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|A Blood Seduction(Vamp City #1) by Pamela Palmer|
"Trust me a little, cara. They are not open. You will have your privacy."
The tension leached out of her shoulders. "Okay. Sorry."
Her mood lightened as they started across the patio. "Do you get weather here?"
"Whatever weather you get in your world, we get here." Arturo took her hand and she let him, liking the feel of his long, cool fingers wrapped around hers. "Rain, wind, snow. Even the summer heat, though not nearly as hot. It is always cooler in the dark. Sometimes, we even smell the diesel from your trucks."
"The smells carry, then. But not the sounds?"
"Not the sounds." He ushered her down one of several brick pathways that branched off the patio. This one led to a group of buildings at the back of the mansion's walled compound, where something seemed to be going on. If the mansion had been silent, the yard was anything but - resonating with the sound of voices and the loud clank of hammer to metal as if a blacksmith had a workshop back there.
"Is this where the slaves work?" she asked Arturo.
"And live. We call it the food compound." His mouth twisted ruefully. "Perhaps not the best name."
She caught sight of a couple of women hanging wet clothes on a long clothesline. The sun certainly wouldn't dry them, but perhaps the warm air would.
"Do the Slavas do normal slave work along with the . . . banquets?"
"Yes - laundry, sewing, mending, blacksmithing, construction, cooking, cleaning. Everything necessary to run the castle."
"The vampires aren't big into work, are they?"
Arturo snorted. "We are not the most industrious lot, no. Most cannot be bothered even to run their own households."
"Where do the humans sleep, then? Out here, or in the slave wing where you put me?"
"Out here. The servants' wing - where your room is - was intended for some of the key Slavas - better living conditions than the food compound. But the Slavas were unhappy there. They were far too accessible to the vampires. While they fear Kassius, they know he protects them well."
She frowned. "He seemed pretty decent to me."
"He is. He would never hurt them, but he possesses the gift of fear."
"Humans feel afraid of him the moment they are near him. Without justification. Without reason.
"That must be awful for him."
Arturo looked at her thoughtfully. "Vampires always say, 'How wonderful'. But you're right. He hates it. Fortunately, those humans who've been around him long enough eventually lose their fear of him. Unfortunately, it often takes decades. He's the one who clears their minds of the abuse and guides them toward the work for which they are best suited. Susie is with me because of Kassius."
"Why? What happened?"
"She was a pretty little thing and timid as a mouse when she was first captured. Though Kassius tried to steer her toward the kitchen work, the moment she was out of his sight, she was set upon, raped, terrorized until Kassius feared her mind would break. Removing the memories isn't always enough. Sometimes the damage goes too deep when the slaves are fresh."
"Cristoff let her go?"
"I bought her from the kovena. Kassius made the sale, as was his right."
"No wonder Susie adores you."
"I am no saint, cara. She has been one of my blood-and-sex slaves ever since, but I seduce and cajole. I never harm one of my own. And I never take."
"And you never make her fear you."
He glanced at her, a look of gratitude passing through his eyes. "No. Never. I prefer a calm household."
"You're no saint, but you're not a monster."
Arturo shrugged. "My conscience, while not my guiding force by any means, is still intact. I can still feel empathy when I choose. Most of the time, I do not choose. There is no changing us, Quinn. It is important that you understand that. We are what we are. We feed or we die."
He tugged on her hand, pulling her along toward the women hanging the laundry.
"Good day, ladies."
"Hi, Arturo!" one of them called. All three laughed as if this were Little House on the Prairie and he a dashing and unmarried male. Which she supposed he was, in a warped kind of way.
"They like you," she said quietly, not quite hiding her surprise.
The look he gave her was a little affronted. "Should they not?" He turned back to the women. "My new slave is in need of a towel for the shower."
The women's gazes all shifted to her, curious, maybe even a little jealous. They really did like this vampire.
One of the women stepped forward, a winning smile on her face. "I'll fetch it, Master."
"Bring it to the shower." As the woman hurried off, Arturo ushered Quinn the other way, stopping in front of a wooden shed at the far end of the compound. He grabbed the lantern hanging on the hook beside the door and lit it, then opened the door, waiting for her to precede him in.
The lamplight flickered eerily over the shadowed interior - a simple stall with wooden benches on either side. Deeper in hung a partial door that reached from her chin to her knees. Over the door, she saw an old, rusted showerhead.
"How do you have plumbing in this place?"
Arturo hung the lamp from a hook on the ceiling. "We may not have much in the way of infrastructure here, but we understand the concepts. The plumbing is very rudimentary, but it works. The water is warm."
He grinned. "The water in the tank is heated by a wood fire."
"No. Only on banquet days."
The thought of all those naked Slavas . . . "I'm wasting their water."
"It will have reheated by the time they've recovered and returned."
He reached over the door and turned on the spray, then turned her to face him and grabbed the hem of her shirt.
Startled, she pushed his hands away. "Whoa, what are you doing?"
"Obviously," she replied with exasperation. "I can undress myself, thank you."
"No, tessoro, you will not." His eyes turned hot, making her shiver, though whether with desire or dread, she wasn't sure. He reached into the stall and turned off the water again. "If you want the shower, you will pay the price."
She stared at him. "You didn't hear anything I said. I'm in no frame of mind for sex play right now. If that's the price, then I don't want the shower."
"Yes you do," he said gently. Lifting a hand, he cupped her cheek. "I wish only to help you into the shower. Then, perhaps, to watch you."
Despite herself, she shivered again and this time she knew the source as damp heat pooled between her thighs. She remembered the words he'd used when he was talking about Susie. Cajole. Seduce. Cristoff's snake was a master manipulator.
His thumb stroked her lips ever so lightly. "I will not take you against your will, cara. That I will never do."
"Why not? You said yourself you don't usually let your conscience bother you."
His gaze turned thoughtful. "You are special, Quinn Lennox. Necessary to our survival if your power proves true. And you cannot be enthralled or made to forget. But . . ."
He turned her, pulling her back against him, sliding his arms around her waist. "I like you." His warm breath brushed her temple. "And I want you. I want the passion I've glimpsed within you, but I will never get it by force."
"Cajole and seduce," she murmured, her breath unsteady at the feel of his arms around her and of the thick ridge at the small of her back.
"Yes. Perhaps. But never force." He tilted her head and pressed his mouth against her neck, nuzzling her. Kissing her. But she felt no fangs. "As you've said, today is not the day for such intimacies, not after what you've seen. But I will watch." His hand slid down over her abdomen and lower, his touch tense with desire, his fingers just brushing her pubic bone. "And I will want."
"Watching that orgy . . . aroused you."
"I may no longer be human, but I am still male. Decide quickly, cara. I do not have all day."
Everything inside her rebelled at the coercion. But he was giving her a choice, and he didn't have to. It was rather remarkable that he was. And, heaven help her, she was nearly shaking from the desire to step beneath the spray of that shower. So what if he watched?
Wasting no time, he lifted her shirt over her head, then reached for her pants. She tried to brush his hands away, but he ignored her.
"I can do it, Vampire."
"As can I." He pushed her pants down over her hips.
She did, finding the bench rough beneath her bare thighs.
The vampire knelt on the wooden floor of the shed and pulled off her boots and socks, then her pants, tossing them into the corner with her shirt. Then his hands went around her, and he unfastened her bra, tossing it onto the pile, too.
When he reached for her hips, and her panties, she grabbed his wrists. "Enough. I can do the rest."
The look he gave her was rich with heat and a gleam she didn't entirely understand . . . or trust. But he capitulated, turned to sit beside her, and pulled off his own boots.
Quinn remained where she was, uncertain how she wanted to proceed. "Are you going to watch me from over the door?"
"I am going to join you." He stood and pulled off his shirt, revealing far too fine a six pack. "I am going to wash you."
Quinn lunged to her feet, crossing her arms over her bare breasts. "You said watch. Watch. Not wash."
"Easy, cara. I will not remove my pants. I said I will not take you today, and I will not."
She eyed him dourly. "You are pretty free and easy with the lies, Vampire. Your word doesn't mean a lot, does it?"
His eyes flashed and she wondered if she'd gone too far this time. But he only shrugged. "My tongue is glib, I'm afraid." He reached for her, cupping her face in both hands, sliding cool fingers into her hair. "Have I ever hurt you?" His gaze grew infinitely serious, surprisingly soft. "Have I?"
"Trust my actions, then, if not my words. Trust your instincts. I tell you I want more than to watch you. I want to touch you, to pleasure you. Only that. Do your instincts believe me?"
"You're hard as a rock. I know you want sex."
"I am ready for sex. Of course I am. I'm staring at a very beautiful, very naked woman. But I do not want that from you today."
"You won't take anything for yourself?" she said dubiously.
"And why do you think that touching you is not for me, also?" At her frown, he leaned in, brushing his lips against her temple, her cheek. "I love the way you respond to my touch. I feel your pleasure rise every time I touch you, even in the simplest way. You are sensual, magnificent. I am not usually this sensitive to another's pleasure, but your pleasure feeds my own." He pulled back, lifted her chin. "Will you trust me? In this?"
It wasn't like she had much of a choice, but the truth was she really didn't believe he'd hurt her or take her against her will. That didn't mean he wouldn't still try to seduce her, but she honestly didn't think he'd push her if she said no. And the thought of his hands on her . . . just that . . . set up a deep, sensual longing. "Yes. I will trust you in this."
His smile was swift and delighted. Without warning, he kissed her, his lips cool against her own yet infinitely warm. His lips moved softly, a first exploration, a first kiss despite the fact she stood naked before him, having just given him permission to touch her wherever he pleased. His mouth moved over hers, his tongue sliding lightly along the crease of her mouth until she opened for him, giving him access. And then he was inside, his tongue sliding against hers, stealing her breath, her thoughts, the last of her inhibitions.
He tasted of dark liqueur and darker nights, lush and crystal clear. Without thought, she wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her breasts to his chest, the feel eliciting a moan deep in her throat.
Firm hands slid up her rib cage and down over her hips, back and forth, making her moan with the pleasure. She loved being touched. Especially by a man with a sure, if gentle, hand. A man who knew what he was doing.
His fingers slid into her butt cheeks, gripping them hard, kneading them as he pulled her against him and the hard ridge that lay between them within his pants. Her own hips began to rock of their own volition, seeking . . . needing . . .
Oh yes, her vampire knew what he was doing.
Her moan turned to one of dismay as he released her mouth, pulled her arms from around his neck, and set her away from him. Once more, he cupped her face, forcing her to look at him through the haze of passion.
"Your body screams for mine, cara, but I fear it is your passionate nature speaking and not truly your will. Do you wish me to remove my pants?"
She closed her eyes, trembling with desire, and tipped her forehead against his shoulder. "No."
He gathered her against him with a sigh, holding her against his warm length. "I feared as much."
"Do you want to stop? And let me take my own shower?"
"Never. My control is exquisite. And there is nothing I want more at this moment than to touch you. Not sex, not blood, not fear. Just to touch you." His hands traced wide, warm circles over her back.
She blinked. "Why aren't your hands cold anymore?"
He pulled back with surprise, meeting her gaze. "You can feel the warmth?"