“Orgasm?” Nicole’s reddish eyebrows shot up. “You’ve never even had one by yourself?”
Truly, this couldn’t get more embarrassing. “You’re a vampire physiologist,” Aylin pointed out. “Didn’t you know that born vampires require a sort of sexual awakening with a member of the opposite sex before they can feel pleasure? We call it the salisheye.”
“Damn,” Nicole breathed. “That’s a new one. But born vampires are so rarely seen in captivity that humans haven’t studied them much. It’s why they’re so valuable to Daedalus.” She gave a shake of her head as if to clear it. “I hope this isn’t a rude question, but how old are you?”
“I was born in 1910.”
“Wow. I realize this might be a delicate question, but…”
“Why am I still a virgin?” At Nicole’s nod, Aylin sighed. “You’ve seen the males at ShadowSpawn.”
Nicole grimaced. “Gotcha. But still, in all that time, there was no one even a little decent you were attracted to?”
Of course there was. Aylin once had a huge crush on a young warrior who had been sent to ShadowSpawn by another clan. He’d even flirted with her – until her father made an example out of them both. Aylin could still hear the male’s grunts as he was beaten by the clan’s most brutal warriors, could still feel the lashes she’d gotten during supper.
“My father threatened every male with a fate worse than death if any of them touched me. Remember when I said I’m not allowed to breed?”
The computer next to Nicole beeped, but she stopped it with a few clicks on the keyboard. “Because your father says you’re defective.”
“That’s part of it,” Aylin admitted. “But it’s also because my virginity is the only thing I can bring to the mating table.”
Nicole exploded to her feet. “Bullshit. What about Rasha? Is she a virgin, too?”
Rasha, a virgin? Hilarious. “She’s the firstborn. She’s more valuable to a mate if she’s experienced. Extra valuable if she’s given birth.” She glanced at the test tubes. “Thanks to you, though, the rarity of pregnancy is no longer a concern.” In the last three months, four ShadowSpawn females had announced their pregnancies. In the past, no more than one female per year had done that.
“I knew I shouldn’t have given the formula to your father. Not that I had a choice.” Anger seethed in Nicole’s gaze. “This is crap. We’ll find you a male. We’ll get you out of this.”
While Aylin loved Nicole’s fierceness, she couldn’t quite get there. She’d tried too many times to escape the life she’d been born into, and each time she failed, she lost confidence that it would ever happen. “I appreciate the offer, Nicole, but remember the iffy part? Tseeveyo will be furious, but he might take me anyway, just to keep a peaceful alliance with my father. He could toss me into a chamber with the rest of his harem and forget about me.” Which would actually be a good thing. “Or he could torture me every day for denying him my salisheye. And if he rejects me, it just puts me back into my father’s hands again.”
“That’s sick,” Nicole spat. “And I know sick. So what are you going to do? What do you want to do?”
Hunter. His named popped into her head like it belonged there. Which was ridiculous. He was mating with her sister, and even if he wasn’t, he’d never take someone like her as First Female. “I don’t know what I can do, but I know I need to be healthy to have a chance at doing anything,” she said. “That’s why I’m here. Hunter said you could help me with something.”
Nicole frowned. “Is everything okay?”
“For now. I was injured during the attack on our party, and it wouldn’t stop bleeding. Hunter was concerned.”
Nicole reached for a box of surgical gloves. “Let me take a look.”
“It’s fine. Hunter… fixed it.” With his tongue. Even now, the memory made her squirm on the chair. “But it’s been going on for a long time. The bleeding, I mean. It’s like my blood doesn’t clot.”
Abandoning the gloves, Nicole grabbed a pad of paper and a pen. “Have you fed recently?”
More squirming. This time accompanied by her mouth watering. Hunter’s blood had been the most amazing thing she’d ever tasted. “Yes.”
Aylin cleared her throat. “Last night.”
Surprise flickered in Nicole’s expression. “When you were with Hunter?” At Aylin’s nod, Nicole bent over the notepad and scratched something on the paper. “Do you feed regularly on the night of the new moon?”
“Yes.” If sucking on some reluctant jerk’s extended wrist could be called feeding. Really, it was charity, and Aylin hated every second of it.
“When did you last feed a male during the full moon?”
Nicole’s head came up sharply. “Never? As in, never in your life?”
Heat prickled Aylin’s cheeks. “Never.” No one wanted her contaminated “cripple blood.”
“Jesus,” Nicole whispered.
“Don’t do that.” Aylin stood, suddenly very uncomfortable discussing her private shame. “Don’t pity me. It’s how things are. I don’t like it, but I deal.”
“I’m sorry.” Nicole’s voice was soft but firm, a curious balance of sympathetic and professional. “I don’t mean to pity you. I know what it’s like to feel different.” She cast a furtive glance around the lab, but they were alone. “I don’t have a vampire gift like everyone else. Riker said sometimes it takes a while before it manifests, especially in turned vampires,” she added quickly. “But it still sucks when everyone is wondering what you can do, you know?”
“Yeah,” Aylin muttered, thinking that everyone at ShadowSpawn wondered what she brought to the table. “I know.”
“Well, I do have good news.” Nicole cleared her throat. “About the bleeding, I mean. It’s not your fault. We’ve discovered a chemical reaction in vampires that takes place when they feed from the opposite sex during moon phases. Those chemical reactions are vital to survival. If males haven’t fed from you, it’s been affecting your body chemistry, and one of the effects is a decreased ability for the blood to clot.”
Huh. That explained a lot. You don’t even bleed like a normal vampire, you freak. She’d heard those words a million times from her father and other clan members. Now she wanted to throw those words back into their faces. Their prejudices had caused her condition, and all this time, there’d been an easy fix.
“Could I die from this chemical reaction thing?”
“Not from being, ah, moon-blood celibate, for lack of a better term,” Nicole replied. “By itself, it won’t kill you. But it compromises your circulatory system, and if you take a bad enough wound, you could bleed out. Basically, on the next full moon, you need a male partner.”
Easier said than done. “No one will feed from me.”
Snorting, Nicole threw her pen down on the counter. “MoonBound isn’t like ShadowSpawn. Trust me, if you let the word out that you’re willing to feed a male, you’ll have a line at your door.”
Aylin doubted that. But even if it was true, there was only one male she could picture at her throat.
And he was the one male she couldn’t have.
Aylin wasn’t ready to go back to her chambers. She’d spent too much time alone in her life already, and what she wanted now was company. She’d have loved to spend more time with Nicole, but Riker had swept in like an erotic storm and carried Nicole away in a whirlwind of whispered promises. Nicole had offered to stay and talk, but there was no way Aylin could interfere with what was clearly going to be some much-needed private time for the couple.
It was for the best, anyway. Aylin had a few questions for her dear sister.
She found Rasha where she’d left her, in her room, pacing like a madwoman, her boots striking the hardwood floor with hammer-like thuds. Maybe she’d just learned that she was suffering from a preventable health condition caused by ignorant clan members, too.
Inappropriately cheered by that thought, Aylin chirped, “What’s up?”
Rasha rounded on Aylin with a snarl. “Hunter is with another female.”
An abrupt stab of betrayal pierced her in the chest, which was absurd, given that Hunter didn’t owe Aylin anything. He certainly didn’t belong to her. They’d spent a brief night together in a cold cabin and shared some blood. No big deal.
Don’t forget the steamy make-out session. Don’t forget how he thrust between your legs, his erection sliding over places no male has ever been.
He’d thought she was Rasha.
As if she’d been doused by a bucket of icy water, Aylin cleared her head of thoughts she had no business thinking. “What makes you say that?”
“I can’t find him.” Rasha swiped a ceramic cup off the counter. It broke into a million shards, splashing a sharp-smelling clear liquid onto the floor. “Someone said he left the warren but wouldn’t say where he went.”
“There are a lot of reasons he might have left.”
“Not when he should be with me.”
Aylin rolled her eyes. “You don’t want him anyway.”
“Of course I want him.”
How had Rasha said that with a straight face? “You want the status and power he’ll give you. You don’t want him.” Not the way Aylin did.
Rasha kicked at the shattered remains of the cup, sending pieces bouncing off the walls and furniture. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t share. I need to be the sole female influence on him. So much around here needs to be changed. Have you seen the way he runs this clan? This isn’t a den stocked with sturdy, battle-scarred warriors,” she growled. “It’s a playground for pampered, soft-skinned children.”
“Is that so?” Hunter’s deep voice boomed in the small space, and as Aylin wheeled around with a startled hiss, the room grew even smaller.
His masculine presence filled every corner, every nook and cranny, as he stood just inside the doorway, his ebony hair held back by a leather thong to reveal his sharp cheekbones and unforgiving, square jaw. He wore only a pair of jeans and a massive mantle of black fur draped over his broad shoulders. The ceremonial pelt gaped open in the front, revealing a thickly muscled chest and hard-cut abs. Two thin cuts slashed an X in his chest, and four evenly spaced lacerations sliced diagonally from shoulder to hip. Thick smears of blood coated his skin and pants.
Dear sweet spirits, Hunter could have stepped fresh out of a battle in primitive times. Gone was the video-game-playing, whiskey-swigging male with the gorgeous smile. In his place was a vampire who was a chief from head to toe, and the cold sheen of ice in his eyes said he was comfortable in that role.
“Yes,” Rasha said, an uncharacteristic hitch in her voice. “It’s so.”
Hunter slammed the door closed behind him, turning the room into a tomb. “Examples.”
Rasha hesitated, something Aylin had only seen her do when confronting their father. A heartbeat later, Rasha’s superiority complex kicked in, and she met Hunter’s angry gaze with a scornful one of her own. “You have a library and a game room.” She made a sweeping gesture around the chamber. “Your residences are plush and warm, all of it encouraging laziness and soft warriors. You allow the injured and weak to sit at tables with people who are healthy and worthy. You allow them full portions and the same choice food everyone else eats.”
Hunter’s expression was utterly flat. “And you disagree with all of this?”
“Warriors shouldn’t be coddled, or they’ll lose their edge.” Rasha glanced at Aylin. “The infirm need incentives to overcome their weaknesses.”
“All here pull their own weight,” Hunter said. “Without the fear of being punished for things that are out of their control.”
Rasha snorted and waved her hand in dismissal, clearly done with trying to convince Hunter he was wrong. “Where have you been?”
If Hunter was irritated by the question, he didn’t show it. Then again, he was already irritated. “I was meeting with someone about our future.”
His boots crunched on shards from the broken cup as he came closer, the movement causing his fur robe to part, and Aylin got a glimpse of a ceremonial blade tucked into his waistband. The bone handle rested against rippling abs streaked with blood, and Aylin’s fangs throbbed. But did she want his blood… or his body? And did it matter? She couldn’t have either. Both of those things would soon belong to Rasha, and it was time she stopped obsessing. Besides, she had no desire to listen to her sister plan her future with a male she didn’t even like.
She inched toward the door. “I’ll just go —”
“Stay.” Hunter’s deep, rumbling command might as well have been an invitation to bed, because suddenly, her pulse was pounding in her ears, in her chest, and all the way into her pelvis.
As if he knew, Hunter’s gaze snapped over to her, pinning her in place with the efficiency of an arrow through the sternum. “This concerns you, too.”
“Me?” she croaked. “Why? What’s going on?”
Hunter shrugged out of his furs and laid them carefully over the arm of the sofa, the powerful muscles in his back flexing under smooth skin made for a female’s nails to dig into. “What do you know of our origins?”READ MORE >>