PRINCE VIKTOR ROMANOV had never sunk his fangs into something so trivial as romantic affairs. He was the first in line for the vampire throne and had spent the last six-hundred years preparing for the role. Women and marriage were the last things on his mind. Yet, his grandmother, the honorable Queen Anna, just would not let the issue die.
“Viky, you must find a wife,” she croaked from the other side of the dining table.
He winced at her use of his childhood nickname. She was the only person who got away with it. Anyone else would’ve been instantly thrown in the stocks.
“I’ve told you before, Babushka, there is plenty of time.” He folded the newspaper he’d been skimming and lifted a goblet filled with a ruby red liquid to his mouth. “I’m not ascending to the throne anytime soon.”
Her pencil-thin eyebrows raised on her elegant face. Despite the centuries of experience behind that probing expression, his grandmother appeared no older than a woman in her mid-fifties. She wore her silver hair neatly coiffed in loose curls that brushed against her thin shoulders. Her cheekbones were high and proud under intense blue eyes that could see right through you. If he had been anyone else, he would’ve quivered under her direct attention. But Viktor simply avoided her gaze and glanced down to the other end of the grand dining table.
At that moment, two large monsters entered the room. Resembling gigantic wolves with long snouts and thick gray fur, their razor sharp claws clicked with each step on the stone floor. Their jaws could’ve easily crushed a human skull and there was no doubt that the strength in their taut muscles could outmatch the strongest of vampires. Still, Viktor simply rolled his eyes at the sight and sighed.
“Come on, you two, stop showing off. You know there’s no transforming at lunch. Don’t make me tell Mom.” A young woman scrambled in after them, her dark brown hair a curly mess that haloed a fair face. She winked at him and shooed the werewolves into the halls. “Come back when you’ve got some clothes on. I mean it.”
Dropping herself into the chair next to him, she reached for the nearest tray of food and shoveled it onto her plate.
He eyed her growing piles of cheese and sausages. “Rough night, Stasia?”
“You could call it that.” She rolled her honey brown eyes and grimaced. “The network has me pinned like a bug to a foam board. If I don’t come up with a winning TV show by next week, I’m pretty sure I’ll be canned. Werewolf princess or not, my boss doesn’t accept mediocre talent.” She sighed into a bowl full of pasta.
He fought the slight flare of jealousy that shot up at the mention of Stasia’s job. Her parents had willingly let their eldest and heir to the werewolf throne pursue a career outside of the royal duties. She’d gone into the entertainment sector and currently worked for one of the top networks in the country. Of course, he’d chosen to dedicate his life to the running of the country. And he loved doing it. But sometimes, he envied Stasia and her almost-normal life.
“You could just have them all sent to the dungeon.” He blinked innocently at her. “I’m sure a few nights down there will change their minds.”
Stasia choked on her food and coughed it up into a napkin. Her face bright red, she still managed to elbow him hard between the ribs. “Just because that’s your solution for everything, doesn’t mean we all have to be tyrannical rulers.”
He grinned at her, revealing brilliant white fangs. It’d been hundreds of years since anyone had spent time down in the ancient dungeons of their castle, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t threaten to use them once in a while. It kept people on their toes.
Princess Stasia and her twin siblings were the royal counterpart to Viktor and his wild younger brother, Leo. Long ago, their family members had banned together to form the kingdom of Monstrana, a safe haven for werewolves, vampires, and all other supernatural creatures of the world. Located somewhere between the coasts of Russia and Alaska, the country had managed to pass under the radar of passing time and the curiosity of humans. With both a werewolf throne and a vampire throne, the two factions peacefully ruled their kingdom together.
“Princess Anastasia, I’m so glad you’ve joined us. Will you please talk some sense into my Viky?” Queen Anna pled as she sipped delicately from her cup of tea.
Stasia’s eyes grew wide and her fork paused, motionless in front of her mouth. “Is this about Viktor’s love life again? I barely escaped the last conversation unscathed. You know he’s a permanent bachelor. A shut-in. A hopeless case.” She looked at him in mock horror. “I’m surprised that women don’t run away screaming when he walks through the streets. Anyone who’s heard of him knows he has a heart of stone. Let’s be honest. His only saving grace is his pretty face.”
Viktor hissed. He hated this kind of attention.
“As if you’re any better.” He prodded her with his elbow, goading her as an elder brother would tease his little sister. “You fall in love every other week. And just as soon, you’re out of it again. Men should run for cover when you approach.”
She sat a little straighter in her chair and set the fork carefully on the edge of her plate. “I happen to like falling in love, thank you very much. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
“Not so wonderful for the guys who get dumped days later,” he mumbled.
She glared at him, her lips pursing. He wasn’t being fair to her, but this conversation had put him in a grumpy mood. It was the fifth time his grandmother had brought the idea up this month. He’d do anything to table the idea for his own sanity.
“I believe that you haven’t given it a serious enough try,” Queen Anna continued, as if the conversation hadn’t been interrupted by their little squabble. “If you meet the right ladies, vetted and approved by myself, maybe it’ll be a different outcome.”
His grandmother’s idea of the proper lady was no doubt someone with centuries of vampire experience under her belt, a fine pedigree, and a blood-thirst for riches and power. That last trait couldn’t be helped. Most of the women Viktor had even come close to having a relationship with had revealed that flaw one way or another. They loved the throne. They adored the money.
They didn’t love him.
“And would that put an end to this discussion for the rest of the century?” He kneaded the spot between his eyes which had started to throb. “If I let you parade them in front of me?”
“Of course!” Her ancient eyes shone with excitement. “I’ve already got a few in mind...”
He held up three fingers. “I’m capping the numbers at three potentials. No more than that. And bring them all here at the same time. I can’t be wasting weeks on this plan of yours, escorting air-headed and vapid women to parties and on dates. I want it over and done with.”
“Three vampiresses.” She nodded solemnly, her pearl drop earrings swinging. “That can be done. I’ll have them here by next week.”
“And I’ve got an even better idea!” Stasia squealed loud enough it made Viktor’s ears ring. “I’ll film it for the network. It’ll be like one of those bachelor shows the humans all love.”
“What a lovely idea,” Queen Anna replied, daintily putting her tea cup into its saucer. “Prince Viktor could use some positive press.”
“Yes!” Stasia was nearly out of her seat. “Our very own royalty romance reality show. My boss is going to love it!”
“Now just you wait...” Viktor turned to her, his already pale face going white.
Broadcasting his romantic business was the last thing on his mind. He would rather be impaled by a hundred daggers and thrown into the afternoon sun without his magical ring for protection. That would be preferable to having his love life broadcast on some cheap, daytime television show.
“Please, Viktor.” She clasped her hands in front of her face and batted her eyelashes. “Please. You don’t know what this will do for my career.”
“No, absolutely not.”
“We won’t make it too complicated. Just film a couple dates and that’s it.”
Shaking his head, he ran a tongue over his fangs and grimaced. “I don’t need the public probing into my private life. It’s bad enough having these women forced on me.”
“It’s just a little show. Nothing intrusive.” Her eyes grew wide and she looked up at him with sincerity. “It’ll save my job, Vik. My dream job. Do this? For me?”
He groaned through his teeth. Leave it to his best friend to push him into a corner. One minute, he’d been enjoying his breakfast of Type A blood, and the next he was signed up to star in a ridiculous reality show. This century really couldn’t get any worse.
“Fine.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “If you keep it simple. No drama. I want this done and over.”
Stasia squealed again and threw her arms around him. His grandmother clapped her hands and scuttled away, no doubt to begin combing through her lists of eligible vampire bachelorettes. As he stared over his friend’s shoulder at the hearty flames jumping in the massive fireplace, he couldn’t help feeling like one of those logs being slowly incinerated to ashes.
There was no doubt in his mind — he was going to regret this.