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Jessica Rules the Dark Side
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Jessica Rules the Dark Side
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When Jessica Packwood found out she was a Romanian vampire princess, she had the shock of her teenage life.  Turns out that was the easy part.  Now, married to Prince Lucius Vladescu, she has to claim her throne and convince a vampire nation she’s fit to be their queen.  But Jess can’t even order a decent meal from her castle’s Romanian staff, let alone deal with devious undead subjects who would love to see her fail.

And when Lucius is accused of murdering a vampire Elder and imprisoned without the blood he needs, Jessica finds herself alone, fighting for both their survivals.  Desperate to clear her husband’s name and win his release, Jess enlists the help of her best friend Mindy Stankowicz and Lucius’s mysterious Italian cousin, Raniero Lovatu.  But both of them are keeping some dark secrets.  Can Jess figure out who to trust – and how to  rise to power – before she loses everything, including the vampire she loves?

Full of romance, mystery, and danger, the highly anticipated sequel to Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side shows that sometimes a princess has to earn her “happily ever after” – with a sharpened stake in hand.

***

Prologue

“Mother?”

The snow swirls around her, and she stands with her back to me, body enveloped in a bright red cloak. Crimson... Mihaela’s color. The queen who once ruled the Dragomirs looks like a splash of blood against the expanse of white, and yet she is as strong and substantial as the jagged Carpathian rocks that rise out of the lonely Romanian mountain where we always meet.

I step toward her, not understanding. Why doesn’t she turn to greet me? “Mother?”

And then Mihaela Dragomir does turn, face obscured by the cloak. And in her hands she holds an object, something she presses against her chest the way a nun would cradle a cross. But Mihaela is no humble, pious sister and that thing… It is no holy relic.

The stake… The bloodstained stake…

LUCIUS’s stake, which he used to destroy his uncle – and which he’d once nearly used to…

“No! Never!”

Thrashing, fighting off something that seemed to press against my chest, I struggled to sit up and opened my eyes to see firelight flickering against stone, and for a second I wasn’t sure where I was.

Gradually, though, my surroundings sank in. I was in Lucius’s home – our home. In our bed. That pressure on my chest... it wasn’t… it was just the heavy blankets that we always needed in his – our – huge, chilly bedroom, even though a fire burned in the fireplace.

Taking a deep breath, I stretched out my arm and rested my hand on his shoulder, reassuring myself that everything was okay. As long as Lucius was with me, I’d be okay.

Still, images from the nightmare came rushing back.

The stake, which I hadn’t seen since the night Lucius pressed his fangs against my throat and re-created me as a vampire…

Why had I dreamed about it? And why had my birth mother – who would never harm me – been holding it?

I’d started dreaming about Mihaela back in Pennsylvania, and those dreams had become more frequent since I married Lucius and moved to Romania. It was like my mother, destroyed shortly after my birth, was trying to protect me as I tried hard to follow in her footsteps and become a ruler, relying on a journal she’d left for me for help. A posthumous wedding gift to guide me as I learned to be a princess.

My heart started beating faster again. Was I learning? I was trying…

Wriggling back down under the blankets, I moved toward Lucius in the massive bed – where, as he’d once confessed, he’d probably been expected by the Vladescu Elders to take my life, conveniently removing his Dragomir bride from power and allowing the Vladescus to have unchallenged dominion over both our families. I kicked at the covers, sort of swimming through them, suddenly impatient to be right next to him.

Everything in his home – OUR home – seemed so big sometimes. Including the burdens.

Lucius slept on his side, facing away from me, and I pressed myself close to his back, feeling the coolness of his body. I shared that coolness, too, since he’d bitten me, sealing our fate and a decades-old pact that had decreed our marriage in the interest of stopping a war between our rival families. Pressing tighter against my husband – how weird that still sounded – I listened to his steady breathing, which always calmed me down when I got nervous. Lucius wasn’t scared. He thrived on ruling the clans. That’s what he’d been born and raised to do.

Or did he worry sometimes?

“Lucius?” I got up on one elbow and shook him gently, needing to see his dark eyes and hear his deep, reassuring voice. “Lucius?”

“Yes… yes?” he mumbled. He rolled onto his back and fumbled for me under the covers, which were expensive and stiff and made me miss the soft, worn-in flannel sheets on my bed in Pennsylvania. But how could a princess ask for flannel? “Yes, Jessica...?”

Resting my hand on his chest, I felt it rise and fall so slowly that I thought he was probably still asleep. Still, I couldn’t help asking in a whisper, so the guards outside our door wouldn’t hear, “What does it mean if a vampire dreams about a stake?”

Lucius didn’t answer, and I realized he was definitely sleeping – probably exhausted from yet another day of struggling to unite our obstinate families – so I lay back down and nestled against him again. In response to the pressure of my body, he turned and pulled me close, so I could feel the entire length of his powerful warrior’s body against mine, like a shield at my back.

High on top of that Romanian mountain, in the heart of a confusing castle that I supposedly governed, but where I still got lost in the twisted corridors, the night got very still. Even the crackling fire seemed to get quieter. After a few minutes of forcing myself to forget about the nightmare, I almost started to drift off to sleep again, when suddenly Lucius muttered, barely whispering, his breath chilly against my neck, “Betrayal.”

I stiffened in his arms. Was he answering my question or caught up in his own dreams? His own nightmares?

Even if it was the latter, that wasn’t exactly comforting. Did my husband have disloyalty – treachery – on his mind? And Lucius, like all vampires, put great stock in dreams…

“Betrayal.” I said the word out loud, trying to make sure it was even what I’d heard him say. “Betrayal.”

At the sound of my voice, which was soft but audible enough to break the profound, mountaintop silence, Lucius, seeming to get restless, wrapped his strong, scarred arm tighter around me, so I was trapped against his chest.

I took his hand and tugged to give myself some space to breathe. He didn’t let go, though, and I tried to move him again. Against my fingertips, I could feel another deep scar – an x on his palm that marked him as mine, cut into his flesh at our marriage ceremony – and Lucius’s wedding band on his left hand. His dominant hand. The one he’d used to wield the stake when he’d held me in a very different way, in that same castle, not too many months before.

Preview II - Excerpted from Chapter 4

“Lucius, what happened this morning?” I asked softly.

He didn’t answer. He’d grown very quiet again since drinking from me, and toyed distractedly with my engagement ring, spinning it on my too-thin finger as he held me on the couch in my office.

“Lucius?” I lifted my head off his shoulder to see his face: his high cheekbones and straight, aristocratic nose and the strong jaw that made him look older than he was. Like most girls at Woodrow Wilson High School, including my best friend, Mindy Stankowicz, I’d been both drawn to and intimidated by his very mature good looks. And he seemed even more like a warrior prince since returning to Romania. “Lucius?”

“Yes?” He finally turned to look at me. “I am sorry... I was lost in thought.”

“What happened today?” I repeated – although I was pretty sure I knew right then, just from the look in his eyes. The unhappiness that he was finally fully revealing.

“The verdict was guilty,” he said. “There was no question. No doubt in the Elders’ minds.”

My heart sank. “And you? Did you have any doubt?”

“I cannot afford doubt,” he said. “If I’d had even a sliver, I couldn’t have carried out the sentence. My hand might have hesitated, and I would have caused the prisoner more agony. I want to be just, never cruel.” His frown deepened. “And if the Elders had sensed hesitation on my part, I would have hurt myself – us – as well, by appearing weak.”

“So you really did...?” I couldn’t even say it.

But Lucius could. “Yes, Antanasia. I destroyed him. The law is clear. Destruction is punishable by destruction. And the destruction of an Elder must be answered by none other than the highest-ranking clan member.” His eyes hardened a little. “Besides, we both know that I am best suited to destroy with as little pain as possible. I have been trained since childhood to use a stake efficiently. Execution is not a chore to be passed off to a servant, like laundry.”

I slumped against him, angry with myself – but still half sick at the thought of what I might have witnessed, if I hadn’t run away from the trial. “I’m so sorry, Lucius,” I apologized again. “I shouldn’t have left you...”

“Please, do not be hard on yourself,” he urged. “You were raised among kittens by vegans.” Then he made a rare admission: “It was difficult even for me, raised by killers on a diet of violence.”

“But you did it.”

“Yes, and I will do it again. And you will learn to stand by my side as you become accustomed to this culture, the way I became accustomed to yours.”
My voice dropped to a whisper. “What if I can’t?”

Lucius grinned. “I used to ask myself that same question when faced with your mother’s lentil casseroles. ‘What if I literally cannot lift the fork today?’ And yet I did it, Jessica.”

My eyes widened. “You can’t compare today’s trial to lentil casserole.”

But Lucius arched an eyebrow and laughed. “Didn’t you taste it?”

Then he rose and I saw him transform – like he often did – from spouse to ruler.

Why couldn’t I do that trick...?

Preview III – Excerpted from Chapter 5

A quick note: For all of you who’ve written to ask, “What the heck happened between Jess’s closest friend, Mindy, and Lucius’s best man at that mountaintop wedding reception?” the new book provides the answers. In this excerpt, Mindy is trying to adjust to life back in Pennsylvania, but thoughts of her time in Romania keep intruding...

***

“Sure, every woman should be financially independent, but there’s nothing wrong with loving a guy who has a few dollars in the bank – or a Mercedes in the garage, for that matter.”

Yeah, totally,” I said, way too loud.

Kinda embarrassed, I slid way down in my seat and looked around to see if anybody in class heard me talking to myself about the very interesting Cosmo article, “Rich Man, Poor Man – Why Not Love a Guy with Money?” But lucky for me, everybody was busy listening to Dr. Wayne Prentiss talking on and on about the boring Italian art slides he was clicking through while he wandered around the back of the dark room, like he did every week.

I slid even lower, so I was practically lying down on the floor. Stupid community college “core curriculum requirements.” I’d figured Foundations of Renaissance Art would be the easiest “humanity,” but I hated the class, which turned out to be all about... Italy! And all the Italian paintings and naked marble guys made me think about... Italians. And I did not want to think about Italians. Not even Italian shoes. I hardly even ate spaghetti, anymore.

I tried hard to shut out Dr. Prentiss’s voice, but he kept blah-blah-blahing behind me, telling us all, “Contemporary artists still try – and inevitably fail – to imitate the way in which Michelangelo imbued in the male form a sense of grandeur.”

There was a flash of light, and I looked up to see another slide of a naked Italian guy. A guy with a perfect body. I knew a body like that...

Stop remembering him!

I held the empty notebook I was using to hide my magazine up a little higher, to block out the screen, but when I turned the page to finish “Rich Man, Poor Man” – which I totally agreed with, after seeing my best friend get very happily married in a castle – I came face-to-face with an ad for Versace. And big surprise! Another pretty-much-naked Italian guy.

They were, like, everywhere, with their rock-hard chests and their six-pack abs.

I didn’t wanna do it, but I kept staring at that ad, and it was like I got hypnotized and fell back in time all the way to summer and Romania and that amazing wedding where Jess Packwood turned into “Princess Antanasia Dragomir Vladescu” – after turning into a vampire, of course. The wedding where I’d kinda changed, too, and not in a good way.

I could still see how it all started, way too clear in my brain. It figured that I couldn’t remember anything I studied in books, so I was bombing all my classes at Lebanon Valley, but I couldn’t forget a single word of that conversation, no matter how hard I tried.

“You would like to take a walk, Mindy Sue? See the moonlight with me, yes?”

I am, like, nodding and shaking my head at the same time, so my brain is sloshing around in circles, ‘cause I do NOT understand Raniero Vladescu Lovatu’s crazy way of asking questions and telling you what to do at the same time. Is the right answer “yes?” Or “no?” Do I even know how I wanna answer? Do I wanna “see the moonlight” with the blood sucking, tattooed best man who is looking unbelievably hot in his tux, with his longish, wavy brown hair pulled back into a ponytail so you can actually see his very different, gray-green eyes...?”

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