Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sneak Peek: Song of Souls, Terra 3

On February 12th, Song of Souls, the third book in the Terra series, is scheduled for release. Woo hoo! With it coming down the homestretch for the release, I thought it was time to share a little peek at the book. I hope everyone enjoys going back to Terra and hanging out with Lark, Zain, and all the guys again!


Blurb:
Lark is a renowned minstrel in Forest’s End, but he has a gift beyond his beautiful voice and masterful skill with a lute that few know about. He has the ability to see and speak with souls of the dead. Other than his closest companions, only one man has never shown fear of his gift and even offered him love.

Known as the Black Fox, Zain is an assassin and thief. He never planned much of a future for himself, until he met Lark. He wants to make a good life for them, but to truly be with Lark, he needs to give up his life in the shadows.

Passion and love strengthens between them, and nothing will stop Zain from protecting Lark. When a new enemy threatens to pull them apart, it’ll take more than steel to keep Lark safe. It may be that the only one who has the key to defeat a murderous necromancer is Lark himself.

Excerpt –  Chapter 1 & a part of Chapter 2

Chapter One

His head bowed against the rain, Lark made his way down the deserted alley. His breath formed steam before him, and on each inhale, the air chilled his throat and spread the cold further through his body. He lifted his head, trying to peek out from under his hood, but the rain blew into his face, his eyes, and blurred his sight. He’d traveled this route many times, knew every dip and uneven cobble in the alley, so he didn’t need to see the way, only needed to check for objects that might be in his way…and for danger.

Fear was spreading through the poorer streets and alleys of Forest’s End and beginning to touch the merchant district. That night, in the tavern where he was singing and playing his lute, a young woman had been attacked not far from here. She survived, but was cut badly on her face several times and may be permanently scarred, depending on how good the witch was who she’d been taken to. While performing, he’d caught other murmurs of slayings, three in the last fortnight. Death was far from uncommon in the poor quarter, but killing wasn’t the usual means by which death came.

A hard gust of wind pushed against him. Lark slowed his strides rather than fight it. Icy crystals of snow assaulted him, sneaking under his hood to sting his face. He shivered, his hold on Ghost tightening. The white cat was tucked in his arms beneath his cloak, providing him some warmth and more comfort.

He’d stayed too long at the tavern. He knew that and realized it as he was doing it, but with every song he sang, more coin dropped into his lute’s case. The people seemed to need the cheer of his voice and song, and that, combined with how freely the coin was flowing, made it so he didn’t want to stop. Only when the tavern began emptying with others wanting to beat the weather to their homes, did he pack up his lute, collect Ghost, and leave to return to his rented room.

Unfortunately for him, his room was deep in the poor quarter and he was only nearing the edge of it now. He could’ve rented a room in the merchant’s district where he was playing, since he still had plenty of gold left from the king’s reward for assisting Torran and Bryson in Dragon’s Landing, but he was trying to save it, as he was with all the coin he earned. Maybe if he could save enough, he would be able to convince Zain to stop trading lives for coins and begin a life with him.

Lark tried to stave off the hurt tightening in his chest, but it was stronger than him. It always was when he thought of Zain.

He trudged forward, his head lowered from more than the weather. Was it foolish of him to keep his heart and hopes on Zain? Aye, it was. Even knowing that, he couldn’t seem to turn his attention and affection elsewhere. Deep inside, he felt Zain was the one he was meant for. If only he could believe Zain felt the same way about him.

When they were in the capital, he thought they were entering a new stage in their relationship. It was the longest they’d ever spent together continuously, every day, every night. In Dragon’s Landing, he felt he was finally seeing the true Zain, the man who existed beneath the assassin’s cloak. One who for all he did wrong, had his own code of morals, honor, and justice that was ultimately good. And he loved him, so much.

He returned Zain’s affections more than he ever had. On the night of Prince Anson’s coronation ball, when Zain led him to their bedchamber, laid him down, kissed him, pleasured him with his hand and mouth, he nearly gave all of his body to him. He stopped himself, though. While he was certain the time in Dragon’s Landing was also Zain’s longest time of not killing for pay, he needed to know Zain was fully giving up the assassin’s life before giving himself to him.

It turned out he’d made the correct decision. They’d hardly returned home to Forest’s End before Zain was riding out on an assignment…and returned with an angry spirit trailing him.

Lark closed his eyes as he walked, more from the ache in his heart than the wind, rain, and snow. What did he need to do to get Zain to stop? Zain continued to feed him the excuse of saving coin for them to have a comfortable life together. He didn’t believe it any longer. What he believed was, Zain enjoyed what he did too much to stop and he loved it more than him.

Lark pulled in a shaky deep breath. The cold air froze his throat, and he coughed, wishing he was closer to his room, under warm blankets, and, as pointless as it was to want it, he wished for Zain beside him. But his man in black was gone again on another assignment, a knife in the shadows, silent and swift in dealing out death.

“An awful nasty night for a pretty lass like you to be out.”

Lark snapped his head up, scanning the dark street for the source of the male voice. Five men crowded a nearby doorway under an overhang.

One of them knocked another on the chest with the back of his hand. “That’s no lass, you nit.”

The other spoke again, and Lark recognized his voice as the first speaker. “Ah, but he’s pretty enough to be one. That’s well enough for me.”

Harsh laughter from the group filled the street.

Cold fear rushed through Lark. He wasn’t like Zain, Bryson, Torran, Karrick, Aleric, or even Garrett, who were skilled fighters, whether with swords, fists, or magic. He’d never been much of a fighter and the only weapon he had on him to defend himself was a small dagger. Five ruffians against a minstrel. He knew where he’d place his coin if he were to bet on that fight.

Lark spun around, rushing back the way he’d come. Footsteps pounded after him. Holding Ghost tight, he broke into a run. He slipped on the rain and snow-slicked cobbles, one leg wrenching out and twisting. A strong hand grabbed his cloak, yanking him back.

Lark let out a startled cry. Already off balance, he slipped backward. “Let me go!”

Two of the men clamped onto his arms. Lark squeezed Ghost to his chest, trying to not drop her.

The first who’d spoken, the one he assumed must be the leader, stepped in front of him with the other three. “No, no. Not yet, poppet. We haven’t had any fun yet.” He reached toward Ghost. “Aw, and look at this, lads. He’s got himself a little friend. One that’s wearing what looks to be a damn fine jewel.”

The blue topaz and silver necklace around Ghost’s neck shone even in the most minimal light. The brilliant azure of the stone matched the white cat’s eyes. Ghost crouched in Lark’s arms, flattening her ears and letting out a hiss. She struck out with a paw, the silver cuff on her leg, a gift from Bryson to match her lifespan to Lark’s and increase their ability to communicate, flashed in the dark.

Lark loosened his hold on Ghost to let her run, but he was too late.

The man snatched Ghost by the scruff of her neck, ripping her out of Lark’s arms. Ghost cried out in pain, swinging as the man dangled her in the air.

Lark lunged toward the man, held back by the two wretches gripping him. “You’re hurting her! Let her go!”

The man swung Ghost back and forth. “If I let her go, do you give your word to play nice with me and my mates?”

“I…” His attacker twisted Ghost’s fur and skin in his hand. Her pain-filled cry tore through Lark. He jumped forward again, trying to get closer to her. “Whatever you want! I’ll give you anything! Just let her go!”

The man held Ghost up before him, contemplating her. “No, I’m having a change of mind. I think me and my mates will be able to handle you well enough, with or without your cooperation.”

One of the others called out, “It’ll be more fun if he doesn’t!”

Their laughter deafened Lark. He gazed at Ghost, warm tears trailing down his cheeks. He softened his voice. “Please, let her go. Don’t hurt her.”

“How sweet is that, lads? Listen to him beg for—”

Ghost lashed out with a fierce hiss. She twisted in the man’s hand, her claws raking across his face. Shouting, the man dropped her, covering his face with both hands. Ghost landed on her feet, pausing to look up at Lark.

Throwing himself forward, pulling against the men’s hold on him, Lark shouted, “Run! Go, Ghost! Run!”

The white cat darted forward. One of the gang dove at her. She sprang out of his reach and shot around the legs of the others, racing up the alley.

Lark jerked his head around, watching her disappear into the darkness. Relief spread through him. She was safe. No matter what happened to him, he could gain comfort in knowing she got away.

Fingers clenched in a fist around his hair, tearing his head back. Lark met the leader’s dark gaze, rage scrunching the man’s brutish face. Across his attacker’s cheek and nose, thin scratches seeped blood. The man twisted Lark’s hair. “I’m going to take what your demon cat did to me out on you!”

Lark pushed his pain aside, looking into the man’s eyes with all the loathing he could summon. “You got less than you deserved!”

Lark saw the hit coming, but all he could do was close his eyes. His head snapped hard to the left. Pain burned across his cheek and the tang of blood moved over his tongue.

“Get him on the ground!”

The two men holding him shoved him forward. Lark stumbled, still dazed from the hit. He didn’t get to recover. Something hard, a fist, a boot, slammed into the middle of his back. He flew forward, crashing facedown to the cobbles. White light sparked behind his eyes. The force of the fall knocked the wind from his body. He struggled to take a breath, his mind screaming for him to move, to get up and run, to fight.

Someone yanked and tugged at his lute case lying across his back and lifted him slightly off the ground.

“Let’s see what he’s got here.”

Lark summoned his strength and tried to twist away. “I’ve got coin. Take it if you want. But leave me my lute. It’s not worth anything.”

The leader ripped the lute’s case over Lark’s head. He pulled out a dagger, slicing through the lacing. “It’s worth something to you, isn’t it?”

Lark didn’t answer. He knew he didn’t have to. It was obvious the lute meant so very much to him.

The man pulled the lute free, tossing the case to one of the others. “Check it for coin.”

Another of the men pinched Lark’s ear, one of the silver earrings between his thumb and forefinger. “Let’s not forget these.”

“We’ll get those after we finish up with him.” The leader looked at Lark with a lecherous sneer. “I like the look of them on him.” He held up the lute. Even in the darkness and freezing rain, its white wood body seemed to glow, the silver lining it captured the smallest light and reflected it. “Now this looks a mite more than worthless.”

Panic rose in Lark. He pushed off the ground, reaching for his lute. “Don’t—”

Two of the men jumped forward, catching him.

The leader flipped the lute, grabbing hold of its neck. “I do agree most of it’s worthless, but for that silver. And there’s only one way to get it out.” He swung the lute toward a nearby building.

“No!” Lark surged forward, knowing he couldn’t save his precious instrument. He watched, helpless, as it met the stone of the building, shattering, white chips of wood spraying through the air. He cried out as if physically hit, and it felt as painful to him. He sagged forward, only held up by the men gripping his arms. Tears ran freely from his eyes.

The leader sauntered closer to him. “There we go. That took the fight out of him.”

Lark snapped his head up, his pain shifting to anger. Having no other defense or means to fight, he spit at the leader. The man flinched as the saliva hit him under the eye. The rage Lark had seen in his attacker before paled to what he saw overcoming the man’s face.

Grabbing Lark by the front of his tunic, the leader yanked him out of his fellows’ arms. He spun Lark, throwing him to the ground. Lark landed on his side, his cheek scraping across the cobbles. The hard toe of a boot slammed into his stomach. He curled onto his side, trying to block with his arm, only to have his forearm smashed with another kick.

Lark folded into a tighter ball, but he couldn’t make himself small enough. His back, his legs, his arms, kicks assaulted him, laughter and insults rang through his ears. The pain, it stole so much of his breath, he couldn’t cry out. It took hold of his mind, filled his body.

One thought, one image, broke through. Zain.

If Zain was with him, this wouldn’t be happening. Zain would fight for him. Protect him. Keep him safe.

But Zain wasn’t there. He was alone, as he so often was, and it may be how he would die.

“Enough! Hold up, lads! I want him breathing.” A rough laugh followed the words. “For a little while, yet.”

Hands snatched hold of him again, forcing Lark out of his protected position and onto his back. Two men kneeled on his arms. Another sat on his thighs, making it so he couldn’t kick.

The leader stood over him and ran his thumb along the long blade of a knife. “Now we’ll start the fun.”

Lark opened his eyes, his right one already beginning to swell. Only the endless black of the sky stretched above him.

No. Not like this. He wasn’t ready to die, and he didn’t want his life to end in this way. There was so much more for him to do, so many things unsaid…to Zain. He needed his man in black now more than ever.

Lark called upon the last of his strength. He writhed and pulled against the men holding him down. They were strong. So much stronger and bigger than him. Once again, their laughter surrounded him.

His tears ran out the corners of his eyes and into his hair. Desperation filled him. He took as deep of a breath as he could and shouted, “Zain!”

A fist pummeled his cheek, and a voice shouted near his head, hot, rank breath in his ear and on his face. “You think anyone’s coming to help you? No one’s going to help you! You’re ours until we don’t want you anymore!”

His attacker was right, but calling for Zain was all he could do and simply saying Zain’s name gave him a burst of strength. Not enough to fight off the men. Only enough to let him close his eyes and hope to live through the night.

Chapter Two
Zain pulled his black hood lower over his face. He trudged up the street, fatigue and cold settling deep in his muscles. It’d been too long of a day. He didn’t think he would make it back to Forest’s End before they closed the gates for the night, but he’d passed through as they were doing the final call.

Behind him, the clops of Nia’s hooves were the only sound in the empty street other than rain, now beginning to freeze and mix with snow, pattering down on roofs and stone. He looked back. Kit had his head popped up out of the saddlebag. The leather flap flattened the silver fox’s ears, but protected him from the rain. Nia’s coat seemed an even deeper black with it wet, and faint steam rose off her from her body heat and the long ride.

Zain sighed and faced forward. He needed to find an inn with a good stable and rest for the night. He’d hoped he would be able to find Lark, but after checking where Lark used to have his room, he’d found out his minstrel had moved. Again. Lark did that from time to time, always when he was upset and didn’t want to be found. Or more to say, didn’t want to be found by him, since he was the one who always upset Lark.

Zain stopped walking and closed his eyes. He needed a moment to steady himself before his emotions took hold. All the things he’d done in his life and the only regrets he had were each and every time he hurt Lark. He wanted to bring happiness to him. He knew his trade as an assassin brought Lark everything but happiness, but he was going to leave it…someday.

When he first became an assassin, he hadn’t thought about it much more than earning coin and surviving. He wasn’t more than a boy at the time. It’s not as though he considered things like consequences. And once he did get into it, he never thought much about ending it. He figured it would eventually end on its own, either by trying to kill a man more skilled than himself or getting caught by the crown’s law and dangling from the end of a short rope on tall gallows. After meeting Lark, he began envisioning a new end for himself, one dedicated to a life with his minstrel and bringing him happiness.

Only, he was starting to feel his time of being able to do that was drawing to an end. It seemed as if he was in a race between meeting his goal to provide a good life for them, or losing Lark.

Zain opened his eyes and started walking again, his pace faster, more determined. The latter wouldn’t happen. Whatever it took, he wouldn’t lose Lark. Aye, he knew they weren’t fully together as lovers. Hadn’t ever confessed any commitment to each other. But not having Lark’s body didn’t stop him from loving his beautiful minstrel. It didn’t stop him from being dedicated to Lark.

And their time in the capital, sharing a bed with Lark every night. Even though the most he did was hold him, there were also many shared kisses, touches, and the night of the coronation ball when Lark gave him more of his body than he ever had.

The cold melted from Zain as he thought of Lark’s warm, lean body beneath him. His mind conjured the sounds of Lark’s moans, ringing so clear Lark could be breathing them into his ear at that moment. Lark’s taste, he could almost recall it on his tongue when Lark released his warm, thick cum. Then when Lark kissed down his body and returned the pleasure of taking him into his mouth, never in his life had he spilled his seed so fast. Goddess, what he would give to have Lark in that way again. And again. And again.

Zain sucked in a deep breath. He needed to stop thinking these thoughts, but it was getting harder to not. He knew it wasn’t easy on Lark waiting to be with him, but it was bloody hard on him, too. If it wasn’t for Lark’s gift—or curse—of seeing the dead, they would be together now. Maybe. Something told him even if Lark couldn’t see the angry spirits of the men he’d killed, Lark would still want him to quit his assassin’s trade.

Someday he’d be able to. Time. All he needed was a little more time.

A sharp yip snapped him out of his thoughts.

Zain stopped and glanced back to Kit with a confused look. “What’s wrong, little lad? You need out for a bit?”

Not waiting for Zain to help him, Kit sprang out of the saddlebag. He hit the ground running and darted down a side street, the white tip of his tail like a beacon in the dark. It gave the only clue to where he was going, as his coat of silver and black made him another shadow in the night.

Zain glanced at Nia. “He must’ve really needed to go.”

He followed after the fox and turned a corner. He froze. Kit raced down the street, and a small streak of white darted toward the fox. Ghost? But, she never left Lark’s side. Certainly not in weather like this and in the dead of the night.

Zain broke into a run toward the cat and fox, Nia moving into a fast trot to keep up with him. From a distance, he saw Ghost was soaked, her sides billowed with her rapid breaths. As he met her brilliant blue eyes, he knew Lark was in trouble.

Ghost turned, running back up the side street. Kit gave chase. Zain rushed after them as the two disappeared around another corner.

A voice pierced the night, screaming out his name… 

Copyright 2016 by S.J. Frost and MLR Press

Friday, January 8, 2016

Cover Art and Blurb: Song of Souls, Terra Book 3

Happy 2016, everyone! It seems the new year is already starting off great for me in my little writing world. I have new cover art to share! After working on this book for over a year, it's hard to believe that it's finally coming down the homestretch and getting ready for release next month. I'm immensely proud of this story, and I can't tell you all how much I loved writing it, being in the world of Terra again, and hanging out with my little band of heroes.

The story has clocked in at roughly 101,700 words, so it's pretty hefty. As of right now, the tentative release date is February 12th from MLR Press.

The image for the cover was created by Scarlet Tie Designs. He has a look and feel that's so much like Zain, I think! The final touches with the font and the back cover for the paperback edition were done by my editor extraordinaire, Kris Jacen. Yes, her talents are endless! I'm grateful for this beautiful cover, all the hard work that's gone into it, and I'm basically in love with it!

And so, here you are, the cover for Song of Souls, and the blurb to reintroduce everyone once again to Lark and Zain!


Back cover for the paperback edition

Blurb:
Lark is a renowned minstrel in Forest’s End, but he has a gift beyond his beautiful voice and masterful skill with a lute that few know about. He has the ability to see and speak with souls of the dead. Other than his closest companions, only one man has never shown fear of his gift and even offered him love.

Known as the Black Fox, Zain is an assassin and thief. He never planned much of a future for himself, until he met Lark. He wants to make a good life for them, but to truly be with Lark, he needs to give up his life in the shadows.

Passion and love strengthens between them, and nothing will stop Zain from protecting Lark. When a new enemy threatens to pull them apart, it’ll take more than steel to keep Lark safe. It may be that the only one who has the key to defeat a murderous necromancer is Lark himself.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Final Victory!

For over a year, I've hoped to be able to write a post like this, and now, I am. I have received my letter of reversion granting me back full rights for Kissing Cody Starr from Ellora's Cave, the final title of mine that they held. Very soon, it will be removed for sale from their site and all third party distributors. I have now obtained my full publishing rights back on all of my books that had been published through them. Gaining back this book was the last fight in getting free from EC, and now it's done.



The sense of relief I have is unbelievable. Many of you have been with me through this battle, offering support and encouragement, and I can't thank you all enough. As you know, the books I had previously obtained from Ellora's Cave are going on to have bright futures with MLR Press. Vampire Prince, after revisions and editing, has just been released again under MLR.

I'm eternally grateful to MLR Press for taking on these books. With these titles being re-releases, it's a given that the sales on them won't be as high. For that alone, they could've turned the books away rather than put out their time, energy, and resources to publish them again. Instead, they're giving me the support and encouragement that they have throughout my writing career. MLR is a publishing house of integrity and professionalism, who treat their authors with respect, and I'm thrilled to have my books with them.

But do I have some bitterness and resentment toward EC for all I had to go through to get my books back and for all the money I've lost because of them? Sure, I do. But more than resentment and bitterness, I now feel relief and happiness to have gotten my books back and to be completely free from Ellora's Cave. The way out might not have been ideal, but still, I got out with my books. In the end, that's what matters and I count it as the ultimate victory.

So instead of focusing on all the negative that's taken place, I'm putting my energy toward positive actions; writing new stories and preparing these books to be published once again. And man, do I know Kissing Cody Starr needs a lot of work in the editing department! But it'll get done, and that book and Model Love will return better than ever, just as I believe Vampire Prince has. My creative spirit has been rejuvenated, and I feel like my writing career is my own again.

Once again, I give my deepest and most heartfelt thank you to everyone for your support. It's been a long journey, a tiring battle, but one that has concluded with a happy ending and victory.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Now Available: Vampire Prince

I'm very happy to announce that Vampire Prince is now live at MLR Press! It's also up at AllRomance eBooks and Amazon. I've been waiting for this moment, and I couldn't be happier to see it finally come. This story has been on quite the journey, but the hope of seeing this day is what kept me going through the long battle to get my publishing rights back on it. I'm grateful to MLR Press for giving this book a new home, and so incredibly appreciative to all my readers who've shown so much support. I hope everyone will enjoy the return of Vampire Prince!


Blurb:
Three years ago, Sebastian Beaumont, was starving and struggling on the streets. An offer for safety and shelter was nothing but the lies of a vampire. Since then, he’s been trapped, surrendering his blood and body as a blood slave to vampires, all for the hope of gaining one more day of life and maybe, someday, his freedom.

Having crossed more than three hundred years of life, Valentin Wyndham, is a prince among vampires. Memories of betrayal still haunt him and love isn’t something he seeks. When his need for blood becomes too strong, he breaks his usual habits and visits a blood house. Though he tries to resist, he can’t help but be captivated by the beautiful Sebastian.

Unable to deny the intensity between them, Valentin frees Sebastian from the blood house, but danger follows them both from those who don’t want to let Sebastian go.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Excerpt: Vampire Prince

This week, Vampire Prince is returning, and I couldn't be happier! On the 27th, Valentin, Sebastian, Basil, and Sal will make their debut at their new home, MLR Press. And I feel like they're exactly where they're meant to be. With them about to make their return, I wanted to post a little excerpt to let those who've read the book before get reacquainted with Valentin and Sebastian, and to introduce the guys to those who haven't met them before. I selected the first half of Chapter 3 from the book, because I thought this part did both of those things nicely. It shows Valentin and Sebastian interacting at the beginning of their first night together and hints at what's to come between them.

I hope everyone will enjoy this peek at Valentin and Sebastian :D


Blurb:
Three years ago, Sebastian Beaumont, was starving and struggling on the streets. An offer for safety and shelter was nothing but the lies of a vampire. Since then, he’s been trapped, surrendering his blood and body as a blood slave to vampires, all for the hope of gaining one more day of life and maybe, someday, his freedom.

Having crossed more than three hundred years of life, Valentin Wyndham, is a prince among vampires. Memories of betrayal still haunt him and love isn’t something he seeks. When his need for blood becomes too strong, he breaks his usual habits and visits a blood house. Though he tries to resist, he can’t help but be captivated by the beautiful Sebastian.

Unable to deny the intensity between them, Valentin frees Sebastian from the blood house, but danger follows them both from those who don’t want to let Sebastian go.


Excerpt: Part of Chapter Three
Sebastian closed the boudoir door. Unlike his bedroom, the boudoirs were finely furnished and comfortable, all draped in velvet, satin, and silk, and each held a large bed. And now, in the center of this room, was a vampire unlike any he’d ever met.

He slowly turned, putting his back to the door. Valentin gazed around the space, his posture casual, his hands clasped behind his back and his cane dangling between his fingers.

Was he really some kind of vampire royalty? From how Wesley was addressing him, he must be. He’d never heard of such a thing, but that wasn’t surprising. Vamps weren’t much for chitchat when they came in, and Wesley sure as hell never told him anything. The more ignorant the blood slaves were about vampires, the better, seemed to be the code here.

One thing he was sure of, it was the highlight of his past three years to see Wesley stumbling over himself to please this vampire prince. He’d give Valentin a small bit of respect for that and for standing up for him. He nearly fell over when Valentin addressed his question directly and spoke to him as if he was an intelligent being with feelings.

Of course, that was the second time he felt as though he could fall over. The first came when he saw Valentin. All the vampires that had come through here and never had any of them compared to this one in beauty. Black hair, straight and silken, fell past Valentin’s shoulders. He was dressed in a black three-piece suit, immaculate, cut to perfection for his slender form. His facial features were delicate with sweeping cheekbones. The ivory color of his skin seemed even more pronounced with his ebony hair. And the way he carried himself, with the sophistication and grace of a gentleman from a faded era bringing elegance into this age.

But what stood out to him the most were the vampire’s eyes, so light a blue they looked as though they were only frosted with color. And they’d looked as cold as ice when Valentin faced off against Wesley.

For the first time in longer than he could remember, arousal rose within him. True and genuine arousal, not just his body’s reaction to being touched.

Sebastian stomped it down. How much of a fucking idiot could he be, getting turned on by a vampire? Where the hell was his head? All this vampire wanted was to use him. One look at Valentin’s pretty face and suddenly he was humanizing him. Stupid. A monster wasn’t human.

His defenses reinforced by his thoughts—and reality—he walked toward the bed to set out the lube and anything else the vampire might want. All boudoirs were well stocked with sex toys and items.

“Well, this room is as garish as the rest of this place.”

Sebastian slowed in his steps. The sound of Valentin’s voice rattled his defenses. But how could it not? Deep and soothing, the vampire’s words rolled with an elegant English accent. He glanced toward him. “Yeah, Master Wesley’s not much of a decorator.”

“I don’t think Master Wesley is much of anything at all.”

Sebastian couldn’t hold back his grin. He looked at Valentin, who was smiling at him. A vampire who smiled? Actually good-humoredly and not with malicious intent? Seriously, who was this guy?

Sebastian turned away and continued toward the bed. Reaching the nightstand, he opened the top drawer, retrieving a bottle of lube and tossing it onto the bed. “So, your highness, this is going to be my first time with a vampire prince. I never knew vampires had a monarchy.”

“We don’t, not in the true sense of what a monarchy is. Prince is merely a title of formality. Among us, for every century of life, you’re given a title until your five hundredth year. When we vampires reach one hundred, we’re given the title of knight and that title goes to the female vampires as well. For the two hundredth year, the title changes to Duke or Duchess. The three hundredth year, we become a Prince or Princess. Four hundredth is marked by the title of King or Queen. Five hundred years is when one is referred to as being an Elder. We do have a ruling body of High Elders, but truth be told, they don’t do much. They’re only summoned together for matters of the highest importance.”

Sebastian stared at Valentin, stunned. He had answered. Valentin actually answered him, with a complete and thorough explanation.

Valentin tipped his head to the side in a contemplative look. “Did I give too much information too quickly?”

Sebastian shook his head. “No, not at all. I’m just shocked you answered. I don’t get many answers around here. I don’t get any, really.” 

“I see. I’m sorry to hear that. How long have you been here?”

“Three years and ten days, not that I’m keeping track.”

Valentin’s slender eyebrows rose. “Three years? That’s quite a long time for a blood slave.”

Sebastian looked away, their comfortable moment broken with the reminder of what he was and how his mortality loomed over him every night to preserve the immortality of vampires.

Valentin took a step toward him, extending a hand. “I’m sorry. That was ill-phrased.”

Sebastian focused on the open drawer and the sex toys inside. “You don’t have to apologize to me. Blood slave, remember? You can do whatever you want to me. Fuck me, beat me, kill me, and who’ll care? No one. So the last thing you have to do is say you’re sorry. And at least you’ve got the balls to call me what I am. Not trying to call me a donor.” He closed his eyes tight, mentally kicking himself. He really was going to get himself killed sooner rather than later talking to a vampire this way. He needed to try to smooth things over. “I’m sorry, Prince Valentin. I shouldn’t have been talking like that. Like Master Wesley said, I’ve got a shitty attitude.”

“Given your circumstances, I think it’s understandable. And all things considered, I’m rather enjoying your shitty attitude.”

Sebastian snapped around to look at him. Another smile rested on Valentin’s lips.

Gracefully turning, Valentin walked to a nearby armchair and propped his cane against one arm. He unbuttoned his suit jacket, slipped it off, and tossed it over the back of the chair. “Propriety is so dull. I far prefer honesty. So please, speak freely with me and also, feel welcomed to address me as Valentin. What’s your full name?”

“Sebastian Jonathon Beaumont.”

“Do you prefer Sebastian, or do you shorten your name to Bastian?”

“No one’s ever called me Bastian before.”

“Would you mind if I did? It has a charming sound to it.”

“Yeah, sure. That’d be fine.”

Valentin removed his vest and laid it over his jacket. He faced Sebastian, one index finger hooked over his black silk tie as he loosened the knot. “Tell me, how did a smart lad like you end up here?”

Sebastian continued to stare at him in silence. With Valentin now wearing only the black dress shirt, he could easily tell Valentin’s body was hard with muscle. The arousal he’d tried to stamp out earlier returned, stronger. He forced his mind away from it and on Valentin’s question. “By accident, on my part. I didn’t know where I was being brought. And if you want to know the truth, I still don’t know where this place is. I was blindfolded and—”

“Savannah, Georgia.”

Sebastian paused, his mouth dropping open slightly. “What?”

“You said you don’t know where this house is located. It’s about thirty minutes northeast of Savannah, which I think is the largest closest city. I’ve only recently moved here, so I’m still familiarizing myself with the area.”

Sebastian’s breath rushed from him. All these years of not knowing where he was and now he had a general idea. He wasn’t far from Savannah. His mind spun with the thought as if he’d been given information to one of the greatest secrets in the world. Knowing where he had lived all this time felt that amazing to him, and it was because of this strange and beautiful vampire who spoke so freely to him.

Sebastian nodded his gratitude to Valentin. “Thank you.”

Valentin stayed quiet for a moment, seeming to study him. “You’re welcome. I’m sorry I interrupted, but I thought you should know. What else were you going to say?”

Sebastian took a breath, trying to clear his mind from reeling with the revelation. “I, uh, was just saying I was blindfolded and didn’t see anything on my way here.”

“You said you’ve been here three years. How old are you now?”

“Twenty. Coming up on twenty-one next month. When I was seventeen, my mom went in my room to use my computer, because hers was broken, and she saw some gay porn sites in my browsing history. It was my own fault. I always deleted my history after going to those sites, but I’d been on a marathon masturbating streak the night before and after my last orgasm, I fell into bed and passed out.

“When I came home from school, my dad was waiting for me. He asked me to explain the sites. I told him I couldn’t explain them any other way than I liked watching them because I was gay. I always knew if he found out I was into guys, he’d either kill me or kick me out. I guess I should be glad he didn’t kill me, but then again, considering where I ended up, maybe not.

“I didn’t have anywhere to go. I was too embarrassed to go to any friends’ houses. I’d hid my sexuality from everyone, and I was afraid if I did go to someone else for help, they or their parents would do the same thing, kick me to the curb. I was running the streets in Atlanta for about three months before Wesley and a couple of his servants came across me. He offered me a roof over my head, food, a bed, and that was all I cared about. From what he said about this place, I had the impression it was some kind of underground sex club, and I was okay with that. I was tired and hungry and scared. I didn’t care who he was, I just wanted to feel safe and have a full stomach.

“The thought of him being a vampire never crossed my mind. I mean, seriously, of all the things, it would be my shitty luck to get picked up by freakin’ mythical creature. I never knew vampires were real. Never even thought you guys could be. You were supposed to be stories told to little kids in the old days to keep them from going out at night. And in this day and age, the things of horror movies.”

Valentin offered him a sympathetic smile. “I understand. Even for myself, it was a shock when I first learned about vampires’ existence. Even more of one when it was my best friend and cousin, Basil, informing me of the fact by showing me his fangs. But as I learned then and have learned many times over the years, all legends hold some truth.” He stepped closer to Sebastian. “I’m sorry for how you found out about us. I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy.”

Sebastian snorted. “Putting it mildly.” His throat tightened with anger rising in him, not at Valentin, but at Wesley and all the vampires he’d met. “Do you have any idea how terrified I was the first time a vampire took my blood? Can you even imagine? I was fully alert. No trance used on me. Wesley wanted me to know the whole experience, because that’s how things are done here. The blood slaves need to be obedient enough where vampires don’t have to use their power to make a blood slave submit. So good ol’ Master Wesley had me held down while a vampire stole my blood.

“In the three fucking years I’ve been a prisoner here, I’ve never once gotten to go outside. There’re no phones, no internet, and no TV, but I guess I can’t complain, because there’s a huge library and I know I’ve gotten smarter from reading so much. Not a bad thing, since I never got the chance to finish high school. Of course, all the books are Master Wesley approved, so nothing about vampires to help give us blood slaves a little more knowledge on our masters.

“And food, it’s regulated, too. Healthy shit to keep us recovering from being sucked on all the time. I’d give both my nuts for a piece of pizza with extra bacon and a Pepsi. So that’s been my life and that’s why I’ve got a shitty fucking attitude.”

Valentin opened his mouth to speak, but only a breath came out, as he seemed too shocked for words.

Sebastian turned away from him, leaning forward and bracing both hands on the nightstand. He closed his eyes tight. He was losing it, cracking deeper than he realized. With almost every word he spoke, he was bringing on his death. And he couldn’t even control himself. All he’d spoken to Valentin had poured out of him.

Maybe it’s what happened to all blood slaves. Eventually, if they lived this life long enough, they cracked. Still, he felt bad for talking so harshly to Valentin. None of what’d happened to him was Valentin’s fault.

Sebastian straightened his posture and took a deep breath, resting his hands on his hips. “Looks like now I’m the one who needs to say he’s sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all that shit on you.”

“You needn’t apologize to me. Besides, I was the one who asked.”

Sebastian let out a single, humorless laugh. “Regretting that yet?”

“Not at all.”

Sebastian turned around, giving him a curious look. “No offense, but you’re kind of an odd vampire.”

Valentin laughed softly. “Some would say I’m an odd individual all the way around.” He walked toward Sebastian. “I think, though, the problem here is you were taken in by the wrong kind of vampire. Certainly we can all have our beastly moments, but this group—and by that I mean Wesley—seems to be more uncouth than is usual. What I don’t understand is, if you hate it here so much, why have you renewed your blood contract each year?”

Sebastian shook his head in confusion. “What’re you talking about?”

“Blood contracts are usually for the duration of one year. After that, the blood slave can either renew with their patron or house, or they can leave.”

“That’s great if other blood slaves are given that option. Wesley’s never once asked me about renewing my contract and I don’t even know what the thing said. I never got the chance to read it. I was jacked in the cheek, held down, and had a pen shoved in my hand. I was too afraid to do anything except sign it. I really don’t even know what the point of a blood contract is. It’s not as if I could take him to court for any violations in it.”

“Not to human court, no. But among vampires, a blood contract marks who owns you and whom you serve so others can’t claim you.” Valentin stood quiet for a long moment. As he spoke, his voice was low, anger underlying his tone. “The fact you’ve been able to survive as long as you have is testament to what a strong will you have.”

Sebastian held his thoughts, stopping himself from saying his will was growing weaker by the day. That it wouldn’t be long before it burned out completely. What would it matter if he did make that confession? It wasn’t as if Valentin was a knight in shining armor come to rescue him. Or maybe prince charming was more fitting, given Valentin had surpassed knightly status to princehood among vampires. He’d done more than enough confessing for one night, anyway.

Sebastian glanced back to the drawer. “Yeah, I guess. Thanks. But I know you didn’t come here to waste your time talking to a blood slave. I already got the lube out, is there anything else you want? There’re dildos, vibes, plugs, paddles, restraints…”

His voice trailed off as Valentin stepped close to his side. His arm brushed Valentin’s chest, and that single accidental touch sent his heart racing. Sebastian took a deep breath to settle himself, only to have it backfire with pulling in Valentin’s alluring scent, a subtle intoxicating spice.

Valentin pushed the drawer closed. He leaned toward Sebastian, bringing his lips close to Sebastian’s ear. “What I want is, to know if you feel any desire toward me, and if you want to give me your blood of your own free will.”

Sebastian slowly faced him. With Valentin slightly taller than him, he tipped his head back to meet Valentin’s gaze. Those frosted blue eyes…it was as though they could look through him and know his thoughts. And actually, Valentin could. He hadn’t felt him try to touch his mind yet, but all vampires had that ability. But it was more than Valentin’s power, those beautiful eyes made him feel things he’d only dreamed of.

Feelings, though, were the last things that mattered here, and he wouldn’t let himself be swayed by them. “You can answer that for yourself.”

“If you’re referring to my ability to sense the arousal coming off you right now, then yes, that basic part of my question is answered. However…” An arrogant smirk tipped up one corner of Valentin’s lips. “I have that effect on nearly everyone I meet, so I wanted to ensure your mind and heart are in agreement with your body.”

Sebastian felt another smile rising to his lips. Goddamn it. Valentin might be a bloodsucking monster, but he was liking this vampire prince more by the minute. And growing more attracted to him. “Well, if you wanted to know if my mind was in agreement, all you’d have to do is take a look.”

“Are you giving me permission to do so?”

“You don’t need permission. Again, you can do what you want to me.”

Valentin curled his finger under Sebastian’s chin and tipped his head up. “How about we do without Master Wesley’s rules, hmm?”

Sebastian had no response. He’d lived so long not being given a choice in anything, now that he had one, he didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t even sure how to handle his arousal.

He wet his lips, catching Valentin’s gaze lowering to his tongue. As Valentin looked up again, lust warmed his eyes. There was no doubt Valentin wanted him. That was another thing he didn’t know how to deal with. He’d gotten picked off the streets for his looks, because Wesley knew others would want him, but the heat in Valentin’s gaze was more than he’d ever seen in anyone’s.

“And your answer is…?” Valentin prompted.

“You said you value the truth, right?”

Valentin nodded.

“Then no, my mind isn’t in harmony with my body. It’s confused. And I don’t listen to my heart. I don’t even give it a chance to feel what it wants. If I did, I would’ve been dead long ago.”

Valentin gazed into Sebastian’s eyes for a long moment. He bowed his head and took a step back. “That’s all the answer I need.” He moved away from him, walking toward the chair.

Panic rose in Sebastian. He didn’t understand it and it went along with all his other confusion, but he didn’t want Valentin to leave. He rushed a few steps after him. “You’re not going, are you?”

Valentin collected his vest and suit jacket, slinging both over his forearm. “Yes, I am. I only take blood and have sex with those who wholly desire me.”

“Bullshit.”

Valentin swung around to face him. “Excuse me?”

Glaring at him, Sebastian closed the distance between them. “I said, bullshit. You’re a vampire. You can’t tell me you don’t use your power, mind reading, entrancement, persuasion, to get what you want out of people. And I can’t believe you’re going to stand there and tell me you won’t take my blood because I’m feeling a little confused about you. I know for damn sure you never tell people you’re feeding from, unless they’re a blood slave, that you’re going to take their blood. It’d blow your whole human cover.”

Valentin tossed his vest and jacket over the chair again, folding his arms. “Your points do have some validity, however, I use my powers to ensure a person’s desire for me, hence, I rarely use persuasion. Entrancement is necessary, because as you pointed out, unless one is a blood slave, another vampire, a demon, or another who knows of us, it’s prudent to keep our existence unknown. With you being a blood slave, I was simply trying to show you respect by giving you a choice.”

“Being a blood slave isn’t about making choices. It’s about doing what you’re told. Just like how you told me to speak freely and now you’re using that against me by walking out the door.”

Valentin took the single step separating them. “I’m not using it against you.”

Sebastian forced himself to ignore his arousal and that it seemed connected to how close Valentin came to him. “No? Do you have any idea what’ll happen to me if you walk out of here and Wesley thinks I didn’t please you? That I mouthed off and drove you away? He’ll beat me and torture me until I’m dead. I know my time’s running out anyway, but I’d really rather it expire at the hands of some random vamp than give him the satisfaction of killing me.”

“I could explain I’d lost my desire.”

Sebastian snorted. “Like he’d buy that.”

Valentin gazed at him in silence for a long moment. As he spoke again, he voice was husky and low. “If you say you want me to stay and that you want to give me your blood and body, then I’ll stay.”

Sebastian clenched his jaw shut. He didn’t know if Valentin wanted him to admit those things for his own assurance or if this was some power game, trying to make him feel weak by saying he wanted him. What he said was true, if Valentin left, Wesley would beat him bloody. Maybe not to death, because that’d be an inconvenience, but the probability was high. Trying to avoid that really was part of him wanting Valentin to stay. The other parts…those were exactly what Valentin wanted him to confess.

Sebastian swallowed in an attempt to loosen his tight throat. He reached with a tentative hand toward Valentin, so unused to making the first move. He rested it on Valentin’s chest, the pectoral firm beneath his palm, the heat of Valentin’s body seeping through his shirt. That was one thing about vampires he hadn’t expected. He’d thought they would be cold since they were supposed to be dead, but as he found out, they weren’t dead. At least, he didn’t think so. Vampires had heartbeats and pulses, so they couldn’t be dead…probably.

It was just one of many things about vampires he didn’t understand and was sure he’d die without knowing. Just as he had no idea how they became vampires. All he knew about them was they fucked hard, drank blood, didn’t age, had special powers, and didn’t like the sun. Really, what else did he need to know?

Sebastian took Valentin’s hand and stepped backward toward the bed. “You said you could sense the arousal off me. Do you know how long it’s been since anyone’s turned me on?”

Valentin walked slowly with him. “No, I don’t.”

“Neither do I. It was before I came here, I know that much. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed some of the sex once it’s going. There’ve been a handful of vamps who’ve tried to make it okay for me. But as far as feeling as if I wanted them or was attracted to them, that hasn’t happened.”

The arrogant smirk with its wicked edge returned to Valentin’s lips. “So you’re saying you’re attracted to me?”

“If that’s how you want to take it.”

“It is, but is that how you mean it?”

Reaching the bedside, Sebastian put his back to him. “You’re really making this more difficult than it needs to be, trying to bring all these emotions into it. How do you want me? Standing and leaning over the bed? On my hands and knees?”

Valentin pressed against him, slipping an arm around Sebastian’s waist and pulling him back so Sebastian’s ass nestled against his crotch. “Let’s just see how we end up. And you’re very good at dodging questions, by the way.”

“Yeah, it’s a developed skill.” Sebastian’s concentration wavered as Valentin’s hard cock pressed against him. Even with the soft cloth of Valentin’s pants between them, his own cock responded, filling fast. Valentin caressed Sebastian’s chest, the touch so soft, so gentle. No one ever touched him in such a way.

Valentin brushed Sebastian’s hair back, exposing his neck. He placed a tender kiss on the curve. “Where do you like to have your blood taken from? Your neck? Your wrist? Your groin?”

More choices. Why was Valentin doing this? Did Valentin really want to treat him as if he was an equal? Give him respect? In a way, it was almost more cruel than how most vampires shoved him to the bed and did whatever they wanted to him. How Valentin was treating him fed his hope, and that hope would make him guard his life believing an escape from this hell could happen someday. Whatever Valentin was trying to do, he wasn’t going to let it affect him.

“Just do whatever you want.”

Valentin sighed against Sebastian’s neck. “You’re very difficult. If you want to continue to play by the house master’s rules and not express what you want, then I’ll follow my own and do what I’m certain you’ll enjoy.”

Valentin spun him around, sinking his fingers in Sebastian’s hair and closing them in a tight fist. He lowered his head, touching his lips to Sebastian’s.

Sebastian tensed. A high, startled noise sounded in his throat.

Valentin drew back, confusion in his eyes and expression. “What’s wrong?”

“I…it’s just, I don’t get kissed much. Like, at all. Ever.”

“I thought you said some vampires tried to make it good for you.”

“Yeah, by doing a little prep work instead of just shoving their dick in, using lots of lube, and stroking my cock. Kissing…it doesn’t even cross my mind as being part of it. Not anymore. When I was younger it did, but I lost all thoughts about that after being here.”

Valentin studied him for a moment. “Please tell me that wasn’t your first kiss.”

“Not technically. I dated a girl in high school for a while, to keep my cover of really wishing I could date a guy, and I kissed her a few times.”

“So then, you’ve never kissed a man?”

“Up until a moment ago? No.”

“Then we’ll have to remedy that. We won’t count those other kisses with the girl or the one I just gave you. I’ll give you a better one, with you prepared for it this time.”

Once more, Sebastian felt himself smiling. It’d become such a rare thing for him to smile in the past three years, he was now acutely aware each time he did it. In his short time with Valentin, he’d smiled more than he had in months combined. “I like that idea.”

“Then I’m glad for the honor of giving you your first kiss.”

Valentin brushed his thumb over Sebastian’s lips. He lifted his other hand, gently cupping Sebastian’s cheek. Angling his head, he brought his lips close to Sebastian’s.

Sebastian felt Valentin’s warm breath wash over his lips. His anticipation grew. He leaned, ever so slightly, toward him. A deep, hushed moan came to his ears, as though Valentin appreciated his moving closer, asking for the kiss. Sebastian rested his hand on Valentin’s chest, no hesitation this time. He wanted it. Valentin’s kiss, his body, all the things the vampire prince promised.

Valentin touched their lips together, soft, gentle, keeping the kiss chaste for several quick heartbeats. He sucked Sebastian’s bottom lip. Without thought, Sebastian opened his mouth wider for him. Valentin accepted the invitation, sliding his tongue over Sebastian’s, closing their mouths together.

As Valentin’s soft tongue massaged his, Sebastian let his defenses drop. He wrapped his arms around him, thrusting his tongue along Valentin’s. Valentin sucked Sebastian’s tongue, ended the kiss with a light nip to Sebastian’s bottom lip, then claimed his mouth again. He caressed down Sebastian’s back and slipped his arm around him, pulling Sebastian in…

Copyright 2015 by S.J. Frost and MLR Press