“Hey, remember you promised the nun you’d go to bed. And I’m pretty sure that didn’t mean going to his bed.” Heath jerked his chin at the door to Stark’s room.

I raised my brows at Heath.

He sighed. “I said I’d share you with the stupid vamps if I had to, but I didn’t say I’d like it.”

I shook my head. “You’re not sharing me with anyone tonight. I’m just going to make sure Stark’s okay, then go to my own bed. Alone. By myself. Got it?”

“Got it.” He grinned and then kissed me softly. “See you soon, Zo.”

“See you soon, Heath.”

I watched him walk away down the hall. He was tall and muscular and looked every inch the star quarterback. He was all set to go to OU on a full-ride scholarship next year, and then, after college, he was going to be either a cop or a fireman. Whichever he chose there was one thing for certain—Heath would be one of the good guys.

But could he do all that, would he do all that, and also be a vampyre High Priestess’s consort?

Yes. Hell, yes. I am going to make sure Heath gets the future he’s dreamed of and planned since we were kids. Sure, some parts of it will be different. Neither of us planned on the vamp stuff. Some parts of it will be hard—like, well, the vamp stuff. But the truth is, I care about Heath too much to force him out of my life and I care about him too much to mess up his life. So we are just going to have to make it work. Period. The end.

“You going to go in, or are you just going to stand out here and stress?”

“Holy crap, Aphrodite! Could you not sneak up and scare me?”

“No one was sneaking, and ‘holy crap,’ is that a curse? ’Cause if it is, I’m afraid I’m going to have to wake up the Potty Mouth Police and have them make an arrest.” Darius followed Aphrodite into the hall and gave her a be nice look, which made her sigh and say, “So. Stark’s not dead yet.”

“Gosh, thanks for that update. You just made me feel ever so much better,” I said sarcastically.

“Don’t be a pain in my ass while I’m trying to be nice.”

I turned my attention to the only responsible adult in the area and asked Darius, “Does he need anything?”

The warrior hesitated for only an instant, but it was an instant that I caught. Then he said, “No. He is doing well. I believe he will recover completely.”

Well…” I dragged out the word, wondering what the hell was really going on. Was Stark hurt worse than Darius was admitting? “I’ll check on him real quick, then I’m going to bed.” I raised a brow at Aphrodite. “You and I are roomies. Darius is rooming with Damien and Jack. Uh, that means you’re not sleeping with him ’cause that would freak the nuns. You got that, right?”

“Oh. No. You so didn’t need to give me that Anne of Green Gables lecture! Like I can’t behave with some propriety? Are you remembering my parents purchased propriety for Tulsa? My. Dad. Is. The. Mayor. I can’t believe I have to deal with this shit.”

Darius and I stared, speechless, as Aphrodite worked herself up into a seriously extraordinary hissy fit.

“I heard the damn nun. Plus, it’s not like this abbey is exactly romantic. Like I want to have hot monkey sex while the penguins cross themselves and pray? Ugh. Not hardly. Goddess! I may melt if I stay here too long.”

When she paused to take a breath, I inserted, “I didn’t mean I didn’t think you knew how to act. I was just kinda reminding you, that’s all.”

“Yeah? Bullshit. You’re a really bad liar, Z.” She walked over to Darius and kissed him hard on the mouth. “Later, lover. I’ll miss you in my bed.” She gave me a disgusted glance. “Just say night-night to boyfriend number three and get your butt to our room. I do not like to be awakened after I’ve retired to my boudoir.” Aphrodite tossed her long, gorgeous blond hair and twitched away.

“She’s really amazing,” Darius said as he gazed lovingly after her.

“If by amazing you mean a total pain in the butt, then I’ll agree with you.” I held up my hand, stopping his she’s-really-not-that-bad comment before he could make it. “I don’t want to talk about your girlfriend right now. I just want to know how Stark’s really doing.”

“Stark is healing.”

I could almost see the big gap in the rest of his sentence. I raised both brows at the warrior. “But…”

“But nothing. Stark is healing.”

“Why do I think there’s more to it than that?”

Darius waited a beat and then he smiled a little sheepishly. “Perhaps because you are intuitive enough to feel that there is more to it than that.”

“All right, what is it?”

“It’s about energy and spirit and blood. Or rather Stark’s need of and lack of them.”

I blinked a couple times, trying to understand exactly what Darius was saying, and then I sucked in air as the lightbulb went on over my head and I felt like a total idiot for not understanding sooner. “He’s been hurt—like I was—and he has to have blood to heal, just like I did. Well, why didn’t you say something before? Crap!” I kept babbling on as my mind raced, “I don’t especially want him to bite Aphrodite, but—”

“No!” Darius interrupted, looking more than a little upset at the thought of Stark drinking from his girlfriend. “Aphrodite’s Imprint with Stevie Rae makes her blood repellent to other vampyres.”

“Well, hell! Let’s get him a blood baggie or whatever, and I guess I could try to find a human he could bite…” My voice trailed off. I hated, hated, hated thinking about Stark drinking from anyone else. I mean, I had already had to deal with his extracurricular biting before he’d pledged himself as my Warrior and gone through the Change. I had hoped that the days of his biting other girls were behind him. I still hoped it! But I wouldn’t be so selfish that my feelings kept him from getting what he needed to heal.

“I’ve already given him some blood the sisters had on ice in the infirmary. He’s not in danger of dying. He will recover.”

But?” I was exasperated that Darius’s sentences all seemed to have these big unfilled-in blanks at the end of them.

“But when a Warrior is pledged to the service of a High Priestess, there is a special bond between them.”

“Yeah, I already know that.”

“That bond is more than just an oath. Since ancient times Nyx has blessed her High Priestesses and the Warriors who serve them. The two of you are linked through the Goddess’s blessing. It gives him intuitive knowledge about you that makes it easier for him to protect you.”

“Intuitive knowledge? You mean like an Imprint?” Goddess! Was this like I was Imprinted with two guys?

“An Imprint and a Warrior Bond have similarities. Both bind two people together. But an Imprint is a cruder form of a connection.”

“Cruder? What do you mean?”

“I mean that even though an Imprint often happens between a vampyre and a human for whom she cares deeply, it is a connection that originates in the blood and is ruled by the basest of our emotions: passion, lust, need, hunger, pain.” He hesitated, obviously trying to choose his words carefully. “You have experienced some of that with your consort, have you not?”

My nod was stiff and my cheeks felt hot.

“Contrast that bond with the Oath Bond you have with Stark.”

“Well, I haven’t had it very long. I really don’t know much about it.” But as I said the words, I realized that I did already know that the connection I had with Stark went beyond wanting to drink from him. Actually, I hadn’t even really thought about drinking from him—or him drinking from me.

“As your Warrior serves you longer, you will understand more of your bond with him. Your link with your Warrior means he could develop the ability to sense many of your emotions. For instance, if a High Priestess is suddenly threatened, the Warrior pledged to her may feel her fear, and follow that emotional trail to his Priestess so that he may protect her from whatever is threatening.”

“I–I didn’t know that,” I stuttered nervously.

Darius’s smile was wry. “I hate to sound like Damien, but you really should find time to read your Fledgling Handbook.”

“Yeah, that’s on the top of my to-do list as soon as my world stops exploding. Okay, so, Stark might be able to tell if I’m afraid. What does that have to do with him being hurt?”

“Your connection isn’t as simple as just the possibility of him sensing your fear. It’s also about energy and spirit. Your Warrior may eventually be able to feel many of your strong emotions, especially as he spends more and more time in your service.”

The memory of the very emotional experience I’d shared with A-ya while she’d trapped Kalona had my stomach tightening at Darius’s explanation. “Go on,” I said.

“A Warrior can absorb his Priestess’s emotions. He can also absorb spirit from her, especially if his Priestess has a strong affinity. Often he can tap into that affinity.”

“What in the hell does that mean, Darius?”

“It means he can literally absorb energy through your blood.”

“Are you saying it’s me Stark needs to bite?” Okay, I’ll admit that my heart started to speed up at the thought. Seriously—I was already mega-attracted to Stark and I knew sharing blood with him would be a very hot experience.

It would also break Heath’s heart, and what if drinking from me let Stark into my mind and he saw what was going on with my memories of A-ya? Hell! Hell! Hell! Hell! Hell! Hell! Then a new thought hit me. “Hey, wait. You said Stark couldn’t bite Aphrodite because she’s Imprinted with someone else and other vamps don’t want her blood. I’m Imprinted with Heath. Does that mess up my blood for Stark?”

Darius shook his head. “No, the Imprint only changes a human’s blood.”

“So mine will work for Stark?”

“Yes, your blood would definitely help him to heal, and he knows it, which is why I’m taking the time to explain all of this to you.” Darius continued as if I wasn’t having a mini emotional breakdown right in front of him. “And you should also know he is refusing to drink from you.”

What? He’s refusing to drink from me?” Okay, sure, a second before I’d been worried about what would happen if Stark bit me, but that didn’t mean I wanted to be rejected by him!

“He knows you’ve recently healed from the Raven Mocker’s attack. The creature almost killed you, Zoey. Stark doesn’t want to take anything from you that might weaken you. If he drank from you he wouldn’t just be absorbing your blood; he would be taking energy and spirit from you. Factor in that none of us knows where Kalona and Neferet have gone, and that means we don’t know when you might have to face them again. I agree with his decision to refuse to drink. You need to be at full strength.”

“So does my Warrior,” I countered.

Darius sighed and nodded his head slowly. “Agreed, but he can be replaced. You cannot.”

“He can’t be replaced!” I blurted.

“I do not mean to sound unfeeling, but you must be wise—in all of your decisions.”

“Stark can’t be replaced,” I repeated stubbornly.

“As you will, Priestess.” He bowed his head slightly, and then suddenly changed the subject. “Now that you understand the ramifications of a Warrior’s Oath, I would like to ask your permission for me to pledge myself formally.”

I swallowed hard. “Well, Darius, I really like you and you’ve taken seriously good care of me, but I think I’d feel kinda awkward having two guys pledged to me.” As if I didn’t have enough guy issues?

Darius’s smile was quick. He shook his head and I got the distinct impression he was trying not to laugh at me. “You misunderstand. I will stay with you and lead those who guard you, but I would like to pledge my Warrior’s Oath to Aphrodite—that is what I’m asking your permission to do.”

“You want to be bound to Aphrodite?”

“I do. I know it is irregular for a vampyre Warrior to pledge to a human, but Aphrodite is not a normal human.”

“You’re telling me,” I mumbled. He went on as if I hadn’t spoken.

“She is truly a prophetess, which puts her in the same category as a High Priestess of Nyx.”

“It won’t mess up your Warrior’s bond to have her Imprinted with Stevie Rae?”

Darius shrugged. “We shall see. I am willing to take the chance.”

“You love her, don’t you?”

He met my gaze steadily and his smile warmed. “I do.”

“She’s seriously a pain in the butt.”

“She’s unique,” he countered. “And she needs my protection, especially in the days to come.”

“Well, you have a point there.” I shrugged. “Okay, you have my permission. Don’t say I didn’t warn you about the pain-in-the-butt part, though.”

“I wouldn’t think of it. Thank you, Priestess. Please, do not say anything to Aphrodite. I would like to make my offer privately to her.”

“My lips are totally sealed.” I made a little pantomime of zipping up my lips and throwing away the key.

“Then I bid you good night.” He fisted his hand over his heart, bowed, and he was gone.


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