“The depth of your concern for your fellow human beings took me by surprise.” He paused, his gaze suddenly fixed on one of the buildings. “I am not usually surprised.”

His remark didn’t seem to require a response, so Raven didn’t answer. She leaned forward to pick up her knapsack and settled it on her lap.

Luka parked the car near Raven’s building and immediately got out. He closed the door and stood behind the car, his posture alert.

“I realize that your willingness to stay with me was based on your wish to help your friends. But it is my hope that you—” William stopped, his voice filled with longing.

“What do you hope?” She tried to make eye contact.

“Nothing.” He kept his gaze fixed on the street. “I hope for nothing because hope is vain.”

Raven toyed with her knapsack. “Despair is the absence of hope.”

“Don’t presume to lecture me on despair,” he snapped.

Raven twisted her fingers.

“I’m sorry,” she said meekly.

He turned, placing his hand under her chin. “You are the only ray of hope I’ve seen since 1274. You’re the only one who has caused my heart to beat again.”

For a moment, Raven saw something much deeper than physical desire in his eyes. She didn’t know what it was, but she saw it and felt it, shimmering in the air between them.

All at once, he covered her mouth with his own, his tongue tracing the seam of her lips.

She opened to him.

William swept the knapsack aside, tugging her into his arms.

His tongue pushed past her lips, sliding against her own. His hand moved to her neck.

In a few swift movements, he undid the knotted silk at her throat. Then his lips were on her neck.

Raven’s eyes shot open.

He nipped at her skin before laving it with his tongue. Over and over he repeated the sequence as Raven’s heart sped in her chest.

She shifted her legs as heat flared in her middle and lower down. Tentatively, she touched his hair, pushing back the strands with her fingers. Still his lips moved against her throat.

He drew some flesh into his mouth and sucked.

Raven gasped.

William’s mouth gentled. He kissed the tender spot on her neck, his tongue fluttering lightly over the skin.

He pressed a few small kisses to the indentation at the base of her throat before brushing his lips across hers.

“Was that a bite?” she whispered.

William moved back. “No.”

She touched her neck. The skin wasn’t broken.

She examined her hand. There wasn’t any blood.

He bent to retrieve her scarf, which had fallen to her feet. He placed it in her lap.

“I would never feed from you unless you offered yourself.”

“Isn’t that what vampyres do?”

“Don’t tempt me.” His voice grew cold.

“I don’t understand you.” She shook her head.

“What’s not to understand?”

“How you can be so harsh and kiss like that.”

William’s face broke into a smile and he placed his arm around her.

“I predate the advent of psychology, Cassita. I can’t offer that kind of self-analysis.”

Raven tentatively rested her head on his shoulder and was rewarded when his other arm wrapped around her waist.

“I know you’re dangerous,” she confessed. “But I know without doubt that I’m alive because of you and for that I’m grateful.”

“Gratitude is a start,” he mused.

“Bruno’s grandmother was kind to me when I first came to Florence. Thank you for helping her and for saving Bruno.”

William nodded against her hair.

She placed her hand on his chest, near his heart.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course. I don’t promise to answer, but you can ask.”

“When we were with your people, I heard someone mention something about a mark. What was that about?”

“If you were my pet, I’d have fed from you by now.” He gestured to her neck. “They’d see more than just a bruise. From now on, you’ll need to cover your neck whenever you’re in public.”

“I can do that. I like scarves.”

“You can keep this one. Lucia can buy another.”

Raven lifted her head. “Won’t she want it back?”

“Not if I tell her not to.”

Raven decided not to argue with him. She’d see that Lucia’s scarf was returned later on.

William glanced in the direction of Raven’s apartment, wearing a look of displeasure. “You’d be safer at the villa. As I said, vampyres can’t cross the property line and my security team keeps out the humans. But I promised to bring you home and here you are.

“Tonight we’re hunting hunters. Once they’re disposed of, you’ll have more freedom. Until then, I’m assigning Luka to keep an eye on you. He’ll follow you to work Monday morning and stay close during the day.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“The hunters are human. If they learn I have a pet they may decide to use you.”

“Wait—what?” Raven pushed back from his embrace. “How can a human being hunt you?”

“They use weapons and various tools. They also use subterfuge, which is why I want you to be careful.”

“Do you think they’ll come after me?”

“It’s possible. But most vampyres wouldn’t be lured out of hiding to save a pet. Pets are disposable.”

Raven cringed.

“You are not disposable, Cassita, I assure you.” He kissed her lightly. “But it’s safer for you if I keep that secret.

“I doubt the hunters would target me, in any case. Wise hunters realize it’s easier to capture newer vampyres—younglings, we call them. But young blood is never as powerful as old, which means older vampyres are a greater prize.”

“You inhabit a strange world.”

“No stranger than yours. Except, in my world, everyone is a villain.”

Centuries of betrayal and mistrust flashed before William’s eyes. Even though he respected his Consilium and relied on them in certain circumstances, he didn’t trust them.

No. The young woman in his arms was the only person he’d come close to trusting for years. And he couldn’t bring himself to tell her even some of his lesser secrets.

Raven flexed her right foot, trying to alleviate the ache in her ankle. It occurred to her that the adrenaline in her system must have receded.

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