The knowledge burned through Ryder Duncan’s gut like acid, burned almost as much as the horrible, consuming hunger that had gnawed at him over the months he’d been held captive in this hell. The hunger that still ate at him.
He paced his cell. Ten feet wide. Twelve feet long. He’d paced this same path over and over again.
And he couldn’t fucking get out.
His hands punched into the nearest wall. The walls of his prison were all made with heavy, thick stone, and even his enhanced strength couldn’t break through them. Though he’d sure tried his hardest to punch his way out. For his trouble, he’d gotten broken and bloody knuckles.
Without fresh blood to fuel his body, he was just growing weaker every day. At this point, Ryder knew he was operating on instinct. Primitive drive.
For someone like him, the most primitive drive was bloodlust.
Ryder stilled when he heard the sound of footsteps approaching his cell. Guards. Coming by to taunt him. If they would just make the mistake of stepping into his cell, getting close enough for him to touch…
I’d drain them dry.
His fangs were fully extended in his mouth. The hunger was too intense for anything else. Some vamps could go for days without feeding, no problem.
He could handle days.
He couldn’t handle weeks. Months. The bastards were starving him, and starvation was one very painful and cruel way to kill a vampire.
He clenched his fists and turned away from the door. He didn’t want the guards to see how close to breaking he was. If they saw, they would be afraid, and then they’d never step inside his cage.
The footsteps grew closer. He tried to calm his rushing heartbeat so that he could focus on the prey that approached, but the frantic thunder echoing in his ears wouldn’t slow down.
When he got out of his prison, he’d make his betrayer pay. Not an easy death. One that took so very long.
A bright light flashed on above him, and Ryder held himself perfectly still. He knew what the light meant. The humans outside were watching him through their one-way mirror. He turned his head, the move taking a strange amount of effort, and Ryder glanced at that mirror.
He’d tried to shatter it. Hadn’t worked.
The men who’d built this place had known just how to supernatural-proof their prison.
“How are you feeling, Ryder?” a voice asked, one tinged with the slightest hint of the South. He knew that voice. Dr. Richard Wyatt. The warden of this hell.
Hell was a so-called research facility—the Genesis Facility.
Humans thought the supernaturals inside this place had volunteered to be test subjects. Day and night, experiments were performed on them. The experiments that were supposed to help good old Uncle Sam develop a bigger, stronger fighting force—before Uncle Sam’s enemies created that force and beat ’em to the punch.
Maybe some of the supernaturals had been stupid enough to volunteer as guinea pigs. Ryder hadn’t volunteered. He’d been tricked. Betrayed. Drugged. He’d woken in this cell, been kept prisoner for too long, and he wanted out.
One way or another, he would get his freedom back, even if he had to kill every guard in the place in order to get it.
“Come in,” Ryder growled back to Wyatt. “And I’ll show you.” He’d been longing to rip out Wyatt’s throat.
The doctor laughed. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, but I am growing concerned about you.”
Bullshit. The doctor was fucking Frankenstein—one who was obsessed with experimenting on the monsters who were already in the world.
But soon enough, those monsters would be coming for him.
Ryder had the sadistic prick marked for death.
“I’ve never seen a vampire go so long without food. Most die of starvation long before this point.”
And there was a tidbit most humans didn’t know. Folks usually thought you had to stake a vamp to kill him. Or behead him. But those were the fast ways to die. If you wanted a vamp to suffer, you made him go without blood. Slow starvation. He’d wither before your eyes.
I’m not withering.
Because he wasn’t your average vamp. Wyatt had realized that, so the real games were probably about to begin.
“How is it that you’re still standing?” Wyatt wanted to know with that annoying, clinical curiosity of his.
“Come in,” Ryder invited again as he snapped his teeth together. “Find out.”
Silence. Then, “Open the door,” Wyatt ordered, and Ryder blinked, stunned. They were opening his cell door? His muscles trembled in preparation. The first person to come through that door was already dead, the fool just didn’t know it. He could move fast, so fast, now that the drugs were out of his system. He’d have his teeth in the guard’s neck within seconds. And as soon as he got that blood in him…
I’ll come for you, Wyatt.
Metal grated as the door opened.
“I don’t want you to starve,” Wyatt’s voice explained from the speaker above Ryder’s head. “Your death would teach me nothing new. So I’m giving you sustenance. Try not to damage her too much.”
Ryder whirled around and lunged for the prey at his door. But it wasn’t a guard who came inside. No, the guard shoved a woman over the threshold even while the man—a sweating, balding mass of fear—shot backward and slammed the heavy door shut again as quickly as he could.
Ryder’s hands curled around her arms. The scent of fresh flowers surrounded him and the woman—tall, slim—tilted her head back as she stared up at him in absolute horror.
“Don’t hurt me,” she whispered. “Please.”
He could already taste her blood. His hands tightened around her arms. Ryder hadn’t expected…
He could hear the throb of her blood. Drink it. Drain her.
If he put his mouth on her, Ryder wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop.
And, Wyatt, damn him, he knew that.
Ryder’s gaze raked her face. Wide, scared eyes. Dark brown. Deep. Golden skin, skin that looked as if it had been kissed by the sun. She had delicate features, a curving chin, high cheekbones, and a small nose. Her lips were trembling, full, tinted the faintest pink.
His gaze dropped to her neck. A lovely neck, with the pulse pounding so frantically.
Her hands slammed into his chest. “Don’t.”
“Go right ahead, Ryder,” Wyatt’s voice droned, like a father giving a child permission to play with a favorite toy.
She’s a human, not a toy.
Even though he knew plenty of vampires who thought humans were just playthings—good for food and fucking—that wasn’t the way Ryder thought. Not anymore.
She shook her head, sending the heavy curtain of her hair—blondish but shot with red highlights—over her shoulders. “Mister, you’ve got some real big teeth, and I’d appreciate it if you kept them away from me.”
Her voice was husky, low, and sexy. It whispered with an accent he’d heard before, down in New Orleans. Smoky. Rolling.
“Please,” she said again, as her hands pushed against his chest.
But he couldn’t let her go. Ryder inhaled once more. She smelled so good. He knew she’d taste even better. “Just a few sips,” Ryder told her because he was past the point of pulling away. The hunger was too strong. It wasn’t the man who wanted her blood. It was the beast who had no control.
She yelped and kicked out at him.
He barely felt the blows.
“Take as much as you need, Ryder,” the doctor’s satisfied voice told him. “She’s all yours.”
He grabbed the woman, twisted, and forced her back against the right wall. They were across from that damn one-way mirror, and his bigger body easily shielded hers, blocking her from Wyatt’s view. “I’m…sorry.” He barely managed to grit the words, but he had to say them. He hated her fear. Hated that he was the one who made her afraid.
She stopped struggling. “Don’t be sorry, just let me go.”
The thunder of her blood was the best music he’d ever heard. “Haven’t…fed…too long.”
“I’m not your midnight snack.” Her words were brave, but he saw the fear in her eyes. “I’m a person, dammit! Now let me go.”
He couldn’t. His head lowered toward her throat. “I’ll hold on to my…control.” Ryder hoped the words weren’t a lie. “I just need a little…blood.”
There was nowhere for her to run. She was pinned to the thick stone behind her and trapped with him in front of her. But she shoved her head back against the stone as she tried to put a feeble distance between them, and, unfortunately for her, that move just had the effect of exposing more of her throat to him.
“You can’t be real,” she said. “Your teeth…your eyes…none of this is real. They drugged me. I’m hallucinating.”
If only. Poor lady. She’d probably had a nice, normal life until Wyatt had tossed her into hell. “Just…hold still. It’ll be…over soon.”
Just a few sips.
She screamed, “No!” Then she rammed against him, a blow that was surprisingly powerful. Powerful enough to send him stumbling back five feet.
His ass hit the floor because he’d never expected that kind of attack from her. Humans weren’t strong enough to toss vamps around like that.
The intercom crackled. “Ah, now, Sabine, that wasn’t part of the deal. I told you that if you provided nourishment for my guest, then we’d discuss your freedom.”
Her chest heaved. A nice chest, he noticed, even through the rage and hunger. Full breasts.
“I’m not nourishment!” she yelled as she glared into the mirror. “You can’t do this to me! I have rights!”
“Your rights don’t exactly apply here.” Wyatt didn’t sound concerned. Why would he? The guy had the might of the U.S. military backing his little “experiments.”
The worst fucking mistake the paranormals had ever made was coming out of the closet. But some idiots just couldn’t keep quiet. They’d shown themselves to humans. Gotten tired of living by the old ways—or hell, maybe even technology had been to blame. Too much advancement. Cameras everywhere. Eyes always watching.
It was hard to hide the beast inside when Big Brother was always spying on you.
So they’d come out, and now there were freaks like Wyatt who thought they could harness their paranormal power. Use science to make magic into their weapon of choice.
“If you aren’t cooperating, Ms. Acadia, we can always take you back to your cell.” Wyatt’s voice lowered, and he said, “Guard, retrieve—”
“I don’t want my cell! I want to go home! I want—”
Ryder pounced. In an instant, he had her in his arms. He twisted her hands and secured them behind her body. She was struggling, definitely using more than just human strength, but he was prepared for her this time. She wasn’t getting away.
“I won’t hurt you,” he told her. And Ryder hoped the words weren’t a lie. Sometimes, the bite could bring a woman pleasure. A better release than sex.
Sometimes, the bite could bring pain. Worse than torture.
He didn’t want her to hurt.
His mouth was desert dry. His fangs fully extended and aching. He could already taste her.
I just want her.
His tongue swept over her neck. Sampled, then he sank his teeth into her throat.
The woman—Sabine—gasped against him. Her body arched into his as the first tender drops of her blood spilled onto his tongue.
“Make sure the recording is operational.” Wyatt’s voice seemed to come from far away. “I want to get every bit of this.”
But Wyatt and what he wanted didn’t matter. Sabine’s blood was on Ryder’s tongue, and her blood was like nothing he’d ever tasted in all of his years of existence. Not just warm—the blood was hot. Spicy. Rich with flavor. He wanted to lap it up, to savor it.
To gorge on it.
His hands hardened on her. He’d meant to take just a few drops.
He wanted to lift his head away. Wanted to so badly, but her blood was too good.
He drank more, greedy now. Desperate. Her blood flowed through him, heating his body from the inside out and sending tendrils of power pulsing through him. Some humans tasted of wine. Some of the euphoria that came from drugs.
No one had ever tasted like her. Life. Sex. Pleasure. Everything he wanted was right there, in her blood.
He drank deeper.
“Stop.” Her voice was weaker than before.
He didn’t want to stop. He’d looked for this—he’d always wanted this taste. Craved it, when he hadn’t even known what he was missing. His body seemed to be growing stronger, the muscles tensing, with every drop of her blood that he took.
She sagged against him, and Ryder scooped her into his arms, holding her even when her head fell to the side, and her breath rattled in her chest.
At first, he thought the urging was just inside of himself, but then he realized that bastard Wyatt was the one urging him on.
And the woman…Sabine wasn’t fighting him any longer. She barely seemed to be breathing.
He jerked his head away. Stared down at her in disbelief. He hadn’t taken that much, had he?
But he couldn’t remember how long he’d been drinking. He only knew—
I still want more.
He lifted her higher against his chest. Held her cradled in his arms. There was no more weakness for him. Only strength. But she…
Her lashes were closed.
A fear unlike any he’d known before had his whole body tensing. He’d just found her. Ryder knew he couldn’t lose her this soon. Not. Now.
And sure as hell not by his own hand. Or teeth.
He brought his wrist to his mouth. Slashed open the flesh. He knew what she needed. “Drink for me.” She’d be all right once she drank his blood.
“No!” Wyatt’s voice thundered out. “Stop! Put Sabine down and back away.”
“Fuck off.” He lowered them both to the floor so he could better tend to her. But he kept her close as he put his wrist to her mouth. “Drink.” She’d just need a little of his blood, and she’d heal.
If she’d just drink…
An alarm began to sound. Voices shouted over the intercom. Then footsteps rushed outside of his door. The guards were finally coming in to face him.
Now was the perfect time to kill them. But if he moved away from Sabine, she’d die. She needed more of his blood. She needed him to survive.
His eyes narrowed on her face. What are you? She’d been afraid, but she’d still fought him. She’d stared at a monster and asked to go home.
Now she was almost at death’s broken door.
“Get away from her!” Wyatt was shrieking now.
She wasn’t drinking. He pried open her mouth. Forced drops of blood onto her tongue and then massaged her neck, trying to make Sabine swallow. Live.
The guards grabbed him and attempted to yank him away from her. Hell, no. He threw them back. Heard thuds when they hit the walls.
“You have to swallow the blood,” he told her, voice dark and rumbling with command. “Come on!” I didn’t mean to do this. She’d been so afraid. He’d told her that he’d hold on to his control.
But the beast that he was hadn’t been able to hold on. The beast…Ryder…he destroyed. That was his life. All he knew. And he’d destroyed her, too.
His vision seemed to blacken. She was the only thing he could see in that growing darkness. Beautiful, so still.
His head sagged over her. “Please.” Now he was the one to beg. He’d tasted heaven, and he’d tossed her to hell, all in one instant of time.
“Get away from her!” Wyatt’s voice wasn’t on the speaker any longer. It was right there. In the room with him.
Ryder’s head jerked up. He bared his fangs.
And…and felt her mouth move lightly against his wrist. She was trying to drink, to take his blood.
Sabine was fighting to live. Yes.
His gaze snapped back to her. “That’s it! Come on, just drink some—”
Gunshots blasted. Bullets drove into his chest. One. Two. Three. The force of the hits had him falling back even as his blood sprayed the wall behind him.
“I told you,” Wyatt raged as he lifted his weapon. Wyatt had fired? “Back away from the female subject!”
Ryder ignored the pain and reached for her again.
“Stop him,” Wyatt ordered. Ryder realized the guards were back on their feet. “Shoot him until he stops moving. The bullets won’t kill him, but they can put him down for a time.”
Then the bullets exploded, popping like firecrackers over and over again as they sank into Ryder’s body. His chest. His arms.
He hit the floor. Blood seeped from his wounds. Pooled around him on the stone floor.
“Enough!” Wyatt lifted his hand. His eyes went from Ryder to Sabine.
Her head had turned and her eyes—wide open, still alive—were on Ryder. He could see the life in her gaze. She was trying to come back to him. Trying. She just needed more of his blood.
Her hand had lifted. Was she reaching for him? Ryder gathered every single ounce of strength that he had. “My…blood…” Only a little more, and she’d be fine. He could save her. Her death—unlike all the others—wouldn’t be on him. He started crawling to her through the blood.
“She’s gonna live,” one of the guards muttered. “I thought he was supposed to kill her.”
He could be more than a killer. She could be more than a victim. Blood soaked his clothes. The power he’d gotten from her rich blood was gone, stolen away by a hail of bullets.
“He did kill her.” Wyatt’s voice was flat. “We just have to wait for her to die.”
No! “Can…help…” He was almost to her side.
“Chain him,” Wyatt ordered. “He’s too weak to fight you. Chain the vampire and let him watch.”
Their arms grabbed him. Jerked him away from her. But he wasn’t as weak as they thought, not even with the bullets lodged in his organs. Ryder fought them, clawing and snapping with his fangs. Half a dozen guards had to jump on him and yank him back to the far wall. Then they locked thick chains around his wrists and trapped him. The guards hurried back as soon as those locks snapped in place. They were bloody now, too—from the wounds he’d given them.
When they moved away, he saw her again. Her chest was struggling to rise. Her eyes were still open.
“Don’t…do this,” he growled as he strained to break free.
Wyatt walked around her, staring down at the woman he called Sabine as she sprawled on the floor. “Why do you even care? Shouldn’t she just be food to you?”
Ryder didn’t speak. He wouldn’t tell this bastard anything about himself.
“I think one of the bullets must have ripped into your heart.” No concern. Just a clinical statement from Wyatt. “You’re bleeding far too much. Hmmm…I should have considered…will that wound to the heart kill you?”
No. It wouldn’t. He was healing already.
“I didn’t intend for them to shoot you in the heart.” Wyatt frowned at the guards. “Errors like that cannot be tolerated here.”
The guy was psychotic.
A bullet to the heart wasn’t normally an error. It was murder.
“You’re just…gonna watch…her die?” Ryder yanked at the chains and didn’t care when they cut into his wrists. He’d heal. He always healed.
“Yes.” Wyatt nodded and offered an almost absent smile. “Yes, yes, I am. Sabine Acadia’s death should be something quite special to see.”
Her eyes were on Ryder—her eyes…
He saw the life leave them. Actually saw a veil of nothing sweep into her stare. “No!” He yanked at the chains, twisting his hands, breaking his wrists as he fought to get free. He smashed his fingers as he tried to jerk his hand through the ring that bound his wrist. He didn’t feel the pain as he struggled.
“Exit,” Wyatt snapped, “now.”
The guards started hauling ass. They were leaving her like that? Just sprawled on the floor like a broken doll?
Maybe there was still time. His right wrist shattered. Maybe.
“If I were you, I wouldn’t move,” Wyatt advised Ryder with a quick frown as he paused by the door. “This is her first change. I have no idea how powerful it will be.”
Ryder didn’t understand the bastard. He was moving, all right. Won’t give up. Won’t—
The door slammed shut behind Wyatt and his men. And…the scent of smoke teased Ryder’s nose.
What the hell?
His gaze snapped back to Sabine. Her eyes were still open, only her eyes weren’t dark brown any longer. The brown was changing, turning to a gold, then seeming to burn red.
Red like fire.
The scent of smoke deepened around him. Ryder pulled his broken right hand free. Now the other—
Her body began to burn.
He yelled then, roaring her name, but the fire didn’t stop. It blazed hotter, higher, and swept over Sabine’s slender form. The heat from the blaze rushed over his skin, almost singeing him. Sprinklers erupted with a powerful spray from overhead, and the water drenched him but did nothing to stop the blaze that consumed Sabine.
His breath rasped out. Ryder stopped fighting for his freedom. There was nothing to be done now. No one could come back from those flames.
So there was nothing for him to do in the end but watch the fire burn, to hate himself for the monster that he was, and to wish that Sabine Acadia had never had the misfortune to walk into his prison.
But then something began to move within those flames. She moved, and Ryder realized that Wyatt’s experiments were just getting started.
Because even though she’d just died right in front of him, even though Sabine was burning, it sure looked like she was trying to rise from the fire.