Deeper Than Midnight (Chapter Twenty-five)
Hunter's face went even tighter as he absorbed what she was proposing. He grabbed her hand and pulled it away from him on a growled curse. "You want my help? Do you know what that would mean?"
"Yes," she admitted. "And I know it's asking too much of you. But I'm asking because you're the best hope I have right now. You are very likely the only hope I have of finding my child."
He stared, disbelieving or disgusted, she couldn't tell. Heat flared in his eyes, but she wouldn't back down. She couldn't. Not when she felt closer than ever to the answers she so desperately needed.
"Hunter, please," she whispered. "I want you to drink from me."
Staring into Corinne's earnest, pleading face, Hunter felt as if he'd taken the full force of a cannon blast to his gut.
He couldn't believe what she was proposing. More than that, he realized he was furious that all this time, she'd been withholding the existence of her son – a Hunter, like him, for fuck's sake. She stood there, asking him to help her find her child, but Hunter knew all that waited for her at the end of that journey was disappointment and heartbreak.
Heartbreak he likely would be forced to deliver personally, if the teenage boy proved to be the same kind of killer Hunter himself had been at the same age. There was little hope of anything different. Hunter knew too well the kind of discipline and training – the rigid conditioning – that would have already taken place in the child's short life. Mira's vision roared up on him in that moment. Now he understood. Now he realized with grave certainty whose life Corinne had begged him to spare in that prophesied future event. And he knew at once that the name she'd cried out in the throes of her nightmare a couple nights ago was not that of a lover but of the child she'd lost to Dragos's evil.
"Help me find my baby, Hunter," she said, the soft touch of her hand against his face an entreaty he feared he wouldn't have the strength to deny. "Help me find Nathan."
He thought about the tears she would shed if he allowed Mira's vision to come true. He considered the hatred she would surely harbor for him if she actually found her son, only to have him torn away from her again – permanently – if Hunter was forced to deal that predicted fatal blow. He could not be the one to hasten that pain for her.
And there remained the fact that if he drank her blood, he would be activating a bond to her that nothing, short of death, could break. Not even her hatred would keep him away from her if he allowed himself to taste her Breedmate blood.
"Corinne," he said gently, drawing her hand away and holding it in his own. "I cannot do what you ask. Even if my ability to read blood memories extends beyond my own kind, what you're asking would have far-reaching consequences."
"I know what it means," she insisted. "Won't you even try?"
"It doesn't work on mortal humans," he pointed out, hoping to dissuade her. "I've fed from them all my life, with no psychic effect whatsoever. There is a good chance my talent is confined to Breed memories alone. If I drink from you now, where will that leave us? You are a Breedmate. Our blood bond would be inextricable. It would be forever."
Her expression muted, eyelashes shuttering her gaze. "You must think me the worst kind of low, to press you into giving me something you have every right to save for a female who will be worthy of you, more suitable as your mate."
"God, no," he murmured, hating that she'd misunderstood. "That's not it at all. Any male would be privileged to have you. Don't you realize that? I am the one who's unworthy." He lifted her chin, imploring her to see that he meant every word. "If I drink your blood and my talent works as you hope it will, I don't want to be the one to disappoint you."
"How could you?" she asked, her brow knit in confusion.
"If my talent works and we find your son, I don't want you to despise me if it turns out the boy is beyond our help."
She gave a small shake of her head. "Despise you? Do you think I could possibly hold you responsible for what's happened to Nathan? I wouldn't, Hunter. Not ever …"
"Not even if I was forced to raise my hand against him in combat?"
Her expression turned fearful now, wary. "You wouldn't do that."
"If it comes down to a matter of protecting you, I would have no choice," he answered grimly. "If I agreed to help you find him, Corinne, I can make no promises that the outcome will be what you hope for."
She considered it for a long moment, time during which Hunter grappled with whether or not to divulge the vision that had been haunting him nearly from the moment he'd first laid eyes on beautiful Corinne Bishop. Some foolish part of him hoped for an out – that his talent would fail to read her blood memories or that somehow, in defiance of Mira's unerring gift of precognition, he could thwart the eventuality of Corinne's tears and futile pleas for his mercy. In the time it took for him to run through the mental torture, Corinne drew a deep breath and met his gaze once more. There was no hesitation in her eyes, only bold, unwavering resolve.
"Do this, Hunter. If you care even a little bit for me, then please, do this. I accept any risk, and I will trust you to do what you must."
He felt sick with dread at the bravery in her words. The knowledge of what likely lay ahead of them made his stomach twist with bitter bile.
But then Corinne moved closer to him. She gathered her long dark hair and swept it aside, baring her neck to him. She tilted her head, an offering he knew he would be too weak to deny.
"Please," she whispered. "Please … do this for me."
His hot gaze rooted on the small pulse that ticked beneath her delicate skin. Saliva surged into his mouth. His fangs ripped out of his gums, a fierce reminder of just how long it had been since he'd fed. Henry Vachon's rank lifeblood had been more poison than nourishment, a foulness he longed to blot out with the taste of something sweet and intoxicating, like the nectar that flowed through Corinne's tempting veins.
"Please," she murmured again, an enticement he could not resist.
Hunter put his mouth onto her neck and carefully bit down, penetrating the soft flesh with the razor-sharp points of his fangs. She gasped at the invasion, her body tensing through the momentary pain he'd inflicted. And then she was melting against him, her muscles going lax and pliant as he drew the first sip of her blood into his mouth.
Ah, God … she was so much more than he could ever have imagined.
Her warm blood coursed over his tongue like a balm. He felt it absorbing into his body, into his cells. Into every particle of his being.
She was sweet and warm against his tongue, her blood scent filling his nostrils with the delicate fragrance of dark bergamot and tender violets. He breathed her in, drenching his senses with the delicious taste of her, a taste that would be stamped into every fiber of his being for as long as he was alive to draw breath.
Although this was an act of compassion, of necessity, not a true blood-bonding between himself and his mate, everything Breed in him – everything hot-blooded and male – responded to the warm, sweet taste of Corinne as though she belonged to him in every way. Arousal roared up on him swiftly, a desire that pounded through his veins and into his hardening cock like wildfire. He clutched her close as he drank still more. He felt a heat ignite deep within him and knew instinctively that the bond was taking shape regardless of intention, lashing her to him inexorably. She was his now, and the logic that had shaped him all his empty life seemed to abandon him as he tried to tell himself that allowing this visceral link – for any reason – had been a mistake.
All he knew was the heat of her blood as it filled him, the pleasure of holding her in his arms … the need that made him groan with desire as he lifted her and carried her with him to the bed.
He laid her down, his mouth still fixed to the pulse that beat like a tiny drum against his tongue. He wanted to make love to her all over again, wanted to strip her naked and bury himself as deep as possible within the comfort of her body.
His senses were flooded with need, his body on fire, electric and rigid with the force of his passion for her.
At first, he didn't notice the sudden flickers of darkness that jolted his mind. He tried to push them away, lost to the pleasure of everything that was Corinne. But the abrupt images kept coming, kept battering at the back of his consciousness.
Flashes of a dark prison cell.
Minions dressed in white lab uniforms, coming in to wheel Corinne away. The screams of a female in agony … followed by the blustering wail of a newborn infant. Hunter drew back from Corinne's neck, stunned, stricken.
"What is it?" she asked him, her eyes wide, fearful. "Are you okay?"
"Fuck," he gasped, amazed that his talent was responding, yet horrified for what she'd been through. More images slammed into his brain, sounds of torture and madness. The hopelessness of what had surrounded her all those years. "Corinne … my God. What they did to you, and for so long. I'm seeing it all … everything you were forced to endure."
She reached up and cupped her hand around his nape. Pain glittered in her eyes, though not as fiercely as the determination written on her lovely face. "Don't stop. Not until we find him."
He couldn't deny her, even if he'd wanted to. If Corinne had survived the awfulness in reality, then he could sift through it psychically and retrieve whatever she thought might lead them closer to her child.
Hunter drank some more, letting the terrible anguish and torture wash over him like an oily tide. He waited for something irrefutable, some solid clue that would anchor him, provide some bearings in the wasteland of agony that had been Corinne's existence in Dragos's laboratory prison.
But there was no line to grab hold of. Nothing but a brackish riptide that Corinne had somehow managed to weather on her own.
Because of the love of her child, she'd said. All because of him.
Because of the hope she held that she would reunite with her son one day. Nathan had become her lifeline.
How would she survive if the time came – as Mira's vision had predicted – when Hunter would deny Corinne's pleas for mercy and deliver the blow that would finally take her hope away from her forever?
It was an eventuality that ate at him like poison, all the worse when he was feeding at Corinne's open vein, bonding himself to her inextricably, despite the knowledge that he was destined to break her heart.
The thought shamed him. With a self-loathing growl, he ceased drinking and gently lapped at the punctures he'd made in her throat, knowing he should seal them and release her. This hadn't been about pleasure or bonding; she'd come to him for help and he'd gleaned all he could from her memories. There was no need to continue, no matter how pleasurable it felt to be holding this female.
The declaration came from somewhere deep inside him, somewhere out of his control. He reasoned that it was only the bond speaking. His body, his senses, everything Breed within him, was attuned to Corinne now that her blood had fed him. It was merely a biological response, his primal nature staking a claim he had no right to hold.
And yet there was another part of him that recognized his feelings for Corinne were intensifying, and had been even before he'd taken the first drop from her vein. He cared for her. He wanted her to be safe, to be happy. He wanted her suffering to finally be at an end. All things he could not promise her, so long as Mira's vision lurked like a specter in the back of his mind.
He drew away from Corinne's delicate throat and started to sweep his tongue across the punctures his fangs had left in her skin. Before he could seal the tiny wounds closed, Corinne moaned a soft protest. Her body arched into him more fevered now, hot and arousing, her slender limbs clinging to him and preventing his retreat.
He'd heard the other warriors talk about the blood bond before, but nothing had prepared him for the swamping rush of sensation – of erotic awareness – that engulfed him now. Through his talent, Corinne's blood had given him brutal glimpses of her memories, but it was a deeper connection that spoke to him now. He felt her desire. He felt her aching need, her arousal amplified by the bite that had awakened this unbreakable bond.
He pressed his mouth to her throat once more, taking another small taste of her sweetly exotic blood. He could feel it racing through his body, nourishing him, enlivening him. Her pulse beat in his own ears and in his veins as well, a shared tempo that was as strong as a war drum, driving him on.
"Ah, God … Corinne," he murmured against her velvety skin. Despite that the decent thing to do, the honorable thing, would be to set her away from him, he found it impossible to let her go. She writhed against him, clutching him closer. Her breath raced out of her in rapid pants as he drew slowly at her vein.
"Make love to me, Hunter," she whispered, and all of his will deserted him in an instant. She didn't care how desperate she sounded – couldn't care. Not when her senses were filled with the erotic pleasure of Hunter feeding at her neck.
Corinne closed her eyes and arched against him as the pressure of his mouth at her throat – the tender graze of his fangs – made the slow melt of her body begin to boil with heightened need.
This wasn't supposed to be about pleasure. She had asked Hunter to drink from her as a necessity, very likely the only means she had of finding clues about her son. She had gone into this with the expectation that it would be unpleasant, perhaps even painful, if her past experience had taught her anything.
She should have known it would be different with Hunter. As gentle as he had been when he'd made love to her the night before, he was equally tender with her now. His hands held her carefully. His immense body, so powerful – lethal when needed – was wrapped around her protectively, his arms a comforting shelter that made her feel both safe and cherished. She was no virgin, not her body or her blood, both having been stolen from her in Dragos's lab, but with Hunter she felt new. She felt clean.
Despite that he had agreed to drink from her, willingly bonding himself when there was no promise between them, for one reckless, utterly selfish moment, Corinne allowed herself to pretend it was real. Heaven help her, but it was easy to forget it wasn't, when he made her feel so incredibly good.
"Make love to me, Hunter," she whispered again, desperate to feel him inside her. He gave a low, strangled moan as he swept his tongue across the twin punctures in her neck and sealed them closed. He undressed her in mere moments, his strong hands caressing her body as she floated on the intoxicating wave of pleasure induced by his bite. When she was naked, he stood at the edge of the bed and gazed down at her, his amberhot eyes glowing both from his feeding and from desire. The fangs that had penetrated her throat a moment ago gleamed as white as pearls, sharp points filling his mouth. His thick, jutting sex stood fully erect, as glorious as the rest of him. He looked predatory and powerful, and she had never seen anything as magnificent as this beautiful Breed male.
Corinne lay back and drank in the sight of him, marveling that he looked even more formidable unclothed than he did when fully dressed and armed for combat. Every inch of him was flawless muscle and smooth golden skin. His dermaglyphs tracked from nape to ankle, an intricate webwork of elaborate twists and swirls, arcs, and tapers. The Gen One skin markings pulsed like living tattoos, flooded with the rich, variegating hues of his desire. He prowled back onto the bed, gliding his hands up the length of her legs and spreading her thighs open to receive him as he covered her body with his own. She was wet and ready for him, eager to feel him filling her. He did not disappoint. The blunt head of his penis found her core and drove home in one long, breath-stealing thrust.
"Oh," she sighed, her blood quickening as her body welcomed his sensual invasion. She gasped his name as he moved within her, not the sweet, restrained pairing of the night before but an impassioned, animal mating that had her speeding toward a swift climax. Hunter must have known the urgency of her need. He seemed to share it. With his amberbright eyes fixed on hers, he held himself above her and surged in and out with a passion that left her panting and boneless beneath him. Higher and higher he pushed her senses, each masterful stroke sending her reeling. She watched him through the haze of her oncoming climax, their gazes locked as he drove on, deep and hard and strong.