THE VLADESCU CASTLE intimidated me with its sheer
size and its grim history, and the stone walls could make it
feel cold and formidable. But the dining room where Lucius
and I held a pre-wedding dinner seemed warm and intimate.
The people I loved most in the world had gathered near the
long, gleaming mahogany table, which reflected the light
from no fewer than four massive wrought-iron chandeliers,
each one holding dozens of flickering tapers that cast a soft
glow over the room.
Although we were both hosting the party, of course Lucius
was there first—especially since my small group of guests was
running late, thanks to Mindy’s endless readjustment of both
our hairstyles—and he smiled as we entered the room.
“Welcome, everyone,” he greeted us, coming up beside
me and slipping my hand into his. “You look beautiful
tonight, Antanasia,” he noted, glancing down to appraise the
red dress I’d chosen for that evening. A long, full silk gown
with a delicate pattern of Swarovski crystals across the
“bodice,” as Lucius would say. I’d chosen the dress not really
to impress him but to honor my birth mother, who’d been
known for wearing crimson.
“Red is a fitting color tonight,” Lucius added, as though
he recognized the tribute. Then he bent slightly, cupped my
chin in his hand, and kissed me. Even though I was about to
be a wife, I was still a teenager, too, and I flushed a little,
because my parents were right there. Not too long ago, I’d
been humiliated just to be caught sitting on the porch with
Lucius, both of us moving close to a kiss that never quite
“I’m glad you like the gown,” I told Lucius, fighting that
urge to blush. “You look nice, too.”
Then Lucius released my hand and stepped past me to
greet my parents. “Ned, Dara—so nice to see you. Welcome
to my home.”
“It’s good to see you, too, Lucius,” Mom said, pulling him
to herself and holding him tightly. “We’ve missed you.”
In spite of the way things had ended in Pennsylvania, my
mother had forged a bond with Lucius while he’d lived with
us, and I knew that she was being sincere. The fact that
Lucius, who had grown up without a mother, didn’t answer
right away also made me think that he was truly glad to see
her again, too. “Thank you for coming,” he finally said, and
although his voice was quiet, I was pretty sure it was thick
with emotions that he was working hard to control.
When Mom released him, he straightened and moved to
my father, and though I suspected that Dad, even more than
Mom, had distrusted Lucius during those last few weeks that
he’d lived with us, Ned Packwood was never one to turn away
a hug. The two men hesitated for just a second, then Dad
threw his arms wide and invited, “Come here, you!” Clasping
Lucius to himself, he gave his back about five hearty slaps,
until Lucius, laughing, withdrew and held Dad at arm’s
length, noting, “Easy, Ned! You strike hard for a pacifist!”
We all laughed then, and all at once I exhaled with an
audible whoosh and felt my shoulders relax. I hadn’t even
realized how tense I’d been about their meeting until I saw
that things were fine between them.
I knew that my parents were still worried—maybe
terrified—about my marrying into vampire royalty. But a
part of them had always known that this moment might
come, and, true to their beliefs about parenting, they were
letting me be the adult they’d raised me to be, and accepting
Lucius back. To be honest, I doubted they’d ever really let
Then Lucius went to Mindy, who suddenly seemed
uncertain about how to act in such a regal setting. Or maybe
she was worried, in her own way, about reuniting with Lucius
after everything that had happened in high school. “Umm . .
.” She actually started to curtsey and held out her hand, as if
she expected him to kiss it. But Lucius smoothly drew my
friend into a less vigorous, but still welcoming, embrace.
“Thank you, Melinda, for coming.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, Lukey,” Mindy
said as they stepped apart. “I’ve been stocking up on shoes for
this kind of shindig for years!”
It was probably the first time Lucius had ever been
addressed by such a casual nickname in his own castle, but it
seemed to amuse him, along with Mindy’s first shoe reference
of the trip. “Well, I hope the event is worthy of your footwear,”
he told her. Then he turned to me, saying, “I’m sorry, but I
have to excuse myself. I need to ‘mix and mingle’ with our
Romanian guests, as you Americans would say.”
I looked around to realize that several other people—
vampires—had arrived while we’d been occupied. Among
them I saw some of my Dragomir kin, including my uncle
Dorin, face already flushed with the warmth of the room and
maybe the glass of dark red wine that he held in his hand as
he told some animated story to three of my cousins.
I turned to look across the room to a far corner and saw
that Lucius’s uncle Claudiu had joined us, too, and the peace
that I’d just felt to see my friends and family reunited was
shaken a little.
Claudiu—younger brother of Vasile, whom Lucius had
destroyed in this very house . . .
I hadn’t been sure Claudiu would show up for a happy
occasion. Although he was one of the Elders who ruled the
clans, there was no love lost between him and Lucius. But
Lucius, always one for decorum, had insisted that we invite
him, because to do otherwise would alienate him further and
maybe even cause a rift that couldn’t be fixed.
Claudiu’s presence in the room seemed to dim the candles
a little, though. I stared at him, remembering that—along
with eternal love—politics, intrigue, and diplomacy were part
of my new life too. I’d be binding myself to whole the Vladescu
clan when I said “I do” to the vampire who was pressing his
palm against my back, promising me, “I won’t be long,
“I’ll go with you,” I offered, thinking that it was probably
proper for me to greet everybody.
But Lucius stopped me by moving his hand to my arm
and giving it a reassuring squeeze. “You will have time to
speak to everyone later,” he said with a smile. “Why don’t you
look after our American visitors? I can bring our relatives to
you, which is perfectly fitting, given that you are not only
royalty, but also—for one more day—still technically a guest
I gave him a grateful look, knowing that he was probably
bending protocol a little to give Mom, Dad, and especially
Mindy time to settle in before they were left alone at a party
where they were outsiders. I looked around the room once
more, noting that more guests had arrived and trying to recall
who was a Vladescu and who was a Dragomir. Not that I
wasn’t practically an outsider myself.
Then I watched Lucius walk with his usual confidence
toward Claudiu and the small group that surrounded Vasile’s
brother. I envied my betrothed the ease with which he moved
in the circles of power that I was joining.
I also found myself appreciating other things about
Lucius. His always impressive height; his thick black hair, cut
a little bit shorter and neater than he normally wore it, for our
wedding; and the way he carried off the dark custom-tailored
suit that he’d chosen for this occasion.
I was so caught up in observing him that I barely noticed
Dad saying to Mindy, “Come on, Melinda Sue! Let’s see if we
can’t find something to drink.”
I probably should have offered to help them, but I was
kind of transfixed to think that I was about to marry the guy
who was smiling as he talked with his uncle, acting as if there
were no tension between them . . .
“Your prince looks very handsome tonight.”
My mother whispered that in my ear, and I jolted, then
turned to find her laughing at me, a teasing look in her eyes.
“Mom!” I started to protest. But there was really no reason
to deny that I was admiring Lucius, the way I used to do. “It
seems like he’s getting even more handsome, to me,” I
“I think he’s getting more handsome, too,” Mom agreed.
I jerked back a little, surprised by the comment, only to see
that she wasn’t laughing anymore. “He’s happy, Jessica.
Happiness makes people beautiful.”
I smiled at my mother. “I hope he’s happy, Mom.”
Then Dad and Mindy rejoined us, just in time for Lucius’s
deep voice to break into the quiet conversations that were
taking place around us as he announced, “Please, everyone,
take your place. Dinner is served.”
I went to my spot at one end of the table, Lucius took his
at the distant other end, and the rest of the guests searched for
their names on the vellum place cards that were artfully
arranged on silver chargers before each tall chair.
As we all took our seats, I realized that there was one
empty place—one person missing, at Lucius’s right hand—
and for the life of me, I couldn’t recall who was meant to sit
I was distracted from wondering, though, as a team of
silent, uniformed servers swept away the place cards and
replaced them with individual menus explaining the night’s
selections in swirling calligraphy.
One by one, the menus were slipped beneath our noses.
And a few seconds later, all of us Americans began to
laugh out loud.
Continue to Chapter 5...