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Aden Stone stared down at the girl sleeping on the rocky dais. Long hair the color of a wintry midnight, dark yet glimmering like the moonlight on snow, spilled over slender shoulders. Spiky black lashes cast shadows over high, modelsharp cheekbones. Lush pink lips glistened with a sheen of moisture.
He'd watched her lick those lips several times, and he knew. Even lost to slumber as she was, she scented something delicious and craved a taste.
Her skin was snowwhite yet constantly flushed a deep rose in all the right places. Not one flaw did she possess. Not a single line or wrinkleeven though she was over eighty years old.
Young, for her kind.
She wore a tattered black robe that draped from just under her arms to the tips of her toes. Or would have, if she hadn't rucked the material up one of her legs. The slender limb was bent and angled outward. A feast for his gaze, perhaps even an Iwantyoutodrinkfromtheveininmythigh invitation.
He should resist.
He couldn't resist.
She was the most beautiful female he'd ever seen. Fragilelooking, dainty. Like a priceless piece of art in the one and only museum he'd ever toured. The curator had slapped his hand for trying to touch something he shouldn't.
No need to guard this one, he thought with a small smile. She could protect herself, snapping a man's neck with a single twist of her wrist.
She was a vampire. His vampire. His sickness and his cure.
Aden placed one of his knees on the makeshift bed. The Tshirt that stretched underneath the girl, cushioning her ever so slightly, snagged underneath his weight and pulled tight, rolling her in his direction. She didn't moan or utter a breathy sigh as a human might have done. She was quiet, eerily so. Her expression remained the same: serene, innocent trusting.
You shouldn't do this.
He was going to do this.
He wore a pair of ripped, bloodstained jeans. The same jeans he'd worn the night of their first date. The night his entire world changed. She wore the robe and nothing else. Sometimes their clothing was the only thing that kept them from doing more than drinking from each other.
Drinking from each other. Or "feeding." So mild a word for what happened. He would never purposely hurt her, but when the madness came upon himhell, when the madness came upon heraffection was forgotten. They became animals.
You shouldn't do this, what was left of his conscience repeated.
One more drink, and I'll leave her alone.
That's what you said last time. And the time before that. And the time before that.
Yeah, but I mean it this time. He hoped.
Once, he would have been talking to the three souls trapped inside his head. But they weren't inside his head anymore, they were inside hers, and he'd reverted to talking to himself. At least until the monster awoke. An honest to God monster, prowling through his conscious, roaring, desperate for blood. The monster the sleeping girl had inadvertently given him, the monster responsible for his new favorite sportjugular tapping. Then he didn't talk to anyone at all.
Down down Aden leaned until his chest flattened against the vampire's. He placed his hands at her temples and balanced his weight. The tips of their noses were a mere whisper apart, yet he wanted to be closer to her. Always closer.
He applied more pressure to his left hand, the soft strands of her hair pulling as tight as the Tshirt had done, causing her head to loll in that direction and exposing the elegant length of her neck. At the base, her pulse thumped steadily.
Unlike the bloodsuckers of myth, she was not dead. She was a living, breathing being, born rather than created, and more alive than anyone he'd ever met. Unless he accidently killed her, of course.
You might. Don't do this. Just a sip
His mouth watered. He inhaled and felt as if he were breathing for the very first time. Everything was so new, wondrous he held the breath held could almost taste the sweetness of her blood already slowly released. No relief was forthcoming, just an increased awareness of that everpresent hunger. He ran his tongue over his teeth, his aching gums. He didn't have fangs, but, oh, he wanted to bite her. Wanted to drink her down. Savor, drink again. Drink, drink, drink.
Even without fangs, he could bite her. And, if she were human, he could drain her dry. But because she was vampire, her skin was as hard and smooth as polished ivory. Reaching a vein with his teeth was impossible. He needed je la nune, the only substance capable of burning through that ivory. Problem was, they'd run out. Now, there was only one way to get what he wanted.
"Victoria," he rasped.
She must not have recovered from their last interlude, because she gave no indication that she heard him. A flicker of guilt pierced his hunger. He should get up, move away from her. Let her rest, recover. She'd fed him so much blood over the past few daysweeks? years? she couldn't have much left.
"Victoria." He couldn't stop her name from rolling off his tongue. The hunger.truly, it never left him. Only grew, slithering around him, clamping down on his soul. Still. He'd take just a drop, the taste he'd promised himself, and then he would at last leave her alone. She could go back to sleep.
Until he needed more.
You won't take any more, remember? This is the last time.
"Wake up for me, sweetheart." He pressed their lips together, harder than he'd intended. A kiss for his Sleeping Beauty.
Like the girl in the fairy tale, Victoria blinked open her lids, the length of her lashes separating, connecting, separating for good. Then he was peering into eyes of the purest crystal. Deep, fathomless. Glazed with a hunger of their own.
"Aden?" She stretched like a kitten, her arms rising above her head, her back arching. A purr rumbled from her throat. "Is it bad again?"
The robe gaped over her chest, just a little, but enough, and he caught a glimpse of the tattoo etched above her heart. A faded blacksoon to disappear altogether, just as her others had donewith multiple circles swirling into each other and connecting in the middle. Not just a pretty decoration, but a ward, a spell inked into her skin to protect her against death, and the only thing that had saved her life as she'd poured most of her blood down his throat that first time.
He wished he knew how long ago that was, but time had ceased to exist for him. There was only here and now and her. Always her. Always this, the hunger and the thirst blending into a feral, consuming urge.
Her knee came up to rest against his hip bone, and he
settled more firmly against her. Such an intimate position. No time to enjoy. They had a minute, maybe two, before the voices would destroy her concentration and the roar of the beast would claim his.
A minute before they both became as dark as their natures demanded.
"Please," was all he said. Black spiderwebs were forming in his line of vision, thickening, closing in, until her neck was all that he could see. The ache in his gums was unbearable, and he was afraid he was drooling.
"Yes." She didn't hesitate. She wound her arms around him, her nails sinking into his scalp, and drew him down for a kiss.
Their tongues met, thrust together, and for a moment, he lost himself in her sweetness. She was rich chocolate smoothly mixed with chili peppers, creamy yet spicy.
If only he were simply a boy and she were simply a girl, they would kiss, and he would try for more. She might deny him. She might beg him to continue. Either way, they would care only about each other. Now, as they were, nothing mattered more than the blood.
"Ready?" she breathed. She was his dealer, his supplier and his drug, all wrapped in the same irresistible package. He wanted to hate her for that. Part of him the new, sinister partdid hate her. The rest of him loved her immeasurably.
Sadly, he feared the two parts would one day war.
Someone always died in a war.
"Ready? " she asked again.
"Do it." A growl so hoarse he sounded more animal than human.
Was he human anymore? He'd been a magnet for the paranormal his entire life. Maybe he'd never been human. Not that he cared about the answer right now.
The ferocity of their kiss increased. Without pulling away, Victoria flicked her tongue across her fangs, cutting the tissue straight down the center. Nectar of the gods welled, the taste of chocolate and spice instantly replaced by champagne and honey, intoxicating him. His head swam with dizziness as his body temperature rose.
He sucked the blood quickly, before her wound had time to close, taking every drop he could, every swallow ringing a groan of rapture from him. His temperature rose another degree, another still, until fire poured through him, burning him up, scorching him to ash.
He recognized the sensation. Not too long ago, his mind had merged with that of a male vampire. A vampire roasting inside a death pyre. Aden had felt as if he were the one drenched in flames.
Soon after that, his mind had merged with a fairy's. A fairy with a knife in his chest, the beat of his heart no longer saving him but destroying him, the blade sinking deeper and deeper.
Both instances had been a lesson in pain, but neither compared to Aden's own stabbing, when his body had been the one violated. And if not for the girl beneath him, he would have died.
He and Victoria had thought to celebrate their victory against a coven of witches and a contingent of fairies alone, together. From the shadows had jumped a demon in human skin, his knife embedded in Aden's chest yes, everyone always went for the heartbefore he could blink.
Victoria should have let him go. His stabbing had been predicted by one of the souls. Aden had expected it. He might not have been prepared for it, but he had known he wasn't meant to have a future beyond that point.
And really, he and Victoria would have been better off if she'd let him go. Fact: you didn't mess with fate without paying a price. He should be dead, and Victoria should be free of his baggage. But panic had bloomed inside her. He knew, because he remembered the high
pitched tenor of her screams. Could still feel the way her hands had clutched at him, shaking him as life flowed out of him. Worse, he could still feel the whitehot tears slipping from her face onto his.
Now, she was paying for her actions. She might continue to pay until Aden accidentally killed heror until she killed him. A life for a life. Wasn't that how the universe worked?
This time, he expected to die from the inferno Victoria's blood was creating inside him. Instead, he found himself.calming. Not just calming, but thriving, his limbs growing stronger, his bones vibrating with energy, his muscles flexing with purpose.
This had never happened during a feeding. Wasn't supposed to happen now. They drank, they fought and they passed out. He didn't recharge like a battery.
When the blood on her tongue dried upfar too soonhe was reminded of his need, need, need now, and he stopped worrying about the repercussions, stopped caring about his reactions.
"Victoria," he croaked.
"More?" she asked, breath emerging shallowly. Her nails were leaving track marks down his nape and along his shoulders. The hunger must be coming upon her, too.
Even without her monster, the beating heart of her vampire nature and the driving force of Aden's new menu selection, she craved blood. Maybe because it was all she'd ever known. Maybe because she was as addicted as he was.
"More," he confirmed.
Once again she razed her tongue against her fangs. A new wound opened up. Blood welled, though not as much and not as quickly. Still he sucked and sucked and sucked.
Not enough, not enough, never enough.
Within seconds the blood stopped leaking. He didn't want to hurt her, couldn't let himself hurt her, but he found himself biting her tongue; unlike her skin, this flesh was soft and malleable. She moaned, but not in pain. He'd accidentally cut his tongue, too, and his blood was trickling into her mouth.
"More," she said, a demand now.
His hands tangled in the silky length of her hair, fisted. He angled her head, allowing deeper access for them both. So good.
She'd once told him humans died when vampires attempted to turn them. She'd also mentioned that the vampires attempting the turning died as well. At the time, he hadn't understood why.
Now, he understoodbut the knowledge cost him.
When she'd taken what remained of his blood and poured her own straight into his mouth, they'd done more than swap DNA, more than trade his souls for her monster. They'd swapped and traded everything. Memories, likes, dislikes, abilities and desires, back and forth, back and forth, until he sometimes couldn't tell what was his and what was hers.
Had he once been whipped with a cato'ninetails? Had he once drained a human to death? Had he once stumbled upon a sick shapeshifting bear clan and doctored them to health?
A muted rumblea yawn?in the back of his mind claimed his attention. The monster. Actually, demon was a better description for Chompers. Aden felt utterly possessed by him. A feeling he should have been used to. Only, Chompers was nothing like the soulshe wasn't affable like Julian, perverted like Caleb, or caring like Elijah. Chompers thought only of blood and pain. The taking of bloodand the giving of pain.
When he took over, Aden became more predator than man. He hated himself as much as he hated Victoria. Which was surreal. Chompers adored Aden. He truly did. He enjoyed being inside Aden's mind and didn't fight to leave him as he'd always fought Victoria. But even still, Chompers had a violent temperament, and that violent temperament demanded its due.
Sometimes Aden and Victoria switched back, the souls returning to him, Chompers returning to her. They would quickly switch again, however. And again and again and again. And each time edged them closer and closer to insanity. Too many memories swirling together, too many conflicting needs. One day soon, they would tumble off that edge completely.
"Aden," Victoria said, panting, his name broken. "I must have to "
He knew what came next.
She angled his head, just as he'd done to her, and a moment later, her mouth left his. He didn't like that. Her fangs sank into his jugular. He didn't like that, either, and hissed out a breath. Once upon a time, her bite had felt good. In her mindless state of hunger, she'd lost her finesse, and those fangs sliced into a tendon. He didn't try to stop her, though. She needed to drink just as much as he did.
Footsteps echoed through their cave, resonating like a buzzer.
Aden didn't panic. Victoria could teleport anywhere she'd been before, had even whisked them here the night of his stabbing. He didn't know where "here" was, or when she'd visited, he knew only that hikers occasionally wandered inside. None had ever traveled this far and this deep, and he doubted that would change.
He and Victoria could have gone somewhere else, he supposed, somewhere even more remote. Might have been safer, being as far away from civilization as possible. There was a target on Aden's back, after all, Victoria's father having come back from the dead to reclaim his throne. Or rather, Vlad the Impaler was trying to reclaim the throne.