Authors: Nina Croft
Gina glanced at him. He was deep in thought, but the rage had left his face.
No wonder he hated her. All this time he had blamed her for what happened to Raven. He'd also said he could forgive her for leaving him, but suddenly she needed him to know she hadn't abandoned him lightly.
“I didn't want to leave you,” she said. “That first time. I had no choice.”
“It was daytime when Regan came. We were in your room, deep underground. You were sleeping.” He'd been naked, beautiful, gilded in the light from the lamp she kept on so she could watch him.
Darius scowled. “And it didn't occur to you to wake me?” She almost smiled at the disgust in his voice. “You didn't think I could keep you safe?”
He still didn't understand. “You didn't have to keep me safe. Regan is my sister. She would never hurt me. It was never me who was in danger.”
His eyes narrowed into dark slits as he processed the information. “You went with her to protect me?”
“I can protect myself,” he growled.
Gina wondered how much she should tell him, how much she should reveal of their powers, but he had already seen what she could do. “Regan threatened to destroy you.”
“She was going to open a gateway to the outside, the sun would have entered, you would have been destroyed utterly, gone forever, and it would have been my fault.” Gina remembered the panic clawing at her insides as Regan had issued the threat. “We have a saying in my familyâtake what you want and pay for itâand I would have been willing to pay, but not with your life.”
“You still should have woken me.” He looked at her. “There's more, isn't there?”
She nodded. “Regan told me she'd seen a vision of the future. That one day you would take my life.”
“And you believed her?”
“Of course. The visions do not lie.” But her sister did. Had Regan lied about that, as well?
“I would never hurt you,” Darius said.
Gina took a step toward him, reached out a hand and ran her finger over the scar bisecting his cheek, as she'd been longing to do since she'd first seen it.
“How did you get this?” she asked.
“After the Council called for Raven's deathâ”
A jolt of shock hit Gina. “The Council wanted Raven dead? But Kael was head of the Council. Why would he order her death?”
“He was furious with me for taking you, and he thought it was the only way to ensure the prophecy could not come to pass. He told me later he'd regretted the decision almost immediately, but it was too late, I'd taken Raven and run.”
“How can you defend him!”
“I'm not, but I understand why he acted as he did. Nevertheless, if we'd had the Council's protection the fire-demons would never have found us. As it was, they did, and I got thisâ” he gestured to the scar “âin the attack when they captured Raven. They left me for dead out in the open, where the sun would find me. Luckily, I woke before dawn.”
She laid her hand against his cheek. His skin was cool to the touch, or maybe she was hot. He turned his head so her palm brushed his lips. His tongue snaked out, licked the tips of her fingers, and pleasure ran through her, settling low in her belly.
The intensity shocked her. She went to take a step back, but his hand reached out and clasped hers. He brought it back to his mouth and kissed the sensitive skin of her palm, then the inside of her wrist, tracing the blue veins where her blood throbbed close to the surface. The action was so tender, tears pricked at the back of her eyes.
Vampires couldn't love. She tried to hold on to the idea, but it was slipping away.
His other hand wrapped around the back of her neck, and he tugged her toward him. His fingers spread in her hair, cradling her skull, ruffling the short silky strands. “I miss your hair.”
“You do?” she asked, and a moment later, long silver tresses reached down to her waist.
“Clever,” he said. “Is it real?”
She sighed. “No, it's a glamour. A cheap trick.”
“Not like blacking out the sun.”
“No, not like that. That had to be real.” She shuddered as she remembered the terrifying moment when the sun had risen, and she'd thought they were too late to save the daughter she'd never met. Raven was half vampireâthe sun's rays would have burned her to ashesâso Gina had extinguished the sun for the time it took them to save her. It was
powerful magic and came with a high price, but Gina knew she would do the same again. Now, she pushed the memory away. If this was all she was going to have with Darius, she didn't want to spoil it.
His hands held her still as he lowered his head. She made no move to evade him, her whole body rigid with expectation.
Their lips met.
She'd forgotten what it was like, one more of those things she had buried deep in her consciousness as too painful to remember. His lips were soft. His tongue licked at her lower lip, then his teeth nipped until her mouth opened beneath his, and his tongue filled her, slick, wet, velvet. The taste of him flooded her, driving everything else from her brain as his mouth hardened against hers.
She was so incredibly soft, and the taste of her was driving Darius wild. His fangs throbbed with the urge to feed, and the hunger rose in his belly. His cock was already rock hard, and his balls ached viciously. He shifted, trying to ease the pain, but he knew there was only one thing that would do that. He needed to be inside her, deep inside her. He slid his hands down her back, cupped the globes of her backside and pulled her against him, pressed her softness against the hardness of his shaft, and she groaned into his mouth. He drank the sound down.
He picked her up without breaking the kiss, strode across the room with her in his arms and lowered her to the sofa. She was so beautiful. His gaze ran over her body, over her nipples pressed against the soft material of her T-shirt.
“Take off your top.” His voice sounded hoarse in his own ears.
She looked up at him, her eyes glowing silver. She held his gaze as her hands clasped the hem of her T-shirt and she wriggled out of it, tossed it to the floor. She was naked underneath, and he feasted on the sight of her.
Her breasts were small, with dark red nipples already swollen with need. He reached down and trailed his fingers over the engorged peaks, watched them pucker and tighten. He pinched one between his finger and thumb, and her hips rose from the cushions.
He came down beside her then, needing to feel her against the length of him. He shifted lower down her body, and his face nuzzled her tender breasts, his tongue flicking over one tight nipple until it glistened with moisture. He drew it into his mouth and suckled, careful that his fangs didn't cut into her flesh, but desperate for the taste of her blood.
Gina was boneless, a mass of sensitized nerve endings. His mouth tugged at her nipple, slowly melting her insides. She could feel him hard against her, and her own sex was hot and swollen with need. Her hands slid under the worn material of his T-shirt to the satin skin beneath, her nails raking his back. She lifted her hips, rubbing herself against him, and he went still above her.
He released her breast and raised himself so she could look up into his eyes, so dark now they were almost black, glittering, burning with a hunger she knew matched her own and beyond. His gaze shifted to her throat, and he reared up above her. His lips drew back, his fangs gleaming white against the darkness of his skin. She realized what he meant to do, knew she had to stop him, and the need broke through the fog of desire holding her captive. If he fed, the bond between them would be renewed. He would feel her thoughts, know the truth, and would never let her go. Not without a fight. A fight she could not let him win.
For a moment, she was sure she'd left it too late, that he was beyond control. She could see the force of his will, his powerful shoulders rigid with tension as he held himself poised above her. He looked savage and wild, his lips drawn back in a snarl.
His fangs retracted, and he closed his eyes. When he opened them, they were back to normal, though tension throbbed in the air. He moved slowly, first onto his knees, then rising to his feet to stand beside the sofa, staring down at her. He raked a hand through his long hair, and finally, the tension drained from him. “Why?” he asked.
She pulled herself up and hugged her knees to her chest, hiding her naked breasts. “You feed and the bond between us will strengthen.”
“And that's a bad thing?”
“When we part I can'tâ¦” She paused, gathering her thoughts, careful of what she revealed to him. “When we part, I can't exist if I feel you all the time.”
His eyes narrowed on her. “When we part?”
“You don't understand.”
“Then explain it to me.”
“Regan is coming for me.”
Gina didn't mention the hellhounds, though she didn't know why; maybe she didn't want to scare him off completely.
“When will she be here?”
Gina shrugged. “Tomorrow, maybe tonight, I don't know, but she's searching for me, and she will find me. Besides, I was always going back. I just wanted to see something of life beforeâ” She broke off and swallowed. “I have to go back. This was only ever a break from reality for me.”
“Reality? Well, change reality. You don't have to go back. I can keep you safe from your sister. She can manage without you.”
Anger rose in Gina then. “You understand nothing of what we do. Do you think we were brought into existence merely to perform party tricks at your command, to give you pretty visions of the future? That is nothing. We have duties to perform, without which the world would descend into chaos.”
“We lead the souls of the dead away from the land of the living. Without us the world would sink under their weight. Besidesâ¦”
She got to her feet, crossed the floor and drew back the curtain. The room was instantly lit with the crimson flashes. “This is because of me.”
“I don't understand.”
“Magic has to be paid for,” she said. “Oh, not the glamours and tricksâ¦” She gestured to her long hair, and it vanished. “They cost nothing. But proper earth magic has a price. I had to use it to black out the sunâthat was the only way I could save Raven. But now the world is out of balance. Thisâ” she gestured at the night sky “âwill get worse, until I have paid.”
“I don't know the details,” she lied. “Perhaps I will have to return to the Shadowlands.” Well, at least that was the truth; she had no doubts she would be visiting the Shadowlands very soon.
“Do you want some company?”
Panic flared inside her. “You cannot follow. It is forbidden”
His eyes narrowed. “One day you will come back?”
“Perhaps.” She forced a smile.
He was regarding her curiously. “Have you seen our future?”
Gina frowned at the question, then shook her head. “No, I haven't had a vision of the future since before Raven was born. I think my gift may have passed to her.”
“Yes, Kael mentioned she has the sight.”
“Then I pity her.”
“There's no need. She's happy now with Kael, and besides, she's strong.”
“I hope so. She'll have to be.”
“So,” Darius said. “Where does this leave us?”
She turned away from him, schooled her expression to grimness. He needed to understand this. “There
no us,” she said, turning back. “There can never be any us. Tonight is all we have.”
He stared at her for a minute longer, his expression blank. “Then I think I'll forgo the evening's entertainment. If I just wanted sex, there are plenty of willing partners without the problems. Maybe they're still up next door.”
He turned from her and walked out. The door slammed shut behind him. Gina stared at it without seeing, a desperate urge to call him back rising within her. She bit her lip to stop the words from tumbling out.
Running to the door, she opened it and caught sight of his figure disappearing down the stairs. Something relaxed inside her. She didn't know what she would have done if he'd gone next door.
She started shaking then. Sinking to the floor, she curled into a ball and wept.
It took Darius all of about one second to realize he'd behaved like a complete shit.
He hadn't meant it. He could no more go to another's bed than he could physically hurt Gina. No, he'd said it to cause her pain, and he'd succeeded. The shock had been clear in her face, and he'd wished immediately that he could take back his words. Instead, he'd walked away.
If he'd believed causing her pain would lessen the anguish that ripped through him, he'd been way off course.
The truth was, he'd seen the love in her face, knew she wanted him, and he could still feel her, soft and willing beneath him. For a brief moment, he'd allowed himself to believe there could be a happy ending, and because of that, her rejection had been the bitterest of blows.
Still, the knowledge that she hadn't betrayed him, hadn't betrayed their daughter, was like a huge pressure lifting from his mind. He realized the Darkness had retreated; he no longer felt as though he was balancing on the edge of a precipice. The hatred had drained from him, leaving him empty.
He wanted to go back, say he was sorry for hurting her, but the hunger still clawed at his stomach. He couldn't confront her again until he had himself under control, but time was running out. How long had she said she had? A day? A few hours?
He walked through the city streets, the crimson lightning flashing overhead, mocking him, reminding him at every step of all he had lost.
Finally, he entered an all-night bar and sat down, oblivious to the stares of the humans. The bartender placed a whiskey in front of him and Darius sipped the drink, wondering where to go next. What to do. He wanted Gina with every part of him, and he knew she wanted him. But if she could be strong enough to do her duty, then perhaps he should learn from her.
For a long time he sat drinking, staring into space, working out how to pick up the pieces of his life and move on.
Maybe it was time to stop wallowing in self-pity, as Kael had told him, and get back to work. There were always fire-demons to kill, if the Council would take him back. Darius would fill his time waiting for her return.
First, he had to see her one more time.
When the knock came, Gina almost didn't open the door. She didn't believe for one minute that Darius would be back. He'd made his feelings clear. Only after the third round of knocking, when it turned into hammering, did she rise to her feet.
She opened the door slowly, her eyes widening as she took in the tall figure on the other side. He'd changed his clothes, and her eyes widened further at the sight of him. She'd never seen him in anything other than casual dress. Now he was wearing a dark gray suit that fit his tall frame to perfection, and a white silk shirt open at the neck, contrasting with his golden skin. His hair was pulled back into a ponytail, emphasizing the high cheekbones. His sensual lips curled into a slight smile.
He looked alert and shifty, as though he was hiding something, and he kept his hands behind his back. As she stared at him, openmouthed, he brought them forward and offered her a single red rose.
She blinked in bewilderment, then shifted her gaze from the flower to the man holding it, unable to look away.
“May I come in?” he asked when she continued to stare.
“Can I stop you?”
“All you have to do is say no.”
She considered it for a millisecond. She glanced again at the flower. No one had ever brought her flowers before. She opened her mouth again, but couldn't think of a thing to say, so stepped to the side and gestured for him to enter.
He nodded once, then stepped past her. She shut the door behind them and turned to face him. He held out the rose. “This is to say I'm sorry.”
“You are?” She blinked again, in confusion. “For what?”
He shrugged. “Take your pick, but mostly for the way I left earlier. I wasâ¦” he paused as if searching for the right word “â¦disappointed. You can blame my oafish behavior on that.”
She looked at him suspiciously. “I won't change my mind.”
“I don't expect you to. I'll take whatever you're willing to give, for however long you're willing to give it.”
A thrill of excitement ran through her at his words. She'd believed it was over. That she would never see him again, and the thought had very nearly torn her apart. Now she had a chance to be with him one last time.
She reached out and took the rose, raised it and breathed in the rich perfume. When she looked back up, Darius was watching her.
“I want to make love to you,” he said. “You know that?”
“Good. Now put the flower down. I need to hold you.”
She laid it on the coffee table and moved into his arms. She buried her head in his chest, pressing her face against the silk of his shirt, wrapping her arms around his waist as though she would hold him forever and never let him go. His arms went around her, pulled her closer, and for long minutes they stood entwined. After nowhere near long enough, he kissed the top of her head, and she released him and stepped back.
She glanced down at her jeans and T-shirt; which didn't seem right when he looked so stunning and sophisticated. But she was a witch, wasn't she? She whispered a spell, and a moment later stood before him in a slinky crimson dress the color of fresh blood. It skimmed her slender body, clinging to her small breasts and reaching midway down her thighs. Her feet were in crimson stilettos with straps that wrapped around her ankles. She imagined her hair down to her waist, and instantly the heavy weight tipped her head back. Darius was staring at her, and she could see the hunger in his eyes. Her own hunger rose, tightening the
muscles in her belly, turning her nipples to hard little peaks pressing against the thin silk of her dress.
She looked up to find him gazing at her breasts. He cleared his throat. “Do you have anything on under that?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
“Wait and see,” she teased.
His eyes glittered, dark and hot, and his hands clenched at his sides as he obviously fought for control. After a minute, the tension drained from him. He smiled. “I'll wait, little witch, but not for long.”
He took off his jacket and laid it on the back of the black leather sofa, then released the band holding his hair. He ran his hands through it, so it fell to his shoulders, dark as night. She watched the play of muscles under the thin white shirt. She could see the dark body hair on his chest, and her fingers itched to feel it.
He sank down onto the sofa and once again patted the seat next to him. This time she came and sat in the crook of his arm, and he pulled her tight against him.
She felt no hurry now. Held safe in his arms as she was, it seemed inevitable they would be together. She snuggled closer, and his fingers stroked the skin of her shoulder.
Tomorrow she would have to face her fate, but for tonight, Darius was hers.