed the others. “I lead this clan, no one else, and there is no one who can stand against me.”

He quickly plunged his hand into the vampire’s chest and pulled out his heart, before crushing it and letting it and the body drop to the floor. His breathing was heavy, the veins on the side of his head protruded, and his eyes glowed red. Gilbert lifted his hand to lick the dripping blood from it.

“If anyone else would like to offer me their blood, I would gladly drain it from their body.”

Victorija looked to Lillian and gave a brief nod. She started a low chant alone at first, but then voices from around the room started to join her.

Gilbert looked confused, and shook his head. “What is this?”

The chanting got louder and Gilbert started to stumble and sway. “Duca! Victorija!”

Lillian and her witches moved closer to the dais, all the time chanting louder and louder. Gilbert’s Duca jumped in front of them, but Victorija’s close ally Drasas launched at him and drove a stake through his heart.

Then Victorija knew it was safe to move forward. All those vampires not in on the plan looked confused and scared and Gilbert dropped to his knees and screamed. Victorija stood in front of her father and said in a low tone, “Anyone who interferes will be eliminated.”

Just as she said that, the vampires in the ensemble loyal to her stepped forward with wooden stakes in their hands. Now satisfied everyone was subdued, Victorija turned to her father and saw the scene that she had played over and over in her head the whole of her life—her father on his knees in unbearable pain.

“Victorija, help me, help me, please!”

That stopped her momentarily. She’d never dreamed that Gilbert Dred would be begging her even as death stared him in the face.

Victorija knew she didn’t have long. Her witches couldn’t hold him forever. It was near impossible to kill a born vampire but she had planned everything meticulously, and her one shot was now in front of her.

She walked to him and cupped his cheek, taking a few seconds to enjoy the pain on his face.

“Victorija, help me, help me,” he pleaded.

“Shh, Father. I will help you.”

The few seconds of relief evident on his face disappeared when she thrust her hand into his chest and grabbed his heart.

“No, you!” Gilbert said with shock. “This…was you. Usurp my crown?”

Victorija’s fangs burst through her gums. She squeezed his heart, but didn’t pull it out yet. “I do this in the name of my mother, Alice, everyone I ever cared for before you destroyed my soul, and for the good of the Dred clan.”

She pulled his heart from his chest and walked over to the fire altar on the dais, a place where Gilbert had burned the hearts of so many people, including her mother.

“Vic…don’t…”

A million memories of his hurtful, sociopathic behaviour flashed through her mind, and with one last look to him, she dropped his heart into the fire. He screamed and his body started to blister with burns.

Drasas brought Victorija a long blade, and she took position in front of him, so that the last thing he would see would be her face.

His body was starting to blacken with the burns, and she held off another few moments enjoying his pain, then swung the sword through the air. Gilbert’s head flew off and rolled down the steps of the dais.

Victorija’s heart was pounding with exhilaration. She had done it. She had killed the man who had tormented her life, and now the Dred clan was hers. She felt the wetness of what must have been her father’s blood. She touched her face and looked at the blood on her fingers before tasting it on her lips.

She roared and held the sword above her head. Her supporters roared in joy too, and Drasas stood by her side, and shouted, “Bow before your new Principe!”

All the vampires and the witches bowed, some more quickly than others, and Victorija knew she now had to practice a bit of diplomacy.

“Friends, comrades!”

The crowd calmed to a low murmur.

“For over a hundred years the Dred clan has stood still under Gilbert’s leadership, while the Debreks have grown more and more powerful. He clung onto power longer than he should have and grew lazy. I am the last born vampire of this clan, and your rightful Principe. I ask that you join with me, and together we can make the Dreds the most powerful clan in the world. To do that we must regain the secret of siring new, stronger vampires, born vampires like me who can help us take back what is ours. It is my birthright, and I pledge to you that we will prevail. The Debreks will no longer be the ones with the secret that they greedily covet. We will learn it, and take it from them, and grow our clan until we are the most powerful royal vampire house. The Debreks will be nothing but a memory when we are finished. Are you with me?”

The crowd of vampires cheered and roared louder than the throne room had heard in hundreds of years.

The exhilaration was unlike anything she had ever felt. Now she needed blood and lots of it. “For tonight the city is yours—feed till you are gorged.”

She looked to the side and saw a worried looking Lillian. Victorija would still need the services of the most powerful witch she had ever met, and her followers—for now.

“Everyone is fair game, except the witches, for they are under my protection. Go, and bring me back new turned vampires. We have an army to build!”