Vasska has waited his entire life to find his mate. In the end he puts all his hope into his goddess to find him someone to love, little does he know she’s listening?
Shay was at the end of his rope. His uncles had taken over and were trying to get control of Shay’s fortune. His parents were dead, his assets were tied up and no one wanted to hire a guy in his twenties to be an apprentice.
When a grey man hands Shay a note, he discovers it takes a goddess’s intervention to get his life back on track.
King Vasska knelt before the stone altar, his long hair fanning across the ground as he worshipped before the statue of his goddess, Amethia. He bowed down until his forehead touched the rough, icy floor. The smell of damp stone and earth filled his nose while the contact with the hard rock left a burning trail across his skin.
Brushing the pain from his mind, he closed his eyes to absorb the world around him, silently seeking divine acknowledgement, pleading with his goddess to no longer ignore his need. This was his last chance, and nothing would deter him from his request.
Vasska’s throat swelled as he fought back tears. Despair choked him. He knew he’d reached the end of his journey. If he didn’t find a mate this season, he would never marry. He knew that fact as well he knew the stars in the sky and the cycle of the moons. Maybe he had angered the goddess with his preference for males. Whatever the reason, loneliness stabbed him deeper than a knife held by his greatest enemy. After a millennium of searching, he couldn’t stand the wall of isolation anymore. Something had to break, and Vasska worried it would end up being him.
“Please, goddess, find me a mate.” His raspy voice echoed off the cave walls as he pleaded with the deity. “Male or female, handsome or ugly, I care not. Just bring me a lover with a kind heart and a strong spirit. Someone I can spend my days and nights with. I beg of you. By the blood of my forefathers, please bring me my other half.”
Vasska pulled himself off the ground and walked the short distance to the stone mantel before kneeling again. He unsheathed a sharp blade from his belt and sliced his wrist from one side to the other. He hissed softly, but made no other sound as he dangled his arm over the altar and dripped his blood over the letting stone. Only a blood sacrifice would catch the goddess’s attention. The rumor was that blood grounded her and pulled her attention from the stars. In order to win her focus, he’d bleed out his entire body if necessary.
“I plead with you, Goddess Amethia, protector of the innocent, guardian of the sun and stars, matchmaker of the rich and poor. If you have any fondness for me, please bring me my other half.”
Bowing his head, he let his tears fall, mixing with his blood. If this didn’t work, he was out of ideas. Everyone else in his family had found their mate long ago.
He was the only one remaining who walked alone, a fact his family pointed out time after time, hoping to use his single status against him. All proper kings needed a consort, but Vasska had refused to settle for less than his fated mate.
Rumors were beginning to spread that the goddess had forsaken Vasska, whispers no doubt started by his brother Derl, next in line for the throne. Bleeding and heartsick, the strongest vampire king ever born cradled his face in his hands and cried blood red tears.
“How old are you?” the blacksmith asked.
Shay Karr sighed, knowing how this conversation would end. “Twenty-one, sir.”
“My apprentices are half your age,” the blacksmith scoffed. “Besides, you don’t look like you could lift a hammer, much less use one.”
The brawny man lifted one massive arm and flexed, showing off his impressive muscles. Both of Shay’s arms together were probably smaller than his one.
“Thank you anyway.” Shay nodded and turned away quickly. The blacksmith didn’t need to witness the tears pooling in his eyes. The blacksmith, the jeweler, the banker, and just about every other possible place of employment in town had turned him away.
“Face it, Shay, you’re useless,” he muttered, kicking a stone down the street. He’d been raised to be a diplomat, not a tradesman. Now his previous status worked against him. A dockworker probably had more funds than Shay. Right then, he didn’t have enough coins to feed himself, much less buy plainer clothing. His rich fabrics fit right in at the mansion, but here on the street, craftsmen probably took his need as a joke. Dispirited, Shay walked away from the latest in a series of disappointments.
Since his parents’ death two weeks ago, Shay’s life had taken a downward spiral. Kept from his fortune until he turned twenty-five, Shay was at the mercy of his unscrupulous uncles. One wanted Shay to marry his stepdaughter, and the other tried to pin Shay in dark corners and grope him with greedy fingers. Since Shay preferred men closer to his own age and not related to him, he needed to find a way to make money and get the hell out of his family home.
His uncles had moved themselves in at the death of Shay’s parents, and he saw no way to get them back out. With guardianship papers clutched in his uncles’ greedy fists, Shay had no recourse to fight back. According to the law, Shay and his fortune belonged to them until he came of age. Most of it was legally out of their reach, trapped and wrapped in trusts until Shay married or turned twenty-five. So far, his chances of matrimony were even worse than his odds of getting a job.
Both his uncles were powerful politicians and had convinced everyone they were there to help their nephew in his time of sorrow. It was amazing what people would believe. In reality, Shay was essentially homeless and poor. The banks wouldn’t lend him money because of his uncles’ pressure on them, and no one would hire Shay for work because he was too old to learn a trade.
Apparently, speaking twenty languages, playing a musical instrument, and hosting large dinner parties weren’t useful job skills.
“Still looking for work, son?” A gruff voice spoke nearby.
Shay froze in his tracks. Lost in his thoughts, he’d almost walked into the short, elderly man standing before him. The man had long gray hair, a silvery gray suit, and even his skin had a grayish tint in the bright sunlight. A quick look confirmed that indeed the man’s eyes were gray as well.
“Yes. I’m still looking for work.” If the man had been watching, he knew all about Shay’s poor prospects. He tried to keep his impatience to himself. It wasn’t the stranger’s fault that Shay couldn’t find a position. Even a job clerking would be a step up from living beneath his uncles’ iron rule. The only reason he didn’t resort to begging in the street was his uncles would probably use it as a sign that Shay had lost his mind and petition the court to take all his money under the guise of caring for him.
“Have you tried the castle?”
Shay’s attention snapped back to the gray man.
“They are always needing help at the castle.”
Shay looked at the huge golden building in the distance and shuddered. The vampire king’s castle was a testament to brilliant architecture, but home to a blood-sucking ruler.
He shuddered. “No.”
The man stared at him with his piercing colorless eyes, making Shay think the man could read his soul like a book and had decided he didn’t like the plot or the main character.
Shay sighed and gave in to his curiosity. “What are they hiring for?”
Shay flinched. “I-I don’t think I can do that.” Just the idea of a vampire biting him sent tremors of fear up and down his spine. Of course, his uncles’ were conducting a different type of blood sucking, and he had a feeling vampires would be kinder in comparison.
“Do you have a better offer?”
Damn, he wished he could lie, but the gray man had seen Shay’s ill luck. “No,” he confessed. “Nothing.”
“Here.” The man held out a piece of paper. “This will get you through the gates.”
“Really? Do you think I can do it?” Shay asked.
“You’ve got blood, don’t you?” The old man smiled.
A reluctant smile curved Shay’s lips. “Yes, I do.”
He accepted the paper and gave it a quick glance. Writing sprawled across the page, but Shay was too nervous to focus on the text.
With slightly shaking fingers, he folded the paper and tucked it into his pocket. “Thank you.”
“No thanks needed, boy. Just make sure you go.”
Shay nodded. “I will.”
It wasn’t as if he had a lot of options, and the ones he did have were grim. Maybe having his blood sucked wouldn’t be so horrible. After all, at least he was providing a valuable service—vampires needed to eat too.
After a long walk up a rocky, winding path, Shay made it to a pair of tall iron gates complete with matching soldiers standing at each side. His nerve began to fail, and he almost turned around. He didn’t know how long he stared at the guards before the first one spoke.
“Can we help you, citizen?” the large guard on the left asked.
Shay swallowed the lump in his throat before gathering his courage to pull out the paper the gray man had given him. Without a word, he handed it to the guard. He continued to wait in silence while the soldier examined the note.
Careful eyes scrutinized the small print before handing it back with a slight smile. “Go around the back of the castle and present yourself at the kitchen. Morley will interview you and assign you a job.”
Shay gave a soft sigh before nodding. “Th-thank you.”
“So you can talk,” the guard on the right said. His dark hair shone in the setting sun. “I was wondering if you were just beautiful and quiet.”
Shay’s cheeks burned. Compliments made him uncomfortable. He preferred to hide in the background, unnoticed. People always stared when they caught sight of him.
“Leave the sweet thing alone, Larro,” the first guard said as he pushed open the iron gate. “Go on in.”
Eager to leave the pair, Shay scurried past with a whispered thank-you. He couldn’t believe his life was reduced to becoming a blood donor. The idea of being bitten by a vamp made him a little queasy, but not as ill as the thought of being trapped by his uncle in the shadows—again.
He might not be young enough to be an apprentice and had no useful skills, but even an idiot could stay still long enough to be bitten. The challenge would be to not pass out from fear.
Shaking, Shay followed the flow of people, knowing they’d eventually lead him to the castle kitchen. Servants with large metal serving trays swerved around each other in careful steps, keeping hold of their burdens as they dashed in and out of an arched doorway. Shay followed them inside and walked into a room of utter pandemonium.
People whipped back and forth as they dropped off trays and picked up more. Shouted orders filled the air like a cloud of noise, and knives flew across chopping blocks with blinding speed. The scent of food cooking had Shay’s mouth watering. He hadn’t eaten since his early morning meal when he’d choked down his breakfast before escaping the manor.
In the far corner of the kitchen sat a dozen boys and girls dressed in leather pants, white shirts, and red collars. They lounged on stools as if awaiting their summons. Their stillness in the face of such activity made them stand out even more in Shay’s eyes. It struck him that this was what he was about to become, a blood donor.
Shay had seen them walking around town before, but never this close. They looked like ordinary girls and boys. He didn’t know why, but Shay had always assumed they would have a glow to them, as if they would have something special about them to warrant their position as a blood donor.
“You there! What do you need?” A wizened white-haired man walked up to Shay. His twinkling blue eyes widening as he took in Shay’s appearance.
Without comment, Shay handed over his note.
“Blood donor, hmmm.” The man looked him up and down again. He reached out to finger one of Shay’s shiny golden locks.
“Yes, sir,” Shay replied. The man oozed power. Shay could feel it tingling against his skin. Straightening his spine, Shay stood still for inspection. If this man rejected Shay for employment, he had nowhere else to turn. He’d have to consider leaving town to find a job. Who knew what his uncles would do to his fortune while he was gone. Maybe it would be for the best. At least then he could start with a clean slate.
“I’m Morley. I’m the castle seneschal in charge of blood donors. You’re an attractive fellow. I think I’ll send you to the king’s chamber. Vasska always appreciates someone pretty to look at when he feeds. Now don’t blush, boy. I can’t be the first one to comment on your looks.” Morley snapped his fingers. “Jorrell, come here. Take this boy—what’s your name?”
“Take Shay to the king’s room. Once there, leave him and return to me. I hear Lord Dallen is coming tonight, and you’re his favorite.” A red-haired boy jumped up from his stool and rushed over, green eyes gleaming with mischief.
“Will do, Morley.”
Jorrell flashed Shay a wide smile. “Follow me.”
The pair barely cleared the doorway before Jorrell began his interrogation. “So, Shay, where do you come from? You must be well off because you have the best skin I’ve ever seen. Did your parents send you? Is your hair really natural?”
Shay laughed, feeling his nervousness melt away beneath the friendly onslaught. It was hard to feel nervous with a young man who bounced around like a rambunctious puppy. “I come from Corvel, I’m no longer well off, my parents are dead, and yes, my hair is natural.”
He could tell Jorrell wanted to continue his questioning, but they stopped beside a massive wooden door engraved with leaves and the royal crest of a hunting bird.
“Here are the king’s quarters. Go inside and kneel on the bed. You can keep your clothes on. He never pushes blood donors for sex, not like some.”
Before Shay could ask about the some Jorrell mentioned, his new friend rushed back down the hall.
Like rabid butterflies, Shay’s nerves swooped and swirled inside his stomach. What was he doing here? Maybe he could go back home and just hide from his uncles at night or during the day, or anytime they thought he might be alone. Shit, he didn’t have a choice.
Holding his breath, Shay opened the door.