Author: Leigh Jarrett
Genre: Gay Dark, Paranormal Romance
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Callum paced the floor of his chamber, waiting anxiously for Finster to make his final tabulations. He and his brothers had placed a friendly wager on how many humans Oleander and his men had managed to capture. With a bonus amount going to whoever came closest to the correct proration of males to females.
He felt certain he held the upper hand and was likely to prevail, as he had briefly perused the holding area under the guise of needing a snack. There were no set rules in this wager. Underhanded tactics and manipulations were to be expected.
Callum had made a final headcount, then taken an unfortunate young thing away with him, draining her more rapidly than he would have preferred, as she had begun the most incessant whining that he feared would leave him with an immense headache. He smirked inwardly. In the interest of preserving his ploy, he had been diligent in disposing of her body; a behavior neither one of his brothers would be expecting. The remaining debris of human bodies scattered around his chamber were many days old. They would never suspect a thing.
"Final numbers are in," began Finster. "Slight delay while the dead and damaged were cleared away." He perked up his voice. "And we had some late arrivals …walked in on their own."
"The numbers, Finster!" Drachen growled as he leaned heavily on the desk and breathed with vehemence across the pages.
Finster cleared his throat. "Final numbers …forty-seven. All under the age of twenty as requested by Lord Callum."
"I counted forty-eight when I was down there," replied Drachen. "You have miscalculated, you idiotic human."
"I assure you that is not the case," Finster retorted, unabashed.
Callum laughed heartily. "I drained one after your count brother. Just your type too. A young and juicy female."
Drachen snorted in disgust at his brother's deception.
"How many of each?" Oleander asked as he peered over Finster's shoulder in an attempt to catch a glimpse of his numbers.
"In all …there are eight males and thirty-nine females," replied Finster. "Which means Lord Callum wins the count and the bonus."
"But he doesn't win the prize," added Drachen amusedly. "He only has eight young males to play with. What a shame."
Oleander swung his way around to the front of the desk and rested against it, sipping on the goblet he'd brought with him to Callum's chamber. He crossed his legs and slurped noisily, specifically to annoy those around him.
"Don't worry big brother," Oleander said to Callum. "Next time I go out hunting, I'll be sure to keep your preferences in mind above my own. I wouldn't want you to be starved …for affection."
Callum sprung forward, bared his fangs, and hissed at Oleander, causing him to shift away in response. Callum sneered, pleased with Oleander's obedience. Occasionally, it was necessary to remind his brothers that he was in charge and capable of killing either one of them or both, as the case may be. Oleander could be a pest, but he only needed to be corrected. He had no designs on assuming the role of Lord, unlike Drachen, who spent most evenings scheming to overthrow him. It was a battle of power that had been going on for hundreds of years.
Oleander slipped past Callum, nodding his apologies, and followed Drachen from the room. As their rights dictated, now that Callum had chosen his first meal, they too could proceed to the holding area and pick out something for themselves. The rest would be held strictly for Callum's use and disbursement amongst his brothers as he saw fit.
Studying the room, he noted two rows of soiled mattresses lining the damp, moss-covered walls on either side of the room, and a massive tub of steaming water at the far end that was creating a thick mist, permeating the room with the familiar smell of patchouli and eucalyptus.
Laramie's father had always made a point of diffusing eucalyptus oil into the air at home to improve Laramie's breathing, and he was thankful of the immediate beneficial effect the tub was having on his lungs. He gazed beyond the tub in the direction of two narrow doors at the far end of the room and was somewhat surprised to see a fire burning in a small hearth between them. It was adding some warmth to the dank, frigid conditions they were apparently meant to endure.
A man in his mid-forties, dressed in a natural linen tunic, cleared his throat and clapped his hands delicately to get their attention.
"Attention, gentlemen." The man cleared his throat again. "My name is Jonathan and I will be in charge of your care for as long as you remain here in these quarters."
Jonathan looked up and down the row of terrified faces, wishing he could soften the reality of their situation somewhat, but all he could do was prepare them for what might be the most horrific experience of their lives.
He studied their individual faces and physiques. They were a handsome looking group. Oleander had definitely been diligent in his selection. Except for one hapless individual. Jonathan strode toward the one exception, grabbed his face, and made him look up. He looked him over then lowered his hand in disgust. The young man was the appropriate age, but he was slightly overweight and far too short for Lord Callum's liking.
"What's your name, sweetheart?" Jonathan asked him.
Daniel swallowed with difficulty, wishing he hadn't drawn attention to himself. He moved to speak, but no sound came out.
"Never mind," interrupted Jonathan. "It doesn't matter. I can't imagine Lord Callum will keep you around for long." He stepped back to address the entire group, leaving Daniel quaking violently.
"Try to stay calm,"
Laramie whispered to Daniel. "Once everyone goes to sleep, we will find a way out of here."
Timothy shivered, clutching at his sides. "I hope your optimism is well-founded. I suspect what lies ahead of us is far worse than I ever could've imagined."
"No talking, gentlemen," Jonathan said to them, then continued with his prepared introduction. "As I'm sure you're aware, you've been captured by Lord Callum and his brothers, Drachen and Oleander. And yes, the rumors are true …they are indeed vampires."
He waited patiently for the panic to subside as the men before him attempted, in futility, to escape through the locked doors. Once again there was one individual that stood out. A different one this time—and for being extraordinarily calm.
Jonathan tipped his head, intrigued, and continued. "There is no escape. Those attempting to do so will be given to Drachen as fodder for playtime. Word of note on this point. No one has ever escaped from the castle, and Drachen has had countless hours of amusement over the centuries."
Confusion ensued as Jonathan's words sunk in and the room became flooded with attendants, who proceeded to remove the men's clothing and direct them toward the tub, where they were scrubbed severely and coiffed to perfection. Then the room cleared and they were left with just Jonathan again. Jonathan motioned for everyone to pick a mattress and have a seat, then he pulled up a chair in the middle of the room.
"Alright, gentlemen," he said. "Here's the deal. I've delivered my little speech, as required, but the truth of the matter is that just because you're here, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll die anytime soon. There are plenty of men working in the castle that have been here for decades. I've been here for nine years already myself. And I spent five years before that working for Drakkar."
"Do they feed upon you?" someone asked.
"Occasionally," replied Jonathan, turning down the collar of his outfit to show them the fresh bite marks on his neck. "But they don't kill me because I'm useful to them …and that's the key.
Timothy stood and raised his hand.
"How do we become useful?" he asked.
"Good question," Jonathan replied as he crossed the room to join Timothy. "You are all members of Lord Callum's harem now, and your focus, in order to survive, should be on securing a position as one of his favorites. If you manage to do that, you will be considered useful to him."
Jonathan glanced around the room at the confused and dread-filled faces staring up at him, then continued. "Lord Callum will feed on you occasionally in small quantities, but that is not his primary interest in you. Our lordship has a preference for men. Hence the harem's assigned quarters adjacent to his throne room, and most tellingly, his bedchamber."
"Sweetie, are you alright?" Jonathan asked as he squatted down beside Laramie and touched his shoulder. "What's your name?"
"My name is Laramie. And I'm fine, considering."
Laramie," continued Jonathan. "Are you familiar with what I'm referring to in regards to Lord Callum?" He patted Laramie lightly on the back when Laramie nodded his head in acknowledgment.
"First hand, or …," he queried further.
"My father explained it to me."
"Well, that's a start. I'm sure you're ahead of the others." Jonathan stood and returned to the center of the room, but took a moment to study Laramie. The young man that had been so brave earlier had suffered a momentary blow to his confidence, but Jonathan could see the underlying strength still burning fiercely in his eyes.Laramie was a fighter and just might survive this place.
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