The Dark Ones
Release Date: Sept 20, 2015
To touch a Dark One is death.
To talk to an immortal is suicide.
Yet, I've been marked by both.
And the King of the immortals.
My life is no longer my own.
And now I know the truth, my life was never mine to begin with.
It was theirs.
It's always been theirs.
I still tasted her blood on my lips, was embarrassed for the first time in a century when Alex glanced up from his spot at the kitchen table to see me licking my lips like I'd just devoured the poor girl.
He shook his head. "Been that long, huh?"
"Alex…" I closed my eyes and prayed for patience. "…remind me why I let you live here?"
"I'm good-looking," he answered simply. "Besides, I'm a hell of a fighter — scrappy, I think is how you define my kind. You need me."
"Stop." I pressed my fingertips to my temples and rubbed. The ache to have her had consumed me so much that I'd run down the stairs moving so fast I'd nearly collided with a wall, and grabbed blood from the fridge.
I didn't need it.
But I craved it.
And if I didn't drink the donated blood, I sure as hell was going to drain her and enjoyed very last drop.
"I wonder…" Alex's voice pierced my thoughts. "What's it like?" He leaned forward. "Having to learn self-control all over again… being as ancient as you are?"
I ignored him.
He kept talking.
"Blood-free for a century and now…" He grinned and licked his lips. "Kind of like falling off the wagon, yeah?"
"You're giving me a headache." I threw the empty bag of blood at his face. He moved to the side and snickered. "And I'm fine. Everything is just—"
Her smell was intoxicating. She was walking down the stairs, so her heart picked up speed, her body giving off a scent of burnt vanilla and oranges with a hint of sugar. My mouth literally watered.
"Fine?" Alex said in a mocking voice. "Was that what you were going to say? Damn, man show a little decorum, you look… starved."
"I am," I whispered and fought the urge to rock back and forth. That was the problem with mating — with bonding. Nothing tasted like her, nothing ever would, and typically, having her as my mate gave me full access.
But the more I took…
The stronger the bond.
And the more I wanted…
It was a vicious overwhelming cycle. It would lead me to become emotionally invested while she, as a human, could simply pretend.
It wasn't fair.
Immortals, in essence, were cursed with a deep desire to be like a human — to possess them, to bond with them forever — while humans only felt the same draw to us if they actually loved us.
"Oh, there you are." Stephanie pushed Genesis forward and pulled out a chair.
Slowly, Genesis took a seat and glared at each one of us. "Where's Mason?"
It shouldn't have pissed me off.
But it had.
"He's none of your concern," I spat.
"Easy!" Alex chuckled. "Rule number one, don't ask your mate where the other dude is. Just… don't."
Genesis blinked at Alex then back at me. "Because you guys have the capacity for jealousy."
Alex whistled while Stephanie laughed.
Immortals were the most jealous beings on the planet. Had her school taught her nothing?
Was I to be her tutor as well?
"So…" Alex trained his eyes on her, putting her at as much ease as he could without stopping her poor heart. "Now that the mating is complete, you get to learn all about us and service your man here." He slapped my back.
Really. Really. Poor choice of words.
I rolled my eyes. "He's kidding."
Alex laughed. "I think it needs to be said that having a human at the house has already helped my mood immensely."
"That makes one of you," Genesis said under her breath.
Alex leaned forward and whispered, "Ethan, try not to be so grouchy. Keep the fangs in and all."
I extended them just to prove a point.
I instantly felt guilty.
"You won't…" I licked my lips. "You won't have to service me, as Alex so delicately put it."
"Is that what mates do?" Genesis asked, her eyes searching mine. "They…" She lifted her hands into the air and dropped them.
"If that's what you think they do, we have a very big problem." Alex mimicked her movements and winked.
I hissed at him and returned my attention to her. "It's like a human relationship, only stronger. You'll attend functions with me, be by my side, at my beck and call for as long as you live."
I didn't want to say until one day she just didn't wake up. It sounded too cruel.
"And when I'm bored out of my mind… I do what?" She crossed her arms. "I mean, what could you possibly need from me?"
"Adorable." Alex sighed happily. "I'm so glad we kept her."
"Alex…" I was two seconds away from slamming him into the nearest wall. "Make yourself useful and find our human a snack."
"I'm not a pet!" Genesis yelled. "And I'm not your human!"
"You are," I yelled right back, "mine!"
"Kids." Stephanie stepped between us.
I didn't even realize I'd gotten out of the chair and was towering over her, fangs out, hands raised. She'd turned me into a monster. And still, my eyes found her erratic pulse. One more taste…
"Ethan—" Stephanie pushed against my chest. I didn't move. "Ethan!"
"Friend…" Mason walked into the room. "Sit your ass down before she hands it to you."
"Like she could!" I roared.
"Like I have!" Stephanie pushed me again. "Don't tempt me… again."
I sat, while Mason made his way over to Genesis and offered an easy smile. The man had nothing to smile about, yet he was smiling — at my mate.
Mason gave me the finger and kept his attention trained on Genesis. "How do you feel?"
"Better." She returned his smile and squeezed his outstretched hand. "Thanks for not… killing me when I asked."
"Damn…" Alex said from the kitchen.
"You were in pain." Mason shrugged. "And I'm glad you're alright."
"She's fine. We're fine. Everything's fine," I said through clenched teeth. "Now it's probably time to give her answers before she thinks she can run off and actually survive in the real world without being hunted by a Dark One, or worse, found by Cassius."
"He isn't all bad," Stephanie said defensively.
We all glared at her.
"What?" She lifted her hands into the air. "I'm just saying he's been trying as hard as we have. So what if he's gotten a bit possessive over the last few numbers that have been called."
Alex slammed his fist onto the table. "He stole Ethan's—"
"Enough." I held up my hand. The pain in my chest grew until it was hard to breathe. I knew what would take that pain away.
But I was too angry to ask for it. Too ashamed to fall to my knees in front of a mere mortal and beg for her to end the pain by allowing me one solitary drop of her blood.
As if on cue, another bag of blood hit me in the head.
Alex must have sensed my mood.
I bit into it and looked away from Genesis's horrified expression.
"Ethan, a word?" Alex stood.
"Sure." Ethan kissed the top of my head and left the room while Mason started rummaging around the kitchen; pots and pans clanged together, and then he pulled out a giant piece of steak.
"I hope that's not for me." I pointed.
"Protein…" He threw the steak into the pan. "…feeds the blood, which feeds the mate, which, in turn, feeds you."
"You gonna start singing Circle of Life?" I joked.
"Circle of life?" he repeated.
"Cassius is king."
I looked helplessly to Stephanie, who was trying to hide her smile behind her hand.
"Have you seriously never watched Lion King?"
"Werewolves are scared of TV," Stephanie said with a soft laugh.
"And sirens are afraid of the dark," he fired back, while she shuddered. "I'm not afraid of the TV. I just don't see the point in sitting in front of a flat box and watching people make fools of themselves."
"He'd rather be the fool." Stephanie nodded and winked in my direction.
"Mason…" I walked over to him and put my head on his shoulder. "How about I eat the steak and we watch Lion King?"
"Dances with Wolves?"
Stephanie snickered loudly behind her hand.
"Wolves do not dance," Mason growled.
"Oh, we know." Stephanie nodded. "I've seen it once. Don't care to see it again."
"Too much whiskey." Mason kissed the top of my head. "Eat the whole steak, and then we'll talk about King Lion."
I sighed helplessly and went to sit at the table while Mason cooked.
Stephanie gave me a side hug. "Eight tomorrow morning, alright?"
"Bed." She shrugged. "It's been a long night." Her eyes misted again.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah." Her voice cracked. "Like Alex said, we get emotional. Can't help it."
It felt like she was lying, but I was human, how would I know? I nodded and turned my attention back to Mason, who'd started searing the steak.
"So you cook meat but refuse to eat it?"
"I'm a vegetarian." He smiled. I'd never realized how pointy his teeth were on the sides. Maybe that's how he'd been able to bite into me before Ethan had mated with me.
"Your teeth say otherwise." I pointed. "Flat means vegetarian. Pointy means carnivore."
Mason rolled his eyes. "I didn't say it was natural for me to be a vegetarian."
"Okay… so why?"
He let out a heavy sigh. "Meat made my mate sick… for one reason or another. It gave her headaches. She only ate fruits, vegetables, nuts." He flipped the steak. "So I learned to like other foods."
He went very quiet, his eyes focusing in on the steak. "Now…" His voice was hoarse. "I honor her with my every meal."
My throat clogged with emotion.
The fact that he honored her at all — but with every single meal — killed me. How did he survive that? How did he live every day having known true love? And know he may never experience it again — living forever?
"Don't pity me." Mason let out a gruff growl. "It makes it harder."
"Sorry," I whispered. "So pinecones, huh?"
He laughed. "Yes, well, it's an acquired taste."
My heart picked up speed, and then I smelled him. Ethan entered the room, briskly walking by me, kissing my head. "Steak almost done?"
"I'm a perfectionist." Mason held up his hands. "Let the juices seal."
Ethan scrunched up his nose. "Her blood tastes better than that steak."
"Yes, well, her blood tastes good because she's living. She's living because I feed her."
"Werewolf has a point," I teased. "Besides, if I eat my whole steak, we're going to watch Lion King!"
"Whose king?" Ethan tilted his head. "What lion? Mason's a wolf."
And that's how I ended up spending my evening between a vampire and a werewolf, eating steak and watching a Disney movie while they argued over the animal kingdom, not to mention the lion's choice in song.
It felt right.
Like I'd finally found my place.
I had no idea that the security I felt was about to get ripped from me, from the very people I'd put my trust in.
ABOUT RACHEL VAN DYKEN:
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers!
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