Exalted Bloodlines Series, book 1
Published March 3, 2018
Elysabeth Vance is so determined not to be lost in her obsession that she refuses to see what's right in front of her.
Damien is so afraid of ruining his only chance at happiness that he's blind to Elysabeth's obsession.
Once they open their eyes to what they have, nearly incomprehensible secrets will be revealed. After all, fate happens, even if you don't believe in it.
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It takes every ounce of my self-control to not slam my books down on the table as I reach Shawn. To avoid getting thrown out of the library, I plonk them down lightly and drop into a chair with a sigh.
"Bad day?" Whispers Shawn, my best friend of eight years. "I thought it was going to be great."
I schlump forward and rest my chin on my hand. "It was supposed to be, according to my intuition. That's why I dressed nicely." I gesture vaguely to my outfit with my free hand. I have on a pair of black, knee-high, leather boots; black leggings; and a lightweight, crimson sweater dress that accentuates my curvy figure. I only wear a little makeup to set off my brown, almond-shaped eyes. I've left my copper-colored hair long and wavy, hanging to my hips.
"The only thing special about today is that I've been rather hot." Southern California just isn't very cold in November.
"I thought you said your intuition is never wrong."
"It's not, I just..." I shrug, unsure how to finish that sentence. My intuition hasn't been wrong once in my entire life, and ignoring it has always been to my detriment. I can't understand how it's suddenly wrong.
I watch Shawn as he turns back to his studying. He hasn't changed much since high school. His soft, dirty-blonde hair hangs to his ears; huge, horn-rimmed glasses hide his startling green eyes; and his nose is a little too big for his face. He's not ugly, but he's no model, either.
My intuition, the same strange whisper I've heard at various points in my life, speaks again. I obey instantly. Perhaps this is the something special I've been waiting for.
I catch sight of the most gorgeous guy I've ever seen around the many bookcases and quickly sit up straight. He's perfect! Imagine if he's — No, Lys.
My movement catches Shawn's eye. He peers over his shoulder, following my line of sight, then turns back, rolling his eyes. "What is it with you and guys in black? Especially ones that look like —"
My sharp look shuts him up. He knows better than to discuss that in public. But I have to admit he has a point. I glance back at Mr. Gorgeous. He does look like — Dammit Lys! They don't exist.
I try very hard not to stare and fail miserably. He has shoulder-length, jet-black hair that looks almost blue in the light; large, ice-blue eyes; full and sensual yet masculine lips; a square jaw that somehow doesn't look chiseled; a mustache that grows into a short goatee; and lovely, olive skin.
He rounds the last bookcase and I can see he's wearing a black, form-fitting shirt that hints at washboard abs; black leather pants; a floor-length, black, leather, trench coat that accentuates his broad shoulders; and combat boots. He must be at least six feet tall and he walks with a deadly purpose. He's exactly what I've always imagined. Everything about him screams dangerous; and the effect is mesmerizing.
He's obviously looking for something — or someone. Probably a girlfriend. I'm still ogling him when his gaze suddenly meets mine. I see a brief flash of recognition, but I know I've never seen him before. His eyes dart down and back up, and I have an irrational desire to pull my neckline down just a bit.
His grin is sinful. It promises wicked things, and I want to find out exactly what they are.
I drop my gaze to Shawn who's making kissy faces at me. My glare could freeze fire. He stops.
The guy walks up and stops next to me. "Hello."
Oh holy mother! His voice is deep and sensual and has an accent that sends shivers down my spine. It envelops me. I look up at him and become enraptured by his smile.
It takes a moment, but I finally manage to speak. "Hi, can I help you?"
"Not exactly. I merely wondered if I may sit with you." I can't place his accent, but it runs like fire right through me and pools low in my belly. What the hell, Lys? This is not a normal reaction for me.
I glance at Shawn who nods reluctantly, knowing I'll say yes either way. "Yes, of course. Are you new? I don't believe I've seen you before." Idiot! I mentally kick myself. It's a huge campus, and I don't know everyone.
He fluidly takes a seat, and I take in his perfect posture. It certainly doesn't go with the way he looks.
"Actually, I have been taking classes online. I decided that, since I will be graduating soon, I should get to know some of the other students and start networking."
"Yeah, definitely a good idea. What's your major?"
"International Relations and Diplomacy, and International Business." Wow, double major. Must be smart, and obviously ambitious.
"Planning to be an ambassador?"
"Something like that. And yourself?"
"Architecture and Interior Design. My mom's always said I have an eye for design, and I like doing it. The money's not bad either..." I don't know why I feel the need to explain myself, but my major suddenly seems frivolous.
"It is good you chose to do something you are passionate about." He looks to Shawn. "And what are you studying?"
"Advanced mathematics. I'd like to be a college professor." I grin at the defiant way Shawn speaks. His father wanted, still wants, him to go into business and follow in his footsteps. Shawn, however, has other ideas.
"That is very admirable. I do not have patience for such mathematics, but I have a great respect for those who do."
His response, spoken without any hint of sarcasm or derision, disarms Shawn. "Oh, uh, thanks..."
"Forgive me, where are my manners? I am Damien Delanciennes." He dips his head as he speaks, like he's bowing. How odd.
"Interesting name," grumbles Shawn. I shoot him a dirty look. "I'm Shawn, Shawn Dooley." He offers Damien his hand, and they shake.
"It is nice to meet you, Shawn. And you, chérie? I am certain your name is as beautiful as you." Perhaps it's because I'm hit by the full force of his blue eyes, but despite having just met, his endearment doesn't sound odd, nor does the line sound cheesy.
"I'm Elysabeth Vance." I hold out my hand to shake his, but instead, he takes it lightly and raises it to his lips. He brushes a soft kiss against my knuckles, staring straight into my eyes as he does so and my stomach flips over. Holy crap! I feel all fluttery. His actions don't match his appearance in the least, and I love it.
"I am very pleased to meet you. You have a very lovely name. It references beauty and greatness."
"Thanks, your name is very...elegant."
He nods his thanks. Damien turns suddenly to face Shawn and sees his frown. "Forgive me, have I given offense? Are you...together?"
Before Shawn can answer, I make sure to set the record straight. "No! No, we're friends. Shawn has been my best friend since freshman year in high school."
"Friendships like that are very special."
I grin at Shawn. "They are."
It's quickly becoming apparent I won't be getting any schoolwork done tonight. Good thing I know the material well. I take a quick glance at the clock and confirm what I'd already suspected.
Damien follows my glance. "I am sorry, am I detaining you?"
"No, not at all, but the library will only be open another ten minutes. I won't get much done in that time."
"My apologies, I have kept you from your studies."
"Oh, no, it's OK. I don't have much homework." I reluctantly gather my things and stand. I don't really want to go. I want stay and talk to this gorgeous guy. "It was really nice to meet you, Damien."
He places a hand on my arm to keep me from leaving. "Perhaps, if you are not too busy, you would allow me to buy you a coffee?" Yes!! I do a little victory dance in my head.
I see doubt and even worry in Shawn's eyes when I glance at him, and it makes me pause. I don't know this guy. It probably isn't smart to go anywhere with him no matter how gorgeous he is. Maybe I should give it a pass.
Well, my intuition knows best. I'm certainly not going to argue this suggestion. "If we can go somewhere with hot chocolate, I'm in. But I have to be up early in the morning, so it will have to be quick."
"That is acceptable, Elysabeth. Thank you for joining me. Shawn, would you care to join us as well?"
With Damien's attention elsewhere, I shake my head emphatically with a pleading expression. It's easy to tell that Shawn isn't happy about it, but he gives in. "No, thanks. I actually do need to study. Lys, I'll see you when you get home."
I sigh. He just HAD to get in a parting shot. Damien is looking between us, obviously confused. I do my best to set him at ease. "We're roommates. We share a townhouse. But we're only friends, really."
"I see. Shall we go then, Elysabeth?"
"Yeah. I'll follow you to your car. Shawn drove this morning." Damien is parked in the lot closest to the library, so we don't have far to walk. As he walks between two cars, I follow him, assuming his car is in the next lane. However, he stops and opens the door of the most beautiful piece of machinery I have ever seen. It's nothing but luscious curves, painted blood red with black accents.
"This is your car? It's beautiful." He motions for me to enter, and I'm thankful he doesn't comment on how close my comment was to a moan. Gorgeous and a gentleman. He's getting better and better. I run my hand down the body as I walk to the door. He tenses as I do so, making me wonder where his mind has gone.
Damien clears his throat. "Yes, this is my car. I am glad you approve. You should have none but the best conveyance." Again he motions for me to enter the car, and this time I do.
"Thank you. That's sweet of you to say." He closes the door with a nod before walking around the car and getting in.
"So, what kind of car is this?"
"It is a Veyron. A good vehicle."
Damien chuckles as he turns the key. The radio blares to life playing glam rock, and he reaches forward to change the station.
I catch his hand to stop him. "Don't change it."
Damien glances at me, obviously surprised. "I would never have guessed that you like this kind of music."
Don't judge a book by its cover, gorgeous. "Damien, you just met me. There's a lot that you would never guess." I briefly wonder what music he thought I would like. Then again, I like such a variety that he's probably right anyway.
"I would like to get to know you better, then."
Perfect. I smile slightly, trying not to give away my excitement. "I'd like to get to know you better as well."
We settle into a comfortable silence, listening to music, and before I know it, we're at this cute little café. It seems like Damien is instantly at my side of the car and opening my door. My eyebrows hit my hairline when he offers me his hand as I step out.
"Oh, wow." I tear my eyes away from his hand and meet his gaze. "Thank you." His eyes fill with delight when my hand touches his.
"It is simply proper manners, Chérie."
"Is it? Then most guys don't bother with them."
He offers me another of those wicked grins as we walk to the café door. "Ah, but I am not most guys, E-ly-sa-beth." He draws out my name, making it sound far more elegant than I'm used to hearing.
I hope my answering smile is appropriately flirty. "I may have noticed."
Damien holds the door to the café open for me with a slight bow, but his eyes never leave my own. "After you." Despite my best attempts to never prejudge someone, it's difficult to reconcile his appearance and actions.
"Thank you." There's no line, so we walk straight up to the cashier. The pretty, blonde, buxom cashier who's eyeing Damien like a block of chocolate. She gives me a cursory glance, then focuses her gaze on him, as though I'm of no consequence.
"What can I get you today?" She's obviously trying to make her voice low and sultry. I'm surprised she's not batting her eyelashes.
Damien looks down at me, either clueless, or ignoring her. "Elysabeth, what would you like?"
"A medium hot chocolate, with whipped cream, please." I offer the cashier a victorious smile.
She writes my order on a cup. "Name?" She barks out, sounding completely different.
"Lys." She scrawls something illegible then smiles back up at Damien. "And what can I get you?" Her voice is back to sultry. The invitation is excruciatingly obvious.
"A medium dark roast coffee, for Damien."
"Okay, would you like anything else, Damien?" I roll my eyes at the way she licks her lips. Could she be any more obvious?
"That will be all." Is it wishful thinking, or does he sound a little annoyed? Her smile falls into a scowl. Silly girl. I almost hide my smile.
"Fine. That will be $6.12." I open my purse to pull out my wallet, but Damien puts his hand over mine to stop me.
"I offered to buy you a drink." Not really having anything to say against that, I nod. He hands the cashier a black AmEx. Wow. She runs it and hands it back to him with a scowl. Sore loser, apparently.
We walk away from the register to wait. "Thanks for my drink, Damien."
"It was my pleasure, Elysabeth. I hope you do not mind me asking, but do you prefer to be called Lys?"
I'm not entirely sure how to answer that one. "Usually yes. My friends have been calling me Lys since I was little. But it started because they couldn't say my name correctly. You do." I grin at him. "I really like how elegant you make my name sound."
He steps closer to me, and the café disappears. "Then I will continue to call you Elysabeth." His quiet voice zips through me like electricity. I find myself trapped by his gaze, only breaking loose when the barista calls out my order.
"Medium hot chocolate!" I shake my head, dispelling the lingering effects of my entrancement as I step forward to claim my prize. I thought moments like that only happened in movies.
The barista smiles at me and turns my cup so I can see his number written on the side of that cardboard holder they put on hot drinks. His eyes dart down to my boobs and back up before he winks at me. Ugh! I have a strong urge to cross my arms over my chest. Damien chooses that moment to step up behind me. The barista's smile disappears, replaced by a slight look of fear. I spy Damien's glare reflected in the glass and smile. I shake my head at the barista and hand him back the cup holder.
"Thanks, but no." He hurriedly gets Damien's coffee, retreating to the back as soon as the cup is on the counter.
I find it amusing and somewhat flattering that Damien is so possessive. Odd, as usually I find that incredibly annoying, even more so considering we've only just met. Nevertheless, Damien will have to hide it better. He can't go around scaring every guy I come across.
Once we're back in the car, I take a drink and sigh happily. I love chocolate. I close my eyes as I take another drink, savoring the flavor. I know, instinctively, that I have Damien's undivided attention.
"So, do you give every barista the evil eye?" I open my eyes and gaze at him sharply.
His eyes shoot to mine and he shakes his head slightly. "Pardon?" The evident confusion on his face makes me think he didn't hear me.
I gesture toward the café. "I saw the look you gave that poor guy. Do you do that a lot?"
"Well I — but he — I was not — the way he was eyeing you was rude and... and inappropriate," he stammers. His cheeks are red, and I wonder if he's embarrassed or angry.
"You mean the same way you looked at me earlier today?" Part of me thinks I should let it go, but I have a point to make.
The silence drags out, making me think I've screwed this up before it could start. Shame, because he really is gorgeous. There's a moment of complete silence before he starts the car and pulls out of the parking spot.
"Which way should I go?" His voice is tight. I give him directions then settle back with my drink. The silence returns, becoming uncomfortable, and I'm positive I've blown it. But maybe it's for the best. My reaction to the barista is much more normal for me. I don't understand my reactions to Damien.
Relax, all is well.
Easier said than done, really. Finally, as he's stopping at a red light, Damien clears his throat and turns to look at me. "Please forgive me, Elysabeth. My behavior was inexcusable." I meet his gaze in surprise. "Not only did I gaze at you as blatantly as that man, then I acted like a jealous idiot, which I have no right to do. My only excuse is that it is the way of men when in the presence of a beautiful lady."
I'm thankful he has to turn back to the road, because his sincere words catch me completely off guard and my jaw drops. He must be from Planet Perfect. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was gay since they're usually the only guys this nice. But his perusal of my figure earlier blows that thought out of the water. Older guys are usually nicer and have better manners, too, but Damien can't be much older than me. He could be if he's — NO! They don't exist!
My brain finally kicks back into gear and I answer him. "You realize flattery will only get you so far. But, since you asked so nicely, yes, I will forgive you." Oh, lord, I sound like an idiot.
He pulls over to the side of the road and looks me dead in the eye. "Thank you, Chérie. And please realize, there was no flattery. With you, there is no need."
I blush, completely speechless, and focus on not letting my jaw drop again. I mean, what do you say to something like that?
"Thanks," I mutter. Moments later we reach my house, or well, the townhouse I share with Shawn. His grandmother left it to him when she passed away. It's conveniently located quite close to our college campus, so Shawn moved in after high school. He'd invited me to join him when he learned I was considering student housing on campus. I'd honestly expected our parents to put up more of a fight, but apparently neither set would have been bothered if something had happened between us. I don't know why they held out any hope. We had tried one kiss in high school, and both of us felt like we were kissing siblings. It wasn't meant to be.
The house is a two-story brick building with balconies off the two upstairs rooms. I live upstairs, Shawn lives downstairs, the extra bedroom upstairs is both storage and for guests. We share the living room and kitchen. Damien comes around to my side again and opens the car door for me bringing me out of my reverie. He offers me a hand to help me out of the car and walk me to the door. A girl could get used to this.
I turn to face him. "Thanks again for the drink, Damien. And the ride home."
"You are most welcome, Elysabeth."
"Well, um, good-night." I pause at the door, not wanting the night to end. Damien obviously picks up on this, and leans toward me. I know instantly he means to kiss me. I want him to, I really do, but I retain enough common sense to consider that I don't really know him, and he hasn't even actually asked me out. I'm no one's conquest.
Before hormones can completely overrule my brain, I put my hand on his chest to hold him back. The confused look on his face almost makes me give in. I know I'm giving him mixed signals. I take a deep breath and notice he smells really good. Not helping! FOCUS!
"Damien, I don't really know you at all."
I'm relieved when understanding blossoms across his face. "Of course." He dips his head to me. "I understand, Elysabeth. You are quite right, forgive me." I relax, thankful I won't need to explain. He takes my hand and bows to kiss it. "I look forward to seeing you again. Good-night."
"Good-night." I find my keys in my purse and open the door. I look over my shoulder with a smile as I go in. I'm surprised to see him already in his car.
Shawn's waiting for me in the living room. He stands from the green, overstuffed armchair he's been sitting in and hurries over to me to give me a hug.
"Oh, thank God you're home!" he says, sounding relieved. "I was so worried. What were you thinking? You don't know him at all and you got in a car with him!" His condescending tone rankles. Irritated, I step away from my friend and cross my arms.
"Damien was a perfect gentleman. Besides, I'm plenty old enough to make some of my own decisions, you know."
"I do know, which is why I didn't say anything at school. But that doesn't mean it wasn't stupid." He taps the side of his skull. "Normally you use your head. What happened to the smart Lys I know? She never would have gone out with someone she'd just met, especially since he was driving." He throws up his arms. "He could have taken you anywhere! Do you have any idea how bad I felt letting you walk away with him?"
Damn him! He's making me feel guilty. "There's just something about him, Shawnie. I couldn't help myself. It wasn't really that stupid though —"
"Yes it was!" He cuts me off with a screech. "Listen to yourself! 'There's just something about him.'" He mocks my tone. "That doesn't sound like a good reason to go gallivanting off with him!"
"Gallivanting?" I giggle. Shawn's starting to sound like my mom.
He doesn't like my response. "It's not funny, Lys. Really!" He grabs my arms, shaking me a little. "You have no idea what he might have done to you!" He sounds almost panicked.
I pull away from him angrily. "There's nothing wrong with him, Shawn. I —"
He cuts me off, yelling. "You can't possibly know that!" He continues at a lower volume. "There's something weird about him. He speaks in a very precise way, it's odd. And his actions don't match his appearance in the least. It's not normal!" he says, his voice rising again.
I raise my voice to match his. "Shawn, you have no right to judge him!"
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "Look," he says more quietly, "I know I don't have any right to tell you what to do or where to go, but as your honorary big brother, promise me you'll be more careful."
I snort. "Big Brother? You're exactly two months older than me!"
"Lys," he says pleadingly, taking my hands. "This is serious. I'm serious."
I sigh, reminding myself that Shawn's really just looking out for me. "Okay, Shawnie, I promise. Look, I'm going to bed, I'll see you in the morning."
"Night, Lys." As I undress for a shower, I think over the conversation some more. I suppose I'd been a bit rash, but I meant what I'd said. There really is something about Damien. He had made me feel things. He'd ignited a fire inside me I had never felt before, and we hadn't even done anything. I couldn't have turned down Damien's offer to join him if I'd wanted to. I really can't help myself, and, as much as I know it should, that doesn't bother me.
I put my hair up to keep it dry, then step into the shower and savor the water running down my body. It feels like I'm washing away all the stress and worry Shawn had brought to my mind. The problems wash right down the drain with the soap. What does Shawnie know, really? Damien's great.
I reluctantly turn off the water, towel myself dry, let my hair down, and walk out to my room. I slip into bed, enjoying the feeling of the silky sheets against my bare skin. Just before I fall asleep, I wonder when I'll see Damien again, and silently curse myself for not getting his number.