In a snap, she was jerked back to the present. And just like that, her sense of tranquility vanished. No. No, no, no.
Oh, yes. The souls were no longer chattering, screaming, crying, anything, and the sense of power had evaporated with the tranquility. More than that, Chompers had returned, and he didn’t want her to hurt Aden.
Before, each time her beast had returned to her, she had experienced a sharp lance of acknowledgment. Nothing more. Then he’d left her again. Then returned. An endless cycle as she and Aden endlessly drank. But this…this was something different. Something stronger. A passing of energy, perhaps. Or had that been a final break of the ever-changing cycle of possession?
Chompers’ hunger blended with her own, familiar, yet utterly unwelcome because he would not allow her to do anything about it. He never did, not with Aden.
Victoria blinked open her eyes, gasped. She had never left the cave, but she’d been busy. She was on her feet, her arms outstretched. A golden glow radiated from between her fingers, dimming…gone. Aden lay in a crumpled heap against the far wall. He was unconscious, unmoving, maybe even—no. No!
Her bare feet dug into the rocks as she raced to him. The moment she reached him, she was crouching and feeling for a pulse. No, no, no. Please, please. There! Fast, too fast and too weak, but there. He was alive.
Relief flooded her, followed quickly by remorse. What had she done to him? Beaten him? Drained him? No, she couldn’t have. Chompers wouldn’t have allowed that, either. Right?
“Oh, Aden.” She smoothed the hair from his brow. There were no bruises on his face, no punctures in his neck. “What’s wrong with you?”
A sound wafted to her ears. Frowning, she leaned down. Was he…humming? She blinked, listened more intently. Yes, yes, he was. And if he was humming, he wasn’t hurting. Right? He must be experiencing some sort of euphoria. Perhaps even the same euphoria she’d basked in. Right?
Please, be right.
She studied him more intently. His expression was serene, his lips edged upward. He looked boyish, innocent, almost angelic. He was experiencing the euphoria, then.
Relaxing, she traced her fingertip along his hairline. He was so striking, with his hair dyed black and those two-inch blond roots. Perfectly arched eyebrows rose above perfectly uptilted eyes. His nose was perfectly sloped. His lips were soft, his chin stubborn. Again, perfectly. His was a face a girl would never tire of looking at. Maybe because every new glance revealed a previously undiscovered nuance. This time, she saw the thick, feathering fan of his lashes, a golden chocolate in the haze of the cave.
“Wake up for me, Aden. Please.”
Perhaps, like her, he didn’t want to leave. Well, too bad. They had some chatting to do.
Again nothing. No, not nothing. He scowled, and the scowl soon became a grimace.
Her heart galloped against her ribs. All right. What if he wasn’t floating and carefree? What if he was stuck? Or worse, agonized? That grimace…
He panted out a breath once, twice, shallow and rasping. Crackling. She’d heard that crackle before—each time she’d taken too much blood from a human.
He won’t die. He can’t. They’d been here a week. Seven days, three hours and eighteen minutes. They’d fought and kissed and drank from each other the entire time. Aden had survived all of that; surely he would survive this. Whatever this was.
Shame suddenly outweighed her ever-present guilt. And maybe that shame was what corralled her beast, stopping him from screaming for release the way he had every time before.
Wait. Chompers wasn’t screaming. The realization caused her to blink with confusion. A quick glance at her chest, and she saw that all of her wards had faded. Even still, the beast was silent. That had never happened before.
What else was different? Her gaze fell to Aden’s neck, where his pulse drummed sporadically. Her mouth watered, but the urge, the electrifying need to bite him, wasn’t there.
No, not true. It was there, it simply wasn’t as strong. It was controllable. Even still, she was thirsty, desperate to drink from someone. And if she could now take from someone else, perhaps Aden could, as well. If so…
He could be saved. Completely. She hoped. There was only one way to find out. Though she was still weak, she twined her fingers with Aden’s and closed her eyes, imagining her bedroom at the vampire stronghold near Crossroads, Oklahoma. White carpet, white walls, white bed covers.
Please work, she thought. Please.
A cold breeze kicked up, blowing her hair up and down, the strands winding together and knotting. It was working! Her grip tightened on Aden, and her lips curved into a grin. The floor fell away, leaving them suspended in the air. Any moment now and they would be—
THE BEDROOM DOOR CRASHED against the wall as a harsh male voice snarled, “I hear you’ve threatened to disembowel anyone who steps foot in your room. Well, here I am. But before you disembowel me, you better tell me what the hell is going on.”
Victoria stopped pacing and whipped around to face the intruder. Riley. Her bodyguard. Her best friend. Tall, as muscled as Aden now was, with a face roughened by life and fist fights.
Her chest constricted. He wasn’t handsome in a Prince of Your Dreams way like Aden, but in a sexy I’ll Kick Your Ass No Matter What It Takes and Laugh way, and that was exactly what she needed at the moment. A willingness to do whatever was necessary.
He might be the one person able to help her.
And though he was obviously fuming, his eyes glittering with angry heat, he was the best thing she’d seen in days. He had dark, shaggy hair, bright green eyes fringed by long lashes of the darkest jet, and a nose broken too many times to count, with a slight bump in the center. Certain injuries, when received repeatedly, simply couldn’t heal properly.
He wore a green Lucky Charms T-shirt and jeans—or what looked to be jeans, since she knew they weren’t really denim. He was the only slash of color in her white-as-the-clouds bedroom.
“Nice shirt,” she said. One, to distract him from his anger before she spilled her secrets, and two, to showcase the sense of humor she was desperately trying to develop. Once, his human girlfriend, Mary Ann Gray, had accused Victoria of being too somber.
“Only thing I could find. Victoria. Talk. Now. Before I assume the worst and just start offing everyone in the house.”
The pretend sense of humor vanished, and tears filled her eyes, those stupid human tears she’d never shed before coming to the States. She raced to Riley, throwing herself into his strong, capable arms.
“You might not be so glad if I have to force you to start talking.” Despite the threat, he hugged her tight, exactly as he’d done when they were younger and other vampires refused to play with her.
Because she was a daughter of Vlad the Impaler, every one had feared punishment if she were hurt—or worse—on their watch. But not Riley. Never Riley. He was like the brother she had always wanted, her comforter and her shield.
Oh, she had a blood brother. Sorin. Except, Vlad had forbidden her from looking at, talking to or even acknowledging him. Father Dearest hadn’t wanted his only son tainted by his “too soft” daughters. In fact, when Aden had asked Victoria about her siblings back when they’d first met, she’d named only her sisters. Last she’d inadvertently heard, Sorin was leading half of the vampire army through Europe, keeping Bloody Mary, the leader of the Scottish faction, in line. Combine all of that, and Sorin didn’t count.
Besides, Vlad had long ago given Riley charge of Victoria’s care, and the wolf shifter had taken the job seriously. Not just out of a sense of duty, or fear of torture and death if he failed, but also because he liked her. They were friends first and everything else second.
“Why are you here, though?” she asked, ignoring his demand. Again.
“My brothers hunted me down and scared two centuries off my life when they told me you’d ventured into Crazy Town. Now, enough about me.” Riley pulled back and cupped her cheeks, forcing her to peer up at him. “Have you fed properly? You look like crap.”
His concern—and insult—offered more comfort than anything else could have and was so wonderfully Riley she responded in a way she knew he would approve. “Yes, Daddy. I’ve fed properly.” Truth. Five minutes after arriving home and settling Aden in her bed, she’d had her fangs buried deep inside one of the blood-slaves who lived here at the stronghold.
So thirsty had she been, she’d nearly drained the human dry. Her sister Lauren had managed to jerk her away just in time. Her other sister, Stephanie, had found her a second human, and a third and a fourth, and she’d drunk until her stomach could hold no more.
“Smart-ass.” Riley’s lips twitched with his amusement. “When did you learn to wield sarcasm?”
“I can’t remember exactly.” All she knew was that she’d had a choice. Find the humor in what happened to her or drown in her misery. “Two weeks ago, maybe.”
The mention of time wiped away his delighted expression, leaving him with a cold frown.
Only one person affected him that way. Mary Ann Gray. The girl had struck out on her own the same night Aden had been stabbed, and Riley the Besotted Wolf had charged after her, determined to protect her despite the hazard to himself.
“Where’s your human?” Wait. Mary Ann wasn’t quite human anymore. The girl had become a drainer—something Victoria had not seen coming—able to suck the magic from witches, the beasts from vampires, the power from fairies and the ability to shift forms from the wolves.
Victoria had begun to wonder if Mary Ann had ever been human. After all, fairies were drainers. The difference was, the fairies could control their hunger and feedings. Mary Ann could not. Still. That raised a startling question. Could Mary Ann be a human/fairy hybrid?
Victoria had never heard of such a pairing, but as she was learning, anything was possible. If Mary Ann was somehow a hybrid, every vampire and shifter in this stronghold—besides Riley, of course—would want the girl dead. More than they already did. Fae were Enemy One. Dangerous in the extreme. A threat to otherworld existence.