“Line up,” the man shouted. “I don’t want to have to sell you again.” He tapped his cane on the floor. “Go. I hate trying to resell used merch.”
Raine winced. She wasn’t merch. She was a human being. The vampires didn’t see her as anyone but a thing. All they wanted to do was drain humans and kill Fae. She clutched the open side of her dress to retain a bit of her modesty. Once on the stage, she’d have to strip so the buyers could look her over. She averted her gaze. Humans had no choice but to be sold to the highest bidder.
“Go.” The man whacked her on the ass with the cane.
She crept onto the stage and gritted her teeth. She couldn’t look into the audience. One girl had been hauled off and killed for doing so. The buyers were all seated in the dark, and she’d be in the bright spotlight.
Another man, one with a spray can, walked up to her. He painted the number three on her bare chest.
She winced again. It’d taken her two days to remove the paint the last time she’d been up for sale, and her skin had been raw from the scrubbing. Worst of all? She hadn’t been sold.
The first two girls were described, and Raine fought the instinct to shiver. Her turn was next.
“Look at number three. She’s a little thicker than most humans. It means she’s got juicy thick blood. She’s trained. Won’t speak out,” the announcer said.
She flattened her palms on her thighs. God. She wasn’t a person any longer.
The announcer grabbed the front of her dress, tearing it the rest of the way open. She couldn’t help the shudder.
“Enough, girl.” The announcer slapped her. “No one wants to buy a wimp.”
Someone grunted, and the announcer closed her dress. “How much? She’s been here before, so she’s got miles on her.”
Her stomach churned. Miles… No one shouted out numbers. She clutched the front of her dress. God. Would someone give a price? Anything? The silence deafened her. All she wanted to do was get out of the spotlight.
“I’ll give you five thousand for number three.” A dark-haired man strode up to the stage. His hair glinted in the light. “Cash.”
She shouldn’t have looked up, but he’d given a price. He did have nice hair—as much of it as she could see.
“Number three?” the announcer asked. “Don’t you want to wait for number four or take number two? For so much money?”
Did the announcer have to be such a jerk? Someone wanted her. Why was that so bad or hard to understand?
“Three,” the man said. He offered the money, then held his hand out to her.
Raine froze. Was she supposed to go with him? She’d never been sold like this. Her first vampire had plucked her out of a crowd of scared, lost humans. The second vampire had killed him and stolen her from a club.
“Go.” The announcer nudged her. “If this fool wants you, then you’d better go before he changes his mind.”
The dark-haired man helped her off the stage. He held her by her waist until her feet touched the cold tiles.
She averted her gaze. The rules stated she couldn’t look at him until she’d left the building. Hopefully, he hadn’t seen her steal a glance at him earlier.
The man draped his suit jacket around her shoulders and guided her out of the sales arena. “My car is over here.”
She shivered again, despite the warmth of the jacket. The scent of him lingered in the rich fabric. She knew that aroma—vampire.
What luck! Three vampires. Her first owner had been a dick, the second one abusive…would this one be the charm? Or the worst of the lot?
He opened the car door. “Sit, please?”
Please? Vampires didn’t say such things. They demanded. She hesitated and found her courage to speak. “Sir?”
“So you do talk?” He laughed. “Please, sit. I want to take you home.”
Raine settled on the passenger side of the car. He closed the door for her and rounded the hood. When he sat beside her, he hit the locks, preventing her from escaping.
She trembled. “Trying to keep me in?” She didn’t look up from her hands. “I won’t run.”
“No one said you would,” he replied. “You’re different from what I expected.”
“Not good enough.” She folded her hands on her lap.
“No.” He brushed her hair from her face. She flinched as he tucked the lock behind her ear. “You’re afraid of me,” he said. “Because I’m a vampire?”
She couldn’t lie. If he wanted to, he could peer into her mind and read her thoughts or he could glamour her to draw the truth out. “Yes.”
“I’m a nasty piece of work, but I’m not like anyone else.” He didn’t turn the engine on or raise his voice. He simply shifted around in his seat. “Look at me.”
“I can’t.” She was human and considered fourth class to vampires.
“You can with me.” He curled his fingers under her chin. “Please?”
She couldn’t comply. Vampires demanded respect, and she needed to give it. No question. She didn’t even know his name.
“I paid a lot of money for you.” He caressed her cheek. “Please look at me and tell me your name.”
“You own me. You can call me whatever you want.” She wasn’t being snippy. He held all the power and the more he reminded her of her cost, the more she wanted to be sick.
“I could,” he said. “But I want to know your name.” He toyed with the lock of her hair. “We need to set some rules.”
Ah. Now he’d show his true colors. She braced herself for his answer. “Okay.”
“First, look at me.” He continued to toy with her hair. “I might have purchased you, but I didn’t do it to own you. I wanted to get you out of that horrible auction.”
She finally looked at him. Fine lines had been etched at the corners of his eyes. Flecks of silver colored his day-old whiskers and at his temples. His dark eyes sparkled, and the muscle in his jaw twitched. If he hadn’t been a vampire, she might have considered him sexy. Who was she kidding? He was sexy.
But he was a vampire and vamps insisted on hurting her.
“What are you going to do with me?” she murmured.
“Take you home, get you some proper clothes, a shower, some food and let you rest,” he said. “When was the last time you slept?”
“I don’t.” She had to keep one eye open in case the vampires attacked.
“You can now. I’ll keep you safe.” He brushed his knuckles across her cheek. “I promise.”
“You’re a vampire.” She frowned. “You could kill me.”
“You said you’re a nasty piece of work.” She trembled but didn’t pull away from him. His touch oddly comforted her. He could destroy her or lull her into complacency and devour her, but he hadn’t—yet.
“I am.” His eyes flashed. “I could kill you right now, but I won’t.”
“Why?” she blurted. “I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn.” She’d said too much for a slave. Any other vampire would’ve hit her by now for being so bold.
“First, I saw you at the club. The night Lomax took you from Isaac. I watched you. I never thought Isaac deserved you, but he had the rights, and I didn’t.” He brushed his thumb across her bottom lip. “You came alive when you played with those masters. The bindings made you happy.”
She shivered. He was right. She enjoyed being at the BDSM club. None of the masters fucked her, but they did spank her and play all sorts of delicious games with her. Wax, spankings, bindings and exhibiting her for all to see. But those games were by mutual consent—not the auction where she’d been forced up there against her will.
“I watched you, entranced.” He smiled. “I wanted you.”
“You did?” She wished she’d known that. He might not have been any better than Isaac, but he had to be a damn lot better than Lomax.
“Lomax beat me to you. He saw you as food. I wanted to play.”
She froze. He’d wanted her? And Lomax had screwed the situation up for them? Of course he had.
He tipped his head, meeting her gaze. “I won’t kill you and I won’t lie to you, either. I want to protect you.”
She didn’t know his name or that he’d seen her before, but he sounded more sincere with every word. She wanted to believe him. He’d purchased her and could do what he wanted, but a tiny shred of her trusted him.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
Raine? He liked the sound of her moniker more than the colorless number three. The name fit her—sad and pretty at the same time. Case rejoiced in the progress he’d made with her.
Raine tugged his suit coat tighter around her. She said nothing, but fear radiated from her.
Casey wanted to know what Lomax had done to her. The girl he’d seen at the club had been more open and free. She’d been happy.
If he’d had a heart, it would’ve ached for her. He remembered the number painted on her chest. Those fucking idiots would paint the girls. He flicked his fingers, removing the paint with his magic. No one should have spray paint on their body.
“Aren’t you going to ask my name?” Casey wanted to tug her into his arms and hold her until she relaxed.
“No.” She didn’t move. “You’re my sir. I should address you as such.”
“Will you call me by my name? I’d prefer it,” he said. “You’re not my slave.”
Her eyes widened.
“I didn’t pay for you to put you to work.” He engaged the engine. A ripple of knowing shot through him. No one would hurt her with him around, but that didn’t mean he wanted to draw attention to them by hanging out in the parking lot.
The vampires had destroyed so much land and with the world plunged into darkness, few felt safe. He possessed means and a safe vehicle, but he didn’t want to lag about.
Raine didn’t relax, but when another car passed his, she clutched his hand.
“You’ll be okay.” He wanted to explain why, but what if she were repulsed by him being part Fae? He’d been ostracized by most of the vampires because of his lineage. The only reason he’d gained entry to the auction was his money. They’d take his cash and ignore his undesirable family line.
She ducked down in the seat. “Will he come looking for me?”
“No.” If Casey had to destroy Lomax and eviscerate him, he would. He’d enhanced the magic around his property to keep anyone from seeing he still had some magic within him. He tapped a button on the gate leading to his home and when the gate parted, he drove inside. The wards around his home provided some protection, but he insisted on the iron gate and a surveillance system as well as his shifter friend, Atell, as a guard dog.
The gate closed, and he drove into the garage. Once the door had shut, Casey parked and turned off the engine. “Let me take you inside. You can eat and bathe.”
She stayed in her seat. “What am I to you?”
“Let’s talk inside. I can hear your stomach growling.” He left the vehicle and rounded the trunk to her side. She took his hand and allowed him to lead her into the house.
“Whoa.” She gasped. “This is your house?”
He needed darkness to sleep, but preferred light. He also loved nice things. He’d decorated his home to reflect his tastes. “This is mine.”
“I’m going to be your cleaning lady, right?” She shied away from him. “Yes?”
“No. I want a companion.” He deposited his keys and phone on the counter. “Cleaning isn’t a problem.” He opened the refrigerator, then gestured to the bar. “Sit. What would you like to eat? Anything. Just name it.”
She stared at him. “Anything?”
“Just tell me.” He withdrew a bottle of wine from the rack. “Drink?”
“Will you make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
Did she have simple tastes or was she testing him? He poured a glass of wine for her, and a glass of water to go along with it. “Here.” He opened the fridge and created the sandwich with his magic. “And here.”
Raine’s lips parted. She reached for the water glass, then hesitated. “Thank you.”
“Welcome.” He smiled and sat beside her. “Call me Casey.”
She downed the water in one long swallow before gobbling the sandwich.
He gritted his teeth. Damn. She was a curvy girl, but she hadn’t been fed. What kind of asshole would do that to another being? “When was the last time you ate?”
“Are you going to monitor how much I eat?” she asked.
“No.” He’d bet had, though.
“Two days ago.”
“They don’t feed us every day unless we allow them to feed from us.” She tucked into herself. “Sorry.”
“For what?” She hadn’t done anything to be sorry for.
“Don’t be.” He flattened his palms on the counter. He no longer felt the chill of the granite. He’d rather hold her than touch cold stone. Her warmth could save some piece of his destroyed soul.
She stared at him. “You’re being nice to me because you feel guilty.”
“I am.” He did feel guilt at not having protecting her when he’d had the chance. But he liked her and wanted to shower her with affection. “But there’s a little more to it.”
“You don’t have to be nice,” she said. “I appreciate it. I haven’t had any dignity in four years—since…” She picked at the sleeve of his jacket. “Anyway, I know my place.”
“Why don’t you have a shower? You deserve to be warm, clean and dry.” He brushed her hair back. “Yes? Then we’ll talk.”
She narrowed her eyes, then sighed. “And I call you Casey?”
“You’re an odd vampire. Most every other one I’ve known wants me for dinner. Either you don’t because you’re weird or you’re lulling me into liking you so I’ll give in. If you are, you don’t have to make me like you. I’ll give in. I know the rules because you bought me. Remember?”
“Why don’t you shower and maybe get some sleep? I won’t kill or drain you.” He wanted her to trust him, but he didn’t want compliancy. Not yet and not outside of the bedroom. He liked her fire and the spunk he’d seen at the club.
“I don’t have much of a choice,” she said. “May I have this?”
“The wine? Of course.” He poured himself a glass of merlot. “Let’s drink to your freedom and new home.”
She stared at him, and he couldn’t read her expression. Wary? Confused? He wasn’t sure.
Casey sipped his wine. “Feel free to use whatever’s in the bathroom. I have no secrets from you.” Not many.
Her eyes widened again, and her lips parted. “You scare me.” She drank the wine in one gulp, then coughed.
Good merlot should be sipped—not gulped. But he hadn’t gone two days without food. “Why do I scare you?”
She shrugged out of his coat. “Because I can’t tell what you’re thinking or what you want from me.”
“Oh?” His previous girl had said he’d telegraphed every move.
“I don’t know what you want and I can’t figure out if you’re telling me the truth.” She left the stool. “I’d like that shower, though, please?”
He kept getting her right to the edge of opening up when she shut down again. Soon, he’d know her secrets, and she’d know his. He led her to the set of rooms along the back of the house. “In here. I’ve got towels, soap and anything you need in the drawers.”
“Even a flat iron?”
She’d volleyed a challenge. Nice. He liked her spirit. “If you want.” He turned the water on in the open stall. “I’ll leave you to your shower.”
“You can watch. I haven’t showered in ages.” She removed her filthy dress. “I used to have guards so I wouldn’t run away. I don’t know what it’s like to have privacy.”
Lomax used guards? Interesting. Casey spied the lines on her back. Lashings? “Were you whipped?”
She shuddered and didn’t turn around “I was told I deserved it.”
He touched the silvery scars. He remembered when he’d seen her at the club, she’d gotten off on being flogged, but not to the point of bloodletting. What she’d been through was abuse. She flinched when he touched her again.
“I’m sorry.” He pressed a kiss to her shoulder. “I’ll never do anything like this to you ever.”
She tensed, but didn’t pull away. “Uh-huh.”
Soon, she’d give him her trust, and he’d prove not all vampires were evil. He wasn’t a nice man—more a son of a bitch—but not with her. She could be his salvation, and he refused to screw that up.