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"I don't know."


Although Tess hardly noticed Dante moving, their arms brushed against each other, his solid, muscled body like a warm, protective wall beside her. And he smelled incredible--something spicy and dark that probably cost a fortune. She drew in a deep breath of him, then bent to inspect the dog's mite-infested ears. "Have you noticed a loss of appetite or a problem keeping food and water down?"


"I couldn't say."


Tess lifted the terrier's lips and checked the color of his diseased gums. "Can you tell me when was Harvard's last vaccination?" "I don't know."


"Do you know anything about this animal?" It sounded accusatory, but she couldn't bite it back.


"I haven't had it very long," Dante said. "I know it needs care. Do you think you can help, Tess?"


She frowned, knowing it was going to take a lot to reverse everything the dog suffered from. "I'll do what I can, but I can't make any promises."


Tess reached for a ballpoint that was lying on the countertop behind her and fumbled it. The pen dropped to the floor at her feet, and before she could bend down to pick it up, Dante was there. He caught the Bic in nimble fingers and held it out to her. As she took it from him, she felt his thumb skim over the back of her hand. She drew her arm against her body in an abrupt motion.


"Why do I make you so nervous?"


She shot him a look that probably broadcast that very thing. "You don't."


"Are you sure? You seem... agitated."


She was, actually. She hated to see neglected animals such as this one, which looked like a poster child for the SPCA. And stress over everything that was going wrong in her life right now was also weighing her down.


But running undercurrent to all of that was the disquiet she felt just being in the same room with this man. God help her, but when her gaze lit on his, she was blasted with a very vivid, very real impression of the two of them naked together, limbs entwined, bodies moist and glistening, arching into each other on a bed of scarlet silk sheets.


She could feel his large hands caressing her, his mouth pressing hot and hungry against her neck. She could feel his sex sliding in and out of her, as his teeth grazed the sensitive spot below her ear, which throbbed now like the heavy beat of drums.


She was held suspended in his smoky amber eyes, seeing all of it as clearly as if it was memory. Or a future that danced just beyond her grasp...


With effort, Tess managed to blink, severing the strange connection.


"Excuse me," she gasped, and hurried out of the room, awash in confusion.


She closed the door behind her and took a couple of quick paces down the hallway. Leaning back against the wall, she closed her eyes and tried to catch her breath. Her heart was racing, pounding against her sternum. Her very bones seemed to vibrate like a tuning fork.


Her skin was warm to the touch, heat blooming around her neck and in her breasts, and down, in her core. Everything in her seemed to have awakened in his presence, all that was female and elemental coming online at once, reaching out for something. Reaching out for him.


God, what was wrong with her?


She was losing it. If she was smart, she'd leave Dante and his sickly pet in the exam room and hightail it out of here right now.


Oh, sure. That would be really professional. Very adult. So he'd kissed her once before. All he'd done now was brush fingertips with her; she was the one overreacting. Tess took a deep breath, then another, willing her hyperactive physiology to calm down. When she was finally in control again, she turned around and went back to the exam room, running through a dozen lame reasons for why she felt the need to run away.


"I'm sorry about that," she said as she opened the door. "I thought I heard the phone--"


The flimsy excuse cut short when she saw him. He was sitting on the floor as if he'd dropped there not a second before, his head hung low and caught between his large palms. His fingertips were white where they dug into the thick hair of his scalp. He looked to be in excruciating agony, his breath hissing through his teeth, eyes squeezed tightly shut.


"Oh, my God," she whispered, stepping farther inside the room. "Dante, what happened? What's the matter with you?"


He didn't answer. Maybe he was incapable.


Although it was clear that he was hurting in some major way, Dante radiated a dark, wild danger that seemed almost inhuman it was so powerful.


Seeing him there in pain on the floor, Tess felt a sharp stab of d?j? vu, a niggle of foreboding that tickled her spine. She started to back away, ready to call 911 and let his problem--whatever it was-- belong to someone else. But then his big shoulders hunched over in a tight, pained ball. He let out a moan, and that low, anguished sound was more than she could bear.


Dante didn't know what hit him.


The death vision came on fast, nailing him like an explosion of blistering daylight. He was awake, at least, but suspended in a paralyzing state of awareness, all of his senses gripped in a debilitating, full-on assault. The vision had never come to him outside of sleep. It had never been so fierce, so ruthlessly strong.


One minute he'd been standing next to Tess, swamped with the erotic images of what he wanted to do with her; the next thing he knew, he was ass-planted on the linoleum of the examination room, feeling himself becoming engulfed in smoke and flame.


Fire climbed toward him from all sides, belching thick plumes of black, acrid smoke. He couldn't move. He felt shackled, helpless, afraid.


The pain was immense, as was the despair. It shamed him how deeply he felt both of those things, how hard it was for him not to yell out in torment for what he was living through in his mind.


But he held on, the only thing he could do whenever the vision struck him, and he prayed it would be over soon.


He heard his name on Tess's lips, asking him what he needed. He couldn't answer. His throat was dry, his mouth filled with ash. He sensed the honesty of her concern and the truth of her apprehension, as she drew closer to him. He wanted to tell her to go, to let him suffer it out on his own, the only way he knew how.


But then he felt cool and gentle fingers come to rest on his shoulder. He felt the white calm of sleep float down over him like a sheltering blanket as she stroked his taut spine and the sweat-dampened hair at his nape.


"You'll be all right," she told him softly. "Let me help you, Dante. You're safe."


And for the first time he could ever recall, he believed that he was.


Chapter Sixteen


Dante lifted his eyelids, waiting for the splintering headache to blind him. Nothing happened. No staggering aftershocks, no cold sweat, no bone-numbing fear.


He blinked once, twice, staring up at a white acoustic-tile ceiling and an extinguished fluorescent-light panel above his head. Strange surroundings--the muted-taupe walls, the small upholstered sofa underneath him, the tidy wooden desk across from him, its orderly surface illuminated by a ginger-jar lamp next to the computer workstation.


He breathed in, smelling none of the familiar smoke or other burning stench that had filled his nostrils in the hellish reality of his death vision. All he smelled was a spicy-sweet warmth that seemed to cocoon him in peace. He brought his hands up from his sides, smoothing them over the fleece throw that only partially covered his big body. The plush cream-colored blanket smelled like her.


Tess.


He turned his head just as she was coming into the room from the hallway outside. The white lab coat was gone; she looked incredibly soft and feminine in an unbuttoned pale green cardigan over her beige knit top. Her jeans rode her hips, baring a thin wedge of smooth creamy flesh where the hem of her shirt didn't quite meet the top of her pants. She'd let her hair down from the plastic claw that held it before. Now the honeyed brown waves fell down around her shoulders in loose glossy curls.


"Hi," she said, watching him sit up and swivel around to put his feet on the carpeted floor. "Are you feeling better?"


"Yeah."


His voice was a dry croak, but he felt surprisingly well. Rested. Cooled out, when he should have been jacked up tense and hurting--the usual hangover that came in the wake of his death vision. On impulse, he ran his tongue along the line of his teeth, feeling for fangs, but the fearsome canines were receded. His eyesight felt normal, not the sharp, otherworldly twin laser beams that marked him as one of the Breed.


The storm of his transformation, if it had come at all, was past. He moved the fluffy throw off him and realized he was missing his coat and boots. "Where's my stuff?"


"Right here," she said, pointing to the black leather coat and the lug-soled Doc Martens that had been placed neatly on a guest chair near the door. "Your cell phone is on my desk. I turned it off a couple of hours ago. I hope you don't mind. It was ringing pretty continuously and I didn't want it to wake you."


A couple of hours ago? "What time is it now?"


"Um, it's quarter to one."


Shit. Those calls were probably the compound, wondering where the hell he was. Lucy was gonna have some 'splaining to do.


"Harvard's resting, by the way. He's got a few problems that could be very serious. I fed him and gave him fluids and some IV antibiotics, which should help him sleep. He's in the kennels down the hall."


For a few seconds, Dante was confused, wondering how she could possibly know the Darkhaven agent and why the hell he'd be medicated and sleeping in the kennels of her clinic. Then his brain kicked into gear and he remembered the mangy little animal he'd used as a means of ingratiating himself further with Tess.


"I'd like to keep him overnight, if you don't mind," Tess said. "Maybe a couple of days, so I can run a few more tests and make sure he's getting everything he needs."


Dante nodded. "Yeah. Okay."


He looked around at the small, comfortable little office setup, with its minifridge in the corner and the electric hot plate that sat next to a coffeemaker. Obviously, Tess spent a lot of time in the place. "This isn 't the room I was in before. How did I get here?"


"You had some kind of seizure in the examination room. I got you on your feet and helped you walk back here to my office. I thought it would be more comfortable for you. You seemed pretty out of it."


"Yeah," he said, rubbing his hand over his face.


"Is that what it was, a seizure?"


"Something like that."


"Does it happen frequently?"


He shrugged, seeing no cause to deny it. "Yeah, I guess so."


Tess came toward him then, taking a seat on the arm of the sofa. "Do you have medication for it? I wanted to check, but I didn't feel right going through your pockets. If there's something you need--"


"I'm good," he said, still marveling at the absence of pain or nausea following what had been the worst assault he'd experienced to date. The only one that had ever come on while he was awake. Now, aside from being a bit groggy from a hard sleep, he could barely tell he'd had the damn vision at all. "Did you... give me something, or maybe... do something to me? I felt your hands on my back at one point and moving around my head... "


A strange expression came over her face, almost a look of momentary panic. Then she blinked and glanced away from him. "If you think it will help, I have Tylenol in my desk. I'll get you some and a glass of water." She started to get up.


"Tess." Dante reached out and took her wrist in a loose grasp. "You stayed with me the whole time-- all these hours?"


"Of course. I couldn't very well leave you here by yourself."


He got a sudden, clear mental picture of what she must have seen if she was anywhere near him while he fought the onslaught of his death vision. But she hadn't run away shrieking, and she wasn't looking at him in terror now either. In fact, he had to wonder if being with her hadn't somehow eased the worst of his nightmare before it had even begun.


Her touch had been so soothing, so cool and tender.


"You stayed with me," he said, awed by her compassion. "You helped me, Tess. Thank you."


She could have drawn her hand out of his easy hold at any moment, but she hesitated there, a question in her blue-green gaze. "I think... Since you seem to be all right now, I think it's time to call it a night. It's late, and I should go home."


Dante resisted the urge to point out that she was trying to run again. He didn't want to scare her off, so he slowly got up from the sofa and stood near her. He looked at their fingers, still touching at the tips, neither one of them willing to break the unexpected contact.


"I have to... go," she said quietly. "I don't think this--whatever this is that's happening between us--is a good idea. I'm not looking to get involved with you."


"And yet you've been sitting here taking care of me for the past four-plus hours."


She frowned. "I couldn't have left you alone. You needed help."


"What do you need, Tess?"


He curled his fingers, capturing hers in a firmer hold now. The air in the small office seemed to constrict and throb with awareness. Dante could feel Tess's pulse kickstart into a faster beat, a vibration he picked up through her fingertips. He could read her interest, the desire that had been there when he'd kissed her at the art exhibit and been sorely tempted to seduce her in front of a few hundred witnesses. She had wanted him then, maybe even last night too. The delectable, trace scent coming off her skin as she held his meaningful stare told him plainly enough that she wanted him now.


Dante smiled, desire flaring in him for the woman whose blood was a part of him.


The woman who just might be in league with his enemies, if Tess had any hand at all in her onetime boyfriend's pharmaceutical ventures.

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