James had drugged me, packed me a bag, and left Ari some sort of payoff and excuse for my disappearance. He’d even penned it in my handwriting. It must have been a bigger operation that a mere murder by poison. Where would someone like James even get poison? One I couldn’t taste, hidden in the sweetness of a strawberry wine? I’d been somehow conscious in the darkness of death, and the loss of something vital from inside of me flittered away without my consent, leaving me empty.
But life slammed back into me, bowing my back off the softness beneath me, and some of the vitality returned to me and made my limbs jerk. A warm hand found my cheek, and my eyes opened. James smoothed hair from my face; the relief etched into his features made my stomach and chest hot.
Fight re-entered my body, power-housing me as I grabbed at him and propelled us to another piece of the floor. My legs fit astride his, hand at his throat and teeth bared. A strange and piercing pain wracked my gums as I bent over him.
“You tried to kill me.” The new life in me, the new fight in me mixed into a strange concoction in my veins. I felt predatory, and hunger burned through me as I bent and struck at his throat. His blood, the sweet taste of strawberry candies attacked the burning of my body. The back of my brain screamed with horror—he’d made me a cannibal, infected me with rabies. But every fiber of my being, even that small, terror-ridden voice, knew how natural this felt, how right.
The connection didn’t last. James shoved me off of him, pinning me to the floor as I snapped at him.
“My blood isn’t going to do you any good, Ria. Not with the hunger you have. So control yourself.”
A new beast inside of me whined at the thought of control, of having to wait, and snapped at him again. My jaw and teeth throbbed with the beating of his pulse.
“Control.” He commanded. His gaze made me hazy for a moment. “And for the sake of the Gods, if you bite me again, you’d better make it pleasant, or my next demonstration will doubly hurt.”
“How the hell am I supposed to bite you pleasantly?” My voice had grown hoarse. Had I screamed in the agony of dying? Of waking?
“Why don’t you just keep it in mind next time. Although, I’d prefer you avoid it all together. It gives you very little gain and does nothing but damage me.”
I yanked at my arms and writhed under him, searching for a way to escape his hold. “Fine. Got it. Don’t hurt the psychopath that tried to kill me and infected me with some bizarre case of mad cow.”
“Mad cow?” He lifted his hold on me tentatively.
I sat up, putting me near his throat again and making my jaw ache incredibly.
“Hey. Control,” James said as if he could see my struggle.
“But it hurts. And you…it helped.” Why did I want his blood? I mean, other than the obvious anger inside for whatever he had done to me. But why did I want to drink it? “Why do I want it?”
“Because I’ve made you like me.” He reached to curl my hair behind my ear, a gesture that I’d begun to grow used to, but this time, I slapped his hand away.
“And what are you beside a kidnapping psychopath?”
“Ria. You’re smart enough to have figured it out. Your mother did, not long after I’d met her.”
A flash freeze enveloped my body. “You’re a lying bastard. There is no way you knew my mom. I didn’t know my mom.”
“Your Grammie took a picture of me with your mother as she held you.”
No. Not my mom. Not the one thing I’ve wanted my entire life. God, he was a monster. He was playing games with me. “Shut up. Shut up shut up shut up.” I covered my ears as he tried to explain, falling back into the floor, the pain in my jaw and gums receding to the loss of my entire family—the mother and father I had never known, my now dead grandparents who raised me. I had no aunts or uncles or cousins. The only person in the world I had left was Ari, and now this bastard had taken her from me.
And I refused to cry. I would not lose her. I’d kill everyone who stood in my way.
Slowly, I discovered James had gone. I supposed my fit had been more than a turnoff for him. And good. I sat up. The clarity in which I saw the living room surprised me. My night vision had never been desirable, but now I could see every fiber in the brown rug, every crack in the condemned home, shards of the streetlights through the boarded up windows.
Finding my feet proved that my body had grown more balanced if not strong. Could rabies do that? I didn’t have a craving for flesh, in fact that notion made me nauseous. My mind played keep away with the knowledge James had said I should know. Instead of dwelling on it, I walked toward the stairs as James returned, carrying a young, black man with blood dripping down the side of his face.
James wasn’t that big of a guy, but carrying the man didn’t seem to strain him. He dumped his victim on the floor with a thud. The man groaned.
“What do you think you’re doing? Was I not enough?”
“He’s for you. To feed you.”
“I’m not going to eat some guy. That’s ridiculous.”
“Oh, but biting me is just fine?”
Well, no. It wasn’t. But saliva flooded my mouth. The musky scent of the man on the floor invaded my senses and the pain sliced through my gums again. My hand lifted to my mouth, touching the two long and delicate curves that fell sharply from my gums. My mind screamed for an explanation, but the more I smelled the man bleeding on the floor, the more I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I sank to my knees, fingers tracing along the blood spreading through the dark carpet. Wetness coated my fingers, and I brought the taste of him to my mouth—like a dark ale, almost burnt tasting, but the undercurrent of life lay in his blood even if it were dying as it reached my tongue. Warmer blood plastered across his temple as my body trembled with an unfathomable need.
“Who is he?” I bent down over him with a soft whimper of despair.
“Does it matter?” James towered over me, the weight of his gaze hunkering me down closer to the unconscious man. My stomach felt hollow, so cold and consuming that it would suck me in.
“Yes. It does.” But it didn’t because my body crawled over his, and my mouth found the hot and bloody vein, feeding my madness, my new disease. Thumping vibrated against my chest—his heart fast but steady. And I drank from him until that thumping stuttered, paused, and crashed before I pulled back.
With sharpened vision, my gaze found the ashen skin of the black man below me, and only after a short moment did I scramble backwards, squealing in terror at the death in his eyes. I’d just killed a man like James had tried to kill me.
“What type of monster have you turned me into?” I said. My voice weakened by fear.
“You already know the answer to that.”
My chest rattled as I struggled for my breath. Teeth. Blood. A hunger so deep and dark that it consumed me until mildly satisfied. Still the hunger burned across my middle. An awe-inspiring dread filled me.