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  • Home > Cynthia Eden > Once Bitten Twice Burned     

    CHAPTER ONE

    Betrayed.

    The knowledge burned through Ryder Duncan’s gut like acid, burned almost as much as the horrible, consuming hunger that had gnawed at him over the months he’d been held captive in this hell. The hunger that still ate at him.

    He paced his cell. Ten feet wide. Twelve feet long. He’d paced this same path over and over again.

    And he couldn’t f**king get out.

    His hands punched into the nearest wall. The walls of his prison were all made with heavy, thick stone, and even his enhanced strength couldn’t break through them. Though he’d sure tried his hardest to punch his way out. For his trouble, he’d gotten broken and bloody knuckles.

    Blood.

    Without fresh blood to fuel his body, he was just growing weaker every day. At this point, Ryder knew he was operating on instinct. Primitive drive.

    For someone like him, the most primitive drive was bloodlust.

    Ryder stilled when he heard the sound of footsteps approaching his cell. Guards. Coming by to taunt him. If they would just make the mistake of stepping into his cell, getting close enough for him to touch . . .

    I’d drain them dry.

    His fangs were fully extended in his mouth. The hunger was too intense for anything else. Some vamps could go for days without feeding, no problem.

    He could handle days.

    He couldn’t handle weeks. Months. The bastards were starving him, and starvation was one very painful and cruel way to kill a vampire.

    He clenched his fists and turned away from the door. He didn’t want the guards to see how close to breaking he was. If they saw, they would be afraid, and then they’d never step inside his cage.

    The footsteps grew closer. He tried to calm his rushing heartbeat so that he could focus on the prey that approached, but the frantic thunder echoing in his ears wouldn’t slow down.

    When he got out of his prison, he’d make his betrayer pay. Not an easy death. One that took so very long.

    A bright light flashed on above him, and Ryder held himself perfectly still. He knew what the light meant. The humans outside were watching him through their two-way mirror. He turned his head, the move taking a strange amount of effort, and Ryder glanced at that mirror.

    He’d tried to shatter it. Hadn’t worked.

    The men who’d built this place had known just how to supernatural-proof their prison.

    “How are you feeling, Ryder?” a voice asked, one tinged with the slightest hint of the South. He knew that voice. Dr. Richard Wyatt. The warden of this hell.

    Hell was a so-called research facility—the Genesis Facility.

    Humans thought the supernaturals inside this place had volunteered to be test subjects. Day and night, experiments were performed on them. The experiments that were supposed to help good old Uncle Sam develop a bigger, stronger fighting force—before Uncle Sam’s enemies created that force and beat ’em to the punch.

    Maybe some of the supernaturals had been stupid enough to volunteer as guinea pigs. Ryder hadn’t volunteered. He’d been tricked. Betrayed. Drugged. He’d woken in this cell, been kept prisoner for too long, and he wanted out.

    One way or another, he would get his freedom back, even if he had to kill every guard in the place in order to get it.

    “Come in,” Ryder growled back to Wyatt. “And I’ll show you.” He’d been longing to rip out Wyatt’s throat.

    The doctor laughed. “I’m afraid that’s not possible, but I am growing concerned for you.”

    Bullshit. The doctor was f**king Frankenstein—one who was obsessed with experimenting on the monsters who were already in the world.

    But soon enough, those monsters would be coming for him.

    Ryder had the sadistic prick marked for death.

    “I’ve never seen a vampire go so long without food. Most die of starvation long before this point.”

    And there was a tidbit most humans didn’t know. Folks usually thought you had to stake a vamp to kill him. Or behead him. But those were the fast ways to die. If you wanted a vamp to suffer, you made him go without blood. Slow starvation. He’d wither before your eyes.

    I’m not withering.

    Because he wasn’t your average vamp. Wyatt had realized that, so the real games were probably about to begin.

    “How is it that you’re still standing?” Wyatt wanted to know with that annoying, clinical curiosity of his.

    “Come in,” Ryder invited again as he snapped his teeth together. “Find out.”

    Silence. Then, “Open the door,” Wyatt ordered, and Ryder blinked, stunned. They were opening his cell door? His muscles trembled in preparation. The first person to come through that door was already dead, the fool just didn’t know it. He could move fast, so fast, now that the drugs were out of his system. He’d have his teeth in the guard’s neck within seconds. And as soon as he got that blood in him . . .

    I’ll come for you, Wyatt.

    Metal grated as the door opened.

    “I don’t want you to starve,” Wyatt’s voice explained from the speaker above Ryder’s head. “Your death would teach me nothing new. So I’m giving you sustenance. Try not to damage her too much.”

    Her?

    Ryder whirled around and lunged for the prey at his door. But it wasn’t a guard who came inside. No, the guard shoved the woman over the threshold even while the man—a sweating, balding mass of fear—shot backward and slammed the heavy door shut again as quickly as he could.

    Ryder’s hands curled around her arms. The scent of fresh flowers surrounded him and the woman—tall, slim—tilted her head back as she stared up at him in absolute horror.

    “Don’t hurt me,” she whispered. “Please.”

    He could already taste her blood. His hands tightened around her arms. Ryder hadn’t expected . . .

    He could hear the throb of her blood. Drink it. Drain her.

    If he put his mouth on her, Ryder wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop.

    And, Wyatt, damn him, he knew that.

    Ryder’s gaze raked her face. Wide, scared eyes. Dark brown. Deep. Golden skin, skin that looked as if it had been kissed by the sun. She had delicate features, a curving chin, high cheekbones, and a small nose. Her lips were trembling, full, tinted the faintest pink.

    His gaze dropped to her neck. A lovely neck, with the pulse pounding so frantically.

    Her hands slammed into his chest. “Don’t.”

    “Go right ahead, Ryder,” Wyatt’s voice droned, like a father giving a child permission to play with a favorite toy.

    She’s a human, not a toy.

    Even though he knew plenty of vampires who thought humans were just playthings—good for food and f**king—that wasn’t the way Ryder thought. Not anymore.

    She shook her head, sending the heavy curtain of her hair—brown but shot with red highlights—over her shoulders. “Mister, you’ve got some real big teeth, and I’d appreciate it if you kept them away from me.”

    Her voice was husky, low, and sexy. It whispered with an accent he’d heard before, down in New Orleans. Smoky. Rolling.

    “Please,” she said again, as her hands pushed against his chest.

    But he couldn’t let her go. Ryder inhaled again. She smelled so good. He knew she’d taste even better. “Just a few sips,” Ryder told her because he was past the point of pulling away. The hunger was too strong. It wasn’t the man who wanted her blood. It was the beast who had no control.

    She yelped and kicked out at him.

    He barely felt the blows.

    “Take as much as you need, Ryder,” the doctor’s satisfied voice told him. “She’s all yours.”

    He grabbed the woman, twisted, and forced her back against the right wall. They were across from that damn two-way mirror, and his bigger body easily shielded hers, blocking her from Wyatt’s view. “I’m . . . sorry.” He barely managed to grit the words, but he had to say them. He hated her fear. Hated that he was the one who made her afraid.

    She stopped struggling. “Don’t be sorry, just let me go.”

    The thunder of her blood was the best music he’d ever heard. “Haven’t . . . fed . . . too long.”

    “I’m not your midnight snack.” Her words were brave, but he saw the fear in her eyes. “I’m a person, dammit! Now let me go.”

    He couldn’t. His head lowered toward her throat. “I’ll hold on to my . . . control.” Ryder hoped the words weren’t a lie. “I just need a little . . . blood.”

    There was nowhere for her to run. She was pinned to the thick stone behind her and trapped with him in front of her. But she shoved her head back against the stone as she tried to put a feeble distance between them, and, unfortunately for her, that move just had the effect of exposing more of her throat to him.

    “You can’t be real,” she whispered. “Your teeth . . . your eyes . . . none of this is real. They drugged me. I’m hallucinating.”

    If only. Poor lady. She’d probably had no clue about the monsters that walked in this world, not until Wyatt had tossed her into hell. “Just . . . hold still. It’ll be . . . over soon.”

    Just a few sips.

    “No!” She screamed, then she rammed against him, a blow that was surprisingly powerful. Powerful enough to send him stumbling back five feet.

    His ass hit the floor because he’d never expected that kind of attack from her. Humans weren’t strong enough to toss vamps around like that.

    The intercom crackled. “Ah, now, Sabine, that wasn’t part of the deal. I told you that if you provided nourishment for my guest, then we’d discuss your freedom.”

    Her chest heaved. A nice chest, he noticed, even through the rage and hunger. Full br**sts.

    “I’m not nourishment!” she yelled as she glared into the two-way mirror. “You can’t do this to me! I have rights!”

    “Your rights don’t exactly apply here.” Wyatt didn’t sound concerned. Why would he? The guy had the might of the U.S. military backing his little “experiments.”

    The worst f**king mistake the paranormals had ever made was coming out of the closet. But some idiots just couldn’t keep quiet. They’d shown themselves to humans. Gotten tired of living by the old ways—or hell, maybe even technology had been to blame. Too much advancement. Cameras everywhere. Eyes always watching.

    It was hard to hide the beast inside when Big Brother was always spying on you.

    So they’d come out, and now there were freaks like Wyatt who thought they could harness their paranormal power. Use science to make magic into their weapon of choice.

    “If you aren’t cooperating, Ms. Acadia, we can always take you back to your cell.” Wyatt’s voice lowered and he said, “Guard, retrieve—”

    “I don’t want my cell! I want to go home! I want—”

    Ryder pounced. In an instant, he had her in his arms. He twisted her hands and secured them behind her body. She was struggling, definitely using more than just human strength, but he was prepared for her this time. She wasn’t getting away.

    “I won’t hurt you,” he told her. And Ryder hoped the words weren’t a lie. Sometimes, the bite could bring a woman pleasure. A better release than sex.

    Sometimes, the bite could bring pain. Worse than torture.

    He didn’t want her to hurt.

    His mouth was desert dry. His fangs fully extended and aching. He could already taste her.

    I just want her.

    His tongue swept over her neck. Sampled, then he sank his teeth into her throat.

    The woman—Sabine—gasped against him. Her body arched into his as the first tender drops of her blood spilled onto his tongue.

    “Make sure the recording is operational.” Wyatt’s voice seemed to come from far away. “I want to get every bit of this.”

    But Wyatt and what he wanted didn’t matter. Sabine’s blood was on Ryder’s tongue, and her blood was like nothing he’d ever tasted in all of his years of existence. Not just warm—the blood was hot. Spicy. Rich with flavor. He wanted to lap it up, to savor it.

    To gorge on it.

    His hands hardened on her. He’d meant to take just a few drops.

    He wanted to lift his head away. Wanted to so badly, but her blood was too good.

    He drank more, greedy now. Desperate. Her blood flowed through him, heating his body from the inside out and sending tendrils of power pulsing through him. Some humans tasted of wine. Some of the euphoria that came from drugs.

    No one had ever tasted like her. Life. Sex. Pleasure. Everything he wanted was right there, in her blood.

    He drank deeper.

    “S-stop.” Her voice was weaker than before.

    He didn’t want to stop. He’d looked for this—he’d always wanted this taste. Craved it, when he hadn’t even known what he was missing. His body seemed to be growing stronger, the muscles tensing, with every drop of her blood that he took.

    She sagged against him, and Ryder scooped her into his arms, holding her even when her head fell to the side and her breath rattled in her chest.

    More.

    More.

    At first, he thought the urging was just inside of himself, but then he realized that bastard Wyatt was the one urging him on.

    And the woman . . . Sabine wasn’t fighting him any longer. She barely seemed to be breathing.

    He jerked his head away. Stared down at her in disbelief. He hadn’t taken that much, had he?

    But he couldn’t remember how long he’d been drinking. He only knew—

    I still want more.

    He lifted her higher against his chest. Held her cradled in his arms. There was no more weakness for him. Only strength. But she . . .

    Her lashes were closed.

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