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Authors: Crystal-Rain Love

Blood Curse (20 page)

BOOK: Blood Curse
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"Or maybe the killer just had access to him."

Christian let out a slow breath. “You really think he's been captured? Eron, the most powerful vampire we've ever known?"

"It seems crazy, I know, but . . ."

"You believe it anyway."

"Yes.” Seta gulped, her gaze once more zeroing in on her son. “And if there's someone out there powerful enough to capture Eron, how are we supposed to stop him from killing more women, stop him from fulfilling my vision and killing Aria?"

Wake up
. . . wake up
. . .

Rialto squeezed his eyes shut so hard his head ached, willing himself to come out of this slumber, but it was no use. He could still hear her laughter. The maniacal sound of it seemed to echo off the mountains, intensifying his torture. He could smell the blood on the ground as it seeped out of whatever fragments of flesh were left on the bodies. There were so many dead. The heat of the bonfire warmed his skin, but the warmth didn't reach his heart. It felt like a block of solid ice in his chest, ready to shatter at the slightest touch.

"Why do you do this to yourself, Rialto?"

He stiffened as the old witch approached him from behind, always seeming to know exactly where to go, even though her eyes were useless. “What do you want?"

"I want you to stop this,” she rasped in her old, tired voice, stopping beside him. His eyes still closed, he couldn't see her mouth, but knew it was pulled into a frown.

"Then help me to wake up, Dream Teller. Are you what's keeping me here?"

"No, I didn't bring you here, and I can't get you out of here with magic, either. This is your doing, Rialto, and yours alone."

He opened his eyes, carefully avoiding the scene before him as he turned to stare the old witch in the face, not quite sure if looking her in the eye mattered. “Let me out of here."

"I can't release you from your own torment, child, not when you're trapped in your own nightmare. Anyway, you denied my help back when it actually would have done you some good."

"Don't remind me."

The last thing he needed right now was the memory of the mistake he'd made over a century and a half ago. She'd come to him in a dream, advising him not to reveal himself to anyone, but the very next night he'd done just that. He'd revealed his true self to Antonia, ignoring her obvious horror at his revelation, and forced her into his world, a world she clearly hadn't been meant for. “Why didn't you just tell me not to change her over?"

"Would you have listened?"

No. There was no need to answer aloud; she already knew the truth. She knew everything, even more than his mother who was a powerful witch herself. “Why are you here now?"

"You need to end this torture. Stop wallowing in blame and guilt, Rialto, before you drown. You will be useless to her then."

"Useless to whom?"

"The one you were actually meant to be with."

He looked at her, noticing the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth turning upward as she faded. Alone again, he felt the chill night air more clearly as he realized what he needed to do to fade out of this dream world. He needed to look his nightmare in the eye, literally, and say goodbye. He squeezed his eyes shut and expelled a deep, calming breath, gathering his defenses. He didn't want to look into Antonia's blue eyes, didn't want to see them electrified by her murderous passion. It had been bad enough the first time.

Still, he wanted out of this hellish place.

"Antonia, it's time for me to let your memory go,” he said as he turned in the direction of her dancing footsteps and opened his eyes, horrified when they clashed with emerald green instead of electric blue. “No! Aria?"

She stood before the bonfire, the same bloodstained dress Antonia had worn swirling around her body, the pale whiteness contrasting sharply with her light mocha skin. It was dark again, meaning she had been changed.
He
had changed her. “No, this can't be! You're supposed to be Antonia!"

Her grin was slow to spread, bringing out the menacing leer in her eyes. “I am Antonia. You did the same thing to me that you did to her. You took away my innocent soul and cursed me with evil."

"No!” Rialto shook his head feverishly. “I haven't changed you over. I only tasted you. I backed off before it went too far."

"You backed off on that night,” she said slyly, her grin spreading into a full smile. Rialto's stomach churned when he saw the caked blood between her teeth—the blood of innocents. “You see, Rialto, this isn't a memory dream. This is a premonition."

She threw her head back and laughed before she stalked over to the baby carriage where the innocent child cried, not knowing it was being hunted.

"Aria, no!"

Rialto jerked straight up into a sitting position, cold sweat chilling his skin. Where was he? A brief glance around the wood paneled room, furnished with a sofa, chair, small kitchen area, and the chaise he was on provided the answer. He was in Christian's underground living quarters. How did he get here?

The last thing he remembered was walking alongside Seta. He'd been hungry and tired, his strength quickly leaving him and unable to hold down any blood, not even Seta's. He must have passed out.

"Great. Mommy carries her baby to safety again,” he muttered to himself as he realized Seta must have carried him to Christian's. What had Aria thought about that?

Aria.

The beads of sweat rolling down the center of his back felt like ice shavings as he recalled the nightmare he'd just escaped. It had seemed so real, the evil burning in her eyes, the heartless way she'd stalked toward the baby carriage. He'd caused that. He had turned her into a brutal, soulless monster just like he'd done to Antonia. But he hadn't. He hadn't done anything. Yet.

Rialto muttered a foul oath as he rose from the chaise, a wave of dizziness nearly toppling him back down. His internal clock told him it was around eleven in the morning, much too early for him to be up and about, but the dream had knocked him for a loop. The last thing he could think about was sleep, not until he saw for himself that Aria was safe.

The dream was a wake-up call. He needed to protect her not only from her mother's killer, but from himself. He had promised to help find the killer and he would, but he needed to treat her like any other client, even though he wasn't being paid for his services.

He opened his senses and listened for her. He felt Christian's presence as well as Seta's. They were both sleeping, Christian having reached the mending stage, but Seta wasn't quite there yet. Her worry for him was evident.

Rest, Rialto. You are much too weak.

Yes, Mother

He waited until he sensed Seta disappearing into the deep sleep, their mental link weakening, and then he made his way through the narrow tunnel which ran between the rooms. He passed the rooms where Seta and Christian slept, following Aria's scent.

He found her in the bedroom directly beneath the church. He stood in the entrance and stared at her, his hands in his pockets so they wouldn't reach out for her like they wanted to. She lay on her back in the bed, one hand resting over her abdomen, the other curled beside her head. He knew how uncomfortable she must be, fully clothed in that tight little T-shirt and equally snug jeans, breathing what little fresh air reached Christian's dwelling. He hadn't meant for her to spend the night here. She should be in her own bed, resting comfortably in her nightclothes. An image of her naked body resting against his under thin cotton sheets flashed through his mind, instantly heating his groin until it throbbed painfully. Dammit. Could he not even look at her fully clothed without his mind going there?

Muttering a curse under his breath, he fought to remind himself why he couldn't indulge in fantasy. The nightmare he woke from moments ago was too horrible to allow. It wasn't worth it. Not a million kisses, a million nights inside her, nothing. Nothing was worth the eternal hell he would suffer through if he lost control and turned her into something evil.

He had to find her mother's killer and he had to do it now. Then he could let her go. He knew full well he might die if he continued to thirst after her blood, but at least she would be safe.

He walked toward the bed almost hypnotically and stood beside it, staring down at her. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically as she slept, her stomach emitting a soft growl. Had they not seen to it that she had been fed? Rialto shook his head in frustration. She had to be worn out to be sleeping so late and hungry on top of that. If he was supposed to be taking care of her, he wasn't doing a great job.

"I'm going to find your mother's killer,” he whispered earnestly, regretting the mistake once her eyes fluttered open.

"Rialto?” A crooked, drowsy grin emerged as she stretched, causing her breasts to jut forward, not a good move considering the current state of Rialto's body.

"Go back to sleep,” he said gruffly, struggling to tamp down his urge to ravish her. Why had he stepped into the room? He should have known what would happen if she awakened all dewy eyed, soft, warm and inviting. He clenched his jaw tight as he saw the longing smoldering in her eyes.

Her eyes turned into narrowed slits as they inspected him. He'd forgotten she couldn't see as well as he could in the dark. “You look good, from what I can tell,” she said sleepily. “It really gave me a scare when I saw you lying on the chaise so . . . still.”
Deathlike
was what he heard her say in her mind. A pang of guilt hit him hard. He never should have allowed her to feel so much for him.

"How do you feel?” she asked.

"Tired,” he answered honestly, averting his eyes. She was propped up on her elbows now, her T-shirt stretched taut over her chest, bringing attention to the two perfectly shaped mounds begging for his touch. She didn't seem aware of the invitation she was giving, but the action was wreaking havoc with his hormones.

"You should be sleeping. It's daytime."

"You should be awake."

"I didn't sleep much last night, and when I did it wasn't really relaxing."

Rialto quirked an eyebrow, sensing she was holding something back that might prove important. “Why didn't you sleep?"

"I sort of had a nightmare."

The way her gaze fell away from his tripped his inner alarm system. It had been a long time since he had seen the old witch in his dreams. Was it actually possible the hag had visited Aria as well? Knowing she was infamous for making vampires relive their darkest moments, he gulped back both anger and dread, his libido momentarily forgotten.

"What exactly did you dream about, Aria?” His voice may have been rough, his eyes dark and cold, but the degree to which she winced revealed that something other than his demeanor had scared her. “The Dream Teller?"

She nodded slowly as she rose to a sitting position, wrapping her arms around herself as though warding off a chill.

"Must have been some dream.” He sat on the edge of the bed, his back to her. “What did she show you?"

"I saw Antonia,” she said cautiously, seeming to hesitate before mentioning his former love's name. “I was there when those men . . . hurt her that night."

Hurt didn't begin to describe what they'd done to her, Rialto thought, as he swallowed hard, his jaw clenched tight enough to break a tooth. She had been innocent before he changed her over, and even if she hadn't been, nobody deserved to go through what she had that night.

"I'm sorry you saw that,” he said. “Was that all you saw?"

"No."

He waited for the rest, but when a few minutes passed in silence, he accepted the fact that he would have to broach the subject himself. “You saw me change her over, didn't you?"

"Yes.” Her tone was full of apology, which told him all he needed to know. She was horrified by what he'd done. He couldn't blame her, and it was probably for the best.

"I'm sorry, Aria. I never meant to turn her into a monster, and I never intended for you to know any of this."

"Why are you apologizing to me?"

"Because Antonia was the one I destroyed, but I can't apologize to her because she's not here."

He tensed when he felt her hand grip his shoulder, turning him to face her as she rose to her knees. “Who apologizes to you?"

"What?” He searched her eyes, baffled by the emotion he saw in them. Anger and disgust he could deal with, but the sympathy he saw was completely unexpected. He found himself at a loss for words.

Aria shook her head and let out a deep sigh. “In that dream, I saw what you did, Rialto, and yes, it was wrong. You didn't know that though, not in the state of mind you were in. You thought you were saving her."

"And what do you know of my state of mind?"

"I didn't just see what happened that night, Rialto. I felt it. I felt what was going through Antonia when she was attacked, how badly she wanted revenge afterward, and when you found her . . . I felt both of you."

"You felt both my emotions and hers? At the same time?"

"Yes. Antonia didn't want to be a vampire, but you loved her and you didn't want her to die. It was a mistake, Rialto, just a horrible mistake."

He didn't hear her words, too caught up in the fact that she'd felt Antonia's emotions as well as his own. Why hadn't he? Was it one of the old witch's tricks? Had she made Aria feel Antonia's emotions? He'd lived that night and not once had he felt what was going through her.

"Rialto? What is it?"

He jerked when she touched his shoulder, silently cursing himself when he felt her recoil. “I'm sorry, Aria. It's not you. You need to go back to sleep, and so do I.” He stood to leave, and the room went black. He immediately fell back onto the bed in a half-sitting, half-lying position.

"Rialto! Lay down. You're not well."

"I'm fine. I just got a little dizzy."

"No, you are not fine.” She was standing on the floor now, trying to lift his legs so she could position him on the bed. “Dammit, Rialto. Get yourself in this bed and rest."

"If I sleep here, where are you going to sleep?"

"There was a sofa and a chaise . . ."

"No. You need plenty of air and this is the best room for that. It's why you chose it in the first place. Just let me rest a few minutes, and then I'll go."

BOOK: Blood Curse
3.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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