The Fourth Book of the Billionaire Vampire Serial
Vampires Play for Keeps
After centuries of waiting, Dorian Thorne’s day of victory has finally come. The billionaire vampire has found his eternal bond mate in the college student Cora Shaw—and rescued her from the clutches of his enemies.
Now with her presentation to vampire society, Cora will become untouchable, and the rise of Dorian and his allies will not be stopped.
But his enemies are hatching plots of their own, and Dorian and Cora are at the very center of their twisted and deadly plans….
“How can I want you?” She shook her head, revulsion flickering over her face. “God, this bond—it’s crazy.”
Revulsion—of herself, of me, of the bond. But the silly girl had lived in an imaginary world that worked by imaginary rules, and now she had the gall to be offended by the reality of existence.
I had been made to rule her. From that she couldn’t escape. And she was made to want to be ruled.
“You may look upon what we have in horror, but how do you think we regard your human relationships? Your affections wax and wane.” I touched her face again, this time dragging my fingers slowly, deliberately down her jaw, her neck, her collarbone where it was exposed above the neckline of her dress. Her face twisted, the hunger in her eyes almost desperate.
I said, “You marry for love but also for convenience, from tradition, for stability and companionship, for money, for children, or simply because people expect it of you.”
Her arms slid down, no longer hugging her ribcage, until her hands were splayed flat and low over her belly. Her breath was coming faster in little shallow inhalations, and she inclined to close the distance between us by another inch.
It was the bond, yes, but the bond was everything.
I continued, sliding my hand over her shoulder and down her arm. “And what you feel on your wedding night and what you feel five years later, ten, twenty, forty—even true love may not last, or it may blossom and fade several times over. We are as constant as the sun. Our hearts are not our own to give, but once they are taken, they do not—they cannot—waver.”
My hand caught hers and pulled it away from her body, clasping it and turning it at the same time to display the bond mark that she had rubbed at earlier.
A deep shiver went through her body, but she said, “How can you talk about it like that? A heart—what can you even know about a heart, other than its blood? That’s not love.”
Her protest was weak.
“You know better than that, Cora. There’s more than blood between us. Humans pretend to value unconditional love, but that’s not something full humans could ever understand. There are always conditions—lines that cannot be crossed, words that cannot be unsaid.” I raised her hand slowly to press the back of it to my lips, and her lips parted, her eyes as dark as windows to another universe.
“But with you, no line is too far,” she whispered, as if she both hated and craved that fact. “It never can be. Nothing is too much, even if it destroys me.”
“I would sooner destroy myself,” I swore, and I gathered her body against mine—no, I scarcely touched it, and she fell into my arms, her greedy mouth seeking mine.
I kissed those lips softly, leaving the need unanswered so that she must recognize it for what it was. She shuddered in my arms; whether from desire or horror or both, I did not know. Or care. I kissed the corner of her mouth, her jaw, her neck as she arched it toward me, offering that and so much more.
Her body made a lie of her refusal to recognize our bond for what it was.
Because it was everything. For both of us.
I stood in the doorway now between what had been my life up until this moment and what it would be thenceforth, and what was on the other side was, right now, was mine to choose. Cora’s shivering body contained many possibilities, dark and dazzling. Some led down to the pit, while others…they led off in directions that had never before been sailed.
I marveled at the scent of her skin and at her eagerness. Whatever her lips said, the rest of her body was ready enough for anything.
I was too old to hold any hope. Very few knew this, as very few knew even how old I might be. Etienne knew a part. Tiberius had guessed. And Alys—Alys, the oldest of us all, had known better than anyone.
As I held Cora in my arms, tasting her skin, feeling the flutter of my heart through my lips, I remembered all too well Alys’ warnings when we had switched the focus of our research to the most promising route, that of the identification of potential cognates:
“It may not work.” Her dark, sweeping brows lowered over her black eyes.
“You are quite right,” I replied. “But neither has anything else. And this, at least, shows promise.”
“Promise? If it works, it may just be our end, Dorian. Not only ours but the end of the world.”
“We won’t let that happened,” I swore. “We can’t let that happen.”
I had to hold back from the beckoning darkness not only for Cora’s sake, not only for mine, but also for the sake of what I had brought into the world and the terrible power that it could have in the wrong hands.
And so when Cora spoke, when she voiced the rejection that her body’s responses belied—and that cut me to the quick nevertheless—I schooled myself to patience. To gratitude for the strength of her mind that held us both back.
For it would take both our strengths to find peace at the edge of the pit without falling inside.
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