Boundaries (Box Set)
by Amanda Steiger
Ebook ISBN: 07608-02453
[ Vampire BDSM Romance, MFM & MM & MF ]
Sacrifices of the body cannot compare with the ecstasy that comes from sacrifices of the heart.
Publisher’s Note: Boundaries (Box Set) contains the previously published novellas Bound by Blood, Bound by Desire, No Shame, and Flesh and Spirit.
Bound by Blood [Book 1 – MM]
Daniel sat upright in the saddle, wrists bound, as his horse plodded forward. The coarse ropes chafed his skin, and fear twisted his guts into knots, but he kept his face calm and expressionless. He would hold onto his dignity, he promised himself, no matter what happened. It was all he had left.
Moonlight silvered the leaves of the forest as the procession rode single file down the narrow path. A guard rode behind him, and another in front to keep him from running away. They needn’t have worried. He did not intend to escape. If he did, his sister would suffer in his place.
He tried not to think of what awaited him at the end of the path. Instead, he thought of Sara safe and alive, baking bread with their mother, riding her favorite mare through the fields, picking wildflowers.
The procession stopped in a large, round clearing. Daniel’s two escorts dismounted. They were both men from the village, men he knew. They wouldn’t look him in the eye. Tom — the village baker — looked around, the whites of his eyes flashing like those of a frightened horse. His tongue darted out to wet his lips. “They’ll be here any minute,” he muttered.
“Aye,” replied Ben, the other escort. He glanced over his shoulder at Daniel, looked down, shook his head, and dropped his voice to a whisper. “I tell you, Tom, I hate this arrangement. It ain’t right, offering our young men and women to these blood-suckers. Sometimes I think it was better in the old days, when we hunted –”
“Shhh! You want them to hear you?”
“They can’t hear us,” he said, irritation creeping into his voice. “They aren’t here yet.”
“You don’t know that,” Tom shot back. “One of ’em could be standing right next to you, and you wouldn’t know it unless he spoke.” He glared at Ben. “None of us like this arrangement, but it’s the only way. In the old days, people died. The offerings keep things peaceful. Keeps the blood-suckers from our village. As for the offerings… well, it’s the price we pay. It’s not like they kill them.”
“No.” Ben lowered his voice even more, but Daniel could still make out the words. “But what they do to them is probably worse.”
Daniel’s hands clenched, nails pressing into his palms. “It’s all right,” he said. Despite his efforts to keep his voice steady, it trembled. “I’m not afraid.” It was a lie, and they all knew it. Ben and Tom exchanged guilty glances.
They waited. Daniel’s ears caught the thump of approaching hoof beats. He tensed.
At the edge of the clearing, a black horse emerged from the shadows. It was huge, muscular; its coat sleek and glossy. The rider wore dark, close-fitting trousers, which showed off his long, lean legs, and his black cloak billowed in the wind. Beneath it was a tight shirt of black leather, molded to the contours of his body. He was slender but hard, all sculpted muscle, his abdomen flat and trim. His skin was white, as if it had never seen sunlight… and he was stunningly, unnervingly beautiful, as beautiful as a woman, though it was impossible to mistake him for one. A breeze ruffled his short hair, which gleamed a pale silver, like moonlight on water. And his eyes…
Daniel’s heartbeat quickened as he stared into those ruby eyes. He had never seen one of the Kin face to face. That pale face was as cold and expressionless as a statue’s. There was no trace of feeling in those blood-red eyes. They flicked over the two cowering escorts, then focused on Daniel.
“Is this the offering?” The Kin lord’s voice was deep and full. It seemed to reverberate in the pit of Daniel’s stomach, in the marrow of his bones.
Tom took a deep breath and straightened. “Yes, my lord.”
“I was told that the offering this year would be a young woman.”
Tom glanced at Daniel and cleared his throat. “Aye, that was the intent. But this young man — Daniel — volunteered to take the place of his sister.”
Silver brows lifted. He looked at Daniel. “Is this true?”
Daniel swallowed. “Yes.” His voice sounded very small.
“How old are you, Daniel?”
For a long moment, the Kin lord stared at him. That ruby gaze held him immobile. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. He felt as though those eyes could see straight into his head, as if they were examining every particle of his soul, weighing and measuring unseen qualities. At last, the man nodded. “Very well. Unbind his hands and let him dismount.”
With shaking hands, Tom unbound Daniel’s wrists. Daniel dismounted. His heart knocked like a fist against his chest as he walked toward the huge, black horse and the silver-haired man. He looked over his shoulder, but Tom and Ben would not meet his gaze.
“You two may go,” the silver-haired man said. “Take his horse with you. He won’t need it.”
Still avoiding Daniel’s gaze, they turned their horses and walked them out of the clearing. Daniel’s mare followed. He took a deep breath and approached the Kin lord.
Ruby eyes stared down at him. The man stretched out a hand. Daniel took it — the skin was smooth as marble — and the Kin lord pulled him onto the horse. Daniel gasped. There was no saddle. He gripped the horse with his thighs.
“Hold on to me,” said the Kin lord.
Daniel hesitated, then placed his hands gingerly on the man’s shoulders.
“Not like that.” There was a touch of gentle amusement in his voice. “Put your arms around my waist.”
Daniel bit his lower lip. Slowly, he wrapped his arms around that dagger-slim waist. His chest pressed against the man’s hard back. The Kin lord gave his mount a light tap with his heels. The horse snorted, tossed its head, and began to walk.
“My name is Vale, but you may address me as Master.”
“Yes, Master,” Daniel said quietly.
Vale looked over his shoulder. His crimson eyes reflected Daniel’s face. There were no discernable pupils, just two solid, ruby disks that seemed to burn with their own inner light. “You volunteered to take your sister’s place, didn’t you?”
Daniel hesitated. “She’s younger than me by four years. She’s in love with a man whom she’s planning to marry one day. And my parents adore her. The whole village adores her. So do I. She’s always treated me with more kindness than anyone else. When she was chosen as the offering, everyone was devastated. I could not bear to think of her being taken away from all those who love her.” He remembered the moment of sinking dread as a village elder had read Sara’s name from the scrap of paper he’d drawn, blindfolded, from a wooden box.
“And you? Will they not be devastated by your loss, as well?”
Self-conscious, Daniel dropped his gaze. “I…”
“Look at me.”
Daniel looked up and met those cool, expressionless eyes. “No, Master, they won’t miss me much.”
“Why do you say that?”
He hesitated. Daniel knew he had always been a disappointment to his parents. He wasn’t strong or clever, nor skilled enough to follow in his father’s footsteps as a renowned hunter. He’d never married, as his mother had always wanted him to. He wasn’t especially good at anything. He was just clumsy, plain Daniel. Perhaps, in the end, this was the only thing he could do for his family and his village. And though he had never told anyone, he had a secret that would shame his family if it ever came to light.
His flush grew hotter. There were rumors that the Kin could read minds. How much did Vale see when he looked into his eyes? Did he see that night, three years ago, in the barn?
“Tell me,” Vale said, his voice oddly gentle, “why do you say they will not miss you?”
He shrugged. “I’m nothing special. That’s all. I hope I make a suitable offering. I know I am nothing like my sister, but –”
“You are more than suitable. And you should not say you are nothing special.” Before Daniel could reply, Vale turned his gaze to the path ahead and gave the horse another tap with his heels. The horse broke into a trot.
Daniel’s arms tightened around Vale’s waist. His body was hard as stone, and — contrary to rumors about the Kin — warm. Muscles shifted as he moved in rhythm with the horse’s gait. His scent — an unexpected mixture of lavender and ocean air — mingled with the musty whiff of leather and sweat. Daniel’s pulse quickened. A strange feeling washed over him. To his mortification, his cock tingled and stirred in his trousers. Heat flooded his cheeks. He tried to focus his thoughts on something else, but it was no use. His cock tightened and pressed against the small of Vale’s back, but if Vale felt it, he gave no indication.
They rode in silence through the dark forest. Daniel could barely see, but Vale and his horse seemed to have no trouble. They rode until the first, soft light of dawn touched the horizon. The whole time, Daniel’s stomach was knotted with the fear that Vale would notice his erection and call attention to it. His face burned like a torch. At last, Vale slowed the horse to a walk, then pulled back on the reins to halt it.
They had come to the edge of the forest. Before them, the mountains loomed. Forested foothills gave way to naked gray rock that soared up and up to peaks cloaked in thick, white mist.
Vale dismounted. He offered a hand to Daniel and helped him down, then turned to face the horse. He rubbed the beast’s strong, muscular neck, then slipped off the simple leather bridle. “We will have to go on foot from here,” he said. “The trails are too narrow for riding.” He stared into the horse’s dark eyes and gave its sweat-damp side a light swat. The horse turned and galloped off into the forest, mane and tail streaming like black banners.
Vale must have seen the surprise in Daniel’s eyes. He smiled. “She will return when I call. We do not stable or pen our horses.” He pulled something from his cloak. It was a collar, made from tiny, delicate silver links.
At the sight of it, his stomach tightened, as if a steel wire had cinched tight around his middle.
Vale took a step closer.
Daniel stepped back and covered his throat with his hands. “No.”
“Hold still. It won’t hurt.”
“Why do you have to put that on me? You know I’m not going to run away.”
“It is a necessity,” he replied. His voice still held that odd gentleness. “This collar will be part of your training. All the offerings must wear one.”
“I don’t want it.” He kept his hands over his throat, breathing hard. “I’m not a dog. I’m a person. Isn’t it enough that I’m submitting to this? Why do you have to take away all my dignity? Is it just to humiliate me?” Tears stung his eyes. “Please. If I swear not to run away, can’t I go without it?”
Vale hesitated. Daniel stared into his eyes and saw something there he hadn’t expected: sadness. “Wearing a collar is something you must get used to, I’m afraid. But it need not be demeaning.”
“It is demeaning. You won’t pen or cage animals, but you’ll collar people? What sort of sense does that make?”
“I cannot budge on this, Daniel. This rule is strictly enforced by the Council. Do not make it more difficult than it has to be.”
Daniel took a deep breath and forced himself to remain still. Sara, this is for Sara.
Vale slipped the collar around Daniel’s neck and tightened it. The chain was snug, but not uncomfortable. A strange, warm, tingling feeling spread over Daniel’s skin. He gasped. He had never felt anything like it before, but he knew immediately what it was. Magic. He tried to yank the collar off, but the thin chain was stronger than it looked. The harder he pulled, the more it tightened. He loosened his grip, and the collar relaxed. “What is this thing? What is it doing to me?” Panic crept into his voice.
Vale stared into his eyes. “As long as you wear this collar, I will be able to feel your emotions and hear your thoughts.”
“No!” Daniel cried out before he could stop himself. He yanked harder at the collar. “If I’m going to be a slave, my mind is the only thing I have left that’s my own. Don’t take it away from me. I don’t want anyone inside my head!” His breathing grew heavy and ragged.
“Daniel, please. Calm down.” Warm, gentle hands settled on his shoulders.
Daniel pulled away. In a flash of blind panic, he turned to bolt into the forest, but suddenly, he found he couldn’t move. His muscles had locked in place. A terrible sinking sensation filled his middle, as if a void had opened up inside him. The full scope of what he had done, what he had committed to, crashed down on him, and his throat tightened. A sob wrenched itself from his throat, and a tear slid down his cheek.
“I know,” Vale said quietly. “I know you’re suffering. I know you’re frightened. Your world has been taken away from you, and not even the space inside your mind is yours anymore. I am sorry for your pain. I truly am.”
“Then why are you doing it? Why?”
“Because I have no choice.”
“I don’t understand,” he whispered.
“If not me, it would be someone else doing this to you. Someone indifferent to your suffering, or even someone who relished it. Had I refused to come for you, it would not change the situation between my people and yours. I wish to make this as easy as possible for you. But if you resist, I will be forced to use harsher methods.”
Daniel stared into space. A dull ache filled his chest. He tried not to think or feel anything, tried to make his mind empty. “Do whatever you want. I’ve lost everything. It doesn’t matter what happens to me now.”
Warm arms enfolded him and pulled him close. Daniel’s breath caught in his throat. Gentle fingers smoothed his hair and rubbed the nape of his neck. Slowly, involuntarily, he found himself relaxing into Vale’s embrace. He realized he could move again.
“Cry if you wish,” Vale whispered into his ear.
Daniel started to rest his head against Vale’s shoulder, then realized what he was doing. This was the enemy. “I don’t want your comfort,” he said through gritted teeth. He pulled away and stood with his fists clenched at his sides. His chest hitched. He bowed his head to hide the tears welling in his eyes. “I don’t want your touch.” It was a lie. He wanted someone to hold him right now, even if it was one of the Kin. Even if it was the person causing his pain. But his pride wouldn’t let him.
For a long moment, Vale was silent. A breeze stirred his silvery hair as he stood, looking at Daniel with gentle eyes. The kindness there hurt him more than any cruelty could have. Vale seemed to be holding him in those eyes, as if he saw and understood everything Daniel felt. “If it eases your pain to hate me, then hate me,” he said. “You have a right. But do not force yourself. No one is watching or judging you. Will you not let yourself be comforted just a little?”
Tears welled in his eyes. He could feel his defenses crumbling. He fell into Vale’s embrace, hid his face against Vale’s chest, and cried in thick, muffled sobs. Those slender fingers slid through his hair, the touch calming him.
“Why?” he asked, his voice choked with tears. “Why are you being kind to me?”
“Through this collar, we are linked. Your pain is mine. I feel it as keenly as you do. If I can do anything to soothe that pain, I will.” Those strong arms tightened around him. “You have been hurting for a long time, haven’t you?”
He tensed. Slowly, he nodded without looking up.
“You have hidden your true self, your true desires, fearing that your family and fellow villagers could not accept it. You are probably right. They wouldn’t accept it. But you have no cause for shame. Do you understand? You are as you are.”
“You don’t think I’m filthy?” he whispered.
“No.” He tucked a folded finger beneath Daniel’s chin, lifted it, and looked into his eyes. “You’re as clean as morning rain.” He smiled.
Daniel stared, transfixed, into those ruby eyes. He had been prepared for any horror, any form of cruelty. He’d been prepared for anything except this.
Vale smoothed a few strands of hair from Daniel’s face. He released him, turned, and began to walk. Daniel followed.