Maid to Hunger by Piper Fox

 

Chapter 1

Constantine paused at the gate and surveyed his current territory under the safety of his umbrella. Through the early morning mists rose an ancient castle surrounded by evergreens and rocky hills, its parapets reaching skyward. The sight had never failed to impress him, and it couldn’t have been more welcome than it was on his return today after being away for forty-plus years.

He strode through the grounds, knowing all turned to watch his approach. Whispers greeted him, and Constantine welcomed the attention. Let them gawk and stare. The proper lord of the manor had returned, and the role settled on his shoulders like a well-worn cloak.

Magnus could take the madhouse of LA and keep it forever, for all Constantine cared. Within their brotherhood, the Eternal Alliance, they swapped out territories every so often to avoid the hazards of being outed as immortals. Vampires. His last stint in LA was tedious beyond words, and he hoped he could avoid returning there for all eternity. It was that or drain all the emo wanna-be vampires who paraded around the strip at night.

Constantine had been on rotation as master of Castle Belan in Romania many times before, and out of all the brotherhood’s strongholds around the world, he’d loved his time here the most. Nestled deep in the forests of Romania, only here could he fully embrace the role of a hunter of the night with abandon. The tourists ate it up, even paid more for a ‘genuine glimpse’ into the life of a true vampire. The locals loved having someone play the role, although most thought they did it through props and theatrics. And who cared, as long as it sold beds in the local hotels and trinkets from the local shops and the town prospered?

Sure, there would be a few elders in the community who might remember him. But they wouldn’t dare challenge him, especially when he brough protection to the countryside.

At the top of the stairway leading to the entrance, a tall woman with a stern expression in a tailored grey suit watched his approach.

“You must be Nina?” Constantine asked. Leave it to Magnus to hire a steward who could have accompanied him on a Viking raiding party. All she was missing were a few braids, some face paint, and a long sword in hand.

Nina gave a quick nod of her head. “I am the Head Steward of Castle Belan. It’s good to make your acquaintance, Lord Constantine.”

He waved his hand. “I prefer Constantine.”

Another nod. “As you wish, sir. Would you like a tour of the premises?” she gestured towards the door.

He suppressed a smile, proceeding into his domain as she followed. The interior of the foyer looked just as he remembered, with hardwood floors, whitewashed walls, and elegant, intricately carved dark wooden furniture. He folded up his umbrella and stored it in the bin near the front door.

“No, I’m quite familiar with the facility. Although, I am eager to hear what additions and changes happened while Magnus was tenured here.” So I can undo them as quickly as possible.

Nina produced a folded letter. “Magnus recommended I give you this list.”

He scanned it, feeling heat building in his ears. “A beer garden?” Constantine replied, hearing his voice rise.

“Yes, the staff are quite fond of it, especially the horseshoe pits.” Her smile was confident, her face serene.

Tucking the list into his jacket pocket, Constantine decided he’d wait to review the ‘improvements’ on another day. Today, he just wanted to settle in, wander the estate, and reacquaint himself with his favorite place in the world. As he walked through the halls and reached the dining room, Constantine paused.

“What’s that smell?”

Nina frowned. “Sir?”

The fragrance was oddly floral, reminding him of jasmine and citrus. But those weren't flowers which bloomed natively in the area.

“It’s new.” The smell was out of place, and it bugged him because he couldn’t quite put a finger on why, but it immediately got under his skin.

“You have an unusually keen nose.”

Constantine stared at her, but the Nordic beauty didn’t flinch.

“I could have it looked into?” Nina offered.

He shrugged. If she couldn’t smell it, how could she find it?

He walked up the stairs to the second floor; the smell intensifying along the way. He hunted the scent down, finding himself in a parlor on the third floor which opened to a deck overlooking the gardens. Dusting a bookcase was a petite yet curvy woman wearing a staff uniform of a white, short-sleeved shirt and a grey skirt. The room was inundated with the scent of jasmine as she bounced around dusting, a set of earbuds blasting away pop music.

The woman hadn’t noticed them enter the room, but Constantine felt the rush of blood to his cock and his fangs ached as he took in her shapely legs and backside outlined by the swaying skirt. He realized at once that the scent in the room was hers. Constantine walked out onto the deck to clear his head; Nina close on his heels.

“What’s her story?” he asked, making sure he walked under the shades, so he stayed out of direct sunlight.

“Oh, yeah, I intended to discuss the Daria situation with you.”

“The Daria situation?”

Nina had the grace to look flustered. “I intended to bring it up once you settled in. Daria Stoica arrived seeking sanctuary a few weeks ago, but as there was no lord of the castle here to hear her plea, I erred on the side of caution and took her in provisionally.”

“Sanctuary?” Someone threatening that spirited sprite of a girl instantly got his ire up. “On what cause?”

“Under the ancient law, she requested to be held as a ward of Belan.”

Constantine arched a brow. “I’m surprised she’s even heard of it. Do you know what danger pursues her?”

“She didn’t elaborate, but insisted she’d die if she left the protection of this castle.”

As far as he knew, Constantine himself was the most dangerous thing in this part of Romania, which was known not just for its ‘vampire in residence’ but also for its quaint and peaceful villages. Belan’s Mantle guaranteed no one else dared hunt in his territory.

What could Daria be running from?

He glanced back through the open doors where Daria was using a feather duster as an impromptu microphone as she quietly but enthusiastically sang along to her music.

“Since when do we put sanctuary seekers to work?”

Nina rubbed her temple. Constantine had the impression Daria had given his head steward a pile of grief. “After a couple of days wandering in circles, she complained of feeling useless, so I gave her a maid’s uniform and put her to work cleaning.”

“Is she on the payroll?”

Nina let out a long sigh. “I offered, but she refused, saying room and board and the safety of our walls was all she needed.”

Constantine shook his head. “That’s unacceptable. I’ll discuss it with her, but make sure she’s paid all she’s due.”

“Of course, Sir. I’ve been keeping track of it.”

“Are there any other anomalies I need to be made aware of?”

Nina smiled. “No, Sir. Just the printed list and Daria.”

“Very good. Now, leave me.”

Nina looked from him to Daria, who was still dancing and lip synching in the parlor, oblivious to their presence. She gave a quick bow and then headed down the stairs towards the gardens.

Constantine watched Daria for a few moments, wondering at how she’d ended up on his doorstep. He loved a good puzzle, and he suspected there was more to Daria than met the eye. How would a modern woman come to hear about the sanctuary offered to those who were hunted?

He walked back into the parlor and stood motionless in the middle of the room as Daria finished dusting the bookcase. Back within this confined space the perfume of her washed over him, and again he felt his body instantly react to her mere presence. Constantine imagined scooping her up, throwing her down upon the couch, and diving in between her legs. Would she taste like she smelled?

However, since they had granted Daria sanctuary, Constantine was honor-bound to protect her. Even from himself.

Daria turned, and finally noticing him standing there, spun around and threw her hands up to defend herself. Off balance from the move, she fell backwards into the bookcase, letting out a loud squeak on impact.

Constantine rushed to catch her, picking her up, but lingering with his arms around her. He couldn’t help but notice how her skin felt like silk under his fingertips, or how her emerald eyes seemed to see right to the heart of him.

Daria reached up and pulled out her earbuds, clocking him in the nose with her feather duster. He released her and took a couple of steps back, wiping the dust off his face.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Daria exclaimed. “I’m afraid you startled me.” She reached up and checked on her hair, which was pulled back into a single long braid. When she found a loose strand, she tucked it back into the braid. Next, she straightened her shirt, but it was a little too tight for her, and the top button strained at motion.

“It’s my fault entirely. I’m sorry I surprised you.”

Daria smiled. “Oh, it happens to me all the time.” She held out a hand. “I’m Daria.”

He took her hand and shook it, feeling her pulse through her skin, and then a moment later an electric shock hit him. She quickly withdrew her hand. He felt her absence despite the mild sting of the shock. What was going on?

“I am Constantine.”

“Oh yeah, of course you are. It’s nice to finally meet the lord of the castle. I have to admit, you’re not quite what I expected.” She tapped a finger on the side of her chin.

He smiled. “What do you mean?”

“I’d thought, for a vampire, that you’d look kind of brooding or have really white skin. Maybe even glitter a little?” as she said this, her eyes sparkled, but then she shrugged. “I admit I’ve seen a few too many movies.”

Daria knew he was a vampire? But then, she’d known about the sanctuary, so it stood to reason she’d had a certain sort of education most modern humans did not.

“I’m not sorry to disappoint you on that count,” he replied, trying to keep his head clear, which was difficult with her scent serving as a continual distraction.

“Yeah, you’re more of a rugged kind of handsome. No, refined. And I also didn’t expect you to be a suit-wearer, but capes are, after all, really overdone and that is a very nice tailoring job.”

Did she realize she’d said all that out loud? He wondered if Daria had any filter, or if she was always this bold? Or perhaps she was just nervous?

“I am fond of my tailor. I do have something of a reputation to uphold here, so I try to dress the part.” When she opened her mouth to reply, Constantine held up a hand to slow her down. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”