Giovanni Lanzoni may just be the world's oldest male virgin. Or at least, the oldest male virgin vampire. Giovanni has clung to the vows he made a thousand years ago as a mortal priest—yet he is no longer either of those things. Others of his kind have settled down since claiming immortality, finding love, even raising children. Sensing his loneliness, Mara, Queen of the Vampires, eagerly sets out to find Giovanni the perfect mate. But only one woman, met by chance on a dark night, truly tempts him . . .
Cassie Douglas has never met a man she trusts as much as Giovanni. Yet the shocking truth he reveals makes her question their deep connection. There are other urgent obstacles too. Giovanni's sire, an ancient, dangerously powerful vampire, is awakening after centuries of slumber, with vengeance on his mind. And in the battle unfolding around them, everything is at risk—their lives, their loved ones, and a passionate eternity together . . .
Book 8 in the Children of the Night series
Father Giovanni Lanzoni strolled through the city park's narrow, deserted, twisting paths. A brilliant yellow moon hung low in the sky, illuminating his way, though he needed no light to guide his feet. He was Nosferatu, one of the oldest of his kind. As such, he was blessed -- or cursed -- with supernatural senses and preternatural strength.
Like all vampires who had survived more than a century or two, he had grown to love and appreciate the beauty of the night. He enjoyed being able to see clearly in the dark, to hear the flutter of a moth's wings, to be able to move from place to place with astonishing speed, to think himself across great distances, to move faster than mortal eyes could follow, to dissolve into mist. So many amazing supernatural powers, all his to command.
He had never expected to survive so long. He had always been a pacifist -- given to contemplation rather than conflict. As a child, he had dreamed of dedicating his life to the Church. It had proved to be all he had hoped for and more. He had loved the discipline, the interior silence, the sense of inner peace born of service and self-sacrifice. Hearing confessions…
He grinned inwardly. His most recent confession – heard only a few years ago -- had come from Nick Desanto. Nick had been born a slave in Egypt and had been turned by the infamous Queen of the Vampires -- Mara, herself.
Giovanni had known Mara for centuries. They had met when he was still mortal. He had been a young priest at the time, hoping to render aid and comfort on a battlefield in Tuscany. She had been in search of prey. The only thing that had saved him that night had been her surprising reluctance – or perhaps it had been some ancient superstition about harming a man of the cloth.
They had met again when he was a young vampire in the streets of Paris. He had been badly injured and close to death when she found him. She had generously offered him a little of her ancient blood and it had revived him. And then, for reasons unknown, she had tasted his. They had both undergone some amazing changes since that long-ago night.
In the years since then, he had made a few friends and an enemy or two -- both mortal and immortal -- in countries around the globe. As a priest, he had willingly given up all thought of home and family. But now, having lived like a monk for so long, he thought he would gladly give up immortality to know the simple joys of one mortal lifetime. To experience a woman's love. To father a child. To watch his sons and daughters grow and have children of their own. What good was living a dozen lifetimes when you had no one to share it with?
Leaving the park, he ambled down the street toward his lair.
The DeLongpre/Cordova coven was the closest thing he had to a family. He considered himself blessed indeed to be a part of their lives and to have officiated at their weddings.
His steps slowed as he gazed at the vast expanse of the sky. Worlds without end, he mused. Times changed, the world itself changed, but he remained forever the same. In mortality, he had been an ordained priest. As such, he had made vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. He had been celibate in mortality.
And in death.
Lately, he had begun to rethink his vow to remain chaste. Though he was, at least in his own eyes, still a priest, he was no longer recognized as such by the Church that doubtless thought him dead long ago. He had no parish, no superior. Why did he cling to a vow that, after so many centuries, were very likely no longer binding? He had broken the other ones long ago.
Why now, after so many centuries, did he suddenly feel so alone? So lonely? He thought of Mara again. She had spent centuries refusing to be tied down. Yet, she had been married twice -- once to a mortal, and now to Logan Blackwood, the man she had loved for centuries. She had been blessed with a son.
Others of his kind had found companions. Roshan DeLongpre. Vince Cordova and his twin sons, Rane and Rafe. Mara's son, Derek. Nick Desanto. Vampires one and all. Yet each had found love. Even feisty ex-vampire hunters Edna Mae Turner and Pearl Jackson -- both turned far past their prime -- had found life mates.
Why not him? Perhaps it was time to remember that, in addition to being a priest, he was first and foremost a man.
He chuckled softly. He was, undoubtedly, the world's oldest male virgin.
The oldest male virgin vampire, he amended.
He had been turned on his fortieth birthday. He recalled the event as clearly as if it had happened only last night instead of centuries ago.
He had been on his way back to the rectory after giving last rites to an aged nun when he was attacked. It had happened so fast, he'd had no chance to defend himself, although he knew now that would have been impossible. He was floating, drifting away into darkness, when the vampire suddenly reared back. Giovanni remembered staring up into a pair of blood-red eyes that somehow managed to look surprised.
"You're a priest!" the creature hissed. "I can't kill a priest! Heaven forgive me," he murmured, and sinking his fangs into his own wrist, he held the bleeding wound to Giovanni's lips. "Drink!"
Giovanni wanted to refuse but something in the monster's voice compelled him to obey. The blood had been thick and hot, unlike anything he had ever tasted. He gagged with the first swallow and then, to his horror, he grabbed hold of the vampire's arm and suckled as if the blood was as sweet as mother's milk.
He had cried out in protest when the vampire jerked his wrist away.
"We have to find you a place to rest," the vampire muttered, yanking Giovanni to his feet. "And there are things you must know before you rise tomorrow night."
The vampire had dragged him to a cave in the Apennine Mountains and tossed him into it with a warning to stay inside until he returned.
Giovanni had had no intention of doing as he was told, but minutes after entering the cave he had collapsed on the floor. As his vision narrowed and the world went black, he knew he was dying. Sinking into oblivion, he had uttered a prayer begging for mercy and forgiveness with his last breath.
When awareness returned, it was dark again. Lurching to his feet, he had stumbled toward the cave's entrance, his gaze searching for the creature who had warned him to wait for his return.
Hours passed and there was no sign of the vampire.
As the hours dragged by, what started as discomfort gradually turned to agony. Afraid he was really dying this time, he staggered out of the cave and made his way to the city in search of a doctor.
Ignorant as he was, he had no idea what was happening to him. He stopped abruptly, nostrils flaring. He didn't recognize the scent, knew only that whatever it was, he needed it. Veering down a narrow alley, he came upon two men engaged in a knife fight.
Giovanni took a deep breath. Blood, he thought. The enticing smell was blood. Hardly aware of what he was doing, he stepped between the two men. It took no effort at all to control them. One was bleeding from a cut on his neck. As though mesmerized,
Giovanni leaned forward to lick it up and then, to his horror, he bit the man. Overcome with euphoria at the taste of fresh hot blood, he hadn't stopped to wonder at how effortlessly his teeth had bitten through flesh. It was only later that he discovered he had fangs, and that blood was the only thing that could ease the awful hunger that clawed at his insides.
And later still that he found the courage to admit he was no longer human, but Nosferatu.
The transformation had not been easy. To his shame, he had taken human lives before he learned it wasn't necessary to kill his prey to survive. Stricken with guilt, he had gone to confession time and again in hopes of finding forgiveness for the lives he had taken, but he had found none.
Thrusting his past behind him, Giovanni willed himself to his lair in the bowels of an abandoned church. He had another, more comfortable place where he could have passed the daylight hours, but resting here, among the dead, seemed more appropriate.
Stretching out on the cold stone floor between a pair of ancient coffins, he closed his eyes, and surrendered to the death-like sleep that swallowed him whole.