He pressed his fingers into Mary Ann’s pulse. One hundred and seventy-five.
A string of curses left him, but at least the alcohol kept him from vomiting. He moved behind her. In the mirror across the way, he could see that her eyes were still closed, her expression still too smooth for what was happening. Another breath in, out. You can do this. Don’t hesitate. Just act.
He raised his arm. Lowered his arm. Come on!
Raised. Lowered. He wanted to grab the end of the shaft and jerk, that would have been easier, or should have been, but the wood was slippery from her blood and he’d never be able to maintain his grip long enough. So, he had to punch one end to shoot the other end out the other side. The thought of punching her, however…
You would rather she die? You would rather puss out than do everything you can?
With a roar, Riley balled his fist and did it. He punched the broken end with all his might. He made contact with the wood, then Mary Ann’s flesh, pushing the arrow the rest of the way through her body, and out the wound in her front. She barely twitched.
Okay. Done, the worst was done. Time for the easy stuff.
So why did he feel faint? The shaking only got worse as he cleaned and bandaged her, and when he finished, he was the one covered in blood. Again. And this was fresh. Meaning, she’d lost more than another spurt or two.
She needed a transfusion and fast. Only reason she was still alive was because she’d fed from a witch on the way here. That wouldn’t save her much longer, though. She was wheezing. The death rattle, some called it.
Riley scrubbed a hand down his face. What should he do? Carrying her to a hospital would kill her, no question. She wouldn’t survive the jostling. Being picked up by an ambulance might actually save her—if they got here at the speed of light.
What a nightmare. Now he panicked. He paced through the room, his gaze constantly straying to the phone. If he called 911, they would pick her up, but they would also hunt down her father. Dr. Gray would take her home, where any number of enemies could be waiting for her, ready to strike while she was too weak to defend herself.
’Course, you had to be alive to defend yourself, and that beat the hell out of dead.
He was decided, then.
Riley called 911, told them about the emergency—injured girl, blood loss, location—leaving out names, and then eased next to Mary Ann.
“Don’t tell them your name,” he said, hoping, somehow, that she heard him. “Whatever you do, don’t tell them your name.”
No response. Worse, she no longer had an aura. She was colorless.
She needed to feed again, or she wouldn’t make it, no matter how quickly the first responders got here. There wasn’t time to find her another witch, her preference, but there was a solution: she could feed off him.
Not allowing himself to think about his actions, or the consequences, Riley reached around her and flattened his hands on her chest, just over her now too-faint heartbeat. He’d never done anything like this, so he wasn’t sure it’d work, but he was giving it a go anyway. Maybe, as stressed as her body was, she would simply feed automatically.
Closing his eyes, he imagined the essence of his wolf-self. Deep inside, embedded in the marrow of his bones. Saw the tiny sparks of golden light that swirled there, pushed at the sparks, pushed, pushed, forcing them out of his body, through his pores and willing them inside of Mary Ann.
Her entire body jolted, and she gasped. A moment later, she sagged against the mattress, her breathing, dare he think it, evening out. Determination renewed, he continued to push, until he was sweating, panting, his own pulse rate rising. Until his muscles were knotted painfully, perhaps permanently. Until his chest felt like ground-up hamburger meat with tacks mixed in. He was raw, stinging.
How much time had passed, he wondered as he, too, sagged into the mattress. He didn’t have the strength to look around at the nightstand clock. Nor did he have the strength to switch into his wolf form, something he’d wanted to do before the emergency crew rushed inside the room.
Which they were currently doing.
The door had crashed open, but he hadn’t heard it. Couldn’t hear anything, he realized. Three human men were looming over the bed, two of them looking over Mary Ann, forcing her eyelids apart, shining bright lights into her corneas, attaching some kind of medical pads to her chest. The other human did the same to Riley. Was talking to him, maybe asking him questions, but Riley couldn’t make out the words.
The world around him was hazing over, as if a morning fog had rolled in. Then he was being lifted, settled against something cold and semisoft. A gurney, maybe. He turned his head to ensure Mary Ann was being placed on a gurney, too, but the fog had thickened, and he saw only a stretch of endless white.
Something sharp in his arm, something warm in his vein. No, not warm, burning, whooshing through him. A moment later, his eyelids were too heavy to hold open. Darkness came. He fought it, needing to know Mary Ann was okay, that they weren’t being separated. Another sting, another burn. Still he fought.
The darkness intensified. Stronger and stronger, until Riley was completely consumed. Until he couldn’t move, could barely breathe. Until he forgot why he’d been fighting in the first place.
IN A STOLEN CAR, Tucker followed behind the ambulance. Both Mary Ann and the wolf were inside. He’d watched the paramedics wheel them in. Both had been hooked to IVs already, the humans working frantically to save them. Which meant they’d still been alive. Surprising. He’d heard the grim expectation in their voices, and knew they thought they’d lose both kids before they reached the hospital.
Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t. Riley and Mary Ann had held on this long. Why not longer?
Either way, the pair had to die. Just like the witches.
The witches. Don’t think about that, he shouted to himself. He’d just relive the screams, the sobs, the pleas and then the fading groans. The footsteps as a few escaped him. The ensuing chase. Failure. Vlad’s insistence that he let the escapees go and find the wolf and drainer instead. Apparently, offing the pair was more important than offing the witches, who would be desperate to avenge their fallen friends.
Something Tucker would be punished for later. Brutally.
All too soon he realized Riley and Mary Ann were headed to St. Mary’s, the hospital where Mary Ann had been born. The hospital where Aden had been born. The hospital where Mary Ann’s mother had died.
Upon arrival, Riley and Mary Ann were quickly wheeled inside. They’d made it, survived the trek. Tucker exited his vehicle and stood outside, the bitter wind blowing around him. No one noticed him. Not even the cameras monitoring the area could pick up his image.
“What do you want me to do?” he asked Vlad, knowing the vampire would hear.
A guy in scrubs, who had been in the process of passing him, stopped and frowned, looking around. As Tucker was currently casting an illusion, the human saw only the emergency parking lot, the people walking through it and the cars ambling in and out of it.
They’re weak. Now is the perfect time to strike, Vlad replied.
Muttering under his breath, Scrubs moved on.
“You want me to…” Tucker gulped. He couldn’t say the words. Even after everything he’d done, he still couldn’t say the words. Not Mary Ann, his human side screamed. Please not Mary Ann. Not again.
Kill them, yes. Both of them. And don’t disappoint me this time, Tucker.
“I won’t,” he said, thinking, one day I’ll kill you.
Oh, and did I forget to tell you what your punishment will be if you fail me this time? No? A cruel, cruel laugh. Well, allow me to do so now. I will find your brother. I will drain your brother. After I play with him a bit. No. No! This was not happening. They weren’t doing this.
His kid brother, one of the only people he truly loved. In danger. Because of him. No, he thought again, teeth grinding, but he said, “Yes, we’re clear,” and got to work.
“WAKE UP. ADEN, YOU have to wake up.”
Aden latched onto the voice as if it were a lifeline. And it was. He’d been trapped in an ocean of nothing, no sound, no colors, no sensations, with no way out. He pulled himself up a mountain, found that the line dangled over a cliff, and let himself drop, ending up in a river of ice.
His eyelids popped open. He saw that Victoria loomed over him, black hair falling over her shoulder and tickling his bare chest. Concern painted twin circles of pink on her cheeks, and a clammy sheen glazed her brow.
“What’s wrong?” he croaked. He sat up, his entire body instantly throwing out I-hate-you vibes. His muscles were tangled around bone, and his skin stretched too tight, a rubber band ready to snap. His mouth was dry as a desert, and his stomach…his stomach was the worst offender. Distorted, grumbling, shrunken and probably in the process of eating itself.
“You worried me,” she said, straightening. She stuffed one of her hands into her pocket and played with something that crinkled. A wrapper of some sort, he would guess. “I was about to start pouring blood down your throat.”
He licked his lips, trying to recall his last waking moments. He’d stepped into the ballroom, a party in full swing around him. His gaze had swept the attendees, and he’d somehow looked through a darkened glass wall and found Victoria. A new vampire ability, he supposed. How many more would he inherit?
They’d left the ballroom together and come up here to talk. He’d sat on the edge of the bed, and…he didn’t remember anything else. He must have fallen asleep.
He’d meant to tell her about the dancing woman and the vision he’d had. The one of little Victoria and her whipping. Of her mother, the cause of that whipping. Maybe his impromptu snooze fest was a blessing, though. The news would have distressed her, and right now she didn’t appear capable of shouldering another burden. She appeared…fragile, easily breakable.
“What time is it?” He inhaled and—mistake! Every thought in his head derailed. His sinuses clung to that tantalizing whiff of her, shooting sparks of gotta-have-that through his entire body. Moisture finally flooded his mouth, destroying the desert as if it had never been. His gums ached, their favorite thing to do, it seemed.