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The hunger was immense, a painful twisting in the middle of her body, and the scent of blood only made things worse for Madeleine. There were humans in the room, several of them. She could smell them and the candied heat of their racing pulses. And beneath that tempting heat, she could smell an elixir of supernatural power. She closed her eyes, hung her head between her arms and inhaled all those exquisite aromas.
It would be a feast, a buffet, all laid out for her like proffered dishes for visiting royalty. Her head raced in fervent calculation of the odds. She glanced around the room without lifting her head and counted four bodies. They would fight—she knew that somehow—but in the end, no matter how powerful they might be, she was vampire, and she was hungry. And that trumped just about every flavor of human super she knew.
She was faster and stronger, though the werewolf to her left might leave a mark or two, and…wait…there, underneath it all, rode a cold current, a magick that could only belong to one kind of human super, the only kind that could cause issue with the hunger she wanted so badly to indulge. She looked up, past the man—he had a name, but for the life of her, she couldn’t pull it out of the hunger--in front of her to the taller man standing just behind him.
His name she didn’t know. There was no niggling in the back of her head, but honestly, it didn’t matter, not really. It was better when food didn’t have a name. She sat back and pushed the hair from her eyes. “Necromancer.”
He shuddered. Dead power worked both ways, after all. “Vampire.”
She smiled, and then she licked her bottom lip. She pushed again, a thread of fear in the middle of her power, and her smile widened as his eyes widened. He frowned, and an icicle shoved its way back up the pipeline they held open between them. She inhaled sharply.
“You’re strong,” Madeleine growled, settling back on her calves. “Your magick lingers in me, like a parasite beneath my skin. It whispers of submission, obedience, but it’s only a strong suggestion in my ear, not a compulsion. Though,” she cocked her head to the side, “I’m pretty sure you’re holding back. But I still think I could take you.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he replied, his face a blank mask.
The tone of his voice didn’t hold an even keel with his restraint in his power. He wasn’t sure what she was up to, where she was going with this—or rather was not happy with the direction she was taking the conversation—and she could taste it like ice water in their link. “Which do you think will prevail? My hunger or your power? Supernatural thirst or the need to protect your people? What are you willing to wager, death mage?”
The necromancer shrugged, and she found his apparent nonchalance irritating. “I’d say the odds are in my favor, vampire. Your advantage may lay in the immensity of your hunger, post-torpor, but it’s a tentative, temporary thing. If I sacrifice one person to your bloodlust, I think I could tap into enough power to subdue one blood-drunk bloodsucker.
“That just leaves the question of who gets to play sacrificial lamb, doesn’t it?” He regarded her in mock seriousness. “Can’t give you the werewolf. Last thing we need is either of you hitting frenzy. Can’t be a martyr, because no one else can handle you on your own. So that leaves me…” he glanced around the room, “…well, two mages.”
He tapped a finger against his chin. “Seeing as I would rather not lose either of them, I think we’re at a standstill. Unless you’re willing to give me an alternative that doesn’t involve bloodlust and havoc.”
Madeleine’s irritation turned to amusement. Did he really think he could possibly talk their way out of this one? Her hunger whispered beneath the edge of her consciousness, a sinewy wall standing between the thirst and the threads of rational thought. It clawed at that impossibly thin curtain with long, lashing talons, whispers turning to low, rumbling growls that poured from her throat.
The necromancer tensed, and it was as if the very air in the room stopped. There, just beyond all that quiet, she could feel his power growing. He was readying a defense for an attack they both knew without saying was more than a little imminent. And all that did--all that fear, that caution, that entangled web of mounting power--was feed the torrential need inside her.
She shook her head. “I’m starving. There’s no way this ends without more than a little bloodshed.” She drew one long, wet line with the tip of her tongue. “So feed me, death mage, or be fed upon.”
He opened his mouth. “Milo.”
The man in front of her twitched. “Yes, boss.”
“Clean it up.”
The authority was there, a ring of truth inside the web of the necromancer’s power. And without a hint of compulsion, Madeleine noted, which was ever more intriguing. Just an undertone of mild irritation. She stood and stretched her arms, eyes all for chosen lamb. She’d half-expected to feel fear at his approach, and it was there, yes, but buried beneath a sense of heroic disregard.
How noble. The thought brought a smile to her lips. She lunged forward in a blur of speed that brought her to him, until her body pressed a cool line against the heat of him. Her eyes closed in the opulent decadence of his scent that beckoned her hunger forth: all impassioned fire, knightly intent, and…something low in her body tingled and tightened with a want that had nothing to do with blood.
Her nose drew a delicate, goosebump-raising line down his neck, as she inhaled the proffered mage. "Delicious," she whispered, her voice low, husky. She retraced the path with the tip of her tongue, and while he didn't flinch, this Milo, his energy shifted and changed. It deepened and whispered back to that low place in her body, and she didn't have enough presence of to stifle the contented growl that slipped from her parted lips.
There was a decadence to the connection between them. Something that overwhelmed, drowned out the hunger. No, she shook her head against the firmness of his chest, not drowning out. It was more of a trade: one hunger--all gnashing teeth and bloodlust--for another--all impassioned heat and desire. She pressed against him, fingers tracing the lines of him, falling deeper into this, well, whatever this was.
What the hell?
Her lids fluttered open again and she stepped back, shaking her head as if to rid her nose of the scent of him. “You smell…familiar. Bed clothes and soap, earth and flora.” Her thirst whined in protest, but she pushed it away.
“I know you,” she whispered. She reached out with one hand, fingertips a breath away from touching his skin again, and it surprised to her to realize that it didn’t matter. She didn’t need the press of flesh to replay the physical memory of him. She shivered. “I know you.”
The mage called Milo smiled, a cautious turn of lips. “You do.”
“And I…I don’t want to eat you. I want…” She didn’t have the words, or rather, she could not put into rational thought the series of emotional and physical wants rushing through her. Madeleine chewed on her bottom lip, head cocked to the side. “I want…” She shook her head and buried her forehead against his chest.
She wanted him—there was no denying that—but how she wanted him had more to do with tangled sheets and bated breath. Though the sheer scent of him, the very taste—all salt and heat—of him muted the hunger, as she turned her head, her eyes found the other mage and her restraint failed in one fell blow.
With one hand, she shoved Milo backwards. His momentum caught the necromancer and both men fell to the floor. The death mage’s magick exploded with an audible pop, like so many balloons, and sent her scrambling into the air to avoid the backlash. She didn’t have much time, she knew, before he’d get that spell rewoven, and Madeleine flew across the room until her hand held tight a thick wading of the nameless mage’s shirt.
This one smelled different. Unlike Milo, his magick wasn’t earthy, but emanated light and air. If electric blue had a scent, this man was bathed in it. And it was like cotton candy to her senses, decadent, tempting. His fear glistened in the center of his aura, a candy center to her treat. He opened his mouth as his eyes grew wider, but it was too late.
She pulled him closer, her arms snaking around him, one over an arm, one under, and her wings started to cocoon them both. She forced his head to the side, and the biting edge of her incisors found the quiver of his neck. She closed her mouth around that pulsing jugular bead and broke skin. His blood filled her mouth in an overwhelming explosion of sensation, intoxicating, raising every taste bud, every nerve ending, in voracious standing ovation.
He moaned, the sound a poignant twist of pleasure and pain. His hands, which moments before had pushed at her, softened their grasp and clung instead to pull her somehow closer. She drank him in deeper with every mouthful, eyes closing, and ignored the wispy tickle of dead magicks climbing the air behind her.
“Miii…” the mage whispered.
Madeleine leaned back. “What did you say?”
If he heard her, he gave no clue. “Miiii…” He raised one arm up and reached past her. “Miiiiiloooo!”
Well, hell, he wasn’t talking to her at all. He wanted Milo.
The tickle turned into a torrent, and a spike of necromancy ripped through her wings, rending feather from flesh. Strong hands grabbed at her shoulders in a musk of fur and claws, pulling until her body raged almost parallel to the ground within the werewolf’s grasp. She lashed out, wing and talons, doing damage of her own, but she could not feast and fight at the same time. The mage, free of her grasp, pushed at her in flurry of his fists and painful screams.
She tossed him to the ground and turned to face the werewolf. He was in half-form, her blood dripping from his claws. “Bastard.”
“Don’t talk about my mother that way,” he growled from his toothy maw.
“I could kill you,” she hissed.
He chortled, a peculiar sound from his form. “You could try.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she shot forward toward him. But then two things happened: her wings failed her, and her feet were summarily stuck to the floor. The necromancer had his spell back in working order. She turned her head toward the death mage. “I will kill you for this. I will kill you and everyone you hold dear. But I will kill you last, so you can watch them suffer.”
She threw a hand out and pushed back through the threads that bound her with her own magicks. The necromancer shuddered.
“You’ll have to do better,” he said through gritted teeth.
She grinned and pushed harder. He paled and…were those beads of sweat on his forehead? Madeleine licked her lips and freed one leg. “Oh, necromancer…” She shook her head and freed the other leg. “Me thinks I have you bested.”
He leaned into his sleeve to wipe his face and smiled. “You’d be wrong.”
She smelled the werewolf before she saw him, and the side of her head met the floor with a thud. She screamed as he pinned her down, giant claws clamped hard over her biceps to render her own talons useless. She kicked at him in an attempt to jam something into his tender bits—werewolves had tender bits, didn’t they?—but the sheer girth of his thigh and the angle in which he straddled her made her efforts for naught.
“Get off me,” she hissed.
“Ah…” he dragged that one syllable out in an equally slow shake of his great furry head. “No.”
Madeleine struggled some more, out of sheer frustration over her current lack of options than anything else. Were-creatures could not be compelled by vampires, something about super versus super cancellation of powers. She’d learned that lesson early on in her undead life. None of the humans in the room were close enough for the necessary direct eye contact. If she had spilled even a drop of her own blood into the bitten mage, perhaps, but she could feel no tie there. The necromancer’s magick tied him to her, but that too was pointless. Compelling him was akin to attempting such mind tricks on another vampire. Dead magick to dead magick, and all that jazz.
So, in short, until she could figure out how to get the behemoth off her, she was screwed.
“I wonder,” mused the behemoth in question with the tilt of his head, “what you’d taste like. I’ve never had a chance to eat undead before.”
“Fuck off,” she growled and threw all her strength into him, budging them both a good foot off the ground.
He slammed her back down onto the carpet. “Would you be tough and gamey, like atrophied flesh? Or would you be soft and slimy, fresh rot?” He eyed her curiously. “Does whatever reanimates you make your body like a living human?” He made a big show of sniffing her, the nose of his muzzle leaving wet marks on her shoulders and in her hair.
She did not like feeling like prey. “I will kill you for…”
He interrupted her with a chuckle. “Déjà vu. I swear we’ve had this little witting repartee before.”
“Let her up, Vince,” the necromancer called out. She turned her head to see the mages had gathered themselves off the ground and regrouped, stoic faces all.
Vince’s eyes never left her face. “So she can munch on someone else? I don’t think so.”
“Vincent.” The tone carried power, and the werewolf shuddered above her.
“Yes, little doggie,” she snarled. “Go and obey your master.”
He growled back, snapping his maw a breath away from her face. “My master saves your life, you bloodsucking bitch. Be thankful.” He leapt off her body, the weight of him disappearing in instantaneous relief.
Madeleine went to move but found she was still pinned. She turned to look at the gathered mages. “If I promise to play nice, will you let me up?”