Authors: Mary Hughes
Tags: #vampire;erotic;paranormal romance;undead;urban fantasy;steamy;sensual;vampire romance;action;sizzling;Meiers Corners;Mary Hughes;Biting Love;romantic comedy;funny;humor;Chicago;medical;doctor;adult
Was I sure? I trembled, caught between the cusp of climax and terror at the sight. Was I sure, no. But I
I arched my throat to him.
With a deep groan that seemed to come from his very core, he bent to my neck. His breath heated my throat for an instant. “As you wish.”
His fangs pierced my flesh.
I arched and came so violently I thought I’d turned inside out. My sex clenched and released, crashing waves that shattered me. Climax blew through my brain and detonated in a chain reaction along all the cells of my body. Pow. Pow. Pow.
It demolished me. Shook me into my basic parts, into atoms, into dust.
Slowly I rebuilt, brand-new. As the last bits of orgasm rippled through me, my panties were drenched but my mind was clear and my every ache and pain had lifted.
I felt eighteen again. Before the incident when Lizelle called me
Luke rumbled as he licked my throat. “You taste incredible. I’ve never…”
His lapping slowed. With one final lick, he eased himself off me and stood, broad back to me.
I waited for the rip of a zipper opening, a wordless finish to what
but nothing followed but his rasping breaths. Finally I said, “Don’t you want…?”
“No. I’m not…I can’t…I’m not interested. I usually have multiple partners.”
The sting of rejection hurt worse because I was vulnerable, because after that orgasm I was open to him like a newborn.
I’d followed those soaring geyser of
wondering where they’d go. Now, as rejection skewered me so hard I gasped, I had my answer.
Straight into the shitter.
I scrambled for protection, pulling on rationality and cynicism with an automatic eye-roll and a mental
Simple commitment scares them like they’re babies.
Yet Luke didn’t seem like other guys, afraid of a little commitment. Was his thing for ménage the usual guy issues, or something deeper?
You idiot. Who cares? Sex is a nice release of endorphins, and that was better than nice. Be grateful there’s no fuss, no muss, no commitment.
I snagged my bra and blouse and began to dress. As I buttoned, my fingers wandered to my throat. My skin was smooth, whole, as if he hadn’t given me that orgasm-inducing bite. “Aren’t you wondering how I’m aware of…?” I clacked my teeth together.
“A lot of Meiers Corners women are in the know. I figured one of the mates told you.” He shrugged, his broad shoulders sexy as hell. He’d turned but didn’t seem to be interested at all, staring past me, his mind obviously somewhere else.
I stifled a pang. I was a rational being, not clingy or emotionally needy. Great sex was just that. Didn’t mean I had to live with the man. Some guys you bang, some you marry.
Luke was certainly bang-worthy, but as nice as paradise had been, it was time to move on.
I left without another word.
Luke gripped the doorjamb as the luscious doctor slid through.
What the hell just happened?
His groin throbbed. He didn’t have to look down to confirm it, but glancing at his pants surprised him yet again. He’d had a hard time concealing it from her. Not just a woody tented his fly, but a whole oak tree of an erection, or maybe a giant redwood.
Alexis ambled down the hallway, golden hair waving, hips swaying with a liquid roll, as if her joints had been oiled by the orgasm. He stood there, fighting the urge to go after her, his whole being almost glued to her until she disappeared up the stairs.
Damn it, how did she do that? How did she attract him to the point of madness?
How did she give him an erection, when he hadn’t had one since his wife died?
For centuries, he’d been the next best thing to impotent. He’d put around the rumor that he was only interested in ménages to scare off potential lovers. And so the few sexual encounters he did go through with, he had multiple partners for multiple distractions from his flaccid tool.
Centuries of utter disinterest, gone the moment he’d kissed Alexis.
He’d been shocked, and at first, overjoyed. Then, as he’d lapped the elixir of Alexis’s blood and felt the judder of her sweet climax on his fingers, he’d forgotten his wife.
He’d vowed he’d
forget. Spent centuries honoring that vow.
Wiped out by the mere whiff of hair like strawberries.
He slapped the jamb. The sooner he could get this babysitting obligation over with, the better. Then he could get back to Iowa, to Elias’s household. Erections and Alexis would never happen again.
Clamping his eyes and turning inward, he sought his brother’s blood scent/taste, the sense a vampire had of every human or vampire ever tasted. Luke could sense his donors within a half-mile, his brother farther than that. Alexis pinged instantly, only a few hundred feet away… He clamped down on the need to pursue her and worked to locate his brother.
Logan was in the public meeting room in the basement of the second townhouse. Luke hunched his shoulders and headed out the door, through the underground parking and into the next basement over.
Julian sat at one end of the glossy table, black head bent to a pile of papers, Logan next to him, model’s face smug. As Luke entered, the lawyer flicked a glance at him then returned his gaze to the pile on the table before him, expression mournful. “Look at this. Reece printed us a copy of the diags because I couldn’t believe it. Clean. Now I have to believe it, but I still can’t understand it.”
“Told you my system was faultless,” Logan said.
Luke glided up. “The alarm diagnostics? That’s what I came to talk with you about.”
Emerson’s eyes returned to him, his gaze sharp. “What do you mean?”
To make absolutely certain no one was within hearing range, Luke tested the air. He smelled no one nearby.
Still, he leaned in and lowered his voice. “Think about it. Your system is new, and Logan’s best. The chances of it malfunctioning are nil.”
“But if it didn’t malfunction, that leaves…”
A growl came from the other male’s chest, reassuring Luke. It meant Julian was finally considering the option.
“But who? No one has access to the controls except me, my lieutenants and Mr. Hinz.”
“Mr. Hinz and Nikos have been with you from the beginning. Blackmail to get their compliance is possible, but I wouldn’t think it likely. What about Reece?”
“No,” Julian said. “He’s a teenager so I make sure I know where he is every second of the day. He’s been nowhere near the alarm console. I’m sorry, I simply don’t see how it can be anything but a malfunction. No matter what you both say.”
Luke left feeling frustrated. He knew Emerson was wrong and he was right, but had no proof, and frankly nothing to convince anyone but logic—and it was difficult to argue convincingly when he had a raging hard-on that pulled all the blood from his brain.
This continued desire for Alexis was confusing. Sure, vampires were highly sexed creatures, fucking anyone at any time—until they were mated to their one-and-only. Vampires mated forever. He’d had a mate,
had a mate though he mourned her, marking time until he joined her in final death.
He returned to his room and nearly walked out again. It smelled of Alexis, of her sweet arousal and satisfaction, and her hair, like traipsing through the fields of his youth, plucking ripe wild strawberries, biting into juicy sweet fruit…
Before Adelaide. Before he’d learned what a miserable protector he was.
Clasping his head in clawed hands, he slumped on the bed. That answered that, didn’t it? He couldn’t ever get truly involved with Alexis, no matter how much his dick might say otherwise, because he couldn’t protect her.
I stomped through the townhouse looking for Julian, but when a sullen teenager started following me around, I decided I was behaving less like a logical, respectable physician and more like an axe-murdering zombie, and I beat a strategic retreat. Besides, my cousin, or actually my second cousin, lived here in Julian’s household. If she caught me, I’d never hear the end of it. I left to get a good night’s sleep. I’d argue more tomorrow. After that orgasm, I’d certainly be sleeping soundly.
Okay, okay. The real reason was, Luke’s mind-blowing orgasm made me as argumentative as a cooked noodle.
I walked the few feet to the townhouse where we were staying… I caught my mental slip and damned Julian for planting doubt in my mind.
townhouse. Definitely time to regroup, on more than one front. But when I got there, a light was on behind the drawn living room curtains, and I knew I wasn’t going to get the chance.
Lizelle was up.
With a sigh, I stopped outside. My best friend since childhood would want to know what had happened. I didn’t want to tell her.
I was afraid it might trigger her running back to her husband for help.
Maybe she’d had enough of his abuse, and certainly she was no longer in the pro-John-Umbras camp, but that didn’t stop him from offering her money and the trappings of security and other stuff to try to suck her back in.
But I couldn’t
say anything because she’d see through any fake calm. After AP Psych and Communications 101, she’d considered herself a psychology major even though she never made it past her freshman year. It did give her academic validation for exploring the muck of my issues, though she loved doing that even as a kid.
A curtain twitched aside. Lizelle’s narrow face confronted me—along with a shaking index finger.
She let the curtain drop to fling open the front door. Slender to the point of skinny, blue-veined porcelain skin and fine red hair, Lizelle looked fragile, and sometimes she was, especially around her husband. But she could also be pretty darn tough, like now.
“You look awful.” She grabbed my wrist and dragged me inside. “Tea. Now.”
Tea was a bad sign. It was her gentle, irresistible way of getting to the bottom of things. And with me, she knew exactly where to dig. All my secrets were vulnerable. My only hope was for her to fall asleep before I blurted every last detail.
“Wine?” I said hopefully.
“We drank it all after you zeroed your bank account to secure this place.”
“Oh yeah. Beer?”
Lizelle smiled. “This is Meiers Corners. Of course there’s beer.”
Gott sei Dank
.” Even if alcohol didn’t make her sleepy, it would make hemorrhaging my secrets less painful for me.
She led the way. I dragged after her into the old kitchen with its cracked linoleum and vinyl wallpaper. She went straight to the chest-style freezer to get the beer glasses.
While I squirted the lime juice we liked in the bottom of the glasses, she pulled cans from the slope-shouldered refrigerator that had once been white but, through decades of repeated scrubbings, was now a mottled gray. The Grand Plan called for buying institutional appliances and new furnishings when I actually owned the place, but until then we got Mr. Crahn’s basics from 1950. I’d talked him into letting us stay here when I put the earnest money down, unorthodox, but I’d sold him on the place being safer if not left empty—and then sweetened the deal by adding several thousand dollars for a security deposit. Not conventional, but nothing was in Meiers Corners, and a little extra cash never hurt. Anything to keep Lizelle from Umbras’s clutches.
John Umbras. I snapped the cap back on the lime juice with more force than needed, thinking about the manipulative bastard. He could sweet-talk Lizelle into anything, including coaxing her within fist range. She needed a home away from his sphere of influence, and since he had tendrils throughout Chicago, the only place I knew she’d be safe was here.
Lizelle was a strong, vital woman—except with him. The sooner she divorced him, the better. Though I’d managed to talk her into an order of protection, he kept calling her, saying he deserved to see his daughter. Anybody else she’d have told him to suck eggs and promptly called the cops to enforce the OOP, but he had a golden tongue and played all her insecurities like a Steinway. Hell, sometimes even I almost believed him. It was harder for her to deny him because he’d always paid the bills and never, ever laid a hand on his child.
Which reminded me. “Where’s Una?” Una was Lizelle’s twelve-year-old daughter.
“In bed. It’s after midnight. What kind of mom do you think I am?” She rested the cans on the thick oak table, popped them one at a time and poured, the glug-glug and hiss of carbonation waking my taste buds.
I put a placating hand on her shoulder. “The best.”
She accepted my tacit apology by handing me the first frosty glass. “Sit. Was it work, or whatever happened after work?”
“How do you know something happened?” I slid into one of the comfortably worn matching oak chairs.
She took the chair next to me, crossing her legs. She said the casual position helped people be more at ease, but I knew she did it to make me let my guard down.
“You steamed into the yard with your power-walk, which you only do when you’re determined to act but have no idea what to do. Not only did you power-walk in, you look half-bewildered, half-riled, and half-mindblown—”
“That’s too many halves.”
talking.” One chiding eyebrow rose, coolly admonishing me to silence. She could’ve sold that eyebrow as both a deterrent and an industrial lie detector. “In the ER, you’re the epitome of competence and calm. Everywhere else you’re hell on wheels with a plan. So when you blow in here an hour late, your cheeks glowing, your hair mussed and your eyes dreamy, then hard, then dreamy again, you’re not going to bed until I get the skinny. All of it. Spill.”
I drank beer to cover rapid thinking…good beer. No, thinking. I didn’t want to bring up Julian salivating over our townhouses, so Luke might be a good diversion. Besides, it was just sex, right? A natural urge. Straightforward, easy to talk about.
Suuuuure it was. “I met this guy at the hospital. Blond, uncle to the patient, a little girl. He’s an identical twin to the father, actually. Did you know the twin gene is on the X chromosome, and therefore only expresses through the mother?”
“Yes. And I also know that only applies to fraternal twins, not identical. Which means you’re avoiding.”
“Me?” I blinked with as much innocence as I could muster.
The eyebrow warned I wasn’t getting away with it. “Glowing cheeks and dreamy eyes say more than ‘met someone’. That rapidly reddening face practically screams ‘got lucky’.”
I touched an automatic hand to my cheek; it did feel hot. “Yes, all right, he gave me an orgasm.”
“He gave you more than an orgasm. That dreamy flushed look? You’ve met The One.”
“Ridiculous. It was only sex. Never gave him a second thought after.”
“Oh, please,” Lizelle said. “That play-acting ‘I’m not swooning over a guy’ was cute when we were in middle school, but really, Alexis. At your age?” Her theatrical, long-suffering tone meant she was teasing me, taking the sting out.
“Hey,” I teased back. “What’s wrong with my age? It’s your age too.”
“Yes, but I’ve already had my kid. You’re a risky pregnancy waiting to happen.”
“You’re just jealous that I’m single, successful and old enough to know exactly what I want and go after it.”
“Another way of saying you’re an old maid.”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
She raised both brows, her argument ender trump.
I simply shook my head with a smile. “Did you really know all that from just my face?”
“Some of it. But I’ll admit Dolly might have called to confirm an appointment, and we might have talked.”
“Oh?” I said cautiously. Dolly Barton’s Curl Up and Dye salon was Meiers Corners’ gossip Grand Central. Dolly, a seventy-year-old platinum-blonde dynamo, looked exactly like the country singer except older and shorter. Like a Dolly Parton Mini-Me. She knew everything that went on, sometimes even before it happened. The Oracle at Delphi would have rejected Dolly’s job application as overqualified.
Sure enough, Lizelle went on, “She said you were seen with a blond hunk, and that she was pretty sure the hunk was Luke Steel. He’s also called ‘The Untouchable Steel’ and usually has three or four bikini babes at a time in exotic locales like jumbo jet restrooms and kinky clubs. Since you’re neither the ménage nor the bathroom-blowjob sort, I want to know exactly what’s going on.”
“I had a long night, Lizelle. Can I give details tomorrow?”
“Sure,” she said, shocking me, until she added, “Oh, by the way. Pharmaceutical magnate Giuseppe Marrone left a message on our voicemail, saying he didn’t mean to upset you about Julian. What’s that about?”
I think my jaw must’ve hit the table.
What did Marrone want now, and why couldn’t he leave me alone?
I opened my mouth to give her a half-truth.
“Nope. Try again.” One eyebrow raised.
“Damn. I hate it when you do that. Okay. Julian—”
This time I got
Eyebrows O’ Truth.
Julian thinks he wants our townhouses.”
“Your townhouses, and why not let him have them?”
“B-because…” Damn. I hadn’t told her my plan to open a shelter, passing off buying the pair of buildings as a place for us to live plus rental income. I was hoping to eventually get her involved enough in the shelter to coax her into an MSW program—those things make you lay your
bare dealing with your issues, and she’d never fall prey to Umbras’s manipulation again—but I had to ease her into it. “Because I put in earnest money. We’re living here. They’re as good as ours.” I knocked back the rest of my beer and stood. “In fact, I’m going to put in a couple more hours painting before bed.”
“Alexis, wait.” Lizelle put up both hands. “You’re tired and not going to bed? Avoidance, bestie dear. Admit it, you’re frantically painting and planning to cover up the fact that these townhouses
yours, not yet. Classic counting your chickens before they’re hatched.”
Wannabe psych majors. You had to love them—or they’d diagnose you. “I’m not counting my chickens.”
She arched that damned eyebrow. “I’m hearing clucking. I’m telling you this in all best-friendhood. We really don’t want to go up against Julian Emerson. If he wants these townhouses, let’s find someplace else.”
“Couldn’t you change the plan?” she said.
Words failed me. I stood there with my mouth in flytrap mode.
“I have an idea.” Her gaze twitched away. “I know you don’t like it, but John has money. I could contact him—”
” That kicked my jaw back into gear. Anything but her estranged husband.
Umbras seemed like an ideal mate—money, stability and huge shoulders, like he could easily carry the weight of the world, much less one woman and family. Almost as broad as Luke’s shoulders… But the real story was in Umbras’s thighs and calves, spindly, like he’d skipped all his leg days at the gym. That was his psyche in a nutshell. He had all the outward appearance of power but none of the inner strength.
“He’s smart,” Lizelle said as if following my thoughts. “Strong.”
But undisciplined, and dangerous exactly because he was undisciplined. He’d support her financially while undermining her emotionally. “He used his strength against you.”
“Yes, but he didn’t mean it. And he’s changed. The times I’ve talked to him on the phone—don’t worry, I shut him down unless it’s about Una—but, well, he’s really different now, you know? More…substantial.”
She had to know, deep inside, that she was making excuses for him. Maybe a defense mechanism to cover the place inside her that was still raw and bleeding, so she didn’t have to rehash even for a moment how wrong what happened to her was. But it meant if I continued to push, she’d start pushing back.
Instead I took it back to the basics. “Okay, fine. But he’ll offer that place of his in Chicago, and it’s not nearly as solid and
This place doubles as a tornado shelter, did you know that? C’mon, Lizelle, we can’t give up on here. Meiers Corners is a Mayberry of a town where everyone knows everyone else.” Translation: domestic abusers coming to town would stick out—but it was still half an hour from world-class medical care. “Besides, the rent would kill us.”
“John could get us a deal on the rent.” She held up her hand, stopping my tirade before
knew it was coming. “Just consider it, okay? Or consider another place—”
“You don’t get it.” I clenched my hands. How did I convince her without playing the master-vampire-next-door trump? “The location is perfect. Right next door to the ultimate safety.”
“What, an ethical lawyer?” Up went the eyebrow. “Julian isn’t going to be much help or protection if he’s pissed at us.” She paused. “If it’s the money—”
“But if it’s the money…really, John can help. I know I left him for good reason. Only…he was such an excellent provider. Besides, Una misses him. And if we need the money—”
” I repeated, even though we did. But what we needed more was for her to get a taste of our new life, one where she could make her own choices, without fear, where together our work would have meaning.
That would all go down the toilet if she fell back on old behaviors, on the financial safety he represented.
And if she went back to him for
I’d never get over the guilt.
“I have a plan, and it’s a good one.” I thought of my building renovation plans, safely rolled away in the cupboard, several pages of blueprints.
Well, I called them blueprints, though they were really my copy of the remodeling design, printed out on thin engineering paper. But the paper, cool and slightly rough like concrete,
substantial. More, the plans were in ink. There was reason for that. Ink was permanent.