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I am beyond thrilled to share a sneak peek at my brand new release, Curses and Crowns.
If you’re a fan of The Vampire Diaries, The Originals or The Selection, then you’ll fall in love with this addicting new YA paranormal romance series.
Scroll down to read the first chapter. Warning: you’re in for a wild ride!
At this rate, the vampire was going to drain me dry. Knees buckling, I dug my fingers into his arms, burying my nails deep into his flesh, trying to fight him off. I pleaded for him to stop.
Tears raced down my cheeks, trickling down my neck. It was still raw from the puncture wounds, and the salt intensified the pain, sending me into a fit of agony. But my pounding heart only thrilled him more, delivering what little blood I had left running through my veins to his mouth even faster. “You’re taking too much.”
His fangs suctioned harder. He was going to kill me if he didn’t stop.
Part of me wished he would.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. But I didn’t have the strength to push him away. My ears filled with the sound of him gulping, and with each long sip, I grew weaker.
I didn’t know how much longer I could last. I tried steadying myself as the room began to spin. Everything went off-kilter, and the colors surrounding me swirled together in a mesmerizing blur. “Please,” I said, my voice cracking.
But he didn’t slow down. And the more he drank, the harder it became to breathe.
“Hey,” one of the guards overseeing the blood donation tent shouted as he stormed toward us. “Levi! Stop! You’re going to kill her. You know the rule: no killing the blood slaves.”
But Levi was consumed by bloodlust, unable to stop himself.
Self-control wasn’t one of vampires’ strong points.
The guard ripped Levi off of me. Levi’s neck gave a crack as the guard snapped it, temporarily knocking him out, and he crashed to the floor.
I collapsed right on top of him. My vision faded in and out. I knew I wouldn’t actually die, though. This wasn’t the first time a vampire had gotten greedy.
The guard bit into his right wrist. When the blood began to flow from it, he turned me over on my back and forced his wrist into my mouth. “Drink.”
My lips felt like they were going to go numb. It was like pressing them against an ice cube. Even though I didn’t want to, I swallowed, gagging, disgusted by the bitter taste. His blood ran slow, as all vampires’ did. Meaning I had to try with all my might to suction it out and force it down my throat.
I wish I’d had the strength to fight him off so that I could just die already, but I’d been through this routine countless times. It wasn’t worth the fight. I was the Kingdom of Crescent Cape’s property. And I’d given up fighting years ago.
I’d lost count of how many times I’d thought that if I could find the courage to refuse the vampire blood that would heal me, this would all be over. I could be at peace. But that wasn’t an option. The vampires needed me and the rest of the blood slaves alive. We were their food source. And if they wanted to live, then we needed to live, too. Which is why Levi had gotten in trouble for nearly killing me, and why the guard was saving me now.
After giving me enough of his blood to trigger the healing process, the guard pulled his wrist away. The bite marks on his wrist disappeared as his skin restored itself right before my eyes. I’d never get used to that. It was so… unnatural.
He helped me to my feet and told me to return home, even though Donation Day was far from over. But I was of no use to them now that I had vampire blood in my system. So they’d have to do without me until next week’s donation.
I nodded, clutching my torso as I accepted his order. The thought of having vampire blood pumping through my veins made my stomach churn. I knew I’d spend the next twenty-four hours praying to stay alive. Otherwise, I’d become like the monsters that ruled over me.
But once twenty-four hours passed, I’d be safe.
The vampire blood would be out of my system, and I’d be free from its effects—and the curse I would bear if I were to die with it inside of me.
I hated these vile creatures. They’d taken everything from me. The last thing I wanted to do was to become one. So, doing as the guard had instructed, I returned to my home—if the rickety huts they supplied us with could be called such a thing.
The hut that I shared with my roommate Tessa was empty since she was still offering up her blood to the vampires. Meanwhile, I was in desperate need of nourishment. The guard’s blood had healed me, but I was still starving. The weekly post-donation feast wasn’t until later this evening, so stale bread and cheese would have to do for now. I cracked open a loaf and spread a sliver of Brie on top of it, not bothering to remove the rind. I needed every calorie I could get my hands on.
While I was no stranger to near-death experiences here in Crescent Cape, it occurred to me that Levi nearly killing me could be used to my advantage.
I’d been waiting for my opportunity for so long.
Now that my head had started to clear, it occurred to me that maybe this was my chance.
Even though I knew no one was around, I scanned the room to be extra sure. I couldn’t risk anyone seeing what I was about to do.
I made my way over to the nightstand that Tucker, another villager, had crafted for me. I pulled open the drawer and retrieved my book. I thumbed through the worn pages, passing over the one I’d bookmarked. Seeing the bookmark, a scrap of paper I’d drawn all over, brought a smile to my face, and I chuckled to myself. Vampires might be bloodsuckers, but people who folded the corners of books were monsters, too, as far as I was concerned. I may not have had much here in this little hut, but you’d better believe I’d made myself a bookmark.
I kept flipping through the book until I found it: the envelope I’d tucked in toward the back.
I breathed a sigh of relief. The money was still there.
I’d been tucking cash away for some time now. I had to get the hell out of Crescent Cape and back to my family. The vampire who’d kidnapped me must have compelled me to forget how exactly I ended up here. The last memory I had from my old life was vacationing with my family on the East Coast. And the next thing I knew, I was a blood slave.
I was only eight years old when the vampire took me. Now, ten years later, I was no longer that frightened little girl. I wasn’t going to accept the notion that my only purpose in life was to be convenience food for vampires. It was time to start taking agency over my life. And that was exactly why I was going to leave Crescent Cape for good.
And if I got killed in the process of trying to leave… well, at least, in the end, I would have died standing up for myself. I could be at peace with that.
I folded the cash and tucked it into my bra so that I could carry it, but keep it hidden. I thought about walking out right then and there, but there was something I needed to do first.
I needed to say goodbye to Tessa.
Of course, I couldn’t do that face to face. I couldn’t let her know what I was doing, at least not without getting a head start first.
I would have loved nothing more than to bring Tessa with me. But I knew her well enough to know she would be too scared to attempt such a dangerous thing. Trying to escape had dire consequences. If the vampires were to catch me, I’d suffer the same fate as so many had before me: I’d be drawn and quartered in the village square.
Yeah. The vampires that ruled Crescent Cape were old-fashioned like that.
I wouldn’t even have time to start transitioning into a vampire if they caught me in the next twenty-four hours. I couldn’t transition if I were ripped to shreds.
Not that I’d go through with feeding to complete the transition anyway. There was nothing that would ever convince me to become one of them.
I sat down at the tiny table in the corner and wrote Tessa a letter explaining what I was doing and saying goodbye. I also left her my parents’ names and address so that, if I didn’t make it and she ever managed to leave this wretched place, she could tell them I tried getting back to them and that I loved them.
On the back side, I sketched a portrait of Tessa.
She’d always loved my artwork, and this was my parting gift to her. Something she could remember me by. I took care to capture her sweet smile and the little bump in her nose. But I took a little liberty with her eyes to make her appear more confident. I hoped she would understand that in doing so, I was trying to remind her to be brave.
Deep, unrecognizable voices rumbled outside, growing louder by the second.
Before I had a chance to peek out the window, someone banged on my door.
Knowing that definitely wasn’t Tessa’s knock, I snatched the paper from the table and crumpled it in my fist before tossing it into the trash on my way to the door. Heart pounding, I answered it.
Two of the vampires from the castle invited themselves in. They wore fine suits, as did all of the guards. After all, they didn’t need armor or weapons. They were weapons.
I gulped. “Can I help you with something?”
“Prince Aiden requires your presence at the castle,” the taller one said, as if that was a perfectly normal thing to say. He clasped his hands and widened his stance, somehow making himself look even more menacing.
“Prince Aiden?” My voice hitched. That was strange. What would the prince want with me? As far as I knew, he didn’t even know I existed—which was exactly how I liked it.
I backed away, even though I knew there was nowhere to run.
Did Prince Aiden somehow know I was going to try to escape? I mean, I knew vampires had the power of compulsion. But reading minds? Surely, I would have heard about such a vital piece of information by now…
“I didn’t do anything,” I said, tripping over my own feet as I inched backward. “I swear.”
I’d hardly blinked before he grabbed me by the arms. He took my face, cradling it in his icy palms, and I knew what he was about to do.
I closed my eyes, trying to stop him from compelling me.
But the other one jabbed me in the back so hard that stupidly, out of instinct, I opened my eyes when I cried out in pain.
The guard standing before me looked at me dead-on, his eyes widening as he wielded control. He said something to me, but my head went fuzzy.
All of a sudden, I stood there, relaxed and perfectly at ease. I raised my chin, smiling. “I will go with you to the castle to meet Prince Aiden.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that, Danielle.”
And I followed him outside.