Two vampire lords with vastly different ideals fight over territory, their ways of life, and much more. At the center is one human woman, torn between the two.
In a futuristic society, vampires rule over humans, following WWIII. The humans provide “offerings” in exchange for food and medicine. Nadya is included in this year’s offerings. Unlike the other young women, she can’t wait to belong to the vampire lord Jalen. Under his tutelage, she learns about submission.
Rem, the leader of the faction opposing Jalen, spirits Nadya away, thinking he is rescuing her. She finds herself drawn to Rem as well and soon finds her heart, along with her body, belonging to both of the vampires. Nadya hopes her love will be enough to solidify a union between the two. Her attempt to reconcile Jalen and Rem could either unite them forever, or destroy any chance for peace and leave her with neither of her vampire lovers.
Nadya hugged the old magazine against her small chest as she dodged the crush of people standing in the street. Day and night, citizens came and went throughout the Q, but she sensed a difference in everyone she encountered this evening. There was an atmosphere of purposefulness, coupled with an almost tangible aura of fear that caused the hairs to rise at the nape of her neck.
With a small gasp of pleasure, she laid eyes on her grandmother and rushed toward her, darting past a young couple engaged in a heated debate, two young women standing close together and looking so alike they must be sisters, and a small family group composed of a mother, father, and three girls at least seven or eight years older than her. She envied them. They were almost adults and would soon be able to make their own choices. Their parents couldn’t banish them to their rooms whenever they felt like it.
When she reached Granny, she tapped her frail shoulder to get the older woman’s attention. “Granny?”
Granny looked down at her, her face creased into one of displeasure. “What are you doing here, child? I told you to stay in your room tonight.”
Her lip trembled at the gruffness of her grandmother’s tone. “It was cold, and I got stuck on this word.” She held out the magazine, careful not to rip the pages as she showed the word to her grandmother. Granny had emphasized that the few books and magazines she had were irreplaceable. Only recently had she allowed Nadya to look at them without supervision, and she was determined not to give her grandmother reason to regret granting the privilege.
With furrowed brow, Granny leaned closer to see the word. Her eyes looked squinty in the dim of evening, and the fire from the nearest barrel provided little illumination. “Exterminate.”
She repeated the word and asked, “What’s it mean?”
Granny’s attention was focused in the distance, and she seemed to be answering automatically. “To kill someone or something.”
“’The president remains firm in his conviction that we must exterminate our enemies before they attack American soil for a third time. Despite criticism, he refuses to alter his plans for a nuclear launch next Tuesday if the Middle East Coalition will not remove their troops from Israel. The M.E.C. insists they are only reclaiming land stolen from them.’” She stopped reading aloud. “What’s that mean, Granny?”
For the first time since she’d had found her, the woman’s gaze focused directly on her. She knelt down to Nadya’s level, wincing as she did so. “Oh, child, it’s difficult to explain. I only know what my grandmother told me when she taught me how to read using the magazine collection she’d salvaged in the days after the Great Burning, same as she’d taught my ma. A long time before I was born, back when my grandma was just a girl, there was a war. Humans still ruled the world, and we knew nothing of vampires. There were two powers, and they both wanted different things. Eventually, they settled it in the worst way imaginable.”
“The Great Burning,” whispered Nadya.
Granny nodded, causing a strand of white hair to flip into her face. “They threw big fires at each other. The fires ate the world and killed most of the humans. In the days that followed, while humanity was trying to pick up the pieces and find a way to go on from one day to the next, the vampires revealed themselves. There wasn’t much resistance. How could there be? Grandma told me her older brother was one who fought the vampires, and he ended up impaled, just like all the other soldiers of the ragtag army. With them defeated, the vampires had no problem organizing the world to their liking, taking whatever they wanted…” She trailed off, her baleful gaze fastened on the wall that enclosed the palatial residence of the vampire clan that ruled their province. “Taking daughters from their mothers without thought of the pain it causes human families.”
Nadya tugged on her grandmother’s ragged sleeve, not wanting the older woman to sink into the angry ramblings that made no sense to her. “Granny, why did the humans throw fire at each other?”
Once more, Granny’s eyes focused on her. Her craggy face hinted at sadness, and other emotions she couldn’t identify. “I have no idea, child. Perhaps they didn’t even know why they did it. Hate is a powerful thing. It can make you do things without thinking about the consequences.” She rubbed at her stump of an arm with her remaining hand, clearly lost in a memory.
“Will you read to me for a bit, Granny?”
Granny shook her head. “Not now. Go back to our rooms and stay hidden. Tonight is not a night for anyone to be out…not that we have any choice.” She spat in the general direction of the palace. “The leeches demand their tribute.”
“What’s a tribute, Granny?”
Before her grandmother could answer, an eerie hush fell over the crowd. Nadya peeked around her grandmother’s homespun cloak to see what had drawn the attention of everyone, turning their heads as if all the people were one creature. She gaped in shock at the small group entering the center of the Q. They were all men. Five of the seven males wore the scarlet uniform of the militia, only their boots were highly polished, and their uniforms looked pristine, unlike the militia soldiers who patrolled the Q daily, whose uniforms were worn and faded, boots scuffed, and personal hygiene a small concern. The five men guarding the two on horseback clearly held higher rank, or had better assignments, than the men and women who guarded the safety of the citizens of the Q.
She closed her mouth, though she was no less in awe of the two vampires mounted on sleek black steeds. They had appeared silently in their midst, making her wonder if the horses were vampires of a sort too.
She stared at the older male for a second, but his pale skin and beady eyes made her stomach curl the same way it did right before she had to throw up. She averted her eyes, looking at the younger man. He was clearly a vampire. The pale skin and red tint to his green eyes betrayed that fact, even if his air of arrogance hadn’t revealed he was of the ruling class. The cold, contemptuous way his gaze raked the crowd caused a stir of fear in her, but not the repulsion she had experienced upon seeing his father.
“Are all vampires like them?” she asked Granny.
With a visible start, Granny tore her gaze from the men in the center of the crowd. “Yes. They are all monsters,” she said in a low tone. “Now, run along home like I told you.”
“He doesn’t look like a monster.” She pointed to the younger one.
With a shushing sound, Granny grabbed her hand and pushed it to her side. “Get out of here. I’ll find you when this business is done.”
Reluctantly, she turned from the crowd and slipped through the people. No one noticed her, as they all continued watching the vampires and their guards. When she was far enough from her grandmother so that the old woman couldn’t see her, Nadya stopped. She slipped into a narrow opening between two boxes, contorting her slender body into the small space in such a way to peek out without being seen.
“Citizens of the Quarantine Zone, we are here to collect tributes. Line up the women of eligible age.”
Nadya watched as the crowd shuffled and shifted in response to the older vampire’s command. One by one, several girls separated themselves from the rest of the citizens. Sobs echoed through the meeting area, and most of the girls were in various states of emotional distress. A few remained stoic, but the majority huddled together, crying and wailing. Several of those remaining in the crowd were also sniffling and wiping tears. Many of the men seemed poised on the edge of violence.
Her stomach twisted with fear and confusion when the older vampire dismounted his horse to walk by the line of girls. Two vampire guards shadowed him. Nadya couldn’t hold in a gasp of shock when the man stopped to grab a girl’s breast. A cry of outrage from the crowd drowned out her small vocalization when the vampire ripped the bodice to display the girl’s bosom. He nodded to one of his guards standing around the younger vampire, still on his horse. That soldier came forward to grab the arm of the girl, ignoring her screams and attempts to struggle. He dragged her back to the horses, and another guard bound her hands and feet before tossing her into a wagon Nadya hadn’t seen before, because the crowd had obscured it.
Next, he selected one of the two sisters Nadya had seen earlier. They clung to each other, sobbing and begging not to be separated, but the soldier paid no attention to their pleas. He lifted the younger one over his shoulder, took her to be tied up, and dropped her into the wagon.
In shock, numb from what she was witnessing, she watched the lecherous old vampire select two more girls. When they were in the wagon, all the girls huddled together, their cries mingled into a disharmonious cacophony. The leader of the vampire clan seemed to thrive on their sounds of terror and anguish.
He returned to his horse, mounting in a lithe leap, before poking his son. “Pick a tribute, Jalen.”
Nadya watched with mingled fascination and apprehension as the younger man got down from his horse. He seemed to emanate reluctance as he walked among the assembled women. Finally, he picked a dark-haired girl, seemingly at random. She broke down in sobs, clinging to the girls around her as the guards pried her from them. Jalen’s expression softened, and for a moment, he seemed on the brink of rescinding his choice. Then he straightened his shoulders and turned his back on the girl he had chosen, along with the assembled crowd. Once back on his horse, he fell in place beside his father, and the guards circled them.
“Send your men to the gates of the wall tomorrow night to collect food, medicine, and essentials,” shouted Jalen’s father.
A chill crept up her spine. With an understanding beyond her years, she intuited the people of the Q had just traded the lives of the young women for supplies. It sickened her, and she ran forward without thought, wanting to somehow stop what was happening.
She drew up short as Jalen looked over his shoulder, his gaze meeting hers. Icy darts in her stomach made her bend forward, breaking the brief exchange, though she could still feel the weight of his stare on her for half a second longer. She didn’t look up until the horses broke into a run, their hooves clomping on the broken street. She watched the young vampire master moving farther away from her, confused by her response. She was hot and cold at the same time, and anxiety tightened her nerves. She should have been afraid, and she was a little, but her primary emotion was anticipation. Whatever had occurred in the brief moment they locked gazes had been just a prelude to whatever would come next.
Lost in the dark, Nadya ran down the corridor. What little light spilling through the windows from the full moon provided just enough illumination to show nothing blocked her path. The chill of the stones transferred to her bare feet as they slapped against the floor with a sting each time she took a step. Her heart pounded in her chest, and sweat beaded her brow. She risked a glance over her shoulder. The shadowy form of the man chasing her still remained behind her, closer than the last time she had looked.
With a sob, she redoubled her efforts to escape, though her heart seemed close to exploding, and her breath echoed through her ears like the sound of thunder. She ran, pushing herself harder, until a haze settled over her eyes. Desperately, she turned her head, unable to spare the breath to cry out when she saw her pursuer was right on her heels. The stretch of corridor was without windows, but she knew who grabbed her even as his hands settled onto her arms, and he spun her around.
“Jalen,” she said with a harsh exhalation.
He didn’t speak. His hands were vices, clamping her in an inescapable prison, as he drew her into his arms. Feebly, Nadya struggled to escape, though her heart wasn’t in resisting. His mouth took hers in a deep kiss that allowed no protest or rejection. She gasped at the hardness of his lips and firmness of his body as he pulled her even tighter to him. Jalen seized the moment to plunge his tongue inside her mouth. Her nipples hardened as his tongue caressed hers, seeking out every niche. His touch was possessive, and she yielded happily.
Her arms ached even after he released his hold to drop his hands down to her back. Jalen’s large hand pressed her lower back inward, emphasizing the hardness of his stiff cock jutting into her stomach.
Emboldened by proof of his desire, Nadya slipped her tongue into his mouth. One of his fangs scored a furrow into her tongue, and she recoiled from the sharp dart of pain. He growled low in his throat, his hand on her back keeping her from escaping. As if determined to remind her of his nature, he raked his fang over her lip, and then swiped away the streak of blood with his tongue. Rather than repulsion, Nadya reacted with a surge of desire.
He cupped her buttocks in his other hand. One of his fingers explored the cleft through the thin fabric of her dress, and she thrust backward instinctively. His digit rubbed against the puckered bud, and she held her breath, torn between curiosity and fear as she wondered if he would slide his finger inside her.
Instead, his hand slid lower, to grasp the hem of the dress where it fell at mid-thigh. With a vicious tug, he tore the garment from her body, leaving her naked and vulnerable. Nadya shivered, but not from the chill in the room. Her eyes widened as she tried to focus on his face. The darkness was almost all-pervasive, but she could make out the red gleam of his eyes, shining like an animal’s. Fear racked her, and she trembled, but didn’t try to run when he released her long enough to shed his clothes.
She met him without resistance when he pulled her back into his arms. Nadya cried out as her vampire lover lifted her into his arms and pushed her against the cold stone wall. His cock found a slick welcome as he nudged it inside her pussy. They both inhaled sharply when his cock sank to the hilt inside her—Nadya from the hot flash of pain, and Jalen from the tightness of her untried passage, no doubt.
He thrust into her forcefully, making no allowance for her inexperience. The pain soon faded, and unimaginable pleasure spread through Nadya. Her loins ached, and her stomach tightened as an orgasm approached. His shaft hardened even more as she began convulsing around him. Nadya held her breath as Jalen thrust deep inside her, while simultaneously bringing his mouth to her neck. She tilted back her head, frightened and excited to have him feed from her. His teeth hurt when they penetrated her skin, but soon, satisfaction took over. As he pumped his hips and sucked on her neck, her body trembled. Convulsions started in her womb, and she cried out, knowing completion was seconds away…
“Nadya, wake up.”
In a stupor, still caught in her dream, she blinked her eyes. It was a shock not to see Jalen in front of her until the remnants of slumber cleared. She recognized her grandmother and tried to push the dream from her mind—while ignoring the ache of incompletion consuming her body. “Granny? What?”
“You were crying in your sleep.”
“Oh.” Nadya was thankful the grayish light coming through the covered window hid the flush in her cheeks. She doubted crying was the right word. More likely, she had been moaning with passion.
Granny looked over her shoulder. “Hurry, child. Tribute is this evening. You must go into hiding before the vampire master appears.”
Nadya held her tongue, knowing an argument would be futile. She had tried approaching the issue logically, by pointing out how families and friends of eligible girls had been punished if the vampires discovered not every girl was there. Granny didn’t care. She refused to lose another child to the vampire scourge. She could understand her grandmother’s position, knowing the knowledge of how her daughter had been selected as a tribute and had never returned to the Q must haunt her every day. At the same time, Nadya knew she would be in line with the other girls now that she was finally old enough to participate, and not for such noble reasons.
Ever since she had overheard one of Jalen’s previous tributes recounting memories of domination and dark sexual encounters to a group of younger women four years ago, she had been determined he would select her. Even before that, since the night she first saw him, Nadya had known her fate was intertwined with his. It wasn’t until Melana had provided details of what she could expect to endure as his tribute that she had known precisely where her future was headed. The idea of enduring his dark mastery filled her with perverse excitement and haunted her dreams. Many nights, she woke to weak moonlight trickling through the window, her heart pounding in her ears, and her body limp from the orgasms her vampire lover gave her in her dreams.
“The other girls are leaving in less than an hour. You are to meet them at the Gugg’hem Musm. One of the elders will be your guide through the wilds outside the Q Zone.” Granny paused in her instructions to hug Nadya. “I will pray for your safe return.”
She patted her grandmother’s shoulder, guilt assailing her. The older woman was convinced Nadya would get away safely and avoid the fate her daughter had endured—whatever that might be. Granny would be hurt and confused when she saw her granddaughter join the other young women in the square later tonight. A thick swallow allowed her to speak. “All will be as it should, Granny.”