Happy New Year, everyone!! Be sure to tune in for Pure Ecstasy and Dark Obsession in 2019!!! May you have a great one!
If I were to make a wish for 2019, it is that I make a significant stride toward becoming a best-selling novelist full time! 🙂 I’d love to do this for a living… here’s to dreaming, and working hard and dreaming some more!
Maximus obeyed without question, his lips parting on their own accord.
A strong wrist covered with soft, smooth skin was placed against his fangs.
Unconsciously, he sank his teeth into the tender flesh and drew upon the juicy vein he’d unerringly pierced.
Hot, sweet blood flooded his mouth and danced upon his tongue, an explosion of flavors that made him voracious.
He reached up to grip with both hands the small, yet solid wrist in an unrelenting hold, bringing it harder against his mouth, sinking his fangs as deep as they could go.
His throat and stomach rejoiced at the injection of nourishment that went straight to his tissues, organs and bones. This wondrous blood was healing him. All the things that were broken and destroyed inside. Regenerating his heart, his lungs, the wounds in his shoulder, chest and thigh.
But he wanted more.
He needed more.
A shudder racked his body from head to toe, making his muscles jump and bunch beneath his too-tight skin.
He was on fire. He was on ice. Something was awaking and unfurling inside of him, stretching its great claws, cracking its monstrous jaws.
A deep, resonant growl shook the air around him, savage and demanding. He didn’t even realize that he was the one who gave it voice.
“Shhh,” a low female voice murmured soothingly beside his ear, familiar yet unknown.
“Be calm. Be still. I know how to make you feel better. I’ll give you what you need.”
As she promised, a purposeful hand traveled down his chest and abdomen to wrap around his pulsing sex, where she squeezed him languorously yet firmly with each draw and swallow of blood he took from the vein.
Her hand upon him made the broiling tension inside diffuse but not lessen. His hips began to undulate on their own accord, bucking against her grip, reaching for more friction, trying to soothe the ravaging ache within.
Dark Goddess but he hurt.
The pain inside was nigh unbearable. Worse, in fact, than the process of dying, which he distinctly recall doing before something sharp had stabbed directly into his chest.
His mind shied away from the few wisps of memories that flashed behind his eyelids after that moment.
He knew that he’d lost something vital, and he didn’t want to recall it. As futile as the attempt was, he wanted to avoid reality for just a while longer.
Better to focus on now.
Not that he could have ignored the agony of the present even if he tried. It was as if all of the desires, needs, and hunger he’d repressed over the millennia of his existence were suddenly unleashed, en force, within him.
He shuddered long and hard, releasing endlessly into the soft hand that held him. But the more he let go, the sharper the pain. Something angry and seething roiled beneath his skin, demanding to break free.
No! He couldn’t let it out. He couldn’t lose control.
He had to fight it! Keep it contained.
Keep the monster caged inside where no one would ever find him…
2nd century, AD. Ancient Rome.
During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Empire enjoyed its last decades of relative peace, despite a few brief wars with the Parthians, the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians, and of course, those pesky Germanic tribes that simply wouldn’t stay down no matter how many times you beat them.
It was a time of philosophy and trade, when the empire extended its reach to exotic places like the Far East, to unfathomable remote and alien realms like China.
It was a time of persecution, when loyal Romans showed their pride by banding together against common foes.
Christians were one such minority that suffered the brunt of being different. As did the various conquered invaders who were kept in the empire as slaves, who filled the gladiator arenas with human fodder as part of bloody spectacles that kept the plebian rabble entertained.
Which was why, amidst all the strange faces, curiosities and commonplace violence, barely disguised by a thin veneer of law and order, the straggling Dark Ones that survived the Great War and the Purge of the aftermath began to rebuild their strength and numbers.
No one batted an eye at those eccentric and beautiful foreigners who kept to themselves in a citadel on the outskirts of Rome, who held lavish parties every night and whose golden fountains always overflowed with thick, blood-red wine.
Little did the guests know that it was three-parts blood, one-part wine, and that before the night was out, their own blood would further thicken the pools.
The leader of this particular vampire horde called herself Mistress Circe.
No one knew whether she was a True Blood or a vampire made, but everyone bowed to her powers, enchanted by her beauty.
For Circe possessed an incredible Gift, never before documented in the long histories of the immortal races—the ability to transform men into beasts and beasts into men.
No one had ever seen her wield these fearsome powers, however. Her guests brushed off the theatrics, if they ever observed any, as mere hallucinations brought on by the pungent potions Circe concocted and invited only the bravest (or stupidest) partygoers to imbibe.
No one knew the truth about her, not even the male child she always kept close by her side. A dark-haired, pale-eyed, skinny thing she simply called “Boy.”
No one knew whether he was her son or merely a servant. The boy himself never knew. For, the one time he’d gathered enough courage to ask her about his parentage, she’d pinned him with an unnerving, quelling stare. She’d never deigned to answer him.
The only certainty he knew about himself was that he was different.
Not just different in terms of being foreign, though he was.
His narrow, blade-like nose, high cheek bones and piercing blue eyes that tilted ever so slightly at the corners did not conform to typical Roman features. The humans who served the Mistress whispered that he was either Veneti or Germanic in origin, perhaps bought at a slave auction for her amusement.
He was not just different in terms of being nonhuman, though he was that too.
His vampire fangs had revealed themselves before he was old enough to hold onto his memories. He was a carnivore and preferred his meat extremely raw. The Mistress portioned a bowl of blood-wine for him every night. And once a week he was allowed to drink directly from the vein of a human servant under the Mistress’s careful scrutiny.
At first, he wondered whether she was afraid he’d harm the human in a frenzied feeding. But then he realized that humans were all dispensable cattle to the Mistress. She had amassed a staggering fortune and could afford to buy more slaves, hire more servants, if he ever drained one too dry.
She was watching him for another reason, but he never knew why.
Even the other vampires in her small horde treated him differently. If he ever ventured too near any of them, they hissed at him to keep his distance, as if his very existence offended them.
Thus, the boy deduced with absolute certainty that he wasn’t quite…normal. He just didn’t know what it was specifically about himself that was so different from others.
He lived with the Mistress and her servants and slaves in the heavily fortified citadel, venturing outside only at night, and only with escort. He had chores to do like the humans who toiled under her protection (or captivity, depending on how you looked at it). But he also took lessons with expensive Greek tutors that she paid for, and he was the only other person to sit beside her at meals.
Even the other vampires were not invited to her table.
Most of the time, she ignored him, eating in silence until the nightly festivities began, upon which time he was excused from her presence and was free to wander the citadel but not venture beyond its enclosure. Not without guards.
To protect him, or to protect others from him, the boy couldn’t guess.
Sometimes, she spoke to him. But only to ask him the same questions over and over again.
“Where did you go tonight?”
“What did you see?”
“What did you do?”
“How do you feel?”
She only asked him these questions when he ventured outside the citadel on a full moon.
In his ninth year, the boy stumbled upon Mistress Circe’s secret. And he beheld, firsthand, her terrible powers.
He’d been released after his lessons and chores to do whatever it was children of his age did.
The Mistress never took any interest, and the boy had never made friends. There were no children in the citadel, and the ones who lived in the nearby villages kept human hours. In other words, they were fast asleep in their beds when he rose to start his night.
The adults in the citadel ignored him at best, chased him away at worst, for he was so very different from them. There was something about him that rubbed others the wrong way, even though he always ducked his head to show submission and used impeccable manners no matter whether his interaction was with a slave, a servant or a vampire.
So, the boy tried to befriend the animals that lived in the citadel, though most of them shied away from him too.
The sheep, pigs and chickens always panicked and fled when he drew near. The horses backed away nervously, some rearing in fright. He’d almost gotten stomped into the ground once when he was a toddler, having wandered too close to an open stall. The hunting dogs growled and barked and bared their fangs, acting as if they’d tear him to pieces if they hadn’t been chained.
Only the cats, the fickle mousers that the Mistress allowed to earn their keep, tolerated his presence, but only just. They still hissed at him and raised their hackles when he walked by, but if he was patient enough and brought some food, they would eventually settle down and even occasionally eat from his hand.
He was following a stray, orange-striped kitten who’d separated itself from its litter that night, bounding with curiosity down long corridors lit with low-burning torches, skittering on its tiny claws around darkened corners, leading the boy on a merry chase.
“Wait!” he called out in a half-worried, half-laughing whisper, delighted with the rare opportunity to play.
“Slow down! You’ll be sorry if you can’t find your way back to your mama when you get hungry later!”
The kitten kept running, heedless of any danger, moving ridiculously fast, a blur of fur ball careening in the halls.
The boy hardly noticed the unexplored passageways and winding stone steps that he chased the kitten down. Barely recalled that he had to squeeze through a tight trap door that led from the dank belly of the citadel to a long, winding, unpaved tunnel.
It was only when he reached the end of the tunnel, where a larger opening was carved into the surrounding stone, that the boy paused for breath and took his bearings.
He was at the entrance of some sort of cave.
A shaft of moonlight speared through a small opening from high up above, so far above him, it exceeded the height of several olive trees. And the opening looked no bigger than a silver denarius from his lowly position on the ground. Everything else was blanketed in an inky darkness.
Except for two orbs of blue fire that glinted from the blackest corner of the cave.
The boy froze in his steps and stared back unblinkingly, too terrified to move.
The kitten, however, had no qualms whatsoever, skipping playfully ever closer to the owner of the blazing twin orbs.
The boy wanted to dash forth and scoop up the kitten before it danced directly into the jaws of death. Or whatever it was that glared malevolently from the darkness.
But he was prevented from action by a rumbling growl, so deep and dangerous it shook the very ground, and the boy fancied he saw pebbles jumping in fright.
“Come back here,” he whispered furiously when the kitten pounced on a pebble and batted it like a ball back and forth between its paws, leaping happily after it when it bounced and rolled deeper into the darkest corner of the cavern.
The boy inched forward, torn between the need to protect his new (and only) friend, and the urge to make a mad dash out of this monstrous pit.
When the boy edged close enough to be partially illuminated by the beam of moonlight, the growling abruptly subsided.
The boy stilled like a statue, staring with saucer-eyes at the twin orbs that mesmerized him.
The enlarged black pupils within the icy blue orbs receded into pinpoints as the boy continued to stare. Long white whiskers caught fragments of light, along with matching tufts on top of the creature’s head.
Ears. The boy could barely make them out, unconsciously edging closer. He could see large, triangular ears pointed in his direction, flicking slightly as he shuffled his feet.
Before he knew it, the boy was within ten feet of the creature that crouched silently in the darkness.
“A white tiger,” he breathed in awe, never having seen one in the flesh before, only in the fantastical drawings foreign traders sometimes sold in the marketplace.
But the tigers in the pictures had always been orange. Never white. This tiger must be very rare indeed. Perhaps it was even magical.
The kitten had ventured directly beneath the enormous head of the tiger, prancing in a zig zag pattern between thick iron bars. The tiger indulgently accepted the kitten’s company. It even made a soft chuffing sound in greeting, and the boy had the sense that this wasn’t the first time the kitten had escaped down here for a visit.
It should have relieved the boy to know that the gigantic tiger was locked within some sort of cage, but all he felt was a soul-deep sadness.
Such a magnificent animal should never be caged. It seemed like the worst sort of wrong.
When the boy drew even closer, taking a better look, he saw that the tiger wore a complex harness of iron chains that ran from the wide, spiked collar around its neck to shackles on each of its front paws. The boy could only assume that its back paws were secured as well.
Tied up this way, the animal wouldn’t be able to run or leap. As it was, it seemed barely able to lie down in a comfortable position, its legs cramped awkwardly close to its body.
“I’m sorry,” the boy unthinkingly murmured, reaching out a hand toward the bars of the cage.
The bars were too narrow for the tiger to extend any part of itself outside, but it did butt its head gently against the bars, rubbing its nose tentatively across the boy’s outstretched fingers. It even unfurled its tongue and licked him.
“Ow,” the boy said as his hand got scraped by the sandpaper tongue, but he was smiling, his expression at odds with his small complaint.
Maybe, just maybe, he’d made another friend tonight.
Until the tiger’s ears suddenly flattened against its head, and it opened its great jaws to reveal canines thicker than the boy’s wrists—
And released a deafening, earth-shaking roar.