SHE WAS DYING.
The Prince heard her heart stutter and slow and her breathing grow even shallower. The young woman with the brave soul and the great green eyes was dying.
The humans had smashed her skull into a wall. No doubt her brain was injured. The skin on her arms was pale, almost translucent. Her face was bruised and smeared with blood.
The Prince had seen goodness die, not once but twice. He’d held it in his hands and seen the life ebb out of it, like sand sifting through his fingers.
He would not let such beauty die.
Out of sight of the other vampyres, he retrieved the illustrations he’d left on the roof. He cradled them along with the woman as he flew across the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the Arno River. With every step, he focused his ancient hearing on the sound of her heartbeat, worried it would fall silent before he reached the safe haven of his villa.
He would have to give her a great deal of vampyre blood in order to heal her. It was possible she was beyond help. And it wouldn’t be his blood he would give to her. Not even to save her life.
The Prince quickened his pace, his figure moving like a jagged flash of lightning up the hill. When he reached the heavy iron gates that surrounded his home he paused, holding the woman more tightly. With a cry, he leapt over the barrier, landing like a cat on the other side. The woman groaned at the movement, and her eyes flickered open.
“Cassita,” he whispered, his gray eyes meeting hers. “Stay awake.”
Her eyes rolled back into her head.
“Sard,” he cursed, sprinting to the front door of the villa and barrelling inside.
He didn’t bother calling for his servants; he had mere minutes, perhaps even seconds before her heart stopped beating. Forever.
To his massive library he flew, pressing one of the volumes on the shelf. A wooden panel on a nearby wall moved, revealing a hidden door.
Without hesitation, the Prince entered the absolute darkness that shrouded the doorway and descended a staircase, stepping nimbly until he reached the lower level. He ran down the hall until he reached a heavy iron door. He pressed a secret code into a number pad and waited impatiently as the door opened.
The woman’s heart grew fainter still.
He held her close, pressing her face into his neck, as if his strength could be passed to her. As if, by his touch, he could keep her from death.
He wound his way through row upon row of wine bottles, carefully stacked in tall, wooden racks that reached over six feet in height. He moved to the very back of the wine cellar, where his oldest vintages were stored.
Placing the woman on a wooden table, he put his illustrations to one side. He’d attend to them (and his revenge) later.
The Prince chose one of his most precious vintages, the blood of an old one he’d destroyed in the fourteenth century. He uncorked the bottle and swept his finger inside, retrieving a black substance. He placed his finger in the woman’s half-open mouth.
It wasn’t the best way to feed her. She was unconscious and unable to swallow. He could only hope that the vampyre blood would dissolve into her system, staving off her imminent death.
Within a minute, the woman drew a sharp breath.
He withdrew his finger, noting it was clean. He jammed it into the wine bottle once again, coating it with more life-sustaining darkness.
He placed his finger in her mouth, and this time her tongue moved. A weak half-swallow followed.
He whispered old words in her ear, lapsing into Latin as he exhorted her.
The woman’s heart skipped a beat, then increased its movements until it was beating slowly but steadily. Her lungs drew a deeper breath. He could hear her veins begin to hum as the foreign substance mixed with her blood to flow through her body.
But these were reflexes—the body hungering for life while the mind remained unconscious.
He fed her a little more blood by mouth. Although she was breathing, her pulse remained weak. She needed vampyre blood in greater quantities than she could take orally. But he couldn’t risk moving her until he was satisfied she’d survive the time it would take to set up a transfusion.
The Prince cursed the animals that had attacked her.
He fed her twice more before choosing several valuable vintages from his collection and jamming them under his arm. He’d leave the illustrations behind, for the present. They were safe enough in his wine cellar. Although the thief had taken them from his home before…
He lifted the wounded lark into his arms and transported her to the hallway. He whispered to her as he climbed the staircase, begging her to hold fast to life.
He was far from certain she’d survive the transfusion. But for the sake of the goodness of her soul, he would try.
“THE HUMAN IS DEAD.” Gregor’s Russian accent was far more pronounced as he spoke nervously to the Prince of Florence.
The Prince had just regained control of his principality and was closeted with his former assistant, out of reach of prying eyes and ears.
“Dead?” The Prince’s stoic expression slipped.
“Yes, my lord. Apparently, he was trying to protect your pet and her sister when Maximilian killed him. He came with the sister from America.”
“Where’s the body?” The Prince abruptly unsheathed and sheathed his sword.
“With the police. There’s to be an autopsy.” Gregor hesitated.
The Prince speared his assistant with a look. “And?”
“The human intelligence network is concerned about a policeman named Batelli. Although he isn’t involved in the murder investigation, he’s aware your pet and her sister have disappeared. He’s claiming a connection between all of this and the robbery of the Uffizi.”