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Instead, he spins the sphere between his palms faster and faster. The ceiling starts caving in, the walls fall to pieces, even the stones on the floor start to crumble. And still Jaxon doesn’t relinquish his hold. Still, he continues to pull.

The oxygen in the room is getting thinner, and I’m really struggling for breath now. He must be, too, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he continues to manipulate every single thing in the room.

The smoke struggles to escape one more time, but with a roar, Jaxon yanks it back inside the sphere once and for all. And then he just shuts it down, just turns off the conduit or the energy suck or whatever it is so that everything around us just settles.

The room stops shaking, the walls and ceiling and floor stop breaking apart, the remaining candles drop to the floor, and the oxygen slowly starts to stabilize. I settle back against the ground and just breathe for a few seconds, even as I watch Jaxon condense the sphere between his hands into a glowing orb only a little larger than a tennis ball.

And then he pulls his hand back and fires it straight at Lia.

It hits her in the stomach, and her whole body arches off the floor. She gives one last terrifying gasp as she absorbs the energy, the matter, the smoke. Then she looks straight at him and whispers, “Yes. Finally. Thank you.”

Seconds later she explodes into a cloud of dust that slowly settles back onto the ground.

All I can think is that it’s over. Oh my God, it’s finally over.

“Jaxon!” I turn to him, try to crawl toward the only boy I’ve ever loved. But I’m weak, so weak, and the altar is too far away. Instead, I hold a hand out to him instead and call his name over and over and over again.

Jaxon staggers across the altar toward me, then half jumps, half falls off of it to the ground below, where I’m waiting for him.

He takes my hand, brings it to his lips. And whispers, “I’m so sorry,” before falling into a dead faint at my feet.

“Jaxon!” Frantically, I call his name. “Jaxon, wake up! Jaxon!” He doesn’t move, and for one, terrifying second I’m not even sure he’s breathing.

Somehow I find the strength to roll him over. I press a hand to his chest, feel the shallow movement of his chest up and down, and nearly sob in relief. But there’s no time for that, not when he’s still bleeding out from the chest wound Lia gave him. And not when he’s turned a pasty, sickly white.

“I’ve got you,” I whisper to him as I grab on to one of the ragged strips Lia actually left on my shift and rip it off. I ball it up, press it firmly to Jaxon’s wound in an effort to staunch the blood. “I’ve got you.”

Except I don’t have him. Not really. Not when he could die on me at any second. He’s lost so much blood—more than I have at this point—but I don’t know what to do about it. If I leave him and go for help, he might very well bleed out while I’m gone. If I don’t, he may bleed out anyway, since I can’t seem to staunch the blood.

Desperate, I look around for any untouched jars of the blood Lia had lined up around the altar earlier today. But they’re all gone now, sucked into Jaxon’s vortex or spilled onto the floor around us.

“What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?” I mutter to myself as I try to get my panic-stricken and pain-addled brain to work. Jaxon’s heart rate is slowing down and so is his breathing. I don’t have much time to do something, anything to save him.

In the end, I do the only thing I can think of. The only thing I can do in this situation. I claw open one of the wounds on my wrists until it starts to bleed freely again. And then I press my wrist to his mouth and whisper, “Drink.”

At first there’s no response as my blood drips onto Jaxon’s lips. Seconds go by, maybe a full minute, and I’m beginning to despair. If he doesn’t drink, he’ll die. If he doesn’t drink, we’ll both—

He regains consciousness with a roar. Then his hands are gripping my arm like a vise as he bites down right over my vein. And sucks and sucks and sucks.

It feels nothing—and everything—like it usually does when he drinks from me. There’s pleasure, yes, but also a lot of pain as he takes in as much of my blood as he can with every swallow. Despite the pain, relief swamps me even as the room around me goes black.

There’s no fighting it this time, no need to fight it this time, because I’m not alone. Jaxon’s here with me, and that’s all that matters. So when the next wave of blackness rises up to swamp me, I don’t struggle against it.

Instead, I give myself over to it—and to Jaxon—trusting that somehow everything will be okay.

Trusting that somehow Jaxon will make sure of it.


A Bite

to Remember

The first thing I notice upon waking up is that I’m warm. Really warm, which feels off for some reason, though I can’t quite figure out why. Then again. I can’t quite figure out a lot of things as I drift slowly between sleep and wakefulness.

Like what the weird beep I’m hearing is from.

Or why my right arm feels like it’s being crushed.

Or why my room smells like apples and cinnamon.

Eventually, it’s the second question that brings me to full consciousness, that has me opening up my eyes and shaking out my arm in an effort to get the pain to stop.

The first thing I see when I open my eyes is a woman in a black-and-purple caftan holding a clipboard and reading a little machine next to my bed. The same machine that’s making the beeping noise, it turns out. And making my arm hurt, because as soon as she presses a button, the pressure goes away.

Because blood pressure is an actual thing, apparently. And so are IVs, if the needle stuck into the back of my hand and the tube it’s attached to are any indication.

It all comes flooding back to me in a rush—Flint, Lia, the fight.

“Jaxon.” I push myself up, start looking wildly around the room. “Jaxon! Is he all right? Is he—”

“He’s fine, Grace,” the woman tells me with a soothing pat on the shoulder. “And so are you, though it was a touch dicey for a minute—with the both of you.”

Her words feel an awful lot like déjà vu—then again, a lot of this morning feels like déjà vu. After everything that just happened, it’s hard to imagine that it was just a couple of days ago that I found out about vampires. And now, I’ve helped murder one.

And—please God—helped save one, I remind myself as I scoot down the raised hospital bed until I make it past the guardrails and can actually swing my legs over the edge. “Where is he?” I demand of the short-haired woman standing next to my bed. “I need to make sure…” I stop, because I can’t even say the words out loud.

“He really is okay,” the nurse assures me, her tone soothing. “In fact, he’s right outside your room. I asked him to step out while I took your vitals, but other than when medical personnel request it, he hasn’t left your side since he brought you in.”

“Can you get him for me?” I ask after licking my dry lips. “I just need a minute with him.”

I’m assuming if I’m here, then Jaxon made it out of that hellhole of a dungeon. But emotion is currently outweighing logic, and I just need to see him. Just need to hear his voice and feel his hand—his body—against mine to believe that he actually made it out.

To believe that the nightmare is finally over.

“I’ll get him,” she tells me. “If you lie back in that bed. Your pulse rate is skyrocketing, and we just got everything stabilized, for heaven’s sake.”

My pulse is skyrocketing because I’m panicking, I want to screech at her. Jaxon was nearly dead the last time I saw him.

But I don’t screech. Instead, I settle for whispering, “Thank you,” as I lean back against the raised head of the bed. My hands are shaking, so I hide them under the covers—no need to broadcast the fact that I already feel exhausted from one little adrenaline spike.

“You’re welcome,” she answers. “And just so you know what’s going on, you’re in Katmere Academy’s infirmary, where you’ve been for the last two days. I’m Nurse Alma, and I’ve been taking care of you along with Marise. Like I said earlier, you’re pretty banged up and you lost a lot of blood. Plus you have a dislocated shoulder, so now that you’re awake and moving around, Marise will probably be splinting it up for a while. But overall, you’re in good health. Jaxon got you here before the blood loss could do any permanent damage. You’re going to be fine in a few days.”

I know I should care about what she’s saying and I will…soon. “What about Jaxon?” I ask anxiously. “He was stabbed. He lost a lot of blood, too. Is he—”

“From what I understand, you took care of him quite well. But let me get him so you can calm down. He can tell you how he is while I call your uncle and let him know you’re awake.”

I watch anxiously as Alma walks through the door into the hallway. She’s speaking softly, so I can’t hear what she’s saying, but seconds later Jaxon bounds through the door. Alive and reasonably well.

Relief sweeps through me, and I finally feel like I can take a real breath. I mean, yeah, he looks like hell—or at least, as close to hell as someone like him can look—but he’s alive. And walking under his own power. That has to count for something.

As he gets closer, I realize his complexion is still a little gray, which makes his scar stand out against his cheek in stark relief. He also seems like he’s lost at least five pounds in the two days I’ve been asleep. Which is impossible, I know, but he looks so tired and thin and worn out—nothing like the force of nature I’m used to.

“You’re awake,” he says, and for a second I swear I see tears in his dark eyes. But then he blinks and there’s nothing but strength there…and something else I don’t even try to interpret. Not when my head is spinning and I can barely keep my eyes open.