With a sigh, I continue on. My narcolepsy is about to come on full strength. I need to find my bed. Uninterrupted by ghosts.
I stop a few feet from her. “I’m Riley. If you ever decide to talk—”
Again, the little girl’s mouth drops down into a crooked, exaggerated O, her eyes black and fathomless. But this time the scream pierces straight through my brain.
Then she lunges through me. My insides immediately feel icy.
I jerk around. She’s not behind me.
Gone. Unless she’s inside of me.
“Okay, well, if you change your mind, I’m not bad to talk to. For an adult. And, for the record, you don’t scare me. I kill vampires for a living.”
I decide I’ll talk to Jake and Gabriel about her after I rest. Sydney and Gabriel both have lived here for a while. Have they had encounters with the little girl before? If not, why me? Why freaking me? I seem to be asking that a lot lately. Right now I feel like I’m about to drop onto the floor. Seriously. I’ve battled newlings and vamps. My poor neck has been latched on to by Julian Arcos, for Christ’s sake. I still shudder at that memory. Saving my skin or not, he’s just flat-out creepy. He even asked me to become his wife if things didn’t work out with Eli. Really?
Considering all that, I can handle the screaming ghost of a little girl. And, for the record, I did look into her eyes. Nothing happened.
Inside my room, I bend down to kick off my boots.
Only then do I realize I’m too late.
In the next second, I tip over. My body is flush with the floor. My eyes close.
It’s as good a bed as any. . . .
I’m walking outside on the Mile, and I’m alone. Although I can’t say where I’m headed, I know exactly where I’m going. It’s dark. It’s raining. And after I pass St. Giles’, I turn down a narrow close. Suddenly I’m at a lone door. It’s slightly opened, and I enter.
“I’m glad you’re here,” a voice says from inside. “Come. You’re just in time.”
“In time for what?” I ask. “Who are you?”
I see a figure ahead of me, crouching by a long, threadbare sofa of blue-and-black plaid cloth. The figure keeps his back to me. He’s large. Wearing a dark cloak with a hood.
“Turn around and face me,” I say, and he chuckles.
“I cannot. Not now. You won’t understand if I do.”
I move in closer and notice a middle-aged man asleep on the sofa. On the table beside him, a half-finished pint of beer. The TV is silent, but the screen depicts a UK cop show. I look at the figure. “What are you doing?”
The figure waves his hand over the man’s sleeping body, then rises. Although he moves toward me, he keeps his back to me. I slide my gaze back to the sleeping man, and his middle begins to smoke. Smolder. He awakens and yells out and begins to beat his stomach with his hands.
“Help me!” he screams. “Christ, help me!”
I lunge toward him, but the figure grabs me, holds me back.
“Nay, girl,” he says. “You cannot stop it.”
“The fuck I can’t!” I scream. I elbow him in the vicinity of his jaw. I make contact with something. “Let me go!”
The figure laughs softly. “Your valor is impressive. But you cannot stop this.” He turns and looks me in the eye, and I blink, staring. His face is . . . perfectly normal. Handsome. Older. With fathomless blue eyes that sear straight through me. Reaching with his cloaked arm, he sinks his fingers into the screaming man’s chest and removes his heart. It’s still beating. The man’s screams intensify, then begin to die down. The smell of acrid smoke and charred flesh fills my nostrils. “And you can’t stop me.”
I stare into those eyes. “Watch me—”
Strong fingers wrap around my floppy-bun hairdo, and a firm hand grasps my shoulder and shakes me. I jump, gasp, and sit straight up. I take a swing at the man, and he ducks and barely misses my punch.
“Shh, chère,” he says softly. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
I’m awake now. It’s Eli. I’ve had enough sleep. I don’t know how much time has passed, but it’s more than enough. “You never have frightened me, Dupré,” I say. “But someone is trying to.”
Eli frowns. “What do you mean?”
Rubbing my eyes with my knuckles, I pretend I don’t still smell the burning flesh of a human. “I saw an innocent burn.”
Eli sighs and pulls me to him. “How? Who?”
I shake my head. “A middle-aged man. Just . . . asleep on his couch. The one there, the one who lured me there . . .” I look at Eli. “I think he was one of the Fallen. I saw him take the man’s heart.”
“Damn it, Ri,” he says, then looks at me. “So the Fallen really don’t mind getting their hands dirty after all?”
I shake my head. “We have to stop these guys,” I say. “Fast. They have no conscience, Eli. None.” I shake my head. “No telling how many more will die. And I think there’s a lot more to the Fallen than even Jake and Gabriel, and Darius know.” I shake my head. “They can do . . . anything.”
“We’ll get them, Riley,” Eli assures me. “I swear it.”
I nod. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
Eli laughs softly and stands me up. “You missed, so no.” He wraps his arms around me and lowers his head. “You didn’t even make it to the bed, chère. Just fell right onto the floor. And you’re still wearing all your clothes, including your dirk.”
“Yeah,” I answer, burying my face in his neck. I wrap my arms around his waist. “Floor worked just fine. Too tired to take everything off. Good thing I didn’t impale myself with my blade on the way down.”
His deep chuckle rumbles against my ear. We stand there a second or two, or maybe a minute. I suddenly can’t quite get close enough, even after shifting a time or two. Maybe it’s the clothing that’s in the way?
“Maybe,” Eli says. He grabs my hair and pulls gently, forcing my head to tip back, making me look up at him. He lowers his head, his mouth hovering over mine.
“Just being in the same room with you and not being able to have you for hours at a time stirs a need within me so fierce, it literally hurts.” He dips lower, his lips brushing mine. Erotic. Inside, I shiver. “Do you understand, chère?”
Oh yeah, I sure do.
With light pressure, Eli nudges my mouth open with his, and at the same time he drops the hand holding my hair and grasps one of my hands. He lowers it, pulls it between us, and presses it against the bulge straining against his pants.
I smile and stretch my fingers and palm him, and he groans into my mouth, the sound desperate, hungry, determined.
A total turn-on.
Eli slides his tongue across my bottom lip and pulls it into his mouth, the pressure of the suck light, constant, then a little harder, a bit faster. The erotic, slick movement makes my pulse quicken, my breath catch. The cool metal buttons of his fly come loose under my fingers one by one.
Eli moves his mouth to my ear, his warm breath making my skin break out into goose bumps. He inhales. “You smell good,” he whispers. His accent is thicker. Sexy as hell. Another big turn-on, and Eli knows it. I do as he asks. No problem. I mean, this vampire is mine. All mine. Eli smiles against my mouth. Our teeth bump together. We laugh. Then Eli’s hands slide to my jaw, one on either side. With nothing more than the moonlight slipping in through the window, he locks a profound stare to mine. “I am so in love with you, Riley Poe,” he says quietly. He slides his fingers over my left hand and grazes the ring he gave me. “I still can’t believe you’re mine.”
Eli’s words wash over me. Funny thing is, I allow it. Revel in it.
And I can actually say it back now.
“I’m so in love with you, Eligius Dupré.” I kiss his nose. “It actually took a vampire to claim my icy heart.”
“Your heart has never been icy,” he answers, and kisses me. He fingers the wings at my cheek. “It was just waiting on me.”
Wrapping my arms around his neck, Eli lifts and settles me on his hips. I wrap my legs around his waist, and heat pools low, deep, and I press harder against him. He kisses me and he kicks the door shut behind us.
We fall against the closed door, and my fingers fumble behind me to lock it. The iron bolt digs into my spine, but I ignore it. I all but climb the length of him, digging my heels into his back, pressing the heat growing between my legs against his hard ridge. I thread my fingers through his hair and pull his head back to give me better access to his mouth. I take full advantage of it. I taste his lips. Bite. Lick. Then I kiss him deep, and my heart, surprisingly, beats a little faster. I feel restless inside, and it’s growing more difficult to tolerate.
“I can’t wait,” I mutter on a gasp. “Now, Eligius.”
Eli lets me slide from my perch on his hips and pins me against the door. Eyes darkened by raging lust hold my gaze as he tugs the clasps of my thin leather straps and blade sheath, letting both drop to the floor. Grasping my snug shirt by the hem, the material slides over my skin as he pulls it off and tosses it onto the floor. Likewise, I pull his shirt over his head, drop it, and slip my palms over the chiseled muscles of his chest, lower, to his stomach, and around to the smooth contours of his hard, broad back. He buries his mouth against my neck, and I don’t even tense up anymore.
Eli has that much control.
With his fingertips, Eli slides the straps of my bra off my shoulders and unclasps it, and my heavy breasts are free of the silky material. My bra finds its way on the growing pile of clothes on the floor. The cool air brushes my skin, and one of Eli’s hands finds my lower back and pulls me closer. He drops his head, kisses my collarbone, and moves lower, his lips dragging over the swell of my breast. Grabbing his hair, I pull his mouth to exactly where I want it. In an erotic kiss, he suckles me, makes my skin flame, and covers the other breast with his hand. I press my groin to his, closer, hot, aching. Shivers of pleasure rack my body each time his tongue and lips rake over the sensitive peak, causing the throbbing pulse between my thighs to pitch. I push my hands through his silky hair and hold on.