Book Description: Drake is waging war against Ashleigh and her rogue sect of vampires, and he won’t stop until she surrenders. She soon realizes they can’t beat Drake, no matter how hard they try. But she doesn’t give up. That is until Drake takes drastic measures to beat her, a resolve that may end Ashleigh’s life.
Excerpt from Blood War: “The Countess and the Sun”
Caleb snuck into the castle and was searching for Zander and the other members of the Council, but he couldn’t find them anywhere. The halls were empty, not a soul running about. He gazed up the stairs, a sour expression painting his features. He knew Drake was expecting him, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready to face the count.
Feeling a hand slip in his, he spun. A pair of baby blues met his gaze, a brilliant sparkle within them that was inhuman. Putting a slender finger to her lips, she motioned for him to be silent and pulled him to the side.
The countess’ voice was soft. “You mustn’t be here. Drake will catch you.” She glanced around, her breath quickening. “Please…” Her desperate eyes fell on his, the surface of them sparkling with forming tears. “You must go and save your family before it is too late.”
“You are my family.”
“Why are you so persistent?” Running a finger down his cheek, she giggled softly. “I am not who you believe I am. No matter how hard we both wish it, I don’t remember you.”
“Then, let me get to know you more. Can we talk?” Caleb motioned down the hall. “There is so much I want to say to you.” He squeezed her hand. “Please—just hear me out.”
She licked her lips, and her fingers shook in his, a quiver in her queen-like persona he had not seen since she had become the countess. Instead of speaking, she pulled on his hand and led him to another room.
When they got inside, she swiftly bolted the door and turned abruptly to him. Her expression was pleading, but her stance was still that of the great countess. For a few seconds, she stared at him. He knew she wanted to tell him so much, yet she couldn’t.
“Come here.” His voice was soft as he held out his arm. He watched her slowly walk toward him, her gait smooth like a lioness, in her eyes a darkness that terrified him. “I want to sing you a song.”
“A song?” She stopped, her palm now resting over her heart. There was suspicion in her eyes.
“Yeah.” He sat on the couch and motioned for her to sit next to him. When she didn’t, he ran his fingers through his hair nervously. “Umm…usually you—” When he saw her stare narrow, he corrected himself. “I mean, I thought since your reincarnate loved my music, you would, too.”
“Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Mason?” A wicked grin filled her lips, her finger pausing teasingly on a corner.
“Yeah. You’re the hottest, most amazing girl I’ve ever met, why wouldn’t I want to make you mine?” He laughed. “You don’t want a song, so how about a story?”
“A story?” One of her eyebrows raised as she took a slow step forward. “Do you believe me to be a child?”
“No, I’m just trying to seduce you, remember?”
“Do I need a reason other than I love you?” He went to her. Putting his arms around her middle, he gazed into her eyes. She didn’t fight him, her arms moved slowly and wrapped around his neck.
“We can’t be seen here.” Using her magic, she transported them to another place. Caleb felt himself fall onto something soft, his breath quickening as he scanned the darkness. His fingers skittered over the surface of the worn cushions, springs jabbing his bottom.
Her voice resonated, the sound coming closer to him. “I used to be afraid of the dark.” Her steps echoed on the stone floor, the sound of dripping water in the distance. “Every night as the sun set, I would stand near the window and pray for it to stay. I wanted it so much. But when I opened my eyes all there was, was darkness.”
“I’m sorry your prayers were never answered.”
“It’s my fault.” A deep sigh escaped her lips, followed by a short pause. “I am to blame for my fate. I was young once…childish…stupid. Drake’s men had come to my village, raiding homes and stealing women. Every night when the sun set, we would pack in the cellar and wait until it rose again. From inside, I could hear the screams, the people being rounded up. Then, one night…”
She paused again, her footsteps now silent as well. “We were captured, and I was brought to the castle with my mother and sisters. I watched them passed between men—beaten, raped, and drained until they lay lifeless in front of me. I was lucky, and Drake took pity on me. If it weren’t for that, I would have been killed as well.”
A few more steps brought her closer to Caleb, and she sat down next to him. “I wish I had stayed in that night, but instead, I took a glimpse at the moon, and I was taken to the castle to become Drake’s slave. I was not happy being what I was. I fought him to the end, but…it did not change anything. My fate was sealed the moment I was lured by the moonlight—the siren song of the devil.”
“You’ve—” Caleb corrected himself as he put an arm around her shoulders, “I mean, Ashleigh never told me that before. She didn’t like talking about her past life with Drake.”
“Remembering being a monster is not something easily shared. It is not surprising she wished to keep her sins hidden in the pages of a book.”
“You’re not a monster.”
“You are right, though.” She laid her head on his shoulder, her arms sliding around his waist. “I did invent you. And seeing you in the flesh has been the greatest triumph of my life.” Caleb rubbed her back in a slow, steady motion. “A prince, dark and handsome. I would look for you in every sunset, but you never came. Why did you not come? Why have you waited until there is nothing left to save?”
“As long as you breathe, there is something to save.” He kissed her hair.
“I love Drake.” Caleb let out an annoyed sigh. After a few tense seconds, she spoke again. “There was a time I wanted to leave him—a time where I wished for you. But I’m bitter and can’t forgive you for your tardiness.”
She snuggled deeper into his chest, her grip around him tighter. “You left me to rot here, to soil my soul until I have become the devil that Drake wished me to be. I stopped believing in fairy tales, in princes, in salvation. Loving Drake is all I know. I have spent an eternity with him, so long he has become a part of me. This is something a Sentinel like you could never understand. Hundreds of years have passed before my eyes and all of them have been in Drake’s arms.”
“Don’t give up so easily. You can change. You don’t have to stay with him. I can still save you.”
Her voice was soft, a breathlessness to it that was wet and full of sadness. “We are incredible beings, capable of adapting to any circumstance. We train ourselves to love what we hate to survive, and after a while, we start believing it.”
“No. I won’t settle for that.” Caleb rested his head on hers, his cheek brushing against her soft hair. “I know deep inside there is a scared woman that begs to be saved. Now, more than ever, you need your hero. You think you’re incapable of being saved—of starting over. But that’s not true. You deserve salvation, to love without being someone’s slave. I can help you, save you.” His voice grew to a soft whisper, “I love you more than anything, and I’d do anything to bring you home—to protect you until my dying breath.”
She lifted her head. “I have never stopped longing for you. Waiting for you in every sunset, hoping the dark clouds would form that hero I adored.”
“Do you mean it?” A hardened expression etched into his features. His eyes sparkled, forming tears dancing on the surface. “Do you love me? Will you let me save you?”
“Even before you existed, there was love for you in my heart. But—” She burst into tears. Covering her mouth, the next words released were barely audible, “I do not deserve you or your healing redemption.”
“I love you…” He pulled her tighter and closed his eyes. “And I will always save you, no matter if you’re Ashleigh Brown or Countess Ashleigh Sallen. You’re the woman I love, the only woman I love.” He kissed her, and she returned it with a built-up passion. His hand moved to the back of her dress, slowly sliding down the zipper. With the sound, she pulled away.
Speaking quickly, she stood. “I must go back. Drake will be looking for me.” He could hear her sniffle, her tears hidden by the darkness.
“Wait.” He grabbed her hand, but she pulled it from him. A ring slipped off her finger, the sound of metal skipping across the floor.
She gasped then fell to her knees. Caleb knelt down next to her, and she fell into his arms limply. “Countess?” He shook her, but she didn’t respond.