“Am I going to become… like you?” She clasped her hands together to keep them from shaking.
He smiled, and reached for her hands. She complied with only a second of pause. “No. Becoming a vampire is not quite that simple. As long as you don’t die in the next couple days anyway.”
He took a deep breath and ignored the voice in his head telling him to keep her ignorant about the process and all things vampire. She didn’t need to know, but still, he continued on. “There are two ways to become like me. One, you are born into it, like me and the other members of the royals. Vampire pregnancies are a rare occurrence, but it does happen, usually among birth vampires.”
He paused and gave her a moment to absorb the information. She seemed to need the time to wrap her human brain around the concept.
“And the other way?”
Alexander grabbed her by the legs and pulled her closer, practically into his lap. “The second way is through blood ritual.”
She felt his breath hot against her face. She expected it to be cold, or even absent, but as she was learning, vampires weren’t at all like she’d been told.
Ari made no move to separate herself from him, even though there was a part of her that knew he was dangerous and that she should get as far away from him as she could. There was a force between them, drawing her in, and she wasn’t sure she could fight it if she tried.
“What is a blood ritual?”
“A fancy way of saying we share each other’s blood. I drink yours, you drink mine, then if your human form dies, you become vampire. Unless your body rejects it. There’s a bit more involved, but basically, that’s how it happens.”
Thoughts rushed through her. He’d drank her blood and fed her his to help her. “So if I died…”
“You’d become like me.”
Panic flooded over Ari. She didn’t have any desire to become a vampire. She’d met people who had idealized notions of vampires and wanted to turn, but Ari always thought they weren’t quite all there in the head.
Alexander rubbed his thumb in circles over the back of her hand. With his other hand, he lifted her face up to meet his. “Ariana, take a breath. You can remain human. Nothing is going to happen to you.”
She pulled oxygen into her lungs in short, quick pants, only increasing the lightheaded feeling threatening to take over. No matter how soothing his touch was, she was going to lose it. The events of the day were too much and she was too weak from blood loss and stress to gain control.
He sensed the panic that rose up in her and felt an overwhelming urge to sooth her, something he was not used to feeling. Pity for humans, or even his own kind, was something Alexander usually lacked. But it went beyond pity for the small human before him. He wanted to protect her, pull her into his arms, and keep her safe from even her own thoughts. The realization threw him off balance and made him want to cast her out, separate himself from anything that made him weak.
Just as he was about to push her off and leave her there to deal with her ridiculous human emotions on her own, she flung herself into his arms and sobbed into his chest. He felt her need through their connection and all at once, his anger subsided. He brought his arms around her and held her tight against him.
“Shh now, love,” he soothed. “It’s all going to be fine.”
“I didn’t… don’t leave,” she said between sobs. “Why do I know you were going to leave? I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“Bloodsharing affords certain… benefits, if you will.”
“Benefits?” She pulled back just enough to look into his blue-green eyes.
Her eyes were swollen and wet, and her hair hung around her face in a tangled mess, tinged with dried blood. There was nothing especially appealing about her in that moment, but when Alexander looked into her eyes, he felt a need for her that overpowered anything he’d ever experienced.
“Yes. A connection of sorts.”
“So I know what you’re thinking?” Ari sat up and wiped at her eyes and nose with her sleeve.
“Not exactly. While my blood is in your veins, you will be more in tune to me, or be able to sense when I’m near. It will wear off.”
“And you can sense me, too?” She was both frightened and intrigued by the idea.
“Yes. Among other things.”
Her eyes furrowed and she thought for a moment. Thoughts that he could clearly hear, but he dared not tell her that much just yet. He waited for her to speak the question.
“What other things?”
“Humans and vampires react differently to bloodsharing. Your weak underused senses aren’t capable of processing our highly superior blood. So most of the benefits are wasted on you. For me, the effects are quite invasive and last much longer.”
She was insulted. He could feel it, though he wasn’t grasping the reason behind it.
“Whatever.” She snorted and pushed back to sit against the bed, not touching him.
“I don’t understand.” He peered inside the girl, trying to get a read on her, but her thoughts were too foggy to be of use.
Ari rolled her eyes. “Seems like such a superior being should be able to follow along.”
Alexander laughed, though he found her to be more irritating than funny. “Humans are clearly inferior. You can’t possibly deny that?”
“Yet you rely on our inferior blood to survive.” She was challenging him again. Any other human, and he’d have snapped her neck for such behavior. But this one was different.
She shrunk back away from him, likely sensing his inner rage at her defiance. She was afraid, yet she stood up to him, spoke her mind, slapped him. Something about that human intrigued him, a feeling he rarely entertained.
Alexander pushed up from the floor and towered over her. “You shouldn’t test me, Ariana. Those who try, do not live to tell about it.”