The vehicle jostled to a start, soon winding along the roads. The windows were darkened, so she couldn’t see outside. Only the overhead light allowed her to see the men and women trapped with her.

Where they headed to AIR? To be locked up as Johnny was?

“Your jaw’s swollen,” McKell said, brushing his knuckles gently over the wound in question.

Even so slight a touch sent a sharp pain shooting through her, and she flinched. She hadn’t realized she’d been punched there. “Now that you mention it, it does hurt like a son of a bitch.”

“So,” he said on a sigh, “you won’t be able to do certain … things for a while. That’s almost a deal breaker.”

Things like suck that beautiful cock? She laughed, then flinched again. “Jaw wounds take the longest time to heal.” His teasing was distracting her, lightening her mood. Maybe hers would do the same for him.

“How long?”

“Months.”

His shoulders sagged. “I was playing at first. But months, you say?”

“Oh, yes.” She burrowed her head in the hollow of his neck, hiding her grin. “And God forbid if I have to have surgery. I mean, the bones feel out of joint. Healing could take years.”

“Years?” he squeaked.

“You, Ava Sans, are evil,” Noelle said with a laugh of her own.

Ava slapped her shoulder. “Stop listening to our conversation.”

“Then stop having a conversation for me to listen to. You know I can’t help myself.”

They didn’t have to stop. The car did, and everyone in the van sobered instantly. Ava tensed. McKell crushed her to his chest as footsteps sounded. Then the doors opened, and Ava caught sight of multiple agents and an unfamiliar—and very intimidating—building. A warehouse, deserted, dark, nothing around it.

“Let’s go,” one of the agents said, motioning them out.

Twenty-nine

They were given a room—or, more aptly, a cell—of their own. Maybe because McKell threatened to rip their escorts’ throats out if they pushed him and Ava into the same room as all the others. They believed him. Which did, in fact, save their lives.

His parting words to them? “Watch us through the window, and I’ll know. I’ll feel your eyes, hear your heartbeats. And nothing will prevent me from reaching through it and, what? Slicing your goddamn throats.”

The door closed with a click, enclosing him in a four-by-four with his darling Ava. They had a cot, padded walls, and a toilet, but he paid those things no heed. He stood in front of a door without any discernible seams, listening beyond. Footsteps pounded, voices murmured, and the rush of blood faded. Again the guards had heeded his advice and saved their own lives.

That done, McKell switched his full attention to Ava. She sat on the cot, elbows resting on her knees. Once again there was fear in her lovely eyes, and he didn’t like it. Distraction, that’s what she needed. Had worked before, in the van.

Touch, that’s what he needed. He had to reaffirm that she lived.

When he’d seen those warriors appear behind her, hit her, when he’d tried to race to her, only to be stabbed in the back before he could get to her, he’d experienced utter despair and instant rage. He couldn’t abide the thought of her being hurt. He couldn’t abide the thought of failing her.

She was everything to him.

And she would let him turn her. He’d never thought he would have that option, but thankfully, fate had planned otherwise, and he knew his true gift, or vampire ability, was his blood. He was finally on the right path. Being together. Forever. Only thing he didn’t like was the fact that she wasn’t actually ready for the change. Deep down, he didn’t want to turn her before she was ready.

The Schön queen had asked him if he loved her. He hadn’t known then, but he knew now. He did. He loved her. He couldn’t live without her, and it had nothing to do with needing her blood. He needed her. Ava. Her smile, her laugh, her scent, her hands, her breath, her stubbornness, her fury, her wit. Everything. Every part of her.

“Ava,” he said, needing to tell her all of that. He didn’t wait for her reply. He approached her and knelt in front of her, clasping her hands and feeling her heat, her pulse. Yes, touch—connection—was exactly what he’d needed.

“McKell.” His name was a plea, a benediction. She’d wanted to be touched as much as he’d wanted to touch her.

In an instant, holding hands wasn’t enough. He gathered her in his arms, pivoted, and sat on the cot. He settled her in his lap while petting her hair, her nape, her arm. “I have to tell you something,” he began. There was no better time for a confession.

She was just a little stiff when she said, “That sounds serious.”

“It is. I … love you.” How would she react? He’d never declared his feeling to another. Ever. “I love you more than anything and anyone.”

The stiffness drained from her. “Really?”

“Really.” Part of him had expected a denial, he realized as a relieved breath fanned from him. “You delight me, Ava, in so many ways.”

“Tell me those ways.”

Anyone else would have laved him with kisses; Ava demanded proof. He smothered a laugh he knew she wouldn’t understand. “I’m free to be myself with you. I have fun with you, even when circumstances are dire. You didn’t have the easiest life, yet you never let that hinder you. You grew into a strong, stunning woman. My woman.” He didn’t want to pressure her into saying the words back to him. In this, he would not rush her. He stated his case and quickly changed the subject. “Now. Tell me a secret about yourself. You promised to tell me ‘later,’ and now is later.”

At first, she gave no response. Then she was sniffling and shaking, grinning and crying. Mostly crying.

“What thoughts are dancing through your head, love?” Of all the reactions he’d thought she would give him, that wasn’t even on the list.

She cried a little harder. Then, “I—I—all right,” she said, ignoring his question. “I’ll tell you a secret.”

He kissed her temple. “Let’s hear it.” He wanted to know everything about her, even at the expense of his need to soothe her. He wanted to pamper her for the rest of eternity.

“Well.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her wrist. “I adore old kung fu movies. That’s where I picked up my mad ass-beating skills.”

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