Gideon Marquet stared into the darkness, his limbs aching from the weight of the heavy silver chains that shackled his ankles to the thick cement wall behind him. His body felt like it was burning from the inside out, causing his veins to shrink, while his skin grew painfully tight with the need for sustenance.
So long since he had fed.
So long since his thirst had been satisfied.
His eyes narrowed as a tall woman appeared in the basement. Clad in a shimmering white robe trimmed in white fur, she looked like an angel when, in truth, she was anything but.
The hem of her velvet robe made a soft, swishing noise as she drew closer, then knelt outside the cell. Verah.
Gideon groaned inwardly as she picked up the slender, silver-bladed dagger that rested beside a golden jewel-encrusted goblet on a low wooden table. His body tensed as she began to chant, her voice soft, almost hypnotic. He winced as she reached between the bars and dragged the blade across his right thigh. Lifting the goblet, she held it under the wound to collect the dark red blood that leaked from the long, shallow gash. When the goblet was half-full, she made a similar cut in his left thigh, chanting all the while. When the cup was full, she left the cellar.
She returned a short time later.
Gideon sat up a little straighter, his fangs extending as the cell door opened and a woman clad in a wrinkled brown dress was pushed inside. She fell to the floor, crying out as she scraped her knees on the cold cement. His hands clenched as the warm, sweet coppery scent of her blood filled his nostrils.
Blind with panic, the woman scrambled to her feet and ran to the iron-barred door.
“Please!” she cried, her hands fisting around the bars. “Let me out! Please, oh, please, let me out of here!”
But her frantic plea fell on deaf ears.
His prey sobbed hysterically as Verah turned and left the basement.
With her only hope gone, the woman darted to a far corner of the cell, her back pressed against the bars, her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. Tears flooded her cheeks as she murmured, “Please, don’t.”
But all he heard was the frantic beating of her heart, the whisper-soft sound of the blood flowing through her veins.
“Please.” She fell to her knees, hands raised in supplication.
But that wouldn’t save her.
Nothing could save her now.
It was feeding time.
* * *
Gideon stirred, then awoke with an oath on his lips. Another day lost in oblivion, another night in hell. If he could have ended his own existence, he would gladly have done so long ago.
Sitting up, he cursed the witch who had captured him, the enchantment that had blinded him to her true identity, his insatiable lust for blood, the heavy silver chains that rendered him powerless.
He glanced at the dark-haired woman curled up on the floor beside him. Her breathing was shallow and erratic, her hair and clothing disheveled. How many women had he killed since this nightmare began? He tried to resist the siren call of their blood, but in the end, no matter how he tried to fight it, he always surrendered to the hunger that burned through him, relentless, impossible to ignore. He felt a twinge of regret for this, his latest victim. She was middle-aged, married with four children, and doomed to die by his hand.
He clenched his fists as remorse gnawed at him. Regret had become his constant companion, along with an intense hatred for the witch who kept him in captivity, who bled him and starved him to the point of death, until whatever scrap of humanity or mercy remained within him was erased by a hunger too excruciating to deny.
The woman stirred, her eyes growing wide with fear when she saw him staring down at her.
“No, please.” She scooted away from him, but there was nowhere for her to go, nowhere to hide.
No escape for either of them.
Resting his head against the wall behind him, Gideon closed his eyes, his thoughts drifting back in time, back to the night he met Verah… .
He had gone into the city in search of prey, but all thought of feeding had vanished when he entered a seedy nightclub and saw a woman dancing in the middle of a crowd of cheering men. She had been beautiful beyond compare, her movements as sinuous as silk as she dipped and swayed to the pulsing beat of the music. Like every other man in the place, Gideon had been caught in her spell, mesmerized by the veiled promise lurking in the depths of her sea-green eyes.
When she smiled at him, he was lost.
When she invited him to her house, he had no thought to refuse.
When he asked her name, she laughed softly, then took him by the hand and led him out of the tavern and down a narrow winding road that led to a large two-story house. Once inside, she locked the door with a flourish, then led him into her bedroom where she had indulged his every fantasy.
When he awoke the next night, he was in chains, the beautiful woman was gone, and an emaciated, gray-haired hag was collecting his blood in a jewel-encrusted gold cup. He had been imprisoned in this wretched cage ever since, held captive by strong silver chains that drained his strength and weakened his preternatural powers.
It hadn’t taken him long to figure out what was going on. The woman who had beguiled him was a witch who had cloaked her ugliness in the guise of a young siren. She had been searching the world over for a vampire and Gideon had walked blindly into her trap. With his blood, Verah had regained her youth and beauty and now she sold his blood to anyone who could pay the price. Some paid in cash, some in gold, and some in humankind, hence the females that were brought to him from time to time.
Gideon glanced at the woman cowering beside him. When Verah had first brought her to him, she had been robust, her blue eyes bright, her fair skin luminous. Now, she was pale, her eyes sunken and shadowed with fear, her hair stringy and unkempt. The witch brought the woman water once a day, but no food. Why waste sustenance on one who was doomed?
Gideon swore softly. He didn’t want to hurt the woman or deprive her children of their mother, but sooner or later the urge to feed would become uncontrollable, the pain of resisting excruciating. Even now, the frightened pounding of her heart stirred his instinct to hunt. The scent of her blood flowed warm and red in her veins, promising instant relief from the agony that engulfed him.
Sooner or later, he would have to feed, and when he did, he would take it all. Perhaps it would have been more merciful to have killed the woman the first night Verah had brought her to him instead of letting her linger, her dread growing as she waited for him to strike.
In an effort to resist the inevitable, he rested his head on his bent knees and closed his eyes. How long had he been imprisoned in this place? A year? Two? He had lost track of the time. There were no windows in the cellar, no way of knowing whether it was summer or winter. The floor beneath him was always cold.