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She didn't know what came over her, but she did what he asked, bringing her teeth together as she sucked some of his flesh into her mouth. She didn't break his skin, but the sharp bite seemed to travel through Dante's body like a current. He gave a sharp thrust of his hips, dislodging the towel, which had long since become an annoyance to her too. He shuddered as she smoothed her tongue over the spot she 'd just abused.

"Did I hurt you?"

"No. Don't stop." He curled himself over her and dropped a kiss on her bare shoulder. His muscles were clenched taut, his arousal surging even fuller in her hand. "God, Tess. You are such a surprise to me. Please, don't stop." She didn't want to stop. It made absolutely no sense to her why she should feel such a strong connection to this man--such a fierce need--but then, when it came to Dante, there was a lot she didn't understand. She'd only just met him and yet he'd been with her for so long, as if fate had paired them up ages ago, then brought them together now.

Whatever it was, Tess had no desire to question.

She nipped her way down his belly, to his narrow hip, then bent forward and took the head of his sex into her mouth. She sucked him deep, letting her teeth gently graze his shaft as she withdrew. He moaned sharply, braced before her as rigid as a column of steel. She felt Dante's pulse kick as she took him into her mouth again, felt the throb of his heartbeat traveling along the veined length.

She could feel the rush of his blood coursing through his body, scarlet-dark and ferocious, and for one startling, utterly insane moment, she wanted to know what all that power would taste like against her tongue.

The moonlit river was an undulating ribbon of black outside the tinted passenger window of the SUV. And it was quiet, no other cars on the empty, weed-choked stretch of concrete that used to be the parking lot for an old paper mill, condemned about twenty years ago. Ben Sullivan was guessing it was a decent place for a murder, and the stony silence of the intense, heavily armed man at the wheel of the vehicle wasn't giving him a lot of reason to hope otherwise.

As the SUV rolled to a stop, Ben prepared himself for a fight, wishing to hell he'd found a way to get his hands back on that .45 he'd lost at his apartment. Not that he expected he'd have much of a chance with this guy, even if he was armed. Unlike his dark-haired partner, who broadcasted menace in his voice and his actions, this one held his cards close to his chest. He was icy calm, but Ben could read the seething rage that ran underneath the surface of that polished Mr. Cool demeanor, and it terrified him.

"What's going on? Why'd we stop here? Are we waiting for someone?" The questions poured out of him, but he was too anxious to care if he sounded like a chicken-shit. "Your partner back there said he wanted you to take me to `the compound,' didn't he?"

No reply.

"Well, wherever that is," Ben said, looking around at the desolate lot, "I don't suppose this is the place."

With the vehicle idling in park, the driver blew out a long breath of air and turned a cold look on him. The guy's pale blue eyes were killer sharp, filled with barely restrained fury. "You and I are going to have a private talk."

"Am I going to survive it?"

He didn't answer, just stuck his hand into an inside pocket of his coat and pulled out a folded piece of paper. A photograph, Ben realized, catching the gloss in the dashboard light.

"Have you ever seen this inpidual?"

Ben glanced at the image of a clean-cut young man with tousled light brown hair and a broad, friendly smile. He wore a Harvard sweatshirt and was giving the photographer the thumbs-up sign with one hand, while the other held out a sheet of formal stationery emblazoned with the university's symbol on the letterhead.

"Well? Is he familiar to you?"

The question was a low snarl of sound, and while Ben was sure he'd seen the kid around, even dealt Crimson to him a few times this week alone, he didn't know whether or not that answer would be the one to save him or damn him right now. He slowly shook his head, lifting his shoulder in a noncommittal shrug.

Suddenly he was choking, his face caught in a bruising grip that crushed him so tightly he thought his jawbone would crack. God, the guy had struck like a viper--faster than that, because Ben hadn't even seen his hand move in the small space of the front seat.

"Have a closer look," Mr. Cool demanded, pushing the photo up into Ben's face.

"O-okay," Ben sputtered, tasting blood in his mouth as his teeth cut into the insides of his cheeks. " Yeah, okay! Shit!"

The pressure eased and he coughed, rubbing his screaming jaw.

"Have you seen him?"

"Yeah, I've seen him. His name's Cameron or something."

"Camden," he corrected, voice tight and wooden. "When did you last see him?"

Ben shook his head, trying to remember. "Not too long ago. This week. He was hanging with some ravers at a tech?trance club in the North End. La Notte, I think it was."

"Did you sell to him?" The words came out slowly, thick sounds that seemed obstructed by something in his mouth.

Ben flicked a wary glance across the seats. In the dim glow of the dash, the guy's eyes were throwing off a funky sheen, like his pupils were disappearing, stretching thin in the center of all that glacial blue. A chill entered Ben's bones, instinct kicking into high alert.

Something was off here, way off.

"Did you give him Crimson, you goddamn piece of shit?"

Ben swallowed hard. Gave a wobbly nod of his head. "Yeah. The dude might have bought from me a couple of times."

He heard a vicious growl, saw a flash of sharp white teeth in the dark in the split second before the back of his head smashed against the passenger-side window and the guy launched on top of him in an explosion of hellish fury.

Chapter Twenty-two

She was killing him.

Each swirl of Tess's tongue, every long draw of her tight mouth over his swollen flesh--holy Christ, the teasing rasp of her teeth on him--sent Dante further into a vortex of pleasured torment. Leaning over her as she sucked on him, he clutched the sides of the bathroom vanity in a vise grip, his face twisted, eyes squeezed shut in sweet agony.

His hips began pumping, his cock surging harder, reaching for the back of her throat. Tess took all of him in, moaning softly, the vibration buzzing against his sensitive head.

He didn't want her to see what he looked like now, lost to a lust he could hardly control. His fangs had stretched long in his mouth, nearly impossible to hide behind his tightly clenched lips. Underneath his closed eyelids, his vision burned red with hunger and need.

He could feel Tess's need too. The sweet scent of her arousal perfumed the humid air between them, filling his nostrils like the most potent aphrodisiac. And within that drenching perfume was another need, a curiosity that floored him.

Each tentative graze of her teeth on his skin tonight posed a question, each little nip and bite communicating a hunger she likely didn't understand, let alone have words to express. Would she break his skin and take his blood into her body?

God, to think she actually might...

It stunned him, how badly he wanted her to sink her tiny, blunt human teeth into his flesh. When she withdrew from his sex and nipped his belly, Dante roared, the desire to urge her into drawing his blood and drinking it down nearly overpowering his far saner impulse to protect her from the Breedmate bond, which would tie her to him for as long as they both lived.

"No," he growled, his voice rough, speech obstructed by the presence of his fangs.

With shaking hands, Dante took hold of Tess's hips. He lifted her toward him, cradling her bottom on his arms as he tore away her silk panties and filled the juncture of her thighs with his body. His cock glistened from the wetness of her mouth and his own need, engorged to the point of pain. He couldn't be gentle; with a hard thrust, he seated himself to the hilt.

Tess's breath rushed against his ear, her spine arching in his hands. Her fingers dug into his shoulders as he pistoned between her legs, his rhythm urgent, release coiling in the base of his shaft. He drove her hard, feeling her own climax building swiftly as her channel gripped him like a warm, wet fist.

"Oh, God... Dante."

She broke apart an instant later, contracting around him in delicious ripples. Dante followed her over the edge, his orgasm shooting up his shaft and boiling out of him in a fierce torrent of heat. Wave after wave tore through him as he pumped into her like he never wanted to stop. Dante peeled his eyes open as his body shook with the force of his release. In the mirror over the sink, he caught his feral reflection--the true picture of who, and what, he was.

His pupils were slivers of black in the center of glowing amber, his cheekbones stark, animalistic. His fangs were fully extended, long white points that flashed with every panting breath he hauled into his lungs.

"That was... incredible," Tess murmured, hooking her arms under his shoulders to raise herself closer against him.

She kissed his damp skin, her lips trailing over his collarbone and up to the curve of his neck. Dante held her to him, his body still wedged inside hers. He waited, unmoving, willing the hungered part of him to heel. He flicked a glance back to his face in the mirror, knowing it would be a few minutes before his transformation subsided and he could look at Tess without terrifying her.

He didn't want her afraid of him. God, if she saw him now--if she knew what he had done to her that first night he'd seen her, when she had offered him kindness and he'd repaid her by taking her throat in his teeth--she would hate him. And rightly so.

Part of him wanted to sit her down and tell her all that she had forgotten about him. To lay it all out in the open. Start fresh, if they could.

Yeah, he imagined that little talk would go down about as smoothly as a glass of tacks. And it certainly wasn't a conversation he intended to strike up while she was still impaled on the resurgent length of him.

As he deliberated over the deepening complication he was making with Tess, a growl rumbled in from the open doorway. It was a small noise but unmistakably hostile.

Tess shifted, pivoting her head. "Harvard! What's the matter with you?" She laughed a little, sounding shy now that the intensity of the moment was broken. "Um, I think we may have just traumatized your dog."

She ducked out from the cage of Dante's arms and grabbed a terry bathrobe off a hook near the door. She slipped it on, then bent down to retrieve the terrier. Scooping up the animal, she got an immediate and vigorous chin-washing. Dante watched them from under a hank of his dark hair, relieved to feel his features coming back to normal.

"That dog has certainly made a quick recovery under your care." A dramatic turnaround, Dante was guessing, and one that seemed too quick for normal medicine.

"He's a scrapper," Tess said. "I think he's going to be just fine."

Although Dante had been concerned that she would detect his feral appearance, he realized he didn't need to worry. She seemed intent on avoiding looking at him directly now, as if she herself had something to hide.

"Yes, it's amazing how the animal has improved. I'd call it a miracle, if I believed in such things." Dante watched her closely, curious and not a little bit suspicious. "What exactly did you do to him, Tess? "

It was a simple question, one she probably could have satisfied with any number of explanations, yet she all but froze in the bathroom doorway. Dante sensed a sudden, swelling panic begin to rise in her.

"Tess," he said. "Is it such a difficult thing to answer?" "No," she replied hastily, but the word seemed to strangle in her throat. She shot him a fleeting, terrified look. "I need to... I should, um... "

With the dog held tight in one arm, Tess brought her free hand to her mouth, then pivoted and made a fast retreat out of the bathroom without another word.

By the time she got to the living room and put the dog down on the sofa, Tess was pacing, feeling trapped and lacking air. God help her, but she actually wanted to tell him just what she'd done to save the little dog's life. She wanted to confide in Dante about her unique, damning ability--about everything --and it terrified her.

"Tess?" Dante came out right after her, a towel slung and knotted around his hips. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." She gave a shake of her head, forced a smile that felt too tight for her mouth. "There's nothing wrong, really. Do you want anything? If you're hungry, I made chicken for dinner. I could--"

"I want you to talk to me." He caught her shoulders in his hands and held her still. "Tell me what's going on. Tell me what this is about."

"No." She shook her head, thinking about how desperately she'd kept her secret and her shame. "I'm just... You wouldn't understand, okay? I wouldn't expect you to understand."

"Try me."

Tess wanted to break away from his penetrating eyes but found she couldn't. He was reaching out to her, and a part of her needed so desperately to grab hold of something solid and strong. Something that wouldn't let her down.

"I swore I would never do it again, but I... "

Oh, God. She wasn't really going to crack open that ugly chapter of her life for him, was she?

It had been her secret for so long. She had protected it fiercely, had learned to fear it. The only two people who knew the truth about her ability--her stepfather and her mother--were dead. It was a part of her past, and her past was miles behind her.

Buried there, where it belonged.

"Tess." Dante eased her down onto the sofa next to Harvard, who clambered onto her lap, tail wagging with eager joy. Dante sat beside her, his hand caressing her cheek. His touch was so tender, so warm. She nestled into it, unable to resist him. "You can tell me anything. You are safe with me, Tess, I promise you."


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