“You’ll tell me if…” she rasped.
If she fed. “I’ll tell you.”
“Promise.” This time he would. He didn’t want her to doubt him, ever. “But let’s try something, okay?”
“If the urge to feed pops up, or if you feel yourself drawing from me, don’t pull away from me.”
“Just listen.” He cupped her jaw, gentle, so gentle. “If that happens, keep doing what you’re doing, stay calm, and just try to stop yourself from feeding.”
“Stay calm. As if that’ll be possible with your life in jeopardy.”
“I honestly think you can stop yourself, that it’s just a matter of control, but we can’t know for sure unless you try.”
She shook her head. “That’s the kind of thing I should practice on others. Not you.”
“Just do what Riley tells you, and you might like the results.”
A snort. “We’re speaking in third person now? Because Mary Ann doesn’t like it.”
“Actually, we’re getting back to our secrets.” He returned his attention to their kiss, and soon she did, too. He didn’t try anything else, even though they’d gone farther than this before, until she was breathing more heavily and moving against him as if she just couldn’t sit still.
He removed his T-shirt, then removed hers and pulled her closer, until their chests were brushing together with every inhalation. He allowed his hands to roam, exploring her. She did the same, sensitizing his skin in the most primal way. Soon he was moaning with every brush of her fingertips.
The few times he heard the hum of a car engine, he would break the kiss long enough to peer out the window, discover the driver was no one important, then dive back in.
Twice, Mary Ann froze on him, every muscle she possessed tensing. Both times occurred sometime after the cars drove past, so he knew they had nothing to do with her reaction, and he wondered if she’d felt herself trying to feed but had stopped herself in time. She must have. Not once did he experience a single flicker of cold. And that’s what happened when a drainer fed. The victim felt cold. A bone-deep cold not even a thick winter coat could warm.
“Riley,” she said, and he knew what that meant. She wanted more.
He gazed around the living room. A couch. Old, torn in several spots. Stained. No way. He wasn’t having sex with her on that couch. Not for the first time. But he wanted her so badly right now, he—
Saw movement. Across the street, in the bushes of another house. Leaves rattling, a glow of orange. The color of confidence and determination. Riley pulled from the kiss and narrowed his focal point. The orange glow was faint, as if concealed by a metaphysical scarf, but it was there all the same.
A girl stood from the center of those bushes. Blonde, familiar. Witch. She held a crossbow, the tip aimed directly at Mary Ann. Riley jolted to his feet, taking Mary Ann with him even while shoving her out of the way.
He was too late. The action had been anticipated.
The witch moved with him, fluidly shifting her aim. The arrow whizzed faster than a blink. Glass shattered, and that arrow slammed into Mary Ann’s back.
She screamed, a high-pitched sound of pain and shock, her eyes flaring wide, her body jolting. She was so close to him, the tip sliced at Riley’s chest. He jerked her to the floor just as another arrow slicked through the now-open window, this one sticking in the far wall.
“What…happened?” She was panting, her words barely audible. Blood poured down her chest and back, soaking her with little crimson rivers. Her aura was blue once again, but fading, the other colors having vanished. Her energy was draining.
“The witches found us.” He never should have discounted their ability to track like the humans. And he never should have kissed Mary Ann. Deep down, he had known the dangers, the risks, but he’d allowed his need of her to persuade him.
This was on him.
He couldn’t shift and hunt the witch-bitches because he couldn’t leave Mary Ann like this. And hell! She should have been protected from mortal injury. She should have started healing already.
He’d warded her for exactly this kind of thing weeks ago. A stabbing, gunshot, arrow, it didn’t matter. She. Should. Heal. But the witch had seen her back, the ward, and had aimed accordingly, hitting her in the one spot guaranteed to prevent her from healing supernaturally: the center of the ward, disrupting the words and negating the inked spell completely.
Just then, Mary Ann was as vulnerable as any other human. Unless…
“Feed off me,” he said, even as he calculated the best escape route. He’d already walked through the place and memorized the exits, but he didn’t know if witches now surrounded the place. If they did, the moment he carried Mary Ann away, they’d start shooting again.
“Yes. You have to. You need to.” If she fed off him, she would be strengthened. He would be weakened, yes, but she could take the witches out in a way he could not. All at once, rather than one at a time. Besides, it was fitting. Her ability to drain was why the enemy had chosen to notch her up with holes. “Feed off me and kill them.”
“No,” she said again, the depths of her stubbornness more apparent than ever.
Done arguing, Riley stripped the rest of the way and shifted into his wolf form, his bones readjusting, fur sprouting from his pores. He was so used to doing this, it felt more like stretching after a nap than actually becoming something new.
He clamped his teeth on Mary Ann’s arm, as gently as he could, which wasn’t much, and forced her to climb onto his back.
Another arrow soared overhead, just missing her.
Hold on tight, he commanded, speaking into her mind as he bounded from the living room.
“O…kay,” she said, her teeth chattering.
He was a stupid idiot fool. She needed what little warmth her clothes would offer, but he couldn’t pull a shirt over her injury and he couldn’t afford to carry the material in his mouth. Currently his teeth were the only weapon he had.
He really could have used Tucker just then. Words he’d never thought to entertain. But an illusion or two would have seriously come in handy.
Left with no other choice, Riley raced out the back door, bursting through the hollowed plywood without pause. He zigzagged off the porch, making himself a harder target to lock onto, and good thing. Arrows rained.
How many witches were out there? More than Jennifer and Marie, he knew that much.
I know, sweetheart. He pushed the words into her head. I’d take your pain into my own body if I could.
An arrow homed in on him and lodged in his front left leg. He snarled at the pain, but didn’t slow and didn’t dare stumble. Mary Ann would have fallen, and he couldn’t allow that. Gravel bit into his paws, making everything worse. A quick search of the area, and he saw eleven auras. All orange, and all faint. They must have bespelled themselves, hoping to hide from him. Well, their spell hadn’t worked fully.
He narrowed his focus on the one farthest from the others and closed in. A blur of motion, never slowing, he raced past the witch and chomped her between his jaws, dragging her along. She struggled against him, but still he didn’t slow. Kept moving, taking both females farther and farther away. Careful, so careful.
Drain her, he commanded Mary Ann. Now!
She must have obeyed, because the witch’s struggles tapered off…stopped completely. She became a limp rag in his mouth, and he spit her out. Still he didn’t slow.
He’d get her somewhere safe and doctor her himself. Then, the hunt would begin. No more letting the witches and the fae chase while he and Mary Ann ran. That had been his biggest mistake, and one he wouldn’t make again.
The hunters were about to become the prey.
TUCKER PERCHED ON THE highest limb of an oak and watched as the wolf absconded with Mary Ann. They left a trail of blood a blind man would spot. The wolf was unsteady and weaving, and Mary Ann limp as a noodle. She wouldn’t last much longer.
The wolf read auras, but Tucker knew the siren’s call of death. No question, Mary Ann was even then swimming out to greet the lyrical grim reaper, and nothing would stop her.
The witch’s aim had been true. Her arrow had sliced through the ward preventing Mary Ann from receiving a mortal wound. The location alone was damaging, but the blood loss would be more so.
Wards worked—until they were closed. Or burned away. Or any number of other painful things. Some people opted to get a ward to protect their wards, so that something like this could never happen, but not many went that route. What if someone gave you a ward you didn’t want? ’Cause yeah. Being held down and inked with all kinds of badness never happened.
Tucker would have snickered at his sarcasm, considering he’d told Mary Ann how ugly it was, but he was too afraid it’d sound like a sob. Only pansy-assed babies sobbed. He wasn’t a pansy-assed baby.
He hadn’t been completely honest with Mary Ann. Oh, he’d run from Vlad after stabbing Aden all right—but he’d run after he’d “chatted” with the guy. Bastard had threatened him with a few wards of his own if he didn’t man up and do as he was told.
Man up. Funny, coming from a guy who looked more monster than man while he hid in the shadows, but whatever.
Until yesterday, Tucker hadn’t exactly followed the former king’s orders. He’d helped Mary Ann rather than hurt her.
He liked her. More than he should, and more than was wise.
Why’d she have to let the wolf stick around?
Tucker would have continued to resist Vlad if she’d kicked the wolf to the curb.
Because, when he and Mary Ann were alone, he was fine. A halfway decent individual. Dirty-minded, maybe, but who wasn’t? Then Riley had shown up, and boom. Vlad had made another move, and Tucker had lost the battle.