I hadn’t meant to hurt Rhys.
I thought if I could only manage to bring him and Uncle Graham together, all of their differences and dark, terrible history would fall away.
I hated to see his brow crease in pain…
Was that why he kissed me, to make the pain go away? It didn’t feel like Lord Blackthorne’s kiss, and not just because he would’ve sunk his fangs into my lower lip.
I hoped Rhys and his father would become closer the longer Uncle Graham and Mother stayed at the Alabaster Rose Castle, but they wouldn’t speak to each other or even acknowledge the other’s existence.
I asked Mother what to do, and she only sighed and told me that “sometimes there’s simply nothing to be done, Ophelia.”
But I refused to believe that Uncle Graham and his son couldn’t be reunited in unholy father-son love… (Not that kind, eheheh.)
Maybe I just had to get Rhys in a good mood.
If Finn and my passion-infused instincts were right, Rhys would enjoy our research sessions even more if I were naked.
“Belladonna, Lord Blackthorne.”
“I’m having thoughts of running away, Lord Blackthorne.”
I held out my hands, palms up. “You might consider tying me up.”
“Tying you–” He cleared his throat. “Well, I did learn a great deal about knots when playing a simple but handsome fisherman on a made-for-TV movie in which I wooed a stressed-out single mother who moved to a small coastal town in order to get away from it all and find love again. I mean, I would’ve if I were an actor and not a vampire lord.”
Rhys’s acting experience did prove to be very helpful…
“You’ll never consider running away again, Belladonna,” said Lord Blackthorne. “And if you do–I plan to use certain methods to help you rethink your decision.”
Unfortunately, the basement dungeon was already occupied, eheheh… (Mother and I would have to set up a schedule.)
“Oh, Ophelia,” Mother said. “I’ll be sure to have my pet sanitize the riding crop for you after we’ve finished.”
“Anything you desire, Mistress,” said Uncle Graham.
I was glad to see Uncle Graham helping Mother process her simmering pain and anger. As the days went by, Mother started to resemble the pregnant nude paintings of her more and more, but I decided against telling Benny. He still needed to find his own way to deal with Father’s loss.
And when the dungeon was empty, Rhys continued to help me with my grief and writerly inspiration…
I had so many bloodstained story ideas…
He looked so darkly handsome and authoritative, holding a riding crop. I could easily believe him to be my cruel and imperious Lord Blackthorne…
To my surprise, it was the times that came after, when Lord Blackthorne became Rhys again and healing followed the pain, that were my favorite.
Rhys was so gentle when he tended to my welts and rope burns, caressing my bare skin and applying salve.
His warm hands didn’t miss a single spot, eheheh…
“…I think it’s time to get you cleaned off, Ophelia. The water will feel nice against your skin.”
I sat up. “Carry me?”
He gathered my naked body in his arms and hurried to the bathroom–Mother had been avoiding the bathrooms, I’d noticed, so there wasn’t any competition. He continued to hold me as the tub filled. “I wasn’t sure what temperature you preferred, but slightly warm should be soothing enough–ah, it’s overflowing…”
“Be careful, you could slip,” I said. I wasn’t sure if fae were as durable as vampires. “I don’t want you to get hurt,” I added, before he could think I was worried about myself instead.
He pulled me against him as I was halfway into the tub. He was definitely stronger than a normal human…
“You’re kind to worry for me, Ophelia,” he said. “I’m not accustomed to that–anyone worrying about what becomes of me.”
I knew he wasn’t only speaking about the bathroom floor, even though I’d thought he was angry at me for encouraging Uncle Graham to visit…
“Rhys…” I got a strange feeling when I was around him, one I hadn’t experienced during all my research sessions with Finn. It was more than passion, which I’d long considered the most important ingredient in dark, terrible romance, even though I felt that too. “I think I’m in love with you.”
His mouth hung open. “Me? Rhys Straud?”
“You,” I agreed. “Rhys Straud.”
His eyebrows drew together, and his eyes looked sad again. “Are you certain your feelings aren’t a side effect of our business relationship–and your late father’s absence?”
I didn’t have to think about it for long. “I’m sure.”
“Well, then, that’s–let me help you into your bath before it gets cold–” He helped me slide into the lukewarm water. “I should, ah, give you your privacy now…?”
I reached for his hand.
“Stay,” I said. “We can both fit.”
“A very intriguing proposition,” he said, “though I have doubts about your hypothesis…”
I enjoyed seeing him stripped of all his clothing too, eheheh… And our second kiss had all of the lust of the first, but with excitement instead of sadness.
In the end, my dark instincts were right, even if it was a tight fit…
It was a good thing we were in a bathtub, because Rhys and I were unable to deny our unbridled lust and got very, very dirty, eheheh… (I shouldn’t elaborate, because details inspired by real events will appear in my debut novel, A Vamp in Shining Ashes, and I don’t want to spoil anything.)
Afterward, Rhys took me to a beautiful, slightly overgrown walled garden a short distance from the castle. It was still night, but wouldn’t be for long.
“As a fae,” he said, despite still wearing his vampire ensemble, “I’ll always be drawn to flora and open skies over cold, dark dungeons. But not even the loveliest garden can compare to your beauty…”
“I like it too,” I said. “I can picture a Gothic heroine reading old romances at night here before being abducted by a vampire…”
He led me to a clear patch of grass surrounded by flowers and helped me to the ground, despite the stone benches nearby and the fanciness of our clothing. “It…it isn’t just vampires you like, is it?”
“No,” I said–and meant it. “I like you too, Rhys. I’d like you even if you were a gargoyle.”
“I’m far too handsome to ever pass for a gargoyle,” he said, smiling, “no matter the amount of makeup or prosthetics.”
“Even though you look so much alike,” I said, “I think you’re even handsomer than Finn. But his dark spear of manhood curves slightly to the left and yours curves slightly to the right, eheheh…”
I kissed him, hoping to distract him. I forgot that Finn was unusual for not getting jealous easily, unlike all the possessive, dominant heroes in novels who possessed enormous manhoods and muscles and even bigger tempers…
But Rhys didn’t kiss me back.
“How do you know what–what my brother’s dark spear of manhood looks like?”
I wouldn’t lie to Rhys, even if I loved him, and even if lies made things less painful sometimes. Finn had regretted lying to Benny–and to himself.
“He was my first,” I admitted. “And my research partner, before I met you.”
“Finn,” he said bitterly. “Always Finn. He–he stole you from me before I even met you. Am I your second choice, then?” He laughed. “Don’t answer that–I’m forever the unwanted scraps.”
“But I want you–”
He stood and started walking away. “I should’ve known, when he reached out to me. Did he pity me–and feel guilty for stealing our father?”
I’d never been afraid of Rhys before, no matter what he did to me. It was one of the reasons I loved him: I always felt safe in his arms or beneath his whip.
But now I was afraid–afraid that I’d bring him more pain, and not the kind he enjoyed.
The door to his bedroom was locked when I finally returned to the castle. I wouldn’t have gone in, but…I wanted to know. So I found myself on the castle’s highest balcony instead, waiting for the sun to come up.
It had never bothered me before, when people told me I was strange, or that I didn’t think before I spoke.
But I should’ve known better. I knew his relationship with Finn and Uncle Graham was strained, even if I hadn’t known exactly why. And why had I compared him to Finn like that instead of mentioning their eyes?
I leaned hard against the railing.
And then I leaned against nothing at all.
Everything was happening too fast. I saw an orange blur…
“Batty?” Where had he come from?
I closed my eyes–and felt something tug at the hem of my dress, or maybe it was just the wind.
I knew this wouldn’t be the kind of pain I craved…
I’m sorry, Rhys.
I heard a sickening crunch–and then everything went dark.
The next thing I heard was birdsong–and then Rhys’s voice. “Ophelia,” he said. “Ophelia, please wake up. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorr–” The last word broke off into a sob.
But I couldn’t open my eyes, not even for him. My hazy consciousness slipped away as wind whipped my hair around my cheeks and my body screamed in agony.
Uncle Graham’s voice woke me sometime later. “Belated,” he said, “but not too late, I hope.” Pain, and then something cold held to my lips, followed by the taste of metal. “Be reborn as my daughter…”
I tried to open my eyes.
This time, it was Rhys’s voice that woke me again. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you, Dad–thank you.”
“For the change of clothes? No boy of mine should wander around in a robe, unless it’s a certain kind of party.”
“For–for saving her.”
“She asked it of me once,” said Uncle Graham, “but I would’ve done it regardless, for her mother’s sake. Bee has suffered enough.”
“I don’t care why you did it,” Rhys said. “You saved the most precious person in the world to me, and for that, I can never thank you enough.”
“Ah, it would seem our little fledgling is awake. She’ll be hungry soon, but there isn’t anything else in the world like fae blood–speaking from experience.” He gently disentangled himself from Rhys’s arms. “I should check on Bee. They’re monitoring her for stress in another ward.” He tossed a smile over his shoulder at me as he left. “We’ll talk later, daughter.”
Rhys rushed to my side. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “Can you ever forgive me, Ophelia?”
Before I could answer, he added, “Are you hungry? Can I get you anything? Blood? A blanket?”
“Just you,” I said. Hopefully that would answer his first question too. “But where’s Batty?” That crunch…it couldn’t have been him, not when I felt so much pain. Why had he jumped after me? I hoped I’d broken his fall.
“He disappeared,” Rhys said. “I’ll keep looking when I return home for more of your things. And I never wanted to see you hurt–not like that–and the thought of losing you…what an inexcusable idiot I was, over something so petty.” He kissed my hand. “I’ll make everything up to you, Ophelia, I promise.”
“You don’t have to make anything up to me, Rhys.” I was a vampiress, just as I always wanted.
But it was seeing a certain father and son brought together that made everything worth it.
I couldn’t have my father back again, but Rhys could have his…