Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang (Page 5)
“What happened to him?” I cradled Kristoff's head against my chest protectively as I hastily searched his upper torso for signs of injury.
Kristoff made a plaintive noise. It resonated within me, bringing to the surface all sorts of emotions that I had no idea lurked beneath. I wanted to protect him, shake him, demand he speak to me, give him comfort, and tear off all his clothes and have my wanton way with him.
It was an effort, but I managed to tamp down the wave of emotions. “Dear God, what happened to you?”
Eyes that I knew could shine a brilliant teal were now dulled with pain. Waves of anguish rolled off him, suffering etched in every line of his now horribly gaunt face.
“Pia, don't,” he groaned, trying to push back out of my embrace. “I can't fight it if you touch me.”
“Fight what? Good Lord, Kristoff, you look like death warmed over. Haven't you been eating at all?”
He closed his eyes, his face a mask of pain as he again struggled to get away from me. I wrapped my arms tighter around him.
“That obviously isn't doing you much good. Why didn't you tell me you needed some blood?” I asked.
He shook his head and wouldn't answer.
“Why did you bring him here?” Mattias demanded of Rowan. He gestured toward where I sat. “That one seduced my wife!”
“Oh, be quiet, Mattias,” I said, brushing the hair back from Kristoff's brow.
“I gave you the benefit of the doubt once,” Christian said, strolling up behind me. “I will not be so foolish as to do so again. You may cease playacting.”
“Playacting?” I asked, suddenly furious. Couldn't they see that something was horribly wrong with Kristoff? He looked terrible, his flesh grey and clammy, his body emaciated, racked with waves of pain so strong even I could feel them. “What the hell is going on here? Why aren't you doing anything to help him?”
“They deserve no help,” Mattias muttered. “They are evil. You should have destroyed them. You should have wiped them from the earth, as you were supposed to do.”
“Knock it off,” I snapped at Mattias.
His expression grew darker, but at a menacing gesture from Andreas, he slumped back in his chair.
“I do not like to be deceived, Pia. I would have thought you'd recognize that fact.” Christian stopped next to me, his eyes distrustful.
Julian, standing in the open doorway, shook his head. “I told you the council would not welcome lies.”
“What lies?” I yelled, wanting to scream at them.
Julian said nothing more, just closed the door.
I twisted my head around to glare up at Kristoff's brother. “You're his brother! Why aren't you doing anything to help him?”
“His plan has been discovered,” Andreas said in cold tones that sent a little shiver down my back. “His plan… and yours.”
Mattias burst into laughter. I wanted nothing so much as to smack him right at that moment, but reminded myself that Kristoff needed my attention more.
“You're all insane,” I said, looking around for help. Kristoff shuddered in my arms, his knees pulling up as he fought an almost overwhelming wave of purest agony.
“Please.” He gasped. “I can't stand your being here much longer.”
“Well, life is full of trials,” I snapped at him, too overwhelmed with anger and pain at his insult to temper my words. “I'm sorry to burden you with my presence, but no one here is making any sense!”
“Christian,” Allie said, limping slowly over to us.
“Stay out of this,” her husband said without taking his eyes from us.
“It is not too late, wife,” Mattias called out. “There are two of us here-we could perform the ceremony for you to end that pathetic one's life.”
“So help me God, if you don't shut up, I'm going to call down the light and smite you with it!” I bellowed at him.
My threat echoed around the suddenly quiet room.
Mattias's eyes grew round. “You are Zorya. I am sacristan. You cannot harm me.”
“You want to bet?” I growled, my attention returning to Kristoff as another wave hit him.
“Leave me,” he begged, his body convulsing so tightly I wondered how his muscles could stand the strain.
“I'll be happy to, just as soon as I figure out what's going on. Much as you despise my presence, I'm not leaving you until I know why you're in so much pain.”
“Despise you?” His eyes opened up for a moment, burning me with a feverish light.
“I think you're all wrong,” Allie said, taking her husband's hand. “Just look at them. This isn't right, Christian.”
“She is an actress, nothing more,” Sebastian said.
Another wave of red pain roared over Kristoff, catching me in its wake. I gasped for breath as he fought it, my own body suddenly racked with an intense, desperate need.
“Help them,” Allie said, tugging on Christian's hand. “Can't you see this is real?”
“It is of their own doing,” Andreas said slowly. His face was impassive. I hated him at that moment, hated them all for standing around watching Kristoff die. For that was what I was sure was happening-no one could endure such agony, such soul-searing torment, and survive it.
“Christian!” Allie said louder, and to my surprise and relief Christian nodded.
“Feed him,” he ordered.
“What?” I asked as the pain ebbed away. My mind felt bruised, every atom of my body aching and screaming with horror.
“No! I refuse to allow you to feed that monster,” Mattias yelled.
“Take him out,” Christian ordered, waving a hand toward Mattias.
“You must not let them enthrall you,” Mattias yelled over his shoulder as Rowan and Andreas bundled him out of the room. “You must listen to me and allow me to guide you!”
“Feed…” The word sank into my head as I looked down at Kristoff, and I realized the truth, realized why he was in this condition. He hadn't eaten anything , not even the animal blood he mentioned, since we'd been parted.
I cradled his head to my chest, awkwardly trying to press some part of my anatomy to his mouth, but he tightened his lips and turned his face away from me.
“Please, Kristoff,” I said softly, uncomfortable at being pressed into such an intimate act in front of others. “I really don't want you to die.”
“It's better than the alternative,” he said, his voice weak and hoarse.
Pain lanced me, but I ignored it. “Do you hate me so much that you'd rather die than drink my blood?” I whispered into his ear.
His eyes opened again, confusion in their depths. “I don't hate you. It is for you that I am willing to give up my life.”
“Me? I just told you I don't want you to die.”
“Come on, boys. Let's give them a little privacy.” I glanced up as Allie dragged her vampire out the door, Sebastian reluctantly following them. “You can stop looking so suspicious, Sebastian-it's clear that Kristoff isn't in any sort of condition to escape, even if he wanted to.”
“I don't think we should leave them alone,” he said stubbornly.
Allie paused in the doorway. “Oh, really? Does Belle like it when others watch you feed?”
Sebastian looked thoughtful and, without another word, closed the door, leaving me alone with my dying vampire.
I looked down at him, meeting his gaze. “I have no idea why you are so hell-bent on martyring yourself, but I assure you it's not necessary. They're all gone, so you can go ahead and eat.”
A little moan slipped out of his lips as I bent over him, allowing him access to my neck.
“I'm sorry to be so clich¨¦d, but this is easiest,” I told him as I tipped my head slightly to the side.
He groaned, his breath hot on my neck, the stubble from his few days' growth of beard sending little tingles of electricity across my skin.
“For God's sake, stop fighting it and just-“
Pain pierced my neck, hot and fast and over so quickly I hardly remembered it in the rush of sensation that followed. I held Kristoff tight as his body welcomed the life-giving blood from mine, the pleasurable feel of it as it flowed into him so great that I shared it as well. I held him, allowing him to drink from me, satiating the overwhelming need that had driven him so close to death, holding his head for what seemed to be hours, days, even, but I knew that in reality only a few minutes had passed.
” Dio ,” he swore at last, his tongue as hot as a flame as it caressed the wound on my neck.
I pulled back enough to look at him. I remembered well from past experiences that the act of feeding was a very sensual one, making us both prone to thoughts of a sexual nature. I assumed that with Kristoff so close to death, neither one of us would find this time anything but a purely lifesaving act, but as I looked down into his face, I was suddenly overwhelmed with desire.
He must have shared my thought, for a ghost of a smile flickered across his lips. “I'm afraid I would disappoint you if we tried. At least, not until my body has had time to process the blood.”
I eased him off my lap, discomfited that he could read my interest so clearly. Instead I examined him, noting with relief that the grey tinge to his skin was fading, and the lines on his face, while still stark and harsh, were softened a bit. “You look a smidgen better.”
He eased himself to a sitting position against the wall, saying, “Thanks to you.”
He waited a moment, then shook his head. “If you only knew what you have done.”
“Saved your life, you mean? I'm a woman, Kristoff. I tend to be a nurturer. As little as you like me, you certainly can't expect that I'd be so heartless as to let you die when it was within my power to help you.”
He frowned, not an uncommon expression for him. “Why do you keep saying that? I thought we had that out months ago.”
“Had what out?” I got to my feet, rearranging my dress. My entire body hummed as if it were filled with electricity, the sensation itching along my skin in an oddly pleasant fashion.
“You insist on pretending that I dislike you. I've told you before that that's not true.”
“I can't tell you how relieved I am to hear that you don't actively loathe me,” I said lightly, not wanting to get into a discussion of our respective emotions. “But I think we both know that you're not exactly yipping for joy that I'm your Beloved.”
“No more than you are,” he said, his eyes narrowing on me. “You thought you were Alec's Beloved.”
An unspoken accusation hung heavily on the air. I turned away, wandering over to the window, pulling aside a gauzy curtain to look out at Vienna. The sun was setting, lights starting to come on up and down the street as people, normal people, hurried to their homes and loved ones. For a moment a yearning so strong it hurt swept through me. I wanted to be one of those people. I wanted the loving husband, and happy children, and a home that radiated happiness and contentment.
But I wasn't normal. With a sigh I let the curtain drop. I wasn't a normal person anymore, and the one man I might be able to love could never give me his heart. “So here we are, bound together for all eternity, you mourning your dead girlfriend, and me having lost Alec because I'm tied to you, not him. Sometimes you have to admit that life really is the pits, but I guess there's nothing we can do about that. I take it you'll be popping in on me for a quick bite to eat whenever you're tired of dieting or drinking animal blood?”
Kristoff was silent for a moment before he rose somewhat unsteadily to his feet. I took a step forward, ready to help him if he needed it, but he kept a firm grip on the back of the chair. The blood was evidently doing its job, because he looked stronger with each passing minute. “You truly do not know what has happened, do you? You fed me, Pia.”
“So? You've fed off me before.”
His face was carefully devoid of emotion, but he wasn't able to stop it from burning brightly in his eyes. “I told you before that a Dark One can only feed from his Beloved.”
“Which is obviously not exactly true, since you've existed without me,” I pointed out.
His lips thinned. “That I was able to do so was simply because you had not fed me after the Joining was complete. Now that you have, my body won't tolerate any blood but yours. My existence now depends on you. There will be no popping in on you. From this time forward, we cannot be separated for more than a few days without the direst of repercussions for me.”
I stared at him as comprehension dawned in my slow-witted mind, my heart sinking with the knowledge of what I'd just set into motion. “Hell,” I said, speaking more literally than figuratively. My life was hell-as hard as it had been to not have contact with Kristoff for the last two months, at least I had managed to have some sort of a semblance of a life. Oh, he haunted my dreams, and I was prone to a strange depression when I wasn't thinking of him, but all that, I was confident, would fade with time. But now… Dear God, how was I to cope with having him in my life every day?
I glanced at him. His gaze was on his hands; he was looking, I thought, at the ring on the middle finger of his left hand. I'd seen it before, but thought nothing of it-it was just a simple silver band, a strange, sinuous design etched on the face of the ring, but with a sudden flash of horror I realized the significance of it-it was a ring marking his commitment to his deceased girlfriend. Not a wedding ring per se, but something so similar as to make little difference.
My shoulders slumped as pain stabbed through my heart, but before I could apologize to him, the door opened and Andreas entered, followed almost immediately by Rowan, Christian, and Sebastian.
“Don't even think of trying to keep me out,” Allie said, hurrying in through the door with a glare at Sebastian. “And don't tell me you weren't, because I heard you telling Christian he ought to have better control over me. If there's one thing I hate, it's someone assuming I'm a frail little Beloved who doesn't have a mind of her own.”
Sebastian looked somewhat abashed as he said, “I thought you would be tending to your child.”
“Oh, please,” Allie said with a snort, taking the hand Christian held out to her. “Josef is happily scarfing down the blood squeezed from a steak, and that always makes me a bit queasy to watch. Besides, someone has to keep an eye out for Pia and Kristoff, since you guys are so determined to be blind to the truth and condemn them without the slightest concern whether or not they're guilty.”
Sebastian shot Christian an irritated look. “Are you going to tolerate this? Ysabelle would never speak with such brashness to me.”
“Get over yourself, Vlad,” Allie said with a roll of her eyes.
Christian, to my surprise, defended his wife. “Allegra has always been free to speak her mind, and will continue to do so. I will not have you attempting to control her.”
Sebastian looked surprised for a moment at the undertone of threat in Christian's voice before making a cold little bow in his direction. “I would not dream of correcting your Beloved. I simply objected to accusations she felt comfortable flinging at us.”
“That sounds like a guilty conscience talking,” Allie said.
“This council has always been interested in seeing justice done,” Christian said calmly, holding out a chair for his wife. “It will do us no harm to examine our behavior to ensure that it continues to do so.”
Sebastian shot him a thin-lipped look.
“You wouldn't know it, but these two are actually very old friends,” Allie told me. “As close as brothers, to be honest.” Her gaze slid over to where Andreas stood in stony silence, watching Kristoff with suspicious eyes. “Closer, even,” she amended.
Christian, who had been eyeing Kristoff, merely said, “You look better. I take it there was no trouble with the feeding?”
“Trouble as in I might have refused to save his life?” I shook my head, confused as to why everyone suddenly thought I had turned into a cold, heartless bitch. “I'm his Beloved. I can't do that, can I?”
“No, of course you can't,” Allie answered quickly, elbowing Christian. “It would be impossible. No Beloved in the world would ever torment her man that way. Right, my little love squash?”
Christian turned an expression of horror on her. She giggled.
“Love squash?” Sebastian asked, looking equally appalled. “First Vlad, and now love squash? Christian!”
“It's better than Fang Boy,” Christian murmured, glaring at Allie as she stood on tiptoe to kiss the end of his nose.
“When I have a Beloved, she will speak to me in the proper manner, and will at all times be respectful and obedient,” Rowan suddenly said.
Christian and Sebastian burst into immediate laughter.
“Obedient,” the latter said, shaking his head.
“Respectful,” Christian said, his voice rich with amusement as he brushed back a strand of hair from Allie's face. “I look forward to the day when I see an obedient and respectful Beloved.”
I glanced at Kristoff to see what he thought of this wholly unexpected byplay, but he had the most curious expression on his face.
“But 'love squash,' Christian!” Rowan said. “That is beyond inappropriate.”
“It's a love name, and Christian knows that full well,” Allie said with a private little smile to her husband. “I won't say that he didn't used to kick up a fuss when I used pet names for him, but he's long since learned that the affection behind them is very genuine.”
I thought for a moment that Christian was going to kiss her, but he evidently remembered where he was, and simply said, after clearing his throat, “Quite.”
“Ysabelle calls me her little cabbage,” Sebastian said with a heavy sigh. “Only in private, I would point out, never in front of others. But I believe it is something inherent in Beloveds to use such terms. I've asked her to stop, but that just made her switch to 'sweet potato pie of my dreams' for two weeks, until I begged her to go back to cabbage.”
Allie grinned. “Good for Belle. What do you call Kristoff, Pia?”
Startled, I looked at the man in question. His face was now oddly devoid of any emotion. “Er… Kristoff.”
She blinked for a moment. “Oh. Sorry. That was… Never mind.”
I sighed again and, with limbs that felt like they were made of lead, brushed past Kristoff and walked over to the chair I had occupied previously. “I seem to be at a loss in that I don't have the slightest idea why Andreas and Rowan are acting the way they are to Kristoff, any more than I know what it is you all are talking about. What am I supposed to be guilty of doing? Why did you drag Kristoff in as if he were a prisoner? Why did you let him starve, not even giving him animal blood if he couldn't eat human blood? And why, exactly, have I been called before this council when I haven't done anything to harm any of you?”
Rowan sat down next to Sebastian. Christian, rather than answering me, glanced at Andreas. “You do not sit with the council?”
“No.” Andreas's gaze flickered over to where his brother still stood, holding on to the chair.
Christian pursed his lips. “Do you stand with Kristoff?”
Andreas's gaze brushed me briefly. “No. I wish to remain neutral.”
“I see.” Christian nodded toward Rowan. “You do not suffer the same doubts?”
“I've seen the evidence with my own eyes,” the latter answered with stony condemnation. “I stand with the council.”
“So be it,” Christian said, then gestured wearily toward the chair next to me. “Sit down before you fall down, Kristoff. Despite your Beloved's obvious belief otherwise, we are not barbarians. You are weak still, and do not look that far from collapsing.”
I held my tongue. I didn't exactly believe they were barbarians, but something was going on; some negative emotion was running rampant through all of the vampires that hadn't been there when we parted ways in Iceland. Why were the vampires upset with Kristoff? Why were his brother and cousin treating him this way?
Kristoff sank heavily into the chair next to me. I was very aware of his leg just a few scant inches away from me, aware of the heat of his body, of his scent that teased my nose and made me want to run my hands over his bare flesh….
Kristoff glanced at me, his eyes strangely alight.
“To answer your questions, Pia, you and Kristoff have been brought here to answer a number of charges for crimes that have recently come to light, beginning with the disappearance of Alec Darwin,” Christian said, his voice carefully neutral.
I gawked at him. I outright gawked at him. ” What ?”
“In addition to that,” he continued, glancing at a piece of paper in front of him, “you are also charged with the death of the Zorya known as Anniki Belvoir, and lastly, Kristoff is charged with embezzlement of several million pounds of funds rightfully belonging to the heirs of the Dark Ones destroyed by the Brotherhood.”
My jaw sagged as I looked from Christian to Kristoff. The words spun around in my head in a horrible mixture of confusion and disbelief. We were charged with killing Anniki, the previous Zorya? With doing something to Alec? With stealing money?
Kristoff sat impassive, his face inscrutable, but I could sense anger and frustration rolling around inside him.
“How do you answer these charges?” Christian asked.
I shook my head, so stunned I found it hard to put words together in a coherent manner. “This is all obscenely wrong,” I said finally. “I haven't killed anyone, certainly not Anniki. And as for Alec… you were there that night when he walked away from me. You said yourself that he and Kristoff had left Iceland without a word to me.”
“I was, and I did,” Christian said, and again his voice was carefully stripped of all emotion. “But proof has come to light that indicates you had subsequent… er… dealings with Alec, and that he disappeared shortly after his most recent visit to you.”
My brain had a hard time dealing with the astonishing things he was saying to me.
I glanced at Kristoff. He watched me with eyes that were several shades paler than normal. “It is no use to deny the charges,” Kristoff told me. “I have done so for two weeks, but they will not listen.”
“They think I was having an affair with Alec,” I said, unable to get past that point. “They think that even after we found out I was your Beloved, I'd continue on with Alec.”
Kristoff just looked at me. Horror crawled up my skin as I realized the truth. “You think so, too.”
“You've made it clear that you prefer him to me,” he said softly.
I opened my mouth to protest that I might be many things, but I was not the sort of woman who would have two lovers at the same time. Before I could, however, Christian stopped me.
“You deny all the charges, then?” he asked mildly, making a note on a piece of paper.
I looked from him to the faces of the others in the room. Allie looked sympathetic. The vampires regarded us with expressions ranging from Christian's apparent mild indifference to Sebastian's outright hostility, Rowan's uneasiness at meeting my eye, and Andreas's stony countenance that gave nothing away.
My eyes moved to Kristoff, sitting so still next to me, obviously having gone through great personal torment in the last few months, and just as obviously too pigheaded and stubborn to bother asking me for help.
Anger boiled up inside me, anger at the stupidity of men, anger at the vampires who were either gullible or fools, and anger at myself for trying to hide away for the last two months. I'd wanted to give Kristoff the space he needed to come to grips with our situation, but all I'd done was leave him believing I was coldly indifferent to him.
Well, that time was over. “I most certainly do deny them!” I said, getting to my feet, slamming my hand down on the table to emphasize my outrage. “I don't know what this proof is that you claim you have showing we've done anything wrong, but I can assure you that I will not sit here and let you railroad me! Kristoff might be content playing at being a martyr, but I'm sure as hell not!”
“I am not playing at being a martyr,” Kristoff objected, leaping up to glare at me.
“No? What do you call letting yourself starve nearly to death, huh?”
His jaw worked for a moment. “I told you-once we were Joined, if I took any of your blood, we would be bound together for the rest of our lives.”
“And that's so awful you just couldn't stand the thought of it?”
“The matter really isn't-” Christian started to say.
“No!” Kristoff shouted back at me. “I was thinking of you, dammit! You wanted Alec.”
“Oh, really?” I took a step closer to him until we were almost touching. “What about you?” I asked, poking him in the chest.
“If we could please stick to the point at hand,” Christian said.
We both ignored him. Kristoff grabbed my fingers as they poked him again. “What about me?”
“You're the one so madly in love with your dead girlfriend that you can barely stand to be around me. Oh, yes, the incredibly hot sex is fine and well to take the edge off now and again, but when it comes to a little thing like being grateful to me for saving your soul, not to mention your life, then it's a whole other story, isn't it?”
“I don't know about anyone else, but I, for one, don't underestimate the value of incredibly hot sex,” Allie said mildly.
“You're not helping,” Christian growled.
Kristoff's eyes all but spit blue sparks at me. “You told me you disliked me.”
“You told me you wanted to kill me!” I countered.
“You made it very obvious it was Alec's attentions you wanted.”
“That is so patently false!” I said, outraged and incredibly aroused at the same time. I just wanted to grab his head and kiss the breath right out of him.
Christian took another stab at regaining control. “Your relationship questions aside-“
“You let him touch you, right there in front of me!” Kristoff yelled, his hands gesturing wildly as he spoke. His Italian accent became more pronounced, which for some reason just aroused me all that much more.
“I what ?” I asked, momentarily taken aback by his accusation.
Silence followed. Everyone in the room turned a speculative eye on me.
“Well, now,” Allie said. “That's rather interesting.”
“When did I let him touch me?” I asked Kristoff.
“That morning when we were in the restaurant, he touched you, touched your hand and your knee, and pulled you close to him, and you said nothing!”
My own hands did a little waving about. “Trust you to remember that and ignore the important stuff!”
“What important stuff?”
“Important things like the fact that I told him we had just slept together! I thought that was a pretty definitive statement!” I shot back.
His eyes burned, his breath hot on my face as he leaned in to me. Once again, the scent of him made a heady aphrodisiac. “You said that just so I couldn't!”
“I said it so he'd know he wasn't the man I was interested in!” I yelled.
An odd look crossed Kristoff's face. “You didn't want him?”
“Then who…” His eyes narrowed suddenly, his words coming out with a hiss. “The sacristan…”
“Oh, for God's sake.” I gave in to my desires and twined my fingers through the soft, silky curls on his head and pulled his mouth down to mine. I was well aware we had an audience, but at that moment, nothing mattered but showing Kristoff that he occupied a place in my heart, not Alec.
“Awww. That really is sweet, in an odd sort of way,” I heard Allie say over the wild beating of my heart. I didn't pay much attention to her words, my mind and body wholly focused on the man who was kissing me with a fever that left my brain reeling and my heart soaring.
“Much as I regret interrupting this fascinating, if somewhat confusing scene, we do have a hearing to conduct.” Christian's voice cut across my thoughts.
Kristoff's lips moved on mine, his tongue gently probing and tasting, his body hard as he pulled me closer, his fingers biting into my hips. I wanted to capture that moment and hold it, unchanging, forever, a perfect state where passion mingled with desire and need and the beginnings of something I really didn't want to name. How on earth could Kristoff believe I preferred Alec to him? How could he not understand?
You said you were his Beloved. You wanted to see him, not me. How could I think otherwise?