“That’s a lame excuse. Admit it. You’re lazy.”


Though he wanted to shake her for maligning his character, he merely studied her. She’d pulled her curls into a twist, exposing the elegant length of her neck. At the base, her pulse fluttered exquisitely. Mouth … watering … again … She wore a black T-shirt, faded jeans, and tennis shoes. Average clothing on a far from average body. Those curves were sinful.

“I’m hungry,” he said, voice raw, coarse. Too easily did he recall how delicious she’d tasted. How strong she’d made him feel from just those sips. How much stronger would she make him if he drained her? “Feed me.”

“No.” Another swallow of that coffee, her throat moving sensually. “And don’t forget our bargain. You don’t drink from me unless I say it’s okay. And I haven’t. Said it’s okay, that is.”

Stupidest bargain he’d ever made. But then, he hadn’t realized he would wake up in this pathetic state. And even if he had, food shouldn’t have a choice. Humans didn’t ask vegetables if they felt like being consumed, did they?

“Then we’ll have to go out,” he said. Now. Before he forgot himself.

Still calm, she blew into her mug. “You’ll have to dress first.” She sipped, then settled the cup on the counter.

He glanced down at himself. Shirtless, necklace bloodstained, stitches on display, bandage long gone. Pants ripped and dirty. “Fine. I’ll shower, and you order a pizza.” That would save him time and effort.

She blinked over at him, confused. “I’m not hungry.”

“I know, but I am.”

Another few blinks. “I shouldn’t have to remind you of this, but you don’t eat food.”

“But I do eat the delivery boys and girls.” Something he’d never attempted before, but Maureen—damn it, Bride Targon—during one of his brief conversations with her, had assured him delivery people were “tasty.” He only wished he could rely on Bride for the rest of his needs. Not for information, but for blood and sex.

Except, his hunger and desire actually waned at the thought of drinking from and sleeping with her. Ava, however … hello, renewed desire. He frowned. Anyway. He couldn’t rely on Bride for anything. Though she’d lived on the surface most of her life, she had never tried to blend with humans during daylight hours, so she couldn’t help him do so. Plus, her husband was an ass who wanted McKell’s heart on a platter, and rarely allowed them to interact.

“I—you—argh!” Ava pounded her fist against the tabletop, rattling her coffee and sending creamy liquid over the rim of the cup. Her dark eyes were blazing, and he realized she’d never been as calm as she’d wanted him to believe. She was angry. Why? Because he wanted to eat someone else?

No, he thought next. This anger was far too strong, too deeply rooted, for that. But he wouldn’t concern himself with pondering the answer; it didn’t matter. They were using each other. Nothing more. Learning about her wasn’t on the agenda.

“Just make the call,” he said, standing.

“Hell, no. One, I’m not springing for a pizza I won’t eat, and two, no one will ever deliver here again.”

“No one will ever know what happened.”

A muscle ticked below her eye. “How will you make them forget?”

“I’ll command them to do so.”

“And that’ll work?”

He nodded.

“Prove it.”

The Voice came easily to most vampires. McKell, not so much. He’d struggled his entire life. He could use it, but he had to concentrate. He didn’t know why.

Rather than argue and use up what remained of his strength, he peered deeply into Ava’s eyes, those dark, fathomless eyes, and held out his hand. He focused, drew on his resolve, his will, let it rise up and spill from his lips. “Take my hand,” he commanded, his voice low, a hum of power in the undercurrent.

A gasp left her as her arm lifted, shaking, halting every few inches, as if she fought each movement. Finally, her fingers made contact with his, and another gasp left her. And hell, he gasped, too. Such warm, soft skin she had. Where they touched, he sizzled.

His hunger intensified. Do not grab her. Do not bite her. He forced his arm to fall to his side, severing contact. Do not groan. “Proven. Now make the damn call.” He turned away. One step, two.

“Why didn’t you command Noelle and me to leave the woods that first night?” she said, stopping him.

“I wanted to see what you would do.” Besides, he’d had no intention of showing all his weapons during the first battle.

With that thought, he realized he’d always meant to see her again. What the hell was wrong with him? She. Was. Food.

At last, he stalked away from her and into the bathroom. Distance, that’s what he needed. And time to think. Like that helped before. Scowling, he programmed the enzyme shower, something he’d learned to use on the streets of New Chicago, and stepped inside. In seconds, the dry spray cleaned his skin, his wound, and even his pants.

When he emerged and entered the bedroom, Ava sat at the edge of the mattress, the bed now made, not a wrinkle in the comforter. She was glaring at him.

“When will the pizza arrive?” He hadn’t meant to snap at her, but damn it, he was on edge. And those few minutes apart hadn’t really cooled his desire for her. Still. Seeing her, being near her, eased him somewhat. Not the hunger, never that, but the pain.

Stubborn, always stubborn, she crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t call.”

He stopped in front of her, forcing her to look up … up … up. “Is this a power play, Ava? Because I assure you, you won’t win.” As he spoke, his own sense of anger rose. White-hot, blistering. “Do you think to keep me weak? Expecting AIR to bust in and cart me away?”

“No!”

Could he believe her? Yes or no, that brought up another question. “Why didn’t you call AIR?” Noelle had asked the same—his sensitive hearing had tuned into their entire conversation—but Ava had never really answered.

“Are we sharing excerpts from our diaries now? Do you want to tell me why you picked me, the girl who stabbed you? And don’t give me that bullshit about my owing you.” She was breathing heavily, blood rushing through her veins.

She was like a lick of flame, and he was the kindling. Touch her again … kiss her … taste her … He leaned down, needing her, desperate, lost—

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