He looked like a bad boy, he wondered, leaning into her touch, hoping it would deepen.

Kiss her, Caleb prompted. Now, now, now! Before the mood is tainted.

For once, I gotta agree with the pervert, Julian said. French that girl within an inch of her life.

Before Aden realized he’d moved, his hands were on her waist, drawing her closer to him. Automatically his gaze dropped to her neck, to her hammering pulse. A high-pitched roar, similar to what he’d heard outside, only a bit louder now, suddenly echoed inside his head.

Victoria noticed the direction of his gaze. “You need to feed or you’ll be too weak to survive tomorrow.”

I’ll do more than survive. He hoped. “You offering?”

“N-no.” She gulped, sending a shiver down the rest of her body. “Aden, you have to stop this.”

Nooo! Caleb cried, and Aden’s fingers clenched on Victoria, making her wince. I’ve missed her.

“That’s enough,” Aden snapped at him. “Loosen your hold, and give me a minute.”

His nod was clipped, scattering Caleb’s mutterings. Then the pressure eased and Aden was able to gentle his grip on his own. Caleb kept that up, and something would have to be done. What, though, Aden didn’t know. Other than finding the soul’s way out.

“And no,” Victoria said, picking their conversation up where it had ended, “I didn’t mean I wanted you to stop holding me. Or maybe I did. You want me one minute, you don’t the next, then you want me again, like now, and I can’t keep up. I just—sweet heavens above!”

The innocent curse didn’t surprise him, but the panicked shock bubbling from it did. “What’s wrong?” No one had stepped into the bathroom. No threat had jumped out at them.

She pulled from his hold and withdrew her phone, her hand trembling, her breathing ragged. “Riley just texted, and the vibration freaks me out every time.”

He wanted her back in his arms. “Easy fix. Turn it off vibrate.”

“Sure thing. As soon as I figure out how to do that.” She read the screen, her pale skin tinting with gray. “Will you, uh, excuse me?” She didn’t wait for his reply but raced from the bathroom, throwing over her shoulder, “I’ll send a blood-slave to see to your hunger, maybe the same one from before,” before slamming the door shut behind her.

“Don’t do that,” he called. If she heard him, he didn’t know. Even then, he wanted only Victoria. He strode into the bedroom, but she was already gone.

I can’t believe you let her get away without a goodbye kiss, Caleb whined.

Elijah made a noise that sounded like a cross between a wheeze and a cough. First the hair, and now the kiss. Will you stop already? You’re driving me crazy.

No! This is important.

I shut you down once, Caleb. Don’t make me do it again.

Shut me down? What do you mean? How and when did this alleged shutdown happen? Because Aden can tell you that, of the three of us, I’m the most powerful, and if any shutting down needs to occur, I’ll be the one doing it.

Wait! Hold on a sec. I’m not gonna let this drop. You’re talking about the cave, right? Because the end of our stay is like the same black hole Mary Ann sends us to whenever Aden nears her. Did you do that to us, E? Huh, huh, did you?

What did you do, E? Julian demanded.

For the love of God! “I need Elijah to help me during the battle with Sorin, but if you guys don’t shut up, I’ll find the meds Victoria gave us and send you to a black hole right here and now.”

Fine, be that way, Caleb said.

Thank you, Elijah said.

“Good.” They understood each other.

From the corner of his eye, Aden spotted the dancing woman from this morning gliding toward Victoria’s bed, leaning over. A little girl with long black hair lay there, sleeping. He frowned in confusion. Neither female had been there a moment ago.

She ignored him, saying to the little girl, somehow equally as familiar to him, “Come on now, precious.” She threw a panicked glance over her shoulder. Not at Aden, but at somewhere far, far past him. “We have to leave now. Before he returns.”

The little girl stretched and yawned. “But I don’t want to go,” she said in the sweetest angel voice he’d ever heard.

“If she doesn’t want to go, you’re not taking her.” Aden reached the woman, tried to latch onto her shoulder—but his hand ghosted through her.

AFTER ARRANGING FOR A blood-slave to be sent to Aden, as promised, Victoria locked herself in Riley’s bedroom, knowing no one would enter without permission, and she could have as much privacy as she wanted for as long as she needed.

She hadn’t lied to Aden. Riley had sent her a text. Think we found J’s ID. Being tracked by WBs & FS. Except 4 raging fungus, all good. BK?

J for Julian. WB for witch-bitches. FS for fairy spawn. Raging fungus had to be Tucker. Shocking that Riley hadn’t killed him already. Or maybe not. Mary Ann must have put her dainty foot down, and, lovestruck idiot that he was, Riley caved.

Like Aden used to cave for Victoria. And might again, one day soon, if the looks he’d given her in the bathroom meant anything.

And the Boy King was good. He was finally returning to his normal self. Only, things were about to change for him yet again, and in a way that would hurt him deeply. Because, if Riley and Mary Ann had discovered Julian’s true identity, it was only a matter of time before Aden had to say goodbye to the soul.

She wouldn’t tell him. Not yet. He had too much to worry about already. And that brought her to the other text she’d received, one she hadn’t mentioned.

I’m in the forest. Find me. Sorin.

Her brother wanted to speak with her. Her brother. About building a relationship with her, or about Aden? Or both? Either way, she would be taking a huge risk simply to see him.

Although, on one hand, she might be able to change his mind about the fight. Big might. On the other, he might try to use her to force Aden to back out. Having witnessed his merciless skill with a sword, that seemed more likely. But…

The desire to see him was overwhelming.

She would go see him, she decided, but she would be smart about it. She wouldn’t go alone, and she wouldn’t stay long. Neither of those concessions makes you smart. Didn’t matter. Hope was a silly but completely undeniable thing.

She gathered her sisters as backup and headed outside, careful not to shiver at the sudden drop in temperature.

“I don’t want to meet him,” Lauren said firmly. “I’m only going so I can murder him if he threatens you.” Tall, slender and as blond as Sorin, she wore a skintight black leather halter top and pants. Barbed wire circled both of her wrists. She’d been training to be a warrior her entire life, and she’d killed more witches and fae than the leader of Vlad’s army had. The fact that she was female had kept her from advancing up the ranks. “He had decades to convince Vlad to let us talk to him, years to visit, and he didn’t.”

“You should probably shut up now,” Stephanie said after popping a bubble. Shorter than either Lauren or Victoria, she had long blond hair and moss-green eyes. Rather than traditional vampire garb, she wore a blue tank top and a black micro-mini. The length of her hair was braided and twisted into tiny buns all over her head. “You’re only showing your dumb side.”

“Dumb side! I don’t have a dumb side, and you know it.”

“Ha! I’ve met pet rocks who were smarter than you.”

“Do you want me to murder you, too? Because I will!”

They loved each other, but they also loved to snipe at each other.

Victoria was envious. These two had always possessed the courage to be who and what they wanted to be. But then again, Lauren had been favored by Vlad, and Stephanie’s mother had been the favorite of all his wives. He’d gone easy on both of them. Victoria had not been favored, and her mother had been the most despised, so she’d always borne the brunt of his rage.

She’d tried to please him, as well as her mother, but they’d admired such different traits that, in the end, she hadn’t pleased either of them. Vlad had wanted a fearless soldier who threw herself into every battle; her mother had wanted a sweet-tempered, fun-loving brat. She was neither.

As she made her way through the trees, she endured the bitter cold, savored the scent of the coming storm. The sky was darkening, the clouds growing thick and black. Hadn’t taken long to learn Oklahoma weather could change in the blink of an eye.

Footsteps just ahead, branches slapping together. She and her sisters halted just as her brother’s men stepped forward, forming a circle around them. They were camouflaged so well, she had to stare and stare hard to see them.

Sorin moved from the center of them. “Sisters,” he said with a nod.

With a whoop, Stephanie ran to him. She threw herself in his arms. He caught her, twirling her around. Envy returned, nearly swallowing Victoria whole. The pair had spent time together, that much was obvious. They knew each other, were comfortable with each other, perhaps even loved each other.

Why hadn’t Sorin wanted to spend time with Victoria?

“What are you doing, you cow?” Lauren snarled at the youngest princess. “Get back here before he double-crosses you and you’re watching your head roll away from your body.” Stephanie smirked. Still snuggling in Sorin’s arms, she said, “I’m not the one who failed to visit our brother in secret. And who are you calling a cow, you whale? Have you seen your ass in those pants?” A mocking shudder raked her. “Actually, forget the question. Everyone’s seen your ass in those pants.”