Riley and Victoria shared a long, dark look. More than a look, actually. He knew Riley was pushing his thoughts into Victoria’s head, and shrugged. Let them say—or not say—what they wanted. Nothing would change his decided course of action.
Finally Victoria nodded, moved backward, and the wolf shifter gave the human a little push in Aden’s direction. She scooted around the princess, remaining out of striking distance, and Aden suddenly comprehended the reason for her upset. She feared Victoria.
Smart of her. Victoria watched her through narrowed eyes, poised to launch into an attack at any second. Were they enemies? No, they couldn’t be. No one was more protective of Victoria than Riley, and the wolf never would have let the human through the door if that had been the case. So…what was the problem?
Only when the girl was at Aden’s side did she relax. She curtsied, grinned. “What can I do for you, my king?”
He didn’t allow himself to study his vampire and her reaction to the girl’s query. “Let me have your arm.”
Instantly she reached out. He wrapped his fingers around her wrist. It was thicker than Victoria’s, with a little more meat under her skin. As hot as Aden’s body temperature now was, the human felt chilled.
He absorbed her scent, testing it. Sharper than what he craved, he mused, with more spice than sweetness, but he could deal. Already his stomach was twisting, knotting. He urged her closer…opened his mouth…
“Wait. You’re going to hurt her,” Victoria snapped, beside the girl in the blink of an eye and jerking her from Aden’s hold.
Aden growled, even as the scent of the vampire stirred up some kind of animal inside him. A wild thing, cohabitating in a place where there was no room for emotion, only instinct honed on a battlefield.
Never yours, the other part of him hissed.
“You don’t have fangs.” Victoria raised her chin. “So, like I said, you’ll hurt her. I’ll bite her and—”
“I’ll bite her.” Fangs or not, he knew how to feed. Hadn’t he proven that to Victoria, over and over again?
The memory had his gaze falling to her neck, where her pulse hammered swiftly. The ache in his gums returned. Mine, he thought again. Mine to bite and to drink from and to kiss.
You don’t even like her. Not anymore.
“I’ll bite her,” she continued through gritted teeth, “and you can drink from her.” She didn’t give him a chance to respond. She simply lifted and bit.
The human closed her eyes, moaning as the pleasure hit her. Pleasure Aden knew very well and still craved, despite his determination to remain aloof.
Vampire fangs produced some kind of drug that numbed your skin and flowed straight into your veins, warming you up, making you feel good, too good. Which was exactly why so many humans became addicted, willing to do anything for another nibbling.
Not him. Never him. Not again.
A second passed, then another. Victoria lifted her head. Blood wetted her lips a deep scarlet, and Aden wanted to lick them. Instead, he forced his gaze on the two punctures in the human’s wrist. Blood wetted there, too, and he groaned. What he didn’t do was chastise Victoria for disobeying him. What right do I have to chastise her? He simply claimed the arm offered to him and brought the wound to his mouth.
He licked once, twice, tasting ambrosia, groaning again, before sucking, letting the nectar fill his mouth, swallowing, his eyes closing in the same surrender the human had experienced. And yet, in the back of his mind, he thought that as wonderful as this blood tasted, it should have tasted better. Should have been sweeter, with only a little hint of that spice.
“—has no fangs, yet he still craves blood,” Riley was saying as Aden became aware of his surroundings again. “It’s unheard of.”
“Apparently not,” Victoria snapped. “Look at him. He’s enjoying every moment of this.”
“Enjoying? His eyes look dead, and have ever since he woke up. Something’s wrong with him.”
Aden knew they were talking about him, but just as before, he didn’t care.
“Well, she’s enjoying it, then,” Victoria added, words sharp as a whip. “If I wasn’t holding her back she’d be grinding on him.”
“Do you want me to deny that?” the wolf muttered. “Because we both know I’d be lying.”
“Whatever. Just don’t kill her afterward. To borrow her, I had to promise Lauren you’d do her laundry for a week. And I had to promise you’d do it forever if any harm came to her slave.”
“Thanks a lot. You couldn’t have asked Lauren for a male?”
A tremor rocked the human. Of fear? Or was she still too lost to the pleasure to care, either?
“I’m only guessing here, but I don’t think humans—even former humans—are like us. They can’t separate feeding from sex. I figured Aden would appreciate a female.”
“No. Yes. He’s mine.” A pause. “Well, he was. Now…he pushed me away. Twice. Did you see him push me away?”
“Yeah, I did, but he loves you, Vic. You know that.”
Did he? Aden wondered. Even though he didn’t like her at the moment? Because, as he knew, you didn’t have to like someone to love them. A lesson he’d learned as a child, when his parents had him committed, then walked away and never looked back.
He hadn’t liked them, might even have hated them, but even still, he’d loved them. At least at first. But as the days had passed in a medicated haze, as other patients beat him up and called him names, that love had withered, leaving only the hate. Then, the hate, too, had left him, and he simply hadn’t cared. He’d had the souls.
His souls. Where were his souls? They weren’t chattering, and he couldn’t feel them in the back of his mind. Did Victoria have them?
No longer was she watching him. Her gaze had moved just over his shoulder, perhaps even outside the room. Her eyes were as blue as before, no longer mixed with green, brown and gray. No, the souls were not inside her head.
They must be in his, and the medication must have put them to sleep. Another reason to dislike Victoria. The souls were his best friends, and a few times over the years, they’d been his only reason to live. They despised his medication and would not be happy when they woke up. She’d known that, yet she’d forced the pills down his throat anyway.
“Yes,” Victoria finally said. “He loves me. I know it.”
She did? She was a step ahead of him, then. Once, he had loved her; he knew that much. And why wouldn’t he have? She was flawless, a walking fantasy. But what did he really know about her?
Bad—to her, humans were nothing more than food. Bad—she could enslave with a single bite. Good—she cared about her family. Bad—her father wanted to kill him. Good—she knew he was different than other humans and vampires, and she liked him anyway. Bad—she was insensitive to humans and their needs. Good—she was trying to be sensitive to humans and their needs.
During their one and only date, she had danced around him, telling jokes. Lame ones, but she’d been trying. For him. Trying to be what she thought he wanted and needed. So, yes, he had loved her. But now? He couldn’t summon a single spark or hint of softness.
Oh, the attraction was still there. He wanted to push the human away and fall on the vampire. He wanted his teeth in her neck and his body pinning hers. He wanted her hands on him, and her mouth on him, and he wanted her gasping his name.
Even as the thoughts drifted through his head, images formed. Of her, of him, of the two of them together, doing exactly what he wanted. What he wanted so badly he was actually growling, the guttural sound rising in his throat and spilling into the bedroom, echoing menacingly between them.
Victoria must have assumed the growl was for the human. Suddenly she vibrated with anger and concern. He could actually taste the emotions in the air, and they had him sucking at the human with renewed fervor.
Strength was infusing his cells. His muscles were expanding, his bones humming. And, wow. If this human female affected him so powerfully, how would the vampire affect him?
“Okay, enough.” Riley strode to the bed, grabbed the human, and jerked her away from him. “Leave,” the wolf told the girl.
“I…I…” She swayed. “Yes, of course.” Then footsteps sounded, the slam of a door.
“Victoria.” When the wolf stretched a hand out to the vampire, Aden jumped to his feet and moved between them, preventing contact. An instinctive urge to protect what was his.
“Are you thinking to fight me or her?” Riley asked, seemingly unconcerned by either choice.
“Neither.” Both. He might not like Victoria, but he still wanted her. He didn’t want anyone else to have her. The impulse…the two needs…warring…what the hell was wrong with him? He was like two different people.
“O-kay. Why are your claws out?”
Claws? Aden looked down, and sure enough, his nails had lengthened and sharpened, little daggers tipping his fingers. He should be freaked out but could only lift his hands to the light, studying this newest development. “How is this possible?”
Riley blew out a breath and said, “Either you’re changing into a vampire slowly, one modification at a time, or you’re the first human-vamp hybrid. To my knowledge. Now, are you going to back off or do I have to make you?”
A little bark of amusement escaped him. Little, yes, but amusement all the same. “You could try.”
Clearly not the response the wolf had expected. He blinked, shook his head. “Look, we’ll come back to the male pissing contest in a second. There’s something wrong with you, and I don’t know how deep the problem goes. So we’re gonna have a little chat and find out.”