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If you love something set it free? Clearly, the fucktard who said this didn’t know his ass from his armpit, or jack shit about Kynd and their Chosen Ones.
Granted, Urick had kidnapped his “love,” but hey. Watching her suck blood from a sick child’s vein had kicked him off the ledge of sanity he’d been gripping. That she was his Chosen One, a woman God—in his infinite wisdom—had seen fit to pair him with, was the diarrhea icing on his crapper of a cake.
This leech was the female destined to release him from his curse of turning to stone every day of his pathetic existence. Yay for him. Talk about the short straw and the short hairs.
Speaking of which, right then the short hairs on his balls were feeling the sting as his heretofore flaccid dick unfurled its length, while he glared at the stone around his neck—his Chosen One.
A vampire. She had to be a frigging vampire. Of all the creatures, beasts, and what-have-yous roaming these realms, he got paired with a bloodsucker. If he’d had the choice, he’d have bonded with…oh, Medusa maybe, or Typhoid Mary.
Urick scraped his palm from forehead to nape and back again. Pressing the heel of his hand to the bridge of his nose, he fought the roar climbing his throat. It didn’t help that his peepers stole a look across the cave floor to the very thing he loathed.
The female was curled up on the ground across from him, her legs folded up to her chest. She had one arm bent under her head as a makeshift pillow to keep her hair out of the dirt. The other arm she had clasped around her shins to hold her knees to her belly.
The classic fetal position. A pose meant to illicit sympathy and pity.
She can rot there. The pang flaring in his chest was as short-lived as the strike of a match, but no less of a burning bitch. It reminded him that he needed her, that they were inescapably connected. That the coiled piece of feminine flesh on the ground in front of him was the key to his salvation.
So, yeah, no. As much as he loathed the fact she was meant to be his, Uri wouldn’t be setting her free and hoping she came back to him. He needed to be absolutely certain she did. As much as the idea wrung his guts into all kinds of pain and sickness.
She was supposed to be the one to even his keel, to keep the cheese on his cracker. God knew, his slice of Velveeta was slipping off its little square of carbohydrate.
As a chimera, he should be exulting in the triple whammy strength of being three creatures balled into one. Instead, he was gargoyle, grizzly, and cock-sucking vampire. Which, maybe he could deal with if he hadn’t been—
“Quit looking at me like that, perv.”
Uri’s hand fell from the bridge of his nose. “Say what?”
“You heard me. And if you think I’m going to let you lay your filthy paws on me, you’re going to be the recipient of a new asshole.” The woman propped herself up on one arm and tossed her head like she was flinging her long tresses over her shoulder.
Which she wasn’t. Her hair was cropped chin length, slightly longer in the front than the back, showcasing the different tints of blonde. Her hair was everything from platinum to rose gold to sunny yellow. In the shafted moonlight of the cave, it made him think of salty beaches and long stretches of hot sand. The kind of fine granules where you could wriggle your ass into, then flake out to bake your bones.
Uri blinked like he’d been staring at the sun. When had the woman gotten to her feet? Fumbling like he wore ice skates, he found some altitude, the sudden launch to vertical dropping his blood pressure. He jabbed a finger at her. “Stay put.”
The woman narrowed the prettiest eyes he’d ever seen. True liquid amber, and somehow the party-mix blonde of her hair set her irises off like they were coins from ages past. Uri ground his back teeth to keep his mouth from flopping open.
“Like I can go anywhere.” She jutted her chin as she put her hands on her hips. A defiant stance worth nothing, not when he could hear her pulse flicking quicker than a hamster’s wheel. Besides, he’d chosen this cave for the metals embedded in the earthen walls. After what had been done to him, he cherished the safety of a place no vampires could teleport into. Or out of, as the case was now.
“You dug your own grave.” His lip curled off his right fang.
“I dug my own—?” She launched at him so fast he yanked his hands up to keep her from clubbing him in the puss. But just as he was expecting contact, she dropped from view and the next thing he saw was the jagged ceiling of the cave as she swept his legs out from under him.
He landed on his ass with no fine-grained sand to cushion the landing. As his breath punched out of his lungs, her face loomed into his field of vision, her pale cheeks smudged a dusky pink, her little fangs…beguiling. “I did not ask for this. You kidnapped me, remember. Or is stupidity a Kynd trait right along with—”
With a snag and grab, he muckled her and flipped to his stomach. On her back, her long legs stretched between his, their pelvises locked like Legos so his frigging erect shaft nestled into the soft flesh of her lower belly despite their clothing.Her wrists felt tiny and fragile in his big hands, and the feel of those small bones turned something inside him like a key tumbling a lock.
Damn him, but it felt right to feel her against him. Fundamentally sound for her body to be so close to his. Maybe he should give her a chance, share with her why vampires made him want to bellow and decapitate them for the evil things they’d done to him.
She was his Chosen One. She deserved a shot at finding a place in his heart. He could do that for her, at least. After all, she was right. He’d kidnapped her, and after three days he still hadn’t tried to talk to her, to explain. Pegging her as a typical vampire, he hadn’t asked why she’d been feasting on the blood of sick children before he’d grabbed her and brought her to this hole in the Earth.
Yes, good idea to share. Her gold eyes were shimmering as though she held back her tears. With his heart cramping up in his chest, Uri eased his grip and lifted his hips.
She kneed him in the balls.
As his lungs clocked out, he sagged, curling himself around the car bomb of his midsection. Fists gripped like grim death to her wrists, he dragged her into the spiral of his pain, cloaking her with his big body so she couldn’t run.
He wasn’t sure if when he opened his mouth he’d vomit something other than words, but he gave it a go. “What the hell?” he croaked, blessedly chunk-free.
She stiffened inside his embrace then jabbed an elbow into his ribs. His reflexes forced him to squeeze the little bones of her wrists. “Cut…it…out.”
“Let me go!”
Scrubbing his hot face against the back of her head, he snarled, “I can’t.” As she squirmed in his arms all he could feel was the delicateness of her flesh and the incongruous strength in her muscles. Her hair felt as soft as the powder from a butterfly’s wings.
“You can’t, or you won’t?” She scissor-kicked, nearly freeing herself with the momentum. Ignoring the shrieking pain in his ball sac, he locked his legs around hers, so they were laying on the cave floor like two angry spoons.
“Damn it, female! Stop!” She wiggled more, her butt cheeks cranking down on his erect dick. Stiff-arming her, he pushed away from the tempting sensation, the scent of her heated skin washing over him. She took advantage of the space between them, twisting fast to free her right arm.
He blocked the punch, but the back of his hand over her fist still hit him under the chin.
“Son of a bitch.” Those skinny arms had some horsepower behind them. And what do you know? He could feel her tensing for another shot at his face. As they grappled, he grew acutely aware of the subtle shifts of her body, the slide of her muscles against his.
With their body heat mingling, her scent grew stronger, and Uri gripped her tighter. “Stop,” he rasped, surprised by how breathy he sounded. He didn’t want to hurt her, not even in retaliation. She was his Chosen One—regardless of how he felt about it—the urge to do her harm was non-existent.
She, however, had no compunction. His balls were singing the proof of that.
Still, he watched her pulse throb under the pale skin of her neck, mesmerized by the tempo thumping with the beat of his own, her skin jumping at the small pulse point. Numb as a pounded thumb, he dipped his head to flick his tongue against the fluttering vein.
Oh, God. Huge mistake. All he did was spank it, make it ready. Nostrils flared, he slanted for another taste—
“What the fuck! You’re a vampire?”
Uri reared back as if she’d slapped him with the peen end of a hammer. “No!” he roared, the sound vibrating across his lengthening fangs. In his empty, aching gut, though, he felt the heaviness of his denial. “I am Kynd! I am no bloodsucker!”
~ * ~
For a split second, his hold loosened, and Violet wrenched her arms downward, hoping to slip from the shackles of his fists. True to what he was, the demonic Kynd closed his fingers tight as a hangman’s noose. She’d heard they were unpredictable and violent, killers without compassion, but the chimera’s speed caught her by surprise.
As did the fact of what glared back at her with such hatred, she figured his face was a mirror of her own. So there. She despised him, too. Right down to his fucked-up eyeballs that switched from gray to black to gray again so fast it frightened her. Never mind the stone hard glower, as if his eyes were made of granite even when he wasn’t playing rock statue.
With his hands clapped tightly to her wrists, she felt him tremble as if his spine was a lake someone had thrown a boulder into. The vibrations eddied outward, and the harder he shuddered the tighter he gripped.
“Oh, shit.” She knew what this was. The end of night had arrived, and its FTD florist ass brought the rosy fingers of dawn. As he’d done for the three days since her capture, this horrid beast was turning grotesque. His handsome visage…
As adrenaline flooded her veins, her body went all human Parkinson’s, shaky-shaky as panic hopped in behind the wheel. Fuck her calm, inner voice when surrounding her was the embodiment of fury. The grotesque was hardening, and because they’d been fighting he was holding her even tighter than usual. No way he wasn’t going to crush her.
Violet started pummeling him with girlie fists, all Fay Rae in King Kong and just as helpless. “You’re going to kill me, you stupid fuck!”
Too intent on whatever drama was unfolding in his head, he didn’t look down. He bellowed instead as if her words echoed in that empty skull of his and they pissed him off even more.
His grip eased just as his body surrendered to the stone. The transformation seemed to ooze from the inside out as though it consumed him. The utter, freaking stillness that followed was…utterly freaky. Tough shit for her lack of eloquence. Panic still held the reins and she was playing what’s the first word you think of when you see this…
After all the fighting and screaming, the heaving breaths and grappling, it felt like sitting in the eye of a tornado. Queerly still and quiet, the receding panic making her giddy.
She hadn’t even noticed. She was not a small woman, but this male had moved with her like she was a Barbie doll. Hell. His strength had reduced her to a flighty girl who’d ineffectively whacked at him as he did whatever he wanted.
Like, cradle her.
He fucking cradled her again just before he turned to stone. Like he worried she’d be uncomfortable while he played statue for the next twelve hours. Damn him. He was a monster, one of the legendary Kynd that mother ghouls told their children about to scare them.
Laying in his arms like she’d been doing for three days now, Violet got a real up close and personal view of the Bogeyman. Maybe because of the dopamine floating in her bloodstream, she took the time to really look at him. Not just scan the thing holding her captive, but study who was holding her.
Forget the huge, muscle-straining body locking her in. What made him hideous were the tendons bulging in his neck, his stretched lips revealing fangs that would span the width of her palm if she slapped him upside the head.
No wonder they were called Grotesques. Not that his strong jaw or sharp cheekbones were ugly. Or that his ears had morphed into bear ears—which fit him somehow—as if there was a beautiful symmetry to the three beings making him what he was. Gargoyle, bear, and…vampire.
He denied being vampire, but duh. She’d know one when she saw one. Kind of like a homo sapiens seeing himself in a fellow human. Like recognized like. Why he denied it as if she’d called him Satan, she could guess. Anger like his was personal, so it wasn’t a huge leap in logic to suspect he’d been victimized somehow.
Or maybe his vampire mother had abandoned him. Who the hell knew?
What she did know was she could use these lapses of consideration against him. Okay, bucking against the legends, this monster seemed to have a speck of decency. An anomaly, sure, but she’d stretch it all the way to freedom, thank you very much. She was getting out of this cave and didn’t care if she had to lie, cheat, or kill to do it. But what did she know about him or his Kynd other than the dust mote of civility he seemed to possess, and the legends she’d grown up hearing about them?
So far, he hadn’t sucked the marrow from her bones, but he seemed too busy roaring at the cave’s ceiling or glaring at her with disgust.
Disgust. Yeah, she despised being vampire, too, but she’d be damned if she’d let some monster make her feel worse than she already did about it. Especially since she lived every day atoning for the fact—killing other vampires who’d gone rogue, helping the sick kids at the hospital by giving them drops of her blood. Blood that gave them a little boost in fighting their cancers. It wasn’t much, but any help was something good.
Now this deranged beast had taken her away from the things that made her long existence worthwhile, made her feel a little bit worthy when deep down she hated herself, hated what she was. So, feeling disgusted? Right back at you, asshole.
At least she wasn’t the one so arrogant in her power she’d snubbed both God and the fallen archangel Lucifer. She wasn’t the hideous being forever perched on the side of an old building, rotting from the inside out with her volatility and arrogance.
Though he didn’t seem very arrogant at the moment. Turning to stone could probably shave off a few layers of superiority, what with being helpless and all. She could gawk at him all day if she wanted to, and he couldn’t lift a finger to stop her. Heck, she could make googly faces, stick her thumbs in her ears and wag her fingers while she teased nanananana.
“You’d know, though, wouldn’t you?”
The beast kept looking heavenward.
“Oh, yes, you would, you would, you big lug, you.” He wasn’t a Pomeranian puppy by any stretch, but she bet the baby-waby tone pissed him off. She’d pay when the sun went down, sure as shit, but hey, she had to pass the hours somehow.
The looking around had been done the first day he’d trapped her, which was, technically, her second. The first day she’d spent in what had turned out to be her only friend’s cellar. She’d had no idea Daniela Salvai was mixed up with these creatures. If she had, she’d have warned her away.
Not that the woman had been afraid. In fact, now that Violet had hours upon endless hours to spend thinking about it, one of those Kynd beasts had stepped between them as if protecting Daniela from Violet. Her human friend had seemed more stunned to find out Violet was a vampire than afraid to be so close to the savage gargoyle.
Or, that there was an Other convention going on in her basement. Which was totally whacked. She must not be remembering that scene right. Besides, the confrontation hadn’t lasted long before her captor had come to life, his stone body fluid once more. She’d had about ten seconds to wonder why her captor was stone when the other Kynd weren’t, but then he’d bellowed like he should be the outraged one and disappeared them. To here.
Beauty was in the eye of the beholder because it didn’t matter that here had walls that glittered under the gold and blue rays of the sun and moon’s beams stabbing down from the vaulted height of the cave. As if disco and the ’70s, or a rainbow acid trip, were time-capsuled in this godforsaken hole. She was still trapped no matter how pretty her surroundings.
She turned her gaze upward to that horrible face. “I guess I’m not the only one trapped here. You’re not going anywhere either, are you?” Good. She’d plant the seed of discontent, pretend to see his side of things. Trick him into trusting her. Granted, with his anger thicker than a blood clot this was going to take a while.
Speaking of which, she’d need to feed at some point or she was going to get too weak to rescue herself. Fucking vampires and their dilemmas.
* * * *
Urick desperately wanted to bite something but couldn’t. You’re not going anywhere either, are you? The female’s words sliced deep into his gut, making him feel like they were spilling down his lap. He wanted to shred that horrible truth, clamp his grizzly-strong jaws on them and render them to harmless confetti.
Except it wasn’t going to happen while he was frozen in stone. He could shriek his outrage in his head, but none of the anguish would actually escape. Without an outlet, it would spin and grow, feeding on itself. Until his body was once again his own and he could strike out, destroying everything he touched.
Even his Chosen One, his blessed salvation. His strength could pulverize things, and she might be long-lived, but she’d never survive a crushed skull or amputated limbs.
Inwardly he shuddered as the image of her ruined body flashed into his frontal lobe, the effect as debilitating as 500,000 volts cutting off his internal roar as decidedly as a switch. He’d take a deep breath if his lungs weren’t currently stone moorings.
Instead, he substituted the sigh with the span of a few serene seconds, the equivalent resulting in a calmer perspective. In his periphery, he caught the flurry of shadows at the same time he felt the little vampire female wiggling against his skin. She was moving in his grasp. Not trying to escape, but to…
His visage, frozen in its grotesque rage, no longer reflected the curiosity stirring in his quieted mind. Uri concentrated on the press of her body against his stone muscles as she shifted to…
Shake her head? What in hell was she doing? He couldn’t look down, but he sensed she was trying to get up in his face. To mock him?
That’s exactly what she was trying to do, and it made him feel like a little boy flopped in the middle of a litter of puppies—all wriggling, giggling and squirming. Holy hell, his granite lips were going to crack into a smile.
Her antics reminded him of Kallen, his brotherkynd he’d left back at the safe house. A place and its people he missed terribly now that he had the Kynd version of family back together again. A pall settled over his mirth sure as if a dark cloud rolled in over a sunny picnic. No forecast of rain, but the mood better suited his situation.
When his body began to soften, he automatically curled around the female in his arms, as if in just three days it had become second nature to keep her close. She fell still immediately, the tension in her muscles unmistakable. As if she expected violence from him now that he could act on the anger and betrayal he’d been feeling as dawn had descended.
I won’t hurt her despite what she is.
She couldn’t know his change of heart, that his thoughts had finally settled around the truth of her being his Chosen One. He still felt as if he’d been dealt the shitty hand, but at least he’d been given the cards. Unlike Kallen, Drakus, and Kronos, who also suffered from the abuses and tortures they’d been enduring before answering Darken’s call to forsake their God-given punishments.
At least Uri had his Chosen One.
After coughing out the cobwebs in his throat, he looked down at the female in his arms. She glared back, her butt wedged between his thighs, her long legs spilling over his arms. “I won’t hurt you.”
Distrustful, she narrowed her eyes.
“I swear it to you,” he said as his insides coiled queerly. His outrage at what had been done to him mixed like oil in the water of his resolve. Somehow, he had to make it work with the one being on the planet made specifically to bring him peace. Maybe even joy someday, as Merrick and Darken shared with their Chosen Ones.
“What is your name?” She frowned as if pissed by the tremor in her voice.
Uri dragged a look down the length of her, as though truly seeing her for the first time. He noticed how lithe she was, her muscles toned under soft, pale skin. The set of her chin and the level look in those amber eyes. They took in every exit, every object to be used as a weapon, every weakness.
He would remain wary in spite of the olive branch he offered her. She was vampire, after all. Not to be trusted. Granted, the ancient Vampyres of the Triumvirate, the Kynd’s benefactors, hadn’t betrayed them. Yet.
“I am Urick, the Chimera of the Kynd.” As the words left his mouth, his chest grew tight, as though pride was a steam expanding inside him. “And you are…?”
That stern chin of hers hardened. Seconds passed like heartbeats as she searched his face. As though satisfied by what she found, she clipped out, “I’m Violet and that’s all you need to know.”
Uri let himself smirk. So like Kallen, she seemed, not even realizing how naturally funny she was. “Well, Violet That’s All You Need To Know, if I let go of you, will you promise not to kick me in the balls?”
She bit her bottom lip, then shrugged. “Probably.”
“Probably what? Promise, or knee my nads?”
Did she chew her lip to keep a smile from blooming? “I promise not to harm your testicles for now.”
“I’ll take it.” Still holding her, he stood up, easing his hold just enough so she slid down the front of him as she gained her feet. Ah, God. She felt like the jolt of lightning to his rumbling thunder. Again, those twin feelings rose up within him, warring with each other. He hated that she was vampire, but at the same time revered that she was his Chosen.
He stepped back, resisting the urge to latch ahold of her again as she swayed on her feet. Those very feet that had found their home in the cushion of his tender ball sac. He eyed her warily, his hands surreptitiously folding in front of him.
“Nervous?” Her grin would rival that of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat.
His honesty coaxed another grin from her, this one as cagy as a coyote in the suburbs. They inched away from each other like boxers in the ring until she found the corner she preferred. He went to his just as if the bell had rung, ending their match. She watched him for so long he got itchy, suddenly not knowing what do with himself. Stand up? Fold his arms?
“I’d heard the Kynd had gathered. Now I know it’s true.” Her voice washed over him, smooth as the hairs on his grizzly belly. “How many have come?”
Nowhere near enough. “Enough for now.” Any more and the safe house wouldn’t be standing. As it was, they’d incrementally destroyed the beauty of the place with their outbursts. His fear that he would accidentally hurt Violet when she was in his arms wasn’t without precedent.
There wasn’t a room in that sprawling safe house that didn’t bear evidence of claws and fists. Oh, and spiked tails, compliments of Drakus, the dragon chimera. He was responsible for the gashes in the ceilings, too, but Urick was in no place to find fault. A grizzly could do his own damage, thank you very much.
Violet raised one eyebrow, the chip calling the poker bluff.
“Six of us,” he begrudged. “Plus, two Chosen Ones.”
“Chosen Ones. You keep referring to that. I’m supposed to be one?”
How much to reveal? If he told her too much, she could use it against him. But if he didn’t tell her enough, he could lose her. Or, be tied to a female who could, literally, hate him for ages upon ages.
And maybe she was truly curious. Maybe, being Chosen, she felt some of the attraction he felt for her. A reluctant enticement, but there nonetheless. After all, having watched Angelia and Merrick, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind she was as knocked stupid by love as the lion chimera was. Surely, there was some mystical bond at work.
“Yeah,” he shrugged, although he pinned her with a challenging glare.
Lashes flicking upward and her voice a little shaky, she asked, “What does it mean to be your Chosen One?”
“It means,” a bag of dust landed in his throat. Inching toward the door in case she tried to run, he braced off, ready for round two. “It means you were made for me by God. That you are my other half.”
She rolled her eyes. “Made for you.”
Nodding, Uri prepared for the worst. She was strong, and when she lashed out he needed to be ready to deflect expert blows. His heart beat faster, excitement blending with the fear that if she fought too fiercely he would hurt her.
“Okay. I’ll accept that.”
Uri blinked. “What?” Surely, he heard wrong.
“Since you haven’t killed me—not that you could—I’ll buy that you might have a thing for me. And maybe you’re telling the truth, that God ordained this. But you didn’t have to kidnap me. You could have asked me on a date.”
No matter how much his eyelids clapped like an appreciative audience, he couldn’t comprehend her turnabout of attitude. Surely, she was feeling their bond. A twinge of giddiness stuck its wary head out, tender as a nascent sprout.
He let his stupid-ass grin quiver its unsteady way to his lips. She smiled back, the tips of her fangs resting on her lower lip. The seedling of happiness he’d been feeling got pancaked by a semi-truck load of hatred. In his head, the air horns blasted, and he shook as though the eighteen-wheeler sped by so close, the wake wobbled him on his shitkickers.
“What? What’d I say?”
His molars gnashing, he gritted out, “Nothing.”
“It wasn’t nothing. You’re shaking like you do just before you turn to stone.” She pushed her back up the wall as she got to her feet.
His gaze followed her. “Don’t run.”
She threw her hands up. “Oh, for the love of all that’s holy, I’m not. All right?” Then she jabbed a finger at him. “But I’m getting pretty sick of your mood swings. You’re like a playground in hell, you’ve got so many.”
Surely, she was Kallen’s long-lost sisterkynd. The thought tempered him. Somewhat. Enough so he didn’t state the obvious and put them back at square one. To prove they’d moved beyond that, he settled into his corner.
Distrustful, she sank back down into hers.
Elbows on his knees, he let out a defeated sigh. “Okay. First off, I didn’t ask you on a date because I wasn’t sure you were my Chosen One. Second, I didn’t ask…” Fuck him, he couldn’t do this. Rubbing his hands down his face, he peered at her over his fingertips.
She sat about ten feet away from him, no expression whatsoever on her face. The distance between them may as well have been ten miles. Or ten inches. To trust her, or not to trust her? Well, here went nothing. “I didn’t ask because I’mstarvingandIhavenocontrol.”
His Chosen arched a blonde eyebrow. “Say that again, only this time pretend you’re not eight years old.”
~ * ~
She had him dead to rights and felt positively devilish that his brows knitted as if he was worried and irritated at the same time. So complicated. Such an onion to peel. There just might be some entertainment in this hole in the ground after all. Perhaps getting to know this Kynd was going to have its ups.
Urick punched the wall beside him, stone puffing around his fist in stony bits. Or downs.
Undeterred, Violet stepped forward. She had a plan and couldn’t afford to get to the point where she, too, was starvingandnotincontrol. Inwardly, she laughed at his expense. Outwardly, she got to within a foot of him and crouched to touch his knee.
Odd that her mirth fizzled out at the contact. She snatched her hand away, suddenly afraid that maybe the guy-beast wasn’t talking out of his ass about her being created for him by God. They’d been touching all along, but her reaching out seemed to trigger something.
Black eyes flashed as he swiveled his head to look at her. Holy shit. Not your average predator by a long shot.Willing her hand not to shake, she touched her fingers to Urick’s knee again. She couldn’t afford to pull away. Time wasn’t on her side.
She could do this. She could look into those intensely black eyes and act like he wasn’t freaking the shit out of her. She had to if she was going to convince him to trust her, so she could get her ass away from him.
“Hey, I didn’t mean that.”
Slowly he lowered his arm, his bleeding knuckles coated in rock dust. She felt a slight tremor in his fingers as he placed them atop hers. Gray swirled into those black eyes, the gargoyle of his chimera overpowering the vampire portion. Or mixing with it to make it infinitely stronger. Who the fuck knew.
“You okay?” Not that she cared, but she’d better act like she did.
He nodded, casting his eyes down as he gave his head one hard shake. “Yeah,” he said again, glancing up. “I’m all right.”
When he looked at her, it was with eyes that were almost fully gray. Black still bled into the whites of his eyes, but it was receding even as she watched. “You want to tell me why you’re starving?”
He coughed a bitter laugh. “No. No, I don’t.”
Ookay, then. Maybe he’d talk about something that didn’t tickle his hair-trigger. “How about if I share something about myself. And then, if you want, you can tell me something back.”
Those expressive eyes narrowed and peered too close for comfort. She’d heard how observant the Kynd were, that they’d been God’s witnesses before He’d banished them. Which meant they were canny bastards, and she’d have to tread carefully. Like landmine cautious. “Honest,” she lied. “You aren’t going to let me go because of who…what…I am to you, and somehow that pisses you off despite how awesome the gift of me is, so…” she shrugged. “I figure we might as well do something to break the stalemate, right?”
He tilted his head away, but she caught the barest hint of a grin.
“What d’you say? Deal?” Unsure what skin to skin contact would do, she squeezed his knee instead. When he gave a sharp nod, she took a deep breath, as much to steady her nerves as to buy some time. She needed to throw him a bone, not give him ammunition he could use against her. Plus, her reveal had to be loaded. She needed ammunition to use on him.
“Okay, so you know my name is Violet. I bet you didn’t know Daniela and I are friends.” Or, were. After what had happened in the cellar, she wasn’t sure.
Aw, hell. Mr. Beastie perked up. “Daniela is my brotherkynd’s Chosen One.” He looked at her expectantly, as though he had five of the six winning lottery numbers.
Violet’s guts migrated south. “Is that so?”
“That is so,” he mocked, seeming smug that he’d scored a point in his favor.
“Fine. She’s very nice.” And I can’t imagine what in God’s name she’s doing mixed up with the likes of you and yours. Violet pasted on a smile.
“It’s your turn again.” His fingers squeezed hers, and damn if the pressure didn’t give her a little lift. Like it made her lighter somehow. Ignoring it, she looked over her shoulder to where water bled out of a worn crag in the wall to form a shallow pool.
“That looks inviting.” Steam rose from the surface in little wisps. She wasn’t lying about that, at least. She hadn’t bathed since she’d been…relocated against her will. How was that for subterfuge? Pretending was a good strategy, especially if it was the means to a liberated end. And speaking of ends, the question game was a dead end—too many landmines.
His blushing cheekbones were not endearing, damn it. “Ah, yeah. I should have let you—”
“Yeah, you should have.” She was going to seduce him, instead. Get him all foggy eyed, then slip out. After she kneed him in the crotch, so he couldn’t do anything but curl up and die. A far better plan, and one with quicker results. But she had to be real, so she couldn’t play too nice. Pretending to like a grotesque’s touch? She should get an Oscar if she pulled this off.
When she headed over to the little pool, he moved to block the entrance. He didn’t trust her? The jerk was too smart for his own good. Not really. His smarts were keeping his balls, and her, right where he liked them. But it was time to switch that around. She was going to have the upper hand as soon as she seduced him into lowering his guard.
Arching a look over her shoulder, she watched his glittering gaze follow the path of her shirt as she drew it up over her arms and let it dangle and swing on one finger. “I can’t very well bathe in my clothes, now can I?” She almost winked but caught herself.
As before, her seduction had to seem realistic. Peppering it with scathing remarks would remind him she didn’t like him, but not so much she wouldn’t take a desperately needed bath in front of him. Oh, and hey, sure I’m so caught up in this luxurious bath I’d love for you to touch me.
Or something like that.
Her back to him, she let her shirt drop into the dirt, then sauntered toward the steaming pool, all runway model, placing her steps suggestively in a strut meant to kick her hips out. At least, she hoped it had that effect. She might just be toddling like a penguin.
When she peered again over her shoulder, her captor’s gray eyes were hooded, his skin pale in the shafts of moonlight beaming from small holes in the cave ceiling. Breath catching in her lungs, she faltered to a messy stop.
He was surprisingly beautiful as he stood watching her; not grotesque at all. His clawed fingers were spread, his wide chest heaving over narrow hips. His legs were spread as though he braced himself. She dragged her gaze down the front of him. Or to make room for the growing bulge in his black jeans?
Mission accomplished. Almost. She had his undivided attention, at least.
Preferring to ignore the switch in her opinion about his beastliness, she resumed her path to the pool. She exaggerated the unbuttoning of her pants, making a show of it so he’d know what she was doing even though she had her back to him. She could swear she felt his gaze heating her bare back. And her ass.
Without looking back at him, she hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her pants and worked the leather down her thighs. Too late she realized her boots were still laced, that her pants would get stuck mid-shin.
Not very romantic at all. God, seduction was so foreign to her, she couldn’t even map out how to go about it. She wasn’t a virgin, but all of her sexual interactions had been of the wham-bam-thank-you-sir variety. Her lifestyle didn’t encourage intimacies. Intimacy led to questions and then answers she wasn’t willing to give.
Murder was the kind of hobby you didn’t share, not if you wanted to get away with it.
Still feeling the Kynd’s rapt attention on her now bare ass, she willed her heart to remain steady while she sought a clever way out of this pickle. How to get him to let his guard down by using feminine wiles she didn’t possess?
With her knees practically tied together by her gathered pants, she turned to face her captor. His legs were still braced, only now his arms were folded across his puffed chest, his lips quirked in an indulgent grin. Mocking her. That look on his face said he knew exactly what her predicament was.
Bear-man’s grin disappeared.
Heartened, she pushed her pants all the way down, letting the gathered leather collect at her ankles. Knees freed, she let her thighs flop open, revealing the red silk of her underwear.
His heavy arms dropped to his sides, his smugness falling with them.
Arching her pinkies like a dainty female, she loosened the laces of her boots, making sure when she leaned back up she traced the belly of her right boob with her finger. She could see him swallow from ten feet away.
When she stood back up, his eyes locked on the triangle of her panties.
“Like that, do you? Well, tough shit.” As if put out, Violet spun around, putting her back to him once more. And giving him a full shot of her thonged ass, your welcome. Knowing she had him as good as a bass on a hook, she kicked off her boots and pants and stepped supermodel-like into the shallow pool, moaning and closing her eyes like she’d lowered her naked body into paradise.
There’d been no need to pretend. The water was deep and warm, surrounding her with its darkness as if she’d returned to the womb. Dunking under, she swayed her head back and forth, letting liquid fingers work through her short locks.
She forgot all about seduction as she surrendered to the pleasures of the bath. The warm water soothed her muscles, aches she hadn’t realized that had gone deep into her bones. Buoyant in the water, she floated with her eyes closed, her arms outstretched.
~ * ~
When the female arched her back, her breasts protruded like island paradises where gentle waves lapped upon mounded beaches. Urick’s cock strained to shred his zipper. Hand cupping the painful swelling, he stepped toward her, his feet shuffling as if they were still made of stone.
Kneeling at the edge of the pool, he freed his squashed staff with an absentminded dip and flick of his hand. The relief was instant, if short-lived. Now another kind of desperation assaulted him. Somehow, he needed any part of her to touch the thing stabbing out in front of him like a flagpole. Any part of her. Her hands, those creamy breasts, her mouth…
The groan oozing from his lungs was just another kind of torture and did nothing to deflate his need.
She lifted her head from the pool and splashed to the far side, as though she’d forgotten his presence, and his moan had spooked her.
His neck heating, Uri covered himself with his hands and hung his head between his slumping shoulders. In all the years he’d been held captive by vampires, he hadn’t once grown hard. No matter how much blood they’d taken from his shackled body.
He had felt a feeble flicker of pride from that when all around him he’d watched the bloodsuckers grow aroused, their flesh ruling their minds, their hungers controlling them. Now here he knelt, his body rebellious of his will, his hunger for this female stark.
And blatantly obvious. As a shape-shifting chimera, nudity was simply another stage, a normal phase of the body changing from one shape to another. Among his brethren, they no more noticed bare skin than they did the fur of his grizzly or the scales of Drakus’ dragon.
But here, now, in this cave with this vampire female and his never before hardened sexual organ—until he’d met her—he felt shame bore deep into his Kynd soul. Because unlike Merrick and Darken with their Chosen Ones, Urick didn’t just want to physically join himself to this female. He wanted to drink of her. He wanted to sheathe his fangs in her flesh while he plunged his manhood between her welcoming thighs.
Binding himself to Violet in a way that wasn’t how he’d seen his brethren bond themselves to their Chosen. Tainted as he was, Urick’s urges were vile. His lusts as filthy as those of his vampire enslavers, as far from the beauty of being Kynd as he could get.
His shame lay heavy as a sodden cloak upon his back, and he couldn’t move under its oppressive weight. Not until he heard the lapping of water against the rock edge of the little pool. When his Chosen’s fingertips touched upon his knee, he fell back, as startled as she’d been earlier, scrambling for a safe distance while he fought with his past, his present, his future.
“No!” He shouted past his aching fangs stretched long and thin in his mouth, as sensitive as the cock he hid behind his hands. He shook his head, still unable to look at the vampire who was his Chosen One.
“Urick.” Water dripped as she lifted herself from the pool and walked over to him. Crouching at his feet, she tilted his chin up so he’d look at her. “I thought you enjoyed the look of me. I still disgust you.”
He felt his lids widen. “No.” He could easily pull his face from her hand, but he didn’t want to. For all his anguish that his Chosen One should be a creature he reviled, he craved her touch. Especially now when she reached for him voluntarily, when only a short time before she had been as disgusted with him as he’d been with her.
It seemed passion and compassion made strange bedfellows, allowing them to see the endearing qualities, where before they appeared as nothing but monsters to each other. “You do not disgust me.”
This time, it was she who lowered her face, tilting it away from his searching gaze.
Like her, he pressed his fingertips to her chin, lifting it until their eyes met. “I think you are pretty.”
She blushed, a hank of darkened wet blonde hair falling across her cheek. In the cave, the sound of water lapping echoed as loud as raindrops on a cottage roof. “If I said you were handsome, you would think it lip-service. Payback for your compliment.”
“You think me handsome?” His grin broadened to a shy smile when she nodded. “Well, then. I’ve never thought of myself in that way.” He didn’t lie, exactly. Bound in chains and coveted for his blood, he had never considered himself attractive beyond that as a food source, a decadent cake to be gorged upon.
And left as a dirty plate afterward.
“You aren’t as much of a brute as I’d first thought.”
“No? I am a beast, though.”
“You’re chimera. It goes without saying.”
He shrugged, willing to let the backhanded compliment roll off without stinging. He’d been jesting, she hadn’t.
Leaning close, she licked her lips. “I would kiss you.”
She smelled of the crystalline water she’d been bathing in. She smelled warm, of flesh. And of blood. He shook his head, afraid to put his mouth anywhere near her.
“Just a kiss, nothing more.” Maybe that was all she wanted, but he wasn’t sure that’s all she’d get. His skin felt as if it had caught fire. His heart beat faster, his newly risen shaft kicked once against his stomach.
“Just a kiss,” he rasped, feeling foolish. People kissed all the time. It wasn’t a big deal. When Violet leaned in closer, her scent flooded his head, then curled through him as if she were the blood in his veins. It streaked down pathways like plasma trains, throbbed through tunnels of arteries. Uri panted as his nostrils flared, and still, she drew closer. He could see the pores of her pale skin, the bloom of roses on her fair cheeks.
Her breath brushed against his.
Now he felt the warmth of her skin it was so close, and she drew nearer, their noses touching. His eyelids fluttered closed, and the bump of her lips to his reminded him of bumblebees and flowers and other beautiful things. He leaned in to meet her.
The rush of something swift passed between his thighs just as the universe exploded behind his closed lids. Fast as the pop of a firecracker, his nuts blew apart and the roar he bellowed fought with the bile racing up his throat.
Thoughts sizzling like a sparkler against the night sky, he watched Violet’s bare ass grow smaller as she ran through the cave toward the only exit.
~ * ~
Bare feet slapping against the dirt, Violet raced like a greyhound, the bait she chased not a fluff of rabbit zip-lining just out of reach, but a tunnel that grew smaller and curved the farther down it she went, like one of those Thanksgiving cornucopias. Or someone’s fucking colon because she sure as hell felt like excrement.
Her plan had nearly backfired. She’d been so into that damned bath, floating like a parsley flake in a bowl of soup, she’d left her urge to run laying in the pile with her leather pants.
And then that fucking near-kiss. Holy hell, talk about spacing it. When she’d seen Urick crumble under the weight of his shame, her body had moved to him before her brain realized it wasn’t driving the bus. By then it was too late. She’d reached out for him, igniting that connection, the same pistons firing in her engine as when she’d reached out for him before.
Urick hadn’t been kidding. Holy Jesus Christ, he hadn’t been kidding about her being his whatever the hell he called those women made for the condemned Kynd…Chosen Ones. That was it. Chosen Ones. Women apparently just as doomed as the beasts who sought them. Sharing their breaths, his scent may as well have been a cast iron frying pan for how hard it had knocked into her head.
She’d practically tasted him on her tongue, an appetizer meant to tantalize her for the real meal. His blood. A mother-effing Kynd’s blood she’d burned to taste, to draw down her throat as if it would be the sweetest ambrosia. Her fangs had grown long in her mouth, her breaths even now rasping back and forth across them as she chugged like a locomotive.
“Violet!” The roar hit her like a blast of scorching air. If she hadn’t been bent over already, it would have flung her to her knees. Oh, wait. Fuck. She was on her knees!
“Oh, Jesus, Jesus.” He’d recovered too quickly. Panicked, she patted the dirt floor like she’d lost an earring or some shit. “Get on your fucking feet!” What in hell was wrong with her? Run! She’d just assaulted a beast known for its violent destruction, its penchant for blood and ruin.
A brute so base he was going to rip her arms and legs off while smearing her blood all over himself. Chimeras did that. She’d grown up hearing the horrific tales from the old ones, who’d heard it from the older ones and so on and so on through the ages.
Legs as uncoordinated as a newborn fawn’s, she teetered upright just in time for an arm with the tensile strength of a tree limb in a hurricane wind to whip around her waist. “You are mine, Chosen,” hell itself snarled into her ear.