Charles awoke with a nagging hunger, his insides hollow, and his mouth as dry and coarse as the desert sands. His head hurt and his body felt thin and limb. Looking about, he knew he was still in Elena’s bed as he had been last night, but Elena was no longer with him. The candles had burned down to stubs and dawn crested over the horizon, although night still loomed in the bedchamber, gray and cold. Shivering, Charles pulled a blanket over him. As he did so, he glanced down at his chest. Last night Elena had mixed their blood together, using his chest as a palette. He should have seen the scar from the incision she made with the knife, but he found nothing but smooth, pale flesh along his breastbone. What had happened? Had the transformation taken place as he slept? Yet Charles felt far from strong and vital...or invincible.
He remembered the elixir stored in the gold box, but the box, too, had disappeared. Elena, no doubt, had returned her precious commodity to its place in the credenza.
As he struggled to sit up, the lady herself entered the room, swathed now in a gown of cream linen and cinched at the middle with a slim gold belt. She wore the gown like a Roman toga, with one creamy shoulder exposed, her hair swaying in corn-silk waves along both shoulders. Elena looked like a goddess, like the white and golden vision in Charles’ dream...or dreams.
“Elena,” he croaked, barely able to speak, his mouth so dry he could feel the flesh of his lips crack.
“Good morning, my love,” she greeted, her smile warm and inviting. “You are hungry, thirsty, no doubt. I have what you need to slake the craving.”
Now a dark male figure stood in the shadows of the doorway behind her. When the form moved inside the room, Charles recognized Anatole, the man who had been kneeling before Elena last night and orally satisfying her. The Italian stone hewer wore no shirt, only a pair of tight black breeches. The flesh over his taut, defined chest and arm muscles glowed like polished copper in the first morning light, his dark hair tied back to expose his corded neck and smooth jawline.
“Buena sera, signori,” he greeted Charles with a sly grin.
When the Serbia approached, Elena took him by his big, rough hand and led him over to the bed. She seemed to walk on a cloud, so light and airy, a stark contrast to the dark, burly form at her side.
She had Anatole sit at the foot of the bed while she disappeared into the shadows, returning with a goblet of wine and a jar of balm. Sitting beside Charles, she bade him to drink some of the wine. It went down warm and smooth, giving him a temporary feeling of euphoria, and yet the thirst persisted. Handing the goblet to Anatole, Elena then turned to the jar of honey balm, placing a dab of it on her finger and gently rubbing it along his cracked lips.
“The elixir you consumed last night is strong,” she told him. “It takes it out of you before it begins to work its charms. But soon you will feel the effect, a gathering of strength and purpose, a power to reckon with. Until then, it is best to relax and enjoy the next phase of your development, of your education.”
Leaning in, Elena took his mouth for a gentle kiss. Charles felt a part of him return, the part controlled by lust, a warm, steamy place that opened wide and grew quickly when aroused. He threw his arms around her and pulled her close so he could return the kiss, fuller and deeper despite the grease of the balm. Now Charles forgot about Anatole waiting in the wings, waiting for what he had no idea. Perhaps it was the Italian’s turn to watch the Englishman in his quest to satisfy the lady of the manor. Charles planned to do much more than tease her womanhood.
He fisted a hand in the back of her gown as if it were a line tossed at sea. The storm swept through him and into the kiss. He swiped the fabric off her covered shoulder and ripped away the belt. Standing for a moment, Elena shimmied out of the gown, her body now golden and ripe for the taking. She came back to him, sat at his side.
He stroked one long hard line down her smooth back and then framed her face with both hands. He knew she could see the tempest in his eyes, swarming in blue with a kind of primal violence that made her hitch her breath in anticipation.
“I need you, I love you, Elena.” His fingers dived into her hair, dragging it back from her face. “You can’t know how it is to want you so much. It rages inside of me, and now it will be a torment for eternity.”
His mouth crushed down on hers, and they both tasted his need, the fierce intensity of it, the greed, the desperation.
She gave herself over to him without hesitation. Charles swept her over him and laid her down on the blanket. She wrapped herself around him as his mouth fixed to the curve of her neck and continued down to her breasts. Like him, Charles noted that she no longer had an incision where she cut herself with the knife, her skin so smooth and soft. He paused so that she could tug away his shirt and breeches, and play her clever fingers over his flesh. But he shoved her hands away when she came to his groin, and locked them at the wrists over her head. Charles needed control, however fleeting.
“I’m taking you, my way.” He wanted to touch, to taste, to explore and exploit every inch of her. Releasing her hands, he moved down her body and placed himself between her legs, his hands above sliding over her breasts and belly. His tongue slipped between her legs to soothe and arouse, making her moan in pleasure. He found her hot, wet and trembling; and when his mouth and fingers coddled her sensitive spot, she erupted in blind pleasure. Her hands grabbed at his hair as she choked and gasped. But he gripped her hips and plunged inside, wanting to destroy her.
But it was his world that spun around him, all scent and color gone as madness took him. Her mouth was like a fever, burning against his with a torment so exquisite it felt worse than the hunger that gripped him, like death. He could feel the heat rolling through her again, filling her, pumping into her blood that had fed him hours ago. His hands worked magic over her skin. Her breasts felt impossibly full and overly sensitive while her heart beat wildly beneath.
He watched now as helpless pleasure raced over her face and her breath came faster and jagged through parted lips. She bowed up to him, a quivering arch. Then she burst and melted, surrendering to his need and greed.
Charles could only grow harder and stronger. Shoving back her knees, he plunged farther into the depths of her. Elena cried out, the shock of sensation slicing through her as he drove deep. Now he understood when she told him he would gain strength and purpose again. It filled him to the brim, made him determined to take all of her.
A trio of sunbeams from the slatted shade on the window converged and formed a soft, heavenly halo around her hair. She was an angel, a goddess, a pure white-gold vision, and he the dark heathen, a debauched satyr, more animal than human. His body quaked, and control snapped like that twig as he struggled to regain sanity from the madness of his desire.
At the very moment he would burst, he linked his fingers with hers, their bond forever forged. He erupted with a fury born of blood and rebirth.
Charles managed to break from her embrace and roll to his side, although doing so made him ache for the feel of her again. He took her in his arms and drew her over him. Elena laughed lightly as his chest still heaved and his breathing came ragged and raspy.
“The process has been successful and you have the power now,” she whispered, her breath cool and very welcomed on his hot, sweat-soaked body. “I have given the gift and you have taken and embraced it fully.” With a sweet and satisfied smile, she caressed his brow and face. “You are the masterpiece of my love. But you rest for awhile, watch and then follow me as I teach you how to feast like the gods.”
“I...feel,” he tried to explain as he breathed normally again and his heart no longer raced, “like a huge wall of steel...invincible and impregnable. I feel as if I can conquer the world and no one can touch me. If he tries, I will break him like a little twig in a hundred pieces and then squash him with a heavy foot.”
“You are a giant, my love. Now relax and watch.”
As she moved away from him, Charles lay prone. He felt a little drunk, whether from the sips of wine Elena had given him, the lingering effects of the elixir, or his newly-acquired power and strength, he knew not which. But he would have to learn how to use this stunning asset to his best advantage...to their best advantage. He and Elena would now be joined for time eternal.
He wanted to relax, but he felt too restless...and hungry. Elena wanted him to watch her in the quest for sustenance. Now as she placed her arms around Anatole and pulled him into her warm, inviting embrace, Charles realized that she planned all along for the Serbian to be their meal.
He felt his stomach lurch. The feeling he experienced just moments before—as if he swam in a carefree combination of clouds and clotted cream—had suddenly been replaced by a sickening clarity. Why, oh why, did it have to be like this? The gods had attached a disdainful clause to their gift of immortality. One could not achieve the immortal state without some sacrifice, the sacrifice of normal human consumption of food and drink. Yes, he and Elena could still partake of mortal libations, but they needed a blood supply to give them the strength and power to survive.
Now as Anatole laid her along the foot of the bed, Elena wrapped her legs and arms around his torso and used the momentum to roll on top of him. Her fingers caressed his burnished chest while Anatole’s hands ran roughshod over her smooth, soft body and then stroked her breasts in hard sweeps. When she planted sensual kisses up his throat and on to his face, he grabbed her mouth with his for a voracious kiss.
Does he know? Charles wondered as he felt their heat of lust radiate toward him. Then again did it matter? He and Elena were the predators, Anatole the victim, whether the Serbian knew it or not. And Elena...she seemed as aroused with this partner as she had with him. Perhaps it was a game she played, to arouse and conquer, and then strike.
Now as she released his long, hard shaft from his trousers, she straddled him and placed his erection inside of her. She cooed with pleasure as she eased down and clenched around him, driving him mad with need. Rearing up, he clamped his mouth on her breast and sucked greedily. They began to move with an intense bucking and rocking. Elena drove her partner back, braced her hands on either side of his head and used her hips to set a furious pace.
Charles watched, mesmerized. The thrill, the dark and dangerous edge of it, sliced through him. He studied Elena’s face, so alive with purpose and pleasure, the air thick with her very essence as the morning sunlight cast a buttery glow over her body.
She rode Anatole as if her life depended on it, and in a very important way it did, this need to appease the gods by killing, taking and surviving, a fate Charles would now share.
Suddenly, Elena called his name, her voice raw and husky. “Charles, my darling! Find my belt and bring it here!”
He stirred to life and glanced about to find what she wanted. The golden belt lay on the other side of her pillow where he threw it earlier in his haste to undress her. Now Charles quickly snatched it up and scurried down the bed to hand it to her. Grasping the back of the belt, Elena withdrew a long, thin knife that rested within the layers of fabric. Charles sucked in his breath. Anatole seemed to be in his own trance, his eyes squeezed firmly shut. He emitted a low sound, part keen and part grunt, as he continued to pump Elena, his hands molded to her hips and his face the color of a ripe pomegranate. The muscles along his shoulders and arms had gone rigid while his entire body strained to the breaking point. Elena had only to give one more clench to hurl the Serbian over the top.
With a cry, he arched into her, his eyes suddenly open and wide as pleasure sliced through him. And then Elena struck, gliding the knife blade along his throat in one swift motion. As blood spurted from the incision and down his chest, Anatole gave Elena a look of horrified shock before his life swiftly ebbed away. She wisely closed the Serbian’s eyes as she extracted herself from his now limp body. Then, with her own keen, hungry look, she beckoned Charles to join her.
“Come, my darling! Drink, feast! There is more than enough for us both!”
The Serbian’s blood continued to flow as Charles joined her and began to lap up this foul nectar of the gods. He felt sick with loathing and dizzy with pleasure at the same time. Now as blood dripped down his chin and stained his hands and chest, he hated himself for what he had become, what she had made him. But Charles had willingly made this choice and unless he killed himself or had someone murder him, he would have to repeat this heinous, barbaric act over and over, and over again. Instead of feeling free and mighty, he felt as if in a horrible, blood-drenched prison, in a small cell of his own making.
But now he felt engorged, hideous, unable to stop himself as he greedily drank from the rich fountain before him and enjoyed the feel of the liquid as it rushed down his gullet with warm and satisfying ease. He used his lips to suck the blood off the dead man’s fleshy throat and his tongue to lap up any stray nectar that had spurted from the large severed artery above.
When he felt sated at last, Charles backed away and began to cough and sputter in shame and loathing. Elena nestled beside him, stroked his back and murmured encouraging words to help him cope and relax. She told him this feeling would pass soon enough and he would reap the benefits of his new existence. Since she had gone through the very same experience so many years ago, she could attest to this difficult part of the transformation, before loathing turned to acceptance and then anticipation of the next feast. He would feel very different by tomorrow.
“But you must rest now, my darling,” she soothed, “along the divan in the dressing chamber. I will get you clean sheets and a blanket as you wash up in the basin. For your first night, you will sleep soundly and heavily.”
If only he could believe her. Charles glanced down and realized the Serbian’s blood had stained her pristine bed an ugly brownish red. But Elena didn’t seem to mind, in fact ignored her sullied linens, the sheets with their lacy edges sewn with intricate stitches by the abbey nuns. What a sacrilege!
He had so many questions to ask her, so much more to learn. What would she do with Anatole’s body, what lie would she tell his friends and coworkers at the quarry when he went missing? Elena must have a set plan and pat answers. After all, she had a thousand years of practice and experience in these matters...and therefore would teach him with expert proficiency.