“You didn’t want to—you even resisted—but I pushed and pushed and force-fed you.” The fury shattered, hopelessness taking its place. “Doesn’t matter, though. The result was the same.”

Doesn’t matter? It mattered more than anything! He might have pushed, but she was the one to take. She’d taken his animal from him. His inner self. His true self. Gone. Forever. Because of her. No wonder he was acting like he hated her. He did.

“Riley, I’m so sorry. So so sorry. I didn’t mean…I never would have…” There were no words to convey the depths of her remorse. Nothing that would make this okay.

Of everything she’d done, this was the worst. And those dried-up tear ducts? They suddenly remembered how to work, burning her eyes and tracking moisture down her cheeks.

“We knew it was a possibility,” he said.

Worse and worse. That had to be torture for him. He’d been a shifter all his life.

His very long life. A life that might now be cut short. Because. Of. Her. His friends were shifters. His family. And now, he was the very thing he hated more than anything: vulnerable.

Riley pushed to his feet and turned away from her. “I’m going to take a shower. Try to get some rest.” He didn’t wait for her reply but marched into the bathroom and shut the door.

Now and forever, if she had to guess.

Mary Ann curled into herself and sobbed.

ADEN CURSED UNDER his breath. “Did you hear that?”

“The gutter your mouth just traveled through?” Victoria asked. “Yes. You basically shouted the profanities in my ear.”

“Not that. What Riley just told Mary Ann.”

“Yeah.” She lay against him, snuggled into his side, and he sifted his fingers through her hair, loving the softness of it. Their room was dark, but his gaze cut through that darkness as if he wore night-vision goggles.

He expected the souls to comment, to voice their thoughts. They didn’t. Caleb was still in mourning about the witches, Elijah hadn’t given up his vow of silence, and since hearing about Tonya Smart, Julian had been too busy trying to figure out who he’d been and what his last wish was.

Currently the only being giving him fits was Junior. Aden was hungry, again, and his beast wasn’t gonna let him forget it. In fact, his roars were getting louder with every hour that passed.

All of Elijah’s birth terminology had really hit the mark. Aden kinda felt like a brand-new dad whose kid had soiled his diaper and was demanding a change.

Oh, yeah. He and Victoria were in the middle of a conversation. “Riley can’t shift anymore.”

She jolted upright and peered down at him, eyes wide with dismay. “What?”

“Don’t kill the messenger.” Aden tugged her back into his embrace, loving the way she curled herself around him. “He just told Mary Ann. Apparently she fed off him before they landed in the hospital.”

“Oh, no. That’s when he’s the most upset.” She banged her fist against Aden’s chest. “I will kill her!”

She tried the sitting up thing again, but he tightened his hold, keeping her against him. “He’s taking a shower, and I don’t think she meant to damage him.”

“I don’t care. That’s exactly why the races have always slain drainers when they are first identified. Accidents like that don’t have to happen.”

“Mary Ann stole his ability. There is no healing from that.”

“Just like there’s no turning a human into a vampire?” She’d once told him that was impossible, too.

“I…I…oh! I still want to put her in a sleeper hold. Forever! I know how. Riley taught me.”

O-kay. Time to abandon that subject before she worked herself into a rage, and Chompers came out to play. Which would cause Junior to come out to play. Besides, Aden had a feeling he hadn’t seen the last of Riley’s wolf. Maybe that was just wishful thinking on his part, but honestly? He trusted his feelings.

He’d known he would meet Victoria before he’d ever laid eyes on her. Because of Elijah’s visions, yeah, but as Aden was learning, the souls shared their abilities with him. And when they left, those abilities remained. Elijah wasn’t the only psychic in this body. Aden was, too.

The reminder gave him pause. Could Aden peek into the future?

“Let me go, Aden. Now.” The chill of her breath stroked his chest.

“Not yet. I want to talk to you about something.”

“I know you don’t want me to feed off you, and I respect that.” Even though he still wanted her blood more than anything. At this point, he doubted that was ever going to change. “Are you afraid I’ll revert to the mindless being I was inside the cave?”

“No. If that were a possibility, it would have happened after you drank my blood from the goblet.”

He believed the same. “Are you afraid I’ll see the world through your eyes?”

“No. I mean, you haven’t yet. You still could, of course, but the thought doesn’t bother me. You have before, and really, you already know everything there is to know about me.”

“Then tell me what’s going on in that head of yours. Please.”

She traced a pattern on his chest, the tip of her finger tickling him, sensitizing him. “You won’t like it.”

Her lips pressed against the most sensitive spot, his heartbeat rushing up to meet her. “You know how you’re becoming a vampire?”

“Yes,” he said, and in that moment he knew where she was going with this. He knew, and he didn’t like it. An insidious cold invaded his bloodstream.

“My skin, it’s like yours was. Easily cut. I can’t teleport anymore. I can’t use my persuasive voice. And I’m eating human food. I had a hamburger before I returned with Mary Ann’s lunch. A hamburger! And I enjoyed it.”

So many changes. Too many changes. “Do you still need blood?”

“Not me, not anymore, but Chompers does. His roar…at first it was stronger, because he was so hungry, but now it’s weakening. He’s so quiet, I’m almost afraid he’s…he’s…you know.”

Aden pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to align his thoughts. He should have realized the truth himself. After all, this made perfect sense and explained so much. Her chilled skin, her reluctance to do the things she used to do. When he thought about all the chances she’d taken lately, all the chances he’d asked her to take, he wanted to knock a few holes in the wall.

Barring that, there was only one other thing he wanted to do.

“Okay. Here’s our new plan. You’re going to feed off me, and I’m going to feed off you. Another blood exchange, just like in the cave.”

Her cheek rubbed against him as she shook her head. “We don’t know how we’ll react. How they’ll react.” The beasts.

“Exactly, and it’s time we found out. We’re being proactive now, remember? We’re not simply reacting, we’re causing.”

A breath shuddered from her, gusting this time. “All right. You’re right. I know you’re right.”

Good, because his mouth was already watering, desperate for a taste. And maybe he was pushing for this because he craved it so badly, not because he thought it would save them, but just then, he didn’t care. “Ready?”

He rolled on top of her, and she softened against him, turning her head to the side to offer her hammering pulse. His gums started aching, throbbing really, and he ran his tongue over—fangs, he realized, shocked to his soul. For the first time, his teeth were as sharp as razors. Not as long as Victoria’s, but noticeably longer than they’d been.

“You first,” he rasped, wanting her as strong as possible for his bite.

A tremor moved through her, but then she was licking his neck, sucking, warming his blood, biting, drinking, and unlike before, her bite hurt, no chemical shooting through his vein, numbing him, but he didn’t care about that either, he liked that she was taking what she needed from him; it was what he’d begged her for since the moment he’d met her. And when she finished, he was doing the same to her, licking, sucking, warming, biting, drinking.

She moaned, the sound echoing through the room. Her fingers scraped through his hair. “That feels good,” she rasped.

Then he was the one moaning. So sweet, so delicious, filling him, flowing through him, strengthening him, quieting Junior, consuming them both. He was rubbing against Victoria before he registered that he was moving at all, but she didn’t seem to mind, seemed to like it, meeting his every motion with one of her own.

But soon that wasn’t enough for either of them. Aden pulled his teeth from her neck, surely the most difficult thing he’d ever done, but he didn’t want to take too much, had to protect her, even from himself, and she groaned in disappointment. He couldn’t move away from her.

“Aden,” she said on a husky catch of breath.

As if he needed further prompting. He kissed her until he was forced to come up for air, and then he kissed her again.