“How could I not?” he asked. “I will always find you. No matter what.”
My heart squeezed as I cupped his cheek. “But when that bolt struck me, and I was lying there? I thought I would never get to feel you hold me again. That I would never feel your kiss or see your stupid dimples.”
He grinned, and the dimple on his left cheek appeared. “You love my dimples.”
I drew my thumb over the indent. “I do.” Dipping my head, I placed my lips where my thumb had been. “What I felt when I woke up earlier, when I was…hungry. I’ve never felt anything like that before. That need? It was terrifying, and I…” I briefly closed my eyes. “You know exactly how that feels. You were driven to that point time and time again when the Ascended held you. I don’t know how you dealt with that.” My eyes met his. “You said I’m strong, but you…you are the strongest person I know.”
“I hate that you had to learn what that felt like. I knew that would happen, especially if you Ascended. I should’ve—”
“You were there. You would’ve let me keep feeding.”
His gaze continued to hold mine. “I would have given you the last drop of blood in my body if that was what you needed.”
My breath seized. “You can’t do that. You shouldn’t have let me drink for as long as I did. You had to be given blood, didn’t you?” I remembered the conversation now. “You…you fed from Naill.”
“I did, and I’m fine. My blood replenishes itself quickly,” he said, and I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not. His chest rose with a deep breath. He placed his hand over mine, lifting it and placing a kiss to the center of my palm. “Are you still hungry?”
“No. I don’t feel that way now. All I feel is you.”
“No. Not that.” Well, I could feel his blood in me, dark and lush, but it had cooled. It no longer drove me—drove both of us with reckless abandon…
Oh, my gods.
I realized then that Kieran had been there. He’d been in the room when we—when Casteel and I came together the first time. He had stopped me from taking too much blood. Spine stiffening, I looked over my shoulder, half-expecting the wolven to be standing there. I didn’t recognize the room at all.
“Kieran left,” Casteel said, splaying his fingers against my cheek. He drew my gaze back to him. “He stayed because he was worried.”
“I…I know.” I remembered. I’m concerned about both of you. I waited for shame to drown me, and embarrassment did settle over me, but it had nothing to do with what Kieran had witnessed. “I…I tried to eat Kieran.”
“He won’t hold it against you.”
“I tried to eat Kieran while I was naked.”
“That’s probably why he won’t hold it against you.”
“That’s not funny.” I stared at him.
“It’s not?” One side of his lips curved up, and his dimple appeared in his cheek.
That stupid, stupid dimple.
“I don’t understand. How did I go from trying to eat Kieran, to eating you, to this? I mean, I feel emotion. I feel normal. That’s not how a recently made vampry feels, right? Or is it because I fed from you?” My heart thumped heavily. “Does my skin feel cold to you? Do I have fangs?” I vaguely remembered hearing one of them say that I didn’t, but I reached for my mouth anyway, just to be sure.
Casteel caught my hand, pulling it away from my face. “You don’t have fangs, Poppy. And your eyes… They are still the color of an Atlantian spring. Newly turned vamprys cannot get enough blood, no matter how much they feed. I know. I’ve seen them in the hours and days after they’re turned,” he told me, and I hated that he had experienced any of that. “You would be going at my throat right now if you were a vampry. You wouldn’t feel warm and soft in my arms or around my cock,” he said, and I flushed a hot pink. “You didn’t Ascend.”
“But that doesn’t…” My gaze traveled past the bed to the doors. Sunlight. The Ascended could be in indirect sunlight without injury. But direct sunlight?
Totally different story.
I moved before I even realized what I was doing, launching myself out of Casteel’s lap. I must’ve caught him off guard because he reached for me, but I slipped past his grip. Or maybe I was just that fast. I didn’t know.
“Poppy!” Casteel shouted as I reached the door. “Don’t you dare—”
Gripping the handle, I threw the door open. Cold air poured in as I stepped out onto a small porch. Sunlight streamed in, drenching the cracked stone of the floor with cool light. I stretched out an arm as Casteel’s curse blistered my ears. Light fell over my fingers and then my hand.
Casteel wrapped an arm around my waist, hauling me back against his chest. “Godsdamnit, Poppy.”
I stared at my hand, at my skin, and waited for it to do something terrifying. “Nothing’s happening.”
“Thank the gods,” he growled, squeezing me tightly. “But I might be having a heart attack.”
My brows pinched. “Can Atlantians have heart attacks?”
“Then you’re fine,” I replied, biting down on my lip as I became aware of the dampness between my thighs.
His forehead pressed against the side of my head. “That’s debatable. I feel like my heart is about to come out of my chest at the moment.”
A rough, huffing noise came, drawing my gaze up to the thick line of half-dead trees. It had sounded an awful lot like a laugh. For a moment, I forgot all about what I’d been doing. My eyes narrowed on the bare, corpse-like branches hanging low and sweeping the ground. A pure white wolven crouched among the trees.
His ears perked as he tilted his head to the side.
And that was roughly the time I realized there wasn’t a stitch of clothing on me. “Oh, my gods.” A flush swept over my entire body. “I’m naked.”
“Very,” Casteel murmured, angling his body so he shielded me. He caught hold of the door. “Sorry about that,” he said to Delano.
The wolven made that rasping, laughing sound again as Casteel closed the door. Immediately, he spun me around so I faced him. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“I can’t believe yet another random person just saw me naked,” I muttered, and Casteel stared at me like my priorities were all wrong. And maybe they were. I refocused. “But you said I didn’t Ascend—”
“That doesn’t mean I know exactly what happened. I had no idea what would occur if you stepped out into the sun.” He gripped my shoulders, and my scattered senses connected with his emotions. I felt the heavy feeling of concern mixed with the freshness of relief. Underneath, a spicy, smoky flavor threaded with sweetness. “Nothing could’ve happened. Or your skin could’ve started to decay, and I would’ve lost you again.” His chest rose sharply as the gold specks in his eyes burned brightly. “Because I did lose you, Poppy. I felt your heart stop. The imprint on my palm started to fade. I was losing you, and you are my everything.”
I shuddered. “I’m sorry.”