Snap. Snap.

Flap, flap, flap.

I opened my eyes to find Poe dancing on my chest.

"Are you dead?" he asked.

"Do I look dead?"

"Actually, yes. Although more animated than five minutes ago."

Sweeping Poe from my chest, I sat up and straightened my shirt. "How long have I been out?"

"About an hour. I was beginning to worry."

"I saw my own death, again. Honestly, I'm not sure how useful the memory was. I barely got a glimpse of the Book of Flesh and Bone. Most of the memory was about Rick."

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"Maybe that was as close as she could get you. Maybe the book is trying to say that Rick was the last person to see it. If that was your first and last memory, Rick may be the key."

"Fantastic." Sarcasm oozed from the word. "So we are back at square one."

"You sound less than enthused about the prospect."

"Poe, I'm not sure I can even trust Rick. After what happened with Gary, how can I know he's being honest with me? And there's something else. Something I never realized before the Book of Light showed me."


"Isabella, the, she lured Rick into being the caretaker. You should have seen how smitten he was for her. But he never understood who she really was. He gave himself to her without truly knowing the price."

"He must have loved her greatly."

"And resent her presently."

Poe lowered his head. "What are you saying?"

"I'm not sure." I shook my head. "I just feel heavy in the center of my chest, like I've wronged him. Part of me wonders if he's wronged me in return."

The raven flapped to the window where the last light of day was fading quickly behind the glass. "Maybe you should get over it and make up. He's your only hope of finding the book before Julius does."

"Maybe you should mind your own business, Poe," I snapped. I didn't need his commentary. But as I dragged my magic-drained sack of bones from the attic floor and pulled back the plastic flap so that Poe could go hunting in the cold winter's night, for the first time I saw Rick in a new light. Not as a predator, trying to capture and dominate me, but as my prey, a prisoner of my past, of my heart. The thought saddened and sobered me.

That night, I flopped on my bed, fully clothed and on top of my covers. Without Rick's blood and sex, my body felt weaker, a racecar running on empty. My mind was filled with sharp thoughts that tumbled painfully. I wondered again where he was and if our last fight was our last encounter. Maybe he'd abandoned me too.

No, I'd pushed him away, and rightly so. Or not. I needed him. Thoughts of my house, the book, my life, flitted through my mind as I drifted, but it was Rick that came back again and again to me, young, innocent, unscarred, and human.

The banquet laid out before me was something out of a dream, all manner of fruit and chocolate surrounding silver candelabras that cast the bounty in a golden glow. Next to the table, spread on a chaise lounge, Rick lay staring out an open window. A warm night breeze ruffled his white shirt, spread open and exposing the scythe shaped scar I'd given him. In his fingers, he handled a large bunch of red grapes, popping one and then another into his mouth.

On soft silver slippers, I padded toward him but stopped just inside the room. This was a dream. The long, white nightgown I wore wasn't mine.

"Come to me, mi cielo," he said, turning clear gray eyes in my direction. His voice flowed over me like feather-light silk, the flicker of the candles against his smooth golden skin doing the same for me visually. My mouth went dry. My nipples perked to attention under my thin white gown. Step by step, I was pulled forward, the heat in my blood driving me toward the fruit in his hand. One taste would quench this thirst.

When I reached him, I fell to my knees, parting my lips to ask for sweet, red fruit. No words came out. I tried again. Nothing but a raspy breath of air. I was completely mute.

"Don't speak," he said. "You are weak, mi cielo. I will feed you. Close your eyes."

I complied.

Cool flesh brushed my bottom lip and the sweet smell of grape filled my nostrils. I opened my mouth like a bird. The orb traveled the "o' of my lips then landed on my tongue. I bit down. Ambrosia. The fruit tasted of Rick's blood, heady and sweet. It coursed down my throat, flooding my body with a decadent current of energy.

Another grape pressed against my lips. I opened, wrapping my mouth around his fingers and sucking the fruit deep into my throat before sliding my lips and tongue back to extract it. He groaned. When I opened my mouth again, his lips brushed mine, his hands grazing my jaw before digging into my loose waves. Gently, he kissed me. Teasing. Nibbling my bottom lip.

I tried to reach up, to pull him to me, but my hands were dead weights at my side.

His tongue parted my lips, stroking slowly inside my mouth, the taste of his blood filling every corner before he pulled back.

I opened my eyes.

His hands flowed down my neck from my face, sweeping my nightgown off my shoulders. The soft white cotton slipped lower, until it hung precariously from the tips of my breasts. His fingers caressed my collarbones, then drifted lower, teasing the rosy peaks beneath the fabric.

I was still on my knees in front of him, which gave me an unencumbered view of his length, hard and straining against the thin fabric of his linen pants. I wanted desperately to free him from the constraint, but my dream would not comply. So I burned passively, as his fingers massaged my ribs, caressed over my hips, and clutched under my ass.

He lifted me, wrapping my legs around his hips, and pushing my nightgown up to my waist. In this position, his full length rubbed against my core and I tossed my head back from the surge of pleasure the contact elicited. But I couldn't even manage a moan.

"Trust me," he said again into my mouth. "Everything I do, I do for you."

His fingers traced the waist of my panties, then burrowed under the lace. He teased me before dipping one finger inside. Thankfully, my dream paralysis didn't extend to my legs. I rose and fell above him. He plunged a second finger, finding the spot deep inside that he knew lit my fuse and cupping me with his palm. With his opposite hand, he freed my breast, cradling and flicking his thumb over the sensitive tip. The night air caressed me, cold from the sheen of sweat on my skin. I felt a great pressure building and I worked my hips into his hand, frantically searching for release. But he withdrew.

I begged for more with my eyes.

Rolling the side of my panties in his hand, he ripped them off with one swift tug. Then he worked open his fly and lifted me to slide his pants down to where he could kick them off with his feet. He positioned himself. I lowered. Even though I was slick with desire, my body protested at the stretch from his considerable girth. I gasped.

"Trust me," he said again.

As if those words were some kind of medicine, my body finally responded to my commands, my once useless arms wrapping around his neck, my fingers digging into his hair. I worked him deeper inside me. Wildly, I claimed his mouth, my tongue stroking his. I picked up the pace, rising and dropping over his lap. In response, he met me thrust for thrust, the quick drive of his hips causing sharp pants of pleasure to burst from me.

In this position, my nipples brushed his chest with each rise and fall. I arched my back to increase the contact. His hand pressed into my lower back for support, and he bent his neck to take one pert nipple into his mouth. He sucked hard. The tight pinch washed me over the edge. I came apart, my sex gripping him, milking his orgasm as he followed my example. Minutes passed, my core clenching again and again, my breath caught in my throat.

And then his teeth plunged into my carotid. It didn't hurt. I'd heal quickly. But the act was more erotic than what we'd just done. Rick housed a piece of my very soul and our blood connection was an intimacy to rival any.

I returned the favor, clamping down on the web of flesh between his neck and collarbone. Decadent blood flowed over my tongue, and I drank my fill. When I pulled back, Rick's eyes were black disks. The darkness came closer and closer, widening its circumference until it swallowed me.

Trust me was the last thing I heard before my eyes popped open to the sound of Poe thrashing against my bedroom window. The sun was up. I was alone under the covers. As I tossed back my quilt and pushed myself up off my mattress to let my familiar inside, I licked my lips.

I could have sworn I tasted Rick's blood.

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