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The pain in her chest was so quick, so sudden. It stole Tessa Noel’s breath away.

She was vaguely aware of Duncan crying, cradling her. Vaguely aware of Ritchie twitching.

Good. Mac wouldn’t be alone. There’d be someone to share this pain with him. She parted her lips, only to taste something salty. Duncan’s tears, ah, no. It was thicker. Hotter.

It brought Tessa back. She focused on a pair of blue eyes, the deepest blue she’d ever seen. Only they changed to glow with luminescent green light.

Lips were coming closer. They were blood red next to the pale skin of their owner. She had to be a princess. A princess from a fairy tale come to kiss Tessa awake.

The lips touched her own. Images swam in Tessa’s mind, while gloved hands caressed her arms, stroked her back. The princess had been cast out of the castle. She’d been delivered into the arms of a brothel, to become a small, diminished creature. One whore among many whores with only her sisters of the night for comfort.

This made Tessa think of Elaine, briefly. Only Elaine had never been betrayed by her family, sold into slavery. Such a nightmarish memory, but Tessa drank it up.

Life coursed through her cold limbs. The lips released hers, but Tessa found herself pulling the slender form down again. The princess didn’t resist her. Tessa sought the graceful arch of her neck. She pressed her lips against it, only to feel her fangs popping out.

Tessa had fangs. She should be alarmed at this, but the rush of salty sweetness, of memories blotted out every consideration. She sucked them all down, feeling the slender arms cradling her while she drank.

“Too beautiful and gifted to be struck down in the prime of your life.” Her savior’s voice was husky, speaking her own native language, only there was an old fashioned cadence to her French. Once more, Tessa found herself thinking of fairy tales, only the vision she’d had was no fairy tale. “Take all that you need, my Tessa. Take power, as well as life. Power to decide who touches you and who dies for daring to try against your will.”

Resentment, old and hot as the blood in her mouth rose in Tessa. She recalled many a man’s leering face, reaching out to grab her. No, Tessa Noel had made no attempts to hide her feminine charms. She strode out in public, boldly wearing a short skirt and low cut blouses, revealing them as a challenge. Yes, she’d loved Mac, naked and sweaty, climbing on top of him, crying out their mutual passion in their chamber.

At times, it felt like every man could sniff out this passion, read it in her clothes. Read it as an invitation, even though Tessa had only issued it to one man.

“None of this makes you his woman. Nor any other man’s woman.” The princess’s voice purred within Tessa’s mind, soothing her. “Nor does it make your flesh available to anyone who sees it.”

“No!” Tessa growled, raising her head. How tiny, how delicate the woman holding her seemed, yet Tessa could feel the strength in her slender arms. She could feel her power rushing down her throat, coursing through her veins.

Oh, if only she could shape this sensation in her hands, give it form and substance! The artist in Tessa itched to create this.

“You have the life and power to do so.” The princess’s hand stroked her hair.

Tessa turned her head slightly to feel the rough lace of that small hand against her cheek. She shivered at the sensation. It tingled down her face with a clarity she never recalled, for all her attempts to savor every experience she could collect with her fingers.

“You belong to yourself now.” The princess leaned forward to rest her cheek against Tessa’s. “You are yours and yours alone.”

“No.” Tessa reached a hand up to stroke the raven hair of the princess who’d saved her. “I belong to you, my princess, my Janette.”

“I fed the princess long ago to my knight in shining armour and stole her crown.” Janette spoke lightly, but a wistful sorrow touched every word. “Even though it had once been mine.”

“He had no right to sell you to the brothel keeper.” Tessa felt the anger sizzling beneath her skin, much quicker to rise than it had once been. “He betrayed you.”

“He had every right.” Janette smiled a bit at her new ‘daughter’s anger. “However, he is dust and I am still here.” She brushed a lock of hair out of Tessa’s face. “Just as you will outlive every single man who ever tormented you, except for your Duncan.”

“Mac.” Tessa frowned a bit. “I’m not sure if I should tell him about this or not.” Part of her wanted to go running out into the night and find her lost love, if only to soothe his grief.

Another part of her wondered if knowing what she’d become would only make him feel worse. Duncan was one of the most morally upright people she’d ever met. He didn’t tolerate monsters. He killed them.

Besides, going to him meant leaving Janette. Tessa didn’t want to leave her princess, her new master. She snuggled down next to the other woman, breathing in the delicate floral scent of her perfume, mingling with the underlying whiff of blood.

“Don’t let it trouble you, Tessa.” Janette tightened her grip on her fledgling. “You have all the time in the world to decide whether or not to talk to Duncan.”