BLOOD KNOT (Blood Stone: Book 1)
A Vampire Menage Urban Fantasy Romance
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“I emerged with a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes and my heart racing…” — Belinda for The Bookish Snob
He got the drop on her, but he was a vampire so he had the advantage of speed and stealth. Too, he was only the second vampire Winter had ever met. Just like Sebastian, this one posed as human, but Singapore had made Winter smarter in one foul night.
He came up behind her as she was stuffing the last of the foil food packages into her backpack. Winter was working on the bench in her shed, thinking about trails and weather and the weight of her pack. She had let her guard down, which was a mistake. Just because Helena, Montana, wasn’t New York, New York and she was technically retired didn’t mean a thing to others in the thievery business.
The floor of the shed was sand, with liberal splashes of old machine oil that gave the shed a musty aroma that always made Winter think of men swearing as they worked on their vehicles, stripped to the waist and kicking the tires for good measure. She liked working in the shed. It made her feel industrious.
The oil and dirt also made the vampire’s approach silent. Instead, a change in the quality of the early morning light filtering through the open double doors, glinting off the side of her black Ford Explorer sitting silently to her right tipped her off. In her peripheral vision something flickered—
She whirled, snatching the lug wrench up from the bench and kept turning.
The wrench slammed into the man’s forearm. He’d been reaching for her. She saw startling blue eyes. Short black unruly hair. That was all she had time to register. He cried out in surprise and his arm was forced upward by the impact of the wrench.
Winter ducked under his arm and took off, heading for the open doors of the shed. It meant moving past his left hand but she had surprised him. He might not react fast enough.
His hand snapped out, curling around her arm and bringing her to a halt with enough strength that she was yanked almost completely off her feet. Her breath pushed out of her.
Fear sizzled through her as he slammed her up against the Explorer. The strength in him! And she couldn’t help the comparison, even though she hated herself for even thinking of it: Sebastian had never shown such strength. He had never hinted of such power, before.
Bitterness circled through her as she looked at the man’s—the vampire’s—face. Sebastian had been careful never to reveal his full power, she realized.
“You’re a vampire,” she concluded.
“Very good,” he said, stepping away from her. He had an accent, a strange one. She thought it might be Eastern European, but it had eroded so badly from either years or other cultures she would have to hear him speak further to know for sure.
He held out his hand. “If you don’t mind? I did not come here to fight.”
Winter shook her head. “I’ll keep the wrench for now.”
He smiled in a way that made it look like he was trying not to laugh. “As you wish.” He shrugged. The shrug seemed to say, Keep your toy. Don’t keep it. It is irrelevant to me.
Winter looked down at the wrench. She had hit him with enough force to break a normal man’s arm and he had merely brushed her aside. With a grimace, she tossed the wrench onto the bench. She was going to have to rely on his word that he wasn’t here to fight.
“Thank you,” he said. He took another step back, putting a good two feet of space between them.
“I didn’t put the wrench down for you.” Winter wasn’t fooled by the space. Once—just once—she had seen how fast Sebastian could react when he needed to. This man could close the space at a speed Winter would be hard put to follow with her naked eyes. This vampire.
He spread his hands in an amiable gesture. “You did not put the wrench down for me, but I thank you anyway.” He dropped his hands to his sides once more. It was an easy, comfortable stance. Sebastian would have shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans by now. This one wasn’t wearing jeans, though. He had on what looked like a pair of dark grey or black suede trousers and a black leather jacket. That was all the detail she could make out in the low light of the shed.
“I did not mean to startle you,” he continued. “You were concentrating on your task. I called your name, but you didn’t respond.”
“You lie,” she said flatly. “The dog would have warned me if your approach had been so open.”
“The dog?” He smiled. “I see that Sebastian was not entirely forthcoming about our nature.” He turned his head to look toward the open shed door.
After a few seconds, her big German Shepherd, Prince, trotted inside and over to the man. He sat in front of him and looked up with his tongue hanging out.
The man patted Prince’s head.
Winter stared at the massive dog, which had an uneven temper and had snapped at her once or twice. Now Prince licked the vampire’s hand and gave little whines.
“His name is Steffen, by the way, not Prince.”
Winter gave a short laugh. “Says who?”
“He does.” The man shrugged again. “These are pack creatures. You need to be a master to him, not a mother. That is why he gets confused at times and snaps.” He glanced at the door. “Go now,” he told the dog.
Prince—Steffen—turned and trotted out of the shed again, his bushy tail wagging.
“Who are you?” she demanded. “And what do you want?”
He straightened, brushing dog hairs from his hand. “Perhaps we should discuss this inside.”
“Too dirty for you here?” she asked sweetly. She shook her head. “You’re not stepping foot inside my house.” She let her smile widen. “We can sit outside if you like. I have a table and chairs on the front deck.”
He glanced out at the steadily brightening day. “No, thank you.” He brought his gaze back to her. His eyes seemed luminous and she wondered if it was just a trick of the light. “But you already knew I would refuse, didn’t you? A fact that Sebastian has chosen to impart, then.”
“Nope.” She crossed her arms. “But I’ve done a lot of thinking lately, digging through past events. Sebastian avoided direct sunlight when he could. He could walk around in sunlight and didn’t explode or go up in flame, but he wasn’t happy about it.” Annoyance touched her. Why was she spilling her guts to this person, anyway? “You know Sebastian. You know him well enough to know his….” She hesitated. She could barely find an appropriate word for the precise relationship between them. “You know Sebastian well enough to know Sebastian might have revealed his true nature to me. I can think of very few people in Sebastian’s life he might give that information to. Only one of them is a vampire.”
The man stood watching her, his expression unmoving. He wasn’t going to help her by offering any confirmation, or speaking the uncomfortable truth for her.
Winter gripped her elbows with her fingers, squeezing tightly. Her heart was racing. Too much adrenaline was pumping through her system. She reached inside, and counteracted the adrenaline with endorphins. She massaged her heart and brought her blood pressure back down to more normal levels. If this vampire was who she now suspected him to be, she was going to need every advantage, both physical and mental, she could muster to deal with him. Calm returned.
“If you are who I think you are,” Winter told him, “then I do not understand why you are here.”
“Who am I?” he asked, sounding curious.
She let out her breath. It sounded a little shaky, the last dregs of the adrenaline still affecting her. “I don’t know why you are here, Nathanial. But then, I’ve learned I know nothing about anything, these last months.” She paused as the shakiness seemed to leap inside her. A hot, hard thing. Demanding, like an itch she couldn’t scratch. Or a need to be filled.
Quickly, she tried to adjust her body chemicals to deal with it. The bio-chemical mix was something new. Something she had never experienced. The physical symptoms it produced were compulsive. She could only dampen them down a little, but it would have to do. Nathanial would notice if she focused inwards for too long. She blinked and forced her attention back to the man in front of her.
Sebastian had told her very little about Nathanial’s true nature, except to say that he was centuries old. But in the years she and Sebastian had been working together, he had spoken many times about Nathanial as a man—about his intellect and political scheming. Winter could experience for herself now the power of his personality. Even though Nathanial simply stood in front of her, she could feel the way he was controlling the conversation. Leading her.
It annoyed her, but she wasn’t sure how to wrest the conversation back to her agenda. She didn’t have an agenda. He had come looking for her. She had been caught flat-footed and now was back-pedaling madly.
This was exactly what Sebastian used to complain about—how Nial would catch people unaware and leave them trailing in his mental dust. Manipulate them and make them do exactly what Nial wanted them to do. Oh, the bitterness in Sebastian’s voice when he had talked about Nial’s power to push people around that way…
Here she was, being moved around like a chess piece, exactly the way Sebastian despised. Winter was suddenly glad Sebastian wasn’t around to see this.
She swallowed, her throat dry and raspy. “What do you want, Nathanial?” She squeezed her arms again, digging her fingernails in. The peculiar surges were growing stronger.
Nathanial shrugged, as if it were obvious. “I have come to find Sebastian.”
This time, her laughter bubbled up from deep within some hard, aching place inside her. It spewed out before she could stop it. There wasn’t a single shred of humor in the loud noise that exploded from her lips. Even Winter could feel the hysteria attached to it and fought to hang onto the shreds of her control. “What makes you think I have any idea where he is?” she cried. A shudder ran through her.
Nathanial’s eyes narrowed. “Gods above…” he breathed.
Abruptly he was suddenly there, right in front of her and so close, she shivered again as her own body heat bounced off him and warmed the space between them. She was hot. Too hot.
He pushed his hand into her hair, his thumb against her temple, controlling her head. He lifted it up and around so the light from the doorway fell on it. She winced.
“What are you?” he demanded.
Frightened, she tried to pull her head out of his grip. “Leave me alone.” But she was weak. Weaker than usual. Nathanial was much, much stronger than a normal man. He was staring into her face. “You are not a vampire,” he declared. “You are human.”
She swallowed. “Yes.”
“But you are gripped by blood-fever. I can see the symptoms for myself. How can this be?” He dropped his hands from her face. “You need to feed. Now.”
Coldness curled around the pit of her stomach. “No,” she whispered. “It’s too early.”
Nathanial’s gaze seemed to scoop up every little skerrick of data she was giving him. She wished he was not here, storing all this evidence. But there was no help for it. Bad timing. Very bad timing. Still, while he was here, she could use him. “Is that was these symptoms are? Blood…?”
“Fever,” he finished. “Did Sebastian not teach you this?” He lifted his thumb to his mouth and drew the ball of it across the edge of his teeth.
She licked her lips. “I haven’t seen Sebastian for eight—” Ravenous need swept away her concentration, for Nathanial had brought his thumb close to her face. There was blood on it.
She began to pant. The smell of leather and cashmere and a delicious spicy aroma enveloped her. She reached for him, for the strength she needed. The blood.
“Mine is not the blood you need.” Low words breathed in her ear. “Tell me who’s you need.”
“Sebastian’s.” She felt a tear escape her eye.
“He would not have abandoned you to the blood fever, not knowingly.” Nathanial spoke softly in her ear.
“The house,” Winter replied, feeling a helpless vulnerability at having to give Nathanial this last secret. “The basement.”
She felt herself being lifted. Then nothing more.
“I want more… please tell me there’s more!” — Belinda for The Bookish Snob