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LADY Christiana Harker couldn’t count the number of times she’d awakened with the image of Elijah Drexler’s brilliant sapphire eye still gleaming in her mind, a remnant of her never-ending dreams of him. The number was embarrassingly incalculable. She’d loved Elijah since she was seventeen and he was a wounded, feral boy of eight. And she’d been in love with him since she’d returned to London six years ago and met the man he’d become. She hadn’t been able to help herself. The moment she’d seen him again, she’d lost her heart – and the tormenting dreams had begun.
Impossible dreams, for so many reasons. He didn’t even know she was Ana, the sick girl from his past, a girl who was supposed to have died over twenty years ago. He, like everyone else, thought she was her younger sister. And she was forbidden from telling him the truth.
Though she doubted it would change anything between them. She might be hopelessly in love with him, but he’d never shown signs of suffering the same affliction. He didn’t even seem to like her – went out of his way to avoid her, in fact. And she knew it was because of her resemblance to the dead girl he’d once adored. So she’d endured her case of unrequited love without attempting to interfere in his life, just as she was destined – and bound by an oath – to do.
But then, last week, she’d followed Elijah into Whitechapel, and everything had changed. She’d more than ignored Rowan’s rules. She’d shattered them, and she’d not seen Elijah since.
Until now. This time the sapphire eye peering down at her wasn’t part of a lingering dream. She was quite awake, for she could feel the cold spring breeze from the open casement window caressing her exposed skin, and the hot, uneven breaths from the man hovering above her against her cheek. The sensations were too real to be a dream. He was too real.
He’d come to her. At last. Moonlight made the deep blue of his left eye glimmer, just like in her dreams. And just like in her dreams, he was much too close, the heat of his trembling body like a furnace, and just inches from her own. So close, but never close enough.
But this very real, very angry, wild-eyed man was hardly the tender lover of her foolish dreams. So she lay still beneath him, afraid to move, her own breath growing labored as he studied her with savage intensity.
Her body was on fire from his proximity, and her mind raced with a thousand questions. She’d been so worried, wondering where he’d been since he’d run away from her a week ago in that alley in Whitechapel. Wondering if he was even alive. But despite the chaos of her thoughts and her uncomfortably feminine response to his nearness, she finally latched onto one significant fact.
Elijah Drexler had two eyes. Two real, human eyes. Which wasn’t possible.
He’d lost his right eye when he was eight years old, in the same fire that had given him the razor-like scar streaking down his cheek and the limp in his right leg. In an act of charity, her father had taken in the half-dead East End urchin after he’d been discovered by the Metropolitan Police in the ruins of a burnt-out slum. The old Earl had given him a brass-fitted, goggle-like Welding eye to replace the one he’d lost, and a Welding brace to support his crushed leg. Christiana, herself an invalid at the time, had helped nurse the lad back to health, so she’d seen his ruined eye before the Welder had come to fix it.
She couldn’t restrain herself any longer, despite the warning in his expression. She sat up abruptly, the bedcovers falling to her waist, and raised a hand towards his left cheek to draw him near. He dodged her with a hiss, leaning just out of her reach.
His rejection stung, as always, though she refused to show it. She reached over to her nightstand and turned up the gas lamp instead.
He glared at her with stony defiance as she studied the miracle before her in the warm glow of the lamp. The strange scar on his cheek remained, but he had a new, perfectly formed eye, fringed with beautiful long, sooty black lashes to match the other one. But the eye wasn’t sapphire. It was the color of amber fire.
The color of Rowan’s eyes.
Her blood ran cold, and she clutched the bed sheets around her lap to keep from reaching for him. She’d imagined a thousand consequences to her actions that night, but not this. He’d regrown an eye – an immortal’s eye, judging by its unnatural color. And somehow she suspected that was not all that had changed.
“What did you do to me?” he rasped.
She shook her head, unable to speak through her shock. He scowled at her silence and impatiently jerked the collar of his loose white shirt apart, revealing a throat untouched by a Welder’s blade. She sucked in a sharp breath, her unease growing. The Iron Necklace, a breathing device everyone of his generation had implanted in order to survive the worst years of the Great Fog, was gone. Not even a scar remained as evidence it had ever even existed.
She trailed her eyes back up to his face, the stark, ruined beauty of his features obscured by the shadows dancing through the room and the thick stubble on his jaw. He looked as if he’d not slept in a week, and his fever-bright, mismatched eyes were filled with such confusion, such accusation, she flinched. And then she flinched again when, in an abrupt move she didn’t see coming, he reached out and jerked the Iron Necklace from her own neck, snapping the metal clasp in the back as if it were made of air. Had the device been real, he would have ripped her throat out with the force of his action. But it wasn’t real, and her neck was as untouched as his own, a fact that he’d obviously deduced.
At least, she hoped he had, before he’d torn the device off of her so violently.
He tossed the false necklace aside with a look of disgust and crouched further from her at the end of the bed, watching her, waiting, his body literally thrumming with his fury.
She clutched her exposed throat reflexively, her mind whirling. She knew she owed him answers, though she didn’t have very many. “Your leg?”
He growled – literally growled – with impatience. “Healed. What did you do to me?” he repeated, gritting every word out.
Her mind raced back to last week’s debacle. Elijah had been one breath away from his last that night, after the Ripper had left him for dead. If she hadn’t been there, watching from the shadows, he would have died. As she’d held him in her arms, she’d felt the life leeching from him. She’d reacted purely on instinct, unable to bear the thought of losing him. She’d had to try something – even if that something was forbidden.
“I didn’t even know if it would work, but I couldn’t lose you, Eli. I couldn’t let you die.”
When the nickname she’d called him as a boy slipped from her lips, unbidden, she knew she’d made things even worse. He froze and fixed her with a look that took the last of her breath away. The fury was still there, but alongside that was a quiet devastation.
As if she’d broken his heart.
“You’re her,” he whispered. In anguish.
Her heart sank, and she hated herself for causing the pain she heard in his voice.
“You’re Ana. Somehow … you’re her,” he continued.
“Tell me the truth, damn you!” he breathed. “You’re Ana. Not her sister.”
She could do nothing but nod, and, coward that she was, stare at her trembling hands, unable to meet his accusatory stare any longer.
He cursed under his breath, and, even with the distance between them, she could feel the tension in his body coil even tighter.
“I should have known, the moment I saw you six years ago … I knew, but I couldn’t believe … How is it possible?” he cried. “How is any of this possible?”
She sighed and threw back the covers, sliding her feet to the ground, unable to remain where she was a moment longer. She felt too … vulnerable, tucked up in her bed while he raged at her.
But at her movement, he leapt from the bed all the way across the room in the blink of an eye, pinning himself against a wall and gazing at her in horror. “What are you doing? Stay where you are!” he breathed, his lungs working as if he’d run clear across the city.
She froze halfway to her feet, her stomach turning over. She’d never seen anyone move as fast as Elijah had, save for Rowan and the other Elders.
Oh, this was not good, not good at all. But she refused to panic. Elijah was doing enough of that for the both of them, crouching against the wall and following her every movement like a cornered animal. She feared he was a breath away from shattering completely.
She tried to remain calm as she stepped across the room and fetched her silk wrap from the back of a Queen Anne chair. It was flimsy, but it blocked the chill in the air. And it gave her time to gather her wits. She approached him, but he held up a hand, averting his head, nostrils flaring.
“Don’t come any closer,” he gritted out with such agony in his tone that she stopped, though her instinct was to wrap him in her arms and hold him close to her heart forever. “Just tell me what is happening to me,” he demanded. “Tell me you aren’t a monster like me!”
Her dread deepened at the word. “You’re not a monster, Elijah. I’m not a monster either. You remember how sick I was when you were a boy. I was dying, and Rowan healed me.”
His eyes widened at the mention of the Earl. “Healed you? He did more than heal you,” he bit out.
She nodded weakly. “I don’t age. And I don’t get sick, and if I’m hurt, I heal … very quickly. I know it’s difficult to believe. But Rowan is … well, he’s immortal.”
But Elijah was hardly listening to her any longer. He just slumped against the wall, shaking his head. “You never died. Ana never died.”
She clenched her hands at the horror in his voice, resisting the growing urge to go to him. “To the world, that sick girl did die. It was a necessary fiction, since the truth is … impossible.”
“A necessary fiction,” he repeated in a dead voice.
“I’m sorry, Eli,” she said softly. “You were my dearest friend, and I had to lie to you.”
“Friend,” he spat, the broken expression quickly replaced by anger. “You let me believe you died. You’re not my friend. And I certainly as hell am not yours. You’ve no idea…” He paced the room at an alarmingly inhuman speed, running his hands through his unkempt, coal-black hair in agitation. “Why did you come back at all? Why have you tormented me for six years? Every time I looked at you, I saw her.”
She shrugged helplessly. “I couldn’t stay away. Father was dying, and he needed me. It was easy enough to become Lady Christiana, and for Rowan to become the brother I’d lost. So many years had passed, no one cared. And I wanted to see you…”
“Don’t,” he warned, cutting her off. He covered his face with his hands again, as if blocking out the world. “God, how I wish this were a nightmare, how I wish I didn’t believe every ludicrous thing you just told me! The Earl is an immortal, and you … I don’t know what you are. Bloody hell! I’d rather be insane than have this be real. Tell me what you did to me!”
He was nearly shouting now, and she flinched at the rage vibrating through his whole body.
“I … I gave you my blood,” she said. “It was the only thing I could think to do to save you. I thought that, perhaps, since Rowan’s blood had saved me, mine could save you. And it did.”
He laughed wildly, humorlessly. “You’ve no idea what you’ve done, do you?”
“No, not really,” she admitted, biting her bottom lip. “What I did is forbidden, against the laws that govern our kind.”
“Your kind,” he sneered. “Didn’t you ever think there was a good reason it was forbidden?”
“I didn’t think. I just didn’t want you to die, Eli.”
“Don’t call me that. Never call me that,” he said quietly, his breathing once again growing ragged as he glowered at her.
“You’ll always be Eli, that little boy who was so dear to me,” she answered defiantly, stepping towards him once more, and into a beam of moonlight. “And I’ll never regret saving you—”
She broke off with a gasp when she saw the change come over him. One moment he was scowling at her, the next moment both of his eyes glowed like lanterns in the dark, and two long, sharp, metallic blades seemed to descend from his mouth, curving slightly over his bottom lip. She had a hard time believing what she was seeing, but the ocular evidence was fairly conclusive.
Elijah had fangs. Metal fangs.
And glowing amber eyes. Even the whites of his eyes were filled with the strange fire, obscuring every other detail.
And he looked a hair’s breadth away from pouncing on her, if his flaring nostrils and clenched fists were any indication.
“What in heaven’s name…” she began.
“Damn you, Lady Christiana,” he growled in a deep, animal voice she hardly recognized. “Move out of the moonlight before I do something I’ll regret.”
But she remained where she was, too stunned to process what was happening, much less move. “What?”
He tried to turn his head to hide his transformation – she could see his struggle – but he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from her. An inhuman sound issued from deep in his chest, and he took a step towards her, as if he couldn’t help himself. “The moonlight … I can see everything through your robe,” he hissed.
It took another long moment before his meaning finally penetrated through her shock. “Oh!” Her cheeks turned crimson, and she quickly retreated back into the shadows, wrapping her arms around her breasts, pulling her robe even tighter around her waist.
Some of the tension seemed to leave his body, but only a little. His eyes continued their eerie glow, and his fangs – his fangs! – remained extended, glinting silver in the moonlight. He continued to track every movement she made with a predatory intensity that was both alarming and … strangely arousing.
Her cheeks – her entire body – still burned, but it was no longer solely from embarrassment. It was from something primal inside of her responding to something primal inside of him. He looked like he wanted to eat her. And she didn’t think she would mind all that much if he did.
Dear God. What was happening? What had she done to him?
For a long time, all they could do was stare at each other, their heavy breaths the only sounds in the room, aside from the ticking of the old ormolu clock over the hearth. She attempted to rein in the dark and confusing urges coursing through her body, desperately trying to focus on their most immediate concerns.
Namely his eyes. And his fangs.
She took a deep breath and slowly approached him, careful to avoid the direct moonlight again. He tensed and backed away a few steps, still breathing heavily. But no matter his dire warning, or the mounting desperation in his expression, she knew he’d never hurt her, so she continued towards him until an arm’s length separated them and stared up into his transformed face.
Her breath caught in her throat as a fresh wave of heat passed through her, low and deep. She was a tall woman, but standing so close to his towering height never failed to make her feel petite, delicate. Now his proximity made her whole body sizzle. She’d always been madly attracted to him, but this … this was new. And she realized that it was because he was no longer looking at her with studied indifference, as he had for the past six years. He was looking at her with barely leashed, desperate hunger.
“What am I?” he whispered, his glowing eyes burning her to her soul. “What have you made me?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered back.
“I can’t die,” he continued, anguished. “I’ve tried a hundred times this past week.”
She reeled with horror, her strange arousal suddenly doused by his stark words. “Elijah, no! No!”
She reached out to him, but he shied away.
“I’ve stabbed myself through the heart. I’ve jumped from the tallest buildings in the city. I’ve shot myself here, again and again,” he said, pointing to his temple. “But I always wake up.”
Her stomach roiled with every horrifying revelation he made, her eyes pricking with tears.
“I always wake up,” he repeated, “and I’m always the same. A monster.”
“You’re not a monster. I must have made you immortal, like me…”
“Not like you,” he insisted. “I crave blood, Lady Christiana. Human blood. The night you … turned me and I ran away, there was this fire in my body, growing and growing. And all I could think about was finding you again, taking you and drinking you dry.”
She swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. “Taking me…” she rasped.
It spoke to her rising hysteria that she focused on that part of his speech, rather than the part about drinking her dry.
His eyes pulsed even brighter. “I tried to resist, but in the end I couldn’t. I returned to the alley where you’d found me. You weren’t there. But the body of that woman was.”
Christiana nodded numbly, remembering the woman that night – one of the Ripper’s victims, whom Elijah had been too late to save. Her stomach sank. She had a bad feeling about what he would say next.
“She was cut open. Dead. But the blood … The blood was everywhere, and the moment I scented it, I couldn’t control myself. The thirst was too much.” He paused and looked away, unable to meet her eyes a moment longer. “I found out that night that the best tasting blood in a corpse is in the liver and the heart.”
She couldn’t help it. The tears flowed down her cheeks, and her heart felt as if had been mortally bruised. What had she done?
“And the next night, when I had my fangs buried deep in the neck of someone living, I discovered that I liked the taste of it fresh and warm even better,” he finished bleakly.
“No!” she cried, “Tell me you didn’t…”
The dark look he gave her made it impossible for her to continue. Sobbing, she took his face between her hands, made him focus on her despite his attempts to look away. And as if he couldn’t help himself, he leaned in close, so close their foreheads were almost touching. She could see the dark stubble on his chin, the deep groove of the mysterious scar on his cheek that hadn’t healed, and the way his nostrils flared, as if he were absorbing her scent into his blood.
And she could see the fangs, gleaming in the moonlight. Long, thin and metallic, they weren’t of the natural world. She just didn’t understand how it was possible, how her blood could change him so profoundly.
“My God, Elijah, I’m sorry,” she murmured, sliding her hand towards a fang. She couldn’t seem to help herself.
She gasped as the skin on her finger ripped apart at the barest touch against the razor sharp edge. She pulled her hand away, or at least she tried to. But she wasn’t fast enough.
With lightning-quick speed, he caught her by the wrist with one hand, and with the other hand jerked her body tight against his own. Something dangerous flashed over his glowing eyes. With a moan, he took her bleeding finger into his mouth and sucked the blood from it.
Shocked and more aroused than she’d ever been before, she slumped helplessly against him. She couldn’t take her eyes off the sight of her finger between his lips. She couldn’t stop the slow, delicious burn deep in her core at the feel of his hot, wet mouth against her skin, his hard, lean body pressed against her own.
Then he slowly released her finger from its prison, his tongue snaking out to lap up the last drops of blood from her rapidly healing cut. “So sweet,” he murmured, and she moaned in response as he rolled his hips against her own.
Dear God, she could feel him. All of him.
When the wound was no more, healed as if it never was, he released her wrist and gripped the back of her head. Holding her tight to him – too tight – he tilted her boneless body back, lowering his head towards her neck, his entire body shuddering against her. And in the last corner of her mind not overcome with the fog of desire, she knew that she should start to worry. She was fairly certain he was going to bite her with his fangs.
And she was going to let him.
“All the blood I’ve had this week, and still it’s not enough,” he murmured against her throat, each glance of his lips against her skin sending gooseflesh all over her body. “I want more. I want yours, more than my next breath.” He pressed his hips against her own again, sending a shockwave of sensation through her lower body. “I want to strip you bare and come inside you, again and again, as I suck you dry,” he whispered against her ear.
She didn’t know whether to be aroused or horrified by his words. She was a confusing mix of both, as she swayed helplessly in his arms.
But she had to believe one thing of him, for if she didn’t, if she couldn’t, she might as well let him do his worst there and then. She’d turned him into a dangerous, unpredictable creature she’d not even begun to understand, but he was still Elijah. He was still the little boy she’d befriended a lifetime ago.
He was still the man she loved.
“You’d never hurt me, Elijah,” she said softly.
And – this time at least – he proved her right. With an anguished whimper, he released her, tracing in the blink of an eye to the other side of the room.
She reeled in place for a moment, regaining her equilibrium, before she turned to face him again. He was thrumming with tension, his broad shoulders heaving beneath his shirt, his eyes burning her down to her toes.
“Don’t tell me I’m not a monster,” he hissed, still trembling, still on a knife’s edge. “You did this to me. You made me into this … thing. This craving, horrible, deathless thing. Make it stop. Please.”
“I don’t know how,” she whispered through her tears.
“They’ll kill you! If Rowan and the others know what I’ve done, they’ll kill you!”
“Good. Then there is a way,” he said, relieved, and he actually started towards her bedroom door, as if prepared to seek out Rowan immediately – to seek his death. And after everything he’d told her, she knew he would.
She’d never been so terrified – for him, for herself. She had to stop him, and she could think of only one way to do so, though she knew he would hate her even more for it.
“They’ll kill me!” she cried.
He stopped in his tracks and slowly, reluctantly, turned back to her. The fangs were gone, and his eyes were no longer glowing. He looked as if he’d been kicked in the gut.
“Tell me this is another of your lies,” he breathed.
She shook her head. “I made an oath when Rowan bonded me, and breaking it is punishable by death.”
“I don’t believe you,” he whispered. “How can I believe a word out of your lying mouth?”
She wished she were lying. As much as Rowan loved her, as much as she loved him, his duties as an Elder would force his hand. Now that she saw with her own eyes the horrifying consequences of her actions, she knew deep in her bones that Rowan and the Elder Council wouldn’t let this betrayal slide.
“I would not lie about this. Rowan would have no choice. He’s a powerful man, but there are others like him who are even more powerful. They’ll kill you, and they’ll kill me.”
He believed her. She could see it in the complete bleakness in his expression, the sudden stillness of his body. As if she’d snatched the last of his hope away. The sight of his defeat was soul-wrenching.
He truly wanted to die, but he couldn’t condemn her to the same fate. And it destroyed him.
It nearly destroyed her.
He drifted away from the door and towards the open casement window as if in a fog. She followed, careful to not touch him. She suspected that if she did so now, he wouldn’t be able to control himself.
“We’ll figure this out. We’ll find a way to fix this,” she said, cringing at the ridiculous inanity of her words. There was no way out of this nightmare, and they both knew it.
He stopped, gripping the edge of the sill until his knuckles were white with the strain, his head bowed. “There is no fixing me. And there is no we, my Lady,” he said coldly. “You’ve done quite enough. Stay far away from me. I’ve restrained myself tonight … God knows how. I cannot guarantee I will do so again.” He leapt upon the windowsill, his massive body blocking out the moonlight, his white shirt billowing in the wind.
“I just wanted you to live,” she murmured to his back.
He shook his head. “Bloody hell, you’re selfish, just as you were all those years ago. You and your bloody father, wanting to save me. You never stopped to ask me if I wanted to be saved. Because I didn’t.” He shot her a look over his shoulder, and she recoiled from the anguish blazing in his eyes. “I wanted to die then. And I wanted to die last week, and I’ll hate you forever for not letting me.”
Then he jumped from her window, at least thirty feet above the back garden, and disappeared into the deep, impenetrable darkness of London as if he were no more than a shadow.
And all she could think for the longest time as she stared, freezing and hopeless, into the black gloom, was that he should have just tossed her out the window with him, alongside her shattered heart.