Grinning as though he were used to women admiring him, he stood up and slowly walked back over to where she lay in their nest on the floor, totally uninhibited in his nudity. Alex laughed softly and shook her head. "Does it ever get boring for you?" He cocked a dark brow as he dropped into a negligent recline beside her. "Boring?"


"Women falling all over you," she said, realizing with a bit of stunned surprise that she didn't exactly like that idea. Hated it, in fact, and she wondered where the pang of jealousy was coming from, considering she had no personal claim on him simply because they'd shared a few sweaty--and, yes, okay, flat-out spectacular--hours enjoying each other's bodies.


He stroked a stray lock of hair out of her face and drew her gaze to his. "I only see one woman here with me right now. And I can assure you, I am anything but bored."


He cupped her face in his palms and kissed her, easing her back onto the blankets. His gaze smoldered as he looked down on her, and she could feel the rigid pressure of his erection nudging at the side of her hip where he'd stretched out beside her. "You're a special woman, Alexandra. More special than you know."


"You don't even know me," she protested quietly, needing to remind herself of that fact more than him. They'd known each other for what--a couple of days? It wasn't like her to allow someone into her life so quickly, or so deeply, especially after such a short time. So, why him? Why now, when everything in her world felt as though it were perched on the edge of a very steep cliff? One strong push from the wrong direction, and she was gone. "You don't know anything about me ... not really."


"Then tell me."


She looked up into his eyes, startled by the sincerity, the raw plea, in his voice. "Tell you ..."


"Tell me what happened to you in Florida, Alex."


All the breath seemed to squeeze out of her lungs in that instant. "I did tell you--"


"Yes, but you and I both know that it wasn't a drunk driver that took your mom and brother from you. Something else happened to them, didn't it? Something that you've kept secret all these years." He spoke with gentle patience, coaxing her trust. And God help her, she felt ready to give it to him. She needed to share it with someone, and in her heart, she knew that someone was Kade. "It's okay, Alex. You can tell me the truth."


She closed her eyes, feeling the awful words--the horrible memories--rise up like acid in her throat.


"I can't," she murmured. "If I speak it, then everything I've tried to put behind me ... everything I've worked so hard to forget ... it will all become real again."


"You can't spend your life running from the truth," he said, and something haunted crept into his voice. A sadness, a resignation that told her he understood some of the burden she'd carried for so long.


"Denying the truth never makes it go away, Alex."


"No, it doesn't," she replied quietly. In her heart, she knew that. She was tired of running and sick of fighting to keep the horror of her past buried and forgotten. She wanted to be free of it all, and that meant facing the truth, no matter how awful--no matter how unfathomable--it may be. But fear was a powerful enemy. Maybe too powerful. "I'm scared, Kade. I don't know if I'm strong enough to face it alone."


"You are." He dropped a tender kiss on her shoulder, then brought her gaze back to his. "But you're not alone. I'm with you, Alex. Tell me what happened. I'll see you through it, if you'll let me." She held his imploring stare and found the courage she needed in the steely strength of his eyes.


"We'd had such a good day together, all of us. We picnicked down by the water, and I had just taught Richie how to do a backflip off the dock. He was only six years old, but he was fearless, and willing to try anything I did. It had been a perfect day, filled with so much love and laughter." Until darkness had settled over the swamp, bringing unholy terror with it.


"I don't know why they chose our family. I've searched for a reason, but I've never been able to find one for why they came out of the night to attack us."


Kade caressed her carefully as she struggled for the words that came next. "Sometimes there are no reasons. Sometimes things happen and there's nothing we can do to make sense of them. Life, and death, isn't always neat or logical."


Sometimes death sprang out of the shadows like a wraith, like a monster too horrific to be real.


"There were two of them," Alex murmured. "We didn't even know they were there until it was too late. It was dark, and we were all sitting on the veranda, relaxing after supper. My mom was on the porch swing with Richie, reading us Winnie-the-Pooh before bed, when the first one came out of nowhere without warning and pounced on her."


Kade's hand stilled. "You're not talking about a man." She swallowed. "No. It wasn't a man. It wasn't even ... human. It was something else. Something evil. It bit her, Kade. And then the other one grabbed Richie with its teeth, too."


"Teeth," he said evenly, no shock or disbelief in his voice, only a steady, grim understanding. "You mean fangs, don't you, Alex? The attackers had fangs."


She closed her eyes as the impossibility of the word sank in. "Yes. They had fangs. And their eyes ... they glowed in the dark like bright coals, and in the center of them, their pupils were thin and long, like a cat's. They couldn't have been human. They were monsters."


Kade's touch was soothing on her face and hair as the terror of that awful night played out again in her mind. "It's all right. You're safe now. I only wish I could have been there to help you and your family." The sentiment was sweet, however improbable, given that he couldn't be more than a few years older than she. But from the sincerity of his voice, she knew he truly meant it. No matter their odds, or the enormity of the evil they faced, Kade would have stood with her against the attack. He would have kept them all safe when no one else could have.


"My father tried to fight them off," Alex murmured, "but everything was happening so fast. And they were so much stronger than he was. They knocked him away like he was nothing. By then, Richie was already dead. He was so little, he didn't stand a chance of surviving that kind of violence. My mother screamed for my dad to run, to save me if he could. 'Don't let my daughter die!' Those were her last words. The one who held her sank his huge jaws around her throat. He wouldn't let go, just kept his mouth clamped down hard on her. He was ... oh, God, Kade. This is going to sound crazy, but he was ... drinking her blood."


A tear rolled down her cheek, and Kade pressed his lips to her brow, gathering her closer to him and offering much-needed comfort. "It doesn't sound crazy, Alex. And I'm sorry for what you and your family endured. No one should have to bear that kind of pain and loss."


Although she didn't want to relive it, the memories had been resurrected now and after keeping them buried for so long, she found she couldn't hold them back. Not when Kade was there to hold her, making her feel warmer and safer than she ever had before.


"They were like animals the way they tore at my mom and Richie. Not even animals would do what they did. And, oh, God ... there was so much blood. My father scooped me up and we started running. But I couldn't look away from what was happening behind us in the dark. I didn't want to see any more, but it was so unreal. My mind couldn't process it. It's been years, and I'm still not sure I can explain what it was that attacked us that night. I just ... I want it to make sense, and it doesn't. It never will." She drew in a hitching breath, revisiting a fresher pain, a more recent confusion. Looking up into Kade's sober gaze, she said, "I saw the same kind of wounds on the Toms family. They were attacked, just like we were, by the same kind of evil. It's here in Alaska, Kade ... and I'm scared."


For a long moment, Kade said nothing. She could see his keen mind turning over all that she'd told him, every incredible detail that would have made anyone else scoff in disbelief or tell her she needed to seek professional help. But not him. He accepted her truth for what it was, no trace of doubt in his eyes or his level tone. "You don't have to run anymore. You can trust me. Nothing bad is going to touch you so long as I'm around. Do you believe me, Alex?"


She nodded, realizing just now how resolute her faith in him was. She trusted him on a level that was something more than instinctual, it was blood deep. What she felt for him defied the fact that he had entered her life only earlier that week, nor did it have anything to do with the way that she burned for him physically--hungered for him in a way she wasn't quite prepared to examine.


She simply looked into Kade's unfaltering eyes and she knew, down to her soul, that he was strong enough to carry whatever burden she shared with him.


"I need you to trust me," he told her gently. "There are things you need to understand, Alex, now more than ever. Things about yourself, and what you saw, back in Florida and here, as well. And there are things you need to know about me, too."


She sat up, her heart thudding oddly in her breast, heavy with a wary sense of expectation. "What do you mean?"


He glanced away then, his gaze following the soft path of his touch as his caress drifted down the length of her naked body, then lingered at the flare of her hip bone. With the pad of his thumb, he traced a length of her naked body, then lingered at the flare of her hip bone. With the pad of his thumb, he traced a skimming circle over the tiny birthmark there. "You're different, Alexandra. Extraordinary. I should have recognized that right away. There were signs, but somehow I missed them. I was focused on other things and I ... damn it."


Alex frowned, more confused than ever. "What are you trying to say?"


"You're not like other women, Alex."


When he looked back up at her now, the confidence that normally sparked so brightly in his eyes was missing. He swallowed, the dry click of his throat making her blood run a bit colder in her veins. Whatever he had to say, he was the one who was afraid now, and seeing that trace of uncertainty in him made her anxiety spike a bit, too.


"You're very different from other women, Alex," he said again hesitantly. "And I ... you need to know that I'm not like other men, either."


She blinked, feeling an unseen weight press down on her in the silence that spread out between them. The same instinct that told her to demand more answers pleaded with her to back away and pretend she didn't want to know--didn't need to know whatever it was that had Kade so tongue-tied and antsy. All she could do was watch him and wait, worrying that he was about to send her entire world into an even greater tailspin.


The sharp trill of her cell phone jolted her like a kiss from a live wire. It rang again and she ped for it, welcoming the excuse to escape the strange, dark shift in Kade's demeanor.


"This is Alex," she said, recognizing Zach's number as she flipped the phone open and took the call.


"Where are you?" he demanded, not even sparing a second on hello. "I just drove by your house and you're not there. Are you out at Jenna's?"


"No," she said. "Jenna was at my house this morning, before I left. She must have gone home."


"Well, where the hell are you, then?"


"I'm out on a call," she said, bristling a little at his curt tone. "I had a, um, a charter client book a flight this morning--"


"Well, we've got a bad situation here in Harmony," Zach cut in harshly. "I'm in the middle of a medical emergency and I need you to fly a critical injury in from the bush." Alex snapped out of the emotional fog that had held her before she took the call. "Who's been injured, Zach? What's going on?"


"It's Dave Grant. I don't have the whole story yet, but he and Lanny Ham and a bunch of other men from town were out hunting west of town today. They ran into trouble, serious trouble. Lanny Ham is dead, and apparently it's not looking very good for Big Dave right now, either. The guys are afraid to put him on a snowmachine, for fear that they won't get him back here in time enough to save him."


"Oh, my God." Alex sat back on her folded legs, a cold numbness crawling over her skin. "The injuries, Zach ... what happened?"


"Something attacked them out there, according to the other men. Dave is delirious and he's lost a lot of blood. He's in and out of consciousness, talking a lot of nonsense about a creature lurking in one of the caves west of Harmony. Whatever it was that got ahold of him and Lanny, well, it's bad, Alex. Real bad. Tore both of them up something awful. The news is all over town already and everyone's in a panic." She closed her eyes. "Oh, my God ... oh, my God ..."


Kade's hand came to rest lightly on her bare shoulder. "What is it, Alex?" She shook her head, incapable of forming the words.


"Who's that with you?" Zach demanded. "For fuck's sake, Alex. Are you with that guy from Pete's the other night?"


Alex didn't think she needed to answer to Zach Tucker about whom she was spending time with, not when one man was dead and another man's life was hanging in the balance. Not when the horror of her past-the horror she had feared had visited the Toms family just a few days ago--was now raking her heart open all over again.


"I'm out at the Tulak cabin, Zach. I'll leave right away, but I'm probably forty-five minutes out."


"Forget it. We can't afford to wait on you. I'll track down Roger Bemis instead." He disconnected, leaving Alex sitting there, frozen in shock.


"What happened?" Kade asked. "Who's been hurt?" For a moment, it was all she could do to concentrate on breathing in and out. Her heart banged miserably, guilt gnawing at her. "I should have warned them. I should have told them what I knew instead of thinking I could deny it."

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