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Rogue Blood

The Untouchables - Book 4

by T.A. Grey

The Untouchables #4 by T. A. Grey

From USA TODAY Bestselling Author T. A. Grey comes the fourth book in the suspenseful romantic series: The Untouchables. In these fast-paced novels, the world famous Blackmoore brothers, vampire royalty, find love in unusual places amid dangerous foes and painful secrets.

Known for little more than her beauty, socialite heiress Julianna Greenwich harbors secrets of her own. Not only is she a champion swordsman, but she's harbored a longing for the sophisticated, charming Blackmoore brother Vasilius for over twenty-four years. When her father informs her that she is to mate with Vasilius in a fortnight, her first thought is not of happiness, but dread. The problem is that Vasilius, while once kind to her as a worldly man might be to a child, has treated her with nothing but disdain since the accident that left him scarred on his face. How can she possibly get this man to love her, when he wants nothing to do with her?

Vasilius Blackmoore used to turn the heads of every woman in the room. When the inclination struck, he'd take one (or more) of these women to his bed and leave them thinking about him for years to come. However, all that changed when an old flame scarred his face forever. Now, women can hardly stand the sight of him. And one of those women is stunning beauty, Julianna Greenwich, the woman he's being forced to mate with. Unbeknownst to Julianna, Vasilius once heard just what exactly she thought of his new face. And he’d hated her ever since.

But what better way to find retribution than to seduce Julianna and leave her wanting for more? A series of misunderstandings, secrets and one deadly stalker whose madness leads to dead bodies, breaks down the barriers between them. Vasilius begins to think that a family with Julianna might not be so bad, if he can move on from the pain of the past and keep her safe.

 

 

  • Series:The Untouchables #4
  • Publication Date: August 16, 2016
  • Genre: Paranormal Erotic Romance
  • Length: Novel

 

 

Vasilius Blackmoore stubbed out his Sobranie Black Russian cigarette and breathed out a cloud of smoke. He loved the aroma of sweet-smelling tobacco that surrounded him. Damned good stuff if you asked him.

His phone beeped a familiar sound to his ears. He checked the message that flitted across the screen, a glimpse of a smile twitching at the edge of his scarred mouth. The muscles in his face always responded positively when he saw a message from KITTYLUVER29. For a plethora of reasons he'd taken to Kitty in a sort of estranged online friendship. Their chats had long ago segued from Internet messaging to texting at all hours of the day. They'd become, he supposed, friends even if it was in a deranged, unusual sort of way. They were both lonely, both seeking companionship that would never go further than the little screen in their hands.

Kitty, as he called her, had been his friend for several years now, if only in a digital format. They'd never met, had never shared pictures. What he knew of her was simplistic at best. She was a vampire and a woman. He had no idea what she looked like or where she lived, but he knew that he understood her better than her own family did and that he was closer to her than he'd been to anyone woman since his last relationship.

Vasilius shook his head roughly. No, he couldn't call what he had with Kitty a "relationship," could he? He supposed in a way it was, however deranged it was. The last time he'd been with a woman, close in any manner of the word had been years ago. In fact, now that he thought upon it, he supposed he started speaking to Kitty about a year after his last relationship ended. A relationship he'd thought would last forever at the time. Oh, how foolish he'd been. It was always easy to look back in hindsight, though.

Vas scrubbed a hand over his face feeling the abrasive skin of his scars. Old mistakes died hard. He'd lived through the ordeal with his ex Charlotte, no matter how costly the mistake had been. At least he was alive, right? Though, how much of a "life" he had was debatable. He lived a solitary existence, devoid of much life, alone and untrusting. How could he ever let his guard down again with a woman? How could he ever find happiness like he wanted...no...like he craved?

Some people weren't meant to find happiness. That was a dream for cinema and old myths.

He read the message Kitty texted to him: My father is being insufferable. Should I drown myself in a bottle of Jouteaux or sneak out and have a bit of fun? Possibilities...possibilities...

Jouteaux was a high-class blooded mixed with an even more expensive red wine. It was one of the only tolerable drinks a vampire could ingest without becoming sick. Probably without even realizing it, Kitty revealed more about her lifestyle to him. She had money, enough so to afford the drink.

He laughed softly at her flippant tone, which was a common defense mechanism she used when she was upset. Kitty had a different kind of life. He understood that well, having lived similarly. He knew what it was like to be under someone else's thumb and have your life led by others' desires. He'd had the same exact upbringing living under his father's house as a Blackmoore. So he understood.

Sometimes, and he never admitted this to her, but she could make him feel old. He'd long ago gotten out of his rebellious days while she was only now beginning to enjoy it. Nothing wrong with it, they were just on different levels.

Kitty had a devious streak. Her family thought her as the (mostly) perfect, subdued daughter, awaiting marriage off to some suitor of their choosing, and yet Kitty preferred wild parties her parents knew nothing about and experimenting with alcohol and life. Vas didn't judge her. How could he with his rough past? She was just young enough (however old that was) to have earned her adventurous lifestyle.

Even he, old as he was, had cocked an eyebrow a time or two at some of the antics she described. Yet, as far as he knew she stayed calm in other ways, such as with her sexuality. According to her (by her own admission, he'd like to add) she was a virgin with zero interest in males.

He remembered the message well. Why that particular message stuck in his memory, he didn't care to deduce.

Really, what's the point? she'd typed. What would I get out of having sex with a man? It's not as if I could be with him permanently. What if I turned out to like him very much, but could never see him again? Or worse, what if my father found out? I might as well die...

He hadn't known what to say, so he hadn't said much at all.

Some questions they simply didn't ask of each other. They talked around certain subject instead and figured out each other's personal boundaries based off mutual comfort.

For instance, he didn't know her age, but it was easy to predict that she was younger than him, yet not so young. It was typical for younger vampires to rebel and need to experience their own pitfalls, especially among restrictive parents. Much as humans did during their teenage years. Lord knows he'd done the same thing when he'd gone through his rebellious period as a vivacious, young Blackmoore.

However, he could tell she wasn't too young either, she spoke with sophistication and of grand ideas that no young vampire could ever dream of, which in Vas' mind placed her around the age of young adult.

A young adult vampire with rather strict parents. Though why they were so harsh on her, he did not know and she would not say. Hence those personal boundaries were in place that each of them had set. So he would never push the matter and ask.

The message she'd sent him still lit up his screen. He read it again. My father is being insufferable. Should I drown myself in a bottle of Jouteaux or sneak out and have a bit of fun? Possibilities...possibilities...

He replied swiftly: You know which I'd prefer, K. Party with a bottle of J.

He called her K during their messages and she called him V for simplicity's sake. His onscreen name was simply V029871. Therefore, V it was.

She responded instantly, taking him by surprise. Yet he couldn't deny the spurt of joy that expanded his chest upon seeing his phone light up once more. Sometimes, well, often in fact, they'd go minutes, hours, or even days before replying to each other. She must be anxious tonight. Apprehension trickled down his spine making him wonder if something had happened. She was only ever this quick to respond when she was particularly bored or fretful.

Maybe I should. Her message continued on. Father will be ripping angry if he finds out. I swear I used to be good at not getting caught. Now he has people who keep track of me. Do you have any idea how suffocating this feels? It's like I'm locked in my own home.

His heart went out to her; he understood her frustration. A part of him, likely stemming from his ego, could easily envision rescuing her from her father and breaking her out of her imprisonment. He'd make her a free woman, set her free. He shook his head at his nonsensical thoughts. They were silly fantasies and nothing more.

Ding. Another message came. But what he read next, stunned him.

I'd rather spend the night with you than with some bottle of Jouteaux.

Vas read those words, twice, thrice, four times and meanwhile his heart raced like a marathon runner crossing the finish line. I'd rather spend the night with you... Their conversations lately had been getting more personal, less idle chitchatting. He had to admit he was just as guilty of insinuating they should do something together on occasion, something outside the online world. But oh how dangerous that would be...

Over the course of their friendship not once had the topic of meeting come up. Not once. It went against their unspoken rules, those boundaries stuffed rightfully in place to protect them both. And yet, for the first time ever, tonight, K suggested that very idea. And that made him feel...excited, elated, and even hopeful about it. Dangerous emotions.

He'd be lying if he said he'd never thought of meeting her. Of seeing what she looked liked and how well they would get along in person. He could easily picture them sharing ideas, conversation, and maybe even a drink until they were both holding their sides laughing.

Bitterness crept in. Is that what he wanted? Laughter and conversation? Maybe he was more pathetic than he thought.

"Ah, hell," he muttered, brushing a hand over his face.

A part of him was decisively cautious of meeting her. That move would be quite risky. What if it ruined the friendship they had? What if her parents found out and punished her? Hell, what if she was far younger than he thought? What if she found him...old? He shivered in disgust at the thought.

If he met her, then before he knew it he'd be stepping in piles of shit. And he wouldn't want to ruin his nice shoes.

He had put a stop to this right now. To meet, even to joke about it, could not be tolerated; it was far too dangerous.

So, he replied: I got business to take care of. Meetings.... Have a drink for me, yeah?

He sat in his black truck, drumming fingertips on the steering wheel as he waited for a response. One minute turned into five, which turned to nine. She'd been texting him so rapidly, but now? Dammit.

He'd upset her.

He could always tell when he irritated her--almost as if he could feel the waves of negative energy she emitted his way.

He started to write another message, something along the words of "I'm sorry," but she responded first.

Great idea, V. Maybe I'll meet an attractive Were and I'll have rough sex with him in the back lot. Won't that be a jolly good time? What a way to lose my virginity too. I'm out.

Vas gritted the teeth, his hand squeezing the phone hard. The case cracked before he released his grip.

Fuck.

Only she had this uncanny ability to frustrate him like no other. She seemed to know exactly how to push his buttons. Just like he knew she'd been upset. They understood each other's feelings without them being said.

Getting out the truck he slammed the door shut harder than necessary.

Moonlight shone over him as he headed to the front door of his next appointment. He mewled over their conversation repeatedly. Shit. At least he hadn't been lying about the meeting. He really did have an appointment. Though it's not like that'd be taking up his entire night. Technically he could have met up with her, finally met her, but... Still. It was too dangerous. And now she was mad.

Fuck.

Not just mad, more like pissed off. This might be the angriest he'd ever heard her.

He pummeled the door-knocker harder than necessary and waited until a servant opened the door.

"Mr. Blackmoore," the butler bowed his head elegantly. "Mr. Greenwich will see you in the parlor. He's been expecting you."

"Yeah," Vas grunted, his mind elsewhere.

He followed the butler without really seeing him and without looking around. He'd been to this pad before; it was nothing new to him. And he hated coming here.

Mr. Greenwich was an elderly man with a head of gray hair that used to be golden yellow. He wore glasses and a thick wool sweater as he sat near a roaring fire in the hearth. He set aside a leather-bound book as Vas approached him.

"Ah, Vasilius Blackmoore. How nice to see you again. Excuse me if I don't stand but my old bones aren't particularly spry anymore." His voice sounded tired, like his lungs were compressed making each word wheeze out of him syllable by syllable.

Julian Greenwich was an old vampire. One of the oldest still surviving and with old age came formidable political power and quite a lot of wealth. It's rumored that Greenwich's holdings could outshine the Blackmoore's by quite a showing.

"Please take a seat so we can discuss business. Thank you again for coming on such short notice. I wouldn't have called but...this is important."

Vas took the seat. A moment later a servant quietly came into the room and placed a glass of warmed blood next to each of them. Vas nearly opened his mouth to thank the servant, but he noticed Greenwich hadn't paid the servant any mind, so he kept his mouth shut. Some of the older class had different rules regarding how to treat servants.

"I came as soon as I could," Vas said. "Your message sounded serious. Has something happened?"

The old man took out a handkerchief and hacked into it, his entire body shaking from the force of his cough. The whole episode lasted a clear sixty seconds. Vas waited patiently, sipping his warmed sweet tasting blood. The finest money could buy.

"It's about my daughter--Julianna."

Hell. No.

Those two words did not escape Vas' mouth, yet Julian held up his hand and nodded as if he'd heard his thoughts anyway. "I know. I know. You two didn't get along very well on your, cough, previous assignment. I apologize sincerely for that. Her mother and I still don't understand where she gets these...cough...spontaneous urges from. Neither of us had such inclinations when we were young, that's certain."

Vas set down his glass, no longer thirsty. He stared off into the flames as his molars ground his teeth into chalk.

So, that's what this was about. A job. Not just any job, but a job involving Greenwich's spoiled princess of a daughter. A socialite without a job and without purpose--who got by in life solely on her looks and her daddy's paychecks. How nice. Not to mention, she never listened. Her life could be in serious danger, and she'd rather run into the direction of a bullet, than stay safe. Vasilius didn't have time in his life for that kind of foolishness.

"No, thank you," Vas said. His answer already decided.

Julian looked at him without surprise.

Vas explained before this could go any further. "My older brother Grayson should be happy to appoint any highly trained security personnel you need for her but I'm afraid I'm not open to that kind of work right now." He thought about it then quickly added, "Or ever for that matter."

Julian smiled softly. "I can see now that you two really didn't get along." He sipped his drink and sighed warily, the sound rattling in his lungs. "Vasilius, I'm an old man. Very old. And I'm dying."

Vas stiffened. He didn't say a word, unsure where this was headed.

"One of the last jobs I have left in my life is to ensure that my daughter, my only heir, is happy and protected. Can you understand that?" He paused heavily but Vas said nothing. "I know you don't have any children nor a mate for that matter, but surely one day you will find one. I can tell you now that the moment you see your child brought into this world--you will be changed forever. You will become a better man than you are now."

"Right," Vas clipped. "Can't wait."

Julian chuckled, which led to more racking coughs. Vas waited patiently until the old man could speak again. "Listen, I need your help. Only you. I have a proposition. An offer, if you will."

Panic flared like a hot flash. Vas interrupted swiftly. "Why me? Grayson has the best security forces in the country; hell, maybe the world. Any member of his team could do the job you're looking for. It doesn't have to be me. Your daughter and I hardly got along, sir. Trust me, putting us together is the last thing you want."

Julian murmured something indistinguishable. "You are the only man who has worked with my daughter in the past that treated her with dignity."

Vas bit his tongue. Dignity, he'd hardly call his near-shouting at the girl (on numerous occasions) and sometimes while only half-dressed, dignified.

The old man continued. "You found her after she fled from what was originally supposed to be a mating to your eldest brother, Dominic. Her mother and I were terrified we'd never see her again, frightened that she'd gone and done something inconceivable. We didn't know if we'd find her again, or if someone might take her, ransom her, or Lord knows what. We knew we needed someone highly intelligent and clever to find her, because she has the most tenacious ability to hide and escape even the most terse of situations. As you may have noticed." Vas grunted his assent. "See, the reason I'm choosing you, is because you and Julianna already have a rapport. Whether you get along or not doesn't matter--those simplicities can be remedied in time. But I trust you for what you did for me then, when you found her you brought her back to me safe and without a single bruise. I cannot thank you enough for that, Vasilius."

"No need to thank me. I just did my job. But that doesn't mean I want to do it again," he added hastily, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "Sir, please don't think that we got along by any means. Retrieving your daughter wasn't--" he hesitated to admit because it hurt his damned ego but-- "...it wasn't easy to bring her back, sir."

Julian nodded. "Yes, she can be difficult. I dare say she's rather talented at slipping away unnoticed. I don't know how she does it," he muttered softly. "But your gentle nature is exactly what she needs. I'm afraid the task I have to ask of you is the biggest one yet. I honestly don't know what she's going to think, but I'm certain she won't be happy at first. In time I think she will come around." Julian nodded sagely as if he'd already made a decision and thus it must be true.

Vas rubbed his chest where an painful knot had formed. "Just out of curiosity, because there's no way I'm taking this job, but what is it you want me to do? Protect her on some vacation or something?"

Julian slowly finished his drink before setting the empty glass down on the table beside him. "I will try to put this as bluntly as I can. I know that's how you prefer to get your information."

"That'd be spectacular," he replied sarcastically.

"I am dying. This I have told you. What I want, that is to say, what I have arranged is for my daughter to meet a fellow bachelor. One of her station, of course. He's a vampire and a prince in the way only our people can be. He comes from an old family, from blood as old as mine. I have spoken with his mother and we have come to an agreement. They will be wedded and mated. She will be his bruid."

Vas couldn't hide his stunned expression. The man spoke so casually about selling out his own daughter as if it was something he must do and not something he chose to do. That wasn't how people in this century did things anymore, but there was no arguing with vampires of the past. Especially not ones from royal bloodlines like the Greenwich's. Vas understood because he was from such a bloodline himself.

"You're going to have her mate to some prince from Europe?" He racked his mind for all the remaining, single heirs of the world. There were very few remaining.

"Not exactly," Julian replied. His foggy eyes landed on Vas.

Vas stiffened and readjusted his collar. "Okay, then who?"

Again, Julian merely stared at Vasilius until it began to sink in.

Vas shot to his feet. "Hell no! Not no but hell no. I am not mating with Julianna!"

The idea blasted him with raw fear and displeasure.

Julian looked away but by all appearances had the patience of a saint.

Vas ranted on. "Listen, I'm sorry but I can't do it. Won't do it. You'll have to find someone else. I can contact Grayson--"

"Three hundred million dollars, Vasilius. How does that sound for this...little endeavor? She is a good young woman. I trust you. You will keep her safe from those who'd steal her money, or use her. You'll protect her from the paparazzi who are always after her. She is innocent and naive to these dangers. She needs a man at her side who is wise enough to protect her. A man who is also from a good bloodline. A man who I can trust and who has proven himself capable of taking care of her. There is only one man who fits this criteria, Vasilius, and that's you. You must mate with my daughter."

"No way." he shook his head viciously. "I have my own money and I have zero need for a mate." A shiver of fear crawled over him just thinking about him and Julianna together. He nearly fainted. A headache pounded at his temples unable to be assuaged. She was too... She was... No. No way. He wouldn't do it.

"I've already spoken to Diane, your step-mother, she has agreed."

"Is that..." Vas froze. "Is that why Julianna's been at the estate so much? Is Diane trying to force her on me?"

The old man shrugged. "Listen, I know about your family's wealth but what about having your own resources at your disposal? With the kind of money I'm offering you, you'd be very well off for some time to come."

He gritted his teeth, his fangs threatening to descend from the wrath of his anger. "No, it's not worth it. I'm not interested."

"Vasilius, she needs you," Julian insisted. "You are soft with her but stern. Perhaps a little like me. Perhaps better." He paused thoughtfully for a moment. "I know she will cooperate with you...eventually. You can see already how difficult this will be with her. She will not like this anymore than you do, but perhaps in that situation, you may both find common ground together. You are the perfect gentleman for this job. I trust you. I trust you to take care of her, to watch over her, to ensure her safety. Please, Vasilius, please. Do this for me. Do this for her."

Vas shook his head swiftly. "No. Never. I can't...I won't." Where had all the air gone in the room? He couldn't catch his breath. His lungs were suddenly being compressed, the room turning hazy and dim.

"They said I have a few weeks--tops. She doesn't know. It's arromunia, the disease. Just like you're father had. It's slowly poisoning me and there is no cure. I don't have time to find someone else who is qualified for my daughter. You are it. I know it in my heart. Her mother is sick and too weak to care for her, Vasilius. We're all old and dying in this house. Everyone but her. We never thought we would even conceive. When Julianna came into our life and surprised us--it was the greatest blessing we could ever experience. Perhaps I've been a touch too, overprotective, with her... But I cannot leave this world knowing she'll be unprotected. I trust you. You won't hurt her. You'll be tender and thoughtful with her."

Vas tossed back the rest of his drink and wiped his mouth with a shaky hand. "You don't get it, do you? The thought of touching her, hell, of talking to her makes me want to...pardon me," he begged stiffly, "but it makes me feel sick."

Julian smiled kindly. "I know, which is all the more reason why you won't hurt her or force her to do anything she wouldn't want to do."

Vas' jaw dropped.

Him married and mated? To Julianna Greenwich? He couldn't say no enough times.

"If her dowry, which his quite steep and comes with numerous properties by the way, isn't enough to influence you, then may I remind you of her extraordinary beauty and alacrity? Her gentle spirit-- "

Vas snorted. Gentle my ass. More like a pain in the ass, a girl who refused to listen. A girl who'd bested him not once, but twice by escaping his clutches when he'd been hired to fetch her back home.

"And of course, should I remind you that the Blackmoores owe me a very grand favor. Whence why Lady Diane has already agreed to the arrangement."

"You went to my step-mother?" he asked slowly, chewing on those words. "Behind my back?"

Julian looked positively triumphant. "I did, as a matter of fact. You may recall that your eldest brother Dominic was set to mate with Julianna originally. However, he reneged on the deal and cast her aside after falling in love with another woman. I could have pushed for the mating, but I didn't for my own reasons. I knew Julianna would be dreadfully unhappy mated to a man who loved another. I knew that by allowing the Blackmoores to renege put me at an advantage. Simply put: the Blackmoores owe me a favor. And I'm calling it in. Will it truly be so terrible, Vasilius?"

Feeling like the walls were closing in around him, Vas collapsed back into a seat. "You have no idea. Maybe even worse."

Julian laughed. "I don't think it'll be as bad as all that."

Vas peered over at him sharply. "She doesn't know?"

The old man looked away, one corner of his mouth pinching.

"You haven't even told her..." Goddamn it.

"So you agree?" the old man countered.

"Do I have a choice?"

Julian smiled and shook his head. "No, not really. You'll make a fine husband to her."

Vas stood. He needed air. He couldn't believe this was happening. His brain ran through all the various options, searching for an out, but he couldn't find one. Not a single one. He didn't even have a choice. He was being suckered into it--and the old man was right--he'd feel even worse not mating with her and leaving her to some money-grubbing punk who'd use her. Vas twitched at the very idea.

Julian held out his hand. "Shake on the deal, for an old man's sake, Vasilius."

For a long time Vasilius did nothing but stare at that hand. He saw his life flash before his eyes. He saw himself as a child, rarely seeing his father. He remembered vaguely being taken to live under his father's room with his bruid Diane. He remembered the fights, Diane screaming at Argonzo Blackmoore for his numerous infidelities. He remembered one after the other meeting his half-brothers. Dominic, Grayson, and then Lucas. One by one the brothers had slowly formed a bond. Each came from different mothers, different stock, yet each had the same powerful, overbearing father who ignored them all.

Flashing forward, he saw him, carefree and happy lying on a bed of twisted bedsheets with his lover. He remembered the caresses, the laughter, then the pain. Waking up to blood on his face, and her with a knife to his throat....

Palms sweating, an icy chill swept down Vasilius' spine, jolting him back to the present. He hid a shiver and stifled the need to cross his arms and hug himself. Julian had no idea what he was asking from him. He could never make Julianna happy. They were too different, on completely different spectrums. She deserved better than his indifference.

"It's either you, Vasilius, or someone else. I don't think anyone will be as good to her as you will. Don't you agree?"

It was the right thing to say and the wrong thing.

His heart wouldn't let him knowingly put her in jeopardy like that. He didn't know what he'd do with her, but he'd keep her safe and out of harm's way. Let her live her life in peace while he did the same. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, he thought shallowly. Just because they mated didn't mean he had to live with her, it didn't mean anything more than a vow and signature on a parchment scroll.

Yet even knowing that, why, when Vas gingerly held out his hand and clasped the old man's winked hand in his own, did he feel like he had just agreed to sign away his soul?

"I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered.

"I knew you would. You have a good heart, Vasilius."

Vas shook his head. "I need to get out of here."

With those parting words, he strode from the room as quickly as his feet could carry him.

He shoved open the door but felt it slam into a weight. A feminine squeak chirped, the sound eerily familiar.

The door slid closed and there stood Julianna Greenwich. She looked lovely as always. Spectacularly beautiful.

Immediately, his ire rose--at her. A cursory sweep of the hallway told him they were alone.

"Eavesdropping, princess?" he clipped angrily.

Everyone who had ever seen her knew of her beauty. Her smooth, delicate features were often seen on the cover of V-Society magazine, so unlike his own scarred visage. No matter how lovely she might be on the outside, inwardly she was a snob, self-aggrandizing, rebellious, and spoiled rotten to the core. Plus, did he mention selfish?

She did not care about what her actions meant to those around her, only that she got her own self-fulfillment. He couldn't stand that kind of negligible attitude.

With yellow-gold hair and fair skin, Julianna was a spectacle for socialites everywhere. Paparazzi followed her every public move. Young and old vampires alike wanted to be her, wanted to be seen with her, and wanted to aspire to her fashion-sense.

She wore a gown that fell to the floor and that cinched around her waist to make it appear so tiny he could imagine his hands wrapping around. The color was opalescent, a mixture of pearl and pink. Her breasts were on display, not crudely but in a tantalizing, purposeful sort of way. Diamonds shone from her ears, rings adorned her fingers with large precious gems. And this was simply what she wore while lounging around in her own home.

Vas wanted to shake his head at how over-the-top she was. Then again, he couldn't exactly picture her wearing dirty sweatpants and flip-flops either. She only had one look--regal as a queen, elegant as a princess, and very, very expensive.

"As a matter of fact, I was not eavesdropping, Vasilius. I happen to live here. You barreled into me when you swung open the door like some kind of barbarian."

Her voice was ever so pleasant and gentle. As far as he knew she never raised her voice. She'd been raised to keep her tone modulated and to choose her words carefully, and that she did, exceptionally well. Gratingly well, as a matter of fact.

"And how does one barrel out a door like a barbarian exactly?"

Sucking in a deep breath, Julianna squared her shoulders, but deflected the question. "What were you talking to my father about?"

Vas didn't want to answer that question. That awkward pre-arranged mating conversation could be saved for her father as far as he was concerned. "You know princess I'm not at liberty to say." Flipping up his sleeve's cuff, he checked the time on his watch. "I really have to be going."

He had a lot to digest. Plus, he really wanted to see if Kitty had written him back yet. It bothered him to think she was stewing over what he'd said.

Footsteps softly followed him to the front door. Vas tried to ignore it, but as he moved to open the front door, a flashing emerald ring appeared above his palm.

"You'll wait a moment. I'm not through speaking to you yet."

Vas turned around. "Lady, you got some nerve."

Julianna's lips pursed grimly. "He's trying to hire you for something, isn't he? Why else would he invite you here?" The way she said you held just a touch of spite to it.

"To share a drink with an old friend?" he suggested.

"Don't lie to me, Vasilius. I have a right to know what this is about." She took a deep breath. "It's about me, isn't it?"

"What makes you think that?" She was absolutely correct, not that he'd be the one telling her so.

Her big, round eyes opened wider. "Because I know my father. He's up to something involving me. And, as usual, I'll be the last one to hear about it. Tell me what he wants with you," she demanded.

Vas shook his head and headed outside. Still she followed after him. "Listen," he tried to explain, "it's up to him to talk to you about it. That's not my job."

Hell no would he be the one to tell her. He still couldn't believe it himself. He still had plans to try to wiggle out of the situation if possible. Maybe after talking to his step-mother, or maybe if Julianna argued with her father... There were a few possibilities.

"Then what is your job exactly?" Her footsteps came to a halt; he was so close to his truck. He could hop in and be free of her in a matter of seconds....

"Please, Vasilius. He won't tell me anything. If you don't..." Her words hung in the air. The emotion in her words reached inside his brick wall of a heart and touched him. Fucking hell. Damn. Suddenly he felt bad for her, guilty.

Vas turned around. "Listen, princess, it's really not up to me to tell you this." Her mouth opened to protest, but he raised a hand to stop her. "But, but, I can tell you that he didn't hire me for a job." He shook his head to clear it. "But for something else." That's all he could give her.

"This not-a-job involves me?"

"Yeah, you can say that."

No tears. No flash of anger in her eyes. She wasn't even surprised. She wasn't even hurt that her father had made decisions on her behalf. She was used to this, used to being second fiddle to her own life. Hell, he might've felt bad for her if he liked her.

Alright. Maybe he felt a little bad.

Vas attempted a smile, which turned out more like a grimace. "If it makes you feel any better, I don't want to do it any more than you do."

Quietly, she responded, "We both know that when I learn what this is about I will be the only one in this situation experiencing the bitter end of it."

"Under different circumstances I might agree, but not in this case, princess." He scratched the back of his neck. "This isn't a contest of who has the worse situation. If so..."

"If it was, I'd win," she replied succinctly.

"Right," he drawled out the word. "Listen, I have to get going. Business to do, you know?"

"You really won't tell me what my father wanted with you?" she asked again quietly. Her clear blue eyes watched him with startling tenacity. They were almond-shaped, he realized.

"You know I can't do that."

She nodded, regal as a queen, then turned around and went back inside the house.

Only then could Vasilius breathe freely.

Jumping inside his truck, he started the engine and pulled out his phone. Disappointment hit him. Kitty hadn't resounded. Shit. He didn't like that, at all. Once again he found his fingers floating over the screen, yearning to respond, but what would he say? He couldn't meet her...right? He couldn't...especially not now. He was supposed to mate with another woman.

First thing's first, he needed to have a little conversation with his step-mother. His hand curled into a fist as he drove off. He had a few words he needed to have with Diane about how she practically sold his soul away without telling him.

He was about five miles down the road when his phone dinged in that special way it did when Kitty wrote him. His heart skipped a beat. She had responded. He almost hesitated to read the message, anticipation making his palms sweat. Shit.

What if it was good?

What if it was bad?

He read it anyway.

I've decided. I'm going out and tonight will be the night. I'm going to finally lose my virginity.

Vas' eye twitched. Bad. That was definitely bad. Anxiety, anger and jealousy swirled inside him. Fuck. He didn't like how he felt. He felt like he could rip a door off a car and knock down a building with it, he could scream until his lungs bled or rip out every strand of his hair until nothing else remained.

Normally he could keep his emotions in check. He figured if he could keep his emotions in line then he could control all future outcomes, including the negative ones that might come his way. After what Charlotte did to him, he had no other choice but to try to control everything: who he hung out with, who his friends were, and most importantly, who he slept with.

He typed up a quick response. He moved too fast and had to rewrite the message three times his fingers were shaking so badly. His finger hovered above the send button for a long moment.

You sure that's a good idea, K? Sounds rather impromptu. Even for you.

That isn't what he wanted to say. He wanted to scream at her. "Don't be stupid" in all-caps followed by fifteen exclamation points. But he stayed in control and reigned in his quivering anger. Barely.

Her reply came promptly. At least this will be one decision I get to make for myself. Goodbye, V.

Somehow her farewell felt permanent. As if she were saying goodbye forever.

And then he knew. He had to find her. Tonight.