I don’t want to ask what it is he wants from me but I do because I have no choice. “What do you want?”

An evil grin spreads across his face. “Bite her.” He watches me while waiting for my reaction. “I see you are questioning my sincerity but I am quite serious.” Vincent reaches for Avery’s carotid and caresses it with his thumb. “Bite her now.”

Every vampire in this place–with the exception of me and Curry–would kill for this opportunity yet he chooses me to drink directly from the blood jewel. What are the odds?

My mind races to think of an alternative. I’m desperate to come up with anything but it becomes more and more clear as the moment passes. I have no choice. Our cover will be blown if I don’t do as he commands.

I bring her wrist to my mouth and I’m sickened by what I’m about to do. I’m going to bite a human and drink directly from the vein for the first time in more than two hundred years. As much as I hate doing this, I find comfort in knowing I’m sacrificing myself–and every part of who I’ve become–so this girl may be saved. If I never accomplish another thing in my existence, her life is worth everything I’m giving up.

The moment before my incisors pierce her skin, Vincent stops me. “No, not like that. Stand up, Avery.”

Vincent takes her hand and leads her to a huge gothic framed mirror hanging on the wall. He stops and places his hands on Avery’s shoulders, turning her to face her reflection. “Come join us, Phillip.”

What kind of game is this madman playing? Is this all part of the show to heighten this girl’s fear? “I don’t know what it is you want from me.”

He moves away from Avery. “Stand here behind her.”

Avery’s eyes never leave mine while I do as he commands. Once I’m standing in my designated spot I await further instructions. “I want her to watch you in the mirror as you drink from her neck.”

My fate is sealed. There’s no way to avoid drinking from her now.

She doesn’t appear the least bit fearful–which makes no sense at all. For a reason I can’t explain, I think she wants me to bite her. And I don’t understand why.

We’re standing close but we don’t have to be for me to smell how much stronger her scent is becoming. Her fragrance is like nothing I’ve ever encountered. I want to be engulfed by it so I move closer than necessary because I want to drown in it.

I place my hand on the blond curls cascading down her shoulders and push them aside. My incisors lengthen as I watch the pulsation in her neck. A low groan escapes her mouth as I quickly pierce her flesh but it doesn’t feel like a response to pain. It seems more like she’s enjoying what I’m doing to her.

I suck gently because I fear she has already lost more blood than her small body can withstand. I’m surprised when her blood hits my tongue. I can’t find the words to describe the flavor in my mouth because I’m far more concerned about the way my lips feel against the skin of her body.

Doing something so wrong shouldn’t feel this right.

Vincent grasps my shoulder. “Enough.”

My incisors retract and I take my mouth from Avery’s skin as Vincent claps his hands with delight. “That was marvelous. Let the party continue. We have many hours until dawn. Please, enjoy yourselves.”

I turn Avery so I’m able to inspect the damage on her neck. It’s only oozing lightly but I can’t stop my desire to taste her skin again so I place my tongue against her wound and spread my coagulant. The bleeding stops instantly but I steal another opportunity to touch her when I take her face in my hands. I hold her cheeks against my palms and her eyes alternate between looking at my eyes and mouth.

I wish I knew what she was thinking–or maybe I don’t–but whatever it is won’t matter for much longer.

I look deep into her eyes so I may remove this whole event from her memory although I fear it’s one I’ll never get out of mine. “Avery, when you wake in the morning, you will not remember this incident. Your neck will be sore and you will believe it is from sleeping in an uncomfortable position. Do you understand?”

She takes one more look at my mouth before she whispers, “I do.”

I battle the raging urge to grab her and flee this nightmare as I walk away. Turning my back on someone has never felt more wrong but I know the ultimate plan and I must stick to it if I intend on saving her from this madness.

I return to Curry’s side and I’m glad we’re unable to discuss what just occurred. I have no idea what the hell I’d say but I know one thing … I can never tell him how it made me feel or how much I liked it.

I make a valiant effort to avoid looking toward Avery for a while but my eyes grow defiant and don’t obey my brain’s command when they steal a glance in her direction and find her looking at me. This is the painful game we play over the next hour until Vincent orders the guards to escort her away. As she rounds the corner, she turns for one last look in my direction before a guard gives her an unnecessary shove, causing her to stumble. I’m ready to streak in her direction but she rights herself before falling. And then she’s gone.

Once my attention isn’t focused solely upon her, I notice the peculiar behavior displayed by our hosts and their guests. Their strange drunkenness increases as the minutes stretch into an hour and I’m left with no choice but to wait for Avery’s blood to effect me the same way.

Another hour passes and although I don’t feel any drunken effects, I definitely think it’s fair to say that something peculiar is happening to me. It’s scary as hell although I’d never admit that to anyone.

I can’t guess what is about to happen to me but I know it’s not something I want to experience here among these devils. “Ugh! These drunken fools are driving me crazy. I feel fine for the time being, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I space out, so it’s probably time I leave. I can’t be positive I’ll be able to control myself once this thing hits and I can’t bear the thought of hurting that girl again. Everything is up to you from this point.”

I don’t give Curry a chance to reply before I’m out the front door and streaking toward the road where I know Gia is waiting for me in the car. I dread the million question inquisition I’m about to face. Gia will immediately ask how things went but I damn sure don’t want to talk about it. Having the family know what I did to that innocent girl is going to be humiliating enough but that isn’t the worst part of it. They will all know that her blood is going to make me crazy as hell when it hits.

I place my hand on the car door’s handle but hesitate before pulling it as I turn back to look at the plantation house where I left my best friend with the task of rescuing Avery. It’s no fault of my own that I can’t walk in sunlight but it doesn’t stop me from feeling useless.

I hear Gia call out from inside the car. “Hey, buffoon. Get in so we can blow this joint. I’m not looking to get my goose cooked tonight.”

I can’t look at Gia when I get into the car. She has no idea what I’ve done but the dread of her finding out keeps me from facing her. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

I suspect she’s looking at me because she doesn’t pull the car onto the road. She probably suspects how wrong things have gone. “Something happened. What’s wrong?”

I’m not ready to go there. “Gia, I need you to do me a favor. For once in our existence together, I need you to cut me some slack and not ask how things went because I’m not in a place where I’m willing to talk about it right now.”

She doesn’t reply or ask again about what happened. She doesn’t even say a word during the drive back to our compound and I’ve never been more grateful for her silence.

There’s only one thing I want once we’re back at the Savannah compound–to be alone without an interrogation by the females of the house–but I have no such luck because Lairah meets us in the foyer as we enter the house. “Finally! I thought you’d never get back. We’re dying to hear what happened.”

I walk toward the basement door without looking in her direction. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“What?” I hear the astonishment in her voice. “You don’t get to decide you’re not talking about what happened tonight while one of us remains there in that house with those crazies.”

Gia speaks up for the first time since we left Vincent’s. “I’m not sure where Chansey is or why she isn’t down here for an update but she is Curry’s wife. She’ll be in your face demanding to know what happened.”

She is right. I’m shocked Chansey isn’t here threatening me within an inch of my life to tell her what happened with her husband. I’m certain she will be at any minute so I need to retreat to the basement before she makes an appearance. I definitely don’t want to be the one to tell her I left Curry with Gloriana. “I’m going downstairs.”

“No, Sol. You’re staying and telling us what happened.”

“No … I’m … not!” I growl at the top of my lungs before streaking through the door, slamming it behind me. I lean against it once I’m out of their sight but curse myself. I hate being so harsh with Gia and Lairah but they’d understand once they learned what had gone awry at Vincent’s.

I descend the stairs and turn a chair to face the wall before sitting. I open my palm and look at Avery’s pendant for the first time since leaving her in my best friend’s hands.

There’s no doubt about it. She’s in my veins and I can’t get her out. She’s all I taste inside my mouth but it’s not the flavor of her blood remaining on my tongue. It’s simply … her … and I don’t understand what is happening because it’s something I’ve never experienced in all my years as a vampire.

I’m bewildered by the way I felt as I walked away from her and even now how I feel in this moment as I know Curry will be the one to save her. Nothing has ever felt more wrong. I want to be the one to protect her. It should be me taking her away from that place. Not Curry.

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