Page 32


"I'll be waiting." That incredible warmth was back, Tess mused from within the dark tide that held her. She stretched her senses toward the engulfing heat, toward the wondrous scent and taste of the liquid fire that fed her. Conscious thought seemed to dance just out of her reach, but her nerve endings clicked on like strings of tiny lights, as though her body was slowly thawing, coming alive inch by inch, cell by cell, after a long, cold sleep.


"Drink," a deep voice beckoned her, and she did.


She drew more of the heat into her mouth, swallowing it down in greedy pulls. A strange awakening began somewhere deep inside her as she drank from the source of that powerful warmth. It started in her fingers and toes, then spread up into her limbs, an electricity that hummed through her in undulating waves.


"That's it, Tess. Take more. Just keep drinking, angel."


She couldn't have stopped if she'd wanted to. It seemed as though each sip made her thirsty for another, every swallow only adding fuel to the fire that was building within the very core of her. She felt like an infant at its mother's breast, vulnerable and uninitiated, trusting completely, needing on the most basic level.


She was being given life; she knew this in that primitive part of her mind. She had been near death, maybe close enough to touch it, but this warmth--this dark elixir--had pulled her back.


"More," she croaked. At least she thought she had spoken. The voice she heard sounded distant and weak. So desperate. "More... "


Tess shuddered as an abrupt absence of warmth answered her demand. No, she thought, a dark panic rising with the loss. He was leaving her now. Her protective angel was gone, along with the font of life he' d given her. She moaned weakly, forcing her listless hands to reach out and search for him.


"Dante... "


"I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere."


The chill vanished as a heavy weight settled in alongside her. Heat warmed her entire length, heat from him as he pulled her up against him. She felt strong fingers at her nape, guiding her head closer to his voice, pressing her mouth to the firm column of his neck. Warm, wet skin met her lips.


"Come here, Tess, and drink from me. Take all you need."


Drink from him? Some fading part of her consciousness rejected the idea as nonsensical, unthinkable, but another part of her--the part that was still spinning wildly in the tide, grasping for solid ground-- made her mouth seek out that which he so willingly offered.


Tess parted her lips and sucked long and hard, filling her mouth with the roaring force of Dante's gift.


Holy. Hell.


As Tess locked her mouth down over the vein he'd opened for her in his neck, Dante's entire body went as taut as a bowstring. The hungry suction of her lips, the silky caress of her tongue as she drew his blood into her mouth and swallowed it, made his cock stand up at attention, a fierce, stone-hard erection like he'd never experienced before.


He hadn't known how intense it would be to let her drink from him so intimately. This was the first time in all his existence that he'd ever given his blood to another. He had always been the taker, feeding out of necessity and often for pleasure, but never with a Breedmate.


Never with a woman who moved him the way Tess did.


And the fact that she fed from him now out of pure survival instinct, because his blood was the very thing--the only thing--her body needed in this moment, just made the act all the more erotic to him. His sex throbbed, hungry and demanding, a heavy pressure that he wanted to ignore but couldn't.


Christ, but it felt as if she were sucking on that very male part of him, each pull of her mouth ratcheting him up tighter, nearly sending him straight over the edge. With a groan, Dante fisted his hands in the silk sheets of his bed, holding on as Tess fed from him in primal need.


Her fingers started twitching where they clutched his shoulders, kneading his muscles in a mindless rhythm as she continued to draw his blood into her mouth. Dante felt her strength coming back to her with each passing minute. Her breathing grew deeper, no more the rapid, shallow compression of her lungs but a cadence of long, healthy draws.


Feeling her vitality return was the greatest aphrodisiac he had ever known. It took Herculean effort not to catch her in his arms and press her beneath him so he could slake his own thundering need.


"Keep drinking," he told her, his mouth full with the presence of his extended fangs and a tongue gone thick with his own thirst. "Don't stop, Tess. It's all for you. Only for you."


She moved up closer to him now, her breasts crushing against his chest, and her hips... God, her hips were rubbing along his pelvis, undulating in a subtle, instinctual motion as her mouth continued to work feverishly at his neck. He rolled onto his back and held as still as he could for her, his eyes closed in exquisite torment, his pulse raging.


Restraint was not something he was accustomed to practicing, but for Tess he would endure the agony all night if necessary. He relished it, actually, as much as his desire for her shredded him in pieces. He lay back on the mattress and absorbed every nuance of her body's movement, every soft mewl and moan she made against his throat.


He might have lasted longer if Tess hadn't crawled up over him, her mouth still fastened to his vein, her hair falling loosely onto his chest. Dante's spine arced beneath her, rising up off the bed as she sucked deeper now, her slender body feeling hot to the touch, moving all over him in slow erotic waves.


She started riding him, her thighs spread across his hips, her sex grinding on his as if they were naked together and making love. Even through the nylon warmups he wore, he could feel Tess's intense heat. Her panties were wet from desire, the sweet scent of her arousal slamming into his brain like a hammer.


"Christ," he gasped, reaching up to grab the headboard as her feeding rose to a frenzied crescendo.


She rocked on him, faster and harder, her blunt human teeth latching on to his neck as she sucked deeper than ever at his vein. He felt her climax swelling, breaking loose. His own was roaring up on him fast as well, his shaft surging, leaping, ready to blow. The second Tess came, Dante surrendered to his own release. The orgasm crashed into him, laying him low, wringing him out. He was lost to it, unable to stop the fierce pulsations that seemed to go on endlessly as Tess settled on top of him in a sated, heavy sleep.


After a while, Dante unclamped his hands from the headboard and brought them down gently on Tess' s slack body. He wanted to be inside her, needed it like he needed air to breathe, but she was vulnerable right now and he would not use her. Now that she was out of danger, there would be other times for them to be together like this, better times.


God, there had to be.


Chapter Thirty-one


Tess came awake gently, her face breaking through the surface of a warm, dark wave that floated her body toward a welcoming shore. She took a breath and felt cool, cleansing air rush into her lungs. Her eyes blinked open, once, twice, the lids feeling heavy as though she'd been asleep for days.


"Hello, angel," said a deep, familiar voice very near her face.


Tess lifted her gaze until she saw him--Dante, looking down on her, his eyes sober but smiling. He stroked her forehead, smoothing damp strands of hair out of her face.


"How do you feel?"


"Okay." She felt better than okay, her body resting on a soft mattress, cocooned in black silk sheets and the strong shelter of Dante's arms. "Where are we?"


"Someplace safe. This is where I live, Tess. Nothing can harm you here."


She registered his assurances with a pang of confusion, something shadowy and cold hovering at the edges of her consciousness. Fear. She didn't feel it now, not for him, but the feeling lingered like a mist clinging to her skin, chilling her.


She had been afraid a short while ago--deathly afraid.


Tess reached a hand up to her neck. Her fingers made contact there with a patch of inflamed, tender skin. Like a sudden flash of lightning, a memory ripped through her mind: a hideous face, with eyes as bright as lit coals, a mouth opened wide in a terrifying hiss, baring huge sharp teeth.


"I was attacked," she murmured, the words forming even before the memory took full root. "They came up to me on the street and they... attacked me. Two of them dragged me off the street and they--"


"I know," Dante said, carefully removing her hand from her neck. "But you're all right, Tess. It's over, and you don't have to be afraid now." In a blur of recollection, the night's events played in fast-forward through her mind. She relived it all, from her walk past Ben's apartment and the realization that someone other than him was inside the place, to the shocking sight of seeing the large men--if they even were men at all--leaping down from the balcony to the street below and chasing after her. She saw their terrible faces, felt the bruising strength of the hands that seized her and pulled her into the dark where the real brutality was to begin.


She could still feel the terror of that moment, when one man held her arms and the other pinned her down with the weight of his huge muscular body. She'd thought she would be raped, probably beaten as well, but her attackers' intent was only slightly less horrific.


They had bitten her.


The two savage monsters held her down like felled prey on the floor of a dark, dilapidated shed. Then they bit her at the neck and wrist and began to drink her blood.


She had been certain she was going to die there, but then something miraculous happened. Dante happened. He had killed them both, a fact Tess had not so much seen as felt. Lying on the rough plywood floor of the shed, the smell of her own blood choking her senses, she had felt Dante's presence. She had felt his rage fill the small space like a tempest of black heat.


"You... you were there too, Dante." Tess sat up, her body seeming miraculously strong, no lingering aches from her ordeal. Now that her mind was clearing, she felt energized and refreshed, like she had just awoken from a deep, rejuvenating sleep. "You found me there. You saved me, Dante."


His smile seemed haunted, as if he wasn't sure he agreed and didn't feel comfortable with her gratitude. But he wrapped his arms around her and pressed a tender kiss to her lips. "You're alive, and that's all that matters."


Tess held him close, feeling almost a part of him in some strange way. His heartbeat echoed in the cadence of her own, his body's warmth seeming to seep through her skin and bones to warm her from within. She felt connected to him now in a very visceral way. The sensation was extraordinary, so powerful it took her aback.


"Now that you're awake," Dante murmured against her ear, "there's someone waiting in the other room who'd like to see you."


Before she could respond, Dante got off the big bed and walked toward the adjacent living room. From behind him, Tess couldn't help admiring the masculine prowl of his body, the sexy network of multicolored tattoos over his back and shoulders shifting gracefully with every rolling stride. He disappeared into the other room, and Tess heard a soft animal whine that she recognized at once.


"Harvard!" she exclaimed as Dante came back into the bedroom, carrying the squirming, adorable little terrier in his arms. "You saved him too?"


Dante shook his head. "I saw him running loose before I found you and brought you here. Once I knew you were safe, I sent someone back out to get him."


He set the dog down on the bed, and Tess was immediately tackled by the perky furball. Harvard licked her hands and face as she hoisted him up for a hug, overjoyed to see him after thinking she'd lost him on the street outside Ben's apartment.


"Thank you," she said, smiling through a sudden mist of tears as the happy reunion continued. "I have to confess, I think I'm totally in love with this little beast." "Lucky dog," Dante drawled. He sat down on the edge of the bed, watching as Tess's chin got a thorough, enthusiastic washing. His expression was too carefully schooled, too grave when her eyes met his. "There are... things we need to talk about, Tess. I had hoped you might never really be part of it, but I keep dragging you further in. After tonight, you need to understand what happened, and why."


Nodding in silence, she let go of Harvard and looked at Dante's bleak gaze. Part of her already knew where the conversation was going--uncharted territory, for sure, but after what she'd seen tonight, Tess knew that things she had long taken for granted as normal and real were somehow thrown off kilter.


"What were they, Dante? Those men who attacked me--they weren't normal men. Were they?"


His head shook vaguely. "No, they weren't men. They were dangerous creatures, blood addicts. We call them Rogues."


"Blood addicts," she said, her stomach lurching at the very idea. She looked down at her wrist, where a bite mark glowed red, but healing, on her skin. "My God. That's what they were doing, drinking my blood? I don't believe this. There's only one name for that kind of psychotic behavior, and it's vampire."


Dante's piercing, unwavering stare wasn't even close to a refutation.


"Vampires don't exist," she told him firmly. "This is reality we're talking about, after all. They can't really exist."


"They do, Tess. Not the way you might have been brought up to believe. Not as undead, soulless demons, but as a separate, hybrid species. The ones who attacked you tonight are the worst kind. They have no conscience, no capacity for logic or control. They kill indiscriminately and will continue to do so if they aren't brought under control soon. That's what I and the others in this compound are here for--to see to it that the Rogues are wiped out of existence before they become a pestilence unlike anything modern humankind has ever seen."


"Oh, come on!" Tess scoffed, wanting to disbelieve but finding it hard to reject Dante's outrageous claim when he had never looked or sounded more sincere. Or more deadly rational. "Are you telling me that you're some kind of vampire slayer?"

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