The Price of Blood: A Blood Series Bonus Story
Author’s Note: In this previously unpublished scene from the Blood Series from Dreamspinner Press, we learn how vampire Charles Duvalier lost his humanity. No spoilers for series books.
He hadn’t chosen this existence. He wasn’t an ancient. He’d once been human, with human desires, human needs, human pain—a simple man working as an apprentice to a well-respected painter in a Parisian neighborhood that catered to those more fortunate.
Nobles, men and women, came to the studio to have their likenesses painted. He’d been paid little as an apprentice, but he lived rent-free in the tiny attic room above the studio. He’d been young, barely twenty years old. He knew little of the ways of the aristocracy, but he’d been eager to learn. He had no family, and despite the offers of marriage, he’d chosen to remain alone. He only wanted to paint; he cared little for money, fame, or the company of women.
He often worked late into the evening creating art of his own—works painted on the backs of discarded canvases. He’d hidden them underneath some of the floorboards. One day he’d be good enough that he might show them to his master, but for now, he painted for himself alone.
Late in the evening a knock on the studio door interrupted his work. He quickly covered the painting he’d been working on, hoping the cloth wouldn’t smear the paint. He explained to the visitor that his master had left for the evening and urged her to return the next day.
“I have no interest in your master,” the woman said, her voice rich, musical. “I want you to paint me, Charles. I’ve watched every night. I admire your gifts.”
Beautiful, with long ebony hair that shone like ink in the candlelight, she blinked with sapphire eyes glowing with passion and promise. Her flawless skin was the color of milk, nearly translucent. She wore robes of the finest fabric woven in emerald green and richest blue.
He’d never been drawn to a woman before, preferring the company of men. But the urge to paint her was so powerful, he couldn’t resist.
She asked to see his other paintings. He hesitated at first, then relented. She took the time to admire and critique each of them. Later, Charles seated her on a black lacquer bench and painted her well into the night. He fell asleep and awoke the next morning to find her gone, the unfinished painting the only evidence that he hadn’t dreamed it all.
She called upon him every night after the atelier closed, and after a week, the portrait was nearly done. Each night Charles grew more fascinated by her beauty, grace, and warm heart. He’d known all along that she came from a world apart from his own, but still he dreamed of holding her and of sharing far more than conversation. Her otherworldly beauty captivated him, drawing him in, leaving nothing but desire in its wake.
“You’re a fine painter, Charles,” she told him when he presented her with the completed portrait.
He thanked her and she smiled at him with crimson lips that begged to be kissed. She unlaced the bodice of her gown to reveal the delicate flesh beneath, then slowly released her hair from its long braid. She was perfect. Ethereal. Something about her called to him. Demanded he respond.
“You want me, don’t you, young Charles?” she asked as she undressed before him.
He nodded, unable to find the words to express his desire for her. She beckoned for him to join her and he obeyed without protest, his mind overwhelmed by lust. He couldn’t think of anything but her. He thought her blue eyes flashed briefly red, but he didn’t question it. The siren call was too powerful.
She took him in her arms and kissed him, encouraging him to touch her bare skin. “You’ve never bedded a woman before.”
He shook his head, mortified that she’d guess his secret.
“That you prefer a man’s body is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said and slipped her hands underneath his shirt to caress his bare chest. “Where I come from, my desire for men is considered improper.” She sighed. “If I were just a woman, you would not respond to my touch.”
She silenced his protests with a kiss and they made love on the floor of the studio atop her velvet dress. As they lay there afterward, she combed lithe fingers through his hair and traced them over his skin, her desire not as easily satisfied as his.
“You’re beautiful,” she murmured and kissed the line of his chin, his cheeks, and worked her way to his neck.
He shivered as her tongue skimmed the sensitive skin behind his ear. “Stay with me forever, Charles,” she whispered in his ear.
Something deep in the core of his being told him to run, to leave before he became a prisoner to her charms, but he allowed her to do with him what she wished. A willing captive. He could deny her nothing.
The pain of her bite was over in an instant, replaced by a heady pleasure far more consuming than sex. A crescendo of desire exploded into rapture. He collapsed into her arms, weak but content. She held him there, watching him with eyes that reflected deep sadness, even regret.
Bliss turned to agony as he transformed. Only later, as he begged to drink from her like a dog begs its master, did he realize the beautiful woman he’d painted was not human. Corinette Lambert was an ancient vampire who had ruled her vampire clan for nearly two thousand years.
She was always kind to him, but she was ruthless. When the other ancients agreed to a treaty with the hunters, she alone refused. “I will not deny my nature,” she said. And although she never permitted Charles to take a human life, she allowed him to drink from her victims as they died. And with each life he felt slip away, his guilt grew.
During the three hundred years he remained at Corinette’s side, she remained as beautiful as when he first saw her. She gave him a life he could never have dreamed of, lavishing him with gifts, showing him a world of beauty and depravity.
He wanted to love her.
“It’s time for you to leave,” she told him one night as they lay entwined in her bed.
“Your soul is too hungry, too beautiful to waste on physical pleasure alone.” She traced her fingertips over his cheeks and mouth, and her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. “I’ve seen the pain in your eyes. Your guilt consumes you.”
He protested and swore he would never leave her. But the next morning she was gone. He searched for her for years, but he never saw her again. Eventually, he left France for England.
A hundred years later, he returned to France. He kept to himself, feeding only on wild beasts, never daring to approach humans for fear that he might lose control. He wanted their blood. He wanted to feel their lives fade as he fed on them.
He hated himself.
One day a stranger arrived at the house on the outskirts of Paris. Tall, dark-haired, with eyes the color of midnight, he looked to be about twenty. A vampire whose blood smelled familiar.
“Jean Lambert,” the young man said with a curt bow. “My father asked me to find you.” He reached into the pocket of his long velvet jacket and withdrew something wrapped in green silk.
“Lambert,” Charles said as Jean pulled the fabric away. He recognized the dagger immediately. “This was….”
“My aunt wanted you to have this.” He met Charles’s gaze, his expression unreadable.
“The Council of Hunters does not abide those who flaunt the treaty between races,” Jean said. “The ancients agreed to this.”
“They killed her.” Charles struggled to maintain his composure. Certainly this boy must also feel the weight of Corinette’s loss.
“She chose to live her life by her own rules. There was nothing we could do.”
“Nothing?” Charles blinked back tears.
Jean pressed his lips together. For just a second, something flickered in his gaze. Then he said, “She was an extraordinary woman. A powerful vampire. She chose to die by their hand. She understood she no longer belonged in this world.”
“Why would she choose to die?”
“The future lies with those who embrace humanity, monsieur. The world is changing. We must change with it or perish. Why do you choose not to kill humans?”
“How did you—?”
“It is our duty as ancients to know.”
Charles took the dagger from Jean’s hand. It felt heavier than he recalled.
“The treaty may fail,” Jean continued. “You will be asked to choose yet again. Will you fight? Or will you run as you’ve done before?”
After Corinette’s death, Charles drew his cloak of self-imposed solitude more tightly about himself than ever before. He watched as the great vampire clans fought each other over the treaty. He told himself he didn’t care, that the fight wasn’t his.
So he hid. He stayed out of the war. He denied himself pleasure. He lived in a self-imposed purgatory.
Until he met François Gilbert… and lost his heart.