955 YEARS AGO
“You are quite the warrior. You’ll be laying Vladislaus on his arse in no time,” William held out his hand to help Ana up, a signal that training was over.
She took it, grateful. In the last five years of being a vampire, she’d learned that her body wasn’t immune to pain. She could still exhaust herself, pull a muscle—wear her body out. William told her that it took years to master the basics of occult energy. Natural-born vampires had an edge, but they still had to learn how to regulate the dark magic that powered them so they could fight, fuck, and heal without passing out.
It might take her a decade to return to the fighting form she was in as a mortal.
I suppose having all this extra time as an immortal is a good thing, she thought to herself. She’d learned not to mutter. Vampires had excellent hearing, and she’d had enough of Vladislaus and William responding to the quips she made under her breath.
“Sweet William,” Vladislaus called out, “Always available to flatter my ego. Why don’t you run off and flirt with your new spellcaster?”
William scowled, “How do you know about Morgyn?”
“I have eyes everywhere.”
The hazel-eyed vampire snorted. “You mean our mother has eyes everywhere. Tell her it’s merely a dalliance, and she needn’t worry about me bringing them home.”
Vladislaus threw back his head and laughed, “The fact that you even bring it up means the thought crossed your mind.”
“Bullshit!” William shouted as the two erupted into an argument using a language Ana didn’t understand.
She sighed and flopped down on a stump to watch. The language was probably a dead one, given how old they were. And yet, they tussled like children, scrapping and joking like they were in a schoolyard instead of the dark woods.
The dark was for her benefit. Ana hadn’t gotten enough control of her occult energy to walk in the light. She winced as William tossed his brother to the ground; the distinct sound of one of his bones breaking was loud to her newly-vampiric ears. She would have been furious, but Vladislaus kept on laughing. He never seemed rattled by someone besting him.
Although, it was a good strategy. William was storming off like he was the loser.
“Give Morgyn my love!”Vladislaus shouted, blowing a kiss.
William turned, making a rude gesture. “Morgyn wouldna give you the time of day. And see that you don’t ask him. I know your track record.”
This, for whatever reason, made Vladislaus laugh harder. “Now I will tell Mother you are in love for sure.”
William growled. “If you wish to lose part of your loins, be my guest. I should tell her of your failure to make an honest partner out of Anastasia.”
“Please,” Vladislaus bent over, gasping for breath in between his laughter, “Ana would sooner be beheaded than marry me. Besides, I’ve been married. Our dear mother does not desire more weddings; she wants grandchildren.”
“Good thing she has no need to breathe. I’ve no interest in a mewling pile of brats following Morgyn and me around.” With that declaration, William headed for the treeline. Though, Vladislaus wasn’t done.
“Don’t forget to tell your new man about Harvestfest,” he shouted at his brother’s retreating back. “You know Mother will wish to throw a ball and bring him to church!”
“Are you ready?” he asked, turning back to Anastasia as he shoved his shoulder back into the socket.
She winced at the sound. “I can’t tell whether you’ve fixed it or made it worse.”
He shrugged and then glanced over his shoulder. “I suppose I fixed it if I can do that. Come, the moonlight is waning.”
Ana laced her fingers together, smoothing her expression until it was one of calm innoncence. “You don’t have to lock me in. Clearly, I’ve accepted my fate.”
A fate that involved bedding down in a rat-infested castle. A witch owned it once, but Ana couldn’t tell if the place had been long abandoned or if the former inhabitant just lived in squalor and it was Vladislaus or William who cleared them out. Neither of the Straud siblings would confirm as if they were still unsure of her loyalties.
They needn’t have worried. Witches were at the bottom of her list—The Good Order Monks saw to that.
“Were, but I born yesterday; I might believe you,” Vladislaus quipped, his raven hair shining in the moonlight.
With a scowl, Ana followed him back to the castle. They quickly made their way up the stairs. She hated sleeping in a coffin, even if it was safer. And the tiny windowless tower was a depressing place to pass the time. She opened the door, a complaint on her lips, and froze.
The entire room was lit with candles. A huge bronze carving of the sun hung on the wall.
“It’s the best I can do,” he said quietly.
Ana reached up, running her fingers across the metal. She still remembered the feeling of warmth. It flooded her as she touched the sculpture. “What is this?”
“You wished for the sun.”
She turned, eyes flashing, anger bubbling up for reasons she could not articulate. “And what now? I’m to be so flattered by this display that I forget I hate you and instead grab hold of your cock?” She twirled her hair, raising her voice, “Oh, why yes, Vladislaus, I’ll marry you and run around behind you like a good little wife, fixing your meals and darning your socks!”
His expression was wry. “If you darned my socks, I’d know you were plotting to kill me. Based on this, I assume you like it?”
Ana swatted him. She tried to maintain her scowl, but the carving really was beautiful. “Why would you spend your precious gold on something like this?”
Before she was a vampire, she didn’t understand his dedication to stacking coins. When they met, he already had more money than she could imagine spending in a lifetime. And yet, he and his brother lived like paupers. But now, as the possibility of centuries stretched before her, she could see that whatever amount they had gathered would not be enough. Immortality required a treasury the size of a small country.
Vladislaus chuckled. “Why would you assume I paid for it?”
The laugh turned into a groan when she kissed him. “This is the last time I lie with you, Vladislaus Straud, so you better remember it.”