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Chapter dedicated to CatalinaL1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading and applying just the right amount of pressure to the Vote button!

Chapter 69 – The Storm – Raine's POV

When we reached the animal enclosure, Loki must have smelt me because he quickly came lumbering over to the fence. I tutted to him fondly and reached my hand through to pat his large head, as I crooned, "Are you eager for a walk?"

He shoved his head against my hand.

Talon spoke nervously behind me, "Mistress, are you quite certain it is safe for you to pet him?"

I looked back over my shoulder at Talon and grinned widely, "Oh yes. I am going to do more than just pet him. You'll see, and he is going to love you."

Talon still didn't look convinced, but followed me silently as we walked into the large paddock area. Apparently, I wasn't moving fast enough for Loki's taste, because I suddenly heard his loud and impatient roar. I smirked and shook my head.

Next to me, Talon murmured worriedly, "Mistress..."

When I finally reached the massive opening between the paddock and the animal cages, Loki could see me and calmed down.

I was surprised at the overt relief on Gregory's face as he greeted me warmly, "Hello, Princess. Thank goodness you are here today. He has been a handful all morning."

Now it made sense. Loki did not like being away from me for any extended period of days. I ran my hands through his thick tufted fur, roughly scratching the sides of his big head. He purred loudly in response and dropped to the ground, waiting for me. Ever since I had ridden on his back when we swam together, he seemed to like carrying me during our walks.

I slid one leg over him and nestled my hips in between his massive shoulder blades. He stood and waited for my command.

Talon stared at us with his mouth open, and I heard Gregory mutter under his breath, "I will never get used to that."

I leaned down to whisper in Loki's ear, "Loki, this is Talon. I want you to love and protect him just as you do me."

Loki nodded as if he completely understood my words. Somehow, I knew he did. I motioned for Talon to come closer. He was still hesitant, but seemed intrigued. He held out his hand and Loki immediately pushed his head into it. Encouraged by his response, Talon used both hands to eagerly scratch Loki behind his ears and along his chin. Loki purred loudly again.

Pleased they were getting along so well, I murmured, "Let's go to the gardens."

As we walked, I asked, "Why is Ivy so afraid to go home?"

A muscle in Talon's jaw clenched as he replied, "She hasn't told me the details except that she had been abused."

"By her mother?" I asked quietly. I had seen her mother wail loudly in distress, while Marku forced Ivy to go down on him. She hadn't struck me as a cruel woman, but obviously there was more to the story.

"She won't say. Not yet," he answered.

We walked in silence for a moment, while I considered his words. "Talon, do you understand the depth of your responsibility when it comes to owning her?"

"Yes, mistress, I believe that I do, but would welcome any words of wisdom you wished to provide."

I smiled. "Absolutely every aspect of her care and her future will be decided by you. I will provide contact information for all of your available resources. I'm available if you want to discuss matters related to her, and will gladly provide my input if you ask. But as of right now, she is 100% yours, to do with as you please."

He stared up at me with wide eyes, the immense scope of his responsibility fully dawning on him. He nodded resolutely and whispered, "Yes, mistress."

We continued our progression, chatting comfortably together when suddenly my blood ran cold.

It was impossible!

He shouldn't be here.

And certainly not standing in the sun!

But yet, somehow it wasn't impossible.

I stared in shock as Marku stood in front of me!

His victorious smirk caused fear to spark up and down my spine. Loki released an almost constant rumble of growls through his chest, clearly warning Marku to stay away from me. Talon's body had gone rigid, as anger flowed through him.

I gasped, "Why are you here?!"

Marku's lips curled into a wicked grin. "I'm here to collect."

I tried unsuccessfully to control my trembling as dread flooded through me. I already knew his answer but whispered, "Collect what?"

"You, of course. I told you it was only a matter of time before I made Armand see reason. "

"No! It can be! Alaric would never stand for it," I hissed.

Marku laughed derisively, "The Prince has no say in a matter among Kings."

I stared at him in horror.

He purred, "You see, my dear. It normally takes quite a bit to catch my attention or surprise me. Most women are boring, without an intelligent thought in their head. However, from the moment I laid eyes on you, you drew me in with your seductive scent and fucking hot body. But even more unique than that, somehow, you are also immune to my compulsion, have independent wealth, and you contained the intelligence and poker face to effectively take me for $500K along with a pet – in front of the combined vampire nations, nonetheless."

My hands clenched into fists as I listened to him.

He continued, "Another vampire might have gotten angry over the loss, and experienced embarrassment at the public venue. But not me. Oh no, to me, you simply threw down a challenge. One I was more than ready and willing to meet. Fuck, I was prepared to give one-third of my kingdom for you before you swindled me, before you gave me a taste of the scent of your fucking addictive arousal."

His glance cut down to Loki and he added as an afterthought, "And before I knew about your gift with animals. But you have shown me you are worth far more than that, and I am happy to pay what it takes to own you. I want to fuck you so badly, it is taking every last bit of my self-control not to tear your clothes off and sink myself into your hot pussy, right here and right now. But tonight will be a different story. Tonight, my dear, I will take you in every way that I know how." He licked his lips in anticipation. "Once I finish making the arrangements, we can go." With that, he disappeared, moving too quickly for my eyes to track.

I was suddenly empty inside, devoid of all emotion.

This couldn't be happening!

This couldn't be my fate!

I would rather die first...

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