Title: Seductive Supernaturals Boxed Set
Publication date: October 20th 2014
Genres: Adult, Paranormal, Romance
Bad boys, tortured alpha heroes, and kick-ass heroines all come together in 12 steamy full-length paranormal romance novels and novellas from NY Times, USA Today, and national bestselling authors! Whether you’re looking for tantalizing dark tales or the humorous side of the supernatural, you’ll get werewolves, vampires, fallen angels, monster hunters, and ghosts—every one of them a hot temptation you won’t be able to resist…
DIABLO SPRINGS by Erin Quinn
Gracie Beck vowed that she would never to return to Diablo Springs, but the haunted town lures her back—along with the man who betrayed her years ago. Reilly broke her heart with his lies. Now, he wants a second chance to win her, but can they survive the ghosts of Diablo Springs?
VAMPIRE REBORN by Caridad Pineiro
Would you be reborn for love? Ryder Latimer, sexy Southern vampire, will have to make one of the most difficult choices in his undead life: Become human again or protect his new wife and child.
SHADOW FALL by Erin Kellison
Just discovering her magic, ballerina Annabella Ames didn’t mean to summon a dark wolf from Twilight, nor the tempting fallen angel Custo Santovari, who has no place in Heaven. The cunning wolf stalks them relentlessly, and danger seduces as they fight for redemption and love.
NIGHT ANGEL by Lisa Kessler
When Colin Flynn returns home to Ireland, the immortal Night Walker’s flesh has healed, but the scars hide a broken spirit. Juliana Duffy plays piano in spite of her deafness, challenging him to redefine himself and find the strength to battle an ancient enemy.
SHADOWS TILL SUNRISE by Chris Marie Green
Two monster hunters fighting a star-crossed attraction and one bloodthirsty phantom leaving a trail of death… Can love survive till the sun rises?
A SHADOW AT TWILIGHT by Mary Leo
They say Hotel Colorado is haunted, but when Dillon Spencer appears in his hotel room to find Hilly Thompson, his assistant, soaking in the tub, he begins to question whether or not he’s alive, dead, or caught in another dimension.
MORE THAN FIENDS by Maureen Child
At 32, Cassidy Burke discovers she’s a legendary Demon Duster. But she’s got bigger problems than some pesky demons. Like, Logan Miller–first love, baby daddy to her genius daughter is back. Then there’s Devlin Cole, a walking orgasm with too many secrets. Cassidy’s life is out of control and about to get way too interesting.
IMMORTAL POSSESSION by Cassi Carver
When Dr. Evelyn Vale is paired with Immortal Bounty’s sexy commander to go undercover and infiltrate a supernatural body-trafficking ring, she’s eager to get to work. Until she learns the catch… To crack this case, he’ll need to possess her body.
FOREVER ROSE by Janet Wellington
Tarot cards predict a dangerous journey for Taylor Rose, but she doesn’t expect to travel back to 1888 San Diego. What the cards didn’t predict was falling for a man bent on revenge, a helpful ghost, and spooky séances. Is she there to prevent a murder or to find love?
WELCOME HOME, VAMPIRE by Theresa Meyers
Corporal Cole Wagner lost his humanity in war – literally. Turned into a vampire by the military’s Vector Force, he’s the ultimate weapon, but when he returns home to set the past right, will the enemy stop at nothing to get him, including threatening the life of the woman he loved, and lost, before?
VAMPIRE MAGIC (Blood Genie, books 1 and 2) by Sheri Whitefeather
Two tenderly romantic, wildly erotic stories featuring supernatural hybrids (vampires/genies) who grant wishes for the exchange of blood.
WILD NIGHTS WITH A LONE WOLF by Elisabeth Staab
A mandatory vacation lands Agent Sherri Walker in bed with a local werewolf. Asher Hughes walked away from his outlaw pack but couldn’t ditch the bad blood. Together they’ll have to pull off one hell of an act to get out of treacherous territory alive.
A single glass remained on the table. Colin approached, careful not to touch it. If the police were going to be involved, he didn’t want his fingerprints on the glass. He leaned down, closing his eyes as he inhaled slowly. The rich scent of the stout assaulted his preternatural senses.
Patiently, he took one more breath.
And caught the salty smell of the ocean and fainter still, blood.
He straightened, his pulse racing. If he had dealt with the water horse already, none of this would’ve happened. This was his responsibility. He rotated his left shoulder. Doubt lingered at the edge of his consciousness, taunting him.
Colin spun around, his eyes meeting Juliana’s. “Call the police. They can dust the glass for fingerprints and check the liquid for drugs.”
She frowned. You think he drugged her and carried her out?
The sick bastard wouldn’t need drugs. The hypnotic tone of his voice would be enough to lure Muriel out of her pub without locking up. But he couldn’t tell Juliana that.
Colin shrugged. “It is worth checking.” He stepped close to Bartley, keeping his face turned away from Juliana. “Stay with her and keep her safe. I need to hunt.”
Bartley leaned in closer. “Is it…?”
Colin nodded and focused on Darby again. “I’m afraid we need to close the pub early tonight.”
Darby grabbed his hat from the stool next to him and stood up. “Understood. If there’s anythin’ I can do to help…”
“We’ll let you know. The police might want the guy’s description again.”
Juliana approached, words already written on her notepad. Thanks for watching the till, Darby. When Muriel gets back, she owes you a drink.
He chuckled and swiped the air with his hand. “No bother.” He gave Juliana a gentle hug. “They’ll find your cousin.”
Colin waited for her eyes to meet his before he spoke again. “I am going to check the other pubs to find out if anyone has seen her. Bartley will stay with you and wait for the police.” He glanced at Claire. “Can I walk you to your car?”
Claire gave him a knowing look. Her go-get-’em look. “Yes, thank ye.”
He tipped his head. As she came around the bar, he turned his attention back to Juliana. Her determined stance reassured him. She was a fighter, heart and soul. He didn’t need to peer into her mind to see it. “I’ll meet up with you before sunrise.”
He stepped closer to her, the floral scent of her skin enticing him. She tipped her chin up, staring into his eyes, as his finger tenderly traced her jawline. He had to touch her soft, warm skin. This woman had been through enough already. Losing her cousin would surely break her. He needed to protect his territory, but now it was personal. He had to protect Juliana. And right now, that meant finding Muriel. He could not fail.
Leaning closer, he whispered, “Please be safe.”
Her lips parted, tempting him to bridge the distance between them. Before he could act, she rose on her toes and her lips tenderly brushed his, setting fire to his ancient soul. She lowered, breaking the kiss, her lashes fluttering up as she stared at him.
Her rose-colored lips mouthed the words Thank you. Finally she slid her notepad off the bar. See that you come back soon.
The corner of his mouth tugged into a lopsided smile, forgetting any previous hesitation about confronting Benedict. He lifted her hand to his lips, pressing a kiss to her fingers. “Be careful.”
A Shadow at Twilight
“Good night, Mr. Spencer,” his assistant Hilly Thompson told him as he walked by her desk.
“I take it everything is in place for my vacation?”
He already knew the answer to the question, but wanted to hear her lovely voice once more before he left.
“Of course, Mr. Spencer. There’s a limo waiting for you in the garage that will take you directly to the airport. I’ve already had your luggage boarded on your plane, along with your winter coat and scarf. There will be a car waiting for you when you land. Your room is booked and the newspapers and breakfast muffins have been ordered for each day of your stay.”
“Hilly, I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“Thank you, Mister Spencer.”
Her sweet voice trailed off as Dillon walked to the elevator at the end of the hallway. He wasn’t the kind of boss who chatted with his employees or got to know their personal lives. He didn’t have time for that, and besides, the honest truth was that if he ever got to know Hilly better he would probably fall in love with her and there was no way that could ever happen. She was too valuable as his assistant. No, it just wasn’t meant to be.
At twenty-nine, Dillon considered himself at the top of his game and he simply couldn't afford to be with a woman who might jeopardize his ability to focus ninety-five percent of his time on his job. Logic dictated that when the time came for him to settle down it would be with someone who could do something for his career, not simply make his life easier, a woman who could add clients to his firm, who was a brilliant litigator and had a sharp mind for law. That woman was Nanette Larson, of Larson, Madison and Bradly. At one point, Nanette was his fierce competitor until she and her husband divorced and Dillon’s father recommended that he charm her into marriage.
Dillon had carefully considered all of the ramifications of marrying someone he didn’t love just to advance his career and decided it was worth the risk. He and Nanette had gotten engaged two months ago and were planning on a spring wedding.
Everything was in place for a perfect life. He and Nanette had decided to sell their million-dollar condos and buy one double in size so they could better entertain their potential clients and friends.
His one fly in the perfectly white ointment was Hilly Thompson.
He’d been attracted to Hilly from the first day she’d stepped into his office looking for a job, the attraction hitting him hard, but he prided himself in his staunch ability for self-control and had worked hard to remain somewhat aloof to Hilly, which was his practice with most of his employees. There was no mixing business and pleasure in the law firm, a strict rule his father had enforced years ago, and Dillon had more than amply adhered to that policy. His one diversion from his father’s strict policies was to send his own direct reports a birthday greeting each year. Not that he had to personally do anything for it. Hilly had set up a program that automatically did all the work for him, and then she sent him a text when the gift and card were on their way.
The woman was a godsend of an assistant, absolutely priceless. He honestly didn’t think he could function without her.
Still, lately, now that he was on his way to the altar, he couldn’t seem to stop thinking about her . . . and wondering what her skin felt like, or the taste of her full lips, or the scent of her hair or . . . .
The elevator doors opened. Dillon hesitated for a moment, then returned to Hilly’s desk.
The bench at the bus stop was empty. Annabella sat, crossed her legs, and looked down the street again. No bus in sight.
Her mind wandered back to rehearsal. Tense shoulders—that’s what Venroy had said. She’d try harder to relax. And he’d said to watch her arms. Maybe there was something off with her upper carriage altogether.
Stop. You’re obsessing again. She stood to distract herself and leaned against a lamppost.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt to watch old videos. She had Natalia Makarova’s Giselle. She’d seen the performance a million times, but never concentrating on shoulders and arms. Maybe—
Across the street, a dense well of shadow drew her attention. Something was moving in there. Make that prowling. A big cat, maybe. Or a dog. Or…or…
Her heartbeat accelerated. She deliberately looked away. This was not happening again.
Between Giselle and the creepy wolf hallucination from rehearsal, she was going to give herself a nervous breakdown.
She took a shuddering breath.
There was no need to wait at the bench all night. She could pick up the bus at the next stop. And she needed a bigger distraction. She grabbed her bag, reaching inside for her mobile phone at the same time, and called her best friend, who answered.
“Hi, Mom,” Annabella said. She shouldered her bag and lengthened her stride down the sidewalk, taking care to stay where the streetlights were brightest. Paranoid, but whatever.
“Oh, good,” her mom answered. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you. I need an extra ticket for your brother’s girlfriend. Apparently he didn’t break up with her, so now she’s coming opening night.”
Annabella’s footfalls echoed on the sidewalk. A chill slid down her spine, raising the hairs at her nape as her heart worked her up to a fast stride. She tried to outpace the niggling feeling that someone was stalking her, but glanced over her shoulder anyway.
Nothing there but motley shadows, and a block away, a pedestrian.
Oh. Brother. Girlfriend. Ticket. Right. “You think he’s going to propose to her again instead?”
“I really don’t know—” Her mom broke off. “Why are you out of breath?”
“Walking home.” She glanced across the street and almost tripped to a stop.
A patch of skulking shadow traveled the opposite sidewalk. The shadow kept to its own, black on black, and was easy to lose if she blinked.
“Bell, it’s late.” Concern filled her mom’s voice. “Get a cab. My treat.”
“I would, but I don’t see one.” She kept her gaze trained on the layered darkness, her body stone-still waiting for the next movement. Everything seemed to be shifting ever so slightly around her. The buildings, the street lamps, the metal garbage bins. She was totally cracking up.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. It’s stupid. I had a rotten rehearsal.” But since she could tell her mom anything, she added, “And I think I’m being followed.”
“What?” Her mom’s voice rose. “Where are you? Can you find someplace safe?”
Damn it. Now her mom was worried. “It’s just a dog, Mom. A dog is following me.”
“Businesses are closed. I’m waiting for the bus.” Not a quarter of a block away was the next stop, an empty lit bench waiting. No shadows there. Annabella made for it.
“Is there anyone to ask for help?”
She glanced around. There was no one in sight anymore. Weird. It wasn’t that late.
“How can you be alone in the middle of New York City?” her mother demanded.
“I’m fine, mom. Don’t worry. The…uh…dog is staying on the other side of the street.”
Even as she spoke the shadows organized again into the unmistakable form of a black wolf, his eyes shining from the deep pitch of his rough, triangular face.
This had to stop. She had to get a freaking grip.
She dropped herself onto the bench and closed her eyes while her body quaked.
There’s nothing there. Just a figment of my imagination. A part of her screamed danger! while the rest of her remained resolute. She was not cracking up, not now. They could check her into an asylum…after the gala.
She opened her eyes as the wolf began a slow advance across the street. Head lowered, ears pinned back, he picked his way through the darkest fall of shadow toward her. His growl was low with menace. His eyes were wild yellow, and locked on her.
“Mom, I’m scared.” She sounded three, instead of twenty-three, but she didn’t care. She crab-crawled upward to sit on the backrest of the bench. Her blood pounded in her ears as she clutched the phone like a lifeline. Her body loosened slightly, and she knew, tired as she was, that she could run if she had to.
“I’m calling the police on the other line.”
Annabella’s eyes teared at the urgency in her mom’s voice. She shouldn’t have called home in the first place, shouldn’t have put her mom through this. The wolf crossed the midline of the road and she started to shake. A roaring sound filled her ears. This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening.
“Honey, it’s going to be okay.” Sure enough, her mom released a tirade of demands in the background. “Where is the dog now?”
“It’s…uh…” Fear choked her answer. The wolf ambled closer, his paws silent on the pavement. As he drew near, she perceived that the blackness of his coat was instead a variable absence of color. The thing lacked substance, like a nightmare, and yet his intent was palpable enough.
“Honey?” Her mom’s voice was high and harsh, frantic.
A scream built up in Annabella’s throat, gathering into a tight kernel of fear.
But the wolf stopped there, at the edge of a circular pool of streetlight. He snarled into a series of sharp barks, loud as cracking thunder, but did not cross into the halo of light. The barks hit her like blows, but she kept her seat. Didn’t run off into the dark.
The wolf satisfied himself with a slow prowl around the perimeter of the glow, his gaze fixed on her. Waiting.
If she could have wrapped the lamplight around her like a cloak, she would have. As it was, she fully intended to stay on this bench all night, until the sun rose and burned away the monster.
Wolf. “Mad, I think.” Her voice shook her words to pieces. “I’m not going to move. Or breathe. Maybe it will leave me alone.”
“Oh, honey.” Now her mom was crying.
“I’m sorry, Mom.” The tears in her voice matched her mother’s. The wolf finished its first threatening lap. “I should’ve taken a cab. I promise to take a cab from now on.”
Her gaze followed the animal as it started a second circuit, somewhat larger to take him farther from the street bench.
The high-pitched squeal of a bus’s brakes told her why. The bus had arrived, hissing to a stop, its interior bright as day. Salvation.
“What’s that?” her mom asked.
The bus’s door folded open. Annabella laughed as tears spilled down her cheeks, and she stepped from streetlight to safety. “The bus. I’m on the bus.”
“Oh, thank you, God,” her mom breathed into the phone. “You’ll be okay now?”
With every light on in her apartment and a good night’s sleep. “Yeah, I think so.”
She glanced out the window onto the darkened street as she took her seat, searching for signs of movement. I hope so.
“Excuse me… Is Jesse down here?” she called to the men and one pair of women sparring on the mats. No one stopped their exercises to answer her. She’d hoped they would have, but she didn’t expect it. She was the new gal on the block, and she was quickly discovering that Immortal Bounty Central wasn’t too big on making newbies feel at home.
“Jesse who?” a man shouted, taking a moment to look her up and down.
Of course, there was probably only one Jesse in the Sentinel unit, so the guy was just being an ass. “Jesse Hayes. Blue Unit Commander, I believe?”
The man poked his thumb in the direction of a side room and then shot forward, catching his partner in the jaw with a roundhouse kick. Their mingled sweat was slick and wet on the mat, and the dampness in the air was thick enough to choke on. “Ok, thanks,” she mumbled.
No one else wore their company badge, and Evelyn was suddenly feeling self-conscious about her skirt and the way she’d twisted her hair into a bun. The other female Marks she’d seen were just as likely to walk the halls in sweats or workout gear as business attire.
Head held high and with her determined expression in place, Evelyn pushed the door open that the man had gestured to. “Jesse—” Her mouth had only begun to form the words to ask for him when her eyes popped wide at the vision before her. Naked men. Some with white towels around their waists. Some with no towel in sight. All specimens honed to lethal perfection. “—Hayes…”
A few of the naked men turned their backs on her, others adjusted the towels at their waists, but one man in particular turned his torso in her direction. He was naked from the top of his glorious head to the tips of his sturdy feet. It was the rest of him that had Evelyn’s attention though. Her partner was…glorious. She’d thought perhaps his clothes had made him look bigger, broader at the shoulders, but no. That bulk was all him. Pure Greater-American muscle.
“Yes, Dr. Vale? Can I help you?” Jesse picked up a towel and cupped it over his groin. His legs were slightly splayed, his thighs too densely muscled to press completely together.
“Uh…” Was this where she ran out screaming, blurting apologies, or was she supposed to seem unaffected by the locker-room scene, like just one of the guys. Darlene had warned her not to show fear. Did that apply to naked men?
“I’m, uh—” she swallowed, losing focus at the sight of Jesse’s abs and the golden brown trail of hair disappearing into the terrycloth under his hand. Damn it, what was she here for again? “—ready! Yeah, I’m ready for training. If you are.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “Okay. Do you want to wait outside and give me a minute to get dressed, or should I just drop this towel so you can continue your inspection?”
Evelyn gasped and her cheeks burst into flame. “Wh-what inspection? They told me to look for you in here. It wasn’t my fault. At the college, you know, female employees are not invited into the men’s locker room.”
“They’re not invited into the men’s locker room here, either.”
When he picked up a pair of blue plaid boxers, turned his back to her, and dropped his towel, Evelyn squeezed her eyes shut. It was almost impossible to do, since she’d never wanted to peek more. But oh, the brief glimpse she’d gotten of that man’s rump. Could it be any rounder or tighter? She doubted it was humanly possible.
Boxers in place, Jesse turned back to her. “Now would you mind moving your sweet, miniature ass outta here? I’ll meet you at Coot’s Café in ten minutes.”
She wanted to slap him—partly for the miniature comment but mostly to test his dense muscle under her palm. “Sure, I’ll see you in ten minutes at Coot’s.” Wherever that was.
She turned and strode out of the locker room with a sharp clack of her heels. She walked by the mat near the entrance and saw the man who’d given her directions. He was trying to restrain a chuckle. She sneered in his direction, hoping it looked fierce. He was either an asshole, or he deserved a tip for treating Evelyn to the greatest show of her life.
Marie’s heart punched her chest. Although Nicholas was immortal, he looked about her age, with tousled dark hair, hazel eyes, a bad-boy smile, and a hot-as-sin body clothed in a black shirt and slim-fitting jeans. No scarves, no headdress, no genie attire from her childhood imaginings.
A gap of sexy silence passed between them. Or that was how it felt to her. But maybe she was reading more into it because he was so gorgeous. She’d expected handsome, but not the holy-fucking-hell kind.
“Hello, Marie.” His voice was as devilish as the rest of him. “It’s nice to meet you.”
She could little more than reply, “You, too.”
He gave a slight bow. “I’m at your service.”
She was glad he hadn’t offered to shake her hand. She didn’t want him to touch her, not until it was absolutely necessary. Already the main artery in her neck was pulsing, from fear, no doubt. It certainly wasn’t from a latent fantasy to be fed upon. Blood still grossed her out.
Didn’t it? Yes, absolutely. His hotness hadn’t changed that.
He said, “So you want your boyfriend to propose. Keith, isn’t it?”
She nodded, and another stream of silence sizzled by. She didn’t like the effect he had on her. She wanted him to stop staring. But no such luck. His gaze remained riveted to hers.
He said, “You’re going to have to give me verbal permission to feed.”
She answered quickly, her tone jumpier than it should have been. “You have my permission.”
“Then we’re all set, aren’t we?”
“Yes, I suppose we are.” She shuffled her feet. He didn’t seem the slightest bit anxious. But why would he? Taking blood in exchange for wishes was his job. Besides, with his supposed pain-in-the-butt personality, he was probably enjoying her discomfort.
“I’ll come to your house later.” He glanced at a clock on the wall. “Let’s say, around nine?”
“That’s fine.” She didn’t need to provide her address because he would be monitoring her from his connection to the bracelet, aware of where she was at all times. And now that they were face-to-face, the notion of being tracked by him heightened her nerves. Was this how criminals felt when they were under house arrest?
He angled his head. “You’re a pretty little thing. Your boyfriend is a lucky guy.”
She barely managed a polite, “Thank you,” before he added, “I’ll bet you’re going to be a tasty treat, too. Lip-smacking good.”
Damn him. She took a deliberate step back. There went his “gotcha” side.
Her uncle came to the rescue. “Don’t act smart, Nicholas. Especially with my niece.”
“Sorry.” The smarty in question shrugged one shoulder at a time. “I was just playing around.”
“I know,” Darrin replied. “Like you always do.” He turned to Marie. “Don’t let him intimidate you, Baby Girl. He’s harmless.”
The gen-vamp grinned and leaned against the wall. “My wisecracks are worse than my bite.”
She suspected that his bite was going to sting something awful. Worse yet, he winked at her when Darrin wasn’t looking. Harmless, her foot. Already he was turning into a heap of trouble, and she’d only known him for a few minutes.
Welcome Home, Vampire
Most guys came home from serving Afghanistan with a lot of shit on their plate. Cole Wagner came back with more than his fair share. He literally wasn’t the same man he’d been. Hell, he wasn’t even human any more.
The night air, fragrant with the scent of roses, hummed with the ebb and flow of crickets calling to attract a mate. It was all he could do to drag his feet along the cracked, concrete walkway to the small military bungalow ahead of him. The path was swept clean, the grass cut with a military precision. Flower pots bracketed the cement steps held bright red geraniums. All that was Kayla’s touch. Kayla.
What the hell was he going to tell Kayla? Hi, good to see you again. Sorry your husband is dead. God, I love you. The grief after Jack Pierce’s death two years—two lifetimes—ago had been more deadly than the IED that had taken his friend. Guilt and sorrow had eaten him alive, making him not give a shit if he lived or died.
All his life it had been him and Jack. When he’d been young, Jack’s family had taken him in whenever his mom was on a bender and gone for days at a time. The Pierce family had made him one of their own. They’d fed him, clothed him, given him a place to sleep at night and kept him in school. He and Jack were more like twins than best friends. They’d played the same sports, liked the same girls, done the same stupid pranks in school, graduated together and gone into the service as a team. Then, in an earth-shattering second, Cole had been alone and lost.
He knew that was precisely the reason he’d been selected for Vector Force. A flash of memory, the agony as they tested him, transformed him into a monster, stopped him in his tracks.
His fangs extended, and the need for blood started up the saliva, thick and slick in the back of his mouth. Bone deep hunger gnawed at him.
For a moment he swayed. He should have taken a few blood bags with him from the base to staunch the need to feed, just in case, but he’d thought himself under control. The porch light flicked on. Intense in the night to his amped up vampire senses, it pierced the back of his brain and brought him back to the here and now. The unmistakable mold and must tinge of sorrow scented the air about the place, as did the baby-powder scent of loneliness. He shook his head—willed his fangs to retract in gum tissue just above his even, normal teeth.
The door opened and there stood the most perfect woman in the world – Kayla Montgomery. No. Not Montgomery any longer. Pierce. Mrs. Pierce. Widow Pierce.
Her hair, a gold, sleep-snarled halo around her head, made her seem angelic while the curves and points of her naked breasts, perfectly outlined by the cling of the white tank top she wore, spoke of a body created for far more earthly pleasures. Almost every inch of her long, tan legs was bared by the pink, blue and white striped sleep shorts hugging her hips.
“Cole? Cole, is that you?” The screen door creaked open as she stepped out onto the top step. “It is you!” He couldn’t stop staring. Her lush, pale pink lips widened into a smile.
Inside his chest, his heart fractured. Any words he’d thought he could scrape together dried to dust on his tongue. Kayla. . .Oh, God. She’d been radiant in white the last time he’d seen her. Elegant. Untouchable. She’d stood in front of the altar on one side of Jack, and he’d stood on the opposite side of him as their best man.
She launched off the stoop, the screen door slapping shut behind her and ran straight at him. Her arms wrapped around his waist in a death lock and she laid her cheek against his chest. Delicate hints of citrus, flowers and warm woman drifted up from her, filling his lungs as he inhaled sharply at her touch. He breathed in again, as deeply as he could, letting the scent of her fill him to the brim. The ache that stole over him was born of heartsick wanting. Kayla had been his first girlfriend at sixteen. And despite years of finding some small comfort in the arms of other more than willing women, no one else could touch his heart. That still belonged to Kayla alone.
He gently wrapped his arms around her in return, being extra careful to keep the contact loose and relaxed. Even after two years in Vector Force, he still didn’t know the extent of all his new vampire powers. The last thing he wanted to do was break any of her delicate bones in a power hug.
“It’s been awhile.” The words cracked as he said them. The silky strands of her hair tickled his nose, as he breathed in the unique scent of her. Sweet and clean. Every night he’d dreamed of holding her, just like this, again. He woke in the morning hating himself for dreaming about his best friend’s wife. Even now he knew thinking about how the soft curves of her breasts, bare beneath the thin tank top pressed against his chest, was somehow wrong. She wasn’t his. He shouldn’t want her the way he did.
“A while?” She leaned back and looked up at him. Long, dark lashes framed the soft brown eyes he remembered in his dreams. “Two years too long. You and Jack shipped out less than a month after we married and I haven’t seen you since.”
“I know, and I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.” Kayla cocked her head to the side, the corners of her eyes narrowing slightly.
Instinctively he knew she wasn’t just talking about his absence; she was talking about her husband’s death. She could say it all she wanted, like the shrinks at the military hospital did, but it didn’t change a damn thing. If he’d just let Jack drive, he would have taken the full impact of the IED instead of his best friend. She would have been in her husband’s arms instead of his.
With all the effort and careful touch he could muster, Cole pulled back from her. Hard to do because he wanted to hold her forever, and yet impossible not to let her go when there was still so much he needed to say to her.
“Come inside.” Kayla slipped her small hand into his, totally unaware of the explosion of chaos she caused in him.
“It’s late. I can come back tomorrow.”
Kayla shrugged. “It’s not like I sleep much anyway. And you’re here now. You came for a reason, right?”
He nodded, his frozen feet finally pulling free of the invisible bond to the concrete walkway to move forward.
Cole's hand felt cool and dry to the touch, but achingly familiar and comforting as Kayla led him up the steps and through the old screen door of her little house. She hadn’t thought of it as hers and Jack’s for a long time now. Time had a way of changing perceptions. Jack had been gone for twenty-six months. Sometimes her chest ached because she couldn't remember the sound of his voice, or the way his skin smelled.
She'd never forgotten Cole's voice, and his skin had the same warm cedar and clean soap smell it had had since she'd known him in tenth grade. For one, she didn’t remember Cole being this big when they dated in high school, or at the wedding. He seemed larger than life standing beside Jack. They’d made quite a matched set of handsome men. But the military had transformed Cole from merely a gorgeous guy into a wall of lean muscle and serious blue eyes. And she swore he’d grown taller. There was no doubt he changed.
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