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part of the Dangerous Ties anthology
The touch of her mouth sent a wave of relief and possessiveness through me.
“I will never let you go again, Carina,” I declared. “The collar cannot be removed except by magic as ritualized and resolute as that which created it. And that is a secret I will share with no one, not even you. While a single vampire roams this earth, you are vulnerable without it. And even were I to discover they had all suddenly vanished from the world, I would still keep it there, as reminder of what you mean to me.”
I touched the enchanted band about her throat. “Here it is, and here forever it remains.”
I felt her heartbeat pitch as she searched my eyes. “Truly, Marcel?”
“Yes, Carina. Why else would I have gone through all this?”
She was silent, frowning hesitantly as if still, she could not quite believe. I kissed the salted tears from her face and laid down beside her and pulled her close. Taking her hands, I started to kiss her palms when I noticed how dirty her hands were. A nameless suspicion roused the hair on the nape of my neck.
“Sit up and remove that gown,” I said.
At her shocked tremble, I repeated the order. She obeyed slowly, and I saw with bitterness that numerous angry scrapes and raised, dark bruises were appearing over her arms and legs. The injuries, I knew, of her doubtless struggle to escape the sarcophagus, and probably from initially unearthing herself from the grave as well. My wild and wanton woman-child had been so sorely misused! I threw the ugly gown to the floor and lay her down. I looked upon, with human clarity, the breadth of all she had suffered. Her breath was fatigued, yet her gaze had lost none of the adoring ardor since that day we had spoken in the valley. I embraced her fiercely. I rued for the secret of turning time back, to stifle those proper, cowardly words with which I had spurned her. At least Fate had been merciful to have directed the vampires to let her free, instead of forcing her to remain in the sarcophagus until I could free her!
“Marcel, I could not stop myself. I was torn between following her orders and protecting you as best I could, or at least in the only way I could fathom.”
“I know,” I said, “and you will not reproach yourself on this, not ever again. But I hope you can forgive me.”
“What is there to forgive?”
I smiled sadly. “For that shameful propriety that I allowed hinder me from claiming that which you offered so earnestly. I was a fool, Carina.”
“Oh, Marcel,” she sighed. “It is only that I love you.”
“Yes. And never again will you reproach yourself regarding this which befell you? If you do, you shall regret it… most sorely.”
Her eyes shone with unshed tears. Her whispered answer was ripe with passion, “As you wish, Marcel.”
“As I command,” I corrected, and her cheeks flooded scarlet.
I could not help but smile and kissed her palms fervently. I reflected again on the delicious chastisements I should have given to her before, and vowed they would be administered soon enough.
I stroked her hair and patted her raised hip. I was just about to rise and get her something to eat when I heard an ungodly sound from outside the house. It brought an immediate image of a nest of angry snakes to my mind. Gooseflesh sheeted over my flesh, and I realized my task was not yet complete; nor would it, as long as Griselda’s brats existed to carry out her desires.
Carina raised her own head and whimpered. “They have followed me.”
For several moments we listened as the hissing of the vampires grew angrier, louder. The sound seemed to blanket the entire frame of the house. The windows clattered against their sills, the interior walls jarred. From the kitchen we heard the cups and plates fall off the shelves and break over the floor. After a time, the sound began to recede, and the house stood again quiet.
“They dare not enter or make trouble,” I assured her. “The rites are complete, and you wear the collar. Without you, they must return to the monastery. They cannot venture out without your power to guide them past the wards.”
She did not seem any less troubled by my words. Although I wished more than anything to stay with her all the night, I sat up.
“Listen to me,” I instructed. “You are safe. You will not leave this house until I can return to explain your presence to your father and the others.”
I stood up from the bed to find my clothing. Carina got to her knees and grabbed my hand desperately.
Anxiety broke her voice, “Marcel, what is this? I know I am safe now, I feel it. There is no need for you to go… out there!”
I took a clearing breath and closed my eyes against the provocative vision she was on both knees upon my own bed.
“Obey me, my kitten,” I said. “Your collar may not bind you to my will, but bound you are, nevertheless. Another word, and I will demonstrate here and now how well I have divorced my hesitations regarding you.”
She let go my hands, but as I dressed I saw she had not moved, and her face was crumpled with conflicting dread and the desire to obey. When my boots were laced, I came back and kissed the crown of her head and gestured for her to lie down.
“I expect to find you in this bed when I return.”
©2009 by Anya Howard
Excerpted from Liaison, part of the Kensington Aphrodisia anthology, Dangerous Ties by Devyn Quinn, Jodi Lynn Copeland and Anya Howard