My Heart is Within You
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by Marguerite Labbe
Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Erotic Romance
Description: The power of heart and soul holds the key to the survival of the last of the ancient vampires. Kristair is running out of time. His race has faded away, prey to delusion and deterioration, and his only chance to live long enough to find a cure is to bind his psyche to a human vessel in a long forgotten ritual. Kristair's chosen vessel is Jacob Corvin, a man of passionate stubbornness and fierce loyalty; he has captured Kristair's fantasies so completely that he is both the vampire's greatest strength and most crippling weakness. Drawing upon Jacob's spirit and Kristair's resolve, they each bind a portion of their souls to one other. For as long as Jacob carries Kristair's heart within him, the vampire can continue his quest. Just when they have hope, their mission is threatened by The Syndicate, a group of younger vampires who attempt to force Kristair to teach them his secrets before he disappears like the rest of the ancients. Battling both The Syndicate's attacks and his unexpected need and love for Jacob, Kristair's strength begins to fade, forcing him to make a decision that will change his and Jacob's lives forever.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
19 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [433 KB]
Reading time: 288-404 min.
I was later than I had wished to be and the football game was well under way at Heinz Field. Virginia had the ball, though they were not advancing very far with their opportunity. The stadium was crowded with students cheering and jeering in raucous abandonment while the alumni and faculty members of the University of Pittsburgh were a trifle more sedate in their support. I found my seat in one of the lower tiers and sat down next to a tall woman whose attention was focused on the paperback in her hands, much to my amusement. Why she suggested meeting here I didn't understand. Even after eight years she surprised me with unsettling frequency.
"I thought you'd never get here." Kayla tucked a strand of honey-brown hair behind her ear before leaning over to drop a kiss on my cheek.
"I was unavoidably delayed." I gave the western horizon a significant glance, ignoring the teasing dance in her eyes. The scoreboard showed the time winding down to the end of the second quarter. Pittsburgh was already ahead by two touchdowns against Virginia, who had managed a field goal. My brow furrowed. I'd missed half the game and there wouldn't be another opportunity to watch another until homecoming.
"It's been dead boring." Kayla stuffed her Patterson novel into her bag. "Sometimes you surprise me, Kris. I never would've taken you for a sports freak."
I leaned forward, propping my elbows on my knees, my eyes intent on our defense crushing Virginia's attempt to move the ball up the field. "I like football," I said. "It reminds me of the battle games I used to play." In a whole other life and time that had long since faded away until it seemed as if it belonged to another person. "It's a very elemental sport, sometimes brutal." I cast the young woman next to me a glance. "It's a game for warriors even though humanity has grown soft."
Kayla rolled her eyes and held up one slim hand. "If you start comparing quarterbacks to generals I'm getting up and leaving."
"Interesting analogy, but I'll keep my peace." My eyes scanned the crowd, weighing those around me. "So why did you suggest meeting here? You've resisted all my previous efforts to draw you into the sport."
Kayla shrugged nonchalantly, though a brief shadow flickered over her elfin face. She tucked her arm through mine and made a pretense of studying the game below. "Can't a girl enjoy an evening out with her favorite father figure?"
I had known Kayla for too long to be fooled by her casual demeanor. She was worried. I thought I had been clever and had managed to mask my decline from her. I should've known better. A familiar thread of apprehension wended its way through me as I looked down at my hands. They looked the same as they had for uncounted centuries. There were no visible symptoms for people to notice. Most wouldn't suspect I was dying in slow degrees.
My enjoyment of the game was interrupted by the anxiety that followed me every single night. It was past time for me to find a new vessel, someone young and strong I could use to sustain me while I figured out how to halt the malady encroaching on my body and mind. I had nowhere to turn for answers to my questions. All those I might have consulted about my ailment had long ago succumbed to the same illness. I was alone.
Of course, there was always the possibility I was caving to my own paranoia. Maybe what happened to all the other ancients wasn't an ending, but a reward. Legends went both ways. However, experience had taught me to prepare for the worst; then if the opposite happened, I could be pleasantly surprised.
Kayla's long fingers tightened on my arm, drawing me out of my unpleasant musing. "I'm your only father figure," I pointed out, covering her hand with my own. Her eyes were troubled and I smiled in response. The last thing I wanted to do this evening was burden her with my concerns.
"Yeah well, you were much better than the alternative." The mention of her birth father flamed the smoldering anger I'd carried with me since she'd shown up on my doorstep, half-feral and determined to intrude on my privacy. She'd won that battle before it even started.
Kayla gestured to the knot of struggling men below as the latest play ended with three flags on the field. "So why don't you tell me what all the silliness is about?"
"That gentleman there," I pointed to one of Virginia's tackles, "grabbed the face mask of one of our men and his friend retaliated by shoving him around when the play was over with."
Kayla's mouth twitched. "Boys will be boys."
"Hush child, your prejudices are showing."
"Like you can talk, and don't call me child; it makes you sound ridiculous. I don't care if you could've witnessed Christ's crucifixion. You look like an older brother, not a grandparent."
"Well, if the--"
Kayla dug her elbow into my ribs and I laughed. The joy of verbally sparring with the girl who had adopted me helped to suppress my worries. It had been awhile since we had time to share with each other. Kayla was busy with college and I had been distracted to say the least.
I surveyed the crowd again, picking through possibilities. I didn't take vessels often. In fact, in the course of my lifetime I'd only done so twice and for reasons other than necessity. I was discriminate in those whom I chose to feed from and would be no less so when it came to something as important as the person who was going to shelter my heart within their body.
I wanted someone young enough so they could be led, but with fire and passion as well, someone I could trust. And if worse came to worst, someone I could spend my last days with. Damn. I was jumping ahead of myself again. Kayla would accuse me of being maudlin if I continued to brood over my lack of a lover. As much as I loved her she couldn't ease the emptiness gaping inside me. I'd had occasional hints from the girl that she wished our relationship could be something more than it was, but I kept it platonic, both because of my personal inclinations and because I couldn't see her as anything other than my daughter.
The crowd roared its approval as Virginia's initial advance in the third quarter was halted. I sat back in my seat letting the energy of the fans wash through me, revitalizing me. I was always a trifle lethargic when I first awoke and it took some time before my predatory instincts kicked in.
"You've got that gleam in your eyes again. When was the last time you hunted?" Kayla asked.
"That's a bit personal, don't you think?"
"Not really. Besides, I don't keep any secrets from you," she said, averting her eyes.
Was that an accusation? I weighed her words, the nuances of her tone. "I seem to recall a few quite interesting ones." Skipping school and taking day trips out of state came to the top of my mind.
"Those were hardly earth-shattering, Kris."
Oh yes, it was an accusation, and I was at a loss for how to respond. I clasped my hands together searching for the right words, and then sighed. "What do you want me to say, Kayla?"
She looked at me now, her eyes darkening to violet with a hint of moisture in them I knew she would deny if I mentioned it. "Just promise me you won't keep me ignorant. Don't shut me out."
I hesitated and then nodded, squeezing her hand. "I keep forgetting you aren't a little girl anymore." She did have a point. She was my only family and it wouldn't be fair to her if she woke up one morning and I wasn't there, without an explanation or forewarning.
"I wasn't a little girl when you met me."
There she was wrong. Kayla had been so young, with all the gangling awkwardness teenagers expressed, holding onto her anger and defiance with a tenacity that amazed me. We made a strange family, but it worked for us so who could say it was wrong?
"I didn't want to worry you."
Her breath huffed out and her lips thinned, always a dangerous sign. "You failed, spectacularly I might add."
"I hate to do anything half-assed."
Kayla's lips twitched before she turned to glare at me. "Cut me a little slack here, okay? I can handle it, whatever it is. But I can't handle not knowing something's bothering you and you've been keeping it from me for months."
I studied my hands again, the faint pattern of old scars across skin that was otherwise healthy-looking, and then tightened my hand into a fist. "You have her journals."
When Kayla had appeared at my doorstep she carried with her my Mistress's journals. It was how she knew of my promise to guard her bloodline, and Kayla had held me to it. I never had any desire to examine them once I realized they contained no answers to her disappearance. My relationship with the woman who created me had been tumultuous, often fraught with tension, and reliving it would serve no purpose.
I nodded. The crowd roared around us, reminding me of the game I was missing. I looked down at the field, not really seeing it. My attention was caught up in the nuances and shades of Kayla's voice, wishing I could spare her this worry.
"Yes, but what does that have to do with what's been bothering you?"
I met Kayla's eyes and tucked a strand of hair that had fallen across her face back and tapped the end of her nose. The words stuck in my throat and before I could force them out comprehension dawned. Kayla sat up straighter, her hand tightening in mine. "You're having the same symptoms she did at the end?"
Again I nodded. "In almost the same exact manner if my memory serves."
"What does it mean?"
"I wish I knew." I leaned back into my seat again as her eyes lingered on my face. "But since you know now, maybe I can narrow a few things down." I hesitated, one question burning uppermost in my thoughts, but I couldn't bring myself to question my sanity to her. "I have a plan though."
"Excuse me while I die of shock."
I glanced over, studying Kayla's face, and decided to follow along with her attempt to lighten the tension. "With a plan you can place everything else into perspective."
"Can I do anything to help?"
I gave her a smile and leaned closer to kiss her forehead. "Of course, little one. You can go through her journals with me. You know them much better than I. There has to be something we can use."
"That's it? That's your plan? Research." Kayla's voice betrayed her exasperation and she punched my arm. "Well, it can't be that serious yet."
"Does that mean you're done sniping at me?" I slipped my arm around her shoulders, grateful for the respite. Maybe the journals would have some answers. I doubted it, but it wouldn't hurt to look, and maybe it would keep Kayla from fretting. Improbable, though I doubt she would let me see her upset.
"Yep, unless you give me further reason." She searched my face and then poked a finger into my ribs. "You didn't promise me yet."
"I won't keep things from you, I promise." I squeezed her shoulder. "I've been trying to get you to come to a football game with me ever since you started college. Let's enjoy it and save the worrying for another day."
Kayla smiled and relaxed, turning her attention back to the game, and some of the tension gripping me eased. I disliked keeping her ignorant. The guilt had weighed on me. It was niggling at me now, remonstrating for the way I downplayed the seriousness of my condition, the depth of my worry.
One thing at a time. Once I found a vessel, I could go into more detail and maybe have some progress to report. I forced my attention back on the game, though the restless thoughts did not want to be contained. They continued to whisper and nag until I shut them up by pulling Kayla into a conversation about the game, answering her questions and pointing out the various positions.
"It seems to me that the refs just like throwing those little flags around. Nobody did anything that time." Kayla gestured toward the field after the latest play ended before it really began.
"The backfield was in motion, probably attempting to lure us into making a false start. They can only move so far before they're in violation."
Kayla snickered. "Backfield in motion. That sounds like a porno movie title."
"Attempting to educate you in the finer points of football is an exercise in futility."
"Challenges are good for the soul, Kris. You're moldering."
I didn't deign to reply, watching as Pittsburgh's quarterback passed the ball deep. This game was going to be a sweep, which wasn't as interesting as when the game was close and both sides fought for every inch of ground ceded to them.
"They aren't very good, are they?"
"I think the term is woeful, especially their defense," I replied as we picked up another down.
The throng roared around me, waving banners of blue and gold. I leaned forward again as Pittsburgh snapped the ball. The defense blitzed, rushing toward the quarterback, looking for the sack. "Watch there." I pointed as the ball was handed off to a waiting running back, number twenty-six, who bolted, dodging and weaving through linebackers twice his size.
Kayla winced. "It's gonna hurt when he gets squished."
"If he gets the first down, he won't even notice it until after the game is over." I had to smile at her new interest though I was careful not to let her see it.
The stadium went wild when the running back found a hole and pounded off toward the end zone, orange-clad warriors chasing after him intent on bringing him down before he reached his goal. I hadn't seen anybody run with that kind of zeal in a long time, at least not at Pittsburgh. As much as I loved the university, football wasn't their passion as it was at other campuses. As he neared the end zone, one of Virginia's players caught up to him. I found myself sitting forward more, willing him over the line. Number twenty-six ducked and dove as fresh screams erupted around me. Touchdown.
A slow grin passed over my lips as I watched the young running back showboat in a manner that earned him a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was a ridiculous rule. He was lapping up the adulation of the crowd and his teammates, despite the foul. I was captivated by his unique vitality, a familiar hunger arising as he trotted off the field toward the bench.
"I'll be right back." I stood, impatient to have a closer look, and Kayla watched me go without comment, used to my abrupt departures. I masked my presence, leaving the stands, and slipped into the locker rooms. As I made my way out onto the field I stayed out of the way of the players, under coaches and lackeys so I wouldn't get bumped into and lose the glamour. The young man was studying the field and I paused at the end of the row of benches to drink him in.
His golden-brown hair was plastered against his skull, sweat-darkened from his helmet. When he ran a hand through it, it stood up in spiky tufts. I drew closer, mesmerized. He froze, his vivid blue eyes glancing in my direction, sweeping over me, and he frowned. Surprise and awareness jolted deep within me. No one had ever noticed my presence before; not unless I wanted them to.
He jumped up, distracted from my presence, and tucked his helmet under his arm. "Yeah, Coach?"
I watched him go off to be praised and reprimanded, my eyes lingering on his form before turning back toward stadium proper. I bought a program at the stand, flipping to his page. Number twenty-six. Jacob Corvin.
Mine. * * * *
"Jacob Corvin! Jesus, some fucking getaway!" Steve glared at me, shifting the stolen keg in his grip and pushing against my chest with it. He must be really upset to use my full name. Only my mama got away with calling me Jacob.
The expression of pure exasperation on his dark face was hysterical and I couldn't help laughing again. My sides ached and my ability to hold up my end of the keg wavered as my muscles turned to water from the force of my laughter.
"God dammit." Steve staggered as the balance of the weight shifted to him and I gave up, letting go of the keg to wipe the tears from my eyes. "Jake, you fucker." Steve grunted. "Tony, it's your turn. I swear to god, both of you are cut off. This keg's all mine."
"I'm not that drunk," I protested, still chuckling weakly, but moved out of the way so Tony could grab my end before Steve got a damned hernia from trying to hold it all by himself.
The crowd jostled around us in a mix of costumes, which was a bit disorienting, like being caught up in a dream. Maybe I shouldn't have had that last shot of vodka. On the upside, I was warm. I would be freezing my ass off if I was sober. Some clinical detached part of my mind registered the goose bumps on my bare arms and the wind moving right through the thin golden vest and pants I was wearing, but it failed to affect me despite it being the ass end of October in Pittsburgh.
"You wouldn't be so paranoid if you'd bothered to put on a costume." Tony's fangs gleamed in the lamplight. At least he'd gotten used to talking around them and wasn't spitting between words anymore, though watching him try to hit on that chick earlier had been funny.
"So I could look like a putz too? Don't think so. This black man does not wear a costume." Steve hefted the keg higher and started making his way through the crowd again.
"Ah, come on. Why's it gotta be racial?" I teased, following after my friends. "It's called fitting in. Going incognito." My fit of laughter had subsided, though my gut ached. "You're the only putz out here not dressed up. You'll kinda stand out if those frat guys spot you, and I hate to tell ya, that don't count." I gestured to the slogan on Steve's T-shirt: This is my costume. Now give me some candy.
"If they do spot me, it'll be thanks to you idiots who can't take five damn steps without breaking into giggles."
That did it. Tony and I exchanged glances, his lips twitched around the fangs, and the both of us set off again. Steve swore and lifted his eyes to the sky before nailing us with a glare. "Will you two knock it out?"
"Sorry, sorry," Tony said, shifting his grip on the keg. "Won't happen again." He stared over Steve's shoulder in intense concentration, trying to press his lips together but those stupid plastic fangs got in the way. Between Tony's naturally goofy expression, untidy dark hair, and the fact he was even more hammered than I was, the effect made him look more like Bunnicula on white lightning than Dracula. At least he dumped the cape.
"We're lucky we managed to get out of the frat house." Steve glanced behind him, taking careful steps through the crowd. "It's the last time I'm ever asking you to be a lookout," Steve said to Tony, then turned his eyes on me. "And you--"
"Hey. I held up my end. Of the plan at least, if not the keg."
"Until you got distracted!"
"What can I say? He was hot." I paused, thinking of the guy I'd been concocting drinks with as Steve was rolling our prize out the back door. Damn, I was a sucker for dark soulful eyes. "Now that I think about it, so was she for that matter." I wouldn't have kicked either one of them outta my bed.
Fellow students moved out of our way as we continued down the sidewalk, several asking where the party was and others offering to help carry the keg. Between all the costumes and the alcohol running through my system, it was a little like trying to make my way through a fun house in a dream.
"Hey, why don't we go through the haunted maze at Phipps? I've always wanted to do that." I paused to look in the direction of the observatory.
"Because, jackass, we don't have time for side trips and, as it is, I'm gonna end up carrying--" The rest of Steve's tirade was cut off in another cuss as Tony started snickering again.
"I can't remember where the party is. Do either of you?" Tony asked, setting down his burden as Steve let out a squawk of protest and gave up, leaving the keg on the sidewalk as Tony wiped tears from his eyes and he sat down on top of it.
I don't know what was fucking funnier, Tony's question or Steve's outrage. I shook, laughing silently, holding onto my sides, which were really beginning to ache. Oh God, I had to get myself together before I busted a gut.
Steve shoved Tony off of his makeshift seat and lifted the keg on his own and began tottering away from us. The fact that he hadn't said one word, not even to cuss us out, sank in. He was getting pissed. I took off my pharaoh mask and tucked it into the waistband of the flowing pants. "Okay. Wait, Steve. I'm serious now. I'll help; you're gonna hurt yourself." I pressed my lips hard, determined not to laugh again.
"You're risking my back more every time you let go of...."
Steve's voice fell into the background as I sensed someone watching me again. I froze, my heart hammering as I glanced over my shoulder, even knowing it wouldn't do a damn bit of good. I wouldn't see him. I never even caught so much as a glimpse, but instinct won out. Ever since the start of the semester, the football game against Virginia, I knew when he was near and he was close now.
My eyes scanned through the crowd, dismissing everyone I saw. Somebody in an Alien mask was staring in my direction. Indiana Jones shoved me out of his way. It was none of them; too tame. If I ever laid eyes on my dark fallen angel, he'd stand right out. I'd recognize him.
I wasn't sure how I recognized that my watcher was a he, only that he was. He was weighing me, studying me, and the effects of the alcohol were swept away by irritation and fear as my eyes searched through the crowd of students, searching for the man who had been hunting me. Tony and Steve liked to joke that it was a NFL scout and it eased the jitters somewhat, when my watcher wasn't around. I knew he was no damned scout.
"Jake, Jake!" A rough hand shook my shoulder and I looked up into Steve's concerned, warm brown eyes. "Is it him?"
I nodded my head sharply. The sound of Tony's giggles in the background were out of place and eerie. Steve's eyes narrowed, his dark face hardening as he searched the crowd as well. "You've gotta tell somebody about this man. This is getting ridiculous." He gave my shoulder a light shove. "Come on. We're almost there. Let's get moving and get indoors."
"Not like he's going to try anything out here. Relax." Somehow I couldn't bring myself to quite believe that and I could tell Steve wasn't buying it either. Tony was clueless as always. He was still going on about not knowing where the party was. I don't think it even registered on his radar that the mood had changed. "Can't believe you of all people are suggesting I talk to the cops," I muttered under my breath. I didn't want an argument.
My friends were moving again, Steve snapping at me to follow and I dragged my feet, searching the crowd again. I didn't want to get anyone else involved. My friends knew, but Tony and Steve were different: they were my boys. The cops, or the dean--hell, even my coach--were another matter. There was something deeply private about the connection between me and my watcher, a little erotic, and very intense. I was half in love with him already, as crazy as that sounded.
As much as it freaked me out at times I didn't think the guy was out to hurt me.
The crammed sidewalks thinned and swirled and then opened up, giving me a clear view across the street. Once again I froze, staring at the man standing just under the streetlamp. Oh god. He looked strangely normal in his jeans and cream sweater that set off the rich tone of his skin. The light above created a halo around his head and shoulders. He almost could've been a young working man, trying to relive his college days, but the dangerous aura around him was obvious. He was no damned angel.
And I wasn't the only one who sensed it. His sidewalk was as crowded as mine, with drunken students trolling the avenues, searching for a party and showing off their costumes, yet as one they all parted and flowed around him. No one came close enough to jostle him, no one told him to get out of the way, as people were bitching to me. No, he was a predator. He was the predator and I was his prey.
I should be scared. Forget scared. I should be outta my mind, shitting my pants like the time the gator got onto the pontoon while my friend and I were collecting crawfish traps. However, the last thing I was capable of feeling right now was fear.
Enthralled, I stepped to the edge of the curb, barely registering the cars going by, as I drank him in as if I were dying and he was the last thread connecting me to this life. It was hard to make out the details of his face, but his skin was golden, his body long and lean. His eyes bored right into me and I imagined they were that shade of brown that was so deep it was like you were sinking right into them. His head was shaved and, for some reason, I couldn't quite pin his race down. It was like he could claim any number of ethnicities, or maybe something else, long since gone.
He was more darkly striking than the moonlight on the bayou back home, or the haunting song of the cicadas, or whatever else made me think of beauty, danger, and sorrow at once.
The punch of lust that hit me was overwhelming. He was a sin begging to be explored and with no guilt to be confessed to my priest afterward. I had been in some pretty tight spots growing up and none of them had scared me as much as this one did. He was a dangerous temptation and I was about 2.5 seconds from stalking across the street and kissing him.
I thought I heard Steve shouting my name. They probably lost me in the crowd and, knowing my friend, he was going to be freaking out. I couldn't tear my eyes away to respond though. My watcher had been stalking me for months and instead of doing the sane thing and decking him or shouting for Steve so we could bum-rush him together, I was thinking about what I had to do to get him into my bed. I didn't even know his name.
As if sensing my thoughts, the other man smiled. It was a slow, predatory curving of his lips and even as the shudder slid over my skin it didn't do a damn thing to dampen my desire. My heart lurched up into my throat; my lungs froze.
Oh shit, he's not human.
There was nothing about his appearance that made me realize it. Maybe it was his aura, the way nobody else around him would touch him. Or maybe it was the brush of awareness not my own across my thoughts, or the caress of fingers across my soul. I couldn't say how I knew he was a vampire. I just did. This was the man who had been hunting me and holy Jesus, I was going to cave.
Faces blurred around me as I bolted through the crowd. I could hear people shouting and cursing in my wake, but I didn't slow as I darted around them or shoved them aside. Icy cold sweat trickled down my face. The stupid costume was half falling off of me. Even as I ran I knew it wasn't going to do me a damn bit of good. I still sensed him. He was there, always there. He was a fucking vampire who for whatever reason wanted me and I wanted him just as much in return.
I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see him right behind me, but too many people blocked my vision. By the time I skidded around the corner to my street I'd left most everyone behind and my legs were shaking. Great. I was a fucking genius. Now I was all alone.
My heart was pounding right out of my chest and there was a vicious stitch in my side. I paused as I reached my apartment building and yanked out the keys. The street was empty behind me. There was no sound, no more eyes on me. The sense of his presence was all but gone. I should've felt safe yet I knew I was never going to be alone again.
An orange alley cat gave me a disdainful sniff and slunk around the corner. Trying to catch my breath I unlocked the door and entered my building. Oh God, what was I gonna do now? My terror was subsiding and all I could do was think about his face. I wanted to see him closer up, wished I knew his name.
I was so fucked.