Midnight Skies are Brightest

I really wanted to kill him.

Five hours straight of nothing but training, and Laurenz still insisted that I master a fighting technique he'd just introduced to me. Droplets of blood beaded on my skin, staining my clothes and emitting a putrid stench that clung to my skin like paste. At the rate he was taking this, we'd be hitting the marble floor asleep as the sun came up.

Laurenz circled me with annoyance in his gaze, and just mimicking his simple movements had started to become tedious. Surely seeing this advantage, Laurenz charged me head on, his fangs bared in an expression of bloodlust. I back flipped to evade him. When I straightened, Laurenz stood inches from me, his gaze intense. A punch to the stomach sent me to my knees, and wheezing I grabbed his pant leg.

"Get up," he snarled. "You're pathetic."

I had no idea I had fire left in me to have a temper, but I swiftly felt my cheeks redden and my lips tremble. Showing emotion around him always made the current situation worse, and it didn't help that I was one to wear my emotions out on my sleeves. Sure enough, Laurenz laughed at my expression and dragged me up by my hair. Blood tears had begun to drip from my cheeks, and the rough silk of his tongue scraped along my face to lick them away.

My skin flinched at his touch. I struggled to fight him off, hissing at the way his hands roamed down my thighs and over my hips. The mockery in his expression stroked the heat of my temper, and with a snarl I bashed my forehead against his nose.

Laurenz shoved me backwards as blood spurted down his chin. Seeing that I'd wiped the smile from his face put a grin on my own. With renewed confidence, I flew at him, twisting my body to place a roundhouse kick to the side of his head.

Contact.

I jumped backward as Laurenz shook his head dazedly, feeling better than I had in months. To finish, I flipped backwards, connecting the sole of my boot to his chin. Satisfaction and pride surged through me when I felt the crack of his neck, and I straightened from my move.

The heel of his palm thrust against my sternum, and air rushed from my lungs as I staggered backwards. I watched as he dipped his head and charged me, and I flung up my fists. Laurenz's skull bashed into my stomach, and all I could manage was a startled gasp as he bulldozed me. The next thing I knew, I'd been flipped over his shoulder and slammed onto my back.

As I wheezed for breath, Laurenz circled me slowly. He thumbed his jaw with care and eyed me with interest. "Good," he commented, more to himself than to me. "Very good."

"Please, Laurenz. I need a break." I could feel my tongue practically cutting off my air supply, and my throat burned. Exhaustion spread through me all over again, swept through my aching muscles with the intensity of a thousand lightning storms.

Laurenz snorted, the proud moment gone. His presence burned with irritation once more. The image of his face hovered above me upside down. "People trying to kill you won't give you a break, Jessica."

I shot him a dirty look, my hatred of his very existence escalating to new heights. "The only threat to me right now is you, and from as far as I can see, you're not trying to kill me."

His nostrils flared with disgust. Laurenz tugged me up by my arm. The power behind his grip would surely leave bruises. "Don't be a smart ass."

My fangs lengthened, curled over my lips. I crossed my arms. "Too damn bad," I snapped, finally down to my last nerve. "I'm tired, thirsty, and I need a break. You don't like it, bite me." I froze the moment the words left my mouth.

Laurenz's hand reached out to seize my hair. I jerked away, but he pulled me closer. His fangs stretched and flashed in my vision. Panic swept through me. Having Laurenz bite me was like having a pair of butcher knives cutting into my neck--and then being hit by a car. There are fairytales about the ecstasy of a vampire bite, but all I'd ever experienced was excruciating agony.

Determined not to endure such pain, I kneed him as hard as I could. Laurenz released me, snarling as he stumbled back. Instantly, I spun around to flee.

I hit the ground face first, and Laurenz's heavy weight landed on top of me. Even as he pinned me down, I struggled to crawl away, my nails scratching at the marble floor.

His rough fingers wrenched at my hair, his heavy panting hot against my face. "You want to play games, Jessica?" he rasped. "Because you will lose, every time." Bending his head, Laurenz sank his fangs into my exposed throat.

Fire seared my nerves, a ghastly pain that forced my heart to pump wildly, to give my tormentor more of my life blood. My shaking hands pushed at his shoulders, but he didn't budge. Our heartbeats meshed as one terrible rhythm, and disgust invaded the pain. I didn't want to share anything with him, not my mind, my body, or my blood.

As I surged my knee upward, Laurenz caught my thigh midair. His hands stroked down my leg and curled my calf around his hip; and I jerked as he held me prisoner. Tears dripped from the corners of my eyes as I lay humiliated in his grasp.

"Please," I choked. "It hurts."

Laurenz ripped away with a snarl. He stood, wiping the blood from his mouth. "And to think you'd have learned by now," he muttered. "Such disrespect from such a little woman." Laurenz walked away and left me there, burning with pain and weak on the floor, tortured in body and soul.

XXXX

A gentle hand stirred me from sleep. I opened my tired eyes to find that I was still on the floor, curled into a pathetic ball of pain. The sticky pull of dried blood itched my neck, and with difficulty I shifted around.

"Jessica, what are you doing on the floor?"

Mary, the lead housekeeper and my only friend, knelt beside me with worry in her eyes. She brushed my hair back from my face and felt the pulse in my temple. The faint tic thrummed just a little faster at the pressure. Mary tsked quietly. She sat back, pushed herself to her knees.

"Where are you going?" I groaned. My brain pulsated against my skull, as though something fought desperately to escape from the crevices of my mind. Worry only increased the pounding ache, and with difficulty I shook my head.

Mary did not answer, simply stood and turned. A stream of obscenities followed her out the training room and up the stairs. My gaze never left the doorway, my vision going blurry. Anger, along with relief, flooded through me. I did not want help. I did not want Mary to pity me. But I knew that I'd never be able to pick myself up from the floor without it.

Heavy footsteps resonated throughout the room, and that pompous aura manifested itself next to me. I swallowed hard, turned toward him. With every ounce of strength, I spat at him, hissed with all the ferocity left in my body. As he knelt down, I snarled. My teeth gnashed dangerously close to his fingertips, and Laurenz lifted his hand. I cringed.

Instead of striking me, Laurenz rested his palm against my forehead. "Easy, little one. Do not bite the hand that feeds you."

Coughing fits seized me, and with ragged breaths I sought air. Blood splashed onto my chin, and I emitted a broken whimper as my chest burned.

Drowsiness pooled through me slowly. The dulling pain became unnoticeable, then absent completely. I shifted and groaned, my eyelids grew heavy. Couldn't give into his games. I wouldn't let him win.

His green eyes flashed to mine. With a chuckle, Laurenz pulled his lips back and smiled, pointed canines sparkling. "I've already won."


"…I don't have time to fawn over your new blood whore. Call back when you have actual information about…" Laurenz's voice trailed off as he paced out of sight and into the foyer.

I rolled my eyes and stirred smoothie mix into a blender, less than bemused with the constant blabbering I was forced to listen to every day. No matter how carefully I attempted to tread, no matter how quietly I tried to avoid him, Laurenz always managed to find me and remain in my vicinity. Escape was nearly impossible unless he was distracted by one of the pretty little maids he'd handpicked for easy blood--and sex--every once in a while.

As the volume of his voice began to crescendo, I pushed the "mix" button on the blender. The heavy whir of the blades drowned out his voice, and I gazed out the window and into the garden. It was a vast labyrinth clustered with gorgeous flowers and buds, elegant trees and little insects that buzzed on their merry way. The only time I could appreciate its beauty was in the nighttime, when a half-vampire could explore her small world allotted to her. It had to be breath-taking to view in the daylight.

"…Find out where he's from and what his business is here. You know it's not my responsibility to keep track of vampires in this area. That's Keaton's job, that rat bastard."

Slamming the cupboard shut, I shot him a dirty look before I poured the finished smoothie into my glass. I turned away from him when his gaze met mine, and cheeks flushing, I gritted my teeth and hoped he'd walk away. Making any kind of contact was an invitation for him, and I was in no mood to tolerate any advances from him.

"On second thought, move the meeting to tomorrow. I think I'm going out tonight." His phone clicked shut, and he sighed, a noise any mortal girl would grovel over.

I heard his light and steady footsteps move toward me, and briskly, I walked farther into the kitchen, my back turned. I leaned forward against the counter with my elbows, flipping through the newspaper that I'd grabbed from the pavement. My spine tickled as his presence crept nearer toward me, and the hairs on the back of my neck grew taut and stiff.

"Mister Noir?" A sweet, crooning voice disturbed the invasion. I relaxed slightly, my body still tense with anticipation. The petite red-head had been Laurenz's latest victim of seduction, but this one knew not how to realize it was over.

That deep sigh reverberated off the marble counters again. "Yes, Linda? Can I help you?"

She stammered, and the rustling of her clothes told me that she fidgeted restlessly. The beat of her heart screamed of adrenaline, and with disgust I blocked out the noise, the way the heat of her body pulsed to me. "Y-You have not required me to…steam and press your laundry for a while. May I do this later?"

A soft kiss, quiet as a butterfly's wings, sounded floated toward me. "Sweet girl. You are too kind and eager to please. I thank you for the offer, but I no longer require your services. Take your last paycheck and go."

Her voice trembled. "That's it?"

But Laurenz had already turned from her, and once again I knew I was the target of his attention. Silently, I listened to her shuffle her feet, waited for him to slink toward me with a lion's grace. His heat seared up the back of my legs and my shoulders, and I shivered. Too close. He knew I didn't like his close proximity.

"Good morning, Seedling." His fingers skimmed my shoulder.

I sneered and spun around. "No, actually. It's not morning, and it's definitely not good." Glaring up at him, watching his lips curl into a smile, I continued, "Thanks to you, I'll never experience a morning, let alone a good or bad one. Use appropriate terminology. Better yet, don't say anything at all." My blood stirred against my skin, and I felt rage boil up inside me again. He'd kidnapped me, stolen me from my life and my family, yet here he stood like we'd been childhood friends. Sadistic bastard. Egotistical fornicator…

He tutted and licked his lips, his eyes roving over my neck and chest. "Name-calling is so childish, Jessica. Really. Learn to grow up. Get a job, find a man. Let him ravage you--"

"Like you did to me?" Linda's voice piped up quietly from behind us. The girl just didn't know when to quit.

We both turned to look at her, and releasing me, Laurenz stalked to her. His fists clenched and unclenched, and I heard him emit a low growl. I crossed my arms. He would never strike a mortal woman, but this interaction was too enjoyable to miss. With a shriek, the maid scurried away; Laurenz chased after her, yelling at her to get out of the house.

Poor bastard, unable to keep up with his own games, I thought. If this was how he reacted when a human refused to let him go, I eagerly awaited the day when a vampiress had decided he was her Mate. He deserved it, acting like the next sex god and expecting every woman to swoon over his advances. I could still feel the way his eyes devoured me, how his breath against my skin puffed softly before he bit me. I shook my head, disgusted.

I pushed aside thoughts of his invasive behavior when Laurenz returned with annoyance in his gaze. His hair was wind-blown and his cheeks flushed, the perfect image of what I wished to make happen when I pissed him off. Linda was naïve, but I had to give her credit for making my day. I forced myself to hide my smile in my glass.

"Wipe that smirk off your face," he growled.

I grinned. "What? Can't keep 'em off you?"

As he muttered something under his breath, something that included my name and "what he really wanted", I curled my lip. But even as I glared at him, he broke eye contact and arrogantly swept his gaze over my neck and chest, and anxiously I looked away. He was doing it again, and even while I loathed it, even while I couldn't escape it, my breath hitched softly. Stubbornly, resolutely, I stirred the contents of my smoothie.

My motions caught his attention; he leaned forward and sniffed loudly. One big hand snatched my cup, and with haughty criticism he glowered at its contents. "What is this goop?" he snarled.

Stamping my foot, I scoffed. "It's called a smoothie. Give it back." I reached for it.

He pulled it out of my grasp and dumped it in the sink. When he turned back to me, he wrinkled his nose. "When was the last time you hunted?" Laurenz's face loomed closer toward mine, his gaze intent on searching my eyes. Within my peripheral vision, his fangs elongated.

"Four days ago."

Without warning, his hands lashed out and grabbed my shoulders. I lurched forward, my nose making contact with his hard chest. Rough fingers jerked my head back, and his piercing stare shot into my eyes. Rumbling surged through his chest.

"How many times do I have to lecture you? You are still too young and too weak to remain for long periods of time without feeding. Hunt and kill everyday. Enough with this humanity." He gritted his teeth. "You refuse to catch even the most disgusting animals."

Insulted, I moved to strike at him. My palm itched with the anticipation of lashing at his face. Laurenz's fingers ensnared my wrist, his grip tightening until my hand paled from lack of blood, until I whimpered and grabbed his own wrist with my other hand. His cold gaze reflected no mercy, just like his dead heart.

"Regardless," he continued, "you will hunt later. Tonight, we are going out. I've decided to treat you to dinner."

Even with tears brimming in my eyes, I rolled them. My lip trembled. Laurenz loved tapping into our bond in order to taste food through me. I loathed it. "That is not my treat. It is yours. I feel tainted by your insistent, invasive motives. I hate you. I hate this bond, this tether to which you've hooked me to."

He tugged me toward him, so I collided with his chest. The hand that held my wrist slipped to my lower back, while the other gripped my chin and tilted it to expose my neck. "Ah, nevertheless, it is a Bond we share, Little One." His nose touched mine, slowly descending. "One that, like it or not, you cannot resist."

My blood ached just beneath the surface of my pounding skin, the tips of his fangs just grazing my neck. I breathed a protest, but my voice wisped away as a moist puff of his breath collided with my skin. Tingles bubbled up against my nerves, a mist of drowsy surrender and submission washing over me. His mouth opened, his fangs tempted, his tongue tasted. I wanted--I wanted--

As he whisked himself away, I fell back against the granite counter, collapsing without his support. Head pounding, I scrambled up and cursed Laurenz Le Noir.

I really wanted to kill him.