“You should be used to that.” The words were thick, her nose stuffed. “All men look at you that way.”

“Yeah, but they also looked ready to kill me. As if I was a Thanksgiving turkey that hadn’t yet had my neck snapped and feathers plucked.”

She sniffed. “Why would they want to kill you? You’re one of them now.”

“That’s what’s so crazy about the whole situation.”

“Maybe you misread them. Maybe they were looking at you but thinking of something else.”

A pause. Then, “Maybe. So let’s backtrack to McKell.” Noelle’s mercy hadn’t lasted long. “He can’t exist without your blood, Ava. Like I said, he’ll be back.”

“Bride told me that vampires can drink a potion that removes the need for their … mate’s blood. That once they ingest it, they can drink from anyone they want again. And that they can never … they can’t ever … they can’t see their former mate ever again.”

Part of her feared that had happened. That McKell had taken the potion. Part of her hoped that he had. Because three days had already passed, and he would soon weaken. Wherever he was, whoever he was with, he would need strength to stay safe. And she’d rather be without him, knowing he was alive, strong, than delight in the knowledge that he would never be able to drink from anyone else.

“I’m sorry, Noelle, but I’m terrible company right now. Could you maybe go?”

Another pause. A sigh. “Of course, baby doll, but I’ll be back.”

Footsteps sounded, followed by the slide of her front door. All the sobbing had worn her out, and Ava drifted into a fitful sleep, letting the darkness wrap around her and offer what little comfort it could. Without McKell by her side, she tossed and turned, unable to truly rest despite her fatigue. A few hours passed, and she dazedly thought she should be hungry, but no. Her stomach hated the idea of food.

Hellina barked from the living room, growled, then whimpered happily. Ava didn’t rouse from the bed.

“Ava!”

She must be daydreaming, depression and heartache shooting her straight into a land of insanity. What did she care, though? She liked this daydream. That had been McKell’s voice, as hard and uncompromising as she remembered and loved.

“Ava! Where are you?”

Would her mind actually supply her with an image of him? “McKell,” she called weakly. “I’m here.”

“Ava!”

Boots thudded against her floor, and then her vampire was stalking into her bedroom. He flipped on the light, spied her on the bed, and his expression darkened with concern. “What’s wrong with you?”

This couldn’t be a daydream, she thought then, common sense finally sparking to life. He was panting, pale, unsure, and she could smell the unique scent of him. He looked just as he had the first night she’d met him. Shirtless, that necklace of bone hanging from his neck.

“Are you real?” she asked hesitantly, too afraid to hope.

“Yes. I met my father.” The words poured from him in a frantic rush as he moved to the bed and crawled on top of her, as if he couldn’t wait a second more to touch her. “My real father. He removed the Schön from this world, so you’re safe for the moment, and then asked me to stay with him. I didn’t want to, but I agreed. For you. For your life. You were going to be infected. Did you know that?”

He was truly here, she realized. He was real. He was alive. His weight pinned her, his heat enveloped her, and his minty breath caressed her.

Oh, God.

“McKell!” She threw her arms around his neck, and held on tight. His heartbeat hammered in time with hers. “I missed you so much. I worried. I—I—” She was sobbing again, but this time with were tears of joy.

Gently he brushed those tears away. “I saw the past, the future. Reversed and forwarded. And the outcome was always the same, until my father intervened. But he could only endure my company for two weeks before my whining about being away from you irritated him beyond his never-before-encountered tolerance level. His phrasing, not mine.”

Some of his words finally penetrated her happy fog. “Your father is alive? And you’ve been gone two weeks, according to your timetable, but three days according to mine?”

“Yes.”

Confusing, she thought, but what did time matter? He was here! “I’m just so glad you’re home. I love you. I love you so much.”

He squeezed her so tightly she lost her breath. “I love you, too. So, so much, that I’m dead without you.” He pulled back to press little kisses all over her face, even as he kicked the covers away from her. “I’m going to have you now.”

“Yes.”

“Good girl, agreeing quickly.” He licked her neck. “Did I ever tell you that with you, there is no deal breaker?”

She tugged at the waist of his pants. “You mean it?”

“I mean it. Now let me prove it.”

Without another word, McKell lifted Ava’s shirt over her head and tossed the material aside. Her amber curls tumbled down her shoulders and arms. Leaning in, he inhaled deeply. Oh, that butterscotch. He would never get enough.

When she cupped her br**sts, lifting them for his waiting mouth, his thoughts realigned. Oh, those br**sts. He would never get enough. He tongued her ni**les through her bra.

Those ni**les beaded for him, which lit a fire in his blood. He almost laughed. When he was around Ava, there was always a fire in his blood. But in his exuberance, his fangs ripped through the fabric and scraped her skin. Not enough to break it, but just enough to cause her to shiver into goosebumps.

Her hands tangled in his hair, nails scouring, and she scooted her hips toward him. The core of her brushed his erection, and he moaned.

“Ava,” he rasped. Just her name, but the plea was evident.

Shaky fingers finally popped off the button on his pants, and then those wonderful fingers were clutching his length, squeezing. So good. So damn good.

“Mine,” she said.

“Yes. Yours. Always.”

She must have liked his reply because she squeezed even tighter, dragging the first drop of pre-come from his cock. After that, he lost control. Not that he’d ever had control with her.

His hands moved all over her, kneading her br**sts, caressing her belly, tearing at her soft shorts and panties. Finally she was naked. All that sun-kissed skin … those lithe thighs … the sweet, glistening spot between her legs … His.

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