Brennalyn smiled as she walked from one child to the next. At the end of the day, she’d spread
old scrap cloth on the schoolroom floor to catch paint drippings. They’d each claimed a spot and
now worked in contented silence. The first snow of the season hadn’t fallen yet and the northerly
wind was mild, so it was the perfect afternoon to prop the door open for ventilation and let the
children enjoy some creative expression.
They needed a break. And so did she. She'd spent too many hours on her special project in the basement at home recently, draining her both physically and emotionally.
Brenna stopped and leaned over with her back to the door, admiring a simple painting of a pretty
girl walking in a field of flowers. “That’s quite lovely, Helena,” she told her eldest adopted
daughter, now sixteen.
“Quite lovely,” agreed the deep, sonorous voice of a man standing behind her.
Brennalyn started and spun to scold the intruder in her schoolhouse only to find herself face to
face with the most alarmingly handsome man she’d ever seen. No, not a man. Vampire.
In nobleman’s attire, his chestnut-brown hair brushed his shoulders, his perfectly formed lips and
the sharp cut of his cheekbones, jaw, and nose, all denoted the trappings of a noble vampire lord.
His eyes—deep sapphire—were the eyes of a man who saw too much and tempted helpless
females too often. Good thing she wasn’t one of those. Even if she could hardly form words
while staring up at his towering figure.
“P-pardon me? You are?”
“Forgive me.” He smiled with the devil in his eyes then politely bowed. “I am Friedrich Volya,
Duke of Winter Hill.”
Stars above! She dipped a quick curtsy and wiped her paint-stained hands on her dirty apron.
“Your Grace. What an unexpected visit.”
She’d been the schoolteacher of Terrington for three years and had only glimpsed the duke from
afar. He’d never shown up at the schoolhouse till now.
“I apologize for my neglect, Miss Snow.” He knew her name. Of course he did. He was the duke,
for heaven’s sake. “But I thought it time I finally meet you and see how the local children were
doing in their studies.”
Tucking a wayward lock that had fallen from her bun back behind her ear, his all-seeing gaze
following her movement with keen scrutiny, she licked dry lips and gestured toward the children.
“Well, you’ve caught us enjoying our time for the arts, Your Grace. Soon enough, we won’t be
able to keep the door open for painting when winter settles in. Please, come and see their work.”
Two red-and- black clad Legionnaires stood on the porch, facing away from the schoolhouse.
This only raised her awareness of his importance and of her disheveled state at the end of a long
He paced slowly. “I approve of young minds enjoying the finer pursuits of art and drawing.”
He appeared genuinely engaged in what the children were doing. Puzzled, Brenna watched him,
unable to keep from admiring the way his dark suit perfectly fit his tall and broad frame.
Shouldn’t a duke be riding his horses, hunting with hounds, or pursuing some fine noble lady?
Brenna had heard some ladies whispering about him at the haberdashery last month. One of them
had been selected as his bleeder the week before. Brenna couldn’t help but lean close, catching
phrases like toes curled, wicked tongue, and died of ecstasy. The episode had made her scoff at
the types of women who offered themselves as bleeders, and apparently as open lovers, to the
Duke of Winter Hill. Now that she’d finally seen him up close, she understood the allure. And
yet, his sincere interest in the children’s artwork made him even more beguiling.
He crouched down next to Denny, the most recent orphan she’d taken into her home. Denny
hadn’t spoken a word since he was found on the back of a farmer’s cart who’d stopped for
delivery here in Terrington.
The duke pointed to Denny’s drawing in charcoal. “You know, if you darken this tree in the
foreground, it will add dimension to the rest of the painting.”
Denny turned an inquisitive look up to the duke before shading darker as he suggested. Then he
paused and smiled up at him.
Brenna followed him, keeping her distance but close enough should he have inquiries for her. He
moved on and stopped above Izzy whose golden curls were wild as ever after their afternoon
break in the schoolyard.
“You have fine talent for one so young,” he commented, staring down. “But I wonder what kind
of black flower you’re painting?”
Brennalyn’s heart plummeted into her stomach when she saw what Izzy had painted. Izzy’s
favorite subject since Brenna had been giving speeches at home. Speeches she might have kept
from her extremely brave and vocal youngest child.
“That’s the black lily.” Izzy’s sky-blue eyes beamed up at the duke. “She’s coming to save us.
She says there is always darkness before the light.”
Panic shot through Brenna. With a nervous laugh, she said, “Oh, Izzy. What an imagination you
have, darling.” Before Izzy could open her mouth and incriminate them more, Brenna clapped
twice. “That’s enough for today, children. Please put your artwork on the sideboard.”
She knelt and snatched up the condemning picture of the black lily and ushered Izzy to her feet.
Heaven help her if he decided to interrogate Izzy more on her unusual response. Best get them all
out the door as quickly as possible.
“We’re dismissed early?” asked Simon, the butcher’s son.
“Yes, you’ve all worked very hard. I believe you deserve a reward,” she said loud and strong.
“Don’t forget to put your brushes in the pail and your palettes in the washbasin.”
Children scuttled at once, putting things away at the sideboard and at their desks in orderly
chaos. Brenna busied herself emptying their tin cups of dirty paint water in a washbasin and
stacking on the sideboard, all the while trying to ignore the intense scrutiny of the still and silent
Duke of Winter Hill.
Friedrich tried to steady his own racing pulse, his predatory senses coming alive the moment
he’d stepped into the schoolhouse and gotten a whiff of her rose-in- winter scent.
Why in all the heavens had he never paid a visit to the new schoolteacher of Terrington? Well,
not so new anymore. After the elderly Ms. Crumb had resigned and moved to the south to live
with her niece a few years ago, he had his manager hire a replacement as was the normal routine.
He’d never thought this sable-haired, red-lipped beauty lived within his midst. Though she tried
to diminish her lush curves beneath a drab gray frock, it was no use. His fangs elongated while
he stood there and watched her bustle around the room, ushering the children on their way.
Her heartrate tripled the moment he spoke to the little girl about her painting. There was
something more there. Right now, he couldn’t get his mind off her winter-white skin that looked
as silky as the sheets on his bed. He had to fist his hands at his sides to keep from reaching out to
test his theory. And from picturing her twined in those sheets in his bed.
The eldest girl asked Miss Snow something, which he didn’t hear because he was too busy
staring at the svelte line of her slender neck and her pulse thrumming fast at the base of her
“Yes, Helena, thank you. I’ll clean up on my own.” As Helena exited with a hand on the little
blonde’s shoulder, Brenna called out, “You may leave the door open.” Miss Snow’s gaze darted
to him then away.
Smart woman. She sensed danger, as most humans did in his presence, keeping an escape route
available should she need it. Not that it mattered, he could overpower her if he wanted with little
effort. But that was never his way. Or his intent. His uncle, King Dominik, enjoyed violent
pleasures, but Friedrich was the black sheep of the family—never having developed a taste for
instilling fear in lesser mortals. In this way, he and Prince Marius were quite similar.
He’d be heading to Marius’s Blood Ball at the Glass Tower in a week for the prince to choose a
new blood concubine. Another practice Friedrich had never cared for. He preferred the company
of a variety of ladies and didn’t keep a blood harem like most royals. At the moment, he’d like
nothing better than the intimate company of the black-haired beauty folding up the last cloth
scrap and placing it in the cupboard.
He wandered to her desk and lifted a book of poetry.
“Do you read Kalphus, Your Grace?”
He noted an air of arrogance to her question as she finally stopped moving about the room and
stood before him, keeping a large space between, one hand lightly clasping her other like a
He stared down at the unopen book in his hand, tapping his forefinger bearing his signet ring
emblazoned with a lion. Then he recited, “Careless creatures often fall too fast, thoughtless
words move them on perilous paths.”
She arched a delicate and challenging brow at him. His cock hardened at once. Thankfully, she
didn’t notice, glancing upward in thought. “The north wind blows and the wolf must howl, like
noble lords hunger…for the hunt and the prowl.”
He arched a brow as well, pulling from memory the poet’s more obscure, earlier works. “Ladies
are divine in mien and air; therefore, the cleverest in deceit. So best beware.”
Dark eyes widened then narrowed. Her rosebud lips pursed in defiance, and his cock got harder.
“A man is a pillar of strength and power, protector of home against the stranger at the door. But
idolize him not, ladies. For they are not gods; flesh and blood, nothing more.”
He couldn’t contain his smile, noting her widened gaze to his extended canines. Dark, rich brown
eyes he yearned to examine up close. “A woman who knows her Kalphus is an extraordinary
She scoffed, barely restraining from rolling those pretty eyes to the heavens. “I am an educated
woman, Your Grace.”
“And a beautiful one.”
Silence. Stillness. They were both locked and caught for he knew not how long, till he could
taste the steady thrumming of her birdlike pulse on his tongue.
“I’d better go.” He was sure she understood the urgency of him leaving. And still, she challenged
him with her saucy tongue.
“It was a pleasure finally meeting you, Your Grace.” She dipped a curtsy. “Perhaps it won’t take
you three years before the next time.”
In a blur of speed, he was inches away, holding her hand, grazing his lips against her knuckles.
Her intake of breath and the slight dilation of her pupils summoned his beast to the forefront. He
must leave before the monster within beckoned him to bend her over the desk and taste her
sweet, rebellious blood. He knew without a doubt she would taste good…so good.
“No. I will see you again,” he promised. “Much sooner.” He swept his lips once more, holding
her gaze as he did, letting his voice rumble low. “Till then, Miss Snow.”