Dark Kingdom, Book 1
by Isabella Jordan
eBook ISBN: 07026-02263
Drew offers Gail a simple arrangement. He’ll pay her rent for the use of her apartment and an occasional taste of her blood. That’s all he’s asking. But the ancient vampire is all kinds of sexy, claiming her with such finesse, she’s left a needy mess. Gail wants more every time.
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Gail Kimball grabbed one of the laminated menus she’d just wiped down and approached the table where the man who’d just entered the diner sat. With his back to her, he faced the windows, maybe watching the storm rage outside. Rain pelted the window and the wind howled. Lightning flashes added to the eerie effect the late-night storm had on the interior of the room.
It was only a few minutes until closing time and Gail approached with a smile, hoping he would be her last customer of the day.
“Hi, how are you?” she asked, gently placing the menu in front of him. “I’m Gail. I’ll be your server tonight.”
“Will you?” The man turned his attention on her now, smiling.
The sheer beauty of him — honestly there was no other word for it — took her off guard. His sandy blond hair, cropped short and wet from the rain, made her want to run her fingers through the silky strands. Deep green eyes framed with thick, dark lashes set off a male face that was perfect in its symmetry, all hard lines and angles. He was really fair, like he never went out in the sun. But his lips were sexy and a dimple at his left cheek flashed as his gaze met hers.
Yeah, he probably had women staring at him a lot, just like she was doing now. Mentally shaking herself, Gail reminded herself that the faster she waited on him, the faster she could get home.
“I will.” Since she’d already been staring at him, she did let her gaze swiftly drift over the black jacket and tight, rain-spattered jeans he wore. He was all long, muscular limbs. “Can I get you some coffee to start with?”
“Hmmm.” Giving the menu the quickest glance, his gaze was back on her. “Something warm would be so good on a night like this, wouldn’t it?”
Gail nodded, trying not to stare but he was looking at her so intently. It was unnerving.
“I find I’d like something sweeter though.”
There it was. Now he was staring at her eye. The makeup could only cover so much, she knew. Still, it was the most visible evidence of the beating her ex had given her. She was just grateful it hadn’t been worse.
Gone was his teasing expression as he stared at her face.
“I could get you some hot chocolate,” Gail offered, trying to stay on topic. “I think we even have some fresh marshmallows to go with it if you like.”
If he’d noticed she’d spoken, it didn’t show.
“Who struck you?” he asked quietly.
Gail shrugged, trying to downplay it. Most people would be too uncomfortable to even ask. If he’d asked in a different tone, it might have even pissed her off. Somehow that wasn’t the reaction he drew from her.
“It was just an accident,” Gail explained. “No big deal. So, how about that hot chocolate? You have a sweet tooth?”
“Sweet tooth?” The man chuckled at that, his concentration on her injury broken. “I guess you could say I do.”
Flagrantly, his gaze raked over her in a way that made her want to run for the kitchen — or into his arms. Like she needed that. She needed another man in her life like she needed a hole in the head. Even if he was as devilishly handsome as the man sitting before her.
“You know, Gail, I think I’ll have that hot chocolate.”
“With the marshmallows?” she asked.
His grin widened. “Give me everything you have.”
Nodding, Gail reached for the menu at the same time he went to hand it to her. Their fingers brushed, his skin chilly. An unseen current passed between them even so and it set Gail’s nerves completely on edge.
Her customer, however, just watched her with something between amusement and fascination as she made her way to the kitchen to get his beverage.
Gail returned with his hot chocolate to find him texting. She thought she could text quickly. His fingers flew over the keys on the screen. She decided to unobtrusively place the steaming chocolate on the table and leave him in peace.
His hand shot out to gently grab her wrist before she could pull it back and she jerked in surprise.
“Sit with me,” he bid her, tucking the phone away.
Shaking her head, Gail pulled her hand out of his grip. “I can’t. Against the rules.” Okay, that was a lie, but he didn’t know that. “I need to get ready to close up. But if I can get you anything else, just let me know.”
“You don’t enjoy my company?” He hadn’t been fooled. He studied her curiously now with those amazing green eyes.
“I don’t know you,” she pointed out, placing the check on the table. “Though you’ve been incredibly polite so far.”
Seemingly pleased by her response, he nodded.
“But I really do have to finish up in the back.” Gail jerked a thumb in the direction of the kitchen. And finish up she did, helping Woody in the kitchen and getting ready to leave. It was just the two of them tonight, so it was a good thing it had been rainy and slow.
She kept an eye on the front, checking back to see if he was ready for her to ring him up, but he still made it out of the diner without a sound. The check was on the table, next to the empty cup, with a bill beneath it. Picking up the check, she half expected him to have left a phone number or something and realized she was a little disappointed when there was nothing. Well, interested as he’d seemed in her, what had she expected really? Someone who looked like that interested in her? Right.
Picking up the money, she did a double take to see he’d left a hundred-dollar bill. Floored, she made her way to the cash register.
“Damn, girl, what did the dude order?” Woody came to a stop behind her as he brought a bin of cutlery to place under the counter.
“Hot chocolate,” she admitted, ringing it up.
“That’s a hell of a tip,” he teased. She turned to see her friend’s face had split into a wide grin. “Did you give him a lap dance too?”
Gail laughed. “You’d think so.”
Actually, she was grateful. Derek had moved out of the apartment after he’d beaten the crap out of her and the money would help until she found a roommate — or got evicted. Whoever the handsome stranger had been, she sent a silent thank you.
“I’m going to take off, Woody,” she called as she headed for the front door.
“See you tomorrow, baby,” he yelled back.
With that, she locked the door and darted off in the rain. Her apartment was only two blocks away, but she was soaked to the skin by the time she reached home. Gail shivered as she climbed the stairs to her floor, then made her way to her apartment door at the end of the hall.
Her hand shook from the cold when she pulled her keys out of her pocket. Before she could unlock her door, strong hands gripped her upper arms gently and her heart leaped into her throat. He’d come out of nowhere. “Derek,” she whispered, afraid. “What do you want? All of your stuff is gone.”
“Who’s Derek?” he whispered.
Grabbing her key, he slid it into the lock on her door. In a second, whoever he was had the door unlocked and ushered her inside, following her. Whoever he was, and she was afraid she knew exactly who he was, having just talked to him in the diner, he locked the door behind him.
She turned to see it was him. The handsome man from the diner. He grinned at her, every bit as wet as she was.
Scream. Screaming would be good. But something must have shown on her face because a beat later, his movements faster than her mind could register, he stood before her, his face inches from hers. That dimple that had flashed at her in the diner made an appearance again.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Gail,” he whispered.
“W-what are you doing here?” Somehow she forced the words out, terrified as she was. “What are you doing in m-my apartment?”
The smile he wore on his handsome face did nothing to make her feel better about the situation. “I need some nourishment and a place to stay for the night.”
Nourishment? They’d just come from the diner. He hadn’t ordered food. What the hell was going on? “You could have eaten at the diner,” she suggested, shaking hard now under that intent gaze.
He shrugged a shoulder, his expression serious. “I could have. But then I would have had to kill your cook when he came to protect you and that hardly seems necessary since you appear to be friends with the man.”
Kill? He’d just said kill. Okay then.
Gail did her best fake and run, tried to get around him. She’d made it to the door and something told her that she only made it that far because he allowed it. His hand slammed the door shut above her head just as she yanked it open and she screamed in terror.
Her scream was cut off when one of his hands closed around her throat, pressing her tightly against the door while her hands tried to claw his away. He glanced at her as if scolding a naughty child. “I told you I wouldn’t hurt you and I never say anything I don’t mean.”
His grip had loosened enough for her to draw shallow breaths but nothing else. She gave up trying to pull his hand away because there was no use. He was freakishly strong. Her heart hammered in her chest, and the room began to dim.
“No,” he whispered, pulling her closer to him. “You’re not going to fade out on me. Yet.” The man chuckled darkly as he scooped her up in his arms, reaching over to turn on the lamp in her living room before pulling her onto the threadbare couch and onto his lap. He cradled her in his arms, holding her easily when she tried to fight her way out of his grip. Somehow he was able to restrain her without hurting her.
“Stop,” he bid her, his green eyes staring deeply into her own. “You’re injured already and this isn’t helping.”
Desperate tears stung the backs of her eyes. Sure, he’d promised not to hurt her. But what reason did she have to believe him? He’d rape her, kill her. That was why he was there, why he’d forced his way into her apartment.
“Please let me go,” Gail begged him, trying to keep her face from crumbling but she failed. Tears flowed freely now as she thought about the last two weeks. Her beating at Derek’s hands when she’d confronted him about cheating, almost losing her job because she hadn’t been able to walk for two days as a result. Now this.
“Shhh,” he soothed, running a hand over her back. She could feel the chill of his hand through her jacket and shirt. “Don’t be afraid. Look at me.”
Despite herself, Gail did just that. She looked him right in the eye.
“My name is Drew,” he said gently. “I just want a taste of you and a place to stay for the night. I won’t hurt you. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?”
A taste of her? Gail shook harder on his lap.
When he ran his nose along the line of her jaw, her breath caught in her chest. He chuckled against her neck, and she felt it all through her body. He was all hard muscle, a cage around her. But he wasn’t hurting her. Still, she could feel the hot, hard length of him pressed intimately beneath her…
“It’s not your body I want, Gail,” he whispered in her ear. “Not tonight.”
Warm, wet kisses pressed into the hollow beneath her ear. His tongue came out to tease her skin until fear warred with pleasure. Oh, she shouldn’t be liking that but it felt nice. Despite the situation, she found her hands clutching at his jacket after a few moments as he continued to tease her neck, the sensitive shell of her ear.
He nipped at her skin and she shivered, then his tongue soothed the skin he’d bitten. When his arms tightened around her, she didn’t know if she was trembling in fear or anticipation. His teeth nipped at her sensitive flesh again, and Gail sighed.
There was a brief moment of pain that had her gasping. He sucked at her flesh determinedly. It burned at first, but the feel of his lips, his tongue on her made the experience not entirely unpleasant.
Then it occurred to her what was happening. He had bitten her. Really bitten her. And the moment she realized what he had done, his arms tightened around her just a little bit more. Just enough so she couldn’t move. One hand slid up to hold her neck still for himself as he…
Wait. “You’re drinking my…”
Gail felt sleepy. The room was growing dark around her. Her heartbeat was quick in her chest but struggling…
Then everything faded to black.
* * *
Gail awoke with a start, snugly wrapped in the blankets on her bed. A quick, nervous look around revealed she was alone. She still had on the clothes she’d worn yesterday. Only her shoes had been removed. Still, she smoothed her hands over her body to check for any damage or…
Her body had only the easing aches and pains from the beating Derek had given her when he left.
With one exception. Her neck was sore.
Gasping, she leapt out of bed and headed for the mirror above her dresser, remembering the night before. The man who’d forced his way into her apartment, Drew, he’d called himself, had bitten her. And there, close to a healing yellow bruise on the column of her neck were two small puncture wounds, outlined in puffy redness.
No fucking way.
It was like the movies where vampires were real and left wounds like that on unsuspecting human victims. Only vampires weren’t real and his teeth had looked pretty normal. Beautiful in fact. Yet he’d bitten her. She remembered how his lips had felt before the world went dark around her…
“Oh crap,” she grumbled to her empty room. “What does this mean?”
Running out of her room, she checked the rest of the apartment. She didn’t see him in her living room or kitchen. The bathroom was empty. Hell, she even checked the closet. No sign of him.
Panic was really starting to set in when she saw a note left on her kitchen table, the page ripped off a steno pad she kept in the kitchen and used as a shopping list. The handwriting on the page was beautiful and the note was short.
Thank you so much for your hospitality when I needed it most. I only regret that I didn’t have more time to explain things so I would seem less of an intruder to you. I assure you that I am your friend and those who are fortunate enough to have my friendship are well looked after.
Please don’t be concerned for your well being in any regard. Eat and sleep well and you’ll be fully recovered in a matter of days. It is my sincerest hope that I will see you again soon and that when I do, I’ll be welcome in your home. At that time, I’d be glad to answer any questions you have.
It wasn’t until she lowered the letter that she saw there was also an envelope on her table — hers, as well, pulled from her desk drawer. It was blank and sealed. Gail ripped it open to find five one-hundred-dollar bills inside. Staring at the money as she counted it, Gail didn’t know whether to laugh in hysteria or feel cheap.
He’d drunk her blood. So he was a vampire? He didn’t say so in his letter but he did advise her to eat and sleep and she’d recover. Maybe she’d seen too many movies. Did this mean — if he were a vampire — that she wouldn’t turn into one? She’d seen herself in the mirror. That had to be a good sign, right?
The whole situation was crazy. She couldn’t get it off her mind the entire day as she straightened up her apartment, showered, and got ready for the day’s shift at the diner. His intrusion left her feeling vulnerable. If this guy was actually a vampire, he’d be strong and she knew from last night she couldn’t fight him off. Would he keep coming by, draining her, until he killed her? Would he want to make her a vampire?
Had she lost her damn mind?
The bite marks, the money, and the note were the only things she had to prove the entire thing had even happened. Otherwise, she’d have serious worries about her mental state.
Still, on the other hand, she had a total of nearly six hundred dollars she hadn’t had the day before. That would help a lot. She could actually make rent this month on her own. That was something.
Before heading out to the diner, she stopped by Mr. Steadman’s office. Her landlord was a small, balding man who didn’t display a lot of personality. When she mentioned she was there to pay her rent, he tilted his head.
“Don’t you know?” he asked her after a moment.
“Know what?” Gail asked, afraid to hear the answer. Was she losing her apartment? Had someone finally told him about the fight she and Derek had and complained? Did someone hear her scream last night?
“Your rent is paid through the rest of the year,” Mr. Steadman explained. “A gentleman came by this morning and took care of it.”
Oh crap. Was it Drew? The last thing she needed was her landlord thinking she was turning tricks in her apartment now to make rent. “What gentleman?” she asked.
Shrugging a shoulder, Mr. Steadman regarded her curiously. “He was an attorney. He said his client wanted to take care of certain personal expenses for you from some estate funds you’d recently inherited.”
Wow. The part of Drew’s note that explained that his friends were well looked after rolled through her mind. It had to be him. “I see,” she said, trying not to act as surprised as she truly was. “I didn’t realize that it would all happen so soon.”
That was a pretty good cover.
When he said nothing else, she told him thanks and headed for the diner. She looked over her shoulder the entire shift, waiting for Drew to return. But he didn’t. Not that night.
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