Her first thought was that the needle wasn’t clean. Then logic kicked in: she was human. There was no surer way to expose her secret than allow a stranger to take blood.
“No,” Lilith said flatly, looking at the needle, at the bead of blood on its tip. If she wasn’t already infected, that would do the trick. “I can’t.”
“Can’t?” The woman’s face darkened.
Silver stepped forward, his expression stern, and now that it wasn’t directed at her Lilith could enjoy the fear it incited. The woman muttered something, and within seconds someone knocked on the door, opening it without waiting for an answer.
A man stood in the doorway, lean and dark-haired, his skin a rich bronze. “You alright, Mel?” He had a warm voice, soothing. He was wearing simple clothes—low-riding trousers the colour of sand and a plain white top—but it only made Lilith more aware of her dirtied, ragged clothing.
The woman looked at Silver until he stepped back, then nodded warily.
“Everthing’s fine,” Amber said flatly. She turned to Mel. “If you want a pup’s blood, go ahead. Won’t do you any good though.”
Mel scanned Lilith. “Looks too old to be a pup.”
“Late bloomer,” Amber replied.
“Got pretty long hair, too,” Mel said, without taking her eyes off Lilith. “Past her shoulders.”
Lilith kept her mouth shut and played innocent, aware of the many eyes on her. The man in the door caught her gaze and winked, but that only made Silver glare more.
Amber sighed. “Haircut’s next on the list, if we ever manage to get out of here.” She put her arm down on the table. “Now, do you want another vial or not?”
“Blood’s blood,” the man in the doorway said. “Just take it, Mel.”
When she was done, Mel held up one of the vials and flicked the glass gently. “You heading over to the Where’s Inn later?”
Amber stood up, two fingers pressed against the needle mark on her arm. “Maybe.”
“I’ve got a message for Manda.”
Manda. That name again. The werewolves knew her—Silver knew her. Lilith glared at the floor, would have moved to the doorway had the man not still been standing there.
“Deliver your own messages,” Amber said.
“Your pack will want to hear this message, too.”
That made Amber pause. She glanced at Silver, then they both looked at Lilith.
“You stay,” Silver said to Amber. “We’ll go see the rooms.” To Lilith: “Come on.”
Of course: they didn’t want her to hear the message. It was for pack ears, and she would never be one of them. Lilith walked to the door, nodded in thanks as the man stepped aside to let her through.
“I’ll show you to your rooms,” he said, with a half-bow and an easy smile. “But only if you tell me your name.”
When Lilith noticed Silver’s frown, she smiled widely and introduced herself. The man’s name was Sam. He had smooth cheeks, almond eyes ringed with enviable dark lashes. When he took her hand and kissed the back gently, it sent tingles up her arm.
Silver glared at Lilith the whole way up the stairs. She didn’t need to look behind to check; she could feel his anger burning into her, making her neck prickle uncomfortably. It gave her a little thrill—knowing that he was angry—a sense of power and control that had been missing ever she stepped foot outside.
Sam led them upstairs, his thick-socked feet barely making a sound against the wooden floor. The hallway itself was bare, but not inelegantly so; there was a smooth finish to the walls that wouldn’t have been out of place in one of the better Middle Hall hotels. If she ignored the window on the far end of the hallway, she could almost pretend she was home.
They stopped halfway down the hall, in front of two doors made of an odd panelled paper. Sam placed a hand on the rightmost door and slid it open, standing aside to let her and Silver in. As she passed through the doorway, Lilith felt a breath of warm air across her neck that sent shivers down her spine.
Had he—? But Sam was smiling calmly, as if nothing were amiss.
The room was spare, the floor woven out of some kind of bound, dried grass. Lilith crouched to touch it, wondered if she should have taken her shoes off.
On the far end of the room was a second doorway. “The bathroom is through there,” Sam said.
Lilith slid the door open. The bathroom was small, barely large enough to house a long tub, which doubled as a shower. Here the floor was tiled in patterns of blue and white.
“The shower’s touch-activated,” Sam said. “Left rune for hot, right for cold.”
Two spirals were painted on the wall, each twisting in opposite directions. No touchscreen, no cameras or motion sensors. Just paint. Perhaps the wall had pressure sensors. Or perhaps, Lilith realised, her stomach tightening, this was magic.
It was one thing to hear about magic, to know it existed in some hypothetical sense. But to see it in action? She’d grown used to the werewolves, could explain their shape-changing as the result of infection. Yet if these runes worked . . . .
Sam beckoned to Silver. “I’ll show you your room.”
Silver stalked out of the room, still frowning. Sam winked at Lilith as he began to slide the door closed.
“Leave your clothes outside the bathroom,” he said. “I’ll get them cleaned.”
A shower was her first priority. Once the front door was shut, Lilith closed herself in the bathroom, grimacing at she peeled off her clothes. She folded her clothes into a tight pile, hoping to hide the dirt, then quickly placed the bundle outside the door.
She stepped into the tub, stared at the runes. Tapped the left one hesitantly. Water began to dribble out of the tap, a weak, sputtering amount. Another tap, and the water came out stronger, warmer. Magic, Lilith thought grimly, hoping that this was the most she would encounter. The werewolves she understood; this she did not.
The lure of hot water proved impossible to resist. Lilith pushed aside her worries, closed the curtain, and stepped under the shower. With her eyes closed, the steaminess of the room—the solid weight of the air—made her feel like she was safely underground.
The illusion didn’t last long.
A gust of cold air. Lilith’s eyes snapped open. She turned, put her back to the wall. The curtain obscured her view, but in the mirror on the opposite wall she could see a dark blur.
“Who’s there?” she demanded. If only she’d looked for a towel, or left some clothes inside. Naked she was vulnerable. “Silver? This isn’t funny.”
“It’s not Silver,” a soft voice said, and then a hand drew aside the curtain. Sam was bare-chested, smiling.
Anger flared. There was no time for modesty. Lilith threw a punch, aiming for Sam’s face. But when he grabbed her wrist all the strength fled from her limbs. Her body relaxed, her lips parted, her breathing sped up.
Crap, Lilith thought, trying so hard to focus, to resist, every thought slipping away before she could catch it.
Sam stepped into the shower.
He pulled her against him, so that her back was flush against his chest. Wrapped one arm around her waist, the other still holding her wrist. His breath was warm against her neck as he breathed in, then sighed.
“It’s his fault, really,” Sam murmured, “letting you walk around like this. Claimed, but not taken. Whatever connection you two have, it’s—” another deep breath “—intoxicating.”
Strong tremors ran down Lilith’s back. She couldn’t fight him, could barely focus on his words. Concentrate, she told herself, the word clunky in her mind. Concentrate. Slowly, painfully, she turned her head to the side, to stare at Sam. The look in his eyes stopped her cold.
His pupils had dilated, to the point that no iris was visible. His eyes were just a solid ring of black, eerily mesmerizing.
She forced the words out. “You’re not human.”
“Neither are you.” He brushed his lips against her ear.
She didn’t bother to correct him; moving took enough effort. “What do you want?”
“You,” he said. He loosened his grip on her waist long enough to spin her around, before pushing her against the wall. The coldness of the tiles made her gasp.
He leaned in, the water dripping down his face, lips parted.
Then the door slammed open.