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a brand new ya dark fantasy
Raised in a war-ravaged continent, temptation comes to Calla Caldwell in the form of a charming and mysterious stranger. Giving in to his intimate seduction, her world is forever changed by a single bite.
Calla quickly learns the handsome stranger is vampire prince, Trystan Vladu. His bite was an attempt to claim and save her from a plot of vengeance generations in the making. However, the claws of that ancient vendetta are scraping ever closer.
Thrust into a new nightmare by the Prince of the corrupt kingdom of Morbeth, Calla is captured, tortured, and starved in the dank confines of his dungeon. While in captivity, she takes part in a séance with a witch of light where she contacts a departed relative—a Princess of Incendia—who bequeaths a gift to Calla that will tip the scales of good and evil . . . if she can learn to harness it.
With a dark tapestry of secrets, lies, and murder unraveling around her, Calla must learn to embrace the power roiling through her veins, or be snuffed out by the strangling fist of a malevolent darkness.
Praise for Of the Blood
"Swoon-worthy and action packed, Of the Blood is a wonderful start to a dark and dangerous new series." - #1 NY Times Bestselling Author, Jennifer L. Armentrout
Fast paced and fantastical! This magical and blood thirsty tale of a seemingly ordinary girl with a destiny greater than she could have imagined will have you turning the pages long after the bathwater has gone cold. 5 stars!” Tara Brown International Bestselling Author
"A vibrant quest twisting deeper with each turned page, Cameo Renae has weaved a romantic story full of heart and rich characters!" Kelly St. Clare, USA Today Bestseller
"This is a beautifully written tale set against a rich tapestry of mystery and intrigue where battles are fought and won not only with the sword but the heart and mind. Excellent world-building, intriguing characters, smoldering romance, and a solid plot all make this one of my favorite books of the year." Rue Volley, USA Today Bestselling author of 13 Ways to Midnight
Magic, villains, romance, adventure - this book has it all! I can't wait to see where Calla's journey takes her next. - Karen Lynch, NYT Bestselling author
"Magic, mystery, and mayhem make up this marvelously twisting tale. Renae shines a fresh light on some old favorites. Vampires, witches, and even merfolk take on new life as their intriguing story unfolds in this unique dark fantasy." #1 Bestselling Author of the Witches of Blackbrook Series, Tish Thawer
"A bold new fantasy romance steeped with thrilling adventure and lush lore." - Casey L. Bond, author of When Wishes Bleed
"A dark, tantalizing fantasy with unforgettable characters and captivating plot, Cameo will have you on the edge of your seat and enthralled from start to finish." - Mary Ting, International bestselling, award-winning author
Welcome to Talbrinth
FIRST THREE CHAPTERS
Copyright © 2020 Cameo Renae
I pleaded for death. Prayed it would come swiftly and end the agonizing pain consuming my body. Yet, at the corners of my dimmed eyes, a shadowed figure remained at my bedside, whispering lies of promise that this suffering would soon end. But the misery was ever powerful, destroying all illusions of hope, enfolding me in a cocoon of flame and darkness.
Was this how my life would end? Was I going to die on my eighteenth birthday?
Six hours earlier…
“Finished,” Brynna informed. “Gods, I’m good.” Long lashes flickered over baby-blue eyes as she regarded her work. “You have to let me make you up more often.”
With an internal sigh, I drew in a heavy breath. “No thanks. My skin prefers to breathe.”
“I’ll wager you twenty gold skrag you’ll have looks from all the guys tonight.” The glint in her eyes and widening smile caused me to smirk.
“Not interested. You can keep your skrag and your guys.”
I had to remember that Brynna was doing this for me, for my eighteenth birthday, although I’d only desired the company of my best friend and a peaceful, simple dinner. But Brynna was far from simple. She was taking full advantage of the fact our parents were overseas for the next few weeks, sailing to the country of Hale to trade and barter mined reserves at Merchant Port.
“Whatever,” she said, snickering. “But that’s why you have me. My objective in life is to snap you out of your shell, Calla Caldwell.” She straightened her back and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m serious. Look at yourself. Go on.” Her hand signaled toward the mirror, urging me to look. “There will be boys here tonight. Very handsome and suitable boys.” She thrust her palm up an inch from smacking my nose. “And before you protest, just remember you’re eighteen now, and the only guy you’ve ever had any interest in might as well be a figure in one of your romance novels. A fabrication of your imagination.”
“He is not,” I mumbled.
“Are you kidding me?” I was afraid she’d lose her eyes as they rolled clear to the back of her head. “Your crush is nine years older than you and in the military. Your dad hired him to educate you in self-defense when you were ten. It’s been years since you’ve seen him. Not to mention, the obsession was one-sided.” She let out a pathetic sigh. “It’s time to wake up and slip your toes into new pools, Cal.”
I bit my tongue. I wasn’t going to bicker with her. For one, she was correct. As usual. Yes, I’d had a childhood infatuation with my self-defense mentor. And yes, I continued to use him as an excuse to evade any committed relationship, because the truth was . . . I didn’t want one. I’d witnessed the amount of effort that went into relationships—via Brynna—and I wasn’t ready to tie any part of my life to someone else. I preferred to live on my own terms. At least for a bit longer.
Rising, I ran my fingertips across the birthday garment she’d purchased for me from a small boutique in town—a modest, yet exquisite, pastel pink dress with ivory roses stitched into the bodice. The bottom was flowy, settling just above my knees. She’d styled my long chestnut hair half-up and half-down, with a braided crown around a small bun.
Drawing in a heavy breath, I swiveled and peered into the mirror. Brynna had an extraordinary means of altering me from plain to almost regal. My face was glowing, cheeks dusted in pink, and lips glossed. My golden eyes looked much more pronounced outlined in kohl, and she’d even curled my lashes.
“So, what do you think?” Brynna asked.
She slipped on a floor-length, blue silk gown, which hugged her hourglass figure perfectly. Her silky blonde hair was curled over her shoulders, and her makeup made her look like a figurine, finished with ruby red lips. Around her neck, she wore a golden, heart-shaped pendant with a swan engraved on the top. The swan’s eye was a small diamond, a present given by her parents on her sixteenth birthday, and she wore it every day.
I twisted backward and wrapped her in a hug. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For everything. But seriously, you shouldn’t have.”
“Hey,” she exhaled, hugging me back. “You’ll enjoy yourself tonight. That’s an order. Your best friend threw this party for you because she loves you.”
“I love you too,” I sighed.
The doorbell chimed, causing Brynna to squeal. “They’re here!” She clasped her fingers around my wrist and tugged me down the stairs.
About fifty guests showed up. Most I didn’t care for, and at least a dozen I didn’t know. Brynna had assured me it would be modest, but word had spread like wildfire. The youth in Southport were always looking for a reason to party, especially when alcohol was involved. And most knew Brynna’s parents were affluent and had an ample supply.
A couple of visitors said hello and wished me a happy birthday, but the majority didn’t know who I was or even cared. I smiled as I maneuvered through the bodies, trying to intermingle and be cordial. But as usual, I found it awkward associating with others my age. I never felt like I fit in, and they never really cared to include me.
Although Brynna’s home was spacious, I still felt heated and claustrophobic. There were too many bodies inside.
Air. I needed fresh, cool air.
A few of the boys addressed me as I made my way toward the back door, but I quickly claimed I needed to meet someone outside. Lies. I just hoped Brynna wasn’t within hearing distance. If she were, I’d never hear the end of it.
Hurrying towards the exit, I felt the stares and heard unguarded whispers. Those who recognized me were stunned to see the bashful girl—who usually had her face buried in a book—all made up. Tonight, they were calling me pretty. But it was just a mask, courtesy of Brynna.
Brynna noticed my attempt to sneak out the back and threw me an unsettled glance. I returned a smile and a thumbs up, letting her know I was fine. Throwing this party—or any party in general—is what made her happy. She loved entertaining guests and was damn good at it. So, if she was happy, I’d be too. For her. She deserved that much.
Once outside, I discovered reprieve in a shadowed corner just beyond the pool. I stood still, inhaling the balmy salt breeze, gazing up at the moon and watching its luminous light dance across the Argent Sea. I could have stood here all night, alone, with this remarkable view and would have been content.
Peeking back at the crowd, I realized no one even cared that I’d disappeared. I spotted Brynna and smiled, watching how easily she maneuvered through the crowd, a bit envious of how comfortable her exchanges were with others.
Brynna and I had been best friends since birth and were raised together. Not only were we born two months apart—she was older—but our parents were best friends and business partners.
We lived in Southport, a modest coastal town in the country of Sartha—the largest producer of mineral reserves on the continent of Talbrinth. Our fathers owned two of the largest mines, which yielded silver, copper, and gold.
It had taken a few years and a considerable amount of assistance from the communities to bring the mines back up and running after the Great War. But our fathers employed hundreds in Sartha during the process.
Brynna lived in a grand, two-story home on a ridge overlooking the Argent Sea. It was magnificent and lavish, the furnishings extravagant. Her mother spared no expense on the decor, loving to barter and trade at Merchant Port, particularly with merchants from Baelfast who were wealthy in textiles. They’d recently built a pool made with exquisite mosaics, which is another reason why Brynna wanted to throw the party. To show it off.
My parents were much more reserved with their wealth. My father knew there were still many struggling to get back on their feet after the Great War, so we lived in a modest single-level home that didn’t attract scrutiny . . . at least from the outside. But inside, my mother exhibited tapestries, art, and furnishings that would rival any palace.
I sucked in a deep breath and let my head fall back, gazing up at the eggplant-colored sky filled with sparkling stars. It never ceased to amaze me how glorious and infinite the sky was, and how insignificant I felt standing beneath it.
As the party crawled on, I found a bench nearby and for the next few hours, perched alone, watching the crowd mingle for my birthday. I could tell a great deal about an individual from observing them—those who were born leaders, those who were followers, and those who’d had way too much to drink.
The party would be ending shortly anyway because of Sartha’s new curfew. Ever since Sartha’s new ruler, Lord Braddock, came into leadership, any youth under the age of nineteen captured on the roads after the bells tolled at midnight would be thrown in a prison cell where they would spend the night on a cold, stone floor. Stories had spread that the cells were filthy, and rat infested. So very few disobeyed.
As I rose to my feet, I felt lightheaded. My limbs were suddenly weak and weighted, and my body heated. Taking a few steps backward, I leaned against the cool rock wall behind me. The air became so heavy I could barely breathe.
What the hell was wrong with me?
Something inside, deep down in my core, felt as if it was being pulled by an unseen string. A string attached to —I froze in place as my gaze settled across the pool on a pair of azure eyes affixed to the most gorgeous guy I’d ever seen. He was tall, at least six-two, maybe in his mid-twenties. Strands of raven hair feathered across his chiseled face. He wore a crisp, black button-down shirt—a few of the top buttons left undone—and black slacks which caressed his muscular contours.
Good gods. Where did he come from? He looked as if he’d stepped right out of a dream.
Voices murmured and people pushed outside to where he was standing. It seemed everybody was trying to figure out who this handsome stranger was and where he’d come from. He was obviously out of his element, failing miserably at blending in.
My heart was racing, a cold sweat blanketed my body. All within the time he’d arrived.
It didn’t look like he was associated with anybody here, and it made me wonder if he was from our town of Southport, or Sartha for that matter. I’d never seen him before. He had the face of someone I wouldn’t easily forget . . . rich, no doubt, apparent from his attire and stately demeanor.
And now, he was the life of my party.
A few of the girls flung themselves into his pathway as he wandered by, seeking to get his attention. But I observed from afar, from my private, shadowed place, marveling at the way he carried himself with a formal reserve.
I caught a cluster of girls moving toward Brynna, likely to question her. Their lustful eyes raked over the newcomer from head to toe, but as Brynna glanced in his direction, her eyes narrowed, and she shook her head. She didn’t know who he was either.
He was cordial, his smile melting the young women around him. But he continued to keep himself at a distance.
What was he doing here?
But those eyes—those deep, azure eyes—kept finding their way to my dimmed corner. To me. And every time our eyes met, for a few breathless moments, I swore I heard a slight voice which seemed to cover the distance between us saying, “I see you, Calla. I’ve come for you.”
It was foolish to think such absurd thoughts. I shook my head, struggling to snap from whatever bewitching spell he’d cast over me. But every time he glanced over to where I stood, I found myself slipping further, tangling into whatever mysterious, enchanted web he was weaving.
I watched a few guys drag their intoxicated dates inside, away from the newcomer, and I didn’t blame them. If I were them, I would have done the same.
Then, out of the blue, the stranger strode in my direction, his hands tucked casually into his pockets. Each step so smooth, so measured, it was as if he was sliding over air.
All eyes outside were affixed on him. There was something about him, something regal and commanding in the way he moved, completely postured with each lengthy stride.
My breath stopped as he halted a foot away from me. I was mesmerized by the way the moonlight shimmered over the sharp contours of his face. And those eyes —
“Happy Birthday, Calla,” he uttered in a deep, elegant tone. Dipping his head, he presented me with a smile that warmed my insides.
Gasps erupted, and I could feel the heavy stares of girls who had vied for his attention. Brynna was standing in the crowd with wide eyes, mouth agape, hands crossed over her heart. As her eyes caught mine, she smiled.
Before I could say a word, the stranger leaned over and pressed his cold lips against my cheek, making my insides quiver. I was falling apart, unhinging at the seams. All over a guy? That was not my thing.
“H—how do you know me?” Those were the first words to exit my mouth, and I immediately wanted to take them back. But I knew everyone within hearing distance was just as anxious to hear his reply.
Ignoring my question, an incredibly sexy grin spread across his full lips. He reached down and slipped his large hand around mine, swallowing my fingers whole. “Come. I’d like to speak with you.”
The world dissolved and pooled beneath my feet. Every sound muted, bodies faded, and the only two who remained were this beautiful stranger and me. Without another word, he led me past the guests and into the house.
“Calla!” Brynna shouted from behind.
The stranger halted and we both turned to face her. But he was the one who spoke. “Don’t worry. Calla is safe with me. I’d just like to speak with her alone for a moment. If that’s all right?” The sincerity in his darkened eyes and in his gentle voice seemed to melt Brynna’s apprehension . . . and mine.
Brynna, as if in a trance of her own, glanced at me and nodded. “Okay. But let me know if you need anything.” I nodded back before the stranger proceeded to lead me up the stairs, as if he knew the place.
Entering one of the rooms, he clicked the door shut behind him, keeping the lights off.
I stepped away from his overpowering presence and stood in the heart of Brynna’s spare bedroom, my feet fixed to the floor. My eyes were frozen on this fiercely beautiful man, powerless to look away, even if I’d wanted to. Moonlight spilled through the window, gilding his sharpened features and statuesque frame.
“You’re a vision. Even more beautiful than I imagined,” he finally spoke, his eyes appraising every inch of me. There was a darkness which seemed to emanate from him, and I swore I felt it coiling around me in a cool caress.
Shaking my head, I struggled to free myself from whatever fog had entered my mind.
“H-how do you know me?”
He hesitated, carefully regarding my question. “Are you frightened of me?” It wasn’t an answer, but his tone was smooth, gentle.
“No,” I replied much too easily. But I wasn’t afraid of him. I felt . . . safe, somehow.
His purplish-blue eyes seemed to be glowing, and an almost feral smile raised on the edges of his lips. Lips I envisioned against mine.
Well defined arms crossed over a broad chest as he leaned against the door, one foot casually crossing over the other. “Tonight, is about you, Calla. And I’ll remain here, fixed to this spot, unless . . .” His head inclined to the side with a lopsided grin. “Unless you want me to come closer.”
If it were possible, my heart thumped louder inside my chest. My unspoken answer was yes, but it terrified me to say it out loud. I’d never been so carefree or reckless in all my life, never one to throw caution to the wind. But there was something about him. Something mysterious and intriguing. Something every part of me was attracted to. Maybe it was lust, but whatever it was, he had me fully wrapped in it.
Brynna had boasted about her one-night flings. No attachments. Just a single night of fun that was forgotten the next day. If she could manage it, why couldn’t I? It was my birthday after all, and I was now an adult.
But . . .
“Why me?” I repeated. “When you could’ve had any one of those girls downstairs.” It was a sincere question of which I expected an honest answer.
His eyes darkened with an obvious want. “I didn’t come for any girl, Calla. I came for you.”
Butterflies whirled inside my belly, but he still didn’t answer my question. “Why?”
His eyes flashed, assessing me. Gods, he was gorgeous.
“We are somehow connected, you and I.” He seemed as if he was going to take a step forward, but he stopped, remaining in place. “I don’t understand it myself, but I feel tied to you,” he crooned, his gaze narrowed. “You feel it too, don’t you?”
“I—” I hesitated. I did feel something between us but wasn’t sure what it was. There was an undeniable physical attraction and having him so close caused every cell in my body to hum. But I wasn’t about to admit that to a stranger . . . no matter how attractive he was. For all I knew, he could have been a pervert or a murderer. But as the thought crossed my mind, I didn’t sense he was either. “I’m not certain what I feel.”
His smile grew and with it a need pulsed heavily inside me, melting my core, awakening my deprived desires.
“Just say the word,” he purred. His voice was low and dripping with seduction, quietly waiting until I recovered my voice. “Tell me to come or tell me to leave. I will willingly do either. The choice is yours.”
In my mind, I considered the risks. All the risks. But hell, it was my birthday, and I was technically an adult. Besides, he was giving me a choice, and I wasn’t under any influence of alcohol, although around him I felt like it. And I wasn’t being pushed to do anything I didn’t want to.
I peered deep into those darkened eyes and offered him a nod, tossing my conscience to the wind.
In a split second, he was inches away, splaying his palm over the middle of my chest, leaning forward as if seeking my heartbeat. Closing his eyes, a grin unfurled on his full lips. “Can you hear it? It sings for me.”
In one sudden move—so fast it caused my head to whirl—I was in his arms, my back pressed against the far wall, his body tight against mine. His breath was sweet, his lips drifting precariously close to mine. “Tell me you feel it, Calla. The link between us.”
All I could do was nod because all speech was failing me.
His scent was delicious. A wild mix of blends I couldn’t describe. Maybe a touch of earth and wind and spice, but also a hint of something sweet. Perhaps it was all those elements combined and melded together. A perfect blend.
“Calla,” he breathed. “I’m going to kiss you.”
I wanted him to kiss me.
With a nod of approval, he pressed a tender kiss to my lips.
Slow, soft, thoughtful. Not rough or wild. And that kiss took my breath away. It made my brain numb and sent tingles surging through my entire body. But I wanted more. Craved more. I opened my mouth to him, letting him deepen the kiss. And he moaned in approval.
His mouth ravaged mine, this time unrestrained. Our mouths and tongues moved like they were meant to be together. A primal need was drawing us closer. His kiss was so deep, so passionate, that I started swimming in that sea of starlight I’d been admiring moments ago.
I wanted him, like I’d never wanted anyone or anything before, and that awareness both frightened and thrilled me.
His cold hands trailed down my collar and over my shoulders, but his lingering touch felt like fire, setting my skin ablaze. There was electricity around us, between us, through us. If his arms weren’t folded around me, holding me up, my knees would have buckled.
While I had some common sense left, I drew away from his kiss.
“Who are you?” I breathed. This was something I needed to know before things went any further.
His forehead relaxed against mine, his breath heavy. “A dark knight come to protect you. A knight who can pleasure you beyond anything you’ve ever imagined.”
I abruptly forgot my question and didn’t care. Those soft-spoken words added fuel to the already roaring fire inside me.
He leaned back, his azure gaze capturing mine. “But you have to want me too.”
His voice was pure seduction, like a balm instantly soothing my insecurities. How could he do that? This man had placed me under a spell so powerful, I wasn’t capable of breaking free. My body craved more. More of him. Desperate for whatever he could give me.
“Do you want me, Calla?” His words resounded through my very core.
“Yes,” I returned in a breathless whisper.
I was suddenly on the bed, his powerful frame hovering above me.
“I’d never harm you,” he breathed.
I don’t know why he said it, but I believed him.
He paused, those alluring eyes studying mine. No one had ever looked at me the way he was looking at me. He’d enchanted me, and I knew after tonight, I’d never be the same.
His name. I was about to ask his name when his lips crashed against mine. This time with a powerful, primal possessiveness that made me gasp and clutch his shoulders.
My mind was gone. Lost to reason. Lost to this stranger with a handsome face I most definitely felt a connection with.
He tugged off his shirt and flung it to the floor, the darkness swallowing it up. I ran my palms down his back and felt nothing but solid muscle. His tongue swirled on my neck, making my fingers clasp him tighter.
Everything stopped as he drew back from me, his expression one of bewilderment.
Regret and insecurity oozed into me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. His eyes shifted to my left hand.
Clasping my wrist, he examined the silver purity ring on my finger. And just like that, the moment came to a plunging, icy stop.
His eyes scrutinized me. A curious look emblazed within them. “Are you a virgin?”
I yanked my hand from his grip. Embarrassment heating my cheeks. “What if I am?”
Everyone knew I was the virtuous granddaughter of a clergy. The girl who wore a purity ring and vowed to remain pure until the day I married. I was seven back then, and it sounded like a wonderful plan. But I’d grown up since, and now, the glittering silver ring shackled to my finger was strangling me.
His eyes softened. An affectionate smile blossomed on his full lips. “It doesn’t change anything, Calla.”
I knew nothing about him, yet he knew my name and spoke it like he’d known me for a lifetime.
I was never one to attract attention from the opposite sex. Not like this, and especially not by someone like him . . . otherworldly beautiful who exuded a strong, masculine energy.
Caressing the sides of my face, he pressed another gentle kiss to my lips, my stress melting into a puddle. He continued planting kisses down my throat and across my collarbone until . . .
A searing pain stung my shoulder. I wailed, shoving his shoulders back, but he was like stone, unmoving.
Suddenly, his beautiful face was in front of mine, hovering inches above me. I gasped in dismay as crimson liquid dripped from two sharp incisors protruding from his blood-smeared lips. Shrieking, my cry was cut off by his mouth plunging down over mine. His lips were wet, a coppery taste coated my tongue. Blood. My blood.
He bit me. The bastard bit me.
The world around me started whirling. My body weakened as darkness slithered into the corners of my eyes, threatening to fill them entirely.
I struggled to force him off, but my arms were fastened beneath the power of his heavy grip.
“I’m sorry, Calla,” he sighed, his cool breath nuzzling my ear. “I had no other option. And soon, you will understand why.”
“Get the hell away from me,” I cried. Anger and confusion erupted inside of me like a violent river. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. And I was losing consciousness.
“Go away!” I wailed again as darkness embraced me.
I woke to Brynna and a few other girls standing over me. Brynna was shaking my shoulders and calling my name. Concern swelled within her blue eyes and crumpled on her brow.
Blinking, I took in my surroundings and finally remembered where I was. And still groggy, the inquiries began. Questions I couldn’t answer. Questions hammering my skull . . . pounding, pounding, pounding until I couldn’t take it anymore.
They all demanded to know who the newcomer was, and where he went. They wanted details on what took place between us while we were alone.
“Please. Not now,” I whined, massaging my closed eyes with the palms of my hands.
Brynna rose, telling the others that I needed rest and to be alone, then showed them out of the room. I heard her tell her goodbyes, and not long after, she returned with a glass of water and handed it to me. I gulped it down.
“Do you need me to send for a physician?” she asked, carefully examining me.
“Gods no. I'm fine,” I exhaled, pushing a finger to my temple, hoping it would release a bit of the building pressure. “I’m just a little woozy and tired.”
“Did—did he drug you?” she asked softly.
I shook my head, causing it to throb even more. “No.”
But realization crashed into me like a stone wall. He was real. He had been here.
“Who was he?” she asked.
I let out a heavy groan. “I don’t know.”
“You didn’t get his name?”
She let out a sharp sigh. “Well, he clearly knew you. He knew your name and knew it was your birthday. But I didn’t invite him, and no one else has ever seen him before either.”
There was nothing I could say. I truly knew nothing about him, and it made me feel entirely pitiful.
Fear coiled around me, slithering into my mind as I visualized the mysterious stranger with those penetrating azure eyes and sharp incisors stained with my blood.
I warred against the growing pressure tightening my chest. “I need to go home.”
Brynna nodded and helped me gather my things before fetching the carriage to take me home. She traveled with me. The clatter of hooves and wooden wheels against the cobbled street didn’t help the pulsing pain in my skull.
I needed to be alone. I needed to get home and sift through my night.
A few months ago, my parents had given me the cottage which sat on the edge of our land, overlooking the Argent Sea.
On most days, I’d relax out on the stoop, curled up with a novel, listening to the wind rustling through the surrounding oak and sycamore trees. The birds would sing their lively tunes, while the waves of the sea crashed against the rocks below. To me, it was the most peaceful place in Sartha. It was my safe place. My sanctuary.
When we finally reached my home, I leaned over and enclosed Brynna in a hug.
“You know where to find me if you need anything, right?” she questioned. Settling her palms on my shoulders, her eyes scrutinized me. “Are you positive you don’t want to stay at my place tonight?”
I shook my head. “No. But thank you again. The party was one I’ll never forget.” I forced a smile and she beamed back.
As I opened the carriage door, she grasped my arm. “Wait!”
Brynna dug through her handbag and shoved a small, white box into my hand. “Happy birthday, Calla.”
I let out an exhale, shaking my head. “Brynna, you threw me a party and bought me a dress. You didn’t have to buy me a gift too.”
She shrugged. “You know me. I was in town the other day, and some relentless force drew me into this antique shop. As I wandered around, something just happened to jump out at me, imploring me to buy it. So, I did.” She wiggled her fingers at the present, her face radiating with a wide smile. “Go ahead, open it.”
I removed the small white ribbon and lifted the lid. Inside was a silver chain that held a pretty, circular pendant—about an inch in diameter—also fringed in silver. Around the edges of the circle were strange markings, rune’s maybe, and inset at the very center was the most exquisite, sparkling gem. A rich azure—the exact hue of the stranger’s eyes.
Goosebumps prickled my skin as I picked up the pendant.
“Well? Do you like it?” Brynna asked, her eyes twinkling, anticipating my response.
“I love it.” Leaning over, I wrapped her in another hug. “You’re too good to me.”
“I knew you didn’t want the party, so this is my thank you for entertaining me. And, since you declined to stay over, I guess I’ll go visit Claude for the next couple days.” She threw me a wink and a mischievous grin.
Claude Bentham was Brynna’s present companion. He resided about a half hour away on the outskirts of Southport, where he had his own flat, and worked as an apprentice in his father’s blacksmith shop. They met when Claude made a delivery to their home. Brynna said they connected immediately, and it seemed to be reciprocal. Claude was handsome, and although he was the son of a blacksmith, he was quite intelligent.
I growled at her. “Please, be safe.”
“You know me.” A devilish grin widened on her lips.
“Exactly. Which is why I mentioned it.”
Her laughter filled the carriage. “Go on. Get comfortable. Grab one of your romance novels and enjoy the rest of your birthday.”
“I will.” I hugged her one last time, watching and waving until her carriage disappeared down the darkened road.
My brain was still throbbing and my body weak as I strolled down the stone passageway to my cottage. I could hear the waves crashing against the rocks beyond the cliff.
I’d spent countless nights gazing out at the dim horizon, fantasizing of what existed beyond. But not tonight. Tonight, I needed to curl up in bed under my warm blankets and sleep.
After drawing a hot bath, I paused in front of the mirror, the night’s events replaying in my mind. My fingers skimmed the area where I was bitten. I leaned toward the mirror, searching for marks. There was nothing but smooth skin. Not a blemish or bruise in sight.
I knew it was real, though. I felt it. Saw the blood dripping from the stranger’s elongated teeth. I could also recall, in vivid detail, the sharp contours of his face, the way he walked and carried himself, and those unforgettable, soul-piercing eyes that had captured me completely.
The most disconcerting part was that he knew me, yet I still—after being more intimate with him than anyone else ever—knew nothing about him. Not where he lived and clearly not a name or even an initial. He’d somehow managed to dodge all my questions. And my over-zealous libido and fogged brain didn’t help me.
After my bath, I slipped into my bedgown and snuggled up with my blanket and favorite book. It wasn’t long before waves of nausea and cold chills struck me. I grabbed a bucket and placed it next to my bedside, just in case.
My head was pulsing and every muscle in my body throbbed. Throbbed so severely, it had me coiling up into a ball. Soon, my insides started to heat, like someone had lit a torch inside of me.
I could scarcely move. The pain and searing of my insides caused a veil of darkness to linger at the fringes of my eyes.
I was losing consciousness, helpless, and there was no one around who could help me.
With my heart palpitating and breath quickening, I could only consider one terrifying conclusion. I was going to die, and no one would discover me until I was a decayed and smelly corpse.
As the night crawled on, dark and invisible tentacles coiled around me, pulling me down, down, down into a scorching hell.
Flashes of the stranger’s face pulsed in front of me. His deep cobalt eyes. His smile stained with crimson.
The fever was making me delusional. Through the unending nightmare—in between blacking out and barely gaining consciousness—I swore there was someone with me. A shadowed figure at my bedside.
I felt a cold compress against my forehead and a feathered touch sweep across my cheek. I even felt a hand had grip mine through the agony and heard a voice whispering comfort . . . saying this hell would soon pass.
But the suffering was too powerful, destroying all illusions of hope, enveloping me in a cocoon of flame and darkness.
There was no respite, and no knowing when it would end. I lost all track of time. Countless hours, days . . . who knew how long my cries went unheard as the blaze ravaged me.
I prayed to the gods to let it end. Even pleaded for death.
Then, all at once, it stopped.
Gasping, soaked with perspiration, I struggled to move, but was paralyzed. Every cell inside of me was spent, weakened to the edge of failure.
The darkness was again threatening to devour me whole. But this time, it offered no suffering. It was serene and calm, greeting me with open arms. Death had finally come for me. And I embraced it.
My aching eyelids drifted open, and much to my dismay, I was still alive. The drapes were drawn shut, and the lamp on my nightstand was lit. Peering down, I noticed my bedgown was changed, and the blankets were fresh and clean, neatly tucked in around me. Someone had been here. Someone had changed my clothes and bedding. If they did, they saw me nude.
The thought sent a shudder up my spine.
The dark figure in my nightmare . . . were they real? Or had my parents returned? I wasn’t certain how long I was unconscious. The days and nights had fused together. I didn’t even know what time it was.
Glancing to my side, I spotted a single red rose at the base of my lamp. Next to it lay an ornate golden flask with an envelope leaning against it, my name handwritten in script on its front.
I moved, relieved I was no longer paralyzed, but my body was still frail and quivering. Pushing myself to a sitting position, I reached for the envelope, my feeble fingers scarcely able to grasp it.
The back was sealed with crimson wax, impressed with a decorative crest of a shield, a sword and dragon. I snapped the seal in half and slipped out the piece of parchment.
Then it struck me. That familiar and indescribable scent of earth and wind and spice. I brought it to my nose and inhaled—that perfect blend.
My fingers trembled as I carefully unfolded the note and held it toward the light. The message was penned in the most exquisite handwriting—script with decorative swirls and curves—looking more like art than a letter. I inhaled again and began to read.
I must apologize for not properly introducing myself at your celebration, but time was my adversary. I realize you have many questions, and I vow to answer them in greater detail when we meet again. First, I must apologize for the bite, but let me explain.
My name is Trystan Vladu. I am a representative of one of the seven vampire clans on this continent. Your grandfather, Nicolae Corvus, was born a Dhampyr—a half-breed—or at least we are led to believe this. There isn’t enough information on him, but we were advised, through a recent decree, that he has been charged with the murder of a Prince of Morbeth. We are unsure if this is a fact, but as of now, your entire family has been marked and is in grave danger. They’ve dispatched hunters to come for you, and their orders are for the arrest and execution—the complete elimination—of Nicolae’s entire bloodline.
I realize this sounds like lunacy, but I am urging you to trust me.
Representatives of our clan have produced names of your family members and an address of where you reside. As soon as I saw your name, I felt a profound connection—like nothing I’d ever felt before. I knew I had to save you.
The only way I could, with such limited time restraint, was to claim you.
When I bit you, part of my essence was delivered into you. It’s what started your transformation. For the past three days, your mortal body was dying, and like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, you’ve been reborn and given an immortal body. Another attempt to keep you alive.
The liquid in the flask contains my blood. If you consume it, our blood bond will be secured, and the rival clan cannot touch you. Any attempts to harm the bonded of a pureblood will immediately dissolve the centuries-old treaty between kingdoms, and war will swiftly befall them.
But I am allowing you the option.
If you choose me, I will make certain you and your household will be protected and well-tended to for the rest of your lives. However, if you do not choose me, I cannot make any assurances.
Your decision must be made with urgency. The enemy has already been dispatched, and tonight when the moon is full, they will come for you.
If you choose not to consume from the flask, I beseech you to run. Leave your home as soon as the sun sets and never let the light of day touch your skin. Travel to the Moonlight Tavern, where I will have someone waiting for you, regardless of your decision. They will help answer any questions you have and will take you to a protected location until I can meet with you once again.
Until then, be safe,
My body was trembling. There were two words—you died—that slammed me, causing my adrenaline to pulse with anxiety.
But I wasn’t dead.
Was I truly reborn as an immortal like he said? A vampire?
A wave of panic had me hyperventilating. I sucked air deeply into my lungs, then slowly blew it out, attempting to settle my frazzled nerves.
Vampires were fables. Fantasy. They were the ominous creatures who resided between the pages of my novels. Terrifying, evil monsters who fed off mortal blood. They couldn’t likely live in my world. Could they?
A vision of Trystan’s teeth, his sharp incisors dripping with my blood, warned me otherwise.
I read the note a few more times, still skeptical. But deep inside, at the back of my mind, was that still small voice saying, “What if it is true?”
Was my biological grandfather truly a Dhampyr? I’d heard tales of them. Half breeds of mortals and the blood-sucking monsters. It was preposterous. But what if it was real? What if my grandfather was still alive and had murdered someone?
My parents told me my grandfather had passed before my father was born. If he was still alive, he’d never tried to contact his family to let us know. And now, the bastard had cursed us all to death.
That was only one of my concerns. The greatest now was . . . how the hell was I supposed to tell my parents? I already knew what would happen if I told them. My parents were well recognized and highly respected in our country of Sartha. They were also rational and analytical. To have a crazed daughter declaring she was a vampire, and that her deceased grandfather was still alive and had murdered a vampire prince, wouldn’t be favorable. That, and the fact we would soon be hunted by the deceased prince’s country. It was outrageous. They’d find a means to keep me quiet.
Which is why I was grateful they were on a merchant ship, sailing to Hale. For now, I wouldn’t have to explain this crazed situation.
Would anyone believe I’d been bitten by a vampire who wanted to save me from a rival clan’s execution? Did I believe that inside of the golden flask sitting on my nightstand was Trystan’s blood, and if I drank it, I would be bound to him?
Maybe it was real. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I was dead, and this was purgatory or even hell. Or perhaps it was all just a dream and I was still caught up in it.
But the anguish and misery I’d encountered over the previous days were all too real.
Had it only been three days? It seemed endless.
The whispers. The fevered hallucinations. The shadowed figure assisting me. The letter.
The only answer was that Trystan was here.
Goosebumps prickled my skin as I glanced over to the nightstand where the single red rose and golden flask sat gleaming under the lamplight. The rose was perfect, a deep blood-red with a strong, delightful fragrance.
I reached for the flask, taking the heavy object in my hand, inspecting it closer. By the weight and the gems set into it, it must have been valuable. In the center of the flask was the same crest as on the wax stamp. The shield was outlined in what looked like diamonds and rubies. A gold sword was faced downward, hilt to tip, and set in silver was an intricate dragon with wings outspread at its center, its tail coiled and pointed at the end. The interior of the shield was polished onyx. I ran my fingers over the exquisite details. This flask alone must have been worth a fortune.
My fingers quivered as I unscrewed the cap and brought it to my nose. My mouth watered, my pulse raced. My breathing hastened, and the world around me began to whirl. Suddenly, there was an unusual movement inside my mouth. I gasped as my eye teeth elongated, becoming razor sharp. My tongue flicked against one of them, piercing it, causing it to bleed.
I reached for the small hand mirror in my nightstand drawer and held it in front of me.
Gods be damned. I had fangs. Fangs!
These new incisors made it quite apparent I was no longer mortal. I was one of them. A monster. Gods above!
At least I didn’t look too dreadful. I still looked the same, aside from the dark creases surrounding my eyes. Feeling faint, I set the mirror down. The flask was still clutched securely in my other hand, filled with blood that my entire body craved.
“Trystan.” As soon as I whispered his name, tingles surged through my body.
I raised the flask to my nose and the potent odor of copper and iron struck me. My hands quivered, and it took everything inside me to hold back the unseen force pressing the flask toward my mouth, demanding me to sip. Every cell inside my body echoed the desire.
No, my mind hollered. Don’t do it. You’ll be bound forever.
I hurriedly screwed the cap back on, securing it shut, and set it on the nightstand. My treacherous body was battling with itself to open it back up and take a sip.
Trystan claimed he was giving me an option, but he lied. When he’d bit me, he sealed my fate, transforming me into something else. Something non-human. Something nightmarish. Something that craved blood.
From this moment on, I was going to determine what became of my life, whether right or wrong. Alive or dead. It was my decision and mine alone. Right now, I wasn’t going to be bound to anyone. Let alone someone I didn’t even know.
But those two words kept ringing like a resounding gong in my mind. You died. And Trystan was the cause of my death. But he was also the cause of my rebirth and immortality. If that was even the truth.
I dragged my feeble and shaking body out of bed and shuffled to a set of clothes folded on my dresser which consisted of black pants, a black tunic, and a black, hooded, knee-length cloak. They were brand new, the material soft. My gut twisted, wondering if Trystan was the one who had put them there.
Letting out a heavy sigh, I hurriedly put on the all-black attire. They’d probably chosen black to help me meld in with the darkness to avoid capture.
A new pair of black boots were also set next to my dresser. Sliding my feet into them, they were an exact fit. Someone had gone through the trouble of getting everything sized precisely, and not only that, they were the most comfortable footwear I’d ever worn.
Stepping up to the mirror, I examined myself. The girl staring back was still me, but different. Changed, but not entirely. My skin looked soft and unblemished, but I still looked fatigued.
My hair was silken, and my golden eyes were considerably pronounced, practically glowing, and everything around me looked more vibrant and intricate than I ever remembered it before.
I shuffled toward the window in my modest living space. I didn’t even know what time it was. It was around noon because the sun was full and brilliant, spilling in from a split in the curtain.
Maybe it was my over-inquisitiveness, but I had to know if the sun was my enemy. I gradually drew back a section of the drapery and slipped my hand into the narrow beam of light streaming through the window.
Then my skin started bubbling before bursting into flame.
A terrified scream ripped from my throat as I darted to the washroom and shoved my hand under the spigot. Cool water doused the flames but searing pain and festering charred flesh remained. My skin smoked and hissed under the water, but the pain gradually eased. In a few moments, the pain was totally gone.
Blood and pieces of charred flesh fell off and washed down the drain as I continued to keep my hand under the flow. When I finally turned off the water and lifted my hand, I gasped, gawking at the entirely new skin. What the hell? There was only one explanation.
I am a vampire. A gods damned vampire.
This discovery also brandished a massive red flag. If this was true, then hunters were coming for me and my family. And I only had a few hours to figure out how to get my new vampire ass to safety.
Would Trystan send someone to the Moonlight Tavern to meet me? As frightening as it seemed, his offer was the only option I had at this moment. There was nowhere I could think of to run, except Brynna’s, and there was no way I was putting her in danger.
I paced the entire cottage at least a hundred times, waiting for the sun to set, wondering how my world would change once I stepped outside the door. If I could, I would have holed myself up in this cottage and wait it out. But this place was far from a fortress. It was small and easily accessible. And completely destructible. If anybody was coming for me, I would be captured in no time.
Captured. It sounded so ludicrous, but I wasn’t going to wait here and find out if it was true or not.
I wanted to take my horse, Shadow, but the thought of leaving him behind, especially at the vulgar Moonlight Tavern, made me ditch that plan.
Shadow was my non-mortal best friend, a present given to me by my father on my tenth birthday. He was a Friesian, with a sleek black coat, thick mane, and long tail. He was magnificent, powerful yet agile, and extremely careful with me on his back.
When my parents were abroad on business and I was left alone, Shadow would carry me to secret places on deserted shores where he would graze, and I would spend hours reading and relaxing.
No, I wouldn’t risk taking him. Shadow was too important to me. The stable boy would take care of him while I was gone. And hopefully this dilemma could be over, and everything would return to normal.
Wait. Who was I kidding? My life would never be normal again. Good gods, I had fangs and was deathly allergic to the sun.
From the split in the drapery, I watched the sun’s rays gradually inch across the floor. Tick. Tock. Tick Tock. It seemed like an eternity until it faded altogether.
As the last trace of light vanished, my apprehension grew. I snatched the pack I’d filled and opened the door. A burst of chilled wind accompanied me as I rushed out into the night. The pack on my back bore a few items: a change of clothes, a couple day’s rations, a bag of gold skrag I’d been saving, and Trystan’s flask. I wasn’t certain why I took the flask, but I’d persuaded myself it was because it was valuable, and I didn’t want it to be stolen.
Filling my lungs with the icy air was invigorating. My senses were on full alert, and I paused as my eyes adapted to the darkness. Everything around me was alive and humming. The world seemed more appealing—the brilliant hues of fallen leaves, the whispers of wind through the trees, and the earthy aromas of the surrounding landscape. Details I hadn’t recognized before. Beautiful scenery I’d taken for granted.
Feeling awkwardly slow and weak, I realized I hadn’t eaten in days, and I had a sinking suspicion I knew what my body needed. I’d resisted the thirst as soon as I’d opened the flask, and I knew from this day forward, there would be an endless battle raging inside me.
All the stories I’d read about vampires weren’t exaggerating. The thirst was real. But the thought of consuming blood made my gut churn.
After walking the five miles, much quicker than expected, I finally reached the Moonlight Tavern.
Standing outside the olive, paint-flecked door, I cringed. The heavy smell of urine stung my nostrils and I started to second guess myself. This place was a rowdy pigsty filled with drunken patrons and nightly brawls. A place my parents instructed me to steer far away from. I doubted I’d even get through the front door without anyone noticing me.
After a cursory glance of the area, I was surprised to find there was no guard. But I supposed they didn’t need one. No youth in their right mind would show up at a place like this. I just hoped that Trystan kept his word and had someone waiting for me.
Gathering my courage, I stepped up to the door and pushed it open.
Darkness enveloped the hallway, and the only sign of patronage was the raucous laughter and obscenities thrown from intoxicated men socializing deep in the tavern’s underbelly. After a few shallow breaths, I made my way across the sticky wooden floor. The smell of urine mingled with other vile manly odors smacked me in the face.
Sneaking past the toilet rooms, I prayed repeatedly to the gods that Trystan remained true to his word. I was placing my complete confidence in him—someone I didn’t even know. And that terrified the crap out of me.
Building up enough courage, I rounded the corner. Lingering in the shadows, I scoured the room. Wooden tables and chairs were crowded to the brim with drunken men. A few of them had women splayed over their laps. One had her skirt dragged up way too high, and a man’s grimy hands receding even further, her hips swaying back and forth across his thigh.
Was this a brothel?
What the hell had I gotten myself into?
I kept tight to the wall, trying to stay concealed along the dark edges, searching the inside to find someone, anyone, who looked respectable enough to be my rescuer. And it didn’t take long to discover him. A young man sitting at the bar, well-suited and handsome, looked quite out of place. He twisted to me and smiled, so I took that as a signal and promptly made my way over, sitting on the vacant stool beside him.
“Hey,” I greeted, anticipating he would immediately get us the hell out of here.
“W-what brings you to this pigsty, lovely?” His speech was slurred, his eyes bloodshot and droopy.
My conscience waved a massive red flag before smacking it upside my head. Good gods. This guy was not my contact. And now I’d opened myself up to the rest of the drunken riffraff. I could practically feel their lustful eyes raking down my back.
“I’m meeting someone,” I returned.
The barkeeper, a towering man with a bald head and tattoos running down his neck and arms, paused in front of me. “Aren’t you a little young to be in here, darlin’?” he asked. “I could get in a lot of trouble serving alcohol to a youth.”
“I’m not here for drinks. I’m here to meet someone,” I reiterated, trying to suppress my inner trembling. Gods be damned. What was I supposed to do now?
“Who would ask you to meet them in a shithole like this?” the barkeeper queried, shaking his head.
“I don’t know,” I sighed. “I was just thinking the same thing.”
He produced a half-witted grin, shrugged, then grunted at a man a few stools down, who was pounding his empty glass on the counter, demanding another brew.
Heavy footsteps pounded across the wooden floor until they came to a sudden halt directly behind me. I caught a whiff of strong body odor and practically got drunk off the alcohol emanating from whoever it was. If I still had a heart, I imagined it would be bursting through my rib cage and running far, far away.
Damn Trystan. And damn me for believing him.
“Hey, precious.” A firm hand clutched my shoulder, forcing me to turn around. “You’re new here. You lookin’ for a good time?”
I’d read that new vampires had super strength, but I wasn’t about to test that assumption, because three burly, bearded men stood behind me. Their heavy, wasted eyes bore looks of lust and ill intentions.
“No. I’m waiting for a friend. A male friend who should be here any minute,” I responded boldly. “I was just about to head outside and check.”
They snorted, calling my bluff.
I turned to scoot off the stool, but the man’s grip tightened on my shoulder, holding me in place. I’d learned self-defense when I was younger but feeling weak and powerless, along with being hemmed in by these broad and extremely drunk men . . . it was of no use.
“Hey, Bart, why don’t you let the young lady go?” the barkeeper suggested, drying a newly washed glass.
“Stay outta this. Unless you want trouble,” Bart slurred, scowling at him.
The bartender murmured and stepped away. The bastard walked away! Leaving me alone with these assholes. Even the young man seated next to me had magically disappeared. Cowardly bastard.
“We want you to stick around, precious.” Spittle flew from Bart’s mouth onto my face. I held my breath, swallowing down the impulse to heave. His breath, a blend of alcohol and whatever food he’d just eaten, violated my nostrils, causing me to gag. “We’ll show you a good time, I promise.” He grabbed his crotch to confirm his point, forcing my entire body to shudder in disgust.
Stepping into this place was a terrible mistake. Trystan had lied to me. Bastard. But it was complete foolishness on my part to put my confidence in someone I didn’t know. And I was naïve enough to show up without a weapon.
“I just need to leave,” I said, attempting to free myself from the man’s steel grip. But I felt very weak. I hadn’t eaten anything in days.
“You can’t leave,” Bart slurred. “I want to give you a tour of my personal room.”
“Hey, jackass!” A powerful voice hollered from behind the men. “The young woman is with me.” All three men wrenched their heads toward the voice, their broad girth blocking any visual contact with my would-be protector. “I advise you to let her go before someone gets hurt.”
“Who the hell are you?” Bart spit his words, his steel grip remaining on my shoulder.
“I’m her personal guard, and if you don’t get your fetid, filthy palm off her, I’ll snap it into pieces.”
My personal guard?
The three men burst into laughter. Then Bart threatened the mysterious man.
“I’d like to see you try.”
As the last word escaped Bart’s mouth, the room fell deathly silent. Suddenly it swelled with the sound of snapping bones. Within the span of a breath, the two men with Bart were curled on the floor, wailing and writhing in agony. Bart instantly released my shoulder, and with a few more snaps, collapsed to his knees, clutching limp, displaced fingers. His screams sounded like that of an injured hog.
“Let’s ditch this joint,” a gentle voice murmured in my ear. Cool breath swept against my neck, causing me to twist back.
A handsome young man, who appeared not much older than me, extended his hand to me. He was around six-feet tall, with the deepest turquoise eyes. Eyes that looked like the sea on a bright summer’s day. Jet-black hair was clean cut and drawn back, but there were a few misplaced strands which had spilled over his sharp-featured, unblemished face. He was attired in black trousers and a black tunic. The belt slung around his midriff held two sharp daggers, one on each side, protected under a long black coat. Even with layers of clothes on, I could tell he was muscular.
He reminded me of Trystan, enough that it made me wonder if they were related.
Without a second thought, I clutched his hand and he promptly led me out the door and into Whisper Forest. I inhaled the clean air, savoring it.
He hauled me along with him, quietly weaving through the dense spruce, alder, and birch trees.
All I could think was . . . Trystan wasn’t a liar. He’d kept his word.
OF THE BLOOD
Copyright © 2020 Cameo Renae
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.
Cover Designer: Jay Villalobos of Covers by Juan
Book design by Red Umbrella Graphic Designs
Editor: Victoria Rae Schmitz of Crimson Tide Editorial
First Edition: May 2020
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.