"Who'll come in?"
Aidan stood silently, absorbing the fact that she recognized the Nightmares as separate entities. "I can kill them for you," he offered.
"I abhor violence, if you must know."
"Yeah, I knew that. That's one of the reasons you became a vet."
She snorted. "Now I remember why I kicked you guys out. You pry too much."
Turning to shut the door, Aidan said, "You let me in quickly enough."
"I like your voice. Is that a brogue? Where are you from?"
"Where do you want me to be from?"
"Whatever." The footsteps padded farther away. "Show yourself out. I'm not talking to you anymore."
Aidan laughed softly and admired her spirit. She wasn't cowed, despite how miserable it must be to be alone in the dark, "You know what your problem is, Lyssa Bates?"
"You and your friends bugging me?"
"You don't know how to dream. All the endless possibilities of your mind—all the places you can go, the things you can do, the people you can be with—and you're not indulging in any of it."
"You think I like sitting here in the dark? I would love to be on a Caribbean beach right now, rolling around in the sand with a hot guy."
The door shut with a tremendous booming sound, and he heaved out a breath. He had no idea what to do now. Nurturing, healing, all that mushy stuff… he wasn't good at any of it.
"What would Hot Guy look like?" he asked. Sex he could do. And honestly, for the first time in a long time, he was actually looking forward to it. There was something about the irreverent way she spoke…
"Oh, I don't know," she said, her voice settling into one area. "Tall, dark, and handsome. Isn't that what all women want?"
"Not always." He moved toward her, sifting through her memories for past examples of what she considered hot.
"You sound like you know."
He shrugged, then remembered she couldn't see him. "I've had some experience. Keep talking so I can find you."
"Why can't we talk like this?"
"Because"—he altered his course to the left—"I would rather not raise my voice."
"It's a very luscious voice."
His brows rose. "Thank you."
Luscious was not a word he'd heard in regard to his voice before. The compliment made his cock twitch, and the damn thing was so jaded, it hardly ever did that without physical manipulation. It certainly had never done that without visual stimuli. "I like your voice, too. I picture you being very pretty."
Rifling through her mind, he saw that she was indeed attractive, but tired, with red-rimmed dark eyes and a slender frame.
"Well, we'll be sure to keep the lights out then." She sounded sad. Normally he would be backing away quickly from such emotion. Lust and anger were all he could afford to experience. He couldn't care too deeply about anyone's fate. Not even his own.
"There are those of us who can help you," he said softly.
"Which one? The one who came last night and imitated the voice of my cheating ex-boyfriend?"
Aidan winced. "Bad choice, but with the door in the way, I've got to hand it to him for even picking up on that much."
She laughed, and the throaty sound was very different from what he had expected to hear. It was vibrant, full of life, a taste of the woman she'd been before whatever had happened to fuck her up.
"The other night they sounded like my mother."
He lowered to a crouch beside her. "To comfort you. That was smart, considering how close you are to her."
"I don't want comfort, Aidan," she said, yawning.
A heady floral fragrance filled his nostrils, and wanting more of it, he sat down with his legs crossed. "What do you want, Lyssa?"
"Sleep." Her sweet voice was so wearied. "God, I just want to go to sleep and rest. My mother talks too much to let that happen. And your people keep pounding on the damn door. The main reason I let you in was to shut you guys up."
"Come here," he murmured, reaching into the darkness and finding her warm, soft body.
As she curled against his chest, he created a wall behind him and settled, stretching his long legs out in front of them and holding her close.
"This is nice," she breathed, her breath hot as it gusted through the opening of his tunic and grazed his chest. Her weight was slight, but she was full-breasted, a discovery that both pleased and surprised him. "It was your voice, too."
"Why I let you in."
"Ah." He stroked the length of her spine, soothing her, whispering assurances that made no sense to him but sounded good.
"You're almost hard enough to be uncomfortable," she grumbled, wrapping her arms around his waist. "What the hell do you do for a living?"
He buried his nose in her hair and breathed her in. The scent was fresh and sweet. Innocent. While this woman had spent her life healing small creatures, he'd spent an eternity fighting and killing, "I keep the bad guys away."
He said nothing. The urge to find solace with her was nearly overwhelming, but unlike how he felt with other women, he didn't wish to lose himself in her body. He just wanted to hold her, and take comfort in her caring. Her livelihood was healing, and he wanted, for just a fleeting instant, to be healed.
He squashed the desire ruthlessly.
"I'm so sleepy, Aidan."
"Rest, then," he murmured. "I'll make sure you're not disturbed."
"Axe you an angel?"
His mouth curved, and he hugged her closer. "No, darling. I'm not."
Her reply was a gentle snore.
* * *
It was not-so-gentle kneading on her leg that woke her. Lyssa stretched, startled to find herself on the couch, then even more startled to realize she felt wonderful. The late afternoon sun lit her living room through the sliding glass door, and Jelly Bean, her tabby cat, was grumbling as he always did when she slept too long and didn't pay enough attention to him.
Sitting up, she rubbed her eyes and laughed as her stomach growled in protest. She was famished, truly hungry for the first time in weeks.
"I guess I should have tried sleeping on the couch earlier," she told JB, scratching him behind the ears before rising to her feet. The ringing of the phone made her jump. She hurried to the breakfast bar to get it.
"Dr. Bates," she greeted breathlessly.
"Good afternoon, Doctor," her mother replied, laughing. "You sleeping all day again?"
"I guess." Lyssa looked at the clock. It was nearly one. "It must have worked this time, though. I feel better than I have in months."
"Good enough to go out to lunch?"
Her stomach rumbled its approval at the thought. "Definitely. How long before you get here?"
"I'm just around the corner."
"Cool." Reaching over, she sprinkled fish food in her salt-water tank. Eager clown fish rose to the surface, making her smile. "Let yourself in. I'm going to clean up."
Tossing the cordless handset on the couch before running up the stairs, Lyssa showered and dressed quickly in a comfortable chocolate velour jogging suit. She ran a comb through her wet hair and then clipped it up, noting that she still looked tired, even though she felt great.
Her mother, however, looked nothing less than fabulous dressed in red silk cigarette pants and matching shrunken jacket. With her chin-length blond hair and rouged lips, Cathryn Bates hadn't let two divorces dampen her desire to look hot and attract men.
While her mother rambled on about one thing or the other, Lyssa rushed her out the kitchen door and into her Roadster. "Let's go, Mom. Talk in the car, I'm starved."
"You've said that before," Cathy muttered, "and then ate like a bird."
Lyssa ignored that quip and looked over her shoulder as she backed out of her garage. "Where to?"
"Soup Plantation?" Her mom raked her with an assessing glance. "Nah, you need some meat on your bones. Vincent's?"
"Pasta. Yum." Licking her lips, she turned the wheel and sped out of her condo complex. With the top down and a good night's rest, she felt ready to take on the world. It was nice to have energy and be happy. She had almost forgotten how wonderful it was.
Vincent's Italian restaurant was busy, as usual, but they didn't have any trouble securing a seat. Red and white gingham tablecloths and wooden chairs lent to the casual country interior. Soft candles burned on every tabletop, and Lyssa immediately broke into the fresh-baked rosemary bread with gusto.
"Well, look at you!" her mom said approvingly, gesturing for wine by holding her stemmed glass aloft. "I wonder if your sister is eating hardy, too. Her obstetrician says the baby is another boy. She's been trying to think of names."
"Yeah, she told me." Dipping another chunk of bread in olive oil, Lyssa shrugged and reached for the menu. An upbeat Italian tune struggled to be heard over the lunch crowd din, but the busy atmosphere was just what she needed to feel like part of civilization again. "I told her the best I could do was some pet names. She wasn't impressed."
"I suggested she pull out that baby book I bought her. Start with the A's and work her way down. Adam, Alden—"
"Aidan!" Lyssa cried mid-bite. Something tender warmed her insides and made her sigh. "I don't know why, but I really love that name."
It was a beautiful Twilight night. The sky above was an ebon blanket of stars, and in the distance, the roaring of the various waterfalls competed with laughter and hushed musical tones. Guardians who had worked the long night before were relaxing away the stresses of their day. For Aidan, however, his work was just beginning.
He passed beneath the massive archway at the Temple of the Elders and paused at the chozuya. Dipping the waiting ladle into the fountain, he rinsed out his mouth and washed his hands before continuing on.