Closeness was closeness, no matter how you sliced it.

“You could have slept here,” he told her.

“Well, did you, the king of heaven and earth, mention that a single time since coming here?”

No, she hadn’t known. “I’m mentioning it now.”

Crinkle, crinkle. She wasn’t done. “That’s great. Wonderful. Considering you’ve done nothing but push me away for days.”

Annnnd there was the crux of the problem. “I’m sorry for that. I really am. But I’m improving. Right? I mean, you’ve changed, too.” Great. Now he was throwing blame, something she didn’t deserve.

What was that? “Meaning, nothing bad, I swear. But…yes, you have been more human. And again, that’s not a bad thing.”

“Yes, it is. You’re saying I wasn’t good enough as I was.”

“No! That’s not what I’m saying at all.”

Still she wasn’t done. “The fact that you’re improving is great. Wonderful.”

He was going to hate what came next, he just knew it.

“Am I known for my delightful sense of humor?”

When she gave in to the new human side of her, she really gave in. “Why are you holding a grudge?”

And how did you argue with that kind of logic? “Fine.”

“I still need to eat.”

Flames lit up the blue in her eyes. “Do you want me to fetch you a slave?”

No. Yes. “No.” Only one name was etched into his menu of choice, and it was still hers. But he’d had Sorin’s blood. And, hey, why wasn’t he seeing the world through Sorin’s eyes? He asked Victoria.

“The blood only works that way for a limited amount of time, and since you’ve spent an entire day dead to the world, your connection to Sorin, and his to you, has passed.

“Now,” she added. “Why don’t you want a slave?”

“I’ll find someone to chomp on in a minute.” He would force himself. “I need to clean up first.”

“What’s in your pocket?” he asked

Her checks flashed bright red. “Nothing. Now go. Clean up.”

O-kay. He lumbered from the bed and hobbled to the bathroom, certain he resembled an old man with a walker, and yes, he hated that Victoria was seeing him like this.

“Oh, and Aden? Thank you for not killing my brother,” she said just before he shut the door.

He brushed his teeth, showered quickly, noticed Victoria had already stacked fresh clothes in the corner, and dressed in the plain gray T-shirt, jeans and his own boots. Everything was pressed and a perfect fit.

As Junior’s roars came more frequently and Caleb’s choking sobs finally faded, Aden studied himself in the mirror. It was still a jolt to see himself with blond hair. He’d been dying the mop for years. His eyes jolted him, too. Last time he’d seen them, they were gold. Now, they were a kaleidoscope of colors.

What stunned him most was his lack of bruises, swelling and punctures. He looked one hundred percent racer ready. His insides clearly had some catching up to do. Even after that steamy shower, he hurt. Considering he’d expected his lips to resemble something out of a horror flick and the fact that he’d lost a tooth—which, three cheers, had regrown during his healing sleep—he wasn’t going to complain.

Could you please shut that beast up, Ad? Julian asked, pulling him from his thoughts. All that roaring on top of everything else is annoying, and I’m not sure how much longer I can deal.

“If we want to quiet Junior—” at least for a little while “—we’ve got to eat.”

The term blood-slave was really starting to bother him. Yeah, that could have been his fate, and could still be his fate since he was jonesing so badly for the princess and only the princess.

His ears twitched. Footsteps in Victoria’s room. Frowning, he threw open the bathroom door. Before he saw who had entered, he smelled who had entered. Riley’s brothers. Maxwell and Nathan. They reeked of the outdoors and fear.

Nathan was pale from head to toe. Pale hair, pale blue eyes, pale skin. Maxwell was gold. Both were handsome—he guessed—but both were cursed by witches. (Who wasn’t, nowadays?) Anyone the pair desired would see a mask of ugliness when looking at them. Anyone they did not desire would see their true faces, their beauty.

Aden, of course, saw their true faces.

Both were scowling and taut with their worry and trying to comfort a crying Victoria.

“What’s going on?” he demanded, stalking over, ready to grind them both into powder if they’d hurt her.

He was just about ready to throw a punch, anyway, when she held out a goblet to him. “Here. Drink this.”

He smelled the sweetness before he saw the blood. Junior went wild, his roars more of a yes, yes, yessssss. Or maybe give me was more accurate. Aden’s mouth watered uncontrollably, his gums doing a little dance of anticipation. He knew without asking exactly whose vein the blood had been tapped from. Victoria’s.

His arm was lifting, the cup at his mouth, his throat gulping back the contents a second later, and only when he’d consumed every drop did he even realize he’d moved.

After he’d drunk Sorin’s blood, he’d considered himself strong. He’d been a fool. This was strength. A warm cascade that shimmered through him, lighting him up like a house at Christmas. His eyes closed as he savored.

The fog that had seemed to attach itself to his mind disappeared completely. His cells fizzed as if they were dancing with champagne. All the remaining aches and pangs from the fight with Sorin vanished. His muscles plumped up, and he might even have shot up an inch or two.

Junior purred his satisfaction, and like a baby who’d just gotten a bottle at bedtime, he slipped back to sleep.

Aden, though, well, he just wanted more.

No more for you, Julian said, conjuring the Soup Nazi.

How had the soul known what Aden was thinking? Had he said the words aloud? Was he staring at Victoria’s neck? Wait. How could he be staring? His eyes were still closed.

He focused, realized he had dropped the cup and latched onto Victoria’s arms. Was pulling her closer…closer…

Jolting out of his stupor, he released her. Backed away. Maxwell and Nathan were watching him with unease.

Later, he would see the world through Victoria’s eyes. No healing sleep would stop it from happening. Would he also continue to want her blood, and only hers? If so, who cared?

Because—and here was the clincher—having her was worth the risk of addiction. He would endure anything to be with her, to have her blood. Everything that had ever bothered him and more.

Victoria shifted from one foot to the other. He was still staring at her, he realized. He lowered his gaze, and that’s when he caught sight of her wrist. Though she wore a long-sleeved robe, the material had pulled back to reveal a wound stretching from one side to the other.

She’d cut herself, and recently, but she hadn’t healed.

Why hadn’t she healed? For that matter, her hand had been cold earlier. Her hand had never been cold before.

“Are you okay?” he asked her.

“No.” She held her phone in front of his face. “Look what came in.”

“That’s from Riley,” she said, chin trembling as she fought her tears.

That’s not from Riley, Elijah said.

“Sorry.” He held up his hand. “Elijah knows something. Hang on.”

She nodded, both worried and hopeful.

First, the soul continued, deductive reasoning. If Riley was dying, he would not have typed so perfectly. And do you see any misspellings? No. Second, I just had a vision of Tucker typing those words.

As the bottom of Aden’s stomach fell out, he told the group what Elijah had said.

Then, he turned his attention inward again. “What else did you see? Show me. Please.”

You won’t like it.

A sigh. As you wish.

A moment later, Aden’s knees nearly buckled. In his mind he saw Riley strapped to a gurney, his skin the color of death and a gaping wound in one of his calves.

Mary Ann was also strapped to a gurney and being wheeled into an ambulance. An ambulance clearly marked St. Mary’s. She wore a pair of jeans and a bra, and she, too, had a gaping wound. Only, hers was in her shoulder. Someone had obviously tried to clean her up, because she was streaked with dried blood, patches of blue-tinted skin between the crimson.

Paramedics were pumping her chest, but she wasn’t responding.

“Tucker might have typed those words, but he wasn’t lying,” Aden croaked out. “They’re hurt. Badly.” If his friends died… If they’d already died…

The brothers cursed, dropping so many F-bombs Aden soon lost count. Victoria pressed her knuckles into her mouth, but a sob still managed to escape. “Could Tucker have killed the witches, then turned his sights on Riley and Mary Ann?” Nathan asked. “He’s part demon, and he can cast illusions. So, if anyone could defeat a coven of witches, it’s him.”

Caleb dropped a few sobbing F-bombs of his own, each one directed at Tucker.

“Tucker wouldn’t have been able to defeat Riley,” Maxwell said.

Aden had to concentrate to hear past the sounds in his head. “Whatever happened, we have to get to St. Mary’s.” He didn’t know a lot about the shifters, but what would happen if the paramedics discovered something different about Riley? “Can you teleport us, Victoria?”