“Go get some rest, Eden. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

No point in arguing. I planned to go to bed as he’d suggested, I just didn’t plan on resting. There was something I needed to do first. I pushed to my feet, closed the distance between us, and kissed his stubbled cheek.

“Good night,” I told him.

He eyed me suspiciously, since he wasn’t used to me obeying his orders. “Love you.” I patted the cheek I’d kissed and strolled to the sanctity of my room. My feet sank into the rug as I skidded around a gold lamp and into my closet. I changed out of my dress and into a black shirt and a pair of black pants. I put on boots, not heels, and crawled atop the velvet green comforter.

Moonlight drizzled through the curtains, and the sounds of the night seeped from wall speakers, offering a lazy, almost sultry tune. Crickets hummed, and cars zoomed. I closed my eyes against the programmed noise.

I was going spirit-walking.

Chapter 8

Keeping my eyes closed, I internalized my focus to the deepest part of myself, gathering my energy there. Warmth soon churned inside my stomach, leaving the rest of my body cold. Determinedly I began to push that energy forward with mental hands, the weight of flesh separating from the etherealness of soul.

A cracking sound filled my ears. Slowly, so slowly, my spirit rose out of my body. Though the feat had become easier over the years, such a disconnection—for that was exactly what it was—required intense concentration and strength.

I’d wanted to visit Lucius so many times this past week, but had resisted. He’d called every night to give me a progress report, and every night I’d waited in anticipation of that call. Too much anticipation. By resisting seeing him, I had proved to myself that I didn’tneed to see him. He wasn’t a necessity. I had myself under control, and my defenses against him were well fortified. So what that I’d thought about him constantly today.

I took immense delight in the fact that he’d never know I had visited him.

We were located in different states, but that didn’t matter. I’d find him. Usually I had to be within a mile or so of my target because I had to walk the actual distance to reach him. That had never been the case with Michael, who I could reach anywhere, anytime. After my kiss with Lucius, I knew it would not be the case with him either.

With my spirit freed completely, I became suspended in a place between reality and death, experiencing only an ephemeral lightness. I stood at the edge of the bed and stared down at my physical body. Even though I’d done this countless times before, I always experienced shock when I saw myself lying on the bed—there, but not really there.

The first time my spirit exited my body had been an accident. I’d been a little girl, only four years old, and had just discovered my parents’ lifeless bodies sprawled in blood. In my bedroom. I’d run from them, run outside screaming for help. Michael had scooped me up and carried me back inside, to the nearest room. My parents’ room. He’d placed me in their bed, said, “Stay here. Don’t move. I’ll take care of them,” then raced away to do just that.

While I’d lain there, sobbing violently, I’d heard a cracking noise, like something breaking apart. At the time, I’d figured it was my heart. But the next thing I knew, I looked down and saw myself. I barely had time to rationalize what had happened before I floated to another room, to Michael.

He’d never known I was there, never known I watched him. He’d been in my bedroom, the bodies and blood gone—as if they’d never been there. Michael drank himself into oblivion that night, his hands shaking, what he’d seen almost too much for him to bear. Later, he told me the killer had been a man who’d intended to rob the house.

He also told me he’d killed the bastard for me.

I’d spirit-walked many times after that, each time beginning and ending of its own accord. My Rakan tutor had vaguely mentioned that some of our kind had this ability, but he himself hadn’t, so he hadn’t known how to teach me. Over the years, however, I’d honed the skill. I now controlled every aspect: when, where, how long.

I’d never told anyone. Not even Michael, though I loved him more than anyone else in the world. I wanted him to see me as human as possible, I guess, like a real daughter. I’d almost told him once, after he’d gifted me with the car I’d begged him to buy me. In the end, I hadn’t wanted to spoil the moment.

Others, well, if people learned I left my body unprotected, unguarded, and vulnerable to attack, I’d fall prey to my enemies. The huntress would become the hunted.

With a sigh, I brought myself back to the task at hand. Right now my physical body was splayed out like the fairy-tale Sleeping Beauty. Utterly still, golden hair spilling around my shoulders and arms. If not for my shimmering gold skin, I could have easily passed for a human.

I closed my eyes and pictured Lucius. Pictured the hard planes and angles of his face, pictured the silkiness of his lips. The width and sinew of his chest. Soon a ghostly wind ruffled my hair. I lost the foundation under my feet. Tugged by an invisible cord, my spirit began to move. Faster. Faster. Lights whizzed past me, twinkling in and out of focus. Soon a mixture of voices—one a rough but cultured timbre, the other a smooth baritone—gained in volume.

I stopped suddenly, abruptly, and gasped.

I stood in a study very much like Michael’s. I knew beyond a doubt, however, that this was not my father’s. The wood paneling was lighter, the furniture different, more modern. A purple and red Lucite column towered over the desk. Bookshelves of fuchsia and yellow lined one wall. Silver-plated side tables and a faux-fur ottoman occupied a corner. Blood red carpet covered the oak floors, and a large portrait of a nude redhead—obviously a natural redhead and Jonathan’s third wife—hung over the unlit fireplace.

My attention slid to the center of the room. Lucius lounged atop a lime green couch, a brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other. He’d colored his hair again, this time a rich walnut brown. A scar slashed down his right temple. He wore contacts, darkening his ice-blue eyes to the same shade as his hair. As I’d predicted, the piercings and tattoos were gone. He’d fit his muscled body into an expensive silk suit.

I almost didn’t recognize him. His lips gave him away, though. He couldn’t change the lush, rosy softness of them. I licked my own as a picture flashed through my mind, a picture of him kissing me, devouring me. Setting my body aflame.

Was I destined to always respond to this man?

Another man sat across from him. Jonathan Parker. The self-indulgent, wife-killing playboy. His picture failed to reveal the aura of depravity that encompassed him, a depravity he couldn’t mask in person. Cigar smoke drifted around him as he chuckled devilishly over something Lucius had said.

“So you met an other-worlder who fires your blood, did you?” Jonathan said. He sipped amber liquid from a glass, his feet propped on top of an expensive coffee table. His grin widened, revealing too-white, too-perfect teeth. “And she’s a Raka, at that.” He sighed wistfully. “I’ll be honest. I’ve always wanted to fuck a Raka. All that gold…”

“This one’s mine,” Lucius cut in sharply. His gaze narrowed, leaving no hint of humor. Only deadly menace. “She’s the only reason I came back here. I want her. She’s mine,” he repeated.

Leaning back, Parker tugged at his earlobe with his free hand. “That hot, is she?”

“She’s fire and ice. Lava one minute, glacial the next. And she won’t have anything to do with me,” he admitted, losing his darkness and assuming a sheepish quality.

“Ah, Hunter. I wouldn’t let it worry you. Women like to play hard-to-get. They want us to romance them. They’re desperate for it. How else do you think I won each of my wives?”

“I thought that was what women wanted, too. I sent her three hundred orchids, and she used them as fertilizer. I bought her a ’Vette, and she used it for a crash-test demonstration. I sent her a diamond necklace, and she sent me a restraining order.”

Jonathan chuckled. “If she’s that difficult, why don’t you find someone else?”

“I wanther .”

I stepped toward Lucius, coasting my fingertips over the buttery soft leather couch. With each step, I imagined his scent, that soapy pine scent I so admired. I even imagined the heat of him.What are you doing? Stop!

Lucius’s shoulders tensed slightly. Had I not been so focused on him, I would have missed the action. My head tilted as I watched his gaze flicker left and right, as if searching for something—or someone? A cold shiver racked me, and I paused. There was no way he could see me. Right? Was something wrong? I scanned the room, looking for anything that might have raised his guard. I found nothing out of the ordinary.

“I’ll win her one way or another,” Lucius said, but there was now an edge to his voice that hadn’t been there before.

“I hope you’re right.” Jonathan didn’t act any different. He dropped his head back to stare up at the vaulted ceiling, the action causing the liquid in his glass to slosh. He puffed at his cigar. “If the woman’s as reluctant as you say, she might not like it that you followed her here. Well, beat her here, I should say.”

“I can guarantee she won’t like it.” Determination gleamed in his eyes. “But I’ll persuade her to see things my way, I have no doubt.”

“You’re confident.” Parker straightened and gazed pointedly over at Lucius. “That’s what I’ve always liked about you. Nothing dampers your determination.”

Lucius nodded in acknowledgment of the compliment. I resumed my journey toward him. I hadn’t seen him or touched him in a week. It felt like years. The urge had never left me, of course, but now that I was here—well, kind of here—the craving intensified.

When I reached him, I allowed my fingers to drift through his hair. I couldn’t feel the strands, but I imagined their silkiness and wished I could somehow solidify my fingers. The best I could do was gather energy and pushthat through his hair. But such an action required more concentration than I was willing to devote at the moment. Besides, Parker and Lucius might wonder at a sudden breeze.

Sighing, I moved to caress his jaw. He stiffened, even sucked in a slight hiss of breath. My hand froze in place. What the hell was going on? He should not feel me. Not even a little. No one, not even Michael, had ever guessed my secret. I hurriedly drew back my hand.

“Do you smell cinnamon?” Lucius asked.

My knees nearly buckled in shock.

“No.” Parker’s brow furrowed. He regarded Lucius silently for a moment, then tilted his chin and said, “Are you all right?”

“Fine, just fine,” Lucius said. “Just thinking of Eden. She’s likely to spit on me when she realizes I’m here.”

“Even if she despises you, you’re a lucky man. No woman has ever consumed me like this one does you.”

“Not even your wife?”

“Which one?” Parker snorted. “Never mind. Which one doesn’t matter. They were all bitches.”

Lucius’s eyebrows descended low over his eyes. “Were? Isn’t Cybil still alive?”

“Barely. If I’m lucky, she’ll soon drug herself to death.”

My focus whipped to Parker, darkening. If I’d had a weapon, I might have used it. Such casual disregard for his wife deserved a bit of punishment.

“Being consumed by a woman isn’t a pleasant experience,” Lucius grumbled. “I almost wish I’d never met her.”

There was a ring of truth to his voice that insulted me. Turning to face him, my eyes slitted; I reached out and jerked his hair. Childish of me, I know, the actions of a spoiled princess. Just like before, he stiffened. I frowned. How was he doing that? Did the connection between us allow him to sense me?

My blood chilled with the thought. I didn’t want to be connected to him like that. I gulped and backed away until I stood in the corner, out of reach. Out of temptation’s way.

“Speaking of Eden,” Lucius said, resuming the conversation as if it had never stopped, “I need you to host a party for me.”

Parker grinned slyly. “One to welcome her to town, perhaps?”

“No.” Lucius shook his head. “I don’t want her to know she’s the guest of honor. A political gala will do. A gala that I, of course, will attend.”

“What about the restraining order?”

“The law can kiss my ass. She’s an alien, so she doesn’t really have rights, does she?”

Parker’s grin widened, and he sipped his brandy. “Who’s your Eden working for?”

“Ambassador Claudia Chow.”

A heavy pause slithered around the room while Parker mulled over his next words. “I don’t like Claudia Chow,” he said. “And I’ll be honest. I don’t really have the time to host a party.”

It was a lie. I knew it, and Lucius knew it. Parker was simply hedging for some type of favor.

“I’ll owe you,” Lucius said.

Head tilting to the side, Parker studied him. “The woman really means that much to you?”

“I told you. I’m obsessed with her.” He sighed.

“I know she’s a Raka, but goddamn. She’s still pussy, and you can get that anywhere. Tell me again what’s so special about this one.”

A wicked gleam lit Lucius’s eyes. “She’s got a mouth that could suck a man dry.”

Yes, a weapon would have been nice. I’d carve my name in his balls, then drain every drop of his blood so there would be nothing left to suck.