That was how he’d come to stand outside the house, listening as Katherine Picton, an older friend of the family, bade her hosts good night and Clare, the infant daughter of the Emersons, was put to bed in her parents’ room.
He waited impatiently while the Emersons pursued their pleasure in a hot tub that was placed on the balcony off their bedroom.
The Prince wrinkled his nose as their marital union dragged on and on. It seemed every time he encountered the couple, they were engaging in intercourse. He tapped his leather-clad foot on the garden floor, willing them to couple faster.
It was a starless night, dark and still. The sky was a velvet arc above him while the summer breeze whispered in his ear. As he heard Julianne cry out in pleasure, he remembered Raven doing the same, while he gently loved her.
His jaw clenched.
Love—a polite euphemism for the joining of bodies for physical pleasure.
And yet he could not be scornful of the term when applied to her.
It had been almost a month since he’d known the pleasure of a woman—almost a month since he’d had Raven in his bed. He could still feel the warmth of her skin beneath his hands, the soft curves of her figure as he caressed her, the scent of her blood as it filled his nostrils.
But it was the memory of her green eyes that kept him still as Julianne kissed her husband and returned to their room. Raven had large eyes that brimmed with feeling.
Don’t you ever tire of death?
Her voice interrupted his thoughts.
The truth was that he did tire of death. Even now he felt conflicted. But the Prince tamped down his misgivings and scaled the wall of the villa, eager to surprise the professor while he was alone.
And surprise him he did.
“We meet again.” The Prince’s conversational tone belied his menacing figure.
Startled, Gabriel stood in the hot tub, his wet, naked body shining in the dim light that shone from the bedroom.
“What do you want?” he barked, fingers curving into fists.
“I want you to cover yourself, to start with.” The Prince tossed a nearby towel toward the man, regarding him with distaste.
The professor wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped out of the water. He placed his body between the Prince and the door to the bedroom, which he quickly closed.
“I said, what do you want?” The professor’s posture was decidedly defensive.
“I want what’s mine to remain mine. I’d like you to stop taking things from me and parading them in public as if they were your own.”
The professor regarded the Prince with incredulity. “I have nothing of yours. Leave. Now.”
The Prince’s gaze flicked over the professor’s shoulder, watching through the windows as Julianne cradled her daughter in her arms.
“You have many riches. You’d do best to attend them and not grasp after what is not yours.”
The professor scowled. “Again, I’m asking you to leave.”
The supernatural being shook his head, regarding the man with cold gray eyes. “I’m told you have difficulty listening to instructions. I perceive this to be true.”
“I told you to leave. You don’t seem to be listening, either,” the professor rejoined.
“You stole my illustrations.”
At the first sound of the professor’s protest, the Prince lifted his hand, silencing him. “I know you didn’t steal them personally. But the illustrations belonged to me before they fell into the hands of the Swiss family who sold them to you. I have taken them back and they shall remain with me. Forever.”
“You lie. The family owned the illustrations for almost a century.”
“Yes.” The Prince gave Gabriel a challenging look. “Before that, they were mine.”
The professor blinked in confusion.
When he’d regained his composure, his sapphire eyes narrowed. “You were the one who came to our hotel room in Florence. I couldn’t see you but I could feel your presence.” Gabriel lowered his voice. “What are you?”
“What I am is inconsequential. Let’s simply say I’m not human. I am also not accustomed to arguing with human beings or offering second chances.”
Once again the Prince’s gaze was drawn to the figures of the mother and child inside the house. “Do you love your wife?”
Gabriel’s spine stiffened. “Yes.”
“Enough to die for her?”
“Without hesitation.” Gabriel took a courageous step forward.
A long look passed between the Prince and the professor. The Prince was the first to break the silence.
“I have more respect for a man who is willing to live for his family than one who is willing to die for them. Protect your wife and child. Abandon any attempt to recover the illustrations and persuade the Italians to do the same.”
“I paid a fair price for them. Your story sounds like a comic book.”
The Prince’s eyes flashed and he snarled.
The professor went back on one foot, his face a mask of terror.
The vampyre resisted the urge to attack, to exercise his power and dominance. He gazed at Gabriel, noting his tenseness, the smell of adrenaline rushing through his body, his quickened heart rate, and wondered why he hadn’t fled.
Gabriel pressed his back against the bedroom door, signaling to the vampyre that he would have to go through Gabriel and the door in order to attack his family. He was willing to give his life to protect the wife and child who remained blissfully unaware just inside.