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Darker After Midnight (CHAPTER FIFTEEN)

TAVIA'S MOUTH was hot on his, responsive and eager as he pushed his tongue past her parted lips in a deep, unforgiving kiss. She took him in, kissing him back with equal ferocity, even though her mouth was a little clumsy, her tongue a little untrained, clashing against the long points of his fangs. But she was a damn quick learner; he had to give her that.

Still seated on top of him, she moved her hips in time with the aggressive thrusts of his tongue, then soon she was matching the boldness of his mouth, grinding her body against him in a demanding rhythm. Her feminine fangs grazing his larger ones was an erotic sensation unlike anything he'd ever known. The sharp points abraded his lips as she pressed deeper into his kiss, nipping and prodding, driving him wild.

He broke contact on a growl, his lungs sawing, breath rushing as fast as his heart rate. He released his hold on her nape only to reach for the zippered front of her top. Tugged it open to bare her skin to his appreciative gaze.

Her glyphs were livid with dark colors. Beautiful swirls and arcs played across her clavicle and down onto her chest, disappearing under the modest black bra he'd bought with her clothes. He'd chosen the thing in haste, grabbing a simple cotton one that looked like it would fit her. The bra couldn't have been sexier on her if it was made out of lace and satin. Her pert, buoyant little breasts filled it out perfectly.

Chase flicked open the front clasp with his finger and thumb, then peeled away the fabric. Pretty flourishes pulsing with deep wine and indigo hues tracked around her dark, rosy nipples. The colors of desire, written all over her creamy skin as if rendered by an artist's hand. He drank in the sight of her, and the breath that had been racing in and out of him now left on a ragged sigh.

"So lovely," he whispered, the words gruff, his voice thick and parched. Then he raised his shoulders up off the floor so he could take one of those exquisite buds into his mouth. He suckled her with as much care as he could manage, loath to graze the delicate skin with his fangs. He didn't want to hurt her, nor did he want to accidentally nick her and make her bleed. He was already too far gone with this erotic hunger to deal with even the slightest drop of her spilled blood.

Even if the mere idea made his hard-on kick with avid interest.

Tavia made a sound of torment as he swirled his tongue around the pebbled knot of her nipple. He could feel her need vibrating through her. The heat swamped him through their clothing, and every slow grind of her hips sent his dubious self-control hurtling further out of reach.

Eyes closed, she threw her head back on a low moan as he suckled her some more, trading one sweet nipple for the other. He watched the passion play over her skin, the jewel-dark shades of her glyphs muting and flooding, a living dance of color that spread across her breasts and down onto her flat belly. Her waist tapered so perfectly, he could probably span its circumference with his hands.

He did just that a moment later, using the leverage to roll her off him as he followed, moving with her until he was the one on top, his pelvis wedged just right between her thighs. He gave an ungentle thrust, a taste of what was soon to come. She groaned as he made a slow retreat. When her eyelids lifted, her gaze blasted him with amber fire. She grabbed his head in her hands and hauled him down to her in a kiss that was ripe with primal demand.

"More," she rasped into his open mouth. And then she bit him again, a hard, prodding nip that sent a delicious sting straight down to his cock.

With a growl, he broke away and reared up onto his knees above her. His hands shook as he grabbed the waistband of her track pants and yanked them down her thighs, underwear too, in one fierce tug.

And, ah, Christ. There were more artful glyphs here, caressing the curves of her hips and accentuating the delicate nest of dark curls on the mound of her sex. He slipped his fingers between her legs and found her wet and hot and tight. So damn tight.

He groaned, breathing in the fragrance of her, a scent that was both earthy and exotic, innocent and wild. He couldn't resist a taste. With his eyes locked on hers, he drew his fingers up to his mouth and licked her sweetness into his mouth.

She was writhing beneath him, panting and grabbing for him, her gaze smoldering. Face twisted in anguish. Her scent intensified, spurring his own need to a fever pitch.

He undid his pants and shoved them down off his hips, hissing as the first rush of cool air hit his naked cock. He couldn't get it inside her fast enough. No time to undress properly, his need was rampant.

Tavia grabbed on to his shoulders as he slid the head of his sex along the slick cleft of her body. Her blunt fingernails scored his flesh as he nudged into position, then sank inside her in one deep thrust. She cried out then, her grip on his shoulders clenching harder.

Dimly he registered just how tight she truly was. An alarming thought flickered in his desire- drenched brain: She couldn't possibly be a virgin, could she?

But then her scream quieted into a low moan, a sound of mingled pleasure and pain. And now that he was inside her, he couldn't keep from moving, driving in and out of the warm, wet fist of her core.

Her lids dragged open slowly as he thrust deeper with every stroke. Her amber eyes fixed on him, piercing and feverish, as he increased his tempo to meet the racing beat of her heart. Her lips parted on a shivery sigh, her fangs gleaming.

He felt her climax rising. The soft undulations of the fine muscles along her sheath clutched at him as the first tiny spasm raced through her. She gasped sharply, tensing beneath him while he drove deeper, pushing her harder. "That's it," he muttered hoarsely. "You wanted it. Now take it."

She let loose a strangled cry as her body shuddered, her hands still clenched like twin vises on his shoulders. Her throat went taut with the eruption of her scream, a savage shout of release. He kept moving within her, lost to the erotic tension of her core wrapped so tightly around him, the tiny spasms of her orgasm milking him, dragging a raw curse from between his teeth and fangs.

His own need had no mercy either. He drove himself deeper and harder into her heat, lost to a primal, urgent drive. Intense sensation slammed over him, and smoldering beneath the surface of his pleasure, he felt the rousing of that darker yearning he'd been slowly failing to outrun. The hunger reached for him now, a predator sensing him at his weakest. His most distracted.

Against his will, Chase's eyes rooted on the vulnerable length of Tavia's throat. He wrenched his face away, an effort that took such force his whole body shook with it.

Or maybe it was the sex that had him trembling.

It hadn't been that long since he'd fucked someone, but the human females he'd banged when it suited him had never given him pleasure. Release, sure. But he got the same decompression out of a good fight. The pain he could handle. He courted it, in fact, the more brutal the better. That's how he'd coped these past few months that his addiction had been its worst. He'd held off Bloodlust through aggression and combat, hoping to trade one wicked high for another. A dangerous dance, but the only one he knew.

Pleasure wasn't something he'd indulged in for a long time. Pain and brutality was a much safer option for him. Kept him clear and grounded. Not like now.

Now he could hardly think straight as the pleasure of Tavia's body and the daggers of his blood thirst did battle for his soul.

He risked another look at her and found her watching him intently. Her climax had ebbed, but he could feel her balanced on the edge of another. He knew he should end this – before the punishing lash of his rising blood thirst proved too much for him to bear. But his libido had other ideas. His hips rocked forward, a powerful thrust that seated him to the hilt.

He pressed deeper, staring down at her, his voice little better than ash in the back of his throat. "More?"

Tavia's reply was a rapt hiss through bared teeth and gleaming fangs. "Yes."

Her permission was its own kind of torment. Because Chase didn't think he had control enough to stop now. Not even if she begged him to.

TAVIA CLUNG to his thick shoulders as a tide of bright ecstasy crashed over her once again. Wave after wave, flooding all her senses, whisking her out of her own skin with the intensity of all she was feeling. She couldn't speak. Couldn't breathe, except to close her eyes and let go of the pleasured sigh that seemed to originate from the very core of her being.

She felt electrified, every nerve ending exploded and ragged, tingling with sensation.

There was a dull pain between her legs, but she was only dimly aware of it, too swept up in the overwhelming transformation of her entire person. Her whole existence was tangled up in a vortex of pain and pleasure, clarity and confusion.

She opened her eyes and saw the source of it all.

Chase. Unearthly, demonically handsome, he hovered above her as her body absorbed the battering impact of his thrusts. She couldn't tear her gaze away from him, the slender thread of her conscious mind mesmerized by the unholy beauty of his fiery eyes and the skin markings that fanned over his pecs and onto his thick arms braced on either side of her.

Skin markings that were surging with dark colors, just like her own.

It all seemed like some kind of dark dream, yet she was living it. Feeling it, in every awakened cell and fiber of her body. She rocked beneath him, helpless to his urgent rhythm. The tension spread from his wild features, into the hard bulk of his shoulders and down along the rigid line of his big body.

With a low growl, his tempo intensified, and the daggerlike lengths of his fangs stretched even longer behind his parted lips. His cat's-eye pupils thinned to barest slits as his gaze drifted lower, settling on her throat. Heat radiated from that feral gaze, like a hot blade pressed against her neck. His mouth grew taut, full lips peeling back as he drove into her with relentless, mounting aggression.

She knew she should be afraid. She knew that none of this should be happening – not in any kind of reality she could comprehend.

But she knew no fear now. Only an instinctual anticipation as her body cushioned his, her head tilting to the side as though drawn on unseen strings, giving him full access to her neck. "Yes," she heard herself whisper as his strokes became more frenzied. His eyes were fixed on her throat, unblinking, ravenous. Tavia swallowed, feeling an overwhelming need for his fangs to penetrate the tender flesh. She licked her parched lips, hungry for him again too. When she reached up and took hold of the back of his head, he went rigid, hissing as if she'd burned him. He grunted an angered sound, his face contorting in a pained grimace as his pace quickened even more. His gaze grew hotter, searing her exposed throat with a heat she felt running all through her now.

The pressure mounted, building toward something immense and glorious. Tavia rode it with him, awash in amazement and the sudden, swelling bloom of yet another shattering release. He dropped his head beside hers, breath gusting over her enlivened skin and the exposed column of her neck. For the smallest moment, his mouth brushed against the sensitive curve of her shoulder. She waited to feel his lips close over her flesh. Held her breath as her pleasure began to crest its banks and the need to feel his fangs sink into her flesh became a deafening pound in her veins. "No," he rasped sharply. "Goddamn it. No."

And with a dark curse huffed against her ear, everything ended.

He withdrew, rolling away from her so abruptly she felt his absence strike her like a slap. His broad back flexed and rippled as he pivoted to his feet, unmistakable anger in his haste. He pulled up his pants in one ungentle tug and stalked away from where she lay, breathless and confused, oddly bereft. Not to mention humiliated.

Her cheeks flushed with a new kind of heat as she watched him enter the adjacent bathroom without so much as a backward glance. As though he couldn't get away from her fast enough. The door banged closed in his wake, not loud enough to muffle the low roar that erupted from behind the shut panel.

Tavia rose up from the floor in a mute, dazed silence.

Her body was still thrumming with sensation, slower to react to the rejection than the rest of her. Her veins still throbbed, her pulse hammering in a steady, strong beat that was now beginning to make her temples ache. And deep inside her, the power that had awakened within her had yet to ebb.

The burn scars that had covered her for as long as she could remember were pulsing and vibrant. Not the dusky color she was accustomed to seeing but the florid, changeable hues that defied all logic of what she'd been raised to believe about herself. They weren't scars. They couldn't be. Nothing about them – nothing about her body and this power coursing through her – was normal. She knew that now.

She herself wasn't normal.

A miserable groan leaked from between her lips when she felt the sharp pressure of her teeth resting against her tongue. No, she corrected herself. Not her teeth – her fangs.

"Oh, God." She looked down at the blood smeared across her breasts and abdomen. His blood, dark and sticky from when she'd bitten him.

Between her legs was more blood, but those faint pink stains on her thighs didn't belong to him. Tavia moaned, feeling a twinge of panic beginning to creep up the back of her throat as the weight of what she'd done here – the stunning reality of all that had happened in the last couple of days – bore down on her.

The sex wasn't the worst part. God, not even close. She would likely spend the rest of her life trying to convince herself it was the stupidest thing she'd ever done – better yet, that it never happened at all. But right now, with her nerve endings crackling and the rest of her lifted in a floating, pleasant kind of bonelessness, she couldn't pretend the sex was anything less than incredible.

And unprotected.

Oh, God.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she chided herself under her breath as she scrambled to put her clothes back on, keeping her eyes on the closed bathroom door as she pulled on her pants and righted her bra and zippered hoodie.

No, far more disturbing than throwing her virginity away with total, reckless abandon was biting the neck of a stranger in some fevered daze that had her convinced they both were … Jesus, the word wouldn't even form in her mind, it seemed so ridiculous.

And yet, it wasn't ridiculous.

She tugged up her sleeve to stare at the scars that weren't scars, their colors still livid and churning, changing from the inky shades of violet and burgundy to a deep russet bronze before her eyes. In her mouth, the sharp points of her canines were still elongated, though not the same fierce presence they'd been before. Her vision was still tinged with amber, but that too was beginning to subside.

No, she thought, stricken and dismayed. Not ridiculous at all.

Her body knew that, even if logic and reason refused to accept it.

She tried to dismiss it all, but try as she might, she could not shake the feeling that she'd never been more aware or present in her entire life. Her body felt – finally – as if it belonged to her. As if a shroud had been lifted from her consciousness, she felt alive for the very first time. "No," she moaned softly, struggling to push the astonishing truth away.

None of this could be happening. She'd been very sick just hours ago. Maybe this was all an enormous hallucination. After all, Dr. Lewis had warned her time and again that a break in her medication – even as much as one skipped dose – could result in unpredictable, but very serious, complications.

Maybe that's what this was. Maybe none of it was real at all. Maybe her mind and body had conspired against her as soon as she missed those first pills. Maybe she was dying as she'd feared, had been dying from the moment he locked her in this room after grabbing her from the hotel. Better that than the disturbing alternative. Her mind and body were dying, working through some terrible fantasy that began with the nightmare that had awakened her in her bedroom at home with visions of blood and sex and a man who was no man at all.

She clung to that rationale with desperate need as she went to grab the pair of sneakers from the shoe box that sat next to the bed.

Not real, she told herself, tearing through tissue paper to retrieve the brand-new Nikes from the box. Not real. Just an uncannily tactile, detailed trick of her unmedicated, probably dying, mind.

"What are you doing?" He came out of the bathroom without her realizing it.

Not real, she reminded herself. There was no need to answer him, or even acknowledge his presence. Focusing wholly on untangling the laces from the pair of sneakers, she made a desperate attempt to ignore him.

It wasn't working.

He was no hallucination. He was flesh and bone, six-and-a-half feet of muscled, nearly naked male. He seemed calmer now, but there was no escaping the ember-bright glow of his eyes. Not to mention the razor-sharp tips of his fangs. Rising panic formed a bubble in the back of her throat.

"Tavia, we need to talk."

"No, we don't. We've done enough, I think." She slipped on the first shoe and quickly laced it up.

He came over to her, his tawny brows low over those inhuman eyes. "There are some things you need to understand. Jesus, there are things about you that I need to understand – "

"Shut up," she snapped, worry starting to burn even hotter than any embarrassment or confusion over his sudden departure a few moments ago. She rammed her foot into the other shoe and yanked the laces tight. "And if I were you? I'd plan on staying far away from me, or I promise you, I'll press charges. I can have every cop in the Commonwealth at your door in five minutes. A fleet of federal agents too."

He actually had the audacity to chuckle, although it held little humor. "Press charges? Call the cops on me? Sweetheart, I'm a problem that no human law enforcement officer is going to solve for you. After what just happened between us, it should be pretty obvious to you that we've both got big problems."

She stood up and met his grave look. "Don't try to find me. Don't come near me ever again. I just want to forget that any of this happened. I just want to go home."

She took a step to move around him, but he caught her by the arm. His fingers held her firmly, not letting go even when she tried to wrench loose. "Let go of me, damn it."

He shook his head, his eyes grim. "You have nowhere to go."

"I'm going home!" She pulled out of his grasp, outrage spiking like acid in her veins. It was building inside her, making her skin tingle with heat. She didn't have to see her scars – rather, the inexplicable marks on her chest and arms – to know that they were surging with more color now. Reacting to her temper like some kind of emotional barometer. She sidestepped him and headed for the open bedroom door. "Leave me the hell alone."

He stood in the threshold before she even reached it herself.

Tavia gaped, came up short mere inches away from his bare chest. "Get out of my way."

"You're not going anywhere." His face had become more than serious now. There was a threat in his otherworldly eyes, a warning that he would have no qualms about physically forcing her to stay for as long as he deemed necessary.

Tavia bristled at that threat. "I said move. I need to see my aunt. I need to call my doctor – why can't you understand that I'm not well?"

"Whatever you are," he murmured, his deep voice level, "it's not unwell. You're scared and confused. Hell, I'm not standing on totally firm ground myself at the moment. Whatever you've been through – whatever you are – we need answers, Tavia. I'm going to help you get them." She shook her head, unwilling to hear him. Still not able to reconcile any of what she was experiencing. "All I need is to go home. Right now."

When she tried to step past him again, he braced both arms up on the doorjambs, caging her inside the room with his body. "As soon as night falls, I'm going to take you somewhere safe. There are people I know who can help you make sense of everything. People far more suited to looking after you than I am."

"I don't need anyone looking after me. Least of all you or anyone you know."

He exhaled a scoff, dropped his arms, and started moving forward. Pushing her into a retreat with just his encroaching presence. "You don't trust me."

"No, I don't."

"That's probably smart, considering what nearly happened in here."

Nearly? She was concerned enough about what had happened. Tavia took a pace backward on her heels, less afraid of him than outraged. Her fury coiled in her belly, mingling with the remnants of the thrumming power that was still alive and racing through her veins. "I don't trust you because of everything you've done. Because of everything I've seen here. I'm not even sure I can trust myself anymore. None of this makes any sense to me."

"It does," he said evenly. "You just wish it didn't."

"Shut up." She shook her head vigorously, anger and fear pushing into her throat. "I don't want to hear any more. I just want to get the hell out of here."

"That's not going to happen, Tavia."

When he started to reach for her again, something exploded inside her. It was her fury and panic, erupting out of her in a physical reflex. Before she could think about it – before she was even aware that her arm was moving – she shoved him with all her might. He flew backward as if yanked on a tether, but a second later he had regained his footing.

In less than a blink he was back in her face, looming over her with nostrils flaring, eyes blazing. "Goddamn it, I'm not going to hurt you."

She didn't dare believe him. Nor did she wait to find out if she could. The instant she felt his fingers come to rest on her arm, she pulled back her other one and let her fist fly – connecting with a bone-jarring crack on the underside of his jaw.

To her complete amazement, he went down with the impact. His harsh curse as he staggered onto his knees rattled the broken glass of the crudely barred window behind them.

Tavia didn't hang around to go another round with him. As he tried to shake off the blow, she leapt around him. She tore out of the bedroom and through the large brownstone, across the inlaid marble foyer and out the front door to the morning bustle of the Back Bay residential area. She heard him bellow behind her, but only dared a fleeting glance in his direction as her feet flew over the snow-dusted sidewalk. He stood in the open doorway, his arm raised up to shield his eyes.

He stayed there, hanging back, watching her from within the shadowed shelter as she dashed into the street and frantically hailed a passing taxi. The yellow cab slowed to a halt and she climbed in, giving the driver her address in a breathless rush.

The car lurched back into traffic, belching a cloud of opaque steam and exhaust that billowed up like a veil, blotting out the brownstone and the man Tavia hoped to never see again.

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