Try to walk away after one nibble. Go ahead. We dare you…
Everything in Seth Gramble’s world came to a crashing halt the second Paxton Tenor entered the bar. The singer’s country twang ceased, the clank of beer bottles and glasses disappeared, and the din of loud voices over the cadence of the music evaporated until there was nothing left but her.
He wanted her.
Had wanted her since meeting her six months ago. When they’d crossed paths he’d been working a case as a consultant for Leid’s—a firm that supplied vampires and their extra-sensory perceptions to police departments and private security companies across the country. Seth had run into his best friend, Luke Summers, at the precinct where he was a detective. Luke introduced Seth to his partner, Paxton.
At first she’d been warm toward him, friendly even. Right up to the second Luke mentioned Seth was a vampire. Then she’d gone into lockdown and Seth hadn’t gotten anything but the cold shoulder from her since.
And who could blame her for the emotion, since one of his kind had killed her long-time lover two years ago. One rogue had turned Miss Paxton against vampires for life it seemed.
Two years was long enough to mourn, wasn’t it?
He was surprised he’d made it these last six months without claiming her. Only his business with Leid’s had protected her from his soul-deep desire of having her.
Perhaps wanting her was too soft an expression.
He needed her. In every sense of the word. He needed her trust. Needed her essence surrounding him. Needed her body beneath his, needed to be buried as deep inside her as he could go, his teeth imbedded in her soft skin. Needed her love.
Sitting back, waiting for her to get over her fear of him, wasn’t cutting it anymore. Watching a smile tug at the corners of her beautiful, bow-shaped mouth made Seth decide then and there that now was the time to do something about her dislike of his species.
Paxton smiled again, those full, ripe lips just begging to be kissed. She never looked at him that way, and his jealousy toward the woman now receiving the grin raged beneath his skin.
Just once he wanted that smile directed at him instead of her usual hide-behind-some-excuse reaction whenever he came near.
Paxton Tenor, the one woman in the world made for him, didn’t like him. Or at least didn’t like what he embodied. That bad seed had condemned the whole of his species in her eyes.
Her head tilted back, causing waves of auburn curls caught in a ponytail to cascade down her back and revealing her long, slender neck as she laughed at something her friend said. The sound made his balls tighten and his shaft thicken and harden to the point of pain. His incisors elongated, ready to penetrate the tender skin of her throat, allowing him to drink from her.
If he walked over to her, the melodic, orgasm-inducing laughter would stop, simply because he was near. Her pulse would speed up, allowing him to hear it beating, and the soft whoosh, whoosh would become a persistent hammer in her veins. Her muscles would tense, her hands would shake and a flush would stain her cheeks a pretty shade of pink.
It was the same flush he was sure he’d find on her body when he made her come the first time. And every time thereafter.
He’d make love to her. Soon. Because despite her cool demeanor, her nipples always tightened into little buds and the tell-tale scent of her arousal inevitably wafted across his nose whenever he was near her.
She wanted him.
She grotesquely hated that she did, but she wanted him just the same.
He allowed the rumble that bubbled from deep inside at Luke’s interruption.
“Hey, man, don’t eat the messenger.” The man threw his hands up in mock surrender.
“What?” Seth crumpled the napkin he’d swiped from beneath the bottle of Synth he hadn’t touched and urged his third persona, the jaguar, not to come forth and attack his best friend.
“You meeting with Cap tonight?”
Seth grunted and kept his gaze on Paxton as she stretched her arms above her head. The act elongated her torso and pushed her breasts against the fabric of the silky button-down shirt she wore.
“I thought so, but he hasn’t called yet,” Seth had known the captain wanted to see him. The owner of Leid’s Consulting had told Seth he’d been requested. That’s why he was here waiting for the captain’s call instead of back at home enjoying the ballgame in peace and quiet. Why go home when he was just going to get called in to work again?
What-the-hell-ever. He was here because he’d known Paxton would be here after a long day on the job.
“Yeah. He did. Said he couldn’t get a hold of you for some reason.” Luke’s tone was dry as he turned toward Paxton. “Can’t imagine what might be causing your brain to tune out.”
“Me neither.” Seth shook his head to clear it and forced himself to look away from the woman who’d made him miss a call. Not only had he not heard his phone, but he’d tuned out his telepathy as well. Damn psychic ability shorted out whenever Paxton was around. She made him useless.
“I tried to call your cell too. No answer. You’re so preoccupied your superior hearing isn’t even working?” Luke quirked an eyebrow and Seth could tell he was trying not to laugh. “We need you.”
Seth glanced at the phone on his hip and saw that he had in fact missed two calls, then slid his gaze to the reason he’d missed them. Paxton laughed again, sending every ounce of blood in Seth’s body to his groin.
“What’s the case?” His boss at Leid’s hadn’t specified what Captain Quinn wanted him for. Could be for any number of things. A serial rapist, an arsonist, a drug ring? He’d even taken part in a sting operation involving the trafficking of young girls.
Seth took a long drag of the Synth and grimaced at its coolness. He much preferred it warm. Or at the very least, room temperature. Too bad manufacturers hadn’t figured out a way to keep it fresh without refrigeration. Maybe he’d go out later for the real thing.
He eyed Paxton and there went his desire for the real thing. No other woman would be able to slake his hunger.
Luke slapped Seth on the shoulder. “The Panty Bandit, my friend.”
Seth choked on the Synth he’d yet to fully swallow, spraying the table with synthetic blood. Christ, he’d been thinking arsonist and they wanted him to find some dickweed with a panty fetish? “Are you kidding me?”
“Nope. Asshole’s been raiding panty drawers all over town, and Cap’s taking the heat from the mayor to catch the ass.”
Luke’s pager beeped at his waist. He looked down at the same exact moment Paxton did, indicating her pager had gone off too. Not surprising with them being partners.
“We gotta go. You too, Toothy. Your royal presence has been requested by Cap himself. Since you wouldn’t answer any of your usual methods of communication, he sent me as his errand boy to retrieve you. Next time, leave your brain on and open the airwaves so I don’t have to be his bitch.”
Sucking down the last of the Synth with a grimace, Seth stood. Paxton did also, still laughing at something her friend said and making Seth’s dick emulate his upright position, the same way it did every time he saw her.
“You like being his bitch, Luke, don’t deny it.” He threw a couple of bucks on the table as a tip.
“Only for you, vamp. Only for you.”
“How is your ass, by the way?” Seth taunted, continuing their longstanding joke of Luke being the captain’s bitch.
“You wish. Now shut the hell up, Toothy, and let’s go before Cap craps a diamond.”
They both turned to Paxton, who was watching them warily, apparently not wanting to get too close to Seth, which irritated him. He was done being irritated with her brushing him off. It was time to step into her personal space.
“You got your car, Pax, or you need a ride?” Luke asked.
She took a few steps forward. Seth stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans to try and look less intimidating. Or maybe it was because what he really wanted to do was tear that band out of her hair, tangle his hands in the long, silky strands, pull her to him and kiss the living hell out of her.
His fangs dropped, nicking his lip as if he were some out-of-control adolescent vamp. Wishing it was her blood, he licked the drop that welled, then heard her sharp intake of breath as he looked at her from beneath his lowered lids. Those beautiful green eyes were locked on his mouth, and the tip of her tongue came out to swipe across her own lips.
Holy mother of vampirism. Her pupils dilated, her nostrils flared and the pulse at the base of her throat went into overdrive. Seth didn’t let his gaze travel down to her breasts where he knew he’d find her nipples hard as rocks.
Goddammit. He wasn’t going to look.
“I have mine,” she snapped, yanking his attention from her chest. “I’ll meet you there.”
“Fine.” Luke palmed his keys then reached for Seth’s face with his thumb. “You got a little blood there, sweetie.”
Paxton smothered a laugh, and Seth wished he’d never vowed not to read her mind. He wanted to know all the things that made her laugh. He wanted to be the one to make her smile instead of pissing her off.
Seth slapped his moron friend’s hand away from his face. “I’ll follow you.”
Paxton walked beside her partner and nudged him with her elbow. “Why are you here?”
“To pick up Seth.”
“You mean Cap made you do his bidding again, huh?”
“Shad up.” He threw his arm around her neck and gave her a noogie.
Seth’s cat clamored inside his head again, and along with a few claws appearing at his fingertips, he couldn’t stop the possessive hiss that escaped his lips. Seeing his best friend’s arms around his woman did not sit well with any of his three personas—vamp, jaguar or human.
“You too, Toothy,” Luke said over his shoulder. “Your hissing doesn’t scare me.”
“What do we need him for?” Paxton whispered to Luke.
No need for her to whisper, Seth could hear every word, and she damn well knew it. Ah, the joy of being the bane of her existence. No problem. He’d take pleasure in teaching her that not all vampires were cut of the same cloth as the one who’d killed her lover.
The gun at Paxton’s right hip caught on Luke’s at his left as they walked, they were so close. Seth silently thanked God for making Luke a lefty. The small amount of space created by their weapons was the only thing keeping them from being glued together from shoulder to ankle.
Luke shrugged. “Maybe he can sniff out the bandit.”
“By smelling underwear? This I’ve got to see.”
Luke chuckled. “I don’t know exactly why Cap wanted him, but the mayor’s having a conniption, and I wasn’t about to question him.”
“I still don’t understand why you had to come get him. I thought the captain could…you know, talk to him. In his head or something. Don’t all vampires do that? And doesn’t the man own a phone?” she grumbled, still talking under her breath.
“He can, normally,” Seth answered, even though he knew she’d been speaking to Luke.
“Don’t do that.” Paxton stopped so fast Seth had to put his hands up to keep from running over her.
Her shoulders under his fingers—thank God his claws had disappeared—felt fantastic. It was all he could do not to run his hands down her body to her waist where he could yank her close and smother her lips with his.
He raised an eyebrow. “Do what?” he asked innocently.
“Read my mind.”
“But I didn’t. You said that out loud.”
“You did, Pax,” Luke confirmed. “Sorry.”
Paxton swallowed and lifted her eyes to Seth in an almost-shy way. “I didn’t say it loud enough for anyone else to hear.”
“For another human, sure. But to a vamp? I can hear your pulse, sweetheart.”
Her hand shot to the base of her throat, covering it.
Oh, Princess, give me an inch…
He leaned in close and inhaled the scent of her hair and skin. “Don’t cover it, baby. Won’t make it go away.” He pressed his lips to the area just below her ear, reveling in the fact she didn’t jump back from him this time. Her blood pounded in her veins, louder as she held her breath.
“Breathe, baby. I won’t hurt you.”
She sucked in a breath, shocked no doubt that he’d spoken in her head for the first time. “How do you do that?”
He straightened. “Part of who I am.”
“Can I—? Never mind,” she spat, cutting herself off.
Damn. For a minute there he’d thought he had her intrigued. He answered her anyway. “Not yet.”
Her eyes narrowed in confusion, and Seth eased her forward with a hand at the small of her back. Her partner held the door open as they walked out of the cop-filled bar into the warm night air.
“What do you mean ‘not yet’?”
“We haven’t bonded.”
Son of a bitch. He hadn’t meant to say that. Not until he’d made love to her and told her she was his mate. Oh, and there was the little problem of convincing her that not all vampires were created equal.
Sighing, he stopped her and tilted her face with a finger under her chin. Now that he’d made the decision to go for her, he wasn’t about to stop touching her. “Yes.”
“What do you mean, ‘bonded’?”
“Jesus, Pax, you sound like a parrot. Bonded. Had sex. Mated,” Luke rattled off.
Seth swore and stomped on Luke’s foot. The man grunted and cursed like a girl then punched Seth’s shoulder. Seth barely felt it, though knowing Luke, it was probably a hefty left jab.
Paxton huffed. “I’m not having sex with you.”
Seth grinned. “You will.”
This time her eyes narrowed in anger. “Think so?”
“Nope. I know so.” He nudged her forward again, heading for the parking lot and her six-year-old, blue Toyota Camry.
“Arrogant prick.” She spoke from the corner of her mouth.
Luke propped his arms on top of the driver door when Seth pulled it open for Paxton. “So if bonding is how you’re able to hear someone else talking to you, maybe we should ask Cap how his ass is.”
Seth laughed out loud. “Go right ahead. I dare you. But promise you’ll let me be in the room when you ask.” He motioned Paxton into the driver’s seat. Before she could stick her key in the ignition he reached across her with the seat belt and buckled her in.
“I can buckle my own seat belt, thank you very much, and don’t think for one second I will ever sleep with you,” she ground out, leaning as far back in the seat as possible to avoid his crowding her.
“I know you can buckle yourself, but it gave me a good excuse to touch you again. And I never said anything about sleeping, Princess.” He drew his lips across hers as he backed out and was fairly surprised she didn’t smack him in return. Especially since, in all the time he’d known her, he hadn’t touched her once, and now he’d nuzzled her ear and kissed her lightly in the space of a few minutes. He’d waited long enough for her to feel comfortable in his presence. He was done waiting. Might as well push the envelope and drag her feelings out of her.
She pressed her lips together, whether in mutiny or excitement, he couldn’t tell. The one thing he did know was that at the moment she wasn’t really frightened of him, per se, but of what she felt between them. The same thing he felt.
A minor victory, he considered, based on her view of vampirism.
“Be safe,” he murmured and yanked the door out from under Luke’s arms to shut it.
This time he was pretty sure she was pissed because she mouthed the word asshole before cranking the engine to life and backing out of the space, leaving Seth standing there chuckling and Luke grinning from ear to ear.
“She must like you. She doesn’t call just anyone asshole.”
“You saw that too, did you?” Seth’s fangs dropped to razor-sharp points. If she could call him an asshole, it meant she was warming up to him.
And he was about to take full advantage of the situation.