"I guess beggars can't be choosy," she muttered, stuffing the weapon into the waistband of her jeans.


She went back to Nikolai and started unlocking his restraints. When she freed his hand, she was stunned to feel it clamp down around her own.


"Leave," he snarled viciously.


"Yeah, that's what we're working on here," Renata replied. "Let go so I can unlock the rest of these damned things." He sucked in a breath, a low hiss that made the hairs at her nape prickle to attention. "You...leave...not me."


"What?" Frowning, she pulled her hand free and leaned over him to loosen the other restraint. "Don't try to talk. We don't have much time."


He gripped her so hard she thought her wrist would snap. "Leave. Me. Here."


"I can't do that. I need your help."


Those wild amber eyes seemed to stare right through her, hot and deadly. But his punishing grasp eased. He fell back onto the bed as another convulsion racked him.


"Almost done," Renata assured him, working quickly to unlock the last of his bonds. "Come on. I'll help you up."


She had to pull him to his feet, and even then he didn't seem steady enough to stay upright, let alone make the hard dash their escape was going to call for. Renata gave him her shoulder. "Lean, Nikolai," she ordered him. "I'll do most of the work. Now let's get the hell out of here."


He growled something indecipherable as she wedged herself under his bulk and started walking. Renata rushed for the stairwell. The steps were difficult for Nikolai, but they managed to make it down them all with only a few falters.


"Stay here," she told him when they reached the bottom.


She sat him down on the last step and dashed out to clear their path to the shipping and receiving bay. The office at the end of the hall was still empty. Beyond the access door, however, the driver was still talking with the guard on duty, both of them anxious due to the bleat of fire alarms pealing all around them.


Renata strolled out with the tranquilizer gun drawn. The vampire saw her coming. Faster than she could react, he had drawn his pistol and fired off a shot. Renata hit him with a mental blast, but not before she felt a ripping heat slam into her left shoulder. She smelled blood, felt the hot trickle of it leaking down her arm.


Damn it - she was hit.


Okay, now she was really pissed off. Renata blasted the vampire again and he staggered to one knee, dropping his weapon. The human driver screamed and dove behind the truck for cover as Renata strode forward and shot the vampire with two tranq rounds. He went down with barely a whimper. Renata walked around to find the driver cowering by the wheel.


"Oh, Jesus!" he cried as she came to stand before him. He put his hands up, face slack with fear. "Oh, Jesus! Please don't kill me!"


"I won't," Renata answered, then shot him in the thigh with the tranq.


With both males down, she ran back to get Nikolai. Ignoring the screaming pain in her shoulder, she hurried him into the receiving bay and shoved him into the back of the supply truck where he'd be safe from daylight outside.


"Find something to hold onto," she told him. "Things are going to get bumpy now."


She didn't give him a chance to say anything. Working quickly, she slammed the doors and threw the latch, sealing him inside. Then she jumped into the idling cab and threw the vehicle into gear.


As she crashed the truck through the receiving bay's door and sped up the drive toward escape, she had to wonder if she'd just saved Nikolai's life or condemned them both.


Chapter Sixteen


His head was beating like a drum. The constant, rhythmic pounding filled his ears, so deafening it dragged him toward consciousness after what seemed like an endless, fitful sleep. His body ached. Was he lying on the floor somewhere? He felt cold metal underneath his naked body, the heavy bulk of cardboard shipping crates jabbing into his spine and shoulder. A sheet of plastic covered him like a makeshift blanket.


He tried to lift his head but hardly had the strength. His skin felt livid, pulsating from head to toe. Every inch of him felt wrung out, stretched tight, hot with fever. His mouth was dry, his throat parched and raw.


He thirsted.


That need was all he could focus on, the only coherent thought swimming through his banging skull.


Blood.


Christ, he starved for it.


He could taste the hunger - the black, consuming madness - in every shallow breath that sifted through his teeth. His fangs filled his mouth. His gums throbbed where the huge canines descended, as though his fangs had been there for hours. Some distant, sober part of his logic noted the misfire on that calculation; a Breed vampire 's fangs normally displayed only in moments of heightened physical response, whether reacting to prey or passion or pure animal rage.


The drum still banging away in his head only made the throb of his fangs deepen. It was the pounding that woke him. The pounding that would not let him sleep now.


Something was wrong with him, he thought, even as he peeled his burning eyes open and took in the too -sharp, amber- washed details of his surroundings.


Small, confined space. Lightless. A box filled with more boxes.


And a woman.


All else faded once his gaze found her. Dressed in a long-sleeved black shirt and dark jeans, she lay in a fetal ball across from him, arms and legs tucked hard into the curve of her torso. A lot of her chin-length inky hair had fallen over the side of her face, concealing her features.


He knew her...or felt that he should.


A less cognizant part of him knew only that she was warm and healthy, defenseless. The air was tinged with the merest trace of sandalwood and rain. Her blood scent, some dim instinct roused to tell him. He knew it - and her - with a certainty that seemed etched in his own marrow. His dry mouth was suddenly wet in anticipation of feeding. Need coupled with opportunity lent him a strength he didn't have a moment ago.


Quietly he levered himself up off the floor and moved into a low crouch. Sitting on his haunches, he cocked his head, watching the female sleep. He crept closer, a predatory crawl that brought him right on top of her. The amber glow of his irises bathed her in golden light as he let his starving gaze roam over her body.


And that ceaseless drumming was louder here, the vibration so clear he could feel it in the soles of his bare feet. It banged in his head, commanding all of his attention. Drawing him closer, then closer still.


It was her pulse. Staring down at her, he could see the soft tick of her heartbeat fluttering at the side of her neck. Steady, strong.


The very spot he meant to catch between his fangs.


A low rumble - a growl emanating from his own throat - rolled through the stillness of the place.


The female stirred under him.


Her eyelids flipped open, startled, then went wider. "Nikolai."


At first the name hardly registered to him. The fog in his mind was so thick, his thirst so total, he knew nothing else but the urge to feed. It was more than an urge - it was insatiable compulsion. Certain damnation.


Bloodlust.


The word traveled through his hunger-swamped mind like a phantom. He heard it, knew instinctively to fear it. But before he could fully grasp what the word meant, it was ghosting away from him, back to the shadows.


"Nikolai," the woman said again. "How long have you been awake?"


Her voice was familiar to him somehow, a peculiar comfort to him, but he couldn't quite place her. Nothing seemed to make sense to him. All that made sense was that tempting thud of her carotid and the deep hunger that compelled him to reach out and take what he needed.


"You're safe here," she told him. "We're in the back of the supply truck I took from the containment facility. I had to stop and rest for a while, but I'm good to go now. It's going to be dark soon. We should keep moving before we're spotted." As she spoke, images flashed through his memory. The containment facility. Pain. Torture. Questions. A Breed male called Fabien. A male he wanted to kill. And this brave woman...she was there too. Incredibly, she had helped him to escape. Renata.


Yes. He knew her name after all. He didn't know why she had come for him, or why she would try to save him. Didn't matter.


She was too late.


"They forced me," he croaked, his voice sounding detached from his body, rough as gravel. "Too much blood. They forced me to drink it..."


She stared at him. "What do you mean, they forced you?"


"Tried to...to push me into overdose. Addiction."


"Blood addiction?"


He gave a vague nod and coughed, pain racking his chest. "Too much blood...it brings on Bloodlust. They asked me questions...wanted me to betray the Order. I refused, so they...punished me."


"Lex said they would kill you," she murmured. "Nikolai, I'm sorry."


She lifted her hand as though she might touch him.


"Don't," he growled, snatching her by the wrist.


She gasped, tried to pull free. He didn't let her go. Her warm skin seared his fingertips and palm, everywhere he touched her. He could feel the movement of her bones and lean muscles, the racing of her blood as it coursed through the veins of her arm. It would be so easy to bring that tender wrist up to his mouth.


So tempting to pin her beneath him and drink himself straight into damnation.


He knew the precise moment that she went from surprise to apprehension. Her pulse kicked. Her skin tightened in his grasp.


"Let go of me, Nikolai."


He held on, the beast in him wondering whether to start on her wrist or her neck. His mouth watered, fangs aching to pierce her tender flesh. And he hungered for her in another way too. There was no hiding his rigid need. He knew it was the Bloodlust driving him, but that didn't make him any less dangerous.


"Let go," she said again, and when he finally released her, she scooted back, putting some distance between them. There wasn't far for her to go. Stacked boxes hemmed her in from behind, beyond that the wall of the truck's interior. The way she moved, halting and careful, made the predator in him sense weakness.


Was she in some kind of pain? If so, her eyes didn't reflect it. Their pale color seemed steely as she stared at him, defiant. He glanced down and his feral eyes lit on the gleaming barrel of a pistol.


"Do it," he murmured.


She shook her head. "I don't want to hurt you. I need your help, Nikolai."


Too late for that, he thought. She had pulled him out of purgatory at the hands of his captors, but he'd already gotten a taste of hell. The only way out was to starve the addiction, deny it from taking full hold. He didn't know if he was strong enough to fight his thirst.


He wouldn't be, so long as Renata was near him.


"Do it...please. Don't know how much longer I can hold out..."


"Niko - "


The beast in him exploded. With a roar, he bared his fangs and lunged for her.


The shot rang out that next instant, a stunning clap of thunder that finally, gratefully, silenced his misery.


Renata sat back on her heels, the tranq gun still gripped in her hands. Her heart was racing, part of her stomach still lodged in her throat after Nikolai had sprung on her with his huge fangs bared. Now he lay in a sprawl on the floor, motionless except for his shallow, labored breathing. Aside from his churning skin markings, with his eyes shut and his fangs hidden behind his closed mouth, there was little way to tell that he was the same violent creature who might have torn out her jugular.


Shit.


What the hell was she doing here? What the hell was she thinking, allying herself with a vampire, imagining she might actually be able to trust one of their kind? She knew firsthand how treacherous they were - how lethal they could turn in just an instant. She might have been killed just now. There was a moment when she really thought she would be.


But Nikolai had tried to warn her. He didn't want to harm her; she'd seen that torment in his eyes, heard it in his broken voice in that instant before he would have leapt on her. He was different from the others like him. He had honor, something she'd assumed was lacking in the Breed as a whole, given that her examples were limited to Sergei Yakut, Lex, and those who served them.


Nikolai couldn't have known her weapon didn't hold bullets, and yet he'd forced her to take him down. Begged her for it.


She had been through some pretty rough things in her life, but Renata didn't know that kind of torment and suffering. She was quite sure she hoped she never would.


The wound in her shoulder burned like hell. It was bleeding again, worse, after this tense physical confrontation. At least the bullet had passed through cleanly. The nasty hole it left behind was going to need medical attention, although she didn 't see a hospital in her near future. She also didn't think it wise to stay near Nikolai now, especially while she was bleeding and the only thing keeping him away from her carotid was that single dose of sedatives.


The tranq gun was empty.


Night was falling, she was nursing a bleeding gunshot wound and the added bonus of her lingering reverb. And staying in the stolen truck was like hiding out with a large bull's-eye target on their backs.


She needed to ditch the vehicle. Then she needed to find someplace safe where she could patch herself up well enough for her to push on. Nikolai was an added problem. She wasn't ready to give up on him, but he was no use to her in his current condition. If he could manage to shake the terrible aftereffects of his torture, then maybe. And if not...


If not, then she had just wasted more precious time than she cared to consider.


Moving gingerly, Renata climbed out the back of the trailer and latched the doors behind her. The sun had set, and dusk was coming fast. In the distance, the lights of Montreal glowed.


Mira was somewhere in that city.


Helpless, alone...afraid.

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***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

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