Avenari - Chapter 17
Andris realized the situation before I did, and to my surprise he chuckled, “Okay, maybe my luck isn’t so bad, after all.”
The nearest person heard his remark and spun around so quickly that he appeared to shift through his own body. He looked young, but the signature playing across the web of my spatial sense whispered of vintage blood. I estimated him at about a century—older than I was.
He broke into a smile, staring at me. “Hello there, sweetheart.”
I took a nervous step back. They were all Shimaren, and those people in the middle weren’t hugging. One of them was a victim—the other one a vampire.
A younger Shimare with dirty blond hair grinned, baring his fangs with relish. “Come to join the party?”
“Wait, they’re like us.” The fledgling brunette beside him shook her head and placed a pacifying hand on his shoulder, forcing him to back down.
“But not this one,” said the only Shimare not wearing a superhero cat-burglar outfit, as he slunk out in front of the group to look Andris over. My blood sent out a tendril of my spatial sense, feeling his signature out and deciding that he was the eldest—three hundred, at least. He had sharp eyes and black hair, though with none of Andris’ luster. Actually, it was kind of dusty, as though he and his little posse slept their days in an abandoned warehouse.
“Yes, he seems...different, but the same,” said the vampiress at his side. She wore her wavy red hair up in a bun, accentuating her narrow face and freckles—even glasses! There was no way she needed them. It was probably a weird fashion statement.
“Impressive,” Andris said coldly. “I’m pretty good at hiding my signature.”
The eldest smiled tightly, sensing the near-tangible distaste in the ancient’s voice. “I see...may I ask what you are doing here? This is our territory.”
I hadn’t sensed a barrier, but I also knew that not many were powerful enough to erect a barrier like the one Simone had around our territory. His had actually been set up by some of the Nesciti, the Emperor’s elite guard. Simone just maintained it with his powers.
Andris laughed. “I go where I please, and wherever I go becomes my territory.”
Flabbergasted, I gaped at the Nariuvne. “What are you doing?!”
He shrugged, giving me a twisted, damnably handsome smirk. “I’m hungry.” He turned back to the eldest. “Do you mind if I steal a bite?”
Whatever kind of mojo he was using, it was doing the trick. The younger ones seemed all but ecstatic to let him join in. This irritated me, for some unfathomable reason.
Time to play referee.
“Andris, Nick, let’s go,” I snapped, tugging Nick towards the open street and grabbing Andris’ sleeve.
However, the ancient held fast and actually reversed my grip to take hold of my arm, pulling me against his side and leaning in close. His blood’s scent caught in my lungs, and half of my willpower instantly evaporated.
“Oh, no, Princess,” Andris said softly. “Unless you are feeling generous, I advise that you allow me this opportunity. Otherwise...” He leaned closer, until his lips brushed lightly down my nape, making my nerves fire sporadically.
The air around me grew heavy and warm, and only with the utmost effort did I manage to whisper, “Okay, you win.” The blood hummed in my veins, charged with energy it usually could only gain from my triggers. How did he do that?!
“That’s better.” A moment later, he was gently ushering me to one side, where Nick stood gawking in envy and irritation and a whole mess of other emotions that flashed across his irises like a firework display. The audience was no different. I’d never gotten jealous glares from other girls before, but I sure as hell was getting my fair share tonight. Damn that old bastard...
“I apologize, but I do not believe I can give what you are asking for,” the elder vampire said, his calm expression slipping visibly.
“Yeah.” Another voice rose from the group, which parted to reveal the one who had been feeding. “It’s our kill. Find your own.” I could now see the child—a dead little boy—in his arms.
My insides turned to ice, caught between terror and rage. “Just a little boy,” I whispered.
“I noticed,” Andris said grimly, narrowing his gaze at the culprit. “So children are your game, are they? Were you bullied as a mortal, or are you just the usual pathetic scum?”
“Tch. Blood’s blood. Don’t matter where ya get it, so long as it’s warm,” he laughed, grinning red-stained fangs. “You got a problem with that, bitch?”
“I do. Good bye.”
I felt the power coming, and braced myself for the inundation. It pushed out like a wave of magma rushing past only feet in front of me, merciless and unstoppable.
A sudden, piercing scream ripped the air in half, and while I watched in horror, a torrent of blood came bubbling out of the rude vampire’s mouth. Within seconds, it spilled in a grotesque puddle around his feet, soaking his clothing. The scent was almost overwhelming, too rich and thick and terrifying. He bled so much that he began to shrivel away, until at last the blood could only trickle out of his collapsed, mummy-like corpse.
Ten seconds was all it took, and I gaped at Andris in shock.
“B-Benjamin?” squeaked one of the vampiresses. “Oh, my God! Ben! What did you do to Ben?!” She was too afraid to try and aid her friend, but I really couldn’t blame her. It was bad.
“My word,” whispered the eldest, turning back to stare at the ancient. “What are you?”
“I’m the last thing you’ll ever see,” he replied simply, offering a heartless smile.
Faster than a subliminal message, Andris and his fist flew forward, hitting hard enough to collapse the bridge of the eldest’s nose and turn his eyes inward. Before he could even think to cry out in pain, the ancient’s fangs were already deep in cold flesh, drawing out the only thing that kept us alive and plunging him hard into the trance.
The younger ones went into a panic. They hightailed out of the alley without a second thought, abandoning both the fallen fledgling and their leader.
Andris didn’t seem to care, though, focusing instead on the blood at his fingertips, drinking until there was nothing left to drink.
And then there were three corpses in the alley.
He was panting hard when he dropped the body, wavering slightly as though riding a high. “Ah, that is so much better,” he groaned, sliding his hands up and pulling the hair away from his forehead. “Not as good as yours, of course,” he added to me, his eyes shimmering like glow-in-the-dark opals, “but still better than fighting my thirst.”
There was pressure on my arm, and I glanced over my shoulder to see Nick gripping me tightly, staring at the ancient as though he couldn’t tear his gaze away.
I agreed, but...
“They deserved it,” Andris muttered, letting his hands fall. “Even I have never intentionally harmed a child.” He frowned at the little boy’s broken body, his eyes dimming to dark red. “Even when I hunted down Lynn’s family, I didn’t touch the children. She was the only one, but as you can see I didn’t hurt her, either—emotional wounds notwithstanding.”
“How can you talk like that?!” Nick exploded. “How can you just kill someone—anyone—and be okay with it? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Andris’ cold gaze settled on the kid, forcing him silent. “So you would have them escape unpunished for killing that little boy?” With the fresh meal, his powers flickered more than ever, like choppy waters. “You did nothing but cower behind Lynn. Doing nothing is worse.”
“And that was your great idea?! You’re a monster!”
“Nick, enough,” I said quietly. He shut up and glared at me in indignation, but I shook my head to keep him silent. “What’s done is done. There’s no point in fighting about it. Besides, Andris is right. We live by our own laws. The only real law instituted by the high Councils is the law of secrecy. Otherwise, justice is carried out by our own interpretation. Sloppy, yes, but effective. With his age and power, Andris can decree any law he wants to implement among those who are lower in status...and in his case, he may be peerless.”
“Him? Carrying out justice?” Nick let out an ugly laugh. “You’re kidding, right? He’s just an overbearing asshole!”
“That overbearing asshole gave you a new life, better than the one your biological parents gave you!” I growled. “Show some respect!”
“Yeah, right. It’s your fault that I got all screwed up! If it wasn’t for your stupid idea, I’d still be human. I don’t want to be this age forever, dammit! I don’t want to be like him!”
My anger fizzled out as quickly as it had appeared. I had no reply to that. I’d been waiting for him to start blaming me, but it still hurt. No power in the world could return his humanity, and it really was my fault.
He cut me off. “I don’t want to hear it! This is wrong. If this is what it’s like to live with the rest of you vampires, then I don’t want any of it. I’ll find my own way.” At that, he stormed off toward the open street and disappeared around the corner.
I was too surprised to try and stop him.
Andris touched my shoulder lightly. “Lynn?”
I was my turn to snap, and without thinking I instantly spun to punch him across the face. “You bastard, why did you do that in front of him?!”
He caught my fist and held it tight, and it scared me how easily he could overpower me. “He will come to his senses soon enough. Besides, it’s better that he understands early on what his Maker really is.”
I tried to hit him with my other hand, but he caught that too, and as I struggled against his indomitable strength, the tears started rushing out. Eventually, I fell to my knees. “No, he won’t! He hates me now, thanks to you!” I was going to lose Nick, my first real friend in decades, and the realization was crushing. Was it really worth keeping Andris around if this was how things were going to be between the two of them? Would it be better to just abandon this mission?
Without warning, Andris joined me on the dusty ground. “Why do I always make you cry?” he whispered, slipping his arms around me. “I hate myself more than ever when you cry.”
Startled, I frowned at his forehead resting on my shoulder. “Andris...”
“Nick will be fine,” he said, turning to meet my eyes with one pale violet taper. “It’s his first night. He’s going to have problems adjusting, but it should get better once he cools off. Besides, I won’t tolerate my fledgling losing his nerve so soon.”
I bit my lip to fend off more tears, but it was no use. “Dammit, Andris,” I hiccupped. “You’re a real paradox, you know that?” My hand reached up and slipped into his satin hair, almost like a comfort gesture. “You’re such an arrogant jerk. Why do I want you to stay?”
“It works for me,” he said with a faint smile, his eyes slowly darkening to deep teal.
“What’s it like to have that kind of power?” I murmured as I wiped the scarlet tears from my cheeks. I glanced at the withered corpse of the rude vampire, and the pool of blood surrounding him. At least it wasn’t facing me. The elder was also facing away, but the little boy’s body seemed to glow in the bulb’s stark light, somehow worse than the other two combined. As I stared at the child, Nick’s tantrum seemed a million miles away.
I averted my gaze, focusing instead on the ancient before me.
Andris frowned and closed his eyes, turning to my shoulder again. “It used to feel wonderful, but if I had the choice, I would trade it all for something less cumbersome. Releasing it feels good, but the consequences are unforgivable.”
“Will Nick really come back, do you think? Maybe we should go look for him.”
“He will come back. I can sense him near enough. He has my blood, after all.” His embrace tightened slightly. “Please, just let me hold you a bit longer, while we wait. No matter how good this power may feel, killing makes me want to hold something alive...”
I hesitated, but forced myself to relax a little. “Okay.” I rested my cheek against his soft hair. “Thanks, Andris.”
“For tagging along with my stupid plan. For saving Nick and then giving him the shock treatment when he needed it most. For being so sweet and patient.”
He chuckled lightly, “Are you referring to my blood with that last?”
“No, to you.”
That seemed to give him pause. Slowly, he looked up to meet my eyes. “What makes you say that? Nick is right; I am a monster. Just look at the corpses.”
I shook my head. “No, you’re sweet. Powerful, but still a nice person to be around—when you’re not in a bad mood, of course.”
His gaze lowered. “To you, perhaps, but that’s only because I’m selfish enough to think that I can have you all for myself. I’m not normally so friendly.”
“That’s okay. I’d rather have you around. You don’t deserve to be alone, no matter how bad you used to be.”
“What I don’t deserve is you, yet I can’t help trying,” he whispered, leaning in to brush his warm lips against mine like the lightest stroke of a feather.
I wasn’t sure why I let him, because I knew that, if he wanted to, he could easily steal my will to resist. However, I did, and he didn’t take it any further than that one gentle touch. It was barely a kiss, but it felt like it meant so much more.
He smiled as he pulled away. “Thank you.”
“Why didn’t you...?”
“Because you let me, and I don’t want to lose your trust.” He looked around at the messy scene not five feet away and sighed, “Besides, I should clean up and take the child’s body to a place where he will be easily found and properly attended to.”
My tone seemed to amuse him more than anything. “Don’t sound so disappointed.” Quicker than a bolt of lightning he planted another gentle kiss on me, then let me go to stand and assess the situation. “A fire would be kind of noticeable, but seeing as how you Shimaren are a bit like kerosene, if I burned them in a dumpster then I could keep the lid closed.”
“Er...there’s one further down,” I suggested in an attempt to avoid seeming flustered over that second kiss. I couldn’t figure out why he kept doing it. Was my blood really so attractive?
“Hmm.” He walked over and peeked under the lid, then leaned it up against the brick wall behind and checked further in. “There isn’t really anything in here to make a lot of smoke, other than the usual sludge at the bottom. It’ll get the job done.”
Almost casually, he went to pick up the bodies and brought them over to the bin. I couldn’t understand how he could touch them so easily, as if he’d been doing this kind of cleanup for years and years…then again, he probably had been.
“You’re used to doing this, aren’t you?” I asked, still kneeling on the ground.
“Well, not the dumpster part,” he said as he lightly tossed the elder’s corpse in last. It landed with a wet clatter. “However, disposing of the evidence is just common sense if I want to keep the Shimari Council’s dogs off my trail.”
“Huh.” It was odd to think that I—rather, my kind were his food. He seemed so normal to me. Perhaps this was how Nick had felt about me as a mortal. Also, just like Nick had with me, I had succumbed to a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with the ancient. I enjoyed the sensation of his fangs piercing through me, spreading that exquisite warmth through my body after drinking his marvelous blood. Rather than making me feel like food, it made me feel calm and safe...
“Lynn, are you sure you’re all right?”
I flinched, realizing that I had spaced out completely, and nodded a little too quickly. “I’m good! Just thinking about...stuff!”
How ridiculous, my blood sighed, shaking its metaphysical head.
“Right.” Andris gave me an unconvinced squint, but let it go anyway, instead lighting a piece of litter with a butane lighter he had produced from his coat.
He dropped the flame in and lowered the lid, and there sounded a loud rush of air as a brilliant spout of fire tried to escape, which the heavy iron slab immediately blocked off. The burning bodies hissed and snapped, and an angry, orange glow crackled through the gap between the cover and the bin. However, it was short-lived, fizzling out after only a few seconds.
“Wow,” I said. “It doesn’t take long for us to burn up, does it?”
He gave a sober shake of his head, staring blankly at the steam rising from under the lid. “No, it doesn’t—sunlight is the same, though it turns your kind to loose ash, rather than coals. Please make sure you take care while you are out during the day. Even if I have to keep my distance for now, I would much rather not lose you before I’ve gotten you.”
That made me sigh. He was so frank, yet it was a surprisingly effective tactic. “Yes, sir,” I said sarcastically. “What about the little boy? Where should we take him?”
“I will take him to one of the benches in that nearby mall—emphasis on the ‘I’ for this one. You stay here and wait for Nick. I’ll be back in three minutes or less.”
I frowned, watching him go to the little body and gather it carefully into his arms. Unlike the Shimaren, which he had simply picked up by and arm or a leg and tossed in the dumpster, he cradled the little boy like something much more precious. It made me feel better about him.
“Don’t take too long,” I murmured, uneasy about being left alone with the corpses.
He smiled a little, evidently pleased that I could say such a thing and mean it. “Even the wind couldn’t beat me back to you,” he said, and without warning or noise, he simply vanished, moving so quickly that my insanely keen eyes couldn’t have dreamed of following.
With Andris gone, all the tension in my body released at once, and I slumped forward with a frustrated sigh. It was getting more and more difficult to maintain a simple relationship when he was so good at making me drop my guard. I hated to admit it, but as sweet as they had been, I wasn’t satisfied with those little kisses—I wanted more.
“Ugh, give me my sanity back,” I begged the earth below.
The scent of blood was thick in the air where the rude Shimare had been killed, but even that couldn’t make my thirst rise. I was still more than happy with my earlier meal and what the ancient had given me, though I certainly wouldn’t have turned down a second offer.
Besides, I had lost my familiar. No more blood at my beck and call. It was a depressing thought. Now I’d have to hunt like any normal person.
The best-laid plans of men and vampires...
Feeling restless, I finally got up and dusted off my pants, intent on inspecting the dead vampires’ remains. The dumpster had stopped steaming, but when I lifted the lid and leaned it against the wall, I could see glowing coals at the bottom in the shape of a person. It was as though someone had taken a couple of bodies from Pompeii and heated them in a kiln for a few hours. There were cracks in the ash encasing them, from which a dim glow radiated, like the fractured shell of cooling lava.
Considering the intensity of the fire, this wasn’t too surprising, but what fascinated me most was the complete lack of heat. Other than the faint warmth of the iron bin, the bodies themselves gave off no heat at all, like cold embers.
“Weird,” I said, frowning at the remains. Curious, I reached down to feel if the fire was as cool as it looked.
I blinked once, and then suddenly found myself yanked away and pinned to the wall beside the back door to the club. Andris stood before me, looking startled and holding my wrists against the coarse brick.
“What were you about to do!” he demanded, his eyes flashing almost white.
I stared for a moment, still stunned that I hadn’t sensed even a flicker of his signature’s return, then replied meekly, “It was cold, so I wanted to see if...”
I trailed off when his eyes narrowed.
“Don’t ever touch the body of a Shimare after a fire! Sunlight is okay, but fire is not, understand?” His voice sounded more than a little panicked.
“Uh, sure, but what’s wrong with it?”
He seemed to realize that he hadn’t let go, and did so hesitantly, taking a respectful step back and looking over to the dumpster. “I don’t know why, but fire consumes Shimaren until there is nothing but coals. The fire doesn’t die, though. It sits dormant for hours afterwards, ready to flare back to life if another comes along. If you had touched it...”
He left the rest to my imagination.
My eyes widened. “Then if you hadn’t stopped me?”
“You might be dead right now,” he finished, carefully neutralizing his tone.
“Oh.” Stupid, stupid, stupid! What was wrong with me today? Maybe my family’s repetitive warnings hadn’t been a complete waste of time, because I was apparently an idiot.
“Are you going to be all right?”
I nodded and took a steadying breath. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Thanks for stopping me.”
“I should have told you,” he said, giving me an apologetic look. “I keep forgetting that you haven’t had much experience outside of Simone’s little prison world.”
“No, I was being an idiot. I’m more flammable than dry newsprint, yet I want to touch the fire? Yep, I’m an idiot.” I nodded again, firmly agreeing with that assessment. I must have hit my head when I’d gone comatose earlier, because my brain just wasn’t up to par at the moment.
Andris cracked a tiny smirk. “Well, if it is any consolation, I think it’s rather sweet how completely ignorant you are. You’re so innocent compared to me.”
My eye twitched in response. “What kind of consolation is that?!” I cried. “Now I feel even more stupid that you had to stop me from killing myself on accident.”
Still smirking, he took my wrists again and leaned in closer. “At least I’ve paid my debt.”
Uh-oh. “Wait! Time out!” I yelped too late.
He caught my lips and brought my arms together to restrain them in one hand, while the other came up and slipped around my neck, holding me in place.
Free will went bye-bye, and before I knew what hit me, I had already opened up to him, drinking him in and savoring his sweetness. The heat melted from his lips, rushing down my spine in a drowning wave and warming my entire body like a hot shower.
I gasped when one of his many fangs pierced my tongue, but moaned when he sucked on the wound, letting me taste my blood in his mouth. It was as if he knew exactly how to make my blood rise. My hands found themselves free, but rather than push him away they gripped his shirt and pulled him harder against me, letting me in deeper until I finally captured his crafty tongue between my teeth. I bit down, and his heady flavor clouded my senses as it rushed to the surface.
The trickle slowed, and my wits gathered, but even when the wound vanished I didn’t pull away. Nothing in the world had ever felt this wonderful. I craved this intimacy, his blood.
Surprisingly, he was the one who ended it, not I.
“Lydian,” he whispered against my lips, caressing my cheek and holding me tightly.
I opened my eyes to meet his, and blinked in wonder. “Wow,” I managed, otherwise at a loss for words.
Rather than the pale green of peridot, or the flat green of fresh-cut grass, his eyes had taken on new life altogether. They were an emerald color so radiant and fathomless that I could almost see the depths of an ancient, eternal rainforest on the other side, thick with sparks of cyan sky and shadowy pools of water. I had heard once that flawless emeralds didn’t exist, but I now knew that was wrong. They did exist—right there, in his eyes.
“Beautiful.” I slid a hand out of his hair to hold his face and stare into his eyes.
“What color are they?” he asked, almost like a riddle.
I frowned and replied simply, “Emeralds.”
They closed, and then opened again, fading gradually to baby blue. “Then I’m not deceiving myself,” he whispered.
“About what?” What did it mean? What emotion was linked to that breathtaking color?
He sighed a little and kissed me again, yet another tender brush of lips. “It’s nothing,” he murmured against my skin, as though it were a dirty secret and he wanted to keep it that way.
My heart faltered in its steady rhythm. “What?” I managed to croak.
“Nothing at all,” he repeated somberly. “Though, I still want you as my blood partner.”
I had a thousand questions jumbled in my mind, but only one seemed appropriate. “Why does that make you sad?”
“Because I’m beginning to think that I’ll never have you,” he said, running my hair between his fingertips and staring at the ground. “I’ve done too many terrible things, both to you and to hundreds of thousands of others. You’re so young and alive, and I’m old and dead inside. I don’t deserve you at all.”
“Idiot!” I snapped, losing composure and grabbing his collar to make him look at me. “Stop putting yourself down like that! Don’t stand there and ramble on about not deserving something. Who cares? Wanting something has nothing to do with deserving something. If you want it, then grab it by the horns and wrest it to the ground and take it for yourself!”
He frowned at my reaction. “I don’t understand...”
Exasperated, I took it back a step. “You want me to be your blood partner, right?”
“And your blood agrees, right?”
“Then quit arguing with yourself about it. You’re doing a damn fine job of making me want you, Andris. Don’t stop just when you’re well on your way to getting what you’ve been working towards.”
It took him a moment to realize the implications of what I’d just said, but when he did, that marvelous emerald bled back into his eyes full-force, stunning me. And the color wasn’t the only thing to return.
“So, you want me?” he asked slowly, a faint smile tugging at his lips. Whatever it was about that emerald color made him about ten times more difficult to resist.
“Sort of,” I muttered. To be perfectly honest, Andris was so far beyond my scope of experience that I felt like he had an unfair advantage. It also didn’t help that my stupid blood wouldn’t shut up about him, like a car alarm that nobody was willing to turn off.
“So you’re saying I have a chance?” he pressed, forcing me to keep my eyes on his.
I frowned. “Um, I don’t actually know. It’s still kind of sudden.”
“Then what does your blood think?”
Oops. He’d hit the nail in the face with a brick. “No opinion,” I lied, far too quickly.
Tell him the truth, or I will let the thirst do as it pleases, the silent voice threatened.
Andris’ jewel eyes narrowed in curiosity. “Are you okay? You’re turning pale.”
I shook my head hard. “Scratch that. I like you. A lot. You’re nice to be around, as I’ve said. Now, whether or not I can commit to something like that, I don’t know—really, I don’t—but it’s not impossible. My blood...well, it’s about as selfish as you are.”
This was obviously a downer for him. “Then I have to wait some more?”
I shrugged, frowning at how bizarre this had gotten. “Er, I guess? I don’t even know how that would work, what with you not being a Shimare and all.”
He waved it away like a bothersome fly. “Technicalities. We both feed on blood. Throw the amulets into this equation, and we’re both also immune to sunlight. Besides, I adore your blood, and you can’t seem to get enough of mine.”
“You make me sound so crass,” I said, annoyed. “If there’s anything about you that I adore, it’s your blood, but you’re nice, too. It’s not my fault you have vulun-ris.”
“Then it’s settled. You will be my blood partner. Your blood agrees, and so does mine.”
“I never said my blood agreed!” I cried, shocked at the sudden turn of events.
I do, so say yes.
“Shut up!” I shouted at my arm. “Don’t drag me into your crazy schemes!” There was no way in hell I was having a blood reaction. I was too young, and it was such a rare occurrence, at least according to Simone. I’d never even met two vampires who were blood bonded.
“Why are you yelling at your arm?” Andris said, staring hard at my elbow.
“I’m yelling at the blood,” I explained. “Anyway, no. No blood partnerships. It’s way too early to be talking about something that serious. That’s eternity, you crazy man! Longer than marriage, and with no death to part us!”
He frowned, then reached over and tilted my chin up so that he was looking right down into my eyes. “Say yes, or you won’t get another drop from my veins.”
Wait. If I wanted him to stop believing that my blood wanted him, then shouldn’t I have been fine with him cutting me off? Dammit, my head was a mess. I wasn’t even sure which side of me wanted him anymore—which it didn’t, because I wouldn’t let it...
I was doomed.
He chuckled. “You heard me. If you’re telling the truth, that your blood isn’t reacting to mine at all, then you should be fine with it if I cease donation.”
He had to be reading my mind. “But...”
Andris leaned down closer, almost to my lips. “Or will you admit the truth? If you do, then you may have every drop in my veins, if that is your wish. I am utterly serious, Princess.” His voice dropped to a soft whisper. “Please say yes.”
That scent...it made my head reel and my skin ache. My insides felt like they were swirling in knots. “Andris, I can’t...”
“Just say yes. Your mother wants you to help me, and nothing in this world will help me more than finally taking you for myself. You will make my seventy-four hundred years of solitude completely worthwhile.”
I frowned, refusing to believe him. “That’s just silly. No one is worth that much pain.”
“You are. I’ve never been this happy before, and I don’t even have you yet. Tell me there’s no meaning in that.” He was too close, his scent too intoxicating. It was nearly impossible to form a complete thought.
My blood took advantage of this without hesitation, stealing control of my vocal cords and whispering softly, “Yes. I want you as my blood part—no! Shut up!” Realizing the loss of authority, I wrenched my faculties back into possession and shook my head violently, taking several blind steps back until I hit the wall again.
This was more unjust than anything I could have imagined. I wanted him to help me out, not trap me in a permanent relationship. Blood partnerships were based on a whole myriad of factors I couldn’t even begin to evaluate rationally while his taste was still fresh on my tongue. A blood reaction helped, yes, but wasn’t I supposed to love him, too?
I loved a lot of people, but Andris...I didn’t know him well enough. I didn’t believe in all that first-sight nonsense. Sure, I liked him, but he was asking for this a hundred years too early. As for my blood, the conniving voice in my head wasn’t going to win this without a fight.
“Please, just give it some time,” I requested frantically, frustrated with the fear in my voice. “I’m still a fledgling. I’m too young for you in a variety of ways, and—”
“Meaningless. I was born greedy, and I’d rather have you than an ancient Nariavna,” he interrupted. “My blood made that decision when you were only ten years old, so there must be something special about you. Besides, kissing you is exhilarating. I’d like more of that.”
It was clear that there would be no reasoning with him, and in a fit of panic I made a break for it, shoving under his arm and sprinting at top speed towards blessed freedom.
Unfortunately, an obstacle stepped into my path just as I reached open air.
I collided hard and came to a dead stop, falling back and clutching at my head in pain.
“Jesus Christ!” I looked up to see Nick holding his stomach with one hand while he massaged the fresh cut on his chin. “You’ve got a hard head, Lynn!”
“That’s more than apparent,” muttered the now-disgruntled Crimson as he folded his arms across his chest and frowned in annoyance at the two of us. “Where the hell were you?”
“None of your damn business!” the kid snapped, irritated with his half-assed welcoming committee. “Goddammit, I leave for ten minutes and the social order collapses like a Popsicle-stick tower—wait...I can say that stuff? And it doesn’t hurt?” He seemed to forget about the pain, and while I recovered from the impact, he muttered some unintelligible things under his breath.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, sighing as soon as the ache faded to a dull numbness around my right eye. I got up to dust off yet again.
“I can say God and Jesus and stuff,” he murmured in surprise. “I thought vampires went into convulsions over that sort of thing.”
“Why would you think that? I already told you that religion doesn’t play any part in our existence, unless there are Shimari gods I don’t know about.” I wanted to ask Andris, but talking to him at that moment seemed a bit risky. His signature flickered like ripples of heat from a barbecue, making it clear that his mood had deteriorated once again.
Nick glanced up in thought. “Oh. Well, that’s cool. I’ve been watching what I say, just in case. I’m not big on pain.”
“Not many people are,” I grumbled dryly, turning my back to the ancient to avoid any unnecessary interaction. I didn’t trust myself with my blood acting so screwy. “Why did you come back? I thought you were going to strike out on your own and forge your own path.”
He fidgeted a little. “Well, I thought about those vampires Andris scared off, and decided that I didn’t want to run into anybody like that on my own. Plus, if I’m some weird combo between you guys, then I figured I’d probably need help from both of you before I got into the swing of things.”
“In other words, you got scared and ran back to Mommy and Daddy,” the ancient summed up in a monotone.
I shot him an irritated glare. “Shut up! Don’t do any more stupid things to screw up my world! I am not Mommy, and you are not Daddy!”
Andris just turned his back to us, equally annoyed, though for vastly different reasons.
The kid frowned, sensing that something was amiss, but in the end he made the smart decision and didn’t ask about it. “So, we’ve got about two hours until the plane leaves,” he said with an edge of caution. “Should we start heading back?”
“Good idea!” There was a little too much relief in my reply, but again, nobody pointed that out. “Let’s go find James and get out of here.”
“Fine,” Andris muttered, brushing past us and heading for the parking garage where James was supposed to be waiting.
Egads, I needed simplicity in a bad way.
I nodded for Nick to come along, and we followed at a safe distance, just in case.