Authors: Mimi Jean Pamfiloff
Tags: #Paranormal Romance
“Don’t,” she hissed. “I gave you everything. My trust. My love. But instead of returning it, you treated me like a child. And don’t tell me it was all for my safety because Andrus was more than happy to share his story, and I’m just fine!”
Niccolo froze. “He told you of his origins?”
“Then you know about”—he looked up at the sky—“them.”
She nodded, “I know.”
Niccolo’s mind windmilled. Cimil had been very clear that in order for the prophecy to play out, he had to follow the Pact to the letter of the law. He couldn’t tell her anything about their world. Technically, mortals weren’t even supposed to know of their existence—his or the gods’. They believed it would cause chaos if humans discovered they weren’t at the top of the food chain. Secrecy was, therefore, written into The Pact.
Niccolo shook his head.
Buon, all is not lost. I didn’t break the rules, Andrus did.
He brushed her lower lip with his thumb. “Then I must tell you that they could be watching, my love. And they will not be pleased of your knowing about them. It is forbidden.”
She swatted his hand away. “Oh, I get it. Now you’re going to tell that the only way for me to live is to become like you?” She turned away and began marching barefoot thought the thick brush. “Nice try, Niccolo.”
With lightening speed, he scooped her into his arms and pulled her back into the shade, tightly against his body. “I would never lie to you, Helena.” His dark eyes stared down at her.
Her head was tilted up as she squirmed against him. “Let me go!”
“No!” Niccolo roared. “I will not permit you to go back to that beast. I will not permit him to touch you again.”
“You can’t sift me, and you can’t travel far during the daytime, so you can’t make me go anywhere with you.”
“Then I will wait here until he comes for you, and I will fight him.”
Helena screamed, “No!”
She wanted to protect Andrus? He swallowed hard as doubt filled his mind again. Had he misread her before?
“You love him?” he asked.
Her eyes narrowed. “No. I don’t love him. I just don’t want anyone to die. Especially over me. But I do want to be free, and Andrus is my ticket.”
Her ticket away from him. The words stung. Maybe he should let her go, but…“The Demilord’s intentions cannot be honorable; they have no honor. They are nothing but hired guns.”
“Okay, Executioner. Why don’t you tell me all about that? How you’re not the hired gun for your queen. Or how you haven’t killed anyone because you were ordered to.”
That bastard Andrus had told her, and now Helena was disgusted. So that was it. That was the reason she was rejecting him. And it stung like hell.
Then, it hit him. Hard.
You love her.
It wasn’t jealousy or his male ego.
Impossible! I’m in love with a human?
Sure. Before, he’d wanted her. He felt endless lust for the woman. After all, they were bonded. But now…he loved her? He truly loved her.
He clutched at his chest. It felt warm for the first time in thirteen hundred years.
“Helena, I have something to tell you, and you will listen without uttering one word until I have shared what I need to say.”
He took that as a yes.
“First,” he announced, “I am going to tell you my story, and then I am going to tell how you’ve changed my life, and how much I love you.”
“You—you love me?” she muttered.
Smiling warmly, he nodded and stroked her cheek. “We are not to that part of the story, yet, my love. But be patient.”
The Story of Niccolo:
He hadn’t always been the coldhearted vampire known by his closest and dearest friends as the Niccolo the Executioner. Roughly thirteen-hundred years ago, he’d been a coldhearted soldier and the fifth son of a nobleman from the coastal town of Genoa in Northern Italy. The country was divided at the time into the Lombard Kingdom and the Byzantine Empire. His eldest brother was in line to inherit his father’s title and lands.
So like his other three brothers, Niccolo chose a soldier’s life. War was plentiful, and they were constantly fending off attacks from the Franks to the north. By the time he was thirty-two, he’d fought hundreds of battles and earned a fierce reputation. Some said the gods protected him, that he was indestructible. For this, he was feared by all and his men were loyal.
When he received word that his father’s lands had been repeatedly raided by Vikings—yes, Vikings, of all bloody people—he headed home immediately with half his regiment, leaving the other half behind with his third eldest brother to protect the border.
On the second bone-chilling night of the journey, he and his men awoke to the horrible cries of a woman. Niccolo gathered his sword and charged into the darkness of the grassy hills, able to see only the gray shadows produced by the moon on that overcast night. Before he knew what hit him, he was knocked off his feet and plucked from the dirt. His body, immobilized by something powerful, moved through the air with such speed that he was sure the devil himself had taken him, intending to drag him all the way to hell.
He wasn’t far off.
After several moments of being hurled through the air, his head landed on a sharp rock. The pain ricocheted through his skull. A dark silhouette of a woman appeared over him, and even in the shroud of darkness, he could see she wasn’t of this world. Before he had a chance to cry out from the crippling pain, she clamped her cold mouth over his sweaty, dirty neck. He was instantly catapulted into the bliss of her bite.
When he awoke several days later, it was only miles from where his voyage had been waylaid, but it was leagues past his old life.
“Who are you?” he’d asked, unable to wiggle more than a finger. The pain was unbearable, like shards of glass flowing through his veins.
She was lying next to him and staring at the stars above. “My sweet man, how refreshing you are. It is not so much about who I am, but who
From those first moments, he recalled how something about her was ominous, yet magnetic.
Days later, when he awoke a second time, he learned the raw, despicable truth. But nothing mattered aside from pleasing her. He’d forgotten all about his beloved brothers and loyal men, his father’s plundered lands. Like a moth to a flame, he was under her spell, blind to the undeniable wrongness of what she’d done to him: she’d stolen his life.
Years later, he’d discover he was compelled to obey her. Partly because of their blood bond, partly because she was skilled at the fine art of glamour. Eventually, through pure grit and toil, he would build a tolerance to her will. But before that day took place, centuries would slip through his fingers in an endless blur. So many goddamned years. So many battles. So much death by his hand. He was darkness and savored the awesome power that came with it. He was a vampire. The Queen’s General.
One evening, near the border of Scotland in the queen’s castle—a recent acquisition from a mysteriously deceased lord—the axis in Niccolo’s world tilted once again. Niccolo had been ordered to kill an entire village.
“My queen, surely those people do not need to be eliminated. They have done nothing wrong except refuse to bow when you rode through.”
And merely called you the bride of the devil a dozen or so times and instructed the children to pelt you with rocks. No harm to foul.
She sauntered over to a plush red velvet chair by the fireplace and flopped down, throwing her legs over the armrest. “They’ve disrespected me, the Queen, and for this, they must die. I want them taken care of before I depart for Paris.”
He felt the strength of his will snap into place for the first time in centuries. He did not stop to ask why or reflect upon the dark path he’d been treading. He simply basked in his regained freewill, straightened his back, and said, “I will not kill innocent people simply to stroke your ego.”
Before he blinked, the queen was on him, gripping his throat, gleaming white fangs exposed. “Then I will go to your pretty little Italian village and kill the whole lot of DiContis. Even the children. I’ll suck them dry and make you watch your great nieces and nephews wither into nothing. I seem to recall there is one young woman who is the exact likeness of your sweet, dead mother.”
He growled as he saw the truth in her eyes. She would follow through.
With a grunt of frustration, Reyna released him. “Niccolo, do not force my hand. It is such a crude way to gain compliance, and think of the consequences. In the end, you will be compelled to do my bidding, and not only will your descendants die, but I will see justice served to the clan that has assaulted my honor.”
Niccolo finally understood; he would do her bidding, or she would kill the people he cared for. When they were long gone and dead, she’d find some other leverage. Perhaps an orphanage. Or ten. There was no threat beneath her. Nothing she wouldn’t do to prove her power.
It was astounding that the gods continued to let her live on.
“Then kill me. Though the thought of displeasing you pains me, committing such an atrocity would pain me more.” He stared boldly into her eyes. He was prepared for the likely outcome of losing his head.
So be it.
“Ugh!” She rolled her eyes. “You’re a vampire, Niccolo! Killing is what we do.”
“Vampire, yes. Ruthless, as well. Monster, I am no longer. I will not kill an entire village, children included, just to please you.” His eyes did not waiver from her glare, and she seemed to understand that her power over him, her ability to glamour him, had dwindled.
She stomped her foot. “You are so stubborn, Niccolo. Fine. Be so goddamned honorable.” She waived her pale hand through air and walked over to small table in the corner of her chamber to pour a glass of red wine. “Very well, you win. Be off with you and check to be sure my carriage is draped properly.”
Niccolo felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. He knew this wasn’t over. The queen never backed down. She was merely reformulating her strategy.
A chill that would stay with him for the next millennium embedded in his very soul.
, my queen.”
“I really hate her,” Helena said. “It almost makes me want to become a vampire just so I’d be strong enough to take her down myself. What an evil, horrible woman!”
Niccolo nodded. “So you see, Helena, why I did not tell you of my history. It is full of shame and darkness.”
joking? She used your goodness against you! End of story. You can’t possibly blame yourself.”
Niccolo couldn’t begin to convey the depths of his guilt for the things he’d done. In fact, he never understood why the gods permitted him to live considering he’d blatantly violated the Pact dozens of times. In any case, after his moral-reawakening, he vowed to make amends for the past.
“So, what happened? What did she do when you disobeyed her?” Helena hadn’t moved an inch the entire time Niccolo spoke.
“She’d anticipated my reaction. Several days earlier, she turned a man I’d left for dead. He was a self-proclaimed demon hunter who killed not only a fair amount of vampires—innocent ones who were living in accordance with the Pact—but also a large count of humans…anyone believed to be a demon or other worldly creature. His aura was one of the blackest I’d ever seen.”
“Why would she do that?”
“She needed a henchmen to do her dirty work. Rodrigo executed my entire village right after he took care of the clan in Scotland. The queen told me that if I served obediently, she’d keep Rodrigo on a leash. But if I tried to end my life, disobey or escape her, she’d let him roam free until the gods stopped him. That could equate to a very long time—they seem to have a very different sense of urgency.”
“Oh,” was all Helena could manage to say for several moments. “I guess I never thanked you, did I?”
“For what, my love?” Niccolo scooped Helena’s hand into his.
“For saving my life in the jungle that night. Rodrigo would have killed me.”
Niccolo pulled Helena close. “I should have killed him a long time ago. And it is I who should thank you.”
Niccolo held her tightly. “That is the second part of my story. It was the goddess Cimil who first told me of you. I thought the idea of having a mate was a myth, certainly a joke. But the moment I saw you, I realized how wrong I was. And now, for the first time in a millennium, I have love in my heart. You are a miracle.”
Niccolo bent his head and took her lips hard, the burst of emotions—his very own—griping him in a vice. He could still feel Helena, her light, trickling through him like a quiet stream. But his own light roared—a river, powerful and unstoppable. It plowed through centuries of desolate stone mountains of despair and hate, sweeping away the bleakness in its currents.