Caveat Emptor, Book 2
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-60521-638-6
[ Vampire Romance, MF ]
Is Ryver up to the challenge of a charmed and deliciously dangerous lover?
Ryver knows she can never go home again. That’s fine by her, since she’s with Theron, the vampire she loves. Now living in vampire territory, she’s learning more about Theron, and not all of it is good. The more she sees, the more she’s convinced that the man she fell in love with, the man who can make her body sing with a single touch, might not be the man she thought he was.
Caveat Emptor — Let the Buyer Beware.
Ryver could see her reflection in the gleaming marble floor beneath her feet. She usually liked to show off her dimples with a winning smile that made her dark brown eyes sparkle. At the moment, her expression was one of her muted disbelief edged with terror.
Her black, heat-straightened hair fell over her shoulders and acted like a curtain, hiding her from the view of those standing around. That was a good thing because the blood leaving her face made her normally chestnut brown skin look ashen. Even wearing her charcoal, pinstriped blouse with matching calf-length skirt didn’t make her feel appropriately dressed enough to be standing in this grand house.
To her knowledge, she had never seen marble flooring before. Not real marble. She’d seen laminate and tile made to look like marble, but not the real thing. No place she shopped could afford to carry such high-end merchandise.
Everything in the mansion — from the gold-etched archways to the crystal chandeliers dangling high above her head — looked custom made. Theron hadn’t struck her as such an extravagant man. But then what did she really know about him?
It wasn’t like they’d done much talking over the past month. He had pretended to be under the spell of a docility charm during the day, obeying her every command and being the perfect helper. At night, he turned into a very attentive and vigorous lover.
Their schedule hadn’t left much room for talking or else she might have learned that he was nobility of some kind. She could only guess he was nobility since the twenty or so vampires kneeling at his feet with their heads bowed had called him lord.
She looked around at the circle of vampires surrounding her and Theron. Each had dropped to one knee in greeting once she and Theron arrived. Ryver hadn’t been expecting such a reception.
She hadn’t been expecting any reception at all. But, what had she expected when she agreed to let Theron whisk her away to vampire territory?
It was stupid and risky. She’d been swept up in the moment and not thinking right. She had to get Theron to take her home. Even if the mages were waiting to arrest her, she could tell them Theron had her under some kind of spell and that’s why she had lied to them.
Vampires knew hypnosis, right? She’d heard something to that effect from somewhere. Even if she hadn’t, Theron had used some sort of magic to teleport them to his home in a matter of seconds. If he could do that, then surely he could hypnotize people.
It struck her as odd and scary that her convenient excuse sounded genuine. Could he have hypnotized her into doing what he wanted? It would explain why she had been so reluctant to obey the mandatory recall sent out to all vampire owners and return Theron to the mages. The sex was good, but getting laid wasn’t worth her safety.
She looked up at Theron. Since her head only reached his shoulders, that meant tilting her head back. As usual, her gaze went to his goatee first. It was perfectly trimmed into a ninety-degree angled black box around his mouth and chin. Since a vampire’s appearance didn’t change from the moment they became a vampire, Theron’s goatee would always appear perfectly trimmed. Even if it was cut off, it would grow back exactly the same in a matter of seconds.
That also meant he didn’t have to work out to keep his lightly tanned, muscled body looking so perfect. With his black hair falling around his shoulders in soft waves, he looked like he should be on the cover of a men’s magazine — fashion or athletics didn’t matter, since he could do both with ease.
She was too plain to be standing next to him. She kept herself in a size eight by exercising fanatically and watching her diet. What did a man who looked as good as him want with her?
Theron smiled down at her, showing his fangs in the process. “There’s no need to be so scared, Ryver. No one will hurt you.”
He cupped the side of her head and brushed his thumb over her cheek. His hand cradled her entire head, reinforcing the height and strength difference between them. And she, like an idiot, had let him bring her into a nest of people who could break her into tiny pieces with one hand and no effort.
She said in a small voice, “I should go back to my place.”
“You aren’t safe there.”
“I can tell the mages you hypnotized me. Vampires do that, right?” She searched his dark gaze, hoping he would slip and tell the truth. Then she could blame a spell for all that had passed between them as well as her total lack of sound judgment.
“Only if you had tasted my blood could I control you. You have not. Even if you lie to remove yourself from suspicion, the outcome would still be the same. The mages would incarcerate you to be sure I couldn’t perform mischief through you.”
Theron laid a soft kiss on her lips. “I know this is frightening to you. I can hear the thundering of your heart. It will feel familiar in time. No harm will come to you. I promise you that.”
She looked pointedly at the people still kneeling before them.
Following her gaze, Theron looked at his people. “Rise.”
Everyone snapped to a standing position at the same time.
Ryver pulled back so she stood slightly behind Theron. She barely kept herself from squeaking in fear. The last thing she wanted was for this room full of vampires to see her as a prey animal. She was. She just didn’t want them to see her that way.
None of them looked at her, though. They all focused on Theron.
The man on Theron’s right, who was shorter than Theron by only a few inches, with a natural tan and long, straight black hair that touched his chest, said, “Welcome back.”
The black woman on Theron’s left tossed her head and snapped, “Took you long enough.”
Theron chuckled at her words, but Ryver thought the woman’s attitude didn’t fit with the earlier show of homage. Ryver wouldn’t be the one to point out that fact. The woman looked dangerous, more so than the other vampires in the room.
It had to be the metal links adorning her floor-length hair — if it was all hair enclosed in the links — from scalp to tip. Each string of links resembled a whip that could cause a lot of damage to its target.
That much metal had to be heavy, and yet the woman had tossed her head like the locks weighed as much as Ryver’s hair.
Theron gestured to the man first. “This is Lamon, my second in command.”
Lamon nodded to Ryver, and she gave him a small wave. “Hi.”
Theron said, “And this beauty on my left is Medusa.”
Ryver blurted out before she could stop herself, “Is that because of her hair?” She covered her mouth with one hand and moved another step behind Theron in case Medusa took offense at the question.
Medusa said, “Yes, it is.” She pulled her fingers through the metal-covered strands, making them jingle against each other. “Beneath this metal is my actual hair. Twenty thick dreadlocks in all. The woman I served when I was human said they looked like snakes and thus named me Medusa.”
That was an interesting little tidbit. Keeping the name had to mean Medusa hadn’t found it insulting. Ryver was about to say as much when Theron clutched his head and he dropped to his knees.
Ryver reached for him. “Theron!”
She didn’t get a chance to touch him. Someone pulled her out of the way as the vampires crowded around Theron, trying to discern his malady.
Theron made a loud growling sound that should be coming out of an animal’s mouth as he clawed at his scalp. He didn’t answer any of the questions the people yelled at him.
Ryver looked on in frightened shock. What was happening?
Everyone grew quiet when Theron relaxed. He stopped growling, dropped his hands, and stood straight as though nothing was wrong. He stared at nothing with vacant eyes.
Ryver knew that expression well and had thought she would never see it again. She looked at the charm embedded in his neck, right in the bend of his clavicle. The docility charm was a marquis-cut jewel only a little bigger than an inch. Because Theron had freed himself of the charm’s spell that kept him subservient, it usually appeared red. At this moment, it was clear.
The charm had been reactivated.
It shouldn’t have any power. The mage who had caused Ryver and Theron to flee Ryver’s home for fear of capture had said the charm had no power and hadn’t had power for a while.
To prove what she was seeing wasn’t what she thought it was, Ryver said, “Theron, come to me.”
Lamon, who had been the one to pull her out of the way, snapped, “Shut your mouth, woman. You –” His words stopped and his mouth fell open when Theron shoved everyone aside and walked forward so he stood directly in front of Ryver.
It hurt to be proven right. Theron was under the spell of the charm once more. He didn’t look like he was faking it, either.
She said softly, “Theron, look at me.”
He jerked his gaze down to her face, but it was still the same vacant gaze.
She reached out and caressed his cheek.
He didn’t react.
Lamon yelled, “What are you doing? Get away from him.” He reached for her.
Theron caught and held Lamon’s wrist before he could touch Ryver.
Lamon tried to get away but couldn’t free himself. “What is this? Why do you stop me?”
Ryver said, “Because that’s his job. His charm is keyed to me. He’ll follow my commands, and he’ll protect me from all harm.” Ryver hoped Lamon didn’t interpret her words as boasting. She wasn’t. She couldn’t find any reason to be proud of Theron’s current state.
She turned her attention back to Theron. She could ignore the others since Theron would protect her if they tried to attack her.
Medusa asked, “Why is Theron like this?”
She lowered her hand from Theron’s cheek and squared her shoulders. Being sad wouldn’t answer Medusa’s question.
Ryver asked, “Theron, do you know why the charm is working again?”
Theron said in a monotone, “Yes.”
“My power re-energized the charm when I transported us here.”
The charm flickered between red and clear. Ryver could only surmise that Theron must be fighting its hold.
Lamon said, “If that is the case, I will remove it.” He reached for Theron’s throat with his free hand.
Theron yelled, “Stop.” He captured Lamon’s other wrist, glaring at the man.
The charm glowed bright red.
In a breathy voice full of fatigue, Theron said, “Remove the charm by force, and you’ll kill me. I’ve seen it happen. I…” His words trailed off as the charm flickered again and turned clear.
Ryver looked at Lamon, who looked upset that he couldn’t get free, and said, “Theron’s right. You cannot remove the charm. I’ve seen video of what happens when it’s removed without the power of a mage. The vampire was burned from the inside out.”
Lamon looked at the charm and then Ryver. “We have to free him. He cannot stay like this.”
She nodded in full agreement. “He won’t be like this for long. When the sun sets, he’ll be himself again.” She hoped. If he was fighting the charm during the day, then that had to mean it wouldn’t be able to hold him at night. “Theron, release Lamon.”
Theron let Lamon go, dropped his hands to his sides, and resumed staring over the top of Ryver’s head. He awaited her next command.
Her fondest desire was to be away from everyone until Theron was better. Theron might have promised no one would hurt her, but everyone present looked more than a little hostile toward her. She didn’t want to test Theron’s ability to protect her. “Show me to your room.”
Theron turned away and started walking. She followed after him, staying close as he climbed the stairs. The others stayed in the foyer watching them leave. Ryver truly hoped what she told them was true. If not, they might kill her.
Theron climbed to the very top of the stairs. There was only one door there at the end of a short hallway. Theron pushed open that door and stepped to the side so Ryver could enter the room.
His bedroom was the top floor of the house. An entire football field, complete with end zones and the bleachers, could fit with room to spare. In the middle of room was a large circular bed enclosed inside a canopy of hanging sheer scarves.
The same ornate gold from the foyer trekked along the walls near the ceiling and around every door and window frame. Small twinkling jewels of every color added accents to the golden patterns. Couches and decorative pillows upholstered with what looked like tan velvet were situated at odd places in the room.
All in all, it made the foyer look plain. Normally such opulence would overwhelm Ryver. She only felt numb.
She walked to the nearest couch and sat, happy to be off her feet.
The morning hadn’t even ended, and yet she felt like she had lived an entire day. She should be at work dealing with monotonous paperwork. Instead her vampire lover had swept her away to a land far from her home.
She looked over at Theron, who still stood in the doorway. Beyond him, Lamon and Medusa stared into the room at her. She had nothing to say to them. They had to wait until sunset, which was hours away.
She said, “Theron, close the door and come sit down.” She patted the space beside her.
He swung the door closed and walked toward her.
Ryver was happy that neither Lamon nor Medusa tried to prevent that action. If they stood outside the room all day, that was up to them. It wouldn’t make the sun set any faster.
Theron sat beside her, still as rigid as before.
She took his hands in hers and brought them to her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Leaning her head against his shoulder, she repeated her apology over and over. It wasn’t her fault but she felt responsible somehow.