Numb,, Berkfield punched the code into the garage-door opener that he'd been given by the scientist. He waited as the door slowly opened and stood, transfixed, in the same spot where he'd been when Carlos disappeared. Every belief he'd once held had been shattered. In a place beyond fear, he stood watching the horizon - traumatized.
He didn't move as a black van without windows pulled into his driveway. He just stared at it. But when six burly guys climbed out of it bearing a strange crest on their black fatigues, the hair stood up on his arms.
"Where's the old guy with the white hair?"
Berkfield began to back up as he spoke. The scream that was bubbling within his chest never reached his throat as two icy hands held the sides of his head from behind. He couldn't speak, couldn't move. Paralysis swept through his body.
"Dr. Zeitloff was a problem," a strangely accented voice murmured close to his ear. "He's dead. Your protector is battling a Guardian team and coping with domestic problems with his wife. And you, my friend, are soon going to become my living key."
"Did you see that shit?" Rider said quietly, sitting down slowly on the edge of the bed.
"He walked through every prayer line we'd laid down," Father Patrick whispered, looking at the team members.
"He more like blew through them," Shabazz muttered. "Even for a council master... shit."
"How can a vampire, regardless of level, be immune to prayers, garlic, holy water..." Marlene's question trailed off as her fingers touched the repaired wall.
"He's hybridizing," Father Patrick said, running his fingers through his shock of white hair. "She's in him, as much as he's in her," the elder cleric said in a far-off tone. "They've soul-joined... that's why he could speak the name of the Almighty, break the new line - but he didn't attack."
"What have we got here, Father?" Big Mike asked as he lowered his weapon. "He's still all vamp and if the traditional methods don't work..."
For a moment no one spoke as the impact of what they were now facing settled into their awareness.
"We need the team of seven around the table so I can try to locate them." Marlene looked at Father Patrick. "Then you and I can link thoughts, and the three remaining members of the Covenant can find the lair."
"Yeah, Mar, but that ritual needs a twelve-man team." Shabazz looked at the clerics. "Carlos had always been your fifth man over with the Covenant, a dark Guardian - but a Guardian nonetheless. It's a risk that his energy might get pulled into the mix."
"We don't have a choice," Marlene said quietly, despair making her voice barely audible.
"We just saw how strong he's gotten, Marlene," Rider said, taking sides with Shabazz, and glancing around the team for agreement. "We can search for her by day. Forget the mind lock to her. If she's still alive, Carlos is all inside her head."
"I'll take the weight," Jose said fast. "I'll go in with Marlene, if you all won't." His intense gaze swept the team. "She went to Hell for me to break Dee Dee's bond, that's the least I can do."
Father Patrick nodded. "Marlene's right. Time is of the essence, and the risk is of no consequence." He gave Jose a nod of respect. "We'll still have to do a daylight recovery... but we need not waste another moment in divining her location tonight. They'll be on the move from this point forward as a mated vampire pair."
Every place her skin touched his, sizzled. Carlos pulled in a deep breath and covered Damali's mouth and nose with his lips, and pushed the breath of life into her lungs.
When she didn't respond, he willed himself not to panic. He dropped to his knees on the foyer floor, laying her flat, as he massaged her heart, continued to breathe for her, with her, into her, spitting out the nasty taste of whatever they'd made her swallow in the process, until he was left with no option but to pound on her chest.
Her body convulsed, shivered, and her eyes opened, glassy and dead. The sight of it nearly stole his breath, and he scooped her up, taking the stairs two at a time, too rattled to even dematerialize. Dashing down the hall, he willed on the shower, thrust her into the cold spray and began gently washing the horrible oils and residues off her pretty brown skin.
Fury roiled within him. They should have brought her out of the turn slowly. But not this - a total flat-line.
"C'mon, baby. Come back to me. Fight it. I'll take the pain�don't run from it!"
He lathered her hair and skin and hands, gradually warming the water by will, hoping that would help her to slowly come around, stepping into the shower with her to keep her lifeless body pressed to his, sending her his life force, breathing into her, cleaning her, begging her with his mind to come back.
A sob of total defeat claimed him as he rocked her and just held her head against his shoulder, petting her drenched locks, finally abandoning his attempts to revive her.
How many lifetimes would he have to live through to purge this pain? "Oh, God... I'm so sorry... for everything," he whispered, his head back, eyes closed against the splash of the spray in his face. "Don't do this. Don't take her away from me like this."
The water beating against the tiles droned out his quiet sobs. He stood there, just rocking her, nuzzling her cold body, trying to build enough acceptance to will his legs to move her out of the shower. There was no way to make this right, no game to play, no option to explore. There was only one ultimate power that held sway now. He believed now. The dark side didn't have nothin' on this.
Carlos drew a ragged breath and let it out slowly. He'd take her back home so they could give her a proper burial on hallowed ground... Then he'd take the Isis, allow them to plant it hard in the center of his chest - with honor. That was the only way to go out. His baby was right. Always had been.
A sudden gasp passed through her body, into his chest, and into his splayed palms upon her back. It forced him to jerk his head down, to roughly take her jaw into his hand. He shook her hard, grabbed the hair at her skull when a flicker of life stirred within her. He frantically tilted her head, and covered her mouth again, forcing another breath into her, then slapped her face hard.
She opened her eyes, stunned, disoriented, weakened, her irises glittering gold then normalizing to deep brown. He breathed into her again, until she gasped on her own, and began coughing and sputtering, while she clung to him. As he held her head hard against his shoulder, he felt her jaw fill, and instinctively knew that she needed to feed.
He tilted her head back, lifting her mouth to his throat. At first, her strike was weak, clumsy, but he held her to him, letting her renew herself, siphon slowly. Then the siphon changed, becoming more aggressive as she filled herself, fought to live, battled to survive at any cost.
He staggered against the tiles as she began to bleed him out, but he held her close, letting her take what she needed. Even if she flat-lined him, it was all right, just as long as she survived.
When she finally lifted her head, he was semiconscious. Her beautiful mouth was dripping red water, the shower washing the blood away. Her skin was no longer cool and pallid, but flushed and warm. All he could do was reach out and trace her jaw with trembling fingers and brush the stray locks away from her face. She nuzzled the inside of his hand and brought her mouth to his to exchange a kiss, which he returned so tenderly that she deepened it immediately.
Relief buckled his knees as his arms enfolded her tightly and they fell against the tile wall. His fingers wound through her hair, caressed her back, pulled her so hard against him that he was afraid he might hurt her. He kissed her face, her neck, her shoulders, her throat. Then he hugged and rocked her. A dead man's prayers had been answered.
Through her shudder he felt it, but hesitated to act on it. She'd seen this before - this had happened in the compound... the shower. Yeah, he remembered her premonition, too.
She looked at him, their minds locking with the shared gaze. She nodded and smiled. The offending scent now washed away, the raw essence of Neteru ran all through him. He shook his head no. He didn't want to tempt fate.
"The purge shocked your system," he said, panicked, trying to extract himself from her embrace. "You've ripened early." He closed his eyes, tilted his head, drew in a deep breath and shuddered. Then he spoke to her through suddenly lowered incisors. "I've gotta get you home."
"They'll torture me again," she said quietly, standing an inch away from him, water cascading down her naked form, her eyes glittering. "You were the one who understood... brought me back."
"But I'm the one thing right now that might kill you," he said, her fragrance destroying his resolve. But neither of them moved. He couldn't even look at her. Not standing there naked, dripping, with a plea for sanctuary in her eyes, a half inch of fang showing and Neteru scenting the air.
She reached out and cupped his cheek with her hand. He turned into it and pressed a deep kiss in the center of her palm.
"You are the only one who accepts all of me - the good and the bad, the strong and the weak. You'd take me with a halo or with fangs," she said quietly, smiling sadly and moving in closer to him. "To be with you doesn't require that I play some role, or be something special, and when I fall, you don't even care about that. You were that way with me before and after your turn... strength of character, Carlos - you've got it. So, if fate has it that I die with you, isn't that an honorable way to go out?"
Her words were shredding him, and he tried to remember that he was indeed talking to a female master, as her gaze held his defiantly. Life was ironic, death was even more perverse, because here he was backing away from a gorgeous, naked, wet, ripe, seductive vampire.
"Damali, I actually prayed that you'd get a second chance to live," he said, pushing a stray lock over her shoulder. "In this condition, you could conceive, and we wouldn't know whether what you were carrying was good or something..."
She pressed her index finger to his lips to stop his awkward tumble of words. "Nobody knows what will come out of this next generation. Life is a gamble, just like death is a gamble. The way I see it, we've got a fifty-fifty shot."
Water beat on the tiles, just like her words beat on his conscience, both standing so still neither was breathing. Then she made the fatal mistake of moving a millimeter closer, her breasts brushing his chest when she lifted herself on tiptoes to take his mouth.
Prayer was forgotten, his conscience was banished. Her hair filled his hands, and his mouth captured hers. The steam carried her scent. As his reason melted, so did his clothes. The hard rake of her nails down his back dragged his hands the length of hers. There was one single objective: enter this woman, or lose his mind.
Her short pants were now the pace of his pulse. Her back hit the wall, knocking the wind from her lungs. He caught the hard exhale in his throat and thrust his tongue into her mouth.
Tearing his lips from hers, his jaw collided with her cheek, forcing her head to the side so his incisors could drag a hot trail from the edge of her shoulder to find the sweet spot midpoint on her neck. She held his shoulders tight, pulling him against her as though trying to fuse with his skin. His hands flattened at the small of her back then moved over her supple behind, lifting her off her feet.
Writhing under his hold, her eyes shut tight, anticipation in every breath, waiting for the double entry. A swift strike came with the deep thrust, her voice rising with the steam, creating so feral a sensation that she let go of his shoulders and flattened both palms on the tiles.
From some remote place of awareness, he knew he had to pull out of the siphon. Her body was going limp; the punishment too intense. Yet need created by the scent of ripe Neteru was beyond even council-level control. He should have fed, first... but how in the hell... when she shuddered like she did, her moan deep and guttural, her legs now clamped around his waist, and every returned thrust sending intense pleasure through his groin.
He could feel his incisors about to sever the vein, hit muscle, cartilage, and penetrate her esophagus. A long, hard shiver sent shock waves down his spine as he tore his head back, kissed the wound to close it, and rested his forehead against the tiles, sucking in air.
"Don't stop," she whispered hard against his ear, still moving under him, cradling his head, running her fingers through his hair.
"I have to feed," he said, breaths staccato, words running together. "I'll kill you."
"You can't, not this way now that I'm already turned..."
Her head was tilted back, her neck arched, breathing irregular through her mouth. The words, the timber of the plea, the invitation, were a double-edged blade - slicing reason, while snapping it back into focus, if only for a moment. He pulled out hard, causing her gasp to stab him. She turned away and pressed her cheek against the cold tiles.
"You right, you're right... okay," she said between her teeth after a moment.
But the sight of how the water played over her shoulder blades, the definition of her spine flexing drew his fingers to each vertebrae, lingering to kiss them with his touch, making him take one step back to admire the form of her wet ass.
His hands slid over the high, glistening cheeks with the water, and he entered her, hard from the rear.
He cried out as her stomach hit the wall. He slid his hand between the tiles and her wondrously smooth belly, pulling her into him, against him, to keep her from being slammed into the wall. Using an outstretched arm with his elbow locked to brace the impact, shelter her skull, his breaths became a chant. He needed to feed.
With his head thrown back, his eyes shut tight, he tried to reason with her, slow his motions, his pulse, the inevitable. "Downstairs in the lair, on tap," he said between pants. "But you have to stop moving."
"I can't." Her voice broke, and she reached back, holding his hips, refusing to allow him to break the seal of their bodies. "Not yet."
"It's now or never," he told her honestly, gathering her in his arms, his hands sliding up her slick torso to mold her breasts. "Let me feed, so we can both live to do this again tomorrow night."
Grudgingly, she moved, disengaging their bodies and allowing him to turn her, shuddering when the connection was lost. He embraced her and nuzzled her hair. With a thought, they were downstairs, dripping water on the black marble kitchen floor.
She backed up to the sink, baiting him with her eyes. "Turn on the tap," she ordered. Her voice was low, and husky. Lethal.
He nodded and it ran blood.
Without his looking at the cabinets, they slammed open - and a crystal goblet materialized in his hand. She inched over and let him fill it, watching him with burning intensity as he downed two glassfuls quickly.
"Can I taste?" She smiled, her fangs glistening in the darkness, her eyes flickering gold.
"It's got a kick to it... not like feeding from me, or the packs."
She nodded, her hot body sliding beneath him. She dipped her finger in his glass, put it in her mouth, and closed her eyes, pulling her finger out slow and wet. "Yeah... it does."
He let her take the glass. She took a deep swig, dropped the glass, and let it shatter. With feline agility, she pushed herself up on the counter and leaned back and her eyes said it all - no mind lock necessary.
More stable now, he took his time, his lips finding her eyelids, the bridge of her nose, but denying her ready mouth his kiss. It was about finesse. A sad knowing overcame him as he honored her body - she was too far gone, the purge hadn't worked, and she'd turned. Instinctively he knew that while female vampires could not reproduce the scent of ripe Neteru, a master could reproduce any illusion that he had intimate knowledge of. In this case, he'd made a female master with Neteru DNA. He wanted to weep.
"I'm so sorry, baby," he whispered, swallowing away his tears.
"If I had to be bitten and turned," she whispered, stroking his hair, "I'm glad you were the one who did it."
Carlos nuzzled her neck. He'd never forgive himself, but vowed to spend eternity making it up to her.
Breath warm and coating teased her throat, a nip, a flicker of tongue, making her squirm in frustration as she waited for his bite and entry. Deep, long kisses sucked her collarbone. A gentle caress lifted her breasts, causing a shiver. Gooseflesh from anticipation made her arch to make contact with his mouth, the tips hardened, ready, but ignored, then suddenly captured. The sensation almost blinding, then gone.
Moistened thumbs traced a lazy circle around edges of her nipples in a burning tease. A light kiss on her breastbone made her belly quiver. A long, sweeping lick down her abdomen - impossible to hold her head up and watch. A tongue circling her navel, then penetrating it, causing a slow moan... a series of advancing kisses, nips, that forced her to lift her head with hope... then he looked up at her and smiled.
Her thighs opened wider on their own accord. But the place that she most needed to feel him, he ignored. The tender insides of her thighs were on fire. Every swipe of his tongue, every deep French kiss against them, made her lift her hips and contract, not knowing when the kiss there would come.
When his hands slid down her sides and over her thighs, water came to her eyes, blurring her vision. His caress was so lazy, almost hypnotic, were it not for the white-hot burn it created.
"You always smell so damned good," he murmured into the soft down as he kissed it.
His words vibrated against the tender place, sending a hard contraction up the core of her. Her face felt hot, and she licked the tiny beads of sweat that had formed just above her lip. But when he separated her with his tongue an electric current straightened her spine.
The slow suckle of the oversensitive bud that he'd found made her hips move to the pulse of his tongue. And as his mouth explored the tender folds around it, she arched to try to return him to where he'd just been. But he wasn't having it. He'd found a deeper region, and he circled it before plundering it, her cries nearly shattering glass.
His mouth wandered, leaving her aching, another site abandoned, his fingers adding delicious, torturous penetration, but a poor substitute. He chuckled, reading her mind, knowing, finding the place she needed him to kiss most, and he allowed his tongue to salsa it until she grabbed his hair with both hands.
Hovering on the edge of certain madness, she could not understand her body. It wouldn't yield, wouldn't obey her and just plunge over the edge of the near orgasm. Instead, it teetered, going close, then stepping back, ignoring her will. Her moan became a whimper, then a plea of despair.
"I know," he murmured against her thigh, hot and thick. "Now do you understand?"
Her voice caught in her throat. She nodded with her eyes closed, but knew he was watching her face, triumphant.
His kisses trailed up her middle, his hands leaving a burn as they stroked her. "I was right there, just like that... on the brink for months."
She wanted him so badly, she nearly wept when he covered her. She struggled beneath his hold, trying to offer him entry, but he just lay refusing to come in.
"For us," he murmured into her hair, winding it through his fingers, "release is impossible without the bite." If she'd turned, he had to teach her. She was his woman, his wife, and had to know all there was to thrive in his dark world that had become hers.
He was in full control, and she knew it. She could feel his fangs tease her skin, his hips lowering slowly, calmly.
"Please..." Her hands scrabbled at his shoulder blades, but he shook his head no and chuckled low in his throat.
"Uh-uh. Not yet." She had to learn patience, how to seduce prey, how to co-opt would-be aggressors. She had to learn how to function within the sixth realm.
Only a millimeter in, he withdrew from the bite, as he entered her agonizingly slow, kissing the nick at her neck. Then he kissed her hard, pulled back to look into her eyes. She ran her tongue over her fangs and she tried to catch her breath. He smiled and closed his eyes.
"Yeah, baby, now you're ready."
She felt herself falling, his arms tight around her as her back met red satin sheets. Crimson rose petals stuck to her legs, the aroma making her heady, his touch now bold and firm. His eyes flickered in the dancing torchlight as he looked down at her. She could feel perspiration dampen his back, and she arched into him, hoping he would take her quickly.
The strike was so sudden, so hard, it made colors dance behind her lids. Her body convulsed as he penetrated her once again. He was in so deep that she could taste her own blood in her mouth. He'd found that elusive spot and stroked it over and over again. She dug her nails into the smooth, hard globes of his ass.
Every muscle in his back worked in harmony with her breath-chants, his thighs pushing them up the bed, dangerously near a marble post. He reached out, not breaking stride, and slid them away from it.
She sobbed his name in refrain and he pulled out of the bite, threw his head back, tears streaming down his face. Now she understood.
Offering her his throat, even while he continued to lunge against her, she knew what he needed. His anticipation of her bite made his breaths become ragged. The moment her mouth neared his neck, she could feel him begin to shudder. She leaned up and licked the sensitive surface of his neck and he moaned. The sound of his voice convulsed her womb. They struck at the same moment. Blinding pleasure almost made it impossible to siphon. Every convulsion that ripped through him entered her, recycling itself back to him with her heat contained within it.
She could barely breathe and had to pull up. Her heart felt like a tight fist was crushing it - the waves of ecstasy were so intense. But his tortured plea not to stop now brought her mouth to his throat again.
A prolonged wail traveled up his torso, entered her veins though his bite, made him seek air, refuge from the sensory overload. Carlos's fingers raked the sheets, shredding them in the wake, while she tightened her legs and arms around him and tried to hold on.
Carlos dropped his head to her shoulder, his face burning, hair soaked, breathing erratic. All she could do was pet away the shudders until his body stopped jerking.
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