Season Content Notes: abduction, blood
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.