Chapter no 44

The Serpent and the Wings of Night

Raihn met my kiss with so much fervor that I found myself questioning which of us had moved first. His arms folded around me, pulling me flush against him,

and the two of us stumbled until my back hit the wall. His mouth sought mine like he wanted to learn every part of me—claiming my lips, top and then bottom, his tongue warm and soft and demanding and giving.

A groan rose from deep in his throat—it shuddered through my entire body. I was pinned between him and the wall. His hand ran down my side, and I leaned into that touch. Not enough. Still, not enough. Whatever spark we had ignited in the cave hadn’t been put out, only dampened. It roared back to life hotter and deadlier than before. And right now, I wanted nothing more than to burn alive in it.

The hand that slid down my side kept going, flattening around my hip, then my backside, and then suddenly my legs were lifted, parted around his hips, and the hard press of him between my thighs made my breath hitch.

Fuck. I needed more than this, this time. Needed less between us. I needed it so badly I didn’t even care that it meant exposing myself to him, too.

His kiss slowed, deepened, shifting from frantic to tender.

I pressed my hand between us, down his abdomen, down to the stiff length of him pressing at his pants.

Another groan. His lips smiled against mine. “Careful, princess.”

I kissed him—kissed that smile—because the idea of not doing so seemed sacrilegious.


“Because I don’t want to fuck you for the first time in an alleyway three feet from a pile of entrails.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Even if, embarrassingly, a part of me wanted him so much that I would have done it here, just to bury myself in a different primal pleasure. First blood, then sex. Maybe I was more vampire than I thought, after all.

But then his free hand cradled my cheek. His next kiss was different—gentle. It reminded me of the way he had kissed my throat in the cave. Like he cherished me.

My chest tightened. There was nothing vampiric about that. Nothing carnal and cold.

“Oraya, look at me.”

I opened my eyes. Our noses touched. The moonlight illuminated every little scar on his skin. His pupils were slightly slitted against it, the ring around them almost violet beneath the coldness of the light.

“Give me one honest thing,” he murmured. One honest thing.

The most terrible honest thing of all was that with Raihn, it was all honest—it always had been. He saw too much of me. Understood every complexity and senseless duality. I was honest even when I didn’t mean to be. He did not fear my darkness, nor pity my compassion.

And the truth was, the idea of dying without knowing him completely was torturous.

How could I say any of this? Did he want that kind of honesty? Was I even capable of wrenching it from my bleeding soul without unraveling all my stitches?

“We’ll probably die tomorrow,” I said. “Show me something worth living for.”

A momentary pause, as if something about this response had hurt. Then a faint curl to his lips.

“Pressure.” He kissed me again—this time not a demand, but a promise. “I think I’m up to it, though. We’ll fly. We need to beat the dawn.”



RAIHN STOLE kisses from me as we flew, as we made it into the Moon Palace just in time for the sun to crest the horizon. They were sweet and tender, punctuated with little grazes of his teeth that promised the harder edge to our morning. By the time we returned to the apartment, my heart was beating fast behind my ribs, my breath rapid. I felt oddly dizzy—every sense dulled by the intensity of my want and sharp with anticipation of what it might be like to fulfill it. I hadn’t even been able to admit to myself how many times, and in what great detail, I had imagined what it might be like to taste Raihn, to touch him, to feel him inside of me.

But reality, of course, was different than fantasies. More treacherous, and more exhilarating.

The door closed. I leaned against the wall, watching Raihn as he bolted it. Even the flex of the muscles of his forearm was beautiful, each tendon working like a string in an orchestra, elegant and graceful.

It was almost embarrassing, how stunning I found him.

He finished locking the door and turned to me. For a long moment, he said nothing. I wondered if he was thinking everything that I was. Imagining what we might do with our final night with each other.


Mother, how I had avoided thinking about that word. Everything that had happened over these last few days had chased it from my mind. But the truth was unavoidable.

The last trial was tomorrow night. Raihn and I were both finalists.

It was very, very rare that more than one contestant survived the Kejari.

Raihn was the first to break our suspended stillness. He approached me, fingertips running down the bridge of my nose, then my mouth, then my jaw.

“What’s that face for, princess?” I could not lie to him.

So instead I said, “Kiss me.”

And—Nyaxia fucking bless him—he did.

I could melt under this kiss. I wanted to wind myself around him the way ivy claims stone. I opened my lips to him, encircled my arms around his neck. His fingers clenched around my hair, pulling just a bit.

His hand paused there, thumb rubbing my hair, kiss slowing, and I wondered if he was thinking about it, too— thinking about the night of the feast, and my hair around his fingers.

I didn’t want him to let me go then, either. Maybe I realized in that moment that I never would, even if I was too terrified to admit it then.

Maybe I was too terrified to admit it now, too.

My teeth closed around his lip, coaxing a satisfying hiss from his throat. His hands roamed over my body—down my back, cupping my backside, lingering at my upper thighs, like he wanted to memorize the shape of me. His hands were so large that the pressure of his fingertips ventured agonizingly close to the core of my need. Still not close enough.

His lips slowly curled, just as his fingers did, inching ever-slightly higher—deeper.

“Your armor’s too thick.”

What was it about him that made me so bold? I kissed him, then slid my hand down, over his chest, his abdomen, down over his length. Mother, he was big. Even through the layers of his clothing, he responded to my touch as easily as I responded to his. It was the most incredible, powerful thing, feeling him twitch under my hands. Listening to that little shudder in his breath.

“Yours too,” I whispered against his lips.

It should have been frightening to me, to know that he wanted me this fucking much.

It wasn’t. Instead, it made my own desire maddening.

He drew me closer, his hand tightening in my hair, and claimed my mouth in a kiss so sudden and passionate that everything but him withered away. He lowered himself, released my hair in favor of cupping my backside with both hands, and lifted me. I kissed his mouth, his jaw, his throat, as he carried me into his room, and the two of us fell onto the bed. His broad form crawled over mine. I freed my hands so I could work at his jacket. It was a complicated thing, all buttons and straps, and especially difficult to navigate when I was feeling around blindly. After a few seconds, he laughed against my lips.

“Having trouble?”

He pulled away enough to look at me—and Goddess, I mourned his mouth already—but before I could complain, the beauty of him stopped me short. It was now morning, and though the curtains were drawn, the barest hint of sunshine slipped through the fabric and outlined his silhouette in a faint kiss of gold. I’d never realized before just how much red was in his hair, or in his wings, which were still out. I touched them without thinking, prompting a sharp inhale from Raihn. They were softer than I imagined they might be.

He gently pulled my hand away. “We’ll save that for another time.”

“Does it… tickle?”

He chuckled. “In a way.”

If he expected this answer to dissuade me, it very much did not. But disappointedly, with a puff of smoke, his wings were gone. And he leaned down as if to kiss me again, then paused, drinking me in the way I just had him.

His hands went to the button of my armor. “May I?” I swallowed.

I wanted this—Mother, I wanted it, the slick ache between my legs promised that. Yet something about this made me strangely nervous, my heart fluttering against the inside of my ribs like a captured bird. I didn’t want to feel that way. But the memory of the one and only time I had done this still seized me, a map carved into my body that I couldn’t erase.

“You first,” I whispered.

Raihn sat up. And slowly, button by button, his armor fell open, sheets of battle-worn leather parting to reveal the most stunning body I had ever seen. As he shifted the coat from his shoulders, I watched the light play over the surface of his flesh, and I was fucking jealous of it—jealous of the way it got to pool in the crevices and dips, the way it kissed the raised texture of his scars, the way it shuddered over dark hair at his chest and below his navel, disappearing beneath the low-slung waistband of his trousers.

I had stopped breathing. He caught my eye and smirked in an infuriating way that told me he knew exactly what I was thinking.

Oh, fuck him.

I rolled off the bed and rose.

“And where, exactly, are you going?” he asked. “Nowhere.”

I stood with my back to him and worked at the buttons of my jacket. Then the laces of my pants. I let my jacket fall to the ground first, then peeled off my trousers.

Raihn had shut up. I turned around.

He had gone so still. It was rare that he embodied that stillness—vampire stillness, the kind that made the world go silent. He drank me in, starting at my face and moving down. I could feel that stare as if it was his touch— caressing the scars on my throat, the curve of my clavicle. I could feel it pause at my breasts, peaked with my arousal, covered by the tips of my black hair. It slid down my stomach, traced the angry-pink slashes from the trial. Landed at the apex of my thighs. His nostrils flared and eyes went hard, and I wondered if he could sense it, smell it—how much I needed him.

When his eyes came back to mine, he looked like a man undone. “Come here,” he whispered. Pleaded.

I returned to the bed. And I couldn’t help it—the moment he was in reach, my hands were all over him. I touched him like the light had, tracing every line of muscle, every scar, every trail of hair. His mouth was on mine immediately, his hands on my waist, my breasts, making me gasp with every new expanse of skin.

“Beautiful isn’t enough,” he rasped as he pulled away from my mouth. “Fuck, Oraya, you’re—I—”

He gave up on words. Instead, he lay me down and his lips moved to my throat, soft over my flesh. He lingered at the scar where he had drank from me—and the one beneath it.

Then, slowly, he moved down. His fingers circled my breast, thumb rolling over my nipple. When he lowered his head to me and brushed his tongue over that sensitive peak, my eyes rolled back.

I didn’t know it was possible to feel this much. Want this much. It hadn’t been like this last time. But then again, we’d both been barely more than children. And it had been…


I didn’t mean for my thoughts to wander to that night. Just as I didn’t mean for my fingertips to brush my throat, and the older scar there.

Raihn raised his head, a wrinkle of concern between his brows.

“Don’t stop,” I breathed.

But he just looked at me, lips thin, as if a thought had just occurred to him.

“I can’t believe I didn’t—Oraya, is this… is this your first time?”

He didn’t ask it with any judgment, only genuine concern. His hand fell over mine, his thumb rubbing my palm.

“No,” I said.

The truth, even though in some ways it felt like a lie.

Raihn’s stare slipped to my throat—to that scar, the same one he had kissed in that cave.

He knew. He understood.

His breath was warm over that mark. “Is that when you got this?”

I squeezed my eyes shut and was rewarded with a vivid image of a different night, a different man, a different breath on my throat.



“No big story. He… he just couldn’t control himself.”

Raihn didn’t believe my forced indifference for a second. His lips kissed one silvery-white jagged line, then the other. He withdrew, looking into my eyes hard, like he wanted to watch to make sure I understood what he was about to say.

“You’re safe, Oraya. I need you to know that.”

You’re safe.

“I know.” And I meant it. Because from the first time he told me those words, I believed him.

“I want you to enjoy this.” His lips curled, and he shook his head, immediately correcting himself. “No. More than

that. I want you to—fuck, there are no words for what I want.”

“I’m not some naive virgin.”

Sure, my last sexual experience had ended… poorly. But a girl could do a remarkable amount of experimentation on herself. Still, looking at Raihn’s body—looking at the way his trousers strained—I had to admit this seemed like it would be very different.

“Oh, I know. No one could call you a shrinking violet.” He kissed me, long and slow.

“I just want you to know,” he murmured, against my mouth, “that you are in control. And we can take all the time we need to make sure you’re ready.”

His fingertips brushed the curve of my inner knee. My thighs opened, and that touch wandered higher, my breath growing shallower with every inch.

“Time?” I barely managed to speak. “We have one night, Raihn. And then we die. So you’d better be a fucking amazing lay.”

“Oh, don’t you worry.” He ventured farther up my thigh

—still not as high as I wanted it. My heartbeat quickened as his lips moved slowly over mine. When his fingertips brushed the wetness of my folds, he shuddered too, in a way that I found very satisfying. “I’ve… done a lot of thinking about this.”

Did I imagine he sounded… a little self-conscious?

“A lot of thinking about you.” Another kiss. “What I would do to you.” Another. “What you might sound like.” Another—and his fingers again stroked the yearning at the apex of my thighs. “I have all kinds of experiments to conduct.”

He pulled away from me abruptly, his mouth moving down my body. He kissed my breast, my stomach, the crest of my hip. And then he gracefully stepped backwards off the bed, kneeled before it, and turned me so that my legs

hung over the edge—as he positioned himself between them.

I propped myself up on my elbows, watching. My arousal and my fear warred with each other. I found myself stiffening, suddenly very aware of how exposed I was. I was naked. My blades were across the room. And Raihn—a predator, with a bite much sharper than mine—had me spread before him, helpless.

He opened my thighs a little more, as if he wanted to observe more of me. The sight of him there, kneeling between my legs, made something primal within me flutter with desire.

His gaze dragged back up to mine, reluctantly, as if he had to force himself to look away.

“Let me taste you.”

I let out an almost-laugh. “You already have.” “And even then, I was thinking about this.”

His hand roamed up my stomach. Mine met it without me telling it to. His thumb swept over the back of my hand

—reminding me, I knew, that even though his teeth were so close to the most vulnerable parts of me, I was still in control.

“Yes,” I whispered.

I couldn’t take my eyes off him as those perfect lips curled, or as his head bowed before me.

But at the stroke of his tongue, I threw my head back.

From the first touch, it was demanding, giving. I thought he might tease me just because he knew how much I wanted him. Instead, even the first stroke was firm and definitive, caressing the length of my slit, ending with a pause at my clit that had my hips bucking.

His hands tightened around my thighs, pulling me closer to his face. He let out a groan that vibrated through the most sensitive parts of me.

“Better. Better than your blood.”

Better, I agreed, blindly. Better than anything. Better than everything.

I had no snarky retort to this. No sharp comeback. Only the blind, delirious desire that he never stop doing this, ever.

I opened my thighs wider, just as his lips met me again.

His tongue was thorough, deliberate. Soft where I needed it. Hard where I needed it. My body bowed against him, with each stroke the tension of my past unraveling in favor of wanton ecstasy.

I had imagined what this might be like, the night he drank from me. But he was right. This was better. His mouth moved against me with the same urgency, the same reverence. My hands clutched fistfuls of the bedspread, every muscle growing taut in anticipation of the next kiss, the next stroke. His hands were so tight around the pale flesh of my thighs that surely his fingernails were leaving marks. Good. I wanted him to.

My breath was rapid and serrated. The final vestiges of my self-control kept me from making a sound save for a few whimpering moans. But soon, my hips rolled against him in time with his tongue.

When he lingered at my most sensitive nerves, brushing his teeth against me, the shock of pleasure was so intense that his name ripped from my throat.

Oh Goddess. Oh Mother. I was on the precipice, ready to fall, and everything shattered except for—

He stopped.

I let out a frustrated gasp. I lifted my head to see him peering at me. My chest was heaving, bare breasts rising and falling.

“Say that again,” he rasped, “when you come for me.”

This time, when he lowered his lips to me again, he slid two fingers inside of me—giving me everything, everything, everything, with one long, forceful stroke of his tongue.

The new combination of sensations was too much.

Pleasure consumed me. My back arched violently against the bed.

And I gave him exactly what he wanted. I moaned his name again, again, again.

I was panting when the world came into focus again. The first thing I heard was Raihn chuckling, his lips against the sensitive flesh on my inner thigh.

“Fucking incredible.”

Fucking incredible, I agreed.

But not as incredible as it would feel to have all of him inside me. To reduce him to the whimpering mess that he just made of me.

I sat up. My entire body felt soft and loose, the last of my tension erased beneath his tongue. Before Raihn could move, I threw my legs off the bed and pushed him flat to the floor.

“Oof,” he grunted, as I crawled over him. “I go through all the trouble of bringing you to the bed, too.”

But he wasn’t complaining. Already, his hands roamed over me, tracing the curve of my thighs as they spread over his hips, up my waist, lingering at my breasts. The deeper desire for him tightened in my core, more intense than ever now that my nervousness no longer tempered it.

I lowered myself against him and drew in a deep inhale, without even meaning to. His scent hit me like a lungful of cigar smoke, and the taste of his skin—the taste of the sky

—left me dizzy.

Raihn’s fingers gently tangled in my hair as I trailed down, following that widening path of soft dark hair, to the waistband of his trousers. His leathers were thick, and cut close to his body, but his length still strained admirably against it. It looked a bit painful.

He stopped breathing as I worked at the buttons and laces. Hell, I did, too. And when that fabric fell open and his cock was at last liberated, I let it out at once.

I didn’t know it was possible to find such a thing so stunning, like a work of art. It was as big and powerful as the rest of him—actually, the size of it made me faintly nervous. And yet, it was also so elegant, every shade of flesh exquisitely complementary, the head peeking from a graceful sweep of tan skin.

When my fingers wrapped around it—Mother, his skin was so soft compared to the unyielding hardness of his desire—it twitched, the bead of moisture at its tip swelling.

I watched it, transfixed, then lowered my head and licked that moisture away.

Raihn let out a ragged exhale, fingers tangling in my hair.

I lifted my eyes. He had propped himself up on his elbows, watching me with his lips parted, pupils dilated. He didn’t blink. Didn’t move.

Maybe it was in the way he looked at me right now that made me understand exactly how much he wanted me. I had him.

After a moment, his mouth twisted into a rueful smirk. He knew exactly what I was doing. Because everything with us was a game of power and vulnerability, give and take.

My mouth curled, too.

“Should I make you beg?” I brushed my lips over him again.

He made a sound somewhere between a hiss and a chuckle. “And when I’ve been so generous with you, too. You already had me on my knees.” Then the smile faded, his eyes sharp as my tongue swept over him once more. “I need to be inside you. I’m sick of waiting.”

I was, too.

I sat up, swung over him. Positioned myself so that his rigid length lay right against my core, right between my thighs. At the first touch of his silken skin to my wet folds, we both drew in gasps.

His hands gripped my hips, his eyes never leaving mine. “I would beg,” he murmured. “For you, I would. You

have fucking destroyed me, Oraya. Do you know that?”

His whisper was hoarse and raw. Too raw to be anything but the truth. And my own truth swelled in my throat, too much for words.

I would beg for him, too. Break for him. Cut myself open like an animal for dissection. He held me open that way, not just my body but my soul, too.

I would let him think that this was nothing but pleasure. Nothing but a rebellious daughter’s revenge against her father or a final carnal indulgence before near-certain death. I would let him think that we were just fucking.

Or at least, I would not make him acknowledge the fact that he surely saw otherwise in my face, too, just as I saw it in his.

I reached between us and aligned him with my entrance. Even the first press of his tip into me was enough to make my breath hitch. His fingers tightened at my hips—his desire, and his steadying guidance. The grip said, wordlessly, You are in control.

I wanted to take him hard and deep, but my body had other plans. He was so much bigger than I was used to. I had to lower myself slowly, inch by inch, allowing myself to adjust as he filled me.

Yet what little pain there was disappeared beneath a dizzying wave of lust once I finally had all of him. We were so close together, so tightly linked. I could swear I could feel every pulse of his blood, and he was buried so deep inside of me that surely he felt every throb of mine, too.

It was so much. Too much. It was—I couldn’t—

“You alright?” he whispered. His hand flattened against my thigh, a comforting stroke, and I realized that I was shaking, overwhelmed as every muscle contracted and responded to his presence within me.

My only response was to circle my hips, fractured moans escaping both of us even at that small movement.

Oh, Mother. This was going to end me. It was going to fucking annihilate me.

I pressed my palm to his stomach. Felt the taught, trembling muscles of his abdomen. My eyes locked with his.

“You’re holding back.”

His silence was my answer. Slowly, I rose again, so that only his tip was left within me, never looking away from him—from the feral desire in his eyes, the way his teeth closed around his lip.

“Don’t,” I whispered, and took his entire length in one sudden thrust.

The tension, the tenderness, shattered into a million pieces. Fucking him slowly was agonizing—fucking him hard was devastating. He released a growled curse as he grabbed my waist, helping me through each stroke, his hips rising and falling in time with mine. I didn’t know how it was possible that he seemed to get deeper with each one, branding every wall within me, every muscle.

I asked him not to hold back, and he didn’t.

His thrusts were deep and vicious, pistoning in and out of me with a force that left me incoherent. But it wasn’t enough—I wanted more. So much of my flesh still screamed for him. As if he read my mind, he sat up, seizing my mouth in a kiss just as fierce and thorough. The change of angle forced him to abandon speed for depth, moving slower, harder.

The sound that escaped my throat didn’t even sound human. He rolled his hips again, mine meeting the movement on nothing but instinct, and I realized the sound was a plea, begging for I-didn’t-even-know-what.

“Yes, Oraya,” he growled. “Fuck, yes. Anything.”

I clawed at him, my fingernails digging into his back— surely leaving marks—our kisses wild and messy and

fighting for dominance. Every sensation sent me hurtling towards a pleasure beyond my control—his lips, his tongue, his skin, his chest pressed to my breasts, his hands gripping my hair, each torturous stroke of his cock.

Pleasure shot up my spine. My mouth escaped his, kissed his jaw, his ear, his neck. He gripped my hips and levied an especially powerful thrust, one that forced a curse from my lips, and I closed my teeth around the perfect flesh of his throat, tongue darting out against the iron warmth of his blood.

He groaned, his hold on me tightening. He was close—I was close. His hands roamed my back, my ass, my hips, my breasts—like he wanted all of me, and couldn’t decide what he most wanted to touch as he went.

I had to force myself away from his skin to look into his eyes.

“Say my name,” I gasped, echoing his words. “Say it when you come.”

He covered my words with his kiss, demanding, tongue claiming my mouth. I could feel his muscles coiling in time with mine—I knew what was coming. And as his lips moved to my throat, some distant part of me balked in memory of another moment, long ago.

But I was too far gone.

He drove deep into me, hard.

“Oraya.” He whispered it like a prayer against my skin. “Oraya, Oraya, Oraya.”

I cried out.

I felt his cock swell, twitch, as my walls contracted around him. Felt the warmth of him fill me, our hips wringing out the final waves of pleasure from each aftershock.

I didn’t fall back to earth so much as it all simply faded back. My senses returned to me in pieces. First the air rushing in and out of me with my heaving breaths. Then the

warm solid wall of Raihn’s chest. His hand rubbing my back.

He had leaned back to the floor, and I had gone with him, now limp on his chest.

I was a little surprised that I was able to move at all when I lifted my hand and brought it to my throat. I felt only the raised bump of my scar, and the damp remnant of his kiss, and nothing else.

“Fuck, Oraya,” he breathed. “Just… fuck.” His words from earlier echoed in my head: You have destroyed me.

He had destroyed me, too. Perhaps it was good that we would die tomorrow. Because I didn’t know how to remake myself after this.

I pushed myself up enough to look at him. His hair fanned out around his head on the dark wood floor. A certain contentedness had overtaken the typically-harsh lines of his expression—albeit, still, with a lingering shine of lust to his eyes. But there was something else there, too. Softer than lust, gentler, and yet far more dangerous.

A drip of black-red rolled down his throat. He touched it and let out a wry chuckle.

“Why am I not surprised that you were the one to draw blood?”

I licked my lips, tasting a residual drop. “Maybe I understand what you see in it.”

I meant it as a joke, and he laughed, but oddly enough, I did see the appeal. He tasted like he smelled. All of him— his blood, his skin, his mouth.

“So.” I eyed him. “How long before you can do that again?”

“Hmm.” Abruptly, he rolled over, dumping me to the floor. He grinned, his nose touching mine. His cock brushed the inside of my thigh—already hardening.

“One night. I don’t plan on wasting any of it. I have a list, remember.”

A list, I thought as he kissed me again, hard, and my arms fell around his neck, and I lost myself in him all over again.

A fucking list.

The most beautiful word in the Goddess-damned world.

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