I again struggled. “We’ve got to do something!” I hissed.
Eli’s fingers tightened around my arms. “I said, it’s too late.” When I jerked again, his face grew angry. “Do you really want to see, Riley?” He shook me. “Do you?”
“Yes!” I said furiously under my breath. “I do.”
In a move that nearly made my head rush, Eli spun me around. Through the hazy glass and firelight from the barrel I could vaguely make out three guys—bigger than the rest. Two held the struggling a man, and one had his mouth planted at the guy’s throat. The man’s legs twitched and kicked as he tried to break free; the others—the kids—watched. Then, even from the distance I stood away, I watched as the attacker’s face contorted, long fangs dropped from his mouth and he snatched the struggling man away from the other one who held him and tore into him like a rabid dog. First his throat. Then his chest. The man’s screams died in a drowning gurgle, and I almost gagged. My mouth went dry; I hadn’t even realized I’d started to shake until Eli forced me away from the window. So much blood . . .
“Let’s get out of here,” Phin said.
All the strength had drained from my body; I’d never felt so weak and helpless in my entire life—except once, and that was the day I’d found my mother murdered. I remember holding her in my arms, shaking her hard, yelling at her to wake up. I didn’t like the memories. I hated this. But Christ Almighty, there’d been blood everywhere. That guy never had a chance. And Seth was in the midst of it.
I was silent as Eli and I walked back to the parking garage. Without asking, Eli took the wheel and drove. Luc and Phin stayed behind to watch the boys, and that comforted me very little. My mind rushed around in myriad directions; I wanted to be furious, pissed off and ready to kill. But I was scared. Scared shitless. What they’d done to that man . . .
I leaned my head against the seat as we drove through town, and the city I once loved didn’t look the same anymore. Everything looked darker, menacing, uninviting. Rather, inviting death. The Spanish moss that I’d always loved hung limp and lifeless; every shadowy alcove and alley, every intricately carved piece of black wrought iron beckoned evil, and behind my closed lids I could envision it happening all over again. Seth’s face flashed before me, and just that fast he transformed, and sunk his mouth into the throat of a stranger. I pushed the pads of my fingers into my eye sockets hard, trying to rid myself of the sight. It wouldn’t go away.
“Riley,” Eli said, and in the next breath his hand was on my thigh. I wanted it there; I didn’t want it there. I wanted more; I’d get nothing. I was a loser in this, no matter how I looked at it. My brother would have . . . tendencies, and only if the Arcoses could be destroyed and the boys taken to Da Island for rehab. My mind, though, would never forget what I saw. Never.
I barely noticed when Eli passed Bay Street, and thought nothing when he turned onto Victory. I had no idea where he was headed, and frankly, I didn’t care. The balmy wind swept over me as we drove, and I closed my eyes to try to block the visions invading my brain. It didn’t help.
Then Eli reached over, laced his fingers through mine, and held my hand, and the simple gesture comforted me. I opened my eyes and turned my head to find him already looking at me, and that comforted me, too. When he moved his gaze back to the road, I continued to watch him. His profile was so perfect, his hair blowing sexily against his jaw, his forehead, catching on sensually arched lips that worked magic against my body. Somehow, it made me calm. “Where are we going?” I asked.
He didn’t look at me, but he smiled. “Ever been to the lighthouse?”
I laughed and shook my head. “I grew up here. Of course I’ve been. Why?”
He laughed a total guy laugh and glanced at me. “Were you born a smart-ass, or did that fine quality just develop over the years?”
I smiled. “Shut up.”
Eli chuckled and continued driving. When we reached Tybee he pulled into the vacant parking lot next to the lighthouse. At this time of night, the shore was empty, and I preferred it that way. He cut the engine and we sat for a moment, the surf pounding the sand, the wind ringing through the night. Stars studded the black sky, and the moon hung, a half circle, above the water. Sea oats rustled in the breeze.
Almost a perfect night, the exception being the vicious bloodsuckers taking over the city.
“They’re not going to take over the city,” Eli said, taking liberties with my thoughts. He turned in his seat to look at me. “And I won’t let anything happen to you, Riley.”
I laughed softly, cynically. “It’s not me I’m worried about, Eli, and you know it.”
In the amount of time it took me to blink, he was out of the Jeep and standing at my door. Silently he opened it, clicked my seat belt, and pulled me out. With little force he urged me back against the fender and placed a hand on either side of my body, trapping me. For several seconds he regarded me, searched my face.
“Yeah, I know it,” he said quietly. “You make sure everyone knows how tough you are, all the time.” With one hand he grasped my jaw and dropped his head closer to me. “You’re a fragile human, Riley,” he said, his hand sliding to my throat. “So fragile, so delicate, so easy to kill.” His grip tightened. “When are you going to get that through your thick skull?”
I stared at him, my gaze unwavering. Instead, the unavoidable happened—something I hated; something that seemed to happen more and more since I’d met Eli Dupré. Tears formed in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I lifted my chin. “Never,” I said, my voice cracking, determined.
Something flared in Eli’s eyes, and then they softened. His hand loosened and slid from my throat upward, his fingers threading into my hair, and he leaned his forehead against mine. I breathed in his scent, unique, sweet, and earthy, and slipped my arms around his waist.
“I can’t let anything happen to you,” he whispered against my ear. “You’ve become too important to me, Riley.” He pulled back and looked at me, his eyes dark pools in the shadows. “Understand?”
“Not really,” I whispered, and I didn’t.“But if you think I’m going to cower in some corner while my brother experiences the quickening, you’re crazy. I promise to be careful.”
Eli’s features tightened, his jaw flinched, and he sighed, as though he was holding something back and it was not something he wished to discuss. He stared at me for several seconds, then inclined his head toward the lighthouse. “Come on.”
I didn’t ask how Eli had a key to the lighthouse; I just followed him inside. He grabbed my hand and led me across the shadowy interior. “I was just a ways up the shore when they installed the first Fresnel lens,” he said. “Pretty cool. Always did like lighthouses. They fascinate me.”
I laughed. “I keep forgetting you’re so old.”
“Yeah, right,” he said.
We made it to the steps. “I’d race you, but I’m sure you’d cheat and use your vamp powers to beat me,” I said, then craned my neck and peered above me at the steps as they spiraled upward. “Seth and I used to race them all the time. One hundred and seventy-eight steps to the top.” I laughed, but it was with sadness. “He always got such a kick out of it.” I felt the beginning of panic seize me once more, and again, Eli was there to rescue me.
“Wrap your legs around my waist,” he said, moving close. “And hold on.”
I did, and slipped my arms around his neck. We were face-to-face, body to body, and sensations soared within me. Eli read my mind and lowered his mouth to mine and kissed me, a long, gentle, sensual kiss that had my head spinning. He tasted sweet, just like his scent, and I knew it wasn’t anything like a mortal scent. It was a scent only a creature of the afterlight could possess. And Eli possessed it fully.
With a sensual pull of my lips into his mouth, and a sweep of his tongue, Eli ended the kiss and took the one hundred and seventy-eight steps to the top in seven. Yeah, seven. Traveling that fast while hanging on to someone, in a spiral staircase? It was better than any amusement park ride I’d ever been on. My head spun, adrenaline pumped, and somehow, my sexual desire for Eli tripled. Quadrupled.
At the top, Eli lowered me onto the platform and eased open the door that led to the outer balcony. The wind was wicked strong, salty, and . . . perfect. Without a word, he shut the door behind us and urged me to the rail, where he crowded behind me and placed his arms on either side of me. I admit—I liked the feeling of being trapped by Eli’s body.
“Good,” he whispered against my ear. “Get used to it.”
A shiver shot through my body, and I looked out over the darkened Atlantic. Several lights blinked from the fishing boats off the sound, and the glow from the moon rippled steadily over the water. Somewhere close, an oyster shoal bubbled, and the wind carried the ever-present brine to my nostrils.
“It’s strange to think we’ve shared this place,” Eli said, sliding his hands over my waist. His mouth sought the tender area of skin beneath my ear—something that should have had me on guard since he was a vampire, but it didn’t. He had the ability to make me forget all of it. “The two of us, in the same city but totally different worlds,” he whispered. He turned me around, my back to the rail, and looked down at me. Moonlight flashed off his eyes. “Same world now.”
I didn’t have to wait for his mouth to descend upon mine; it happened instantly, and the burning desire his touch created felt just as new as the first time he’d ever sensually laid a hand, or his tongue, on me. My skin heated under his touch, and sensations rocked me as his tongue tasted, his teeth nipped, and he suckled my bottom lip as his hands swept over my back, cupped my ass, and pulled me against him. I kissed him back, lost in the atmosphere and in Eli, and as I slipped my hands beneath his shirt and caressed the ridges of his abs, he gasped against my mouth. With his fingers buried in my hair, he held my head still and looked at me.