I head back down the corridor to the main wrap-around landing, advancing to the east wing, this time going the shorter route through the reading nooks in the loft over the lobby.
Rafe, Antonio is locked in with Michelle and Debi in the gym.
Good, they are smart lasses. They’ll do fine. I can feel your worry but relax—they’ll be okay.
I hope you’re right. I’ll never forgive myself if he starts to project something dark to them right now.
Surprise colors Rafe’s next thoughts. Are you doubting the blocks you put in place? Was his young mind that much of a challenge?
No, that’s not it. I’m off tonight. Like something’s right under my skin and I can’t settle down.
I enter the gentlemen’s lounge to find it empty. Pushing open the carved door to the bar, conversation rushes to greet me.
Could be dead Jean Pierre. The situation would rile up anyone.
Yes, I’m sure you’re right. Asa will be arriving tomorrow morning. It’ll be nice to dump this on someone else.
Looking to the bar, I meet Charlie’s eye. He jerks his head to the nightclub, anticipating I’ll want to know where Rafe is without any sign from me. He’s right, but isn’t aware that I already know where Rafe is through our connection.
Rafe’s response to my comment about Asa sounds incredulous. Is this some kind of a miracle? You’re actually going to let someone help you? That’s huge, babe.
Yeah, yeah, stuff it. I’ll wait till I meet him to make my decision final, okay?
Striding across the threshold, I slip in to the dark, strobe-lit room, easing the heavy door shut behind me. The music thumps a steady techno beat overlaid with flashes of lyrics from other songs. This particular tune sounds like a mixture of Cotton-Eyed Joe and Me So Horny, accompanied by the throb of a computer-generated rhythm.
Out on the dance floor, bodies gyrate and bump with wild abandon, as hands grope and lips linger on necks. Ten or so people occupy the parquet dance space, and several groups line the wall standing near tall tables. The smiles I see and the laughs that reach my ears indicate they’re all having fun.
Rafe raises an arm to catch my eye and I angle over to his bar-height table in a corner. Joining him, I look around the room trying to spot Olivia and Drew. I find them cozied up on the dance floor bumping and grinding to the beat.
“Olivia still has her clothes on,” I point out. “That’s a good sign.”
“Yeah, it’s half-past midnight now and the crowd is starting to get hopping. I wonder how long the clothing situation will last?”
“Should we step in and have him back off now that Antonio is out of the picture for tonight?”
“No, I think we should leave them be for a few more minutes. She looks like she’s enjoying all the attention. She needed it.”
I agree. The poor thing looks as happy as a wallflower in middle school getting asked to dance for the first time. Antonio is an ass. To have such a gem offered to him and not share blood with her. Either he’s just plain stupid or incredibly selfish, I can’t decide which yet.
Drew senses my attention on the two of them and looks up to catch my eye. I give him a nod, motioning my head toward the door back into the pub. He nods back and angles Olivia towards the exit with a smile and a hand on her lower back.
Leaning in to Rafe, I whisper, “Let’s go, love. I've changed my mind. I want to end our stay here on the fun floor and enjoy some time alone together back in our suite.”
Rafe gives me a stern look as he moves around the table to leave. You’re going to touch Drew tonight, aren’t you?
If you know everything already, why do you bother to ask?
Why now? Can’t you let it go for another time?
No. Something is off and I need to know what. Would you rather I snuck out to his cabin in the wee hours of the morning while you were sleeping and told you about the encounter later? Your choice, babe.
He gives me a nasty look. Can’t say I blame him. I know I’m being bitchy.
Rafe’s voice sounds angry in my head. Now what kind of choice is that? Of course, I want to be there. Drew’s an unknown element with everything else we have going on right now. No matter how tired I am from this damn long night, I would never risk your safety.
When we reach the soundproofed door connecting the club and the bar, Rafe pulls it open for me to enter ahead of him. I try to sway Rafe to understand my desires.
Can’t you try to see my side? How I don’t want to have the mystery of him hanging over my head any longer? I need to mark him off as a suspect and yet I still wonder at the sincerity of his request to join us. Why? He doesn’t know us from Adam, for crying out loud.
Get on with it already! You’re going to do as you please anyway.
I turn to face Rafe as we walk through the bar and give him a beaming smile. As long as we’re both clear on my touching Drew, I can refrain from a sharp-assed rejoinder to let him have the last word.
“Thanks, hon, you’re the best.”
Drew has escorted Olivia ahead of us and they are already moving into the gentleman’s lounge. Rafe and I follow, giving Charlie a goodbye call as we head out for the night. The new guests and off-duty employees are all still in party-till-you-drop mode. After twenty years of non-stop dark in the winter, a gal can go with a little normalcy in her schedule. After all, we do have a business to run.
Have I told you tonight that those leather pants fit your heart-shaped ass like a glove?
I hear the smile in Rafe’s thoughts and know our disagreement is in the past. One of the best things about Rafe is he doesn’t hold a grudge against me. We bicker, we snark, we occasionally have knock-down drag-out fights, but I know he’ll never let me down.
By the time we get to the next room, Drew’s already saying his goodbyes to Olivia. By her flushed and rosy-cheeked appearance, it’s safe to say she had a great night with him and is still leaving with all her blood intact. Good for him. He managed to do the job and leave her blood for Antonio to take another time. I’m impressed in spite of myself.
Olivia turns to leave and sees both Rafe and me approaching.
I address her before she gets a chance to go first. “Good night, Olivia. I look forward to our tea tomorrow morning.”
“I’m excited about it as well. And good night to you both, too. This is one of the best evenings I’ve had in a long while.”
“Glad to hear it, my dear.”
Olivia heads out the double doors leading back to the stairs, leaving Rafe, Drew and me alone in the lounge.
“Well, Drew, mission accomplished, and I have to say, I’m impressed.” I reach my hand out to shake his in a congratulatory gesture, and Drew extends his own in response. Rafe tenses beside me, watching us both carefully.
Drew’s cool clasp over my warmer Were-blood-infused hand sends my mind racing into the pool of his hidden wants and desires. On the surface of the swirling mass of thoughts, I see a cool blue thread snaking in and around a larger, darker, writhing nest. The cool blue reflects the desire Drew shared with us both earlier. Touching on it, I see his request to join our seethe appears forefront in his mind and it was an honest one. What hides beneath it?
I stare into his brown eyes while plunging deeper into his private thoughts. I must get to that darkness and unearth it for what it truly is, and propriety won’t get in my way.
Reaching in, past the surface desire, I delve further into that nest of twists and turns. Pain reaches back through our connection and grabs my heart like a vise. The crushing strength of anger mixes in with grief and hate. Bleak, dark solitude and the loss of a spouse trigger a chain reaction in my own mind.
Pictures of a beautiful, brown-haired woman overlay a buried memory of my first husband. Her pale, freckled skin appears ripped and torn, so like my Aidan’s. Body parts are scattered in a bloody mess of death and destruction. The shock of seeing this death in Drew’s memories, wrapped around his desires, is like nothing I’ve ever encountered.
The waste of life and the despair of the moment freeze me in place. I can see what he wants above all else! I know intimately what that desire is. I have felt it myself in the past, and the pain I initially experienced in our union is nothing compared to what’s fully inside him.
A sharp smack reverberates up through my body and the brown eyes are ripped from my vision, but my hand still holds Drew’s. A small cry reaches my ears and I feel a wetness course down my cheeks. The pain pulls me in and I know I must let go of his hand, but I can’t seem to do it.
Our entire exchange takes place in only a second or two. It ends abruptly when Rafe pushes Drew back from me to break our connection. The force of Rafe’s thrust drives the slight vampire across the room and crashing into a wall. Drew’s back on his feet in a moment and striding back toward us, with his hands held out in supplication.
“I don’t understand. What happened to her?”
Strong arms slip down to lift me up from my kneeling position on the rug; the smack I felt must have been my knees hitting the floor.
Rafe’s voice booms out from above me. “What did you do to her?”
Drew stops in his tracks, not coming any closer. “Nothing, I swear. She held my hand.”
Rafe picks me up as if I weigh no more than a child and cuddles me close to his chest. Whimpering sounds reach my ears again and I think they’re coming from me.
Rafe slips into my pain-filled mind. What did you see? What is he hiding?
I speak aloud, my mind a confusing mess of thoughts at the moment. “He desires revenge… He wants to kill the one responsible for murdering his wife.”
Drew draws in a sharp intake of breath. “What’s she saying? Is she talking about me?”
Rafe turns to leave the room, still holding me in his arms. Let me get you away from him. Hold on for a few more minutes.
Drew’s voice follows as Rafe’s powerful strides take us toward the stairs. “What happened to her? Will she be okay?”
The blood, Rafe. All the blood. So much hate…
Rafe ignores him and I close my eyes to the blackness and sink into peaceful oblivion.
The softness of our bed enfolds me as Rafe lowers us both to the mattress. My eyes flutter open and I feel like I’ve gone twenty rounds with Mike Tyson. I’m not so sure I was victorious in the last encounter and the old wounds the experience re-opened have left me raw and shaken.
“Are you ready to talk yet, Dria?”
Give me a minute. Can you hold me for now?
Strong arms wrap tighter around my slender frame and the warmth of his body starts to sink into my own. Thoughts I had hoped long buried are now front and center in my own mind. My first husband, Aidan, and I were married in our small village in Ireland. We were both sixteen at the time and we had four years together before a horrible monster came to our home.
I did not know it had been watching me for weeks while I cared for our farm doing chores. The night the blood-crazed monster came in and tore Aidan limb-from-limb in front of me haunted my every hour for years to come.
The shock of his death fought side-by-side with the need to survive, and I was preoccupied with both for the years I was held captive in that sick bastard’s seethe.
“Are you thinking about Mikov again? I can see the hate in your mind. It’s glowing red and dark.”
“Yes, I am. Sorry. Drew’s wife was killed exactly like Aidan and I wasn’t expecting that punch to the gut.”
“Understandably so. If you had seen that coming I’m sure you wouldn’t have touched him.”
My head hurts, like one of the migraines from my time as a human. Only this one is brought on by the flood of pain and anguish rekindled in my mind, not from the constricting blood vessels in my brain. I snuggle deeper into my mate’s thick-muscled chest, pressing my face in.
I don’t really want to talk about what happened, but I’m betting Rafe won’t let this go. Most guys hate to talk about feelings. While I wouldn’t say Rafe loves to, he won’t ever back down from a task just because it’s an unpleasant one.
He continues on, hoping to draw some words out of me. “Mikov is dead, dear. You saw to that long ago. That bastard and his followers deserved everything you did and then some.”
I let my silence be my answer of agreement. We’ve gone over most of my past numerous times. I’d rather block the pain back away in my brain. I nuzzle Rafe’s neck. The smell of his blood coursing below the surface of his flesh reminds me of love and power all wrapped up in one. My tongue snakes out to lick the side of his throat, right below his chin.
Distraction can be the best form of coping, also called denial, and Rafe’s usually easy to convince. But it’s not working this time, though. His hand travels up and down my back in a soothing manner but my warm, wet attentions are doing nothing to dissuade him from this conversation. Damn, he can be quite single-minded at times.
Oblivious to my ministrations, he probes further. “No chance any of them survived to keep recruiting new vampires as they did with you, is there?”
My head whips up from my comfortable spot. “No! Why would you even suggest that? Of course I killed every last one of them. Unfortunately, revenge is never the reward one hopes it to be.”
“It never is.” Rafe’s quiet for a second and I know he’s recalling his own battle with seeking revenge for the death of his wife and baby daughter. Neither of us is unfamiliar with extreme violence in our past.
“But,” he continues, “killing them gained your freedom and that’s more important than all the rest. It still begs the question though. Is it a coincidence that Drew’s wife was killed like Aidan?”
The fog clears a bit from my mind and now he has my full attention.
“What are you saying, Rafe? There could be a connection between me and Drew?”
“I’m not sure. I know it sounds odd. We’re talking centuries later, but who else except someone from the supernatural community would have the strength to rip a person apart?”
“Drew’s a vampire and we do make enemies along the course of our long undead lives. He could have pissed someone off and they decided to hurt him good.”
“Did you get a view of his wife in his thoughts?”
“Yes, but it was quick. Why?” I shudder as I try to push the memory away again. “Did you recognize her?”
It’s painful to think on, but to be honest it was a quick snapshot in Drew’s mind. The exchange occurred very fast.
“Sorry, but I wasn’t really thinking about her at the time.”
“Yeah, okay, I can see that. If anything comes to you later, tell me.”
I’m drifting into a calmer state, trying not to let my mind look at those horrid images again. Sifting through the blood and limbs to find her face does not seem worthwhile right now on top of how much my head hurts.
Think I’ll try again for distraction. Can you help me undress? I want the warmth of your skin against my own.
Rafe sits up without speaking and complies, starting to remove my clothes. His eyes are soft as they linger on my face. I can feel him probing gently into my mind to gauge the amount of pain I’m in.
My boots land on the floor next to the bed with a solid thump, and Rafe encourages me to sit up to work off my jacket. The air hitting my skin helps to clear my head a bit and the corset isn’t so tight that I feel confined anymore. The stays must have loosened a bit over the course of the evening.
Rafe’s warm hand touches the strip of flesh exposed over the top of the leather pants and his fingers open the top button before lowering the zipper. “These things are snug,” he says tenderly. “Lay back down and lift your hips for me.”
I do as he asks; relaxing into the touch of his hands supporting my body as he slowly removes my tight leather pants. My black thong peaks out in sharp contrast to my snowy white skin. The pants soon meet the fate of the boots on the floor and I roll back on my side to the middle of the bed.
You going to join me soon and take some of those clothes off, right?
Rafe stands up next to the bed and removes his things in record time, piling them up in a heap by the chair with a casual toss. He’s back in the bed and facing me, reaching to slip the covers up over us before pulling me close. My head nestles up in the crook of his neck again, filling my nose with the scent of him and nothing else.
He’s all that matters in the big scheme of things. Only him.
How is your head, my love? You feeling better? His inner voice sounds soft and tender, like his heart.
Yes, I answer. It’s not thumping as much anymore.
I know the best thing to help get the pain firmly shoved back into its tight little box in my mind, and it’s not blood. I reach my arm up to run my hand slowly down his slightly furry chest. I rest my hand on his stomach, above the top of his boxer briefs and wait.
His breathing starts to speed up and I can hear his heart beating faster. He senses where I’m going but wants me to take the lead, so that he’ll be certain it’s what I want.
Rafe, how can you doubt whether or not I’ll want you?
Because you’ve had a horrible shock and I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate.
When is feeling my lover’s touch wrong?
His response is to pull me away from his neck and kiss me deeply. My hand slips below the band of his briefs and his hot arousal greets my eager fingers. His touch moves from my head and he lifts his hips to wiggle his last bit of clothing down with my assistance. When he lowers back down to the mattress, I lift my right leg to place it up around his hip.
His warm hand rests on my thigh and he presses forward until the hard heat of his crown meets the small scrap of fabric covering my opening. He reaches back over my hip and pulls the thong away from between my cheeks to gain entry to my pussy.
Tonight, on this night of pain and dark memories, I require no foreplay. I’m ready and wet and want only to be filled by him to drive everything else from my mind. As his thick head presses forward to claim, a sense of rightness flows through me. Blissfully, all other thoughts stop to experience the joy of our union and I can let myself go in this moment.
I reach out and send one last thought, before the passion overcomes us.
All I ever need is you… forever.