Betrayed. Imprisoned. Alone.
For decades I have suffered as a reluctant blood donor. Caged like an animal and drained of my strength to enrich the Radcliffs and their winery. I’d forsaken all hope of escape—until the winemaker’s daughter returns to the family’s estate.
A drop of my immortal blood is all it takes to activate her psychic talents. Now we’re connected, and all that remains is convincing her to seek me in the darkness.
Bribe. Seduce. Deceive.
To claim she’s too young is an understatement. But a starving man doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for fruit to ripen. I’ve awakened her gifts, and now it’s her turn to replenish me.
I will have my fill of the winemaker’s daughter. Then I will take revenge on her family.
If I had a pulse, it would jump three stories.
“Only when you’re doing something private or embarrassing.” I say, half joking. In truth, I watch her all the time.
Hell, just a few hours ago, I stood by her bed and watched her pleasure herself. A better man might’ve walked away as soon as her clothes came off, but I’m not a man. Not anymore. And considering the decades of pain I’ve endured at her father’s hand, I reserve the right to steal a few stray moments of pleasure where I can get them.
She eyes me shrewdly. “Is something wrong? You seem quiet.”
“My apologies. I’ll try to be more entertaining.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she said. “I don’t need you to entertain me. I’m only asking in case you want to talk about it.”
“We are talking.” I scrub my face and sigh. This little girl’s too astute for her own good.
I’ve been walking a knife’s edge since I learned Chastity was dosing her with extra blood in the mornings. Mariah’s powers are developing faster than she can detect them. It’s only a matter of time before the family takes notice, and once they do, it’ll be too late. She won’t be trusted to move about the house unobserved.
However, more concerning than Mariah’s budding abilities is my own hesitation. Since I’ve begun drawing her closer, I’ve been haunted by the specters of some highly inconvenient emotions.
At first, they took the form of admiration. I’d be in the middle of teasing her, like a cat with a mouse, and realize I was genuinely smiling. A smile brought on by something she’d said, or the way she threw her arms up while we danced.
During the day, when I’d normally park myself in the field, I would instead seek out her physical presence. If Chastity snapped at her, I’d allow myself the imagined satisfaction of biting out the other woman’s tongue. If I noticed Edward eyeing her a second too long, I’d position myself in front of her—not that either of them could see me. I just couldn’t abide the thought of him looking at her.
This desire to shelter Mariah from those who would harm her is bothersome at least and counterproductive at worst.
But what came next, I can’t even account for.
Guilt. Like a cord tied around my ribcage, jerking me back when I should be inching closer.
I’ve killed innocents. It’s all but guaranteed that I’ll kill many more, especially if I remain at the vineyard. Mariah is just a human, alluring as she may be. Once she’s freed me, I know the bloodlust will run its course, but this guilt I feel for deceiving her is a weakness I can’t afford.
Mariah rises to stand at the window. I trace her shapely silhouette with my gaze before getting up to join her.
“I am sorry,” I say. “It’s been a long day.”
“Whenever I find myself back here, it feels like I’m returning to the same long day.” She looks at me. “I just want to help you.”
“What if I told you there was a way you could help me?” I ask, stroking her chin.
“I’d say, tell me what it is, and I’ll do it.”
I could tell her to go to her father’s study and steal the keys right now. I could say there’s a poor, defenseless creature in the basement that needs to be rescued. It would all be done in a matter of minutes. The theft, my release, and her inevitable death.
But once again, that bastard guilt yanks at the cord around my chest like a rider pulling on reins.
She tilts her face upward. She wants me to kiss her, and I’m running out of excuses not to give her what she wants. What we both want…if I’m being honest.
Memories of another man stealing kisses from a young girl in the shadows of this estate flash in my mind like strobe lights. I take a step back from Mariah and rub my eyes, wiping the images away like rain from a windshield.
“What is your deal, Will?” Mariah asks, exasperated. “Do you want me or not? Because you’re giving me some seriously mixed messages.” She touches my arm. “Is it my age? My birthday’s only two weeks away—”
My laughter slices between us like a knife cutting through cake. “You think a few days would make a difference in the face of half a millennium?”
She clasps her hands in front of her. “I guess not.”
To hell with guilt, I tell myself. I’m tired of resisting temptation that insists on staring me in the face. I move in close, backing her up against the window.
“Mariah, if I wanted you on your back with your legs spread before me, your age would be the last thing standing in my way. If I wanted to sit on your bed and watch you play your pussy like a fiddle in the dark, completely oblivious to my presence, I could do that, too.”
Her chest rises and falls, rises and falls. “But you haven’t.”
“Haven’t I? How would you know?”
She swallows, and the contraction of her throat muscles is enough to make my gums tingle.
“Are you making fun of me?” she asks.
“I’m toying with you,” I say. “There’s a difference.”
“It doesn’t feel different.” Her face glows with embarrassment. She thinks I’m going to all this trouble to prove that I don’t want her. Because if I did, I’d have had her already, and the fact that I haven’t is proof of my indifference.
If she knew how badly I wanted her, she’d be petrified. Like a puppy dashing after a tiger, she’d catch me and immediately regret giving chase.
“If you don’t want me, you can just say so,” she says. “You don’t have to be an asshole about it.”
I cradle the back of her neck and press my lips to hers.
Mariah tenses up, startled, then launches herself fully into the kiss. Her palms glide up my chest. I rest my hand on her waist and draw her close to feel her heat. As my tongue breaches her lips, she lets out a whimper that has my astral body humming like a plucked cello string.
I pull back to give her a chance to breathe.
“I didn’t know ghosts could kiss like that,” she whispers, her fingers closing around my shirt like she’s afraid I’m going to slip away.
“I told you, I’m not a ghost.”
“What are you, then?”
The closest thing I can think of without telling her the truth is, “A demon.”
“You’re not a demon.” She smiles. “You’re my imaginary friend.”
“Some demons pretend to be your friend just to get close to you.”
I take her hand and guide her back toward the dining table.
“What if I’m simply lying to get closer to you?” I lift her onto the table, pushing plates and silverware aside. “What if my true intention is to pick you like a flower, rip out all your petals, and crush you beneath my heel?”
She gasps as I skim my fingers up her thighs, sliding her tee shirt higher.
“I think I might like to be crushed by you,” she says.
Her arms go around my neck as I kiss her again. Standing between her legs, I let her feel my erection against her thigh. Fortunately, I can get hard and even jack off here in the twilight realm. In the early years, it wasn’t a bad way to pass the time. But after a while, the futility of fucking myself became just another source of depression.
Watching Mariah in bed these past few nights brought those desires back with a vengeance. There was no tearing my eyes from her dancing fingers as they circled her sensitive clit. I couldn’t help imagining how it would feel to slide inside her wetness. I haven’t been able to think about much else since.
“You’ve done this before?” I ask her.
She shakes her head. “But I really want to.”
The fact that she’s a virgin doesn’t deter me. If anything, the thought of her dying before she’s had a chance to be thoroughly ravished would be the real tragedy.