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Like the phantom pain of a lost limb, the memory of Ryder's bite lingered, reminding her of what he'd done. Reminding her that she'd begged for his violence.
There was no scar at her neck. No fresh wound, raw and bleeding. Instead, the pain was deep inside, as alive in her heart as the day two years ago when her lover had first revealed his vampire nature.
Before Ryder, she hadn't allowed herself to feel anything for anyone, not since her father's death. That she had lowered her defenses and made love with him only to find out he was a vampire had awoken the rage and anger she had thought under control. Dealing with it had been difficult.
Now, it was almost as painful to acknowledge where their two-year love affair had led them-- to the wreckage of her carefully reconstructed life.
Diana grabbed her shot of Cuervo and downed it in one gulp. Then she immediately signaled the bartender for another. But she only stared at the drink in front of her, fingers splayed on the scarred black surface of the bar.
The Blood Bank was a favorite haunt of those in Manhattan's vampire subculture and a great place if one wanted to offer themself up as a treat. But after the day she'd had she only wanted to lick her wounds and hopefully not add any fresh ones.
She didn't want anyone to put the bite on her. Not even Ryder. Not again. Okay, maybe not again, she confessed when the heated recollection of their passion replaced the warmth of the tequila.
A reaction that reminded her all too vividly of why she was here, bleeding on the inside and just barely in control on the surface. A combination sure to bring trouble.
By anyone else'sstandards, it had been an ordinary day. Diana had met her best friend outside a favorite Italian restaurant, a place Diana hadn't been to in months. When, she'd wondered, had she stopped going to her normal haunts and started going almost exclusively to Ryder's?
She'd dismissed the thought upon seeing Sylvia. There had been something different about her friend. She'd seemed positively radiant. Sylvia's coffee-brown eyes had glittered with joy and her smooth olive skin bore a vibrant blush. Eventually, Diana noticed the swell of belly. Her friend not only confirmed the happy news, but asked Diana to be godmother to the baby.
Diana had been happy for Sylvia. At least, that's what she'd told herself initially.
Until Sylvia glanced down at her belly and rubbed her hand lovingly over it. That motherly gesture drove an arrow of pain deep into the middle of Diana's heart.
Her doubts about Ryder, about their relationship, overwhelmed her. Doubts, that if she was honest, she'd been having for months, since her brother had announced the coming birth of his own child. Diana would never know the sensation of a baby growing and moving within her, of seeing herself fecund with child. At least, not if she stayed with Ryder. He was a vampire, undead. He couldn't bestow life. "Are you going to put that drink out of its misery or let it sit there all night?"
Brought back to the present, Diana glared at Foley, the owner of the Blood Bank, as he perched on the bar stool next to her. As always, he was lethally elegant in a fitted black suit that punched up the paleness of his skin and hair and elongated the already sparse lines of his body. With a shrug meant to dissuade his attention, she replied, "I didn't know an inanimate object could feel misery."
The vampire's clear gray eyes darkened. With one finger, he traced her heart-and-dagger tattoo through the fabric of her suit. "They do when they could be in something as delicious as you."
Diana snared his hand and bent his thumb back at an awkward angle. "Don't go there."
Foley's grin didn't waver, although she knew that even with his vampire strength, she was likely causing some hurt. "Did you get that tattoo to prove how tough you are, Special Agent Reyes?"
She laughed harshly and increased the tension of her hold. "I got it to remind me of the pain."
"You enjoy it, don't you?" he asked. A sly look slid into his gaze, hinting that he rather liked the hurt she was currently inflicting on him. She let him go.
"I enjoy dishing it out."
In truth, the tattoo was a reminder not to act impulsively, a trait she had been accused of more than once. After a night of too much tequila, she'd gotten the tattoo to remind herself to guard against the pain she had suffered after losing her boyfriend. Only later did she realize that the knot of sorrow within her had been about the death of her father and all that she believed in. Justice. Honor. Happiness. Herself.
Sitting here, drowning her misery in tequila now, as much as she'd done at nineteen, warned her she was in danger of losing herself again as she had nearly a decade earlier when her dad had died.
"Bad day at the office, Special Agent Reyes?" Foley waved for a drink--a shot glass filled with liquid the color of ripe, succulent cherries. Freshly drawn blood.
"A nouveau Italian straight from Mulberry Street." He held the glass up in a toast.
Despite her earlier recollection about where one too many tequilas might lead her, she hoped a few more would create the right degree of numb. Help her forget about babies, husbands and houses filled with family--the kinds of things Ryder could never give her. She clicked her glass with Foley's and bolted back the Cuervo. The sting made her wince as the liquor burned its way down her throat. Slamming the glass onto the bar, she motioned for another.
"Extremely bad, I guess," Foley said, which only earned him a sidelong glance. He was sipping his drink slowly, savoring the grisly libation.
"What do you want?"
Foley leaned closer. So close that his chilled breath bathed the side of her face. With it came the metallic smell of blood. She almost gagged.
"Just to chat with a friend."
She gave him a forceful nudge in the ribs to remind him he had invaded her space. "You and I aren't--"
"Pals? Chums? Aren't you and Ryder... friendly?"
Ignoring him, she laid her hands on the bar's rough surface. Beneath her palms she registered the bumps, dents and gouges worn into it by misuse, by the violence for which the Blood Bank was known in the undead world. Again the phantom pain came to her neck and she inched her hand upward.
Foley ran the icy pad of his finger over the spot of the long-healed and invisible injury in a caress that made her skin crawl. "He's bitten you, hasn't he? More than once. And not just to feed. Yum." He smacked his lips with pleasure.
She yanked away from his touch, angry with his intrusion into her private life. "So what? Taking a survey?"
"With each bite his control over you grows. Your need for him intensifies until..."
You beg him to take you. To make you like him. Which scared the shit out of her.
She prided herself on having learned control a long time ago. In the year following her father's death, she had lost her restraint and her identity in the ambience of places like the Blood Bank. It was only after waking one morning facedown in vomit, her younger brother passed out beside her, that she realized she was on the road to oblivion and taking her brother with her. She had mustered the strength to deal with her pain, to restore her sense of self and honor. It had taken her a long time to control her rebellion, to choose what she knew was right.
Lately she seemed to have less control over her emotions, over her choices, and worse, she didn't have a clue as to whether her relationship with Ryder was right or wrong. Which only partially explained why she found herself here, in a bar catering to the undead. Sharing a drink with a vampire who would drain her, given the right circumstances. Avoiding the lover who made her plead for a passion so intense....
That was the one thing she knew in her uncertain life. If Ryder was a drug, she was a Ryder junkie.
When she had first met him, Ryder had been living his life as humanly as possible. The attraction between them had been that of woman to man, man to woman. She hadn't known then just how hard it was for Ryder to control the beast within him. Or, worse, how much she would come to like the demon and what it made her feel.
The spot at her neck tingled again. When Ryder had been mostly human, she could tell herself their affair was right, but now that he was finally exploring his vampire powers, now that he was becoming less human she could no longer avoid the truth.
The change hadn't happened overnight. It was only in the past year or so, when they'd become more involved with Manhattan's other vampires, that Ryder had begun to change. She hadn't noticed at first, but recently it had become impossible to ignore. Ryder was darker and more powerful than she could have imagined. Worse yet, she liked his transformation. Too much.