Raven sighed.

“It must be sad to live forever,” she said after a while. “Everyone you cared about is dead.”

William shifted beside her. “I haven’t loved anyone since I was human.”

“Then I feel sorry for you. Love—even the love for family and friends—is a light that shines in the darkness. Without that light, I would have killed myself.”

William frowned. “This is a morbid conversation.”

Raven stifled a laugh. “Coming from a vampyre, that’s funny.”

She sobered and looked up at the canopy. “But it’s true, William. I feel sorry for you. I wouldn’t want to live forever—to carry this pain for eternity. I just want peace.

“No matter the justice you think you can get, I will always have this weight on my shoulders. I’m glad that someday I’ll go to sleep and never wake up.”

Raven curled her body into a ball, lying on her side, and tucked her hands under her pillow. Soon her breathing grew even and he knew she was asleep.

William was in desperate need of a few hours of meditation, simply to clear his mind and allow him to relax. But all he could think about was a twelve-year-old girl fighting a grown man to protect her sister and being thrown down a flight of stairs.

He could see her, the young girl with the black hair, lying at the foot of the staircase, her body battered and broken.

Cassita vulneratus.

Defensa.

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the gold bracelet that featured the symbol of Florence. He slipped it over her right wrist.

Everyone you cared about is dead.

“Not everyone,” he whispered, pulling her against his chest.

Chapter Forty

Although William was unable to meditate while holding Raven in his arms, he was surprised to discover that the posture calmed and relaxed him. He closed his eyes and rested, allowing his mind to drift like a sailboat over the sea.

He felt a modicum of guilt for the way he’d treated her—first, allowing her to exchange her freedom for his assistance with her friends, and second, exacting her painful history in exchange for Emerson’s life.

Don’t you get tired of death? Her sweet voice echoed in his ears.

The truth was he did tire of it. When the Black Death scourged Florence and he had to scavenge for uninfected humans on which to feed, he tired of death. When the old prince allowed the brethren to kill without limit, including infants and children, he tired of death.

He overcame his fatigue by killing the Prince and taking over the principality. He accumulated wealth and power, he allowed his appetites to be fed, and he derived a measure of satisfaction from all his pursuits.

But he lacked hope. He lacked peace. The only way he could continue was to never, ever think of the future.

Of course, Raven couldn’t know that vampyres didn’t live forever. That the Curia had cursed them to a life of only a thousand years. Still, given his age, he had time and time enough to spare.

He’d outlive her.

The thought burned through him.

William released Raven as gently as he could, determined not to wake her. He retired to one of the guest bedrooms so he could shower and dress.

His considerable respect for her had increased a hundredfold. He was more determined than ever to make her his.

He simply needed to be patient, and patient he was.

“Good morning.” William looked down into Raven’s wide green eyes.

“Good morning.” Her tone was hesitant.

He leaned over and kissed her.

“Did you sleep well?” He spoke against her lips.

She nodded.

“What’s the matter?” He sat next to her on the bed.

“I don’t know,” she confessed, avoiding eye contact.

“You came to see me; we had a meeting of the minds. Emerson is safe and you’re wearing my protection.” William gestured to her right wrist. “Is that an adequate summary of the evening’s activities?”

She lifted her wrist to examine the bracelet, a small smile playing on her lips.

Her eyes moved to her protector’s. “So you won’t harm Professor Emerson?”

“If he commits an infraction within the city, there will be consequences. But I won’t harm him because of the illustrations. I’ve decided to channel my energies in other directions.” William’s mouth extended into a provocative smile.

“What directions might that be?”

“Here.”

He brought their lips together, this time seeking entrance to her mouth immediately.

Raven welcomed him inside, curving her hand around the back of his neck and pulling him closer.

William’s lips pressed, devoured, tantalized.

His fingers spanned her waist. Then they ascended underneath her blouse to her breasts. He traced the opening before slipping his hand under the material to cup her bra, his hands cool.

She hummed appreciatively and he began circling his fingers, stroking and rolling.

Raven moved her hand to his hair, winding the strands. She tilted her head, languorously exploring his mouth, reveling in the feel and taste of him.

With a growl, William shifted, lightning fast. He pulled the covers from her lower body and brought his hips between her legs, arching over her.

His mouth descended to her neck, kissing and sucking at the flesh beneath her ear.

She moaned and he lowered his lips to her breasts, pushing her blouse aside and kissing across the skin that swelled above her bra.

“William,” she whispered.

His arousal was pressing up against her, through their clothing. He slid his hand down her side, his touch scorching, and lifted her leg to wrap around his hip.

“William,” she groaned.

He looked down at her, his eyes alight, his beautiful mouth parted.

“Let me pleasure you,” he rasped, kissing her fiercely.

“I can’t.” Her voice was small, her expression conflicted. “What happened last night, what I told you—I’m a mess.”

“Spend the night with me, here, in my bed.”

“William, I—”

He lifted a hand to her face, his touch light and soothing.

“Come to me tonight.”

“I’m not promising to sleep with you.”

“Why not?” He kissed her again, this time gently.

“I’m worried about my heart.”

He arched an eyebrow at the space between her breasts, his lips curving up into a half smile.

“Not that heart.” Her eyes slid to the side. “When you laugh at me, it will hurt.”

William’s expression grew thunderous.

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