A domina’s only purpose in life was to birth vampire children for the Quiet King. Any human woman with the domina gene spent their lives in the castle under strict rules and the guards’ watchful eyes. Brie has been a domina for two years. After witnessing the slaughter of babies, she plans to escape and seeks help from Samuel, a vampire known for aiding many out of slavery.
However, Samuel has only one policy. He won’t help dominas escape the king. The penalty is too high and their blood triggers powers in him that he doesn’t want released. So Brie is forced to lie about being a domina and Samuel is lured in by her blood. Something emerges within them that they can’t deny, overwhelming their every cell and igniting an all-consuming hunger that neither can flee.
Both moons hung in the dark violet sky. Their light shone on my tan skin as I maneuvered through the Royal Court, where all the other dominas lounged. They wore teal chiffon robes and placed ice-blue roses in each other’s hair. The women laughed and giggled as they enjoyed the absence of our vampire husband, The Quiet King. Lit candles rested on the backs of mechanical birds that flew around the court and sung the same prerecorded songs they performed each night. Servants brought out platters of roasted meats and trays of chocolate-covered fruits for the nightly feast. Although the food’s alluring aroma grappled with my senses, watering my mouth and causing my stomach to grumble, I hurried to the gate. Now was the perfect time to escape, while food, wine, and entertainment lingered within the evening air.
My only purpose in life was to birth babies.
I possessed a rare blood type only one out of five hundred human women had. The strain allowed me to procreate with vampires. They had difficulty breeding with each other. Most of their offspring died in the womb. The Quiet King called any woman with my blood type a domina and kept her in his castle.
As a domina I could carry up to six vampire fetuses during my pregnancy term. Once I birthed them, the babies took three years to grow into men and women. Some would be full-blooded vampires. The rest would only be halflings, part vampire and human. At times my mind couldn’t wrap around the phenomena, babies to adults in such short years.
The king discovered dominas by sending guards into human villages and testing their blood. Other towns like mine had requested his financial help and volunteered their women to be examined. If any dominas resulted, the king rewarded the town with riches and carted the female off to Capitol City.
Well, not me. I won’t bear his heirs.
I strolled through the court with confidence. Breathe. No one is watching you. Terror coursed through my veins. To keep my shivering hands busy, I waved at the tribe of younger dominas who ate alongside their maids, too young to breed or be left to walk around the castle on their own. The maternal part of me wanted to take them all. I’d considered it all day as I lay sleepless in my bed, wondering if I could bring others with me to escape, but the risks were too high. Their little legs would slow me down. Their absence would be discovered much faster than just one domina gone missing.
“Where are you going?” A male voice sounded behind me.
Gathering the ends of my teal robe, I twisted around and cleared my throat. “I was given permission by Queen Regina to escort her daughter to the market.”
The guard paused at the mention of the queen. The king had five queens. They began as dominas like me, but once they delivered at least sixty vampire children, they were given the title of queen, allowed more freewill, and could assert authority over dominas below them.
“Queen Regina, huh?” The brown leather straps tied around the guard’s biceps shifted as he flexed his muscles. His bronze gaze bore into me. “And how do I know you’re not lying?”
“Here’s her consent.” I displayed the disk in my right hand. The queen’s mascot, a silver snake, decorated the disk. “So if you can excuse me, sir. I’m already late.”
“Hold on.” He stepped in front of me and scanned the area around us. “You’re captivating, little domina. Never have I seen eyes so green or hair as blood-red as yours. You’re lucky The Quiet King hasn’t drunk from you yet.”
The guard traced the top of my lip with his index finger. It reeked of feces, but I didn’t flinch away from his touch. Besides blood, vampires savored the taste of fear. The more affected I seemed, the more he would bother me.
“And what will you be buying, sweet domina?” The guard slipped his finger down to my chin and outlined the curve of my neck.
“I assume Brie will be buying what all women love: clothes and jewelry.” Octavia sauntered toward us, fanning herself with a large peacock feather. Her blond hair glowed like the sun and highlighted the white gown she was wearing. She carried a big white bag in her right hand. “Get your hands off Brie before I tell my mother Queen Regina.”
The guard hissed and bared his sharp fangs. Nevertheless, he backed up a few feet and maintained eye contact with me. “Be here when dawn arrives.”
Before walking off, he spat out a glob of dark liquid. It landed an inch from Octavia’s sandaled feet. She ignored the guard’s disrespect and clasped on to my hand. “You’re late. I’m not happy I had to come into the Royal Court to get you.”
“I figured the feast was the best time to meet you outside the gate.” I trailed behind her as she stuffed the peacock fan into her bag.
We passed three young dominas playing near a turquoise-stoned fountain, splashing water, and chasing each other around the fountain’s lower edge. The girls must have been no older than teenagers.
Octavia groaned as she watched them and dragged me through the court’s exit. “I hate being around these blithering sluts. They’re all stupid dominas.”
Careful, I’m one of them. I swallowed in my anger.
“My father leaves to meet with his war council and do you think any of them considers breaking away from their slavery? No.” Octavia scrunched her nose up as if she had caught an alarming scent. “All these whores can think of is spreading their legs for my father to birth his soldiers and princesses.”
Dominas delivered princes too, but I chose not to correct her. Births were a sore spot for many who lived on the castle’s grounds. Any baby boy who wasn’t a prince served in The Quiet King’s army for twenty years.
Baby girls became princesses if the king deemed them pretty. He could not see and was blind, deaf, and mute, but he made decisions by analyzing the girl’s faces with his fingers and communicating his choices by speaking them in our minds. He read all of our thoughts and knew when we complied with his wishes. When the girls grew, the king married them off to leaders with vampires in their territories. There, the princesses were expected to add halflings to the foreign population. Baby girls he considered ugly remained as servants in the castle.
However, the king murdered all boys born with black marks, trailing up the side of their legs. I was told by an old domina the marks signaled the sign of a prince, one strong enough to conquer the king. Whenever a delivery nurse or guard spotted the birthmark on an infant’s leg, the king ordered the little prince’s death. One night after four princes were delivered, the king’s voice had boomed in all of our heads with rage, “Kill them!”
Only a monster would murder his own kids. May the vampire god Ambi damn him to Hell.
The first time I witnessed the slaughter of baby princes I decided to escape and vowed to never bear the king’s kids. It was why I walked next to Octavia, silent and nodding in agreement. She was my path to freedom, and if necessary, I would call myself a blithering slut to get her help.
“Hurry, Brie. I don’t know how long Samuel will stay at the tavern.” Octavia lifted her white dress with her hands and ran. Her feet slammed against the pavement. “He’s the best pathfinder in the city and knows every hidden route out of this godforsaken place.”
My sandals clicked and clacked on the sidewalk as I sped up, carrying the bottom of my robe in my hands. A few roses dropped from my hair, falling to my shoulders and making their way down to the pavement. I couldn’t keep up with Octavia. Although she was only half vampire and human, her stamina and speed surpassed my human legs.
“Quickly!” she called back, now several feet in front of me.
We passed the Statue of Creation—an image of The Quiet King thirty feet high carved in red coral stone sitting on a throne made of skulls. Two moons rested in his lap. At his feet a crowd of dominas gaped at him, their arms full of babies suckling from their bare breasts.
I pray I’ll never have to see this horrid statue again.
Twenty minutes later, we arrived at a black-and-white checkered building completely made from concrete. The king forbade builders to use lumber for business structures since wood was lethal to vampires. Wood pierced their flesh with ease like a sharp knife slicing through water. If that material stabbed into their hearts, it was impossible for them to heal the wound, even when they drunk the curing blood of a domina. Copper houses and buildings made of brass outlined the streets. Poorer home and business owners lived in concrete structures. No one had windows. It was to keep out the sun. Its light seared vampire flesh and caused permanent burns.
A metal sign hammered near the roof read, Blood Spirits!
We dashed through the door. Loud chatter and guitar music greeted my ears. A portrait of The Quiet King hung behind the bar. My legs burned from the journey, to the point I wobbled a little as we maneuvered through a crowd of drunken vampires and humans. Vampire men dressed in gray business suits gathered around and laughed with human women draped in amber robes with gold tattoos of the sun upon their foreheads. All of the human men huddled together in green work uniforms and gossiped over mugs of beer.
It was pretty easy to tell a vampire from a human. All the humans appeared short and frail with tanned skin and eyes shaded with colors found in a rainbow. Almost all humans possessed brown hair or gray if they were old. My red hair was actually a peculiarity that caused adults to whisper and point at me when I was a child and kids to bully me in school.
Vampires maintained muscular frames with eyes the color of precious metals and fangs that extended when they were happy, mad, or hungry. I still could not easily identify halflings like Octavia because they had a varied blend of both qualities. Although Octavia enjoyed her speed and metallic-colored eyes, she didn’t have fangs.
“I hope Samuel is still here,” Octavia mumbled. “Mother will kill me if I mess this up.”
I decided not to ask why her mom would be mad if things didn’t happen as planned. I’d been wondering why Queen Regina and her daughter decided to help me run away from the king, but in the end it didn’t matter.
I can’t survive in that castle another day.
Gusts of brown smoke and the fragrance of Zumayan mushrooms thickened the air. I smirked, inhaling the familiar scent. It reminded me of my home, Zumaya. My real husband, not The Quiet King, lived there with my twin daughters. Every night for the past two years of my slavery, I’d closed my eyes and thought only of them. I’m coming home, baby. I clutched the silver locket around my neck. A picture of my husband and children rested within it.
We had owned a large plantation, harvested Zumayan mushrooms, and sold them to vampire cities. The mushrooms were the only thing besides alcohol that could get a vampire inebriated. They also affected humans, but not as much as vampires. Regardless, all sought them. My husband and I had been wealthy for many years. But this was all before the drought that decreased the mushroom production and even before the tough decision my husband and I had made: to sell me to the king so my family and other Zumayans could survive the winter.
More brown smoke drifted in our direction. Octavia coughed and waved it away. My smirk transformed into a grin as I breathed in the mushrooms’ aroma. I scanned the bar. Almost every vampire held a pipe with streams of brown smoke rising from their openings.
Zumaya’s mushroom production must have improved since I left. Things are finally better.
Octavia halted and faced me. “I almost forgot. These have to go.” She snatched out the few ice-blue roses that remained in my hair and tossed them on the bar’s tiled floor. “You can’t tell Samuel you’re a domina or he won’t help you escape.”
“Okay.” I searched my hair with my hands and confirmed all the roses were gone.
Octavia yanked a sea-green shawl made from caterpillar silk out of her bag and handed it to me. “Wear this. It goes with your eyes and covers your robe.”
I wrapped the shawl around my shoulders and hid my robe’s ivory embroidery, which symbolized I was untouched by the king and other vampires. In my two years of domina slavery, no fangs had pierced my skin. The king never attempted to have sex with me, but my name had been on the breeding list for next month. I counted myself lucky.
“And what should I tell him?” I asked her.
“Say you’re a human maid who served dominas.”
A vampire stumbled by us, burping near my face. A sour odor followed.
“If I am a maid, then how did we meet?” I twisted the end of the shawl in my fingers. The soft silk smoothed in my hands. Beads of sweat materialized near my eyebrows.
“You can tell him the actual story, if it comes up.” Octavia balanced on the tips of her toes and frantically searched the bar. “But substitute a few parts like when I approached you asking you if you desired your freedom, say you were in the servant quarters instead of the domina resting room.”
“And if he doesn’t believe me?”
“There he is.” She snatched my wrist and tugged me forward as if I were a tiny doll instead of a grown woman. Octavia was older than me by thirty years, but vampires and halflings aged slowly, healed most injuries easily, and lived well past a hundred years. Nevertheless, we both looked my age of twenty-five.
“Don’t worry about his questions. I’ll step in to save you whenever I need to.” She shoved two human females out of the way and guided me several tables down to where two vampire men sat. One had black-and-blond wavy hair. The other was bald.
“Finally, Princess Octavia graces us with her presence.” The vampire with the wavy hair clapped his pale hands. His waves were as dark as the midnight sky, except for the honey-blond strands that bordered his face. Even his eyebrows were striped in blond-and-black. He wore his tresses cut shorter than most men I’d seen around Capitol City. Many allowed their hair to hang to their shoulders. A huge gray coat made of wolf hair covered his arms and chest.
This must be Samuel.
“You’re late, Octavia. I almost left.” His lips formed into a line. His hands rested flat on the table.
“Well, I’m here now. Don’t be so dramatic, Samuel.” Octavia dropped her bag on the table and pulled out her peacock fan. “The supplies you asked for are in the bag.”
Samuel’s liquid-gold eyes centered on me. “And who is this?”
“I already told you before,” Octavia huffed and fanned herself, “this is a maid from the castle who wants to leave the city.”
“And where shall you flee to, domina maid?” Samuel asked me with a hint of humor.
Or was it sarcasm?
“I want to go to Zumaya.” I maintained a mask of neutrality. “I only need help leaving the city’s borders. I can find my way home after I’m beyond the gates.”
On the right, the bald-headed vampire chuckled to himself.
“My friend, Ty, is laughing because escaping the city is no simple feat.” Samuel gripped a tall bottle of blood wine in front of him. “Your soft skin will be scratched and your pretty robe shredded. Gunk will cling to your hair. And that’s just the fun part.”
Samuel took a swig of the wine straight from the bottle and passed it over to Ty. “You should go back and clean The Quiet King’s castle instead of hitching a ride with me.”
I gritted my teeth, struggling with myself not to yell or curse at him. According to Octavia, he was the best pathfinder in the city. I didn’t know if she was exaggerating or not, but for me, he was the only person I knew who could aid my path to freedom.
I sighed. “I’ve survived a lot. I can deal with any obstacle in front of me. Right now, I really need your help.”
“To escape out of the city, it will cost you a large amount,” Samuel replied.
“Oh, Ambi. I’ve prepared her for the price. Just get on with it,” Octavia said with an edge of impatience. “Show him the payment, Brie.”
I moved my locket out of the way and took out the two vials of my blood I’d hidden within my cleavage. “I don’t have money, but I do have blood.”
I placed the vials on the table. They rolled over to Samuel as if he’d commanded them to come.
“It’s domina blood,” I declared.
“I know what it is,” Samuel hissed and glared at Octavia. “What game are we playing today?”
“No games.” Octavia slowly fanned herself.
“Whose blood is this?” Samuel’s fingers tightened around the vials.
“My domina offered it to me,” I replied.
Samuel and Ty exchanged glances, but I couldn’t tell if they thought I was lying or not.
My story wasn’t unusual. Dominas created unshakeable bonds with their maids, since they always spent time together. The most popular play in the theaters now told a tragedy in which a domina gave up her life to save her helper. Songs played all over the city, boasting of a domina’s love for her maids. Even the majority of bestselling books about domina romances and mysteries narrated the story through their most beloved servant.
“How long have you served your domina?” Samuel raised his striped eyebrows.
“Long enough for her to give me two vials of blood.”
Ty laughed and banged the table with his hand. “This one will be fun to bring along.”
Samuel didn’t laugh or smile. His gold eyes studied my face and clothes.
Maybe I shouldn’t have lost my patience .
“These two vials are worth a lot more than the price of my services,” Samuel said after Ty stopped laughing.
“I don’t care.” I shrugged. “I just want to be free.”
Samuel tucked the vials in his shaggy coat.
“If I find out that there is a drained domina somewhere on The Quiet King’s grounds, I’ll hunt you down and it won’t be a pleasant visit.” Samuel rose from his seat, appearing bigger than I’d thought, massive in fact. He towered over us with broad shoulders, informing me there was no small frame under his coat. He stalked my way and gripped my hand, surrounding me in warmth. It surged deep into my flesh and heated my core. Not in entirely in a sexual way, but in a way that spoke of great power.
A warm, full-blooded vampire? Not possible. Maybe he’s a halfling with high body temperature.
“Let’s go,” he ordered.
“What do you mean let’s go?” I pulled my hand away from his. A creak sounded as Ty stood from his chair.
“We leave now or we don’t leave at all.” Samuel crossed his massive arms around his chest. “Second thoughts?”
“No,” I said as he grabbed my hand again.
That same warmth hit me, seeping into my skin. I bit my lip and forced myself not to relish in the tingling heat. Samuel’s eyes widened. Fangs erupted from his gums. His nostrils flared as he inhaled me. His thumb drew a small circle on to my skin. My blood charged everywhere he touched as if he could control my body.
“I don’t want you to touch me.” I jerked my hand back a little, trying not to show my fear, but he didn’t release me. Instead, he gazed into my eyes with gleaming gold pupils. The sharp tip of two fangs peeked out from the top lip.
“Maids smell like cleaning liquid and dust.” He sniffed. “You smell like roses and domina blood.”
My mouth dropped open.
“Leave her alone,” Octavia said. “I watched her help the domina put the blood in the vials. That’s probably why she smells like one. Besides, it’s a maid’s duty to put roses in her dominas’ hair. You worry too much.”
Samuel’s lips pressed together. Ty rubbed the bottom of his chin as he appeared on my right. Chatter ensued all around us. The music’s volume increased. I attempted to yank my hand back. Samuel maintained his steel grip and leaned toward me. His lips stopped near my ear.
“This is your last chance,” he whispered. “Are you a maid?”
“Yes, and do you have to hold my hand?”
“I don’t trust you yet. The whole trip to Zumaya, you’ll stay next to me. Just be happy I’m only holding your hand.”
What does that mean? An herbal scent floated from his skin. I could have leaned in closer to identify the sweet herb, but he was already too close and overwhelming. It doesn’t matter what he smells like. Concentrate on getting out of here.
“Fine. If it will make you feel better, you can hold my hand the whole way.” I squeezed his fingers as hard as I could and flashed a grin. The muscles in Samuel’s jaw twitched.
“I’m ready,” I announced. And now I can’t wait to escape Capitol City as well as you.
“You’re ready, huh?” Samuel’s thumb circled one of my knuckles.
I averted my eyes, not willing to show him my discomfort. “Yes, I’m ready.”
“We’ll see how ready you are.”