Full Moon Rising
Chapter Eight

 Keri Arthur

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Awareness returned slowly. It came as an ache - a throbbing heat that radiated from hot spots in my arm and my neck, with smaller flares of warmth coming from my wrists and my ankles
Noise surrounded me. My heart, beating nine to the dozen in time with the pain. Above that, the throbbing beat of a bass, a rhythmic tune that seemed to pound through the metal underneath me, mingling with the deeper, throatier roar of an engine
Laughter drifted past - deep, powerful and male. With it came scents - musk, mint, and decay, entwined within the metallic odor of blood. Blood that was stiff and heavy on the sleeve of my coat
I cracked open my eyes. There was nothing to see but blackness. I blinked, and realized the blackness was a cover of some sort. Pinpricks of light spotted the material, indicating it was daylight. I wondered if it were the same day, or another
Laughter edged across the noise again, and through the musky foulness of the blanket covering me I caught a whiff of alcohol. I hoped that meant my captors were drinking, that it wasn't just another odor coming from the blanket covering me. The chances of escape escalated if the men were boozing
I shifted slightly, trying to ease the ache in my arm. Chains rattled, scraping harshly across the metal flooring underneath me. The surrounding noise stopped, and I froze
"She awake?" The voice was deep, guttural
There was several beats of silence, then, "Nah. I told you, they pumped her with enough juice to drop an elephant. She won't wake for at least another twenty-four hours." The second voice was a mirror image of the first
Silence fell again. I listened to the hum of the tires against the road and, after a while, drifted off to sleep. The slamming of a car door woke me sometime later
The road noise had stopped. So too had the throaty roar of the engine. The sharp odor of the two men had faded somewhat, and I could hear only one intake of breath
It might be the only chance I had to escape. I lowered my shields a little, feeling out the thoughts of the man still in the van. Unlike the guards at Moneisha, this man was shielded from psychic intrusion
I swore under my breath. That one fact would make escape more difficult. The only chance I really had now was if I could somehow get the man's attention and get him in the back of the car with me
And the best way to get a man's attention? Flash some breast, of course
I shifted a hand. Metal clinked against the metal again. Obviously, I'd been chained, and if the burning on my wrists and ankles was anything to go by, those chains were silver. I couldn't claim my wolf form until they were off
In the front of the van, the man stirred. I held still, waiting, until the squeaking of the seat indicated he had gone back to whatever he was doing. Slowly, carefully, I undid the buttons on my coat, then pulled up my sweater. Once my breasts were free, I flicked off the foul-smelling blanket and rolled onto my back. I kept my eyes closed, my breathing slow and even, as if I were still out of it
The seat squeaked again, then came a sharp intake of breath. Desire surged around me, a hunger as sharp as any wolf's
For several seconds, nothing happened. Then the van lurched as the man moved into the back with me. The scent of mint and death became so strong my nose twitched. Only with those scents came a feeling of wrongness. This man wasn't human, wasn't wolf, wasn't even a shapeshifter or vampire. He was something else, something I'd never come across before
And whatever he was, he was dying
The heat of him caressed my skin. His breathing was short, sharp, the smell of his desire so strong it stirred the moon fever in me
He stopped. I cracked open an eye, watching as he reached for me. His eyes were a muddy brown and filled with hungry intentness. Around his neck was a thin piece of wire - the psychic shield. Get that off, and his mind was mine
His fingers ran across my breasts, his touch hot and somehow foul. Bile rose in my throat, but I resisted the urge to move. He smiled, revealing teeth that were as pointed as any vampire's but stained black and rotten
It took me a moment longer to realize those teeth were actually extending. He was going to feed... on my breasts
I lurched up, chopping a hand across the windpipe with as much force as I could muster. He made a gargling sound, his eyes wide as he struggled to breathe
I gave him no time to think, no time to react, just ripped the wire from his throat, almost garroting him in the process. With the wire gone, I lowered my shields and surged into his mind, swiftly taking control
I thrust him back against the wall of the van. Pain burned up my wounded arm, and sweat broke out across my brow. There wasn't a lot of strength in my grip, and I was forced to switch hands. The chains chimed, jarring against the sound of the stranger's harsh breathing
Using my free hand, ignoring the increasing pain, I gripped his face and forced him to look at me. "Where has the other man gone?"
His voice was as flat and as lifeless as his eyes when he answered. "For a crap."
So I had maybe five minutes more, at best. "Where is the key for the chains?"
"He has them."
I swore softly. "Where are we?"
"In a rest stop near Seymour."
Which was only about forty-five miles out of Melbourne. Obviously, not enough of the elephant juice had gotten into my system, because I'd slept little under an hour. "Where are the keys for the van?"
"In the ignition."
"Move into the passenger seat."
He obeyed. I wiped the sweat from my eyes and knew from the pounding ache beginning behind my eyes that I couldn't hold that depth of control for much longer
I threw off the blanket and looked down at the chains. They were definitely silver, not metal, but luckily, they weren't tethered to anything in the van. They'd wanted to restrict my movements, but hadn't expected me to wake before they'd reached their destination. I pulled down my sweater, climbed into the front of the van, and started the engine
"Where were you taking me?"
"Genoveve, then Libraska."
The first name rang a distant bell. I'd heard it somewhere before. But at present, I didn't have the time to worry about it or to question him any further. I had to escape before the second man came out because I very much doubted if I'd have the strength to battle two of them
"If you've got a phone, give it to me."
He did
"Has the man in the toilet got one?"
He nodded. I swore softly. The minute I took off in this van, they'd be ringing their superiors to report the fact - and there wasn't one thing I could do to prevent it. There were limits to my mind control and I wasn't about to hang around just to destroy that second phone. It wasn't worth the risk
"Climb out and go to the toilet."
Again he obeyed. I leaned across the seat, locked the door, and threw the van into reverse. The tires squealed against the bitumen, and out of the corner of my eye I saw someone running out of the men's toilet, pants flapping around his knees
Smiling grimly, I shoved the van into gear and sped off. The control I had on the second man snapped, and the pain of it rebounded through me, as sharp as glass. I glanced in the rearview mirror and, through the blur of tears, saw the second man running after me. He was fast. Vampire fast
I flattened my foot. The old van shuddered and began to pick up speed, blowing smoke as I sped out of the rest stop and headed for the free-flowing traffic on the Hume Highway
A quick glance in the mirror told me the second guard was almost close enough to open the back doors. I didn't think I could eke any more speed out of the van, so I did the next best thing - cut from the merge lane into the left lane, right in front of a car. Tires squealed behind me. I looked up to see a Ford slither sideways, clipping the rear of the van and throwing me forward. As I battled to keep the van straight, the Ford spun into the path of the guard, throwing him up and over the hood. He landed on the strip between the merge lane and the left lane, and didn't move
I sped on. I'd escaped. Now I just had to get back to my brother. One thing was certain - I couldn't do it in the van. It was too hot - because of the accident, and because my escape was undoubtedly being reported back to those behind the kidnapping attempt
I took the off-ramp to Seymour and eased up on the accelerator. The last thing I needed was to be picked up by the cops. I cruised through town, turning into a side street near the outskirts. This I followed until I came to a crossroad. After looking both ways, I headed right, simply because it was a dirt track that disappeared into trees
When I was deep within shadows, I pulled off the road and stopped. It was then that reaction set in. For several seconds, I didn't move, simply sat there, sucking in breath and swallowing bile, my whole body trembling
Eventually, I found the strength to move. I grabbed the phone, then opened my door. The chains on my legs weren't long, forcing me to jump down rather than climb
Evening was coming on, painting the patches of sky visible through the gums with red. The air was cool, filled with the scents of eucalyptus and grass. In the distance, cows mooed, and, beyond that, water rustled
I shoved the phone in my pocket and headed that way. I needed a drink more than I needed anything else. Besides, I had to put distance between me and the van
But walking through scrub isn't easy, particularly when chained. By the time I had reached the river, my throat was parched, my head pounded, my muscles were protesting every step, and the trees were doing a mad dance around me
I dropped to my knees on the muddy riverbank, and greedily scooped up some water. It tasted of dirt, but it was wet and cold, and that was all that mattered. I splashed some over my face and neck, then washed the blood from my left hand
Kookaburras laughed in the distance. I would have laughed with them, had I the energy. What a mess. So much for Jack's thinking I'd make a good guardian
With a sigh, I stripped off my coat, then tore off the sleeve of my sweater to reveal the wound. It was another mess - swollen, red, with a hole as big as my fist. It had scabbed over, and was no longer bleeding, but it didn't look good. I needed to change to my wolf shape, needed to let my natural healing capabilities do their stuff. But with the chains on, I was trapped in human form
I wet my sleeve, washed down my arm, then wrapped the cloth around the wound. As bandages went, it wasn't particularly hygienic, but I didn't have any other option. Besides, the cool wetness felt good against my feverish skin. I put my coat back on, then rose and studied the surroundings
Where to now?
I rubbed my throbbing head and stared almost blindly at the trees on the other side of the small river. I couldn't go back to town with the chains on, couldn't risk going anywhere near the freeway. I needed help and I needed it fast, as I had a vague suspicion my arm was going to get a lot worse. I had the phone, but did I dare use it? Satellite tracking was so sophisticated these days, they could pinpoint to the millimeter anything that had a satellite chip in it - and most phones did
That thought made me pull the phone out of my pocket. It wasn't on, but did it matter? I didn't know. Couldn't think. I stared at it for a moment longer, then threw it onto the ground and stomped on it, before kicking the broken remains into the river. Better safe than sorry
For several seconds, I simply stared at the horizon and swayed, wondering what I should do. Then I made my decision and walked into the river, angling sharply across it. The chains snagged on every rock, and after what seemed the hundredth time, it occurred to me that I should lift them out of the way
I finally reached the bank and pushed myself into a lope. Through the blur that was beginning to overtake my mind came one thought - I needed distance between me and the van
The red flags of dusk faded into night. The chiming of the chains mingled with the chirruping of crickets, and in the long grass to the right and the left, small creatures rustled. Overhead, the moon was rising, a presence I could feel more than see. I ran on. Sweat bathed my body and my muscles shook. Every breath seared my lungs, yet it was nothing compared to the pain flowing from the wound on my arm. It felt like someone was holding a hot iron to my flesh, and just burning, burning
I stumbled across the road before I even realized it was there. I staggered back, chest heaving as I battled to suck in the air my body desperately craved. The sign danced and blurred before my eyes, and I blinked. It didn't seem to help much. With a shaking hand, I wiped the sweat from my face, and tried to focus. Baker's Road, God knew where. I looked up and down the dusty expanse, seeing no hint of civilization either way. I sniffed the air. The faint smell of spring caressed the night - jasmine. Not something normally found in the wilds of the bush. There had to be a house somewhere close
I headed back to the trees and walked parallel to the road. Cows mooed nearby and I moved back to the road. A building came into view - it didn't look to be a house, more a two-story tin shed that had power lines running to it. Maybe - hopefully - a weekend retreat. One that was unoccupied
I stopped and switched to the infrared of my vampire vision. No red splotches indicated life anywhere close - nothing beyond the cows, anyway
Relief surged, leaving me trembling and weaker than ever. I forced my feet to move on and listened intently. There was nothing to be heard beyond the crickets and the cows. The scent of jasmine got stronger, and I sneezed. Half the shed was covered in the vine - obviously, the owners didn't get hay fever
The door was locked. I stood back and kicked it, almost toppling in the process. The door flew open, and the cow nearest me snorted and leapt away
The scents of vanilla, red gum, and mustiness flowed from the shed but were quickly overpowered by the jasmine. I stepped inside and closed the door. Though it was pitch-black, my vampire vision allowed me to see that the room was a combined kitchen, dining, and living area, all in one big expanse. What looked like stairs were near the back, presumably leading upstairs to the bedroom. And near them, a phone
Relief surged through me and I staggered over. Plonking down on a step, I reached over and picked up the receiver. Dial tone. If I'd had the energy, I would have danced
The numbers were a smudge I couldn't make out, forcing me to dial through touch more than sight. I called Jack rather than Rhoan, simply because my brother would have felt my distress and would no doubt be out looking for me - soreness or no soreness. And while Liander would be with him, my fuzzy brain couldn't recall his number. As the phone rang, I leaned against the banister and tried to ignore the pounding in my brain and my arm. Tried to ignore the fact the darkness seemed to be closing in on me
"Parnell here."
I closed my eyes, never in my life more relieved to hear my boss's gruff tones. "Jack, it's Riley."
"Jesus, girl, where are you? We found your car - "
The world was spinning, burning, darkening, and time was something I didn't have much of. Not before that darkness claimed me, anyway. I cut him off. "I'm somewhere in the wilds beyond Seymour. In a shed, on a Baker's Road. There are cows... and jasmine."
"Riley? Keep the line open, and we'll do a trace."
"They're tracing me," I said. "Hurry..."
My voice faded, and the blackness sucked me away
* * *
When awareness surfaced, it was once again to the sensation of pain. In my arm, my wrists, and ankles. Burning, agonizing pain
I shifted, moaning softly, trying to escape the heat and yet unable to. Cool cotton caressed my skin as I moved, and it was then I realized I was no longer on the stairs, but somewhere warm and soft. Water touched my forehead, icy against my fevered skin
"It's okay," a velvet rich voice assured. "You're okay."
How could I be okay when it felt like I was lying in the middle of an oven? "Quinn?"
"Yes. You're safe, Riley."
I licked dry lips and forced my eyes open. His face hovered above me, angelic face expressionless but dark eyes lit with fury
"I'm sorry," I croaked, "but I couldn't let you take Rhoan to Sydney. Not until I'd talked to him."
"Don't worry about it."
"Where are we?"
"Still at the farmhouse."
I swore softly and tried to rise, but my muscles felt like water. He held me down easily
"They'll find us," I protested
"If anyone finds us here, I'll deal with them." Though his tone was flat, his expression left me in no doubt as to how he'd deal with them. "For now, you need to rest."
"I can't." I sounded like a petulant child, and that's exactly how I felt. "It feels like I'm on fire."
"I know." His voice was grim. "Rhoan will be back soon."
"From where? Why isn't he here?"
"Hush," he said softly. "Just rest and conserve your strength."
His words were an order my body seemed eager to obey. I closed my eyes, but the burning would not be ignored. I shifted my hand, trying to find a more comfortable place to rest it, and heard the clink of chains. "Why are they still on?"
"Because there's nothing here strong enough to cut them." His mind surged into my mind, a cool force that would not be denied. Sleep, Riley
Against my instincts, against my will, I did
When I next woke, the pain had finally eased. I lay in darkness, and no longer felt like I was under the grill setting in an oven. The ache in my arm had muted, on a par with the pain coming from my ankles and wrists. I shifted, and was relieved to hear only the whisper of the sheets. The chains had finally gone
I opened my eyes. Saw shadows mingling with strings of cobwebs. I blinked, noted the corrugated iron roof beyond the cobwebs, and realized I was still in the shed. The air was dusty, rich with the scent of wood and smoke and vanilla. But overpowering that was the warm scent of spice and leather. A scent I'd recognize anywhere. I smiled and looked left
Rhoan sat in a chair near the bed, his short red hair sticking out at all sorts of angles, his bare feet propped up on the dresser, legs slightly apart. He wasn't wearing jeans, simply black boxers, but he did have a sweater on. Again, it was black. Considering his love of bright colors, finding him in basic black was quite a surprise
His smoke-colored gaze met mine, and I saw the relief there. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever wake."
His voice was etched with tiredness, and I raised an eyebrow. "The wound was obviously worse than I'd thought."
He took his feet off the dresser and walked carefully over. The bed creaked as he sat down. "Worse is an understatement."
He picked up my hand and held it to his chest, just over his heart. The steady beat reverberated through my fingers, and I knew, without his saying a word, just how close I'd come to leaving this life
"Don't ever try and die on me again, you hear? It's not allowed. Ever."
Tears touched my eyes, and I blinked them away. "But it was just an arrow - "
"An arrow made of silver," he cut in. "With barbs that had been designed to break off in your flesh and travel through your system. You were being poisoned, inside and out."
Horror recoiled through me. No wonder I'd burned. I swallowed, but it didn't seem to ease the dryness in my throat. "But why would they do that if they were after the same thing from me as they were from you?"
He shrugged. "Jack's theory is that a woman is born with all the eggs she'll ever have, whereas a man keeps on producing sperm. Maybe those eggs were all they really wanted."
They were bastards. Whoever they were, they were bastards. And crazy ones at that. "So how did you get the barbs out?"
"With an experimental medical scanner Jack borrowed from the Directorate. One barb had reached your shoulder, the other two had headed down your arm." He hesitated. "You were delirious by that time. It wasn't easy."
His tone suggested something had happened, and it wasn't hard to guess what. Once the silver had been removed, my natural instincts would have taken control, whether or not I was delirious. I took a deep breath and released it slowly. "Whom did I attack?"
He grimaced. "Quinn. Savaged his arm pretty badly before we gained control again."
Attacking the man I wanted to seduce was not the brightest thing I'd ever done. "Has he wolf in his background?"
At least that was one good thing - we didn't have to keep an eye on him the night of the full moon. "So how long was I out?"
"Twenty-four hours. It's Tuesday, and four in the afternoon."
"I hope you let Jack know I'm not going to make it to work."
He smiled. "Jack knows. He's still downstairs."
I yawned, then asked, "Why?"
"Because another attempt was made on his life. Until we know what's going on, this shed is our temporary headquarters."
"I'm sure the owners will be pleased about that."
"The owners are currently overseas and not expected back for another two weeks. We're as safe here as we would be anywhere."
"Only problem with that is the fact we're out in the middle of nowhere."
"That means squat in this day and age." He grinned, kissed my fingers, and rose. "You feel ready for something to eat?"
"I suppose." I paused. "What about the moon? We can't avoid what it does to us, and out here, it's going to prove a problem."
His smile faded, and he scrubbed a hand through his short hair. "I know. Liander's here, but given what you said on the phone about Talon, I didn't think you'd want him close."
"I don't."
"Then Quinn is a possible solution for you. His behavior over the last twenty-four hours certainly suggests he's interested."
I grinned. "I know for a fact he's more than a little interested in some werewolf action."
A smile touched his lips, but his eyes sparkled with worry. "Be careful with him, sis."
My earlier wariness of Quinn came back in a rush. "Are you two actually friends?"
"Yes, and that's why I'm giving you the warning. I think he's the type you could fall for. Just... don't."
"He's not a wolf, so he hardly qualifies for the type I'd fall for." I paused, then added, "So why the warning?"
"Because a wolf almost destroyed him, and he's sworn never to get involved with another one."
"He's already given me that speech. What did that wolf do?"
"I don't know the details. I just know he will never again trust another wolf."
"He trusts you."
"Only up to a point." He shrugged, as if it didn't matter, and didn't hurt, when I knew it did. Like me, Rhoan didn't have all that many good friends. "Just take the sex if it's offered and walk away when it's over. Trust me, it's all you'll get anyway."
"It's all I want, so it should be no problem."
He studied me for a moment, then leaned forward and kissed my forehead. "I'll get you something to eat. You stay here and rest."
I caught his arm before he could move away. "Any word from Kelly?"
He hesitated, then shook his head. "They're still looking, though."
I closed my eyes, but no matter how much I tried to stop it, fear still rose. Though I guess no news was good news inasmuch as that it still allowed hope. I had to cling to that. Had to
He placed his hand over mine and squeezed lightly. "She'll be okay, sis."
I nodded and released his arm. He walked away, still looking like a cowboy who'd spent too many days in the saddle. I took a breath and let it out slowly, then lifted the sheet and took stock. My left arm was bandaged from shoulder to fingers, and my right wrist and both ankles were also bandaged. I could move my bandaged fingers, even though it hurt, so once again I'd been lucky. But how much longer would my luck hold? Sooner or later, those bastards would get me - unless we got them first
Of course, to get them, I had to become part of Jack's team. Had to take yet another step to giving him what he wanted - me, as a guardian
"Everything is still there, if that's what you're checking."
Amusement played in the depths of Quinn's warm voice, and I looked up with a smile. "A girl likes to see these things for herself."
The smile teasing the corners of his luscious mouth warmed his dark eyes, and both did strange things to my pulse rate. The moon might not have risen yet, but the fever was beginning to burn through my veins, thanks to his presence
He grabbed the chair Rhoan had vacated and pulled it close to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," I replied politely. "How are you feeling?"
The smile grew. He brushed a finger down my cheek, his touch lingering near my mouth. "At least your skin no longer burns."
He wasn't feeling it from my side. "How's your arm?"
The bump under his sweater suggested I'd done a good job - his left arm appeared to be bandaged as much as mine
He shrugged. "A vampire heals almost as fast as a wolf. I'll be fine in a day or so."
"I'm sorry I attacked you." I smiled slightly, and added, "Both times."
His fingers drifted down my neck, trailing heat across my skin. His expression was distracted - a look that had nothing to do with blood hunger, and everything to do with a man being confronted by a naked woman. "Both events were instinctive. There's nothing to forgive."
His touch reached my shoulder and skimmed the bandages. Goose bumps fled across my skin, a sensation that owed nothing to fear or pain
"But there's something we need to talk about."
His gaze came back to me. Fires burned in the black depths, a heat I could feel through every fiber. "I want you."
It appears werewolves weren't the only ones up front when it comes to sex. "Good."
His fingers skimmed the rise of my breasts, and my nipples woke to painful life. My mind might be advising caution, but my body was screaming yes, yes!
"When?" He was speaking softly, the lilt of Ireland caressing his voice, sending my already erratic pulse into overdrive
"Soon," I said, voice breathy. "Not now."
His fingers slipped under the sheet, taking an agonizingly circular route to my aching nipples. Slowly, teasingly, he rolled his thumb across one hard nub. "That's a shame."
My hormones thought so too. "Tell me about the wolf who hurt you."
He stopped, but his fingers were so warm against my skin it felt like he was branding me. Then his gaze met mine, and I saw the hardness there. Rhoan was right. This man would never give me anything more than sex. The wolf who had been here before me had totally destroyed this vampire's heart
His touch left me, and while I regretted that, curiosity was still stronger than desire. One of these days, I was going to have to leash my curious instincts before they landed me in water too hot to get out of. Or, in this case, out of luck with one of the sexiest vampires I'd ever come across
He leaned back in the chair, his face expressionless. "Why?"
"Because Rhoan warned against getting too involved with you, and since he rarely gives that sort of advice, I'm wondering why he chose to do so now."
Surprise touched his stern features. "Rhoan said that?"
"You've said that, too," I reminded him. "I'm gathering that we werewolves are good enough for a dance or two, but nothing more?"
His gaze met mine, the dark depths cold and hard. "Basically, yes."
"Meaning, you hold the all-too-human view that werewolves are little more than whores who have little or no control over their base instincts?"
I snorted, inexplicably disappointed. "And here I was thinking that a thousand years might have knocked a little knowledge into your brain."
His smile was grim. "A thousand years has knocked knowledge into my brain. And my experiences with wolves have confirmed my beliefs."
I thought back to the pictures I'd seen of his fiancee. Remembered the articles saying she'd disappeared. "Eryn was a wolf, wasn't she?"
His nod was short, sharp
"What did she do?"
His hesitation was brief, but nevertheless there. His reluctance to talk about the subject was obvious, and yet he was. Did that suggest he wanted me more than he wanted to keep his secrets?
"We met during a moon phase," he said, voice low and devoid of the sexy lilt. "But the fever continued on after. I couldn't get enough of her. I thought it was love."
I raised an eyebrow. "And it wasn't?"
"No. It was a drug called Everlasting."
I frowned. Everlasting wasn't a drug I'd ever heard of - though there were certainly plenty of them to be found in the clubs. "What does it do?"
"Imitate the moon fever in races other than werecreatures."
My gaze widened. "That's dangerous."
"Very. Thankfully, it was only experimental. Eryn was working for the company developing it and decided to do a little field test. I was the subject she chose."
Then she didn't research well enough, because anyone with half a brain could see you didn't want to mess with this particular vampire. "So she never loved you?"
"Oh, I'm sure she loved my money."
I blinked at the sheer depths of anger so evident in his flat tones. "What happened?"
"I bought the company, then destroyed the whole project."
"So Everlasting is no more?"
"And what about Eryn?"
"Last I heard, she was working in a whorehouse in Sydney." His sudden smile was ferocious. "A suitable occupation for a wolf who was little more than a slut after money."
I stared at him, knowing he'd taken her mind, altered her self-image. Made her believe she was what she'd become. A shiver ran through me. As punishments went, it was as cold as you could get
"And what do you think I'm after?"
"Nothing more than sex." He hesitated, then gave me a slow, sexy smile that had my hormones scrambling and toes curling. "Which brings me neatly back to my original question - when?"
"My brother insists I eat and regain some strength before I do anything too vigorous."
"And I intend for it to be very vigorous."
Oh, man... "How about we seal the deal with a kiss?" Because if I didn't at least taste him, I might just explode with frustration. Though it was very possible that I would explode even if he did kiss me
He leaned forward, his hand cupping my cheek as his mouth captured mine. It was a kiss unlike any I'd ever experienced - a long, slow possession that left me gasping for breath and hotter than I'd ever been for a man
I couldn't wait to see what he could do when he had the time to explore more fully
"Your brother's climbing the stairs with your dinner," he whispered, brushing his lips across mine a final time before he sat back
I took a deep breath, but it was filled with the scent of him, the richness of sandalwood combined with sheer masculinity. He smelled good enough to eat. Or at least nibble. And lick
"My brother has always had bad timing," I muttered
Quinn chuckled softly and rose. My gaze slipped downward, and I noted with pleasure he wanted me every bit as badly as I wanted him
"Sorry to break in on your fun," Rhoan said as he appeared. "But you have to eat before you go expending too much energy."
"And so do I," Quinn commented, giving me a look guaranteed to make my insides combust. "Though synth blood is not my meal of choice right now."
He disappeared down the stairs, and I suddenly remembered how to breathe
"Are you sure there's no wolf in his background?" I said, sitting up so Rhoan could place the tray on my knees
Rhoan grinned. "The man is potent, I'll give him that. Damn shame he's straight."
I gave him a long look. "Don't tell me you hit on him."
"Hell, yeah. Wouldn't you if you walked into a bar and saw him?" He placed the tray on my knee and sat down. "He refused nicely, we got talking, and the rest, as they say, is history."
"This was how many years ago?" I picked up my knife and fork and studied the mess on my plate. I think it was bacon and eggs, but I couldn't be sure. A cook my brother wasn't
"Only one."
"So why haven't you introduced us?"
It was his turn to give me a long look. "This from the wolf who rants about all vampires being arrogant pigs?"
"Well, all the ones I've met have been. Quinn isn't."
"He can be on his bad days, believe me." He rose again. "If you're feeling up to it after you finish that, come downstairs."
I nodded. "Why has Jack allowed Liander to stay?"
"Because this is looking bigger than the three of us can handle." He shrugged. "Liander's here because I need him, and because he's one of the best makeup artists in the country."
I raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like a plan."
"It is. When you come down, we'll enlighten you."
"And just what am I supposed to go downstairs in? My birthday suit?"
He grinned. "We retrieved your bag from Misha's car. It's on the chair near the stairs."
He headed back downstairs. Once I'd eaten the mess he'd laughingly called a meal, I shifted shape to help the burns along some more, then threw on some clothes and followed him down
Everyone was sitting at the table, including Liander
"How you feeling, darlin'?" Jack asked, his green eyes sweeping me in a concerned, fatherly way
"A little achy, but otherwise fine."
He nodded. "You want to tell us what happened?"
I sat on the last remaining chair and proceeded to do that
Rhoan frowned. "Genoveve and Libraska aren't research facilities I've ever heard of."
"Nor I," Jack agreed. "We may have to go through the records to find them. If they are on the record, that is."
"What do you mean?" I reached for one of the apples sitting in the middle of the table. "I thought all research facilities, whether government or private, had to be listed?"
"Only in the last fifty years. There were a lot of places, particularly military ones, that were built in the twentieth century that were never recorded - for security reasons. It was a volatile era."
"What about the thing that attacked her?" Quinn asked. "That doesn't sound like any creature I've heard of."
"No. But if they're playing around with the basic building blocks of life, who knows what they've come up with?" Jack glanced at me. "You up to a little more investigating?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Like I have a choice?"
"There's always a choice."
I snorted softly. "Between you trying to railroad me, and these nutters coming after me, I think choice has temporarily flown out the window."
He didn't bother to deny my allegations, merely smiled. "You are going to make such a wonderful guardian."
"You're better off chasing after Liander than me - you'd have more hope."
"He's already come after me," Liander commented, his silver eyes sparkling with a combination of amusement and annoyance. "And I have temporarily been seconded into this outfit, whether I like it or not."
"Well, you were military, and you do slide in rather well." Rhoan's smile was decidedly wicked. "And just think of the advantages - me, primarily."
Liander grinned. "Why do you think I'm here? At least I don't have to share with the lush."
"Bitchy." Rhoan's smile widened
"The truth," Liander said, voice dry
"Enough," Jack said, and glanced at me. "We're planning a two-prong attack. An accident has been planned that will wipe out the power in the Ferntree Gully area. Rhoan and I will break into Moneisha and do a little investigating."
Which left me with Quinn. The thought had my hormones doing an excited little dance. "Surely Moneisha will have backup generators?"
"And probably handheld scanners," Quinn added
Jack nodded. "But the generators only handle essentials, and we can avoid any guards, whether or not they're holding scanners."
"And in the meantime, I'll be doing what?" I asked
"Searching the paperwork in Alan Brown's office."
"How? All the offices upstairs have eye scan locks."
"They do. Except the scanners have mysteriously started acting up the last twenty-four hours, and all staff have been issued with special keycards and codes until the problem is resolved."
"Convenient," I said dryly
He merely smiled. "Alan Brown has a long-known habit of bringing prostitutes into his office. Unfortunately, Brown took some coffee that didn't agree with him earlier this afternoon and went home sick. He won't wake until tomorrow."
"And how was this managed? You and I both know Brown wouldn't touch anything you gave him with a ten-foot pole. And you couldn't exactly ask any of the guardians to tamper with his coffee, because you don't know whom to trust right now."
Jack nodded. "But I know I can trust the director."
I raised my eyebrow. "Alex Hunter? The woman is a bitch."
"And that bitch is my sister."
Trust me to put my foot in it. Or open my big mouth, as the case might be
Rhoan laughed, and Jack reached across the table, patting my hand comfortingly. "It's okay. She is a bitch, most times. But she wants to know what is going on every bit as badly as us. The Directorate is her baby - she was one of those who pushed to get it set up - and she has no intention of letting it be used for nefarious purposes. As of this weekend, you, Rhoan, and I are on special assignment and reporting directly to her."
Meaning I was taking the first step down that guardian path. And there wasn't one damn thing I could do about it. If I said no, he'd lock me away somewhere safe, and that would be almost as bad, not only because I was a wolf who couldn't stand enclosed spaces for long but because some warped part of me wanted to be involved. I might not want to be a guardian, but these bastards had come after me twice now, and the wolf wanted revenge
I glanced at Quinn. "But how are we going to get into Brown's office when Quinn looks nothing like Brown?" He was far, far too handsome, for a start
"He will by the time I've finished with him," Liander said
"You think you can do something tarty for me as well?" I couldn't risk wearing the blue wig and makeup again, just in case it set off alarms somewhere
Liander grinned. "You have no idea how long I've been wanting to redo your look. You have to keep up with the times, Riley."
It was a comment he'd made more than once. I stuck my tongue out at him before looking back at Jack. "When are we moving?"
"As soon as everyone is ready. Liander will be holding the fort here."
"And we meet back here afterward?"
Jack nodded. "Let's move it, people."
I grinned. He sounded like the old army sergeant he'd once been. I rose, munching on my apple as I headed back upstairs for a shower. Raiding Alan Brown's office wasn't exactly what I'd been hoping to do tonight, but at least I was with Quinn
And come hell or high water, it was going to be the night I rocked his staid little world