Even after the “my son” comment, the announcement still managed to shock him. “No,” he automatically insisted. “No. My father is dead.”
“I assure you. He is very much alive.”
“Your mother once came to me as you have done. Did you know that? Did she tell you?”
“I heard rumors,” he gritted out, hating to admit even that. To do so lent credit to the man’s claim. “And sometimes I heard her crying at night when she thought no one listened.”
The man, being, whatever, seemed to wilt at that. “She missed me as much as I missed her. I didn’t want that for her.”
“No.” His hands fisted, the anger suddenly a living force inside him. He could handle anything but a false declaration of concern for his mother’s well-being. At last he attempted to close the distance between them, to lash out, but he found that his feet were somehow rooted in place. “What have you done to me?”
His denial and question were ignored. “I saw her, wanted her, and talked to her as I talked to you. She, too, eventually joined me and we spent many months together. She grew to love me as I loved her, but always the husband stood in our way. She needed his blood, and mine would not sustain her.”
As the man spoke—still straight into his mind—images colored the midnight canvas around them. Images of McKell’s mother, here, dancing, dark hair flying. He heard her, too; her laughter stroked his ears, flinging him back to his childhood, to days in the caves, his bruises tended by loving hands, violet eyes watching him with concern.
“I—I am not your son,” he croaked. “I can’t be.” He knew his father. Loved his father. Had mourned his father.
“Before you deny my claims, hear the rest. Please.”
A moment passed. He nodded stiffly. What else could he do? He was still rooted in place, helpless. Still needed to know what had happened to the queen and her men. Antagonizing wouldn’t help.
“She convinced me to let her go, to let the child I had given her go. She couldn’t survive with him, nor could she tolerate the thought of leaving you behind. She said she would have no life without you, only one of despair and loneliness. And so I finally agreed, even though I feared you would be different from your kind. Set apart, perhaps loathed. Still. I swore I would not return to the caves, and I never did. I thought you would be lost to me forever, but you came to the surface. And now you have come to me.”
Again, images formed around them. His mother tearfully clutching the man’s cheeks as she begged him to understand. The man crying, too, hugging her fiercely, his heart already breaking.
“I sensed your trepidation, each time I approached you, but I also promised your mother I would not force you to come here, that I would not tell you who I was unless you did, that I would not interfere. So thank you. Thank you for offering me this opportunity to at last meet my son.” He truly did sound grateful.
McKell fought for breath. He wanted to continue denying what the man was telling him, but tendrils of doubt were working through him. He could manipulate time, yet no other vampire could. Not even the nefreti. His mother had been barren with his father, yet months along in a pregnancy between one day and the next.
This was surreal, a total upheaval in everything he’d ever believed.
“How can you be my …” His jaw ached, he clenched the bones so tightly. He couldn’t yet say the word father. Not in conjunction with this stranger. “Vampires can’t procreate with anyone but their spouse.”
Those green eyes softened. “I am … different. As are all my people. We live in this plane, able to open doorways into any world, any time. And so, during our months together, I returned your mother to her unmated days, though still my blood was not what she needed. And when we parted, I returned her as close to the day I took her as possible, without affecting her memory.”
Unbelievable. Impossible. And yet … true. Suddenly he knew the truth deep in his soul. There was no reason to lie to him, nothing the man could gain. And he could actually scent the affection and joy wafting around him. Scents he’d learned because of Ava.
And really, everything made sense now. Who he was, what he was, what he could do, what he couldn’t. His mother’s sadness. She had loved this man, probably would have died here, unwilling to drink from anyone else, but had left him. Had lived. For McKell.
His anger drained, the fight leaving him. “What do you want with me?” he asked, realizing his feet had been freed. He could move unrestrained now. He did, approaching the man. He reached out, shaking, and touched that pale white skin. It was smooth, cool. “What’s your name?”
Lips nearly as pale as his skin quirked at the corners. “I am called Viktor.”
So they shared a name. That, more than anything, proved his mother’s love for this man. “What do you want with me?” he asked again, adding, “Viktor.”
The glow in those green eyes brightened. “Time. I want time, a chance to learn about each other. I can show you all the worlds in existence. I can show you people and riches you could not even imagine. I can take you to the sunless vampire world when it bloomed like a night flower, the petals rich and silky.”
Time, yes. A little, he could give. A chance to know each other, he suddenly wanted that, too. “I have a woman.” His eyes widened as he realized he might be able to return to her. That he might not be stuck here. His … father had returned his mother to her world. He could do the same for McKell.
Some of the glow dimmed. “I have seen her, this Ava Sans. She is very lovely, but she is not bonded to you as your mate.”
“I want her to be.” His arm fell to his side. “I want to be with her. Always. I have to be with her. Not only for blood, but for … life. I’m nothing without her.”
Viktor’s head tilted to the side, and sadness claimed his long features. “She followed you from the café. She saw you disappear and broke down. The warriors who remained on the street appeared and attacked, because they, too, saw you take their queen. Ava was infected. She will die, and you will no longer need her blood.”
No. No! His knees almost buckled as panic infused his every cell. He hadn’t risked everything, his life, his happiness, his future, for his woman to die out there, alone, afraid. “Take me back to her. Now. If you won’t, I’ll reverse time again and I won’t come here.” A threat he would see through.