The thought of getting to know them on any level had even blackened his mood. The thought of exchanging blood with them had sickened him. The thought of kissing them had left a terrible taste in his mouth.

He couldn’t replace Ava. Wouldn’t replace her. To always hold his tongue, never speak his mind—hell, no. He wasn’t doing that again. So, Ava stayed. Forever. He would still interrogate as many vampires as possible and learn how to live in this crazy human world. He would still insist Ava help him. The more time he could spend with her, the better. But later dismiss her to mate with a female vampire? Again, no.

Once he’d made that decision, his entire outlook had changed. From brooding and murderous to happy and eager. He should have known from the beginning. Just thinking about Ava caused him to grin.

She’d meant to anger him earlier, when she’d mentioned “doing” someone else. He knew she wouldn’t, though. The way she had kissed him …

She had lost herself to the passion. She had moaned for more, clutching at him and rubbing against him. She wanted him. No one else would do for her, just as no one else would do for him. They might not like feeling that way, but they were helpless to change those feelings.

Thank God.

She simply enjoyed torturing him. Which was a good thing, he thought with a surge of satisfaction. A point in his favor. She enjoyed torturing Noelle, as well. And as she professed to love Noelle … did that mean she loved him?

Better question: Did he want her to love him?

He planned to stay with her, yes, but love was a huge burden to carry. Mainly because women became so clingy. He had to admit, though, that he liked the thought of Ava clinging to him.

And if she loved him, she would probably stop resisting his sexual advances. She might even allow him to drink from her anytime he wished. He could move into her home—after he made some improvements, of course—and sleep in her bed, with her in it, every day.

Yes, he wanted her to love him, he decided. Not just desire him. Not just enjoy him. He wanted her love. So. Rather than simply seduce her, he needed to romance her, as well.

Simple, easy, he thought. Yeah. Right.

Ava paced her living room, from the couch to the recliner and back again, her phone pressed to her ear. Finally the ringing ceased, and Mia answered.

“Snow.”

“Have you gotten the test results for McKell’s blood?” she asked, bypassing pleasantries. The sun had set a few minutes ago, so she knew McKell was on his way here. Tonight the vampire hunting truly began.

“Yeah,” was the dead-end reply.

O-kay. She’d known that already. After she’d left Johnny’s cell, she, Noelle, and Dallas had returned to Mia’s office. Her panic at Johnny’s—the queen’s—threat hadn’t yet faded. Still hadn’t faded. Might never fade, actually. McKell assumed he would remain unaffected by the virus, or at least he had when he’d encountered the infected human, but his contact had been minimal. A threat hadn’t wrapped itself around his neck like a noose, tightening, drawing him ever closer to the end.

Mia had already watched the interrogation feed, and had smacked Ava on the shoulder in a job well done. Then Mia had said, “Two great discoveries in one day. You’re becoming invaluable, Sans. Keep it up.”

“Two great discoveries?” Ava had asked. “Johnny was the first, yes, so what was the second?”

Mia had paled, smacked her on the shoulder again, and told her to go home and rest. Rest. As if that would be possible now, in the middle of a crisis, when it never had been before.

Ava had spent the last few hours thinking about ways to destroy the queen (nothing had come to her), how to protect McKell from further notice (nothing had come to her), and that second discovery of Mia’s. Finally, one answer had slid into place: McKell’s test results had arrived. Now, she wanted answers.

“And?” she demanded. If God loved her, even a little, Mia would tell her that McKell was immune, there was a cure, and the world was now safe.

“And I decided not to share them with you. You’re too close to him.”

She peered up at her ceiling. Why do you hate me so much?

No reply. She massaged the back of her neck. For once, she didn’t deny her relationship with a man. She liked the thought of being close to McKell. “I can get you more of his blood if you need it.” Maybe. Since that “McKell is next” announcement, she’d been feeling oddly protective of the jerk, wanting—fine, needing—him in top shape.

Why hadn’t he arrived yet?

“Then get me more.” Mia’s command promised retribution if she failed.

She stopped in the center of her living room, wishing she were at AIR and Mia were close enough to slap. “Not unless you share the results. That’s how this works.” Again, maybe. But this was a negotiation. She would say anything necessary to get what she craved.

“Actually, that’s not how this works at all. I’m your boss.” Such a hard, unflinching tone had probably never met with resistance. “You do what I tell you.”

She should back down before her ass was fired, but backing down had never been her nature. If it had, she would be stuck in the gutter, addicted to drugs and alcohol like her mother had been, bless her heart, occasionally whoring herself out as the need for a fix overrode any sense of degradation. Or as loser boyfriends requested bail money.

“Actually, Agent Snow, I don’t care who you are. You want the vampire’s blood, you give me the details I want.” On this, she would not waver.

There was a pause, tense and heavy, then a sigh. “You’ll make an excellent agent one day, Sans.”

Astonishing. She’d just refused to play nice, yet Mia had praised her. “Thank you.”

“But don’t think I’ll let you run over me every time you have a new case,” Mia continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I like your determination, so I’ll give you a pass. This time. And just so you know, I’ve never given anyone a second pass.”

“Noted.”

Another sigh crackled. “Okay. Here it is. My official finding is … his blood is weird.”

Ava surged back into motion, but had lost track of where she was and plowed into her recliner, her toe instantly throbbing where she’d stubbed it. Cursing under her breath, she twisted, landed on the cushions, and balanced the phone between her cheek and her shoulder as she rubbed her toe.

“Weird? I don’t understand.”

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