The second we arrived in the kitchen, Jared expectedly began interrogating me. “Now that we’re alone, you can tell me what the deal is with that guy, Cristiano.”
Having retrieved a couple of NSTs from the refrigerator, I handed him one and then leaned against the counter. “I was still human when I met Cristiano. It was back when I was a student in college. My friends and I often went out to the local student bar. Vampires love student bars because most students are eager to have fun, like getting drunk, and aren’t fussed about memory gaps – all part of getting rat-arsed, right? So if they wake up feeling weak with a vague recollection of flashing irises or fangs, they’re simply going to blame the alcohol or believe their drinks were spiked, just like I had.”
I paused to take a long gulp of my honey-flavoured NST. “One night in the bar, I met Cristiano. He laid on the charm, but I’d just come out of a relationship and I wasn’t in a kissing-perfect-strangers frame of mind. So he left me alone. But there was this bloke who kept pestering me. He made me feel really uncomfortable and kept trying to kiss my neck. I couldn’t shake him off. Then he tried dragging me outside into the alley. That was when Cristiano appeared again. He acted as if he was my boyfriend and he’d been looking for me, and I played along. He got me away from who I just thought was a creepy bastard, which I was totally grateful for. His payment was a kiss.”
Jared’s growl wasn’t a surprise. When I hesitated, he pressed, “Go on.”
“Obviously the kiss had just been his way of getting close enough to bite me” – another growl from Jared – “but I was so plastered that the brief sting didn’t ring any alarm bells. He explained to me after I was Turned that the vampire who’d harassed me was known for throwing parties that included human ‘party favours’. In other words, I’d be laid on a table and the vampires seated around it could simply lean over and drink from me any time they wanted until I was totally drained of blood.”
“So he really did save your life.” Jared swallowed the last of his Cola-flavoured NST and slung the bottle in the bin. “He said he looked out for you, too.”
“He did. So did Ava. You know I escaped from Victor a couple of times. They both played a part in helping me. Of course, each time I was tracked down and brought back to the nest, Victor was beyond pissed. The last time I did it, he almost killed me. But Cristiano managed to calm him down and insisted it would be more beneficial to the nest if Victor stuck to the original plan and allowed me to live and serve him.”
Jared stuffed his hands in his pockets. “What I don’t get is why Cristiano did all this. I mean, he doesn’t strike me as the gallant type.”
I fisted a hand in Jared’s shirt and pulled him close. “He’s not. He took his payment afterwards each time.”
“You mean he drank from you more than once?” Jared asked through gritted teeth, placing a hand on the counter either side of me to cage me in. “Not that I can blame him. You taste f**king amazing.” He delivered a sensual lick to my neck. “But I hate him for doing it. I hate him for touching you. And I hate him for kissing this mouth I love. Every inch of you is mine.”
And those words were as near to romantic as Jared’s were ever likely to get. But I didn’t care that he was emotionally awkward or that he found it hard to articulate how he felt. He made it clear that he cared for me in other ways; he protected me with a ferocity that I wouldn’t have thought possible, would kill or die for me without hesitation. When his attention was on me, it was an undivided attention that was so intense it was both intoxicating and disorientating. It was hard to grasp, to comprehend, that I could really mean that much to someone.
When he swiped his thumb across my bottom lip, I nipped the digit lightly. “There was never anything between us.”
“I think he wished there had been. I don’t like the way he looks at you.”
“You don’t like the way any bloke looks at me.”
He gave me one of his lopsided grins. “Of course I don’t.” He gripped my hips possessively and held me flush against him. “I don’t like anyone fantasising about this body that’s all mine.”
I curled my arms around his neck. “Yours? I don’t know about that,” I said playfully.
His crooked grin turned devilish. “Then I guess I’ll have to claim it all over again later so you remember exactly who you belong to.”
“I can’t see that you have any other choice.”
Chuckling, he scooped me up and kissed me hard.
Exchanging a look with Sam as we stood only one hundred yards away from the caves where Quentin Foy and most of his nest resided, I knew she was thinking the exact same thing that I was: What. The. Fuck?
We had been on his territory for over an hour. Not just us, but the entire squad, Ava and her ass**le of a brother, and also Evan – who had appeared as we were ready to leave and insisted on coming. Yet, the presence of fifteen vampires hadn’t earned a response. We had initially arrived much farther away, expecting to be approached the very second our presence was sensed. When no one came, we began to advance toward the caves, fully expecting someone to appear at some point. But no one had.
Quentin, like most High Masters, should have guards surrounding his residence to protect him from anyone hoping to challenge him and usurp his position. But there didn’t appear to be anyone in sight. Oh sure, that didn’t mean that no one was around. There were vampiric gifts impressive enough to allow people to conceal themselves. But it wasn’t just that it looked deserted. The place was quiet. Too quiet.
“I don’t like this.” Sam was biting her lip, scanning our surroundings once more. “What High Master in their right mind would leave themselves vulnerable this way?”
“Quentin’s not exactly popular. It would be downright stupid of him not to have spies at the very least.” Seeing that Sam was rubbing the Celtic-looking tattoo that surrounded the base of her third finger, I smiled. It was something she often did when she was confused or anxious, as if the Binding knot gave her strength.
Several times since we returned from our ‘honeymoon’, I’d been asked how I found life as a Bound male. Over the years, I’d heard some say that being Bound could make a person feel trapped. Back then, I’d supposed that was natural, considering there was no divorce or get-out clause. But being Bound to Sam didn’t make me feel trapped or restricted. Instead, I felt centred, more relaxed. I even felt strengthened, which was ironic given that she was my weakness. The power of it all wasn’t frightening, it was energising. It meant that she was mine, that she’d always be mine, and that I was connected to her in a way that no one else ever could be. That knowledge was like an anchor. And, yeah, I was possessive enough to feel a bone-deep self-satisfaction about it.