“Fuck, now I really feel like murdering the motherfucker.”
Elise broke out in a laugh, and when he glared at her, she put her palms up. “I’m not making fun of you, honest. I’m just … I’m giddy with relief that you don’t think less of me.”
“I don’t. At all. I’m jealous as shit, but I don’t judge you.” There was a pause. “So who was he?”
Shifting her gaze to the fire, Elise opened up her memory banks. “He was a male who I fed from. It was all witnessed, of course. But one night—I’m not even sure why—I decided I just wanted to know what it was like. The whole … experience.”
Axe started to growl. And then cleared his throat to cut off the noise. “Sorry.”
She had to smile. “It’s all right. I’m complimented.” For that, she got a grunt. “Anyway, I went to find him, at his penthouse apartment downtown. I made an excuse and snuck out of the house. He was in the glymera, of course, and a friend of my father’s.”
Now she frowned. “He was surprised, but he didn’t tell me no. I was very young, my mother had recently passed after a failed birthing. There was … so much sadness in my house, I think I just wanted to escape it. We had sex, I wouldn’t even call it making love. To me, it was only a lot of body parts interacting, I can’t say as I really enjoyed it.”
As she fell silent, she could feel his burning eyes on her.
“Finish the story,” he said in a low voice. “It’s not over, is it.”
“No.” Elise took a deep breath. “I’ve always been a little different from other high-born females, you know? I mean, nothing like my cousin Allishon—I’m not reckless or anything. I just wasn’t into festivals and dances and events. One evening, no more than a week or so later, my father asked me to join him at a dance and the male was there … with his shellan. I never thought he was mated, you know? It never dawned on me to ask. I mean, in the aristocracy, there are so few males to go around for feedings, and as long as there are witnesses when you take a vein, there is no sex to worry about. But I felt awful as I looked her in the eye. And he clearly hadn’t told her. He ignored me the whole night, which was appropriate, and the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. Not because I was emotionally attached to him, but because I had used him, and he had let me … and together, we betrayed her.” She exhaled long and slow. “He was killed in the raids … so was she. They were childless. My regrets live on, though, and always will.”
“He was a fucking letch.”
“I was pretty sure he had done the same thing with other females he was feeding. Otherwise … why the penthouse? It wasn’t where he lived or stayed with her during the day, you know? It was all just so messy—and the reason I started to focus on psychology. I wanted to understand how people’s emotions work, and we vampires are not so different from humans in that regard. For example … like, you know what was really nasty of me?”
She couldn’t believe she was speaking so freely, but Axe’s silent, non-judgmental listening was unheard of in her world. “After I met his shellan, there was a part of me that was relieved he was mated—because then he wouldn’t say anything. I had kind of worried about that. After just losing my mahmen, I didn’t want to lose my father, too, on account of my not being mateable. Can you imagine how selfish that is?”
“Sounds more like self-preservation to me. And you know … whoever you mate is going to be the luckiest male on the planet.”
For some reason, the way he said that hurt—probably because he was clearly indicating her future hellren wasn’t going to be him. But that was crazy on so many levels.
“Actually, I’m never getting hitched.” When he frowned at her, she shook her head. “I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and can’t do. I’ve had enough of that from my father—I mean, everything in the house is his way, his preference, what he can handle within his rigid system of social expectations. Which isn’t much. I want to be on my own, and I’m going to figure out a way to do it. I’m going to finish my degree and find a place in the world—no clue what it’s going to be, but I’m going to get my own money so I can move out and then …” She laughed in an awkward burst. “And yes, my father is going to disinherit me, and I’ll be dead to the glymera and my bloodline. But it’s going to be worth it.…”
Wow, she’d never even articulated the plan to herself, much less someone else.
“Anyway,” she went on, “some dream, huh? Nothing like a little self-destruction to spice things up.”
“I don’t think it’s self-destructive.” Axe stared into her eyes. “I think it’s awesome.”
“Yeah.” He splayed his hands out and then curled them into fists. Then cracked the knuckles one by one. “This is going to sound stupid.”
She waited. “What will?”
“The fact that you want to be on your own even if it costs you everything? It makes me trust you.” He shrugged as if he were trying to downplay what he was saying. “It makes me believe what you said, that you aren’t like the rich people who killed my father. Because those types? Never would have walked away from their lifestyle—and before you say that I’m generalizing, maybe I am, but if you can’t find it in yourself to extend decency to commoners in a life-and-death situation? You sure as shit ain’t leaving your fur coats and your diamonds and your big-ass house on the hill behind, ever.”