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Midnight Rising (Chapter Eleven)

The Berlin brothel that Reichen brought him to that evening was everything Rio had been told to expect – and then some. Prostitution had been legalized here a few years ago, and as far as beautiful, ready, willing, and able women went, the sex club Aphrodite was clearly home to the cream of the crop.

Three of the club's finest examples, wearing nothing but minuscule G-strings, danced together in a slow grind in front of the private table where Rio and his Darkhaven host were seated with the club's stunning female owner, Helene. With her long dark hair, flawless face, and sinuous curves, Helene herself would fit right in with the flock of gorgeous young females in her employ. But beneath her blatant sex appeal, it was obvious that the woman had a shrewd business mind and enjoyed being the one calling the shots.

Reichen certainly seemed content to let Helene have her head with him. Situated beside her on the crescent-shaped velvet seat across from the one Rio occupied by himself, Reichen lounged against the tufted squabs with one foot propped on the squat round cocktail table in front of him, his thighs spread wide in order to give Helene's roaming hands free access to whatever they might find intriguing.

At the moment, she seemed focused on teasing him, sliding her scarlet-polished nails up and down the inner seam of his tailored pants while she conducted a hushed, don't-bullshit-me conversation in German on her cell phone.

Reichen met Rio's gaze from across the short distance and nodded in the direction of the three females gyrating and stroking one another just an arm's length away.

"Help yourself, my friend – to one or all of them. Your choice. They're here for your personal amusement, compliments of Helene when I told her I'd be bringing you by tonight."

Helene sent a catlike smile at Rio as she continued to conduct her club business like the tigress she no doubt was. As she spoke curt instructions into her cell, Reichen smoothed her dark hair off her shoulder and traced his fingertips tenderly along the side of her neck.

They were an odd pairing, even as frequent but casual lovers, which Reichen insisted them to be.

Breed males seldom took a prolonged interest in mortal human women, even in a mainly sexual way. The risk of exposing the Breed's existence to humankind was generally seen as too great for a vampire to dare any kind of relationship for the long term. And there was always the danger that a human might fall into Rogue hands, or worse, be turned Minion by one of the more powerful, but corrupt, members of the Breed.

Helene was not a Breedmate, but she was a trusted ally of Reichen's. She knew what he was – what Rio and the rest of the Breed were too – and she held that secret as closely as she would one of her own. She'd proven trustworthy and loyal to Reichen, something Rio hadn't even been able to claim about the Breedmate female he'd bonded to all those years ago.

He tore his gaze away from the couple and stared out at the club's surroundings. Walls of smoked glass enclosed the low-lighted private room they were in, affording a 360-degree view of the action taking place on Aphrodite's main floor just outside. Sex acts in every variation, and in every combination of partners, filled Rio's line of vision. Closer still, were the three lovely females evidently on tap for his personal service.

"Beautiful, aren't they? Touch them if it pleases you."

Reichen curled his finger at them and the three prostitutes made a deliberately seductive approach to Rio's side of the table. Bare breasts bobbed with artificial firmness as the girls ran their hands over themselves and one another, a show they'd probably performed a thousand times before. One of them sauntered closer and placed herself between his knees, her tan hips moving in time with the drone of bass and smoky vocals coming through the sound system in the background. Her two friends flanked her, caressing her body as she performed her little private dancer routine, the scrap of satin covering her sex hovering mere inches from Rio's mouth.

He felt oddly detached from the whole event, willing to let it happen, yet uninterested in anything being offered to him at the moment. He'd be using them as much as they intended to use him.

Helene ended her phone call on the other side of the table. As she closed the slim device, Reichen stood up and offered her his hand. She slid off the velvet seat and under the sheltering curve of her vampire lover's arm.

"They will provide everything you wish," Reichen said.

When Rio glanced up at him in question, the other Breed male read his look without hesitation or error. His gaze slid to Rio's livid glyphs, subtly acknowledging his rising state of blood hunger. "The glass in this room is one-way, completely private. Whatever your appetite demands, no one will know anything that occurs in here. Stay as long as you like. My driver will take you back to the mansion whenever you're ready." He smiled, flashing only the very tips of his emerging fangs. "I'll be late."

Rio watched the pair stroll over to the elevator situated in the center of the private space. They were already caught in a fiercely passionate kiss as the doors closed and the car began its ascent to Helene's apartment and offices on the top floor of the building.

A pair of hands began unbuttoning Rio's black shirt.

"Do you like my dance?" asked the female grinding between his legs.

He didn't answer. They weren't really interested in making conversation, but then, neither was he. Rio looked up into the trio of beautiful, painted faces. They smiled, and pouted, and arranged their glossy mouths in sensual poses meant to titillate…but not one pair of eyes would meet his for more than the most fleeting instant.

Of course, he thought, smirking at their polite avoidance. None of them wanted to look too closely at his scars.

They kept pawing at him, rubbing against him like they couldn't wait to get busy with him…just like they were trained so well to do. They stroked him, cooing over how well-built he was, how strong and sexy they found him.

Carefully averting their gazes from his so they could continue pretending that what they saw didn't repulse them.

He hadn't been happy when Dylan confronted him about his scars. He wasn't used to that kind of head-on honesty, or the true compassion he'd heard in her voice when she'd gently asked him how he'd been injured. Rio had been caught off guard, self-conscious under Dylan's sincere interest, and it had made him want to crawl into the floor to get away from it.

But at least she hadn't hit him with this kind of infuriating falsehood. These women, so professionally trained to charm and seduce, couldn't mask their aversion.

They writhed and undulated in front of him, and as the minutes passed, the room began to swirl along with them. The club's garish colors blended into a dizzying smear of red and gold and electric blue. The music swelled louder, crashing against Rio's skull like a hammer dropping on fragile glass. He choked on the cloying odors of perfume, liquor, and sex.

The floor beneath him was spinning now. His temples were being crushed, madness rising like a black wave that would pull him under if he didn't get a grip.

He closed his eyes to block out some of the sensory bombardment. The darkness lasted only a moment before an image began to form out of the ether of his cracked mind….

Amid the storm of pain and fear suddenly churning around him, he saw a face.

Dylan's face.

Her creamy, peach-freckled skin seemed close enough for him to touch. Her golden-green eyes were half-closed, but fixed on him, beautiful and unafraid. As he gazed at her behind his dropped eyelids, she smiled and slowly bent her head to the side. Her fiery, silken hair slid loosely over her shoulder, as gently as a caress.

And then Rio saw the scarlet kiss of twin punctures below her ear.

Cristo, but the sight of her like this was so real. His gums ached, and the tips of his fangs pressed sharply against his tongue. Thirst rolled up on him hard. He could almost taste the juniper and honey sweetness of the blood that pearled from her wounds.

That was how he knew for certain this was merely illusion – because he would never know the taste of her.

Dylan Alexander was a Breedmate, and that meant drinking from her was out of the question. One sip of her blood would create a bond breakable only by death. Rio had been down that road before, and it had nearly killed him.

Never again.

Rio snarled as his lap dancer decided it was a good time to get cozier. When he snapped his eyes open, she murmured something dirty, then planted her hands on his thighs and spread them wide. Licking her lips, she sank down onto her knees before him. When she went for the zipper of his trousers, it wasn't lust that turned his veins molten, but a spike of hot fury instead.

His head pounded, mouth felt as dry as sand.

Shit. He was going to lose it if he stayed any longer.

He had to get the fuck out of there.

"Get up," he growled. "Get off me, all of you."

They scrambled back like they'd just provoked a wild animal. One of them tried to be brave. "You want something different, baby? It's okay. Tell us what you like."

"Nothing you've got," he said tightly, giving them a long, hard dose of the ruined left side of his face as he shot to his feet.

None too steady, he staggered out of the private room, out of the throbbing, musk-heavy club. He found the quiet back entrance where he and Reichen had come in, shoved past the bouncers who wisely moved out of his way when they saw him coming.

The street outside was dark. The summer night air was cool on his heated skin; he drank it in through his mouth, breathing deeply in an effort to calm his roiling head. Cursed when it didn't do anything to soothe him.

His vision was sharper out here in the darkness, but it was more than just his basic nocturnal acuity giving everything a crisp edge. His pupils were narrowed from his anger and need, the amber glow of his transformed irises throwing faint light on the concrete under his feet. His steps were uneven, the limp he'd almost overcome now creeping into his gait.

His fangs filled his mouth. One look at the glyphs on his forearms and he knew he was in bad shape.

Damn it. He should have taken the vein of one of the females back there. He needed to feed hours ago, and now his shit was getting critical.

Head down, fists shoved deep into the pockets of his pants, Rio started walking at a fast, none-too-graceful clip. He thought about heading for one of the city's parks, where the homeless and itinerant made easy prey for creatures of the night like him. But as he cut up a side street off the main drag, he saw a young punky woman puffing on a cigarette at the head of the alleyway. She was leaning back against the side of a brick building, picking at her fingernails as she blew out a cloud of noxious smoke.

If her black platform stilettos and tight miniskirt didn't give her away, the gravity-defying tube top she wore over her large breasts certainly would. The low-rent version of what Rio had just left behind glanced up and caught him watching her.

"Ich bin nicht arbeiten," she said, her voice a caustic snarl as she went back to massacring her nails. "Not at work right now."

He walked toward her undeterred, a wraith moving out of the shadows.

She snorted, getting annoyed. "My work tonight is done, ja ? No sex."

"That's not what I need from you."

"Huh," she scoffed. "Well, then, fuck off – "

Rio moved on her so fast, she didn't even have time to scream. He crossed the several yards' distance in a blink and flipped the woman around so that she was facing the bricks. Her dark hair was short, making easy access to her neck. Rio struck with viper speed, sinking his fangs deep into yielding flesh and drawing hard from her vein.

She struggled only at first, twitching through the initial shock. But then she loosened as his bite drew out and the pain gave way to pleasure. Rio drank quickly, gulping down what his body so desperately needed. He licked the wound he'd made, sealing the bite with his tongue. The mark would be all but gone in a few minutes, and as for her memory of what just transpired? Rio reached around her head and placed his palm over her eyes.

It took only a second to erase the last few minutes of her recollection, but it was time enough for a man to come around the corner of the building and see the two of them standing there.

"Hey! Was zur H?lle ist das? "

He was beefy and bald, and he didn't seem happy at all. Wiping his hands on a stained bar apron, he barked something at the whore in German – a stern command she jumped to follow. Evidently not fast enough for Big Man. As she scrambled away, he lashed out and cuffed the side of her head with his fist. When she yelped and ran off around the corner of the building, Big Man started approaching Rio in the alleyway.

"Do yourself a favor and leave," Rio growled in a voice that no longer sounded human. "This doesn't concern you."

Big Man shook his jowly head. "You want sex with Uta, you pay me."

"Then come and try to collect your piece," Rio said, low enough that anyone with half an ounce of sense would have taken it as the warning it truly was.

But not this guy. He reached behind him and withdrew a knife from somewhere at his back. It was a deadly mistake. Rio saw the threat, and he was still too far gone to let it slide. As the pimp came forward like he meant to cut some cash out of Rio's hide, Rio sprang at him.

He took the human down onto the pavement, his hands wrapped around the thick neck. A frantic pulse hammered against his palm, beat after beat of warm blood rushing beneath the rough skin.

Distantly, Rio registered the drum of the human's heart, but his mind was not fully his own. Not anymore. His blood hunger was temporarily appeased, but rage had him firmly in its grip. The squeeze on his mind, on his own will, was relentless, bringing on the darkness he feared the most.

Maldecido.

Monstruo.

He felt himself sliding into that oblivion…

The names he was called as a young boy rose up in his ears like a battering storm. He remembered the dark forest and the smell of spilled blood on rough earth. The cottage where his mother had been killed before his eyes…

As darkness descended over him, he was that wild foundling he'd been in Spain so long ago. A confused and frightened child with no home, no family, and no one like him to show him the way of what he truly was.

Comedor de la sangre.

With a roar, he bent over his quivering prey and bit into the fleshy throat. He was savage, not from hunger but from fury and an old anguish that made him feel like a monster. Like the accursed. A terrifying blood-eater.

Manos del diablo.

Those devil's hands were no longer his own. The blackout was rising fast now, swamping him. Rio could no longer see the street in front of him. Logic and control shorted out like wires popping in his brain. He could hardly think. But he knew the instant the human's heart went silent beneath his fingers.

He knew, as the darkness pulled him under, that he had killed tonight.

A loud thump in the adjacent room woke Dylan out of a fitful sleep. She sat up, completely awake now. More noises sounded next door, low groans and heavy-footed stumbling, like someone – or something – large was in a world of agony.

The connecting suite was Rio's. He'd told her so earlier that evening, when he'd come back with a light dinner and her backpack of clothes, and told her to make herself comfortable for the night. He'd warned that he would be right on the other side of the wall, never more than a few seconds out of reach. Which hadn't exactly added to her comfort level in any way.

In spite of his threat, Dylan had suspected he'd gone out at some point. The neighboring room had been quiet for several hours, until this four A.M . wake-up call.

So much for Rio's claim that he was a deadly creature of the night. From the sloppy arrival going on over there, it sounded as if he was just another drunk, coming back from a hell of a bender in town.

Dylan sat there, arms crossed over her chest as she listened to him groan, knock into a heavy piece of furniture, curse ripely as his legs gave out beneath him.

How many nights did her father come home in similar condition? Jesus, far too many to count. He'd stumble in from the bar, so polluted it took her mom, Dylan, and both of her older brothers to haul him to bed before he fell and cracked open his skull. She'd developed a rigid lack of sympathy for men who let their weaknesses own them like that, but she had to admit that the noises Rio was making now seemed something other than your basic drunk-and-disorderly.

She climbed off the bed and moved quietly over to the connecting door. With her ear pressed to the cool wood, she could hear his breath rasping shallowly. She could almost imagine him lying on the floor where he crumbled, unable to move for whatever it was that he was dealing with over there.

"Hello?" she asked softly. "Um…Rio, is that you?"

Silence.

It dragged out, long and uneasy.

"Are you okay in there?"

She put her hand on the doorknob, but it didn't give at all. Locked, just like it had been all night.

"Should I call for someone to help y – "

"Go back to bed, Dylan."

The voice was low and snarly – Rio's voice, yet somehow very different than she'd ever heard it before.

"Move away from the door," came the strange growl of words again. "I don't need help."

Dylan frowned. "I don't believe you. You don't sound good at all."

She tried the knob again. It was old hardware; maybe she could jiggle it open.

"Dylan. Get away from the goddamn door."

"Why?"

"Because if you stay there one more second, I'm going to open it."

He exhaled sharply, and when he spoke again his voice was raw gravel. "I can smell you, Dylan, and I want to…taste you. I want you, and I'm not sane enough to keep my hands off you if I were to see you right now."

Dylan swallowed. She should be terrified of the man on the other side of that door. And yes, part of her was. Not because of his unbelievable claim that he was a vampire. Not because he had abducted her and seemed intent on keeping her prisoner, albeit in a gilded cage. She was terrified because of the honesty in what he'd just said – that he wanted her.

And as much as she wanted to deny it, deep down, that knowledge made her burn just a little to know Rio's touch.

She couldn't speak. Her feet started moving beneath her, pulling her back from the door. Back to reality, she hoped, because what she'd just been considering was not only unrealistic but downright stupid. She padded over to the bed and got in, sitting there with her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms locked tightly around her shins.

There would be no more sleep for her tonight.

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