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Vintage Blood and the Sacred Scepters is set in a world of magic where werecreatures, vampires, warlocks, enchantresses, and humans co-exist.
Brit Chambers, a gutsy Werecreature Consultant, takes on the job of discovering the means to destroy the Sacred Scepters before a werecreature assassin finds them and uses them to rid the world of magic. But she has another problem to rid herself of as well--she has become Lord Daison's (Vampire) personal blood bank thanks to her best friend, a weretiger.
Magnificent. It was spectacular, a throne laden with the most exotic of gems. And then there was the tapestry covering the wall behind the throne. Not an ordinary tapestry, I knew. It was Shayla’s bloodline, a colorful depiction of every form of weretiger in existence.
I was human, the only human attending Shayla’s coming of age gala. As all tigers do sooner or later, Shayla had contracted the mating bug. I would have preferred it to be later—selfish, I knew. But she’s family, sort of a sister. My father and Gunther, Shayla’s father, were the closest of friends, so, we practically grew up together. My father’s dead now. My mother had left us years ago. She hadn’t accepted shapeshifters. Then again, she hadn’t accepted much of anything.
I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Shayla to the clan. If mated, she’d be one of the elite, and since few humans were tolerated in their social hierarchy, seeing her would become quite difficult.
Of course, I had tried to talk her out of attending this spectacle but it didn’t work. Instead, she convinced me to stand by her side as one of her maidens. Magda was her second maiden. I liked Magda.
She’s a childhood friend that I’ve been able to count on whenever I’ve been in need. She’s also an enchantress, although, on occasion “witch” suited her better. Tonight she was the enchantress. A power web glowed about her like a lacy glove. Charm.
Breathe slowly, I told myself. I could barely take a breath thanks to the wiring beneath my crimson gown that was obviously designed to tuck, lift, and keep me together in a way that distorted my natural build.
Still, from the look of it, I wasn’t the only one suffering, ‘torture’ seemed to be the theme for this evening's attire—for females that is. The males, however, weren’t constrained to any particular attire. Well, those who weren’t in their natural state. Fur doesn’t need any covering.
Filled with excitement, I looked about the Great Hall. The walls were white with five archways to my left and right. On the other side of the archways large colorful plants glistened in the moonlight. Above me, I could see the full moon through the glass dome roof. Luckily, its glow showered light throughout the Great Hall making it easy for me to see.
Then my eyes fixed on a sculpture. Every single strand of fur was delicately carved within pure white marble. And his muscle formations . . . my, they were so defined . . . and further down so explicit—heat rushed into my face.
I touched Magda’s arm. “Is that an Astof original?”
Excited, she bubbled. “He is here tonight.”
He was a famous weretiger sculptor whose pieces were worth their weight in gems. I couldn’t afford any of them. Not many could, except for a Lord.
She turned about, her neck gracefully gliding from left to right. “I cannot.” She grabbed my arm. “Oh, there he is.” She pointed. I looked.
Mmmm. Oh, my. He was large, paws twice the normal size of a weretiger. Seemed impossible for him to be able to carve such delicate details until I saw his finely shaped claws. They weren’t thick and clumsy, but thin and sharp.
She pulled me toward him, then stopped abruptly. She stomped her foot. “I have lost him.” That was fine by me. We were standing in front of a table covered with delectable goodies. When she noticed my distraction, she huffed, turned from me, and went in search of Astof once more.
I couldn’t resist the tantalizing aromas. I’d only eaten a nutritionally balanced bar this morning. A weresparrow chirped excitedly as she slipped a small circular yellow piece of fruit within her beak. Something I should try.
Delicious. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and bursting with flavor. I ate a few more, then I ventured over to the next table. There was a lot of satisfied grunting going on. Several weretigers were indulging themselves. I passed them by, repulsed at the smell of fresh, bloody meat.
I continued to the next table. A few more weretigers were indulging themselves as well. How I enjoyed their woodsy scent. I took a deep breath only to choke a moment later. Not all werecreature scents appealed to me. Wererats tend to disturb my stomach. The sight of them in their natural state, matted fur and all, didn’t help matters.
Two passed by, one actually bumping into me. His nose twitched. He jumped back, coughed, and turned his back to me. I heard an ailing, “excuse me.” Then he was gone. My human odor, it seems, has the same effect on them.
My hand reached out only to fall short of a delectable piece of dried meat when two muzzles strayed toward my arm. I held still.
Their whiskers lightly brushed against my skin, and my arm twitched, not from fear but from the tickling sensation the fine whiskers caused. They sniffed, then, a purr coursed through their throat. Two seconds later they were back at their feast and I was long forgotten.
I’d just gotten a tasty piece of meat in my mouth, chewing it with my eyes tightly shut, when I heard Shayla whisper, “it is time.”
Slowly, my eyes opened and a sigh of pure satisfaction left my lips.
“I’m ready,” I said.
Shayla and I went in search of Magda. We found her charming Astof. Even if I wanted to meet him, now wasn’t the time. When Magda uses her charm, the recipient of it is oblivious to anything or anyone else. Shayla, naturally, interrupted by grabbing Magda’s arm and pulling her away. And so, we found ourselves waiting for the main event.
We didn’t have long to wait.
Within seconds the room grew silent. Daison, Lord of the Weretigers, was suddenly standing in front of the throne, his body covered by an exquisite black and red silk robe. In the next moment, he was seated. His robe flapped open and I noticed the sleek black clad body beneath.
I found myself staring, unable to remove my eyes from this creature. Oh, he was appealing, an unnatural appeal I’ve heard tell of before. All who gaze upon a Lord fall immediately under his spell, as he is the most powerful of werecreatures, a vampire with the ability to shape shift into any creature he so desires.
Heads turned toward an archway.
A tiger, black and sleek, his toes touching ground as he gracefully padded through the archway, made his way toward the throne, stopping when he reached his Lord’s left side. A few moments later, another tiger, golden from the tip of his muzzle to the end of his slashing tail, not just one shade of gold but a multitude that shimmered and glittered about him, seductively swayed his way toward the throne, settling at his Lord’s right.
I elbowed Shayla. “Which one?” I whispered. “Left or right?”
“Right.” She purred. “He is called, Aidan.”
I took another look. There was something . . . unusual about him, but what?
A gravelly roar came up his throat and his muzzle opened wide exposing his long, flattened, blade like canines. Aidan was a saber-toothed tiger . . . a true rarity. Not many of them around. It was going to be one hell of a competition.
That’s what this was all about, the right to be chosen as Aidan’s mate. Barbaric, I know. But that’s the way of it. As a tiger, Shayla must prove herself worthy to mate with a clan warrior, therefore, she must compete. For a Lord’s warrior only the best can be chosen.
There were two parts to the competition. The first, intelligence and creativity, was the most critical. A potential candidate offers the Lord a gift. If accepted, the candidate enters the second and final stage—physical combat. That is Shayla’s specialty.
No worries there. But getting there was . . . well, Shayla didn’t lack in intelligence or creativity. What she lacked in was common sense. Her offering to Lord Daison was a single, red long stemmed rose which I was to present to the Lord, a bad choice as far as I was concerned. Wasn’t extravagant enough. But I didn’t complain. I offered no advice.
I wanted her to lose.
The hall settled into silence. The ceremony was about to begin. Shayla, Magda, and I walked to the far end of the hall. A red runner crept down the center of the hall, up the stairs, ending at the throne’s feet.
Shayla was in human form. Well, as human as she could be considering her canines and claws were still quite visible and her eyes retained their unusual yellow-orange color and cat-like shape. But her skin was close to champagne and her long hair shined a rainbow of reddish-orange hues.
My curly brown human locks were tightly drawn at the crown, cascading down my back, leaving my neck bare. As always, especially now, I felt out of place with my olive skin, thin face, and too large brown eyes. As if I wasn’t tense enough.
The first of the candidates glided down the runway. It was Tara. Her two maidens followed from behind . . . carrying, of all things, a life size golden statue of Tara. I shook my head and chanced a glance at the Lord.
One leg was bent at the knee, the other outstretched. One arm lay across the throne’s armrest, the other resting comfortably against his leg. He looked like he was lounging to me. Perhaps, it was simply boredom. I couldn’t be sure. His face was hidden by a curtain of jet-black hair, his body as still as a statue. His hands, basically the only skin I could see, were nothing like the weretigers—pallid in comparison. Yet, his claws were long, sharp, and glittered like the most exquisite of sapphires. I wondered if they were retractable.
Confidence was considered an attractive attribute by weretigers. I assumed it would be no different for a vampire. As far as I was concerned Tara’s gift amplified her vanity. An attribute I didn’t believe Lord Daison would find appealing. After all, competing with a vampire’s vanity wasn’t an intelligent move to make. And for creativity, well, surely one’s own figure forever carved in gold would be unacceptable, nothing creative there. Yes, I was pretty sure Tara would not make it to the second stage.
I was right.
Lord Daison raised his arm slowly, its motion as graceful as a ballet dancer. Then, a slash in the air and Tara was relegated to the unworthy. She bowed and glided to the side. Very gracious of her.
The next candidate was Pasha. To my surprise Pasha’s gift was a crystal vase crowned with daisies—the real thing. I could smell them as they passed by. Behind her, Pasha’s two maidens carried similar vases topped with daisies except these two were adorned with diamonds, not the ordinary white but a multitude of rich hues: blues, pinks, and green oranges. Pasha wasn’t relegated to the unworthy.
Personally, I thought them rather gaudy, but I could see how the Lord wouldn’t. After all, vibrant, precious stones were an intelligent choice to make. Vampires liked little baubles. To present them with daisies, something dead yet alive, was not only creative but also ingenious.
Shayla’s turn came. Magda, wrapped in silver, her snow-white hair flowing to the floor, took my hand and we began the long trek down the runway. Preceding us, Shayla dressed elegantly in a black gown that covered her like a second skin, exuded grace and nobility. I was a bit nervous and holding the gift.
The Lord seemed aloof when I glanced his way. Aidan was staring at Shayla. He was interested. Too bad.
Shayla came to a halt. I stumbled slightly, the long gown tripping me.
“My Lord Daison, ruler of all before you.” Shayla’s delicate hand waved in my direction. “I offer you the most precious of gifts.” I frowned, giving the long stem rose a quick glance. “The gift of human blood.”
My hand constricted, thorns pricked my fingers, and I screeched. “Like hell.”
Roars of outrage echoed through the hall. Shayla’s father, Gunther, was dragged out of a crowd of spectators by four weretigers. Shayla wasn’t treated any better.
Magda gripped my arm. “Do something or they will surely die.”
What could I do? “You’re the enchantress. Why don’t you do something?”
She sighed. “I am not powerful enough.”
I didn’t take Magda’s outburst seriously, surely, they’d not kill Shayla and Gunther because of my . . . uh . . . reluctance. But when I turned toward Gunther, I saw him on his knees with sharp claws embedded in his skin, and sweat flowing down his almost human face, I felt a pang of unease. Then, Shayla’s coarse purr reached my ears, and I turned in her direction.
Her eyes zeroed in on me. “Brit.” She called my name. Only Gunther, Shayla, and Magda called me that. Everyone else called me human.
“Why are you doing this? You said you did not want to lose me. In this way you will have the Lord’s protection. We can be together.”
I was momentarily speechless, shocked actually. She was right, of course, if I were accepted, I’d belong to Lord Daison. I’d be his personal property. I’d be free to come and go within the clan. Still, why on earth would she do something like this to me, we were friends, sisters.
Then, I saw red flickering within her cat-eyes and I understood. As a tiger, the mating drive is strong, at times unpredictable. I should’ve known, or at least suspected that her mind would’ve been clouded during this time, but I’d not noticed how far gone she’d been.
After a few moments, her eyes grew large and bright, the reddish flickering more frequent as she struggled against her holders. Gunther roared, his muscles bulging, his cat fur growing, soaking the blood that covered his chest.
My heart jumped in my throat.
I stepped forward and formed the sincerest expression I could manage.
“My Lord Daison. My apologies. It’s obvious that my outburst was misinterpreted.”
Adian’s eyebrows took flight. “Misinterpreted?”
I directed my smile toward him. Lord Daison wasn’t paying me much mind. I considered this a positive sign. Maybe, I’d be rejected—a happy thought.
“Of course. I’m human. My customs are different than yours.”
“Seems they’re different than most humans.” Aidan volleyed.
I frowned. Weretigers weren’t stupid. I was pretty sure telling them like hell was my way of saying yes . . . yes . . . yes . . . I’d love to be Lord Daison’s personal blood bank wasn’t going to work.
“A momentary lapse of judgment,” I countered.
Aidan laughed. I was foundering. Luckily, he took pity on me.
“No further explanation is needed, human. Will you accept Lord Daison as your master?”
What could I say? Yes seemed appropriate. It was.
The second the word left my mouth, Gunther and Shayla were released. Luckily, they calmed and although not completely silent, their roars did slowly wind down to purrs.
Aidan turned to the Lord. He lowered his head and whispered.
Languidly, Lord Daison stood. His movements were calculated, intentional. He was a vampire able to transport his body within a heartbeat. This was no flash movement . . . this was slow . . . deliberate. Intimidating as hell.
He walked around me. When he stopped, I couldn’t see his face—only his chest filled my view. I didn’t have the courage to look. Didn’t want to see the hunger. Human blood was a delicacy to be savored . . . lingered on . . . for most vampires. There were some who preferred to drink their fill. The result—death.
Lord Daison was a well-respected and admired vampire, although, on occasion he had been known to be merciless and cruel, but never with those under his protection. And this would place me under his protection. Still, I didn’t want Lord Daison to feast on me. I didn’t want to feed him.
Claw like fingers gripped my chin. “Look at me,” he commanded. I did.
Sapphire cat-like eyes swallowed mine. A shiver ran up my spine. Then, his hot breath brushed against my neck. My veins throbbed as blood surged through them. He sniffed once, then stepped back. His nostrils flared and his eyes grew large with hunger. I froze.
He swiveled about and turned to Shayla. “Your gift of human blood pleases me.” With that said, he languidly walked back to the throne and sat. Aidan dropped a red pillow at the Lord’s feet. An insult I took with stride. On stiff legs, I took my place at his feet.
The final stage of the competition came. I didn’t pay attention. I had other things on my mind.
As I expected, Shayla’s physical prowess shone. Of the three candidates still standing, Shayla was the most impressive. It didn’t surprise me when Aidan chose her as his mate.
Either way, my fate had been sealed. I had become Lord Daison’s personal blood bank.