“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.”
—Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
“There’s a part of me that knows Eli wants me forever—as in it’s unacceptable for him to even consider my death, no matter how far into the future it may be. Okay—I like that. Who wouldn’t? Never have I wanted someone so badly, and never has anyone wanted me the way Eli does. But I think he wants to turn me, and that sort of freaks me out. I don’t want to live forever. It’s not … natural. I’m not scared of him or anything, but let’s just say I sleep with one eye open.”
Da Island, Gullah
Off the coast of Savannah, Georgia
“Hold her down!”
Fire ripped through my insides, through my veins, under my skin, deep into my muscles, and I thrashed against the three pairs of strong arms trying to hold me still—I didn’t know why or who they were. I didn’t know where I was. I saw nothing but blood behind my eyes, streaks of crimson blurring my vision, and my head pounded with each sluggish thump of my exaggerated heartbeat. I knew only pain, and I wanted to get the freaking hell away from it, out of the tangled arms trying to restrain me. “Get the f**k off me!” I gritted through my teeth. Their grips tightened. The air was smoldering hot all around me as if it poured from a five-hundred-degree oven. It made the burning inside my body even more intense, and the heavy scent of salt and rotted sea life wafted to me. I wanted to puke.
“I liked it better when she couldn’t move,” a voice I knew but couldn’t place said sarcastically. It had a slight French accent.
I kicked out hard and caught someone on the jaw with my heel. A muffled curse and laughter reached my ears. I didn’t care. I was in friggin’ agony, and getting out of it was all that mattered. I fought harder, growling and spitting. An all-consuming hate filled me. I felt it through my skin, all the way to my bones. Finally, I broke free. I scrambled on all fours but didn’t make it far. Someone’s full body slammed me into the scorching sand, and I lay there, trapped, under the crushing weight—in anguish. I swore, but the sound came out muffled as coarse grains pushed into my open mouth. Whatever was on top of me was squeezing the breath out of me. I coughed. Air had a hard time getting back into my lungs. I wheezed.
“Ease up, Zetty,” another familiar voice said. “You’re pushing her face into the sand. She can’t breathe.”
Zetty? What the hell? An unfamiliar, guttural sound came from the weight trapping me. I bucked, or tried to, anyway.
“Here, give this to her,” another voice said. “Fast.”
“You give it to her, Bro.”
I heard a muttered curse, then felt a sharp pinprick in my ass. I bucked again, hard. I screamed, but it was no use. I lay there in the sand, with a big, heavy-ass Zetty stretched out on top of me as I cursed and wailed, until a drugging, calming haze swept over me, pulling me down. The pain eased, my lids grew heavy, and, finally, shadows crowded me, claiming me. I knew nothing else, and that was freaking fine by me. For however long, I slept.
A breeze drifted over my skin and across my face, and I cracked open my eyes. I anticipated pain, and that unbearable burning, but thankfully, there was none. My vision was blurry, but long shadows fell over me, accompanied by the cooler temperature of the afterlight, making everything around me hazy.
Only then did I notice strong fingers interlaced with mine, and I turned my head and blinked several times until Eli’s face, lit by a kerosene lamp, came into focus. Dark shadows melded against perfect, pale skin, and the contrast made my breath catch. Had I ever feared him? Even now, it was hard for me to imagine his face contorted into the monster I knew he could become. He bent closer, and I inhaled his unique, drugging scent. “Hey,” I said, my voice scratchy, sore, and broken. “What happened? I feel as if a train hit me.” I did, too. My whole body ached, down to the bone—almost to the cellular level. Grinding my teeth together, I noticed grit. Sand?
“Yeah, sand,” Eli said, brushing my hair back from my forehead. “And your body aches because Zetty threw his full weight onto you. Damn, he’s one big Tibetan.” I found a bottle of water pressed to my lips. “Rinse and drink.” I did. Eli then leaned down and pressed his mouth to mine. A thrill shot through me, and my insides fluttered as the pressure of Eli’s lips settled, moved, tasted, caressed.
The pressure eased, and Eli pulled back, his darkening gaze fastened on mine. The small silver hoop still adorned his brow, and I decided I seriously liked it. “You fight like a wildcat.” The corner of his mouth tipped upward into the sexiest grin I’d ever seen. He nuzzled my neck. “Turns me on,” he whispered.
“Yeah, I bet it does, freak,” I said lightly. I laughed, shaking off the erotic shiver that coursed through my body at his seductive words. A powerful surge of desire for Eli gripped me, and, to be frank, it sort of took me off guard. It was strong. And not just midtwenties, hotblooded American girl, horny strong. It was powerful as hell.
Eli’s striking blue eyes darkened even more, turning almost stormy in color as he stared down at me. “It’s one of your tendencies,” he said, and he stroked my bottom lip with his thumb.
“What is?” I asked, shivering.
“Your extreme horniness,” he answered proudly. “Definitely a perk, not that you had any problem before—”
My hand over his mouth stopped his words, and I grinned. “You’re in big trouble now, Dupré,” I said, my voice raspy, deeper than usual, and I slipped my hand around his neck, pulling his mouth to mine.
“Promise?” Eli whispered against me.
“Oh yeah,” I said, and parted his lips with my tongue, kissing him deeply. A thousand sensations blasted through me at once as an intense, almost unbearable heat pooled between my legs. In the next second, a burst of power exploded from my body as I grabbed Eli, flipped him over, off the makeshift bed of pillows and quilts, and onto the hard-packed sand. A small grunt escaped his throat, and for some reason, I liked that. I pinned him beneath me, my legs straddling his waist, my crotch grinding against him, my knees digging into the coarse sand and my hands trapping his above his head. All in under three seconds. Swear to God.
Eli Dupré did nothing more than smile. And it was a wicked, wicked smile.
With such speed I surprised myself, I gathered both of his hands in one, and before my brain even registered my actions, I was reaching for his button fly. I wanted him, and I meant to have him—yesterday.
The dark glimmer in Eli’s eyes meant he was going to let me.
I had three buttons undone, my hand inside his jeans, and a low moan emitting from Eli’s throat when a voice interrupted.
“Whoa, girl,” Phin said, way too close. “Not in front of the children, huh?”
“Yeah, dude. Get a room.”
Laughter erupted around me, deep male chuckles mixed with squeaky adolescent ones.
In the next instant, my body left Eli’s, and I was lifted and settled hard on my feet, outside the open-air tent in which I’d been attacking Eli. I turned, and a small flickering campfire cast amber light into laughing green eyes filled with mischief. “Yeah, Sis. Especially not in front of the children. That’s just … gross.”
I leapt and threw my arms around my brother. “Seth!” I said, burying my face against the strong column of his neck. It was the first time I’d seen him since, well, before. When he’d been in transition, before his almost-quickening. “Oh my God, I’ve missed you!” My heart literally pounded with sheer joy. I had my brother back! I squeezed tighter, and happiness shot through me.
Seth’s long arms hugged me tightly, and he lifted me off the ground. “I missed you, too, Ri.” A small crack in his voice let me know just how emotional my little brother really was.
I hugged him for a long, long time and, finally, after drawing in his familiar scent, I pulled back and looked at him—really looked at him. Bare-chested, barefoot, and wearing only a pair of low-slung black board shorts that hung to his knees, he seemed … different. Way different—not the teenage brother I’d known a month before. Without even thinking, I touched his face, then his jaw. Pushing aside the dark sweep of hair from his forehead, I felt the growing muscles in his chest, the rocks carved into his stomach. I turned him around and checked out his lean back. His normally pale skin was tanned from the sun, and, just below the board shorts, I saw a strip of colorless skin where his tan ended and his white butt began. Just as fast, I turned him back around to face me. I blinked. He hardly looked like my baby brother. It wasn’t that he looked older or anything. Just … different. Can someone look wiser? I stared at him. “You’ve changed, Bro.”
“Right?” he said proudly, and gave himself a quick glance. “I’ve been working out with Zetty and the guys.” Then, his face grew serious, his eyes somber, and worry lines gathered between his brows. “Are you gonna be all right?”
For whatever reason, his concern worried me. I glanced at Phin, Luc, then Eli, before turning back to Seth. “Of course,” I assured him, and punched his arm. “No prob. I feel better already, just seeing you.” I did, too. It seemed like forever since I’d seen him. Normal, that is. If you could call what we’d become normal. I stared at my brother a little more. Something struck me, deep inside—a twinge. My gaze moved from his face to his throat, and there it lingered. The pulse of his heart barely lifted the skin there, keeping in sync with the beat as the blood pulsed through his veins. I became transfixed, staring at that spot. Inside my body, seemingly just beneath the surface, I quivered.
Seth studied me a few seconds more, grinned, and draped an arm over my shoulders. “Good. So, you wanna hang?”
“Probably not a good idea,” Eli said, glancing at me before meeting Seth’s gaze. “Not alone, anyway. At least, not for a while.” He gave me a slight smile. “Still working out a few kinks.” He pulled my arm. What was wrong with me?