Shades of Midnight (Chapter Twenty-one)

He couldn't hold back another second longer.

His release shot out of him in a scalding rush as Alex's blunt little teeth grazed his throat in a teasing, testing bite that almost–not quite–broke the surface of his skin. She couldn't know how badly he wanted it. How staggering the need he had for her to draw his blood into her mouth, to drink from him. How intensely he wanted to claim Alex for his own and bind her to him forever.

"Fuck," he gasped as her satiny walls milked his pumping cock and her mouth wreaked holy havoc on his senses. "Alex … ah, Christ!"

He came harder than ever before, lost to his desire for her. Lost to the deafening drum of his pulse that demanded she was already his, blood-bonded or not.

His woman.

The only female he would ever want again.

His forever mate.

Kade raised up onto his knees to look at her, his sex still buried inside her heat, still hard for her and hungry for more. His neck burned from the playful nip of her mouth. He could still taste the sweetness of her blood on his tongue from when he'd so stupidly let his fangs graze her lip as he'd kissed her. That small taste had damned him, and maybe her, as well.

Desire and bloodthirst swamped him, sharpening his vision and making his fangs throb with the urge to penetrate her tender flesh. He clutched her hips and rocked against her, watching as she arched beneath him, following him toward the peak of another shattering release.

She cried his name, her spine bowing upward, blood flushing her pale skin with a pink glow. Kade watched her in tortured admiration, never having seen anything as beautiful as Alex in the throes of erotic bliss.

He wanted to give her more, the kind of pleasure and release–the passion, and, yes, the love–that only a blood-bonded male could give his mate.

God, how he wanted.

"Alexandra," he rasped, the only thing he could manage when hunger and desire for her swamped him, stripping him of all thought except the want of this female. He wanted to warn her that he was dangerous like this, but all that left his mouth was a sound somewhere between a curse and a moan. She should have pushed him away, but instead she did the exact opposite. Her hands came up to reach for him, bringing him back down atop her. Breath rushing through her lips in short gasps, she pulled his face to hers and kissed him, a deep, wet, welcoming joining of their mouths. Kade tried to fight the need–the hunger–but Alex was quickly undoing every bit of his control. Dimly he realized that he hadn't fed since leaving Boston a few days ago, and as much as he wanted to blame his thirst on basic survival, he knew to his marrow that it was the taste of Alex he wanted. Only her.

He was unhinged now, treading the edge of a very deep crevasse and about to drag her down into it along with him. He knew this. He knew damned well that he should make sure Alex knew it, too. But then she deepened their kiss, sucking his lower lip between her teeth with a hunger he would not mistake, even at his most sober moment. And he was anything but sober now, when his body was smoldering, his blood racing through his veins like liquid fire.

Kade broke away from her mouth on a growl. He traced his lips and tongue along the delicate line of her jaw, then down to the tender spot beneath her ear, knowing it would doom him but too far gone to stop now. The feel of her pulse ticking against his mouth dug spurs into the soft belly of his need, turning raw ache into fierce agony.

"Ah, God … Alex," he whispered harshly, then took the tender flesh of her throat between his teeth and fangs and slowly pressed down into her vein.

She drew in a sharp gasp as he penetrated her skin, a sudden flinch stiffening her body and halting her breathing. Kade paused as though slapped, horrified at what he'd just done and fearing he would not have the strength to pull away now, even if she hated him.

But then Alex's hands relaxed on his shoulders, began to stroke him. She exhaled a tremulous, pleasured sigh and he responded with a rough, grateful moan as he drew the first sweet taste of her into his mouth.

And, oh, she was sweet.

Alex's blood swept over his tongue like silk, the unique honey-and-almond scent of her mingling with the musky heat of her arousal. Kade drank her in, stunned by the roar of heat and pleasure that flowed into him with each draw he took from her vein. Her blood quenched him, empowered him. Inflamed him all over again, more intensely than before.

She was his. And although it would take a mutual exchange of blood to bond them together as mates, his link to her now was unbreakable. It was a visceral bond, one that could be broken only by death. And he had just forced it on her.

The thought shamed him, but it was difficult to feel remorse when Alex was clutching at him with greedy hands, panting and writhing against him as another orgasm rocked her. She moaned hotly under the hypnotic spell of his bite, her hips rising up to take him deeper inside her as he drew the honeyed sweetness of her blood into his mouth.

If she'd been merely Homo sapiens, she would have felt comfort, even pleasure, as he fed from her. But because she was a Breedmate, and because of the passion that was still coursing through both of them now, Alex's response was exponentially more intense. Her ecstasy was his now, a part of him through her blood he'd taken inside him. Now every intense feeling she experienced would be his, as well, from joy to pain.

As he drank more of her, he felt her desire rising, ratcheting to a fevered yearning she struggled to bear. His thirst had not ebbed, but it was her need that moved him now. With a careful sweep of his tongue over the twin punctures, he sealed the bite closed.

"Come on," he murmured, gathering her up into his arms. "I'm taking you to bed now." Drowsy and boneless, she rested lightly against his bare chest as he carried her down the hallway and into her bedroom. He placed her on the quilted comforter, kissing her as he settled in next to her on the bed. He caressed every silken inch of her, every curve and muscle imprinting itself on his touch.

"Look at me, Alexandra," he said when she closed her eyes in pleasure. His voice was rough and dark, almost unrecognizable to his own ears. "I need to know that you see me now, as I am. This is what I am."

She lifted her lids and gazed up at him. He waited to see her revulsion, for he would never have looked more feral–more inhuman–than he did at that moment. His glyphs pulsed with shifting colors, hues of desire and passion melding with those of his lingering hunger and the torment he felt for everything that had happened here with Alex tonight. Not the least of which being the blood bond he'd initiated and could had happened here with Alex tonight. Not the least of which being the blood bond he'd initiated and could not sever, even if she despised him for it.

He watched her study him, afraid to speak. Fearful that she would hate him now, or look away, repulsed by what he had become. "This is me, Alex," he said quietly. "This is all of me." Her light brown eyes drank him in, unfaltering. She stroked the mutating glyphs on his chest, following the pattern with a light, learning touch. She reached down farther, smoothing her palm over his thigh, then back to the erect length of his cock. He exhaled a wordless growl of pleasure as her fingers lovingly caressed him.

Through her blood, the precious part of her that swam inside him, feeding his cells, he read the depth of her desire for him. There was no fear or uncertainty in her as she gazed at him. There was only a soft but fevered demand as she reached up to grip the nape of his neck and guide him back down to her mouth.

"Make love to me again," she whispered against his lips. It was a command that Kade was more than willing to oblige. He gently rolled over her as she parted her legs to welcome him once more. He entered her slowly and tenderly as he brought her into his arms. Their kiss was long, passionate, fevered as she traced her tongue over his fangs and his sex erupted deep inside her. Kade shouted with his release and crushed her to him.

God help him, he knew now what the other mated warriors had said about the pleasure–the humbling rapture–of the blood bond. With Alex, with this woman who had awakened feelings in him he'd never wanted to risk before, now Kade knew what forever could be. He craved it, with a ferocity that stunned him.

In that moment, with Alex wrapped around him so warm and content and open to him, he wanted to hold the feeling close … even if the wildness within him whispered insidiously that it couldn't last. The fire that had been slowly dying on the grate a few hours ago had long since gone cold. Jenna Tucker-Darrow lay tightly curled on her side on the floor of the cabin's main room, shivering as she roused from the depths of a dreamless, unnaturally heavy sleep. Her limbs were listless, uncooperative, her neck too weak and tender to let her lift her head.

With some effort, she managed to crack her eyelids open and peer into the darkness of her cabin. Dread crawled up her spine on talons made of ice.

The intruder was still there.

He sat on the floor across the room from her, his head tipped down. He was a massive, menacing presence, even at rest.

He wasn't human.

She still struggled with that awareness, wondered if what she was seeing could be blamed on the single-malt Scotch she'd been drowning herself in–Mitch's favorite, and the crutch she leaned on every year around this time to get her through the awful anniversary of his and Libby's deaths. But the immense intruder who broke into her home and was now holding her prisoner there wasn't some type of alcoholic hallucination. He was flesh and bone, though she'd never seen flesh like his before. He'd shown up unclothed despite the subzero temperatures outside, and his skin from head to toe was hairless, covered in a dense tangle of red and black markings that were too extensive to be the work of a tattoo artist. And whatever he was, he was stronger than any man she'd ever come across in her time in law enforcement, even though he was unarmed, and nursing some grievous injuries. Jenna had seen her share of gunshot wounds, enough to know that the shredded chunk of flesh and muscle blown out of his thigh and the smaller one in the side of his abdomen must have been the result of shotgun blasts. His other injuries, the blisters and seeping lesions that covered most of his skin, were less discernible, particularly in the dark. They looked like radiation burns, or a seriously intense sunburn–the kind you could get only if you did your UV baking under a full-body magnifying glass. Jenna couldn't even begin to guess where he'd come from, or what he wanted with her. She'd thought he meant to kill her when he forced his way inside her house. Truthfully, she wouldn't have cared if he had. She'd been halfway there on her own, anyway. She was tired of living without the people she cared about most. Fed up with feeling so damned useless and alone.

But the intruder–the creature, for that's what he was–did not break in with the intention of killing her. At least, not right away, from what she could tell.

He had done something equally heinous, however.

He'd bitten her in the throat, and to her shock and disbelief, he'd fed on her blood like a monster. Like a vampire.

Impossible, she knew. Her logic wanted to reject the idea, just as it wanted to reject what her eyes were still witnessing now when she looked across the room at the impossible idea in the flesh. Jenna shuddered at the recollection of his huge fangs descending on her, tearing into the side of her neck. Thankfully, she couldn't remember much beyond that. She might have fainted, but she suspected he had done something to render her unconscious. Whether she was weakened from blood loss or whatever he'd done to knock her out, she couldn't be sure.

She tried again to move from her tight ball on the floor but succeeded only in getting his attention. His head came up, the fiery twin laser beams of his eyes pinning her from across the room. Jenna stared right back, refusing to cower to him, no matter what the hell he was. She had nothing to lose, after all. He watched her for a long time. Maybe he was waiting for her to back down, or try to hoist herself up and launch at him in a fit of futile rage.

Belatedly, she noticed that he held something rectangular and shiny in his huge hands. A picture frame. She knew the one it was, didn't have to look to the fireplace mantel above the place where she lay to realize he was holding a photograph of her with Mitch and Libby. The last one she had of them together, taken just days before they were killed.

Her breath came a little faster as a feeling of weary outrage spiked in her. He had no right to touch anything of hers, least of all something as precious as that final image of her family. Across the room, the hairless head cocked at an inquisitive angle. He rose, began a slow, painful-looking walk toward her. Idly, she noticed that his gunshot wounds had stopped bleeding. The flesh didn't seem quite as ragged as it had before, almost as if it were healing at an accelerated–almost visibly accelerated–rate.

He paused in front of her and slowly eased himself down onto his haunches. Although she was anxious, fearful for what he meant to do to her now, Jenna worked hard not to show it. He held the picture frame out to her.

Jenna stared, unsure what to do.

He remained there for the longest time, watching her, his blistered hand holding the photograph of her smiling with her husband and child out to her like some kind of offering. When she didn't move or speak, finally, he set it down on the floor next to her. The glass was cracked, the edges of the silver frame marred with smudges of his blood.

Jenna looked at the happy faces behind the ruined glass and could not hold back her choked cry. Pain engulfed her, and she dropped her forehead onto the floor and sobbed quietly. Her captor limped back to the other side of the room and watched her weep, before turning to look out the unshuttered window, up at the starlit sky overhead.