"I know who I am," she lied.
"Really? What is that? Not human unless you have a heartbeat I'm not picking up on. Not a Shifter-as I understand it from Dr. Feelgood, transitions to their animal state happen by twenty-one and you're . . ."
As if he knew what worked inside her head, he continued, "I have more than a name, a species title. I have the truth, the story, the history, the rules-all of it. And I can give it to you."
"How generous." Her eyes lifted.
"And in return-"
His mouth curved, but the smile that formed was not a pleasant one. "In return you will grant me your healing breath, and as much blood as I require to build my strength."
Her knife slipped from her hand and clattered onto the counter.
He chuckled softly. "Don't look so shocked, Love. You barely felt my bite earlier, and when you did, the pain was a right good one, eh?"
Words seemed to abandon Petra in that moment, both in her mind and on her lips. For the first time that night she felt true fear. Not for Synjon Wise's presence in her office, though she probably should have, but for what he'd just said. The bite, his bite to her skin. It was healed now, too swiftly to be logical, but the pain had been anything but unwelcome.
Her eyes locked with his and her insides began to defrost.
He shook his head, his voice dropping to a mere whisper. "You can't deny to me, Veana. You can't deny yourself."
Petra held her breath, caught in some dreamlike state with him so close, his breath against her face. She didn't trust him, not by a mile. But she couldn't seem to push back this sudden, frantic need trembling inside her. Truth or lies, manipulations or a bargain to agree to, she had to hear what he had to say.
She licked her dry lips, found her voice. "They're looking for you," she told him. "My family."
"Let them look." He couldn't have appeared less concerned.
"They'll come to my office door again. My brothers, Brodan . . ."
His chin dropped, making his eyes so dark and fearsome, she gasped. "I can be a ghost when I need to be."
"I won't allow you to hurt them," she warned.
"The doctor is not my target. And your brothers can take care of themselves."
"Did they give you a pounding?" She gave a nervous laugh, knowing that Sasha and Valentin must've held their own with this male.
"Let's just say it was a mutual blood sport. I have much respect for your brothers' skill." He cocked an eyebrow. "But I won't be held back if anyone takes a swing at me."
She sobered. She knew he wasn't playing around with that threat.
"So, we have a bargain, Veana? The history of our species for a pint or two of your blood?"
She couldn't believe she was agreeing to this. It was impetuous behavior, madness, and yet her curiosity-a lifetime of questions without answers-nudged her forward.
She nodded. "It's a bargain. But I want to hear your information first."
He leaned in another inch, his dark eyes electrifying. "You're going to make me remain this way, hideous and in pain?"
She swallowed thickly, tried to force her insides to calm. He was so damn close. "You attacked me and my brother. You broke into my house."
His eyes glittered. "Then think of it as a gift for yourself. Do you really want to look at this face any longer than you have to?"
She wasn't sure what made her do it, but the impulsive move couldn't be stopped. She reached out and touched his face, his cheek. The skin was warm and rough under her fingers. She knew she should pull away, but she didn't.
She lifted her gaze to his and whispered, "I don't think it's so bad."
Synjon Wise's brows drew together, and his eyes darkened with wariness. "You are a strange veana, Petra," he said as he eased back away from her, and away from her touch.
He'd told her all about morpho and Meta, he'd told her about the credentis, he'd talked of his years in the military-and finally he'd told her his age.
"One hundred and eighty?" she exclaimed.
Synjon nodded. Across the small dining table, candles burning down to low flames, Petra sat with her arms folded on the table, her head jutting forward as if she was afraid she'd miss something. Her black hair spilled over her arms and her pale blue eyes glinted with feverish interest.
"How long can you live?" she asked.
"We," he corrected, "can live forever." He shrugged, amending, "If the blood continues to flow and we . . ."
She inched forward in her seat. "What?"
The events of a week ago pushed once again through his mind, and his unbeating heart. "Remain out of the sun. Though females can survive it, the sun is a morphed male's enemy."
Her eyes softened. "Is it your only enemy?"
"No." Cruen's face flashed inside his head, made his blood burn in his veins. There were many enemies within their breed.
"The woman," she began, "the one you carried so gently, the one you so desperately wanted to give your life for-"
"Do not speak of her," Synjon warned coolly.
"She was a vampire?"
"Yes," he ground out.
She bit her lip. "How did she die?"
A low growl rumbled in Syn's chest and his eyes narrowed on the veana before him. "I told you not to speak of her."