Taste of Torment Page 15

“There you are,” drawled a familiar and very unwelcome voice. Then the bony form of Joy was lounging all over Cristiano. In Fletcher’s words, Jared’s old consort was a cross between a whippet and a witch. I’d honestly never seen anyone so thin. My brows arched in surprise at the way she was petting Cristiano. Ava rolled her eyes while he sighed tiredly and tried to shift away from Joy. She just moved with him.

After licking her lips at Jared, Joy gave me a sickly sweet smile. “Happy birthday.” She had said it in the same tone as someone would say, ‘I hate you.’ “Hope you’re having a good time. Did Jared get you anything nice? I’m surprised he let you out of the apartment. When it was my birthday, he never let me out of the bed.”

How could I not pity her when this kind of crap gave her a kick? “Aw, such a precious little brat, aren’t you?”

Her smile faltered slightly. “Black is very slimming on you – good thinking, wearing that. Curves don’t look good on everyone.”

Groan. “As for you…I see you’re still a fan of the, um, starved look.” Honestly, if she swallowed a sprout, she’d look pregnant.

Jared, Ava, and Cristiano chuckled quietly.

“Such a joker,” Joy spat bitterly.

“I was actually deadly serious, but sure.”

“Personally, I wouldn’t be so happy if the guy I was Bound to would never be totally satisfied with me. Jared likes a little variety in his sexual diet. Even three consorts couldn’t keep him completely satisfied. Maybe right now he’s happy enough with just you, but that will change. Once the novelty wears off, his interest will wane.”

I was really supposed to believe that? Snort. I gave her a pitying look. “Jealousy isn’t attractive, you know. You don’t wear it well.”

Jared, who I could sense was totally riled, went to say something to the bitch. But then Denny – my very own personal saviour – appeared at her side and held up his index finger. A sting suddenly appeared at the tip, making Joy gasp.

“Two things can happen,” began Denny. “You could walk away of your own accord, or I could stab you with this and drag you away. I wouldn’t recommend the latter. It itches like crazy, and you’ll have an oozing spot tomorrow. So, what will it be?”

Joy shot me an ugly scowl, shoved away from Cristiano, and then marched off.

I sent Denny a smile. “You know I adore you, right?” He laughed and returned to his table.

Cristiano gestured at Joy’s retreating form. “I think she thought she’d find an ally in me.”

Confused, I asked, “Why would she think that?”

Cristiano frowned, apparently surprised by my question. Then he looked at Jared, arching a quizzical brow.

“She doesn’t see it,” Jared explained with a sigh.

Ava blinked rapidly, looking just as surprised as her brother. “Really? But he always” She stopped as Cristiano took her arm and began to literally drag her back to their table. Wearing her cheery smile again, she waved at me. “Enjoy your meal! And happy birthday again!” I noticed that Salem followed the cute little thing with his eyes as she moved. She presented him with a bright, flirty smile to which he grunted. For whatever reason, she seemed to find that hilarious.

Sitting once again, I asked Jared, “What did you mean when you said, ‘She doesn’t see it’? See what?”

“That Dickhead wants you, of course.” He rolled his eyes, taking my hand and tracing over the Binding knot. “I think he’s right. I think Joy thought he’d be as jealous as she is about us and then they could be buddies who together made our lives miserable.” He pinned my gaze with his. “You know Joy was talking shit, don’t you? You’re all I want.”

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. “If I thought you wanted anyone else, I’d plonk your bare arse on a cactus.”

He winced. “Fair enough. Okay, no more talk about other people. I think we should talk about how great I am and how hot you are for me.” I burst out laughing. “You know it’s true.”

“It’s true. Want to know just how hot I am for you? Or should I say how ‘wet’ I am for you?”

His eyes narrowed at my impish smile. He leaned forward and feathered his lips over mine, asking quietly, “You’re not wearing any underwear, are you?” When my smile widened, he groaned. “You can’t do this to me.” I just laughed again. “Come here. I want to feel you.”

“Oh no,” I chuckled, dodging the hand that reached for my leg under the table. “Too many people are around, and I’m unfortunately the focus of attention. You’ll just have to wait until we get home.”

He shook his head, looking pained. “It’s going to be a long-ass night.”

It was, but it was also a great night. The meal was delicious and the atmosphere was so jovial that it was almost effervescent, making energy cling to my skin and sprinkle from my fingers like fairy dust. Jared sucked chocolate sauce from my finger at one point just for an excuse to taste my energy-coated skin – according to him, my skin fizzed like sherbet or honeycomb whenever energy clung to it like that.

Eloise spent most of the night scowling and sneering at me from her seat, but that just made things even more fun. Collins was more interested in trying to get pally with the squad, but they only seemed interested in growling or snarling at him. Surely he’d worked out by now that they pretty much despised him. Could he not take a hint or something?

Antonio made a toast, once again wishing me a happy birthday, after which everybody then asked me to make a speech. Ha. As if. They simply laughed at my refusal, knowing that I wasn’t much of a public speaker.

When people asked for music, Fletcher – always prepared – plugged his iPod into a set of speakers. Everyone danced on a kind of makeshift dance-floor on the sand. Considering Fletcher’s taste in music, it was no surprise when ‘YMCA’ came on, or ‘Oops Upside Your Head’ – he actually dragged Luther onto the dance-floor and taught him the moves. As usual, I never danced to the slow songs, although it wasn’t for the lack of trying on Jared’s part to get me up there.

It was when he left me alone for a moment to go and speak to Antonio that a soft voice spoke. “Hi, Sam.”

Looking up, I found Antonio’s future mate smiling down at me. “Lucy…Hi. Sit down.”

Her expression was grateful and, if I wasn’t mistaken, contained a hint of relief. “Thanks.” She perched herself gingerly on the chair, as if ready to bolt at any moment. Whether she suspected I would send her on her merry way soon or she was just edgy because she knew that Jared would be back at any moment, I wasn’t sure. Many people found him intimidating. “I wanted to say happy birthday. I love that dress.”

“I can’t take the credit – Fletcher picked it out.” Knowing I was a bit of a tomboy, he always selected dresses for me. “But I get the feeling that you haven’t come to chat about my dress.”

Her smile turned sheepish. “Um, Antonio told you that he plans to Turn me soon, didn’t he?”

“He did, yes. Are you having second thoughts?”

“I’m not having second thoughts about Turning, but I know a lot about the different breeds of vampire and, well…” Her voice lowered. “If I’m honest, being a Keja doesn’t appeal to me. The bloodlust isn’t as strong as that of Pagoris, but it’s strong enough that it would take the best part of a year for me to have it under control. I’m not keen on being isolated for that length of time. But Sventés…well, you guys are more human-like. It takes you less time to gain control.”

I could see where this was going. “You’re wondering if I’ll Turn you?”

Biting her lip, she nodded. “I’d rather be a Sventé.”

There were a number of potential issues with her request. “Have you spoken to Antonio about this? If I’m honest, I don’t think he’s going to want any vampire other than him to Turn you.” It would be hard for him to know that she had a blood-link with another vampire. I certainly hadn’t liked knowing Jared was linked to Magda but ding dong the witch was now dead.

“I know it might offend him. That was why I wanted to ask you first. It’s not worth even bringing it up to him if it’s not something you would be prepared to do – I’ll have offended him for no reason. Have you Turned anyone before?”

“No. Until I came to The Hollow, I hadn’t been living the kind of life that I’d happily bring someone else into.” The biggest issue at play here, however, was that I was no longer a Sventé. I was a hybrid. And anyone I Turned would become like me. That was if it even worked. For all I knew, I wasn’t able to Turn anyone, considering my new genetic status wasn’t natural for vampires. But that wasn’t something I could reveal to Lucy.

Aside from all that…“Really, though, I’ve never wanted to Turn someone, and I’m not sure that I ever will. The idea has just never appealed to me. It’s a big responsibility to begin a line…a little like beginning a family.” Ruling alongside Jared would bring me enough responsibilities. “And my being linked to someone else would most likely drive Jared mental.”

Lucy gave me a half smile, though she was clearly disappointed. “I understand.”

“If I were you, I wouldn’t talk to anyone else about your reservations. It’s something that you and Antonio need to work out between yourselves. He’d never force you to be a Keja if he thought that it would make you unhappy. Trust him to do what’s right for you. And trust me when I say that communication is really important if you’re going to be Bound to someone.”

“You’re right.” Seeing that Jared was returning, Lucy quickly stood. “Thanks, Sam. I really appreciate you hearing me out. And thanks for the advice.” Then she was gone. Hmm. Clearly Jared did intimidate her.

Frowning, Jared tipped his head in the direction of a quickly retreating Lucy. “What was all that about?”

“Girl stuff.”

He abruptly pulled me out of my seat and into his arms, grinning. “In other words, mind my own business?”

“Something like that.” Noticing that his irises were glowing red, I narrowed my eyes. “Why do I have the feeling that your thoughts have turned X-rated?”

His grin turned devilish as one hand slowly glided down the bare skin of my back that was revealed by the dress. “You know…I’ve always wanted to f**k you on the beach.” He ground the hard bulge in his pants against me.

Intriguing, but…“It’s not happening while there are witnesses.”

“No, it’s not. No one gets to see this body but me. It’s all mine. But it will happen soon.” He tugged on my bottom lip with his teeth. Taking advantage of my gasp, he swept his tongue into my mouth. The kiss was slow and leisurely, teasing me and coaxing me into wanting more. It worked. “Let’s go home.”

I had no objections, although…“It would be rude to leave my own birthday meal early.”

“Why? We did the same thing at the after-party of our Binding ceremony. Plus, everybody’s eaten and most of them are” He cut himself off and released a low growl as something behind me caught his attention.

I swivelled my head…and groaned at the sight of Collins and Eloise heading for us. “My evening is now complete.”

As they stopped beside us, Collins smiled at me, though it was forced. “Happy birthday, Commander Parker.”

“Thank you.” I was surprised I didn’t shudder. Even if he hadn’t been making my life so hard, the slimy sod still would have made me feel uncomfortable.

Collins’ smile faded as he looked at Jared. He gave him the tiniest nod. “Commander Michaels.” He’d somehow made that sound like a profanity.

“Collins.” And Jared had done the same.

Eloise raked her gaze over Jared, standing a little too close to him for comfort as she played with her hair – something she did often. “Hmm, you’re looking very smart tonight, Jared. Weren’t you wearing that shirt the night we first met?”

What a little bitch. I knew that he hadn’t worn it then because I was the one who’d bought him that shirt. Obviously she was looking to piss me off on my own birthday and potentially ruin the night – surprise, surprise. Sadly, it was working.

Most likely sensing that, Jared kissed my forehead and soothingly caressed my back. He tossed Eloise an annoyed glance. “Since my memory of that night is pretty vague, I really couldn’t say.” Well that made me smile…particularly as it looked like steam might come out of her ears at any moment.

Collins held his hand out to me. “Perhaps you could join me for a dance, Commander Parker.”

Jared answered for me. “Not even in an alternate dimension.”

I had to wonder if the bloke was suicidal – seriously, who asked to dance with another person’s mate when said person hated them? And why was there such calculation in Collins’ beady eyes? Had Eloise asked him to separate Jared and me so that she could talk to him alone? It seemed more likely to be that than for Collins to be in a suicidal mood.

“I didn’t ask you, I asked Commander Parker.” Collins raised an imperious brow at Jared. “Do you always make her decisions for her?”

Apparently he was in a suicidal mood. Before Jared slit his throat, I quickly intervened. Jared, he’d love to get a rise from you. Don’t give him the satisfaction.

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