Johan turned from the kitchen door and watched Corbin’s backside disappear into the office. The Kresnik moved with incredible grace, barely causing a whisper in the air. And he never flinched, never smiled either. At least, not for him. He deserved his nickname--the Ice Prince--but even Corbin’s cold exterior didn’t stop Johan from wanting him. In the months they’d lived together, the attraction had tightened around his heart.
The wool coat caught Johan’s attention, and he picked it up and brought it to his face. It smelled of a rich, sinful scent. A vision of Corbin naked, his golden hair spread across his shoulders, stirred his emotions. Those Hamilton eyes were very distinct, with their slight slant and clear blue color. Only once had he seen such a hue--in a flawless turquoise worn by a countess. It was a color not seen in ordinary eyes.
Johan touched his chest. Since he’d started injecting the serum, his emotions were like burning embers in need of someone to poke them to life, and he couldn’t have chosen a worse man. And it wasn’t just bloodlust; it went beyond hunger--frightfully deeper. It felt like he’d found his bond mate, but that was impossible, for the Lel-ya
was an oath taken by two vampires who swore to protect each other until death.
Johan folded the coat over the chair. In front of him, a glass of blood had been placed on the counter, an empty pan left on the stove. When he touched the warm glass, he smiled. Corbin had warmed the blood for him. It was these small gestures, done without a thought, that bound Johan’s loyalty to Corbin. Without realizing it, Corbin made sure of his comfort. Of course, the Ice Prince would insist it meant nothing, but Johan sensed the truth. Corbin cared.
He lifted the glass and sniffed the pungent contents. Nothing worse than day-old blood, but he had no choice. Blood fueled his energy, and although he needed it less and less, the call for this type of nourishment hadn’t yet been completely eradicated by the serum.
A rank, sour smell filled his nostrils as he gagged down the liquid in one long swallow. Even blood from animals would be better than this slop.
A burst of heat spread across his body as he digested the blood. He clutched the glass and hissed as lust fought for release. Images flickered through his mind like a motion picture, over three hundred years of memories, haunting him. Of humans he’d sucked dry until they no longer twitched in his arms--humans he’d turned by taking them sexually.
He desperately wanted to be human again, to feel strong ties to another person and emotions besides lust and power and greed.
A shudder slowly traveled down his arms and legs. No more...no more memories. He wanted to forget. So much suffering he’d caused. After a few minutes, his body cooled and his erect cock softened, and a lump of remorse formed in the pit of his stomach.
He set the glass on the black-tiled counter, a drop of blood marring the surface. Picking up the towel to wipe it off, he hesitated. No, he’d leave it. As soon as Corbin saw it, he would scowl and wipe it with one of his pristine gray dish towels. Then the soiled cloth would have to be disposed of in the laundry basket.
Corbin hated a mess, so Johan made sure to create them. Petty, maybe, but without these silly games he played with the slayer, he would go totally mad with boredom.
Footsteps alerted him to company, and he turned around as he balled up the dish towel and tossed it on the counter. The man who made his heart speed up sauntered into the kitchen. Immediately he’d felt it. Sensed it. Something had happened to excite the slayer.
Studying the Kresnik from half-closed eyes, he couldn’t quite place what or why the change. He spied the envelope in Corbin’s hand. “It looks important.”
“Stop being a snoop.” Corbin shoved the envelope in his back jean pocket.
Johan jostled against him on the way to the kitchen table and retrieved the envelope without Corbin being aware of the theft, then hid it in his back pocket.
“So you are bringing home redheads now?” Johan inquired. “The last few were brunets.”
And every single one of the young men Corbin had brought to his bedroom never returned for a second night. A telling sign of his inability to let anyone get close to him except his brother. From observing Corbin’s interactions with others, Johan pieced together his slayer’s modus operandi: a gruff exterior to protect a vulnerable heart. Corbin was as fragile and guilt ridden as Johan was.
Corbin went to a temperature-controlled cooler nestled beneath a cabinet. After he unlocked it with a key from the chain he had clipped to his waistband, he removed a syringe filled with the serum. He took out a cotton ball from a jar next to the cooler.
Corbin then locked the cooler and approached him. Johan kept his gaze on the syringe. Corbin held it up. “You know the drill.”
Johan rolled up his sleeve. “How long must I take this? It’s been three months.”
“Until Aric’s satisfied with the results.”
Johan sat in a chair. “Surely he needs another sample of my blood to test?” He rested his arm upright on the tabletop.
“Hell if I know how this works. He’s the genius.” Corbin examined the veins in Johan’s arm, tapping at them until satisfied. Then he slipped the needle into a vein, and the first blast of icy liquid shot along Johan’s arm.
When Corbin was finished, he wiped the bead of blood that formed around the pinprick with a cotton ball. “There,” he said brusquely.
Johan pulled away his arm, cuffing his sleeve. “Thank you for being gentle with me.”
“Why do you bother with all of it?” Corbin asked.
“I do not understand your question.”
“The serum. Why take it? There’s been no change that I can see.”
“You are not paying attention.” Johan pushed back into his chair and curled a strand of hair behind his ear. “When Aric first asked me if I would give anything to be human again, it made me furious. Furious because it is all I had wanted and could never have. By asking me, I realized how much I have regretted my life.”
“As always, judging but never listening. You are so blinded by your beliefs you do not see the truth. Not all vampires are evil.”
“How many people have you turned?” Corbin’s voice rose. “How many have you killed? Consider that, then try to convince me you’re worth saving.”
Johan stood and shoved the chair aside. “I cannot erase my past. And neither can you.”
A flush of red infused Corbin’s cheeks. He grunted and bumped shoulders with Johan as he left the room and headed for the staircase.
Temper, temper, Johan thought as he followed closely behind Corbin, dogging his footsteps. Corbin radiated heat and anger. The strong male scent came off him in waves. The man was infuriating and intoxicating--a lethal combination.
On the landing, he watched Corbin hurry down the hall in the opposite direction. Johan slammed his bedroom door for emphasis and flopped on the bed. Corbin wasn’t the only one who was upset. Johan was frustrated beyond measure.
Stuffing the pillow beneath his head, he took in several deep breaths. He slipped out the envelope from his pocket.
Expensive paper... Gilded edges and an embossed sprig of some sort of flower... Interesting.
As he removed the invitation, a pang of nostalgia stabbed his heart at seeing the old-world script. He clamped down the sentimentality. It was a waste to dwell on the past. He read the note card.
So, my illustrious vampire slayer is going to be initiated
. His brows rose. My, the Siela sounds positively momentous.
He’d read about the Siela, a ritual to prove a Kresnik’s worth. If they passed the grueling trials, they were bestowed the power of shape-shifting into their totems and other gifts so secret Johan could never find anything written about them.
At the creak of the door opening, he turned on his side, one elbow bent, his head resting on his hand. He waved the invitation as if teasing a raging bull with a red cloak. Sure enough, Corbin streaked across the room and snatched the note from his upturned hand.
Eyes blazed as he shook the invitation in Johan’s face. “Don’t you ever steal from me again, or you won’t know what hit you fast enough.”
“You will prick me with one of your darts?”
“Don’t mess with me. I’m warning you. My patience’s wearing thin.”
“Stu would never forgive you if you staked me in the heart.” Johan kept his voice controlled, not wanting to expose the rise of lust at such tightly coiled anger aimed at him.
“I don’t give a shit.”
“I believe you do. He is the only person you care about.” Corbin’s pent-up frustration excited Johan. What a magnificent union it would be if he could find a way to transform his slayer’s rage into desire.
“So when do we leave?” Johan sat up, letting his thigh brush against the tempting body.
Corbin would never leave him here--alone.
“Don’t be so eager to join me. You won’t be welcome where we’re going.”
“But you are taking me with you?” To leave these confining walls would feel so liberating.
Corbin raked his fingers through his hair. “Don’t have a choice.”
“At some point you will have to trust me.”
Corbin grabbed Johan’s wrist and tightened his grip. “I’m thinking of sending you there in a coffin.”
That smug expression. That arrogant, beautiful face.
Lord damn him.
Did Corbin have any idea how he looked, his fingers tight around his wrist, the sweaty sheen glowing off his smooth skin, the pupils now black full moons hiding the blue of his eyes?
Johan licked his bottom lip, his temples throbbing at the nearness of such succulent veins and a succulent dick, his cock lengthening to an uncomfortable pressure in his pants. He yanked his arm back, but the viselike grip only got tighter, reminding him Corbin was equal in power and strength. Corbin twisted his hand, and pain shot up Johan’s arm.
The serum eased his bloodlust but didn’t eradicate it. The craving for blood was not the only thing he desired. It’d been so long since he’d been touched with any kindness, wooed by gentle words. So long...aeons... Since Edward--that was how long it had been.
Their lips were inches apart, so close Corbin’s breath misted Johan’s face. Their gazes locked on to each other’s, Corbin’s eyes wary and angry and...sad.
Johan’s breathing labored as his heartbeat synced with Corbin’s, in the way when two people are ready to kiss. But they were far from such intimacy. He’d never seen a man so desperate to slam a door on anyone who cared.
Corbin released Johan’s arm and placed his hands on his hips. “Maybe Aric--and even Stu--trust you, but I never will. I’m a Kresnik. I kill snakes like you.”
With that, Corbin turned and banged the door shut, leaving Johan exhausted. He massaged his cramped leg muscles, then turned on his stomach and buried his head in a pillow. Images of Corbin intertwined with images of Edward. Two men so different from each other if not for the same feelings they both evoked within him. Edward because of his kindness, and Corbin, well, he remained a mystery. Kind
was not a word he would use to describe the Kresnik.
What would Edward think of him now, trying desperately to turn his life around, to bring back a spark of humanity that long lay dormant?