AN ENCORE OF ROSES

The much-anticipated epilogue to A DOWRY OF BLOOD is here!

The wait is over! An Encore of Roses, the modern-day DOWRY epilogue in Alexi’s POV, is here for your reading enjoyment. Thank you so much for your enduring interest in these characters and the world they live in; I hope I’ve done their happy ending justice.

Content guidance: This is a story about long-distance relationships and ethical nonmonogamy. It features tender sadomasochism, vampire bloodplay, breathplay, consensual sex between three adults, and a happy ending.

The halogen spotlight poured down over me like long-forgotten sunlight as I paced the stage, my voice carrying easily through the theatre. My audience was rapt in silence, wrapped around my little finger as I recited my lines. The play was a tragedy in the classical style, all melodrama and fake blood, and my animal nature thrilled at the carnage of it, especially on that night. That night, I wasn’t the only predator in the theatre.

I played my heart out, angling every pithy joke and heartrending line to the stage right box, where I knew hungry eyes were watching. Even under the blazing stage lights, I shivered at the thought of those eyes on me, eating me up from afar.

I used to think nothing could beat the euphoric rush of applause, but as I clasped hands with my castmates and took my bows, an even stronger sensation cut through the roar of clapping and cheering. Anticipation.

It flooded my veins like the finest absinthe. By the time I staggered off the stage and navigated my way past jostling bodies to the dressing rooms, I was quite drunk on it.

They found me before I found them, as they always do. After tossing my costume on the hanger and peeling the mic tape off my face without so much as bothering to scrub off the greasepaint, I dashed out of the dressing room and nearly collided with them both. Two otherworldly figures, so beautiful it hurt to look at them.

“Constance!” I exclaimed. “Maggie! Oh, you made it!”

I threw myself into Magdalena’s arms because she was closest, and she kissed me without hesitation. I reached out a hand for Constanta and she laced her fingers through mine, then covered my face in a flurry of kisses. One of them, I couldn’t say which, pressed a fragrant bouquet of crimson roses into my arms.

The first kiss from Magdalena always felt like nicking your finger on the edge of a knife: a sharp shock, and then throbbing warmth. Constanta, on the other hand, was like slipping into a warm bath after a day of hard labor. All relief and unwinding muscles.

“Alexi,” Constanta murmured against my mouth, cradling my cheeks in her hands. “Oh little Alexi, we’ve missed you so terribly.”

We were making a scene right there in the backstage corridor, but I didn’t care. Magdalena and Constanta were here. People could walk around us, or look the other way if our display displeased them.

I encircled them both with my arms, pulling them into a tight hug. I was lightheaded with ecstasy, being pressed between them. All was right in the world again.

Constanta was still wearing her hair long, swirled up on top of her head in a messy twist. Tendrils of red fell down around her face and I touched them, delighted by this tiny, imperfect detail. She hadn’t aged a moment since I had last seen her, and the creases around her eyes only showed when she smiled intensely, as she was doing now.

“You were a marvel,” she said.

“A revelation,” Magdalena chimed in, stepping aside to let two other actors pass. They craned their neck to look at her as they did so, and I couldn’t blame them. She was wearing backseam stockings, a tight plum pencil skirt, and a silk blouse that showed off her light brown décolletage.

“It wasn’t my best work,” I said. “You missed me as Puck a few years ago; I was absolutely incandescent.”

“I know,” Constanta said in her soothing voice. “But I was in Cyprus with Henri and Sasha…”

“And I was advising a Vatican council on the new pope, you know that,” Magdalena said, just as kindly but much less apologetically. She loved her work just as much as she loved us. I long ago accepted that her time would be split between sensual distractions and her passion for international politics.

“I know, I know,” I muttered, and I found that I was still hurt they hadn’t been able to make it. It was less about the play, though it was very good, and more about the fact that it had been nearly three decades since we’d all been together. We never went that long between visits. I had dropped in on Constanta for a few hours’ tryst during a layover on my last European tour, but it wasn’t the same. Too much time had passed since we were all reunited.

But they have other lives and other lovers now, I reminded myself as the girls fussed over me and kissed and complimented me. I’m not the sun in their sky anymore.

The thought made the bottom drop out of my stomach, but I gave them a smile all the same. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s smiling through pain.

“Come on,” I said, tugging them towards the exits. “I’m dying for a coffee and a sweet.”

“You’re still eating?” Magdalena said, baffled. She didn’t add “human food” to the end of that sentence, surrounded by mortals as we were.

“I am a hedonist in every sense,” I declared, taking their hands in each of my own. “I shall savor all the sensory pleasures of the world until I can no longer bear them.”

“You haven’t changed at all,” Constanta said, so fondly that I thought my heart might burst.

We stalked the rain-slick city streets until we reached my favorite Italian bakery, tucked between a laundromat and a pawn shop down an unassuming alley. I’d travelled the world in the hundred-odd years I’d been alive, but I always seemed to find myself back in New York. I loved the cramped, unexpected charm of the place, the way it distilled so many different languages and cultures into something heady and distinctly American. America suited me, despite her puritanical mores and gross institutional mismanagement. She was brazen and loud and in love with herself, just like me.

I ordered a cappuccino and a cream puff, both easy enough on the stomach that I could enjoy the taste without getting sick. I’d noticed the changes Constanta had warned me about in recent years, the pallor coming into my skin, the waning interest in any sustenance outside of blood, but I intended to wring every drop of enjoyment out of eating I could.

“Try it,” I said, holding out a dollop of whipped cream on my little finger for Magdalena.

“I’m on a diet,” she said drolly.

“It will disappear on your tongue, it’s just a tiny bit of cream and sugar. Live a little, Maggie.”

Magdalena acquiesced to my request, circling my wrist with her fingers and bringing the whipped cream to her mouth. She closed her lips around my finger, suckling in a way that sent a jolt of electricity down my spine.

“Oh that is good,” she admitted, dark eyes widening. She picked up some cream on her finger and held it out to Constanta, who eyed it warily.

“I’m older than you are,” she reminded us, as though we could forget. Constanta may have been one of the oldest vampires currently living, and though she was gracious and gentle with her power, it was evident in the way she carried herself, the way her eyes flashed in the dark. We all became more powerful that night we killed our sire and drank from his veins, but Constanta was the eldest, and she reaped the most potent benefits.

“It won’t hurt,” Magdalena promised. “Alexi is right.”

Constanta opened her mouth for Magdalena and lapped up the sweet treat. Magdalena chuckled and kissed her, with such a swift, thoughtless tenderness that I ached. They were so perfect together, and they were mine.

At least, I still thought they were mine.

“How are your lovers?” I asked, because it was the polite thing to do. I was also, perhaps, curious.

Constanta’s face lit up, and she leaned a little further over the table. The sleeves of her billowing white blouse rippled elegantly and the golden cross around her neck glinted. She always enjoyed flaunting the superstition that religious icons were anathema to us, and I think part of her really still believed in that old story about blood and suffering.

“Henri and Sasha are as sweet as the day I met them. So many small gestures of loving kindness. Henri cleans the blood out of my clothes after every hunt and tucks flowers in the pockets, and Sasha is always bringing home books and highlighting her favorite passages for me to read. We’re summering in Romania this year. I want to show them where I was born.”

“It was brave of you,” Magdalena said, stealing another nibble of cream. “To turn others after what happened to us.”

A shadow passed over Constanta’s face, but only for a moment.

“The bond we had with him was built on control and deceit. I’ve always been honest with Henri and Sasha, and they’ve always been honest with me. We allow each other our freedom.”

She didn’t need to specify the “him” she was talking about. My throat got a little tighter as unpleasant memories pressed in. We didn’t speak his name anymore, but he was impossible to forget.

“And what do they think of the undying life?” I asked, curious about these new vampires I’d never met who had so captured my dear Constanta’s heart. There weren’t many people in the café to overhear, and I’d never been one for subtlety anyway.

“They’ve taken to it like fish to water,” Constanta said with a chuckle. “Henri is as insatiable as Alexi was when he was young. Do you remember how we had to teach him restraint?”

“He drained so many milkmaids and messenger boys,” Magdalena said fondly.

I wrinkled my nose at their teasing.

“I learned fast. You would be proud of me, Constance. I’ve barely killed anyone for ages. Discretion, isn’t that what you always say? Only taking as much as you need so as not to draw suspicion with a trail of bodies?”

“Good for you,” Magdalena said, ever one for cleverness. “That will allow you to stay in one place as long as you like with no police or priests banging down your door. I do so hate moving all the time. Italy suits me.”

“And how is your Italian thrall?” I asked, sucking down a little of my cappuccino. Constanta had always been drawn to building little families wherever she went, but Magdalena tended to prefer solitary human companions who could offer stimulating conversation and a steady supply of blood.

“Oh Fabrizio? Wonderful, wonderful. So attentive and devoted. He reads to me from the papers every evening and he’s even shifted his sleep schedule so he’s awake at my hours.”

“You’ve been together a decade,” Constanta noted. “You should let me turn him for you.”

“That’s kind of you, but I like Fabrizio just the way he is. The undying life isn’t for him; he’s too in love with life.”

“But he’ll age,” I whispered, as though it was a curse.

Magdalena shrugged. “And die, yes. Or maybe we’ll part ways sometime in the future. Nothing is certain, little Alexi.”

“I’m not so little anymore,” I muttered.

“Yes, but you’ll always be the youngest.”

Constanta stepped in before Magdalena and I could get into one of our friendly sniping matches.

“What about you, Alexi? Have you taken any lovers since we last spoke? Perhaps found a thrall of your own?”

I suddenly felt very put on the spot, and I swallowed down a little coffee with a gulp. I hadn’t taken a lover in a long time, I realized. I drank from strangers, or sometimes my friends if they were feeling adventurous. I brought people into my bed for a night or two, victim or no. But when I thought of a lover, I thought of Magdalena and Constanta. Everyone else paled in comparison to their radiance.

“I, uh...Well, no. I haven’t had occasion to.”

Magdalena’s brows creased in thought, and Constanta opened her mouth, probably to say something encouraging, but then the waitress appeared at our table with the check. I smiled broadly at her, banishing my momentary glumness, and flirted with her so overtly that Magdalena rolled her eyes.

Then we ducked out into the night, three beautiful villains, and joked and laughed among ourselves all the way back to my studio.

My studio was modest, not like the grand apartments and crumbling old estates we had all once lived in together, but it had its own kind of charm. Dripping candles were affixed to the stems of wine bottles, and a deck of gilded cards had been left out on the kitchen table from my last round of drinking and petty gambling with my actor friends. The curtains were red damask, heavy enough to block out the light of the sun, and the threadbare rugs underfoot were vintage and Persian, almost as old as me.

I took Magdalena and Constanta’s coats, still a gentleman despite my libertine ways, and hung them up on the coat hook by the door.

We were on each other in an instant.

Constanta slid her arms around my shoulders and melted into my kiss while Magdalena mouthed insistently at my neck. I snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her close, alternating between their mouths in the dim light of my studio. I lost myself in the rich tide of their love, buoyed along by a hundred tiny touches and soft sounds of pleasure. Happiness beyond comprehension washed over me.

Magdalena was here with me, my stern, beautiful Magdalena with her heart like liquid gold. And so was Constanta, lovely, dreamy Constanta with her mouth shaped like compassion. My sisters, my most intimate friends. My girls, mine.

Here is a secret: I may be fond of the games of love, but I am fiercely possessive in my own way. A little bit of my heart travels with them when they circumnavigate the world, and I am always desperate to be reunited with it. We three were made to fit together, and I am not entirely myself unless I am nestled between the two of them.

We are children of the same rotten family, survivors of the same intimate war. We will always be lovers, forever bonded, across distance and time.

“I missed you,” I sighed, my breath stirring the loose curls of Constanta’s hair as it ghosted across Magdalena’s lips.

“Which one of us?” Magdalena asked with one of her throaty laughs.

“Both of you,” I said, my fingers already making short work of the buttons on her blouse. She batted my hand away lightly, a smile on her lips.

“Patience, little Alexi. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. You must let me enjoy myself.”

Constanta gave me one last lingering kiss before stepping away towards the bathroom.

“I’m going to freshen up,” she said in a knowing sing-song. “I’ll leave you to each other.”

I let out a needy whine of protest, but Magdalena was having none of it. She thrilled at the chance to have me to herself, and she wasn’t going to waste the opportunity.

Magdalena slid her fingers into my hair and tugged lightly, administering just the right amount of pain. I whined again, this time in pleasure.

“My favorite masochist,” Magdalena purred, dropping her lips to mine. She held me with a firm grip on my chin, her fingertips leaving divots in my skin. I lost myself in the heady sensation of being claimed by her, possessed by her.

“Surely not your favorite,” I said, chasing her kiss when she pulled away. “What would Fabrizio say?”

Magdalena dug her fingernails into my flesh and I gave a hiss of pleasured pain.

“Fabrizio is mine to do with as I wish and right now, so are you,” she said. Oh, how I loved this game. the game of hurt and denial that always ended in ecstasy. Magdalena was the finest player I had ever met on the board, and this was her opening gambit.

I responded in kind, nipping at her fingers with my sharp eye teeth. Magdalena didn’t quite move fast enough to spare her pretty fingers from my bite, and a ruby bead appeared on her index finger.

“Suck it off for me, Alexi,” she requested in that imperious voice.

“Such a princess,” I scoffed, but I was happy to oblige.

I opened my mouth and slid the wet pad of my tongue along her finger, savoring the little shiver that went through her body. Queenly Magdalena did her best to hide it, but I knew the effect I had on her. We had always been weak for each other, falling into bed together with all the shameless urgency of teenagers.

I suckled off the droplet of blood, moaning low in my throat at the taste. No one tasted like my Magdalena, as rich and sweetly spiced. No one could compare with the delicious patina of time that swirled through her veins, except perhaps Constanta.

“Playing your games?” Constanta murmured, appearing from the bathroom. She had discarded her trousers and stood bare-legged in that billowing white shirt, her red hair falling loose around her face. It almost drove me to my knees, how perfect she looked. Constanta was beautiful enough to make an apostle out of an apostate, and I was no exception. I wanted to worship at the cathedral of her body.

“Always,” Magdalena said, withdrawing her finger from my mouth with a pop. “He’s so needy, Constanta.”

“Then nothing has changed,” Constanta said with a chuckle that shot through me like electricity. I would have crawled to her if she asked me, on my hands and knees like a dog.

“Constance,” I said, my voice hoarse with desire. “Please.”

“Use your words, Alexi,” Magdalena said, threading her long-nailed fingers through my curls. “Ask for what you want.”

“I want both of you. At the same time. Please.”

Constanta just smiled that Mona Lisa smile as she sank down on the edge of my bed, opening her arms to me. I tugged Magdalena along with me as I kicked off my shoes and shucked off my jacket, surrendering myself to Constanta’s expert administrations.

She pressed me back against the bed with her kisses while Magdalena made short work of my belt.

“Eager,” Magdalena said with a toothy grin, squeezing me through my jeans. I tried to come up with a pithy reply, but the pressure of her agile fingers stole my breath. She wasn’t lying; I was hard already and straining against the denim. It had been a tiny eternity since I had last seen my girls, and I was eager to make up for lost time.

“True,” Constanta mused, her brown eyes roving over my face. “But sullen.”

“I’m not sullen,” I shot back, slipping my hands under her blouse and spreading my fingers across her bare back. Her brows knit together in that sympathetic, knowing way that always cut to the quick of me. Damn her instincts.

“Yes you were, in the café. There’s a shadow behind your eyes, sweet prince. What’s wrong?”

I swallowed hard, partially because Constanta was finding me out and partially because Magdalena had lowered her head to mouth me through my jeans.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I huffed. “I’ve just missed you is all.”

“Mmm,” Constanta hummed, not convinced. But she still kissed me, and that was all that mattered. I just wanted to be close to her and Magdalena, as close as skin on skin and blood mingling with blood. Surely, that would put all my treacherous thoughts to rest. That would make me feel whole again.

Magdalena crawled up the bed towards me, as lithe and dangerous as a cat on the prowl, and wrapped her slim fingers around my neck. She barely applied any pressure, but it was enough to make my throat flutter with anticipation. My eyes slid shut of their own accord as Constanta freed me from the cage of my jeans. My hips bucked beneath her, already moving of their own accord.

This. I had missed this.

“Please, Maggie,” I begged. “Just a little harder.”

Magdalena obliged as Constanta took me into her mouth expertly, nearly driving me to the brink of madness.

“God,” I rasped, pressing up against Magdalena’s grasp. Oh, she was wicked. She knew how to restrict my breathing without squeezing the breath from me entirely. She could hold me like that for as long as she wanted, and I would be powerless against her. “Jesus Christ, Maggie.”

“Blasphemy,” Constanta chided with a smile, then laved me with her tongue. I gasped despite myself, curling my fingers into the sheets.

“I missed you,” I rasped. “I missed you both so much.”

“Is that why you’ve been in such a dark mood all evening?” Constanta asked, circling my tip with her tongue.

Constanta,” I groaned. “Is this really the time?”

“It’s the perfect time,” Magdalena said, and drove me into the mattress with a force that would have bruised a human lover. They were in on this together, I could tell from the sparkling glances they shared as they tormented me. I wanted to call them off, to gather myself up and pull myself off the bed. But I loved this too much. I loved being taken apart by them.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Constanta said, playing with me with her fingers. She squeezed and ran a thumb along the length of me, as though I was her favorite toy. “And then we can continue.”

“Blackmail,” I accused.

“You love it.”

“Touché.”

Magdalena kissed me so soundly I almost forgot my name, her grip on my throat secure and unwavering. Then she nipped me with those sharp teeth, drawing blood from my lower lip. Her hot, searching tongue lapped it up. When she spoke, her voice was rough with bloodlust.

“Answer her, Alexi. So I can have you properly.”

I writhed under their expert torments, equal parts blissful and debased. I shouldn’t say anything. I should keep it all to myself, locked up tight in a corner of my mind that I never examined, and then everything would be alright. What if I shared my feelings and they grew cold against me, or left me alone in New York? What if they took offense to my words, or exploded in rage like lovers from the past?

Constanta squeezed so mercilessly that I had no choice but to let out a helpless gasp, and then the words came tumbling out of me.

“You don’t care for me the same way anymore,” I blurted.

Instantly, the room went quiet. Magdalena released my throat and Constanta tucked me back into my jeans, her face scarlet as though she had just been caught in some indiscretion. For one horrible instant, I thought I had shattered our love to pieces. I pressed up onto my elbows, breathing hard, tears prickling at the back of my eyes.

But then Constanta reached out and stroked my cheek. Constanta, my guardian angel. My protector.

“Is that what you really think?” she asked quietly.

I looked from her to Magdalena. Magdalena’s eyes were dark, as though she were riddling out some international conflict. That same line was between her brows, like she wanted to fix me with her diplomacy.

“I’m just worried is all,” I muttered, feeling suddenly embarrassed.

I shouldn’t have said anything. I should have kept my fool mouth shut.

Magdalena and Constanta exchanged a glance, and then they both embraced me with a ferocity that took my breath away. I held on to them tightly, letting them rock me like a fussy child.

“Alexi, Alexi,” Constanta murmured. “I couldn’t stop loving you if my life depended on it. Even if you were sunlight itself, I would still scorch myself to be close to you.”

“And I would raze a city to the ground if it would make you smile,” Magdalena swore.

“What brought this on?” Constanta asked.

I shrugged, and found to my horror that there was a tightness in my throat. I would not cry.

“It’s just been so long since I’ve seen either of you. And you have other lovers now, other lives.”

“You’re my whole world, Alexi,” Constanta said, cutting me off. Her eyes flashed in the dark, a reminder of her preternatural power. It made me shudder, that power, but it never made me feel unsafe. If anything, the knowledge of what Constanta could do made me feel cared for, like a treasured jewel in a fairy tale guarded by the strongest spell.

“Is this about Fabrizio?” Magdalena asked, nestling closer to me on the bed. She laid her head on my shoulder. “It isn’t the same, Alexi. We love each other, in our way, but I could never love him the way I love you. You’re my family. My past and my future.”

“Henri and Sasha have become family to me,” Constanta chimed in, raising my hand to her mouth and kissing the tips of my fingers. “But they will never be you, Alexi. It isn’t a contest, there are no winners or losers. There is only love. And I’m happy to tell you that as many times as you need to hear it, from now until the end of the Earth.”

“Thank you,” I said quietly, and oh, now the tears were coming. I buried my face in Constanta’s shirt, hoping the dark would hide them, and scrubbed at my cheeks with the back of my hand.

“Poor prince,” Magdalena cooed. “We’ve left you alone for too long.”

“We must remedy that immediately,” Constanta said, drawing me to her breast. She hugged me tightly, then kissed me on the mouth so sweetly it almost ignited a fresh round of tears. “I was only going to stay a week, but would you mind terribly if…”

“Please stay,” I said, gripping her tighter. I promised myself I would never beg for anything for anyone. I had been subjugated in one relationship and never wanted to be in another, but Constanta didn’t make me feel small or weak. She made me feel strong and whole, like I had a right to ask for what I wanted. So I did. “Just a little while longer. I’ve missed you both so badly.”

“You never said so, silly boy,” Magdalena said, pulling me into her arms next. She rubbed soothing circles into my back with her hands. “Whenever I call I hear nothing but glowing stories of your friendships and your time on the stage. All it would have taken from you was one word and I would have dropped everything and come running.”

“I didn’t want to interrupt your business,” I sniffed.

“My business can wait. You, my love, are the premiere among my concerns.”

She kissed me deeply, and my anxiety began to melt away little by little. How could I be worried when Constanta and Magdalena were in my arms, real and solid as the first time we had met? It seemed foolish suddenly to have ever been afraid that they would be cross with me. They were my girls, after all. We understood each other intimately, better than any other human or vampire ever could. We were bonded eternally.

“Please,” I said into Magdalena’s mouth. “Please can I have you?”

“Yes, my love,” she said. Somewhere along the way, she had already discarded her stockings, and she shuddered in pleasure as I pushed her skirt up around her waist. I thrilled at the flash of her thighs, at the black silk peeking out between her legs. But more than that, I thrilled at the sound of her voice. “Anytime you want me, I’m yours.”

“Constanta?” I asked, reaching a hand out to her and pulling her close. I kissed the pale column of her throat, entranced by her taste, her scent. “Will you have me?”

“Now, and always,” Constanta said, slipping off her shirt and dropping it onto the floor. “I want you to take your pleasure from me. Be greedy, my darling. By jealous, if you want. I will always be here for you, whenever you call.”

I ran my tongue along the curve of her jaw, then dropped my mouth to grinning Magdalena’s lips.

“You both unmake me,” I said hoarsely.

“We’ll stay as long as you want us to,” Magdalena said, and let loose a soft little gasp as I discarded her skirt and started to unfasten the buttons of her blouse. “And then when we cross the ocean again we’ll take you with us. We’ll find you a new theatre, a new rapt audience. We need never to be parted again.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” I replied, discarding my shirt and my jeans in an unceremonious heap on the floor.

I let Constanta run her hands along my bare chest, then dug my nails into Magdalena’s hips as I entered her. She raked her nails down my back, hard enough to leave marks. Good, I thought, through the diaphanous haze of lust as Magdalena bucked against me and Constanta laid down beside me. Let us mark each other.

“Alexi, Alexi,” Constanta sighed with her arms and legs open.

“Constance,” I breathed as I pleasured her with my fingers. I held Magdalena tighter, drawing her close as our bodies intertwined. The air in the room was warm and close, wrapping us in a heady fog. All I could hear was my own breathing and Magdalena’s little whimpers and Constanta’s happy sighing. “Maggie.”

We worshipped each other until dawn, losing ourselves in our love for each other. When dawn came, I slumbered in both their arms, secure in the knowledge that I would never have to be alone again.

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There you have it! I hope you enjoyed this little bite of vampire fiction. I had such a wonderful time writing it and bringing the story to a final close. I’ve got so many new stories cooking to share with you all, but until then, be so well until we two meet again.

-Saint