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Excerpt for Dalakis Passion Boxed Set: Books 1–3 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Cover

Dalakis Passion Boxed Set

Books 1–3



Harker’s Journey


From the first moment Johanna Harker read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, her life changed forever. The book unleashed an obsession with vampires that was all the more compelling for the intensely erotic dreams that filled her nights. It wasn’t long before she was consumed with thoughts of the dark creature who returned to ravish her in her dreams again and again . . .



Lucian’s Delight


For years Delight Deveraux suffered from a recurring nightmare of being savagely attacked and assaulted, until the night a mysterious stranger appears in her dream to rescue her. When the same scene plays itself out in real life just days later, with the same mesmerizing dream man coming to her rescue, Delight suddenly finds herself swirling in a haze of passion and confusion, between what’s real and what’s not. But Lucian Dalakis is real, and he intends not just to save her but to bind her to himself for all time . . .



Stefan’s Salvation


Laurel Rose McCaffey never minded being branded an outsider, even when it meant carving out a solitary life for herself in the wooded hills of North Carolina. Now resort developers want to take her land, and vicious locals who stand to benefit from the deal have begun making threats. When a dark stranger enters her life, first as a protector, then as a lover, Laurel Rose is both fascinated and frightened by his mysterious power and all-consuming sensuality . . .


Title Page

Copyright

Dalakis Passion Boxed Set

N. J. Walters

Copyright © 2005, 2006 by N. J. Walters.

Cover design and illustration by Dar Albert, Wicked Smart Designs.

Published by Beyond the Page at Smashwords


Beyond the Page Books

are published by

Beyond the Page Publishing

www.beyondthepagepub.com


ISBN: 978-1-946069-79-5


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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.


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Contents


Harker’s Journey

Lucian’s Delight

Stefan’s Salvation

Books by N. J. Walters

About the Author

Dedication


To the many readers who have fallen in love with the Dalakis brothers, thank you for taking these remarkable men into your hearts.

Harker’s Journey

Harker’s Journey


From the first moment Johanna Harker read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, her life changed forever. The book unleashed an obsession with vampires that was all the more compelling for the intensely erotic dreams that filled her nights. It wasn’t long before she was consumed with thoughts of the dark creature who returned to ravish her in her dreams again and again.


Abandoning any hope of finding a flesh-and-blood man who can fulfill her, Johanna resigns herself to pouring all her energies into her demanding job by day and her enthralling fantasies by night. But when her job takes her to the fabled Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania to meet her company’s largest client, she’s suddenly overcome by the thrilling sensual promise of the secretive and demanding Cristofor Dalakis, the very man who’s been haunting her dreams.


But Cristofor, the enigmatic and formidable patriarch of the Dalakis family, is harboring a dark family secret and makes it clear he will use his every skill to seduce and possess Johanna. And as Johanna realizes that her every fantasy may come true, she also makes the haunting discovery that it may come at a terrible price.


Prologue


Johanna Harker’s life changed the moment her college roommate gave her a copy of the classic novel by Bram Stoker. It was the day before her nineteenth birthday.

“Maybe you’re a bloodsucking vampire,” her friend joked after giving her the early birthday present. “I mean, didn’t one of the main characters have the last name Harker like you? Maybe you’re a relative?”

Johanna ignored her friend’s teasing and immediately started reading the book, captivated by the story of the powerful and alluring Count Dracula. She read between classes the next day, devouring a page here and there, before finally settling in that night to finish the tale. It was late when she set the book down on her desk and climbed into bed.

Her roommate was spending the night with her boyfriend, leaving Johanna alone. Her college dorm room was shrouded in darkness, lit only by the ambient glow of the streetlamp that poured through the open window.

She thought about vampires. They weren’t real, but it was fascinating and downright scary to imagine what the world would be like if they truly did exist. Would they be evil? Would they be reclusive? Or would they just be misunderstood?

She absently rubbed at an ache in her chest before she closed her eyes and imagined the perfect vampire, one more in keeping with her romantic heart. He wouldn’t be evil or deceptive, but brave and heroic. He’d be tall and handsome, and like some dark avenging angel, he’d swoop into her life and change it completely.

The open blinds fluttered in the slight breeze. Johanna laughed at her flight of fancy, rolled over in bed and gazed out at the night. She knew the moon was full, but it wasn’t visible from her small dorm window.

One second she was alone, and the next, he was there, standing in the shadows at the end of the bed, just as she’d imagined him. A sense of wonder filled her, obliterating all thoughts of fear. Even though she knew she’d never set eyes on him before, it felt as though she’d been waiting for him her entire life.

He advanced toward her, his movements fluid and graceful. Striking and dangerous were the two words that popped into her head. He was dressed entirely in black, and his great height and massive shoulders almost immediately blocked out the light seeping in through the window. As if sensing her need to see him better, he turned slightly so she could make out his features.

Long dark hair swept back from his face and fell in a curtain of silk around his shoulders. His forehead was prominent, and his cheekbones were high. Quirked in a half smile, his lips were thin, yet surprisingly sensual. For a moment, his eyes seemed to glow an eerie red before fading to dark once again. As much as she strained, she could not make out their color.

“Green.” His deep, slightly accented voice answered her unasked question.

She felt his voice, for it seemed to vibrate deep inside her, causing her to yearn for something she’d never had before. What that craving was, she wasn’t sure, but she longed to hear him speak again.

“Sit, please.” Johanna scooted over to the center of her small bed and patted the duvet next to her.

A satisfied smile crossed his face as he sat on the edge of the mattress. He said nothing and remained still. Predator. The word flashed in her head, and a deep primal fear rose within her as her heart began to pound in her chest.

The stranger’s dark laughter filled the air, and one of his large hands covered her fluttering heart. The heat from his palm seared her chest. She wanted to move but was paralyzed by fear. His green-eyed gaze captured hers and she could not tear herself away from their terrible beauty. For a moment, she thought she was dead, and lamented the fact that there were so many things left in life that she wanted to do.

As the thought flashed through her mind, his face took on such a look of pain and sorrow that she would have done anything he’d asked of her at that moment, if it would alleviate his torment. She’d never seen such a look of anguish, and for a brief moment she knew she’d experienced the deep suffering of his very soul.

“You are the one.” His voice was laced with surprise and what sounded very much like hope. He sat back and pulled his hand away, holding it fisted in his lap. Johanna felt the loss keenly. It was almost as if he had taken her heart with him.

“The one what?” she whispered.

“You are my heart and my soul, the beautiful spirit that I have sought through the dark days of my existence. I will protect you with my entire being for as long as you shall live and beyond, if you someday choose to join me.” Spoken like a vow, the words brought tears to her eyes. The deep emotion in his voice left her shaken and unsure.

Slowly, as if he could sense her fear, he trailed a finger down her cheek, tenderly wiping away a tear. “I did not mean to frighten you, little one. You will forgive me, yes?”

She loved the way he spoke, sounding both old-fashioned and foreign. It gave him an air of charm and sophistication. Johanna raised one of her hands and covered his, trapping it against her face. Guiding it to her lips, she kissed the palm of his hand. “Yes, I will forgive you.”

He hissed when her mouth made contact, but did not pull away. “You are playing with fire, my love. But who am I to discourage you?” He gently tugged his hand away from hers, and then placed both his palms on the pillow on either side of her face. Slowly, he lowered himself over her until his lips were almost touching hers. “One last chance.”

Instead of answering him, Johanna raised her lips to his and kissed him. It was a slow, unhurried caress as she nibbled at his mouth, reveling in its softness and texture. She outlined the shape of his lips with her tongue, enjoying the exotic, spicy taste of them.

She knew this had to be a dream, and it made her bold where she was normally shy and quiet, preferring books and studying to the dating scene. But this was different. He was different.

Her entire body tingled, filled with a restless energy that was centered between her thighs. She was so enthralled with the new sensations coursing through her that it took her a moment to realize he wasn’t responding.

Feeling embarrassed, she lowered her head back to the pillow and turned away from him, unwilling to see the look of pity—or worse, scorn—in his eyes. It seemed that even in her dreams, she couldn’t attract the man she wanted.

“Look at me.” The dark command vibrated throughout the room. Johanna immediately complied, unable to defy him. “If I take you now, you will always be mine.” The tone and the words he spoke seemed to reach inside her and touch her very soul.

Swallowing hard, she searched her heart and mind and came up with one answer. Yes. The thought was barely finished when he tore the covers back from the bed. Only her nightgown covered her. The slender straps left her shoulders and arms bare, and the lightweight fabric clung to her curves, outlining her breasts and hips.

He traced the delicate lace trim at the neckline with his index finger, making her shiver with a combination of excitement and fear. There was so much restrained power in that simple touch. Then he gripped the fabric with both hands and, yanking hard, tore it straight down the middle. The ripping sound echoed in the small space.

He pushed back the edges of the torn cloth and exposed her entire body. She felt slightly self-conscious at the smallness of her breasts and her long, skinny legs, but his eyes burned hotly as they studied her.

“Mine,” he uttered. For the first time in her life, Johanna felt truly beautiful.

Taking his time, he traced a slow path down her neck with his index finger. The pulse at the base fluttered wildly, and he bent forward and licked it. His tongue was hot and his teeth were sharp as he nipped. She felt branded by his touch.

He stood and tore off his own clothes, leaving them scattered by the bed in his hurry to get back to her. She’d thought him magnificent fully clothed, but naked he looked like a barbarian king. His black hair swept across his impossibly wide shoulders and back. Massive arms hung beside a heavily muscled chest that tapered down to his waist.

But it was his groin that caught her attention. His cock was thick, long and fully aroused. As she watched, it seemed to grow even larger. His burning gaze held her captive as he climbed onto the bed and lowered himself next to her.

Johanna floated in a sensual haze that blocked all sense of reality as his heated gaze swept her body from head to toe, leaving no part of her untouched. He framed her face with his hands and brushed his thumbs over her cheeks before lowering his head and tracing her lips with his tongue.

Yearning for a deeper contact, she opened her mouth and stroked his tongue with hers. He laughed at her playfulness and then plunged his tongue between her lips. There was no part of her mouth left unexplored as he claimed the territory as his own.

Johanna was lightheaded, hardly able to breathe. He kissed her with abandon, and she clutched at his shoulders for support, afraid she was going to pass out. Her nails dug into his skin, leaving small crescent shapes on his back, as she struggled against his overpowering embrace.

He pulled away from her mouth and left a trail of hot kisses along her jaw before his tongue swirled around the outside of her ear. He muttered words in a language that she didn’t understand, but the tone was universal—seduction.

She gasped for breath, her chest heaving with exertion as he continued to arouse her. His tongue plunged into her ear and flicked along the inside whorls before he nipped playfully at her earlobe. Sharp teeth tugged at the small gold stud in her ear, and she moaned as a restless heat filled her body.

He laved her neck with his tongue, lingering over the small bite mark he’d placed there, before continuing downward to her aching breasts. She arched her back toward him in a wordless offering. Taking it as his due, he cupped both breasts in his hands and rolled her nipples between his thumbs and forefingers. His head was bent in concentration, and the ends of his hair trailed across her sensitive skin, making her shiver with desire.

Johanna was on fire. She could feel the wetness and a throbbing emptiness between her thighs. Her legs moved restlessly against the sheets as he lowered his head and lapped at her breasts. The rough texture of his tongue made her cry out with pleasure. He plumped her breasts in his hands and tugged a taut nipple into his mouth. He sucked hard on the nub before gliding to her other breast and pleasuring it in the same manner. The fever inside her grew with each stroke of his tongue.

Johanna touched him wherever she could reach. His neck and back were thick with muscle that flexed beneath her fingertips. His skin was warm and inviting. She desperately ran her hands over his wide chest with its small, flat nipples and dusting of dark hair that started in the middle of his chest and ran all the way to his groin, where it was thicker.

He kissed a hot trail down her stomach. Her breasts were damp, her nipples puckered. The warm night air caressed them, making them ache for more of his touch. He paused to nibble at her waist and hipbones as he continued his exploration. She was finding it difficult to breathe. All the sensations he was drawing from her were new and exciting.

He used his wide shoulders to wedge her legs apart, making a place for himself between them. Then he draped one of her legs over his shoulder so that she was totally exposed to him. She couldn’t close her legs even if she wanted to, which she didn’t. Instead, she opened herself wider to him, holding nothing back.

He bent forward and breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of her arousal. Her hips rose toward him as she finally found her voice. “Please,” she whispered. She wanted him to taste her, to take her. She wanted it more than anything she’d ever wanted in her life. Her blood pumped thickly through her veins as a great need, unlike anything she’d ever experienced, rose within her.

He traced the moist folds of her sex with his fingers before bringing them back to his mouth and tasting her essence. “This is mine. From this moment forward, you shall have no other.” His eyes pierced the darkness and she could feel the barely contained anger swirling around him.

“Only you,” she promised, hoping to calm the violence she sensed churning within him.

“It is my nature to take.” He moved closer to her waiting heat. “What is mine, I hold.” His warm breath feathered over her sensitive flesh, making her burn with desire.

Promise or threat, dream or reality, she didn’t know and didn’t care. Not when he was touching her in such an exciting and wicked way.

He licked at her damp folds even as he inserted one long finger inside her waiting body. His teeth closed gently over her clitoris and held it captive as he flicked his tongue back and forth over the sensitive bundle of nerves. She threw her head back against the pillow as waves of heat washed over her.

Instead of satisfying her, the taste of pleasure only served to make her hotter, make her want even more. An unfamiliar wildness grew within her as he continued to touch her, taste her. Power and desire surged through her blood. Like a living, breathing entity, passion consumed her until nothing else existed but her need to satisfy it.

Johanna lifted her foot, placed it on his chest and pushed until he was forced to release her. As she scrambled away from him, he growled at her, like some beast deprived of its intended prey. In reply, she hissed and then launched herself at him.

It was like hitting a brick wall. But she wasn’t deterred. If anything, his strength excited her. She cupped his face with both hands and thrust her tongue into his mouth. She moved it in and out in a parody of the sex act.

To help relieve the ache in her breasts she rubbed them up and down the hard planes of his chest, moaning when the dark, crisp hair rasped her puckered nipples. She reached for his throbbing erection. He groaned when she wrapped her fingers around his shaft and pumped up and down.

It should have bothered her that she seemed to have no control over her body and thoughts, but she was too far gone to care. She couldn’t get enough of him.

In a frenzy of heat and desire, he answered her.

He cupped the back of her head with one of his large palms and held her captive as he plundered her mouth. Almost savagely, he pushed her legs apart and shoved several fingers deep within her molten core and began to work them in and out. Johanna pumped her hips in time to his thrusts even as her hands continued to do the same to his cock.

With barely restrained violence, he pushed her hands away from his body and tore away the remains of her damaged nightgown. “On your hands and knees, so I can take you from behind.” His dark command filled her with a combination of fear and longing, but not for a single moment did she consider disobeying him.

The need to have him inside her was too great to deny. She rolled to her hands and knees and thrust her bottom toward him.

“Spread your legs wider.”

She immediately obeyed him, pushing her legs apart until they could go no farther. He knelt behind her with his knees spread inside her open thighs, making sure she couldn’t close her legs. His chest covered her back as his hands came to rest on the mattress beside hers. His body caged hers completely.

The head of his shaft nudged at her opening. Her breathing grew ragged in anticipation. Slowly, oh so slowly, he flexed his hips and forged his way inward. Johanna bit her lip as a combination of pleasure and pain shot through her. He was large and hungry and she was tight and untried. He paused for a moment and whispered what sounded like a prayer before driving through. Johanna cried out at the sharp pain, but it almost immediately began to dissipate, replaced by a deep feeling of satisfaction.

It was unlike anything she could ever have imagined. Her breasts hung heavy in front of her, nipples hard nubs that ached for his touch. The hot juices of her arousal coated his cock. The air was heavy with desire and anticipation.

When he was finally seated to the hilt, he raked his teeth over her nape, sending goose bumps racing down her arms. She felt totally dominated. But she wasn’t afraid. Instead she reveled in it. The flames of passion burned even higher as his teeth pierced the delicate skin on the back of her neck.

He groaned and started to suck. She could actually feel the blood inside her veins rushing toward him. She wanted to give him whatever he needed.

Her body reacted violently to the sensual tug of his mouth and the sharp burn of his teeth. She came hard and fast. Her inner muscles clasped his cock in a hard vise, but he did not move. She shuddered as wave after wave of unbelievable pleasure washed over her. Johanna wanted to slump forward onto the bed, but he did not relinquish his grip on her neck and she was suspended there as he continued to drink from her.

Her vision blurred, and just when she was afraid she might faint, he retracted his teeth. His tongue bathed her neck, easing the sting. “Better than the finest wine,” he whispered in her ear. At least she thought he whispered. All she knew was that she had heard his voice in her head.

He pulled back slightly and wrapped one arm around her waist, anchoring her as he began to thrust heavily inside her. Unbelievably, she was immediately aroused again and began to push her bottom back to meet his pounding thrusts. His other hand moved between her spread legs, and he began to tease her clitoris with light feathery touches followed by firmer strokes.

Her heart hammered in her chest. Their passion was out of control and threatened to consume her. The force of his thrusts pushed her forward. Her breasts swayed as he took her hard, the motion incredibly stimulating to her senses.

She could feel herself coming again and surrendered to it. As the flood of sensation filled her, she heard his low moan. His cock pulsed deep inside her and his warm semen filled her. This time, she fell forward and collapsed in a heap on the mattress.

He swore under his breath, but she was in no shape to respond. Then she felt herself being turned gently in the bed. His strong arms banded around her, and she was wrapped securely in his comforting embrace. Johanna would have gladly stayed there for eternity.

“I may hold you to that.” His voice echoed through her mind. She smiled at that whimsical thought.

The way he held her made her feel special and treasured. His lips were soft on hers as he kissed her, lingering for a moment before sighing and gathering her tighter in his embrace. “I apologize. In my eagerness, I took too much. There is no excuse.”

She lounged comfortably in his arms as his words washed over her. “I will give you some of my blood, but only a little. Enough so that I may always find you, but not enough to change you.”

He raised his wrist to his mouth and punctured the skin with his sharp white fangs. When the blood was flowing, he held it to her mouth. “Drink,” he commanded.

Her will deserted her, as she felt compelled to do as he asked. When his blood hit her tongue, it sent a wave of longing through her. It was hot, delicious, him. It tasted richer than the darkest chocolate, spicy and sweet at the same time.

Far too soon, he was easing her away from his wrist. His eyes never left hers as he lifted his arm and ran his tongue over the puncture wounds, healing them instantly.

“You will have the time you need to live your life. I cannot guarantee how much time I can grant you.” Easing his arms from around her, he reached for his jacket and pulled out a cloth handkerchief. She was too tired to be embarrassed when he used it to clean away the evidence of their lovemaking.

When he was done, he rolled out of bed, picked up the covers and tucked them around her. “Sometime soon, you will have to choose your fate.”

In the blink of an eye, he was fully clothed and was once again the dark stranger standing at her bedside. “You have called me to you, and I cannot let you go. From this moment onward, every night the moon is full, you will be mine. I will have something of you for myself.”

Johanna nodded as she began to drift off to sleep, already counting the days until the next full moon. Satisfied masculine laughter filled her brain, and she sighed with pleasure as she fell asleep.


• • •


Hours later, Johanna woke feeling groggy, as though she’d had too much to drink and was slightly hungover. It was totally unlike her. She was usually wide awake as soon as she opened her eyes in the morning. Her first thought was that she had partied too hard the night before. Then she remembered she’d stayed home, finished her book and gone to bed.

When the coolness of the sheet touched her skin, she realized she was naked. She bolted upright in bed, clasped the covers to her chin and glanced around the room. She was alone.

The door to the room was locked, but the window was still open. The blinds swung gently in the breeze, and she shivered as a cool gust of wind skittered across her bare shoulders. Her nightgown was lying on the foot of her bed, ripped down the front.

It was then she noticed a slight soreness between her thighs and the aching of her leg muscles. The faint smell of sex drifted on the air.

“That was one heck of a dream.” Her voice shook as she spoke aloud in the empty room. Her hand trembled as she wrapped the sheet around her naked body.

It had only been a dream, hadn’t it? She glanced again at the door. It was locked and the security chain was attached. It had to have been a dream. There was no one in the room with her and no way for anyone to have gotten in. The window might be open, but her room was on the third floor of the dorm. Unless someone had sprouted wings and flown, there was no way they could have entered.

Gingerly, she slid off the bed and made her way to the window. She peered outside, looking for signs that the man in her dreams had really been here with her. A cold gust made her shiver and she quickly pulled the window shut and set the latch tight. An echo of male laughter rang in her head.

Something had happened. Johanna just wasn’t quite sure exactly what. All the physical evidence screamed that last night’s erotic adventure had been more than a dream. It had been all too real.

Goose bumps covered her skin as she peered out the window at the rising sun, desperately trying to mentally organize her scattered thoughts. She grasped the edges of the sheet tighter to her breasts, trying to warm her chilled flesh. As the first of the sun’s rays washed over her, her aches and pains vanished and she felt more like herself.

Logic escaped her, but real man or dream man, he was part of her life now. Johanna somehow knew that to be an irrefutable fact, just as she knew the moon would rise again this evening.

She predicted that she hadn’t seen the last of him.


• • •


Cristofor Dalakis instinctively knew when the first rays of the sun broke over the horizon. It was always that way. As a vampire, he was keenly aware of the position of the sun at all times. Too much exposure could kill him.

Hope and despair warred inside him. He’d found her, the woman who was meant to be his, the one who could end his life of loneliness. The only problem was she was so young, barely a woman. Only beginning to taste what life had to offer.

He was in America to personally look into several possible investments. With his business completed, he’d decided to go for a walk and had been pulled toward a local university campus. Not his usual hunting ground. When he desired a woman, he usually hit up a bar. There was no shortage of women willing to sleep with him. He was handsome and he was rich and women flocked to him with little effort.

But that was something he seldom did. Only when the solitude of his long existence began to wear on him and he craved physical contact and a measure of warmth. Each soulless physical encounter with a stranger destroyed a tiny sliver of his already damaged soul. Tonight all he’d wanted to do was walk.

As he’d crossed the campus, he’d felt her wordless call. It had stopped him in his tracks. He’d been unable to resist his instincts, which had screamed at him to go to her. It was no challenge for him to find her location and enter her room. He’d found her half asleep, thinking of a man. A vampire. Him.

In one burning instant, he’d known she was his, had been created to belong to him. Maybe a better man would have walked away, but he’d been unable to leave her. Instead, he’d worshiped her with his body, touched her silky soft skin and lost himself in the welcoming heat of her body.

She’d been a virgin.

That had helped settle the burning urge to claim her right then and there. It had been enough that he’d taken her, that she belonged to him. He’d tasted her body and taken her blood. She’d also accepted the gift of his blood. They were connected now in a way most humans could never imagine.

But he could never go to her again in person, not until the time came for her to make her final choice. He owed her at least a decade to forge her own path in life, to grow and become the woman she was meant to be before she was forced to decide if she wished to shackle herself to him for the rest of eternity.

His fingers curled into fists even as the deep daylight sleep of his kind claimed him.

No, he would have to stay away from her and away from America. Otherwise, he might succumb to the vicious need gnawing at him and simply take her as his own.

But he would have her in his dreams every full moon. He needed that much if he hoped to survive.

Chapter One


Ten years later . . .


“This can’t be happening,” Johanna Harker muttered to herself as she limped off the gravel path to lean against a tree. Scowling at the road, she eyed the heel of her expensive Italian leather pump, a casualty of her forced trek.

The rental car she’d picked up at the airport had broken down just as she’d coasted into the sleepy little village where she was staying. With no time to get a replacement or have it repaired, she’d been forced to look for an alternative source of transportation. After asking around at both the inn and the local gas station, she found only one man who would hire out his vehicle for the arduous trip to Dalakis Castle later that same day. No amount of money could entice anyone else to drive her up the winding mountain path. The old man, with his stooped shoulders and snow-white handlebar mustache, had shown up late, and then when the castle was finally within sight, he had refused to take her past the point where the pavement ended and the dirt road began.

Nothing she had said changed his mind. After wasting ten precious minutes she didn’t have, alternatively arguing and cajoling, she’d climbed out of the passenger seat and stared in dismay as the driver sped away, leaving her and her briefcase standing at the bottom of a long, dusty road.

With nothing left for her to do, she’d begun walking toward her destination. At least she hoped it was her destination. The old man hadn’t spoken much English, but he’d nodded emphatically when she’d pointed, on her roughly sketched map, to the name of the place she was going. So far, all she had accomplished was destroying her shoe.

Cursing the driver of the battered old truck, she gave into the inevitable, propped her back against the tree trunk, and balanced herself carefully as she pulled off her unharmed shoe. Closing her eyes, she bent the heel ruthlessly backward until it popped off, then she shoved the shoe back onto her foot.

With her back still against the tree, she surveyed her surroundings. She was a city girl, and the thick woods surrounding the dirt road made her more than a little uncomfortable. Squinting, she could barely see more than a few yards into the dense undergrowth, but she could easily imagine all kinds of wild creatures lurking there.

Several different kinds of birds called out and sang to one another, and the air was filled with the sweet and heady scents of the wildflowers that grew on either side of the road. Their vibrant colors of red, yellow, and purple looked even brighter against the dark green of the forest. It felt strange to be so alone.

She took a moment to loop the strap of her briefcase over one arm and around her neck before pushing away from the tree. Pocketing the damaged heel, she dusted off her beige linen jacket and limped back onto the road. “Cow path is more like it.” Her voice startled a bird from the bushes, and it flew right in front of her. Johanna jumped back and stumbled on the uneven rocks, falling on her behind.

She sat in the road for a moment and surveyed her condition. Other than her pride, nothing seemed to be hurt. It occurred to her that she could just stay there until someone drove by and found her. But no, with her luck she’d be sitting there until she turned to dust. Besides, she had business to attend to. After all, that was why she was limping down this godforsaken path.

She rolled carefully to her knees and levered herself off the ground. The original broken heel lay in the dust, so she picked it up and shoved it in her jacket pocket alongside the other one.

Her already pitiful appearance had taken a turn for the worse. Her nylons were shredded, her skirt was dirty, and her jacket had a small rip. All in all, a day that had started out so well was quickly going downhill.

She’d just have to suck it up. She had a meeting to get to and prided herself on her punctuality. Her clothing might not look their best, but that didn’t mean she’d give her client any reason to doubt her business skills.

Johanna gathered her strength and continued trudging toward the castle in the distance, longing for her jeans and hiking boots, which were back at the quaint little inn. This situation was her own fault for wanting to look polished. As a representative of the Baxter Corporation in Chicago, who was financing this trip, she’d wanted to look cool and composed for her meeting with their largest client, Mr. Dalakis. As a woman in a field largely populated by men, she’d learned early on that she had to take extra care to appear and act professional at all times.

It continually shocked her that in this day and age there were men who believed she couldn’t possibly be intelligent enough to handle their accounts simply because she was a woman. Times were changing, but some days it certainly didn’t feel like it. She counted herself fortunate that she worked for a progressive company. Even more fortunate was the fact that Mr. Dalakis had no problem working with a woman.

It was an odd quirk of Mr. Dalakis that he insisted a company representative personally hand-deliver all documents that needed his signature to his home in rural Transylvania. The company hierarchy humored the man simply because he was so bloody rich. How rich, they didn’t even know, as he dealt with many other companies besides theirs.

As the newest member of the investment firm, she was the only one that could be spared from the office for an extended period of time. Therefore, she had been given explicit instructions by her bosses and saddled with the dreaded job of flying halfway around the world just so their client could sign some papers.

In truth, she’d prayed for weeks that she would be given the assignment. When it had been handed to her, she had nodded coolly and accepted the folder with the paperwork and her itinerary. When she’d gotten back to her office and closed her door, she’d done a silent victory dance, thrilled to her toes. She’d barely refrained from shouting with excitement.

The trip was scheduled to last a week, per the client’s request. Whoever was dispatched would cool their heels in the local hotel until he sent word that he would see them.

Johanna had been pleased when she’d found a note waiting for her upon her arrival at the inn. It had requested her immediate presence at the client’s home. That meant she could get the business portion of the trip taken care of and move on to the more pleasurable part.

Stopping for a moment, she took in the sheer magnificence of the mountains rising in the distance. She was really here. Her aches and problems were momentarily forgotten as the reality of the situation set in. Turning slowly in a circle, she drank in the sights and sounds. The mountains, the flowers, the birds, and even the dark, scary forest enthralled her. After ten years of dreaming and planning, she, Johanna Harker, was in Transylvania, land of the vampire.

The trip had fallen into her lap, as though it was meant to be. If she’d had to wait and save for the trip, she might not have made it here for another five or ten years. Every spare penny she’d made to this point had gone to pay bills, student loan debt and the cost of living and working in a city. Rent wasn’t cheap, and then there was her wardrobe. She haunted consignment stores for good pieces, but the fact was her clothing was a necessity for her job. She had to have good-quality pieces to wear. Wealthy clients noticed such small details.

She silently mourned the loss of her shoes. At least they weren’t her best pair. She’d worn the older ones with the lower heels in case she’d had to walk a short distance. She hadn’t exactly planned on a long hike. She’d take them to a cobbler she knew when she got home and see if he could repair her poor shoes.

Her briefcase bumped against her hip as she started walking again, more eager than ever to finish with business so that she could immerse herself in the Transylvania experience and soak up some of the local culture. She’d already signed up for a walking tour around the town, and there was a university expert giving a Dracula tour in a nearby town that she definitely wanted to be a part of. Given the expense of the trip, this would probably be the only opportunity she’d have to visit, at least for a long time, so she wanted to see and do everything.

She’d been obsessed with vampires since her college days, since the night of her nineteenth birthday, when she’d been visited by a dark lover in a dream. And it hadn’t been a one-time affair.

Over the years, her dream lover had appeared to her faithfully on the night of the full moon, just as he’d promised. It had never been quite as intense or real as their first encounter, but it had left her craving more. After about a year of his nocturnal visits, she’d finally decided she had two choices—she could either accept his shadowy presence in her life or she could check herself into a mental hospital for psychological evaluation. She’d chosen the first option.

Johanna no longer questioned if he were real. She accepted him as part of her life, wanting, no, needing to share her life with him. As she’d grown older and finished college, their trysts had gotten longer and more varied. The sex ran the entire gamut from playful to passionate, slow and easy to hard and fast, and everything in between. After their physical desires were sated, he would gather her in his arms and they would talk.

Johanna had shared all her hopes and dreams with her phantom lover. When she’d finally thought to ask his name, he’d given her a wicked smile and replied, “Call me Cris.” Over the years, there’d been no subject they hadn’t covered. He was always questioning her about her past and her plans for the future.

He knew about her estrangement from her family, who thought her weird and slightly crazy. She sometimes talked to herself and knew things she shouldn’t know, and this frightened her mother and father. Like the time she’d known her father had been in a minor car accident before he’d called home to tell them. There was also the fact that she could always find misplaced items just by thinking about where they were.

She’d never told anybody about her dreams or how, at times of stress or great conflict in her life, she would hear Cris’s calm, soothing voice in her head urging her to a certain path. After the voice had been right several times, she’d always trusted it.

Johanna broke off her meandering thoughts and stopped to survey her surroundings. The castle was getting closer, and not a moment too soon. The afternoon sun was lowering in the sky, and she didn’t want to be on the road by herself after dark. She glanced around, slightly nervous all of a sudden.

The woods were dark with shadows, and the locals had warned her that wolves still roamed freely deep within them. She could only hope that either Mr. Dalakis would be kind enough to drive her home or that he could arrange transportation back to her hotel. At this point, she’d take anything so she didn’t have to walk, even horse and wagon.

Picking up her pace, she continued to limp along until she finally reached the end of the dirt road. She stared up at the honest-to-God castle that loomed above her. It was tall and forbidding, made of dark stone. A single turret reached toward the sky. She shivered and made her way toward a long set of stairs that led from the road up to the castle.

Johanna wished she could sense her phantom lover was with her now. His voice had been strangely silent since she’d landed in Transylvania, and tonight was the full moon. She felt a little lost and bereft without it, as if a part of her was missing, and she couldn’t begin to imagine a night of the full moon without him. She could use a boost of courage right about now.

“You can do this,” she muttered. Taking a deep breath, she put her first foot on the stone stair. The entire world seemed to go quiet. Even the wind seemed to momentarily stop.

“Now you’re getting fanciful,” she told herself. Talking out loud made her feel not quite so alone or isolated.

She took one step at a time, focusing on what was in front of her. When she finally looked up, she had to swallow back a moan. She didn’t seem to be making much progress at all. If anything, the castle seemed farther away. Johanna wished she’d made more of an effort to get to the gym on a regular basis. This climb was going to be one heck of a workout.

She was definitely going to have blisters on her feet tomorrow.

Chapter Two


Johanna paused at the top of the stone stairs, needing to catch her breath after the long climb. The courtyard in front of her was deserted. The wind whipped some dry leaves into a frenzy, making them dance in the air before depositing them back to the ground.

She forced herself to walk down the cobblestone path toward the entrance. The sun was setting behind the mountains and she could hear an animal howling in the distance. She told herself that it was probably just a dog, but she wasn’t about to take any chances and picked up her pace.

She came to a halt in front of a rather imposing wooden door that was easily seven feet high. Johanna unhooked the briefcase strap from around her neck and shoulder and set it on the ground beside her. Wanting to look as presentable as possible for her client, she took a moment and straightened her clothing the best she could.

Her pantyhose were torn from her earlier fall and looked terrible, with several huge runs going from her ankle to her knee. She looked around to make sure no one was nearby, even though she hadn’t seen a soul since the old man dropped her off quite some time ago. She hesitated a brief moment and then slipped off her shoes, bent over and peeled the damaged hose down her legs.

She crumpled up what had been expensive nylons and stuffed them in her jacket pocket. First her shoes and now her nylons. It would be interesting to see if any part of her outfit survived. Her suit would have to be dry-cleaned, and that was only if the rip in the jacket could be repaired. This trip was going to cost her. It wasn’t like she could put in an expense claim. That would not go over well with her bosses.

Oh, well, it was a small price to pay when she considered that the company was paying for the trip. She’d get this meeting over with and then had several days to herself to explore the area.

Bolstered by the reminder, she slipped what remained of her beautiful Italian leather shoes back on her feet and took one final swipe at her skirt to rid it of as much dust as possible.

Johanna smoothed her hair back and prayed she didn’t have dirt on her face. Her makeup bag, which contained her compact and lipstick, was sitting back on the dresser in her room at the inn. She’d forgotten to transfer it to her briefcase. She never carried a purse when she was working. Men easily accepted a briefcase, but a purse only served to remind them that she was a woman.

Satisfied that she’d done all she could to repair her appearance, Johanna took a deep breath and slowly released it. She picked up her bag, got a good grip on it and squared her shoulders. She was as ready as she’d ever be to meet her reclusive new client.

An impressive brass knocker in the shape of a wolf’s head was set in the middle of the door. It was larger than her hand and was both scary and beautiful. She reached out and ran her fingers over the wolf’s head before she lifted the sculpted door knocker and let it fall. It made a loud, metallic bang when it hit the brass plate beneath it.

Johanna took a step back and waited, and waited and waited.

When no one answered, she decided they probably hadn’t heard her. The place was huge, an actual castle. No telling where the staff was. She figured more drastic measures were called for and banged on the thick wood panel with her fist. Five minutes later, she was still banging, but now she was yelling as well. “Hello! Anyone home?”

Her nervousness increased at the sun sank lower in the sky and shadows crept across the courtyard. She did not want to have to try to find her way back to the inn after dark. There were wolves and bears and who knew what other kinds of animals in the woods. If someone didn’t answer soon, she was going to try to find another way in, even if she had to crawl through a window. She was getting desperate.

The sun was just disappearing behind the mountains when she finally heard the clicking of a set of locks being turned. “It’s about time,” she muttered with relief. Now that she knew someone was home, she could admit to herself just how scared she’d been at the thought of having to tromp through the countryside on her own after dark.

The huge door opened slowly, the metallic creaking of the hinges sounding like something out of a bad movie. The light was dim and she couldn’t see anyone there. She squinted and could make out a stone wall and an old wooden bench just inside the entryway, but she still didn’t see anyone.

This was getting ridiculous. Enough was enough. She boldly stepped over the threshold and recited her favorite lines from Stoker’s book as she did so. “‘Enter freely and of your own will! Come freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!’”

There was no one standing behind the door, and she still believed she was alone until a deep voice came out of the darkness. “Surely it’s not as bad as that? This is not Dracula’s castle, but Dalakis Castle. We are much more civilized here.”

Heat crept up her cheeks and Johanna decided that her only option was to brazen it out. Tilting her chin up, she summoned her most professional voice. “Johanna Harker from the Baxter Corporation to see Mr. Dalakis.”

Inwardly, she was thankful that it was only the butler, or whatever his title was, who had heard her. Hopefully, she’d have her papers signed and be out of here before Mr. Dalakis heard about her little opening speech.

“It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Cristofor Dalakis.” A tall, dark figure separated itself from the shadows and started toward her.

Johanna wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole. This was not only embarrassing but could also have a lasting impact on her career if Mr. Dalakis reported her less-than-professional behavior to her bosses.

She shifted her briefcase to her left hand and stuck out her right one, hoping to salvage the situation. “I’m sorry, Mr. Dalakis—” she began, but he interrupted her.

“Call me Cris.” The rich tone of his voice sent her senses reeling before his words registered in her brain. His heavy accent was very familiar. Her heart began to gallop and it got hard to breathe. She watched in growing horror as the man from her dreams coalesced in the light of the full moon flooding the entrance.

Her briefcase fell from her nerveless fingers and hit the floor with a heavy thud. Shaking her head, she tried to deny the evidence in front of her. It had to be a trick of the light. Her thoughts whirled and her brain frantically searched for a logical explanation as she watched him getting closer. Blinking, she tried to clear her fading vision, but it was no use. Her skin grew clammy and her stomach lurched.

He was real. It was her last thought before she felt darkness overtake her.


• • •


Cristofor moved quickly, using his preternatural speed to catch Johanna before she hit the unforgiving stone floor. He winced at the thought of her beautiful body being bruised, or worse, seriously hurt. And it would have been his fault. In his excitement at having her in his home, he’d taken her off guard and startled her.

He lifted her into his arms and savored the slight weight of her. Her hair brushed against his arm. The short, stylish haircut was new and emphasized the delicate features of her face. Her skin was unusually pale, not surprising given the fright she’d just had.

The heavy weight that had been dragging him down for the past decade suddenly melted away. She was finally here. He leaned down and snagged her briefcase off the floor before carrying her down the long stone corridor and into his study.

A deep contentment filled him. Nothing would have pleased him more than to keep her locked in his embrace all night long. But that was not possible. He knew she would be alarmed if she awoke that way, so he laid her on a long, plush velvet sofa that sat in front of a roaring fire, and placed her leather bag next to her. It took all the considerable willpower he possessed, but he forced himself to release her.

He waved his hand in the air and candles positioned at various points around the room sprang to life. He much preferred candlelight to the artificial glare of electric lights. Call him old-fashioned but there was something about the play of light and shadows dancing on a woman’s skin that appealed to him. Plus, here in the mountains, storms were more likely as not to knock out the power.

She didn’t stir, so he took his time and examined her thoroughly. He threaded his fingers through her short brown hair. It was soft and silky and slid easily through his fingers in a cascade of chocolate, coffee, and a touch of auburn. Even though her eyes were closed, he knew they were a golden brown. Her slightly pointed nose and high cheekbones gave her an inquisitive air. Her complexion was flawless to him, even though he knew she despised the few freckles that scattered across her nose. They were hidden from view under a carefully applied layer of makeup, but he knew they were there. Her lips were parted slightly as she breathed easily. Unable to resist, he bent over her still form and kissed her soft, waiting lips.

Johanna moaned and turned toward him, returning his kiss for a moment before her eyes fluttered open. He wanted to stay but forced himself to step away and retreat to the shadows by the fireplace. He watched her slowly awaken. Like a bewildered little owl, she blinked several times, trying to get her bearings.

She pulled herself upright on the sofa and ran a shaky hand through her hair as she looked around the room. Her eyes came unerringly to rest on him. The connection that had always existed between them was as strong as ever. As he watched, she took a deep breath and struggled to compose herself. “What happened?”

“You fainted.” Johanna shivered slightly and ran her hands up and down her arms as if to warm herself even though a roaring fire heated the room.

“I don’t remember.” She frowned as she looked toward him. “I’ve never fainted before in my life. I’m really not sure what happened, but I do apologize.”

“You owe me no apology. It is I who owe you one.” He left the safety of the shadows and slowly walked toward her. “I’m afraid I startled you.”

She stared at him as he approached, her expression a combination of disbelief and amazement, as she took an unsteady breath to calm herself. “This is impossible.” Her voice was little more than a strained whisper.

Cristofor hunkered down in front of her, and she lifted her hand to touch him. It shook so badly that he wrapped his own hand around hers and held it to his cheek.

“You’re real.” Her fingers lovingly traced the features of his face. As he watched, he could see all her memories tumbling over themselves. They’d been together so many times over the years but, except for that first night, it had been nothing more than a dream, a whisper, a fleeting memory. This was real.

She yanked her hand away and scrambled backward toward the corner of the sofa. “You’re my dream man. But that’s impossible.” Johanna wrapped her arms around her chest as if trying to ground herself in a world gone mad. “I don’t understand how this is possible. You’re Mr. Dalakis, but you’re also Cris. My Cris.” The last came out sounding like an accusation.

“Yes. Surely you knew by now that those dreams were more than ordinary fantasies.” He was deeply connected to her, totally devoted. That she might not feel the same was a devastating blow.

She took a shaky breath. “Well, yes, but this is different. You’ve only ever come to me on the night of the full moon. I came to Transylvania on a business trip, a chance of a lifetime to fulfill my dream of seeing this country. I never expected you to actually appear in my real life.” Johanna frowned at him, shaking her head in denial. “Who are you, really?”

“I am Cristofor Dalakis and it is I who have brought you here.” He saw the exact moment that she began to see all the possible implications of the situation. Her dreams and reality had suddenly collided and there were many truths she now had to face. Details she’d conveniently ignored over the years.

Her face was pale but calm as she straightened her shoulders and met his gaze. Clutching her hands in her lap, she held them so tightly that her knuckles turned white. “What are you?”


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