In a time before recorded history, some with otherworldly powers mastered a spell that guided destined mates to each other. Though few can now wield this ancient power, some masters of the art still exist. Those bound by mate marks cannot resist their magical pull, but the marks can only bind souls that are meant to be joined.
The South of Spain, 1790
Arias' gaze traveled over the lush, pale breasts of the woman sprawled unconscious beside him on the bed. He sighed, propping himself on his elbow and thinking how strange it was that he had absolutely no desire to touch her.
The taste of her blood still lingered on his tongue. Its bittersweet warmth coursed through him, yet it didn't provide the sensation it once had.
He rolled onto his back and stared at the painted ceiling. At one time nothing compared to the rush of blood drinking and lovemaking. Now the former was something he did merely to survive, and the latter was a mild diversion when he got the urge.
Someone tapped on the door and Arias said, "Come in, Diego."
Diego stepped into the room and approached the bed. A short, slight man whose large amber eyes missed nothing, Diego was Arias' oldest companion and the only person he'd ever fully trusted.
"Will she be staying for the night?" Diego asked, glancing at the woman. He spoke in his usual reserved tone, his face calm and passive, but Arias didn't miss the desire in his eyes.
Diego loved women, but they scarcely gave him a second look. For centuries, Arias had told him that attracting women was more in a man's attitude than in his appearance, but Diego couldn't seem to overcome his shyness.
"No." Arias sighed, not even bothering to look at his luscious, dark-haired bedmate.
"I'll return her to the village before anyone realizes she's missing. There's already enough talk about you. If you're not careful, the same thing will happen here as in Seville."
"I don't look for them, Diego. They come to me."
The servant raised his eyes to the heavens. "Don't brag to me. Other than covering our tracks, I have no interest in your conquests."
"What conquests?" Arias rose, naked, from the bed. He strode to the window, pushed aside the heavy black drapes and gazed at the moonlit countryside. "I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I'm tired of this life. Women either flee from me in terror or throw themselves at my feet."
"Why should you complain? They always flee from me in terror."
Arias gave a snort of laughter and turned to Diego who sat on the edge of the bed, his hungry gaze lingering on the woman. His licked his lips then parted them, exposing the tips of his sharp little fangs. Drawing a long, slow breath, he lifted his hand, letting it hover over her breasts.
Arias' brow furrowed. He almost wished that for once in his life Diego would take what he wanted without hesitation or guilt. The servant's hand curled into a fist, and he lowered it onto his lap without touching the object of his desire.
"I always thought this was the life I wanted. No connections or responsibilities. The power to chase my passions without consequence," Arias said.
"For someone like you, that's what the blood-drinking gift can be."
Arias closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head. "It can be that way for anyone who knows how to manipulate others."
Diego glanced over his shoulder at him, his gaze sweeping Arias from head to toe. "You don't manipulate them, Arias. In all the years we've known each other, you've never forced a woman or harmed anyone without good reason. You don't have to manipulate. One look in your eyes and women want you."
"They don't want me. They want excitement. They want the forbidden, to be ravished by a fiend."
"A handsome fiend."
"I've told you time and again, appearance has nothing to do with it."
Diego curled his lip and turned back to the woman. "Do you think she'd have come to me as easily as she came to you?"
"Did you ask her?"
"I gave up self-torture in the early 1700s."
"You were insane."
"I don't mock your fetishes, and believe me there's been much to laugh at over the years."
A smile tugged at Arias' lips. He couldn't argue with that. To alleviate boredom he'd tried all sort of sexual antics. Nothing or no one kept his attention for long. It was what made him an exceptional vampire, his ability to change and adapt. He never stayed with a partner long enough to form an emotional attachment. Only recently had he started to realize that maybe he'd been wasting centuries by depriving himself of a soulmate.
Yet was he capable of forming such an attachment, or would attempting to do so be the most selfish act of his life? What if, after so many years, he was no longer capable of love? Had he ever been?
It was a cosmic joke that he, a man who had no problem luring partners, had little capacity for love, while a man like Diego, who would give his heart and soul to a companion, had no powers of seduction.
Maybe it had nothing to do with them at all. Perhaps it was a matter of neither having found the right woman.
Even a decade ago, the thought of a permanent partner would have made Arias cringe. Now the idea of spending the rest of his life shifting from woman to woman made him feel older and lonelier than ever before.
"Just a taste, Arias," Diego said, his voice scarcely a whisper.
Usually Diego slaked his thirst among prostitutes. Not that he was attracted to them, but he didn't believe in forcing his bite, so he paid for the privilege. Such a gentle soul. Those stupid, superficial women didn't deserve him.
Arias came to stand behind Diego. He draped an arm over his shoulder and held his wrist inches from the servant's mouth.
Diego grasped his forearm and Arias felt a slight pinch as his friend's fangs slipped into his flesh. Arias' blood, laced with the flavor of the woman's, flowed into Diego's mouth.
When the servant finished drinking, Arias licked the wound on his arm before it faded completely.
Sighing, Diego picked up the woman and headed for the door.
"When you return, there's something important we need to discuss," Arias said.
Diego paused, keeping his back to Arias, and nodded.
Once he and the woman had gone, Arias bathed in the lake outside the mansion. He glanced at the rolling meadows and the forest in the distance. Most of this land belonged to him, and he loved it. Yet even the beauty of this place no longer pleased him as much as it once did. He longed for someone to share it with. Yes, he had Diego, but a male companion wasn't the same as a woman. No matter how much he cared for Diego, there were some things he could never share with him. Some male blood drinkers took pleasure in the blood and flesh of men, but Arias had never developed a taste for it. He lived and breathed women.
He loved soft breasts, fleshy backsides, and warm, smooth thighs. He liked the taste of feminine lips and the delicate sounds they made when he drank their blood and thrust his cock into their hot, wet cunts. Of late the mere acts of biting and fucking hadn't been enough. He wondered what it was like to enjoy a woman in bed and out. How did it feel to have someone who would be content to rest in his arms and share not only his body, but his thoughts?
He stepped out of the water, toweled off his hair and dried his body, then returned to the house and dressed quickly. He walked to the parlor, lit a fire in the hearth and sat on the high-backed wooden chair across from it.
It had taken him a long time to grow up. Over three hundred years in fact, but he finally realized he could no longer go on like this.