Demon Prince, Paranormal Nobles Book 3
By S.J. Frost
Published by MLR Press March 31, 2017
As a prince of demons, Sytri’s existence has been for one thing, power. He’s gained that in the demon realm, but his pursuit of it cost him something far greater…something he didn’t realize the value of until it was gone. When he first met vampire prince, Basil Warrick, in an instant he saw—and desired—to have once again all that he’d lost; friendship, companionship…love.
Basil has lived for more than three hundred years, and quietly carries the scars left by the vampire who turned him. Connecting with others has never been easy for him, but Sy’s sensual charm is more than he can resist. He knows Sy’s history of betrayal, and the demon is exactly what he shouldn’t want in his life, and yet, Sy is all he wants.
The return of an old enemy of Basil’s brings painful memories and danger to him, and a new enemy of Sy’s threatens to take away what he’s gaining in his life. If their lives are to be eternally bound, the two princes must overcome the threats and challenges before them.
There were far too many demons in this place. At least, for Sytri’s comfort. But then again, he’d never enjoyed palling around with his own kind unless it was a means to a crystal-clear end. Treacherous, deceitful, untrustworthy, that was most of demonkind, and he was… well, he didn’t used to be so different. He saw things in a new light now, though. He had for some time.
Sytri stood on the fringe of the Emperor’s great hall, observing rather than joining in the festivities. The Emperor’s Ball was nearing its peak, and so were many of the guests. Moving from partner to partner, there were no inhibitions between demons sharing and offering themselves for their pleasure and the pleasure of others. The ballroom floor was a mass of thrusting, heaving bodies, the instruments of the musicians barely audible over the moans and grunts. There were a few single pairings, but it wasn’t long before they eventually found themselves drawn into a group or joined by others.
It was a spectacle of tastelessness, in his opinion. Not that he hadn’t been known to partake in a fine orgy from time to time, but this was nothing more than a performance for attention, and to earn the pleasure of one who also wasn’t participating.
Sy lifted his gaze to the back of the ballroom. On a massive throne of ebony stone, accented with the bones and skulls of demons, the Emperor surveyed the room and watched the performers. The Emperor hadn’t ordered the orgy, hadn’t even hinted at wanting it, but he didn’t stop it either. The ones engaging were desperate to win his favor, to gain any scrap of attention he’d bestow upon them. Shadow and smoke swirled around the Emperor, making his expression and where his gaze fell hard to catch, but Sy noticed it was only cursory glances the Emperor gave those on the ballroom floor. Like himself, the Emperor was more interested in those not participating.
The high nobles. They were ones who had control over their base urges, not allowing themselves to be distracted in a room full of potential enemies. They were the strongest, the most confident, the most dangerous. They were the ones to be aware of…like himself.
From his vantage, Sy read fake smiles and false friendships. It was nearly every interaction in the room. If he could see it, then there was no doubt the Emperor could, and he was certain the Emperor was noting each interaction, mentally checking off who was loyal to him, and who may try to usurp the throne.
The Emperor’s glowing red gaze fell on him. Sy instantly bowed his head, touching his chest at his heart and gesturing toward the Emperor in a sign of respect. The Emperor nodded in acknowledgement, and his gaze moved on.
Sy couldn’t deny the relief that passed through him. Not being part of the in crowd did have its benefits. He had no allies, and therefore, was of little threat to the Emperor. It didn’t mean, though, he didn’t have enemies, and like the Emperor, he was using the occasion to try to deduce who they may be. It was the Emperor’s Annual Ball, an event for celebrating another year of peace in the demon realm, and for the Emperor to ensure that peace continued. Every titled and noble demon was in attendance…save one.
He cast his gaze at the stone doors leading into the ballroom, towering high above and opened wide for the guests to enter, but Sallos wasn’t there, or anywhere in the room. A tendril of anxiety moved through him, not for himself, but for Sal. To not attend the Emperor’s Ball was a slight against the supreme ruler of the demon realm, especially for one who had the high rank of duke, as Sal did. Of all the gatherings held by the nobles, this was the only one Sal attended. Until now, it seemed.
Regardless, why he was anxious and worried on Sal’s behalf was beyond him. Sal always did what he wanted, when he wanted, and be damned with the consequences. So if Sal got his fool self in trouble with the Emperor, that was Sal’s problem. Not his. He shouldn’t worry about him. He shouldn’t care.
And yet, he did.
Grumbling low in his throat, Sy lifted his glass of wine. He tried not to scrunch his face in distaste, but after having spent more time in the human realm recently, the food and drink of his realm was either bitter, sour, or tasteless to him.
Curse the human realm and Sal along with it. And he might as well add Sal’s witch, Calvin Blackwood, too. It was their fault that three human months ago he crossed into the mortal realm, summoned by the witch to heal Sal after being grievously injured by Count Amon. It was their fault that after that invigorating trip to the human realm, he’d craved more and continued to return, walking amongst human society, experiencing their food and entertainment, taking in the beauty and energy of their world. It was their fault that in seeing Sal again, speaking to him, touching him, emotions he’d thought conquered long ago rose within him, and while he knew physical intimacy would never again happen between them, he’d thought—and hoped—their friendship might be rekindled.
It didn’t seem the feeling was mutual, though. He’d only seen him once since the fight against Amon and that was from a distance as Sal manifested on Sy’s lands to check on his punishment of Amon. He’d had the count hung spread eagle in the arch of the gates leading to his castle with a sign reading “Traitor” around Amon’s neck. It was quite the spectacle and had brought every noble to his lands to mock Amon. But Sal didn’t mock the traitorous count. He only looked upon him for a moment, then turned and vanished without a word to anyone. The way Sal left, not even speaking to him, bothered him far more than it should have.
Along with the other plagues Sal and his witch had brought upon him, there was one more for which they were at fault. It was their fault he’d met the vampire and hadn’t been able to get him out of his mind since.
Sy tossed back the last of his wine. It might be little better than swill, but it was more potent than human drink, and maybe he could muddle his senses enough to not think of Basil Warrick and how after he’d met him, felt the vampire’s cool energy on his lips as he kissed Basil’s hand, he’d sought to learn more about him. His pursuit had only turned up Basil’s full name, confirmed his status among vampires as a prince, and a handful of his exploits that were gossip fodder among vampires, many of those exploits usually caused by Basil’s cousin and fellow vampire, Valentin Wyndham. It seemed Basil had done quite well in covering his tracks over the centuries and leaving little trace of himself.
A prince. It was a grand accomplishment for a vampire to have lived long enough to earn such a title. Among their kind, titles were granted by age, rather than by power as it was with demons, or birthright as with humans. For vampires in their first century, they were known as squires or more often were called common. Once a vampire reached one hundred years, they became knights. From his knowledge, that was as far as many got. As an eternal being, it was a hard concept for him to understand, but it seemed life itself wore down many vampires, along with the hazards of simply being creatures who were, in his opinion, slightly less fragile than humans.
For those few vampires who survived to their second century, they were then dubbed dukes or duchesses. Even fewer of those reached the status of prince or princess at their three hundredth year. There were apparently a few kings and queens who’d crossed four hundred years, and even rarer, the elders of five hundred years or more.
For Basil to have surpassed three hundred years showed great fortitude, determination, strength, and intelligence. How could he be anything less than intrigued by the vampire? He and Basil, they were both princes of their own kind. Add to it Basil’s voice of rich baritone, how his words rolled smoothly with a human’s British accent, his features of sculpted, elegant beauty, his wavy dark blond hair, and eyes of warm honey-brown, and he’d swear the vampire had entranced him. If such a thing were possible for a vampire to entrance a demon and for it to last three damn human months.
Sy scowled at his empty goblet. What he should do is cross to the human realm and…be unsuccessful in finding Basil. Again. In all his times crossing over, he hadn’t been able to locate him and if he did, then what would he do? Get into a fight with Sal? He doubted his ex would be approving of him making an advance toward Basil, since Sal was highly protective of his vampire friends and they of him. Damn, Sal. Even when not in his life, he stood in the way of his fun.
“Prince Sytri, you appear to need another drink. I’ve taken it upon myself to bring you one.”
Sy tensed inside, but was careful to not let it show on the outside. He turned slowly, lifting his gaze to meet the green eyes of King Ryloc. The demon king’s eyes weren’t a lovely shade of green, but rather more like that of putrid flesh. Two massive horns protruded upward off the top of his head, that was barren of hair. Ryloc’s ears were pointed, his shoulders broad and thick, as was the rest of his body, and he stood at least a head taller than Sy. Wings covered in leathery gray skin rose behind him.
Moving from shoulder to shoulder was Ryloc’s entity companion, a white scorpion known as Ishka. Its long legs clicked…clicked…clicked across Ryloc’s leather shoulder armor. Watching the arachnid in its small form was disturbing, but Sy had seen it in its full size, large enough for Ryloc to ride upon. Sy found himself wishing for his wolf entity, Lucien, and at the same time, glad he wasn’t there. If a confrontation happened, and Ishka grew in size, its venom was so potent it could destroy the energy of another entity. It was better that he’d left Lucien in his castle where the wolf was safe.
Sy kept his gaze steady and cool on Ryloc’s face. He had to tread carefully. He knew of Ryloc’s interest in him and so far, he’d been successful at sidestepping his advances without causing insult, but he didn’t know how much longer he could continue to do so.
Sy reached for the goblet Ryloc extended to him and took it, careful to not let his fingers graze Ryloc’s. “That was most thoughtful of you, King Ryloc.”
Ryloc grinned, but said nothing, his gaze intense upon him.
Sy’s instincts blared with warning. He put the goblet to his lips and tipped it up, feigning a drink.
“I assure you,” Ryloc began, “my intention was wholly selfish.”
Letting his lips turn in a quick smile, Sy glanced away. Here he was in a room full of demons and not a single ally was to be found among them. Since the last of the Great Wars, when he won his position as prince, he’d gained some respect, but not enough. Many of the other princes and kings felt he was boosted into the position by Sal. It wasn’t wholly untrue. They’d been exceptional together on the battlefield—and the bedchamber—but to earn his title meant he needed to separate from Sal, prove his strength and cunning on his own. He did that by betraying him.
Only, the betrayal wasn’t all it appeared on the surface. The princes and kings saw Sal as a threat and they wanted to eliminate him rather than allow him to come into more power. The greater the power Sal earned, the greater the threat he would become, and they sought to stop him before that point. Sy knew the plot to assassinate Sal, but he also knew if he could crush Sal in another way, it would be enough to prove he was no longer a threat. He’d joined forces with Prince Tayish and baited Sal into a trap between his and Tayish’s legions.
And, he let Sal go.
He called it an error in communication that his lines opened up, allowing an escape route for Sal and most of his legions to slip through and retreat. But there were others who saw it for what it was, a ruse to let him gain power while saving his lover. It didn’t matter to him what others thought, though. The plan worked for the most part. Sal’s spirit was crushed by his betrayal and he ceased fighting. For himself, he was granted his princehood, while Sal was upped in rank to duke. The only part that didn’t work was after all this time, the other high nobles were cordial to him, but they didn’t accept him.
Standing here now, Ryloc leering at him, he realized how alone he was. No lover. No companion. No friend. No one he could trust.
Ryloc gripped Sy by the upper arm, turning him toward doors leading outside. “Let’s step out where it’s more private.”
Sy planted himself in place. “Actually, I was about to bid my farewell to the Emperor and return to my lands.”
“It wasn’t a request, Prince Sytri.” Ryloc jerked Sy to his side.
Sy stumbled, but didn’t fight Ryloc. For one, he knew Ryloc was stronger than him. Second, Ryloc had powerful allies and some of them were looking in their direction with smirks that spoke of their delight at seeing Ryloc leading him away. Third, he was smarter than Ryloc and since he had no allies, he would have to rely on that to get away from him.
They stepped through the doors to near darkness. Above, the rusty sky was streaked in black clouds. The air was hot and dry, not a breeze to rustle the scraggly trees in what was once a magnificent garden. Unlike himself or Sal, the Emperor had little interest in bringing the lands scorched by demon power back to health. The garden had been transformed ages ago into a maze of boulders and rocks, the rows and alcoves allowing for privacy.
Sy didn’t hesitate as Ryloc led him toward the maze, but rather kept pace with quick, confident strides. This could work to his advantage. The privacy could cover any strike he had to make against the demon king.
“I hear you’ve been frequenting the human realm,” Ryloc said.
“I travel there every now and then.”
“Do you have a reason for doing so?”
Sy looked up at him, allowing a sensual smirk to cross his lips. “Pleasure.”
Ryloc’s eyes lit with lust, and Sy could sense it rising off him. This might be his way out. It would be a dangerous game, but by arousing Ryloc, he might be able to knock him off guard enough to get the upper hand.
Ryloc’s grip on Sy’s arm tightened. He veered around a corner, swinging Sy with him, and shoved him. It was a dead end. Sy faltered a couple of steps before catching his balance against the boulder closing off the passageway. He moved quick to turn, but not fast enough. Ryloc slammed into him from behind, pinning him between the boulder and his body that was equally hard. Pressing his hips against Sy’s ass, Ryloc groaned low.
Rage surged through Sy. So much for his first plan. Getting Ryloc off guard and delivering a fast strike was out now. The only way to stop Ryloc from having him would be to fight or die, or die in the fighting. Either way, he would not let this vile cretin have him.
“Get off me!” Sy lashed up and back, striking with his claws at Ryloc’s head. He hooked into flesh and tore down. Blackish blood coated his claws as he pulled them away, but he took only a moment to register it. He spun, knowing he needed to use the surprise of his attack.
Ryloc stumbled back, a hand to his head, his fingers slick with his own blood, but the wound was already sealing. Sy lunged, slashing up from Ryloc’s left hip, across his bare chest to his right shoulder. Ryloc reeled back, avoiding the strike, but Sy pressed forward. He closed the fingers of one hand to bring his claws together in a sharp point, ready to drive his hand into Ryloc’s abdomen.
Gray smoke erupted between them, the pungent scent of sulfur filling the air. Sy propelled himself backward as Ishak appeared, already to his waist in size and growing. Startled by the scorpion, he knew he’d lost his advantage and saw it as Ryloc sprang over Ishak. The demon king hammered his fist into Sy’s cheek. Sy whipped to the left from the force, but didn’t go down. He began to straighten, gathering himself for another attack, despite his head spinning from the blow.
Clamping onto one of Sy’s horns, Ryloc swung him toward the boulder and pushed Sy’s head forward. The side of Sy’s face smashed against the rock. His vision sparked with white pain. He managed to stay on his feet, but only because of Ryloc’s hold onto his horn and leaning on the boulder.
“Insolent bastard,” Ryloc growled in Sy’s ear, gripping a fistful of his hair with his other hand. “You dare strike at me? Fight against me? I’ve been patient waiting to have you. That waiting ends tonight.”
A deep, rumbling voice spoke from above. “No, I don’t think it does.”
Sy pulled himself out of his shock and pain. Slowly, he cranked his head up as much as he could in Ryloc’s hold.
Sallos hung in the air above and in front of them, his great crimson wings beating lightly to keep him aloft. His long red hair fanned around his face and shoulders like living flame in the breeze of his wind. From the sides of his head, two large, thick horns curled like a ram’s. His arms were folded across his bare chest, and his lavender eyes shone in the dark.
“Duke Sallos,” Ryloc snarled. “This is no concern of yours.”
Sal touched down on the top of the boulder. “That’s two for two you’re wrong on, chief. Sytri’s my friend, and he doesn’t look real happy right now.” He hopped off the boulder, landing gracefully beside them. He locked his gaze into Ryloc’s. “And that doesn’t make me happy. So how about we make it so the only unhappy one here is you, and you let him go. And call off your fucking bug, too.”
Ryloc maintained his grip on Sy’s hair and kept a dark glare on Sal.
“Not wanting to back down, huh? I get it. I do. Your pride will take a hell of a blow. But let me remind you, the Emperor has one rule for his annual ball, and that’s an accord of peace. You’ve already broken that by fighting with him. You want to break it even further by forcing yourself on Sytri and getting into a fight with me? If you do, you might as well just walk up to the Emperor and piss in his wine.” Sal held up both hands. “But hey, if you want to take on the Emperor, you go on with your dumbass self.”
In a single quick move, Ryloc released Sy. He held out his hand. “Ishak.” The scorpion vanished and reappeared with a small puff of gray smoke, small in size and in Ryloc’s palm. Ryloc lifted his hand to his shoulder, letting the scorpion clamber on. He faced Sal, leaning his face down to him until only inches were between them. “You’ve always been the most infuriating pain in the ass.”
Sal shrugged. “Yeah, I get that a lot.”
“You stand there, so smug. I wouldn’t be if I were you.” Ryloc grinned in a show of teeth. “What, without your little witch to fight your battles for you.”
“You say that like I should be insulted, and yet, I can sense the fear in you. And yeah, he’s not in DemonLand with me, but guess what? I’ve gave him the true names of the demons who might cause me trouble before I came to this ball, in case I don’t return when I told him I would. Do you want to test it to see if your name’s on the list?”
Ryloc’s lips twitched with anger and restrained words.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Sal flicked his hand out to the side in a shooing motion. “Run along now and take your bug with you.”
His glare lingering on Sal, Ryloc stepped back from Sy and stormed toward the open end of the passage.
Sal spun in place on his heel, facing Ryloc’s back. “Oh, one other thing.”
Ryloc glanced over his shoulder.
“You’ll probably not want to bother Prince Sytri again. Doesn’t seem to me he appreciates your attention, and I’d hate to have to kill you.” Sal snorted and started laughing. “Sorry, sorry, I tried to keep a straight face, but I couldn’t. That was a lie. I’d actually love to kill you.”
Turning slowly, Ryloc squared his shoulders, his upper lip curling as he spoke. “You’re threatening me, Duke Sallos?”
“No, no, no, silly,” Sal said, still laughing softly. The humor and smile dropped fast from him, and he jabbed his clawed index finger in Ryloc’s direction. “I’m making you a motherfucking promise.”
“I’ll remember it.”
“I hope you do.”
With a final sneer, Ryloc swung around and vanished around the corner of the labyrinth.
Silence fell across the area. Sy moved his gaze from where Ryloc had departed to Sal, staring at his profile, stunned that his former friend and lover had come to his aid. Or maybe, not such a former friend from what Sal had said.
“You’re welcome,” Sal said, still looking toward the open end of the passage.
Sy straightened his posture and ran a hand over his hair to smooth it. “I didn’t say thank you.”
“No, and I didn’t expect that you would, so I figured I’d pretend you actually gave a shit.”
“You’re not entirely correct. I do have some appreciation for your help, but I had things under control.”
Sal brought his gaze to him. “Yeah, it looked like it.”
In Sal’s lavender gaze, Sy could tell Sal saw right through him, that he knew the truth of how his pride wouldn’t let him confess his full gratitude. It wasn’t a surprise. Of any being in existence, none knew him better than Sallos.
“You better watch your back with Ryloc,” Sal said.
“You may be the one who needs to do so more now.”
Sal waved his hand in a disregarding motion. “He can’t touch me and he knows it. All he can do is talk shit.”
“Because of your witch,” Sy said more than asked.
“You got it. If you thought he was a badass when he whooped Amon’s ass, he’s even stronger now. Been studying his craft hardcore, and I think he wouldn’t only be able to banish a demon, he could completely destroy one’s energy if he threw his full weight into it.” Sal knocked Sy on the shoulder with the back of his hand. “You should get yourself a witch. They’re great!”
Sy smirked at him. “I don’t need to. Yours still owes me a favor.”
The good-humored shine in Sal’s eyes faded, annoyance taking its place. “Yeah, about that. How about we call it even for me saving your ass just now, and you release Calvin from that?”
“If only I could, dear Sallos. You know the rules and they must be followed. You can’t pay his favor without his consent.”
Exhaling a heavy sigh, Sal turned away from him, walking to leave the maze. “Yeah, I know. But he’ll never do that.”
Sy moved after him. “If it counts for anything, I’ll ensure his safety as best I can with any favor I call in from him.”
“No, that doesn’t count for a whole hell of a lot, because I know whenever you do call upon him, it’s going to be a bad situation.”
Barely restraining from rolling his eyes, Sy caught up to Sal and fell into stride beside him. “Honestly, I’m surprised you managed to tear yourself away from him long enough to make an appearance here.”
“I’m not stupid enough to ignore an invitation from the Emperor. But I’ve already greeted him and presented my gifts to him. I gave him two barrels of wine from the human realm, and he seemed pretty damn happy with them. So now I’m going to make one more quick appearance, then I’m out of here.”
“And back to the human realm to watch over the demons you took there a fortnight ago, I presume.”
Sal gave him a sidelong glance.
Sy gave in and rolled his eyes. “Everyone knows. You can’t take seven demons over without others noticing. But what no one knows is, why.”
“Not true. The Emperor knows and he was amused by it.”
Sy continued to stare at him as they walked.
Sal huffed and stopped outside the doors leading into the ballroom. “They’re guards in my vampire friends’ blood house.”
“Prince Basil opened a blood house? In Savannah?”
Sal narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, and Valentin. But you called out Baz. Why?”
A smirk curved a corner of Sy’s lips. “It’s nothing for you to concern yourself over.”
“The fuck it isn’t.” Sal poked his index finger, the claw withdrawn, into Sy’s chest. “Stay away from my vampire.”
“Yours? Are you lovers with him, along with your witch?”
“Then again I say, my intentions are no concern of yours.”
Sal kept his gaze locked with Sy’s for a long moment before slowly looking away to the large clock in the ballroom. “We’ll finish this conversation another time. The clock’s ticking before demons start getting jerked out of here and summoned to the human realm.”
“That wasn’t a bluff? You really did give your witch a list of your enemies?”
“You know me, Sy. I don’t bluff.”
“And am I on that list?”
“You don’t need to be. He knows you’re a guaranteed pain in my ass.”
“Then why did you bother helping me against Ryloc?”
“Because no one deserves what he was going to do you. And consider it one more step toward things being made even between us. It was the least I could do for you working with Calvin to heal me, and for betraying me to save me…which I still can’t wrap my head around your fucked up logic with that, but whatever.” Sal began walking toward the ballroom.
Sy watched him go, a slow smile rising to his lips. Whether they acknowledged it or not, that day when Calvin summoned him into the human realm to help Sal had changed things between them. The trick would be, accepting it, on both their parts. He lifted his voice and called, “Sallos, thank you.”
Without slowing his pace or looking back, Sal nodded his head.
Sy clasped his hands behind his back and under his wings, strolling into the ballroom. So, the rumor was true that Sal had taken demons to the human realm. But to be guards in a vampire blood house? Now that was a surprise. A good one.
In his previous visits, the human energy muddled his senses where he couldn’t track Sal’s presence. He’d found the witch’s brother’s home again, easy enough since he’d been summoned there, he could always find a place once he manifested there, but the vampire prince disappointingly never visited it. At least, not when he was in the area. He’d thought if he could locate Sal’s home in the human realm, he would have a better chance of finding Basil, but again, it proved a high challenge.
His last visit to the human realm had been a little more than a fortnight ago, right before Sal took his demons over. Seven demons, even lesser demons, in one area…it would be like a bonfire of demonic energy. He would be able to find them with no trouble, and that would also mean finding Prince Basil.
Basil sat at the side of the bar, the spot giving him full view of the barroom, a glimpse into the sitting room, and most importantly, the door leading into the blood house. No trouble had walked into the establishment in the two weeks since it’d opened, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t at any moment. In fact, he expected it to, eventually.
On the other side of the barroom, a fire crackled, since a bit of a chill hung in the Georgia February night. Before the fireplace was a small sitting area with plush chairs and a loveseat, tall bookshelves to the side holding a variety of classic literature and popular modern titles. Three booths filled the remaining half of the wall until it met with an open doorway leading into the sitting room.
Muted conversations buzzed through the place, dripping in flirtatious undertones as vampires wooed their chosen donor for the night. Every donor was occupied, as they had been since the doors of Ambrosia opened, and it made Basil think he may need to hire more. Being the only blood house in Savannah, he’d anticipated it’d do well, but it was outperforming even his high expectations.
The previous blood house in the area had been more of a prison, turning humans into slaves for their blood and bodies. Whereas he gave his donors the freedom to come and go as they pleased, not requiring them to live in the house. His cousin, Valentin, had been concerned a donor would alert authorities to their presence and existence of vampires, but he’d put each donor through a rigorous interview process. That, along with being a metaphorical fly in their minds to reveal their true thoughts had ensured he selected the most trustworthy people to become donors. Not to mention, the pay and pleasure they received made it a job worthy of protecting to them.
From the instant success of Ambrosia to the quality of donors he’d selected, he’d shown his idea in opening the blood house to be an exemplary one. How he did love to be right…especially when it came to money. The only thing better was proving Valentin wrong. In this case, he’d done both. Valentin hadn’t been fully supportive of the idea of opening a blood house, but recently had conceded that Basil had been right and the entire enterprise was going brilliantly. It was one of the most glorious moments in their more than three hundred years of existence. For him. Not so much for Valentin.
Basil lifted his glass of wine, taking a long drink. The bar formed an L, the long end running the length of the barroom, the short end, where he sat, was opposite from the heavy steel entrance door. The door didn’t match the rest of the Victorian ambiance, touched with Gothic influence, but it was necessary. A wooden door wouldn’t withstand against a blood-crazed vampire, and should they have to lock the place down, the steel door would create a longer delay in keeping out a deranged vampire…or in, if they were going to eliminate the problem themselves.
Also as part of the remodeling of the grand old building, having stood since 1755, he and Valentine had “decorative” steel bars placed on the windows. They didn’t have a security system. The last thing they needed was human authorities rushing into a situation, especially since no human would be able to handle any situation that arose within the blood house, but they did have their own security.
Flanking the door were two lesser demons, brought over from the demon realm by Sal. Sal’s role in the blood house was to manage security, so of course that meant he’d pawned the responsibility off on another, his most trusted demon, Elek.
As if Basil’s thoughts had summoned him, Elek walked out of the sitting room and toward the door. The lesser demon was lovely, and though he and the other demons Sal brought over adjusted their true form to appear human, Elek hadn’t changed his hair color from shimmering white and there was no need for him to adjust his eye color from their crystal blue. In the time since Elek and the others had come over, they’d acclimated to this world and learned how to act human. Or as Sal said, how to have some damn manners.
The demons provided a level of security that no one and nothing else could. He and Valentin were formidable on their own, having lived long enough to earn the title of princes in vampire society. Very few vampires were fool enough to challenge them. But sometimes, a vampire wasn’t in their right mind. Going too long without feeding could lead to a craze, a lust for blood where getting it became the only focus, and they would crush anything standing in their way of obtaining it, even if it meant killing the one—or many—they were taking blood from.
A human didn’t have a hope against a blood-crazed vampire. His kind were faster, stronger, could use persuasion and compulsion to bend a human to their will. Vampires could read human thoughts, place a haze on their mind to make the human unaware they were being fed from. They were hunters, humans their prey, and when the craze took hold, a vampire was nothing less than rabid.
And that was why having a sanctuary for vampires to feed was invaluable. Certainly, not all vampires came to blood houses, but knowing a quality establishment was close provided peace of mind. Should a hunt go wrong, a guaranteed source for blood would still be available. Along with that, it was a place for them to mingle, socialize with their own kind. He’d noted several members of Ambrosia hadn’t yet fed from a donor, but came to the blood house for nothing more than companionship. A vampire’s life was often a solitary one. Being trapped by the sun, only able to step into its light for a limited time before the sun’s poisoning weakened them to the point of death, made forming relationships within human society challenging. Finding other vampires who were enjoyable company could be even more so. But a blood house provided both.
He’d been spared a solitary life when not long after being made into a vampire, he’d turned Valentin…since in his infinite brilliance, Valentin got himself into a duel over a young man he had no feelings for and thanks to being a miserable shot, ended up with a mortal wound. It was, in the long run, the best twist of fate life had ever brought to him. He couldn’t image having lived these past centuries alone. Or worse, with the monster who’d turned him.
Basil snatched his glass off the bar and drained it, the action snapping him out of his thoughts, though his memories continued to linger like ghosts in the dark corners of his mind, waiting, wanting to be acknowledged and come into the light. He wouldn’t allow it. He would keep them shadowed and locked away, as he always had.
The door behind the bar swung open, Nathan stepping out carrying a plate with a cheeseburger and fries on it. Trotting ahead of him, with a small bone in his mouth, was a brown and white terrier mix, Buster. The little dog went over to a dog bed in the back corner behind the bar, turned in a few circles, and flopped down, gnawing on the bone.
Along with his younger brother, Calvin, Nathan was now employed in Ambrosia. Calvin handled the books and accounts, his talent for math and organizational skills only surpassed by his skills as a witch. He would be lost without Calvin’s help in maintaining the records…and the demons. While the demons were all respectful, the fact that their lord’s lover was a witch who could banish any of them back to the demon realm did help keep them on their best behavior. For the most part.
Calvin had no trouble adapting to working in the blood house, having already been familiar with the existence of “other” beings. For Nathan, it was a bigger adjustment. After all, the man had studied to become a priest before his health failed him. Then to have it restored by the powers of his witch brother’s demon lover, well, that was a big enough blow to his reality. Add in working for two vampire princes in a den of blood and sex, and it was amazing the man still had full control over his faculties.
Nathan was, however, one of the biggest surprises to them all in how he handled things. It seemed being duped by a demon in the guise of a priest, only to be saved by a demon who he thought was an enemy and by his brother’s witchcraft, had taught him it was best to judge not.
And Nathan turned out to be a pleasure to have around. He managed the bar and cooked for the donors during the night. It was a far cry from his previous path, but as Nathan said, he wasn’t sure the priesthood was his calling anymore. To Basil, it seemed Nathan was trying to rectify his faith with his experiences.
From the sitting room, one of the donors, Steven, hurried toward the bar, the hungry gaze of a vampiress, following him. Flashing a bright smile, Steven fell toward the food, snatching the burger and taking a bite. “My hero,” he said to Nathan, around a mouthful of food. “I’m fucking starving.”
Nathan shook his head in an elder brother way of disapproval. “You never eat before you come in. You should take better care of yourself.”
“Yeah, I know, but you’re such a good cook and the food here is free.”
Basil tsked. “Now, Steven, don’t make me tell Sebastian you need another course in diet, and how to maintain your health as a donor.”
Steven startled and snapped his head toward Basil. “Prince Basil, I didn’t see you sitting there.”
Basil grinned at him over the rim of his wineglass. “That’s me, always lurking in the shadows.”
“But that’s a shame, because you’re so handsome in the light.” As the words left him, a slight flush rose to Steven’s cheeks as if he were embarrassed by them.
Basil offered him a warm smile. “You are charming, dear. Certainly, Lady Ava thinks so.”
Steven glanced back to the sitting room and the vampiress. “Yeah, she insisted I eat before going upstairs.”
“Very thoughtful of her and intuitive in sensing you needed sustenance.” Basil looked into the sitting room and caught Ava’s gaze, bowing his head in acknowledgement to her, she returning the gesture. “Is she treating you well?”
“Yeah, she’s really nice.”
“And are you comfortable serving her?”
“Yeah.” Steven paused. “I mean, you know I’m cool with men and women, so that’s no problem being with her, but she’s getting a little on the possessive side, so I’m starting to feel like I have to turn down other clients.”
“You don’t have to feel that way. Unfortunately, vampires can form an attachment to a donor they favor and it can, at times, become…intense. If you feel it’s becoming so with her and you don’t welcome it, tell me or Valentin. Or Sebastian, if you’re more comfortable speaking to him about it. Valentin and I will handle the situation. I promise you.”
“That’s good to hear. I don’t think it’s to that level, but knowing you’ve got my back makes me feel more comfortable.”
“Always, darling. Your comfort and safety are what’s most important to us. More so than our clients.”
Steven exhaled a heavy breath that seemed to release some of his tension. “Thank you, Prince Basil.” He collected his plate and turned around. “I better get back in there. Have a good night.”
“You as well.”
Nathan picked up a bottle of wine and went to Basil, pouring his glass full. “He likes you.”
“Of course he does. I’m a very likeable fellow.”
Nathan leaned on the bar and grinned at him. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I know, but I was ever so gracefully dodging your insinuation. He’s young. Infatuation comes easily to one his age. And please tell me you’re not succumbing to the same concerns as Sal and Valentin about what I may or may not be doing with my cock.”
Nathan laughed and held up his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Hey, all I was saying is he’s a nice guy and you could do worse.”
“Good, because I’ll wager I’ve been laid far more recently than you have.”
Nathan sighed and closed his eyes, rubbing them. “It’s a wager you’d win, I’m sure.”
A smirk curved Basil’s lips as he lifted his glass for a sip. “Now that the priesthood is out of your head, are other…thoughts filling it?”
Opening one eye, Nathan peered at him. “I’m not having this conversation. Again. With you…or my brother…or Sal. The only ones who don’t seem concerned with getting me laid are Valentin and Sebastian.”
“That’s because we’re far more concerned with laying on each other.”
At the sound of Valentin’s voice, Basil glanced back to him and Sebastian walking through the doorway that led to the offices. Valentin had his long, black hair bound in a dark blue ribbon at the base of his neck. His eyes of frosted blue had a teasing shine in them, and a grin rested on his lips. These days, Valentin’s smiles came easily, and the cause was the beautiful young human at his side.
Sebastian leaned into Valentin as they walked, his arm around Valentin’s waist. His golden blond hair hung to his shoulders, his bangs brushed to hang long to one side. He looked at Valentin, love shining in his bright blue eyes.
Seeing them together brought Basil immense joy. In all their years, he could say without doubt, this was the happiest he’d ever seen his cousin. Even when Valentin believed he was madly in love with Malcolm, he hadn’t shone the way he did with Sebastian. And of course, that devious little shit had shown his true colors.
Or, did he?
Basil tried to stop his thoughts from continuing down that path. So Malcolm had aided Sebastian from being killed by that leech, Wesley, and he’d given Nathan warning to not trust the demon, Amon, in his guise as a priest. It didn’t mean Malcolm was any closer to becoming a decent and trustworthy being.
Valentin and Sebastian stopped beside Basil. Sebastian slid onto a stool, turning his gaze to him. “You trying to get Nathan hooked up again?”
“No, vice versa. He was trying to ensure I was well aware of Steven’s interest, but you know the golden rule I set in place of not sleeping with any of our donors. And speaking of Steven, you need to talk to him again on maintaining adequate calories, protein, and hydration.”
“He skipped eating before coming in again, didn’t he?”
Basil nodded. “That he did.”
Sebastian shook his head. “I know he’s pinching every penny trying to support his sister and her kid, but he’s not going to be able to do that if he can’t take care of himself for this job.”
Valentin moved to the corner of the bar and the absinthe fountain. Placing a glass under one of the spouts, he opened the tap, releasing a stream of the green liquid. “You’ll need to impress upon him how he’ll be able to do that easily with what he’ll make here. It’s only been a fortnight, and he’s jeopardizing it.”
“I thought I did the other day, but I’ll give it another try.” Sebastian stretched one arm over his head, covering his mouth with the back of his other hand as he yawned. “Tomorrow. When I’ve got a few more active brain cells.”
Valentin set his glass on the bar and slid behind him, resting his hands on Sebastian’s shoulders and massaging them. “You’ve taken on too much, between managing the donors and starting college.”
Groaning, Sebastian tipped his head back against Valentin’s chest, smiling up at him. “But I love it all. And I especially love the ways you help me relax.”
Calvin stepped through the doorway from the offices, grinning at them. “You’re both lucky Sal’s not here or he’d be gagging right now.”
Basil gave Calvin a welcoming smile. Nathan and Calvin might be brothers, but they were opposites in more ways than their faiths. Calvin was shorter, his build smaller, his black hair perpetually tousled where his older brother’s was always neatly in place. Nathan’s eyes were deep green, and Calvin’s blue eyes were no longer behind the glasses he once needed, thanks to the side effect of Sal granting him immortal life as a favor returned for Calvin saving his. A silver pentacle hung around Calvin’s neck, a golden cross around Nathan’s. But despite the brothers’ differences, the one thing that they both held in common was their love for each other.
Basil murmured into his wineglass in reply to Calvin. “As it is, I’m glad my feet are up on the lower bar so they don’t get mired in the syrupy muck those two emit.”
Valentin turned a smirk on him. “And yet you failed to keep your jealousy from showing.”
“Jealousy? I think not, dear cousin. My heart swells with satisfaction every time I look at the books. I need nothing else for my pleasure.”
Calvin sat on a stool at the corner of the bar. “Then you’ll be borderline orgasmic when you check them out tonight.”
“Well, at least he has something to provide that for him,” Valentin said.
Basil fixed Valentin with a glare, but Valentin’s smirk remained in place.
The temperature in the barroom plummeted. The fire blazed and shot up the chimney. With a burst of energy, Sal manifested in his human form, his black crocodile entity, Beezle, slung around his shoulders. Some of the vampires startled at his sudden appearance, the donors speaking quickly to assuage their concerns. A wicked smirk played on Sal’s lips as he seemed well aware of what he’d done…since he’d done it before.
Basil lifted his hand, brandishing three fingers. “That’s the third time you’ve done that. Think you can tone down the flamboyance just a tad, hmmm?”
Sal lifted his chin and strutted toward the bar. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, my bitey little friend. And really, telling me to tone it down? You might as tell a peacock to stop being beautiful. He can’t.”
Speaking through clenched teeth, Basil retorted, “He can if his feathers get plucked.”
Gently drawing Beezle off his shoulders, Sal placed him on the bar. “How rude. And after a couple of days ago, I did you the favor of knocking the idea out of Sy’s head from coming over to bother you. No gratitude at all, I swear.”
Basil snapped his head toward Sal. “What?”
Ignoring him, Sal went to Calvin, seated on a stool with his back to the back, his elbows propped on his behind him. He caught Calvin under the chin, each of them smiling as their gazes met. “Hello, witchy poo.” Lowering his head to Calvin, he touched their lips together in a passionate and hungry kiss.
Basil huffed and rolled his eyes.
Sebastian leaned toward him. “Once he lets Calvin come up for air, you’ll probably have about thirty seconds to ask Sal whatever you were going to before all his blood is centered in his dick, if it isn’t there already.”
“My guess is you’re at least ten seconds too late,” Valentin said.
Beezle wandered across the bar toward Nathan, peering up at him with his brilliant yellow eyes.
“You want something to eat?” Nathan asked the crocodile. “Because I need an excuse to go back into the kitchen.” He scooped up Beezle and aimed for the swinging door behind the bar. “If anyone needs anything, yell for me.”
“We will,” Basil called. With Nathan gone, he glanced at Valentin and Sebastian. “I don’t think he’s entirely comfortable yet watching his brother make out with a demon.”
“I think it’s that he’s not entirely comfortable with the feelings it sparks within him and his own desires,” Valentin said.
“I’ll go with both,” Sebastian added.
Drawing back from the kiss, Sal caressed Calvin’s cheek. “You done with your work?”
“Yeah, I just wrapped up. How were things in DemonLand?”
“Good. Quiet. No issues with King Douchebag and no rumors of retaliation.” Sal grinned. “He knows who’s got my back.”
Calvin laid his hands on Sal’s waist. “I like that.”
“Me too. One more perk of having a badass witch for a husband.” Sal nodded toward the door. “Let’s get out of here.”
Basil shot his hand into the air, waving it. “Excuse me. What did you mean about blocking Sy from bothering me?”
Sal flicked his hand in a dismissive motion. “A couple of days ago, I was in DemonLand to make an appearance at the Emperor’s Ball and helped him out of a bad situation. He, of course, wouldn’t admit to needing my help, but since he was about to have a demon king force himself on him, it looked that way to me. Anyway, you came up and he seemed to have some interest in you, and I told him to get the idea out of his head.”
His mouth slightly agape, Basil stared at him. “He said he had interest in me?”
“Not exactly, but Sy never says exactly what’s on his mind. He’s usually got at least ten responses for one question. Anyhow, you don’t need to worry about him. I took care of it.” Sal slung his arm around Calvin’s shoulders. “Ready to go?”
Calvin hopped off the stool, putting his arm around Sal’s waist. “Yeah, let’s go.” He glanced back at everyone. “See you guys back home.”
Basil called his farewell, along with Valentin and Sebastian.
Nearing the door, Sal snapped his fingers, sending a resounding click through the barroom. Beezle manifested in a pop of black smoke around Sal’s shoulders, a cooked hamburger patty in his mouth.
“Ew, seriously?” Sal said. “You are not eating that on my shoulder and getting grease all over my shirt and hair.” He pulled Beezle off his shoulders, slinging him over his forearm as Beezle chomped and snapped up the meat. One of the demon guards opened the door for Sal and Calvin to pass through, and they disappeared into the night beyond.
Drinking the last of his absinthe, Valentin placed his glass on the bar and reached for Sebastian’s hand. “I think we’re going to follow their example and find some dinner for Sebastian. Can you manage on your own?”
Basil saluted him with his wineglass. “Absolutely. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Sebastian looped his arm through Valentin’s and glanced back at Basil. “If anything comes up or you need me for the donors, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I won’t, darling.”
The guards opened the door once again for them to depart, closing it after them.
Basil took another drink of wine, trying to wrap his mind around what Sal had said…and the disappointment that came with it. The latter troubled him, but then, so had all the thoughts—and dreams—he’d had of Prince Sytri since meeting him.
One brief meeting with the demon, and he couldn’t banish him from his mind. He’d tried. Sy was everything he didn’t need. Arrogant. Deceptive. Dangerous. Seductive. Gorgeous…
The final two words conjured Sy’s image to Basil’s mind, the demon prince standing tall and slender. He’d moved with the stalking grace of a master predator. His ebony hair had hung long down his back, and when Sy locked his golden gaze on him, he’d found it nearly impossible to look away. The demon’s face was achingly beautiful; every word he spoke seemed to hold sensuality.
And, he was Sal’s former lover. Who’d betrayed and nearly killed him. Though, from Sy’s side, his intentions had been good, if not self-serving. Either way, it showed he wasn’t one to be trusted or taken lightly.
Basil took a deep breath. Damn it. He wondered—and not for the first time—if his attraction was side effect of having tasted Sal’s demon blood. Certainly, he’d never thought of taking a demon for a lover before. But to be fair, the only demon he’d ever interacted with was Sal, and lust was never something that’d sparked between them.
Not like what he kept trying to extinguish in his thoughts and emotions toward Sy.
It seemed it wasn’t something he had to worry about now. As Sal said, he took care of it. And that was a good thing. If only he could bring more conviction into believing so.
Copyright 2017 by S.J. Frost and MLR Press