She was his. And although it would take a mutual exchange of blood to bond them together as mates, his link to her now was unbreakable. It was a visceral bond, one that could be broken only by death. And he had just forced it on her.

The thought shamed him, but it was difficult to feel remorse when Alex was clutching at him with greedy hands, panting and writhing against him as another orgasm rocked her. She moaned hotly under the hypnotic spell of his bite, her hips rising up to take him deeper inside her as he drew the honeyed sweetness of her blood into his mouth.

If she'd been merely Homo sapiens, she would have felt comfort, even pleasure, as he fed from her. But because she was a Breedmate, and because of the passion that was still coursing through both of them now, Alex's response was exponentially more intense. Her ecstasy was his now, a part of him through her blood he'd taken inside him. Now every intense feeling she experienced would be his, as well, from joy to pain.

As he drank more of her, he felt her desire rising, ratcheting to a fevered yearning she struggled to bear. His thirst had not ebbed, but it was her need that moved him now. With a careful sweep of his tongue over the twin punctures, he sealed the bite closed.

"Come on," he murmured, gathering her up into his arms. "I'm taking you to bed now." Drowsy and boneless, she rested lightly against his bare chest as he carried her down the hallway and into her bedroom. He placed her on the quilted comforter, kissing her as he settled in next to her on the bed. He caressed every silken inch of her, every curve and muscle imprinting itself on his touch.

"Look at me, Alexandra," he said when she closed her eyes in pleasure. His voice was rough and dark, almost unrecognizable to his own ears. "I need to know that you see me now, as I am. This is what I am."

She lifted her lids and gazed up at him. He waited to see her revulsion, for he would never have looked more feral--more inhuman--than he did at that moment. His glyphs pulsed with shifting colors, hues of desire and passion melding with those of his lingering hunger and the torment he felt for everything that had happened here with Alex tonight. Not the least of which being the blood bond he'd initiated and could had happened here with Alex tonight. Not the least of which being the blood bond he'd initiated and could not sever, even if she despised him for it.

He watched her study him, afraid to speak. Fearful that she would hate him now, or look away, repulsed by what he had become. "This is me, Alex," he said quietly. "This is all of me." Her light brown eyes drank him in, unfaltering. She stroked the mutating glyphs on his chest, following the pattern with a light, learning touch. She reached down farther, smoothing her palm over his thigh, then back to the erect length of his cock. He exhaled a wordless growl of pleasure as her fingers lovingly caressed him.

Through her blood, the precious part of her that swam inside him, feeding his cells, he read the depth of her desire for him. There was no fear or uncertainty in her as she gazed at him. There was only a soft but fevered demand as she reached up to grip the nape of his neck and guide him back down to her mouth.

"Make love to me again," she whispered against his lips. It was a command that Kade was more than willing to oblige. He gently rolled over her as she parted her legs to welcome him once more. He entered her slowly and tenderly as he brought her into his arms. Their kiss was long, passionate, fevered as she traced her tongue over his fangs and his sex erupted deep inside her. Kade shouted with his release and crushed her to him.

God help him, he knew now what the other mated warriors had said about the pleasure--the humbling rapture--of the blood bond. With Alex, with this woman who had awakened feelings in him he'd never wanted to risk before, now Kade knew what forever could be. He craved it, with a ferocity that stunned him.

In that moment, with Alex wrapped around him so warm and content and open to him, he wanted to hold the feeling close ... even if the wildness within him whispered insidiously that it couldn't last. The fire that had been slowly dying on the grate a few hours ago had long since gone cold. Jenna Tucker-Darrow lay tightly curled on her side on the floor of the cabin's main room, shivering as she roused from the depths of a dreamless, unnaturally heavy sleep. Her limbs were listless, uncooperative, her neck too weak and tender to let her lift her head.

With some effort, she managed to crack her eyelids open and peer into the darkness of her cabin. Dread crawled up her spine on talons made of ice.

The intruder was still there.

He sat on the floor across the room from her, his head tipped down. He was a massive, menacing presence, even at rest.

He wasn't human.

She still struggled with that awareness, wondered if what she was seeing could be blamed on the single-malt Scotch she'd been drowning herself in--Mitch's favorite, and the crutch she leaned on every year around this time to get her through the awful anniversary of his and Libby's deaths. But the immense intruder who broke into her home and was now holding her prisoner there wasn't some type of alcoholic hallucination. He was flesh and bone, though she'd never seen flesh like his before. He'd shown up unclothed despite the subzero temperatures outside, and his skin from head to toe was hairless, covered in a dense tangle of red and black markings that were too extensive to be the work of a tattoo artist. And whatever he was, he was stronger than any man she'd ever come across in her time in law enforcement, even though he was unarmed, and nursing some grievous injuries. Jenna had seen her share of gunshot wounds, enough to know that the shredded chunk of flesh and muscle blown out of his thigh and the smaller one in the side of his abdomen must have been the result of shotgun blasts. His other injuries, the blisters and seeping lesions that covered most of his skin, were less discernible, particularly in the dark. They looked like radiation burns, or a seriously intense sunburn--the kind you could get only if you did your UV baking under a full-body magnifying glass. Jenna couldn't even begin to guess where he'd come from, or what he wanted with her. She'd thought he meant to kill her when he forced his way inside her house. Truthfully, she wouldn't have cared if he had. She'd been halfway there on her own, anyway. She was tired of living without the people she cared about most. Fed up with feeling so damned useless and alone.

But the intruder--the creature, for that's what he was--did not break in with the intention of killing her. At least, not right away, from what she could tell.

He had done something equally heinous, however.

He'd bitten her in the throat, and to her shock and disbelief, he'd fed on her blood like a monster. Like a vampire.

Impossible, she knew. Her logic wanted to reject the idea, just as it wanted to reject what her eyes were still witnessing now when she looked across the room at the impossible idea in the flesh. Jenna shuddered at the recollection of his huge fangs descending on her, tearing into the side of her neck. Thankfully, she couldn't remember much beyond that. She might have fainted, but she suspected he had done something to render her unconscious. Whether she was weakened from blood loss or whatever he'd done to knock her out, she couldn't be sure.

She tried again to move from her tight ball on the floor but succeeded only in getting his attention. His head came up, the fiery twin laser beams of his eyes pinning her from across the room. Jenna stared right back, refusing to cower to him, no matter what the hell he was. She had nothing to lose, after all. He watched her for a long time. Maybe he was waiting for her to back down, or try to hoist herself up and launch at him in a fit of futile rage.

Belatedly, she noticed that he held something rectangular and shiny in his huge hands. A picture frame. She knew the one it was, didn't have to look to the fireplace mantel above the place where she lay to realize he was holding a photograph of her with Mitch and Libby. The last one she had of them together, taken just days before they were killed.

Her breath came a little faster as a feeling of weary outrage spiked in her. He had no right to touch anything of hers, least of all something as precious as that final image of her family. Across the room, the hairless head cocked at an inquisitive angle. He rose, began a slow, painful-looking walk toward her. Idly, she noticed that his gunshot wounds had stopped bleeding. The flesh didn't seem quite as ragged as it had before, almost as if it were healing at an accelerated--almost visibly accelerated--rate.

He paused in front of her and slowly eased himself down onto his haunches. Although she was anxious, fearful for what he meant to do to her now, Jenna worked hard not to show it. He held the picture frame out to her.

Jenna stared, unsure what to do.

He remained there for the longest time, watching her, his blistered hand holding the photograph of her smiling with her husband and child out to her like some kind of offering. When she didn't move or speak, finally, he set it down on the floor next to her. The glass was cracked, the edges of the silver frame marred with smudges of his blood.

Jenna looked at the happy faces behind the ruined glass and could not hold back her choked cry. Pain engulfed her, and she dropped her forehead onto the floor and sobbed quietly. Her captor limped back to the other side of the room and watched her weep, before turning to look out the unshuttered window, up at the starlit sky overhead.

Chapter Twenty-two

Resisting the pull of wakefulness that would draw her out of a deep, sensual, very enjoyable dream, Alex sighed languorously and shifted on her bed. Aside from the black velvet sleep that caressed her now, she needed only one more thing to make her state of warm, lazy bliss complete. She sent her arm out in a slow sweep of the mattress, searching for Kade's warmth.

He wasn't there.

Had he left without telling her?

Wide awake now, she came up onto her elbows and stared at the empty darkness of her bedroom. She flicked on the nightstand lamp, huffing out a disappointed groan that he was gone. But then, up the hallway, she heard the squeak of the faucet as the shower turned off.

A moment later, Kade came strolling in, naked except for her pink bath towel, which was knotted loosely around his trim hips.

"You're awake," he said, raking his fingers through the damp ebony spikes of his hair.

"You're leaving already?"

He sat down on the edge of the bed. Beads of water glistened on his shoulders and chest, a few of them sliding down his smooth skin and glyphs in thin rivulets. He looked and smelled delicious, and Alex had the strongest urge to lick him dry.

He smiled as if he sensed the lusty direction of her thoughts. "I have to go. My brothers-in-arms from Boston will be flying into Fairbanks in a couple of hours. We'll be rendezvousing at an old truck stop from Boston will be flying into Fairbanks in a couple of hours. We'll be rendezvousing at an old truck stop midway between there and the mining company. We can't risk giving Dragos or his men the chance to know we're on to them, so we're going to hit the mine without delay."

He spoke so casually about the danger that awaited him and his friends. All Alex could think of was the very real possibility that he might be hurt. Or worse, something she didn't even want to imagine. Just the thought of Kade walking into that mine--potentially into the hands of Dragos, or an even larger evil, should they cross paths with the creature they suspected had been transported to the area--made Alex quake inside with a raw, marrow-deep dread. "I don't want you to go. I'm afraid if you do, I might never see you again."

"Don't worry," he said, and something dark, something ironic, traveled over his handsome face. "You aren't going to get rid of me that easily, Alex. Not now."

He placed his palm along her cheek, then leaned down and kissed her, his mouth so tender on hers it opened up an ache in the center of her chest.

She ached in a number of places, all the right places.

By the time his lips left hers, each of her pulse points were lit up as though they'd been touched by lightning. Lower still, a heavy throb in her core sent heat pooling between her legs. After the hours of passion they'd enjoyed, she still burned for him as though she'd had only the smallest taste. She sighed with the remembered pleasure of all they'd done together. "Last night was ..."

"Yeah. It was." He smiled, but there was a hesitation in his voice. Something haunted about his eyes. He caressed her bare shoulder, then let his fingers travel up along the side of her neck, the only part of her that felt more alive and heated than the slick cleft of her thighs. Alex nestled into his feather-light strokes, shivering with a growing hunger for him as he ran his thumb across the vein that fluttered more frantically in response to his touch.

"You bit me," she whispered, feeling an odd thrill just to say the words. He inclined his head in a grim nod. "I did. I shouldn't have. I didn't have the right to take that from you."

Did he mean her blood? "It's all right, Kade."

"No," he said gravely. "It's not all right. You deserve more than that."

"I ... liked it," she told him, meaning it with a sincerity that shocked even her. "What you did, it felt good. It still does. Everywhere you touched me last night feels very good." He exhaled slowly, his breath hot as it fanned her brow. He hadn't stopped petting her throat. She could have enjoyed his soothing touch for hours more.

"What I did last night has changed everything, Alex. I drank from you. I bonded myself to you, and I can't take it back. Not even if you hate me for it."

She tilted her head up and kissed the stern line of his mouth. "Why would I hate you?" He stared at her for the longest time, as though weighing the impact of what he wanted to tell her. "I drank from you, Alex, knowing full well that you are a Breedmate. Knowing that once your blood was in my body, there would be no going back. I'm connected to you now, and it's unbreakable. It's forever. I knew what it meant, but I just ... wanted you so badly, I couldn't stop. I should have, but I didn't." Alex listened, seeing the torment in his eyes. She could see the regret, too, and it twisted her heart like a vise.


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