I froze, my moment of weakness chased away by a jolt of adrenaline. I resisted Adrian’s pull. “Did you hear that?”
“Nothing, I guess.” A wave of energy rolled into me, curled itself possessively around my body, and gave me one hell of a head rush. “Oh, wow.” I bit my lip, bracing against reaction.
Adrian tightened his grip on my waist. “Rina?”
Mark and Ren stalked over, faces grim.
“Did—? Do you—?” My mouth was so dry I could barely speak. “Do you guys feel that?”
Adrian squeezed, capturing my wandering attention, concern etched in the stern set of his jaw. “Feel what? What’s wrong?”
I started to tell them the Invisible Man hugged me against an electrified fence, but a second wave of energy bowled into me, making me tingle from head to toe. The sensation walked the line between pleasure and pain. A moan escaped me.
Mark took me from Adrian. “That’s it. We’re out of here.” He tried to pick me up, but I shook my head. Bad idea. Dizziness took the hall, and me, for a little spin.
Turn around. Turn. Around.
Was it a voice or instinct urging me on? Either way, the desire proved irresistible. I pulled away from Mark, pivoted, and forgot how to breathe.
The electric energy pulled back. The dizziness abated. All extraneous noise and people drained out of my perception until there was only Him.
Tall, fit, and bad-boy handsome with skin like pale honey, his thick, walnut brown hair hung tousled in a sexy, I-just-got-out-of-bed way. A hip, black, button-down shirt accentuated a sculpted upper body before it tucked into slacks painted on long, lean legs. The whole package made my mouth water.
Hot. Yummy. Totally my type.
“Who are you?” I whispered.
His mouth twitched in a hint of a smile as if he heard me—impossible given the distance between us. Heat spread, loosening my muscles, and my pulse sped up. Nerves. What’s wrong with me? Guys never made me nervous, not even gorgeous ones.
I nibbled my lower lip, mind racing to make sense of my reaction. His gaze tracked the movement and then slid back up. The heat from his stare hit me full force, driving a shaft of need through me. Energy rocked me again, a warm, electric breeze bathing my skin. My eyes widened in comprehension. The energy came from him.
My day moved from ordinary to interesting when the deliveryman handed me a box that smelled of blood.
The scent made my mouth water. Pungent iron mixed with, of all things, lavender. My thoughts flew straight to Tessa, my surrogate vampire mother. When she pulled out one of her specialty powers, the one I fondly referred to as vampire valium, this relaxing, floral herb scented the air and reduced friend or foe to a boneless, helpless puddle.
I shut the front door on the retreating back of the deliveryman and wiggled the box. Nothing rattled inside. Not particularly heavy, less than ten pounds.
A peace offering, perhaps? Tessa certainly owed me one.
She’d commanded her minion, my boyfriend Alexander, to star in a two-month classical music tour of Italy, performing nightly for vampire dignitaries and their lucky minions. While I, the good little predestined, vampire apocalypse averting, Chosen One in training, remained behind in San Francisco to learn how to kick naughty vampire ass with my latent and rather unwieldy fire power.
“Hey boys,” I called up to the second floor where my friend Adrian and his lover, my mentor Jonas, took their sweet time descending for breakfast. “Bloody prezzie just arrived. And I do mean that literally.”
Silence answered my shout, followed by the whoosh of water in the master bathroom shower and a husky laugh from Adrian. Given that sexy sound, I could expect a delay. Jonas tended to make their showers last forever.
A jolt of jealousy stabbed my stomach. Wish I could enjoy some fun and sexy time with my guy. I shrugged off the sensation and strode into the kitchen. “Fine. More for me.”
I parked my ass in a chair and slid the box onto the table to study it. No return address or package info. Not that surprising. Vampires tended to aim for stealth and subtlety, to fly under the radar of the general human populace. One of Tessa’s minions probably compelled the delivery dude, or he belonged to the circle of humans already in-the-know.
I ripped off the tape in one pull and peeked inside. No packing peanuts, but rather a nest of lavender branches speckled with droplets of blood, as if the branches themselves bled. Beautiful, aromatic, and so very vampire.
A wine box large enough for two bottles rested in the nest. Cold to the touch, indicating recent refrigeration. I lifted it out, trailing my fingers over the gold latch, the dark, glossy wood, the Celtic knots carved into each end, and finally over the initials on top. My initials, C A T. Short for Carina Agostina Tranquilli.
What a well-crafted and thoughtful gift. I bet the wine inside would be equally well-made.
I flipped the latch and opened the lid. My brows collided. Not wine.
Nine vials of blood about the size of my ring finger rested side by side in black velvet bedding. A stopper sealed with red wax and stamped with my initials secured the blood inside each vessel.
I pulled one from its nest and held it up in the light streaming through the kitchen’s bay window. The liquid glowed a rich, ruby red like a shard in a stained glass window.
“Beautiful.” And odd.
Sure, I was a half vampire and could appreciate a fine bit of blood, but I was still a human female and for me, nothing says, I’m sorry for disrupting your entire life like high-end jewelry or better yet an all-expenses paid trip with my boyfriend somewhere secluded, luxurious, and far away from vampire politics. Hell, I’d settle for the return of my boyfriend to San Francisco.
The mansion was dark, but as we drove onto the circular drive and passed the fountain where five-year-old me had witnessed the death of my brothers’ father, light flared inside and out until the whole place glowed, like a star in a dark night sky.
The car stopped. Besnik clambered out and opened my door. Frigid, early morning air lunged into my lungs. Move, body, move…
Death nudged me. I wobbled but couldn’t convince myself to step out. What if… What if this was a freaking, injection-induced hallucination? What if I was still back in the damn prison?
Besnik reached in and helped me out. My legs shook, and my body swayed as I willed my mind to wake the hell up, to feel something good, something happy, something, anything—
The mansion’s mammoth double doors eased open. The man illuminated in the doorway chased away the numbness, pumped my heart so hard it might pound right out of my chest. He opened his arms wide, calling me. My lips curled upward in the first true smile I’d cracked since the last time he’d held me in his arms. That man, my man, loved me more than any other on this whole damn planet.
I ran to him.
Alexander’s arms closed around me, his hold so tight I could barely catch a breath. Tremors ran through his hard body, again and again.
“Carina,” he croaked, voice sandpaper rough. “Carina.”
Nuzzling his neck, I planted fevered kisses along his tan, heated skin. He’d fed recently to be this warm under my lips. Temptation had me licking his pounding pulse, nipping at the vein. Couldn’t resist it. My fangs slid home.
Energy exploded between us, our mate bond bursting to life and tearing away whatever magical wall had separated us for far too long. My bite, the catalyst, his blood the cure. Awash in the force of our reunion, Alexander staggered then clutched me closer while I pulled out of his neck and laved the rapidly healing holes.
As our power continued to bubble and stitch us back together, he whisked us into the grand entryway, planted my ass on an ornate, antique cabinet, and devoured my mouth like a starving man. His hands roamed everywhere, searching, cataloguing, as if to reassure himself this wasn’t a hallucination, that I was really here, in his arms, relatively unharmed.
The more he kissed me, the more those wonderful, golden threads of our connection resurrected inside me, around me, between us, and I felt like freaking Sleeping Beauty awakened from her magical slumber by a kiss from her fated handsome prince. The silly thought made me giggle against Alexander’s seeking mouth, and then I was crying while my love cupped my face between his hands, wiped away my tears with his thumbs, and pressed tender kisses to my forehead, my cheeks, the tip of my nose…
“Alexander.” I fisted his shirt tight. Please, God, let him be real. “I… I don’t want to wake up.” Please, don’t let this end.
His smoky blue eyes bored into mine, his brown hair spiked in every direction, a bit longer than in my memory. It’s not a dream, baby. You’re here. You’re home.
Oh my God, I can hear you. I swiped some willful bits of hair away from his forehead, touched his full lips, ran my fingers along his strong jaw, taking in the whole handsome, bad-boy package. You’re back in my head. I’d never been happier to have someone inside my mind. Silence is seriously overrated.
And back in your arms.