A/N: I have always been a fan of the Underworld series. Lucian was a character that deserved a deeper look. (And a better death. I mean, come on! He's the oldest Lycan and gets capped by that pansy a** Kraven? B.S.!) So I was delighted to learn of the prequel, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. It was a fantastic movie with solid performances and the most plot of any of the Underworld films. So I decided to do a series of one-shots chronicling the story of Lucian and Sonja. There may be an AU twist at the end of the last one, but that depends largely on how much feedback I get. Also, this is my first foray into the third-person omniscient POV. Be gentle.
The sword blade gleamed in the moonlight, a shape of sharp and deadly beauty that could cleave flesh as easily as it now cleaved the air. But even more magnificent than the blade was its wielder. She looked to be a young woman in her prime by human standards, even though her kind measured their ages not in years, but centuries. Her black hair hung loose and free, rippling like a veil of silk as she spun around, bringing the silver tip of the sword to the throat of her attacker. Her eyes blazed in that eerie killing blue, fangs flashing white as she smiled.
"Dead again, Janos. How tedious," she mocked in that ringing, imperious voice of hers. The bested warrior stepped back and bowed from the waist.
"An honor as always to die by your sword, Lady Sonja," he replied, the glittering edge of his resentment smothered in flattery.
He was wise enough to realize that his resentment stemmed from an overriding envy, not only for Lady Sonja's exalted place in vampiric society, but also for her place as First of the Death Dealers. It was an honor won by her skill and cunning, much to her father's mixed pleasure and chagrin. As the only daughter of the Coven's reigning Elder, Lord Viktor would no doubt prefer his fierce, brilliant Sonja safely under his eye in the Council chamber.
In response to his sally, Sonja rewarded him with a token curving of lip. With one smooth motion, she sheathed her sword.
"Take your honor and bestow it on Soren. I would like to spar with him next. Perhaps he will give me a challenge."
"My lady, he might be indisposed with the nobles visiting-" he began.
"Fetch him." she commanded, dismissing him with a jerk of her chin. She watched the anger flare to life in his flat black eyes and relished the brief feeling of devilish pleasure. Janos was far too easy to annoy.
As he stalked off, leaving her alone in the courtyard, Sonja permitted herself a moment's enjoyment of the night. She closed her eyes and let air slide its smooth fingers through her hair. The air was clean and warm with the coming of spring, and the wind brought her the smell of rain and growing things. The castle fortress where she had grown up smelled of wet stone, hot iron, and Lycan.
The back of her neck prickled and she turned, sensing watching eyes. She saw him outlined by the vivid orange light of his forge, a lithe, powerful silhouette that did not cower. Sonja met his stare boldly, a veiled challenge. The Lycan should have flinched under the weight of her gaze; he should have bowed upon meeting one of her rank. But he did neither of these things. An electric thrill of recognition raced through her. Her lips mouthed his name.
The firstborn of a new race of Immortals, the Lycans. Her father's pet. Looking at his singed, sweat-stained leather clothing and his long, unkempt hair, Sonja saw a slave. But . . .
But every time their eyes locked, Sonja felt some part of herself leap in acknowledgment of a kindred spirit. A vivid thread of connection linked them, ever since their eyes had met when he was just a pup and she even younger. The cynical side of her nature said in her father's voice that he was a Lycan and she a vampire. They were different at the basest level, a yawning chasm of circumstance, history and blood separated them. A vampire had no kindred beyond the Coven.
"Lady Sonja?" Soren's cool, cheap-silk voice broke into her thoughts and she turned from her contemplation to her father's bodyguard, flanked by two Death Dealers.
"Soren. Excellent. Come, let us spar."
Her father was waiting as she entered the deserted hall, stripping her mail-backed gloves from her hands. His anger quivered in the air between them, coldly restrained, like a blizzard howling outside the castle's walls. Defiance hardened within her, immutable stone to his snarling storm. His form was tall and slender, as hard and unyielding as a rod of steel. Clothed in rich fabrics stiff with embroidery, he looked every inch the lord of vampires. Her eyes burned as they changed from hazel to pale vampiric blue, as they did whenever she was seized by a powerful emotion. As Elder of the Coven, Viktor's eyes were permanently so.
"Father," Sonja said, nodding tersely in greeting. She strode past him to the sideboard and poured blood from a silver carafe. She had yet to drink tonight and thirst scored her throat.
"Did it escape your notice, daughter, that we celebrated the human nobles' arrival tonight?" his words were always carefully selected, enunciated with scathing clarity. Sonja had been the source of his displeasure often enough that the anger no longer reached her.
"Of course not, Father. I simply chose to spend my night practicing the same skills that keep this Coven and the human nobles safe from the wolves," she retorted, casually imbibing blood. It had long since cooled, but it was rich and its metallic flavor sang on her tongue.
Viktor watched his daughter with a gimlet gaze as she drank from hours-old blood. Had she arrived when she was told, it would have been hot and sweet, handed to her by a servant instead of poured by her own hand. Paradoxically, her insolence frustrated and amused him. Clad in her armor with her sword at her hip, Viktor felt pride stir for his daughter.
"A commendable goal. But your dedication should be matched by obedience and above all loyalty to your family. Are you not loyal to me, Sonja?" at this she finally looked at him, her eyes that deep hazel—like her mother's. A hidden stab of pain lanced Viktor at the thought of Ilona. She had died giving him his heir. There was love in Sonja's gaze and his un-beating heart tightened upon seeing it.
"I am loyal to you, Father. Absolutely. You believe me, don't you?" she said. She saw the softening in his face, that look he gave only to her. His cold fingers brushed a tendril of hair from her face.
"I believe you. But your unrelenting shirking of responsibility reflects poorly on me. What sort of ruler am I if my own daughter will not obey me?" he said softly. She drew in a deep breath through her nostrils and let it out, breathing in the lingering scent of human and her father's musky, astringent smell. Vampires had no need of air, but breathed by habit and to smell or speak. Or to underscore irritation and reluctance, as Sonja did.
"Very well. I will attend the celebration tomorrow night."
One corner of Viktor's thin mouth lifted in the barest approximation of a smile. Moved by a tender impulse, one that had not stirred in many years, he leaned close and kissed his daughter's forehead.
"Excellent. Come, daughter. Morning is upon us. Let us seek our rest."
Sonja followed her father up the stairs to their sleeping chambers, her thoughts wandering to Lucian's unbending form outlined in loving detail by light. Even now, she knew he and his kind formed a chained gang along the upper wall of the castle: a race of Immortals serving as the daylight guardians for another. Never before in her two hundred odd years of existence had she spared a thought for them. Now, as the sun rose, she wondered what it would be like to feel the warmth of the sun on her face with him at her side.
Lucian watched the sun sink below the horizon, a snarl rolling from deep inside his massive chest. There was a strange duality of mind while he was in his Lycan form, his lucid, thinking brain merged with the primal instinct and ferocity of the werewolf. The others were restless, pulling at the slack of their chains, snarling and swiping clawed paws at the approaching vampires. He could feel in his bones the sweet, embracing night, and rationally knew that he would be released from his chain soon.
A vampire in full armor prodded at him with a silver spear. Black lips quivered, revealing long white fangs. He could no more stop this reaction to his only natural enemy than he could stop breathing. His wolf body longed to rip and bite and slash until the slender cold thing was dead in a pool of sweet red blood. But Lucian knew this reaction would earn him a silver crossbow bolt in his back and eventual death, so he stood still.
"Change!" the vampire shouted, "come on, you worthless dog, change!" the spear flashed, piercing his shoulder. Pain burst from the torn flesh and the burning sting of silver. Lucian roared in pain and struck out with his paw, snapping the haft of the spear.
The feral pounding of blood in his body was exhilarating and he tilted his head back, loosing a mighty roar of defiance. From the wall, crossbows swerved, poised to fire. The roar tapered to a growl and Lucian sank deep into himself, seeking his human form, his human mind. Bones snapped, organs liquefied and shrank, fur melted away and there was that breathless moment of intense pain as he shed his fur. Then Lucian was standing naked, the chains falling to his feet and blood trickling from the puncture in his shoulder.
There was a handful of seconds of exhaustion that came with the change, one the vampires exploited. The vampire that harassed him took advantage of his confusion and snapped his moon-shackle around his neck, imprisoning him in his human form. The silver spikes pricked at his throat in delicate warning. He had felt its weight for as long as he could remember and felt it no more than he felt the chafe of clothing. Lucian wondered dryly if he would feel naked without it if he was ever free.
Chained together, Lucian and the other Lycans were lead down from the wall to the courtyard, standing at attention as another guard checked the roll and assigned detail. A skilled craftsman like Lucian was exempt from the back-breaking renovations under way within the fortress. Instead his time was spent forging weapons for the vampires and moon-shackles and chains for the Lycans. Lucian smirked at the irony. Imprisoned with chains forged by his own hand.
Assignment was the most degrading part of detail, Lucian thought, standing in wrist and ankle shackles and stark naked in the warm spring air. It wasn't until after they were assigned that the vampires allowed them to dress. They sneered at modesty and if one of them dropped dead from the cold, they were easily replaced; they need only wait for the full moon.
Lucian's wrist manacles were unlocked and he padded barefoot towards his forge when a shift in wind brought her scent to his nose. Sharp, fresh and sweet, like pine. Viktor's daughter. He did not permit himself to say her name, or even think it. Names were another sort of chain, they granted power, intimacy. She plagued his thoughts enough without the possessiveness implied in her name.
His body was taut, humming like a plucked bowstring. Snatches of words floated from her throat and tingled sweetly in his ears like notes of music. Deep blue eyes searched and found their quarry in her chamber above the courtyard. She was talking to her maid. The window inlaid with opaque green glass was cracked open and he caught a thin glimpse of her pale cheek, the dark fall of her hair, the smooth column of her neck.
No name, only what she epitomized. Distant unreachable beauty, like the moon who sang such a beguiling song to him.
As he watched, she paused mid-sentence. He frowned. What had disturbed her? He had his answer when she rose and pushed the window wider with that quiet, unnatural speed. Lucian looked up, enraptured by her. She was stunning enough in leather and armor, but in that enticing gown of a deep green with jewels in her hair and cosmetics highlighting the soft beauty of her features, she was perfection. To his surprise, her hazel eyes roved over him as his had her. Lucian imagined what she saw: a naked, dirty Lycan slave with the gall to ogle her.
Heat exploded within him when she gifted him with a slow, sultry smile of appreciation and welcome. Lucian turned away abruptly, stalking to the safety of his forge. By the moon, he was mad! Had anyone seen him staring at Viktor's daughter with such frank lust he would have been whipped, or worse. And with Viktor, there was always worse. He yanked on his clothes, rough leather and rough cloth chafing a raging erection.
Yes, he was definitely going mad.
Sonja watched the flex and stretch of Lucian's muscles as he loped away. Lust was without reason or qualm, and it sank its hot talons into her eagerly. Who knew that beneath the filth and leather was the body of a young god? The tip of her tongue darted out to moisten her lips. He was utterly magnificent, all sinewy, solid strength and dark hair. And what a hairy creature he was! His brown hair was long with a slight wave, young beard peppering his face, hair lightly sprinkling the taut muscle between his nipples and arrowing down his belly to his genitals.
"Lady Sonja?" Luka asked. Sonja realized she was staring at doorway of Lucian's forge and she gathered the frayed threads of her composure. There it was—that bewildering link, that prickling awareness of his masculine charisma. Its presence filled her with burgeoning curiosity. What was it about him that drew her?
"Yes?" Sonja answered, turning back. Luka managed a trembling smile.
A deep tenderness welled inside Sonja for her maid. Having a human servant had its advantages, not the least of which tasks that could be completed while the sun was up. Luka herself had been merely a girl, a peasant kidnapped in the night. It was refreshing, Sonja thought, to watch Luka grow and mature while she herself remained unchanged, unmarred by Time. Now, she guessed that Luka was fifteen, sixteen years of age. Scarred from the events of her kidnapping before she reached Sonja's service, Luka had a very deep-seated fear of vampires and dreaded attending Sonja at social functions.
"Are you . . . well, my lady?" she asked softly, her hand hovering over Sonja's arm. Touch too, was very difficult for her.
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you. But before you attend to me tonight, there are tasks you have not yet completed here." Confusion and fear leapt into Luka's pale grey eyes and she wrung her hands in the folds of her dress.
"There—there are? What have I overlooked?" she asked. Sonja glanced around and caught sight of her armor on its ash wood stave.
"My armor," she stated, "it needs to be cleaned and checked for tears."
"But milady, I already-"
"Check it again. I want you to be very thorough," Sonja said, pausing, "I don't care if it takes you all night to do it."
Realization dawned on her face and Luka smiled in heartfelt gratitude. Humans were such easy creatures to please.
"As you wish, Lady Sonja," she replied, bowing.
Sonja nodded and cast one last glance at the mirror. Since their genesis, vampires themselves conjured myths to prove they were human. Garlic, holy water, coffins and a lack of reflection being a few of them. The face that looked back at her was beautiful; she thought haughtily, bold bones beneath smooth skin, full lips concealing long white teeth. Father told her she looked like her mother. She must, for there was very little of Viktor's thin, severe features in her. Their similarities lay in mind and wit, skill and allure.
She bid good night to Luka and found Tannis outside of her door. Dislike flared within her breast, but she hid it beneath the smooth mask of urbanity.
"Lady Sonja," he purred, bowing from the waist. She smiled briefly, showing a glimpse of fang.
"Tannis, has my father assigned you as my escort?" His eyes—hazel as hers were—held a mixture of veiled amusement and swift, sneaking ambition. The vampire historian was firstly concerned with his own gain, and a match with her would vault him to unheard of heights.
"Yes, milady. For appearance's sake only. Humans and their scruples," he said dryly, offering his arm. She accepted both the arm and the answer without further demur. While amongst themselves, vampires were free to consort how and with whomever they wished, when their humans visited, they adhered to their social strictures.
The main hall was ablaze with light and color and noise. Musicians played lively music in the corner, and servants wove through the throngs, offering delicacies. The particular nobleman—what was his name? Horace? Hurmun?—was a wealthy landowner with a taste for decadence and a small problem with wolves. It was his retinue the vampires hosted, plying them with glimpses of the wealth and protection that could be theirs.
Sonja knew her role was to be gracious and charming to the baron's wife and young daughters. From a passing tray she plucked a chalice studded with garnets, filled to the rim with gently steaming blood. She could hardly exchange pleasantries if she was battling the desire to sink her fangs into the pulsing veins in their throats. From across the room, she spotted her father who stood head and shoulders over most men. Carefully veiled approval flickered within the pale blue eyes along with admiration of her beauty. Sonja felt the flowering warmth in her chest and carefully locked it away in the treasured place that held all his kisses and embraces. She withdrew her arm from Tannis'.
"Thank you for safeguarding my honor, Tannis, but I believe I can handle myself from here." Tannis captured her hand and dropped a courtly kiss on the back. Something in his manner struck her as innately dishonest, oily and conniving. But despite his faults, he was rather innovative; several weapons in the Death Dealers' arsenal were his creations.
"The pleasure was mine, Lady Sonja. Have a pleasant evening." Sonja resisted rolling her eyes and dredged up inane topics most human women discussed, steeling herself for a long night of boredom.
The human baron Hurmun was in fine spirits, having downed no less than half a dozen chalices of Viktor's expensive wine. He was now tearing through the food like a boar, grease gleaming on his face. Disdain and revulsion bordering on hatred boiled within Viktor. It galled him to court this human pig's favor, but his sources informed him that the fool had recently found a source of silver on his property. The stubborn idiot refused to sell, no matter how richly Viktor offered.
"It has come to my attention that your holdings have been attacked by wolves, is that correct?" he asked coolly. The baron's fat, florid face paled slightly under Viktor's attention and he sobered at the question.
"Not wolves, milord, no, not wolves at all. Beasts! Monsters! Laid waste to a string of villages near the forest and killed my prized hunting hounds. My poor dogs!" the man began to blubber and Viktor's mouth turned down in a forbidding frown.
"An inopportune problem. Perhaps I could be of assistance." The baron took another slobbering bite of a drumstick and while masticating, replied, "How so, milord?"
Viktor smiled inwardly, tasting victory.
Runnels of sweat streaked his torso and dripped from his hair as he brought the hammer down again and again on the formless lump of iron that glowed a cherry red. Sparks leapt at each blow, and as Lucian deftly rotated and shifted the thongs holding the iron, a crude shape took form. The heat was sweltering.
Lucian paused to wipe the sweat from his brow. He had finished thirty new moon-shackles tonight. A self-deprecating smile quirked his mouth. He was above his quota. His favorite outlet for his sometimes wild emotions was heat and effort within the walls of his forge. And she had roused them mightily tonight. Lucian tried to will away the tempting smile she gave him and his visceral reaction to it. He knew to even consider it was death. But there it was—tormenting him.
Barrels of brine stood against the corner for cooling, smelted ore lay in crates beside it. His tools were laid out with careful precision on his worktable, the finished products in another crate near the door. A deft plunge of the thongs and a gout of steam rose from one of the barrels, quenching the shaped shackle. Leaving the shackle to harden, Lucian hung the thongs on their hook and moved to his worktable. A crude tablet of wax was a slave's answer to paper, and he often scrawled designs with a stylus, then rubbing it smooth when he was finished or could transfer it to a more permanent medium.
Her ghost rose vivid in the tendrils of smoke curling from the forge fire, undulating in the breath of wind coming in through the grate. The fluid grace of her movements as she practiced danced in his mind's eye. Other vampires—even those older and more powerful—seemed weak and slow next to her. But to his experienced appraisal, it was evident that she needed a new weapon. The one she had was made for one far taller than she, perhaps an heirloom given to her by her father. Not a hindrance for a vampire's speed and strength, but it didn't help her either. He would need to measure her arm and hand to be precise. Lucian permitted himself to fantasize about running his fingers down the bare white skin of her arm, treasuring its softness, then tracing the span of her hand, pressing those cool fingers to his heated flesh . . .
The tread of a light step outside the forge snapped him from his reverie and, absurdly, he thought it was her coming to visit him. He leapt to his feet, heart pounding, mouth dry. Lucian wiped sweaty palms on the rough leather of his trousers. The skin covering that served as a door parted to reveal the little maid, Luka.
"What is it?" he asked sharply, hiding his disappointment in brusqueness. The maid flinched and Lucian immediately regretted his harshness. She was so timid, like a little field mouse skittering under the notice of bats and wolves, trying not to be mistaken for a snack. Compassion welled within Lucian and he rose from the stool, offering it to her with a gallant sweep of hand. Her tentative smile rewarded him.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, my lord, but my mistress-" his heart resumed its fevered hammering, tension twisting him, "my mistress bade me to check her armor." It was only then that Lucian saw the folded shirt of mail she held and the foolish place in his heart that yearned for her deflated. Luka was doing her mistress' bidding. It had nothing to do with him. Lucian noted with some dryness that only a human servant would address a Lycan as 'my lord.' In the castle's hierarchy, humans were below even the enslaved Lycans.
Lucian accepted the mail and snorted in amusement as Luka massaged her arms in relief. The weight did not faze him. He brought the mail nearer to the torch mounted in a sconce above his worktable.
"The right sleeve," Luka pointed out. Lucian's deft fingers moved over the cool, hard links, and found the tear, perhaps two finger lengths wide. Viktor's daughter would not countenance the fact that another Death Dealer came so close to marking her.
"Can you repair it?" Luka asked. Lucian nodded absently. The mail coat was not his work, but that of a vampire smith—one of great skill. The slight burning in his fingertips told him that the coat was not entirely steel, but mixed with some degree of silver. It would take him some time to get the alloy right. He glanced out the open doorway. The sky was beginning to lighten with the coming dawn.
"Tell your lady I will have it repaired by the end of the sennight."
Sonja rose sleek and sleepy from her bed as the night began, stretching languorously. Her bed was a magnificent creation of wood carved in sylvan scenes, vines twisting gracefully up the posts. The furnishings of her chamber were rich with the opulence expected of one of her station. Expensive hangings hid the stark ugliness of stone walls; furs were strewn on the floor, rich and warm. The vanity and mirror was a lady's: delicate and graceful, but behind a screen in the far corner, there was a miniature armory holding her personal weaponry and armor.
She pushed open her window, the green glass smooth and still warm from the sun's heat. The courtyard below was abuzz with orderly activity. Drivers urged Lycans from their posts on the wall and their place in the cells to the cliff face rising behind the fortress where they worked. Sounds of hammering, chiseling, the crack of whips and the cries of slaves were heard at all hours of the night. Normally Sonja would have dismissed these sounds for she had heard them often in her two hundred years. But tonight they gave her pause. Was Lucian among those who toiled under the lash of a whip? The thought filled her with deep dismay.
Rather than ponder the Lycans' plight, she turned down a more pleasant path, thinking instead of Lucian's taut form. The lust had whetted to a keen edge in the nights since seeing him. She wanted him.
And as her father's daughter, what she wanted, she took.
"Good evening, milady," Luka greeted. Sonja murmured a pleasantry, absorbed in thoughts of Lucian and how she would entice him. Could she simply command him to lie with her? She was, after all, his lady and mistress.
"And Lucian said-" Luka was saying. Sonja honed in on the most pertinent word, blood humming.
"What? You've spoken with him? When? Why?" Luka's pale complexion blanched further at Sonja's rapid-fire assault of questions.
"W—well, I was checking your chain mail as you bade me and I found a tear. I took it to Lucian and he said to tell you that it would be finished by the end of the sennight. It should be ready by now."
Anticipation simmered deliciously within her. This was the perfect solution.
Her coat of mail shimmered on his worktable like a gown made of moonbeams. Lucian inspected his work critically and the simple satisfaction in work well done warmed his heart. He relished the small pleasure as he searched for a flaw in his repair and found none. The pleasure broadened at the thought of her wearing it, that he, in however minuscule a way, had a part in keeping her safe as she patrolled.
The back of his neck prickled at a cold, slithering brush of air and he stiffened, reaching for the knife sheathed in his boot.
"Down, dog. 'Tis only me."
Her first words to him were mockery. Lucian rose slowly; burying the resentment, the visceral yearning behind the sturdy walls he had built to protect his psyche from the reality of his servitude. He studied the iron drainage grate beneath his scuffed boots, offering her the repaired mail. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction of sneering in his face. Inwardly, he berated himself for his fantasies where she looked upon him with favor. Viktor's haughty little princess would only ever see him as a slave.
"Your mail, my lady," he said coolly. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her elegant white hands alight on the sagging neck of mail like doves on a clothesline. Lucian kept his eyes averted; the delicate tinkling of colliding links telling him that she was inspecting his handiwork.
"A fine job," she commented without inflection. Silence stretched between them.
"When one is paid a compliment, it is customary to say 'Thank you,'" she snapped, "It is also customary to look someone in the eye when they are speaking to you." The acidic humor in her voice reminded him potently of her father. The artistic brand on his arm bearing a 'V' for 'Viktor' itched accusingly.
Lucian's eyes grazed lightly over her form, clothed in a flimsy silver gown, a slit showing a tantalizing peek of creamy leg, her black hair loose and lovely down her back. Finally, he looked into her face, as beautiful and radiant as the moon, pulling at him in spite of his will. The blatant sexual energy emanating from her stuck him square in the chest, winding him.
"By all means, my lady, tell me which words you would most like to hear." He matched her in tone and inflection, conversely delighted and irritated when she smiled. It was the smile of a child who discovered a coveted new toy. The devilishness in her eyes was softened by something he could not define.
"My name," she said. He tensed. How could she ask the one thing he could not give?
"I beg your pardon?" he asked.
"My name, Lycan. I give you permission to say it. I want to hear it on your lips."
She sidled closer and her delicious scent washed over him, the sweet-sharp tang of pine as well as something deeper, the earthy scent of woman. He breathed deeply, growing lightheaded and drunken on it. Otherwise he remained rigidly still; painfully aware that if he so much as touched her, he could be killed for the presumption. The mail fell to the ground between them with a protesting tinkle of notes, like small sliver bells. She moved to wrap her arms around his neck and Lucian hadn't the strength to stop her.
Sonja's body buzzed with excitement. His eyes were blue, the deep, turbulent blue of the sea beyond the mountains. Now they burned with a curious mixture of reluctance, desire and resentment. She wanted to dispel the first, enflame the second and soothe the third. Resentment of her own piqued. Did he not realize the honor she bestowed on him? There were scores of vampires who would kill to be in his position, begging for the slightest shred of her favor!
His hair was thick and coarse, holding the trapped warmth of his body. It felt delightful tangled in her fingers. She applied gentle pressure to the back of his skull, drawing him closer until she could feel his breath on her face. Lucian's warmth was like a living thing, embracing her, erasing her own cool touch. She knew the danger and its spice added a desperate edge to an already perilous game. To her knowledge, a vampire and Lycan had never lain together before. The novelty was a spur to her, not a caution. Father always said she was reckless.
Sonja tilted her chin, barely brushing her lips to his.
"Lucian." she whispered, "There is your name from me."
One questing fingertip followed the swells and curves of his muscled arm, seeking his hand. It was curled in a stubborn fist and she coaxed it open with gentle strokes. She lifted his hand and pressed it to her breast, over the heart that no longer beat. His eyes darkened to indigo, but his face remained rigidly composed. As close as they were, she could feel the evidence of how badly he wanted her, but he did not give in to it. That strength of will enflamed her.
"I feel something when you look at me. It pulls at me." Catty games aside, she did feel very strongly for him.
Another delicate rub of lips, not quite a kiss. This time she felt his intake of breath, the slight movement of his head toward her. That iron will was bending. One more word from her and it would break. Triumph raced through her, exultant in victory.
"I want you, Lucian," she whispered huskily.
Her words articulated every desire hidden in his heart, giving voice to the formless yearning. His blood churned, heat pounded through his body, centering in his cock. He likened the feeling to taking his fur on the full moon, the primal voice screaming and howling in mad jubilation beyond the chains of will. With a tortured groan, he caught her up in his arms without effort or pause. His mouth sought hers and he lost himself in the warm, moist pleasure of kissing her. By the moon, how long had he fantasized about giving biting kisses on those full, inviting lips?
The teasing minx in his arms made a soft sound of approval, her legs winding sinuously around his waist. The flavor of her mouth was heady, the taut strength of her body and the subtle tickle of her hair . . . all drowned him in wonderful sensation.
The slim margin of his mind that was still capable of thought carried her to the rear of the forge. Some nights when his projects ran long, the vampires simply barred the door to the forge instead of risking the sun to drag him back to a cell. Thus, the sad excuse of a cot on the floor in the rear closet, little more than a square of oilcloth spread over a thin mat of straw. Hardly a desirable trysting place, but Lucian knew he would die if he didn't have her. In all reality, he would probably die after he did.
But that was after.
Now all he could think of was her wicked hands tracing and touching everywhere she could reach. Desire lashed hot and feverish inside him and when he laid her on the cot, his hands were trembling.
Sonja nipped at his throat, feeling the maddened throb of his heart and tasting the salt of his sweat. Delicious. One warm, callused palm slid up her calf and thigh under her dress. Sonja broke the seal of his lips to cry out as his rough fingertips delved into the folds of her womanhood, a seeking thumb finding the nub of her sex and pleasure speared through her. His other hand clamped over her mouth, smothering the sound. The hand was swiftly replaced with his lips, his tongue slithering into her mouth with surprising skill. Belatedly, Sonja remembered that there were indeed female Lycans and tried to smother the spark of jealousy. She grasped fistfuls of his shirt and tore, selfishly seeking the hard muscles beneath.
Mine, she thought fiercely, You belong to me.
His hands roamed over her, pulling the dress up over her head. The feverish pace screeched to a halt. He stared. An instant's doubt assaulted her. Lucian's hard, handsome features were very difficult to read—the only sanctuary left to him was within his own mind.
"Lucian?" she whispered, vulnerability quivering in her voice, raw and naked. She had lost control . . . he had swept her away . . .
"Sonja . . ." he whispered. Her un-beating heart squeezed. She had used his name as a tether, drawing him to her with subtle skill. On his lips, her name was a prayer.
It wasn't a game.
It never should have been a game.
Not with him.
He stripped away the remainder of his clothing, poised and aching over her. Lucian watched her eyes as entered her, watched them blur from hazel to blue. Sonja's body embraced him, tight and slick and hot. Lucian swallowed hard, fighting the rising wave of pleasure that threatened to drag him away in its tide. Sweat dewed on his skin, pattering on her smooth white limbs like rain on marble. Lucian moved hesitantly, a question. Her legs tightened, drawing him still deeper.
Lucian made a soft sound of surrender and began to move. Her lips parted and he covered them with his own, their cries quieted by the other. Sonja twisted and bucked and savaged his back with her fingernails, wild with pleasure. He broke the seal of their lips to lavish loving attentions on her throat and chest. If this was his last night to live, he would wring every drop of pleasure he could from it. He would go to his death with the shapes of her warm in his hands, the taste of her heavy on his tongue.
"Lucian . . . Lucian . . ." she chanted as his pace quickened, strengthened into wild, pounding thrusts. The crest of the wave fell over her first, her body clenching in intense, hungry spasms around him. He drove home one last time before he came in bucking spurts of ecstasy. He fell on top of her, utterly spent. Then, like a lovesick pup, he nuzzled her cheek and whispered, "Sonja."
The name-chain clicked shut around his heart and he knew he was lost.
A smug, satisfied smile touched her lips. Never in all her two centuries had she felt a passion to match this one. She had taken lovers among her own kind when they suited her, but as time passed they grew tedious, wanting her father's power and favor more than her. Lucian was a novelty, a heady mixture of restraint and ferocity. Whatever skill he lacked he made up for in enthusiasm and power. Sonja's poise was restored, her sense of control returning from the precarious edge of vulnerability. She stroked his damp hair and whispered, "Good dog."
The barb struck him straight in the heart, and bewildering as it was painful. He had seen it, felt her response in the way she touched him, heard the helplessness when she said his name.
The truth was hard and cold and bitter. She was using him. He was nothing but a warm body to sate her perverse desire for danger and novelty. The touch of her hands sullied him. He yanked himself away from her, leapt into his clothes, and left, ignoring her indignant protest.
Sonja braced one boot on the clothing chest at the foot of her bed and tightened the strap of her greave. Hurmun and his retinue were returning home and it was Sonja's task to escort them. Her father was in fine spirits, for Hurmun had agreed to a healthy tithe of silver in return for protection from William's wolves. She turned, finding her coat of mail on its pole. A confused knot of emotions rose in her chest.
"Lucian," she whispered. Last night had been wonderful and terrible at the same time. Her words were cruel and calculated, designed to remind him of his place, of her role as mistress. The depth of their connection had disturbed her even as she grasped for more. Sonja exhaled in frustration and shrugged on the cool mail. She would not—could not—keep thinking of him. She needed her wits about her if she was to fight off hordes of rabid wolves. Tucking her helm under her arm, she left the room.
Lucian feigned indifference as Sonja rode out, the head of a quartet of Death Dealers left to guard the human noble. Four? Was Viktor mad? He had heard the snarling howls outside of the castle and it put him on edge. Those howls sang of destruction and blood.
He snapped to attention as Viktor appeared as if out of thin air beside him.
"Longing for freedom, Lucian?" he drawled, as the gate closed behind Sonja and the caravan.
"No, my lord. I was thinking that perhaps more Death Dealers should accompany Lady Sonja. I heard the wolves and-" Viktor's eyes flashed, a tiny muscle twitching under his eye and Lucian wisely shut up.
"Thinking were you? Save yourself the headache, Lycan, and leave the thinking to your betters. Sonja is a capable warrior."
He melted into the shadows, leaving Lucian with a bitter taste in his mouth and fear filling his belly like shattered glass. Yes, there was no warrior to match Sonja, but regardless of her prowess; the Death Dealers would be hard pressed.
If they survived at all.
A long day's rain had turned already rutted roads to a muddy hell. With the human nobles' carriages and wagons and oxen, their pace was a snail's. Not that their horses were fairing much better. Her steed's legs were caked with mud up to the knee, each step sinking to the fetlock. The wind changed and her stallion's midnight hide quivered, proud neck arching. Sonja could smell them too, that rank mixture of dried blood, wet fur and a hot animal stink. It was a subtle stalking now, but she knew that as the moon climbed, so would their bloodthirst.
The wind creaked through the trees, creating a discordant harmony. They were through the pass, thank the Elders. No enemy could attack them from above, unless the wolves had learned to climb trees. She twisted in the saddle, finding one of her Death Dealers lagging behind the train.
"Argos! Form up!" she shouted, a ringing command that echoed within the confines of her helm. The recalcitrant vampire trotted up, hefting his crossbow. He was the youngest of the Death Dealers, a scant century of years.
A high, blood-curdling howl rent the air, close enough that Sonja's horse shied. The sound sent a shiver of mixed fear and anticipation down her back. She relished the challenge. But as her father's daughter, she had the Coven's interests at heart. She shoved the visor up.
"Can we move this forsaken hunk of lumber any faster?" she demanded of the driver. In response, the human snapped the rein over the oxen's swaying rumps. The beasts groaned and lurched into a sloppy trot, every so often a hoof slipping in the mud.
Now a tortoise's pace instead of a snail's, Sonja thought with grim amusement.
As Sonja predicted, as the night wore on, the wolves grew bolder. Thrice, Sonja and the other Death Dealers repelled them with silver-tipped crossbow bolts. They were less than a league from Hurmun's castle when a chorus of howls exploded in their air. Humped forms of silver, black and brown loped through the dense tangle of trees, amassing from the forest behind them.
"Go on!" she bellowed at the drivers, turning with her Death Dealers toward the approaching phalanx of wolves. With the light of the torches gone, the slim paring of moon dappled the clearing with thin, milky light, glinting on the wolves' eyes in tiny orbs of red and green.
Pulling her sword free from its sheath, Sonja heeled her stallion forward into the fray. At the last instant, the stallion's hind hooves faltered, floundering in the mud. A werewolf leapt at her from the side and she twisted in mid-air, bringing her sword down through the skull of the werewolf as he tore at her stallion's throat. The smell of blood lit a burning instinct in her, to bite, to drink, to kill. For all their sophistication, beneath a thin barrier of civility, vampires were as passionately bloodthirsty as William's creations.
Dimly, Sonja was aware of the other Death Dealers shouting and slashing and shooting at the werewolves. Turn, slash, duck, cut, kill! The savagery of it trilled in her blood. One wolf broke free from the mêlée and galloped after the retreating caravan.
"Oh no you don't!" Sonja muttered under her breath.
She dispatched the two werewolves she was fighting with a curt backhanded stroke, decapitating them both. Hot red blood splashed across her helm and chestplate. With a growl of disgust, she tore off her helm and tossed it aside. She reached for her crossbow. Out of bolts. Damn! Sonja began to sprint, with a vampire's quiet, fluid speed. The slobbering wolf was about to overtake them! Sonja flung her sword like a javelin at the hairy black shoulders with a grunt of effort. The blade pierced it clean through, and it died with a pathetic yelp.
She had time to feel a moment's fierce satisfaction before a mass of fur and muscle rammed into her from behind. She twisted, hissing in outrage. The wolf's massive jaws lunged and Sonja grasped them, nearly overwhelmed by the brawny strength and the rank smell of rotted flesh from its breath. Its hind claws raked her thigh, tearing through leather and mail and scoring her flesh. She screamed at the burning pain.
"Lady Sonja!" a Death Dealer shouted.
The silver point of a sword gleamed red as he ran the wolf through. Sonja scrambled from beneath the corpse and saw Argos' flashing grin. He had lost his helm and claw marks scored his armor. She opened her mouth to thank him when a wolf rose up behind his horse and snapped his head off with one bite of its powerful jaws. The words turned to an inarticulate howl of fury and Sonja caught up Argos' sword and slashed the wolf into bloody pieces even as the Death Dealer's inert body fell to the ground.
The tide began to turn. Having lost many of their number and the element of surprise, the wolves began to retreat into the forest, dragging the eviscerated corpses of fallen horses as their meal. Sonja dragged in a sobbing breath and picked up a fallen crossbow, loosing bolt after bolt after the retreating wolves. Some hit their mark, while others careened wildly into the shadows of the forest.
Sonja looked around the clearing. The horses were dead, any that remained had bolted. What remained of Argos' body lay in a haphazard embrace with a dead werewolf. As she watched, it twisted and shrank into the form of a naked young woman, her flaxen hair matted with blood. She looked barely older than Luka.
She moved among the dead, limping on her injured leg and found the bodies of the two other Death Dealers, Narcan and Calyx. Good soldiers, both of them. Grief bloomed like a diseased flower in her heart. Her father would have scolded her for forming any sort of relationship beyond the two of them. He also would have chastised her for these foolish emotions of loss. Vampires did not feel loss.
Sonja turned toward the road and loped after the caravan, ignoring the pain in her leg. She was a good soldier too and she would see her mission completed.
Viktor stood on the wall, crossbow crooked with deliberate casualness in his arm as the shadows of dusk deepened into full night. Three nights had passed since Sonja had ridden from the safety of the castle walls.
She should have returned by now, Viktor thought, recalling with some bitterness Lucian's concerns. Maybe the pup had been right. Was it a father's blind faith in his child's skills that had killed her and ruined any chance of an alliance with that fool Hurmun?
Viktor's sharp eyes found a horseman emerging from the trees and galloping across the boulder-studded plain towards the castle. Sonja!
"Open the gate! Lady Sonja has returned!" Viktor shouted.
The fragile hope died as the rider trotted through the gate. Not Sonja, but Soren. Viktor scowled at his longtime bodyguard, his only equal in age still awake. Mistakes made in blind stupidity delegated him to the role of servant. Much of Viktor's respect for him had evaporated when he had allowed Sonja to be gravely injured as a child when she rode ahead of her escort. And Viktor's favor, once lost, was gone forever. With a graceful leap, Viktor landed in front of Soren's blowing mount.
"What news do you carry, Soren?" he asked sharply. The animal tossed its head, snorting and pawing in nervousness. Lesser beings were always aware of predators.
The only evidence of Viktor's tension was the white-knuckled grip on the crossbow. To one side, he glimpsed the skin parting from Lucian's forge and the Lycan emerged, also armed. Soren peeled off his helm and raked gloved fingers through his usually immaculate hair.
"I was patrolling, my lord, and I found the evidence of a battle. At least three scores of dead wolves, dead horses, and the bodies of three Death Dealers. Lady Sonja was not among them." A thin shadow of a smile touched Viktor's mouth. His courageous, reckless daughter.
"That's not all, my lord."
"Go on, then." Viktor snapped.
"I rode on to the humans' fortress, seeking her there. They said that yes, they had arrived safely and yes, she had taken shelter there for a day. But Hurmun's man said that he had given her a horse and she had left at dusk the next night. I followed the path back, but I found no trace of her."
"Gather a search party, Soren. Find her." Viktor ordered tersely, tossing Soren the crossbow. He turned, catching Lucian under his burning stare, daring the Lycan to show one iota of smugness. Much of his frustration would find glorious relief in killing something. He found none. Instead there was a fierce relief, a burning urgency.
"Lucian, go with them." Blue eyes met and held for a long moment.
"Don't fail me, Lycan. Or it will be the death of you," he warned, then walked away.
A half an hour later, Lucian loped alongside Soren's mount, grimly concentrating on keeping pace. The vampires refused to give him a horse, fearing he would try and escape. He argued that it would take far longer to find Sonja with him slowing their pace without one, but his words fell on deaf ears. Lucian dismissed Soren, Viktor and all the other vampires, focusing on her.
Lucian sifted through the convoluted emotions he had for her, searching for the burning spark of her presence. Nothing. He would have known if she was dead, he was sure of it. Soren and the other Death Dealers slowed as they entered the forest, crossbows at the ready. Lucian threw his senses out into the night, searching for sound or scent of her or her horse.
"Where are you, Sonja?" he whispered under his breath.
The vampire in question shoved the now-human body of wolf from the mouth of a small cave. Hurmun's man had given her a flighty nag of a horse and the foolish animal had bolted at the sound a faraway werewolf's howl and broken its leg not even a third of the way back. She had gotten some use out of it, though, her thirst tamed by its blood. By now its body was probably meat in a wolf's stomach. Her leg had healed during her day's rest, and she would have made it back were it not for the encroaching daylight. Spring nights were very short and she had spent several panicked hours searching for a place to escape the deadly rays. The cave had been her sanctuary.
But it was also sanctuary to a small pack of wolves, six in all.
Sonja rocked back on her heels, her right arm and side throbbing with burns. Fighting in close quarters in full daylight, only scant spans from certain death—Sonja had never felt such fear. One wolf had a lucky swipe of paw, scoring her face with dagger-like claws. And by the Elders, she was tired.
Wearily, she wiped the caked blood from the edge of her sword and returned it to its sheath. Her armor and mail had rusted with moisture and blood, clothes ragged, hair and skin caked with mud and gore. She staggered to her feet and took a moment to regain her bearings. She tensed at the sucking sound of hooves in the mud. A stealthy rustle of movement to her left. She reacted, drawing her sword. The knot of emotion that rose in her throat surprised her upon seeing who stood across the blade of her sword.
"Lucian," she whispered, "What are you doing outside the wall?"
An instant of naked sympathy flickered in his eyes. His hand lifted, as if to touch her face, then he thought better of it. It fell in a stiff fist to his side.
"Your father sent me with the search party. What happened?" he asked in that rich, calm voice. It soothed her like cool water over a burn.
"Wolves," Sonja said, a wealth of hatred and frustration in that one word. She took one step toward the clearing where she heard the others when her legs betrayed her, buckling.
"Sonja," he whispered, in the same voice as when they made love. A gentle fingertip brushed the burns on her shoulder and arm. She couldn't bear his compassion anymore than she could bear his pain. She rose by sheer force of will, shrugging off the consoling hand.
Lucian's heart tightened with a painful rush of tenderness. So brave, even when her arm and side were black with burns and there were deep, bloody runnels on her beautiful face. A war-ravaged goddess in the mud. He wanted to carry her in his arms, hold her in his embrace and protect her, but her pride would not allow it. Instead, he grabbed her good arm, drawing it across his shoulders.
"Weapons?" he asked. Sonja shook her head.
"Nothing but my sword. Crossbow broke this morning on the jaw of a wolf. Shoddy craftsmanship." Grim humor even when she was dead with fatigue. The tenderness deepened. His heart was only too eager to forget the cruel, patronizing words she'd thrown in his face after he'd scaled her formidable defenses.
"You found Argos and the others?" she asked softly. Lucian nodded, surprised by the raw pain in her voice. A strong arm, a devilish wit, but also a true and loving heart.
"How did you find me, blacksmith?" she demanded, suddenly the regal, cold daughter of Viktor.
"We started at the human's castle and retraced your steps. I found the body of your horse and followed your scent," he explained. Of all things, she laughed, a quick flash of white teeth and merry sound in the darkness.
"Oh I imagine I was quite easy to track. I probably smell as rank as a wolf," she said, gesturing deprecatingly at her general dishabille. Lucian stopped and made a great show of sniffing her like an inquisitive puppy, educing another trill of golden laughter.
"No, my lady," he said, chuckling, "no wolf could smell that sweet."
Something shifted deep in her beautiful eyes and before he knew it, she was kissing him. There had never been a sweeter moment in all creation. This kiss held none of the searing, hungry desire of their other kisses, but was a shy, delicate fusion of lips that spun on and on in tender exploration. Lucian drank her in, glutting himself on the consummate perfection of his Sonja. When the moment ended, he waited in tense silence for the dismissal, the verbal blow that would remind him that he was her toy, the slave to serve her sexual favors.
It never came.
Only sweet silence, leaden with everything deep and soul-shattering that they left unspoken.
"We should get back," he said at last. Sonja nodded, leaning heavily on his shoulder as they struggled together toward where Soren and the others waited.
The Coven was waiting when Soren helped her from the back of his mount. Rigid with mortification, she bore their frank stares of pity and curiosity with as much magnanimity as she could manage. Coloman and Orsova were the first to express their concerns and Sonja accepted them with a muttered courtesy. Tannis commented on the state of her injuries and Sonja replied that it was nothing a feeding and day's rest wouldn't cure.
There was one glaring absence.
Her father was nowhere in sight.
Straightening her posture, she marched across the courtyard and into the castle, not sparing even a glance in Lucian's direction. In her current state, she might be foolish enough to gaze longingly with all of her thrice-cursed emotions naked there. She shouldn't have seduced him or kissed him.
It was forbidden.
It was against the laws of the Coven.
It was truth, living and breathing with wild, flagrant joy in her chest.
Of their own will, her feet carried her to the main hall. Father sat on his silver throne, flanked by the crypts of Amelia and Markus in the floor. Torches flickered, casting shadows into the cadaverous hollows of her father's cheeks. Unsure of her reception, Sonja stood at attention as a vassal before a king, not as a daughter before her father, glaring into the sharp blue eyes.
"Father, before you say anything, I have lost three Death Dealers and a good horse. I have spent the past three nights knee-deep in blood and been struck, scratched, and scorched. I do not need another lec-"
Father's tall form unfolded from his seated position and in the next moment, she was in his arms. A rare embrace. Her grateful sob was hidden in a cry of pain. Immediately, Father pulled back and saw the evidence of her tribulations on her arm.
"You will not patrol again. Your days as a Death Dealer are over." The sharp ultimatum brought her up short.
"I am First of the Death Dealers, Father. What happened was a mere oversight-"
"An oversight that nearly cost you your life! You risk too much," he said sharply, talon-like hands digging into her shoulders. Sonja sagged. She hadn't the energy to spare arguing.
"I don't have another battle in me at the moment. Perhaps tomorrow night we can continue this discussion." She turned on her heel and left the room, ignoring the sting of tears in her eyes. How many times would she go to him expecting his approval and receiving his scorn before she would learn?
His part in rescuing Sonja vaulted Lucian to an unprecedented level of favor. He no longer slept in the cells with his brothers and sisters, but in a chamber in the floor above, complete with a bed and a fireplace. He was exempted of wall patrol and was instead granted time in his forge, or even training in the arts of war and horsemanship as he had when he was a pup.
Lucian rapped politely on the door, studying the carvings with bland interest. The two guards behind him set his nerves on edge and his index finger rapped a nervous tattoo on his thigh. The door opened to reveal Andreas Tannis in his stately Council robes. Surprise flickered there briefly. Tannis stepped back, allowing Lucian to enter his chamber. Lucian was dazzled by the sheer luxury emanating from every corner. Beeswax candles cast warm bubbles of light, profligately squandered compared to the miserly and unreliable torches his kind used. Vellum scrolls dotted a honeycombed wall and littered a large desk, rich tapestries covered the walls. A finely blown glass full of blood steamed gently on the table. The sight made him wonder how Sonja was healing. He hadn't caught even a glimpse of her in a sennight. The part of himself that was tied to her was starving.
"Forgive me. I have interrupted your meal," he said politely. Tannis' eyebrow twitched.
"Think nothing of it, Lucian. Now, to what do I owe the honor?" he sneered. Lucian allowed a small smirk. He held up a silver disc.
"You invented these, yes?" Tannis' narrow gaze flicked disinterestedly over the trinket and dismissed it.
"Yes. What of it?"
He moved back to the table and drained the glass. Lucian followed, pulling his tablet of wax from his shirt. He offered it to Tannis, who accepted it as if it were a drowned rat. Part of him was embarrassed by the crudity of his tools, his clothes, even himself, especially in the face of such flagrant affluence. Envy bubbled from the deepest part of him. In idle fantasy, he saw himself as a vampire, cultured and wealthy. Then, he and Sonja would have met, and loved without the threat of death hanging over them. Lucian shook himself from his imaginings, focusing on the mocking face of Andreas Tannis.
"I am designing a sword. I was curious to see if it was possible to create some sort of mechanism to fire them from the hilt. See?" Lucian's broad, dirt-rimmed fingertip gestured to the preliminary drawing on his tablet. Tannis' hand was a startling contrast, white and delicate, fingernails neatly manicured. He traced the furrows thoughtfully.
"Interesting. And this sword is for whom, blacksmith?" he asked dryly. Lucian answered without pause.
Tannis processed this for a moment, his keen mind shifting through possible motivations. The Lycan was Viktor's pet, and perhaps thought he would curry favor by making a new sword for Viktor's princess. If Tannis himself had any skill in smithing, he would do the same. The blunt honesty of Lucian's answer threw off the smell of suspicion. Perhaps Viktor or Sonja herself requested a new blade. He was reading too much into it.
He was just a dog after all.
Besides, the Lycan's idea was an appealing one.
"Then we should be most swift. Viktor's beloved daughter is not known for her patience."
Sonja paced the length of her room with increasing agitation. The Death Dealers were riding out to patrol and she, their First, was left here. Her father commanded her to 'compose' herself after her ordeal. As if she was some fragile human girl who needed protracted fussing and coddling!
Sonja stopped her pacing and inspected her right arm, now whole and smooth again. By the Elders, peeling off the leather and mail to expose the burns was seared into her memory by a fiery brand of pain. Her stomach churned at the smell of burnt flesh rising from her own skin. It had been far worse than she thought. Her skin was black, with throbbing pain reaching down into muscle and bone. Luka, stars bless her, had tended her with gentle competence, her hand not even shaking as she handed her mistress a glass containing blood. The little maid had wept upon seeing Sonja's wounds. Sonja fed on human blood drained from an already dying slave, and fell into a deep, convalescent hibernation.
That had lasted for a mere three nights. Four nights had passed since then, pushing Sonja to the very edges of her sanity.
She was active by nature, preferring riding and swordplay to quieter pursuits. But she had spent an enjoyable night reading a work of fiction from her father's expansive library. The veneer of languor had swiftly lost its charm when she heard the clatter of hooves and the creak of armor. Sonja resumed her stalking, thoughts running endless circles around the truth of her confinement. She stopped abruptly. Council was tonight and she was expected to attend.
Her lips curved.
Father expected her to march step and file with his orders, did he?
Well, two could play at this game.
The human page swallowed hard, his heart thudding like a trapped bird's. It was the height of folly to walk into a den of vampires bearing ill news, but to return to Lady Sonja with his message undelivered was also out of the question. His hand found the door handle and he paused there, gulping in perhaps his last breaths of cool, sweet air. The door was heavy; it took all of his strength to shove it open. The vampire Council sat in a ring, padded niches in the wall flanking Lord Viktor's silver throne. The two crypts, one emblazoned with a stylized, 'A,' the other with an 'M' stood as a sober reminder of the weight of leadership. The page picked a delicate path between them, kneeling before Viktor's throne.
"You dare interrupt our council, human?" Viktor's words were sharp and cold, like icicles. The page quaked, unable to hide his trembling.
"I b—bear a message, my—my lord. From . . . from the Lady Sonja."
"Speak!" Viktor snapped. The page paused, gathering his courage. The words emerged in a garbled rush, "She-says-that-she-is-unable-to-attend-due-to-the-extent-of-her-injuries-and-she-craves-your-understanding." He squeezed his eyes shut, unsure of in which way death would come for him. One punch would snap his neck, maybe hot fangs would sink into his throat, or perhaps he would be thrown into the wall. He waited, in the agony of suspense.
"Craves my understanding, does she?" The page could not identify the tone of Viktor's voice, perhaps a strange mix of amusement and anger.
The human page would have been surprised to know that it was indeed amusement and anger in Viktor's voice. His mercurial daughter was pouting, throwing a tantrum when she was unable to ride out with her Death Dealers. A petulant but effective sally, he thought. She was good.
"Return a message to her, human. Tell her that she may take as long as she needs to recover. Another sennight and perhaps she will have the strength to attend her usual functions."
But he was better. Perhaps if she learned politics at his knee as he wished her to, then she would have seen the erring slip of phrase.
Never admit to weakness.
Viktor allowed a brief surge of pleasure at the thought of what her expression would be when she realized she'd been outsmarted. The page scurried out of the room, the sound of his succulent heart echoing after him. Viktor turned to Coloman and said, "I have a proposition for this Council."
Sonja's frustration left a bitter taste in her mouth. It stung her pride to be outmaneuvered by her father, it stung all the more when she missed out of the venture he proposed. The Coven, by Viktor's estimation was becoming too large. He suggested the start of another coven, perhaps in England or Scotland, linked to this one by a series of safe-houses stocked with weapons, supplies, and blood. A decision influenced perhaps in part by Sonja's recent misadventures abroad.
But who did her father choose to spearhead this project?
Soren, the unimaginative, dull-witted fool!
Pride and rebellion piqued, she slipped from her room and into the secret places of the castle. She evaded detection with minimal effort. Now she lay in wait for her quarry in the deep shadows of his room. Her lithe form concealed by a coarse cloak, she had picked her way past sentries and the snoring forms of Lycans without a sound.
An elegant snarl of distaste curled her lip at the disgusting smell and the cold, dripping atmosphere. The skulls and bones inlaid in the walls were grotesquely beautiful, a warning as stark as the moon-shackles and locked cells. Luka had learned his habits and reported that he slept most of the day, rising at dusk to practice with weapons, then he retired to his forge. He returned to his cell a watch before sunrise. It was very easy to pilfer the key, slip inside and wait.
The key screeched in the lock and the heavy oaken door opened. A square of wavering light spilled across the bare stone floor from the torch a vampire guard held. Lucian stepped past him into the room, but not before the soldier threw a blow at his head. Instant, unreasoning fury flashed through her veins and she marked his face. He would pay for that. Lucian himself bore it stoically, face blank.
"Pleasant dreams, pet," he sneered, before slamming the door shut and casting the room into inky darkness. The lack of light did not trouble Sonja; his features were still as sharp and clear as if in a room blazing with light. A small thrill ran through her at the one-sided intimacy of studying him this closely without his knowledge. Lucian sighed, his wide shoulders twitching as if tossing aside some heavy burden. The ropes holding up the thin mattress squeaked in protest under his weight as he sat on its edge and pulled off his boots. Sonja felt an absurd rush of arousal at the sight of his bare feet, long and pale with strong, graceful bones. She hadn't seen his feet when they made love before, she had other parts of him to contend with.
"Lucian," she whispered, unable to stand being hidden any longer. Tension shivered through his powerful form and an instant later, he was on his feet, a small knife in his hand. His eyes groped vainly through the complete darkness for her. She smiled and glided soundlessly to him. Batting aside the knife, she stepped close, breathing in his unique aroma of leather, hot metal, sweat and pungent male. Utterly delectable. The spiciness of his scent roused a yearning in her to lick the sweat from the contours of his body.
"Sonja," he breathed in greeting, folding her into an embrace, the knife clattering to the floor, "Are you well? Have you healed?" his fingers danced lightly down her arm, brushing aside the loose sleeves of her gown to touch smooth flesh. Her throat tightened at his concern and rested her cheek against his chest, feeling completely safe and relaxed in his arms.
"Yes. I am well," she said softly, lips tickling the hollow of his throat as she spoke. She could feel the steady pulse of his heart and wondered what his blood would taste like.
"What are you doing here?" he didn't sound particularly pleased, but the way his hands stroked her back and bottom and the hot stirring of his groin told her that he did want her there.
"I came to see you," she shrugged, trying to sound nonchalant.
"But it's nearly sunrise. Won't Viktor wonder where you're spending the day?"
Sonja chuckled, nipping his throat reprovingly. He was so big and warm and solid, she wanted to spend hours wallowing in him.
"I think not. He has been deliberating with the Council for the past four nights in a row. He will not spare a thought for me tonight."
"But Sonja, how will you get back unseen? It's too dangerous for you to be here."
Her hand slipped between them, sliding down his trousers to clasp him, effectively silencing him. He hissed in a ragged breath that smelled of yeasty bread and sweet mead. Sonja's fingers moved, exploring the iron hardness of him under hot, silky skin. Sonja stroked him, delighting in the tortured sounds he made. She pressed her cheek to his, tongue tracing the shell of his ear.
"Do you want me to go?" she purred, expecting a swift refusal.
"Yes," he replied breathlessly. Sonja flinched, withdrawing her hand. The delicate web of seduction was broken.
Lucian relaxed. By the moon, a couple more strokes like that and he would have spilled himself in her hand. Arousal pounded through him, but he sternly ignored its insistent throbbing.
There were words he had to say.
He wished there was even a flicker of light so he could see her face. In his wolf form, his vision rivaled a vampire's, but in this human form he could only see the pale shapes of her face and hands.
"What did you say?" she demanded. Even without expression to guide him, the tone of her voice was clear enough. Baffled surprise at perhaps one of the few refusals of her life, anger, and . . . hurt. Lucian reached for her hands, folding them into his own.
"I said you should go," he repeated. She jerked away.
"Forgive me for misreading you. With that cockstand, I thought you wanted me," she snapped venomously. Lucian flinched. Phrased that way, he sounded like a cad.
"Wanting you isn't the problem, Sonja," he said quietly. The pale, floating oval of her face turned toward him.
"Then what is the problem?" some of the vitriol ebbed into genuine curiosity.
"I will not risk torture and death to be your plaything," Lucian said carefully, spacing the words with an angry precision that reminded him of Viktor. His fists balled at the indignity of it, stinging his pride.
"I won't be some . . . stud used to satisfy your appetites for sex and novelty. I won't do it."
Lucian's scorching words left his lips and froze in the air, made frigid by the gathering hoarfrost of Sonja's anger.
"You would dare reject me?" she said in a deadly soft voice, its implied violence underscored by its deceptive volume.
"I reject what you would make me," he fired back, resolute. He folded his arms over his chest for emphasis.
Sonja glared daggers at him, confusion and hurt swirling wildly within her. Anyone else, vampire or otherwise, would have killed to be in his place. An uncomplicated, mutually beneficial arrangement with one of her rank would mean favors, luxury. But not him. It was that difference that attracted her to him in the first place. That and his considerable physical assets.
"Would you turn me in? Cry rape to your father and have me killed?" he demanded.
"No, of course not! What do you think I am?" she replied sharply, taken aback, partly by what the image of him killed did to her insides and partly because she had been on the verge of threatening just that. She would do whatever she had to in order to have him. His stern features softened infinitesimally.
"I think you are the most willful, reckless, and spoiled little princess I have ever met." Sonja scowled at this unflattering appraisal and opened her mouth to emit a scathing reply when he reached out and cupped her cheek with one warm, work-roughened palm. The tenderness in his blue eyes silenced her.
"I also think that you are the most passionate, loyal and loving woman in all of creation."
Sonja stood shocked, counting the beats of his heart, not moving, not breathing. No one had ever pierced her like this, not her companions, not her lovers, not her father. Lucian saw her as no one else did. The elaborate, twisted loop of emotions in her heart expanded into something beautiful and bright and sustaining, like the sun. And its rays would be the death of her just as the sun's were. A smile curled Lucian's lips, the only expression of true mirth she had ever seen grace his face.
"Have I struck Lady Sonja speechless? A feat not even Viktor can boast of." The tender stroking of his hands belied the teasing in his voice. Sonja smiled weakly in return, not trusting her voice, not trusting her eyes that filled with tears.
"What do you want from me?" she said roughly.
A Death Dealer? A Council member? I'll be anything you want me to be as long as you love me.
She tried in vain to earn her father's love. She couldn't risk giving her heart to Lucian. She wouldn't survive if he broke it.
Lucian framed her face with his hands, the backs of his hands tickled by the midnight fall of her silky hair. Her question hung between them, raw with emotion and throbbing with everything that could be. A scant sentence and he would seal his fate and hers. Lucian's hands moved, knowing the answer before his mind did. He drew her into his arms, pressing her against his heart. The heart that had been lost to her from the moment she kissed him.
"Everything. I want all of you, Sonja. Your body . . ." his fingers plucked impatiently at the buttons on the back of her form-fitting dress. Her arms came around him, stronger than any chain forged of steel, but it was a servitude he bore with joy.
"And your mind." He kissed her brow, cherishing the tiny space between her brows to erase the frown line there. Several frantic moments of activity passed as they stripped off their clothes. Lucian wished fiercely that he had lit a fire. He wanted to see her, feast his eyes on her beauty. Instead, he lived through touch, learning every curve and plane of her. She pushed him back on the bed and the frame gave a squeak of protest. He pulled her atop him and reveled in the intimate contact of bare skin. His hand cupped the ripe weight of her breast, the nipple stiff against his palm.
"Above all your heart," he rasped.
She sheathed herself upon the hot column of his desire and pleasure lashed with primal abandon through both of them. Lucian groaned out her name, fingers digging into her hips. Sonja rode him hard, each embracing down-stroke accompanied by an incredible milking squeeze of inner muscle. He arched up, wild with pleasure.
Their joining was too fraught with desperate passion to last long, Sonja thought. She listened raptly as the tempo of his breathing increased and Sonja's erotic gyrations became more erratic as climax loomed. With a ragged cry, Sonja's body focused, tightened, exploded in a sunburst of pleasure. Lucian groaned, back arching, bathing her womb with the hot rush of his seed in almost the same instant. She stretched out upon his prone form and nuzzled his neck.
"You have it all, Lucian. It's yours. Just as you are mine," she whispered.
What do you think? Like it? Hate it? Tell me either way!