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She wasn't thinking of the human now, that was for sure. Tess's eyes darkened, and her breathing picked up speed, rushing shallowly from between her parted lips. Dante flexed his biceps, just the slightest pull of his arm to bring her closer. She came toward him without resistance.


"I want to kiss you again, Tess."


"Why?"


He chuckled, low under his breath. "Why? Because you're beautiful, and because I want you. And I think you want me too." Dante brought his free hand up to her face and gently stroked the line of her jaw. She felt like silk against his fingertips, as delicate as glass. He brushed his thumb across the dusky swell of her lips.


"God, Tess. I'm dying to taste you right now."


She closed her eyes, exhaling a sigh. "This is crazy," she whispered. "I don't... this isn't... something that I normally--"


Dante lifted her chin and bent to press his lips to hers. He'd meant only to sample the feel of her mouth on his, an urge he'd been harboring since those few heated moments they'd shared at the museum reception. Then he'd been something of a ghost to her, stealing a taste of her passion, then slipping away before she could know if he was real or imagined. Now, for a reason he could hardly comprehend, he wanted her to know he was flesh and bone.


He was, evidently, a goddamn idiot.


Because right now he wanted her to feel him--all of him--and understand that she was his.


He'd meant only to taste, but she was too sweet on his tongue. She was so responsive, her hands coming up around his neck to hold him closer as their mouths crushed together in a deep, prolonged joining. Seconds melted into a minute, then minutes more. A mad, timeless oblivion.


As he kissed her, Dante buried his hands in the luxurious mass of her hair, reveling in the softness of her, the heat of her. He wanted her undressed. He wanted her naked beneath him, screaming his name as he pushed inside her.


God, how he wanted.


His blood was pounding, hot and furious, through his body. His sex was stiff with need, the hard length of him fully aroused, and he was only just getting started with Tess.


The way he felt now, he hoped this was only the start.


Before Dante could stop himself, he was guiding her around to the sofa, easing her down onto the cushions.


She fell back, looking up at him from under those thick-fringed lashes, the aqua color of her eyes gone dark like stormy azure. Her mouth was glistening and swollen from his kiss, her lips blushing a deep, dark rose. The front of her neck was pink with the flush of her desire, color that fanned down into the V of her clingy shirt. Her nipples were hard little buds, straining against the fabric with each rise of her breath. She was ripe with want, and he had never seen anything more exquisite.


"You're mine, Tess." Dante moved over her, kissing a path from her lips to her chin, then along her throat, to the soft skin below her ear. She smelled so good. Felt so good against him.


Dante groaned, his nostrils picking up the sweet perfume of her arousal. Lust made his gums ache with the stretching of his fangs. He could feel the sharp points coming down, throbbing with the steady beat of his pulse. "You are mine. And you know that, don't you?"


Although her voice was small, little more than a breath of air rushing out of her lungs, Dante heard her plainly, and the word went through him like fire.


She said yes. God, what was she saying?


What was she doing, letting herself be kissed and touched--seduced--like this?


It was reckless and so unlike her at all. Probably dangerous too, for a dozen reasons she couldn't quite bring herself to care about right now.


She'd never been easy--far from it, given her general distrust of the male gender--but something about this man made fear and inhibition fly right out the window. She felt linked to him somehow, a connection that went deeper than anything she knew, into uncharted territory that made her think of fairy-tale concepts like fate and destiny. Those things weren't part of her normal lexicon, but she couldn't deny that despite all she should be feeling about this moment, it just felt... right.


It felt too good to doubt, even if her body was inclined to listen to reason. Which it wasn't, not when Dante was kissing her, touching her, making all that was female in her awaken as though it had been asleep for a hundred years.


She didn't resist as he carefully pulled off her sweater, then lifted the hem of her shirt up over her breasts. He drew in a sharp breath as he bent down and kissed her bare stomach, teasing her with gentle nips as he moved up her belly to the front closure of her bra. He snapped it open and slowly peeled the satin away from her breasts.


"Christ, you are lovely."


His voice was rough, his breath hot on her skin. Her nipples ached to be touched, to be drawn into his mouth and suckled hard. As though he knew the direction of her thoughts, Dante flicked his tongue over one of the tight buds. He pulled with teeth and tongue, while he took the other in his palm, caressing her, driving her crazy with need.


Tess felt him reaching down for the button of her jeans. He worked it free, then tugged the zipper open. Cool air hit her abdomen, then her hips, as Dante nudged her pants down around her thighs. With a long pull of her nipple, he lifted his head and looked at her partial nakedness.


"Exquisite," he said, the same word he'd spoken the other night.


He reached up tenderly, smoothing his palm down the length of her throat, then along the center of her. Her body arched up for him as though attached to an invisible string that he was pulling. When he reached the core of her, he slid his fingers underneath her panties, not stopping until he found her moist cleft. Tess closed her eyes in tormented bliss as he cupped her, one long finger cleaving between her folds.


His breath leaked out of him in a hiss. "You feel like silk, Tess. Wet, hot silk."


He penetrated her as he spoke, just the tip of his finger, the smallest invasion. She wanted more. She lifted her hips, a quiet moan in her throat as he drew back, teasing, sliding her moisture up around her clit with the tip of his slick finger.


"What?" he asked her in a gruff whisper. "What do you want, Tess?"


She writhed under his touch, reaching for him. Dante bent down and kissed her stomach as he put both hands on the loose waistband of her jeans and pushed them down. Her panties followed. Dante kissed her navel, then traced his tongue in a downward path, toward the small patch of curls at her groin. With one hand, he lifted her thigh, spreading her open.


"Do you want me to kiss you here?" he asked, pressing his mouth to her hipbone. His dark head moved lower, to the sensitive skin of her inner thigh. "How about here?"


"Please," she gasped, her spine arcing as heat roared through her.


"I think," he said, moving off the sofa and positioning himself between her slack legs, "that you want me to kiss you... here."


The first press of his mouth to her sex took her breath away. He kissed her deeper then, using his tongue on her, driving her wild. Tess's pleasure spun higher, tighter. She didn't know it was possible to feel this kind of need, but now that she was burning with it, there was only one thing that could sate it.


"Please," she said, her voice sounding broken and thick. "Dante, please... "


"Do you want me inside you, Tess? Because that's where I want to be right now. I want to be driving into you, feeling all of your wet heat milking my cock dry."


Oh, God. He was going to make her come just thinking about it.


"Yes," she managed to croak. "God, yes. That's what I want."


He drew back and stripped off his shirt. Tess opened her eyes, watching him through heavy lids as his muscles bunched and flexed in the dim light of her office. His chest was bare, sculpted like something out of Roman myth, and decorated with an amazing pattern of tattoos that tapered down the ridge of his firm stomach and beneath the waistband of his pants.


At least, she thought they were tattoos. Through her desire-soaked eyes, the geometric designs seemed to change colors as she stared at him, the lines muting from deep wine red to purplish blue and oceanic green.


"Your skin is beautiful," she said, as curious as she was awed. "God, Dante... your tattoos... they're incredible."


She glanced up at his face and thought she saw something flash like amber in his eyes. And when his lips curved into a smile, his mouth seemed fuller somehow.


Dante unfastened his black pants and pulled them off. He wasn't wearing anything under them. His sex sprang free, huge and erect, as breathtaking as the rest of him. To her surprise, the beautiful pattern of tattoos continued all the way down here, curling around the root of his erection like adoring, multihued fingers. Thick veins ridged the length of his long shaft, which was crowned with a broad head, as supple and dark as a plum.


She could have looked at him forever, but then he reached over to her desk and doused the light. Tess mourned the darkness that hid him, but an instant later his heat was covering her and she let her hands explore everything her eyes could no longer see.


He pressed her down beneath him, parting her thighs with his pelvis as he moved into position between her legs. His sex was hard, so hot, as he wedged it between her folds, just teasing her with the length of him, making her crave him even more.


"Dante." Her breath heaved out of her, she was so ready for him, so needful of him. It took immense focus to break from the havoc he was wreaking on her senses and think rationally for a second. "Dante, wait. I'm... I'm on the pill, so I... but maybe we should--"


"It's okay." He kissed her as his erection nudged the mouth of her core. His tongue swept between her lips, the taste of her own juices a musky sweetness that lingered on his tongue. "You're safe with me, Tess. I promise you."


Ordinarily she would be the last person to rely on trust alone, but somehow she knew that she could believe him. Incredibly, she felt safe with him. Protected.


He kissed her again, pushing his tongue deeper. Tess let him in, kissing him back as she arched her hips and seated herself on the blunt head of his penis to show him what she wanted. He exhaled sharply, pelvis bucking as their bodies began to join.


"You are mine," he gasped against her mouth.


Tess couldn't deny it.


Not now.


She clutched at him hungrily, and then, with a low growl, he thrust forward, plunging deep.


Chapter Seventeen


In his private lab across town, Ben Sullivan had decided to make some adjustments to his Crimson formula. From the beginning he'd never stored the final recipe in the lab, figuring it to be a prudent measure of job security if he carried it with him instead of leaving it behind for his patron's cronies--or anyone else--to find. He'd been paranoid about getting cut out of his lucrative little venture; after the phone call he'd made to his benefactor earlier tonight, he was feeling like his paranoia might have been more of a spot-on hunch.


He had relayed everything that happened the other night, right down to the near miss with the guys who had chased him out of the club and the incredible notion that Crimson had had some kind of dangerous--vampiric, he'd been inclined to call it--effect on one of Ben's recent best customers.


The news had been accepted with his patron's usual nonreactionary calm. Ben had been advised to pulge none of the details to anyone, and a meeting had been set up for him with his employer for the following evening at nightfall. After all the months of secrecy and anonymity, he was finally getting a face-to-face with the guy.


With a little less than fifteen hours before that rendezvous was to occur, Ben thought it wise to cover his bases as best he could, in the event he might need some leverage when he went to meet with the boss. He didn't know precisely who he was dealing with, after all, and he wasn't foolish enough to discount the fact that it might be someone with some pretty serious underworld connections. Wouldn't be the first time a kid from Southie thought he could play ball with real thugs and ended up a floater in the Mystic.


Downloading both formulas--the original and the new, altered one that he considered his own job security--Ben popped the flash drive from his computer. He erased all traces of the files from his hard drive, then headed out of the lab. He took side roads back into the city, just in case he was being followed, and ended up in the North End, not too far from Tess's apartment.


She would be surprised to know how often he cruised past her place, just to see if she was there. She' d be more than surprised, he admitted to himself. She'd be a little skeeved out if she had any idea how obsessed he truly was with her. He hated that he couldn't let go of her, but the fact that she had always insisted on holding him at arm's length, particularly since their breakup, only made him want her more. He kept waiting for her to come around and let him back in, but after the other night, when he'd felt her cringe as he kissed her, some of that hope had slipped away.


Ben wheeled his van around a corner and headed up Tess's street. Maybe this would be the last time he drove by her place. The last time he'd humiliate himself like some pathetic Peeping Tom.


Yeah, he thought, putting his foot on the brake for a red light, maybe it was time to cut loose, move on. Get a fucking life.


As his van idled, Ben watched a sleek black Porsche roll up to the traffic light from a side road and hang a right in front of him, cruising down the nearly empty street toward Tess's apartment building. His stomach squeezed as he got a look at the driver. It was the guy from the club--not the one who ran after him, but the other dude, the big one with the dark hair and the lethal vibe about him.


And damn if he didn't recognize the female passenger sitting next to the guy.


Tess.


Jesus Christ. What was she doing with him? Had he been questioning her about Ben's activities or something, maybe checking up with his friends and acquaintances?

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