Avenari - Chapter 35
The first thing I saw was the open window lattice in my room. The sky outside was dark. I knew I was in bed, and that someone had changed me into a silk nightgown. I clutched a soft, goose down pillow like a long lost friend, lying on my stomach and trying my best to not think about the pain. My back was aching something fierce, which made me yearn for an ice pack. However, the only real problem was exhaustion. Making the amulet and wings had taken so much energy that, even with the powerful blood in my veins, I felt like a fish out of water.
Too tired to get up just yet, I rolled over, and a piercing shock tore up my back. I yelped, suddenly very awake, and sat up in an instant to look over my shoulder and assess the damage.
Instead, I saw wings stretched out as far as possible behind me—huge and imposing, but absolutely weightless, as though they were made from air rather than flesh, bones, and feathers. They didn’t like being crushed against my back like that, and trembled with the shadow of pain.
“They’ve been stretching out a lot for the past few hours,” Andris said, appearing beside the fireplace and gazing at the flashy feathered limbs. “Did you know that they disappear every so often? It’s so strange to see.” He must have been watching over me the whole time. The slightest frown creased his brow, and I knew he had been worried.
“Yeah, Mom told me all about it,” I said, eyeing them suspiciously.
“She visited you again? What did she say?” He came over and sat in his usual chair next to the bed, watching me and glancing at the wings intermittently.
I shrugged, which made the wings shuffle…which made me wince in pain. “She told me where my power comes from,” I said tightly, glaring at the wings again. “She even said that you are part of the family now, like her son-in-law.”
His eyebrows rose in clear surprise. “Why is that?”
Doing my best not to move my shoulders in any way, I turned back to him and offered an exasperated smile. “I told you she forgave you. I guess she just understands why you did the things that you did. Mom is probably the most forgiving person I’ve ever known.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to accept it, though, especially when my actions ended up hurting you so deeply.”
“Yeah, I figured that much, but you have our forgiveness nonetheless.” I gave him a grumpy look, and he laughed.
“I suppose I can’t argue with the both of you,” he said, smiling a little. “How are you feeling, though? You should have seen your back when the wings came out. I’m setting a record for the number of times a person has changed clothes in a day. There was blood everywhere.”
“I feel like someone took a vacuum cleaner to my circulatory system,” I muttered, looking at my hand and seeing veins and tendons peeking through. “At least I’m not a bleeding mess anymore. Were you the one who cleaned me up and changed me into my nightgown?” It was definitely something he would have chosen, made of sheer red silk and nearly form-fit.
He grinned, and his eyes deepened into amazing Brazilian emeralds. “Naturally.”
“You didn’t violate me while I was unconscious, did you?” I asked, suspicious.
He laughed as though I were being naïve. “Lydian, you really should give me more credit. I just wiped up the blood and put you into the gown, and that’s it. Besides, where’s the fun when you can’t react to what I do?”
“Good.” I frowned when the wings once again shuffled around with my nod, and shot a glare at the enormous new limbs when the pain radiated through my back once more. “Ugh, I don’t even want to deal with this right now,” I growled. They were no longer caked in blood, but a little bit still flaked off to lightly dust the bed whenever they moved. It also didn’t help that every movement was excruciating. Curious to see if it would work, I concentrated a little, willing them to vanish. It took a few moments, but I smirked when they went transparent and crystalline, and then disappeared altogether. The ache was still there, but manageable now.
“I sure hope those things are the only inconvenience I’m stuck with because of the other links,” I muttered darkly. “Did they cause you any trouble?”
“Well, I had to cut slits down the back of the gown for them. They tried to reappear once and nearly ripped it apart.”
“Andris,” he said automatically. “Do you feel up to hunting, or am I your donor? Tatsune let me drink more of the fourth line’s blood, just in case, and sends you his best wishes. He also wants to talk to you about what happened this morning, sooner rather than later.”
“Wait, you drank that blood again? Did anything wacky happen this time?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No. We’re bonded now, so my thirst is being very quiet. It’s been very quiet ever since.”
Oh, good. “So was Tatsune mad at us for breaking in and using the well?”
“I’m guessing not. Besides, it isn’t as if he could do anything about it.” My demon grinned, indicating that he would have probably loved it if the Emperor threw a fit.
I sighed to myself, deciding not to address his obvious problem with authority. He was behaving much more reasonably than Quelos ever did, so we had that.
Tired, I rested back against the pillows, experiencing little more than a slight ache this time. “So are you going to give me that free meal or are you just going to sit there being all delicious and unattainable?”
He gave me one of those looks—the kind which said that I was an adjective away from insulting him, and he didn’t care. “You are the only one who has me. Come here, Princess. You look parched.” He took my hands and pulled me to sit in his lap, and I curled against his body, wrapping my arms around his chest and neck and nuzzling his soft throat. I breathed his scent, relishing the warmth radiating from his skin. I craved it almost as much as I craved his blood. Warm-blooded vampires were unheard of.
I kissed the vein then bit down into it, sighing as heat and comfort came back to me. I only needed a few swallows, and behind it his power pulsed like a hot fire in a blizzard, closing the link faster than I expected.
My mother again, dead, but so peaceful that death looked like sleep. The simple, pretty dress almost mocked the motionless woman—she should have been awake and moving or dancing...Andris touched my temple lightly and brought me back to my feeding with a start.
“Why can’t I stop seeing her?” I asked quietly when I finished. “She’s fine. She forgave you, and she doesn’t mind us being together, so why am I always seeing her in your mind?”
He hugged me and touched his forehead to my shoulder, and I kissed his temple. “I never forgave myself for killing her,” he said, embarrassed. “I saw you cry. It still haunts me. There aren’t many other things that I think about.”
“But it was such a long time ago, and if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be with you right now. I’m happy that you’re with me. You don’t have to keep kicking yourself for this. You’ve been off the hook for days.”
“Fresh freedom, I suppose,” he said, lifting his head and smiling a little at me. “To me, the mistake was made yesterday. I hurt the most precious person in my universe, and that kind of mistake clings tenaciously to one’s subconscious.”
“Oh, quit your brooding, Andykins,” I said, grinning and pulling him up with me as I stood. “So how long was I unconscious this time? If you’re setting the record for wardrobe changes, then I feel like I’m trying to break a world record for vampiric comas.”
“Several hours. The usual setup of things, I think.” He took my face carefully in one hand and kissed my lips lightly. “Please stop reinventing my name. It’s not the wheel, but I still think version one-point-oh is the peak.”
“Sure thing, Andris.” I pecked his cheek and he sighed.
“Finished?” he asked, his arms sliding almost unconsciously around my waist.
“Yeah, all better—hey! Still weak here!” I protested immediately when he dragged me back onto the bed and poised over me.
“Oh, but you seem so energetic,” he teased, leaning down and licking a tingling line from the hollow of my throat, up my neck, and to about the same place as where I had bitten him.
I shuddered, but kept a firm hold on my senses. “Andris, please. I’m exhausted. Give me a break, would you?”
“Of course.” I had just enough time to feel an edge of surprise before he picked me up, propped me back against the headboard, and rested his head in my lap.
“I didn’t expect that reaction,” I said, baffled. It hurt my pride just a little that he had agreed so quickly, but I was too busy feeling shocked to do anything about it.
“It would be rude of me to seduce you in your current condition,” he replied. “Besides, this is surprisingly pleasant.” To prove his point, the nuzzled my thigh and sighed in satisfaction.
There was no way I could argue with his serene expression. Instead, I began combing my fingers through his lovely hair again, smiling a little when he shivered at my touch. He was like a puppy—it was all I could do to resist scratching behind his ears.
“It’s kind of funny to see someone as powerful and infamous as you are acting so sweet. You are profoundly misunderstood.” Smiling when he chuckled, I leaned down and kissed his cheek. “It’s a pity you’re too stubborn to let anyone else know how kind you can be.”
“Well, my reputation has its upsides, as well,” he said. “Nobody disturbs me or expects anything from me. Powerful allies are nice, but only if they’re willing to cooperate, and I only defer authority to one person.” His smirk wasn’t even necessary. I knew he meant me.
“You’re just saying that so I’ll sleep with you,” I joked, gripping his hair. “What if I decided to abuse my...authority...?” Startled, I broke off and turned his head suddenly, pulling his hair away from his neck and staring in disbelief.
“Lynn?” he asked with a worried lilt to his voice.
A whisper was all I could manage. “It’s still bleeding. The bite...you’re still bleeding, Andris.” His collar had covered it up, and his dark blood easily blended into the black material, but the seeping wound hadn’t escaped my notice.
“What? That’s ridiculous.” He touched his throat when I let go, but his fingertips came back wet. Attentive now, he frowned deeply. “Well, that’s odd.”
“Odd?!” I cried, unable to control myself. “You’re bleeding! I bit you and you’re still bleeding! Andris, I smashed your head into a marble floor, crushing your skull in and doing enough damage to kill a human ten times over. You healed that wound at will right before my eyes! ‘Odd’ doesn’t even begin to cover it!”
Before I knew it, his finger was at my lips, silencing my argument. “Calm yourself, Princess. I am fine, and there is nothing at all to worry about. It’s probably nothing—things like this happen every so often.” He smiled. “You needn’t worry about me. I would be a sorry ancient if this could bring me down.”
“It’s still creepy,” I muttered, unable to argue with his confidence. “Here, let me fix it.”
Chuckling, he let me pull him in and press my lips to the wound, drinking up the sluggish flow as well as the sweet lines running down his throat. I bit my tongue to spread my healing blood across the pinpricks, and they closed up almost instantly.
“See? All better,” he laughed, kissing my temple.
“Shut up. It’s not nice to scare the people who love you.” I pursed my lips when I saw the blood on his hand, and on impulse I took hold of his wrist and licked his fingers, sliding each digit into my mouth to make certain that not a drop of his precious life was wasted.
That got his attention, and when I looked up at him in curiosity he seemed to be fighting insurmountable odds against an opponent twice his size.
“What’s got your knickers in a twist?” I asked.
After three false starts, he finally sighed and shook his head. “Cara mea, this is quite possibly the most erotic thing you’ve done yet.”
“Huh. You want me to do it more often?” I glanced at his hand to reconfirm that I hadn’t missed a drop.
“If spilling my blood means I’ll receive this kind of pleasure, then I have no objection.”
This guy’s mind was seriously twisted if he thought I would go along with that kind of ridiculous idea. “I think we should discuss this at a later date, after Tatsune is through with us.”
“You just think I’m being silly,” he teased, laying his head in my lap again. “I wonder how much I can pleasure you before you’re sick of me. Would you like to experiment?”
I was suddenly very aware of his heat radiating through the nightgown’s thin material. His effect on me was just this side of ridiculous. It was time to get back to business, before he derailed me completely. The only difficult part was resisting how adorable he looked with his head in my lap...so much like a puppy...
“So what were you up to while I was sleeping?” I asked, forcing myself to concentrate. It still bothered me that he never slept. Would he have looked like this? Would he have been so endearing that I couldn’t resist snuggling up to him or using him as a pillow?
“Lynn, I can see what you’re thinking, and as amusing as some convoluted part of me thinks it is, I’d like it if you stopped comparing me to canines. I’m a cat person, thank you.”
I flinched, and an embarrassed chuckle escaped me. “Sorry. You just look so cute.”
Frowning, he turned to look up at me. “Anything but cute.”
He always said that word as though it were a curse. “Adorable?” I offered.
“That’s a synonym for cute. Pick something else.”
“How about lovable?”
He considered it, then nodded consent. “Okay, I’ll tolerate that.”
I smiled at him, and he returned it then went back to his repose, taking hold of my free hand and lacing our fingers tightly together.
“So while I was sleeping...?” I reiterated, back on track once more.
His lids opened and stared ahead at my stomach. He reached out to hook his other arm around my back and nuzzle my belly. “I held you until sunset to make sure that you were just sleeping, not under the sun’s thrall—you don’t breathe when you sleep, so it’s difficult to tell. When you didn’t wake up, I called Sakura to keep watch while I went to speak with Tatsune.”
“You went to see the Emperor? What for?”
“Well, I thought it would be best for all involved if I explained what had happened to you this morning before the Council found out and called me in again. He was just pleased that you were alive. Then I told him that you had made your amulet—good news, he called it. After that...” he trailed off, thinking again just beyond the reach of the bonds we shared.
“Andris? What else?”
He glanced up with cerulean eyes, then back down and said softly, “I confronted him about the hunters. When I did, he told me that he had known all along.”
It didn’t take psychic talents to know that he hadn’t been happy with the Emperor’s secrecy, and I brushed my fingertips across his cheek to coax more out of him. If he talked about it, he would feel better—a lesson I would pound into his brain with all my might.
After a long pause, he resumed, “I was angry, of course. I may have said some things more characteristic of who I had been before meeting you, but Quelos has an uncanny ability to show up whenever things are getting out of hand. He arrived and threatened to shave my head.”
My hand froze on his cheek, and before I could suppress it, I began giggling like an idiot. “Shave you head?” I cried, laughing so hard that my bruised shoulder blades protested.
Andris began to laugh as well, and held me tightly as he chuckled against my stomach. It took a while to calm down enough to speak, but eventually he relaxed. “I swear he’s deranged. Who threatens a person’s hair?”
I grinned and took a handful of the aforementioned hair, relishing its texture and glossy, iridescent color. “I don’t know, but I’d be devastated if you lost this wonderful hair.”
“Then it’s a good thing I cooled off,” he replied with a smirk. “I may complain, but if you like it so much, then I’m obligated to protect it.”
I prodded him to continue, and he did so with a smile playing on his lips.
“Anyway, Tatsune said that the Toreliaqne clan has been acting strangely for some time now. They’ve become sterile thanks to their unshakable tradition of inbreeding, and with the end drawing near they’ve decided to complete at least one last task before they die out.”
He fell silent again, and I instantly realized what their goal was. Mom had hinted as much. “They’re trying to kill you,” I whispered. “That’s insane. They’re on the brink of extinction, and all they care about is revenge?”
It took him a while, but he eventually nodded. “Hunters never forget their grudges, and no one else has offended that clan as badly as I have. It’s only natural that they would want recompense. There’s no other way they would willingly work alongside their enemies. Shimaren in general don’t really like having me around, and I’m sure Tivor was interested to learn of something more powerful than what he was.”
“But how did they know you would get involved?” Even I hadn’t known about our involvement until Andris showed up on my doorstep and made it all possible.
“The hunters are very good at keeping tabs on their enemies,” he murmured. “Chances are, they’ve been following my trail for a while, waiting for the right opportunity to corner me.”
“Poor demon.” I tangled my fingers into his hair, bending down to cradle his head in my arms. “I’m sorry Corik hurt you like that.”
He turned his cheek against my palm. “I hurt him. He has every right to hate me.”
“But he was the one who betrayed you,” I argued. “You were just defending yourself.”
“What I did was also terrible, regardless of what he did. Both of us have suffered for our actions, but the grudge is still there. It’s only a matter of time before we confront each other.”
“That doesn’t make it okay,” I murmured while worst-case scenarios wreaked havoc on my mind. “Life is too precious to waste on something like that.”
He sighed and released my hand to wrap his arms around my waist, holding so tightly that I could feel his pulse thrumming through his skin. “You’re too kind for your own good, cara mea. Your values are honorable, but naïve. In a world of immortal enemies, eternal grudges are as common as rain.”
“I don’t begrudge you for killing my mother.”
“As I said, you’re too kind for your own good.”
I sat back and looked down at him, thoughts of losing him running through my head. He was so absurdly powerful and ruthless, yet he didn’t hate the friend who had betrayed him. If anything, he felt sad about the whole predicament. No one should have had to go through the pain he knew so well, and I was the only one with whom he could share it.
“I love you, Andris,” I whispered. “Don’t let Corik take you out of my life.”
His embrace tightened. “Never. I want it to be like this forever. Any form of existence without you would be unbearable, even death.”
“We leave the day after tomorrow, don’t we?”
“On your birthday, yes.” He drew away suddenly and sat up, staring at me. The green in his eyes quickly switched to indigo. “Your birthday! I should really give you something...”
His agitation made me smile in spite of the conversation we’d been having only moments prior, and I reached out to pat his cheek. “Hugs and kisses are all I want from you, demon. You’ve already filled the hole in my heart—there’s no need for you to worry about anything other than keeping me whole.”
“But I’ve never given anyone a present before—not since becoming a Nariuvne, at least. I’d like to get you something.”
“You are all I could ever ask for,” I said. “Nothing can compare. If you want to give me a present, then the only thing I’d want is another piece of who you are. I already know you better than anyone else does, but parts of your existence are still a mystery to me. More than anything, I want to learn about you.”
He pursed his lips. “Lesson one: my love for you borders on unhealthy obsession. I want to give you a gift, cara mea.”
“You’re incorrigible,” I sighed. “What could you possibly give me that I couldn’t get from Simone or Ivan or Sam or any of the others?”
“I have an idea, but then I would have to leave for a day or so to go get it—” He cut himself off as he realized that he had no inclination to leave me alone for so long. “Maybe I could take you with me?”
I frowned, frustrated with his tenacity. “You are staying right here with me. You are my birthday present this year—the greatest present anyone could imagine. You’ve even given me my freedom. Now I just want to be with you. Isn’t that enough? You can get me something next year, when things aren’t all hectic like this.”
“I just want to attempt a proper relationship,” he mumbled. “Barring the fact that we both drink blood, we’re more human than any other Shimaren could ever possibly be. Normal blood pairings can’t show affection the way we can, so isn’t it logical that I get you a present?”
Adorable, silly Andris…I sighed to myself and stared at him for a long time, thinking, and he stared right back, pleading with hopeful chartreuse in his eyes.
“Sweet demon,” I said, kissing his forehead. His scent filled my lungs like a cloud of nitrous oxide, making me giddy and dizzy all at once as I pulled him close and tucked my head against his feverishly warm chest. “Best present in the universe...”
“No, you are,” he responded faintly, nuzzling my hair.
“I’m not starting a ridiculous argument. You’re my ideal. I wasn’t talking about yours.”
“Well, you’re mine.”
I smirked. “Of course I am. You wouldn’t have let me live otherwise.”
“It still scares me to think of what would have happened to me if I had gone ahead and killed you,” he said softly. “If I had destroyed my salvation...I can’t even imagine that kind of torture. Fire poison would be a mosquito bite in comparison.”
“Angst over the past is a waste of time and energy.” I turned to give him a serious frown. “You are who you are today because of your past—that is all. It isn’t productive to agonize over things you may or may not have done, or choices you screwed up. It’s just the past, a stretch of time you can never take back. Try to focus on today and tomorrow, okay? I don’t want to have to compete with ancient history for your attention.”
He made a disgruntled noise. “I’m older and you’re wiser. Where has logic gone?”
“I’m an optimistic existentialist. Things exist and I decide what kind of meaning to apply. It’s natural for me to see things this way. Lucky for you, too. Otherwise, I would be trying to kill you right now.” I leaned back and smiled at him, and he gave me a withering look.
“It bothers me that you, my eternal love, can speak so casually of hating me.”
I smirked. “One day, you’ll just think it’s funny.”
He rolled his eyes, and without warning he slipped his arms under my knees and back and lifted me up, setting me at the edge of the bed as he stood and walked over to the armoire. “It’s time for you to get up. Shina somehow found out about the dress—my suspect is Quelos, of course. As punishment, she demands that you wear something nice tonight.”
He flashed me a mischievous smile, and I suddenly felt nauseous. “I’ll pass!” I declared, waving my hands and moving to get back to the safety of an invalid’s existence. “Not feeling too hot right now. Kind of hungry—lost all that human blood when I got torched, you see—”
I didn’t have time to finish, as Andris appeared at my side and swept me over to stand before the armoire and pull the doors open wide. “I insist,” he urged with an unnerving glint in his vivid green eyes.
Of course, I didn’t stand a chance.
He kept a firm hold on my wrist, pinning my hand to his side as I struggled to escape. He was already rifling through the wardrobe. I couldn’t recognize any of the clothes—someone had switched them in while I hadn’t been looking—and a sinking feeling in my gut told me that I wasn’t going to enjoy the next few minutes.
“Here. Wear this, this, and this. And these shoes.” Like a fourteenth-century jailer gleefully picking out torture devices, he selected several items from the armoire and the drawer beneath, as well as a pair of strappy stilettos I never would have even looked at, given the choice.
I stared at the items as though they were ridden with plague. “I’m not wearing that.”
“Oh?” He grinned broadly and held me close. “I believe otherwise.” My desperate attempts to make a break for it were as insignificant as a bug taking on the windshield of a Ferrari breaking its speedometer.
In a movement far quicker than my eyes could track, his hand tugged the back of my nightgown, pulling the fabric off of me before I had even realized what he was doing.
“Andris?!” I yipped, slipping away at last and streaking—literally—towards the relative security of the hot bath. Underwater, he wouldn’t have such an easy time catching me.
But out of water...
I felt the arm reaching around my waist before I saw it, and I braced myself for the violent impact, but rather then pulling me to a stop, it swung me around so that I was headed back towards the middle of the room. Startled, I skidded to a halt, and Andris appeared with an absurdly pleased smile, gathering me against his clothed warmth and dragging me against my will to the bed, where he had displayed the gauntlet.
“Dammit!” I shouted, disturbed by his bizarre fetish for me in dresses. “Let me go!”
“Oh, but this won’t be as uncomfortable as the other one,” he reasoned wickedly, pulling me in front and wrapping his arms tightly around my middle as I faced my fears. “You’ll be lovely, I swear.”
“I’m not worried about looking good!” I argued emphatically. “I just want to wear something comfortable! This crap is ridiculous and awkward!”
“Shina’s waiting in the Elementals’ chamber for you to walk in wearing something stunning, and to be perfectly frank, I’m concerned about your self-depreciating habits.” He leaned over my shoulder to meet my eyes, and I stubbornly turned away.
“No. Get your head out of the ditch, and then we can talk.”
“Princess...” With a fingertip, he turned my head to face him, and I glared back.
“I said no, Andy.”
He frowned. “You realize that seeing you in a dress is one of the greatest pleasures I’ve ever known, yes? It makes me happy, and I’ve been deprived of happiness for most of my existence. Are you really willing to take that away from me?”
As I stared, his expression turned hopeful, his pale green stare boring through me like spears of guilt. Never in my life had I known anyone who could turn on the puppy eyes the way Andris could. It was more than good looks. It had to be more than good looks. There was witchcraft in his gaze.
Unable to adequately defend myself, I cracked and gave in with a curse. “Fine!” I cried in frustration, battling a mix of guilt and indignation.
He grinned brightly, the puppy eyes transforming into pure joy, and he hugged me so tightly that I thought my head would pop. “I love you!” he laughed.
“Insatiable bastard,” I grumbled under my breath.
He slowly let me go, as though worried that I might try to run again, but when I sighed and accepted my fate, poking at the clothes in distaste, he released me and stepped aside. “I’ll make it up to you, I swear,” he said cheerfully.
I shot him a dirty look. “I expect more than a quickie, Andris. This is going to cost you.”
“You’ll get that...among other things.” He shot me one of his rogue grins and sat down at the foot of the bed some feet away, then dropped onto his back and shut his eyes. “Hurry up. I’m only looking after you’re done.”
“Right.” I frowned at the clothes, wondering whether or not I knew exactly how they were supposed to fit on me. Well...undergarments were supposedly the easiest to figure out. The bra was lacy, silky, strapless, and bright scarlet—the raciest thing I had ever seen in person—but there were no panties. “Andris...what am I supposed to wear under the dress?” I asked, an edge of barely-contained annoyance in my voice.
He chuckled deviously. “I’m sure you’ve figured it out.”
I realized with a spark of annoyance what he intended, and growling incoherently, I trudged over to the drawer under the armoire and yanked it open.
“What are you doing?” whispered a sweet, velveteen voice next to my ear.
I flinched, but rummaged anyway, seeking something acceptable for my tastes. “I’m not going to wear nothing under that dress, Andris. Hell no. Not again. You’re going to have to suck it up and deal with it. I’m not some doll to play dress-up with.”
“If you don’t go back over there, I’ll be forced to drag you,” he muttered.
I whipped around and glared at him, feeling somewhat ridiculous. Being naked did nothing for me when it came maintaining dignity. “Andris, I love you—adore you—but your little fantasy is getting way out of hand.”
“No, it’s not. I’m just asking that you wear something nice for me. Is that really so difficult?” As changeable as the weather, his mood shifted to disappointment. It was impossible to tell if he were truly upset or just manipulating me.
I grimaced, beginning to hate my weakness when it came to keeping him happy, and shoved the drawer closed. “Dammit!” I shouted to the heavens, wondering why I couldn’t have fallen in love and bonded with someone more docile.
Then again, Andris was exactly what I needed: demanding, arrogant, and unbearably sweet. He was the only person I had met so far who could control me and make me like it...
This was going to be a long night.
He happily resumed his spot on the bed while I bit back my anger, reasoning with myself. This was for him, so why not? He looked like a fantasy regardless of what he wore, and I looked like any normal girl, vampirism or no. Was it really so wrong to show off my best? Wasn’t it my duty to use my weapons against him? We were both stubborn, but he had age, and I could balance out the power just by changing clothes...
In the end, I chose to delude myself into doing it, and picked up the dress—a spaghetti-strapped, burgundy silk creation, form-fit to my hips with a softly ruffled flute of a skirt. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the one before, I had to admit, and the shoes weren’t as tall as the insane things Shina had made me wear before. Maybe I could sneak some underwear on later when nobody was looking…
I glanced at Andris, unable to resist smiling at his peaceful visage. He was playing with me, certainly, but at the core of his game was his simple desire for me to give him more of the pleasant feelings I had been bringing back to life in his ancient heart. He had wanted death for so long that he had been dead, in a way. Even I could see that our relationship was reviving him. I didn’t need the blood bond to know that.
Now infused with a fresh perspective on the whole affair, I couldn’t help feeling a little excited as I slipped the clothes on and laced the ribbons of the stilettos up to my ankles. They were a bit like impractical ballet shoes, but stiff and glossy black, with scarlet ribbons.
Balance was simple, and the dress felt light and airy, falling just above my knees and fluttering as I went to the vanity and brushed my hair into shimmering, dark auburn waves. I paused and set the brush down, looking myself over.
Not bad...the thin straps of the dress showed off my pale olive shoulders, scooping just enough at the neck to reveal what little cleavage the strapless bra could give me. At my back, more laces crisscrossed down to my waist and tied off to pinch the dress around my figure—it was no corset, but it was still flattering.
And the shoes! I had always thought my legs were a little on the short side, but with these heels, my calves were long and shapely.
It actually surprised me what kind of difference it made.
I stalked over to the bed and stood at the foot, looking down at my waiting demon.
“You can open your eyes,” I announced, propping a hand on one hip and taking a model’s stance, as though I were at the end of a runway.
His eyes blinked open, and he sat up on his hands…then froze in place, staring.
“Oh, dear gods...” he groaned breathlessly, before laughing and sitting up all the way.
He offered, and I sat down on his thigh, hooking an arm around his neck and kissing his cheek. “You said that last time,” I teased.
“You have no concept of how absolutely astonishing you are, Princess,” he murmured, wrapping both arms around my waist and gliding his nose along my bare shoulder and nape to breathe in my scent. “Just when I think you can’t possibly be any more beautiful, you put this on and my heart stops beating.”
I grinned, turning to press my cheek against his. “Silly. In a roomful of people, you would get the most attention.”
“No, you would.” He turned to meet my lips, kissing me sweetly. “But you’re all mine, cara mea. Every inch of you belongs in my arms.”
“And you’re equally bound,” I said, feeling smug.
“Seeing you in this, I’m not going to even pretend to argue that fact,” he chuckled. “I had somewhat expected you to leap from the window and run away, however.”
“Okay, I thought about it, and it’s not as bad as I keep trying to convince myself it is,” I forced myself to say. “Besides, your behavior when I’m all dressed up is—dare I say it?—cute.” I smirked at his immediate frown. Ah, revenge was sweet.
“Hmm...indeed.” One of his arms loosened and slid down my waist to my thigh, pushing the dress up as he reached under to caress my bare skin. “As you may have noticed, it’s one of my weaknesses.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” I breathed, shivering when his hand curved along my naked hip and squeezed gently. His fingers were so gentle and demanding all at once, asking permission and acting before it was given, simultaneously, with a single gesture.
He sighed and kissed along my throat, tilting my head back to meet his lips when he reached mine. I could tell that he was trying to make up for his behavior, and I drank him down hungrily, devouring his flavor until my senses were shrouded in his presence. It was sublime to feel these kinds of emotions, to want someone more than anything else in the world.
With these thoughts dancing giddily in my head, and his taste invading my every cell, I drew away and hopped into the middle of the bed, wearing a sly grin.
His verdant, crystalline windows watched me for an eternal moment.
“Well, are you going to accept my offer or not?” I said.
* o * o *
“Ye gods, I can’t even move,” my demon panted against my temple, his naked body draped across my clothed one thirty minutes later. “We’re defying all logic!”
I just shook my head, exhausted beyond reason. “No...talk...can’t...breathe...”
Once again, he’d been impeccably neat and almost ridiculously passionate: one desperate, heated tussle, once for the sheer fun of it, and one achingly sweet embrace. My skin still hummed with his bites and kisses, and my legs felt like gelatin. I now dreaded attempting to walk in the heels. This kind of physical exhaustion was unheard of in our circles.
It was a while before I could get my lungs to cooperate enough to speak sensibly, but when I did, I found that I only had one thing to say:
“Dresses are lethal.”
Andris gave me a slow, lazy grin. “For whom?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out.”
“I see. Shall we experiment a little more to find the answer?”
I shook my head again, more insistently this time. “Time out...I need a breather.” My back still ached, though I hadn’t noticed the pain at all only minutes earlier.
“Ah. I’ll just keep you warm, then.”
I sighed when he coiled his arms around me, pulling me tight to his hot, marvelous chest. I still couldn’t get over how he could love me so much, but he did, and I loved him equally.
I made a mental note to thank Shina when we finally decided to get up.