Dillon rarely slept anymore.
If she did, if she managed even a thirty-minute down for the count, there was no true rest in it. Problem was, she dreamed. And it was the heavy, awful kind-and always the same. A black forest, so thick with trees she couldn’t see five feet in front of her face. Even her keen eyesight and sense of smell were lost there in suck-ass dreamland, and all she wanted to do was run. At first the sprint would seem pointless; as if she were after nothing, or running from nothing. Then everything shifted. The trees would begin to sway dauntingly, the color of the forest would fade to a deep purple, and in her cells and her veins, a feeling, a sensation so concentrated, would creep up her legs, her stomach, her chest and neck.
It was the sensation of being prey.
In the moment when the feeling hit her tongue and nostrils, her eyes would pop, her skin would shake, and her speed would go almost bionic.
She always outran the unseen monster, but every step of the way, every inch, an unseen voice warned her to stop, to hide, to give up before it was too late. Instead, she woke up, breathing heavy, distrusting everyone and wishing she could go back to sleep in peace.
Kind of like now.
Like this very moment.
If she could just sink deeper into the mattress, closer to the warm body beside her, and drain her mind of all thought, she would know contentment. But instead, she sat up and grabbed her clothes off the chair beside the bed.
“Where are you going? Don’t go.”
The warm body had a warmer voice, and Dillon was quick to respond. “I have to meet him.”
The mattress creaked. “Where?”
“The airport.” Dillon glanced down at the clothes in her hand, attempting to mentally shift gears, from lover to bodyguard.
The sigh behind her was audible and spoke volumes about its owner’s disappointment. “Are you both staying here at the house tonight?”
Dillon stood up and put on her pants. “The senator will be here.”
“I could insist that you stay as well.”
Dillon tried not to react, tried not to pause or flinch at the sweet, almost pathetic sound. Senator Bisset’s wife, Abigail, could be a dictatorial bitch at times, but right now her words weren’t a demand; they were a question laced with longing. To Dillon, longing was an altogether vile and unattractive emotion-especially when outwardly displayed. She needed to take off, like, now.
Her shirt over her head, Dillon yanked it down and glanced over her shoulder. “Yeah.”
Abigail grinned at her. She was a beautiful woman-no doubt-but it wasn’t her features that drew Dillon to her. It was never looks that got Dillon’s rocks off with either male or female lovers. It was a quality, something rare, something she found devastatingly attractive and impossible to deny herself when she encountered it.
The lure of someone else’s property.
She grinned. The adrenaline rush of having something that didn’t belong to her made Dillon feel alive and impossible to touch. A total high. An addiction she never deviated from. Well, except for the one moment of idiocy that she engaged in with Sara’s brother, Gray, a week ago on the night she rescued him from the Paleo and the fangs of the Order. But hell, that was just amped-up adrenaline and maybe a teaspoon of concern for the Impure’s sister-shit, how would Sara feel if her little brother came home blood castrated by the Order?
Dillon was able to help him out and she did. No big deal-not the rescue, not even the lip-on-lip, tongue-in-mouth action they’d shared in the shower-or the blood she’d let him suckle right out of her neck before she told him to get lost.
Her hand went to the spot on her neck where the imprint of his fangs still subsisted in its way…the tiny holes still open.
Lounging on the bed she shared with the senator, Abigail’s baby blue eyes beseeched her charmingly. “You’ll be safe out there?”
Dillon nodded. “Sure.”
“Because that’s all I want for you, darling,” she said, rolling to her back, the covers over her breasts. “To be safe, to come back to me.”
Dillon wondered if the woman meant it in any other way but sexual. Then again, did that really matter?
Wasn’t that the point?
Her cell buzzed on the bedside table and she grabbed it, stared at the readout. Alexander. Again. Why couldn’t the Romans get the message already? She’d paid her debt-she was out, done. And though she would always have a soft spot for Sara, they weren’t her family, no matter how many times the thought had crossed her warped mind. She had no family. Only conquests.
Grabbing her bag, she slung it over her shoulder. “I’ve got to go.”
“Wait a second.”
Only slightly irritated, Dillon raised an auburn brow. Of course there would be a demand. “What?”
The grin was slow and seductive as Abigail dropped the sheet covering her naked flesh and moved catlike to the edge of the bed. “Kiss me good-bye.”
Dillon leaned in and was about to kiss her on the cheek, but Abigail turned her head and laughed. “No, no-not like that. Like this.” Her mouth was soft, her kiss not exactly hungry, but in it there was a point to prove. A predatory point as she ran her tongue across Dillon’s fangs.
Dillon pulled away. She didn’t have time for this, wasn’t going to play the vampire game with Abigail right now.
She headed to the door. After all, it was time to go and protect the woman’s husband.
Lucian had only one thought as he came to-finding relief for his painfully hard prick. He had never felt such a base need to screw something, anything, in his life, and the scent that hovered near his nostrils made him growl and lunge forward.
But he felt the bite of steel dig into his skin. Fury blasted through him; he couldn’t get to it, get over it, sink inside of it. Why couldn’t he get to it? He couldn’t reason it out; he needed to sink his cock into some slick female heat.
He dropped his head back and keened. It was as though he could smell the female’s very insides, her bones, her tongue, the tight passageway of her cunt…
And he wanted it, wanted to consume it-fill it.
Shudders rippled through him at her voice. He gasped in pain, and his cock swelled.
“Can you hear me?” she asked. There was a pause. “Do you think he can hear me?”
“I don’t know, mistress,” came another voice.
Lucian surged forward, his mouth open, his fangs bared. He would kill that male, rip out his voice box and feast, but something contained him, held him back.
His head twisted and turned. He couldn’t control it, couldn’t control anything.
Where was the female? He wanted her. Only her.
“What can I do?” she said, her voice so pained. “What should I do?”
“Nothing to do now. He has turned.” The male again. Lucian growled, something dripping from his fangs-what was it…blood?
“Just try and keep him calm,” the male continued. “He seems to respond better to your voice than to mine. And if he will take the blood that’s been given that should help.”
“The blood is from the Order?” she asked.
“It should tame him some.”
Lucian’s whole body spasmed, racked with the need to fight and leap and taste and maim. Why couldn’t he move? Why couldn’t he reach that male and tear into his flesh?
“Lucian?” It was her again. Her voice moved through him, making him hungry and lustful-yet she made him able to breathe. “If you can hear me, please open your eyes.”
Sensation moved through his veins, pulsed, ached-then something happened without his consent. Light assaulted him. Not daylight, but active, moving. He squinted against it.
“That’s right,” she said encouragingly. “Look at me. Can you see me?”
He blinked, blinked back the terrible light. It was like seeing the world through a kaleidoscope of blazing color, and it was painful as hell. Like he’d been born again into a frame he didn’t recognize and couldn’t escape.
A face shifted into his line of vision. Dark eyes, long hair like an animal’s…”Do you know what’s happened to you? Lucian, do you know where you are?”
It happened without his thought, again without his consent-but it couldn’t be helped. The scent…the scent was too good to resist.
He reached out, grabbed her arm, and pulled her in.
But it was too late. His fangs had hit skin, then vein, and her hot, sweet blood was cascading down his throat like a waterfall. Her whimpers did nothing to halt him, yet did everything to raise his pulsating cock to new heights.
Stunned and still shaken up, Bronwyn blew on her wrist for the fourth and final time, then sat back against the wall-the wall the guards had dragged her to when Lucian had gone mad with bloodlust a few minutes ago. Inside her, everything was shaken up, loose, even her skin didn’t feel connected to her bones and muscles.
She closed her eyes for a moment, saw the battle that had raged when Bel and his partner had attempted to free her from Lucian’s iron grasp. The guard had nearly been killed, while his partner had been tossed like a rag doll against the door. The poor male was unconscious on her bed, suffering from several broken bones and a deep gash in his neck.
“I did warn you, Princess. Now do you believe me?”
Her eyes flew open. Lucian. He was awake. After Bel had knocked him out with a strike to the head, he’d lain there on the floor, unconscious, her blood dripping from his full lips. And now, here he was, sitting up, alert, his almond eyes almost…almost-eased? Was it possible? Did he actually appear alert? Concerned?
“Lucian?” she whispered, his name feeling different on her tongue somehow.
“Yeah. I’m here. I don’t know how, but I’m here. And I feel like a bastard.”
“You feel?” She leaned forward, keeping her voice low so she wouldn’t wake Bel, who slept near the fire. “What do you mean, you feel?”
He opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head. “I am a Breeding Male. I know this, and yet…something has calmed inside of me.”
He still wore the clothes she’d fetched for him at the house in SoHo, but they were pretty tattered now. The shirt was torn open in the front, the buttons gone, no doubt scattered about on the floor somewhere, his chest revealed to her gaze. She swallowed tightly, the smooth, pale skin stretched over hard, tense muscle momentarily reminding her of their time on the island, of his chest, his belly against hers. Her gaze lifted, hoping his eyes didn’t hold the same fire, but his face, even with all the hard angles, appeared the calmest she’d seen him in a while.
She asked, “You don’t feel the hunger, the lust anymore?”
“Not like I did.” He regarded her with a solemn look. “Not as a rabid animal would.”
She wanted to get closer, look deeply into his eyes, but she didn’t dare. Not yet. Not until she was sure he was stable. “Is that even possible?”
“I don’t know. Shit, I don’t know anything, except-” His gaze slammed into hers. “Except that I hurt you, that I scared the shit out of you. I should be gutted for such an act.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “You were not…you.”
For a long moment, neither one of them moved, just sat there across from each other as Bel snored near the fire and the sound of night birds landing on the nearby loch stole in from the open window.
“Do you think this sanity will last?” Bronwyn asked, breaking the thoughtful silence with the hopeful sound in her own voice.
“I don’t know,” he said, shifting his position as much as the chains would allow.
The questions that flashed inside Bronwyn’s mind were almost too many to contain. Perhaps the paven before her wouldn’t have to be chained forever; perhaps he was not the beast he had been minutes ago. A seed of hope lodged in her chest. “What could’ve prompted the change?” she asked, glancing around the room as she thought out loud. “The hit on the head, or maybe it’s your natural body chemistry-maybe it’s rejecting the gene?”
She lifted her head and found his gaze burning like it had when he’d taken her blood on Cruen’s reality. “My blood?”
He nodded. “On the island, after drinking from you I felt…a surge of power. Feels the same way now.”
“In what way?”
“I have strength,” he began. “In body and in mind…I feel supported somehow. It’s hard to explain, but it’s there, deeply embedded in my cells.”
“For a Breeding Male, blood from a veana should make the urge to breed even stronger,” she said, her brain spinning from such a possibility. “It shouldn’t take it away.”
He shrugged, said softly, “Just telling you what I’m living, breathing. Your blood felt like sweet sanity running down my throat.”
Bronwyn shook her head against the words, the incredible suggestion. As a scientist, as one who knew the genetic makeup of a Breeding Male, his reaction to her blood should’ve been the opposite of what he was claiming. And yet crazy feelings of hope and pride bloomed within her. To be the one to sustain his sanity long-term-be the only one who could feed this captive beast after taking it from him in the first place?
God, she wanted that. She wanted it to be her blood that was his magic potion.
Just her blood.
Then a thought entered her head. A scientist’s thought-not a veana’s. “What about the Order’s blood? Maybe you should try that, see if it would have the same effect?”
“The Order’s blood will have no effect,” he stated flatly.
“Why would you say that? You have no idea-“
“I know. Fuck. I just know. It will do nothing but send me back into the mind of the Breeding Male.”
Lucian felt a sudden shift inside himself. A shift in the room too, and the black night outside the window. His eyes narrowed on Bronwyn, and a shot of nausea so tremendous he had to swallow repeatedly came over him. Something was way off, something was terribly and uniquely wrong. He drew in a breath as a volatile shot of misery moved through him.
Like a tidal wave.
To his very bones.
But it was not the misery of the Breeding Male-no, that side of him had been pure madness, unstoppable lust, untamed hunger. This, this feeling coming over him now was the sickness of a paven who had done something so vile, so unforgivable that he wished for his end.
Panic gripped him.
But what was it?
What was wrong with him now? Maybe he did need the Order’s blood? Maybe he needed to consume a member of the Order whole…
He suppressed the bitter laughter hovering on his tongue. This was complete bullshit. The Order and their blood-neither would do anything for him but feed him. It would not soothe his beast, quell his lust, or tamp down his rage.
Not as Bronwyn’s blood would.
As it had minutes ago.
Fuck, there it was again. The strange sensation, and yet within the waves of continued nausea, he could still feel those wisps of lingering calm that tasted exquisitely of her.
He closed his eyes, searched his mind, his insides-his blood to find it, this beautiful sensation, this unbelievable calm. Ahhhhh…there. Once again, he felt her blood rush through his veins, soothing, supporting, easing. It hadn’t taken much, but the amount of blood he’d managed to barbarically extract from her had been enough to feel her.
Enough for him to hear her…
He froze at the thought, confused, careful-stunned. Bronwyn was a Pureblood veana-there were no beats of life inside her blood. He would feel her, yes-but hear her? Never. And yet the sensation, the sound was there. The steady, even beats of life-the rush of another in his veins.
Lucian’s soul died right there on the floor of the cottage.
There was only one reason for Bronwyn’s blood to have a rhythm, a movement…
Shock waves slammed into his mind.
No! Fuck no!
His head began to pound, his skin burning as though he lived in the center of a forest fire.
Fucking hell! He didn’t…shit! He didn’t do that to her-saddle Bronwyn with a balas!
“Lucian?” she said, her voice threaded with concern. “What’s wrong?”
He stared right through her with unseeing eyes…
“You’re so pale,” she continued, truly distressed now. “Are you in pain? Oh, God, is it coming back?”
Calm down, asshole, he warned himself. Calm the fuck down now! Agitation will only bring back the Breeding Male, set off the hunger and lust and uncontrollable violence. His head spun. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe he was only hearing himself-his new beginnings of life.
He slammed his eyes shut and felt for it again, searching his blood for her and for…
No. God, no…
What had he done?
His lids lifted, slowly, sadly, and he stared at her, horrified. There was no mistaking what every cell in his body knew and cried out with animalistic pride. Bronwyn Kettler was in swell. The one thing she’d feared above all else, and he had done it to her.
The Breeding Male.