WICKED SEDUCTION by Michele Hauf
Copyright © 2017 by Michele Hauf
With permission by Tina Folsom, creator of the Venice Vampyr Series (Volumes 1 - 4) — Copyright © 2011 - 2017 Tina Folsom.
Cover design by Michele Hauf. Title art template created by Pickyme.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments or events or locales is entirely coincidental.
This digital edition published by Swell Cat Press, LLC.
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Venice Vampyr #5
Marcello Sebastiani stomped over the rain-drizzled cobblestone streets of Venice alongside his friend and fellow vampire, Carlo Bianchi. He'd met Carlo near the San Marco plaza, and now they were headed to the villa that Carlo had purchased two days earlier. It was located a few houses to the east of Marcello's palazzo. He and his friend wanted to ensure that the new purchase had been cleared out and prepared for Carlo to move in.
But Marcello was in a mood this misty, Autumn evening. Just coming from his solicitor’s home, Marcello had learned that there was an issue with his own property. Seemed the Venice city auditor could find no records that Marcello had legal ownership of the palazzo. Or, in fact, that Marcello Sebastiani even existed. No birth records to be found. And the auditor wanted Marcello to explain that, or risk losing his home.
It was a ridiculous play by the city, an attempt to take over the home he'd owned outright for—well, centuries. But, indeed, the paperwork was vague at best.
How did a man whose family records had all been lost, prove he was who he was? Especially when that man had lived for five centuries and had assumed the name of his own grandfather over the decades to keep control of the home and property originally bought in the thirteenth century?
His man of law should have had this under control. False records should have been created. But something had gone wrong. Now, questions had arisen that Marcello could not answer if he wished to maintain his secrecy. He must figure a way around this.
"Do you think the Guardians could have something to do with your troubles?" Carlo asked.
The Guardians of the Holy Waters were a group of vampire hunters intent on extinguishing every last vamp in Venice. His friends had had recent run-ins with them. One must always maintain vigilance.
"That would mean they suspect I am vampire. And that they've ties to city officials. No, I don't believe so." Because it just didn't feel right to Marcello.
"Tell them the birth record was destroyed in a fire," Carlo suggested. "It's worked for more than a few of our friends."
Vampires were a small population in Venice. Marcello knew most of them. He had an abiding and deep friendship with at least half. And he and a group of his closest friends were currently securing property in a common area along one of the smaller canals to establish a safe haven. All houses would be attached by covered walkways to shield from their most devastating enemy, the sun. Together, they would construct a citadel against their enemies, the Guardians.
"I thought you trusted your solicitor?"
"I did. But he died two years ago. His son has taken over my legal work. I was assured he had been trained well and could be trusted. And I do trust him. But he slipped up. I'll deal with it. I always do. "
Carlo stopped beside Marcello across the street from the property. It was smaller than Marcello's home; only three stories high, and the stone mouldings around the windows and doorway were broken and covered with soot—badly in need of revitalization.
"Looks like the front door was left open." Marcello sniffed the air. It was second nature to keep a keen eye out for anyone suspicious. And during the night hours, as it was nearing nine in the evening now, an extra careful eye out for the Guardians.
"Probably moving out furniture," Carlo said and crossed the street.
"If that were so"—Marcello passed up his friend—"there would be a loaded cart out front. Yes? Be cautious, Carlo."
The twosome paused before the open front door. Both touched the door and stone wall as they listened. Their heightened senses could have picked up a mouse skittering in the attic. But, instead, they heard…sobbing.
Marcello charged through the front door, prepared to defend himself and his friend against whoever lurked inside when he spied two women. And a pianoforte, upon which sparkled a lit candelabra. One of the women stood beside the elaborately gilded instrument, straightening with surprise as he and Carlo charged in. The other was half-sprawled across the top of the pianoforte, sobbing.
Yet the distraught woman looked up at him, sniffed back some tears, and then stood straight, adjusting herself appropriately.
"What is this?" Carlo asked.
The woman who had been standing curtsied. "Signori." The brunette wore her hair tightly bound at the top of her head. A tight coat covered her rotund figure and plain, brown dress.
The other woman brushed away a pale curl from her tear-wetted cheek and tilted a curious look upon them. Dressed in aquamarine festooned with ribbons down the bodice, and not wearing a coat, her sudden elevated mood may have been what colored her cheeks so beautifully, or it could be her natural color. No matter, Marcello thought her gorgeous.
If also an intruder.
"Are you Signore Ricci's friends? Perhaps his solicitor?" the blonde woman asked them. "We've only just found out about his death. The man died a few days ago. Alas…" She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead.
Marcello had seen such a move only on the stage. And he wasn't much for plays and theatrics. "We are the new owners," he said. "Who are you, and why are you in this home?"
"The new owners?" The woman stepped around the pianoforte bench and took them both in with a curious look that bordered on appraising. With blatant admiration. So much so that Carlo and Marcello exchanged looks and lifted brows. Never had Marcello been quite so visually undressed by a seemingly civilized woman.
"How exquisite to meet the two of you. I am Jane Emery." She offered her hand, which he and Carlo continued to stare at. With a flip of teasing fingers, she gestured over her shoulder. "And this is my ladies’ maid, Prudence. We've traveled overseas from London. Once we hit land, our conveyance was a horrible caravan of ill-sprung carriages that did try my nerves. And now, we have only just arrived. Signore Ricci was to be my patron, you see. I play the pianoforte." She turned and plunked out a few notes on the instrument then spun and announced grandly, "I do love Handel, don't you?"
Marcello had no words.
"We had no idea her patron had passed," Prudence provided somberly. "It's such a tragedy."
"More so for me," Jane added quickly, and a bit too gaily considering the loss. "I have nowhere to go now." She gestured to a pile of red leather portmanteaus stacked by the door. "I had intended to stay with Signore Ricci while he engaged the finest teachers to advance my studies. I sold my home and my things. And when we arrived on the Venetian shores… Oh!" She sat with a grand plop on the bench before the pianoforte and caught her head in her palms.
"We were robbed," the solemn Prudence provided. She stepped forward and spoke closely to Marcello. "Forgive her. My mistress has a tendency toward dramatics."
"I can see that." He winced, unsure how to handle a frantic woman. Nor was he willing.
Jane suddenly perked. "I didn't catch your names."
"Carlo Bianchi," Carlo offered, "and this is Signore Marcello Sebastiani."
Carlo beamed, taken by the woman's effusive charm.
Marcello was not so quick to bait. "The two of you cannot stay here. The house is being emptied of the furniture. I'm sure this"—he gestured to the pianoforte—"is most likely on its way out to the nearest bonfire. And besides, the home belongs to us—er, Signore Bianchi now."
"Us? The two of you are…?" Jane looked from one of them to the other. What was she implying?
"Absolutely not," Carlo provided. "My wife waits at home for me. Marcello and I are friends. Now, do you have a place to stay while you are here in Venice?"
"We were robbed!" Jane stood and splayed her hands wide. "We've nothing! Nothing but my musical talent, that is."
Marcello caught Prudence's roll of eyes from behind her mistress's shoulder.
"I have no idea what I'll do now," Jane continued. "I cannot return to London."
"Why not?" Marcello asked. "Surely your family—"
"Expects me to stay while I am advancing my studies. Returning to London is out of the question, Signore Sebastiani. What shall I do? Oh!" She clasped her hands and eyed him with a coy flutter of lashes. "You said you live close by?"
"I, uh…" He had not. Had he? "Oh…, no."
"Yes," Carlo said, with a nudge to Marcello's elbow. "You've a large house, my friend. Why not invite the ladies to stay while they seek more permanent boarding elsewhere?"
"Because I do not operate an inn," he reported gruffly.
And besides, he had a thing about the English. They were nosey and snooty and plain intolerable. Despite the woman's beauty, and her flirtatious flutter of golden lashes, he would not have her in his home. He had enough to worry about, what with the issue about his birth records and that damned coded list of the Guardians' names he was trying to crack.
"Carlo and I shall escort you to an inn, if you ladies will allow."
"Did you not hear me?" Jane slammed her fisted hands down by her thighs. A silly move, and ineffectual, but also strangely adorable. She was so tiny and unfortunate. "We were robbed. I must now rely on the kindness of strangers. Apparently, signore, you are not kind. Come, Prudence. We'll go panhandle at the docks. I'm sure we can gather enough for a night’s stay at an inn."
"What is it, Prudence?"
The maid glanced pleadingly to Carlo and Marcello. And Marcello had the feeling expert manipulators were directing him. The women could go panhandle at the docks. One or both of them would have to lift her skirts, though, to make any amount of money. Neither appeared as though she'd have any clue how to handle that.
And yet, those fluttery lashes drew his attention to eyes the color of her pale blue dress. He did love blue eyes. They reminded him of the sky he could never admire because the sun threatened his very life.
"One night," he said gruffly. "You may stay at my home."
* * *
The entrance into Signore Sebastiani's home was expansive and ornate. Yet Jane judged its distinct lack of hominess as she crossed the white marble floor, following behind the man whose shoulders she doubted she'd ever see over, even if she were to stand on tiptoes. A thin male servant in gray livery and ill-groomed hair greeted the signore and took his fine, black damask coat.
After a few words, the signore turned to Jane and Prudence. He was a force, and a beautiful one at that. Tall, with dark hair spilling past his shoulders. And his eyes were brown like the rich, verdant earth. In need of a shave, dark stubble enhanced his square jaw. He wasn't pretty, though. Rather rugged with the wide shoulders and imposing muscles that, while his shirtsleeves beneath his damask waistcoat were loose, they did stretch at the seams and biceps.
A man who would surely be out of place in an overheated ballroom filled with simpering gentlemen stinking of lavender water and vying for a lady's dance card. The signore was darkly intriguing.
"I'll have Adamo show you to a room. For the night," he said. "Have you booked journey home to England?"
"I purchased a one-way ticket," Jane said as she flounced by Marcello and slid her gaze along the staircase that wound up to the second floor. "I was to live with my patron, as I've already explained to you. I'll need some time to make arrangements."
She noticed the man's wince. Served him well enough. He should have asked how long she intended to stay before taking her in. La! She'd stumbled on good fortune in a time of desperate need. Now to play things correctly so she did not lose grasp of such luck.
"I'll have my solicitor hasten the arrangements for your departure," Marcello offered. "Now, I've some business to attend to." He turned, intent on leaving the women standing in the foyer.
"It is rather late for business," Jane called.
He paused and returned his attention to her. "I keep odd hours, Miss Emery."
"I see. What about the pianoforte?" Jane asked as she took a few steps up the white marble stairs. "You did say you'd have it brought over so I could practice on it."
"I did?" He met gazes with his servant who shrugged. "I doubt very much I would agree to that if you are only staying—"
Jane exhaled a tremendous sigh. And for added effect, she let her head fall into a tilt.
Signore Sebastiani, open-mouthed, considered her.
She cast him the big, innocent stare that her sisters had always hated because that meant she would get her way. At least until one of them started to sing or display her cross-stitching or recited Shakespeare. Always a competition in her family.
The man's hand tightened into a fist, then his fingers flexed out. Obviously struggling inwardly. But she could play this game too well.
"The pianoforte," he said tightly. "Adamo?"
His servant bowed curtly. "I'll see that it's taken care of immediately, signore."
"Very good. Ladies, you are on your own for the remainder of the evening. I'm sure you are tired from your journey. Adamo will see that a servant delivers something to eat and drink to your room. I am off." And with that, he exited swiftly.
Adamo rushed around Jane on the staircase, gesturing she follow him. The large room at the end of a long hallway on the second floor was elaborately decorated with red damask from walls to draperies, and gold tassels hung on the tester bed canopy. Adamo opened the curtains to allow in the spare moonlight, then left Jane and Prudence, promising to return with a light meal and their luggage.
Jane spun to face Prudence, who stood by the door with both hands on her generous hips. The woman's face was pulled into a constant frown, and even her rare smiles were a bit dreary.
"Don't chastise me so," Jane said. "I found us a place to stay. You should be thankful."
"The signore is not pleased to have us here."
"He would not have invited us if he was not, at the very least, mildly gratified. Sit, Prudence. You've been on your feet since we arrived in Venice. Relax."
"How can I relax when we've nowhere to go after tonight?"
"Why do you say that?"
She shrugged. "Did you not hear the man? He's to have his solicitor secure us tickets home."
"I'll never return to England. I can't. You know that."
Prudence sighed and plopped onto a lush, tufted ottoman situated at the base of the massive bed.
Jane tugged off her gloves and laid them carefully on the coverlet. "We'll be staying here for as long as I can manage it. In fact, I rather think Signore Sebastiani might make an excellent patron."
Prudence lifted her head.
"I can make it happen," Jane promised. "I do have some wiles."
Marcello sat up in bed. He looked to the candle he'd lit as a gauge for time, and it had melted down three hours. Which meant it was around seven o’clock in the morning. Not his normal rising time.
But something had woken him. Some…racket. And it continued. Plunking. Pounding. Attempting to create a melody that was better left for evenings, ballrooms, and parties—and failing. What was that awful noise?
Sliding out of bed, clad in only his silk sleep trousers, he wandered out of the bedchamber and followed the noise. He flew down the stairs to the empty ballroom on the first floor where his servants had set up the pianoforte because they hadn't known where else to place it.
Inside, Jane Emery attacked the keys with a vicious verve, while a strangely peaceful look captured her delicate features. Eyelids closed, her lips were softly parted. Almost as if in ecstasy. Seeing a woman's face in that expression generally meant he was above her, thrusting his wanting cock into her sweetness until she sang in joy. He smiled at the lascivious thought.
Until the next few notes clanked out.
"That is horrible," he muttered, not realizing that he'd said it out loud until she stopped and turned a look on him. Or rather, a pout. Marcello winced. "I thought you said your patron was supporting your musical studies?"
"He had intended to."
"Has he heard you play?"
Crossing her arms with a huff, she turned on the bench to face him. Her hair was pulled up in floaty tendrils, and some tickled her cheeks and framed her pink mouth. It was a kissable mouth. He'd not noticed that last evening. Those lips deserved a punishing kiss that would color them red. And then they'd most certainly form that look of joy that he most wanted to see on a woman's face.
It was too early for this kind of thinking. Hell, it was too early for consciousness.
"The reason my patron agreed to take me under his wing was to enhance my musical studies," the Englishwoman said pertinently. Her gaze traveled down from his eyes to his chest—where they lingered with a twinkle—and then with a lift of her chin, she redirected her look back to his face. "I feel I'm coming along with the Beethoven."
"That was Beethoven? Good thing the man is dead. Course, the fellow was deaf so he mightn't care that you've just tortured one of his pieces."
"You are most rude."
"Is that so? Do rude men often invite annoying strangers into their homes to stay, and feed them and their maids?"
Again, she pouted. No answer for that one. Not even a lash flutter.
"It's too early." Marcello gestured before him with a dismissive swing of his hand. "I like to sleep late."
"I shall endeavor to play more quietly." Jane turned around and placed her hands on the keys. "And less annoyingly."
Marcello swept in to place his hands over hers. "Not now. Unless you wish me to be ill-tempered all day?"
She chuckled. "I had thought that was your normal mien. You mean you have another emotion that is not thus?"
He fumed, but as his nostrils flared, Marcello drew in her scent, and it filled his head with delicious ideas. Wicked ideas. And from his position standing over her, he could see down the front of her dress. She wasn't ample, but each breath lifted her breasts, and the exhales teased him with a glimpse of darkened nipple…
"Signore!" She abruptly stood and took a step away from him. "What are you looking at?"
With a cocky smirk, he shrugged. "Your breasts."
Her jaw dropped open, but when he expected her to slam her arms across her chest, she instead tilted back her shoulders, which lifted those diminutive breasts nicely. Trying on his compliment? By all means, it did fit nicely.
"Why, thank you," she offered, surprising him further. "I am rather fond of them myself. And yours are nice, as well." She cleared her throat and rolled her eyes. "I mean…oh, bother."
Swinging toward the bench, she gracefully sat, arms stretched over the top of the pianoforte, and head lowered onto her arms. In dramatic tones, she wailed, "My apologies. It was awfully strange of me to say that, wasn't it? It isn't often I converse with a half-clad man. Never, even." She peered up from her bowed pose. "Did you lose your shirt?"
"No." Marcello slid a palm over his abdomen, reveling in her obvious discomfort. "It's a warm day."
"And getting warmer. Ahem."
He laughed and sat on the bench beside her. The blush of her cheeks was like flower petals in cream. Here he was, waxing poetic over the woman when all he wanted to do was bend his head, inhale her flowery scent, and kiss one of the breasts in question. He'd startled her with his bold comment, and she had tried to match his tease.
But she wasn't up to snuff.
Still, he wasn’t the type of man to apologize for appreciating fine things. Or for allowing his fantasies to take over. "If you let me kiss them, I'll leave you to play this wretched instrument to your heart's content."
"Kiss my…?" She looked down. Her neck colored to match her cheeks.
Marcello leaned an elbow on the pianoforte and eyed her bosom. He wasn't about to back down from this tease. Because it was not a tease. And if she figured that out, she may prove a formidable plaything.
"That's a very strange request," she said in a softer, less sure tone.
"I may be a very strange man."
"Strange men should frighten me," she volleyed.
He sensed the missing word. "But?"
"But you intrigue me, Signore Sebastiani. And you have been exceedingly kind." She dusted her fingers over the ivory keys. "I should let you sleep."
He sighed. "I'd prefer having to listen to you clatter upon the keys."
"You wou— Oh. For a kiss?"
She cast her gaze toward the open doors. Looking for her maid?
Marcello leaned in, his long hair falling forward and brushing her bodice and the soft swells of her breasts. "I'll do it discreetly. But you won't forget my touch, I promise you that."
A heavy sigh lifted her breasts so close to his mouth, and when she whispered a shaky, "Very well," Marcello dropped his head and kissed one of them through the thin blue fabric of her gown. He hushed hot breath over her and then nudged his nose along the lace fichu bordering her décolletage, touching skin with his lips and dashing out his tongue to taste her shivering warmth.
Jane gasped. "Oh, my." She squirmed on the bench and clasped her hands over the edges of it.
With a sweep of his hand across her back, Marcello pulled her in close. She allowed it. Not even a struggle. Good girl. Mm, the scent of her grew deeper there, between her breasts. Flowers from a long-lost summertime when once he could walk beneath the sunlight without fear of burning.
The thought made him falter. And just as he moved up to kiss her sweet, succulent lips, Jane's fingers pressed over his mouth.
"On the lips was not part of the deal," she said. "You've gotten what you asked for. Now, I'll continue to practice. Yes?"
Such efforts hadn't granted him anything more than a rigid cock and frustration. He should have been more specific with his demands. But this was only the first request, and he hadn't realized he'd even make such until he'd sat close and fallen into her compelling scent.
He was not attracted to this Englishwoman. He just—was he?
"Right." He stood and adjusted his silk trousers, which strained across his erection. "Play on, my discordant chickadee. I'm going to bury my head beneath a pillow."
"Sleep well!" she called after him. And because his hearing was so sensitive, Marcello also heard her whisper in his wake, "You terribly handsome man."
He smirked and dashed up the stairs. Be it attraction or mere lust, he could have some fun with this woman. Perhaps he'd allow her to stay another day or two.
* * *
Later in the afternoon, Jane adjusted the tiny glass swan on the hearth mantel in her room and sighed. "It rains quite a lot in Venice."
Prudence stood by the window, looking out over the canal that hugged the back of the palazzo. Rain spattered the window glass, dotting her view of the busy waterway below. "But not so much as it does in London, we can hope."
"I so wanted to visit the San Marco plaza. More than simply walking through it as we did upon arrival." Gliding her fingers along the mantel, Jane placed a decorative square block of obsidian at an angle, then touched the bronze statue of a horseman in seventeenth-century livery.
"And the museum," Prudence added. "There's much to see in the city. But I thought Signore Sebastiani had intent to send you packing?"
"He does. But I think I can waylay his plans for a bit. Oh, the pianoforte is exquisite. I shall hate to leave that behind."
"It is a lovely instrument." Prudence crossed the room and stood beside her. "It would also fetch a mighty price."
"Yes, but it is not mine to sell."
"Nor is it Signore Sebastiani's. Mayhap a precious piece Signore Ricci left to his dearly loved ingénue?"
"Perhaps. Oh, but I couldn't bear to sell it. Not yet, at least."
"Wait until we are destitute, then? I shouldn't think that would require more than a few days."
"Prudence, you really do need to look at the bright side more often. Signore Sebastiani's servant is quite handsome, yes?"
Prudence had no comment.
Jane had seen her maid's gaze linger over the lithe man with the quick yet crooked smile. And where did she spend all her time when Jane was in the ballroom practicing, hmm?
She dusted her palm over the round wood newel at the end of the hearth, inadvertently twisting it. Something in the wall clicked. The entire hearth front shuddered, then the end swung forward an inch.
Jane cast a look of surprise at her maid.
Prudence clasped her hands expectantly before her.
"Do you think?" Jane asked.
"A hidden room? Or a secret passage?"
"Let's take a look."
With but a tug at the hearth, the marble front of the fireplace swung smoothly outward while the other end swung in. Cool air rushed out. Jane peered into the dark gap then gestured impatiently with her fingers. "Light a candle!"
Prudence managed the task with excited speed. As the twosome crept into the darkness, the flame illuminated a small room, no larger than two marriage beds pushed end to end. The walls were shelved, and on those shelves sat trinkets and objects d'art. Paintings were stacked against the wall and covered with cloth.
"A storage room?" Prudence wondered.
"Appears so." Jane sneezed delicately. "Oh! So much dust in here. Ages must have passed since anyone has been in here. Do you think Marcello is aware of this room?"
"You call him Marcello?"
"Well, of course, it is an easier mouthful than Signore Sebastiani. Yes?" She quickly turned away from Prudence's admonishing gaze, which was underlined with ghastly shadows by the candle glow. "Set the candle on a shelf. I want to explore."
There were silver candelabras, bronze statues, gold place settings, and tiny, decorative birds and cats. Most items bore a crest. A family insignia? Within a rosewood box lined with red velvet, Jane discovered a remarkable tiara. She pulled it out, and the diamonds glinted as if on fire.
"That must be worth a fortune," Prudence said. "You need never worry for your survival again."
Always concerned for her welfare. Bless the woman and her misplaced prudence.
Jane held the tiara up above her head, but didn't quite set it down. She placed it back in the box. "Why would the man keep such valuable items locked away in a dusty old room?"
"I'm going to guess that tiara doesn't suit his style."
Jane laughed at her maid's rare humor. "You don't think so? No, I suppose not. That man is more the sort to race across the countryside on a fine steed, wielding a battle sword."
"You are attracted to the signore," Prudence noted.
"And you are attracted to his servant."
At that suggestion, Prudence turned and took great interest in an ivory quill and ink bottle.
Jane tugged a dusty cloth from a stack of paintings and gasped as the portrait beneath was revealed. The candle flame flickered as Prudence bent beside her, and they both studied the man in the picture.
Dark hair spilled over a stiff white ruff. Elaborate silver stitching danced arabesques in the gray damask tunic he wore, and ornate lace spilled from his wrists. His eyes were brown, and that smirk...
"You don’t think?" Jane asked with sudden recognition.
"Impossible. Has to be a relative. That sort of clothing was in style…in the sixteenth century?"
"No, I believe it's much older. Probably thirteenth or fourteenth century. But the resemblance is remarkable, don't you think?"
"As if they were twins."
The women stood up before the portrait of—had the subject been dressed in modern clothing—Marcello Sebastiani.
It was too early to venture out for a bite, but the sky was dark due to the mist that had only wet his docks and patio before the canal. Marcello stood on the third-floor stair landing, pondering what to do. His solicitor was seeking means to produce viable proof of identity to show the city. Whatever they provided must document a birth that occurred perhaps thirty years prior—not centuries, as was the reality.
Marcello knew for a fact that his birth had been recorded in the Venice city records in the thirteenth century. It had been quite a to-do, and gifts had arrived from all over the city as well as dignitaries visiting from across Europe. Of course, he didn't recall those festivities, but his mother had told him about it whenever he asked. And then she had died. As had his father.
His entire family had been taken out in one bloody sweep. Even Marcello, newly returned for a Grand Tour across Europe, had not been able to escape the vicious savagery of the pack of vampires who had descended upon this very palazzo to feed upon his family as if wild animals.
Remarkably, Marcello had survived, shivering, bleeding, and utterly out of his mind to have to crawl over his fallen family members to seek help.
Help had arrived donned in a dark cloak, mask, and fangs. However, not allied with the foul creatures that had taken lives. The man had quickly arranged for Marcello’s family members to be buried, and legal announcements had been made regarding the family's slaughter. What had been kept secret, was that the Sebastianis had been murdered by vampires. Instead, the explanation had been bloodthirsty thieves.
Marcello's name had been noted amongst the dead. And so he had become a non-entity. A thing that had been taught how to survive as vampire or perish at the stake.
Even now, as he stroked his fingers along the stone banister, he could envision his family lying on the floor, blood pooled so thickly around them he'd not believed so much could spill from the human body. It had occurred on the third floor. It was not a floor he inhabited now. Nor would he allow guests here.
Startled that he'd not heard Miss Emery approach, Marcello turned. When he thought to offer her a smile, his mouth instead opened in appreciation as he took in the soft blue dress, hugging her sleek body yet pushing up her breasts as if treats on a tray for him to select. Was the neckline a bit deeper and wider than previously? Of course, she did not wear a fichu around her neck as she had last night. Nice. That provided a much better view of her sweets.
"Good evening, Miss Emery."
"You're a rather late riser. My playing earlier did not keep you awake, I hope?"
It had, but he kept a quiet closet where he could seal himself away when he wished to close out the world.
"We'll need to find you a proper teacher quickly," he said.
"You would take on that task?"
Would he? He had just offered as much, hadn't he? It wasn't at all like him to put forth such kindnesses to a stranger. He preferred to exist alongside mortals, rarely interfering in their lives.
"My plans have changed," Jane said and followed with a sigh. "I was hoping to go out to St. Mark's Basilica now that the rain has stopped. Or is it now called something else?"
"The cathedral of Venice, I believe. But I prefer the old name, as well. You're no longer going out?"
"Prudence isn't feeling well. I do wish to fit in some touring of the city while I'm in Venice." She cast a hopeful glance up at him.
Marcello knew exactly what she was doing, and…he took the bait. "I haven't been in St. Mark's all that much." He extended his arm in invitation. "Shall we?"
"I'd be delighted!"
* * *
They strode the cobblestone streets toward St. Mark's. Jane's arm hooked in Marcello's, she walked so close to him that she could feel his heat radiate out and caress her skin. The warmth was a powerful pull to melt against him, and he smelled like a spice she did not know but would, perhaps, search the world to discover. Of course, she didn't have to find it. All she need do was lean in closer and inhale his masculine aura.
"What's that?" he asked. "Miss Emery, are you well? Perhaps you're coming down with whatever it is your maid has?"
"Oh, no." She straightened, realizing she'd fallen into a reverie over the man's scent. "May I tell you something, Signore Sebastiani?"
"Of course. And call me Marcello. My proper name is a bit of a mouthful."
Suddenly, Jane's thoughts were filled with images of her mouth…full…of his kisses.
"Oh. My apologies. Yes, and you must call me Jane. I shouldn't confess this, but I stumbled upon a secret chamber behind the hearth in the guestroom."
"Why, yes. Surely you are aware of it? Perhaps not. The items inside were rather dusty. Of course, I had to explore once I saw the hearth front pop out from the wall. I wasn't trying to snoop. But secret rooms always tease at exploit. And I do love a good adventure! You understand?"
"Of course." Ah, now he remembered. He'd forgotten about that little space. There were many hidden passages and rooms throughout the palazzo. What had he stashed in that particular chamber? "Find anything interesting?"
"Why, yes! There was a tiara, and paintings, and silver candelabras. It all seemed quite valuable. And there was an elaborate family crest on most of the items. Do you think royalty used to live in your home, Signore? Er, Marcello?"
Hell. Now was no time for the truth. And yet, Marcello could only focus on the woman's blush when she spoke his name. He could bring that blush up all over her body with little more than a few kisses. And he wasn't sure what was keeping him from doing so. The woman was staying in his home. Sleeping but two floors below him. Why had he not yet fucked her?
"Now I do believe it is you who is lost in your thoughts," Jane said as she stopped at the Piazza San Marco before the grand church. "Is that it? It's lovely."
Indeed, the basilica and the piazza were a sight to behold. The piazza, considered the 'drawing-room of Europe,' was where most gathered, tourists and residents alike. Canvas-covered booths lined the sides of the square, vendors hawking foods, goods, and even a quick shave, while children giggled and danced about the bronze flagpoles that flew the city's standards.
And much as vampire lore would allude that Marcello could not enter holy grounds, he could. It just wasn't…comfortable. But to spend some time with the woman? He'd suffer the pain. Unless he could come up with a less painful alternative.
"Listen beyond the children's laughter." Jane lifted a hand to her ear. "I do believe they are holding a mass. Shall we?"
Participating in a mass was another thing entirely.
"Must be compline. I wouldn't want to walk in on a ceremony already begun. I've an idea." He clasped her hand and walked swiftly toward the docks. The woman had said she liked adventure. "I want to show you something."
* * *
Despite the sun having dipped below the horizon the moment they'd set out for the church, and really wanting to see inside the beautiful structure, Jane eagerly followed Marcello's lead. When they rounded the church and stood on the docks, she realized what he had in mind.
"A gondola ride?"
Jane had never been in a gondola, and while initially getting in had required a breath of bravery and a clasp of Marcello's hand, before she'd stepped completely off the dock, he lifted her by the hips and set her down before him. He was very strong. And she had felt light as a feather in his arms.
"Sit," he offered, gesturing to the red velvet cushion at the back of the boat that would seat two people snuggly.
A lantern hung at the head of the gondola, lighting the gondolier's smiling face and illuminating his nod to both of them. Jane noticed smaller candles near the seat she shared with Marcello but she had no means to light them, and she was too distracted by the press of his body alongside hers to care about a little light.
"Where are we going?" she asked, turning to take in the receding walls of the nearby buildings lining the canal as the boat slid smoothly through the dark waters.
"Everywhere. But what I want you to see is further up that way. It's a surprise."
"I do love surprises. Just the good ones, of course. Because you know, sometimes, a surprise can be awful, even ugly."
"I shall endeavor to only surprise you with the good."
As the gondola cut through the dark waters, Marcello pointed out the larger buildings and who lived in them. Some housed earls and dignitaries. And he seemed to know them all. Was it too much of a stretch to believe he may be royalty? He had avoided that question earlier. She wouldn't press. But what an adventure she had fit herself into!
Jane relaxed into the seat and told herself it was perfectly fine to want to snuggle against the handsome man. Yet seated beside his overwhelming male presence and strength, she actually felt lightheaded. A bit out of sorts.
Was it because her hands felt as warm as her furiously pounding heart? Her neck tingled with a teasing heat. And when she thought about it, the secret place between her thighs ached with a shimmer of…was that desire?
It had been a long time since she'd felt longing for a man. Had she ever really felt the abandon of sexual need? Perhaps not. And recognizing the feeling surprised her. So she didn't realize she sighed aloud when she did.
Marcello leaned closer to her, and just when she thought he'd kiss her, he whispered, "Look now."
At that moment, the gondola turned a corner into a narrow canal lined with houses that framed the bright, full, white moon. Jane gasped and clasped her hands together. But Marcello did not move away from her, and she was very aware that her body ached for his touch.
"You wanted me to see that?" she asked with wonder.
"Yes, la luna."
"She's so lovely. Like a painting. You've given me another gift, Signore Sebastiani. Your kindness is overwhelming."
"It is nothing. Now, I'm going to give you something you might not construe as kind or a gift."
"What would that be?"
He bowed toward her. She knew the kiss was coming and managed a surprised peep before his mouth fell onto hers, silencing her nervous protest.
The kiss captured her breath and stole her sigh. Hot, firm, and questing, his mouth quickly taught hers to follow. And as he parted her lips with his tongue, Jane's heartbeats thundered. The heat of a blush swooshed through every part of her being. She was thankful for the dark as her nipples hardened against her dress. Oh, but the ache between her legs was so delicious. She'd never before felt such instant and immediate desire from a kiss.
Marcello's wide, strong hand caressed her jaw, turning her completely toward him until she leaned back against the seat cushion as he loomed over her. The kiss continued. Leading her. Taking from her. And she willingly surrendered to him.
He pulled back and brushed the hair from her cheek. "What's wrong, Jane? I've not known you to be at a loss for words."
"If I say less, then you can kiss me more."
"Indeed," he mumbled as he tilted his mouth to take her from another angle. "You smell like summer. And your breasts…"
His hand slid down to cover one of the mounds in question, and Jane's back stiffened. Yet his kiss coaxed her to again relax, to let the touch happen. And when his fingers pinched her nipple through the fabric, she moaned into the kiss, and her back arched her chest forward. As if to demand more from his commanding touch.
"The gondolier will see," she protested quietly.
"He's half blind."
"Half— But how is he navigating?"
"Does it matter? He hasn't steered us into a wall yet. Do you want to argue about the man's eyesight, or would you prefer I do this?"
He kissed between her breasts and lashed his tongue over the heated skin. Jane sighed. "Oh, mercy, this is…" But she couldn't finish the protest because his kiss told her to be quiet. And then his hand roamed to her other nipple, giving it a firm pinch. This time, she felt it all the way to her core, where she warmed and squeezed her thighs together. She was growing so wet. "Yes…"
"Jane, you kiss very well for…a young woman."
"I've had a bit of practice with my husband—oh!"
The big man reared back from her. Even in the darkness, she could see his eyes glint. Like a beast disturbed.
Jane clutched her hands before her breasts. "Oh, dear."
His jaw dropped open. "You're married?"
At that moment, the gondola jerked as the boat clattered up against a dock. Jane looked up. They'd arrived at his palazzo.
"Help me out." She stood, avoiding the dangerous question that burned in Marcello's eyes like flames.
He helped her, and when she landed on solid ground, she started immediately for the covered hallway that led to the palazzo door.
Marcello stayed behind, handing coin over to the gondolier. Yet when he called out to her, she quickened her steps, racing through the dark marble halls and up to the second floor where she closed her chamber door and pressed her back up against it.
"What is it?" Prudence stood before the blazing hearth fire, holding a teacup. Her eyes widened with worry.
"I think I may have spoiled my chance at coaxing the signore to be my patron."
Oh, no. She'd been flirting with him since the moment he'd discovered her in the dead man's home. What kind of conniving game was the woman playing? He knew there was a reason why he did not like the English!
Marcello stomped through the dark hallways of his home and up to the second floor, where he pounded a fist against Jane's chamber door and demanded she see him.
The door swung open, and Prudence stepped out, closing it firmly behind her. The maid lifted an impertinent chin. "Is there a problem, Signore Sebastiani?"
"I need to speak to Jane—er, Miss Emery."
"She's indisposed at the moment."
"She just got in two minutes before I did. She may not want to speak to me, but she will. Now step aside."
"I don't think so, Signore Sebastiani."
"Prudence." Marcello narrowed his eyes at the woman. "If I have to physically move you out of the way, I will."
To her credit, the woman bravely raised her chin and met his gaze with an impressively defiant look.
So Marcello clutched her shoulders and upper arms, lifted her, and set her aside. He gripped the door pull and opened it, then leaned back and admonished, "No listening at the door."
With that, he slammed it shut behind him and turned the key in the lock. He could sense the maid standing outside, could pick up the scent of tea on her... "Leave, Prudence!"
A few seconds passed, then he heard the shuffle of the maid's feet as she moved away from the room.
"Jane?" He searched the chambers and spied her over by the window, clutching the draperies, looking every bit the tiny prey she must feel. But he was in no mood to play games with her now. "You are married? Why did you allow me to kiss you? Come over here. Speak to me."
With a heavy sigh, she walked over, and then with a dramatic thrust of her wrist against her forehead, landed on the tufted ottoman before the end of the bed.
He sat beside her. "Are you married?"
"I am," she confessed, then quickly added, "But I am not in love."
How often were married couples in love? Rarely, he knew that.
"What kind of game are you playing? Have you run away from your husband? Does he know you are in Venice? Jane, I kissed you."
"You don't seem like the type of man to regret any kiss. Neither would I imagine married, not married, or even widowed would be an issue for you."
It was not. Generally. But for some reason, learning that Jane was married to another man made him…jealous. Marcello gripped her chin. Yet when he tilted her head to look at him, she pushed his chest, releasing the hold, and stood up.
"Do not try to control me!" she said forcefully. "I've had enough of that!" And then, with a sigh, she turned away from him, and her shoulders dropped. "Forgive me," she said in a tiny voice. "You've only been kind to me. And I wanted you to kiss me. I've never been kissed like that. It was lovely. I should wish it again, but—oh, I do go on!"
Lifting her arms to the heavens, she strode to the center of the room.
As far as a stage play went, Marcello felt she deserved applause. But he could also empathize with the sensitivity of the situation. Had her husband never kissed her as if he wanted her? That was criminal.
"I ran away from him." Jane turned to him, arms crossing over her chest in a comforting hug. "I asked for a divorce, but he refused. And because he told my family, they kicked me out and wouldn't give me a place to stay. They all blame me for something… Oh, bother."
"For what? Why would a woman ask her husband for a divorce when she knows she will be ostracized?"
Her eyes sought something in his. And Marcello felt the connection clutch at his heart. He swallowed. All instincts warning him against getting involved were ignored as he approached her. He wanted to kiss her again, to chase away the fear in her eyes, but he thought better of it.
"He beats me," Jane finally said. "Often." Grasping the neckline of her dress by the shoulder, she tugged it aside to reveal a scar as long as his finger above her breast.
Marcello swore and then touched the rough skin. "Bloody hell. Your husband did this to you? I'll kill him!"
Jane shook her head and pushed up her sleeve. "Now you are being as dramatic as I."
"I am being truthful. No man has a right to harm a woman. No man!" When he saw her trembling lip, he ceased his loud rant and instead took her into his arms. "I am glad you were able to get away from him. Does he know you are in Venice?"
"No." She sniffled against his shoulder. "I do not think so. I hope not. I lied to you about being robbed. It was a story Prudence and I concocted should we need it. I had no money and but the few things I could gather in my trunks when I left home. I simply fled."
"What brought you to Venice?"
"A few years ago, while visiting Charlestown, Signore Ricci offered to be my patron, but my husband refused, saying music was of the devil. So I had hopes Signore Ricci would remember me and…you know how that went. I am lost, Marcello. I have no place to go but back to my husband. And I will not do that."
"No, you won't. And you are not lost. You've a home here for as long as you need it."
"That is far too generous."
He pushed his fingers through her hair and bowed to kiss her. Firmly. But also gently. He could not allow her to feel fear. Ever. It was a kiss to let her know he was a man who would give her only pleasure. Would never harm her. She deserved that.
"I want to give you pleasure, Jane. To show you that not all men are cruel. And I will."
He lifted her and set her on the bed. Kissing her lips, he reveled in her sigh and stole her breath. Her body trembled against his. Wanting fingers clutched at his shirt. This woman needed to know her strength—through bliss.
* * *
Jane did not resist as Marcello lifted her onto the bed and bowed to kiss her. Slow and lingering, his kisses gentled the anxiety that had risen upon confessing her marital woes. Now she could not think of that other man, the cruel one. For her body demanded the wickedness that Marcello's kiss teased at.
He trailed his kisses down her neck and paid due attention to the tops of her breasts. She wished he would pull down the fabric and take a nipple into his mouth, but his hot breath hushing over her curves provided so much sensation. All parts of her tensed and then relaxed as her muscles reacted to his heat teasing over her skin. She gripped the bed coverlet and closed her eyes. Her shoulders pressed into the mattress, causing her breasts to lift. Opening herself to what he offered.
He wanted to give her pleasure? She would take it all, willingly. She desired it. She needed it. Because she had never known pleasure such as what Marcello promised her now.
"I want to show you how exquisite it can feel to have a man's attentions," he said. "But I won't take you completely. Not tonight. There is plenty of time to get to know one another. I want you to trust me, Jane."
"I…do…" she said with a sigh. But really, she wasn't sure what she felt about him; she only knew that his hands gliding over her body must not stop.
So when her dress skirt shushed and the petticoat slid up to reveal her legs and shoes, she gasped and lifted her head. He was starting at the wrong end of her. Yes? What would he do to her?
A hot, wide hand glided down her bare thigh to her knee where her ribboned stockings ended. He bit the ribbon, tugging the bow free. The fine silk slinked down her calf and pooled above her delicate, blue satin shoe.
A kiss landed aside her knee, as light as a feather, but it ignited a wicked want within Jane. Oh, yes, he could kiss her there, and…and on her thigh. His touch moved upward, slowly, taking his time, measuring the moments with mouth and breath against skin.
When his breath whispered over her bare loins, Jane moaned. Surprising herself with that wanton utterance, she slapped a hand over her mouth. She had never taken to wearing bulky underdrawers in the summer and fall months. And she'd never expected her immodesty to be betrayed…so wonderfully.
Marcello's chuckle preceded his eyes appearing over the crumpled folds of her dress. His head of dark, wild hair was right there. Between her legs. In such an intimate position. Where no man had been before. What were his intentions?
"I said I need you to trust me, Jane, and this will take some trust on your part. But I promised you pleasure. So are you game for this adventure, or are you not?"
Not was the word that a good, respectable woman should utter. It teased at the tip of Jane's tongue, yet she felt the furthest from respectable at that moment. A married woman having an affair with a handsome man?
"Yes, please," she gasped.
A tickle of hot breath slid up her thigh and moved closer to the junction of her legs. Her "dark place,” as her husband had referred to it. She didn't like the term. It sounded nasty, evil even.
Oh, mercy, she felt Marcello's lips brush high on her thigh. Shimmering heat radiated from her groin and spun in a glowing ball right there, in her core. She wanted to reach down and…not stop him, but rather encourage him to continue. What a brazen thought!
But he moved slowly, his lips seeming to map out her skin. He kissed and licked from one thigh, up along and over her nether curls and to the other thigh. Just avoiding her center, which was rapidly growing warm and, oh, so wet. Mercy, she'd never felt so sensual, so much like a woman. Had her seduction skills wrought this? Had she lured this man to her? What skills she must possess!
Reveling in her triumph, Jane stretched her arms up over her head and curled her fingers into a plush pillow.
"Jane, you smell so sweet. I'm going to taste you deeply."
Should she reply to that? No, a bold, wanton woman such as she would close her eyes and enjoy. Because for as awkward and unsure as she felt lying there with a man's head between her legs, she felt equally powerful and even a little aggressive.
The man's fingers stroked through her curls, and when they parted her nether lips, he moaned deeply. Deep and rumbly, the sound was as if an erotic touch to her skin. He was pleased? That buoyed her confidence even more.
When his hot tongue intruded on her wetness, Jane gasped. Her entire body tensed, but one of Marcello's hands slid over her thigh, clutching and holding her securely. "Let this happen, Jane."
Sucking in the corner of her lip, she nodded silently and closed her eyes. Yes, she would allow it. Because she wanted this.
He slicked his tongue along her opening, dancing it slowly, tracing and tasting, and then he nudged into her deeply. Oh, dear. Respectable women certainly did not allow a man to do such a thing! Yet with another bold moan birthed from her very being, she yearned for release, her jaw relaxing as did her body. The sensations he stirred up with his tongue were was so new and delicious.
"I like this," she murmured without thinking.
"I know you do. You are lush and wet. So ready for my fingers. But…not yet."
The slide of his tongue over her swollen nub pulled up a cry of surprise from Jane. He suckled her slowly. Her fingers clenched at the bed cover. And he did not relent, dashing his firm tongue over the part of her that felt as if it were swelling, pulsing, and sending out vibrations through her entire body. Sweet mercy, what was that?
As her whole body seemed to awaken, she gasped and tilted her head back. Something exquisite roiled at the very heart of her. Her thighs trembled, and her breasts rose and fell in anticipation of…
And with one firm dash of her lover's tongue, the coil of sensation washed through her body and pulled Jane along in its wake. She cried out loudly and arched her back. Waves of bliss tumbled through her from groin to stomach to her breasts, and out to her fingertips and even her toes. She'd never felt anything like it. Never known…
"What was that?" she gasped in a pleasure-roughened tone.
Marcello glided up along her body and kissed her breasts, easing himself alongside her. "Don't tell me that you've never had an orgasm before? Not from your husband?"
She shook her head, smiling with joy, and panting as the waves of sensation still shimmered in her very bones. "He always told me it was the man's right, not the woman's."
"Oh, Jane." He kissed her neck and nuzzled his head against her shoulder. "Let's set aside your musical instruction for a bit. I have much to teach you about the pleasures all women should know."
Jane rolled over in bed, stretching her arms out languorously and sighing as she took in the sunlight beaming across her face. The smell of tea and pastries nearby alerted her that Prudence must have allowed the maid in.
"You've returned to the world of the living?"
Jane wrinkled her nose at Prudence's odd comment. "What do you mean?" She pushed up and reached for the teacup. Mm…lemon and lavender. "Where were you last night?"
"I was…occupied elsewhere."
Had Prudence blushed?
"I tried to wake you an hour ago for breakfast. I nudged you. You were sleeping like the dead. But smiling." At that statement, she met Jane's gaze with a lift of her brow. "Sleep well?"
"I am a woman pleased, Prudence." She slid her feet over the side of the bed and stepped onto the floor. Her landing resulted in a twirl toward the window. She gripped the curtains and looked over her shoulder at her utterly shocked maid. "You stayed away with purpose last night, didn't you?"
"Well, I, uh…" Another blush? "Pleased, you say? Dare I wonder?" Now she smiled that knowing smile that she and Jane reserved for when Jane knew she had gotten her way with her sisters. "You and Signore Sebastiani?"
"Don't act so shocked, Prudence. And do not judge me. It isn't as though you've been avoiding Adamo while we've been here."
"You noticed that?"
Jane winked at her.
"Yes, well, that crooked smile of his is rather compelling. And he takes directions well." Now that was absolutely a blush. "But enough about me. Tell me about you and the signore."
"I will not. Whatever pleasures he gave me last night—and they were many—are for me alone to cherish."
"I'm quite surprised. Normally, you tell me everything. Not that you've ever had much to share regarding you and Thatcher—"
"Do not bring up my husband ever again, Prudence. You know how I despise that man."
"And for good reason. Forgive me. Will you be spending time with Signore Sebastiani today? I thought you'd wanted to visit St. Mark's basilica?"
"We did so last night. Well, we looked at it a bit before he whisked me off on an adventure. And what a climactic event it was. La! I'm in the mood to make music this morning!" she announced grandly.
"You mean this afternoon. It is already noon."
"I slept so long?"
Prudence nodded, and again the two women shared that knowing smile.
* * *
Someone was strangling a cat on the ground floor of the palazzo. And Marcello knew, for a fact, that he did not own a cat. Nor a dog or any sort of pet that required one to care for it, and ultimately affect an emotional attachment. Only to watch it die of old age.
He wasn't sentimental. But over the centuries, he'd watched many of his mortal friends grow old and die. It was the only thing he hated about immortality. Could a man ever hope to forge relationships to endure that length? To find love?
No, never. Therefore, he did not have hope for love.
But right now, a little hope would be helpful in alleviating the cacophony as he approached the ballroom and pushed open the door to peer inside.
Utterly absorbed in the creation of her music—if it could be called such—her fingers dancing across the keys and head bobbing merrily, Jane Emery invoked a sort of musical hex that seemed to climb up Marcello's spine and dig thorns into his skull.
"She's actually getting worse," he muttered to himself.
But when someone replied, he was startled that he'd not sensed they were near. His vampiric senses were exceptional. So when he turned to Prudence, he realized indeed that the curse had taken a toll on him.
"What did you say?" he asked.
"I said…" Prudence cast her gaze assessingly over him. "I've got my eye on you, Signore Sebastiani."
"Is that so?" Bemused at her protective instincts toward her mistress, he crossed his arms and thrust back his shoulders. She noticeably cowered. "Well, I have my eye on you and Adamo."
The woman cast her gaze aside, but when she managed to look up again, her eyes narrowed on his shirt just above his nipple. "Signore, you have a spot of something there. Is it from the pomegranates that were served for breakfast?"
Marcello looked down. A tiny dot—of blood—spotted his shirt. He slapped a palm over the indiscretion. "Indeed. I dressed before eating. I uh…" He most certainly could not approach Jane with blood on his shirt. He'd been sloppy this early morning when he'd ducked out for a quick bite. Not at all like him.
Prudence crossed her arms triumphantly and lifted her chin.
"If you'll excuse me," he muttered, then stomped toward the stairs, en route to the fourth floor.
* * *
Jane heard the ballroom door close and decided she'd practiced enough. With a merry skip to her steps, she floated up the stairs to the fourth floor. She knew Marcello slept late, but it was afternoon. She knocked on his chamber door, and it opened immediately.
A gruff man wearing no shirt snarled at her. "What? Oh. Jane."
She pressed a hand over her thundering heartbeats. His masculine presence had the ability to disturb and excite her at the same time. "You obviously expected someone else?"
"My servant. I'm waiting on a clean shirt. I cannot believe they are all being laundered at the moment. What do they do all the day?"
"You do have a rather large staff for one man. But the house is immense. As is the man. Ahem. I imagine it requires a small army to keep everything in order."
"Or perhaps one woman wielding the chatelaine keys?"
Such wonder in his eyes, then a smirk, before he stepped back, silently signaling she should enter his room.
Which Jane considered for a moment. A married woman entering another man's bedchamber? The scandal!
So she eagerly entered and closed the door behind her. Bold and brazen suited her just fine.
"Oh. It is dreary in here. All the furnishings are so dark. Do you want me to pull aside the curtains?"
He caught her by the wrist as she headed toward the window and spun her into his arms. Without a word, the man kissed her. Hard. And deeply. And with so much intent, all thoughts of silly curtains fled.
She placed her palm against his bare chest. The curve of his pectoral was hard and hot—like armor she might never defeat. How could a mere man be so formidable? So utterly powerful and iron-hard when his kisses were the softest and most heart-stopping things ever?
"I want more, Jane."
"You-you do? What more…?"
"There is much to teach you in the ways of pleasure."
"I suspect so." Heartbeats thudding, she tapped her finger on his chest. "I, wh…"
Utterly overwhelmed by him, for once, she did not know what to say.
"Are you afraid your husband will find out? Do you owe him such fidelity?"
"I owe him nothing. Which is why I fled the country. But I shouldn't wish to endanger you or risk discovery and possibly a prison sentence should anyone learn of our…liaison."
"Jane. Jane. Always so dramatic." He shoved down the shoulder of her dress and kissed her bared skin. Fiery sparkles shimmied up her neck. "I enjoy risk. And I challenge any man to stand up to me, especially one who sees fit to harm a woman. You may be scarred,"—he kissed the mark, stirring those sparkles to a gasping shiver—"but I intend to make you feel as though it's been erased, cleansed from your skin. The memory of any violence done to you completely obliterated."
"That's quite a task," she said softly, feeling a tear catch at the corner of her eye.
"Oh, Jane." He touched the edge of her eye, catching the drop. "Will you allow me to try?"
She nodded and gasped out a breathy, "Yes. " Yes, yes, and yes! "Touch me, Marcello. Touch me the way a man should touch a woman."
"With pleasure. Let's see how many layers I've to work through before I get to the sweets, yes?"
Hiding her blush with a bow of her head, Jane raised her arms as Marcello took up a maid's job of removing her dress. Her stays were laced tightly down her back, and as each crisscross of ties were loosened, her lungs expanded, and she drank in his scent more fully. The hardy maleness of him intoxicated her. She'd never been one to imbibe, but she could certainly get drunk on his warm, spiced skin.
A hand slid over the front of her boned stays, catching her just under her breasts. She exhaled into his grasp, and he kissed the back of her neck as he stood behind her. What a remarkable sensation to feel a man's lips there. Her cheeks flushed, and she curled her fingers then straightened them in anticipation.
With a shove, her stays dropped to the floor, and the compressed folds of her chemise loosened and puckered away from her body. Free! was always how she felt upon loosing her corset. With a tug at the neckline ribbon, Marcello opened her shift wide and planted a kiss on the back of her neck as the homespun cotton slipped down her shoulders to allow the cool air to caress her bareness.
In reaction, she caught her hand above her mons, grasping the chemise so she would not be completely bared. Another shiver tightened her nipples. Yet with an intention to adventure, she did not cover her breasts. Let the man look upon her. She wanted to feel his eyes take her in.
Marcello's hands smoothed up her stomach, and he cupped her breasts. He leaned in and whispered in her ear, his bare chest hugging her back. "These are perfect handfuls. Mm…" A squeeze of his fingers tested her nipples and produced a surprised chirp from Jane. His chuckle was low and silken. "Relax, Jane. I'll do you no harm."
"I know that," she said softly. "I want this. I need this."
He stepped around in front of her, and she had to tilt her head to meet his earthy gaze. Dark hair spilled forward over his shoulders, and she danced her gaze over the hairs dusting his pectorals. Compelled, she pressed her palm against his chest.
He clasped a hand over hers then reached to trace what she realized was a mark on her skin from her stays. They always lingered for a while after she’d been released. Dropping to his knees before her, he leaned in to trace that line with his tongue. Starting mid-stomach, he moved up slowly, higher and higher, until…
Jane grasped for something, anything, to secure her from falling into the lush depths of sensation that overwhelmed as Marcello's tongue glided up her breast and landed on her nipple. But there was nothing stationary to touch or hold. Remarkably, she remained upright, even wrapping a hand around the back of his head to hold him there and steady herself a bit.
He suckled and tugged and teased at her tightened nipple with such purpose. Mercy, it was as if he were performing the same over every inch of her skin, she felt his touch everywhere. And just when she thought her other nipple might go unnoticed, his big hand squeezed that breast and rolled the bud as if dialing up her pleasure with a twist of his fingers.
Gasping and bowing her head over his, Jane bracketed his face with her hands, anchoring herself to his shockingly delicious ministrations. It must never end.
And yet, if such wicked pleasure did not cease, she might cry out. Loudly.
What to do? Must she ask him to stop, or risk shaming herself?
Bold and brazen, remember?
"Yes," she gasped.
With a kiss to the underside of her breasts, Marcello found another crease left behind from her stays and tongued the impression downward, lower and lower. Her stays went to her hips, and so he followed that line all the way…
Hot breath hushed over her nether curls, and Jane realized in her wanton state she'd dropped her chemise. She stood naked before the kneeling man and…she didn't care. Let him do as he wished with her.
Another of his lusty growls preceded him saying, "Jane, I love you here. I can feel the sweet heat of your pussy." His tongue dashed down her seam and opened her to allow him to push a finger inside. "Yes, you hug me so tightly. Hell, Jane, your secrets tempt me to come right now. But I won't."
He stood, bending to kiss her beneath the jaw, while not removing his finger from inside her. And as the man moved to pay due attention to the nipple he'd not yet suckled, she couldn't decide which sensation to focus on. The slick slide of his finger in and out and around her opening, or the tugging, teasing pull of his lips about her nipple.
It was too much, and not enough all at once.
"Oh, Marcello, you render me helpless."
"Excellent," he breathed.
The pressure of his finger slicked over her high, swollen bud, and Jane chirped and twisted her fingers into his hair. All parts of her hummed. Her thoughts could not decide which sensation was coming from which part of her body—and that was perfectly fine. He performed a masterpiece on her, and she was his willing instrument.
Body shuddering and breaths and moans coming quicker, she strove to remain standing, and then felt his hand at her backside, squeezing her bottom, holding her up. He thrust the fingers of his other hand deeply into her, then pulled back out to slick across what seemed to be the master button to her release. And she was so close…
"Come for me, Jane," he commanded. "I won't let you fall."
And with an exacting slick of his finger over her pleasure bud, she did fall into a sweeping torrent of mad, delicious bliss. Jane cried out as her body shook and her core contracted. Rough breaths huffed from her lungs. The intensity of the orgasm surprised her, so she tensed her muscles, and that reaction seemed to deepen the sensations. Her hips bucked against Marcello's hand. The master of her surrender.
Suddenly, she was airborne as he carried her over and set her on the mattress. He stood beside the bed and looked at her. As she panted and the heat spread through her body, Jane suddenly realized he was still half dressed. He'd given her so much, and all without even removing his clothes.
"Take off your trousers," she whispered.
He bowed over her and kissed her on the forehead. "I am sorry, but I must rush off. However, next time you see me, it will be all of me."
With a final kiss to her swollen and aching breast, he strode out of the room, muttering something about finding her way down to her room at her leisure.
Jane rolled to her side and tucked her hands up by the pillow, lingering in the exquisite sensations that still hummed in her body. No man had ever made her feel so special. It almost erased the humiliations her husband had served her.
But she couldn't get beyond the fact that she was still married. Marcello could only ever be an affair.
How to make it more?
* * *
After locating a clean shirt in the laundry room, Marcello rushed through the palazzo and into the dull outside shadows. His cock was so hard it nearly burst through his trousers. He'd wanted to pull it out and sink it into Jane's hot, wet pussy. But the task of holding back had been an exquisite lesson in self-control.
Yet, now, he could not control the craving for blood. He must have it to slake the sexual desire he felt. For with the bite, he could alleviate some of that pent-up need.
After dressing, Jane let out a bored sigh. With a wander about the second and first floors, she hadn't been able to locate Prudence, so she decided to venture out for a walk close to Signore Sebastiani's home. The evening was growing long, but she wanted to take in the air and gaze upon the big, full moon as she'd often done back home. She wouldn't go far. She didn't want to get lost.
As she passed buildings and alleyways, she was alternately flashed by brilliant moonlight and then plunged into shadows. Once she located a wide street that ended near the canal, she stood in the moon’s glow and let the cool whiteness beam over her skin.
She'd never felt so alive. Did Marcello do that to her? She knew that he did. The man had no idea how much surprising her with the moonlit gondola ride the other night meant to her. He'd touched a personal part of her. Only Prudence knew about her call to walk under the moon.
Wandering forth, she decided she'd soaked in enough of the night. Just a turn and a walk down… Now, which direction led back to the palazzo?
Mustn't get worried, she silently cautioned as she pulled the cape hood over her head. She'd not passed anyone while walking and now grew ultra-sensitive to small sounds, such as footsteps inside nearby houses and the wail of a baby.
Voices echoed ahead, low and perhaps from men. It would not be wise to seek help from strangers. Jane winced as she stepped cautiously. Yes, just ahead she saw the potted acanthus that she had most certainly passed earlier. She was on the right path. Just had to skirt by the alleyway, down which she had heard the voices…
Unable to not look down the lane as she passed it, Jane suddenly paused. She recognized the shadow of the man in the alleyway because Signore Sebastiani was possibly the largest man in all of Venice. And then she noticed that he stood next to another. A…woman? She couldn't be sure. But just wondering about it tugged a bit at something in her chest.
She didn't want to intrude on a conversation. What if it was more than a conversation? Like a secret liaison? She should leave him to his private business.
And yet…a twinge of jealousy pricked at her spine. She had to know whom he was speaking to.
As she neared the couple, she realized the other person was actually a man leaning against the stone wall. His arm suddenly dropped to his side. His head tilted in her direction, his eyes staring at her as Jane got closer.
With a suspicious lump rising in her throat, she cautiously called, "Marcello?"
Signore Sebastiani twisted his head to look at her. And in a flash of moonlight, she saw his lips glisten red. And the sharp glint of a white fang jut over his lower lip.
Dread curdled in Jane's throat. But she couldn't scream. Instead, she fainted.
* * *
As Marcello bent over Jane's prone body, Prudence scrambled around the building corner, huffing and panting. Jane had seen everything. Damn it, he'd been a fool! Deep in the bloodlust, he hadn't been paying attention. He'd simply thought the person he'd heard approaching from down the street would walk on by, ignoring the people lurking in the shadows.
He'd never imagined that Jane would be out, walking the streets so far from his palazzo.
He swiped the back of his hand over his mouth—not to be caught out with suspicious blood drops again—as the maid knelt on the cobblestones before her mistress.
"What has happened?"
"She fainted," Marcello said. "Why are you two out? I left Jane…" Well pleased in bed. Why her sudden need to dress and go out? Had she followed him? "Do you even know where you are?"
"No, I became lost. As I suspect Jane did, as well. I saw her leave the palazzo and ran to grab my cloak to follow her, but she walks so swiftly at times. She likes to walk in the moonlight. A habit that ever vexes me. And when she twisted around corner after corner, I momentarily got turned around. Why did she faint?"
"Not sure." He lifted the light woman into his arms. The hug of her breasts against his chest reminded him how, not long ago, he'd had them in his mouth as he'd licked and suckled at them. How her moans of pleasure had made him so hard—and unwilling to take her completely—he'd had to seek a more intense satisfaction with blood.
"Home is that way," he muttered and stalked onward.
At the palazzo, he deposited Jane on her bed and left her to Prudence's care. He sent up water and tea and then retired to his room. With a clutch of the heavy drapes to bring the space to utter blackness, he hissed in frustration.
The woman had once told him she liked surprises. But only the good ones. Surely, if she had seen clearly tonight, such a surprise had shocked her.
Why did he care what she thought of him? She was…an obnoxious Englishwoman. An overly dramatic female taken to fainting spells and long streams of conversation that meant little to nothing. And yet, she appealed to him on a deeper level than the lust that had drawn him to kiss her mouth and her breasts and lift her skirts to tease at thrusting himself inside her.
There was something about Jane Emery that had gotten inside him. And it was sweeter than blood.
Yet, if she learned what he was, that could change everything.
* * *
After sipping tea until she felt ready to drown, Jane tucked into bed. About half an hour later, she heard Prudence slip out of the room. The woman had an eye for Marcello's servant, Adamo, and Jane would not begrudge the woman her late-night liaisons.
And thinking of a late-night liaison, she sat up and pushed the linens aside, dangling her feet over the side of the bed. What she'd seen in the alleyway when Marcello had turned to her… It hadn't been real, had it?
"Yes," she whispered, clutching a hand to her chest. "I saw his teeth." And the blood.
Was he really one of those creatures she'd oft read about in the penny bloods—the brief serial novels so captivating with their artistic woodcut covers—or those she’d made up her own versions of in childhood tales? But he was a man. A very handsome and kind man. Signore Sebastiani was not a creature.
She tapped her teeth, wondering. Pondering.
She wouldn't sleep peacefully tonight. Not without learning the truth.
Slipping into her robe, she tied it loosely over her nightgown and wandered down the hallway and up the stairs to the fourth floor. The entire level was his private area. She shouldn't presume that he would want to speak to her. He'd left her to her own devices after carrying her in. He may have thought she followed him earlier. But the boldness that shivered up her spine and gave her a warm thrill urged her forward. They had been intimate with one another. Surely, he would allow her to question him about what she had seen. And if he had nothing to hide? All would be well.
The door to his bedchamber was open a crack. It was dark within, save for a glimmer from candlelight. Jane quietly crept forward, daring to invade his room without permission. He would not leave a lit candle unattended. And while she should call out, announce herself, she did not.
When she stood in the center of the room on the plush Aubusson carpeting, she spied him leaning over a vanity. He wore no coat and his trousers hung low on his hips. No shirt to hide the broad back and impossible muscles that the candlelight bronzed invitingly. She'd love to lash her tongue over those ridges and contours, tasting him, feeding upon his virile sexual energy.
Jane gasped at her audacious thoughts.
Marcello spun about, but this time, he did not flash fangs at her. Instead, he clutched a frustrated fist before him and let it fall to his side. "You must stop doing that!"
"Sneaking up behind me. You dare to enter my bedchamber unannounced?"
She inhaled deeply then let her shoulders drop resolutely. "I do dare. As you have dared so much with invading my personal boundaries."
"You allowed that invasion. Quite happily, if I recall."
So stating her weakness for his touch wasn't going to win him any points now.
"I've come to get some answers."
Marcello winced and then shoved a hand through his hair. "I've no answers to the greater universe. What makes the world spin? Where is God? Or what makes a man's heart beat."
"Are you a creature?" There had been no other way to go about it but to put it boldly out there like that. Jane clutched her fingers into loose fists, then shoved them behind her back, clinging to the bravery that threatened to fade. "I saw you in the alleyway."
"You saw nothing in the darkness save for what your wild imagination conjured."
"I admit I do have a wild imagination. But I was in complete control of my senses when the moonlight beamed onto your face, and I saw what I saw. So show me now. I want to see your teeth."
He smiled, a tight smile that leaned more toward the vile and malevolent than anything mirthful. Yet he exposed no fangs. That she could see.
Jane stepped forward, eyeing his mouth curiously.
Of a sudden, he lunged for her, spinning her about and putting her shoulders up against the wall. She almost cried out, but at sight of the sharp fangs amidst his upper teeth, she couldn't find words. Instead, dread hazed her thoughts. She blinked.
He shook her by the shoulders. "Don't faint now, Jane. You wanted this. Look at them. Look at me. If you dare."
If she dared? She most certainly did dare!
Shaking her head obliterated the oncoming faint. Jane boldly looked at the man's face, lit from below by the candle.
The fangs were twice as long as his regular teeth. And…they were exquisite. Dare she think them pretty?
"May I touch them?"
He slapped one hand to the wall above her head and leaned in even closer. The scent of him alchemized moonlight with cool air and salty waters. "Go ahead."
Inhaling for courage, she glided a finger down one brilliant white fang. She dared to touch the tip— "Oh!
He caught her hand before she could bring her finger to her mouth. His fang had pricked her. The man licked the bead of blood then took her finger slowly into his mouth.
Jane sighed. The silky nightgown teased her nipples rigid. But she would not succumb to his seduction…yet. She pulled her finger from his mouth and tucked her hand behind her back.
"I need to know, Marcello. Are you…?"
"Vampire," he answered.
Mercy. And yet… "D-do you want to bite me?" she wondered.
He smirked. And as she watched, his fangs ascended to align with his other teeth. "Not yet," he said. "But there is something else I'd like to do to you."
"W-what is that?"
Again he lunged, slipping a hand up and along her back and drawing her torso flush against his. And in his deepest, most sultry voice, he said, "I want to fuck you, Jane."
He was done being the gentleman. Standing aside while he gave the woman all the pleasure. Now, Marcello would answer the intense pull to please himself as he also brought Jane to climax. She had only momentarily looked frightened, as he'd allowed his teeth to lower to give her a good look at them. And the V-word had been uttered.
But he didn't want to have that 'talk' right now. He needed sexual stimulation, not blood.
She wore but a thin gown beneath a damask wrap, and the silky fabric skimmed his bare abdomen and chest, stirring his nipples to tightness. He pushed down the shoulders of her robe, revealing the swells of her breasts. Her cheeks blushed, as did her bosom.
"Jane, you can play up the dramatics all you like, but I know you want this." He shoved the wrap away from her body, and it fell around their feet. "Next comes the chemise, yes?"
She nodded. Eagerly. So he tugged the blue ribbon bow placed between her breasts and pulled it free, loosening the neckline and allowing it to slip off her shoulders. Her pale skin, warmed to a heady blush, did not preach patience. Hands cupping up under her breasts, he dove in to kiss them. Why women bound their breasts so tightly with corsets all the day baffled him. These lovely, small yet full globes were treats to be admired. And supped at.
With his teeth, he pulled the shift lower and up popped her tight, ruby nipples. He growled at the sight of them, then met her gaze in the flickering candlelight. She looked worried.
"No biting tonight," he said. "You needn't worry."
Her lips parted, and she nodded, silently granting him her trust.
Squeezing one breast in his hand, he lowered kisses to the other and then lashed his tongue firmly across her rigid peak. Jane's cry of pleasure penetrated his skin and rushed through him in a heated flood. His cock grew blissfully hard. He leaned up against her, pinning her to the wall, and nuzzled his erection against her thigh.
His chuckle sounded almost sinister as he pushed down the chemise even farther and then lifted her against the wall, putting her breasts right…there, at his tongue's mercy. Wrapping her legs about his hips, she rocked her loins forward, grinding against his erection.
"That's right, Jane. Show me how much you enjoy this."
"I like it too much," she said on a breathy gasp. "You make me so…"
He lifted his tongue from her nipple and met her gaze. "So, what?"
"I cannot say."
"You can't say, or are you too much of a prude to say? Do I make you wet, Jane? Tell me. Tell me how I make you feel. Inside."
He lingered above her nipple but didn't touch it again. Not until she told him exactly what she wanted.
"Oh, Marcello, yes, you make me…burn. And…and want. I want so much from you! And yes, wet. I'm slick between my thighs. And it's because of you."
"Is that so?" Propping her easily on one hip, he slid his hand down between her thigh and his and tugged the chemise farther to expose her golden nest of curls. His vampiric senses detected the sweet, saltiness of her sex. And a slick of his finger found she was indeed wet and wanting.
He kissed her jaw and up to her ear where he whispered, "You are ready for me, Jane."
He sensed that she was reluctant tonight. Secrets had been revealed. She was no longer standing in a man's arms, but that of a vampire. So he accepted her skittishness. But that would not dampen his fervent need to have his wicked way with her.
Unbuttoning his trousers, he shoved them down. His cock sprang free and hit hard against Jane's mons, enough that she gasped.
"Oh, I think that might be very big," she suddenly said as he pressed his length against her.
"Are you worried I won't fit?"
"I certainly hope that you do. Oh, my mercy! Did I just say that?"
Amused that she was at once aroused and shy, Marcello guided his thick hardness toward her pussy. Gripping his shaft, he felt the sensitive foreskin taut beneath the mighty crown, and he teased the head of it over her slickness. By the gods, it felt as though he skated across molten fire, but they were the sweetest flames, and he would be content to let them burn and mark him forevermore.
Nudging into her, he slowly worked his length into the fire. Indeed, it was a tight fit. Jaws clenched and eyes closed, he lingered in the exquisite hug that threatened to make him come before he had fully sheathed himself.
A deep, bellowing groan spilled from his mouth as he worked in slowly, deeper. Jane's fingers clutched at his biceps, and he thought to ask, "I'm not hurting you?"
"No," she whispered out. "So…oh… Yes… Deeper. Please, Marcello. Now!"
A little bit of the whore reared up in his sweet Jane, and, granted permission, Marcello hilted himself with a guttural moan. He thrust slowly at first and then faster, losing himself in the chase to the finish. His muscles tightened, and his body began to tremble. He would come quickly—
He would not deny himself tonight.
"Yes," Jane gasped near his ear. "I've never… Oh, mercy, I shall die a happy woman."
No one was dying tonight. But someone was coming. Right now.
His body shuddering, Marcello met gazes with Jane. He bit his lower lip as his thrusts brought up spurts of his seed. And she bracketed his face with her hands, holding his gaze to hers. It was a maddening yet soul-spearing moment. And he growled again as he spent himself inside her, jamming his hips tight to hers as he rode the wicked high.
With a kiss to her eyelid and a nuzzle of his nose into her flowery hair, he then tugged out from the hugging heat, knowing it was too late to worry about using a French letter, and not caring.
His manhood slid along Jane's thigh, and he nuzzled his face against her neck. "So perfect inside you," he said. "For the first time."
* * *
Never before had Jane felt so…much when having intercourse. And much being the word for Marcello's member. It was thick and long and had filled her completely. She'd never noticed when her husband had been inside her, quickly rutting away with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. She'd only been glad when he finished and then rolled over and fell into a snore within minutes.
Which is why she'd been compelled to grab Marcello by the face and look into his eyes when she had known he was climaxing. The intimacy of that moment had been incomparable. They had connected. Had been one in that instant. Mercy.
She could never return to her husband now. Not that she'd intended to do so, but—just no. Marcello had ruined her for other men. In the best way possible.
Now, he carried her to the bed and tore away her gown, which had tangled about her legs. He set her down then stood beside the bed, easing his fingers around the base of his proud erection. It was almost an involuntary move as he stood there looking over her. But it drew her eyes to that amazing piece of anatomy.
"It's hard again so quickly?"
"With you as my wicked muse? I am always hard."
"May I…hold you?" She pointed to his member. "I've never actually gotten the chance to look closely at one before."
"I can believe that. Your husband keep all the candles snuffed and then a quick in and out?"
Jane's shoulder dropped. "I don’t wish to talk about him, if you please?"
He touched the scar above her breast and leaned down to kiss it. "It's what you please, Jane. And I promise I won't mention him again." He slid onto the bed and sat up against the stacks of pillows. His arousal bobbed with the motion. "Look all you desire. Touch it. Kiss it. Do whatever you’d like with it."
Feeling a sudden giddy opportunity to explore, Jane rubbed her palms together, then bent to study the bobbling instrument that still made her throb between the thighs in the most wonderful way. It was deeply colored, and the head of him was thick as a plum and nearly violet in color. It looked angry, actually. So she touched the shaft tentatively.
She flinched away. "Does that hurt?"
He shook his head. "Feels great. But don't be shy. It won't bite."
Her mouth dropped open as she met his gaze. He then realized what he'd said and shrugged. "Very well, I might bite. But it won't."
She wanted to learn all about his vampire condition, but he'd deftly avoided her earlier question by pinning her to the wall and having his way with her. And now with such a fascinating treat displayed before her, Jane felt compelled to do as she wished with him.
Talking could wait for later.
Wrapping her fingers around his shaft, she could not touch her fingertips together. It was as though she held a piece of suede-covered metal that had sat near the fire overlong. He smelled of musk and salt. And when she moved her hand down and up, it rubbed the skin over thick, pulsing veins. An exquisite object. Difficult not to marvel over it. And the head glistened with what she suspected was the ejaculate that had come out when he had climaxed by the wall.
Gliding the fingers of her other hand through his nest of black curls that hugged the magnificent shaft, she leaned closer and kissed the head of him. It was not repulsive as she’d imagined; she rather wanted to taste more of him.
"May I…?" She glanced up at him.
"Oh, you may." He swung his arms up and clasped his hands behind his head, giving her free rein. "Just don't bite."
"I would never," she said with affront. And yet…the night had only just begun.
Kissing him up and down his length, she delighted in pressing it against her cheek and drawing the heady warmth into her skin. And then she dared to lash her tongue along the length of him, exploring a pulsing vein along the hot, intense shaft before drawing her mouth up to tease the rim of its mighty crown.
Marcello's moan vibrated in her chest. She had done something to make him happy. So she did it again, laving along his length as if a starving woman. And then she squeezed her hand around the heavy sac that hugged up against his root.
"Gentle with that," he murmured. "The jewels are very sensitive."
She let up on her firm clasp and then clutched the thick rod with her other hand as she performed a gentle up and down twist.
"Oh, yes." Marcello raked his fingers through her hair. His fingertips gently dug into her scalp as her tongue dashed the crown of his erection. "You learn quickly, lover."
"You like this?"
"Every touch, every taste. Every part of being with you, Jane. Oh…Jane!"
And like that, his hips bucked and he spilled hot, creamy seed over her hands.
Now that was what she called an adventure.
After he'd come down from the climax, Marcello retrieved a wash linen for Jane, and as he wiped her hands, he kissed each finger and the knuckles. The delicate appendages were capable of such masterful control over him. Fancy that.
On the other hand, her hands were also capable of herding cats at the keyboard. He would have to learn to take the horrible with the good.
Now he lay down on the bed on his back, and beside him, lying on her stomach and propped on her elbows, Jane kissed his shoulder and then gave it a playful bite.
"I'll have you know, I know what you did there," she said.
"What do you mean?"
"When I initially came into your room, I asked you about what you are. The teeth. The vampire thing. And you distracted me with…"
"That big, hot member—"
"It's a cock, Jane. Call it that. Please?"
"You've a lovely cock." A blush heated her cheeks, and she shook her head. "Why is it so difficult to say some words after the things we've just done?"
"You'll get over it soon enough."
"I already am. Such a reprobate I've become. Whew! But I also know your tricks."
"You've successfully distracted me. Of which, I don't mind at all. But back to the word vampire. I want to know what you are, Marcello. Tell me true and honestly."
"Very well. But know it's not something I share with anyone. No one, actually, save my closest friends, who are all vampires, as well."
"More vampires? That man who was with you the first day we met?"
He nodded. "But you mustn't tell anyone."
"I will not. I promise. Is Venice overrun with the sort?"
"Not quite. But you are taking this rather well, Jane. The idea of lying beside a man who has fangs and lives off the blood of others doesn't make you want to faint?"
"I've fainted once already at the sight of your fangs. I'm the kind of woman who, once she has seen, believes. No sense in denying it. But tell me how you came to be like this?"
"It was never a choice. But I've learned to live and survive as vampire, and now it is as if I was meant to be nothing but. I am proud of what I am, Jane. And just so you know, I needn't kill to survive."
"That is good to hear. I wasn't sure…"
He kissed her forehead then turned onto his side to face her. She was naked, and the candlelight glimmered in her eyes and on her skin as if stardust. Smoothing his fingers along her clavicle, he then slid his forefinger up to her vein and pressed it gently. "Right here is where I bite. It brings up the blood quickly. Of course, I can take from elsewhere, but I prefer the neck. Especially when I feed from men."
"You bite men? But, of course, the man in the alleyway. So, it's not…"
"Sexual? It can be. But I prefer to keep my meals as just that: sustenance. If I were to have sex and bite a woman, it would be very intimate, if I wished it."
"Oh." Jane swallowed. "Would you…bite me?"
"Only if you asked me to. But it isn't necessary to my happiness with you. You give me more pleasure than a simple bite ever could."
That reassured her, but she was still a little confused. "You weren't born like this?"
With a heavy sigh, he turned onto his back to face the tester canopy and began…
"I have lived in Venice a long time. My family was large. I had three brothers and four sisters. All younger than me. We were happy. Privileged. I was twenty-five, and but two days returned from a Grand Tour, the night vampires attacked our home. I'm still not sure why they did. But I've learned it was only my family and no others. So perhaps it was political. We were obviously targeted.
"They came in droves. I want to say hundreds, but I'm sure it was perhaps but a dozen. They went after my parents and me first, taking out the strongest. Then they attacked my younger siblings. They killed every single one of them. Left them lying on beds and couches and on the floor, bleeding—some of them with their eyes still open."
"Oh, mercy." Jane clutched her fingers around his bicep. "That's horrible."
"It was. Yet, for some reason, I survived. I'm sure they left me for dead. But I rose, bleeding from a massive neck wound, and wandered amongst my family members, crying, bawling actually. I hate to remember it.
"Another vampire, one not associated with those who attacked my family—Carlo, the man who accompanied me on the first night we met you—found me sitting outside the palazzo that night. I was so close to death, could have simply died, but he asked me if I wanted to live forever, and…in the madness of what I had been through, I said yes. He turned me by allowing me to drink his blood.
"He taught me the ways of the vampire. How to answer the blood hunger and to live in the shadows. Because I knew that I would be hunted if anyone learned what had become of me. "
"I'm so sad for you."
"Don't be. I am strong now. I've lived a long life. Seen so many wondrous things. Met kings, and danced with queens. Now, if the city would not be so set on kicking me out of my home, everything would be well."
"Why do they— Do they know you are a vampire?"
"No. And they will never learn that. But the city auditor is questioning my right to own the palazzo. Says he can't find records of sale. Well, of course he can’t, because I've lived here for centuries."
"Centuries?" Jane propped up on her elbow and connected with his gaze in the low light. "How old are you?"
He shrugged. "I was born in the thirteenth century."
"Oh, my. That's…five hundred years?"
"Give or take."
"But you look young. About my age."
"One of the advantages of being immortal."
She had to take it all in. His tragic story saddened her, and yet out of it all, he'd survived and had been given immortality. With the price of having to drink blood from humans.
"Does it have to be a live person?" she asked.
"What? Oh, you mean for drinking? Yes. Dead blood would sicken me. And no animals."
She closed her eyes and rolled to her back. "Yes."
So fascinating! And she couldn't even be frightened that he may bite her. Because the idea of being bitten by the virile man who had just reduced her body to exquisite shivers excited her. And yet, the city sought to evict him from his family home?
"Wait!" Jane sat up on the bed. "The secret room in my bedchamber!"
She slid off the bed and grabbed her night-rail. "We must go look! There were precious treasures in there. So many papers, too. There could be a certificate of ownership for this palazzo in there."
Marcello's mouth dropped open as he considered it. "Jane, you've the best idea. Let's take a look!"
It was well into the early hours of the morning when Marcello followed Jane behind the hearth in her chambers and into the cool, dark room. He lifted the candelabra high, which cast a glow upon centuries of collected treasures.
"It's been ages since I've been in here. Honestly, I had forgotten all about it."
"Look at this." She glided her fingers along a jewel-encrusted curio box that Marcello remembered, with sudden acuity, held his mother's jewels. "I've never seen so many emeralds."
"Open it." He set down the light and joined her side. She leaned against him as she opened the box. The feel of her body relaxing into his suddenly felt so precious to him. To have Jane's trust was immense.
Her gasp was followed by an eager look.
"Yes, of course, you must try them on."
He took out the diamond necklace from the box and strung it around her neck, tying the pink ribbon at her nape, then pulling her hair up and out from it.
"I've never worn diamonds." She shivered against him. "They're cold." She turned to display the heavy strand of baubles to him. "Do they twinkle in the candlelight?"
"Not as brightly as your eyes, lover." He kissed her and moaned as the connection ignited every part of his being. "You want them?"
"Oh? Oh, but…they must belong to someone."
"They were once my mother's. I'd like you to wear them. If you wish."
"Your mother's…" she whispered.
He nuzzled his nose against her chin and neck. "It would mean a lot to me to see them on you. Remind me of her a bit."
"But those must be terrible memories."
"My mother was kind and beautiful. I have only good memories of her. And her laughter. She loved music, too. Although the pianoforte did not exist when she was alive. Please, wear them?"
She nodded. "Very well. I'd be honored." She pointed to a dark corner. "I believe I saw stacks of papers back that way."
"Then let's take a look."
After what may have been hours of shuffling through ancient papers, some so fragile Marcello feared they would crumble under his careful touch, he finally discovered a record of his birth. And it seemed as though with some careful adjustment to the black ink, the birth year could be altered. And along with that record, he also found the original deed to the palazzo.
"My solicitor will be pleased."
"Are you not pleased?" Jane filed through a stack of paintings.
"I am. I would never have remembered this room were it not for you. Thank you for being a snoop, Jane Emery."
"It's a talent."
"You have so many."
"Do not tease me about my musical skills. I will improve."
"I know you will."
"I just need to find the right teacher. Now, tell me about this painting."
She slid forward a massive portrait of a young man wearing finery and gold epaulettes. His coal hair was neatly curled and hung to his shoulders. They'd not captured his chin correctly, though. Marcello had always thought that.
"Is this you?" she asked.
"It is. That was commissioned by my mother."
She touched the diamond necklace and smiled. "You haven't changed very much. Matured surely. But I don't think the artist got your chin quite right. Yours is much more regal… Is this the family crest?" She tapped the sash slung across his shoulder, on which, an elaborate gold crest had been pinned. "It isn't often the common man wears such finery and gold and jewels. Marcello?"
"Were you? Are you…royalty?"
He chuckled and stood up from the stack of papers and hooked the heel of his hand against the wall as he calmly confessed, "I am Prince Marcello, son of Caesar and Angelique Sebastiani, a royal family who claims blood ties to the great warrior Vercingetorix. Long lost and forgotten after a wild band of cutthroats, or so rumor tells, slaughtered the family in the thirteenth century."
* * *
Her fingers skimming the diamonds at her neck, Jane realized she stood in the presence of royalty. A prince! And she wore his mother's jewels.
"I should take this off."
"No, Jane." He rushed to her and wrapped her in such a secure and loving embrace that she sighed and looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. "What's wrong, Jane?"
"You are royalty. I am but a common—"
The kiss stopped her protest. It stopped any desire to argue, to declare herself less to him. All the kiss wanted was her surrender. And that was what she did.
"I will continue to do that if you insist on spouting nonsense," he admonished. "I was once a prince."
"You still are."
"No longer recognized by any living, sane human being. According to reports following my family's slaughter, we all died. No children remained. And it doesn't matter. I don't need the title. I prefer not to have it, actually. It only brought heartache. I believe my family was murdered because of their political beliefs."
"Vampires are political?"
"We do have our causes. While I can never know for certain, I have wondered over the years if my father wasn't considering starting a group of warriors who sought to slay vampires."
"Yes, they exist now, these Guardians, the vampire hunters, but they were organized many centuries after my father's death. They call themselves the Guardians of The Holy Waters, and they are my bane. But you must never reveal to my fellow vampires that I have such a suspicion about my father's pursuits."
"Of course, not. That would change the way they think of you. Maybe. You are so kind. Does that mean I will some day meet your friends? Other vampires?"
"If you wish to, then I will make it happen." He slid the painting back into the shadows. "Allow me to be a common man to you, Jane. Please? And never take off the diamonds. They become you."
"It's a lot to take in. So much has happened in so few days. Losing my patron. Moving in here with you. And…us. Mercy! I need to lie down. No, I will not faint." She stood straight. "Since we are revealing truths, I need to"—yawn—"confess something to you. I couldn't stand myself if I did not."
He kissed her forehead and grabbed the candelabra. "You are exhausted. It's been a long day. And it's already morning. Whatever you have to say to me can wait until you've rested. Yes?"
"I am dreadfully tired."
"Let's get you into bed and I'll draw the curtains. I'll make sure Prudence leaves you to sleep."
He closed the hearth behind them, and Jane wandered to the bed. "Do you sleep, Marcello?"
"Not much. I don't need to. But the sunlight is not my friend, so I spend mornings in my dark, quiet room. I tend to read a lot."
"You could snuggle with me? Just until I fall asleep."
She nestled into the bed, and he wrapped a big, strong arm across her. The diamonds rested heavily against her clavicle, setting her imagination on a flight of fancy to grand palaces and royals dressed in finery and jewels. The man had been through an awful ordeal and had lived to tell about it. He wasn't even human. Yet she had accepted that easily.
Was she that desperate for a safe place away from her husband? Or had she simply stepped into something much darker and more disturbing?
With a sigh that did not dispel her worries, Jane closed her eyes and surrendered to sleep.
The next day, Jane took tea in the music room. Or what she had come to call the music room. The pianoforte had been placed back in the corner near a window. She wondered about that now as Prudence refilled her cup with hot water.
"Do you think they placed the pianoforte far from the doors so the sounds of my practicing could not be heard in the other rooms?"
Prudence's gape gave away her thoughts more quickly than she could hide them.
"Really?" Jane set down her teacup. "How will I ever improve if I do not practice?"
"I didn't say a thing, Jane. You mustn't assume that's why it is there. Perhaps that was the best area to accommodate the piano."
Jane glanced around the nearly bare ballroom. It was expansive, and only the three chairs, a tea table, and the pianoforte were inside. She sighed heavily, catching her chin in her palm. "What shall we do today, Prudence?"
"Well, there will be no more running about at night on your own."
Yes, but had she not 'run about,' she would have never fainted, and Marcello would have never brought her home and ravished her in his bed. He'd taken her fully and completely. Pierced her with that amazing piece of manliness. She could feel it in her hand right now. His cock. A mighty weapon he wielded to slay only her.
A vampire? She wondered what his bite would feel like. Would it give her pleasure? Would she want to bite him?
She sighed again. And only after Prudence had set her cup down with a distinct clink did Jane notice that her maid was staring at her. With a bemused look.
"I can read your thoughts," Jane offered.
"Then I needn't voice them." Prudence’s smile increased to one of giddy amusement, which she tried to smooth away behind another sip of tea.
"Yes, well, look who is enjoying herself just as much with the servant." Jane tilted a challenging look at her maid.
A curt nod from Prudence accepted defeat. "Forgive me."
"I will not. But do be careful, Prudence."
"Oh, I am. And he is. We are." The woman chuckled and pressed her fingers to her breast. Jane had never before seen her so animated and happy.
"This Venice air has proven to be most beneficial for us," she offered.
"That it has."
And the twosome sipped tea with barely-concealed secret smiles.
* * *
Marcello passed Prudence while walking out of the kitchen.
"Where is Miss Emery this fine day?"
"She's in the music room, taking tea. If you hurry, you can get to her before she finishes and decided to tickle the ivories."
"Good plan." He hastened his steps up the stairs and into the music room—when had it become a music room? Whatever worked, he supposed. He spied Jane just as she was standing up and rushed over to take her hand. "Good day, lover. Let's talk."
"I was just about to practice."
That's what he'd suspected. "Last night, you said you had something you wanted to tell me? Sit."
She did, reluctantly. And so he knelt on the floor before her, making it impossible for her to get by and near the pianoforte.
And now that he was down there…
He slid his hands around her ankles. So delicate, and she wore the finest stockings that always allowed him to feel the minute goose bumps that rose on her skin beneath his touch. She jumped a little at his caress. "Really, Jane? You're skittish now, after all the places I've already touched you?"
"Not at all. A little. I've never had a man touch my ankles before. It's very…"
"Erotic? That sounds utterly strange. And pitiful. I'm sorry that I've neglected them." He lifted one of her feet, and pushing aside her dress hem, he bowed to kiss her ankle. Sweet shiver bumps pearled under his hands, so he pulled down her stocking and kissed her skin, eliciting a sigh from her. Her fingers gripped the curled ends of the chair. "Better?"
"I don't know how I could have managed to miss such a pleasure. Oh…"
He teased his tongue up higher and around to the crease behind her knee. She smelled sweet there. Ladies were always dusting themselves with powder or some such. He liked it. Reminded him of summer meadows.
Lashing his tongue firmly into the bend compelled her to stretch out her leg straight, and he promptly hooked her ankle up over his shoulder.
"Oh, my." Her gaze strayed toward the double doors.
"Prudence is occupied," he reassured. "And I'm not much for tea. So…did you have something you wanted to tell me?"
He didn't wait for her to speak, finding he was lured higher by the warm, quivering softness of her thighs. He pushed her other leg aside, opening her to him. That she was a woman who did not wear underdrawers pleased him immensely. He buried his nose in her fragrant pussy.
"Oh, dear. You said you wanted to talk," she managed on a shaky breath.
"You talk. I'll tend my desires. Fair enough?"
"I don’t think I can… Oh, right there. Oh, yes, your tongue… It's so…exacting."
He smiled against her soft nether curls and then blew a hot breath over her folds. She quivered, her thighs hugging his face. Dashing his tongue down the seam of her folds, he opened her and drank in her delicious heat. The woman moaned deeply and slumped down a bit on the chair, which gave him perfect access.
He slid a thumb over her moist clit, and that set her hips to a wanting thrust. Her shoe heel dug in at his shoulder, but he enjoyed the teasing pain.
"I was going to tell you— Oh, mercy…"
"Yes?" He slid two fingers inside her and gently curled them forward where he felt a ridged patch on her inner wall. Hmm… He stroked it curiously.
Her entire body shook. She was already so close to release. And he suspected it was because of the intriguing area he had just discovered inside her. Nice. He played over it curiously. Her shoe heel dug in deeper at his shoulder, and a bend of her leg pulled him forward. So he kissed her quim, drowning himself in her sighs. With one exacting stroke, her body released, and she shouted in joy. Warmth spilled over his fingers, and her insides pulsed tightly about them. She'd come by his hand alone.
He kissed her again. "Sweet Jane."
Gasping and gripping the chair arms, she thrust her head back. Her breasts heaved, her thighs still shook, and she managed to say, "I have a confession."
"That I've neatly coaxed out of you."
"Indeed. Oh! Mercy! I must say it now, or I will never forgive myself. Marcello, I've been trying to seduce you so you'll become my patron. Oh, my. I didn't mean to blurt it out." She giggled, and her hips bucked again. "You worked that right out of me."
"Jane." Marcello sat back on his knees and pulled down her skirt as he set her foot on the floor. "I know."
She blew a curl from her lashes and looked at him. "You knew? That I was…?"
"Of course. You're not as clever as you like to think. By the way, I believe it was me who did the seducing."
"Yes, I…" She gasped a few elated breaths. "I can agree with that. Maybe." She made eye contact, and a flutter of her lashes reminded him that indeed she might have exercised some control over him, initially. The cheeky Englishwoman. "I'm so sorry. Now it's out there. That you know…"
"Jane, you needn't use seduction to get your way with me. Although, I can't argue with the results. You can stay as long as you like. You are always welcome here."
He raised a cautioning finger. "But know I'll probably want to fuck you daily. Twice if possible."
"I can agree to that. Oh, but Prudence."
"I think Prudence is being taken care of nicely by Adamo."
"Indeed. I don't think the woman has been happier. Would you like to listen to me practice now?"
"I…" Marcello cast a glance over his shoulder at the innocent instrument that could be coaxed into devilish chorus. "I think I want you to practice on me, actually." He stood and offered her his hand. "Come. Let's go up to my bedchambers. The day is early, and it's much too sunny out for a creature such as me."
* * *
Jane curled up beside Marcello on the big bed beneath the damask tester. The curtains were drawn, and dozens of candles were lit, but she suspected it was merely mid-afternoon.
She spread her fingers across her lover's bare abdomen, over the many ridges of marble-like muscle, and laid her head on his shoulder. "Were you serious about me staying here as long as I wish?"
"Of course. Jane, you are a welcome light to my darkness."
"It is quite dark here. All the time. How have you had relationships over your long lifetime when I assume the women are human and need to eat real food and enjoy the sunshine?"
He shrugged. "I make it work."
"Have you had many lovers over the centuries?"
"I've lived for over five hundred years, Jane. Do you really want that answer?"
"I suppose not. I can't imagine living so long. It seems a wonder. But then, I also question if it could get tedious."
"That's a word for it. Only on rare days. I used to travel a lot. Taking night coaches and trains. The world is a marvel. I've only been in Venice for the past decade or so. I've always lived in the palazzo but never settled here for so long. I might like to travel again."
"I would love to see the world. I don't know that I will have that opportunity."
"Why not? I'll take you wherever you wish to go. Pick a country. We'll leave tonight."
"It's a lovely thought, but you forget, I am a married woman. And much as I have run away from my husband, I cannot ignore the fear that he will come looking for me."
"I will protect you from him."
"I don't want you to become involved in my messy marriage. I just want…"
"What do you want, Jane?"
"I want it ended. The marriage. But a divorce would be out of the question for him. And I'm not sure about an annulment, how that would work."
"Divorce would prove more of a humiliation to you than him."
"I would get over it. I've already endured the shame of ostracization from my family. I do not require the approval of others or even my family. But he…"
"He's beaten you, Jane. There are no excuses for such cruel treatment. He will suffer the consequences of his actions. He must."
She sighed and nodded against his chest. "But you must know something about him. The reason I find it so difficult to rend our ties. I am the youngest of five daughters. My elder sisters got the better matches. I have always been plain Jane."
"Plain? You are the least plain woman I know. Jane, you are beautiful. I can't understand why your family would make you believe such a thing."
"You are too kind, Marcello. But if you saw my sisters and their gemstone blue eyes and cornsilk hair… Well."
He kissed the crown of her head. "Your hair is fair as beams from the sky."
"Have you seen the dreary English sky? My hair is not nearly as shiny and dazzling as my sisters' hair. Anyway, two years ago, I accepted the best match my father could manage. His name is Thatcher Emery. And he's the parson in our little village of Charlestown."
"Your husband is a clergyman?"
She nodded and winced.
"Yes, well, it is the reason divorce is out of the question. No parson would confess to such vile treatment of his wife and allow the marriage to be torn asunder."
He hugged her close and kissed the crown of her head. "Then you'll stay away from him forever. Here. With me. He can't hurt what isn't in his home. I will take care of you, Jane. I will never raise a hand to you. And I will keep your secret. Promise."
Tears spilled from her eyes onto Marcello's chest, but they were tears of happiness. Never had she felt so protected.
After Jane had eaten the roast pheasant and honeyed carrots, she stood before the window in her bedchamber, looking out at the waning moon. It twinkled as if diamonds on the water in the canal below. She stroked the necklace she'd not removed since Marcello had asked her to wear it. Had she been born five hundred years earlier, might she have had hopes of becoming his princess?
But princesses did not marry parsons so that fantasy dissipated rather quickly.
Marcello had said he intended to go out tonight and would return in a few hours. She suspected he was going to find someone to bite. And this time, he did not require an audience.
Did he seek a victim? Or sustenance?
She supposed it could be either or both. Yet while she could only imagine a person could be a victim if they were forced or lured into doing something they did not wish to do, she could imagine Marcello would hold command over the one he choose to slake his needs with. And he might be quick with them, using force, shoving them against a wall and sinking in his fangs.
Or would he seduce with that deep, whiskeyed voice and an allure that only vampires could unleash on those lucky enough to be chosen by them?
Jane pressed a hand to her throat. She was thinking in terms of the bite being a welcome, sensual thing. Could she endure living as Marcello did? As a vampire? Hunting others for their blood in order to stay alive. Had she the backbone for such cruelty? Or rather, the cunning to let loose a certain seduction to get what the vampire craved?
She had seduced Marcello. In a way.
Very well, it truly had been he who had seduced her. And now, he'd invited her to stay indefinitely. She would do it. But would she always be looking over her shoulder, wondering if and when Thatcher might be gaining on her?
Was her husband even looking for her?
Her family was disappointed and had surely marked her off as lost and forgotten. Perhaps they, along with Thatcher, would concoct a story to hide their annoyance and shame at her disappearance. Instead, telling people she'd gone missing, and was very possibly dead. That was well and fine by her. Truly.
She touched a glint in the window glass where a bubble caught the moonlight as if a star. "I want the bite. I want to feel him inside me." In more ways than she had already.
She wanted to belong to Marcello Sebastiani.
* * *
Marcello tracked the lone woman who was heading home from a soiree. She was not a noblewoman or even an elite. Those types would never walk the dark streets of Venice alone. She was probably a laundress or a maid judging by the soapy smell that wafted in her wake. She wore a brown cloak over what he guessed was a simple shift. A black scarf covered her head, save for a long, thick strand of blonde hair that spilled down her arm.
She wasn't aware that he followed her. No one ever was. He was stealthy and had been doing this for centuries. Yet just when he judged the moment to send out a mental message to tell her to turn and welcome a stranger into her arms, he held back.
Worry furrowed his brow. Why was he stopping? He needed blood tonight. Most every night. A familiar ache in his gut demanded he feed his hunger. Was it because she was alone? But she wasn't frightened. Fear would have heightened the experience for him. A little struggle. Knowing that he had worked for his meal.
No, it was something else. That blonde hair. Jane had told him her sisters had gorgeous hair and eyes. That they were all so lovely. And that she was plain. Why did she believe that? What cruelties had she endured to have grown up believing such nonsense? She was a beautiful woman who did not deserve to be looked down upon or physically harmed.
Her husband was a parson? Insane. But with hope, the man would not venture beyond his parish in search of his wayward wife. Marcello would be very happy to keep Jane safe and under his protection for as long as it was required.
Was he… Was he falling in love with the woman? Because never before had he felt so protective and yet so utterly under a woman's spell. He would even endure her catastrophic mechanics before the pianoforte to have her in his bed every night. Sighing against his skin. Kissing him. Taking him into her body and coming hard beneath him.
And then he knew why he would not pursue the laundress this evening. Because he didn't want Jane to be jealous, and he felt as if he would be cuckolding her if he held another woman in his arms tonight.
"Wonders never cease," he muttered and turned to head back to the palazzo.
* * *
Her lover lured her out of her bedchamber with a whisper. Leaving Prudence behind in a peaceful slumber, Jane almost yelped when Marcello whisked her from her feet and into his arms to carry her up to the fourth floor.
"You must stay in my bedchambers from now on," he said as they entered the candlelit room and he set her on the bed. "I shouldn't have to retrieve my lover. You should already be at my side."
"I can't find an argument for that." She knelt on the bed and helped him tug his shirt over his head and then unbuttoned his trousers so he could kick them away and stand naked before her. Jane tapped her lower lip. "Take it in your hand," she said. "I want to watch you pleasure yourself."
"Is that so? You surprise me with your boldness."
Jane lifted her chin confidently. "I am an adventuress."
"That you are." He gripped his cock and squeezed it while she glided her palms over his abdomen, unable to not touch those hard ridges of heat.
As he stroked himself, she felt the muscles flex under her fingers and fancied she could compose a tune with his hisses of restrained desire and her increased breaths. "Did you go out and find a victim?"
"I…did not. I had intended to."
"Why didn't you? How often must you take blood?"
He put a hand up on the canopy frame overhead and leaned forward, stroking himself more swiftly now. "Every day, if possible. But I can go for days if needs must. I don't take much. Would never harm the person beyond the bite. And that always heals."
"Can you make it so they don't remember your bite?" She slipped one hand down to cup his tightened testicles.
"Oh, Jane! Yes, always. It would not be wise to let them remember a vampire had bitten them, would it?"
"I suppose not, for your safety. Faster," she commanded of him. "And harder."
Marcello obliged her, and she bowed to lick the mighty head of his weapon while he rigorously pumped himself to a shudder.
"Your whole body tenses up just before you release," she commented. "Oh, Marcello, don't come yet. I want you inside me when you do."
"I thought you'd never ask. Lay back, lover."
She did, curling her fingers into the nightgown fabric and slowly inching it up. The look on Marcello's face made her beam. That was love. It had to be. Could it be? She dare not ask.
"Spread your legs," he said on a rough command. "Quickly. And pull the fabric away from your breasts. I want to see how tight your nipples are."
She pulled the ribbon tie and spread the fabric apart so her breasts were revealed. Her lover bowed over her, the heavy weight of his erection teasing at her thigh, and his hot breath curling above one nipple.
He almost kissed her. Jane arched her back, lifting her breasts, but she couldn't quite meet his mouth. "Please," she said on a moan. "Don't tease me!"
"That's exactly what I'm doing." The head of him nudged at her wetness, and Jane moaned again, long and wanting. Such a wicked smile he wielded. "You want this, Jane?"
"You know I do!"
"Perhaps not just yet." He knelt on the bed and straddled her, gliding his moistened cock along her belly and in between her breasts. There, he pressed her breasts together to capture his hard tool between them and continued his thrusting.
She clutched at his powerful buttocks, easing him forward and reveling in the flexing motion of his muscles there. He was so big and yet gentle when he needed to be, and not so gentle when she desired him not to be. Her fingernails dug into his flesh.
Marcello hissed through a tight jaw. "You are a wanton, Jane."
"You make me one," she said. "And I love it!"
With a chuckle, he slid down her stomach and kissed her breasts, suckling each nipple in turn. His hand still held his cock, which he patted at her swollen quim. The repeated tapping ignited the coil of impending orgasm in her, and she squirmed in hopes of capturing him within her.
And when his fingers parted her folds, he looked up to meet her gaze. They held one another with a look of silent desire as he slid into her. The man's moan echoed throughout her being. And in his eyes, she thought sure she saw a world that was new and now open to her. A new beginning.
"Come with me, Jane."
"Yes." She surrendered to the tight, coiling tease in her core, and as it rippled through her mons and thighs, she cried out in exquisite joy.
But of a sudden, she wanted so much more.
"Bite me, Marcello. Please." She grasped for his hair and pulled him down to her chest.
The man licked his way up her throat, while at her loins his cock pulsed and his hips still bucked.
"Quickly. Come inside me again. At my neck," she pleaded.
And he obeyed.
The surprising pain of his teeth penetrating her vein made her cry out, but just as quickly, the wave of orgasm that had almost dissipated renewed and swept her into its swirling frenzy. Groaning deeply, Jane released it all, gliding into the dark but tantalizing thrill of the bite. The sucking against her neck combined with the sure thrust of his cock within her dizzied her senses.
At that moment, the vampire's bite succeeded in stealing her heart.
Carlo Bianchi noticed the gentleman who had walked through the front door of his newly purchased home. He was currently having a few repairs made, so he suspected the man standing in the doorway must be one of the work crew. But he wasn't dressed like he hauled around stones and a hammer.
Ah. As he neared the man, Carlo saw that he wore the collar of a priest or vicar, or whatever it was they were calling holy men these days.
"Good father," Carlo said and bowed to the man. He wasn't averse to the religious, but he would wisely never touch a holy object or person. Just on principle. "How can I help you?"
"I am not sure I have the correct place. I was looking for Signore Ricci?"
"Yes, this was once his home. Did you know him?"
"No, not personally."
"Then I can tell you without fear of upsetting you that the man passed away a few weeks ago. I am the new owner of this fine villa. I'm so sorry you were not able to speak with the man. Was it pressing?"
"No. Actually, it is of no import that the man has died. God grant his soul merciful peace. Who I'm really looking for is a woman who may have come to visit him. Jane—"
"Oh, yes, sweet Jane Emery. She's staying a few houses down. A pity she wasn't able to attain the musical instruction necessary. Her playing does try one's nerves. And I'm not even living in the same palazzo as she."
The man narrowed his thin black brows at him. "Why is Jane staying in a nearby palazzo? Who lives there?"
"Uh…" Carlo realized now he had a tendency to say too much before getting the pertinent details about a situation. "Who did you say you are?"
"Parson Thatcher Emery. I'm Jane's husband."
"Right. Jane Emery. You two have the same surname. Imagine that! So. Jane has a husband who is a man of the cloth? Of course."
What a holy bloody mess. Did Marcello know as much? He couldn't possibly. That man avoided messes, especially the relationship kind.
"So she's staying a few houses away, you say?" the parson asked.
"Yes, with a very kind soul who is not someone you should consider a threat."
"A threat?" The man spun toward the door. "Good day, sir!"
Carlo dashed for the kitchen, dodging a pair of tile setters, and aimed for the door that led outside to an alleyway, which ran along the canal toward the Sebastiani palazzo.
"I must get to Marcello before the husband does!"
* * *
Marcello pulled his cock out of Jane's tight heat and moaned against her shoulder as the orgasm shuddered through his body. Nothing felt better. Not even the bite. And yet…
Just thinking about the bite made his fangs lower in his gums, and he dragged them across Jane's breast. She purred. Her blood had tasted so sweet. And combined with the sex, the orgasm had been immense. He could do this every day. Bite and fuck Jane.
But he must be cautious. He could only bite her so many times in succession before she lost too much blood. Recovery time between bites must be allowed.
"I've been bitten by a vampire," she said in a dreamy tone. "How wondrous."
"I shouldn't do it again."
"Why not? Didn't you like it? Is there something wrong with my blood? Oh, mercy, if a vampire does not like the taste of me!"
"Jane. Jane. Sweet, dramatic Jane. You taste like those heavenly beams in the sky I can but dream about. It is a sweet treat that I must only indulge in on occasion, however. If I bite you too often, you will lose too much blood and…."
"Hmm…" She considered it.
"I thought we could do some sightseeing today," Marcello suggested as a means to change the subject. "It's raining, and the sun is hiding behind the clouds. I can go out for a stroll."
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather stay in bed a while?" She curled her fingers around his semi-erect cock and gave it an aggressive squeeze.
"You've convinced me to linger."
A sudden rapid knock on Marcello's chamber door annoyed. "Go away, Adamo!"
"What the hell is he doing here?"
"One of your vampire friends?" Jane sat up and pulled the sheet across her breasts.
The door burst open and spat in a frantic Carlo.
"How dare you?" Marcello stood and approached his friend, naked, and not caring about it one bit. "Carlo?"
The man grabbed the damask night robe from the back of a chair and tossed it at Marcello. "Get dressed. You've a visitor that Adamo just let in downstairs."
"A visitor?" Jane asked from the bed. She reached for her robe.
Carlo thrust an admonishing finger at her. "You have a husband!" And turning back to Marcello, he said, "And you should not sleep with other men's wives."
"My husband is here?"
"Yes, and…" Carlo gripped Marcello by the robe. "You're fucking a parson's wife? That is really low. Of all the—"
"Enough. I don't need your judgment. The man beats her. She fled for her life."
Carlo's jaw dropped open, and he gave Jane an apologetic look.
"He's below?" Marcello asked.
"Yes, he was at the new place asking after Jane. I told him where he could find her before I knew he was her husband. Sorry. Uh, but you should probably get down there before he comes up here."
Marcello pushed Carlo out the door. "Stall him. Tell him I'll be right down. Do not mention that Jane is here."
"It's too late for that," called a voice from down the hallway at the top of the stairs. "Is my wife in your bedchamber?"
* * *
Stumbling out of bed and wrapping her night-rail about her, Jane had barely gotten the sash tied when the voice down the hallway alerted her.
"Thatcher? Oh, mercy!"
What to do? How had the man found her? He'd actually come looking for her? And he'd found her in another man's bed.
"I shall burn for this. Burn! Oh!" She paced beside the bed, aware that Marcello was doing his best to calmly dissuade Thatcher from entering the room. But of a sudden, her husband burst in.
Jane turned and met her husband's shocked stare.
And then she promptly fainted.
"She does do that a lot," Marcello muttered as he shoved aside the parson and went to gather up Jane from the floor.
"Don't touch her!" The man of God stepped forward, but Carlo blocked him from approaching Marcello and Jane. "Unhand me, man!"
Carlo maintained his stance, keeping the angry husband from getting closer.
Marcello checked Jane's face, pushed the curls from her lashes, and she offered him a smirk. "You fainted."
"It's a talent. How did he…?"
"Step aside and allow me to see to my wife!"
"I'll take care of this. Just stay here, Jane."
Marcello rose before Thatcher, and Carlo stepped aside. The Englishman assessed the threat standing before him with ineffectual fists tightened at his sides. Marcello's shoulders stretched twice as wide as his, and he towered over the parson by a head. And if that weren’t imposing enough for the holy man, he could take out his throat with a lunge and a bite.
"You"—Marcello stabbed a finger toward the man's chest—"have no right to be here."
"And you have no right to harbor my wife in your bedchambers!"
"It is a safe harbor, which is more than can be said for the wretched life you have shackled her with."
Thatcher scoffed. He wore the clerical collar, but his mien was anything but kind or benevolent.
"No man has a right to raise a hand to a woman," Marcello insisted, "not even his wife."
"My Bible says differently."
"Your Bible is a whole lot of stories penned by men who wish to hold power over women."
"How dare you!"
"Jane does not love you, nor does she wish to remain with a man who would harm her so deviously. She is scarred!"
At that announcement, Carlo fisted a hand into his opposite palm. Marcello met his friend's gaze, and the twosome exchanged a silent communication only vampires could share. Carlo would not move on the parson. Not without Marcello's word.
"Jane, you will come home with me at once," Thatcher insisted.
Marcello glanced over his shoulder for her reaction. As if a small child, she stood with arms crossed over her stomach, and head bowed. She shook her head.
"She wants to stay," Marcello said. "And she will stay. I will protect her from you and your vile cruelties with my life." He set back his shoulders and lifted his chin. "This I promise."
"You've no right!"
And before he could gauge the parson's next move, Marcello felt the sting of the man's palm clap his cheek. He should have sensed that movement and—
He fisted his fingers and started to swing…
"Marcello!" Carlo's warning tone stopped him from connecting the punch to Thatcher's surprisingly calm face. His friend shook his head, and Marcello opened his fist.
Of course, using violence against the man would only bring him down to his level. A level not even the lowest, legless, crawling creature would wish to occupy.
He would stand before Jane and take whatever insipid punishments the fool thought to dole out in his anger over his inability to keep his wife.
"You have offended me, signore," the parson said boldly.
"Not to mention cuckolded you," Marcello felt the need to add.
The parson's mouth gaped open, but he quickly recovered. Stabbing an admonishing finger at Marcello, he said, "I will have my recompense! We duel with pistols. Tomorrow. At dawn!"
"I accept the challenge. Now leave my home."
Thatcher nodded and stepped backward toward the door. Shaking that ridiculous bony finger, he said, "You've made a horrible mistake, Jane. Your family has disowned you. But you can still come home to me. I will give you that chance."
Marcello felt Jane's hands clutch at his arm. She didn't reply to the parson. She silently clung to Marcello, shivering. He swept an arm around her shoulders and hugged her close as the parson left the room.
"You shouldn't have done that," she said.
"A duel with that bastard will be but a nuisance. Don't fret, Jane. I'll make sure he leaves Venice alone, and with no desire to ever speak your name again."
"Yes, but, Marcello…you must know something about Thatcher."
"What? That he's an uncaring, violent man, who would use religion to justify his treatment of you?"
She winced. "Well, yes, but… He is a sharpshooter. Every summer he wins the prize at the country fair shooting competition. He never misses the target."
"Is that so? Then I'll just have to be quicker with my trigger finger."
Carlo cleared his throat.
"What is it?" Marcello asked.
"The two of you seem to have overlooked the most important issue here. The risk."
"Beyond my husband's perfect aim, there is another?" Jane asked.
"I know what it is." Marcello hugged her tightly against his side. "It is a risk I'm willing to take."
"What risk?" Jane pleaded.
"I," Marcello said, "a vampire, have just agreed to a duel. At dawn."
* * *
Jane fretted most of the day and into the evening. Marcello had gone out with Carlo after Thatcher left. They'd wanted to follow him and make sure he didn't get up to anything suspicious. Prudence kept the tea flowing and sat vigil as Jane paced the floor before the pianoforte, surely wearing a rut in the carpeting.
What she needed right now was to have Marcello by her side. To feel his reassuring presence. And to know that at least one man in this world had a care for her safety.
That Thatcher had traveled across the ocean and two countries to find her was incredible. But it also meant that he was not about to allow her to leave their marriage without a fight.
"A duel," she whispered for perhaps the sixth time. "In the daylight!"
"I don't understand why you are so worried about the time of day?" Prudence asked. "Most duels occur at dawn. Are you not more worried that Signore Sebastiani might take a bullet from your husband's sure aim?"
"Oh, Prudence!" Jane landed on the piano bench, an arm across her forehead as she tilted her body to the side and caught her other arm across the keys. A discordant tune disturbed the air. "There is something I must tell you about Marcello."
* * *
"Is there something you are not telling me about Jane Emery?" Carlo asked as he and Marcello held post in the shadows across the canal from the inn where they'd tracked Thatcher Emery. The day was dreary with rain. "Why is this woman so important to you that you intend to risk the rising sun?"
"Perhaps it will be another rainy day tomorrow?"
"Marcello, please. Do you…?"
"Do I what?"
"Come on, man. I have known you a long time."
"That you have."
"There have been other women who have turned your eye."
"There have been."
"Then what is it about this particular woman? Do you love her?"
Marcello furrowed his brows, focusing his gaze on the dull, dark waters of the canal before them. Did he love Jane? He must feel something for her to take such a risk.
On the other hand, he was no man to balk at protecting a woman. And Jane needed protection from, of all things, a holy man. The idea of it sickened him. He would not rest knowing she might return to England with Thatcher Emery.
But, if not, then she would remain with him. And he was perfectly fine with that arrangement because…
He shrugged and muttered, "Perhaps."
Carlo clapped him on the back. "It happens to all of us sooner or later. You've taken your sweet time, good man. How many centuries?"
"Five, very nearly six."
"Then it is high time love has entered your life. Good for you."
With a lift of his shoulders, Marcello decided it could be a good thing.
Or the worst mistake he'd ever made.
"You'll be my second?" he asked Carlo.
"Of course. But I'll be standing off in the shadows, if you don't mind."
"We'll choose a safe place. The alley near the canal that is covered by the canopy. It's always dark, even when the sun is high."
"Good call. Now to brush up on your aim. A sharpshooter, eh? This could get interesting."
Seated before the vanity, Jane stared at the candle flame flickering before the silver-backed mirror. She'd brushed her hair for so long, it was staticky, so she set aside the sable brush and again glanced at the chamber door. When the knob turned, she stood in anticipation, but then sat abruptly. It could merely be Prudence.
When the tall, broad figure swept into her room and tugged her up from the stool, she cried out in joy and wrapped her arms around Marcello's shoulders.
"I thought you'd not come in tonight. I missed you today."
"Sorry. I had some arrangements to make. And I paid a visit to my solicitor. The city auditor accepted the birth record and receipt of sale for the palazzo."
"You can stay?"
"Yes, it's confirmed that my family owns it outright. And that I was born about thirty years ago."
"I'm so happy for you. Oh, Marcello, dawn is drawing closer. I've been thinking all day what might happen to you in the sunlight. Will you die?"
He set her on the end of the bed and tugged off his coat then untied the cravat at his neck. "No, not if I don't spend overlong in the light. But I will burn quickly. It could get nasty."
"Then you can't go on with the duel."
"I can, and I will. Carlo and I have secured a location that rarely sees sunlight. It will be over in a matter of minutes. Whatever injuries I suffer will be worth it to free you from that man's terrible rule. But you must tell me something first."
He bowed before her. His dark brown eyes were liquid and warm, and yet, they harbored a menace that Jane knew made him a formidable opponent to those who would stand against him.
"Is this what you want?" he asked. "For me to send your husband away, defeated?"
"With all my heart. Oh, but—" She bracketed his face with her hands. "You mustn't kill him."
"I would never take another man's life. And if I bite him after the duel, I can make him forget he ever wanted you back. I can even suggest he divorce you immediately."
"You can do that? Is that a vampire power?"
"It is. But I will only do it if you grant me permission, Jane." He clasped her hands and bowed his forehead to hers. "I need to know something…"
"I love you," she said without thinking. And the easy confession felt so right, her chest warmed, and her heart pulsed rapidly. "I don't know what you think of me, Marcello, but I adore you. You are kind and strong, and you take care of me. I've never felt so special. So cherished."
He kissed her. It was a slow, delving kiss that mastered her giddy heartbeats and coaxed her into a relaxed yet wanting hug against his chest. "I love you, too."
She peeked up to look into his eyes. "You do?"
He nodded. "This love…is a new thing for me. In all the centuries I have lived and, yes, loved, never have I felt a love like this. One that pierces me deeply. I feel I cannot exist without you, Jane. In fact, I would even go so far as to confess that I would miss your musical stylings were you not in my life."
"Oh, Marcello. Make me yours."
"Anything you ask, I will give to you."
He pushed down the sleeves of her nightgown and opened the tie to expose her bare skin. Bowing over her, he kissed her breasts and teased his tongue over her nipples. Jane fell back across the bed and spread out her arms to accept everything the man gave her. She closed her eyes as his hair tickled her skin and tightened her nipples even more.
He tore away his shirt, then returned his slick kisses to the base of her throat, where he laved his tongue up her neck.
"Could you bite me once more?" she wondered on a whisper.
"I'm…" He leaned up on his palms over her, and she met his concerned gaze. "Jane, if I were to bite you again, so soon after the last bite, you could lose too much blood. I don't want to weaken you."
"I understand." She nudged his erection with her knee. "Then give me this. Right here." She tapped her lips.
He arched a brow.
"Yes," she said with a wicked smile. "Please?"
Shoving down his trousers, the man then crawled up on his knees, straddling her at the shoulders, and tilted his torso forward. His heavy cock bobbed near her chin, and she gripped it and lashed her tongue up its imposing length. Marcello groaned and caught his hands on the tufted headboard.
Delighting in the musky smell of him, the tickle of his nether hairs over her wrist, and the utter strength of him displayed in the powerful rod, Jane used her teeth along him—gently but teasingly—until she licked the underside of the wide and swollen head. His groans bellowed, and she loved that she could make him feel such pleasure.
Propping onto one elbow, she took him into her mouth, slowly sucking at the molten heat of him and drawing an animal growl from his lips.
"Jane," he said deeply. And then again as he thrust his hips gently forward. "Jane."
She devoured him, clasping the base of him with one hand to keep him in her mouth, and slipping her other hand down to cup his heavy sac. She couldn't get enough of him and wanted to claim him in such a manner that he would never look at another woman, or seek such sensual comforts from another.
She would own this man. This vampire.
"Gods," he said with a gasp. "That is…perfect. Your mouth… Jane!"
One of his hands clasped her breast and squeezed. His hips tilted forward, deepening his penetration into her mouth. She sucked him and cradled his tightened sac. His body shuddered. She sensed he was close to release.
"I…" He pulled his cock from her mouth, but she quickly grabbed the length and began to pump it as she licked the crown. "…am yours!"
Body trembling, he spilled over her lips and down her chin, wetting her breasts with his cum. He tasted salty and hot. Jane laughed as her mighty lover collapsed onto her and promised with a kiss to her neck that he was truly hers.
* * *
"I want to tell you something before you go out there." Jane stopped Marcello from his furious pace toward the door at the back of the palazzo. "Please?"
He swung around with a look she had never seen before on his face. Vengeance. And while she'd never felt more protected and loved by a man since meeting Marcello, she could not wish harm to another. Even if he had harmed her.
"After the duel, you must let Thatcher leave. You said you could control his thoughts?"
"I can make him never want to see you again."
"Then do that. But only that. I know you promised not to take his life, but…I'd also hate for him to be seriously wounded."
He gaped at her, which she'd expected. Surely the man was accustomed to some means of violence and couldn't understand her need to avoid it.
Of course, if she said what she'd next planned to say, she'd have to grow accustomed to such violence, as well. Could she do that? Did she want to?
If it meant she could live a long life with Marcello it did.
On the other hand, he'd given her no promise beyond that she could stay as long as she liked. He hadn't promised to love her forever or even to care for her. And marriage? That was probably out of the question for a man who was immortal.
But she'd thought about this. And…it felt right.
"Marcello, I want you to make me vampire."
"Why deny me a long and interesting life? Is it because you don't want me in your life for so long? We needn't—"
He stopped her with a kiss, holding her at the shoulders to keep her in his hard and demanding embrace. Jane submitted with ease. She would take whatever he deemed to give her. Because she loved him.
"You don't know what you're asking," he said, pulling away and yet staying so close she could feel his heat against her face. "You, who faint at the mere idea of violence. Jane, how could you manage to drink blood from an innocent?"
"I will learn. I want this, Marcello. I want a long life. I want, oh, so many things. I want to travel and learn new languages. I want to master the pianoforte, perhaps even polish my singing voice. But most of all, I want freedom."
"Do you feel that living with me, another man, would give you such freedom?"
"You're not like Thatcher. You respect me."
"I do. And I'll never tell you what to do or how to think. But as I've mentioned, I do require you in my bed. Often."
"Perhaps I require vampirism?"
He smirked and shook his head. "You need to give it more thought. Right now? I've the duel. We'll discuss your wishes later. Can you be good with that?"
She nodded, then clasped his hand. "Pull up your cloak hood. The sun is already winking on the horizon."
"I know." He pulled up the hood, which shadowed his face and made him a sort of dark lord looming over her. "Let's get this done."
The alleyway Marcello and Carlo had chosen was blocked by three wagons loaded with hay and sheep manure. They'd been forced to choose another location. This alley was not covered, and it opened out to the canal. Jane had heard Marcello curse as they'd arrived at the new meeting spot. Rising sunlight flooded the end of the street near the canal. Yet before they could find another, more sheltered location, Thatcher had arrived.
She remained ten paces behind Marcello, according to his directions, and watched from the cool shadows as he approached her husband, who stood in sunlight just before the line of demarcation that was swiftly moving her way as the sun snuck through an adjoining alleyway and beamed across the cobblestones.
Carlo, Marcello's second, wore a black domino mask and gloves, but still managed to cling to the shadows. He carried a box, which must have the pistols in it.
Thatcher did have a second, but Jane didn't recognize the man. Where had he found him? And did he wear a baker's apron dusted with flour?
Clasping her hands together and glancing over a shoulder to Prudence, who stood alongside Adamo, she nodded to her, hoping to imbue some hope into the day. Everything would be all right. Marcello would not injure Thatcher. And Thatcher would catch the sun in his eyes and completely miss the target. For the first time ever.
She couldn't prevent the miserable groan that hummed in her throat. If the sun didn't get her lover, her husband's bullet would. And it would be all her fault for having involved Marcello in the first place!
She felt a faint coming on. Pacing, she gasped in breaths, seeking calm. She smoothed her hands down her bodice. She would stay calm. Her lover's life demanded that she stand strong and support him.
At Carlo's direction, the two duelists shook hands, which, due to Thatcher's position, occurred right at the line of demarcation. Jane noticed that Marcello tugged away from the clasp much quicker than the other man. He shoved his hand behind his back, and a wisp of smoke rose from his skin. Mercy, he really did burn in the sunlight!
Now, as he turned his back to Thatcher and held the pistol up near his face, he looked to her, but his face showed no emotion. Or rather a staunch determination marked his handsome profile.
Blessings, but he was so beautiful. And he was hers. And he was fighting to win her now. What had she done to deserve such a man? A prince?
"Vampire," she whispered.
It had been a spur of the moment thing to suggest that he change her, and perhaps he'd been wise to tell her to think it through some more. But she'd wanted to show him that she was willing to change for him.
Carlo started the count as the men marked off their steps. Marcello did not take his eyes from her. The connection grasped for her heart and held it firmly. He loved her. And she loved him so much.
The men stopped and turned. They would not take turns firing, but rather wait for the call and fire simultaneously. While dueling was not outlawed, they must be discreet and clear out of the area as quickly as possible after shots were fired in order to avoid detection.
A sudden swath of daylight cut across the cobblestones behind Marcello. Jane sucked in her breath. He didn't see the danger. But if she called out to him, then Thatcher would become suspicious.
Pray, he did not step backward.
Marcello stood with his right side facing Thatcher, as did Thatcher with Marcello. Best to keep their hearts away from the range of target. Yet Marcello lifted his pistol with his left hand and had to turn slightly to make aim. While the parson was right-handed, so he need not turn to fire.
"You asked for this, Jane!" Thatcher called. "You will be punished for your sins."
"You've no authority to punish a helpless woman," Marcello intercepted. "Only her God will see to that. Now stop your blathering and let's be done with this." He looked to his friend.
Carlo nodded and announced, "Fire!"
Marcello's pistol dispersed a spark and smoke. He took a step back. Sunlight beamed onto his face. He cried out as his entire left cheek instantly burned.
Yet for as shocking as that sight was to behold, Jane's attention diverted as Thatcher's aim pivoted. Toward her.
And in the next moment, she felt a fiery burn penetrate high on her chest.
Hissing at the burn clawing at his skin, Marcello spun toward Jane and saw the crimson burst on her breast. What the— The bastard had shot her?
Fingers clenching into fists, he growled and started toward Thatcher, who stood proudly holding the smoking gun. The man didn't show signs of pain from the wound on his thigh Marcello had delivered to him. It bled, but not overmuch. Due to Jane's plea for him to not harm the man, Marcello had specifically not aimed for his heart.
"You go to her! And get out of the sun!" Carlo shouted and shoved Marcello into the shadows. "I'll take care of the bastard."
"Don't let him get away. Bring him to me. I will have his heart!"
Wincing at the incredible burn that tore at his cheek, Marcello felt it creep down his jaw. Didn't matter. He was still alive. But how did Jane fare?
Lunging to the cobblestones before her, he pushed aside Prudence and his servant. His lover was still conscious, but her eyelids fluttered. Not her patented seductive flutter, though. Fuck, what had he wrought? Brilliant scarlet blossomed over her breast. Just above her heart. Could he pray the bullet had missed her vital organ? No matter, the wound could prove fatal if he did not—
If he did not what? Despite his centuries of life experience, he had no medical knowledge.
"Shall I fetch the surgeon?" Adamo asked.
Marcello nodded. "Yes. No!" He lifted Jane into his arms. "We can't risk waiting."
"But, signore, your face."
"It will heal." With blood.
Marcello's fangs tingled in his gums as he looked over Jane's bloodied chest. An idea occurred. And it could work. But he had to get to it immediately. "I'll take care of her."
"She's going to die!" Prudence wailed.
"You watch her and keep her calm," Marcello directed Adamo. "And report to me when Carlo returns with Jane's husband."
He raced down the alleyway toward his palazzo, using the angle of the shadows to his advantage. This morning as he'd marched down the street, his only fear had been of the sun. Why had he never suspected Thatcher Emery could be so vicious as to try to kill his own wife? That was a stupid oversight on his part. And now, Jane may die because of it.
He swung in through the servant's quarters, and up to the second floor. If he wanted to save Jane, he'd have to use the most extreme means available.
She had asked for vampirism earlier. She hadn't thought it through, as she'd tried to make him believe it was what she wanted. He'd heard the lack of surety in her voice then.
Now? He had little choice if he wanted to save her life. And to stop the burn from tearing away at his face. He felt the painful tug below his eye now. The burning would not cease until he got blood in his system.
"Jane, can you hear me?" he asked as he entered the room and kicked the door closed behind him.
He laid her on the bed, then lifted her shoulder. There was an exit wound on her back and blood dripped onto the counterpane. He needn't medical knowledge to know that was bad.
"Jane," he said on a gasp, emotion tightening his throat. "Jane, you can't die now. Not when I've just…" Found someone he could love. "I won't let you die. I need you."
Her lips moved, but no sound came from them. She was quickly fading.
Marcello tore away her dress front and sleeve to inspect the wound. So much blood spilled out—it must have hit her heart, or at the very least skimmed it. And it smelled…so good.
Fingers curling, he turned away his head as the scent filled his nostrils. His fangs lowered without volition. The creature in him wanted blood. The wounded vampire required a healing fix.
And the man—he wanted to keep Jane for himself.
He bowed his head, considering the implications of his actions. If he did nothing, she would die. If he bit her, and transformed her to vampire, she would live. But she'd then have to hunt the night to survive. And he still wasn't convinced she had the backbone for such a task.
"You'll learn," he said. "Or you can take only from me. I will keep you alive, Jane. Because I love you."
Bending to her neck, he lifted her under the shoulders, then sank his fangs into the thick, pulsing sweetness. Gods, she tasted so good, but he didn't want to revel in the lush taste when he must be quick about it. She needed to be brought to the brink of death. And she was already so close, so he wouldn't have to take much blood from her.
Drawing out her life was a bittersweet task. He also felt the skin on his face begin to tighten and knit as it healed. Yet he was not doing this for himself. The healing was a benefit to the wicked plan he’d been forced to invoke.
Soon, Jane's arm, when he lifted it, fell limply at her side. Her head sat heavily on his palm as he carefully set it on the pillow. So close to death, as was required to change into a vampire. Yet he could still feel her breath against his skin when he tested, and her chest rose and fell, slowly.
"Jane, I hope you can hear me. You'll need to drink my blood to change. It will save you. It will give you immortality. You'll have freedom. You can travel the world and master the pianoforte. I will become a part of you. We can share forever together. I beg you don't regret this rash decision."
Pressing his wrist against his mouth, he bit deeply into the vein and then held it over her lips. The blood pearled on her pale flesh and slid down her cheeks and into her hair.
"Drink, Jane." He opened her mouth, forcing in his blood. "Please?"
A knock on the door sounded, but he ignored it. He sensed it was Carlo, and his friend spoke soon after. "I've got the parson. He's detained but struggling. I'll watch over him for you."
Marcello mentally sent a thanks to his friend and then saw that Jane was swallowing. She reached up and pulled his wrist to her mouth and latched on.
"Good girl. Take as much as you desire. I am yours."
* * *
Ten minutes later, Jane rested peacefully. Marcello studied the bullet wound above her chest. It had closed up and was beginning to scar. A fast healing action that only vampires were subject to. It would take longer because she was so new. But it confirmed that indeed their blood exchange had been successful. She was now a vampire.
He kissed her forehead and smoothed aside her hair. Did it seem shinier now? Her sisters would have nothing on his plainly gorgeous Jane.
Covering her with a blanket, he knew she would need to rest now. So he hastened from the room and found Prudence, warning her not to get upset over all the blood. Her mistress was going to live.
Prudence clasped his hands with hers. "Your face is healed."
He'd forgotten about that.
"I know what you are. She told me," Prudence said. "Thank you for saving my mistress's life. Your friend waits below with the parson. Make sure that animal forgets Jane's name forever, will you?"
"I can do that."
Carlo waited below in the cellar, standing over a bound and gagged Thatcher Emery. The parson started to struggle when Marcello walked into the dark, cold room that smelled of cheese and casked wine.
"You are despicable. The lowest of the low," Marcello admonished as he paced before Thatcher. He gripped the parson by the hair and pulled his head up, meeting the parson’s ridiculously defiant gaze. "If you couldn't have her than no man would? Was that your plan?" He tugged the gag from the man's mouth.
"Yes, and now she will never be yours," Thatcher hissed, "because she is dead. Ha!"
About to correct the man, Marcello met Carlo's gaze. If he allowed Thatcher to believe that Jane was dead, that would solve the issue of the parson continuing to seek out his wife. And it would give Jane freedom. His friend nodded, to confirm that strategy.
"Are you proud that you've murdered your wife?" Marcello asked.
"Her punishment was just."
Marcello could not help himself. He fisted the man across the jaw, sending blood spattering across the hem of Carlo's coat. Carlo lifted the hem and gave him a pout.
Then, gripping the parson's head and standing before him, he locked gazes with him and used persuasion to sink into his thoughts and change them forever. "You traveled to Venice in search of your wife. You did find her. You murdered her in cold blood. But you won't bring her home for a proper funeral. You must go into hiding now, for fear of prosecution. Because you know I will hunt you to the ends of the earth for your crime. You, Thatcher Emery, are a coward and a murderer. Flee now, with no memory of this palazzo, me, or Jane's sweet smile. Only be haunted by Jane's scream for the rest of your life."
Shoving the man back, Marcello nodded that Carlo untie him, which he did. The parson stood, twisting his hands together as he stared at the two of them. Blinked. He didn't recognize them.
Marcello pointed to the door, and the parson ran out and away.
"How's Jane?" Carlo asked. "Did you have to…?"
Marcello nodded. "And she's alive because of it. I love her, Carlo. It wasn't a difficult decision to make."
"What will she think when she wakes?"
"I'm not sure, but I'll face that challenge soon enough. Thank you." He clasped a hand on Carlo's shoulder. "This has been a hell of a morning. Why do people rise so early?"
"You've got me. I am thankful for the canopies that cover our paths from house to house. I should make it home unscathed. Seeing you burn?" He shuddered. "There's a reason we are called creatures of the night."
"Indeed. Thank you, my friend."
"Any time. Except, not at dawn, yes? Give Jane my love."
* * *
Jane woke in a room filled with candlelight. Naked beneath the bedclothes, she tried to sit up but pain in her chest stopped her. She remembered the piercing intrusion of the bullet entering at her heart. She slapped a palm over her breast and felt the scar, just below the previous scar Thatcher had given her. That first time he had wielded a bread knife and had been trying for her heart. This time, he had managed better aim.
And yet, she was not dead. And she felt…rather well. Exhilarated, even. Like she could step out of bed and twirl into dance. All night long.
Remembering vaguely what had occurred when Marcello had carried her in, she touched her teeth, searching for evidence of fangs. None. Had his bite saved her life? Or?
And what of her lover? He'd been badly burned. Pray, he would not be permanently wounded from the sun. But if he wasn't here…? She sat up, looking around.
"Marcello? Oh, please, he must be alive. The sun could not destroy a vampire so quickly. Could it?"
From over by the window, a rustle alerted her. Marcello suddenly reached her side, sitting on the bed, lifting her hand and pressing it to his cheek. An unblemished cheek that she'd previously seen burned. He kissed her hand, then her forehead, her nose, and finally, her mouth. The lush contact made her sigh and grip his shirt, pulling him near, wanting him so close.
"I want you inside me," she said brazenly.
"I have been inside you. With these." He tapped a fang. White and bright and so sharp. She stroked her neck, seeking the wounds from his bite. "They've healed," he offered. "My bite tends to heal quickly. How do you feel?"
"Renewed," she offered, for she did. "And obviously randy." She chuckled. "How long have I been out?"
"Most of the day. It's near midnight. A perfect time for your rebirth."
"Yes, Jane, I… You would have died from the bullet wound. I had to save you, and there was only one way."
"Did you make me vampire?" she asked eagerly.
He nodded. "Please don't hate me for taking that into my control."
"Oh, Marcello, you know I wanted that."
"Not as much as you wanted to believe you wanted it."
"Very well, but I will learn to live this way. With your help?"
"Always, my love."
She stroked his cheek. "What of Thatcher? Is that evil man…?"
"He's on his way back to England, knowing only that he murdered his wife and that he must go into hiding to flee prosecution. He will be haunted by his cruel treatment of you evermore. A fitting punishment."
"He'll not come looking for me again?"
"No, he believes you are dead."
"I guess that's as it should be. But I can never return home?"
"Do you want to?"
"Not really. My family has disowned me. I am ready to move forward. To adventure." She smiled a genuine smile. "What about Prudence?"
"She is welcome here."
"Oh, thank you, Marcello. This really is a new beginning. Do you think you'll manage with me around all the time?"
"Of course, I will. I entirely expect your musical skills to improve by leaps now that you've become vampire."
"I may yet prove you wrong."
"If you do, then I shall endure. I love every bit of you, Jane. Would you…"
He stood and took her hand and simply remained still a moment.
"What is it, Marcello?"
"Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
"Oh, yes!" She flung herself into his arms, and the two of them tumbled onto the bed. "Of course, once you become my husband, I shall require you to make love to me most every day. More often, if possible."
"I believe I can manage that, my wicked accidental seductress."
Thank you for reading WICKED SEDUCTION. I hope you enjoyed it! I had a great time writing in Tina Folsom's Venice Vampyr world. I love historicals and paranormals, and playing in another author's world was both a challenge and a treat. I write a slightly different sort of vampire in my world of Beautiful Creatures. All the books listed under 'Paranormal' below are in that world, unless there is an asterisk by the title. As well, the majority are available at your favorite online retailer!
Books by Michele Hauf
Taming The Hunter
The Venetian Vampire
The Vampire's Protector
Her Werewolf Hero
Captivating The Witch
Enchanted By The Wolf
The Vampire's Fall
Moonlight & Diamonds
Beyond The Moon
The Vampire Hunter
This Wicked Magic
The Werewolf's Wife
Ashes of Angels
The Devil To Pay
His Forgotten Forever
Kiss Me Deadly
Familiar Stranger *
From The Dark
Seducing The Vampire
Her Vampire Husband
Follow The Night
Hark The Herald Angel Falls
The Boss's Moonlight Secret *
The Dark's Mistress
This Soul Magic
Claiming The Wolf
The Reaper's Heart *
Night of the Living Wed *
Monsters Don't Do Christmas
The Sin Eater's Promise
Playing With Fire
This Glamorous Evil
The Ninja Vampire's Girl
After The Kiss
Racing The Moon
Dust Me, Baby, One More Time *
A Kiss of Frost
Once A Thief
In The Event of My Death
The Geek Gets The Girl
The Unforgiven: Athos
My Lady Madness
Here Is My Heart
Tame Me Not
Betray Me Not
Enchant Me Not
ROGUE ANGEL series (Alex Archer pseudonym)
The Bone Conjurer
The Other Crowd
The Matador's Crown
The Devil's Chord
Wicked Seduction (Written in Tina Folsom's world of Venice Vampyr)
EROTICA written as Michele Renae
The Paris Secrets Trilogy, which includes:
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Have you read the first four books, written by Tina Folsom, in the Venice Vampyr series? Find them here: