Perhaps that was a good thing.
That better not mean we’re going to die soon. Really die, I mean, Julian replied, and if he’d had a body he would have been pacing. Or that we’re gonna wake up back inside the vamp. I like her and everything, when she’s not going for our jugular, but come on. A guy needs to be a guy.
Nothing wrong with the vamp, Caleb said, piping up for the first time. Like Elijah, he yawned. No offense, Aden, but she’s hotter than you.
A milk jug is hotter than our Ad, Julian said with a snicker.
Why don’t you sound happy? Julian asked, pouting now. More important question—why didn’t you laugh at my amazing joke?
And why are you so…cold inside? Caleb asked. Seriously, it’s like a meat locker in here.
Meat locker? When his skin felt molten? “I’m fine. And I don’t know.”
I might. What do you remember about your last hour inside that cave with Victoria? Elijah asked. Think for a minute, okay, then you can go back to doing whatever it is you’re doing.
“Why do you want to know?”
Please. Just do what I told you.
Not an answer, but fine. Whatever. “All right.” Arguing required too much energy. So he thought about it, replaying the events through his head. He’d just bitten Victoria. Just drank from her. She’d just bitten and drunk from him. That hadn’t been enough for either of them. They’d fought, tossing each other around like rag dolls, both lost to a hunger that never seemed to be satisfied.
The dancing woman laughed, and Aden wanted to look at her, to see her face softened by humor, but forced himself to concentrate, thinking back…back. The cave. Victoria. The fighting had stopped, and they’d faced off. She’d…glowed. Yes, he remembered now. A glorious golden glow had seeped from her pores, so bright he hadn’t been able to look at her. Seeing it, Chompers had gone crazy inside his head, wanting out, desperate to protect him, sensing a predator far stronger than himself was about to be unleashed.
Then, Chompers had gotten his wish. He’d emerged from Aden’s body, solidified into dragon form and attacked. Aden had shouted, racing forward, afraid for his girl, willing to throw himself in front of Victoria to save her from being clamped between those too-strong jaws. Only, Victoria had stretched out her hands. The glow had lanced away from her body and into Chompers, knocking him backward, pinning him to the cave wall.
Victoria had turned her attention to Aden. Again the glow had lanced from her, then slammed into him. He, too, had been thrown backward, pinned on the opposite side, as far away from Chompers as possible. She had closed the distance between them.
Her eyes, usually blue, had then been filled with lavender ice chips and devoid of any emotion. She’d looked him over from head to toe, taking his measure.
A pause. Aden had tried to breathe, couldn’t breathe. The energy, or whatever she’d thrown at him, had been tightening its hold on him, shoving his ribs into his lungs, piercing the membrane. Pain had shot through him.
She’d blinked at him, as if she’d heard him but hadn’t quite understood him. “Victoria.”
She’d opened her mouth to speak. Had spoken. He’d heard the words. Or should have. The sounds she’d made, they’d been—
Enough! Elijah shouted inside Aden’s head, drowning out everything else.
Aden sucked in a breath, suddenly back in the present, the past fading, gone.
That’s enough, Elijah said again, calm this time.
“You wanted me to think back,” Aden said, confused. “I did. You should have let the scene play until the end.” He wanted to know what Victoria had said—and who had been speaking through her. Because that had not been her voice. Too raw, too guttural. Too animalistic.
What are you talking about? What scene? I didn’t see anything, Julian groused.
Me, either, Caleb said. What happened?
Nothing, Elijah lied. Leave it alone, Aden. You saw all that you needed to see. Frankly, I didn’t expect you to remember that much.
Another lie? Elijah never lied. What was going on? “Then why did you have me think back?”
I just wanted you to know that Victoria didn’t hurt you on purpose.
Was that why he’d been wondering if he even liked her? Because of something she’d done in the cave? Something he couldn’t remember? Or hadn’t yet remembered.
He pursed his lips. His past was there, all of it, every memory accessible, but those memories weren’t the main focus of his mind. He had to actively consider something—like what had happened in the cave—before the event crystallized.
After all the blood exchanges, Victoria left pieces of herself inside you. Her past, her thoughts and desires. Or rather, former thoughts and desires. They seem like yours now.
“That can’t be right. Earlier I wondered if I even liked her.”
And once upon a time, she didn’t like herself.
“I want to kill her father. She loved her father.”
She’s wanted to harm him many times over the past few decades. He wasn’t always nice to her, you know. But Aden? You’re still here, too. The desire to harm him could very well spring from deep inside you.
Pieces of Victoria’s psyche. Inside him. Driving him, changing him. Right or wrong? True or false? “How do you know this?”
I’m all-knowing, remember? The self-deprecating tone held a layer of truth and dread. “Not anymore. Remember?”
The dancing woman stopped, laughed, such a tinkling sound—he loved that sound, hated that sound—and pushed back her hood to look directly at him. Her face was lovely, delicate and hauntingly sweet.
“There you are, my darling. What are you doing, sitting so far away? Come and dance with me.”
Darling? Oh, yes, he knew her. Should know her, but still couldn’t quite place her. His brain kept getting caught up on the words mother and exasperating. She wasn’t his mother—was she?—and he wasn’t sure why she exasperated him.
“I don’t know how to dance,” he told her.
He blinked in confusion. She wanted to take the blame for his lack of skill?
If you get up and dance right now, I’ll never forgive you, Caleb said. You’ll look like an idiot, and in turn make us look like idiots.
You’re unwillingness to groove surprises me, C-man. Julian chuckled. Flailing around would probably look like some kind of mating ritual, luring the ladies. Or something.
Aden. Dude. If you’re thinking about dancing, you should just get up and dance. Caleb’s abrupt switch was almost comical. It’s all about the bump and grind.
Another tinkling laugh, and the woman pulled her hood back up. “Very well, my darling, be that way. I’ll dance on my own.” The twirling started up again. “But you’re missing out, I promise you.”
“Aden.” The pureness of Victoria’s voice captured his attention. “You summoned me?”
He forced himself to look up. She stood just off to the side, the wolves flanking her. The sun framed her, creating an angelic halo around her. She’d pulled her dark hair into a ponytail and wore a black robe, as usual, only this one boasted long sleeves and a coarser, thicker material. She looked…human, so beautifully human, her cheeks and nose a bright pink, her eyes watering from the cold.
“Do you know that woman?” He motioned to where—she was gone. The dancing female had spun her way out of the backyard.
“Never mind.” The scent of her hit him, as sweet as she looked. Gums, throbbing. Teeth, aching. Mouth, watering.
And wouldn’t you know it? The buzzing returned to his head, followed by a muted cry. The same muted cry he’d heard last night. Small, almost whining. Grumbling for attention. Like a newborn baby.
What was that? Julian demanded.
“Probably just echoes from before, in the cave,” he said, the words slurred. God. His tongue felt as big as a golf ball. His gaze latched onto Victoria’s thumping pulse. Mmm.
This is dangerous, Elijah said. Look away from her. You can’t drink from her. What if you become addicted to her again?
Or worse, what if there’s another switch and we end up back inside her? Julian’s fear was palpable.
Am I the only one with a sense of adventure? Caleb asked. Do it! Drink her!
Ignore him. Drink from someone else, Elijah com manded.
But…Aden didn’t want to drink from anyone else, even though his stomach was twisting painfully, even though he’d decided to send Victoria away.
His hunger must have overridden his good sense because he now wanted to keep her with him. And what he wanted, he got. Always. Sighing, he stood and held out his hand, another plaintive cry resounding in his head before he could speak.
Seriously, what is that? Julian’s fear gave way to irritation. Caleb, are you acting like a brat again, pretending to be a baby?
You know I hold my breath to get what I want. I don’t whine.
Uh, hate to break it to you, but you don’t have any breath, Elijah said.
And yet it works for me. Why would I change my methods?
Aden tuned them out as best he could. “Walk with me,” he said to Victoria. She hadn’t taken his hand, was merely peering down at it, unsure.
Hope flickered in her blue, blue eyes as she glanced up. “Really?”
As I was saying earlier, you do like her, Elijah said, voice pushing through his mental blocks. Don’t forget that. Any negative feelings toward her are not your own. Okay? Yes?
Victoria placed her hand in his, and ignoring the souls was no longer an issue. The princess became his sole focus.
Her scent did more than envelop him, it invaded him, consumed him, and his mouth watered a little more. Just then, he really liked her. Her softness, her warmth—not hot, not anymore, but warm and sweet. Her…everything.