Marissa stood in the middle of the rug, hands clasped in front of her, head slightly bowed. Lord Raleigh watched her, though she would not meet his gaze.
Time passed, and she grew restless, daring to lift gray eyes to Raleigh's cold stare. Handsome and pale, with long hair and blue eyes, he was the epitome of vampire lord.
"My aide tells me you seek employment." The gravel tone of his voice sent shivers up her spine.
Fear and curiosity warred behind her breastbone. Her offer had been worded differently; Marissa had applied to be one of Raleigh's blooddolls. "Yes, m'lord." She lowered her gaze, heart skipping a beat.
Raleigh stayed quiet after that. The fire crackled cheerily, gaslights hissed softly, and Marissa grew uncomfortable. She resisted the urge to wring her hands, or check her coif, or flee his office.
Finally, the vampire rose, approaching with silent steps. Marissa blushed, ducking her head further. "Look at me." Raleigh stopped before her, and the young woman slowly raised her gaze. "Why?"
Up close, his eyes were more gray than blue, sharp and shiny like steel. He smelled faintly of wood smoke and pipe tobacco, reminding her of the good days in her youth. "M'lord?" she asked around the lump in her throat.
Raleigh lifted a long-fingered hand, nearly touching her cheek. Icy fear raced beneath her skin, but she held still. "Why would a demure young woman seek such employment with a vampire?" His brocade vest shifted as he took a deep breath, fabric tight across his lean chest.
Marissa was lost in his eyes, briefly wondering if he was mesmerizing her. "My mother is dying. She's forbidden me to work the sewing factory, but our debts are too numerous. We need significant amounts of money in short time."
His hand followed the line of her neck and shoulder without touching her. "So you would turn prostitute to the undead?"
She blushed painfully, vision swimming as she fought off shame. "Better a vampire than the men at the wharf." Marissa closed her eyes, seeking calm.
Raleigh circled her, moving closer. She felt his movements, his foot steps silent, and her shoulders stiffened. The young woman had worn her only dress without a high neck, and felt exposed. What she wouldn't give for a scarf, or coat, or even a heavy choker. Anything to cover her slender throat.
The vampire made a circuit and a half, stopping behind her. No more than a hair's breadth separated the pair. Marissa's skin crawled, neither pleasantly nor unpleasantly, and she clenched one hand around the other.
"Do you know what you're offering?" Raleigh's breath was chill on the nape of her neck. She bit back a gasp, the hairs on her body rising. "Bleeding for a vampire is not like bleeding for the physicians."
"So I have heard, m'lord."
Her throat clenched as he gripped her upper arms, pressing his chest to her back. "The physicians will never pleasure you, or take you to heights of rapture." Raleigh's lips brushed the rim of her ear, voice dropping to a whisper. "You'll never beg them to have you again."
Marissa fought the swoon and rising tide of heat. She'd heard of Raleigh's skills, whispered about in the shadows of polite company. No one called his blooddolls whores, but they were well compensated for their time, and gave their charms only to him.
For her family's sake, she could share herself.
"You're not like the others," he whispered, lips sliding along her neck, pausing at the crook. "They're never altruistic in their reasons. No one has ever offered herself simply for the wage. Have you no desire for my bite itself?"
Marissa squirmed, leaning against him, her knees growing weak. Raleigh's arms encircled her waist, trapping her in his scent and strength. Her pulse leapt, and she bit back a moan. No man had touched her like this, had made her want to give away any of her virtues.
But she couldn't answer him. Couldn't let him know how intensely curious she was, how she'd lain awake at night wondering what it would feel like to be drained.
Raleigh left her, moving back to his desk. Morissa gasped, eyes flying open. He stared at her with narrowed eyes. "I will not make you a whore. If you want only money, return at noon for proper employment." His gaze intensified, and she found it difficult to swallow. "If you seek my passions, return tomorrow at midnight."