Chapter One

I thought you might be thirsty.

The words I’d just uttered hung in the air, so sharp I could almost see them. The vivid green eyes of the man—vampire—I’d said them to let little of what he might be thinking show.

Not that inscrutability was unusual for him.

Lord Marco Sebastiani was an Old One. The oldest vampire in Seattle. Ruler of the oldest vampire lineage in the city. For all intents and purposes, he was the city’s vampire king, even if some of Seattle’s other Old Ones did not rest easy with that fact.

Not a man to give anything away easily.

“I think perhaps you had better sit down, Ms. Keenan,” Lord Marco said after a few more seconds’ silence. He gestured to one of the chairs before his desk with a very Italian flourish. If he was more than mildly surprised to find me on his doorstep late at night offering to let him drink my blood, then his voice, like the rest of him, gave no hint of it. His heartbeat, to my werewolf ears, was steady. Unlike my own, which was racing. Though he didn’t usually call me “Ms. Keenan,” so perhaps he was more surprised than he seemed.

“I’d rather stand,” I said, but, to be polite, I walked to the chair. Better not to annoy him. Marco was charming by default, but I knew how ruthless the creature hidden behind that handsome facade was when he wanted to be.

I gripped the curving carved back of the chair. It was old like him, and the deep green silk upholstery matched his eyes. I studied him warily. Even with his expression carefully neutral, his face demanded attention. He was undeniably handsome. The kind of face that might have inspired artists back in his native Italy. Maybe one of them had once caught sight of Marco across a piazza late one night all those centuries ago and carved him in marble. Marco’s face wouldn’t have changed in the time that had passed. Olive skin unlined. No gray in the near-black hair. Vampires don’t age after they’re turned.

But a statue would have given away more emotion, perhaps.

Marco put down the document he’d been reading when I’d been shown into his office, sliding it into a black leather portfolio. “I take it from your invitation—and that outfit—that you are offering to repay your blood debt tonight?”

Hearing it stated so bluntly made my stomach squirm. I stood straighter, squaring my shoulders, ignoring the fear. I’d tied my dark hair up. Between that and the strapless black top, my throat was on clear display. The blood debt I owed Lord Marco was causing problems between Special Agent Daniel Gibson—otherwise known as my fiancé—and me. It wasn’t the only thing causing us problems, but it seemed to be the most easily fixable. I wanted to be rid of it. I lifted my chin. “Yes.”

He lifted one dark eyebrow. “And I am supposed to just walk over there and bite you?”

This wasn’t going exactly as I had expected. I hesitated. “Yes?”

Marco sighed. “I am sorry to disappoint you, cara, but I’m afraid I must decline.”

My mouth fell open. “Excuse me?”

“I said no. Thank you for the offer, but no.” One side of his mouth quirked.

“You can’t just say no,” I sputtered. It had never crossed my mind that Marco might refuse me. Werewolf blood was something of a delicacy to vampires. One they only usually tasted if it was freely given. Vampires and werewolves are closely matched when it comes to strength and speed. Not many vamps would choose to tackle an unwilling werewolf for a taste of their blood. Not if they were sane, at least.

“Actually, I can, Ashley. You owe me, not the other way around. It is my choice as to how and when I choose to collect that debt.”

I clamped my teeth shut before I could say anything I might regret. Big bad vampire. Do not aggravate.

Marco nodded. “Take a moment.”

I tried to count to ten before I said anything else. But I was too frustrated and only reached four before I blurted, “Why won’t you do it?”

“Firstly, as I said, it is my choice, not yours.” His words sharpened. “Secondly, knowing what I do about how you feel about vampires, I have no wish to inflict any distress on you when I have no need to call on the debt. Also, Smith’s case is not settled. When we made this agreement, I told you we would consider the matter after the case was done.”

I’d forgotten that part. Damn it. “It distresses me to have the debt,” I muttered.

Marco pointed at the chair once more. “That is a different matter. Sit, and we will discuss this.”

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