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Midnight bite, p.9

Midnight Bite, page 9

 

Midnight Bite
 


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  And his smile faded. “That is where you are wrong. To me, you are worth everything.”

  CHAPTER TEN

  New Year’s Resolution Number Ten: Try falling in love. After all, it’s not the fall that hurts. It’s the landing.

  “Will the ceremony go on as planned tonight?” Salvatore asked as he marched into Devereaux’s study.

  Devereaux gazed into the fireplace, watching the flames flicker and dance. Lark had been worried about him. She didn’t want him burning. He figured that had to be a good sign.

  “Uh, Devereaux? Yo!”

  He turned toward his friend.

  Salvatore’s brows were up, and his hands were on his hips, fisted. “The ceremony. Is it happening?”

  The bonding. The vamp equivalent of a marriage. The event that would seal the deal and bind him to Lark. Hell, yes, he wanted it to happen. But… “Not yet. She needs more time.”

  “Are. You. Shitting. Me?”

  Devereaux flipped the guy off. “She’s not ready. And I won’t rush her.”

  Salvatore stalked toward him. “Screw ready. You want the kingdom? You want the power? Then you do—”

  “I want her.”

  “Yeah, right, that’s why you complete the bonding ceremony, and you get her forever. You get—”

  “I want her…to love me.”

  Salvatore’s eyes squeezed shut. “You did not just say that crap to me.”

  Devereaux growled. “Do you forget who is the prince here?”

  Salvatore’s eyes flew open. “I remember very well. I remember the vampire who found me on a battle field, bleeding out because I’d been betrayed by my own men. I remember that you tried to keep me alive as a human first—that you tried to save me, but when there was nothing that could be done, and as the fucking snow fell around us, making me even colder, you gave me another chance.”

  Devereaux rolled back his shoulders.

  “I’ve been at your side since then. I’ve always had your back, but I have never bullshitted you, and I won’t start now. This isn’t about love. It’s about power. You think her old man is just going to play nicely now that her safe years are up? Hell, no. He will come for her. He will try to take her from you. He isn’t the same man he was all those years ago. He was desperate when he came knocking on your door—”

  “And I am desperate now!” Devereaux fired back. “If I push her, I lose her!”

  “Holy hell.” Salvatore rocked back on his heels. “You’re this whipped already? Shit, when did it happen?”

  “Salvatore…”

  “I knew when you used to sneak out and watch her, that crap was dangerous. Stalker-like, too, but hey, who was I to judge? You wanted to see her too much.”

  He had. As a child, she’d had such an innocence. He’d wanted to protect her.

  As a teen, she’d known too much pain. Again, he’d been consumed by the desire to protect her. But he’d been helpless. Forced to stay away. Forced to watch from a distance as she buried her mother and stood at the gravesite, with heavy drops of rain falling onto her downcast head.

  Then, when she’d become a woman…when he’d watched her on her twenty-first birthday as she’d celebrated in a college bar with her human friends…hell, did she even know that he’d been the one to supply her mysterious scholarship so that she could attend the school she wanted? He hoped not. Some secrets should be kept. But he’d had to see her. He’d wanted to make sure she was happy.

  Yet as he’d watched her on the dance floor in that rundown bar, as he’d seen her spin around and her dark hair had trailed over her shoulders, as her warm laughter had filled the air, he hadn’t just wanted to protect any longer.

  A new need had risen within him.

  Now that he’d had her once, Devereaux knew all bets were off. There could never be another for him. If he lost her tomorrow, he would spend the rest of his many days longing just for Lark. His Lark.

  “When did you fall in love with her?” Salvatore asked quietly.

  The guy had always been blunt. “None of your damn business.”

  “I’m your best friend. If it’s not my business, then it’s no one’s business.” Salvatore huffed out a breath. “And if the others out there find out that you’re this wrapped up in her, without a bond in place, they could use her against you. She could be a weakness.”

  Like he didn’t know that already. “That’s why she’s here. In the safety of my home. With my guards around her. No one will get past the guards at the perimeter of this place. As long as she stays here, I have time…” Devereaux’s voice trailed away.

  Salvatore just looked expectantly at him.

  Feeling his cheeks burn, Devereaux muttered, “Time to woo her.”

  He expected the booming laughter that came from his friend. Just because he expected it, though, didn’t mean that Devereaux liked the sound. “Don’t make me knock your ass out.”

  With an effort, Salvatore managed to control his laughter. “Man, you must have been out of the dating game for like, ever, if you still use the word ‘woo’ when talking about romancing someone.”

  It had been a while. He’d fucked plenty of women, but to court one? He couldn’t even remember how long it had been. “Don’t you have a fucking perimeter to go and guard?”

  “Do you know how to woo her?”

  “I have a plan.”

  Now Salvatore crossed his arms over his chest and looked expectant. “Let’s hear it.”

  “I bought her a closet full of the most expensive clothes I could find. There are four jewelry boxes in her room—all filled with diamonds and emeralds.” The emeralds would match her gorgeous eyes, and didn’t humans say that diamonds were supposed to be the best friend that a girl had?

  Salvatore kept looking expectant.

  “I have servants who will cater to her every demand. I can give her anything she wants with the snap of my fingers.”

  Salvatore rolled his eyes. “Sorry, but a monster hunter’s daughter doesn’t strike me as someone who’d really care about fancy clothes or sparkly jewels. And are you sure she wants someone else doing everything for her? The woman seemed pretty self-sufficient to me.”

  Devereaux faltered. “I just…wanted to give her presents.” He wanted to shower her with gifts. He’d wanted to give them to her when she was younger, wanted to give her anything to make her life easier, but her mother would never have allowed that. Her mother hadn’t allowed him anywhere near Lark.

  “Yeah, look, it’s nice that you want to give her things. But does she care about things?”

  And Lark’s words replayed through Devereaux’s mind… Things don’t matter, you know? “Fuck.”

  “Exactly. So maybe instead of things, why don’t you let her get to know you better? If you want the woman to fall for you, then you need to use charm.”

  “Get to know me?” Now he stalked back to the fire. Glared at the flames. “Maybe I should tell her about my bloody past?”

  The floor squeaked behind him.

  “Maybe I should tell her about all the demons and shifters I killed during my earlier days when I was so desperate for power? Should I tell her how I was known as Devereaux the Dark? How I turned the countryside red with the blood of my enemies…”

  “Uh, Devereaux…”

  “Do you think that will truly charm her? Because...” He whirled. “I…don’t.”

  Oh, shit.

  Lark stood next to Salvatore. Her eyes were huge. Her lips parted.

  “I didn’t hear you come in.” The floor had squeaked, but he’d thought that was just Salvatore shifting around. He hadn’t caught her sweet scent, hadn’t heard the whisper of her breath…

  Now he did.

  Lavender. The scent reached out to him, and her breathing was coming too fast. Her heart was racing—probably because I just scared the ever-loving hell out of her.

  “You were distracted,” Salvatore muttered. “You’ve got to watch that crap.” He backed away. When he was behind Lark, he poi
nted to her and mouthed, Charm her.

  The dick. How was Devereaux supposed to be charming now?

  Salvatore shut the door behind him.

  Devereaux didn’t move.

  Neither did Lark. Since she wasn’t turning and running away in terror, wasn’t that a good sign? He thought it was. Perhaps.

  “I can explain,” Devereaux began as he crept toward her.

  “Explain the countryside going red?”

  “It was the Middle Ages. There was a whole lot of fighting.” Was he speaking too quickly? “Kill or be killed. A savage time where only might ruled. If I hadn’t fought, my people would have died. They were already being persecuted. It wasn’t exactly the best time for the paranormals.” Anyone different had been slaughtered. “The humans I killed—they were trying to destroy my family. My people. I spared those I could. I didn’t just want death.” He’d never wanted only that.

  She was still in the room. Her head cocked as she stared up at him.

  “I will always be a vampire.” Truth. Just as she would now, because of him. “But it doesn’t mean I have to be a monster.”

  Though his enemies would certainly say otherwise. He didn’t want her to say otherwise, though. He wanted Lark to think of him as something different.

  He stood so close to her now. Devereaux wanted to reach out and touch her, but he was afraid she’d flinch away from him. He didn’t want that. When she didn’t speak, he cleared his throat.

  Charm her. I can do this shit. “How is your room? Is everything to your liking?”

  “Yeah, about that…” Her gaze hardened. “I don’t exactly like being put in the flavor of the week’s room.”

  The flavor of the what now?

  “Don’t give me the castoffs that you use on your former lovers. I don’t want their clothes.” Her voice had turned sharp and brittle. “I don’t want their jewelry. I don’t want the bed that they all slept in. I’m not some replacement that you just pop into place.” Another glare, and she turned on her heel to storm away.

  His hand flew out and locked around her arm. “No other woman has worn those clothes.”

  She stiffened. “Right. You just magically had them all in that over-sized closet.”

  “I had them because they were bought for you. Lots of blues because I knew that was your favorite color.”

  “How the hell would you know that?”

  Because I know you. The bedroom in her apartment had been blue. The bedroom in her dorm room had been blue. Dammit, Salvatore was right. He was a freaking stalker. “The green blouses and dresses match your eyes. Just like the emerald jewelry. Everything was purchased for you, not for anyone else.”

  She turned and frowned up at him.

  “I was counting down the days until your birthday. I wanted to have everything you’d need.” He cleared his throat. “And, um, just so you know, no other woman has been in that room. It’s been saved, for you.” The first time she’d been in his home, he’d had her put in a different room because he’d been trying to ease her into his world. He’d thought immediately showing her the room he’d prepared just for her might have been overkill.

  Perhaps it still was overkill. Fuck. How many mistakes was he going to make with her?

  Lark didn’t speak.

  He blundered on, saying, “I have several large corporations. Vamps can’t live on blood alone, you know.” He tried a smile.

  Her lips pressed together.

  Shit. “I have advertising departments,” he tossed out. “Tons of them.” Dammit. It sounded like he was bragging. He wasn’t. He was trying to offer her something she might want. “I have too many of them. You got your degree in advertising, so I thought you’d like to run them.”

  “Run your advertising departments?” Her brows rose. “But I could be the worst advertiser in the world.”

  “Doubtful.” He shook his head. “You graduated at the top of your class. You were the advertising student of the year during your senior year! You were—”

  “How do you know all of this stuff about me?”

  “Because I watched over you when you were younger. I liked to make sure that you were okay.” His hand rubbed over his jaw. “I may have popped in and out of your life. From a distance. I didn’t want to intrude or scare you, or…”

  He should shut the fuck up because he probably was terrifying her.

  “Sonofabitch.” Lark tipped back her head. “Darklight Industries. That’s you, isn’t it? You were the firm who paid for my college?”

  Guilty. He gave a grim nod. “I lost you over the last year. You vanished and…” And he’d had to deal with a mini-rebellion on his hands. Courtesy of her father. A story he had to find a careful way of sharing with her. Devereaux cleared his throat. “I sent vamps to find you. That dick Charles just got to you first.” Charles should have reported her location to Devereaux. Instead, the bastard had tried to take Lark for himself.

  Speaking of Charles…the guy was in the basement. In a cell. Chained and getting ready for a very painful death.

  You don’t touch what’s mine. You sure as shit don’t put your fangs into her.

  “I changed my last name,” Lark revealed to him. “I wanted a fresh start. Nothing that would tie me to a monster hunting past. I wanted to put that all behind me.” A sad laugh spilled from her. “Guess that didn’t happen, huh?”

  “Anything can happen. You can make your life what you want it to be.” He exhaled slowly and tried to sound charming. “If you want to run the advertising arm of Darklight, it’s yours. If you want to start your own company, fine, you can do that, too. I’ll give you whatever you want.”

  Yeah, it sounded like he was trying to buy her. If Salvatore heard, he’d laugh his head off. But…I have nothing to give her but my money.

  She wouldn’t want his broken past.

  And he doubted she’d care that she held a vamp’s cold heart in the palm of her hand.

  “All of your clothes are being brought over,” he told her quickly. “You don’t have to wear the ones in your closet here. You can wear whatever the fuck you want and throw out the rest.”

  She winced. “Uh, yeah, how about we donate the things I don’t want? Throwing it out is just wasteful. People out there need help.”

  He smiled at her.

  “Why are you doing that?”

  He wiped his smile away. “Because I like you.”

  Now she was staring suspiciously at him.

  And he shouldn’t ask, but… “Lark, do you, ah, do you think you could ever like me?” Fucking hell. What was he? Two? Instead of over a thousand years?

  He’d just been alone for so long. He’d dreamed of having a mate. No, of her. Someone good inside. Not tainted and dark the way he was.

  “Like?” Lark seemed to taste the word. Then she surprised him because she moved so close to him that her body brushed against his. “That’s a really tame way of describing something. I like my jeans. I like my shoes. I like starry skies.”

  Her lavender scent was driving him crazy. And had she meant for her breasts to push against his chest?

  “I like all kinds of things, but, no, I don’t think I could ever like you.”

  His chest hurt. His back teeth ground together as Devereaux started to step back.

  Her hand rose and pressed to his cheek. “My feelings for you are far deeper and more complex than some mild like. You drive me crazy, yet somehow make me always feel incredibly safe. I want you more than I’ve ever wanted any other man, and I also…God, this is going to sound crazy because you’re the big, bad vamp prince…but I swear, I feel like you hurt inside, and I want to take your pain away. I want to make you flash that dimpled smile at me because I love your smile. And that’s why I asked why you were smiling. Because I wanted to know what I’d done to make you smile. Just so I could get you to do it again.”

  He smiled again, felt the smile slip right across his face. He hadn’t exactly had a ton to smile about in the many long years of his life. T
hose early centuries had been pure hell. So many bloodbaths. So much violence. So many trying to rip power from him.

  As for the last two and a half decades, he’d been so fucking worried. He’d been close to having everything he wanted, and the thing he feared was that someone would rip it all away from him.

  “Why do I feel this way about you?” Lark whispered. “Is it because I had your blood? Did it make some kind of link between us?”

  “What way?” Devereaux asked instead of answering.

  “When I’m close to you, I want you.” Her hand slid down his chest, to rest above his heart. “I yearn. I ache. I want to just strip off my clothes and jump you, and that is not my usual style.”

  “Good to know,” Devereaux growled because he’d hate to have to go on a killing spree with her exes.

  “Is it because I’m…different now? A vamp?” Sadness came and went in her beautiful eyes. “Will I always crave—”

  “You are not different. Not inside. Yes, there are physical changes.” They needed to be clear on this. “But at your core, you’re the same person. You didn’t suddenly turn into the biggest evil in the world because you grew fangs.”

  Her lips curled. “No matter what my mother said.”

  Her mother… “Lark, your father lied to her. She didn’t know he was a vampire. Not until she was already pregnant with you. She hated what he was. And she took you and ran.” Tell her. “He’s…he didn’t have the best reputation back then. She probably wanted to protect you.”

  She was silent a long moment, then Lark said, “I don’t want you to lie to me. Not ever again, understand? I don’t want us to wind up like them. If I were to get pregnant, I wouldn’t want to take the baby and run. I’d want to stay with you. I’d want a different life for the child than the one I had.”

  A baby—with Lark? A family. The dream he’d held close for so long. “I want to kiss you.”

  “Then why are you just standing there?” Lark murmured back, voice a perfect, husky temptation. “Because I just told you that every time I’m near you, I want. I want you right now.”

 
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