A violent swirl of red sliced her thoughts in half as he shoved into her mind. She lost all sense of self, of being a cardinal named Faith, and became a creature of pain and fear. The darkness pushed her to the raw edge of madness, threatening her with the very emotions she'd been trained not to feel, or to even admit possessing. Her helplessness made the killer laugh. He grabbed her with his teeth, shook her hard.
He wanted her to not only watch, but understand his sick desires. That she didn't, couldn't, enraged him. Surrounded by the vicious thickness of murderous fury, Faith did the sole thing she could to protect herself. She surrendered the civilized thinking part of her mind and retreated into the walled inner core of her psyche, curling up around herself like a child going into the fetal position.
Still, the darkness battered her. He was amused by her inability to deal with him, playing with her as a cat might play with a trapped mouse. He didn't want to kill her. No, what he wanted was to flaunt his power until she stopped resisting and let him rape her mind. Then he'd be free to show her all his desires, every one of his planned future acts, an endless reel of horror.
Too deep inside the most animal heart of her psyche to remember that she wasn't supposed to feel fear, Faith began to struggle with everything in her.
And failed to break out.
Vaughn landed silently on the soft carpet of Faith's bedroom. His feet were bare but his legs covered - he'd cached a pair of jeans in the forest earlier that day, not wanting to scandalize Faith any more than she was already going to be scandalized. Of course, he was still looking forward to seeing the surprise in her eyes when she found him there for the second night in a row.
However, his senses went on red alert the second he took a step toward the bed. Her blanket in a heap on the floor, Faith lay curled into a tight ball, breath shallow and heartbeat sluggish to the cat's keen hearing. The scent of something that shouldn't have been there, something that didn't belong, was pungent in the air. When he narrowed his eyes in the semidarkness, he picked out a more extreme blackness around Faith, just as he'd done at the cabin.
Convinced the darkness would grip her tighter if it knew Vaughn was about to intervene, he got onto the bed in silence. His next move was lightning fast. Picking her up, he crashed her against him, physically blocking the darkness with the way his body curved over hers. Logic argued it wouldn't work - whatever was attacking her was doing so on the psychic plane. But instinct said it would. And instinct was proven right.
He felt the cold emptiness of sheer evil brush over him as the darkness was ripped in two by his body. It was unable to cling to anything in him because he was too different, too animal. Vaughn allowed a growl to rise up in his throat - his claws had sliced out the instant after he'd dragged Faith to safety. Now she lay protected by a human cage and, no longer able to feed on her, the dark thing withered away.
Vaughn waited until the air was purged of the noxious scent before he dropped his gaze to Faith. Retracting his claws, he used one hand to clear the strands of hair off her face. Her skin was cool, too cool. And her heartbeat was becoming ever slower, as if she continued to fight with all her strength, unaware she was safe. He wanted to do violence. But instead, he slid a hand under her nape and kissed her.
Only touch affected Faith deeply enough to break through the psychic nature of her mind. Most humans would've been shocked at the animal intensity of his kiss, but he wasn't human. And he wasn't shocked.
Something sizzled along Faith's most intimate inner skin and, though it wasn't painful, it demanded. Fearful that it was a trick, but incapable of ignoring the flaring pain of nerve endings snapping to wakefulness, she uncurled from her protective crouch. And saw energy arcing through her mind, silver and bright, passionate and unstoppable, a lightning storm that burned away the lingering echoes of malignant darkness.
Her blood began to pump with heat that burned. Around her, a thousand fires sparked to life. She stood in the center, protected but not shielded from the inferno. These flames wanted to caress, to touch, to stroke.
Unable to take the wild hunger of the storm, to withstand the intensity of the conflagration, she willed herself from the dream and into waking life. But the dream followed her to the outside. Her lips were on fire. Her body exploded with heat. Enfolding her was a stronger flame, skin that seemed to burn with a higher temperature than her own, living heat that lay against her nape, under her thighs, against the cheek she had pressed to a hard muscled surface.
She tried to suck in a breath, but her mouth had already been claimed. Her lashes flicked upward. Night-gold eyes met hers, brutal, savage ... and safe. Her lips were freed for the second it took her to gasp a breath and then reclaimed. She found that her hand was on his shoulder, holding on, holding him.
Her mind spun with too much sensation, but the alternative was worse. In her not-quite-conscious state, she wasn't sure the darkness wouldn't return if she broke away from this overload. So she embraced it, shifting to wrap her arms around the neck of the dangerous male in her bed, melding her body to his.
If it came to madness, she'd rather drown in heat than be sucked into the sadistic cruelty of darkness. The woman heart of her was aware that his hands were on her back, pressing her to him, and that while those hands were big and powerful, they did no harm. Then even that thought was swept under the shock wave of sensation and she became nothing but flesh, a creature who had no mind and no thoughts. Her eyes closed.
Vaughn sensed Faith's utter surrender. The cat was ready to take what was his, but the man knew this wasn't the kind of submission that would ever satisfy him and it might just scar her. She wasn't giving in to him. She was using him to escape the darkness. Vaughn didn't mind being used by Faith, but he did mind that she wasn't conscious of who it was she clung to.