“What are you—”

The mural parted, revealing a dark entryway. I almost clapped in excitement. I’d been right about the corridor! Lucius tossed a grin (still a little pained) over his shoulder before tugging me inside. The door closed, and total darkness surrounded us. Total silence.

Lucius never slowed as we descended a staircase.

“I hope you know where you’re going.” My words echoed through the small, cramped space.

“I’ve been here a thousand times. I know the way.”

An eternity had passed, or perhaps only a few minutes, when he ground to an abrupt stop. He released my hand. I heard a scratch, aclang, a muffled curse from Lucius, and then another door was sliding open. Rays of light seeped into my line of vision.

“In here,” he said.

“Should we be talking?” I whispered.

“Soundproof walls.”

We stepped into a plain gray room that boasted a single wall of windows, nothing more. Those windows gazed into the library, where Jonathan was lounging on the lime green couch, Claudia seated across from him. They each held a glass of dark, rich liquid.

I stopped and stared, but Lucius walked to the window and pushed a panel of buttons. The speakers came on, and we could suddenly hear what was being said.

“—won’t hurt her here, I promise you,” Jonathan was saying.

“Oh, really? Your friend came to New Dallas because he knew Eden would be here. He’s a stalker, Jonathan. A dangerous criminal who once kidnapped her and locked her away. Now, can you offer me a hundred percent assurance that he’ll leave her alone?”

Jonathan chuckled. “That certainly sounds like something Hunter would do. The man has balls of steel. But I’m not his father, and I can’t control him.”

Anger gleamed in Claudia’s dark eyes. “You’re laughing about this?”


“No. Eden is an alien and my employee, and therefore I am her protector. You’ll either keep your friend under tight watch, away from her, or I’ll bring in the media. You know several of them are sympathizers and will crucify you.”

I blinked in surprise. She was defending me, fighting for me. Wasn’t backing down. Was determined to help me. In that moment, I realized she wasn’t working with or for Jonathan. She really did care about her job, about aliens.

A muscle ticked in Jonathan’s jaw. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll speak with him.” Done with the conversation, he unfolded to his feet. “Come. I’ll escort you back to the party.”

Claudia, too, stood. She didn’t wait for Jonathan, but turned on her heels and strode out. Before he left, he tossed his glass against the wall, and gleaming shards rained onto the floor. All that sneaking around for a small glimmer of conversation.

I glanced at Lucius, who was watching me. Our gazes met. Clashed. The intensity in his eyes was disconcerting. Confusing. “We better get back, too,” I said.

He latched onto my arm, stopping me from movement. “Can you handle this?” he asked roughly. “Once we leave this room, there’ll be no going back.”

Was he doubting me again? “I can handle it,Hunter. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“These are dangerous people.” He stiffened, but slowly, slowly relaxed and surprised me by saying, “The other day, I told you I had a mother. She raised me the first ten years of my life. She was a drug addict and a whore, but she loved me in her own way. I think she was glad when Social Services took me away.”

I couldn’t open my mouth to save my life. I was riveted by his words. Why he was telling me this now, I didn’t know.

“I was given to a nice, conservative family, but I was already street-hard and used to doing whatever I wanted, so that didn’t last long.”

When he paused, I gulped and finally found my voice. “What happened to you?”

“I was sent to a sadistic couple who liked to rent out their foster children.”

A cold sweat broke over my skin at the implication of his words. I should have let the subject drop. Knowing about him, about his past, wasn’t necessary and might actually harm my resolve to resist him. To dislike him. I should have let it drop, yes, but I didn’t. I had to know. “Rent out?”

His shoulders lifted in a rigid shrug. “The first time they gave me to a man, I was scared and ashamed. Have you ever been raped, Eden?”

My eyes wide, I shook my head no.

“It’s a thousand times worse than anything you’ve ever heard about it, and it’s what’s going to happen to you if something goes wrong.”

“I can protect myself,” I said shakily.

“I thought so, too. But the second time I was sold, I tried to fight. I was strong for my age, and I’d been in a lot of fights. He had me pinned to the ground in minutes, as if my struggles meant nothing. I’d never felt so helpless in my life.”

“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say. I’d had a childhood of privilege. Yes, I’d seen my parents murdered, but nothing had been done to me physically. I’d known love and safety. “So very sorry.”

“The third time, I went into a rage. Before I could be subdued, I stabbed the fucking pedophile in the stomach. He died, and I spent the next seven years locked away.”

“But you were a child.”

He shrugged again. “I was due to spend three more years inside, but Michael stumbled upon my case and got me out. I didn’t tell you that for sympathy, so wipe that look off your face. I told you because I want you to realize those are the type of people we’re dealing with here. They don’t care about anything except pleasure and money. They’ll rape you, sell you without blinking an eye, and we’re about to gift-wrap you and hand you to them.”

I straightened my shoulders, fortified my determination. “If I don’t do this, no one will. People will continue to be bought and sold, slaves to their masters. Ihave to do this. I, at least, know what to expect. I know how to defend myself. They don’t.”

He didn’t speak for a moment. Just watched me, studied me. I don’t know what I expected from him, but what he did wasn’t it. Without warning, he jerked me into his chest, and his lips came crashing down on mine.

I didn’t think to resist. Couldn’t. He’d been hurt so long ago, and there was a deep need inside me to soothe that pain. To make it go away, to wrap him up in total safety. His tongue thrust and battled. Mine thrust and battled, as well, each of us craving something from the other. Something we shouldn’t.

His strong, strong arms wound around me, slithered up and down my back before cupping my butt and lifting me up until I cradled his erection. “You excite me,” he growled. He didn’t seem happy with the knowledge.

“Yeah, well, you excite me too.” I definitely wasn’t happy with the knowledge. “You also infuriate me.”

He licked the seam of my lips. “You dropped me to my knees today, and that’s something no one else has done.”

“You deserved it.” I nipped at his jaw.

“Yeah, I deserved it.” He paused, pulled away from me. “You’re a better agent than I gave you credit for.”

The unexpected praise shocked me. Thrilled me.Rocked me. My heart actually skipped a beat. “Th-thank you,” I stuttered.

He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. The beams of light that couched his face gave him a menacing yet angelic ambiance. Conflicting, like the man himself. “All right, then. Now that that’s settled, let’s go buy your ticket into hell.”

We traveled through the tunnel again and back into Jonathan’s room. I needed that time to get myself under control. To stop thinking about Lucius and his kiss, Lucius and his praise, Lucius and his past, and to concentrate on the mission.

He led me through a back way. We soon reentered the party undetected and became part of the laughing crowd. Like a dream, smoke wafted around us. “This dance is mine,” he said.

His strong, callused fingers wrapped around my wrist as his rough, husky voice shivered along my spine. Without waiting for my reply, Lucius dragged me onto the dance floor.

Back in character, I cast a helpless look over my shoulder, searching for Claudia or Jonathan. I didn’t see either of them.

Soft, lulling music hummed from strategically placed speakers that were hidden in the walls. Lucius wound his arms tightly around me, and I fought the urge to sink completely into him and continue our kiss, picking up where it left off.

I gave him my complete attention, trying to appear fearful and furious. Meanwhile, my body thrummed with the pleasure of his heat and pine scent. If only he hadn’t praised my abilities…

In the light, I saw that his dark hair framed around his chiseled face, and his faux-brown eyes glowed with…what? I couldn’t read the emotion there, only the extreme intensity. My fingers itched to trace the fake scar that slashed down his temple. My mouth watered for another taste of him. The small tastes he’d already given me weren’t enough. Not nearly enough.

The music began to fade from my ears, and the people around me vanished from my vision. The gray suit Lucius wore fit him to perfection, molding itself over each and every one of his muscles. Though his eyes were now brown, his lashes were the same: long, black, and spiky.

“Goddamn it, put up some kind of fight,” he growled quietly. “You’re supposed to hate and fear me. Not fuck me with your eyes.”

Common sense slammed into me. My teeth ground together, and my gaze narrowed. I slapped him with so much force his head whipped to the side. The people around us gasped. Lucius didn’t remove his arms from me. No, he tightened his hold. Slowly he turned and faced me again.

“Better,” he said, his eyes now glowing with amusement.

Just for fun, I slapped him again.

He lost his amused glow. “I think people get the message.”

“You sure?” My tone was dark with suppressed animosity…and desire.

A muscle ticked in his jaw. “I’m sure.” He jerked me deeper into his arms. “Miss me?” he asked, his voice dropping an octave.

Maybe his kiss had weakened my resolve to dislike him, maybe his praise had, or his confession about his childhood, because I suddenly wanted to give him an honest answer—the one thing I hadn’t given him in all our sexual sparrings. But I had to stay in character from this point on, and we both knew it.

“Take your hands off me,” I demanded and tried to pull away from him.

His hold tightened even further. “You like to play hard-to-get, Eden, but we both know how easy you’ll be,” he said, and there was a ring of truth in his tone. He wasn’t speaking to my character, but to me. “You like where you are.”

“Take your hands off me, damn it!”

“First, admit that you like when I hold you. I want to hear you say it.”

I pursed my lips. I’d admit nothing, not for our audience and certainly not for him. “I’ll scream.”

“Do it. Scream.”

“Bastard. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“I won’t wait forever, you know. Iwill have you.” He leaned toward me, placing his lips near my ear, as if he meant to kiss me and whisper sweet words of love. Softly, so softly, he said, “You’re the most erotic thing I’ve ever seen. Your nipples are hard and your sheer dress does nothing to hide them.”

I slapped him again, harder than before. It was either that, or sink into him. He stumbled backward.

“Stay away from me.” I projected my words loudly, loud enough that the people around us heard. “I don’t want you. I’venever wanted you.”

I swirled around and finally found Claudia. Her eyes widened when she spotted me, and her features became pinched with shock and concern. Jonathan’s darkened with anger. Claudia said something to him, and he motioned to one of the Ell-Rollises, who immediately raced toward him.

I reached them, and Jonathan’s attention veered to me. He forgot the guard as he took my hand, turned it, and kissed my wrist. “I’m sorry if my friend frightened you.”

I pointedly withdrew from his hold and glared at him. “He dragged me to the dance floor and wouldn’t let me go. He could have hurt me.” I stomped my foot, the perfect pampered child.

“I wouldn’t have let him, I assure you.” His brown eyes were already so dark they appeared black, but they darkened further. “Claudia explained what happened between you and Hunter. Believe me, I won’t let anything like this happen again. I’ll talk to him.”

“Thank you.” But I remained stiff.

There, I thought with satisfaction. I’d done my job. I’d effectively established my dislike of “Hunter.” I’d proven I wanted him nowhere near me, which would validate his growing desperation for me. I gave my attention to Claudia. “I’m feeling poorly. Are you ready to leave?”

She nodded, her color high with anger. She truly was concerned for me. “Yes, of course,” she said. “Let’s get you home. You’re shaking.” Like a mother hen, she wrapped her arm around my waist and led me through the crowd and to the front door.

“See that they make it to their car safely,” Jonathan commanded the Ell-Rollis. I felt his gaze boring into my spine—and ass.

I couldn’t help myself. I tossed a glance over my shoulder, past the Ell-Rollis now shadowing us, and watched as Lucius approached Jonathan. The two men began arguing. People inched away from them, but not far enough that they couldn’t listen. Unfortunately, I was too far away to hear.