Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 15
He didn’t respond.
Did he think she killed innocents? Sure, she took out an occasional rogue vamp, but that was a job. The innocents were usually the fallout from misdeeds done by others, and those she only eliminated out of mercy. A vampire version of euthanasia, in a way, and she made it as painless as she could. They were already slated for death; she just helped speed up the process. Hit for hire, not hit for pleasure. And every damn one of them grated against her soul.
She shook her head. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“So tell me.”
Yeah. Right. She wondered what he’d want to chat about first. Maybe they could start with the night her parents died and nightcap with a lovely discussion about how she executed people for a living. With a profile like hers, who needed eHarmony?
Eldon shrugged a shoulder. “You’re not a mover. It’s not my place to judge what you do according to your own laws. Even if I don’t agree with it.”
She stared down at her black and electric pink Soucony sneakers. They were her favorite pair of kicks, the ones Frederick had bought her shortly after she transitioned and left her human world—and closet—behind. Man, she’d love to be back at the cave right now, with the rest of her shoe collection.
She peeled her eyes away to stare up at him. “I’m a hired hit and I murder vampires because it’s my job. I don’t have to kill a human to get a little dinner.”
He raised a brow. “So you admit you’re a murderer?”
“Does it matter?”
His voice lowered. “Yeah. It matters.”
“It shouldn’t.” She searched those bright blue eyes. “Not to you, anyway. Don’t get involved with vamp business.” The last thing she needed was to complicate her situation by caring about someone she couldn’t protect. Not that she cared about him or anything.
Why was he here? Why were they talking about this?
“What if it does matter?” he asked.
Rho sighed. “Listen, I’m not proud of what I do. I mean, the bad guys, sure. They deserve what they get. But the ones who do nothing wrong…” She shook her head. “I don’t enjoy that. I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s just a job. My skills, my training, this life. This mission. It’s all a job to me, and I do what I must to survive.”
Eldon’s brow furrowed in thought. She turned to continued strolling down the street, but felt him approach her side as he kept up with her movements. His heartbeat and footsteps were so loud in her ears, she fought the urge to run.
“So you follow orders, is that it? You don’t care about what they make you do?” he asked.
“I can’t do anything about it.”
“You can’t leave the coven?”
She stifled a shudder. Living as a covenless vampire was as dangerous as it was lonely. “I could petition to live on my own if I wanted.”
“Why don’t you?”
He couldn’t be serious. “Why don’t I do what?” she asked over her shoulder.
“Petition to live on your own. Get your life back. Do what you want to do.”
She barked a laugh. “You think it’s that simple?”
“It sounds pretty simple.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not.”
She whirled around, and he stepped back to avoid a collision. “Do you always ask this many questions when you accompany people on errands?”
His eyes narrowed. “I want to know what kind of person you are.”
Rho shook her head and closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Why do you care?”
“We’re going to be around each other for a while. Theoretically, we’re supposed to trust each other.”
“You think I should trust you?”
Eldon snorted. “What, you think I’m going to go running back to the Collective and tell them all your vampire super secrets?”
She stifled a laugh. “Maybe.”
His expression turned serious. “You really think I’d do that?”
Well, wasn’t that the million-dollar question. Ordinarily, she didn’t trust anybody. She considered it self-preservation. But something about Eldon was different. Ridiculous, of course, considering she certainly didn’t need the protection and he was practically human anyway. But this wasn’t about physical ability. He wouldn’t hurt her. Not if he could help it. She had no idea how, but she knew it with absolute certainty.
She turned another street corner, the bars becoming more posh as they continued along. “No. I don’t think you’d do that.”
“Then why won’t you tell me?”
She opened her mouth then shut it again. Was she actually considering talking to him about this? She’d never even talked to Frederick about it before, and he was her best friend.
Maybe the hunger was going to her head.
She sucked in a deep breath and let it out as she slowed to a stop. She turned to face him again. “You have sisters. You have a family. You have someone to miss you when you’re gone and get excited when you return.”
“I don’t have anybody. No one. Not a single family member.”
She shook her head. “My parents are dead, Eldon. They were murdered when I was fourteen. I lived with my foster parents until I couldn’t take it anymore and ran away. There’s no one else out there for me. The coven is my family now.”
He didn’t speak for a while, only his quiet breathing filling the space between them. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”
She couldn’t believe she was telling him everything, but for some reason she couldn’t stop herself. “I came home from a sleepover and they were… gone.” She stared at the ground, unwilling to face him as she spoke. “If I’d stayed home that night, I would have been there. I could have helped them. But I wasn’t.”
As she brought her eyes up to meet his, she wanted to kick her own ass for saying too much. The pity in his blue stare was more than she could bear.
“You couldn’t know—” he started.
“Don’t feel sorry for me. The past is in the past.”
She cut him off. “Seriously. Don’t.”
Rho spun around and continued on down the street, this time a little slower as she approached a series of brick buildings, several of which were occupied by humans consuming copious amounts of liquor. With quick steps she strode into the alleyway, valiantly ignoring Eldon.
She could feel his stare at her back. Somehow, she sensed his guilt for prodding her on the subject and knew she had to say something. “They’re all I have. I may not like them all that much, but they protect me. Being with them is better than spending an eternity alone.”
She turned her attention back to the dark alley and tried to ignore his stare. Sparsely placed street lamps cast shadows along every corner. Dumpsters lined the pavement, the stench of hot beer riding the air from the bottles contained within those nasty vessels. When she was human, she would have never considered eating dinner in an alley. Now she’d discovered the perfect spot for fine dining.
Damn, how times had changed.
A door creaked. Rho froze. Several feet ahead, a barkeep stepped outside, firmly gripping an overstuffed trash bag in each hand.
She tucked herself behind a dumpster and pressed her back against the cool bricks. Eldon stopped. The heat of his body radiated against her own cool flesh, entirely too close for comfort. God, she was hungry.
“So what’s your plan now?” he whispered.
She turned her head toward him but kept her eye on her target. “Don’t move. And don’t watch.”
Eldon watched as Rho slid her body against the wall behind the dumpster. With her delicate, feminine features and slender silhouette, no human would ever pin her as the lethal female he knew she could be. Of course she wouldn’t want him to watch her. She was afraid he’d fear her.
She’d had her chance to make a meal of him. They’d been alone for over half an hour, weaving through the dark streets, and she hadn’t so much as laid a finger on him. Rho shot him a warning look over the dumpster lid.
His heart stopped.
Her irises glowed red. Brilliant white fangs peeked out from glossed pink lips as she flicked her tongue across her front teeth. He hadn’t realized the extent of her hunger until this moment, and he was perilously close to an extremely deadly female.
Which part of his brain had decided this would be a good idea?
She held up a hand, ordering him not to move before pointing the opposite direction. Her crimson stare pierced straight through him, turning his feet into blocks of cement and anchoring him in place. The invisible control she held over him was terrifying, although he didn’t think she’d done it on purpose.
He nodded dumbly, the best response he could summon.
She answered him with a sad smile before turning her attention back to the human. The man hurled the bags over his shoulder and into the bin before turning to start for the rear entrance of the bar.
Eldon couldn’t stop staring.
Rho leaped out from behind the dumpster, sprinting toward the human with the speed and precision of a supernatural athlete. Fixated on her target, she wrapped her small fingers around the man’s arms and spun him around.
Eldon meant to look away. He honestly did. But her power and prowess held his attention in traction, her profile lit up by blue rays of moonlight.
Before the man could cry out, she locked him with her stare. His skin bathed in the glow of her luminescent eyes as his expression faded into oblivion. Mesmerizing him had taken all of one second.
Rho murmured into the man’s ear.
A strange desire tugged at Eldon as he watched her lips move, only imagining what she could be saying. The human smiled, his expression still blank as she led him away from the rear door and toward a dark corner behind another dumpster.
Hands palmed against the human’s chest, she pressed him into a brick wall. The tugging in Eldon’s chest worsened.
He rubbed a hand over his heart, unable to pull his eyes away from her long enough to blink. She lifted a finger to the man’s forehead and spoke quietly. The movement that followed was so quick he nearly missed it.
Her fangs flashed and she struck hard and quick, latching to his neck in an instant. Her throat moved as she began to feed. The human appeared blissfully unaware of the meal he was providing, his head tilted back and resting against the wall. Mouth pressed flush against his flesh, Rho pulled the blood into her mouth with the cool indulgence of someone taking a leisurely drag on a cigarette.
Slow but purposeful. Sexual.
Everything about her made his muscles tense. Yet not at all for the reason he’d expected.
Was that… jealousy?
Forcing his eyes shut, he rolled his neck around in an attempt to relieve some of his irrational tension. This vamp’s mojo must be potent, because his reaction to her couldn’t be natural. Maybe that was why she’d asked him not to watch her?
He rolled his shoulders once. Twice. Three times. Yeah, that was a little better. He flipped his lids open again.
Rho’s cool gray stare was fixed on his, knowing but unrepentant as she drank. She took one last pull before returning her eyes to the man in her grip. With a quick lick of the wound and touch to his temple, he gave her a blank smile and waddled back into the bar.
She examined her shirt and jeans before glancing up at Eldon again. Right there in her eyes, he could see it. She could hear his heartbeat the entire time. Smell his sweat. Probably taste him in the air around her.
“I told you not to watch,” she scolded quietly as she approached him.
He searched her face, trying to decipher her expression. “I—I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Are you disgusted now?”
Disgusted wasn’t the word he’d use. At all. “What are you talking about?”
“You saw a vampire feed. You should be running for the hills.”
He shook his head. “No, not disgusted.”
“Does it always—yeah, never mind.” Probably not the right time to bring it up.
Her eyes narrowed. “Does it always what?”
Maybe if he didn’t say anything, she wouldn’t push the issue. They needed to get back to the team.
She took a step toward him, as if she could sense he wanted to leave. “Does it always what, Eldon?”
Damn. “Does it always… feel like that?”
She drew a quick breath. “Like what?”
“I don’t know how to explain it.” He rubbed his chest again. “Gravity, maybe? Kind of like something pulling you in.”
Rho’s eyes widened.
Eldon eyed her suspiciously. “What?”
She moved to step over a puddle. “Nothing. We need to get home.”
“Not so fast.” He reached out and snatched her arm, spinning her toward him. “Nice try, vampire. Talk.”
“I have a name, asshole.”
“Fine. Nice try, Rho.”
Her gaze bounced from roof to wall to roof, as if she were trying to find a way out.
He tightened his grip on her arm. “Don’t even think about it. Talk to me.”
“I don’t know for sure.”
“I’m open to theories.”
“Yeah, well, you’re not going to like this one.”
It had to be something else.
Eldon had said the word gravity. The exact same word Frederick had used to describe being soul struck, the first step toward a full-on soul binding.
How could she not feel that pull?
Well, duh. She’d just fed after a four-day fast. Calling her distracted would be an understatement. A semi could have slammed right into her and she wouldn’t have noticed. She wasn’t mated. She couldn’t know what it felt like, anyway.
Frederick had explained the mate bond after her turning, but the concept was completely irrational. Sure, she believed in love. She’d seen it in other couples, so she knew it could be real. But to feel a physical pull toward another’s energy and not have a choice in the matter? To be helpless to some connection she couldn’t control? She couldn’t buy into that.
A sliver of guilt rode against her as she stared at Eldon. Even if the whole concept was ridiculous, he still deserved to know what she knew. It wasn’t fair to keep it from him.
“Uh, well.” Rho pulled a fallen strand of hair behind her ear. “You could be soul struck.”
Eldon’s dark brow furrowed. His look of confusion would have been cute if the words that had just escaped his lips hadn’t been so terrifying.
Rho shook her head. “Never mind. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“What does that mean?”
A gust of wind tore through the alleyway, dancing across her skin and sending a shiver down her spine, more from the conversation than the temperature. “It’s a vampire thing. You’re not a vampire. Don’t worry about it.”
“And if I do?”
“Then you’re wasting your time.” It was bad enough that he’d seen her feed. But to know that he’d reacted to her?
Maybe she was reading too much into this.
She’d said herself that he wa
“Earth to Rho,” he said from behind her, his tone bored.
She glanced over her shoulder. “Huh?”
“Are you listening to me?”
Not at all. “Uh—”
“What does that term mean?”
Eldon jogged to her side. “You know what I’m talking about.”
“I plead the fifth.”
“You must be the most stubborn woman I’ve ever met.” He strode forward before turning around to stare at her, taking long strides backwards and keeping pace. “But lucky for me, I have two little sisters. My persistence is legendary.”
“More like annoying.”
“I prefer to think of it as an endurance exercise.” He shrugged a shoulder. “I can do this all day. Or you could just tell me now.”
Rho snuck a peek at him, wishing he’d trip over his own feet. “Why do I always feel like I’m on trial when I’m around you?”
He smirked. “Why do you always dodge my questions?”
“Because you’re nosy.”
“And you’re evasive.”
Such a pain in the ass. “What do you want from me?”
She stopped in the middle of the quiet sidewalk, and he came to a stop by her side. The warehouse they called home was only a block away.
She wanted to believe what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, but she couldn’t know that for certain. What if it did? What if their freaky mental connection could harm them both? She’d already said too much.
Folding her arms across her chest, she shook her head. “I shouldn’t be telling you this.”
“Tell me anyway.”
She blew out a deep breath. “In my race, there are soul mates.”
“Frederick once told me that when vampires find their mate, they have an… experience. He hadn’t had one himself, but he used the term ‘gravity’ to describe it.”