Stop it, Allison. I choked back a sob, cursing my stupid traitorous thoughts. It didn’t matter now. This had to be done.

Zeke had to die, and there was no one around to do it but me.

I’m so sorry, Zeke.

I gripped the weapon tightly and raised it again, trying to focus through the tears. One cut, I told myself. One quick slice, and it’ll be over. He won’t feel a thing, and then you won’t feel anything, ever again.

“Do it.”

The voice was a strangled whisper, and I froze, staring at the hunched form in shock. Zeke hadn’t moved, his head was still bowed, but I could see his shoulders trembling. I tensed, remembering the way he had tricked me in the tower, when I thought he had come back to himself. This was likely another ploy to get me to lower my guard. I’d be stupid to fall for it again.

And yet…I still hesitated, that crazy, stubborn hope insisting on rising up to torment me. What if he was still in there?

What if Sarren hadn’t destroyed him completely? I gripped Kanin’s dagger, feeling like I was being torn in two. I knew the thought was foolish; I knew I should end it right now.

This was what my sire had warned me about; I was letting my feelings get in the way of what had to be done. But if I killed Zeke now, I would question this moment for the rest of my life. For eternity.

“What are you waiting for?” Zeke gritted out, and his hands clenched on his knees. I knew he was healing, was probably almost healed, but he still didn’t move. And even though his head was bowed, I heard the tears in his voice.

“Do it, Allison. Kill me. Please, get it over with.”

I made my decision. Foolish, emotional and irrational as it was. Lowering the blade, I stepped back, shaking my head.

“No,” I whispered, and he gave a strangled sob. “No, I won’t kill you, Zeke. Not like this.”

“Allie…” A violent shudder racked Zeke’s body. Slowly, he pushed himself to his feet, dripping water and blood, wrapped his arms around himself, and didn’t move. He stood with his back to me, shivering, the machete shining in the water at his feet. Cautiously, I stepped toward him, and his head rose and turned, just a little, in my direction.

“Wrong choice, vampire girl.”

He whirled with frightening speed, clamped one hand around my throat, and slammed me back into a pillar. I instinctively brought my weapon up, but Zeke grabbed my wrist with his free hand, the one that had been fractured a few seconds ago, and turned the weapon back on me. I felt the razor edge of Kanin’s dagger against my throat and looked up to meet Zeke’s blank smile.

“You should’ve killed me,” he whispered, and pressed the blade forward.

I tensed, fighting his arm, feeling the knife’s edge bite into my neck. “Zeke,” I gritted out, straining to keep him and the dagger at bay. “I know you can hear me. I know this isn’t what you want. Please…stop… .”

Zeke suddenly closed his eyes, and a shudder racked his body. “Allie,” he whispered, his voice strained and desperate. “No. No, I won’t do this. Enough.” The knife halted, and the arms pinning me to the cement loosened, though Zeke’s eyes stayed closed. “Allison,” he whispered, like he didn’t have much time. “Kill me now. I can’t fight this much longer. Hurry!”

“I can’t.” My eyes burned, and I blinked hard to clear my vision, to keep my gaze on him. “I can’t kill you. Please don’t make me do this, Zeke.”

He growled again and shoved the knife at me. I grabbed his arms, whirled around, and pushed him back into the pillar, wrenching the dagger from his grasp. His eyes snapped open, vicious and crazy once more, and he bared his fangs in my face.

“Make your decision, vampire girl,” Zeke snarled, and at that moment, I didn’t know which personality was in control. Or if both were speaking. “You’re running out of time.”

Tears streamed down my face, and I shook my head, frantically trying to think of something. Dammit, there had to be something to shock him out of it. What could stop a vampire in its tracks besides a stake to the heart? Was there nothing I could do? Only watch as Zeke slipped from me once more, and in the end, be forced to destroy him after all?

No, I couldn’t. I would not lose him again. Not this time.

“Allie,” Zeke groaned, and I sensed him slipping, changing into the thing Sarren had created. He tilted his head back, squeezing his eyes shut, and I made my choice. As Zeke opened his eyes, his expression savage once more, I dropped the dagger, stepped forward, and sank my fangs into his throat.

He gasped, going rigid against me. His hands came up to grip my arms, crushing them in a grip of steel, but I barely felt them. His blood seeped past my lips and spread over my tongue, a thick, sluggish river. Different. It was different than when he’d been human, sweet and earthy and very much Zeke. This was darker somehow. Hot and strong and powerful, and completely intoxicating. I could suddenly feel him, the real him. I could feel his thoughts and churning emotions.

Confusion. Despair. Fear. And below that, a rippling undercur-rent of something so powerful it was almost overwhelming.

Flashes of memory invaded my thoughts, carried through his blood. The horrible night with Sarren; his agony as the vampire slowly cut him open, demanding he betray everyone he loved, and his absolute despair when he gave in to the torture. Another scene: him standing in the shadows, watching me struggle with a flimsy tent on an open, windy plain, hoping the tent would fall just so he could go talk to me. A flash of pain as he endured one of Jebbadiah’s many beatings, knowing he would never live up to the old man’s expectations. A memory of New Covington, of slow dancing with me in a dark corner, piano music swirling around us, and realizing how much he would sacrifice, how far he would go, for us to be together.

That very first night in Old Chicago, when we went to rescue our group from the raider king and, kneeling across from me in utter darkness, he realized that he was completely, irrevocably in love…with a vampire.

A little frightened at the depth of emotion sweeping through me, I tried drawing back, but Zeke shivered and slid his arms around me, pressing me to him. Urging me to go on. Closing my eyes, I sank my fangs in deeper, melting into him, and Zeke groaned softly.

I took only a little, knowing he was badly wounded and had little blood to spare. But it was hard, pulling away, forcing my fangs to retract. For a second, I’d seen the deepest, darkest parts of him, known every emotion and secret fear.

Tags: Julie Kagawa Blood of Eden Book Series
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