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Talking with Tahe grew quick and easy, like with Ari. She’d moved to the swings, spinning the chains and letting out small giggles as she spun. Planting her feet on the ground, she checked the sky and stood. “It’s about that time. I know you had a bit from that bowl of lucky charms, but how’d you like to take a sample of my nightly menu?”

I stiffened and checked with Boden, who sat on the end of the slide. He shrugged and gestured his compliance with a wave of his hand.

Nibbling on my bottom lip, I nodded, my stomach gurgling. James was right; I was forever hungry. But was it smart to go feeding with another vampire? When I didn’t kill, would she report me? Or worse, kill my victims on the spot?

Tahe’s smiled held warmth I wished I trusted. She didn’t scare me like Felix or Vincent or Phea, but fear became such a normal part of my life that the lack of threat from Tahe made me wary. She gestured for me to follow her.

I stayed ten paces behind her with Boden at my back, his hands persistent in my hair, at my shoulders or back, before I took his hand in mine and forced him to stop fidgeting; his thumb danced along the back of my hand. His emotions ran over my skin like a radio broadcast—ready for a fight.

“You’ll like the selection, I promise. It’s a hot spot this time-a-night. Plenty willing to get something kinky on. Plenty willing enough to be bitten. Got my own private room there, too, when I want it.” She glanced back at us, her dark eyes flashing in the low light; we emerged from the wilderness of the park and hit the street.

Factory Street buzzed this early in the night, but she steered us off into the middle of downtown where men started ogling her. Silent at first they catcalled and competed for her attention. I swear, one man reached for her, but Tahe kept walking, slipping away with ease, as though she was used to the attention. She steered us down a side alley and into a solid-black metal door. A boom boom boom vibrated over my skin, making it tingle. Sweat, blood, and alcohol hit me like a sledgehammer.

As we stepped through the door, Tahe reached out and grabbed my wrist, pulling me straight for the dance floor. Panic gripped my sternum, but Boden calmed me right before we hit the crowd. The thumping of their blood grew stronger and the scent of their sweet blood surrounded me, forcing me to close my eyes and be pulled along. Boden’s hand sank into my hair, adding another layer of his magick to keep me calm, combating my growing hunger.

At first, bodies pressed against me, writhing and slick, but they gradually parted to give Boden and I enough space to pass through without so much physical contact. He used more magick than normal, and more than appropriate for a place so saturated with humans and God knew what else. I opened my eyes as we emerged from the crowd. Tahe smiled as if I passed her initiation, and I wanted to curse her. I was so sick of people testing me and using me and shoving me head first into situations I didn’t want to be in. I took my arm back and covered Boden’s hand with my own. She winked and led us toward the back of the building.

Off the dance floor, the humans made it hard to maneuver without touching them. We squeezed past one of the two bars on either side of the club and down a wide hallway lit up with red traveling lights. Black paint rubbed and chipped off the middle of both walls as if drunks dragged themselves down this hall with only the walls for support.

Tahe walked with confidence and power, almost militant. She stepped through the last before the emergency exit. I paused in front of the open door, my eyes adjusting to the extra light. The two corners opposite the door glowed soft, encasing a long leather couch in yellow tones. Three women lounged across it in revealing bits of cloth and hose and fishnets and leather. Several other matching chairs sat about the room with one or two females filling each of them. Tahe went for a small blonde woman lighting and shutting a Zippo in the left corner chair.

As Tahe approached, the woman sat forward, face illuminated. She looked tough but pretty with a hollow look, but her eyes flashed with excitement as Tahe knelt and kissed the woman.

Everyone in the room moved in awareness shifting, sitting up, and some standing.

Boden fell away, taking guard at the door. He nodded for me to go ahead and do what I came for. I stepped forward into the middle of the room and peered around, unsure if they had a system in place or ran a free-for-all.

A darker woman in the far corner of the couch stood and made a steady approach, stopping within arm’s reach. Her black eyes shone with an angry need, and her gaze jumped around my face. I stopped fighting my fangs and let them drop, and the woman quivered and let out a soft moan of anticipation. Her blood thumped hard; I closed the distance between us. The woman tilted her head to the side braced herself against my shoulders. My tongue darted out across her salty throat.

She groaned and grabbed me harder. “Please.” Her rough voice set off a red flag, but I couldn’t hold myself back any longer. I pierced her vein, sucking hard on her blood. The woman gasped and gyrated against me. Her blood tasted like blackness, inky and bitter. I released her.

But she struggled to keep me against her, her body shaking more fiercely than I expected. “No. I have plenty more. Please. Please, take more.” Her nails dipped into my shoulder blades, and a hot, sharp pain tore into my skin.

I pushed her back, sending her flying into the couch. Spitting her blood onto the laminate floor, I met Tahe’s challenge.

“What do you do to these women?” I wiped my mouth, smearing bright blood against the back of my hand.

Tahe narrowed her eyes and stepped toward me. “I let them live. I ain’t a woman killer. The C.C. can pucker up and eat my damn rainbow for all I care. But you ain’t gonna hurt any of my girls.”

Not going to hurt them? Was she crazy? I looked over the girls again. Deep, black bags under circled their eyes, cheeks hollowed, and hair greasy. They looked like addicts.

A cold tremor zapped down my back. Had I done that to anyone?

“You don’t control them do you?” I met her gaze, and my skin prickled. Her eyes darkened. “You don’t control them. And now they’re addicts.” The inky blood stuck to the back of my throat. They used drugs in hope of achieving the same high, more and more until they became tainted and hollow.

“They enjoy giving me what I need, and they can keep a secret. Why should I have to control them? Break their minds? You ain’t no better than those fucked up vamps at the C.C.” She sprung toward me, angry energy sparking off her. I grabbed Tahe and spun her around, jerking her to the left and sinking my fangs into her throat. Rich and full like a strong malt whiskey, her blood washed away the bitter remnants. Tahe gasped as I swallowed my first mouthful of blood, her head dipping back further and her body arching against mine.

A low vibration started at the base of my spine, shooting up my body. Warm and subtle pleasure consumed me. Tahe’s breath hitched, but she didn’t struggle against me. Only her speedy heartbeat told me that the glamour affected her. It thrummed across my skin.

Warmth invaded my curls, and fingers guided me away from Tahe’s throat. I allowed Boden’s calming magick to pull me back as his thumb glided down the sensitive skin behind my ear. I released her, taking in the dark room. Awe slacked the staring faces around the room. Every thumping heart filled my ears. Their halting breaths raised a thick wave of desire.

Tahe stepped forward, wobbly from my magick and the blood loss, and her consort stepped forward to take hold of her. The small blonde woman looked me over with a harsh glare as I leaned back into Boden. His arms steadied me, and a sharp pang pinched my right hip and made me jump and swat at the bulge in my pocket before I realized my phone buzzed.

Boden slipped his hand into my pocket and pulled it out, swiping his finger across it as Gene’s name popped up. He held it to his ear. “What is red and green and can go hundred miles per minute?”

I reached for the phone, but Tahe pinned me with her gaze. “What’d you do to me? Ain’t no way this is normal.”

“Nothing I do is normal.” I tried to keep her in my line of vision and keep an eye and ear on Boden at the same time, this kind of multitasking proved difficult.

“You are supposed to guess, vinur, not expletive for me in Greek. She is with me, all pieces together, not to worry.”

Fuck. Gene is gonna have a freaking aneurism, and it’s going to be my fault.

A few of the women stepped to help Tahe up. “What kinda magick you got spinning around in that little body of yours?” Her gaze shifted from my face to my mouth to my throat, as if she played the cycle of biting through her mind. I didn’t know why I bit her to begin with, minus needing to wipe the black taste from my pallet.

Boden shifted, pacing in small circles in front of the door with a grin on his face. “Club. I am not from this place, so I cannot tell you. I take care of her, like I always do. Is what I am good at.”

This was not going well. Not at all.

“The kind that makes me dangerous, I suppose,” I said to Tahe, causing her gaze to fly back up to mine.

“Trying to intimidate me and all that? Ain’t gonna work, red. If my maker ain’t able, neither are you.” She shrugged off the women huddling closer and closer around her. “Off of me, would ya? Remember what I said about behind me if you’re scared. I ain’t gonna fight through ya very well.”

I smiled. She planned on protecting them from me, from anyone it seemed. I didn’t agree with what she did to them, but at least she cared for them. We’d have to talk about a way to keep them from killing themselves. “I’m not going to hurt any of you.”

“Look at what you did to Monique.” She grabbed the dark girl I bit and pulled her forward. She shook, her lips tinted blue and her eyes sunken in a bit more than before.

“I didn’t do that to her. You did. You let them remember, and they’re going to kill themselves trying to replicate the feeling.”

Boden laughed, and chills consumed me. He grinned with the phone pressed to his ear. “You have magick. Is good. I can feel over phone, even. Not too big affect from me, but still good. We meet. I show you mine.”

Uh. Oh.

Tahe looked at him, her big eyes luminous in the low light. “Is he retarded? You’re both fucking crazy. Ain’t none of this normal.” She addressed the women gathered behind her. “You’d better start vacating girls. I got a feeling this ain’t gonna be pretty.”

Yeah. Me either.

“Boden. Give me the phone, please.”

With a mischievous smile, he held up a finger. “You cannot track her? Is shame, vinur.

“Boden.”

Women trickled through the exit door behind him, making him glimpse back at them as I reached my hand out for the phone, which he offered to me. “Is ended, Prinsessa. Greek vamp is on way over, I am sure.”

“You’ve tormented my mentor into coming to find us?” The black screen dropped anvils on my shoulders.

“No torment, Prinsessa. Good manly banter over female.” He reached out to touch my cheek, but I stepped back and stuffed the phone back into my pocket. Gene was going to skewer me and leave me out for the animals. “You fear for his place in your heart?”

The thought of that being true made my chest burn with anxiety and denial. “No. I’m afraid of the repercussions of the last half hour.”

“I will not let him hurt you.”

Tahe snorted further into the room, acquiring our attention. “You two ain’t got your heads on straight. Eugene is wound up tighter than a damn tornado. And my ass is finding shelter before that shit touches down.”

The door flew open, banging hard enough against the chair behind it that the heavy wood base of it cracked and splintered. Gene stepped through, his cobalt eyes sparking as he took in the room.

“Aw, fuck me.” Tahe retreated to a spot between the couch and the furthest chair.

My thoughts exactly.

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