The Reluctant Prince

Closeup portrait of handsome young man looking through window

The Reluctant Prince
By
Reese Stephens

After existing for five-hundred years, vampire, Henry Samuelson is going through the motions. He’s content, but has no real purpose, that is until his father, the Supreme Ruler, pays him a visit. Now it’s a race against the clock to find his mate before he is forced to marry the bride of his father’s choosing.

 

Chapter One

Have you ever thought about living forever? I mean seriously and truly thought about how boring things might become after a while. There’s only so much that can change before the same things happen over and over, just on a different scale. Plain and simple, life gets boring.

I’m bored.

I’ve lived on this earth for approximately five hundred years. I’ve more than likely done everything imaginable at least once. Climbed Mt. Everest, ran with the bulls, skydiving, scuba diving, college, high school, teacher, plumber, doctor, I think you get the picture. Life gets tedious and monotonous. There’s only one thing I’ve never done, and that’s fallen in love. Sure, I’ve dated and thought it was love. I’ve even been married a time or two, but there’s never been one person out there that I thought, ‘Hey, this really could be the person, that special someone, that I spend a limitless amount of forever’s with.’ Not once.

I’ve often wondered why. You know? I know others like me, who have their partners. They seem happy. They say it’s a forever type of thing, but not once have I ever felt that spark, that gut instinct. Do I want to feel it? Of course I do. I think it would finally give my long absurd life meaning. Do I think I’ll ever feel it? No. Why would I think that after five hundred years of nothing? Some people are just meant to be alone.

“Mr. Samuelson?”

I turn from the bank of floor to ceiling windows to see my secretary, Rumor. Why would her parents give her such a ridiculous name? That would be one of life’s unanswered questions.

“Mr. Samuelson?” Oh, right.

“Sorry, what is it you need?” I ask, giving her my award winning smile. I’m not just saying that. The local paper voted.

“Your father is on line one. He says it’s urgent.”

I groan. “Thanks.”

My father. He’s not really my father in a biological way. He’s my maker. He turned me into this everlasting shell of a man. My miserable existence is his fault. I tend to not let him forget either.

“Old man,” I answer.

“Henry, pleasant as ever I see.”

“I’m nothing if not consistent. What can I do for you, Nik?”

I sit down at my large mahogany desk, propping my feet up on top as I recline my desk chair back.

“I’ll be in town the day after tomorrow. I thought we could spend some time together.”

“I suppose I could clear my calendar. Will Charity be coming with you?”

“Of course, you know I go nowhere without my wife.”

“Of course,” I mock his serious tone. “Will the children be along as well?”

“No, unfortunately your sisters have prior engagements.” I want to laugh at his answer. The man is always so proper. “It will just be your mother and I. We’ll expect proper accommodations.”

“On it. I think the Pay n Stay has comfortable accommodations.” I grin widely waiting his response.

He growls. Perfect. “Henry James Samuelson Ivanov, if you put us in another cheap roach infested hotel, I will disown you.”

“Promise?”

“I swear I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such an insolent child.” I throw my head back and belt out a laugh. I absolutely love riling him up.

“Your own fault, you know. You chose me.”

He huffs out a breath. “I’m well aware. If only I had your mother back then. Maybe I would have chosen better.”

“Doubtful. You had a soft spot for my sister. You took me in for pity.”

This was true. My sister and I were about six and ten when we went to live with Nikoli Ivanov. Our mother had just passed away during childbirth; the baby lived for a few hours, but was too early and passed. Nik had been our neighbor. He says he doesn’t know why he agreed to take us, but we both think it was because he loved our mother. Not the everlasting type of love, but he loved her and cared for her after our father died in battle.

“Ah, yes. I do have a soft spot for my little Cecily, but you had your merit as well.”

A genuine smile spreads across my face. He always tells me I have merit. I think it’s his way of saying he loves me.

“Then I suppose I’ll have to put you up in a swanky hotel then.”

“We can stay at your condo. No need to fuss.”

I really do not want them staying with me, but if I don’t allow it, I’ll never hear the end of it. “Fine then. No fuss. What time will you arrive?”

“I’ll have Charity send you our flight information. We have some important things to discuss with you. The elections are in a few months, we need to prepare.”

I groan again. “I don’t know why you bother. It’s not like they actually mean anything. You’ll still be ruler.”

“We’ll go over everything once we arrive,” he says in a matter of fact, no nonsense way.

“Very well, I’ll see you in a couple of days then.” I don’t like the air of secrecy. There will definitely be things I do not like coming my way.

“Goodbye.” He hangs up.

He’s always so clipped when he speaks and has absolutely no people skills. You’d think he would have learned something in his eight-hundred years.

I press the call button on my telephone. “Rumor, I’m ready for my lunch.”

“Right away, sir.”

Seconds later she enters my office carrying a tray of food. She sits it on the small table in the corner of my office then walks over to me. She always seems nervous, though I’m not sure why. It’s not as if it’s a surprise, this was listed in her job description after all.

“Feeling all right?” I ask, not that it really matters to me. However, I’m not a cold hearted monster.

“Yes, sorry. I’m still a little nervous about this.”

She pushes up her glasses and plays with her hair nervously. She’s a pretty girl, but very insecure. I sit back in my chair, steepling my fingers together across my chest. Her heart rate picks up and her stress oozes out of her like the gooey center in a chocolatey candy. Delicious. I look up at her, taking her wrist as I pull her closer to me. Her breathing speeds up.

“Don’t be afraid. I’d never hurt you. Do you believe me?” I ask.

“Yes, I know you won’t. This is just so … not normal.”

I chuckle. “I’m aware.”

I kiss the inside of her wrist in a silent thank you, before sinking my teeth into the delicate flesh. She gasps but otherwise says nothing. It only takes a few minutes, and I pull away.

“See, nothing to it.”

“Right.” She touches her skin where I bit her, watching the marks fade as they heal. “Um … I meant to ask you earlier, but is there any way I can have Friday off? My boyfriend is coming to town.” Color me surprised. I wasn’t aware she had a partner.

“Sure. My parents are coming then as well. Cancel all my appointments; we’ll just play hooky.” I wink.

“Of course. Anything else?” she asks. I shake my head. She gives me a nod, before heading back to her desk.

Vampire … ugh, I hate that word, but there’s no other term that better describes what we are. We’ve been around since the beginning of time. There’s no actual record of our beginning. Some say we are from the line of Adam, sent from God as a punishment to mankind, others say a creation of Lucifer. Personally, I choose to believe we are descendants of Adam. It just makes me feel like less of a monster.

There are those of us who are monsters, take Jack the Ripper, for example, but for the most part we’re normal humans. Well, as normal as a blood sucking vampire can be. I mean we hold jobs and have families, even if our families aren’t typical.

Take my family, for example. Nik took my sister and me in when we were kids. He’s the only father I can remember. Nik raised us on his own. He really was and still is an amazing father, even though I give him a hard time. He did the best he could with us and I’ll always be eternally grateful for him.

When I was twenty-six, I was walking home from … well, let’s just say I was at a bar. I was about five-hundred feet from our house when I was stabbed. It was a wound that, had I been living now, would have survived, but back then there just wasn’t anything they could do.

Nik had made it no secret what he was, and what it meant to be a vampire. As teenagers, he talked to both of us regarding our decision on the life he could give us. Cecily and I agreed we’d rather be turned than to die. Of course, Nik wasn’t about to do it then, when we were so young, but when the time was right he said he would. Well, my time came that night after leaving the bar.

I don’t remember much. There was his bite, his blood, then nothing. I woke days later to find my sister and Nik sitting beside me in my bedroom. It was like nothing happen. Though, the moment Cec reached her hand toward me, everything changed. The smell of her blood called to me like nothing I’d ever experienced. I didn’t think, I only acted, and before Nik could do anything I had bit her.

A young vampire, especially a newly risen one is vicious and hungry. They can drain a person in only minutes, so by the time Nik got Cecily free, he had to turn her as well. I’ve never in my life felt so low. I killed my baby sister. I was the worst kind of monster. It took me at least a century before I came to terms with what had happened, though she never blamed me. It was really only after Cecily had found her husband, Liam, that I finally forgave myself.

Not long after Liam entered the picture, we found Charity. Her husband tried to murder her and their children after he caught Nik helping her up from where she’d fallen. The guy was totally nuts. He was convinced they were having an affair, even though they didn’t know each other’s name. Later that same night, Nik found her and her fourteen year old daughter barely alive. She begged him to save her daughter, but he saved them both the only way he knew how. Cecily and I welcomed Maggie and Charity into our lives with open arms. To see our father happy was truly all we’d ever hoped for. Maggie was the icing on the cake. Turned at only fourteen, she’s our perpetual baby sister, which she sometimes despises, but who could blame her. Being fourteen for all of eternity has major down falls.

Chapter Two

“I think everything is ready for your parents.”

I look up from my desk and smile. Julie, my house keeper, stands in the doorway, looking disheveled from her hours of cleaning. She’s a newly turned vampire, only fifty; she was about thirty when changed. She had always wandered the street, and made ends meet however she could, but once I met her, I put an end to that. She wasn’t a fan of working around humans, so I helped her start her own cleaning business. She does tremendous work, and with her speed and no need to rest, she gets things done faster than three humans could. However, today it took her four hours to clean my condo, instead of the normal forty-five minutes, because she spring cleaned every speck of my home for my mother’s approval.

“Thank you, sweetheart. Have a seat. I wanted to go over the monthly financials with you.”

She sets her cleaning supplies down and joins me at my desk. “I turned in all my paperwork to the accountant.” She seems a little defensive.

I hold my hand up. “You’re not in trouble. You’ve done everything you should. Jules, this is your company. I’m just helping you. I wanted to talk to you about hiring a few people to help you. I have some info on a huge construction job. They’ll be building apartment complexes in two neighboring cities within the next month. They are looking for clean-up crews. If you hired a staff, you could place a bid on those jobs. If you didn’t get them, that’s okay, because there’s plenty of work around here for them.”

“You mean in your condo?” She looks confused. Julie isn’t the brightest, but she’s got spirit, and I like that.

I smile. “No, not my condo, but I know several vampires in the area who would prefer services provided by someone who understands their special needs.”

“I can do that.” She brightens.

“Exactly. I think you can grow your business some. We’ll start small. Maybe hire on three for now, then if you get the bid on the construction sites, maybe add on three more.”

“Yeah, okay. I like that.”

We talk a little while about the type of people she’d prefer to hire, and what expectations she’d have for them and her business. Then she excuses herself, as I make my way to pick up my parents from the airport. I arrive ten minutes early, with a sign that says: Fred and Ethel. As soon as my father sees the sign, he shakes his head.

“Where did I go so wrong?” he asks, as he hugs me tightly.

My dad is slightly taller than me at six-three. He’s slender in build, with greying hair and what my mother calls a mature smile. Whatever that means. He dresses in suits ninety percent of the time, which adds to his uptight persona.

I chuckle. “So many ways.” I turn to my mother. “Mama,” I greet, kissing her cheek.

“You look too skinny,” she chastises.

I snort. I haven’t changed in five hundred years. My mother is warm. She’s like the sunshine on a cloudy day, when it’s cold; she’s the month of May. Okay, seriously, she’s the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet. She’s a little tall for the average woman at five-eight, slender, but not overly so. Her hair is sunny with a touch of grey, which I think she adds for my dad’s sake. She was only forty when he turned her. She dresses in bright cheery colors, which always offsets my father’s drab dark suits. They are totally yin and yang, but I think that’s what makes them work.

“You can try to fatten me up with your delicious cooking.”

“I will. Let’s stop at the store. I want to make something for dinner.”

She wraps her arm around mine, and we head out to my awaiting car. Vampires, unlike a lot of Hollywood portrayals, eat food. We only need a small amount of blood daily to survive. That’s why I feed from my secretary. It’s more convenient than trying to find and manipulate a different person daily. Though, we can be blood thirsty and drain a human, it’s not a necessity. Those of us who choose to live in the human world, normally find one person willing to donate daily and stick with it, until it’s no longer a possibility. It’s become such a popular method that there’s been several blood donor societies started and maintained by some of the higher ups who work for my father.

Do humans know about vampires? Yes and no. There have been speculations for years, but we’ve never gone public. We don’t necessarily try to hide ourselves, but we aren’t coming out saying, ‘We are vampires, hear us roar.’ We like the anonymity of the unacknowledged.

Nik and I follow Charity around the grocery store until she’s gotten everything she needs for dinner, and then we dutifully load it up into the trunk of my car and head to my home, where she busies herself in the kitchen, immediately preparing dinner to feed ten people, when there are only three of us.

“Let’s go to your office. I want to start explaining a few things to you.” Dad’s face changes from the loving look he gives his wife, to a serious, almost resigned expression.

“Something wrong?” I’m genuinely worried.

“Not exactly.” We sit on the leather sofa and chair in my office. He stares off, collecting his thoughts before he begins. “When I was ordained as Supreme Ruler of all Vampires, there were some other laws set in to place as well.” I nod, I know this. “Laws that help govern our people. As you know it’s become harder and harder as time progresses to keep ourselves a secret. Many have let it slip that we are vampires. There are murmurings. I’m not overly concerned with this, but it does raise the question, ‘Should we come out of our preverbal closets?’ My board and I have debated this topic for months now, and they’ve come to a few conclusions.”

“Which are?” I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I won’t like these conclusions.

“Well, for one: If we make ourselves known, what are the repercussions? Will humans pose war? Will they hunt us and kill us? The answer we see is most likely. It’s the unknown that humans are the most afraid of after all. Two: if we make ourselves known and are accepted by the human governments, where does that leave our own?”

“That second thing is what you’re here about isn’t it?” I ask with dread.

He nods. “I know you don’t want any part of ruling, but I think it is time. You have a duty and a birthright to uphold. You’ve known for the past four hundred years this could happen. I’ve never made my status in our world a secret to you or your sisters.”

“What about them?” I ask, somewhat juvenilely.

“Cecily and Liam have already started to serve. Liam has taken the position of Grand Prince.”

“So what do you want from me? What of Maggie?”

“Maggie is a child. She’ll always be seen that way, but she has agreed to fill her role as a princess, as has Cecily.”

“You want me to do what?”

“To take your role as Grand Prince.”

“You said Liam …”

“Yes, but you need to as well. All the male sons are to be Grand Prince. You’ll oversee different areas of the world.”

“I thought you had to have a mate to take the position of Grand?” He looks at me for a long moment, like he’s trying to convey something important to me. I have … No!

“No!” I jump up. “No way. You are not marrying me off to some woman I don’t know. If you haven’t noticed yet this isn’t ancient days. I will not marry for the sake of a title.”

“I’m not asking you to take a wife for the sake of a title. I’m asking you to take a wife for the sake of our people.”

“Are you announcing us?”

He shakes his head. “No. We’re not prepared for that. We need to have stronger ranks before that happens.”

“And you think I can provide that?”

“Of course I do. I know we tease, but I trust no one as much as I do you, Henry. You’re my son, my friend, my partner. I need you with me on this.”

I sigh and sit back down. “Dad, this is huge. I don’t want another marriage where I can barely tolerate the woman. That didn’t end well then, and it certainly won’t end well now.”

“I understand. That’s why we’ve come up with a solution. You will have one year to find your mate. During that year, you may serve as Grand Prince, as you search for her. I have several gifted vampires willing to help you.”

“And if I don’t find her in that year?”

“Then you’ll marry the woman of my choosing. I don’t want to force you, but I will if needed.”

“You’ll use Sire Will?” I ask, truly appalled.

Sire Will is exactly as it sounds. The person who turned you, your maker, can execute an executive order and you cannot disobey. It’s physically impossible.

“Only if absolutely necessary; I don’t want to do that, Henry.”

I bend forward with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. “What area will I be over?”

“Here, you’ll have North America. You won’t have to move. Though, you may want to choose a different profession. I don’t see many vampires respecting someone who runs a plumbing company as their ruler.”

“What profession would you have me do then?”

“We’ll worry over that later. For now, think about what I’ve asked you to do.”

He stands, patting me on the shoulder before he exits the room. I stand and walk to my back window, throwing the window open. I stare outside, trying to make sense of how my life is about to change. I can’t, there’s no way I can fathom this change, but I would rather this choice be mine than be forced to do it. I breathe out deeply, contemplating.

“This is insane!”

Vampire Kings, or Supreme Ruler as my father likes to be called, have been around since the beginning of time. They serve until they either die or pass the crown to one of their progeny. Nik is the first son of our last king, Malik Ivanov. He was thousands of years old and reigned for most of his years. He met his final death at the hand of his wife four-hundred years ago. My father became the next in line as by his birthright. If Nik retires or, heaven forbid, meets his final death, then I’ll be the next in line, as I’m the first male he ever turned. I do have two older sisters, but I’ve never met either, and Nik doesn’t talk about them.

“Henry, dinner is ready.” My mom’s soft voice breaks my internal musings.

I smile. “What do you think of all this?”

She shrugs. “It is what it is. Your father needs your help.”

“I don’t mind helping him, but I don’t relish the thought of marrying out of duty.”

“I hope you find love. It’s what I want for all my children.”

Chapter Three

Two weeks and nothing. I don’t know what I expected to happen. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to find a mate in a years’ time. Especially, since I’m not even trying to look. My father has sent two vampires, gifted with visions, to help me. They annoy me, and I seriously doubt their powers. Neither has found anyone. Not that I really thought they would.

“Mr. Samuelson, I think you’ll find this house to your liking. It has the best view,” Sawyer Massey, my realtor says. He’s said this about every place I’ve viewed, but this time I think he’s right.

Even though Nik insisted that I didn’t need to leave my city to rule, I decided it was best for me to be more centrally located. Well, central as in more towards the middle of North America. I also wanted somewhere more remote and quiet. Plus, I really hate the city. If I’m going to do this, I want to live somewhere beautiful and peaceful, the country.

I picked Sidney, Montana. It has about seventy-five hundred people; it was small, but not so small that everyone knew each other. My property was large enough that people … vampires, could come and go without notice. It has miles and miles of farm land, which I plan to hire locals to work. If nothing else my long life can afford me, it’s to help those less fortunate. I choose to do that by employing as many folks as possible. A pay it forward if you will. Like I did with Julie.

It takes me another three weeks to set up my new place. I don’t have a business per se, but farmer suits me fine, even if my father thinks it’s beneath my title. He also believes I did this to just get at him, a punishment, for forcing me to do this. He can think whatever he wants. I refuse to be some big wig so vampires might respect me more. And maybe I did do this to get under his skin, just a little.

I’ve lived on my farm peacefully for nearly eight months, still no leads on The One. I’m beginning to lose all hope. However, this place has brought about a certain peace that I have trouble defining. I love it here. I’ve invested in horses, cows, and other livestock, though at the moment my favorite is the chickens. I find watching them to be fascinating and strangely soothing. I’m not sure why but it is. I’ve also been able to employ quite a few locals as well as a few vampires. I feel like I’ve helped this economy. If nothing else comes of my moving here, then I’ll be happy to know that I’ve made a difference.

I enjoy sitting in my office, which overlooks my back fields, and watching the work of the farmers, gardeners, and even the pool people. I try on occasion to help with various chores, but I intimidate the workers, so I mostly just watch and live vicariously through them. I guess that makes me a bit of a stalker. At least I mean well. It’s mid-day on a Wednesday, when one of the oracles, seers, psychics, whatever title you chose to bestow on them, comes rushing into my home office.

“Henry, I saw her!”

“Who?” I ask amused.

Lacy is one of the oracles that I actually like, I’ve known her since I was a child. She’s full of energy, but not the brightest one of the bunch. She has sent me after her four times now. Each one was a disaster.

“Your mate, of course but you must hurry, time is of the essence.” She pulls my arm to make me stand. I humor her.

“Where shall I go this time, Lacy?”

She jumps up and down clapping her hands and squealing. “She’s right here in town. I see her at the feed store.”

I’m surprised by this. Normally, she sends me off somewhere that preplanned travel is a must. “The feed store, huh? Okay, I’ll finish up my paper work and head over there.”

She frowns. “No, no. You must leave now. Go. If you miss her, you’ll lose your chance.”

I rub my face, feeling the two days stubble. “Lace, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s the middle of the day.”

I gesture to my window. The bright light steams in, but doesn’t affect me with the special glass I had installed. The sun can’t kill me, but is rather draining to us vampires.

“You’ll be fine. It’s not like you’ll burst into flames. The clouds will cover you.”

“Okay. What does she look like?” I concede, knowing I’ll never hear the end of this if I don’t attempt to try to find my mystery woman.

“I only saw her looking at the horse supplies.”

“Okay, but what did she look like?”

“Curly brown hair.”

I arch my brow. “Really? That’s all you can give me?”

She sags in defeat. “I’m sorry, Henry. That’s all I’ve seen, but I know you’ll love her instantly.”

I squeeze her shoulder. I hate to see her upset; she’s too good of a person to ever feel defeated. I grab my key and head to the garage. I feel like I’m on a fool’s errand. I have basically given up hope of ever finding my mate. I don’t even know if the girl is human or vampire. Would it matter? Nik didn’t say, and I’m almost too afraid to ask.

I arrive at the feed store and immediately get out of the car and head inside. It seems no different from any other day that I’ve come in to purchase supplies for my farm. Dutifully, I head over to the horse supply section. I don’t see anyone. This is typical of Lacy’s predictions. She only gets very little snippets of the future. She might see the girl in her visions, but the time is always a mystery. She probably saw a girl here in the store, but it could have been a year from now. I rub my temples. This is going to be the death of me.

“Excuse me,” a small warm voice says. I look up to see a woman maybe in her early twenties with long brown hair and bright blue eyes. I stare at her for far too long. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you.” She starts to walk away and, without thought, I jerk my hand out, grabbing her arm and pulling her to me at vampire speed.

She gasps so I let her go and take a step back. “You’re not bothering me. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to grab you.”

“It’s okay, you just startled me.”

“I’m in your way. You needed something from here?” I point to the shelf behind me.

She blushes. “Yes. Actually, I was going to ask if you would mind handing me the horse shampoo from the top shelf.”

I can’t help but chuckle. “Of course.”

I hand the shampoo to her, our fingers brushing as she takes it from me. There’s no spark or zing when we touch, but her hand is soft and her scent is mesmerizing in a way I’ve never felt before. It’s more than a craving for her blood. Actually, her blood doesn’t hit me as appetizing.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” She turns to leave, but I can’t have that. “Excuse me.” She turns back to me. “Sorry if this comes across as creepy, but would you like to go to lunch with me?”

“Now?” she asks with an adorably confused expression.

“Yes, if you can.”

She looks at her phone then back to me. “Sure. I have time.”

“I’m Henry.” I offer my hand to her.

She shakes it. “I’m Claire.”

“Lovely to meet you, Claire. Again, I’m sorry for my rude behavior.”

She waves me off. “It’s really okay. It could have been worse.”

Immediately feelings of protection and revenge flair within me. “Has someone hurt you?”

“What? Oh, no, nothing like that. I just meant that … I just meant it could have turned out worse, like, you know, you could have bitten me.”

I stare at her dumbfounded. “Excuse me?”

“You’re a vampire right?”

“What makes you think that?” I’m completely and utterly disarmed and not exactly in a good way.

“Oh, well. I just assumed. I mean, you were standing there inhumanly still, and then you grabbed me so fast. It seemed to fit.”

I stare at her, at a complete loss. Sure, there are humans who know about us, but it’s not something many believe. I decide to turn my shock into amusement.

“So you know a lot about vampires, huh?”

She blushes. “Well, not exactly. I mean, I do know some. I’ve met two.”

“Two, you say? Well, I can’t wait to hear all about them at lunch. Let me get that for you.” I don’t wait for a response as I take the shampoo from her and hand it to the cashier.

“You didn’t have to do that,” she says as I hand her the shopping bag.

“I know, but I wanted to.” I wink.

I take her to a local diner and we order lunch. Conversation is stifling at best, as this isn’t exactly a place to talk about vampires, and it certainly isn’t the place for me to reveal my plans for her.

After a few awkward moments of sipping our drinks, I say, “Do you want to go? We can go back to my place and talk about all this freely.”

She stares at me, blinking in surprise for a few moments. “Yes.”

She stands and I follow, throwing way too much money on the table. The ride to my home is also very quiet. I understand, though, she’s nervous, and I’m virtually a stranger. Her heart is beating so quickly I’m afraid she’ll faint. I know she’s scared. As I turn off the truck, I move to face her.

“Claire, before we go in, I need to tell you something.” Her heart beats faster. “I’m sorry, I’m scaring you.”

“No, I’m just really nervous.” I raise an eyebrow. “Okay, I’m a little scared.”

“I understand. I swear I won’t hurt you, and neither will anyone here. But, there is something you should know. Vampires are just the tip of the iceberg of mythical creatures, and I was led to you today by an oracle. She had a vision that you’re the one I’ve been looking for. She’s easily excitable, and I don’t want her to scare you.”

“Okay.” She looks terrified.

“Come on. Lacy is crazy but super sweet.” I zoom to her side of the car to help her out, no need hiding who I am now.

“Woah!”

“Too much?” She nods. “I’ll tone it down.” I can’t stop the smirk that rises on my face.

“You’re making fun of me now.” She scowls.

I shake my head. “Never, beautiful.” She tsks but says nothing.

“Oh, you’ve found her!” Lacy squeals from the front porch. “I told you she was lovely.” She grabs Claire’s hands and twirls her around, examining her, then kisses each of her cheeks before taking them in her hands. “Oh, my, yes, you are just lovely, perfect for our prince.”

“Lace,” I warn.

She waves me off. “Calm down, Henry. I’m just meeting the girl.” She turns back to Claire. “I’m Lacy. I’ve known this one since he was a wee boy. You’re in wonderful hands. No need to be afraid.” She looks to me. “I’ll be in town.” Then flutters, literally, down the driveway.

Claire watches her with a confused expression.

“Weird. The word you’re looking for is weird.”

She giggles. “Eccentric maybe.”

I throw my head back and laugh. “That’s putting it nicely. Wanna see inside?”

“Yeah. That would be nice.”

I lead her up the front steps of my large ranch home. The front porch covers the entire length of the home. The double front doors are oversized and ostentatious looking, now that I think about it. Once inside, we stand in the foyer.

“As you can see, it’s pretty open. Kitchen, den, and dining rooms all connect, there’s a sitting area through here.” I point to an opening on my left. “There’s a door to the outside and a bathroom just past those stairs.” I gesture to my left again, but past the large staircase beside the sitting room. “Upstairs?” I ask. She nods. I lead her up the stairs to the long hallway full of doors on each side. “The double doors at the end of the hall is my room, the rest are guest rooms, these two here,” I point to the first doors on either side of the hall, “are my office and the game room.”

“Big house. You live here alone?”

“Not exactly, I have staff, but they live downstairs, and Lacy stays in a guest room. Let me show you my office. We can talk in there.”

The tour is rushed, but I just need her to know. I can’t wait. I open the door and let her enter first. I watch as she looks around. I have to laugh. It’s a ridiculous room.

“A bit much, isn’t it?”

“No, no it reminds me of the library in Beauty and the Beast. That was my favorite Disney movie growing up. I love to read.”

“Well, you can borrow anything in here you’d like. I guess after five-hundred years of book collecting, it gets out of hand.”

“You’re five-hundred years old?”

“Give or take a few years.”

I watch her. She’s not like any other human I’ve encountered, she completely fascinates me. Nothing seems to surprise her. I’m sure that will change soon enough.

“Too old for you?”

She smiles. “How old were you when you were turned?”

“Twenty-six.”

“Then not too old. I’m twenty-two.” She continues to look around, running her fingers along books.

“Tell me what you’re really thinking?”

She stops and looks at me. “I find this all completely overwhelming and strange, but I’m intrigued enough to stay and find out what it is that you’re up to. I mean, it’s not every day that you go into the feed store to buy horse shampoo and run into a five-hundred year old vampire who asks you to lunch.”

I chuckle. “I suppose you don’t. Are you afraid?”

“A little.”

“I won’t hurt you.”

“I know. I feel safe with you. That’s strange, right?”

“Not as much as one might think. I’d like to explain something to you. Please know you’re free to leave at any time. I won’t stop you.”

“Okay.”

She sits down in a chair in front of my enormous mahogany desk that my father insisted I get. It was fit for a ruler. So he says. I lean against the front of the desk.

“How much do you really know about vampires?”

“I’ve met two; they are actually my great-great grandparents. They come to check on our family from time to time. They are here now … it’s the first time I’ve been able to meet them in person. Of course, growing up I heard the stories of how fast they were, and how they never aged, but I never really believed any of it until I met them.”

“So that’s why you knew I was one right away?” I ask.

She nods “Well, I suspected. I wasn’t completely sure until you responded. If you weren’t one, I was going to play it off as being funny.” She blushes. I chuckle.

“Is that all you’ve noticed? We’re fast and don’t age?”

“No, your heart beats, you can go in the sun. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m really overwhelmed with the whole vampires are real thing.”

“I know it’s hard to accept. But all you’ve said is true. We are alive, just changed by our makers; the sun does bother us, but won’t kill us. It just makes us a little weak. We can be hurt, but we heal. We can be killed, but it’s complicated. We mate for life.”

“Mate?”

“Yes.”

“That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? You want me?”

I smile and move to the seat next to her. She’s perceptive. “I do, but not in some sinister you’re my prisoner way. You see, my father is the Supreme Ruler, or King of the vampires, and as the prince I have certain roles, brought on by tradition, that I have to follow. One is that in order to rule, I have to have a mate.”

“You think I’m her?”

I watch her closely for any signs of distress, but she’s calm. “I know you are.”

She takes a deep breath. “How?”

“That’s hard to explain, but basically, I feel it.” I point to my chest. “What are you feeling right now? Don’t be afraid to say, even if its fear, I want to know.”

“I’m not afraid of you, but I feel fear of the unknown. I feel kind of safe with you.”

“Good. I will protect you. The next part might be a little strange, but in order for the mating bond to be solidified, we’ll need to be married in front of my people and perform the bonding rite.”

Her eyes grow big. “Please tell me it’s not like it was in the old days when people had to watch the prince and princess or king and his new queen consummate their marriage!” She’s horrified, and rightfully so, but I can’t help but laugh. She’s so adorable.

“No. The bonding rite involves the transference of blood. You’ll drink from my wrist and I yours.”

“But I don’t have fangs.”

“I’ll take care of that.” I smile, showing my fangs. Her eyes grow big and her hand reaches up, but she stops midway, putting her hand back in her lap.

“When does this need to happen?”

Taking a deep breath I say, “This weekend.”

Shock registers on her face and she slumps in her seat. “This weekend? I have a horse show. How can you know you want me as your mate so quickly? What if I snore, or worse, fart in my sleep. I can’t marry you this weekend.” I try. I really do, but I can’t hold in my laugh. “Why are you laughing? This is serious!” She’s taking this all much better than I ever expected. That has to mean something.

I clear my throat. “I know it is. I’m sorry.” I gently take her hands in mine. “Claire, none of those things matter to me. Everyone, even vampires, snore, pass gas, and burp. Those are normal bodily functions. They have no variance on if I’ll want to marry you or not. I guess this is where the mystical part comes into play. It’s not a spark or a look, it’s just a feeling inside me the moment you spoke. I knew you were my mate.”

“But you don’t know me.”

“I know it’s strange. Tell me this; do you feel anything for me?”

She sits upright again and reaches for my hand. I gladly give it to her. “It’s strange and hard to explain but I feel peaceful with you.”

I nod. “That’s a start.”

“That’s not enough to marry you. What happens if I say no?”

I suck in a nervous breath. The thought that she could say no never crossed my mind. What would I do? What could I do?

“Then I’ll be forced to marry someone hideous my father has chosen.” I kneel in front of her. “Why are you crying?” I wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“I don’t know. This is all so overwhelming. I don’t understand why the thought of you marrying someone else hurts so badly.”

I smile at her. “Oh, sweetheart, that’s the bond pull.”

“The bond pull, what’s that?”

“It’s what they call it, when you feel the pull to your mate. I know it doesn’t make sense. May I hug you?”

She nods, and I pull her into my arms. Slowly she relaxes and wraps her arms around me. I’ve never felt so content in my life. Even the times I dated or married, I never felt one-tenth for them what I feel for this human girl I met only hours earlier.

“I like how you smell,” she says suddenly.

“Are you feeling calm?” She nods. “That’s the vampire scent. It’s calming so our prey is relaxed, but for our mate it’s something that is lasting.”

“So if I were just your prey, I’d be afraid?”

“Once I pulled away, you would feel whatever you were feeling before I touched you.” I pull away from her and wait.

“I still feel calm.”

I nod. “Yes, that’s what we do for our mates.”

“How do I know my true feelings if you always make me calm?”

“It won’t change how you truly feel, but it’ll help you process it easier.”

“Do I do that for you?”

“Yes. It’s not exactly the same, but you are a comfort to me.” We sit quietly for a long while.

“Will you kiss me?” she asks.

I smile. “Of course. If that’s what you want.”

“Do you want it?”

“Very much.”

She nods. Her heart starts to race and she starts to shake. It wouldn’t be noticeable to a human eye, but my keen vampire sight picks it up immediately.

“If you don’t calm down, you’ll faint.”

“I can’t help it.”

“Fear?”

She shakes her head. “No, not at all, I want it very much.”

I place my hands on her shoulders, and she closes her eyes. Her mouth parts slightly. I lean in close to her, almost touching, before I say, “You’re vibrating.”

“Shut up and kiss me already.” I chuckle and press my lips to hers.

Now, I’ve seen and read all the clichés of the first kiss, but this kiss … this kiss is nothing like I’ve ever experienced in my five-hundred years on earth. There are sparks, fireworks; a 21-piece symphony conducted by Gloria Parker in the 1950’s, a barrage of flowers float down over our heads. It was life, love, happiness all rolled up into this small bit of our skin touching. I was complete and whole.

“Wow!” she breaths in the understatement of the century.

“Wow, indeed.” She starts to giggle, and I can’t help buy join her. She relaxes into me, and I wrap my arms around her.

“Henry?”

“Yes, my dear.”

“I don’t want to marry this weekend. I’d really like to get to know you a little more, and for you to meet my family.”

I can’t deny the disappointment I feel, but I decide she’s right. She should have this the way she wants. She’s human, and though I’d like nothing more than to change her right now, that’s not how life works. She deserves the very best.

“We can plan it out and do whatever you want.” I’ll deal with my father because my mate should have the wedding she desires.

“When’s the deadline? You know, when your dad picks someone for you?”

“Four months from now.”

She nods and pulls back. “I’d like to wait until then to marry. I’d like to plan the wedding. I want to make it special; I want my family with me.”

“I can do that.” I kiss her again. “There’s something else you should know, though.”

“What’s that?”

“I can’t give you biological children. If you wanted to have a child, we could look into sperm donation.”

She cups my face. “That’s really sweet, but I’m not worried about that. I … uh, had ovarian cancer at sixteen. They had to take it all.”

“I’m so sorry.”

She shrugs. “I’m alive, that’s what matters. Besides, I’m sure you’ll want to turn me into a vampire. I mean, isn’t the point of a mate to have each other for a long time?”

“Yes, I do want that, but not until you’re ready. We have time.”

“Good to know.”

I run my fingers over her soft digits, mesmerized by the smooth texture. “You know, we could adopt, like my father did for me and my sister. I was ten and she was six.”

“So he really is your father.”

“Yes, in every way but biological.”

“I think I’d like that. I’ve always wanted children. I just never thought it would be possible for me.”

I kiss her head and hold her to me. “I love you, Claire.”

“I love you too, Henry.”

I never thought I’d find my true mate, but now that I have, I finally understand what my father has tried, for years, to explain to me. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this woman; it doesn’t matter that we only met a few hours ago. She is now, and forever will be, mine.

AUTHOR NOTE:
I hope you enjoyed the beginnings of this upcoming story I’ll be releasing sometime next year, hopefully, I still have to finish writing it … LOL. What did you think? Any thoughts on what Henry’s father will say about Claire? What about her great-great grandparent’s, they’ve been alive for a long time, do you think they know Henry’s family? Hmmm, lots of questions to be answered.