I done broke myself. Have a tease

Sorry folks, I pushed too hard getting Bound done and published and haven’t been able to write in a week. The next episode of The Bargain is drafted and I considered just posting as-is, but I’d rather give y’all good stuff late than sloppy stuff on time.

But I’ve been doing a bit of plotting on a spinoff of How NOT to Save the World. Y’all may remember Lerato. She got a brief mention as the newest member of the secret leadership, and the one who offered to arrange an ‘accident’ for Cheng if he couldn’t handle learning the truth.

This spin off is about how Lerato joined the rebellion and earned her spot on the council. Sort of. It’s also a story of love and magic curses and betrayal and learning to face our fears. It’s going to be a bit more serious than How NOT to Save the World, but still have some of the same troperific fun. In between angst and drama and espionage.

And here’s how it starts:

cw: violence, death

Donagh was dragged through the camp, his arms bound before him. All around lay the dead and dying. The few of his comrades still on their feet spat on his shadow as he past.

He looked everywhere for Aran. Aran had to be alive, he had survived so much, he couldn’t be dead. And Aran would listen to to him. Would believe him. Then together they would find the traitor and take revenge.

But Aran was nowhere, and he began to fear that Aran had died after all.

Before the fear could fully take hold, he was thrown to the ground. A familiar pair of leather boots appeared snd he struggled to his knees. ‘Aran! You’re alive!’

‘Yes. I’m sure that’s a disappointment to you.’

‘What? No!’

Aran drew his sword and set the point against Donagh’s throat. ‘Luckily for you we don’t have any time to waste.’

Donagh tried to speak, to say something but horror made the words stick in his throat.

“As you have betrayed, so may you be betrayed, in your next life and every life to come.”

Then there was a quick slice of pain, and the world went dark.

The beginning.


Lerato’s story will be coming sometime in 2023 or 2024. Haven’t fully worked out the schedule yet. In the meantime, you’ll probably see more of Lerato in the upcoming season of How NOT to Save the World.

The Last Lady of Lună (S1, E5)

Season Content Notes: abduction, blood, sexual content

Nastasia

Marcus’ blood was sweet and rich and hit my system like the Ozanna’s 30-year-old Scotch — but better. It sang through me, and I could feel my body awaken, my cells changing.

Have you ever been dehydrated? Really dehydrated? That moment when you first drink water, and it feels like your whole body opens up? It was like that, but a thousand times better.

I released him and gave him a drop of my blood. Enough to seel the bond, no more.

Marcus was the team leader, and so would be my first. But he came to me reluctantly, and I would take — or give — no more than I must until I knew he wanted as much as I did. I tried not to notice the effect my blood had on him. He had not offered that part of himself.

Karen had been first to offer her blood, and it was her I turned to next. She held up her arm to me, and rather than bend, I knelt down next to her. “Shouldn’t I be the one kneeling, sexy lady?” she asked, and I was still drunk on Marcus, so I giggled and told her, “We can take turns. Do you prefer to lick or suck?”

Benj groaned, and Leyla muttered something under her breath, but Karen grinned and said, “I knew I like you. Please tell me you have K-bar.”

“Only a few, but you can get me the whole catalog.

“Good.”

She said the pledge, and I drank her down, letting her pull me into the deep dark until I could look up and see moonlight dancing high above me.

I surfaced slowly, letting her moonlight wrap around me, and let go to offer her the same drop I had given Marcus, but she said, “Let me show you how I suck.” And I laughed and bit my arm again and let her take what she wanted. Her mouth on me was nothing I’d ever felt, and my core tightened as my other hand gripped her hair, holding her head to me, demanding more. She gave it, pulling me deep into her until she let go with a cry, and shudders swept through her body.

When she finished, I stood up on shaky feet and moved to Benj.

He blushed and wouldn’t look at me but held out his arm and muttered the pledge. I cradled his arm and spoke quietly so no one else would hear, “I’ll go easy. I know it’s your first time.”

That made him laugh, and he relaxed enough to look at me.

“They were right — vampires are wicked,” he said.

“Only to my friends.”

His blood was warm and as salt-sweet as his scent promised. It filled me with heat and made me feel like I could fly away.

Like Marcus, he took only a drop, but he opened his mouth and swirled his tongue around my finger before he leaned back with a groan and gripped the arms of his chair.

I gave him space, moving to Leyla.

Leyla had cut the back of her hand, and she offered it to me like I was a man she expected to kiss it. She said the pledge, and I kissed her hand, then ran my tongue across the already clotting cut. Her fleeting taste teased me, but I didn’t push for more. It was enough.

I released her hand, and she cupped my head, pulling me towards her. I let her guide me, still high, and floaty, and needy, and wanting more from this beautiful woman who teased and tempted me. She pressed her lips to mine, and I returned the kiss, opening my lips when her tongue teased at me, pulling her into me in a different way. Her tongue teased mine, then pulled back, and her teeth sank into my lip. Blood filled my mouth, and her tongue was back, caressing me, tasting my blood on my lips as I tasted my blood on her. My breath came hard and fast as we slowly separated, and I saw her eyes, as wide as my own, still locked on my mouth.

A line of blood trailed down my face as I turned to Victor. The silent watcher in the corner: his own blood trailing down his cheek from the cut he had made there.

That blood drew me like a lodestone now, the only blood in the room I hadn’t tasted. Hadn’t made mine.

I stopped just out of reach and waited. He watched me, eyes blown wide and breathing hard. I don’t know how long we would have stood there, but after a few moments, Benj said, “Victor, you have to use your outside voice this time.”

We both laughed then, and he offered me his hand. I took it, and he pledge himself to me, the words husky and confident. His blood was thick as cream when I licked it from his face, but he wouldn’t lick my face. He waited for me to catch up the blood from my chin with my fingers and offer it to him before he took it with careful swipes of his tongue. Before he had it all, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he leaned back against the wall, hips pumping. I allowed myself one moment to press myself against him, to feel his length and the promise of it.

Then I stepped back, pushing aside my own arousal, my own need. My mother warned me that the taking of sotii could turn into an orgy. But they had not agreed to that. Not yet.

Maybe never.

Karen

Karen wasn’t completely oblivious to social stuff. People thought she was, and they were mostly right. It came in handy sometimes.

Yes, she was obsessed with sharps — why wasn’t everyone? — and yes, she could be a bull in a china shop. But she also did read romance novels, and she spent a lot of her time watching people, trying to understand them.

All the biting and blood stuff had been ridiculously sexy. Way beyond anything that made sense. She was pretty sure she’d seen Marcus’ O-face. Don’t ask how she knew what Marcus’ O-face looked like. If he hadn’t wanted her picking his lock, he shouldn’t have taken her knives.

And she had seen the lost expression on Nastasia’s face. Like with the sexy blood magic letting them go, she hadn’t been sure what to do.

Karen had to do something to pull Dracu-lady from the sad ‘I’m not getting sex’ thoughts she was pretty sure Nastasia was having. Luckily, she knew exactly what to do — be herself.

“So. Knives?”

Yeah, Marcus glared at her, and Benj groaned (not the sexy kind). But Nastasia had looked at her and smiled. So that was okay. (Karen realized her thoughts were a bit weird. Almost manic? That was okay too. Sexy vampire magic stuff had been happening. Vampire blood tasted like chocolate.)

“Sure, Karen,” Nastasia said. “Let’s get you all cleaned up, and I’ll take you home to see my knives.”

It didn’t take them long to get cleaned up, and the van was in the garage just as Nastasia had promised. Cargo van, but that was okay. They all piled in, and Nastasia took the wheel.

The moon was high in the sky, so it really was late. At least by human standards. Karen started putting together a timeline for the night and smacked herself in the head.

“Hey, vamp-lady? You never did tell us how you managed to drug us.”

Nastasia caught Karen’s eyes in the mirror and grinned. “I never said I drugged you. Sleep, Karen.”

Karen was about to say that there was no way she was falling asleep when the world started going dark.

Vampire mind powers. Awesome.

The Bargain (S1, E10)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse

Mattin was never sure how he got through his second day of training. Exhaustion weighed him down, and his body was sore from standing. Again, he spent the entire day behind Brit’s shoulder, trying not to move. It wasn’t long before he felt like a piece of furniture.

He soon lost track of how often Brit corrected him throughout the morning. But the steward didn’t get annoyed or upset. By mid-afternoon, getting screamed at would have been a relief from the unending calm and controlled corrections.

The third day passed the same as the first two. And the fourth. Mattin stood in one place for hours. Sometimes he knelt. Rarely, Brit permitted him to sit. Always while remaining still and silent.

Except for correcting his posture or sending him for lunch, Brit acted like he didn’t exist. Sometimes he followed Brit to a different part of the manor. He pretended to be invisible while Brit dealt with inventory or ate in the dining room. Once in a while, he broke away from his frustration and resentment to wonder if this “training” had any point.

He didn’t ask. He said nothing to Brit except for the occasional “Yes, sir.”

When Brit sent him to fetch food from the kitchen, Cook gave him advice. More often, he was on his own.

On the fifth day, everything changed. Or rather, he changed, and that changed everything.

***

He knelt, holding the tray while Brit ate. For the hundredth time, the thought came that Brit treated him as a piece of furniture. A living table.

The long days had worn the resentment from the thought. By habit, the next thought in the refrain followed. I don’t want to be a piece of furniture. What I want doesn’t matter. I’m just a table.

Without the resentment, the familiar thoughts took on a new meaning. I’m a table. What I want doesn’t matter. A table doesn’t want. A table isn’t bored. A table isn’t afraid. Or in pain. A table… is.

The idea was strangely freeing. Nothing mattered to a table. Nothing but holding the tray. If Mattin was just a table, he only needed to hold the tray. He could let go.

Worries about Marta, fears for his future, sore knees, tired arms… it stopped. He was a table; he held a tray. Nothing else was his concern. He would have laughed aloud, but tables don’t laugh.

He held the tray.

***

The revelation stayed with him the rest of the day. Whether he stood in the corner being a post or became a fence rail in the yard. At night, lying in bed, he worried. Worried for Marta, trapped for three months as Oeloff’s slave. It was too long. He could hurt her—even kill her—long before they had a chance to save her. It was also too short—far too short for him to learn everything he needed. He could be a table, but the lady needed much more. He didn’t have time to learn everything.

Eventually, he fell asleep. Worries and all.

In the morning, becoming furniture again was a relief. Brit didn’t say anything, but when his gaze crossed Mattin’s, he would drop an eyelid in something that wasn’t quite a wink. Or his eyes would crinkle in a hidden smile.

That afternoon, he gave Mattin other jobs—other furniture to be. He followed Brit to the stables and became a hitching post. A storm broke, and Brit placed him in the front hall with a pile of towels: he became a shelf. He was a lamp holder in a storeroom while Brit counted the stores.

Sometimes his worries tried to come back. Or his arms or back would ache. But he held to being furniture. As long as he was a piece of furniture, nothing touched him. He was free.

The next day was more of the same. At least until dinnertime.

***

Right before the dinner bell, Brit began clearing the work off his desk. He directed Mattin to some of the papers away. After so long holding still, moving around was strange, awkward. When the desk was clear Brit sent Mattin down to the kitchen. This time, he said, “Bring back food for both of us.”

Cook was surprised to see him before the bell, but he didn’t have time to quiz Mattin. Just threw some food on a tray and sent him back. Mattin was relieved—he had no idea what he would have said.

When he got back to Brit’s office, he found a chair in front of the desk. Brit took the tray from him and put it on the desk. He stood, not sure what to do. “Sit down and eat, boy. My legs get tired watching you.”

Mattin settled himself into the chair. His thoughts chased themselves around his head… he was a person again. He put his hands in his lap, then rested them on the arms of the chair, pulled at the collar. Brit handed him a hunk of bread and butter. He took it. Watched Brit as the older man sat down and started eating. Once Brit was absorbed in his food, Mattin took a bite of the bread.

“You did well. Better than I expected. If you can hold onto whatever you found a few days ago, we might have you fit for court in three months.”

Mattin warmed at the praise. He reached for the second mug of cider and took a long drink. “Is… is being furniture so important?”

Brit coughed and sputtered, beer spraying out his nose. “Furniture?”

Mattin handed him a napkin. “Is… isn’t that what I was? A table, or a post, or… or something else.” A quick sip of tea helped a mouth gone dry.

“Hah!” Brit barked, “Furniture! I’ll remember that one.”

“I don’t understand. If I wasn’t being furniture, what was this? And why?”

“Furniture.” Brit snorted. “That’s actually a good description for how humans are treated at court. As for why: Stand up.” Mattin stood. “Now, look at yourself.”

At first, Mattin didn’t understand—he was standing. His hands clasped in front of him, weight balanced, chin…

“Kneel.”

He dropped to the floor. Back straight, knees apart, hands on his thighs…

“Hold this.” Brit handed him a plate. Mattin held it up. At the perfect height for Brit to reach. “Five days, and you don’t even think about it. Your body knows.”

The room spun around him. Mattin got to his feet.

His hands clasped themselves.

“I…” His breath caught. Knees just so. Pain gripped his chest. He tried to slouch. For a moment, his body didn’t remember how. Mattin swallowed hard. “You trained me like a dog.” The words slipped out almost unnoticed.

Brit snorted and took the plate from him. “Sit down and eat. I taught you part of what you need to have a chance of saving your sister. And to keep your bargain with the mistress.”

Mattin’s throat tightened. He tried to speak. He tried to breathe.

“Bloody Mare.” Brit’s hands took his shoulders, pushing him into the chair. A mug pressed against his lips. “Drink.” Tea, lukewarm, spilled into his mouth. He swallowed. Gasped. Coughed. The physical shock snapped him back to himself. He felt wetness on his face.

He stared around the room, hands reaching for… something.

Brit was in front of him, took his hands, rubbing warmth back into them. Mattin clung to the other man as if his life depended on it. Why did he feel so lost?

“It changes you,” Brit said, “You thought it would be like the stories—beatings and torture and cages. You’re tough. You can take it.”

Mattin shook his head. He wouldn’t change. He couldn’t… It was standing. That was all. Just standing.

“But it’s not like that, is it?”

“No.” Mattin whispered, “I thought… I thought…”

“You’d bargain your freedom but keep yourself?” Brit pulled a hand free and passed him a napkin to wipe his face. “The mistress demands all of us, boy. We become what she needs for her purpose.”

Mattin felt drained. Empty. He wanted to insist he was his own person, that he wouldn’t be shaped into someone else. But it wasn’t just standing. It was part of who he was. How much had Brit changed him in five days? How much would he be changed before Brit and the lady were satisfied?

“What is her purpose?” he rasped.

“Survival.”


Hey! It’s my birthday!

That means the ebook version of Bound by His Oath is now publicly available on Smashwords, Amazon, and a few other places! (I give the best birthday gifts.)

 

Check it out now!

The Last Lady of Lună (S1, E4)

Season Content Notes: abduction, blood

Benj

Benj would never tell him, but God, he loved Marcus’ voice. Some days when he was giving a briefing, Benj’d close his eyes and just listen to that golden voice. Listening to the contrast between his bright tones and Ms Nastasia’s husky croon? Benj nearly creamed his pants and to hell with what ever they were saying.

What was the point of negotiating a contract, anyway? What fucking court would be able to enforce a contract on a vampire? “Point of order, your honor: the contract said she was only allowed one pint of blood, but she took a pint and a half.” Yeah, right.

This was a leap of faith. Except Marcus wouldn’t be doing any leaping if Nastasia kept cutting him off at the legs. As Benj was thinking that, she did it again.

“What do you mean, no salary?”

Nastasia reached into a pocket and pulled out a stack of credit cards. She sorted through them a moment, then flipped one to Marcus. “Fine, give yourself a salary if you care so much. Your name is already on the account. I refuse to deal with the paperwork.”

Leyla snorted and shared a grin with Benj. Leyla understood, Benj thought. Victor might. Karen? Who knew. At least she’d stopped asking about Nastasia’s knife collection.

Marcus?

Benj would die for that man. Might be about to give up his soul for that man. But damn, was Marcus missing the forest for the trees.

“That’s a hell of a lot of trust, ma’am.” Benj put in. “What happens if he decides to give himself a million dollar a week salary and clear you out?”

Nastasia looked at him in surprise. “Why would he?”

Benj grinned, “He’s a greedy fucker sometimes.”

“Once we share blood, we will be bound. I don’t think any of you could do anything to harm me. It becomes… instinct, to take care of each other.”

“See, I thought it might be something like that. You being magic and all. But you got to spell these things out for us ignorant humans.”

“Marcus doesn’t read enough romance novels,” Karen put in. She’d gotten bored of tossing the knife and had switched testing the edge on her forearm. “He thinks this is a job offer and not a feudal thing. Obligation for obligation, right? Like old kings and knights. Not money for service.”

“Yes!” Nastasia jumped on Karen’s explanation. “Not exactly king and knight, but… much closer, yes.”

“So,” Karen continued. Benj watched as she eyed the knife and nodded. “It’s late, and I still need to look at your knives. We’re all going along with this way too easily. We should be freaking out, but instead, we’re signing on. I suppose that could be you using some magic whammy on us, but I don’t think so. You worked way too hard to give us a way out. Since we’re in urban fantasy territory, I’ll go with fate-thing.”

It took Benj a moment to catch up with what-all Karen was saying, but once he did, he nodded in agreement.

“Marcus,” she continued, “I get you are trying to protect us, but contracts aren’t protecting anyone from Dracu-lady. Let’s get this done so I can see the sharps, huh?”

And she drew the knife across her bicep, opening a shallow cut. Blood immediately began running down her arm.

Benj shook his head and laughed. That was Karen for you. She cut through enemies and bullshit with equal ease and saw the world in a way no one else ever would.

Benj glanced at Nastasia. Her eyes were dilated, her tongue just peeking out of her lips… licking his own lips, Benj held out his hand for the knife. Karen gave him the sweetest smile and passed it over.

***

Nastasia

Can you say you are staring if there are two things you can’t look away from, and your eyes keep flicking between them? It felt like I was staring.

Karen’s blood flowed down her arm to pool briefly in the crook of her elbow. A moment later, it overflowed and spilled onto the floor.

Benj held the knife over his own forearm, grinning at me.

I gripped the arms of my chair, felt the metal bend under my hands. Cheap aluminum.

“Be sure.”

I had seen blood before. Not often — people don’t go around bleeding all over town. But playground accidents, a bad car crash, that kind of thing.

But it had never called to me as Karen’s blood did. The scent of her blood reminded me of moonlight dancing on water, enticing me to come and play. I wanted to sink my teeth in and revel in her depths.

The knife in Benj’s hand, just dimpling his skin, teased and promised. It hinted at the red treasure hidden beneath its sharp edge and the promise that it would be spilled. I wanted that knife to sink into his skin. Wanted it to spill his life for me to lap up. I’d let it run down his arm to his fingers. Then I’d lick my way up his arm, pause to suck on that wound, and keep licking until I reached his neck and bit him. Fangs optional.

“Be sure,” I said again, my voice almost a growl.

“I’m ready to do this, ma’am. I expect I’ll regret it a bit later, but I’ll regret it more if I don’t.”

In spite of the blood and tension, I snorted at that. “I’ll certainly regret it more if you don’t, but it’s not my opinion that matters.”

Marcus opened his mouth, but Victor cut him off, “Get a move, Benj. My turn next.”

With a laugh, Benj sliced his arm open and tossed the knife across the room to Victor. Benj’s blood was dark on his white skin, reminding me of caramel syrup on vanilla ice cream, salty and sweet.

A moment later, more blood scent, deliciously cream–and odd scent for blood but I didn’t care anymore — filled the air, then Vincent’s footsteps, and the knife was in Leyla’s hands. Blood dripped down Victor’s cheek — he hadn’t bothered rolling up his sleeve to get at his arm– and then Leyla’s warm salt scent teased my nose.

As if we were already bound, we turned as one to look at Marcus.

***

Marcus

Karen was right. Karen was fucking right. They were jumping in too fast, too eager to sign on with this vampire with no protections, no security. Nothing except the word of a strange, blood-sucking woman and the temptations she offered.

Temptations that were too good, too smooth, too perfect. Marcus tapped the credit card Nastasia’d tossed him against the table. Too perfect. She shouldn’t be able to get cards in all their names. Anyone taking out a card in his name should have raised a security flag with headquarters. All their names? Panic alarms should have been going off. It couldn’t be real.

But somehow, he didn’t doubt that it was.

He looked at Nastasia, still gripping her chair and looking at him like she wanted to devour him. Looked around the room at his team.

He’d already agreed to work for this woman. And even if he hadn’t, he wasn’t letting his team jump off a cliff without going along to watch their backs.

With a sigh, he held out his hand for the knife.

“So, how do we do this?”

Nastasia smiled, her fangs on show. She released the arms of the chair and stood. “There is an ancient ceremony,” she said, moving with restrained deliberation around the table. Marcus had seen enough people desperate to run but needing to walk to recognize the look. “But it is a formality. You pledge before Luna that you choose to be sotii to me, and we exchange blood. A sip — a lick — is enough.”

She had reached Marcus and stood next to him, nostrils flaring. For a moment, the hunger faded, replaced by uncertainty. “You asked the wrong questions, Marcus. I think Karen is right about the magic. I knew the moment I was in a room with you that you were the ones, but I don’t know why. I don’t think anyone does. There are other things I can tell you.

“My blood will act like a virus, entering your cells and rewriting your DNA. My mother told me it’s like a few days of bad flu.

“Your blood — the first human blood I taste — will change me also. Once I taste your blood, I have a day — sunset to sunset — to bind any others. After tomorrow’s sunset there will be no one else for me, ever.

“You ask about salaries and supplies and health care, but this is not a job. It is a lifetime. You will be bound to me.

“Think of it like… getting married. But there’s no divorce for me. If you decide to abandon me later, if you get killed from some stupid infection, I’m screwed. So the answer to what I’ll spend, what I’ll give to keep you with me and happy is ‘anything’ ”

Marcus wanted to scoff at her drama, but something stopped him. A moment later, he remembered and was glad he had stayed silent. Nastasia’s mother had died after losing her sotii. If she was telling the truth, she was throwing herself off a cliff, too.

“But it’s not just about survival, Marcus, and you know it. You know it because you feel it too. Maybe it’s Lună’s blessing, or sotii magic no one ever explained to me, or some instinct…”

Before she could continue, he raised the knife to the side of his neck. Hey, it was tradition. “You’re right, Nastasia. I’ve been asking the wrong questions. I don’t know the right ones. But we’ll have plenty of time to learn, right?”

Relief, that was the look in her dark eyes. “Right.”

“So… I choose to be sotii to Nastasia of the Luna clan.”

” ‘I pledge before Luna.’ ” she murmured, and he copied her, feeling weird as hell. Solemn pledges were not exactly part of his day job.

Then he sliced the knife lightly just below his jawline, feeling the skin part and the blood well up.

She didn’t use her fangs. Instead, she bent and put her lips on Marcus’ neck, and he would have sworn he felt her touch all the way to his groin. She sucked at him gently, each pull making him harder, needier, and it was his turn to grip the arms of his chair — it was the only way he could keep his hands off of her.

When she let go, he was panting, eyes closed, desperate.

Then she bit her finger and rubbed it across his lips. He flicked his tongue out to taste the drop of blood she left behind… and the world exploded as, for the first time since high school, Marcus Lear came hard and heavy in his pants.

The Bargain (S1, E9)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex, reference to/discussion of child abuse

Brit released Mattin when the bell rang for dinner. After working in the kitchen the past week, it was odd to sit in the dining hall while Crait and the others served. But he enjoyed the chance to catch up with Jaffrey.

“She what!”

Mattin scrunched down as heads turned towards them. “Yeah, I know. According to Cook, she hasn’t taken a personal servant in decades.”

“Not since Brit took over for the old steward, Litra says.” Jaffrey shook his head, “I’m not sure if you landed in the ale or the fire-pit.”

“Fire-pit. Definitely fire-pit.”

Jaffrey laughed, “Trust me, her bark is worse than her bite, as you lowlanders say—I ought to know!”

“Yeah, right.” Mattin took a bite of bread. It melted in his mouth. Cook could teach his father a few things– His mind sheered away from thoughts of home. “Jaffrey, what’s the deal with the lady and Brit?”

Jaffrey quirked an eyebrow.

Mattin popped another bite of bread in his mouth. “I’d have to be blind not to see they’re… close. But… I don’t want to say something stupid by mistake, and I can’t ask them.”

Jaffrey used his own bread to sop up the gravy puddled on his plate. He ate the bread, taking his time. “I only know rumors, but it can’t hurt to tell you.

“Brit was a bit younger than you are, when Mistress Jahlene was born. Lady Trilla, the Mistress’ mother, made Brit’s mother the Mistress’ wet nurse. I guess she didn’t want to be a mother because Brit’s mother basically raised the Mistress. When she died, Brit took over.”

Mattin took a long drink as he tried to wrap his mind around that…

“From what some of the old ones say, Trilla was bad even for the fae. Maybe even worse than Oeloff.” Mattin snorted in disbelief. Jaffrey shook his head. “Do you know about fae and children?”

Mattin blinked. “No?”

Jaffrey sighed. “One of their few virtues. Most fae have a soft spot for children, even human children. I guess because they don’t have many. And they never use children for glamourhai—for feeding their magic. It’s unthinkable. But Trilla… she did.” He stopped and looked hard at Mattin.

It took Mattin a minute to catch up. He’d never thought that fae would have a ‘soft spot’ for any humans. But thinking, back he couldn’t remember a single time — or even a story of a time — that Oeloff had claimed a child to serve him.

So maybe Trilla really was worse than Oeloff. But Jaffrey had been talking about when the lady was a child… “No…”

Jaffrey nodded. “She did. And sometimes she dragged Brit in as well.”

He stabbed at his plate. “No one really knows what happened. As far as I know, neither of them ever said anything. But one day, they say the two of them came out of the glamourhame — Mistress Jahlene and Brit — and Trilla was dead.”

***

Late that night, terror jerked Jahlene out of slumber. Standing up, she threw on a dressing gown and set out through the halls. Her own fear muddled her glamour, giving her no taste of the others in the manor. She ran.

Moments later, she sat in Brit’s room, watching him sleep. Seeing with her eyes that he was safe.

Fae didn’t dream. Dannu might whisper in the night of things to come, but dreams as humans knew them, no. Yet sometimes, Jahlene dreamed. Or perhaps, remembered.

The last time, Brit slept in a small room in her suite. His hair had still been dark, and only a few small wrinkles had touched his skin.

Now, the color was gone from his hair, and his face was deeply lined. He slept in the steward’s chamber, available if anyone needed to find him during the night.

As Jahlene calmed, her glamour cleared. The gingery taste of Brit’s dreams came to her first. Even in sleep, he was irritable. Faintly she tasted the sleepy or drowsy minds filling the manor. Most of them, various shades of calm and contentment. Then sharp-sour horror washed over her. She wasn’t the only one dreaming tonight.

How did humans do it, she wondered. Endure these torments night after night. She thanked Dannu for protecting Her children from such horrors. Once a decade was all she wished to know of them.

With a sigh, she turned towards the door.

“How long has it been since you snuck into my room of a night?” Brit asked.

She chuckled. “This once, I thought I’d get out without waking you. Foolish of me.”

“Trilla is dead. She can’t hurt either of us anymore,” he said. Like the last time, and the time before that.

“Then why do I still dream?”

He sighed and continued their familiar script, “Because you still fear her.”

Shaking her head, Jahlene returned to the bed and rested a hand on his cheek. “Good night Brit. I’m sorry I woke you.”

***

Mattin stood in a dark room full of horrors. Marta lay before him, tied and gagged. He raised the knife and walked toward her. Behind him was an unseen presence forcing his body forward. He fought to stop, to turn the knife on the one who controlled him. He couldn’t. He wasn’t strong enough. When he reached his sister’s side, his body knelt down beside her. He slammed the knife down into her chest.

He woke screaming.

Boltin upright, Mattin staggered out into the hallway. Dimmed lamps cast faint reflections on the wood walls, their oil spreading the scent of violets into the night. He reached out and brushed his fingers across the chimney of the nearest lamp. The heat burned, and he knew he was awake. Holding back sobs of relief, he reached up and touched the collar about his neck. Countess Jahlene’s collar. Oeloff couldn’t touch him again. Could never force him as…

As the lady’s mother had forced her? Or forced Brit?

He laughed at himself. Jaffrey’s story must have disturbed him more than he realized. Not that it hadn’t been disturbing enough!

But maybe he understood a little better why the lady would be different from other fae, why she took his bargain when he’d had so little to offer.

He went back to his cubby and tried to relax. It was hard. however false it was, the image of Marta stretched out before him wouldn’t leave. Mattin was safe from Oeloff, but she wasn’t. Three months. Most of Oeloff’s slaves survived several years. Surely three months would be fast enough…

But when he finally drifted off, his last through wasn’t of Marta or Countess Jahlene. It was of himself. Of the moment in the hallway when he had checked to be sure his collar was still there. He had been glad, he realized, he wore the collar.

Glad to be a slave.

Return to:
The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E8)

The Bargain (S1, E8)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

Mattin didn’t make it back to the kitchen for dinner that night. He didn’t make it for breakfast cleanup the next morning either. It had taken Jahlene three days to accept the inevitable, but accept it she did. For the first time in over two decades, Jahlene would have a personal assistant.

The news filled Mattin with dread. As her personal assistant, he would be by her side almost all the time, all his days spent — sometimes alone — with the fae noble who could do anything she wished with him. But the same determination that had seen him to Jahlene’s door rose up. He knew the lady was not like Oeloff, and he had sworn to do anything he needed to for his sister.

He said nothing while Jahlene, Brit, and Parlen argued training, schedules, and whether he could be ready to serve her in three months at the fae emperor’s Winter Court.

And instead of the kitchen, Mattin reported to Brit’s office.

Brit didn’t bother to greet him. Just directed him to stand next to the desk. Unsure of what was going on, Mattin tried to be patient. When he raised a hand to push a strand of hair out of his face, Brit snapped, “Hands clasped in front of you.”

“Wha—”

“Silence.”

Mattin swallowed his questions and stifled a growl. Brit was supposed to be training him for court. What kind of Mare’s damned training was it when the man wouldn’t tell him anything?

Several hours passed. Mattin remained standing. Hands folded, feet shoulder-width apart, weight balanced, chin up… As the sun rose higher, the scent of warm oil and leather filled the room, overwhelming the musty smell of all the paper Brit kept piled everywhere. The odor roiled his empty stomach, making the taste of bile linger in the back of his throat. Brit’s pen scritched in the silence.

Of all Mattin’s fears, death by boredom never crossed his mind. He couldn’t even read over Brit’s shoulder. And every time he got distracted—

“Chin up!”

Mattin raised his chin, gritted his teeth, and tried to ignore the growing soreness in his feet.

He kept time by watching the movement of the light from the windows. When the square of sunlight had moved halfway across the room, the bell for lunch rang. Mattin waited, stomach gnawing at his spine, for Brit to release him. Long minutes passed. The scritch-scritch of Brit’s pen was driving him crazy.

He must be having a tray sent, Mattin thought with horror. A groan slipped out at the thought of needing to stand and watch Brit eat.

“Silence.”

Mattin closed his eyes, willing himself to endure.

Time dragged by.

The light moved another foot across the wall.

No tray came.

“Go down to the kitchen. Get some food for yourself, and bring a tray back.”

Mattin jumped. After a moment, Brit’s words sunk in. “Yes, sir!” He started for the door, but Brit’s cough stopped him in his tracks. Grumbling silently, he turned and bowed to the older man. Then he left the room.

Opening the kitchen door, a waft of hot, moist air hit him with the hearty savor of a well-made stew. His stomach growled loud enough that Cook spun around. “There you are! So, you’ll be abandoning me already?”

Mattin shrugged uncomfortably. “New orders.”

“Oh, come in, lad, and sit down.” He plopped a bowl full of radishes, carrots, and peas in a thick broth on the table. “You’ll still see me. More often than you’d like. Now eat up.”

“Thank you,” Mattin said around a mouthful of stew. He swallowed and ignored how strange it felt to be sitting with food while the work of the kitchen went on around him. “Brit wants a tray for lunch.”

“What kind of tray?” Cook demanded.

“Ah…” Another few mouthfuls and Mattin no longer felt quite so hollow. “He didn’t say. Just lunch…”

“Hmph. Anyone important enough to have someone standing at their beck and call all day is important enough for the kitchen to make up a tray special. You worked an inn, lad. Day like this, a man’s been sitting for hours, scratching a pen with nothing to wet his throat. He’s looking forward to more hours of the same. What’s he want?”

That brusque question was all it took for Mattin to relax completely. Whatever else had changed, Cook still saw Mattin as one of his own. Which included impromptu quizzes at the drop of a hat.

Mattin thought back to the town clerks and others like them at the inn. Often with a book open on the table and quill in hand while they ate. “Mug of small beer or cider, meat pasty. Some fruit if it’s available, and tea for later.”

“Good lad.” Cook put together a tray as he spoke. “There’s fancier food for the nobles, but the idea is the same. Filling and fast.”

Mattin was near the bottom of his bowl when Cook set the finished platter beside him. “Out of time, lad. Learn to eat faster.”

Mattin grabbed a last bite turnip and stood up. “Thank you.” He picked up the tray in both hands.

“You have to get the door,” Toerff spoke up from the tub of dishes she’d been cleaning.

Mattin cursed. He’d carried trays since the trays were bigger than him—but the inn had no door between the kitchen and the common room. And when he’d helped serve meals here, the door had been propped open.

“Here.” Toerff took the tray from him and balanced it on one hand, using the other hand to steady it. She opened the door with her free hand, walked through backward, and brought the hand back up to steady the tray. Then she came back in, returned the tray to Mattin, and went back to the dishes. Mattin tried to copy her, praying he wouldn’t overbalance the tray. How many doors between here and Brit’s office?

“Did you clear his desk before you came down?” Cook asked.

“No…”

“Then you’ll have to hold it for him. If he’s having a working lunch, you’ll kneel on his left side. Hold the tray up at the same height as his desk. Go.”

Mattin went.

The Last Lady of Lună (S1 E3)

Season Content Notes: abduction, blood

Karen

The moment the door closed behind Nastasia, Karen started slicing herself loose. It took her a minute — the knife was shit, but the ropes weren’t.

Around her, the rest of the team was talking, but she barely noticed. Knives always focused her. Knives and timelines.

Right now, her timeline was about 10 minutes to get everyone loose. Ten minutes was longer than she liked, but they’d agreed to keep the blindfolds on, and that would slow her down.

The rope parted under her knife, fiber by fiber. With a last tug, the rope holding her upper body to the chair dropped away. She bent over to work on the ties around her ankles. Wrenched her right shoulder a bit, but that was okay.

It was damn good, actually.

This Nastasia was an amateur. But she’d done a better job tying them up than most professionals. And that was after taking them down without anyone noticing.

Karen liked that. She liked testing herself, pushing her limits. She really liked the rare person who could push her past her limits and put her in her place.

She didn’t know about this vampire business. Didn’t seem possible. But if they did stick around… well, that might be fun.

Her ankles went faster, better leverage. Then she was out of the chair and working on the last rope that still held her right wrist in place. Damn good ties.

Victor was to her right. She felt around for his wrist a moment, then started cutting him loose.

“Karen!”

Marcus’ voice reached through her focus. Without her earpiece, she’d tuned them out so hard she hadn’t heard them calling her.

“Sorry, Marcus. I need my comms.”

“I know, Karen, but try to stick with us. You still have the blindfold on?”

“Affirmative.” Victor’s hand was loose. He tapped her arm and, reluctantly, she gave him the knife. She didn’t like giving anyone her knives, but it wasn’t her knife. Not really. “I’m back.”

Benj would take longer to cut everyone loose, but they had time.

“Alright. We’re going to sit tight a bit and get everyone free. Then we’ll assess. Keep the blinds on for now. We can manage well enough for a bit, and we don’t want to back Nastasia into a corner if we can avoid it.”

They all agreed, and Karen felt her way back to the chair she had been in.

“So, Leyla,” she said as she sat down. “Vampires?”

***

Victor

Victor had his blindfold off the moment Nastasia closed the door behind her. He hadn’t been going to screw the deal for his team, but he was a marksman, damnit. He needed to see.

By the time Karen had him loose, he had a good sense of the room they were in. It was a half-finished basement. One doorway, but a couple of small windows near the ceiling, dark outside. Not big enough for most people to fit through, but someone with bad intentions could chuck a grenade in. Victor would be damned if the lights in the ceiling weren’t fluorescents, but they didn’t make that buzzing noise everyone hates so much. Maybe a new kind of LED? The chairs they were tied to were the cushioned metal things rich people used around a pool. The table was old battered wood. More battered now that Karen had carved it up a bit.

He listened to the discussion with half an ear.

“It was that job in Germany I never talk about,” Leyla was saying, “The job went weird, and I ended up with a couple of vampires, of all things, helping me cover the principal. They didn’t say much, but I picked up a few things. They called themselves Clan Tunet. Good folks in a fight; they said if I ever made it back Germany to look them up.”

“So, you think she’s the real deal?” Marcus asked.

“Easy enough for her to prove it,” Benj put in. “You like it rough, boss?”

Victor yanked a bit harder than he needed to on the ropes holding Benj. “The lady’s a lady.”

Benj laughed. “The lady got to you too, huh? Come on, Vic, tell me you wouldn’t mind hearing what that voice sounds like when she’s writhing in bed.”

“Enough,” Marcus said.

Victor moved on from Benj to get Leyla loose.

“Save your sex fantasies until we get out of here, Benj,” Marcus continued.

“Are we getting out of here?” Karen asked.

No one said anything for a moment.

“Assess first,” Leyla said. “Status?”

“Good,” Victor replied.

“Sore, but okay.”

“No injuries.”

“Give me my knife back.”

“Ready to rumble.”

“Sitrep,” that was Marcus.

“Everyone’s loose. No known hostiles,” Victor said. “We’ve got one exit and a couple of threat points visible.”

Marcus’ head swiveled like a gun coming to bear. Victor could feel his glare through the blindfold Marcus wore. Since Marcus couldn’t see him anyway, Victor let himself smile.

“You took the blindfold off. What the hell, Victor?”

Victor took a deep breath.

“I’m staying.” That lady was in trouble, and he’d never been able to refuse a woman in need. It had gotten him in trouble more than once, but that was okay.

The vampire thing, though. That was what had really tipped the scales.

“Fuck.”

The last rope fell off Leyla, and Victor passed the knife back to Karen. Rather than sitting down again, he moved to the corner of the room furthest from the door. From there, he had a good view of the table, the door, and the windows. Not that it did him much good without a gun, but at least he wouldn’t be taken by surprise.

“Oh, come on, does anyone really want to leave?” Leyla looked at all of them. “I know we feel like we should. We’ve got lives, right? And a contract. But do we want to?”

The little minx had balls, setting out to seduce Marcus like that.

Karen flipped the knife, and it whirled, flashing in the air, to land with a solid ‘thunk’ back in her palm. Victor looked away and thought of cold showers. He’d had a lot of practice at it. You don’t tell your teammate that the way she handles sharps gets you all hot and bothered. “I want to get her better knives. The balance on this…” she shook her head.

Benj sighed and leaned back in the chair, slumping a bit. The damn joker was about to get real.

“Marcus, I know you’ll die before you take a desk job. But that’s just it — You. Will. Die. Yeah, I have the hots for that lady and don’t try to tell me you don’t. But we all know upstairs wanted you to retire from the field three years ago.

“If Ms Nastasia really has some kind of vampire fountain of youth — I want that for you. You looked out for me from the moment I joined the team.

“My turn now.”

And that was why Victor liked having Benj on the team.

***

Nastasia

I hadn’t expected them to be there when I returned, but I could hear their voices through the door. They weren’t loud. Tense, but not arguing or angry. Someone laughed. It was deep and rough and went right through me. I wanted to hear that laugh again. I wanted to make them laugh.

I didn’t even know who it was.

As soon as I pushed open the door open, the talk quieted. Four of the team had stayed where I’d left them — but they were all loose, and none were wearing blindfolds. And one of the chairs was empty.

Victor was missing.

I stepped back, but Marcus held up a hand. “You wanted to negotiate a contract? This is how we do it.”

I nearly snarled.

I looked around the room — Victor was in the corner, watching. All of them met my eyes and smiled or nodded.

I should have been ecstatic — they were staying. I had them.

But I wanted sotii, not… employees.

Instead, I took a deep breath, strode to the table, and sat down.

They didn’t understand, but that was alright. We would have years to work everything out.

“I don’t, actually. Want to negotiate a contract. I want you to accept a position in my clan.” I leaned back in my chair and tried to remember everything my mother taught me about negotiating. Most important right now: understand what the other folks want and what you are willing to sacrifice. “But if you want a contract, I can work with that.”

Marcus nodded. “Leyla has apparently worked with… ah… vampires before.”

I stiffened and turned to Leyla. “Who?” I cut off whatever Marcus was about to say.

Leyla smiled, her eyes soft. “I should have thought, you have enemies. Of course, you’d worry. It was in Germany, Clan Tunet, I think. The celebrity I was guarding had some connection with their clan. I still have a phone number, but it was purely professional. I haven’t spoken with anyone since.”

Tunet. “I don’t know Tunet.” I shook my head. Ozanna might know something. “My clan’s enemies were all on this continent.”

Leyla’s smile brightened, and my heart flip-flopped. “See, we’re all good.”

Marcus cleared his throat. “Like I said, Leyla has had contact before, but the rest of us haven’t. Before we get into actual negotiations, I’d like to ah… that is…”

I giggled. I’d been expecting the question. Hadn’t expected to be so amused by serious, sober Marcus tripping over his tongue. “You want proof that I’m not crazy, right?”

“Yes.”

With a thought — well, actually with a flexing of some special muscles — my canines extended. Marcus tensed, and Benj swore. Karen stopped tossing the knife for a moment. If Victor reacted, I didn’t notice.

I didn’t say anything — talking with teeth so long you can’t close your lips is awkward at best. I just gave them all a few moments to get a good look, then bit the meat of my forearm. It was awkward. In Hollywood, they show vampires biting down near the wrist, which, yeah, veins. But also tendons and bones. Trust me, you’re less likely to really hurt someone biting closer to the middle. But it’s not an easy spot to reach on yourself.

I let go immediately — drinking my own blood wouldn’t do anything for me, and I had a point to make. My blood dripped onto the table.

Raising my eyebrows, I looked at Marcus. Who was too busy staring at the blood to notice.

Hollywood also says that we have something in our saliva to make wounds stop bleeding. Sounds nice, right? Wrong. If our saliva stopped bleeding, we’d never get any blood. Our saliva actually does the opposite — as long as my mouth is on a wound, it won’t stop.

Or so I’ve been told. I wasn’t old enough when the dads’ died to see them with mom, and Ozanna fed Elin in private.

What we do have is some fast healing. So my bite scabs over pretty quickly.

“No, I am not crazy.”

The Bargain (S1, E7)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

“Whoa, are you okay? Look, sit down a minute.” Jaffrey pushed him into a corner and made him sit. “I’m going to run and get Brit.”

“Wait.” Somehow Mattin grabbed Jaffrey’s hand. Clung to it, even. “No. I’m…” Jaffrey let him cling; his callused hands somehow helped Mattin anchor himself now.

He took a deep breath. Another.

“Alright,” Jaffrey said. “I’m not going anywhere. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

“I just…” he shook his head and managed to stand up, his legs holding him steady this time.

“I thought I knew,” he let go of Jaffrey’s hand with a smile, “How different things are here, I mean. It’s not that I didn’t believe you; I just… I spent the whole trip here thinking I’d be lucky to survive ten years. And you tell me there are slaves here who are retiring?

“It shocked me.”

Jaffrey stared at him like he’d grown a second head. “Why by the Mare would you think you were going to die?”

Mattin grimaced. “Because that’s what happens to slaves of the fae.”

“The mistress isn’t–”

“Like most fae. Yeah. I’m… I guess I’m still being surprised by how different.” Mattin stepped away from the wall. “I can’t be the first new… slave here to have trouble wrapping my head around it.” After a cautious couple of steps to test his balance, Mattin continued towards dinner. Food would settle him.

Jaffrey shadowed him and kept a wary eye on his progress. “Not really. Most of the mistress’ people are from Erida and know what to expect. I think you’re the–” Jaffrey smacked himself on the forehead. “Of course. You are the first person since me who came here from outside the county.

“Sorry, Mattin, I didn’t even think of it. Heh. And me? I probably saw more fae by the time I was talking than you have in your whole life.”

“Really?” Mattin paused at a doorway, not sure which direction. Jaffrey led him to the left, then a quick right and they were into the hall. They sat at the same table section they’d used that morning. It wasn’t empty this time. Elose was there, and a few others. “What was that like? Traveling like that?”

“Fun, interesting, tedious, scary.” Elose waved at them, and Jaffrey waved back.

“Hey, Mattin. I’ll scat if you want, but I usually meet Jaffrey at dinner.”

“Um… no. I don’t mind.”

After the talk in the bath, he had a pretty good idea why Elose would be meeting Jaffrey, but it still wasn’t any of his business.

Except he was completely wrong. Instead of flirting — well, along with flirting — Elose pulled an old note and started quizzing Jaffrey on the letters in each word. “You can read?” Mattin blurted, then blushed to the roots of his hair. “Sorry, that was rude…”

Luckily, Elose laughed. “Not what you expected? I never am. I’m hoping to get promoted to Housekeeper when Lola retires. But I need to be able to read and do maths.”

“We trade,” Jaffrey said, studying the scrap. “The Mountain Folk use a different alphabet, and I never was good at reading, but I learned numbers and accounts on my father’s knee.”

“Huh.” Mattin thought a minute while Jaffrey painstakingly read the scrap out loud. “If you’re that good with numbers, why are you in the stables? Wouldn’t you be able to… like help keep the accounts here or something?”

Jaffrey froze.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Elose said. “He’s right, isn’t he. I bet you could help Brit a lot with all those numbers he hates.”

“The mistress needs me in the stables,” Jaffrey said. He sounded almost harsh.

“Yeah, but…”

Jaffrey was scowling now and rubbing his wrist. “I need to be in the stables.”

Mattin glanced at Elose. She was worried.

Though neither of them could know it, Mattin’s question had plunged the conversation into deep waters, things only a very few should know.

They did understand that the question upset Jaffrey. “Sorry I asked,” Mattin said. “It really isn’t our business.”

“Right,” Elose said. She forced a chuckle. “I’m the last one to be digging up other folks’ secrets, right?”

Jaffrey chuckled as well and took a deep breath. “Well, one thing that’s no secret is that Brit doesn’t trusted me. So office work is out, right?”

It wasn’t really an answer, and both his friends knew it wasn’t. But they also knew better than to push.

***

The next morning before breakfast, Cook came out and told Mattin he’d be working in the kitchen for the time being. As Cook finished speaking, Brit came over. The two glared at each other before Cook returned to the kitchen.

“This may be temporary,” Brit said, “Depending on how the mistress decides to deal with Oeloff. In the meantime, you’ll be meeting with me one afternoon a week. If you have any problems, tell me.”

Mattin reported to the kitchen after breakfast. Cook introduced him to Toerff, the under-cook he’d seen the day before, and set him to cleaning the dishes from breakfast. He finished just in time for luncheon.

He and Toerff helped two of the pages, Crait and Harth, carry out the food. Mattin recalled Jaffrey saying, Crait was another one of the lady’s “toys.” He was big enough to be a blacksmith. When he first entered the kitchen, he’d grinned at Mattin, saying “Welcome, new man. I’ve seen you around, but we haven’t been introduced. I’m Crait.”

“Uh… hi, my name is Mattin.”

“Yup. Heard a bit about you from Jaffrey. Someone should warn you: that man is the worst gossip.”

“…thanks. I think.”

Harth came into the kitchen, grunted a hello, but didn’t say another word to anyone.

Halfway through the meal, Elose came to get a tray for Jahlene. Mattin was surprised to hear Cook grumbling as he put the tray together.

Crait saw Mattin’s confusion. He winked and said, “The mistress never takes her meals regular. Sometimes she comes down to the hall, sometimes sends for a tray. And Cook never knows ahead of time which it will be.” Then he grabbed up a platter of meat pastries to carry out to the hall.

Mattin followed him with a basket of fruit. “That sounds… frustrating.”

“Very, but everyone except Cook is used to it. He remembers what it was like before the old steward died.”

Mattin blinked. Brit seemed on top of the household. “I don’t—”

“Cook can tell you more—but she hasn’t taken anyone to serve her personally since she made Brit steward. It leaves the rest of us filling in for what he used to do.”

***

Over the next few days, Mattin learned his way around the kitchen of the great house. Kitchen work started before dawn, but Cook told him to report after breakfast. Cook and Toerff started the day’s bread and prepared breakfast without him. In the evening, Cook sent Toerff off after dinner and left the cleaning to Mattin. Then, up to his elbows in soapy water and dishes, the homesickness hit.

He remembered nights at the inn, scrubbing pots while Bren told stories. Singing songs to speed the work. Or sitting around the fireplace on a storming night, relaxing in the quiet inn.

To his relief, Cook kept himself busy with other matters. If the old half-fae noticed the saltwater dripping into the sink over the course of an evening, he said nothing.

During the day, the kitchen was busy, not just with work but also with visitors. Everyone who worked inside and had a few minutes to spare dropped in to grab a roll and trade news.

By the fourth day, Mattin was becoming comfortable with the routine. Or—at least, the routine was becoming familiar. He didn’t see much of Jaffrey as he’d have liked, only at breakfast once. But he enjoyed Cook’s chatter, started to develop friendships with Crait and the other pages, and tried to get to know the quiet and elusive Toerff. Jahlene was a distant figure, seen once or twice when she came down to the hall for meals. Brit stopped him at breakfast each day to ask how he was getting on.

On his fifth morning as a slave, he woke to a surprising realization. In spite of the homesickness, the collar, everything, he was looking forward to the day.

That afternoon, Jahlene summoned him.


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The Last Lady of Lună (S1, E2)

Season Content Notes: abduction, blood

Nastasia

“I am a vampire.

“And I can make you — or keep you — young.”

The room was silent. So silent, I could hear their heartbeats. I looked around the table, and my heart clenched. Their faces, even hidden by blindfolds, were familiar to me.

Karen’s heart-shaped face was pine dark, and I was probably lucky I couldn’t see her eyes just now. They glinted like sunlight through the pine boughs and were just as entrancing.

Victor was lanky and thin, his nose as sharp as a falcon’s beak. Fitting since he was the sharpshooter of the team. Noses shouldn’t be sexy.

Marcus, skin as dark as my hair and lean, with that incongruous blond hair cut so short it looked like feathers. Would it feel like feathers too?

Leyla’s face was round as Lună and tanned like a surfer, her black curls tamed into tight braids.

Benj was pale with dark brown hair and eyes, much like my own people. But it was his mouth I loved: a sensual bow always quirked with humor. Almost always. I’d managed to wipe the humor away.

I felt like I already knew them, and Luna’s approval sang in my blood. But they weren’t mine yet, and they might never be.

“You’re right, Nastasia, that is a… very interesting benefits package,” Marcus said, his light tenor calm and just the slightest bit patronizing. “But we’re happy with our current employer.”

I slumped. I couldn’t help it. “You don’t believe me. You think I’m crazy.”

“No one said that, Nastasia–”

Snorting, I pushed my chair back and stood up. “I don’t like being patronized. I like being treated like a fool even less.”

“I think we’ve been real patient, Nastasia.” Marcus wasn’t sounding so calm anymore, and I knew I was losing them. Maybe had already lost them. “But we want to go home now.”

My breath caught, but I’d known it was coming.

If they had given me a time I could have shown them proof, convinced them to hear me out… but sotii could not be forced. If I didn’t release them, they would be prisoners. Not sotii, and never mine.

I took the knife off my belt and placed it in front of Victor. “It shouldn’t take you long to get yourselves loose. I’ll be gone before you do. There’s a rental van in the garage with your things in it.”

I turned for the door. I had been so sure these were the ones, but there would be others. I still had time…

“Why are you looking to hire security?”

Leyla’s voice was light and sweet, and I could have drowned in it.

“Like I said, I have enemies. And I am alone.”

“I thought all vampires had clans for protection.”

This time it was my own heartbeat I heard hammering in my ears. Leyla knew about my people?

***

Leyla

Leyla hadn’t really expected this Nastasia to let them go. Not until she heard the grief in the woman’s voice and her footsteps — no longer silent — heading away from the table. But it seemed this was the real deal. Giggle and all.

She should have let the vamp keep walking, but she told herself she was curious. And how often do you get offered a chance at immortality?

Marcus was to her right, so it was probably his hand that gripped her shoulder so tightly. It was definitely him quietly demanding “What the hell are you doing?”

“Getting some tea. Come on, Nastasia, Marcus may be in a hurry to get home, but it’s been too long since I had some real girl talk.

“Karen’s awesome, but she doesn’t gossip, you know?”

“I…” the vamp’s voice wavered, then firmed up, “My clan was bound to Luna, but our enemies tore us apart when I was a child.”

To most people, that would be the cue to change the subject. People getting torn apart — literally or figuratively — wasn’t really girl talk. Unless you were the mean girls.

Leyla wasn’t a mean girl. When she tore you to pieces, it wasn’t with words, and it was for a better reason than shits and giggles. Around her, the rest of the team shifted in their chairs. If they had comms on, they’d have been bombarding her with questions. But they knew better than to interrupt when she was getting tea.

“That sucks. When you were a kid? How did you survive?”

“My Mama got me out. She and Ozanna and Emil raised me, kept me safe. But Mama died last year.”

This called for a physical gesture. Offer a hug, lean closer, something. But Leyla couldn’t do any of that. Couldn’t even offer a hand to hold with the vamp who-knew-how-far across the room. So she tried to put it all into her voice. “Wow. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Nastasia’s voice was closer. “We knew. Her sotii died in the fighting, and without them… she died a little every day.”

“Her sotii? I don’t know that word. They defended her?”

“Yes,” the word wasn’t more than a whisper. Very close, then. Leyla tapped twice on the table, letting the team know they could join the convo.

“Is that what you were looking for from us, Ma’am?” Benj asked. His drawl was deeper than usual. Leyla thought he did that on purpose when they seduced someone together, his drawl playing off her fry. “You need… what was it, sotey of your own?”

“Yes.” Her chair scraped on the floor again. It hurt Leyla’s ears but she’d learned to work through that kind of annoyance long ago. “I’m coming into my powers but still weak. Without sotii I am… honestly, I’m walking around with a target on my back.”

Marcus squeezed Leyla’s shoulder again, a warning that he’d have words for her later. But Leyla didn’t care because he was willing to work with her now.

“I still don’t understand why us,” he said. “No, I’m even more confused why us. Wouldn’t you want vampires for that?”

Nastasia giggled again, and Leyla shivered. She would never admit it, but if she hadn’t heard the vamp giggle earlier, Leyla would have let her walk away. But she had needed to hear it again.

Now that she had, she was pretty sure she was hooked. Addicted to vamp giggles, sight unseen. Yeah, she was in trouble.

***

Nastasia

That Leyla had taken me by surprise was understatement of the year. That was okay, though; it gave me another chance.

“Sotii are always human. That’s… Mama’s sotii came from human families who had been part of our clan for centuries.”

“You can’t do that.” Leyla’s voice was warm and understanding, and I leaned into it. I was telling them too much, far too much for humans who weren’t bound to a clan. But I didn’t care.

“No. Even if I could find anyone… I can’t take a normal human as sot. I’d just be putting that target on their back too. Oh, people in the clan were trained to fight. But martial arts or self-defense or even time in the military isn’t really…” I swallowed.

“No need to explain, ma’am. We have a bit of a… specialized skill set.”

“Mama never recovered after they died. I want to know that anyone who becomes mine will survive.”

No one said anything for a moment, then Karen barked a laugh. “That is some tea. So we’d be what… bodyguards?”

“Bodyguards, advisors… ah… food?” I couldn’t help wincing a little at some of their expressions. “It’s… it’s another way sotii protect us. I’ve never fed — that’s why my powers are weak. When I take sotii, I’ll never feed on anyone else. Who else can I trust like that?”

Victor was spinning the knife on the table. Karen cocked her head, following the sound of it. Like a snake, her free hand shot out and grabbed the knife. She weighed it in her hand a moment, then started carving the table.

“This is a shit knife.”

I shrugged, knowing she couldn’t see it, not knowing what it meant. “I only have a few good knives. I wasn’t going to leave one of them behind.”

Karen raised the knife to her cheek — as if she was going to shave with it. “We’ll have to get you more.”

My breath caught again, hope this time. Marcus sighed.

“Nastasia, would you step out of the room and let us talk? I promise we’ll be here when you come back.”

“Of course!” I jumped to my feet, knocking the chair over. Smooth, real smooth. At least they couldn’t see my blush. Shaking my head, I righted the chair and walked away. But I stopped in the doorway.

“I’ll be back in an hour. It’s alright if you aren’t here.”

The Bargain (S1, E6)

Season content notes: fictional slavery, con noncon*, pain play, pain play implied, sex

Even from her office, Jahlene could taste Mattin, not just taste him, but taste him strongly enough to know where he was. The kitchen.

She didn’t know else was with him — Cook presumably, and his assistants. But all them blended together, the energy of thei emotions mixing with with everyone else in the manor and surrounding area. There were many, like Brit or Joth, that should pick out if she looked for them. People she was tied to in some way. But usually anyone not in the room with her was part of the blend. It was was a complex blend, made of contentment, pleasure, worry, stress, joy, and a spark of pleasure — Crait and his wife perhaps, taking advantage of the beating she’d given him yesterday.

But Mattin stood out from that, had throughout the night. It was a curious thing, and made her wish (again) that she could have had a proper fae upbringing and actually learned how her glamour worked.

On the other hand, she thought, somewhat tartly, if she had a ‘proper’ fae upbringing, she probably would have learned to enjoy the taste of fear and hate, to see her family as tools and not people she cared for.

Perhaps it was for the best, then, that she didn’t know, even if it left her confused and curious.

Pulling herself away from her thoughts, she set aside the piece of scrap paper she’d been doodling on and turned to Parlen, the only other person in the room with her. “Would you mind repeating that?”

“Of course, Mistress. The simplest option — and most likely to succeed — would be blackmail.”

There were two problems with that. First, blackmail really was simple. Parlen enjoyed politics, which was one of the reasons Jahlen relied on her. She never had simple suggestions. The other problem was that it wasn’t likely to succeed, at all.

“Unpack that Parlen.”

“Count Orloeff still wants to prove you unfit so he can claim Erida. That’s why he’s been sending spies into the county.”

Jahlene nodded and made an encouraging sound. Conversations with Parlen were like this — she’d skip ahead three stpes, then go back ten and repeat everything you already knew.

“I know we could never prove it, but I still think that Oeloss sent that Mare cursed horseshit a few years ago.”

The horseshit in question was another man who had shown up asking for Jahlene’s collar. Though he was human, he’d had a fae-like darkness in him, and harmed another of Jahlene’s people before she and Brit caught him and got rid of him. She hissed at the memory.

“Mattin is nothing like Ston was,” Jahlene said. “I would recognize that again.”

“Exactly. But Oeloff isn’t going to give up. he wants someone sending him information, possibly sabotaguing you for him.”

“Right.”

“Well,” Parlen patted her intricately braided hair and smiled. “Count Oeloff already met Mattin, and knows that Mattin’s sister is his slave. If you give him the chance, he’ll probably try to blackmail Mattin into giving him information in return for his sister’s safety.”

Jahlene laughed and shook her head. “Simple.”

“Exactly. All we need is to have a witness, someone who isn’t allied with either of you.

“You can either take the case before his Imperial Highness — that would be best politically, but it’s possible the Emperor would order the girl killed rather than let her go free. Or you can then blackmail Oeloff — make him give you political or trade concessions, andgive you the girl so you can be sure he can’t use her against you again.”

Only Parlen would describe this type of political maneuver as simple. “Blackmail the blackmailer. And if he doesn’t go for it?”

“That’s why we have a back up plan. I don’t any of them as much — too complicated and a bit risky.”

“We wouldn’t want to try anything complicated, would we?” Jahlene smiled. “Alright, so we need a witness and a chance for Oeloff to blackmail Mattin.”

“It would be best if Mattin comes with you to Winter Court.” Parlen said. “You could take him as your personal attendant and–”

“No.”

“It’s the best option, Mistress, and you know Brit wouldn’t–”

“I said no!”

“–mind. It’s been nearly a decade–”

“NO!”

***

After they left the kitchen, Jaffrey to Mattin took meet the Housekeeper, Lona. Where Cook had put Mattin straight to work, Housekeeper asked him questions. Lots of questions.

Questions about how best to remove stains, about how to clean wood, about how many sheets would be needed for so many rooms, and had he ever polished silver.

When she finally let him go, Mattin was completely wrung out, and he hadn’t done anything but stand straight and talk.

Their next stop was the stables, where the Stablemistress was happy enough with Mattin’s work, and the kennels where the dogs took an instant dislike to them.

They had just finished at the kennels when the dinner bell rang. They washed quickly at the pump behind the stables. While they washed, Jaffrey said, “If Cook doesn’t grab you, I think Brit and Anral would put you in stables.”

Mattin smiled. “I’d like that.”

Jaffrey rubbed his head and chuckled. “Me too, kid.”

“I’m not a kid!” Mattin splashed water at Jaffrey who laughed and splashed him back.

“Hey I just call it like I see it. Kid.”

Whatever Mattin would have said was interrupted by the Stablemistress clearing her throat. “Both of you kids better stop playing and get up to dinner before I kick your asses back to stable to clean out a few more stalls.”

That threat was good to get them moving and they ran back to the manor laughing.

“You really think I could work in the stables?” Mattin asked once the laughter died down, trying not to sound wistful.

“Yeah. Old Litra’s going to be retiring in a few years and then we’ll be short handed.”

“Retiring?” Mattin stopped and grabbed Jaffrey’s arm, the collar on his neck suddenly tight. “He’s a slave, right? how old could he be?”

“Litra? He’s older than Brit, I know that. He was here under the old countess, Mare’s Blessing, he’s got to be at least 60. He doesn’t want to admit he’s getting old but he limps bad in the morning.”

“Sixty.” Mattin’s knees went week and he swayed. “There’s a slave here who’s sixty years old?”

“Whoa, are you okay? Look sit down a minute.” Jaffrey pushed him down to sit in a corner with his back against the wall. “I’m going to run and get Brit.”


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The Bargain (S1, E1)
The Bargain (S1, E5)