A sense of anticipation hummed through Adrian du Lac as he stepped into the enchanter’s house. He hadn’t visited Dimitri’s residence in many years. While curious about his loyal servant’s home, only tonight had he found a compelling enough reason.
The small villa was well lit, and from appearances, the party had been underway for several hours. The rooms echoed with music and the laughter of the guests, some of them clearly soused. The air, heavy with the metallic aroma of wine, the pungent spicy foods on the buffet table, neared overpowering. Adrian stared with disdain as two small boys ran by, screaming like banshees. Someone jostled him from behind. What was he doing here? The place was too crowded and these witches multiplied like rabbits. Just as he decided to make a hasty exit, Dimitri spotted him from across the room.
“Adrian, come in.” The tall, dark enchanter’s booming voice carried through the noise. “Welcome to my home.” Dimitri wore the traditional dress of his clan. This evening’s turquoise and gold vest and loose‐fitting shirt were clearly celebratory. A broad smile crossed Dimitri’s swarthy face as he cut through the crowd.
Adrian waited impatiently for the other man to reach him. Why had Dimitri insisted on dressing in his peasant costume? Adrian was used to seeing the enchanter in modern business attire, much like he wore this evening.
Guests stopped Dimitri more than once as he approached, increasing Adrian’s frustration. The sooner the niceties were spoken, the sooner he could leave. A sharp laugh pierced his hearing, and he winced. He needed to hunt, and longed for the cool night air instead of this overheated, noisy cottage.
“Good evening, Dimitri. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Without you, du Lac, there would be nothing to celebrate. My beautiful Katerina is home from the United States, and she will be a successful businessman, ah, woman.” The man laughed, pride in his daughter evident in his dark eyes.
Ah yes, the reason why he was here in the first place. Adrian remembered the girl and the first night he had seen her. The night he’d been so wounded he’d needed the enchanter’s help to survive. She’d been barely twelve, too young to be left on her own. She watched him, dark eyes filled with apprehension, but kept herself hidden behind a book the whole time Dimitri and his wife had tended him. Adrian recalled feeling her curious gaze. Even now the sensation seemed strangely intense. There had been an awareness in her eyes. She’d understood his pain that night, though he quickly forgot the notion during the agonizing healing methods the enchanter and his wife had used. Dimitri had bragged of how smart his daughter was, and how he needed money to send her away to school.
“Yes, and if you hadn’t saved me from that…vampire hunter, I would not be here to enjoy your hospitality.” He recalled the deal he’d proposed that fateful night. The long‐awaited payoff was at hand.
“It was good fortune I found you when I did.”
“Yes.” Adrian nodded and met the man’s gaze steadily. “For all of us. In many ways.”
“You gave my daughter an education. For that alone, I am eternally in your debt.”
“Yes, never forget, Dimitri.” He smiled. “My associates kept me apprised of her remarkable achievements. Dean’s list every semester, internships at the most prestigious companies, graduating second in her class at Harvard.” Dimitri grinned. “I told you she was intelligent.”
“First would have been better.” Adrian took a moment’s pleasure in seeing some light fade from Dimitri’s eyes before continuing. “Nevertheless, I am impressed. She will go far in the business world. I only regret she has declined my offer of a position at du Lac Enterprises.”
“I am sorry. I tried…”
He held up his hand. “Do not worry. It is her choice. She has chosen a fine company. KNT Communications is poised for an exciting future. Perhaps someday.” Someday sooner than she thought. He smiled. The foolish girl had accepted a position at Kuraskia’s largest communications company, unaware he’d been setting up a takeover of the corporation for quite some time. In a matter of weeks, the conglomerate would beg him to buy them out. And Katerina would be his employee, regardless of her choice.
The girl would prove useful with her intelligence and education, a worthy asset to du Lac Enterprises. With her powerful untapped magic also at his disposal, he would be unstoppable. Knowing she’d be here was the only reason he had agreed to come to this gathering.
Dimitri chattered on. Adrian glanced absently at his watch, and scanned the crowd. His wandering gaze stopped when he spotted the woman directly across the room, watching him with bold, dark eyes. She dressed differently than the other women, not in the long pleated skirts and puffy sleeved blouses they wore. She had on a simple maroon sheath, and matching long jacket. And though he had only the recollection of her as a child, he knew with sudden clarity this was Katerina.
For the first time in centuries, he was awed. The fire in her dark eyes called to him, almost as strongly as did her blood. His gaze caught hers, held it for several moments. With a slow, purposeful stride, she made her way toward him, and he couldn’t hold back his smile.
She radiated confidence, intelligence. Her gaze left his to casually peruse him, then returned to his face. A hint of a smile played on her full lips. Her ebony hair hung in thick curls around her shoulders, framing her face, giving her a wild, exotic look.
Finally, she stood before him, her ebony eyes boring into his. “Mr. du Lac, I suppose I should say thank you.”
“Katerina, how you’ve…changed. Please, call me Adrian.” He let his gaze wander over her once more, surprised by the sudden thickness in his throat.
Her smile broadened. “Very well, Adrian. I’m surprised to see you here. But I’m glad for the chance to thank you personally for all you’ve done.”
She was indebted to him, though he hadn’t needed the reminder. Perhaps he could use her obligation to his advantage. In the space of a single heartbeat, his plans changed. All he knew was he needed to keep this woman by his side, no matter what it took. What he previously considered a necessary task had become a tantalizing challenge. He could persuade her to his will easily enough, he supposed. Surely she knew what he was. He had to tread with care, as she was not a woman easily taken advantage of.
At least, not by mortal men. That realization excited him.
He heard her heart pounding in her chest. She was nervous. He reached out and clasped one of her hands. She was warm, and the pulse in her wrist jumped erratically.
“Katerina, you’ve done remarkably well. Your intelligence and creativity is what brought you this far.”
“Yes, but you paid the bills.”
“Katerina!” Dimitri sharply interjected. “Papa, please.”
“Dimitri, don’t fret.” Adrian never took his gaze from Katerina. “It was the least I could do for your father. Consider it a debt repaid.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly, their inky depths hardening to coal, but her smile remained. “I’m afraid I can’t. You will be reimbursed. I will not have my family indebted any further. Consider this a down payment.”
She thrust a paper into his hand. Startled, he perused the check briefly, then looked at her again. He searched her eyes, and found a resistance which surprised him. He hadn’t expected this. It certainly required him to re‐think his tactics. The lure of the challenge she presented fired his blood. “What is this?”
“The first payment on the loan you made my family. You’ll have the rest by the end of the year.”
“Loan? I made no loan. There is nothing to pay.”
Dimitri stared at the check in shock and sputtered, “Katerina, what are you doing? This is not your place, and you show Monsieur du Lac no respect, after all he’s done for you!”
She waved her father’s protests away. “Papa, my education cost a lot of money. Since I’m the one who benefits, it’s my place to take care of this.”
Adrian held up his hand. “Dimitri, I admire your daughter’s determination. It is refreshing to see someone so young take such responsibility. However, Katerina, there is nothing to take care of.” He took her hand and lifted it, slowly opening her curled fingers. He laid the check in her palm, holding it there with the slightest pressure. Her heat burned him through the paper.
She made a noise of protest, and he smiled reassuringly as he gazed into her eyes. He was not above using a little persuasion to put an end to this ridiculous discussion. He held her gaze, and felt her will slowly turn toward him. “Katerina, we will not speak of this further. This is a celebration, and I would like to enjoy it with you.”
Her gaze warmed, and a smile tugged at her lips. “You’re right. We can talk about it another time. Come, have a drink.” She took his arm. He allowed her to pull him along with her. Perhaps this party would not be so bad after all.
Adrian responded to the buzz of the intercom. “What is it now?” “Katerina Romanov is here to see you. She doesn’t have an appointment.” Adrian tossed the file onto the desk. “Send her in.” He smiled. Just the distraction he needed from the morning’s work. He glanced down at his tie and straightened it. Just because he had no reflection didn’t mean he would settle for his appearance as less than perfect.
The double doors of his office opened. She stepped into the room. Amazed at how easily she could leave him speechless, he rose. Her sheer beauty was like nothing he had ever seen before, even dressed in the severe gray suit which hid her charms. Her dark eyes hinted at a limitless fire. He wanted to taste those full lips. At that moment, he knew the longing he’d felt the other night was more than a fleeting notion, and he had to have her.
Not as a vampire, but as a man. He wanted her in his bed.
“Katerina, what a pleasant surprise.”
She tore her gaze from his for a moment, a heartbeat, but enough to reveal her nervousness. “We have some business to discuss.”
Adrian shrugged. “We do? I was not aware…”
“I owe you for my education. And I intend to see the money returned, with interest.”
Adrian waved toward a chair. “Please, I thought we’d settled this.” Once she had taken her seat, he sat.
She shook her head. He wished her hair was unbound, as it had been the other night. What had gotten into him? He was not comfortable with the way these strange thoughts came upon him so suddenly, and at any time.
The lack of control was unfamiliar. And unwelcome.
“We settled nothing, du Lac. I will not have my family used by you any longer.”
He shrugged. Anticipating what was coming, he played along. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“I know what you are.”
That knowledge would make her seduction more difficult, but he was up for the extra challenge. “Really? And what would that be, Kat?”
He felt a twinge of satisfaction at the way she flinched. She leaned forward. “No one calls me Kat. My name is Katerina.”
He decided then and there he wouldn’t call her anything else. “You were saying…Kat?” A sense of triumph swept over him when she didn’t respond to the deliberate taunt. Her eyes flashed with annoyance before she once again composed herself. Subduing her fiery nature was clearly a struggle. Perhaps here was a way to get to her. He forced himself to focus on her words.
“Mr. du Lac, I’m determined to see every penny you spent on me is repaid. Then you will release my father from your service. Though he receives a substantial salary from du Lac Enterprises, I know his actual duties are not managing your Financial Advisory department.”
“You believe so? Your father has contributed to much of du Lac Enterprises’ profits in the last fifteen years. His particular…skills are greatly needed, and appreciated, by the company.”
“Skills? Don’t you mean his magic, his ability to cast good fortune your way?” “Your father is a valuable asset. I assure you, should he choose to…depart his position, I would not oppose him.” He knew Dimitri would never retire, would always remain loyal, despite whatever arrangements Adrian might make with Katerina.
She arched an eyebrow, her lips pursed in annoyance. “Really? Then you deny you use him for…unethical dealings.”
He smiled, but let no emotion show. She was smart. He wouldn’t be able to outwit her as easily as he’d anticipated, not without taking her blood. How much did she know about her father’s responsibilities? “Kat, I am shocked you would accuse me of such things. Your father chooses to work for me. If you object, I’m afraid you’re talking to the wrong man. You should speak with him.”
“I already have.” She opened her briefcase and took out a large envelope.
Disappointed, he realized he’d half‐hoped she would pull out a stake or a bottle of holy water. Such a confrontation would have been exhilarating. Instead, she placed the envelope in front of him.
“Since you wouldn’t accept my check the other night, consider this a down payment on my father’s freedom.”
He opened the envelope and peered inside. Three folders. He removed them and glanced at the names of several major international corporations before tossing them to the desk.
“Really, Kat, what am I supposed to do with these?”
She stiffened at his continued use of the nickname, but again did not protest. “I scrimped and saved any extra money not used on living expenses the past few years. What I saved, I invested. And made some wise choices, as you’ll see. I’d say it’s enough to cover boarding school through the high school years.”
He arched an eyebrow and nodded. “I’m impressed. But really, you should share this with your family.”
“No, it’s for you. You’ll have the rest by the end of the year. You can suggest to my father he take an early retirement. Then, I want your word you’ll leave my family alone.”
He stood and walked around the desk, stopping beside her chair. He leaned over her. “You are very brave to make such demands. Now, I have a demand of my own.”
Katerina stared at him, hoping she still maintained her outward bravado. Truth be told, she was terrified. She had no magic like her parents to protect her. He could destroy her in an instant for her boldness, but it was a risk she had to take.
At the same time, the man was devilishly handsome, and she couldn’t deny his sensual appeal. Even long ago, when she’d barely been past her twelfth birthday, she’d noticed. The memories were clear, etched in her mind as if it had happened yesterday. He’d come to her parents’ home, and soon afterward, she’d been sent off to school.
Now, after years of adolescent recollections and imaginings about what it would be like to face him, she was in his office, and he leaned over her, his mouth beside her ear. The spice in his cologne intoxicated her. How could she act like a cold‐hearted businesswoman when he was so near? No man had ever affected her like this before. But he was no ordinary man. What was he going to ask of her?
“You will have dinner with me tonight.”
No, she couldn’t! Even as she shook her head, her mind screamed to accept.
His fingers slid along her jaw and turned her to face him. His touch was cool, but ignited sparks of fire within her. She met his crystal blue gaze, willing her heart to stop pounding so hard.
“Yes, Kat. We will dine together at my castle.”
She couldn’t resist. His hypnotic voice echoed in her mind, his words laced with a hint of some strange accent, and an almost medieval manner of speaking. How old was he, anyway? Even as the thought fluttered through, she found herself nodding in response. All rational thought had fled. The only thing she wanted was to hear him speak again in his silky voice, which caused delightful vibrations in her belly.
“I’ll send a car for you. Be ready at seven.”
She nodded again and stood, her gaze still locked with his. “I’ll be ready.” He turned away, and she felt as though she’d been suddenly released from some sort of restraint. With his hand at the small of her back, he guided her to the door. Her legs felt strangely unsteady. She prayed she wouldn’t trip in front of him as they made their way to the door. She paused and turned back to him, her mind jumbled with confusion. What had just happened?
He placed a finger on her lips. The touch made her knees weaken. “I’ll see you tonight. We’ll discuss my other terms then.” Then she stood outside his office, aware his assistant watched her with curiosity. She cleared her throat and strode to the elevator, conscious of the fact she had not gotten him to agree to anything.