Fear knotted in Leila’s stomach as she peered around the corner of the large mansion house, her breathing coming in short, sharp pants. The dread threatened to overwhelm her—to break her resolve and send her running back to the safety of her ramshackle old farmhouse. It had been her home since she was five years old. She didn’t know where she’d spent the first five years of her life because her mother had never told her.
She hadn’t wanted to talk about that time in their lives.
As her mother had been killed in a car wreck a few years earlier and with no other family that she knew of, Leila had no way of finding out where she came from. She’d never known her father.
Her mother hadn’t wanted to talk about him, either.
Leila had always suspected that the memories were too painful for her mother to talk about, or even to remember. Every once in a while she’d caught her mom staring into the distance, a frown marring her soft, delicate features and suspected she’d been transported back to the past, a place she hadn’t willingly wanted to revisit.
When she’d been younger, Leila had hoped her mother would open up about their history, but she didn’t feel like that anymore. If the past had been painful then it was likely a good thing that Leila had no memory or knowledge of it.
Yet sometimes she had to wonder if that place, wherever it was, could be any worse than her current reality. Doubtful.
Hands gripping the cold stone on the corner of the house, Leila did her best to ignore her rising panic. She could not give in to it. Lucien had summoned her and what the master of the nest wanted, he always got.
There were no exceptions.
It had been the same way in Meadowview, Nebraska for nearly a century. The residents knew the drill and they played their part without complaint. They were free to come and go as they pleased and the vampires left them alone—they even offered them protection from the nearby wolf packs and other supernatural beings who often passed through town. Leila was usually able to convince herself that vampires didn’t exist—until it was time to donate.
Unfortunately on this evening, just two weeks shy of her twenty-fifth birthday, it was time to do her duty again.
Three months had passed since her last donation.
The thought of what awaited her was enough to make her nauseous. The last time—just as every other, she’d sat in a comfortable reclining chair in a room decorated to resemble a doctor’s office. The room was bare and sterile—a cold, stark contrast to the opulence of the rest of the house. The doctor inserted a needle into her arm and took a pint of blood. He never took more than a pint or called on her more than once every three months. The routine had always been the same. The vampires had never hurt her or forced her to do anything other than turn up at the house, roll up her sleeve and give something that would take her body just a few months to replace.
But it wasn’t the thought of giving blood that frightened her—it was the vampires’ very presence which always brought Leila out in a cold sweat.
They terrified her.
Unlike most people in town, Leila didn’t find vampires seductive. She thanked God every day that none of them had taken a liking to her. When that happened they fed from the neck ― something that was common among the more… willing donors. Some longed to be turned, but Leila couldn’t think of anything more terrible than to never again feel the warmth of the sun on her face.
“Is there any particular reason why you’re out here spying on the house in the middle of the night?”
Startled, Leila jumped at the low, rumbling voice and her hand lifted to cover her heart as if acting on its own volition. Her pulse quickened and her breathing sped as she turned to face the man who had addressed her.
The first thing she noticed was his height. He was tall ― incredibly so. It was rare to meet a man who towered above her, but Leila had to crane her neck to look up at his face. Although shrouded in shadow, she was able to make out some of his features in the silvery glow of the moonlight. He had a square jaw, long, straight nose and especially long, sharp white fangs which were visible through the predatory grin on his mouth.
Alarm teased its way up her spine and she shivered despite the balminess of the midsummer night air. She wished there was some way to hide her feelings from the vampire, but that was impossible. They always knew what a person was thinking. They could smell the panic on a human as easily as they could hear an elevated heartbeat. And the way her heart was hammering in her chest, Leila was sure she must reek of fear. But as she studied the stranger’s face, something else washed over her body like a tidal wave of emotion ― something completely unexpected and equally as unwelcome ― lust.
The vampire arched an amused brow, waiting for her response and Leila mentally cursed her traitorous body. How could she be turned on at a time like this? She wanted to look away, but her gaze was inexplicably drawn to his razor sharp fangs. They would be every bit as lethal as they appeared to be. He leaned in closer and a strangled noise sounded in the back of her throat—halfway between a scream and a moan.
Despite his earlier question, there was no accusation in his eyes, only amusement. The expression did little to calm her erratic pulse.
“Cat got your tongue?”
She flinched at the sound of his voice. “I…”
Though she willed the words out of her mouth, she couldn’t utter a single one. She was struck dumb, terrified, yet utterly transfixed by the pleasing upturn to the vampire’s full, fleshy lips. She had never set eyes on him before, but that wasn’t unusual. Strangers often passed through town, making use of its unique resources.
As far as she was aware, Meadowview was one of only a handful of towns that had a donation policy. It had been the same way since the vampires and shifters had made themselves known to humans over a hundred years ago. In most towns and cities, vampires hunted whenever they wanted which made it dangerous to be out after dark. It was why people who came to live in Meadowview tended to stick around. It always paid to be cautious, but as towns went it was reasonably safe.
“I’m here to make a donation,” Leila blurted, her voice a heck of a lot shakier than she would have liked. Her fear was so great, it amazed her that the words came out in the right order.
The vampire’s grin widened and he nodded to the front of the house. “The door is that way.”
“Yes, I was just... I was just going.” She took a cautious step away from him. “I’ll get out of your hair.”
“I’ll escort you,” he said politely, taking hold of her arm.
Another shiver rolled over her body when his cold flesh met hers. “There’s really no need.”
Despite her protest, she didn’t try to relinquish his hold.
The vampire’s grin appeared to be fixed on his face, but Leila took no comfort in it—just the opposite in fact. The expression gave her chills.
“It’s simply to make sure you get there safely. We wouldn’t want anything untoward to happen to you now, would we?” His low, refined voice was as smooth as melted honey.
Leila couldn’t get the reply out of her suddenly bone dry mouth so she shook her head instead.
“Good,” he murmured. “Why don’t you think of me as your personal guardian—your… savior?”
A quick glance around the immediate area confirmed that they were alone so Leila didn’t need a savior, except maybe from the vampire himself. Her heartbeat kicked up a notch, her fear feeling like a living, breathing thing. She wished she could rent out the house her mom had left her and get the heck out of dodge, but where would she go? Humans outnumbered supernaturals three to one, but that meant for every group of four people, one of them was likely to be something other.
Despite her desire to run, there was nowhere left to hide.
Just as the thought crossed her mind, the vampire’s expression softened.
“You can relax,” he purred. “I swear it on my honor. You’re not in any danger from me.”
To her surprise, the fear and trepidation seeped steadily from of her body like air escapes from a punctured tire. Why had his reassurance had such a calming effect on her?
Tomas got them walking towards the front of the house.
“So, little one, aren’t you going to tell me your name?”
At five feet eleven inches tall, Little was something that Leila had never been called before, but she supposed to a man of his size, just about anyone would appear small.
“It’s Leila. Leila Andrews.”
“Leila. That’s a pretty name, but you’re a very pretty lady so it suits you.”
The compliment was unexpected, but Leila knew how charming vampires could be ― usually when they wanted something, not that she had ever experienced that charm first-hand. With the world in its current state, it was safer to be invisible so instead of trying to stand out, Leila buried herself under clothes that were too baggy and scraped her mousy blonde hair back into a ponytail. She walked with her head down and slouched her shoulders so that she wouldn’t look as tall. There was little she could do about her height, but it had always been the bane of her existence. Throughout school, she’d been gangly and awkward, towering above her classmates and they’d taken every opportunity to tease her about it.
“I’m Tomas Ivanov,” he purred. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, the vampire’s seemed familiar, but when he took hold of her hand and placed an unexpectedly tender kiss on the back of it, all rational thought fled. An image of him kissing her in other, more intimate place flashed across her mind, but she shook the thought free. As she continued to gaze into his eyes, Goosebumps rose on her arms.
“Pleased to meet you,” Leila managed. The pitch of her voice was higher than usual, fast and unsteady.
Under different circumstances, she might have asked why vampires were always so formal, but she knew the question would have stuck in the back of her throat. Besides, she didn’t want to make conversation, she just wanted to get where she was going. The quicker she got inside, the sooner her ordeal would be over.
Leila concentrated on the uneven path, being careful not to stumble. Several times along the way, she tested the hold that Tomas had on her arm, but each time she tried to pull away, his grip grew tighter and his smile wider—as if he was just doing it to annoy her.
Well, it was working. He could consider her well and truly annoyed.
He let out a low, throaty chuckle.
“Can you read my mind?” Leila blurted, surprised by her sudden boldness.
Tomas smiled indulgently. “No. I have many talents, but mind reading is not one of them. I am, however, adept at reading a person’s emotions and yours are crystal clear. For example, when we first met you were afraid, just then you were angry and now you’re curious. I can’t wait to find out what you’ll be next.”
He leaned in closer and when her breath caught, he let out a murmur of amusement. Leila froze. Being this close to him sent her fight or flight response into overdrive. She thought about screaming, but then the smile slipped from Tomas’ lips and he leaned back, seemingly aware of his effect on her.
He didn’t, however, relinquish his grip.
He sighed softly. “Ah, fear again.”
Leila tried to relax. As they neared the brightly lit front porch, she glanced up at Tomas’ face again. Though unconventionally handsome, if he had been human he would have been exactly her type. His strong body was in good shape and there was an almost regal quality to his face. The light that bathed his skin made him appear warmer somehow—alive. His genial smile could have been considered friendly. And there was something about the look in his eyes as he regarded her. It was inviting—seductive.
She couldn’t help but respond to it. She started to lean in closer but caught herself just in time. Instead, she cleared her throat and averted her gaze. Looks could be deceiving, especially where vampires were concerned. A cold-hearted, merciless killer likely lived beneath the handsome facade. Leila needed to remember that. As the thought came to her, another wave of fear washed over her, cold and desolate.
Tomas let out a hum of disappointment. “I told you that have nothing to fear from me, my pretty Leila though I suppose I should be relieved that you’re so cautious around my kind. Also, it’s good to know you don’t throw yourself at every vampire who crosses your path and gives you the smallest amount of attention.”
Leila scowled, annoyed. “I most certainly do not and nor would I. Ever.”
When Tomas raised his eyebrows in surprise, she instantly regretted her snippy tone. What the heck was she thinking? The last thing she wanted to do was provoke him. Her gaze shifted to the porch. Maybe if she screamed, one of the vampires inside the house would come to her aid.
But it appeared that Leila didn’t have anything to worry about when a genial smile spread across Tomas’ lips. She breathed a sigh of relief, but couldn’t stop her gaze from shifting to the front door as if seeking help from within.
“They’ll be expecting me any minute,” she informed him quickly.
Tomas nodded. “I’m quite sure they will.”
Slowly as if being extra careful not to spook her, he reached out and traced the collar of her t-shirt. Leila’s breath caught when his icy cold finger ghosted against the skin on her neck, right over her pulse point.
“What are you doing?” she cried. “You said you didn’t want to hur—“
“I’m just curious.” Tomas pulled the material of her top aside, his gaze zeroing in on her neck.
Despite his calm tone and carefully controlled movements, a panicked squeak left Leila’s throat. She mentally braced herself for whatever was about to come next. Each second that passed felt like an hour. His gaze flitted between her neck, her eyes and then her mouth before coming back to rest on her neck.
And still she waited. Frightened. Frozen.
“You haven’t been bitten before, have you?” Tomas asked, his expression open—curious.
Leila swallowed and tried a couple of times to reply before finally finding her voice. “No. And I don’t want to be.” She glared at him before she could stop herself.
Tomas’s mouth fell open in astonishment then he threw his head back and let out a booming roar of laughter. It made him look years younger, possibly the way he would have looked before he’d been turned. When his laughter died, he met Leila’s gaze, a grin still stretched across his mouth.
“I like your candor. In fact, I like this bolder facet of your personality very much and I hope to see more of it. May I ask why you’ve never…indulged? The bite can be a little painful at first, but soon enough it is pleasurable for both parties, you know. Extremely pleasurable.”
Heat rushed to Leila’s cheeks. She wanted to avert her eyes from his, but Tomas’ heated gaze pinned her in place with ease. She didn’t want to admit to her fear, in case it incited the predator in him.
“I just haven’t,” she mumbled.
At first, it didn’t appear that Tomas was going to let the subject drop, but then he simply shrugged, slid his fingers sensuously against her neck before letting his hand drop. He took her arm again with gentle authority, this time holding it with a much lighter grip. He started them walking and her fingers fluttered to her neck, tracing the skin where he’d touched her.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a moment. “That was very rude of me. Can you forgive me?”
Leila felt braver now that they’d arrived at the steps leading up to the house. It was against the rules for vampires to attack humans within the confines of the town. The master of the nest would never tolerate it so a vampire would have to have a death wish to attack a human this close to the house.
“There’s nothing to forgive.”
Tomas smiled—a full genuine smile that made it all the way to his eyes and the effect was dazzling. She could only stare, mesmerized.
“I’m sure that’s not true, but it’s very generous of you, Leila. The fact that we’re stronger than humans sometimes makes us forget that we can’t just take whatever we want from them. Well, we can, technically, but we shouldn’t. We all have to live in this world together. It would be nice if we could get along.”
Leila was surprised by his honesty and she hated how much she’d liked the sound of her name from his lips. He made it seem exotic—the name of a woman with a far more interesting life than hers.
Her pulse raced for an altogether different reason.
Could Tomas tell the difference between her fear and arousal just by listening to the sound of her heart? She wasn’t even sure why was she was reacting so strongly to a vampire. Usually, they only incited her fear.
Leila’s unusual behavior might have been because she’d never met a vampire as handsome as Tomas before or one as tall and muscular. She couldn’t help but wonder what he’d look like underneath his clothes. But it wasn’t just about the way he looked. It was more. Possibly it had something to do with the way he carried himself or the gentle cadence to his voice which made her want to trust him.
Tomas grinned and Leila’s breath caught. His gaze lowered to her mouth again and when he leaned in a little, Leila froze. She willed him closer at the same time as she wanted to push him away. His head lowered just as the door opened and a short, slim man with pale, translucent skin walked out onto the large porch.
Leila breathed out a sigh of relief. Or regret.
“Ah, there you are,” he said, eyeing her sternly. “I’ve been waiting for you. Come on, we haven’t got all night.”
Frederick, the vampire who had interceded was a doctor of sorts and the person responsible for collecting the blood donations. When he disappeared back into the house, Leila made to move around Tomas, but he took hold of her arms and bent towards her before she could protest.
“Just one little kiss goodbye,” he murmured.
Leila opened her mouth to protest or maybe to say yes, she wasn’t entirely sure, but no words came forth. Tomas took her silence as agreement and bent forward, covering her mouth with his.
He used her surprised gasp to slide his tongue into her mouth, stealing what little breath she had left in her lungs. Her first instinct was to push him away, but as his mouth moved against hers, firm and sure, his tongue caressing and teasing, flames of lust raced up her spine and goose bumps rose on her skin.
His fingers slid into her hair and a tormented groan ripped from his throat. The sound caused an unwelcome surge of excitement and made her long to feel his hands on her body—his cool fingers bringing her to the peak of arousal.
The surprisingly tender yet passionate kiss lasted no more than a few seconds, but when sense finally prevailed and Leila pulled back, breathing heavily. She could feel the telltale wetness between her legs which betrayed her sudden overpowering hunger for him. She hated that she had such a strong, physical reaction—hated that she could feel that way about a vampire—a skillful predator—a killer. Her cheeks filled with heat and she lowered her gaze, unwilling and unable to look into his eyes for a moment longer.
“I’d apologize to you again, but I’m not sorry at all,” Tomas divulged.
He took her hand and kissed the back of it again with a gentleness she wouldn’t have thought possible for a vampire.
“Until we meet again,” he said softly holding her gaze with the utmost of ease.
He bowed low then turned and strode off before finally disappearing around the side of the house.
Leila couldn’t move. Her feet felt rooted to the ground. She could do nothing but stare, unable to believe what had just happened or rather, what she’d allowed to happen. She could have pushed him away sooner, but the truth was she hadn’t wanted to. She’d enjoyed every moment of the kiss and had been almost reluctant to have it end.
As she stood in the light that shone down from the porch, Leila slowly, but surely came to her senses. Just what the heck had she been thinking? The more she stood in the balmy night air, the angrier she became. Had Tomas used some sort of glamor on her—somehow coerced her into kissing him? Leila knew that some of the older vampires were able to do that. How old was Tomas? He only looked to be around her age—younger even, but as vampires were immortal, how old they looked counted for nothing.
Son of a bitch.
That had to be it, didn’t it? He’d glamoured her.
Hands clenched into fists, Leila climbed the steps to the porch then stormed into the house through the wide open door.
To steal a kiss was one thing, but to take away her free will was something else entirely. How dare he!