Valentin glanced into the rear view mirror to make sure Hayden was still breathing. At this distance he could feel her heart, so there was no reason to check, but he needed to see her. She lay sleeping across the back seat and if it hadn’t been for the unnatural paleness of her skin and the dried blood on her lips she would have looked almost peaceful.
As he sped through the snowstorm he wondered how long she could go on as she was. Her heart had slowed a great deal and the distance between their minds seemed to be increasing. He had the impulse to bring her to an emergency room and somehow convince the doctors to give her a transfusion. He could make up a story to explain the loss of blood, the puncture marks on her neck. Yet even as he tried to piece together a convincing explanation he knew it was too late for that.
If he’d staked Henry right away there would have been time.
Why hadn’t he done it? Even worse, why had he allowed Hayden to risk her life regardless of whether she was his soulmate? Hell, he had practically forced her into doing it.
For years he had imagined this moment—the moment when he could revel in Henry’s death. Yet now that Henry was actually gone all he could feel was relief. And fear. Because if Hayden died he would be responsible.
The idea of her death was awful. There was no question of her continuing on as she was, or perhaps recovering. Conventional medicine could no nothing for her. If she would only drink—then, perhaps, she might live. Not as a human being, of course. That possibility no longer existed. But if she would drink enough of his blood she could survive as he had survived. They would live on together then and nothing would part them.
He forced himself not to think of it. It hurt him somehow, to imagine her as one of the undead—to know it was he who was responsible for inflicting that fate upon her. Even worse, he had sensed her love for him when he looked into her eyes at the graveyard. She’d loved him at the end of her mortal life and in return he had allowed himself to feel only hatred toward Henry. Toward her, or at least toward what he had believed she represented.
She trusted him and as a result of that trust she had been betrayed. When he’d lifted her off the
ground at the cemetery, her mind recoiled from his touch, his belated offer of salvation.
The gates to his estate swung open automatically and he maneuvered the car to the end of the drive as fast as he dared. Even with the wipers on their highest setting, he could see almost nothing. When he arrived at the front entrance he jumped out of the car and opened the rear door, willing Hayden to hang on as he lifted her off the back seat.
Had his plan worked as he’d envisioned, he would fly to England within hours and entomb himself in the cemetery where his sister was buried. He’d hoped his sleep of death would last for centuries. Now all he wanted was the chance to remain as one of the undead. With Hayden.
Swiftly he mounted the front steps and entered the hallway. Crossing to the staircase, he climbed it two steps at a time and hurried toward his bedroom, where he laid Hayden’s body out across the spread. Beads of sweat covered her forehead and her breathing was so faint it was difficult to believe she wasn’t already dead.
He lit the candelabra next to the bed and laid his palm across her forehead but she tensed so much he quickly removed it. Though the room was dark, he knew he should return to the coffin in the next room. Luckily, he’d fed after leaving Cassandra so he was less in need of sleep than usual.
Crossing to the master bathroom, he removed the blue vial Cassandra had given him from his coat pocket and inspected it a moment before opening it. Its almond scent was sweetly enticing, as enticing as a dream. He set it down on the counter and opened the medicine cabinet in search of one of his razors. If he failed—if Hayden died—he would take the potion willingly. But not yet. First, he had to figure out a way to make her drink the elixir of eternal life.
Perhaps he could force her to drink?
No, she had to drink of her own volition. Otherwise the transformation wouldn’t happen. She had to want it. Apparently even the darkest of forces played by the rules, he thought grimly.
This time Hayden didn’t react at all when he sat down next to her on the bed and used a damp cloth to wipe the blood from her face. Her breathing was almost imperceptible and her lips had turned an ominous shade of blue. Without stopping to think, he rolled up his shirt sleeve and touched the razor to skin.
Instantly, a thin red line appeared and he lifted his arm to her lips, urging her to drink. He tried to focus his entire mind on that one task but he could feel her pushing back against him. Hayden turned her head away from him and lay still.
Clearly, she had made her choice. She didn’t want to be saved. Not by him.
He went on holding the cut to her lips a few minutes longer before giving up. He used the facecloth to wipe her lips clean and smoothed back her pale hair away from her face. He returned to the bathroom and cleaned the wound, which was still bleeding. After searching in the medicine cabinet he located some gauze and used it to wrap his arm. Usually the sight of blood gave him a strange feeling of revulsion mixed with lust. He looked down at the trickle of blood running down his arm and felt nothing at all.
When he returned to the bed he wondered if removing the dress would make her more comfortable then decided against it. The thought of seeing Hayden’s body was powerful and he wasn’t sure he could stand it. Instead he removed her ill-fitting shoes and arranged her dress so that its fold fanned out across the bed. As he did so he allowed himself to let his hands run over her breasts, her stomach, her thighs. He remembered her dream—which had been his dream as well—and fought the urge to kiss her cold lips.
Climbing into bed beside her, he brought his face close to hers and studied it. Even this close to death, she was beautiful. He leaned closer and brought his mouth to hers. He imagined her kissing him back, but her lips were cool. She had made her choice.
He laid his head down next to hers and closed his eyes. Tonight he would stay with her. When he woke she would be lost to him, but for one night they would sleep side by side. He touched his lips to her face.
She was wrapped in darkness. It enveloped her and it was pressing in on her from every angle. She was deep within the blackness, lost in it, in the same way a child loses itself inside the sound of a lullaby. It was singing her to sleep, to death, and it was the most beautiful song she’d ever heard. From a far distance, she could feel someone’s breath against her face. Lips touched her lips, cool lips, so cool they burned like ice. Then the burning turned to warmth and the heat tried to work its way through her but it couldn’t pierce the darkness. The darkness was too heavy, too thick. She felt a surge of panic, tried to use her arms to push it away but her arms wouldn’t move. She was trapped, plunging deeper and deeper. She tried to grab onto something, anything, to stop the falling, tried to cry out for help but couldn’t. The darkness was suffocating her. Someone had tried to save her—had pressed something—water? no blood—against her lips. Henry? The name came close then receded. Names floated above her, faces, but she couldn’t see them clearly. Valentin. She saw his face, felt his lips touching hers, burning her. He had tried to save her. No, he’d betrayed her. Had kissed her. She tried to fight her way out of the darkness, out of the suffocating fog that hung over her but couldn’t. Lips on her skin, her face, burning her face. Lips on lips, burning. Scent of blood. His blood. Desire surged through her and thrust her up toward the surface of the darkness. There was nothing she wanted more. His lips were on hers, burning them. She bit down on his lower lip until she tasted blood, felt it flowing over her tongue.
There was nothing else she wanted.
The darkness receded and she went on drinking. He was pressing his arm to her lips, offering her more. The blood flowed freely and she drank greedily, hungrily. There was nothing else. The darkness inside her was fading, dissolving, her heartbeat growing stronger. She opened her eyes and saw his face next to hers, his dark hair illuminated by candlelight. She could feel her heart beating, his heart beating.
She reached out and drew him toward her. His lips brushed across her cheeks, her eyelids, then fluttered down to her collarbone, the hollow between her breasts. His hands traveled to her back and he began unbuttoning her dress. She tugged on his belt, undid the zipper to his pants. Freed from its confines, his hardness jutted up from his belly and she touched her hand to it. The tip was wet and she ran her fingertip over it, then wrapped her hand around its base.
Valentin moaned and tugged at the back of her dress, frantic to feel his body against hers. She pushed him away and stood up next to the bed, letting the dress fall to her feet. As he watched her she undid her lace bra and removed her panties, then lay back down beside him. He lowered his head to her left nipple and began to suck, gently at first then with more urgency. He moved to her other breast and she was startled to feel the tips of his fangs, surprised that the sensation felt so good. She half rose but he gently pushed her back, moving his mouth down her body, kissing and licking. Pressing his lips to her mound, he began to lick her until she could hardly stand it. But he wasn’t done, had only moved farther down, probing her insides with his tongue, working it in and out to the rhythm of her hips. She felt the pressure building within her, then forced herself to stop, placing her hands on his shoulders and pushing him away from her.
But he had already stopped, already begun kissing her in response to her unspoken request. She hurriedly started to unbutton his shirt but he couldn’t wait, he had to be inside her. Pushing her hand aside, he lowered himself onto her and used his knees to open her legs.
As he entered her she felt the same burning she had felt when his lips touched her, only more so. His heat shot through her at lightning speed until her whole body was burning, throbbing. She could hear his thoughts as clearly as if they were her own, knew suddenly and without question that he would always be connected to her in a way that he had never been connected with any woman.
He began to pump harder, faster, and the pressure began building again inside her, bringing her ever closer to climaxing. She tried to fight the feeling, to delay her release, even as she wrapped her legs around his hips and ground against him with violent fury. She knew what he wanted from her, knew he’d never asked it of any woman. She wanted it too, more than she’d ever wanted anything. At the moment she felt him climax she arched and bared her neck to him.
Valentin hesitated only a moment before lowering his mouth to her skin. She let out a low moan as his fangs pierced her neck. The feeling of him deep inside her coupled with the sensation of him sucking her neck was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. As he released himself into her, her insides clenched against him. Contraction after contraction shook her body. She couldn’t stop.
He closed his eyes and collapsed on top of her. There was nothing else but him, his mind and his body merging with hers, their souls forever joined.
When she woke Valentin was asleep by her side and the candles had burnt down. The room was dark aside from a sliver of light that slanted through the drawn curtains. Oddly enough, she wasn’t afraid. Nor did she regret what had happened. It was as if she had shed the skin of her old life, and with it, the part of her that had clung to the human side of her existence.
Was she a monster now? she wondered. How could she go on being a cop? Even worse, would she be forced to kill to survive? Hayden raised her fingertips to her neck and felt the double set of puncture wounds: Henry’s and Valentin’s. The wound Henry made had already begun to heal but Valentin’s was still tender. With a start, she wondered if she too had fangs and ran a fingertip across the rim of her teeth.
Not yet apparently. It had already begun though, the change. She was certain of that. Normally she wouldn’t have been able to see at all but now she could make out the furniture in the room, as well as the bathroom door. Her other senses were stronger as well. She could hear not only Valentin’s steady breathing and the ticking of the clock, but also the skitter of a mouse downstairs, an argument between two men walking past the gates to the estate. The scent of unseen roses was so powerful now she could sense its aroma seeping into her skin. She sat up and pulled the sheet around her.
Valentin opened his eyes and smiled at her. After they had made love he’d held her in his arms and she experienced what it was like when two souls fully merged. It had amazed her, the way they could communicate without actually speaking. She’d never felt so vulnerable, yet at the same time she had never felt so safe.
“Henry?” she asked him, propping herself up with one arm and turning to face him.
“Dead.” He sat up as well and began stroking her hair.
She tried and failed to remember all that had happened at the cemetery. “He tried to save me,” she said uncertainly.
Valentin shook his head. “He was a monster, but he was never your enemy. I was.”
Even in darkness, she could see the regret in his face. She reached out and touched her hand to his lips. “Not anymore.”
The trace of a smile flickered across his face. “No,” he agreed. “Not anymore.”
Questions assaulted her mind, but she gave them no voice. There were, she sensed, other things.
Things Valentin needed her to know.
He told her then about the clans that ruled the vampires and about the other beings—the undead, as he called them. The undead moved through this world undetected by human eyes. Some worked for good. Others, like the timeshifters, had no such aims.
“Why do you call them time shifters?” she asked, painfully aware of his nearness, his desire.
He moved even closer to her, so close his breathe warmed her face. “Because they’re able to travel across time—and if the rumors are accurate, they’re on the brink of learning to ‘shift’ time for all of humanity.”
She tried to understand. “So . . .they want to move everyone back in time?”
“Not backward,” he said quietly. “Forward. Armageddon is their only real goal.”
“How close are they?”
“I don’t know.” Valentin leaned forward and pressed his lips to her shoulder. “Let’s hope they’ve encountered a few glitches. And the Watchers are doing what they can to stop them.”
She gently edged herself away from him. “Watchers,” she repeated.
He sighed and leaned back against the bed’s enormous headboard. He didn’t need to read her mind to know his efforts to mate with her again were getting him nowhere. “I don’t know much about them,” he admitted. “They’re elders—undead who have been on Earth so long no one fully knows who they are or what their history is. Some of the undead—the witches, for example—believe they’ve been sent here to monitor what happens.”
“Sent by whom?”
Another sigh, this one heavier than the first. “No one knows,” he said, running a hand through his hair. He cursed himself for being cross with her. But God how he wanted her. Now that he had found her he could think of nothing else besides mounting her until he heard her cry out his name as she came.
In the darkness, she smiled. She could hear his thoughts as clearly as she heard her own. Curious as she was, she wasn’t immune to his needs. Not to mention the fact that she had a few needs of her own. Pushing Valentin onto his back, she climbed on top of him. “How about you teach me something else?” she whispered.
He cupped her bottom in both hands and lifted his hips to meet her increasingly frantic movements. “I hope you’re a quick study,” he said as she moaned and he emptied himself into her.
As she climaxed Hayden felt herself falling once more into the sweet, savage darkness of their union.