Full Moon Rising
Chapter Twelve

 Keri Arthur

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What in hell have you done to Talon?" he said, his fury evident even down the line
"What in hell does it matter to you?"
"He's harassing me."
That raised my eyebrows. "How can he harass you when you've gone back to your pack and neither he or I know which of the silver packs you come from?"
"I'm back because it turns out my mother was embellishing the truth. My sister had an accident but it wasn't anything major. Mother just wanted me to meet someone she considers a perfect mate."
I had a feeling he wasn't telling me the truth, though the bit about meeting a mate was typical mother behavior. I'd witnessed similar contrivances throughout my teenage years, before we'd been kicked out of our pack. At least neither Rhoan nor I had to worry about that - though part of me wished that we did
"So what do you want me to do? You're a big boy - deal with it yourself."
"I've tried reason, but he's off the rails." Misha hesitated. "He told me you two were exclusive."
I snorted. "As you said, he's off the rails."
"So if I get rough, you have no objections?"
"Not as long as you leave me enough to kick."
Misha chuckled, and the tension I'd been hearing in his voice eased. "Sorry to get hostile on you, but the last few days have been a bitch, and Talon was the last straw."
So he had rung me to complain? Somehow, I doubted it. Misha was a nice man, yet he was also a very successful businessman, and had always handled problems quickly, often ruthlessly. If he was seriously pissed off with Talon, he'd have done something about it. That he'd called me instead suggested there was an ulterior motive behind his call
Or was Jack's warning about Misha making me see things that weren't there? "Is that all you rang for?"
"Hell, no. I wanted to know if my car was still in one piece."
I smiled despite my reservations. "It's parked safely at the Crown Casino."
"Why is it parked there?"
"Long story. But it's in one piece."
"A miracle." He hesitated, then added, "Don't suppose you're intending to drive it home anytime soon?"
His voice had dropped several octaves, sliding across my senses like warmed chocolate. Jack might have implanted doubts about him, but that didn't stop me from wanting him
Though given the moon heat, I'd want the devil himself if he had a nice enough bod
"I'm on assignment at the moment, but if you can wait, I'll be there."
"I thought you said you were nothing more than a gofer?"
There was an underlying hint of steel in the warmth of his voice that made me frown. "Even gofers at the Directorate get drafted when the need arises."
"So that's what has made Talon crazy," he commented. "You're not at his beck and call."
If Talon was acting crazy, it was because I'd said no - something he was not used to hearing. I doubted he was going crazy over missing me sexually. As good as we were together, he had seven other mates to keep him satisfied
A hand touched my thigh and warmth scooted across my flesh. My gaze jumped to Quinn's. His face was expressionless as he said, "We're here."
I glanced across the road and saw the old graveyard. "You can't park along this section of Camp Road."
"I realize that, but I don't know the area." His voice was patience itself, but something in his dark gaze hinted at annoyance. Or anger. At what, I had no idea. "You're the one that read the street directory," he added
"There's a playground ahead on the left. You can park there."
"Who's that?" Misha said into my ear
"No one important," I replied, and could have sworn Quinn's expression tightened a little. Which was stupid. He was getting what he wanted, and he wanted nothing more. "Look, I have to go. I'll call back."
"Riley, wait - "
I didn't wait, just hung up on him. I'd apologize later, but at present, I had work to do
I turned off the phone, climbed out of the car, and sniffed the air. The breeze was cold and filled with the scent of rain. Overhead, dark clouds shuttered the light of the stars, and the moon was nowhere to be seen. Yet the power of it crawled under my skin, igniting the fire deep inside. The metal in the car had, to some extent, protected me, but there, out in the open, there was no escape. The fever burned and would need release soon
But the full moon was still two nights away, and the vampire half of me was keeping the fever within control - for the time being. But while it might be contained, the wolf part still raged, and it hated the restrictions of so many clothes. If I was to remain in control, I needed to appease at least one need. I shucked off my coat and threw it back in the car. My stilettos quickly followed
"What are you doing?" There was an edge in Quinn's voice as he walked around the back of the car
"The moon is high and the fever burns. I need to feel the ground under my toes. The wind on my skin." Plus, I couldn't exactly creep around wearing spiked heels, which was all I had with me unless I went home
His gaze was a caress of heat that slid down my body, lingering on the way the black cotton shirt fit across my breasts and the way the skirt clung to my hips and thighs. Not naked, but not leaving much to the imagination, either
When his gaze rose to meet mine again, the fever that burned through my blood seemed to echo in his dark eyes. "Do you need relief?"
"Relief?" I arched an eyebrow. "That makes it sound like I've got some disease." And that rankled
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, I do, and no, I don't." I hesitated, giving him my best sweet-as-pie expression - a sure sign the inner bitch was coming out. "Besides, one of the guards might be a wolf. We could celebrate the moon together."
His gaze narrowed dangerously. "The idea is to get in and get out, unobserved."
"Which you can do if I play distraction."
"We stick to the plan," he growled, and grabbed my arm, propelling me down the footpath
He was only an inch or two taller than I, but I was practically running to keep up with his long strides. I could have pulled free of his grasp easily enough, but truth be told, I liked his touch. And right then, with the moon burning through my system, I didn't care if it was rough or gentle
We climbed the small fence and strode through the cemetery. The wind stirred the dark pines surrounding the small graveyard so that it sounded like the whisperings of the dead. But if the dead had once lived there, they'd long ago moved out. The tombstones were worn with age and barely readable, the graves overrun by weeds and neglect. Even the dead had pride, and the place would not look so desolate if any of them still remained
The fence surrounding the old army camp was just as neglected. It wasn't electrified. It wasn't even taut. "I doubt if anything more serious than cleaning products is in development behind that wire."
"No, but we still have to check."
I scanned the nearby darkness but could see nothing except shadows. I switched to infrared. The only thing to find were the small blurs of heat going through the rubbish bins that lined the back of the building ahead
"Rats," I muttered, my stomach turning as I remembered a drunken teenage eating dare and the resulting days of sickness
"If rats are all we find, I'll be happy."
He held up the wire and I ducked through. "I thought you wanted to find your friend?"
"I do, but I doubt he'd be here. Whoever is behind this cloning is very clever and very cautious. Lax security would not be part of it. It's too much of a risk."
"But maybe that's why he's been so hard to find. We're looking for one thing, while he's hiding under our very noses."
"I have no doubt he's hiding under our noses, but I don't think this place is it."
"You said it yourself. Smell the air."
I already had. "Ammonia." But it was overwhelmed by the richness of sandalwood and man
He nodded. "This place does make cleaning products."
"That doesn't mean it can't also be making clones. The base is huge, and from a look at the plans, they're only using a small section of it."
He studied me for a minute. "You're looking for an argument, aren't you?"
Right then, arguing was the last thing on my mind. I raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think that?"
"Because two seconds ago you were saying you didn't think anything more than cleaning products was being made here, and now you're arguing it could be a front."
"I'm just playing devil's advocate."
"You're definitely playing. I'm just not sure what the game is yet."
I gave him my most innocent smile, but it didn't seem to offer him any comfort
"This way," he said, after a pause
He turned and led the way to the right. The wind stirred the gums and pines scattered around us, and rattled the loose tin on the roof of the buildings just ahead. From behind us came the steady growl of traffic along Camp Road, and from up ahead, the solo roar of an engine
"There's a car headed our way."
"More than likely a guard doing his rounds."
I glanced at my watch. "It's right on nine, so maybe they do either half hourly or hourly checks."
"How close is it?"
"A distance off yet."
"So we've got time to get to the main building if we run?"
"I think so."
He grabbed my hand, fingers hot as they encased mine. "Blur," he ordered, and tugged me forward
We made it to the main building a heartbeat before the car came into view. The sweep of lights as it turned the corner turned night into day, almost pinning the two of us in brightness
I crouched in the corner shadows beside Quinn, watching the car and feeling nothing along the sensory lines. Which meant the guard was human. Anything else I would have felt
"He's bored," Quinn said, his breath brushing warmth past my ear. "And hates his job."
My thigh rested against his, and electricity seemed to spark the air between us. The fever began to burn so bad, sweat trickled down my back, despite the ice in the wind. I was still in control, but it wouldn't take much to push me over the edge. I had a feeling Quinn knew exactly what my state was and that he wasn't about to make a second offer of relief. Next time, I'd have to ask. If he thought I wouldn't, he was sorely wrong
"He's obviously neither psychic nor shielded if you can read him so easily."
He didn't answer immediately, his expression distant. After a minute, he blinked and glanced at me. "I've searched his mind. There's nothing here to find."
"We should still check."
He nodded and rose. We checked, and found exactly what we expected. Nothing
"Hope Jack and Rhoan have more luck than we had," I said, as we made our way back to the car
"I suspect they won't. This is all too well planned to be uncovered so easily."
"I would hardly call going through a mountain of files easy."
"But what did we really find? Plans that may very well be nothing more than a dead end."
He lifted the wire for me. I ducked through, then stopped
The dead had returned to the graveyard
There were eight of them, and they formed a rough semicircle around us. They were all males, all naked, and all rather lacking in the manhood department. Their bodies were muscular, almost too perfect, and their skin shone with a luminosity that reminded me of the moon. But any vague resemblance to humanity ended right there. The flesh of their arms gave way at the elbow to the soft golden fur of a cat, and they had claws rather than hands. Instead of faces, they had the heads and beaks of an eagle. On their backs, fanning lightly in the wind, brown-and-gold wings that arched high above them
"Gryphons," I said. "Sort of."
"Humans bred with gryphons, I would suggest." Quinn stopped beside me, his shoulder brushing mine. The moon fever sang in response, and my whole body began to tremble, a sharp warning I was roaring toward the point of no return
I clenched my fists, fighting the need in me. "Why then do I sense them as the dead rather than gryphons?"
"I don't know." He flexed his hands, then glanced at me. "I hope you have more of those punches in you."
"I most certainly do." I watched them watching us and wondered why they hadn't yet moved. "I gather you can't touch their minds?"
"No, they're shielded, though I can't see any wires on them." His fingers captured mine, raising my hand to his lips. His kiss was feather-soft, erotic. "Good luck."
He released my hand and faded into the night, moving swiftly to the right. That was obviously what the creatures had been waiting for. With a blur of wings, they rose, five swooping toward Quinn, three to me
The insane part of me was quite offended by the fact that Quinn was considered the greater threat
The sweep of their powerful wings filled the night with a maelstrom of air. Dirt and leaves swirled around me, making it difficult even to see
As the three of them arrowed in, I turned and ran, heading for the protection of trees. I might be offended but I wasn't a fool, and I didn't have eyes in the back of my head. At least the thick pines gave me some protection against an attack from above or behind
A clawed paw the size of a spade swept through the air. I ducked and swung, kicking the creature in the gut. The blow bounced off the gryphon's rippled abs and jarred the whole of my leg. I briefly wished I hadn't taken off my shoes. Spikes were a far better weapon than bare feet
The air screamed a warning, and I ducked blows from the other two creatures. They were so close that the wind from their wings was a vortex that tore at my hair and clothes, filling the air with pine needles and my lungs with dirt. I coughed, squinting to see through the muck surging around me
The first creature banked toward me, arrowing in from a sharp angle. He flew low under the trees, beaked mouth open as if screaming, though no sound came out
I danced away from more blows from the other two, then rocked backward as the first creature swooped close. Claws lashed out, scouring my arm and leaving three bloody rents. I swore and leapt forward, onto its back. It screamed then - a high sound that was neither bird of prey nor cat nor human. I hung on for grim life as it bucked and twisted, then we were out of the trees and surging skyward
His smell hit me, and despite what I'd sensed before, it was not the mustiness of animal and death. It was honey and rain, a sweet, refreshing aroma that had the already rampant moon heat surging anew. But these things weren't trying to fuck me, they were trying to kill me, and the moon heat wasn't yet strong enough to overcome the instinct of survival
I drew my legs up underneath me, knees bent, feet pressed into the middle of its back, then released one wing and grabbed the other with both hands. It was a precarious stance and had he twisted then, I would have been gone. But he didn't, seemingly content to surge for the stars. His wings pumped the night, gleaming a rich, burnished gold, beautiful and powerful
And I was about to destroy them
Pushing away a touch of regret, I glanced down at the rapidly disappearing ground. It had to be done right then, or the fall could kill me. Taking a deep breath, I pushed up and twisted backward with as much force as I could muster
I had the inhuman strength of a vampire at my call. The wing stood no chance
With an odd sort of popping sound, the wing tore free of flesh, then it and I were tumbling earthward. The creature's screams filled the air, along with its blood. It spiraled out of control, the one remaining wing pumping frantically but doing little. More screams filled the night as the other two creatures swooped to the aid of the first, each catching an arm, wings a blur as they tried to ease the rate of its fall
Unfortunately, there was no one to ease my fall. I twisted, hitting the ground feetfirst, then collapsed forward into a roll to ease the pressure on my spine. It didn't seem to make much difference. My breath left in a whoosh of air, and, for a moment, stars danced so close it felt like I could reach out and grasp them. The pain filling every fiber became a darkness that threatened to consume me
I fought it, breathing deep. Heard the screams that weren't human and knew those things were coming after me again. I had to get up. Had to move
With a groan, I rolled to my feet, but immediately dropped as a creature swooped. I surged upward as it skimmed past, avoiding its claws to sink my fist into its groin. It made an odd sort of coughing noise and came to a hovering stop. It hunched up, but the claw at the end of its closest foot caught my shoulder, slashing deep even as the blow knocked me sideways
Pain burned white-hot through my body, and sweat beaded my brow. Gritting my teeth, I scrambled upright, grabbed the leg of the creature, and swung it around as hard as I could before releasing it. It flew awkwardly through the air and hit a nearby pine with enough force to shake needles loose. But it obviously wasn't hurt, as it pushed upright almost immediately
The third of the creatures arrowed in. I ran, and had to resist the sudden urge to shift into my other form. A wolf wouldn't have a hope against flighted creatures, and the only weapon I'd have would be teeth. Nor could I use telepathy - if Quinn couldn't touch their minds, there was little chance I could
Wrapping the night around myself, I grabbed several stones and tossed them into the pines. They clattered against the trunks and plopped into the soft carpet of needles. My attacker swung toward the sound, giving me time to catch my breath
But the gryphon I'd torn the wing off was on the move, beak in the air and making a strange snuffling sound - much like a dog did when tracking. I swore under my breath. Obviously, gryphon and human wasn't the only thing in the mix. Its head swung my way and, with a scream, it ran toward me
I backpedaled fast, not daring to take my eyes off the thing. It was faster than I'd expected. Talons raked my stomach, drawing blood. I dropped my cloak of shadows and bit my tongue to hold back the scream. Grabbing the creature's wrist, I twisted around and pulled hard, yanking it up and over my shoulder. It sailed past me and landed with a crash on its back. As feathers flew upward, I stiffened my fingers and knifed them toward the creature's eyes. It moved, and I hit cheek instead. Felt flesh and bone give as its cheek caved in
Bile rose in my stomach. Shuddering, I dropped, sweeping my leg and knocking the creature off its feet again as it struggled to rise. It roared in frustration and lashed out. The blow caught the side of my face and sent me staggering
The creature was up and at me almost instantly. Air became a torrent of dirt, telling me the others were also close. I faked a blow to the creature's head, then spun and lashed out at its groin instead. The force of the blow shuddered up my leg, but the creature dropped, clutching itself and making an odd sort of keening sound
The others hit me. I ducked and weaved, but there was no way on this earth to avoid every blow. I was vampire-fast, but even the wind itself would have had trouble in this situation. Red heat flashed through me, and the smell of blood and fear sat heavily on the whirlpool of air surrounding us
I hoped like hell Quinn was faring better, because I was in deep trouble and in need of help
From the side of us came an odd popping sound, then the head of the lead creature exploded. Blood, tissue, and gray matter went everywhere. As it dropped lifeless at my feet, the second creature met with the same end
The wind chose that moment to die, and I smelled the familiar aroma of musk and man. Anger surged, replacing the relief
But before I could say anything, before I could do anything, something hit the back of my head and unconsciousness claimed me
Pain woke me. It wasn't sharp, just a constant, maddening ache, the sort that set teeth on end. Even breathing hurt
But it was a distant cry compared to the burning at my wrists and ankles, and the desperate, hungry blaze seething through my veins. My whole body trembled with its force, and it was an intensity that could so easily drive me mad
One that would drive me mad if I didn't get some loving soon
I twisted, trying to at least ease that ache myself, even though it would provide temporary relief, at best. But I barely could move my hand more than a few inches, and the clink of metal told me why. I'd been chained. By silver, if the burning at my wrists was anything to go by
A soft chuckle filled the silence. Talon was there, watching
I opened my eyes. The room was large, the color a warm gold that was soothing despite the situation. To the right were large windows through which dawn's light filtered, adding to the airy feel. It was an effect that was somewhat spoiled by the thick bars on each window - not that they would stop an escape if I managed to get out of my chains. The closest window was open, and the caressing breeze cool, filled with the salty tang of the ocean
Directly opposite was an open doorway through which a bath and several towels were visible. To the left, another door, that one closed. There was nothing else in the main room but a satin-covered bed, and it was there that Talon sat. He was fully dressed, which in itself was surprising
"You stupid bastard." My voice was little more than a cracked whisper, but he was a wolf and would have no trouble hearing it. "You have no idea of the trouble you've landed yourself in."
"I think not." His smile was all arrogance, his eyes chips of golden ice. "Government departments tend to turn a blind eye to the sexual practices of werewolves."
"This is kidnapping, and that's a crime."
"But that's not what anyone believes, because I rang up stating you are ill. You're on sick leave, as of an hour ago."
I shook my head, unable to believe he'd go to such lengths. "I was on special assignment. With my boss. I have no idea who you spoke to, but it won't matter. They'll know the lie."
He shrugged. "I wasn't fool enough to ring from my phone, rather a pay phone. And I used a voice modulator. They won't find you."
"Rhoan knows who my mates are. He'll find me."
Talon crossed his arms and laughed. It was a cold, dismissive sound that made the anger boil that much faster
"That pansy couldn't find his way out of a flower shop," he said. "Besides, we're not at any of my known addresses, but a holiday house recently purchased by a subsidiary of one of my companies. It'll take them weeks to nail down the paper trail. By then, we'll have shifted."
"Never underestimate Rhoan. He's very, very good at what he does - and in case you've forgotten, what he does is track down and kill people." And Talon was dead meat if Rhoan found us like this
He rose and walked toward me, all grace and powerful elegance. The smell of his lust fanned the already out-of-control fire
I swallowed, but it did little to ease the aching dryness in my throat. "How did you find me?"
His smile was all arrogance. "The chip in your arm is not for birth control - we took that out over a year ago. It's a tracking device."
So that's how he'd found Quinn and me at the Directorate. He hadn't raided my apartment, as I'd presumed. He'd simply followed the signal. It had to have a limited range; otherwise, he would probably have made an appearance at the old farmhouse
The sweat running down my face dripped into my eyes and stung like crazy. I blinked, but it didn't seem to help my vision any. Everything was blurry, tinged with red. I hoped it was blood, but had a bad feeling it was something far worse. Despite what Hollywood seemed to think, the moon fever didn't often turn werewolves into desperate killing machines. But on the few occasions it did happen, it was because the wolf had ignored the call of the moon for too long. The desire for sex mutated into something far more deadly - bloodlust
Why would Talon want that? What good would it do him?
He stopped. I lashed out with a fist, but the blow was brought up short as the manacles bit into my wrist. I hissed in pain and frustration, and he smiled
"Do you wonder why you're here, and chained?" He reached out, idly fondling a breast
Part of me hated it. Part of me wanted anything he was willing to give. I knew which part would win. Had to win, or there would be trouble
"You want a kid, and I won't give it to you willingly."
"Very good." His tone was distant, his gaze intent, as his caress moved from one breast to the other
I couldn't help pressing into his touch. I needed it as badly as an addict needed her next fix
"The scans I took the other day indicated you were close to ovulation. I cannot risk another wolf impregnating you after all the trouble I have gone to."
An insane thought when all wolves were chipped to prevent pregnancy happening. But then, I guess Talon wasn't exactly chummy with sanity at that particular point in time. "There's no guarantee I'll even carry to term."
"Which is why I have arranged for you to be moved to one of my laboratories. Our perfect child will be given every medical chance there is."
"There is no such thing as a perfect child." We all had faults, though right then I doubted whether Talon would agree - at least when it came to him
He didn't seem to hear me, and his voice, when he spoke, was distant. "Perfection is something I have chased for a very long time."
His caress moved down my stomach. I was burning, eager, hungry. My heart raced, and the smell of sweat and lust filled every breath. But the need to become a wolf, to rend and tear and taste blood, was almost as strong as the call of the moon. My teeth and nails were elongating in anticipation of the change, becoming more wolf than human. The only thing stopping me from fully completing the shift was the silver on my wrists and ankles
"Why do this?" The words were slurred through my teeth. I rattled the chains to indicate what I meant
"Do you not remember your folklore?"
I shook my head. Right then, I was having trouble remembering my own name
"Wolves who mate when the moon fever turns to bloodlust will always conceive."
My smile was bitter. "That's no folklore - that's a truth I owe my existence to."
He raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. I was conceived when my mother was in bloodlust." She'd been trying to make it home to our pack, but her car had broken down on the outskirts of a small country town. In some ways, it was lucky the graveyard and that newly risen vampire had stood between her and the people in that town, because it had allowed her to slake both desires without killing any humans
"Then let us hope it is a case of like mother, like daughter." His fingers slipped though my slickness, and I shuddered, arching into his caress, relishing it, as hard and as rough as it was. He chuckled. "You are close, aren't you?"
Closer than he knew. The need to mate warred with the need to sink teeth into his flesh and howl my victory to the moon. I took a deep, shuddery breath, suddenly thankful for the silver chaining me. It was the only reason I was still in human form, still lucid
"ARC1-23 was the wrong drug to use."
He raised an eyebrow. "When did you find out?"
"A couple of days ago." My words were little more than a pant of air, my body twisting, thrusting, desperate for the relief his fingers were offering
His lust swam around me, as thick and as heavy as the erection pressing against the restraint of his pants. God help me, I wanted to feel him inside, wanted it so bad I was whimpering
"That drug has an extremely high success rate. You will conceive when I finally fuck you, little wolf, and you will remain in my care until you give birth."
"Like hell." But my words held little force. The pressure was building, ripping through my nerve endings with the force of lightning. A few more sweeps of his hand, that was all it would take...
With a soft chuckle, he stepped away. I lurched forward, trying to grab him, trying to make him finish what he'd started. But the chains brought me up short again. I cursed him, long and hard
"And that," he said, his voice rich with amusement, "is why I shall be raising our child, not you."
Though his features were half-lost to the growing haze of red, the icy determination in his expression was still very evident. Odd. I'd half expected to see a madness equal to what burned through my veins. He had to be mad if he thought he could get away with something like this. Even if he did make me pregnant, there was no way I was ever going to sit back and let him have our child
"Ten of the fifty on that first trial failed to conceive. I might be one of those."
"Our tests over the past few months show that your body has been reacting favorably to the drug."
But maybe it was reacting in ways he wasn't expecting - or testing for. "What about the other ten? The ones that transmuted?"
He raised his eyebrows. "What about them?"
"They were half-breeds, just like me."
His amusement fled, and his face became stony. "What do you mean?"
My laugh was bitter. "Have you never wondered why I am so fast, so strong? I'm not just a werewolf, I'm a vampire."
He crossed his arms, eyes and voice flat as he said, "Impossible. Vampires aren't fertile."
"Except in the few instances when the change takes place within twenty-four hours of death. My mother was raped by such a vampire."
"Why do you think I was exiled from our pack? They allowed me to be raised out of loyalty to my mother, but once I hit puberty I was ousted."
He said it more forcefully this time, and I snorted. "What's wrong? Don't you like the fact you've been fucking a half-breed all this time?"
He didn't answer. I stared at him, saw the sudden loathing in his eyes, and realized the words said in jest were true. Talon was a man who believed in the superiority of the werewolf race, but I'd never realized that opinion also meant he'd have little tolerance for half-breeds
"Our scans never indicated you were anything other than wolf." His voice was flat, yet held a note of anger that caressed my skin as hotly as his lust had moments before
"They wouldn't, because for all intents and purposes I am wolf. It's not until you do a complete DNA check that you see the differences."
For several more seconds, he just stared. Yet the force of his anger rose and rose, until it was a wave that burned through every fiber of my being. His fists clenched, warning enough that a blow was coming. I dropped my shields and reached desperately for his mind - only to hit a psychic shield. For the first time in two years I noticed the thin wire entwined through the white gold chain at his neck. He was shielded against mind intrusion, had been for as long as I'd known him
A laugh bubbled through me. So much for all my cautious restraint over the years
His fist hit my stomach, and the laughter gave way to a desperate battle to breathe
He continued to hit me, again, and again. I shuddered, twisting and fighting to be free, the need to tear him limb from limb as fierce as the need to survive
"Coward," I spat between blows. "Step closer and try that."
I was trembling, aching, bloody. Everything had gone red, only it wasn't blood. Rage and the wolf had control and the consuming pain meant nothing
I wanted, needed blood
If he took one step closer, I could grab him and rip him to pieces. My fingers curled in anticipation. I wanted to taste him. Wanted to tear my teeth through his sweet flesh, and watch his blood pour from his body. Wanted to see it mingle with mine on the fine gold carpet
He either didn't hear or didn't want to hear. As he drew his fist back for another blow, the door to the left of us crashed open and Talon was ripped away from me. I closed my eyes and howled in anger and frustration
Hands were on me, shaking hard
"Riley? It's Quinn. You're safe. It's okay."
His voice was muted, lost in the roar of need. I lashed out, raking his cheek with hooked fingers. The smell of blood filled the air, stirring the lust to greater heights. I twisted, thrusting my fingers into my mouth, sucking the blood and skin from under my fingernails. It was a sweetness that made me salivate, yet there was nowhere near enough of it to satisfy the hunger in me
"Riley - "
"Don't take off those chains," a second voice warned flatly. "She's in bloodlust, and could kill us both if you set her free."
"So what in hell do we do?"
"Not we, you." The second voice was vaguely familiar, though his name failed to traverse the haze of heat and lust filling my mind. "You'll have to fuck her while she's chained."
"For Christ's sake, look at the mess - "
"You have no other choice. Four of us barely controlled her when we were trying to treat her wounds. The bloodlust triples her strength."
Quinn didn't answer. I couldn't see him, couldn't sense him. Didn't know if he was still close or not. I threw my weight against the chains, testing them, trying to break free. White heat burned into my wrists and ankles, and my skin became slick with moisture. Moisture that smelled sweeter than sex. But I couldn't get to it, couldn't taste it. The chains weren't long enough
He forced a breath out, a sigh that was somehow filled with anger. "Take care of that bastard, then, and make sure he can't escape."
Fingers caressed my face. I turned, snapping at them, catching nothing but air
"I will," the second voice said softly. "But I'm afraid that's not all you'll have to do."
"What?" There was an edge in the rich tones that suggested anger
"She needs the taste of blood."
"I'm a vampire. She shares my blood willingly, and she treads the path to becoming a vampire."
"I know, but she is part vampire anyway, so maybe she's immune to the curse."
"Gift, not curse."
It was tightly said, the anger more evident this time
"Either way, it is a chance we have to take. You could survive what I cannot. Look at her teeth."
There was a pause, then, "Wolf-sharp."
"And she won't just bite, she'll savage. I may be wolf, but I dare not risk such a bite, especially given it'll taken more than a few minutes to cure her thirst. She'd more than likely suck the life from me. Nor can we call in a medical unit, simply because few doctors have seen a werewolf in bloodlust, let alone know how to treat it."
Quinn took another deep breath, then released it slowly. It hit like a blow. I lunged toward him, snarling and snapping
"Keep an eye on everything while I do this."
"Be careful."
"I'm not a fool."
The door slammed, and silence fell. The scent of sandalwood caressed the air, suggesting Quinn was still close. I waited, muscles quivering, ready to lunge should he step within reach
Material rustled. A zipper slid down. Shoes were kicked off. Anticipation quivered through me, bloodlust and moon lust at war through my system
His fingers pressed into me, and the moon heat surged, momentarily overwhelming the red tide. His touch slid back and forth through my slickness, and pleasure stormed through every nerve ending. Then he slipped two fingers inside, stroking hard. I shuddered, writhed, until it felt as if every fiber of my being was about to tear apart from the sheer force of the pleasure. Then everything did shatter and I howled the glory of it to the moon I couldn't see
But it was nowhere near enough to satisfy the hunger
He stepped closer. I snapped at him. He raised an arm and pressed it against my mouth. I reared back enough to rip into his flesh, tearing deep. He made no sound, but as his blood filled my mouth, he thrust himself into me, stroking hard and deep. It was a sensation unlike anything I'd ever experienced. Ecstasy itself
He made love to me hard and long, until the quivering in my body eased and the lust faded under the taste of his blood and sweat. Eventually, there was nothing left but sweet relief and the need to sleep. It was a need I was finally able to give in to
When sanity finally resurfaced, it was to the awareness of satin rather than wall pressing against my spine. The room was filled with a dusky light that spoke of sunset, and my body was sated, the aches distant. But all I could taste was blood. All I could remember was the rich flavor of his flesh as my teeth tore and slashed...
My stomach roiled and I clambered off the bed, running for the bathroom. I barely made it
When there was nothing left to bring up, I flushed the toilet and leaned back, closing my eyes. Beneath the taste of bile, blood still lingered. I had to get up and find something sweet to rinse my mouth out with; otherwise, I'd be sick again. But right then, I didn't have the strength to move
Footsteps approached. The softness of the tread and the scent in the air said it was Quinn. I didn't open my eyes. Didn't want to see the damage I'd done
"How did you find me?"
"I saw Talon snatch you, but the creatures stopped me from coming to your aid." He stopped in front of me, a warmth I could feel rather than see. "When I could, I called Liander, and he did a search for all of Talon's known addresses."
So Liander was the other voice I'd heard. "This place was only recently purchased by a subsidiary company, so how did you find it?"
"The subsidiary is one of the ones Jack had uncovered. Given this was a recent purchase, we took a chance."
And Talon had thought he was being so clever. But any amusement I might have felt was smothered under the apprehension of what had happened there. What I'd done
What he'd done
"I don't want to become a vampire on my death." It came out little more than a cracked whisper, and I swallowed to ease the dryness. But that only succeeded in pushing the bitter taste down my throat again, and my stomach stirred in warning. "I hate the taste of blood." Not that I'd ever tasted human blood before the moon madness, but I'd hunted enough rabbit over the years, and every time I'd sunk teeth into flesh, the rush of warm blood into my mouth had made me want to vomit. Rhoan reckoned I was a vegetarian who just wasn't willing to admit it yet
"Many vampires hate the taste in the beginning." He pressed a cup into my hand. "But you and I would have to share blood thrice, and perform a ceremony on the third occasion, before you'd turn into a vampire on your death."
I looked up, surprised. "I never knew that."
He raised an eyebrow. "If it were not so, don't you think the world would be overrun with vampires by now?"
"I never really thought about it."
He moved my hand, pressing the cup to my lips. "Rinse your mouth out. You'll feel a little better, believe me."
It wasn't water in the cup, but something that was both sweet and spicy. Whatever it was, it worked, and I did feel better once the bitter, metallic taste had fled my mouth. He took the cup, rinsing it quickly under the tap
His arm was bandaged from wrist to elbow, and the fact that it wasn't in a sling at least meant I hadn't bitten through bone. But he used his left hand rather than his right to wash the cup and turn off the tap
"How much damage did I do?"
He shrugged. "It's nothing my body can't heal."
"That doesn't answer the question."
"No." He held out his left hand, and I placed my fingers in his. He pulled me up and placed a gentle kiss on my forehead, his lips lingering, breath warm against my skin. Then he stepped back. "I shall have scars from wrist to elbow."
If he was going to end up with scars, I'd done everything but break bone. I briefly closed my eyes. "I'm sorry."
"You were only obeying the needs of your body. The fault lies with another."
Though it was evenly said, something in his expression made me realize our time together was coming to an end. He might still want me, but he was ready to move on
I took a deep breath, but it did little to ease the sudden rush of anger. The wolf might be sated, but, by Christ, I still wanted to smash Talon's face in. Not only for what he'd done to me, but for his utter destruction of whatever chance there'd been for me and Quinn to continue on a little longer
"Is he dead?"
Cold fury flashed in his eyes. "No."
"Good, because I owe him a punch or three."
"When we find him again, I'll make sure you get your chance."
Disbelief ran through me, and my gaze searched his. "You let him escape?"
"Not intentionally. Some of his men arrived while I was tending to you. By the time I realized what was happening and went to Liander's aid, Talon had fled."
"That has already led to more than a few problems."
Again anger surged. "Don't be blaming me. The bloodlust was not something I could have controlled."
"Wasn't it? If you'd taken my offer of relief in the parking lot rather than playing games, none of this would have happened."
"Maybe the bloodlust wouldn't have happened so quickly, but he still would have snatched and chained me. From there, it was only a matter of time."
"We would have found you before that time was up."
Maybe. And maybe not. Talon would have smelled the thickness of my need and known how close to the edge I was. Maybe the only reason he'd come to this house was because he knew he didn't have much time to restrain me
Which pointed me to another point. "Why didn't you make sure he couldn't escape? Touch his mind and force him to do what you want?"
"He had a shield on."
"So? You could have removed it."
"Could have, only I had more pressing problems."
Meaning me. "I was chained. You could have done whatever you wanted."
"Not when I could feel your agony."
My anger partially evaporated at his soft words. He cupped my cheek, his thumb brushing my lips. My gaze rose to the heat of his, and my pulse accelerated. The moon might be lost to the brightness of the day, but simply being close to Quinn had me wanting him
It was just a damn shame he lived in Sydney. That after this case was solved and forgotten, he'd walk away without a second's thought, because I was a wolf and we were okay to fuck but not get involved with
Not that I actually wanted involvement - but I definitely wanted to explore the breadth of the attraction between us
"Do you think Talon was behind those things that attacked us?" I asked
"Why not?"
"Because I doubt he'd set his creatures on us, then kill them to save you. And because there was someone else there, someone who came to watch."
There was an edge in his voice, and I raised an eyebrow. "You caught them?"
"No. But I saw the van and I was able to catch a glimpse of the number plate as they drove off. Jack's running it, and the company name, through the computer." He hesitated, and his half smile made my pulse do several flips. "It appears we were off track when we were doing our search for Genoveve."
No real surprise there, as we were only going on what we'd found - and we'd found very little. "The truck was from them?"
"Yes. Only it's not a military or research concern, but rather a confectionary company."
I blinked. Confectionary? "How does that connect with cloning or crossbreeds?"
"God only knows. Maybe they nicked the van and were using it simply because it wouldn't normally come under suspicion."
"Too much of a coincidence that my kidnappers were also taking me to a place named Genoveve." I frowned, absently chewing my lip. "You know, I have a bad feeling I've seen that name before."
"Most likely on the supermarket shelf."
"No, somewhere else."
He frowned. "Like where?"
I opened my mouth to say I'd tell him if I knew when the memory finally hit me
It had been almost a year ago that I'd seen the name, and, given the circumstances, it was a wonder I'd remembered it at all
I'd been on a date with a new mate, and we'd gone back to his office for reasons that now escaped me. Genoveve had been one of the files we'd swept off the desk in our haste to clear enough space to make love
I closed my eyes, part of me unwilling to believe that I might have been betrayed yet again
Because my date that night had been the director and owner of Rollins Enterprises