Chapter 21

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Chill morning air pricked at Ellie's face and stirred her from her slumber. Through half-lidded eyes, she gazed at the unfamiliar setting around her. It took several moments for Ellie's mind to recall the events of the prior evening and how she ended up where she was. The recollection began at the library and followed her until the moment Janus began drinking her blood. Her eyes widened when it dawned on her that she was—in fact—still in Janus's bedchamber and carefully tucked into his bed.

Snapping her attention to the other side of the bed, Ellie found nothing more than smoothed blankets and fluffed pillows. Relief swept over her as she realized that nothing had progressed beyond where her memory ended. She attempted to sit upright, but her arms met resistance; constricting her limbs was the most firmly tucked blanket she had ever been subjected to, stuffed neatly under either side. It came undone easily enough with a shuffle or two, but Ellie couldn't help but let out an amused tut at how securely Janus had bundled her.

A long, thoughtful sigh parted Ellie's lips as she leaned her head further into the luxurious pillows. The corners of her mouth lifted into a faint smile as she revisited the memories of the previous night; Janus holding her close, his breath caressing her neck, the gentle sting—it all felt like a dream. She found it strange that she only wanted to help him with his recovery, but the entire experience ended up affecting her in ways she didn't possibly anticipate. Carefully, Ellie ran her fingers along where Janus had drank from her, but retracted her fingers slightly when she felt a small cloth affixed to the bite.

The bell of the longcase clock beside the door broke Ellie's concentration. She listened to each one as it resounded throughout the room, stopping at eight o'clock. It seemed odd to her that someone would want to keep such a noisy clock inside the room they slept in, but it certainly proved successful in rousing her. Ellie sat up and threw off the blanket before swinging her legs off the bed, then clasped her hands on the edge and dangled her toes above the floor in contemplation.

The slightest creak reverberated through the room as the bedchamber door opened. Passing through its opening with a wooden cup in hand was Janus, still dressed in his nightwear. He blinked when his eyes met Ellie, seeing that she was up and quite close to being about. A small laugh emerged from Ellie when she saw him, only then aware to the fact that he had not been in the room with her.

"Oh, don't get up," Janus chimed as he bustled to her. "I had a feeling you would be waking up soon, so I fetched you some water. Please, drink."

Ellie firmly grasped the cup with both hands and pulled it toward her lips. Janus kept his hold after she had taken it, waiting for assurance that it was steady in her hands before letting go.

"I must apologize." He brought his hand to his forehead. "It's been so long since I've taken mortal blood, I'm afraid that I grew overeager last night and took a little more than what I required. So please, don't stand too quickly and don't strain yourself. You need to replenish your blood."

"Thank you," Ellie said after a sip. She presented the cup to imply her gratitude.

"No, thank you, Ellie. I—I cannot even begin to describe how incredible I feel. Gods, I haven't felt like this in an age or two."

"Does mortal blood really have that much of an effect on you?"

Janus nodded as he stared toward the ceiling, his arms partially outstretched in elation. Ellie glanced at his waist and thoughtlessly lifted the hem of his shirt to reveal the wound. Rather, it was where the wound had once been. The cool air drafting against his skin and the realization as to why that was so caused Janus to stammer in embarrassment. Ellie placed her fingers on his pallid skin, mesmerized by the spot now free of tarnish.

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