Page 17

God, her birthday. Jordana poured a cup of tea and groaned, thinking about the trust that would become hers in less than a couple of weeks. A payoff her father held out to her as incentive to settle down and take a mate—so long as that mate was the Breed male of his choosing.

As much as she loved seeing her father, if she went home tonight, she would never hear the end of how disappointed he was that she’d rejected a fine male like Elliott. At times, his desperation seemed so great, Jordana half expected she might be physically forced into the bond with Elliott. But her father loved her too much to do something so unforgivable, no matter how deep and misguided his belief was that she needed to settle down.

Jordana had to start taking steps on her own path. Walking away from a relationship she didn’t want and couldn’t honor with her whole heart had been a good start to that goal.

Halting her dangerous attraction to Nathan had also been a step in the right direction.

A good, sensible step.

Except telling Nathan tonight that she didn’t want to see him ever again hadn’t done anything to curb how she felt about him.

She couldn’t begin to deny that she was attracted to him. After the pleasure he gave her in the elevator, her traitorous body only wanted more.

But worse than her physical need for him was her interest in him emotionally. He intrigued her. He frustrated and infuriated her.

He confused her, enflamed her, made her crave things she hardly dared think, let alone act on with anyone but him.

And he’d hurt her more than anyone ever had too. A pain that shouldn’t have surprised her so much. Shouldn’t have wounded her so deeply.

She’d felt more for Nathan in a period of a few days than she had for Elliott in all the years she’d known him.

Everything about Nathan was intense, from the rugged perfection of his face and bleak, thundercloud eyes, to the seductive power that clung to him as menacingly as the darkness of his Hunter past.

And she must be a fool of the highest order to imagine she might have gotten close to him without getting burned.

Thankfully she’d come to her senses before she’d done something really stupid, like letting him into her bed.

Or worse, letting him into her heart.

Too late for that.

“No, it isn’t,” she muttered to herself, scolding the all-too-eager, all-too-knowing voice of her conscience.

And dammit, that merciless little voice was right. It was too late to pretend there was nothing between Nathan and her.

Too bad she was the only one feeling it.

Jordana took a sip of her tea, grimacing at the bitterness. Stirring in a large spoonful of sugar, she scowled into the swirling tendril of steam rising up from the cup. “Anyway, he’s gone now, so what does it matter?”

Her cup of tea clutched in both hands as she sipped the sweet brew, Jordana stepped out of the kitchen, back into her living room.

And felt her grip go slack as she nearly collided with six and a half feet of black leather and dark, simmering male.

Nathan caught the cup as it slid from her grasp, not so much as flinching when the hot tea sloshed over his strong fingers. Stormy eyes held her startled gaze beneath the slash of his raven’s-wing brows.

Seeing him sent a surge of emotions flooding through Jordana, but the first one to leap to her tongue was outrage. “What do you think you’re doing here?”

Damn him, he didn’t even blink. “Proving a point,” he replied, his deep growl doing all kinds of bad things to her heart rate. “This is how quickly you can go from thinking you’re safe and secure, to pushing out your last breath.”

Jordana hiked up her chin. “I thought I told you I didn’t want to see you again.”

“You did.”

He might as well have shrugged one of those bulky shoulders for the lack of apology or excuse in his tone. How dare he think he could just ignore her wishes?

“Breaking into my apartment hardly qualifies as staying away from me.”

No acknowledgment, but as he set her steaming teacup down on the sofa table next to them, his dark gaze flicked past her briefly, toward the kitchen. “Is someone here with you? Maybe I’m here at an inopportune time … again.”

“What?” She frowned, unsure what to make of that comment. Did he think Elliott was with her? “No one’s here with me. Why?”

“You were talking to someone as I came in.”

Oh, God. Talking to herself. Trying to assure herself that if she never saw Nathan again, it would be too soon. And now here he was, standing in front of her in the middle of her apartment, questioning her like a jealous lover and making her blood race like wildfire through her veins.

“I’m here by myself. As if it’s any concern of yours,” she added, grasping feebly for anger when his dark gaze—his very presence—had her breath coming shallow and fast, her heart pounding frantically in her breast. She crossed her arms as if to contain her body’s eager reaction to him. “What do you want, Nathan?”

The corner of his mouth quirked slightly, more scowl than smile. “I doubt you really want to know the answer to that question, Miss Gates.”

Was he toying with her, getting some kind of twisted enjoyment out of her discomfiture the way he got other thrills from the women who serviced him at La Notte?

Jordana swallowed hard, half tempted to make him tell her so. But she couldn’t let herself fall back into that trap. She was nothing to him; he’d demonstrated that clearly enough last night.

“You need to leave now, Nathan. I’m not interested in playing your games, and I certainly don’t appreciate you breaking into my apartment.”

“I don’t play games,” he said, crisp and cool. “Nor did I break in. I leapt up to the balcony from the street. The slider was unlocked, which only helps to prove my point. You’re not safe. I might just as easily have been whoever killed Cassian Gray tonight.”

Shit. She wasn’t actually in any kind of danger, was she? Dread knotted in her belly as she glanced to the slider across the room. The large glass door was locked now, the latch securely in place.

She looked back at Nathan, hating that she now had to add gratitude to the list of unwanted emotions his unannounced visit was stirring inside her.

“Haven’t you tormented me enough already?” She paced away from him, suddenly needing some distance in order to keep from leaning into his warmth. “You didn’t have to come here like this and scare me nearly to death.”

“It wasn’t my intent to scare you, Jordana.” A pause behind her, then his voice, soft but demanding. “What do you mean, I’ve tormented you enough?”

Forget it. No way was she about to explain that reckless slip of her tongue. If he didn’t know how he’d affected her since the moment their paths first crossed, then she would gladly take that knowledge to her grave.

“I want you to go,” she said, not looking back at him as she marched barefoot across the living room toward the vestibule where the penthouse’s private elevator was located.

The elevator where less than twenty-four hours ago, Nathan had given her the most intense climax of her life.

God, she should not be thinking about that right now.

“I told you tonight that you had to stay away from me, Nathan.”

“Yes, you did.”

He was right behind her now, so close she could feel his big body throwing off heat and coiled male power. The thin silk of her robe and pajamas was no barrier at all. From head to toe, her skin felt too exposed, seared, every nerve ending tingling and alive with awareness.

Everything female within her was tuned on him implicitly.

“I know what you told me, Jordana. I know it’s a bad idea for me to be here.” He swore under his breath. Firm hands came to rest on her shoulders and he slowly turned her around to face him. “Unfortunately for both of us, when Cassian Gray decided to spend some of the last hours of his life with you, he put you in the middle of my investigation for the Order.”

Jordana stiffened in his grasp but couldn’t quite find the will to pull herself away from the contact. “So you’re just here in an official capacity, is that it?”

“I think we both know better than that,” he answered, deliberate and calm. So maddeningly arrogant. But he drew nearer then, and the heat of him, the leather and dark spice scent of him, nearly made her moan with pleasure.

His eyes smoldered, locked on hers as he closed the distance, leaving scant inches between their bodies. Amber light sparked in the murky blue-green depths of his gaze. His normally hard-to-read face was harsh with grim purpose, his angular cheekbones seeming more pronounced under the subtle blaze of his mesmerizing irises.

As she looked up at him, his pupils began to narrow, the tips of his fangs just visible behind the fullness of his lips. Along his neck, the intricate pattern of dermaglyphs that tracked over his smooth skin and into the ebony hairline at his nape began to churn and surge with rising hues of indigo and gold.

Nathan may have been born and raised a Hunter, but he was Breed as well, and not even his cold origins or discipline seemed enough to mask the desire Jordana saw in his transformation.

His hands still holding her, he moved in closer, crowding her with the delicious heat and scent of him. “Nothing about my being here right now is official in nature. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re currently my best potential source of intel on Cass’s final hours. Why was he at the museum? What did he do there, how long did he stay? What did he say to you? These are all things the Order will need to know. I’m going to need you to tell me everything, Jordana.”

“You already interrogated me once tonight,” she reminded him. “I don’t have anything more to tell you, so you might as well leave.”

His nostrils flared. Eyes flashed with brighter flames. “I didn’t come here to interrogate you.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I came to make sure you were okay.” His expression tightened as his gaze swept over her, fierce yet gentle. He blew out a low curse. “I needed to know that you were safe, and I trust no one else to make sure of that but me. Fuck, Jordana … I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

He didn’t want to see her get hurt?

As tender as his words were—as deeply as she wanted to believe the concern in his voice—Jordana stared up at him, unable to bite back her quiet scoff. “I’m not your responsibility, Nathan. It’s not your job to look after me.”

“No, it isn’t. But by Christ, I’m going to protect you, no matter whose job you think it is to keep you safe. Whether you like it or not.”

She didn’t like it. At least that’s what she tried to tell herself as he held her in his strong hands, in his possessive amber-flecked gaze.

She didn’t want to like that flare of raw hunger she saw in his expression. Didn’t want to ache with want to feel his mouth crush down on hers while he kept her captive in his grasp.

Her shallow breaths mingled with the hot gusts that rolled out of him, her heartbeat pounding furiously, frantically, while his thrummed as hard and steady as a drum.

He was saying all the right things, acting as though she mattered to him. Drinking her in just now as though she belonged to him.

But she didn’t belong to him.

She couldn’t belong to him, not if she wanted to keep her heart intact. Their worlds were too different. She saw that last night.

And no matter how much she wanted to believe him now, to trust what he was telling her with his words and hands and eyes, Jordana clung to the tiny shred of sanity that warned her she was looking at the very thing that could hurt her more than any other potential threat of danger.

She dropped her head and let a sigh slip out of her, chagrined to hear it manifest as a pained moan. “You don’t have the right to do this to me, Nathan. You can’t come into my home uninvited and say things to me like that. You don’t have the right to appoint yourself my protector. You’re not my anything.”

“That’s true,” he answered, but instead of drawing back from her, he leaned closer.

To her combined agony and delight, he removed one hand from its loose grasp on her shoulder only to bring the backs of his fingers toward her face in a caress so light it robbed her of both breath and good sense.

His touch drifted lower, along the side of her neck, then down the length of her silk-covered arm. “It’s all true, Jordana. I don’t have any right when it comes to you.”

And yet her veins were throbbing as she stared at him, warmth rising up her throat and into her cheeks, igniting in her core. The heavy beat in her veins was nothing compared to the deep pulse centered between her thighs. Her sex ached with a longing that spread through her limbs, making her legs feel unsteady and boneless.

He leaned closer, his mouth very near to her ear. “Tell me how I tormented you.”

She shook her head, all the response she could muster as his free hand moved around to the silk sash that loosely tied the front of her robe.

“Tell me, Jordana.” A command, not a request, even though his deep voice was pure velvet. “I tormented you. That’s what you said. Now tell me what you meant.”

“No.” The refusal rushed out of her, airless and desperate.

She didn’t want to explain how he’d hurt her last night after giving her so much pleasure. It was too humiliating to admit how easily she’d been wounded. Or that she was too inexperienced to participate in the kind of wicked pursuits he seemed to enjoy.

She didn’t want to be that sheltered, untried girl. Not with him.

And she supposed that made her an even bigger fool.

With one deft hand, he worked the knot of her robe’s sash loose, then coiled the twin lengths of silk around his fist, forcing her to step toward him now, until there was no space left between them at all. Her breasts pressed against the hard muscles of his chest, and lower still, his thick thigh parted her legs to nestle firmly against the molten core of her body.


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