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To Ride the Rain

From Book 3: Wherein romance blooms and fades

Lif was the first to stir just after sundown but Riana was the first to truly awaken. She blinked the sleep from her eyes and took a look around. Sighing in relief to be home, she wiggled deeper into the featherbed, content. Real healing only took place at home, starting with a sound sleep in one’s own bed.


"Hmmm," he mumbled from his place on the floor. He sat up a moment later, his eyes shining in the dark room.

"Can I tell you that's really spooky?"

"Close your eyes. I'll turn on the lamp." He waited for her to comply before rising to click on the bedside lamp. Lif squinted in the sudden glare, his eyes adjusting slowly.

"Can you see in the dark?" Riana asked as she patted the bed.

"Yes," he replied as he sat, "it's a hunting aid."

"You looked like a Hallowe’en decoration," she teased.

"No one has ever compared me to a Hallowe’en decoration before, Riana. I don't know how to respond."

"Oh, gosh, I did it again, didn't I?"

"No, I'm not insulted."

"Good, because I don't think it's a bad thing. I like Hallowe’en. Favoritist time next to Christmas." In the blink of an eye, Riana turned serious. "Did you have a good meal?"

Accustomed to her mercurial moods, Lif switched gears easily. "Yes. In fact, there is only one quart left."

"I'll call supply, Lif. Takes about twenty-four hours for regular delivery."

"That's fine."

"What's the longest you've gone without blood?"

"This is not exactly pillow talk, Riana," Lif said with a frown. He thought the exploratory sessions were over and done.

"Please. I'd like to know."

"Twenty-five days," he replied after delving into his memory.

"So this wasn't your limit."

"No, but being exposed to the sun twice didn't help," he pointed out with some impatience.

"You look healed."

"I'm as healed as stale blood can make me."

Stunned silence followed his candid words but Lif didn't retract the unvarnished statement or try to sugarcoat the truth. He waited, and after only a few moments he saw the Adjudicator's mind come online.

"Of course. Fresh blood is a panacea, like penicillin once was." Riana studied his face. "I didn't mean to turn this into another discovery session, Lif. I'm just still curious about you, and your personal history, even after all the talks we’ve had. Not the Adjudicator, but your best friend's sister. The woman who loves you."

Lif twisted his lips, annoyed with himself for losing patience. "You can ask me anything, Riana," he reminded them both, "but right now it still sounds like an interrogation."

Riana compressed her hands as if she were crumpling a sheet of paper into a ball. "Scientist’s mind closing down."

His voice low and raspy with the remnants of sleep, or perhaps an awakening passion, Lif asked, "What takes its place?"

She came to a sitting position; he leaned towards her until their lips were only inches apart, but he came no closer. Riana gazed into his eyes and dropped her lids, hiding whatever he might see there.

They were too close, the connection almost suffocating in its intensity. She moved back but Lif followed, keeping those same scant inches between them until her head hit the pillow; he hovered above her, taking in the breath she had released and giving it back on his exhale. As Riana raised her head, Lif met her halfway. The joining of their lips was explosive, a white hot flare of desire that slowly banked into glowing embers, not as flashy but just as hot. Like so many of their kisses, this one mixed a cocktail of incendiary passion with the illicit excitement of taboo; Riana found herself wanting more and dreading more at the same time.

With a deft twist of his hips, Lif positioned himself flat out above Riana, taking all the weight on his arms and knees, yet still touching Riana from chin to toes. The full body contact fanned the flames and Riana moaned and shifted, starting that timeless male chain reaction. Their hips moved together in a slow, sensual rhythm as Lif deepened the kiss. His tongue explored past her lips, caressed her palate, danced in perfect time with hers. Nudging her knees apart, Lif let Riana feel more of his weight. The moans of pleasure turned to whimpers of distress, and Riana pushed against his chest, fingers squeezed into fists. Lif rolled off her in an instant. She panted, her blood alight with unspent passion, tempered by cool terror.

Riana opened her eyes. Lif sat in the chair.

"You’re still afraid." His voice stabbed at her with an accusation she couldn't deny.

"Part of me is," Riana admitted in a whisper, her voice filled with defeat.

She began yet another apology but stopped when Lif raised a hand, a curt gesture that bespoke impatience and the darker emotion of anger. "Don't."

A burst of speed took him to the door and in the blink of an eye, he was gone and Riana was alone.

Lif didn't go far. Coming to a stop in the hallway, he gripped the railing overlooking the foyer and squeezed his eyes shut. He wished he could squeeze his ears shut as well. Her sobs shot right through him, burning a trail of pain, and his muscles jerked, but he couldn’t go back into the bedroom. His emotions were flailing, an alarming loss of control. Reaching deeply, struggling for calm, he gripped the railing until a section splintered in his hands. Lif stumbled down the stairs, blinded by grief and a surprising anger. His legs refused to cooperate, and he slid woodenly down the last half of the staircase. Her cries still reverberated in his brain and he pressed his hands to his ears as he staggered out the door of her house.

The scent of life came to him from the woods. Lif tried to run. He fell after only a few steps. He picked himself up and ran again, only to fall almost immediately. On hands and knees he plunged into the brush and pushed himself up a tree trunk. Brambles tore at his clothing, ripped at his skin, as he crashed through the old growth. Low bushes supported him until he came to a stop in a small clearing surrounded by tall trees. He stilled his trembling limbs and stood completely immobile.

He fell on the first animal to pass by, a coyote in its prime. They thrashed about for less than a minute, two predators where one had become prey. Lif caught the coyote in a choking grip and slowly the animal succumbed, weakened by the lack of air. Raising the coyote to his mouth, Lif let his fangs drop and he fed. The living blood suffused his limbs with power, healed the burns and scratches, replaced weakness with strength.

The madness ended abruptly and Lif put the coyote’s body gently aside. He stood to brush the dirt and leaves from his abused clothing, and pulled a twig from the neck of his T-shirt. The full moon painted the scene with stark light, allowing Lif a sharply revealing view of himself. He had to hold down hysterical laughter. At least there was no rain this time, Lif thought. He started back towards the lab, pine needles stinging the bare soles of his feet. Deep in thought he took very little notice of the discomfort.

This was the second time he had lost control. He was frightened by the intensity of the emotion that drove him to the hunt. Grief, he understood. Pain was an old friend. Anger was the alarming added element. He had not killed in anger, even an animal, in centuries, and now he had done that very thing twice in the span of mere weeks. That Riana could evoke such a sizzling anger in him, especially so close on the heels of a dazzling passion, was a dangerous surprise and the shock nearly paralyzed him again. He forced his legs to keep moving and he didn't stop until he stood unclothed in the shower, beneath a rainstorm of his own making.

Lif braced his hands against the tile wall and let the water beat down on him. Still, not even drawing breath, he remained beneath the spray until the water cooled, before twisting off the taps. Water dripped from his hair, traced the contours of his back and chest, rolled down his legs; he stood there until the warm air evaporated the last drops from his skin. At last, Lif took a deep breath and then another; he felt the splintered pieces of his bruised psyche snap back together.

He thought only briefly about returning to the house, but that would be a bad decision. Neither of them were ready for a confrontation. He was afraid of what he might say; he'd already been more harsh than he intended or ever was. Her tears were proof of that.

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