Authors: Nina Croft
Darius stared at the spot where Gina and Regan had disappeared. The portal had vanished, leaving only the lingering scent of ozone hanging in the air.
He wanted to believe Regan had lied, but he'd seen the truth in her eyes. He forced the panic down and went over everything Gina had told him. She'd cleverly hidden the truth, speaking in half lies, and he had believed her. Now it was too late. A scream of pain tore through him. It couldn't be over. She couldn't die. He wouldn't allow it!
He crossed the room to the window. Opening it, he climbed out onto the fire escape. It took him up to the roof of the building. The air was hot and crimson lightning still flashed across the sky.
He'd never been one to pray, even before he had lost his soul. He'd always taken whatever he wanted and to hell with the consequences. Now he would pray. He would make the gods listen. He sank to his knees.
A shadow passed across the moon, and he glanced up as a huge crow swooped down and landed on the wall beside him. Darius rose to his feet as it watched him, head cocked on one side, yellow eyes bright. It hopped down to the floor, and a moment later, a woman stood before him.
She was tall, slender, with long black hair threaded with crow's feathers, and yellow eyes rimmed with charcoal. Her skin was smooth and olive toned, her face marked with curling runes, radiating out from the corners of her eyes, and she wore a band studied with rubies around her upper arm.
She was beautiful, yet something about her made him step back and widen the distance between them.
She smiled. “Darius Cole, I presume?”
He nodded, watching her warily, and her smile widened. “Do you know who I am?”
“I can guess.” He looked her over carefully. “Am I supposed to kneel or something?”
“No, but perhaps a little humility would not be amiss.”
He thought about it for all of two seconds. “I'm not very good at humility,” he said.
“No, I'd heard that about you.”
He stared at her. Had she come to answer his prayers or had Gina's family decided to finish him off, after all? He remained silent, waiting.
She was still studying him in return, head cocked on one side like the bird she'd appeared as. “You know,” she said, “I have often been accused of being an unnatural mother, of not caring for my children. I suppose there is some truth in that, but while I have never involved myself in their upbringing and their lives, I have not cut my ties with them entirely.”
“Are you going to help us?” he snarled.
“Such impatience. I can see why you wind up Regan so much. Then again, I can also see the attraction.” She ran her eyes over the length of his body, and his skin prickled. “I've never had a vampire,” she mused. “I always thought they'd be too much trouble, but maybe I should give it a go. Maybe I would like you to kneel for me, after all.”
He growled low in his throat.
“Oh, don't worry,” she said, “you're already spoken for.”
Her eyes narrowed at that. “Aren't you?” she asked. “I was under the impression my youngest daughter had claimed you.”
Something close to hope flickered to life inside him. Darius pushed it aside. Hope was a wasted emotion. What he needed was action. “Tell me what I can do,” he said. “Tell me how to save her life.”
“You cannot. Her life is forfeit. She must die to return the world to balance.”
Rage surged through him. “Then why are you here? To taunt me? To tell me I am to blame?” He turned away, fists clenched at his side. “I don't need to be toldâI already blame myself.” The Darkness was rising inside him. He forced it down and turned back to face her.
“Why did you come?”
“Because you asked me.” She considered him, her eyes boring into his soul. “What are you willing to do to be with my daughter?”
He answered without thinking. “Anything.”
“And what do you think Gina is willing to do, to be with you?”
He frowned at the question. “She will not risk the world.”
“Well, that's good. But beyond that?”
“Beyond that, I believe she would risk anything.” He shrugged, then gritted his teeth. “Goddamn it, tell me what to do.”
She sighed, as if impatient with his slowness. “You are a vampire?”
His eyes narrowed in frustration. “You know that.”
“And what must one do to become a vampire?”
He closed his eyes. At last, he understood. “You have to die.”
Darius stood on the clifftop, high above the sea. The tang of salt filled his nostrils; the crash of the waves sounded in his ears. The stone circle loomed stark before him. It lay in ruins, many of the great stones fallen and overgrown, but the hum of magic still radiated from the place. The Morrigan had told him Gina would come here tonight. She'd take her own life here, among the stones, in payment for saving their daughter.
He leaned against one of the rough stones, shoved his hands in his pockets. All he could do now was wait, but panic clawed at his insides. What if she wouldn't agree? What if he was wrong and she didn't love him enough to risk her soul? What if she would rather die than become a vampire?
Then again, what if she agreed, and he failed? The transition didn't always go smoothly. Many died and were not reborn. If the vampire's blood was not strong, or the recipient was too weak. Darius gritted his teeth. He would make it work.
He caught a glimpse of movement beyond the rim of the stones. He straightened. Gina was here.
The night was warm, but Gina shivered as she followed the narrow track up the steep hillside. Fear gripped her mind, and only force of will kept her feet moving forward, one step at a time.
The stones came into view, and she paused. She was nearly there now. It was almost time. She closed her eyes and tried to picture Darius, but fear clouded her mind. Some part of her wished he had fed from her one last time and strengthened the bond between them. It would have been good to feel him now, as the end drew near, but that wouldn't have been fair. This way, he would eventually forget, move on with his life.
She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. The lightning was almost constant now, illuminating the ring of stones that stood on the crest of the hill.
She walked on, finally stepping between two huge fallen rocks to stand within the circle. The flat altar stone lay before her, and the air throbbed with magic. Gina's hand slipped down, her fingers stroking over the ceremonial dagger at her waist. She would use it to open her wrists. The blade was sharp, it would be painless and her life would simply drain away.
And she would never see Darius again.
Her whole being screamed against that thought, and in her mind she sensed a faint flicker of response. She whirled around.
A tall figure separated from the dark shadows of the standing stones. He walked toward her. She could sense his fear and, beneath the fear, an eagerness she did not understand. Had he come to try and stop her? He couldn't know what she was about to do.
He halted a foot away, so close she could reach out and touch him. Her hands clenched at her sides. “What are you doing here?” He looked at her for long moments, and she saw the pain in his eyes. “Oh God,” she said. “You know?”
“Regan told me.”
“She had no right.”
He shrugged. “I asked her what I could do. She told me to pray.” Gina frowned, but he continued. “I didn't believe I would be heard, but your mother came.”
Gina started in shock. “Iâ¦”
He put up a hand. “Hear me out,” he said. “She told me there was nothing I could do to prevent it. You must die. Butâ¦” He paused, ran his fingers through his hair. He appeared unsure about how to go on.
“Tell me,” Gina urged.
“There is a way for us to be together.”
She searched his face. He'd said she had to die. Did he mean to die with her, then? Her whole being rejected the idea. “I will not allow you to take your own life.”
He stared at her intently, searching her face. “Then will you allow me to take yours?” He looked deep into her eyes. “Are you willing to become a vampire to stay with me?”
Gina's brain stopped. Then she was flooded with thoughts, all clamoring in her head. To be a vampire. She would lose her soul, but gain Darius for all eternity. Was it possible?
Something struck her then. “Regan told me you would one day take my life. Could this be what she saw?” Gina was finding it hard to take in. “My mother suggested this?”
“Will it be enough? Will the price be paid?”
“She said so, but you must know the risks. You will lose your soul, never see the sun again.”
It didn't matter. A wild surge of hope was building inside Gina, and she knew then that she would rather have the night with Darius than the daytime alone. “I'm willing.”
He closed his eyes. When he opened them, she saw the same hope reflected in his face. He reached out for her, and she slipped her hand in his. He led her to the altar.
“What must I do?” she asked.
“Your body must die. I'll drink from you until your heart stops beating, then you must take my blood to be reborn. Will you accept my blood?”
She nodded once.
He pulled her into his arms and sank down onto the soft grass, leaning his back against the altar stone. She lay across his lap, and for a minute, he held her close. She'd thought she would never be in his arms again, and it was almost enough, but not quite.
She raised her head, baring her throat, and heard his sharp intake of breath. Then his mouth was on her, his fangs piercing her skin, sinking deep into the vein.
He drank. There was no pain, only pleasure and a relentless tugging that drew on places deep within her body. As he drank, she could feel his thoughts and emotions growing stronger. His fear that he would not succeed, and she would truly die. His love.
Her life was ebbing away, and she needed to tell him something before it was too late.
I love you. I've always loved you.
He paused as he heard her words in his head. She clutched his shoulders, squeezing to urge him on, and he continued drinking. Her mind was clouding, his thoughts fading, then blackness.
Retracting his fangs, Darius pressed his lips to her throat. He could detect no pulse. She was dead, her heartbeat silent. Standing up, still holding her in his arms, he laid her gently on the altar. He looked up, and found the lightning was gone, and the sky was at peace. It was done.
Gina's hair was silver in the moonlight, her face serene. He leaned over and kissed her cold lips.
Drawing the dagger from the sheath at her waist, he tore open his shirt and sliced the blade across his chest, above his heart. As the crimson blood welled up, he prayed it would revive her. He scooped Gina up against him and pressed her mouth across the open wound.
For endless minutes, she lay still in his arms, and his panic flared. He pressed her tighter still. “Come back to me, Gina,” he whispered. “I love you.”
She convulsed against him. She swallowed, weakly at first, then more strongly, as each beat of his heart forced his blood from the wound.
I love you.
The words whispered through his mind, and suddenly he needed to hear them for real. He tilted her head with the hand in her hair. “Say it out loud,” he growled.
She licked the crimson blood from her lips. Her mouth opened, and he saw the flash of small, white fangs.
“I love you,” she said.
Elation filled him, and the Darkness was gone forever, banished by her words.
Don't miss the story of Raven, Darius and Gina's daughter, in
by Nina Croft, available now from Harlequin Nocturne Bites wherever ebooks are sold.
A prophecy had been foretold that whoever sacrificed innocent vampire Raven Cole on her twenty-first birthday would achieve a great victory in the war between good and evil. Kael Hunter would do anything to stop the fire-demons who held Raven captive from winning. But rather than kill the alluring vampire himself, Kael had another plan: to prevent the prophecy by taking Raven's virginityâ¦.
Raven had been prepared for death, not seduction! She'd had visions of Kael rescuing her for years, but she never expected to feel such overwhelming desire for him. Especially when Kael made it his mission to use their one night of passion to convince her she can have a futureâand to let Kael be a part of itâ¦.
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