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Darker After Midnight (CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE)

TAVIA CRIED OUT in pleasure as she arched beneath Chase, swept into the thrall of her third orgasm in as many hours. Her bliss was sharp-edged and raw, untempered. She rode it with abandon, curling her fingers into the hard muscles of his shoulders as he rocked into her body at a fevered, animal pace.

She loved the way he fucked her. Loved how strong and powerful he was, something unearthly and dark. She loved that he coaxed the same from her. Loved how he welcomed the savage, needful part of her that was anything but human. Demanded it from her. And she loved how every touch and kiss and fevered thrust claimed her as his.

She was his; her heart knew it as surely as did her molten blood and body.

A hiss escaped her as he plunged deep into her core, filling her, touching a place that belonged only to him. She threw her head back on the pillows, lips peeled back from her teeth and fangs as she gave a ragged shout of release. "Yes. Oh, fuck, Chase … harder. Don't stop." With a roar boiling from between his gritted teeth, he grabbed her ass in his hands and hauled her to him, lifting her hips up to meet the crashing intensity of his thrusts. He pounded her with unbridled fury. His cock stretched her tight around him, as hard as steel inside her, relentless, dominating.

A snarl tore loose from him as he pumped harder, deeper, their amber gazes locked. His glyphs were wild and alive with dark colors, all the shades of desire and need. Hues that rode her own bare skin as he pushed her toward the crest of another orgasm. He bore down on her with tight, fevered strokes, his fangs huge and gleaming under the harsh twist of his beautiful mouth.

"Tavia," he rasped, shuddering against her with the force of his release. The hot rush of his seed flooded her, and she came with him, panting and mewling as her body detonated around him, her senses shattering into a million glittering pieces.

In its wake, there was hunger.

She hadn't fed since the first time with him. Now, with her every nerve ending alive and electrified, she craved his blood with a ferocity that bordered on madness. She couldn't keep her eyes from the throbbing pulse at the side of his strong neck.

Her mouth was tinder dry. Her gums pounded at the base of her extended fangs. She wet her parched lips, gazing up at him from under the thirst-heavy droop of her eyelids.

He understood her need. His amber irises flared brighter, pupils thinning to slivers as he watched her home in on his drumming heartbeat.

"Christ," he whispered, reverence and profanity all in the same breath.

She lifted up from the bed, bracing her palm against his chest and shoving him onto his back. His lungs sawed as she crawled up onto him, his body hot and powerful beneath her. She bent forward, licked a slow path along the taut column of his throat, playing the tip of her tongue over the fat vein that ticked so deliciously below the surface of his smooth skin.

She teased it with the sharp tips of her fangs, wringing a strangled groan from him in the instant before she sank her teeth deep into his flesh.

She moaned as his blood gushed over her tongue, hot and tingly and dark. She swallowed it greedily, relishing the spicy, exotic taste of him. As she fed, he lay rigid beneath her and stroked her back and unbound hair. She didn't know if her feeding brought him the same contentment it did her. All she knew was the thrumming beat of his pulse against her lips and in her ears, the drowning roar of his blood as it flowed into her muscles, bones, and cells. It quelled the savage pound of her senses. Nourished her as though she'd been starving for it all her life.

When she'd had her fill, reluctantly she swept her tongue over the punctures to seal them. She didn't realize his anguish until she dragged her sated gaze up to his face. His lips were bloodless, drawn back from his teeth and fangs in a tortured grimace. He rolled away from her on a rough curse, his big body shuddering as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and raked his trembling fingers into his damp hair.

His hunger owned him. It raked through her now, the savagery of his blood thirst eclipsing all the pleasure and comfort she'd taken so selfishly from his vein. It tore her open inside, bringing with it a cold, empty ache in the pit of her soul.

God, how he suffered now.

She didn't know how he could withstand such agony. Just the echo of it in her own blood was enough to suck the air from her lungs.

She gasped, clutching at her abdomen as his pain knocked her down onto the bed. She writhed with it, her body jackknifing as the anguish of his hunger swam through her like black, burning acid.

HE WAS HURTING HER.

The thought slammed into his hungered mind even before he pivoted to find Tavia's naked body constricted in an anguished ball in the middle of the bed.

Ah, Christ.

"Tavia?"

It killed him to see her in such pain, to know that it was his agony clawing at her. His affliction transferred to her through the blood connection of Tavia's bond to him. Because of that bond, his suffering was hers.

And his regret for that was fathomless.

"Tavia, look at me," he murmured, moving back toward her on the bed. He smoothed his hand over her head, hissing as he felt the fevered heat of her skin when he brushed his fingertips across her sweat-sheened brow. "Tell me you're all right."

She moaned as another wave of hunger burned through him like wildfire. When she opened her eyes, he saw pure misery in the bright amber pools of her irises. Her dermaglyphs were churning furiously, steeped in the same angry hues as his own skin.

His choked curse was ash on his tongue. He'd never felt so helpless, so full of hatred for himself and the disease he knew would one day destroy him. But not even Bloodlust compared to the agony of seeing Tavia in distress. Knowing he was causing it.

He had to feed.

The reality arrowed through him, cold and undeniable.

He needed blood to ease the pain – for her. His own pain meant nothing except for the hurt it was delivering to the woman he cared about more than life itself.

The woman he loved.

Tears streaked Tavia's cheeks as she looked up at him from her tight fetal position on the bed. Her breath rushed between her parted lips in rapid pants, her body shuddering and writhing. Goddamn it. And damn him as well.

He couldn't leave her like this to go and hunt. There was no telling how long he'd have to run before he found prey, and meanwhile Tavia would be suffering alone.

"Help me, Chase." Her voice was a threadbare whisper, frayed and fragile. So naked and trusting. She reached out to him, letting her hand fall open before him on the bed. "Please … do it. Make this pain go away."

He stared at her, feeling the last scrap of his questionable honor slip away as his hungered gaze settled on the pulse that throbbed between the delicate bones and tendons of her outstretched wrist.

He should have refused the temptation. He should have found another way – anything but the solution that was offered before him now. The one that would bind him to Tavia irrevocably. Eternally.

But even as he struggled to deny the thing his heart craved most, Chase found himself positioned above her on the bed. With utmost care and trembling hands, he lifted her arm up toward his mouth. Set the sharp tips of his fangs against her tender skin.

Swore under his breath as he sank them into her vein and drew the first taste of her blood. Holy hell, she was sweet.

Her blood hit his tongue like nectar from a forbidden vine. He drank her down, feeling a rush of electricity and power blast into every starving cell of his body. The strength of it hit him like a blow to the chest. An explosion that awakened his senses, lit them up with the force of a supernova.

He'd heard the blood bond was a powerful thing, but he hadn't been prepared. Not even close. Some distant bit of logic reminded him that Tavia was not only Breedmate but Breed, the intensity of that combination making itself known to him now, as he felt her blood rocketing through him.

The humans he'd fed upon to excess so often before could've been made of dust for all he knew now. Tavia's blood was a drug unlike anything he'd ever tasted before.

He couldn't get enough of her.

His mouth fastened tightly over her wrist, he drank hard and deep.

He couldn't make himself stop.

Not even when her hand curled into a fist and the tendons in her arm went taut beneath his lips. Not even when she gave a little moan, calling his name on an uncertain gasp. It wasn't until he felt her fear, bone-deep and chilling, seeping through their bond that he found the strength to release her. Barely.

Her eyes were wide, dread-filled as she stared at him now. No longer glowing amber with pleasure and desire, but bright green and full of a terror that tore him apart inside.

Her cheeks were pale, her dermaglyphs drained of most of their color. She held her bleeding wrist to her chest, her finger wrapped around the wounds. "Chase," she whispered brokenly. "I'm sorry I panicked. I was afraid. You were taking so much and I …"

Jesus Christ.

He could hardly bear to think what he might have done if the blood bond hadn't alerted him to her terror. It was his greatest fear, causing her any kind of harm.

To realize how close he'd been just now was more than he could take.

All the worse when what he craved more than anything was to take her beneath him once more and lose himself in the pleasure of her body while he drowned in the sweet intoxication of her blood.

"I can't be near you like this," he heard himself tell her, although his voice was hardly recognizable, even to his own ears. The words sawed out of him in a feral tangle, harsh and sharp-edged. "I can't do this ever again. I won't."

"Chase," she said, reaching out to him with her wounded arm.

The scent of her blood slammed into him like a bullet. He flinched away, averting his gaze as he backed toward the far wall. As far from her as he could get. He glanced to the window and the predawn morning outside. A mental command flung the glass open, bringing with it a rush of bracing winter air.

Tavia got up from the bed and started toward him. "Chase, please. Don't shut me out … let me help you."

He allowed himself one last look at her. Then he pivoted out the window and vanished into the darkness.

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