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Brie and Samuel travel to the human town of Freemont and learn that Brie is being hunted. Brie is more than a domina. But what is she? And why is she being hunted as if she is the solution to a puzzle that the Quiet King has never been able to solve?
Samuel and Brie are forced to align with another, one that holds many answers and incites even more questions. Their journey drags them back to Capitol City and among the night life where sex and secrets mingle together within the light of the two moons. All this time Brie thought she’d escaped and gotten away free from vampires. But can she run away anymore or was she captured the whole time?
Miles ahead of us, raging hot flames swallowed the human town of Freemont. It looked like a mountain of light so powerful and deadly, that it was hard to hope anyone had survived. As Samuel and I approached on our horse, my body filled with fear and anxiety.
How did this happen? Is Leeta okay?
“We should stop right outside of the gates.” Samuel’s hands trembled as he held onto my waist.
The closer we came, the worse things appeared. The area drowned in blistering heat and reeked of burning wood. There was nothing left to do but jump off our horse, run into town, and check on Leeta, the woman who’d raised Samuel from vampire baby to prince.
“Stay here.” Samuel handed me the reins to our horse. “I’ll go check—”
“I’m going with you.”
“No! You could get hurt. I’ll be worried about you the whole time.”
“Then I promise to stay safe.” I quickly tied the horse to a tree and prayed it would keep him there.
“Blasted woman,” Samuel muttered under his breath.
“Stubborn prince.” I doubted the rope was tied correctly, but rushed off and followed Samuel anyway. My mind concentrated on Leeta’s safety. I’d met her two weeks ago when Samuel brought me to her hotel. He’d been helping me escape the Quiet King, a powerful vampire that kept all women with domina blood like me in his castle.
I possessed a rare blood type only one out of five hundred human women had. The strain allowed me to procreate with vampires. They had difficulty breeding with each other. Most of their offspring died in the womb. As a domina, I could carry up to six vampire fetuses during my pregnancy term. Once I birthed them, the babies would take three years to grow into men and women. Some would be full-blooded vampires, the rest only halflings, part vampire and human. At times my mind couldn’t wrap around the phenomena, babies to adults in such short years. Dominas were expected to birth the King’s babies for his army. But I couldn’t give heirs to an oppressive and brutal vampire, so I’d fled with Samuel’s assistance and gained so much more in my journey.
“Brie?” Samuel’s voice held unease.
“I’m right behind you.”
It was hard to see. Thick clouds of dingy smoke blocked out the two moons’ light. Black ashes sprinkled down on us like rain. I breathed pieces into my mouth that made me choke. We hurried to rescue Leeta, racing through the smoky streets and bumping into people who screamed and shrieked for their loved ones. All sought escape and yearned to survive. Frightened children clutched their crying mothers with panicked grips. Animals scattered to safety—from striped horses that trotted away after owners, to silver wombats that burst out of the attics of homes. So many faces, young and old, but I never saw Leeta within this mass of hysteria. Dread filled me. I feared for her and Samuel with each step.
Brie? Are you okay? Samuel’s voice peered into my mind. Ash coated his blond-and-black hair as he sprinted in front of me.
I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. I trailed behind him, unable to keep up with his inhuman speed. Sweat dripped down my face and drenched my auburn hair. Dark pieces of ash dropped and stuck to my wet skin. There was no way that I could maintain his speed. Samuel was a vampire prince. He could outrun me with no problem, but instead, he kept no more than four feet between us.
Just check on her. I’ll be okay.
No! His voice boomed in my mind like a mallet slamming against a metal wall. I held my hands to my forehead to soothe the ache that formed near my temples.
I won’t be able to find her if I’m worried about you. His voice sounded smoother, as if he’d realized he was too loud and was trying to calm himself down. He rounded the street corner. Panting, I followed and waved away smoke with each step. My feet already throbbed from exhaustion. My legs and chest burned.
Dear Ambi! It was even worse as we neared Leeta’s hotel. Fire captured almost every business. Everything will be destroyed by dawn.
“I caught her scent!” Samuel halted in the middle of the pebbled street, raised his nose in the air, and headed to the front of Leeta’s hotel. It looked like a gigantic bonfire. A few seconds later, I arrived next to him. The inferno decorated every inch of the building. What was left of the foundation glowed violent shades of orange and yellow.
“She’s still inside.” He scanned the area as if seeking a safe opening.
The little hope I held on to evaporated into nothing. If she’s inside then it may be too late. I prayed to the vampire god Ambi that Samuel didn’t sense my worries.
“Can you hear her heart beating?” I clasped my hand on his warm fingers as they shuddered in mine.
“I think I hear something, but I’m not sure.” He frantically searched, his face moving from side to side. “What am I going to do? I can’t lose her.”
Leeta had been a maid for Samuel’s mother Queen Regina most of her life. His mother was a domina like me, except she birthed over sixty vampire children for the King and therefore was heightened to queen status. But before she received the title, Queen Regina delivered Samuel. And immediately after his birth, she gave him to Leeta. There was no other choice. The King killed prince babies. They were the only vampires strong enough to overthrow him. With the newborn baby in her arms, Leeta fled the castle, hid in the town of Freemont, and raised Samuel in the very hotel that was presently burning to the ground.
Births were a sore spot for many who lived on the castle’s grounds. Any baby boy who wasn’t a prince served in The Quiet King’s army for twenty years.
Baby girls became princesses if the King deemed them pretty. He could not see and was deaf, and mute, but he made decisions by analyzing the girl’s faces with his fingers and communicating his choices by speaking them in our minds. He read all of our thoughts and knew when we complied with his wishes. When the girls grew, the King married them off to leaders with vampires in their territories. There, the princesses were expected to add halflings to the foreign population. Baby girls he considered ugly remained as servants in the castle.
However, the King murdered all boys born with black marks, trailing up the side of their legs. I was told by an old domina the marks signaled the sign of a prince, one strong enough to conquer the King. Whenever a delivery nurse or guard spotted the birthmark on an infant’s leg, the King ordered the little prince’s death. One night after four princes were delivered, the King’s voice had boomed in all of our heads with rage, “Kill them!”
“We’ll figure out a way to save her.” I released his hand and leaned forward to see if there were areas not on fire.
The hotel’s foundation crackled and collapsed with a boom. I jerked back in horror. Tears fell from Samuel’s golden eyes as he continued to scan the blaze. I spotted an opening on the building’s side. Smoke drifted out of a damaged hole. There was no fire around it, just black burnt wood.
Without thinking, I dashed toward it. “Maybe I could call her name or—”
“No!” Samuel’s hands seized my arms and dragged me back a few feet. “I’ll go in.”
“Don’t worry about me. You stay safe.” He stormed off. “Scream if you need me!”
“I’ll be okay.”
In a blurry flash, he rushed to the opening and dived into the smoky blackness. Something crashed inside the hotel. I hurried to where Samuel had disappeared, crossed my fingers, and forced myself not to pace or bite my nails.
Please be okay. Please be okay.
I’m fine, he whispered inside my mind.
I cried out with relief. Usually I hated when he entered my head. We’d argued all day about him invading my thoughts. But this time I was relieved. He can stay in my head all he wants.
I’ll be inside more than that later. His voice delivered warmth to my core.
Focus. My eyes widened. Do you see Leeta?
I have her, he replied with relief. I’m coming out right now.
Inflamed slabs of wood hurtled down the hotel’s side entrance. I gasped as Samuel rushed out in the opposite direction. A smoldering breeze of ash swarmed behind him. He carried Leeta in his arms. Blood painted her skin. Her pale blue eyes went to me. Her chest slowly rose and fell as though she were struggling to breathe. Dark smudges lined her wrinkled face. Last time I’d seen her, she had long gray hair. Now blood and scorched skin corroded half of her scalp. Her few remaining gray strands dangled on the other side of her face. I sprinted to them as Samuel laid Leeta on the ground.
“She can’t move her legs and she’s having a hard time speaking,” Samuel said between rapid breaths.
I extended my arm. “Cut my wrist so I can give her my blood.”
My blood has to help. Please let it help.
Samuel pushed his fangs out. Sharp ivory tips peeked from his lips. Without hesitation, he grabbed my hand and pierced my wrist. A lusty swirl of desire sparked at the bite, spread up my arm, sank within my chest, and hit me directly in the bundle of nerves between my thighs. I moaned as dark red blood seeped out of the wound. Samuel’s nostrils flared. His golden eyes glowed. I didn’t know if it was due to my blood or arousal, but our priorities in that moment shifted in seconds from urgent survival to lust.
“Focus,” I whispered as a low rumble pulsed from his chest.
He formed his fingers into tight fists and closed his eyes. The scent of my blood lingered between us. Hunger creased every edge of his chiseled face, but he did not move.
“Focus on healing Leeta.” I struggled to not lick my lips. What is wrong with us? Destruction flooded the area. A woman that Samuel loved like his mother balanced on the edge of life and death. And here we were, aroused, with sex and bloodlust on our minds.
His bite is becoming too addictive. I’ll have to wean myself away when we separate.
Growling, Samuel placed my wrist to Leeta’s mouth and directed his golden eyes to me. Leeta clamped both of her hands onto my wrist and greedily drank.
Separate? His voice scraped against my mind. I flinched as his sandpaper words cut through me. We agreed that I would leave you alone in Freemont. His voice rubbed against me harder. The town is destroyed. You’ll stay with me.
“Stop,” I said through clenched teeth. “You’re hurting me. I’ll have a headache if you don’t relax your thoughts.”
“I’m sorry.” His voice disappeared from my head. He looked away.
“I’ll figure out what I will do later.”
“For now, we need to focus.” I gazed down at Leeta as her drinking changed from tender sipping to ravenous gulps. My domina blood held healing properties for humans. Hopefully, I could repair enough of Leeta’s injuries to give us time to take her to a healer. She pulled harder with her mouth. Her demanding tugs drew my blood to her at a fleeting pace.
“Ow!” My wrist ached. I swayed back a little.
“Enough, Leeta!” Samuel yanked my hand away from her mouth. “Too much of Brie’s blood will make you sick.”
She whimpered with blood-smudged lips. In seconds, new pale skin emerged from the scarred flesh and burns on her face. Silky gray strands sprouted from her scorched scalp, lengthened until her hair fell down to the ground and glimmered in the fire’s light. Slowly the gray hair transformed to brown. She exhaled and inhaled while focusing her eyes on me.
Oh my goddess.
“Is she supposed to heal this quickly?” I blinked a few times to make sure I’d actually witnessed it. Panic flooded my chest. I touched her face, slipping my hands down her perfect, soft cheek. “I’ve never had another human drink my blood.”
“It should take hours for the domina blood to begin to work.” Samuel held a shocked expression. He directed his eyes to the wound around my wrist. “Minor scrapes are cured in hours. Really bad injuries take days to heal.”
“Never.” Samuel glided his finger against the bite marks on my wrist.
“They came for you.” Leeta’s voice grabbed my attention. I turned to her as she coughed over and over. Clearing her throat, she whispered, “Brie, they came for you.”
“She must be delirious.” Samuel’s blond-and-black striped eyebrows furrowed. “We can’t give her any more blood. Something is wrong.”
Shivering, Leeta snatched my shirt collar and yanked me to her. I fell into her heaving chest. Samuel hissed.
I held my hand up to quiet him. “Who came for me?”
“Hundreds…so many guards,” Leeta said, “They tracked your scent to the room you slept in.”
“Hundreds?” Samuel snarled. “Why would there be hundreds of Royal Guards searching for one domina?”
“They…set fire to the town. One yelled…that they found your scent, Brie. Then they ran off toward the north.” Leeta’s eyes closed. She released my shirt and collapsed to the ground with parted lips.
“This is all because of me?” My bottom lip quivered. I scanned the destruction. Freemont’s citizens still raced away, towing young ones and any of their belongings that they could hold. Houses crashed into themselves and exploded into sparks of fiery red. A lump of sorrow sank down in my gut.
People died and lost their homes because of me?
“Leeta is delusional. She’s traumatized from the fire,” Samuel explained, but his face possessed that tense look he got when he was worried.
“What if she’s telling the truth?”
“She’s not.” Samuel lifted her up in his arms and rose.
“But if she is?”
“Then I’ll kill them all.” His fangs lengthened below his bottom lip. “For now we should hide, just in case. Leeta said they tracked your scent and went to the north. That makes sense. I’d taken you north first, before you found out, and we had to turn around and go south to Zumaya. This gives us maybe a week before they approach Zumaya. We’ll have to hide.”
“Where?” Stunned, I stood.
“In the sewers.” Samuel walked off.
I caught up with him and gazed at the town’s damage with new eyes. “Have you ever seen guards set a town on fire when they searched for an escaped domina?”
“No. Leeta has to be delusional, because if this is the truth, then you’re in danger and I don’t want that.” Samuel led us out of Freemont’s border where the fire had begun to lazily die down. What were once probably well-established restaurants, hotels, and homes were now piles of burning wood and streams of smoke that floated from charred heaps.
“I’ve never seen more than two or three guards search for a domina,” Samuel said. “Especially one that was untouched.”
I’d been an untouched domina when I escaped—neither the Quiet King nor any other vampire had pierced my flesh with their fangs or had sex with me. Untouched dominas weren’t as valuable as touched ones. We hadn’t yet proved we could birth babies or quench a vampire’s thirst. Nevertheless, I counted myself lucky. But during my time with Samuel, my untouched status changed. He drank from me and set a bond between us, one that included his ability to read my thoughts and dominate all of my desires.
“How many guards are sent for touched dominas?” I asked.
“Ten or so if the domina was able to birth many children.” Samuel shook his head. “Never a hundred, and I’ve never seen them destroy and terrorize a town like this.”
Hushed silence floated between us. We traveled down a darkened road that led us away. Cracks and snapping sounded behind us as the town of Freemont collapsed unto itself.
Please don’t let it be that I was the cause of that destruction.
A massive stone wall appeared miles ahead and bordered Capitol City, the place I’d lived in slavery with the Quiet King. Now that we left, fresh air emerged and the two moons surfaced in my view. They bathed us in white light. No one else walked the path but us. The rest of the people, I assumed, fled in the other direction where our horses were tied. Someone probably grabbed them.
Only wild animals traveled with us out here. Turquoise-striped tigers prowled by and kept their distance between them and Samuel. White shaggy wolves journeying in huge packs, howled together, and sniffed the air. Thank Ambi, the wolves never veered too close to Samuel and me. I knew Samuel could probably fight a few wolves, but I wasn’t sure if he could handle an entire pack. Many birds soared in the sky—pale orange vultures that flew in the direction of Freemont to tiny black raydens that chirped when they fluttered their featherless wings and emitted a long ray of light in the air.
“I think you’re more than a regular domina,” Samuel interrupted the silence and caught me off guard with his assertion. “You’re definitely more than I’ve ever experienced.”
“I’m nothing special.”
“Your hair is red. I’ve never seen that color on a vampire or human.”
“I’ve seen other colors on humans, even though humans tend to only have different shades of brown hair.” I shrugged. “But the medicine man in my town said my daughters’ hair and my own wasn’t a major peculiarity, just an odd set of genes that must’ve been passed down from my ancestors.”
“Your blood healed Leeta too quickly,” Samuel countered.
“There could be other reasons for that,” I said, but his comment had peaked my curiosity. “You told me you drank from other dominas. Does all our blood taste the same?”
“No. It varies from each one of you, from thick to thin, savory to sweet, warm to cold—”
“Okay.” I held up my hand. “I understand, but I rather you not describe me or others like a meal.”
“Trust me.” He laughed. “Domina blood is not a meal. It’s an all-consuming liquid. It’s why I chose to stay away from you all.”
Leeta remained in his arms and snored.
“How do I taste to you?” I asked.
He curled his lips into a frown. “Your blood incites insanity and lust in me every time I drink it. I can’t even think about it without getting an erection.”
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
“You taste like no other. It’s exquisite like a honeyed wine that numbs any pain and soothes all the hurts.”
I studied his face, searching for any hint of playful humor within his eyes or in the outline of his lips and saw none.
“When I’m near you, your blood sings to me, a tune that’s melodic and free, that triggers my craving and spreads heat across my skin.” Samuel glanced at me for a few seconds and then looked away. We said nothing else for several feet. I had no reply.
Do I really have that effect on him? What does it mean? Is this why he is so attached to me?
“How much did the Quiet King pay for you?” he asked.
“I don’t know the exact amount. My husband handled the whole transaction.”
A rumble boomed from his chest. Samuel hated my husband Ethan. No matter how many times I corrected Samuel, he always argued that Ethan traded me away to the King like I was cattle.
Ethan and I had owned a large plantation in the town of Zumaya. We harvested Zumayan mushrooms and sold them to vampire cities. The mushrooms were the only thing besides alcohol that could get a vampire fully inebriated and humans mildly tipsy. They cost a lot and made my family wealthy for many years. Then a drought arrived. It decreased the mushroom production and propelled my whole town into death and starvation. We buried many, so many that even now my chest ached with the memories of all the people I’d lost. Without any options, my husband sought the Quiet King’s assistance. Guards traveled to Zumaya and tested all of the women’s blood. Two teenage girls and I were identified as dominas. The guards explained that the King would pay money and give food if they could seize just one of us. I sacrificed myself, and Ethan had understood; neither one of us wanted to see our two daughters dead from starvation.
And now my girls are safe and alive. Their faces flashed in my mind. I bit my lip. Another woman is their mother now. Don’t think about them. Just be grateful they’re safe and loved. I wiped ash from my forehead with the back of my hand.
“Did you get to see what the King sent to Zumaya before they brought you to Capitol City?” Samuel asked.
“I remember four box loads of food. I also think he sent about three or four wagons of farming supplies. And then the day I had to leave to go to the court, he delivered two silver trunks full of money.” I released an exasperated breath. “I have no idea if more came or not.”
Samuel paused in the middle of the path. “They received all of that? Are you sure?”
“I’ve never heard of any town receiving that much money and supplies for one domina.” He peeked around me and scanned the area, making my nerves flare on edge. “Usually it’s a wagon of food and maybe a lump sum of money, but that is it. Why didn’t you tell me that before?”
“I thought that was the normal procedure. This was the first time we participated in domina testing. We were just starving and happy to eat when the food was delivered.”
Samuel stared off in the distance toward Capitol City. We stood there in silence for a minute.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked, afraid of what he might tell me.
“I’m scared to take you back into the city, even if it’s in the sewers and the King is gone.”
“Leeta needs a healer.”
He remained quiet for another minute.
“Samuel.” I placed my hand on his shoulder. “I’ll be safe with you. Don’t worry.”
“Okay.” He started off. “As soon as she’s healed, we leave and try to figure out what’s different about you and why the King sent so many to capture you.”
“Maybe it’s something else that has nothing to do with me.” I hoped and prayed that was true.
“Then we’ll find that out too.”