“Scout ahead and make sure we’ll be alone,” he commanded the wolves before leading Victoria out of the backyard and into the forest. They bounded in front of him and soon disappeared. No howls of warning were forthcoming, so he continued on.

What he would do with Victoria, well, he wasn’t sure about that, either. But they would find out together. For better or worse.

WAS THIS WALK FOR business or pleasure?

Victoria strolled hand in hand with Aden for a long while, just as they’d done before The Incident, as she was now calling their last minutes in the cave, silent—if she didn’t count the now-constant, though gradually quieting, roaring in the back of her head—moving farther and farther away from the mansion. And protection.

She’d never feared Aden before, and really, she didn’t fear him now. It was just, he was so different, she didn’t know what to expect from him. At least she’d been smart enough to choose a winter robe to somewhat fight the early morning chill. Something she’d never had to do before. In fact, she’d had to borrow the stupid, constrictive thing from a human blood-slave.

Weather had never before mattered to her. Temperature had never before mattered. Now, she was freakishly cold. All. The. Time. She’d tossed and turned all night, shivering, her teeth chattering.

“I like it out here,” Aden said.

Casual conversation. Fabulous. “I’m surprised.” The trees were sparse, their limbs gnarled, offering very little shade overhead. Not that Victoria needed much shade. Her now vulnerable skin loved the sun, soaking in every ray, though still not warming her.

“Yeah. No prying eyes, nowhere for anyone to hide.”

His honesty relaxed her enough to leave her smiling. “Just warn me if you decide to attack.”

Goodbye relaxation. Tensing, she waited for him to pounce. When he didn’t, she cleared her throat and asked, “Hungry for human food or for blood?”

“Blood.” The word was as slurred as before, when he’d been staring at her pulse.

If that was the only reason he’d asked her to walk with him, she’d…she didn’t know what she’d do. What she did know—the thought hurt with the same jolting force as a car slamming into her and angered with a flash of fire usually found only in hearths. To calm herself, she breathed in and out, distantly heard the rattle of locusts and the call of the birds.

“Before you drink from anyone else, I need to teach you how to eat.” Good. No hurt, no anger.

“I think I know how to drink,” he said dryly.

“Properly?” Because what they’d done in the cave didn’t count.

“Veins and arteries taste different. Arteries are sweeter, but they’re deeper and harder for humans to heal, so you go for them only if you want to kill. And each vein tastes different, too. The ones in the neck are deoxygenated, so they have a little bit of a—‘delicious’—fizz to them, but if you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll, what? Kill.”

“I knew that,” he said, then thought for a moment. He nodded. “Yes, I knew that.”

She didn’t ask whether he’d learned from her memories, as she had learned a few things from his, or if he’d learned on his own, like, say, sometime during the night, while they’d been apart and she’d had no idea what he was doing. Some things you were better off not knowing.

“Well, either way, you can’t drink from me.” So there!

The frown Aden leveled on her was all about intimidation. “I know I shouldn’t drink from you, but why are you so against it?”

Because he would find out how vulnerable she was. Because his still-human teeth would cut through her skin without any problem and probably damage her. Because she might like it more than he did.

Because she might now become addicted to his bite.

The way that blood-slave had reacted to him, all pleasure and delight and eagerness, meant that even without fangs, he now produced the chemical needed to intoxicate.

Oh, yeah. She hadn’t yet answered. What should she say? “I just don’t want you to,” she finally lied. Time to change the subject. “So…did you drink from anyone last night or this morning?”

The moment she asked, and so snappily, too, she wished she hadn’t. Finally she understood what he had gone through every time he’d thought of her mouth pressed into someone else, their blood filling her up. How he’d hated it but had had to accept it, because she’d needed to drink from others to survive.

She despised the thought of him drinking from someone else. Despised the thought of his teeth inside some other girl’s vein. And yes, she wanted to kill the stupid girl!

Stupid—because anyone who messed with Victoria’s boyfriend deserved what she got.

Who are you?

And was he still her boyfriend?

“I haven’t drunk from anyone. Yet. I’ll find someone,” he replied, completely unaware—or unconcerned—with her rising anger. “When I’m ready.” He flicked her a glance, his gaze dropping straight to her neck, tracking her pulse like the predator he’d become.

Perhaps she was the stupid one, because she tossed her hair over one shoulder, offering him an irresistible view. Trying to tempt him, Vic?

Fine. Yes. I am trying to tempt him. He’s mine!

And now she was talking to herself. The day improved by the minute. “Have you fed today?” he asked in that casual tone.

Disappointment crashed through her. So much for tempting him. “Yes. Of course, I have.”

His eyes narrowed, creating tiny slits where each individual lash was visible and his violet eyes were able to laser down at her. Violet eyes? Again? “On who?” he demanded.

On what was a more fitting question. For the first time in ever, she’d eaten food. Real food, with weird textures and flavors she’d before tasted only in liquid nutrient form. As of last night, her need for blood had begun to dwindle. Oh, she still craved it (kind of), still needed it (sort of), but she also needed something else. Something solid.

She’d had to sneak down to the slave quarters and raid their fridge. She could have gone to the wolf quarters, but they would have scented her out and known she’d been there, and she’d rather avoid a conversation about her new eating habits.

She hadn’t known what to pick, so she’d hidden two balls of cheese in her robe—her breasts had looked so perky and large!—snuck back to her room, and nibbled on them, surprised by how much she enjoyed the rich, smoky flavor.

Maybe her declining interest in blood was the reason Chompers wouldn’t shut up. He was the reason she still needed to drink, after all, and since she hadn’t fed him breakfast, he was probably starving. Poor guy.

Her wards were in place, so that wasn’t the issue. Before, with her vampire skin, those wards had lasted a few weeks, no longer, and she’d had to re-ink them. She’d had these new ones for four days and they hadn’t even begun to fade.

Right. She had to stop retreating into her own head. “Uh, you don’t know him.” Truth. Cheese came from cows, and there was no way Aden had met this particular cow.

“Tell me his name anyway.”

“So you can kill him?” she asked hopefully. Soliciting a massacre wasn’t her objective, but a jealous Aden was a caring Aden.

“Never mind.” He waved away her reply. “It doesn’t matter.”

Something vibrated against her side, and she yelped. Aden glanced down at her, confused and maybe just a little concerned. Hopes reignited.

A yo-yo, that’s what she was.

“I think—” Another vibration, another yelp. What the—her phone, she realized with relief. Only her phone. “Yes, I’m fine.”

She stuffed her free hand into the robe’s only pocket and withdrew the small, plastic devise. She’d started to carry one after meeting Aden, so that he could call if he needed her. So far, he hadn’t called, but Riley was certainly taking advantage. His number was different every time, the little thief, but his message was always the same. How many This is bullshit! texts could she get from him?

“A message from Riley,” she said. “Give me a sec. I have to reply.”

This is bullshit! she read. Got MA 2 safety & T is about 2 ruin it.

T. Tucker. Victoria hated Tucker. After releasing Aden’s hand—which she hated to do—she typed, Kill him. Make it hurt. In her haste, she typed “hart” but didn’t realize until too late.

“How is he?” Aden asked. He wound his arm around her waist, guiding her out of the way of trees as her attention wavered between her phone and what was ahead of her. Well, well. While the hand-holding had been as delightful as finding a rainbow, this was like finding the pot of gold at the end of it. She absorbed his heat, felt her cells waking up, responding to him.

“Good.” Another vibration and she read, Hart? Ha! CID. Soon. SOB’s helping 2. Another vibration, a new text. How’s BK doing?

BK. Boy King. Riley had started calling Aden by the stupid nickname in earlier texts and hadn’t stopped. On mend.

Ask him if the name Tyson means anything.

“Does the name Tyson mean anything to you?”

We’ll talk about it later. Call if u need me.

I’ll call when Tuck has bled out.

Her lips twitched as she returned the phone to her pocket.