Avenari - Chapter 37
Thanks to Andris’ meddling, my meal hadn’t been nearly as much fun as Kai had been last time. When it came time to leave, the only disappointed member of the group was Nick. However, the prospect of riding next to Shina more than compensated for his disappointment, so it wasn’t terribly difficult to make him leave.
“What are your plans?” the ice Elemental asked Andris and me before we got into our respective vehicles.
“We’re dropping your car off at the garage, and then we’ll take a walk on the base,” Andris said. “Are you going straight back?”
Sirek shrugged. “Well, you’re leaving pretty soon, so Mizumi wants to refine Nick’s training a little bit. That way, he can help the lightning bugs—water conducting electricity, that is—when you go on your mission. She might even let us watch, as long as Quelos doesn’t catch wind of it.” He winked at me, and I laughed.
Andris nodded. “That’s a good idea. You should use the darkness while you can.”
“What about me?” I asked. “Shouldn’t I get some more sword training? That was fun!”
Shina giggled and shook her head. “Judging by the rant we had to take from Quelos after your first sparring match, we think he’s convinced that you’re channeling a dead warrior’s wandering soul. Your blood must be well-acquainted with battle—which it is, since the fourth line is notorious for warmongering madmen.”
“Andris, did she just insult or praise me?” I said, narrowing my eyes.
“Think positive, cara mea,” he replied in amusement.
“Well, I guess we’ll catch you after daybreak, Nick.” I patted the kid on the shoulder and gave him a conspiring grin. “You’d better impress some people, okay?”
He just laughed. “Yeah, yeah. Be careful this time. I don’t think Andris could handle another accident.”
My demon’s arm magically appeared around my waist. “Agreed. We’ll be keeping our feet planted firmly on the ground, if I have any say in the matter.” He gave me a poignant look, and I sighed in defeat.
“Yes, sir.” Dammit, it wasn’t like the amulet could come off anymore.
We parted ways, and once again Andris and I were barreling down tiny streets in the tiny roadster, having a blast. There was just no getting used to this feeling of absolute freedom. It still amazed me that I wasn’t at home under Simone’s watchful gaze. Instead, I was in Ivanarke’s territory, spending long, joyful hours in the company of my new blood partner. Andris made all of my stupid little worries vanish just by being there. I couldn’t have been more thankful.
Parking the car, however, felt sad for some reason. He had been so happy at the wheel. Even after getting out, he lingered for a few extra moments, touching the smooth, black hood and frowning a little, as though saying farewell.
I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Andris, when you were alone, were cars the only things that made you happy?”
He gave me a self-depreciating smirk. “Well, in a manner of speaking, yes. You weren’t there, you see. The invention of the automobile has probably saved many innocent lives, in retrospect. It may be the most dangerous means of transportation in the human world, but as long as I was preoccupied with a newer, faster, more interesting car, I was content to just drive.”
“What about before?”
His smirk faded. “I am an abomination. Abominations without distractions tend to hurt people. It’s a pity that there weren’t any Lamborghinis back in the days of Alexander and Hannibal. Someone like me has no business joining in wars and such. It is an unfair advantage.”
I was confused. Alexander, as in The Great? The Hannibal who tried to attack Rome?
“Andris, did you know those two men?” I asked.
He seemed to consider whether or not to respond, and then said softly, “I had been in Persia during Alexander’s conquest, and met him while posing as a local vagabond. He was brilliant. Mad, but brilliant. I left him alone because I thought that watching his exploits would be far more entertaining than killing him. I was right. Despite being human, some people see such magnificent dreams. I had nothing like that.
“As for Hannibal, I watched him fall. I thought it was silly that he wanted to follow in Hasdrubal’s footsteps. To drag elephants across the Alps like that—that was also a kind of madness.” He laughed at the memory. “Out of curiosity, I tracked his exploits up until Africanus defeated him. I would show his men where to find clean water and food. They must have thought I was a god of some kind, appearing and disappearing at my own discretion.”
“You kind of are,” I said, walking over to his side and hugging him close. “I thought you didn’t remember much of your history.”
He warmly returned the hug. “I remember a lot, Princess. I remember important things and insignificant things equally. Most of what I’ve blocked or forgotten are the kinds of things you might have nightmares about. I try to hold tightly to the things that made me feel happy, but I also keep some of the terrible memories.
“I suppose I agree with you that they are all a part of me. Both my good deeds and my atrocities have built me up as a person. I can forget enough to keep the madness at bay, but I can’t forget it all. I want to keep enough to maintain my identity. I haven’t lived all these years for nothing. Something good had to have come out of all that horror.”
That made me smile. “I’m glad. I love you as you are. When we get back, I should get you a car as a bonding present.”
“I would love that...though you’ll have to let me give you a present beforehand.”
I gave up. “If that would make you happy, then I’ll accept even the tiniest gift.”
“Well, let’s start with this, then.” He drew away and went to the car’s trunk, popping it open and pulling out a plastic bag. “We’ll be getting back after sunrise, so I’m sure Shina won’t mind me letting you off for the rest of the night.”
He tossed the bag to me, grinning. Inside was a set of plain clothes: loose-fit black pants and a black tank top, as well as my black sneakers.
“Andris, I love you!” I laughed, skipping over and hugging him as hard as I could.
“I’m happy to make you happy,” he said. “I couldn’t find any coats that I thought would suit you, though, so you can borrow mine if you’re chilly at any point.” He indicated the fine wool stand-in for his leather jacket.
“We need to get you a replacement for the one you lost,” I said, feeling guilty.
“One coat is a small price to pay for the love of my life. I’ll find a new one once we’re done with Tatsune’s game.” Chuckling, he made me let go and indicated the bag. “Hurry and get changed. I’ll help you out of the dress.”
I quickly turned around and held my hair up so that he could undo the tight dress, and I let out a sigh of relief once the pressure was off. “I’m so sick of fancy clothes.”
“They’re kind of fun when I’m the one who gets to take them off of you.”
“Look, you insatiable man, I just want to change clothes, okay? I’d rather not get intimate in a place like this.” I turned to give him a hard frown, and he raised his hands with a smile.
“I won’t do anything. I’ll just enjoy the view, I swear.”
“Good boy.” As much as I wanted to fight it, I couldn’t. It made me happy to know that I was the only one he watched like that.
Although he teased me plenty, Andris was true to his word, and didn’t so much as lay a finger on me while I changed. Afterwards, however, he caught me again and wouldn’t let go, insisting on carrying the dress and stilettos in the bag as we locked up and closed the garage.
“Ah, it’s so nice to wear something normal,” I said, stretching my hands to the sky and grinning up at my demon after we had jumped over the fence to the base. We were headed for the park with the fiberglass airplane. “It seems like you picked things out according to your tastes, however. I haven’t worn all black in a while.”
“In my mind, black is the most flattering color for any person. It has a wild side, yet in the right environment there’s a kind of dignity that goes with it.”
“Still, this is your color, not mine. I prefer red.” I pouted at him, and he laughed.
“You look lovely, cara mea. It suits you just fine.”
“Yeah, it’s not bad, but compared to you, it’s just...trying too hard, I guess. You’ve got the wild side and the dignity to pull it off. I’m just kind of normal. I like colors.”
“It’s not that I hate colors. I just refuse to wear them. Colors stand out, and black helps you blend into a crowd or a shadow.”
I shot him an unconvinced leer. “Seriously, Andris, you’re so handsome that you’d stand out no matter what you wore. You’re a walking chick-magnet.”
“And it pains me immensely,” he sighed. “Anyway, I didn’t say that I would disappear completely off the radar—it would just be harder to find me. If thousands of years of habit hadn’t ruined me for it, I wouldn’t even mind wearing that shade of yellow over there.” He indicated the bright yellow ginkgo tree up ahead and smirked.
“You’d look like a banana...but it would be fun.” I grinned broadly and took his hand, tugging him forward. “Speaking of which, I’ve been wanting to check that tree out for a while now. I’ve never seen anything like it!”
“I’ll race you to it, then.” Without warning, he let go and sprinted ahead.
Surprised, my automatic reaction was to launch forward as fast as my feet could carry me, chasing just behind him and gaining ground fast. The race had begun at the far end of the park, back where the fence separated it from the apartment towers, but in only a second, we had covered half the distance to the tree.
However, my superhuman brain could handle these speeds, allowing me to make seemingly well-planned decisions in what was actually less than a few milliseconds’ time. Andris was fast, but he was holding back just a little for me, so I put on an extra burst of speed just before reaching the fence on the side closest to the tree.
We ended up leaping over at the same instant, hitting the pavement at the center of the four-way stop and taking off from there, pushing ourselves to the edge for those last few feet.
“I win!” I cheered as I zipped past the tree…only find Andris right beside me.
We jerked to a halt on the sidewalk and looked at each other. “I think it was a tie, actually,” my demon corrected, chuckling.
“No way,” I said, shaking my head. “I totally beat you.”
“Oh, don’t be a sore loser, Princess. You did well for a fledgling.”
“It bothers me that you’re not at all tired from that,” I grumbled, willing my heart to slow down. I wasn’t used to putting so much effort into running.
“You’re still young enough that you use energy much the way a human does,” he said, bringing an arm around my shoulders and leading me back over to the saffron-yellow tree beneath the sodium street lamp. “Over time, your body will start to use your Shimari powers as an energy source, rather than the blood itself.”
Someone had raked up the sweet-scented leaves into one huge pile, and we sat down together. “Still,” I said, catching my breath at last, “I think I beat you. I put more effort into it.”
He laughed, pulling me into his arms as he kissed my cheek fondly. “In that case, it was a splendid victory. I’ll give you your prize later.”
“I look forward to it.” I reached up to play with his hair, curling up beside him as though the leaves were a shifting mattress. Buried inside the pile, I could hear the movement of tiny insects and feel the earth’s warmth. The scent was amazing. “These leaves kind of smell like you,” I said, looking up at him in curiosity.
“Just a little. Ginkgo and olive trees are my favorites—one for the scent, and the other for the age. Ginkgo leaves in fall sort of have my scent, so it feels familiar and safe; and Olive trees are about as eternal as I am, if given the chance...” He trailed off and stared up at the branches. A few leaves broke off and twirled like helicopters, dancing above our heads before landing a few inches away. I could already see sunlight trying to bleed into what little sky was visible in the dappled gaps overhead.
My demon was being too quiet, though, and I frowned, tugging on a lock of his hair. “You seem distracted.”
He turned to me with a pensive crease between his brows. “I was just thinking about something that I should probably tell you before we leave to find Tivor.”
“Is it important?”
He nodded. “It will upset you, though, so I hesitate to mention.”
“You’re not going to say that you’ll have to leave on a long journey or something, are you?” I asked half-jokingly
He opened his mouth to answer, but before the words could escape, a rush of hot wind blasted past us, chasing his reply away. It rustled the leaves above and around, and we jumped up in time to see someone materializing from the darkness just beyond the pool of light.
“What are you doing here?!” I yelped, instinctively grabbing onto Andris in fear. Was it an ambush? And why so soon after the last time?
Corik watched us with cold indifference, his burgundy robe settling as the wind died. “Hello again, Andris,” he said, the icy shift in his tone almost palpable as he spoke my demon’s name. “How have you been?”
“I’ve been better,” Andris replied. He stood as still as a coiled viper, and his powers melted around us like a wall of invisible magma, prepared this time for whatever might happen.
“Ah, yes…I imagine that would be the case.” The hunter looked around, almost dismissive of our presence. “I thought I should speak to you—a whim, you might call it. After all, I may not have another opportunity, and so much has happened since the night you slaughtered my family.”
Andris’ powers twitched—the subtle shift in their current didn’t escape my notice.
Well, damn. I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity, either.
“Why can’t you just let it go?” I asked, trying hard to make myself sound tougher than I felt. “Andris killed my family, too…but I forgave him. Revenge just seems like such a waste of time and energy. It won’t bring them back, and allowing the anger to control you won’t help anybody—least of all yourself.”
Corik frowned a little at me, but his voice remained empty. “And you are…?”
“Lydian Plorávero,” I replied firmly. “I’m Andris’ blood partner.”
“Plorávero…” He repeated my name as though testing the shape of it, comparing it to whatever knowledge he might have of what it could mean. “Your family was destroyed half a century ago, yet you live. You wear an amulet of your clan.”
I nodded. “My mother died before I inherited the family powers. Andris killed her…and we both forgave him. I was turned not long after she died, but I only just inherited my powers.”
“And you are his blood partner?”
I nodded again.
Corik turned to Andris, apparently satisfied with the extent of our talk. “Does the little one speak the truth? Have you really bonded with this fledgling of the Plorávero bloodline?”
“It’s true,” Andris said, moving at last to stand in front of me. His eyes became slits. “But don’t think that I’ll let you anywhere near her.” The growl in his voice was damn-near terrifying.
Corik didn’t seem to even notice my demon’s movements, let alone his tone. “Do you love her?” he asked instead, a curious expression in his otherwise distant gaze.
Andris frowned, anger giving way to confusion. “What?”
“And she, you?”
Andris and I looked at each other, but neither of us had any answers as to why he would ask us this. After a silent moment, we turned back to Corik and nodded slowly.
The hunter cocked his head to one side, apparently thinking, then said at length, “That must be pleasant…I hope you can enjoy what little time you have left together.”
“Dammit, Corik, why are you here?!” Andris finally snapped. His powers shifted again, slowly coiling around my body as if to shield me from an unknown threat. I couldn’t tell if he was just paranoid or genuinely afraid for my safety.
“As I said, I merely wished to speak to you one last time—to catch up, as it were. It has been a long time. The world has changed. You have changed. I grow older…and I have not changed.” He spoke with the barest hint of regret, as though he envied Andris somehow. Again, he stared into the distance, watching the sky this time. “The sun will rise soon,” he whispered.
“You can change!” I said suddenly, impulsively. The words flew out so quickly that I couldn’t have stopped them if I had tried. “You’re in charge, right? If you want things to change, then you have to make it happen on your own terms!”
The hunter didn’t even flinch. His eyes merely shifted focus back to me. “I am sorry, little one, but this is beyond even my control.” He returned to my demon with brittle resignation in his gaze. It seemed almost…sad? And again, that trace of envy…
“When next we meet, it will be in battle,” Corik said with a note of finality. Calmly, he raised a hand towards Andris, palm out. “I wish you luck.”
I froze, too confused to react.
“Lynn!” Andris had just enough time to push me away from him, and at that same moment there was a small popping sound and a bright light. He gave a sharp cry and fell to his knees as I stared in shock. I caught the faintest hint of ozone…
Corik threw him a final, indecipherable glance, before vanishing once more.
It took me several seconds before I found enough strength to move my legs, and I rushed over to Andris, kneeling in front of him to see what had made him shout like that.
My heart stumbled over its own beat.
He gritted his teeth in pain as I stared at the clean, precise cut in his shirt, showing a thin slice right above the silver scar where his heart was, and I pressed a hand to his back and felt a growing wetness.
“What’s going on?” I whispered, my voice trembling as hard as my hands. You’re kidding...no...no!” I couldn’t help the tears as they traced cold lines down my cheeks.
My demon reached up and held my face against his palm, giving me a calm, but pained look. “I guess I’ll have to show you, rather than tell you,” he laughed gravely. “Hurry, use your amulet to take us to the Brood Manor. I’ll need your help for this.”
I didn’t need to be told twice. Panic and desperation forced my new amulet to release a burst of power, and we immediately fell into the same ethereal pathway which had brought us to Japan. We were closer to our target destination, however. The strange material of the tunnel constricted, and a moment later our bedroom resolved from the darkness.
I helped him to the bed, and he sat at the edge, swaying a little before falling back.
“What’s going on?” I kneeled beside him, undoing his shirt to check the wound.
My insides became a lead knot. “Andris, it’s not healing...”
“I know, Princess,” he breathed, rolling his head to the side and looking up at me. “That trick he did last time was to neutralize my ability to regenerate—but it took some time to do its job. Quelos was right...I can’t heal this by myself.”
The hole in his back was beginning to soak the sheets, and his damaged heart continued to pump his precious blood through the cut in his chest, far faster and in far greater quantity than any normal Shimare. “What do I do? You’re losing blood too quickly!” I took his face in my hands and stared down at him, my tears dripping onto his lips.
He licked up the drops and chuckled, though it made him wince. “Exactly that. I’ll need your blood, cara mea. Quelos thinks I probably can’t replace my blood like I usually do. I need Shimari blood to heal.”
“Then take as much as you need,” I said. “You know I’ll give it to you.”
“Asking is common courtesy, though,” he pointed out, groaning as I helped him sit up. He wrapped his arms around my waist and gave me a serious frown. “Stop me as soon as the wound is healed, Princess. If I take too much, it could kill a fledgling your age.”
“Don’t worry about that!” I snapped. “Just take what you need!”
“You have no idea how happy I am that you love me…”
His eyelids fluttered as the thirst rose to seek my blood. Quickly, his lips reached my throat, and after finding the pulse with his tongue, he bit deeply. Those scalpel-sharp fangs sliced clean through my flesh, but before the pain could reach, the pleasure found me first.
I moaned softly. If you’re making it feel good on purpose, you should stop it, I gasped, feeling our blood bonds reconnect and reach their invisible tendrils though my mind and body.
Princess, this is what it feels like to be my prey. It’s no different from how any other Shimare would feel if I were taking their blood out of necessity.
I frowned, the images beyond the thin silk curtains slowly melting into a scarlet blur. So this was normal? It was as satisfying as when he made love to me, and yet this was what any of his victims would feel? That bothered me. I didn’t like the idea of him pleasuring anyone but me. I was so selfish that I wouldn’t let him die—so selfish that I didn’t feel guilty about it. Andris was drinking my life away, but it was worth it to keep him by my side.
Vaguely, while his feeding started to draw out random memories from my mind, I noticed that the room was growing brighter. I was too lost in the sensations to focus my eyes, but I could register the change in light.
The sun hit the edge of the horizon, and he bit down harder, making me scream. It started to ride the line between pleasure and simple pain. As the change took Andris over, our blood bond retracted as well, plunging my mind into the darkness alongside him.
* o * o *
At the last possible second before the point of no return, a voice like ice and broken glass called up from my power core to wake me.
I realized almost too late that Andris had nearly drained me. He had taken more than what he needed, but having lost so much he wasn’t able to focus enough to pull back. His ravenous thirst had managed to escape, and in his hunger he had pushed me onto my back, pinning me beneath his body. I knew that I should have been afraid, but it still felt so amazing. The world had become a rosy haze.
“Andris, stop,” I managed to whisper, but he couldn’t seem to hear me. Weakly, I gripped his shoulder. I tried to push, but it felt as though nothing solid remained of my body.
Stop him! my blood screamed, shoving hard against my mind.
I had to get away. There was still strength enough in me. The amulet, the triggers, anything—I had to escape by any means necessary. My blood whispered its commands, urging me to gather my will, refusing to let me slip under again.
I drew on powers that had nothing to do with my blood, managed to hold my fractured consciousness together just long enough to feel my strength return in a different form. I dug my fingers into Andris’ shoulders to pry him off with all the strength I possessed.
It seemed I struggled forever, almost to the point where I thought would give up, but at the last moment I managed. His fangs ripped through my flesh as I tore him away, and I cried out in pain. It would heal. Flesh wounds weren’t a concern at that moment.
Andris fell back and took a deep, gasping breath, like a drowning victim pulled from the edge of death, and coughed up a small spurt of blood—my blood. It dripped down his flushed cheek to his ear, and eventually joined the rest of the potent nectar soaking into my sheets.
His scent was everywhere, all over my clothes and skin, filling the room with the intoxicating aroma of power and life and death. Sharp and sweet as the feeling of my fangs slipping into a mortal’s throat…I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the swirling dizziness. Andris. He was what mattered at that moment.
I found him watching me again through his ice-white fringe. “Princess, that was dangerous,” he said hoarsely, trying to catch his breath.
“Are you healed?” I asked, ignoring the look he was giving me and reaching out to him.
He undid the buttons and held his shirt open, showing the fading pink line where the cut had been. There would be no scar to join the other. “All gone,” he said, falling limp once more. “Ye gods, I thought I had killed you...”
I touched my throat and felt the deep cuts still healing, “You almost did.” I was so tired. My clothes were drenched, and warm drops of blood fell from my hair to my cheeks and neck. Andris was worse off, but with the blood still fresh and fragrant I couldn’t concentrate. My eyes traced to a splash on my hand, and I licked it off with a sigh.
“Ah, I’ve ruined our bed,” he muttered in disappointment, frowning at the black pool on scarlet sheets. “I suppose we’ll have to use my room until this gets cleaned up.”
“But it’s such a waste...” I felt his eyes on me while I stared at the intoxicating stain, and I forced myself to meet his gaze. “What?”
Andris gave me a critical once-over, then sighed and massaged his temple. “I took far too much, Lynn. Come here.” He took my hand and drew me against his warmth, holding my waist as though his reckless act had left my body as fragile as a paper flower in a hurricane. “Drink, cara mea. Take some of it back.”
I gazed at the blood dripping down his cheek, then rose up to lick it up at his jaw. It sent jolts through my head, like biting on metal, only pleasant. “I want to lick it off you,” I sighed, nuzzling his temple and catching more droplets from the carmine-stained tips of his snowy locks.
“L-Lynn?” He flinched, caught off guard when I wound my fingers into his hair and pulled his head back to skim my tongue up the middle of his chest to his chin. “Princess, this is going to end with sex if you keep doing this to me,” he managed to groan, shivering a moment later as I slipped my tongue between his lips to gather a little more of his taste.
That was where his self-control ended, and his arms captured me in an instant, as quickly as a Venus fly-trap. His lips parted and he lunged forward, kissing me long and deep.
Gasping, I pulled away and gripped his shirt, peeling the wet fabric from his skin and sliding down his body to gather more of his wonderful blood before it went to waste.
“Oh, you’re not escaping that easily,” my demon chuckled with darker hungers in his voice. He pulled me back up by my arms and kissed me again, before taking hold of my tank top and easily removing it.
It was his blood’s scent that drove me to pursue a different path than what he wanted. My thirst had never been so drunk on a mere smell before, and like an addict desperate for her next fix, I couldn’t bear to let my lips leave his wet skin.
Andris had no excuse.
It became a sort of tug-of-war, a battle between two different desires. I wanted the fresh blood on his skin, and he wanted me writhing in passion beneath him. Both of us needed the other one naked, which didn’t take long at all. Once the clothing was gone, I was free to pursue my hunger. However, he was just as free, and he was stronger, too.
I cried out when he pinned my hips to the bed and slid himself inside of me without warning. He fit so well, and felt so right, a piece of me that had been separated long ago and only just returned. It was pleasure beyond imagination.
I gasped his name, my spine arching to let him in deep.
He slipped his hands up my body and around my back, holding me to his chest as he bent down to kiss me. “My Princess,” he whispered, before stealing my lips.
I could only whimper as he took me over, and I clutched at his chest in desperation. The tears leaked from my eyes, overcome. Once he freed my lips, however, the scent hit me again. I moaned against his throat, pulling my lips back and sinking my teeth into his hot flesh.
His blood hit my tongue the same time he pushed back inside, and I moaned as I drank. It was pure hunger, pure bliss to feel his blood course its way through my flesh while his body reached as far into me as it possibly could, allowing me to steal the heat straight from his skin. He was a part of me, one with me, inside of me more completely than any mortal love could allow. Nothing could cleave us apart, short of true death, because we were the same person now, capable of sharing things which no one else could boast.
I couldn’t hold onto that moment, though. It was too much pleasure for either my body or my mind to take for long. Too soon, I reached my limit, and I had no choice but to pull away from his throat right before I burst.
The climax destroyed me, rebuilt me—destroyed me again and rebuilt me again—pulsing thorough me like the beat of his heart. And when he spilled his liquid heat into me, it sent a powerful reaction ripping through the blood I had just taken, filling me with energy more powerful than a live wire. I had no defense against his ability to render me helpless, but it felt so good that I didn’t care. I cried his name, digging my nails into his back. His latent aura of power coiled around me, cradling me in ice and fire as I temporarily lost my senses.
It took a while, but eventually the body-wracking spasms grew further and further apart, until I could breathe again without crying out, until I could hold my precious demon without marring his beautiful skin with my nails.
Once it was over, though, I was still gasping, still trying to quiet my heart—to no avail.
“You’re too good at this!” I groaned against his cheek, holding him tight with my arms and legs, loving the sensation of being with him.
“You do strange and wonderful things to me,” he said just as breathlessly, as if that were the only necessary reason for his impossibly marvelous lovemaking.
Exhausted, I finally let him go and lay back on the sheets, and he laughed, gently drawing out while I squirmed in the pulsing afterglow. Just the thought of how willingly my body accepted him made my belly clench in pleasure all over again.
“No wonder I love you so damn much,” I said as he cuddled me against his warm skin. “Not a woman alive could experience that and not fall madly in love with you.”
“You were the one stripping me to lick me clean,” he said, kissing my forehead. “I’m easy to get in the mood, but dammit, Lynn, you’re shoving me toward the edge of the cliff when the scenic trail is right in front of your eyes.”
“I just wanted the blood,” I said, deadpan.
He frowned, glanced down, and then looked at me again, smirking. “Well, you got what you wanted. There’s not a drop left.”
“What?” I sat up too quickly and nearly fell over in my exhaustion, but Andris caught me and drew me against his chest, holding up a corner of the silk sheet.
“Dry as sand.”
“So where did it go?”
“Well, I can absorb my blood through my skin and wounds, so it’s possible that you did the same. We’re bonded, so my blood accepts you as an extension of my body. You were on the bottom, and it took the closest route.” He shrugged to indicate that it was just a theory, and our bodies brushed together like silk on silk.
I took a shuddering breath. His touch was filled with heat and love, sending static jolts through my skin every time. He really was the only person worthy of being my blood partner, the only man whose mere caress could leave me so senselessly obsessed. Touching Andris felt so right, as natural and necessary as my heartbeat, and I huddled against him, pressing my ear to his chest and listening to his heart thrumming away like ancient drums.
“If that’s true, then we can do this again, can’t we?” I asked, tilting my head back to stare hopefully up at him.
“If you’re suggesting that I allow Corik to hurt me whenever you want to have unsurpassed sex, then I’ll have to draw the line there. Let’s just stick to dresses and heels.”
I paused, realizing that, despite the amazing pleasures I had just experienced, this was a serious problem. “Let me see your throat,” I said, beginning to regret getting carried away.
My demon let me go and sat patiently while I examined him.
“Well?” he asked after I dropped my hand.
I smiled a little. “Not a scratch, but that’s just because of my blood. Who knows how long the effects will last?”
“It probably only lasts about a night—less, if I have to heal any significant damage. Spells like this remain active for some time.” He frowned, slipping his arms around me again and hugging me tightly. “This may complicate things. I can’t speak for Tivor, but I know for a fact that the hunters are skilled enough to harm me in a fight. If they’re protecting him, then it might be necessary to have a plan in case they hurt me badly enough, and I really shouldn’t be taking your blood every time I get a scratch, especially not if we’re in the thick of it with hunters.”
I thought about it. “Well, Nick is out. He explicitly said that he never wants you biting him again.”
“He said that?” He seemed surprised.
“Apparently, he’s uncomfortable with your ability to make it feel that good.” I left the rest to his imagination.
“That makes sense, but really, if my bite were as painful as it should be, then even you wouldn’t be able to stand it. It would be like getting bitten by a shark.” He grimaced and pointed at his many fangs. “Teeth like this aren’t particularly kind to their prey.”
“I know. You use them well. I still haven’t figured out how you manage to hide them.”
“Thank you. It took a lot of practice.”
We both laughed at that, before sobering again. It was hard to be happy with such a dark cloud hovering above us.
“Seriously, though. What are we going to do about you?” I said, idly reaching around his neck and stroking my fingers through his hair.
He shook his head and sighed, hunching down to rest his cheek on my shoulder. “I’ll just feed on Tivor’s Shimaren. All I really need are the healing qualities, though I’m not all that excited about it. Your blood satisfies me almost completely, and that meal behind the club before would normally have sustained me for at least a month. My thirst is persistent and gluttonous, but I really don’t need very much. Besides, now that I’m bonded to you, I’m a little numb to it.”
“Well, then I suppose your thirst will be having its fill, for once.”
“The thought does not make me happy. Damn that Corik.”
Smiling, I patted his cheek. “I’m sure you’ll survive it, demon. You’re a tough cookie.”
“I’m not a cookie.”
“If I bite into you, you taste sweet. That’s cookie-esque enough to grant you the title.”
He gave me a poignant frown. “When will the day come when you give up on epithets and just call me by my name?”
“I do that plenty when we make love. I just called you ‘Andris’ about fifty times.”
“You know what I mean, Lynn.”
“I don’t want to stop,” I said, pouting a little. “I’ve never had someone I could call all kinds of pet names. Not even Ivan got any. You’re special like that, Andy.”
His frown sharpened. “At the very least, please give up on that one. Please? It bothers me like you wouldn’t believe.”
That caught my interest. “There’s a story behind that name, isn’t there?”
“Not one I’m willing to tell at this point in our relationship.” The no-nonsense look behind his eyes made it clear that he wasn’t lying.
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
“It means I’ll have to hold you down and make love to you until you can’t remember anything but my real name if you try and pry it out of me.”
I smirked. “You know, saying something like that with a serious face is kind of scary.”
“Just let me have peace of mind,” he sighed, dropping his head again to avoid my eyes.
Andris was fun to tease, but I knew when it was time to stop. I turned to kiss his temple. “I won’t ask until you feel like telling me,” I said. “We have bigger things to worry about. However, I’ll call you various pet names whenever I feel the inclination. It’s fun. And besides, you’re probably not going to stop calling me ‘Princess’ anytime soon, right?”
He nodded stubbornly. “I live to serve you. For all intents and purposes, you’re my Princess. Besides, your family was like royalty amongst the sorcerers. It feels appropriate.”
“Silly demon. It’s enough to just love someone, you know.” I turned around, staring up into his black, beautiful eyes. “I love you. You don’t have to feel the need to add any more gravity to that fact. You’re not here because of some unspoken duty—you’re here because you want to be close to someone you care about.”
Several emotions battled for control behind his shrouded gaze, and he replied softly, “I’m not accustomed to having someone to treasure. I’m not accustomed to giving a damn about anything but myself and my fight against the monster in my veins. Lynn, you’ve always had people to rely on, people to love, but for me this is a first. It’s not a joke when I say that you are everything to me. You’re kind to me. You accept me as I am. You give yourself to me despite the cruel things I’ve done. Thanks to the life I’ve lived, I can’t help but put you on a pedestal, and I can’t allow your importance now to diminish in any way.”
The scent of his breath and skin clouding my mind made it hard to argue. “Maybe, but it’s embarrassing to be treated like royalty in public. At least Andy is a normal name.”
“That’s a point...but enough of that. We’re both too hardheaded to stop. Besides, now isn’t the time to be arguing about silly little things.”
“Yeah, but thinking about the bigger fish scares me,” I said, stroking his hair. He was so smooth and soft and silky all over, and the nervous gesture helped keep me from panicking.
“You worry needlessly, cara mea,” he said, catching my hand and kissing it softly. “I am far too difficult to kill. Even I could never manage—what chance does a hunter have?”
I frowned at his pacifying smile. “The Toreliaqne was the only entity to ever come close to killing you, Andris. I’d say their chances are good. If you’re weakened, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come along.”
“And what else would you propose? Don’t think that I’d ever permit you to go alone.”
“But I won’t be able to concentrate if I’m worrying about you,” I said, pushing him onto his back so I could lie on top and stare down at his eyes. “Do you have any idea how much it would hurt me if something took you away? I don’t care if it’s selfish. I can’t let you go.”
“I understand exactly how you feel, Princess,” he said gently, giving me a solemn look. “I know that pain. I’ll never let you feel even a sliver of it.”
“I will do everything in my power to keep us together, and I have a lot of power.”
He had a point, but...
I gave him a hard stare. “If you ever leave my side, I will hunt you to the ends of the universe and take you back by force, even if Death is the one who takes you from me.”
He smiled. “I would hope so. I did the same for you, after all.”
“This isn’t funny!”
“No, but I’m accustomed to having my life sought after. I’m very good at staying alive, so please calm down. I’d prefer it if our intimate moments weren’t tainted by abstract worries.”
“I can’t help it,” I grumbled, settling down again and folding my arms on his chest so that I could give him an unhappy leer. “I’ve had so many taken from me, already...”
“I understand, Princess—believe me, I do.” He glanced up at the sunny window. “Shall we get dressed and find Nick? We should go see how his last test went, and tell him about my temporary problem. He deserves to know.”
“Aw, but I don’t want to get up yet,” I said. “I like it when we can relax and just talk. Plus, my birthday is coming, and instead of throwing a bash, we’ll be shuttling off to lands unknown to battle hunters and madmen. With you in the picture, I just want to have a good time, but stupid, painful crap keeps cropping up like mushrooms after a storm.”
“Then why don’t the three of us take a tour of Ivanarke? Sakura should be around somewhere.” A peculiar gleam in his shadowy eyes indicated that he had come up with something amusing, and I frowned.
“What do you mean by that?”
He grinned suddenly. “You’ll see. First, let’s go find Nick.”
“Wait,” I said before he could push me off. He paused for me, and I slid my arms around his neck, pulling him close so that our faces were millimeters apart. “I adore you, demon. Even if you end up hurting me, I’ll love you forever.”
“But I would never—”
I placed a fingertip over his mouth and shook my head. “I’ve seen your dark side, so don’t say that you would never hurt me. Sure, you would never do it intentionally, but you can’t make promises about factors that are out of our control. All I want you to know is that, no matter what, I love you. Even if you vanished forever, that fact would never change.”
His face and the shifting shadows in his eyes said plainly that he wanted to argue, but in the end he gave me an exasperated smile and leaned in, kissing me instead. Likewise.
Good. We have understanding. I patted his cheek and pulled away. “Let’s go check up on Nick, demon.”
He laughed, “As you wish, my Princess.”