Scarlet Nights, Book 1
by Kate Hill
eBook ISBN: 07266-02342
[ Vampire Romance ]
Mr. Black is even stranger than the man who hired her, but she is soon infatuated with the handsome, tormented artist who has deeper secrets than she could ever imagine.
Changeling Press ‖ ARe ‖ CTR ‖ Kindle ‖ Kobo ‖ Nook
Blair remembered the day he first met Grace. He was working as a stable hand in the home of a wealthy lord. She was the blacksmith’s daughter and had come to the stable to fetch her father because her younger brother had taken ill. Blair had fallen in love with her at first sight, but being a young man and wanting to see the world, he had recently joined the army. They had little time together before he left and was soon sent to war.
When he returned just a few years older but so much wiser, all he had seen in battle had changed him, but his feelings for Grace remained the same. She returned his love and had somehow convinced her father to hold off suitors until Blair came back.
The blacksmith considered Blair rather frivolous, with his shifting careers and love of art, and was hesitant to marry Grace to him. However Blair swore that now that he’d sowed his wild oats, as they say, he would commit himself to solid work to raise a family. He secured another job as a stable hand and after one year, he and Grace married. Only she knew his deep desire to pursue his art and she encouraged it.
“You’ll be a famous artist one day,” she said. “I know it.”
Grace lay on their bed, posing for Blair by candlelight. He tried to capture her beauty on paper — her almond-shaped blue eyes, her soft curves and the creaminess of her skin.
Though skilled, he couldn’t replicate her as faithfully as he wished to, but he could draw her for hours without growing bored. The problem was controlling his desire for her. Being this close to Grace without touching her was a challenge that demanded the greatest restraint.
Finally he placed his pencil and paper aside. She slanted her gaze toward his and a smile tugged at her delicate lips.
“Is something wrong?” she asked. “Did I move and distract you?”
“Even when you don’t move you distract me.” He approached and sat on the bed. He ran his hand over her smooth, slightly rounded belly then cupped her soft mound. The thatch of dark hair felt soft yet springy against his palm.
“I thought you wanted to finish the sketch?” she asked. “Even though you should burn it after. Imagine if someone saw such a shameless picture of me.”
“Burn it? Never. But no one will see it until after we’re dead. Then they’ll wonder about the mysterious black-haired seductress and think how privileged the artist was to see such magnificence in the flesh.”
“Such things you say. You’ll make me fall in love with you again.”
“And when did you fall out of love?” he teased.
“Never. I could never stop loving you, Blair.” She reached up to stroke his hair and he bent to kiss her. She opened her mouth to him and their tongues thrust against each other, exploring well-known territory, yet never tiring of it and always seeming to discover something new.
He kissed her neck and buried his face against her soft, full breasts. She clasped his head and moaned softly.
“Oh, Blair, I want you so much. Please.”
She didn’t have to beg. He could scarcely wait to devour her, to lick and kiss every inch of her and bury himself inside her. At the same time he wanted to savor every moment.
He swept his tongue over her nipple, then sucked it while gently pinching and rolling the other between his thumb and forefinger. He used his tongue to tickle underneath each breast, then he kissed her entire belly before closing his eyes and brushing his cheek against the thatch of hair covering her soft mound.
He buried his face between her legs so he could lap and suck her clit.
“Oh, Blair,” she panted still gripping his head as she lifted her hips. He held her buttocks, gently squeezing while he tasted her warm, fragrant flesh.
It felt so good to be with this woman he loved so much. It warmed him to know she returned his affection. With her, there were no secrets. Only acceptance. It was rare for two people to find that and he felt blessed.
He flicked his tongue over her clit again and again until she gasped and sobbed and climaxed hard. His heart pounding and cock rock-hard, he slid up her body. Bracing a hand on either side of her head, he thrust into her quivering pussy. It pulsed around him, squeezing him in deeper and deeper.
“Blair, I love you,” she panted, clinging to him.
He thrust over and over, rekindling her waning orgasm. She came again so suddenly that it took them both by surprise. Her spasms pushed him over the edge and he climaxed with her.
“Grace, oh, Grace, I love you so much!”
* * *
“Don’t you have even the slightest bit of self control?” Disdain sneered. “The last thing I want to see is you and some strumpet –”
“You know she’s my wife, you bastard,” Blair said through clenched teeth.
Blair despised these lessons, this terrible invasion of his most private, passionate and painful moments. These memories were his and he didn’t want the likes of Disdain — this vile, compassionless excuse for a vampire — to see them.
Struggling against his own emotions while trying to keep Disdain out of his head was a new kind of torture, but one he deserved. Remembering his wife, his family, all that he’d lost because of his own weakness —
“What is this?” Disdain scowled.
* * *
Blair strolled home exhausted and hungry, but with a sense of accomplishment.
Whoever would have thought a soldier turned groom would ever fulfill his dream of earning his living through art?
The money in his pocket was more than he’d ever made at any job in the past. It would keep his family fed for quite some time.
He was so hungry that he wondered if he’d be able to eat now that he could again.
Sir Edmond’s household had thought it strange that Blair had scarcely eaten for the entire month that he had resided at the manor, painting a portrait of Sir Edmond, his wife and four children. Most people failed to understand that Blair did his best work while challenged. Suffering was good for the soul, as the saying went.
During his time at the manor, he had lived on his creativity, pouring his heart and soul into his work.
It had kept him from his family for longer than he preferred, but it was an opportunity of a lifetime. Now that he had successfully painted Sir Edmond’s family, other offers were sure to follow.
Yet at the moment his only concern was seeing his wife and children again. He had visited them just twice while working at the manor, for it was nearly a day’s journey back to his London home. Maybe someday he would move to the country. Elizabeth and John would love growing up there and he knew Grace would appreciate it as well.
The thought of being with his family, enjoying a hot meal and relaxing by the fire rejuvenated him and he quickened his sluggish pace. Approaching the house, he thought it odd that no lights burned, though it was after dark yet too early for his family to be abed.
He opened the door only to be greeted by silence. A feeling of dread washed over him and his empty stomach lurched.
Stepping toward the silhouette of a lantern on the table near the window, he felt something slippery beneath his feet. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed his wife lying on the floor.
“Grace,” he said, his heart pounding. He knelt beside her and his breath hitched when he saw that her throat had been cut. He touched her face with a trembling hand. She was ice cold.
“Elizabeth! John!” he bellowed, jumping to his feet. He ran through the house and up the stairs, nearly sick with terror.
Maybe they were hiding. Perhaps they had run off.
They couldn’t be —
“Oh, God, no!” he shouted, stepping into his bedroom and finding both children sprawled across the bed in the same grisly state as his wife.
He staggered toward the bed and climbed onto it, pulling the small bodies into his arms and sobbing.
“I’m so sorry,” he gasped. “I should have been here. I should have –”
Damn his art. Damn his selfish desires. Damn him to hell…
* * *
“Stop!” Disdain roared, severing the mind link between him and Blair.
Grasping Blair’s shoulders, he shoved him against the wall.
Panting and shaking, sweat and tears blurring his eyes, Blair sank to his knees.
It took him a moment to realize that Disdain — the great vampire master of the mind arts — looked almost as bad as Blair felt. Disdain’s angular face was even paler than usual. His eyes looked wild and his chest heaved as if they’d been engaged in a physical brawl instead of a mental one.
“You disgust me,” Disdain said with a curl of his lip. His dark eyes bore into Blair.
No more than Blair disgusted himself.
“Your lessons are over,” Disdain snarled. He turned on his heel and stormed out of the dank cellar where they had been training for the past grueling weeks.
Blair remained on the floor until he gathered the strength to stand. He walked slowly to the stairs and ascended, every step an effort. The physical and emotional brutality of Disdain’s lessons might have been unbearable if Blair hadn’t felt that he deserved it. His weakness, his selfishness, his flaws had kept him from his family when they’d needed him. Now they were dead while he still lived, though he had almost followed them to an early grave.
Hamilton had stopped his suicide attempt and convinced him that there might be some purpose to his life if he used his newfound “gifts” to defend those in need. He had failed his family, but he could see that the same fate didn’t claim others.
He made his way down the corridor of this manor house where he was staying with Hamilton’s blood father — Blair’s grandfather, according to vampiric bloodlines — an ancient master named Zigor.
Zigor was even more intimidating than Disdain, though not usually as cruel, at least not to those who didn’t deserve or ask for it. Rumors of his sexual inclinations — a taste for floggers and chains — circulated in the underworld. Blair didn’t care for that sort of thing. He’d always believed lovemaking should be gentle, joyous or at least comforting. He didn’t like mixing pain with pleasure. There was already enough pain in life without unnecessarily tainting blissful moments with it, but to each his own.
Zigor, at Hamilton’s request, had taken Blair into his home and arranged for Disdain to train him, so that even such a newly made vampire would have the skill to defend himself against those older and more experienced.
Blair thought he had seen and done just about everything in his relatively short life — from suffering injuries on the battlefield to discovering the brutalized bodies of his murdered wife and children. Surely nothing Disdain could do to him could be worse than that, yet the monster’s fierce training sessions had come close.
For weeks he had suffered Disdain’s abuse, but his mind skills had grown in ways he hadn’t imagined. Just when he started to feel like the dreadful lessons were worth it, his sadistic teacher had drawn back.
On his way past Zigor’s study, Blair heard voices through the closed door.
“The lessons are almost finished,” Zigor said. “You can’t spare another week?”
“I can spare it, but I won’t,” Disdain snapped.
“Why not?” Hamilton demanded. “You said yourself he’s a good student, especially for one so young. You know what he wants to do with his life. To survive, he needs –”
“I couldn’t care less whether he survives,” Disdain said, his voice dripping disgust. “He is impossible.”
“You realize I have no intention of paying you the remainder of your fee since you won’t be completing the lessons,” Hamilton said.
“I thought that would be an issue for you, but it’s not for me. Here is a full refund of monies already paid.”
“Disdain, you should take some time to calm yourself and think about –”
“I’ve made up my mind, Zigor.”
“In all the time I’ve known you, you’ve never refused to teach a student without good reason. What is it about Blair that you would end his lessons so abruptly?”
“Call it a personality clash. I will not continue to teach him and the discussion is over.”
Blair’s memories of his wife and children — so painfully beautiful and beautifully painful — had stunned even Disdain. On the first day he’d met Disdain, when the bastard had said Blair was too young and soft to endure his training, Blair had said there was ugliness in his past that Disdain couldn’t comprehend. Disdain had smirked at him.
Boy, you have no idea what ugliness is, had been the teacher’s words.
“I guess you’re the one who had no idea what ugliness is,” Blair whispered, his voice seething with hatred, directed as much at himself as at Disdain.
Blair continued down the corridor, not caring what more the other vampires said to each other.
His past had disgusted even the likes of Disdain so much that the man refused to teach him any longer, but Blair had sensed something else as well. In those moments when he’d somehow managed to force the ancient vampire to look at his past, he thought he had felt terror from Disdain. The ancient had broken their connections so quickly and with such force that Blair couldn’t be sure if he’d even felt Disdain’s fear at all, let alone figure out why.
Blair felt both relieved and annoyed by Disdain refusing to finish the lessons. After all Blair had endured — quite literally shedding blood, sweat and tears by Disdain’s demand — the bastard decided to quit.
Hamilton and Zigor had promised that he would learn from the best instructor in the art of mind control. Blair still wasn’t certain that Disdain was the best. Master Zigor could enter one’s mind and manipulate it without his victim ever being the wiser. Why Zigor wouldn’t train Blair was still a mystery, but Blair was finished with the temperamental ancients of Hamilton’s line. If Blair couldn’t find what he needed here, he would seek it elsewhere.
“Mr. Black, have you finished your lessons already? If so, would you care for some music? I’m working on a new song and I’d like your opinion about it,” asked the boy with dark, wavy hair and shaded spectacles seated on a chair in the hall outside the guest room where Blair was staying. A flute case rested across the boy’s lap.
“Woodrow, yes.” Blair said, his lips instinctively curving upward in a smile this boy of thirteen couldn’t see. Woodrow had been born blind, but he had also been born with an incredible gift for music. He played several instruments beautifully enough to melt the coldest heart — Blair knew this because the boy had managed to somehow thaw his.
After Hamilton had Changed him, Blair thought he had lost his desire for his art, but when he first came to this house and heard Woodrow play, he had been inspired to create again. He found he needed something to relax and clear his mind and soul after Disdain’s intense lessons. Woodrow had willingly played for Blair while he drew, painted and most recently carved. Though a talented wood carver — a skill he had once learned from a fellow soldier long ago — it wasn’t Blair’s preferred medium. However the project he’d been working on was special.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Blair said. “Please come in. I have something for you.”
He opened the door to his room and held it for Woodrow. The boy, using a simple wooden cane to guide him, entered and walked to the chair where he usually sat while he played. Blair’s easel stood near the window overlooking the city street.
“For me?” Woodrow asked. “What is it?”
“One moment.” Blair walked across the room and picked up the cane he had made for Woodrow. He brought it to the boy and gave it to him.
Woodrow ran his hand over the detailed snakehead handle, including the two eyes set with rubies.
“This is brilliant,” Woodrow said. “Is this what you’ve been carving?”
“Yes. You like it?”
“Very much. Thank you, Mr. Black.”
“The head is a snake and the ruby eyes are a gift from your master Zigor. It’s not an ordinary cane, Woodrow.”
“I can tell that.”
“Master Zigor tells me you’ve become quite adept with a sword.”
“He’s taught me a lot.”
“Let me show you.” Blair placed his hands over Woodrow’s, guiding one to the end of the cane where slight grooves had been carved like a handle. He tugged and pulled out a sword — long, thin and sharp — that had been secretly sheathed within the cane.
“This is fabulous,” Woodrow said with a broad smile. He stood and Blair backed off, giving him room to test the sword with a few parries and thrusts. He sheathed the sword and lovingly caressed the wooden snakehead. “Many thanks, Mr. Black. I wish I could repay you.”
“You’ve already given me far more than that cane is worth, Woodrow. You’ve brought art back to my life. Until hearing your music, I never thought I’d be able to create again. May that cane help keep you safe.”
“And may your art always bring you pleasure.”
A sad smile flickered across Blair’s lips and for the first time he was glad Woodrow couldn’t see him. Unlike lovemaking, his art had always been a combination of pleasure and pain.
No matter what, he knew that would never change.
* * *
By the time a servant knocked on Blair’s door and summoned him to Zigor’s study, Disdain had left the house. Blair had known when the man’s scent had faded and with it the chance that he would join the elite group who had learned from the hated but esteemed vampire master, but to Blair that no longer mattered.
In the study, Blair faced Zigor, who sat behind his polished oak desk. The legs were carved into the shape of lions’ feet. Excellent workmanship, Blair thought, admiring the desk while pretending to have little interest in what Zigor had to say.
Hamilton stood by the window, his ginger hair a sharp contrast to his black clothes.
“Disdain is gone,” Zigor said. “Do you care to enlighten us about what happened between the two of you?”
“I’m sure he’s already told you.”
“I’d like to hear it from you,” Zigor said, staring at Blair with penetrating blue eyes.
“It seems my past is too tragic for even the likes of Disdain. It doesn’t matter if he’s gone. His lessons have made me thirsty for more knowledge about my powers. You and Hamilton have set an interesting task before me and I intend to pursue it. If you won’t teach me, I’ll find someone who will. I have no intention of quitting because Disdain has.”
A look of surprise flashed through Zigor’s eyes, then faded to his usual unreadable expression.
“Blair, I’ll teach you all I know,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t Change you only to abandon you.”
Blair wanted to point out that he had no business Changing him at all, that he had made his choice and Hamilton had forced this life on him, but that was no longer true. Blair was still his own man and the idea of suicide no longer appealed to him — at least not until he tried to atone for his failures.
He had already raged at Hamilton, after the fever of the Change had faded and he learned of his new life. He had more than raged. He had attacked Hamilton with the anger, hatred and pain that seemed impossible to release since the death of his family.
After a fight that left both him and Hamilton bloody messes, he had listened to his Creator’s explanation, then he had fled.
Eventually he had returned.
“I will teach you as well,” Zigor said.
Blair probably looked as surprised as he felt.
“Long ago the vampire who made me told me that our kind were put in this world as protectors,” Zigor continued. “I have told all my children that with our powers come obligations. You’re new to our bloodline, but you already understand that. I will train you, but know this, should you ever use your power for evil, I will put you down myself and you won’t have the chance to try to take your own life again.”
“I understand, Master, but if you think I’ll show mercy to evildoers, then kill me now because I will never again allow what happened to my family to happen to others, if it’s in my power to stop it.”
“On that we agree,” Hamilton said.
Blair drew a sharp breath as Zigor entered his mind, winding through it like an invisible snake. He knew the ancient could have slipped inside him far more gently than this, but Zigor wanted him to feel his power. Zigor forced memories to the surface — memories of just a short time ago. He saw Blair’s last lesson with Disdain and he saw the memories that had driven the teacher off.
Blair’s stomach clenched so hard that it hurt. He didn’t want to keep reliving the murder of his family, finding them slaughtered in their house. Blair should have been there. He should have saved them or died trying. He should have —
Zigor broke contact, apparently satisfied that Disdain hadn’t uncovered any information that he and Hamilton didn’t already know.
“We’ll continue your lessons tomorrow,” Zigor said.
Changeling Press ‖ ARe ‖ CTR ‖ Kindle ‖ Kobo ‖ Nook