Sevrin Renault pushed opened the steel door of his steam-trekker. A wave of heat, heavy with dust, hit him in the face. He stepped out onto the running board above the metal-ribbed track wheel that carried his vehicle over the roughest land. It made a good mobile base for his wandering life in the wastelands.
He wiped his leather-gloved hand over his face. The grit of dirt clung to his lips, and he tried to muster up saliva. It didn’t come easily. “Damn weather.” He reached back inside the steam-trekker for his flask. He took off the cap. After taking a mouthful of water, he swished it around and spit it onto the ground. With the dryness gone along with the grainy residue, he took another drink and swallowed. He replaced the cap and slung the flask back into the steam-trekker.
He hopped off the running board. Fine dust particles from the parched earth billowed up and coated his boots. He snapped back the tails of his overcoat, sending a flurry of filth from the worn garment. Then, drawing his gun from the holster at his back, he checked to see that the chambers were full of ammunition, the hammer unlocked, and the weapon ready for use. Armed for any sudden surprises, he returned it to the holster, satisfied.
The steam engine in his vehicle suddenly hissed, startling him. No matter how many times he heard that in a day, he was never prepared. The series of spits, sputters, and several juicy popping sounds as the liquid cooled in the water-fueled tank reminded him he’d have to find a watering hole and refill soon.
Sevrin had stopped the vehicle because curiosity had pulled his attention toward what someone had dumped on the wayside. He prided himself on being a man getting by in life by whatever means came his way. His brother, Zandt, called him an aimless wanderer. In reality, he was a salvager, hunting for valuables that made life easier, comfortable, and often interesting.
He looked toward the bottom of the gully. It was normal to find odd bits of furniture or machinery in unlikely places. People discarded what they didn’t want whenever and wherever the mood struck them. The last thing he had expected to see thrown out as useless trash was a person.
Humans buried their own. Lamians burned theirs.
Wishing his eyesight had played tricks on him, he rubbed his hand over his face. He scratched his jaw, giving a momentary thought to cutting back the whiskers when he stopped to fuel up the steam-trekker. The image of the naked female quickly pulled his thoughts back on track.
She was about as far from common as finding grass in the wastelands. Unable to turn away and ignore her, he climbed down the bank. Loose gravel rolled out from beneath him, making his steps shaky. Twenty feet later, he stood at the halfway point on the slope and stared at the mutilated corpse of a young female.
Sprawled out in the rutted dirt, her limbs askew, she appeared unreal, as if she were one of those mangled rag dolls children sometimes carried. Her awkward position left an intimate part of her exposed.
Someone had wanted her to suffer before dying. Mutilation came from anger. But who did it? A sex partner? A violent thief? What could anyone possibly want from her? With her being naked, it wasn’t beyond imagining someone had killed her for her clothes in their uncivilized society.
Whatever the reason, he had no part in another’s business. Everyone had an agenda. He was no different.
Still, he had trouble leaving it alone. The wastefulness of her death disturbed him. Females were few in the wastelands, especially beautiful ones. It didn’t make sense for anybody to go killing them off.
Sevrin moved closer, stumbling the remaining few steps over the bumpy ground. Letting his gaze sweep over her sleek feminine curves, he shook his head in disgust. Marred by dozens of cuts, her perfectly shaped body showed all the signs of a lengthy torture.
“Damn crackbrains.” He shook his head, disgusted by what people did to others. Then he turned away to leave.
Partly healed cuts?
He glanced back at the female.
To make sure she was dead, he bent down, flipped back the blood-matted blonde hair from her face, and pushed up her top lip.
“Fangs,” he muttered. “That explains the exaggerated efforts of your attacker.”
He pulled off his right glove and pressed his fingertips against her neck to check for a pulse, but didn’t feel the usual throbbing. Lowering his head, he listened for breathing from her mouth, but a light breeze around him prevented him from detecting anything. Then he placed his ear against her chest. The thump of her heartbeat had an erratic pattern—stopping and starting.
He sat back on his heels. “So, you’ve just been left for dead.” He pushed on her chest with the palm of his hand and studied the large puncture wound in her belly. Blood bubbled out.
“Why aren’t you healing?” He tried to think of what else he might do to get a response from her.
With her advanced metabolism, she should have recovered from her injuries shortly after receiving them. Even if she were not pure lamian and had a slower regenerative process, she should have healed as he watched.
Sevrin rose and pulled off his other glove. He shoved the finely crafted pair of lizard-skin gloves into his pocket, not wanting to lose them.
He scanned the area for signs of someone else in the area. The barren wastelands let a man see far, and he saw no one.
A sound from the lamian drew his attention back to her. How long had she been lying there exposed to the heat of the sun and bleeding to death?
“Cold,” she suddenly spoke. Although lacking energy, her voice had an incredible magnetism.
Sevrin squatted and placed his hand on her forehead. She radiated excessive heat. He stood and jerked his arms out of his overcoat. Like his gloves, it also had been made of the slick hides of lizards. He took pride in owning the long, durable garment. While it was often a cumbersome part of his attire, it had practical purposes. Used to shield both sun and rain, it also made for a decent bedroll.
“Your body needs insulated from the sun’s heat,” he said, snapping his often-coveted possession over her without concern for the blood that might get on it.
He made adjustments, thoroughly covering her arms and legs. Reaching beneath the coat, he caught her leg by the calf and pulled her limbs together. He tucked her arms close to her sides and flipped the collar up near her neck.
Her soft moan drew his gaze. Her lashes fluttered and then opened completely. She stared at him with gorgeous pale blue eyes. The mesmerizing tranquility of the color captivated him. Lamians usually had dark brown or golden irises whether or not they were purebred. They also had dark hair, so her being blonde was already an indication of her half-breed status.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said reassuringly, expecting fear, embarrassment, or panic.
She blinked once, displaying a quiet acceptance to his statement. It either showed the truest strength in her nature or a sign of her imminent demise.
While he preferred to stay out of time-sucking situations unless he profited, a soft spot in him also never passed up an innocent in distress. The fragile female at his feet certainly needed his help.
“You’ve got to replenish your blood loss.” He pushed his sleeve up to his elbow.
“No.” She closed her eyes and turned her head away.
He’d met all kinds in his travels, from starving, flesh-gorging humans to greedy, blood-drinking lamians. This was something new—a lamian who didn’t want to rip open his flesh and suck his veins dry. She reminded him that good existed in the least likely of places. It made him want to help her even more.
He slid his hand under her head and lifted it up. “You have to do this.”
“Bloodletting perpetuates falsehoods,” she grumbled.
“You have sun-fever. If you don’t get fresh blood into you soon, your body will become combustible, heated enough to burst into flames. I don’t reckon I’d be too interested in seeing that happen.” He offered his wrist, something he had never done for another lamian.
He understood pride. But her stubbornness was going to kill her.
“No one will know…except us.” He put his hand under the coat and rubbed her chest to stimulate blood flow. “Besides, I’d think you’d prefer drinking my blood rather than having me fondling you.” He moved his hand to her hot belly. Blood still pumped out the wound. “What’s your name?”
Just having her answer showed she wasn’t ready to give up on life.
“Is that it?” he asked, trying to start a conversation of any sort just to keep her awake.
She looked at him again. “It’s enough.”
“So, that’s the name you want carved on your grave marker?”
“Don’t trouble yourself.” Her obstinacy showed spunk.
If he were the one lying near death, he might have said the same thing. With hardships of day-to-day living and the lack of beauty in the world, why not give up the struggle to hang on?
“Aren’t you going to ask me to burn you instead of burying you?” He needed to keep her talking to prevent her from sliding into a coma.
“According to you, I’ll burst into flames soon enough.” She gasped a weak sound.
Her eyes closed, and her head lulled to the side.
“Rye?” He gripped her chin and turned her face toward him. “Rye, look at me.”
Her thick golden lashes lifted, and her glistening blue gaze lacked the same resolve of her words.
“Your temperature is rising. You should drink before it’s too late.” He offered his wrist again. “You must have some reason left to live.”
Her eyes widened, and he knew he’d found a chink in her obstinacy.
Then she let out a sigh of defeat. “I was fed an extract from alliums.”
Still, she could survive it, or so he had heard.
“You have to try,” he said again, not sure to what extent his blood could help. His knowledge about pureblood lamians was limited. And half-breeds, those that had a mix of lamian and human blood, had enough dissimilarities that it wasn’t a topic that came up in his travels.
“I need…too…much.” She coughed on the last word and convulsed with sickening sounds of distress.
Sevrin’s stomach knotted. The haunting memories of his mother’s illness flashed in his thoughts. He pulled Rye forward, rolling her on her side. Vomit and blood spewed from her pale lips. He grabbed her shoulder and steadied her as she continued to heave. Bile hit the bottom of his trouser leg and his boot. When he touched her bare back to hold her from falling on her face, he felt other gashes in her skin and more sticky blood.
“Fuck.” What sadistic son of a bitch did this to her and why?
“I’m sorry,” she said, anger tinged the apologetic tone.
Realizing how his disgust for her abuser could sound like it was aimed at her, he swept her hair back from her forehead. “Don’t be.” He moved his hold away from where his fingers dipped into the split skin, but he found no safe place to hang onto her without touching an open cut.
She tried pushing herself away, but another round of regurgitation forced her forward. He held her tight, helping her back to the ground when she stopped shaking. Shifting his coat back in place to cover her, he felt around the garment for the pocket with another one of his flasks.
He opened the lizard-hide container. “Here, drink this.” He raised her head.
“No,” she protested. “It will dilute my blood and make the poison recycle easier through my veins.”
“And if you don’t get cooled down soon, you’ll die. It’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.” He flipped back the coat from her upper torso and poured some of the water onto her neck and chest. The clean liquid cut paths through the grime.
With bloodstained hands, he wiped the water along her collarbone and up her slender neck to cool her skin. The mixture of blood and dirt smeared together. He splashed more water on her face and wet her dry, cracked lips. She didn’t protest.
“How does that feel?” Not getting an answer, he grasped her jaw and shook her by the face. “Rye?”
He continued to pour the water on her until it was gone. It wasn’t enough. With the coat over her, he scooped her up. He climbed the slope to the steam-trekker. There he laid her on the ground. He had some extra water in the steam-trekker meant for powering the vehicle. The moment he opened the small hatch to check the fuel reserve and heat wafted out, he knew he’d have to use what water he had stored in the cab to pour in the fuel tank.
He opened the door of the steam-trekker and retrieved the government storage can from behind the seat.
“Damn, not even half full,” he said, shaking the gray metal container.
He emptied it into the fuel funnel and then flipped the hatch shut.
Rye remained lifeless on the ground. He could have used the water on her, but then where would they be if he couldn’t quickly get her to more water? After putting the can back behind the seat, he picked Rye up and hoisted her onto his shoulder. He mounted the running board, leaned inside the cab, and dumped her into the passenger seat. She fell toward the console. He pulled her back up and realigned the coat over her as best he could. When she slumped toward him and the open door, he saw no other choice other than to climb in with her. From there he could get into the driver’s seat.
He straddled her to pull the door shut. Once in that position, he decided to try to give her blood again.
“No more arguments, Rye. I haven’t the water to keep you cooled down, so you’ll have to suck up your pride and drink my blood.”
She lay unresponsive. Had her body gone into hibernation? While normally that could be a good thing, she had the blood poison flowing through her veins. She’d never heal if hibernation turned into a coma.
Sevrin pulled the petrified-wood-handled knife from the sheath in the side of his boot.
“You better appreciate this.” He clenched his jaw as he sliced into the soft flesh of his inner forearm. He held back the groan of pain. Grasping Rye by the back of her head, he pressed his bloody arm to her mouth, forcing her lips to part. “Drink, dammit.”
Unable to get her started, he put his arm to his mouth. He had never tasted blood beyond the occasional drops that oozed from a split lip obtained in a fight. The salty, warm liquid had a metallic flavor, unusual yet palatably sweet.
He jerked back Rye’s head and angled her into position. He stuck his fingers between her lips and pried open her mouth. Helpless and vulnerable, she succumbed to his guidance. Then with a grip on her jaw, he moved his mouth against hers and spit his blood to the back of her throat. He withdrew and waited a few moments.
Her lack of response prompted him to take another hard suck on his wound. Filling his mouth with more blood, he repeated the insertion of it into Rye’s mouth.
She gagged on the second, larger dose and then gulped. Her tongue shot out and whipped expeditiously over his lips. He leaned in, allowing her frenzied licks to swirl into his mouth. With a wildly smothering kiss, she sucked on his tongue. Drawn to the aggression that matched the uninhibited passion of sex, he held her face. Hit with a ravenous need of his own, he hungrily kissed her.
Rye’s soft lips yielded to the force of his, and he rolled his tongue over hers. For several moments, he licked the interior of her mouth, savoring the rise in energy between them.
When her teeth scraped his bottom lip a little too hard, the pain stung him out of his irrational indulgence, and he jerked back.
Rye let out a ferocious growl of annoyance from the interruption. She grabbed his arm and pressed her wet lips over the cut. She clawed at his arms and shoulders with greed. Her hold tightened; her fingers dug into his biceps, and her moans grew louder as she wildly slurped at the slice in his skin.
An onslaught of unexplainable sensations and emotions gripped him at the same time. Sexual desire became dominant. His pulse hammered away at his insides. A sensual heat spread through his body, strangely timed yet familiarly exciting.
His groin tightened, and his cock throbbed hard, fighting against the constraint of his pants. He thought of it loose, thrusting into the constrictions of Rye’s cunt. The beat of his heart quickened from the prospect of discovering her vagina a tight, welcoming passage.
Then suddenly, his head went light, his mind dizzy. He forced his thoughts to the pain in his arm, the unnatural draining of his blood. It pried his attention away from the edge of his sexual fantasy and back to Rye feasting on him.
“How much do you need?” he asked, attempting to extricate her teeth from his arm. “Rye, how much?”
He thought of what she said, how she told him she’d need too much. Would she deplete him of blood if he let her? It was one reason he had never given a lamian his blood before. Their greediness could kill him.
Sevrin yanked down the coat to see if Rye’s cuts were healing.
Rye writhed with gluttonous delight. For a moment, he thought of her pride, her concerns of someone watching her in this state, her wish to hide this primal side of her lamian species. But did she not realize humans were also mindless victims to the euphoria of a different pleasure, a sexual one?
He examined her visible wounds. Their healing was the best indicator for setting a limit to her intake of his blood.
“That’s enough,” he said when he saw the worst gashes in her belly had already healed shut.
He tried pulling his arm from her mouth again, but she had sunk her teeth into his flesh, using them as anchors.
“You have to stop, Rye.” He tugged and twisted, struggling to get her unhooked.
She fought his attempt and remained latched on.
In a rise of panic, Sevrin grabbed a fistful of Rye’s dirty hair and wrenched her head back, ripping her teeth out of his arm.
She hissed in fury.
He had never seen a lamian look as feral and dangerous as she did or as intensely desirable. The crimson glow of her hypnotic eyes drew him to her. His body reacted ardently just as it had before, tingling on the inside and hardening on the outside.
Aroused by her heavy breathing, he released his hold on her hair and dropped his hand to her shoulder. His mind raced with needs he no longer wanted to control. With the back of his hand, he stroked her tense jaw and then her taut neck.
A sensation of detachment left him in a dreamlike state. He knew what he was doing was wrongly out of place, but he couldn’t stop. Leaning in farther, he aimed to taste her bloodstained lips, feel the softness of them pressed to his. He touched them lightly with a kiss.
When a sigh of contentment slipped free from him as if he had found the true meaning of heaven, Rye suddenly thrust him away with unbelievable strength. The force sent him sailing over the center console of the steam-trekker. He hit his head on the roof before landing behind the steering wheel and colliding with the driver’s side door.
“I told you I didn’t want your blood,” Rye protested in a harsh, adamant tone, which conveyed her remarkable recovery. Folding her arms up, she partially covered her breasts. “And I’m certainly not in any condition to be fucked.”
Aware of his feelings, his actions, and his stare, Sevrin shifted around on his seat and faced the windshield. The ferocious beating of his heart unnerved him. Something strange and yet extraordinary had transpired between them. He glanced her way, hoping for an answer to questions he had about the sensations he experienced and the overwhelming connection they shared. Was this a normal reaction when a lamian drank blood?
His coat had fallen off Rye and lay bunched on the floorboard of the steam-trekker. When he leaned to retrieve it, Rye flinched. He grabbed the lizard-skin garment and pulled it up, and Rye snatched it from him. She covered herself as she twisted forward on the seat.
He avoided her stare and looked forward again. He shut his eyes and ran his hand over the top of his head, confused by what had happened and thoroughly frustrated by the lack of relief for his erection.
“I should have known you’d not be grateful,” he said, wrongly irritable but unable to command his wayward emotions.
“Grateful!” Her voice rose sharply.
“I didn’t mean it the way you think,” he grumbled, realizing she thought he meant wanting sex for helping her, instead of him giving her blood.
Sex hadn’t been far from his mind, nor was it going to be with Rye sitting naked beneath his coat within arm’s length. He twisted around and looked in the cargo area behind his seat. There he reached for his one and only spare shirt.
“Put it on,” he demanded, flinging it toward her.
He flipped the fuel switch and then pushed the button to start the steam-trekker. Opening the pipe from the fuel tank to the heater coil, he watched the gauge for the rise of pressure.
His anger grew. He had lost control of himself. Every fiber in his body ached for release. Struggling to ignore Rye didn’t help, and he let his exasperation deflect to her again. “Save a female’s life, and do I get a thank you? Not a chance. Do I leave her in the ditch like any other Wastelander? Of course not.”
“Thank you.” Rye’s voice once again had the whispery, gentle overtones he’d heard when she had first spoken to him.
“It’s just a shirt,” he grunted, annoyed by the unexpected drain on his emotions.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She was scared, and he was being an insensitive ass. He actually had thought to take advantage. But why? While under the dirt and blood she was the most beautiful female he had ever encountered, it wasn’t like him to have the kind of all-consuming sexual urges he didn’t even want to try to resist.
“While this shirt is…um, nice” —she smoothed her hands over the thin garment she clutched to her chest— “I was actually thanking you for the blood.”