I walked on the grimy concrete with a silent gait, following the same path as the vampire through the dark alley. Even though spring was right around the corner, the temperatures in Chicago were still frigid, and the thick moisture from a recent rainfall brought a biting chill to the night.
Or maybe the cold was from the malicious urges that had driven me into this backstreet after another nightworlder.
I hadn’t trailed the vampire to save the cute twenty-something man she took to dine on. No. My intentions were much more sinister.
Instead of a struggle, moans bounced against the rough cement and brick walls as I peeked around the edge. A slender woman dressed in painted-on jeans and a cropped T-shirt buried her head in the guy’s neck, her platinum hair cascading around her shoulders. The look of euphoria on her victim’s face as she drank his blood had me jealous.
I wanted to experience that dangerous high, that surrender to my wicked side while I drained a life. My skin twitched and tightened around my body like a noose.
After nearly killing the vampire king, my taste for death had grown. Hugo’s depravity had fueled my own darkness, and now I craved anything that would give me a buzz. Even the human would do the trick.
But the vampire would be delicious, especially now that I was better at blocking those pesky images that flooded my mind.
I slinked out of my hiding spot and took a step forward. The vampire was so engrossed in her meal she didn’t sense me, and the guy was enjoying her bite too much to care about a newcomer.
An iron grip fastened on my arm and yanked me back around the corner, slamming me into a wall. Those eyes, like frozen moss under a clear river, bored into mine with enough intensity that my powers faltered.
“Did you really think it would be so easy to get rid of me, my prickly Rose Thorn?”
“I wasn’t trying to get rid of you, Tinkerbell. I just wanted to go for a walk.” My shoulders lifted in a casual shrug. “Get some fresh air.”
The fae prince’s head cocked to the side, tossing his lush ebony and silver hair across his high cheekbone. “And this walk just happened to take you all the way into shifter territory where you came across a vampire having a snack?”
Deny ’til you die.
Caleb shortened the distance between us until the gap was nonexistent and leaned his forearm against the wall above my head, trapping me. That intoxicating mixture of white jasmine and citrus barreled into my senses. “Did you follow her because you knew shifters wouldn’t care if you accidentally killed a bloodsucker on their turf?”
“Not at all.” I cleared the squeakiness from my voice. “Just one big coincidence.” How the hell did he know my exact intentions?
A smirk that was both dangerous and irritating pulled at those ridiculously lush lips, the hoop piercing the center glinting under the dingy streetlight. “You are such a bad liar.”
“I am not.” Hell’s bells. I would have been less obvious had I worn a shirt with Guilty as Charged printed across my boobs.
Caleb’s rumbling chuckle sent heat waves over the curve of my spine. “I’ve been watching you like a hawk these last few months. Do you really think I don’t know what you’re doing when you disappear?”
I gave a defiant lift of my chin. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I’ve let you get your kicks a couple of times, but tonight there’s a look in your eyes that says you’re craving more than a little fix.”
“Let me?” My brow arched as I tried to keep the surprise from my features. Had Caleb been following me those other times? Had he been hiding in the shadows even on my eighteenth birthday a few weeks ago when I didn’t return to Shade until sunrise?
He reached up and ran his thumb over the scar slicing my left eyebrow. “I promised I wouldn’t let you fall off the deep end, and I have a feeling your little feet are teetering on the edge of a soaring cliff right now.”
I shivered from his touch and the rough edge slicing his words. Caleb and I had been spending an unusual amount of time together for two people who claimed to despise each other. We hadn’t given into our desires like we had after escaping my coven, except for a few prolonged kisses that were hot enough to melt an entire iceberg.
It had started as a game to see who would break first, but it had become a form of torture.
Why the hell did we both have to be so stubborn?
As if reading my thoughts, Caleb’s head dipped forward, his nose brushing mine. “If there’s another place you’d like to fall into, like my bed for instance, just say the words, Rose Thorn.”
I curled my fingers in the hem of his T-shirt and licked my lips, already tasting his sugary sweet flavor. “Is that what you want, Tink? Me naked in your bed? All you have to do is invite me.”
A throaty groan slipped out of him. “You had to make me picture you naked, didn’t you?”
I leaned into him, our lips touching as I spoke my next words. “Well, I do like to play dirty.”
Lust flared in his eyes, and I could practically see his resolve breaking. I could feel it, too, right against my lower stomach. If I let him, he’d take me right here in this filthy alley.
A scream suddenly ripped through the night, drenching the sizzling embers with a bucket of ice water.
We broke apart and darted around the corner to an unexpected scene. Caleb’s boots skidded to a stop on the concrete, and he jerked me into him.
“What the hell!” The human guy who’d been enjoying his night a few moments ago gaped at the blonde who now had an arrow protruding from her chest.
She stumbled back and scrutinized the slender shaft of wood in disbelief. Her gaze lifted to the roof of the building on our left just as a shadow disappeared.
“This can’t be happening.” After those words tumbled from her lips, her body shook and then exploded.
Her meal scrambled away to avoid the spray of blood, but some of it splattered on his baby-blue T-shirt. He tripped over a discarded scrap of metal and gagged. “What the hell just happened?”
“My thoughts exactly,” I mumbled.
Caleb raked his fingers through his hair, ignoring the human’s blabbering. “Shifters don’t take it well when vampires hunt in their land.” He surveyed the roofline, his brows lowering on his forehead. “And the tension between those two groups doubled after Lex killed Hugo.”
“You think a shifter did this?” I jerked my chin to the oozing puddle of dead vampire. Even after Hugo’s predecessor—the male from that dangerous set of twins I’d encountered at Solaria—had renounced the former king’s plans to take over the city, there was still a lot of bad blood.
Vampires and shifters hated each other almost as much as witches and fae did.
I peeked at Caleb from beneath my lashes. We didn’t all hate each other.
The prince shrugged. “Shifters wouldn’t care if a bloodsucker bit the dust here, by their hands or someone else’s.”
“Did you say v-vampire?” the human sputtered as he swayed on his feet. He reached up and swiped at the blood on his neck. “Did she bite me? Am I going to turn into a vampire?”
“Yes, she bit you, but no, you won’t turn.” Caleb marched toward the trembling guy with purposeful steps. “In fact, you’re not going to remember a damn thing.”
Before he could even digest the prince’s words, Caleb grabbed his face, and fae magic leaked into the air. “You were partying at a club and took some acid. A dog bit you.”
“Oh no. A dog?” The human’s voice had become slurred as he fell under Caleb’s power. “Am I going to get rabies?”
The edges of my lips twitched as I crossed my arms and casually leaned against the wall. Tinkerbell could work a mean glamour.
“No,” Caleb said. “You got a shot. You’re fine.”
The human let out a breath of relief. “That’s good.”
“Go back to the main street, get a cab, and go home,” the prince commanded. “You won’t remember her or me.” He jerked his head in my direction.
As soon as Caleb released the human, he marched by without a word and disappeared around the corner.
Damn. Why did the prince have to make glamouring look so sexy?
I shook the naughty thoughts off and cleared my throat. “Should we do something with that?” I pointed to the mess of gore on the ground where the vampire had stood not long ago. “If a human stumbles on that, they might call the cops.”
A rumble of thunder shook the atmosphere moments before the sky opened, and cold rain poured onto the street.
“I think the shower will take care of it.” Caleb jogged toward me and grabbed my hand, pulling me back the way we came. “Let’s go to my apartment.”
My head snapped back. “Who said I wanted to go to your place?”
His white teeth flashed as he grinned. “Oh, please. Like I’m letting you out of my sight again. You’re staying with me all night long, Rose Thorn, even if I have to tie you to the bed.”
I swallowed hard as the air between us sizzled while wicked images flashed through my mind. This was going to be a long night.