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Makes me wonder just how she’d taste.

But since drinking her—dry or otherwise—is out of the question, I shove the thought down deep and take the last half set of stairs in one leap.

She still doesn’t notice, and I can’t help wondering if she’s got a death wish or if she’s just spectacularly unobservant.

I’m hoping it’s the latter, because the former would definitely complicate things. Especially here at Katmere, where, at the moment, it feels like nearly everyone is hanging on to civilization by a thread. Myself definitely included.

I move up behind her as she picks up a chess piece and starts turning it around like it’s the most fascinating thing in the world. Curious despite myself, I peer over her shoulder to see just what she finds so fascinating. But when I see what piece she’s looking at—dear old Mom in all her glory—I can’t help but lean in a little closer and warn, “I’d be careful with that one if I were you. She’s got a nasty bite.”

She jumps like I’ve actually bitten her instead of simply pointed out the danger. So simply unobservant, then, not a death wish. Things are looking up.

I start to warn her about turning her back on anyone in this place, but she whirls around before I can get the words out. And as our gazes collide, I lose all sense of what I was going to say.

Because fuck. Just fuck.

She’s everything and nothing like I expected her to be.

She’s fragile, like all humans. So easily broken—just a twist of my hand or a slice of my fangs and she could easily be dead. Problem solved, except, of course, for the shit storm Foster would unleash.

But as she looks up at me with startled eyes the color of rich, melted milk chocolate, I’m not thinking about killing her. Instead, I’m thinking about how soft her skin looks.

About how much I like the way her curls frame her heart-shaped face.

About whether the cluster of freckles on her left cheek forms a flower or a star.

And I’m sure as hell thinking about what it would feel like to sink my teeth into that spot right below her ear.

What she would sound like when she asked me to do it.

What she would feel like against me as she offered herself.

What she would taste like on my tongue… If it’s anything like how she smells, I’m afraid I might not be able to stop. And I can always stop.

It’s not a realization I’m comfortable with, especially considering I came down here to check her out and make sure she wasn’t going to cause any trouble when things are already so messed up. And here I am, suddenly thinking about—

“Who’s got a nasty bite?” Her tremulous voice interrupts my thoughts, has me looking past her to the chess table…and the piece she dropped when I startled her.

I reach past her, pick up the vampire queen—even though she’s pretty much the last thing I ever want to touch—and hold her up for Foster’s niece, for Grace to see. “She’s really not very nice.”

She stares at me blankly. “She’s a chess piece.”

Her confusion amuses me—as does her determination to pretend that she’s not afraid of me. She’s got enough bravado that it might work on another human, but not with me. Not when I can smell her fear…and something else that makes me stand up and take notice. “Your point?” I ask, because poking the human is way too much fun.

“My point is, she’s a chess piece,” she answers, and for the first time, she’s brave enough to look me in the eye. Which I like, way more than I should. “She’s made of marble,” she continues after a moment. “She can’t bite anyone.”

I incline my head in a you never know gesture. “‘There are more things in heaven and hell, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’” Considering the clusterfuck we are currently in the middle of, a little Hamlet seems more than appropriate.

“Earth,” she responds.

Which has me raising a brow at her. Not only does she know the quote, but she’s not afraid to call me on my “mistake.”

“The quote is, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.’”

“Is it, now? I think I like my version better.”

“Even though it’s wrong?”

“Especially because it’s wrong.” She sounds incredulous and looks it, too. Which amuses me even as it concerns me. Because it means my first impression was right—she really is unobservant. Not to mention totally and completely clueless. All of which means she’s going to get slaughtered up here—or she’s going to cause a war. Or both.

I can’t afford to let that happen…for everyone’s sake. Not when I’ve worked so hard—and given up everything—to keep that from happening.

“I need to go.” Her eyes are wide, the words high-pitched and a little squeaky.

It’s the last straw, because if she can’t handle a basic conversation with me on my best behavior, how the hell is she going to make it so much as a day here?

“Yeah, you do.” I take a small step back, nod toward the common room—and the school entrance. “The door’s that way.”

Shock flits across her face as she demands, “So what, I shouldn’t let it hit me on the way out?”

I shrug just before giving her an answer guaranteed to send her running for the hills. The fact that it also makes me sound like a total douche is for me to regret and for her to never know why. “As long as you leave this school, it doesn’t matter to me if it hits you or not. I warned your uncle you wouldn’t be safe here, but he obviously doesn’t like you much.”

Anger flashes across her face, replacing the uncertainty. “Who exactly are you supposed to be, anyway? Katmere’s very own unwelcome wagon?”

“Unwelcome wagon?” I repeat. “Believe me, this is the nicest greeting you’re going to get here.”

“This is it, huh?” She raises her brows, spreads her arms out wide. “The big welcome to Alaska?”

The snark surprises me as much as it intrigues me—which is not acceptable…on any level. The knowledge has me snarling, “More like, welcome to hell. Now get the fuck out,” as much as a warning to myself as an attempt to scare her senseless.

Too bad it doesn’t work—on either front. Because she doesn’t shut down at my warning, and she sure as hell doesn’t run away. Instead, she just looks down her very cute nose at me and demands, “Is it that stick up your ass that makes you such a jerk? Or is this just your regular, charming personality?”

Shock washes over me—no one talks to me like that. Ever. Let alone some human girl I could kill with little more than a thought. With it comes a quick lick of frustration. Because I’m trying to save her life here, and she’s too unaware to even notice.

I need to change that—and fast. Narrowing my eyes at her, I snap, “I’ve got to say, if that’s the best you’ve got, I give you about an hour.”

It’s her turn for her brows to go up. “Before what?”

“Before something eats you.” Obviously.

“Seriously? That’s what you decided to go with?” She rolls her eyes. “Bite me, dude.”

If she only knew how much I want to do just that… The angrier she gets, the better she smells. Not to mention how good she looks with flushed cheeks and the pulse point at the hollow of her throat beating double-time.

“Nah, I don’t think so,” I tell her even as my mouth waters and my fangs threaten to elongate with every rapid pound of her heart.

I want to taste her. Want to feel the softness of her body leaning into mine as I drink my fill. As I drink and drink and— I cut off the thought. Force myself to look her up and down disparagingly before answering, “I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t even make an appetizer.”

I step closer, determined to intimidate her—determined to get her out of here before all hell breaks loose and she gets hurt “Maybe a quick snack, though.” I snap my teeth fast and hard. Then do my best to ignore the way she shivers at the sound.

It’s so much fucking harder than it should be. Especially when she refuses to back down like anyone—everyone—else would. Instead she asks, “What is wrong with you?”

And shit. I nearly laugh at that, because “Got a century or three?” That just might be long enough to scratch the surface of my answer, if I was honest.

“You know what? You really don’t have to be such a—”

Behind us, everyone is circling, straining to hear. None of them is stupid enough to actually wander by too close, but I can feel them there just around the corner. Listening. Waiting. Strategizing.

Which means enough is more than enough. Time to get serious about scaring her away. “Don’t tell me what I have to be,” I growl. “Not when you don’t have a clue what you’ve wandered into here.”

“Oh no!” She does a mock-afraid face, then asks, “Is this the part of the story where you tell me about the big, bad monsters out here in the big, bad Alaskan wilderness?”

And damn, but she impresses me. Sure, it’s frustrating as hell that she’s not taking any of this seriously, but it’s hard to blame her when all she knows is what she’s getting from me. In fact, I’m impressed she’s doing such a good job of holding her own—not many people can against me.

Which is why I respond, “No, this is the part of the story where I show you the big, bad monsters right here in this castle.” I step forward, closing the small distance she managed to put between us.

She needs to know that if she’s going to walk around this place challenging people like that, there will be consequences. Better that she learn it from me than from one of the shifters who likes to claw first and ask questions later.

She must read the intent in my face, because she takes one trembling step back. Then another. And another.

But I follow suit, moving one step forward for every step she takes backward, until she’s pressed right up against the edge of the chess table. Nowhere else to go.