Now, she was paying for her actions. She might continue to pay until Aden accidentally killed her—or until she killed him. A life for a life. Wasn’t that how the universe worked?
This time, he expected to die from the inferno Victoria’s blood was creating inside him. Instead, he found himself…calming. Not just calming, but thriving, his limbs growing stronger, his bones vibrating with energy, his muscles flexing with purpose.
This had never happened during a feeding. Wasn’t supposed to happen now. They drank, they fought and they passed out. He didn’t recharge like a battery.
When the blood on her tongue dried up—far too soon—he was reminded of his need, need, need now, and he stopped worrying about the repercussions, stopped caring about his reactions.
“More?” she asked, breath emerging shallowly. Her nails were leaving track marks down his nape and along his shoulders. The hunger must be coming upon her, too.
Even without her monster, the beating heart of her vampire nature and the driving force of Aden’s new menu selection, she craved blood. Maybe because it was all she’d ever known. Maybe because she was as addicted as he was.
Once again she razed her tongue against her fangs. A new wound opened up. Blood welled, though not as much and not as quickly. Still he sucked and sucked and sucked.
Not enough, not enough, never enough.
Within seconds the blood stopped leaking. He didn’t want to hurt her, couldn’t let himself hurt her, but he found himself biting her tongue; unlike her skin, this flesh was soft and malleable. She moaned, but not in pain. He’d accidentally cut his tongue, too, and his blood was trickling into her mouth.
“More,” she said, a demand now.
His hands tangled in the silky length of her hair, fisted. He angled her head, allowing deeper access for them both. So good.
She’d once told him humans died when vampires attempted to turn them. She’d also mentioned that the vampires attempting the turning died as well. At the time, he hadn’t understood why.
Now, he understood—but the knowledge cost him.
When she’d taken what remained of his blood and poured her own straight into his mouth, they’d done more than swap DNA, more than trade his souls for her monster. They’d swapped and traded everything. Memories, likes, dislikes, abilities and desires, back and forth, back and forth, until he sometimes couldn’t tell what was his and what was hers.
Had he once been whipped with a cat-o’-nine-tails? Had he once drained a human to death? Had he once stumbled upon a sick shape-shifting bear clan and doctored them to health?
A muted rumble—a yawn?—in the back of his mind claimed his attention. The monster. Actually, demon was a better description for Chompers. Aden felt utterly possessed by him. A feeling he should have been used to. Only, Chompers was nothing like the souls—he wasn’t affable like Julian, perverted like Caleb, or caring like Elijah. Chompers thought only of blood and pain. The taking of blood—and the giving of pain.
When he took over, Aden became more predator than man. He hated himself as much as he hated Victoria. Which was surreal. Chompers adored Aden. He truly did. He enjoyed being inside Aden’s mind and didn’t fight to leave him as he’d always fought Victoria. But even still, Chompers had a violent temperament, and that violent temperament demanded its due.
Sometimes Aden and Victoria switched back, the souls returning to him, Chompers returning to her. They would quickly switch again, however. And again and again and again. And each time edged them closer and closer to insanity. Too many memories swirling together, too many conflicting needs. One day soon, they would tumble off that edge completely.
“Aden,” Victoria said, panting, his name broken. “I must…have to…”
He knew what came next.
She angled his head, just as he’d done to her, and a moment later, her mouth left his. He didn’t like that. Her fangs sank into his jugular. He didn’t like that, either, and hissed out a breath. Once upon a time, her bite had felt good. In her mindless state of hunger, she’d lost her finesse, and those fangs sliced into a tendon. He didn’t try to stop her, though. She needed to drink just as much as he did.
Footsteps echoed through their cave, resonating like a buzzer.
Aden didn’t panic. Victoria could teleport anywhere she’d been before, had even whisked them here the night of his stabbing. He didn’t know where “here” was, or when she’d visited, he knew only that hikers occasionally wandered inside. None had ever traveled this far and this deep, and he doubted that would change.
He and Victoria could have gone somewhere else, he supposed, somewhere even more remote. Might have been safer, being as far away from civilization as possible. There was a target on Aden’s back, after all, Victoria’s father having come back from the dead to reclaim his throne. Or rather, Vlad the Impaler was trying to reclaim the throne.
Aden might be human—emphasis on might—but he was now the vampire king. He’d killed for the right to rule. So, he would be reclaiming the throne. Just as soon as he could wean himself from Victoria’s blood.
His thoughts, he wondered, or the monster’s?
His, he decided next. Had to be his. He wanted to be king as intently as he wanted to feed.
You didn’t before. In fact, he’d been on the hunt for a replacement.
That was before. Besides, there at the end, I had started to make plans for my people. His people?
That was the adrenaline talking.
Yeah? And this is me talking—shut up.
Victoria ripped her fangs from his neck and hissed at the only entrance to the cavern. Normally, if she were lucid, she would simply compel visitors away before they could step inside. Her voice was powerful, and no one human could resist doing what she commanded. Except Aden. He must have built up an immunity to that voice, because she could no longer work her magic on him. She’d tried, here in the cave, every time the madness had come upon her. Tilt your head, offer your neck… Yet he’d done only what he wanted.
“If the human comes any closer, I will eat his liver and rip out his heart,” she snarled.
A threat she wouldn’t see through, Aden didn’t think. These past few days—years?—she craved only Aden’s blood, as he craved only hers. He could always smell the hikers the moment they entered the winding maze of the caves, just as he knew Victoria could, but the thought of drinking from one of them, even to save his life, caused acid and bile to churn in his stomach. And yet, they were the reason he stayed in this location. If he or Victoria ever needed someone else’s blood, whether they wanted it or not, they could get it.
Footsteps, closer and closer still, hurried now, determined. “Is someone back there?” The man’s voice was slightly accented. Spanish, perhaps. “I mean you no harm. I heard voices and thought you might need some help.”
Victoria was off the dais, and a second later Aden was smashing face-first into the thin T-shirt she’d used as a cushion. A tall, lanky man with dark hair and skin, perhaps forty years old, stepped into their private sanctuary. Victoria latched onto the human’s shirt, moving so swiftly Aden saw only a blur. The guy’s backpack rattled against his canteen of water. With a flick of her wrist—see?—she flung him deeper inside.
He landed with a hard thud, skidding backward until he hit the wall. Instinctively he rolled and sat up. Confusion and fear battled for supremacy in his expression.
“What—” He held out his hands in a protective gesture.
Another blur of motion, and Victoria was crouched in front of him, gripping his chin. Aden’s blood dripped from the corners of her mouth. That jet-black hair was a wild tangle around her head, and her fangs extended past her upper lip, cutting into the bottom one. She was a hauntingly lovely sight, as nightmarish as she was angelic.
Little beads of sweat broke out over the man’s brow. His eyes widened, fear finally winning and glazing his irises. His chest rose and fell quickly, shallowly, his breath wheezing from his nostrils.
“I—I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to…will leave…never tell…swear…just let me go…please, please.”
Victoria continued to study him as if he were a rat in a wheel.
“Tell him to go away,” Aden said. “Tell him to forget.” She would despise herself if she hurt an innocent human. One day. Not today, probably not tomorrow, but one day, when their wits returned.
Silence. Her fingers tightened on the man. So much so, he grimaced in pain, bruises already branching along his jaw.
Aden opened his mouth to issue another command, but in the back of his mind, he heard another rumble. Stronger this time, more than a yawn. Every muscle in his body tensed.
A sense of urgency filled Aden. “Victoria. Now! Or I swear I’ll never feed you again.”
Another beat of silence, then, “You will go away,” she said, thrums of subdued power wafting from her voice. Why subdued? “You saw no one, spoke to no one.”
Unlike before, several seconds passed before the human responded to her command. In the end, his brown eyes dulled, and his pupils contracted. “No trouble,” he said in a monotone. “Leave. No one.”
“Good,” she said, anger pulsing from her now. Her arm fell to her side. “Go. Before it’s too late.”
He stood. Walked to the entrance. Exited without looking back. He would never know how close he’d come to dying.
The rumble in Aden’s head intensified yet again. Any moment now, and the rumble would become—
So loud, consuming, rocking him to his soul. Aden covered his ears, hoping to block the sound, even though he knew how ineffective the action was. Louder and louder, the roar became a scream, high-pitched, slashing through his mind like a razor until his thoughts broke apart and two words hacked their way to center stage.