No, no, no. I did feed, he said to Chompers. Let’s not—
The spiderwebs returned to his vision, interspaced with red. Both zeroed in on Victoria. Still she crouched, her gaze leveled on him, wary. She knew what would happen next.
Yes. Aden rolled from the rocky dais and settled his weight on unsteady legs. Victoria unfolded to her full height, reed slender and lovely. Wild. Her hands curled into fists. He’d just eaten, true, but he needed more. Had to have more.
“Feed,” he heard himself say, two voices layered together, one familiar, the other smoky and harsh. Fight this, he had to fight this. Couldn’t let Chompers tug his puppet strings.
A whimper escaped Victoria as she scratched at her ears. The souls must be waking up. He knew how loud their voices could be. As loud as Chompers’ roar.
“Protect,” she said, her eyes suddenly sparkling with brown, green and blue. Oh, yes. The souls were in there, chattering.
Protect her, as she’d said. He must protect her. But he ground out, “Destroy.” And even though he tried to root his feet into the floor, he found himself stalking toward her, his mouth watering.
Chompers had always been insistent. But this…this was savagery at its most basic.
Somehow, some way, Aden’s time with Victoria was about to come to an end—the knowledge was suddenly as much a part of him as his healed heart—and he had a feeling only one of them would be walking away.
VICTORIA TEPES, DAUGHTER of Vlad the Impaler and one of the three princesses of Wallachia, braced herself for impact. Good thing. A split second later, Aden slammed into her, knocking her into the same cave wall against which she’d thrown the human. Goodbye, beloved oxygen.
There was no time to refill her lungs, either. One of Aden’s hands closed around her neck and squeezed. Not enough to damage her but enough to trap her. He was fighting the monster’s urges with every bit of his strength, she knew. Otherwise he would have already crushed her.
Soon, he would lose the battle.
Anger would have helped her push him away, but she couldn’t summon a single spark of it. She had done this to him, and the guilt ate at her, a malignant cancer without a cure. He’d told her not to try and save him. He’d told her bad things would happen if she did. But as she’d peered down at the boy she’d come to love, the one person who had ever accepted her for who and what she was without any strings or expectations, she hadn’t been able to let him go. She’d thought, He’s mine, I need him.
So, before death could claim him, she’d acted. She still didn’t regret what she’d done—how could she? He was here!—and that was why the guilt had chewed such a big hole in her. Her Aden had to abhor what he was becoming. Aggressive, domineering…a warrior without a soul.
Normally he was gentle with her, treating her like a precious treasure, a need to safeguard her somehow hardwired into his brain. Even though she could rip him apart in seconds. Or rather, could have ripped him apart. More than changing mentally, he was changing physically. Already he was taller, stronger, quicker—and he’d been tall, strong and quick to begin with.
His eyes, usually a collage of glittering colors as the souls he (once) possessed peered through them, were now the startling shade of a violet. “Thirsty,” he rasped, and she would have sworn she felt the singe of smoke wafting from him.
Isn’t this just a peach, a male voice piped up inside her head. We’re with the vamp again. And there was Julian, the corpse whisperer. He could raise the dead. So far, however, all he’d raised was her blood pressure.
Sweet! Hey Vicki. Another voice immediately joined the conversation. You should take a shower. You know, get that blood cleaned off you. And remember to scrub really hard. Everywhere. Cleanliness is next to godliness. This one belonged to Caleb, the body possessor and naked-curves aficionado.
“Let me take over Aden’s body,” she said. She’d seen him step into and disappear inside other people, snapping up the reins of command. Just boom, one second he was there, and the next he was a part of them, forcing them to do whatever he wanted.
He no longer needed Caleb’s help to perform the task. He could control the ability, turning it on and off at will. Not her, though. She’d tried multiple times and failed miserably. Maybe because the souls were not a natural extension of her being. Maybe because they were new to her, there was a certain way to deal with them, and she hadn’t yet found that way. Maybe because they constantly fought her. Whatever the reason, she needed their…gag…permission to use them.
A chorus of No, no, no, rang out. As always.
“I’ll be careful with him,” she added. “I’ll force him to sit still until the madness passes.” If she could. Sometimes the madness overtook her, and she forgot her purpose.
Nope, sorry. The guys and I—wait, the guys and me—wait, how do you say that properly?
Anyway, Caleb went on smoothly, we talked, and we’re not gonna help you use us. That might create a permanent connection, you know? Like a bond. You’re hot, and I’d love to bond with you, and in fact, I voted in your favor, but majority rules and we’re not staying any longer than necessary. Now about that shower…
“Congratulations on your little talk. If he’s hurt, you have only yourselves to blame.”
No, we’ll know who to blame. Because you’re right. This will not end well, Elijah, the death predictor, suddenly chimed in. He never had anything good to say. At least, not to her. Caleb snorted. Bite your tongue, E. Showers always end well if you know what you’re doing.
Aden shook her, his grip tightening in a demand for her attention. “Thirsty,” he repeated, clearly expecting her to do something about it.
“I know.” So. She was on her own. Foolish souls. Not only did they refuse to help her, they stole her concentration, preventing her from helping herself. “But you can’t drink from me. I haven’t yet fully recovered from the last time.” Especially considering last time had happened roughly five minutes ago. He shouldn’t have been this desperate.
“Listen to me, Aden. This isn’t you, but Chompers.” Such a silly name for such a ferocious beast. “Fight him. You have to keep fighting him.”
You won’t get through to him, Elijah told her. The soul’s new nickname, she decided—The Good News Bear. I’ve seen this encounter play out. Aden’s lost in there.
“Oh, just shut up!” she snapped. “I don’t need your commentary. And you know what else? You’ve been wrong before! Aden didn’t die after he was stabbed. Either time!”
Yes, and look where that got you both.
A flicker of sympathy in those petal-toned eyes before the cold, frothing hunger returned. “Thirsty. Drink. Now.” Aden flashed his teeth at her just before diving for her neck. On some level, he knew he couldn’t reach her vein, but at this stage, that never stopped him from trying.
Victoria gripped him by the hair and flung him. Gentle, gentle. He flew across the cave into the far wall, and she winced. Oops. Dust and debris exploded around him, drifting to her as he slid to the ground. She sucked in a much-needed breath, then had to cough to clear her throat of the rubble.
Hey! Be careful with our boy, Julian commanded. I plan to move back inside him, you know.
“I’m trying to be careful,” she wanted to scream. How had Aden dealt with these beings all his life? They chattered constantly, commenting on everything. Julian found fault with her every action, Caleb took nothing seriously and Elijah was the biggest downer of all time.
To be honest, she would have more fun overdosing on sedatives than speaking to him.
Where were human junkies when you needed to top yourself off?
Aden stood, his gaze locked on her.
How can I stop him without harming him? She’d wondered this a thousand times before, but the solution had never come to her. Surely there was a way to facilitate—
Hey, I kinda feel funny, Caleb announced, his voice booming as if there had never been anyone or anything more important than him and his feelings in the history of the world.
Will you give it a rest? You’ve got a funny feeling in your invisible pants and the only way to fix you is for Victoria to undress. We know! Julian snapped. Why don’t you do our boy Aden a solid and stop trying to play Naughty Shower Time with his girlfriend?
Victoria clawed at her ears, trying to reach the souls and finally kill them. They were so loud. So there, like shadows slinking through her skull, untouchable, darting just out of reach every time she closed in.
No, I’m not horny. A laborious pause. Well, I am, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now. I…I think I’m…dizzy.
Caleb was telling the truth. That dizziness was now spilling into her, and she wavered on her feet.
Hey, Julian said a second later. Me, too. What did you do to us, princess?
Of course he blamed her, even though it wasn’t her fault. The dizziness always hit them a few minutes before they returned to Aden, and they were always surprised.
Here comes Aden, Elijah warned her. I hope you’re prepared for the changes about to unfold. I know I’m not.
“I’m not the—” The scent of Aden’s blood hit her first, potent and tantalizing, making her mouth water, reminding her of her body’s needs. Then, suddenly, she was falling, hard hands pushing her down. Cold rock scraped against her back, and she gasped out the rest of her sentence “—enemy.”
“Feed.” Aden’s weight pinned her, his teeth chewing at her neck a moment later. She latched onto his hair again, but this time, when she tugged, he bit down harder—into her vein. Her skin actually split open.