"I'm not going to let anything happen to Mira," he said, forcing her to hold his intense gaze. "You have my word on that. I'm not going to let anything happen to you either, which is why I'm going to get you medical care for your shoulder as soon as the sun sets tonight."


"What?" She tried to raise up and winced from the sharp stab of pain. "I'll be fine. I don't need a doctor - "


"You're not fine, Renata. You're getting worse by the hour." His expression was grave as he looked from the searing wound in her shoulder back to her eyes. "You can't continue like this."


"I'll survive," she insisted. "I'm not about to quit now, when Mira's life is on the line."


"Your life is on the line too. Do you understand?" He shook his head and muttered something dark and nasty under his breath. "You could die if this wound doesn't get treated. I won't let that happen, so that means you have a date with the nearest emergency room tonight."


"What about blood?" She watched as every muscle in Nikolai's body seemed to tense up the moment the words left her lips. "What about it?" he asked, his voice wooden, unreadable.


"You asked me earlier if I'd ever taken Sergei's blood. Would I be healed now if I had?"


He lifted his shoulder in a vague shrug, but the tension in his big body remained. When he lifted his gaze to hers, there were flashes of amber burning into the wintry blue of his irises. His pupils were thinning by fractions as he stared at her. "Would I be healed now if you gave me your blood, Nikolai?"


"Are you asking me for it?"


"If I were, would you give it to me?"


He exhaled sharply, and when his lips parted to draw another breath, Renata saw the sharp points of his fangs. "It's not as simple a question as you might think," he replied, a rough edge to his voice. "You will be bonded to me. The same way Yakut was linked to you through your blood, you will be linked to me. You'll feel me in your blood. You will be aware of me always, and it can't be undone, Renata - not even if you drink from another Breed male down the line. Our bond will trump any others. It can't be broken, not until one of us is dead."


This was no small thing; she understood that. Hell, she could hardly believe she was considering it at all. But deep down, crazy as it might be, she trusted Nikolai. And she truly didn't care about the cost to herself. "If we do this, will I be well enough to walk out of here tonight and search for Mira?"


His jaw was clamped tight enough to make a muscle jerk in his cheek. He stared at her, his features going more feral by the moment. Bit by bit, the blue of his eyes was engulfed by a fiery glow.


When it didn't seem like he would answer her, Renata reached out and laid her hand firmly on his arm. "Will your blood heal me, Nikolai?"


"Yes," he said, the word sounding strangled in his throat.


"Then I want to do this."


As he held her gaze in an intense silence, she thought about all the times Sergei Yakut had fed from her veins, how degraded and used she'd felt...how revolted she'd been by the idea that her blood was nourishing such a cruel, monstrous being. She would never have considered taking any part of him into herself, not even if it had been a matter of her own survival. It would have killed a piece of her soul to willingly put her mouth on Yakut's body. To drink from him? She wasn't even sure that her love for Mira could have overcome something as vile as that.


But Nikolai wasn't a monster. He was honorable and just. He was tender and protective, a male who was feeling more and more a partner to her the farther they traveled down this uncertain road. He was her best ally right now. Her brightest hope of retrieving Mira.


And deeper still, in a place that was all woman, with needs and wants she hardly dared to examine too closely, she craved a taste of Nikolai. She craved that more than she had a right to.


"Are you sure, Renata?"


"If you'll give me your blood, then yes," she said. "I want to take it."


In the long silence that followed, Nikolai sat back from her on the bed. She watched as he unbuttoned the big oxford shirt, waiting for her uncertainty - her apprehension - to worsen. It didn't happen. As Nikolai stripped off the shirt and sat before her bare-chested, his dermaglyphs pulsing, every arch and swirl saturated with variegating shades of wine-dark colors, she felt no misgivings at all. When he crawled up toward her and lifted his right arm up to his mouth, baring his huge fangs, then sinking them into his wrist, she felt nothing even close to fear.


And when, in that next moment, he placed the bleeding punctures next to her lips and told her to drink, Renata had no inclination whatsoever to refuse.


The first taste of Nikolai's blood on her tongue was a shock.


She'd expected to be swamped by the bitter taste of copper, but instead she tasted warm, muted spices and a power that spread through her like liquid electricity. She could feel his blood coursing down her throat, into every fiber of her body. Light flowed into her limbs from within, and the ache in her wounded shoulder began to ease as she drew more of Nikolai 's healing strength inside her.


"That's it," he murmured, his fingers stroking her damp hair away from her cheek. "Ah, Christ, that's it, Renata...drink until you feel you've had enough."


She pulled long and hard from his wrist, with an instinct she never knew she had. It felt right to be drinking from Nikolai like this. It felt more than right...it felt incredible. The more she took from him, the more alive she felt. Every nerve ending blinked on as though a switch had been thrown in her core.


And as he continued to caress her, to nourish and heal her, Renata began to feel a new kind of heat building swiftly inside her.


She moaned, swept up in the molten wave that washed through her. She writhed, and knew better than to mistake the feeling for anything but what it was...desire. A desire that she had been trying to deny since she first met Nikolai, and which now was rising up to consume her.


She couldn't resist suckling at him deeper.


She needed more of him.


She needed all of him, and she needed him now.


Chapter Twenty-one


Nikolai braced himself on the edge of the bed, knotting his free hand in the sheet and holding onto it like a tether line as Renata continued to feed. She drank from him like she did everything else: with fearless strength and ferocious conviction. No hedging anxiety in her jade-green eyes, no uncertainty in her firm grasp on his arm. And each pull of her mouth on his open vein, every sure, coaxing sweep of her tongue across his skin, ratcheted him tighter than anything he'd ever felt before.


In all things she set her mind to, Renata was a force to be reckoned with. She was unlike any female Niko had ever known - in many ways, as much a warrior as any of the Breed males who'd served alongside him in the Order. She had a warrior's heart and a warrior's honor, and an unshakable resolve that demanded his total respect. Renata had saved his life, and for that he owed her. But holy hell...what was happening between them here had nothing to do with duty or obligation.


He was starting to care for her - more than he was comfortable admitting, even to himself.


He wanted her too. Christ, did he ever. His need was made all the worse for the erotic suction of her mouth as it worked on his vein, her lithe body undulating in heated reaction to his otherworldly blood feeding her uninitiated cells.


Renata moaned, a throaty purr of arousal as she moved closer to him on the mattress, each grinding movement of her body loosening the towel that covered her. She didn't seem to notice, or care at all that Nikolai's amber gaze was traveling the entire nearly naked length of her. Her shoulder wound was looking better already. The swelling and redness was receding, and the too- sallow color of the rest of her skin was looking more healthy by the minute. Renata was getting stronger, more vibrant and demanding, one fever being replaced by another.


He probably should have told her that aside from its nourishment and healing properties, Breed blood was also a potent aphrodisiac. He figured he could handle whatever might happen, but damn...nothing would have prepared him for Renata's molten response.


Crawling up against him now, still suckling at him, she reached over with one hand and freed his clenched fist from the tangled sheet. She guided his fingers under the folds of the bath towel to her breasts. He couldn't resist running the pad of his thumb over the tight nipple of one, then the other. Her breath sped up as he caressed her warm, tender skin, the hard flutter of her heart beating against his hand as she impatiently guided him lower...over the soft plane of her abdomen to the silky juncture of her thighs.


She was drenched and hot, the cleft of her sex like warm, wet satin as he slid one finger along her core. She clenched her thighs around him, holding him there as if he had any thought at all to leave. She took another draw from his wrist, the pull so thorough he felt it all the way to his balls. Squeezing his eyes shut, he dropped his head back and hissed a slow, wordless groan, the tendons in his neck going as taut as cables. His cock was rock-solid and standing at full attention between his legs. Another minute of this torment and he was going to lose it right there in his borrowed pair of warm-ups.


"Ah, fuck," he snarled, pulling his hand away from the sweet temptation of her aroused body. He slowly lowered his chin to look at her. When his eyelids lifted, the heat from his transformed irises bathed Renata in an ember-bright glow. She was gloriously naked, sitting there in front of him like a dark goddess, her lips fastened to his wrist, her pale eyes dusky as she stared up at him, unabashed.


"No more," he muttered, his voice rough, the words thickened by the presence of his fangs. He was gasping for breath, every nerve ending electrified. "We have to stop...Jesus Christ...we'd better stop now."


She moaned in protest but, very gently, Nikolai withdrew his wrist from Renata 's feeding grasp and brought the twin punctures to his lips. A sweep of his tongue over the wounds sealed them closed.


With hooded, hungry eyes, she watched him lick the place where her mouth had been, her own tongue darting out to wet her lips. "What's happening to me?" she asked, running her hands across her breasts, her spine stretching and arching with feline grace. "What did you...do to me? My God...I'm burning up."


"It's the blood bond," he said, hardly able to form a complete sentence for the way his senses were throbbing with awareness - and need - of this woman. "I should have warned you...I'm sorry."


He started to move away but she grabbed his hand and held it. Gave a nearly imperceptible shake of her head. Her chest rose and fell with each pump of her lungs, and the heavy-lidded gaze she fixed on him looked anything but offended. Knowing that he shouldn't take advantage of the situation, Nikolai reached up and stroked the pink blush that filled her cheek.


Renata moaned as his touch lingered, turning her face into his palm. "Is it...is it always like this when you let a woman drink from you?"


He shook his head. "I don't know. You're the first."


She glanced up at him, a small frown creasing her brow. He could see the surprise register behind the blood-induced lust that filled her gaze. A quiet cry slipped past her lips and then she was moving toward him without any hesitation, her hands coming up to frame his face.


She kissed him, long and hard and deep.


"Touch me, Nikolai," she murmured against his mouth.


It was as much a demand as the urgent press of her lips on his, her tongue pushing past his teeth. Niko ran his hands all over her naked skin, meeting her kiss thrust for thrust, his body as hungry as hers was, and he couldn't blame his ferocious need on the natural response of a blood bond. His hunger for Renata was something else completely, although just as consuming.


Greedily, he reached back down to the haven of her sex. This time, he couldn't play at touching her, not when her scent was intoxicating him as much as the heated silk of her core was driving him mad. He stroked her wet folds, cleaving them with his fingers and spreading her open to him like a flower. She arched up to meet him as he penetrated her with first one finger, then another. He filled her, reveling in the tight clench of her body, the subtle ripples of her tight inner muscles as he stroked and teased her toward climax.


He was so engrossed in her pleasure that he hardly noticed her hands were moving until he felt her tugging at the drawstring of his pants. He hissed when she slipped underneath the waistband and found his stiff cock. She palmed the head of him, slicking her fingers with the drop of fluid that beaded there, then torturing him with a slow, steady stroke of her hand down the length of his shaft.


"You want me too," she said, not quite a question when the answer was overflowing her hand.


"Oh, yes," Niko answered anyway. "Hell yes...I want you, Renata."


She smiled hungrily and pushed him down onto his back on the bed. She inched his pants down off his hips, but they only made it as far as his knees. With his thick erection jutting up like a proud soldier, Nikolai watched enthralled as Renata climbed over and straddled him. He knew better than to expect any bit of coyness or hesitation. She was bold and unstoppable, and he'd never been more glad of anything in his life. Her eyes locked unflinchingly on his, Renata sank down onto his cock in a long, slow slide.


Good Christ, she felt incredible on him. So hot and tight, so damn wet.


He told himself it was only the aftershock of the blood bond making her this wanton, that she would be reacting this way to any Breed male who fed her. It was just a physical reaction, like tinder igniting when held too close to a flame. Her awareness of him right now was probably subconscious at best - she had an itch and he was the scratch she needed, plain and simple. Fine by him. It didn't need to be anything more complicated, and he wasn't idiot enough to want it to be. This sex between them right now wasn't personal, and Niko told himself he was good with that.

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