Again, he tried not to laugh. “That’s a wee bit surprising. I’ve seen a few of them, and know kung fu is all about fighting with—and don’t take this the wrong way, love. Fighting with honor.”

“Are you saying I’m not honorable?” She straightened and glared at him.

“Ava, love. You tasered me. Stabbed me. Stunned me twice. You lack honor, and I’m glad. Honor won’t win a battle.”

“True.” With a sigh, she relaxed back against him. “Now tell me a secret about you.”

He thought about what to tell her, and before he knew it, five minutes had passed in silence. She waited patiently. “I don’t think children are too terrible of monsters,” he finally said. An easy fact based in truth; one she might like.

She knew him well enough to understand what he was saying. “You want a family?”

“One day, yes.”

“With … me?”

“Only with you.” And when she turned vampire, children would most likely be possible. If not, well, he wouldn’t be too disappointed because he would have Ava all to himself.

She pressed a soft kiss into his nape, lingered … licked. “I don’t think kids are too terrible of monsters, either.”

His blood heated, rushing through his veins to meet her lips. Though he wanted to toss her down on the cot, strip her, have her, he didn’t move. The conversation was too important.


“Yes.” He hadn’t meant to growl. That heat …

“I—I love you.”

Thank God. He hadn’t wanted to rush her, but damn! He’d needed to hear those three words so badly. “You don’t have to say it back if you—”

“I love you. I’ve never said that to anyone before, but I do. I love you. You’re stubborn, possessive, and passionate. You make me laugh, and ache, and dream. And sometimes, like now, you make me feel so special. I like that.”

“You are special and I want to make you feel that way always.” His arms tightened around her, probably breaking her sweet little bones. But he had two choices, and he knew it. Either hold her like this, or throw her down as he still craved. “When did you realize your feelings for me?”

“When you were bleeding to death.”

He barked out a laugh, unable to stop himself this time. “That’s all it took, hmm? Almost dying?”

“Mm-hm.” Her fingers traced the scar on his chest, and he leaned into the gentle touch.

Can’t throw her down, can’t throw her down. “Had I known, I would’ve allowed someone to stab me much sooner. But you do realize now that I was never close to death, yes? I’m too strong to die.” And he had too much to live for.

The wicked tip of her tongue emerged, giving his pulse another caress. “Speaking of dying, what are we going to do about our little problem?”

“Little problem. So you don’t mean the big problem you’re creating in his pants?”

For the first time since he’d met her, she giggled. He adored the sound.

“You’re talking about the queen?” he asked. “Our imprisonment?”

“Yes. I think … I think we’re gonna have to escape this compound. No one knows how to defeat her, and you’re the best chance AIR has of winning.”

“She defeated me before.”

“Yeah, but now you know what to expect.”

True. He didn’t mention how easily the queen adapted to everything, even his tricks.

“So you’re going to do it? Escape? Fight her?”

“Of course. I want you safe, love. By fair means or foul, I’ll see it done.” And he would. Whatever he had to do.

Ava’s teeth came out to play, nibbling where she’d licked. “Well, then, you’ll need to be properly nourished.”

In seconds, his need racketed close to I-can’t-control-myself territory. Biting her, drinking her, holding her, hands roving … He might not be strong enough to turn her down. “What are you saying, love?” Maybe he had misunderstood.

“That I want you to bite me,” she said, confirming his thoughts. “You need the blood, and I need to feed you. Want to feed you.” She traced a heart on his chest. “Let me do this.”

He captured her hand and kissed the fluttering pulse at her wrist. He was shaking, mouth watering with the force of his desires. “Are you sure?” No, he wasn’t strong enough.

She lifted her head and peered at him, a tigress determined to get her way. “I’m sure. So let me do this for you, McKell. Victor. My Victor. For me. I tortured you for days, not giving you more than a few sips. Let me give you everything.”

Like that, he did reach the point where he lost control. More than his mouth filling with moisture, his tongue was swelling. His teeth were aching. His heart was threatening to explode. “You’re sure you’re not too weakened from the fight?” he asked again, because he would rather die than hurt her further.

Slowly she grinned. “Believe me, I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

He tumbled her to the cot so that he loomed above her, and she immediately turned her head, offering an unobstructed view of her neck. Her lovely neck. Her pulse fluttered there, too, and he could hear the rush of her decadent blood.


First he licked her, softening her skin. She moaned. Then he sucked, drawing the blood up and causing it to pool, readying for him. She groaned. Then, sweet heaven, then he bit. Sucked. Swallowed.

And reared back in horror.

The hot flow of her blood trickled from his mouth, but he didn’t lick it up. He wiped it away with his hand, trying not to cringe or shout.

“Ava,” he said shakily.

Frowning, she sat up. Suddenly there were dark circles under her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

No, he thought, nearing hysteria in a heartbeat of time. No, no, no. He knew he could turn her, had planned for it. Would. But he was suddenly so damn afraid. What if that didn’t work? What if she died anyway? What if he killed her?

“McKell! What is it? What’s wrong? You’re scaring me.”

He swallowed the lump forming in his throat. “You’re … you’re the one infected, love. You have the Schön disease.”

* * *

At first, Ava denied McKell’s claim. As the hours ticked away, her warrior pacing in front of her, trying to decide what to do, how best to save her, she could feel herself weakening, denial no longer possible. She could even hear a voice inside her head. A female voice. Not her own, either. This voice grew stronger with every minute that passed, and the stronger it became, the more it seemed to take over. As if Ava’s will was no longer her own.