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My mouth went dry as the memory of the vision, so clear and realistic, pushed to the very forefront of my mind. “It was as though I were him; I saw everything as if I were the killer, only when my hands reached out, they were not mine. They were his.” I shook my head. “I felt everything, Seth. The girl’s terror. The rush of excitement as my teeth sank into her artery. The blood as it pumped into my throat. Every freaking thing.” Suddenly, my stomach rolled, every detail returning in vivid recall, and I felt the color drain from my face. My skin grew clammy. I covered my mouth with my hand. “I’m gonna be sick.”
Seth grabbed my arm and pulled me down the hall and into the bathroom with such speed, my head spun just as violently as my stomach. Even then, we barely made it. I stumbled, kicked the lid open with my foot, and retched into the toilet. Seth held my hair back while I lost last night’s lo mein noodles.
A cold, wet washcloth was suddenly resting on the back of my neck. Seth flushed the toilet, closed the lid, turned me around, and pushed me down onto it. I rested my forearms on my knees and breathed, and my baby brother, who seemed so grown up lately, squatted down to look at me. Green eyes just like mine met me with intensity.
“You gotta tell Eli,” Seth said.
I thought about it. “Maybe. But I’m not. It’s probably just my mind effing with me, you know? That night at Bonaventure still haunts me. Seriously. It’s just a lot of crap to take in. We’ve been through hell, little brother. Nasty-hell.”
The frown still on Seth’s face proved he didn’t really believe me. “Yeah, I know, he said. He ducked his head. “You okay, Ri?”
I wasn’t. Not at all. “Yeah. I’m totally fine. Let’s get out of here, okay? And,” I said, playfully punching his arm, “thanks. Not many dudes would hold a girl’s hair while she puked her guts up.”
Seth’s eyes softened. “Well, I’m not just any ole dude, and you’re my sister. I love you.”
My heart was melting.
“I love you, too,” I said. “I’d hug you, but—”
“Yeah, gross,” he finished, taking a step back. He held up his hands in defense. “No postpuke hugging, please. That’s just nasty.” He shuddered.
We both laughed, and I did my very best for the rest of the day to forget the horror of the daydream. Good thing it was Sunday and Inksomnia was closed. I’m not positive I could have kept it to myself.
Eli had gone with his brothers and Gilles to some monthly guardian meeting at Bethesda with Preacher and his people, and while I missed being with Eli, I’d craved time alone with my little brother. So I spent the early part of the day with just Seth. It seemed like forever since we’d done that, and even in spite of the awful, realistic daydream, we had fun. We had breakfast with Estelle and took Chaz to Forsythe Park for a long walk. Then later we hit Cleary’s for lunch. We both had the Reuben, and, swear to God, they make the best ones in Savannah. I could have eaten two and had to literally stop myself from ordering a second.
One of the tendencies Seth and I shared: voracious appetites. We both ate like friggin’ hogs. Luckily our metabolisms kept up with the amount of food we dumped in.
On the way home, we hit the Pig (that’s the everpopular southern grocery chain store Piggly Wiggly, aka Hoggly Woggly, aka the PW), picked up some milk, dog food, a twelve-pack of Cherry Coke, a pack of T-bones, another twelve-pack of Octoberfest, some junk food, and a few things for Estelle, then headed home. As we cruised the city streets with the top off the Jeep, the sun pelted me through the sporadic holes in the overhead canopy of oaks and pines. As my skin warmed, and the briny breeze wafted from the Savannah River to my nostrils, I could almost put behind me the horribleness of that damn daydream, and the way that girl had died; the way I’d felt it, tasted it, experienced it, and how wickedsick real it had been. I mean, I’d tasted her blood. I’d felt it slide down my throat. How the hell could that be?
The girl’s face kept randomly flashing behind my lids, and it was disturbing as holy freaking hell. Her facial features, right down to the small gap in her front teeth, seemed so exact. It was almost as if I’d met her before. Maybe she was a past client I’d inked? That could definitely be a possibility. I’d inked a lot of people. Overall, though—why her?
The afternoon sun waned, and weak early-evening shadows now fell from lampposts, live oaks, and parking meters as we crossed Bay, pulled onto the merchant’s drive and parked the Jeep behind Inksomnia.
“Hey, there’s Eli,” Seth said, and pointed.
Eli was there, waiting for me, and, I confess, he had the sole capability to take my breath away. His bike was almost as hot as he was. The liquid silverback chopper sat propped on its kickstand, half helmet hanging off a handlebar, the whole package looking kick-ass. Eli leaned casually against the seat; legs crossed at the ankles, arms folded over his chest, he was wearing nothing but a pair of low-slung worn jeans, boots, and a white T-shirt, and the silver hoop at his brow. I couldn’t see his eyes—they were masked by his shades—but I knew he stared at me. He studied every inch of me. My sex drive kicked me mule-hard, and I wanted him. Just knowing he watched me behind the privacy of his sunglasses shot a thrill through me. A sexier man did not exist, I swear it.
A small smile tilted the corner of his mouth. Freaking ego. Of course, he’d been listening and had joyfully heard every word I’d thought.
“Hey, Eli,” Seth said cheerfully, grabbing nearly all the bags from the back of the Jeep. He had a twenty-five-pound bag of Chaz’s dog food slung over one shoulder as he passed what no one would ever guess to be a nearly two-hundred-year-old vampire.
“What’s up, Seth?” Eli answered, but he didn’t move. Behind those shades his gaze remained fixed on me.
“Nothin’ much. Hangin’ with the sister,” Seth said with a grin, and disappeared inside. Chaz’s excited bark met my ears, and in seconds, Seth emerged with the Australian shepherd on a leash. “Be back in a bit,” he said, his smile wide. “We’ve got training at your folk’s place at eight. I can’t wait.” He waved and disappeared around the corner.
Eli didn’t move. He mouthed, Come here, and, oh hell yeah, I did just that. I stepped out of the Jeep and swaggered over to him, hoping I was half as distracting to him as he was to me. I was wearing my faded low-rise jeans and the fuchsia floral cami I knew he liked— mainly because it skimmed just above my belly button. I stopped when I was directly in front of him and placed one leg on either side of his. I leaned forward, bracing my weight with the heel of my palms on the sides of his hips. I drew so close, our noses nearly touched. I could see my reflection in his shades.
Neither of us said a word.
Eli’s hands slipped around my waist, grazing the bare skin of my lower back, and moved his mouth over mine in a kiss that had me wet and burning for him within five seconds. My hands slid up his back and around his neck; I kissed him back. The slightest pressure pulled my body against his, and I briefly thought how well we fit together. His hands moved over my ass; his hard bulge let me know I affected him just as much, and I groaned against his mouth. “I’m not above taking you right here, right now,” I whispered, and licked his tongue. I felt his smile beneath my lips.
“Another thing I love about you,” he said in a low voice. “You’re not shy.” His fingers threaded through my hair and he pulled me tight against his mouth. His kiss drugged me.
Finally, breathless, and just a shade under being pornographic in public, I leaned back and took off his shades. His profound stare never ceased to stun me; the weight of it froze me. Fathomless and ancient at once, his eyes locked on to mine. It was then I knew with complete certainty that I’d never be satisfied with anyone else except Eli—a pretty scary thought, actually.
The sexiest grin I’d ever seen crossed his face. “Ah, my evil plan has succeeded. Come here, mostly mortal woman. There is nothing to be scared of. Let me ravish you,” he drawled in heavy French. I laughed, and he pushed a loose strand of fuchsia hair out of my eyes and tucked it behind my ear. Then he stopped, studying me; his gaze narrowed, and a slight early-evening breeze rustled his already-tousled hair. All playfulness had vanished, replaced by uncanny perception. “What’s wrong?”
I shrugged. “Nothing. A dream I had earlier shook me up a little.” I sighed. “Freaking vampires.”
Eli pulled me close and buried his face in my hair. He inhaled deeply. “Must’ve shaken you more than a little.” He leaned back and frowned. “You’re making goofy jokes and you didn’t drink your tea.”
That he could smell my unprotected blood amazed me; it also knocked me a notch or two back to reality.
“It should,” he said, taking more liberties with my thoughts. “You might think you’re invincible with your new tendencies, but trust me—you’re not. Your blood may have changed some; I don’t zone in on it rushing through your veins like I used to. But it’s still tempting, addicting.” He frowned. “Drink the damn tea, Riley. I don’t care if you eat the stuff. Just get it into your system.” He grazed my jaw with a finger. “Please?”
“Okay, okay,” I answered. “I really didn’t mean to forget it, even though your dad told me that because of the strigoi factor in my DNA, I may be able to stop the tea altogether.”
“That’s not now, so humor me. Drink the tea.” With his index finger, Eli traced the dragon inked into my skin; all the way up my arm. He followed it until it disappeared beneath my shirt; then Eli grasped my chin. The look he gave me sent two kinds of chills up my spine—one of fear; one of pure sexual heat. “I don’t want to have to work so hard not to hurt you.”
“Point taken, Dupré,” I said, and I reminded myself I was crazy about a vampire who could kill me in seconds if he lost control. “Getting tea now.”
“Oh—my parents want us to have dinner with them Saturday night,” Eli said as we made our way into my ink shop. “Formal wear. You and Seth.” He grinned down at me as we walked. “Every once in a while they like to dress up, like in the old days when, you know—that’s the way it was done. Old music and stuff. It’s kinda fun. You up for it?”