“Riley,” a voice said.
I jerked my head toward the voice but saw no one. Adrenaline raced through me; yet my heart pounded slowly. My eyes searched every inch of the ruin, but found nothing.
Then, the whispers began.
Riley, Riley, Riley, Riley …
Over and over, my name fell from unseen lips, harsh and intimate at the same time, and I gripped the brick sill of the window and scanned the room. Whispers were everywhere; yet there was no body, no physical voice to connect them. A gnawing sensation of panic crept upon me, and I hated the feeling. I wasn’t scared of anything or anybody, but I’d rather see what was coming at me than cower like some fool by a window. The sense of dread grew, and I knew someone was about to die a horrible death.
Then, suddenly, as if those particular thoughts beckoned, in the time it took me to involuntarily blink my eyes, he was there—Victorian Arcos.
“Riley,” he said, smiling, and I immediately knew the whispering voice I’d heard seconds before did not belong to him. “You came to me.”
“Not a willing participant,” I assured him. “You brought me here.”
“Are you sure?” he said, still smiling.
“Dead positive,” I answered. He moved slowly toward me, and I watched his every step as he seemingly glided over the bracken. His hair, dark and wavy, fell loose to his shoulders, and brown eyes regarded me without blinking. He wore dark jeans and a dark shirt, loosened at the collar. His skin was young and flawless, his lips perfectly shaped, the cut of his jaw that of a vibrant twenty-one-year-old man. A thick vein ran from the side of his neck and disappeared beneath his collar—another sign of youth, vitality. He smiled then, white teeth flashing against an olive complexion, and I knew having me inspect him so thoroughly thrilled him. “Don’t get your hopes up, sunshine,” I offered. “I just like to know my enemies inside and out.”
Victorian squatted beside the bench I sat on and traced my jaw with his forefinger. “I am not your enemy,” he said gently. “I am your destiny. And you will know me inside and out. I promise.”
I flinched. “Sorry,” I said, and shifted so my face wasn’t so easily accessible. “I’m not into younger dudes.” I glanced around, hoping to change the subject. “Where am I and how in hell did I get here?”
“Like it or not, my love, this is your fantasy. Your dream,” he said in a heady Romanian accent, and without my permission, moved closer. I was thrilled and appalled at the same time. “I am honored to be in it. And for the record, you are much, much younger than I.”
“You’re a killer,” I accused. “I saw what you did to that girl, in the parking lot, and the one at the bar,” I said, knowing he wasn’t the killer, but I had to know who was. I darkened my expression. “You make me sick. And don’t kid yourself. You force your way into my dream, just as you force my reactions. I damn sure don’t have them willingly.”
A look of puzzlement crossed his features. “What are you talking about?”
I smiled. “Don’t fuck with me, Victorian. I’m not an idiot. Like you repeatedly say, your venom is inside me forever. I can see, feel your moves, your kills, feeds, how you terrorize innocents.” I glared at him. “You’re a monster.”
His puzzlement grew; his brows furrowed into an expression I’d not witnessed before. It was almost believable.
“I never terrorize, my love,” he said. “And I’m anything but a monster. I adore women. I control my feeds, and my victims live.” He shrugged. “With tendencies, of course.” His eyes penetrated me, intense and sincere. “I have mercy, Riley Poe. I swear it. And of course I force my way into your dreams. You’re a hardheaded mortal.” He smiled. “I like that about you. And the chase gives me a hard-on like no other.”
I ignored his confession and perversion. “The Duprés paint a very different picture of you and your brother, and I tend to believe them. Not you. I mean, seriously. You did try to suck all my blood out at Bonaventure, or did you forget that?”
Victorian’s eyes darkened. “I could not forget if I tried,” he said gently, his voice even, controlled, seductive, and if I wasn’t mistaken, somewhat remorseful. “But you are mistaken. I would never have killed you. I would have turned you, yes, and then you’d be mine forever. I am selfish, but I am nothing like my brother.” His eyes scanned my body, regarding me closely, intensely, like a lover’s caress. “I know what you need, what you want and desire, Riley Poe.”
“Yeah, I desire for you to stop calling me Riley Poe,” I said sarcastically.
Victorian laughed softly, his eyes trained on mine. “I’ve watched you for far longer than you think, Riley. Since you were a young girl, I’ve known you, desired you.” The muscles in his jaws clenched; then, without warning, a hot, seductive sensation washed over me, uncontrolled, unwanted, insatiable. Victorian didn’t move an inch; yet I felt his hands on me, everywhere, his voice an erotic brush of air against my skin. I wanted to scream in protest. I struggled not to writhe with desire. He easily controlled me with his mind. “You want my hands on your body, tracing every curve and bit of softness you have,” he said, his words drugging me, and at the same time I felt the sensation of his hands trailing my arm, skimming my collarbone, pushing the satin strap aside, letting it fall over my shoulder. “You want my mouth on you, my lips following my fingertips,” he whispered. I felt his lips in the hollow of my neck, then across my collarbone, my jaw. I sat, totally frozen, powerless to move as Victorian awakened every sexual sensation he had no right to awaken. Invisible manacles held me hostage as I sat in the window seat, and although I struggled, I could not break free.
“You want me, Riley,” he said, and though he sat stone-still, my slip eased down my breasts as if invisible fingers grasped the silky material and pulled. “I am only obeying your silent command,” he whispered, and warm breath brushed the sensitive peaks as though teasing with his lips. The slide of silk against my thighs as the hem of the slip rose slowly made my insides rush with excitement. I hated it. I wanted it. I tried squeezing my thighs together, but they wouldn’t budge.
“Don’t fight it, Riley,” Victorian said smoothly. “It is me you desire, me you long for, me you want to feel deep inside you. Open … for me.” Invisible fingers dragged over my skin as my slip rose above my hips, and sensations of unwanted pleasure darted my body like needle pricks. I gasped as hot breath brushed between my thighs. “Open,” he demanded seductively. “You are so unique, so beautiful.”
“No,” I said, the sound barely above a whisper. I wanted to cry, shout, kick out; I wanted to hurt….
I wanted to come.
Warmth, wet and delicious, delved inside me, again and again; I gasped. I lost my breath. “No!” I sobbed, louder, just before the intensity of climax crashed over me.
My eyes fluttered open and stared into Eli’s angry, flashing eyes. Confusion webbed my conscious thought, pleasure made my body shudder, and I had to blink several times and look around before I remembered where I was and what was happening. Eli, his arms braced on either side of my hips, stared up from between my thighs. He moved over me, and with his hands he held my head still, forcing me to look at him. We were naked, in his bed, his body covering mine, my senses and nerve endings humming from the sensual caresses from his mouth and his tongue.
A split second before it hadn’t been Eli.
All at once, and so fast I didn’t see him move, Eli pushed off me. Looking at him as he stood beside the bed, his face angered, his body rigid, I had a crazy moment of raw adoration. I thought I’d never seen a more beautiful soul than Eligius Dupré.
I hated that he was angry with me. Shame flooded me; ire built, and at that moment I didn’t think I could hate anyone—rather, anything—more than I hated Victorian Arcos, and I was damn tired of his screwing with me. I pulled the sheet up to cover my naked body.
“I’m not angry with you,” he said quietly, his voice controlled, totally on edge. He knelt down and grasped my chin, then turned my face toward his, almost painfully. A dangerous fierceness took over his features; gently, he grasped the sheet from my fingers and released the sheet. “Never feel shame,” he said. “You are powerless, and he is powerful and obsessed with you; you cannot fight him. You will not win, and you will never rid your mind of him. He won’t let it happen.”
I stared in disbelief. “What?” I said incredulously. I pushed up on my elbows, and, unable to say anything, I gaped. No way was he right. “I don’t believe it.”
Holding my chin, Eli crept closer, covered my lips with his, and kissed me. It was more than a kiss; it was a brand, a memory of possessiveness I was surely meant to carry until death. The firmness of his lips, the drag of his mouth as he claimed mine, the slow tease with his tongue, made my body quiver, my nerve endings fire, my skin flush with heat. Suddenly, he pulled back and regarded me.
“You’re mine, Riley Poe,” he said, his voice dark, determined. “And while you may not be able to stop Victorian, I can.” His eyes searched mine. “I don’t share. Remember? He has’ to be stopped.”
Eli moved so fast, my vision saw nothing more than a hazy streak. I leapt from the bed, allowing the sheet to fall to the floor. “Eli, wait!” I cried, and I knew panic was close. “What are you going to do?”
At the door, Eli stopped, and I noticed he’d already changed. Dressed exactly as he had been the first day I saw him through Inksomnia’s storefront window, in worn jeans, a white tee and boots, with a shouldered backpack, he looked like any average badass guy on the street; mysterious, dangerous, not to be messed with. I knew he was all that and much, much more. I also knew his answer before it left his mouth.
With a look of longing that will haunt me for the rest of my days, I watched Eli’s face change from loving to one of pure determined hatred. “I’m going to fucking kill him.” He turned and moved through the double doors, then stopped. His back remained to me, his posture unyielding, still as death. “Wait for me,” he requested quietly.