This was what my demon looked like. What I could become.

What Zeke could never see.

I shook myself. This was getting me nowhere. If Kanin was Lost, he was Lost, and nothing I did now would bring him back. The only thing left to do was to see if his mind was still intact, or if I was going to have to cut him down before he could kill me.

I clenched my fist...and stepped forward, into his reach.

Kanin didn't move. I took another step. And another. Until I was right beside him, gazing down at the top of his head. Relief hammered through me, but I didn't relax. Standing this close to Kanin felt like watching a rabid that hadn't quite noticed me yet. But once it did...

With slow, cautious movements, I knelt beside him. He stirred faintly, and I heard a low growl that made me freeze, but he still didn't attack.

My hands were shaking. I bit my cheek to steady myself then smoothly reached for his arm and the iron shackle on one wrist.

He let me take it without protest, without spinning around and lunging at me with bared fangs. My heart rose a bit higher, but we weren't out of here yet.

Still shaking, I put the key into the metal band at his wrist, turning slowly until it clicked under my fingers. The shackle loosened and dropped away with a clink.

And Kanin moved.

His head came up, turning to me. As if he'd just realized I was there, how close I was. For a split second, I met his blank, glassy stare, daring to hope.

Then his lips curled back from his fangs, and I knew I was dead.

I threw myself backward as Kanin lunged, snarling, his eyes bright with madness. Getting clear was the only thing on my mind now, putting distance between myself and this vicious demon who could easily rip me apart. I wasn't nearly fast enough. Kanin grabbed my leg and dragged me to him, hissing, and I howled in fear, kicking at his chest. He yanked me beneath him, and one hand clamped over my throat, squeezing hard. Thankfully, I didn't need to breathe, but my vision went red with pain-he was so strong!

"Kanin!" My fingers grabbed the hand on my throat, the other groped for my sword-hard to do while pinned on my back. "Dammit, get a hold of yourself! It's me-"

His grip tightened, crushing my windpipe, and I gagged on the words. Standing, Kanin yanked me upright, turned and slammed me into the wall. My head struck the stone with a sickening crack, but I barely felt that pain as Kanin brought his head down and sank his teeth into the side of my neck.

I went rigid, unable to move. For just a moment, I was there again, the night I was Turned, where I died, Kanin's fangs in my throat. It did not feel the same. My last night as a human, I remembered the pain, but also an intoxicating pleasure and warmth that had radiated from my core, soothing me to sleep, to death.

This was nothing like that. This was pure, blinding agony. With the exception of a wooden stake through the gut, it was the most painful thing I'd ever felt. I couldn't move, I couldn't even think. My mind emptied of all rational thought, except for one memory that flashed across my consciousness, clear as day.

"Vampires do not feed from each other," Kanin had told me once in the hidden lab. "One, feeding from our kind does nothing for the Hunger. In some cases it can make it worse. Two, forcibly taking blood from a vampire will cause that vampire untold pain. It's one of the most violent, intrusive acts we can commit on another kindred, and is viewed as barbaric and needlessly cruel by most."

"Ew," I had responded, making a face. "Good to know. So, vampires don't bite each other? Ever?"

"I said we don't feed from each other," my mentor replied in that infuriating way of his. "However, on rare occasions, two vampires who are attracted to one another will sometimes share blood. It becomes more of a sensual thing, the desire to offer a part of themselves, to feel close to another, rather than the need to sate the Hunger."

"Ewww," I'd said again, with a little more emphasis. "Well, thanks so much for that lovely image. Let's just say I'm not going to let any vampire near my throat, now or ever. I can promise you that."

The memory flickered and was gone in an instant, leaving nothing but pain behind. And a savage regret that I hadn't heeded my own promise. "Kanin," I gritted out, my voice harsh and ragged. I tried to make my arms move, to push him off, but he growled and sank his fangs in deeper, making me gasp. I closed my eyes, clenching my jaw to keep from screaming. "Kanin, s-stop. Please."

Abruptly, Kanin froze. He still had me pinned to the wall, but the hand around my throat loosened the slightest bit, and his fangs finally slid from my neck. I shuddered, slumping in relief as the vampire paused for a long moment, his brow furrowed as if trying to remember something.

"You..." The voice was low and raspy, as if it hadn't been used in a long, long time. Kanin blinked, and his gaze shifted to me, still confused, tormented by indecision. But his eyes were clearer now, the glassiness fading into the black. "I... know you."

I nodded painfully. "It's me," I whispered, my own voice ragged and faint. My throat burned, raw from abuse, but I tried to keep my gaze steady. "That night in the rain, when you saved me from the rabids? Do you remember?"

He stared at me, frowning. I watched his face, watched him struggle to claw himself out of the dark pit of madness, back into the light. Come on, Kanin, I urged him. You're stronger than this. You're almost there. Please, don't make me lose you again.

Kanin closed his eyes, his face tormented. When he opened them, I saw the last of the madness fade away, and for a moment, his expression was a raw, gaping wound. Horror, shame, guilt and despair lay open on his face as he looked down at me, recognition breaking through at last.


I almost collapsed in relief. "Yeah," I whispered, forcing a pained smile as he stared at me as if I were a ghost. "It's me. Damn you, Kanin. You were a pain in the ass to find, you know that?"

Kanin didn't answer. Without warning, his hands rose, pressing to either side of my face as I went rigid. His stare was awed, hopeful, as if he couldn't quite believe I was real and had to touch me to make sure I wasn't a phantom.

"You're here." I barely caught the whisper, and Kanin's eyes closed again as he bowed his head. It was a broken sound, a man desperately grasping at the last thread of hope, when he had been in the darkness for so long. "You came."

And, as I stood, shocked, against the wall of the cell, Kanin sank to his knees in front of me, holding the backs of my legs. The top of his bowed head pressed against my thighs. "You came," he repeated, a chant holding him to sanity. I swallowed the lump in my throat and touched his broad shoulders, biting my lip to keep the tears in check, as the cell door opened with a creak, and the Prince beckoned us both to freedom.

Chapter 14

Zeke was waiting for me when the elevator doors opened with their annoying ding. Leaning against the wall with his arms crossed, he straightened quickly as I stepped into the hall with Salazar and the guards, relieved as ever to be on solid ground.

"Oh God, Allie," he said, worried blue eyes straying to my neck, the blood on my skin and collar. "Are you all right? What happened?"

"I'm fine." My fingers went self-consciously to my throat, feeling the slight punctures Kanin had left behind. "It's nothing. I've already fed, don't worry about it." Dr. Emerson had given me a blood bag when I emerged from the dungeon with Kanin and the Prince, and though it was cold and disgusting, I'd choked it down. The wounds hadn't closed completely, and even now, my neck still ached where Kanin had bitten me. The doctor insisted that was normal, that the pain would fade in a day or two, though the faint, tiny scars might remain forever. It was just the nature of a vampire biting one of his own.

Emerson had also insisted that Kanin remain under supervision for at least a night, claiming that, even with a vampire's remarkable healing, it would still be a few days for a vampire to fully recover after being starved for so long. My sire was down in the hospital wing now, being watched carefully by vampiric doctors and several guards, but he was no longer going mad in a lonely dungeon. I had felt a little apprehensive about leaving him, since I'd come so far to find him, but Salazar had assured me he would be well taken care of. That Kanin was a guest in his tower now, and all his needs would be met. That there was no need to worry about my sire; he would allow no harm to befall him, for any reason.

I believed him. After all, he needed Kanin alive and well to go after Sarren.

Salazar regarded me with blank eyes. "I have business to attend," he stated, bored and coldly polite once more. "If you have need of me, please inform a pet or a guard. I've told you where you can find your temporary quarters, and the servants can attend to your other needs. Feel free to wander about, but remember, you are not to leave the tower until you are ready to go after Sarren. I suggest you do that soon. Tomorrow, perhaps. As soon as the sun goes down."

"We'll leave when Kanin is well enough," I said flatly. The Prince's mouth twitched in a humorless smile.

"Trust me, girl. You do not have long. And neither does Kanin."

He strode away with his guards, leaving me to ponder that ominous statement and hope he was just making empty threats.

Zeke stepped close and hesitantly put his hands on my waist, watching me intently. "Did you find Kanin?" he asked, drawing me against him. "Is he all right?"

"Yeah." I put my hands on his chest, splaying my fingers, feeling his heart beat under my palm. Funny how such a simple thing like a heartbeat could fascinate me now that I didn't have one. Or maybe it was just Zeke's heart that I was fascinated with. "I think he's going to be fine."

His hand rose to brush the hair off my shoulder, fingers gently skimming the dried blood on my neck. My stomach danced, even though the Hunger stirred at the contact, like a sleepy, sated beast. "I was worried about you," he whispered.

"What? Why?" I tried to ignore my fluttering insides, the fingers tracing soft patterns against my skin. "This is nothing, Zeke. Hell, I've been shot, stabbed, staked, bludgeoned, cut open and thrown out a window. Super vampire healing, remember? A couple little bite marks aren't going to slow me down."

"It's not the physical scars that are the most painful," Zeke said. "I know you can take care of yourself, probably better than anyone. Certainly better than me." He smiled a little, reminding me of how handsome he was when he smiled. How he could make my cold heart stutter when he did that. "But I know you, Allie. Even if Kanin was Lost, like Salazar said, you wouldn't have given up on him. You would have kept trying to save him, whether he could be saved or not. It's just how you are."

Since when? I thought, giving him a dubious look. He chuckled.

"You know it's true." He brushed a thumb across my cheek, his gaze intense. "I didn't see Jackal down there, risking his life. Just you." His voice went low and soft, tinted with a little regret. "I'd forgotten how incredible you really are."

The Hunger stirred again, and I tensed. Getting too close, Allison. It doesn't matter what Zeke thinks of you-you're still a vampire and he's still human. This won't end well, and you're not helping either of you.

"Speaking of which, where is Jackal?" I said, pulling back. Zeke let me go, looking disappointed but resigned. "I should tell him what happened-not that he cares, but he should at least know that Kanin is safe."

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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