Sierra Prospero refuses to submit to her lifemate…
Disclaimer: I do not own the Carpathian series: Christine Feehan does. Any relation to any other stories is coincidental, I promise.
Sierra Prospero was in the middle of dinner with her latest boyfriend, Damien. They were seated at a table near the middle of the room in her favorite restaurant in Washington, D.C. Sierra's mind was wandering, and she was looking around curiously when she noticed a man sitting alone in the most shadowy corner in the restaurant. The stranger had dark eyes, and hair, and was dressed entirely in dark clothes, not unusual, but usually seen on younger generations. The man seemed to stare at her continuously, almost uncontrollably.
This was human nature, of course. People usually want to look around and watch other people. It is simply a system of evaluating yourself and your own actions. However, it is also human nature to pretend you aren't being rude and gawking by looking away when you are caught at it. This man was different. His gaze was blatant and open, deliberately sexual. Sierra found it hard to tear herself away from his scrutiny to pay attention to her boyfriend, who was deep in his latest string of complaints.
"…never want to touch me, Sierra. You know I want to go to the next level, but whenever I try, you always make some excuse to get away, or put me off until later, when you'll give me another excuse. Frankly, I'm sick of it."
Frankly, Sierra was sick of it, too. It wasn't that she didn't want to touch Damien; it was just that she seemed to get ill whenever she tried. Still, since she didn't want to be lonely for the rest of her life, she tried to placate him. "Damien, I'm sorry. I've just been feeling a little strange lately. Maybe we could try again tonight?"
Damien threw his hands up in the air dramatically. "When you can make up another excuse? No. We're going to do this right now, and if you don't like it, do what all other women do and pretend that you like it."
Sierra gaped. "Excuse me? This is my body, I can do with it what I please, and when. If you don't like the wait, then you can just break up with me and move on to someone who will give you whatever you want."
She moved to leave, but Damien caught her hand in a crushing grip. Wincing in the pain of her hand bones bending, Sierra tried to pull her hand back. In response, Damien dug his slightly long fingernails into her palm. Why had she ever been attracted to him? The mystery deepened as he bared his short, mousy teeth and hissed, "Now you listen, honey. I've never broken up with a woman before she put out, and I'm not going to break that tradition now. Let's go outside."
While she gasped at his crude and offensive language, he dug his nails in deeper, to the point they dug into Sierra's palm, and dragged her outside. He pinned her to the wall and started kissing her, ignoring her attempts to free herself. Sierra thought desperately of her pepper spray, secure inside her purse, which was still inside the restaurant. She began to beat at Damien's face with her free fist, but he easily trapped both of her wrists in one hand, holding them tightly against the rough brick wall. Furiously, Sierra screamed as loud as she could against Damien's mouth, but quickly stopped as she saw the excited glint in his eyes get brighter.
Zane Von Shrieder began to get concerned when the woman he had been watching did not reappear. He had assumed the couple was leaving, until he had caught sight of the purse the woman had left behind. After several minutes, she still had not returned to claim her forgotten property. Any woman would have noticed the absence of her purse only moments after mislaying it. Zane cursed to himself as he realized that the fear coming off of her had not been the fear of being broken up with, but the fear of someone who was being forced to do something against their will. Still muttering to himself, Zane leapt up, grabbed the woman's purse, and followed her scent outside.
The mixture of strawberries, spices, and fear wafted out of a nearby alleyway, where the fear was almost overpowering the woman's natural scent. A muffled scream echoed out, and Zane rushed away from the restaurant. "Hey, buddy!" An angry voice sounded behind him. With a glare, Zane spun to confront the man he vaguely recognized as the waiter who had brought Zane's wine and untouched food. "What is the problem, sir?" Zane asked smoothly.
The irate waiter calmed a minute amount at Zane's polite demeanor. "Well, sir, you forgot to pay for your meal."
Zane carelessly tossed several one-hundred dollar bills at him. "Will this cover the expenses?" The waiter glanced down at the currency in surprise, and his eyes grew bigger as he took in the large amount.
"Uh…yeah…Hang on, I'll get you some change." The waiter turned as if to go back inside, and Zane sighed inwardly. Never had he seen a human so honest. This man was not going to take advantage of the money Zane had given him.
"No need," Zane said quickly. "Keep the change." He could read in the human's mind that he was going to decline. Zane did not like to do things like this, but the woman was still in trouble. He had to get to her! "Take the money. Buy your wife something nice on your way home," Zane commanded, and the waiter dazedly agreed. Quickly, before anything else could delay him, the Carpathian rushed off to the alleyway to rescue his lifemate.
While her mind worked on another plan, Sierra let her body go limp, and was surprised when she slid easily from Damien's grasp. After ducking under his arms, she began to sprint toward the front of the alleyway, where she could hear people, but Damien reached out and seized her ankle, tripping her. Sierra landed heavily, and the blow of her head hitting concrete momentarily stunned her, long enough for Damien to pick her back up and pin her to the wall once again. Unfortunately, she was completely lucid when Damien bitch-slapped her across the face. Still, it wasn't in Sierra's nature to go without a fight, so she booted Damien's leg as hard as she could with her pointy-toed high heels.
The unpleasant man flinched and swore, but didn't release her. Instead, he drew back a fist, which he fired toward her face. Sierra tried to keep still, refusing to let him see her flinch, but she couldn't help closing her eyes. After a second, they popped open again as nothing hit her, and she heard Damien's cry of pain.
The sight that greeted her eyes was pleasant, yet confusing. Damien was dangling from his collar, which was being gripped from behind. His feet were nearly ten inches off of the ground. He was swinging slightly, back and forth, and his eyes were bulging. Half a second later, there was a tearing sound, and Damien hit the ground roughly, face up. A black streak was on top of him almost immediately, and the sounds of fighting could be heard.
When the scuffle subsided, Damien was lying on the ground, bleeding from several cuts, his mouth, and nose. Towering over him was the man from the restaurant earlier, who looked totally unscathed. His gaze flicked over her quickly, and then darted up to study her face. "Are you all right?" He asked worriedly. Sierra nodded, speechless, still stunned from both her encounter, and her rescue, not to mention rescuer.
While he was focused on her, Damien began to move around. Flipping onto his stomach, he stood slowly, but the stranger didn't seem to notice. Damien glared at Sierra. "I'm going to get you, you stupid bitch!" He rushed toward her with his fists raised. The stranger, who was standing between them with his back to Damien, raised his right arm and stretched it firmly out to the side. Damien didn't see the outstretched arm until it was too late, and caught an elbow in the throat. Smoothly, the man used his arm to push Damien back to the ground, and then placed the heel of his shoe on Damien's nose.
Damien's cry of pain almost drowned out the sound of his nasal cartilage snapping. Sierra winced, and lowered herself to the ground, against the wall that she had been held against so recently. It wasn't Sierra's favorite place, by any means, but her knees refused to hold her up any longer. However, she couldn't take her eyes off of the scene in front of her. The dark stranger knelt next to Damien, and with one solid blow to the cheek, knocked him into unconsciousness.
The man then straightened and walked slowly over to where Sierra was sitting, holding his hands palm out. "It is all right," he said soothingly, in a mesmerizing voice. "I will not harm you. Are you injured in any way?"
Sierra shook her head. The stranger crouched unthreateningly next to her, and gently touched his pointer finger to the side of her mouth, and came away with blood. "Can you not feel this?" He inquired.
Sierra became aware of a pounding pain in the side of her face that Damien had slapped. "Ow," she whispered.
The man's lips quirked and he extracted a snowy white handkerchief from his pocket. With a slight flourish, he offered it to her. When she didn't take it, he raised it to her mouth and dabbed at her split lip soothingly. Sierra found her voice. "How did you know to come and find me?"
The man reached back into the backpack he was wearing and pulled out her purse. "I believe you left this behind. Women do not forget their purses for more than five minutes at a time, so when you did not reappear to claim it, I noticed that something was wrong. When I walked outside, I heard a scream from this alley. When I looked in, I saw that imbecile," he spat the word as if it was bitter, "attacking you, I could not help but to offer my aid."
"Thank you," Sierra breathed. "I don't know what he would have done if you hadn't come along."
The man's eyes grew even more grave, and they glittered dangerously. "Men like that do not deserve the title. A true gentleman would never force a lady to do what she was unwilling to."
Sierra's eyes sparked with a question, but realization soon hit her, and she blushed. "Oh, I suppose you heard us in the restaurant, huh?"
The stranger nodded. "It was difficult not to overhear. Your… boyfriend made no attempt to lower his voice. A true gentleman would never discuss such a delicate matter in public, no matter how frustrated he was."
Smiling sadly, Sierra said, "It's just a shame that there aren't very many 'true gentlemen' walking around anymore. I doubt that I've ever met one."
Eyes smiling, the man said, "Would you like to make the acquaintance of a true gentleman?" Sierra nodded, and the man reached out to gently grasp her hand. "Greetings, my lady, my name is Zane Von Shrieder, and it was truly my honor to aid you this evening." With that, he lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it before returning it to her lap.
Zane's heart nearly stopped as he waited for a reply from the woman. She glanced from him to her hand, and then her gaze switched back to him. Her mouth stretched in a wide smile. "It is exceedingly nice to meet you, Zane. My name is Sierra Prospero, and I am very much obliged to you for rescuing me."
Sierra. A lovely name for a lovely woman. His lifemate was a truly unique person. He gave himself a moment to luxuriate in the reappearance of his emotions and colors. Sierra's skin was palest cream with a slight red blush in her cheeks. Already, the right side of her face was beginning to swell from the blow delivered from the hand of her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend. A smaller mouth was graced with a single delicate lip piercing, on the lower left side. The presence of a proud, Italian nose gave her face character without overwhelming her other features. Sierra's darker brows and long, dark lashes stood out on her pale face, framing deep green eyes. Rich, brown hair cascaded in wild spirals nearly to her waist.
Sierra was dressed conservatively in a blue scoop-neck blouse and dark jeans with black heels. It drove him crazy, but what surprised him the most was how much affection he already had for her. Zane had not expected his emotions to overwhelm him, as he had only been without them for a mere two centuries. His cousin, Vikirnoff, had warned him that the rush was difficult to control, but Zane had not been inclined to listen.
Zane could now hardly contain his excitement. More and more of his people had been finding their lifemates, but there were still hundreds, if not thousands, that were on the brink of insanity. And, with this new century with fresh and exciting things to do, many Carpathians were not willing to greet the dawn; they would rather keep living in the only way possible to them. Still, he had found his lifemate. All that was left to do was to fully claim her. At this point, he was in a powerful place. He had rescued Sierra from a bad situation, and she saw him as a hero. If he wanted, Zane could take advantage of that, but then she would feel tricked, betrayed, and unwilling to submit to his superior judgment.
However, if Zane chose to play the shy, innocent young man role, Sierra would find it endearing, and she would be more willing to spend time with him, in his care. He must be careful to not overplay the role. Sierra had already seen him take care of her ridiculous and insipid boyfriend. If he played the shy and meek part too well, she would know something was up.
"Zane?" Sierra queried. He had been quiet too long. Maybe he hadn't wanted her to thank him. He might be from one of those countries that think apologizing is an insult, or a sign of weakness. From his accent and speech patterns, Sierra had ascertained that he wasn't native to America.
"Sierra, I must apologize. I was lost in my own thoughts, though it is criminal to ignore beauty such as yours." She could feel herself blushing, and tried her best to smother it. Flattery seemed as natural to him as breathing; it wouldn't do to think of it as more than that.
Suddenly aware that she was still sitting on the ground with him crouched beside her, she moved to stand. Zane rested a gentle hand on her shoulder, holding her down until he had straightened up. Then, carefully, he grasped her hand and her elbow, and helped her to her feet. Though she knew it was rude, Sierra couldn't help but stare. His every motion was filled with old-world grace, and he was extremely charming. This is what always got her into trouble, over-romanticizing every movement of her boyfriends. She had a sneaking suspicion though, that with Zane, it was all natural: she wasn't doing anything, he was just that charming.
"Thank you," she murmured softly as he steadied her.
He sketched a slight bow, and then said formally, "Sierra Prospero, it would be my honor if you would allow me to escort you to the police station to report the atrocious behavior of this…person."
Sierra smiled slightly. "Zane Von Shrieder, I would love to accompanied almost anywhere by you, but for tonight, I must decline. I really don't feel like going much of anywhere."
Zane frowned. "You could not have eaten very much earlier. At least allow me to take you back inside where you can finish your meal."
Sierra shook her head. "I'm not really hungry. I just want to go home."
"Sierra, you did not live with that man, did you? You may not be safe."
"Thank you for the concern, Zane, but Damien and I lived separately. He had a key to my apartment, however, so I'll just take that and head home. I'll probably change the locks sometime tomorrow."
Sierra couldn't figure out exactly why Zane was drawing this out, but she was exhausted, and felt like she was going to be sick soon. It would be best if she simply went home, though she would have liked to see where this thing went. Sierra was removing her apartment key when Zane spoke again.
Softly, so that she could barely hear him, he said, "Sierra, I must admit, I am extremely attracted to you. If you would not mind, I would like very much to contact you again. I… I do not think I am quite ready to say farewell to you yet."
With her lips slightly parted, Sierra turned around with her key in her grasp. Should she allow Zane to contact her again?
Sierra did not realize it, but when she thought, her tongue played with the piercing that ran through her bottom lip. Zane watched intently as she flicked the small piece of metal back and forth, and then pulled her lip back to run the piercing between her teeth and suck gently on it. She was killing him! He could almost believe that she was doing this on purpose, except for the fact that her eyes were dreamy and staring off into the distance as she considered letting him contact her again.
Suddenly, awareness came back into her eyes, and she released the piercing. In a smooth motion, Sierra held out her fist. With a sinking feeling, Zane realized that she most likely wanted to say goodbye in the American tradition of shaking hands. He would let her think that she was getting rid of him, but he would be back. He was never going to get rid of him.
Sighing resignedly, Zane looked down at her hand. It was still in a fist. Was she going to hit him? He reached out slightly, and she nodded her head, indicating that she wanted him to hold his hand under her closed fist. Puzzled, Zane complied. What was this odd American tradition? Sierra's fist opened, and something cold hit his hand. Looking down, he saw the key that she had just taken from Damien's key ring. He thought he knew what this meant, but was he interpreting this correctly?
"What is this?" Zane asked gently.
"It's the key to my apartment. I don't know if Damien will try to get back at me like he promised, but if he's planning something, we should probably keep in contact."
Zane did understand. She wanted to be able to see him and talk to him without seeming like she was making a commitment. "Probably," he agreed indulgently. She would come to accept the feelings she already had for him in time.
"Also," Sierra said, digging in her purse, "here's my cell phone number." She jotted down some numbers in even, neat script and handed him the paper.
Zane felt pained. If he didn't give her a cell phone number, Sierra may feel as though he didn't want to keep in contact. "Unfortunately, my cell phone was stolen a few days ago, and I have not had time to replace it yet. I will call you as soon as I get a new one. Is that all right?" He had heard some of the others use that excuse to businesses whenever they asked for cellular phone numbers, and he hoped that it would work on Sierra.
It did. "That's terrible," she said sympathetically. "Yeah, just call when you have a new cell, no rush."
Zane nodded gravely. "I will. Now, you must at least allow me to escort you home. You never know what kind of strange people are roaming the streets at night in this city."
Sierra grinned at his obvious attempt to spend more time with her. "Sure, you can walk me home. I don't live too far away."
Relieved, Zane offered her his arm, and she accepted, her eyes lighting up at his chivalry. He mentally checked on the human male as they walked by. Damien would be unconscious long enough for Zane to walk Sierra home, return, and command him to leave Sierra alone. Of course, Zane would still keep in touch with Sierra, in case Damien would magically get back in touch.
Sierra let herself into her apartment with a sigh. The walk home with Zane had been an interesting one, with Zane pointing out various places of interest and telling her some historical facts. It was amazing, all of the things that the man knew. She had been on nearly every tour of Washington that was offered, including the ghost tours, and yet none of them had given information that Zane spouted so casually.
Walking through the apartment in a slight daze, Sierra was humming a familiar tune to herself. She suspected that she was in a little bit of shock, but it wore off fast as she caught sight of a bouquet of roses that Damien had gotten for her, after her many subtle and not-so-subtle requests. The red of the roses suddenly seemed too bright, and the events of the pre-Zane night slammed into her. Sierra managed to dart into the bathroom and kneel before the toilet before losing everything in her stomach.
From there, it was a short trek to the shower, where she spent a significant amount of time, trying to warm her cold skin, and wash away the feeling of Damien's mouth on hers. Eventually, Sierra gave out and reluctantly clambered out of the shower. She dried off and dressed in her most comfy pajamas before wiping down the mirror with the edge of her towel. She caught a glimpse of her swollen face and tearstained eyes before letting out a sob and going back to the living room. Sierra grasped the roses, raced out onto the balcony, and tossed the roses into a Dumpster nearby. The sound of the flowers hitting the metal box ten stories down was music to her vindictive ears. She darted back inside and frantically glanced around for more evidence of her relationship with Damien.
Nothing. Damien hadn't been the most caring boyfriend she'd ever had.
Sierra was just beginning to relax on the couch and read her book when she saw something out of the corner of her eye that sent chills racing up her spine. There was a bloody handprint on the door. Rising slowly, Sierra walked toward the door, never taking her eyes off of the handprint. Her first instinct was to call the police, but she noted that the handprint was far too small to be Damien's. Besides, she was ten stories up in the air.
He would have to be crazy to try to climb that high.
Still, Sierra flicked the light on and knelt to study the blood. It was fresh, extremely fresh. Another flash of color caught her eye, another handprint on the light switch. There was another flash of color, this one from below. Sierra's eyes darted down, only to see that her hand was glistening with fresh blood: her own.
The roses must have had thorns, and when she grasped the stems, she had put multiple cuts all over her fingers and palms. How far gone must she have been to not feel the gashes? She stifled another sob, this one slightly hysterical. Damien was still hurting her, and he wasn't even here. She was getting wound tighter and tighter, and Sierra knew instinctively that it wouldn't be too much longer until she completely blew up.
Sierra did her best to completely absorb herself in cleaning the blood off of the door and light switch, meticulously bathing each cut with peroxide, applying antibacterial ointment, and bandaging everything she could. She made herself a glass of tea, and relaxed again with her book. She was re-reading one of her favorite book series, the Carpathian series. Right now, she was only on Gregori and Savannah's book 'Dark Magic'.
Gregori's audacity soon had taken her mind off of the events of that evening. Gradually, Sierra grew tired, and went to bed, where she slept soundly and dreamlessly.