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Authors: Loribelle Hunt

Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Fantasy

Kiss Of Twilight (9 page)

BOOK: Kiss Of Twilight
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"You'd come after me," she agreed softly, watching him.

He was so still, like a big cat waiting to pounce. His expression was totally closed off, but his eyes gave him away. One second they were midnight black, the next fiery red. That fury was directed at her and she thought she got the message he was sending. She was his weakness, one Ben or anyone else could exploit, and he didn't like it one damned bit.

"You don't go anywhere, not even two feet out the front door, without me or Winter." She opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. "Don't push me on this, Kara."

Without a word, Kara left the foyer. She went to her room, straight through to the en suite bath where she turned the faucet to hot and let the tub fill, thinking over the scene downstairs. On second thought, she pulled the stopper and turned on the shower, cocking her head to one side and listening. She couldn't hear any yelling, but they could be doing it telepathically. More likely, though, Dupree had simply shut down and teleported away. Which meant Winter would show up any second now.

With Gia gone, Kara had found herself more and more in Winter's inner circle, more and more in Gia's old place as a sounding board. She didn't mind that so much, but sometimes it rankled that she was such a poor substitute for Gia. The three had been friends forever. They were legends. Kara's ambitions had never been so high as to be part of their circle, and certainly not the way it had come about.

She stripped and stepped over the rim of the tub, yanking the curtain closed behind her. She sighed her appreciation as the hot water rushed over her. She hadn't even realized her muscles were sore but now the aches made themselves known. A few seconds later the air took on the weird electric feel it always did when someone teleported close to her. Privacy? What was that? She poked her head out, but it wasn't Winter leaning against the door jam. Damn, maybe Dupree wouldn't run from her after all.

"Gimme a sec," Kara said and hurried to wash and condition her hair. A couple minutes later she wrapped a towel around her body and went to face the dragon. He was pacing but he spun around to face her when she stepped into the room. He looked marginally calmer.

"Still pissed?"

"At myself mostly. I planned to pick you up earlier, but I got hung up."

Well, that explained why he'd shown up just in the nick of time. "Why?"

"Sorting out problems with the nightwalker patrols."

"No, Dupree." She smiled. "Why were you coming to pick me up?"

He shrugged one shoulder. "I wanted to make sure your leg is better today."

Yeah, right. Couldn't he just admit he wanted to see her? She walked to the closet for clean clothes. "As you can see I'm fine."

When he didn't respond she glanced over her shoulder and gasped to find him right behind her. He took the jeans and shirt from her hands and tossed them to the bed.

"I'm not," he whispered. The hands that cupped her face trembled. "I've never heard of a hybrid having a heart attack, but I swear you're going to give me one."

"Dupree, I really am fine."

"This time." He stepped back, gripped her shoulders and stared down at her. "The next time you need to leave the house I'll make sure you have more seasoned soldiers. Don't argue, baby," he added when she tried to interrupt. "Just agree to this for me. Please."

She knew she shouldn't give into his demands, but when was the last time Dupree had said please to anyone? She nodded and he dropped his hands from her shoulders.

"Wait." She stopped his retreat, following him to the door. She searched for a way to make him stay, if only for a few more minutes. "Shouldn't I get something too? I just agreed to a bodyguard," she pointed out. "I'd say it's only fair."

"What did you have in mind?" His gaze focused on her lips as she moistened them.

"Time."

"What?" he asked.

"I'm sick of you avoiding me."

He reached out to rub his thumb over her lower lip. She shivered. She could think of a lot of other places she wanted him to stroke. He groaned when his cell phone started to ring.

"I hate that thing," she snapped.

"I come with the job
and
the phone, darlin'. Sure you want to take that on?"

"Do you really have to ask?"

He searched her face a long time before answering, but he didn't sound happy with his reply. "No. Not really."

The phone chirped again and he flipped it open to read the message, then sighed. "I have to deal with this and Winter wants to see you. We'll talk later."

He gave her a quick--chaste--kiss on the forehead before leaving. She didn't realize until he'd gone that he hadn't agreed to her request. Damn it. She ignored the disappointment and went to find Winter.

 

Winter was alone in the office she shared with Marcus when Kara walked in and helped herself to a beer from the mini fridge.

"Dupree said you wanted to see me."

"Yeah. Listen, Kara..." Winter shrugged. "He's not in a good place right now."

She laughed. That was the understatement of the century, but... "When is he ever? He's a control freak, boss. I know that as well as you do--trust me. The question is how much am I going to let him control me?"

Winter's smile was amused. "And the answer is as little as possible?"

"Damn skippy."

Winter laughed at her response and it lightened Kara's heart. She hadn't heard that laugh in too long.

"That's why we like you, Kara, me and Gia. You don't let him bully you into letting him wrap you in cotton and hide you away. He would if you gave him the chance, thinking he was protecting you." The lighthearted mood vanished as quickly as it had come. "We're old and set in our ways, though. You may be asking him to bend too much, sweetie."

"I know." She took a swig of her beer, met Winter's gaze. "I figure I'm screwed either way. I can wait until he's forced to bond with me to save himself, and I'll always wonder if that was the only reason. Plus, he will be insufferable with the protecting thing. Or I can merge, which you know I've always wanted to do, and risk driving him away permanently. I'm screwed either way, aren't I? I can either have him against his will and become a doormat, or do what I want and lose him. There's no way to win here."

Winter held her gaze a long time before responding. "And you're resigned to that?"

She shook her head. Resigned? No. "I just don't see any way around it."

"So you aren't willing to bend at all?"

"You're talking about who I am. How far would you bend for Marcus?"

Winter's responding grin spoke of things Kara wasn't touching with a ten foot pole. "I'm very limber."

Winter surprised a laugh out of her but she wasn't sure she agreed. "Not that limber, boss."

The other woman sighed. "True." She stood and brushed the front of her pants smooth. "Well, hopefully, y'all can work this out. If you're serious about merging though, you need to set up your last appointment with Mike. Gray lifted the edict. After this second attack, you need to get it done. You'll be able to defend yourself better if you're demon bonded."

"I'll take care of it in the morning."

"Good. That will be a step toward Dupree accepting it too, you know."

Or a step toward making him run screaming in the other direction. No, Dupree would never do that. That would be betraying an emotion. But she couldn't focus on that as excitement coursed through her. All those long years of waiting and preparation were coming to an end.

Winter hesitated before leaving. "Maybe that's just what he needs," she said with a soft smile and then she was gone.

Chapter Ten

The joint patrols with the hybrids are going better than expected. I don't anticipate any problems increasing the numbers or making the new changes permanent.

--Report from Luke Black to Marcus Black

Two hours before dawn, Luke wasn't surprised to find himself on patrol, walking the streets of Camden with Dupree Jackson. It was a quiet night. No moon lit the night sky and the streetlights gave off a dim yellow glow, providing hardly any illumination. It was gloomy and foggy, which drove any human night owls indoors. A good night to hunt. A good night for a solitary stroll. A good night for self-reflection. Though he wasn't alone, was he?

Since Winter's battle with the demons and Dupree's subsequent poisoning, Luke had found himself more and more in the hybrid's company. It was hard at first. Nightwalkers didn't mix well with others under the best of circumstances. But this hybrid was something else. Connected to someone who was Luke's very breath. The hybrid had few close friends, but one of them was Gianna Drake, a woman Dupree had known for sixty years. Luke's woman. It made him jealous as hell that another man had been a part of her life for so long. It wasn't until he'd realized the two had never been lovers that he'd stopped wanting to kill Dupree. And it wasn't long after that he'd realized Dupree might be his best chance at finding Gia.

The leaders of all three races had been insistent that no one hunt alone, and even the seconds in command like him and Dupree were not immune from the command. Since they sought the same end, it made sense to team up. So for just over a week the two of them had joined each other and searched. Hunted. Two hours at most because Dupree was still working the demon's poison from his system. Luke found that frustrating. He wanted to search from dusk till dawn, but finding a partner was not always so easy.

Theirs had been an easy companionship until tonight. Neither of them were talkers and under other circumstances probably wouldn't have anything to do with each other. Gia brought them together. She was Luke's mate, but idiot that he was, by the time he realized that he'd managed to scare her off. Dupree didn't know the details and hadn't asked, but if Winter was right and her dreams were Gia reaching out to her, he should probably fill the hybrid in. Though, no doubt his commander already had.

He'd meant to bring it up tonight and was relieved when Dupree called earlier to suggest meeting, but one sight of the hybrid was enough to keep his mouth closed. The only time he'd ever seen any kind of expression from the man was over Kara. She was a sweet girl with a sarcastic tongue, smart as a whip and one hell of a cook. It was obvious she loved Dupree, and clear to Luke the hybrid returned that sentiment. Yet Dupree kept his distance as much as possible. Luke wasn't sure what that was about but he thought it was fucking stupid. He'd waited three hundred years for Gia, and Dupree was throwing away a chance with Kara?

But tonight, Luke saw more emotion from the hybrid than he'd ever expected. Maybe he was coming around. He'd arrived thirty minutes ago, expression murderous, hands shaking, eyes glowing and scared. Luke hadn't said a word, simply turned and started walking until Dupree fell in step at his side. He snuck a sideways look. The hybrid seemed to be regaining his famous control.

"What happened?" he asked softly. He didn't expect to get a response.

"She was attacked. Leaving our headquarters last night."

"I'm sorry." That would explain a few things. His blood ran cold at all the possibilities of what might be happening to Gia right now. "She's okay?"

She must be or Dupree wouldn't be here now. He nodded. "This time."

Friendship with someone of another race was new to Luke, and Dupree was harder to befriend than most. He debated saying more. He was certain the other man wouldn't welcome it. In the end, frustration loosened his tongue. Gia wouldn't admit it, but she wouldn't want him to stay silent while her friend was hurting.

"I don't understand why you haven't claimed her. Why you haven't bonded with her. Gia expected you to. She said you'd fight it till the end but eventually you'd take this one thing for yourself."

Dupree glared. "Gia spoke to you about me?"

Luke shrugged. "Just once." And he'd had to really push her to open up about herself and her friends.

Dupree shook his head. "I should have been a nightwalker. Then I wouldn't have to worry about having a woman who didn't understand it goes against everything in my nature not to lock her up and keep her safe."

He laughed. "Yeah that worked so well for Marcus and me."

Dupree gave him a sour look. "You brought that on yourselves."

"There is that." And it had taken much too long to realize he didn't want it any other way. "Seems to me though, the woman you want is the one you have. If she was willing to live in your safe little fantasy world, she wouldn't be Kara."

The hybrid shut down so tightly Luke could feel the cold radiating off his skin. "That won't help," Luke pointed out. Ignoring her wouldn't make Dupree yearn for her less, even Luke could see that.

Dupree stopped and turned around to face him. "Why do you care so much? Where is this coming from?"

The man's eyes were red and his body shook with tension, with the restraint of holding back.

"You're important to Gia and Winter, and they're important to me. If you lose this battle you're fighting, someone will have to hunt you. Do you want that for them? Because I don't."

Dupree took a deep shuddering breath and slowly his eyes faded back to brown. He resumed walking. "I won't let it come to that," he said softly. "I won't do what Ben did."

"Or you could avoid the possibility entirely."

He snorted. "No. I won't tie her to a monster."

Luke was stunned that Dupree saw himself that way. He was damned good at reading people and this was one of the most honorable men he'd ever met.

"She gets no say in that?"

Dupree only shook his head.

Interesting. Luke was ready to tear the world apart for Gia. Would sell his very soul to have her returned to him alive. Yet Dupree was unwilling to take the woman who meant his salvation.

"What are you afraid of, man? She may fight with you about some things, but she'll never leave you."

It was silent for a long time as they ambled along. "You don't know that, walker. You have no way of knowing that."

Maybe. But he did know people. "I know. And you are a fool if you let her go."

Luke couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice. Gia had run from him, but Dupree wouldn't accept what was right in front of him. Luke would give anything to have Gia back and willing and
his.
The anger at her, at himself, was fierce and for a minute his control of his power slipped. A road sign shook as they passed it. The streetlights waved like there'd been a gust of wind. Dupree slowed to a stop and eyed him.

"You need to feed," the hybrid said.

Luke couldn't believe he had the balls, but then, nothing much slowed Dupree down. Also, Marcus and Winter had both asked when he'd fed last. Luke shouldn't be surprised that Winter had turned to Dupree, her second in command, to find out how Luke was doing. She was a caretaker that one, whether she viewed herself that way or not.

Still, he was stunned and revolted. Dupree didn't understand how he preferred to feed. Didn't understand it would shred his soul to open his mind to another woman in that manner. If Dupree did understand he wouldn't bring it up.

"You have no idea what you're suggesting. It's a very intimate act."

"Without which you'll just get weaker and eventually die. You'll starve to death," Dupree pointed out. "Which will make you useless fighting demons or tracking Gia."

Dupree looked him over and Luke tried to ignore the scrutiny. She had been gone over a week. He could go longer without the psychic energy that kept him alive, but the stress, the turmoil was shortening his leash.

"I have time."

"But you're not at full strength. So what's the problem, man?" he prodded.

"That's like me asking why you don't just find some other woman to fuck since you're so determined to keep Kara at arm's length."

Dupree snarled but he didn't lash out. He stuck to the topic. "You don't have to have sex to feed."

Luke shrugged. "But you do have to touch someone else's mind. You have to take their emotions and energy into you."

"Look, you need to be at full strength. It's that simple." He paused. "I thought we could join our power to do a bigger telepathic sweep for her, break through whatever power is hiding her, but I guess that won't work if you won't even lower your shields enough to feed."

Luke gave him a considering look. "Joining power doesn't really work the same way as feeding. I wouldn't be actively siphoning off energy. Your blocks are strong enough you wouldn't share any thoughts you don't want to. Why haven't you brought this up before?"

"She's had time to get in touch. The longer she doesn't, the more I think something must have happened."

"Winter's dreams," Luke said softly. So he did know. Good. "She's not a dreamwalker."

"No. But Gia is."

"So is Marcus. I've had mixed success with it in the past."

"And none now?"

"Right," he answered curtly.

"Has Marcus tried?"

Scowling, Luke shook his head. "No luck, but that isn't a surprise. He doesn't know her mind like the rest of us do."

And Luke hated to admit he didn't know her mind that well either. She'd gladly shared her body with him, but she hadn't been willing to lower her shields enough to let him into her head.

They resumed their patrol while Luke stewed. Marcus didn't know Gia. Didn't know the shape and feel of her mind and thoughts. But Dupree and Winter did, and Luke knew her better than his twin. If Luke was at full strength and Dupree wasn't having to exert so much control over his demon side, they might be able to combine their knowledge and power to reach her. It was an obvious solution but he didn't like it. Not one damned bit.

"When you feed, does it have to be from someone of the opposite sex?" Dupree was obviously thinking the same thing. "I've been around enough nightwalkers to know it's not a sexual thing with all of you."

Luke had a sour taste in his mouth but he answered honestly anyway. "No."

"Are my blocks good enough?"

Luke stopped and turned to face the nightwalker.

"Did I cross a line asking?"

God, did he but not for the reasons he thought. It was one thing--a very private and personal thing--to feed from a lover or mate. But friends? They were off limits except under the most dire circumstances.

"No," Luke was slow to answer. "Most people wouldn't offer, though." He smiled. "We know what y'all call us. Soul eaters. Psychic vampires. Besides you're a friend of Gia's and feeding off your lover's friend is too much even for me."

Dupree shrugged like it was no big deal. "I'm sharing my soul with a demon, man. Not exactly in a position to throw stones."

Put that way, maybe it wasn't.

"True." Luke nodded and resumed walking. "You think I could feed from you, which would strengthen us both by bleeding off that excess demon energy you're struggling with?"

"Would it work?"

Luke thought before he answered. It would be uncomfortable as hell. "Yeah. But there're a couple of problems."

"What?"

"It's something of a taboo, feeding from friends or family. Mates, lovers are different. With them it's part of the intimacy. Friends, though, that's only done in severe situations."

Dupree gave him an innocent look Luke didn't buy for a minute and went straight to the point. "Like a life threatening injury? Or starvation?"

"Like that," he conceded drolly. "But it's not the only problem. Your shields are good. Some of the best I've ever seen." It was as close as Luke had ever come to admitting he'd tried to breach them.

"But to feed from you, I'd still have to touch your mind. I wouldn't see your thoughts, but I would feel your emotions. I don't think you'd be comfortable with that." No
thinking
about it. Luke knew the hybrid wouldn't want anyone knowing his emotions. The man expended more than a little power keeping himself under rigid control. Luke paused a long moment before continuing, "Normally, I wouldn't even consider it. But Gia is at stake, so I'll think about it."

"And what would I feel? Any of your thoughts and emotions?"

Luke nodded. "Probably, yes. We're both strong, with good shields, but that strength makes us vulnerable in other ways. I have to lower my outer shields to feed."

Luke didn't like this idea, but he'd do damned near anything to get Gia back. He shook his head and muttered, "Not yet. Maybe later, if we can't find her or she doesn't show up on her own."

Luke could feel the other man thinking, could guess where his thoughts had gone. Dupree didn't have to point out that none of them believed that was going to happen anymore. Her silent absence had gone long past being an expression of anger.

"Don't think about it too long."

"You're worse than my brother. Nag nag nag."

Dupree laughed. "Just looking out for Gia's interests."

"Right."

They rounded a corner and Luke's reluctant grin was accompanied by a surge of adrenaline. Demons were close by. He sensed them, a familiar evil that brushed against his mind, and he knew by the way the hybrid strolling at his side tensed that he did too. They were on a narrow two lane street with tall buildings close together offering no place to run when the demons came into sight.

"I'll take the two on the right," Dupree said, but Luke was already moving for the other two, a pistol in each hand.

It was over much too quickly. They didn't even try to fight. He shot the first and was already turning to the second when it dropped. Maybe he should start fighting with knives again. His heart pounded and the need to
act
felt like a pulse in his blood. He checked his watch. It was unlikely he'd find more to kill tonight, so he'd probably end up in the basement gym trying to punch off the adrenaline.

Luke got his phone out and called someone to come for the bodies. They'd take them to the hybrids' headquarters a few blocks away to incinerate. Before the alliance of the three races the nightwalker would have been forced to use his own people for disposal, taking the bodies out of the city by truck to burn.

BOOK: Kiss Of Twilight
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