She gasped in surprise and glared up at him, her silky curls in disarray around her shoulders. “And by had no idea what I was giving up, I meant kissing you would be awful and wouldn’t have changed my mind. And I was right!”


Liar. Her pupils were blown, her lips still red and swollen, and with the distance between them, he was finally able to concentrate on more than the heaven that rested between her legs. He could hear the rush of blood through her veins, swift and needy. Could smell the desire pouring off her, sweet and heady.

That should have increased his hunger. Instead, his instincts switched gears. From wanting to devour to wanting to protect, and this time, they far overshadowed his need for blood. Odd. Incomprehensible.

She popped to her feet and dusted off her hands, all while donning a mask of disinterest. “Anyway, the bargain can’t be sealed. We haven’t set the rules yet.”

“The rules are simple,” he said, relaxing in his seat and adopting the same disinterested mask. He liked this couch. Its softness, its worn exterior. Every crease meant Ava’s body had rubbed there. Repeatedly. “You’ll obey me in all things.” Hadn’t he made that clear already?

“That’s not what I meant.” She anchored her hands on the flare of her waist. “Who helps who first?”

“You’ll help me, since AIR will want to lock me up.” Sure, he would escape the second their questions were answered and he’d fulfilled his promise to Ava, but she didn’t need to know that.

“Good point. But in return for allowing the male to go before the female—as is proper—you have to swear not to drink from me without permission. Which I won’t give. So that means you’ll have to drink from other people.”

“I swear.” Because he could gain her permission with little effort. “I’ll drink from others.”

Her lips pressed into a thin line, as if his answer had angered her. Surely he was mistaken. He’d pretended to give her what she wanted. Hadn’t he? What fault could she find with him?

“So my blood isn’t good enough for you?” she snarled. “Is that it?”

Oh, yes. She was angry. “I never said anything about your blood not being—”

“Just forget it,” she said, derailing his rant before it could truly begin. “It doesn’t matter. And now that that’s settled, when do you want to start hunting vampires?”

Settled? Ha! She was still angry, yet didn’t want to hear his rebuttal. He might never understand this human. “We’ll start tonight.” He unfolded his big body from the couch, his stitches pulling. Thankfully, the nearly debilitating sting never returned.

And wasn’t that surprising? Just how powerful was Ava’s blood? He’d had only a few drops, yet he was healing as if he’d feasted. The blisters on his skin had even faded, just from the scent of her, and though he was tired, he could function.

His head tilted to the side, his attention on her deepening, as a thought occurred to him. “Why did AIR send you to capture me?”

“Why wouldn’t they?” she said, the words lashing as sharply as his whip. “I’m the best.”

Aw. He’d pricked her pride. “You are indeed good, but you’re also in training.”

“So?” She splayed her arms, a look-at-me gesture. “That doesn’t mean I’m not the best.”

“Yes, actually, it does. Or they would have made you an agent already.”

She scowled at him.

Had they sent her because they’d somehow known how potent her blood was? Had they known he’d crave it? Had they hoped he would become her slave? He wouldn’t put such an action past them. They were devious like that.

He wouldn’t worry about her purpose, though. Not now. There were more important matters to attend to. “Where’s your bed?”

She blinked over at him, confusion replacing the anger. “Excuse me?”

“Your bed. Where is it?”

“Why?”

He pushed past her and snaked a corner. Kitchen. Small, but clean. Stone counters, stainless steel sink, metal chairs. Her dishes were put away, and there was a faint scent of butterscotch in the air. His mouth watered, and he fisted his hands. Stupid scent. He almost wished he’d never encountered it before, because now the slightest whiff caused his c**k to stand at instant attention.

“McKell,” Ava called out behind him, footsteps pounding.

She followed.

He nearly grinned. “Ava,” he called back. Another corner, and he stood at the entrance of a small bedroom. The bed was so short and thin, his feet would hang off the edge and his arms would fall off the sides. But the curtains were closed over the only window, muted shadows chasing away the brightest light, creating a homey, well-loved atmosphere, so he would make do.

He kicked off his shoes and climbed atop the mattress. The springs squeaked.

“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Ava demanded from the doorway.

He burrowed under the covers, and once again the scent of butterscotch wafted to his nose. Shaft … twitching … “I’m going to sleep.” And after a few hours of rest, he would have the strength to ignore these protective instincts and bodily urges, and start acting like the ruthless vampire he was. More importantly, his mind would be alert and he could figure some things out.

“Why?”

“I need to regroup. Now be quiet.”

“Wait. Sleeping? Here? With me and my weapons only a few feet away?”

“Yes.” Hopefully, resting would obliterate his foolish urge to trust her, too. But he did. Trust her. Some part of him knew she wouldn’t betray him while he was at his weakest. “Don’t disappoint me and tattle.”

“Or you’ll rip me to little pieces and send me back to Mia?” Drily uttered, as if she didn’t really think he’d do it.

“Something like that,” he muttered. Her way of thinking needed a remodel, too.

“But … but …”

“You’re still talking.”

There was a tense pause. Then, “If you want peace and quiet in my apartment,” she snapped, “you’ll have to return my phone.”

“I don’t have it with me,” he lied. The phone was in his pocket, where it would remain. Perhaps forever.

“Return it later, then.”

“Maybe.” Another lie, but he doubted she would have liked the truth.

“McKell,” she ground out, exasperated. “You can’t just—”

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