Page 21

He took in her apartment with a quick glance, including the little dog who was sitting near Tess in guarded silence.

Dante frowned. "That can't be... ?"

Tess nodded, her tension eroding as Harvard went up to Dante, shyly wagging his tail in greeting. "I hope you don't mind that I brought him home with me. I wanted to keep a close watch on him, and I thought... "

Her excuse trailed off as Dante reached down to pet the animal, nothing but kindness in his touch and in his deep voice. "Hey, little guy," he said, chuckling as Harvard licked his hand, then dropped down on the floor for a belly rub. "Someone sure took good care of you today. Yeah, looks like somebody gave you a whole new leash on life."

He glanced up at Tess with a question in his eyes, but before he could ask her about the dog's sudden turnaround, she took his wet towel and nodded in the direction of her bathroom down the hall. "Come on, let me have a look at you now."

Idling at a red light on the other side of South Boston, Chase glanced over at his passenger in the SUV with barely concealed contempt. He personally had no use for the drug-dealing scum. Part of him enjoyed knowing that the human might have been heading for his own funeral if not for Dante and Chase showing up at his apartment tonight.

It didn't seem fair, a lowlife like Ben Sullivan getting a lucky break while innocent youths like Camden and the others who were missing ended up dead or worse, lost to Crimson-induced Bloodlust and gone Rogue by the shit this human peddled to them.

Chase weathered a sudden, sickening recollection of Dante putting a blade to Jonas Redmond's throat in the alley outside the club the other night. That good kid was dead, not because of the warrior but because of the human sitting just an arm's length away from him now. The urge to reach over and blow him away with a bullet to the head came up on Chase like a tsunami, rage he was unused to feeling in himself. He stared ahead out the tinted windshield, willing the temptation to pass. Killing Ben Sullivan wasn't going to solve anything, and it sure wouldn't bring Camden home any sooner.

And that, after all, was his primary objective.

"He's sleeping with her, isn't he--that other guy and Tess?" The human's voice rattled Chase out of his contemplation, but he didn't acknowledge the question. Ben Sullivan cursed, his head turned to stare out the passenger-side window. "When I saw them together outside her place last night, the son of a bitch had his hands all over her. What's that all about--is he just using her to get to me?"

Chase remained silent. He'd been wondering about that revelation since it had first come up at Sullivan 's apartment. Dante had said he'd used his own methods to find the Crimson dealer, and hearing that he' d been with a woman whom Sullivan had apparently been close to, Chase had initially assumed she'd been a means to an end for Dante.

But the warrior's face had taken on an odd cast at the mention of the female, something that seemed to go beyond simple duty to his mission. Did he care for her?

"Shit. I guess it doesn't really matter," Sullivan muttered. "Where are you taking me, anyway?"

Chase didn't feel compelled to answer. The Order's compound was just outside the city proper, a short drive northeast from where they were now. In a few hours, after he was interrogated by Dante and the others, Ben Sullivan would be sleeping in a dry, warm bed--a prisoner for all intents and purposes, but nevertheless protected behind the secured gates of the warriors' headquarters. Meanwhile, dozens of Darkhaven youths were out in the elements topside, exposed to the dangers of the street and the terrible effects of Sullivan's corrosive, deadly drug.

It wasn't right, not just at all.

Chase flicked his eyes up at the light as it turned green, but his foot hovered over the gas. Behind him, someone laid on their horn. He tuned it out, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel for a second as he thought about Camden and Elise, about his promise to bring the boy home.

He didn't have a lot of options here. And time was running out, he could feel it.

When a second horn blast sounded from the rear, Chase brought his foot down on the accelerator and hung a left at the light. In grim silence, he put the SUV on a southbound path, heading back into the city, toward the old industrial area near the river.

Chapter Twenty-one

"Good Lord," Tess gasped, feeling a little queasy as she knelt down in front of Dante to inspect his wound. He was sitting on the edge of the white porcelain bathtub, wearing only his shredded black fatigues. The cut on his thigh seemed better than it had on initial glance in her living room, but in the bright lights of the bathroom, the sight of so much blood--Dante's blood--made her stomach dip sharply and her head spin. She had to reach out for the lip of the tub to keep from swaying on her heels. "Sorry. I'm not usually affected like this. I mean, I see a lot of ugly injuries at the clinic, but--"

"You don't have to help with this, Tess. I'm used to taking care of myself."

She gave him a dubious look. "From the amount of blood on you, I'd say this wound is pretty deep. It 's going to require stitches, a lot of them. Somehow I don't think you're up to doing that yourself, are you? And you're going to need to get out of these pants. I can't do much so long as you're wearing them."

When he didn't move, she frowned. "You're not going to just sit here and bleed all over my tile, are you?"

His gaze on hers, he gave a slight shrug, then stood and unfastened the button at his waistband. When he started sliding the zipper down over his tattooed skin and the dark thatch of hair at his groin, Tess's cheeks warmed. God, after last night, she should have remembered that he wasn't a boxers or briefs kind of guy.

"Um, here's another towel," she said, pulling one off the bar for him to cover himself.

She turned her head as he finished undressing, although it was probably a little late for modesty considering what they'd done together the night before. Being with him again, especially when he was sitting there naked except for a piece of terry cloth, made the small bathroom seem as tight as a closet and as humid as a sauna.

"So, are you going to tell me what happened to you?" she asked without looking at him yet, busying herself with the small collection of medical supplies she'd assembled on the sink vanity. "What were you doing tonight to end up on the business end of an obviously very large knife?"

"Just par for the course. My partner and I were in the process of apprehending a drug dealer, and I ran across a couple of obstacles. I had to remove them."

Remove them, Tess thought, instinctively understanding what that actually meant. She set a roll of gauze bandage down on the basin, feeling an inward shudder at Dante's cold admission. She didn't like what she was hearing, but he'd sworn he was a good guy, and maybe it was crazy, but she trusted him at his word on that.

"All right," she said, "let me have a look at your leg."

"Like I said, I'll live." She heard his pants hit the floor with a soft rasp. "I don't think it's as bad as you might have thought."

Tess swiveled her head to regard him over her shoulder, prepared for the sight of a ghastly open wound. But he was right, it wasn't that bad after all. Beneath the edge of the towel that draped his groin and upper thigh, the laceration was a clean slice but not that deep at all. Not even half an inch down into the flesh of his thigh. The bleeding was tapering off, even as she looked at him.

"Well, that's... a relief," she said, puzzled but glad that her concern had been overblown. She shrugged. "Okay. I guess we'll just clean it up, then, and bandage it, and you should be good as new."

Turning back to the sink, Tess wet a cloth under the faucet and squeezed a drop of antiseptic onto the thick terry weave. She was working up the lather when she heard Dante get up and come toward her. In half a stride he was at her back, taking out the clip that held her hair in its messy knot and letting the waves tumble down around her.

"That's better," he said softly, slowly, something darkly sensual in his voice. "Your beautiful bare neck was driving me to distraction. As it is, all I can think of is how much I want to put my mouth on you."

Tess's breath caught in her throat, and for a second she wasn't sure if she should stay rigidly still and hope he'd simply move away or if she should turn to face whatever insanity was going to pass between them again tonight.

She inched herself around in the small space between the sink and Dante's towel-clad body. This close, the tattoos on his bare chest were mesmerizing, a flourish of geometric symbols and swirling arcs rendered in a range of hues from deep russet to gold and green to peacock blue.

"Do you like them?" he murmured, watching her gaze follow the strange, interlocking patterns and beautiful colors.

"I've never seen anything like them. I think they're stunning, Dante. Are they tribal-inspired?"

He gave a vague shrug. "More of a family tradition. My father was similarly marked; so was his father before him, and all the other males of our line."

Wow. If the men of Dante's family looked anything like him, they must have wreaked holy havoc on the hearts of women everywhere. Recalling just how far down the tattoos went below the hem of the towel at Dante's hips made Tess's face flush with heat.

He merely smiled, a knowing curve of his lips.

Tess closed her eyes and worked to steady her breath, then looked to him once more as she brought the warm, wet cloth between them and dabbed at the smudged stains on his cheeks and brow. He had some drying blood on his hands too, so she swabbed it away, holding his upturned palm in her own. His fingers were large and long, dwarfing hers when he curled them around her hand.

"I like feeling you touch me, Tess. I've been wanting your hands on me since the first time I saw you."

She looked up to meet his eyes, her mind flooding with memories of the night before. The whiskey-gold color of his gaze drew her in, telling her that it was going to happen again--the two of them naked, bodies joined. She was getting the definite idea that it was always going to be hot and heavy like this with him. Her core tightened at the thought, a knot of intense hunger that bloomed out from the center of her, loosening her limbs.

"Let me just... see your leg now... "

She reached down to where the edges of the towel split at his right hip and followed the muscular length of his thigh. The wound had stopped bleeding, so she gently cleansed the area, far too aware of the masculine beauty of his lines, the power in his firm legs, the soft, tawny skin that stretched over the slight jut of his pelvic bone. As she brought her cloth back up, she felt his sex rouse beneath the towel, the rigid shaft brushing her wrist as she withdrew.

Tess swallowed on a dry throat. "I'll get the bandages now."

She dropped the washcloth in the sink and pivoted to reach for the roll of white gauze, but Dante caught her hand. He held it in his warm grasp, smoothing his thumb over her skin as if he were silently asking her permission. When she didn't pull away, only turned back to face him, his eyes were glittering, the center of them seeming to glow within the bourbon-dark rim of color that surrounded his pupils.

"I should stay away from you," he said, his voice low and thick. "I should, but I can't."

He captured the back of her neck in his large palm and brought her toward him, the few inches between them vanishing as their bodies pressed together. He lowered his mouth, and Tess's breath left her on a long sigh as his lips brushed hers in a slow, sweet kiss. One of his hands went around to the small of her back, sliding up under her loose knit shirt. His touch was hot, fingertips leaving trails of electricity all along her spine as he caressed her bare skin.

Dante's kiss deepened, his tongue thrusting into her mouth. Tess opened to him, moaning as the hard length of his erection prodded at her belly. Desire shot through her, wet and molten. His hand came around her rib cage, drawing slowly beneath the weight of her breast, then up over the tight nipple. A spray of goose bumps rose on her limbs, making her shiver with the need for more of his touch. For a long while there was only the sound of their combined breathing, the tender strokes of their hands on each other's bodies.

She was panting when he broke their kiss, boneless as he lifted her off the tiled floor and sat her down on the vanity's countertop. He pulled off her clingy white shirt and dropped it beside them. Her sweatpants went next. Dante eased her out of them, leaving her sitting on the cabinet in just her panties. Her legs were parted, the wide V filled with Dante's perfect, masculine body, the terry cloth that covered his jutting arousal rasping softly against her inner thighs.

"Look what you have done to me," he said, running his hand along her forearm as he guided her fingers beneath the towel to that enormous length of hard flesh that tented it.

Tess couldn't feign shyness as she touched him. She stroked his thick shaft and the weighted sac beneath, drawing up and down his velvety skin, taking her sweet time, her fingers hardly able to circle his width. As she palmed the smooth head of his sex, she leaned forward to kiss his ridged belly, reveling in all the softness that sheathed so much strength.

Dante groaned as she played her tongue along the intricate lines of his tattoos, the rumble of his deep voice vibrating against her lips. His arms caged her on either side, the huge muscles bulging as he gripped the edges of the vanity and let her have her way with him. His head was dropped down on his broad chest, his eyes hooded but burning with intensity when Tess ventured a glance up at him. She smiled, then leaned back in to swirl her tongue around the rim of his navel, unable to resist the urge to nip at his smooth skin.

He hissed a curse through his teeth as she grazed him. "Ah, God--yes. Do it harder," he growled. "I want to feel your little bite, Tess."


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