Authors: Christine Feehan
Tags: #Romance, #Automobile Mechanics, #Fiction, #Supernatural, #Paranormal Romance Stories, #Musicians, #Paranormal Fiction, #Human-animal communication, #Fantasy, #General
Dark Series - book 6
Flashlight and wrench in hand, she was crawling out from under the troupe's huge touring bus when he first caught sight of her. She was small, almost childlike. At first he was certain she was, at most, a teenager, dressed in baggy overalls, her wealth of red-gold hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her face was grimy, smudged with oil and dirt. Then she turned slightly, and he could see high, firm breasts thrusting against the thin cotton top beneath the bib of her overalls.
Darius stared at her, entranced. Even in the night her red hair gleamed like flames. That he could tell her hair was red stunned him. Dark, predatory, immortal Carpathian male that he was, he had not seen colors, only black and white, in more centuries than he could count. He had not disclosed that information, his accompanying loss of emotion, to his younger sister, Desari, who remained, as she had for eons, sweet and compassionate and everything good that female Carpathians were. Everything that he was not. Desari depended on him, as did the others in their troupe, and he did not wish to distress her with the knowledge of how close he was to either facing the dawn-and his own destruction-or turning vampire, undead instead of immortal.
That this little unfamiliar woman in baggy overalls had captured his attention was shocking to him. But she had a sway to her hips that sent a deep need jolting hard within him. He caught his breath and followed her from a distance as she moved around the touring bus to disappear from his sight.
"You must be tired, Rusti. You've been working all day!" Desari called out.
Darius couldn't see Desari, but, as always, he was able to hear his sister's voice, a blend of musical notes that could turn heads and influence all living things.
"Grab some juice out of the fridge in the trailer, and relax for a few minutes. You can't fix everything in one day," she continued.
"Just another couple of hours and I'll have this up and running," the little redhead answered. Her soft, husky voice touched Darius in the very core of his being and sent blood surging hotly through his veins. He stood still, transfixed by the unexpected sensation.
"I insist, Rusti," Desari said gently.
Darius knew that tone, the one that ensured she got her way. "Please. You have the job as our mechanic. It's obvious that you're exactly what we need. So knock off for the night, will you? Watching you work so hard makes me feel like a slave-driver."
Darius sauntered slowly around the motor home toward the small, red-haired woman and his sister. Beside tall, slender, elegant Desari, the petite female mechanic he had not yet met looked like a scruffy child, yet he couldn't take his eyes from her. She laughed throatily, tightening his body to an aching heaviness. Even from a distance he could see that her eyes were a brilliant green, large and heavily lashed, her face a perfect oval, with high cheekbones and a wide, lush mouth just begging to be kissed.
Before he could hear her, she disappeared again, walking beside his sister around the back of the broken-down touring bus to the rear door. Darius simply stood there, frozen to the spot in the darkness. Night creatures were stirring to life, and Darius allowed his gaze to wander the campsite, noting the various colors around him. Vivid greens, yellows, and blues. He could see the silver of the bus, the blue lettering on the side. The little sports car nearby was fire-engine red. The trail bikes secured to the bus were yellow. The leaves on the trees were bright green, veined with darker hues.
Darius inhaled sharply, pointedly drinking in the stranger's scent so that he could always find her, even in a crowd, always know where she was. Strangely, she made him feel as if he wasn't so alone anymore. He hadn't even met her yet, but simply knowing she was in the world made it seem a completely different place. No, Darius had not told his sister how bleak and empty his life had been or how dangerous he had become, but his gaze, when it rested on the redhead, had been hot and possessive, and something fierce and primitive within him had raised its head and roared for release.
Desari came striding back around the bus alone. "Darius, I did not know you had risen. You are so secretive these days." Her large black eyes scanned him speculatively. "What is it? You look…" She hesitated.
The unsaid word shimmered in the air between them.
He nodded toward their mobile home. "Who is she?"
Desari shivered at his tone, then rubbed her palms up and down her arms as if she were cold. "We discussed the need to hire a mechanic to go on the road with us, to keep the vehicles in shape so we could protect our privacy. I spoke to you of placing an ad, with a special compulsion embedded in it, and you gave your approval, Darius. You said that if we found someone the cats could tolerate, you would permit it. Early this morning Rusti appeared. The cats were out with me, and neither of them objected to her."
"How is it that she made it to the camp through our safeguards, the barriers that protect us during the daylight?" he inquired softly, a hint of menace in his even voice.
"I honestly don't know, Darius. I scanned her mind for any hidden agendas and found none. Her brain patterns are different from those of most humans, but I could detect only her need for work, honest work."
"She is a mortal," he said.
"I know," Desari replied defensively, aware of the heavy, oppressive weight in the air signaling her brother's censure. "But she has no family, and she has indicated a need for a great deal of privacy herself. I don't think it will bother her if we're not around during the day. I told her that, because we work and travel mostly at night, we often sleep during the day. She said that suited her fine. And we do really need her to keep our vehicles running properly. You know it's true. Without them we'd lose our facade of 'normalcy.' And we can handle a human without any problem."
"You sent her into the trailer, Desari. If she is there, why are the cats not with you?" Darius asked, his heart suddenly in his throat.
"Oh, my God." Desari paled. "How could I make such a mistake?" Stricken, she ran toward the door of the motor home.
Darius was there before her, jerking open the door and leaping in, crouching low, ready to fight the troupe's two leopards for the small female body. He froze, motionless, his long black hair falling across his face. The red-haired woman was curled up on the couch with one large panther on either side of her, dwarfing her in size yet pushing against her hands, seeking attention.
Tempest "Rusti" Trine stood up quickly as the man burst into the touring bus. He looked wild and dangerous. Everything about him screamed peril and power. He was tall, sinewy like the cats, and his long dark hair was shaggy and untamed. His eyes, as black as night, were large and mesmerizing and as penetrating as those of the two panthers. She felt her heart jump, and her mouth went dry.
"I'm sorry. Desari told me I could come in here," she offered appeasingly, trying to move away from the cats as they continued to nuzzle her for attention, nearly knocking over her small frame with each nudge. They attempted to lick her hands, which she avoided, since their rough tongues could take the skin off her.
Desari shoved into the bus past the large man and stopped, wide-eyed and shocked. "Thank God you're all right, Rusti. I never would have told you to come in here alone if I had remembered the cats."
That is not something you should ever forget.
Darius delivered the reprimand in a soft whip of velvet straight into his sister's mind, using their familiar mental pathway. Desari winced but made no protest, aware her brother was right.
"They seem quite tame," Rusti ventured hesitantly, touching first one spotted feline head and then the other. The slight trembling of her hands betrayed her nervousness-of the man, not the leopards.
Darius straightened slowly to his full height. He looked so intimidating, his broad shoulders seeming to fill the bus, that Rusti actually stepped backward. His eyes bored straight into hers, his gaze holding her prisoner, searching her very soul. "No, they are not tame. They are wild animals and do not tolerate close contact with humans."
"Really?" Mischief danced for a moment in the woman's green eyes, and she shoved the bigger cat away. "I didn't realize. Sorry." She didn't sound sorry; she sounded as if she was making fun of him.
Somehow Darius knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this woman's life would be tied to his for all eternity. He had found what Desari's new partner, Julian Savage, called his lifemate. He allowed burning desire for her to flare briefly in his eyes and was satisfied when she stepped back again. "They are not tame," he repeated. "They could tear apart anyone entering this bus. How is it you are able to be with them safely?" he demanded, his voice deep and compelling, that of a man obviously accustomed to instant obedience.
Rusti's teeth scraped across her lower lip, betraying her nervousness, but her chin went up defiantly. "Look, if you don't want me here, it's no big deal. We haven't signed a contract or anything. I'll get my tools and leave." She took a step toward the door, but the man was a solid wall, blocking her way. She glanced behind her, judging the distance to the rear door, wondering if she could make it before he pounced. Somehow she was afraid that running would trigger his own predatory instincts.
"Darius," Desari objected gently, laying a placating hand on his arm.
He didn't so much as turn his head, his black eyes remaining on Rusti's face. "Leave us," he ordered his sister, his voice soft and menacing. Even the cats grew uneasy, pushing close to the red-haired woman whose green eyes flashed like jewels.
This man called Darius frightened Rusti in a way no one else ever had. There was stark possessiveness in his eyes, a sensual cruelty around his beautiful mouth, an intensity burning in him that she had never witnessed before. She watched her only ally desert her as Desari reluctantly obeyed her brother, leaving the luxurious touring bus.
"I asked you a question," he said softly.
His voice sent butterfly wings brushing at her stomach. It was a black-velvet weapon, a sorcerer's tool, and it sent heat curling unexpectedly through her body. She felt the color creeping up her neck and into her face. "Does everyone do everything you say?"
He waited, as still as a leopard poised to pounce, his unblinking eyes fixed on her face. She felt a strange compulsion to answer him, to reveal the truth. The urge beat at her head until she rubbed her temples in protest. Then she sighed, shook her head, and even attempted a smile. "Look, I'm not certain who you are, other than Desari's brother, but I think we've both made a mistake. I saw the ad for a mechanic and thought this job would be something I'd like, traveling with your band around the country." She shrugged carelessly. "It doesn't matter. I can just as easily move on."
Darius studied her face. She was lying to him. She needed the job. She was hungry but too proud to say anything. She covered her desperation well, but she needed work. Yet not once did her green eyes waver from his black stare, and her entire body bespoke defiance.
He moved then, gliding close to her so fast that she didn't have a chance to run. He could hear her heart pound, hear the rush of blood, of life, through her veins. His gaze rested on the pulse beating so frantically in her neck. "I think this job will suit you perfectly. What is your real name?"
He was too close, too big, too intimidating and powerful. Up close she could feel the heat radiating from his body, the magnetism he exuded. He wasn't touching her, but she felt the warmth of his skin against hers all the same. She had an urge to run as fast and as far as she could.
"Everyone calls me Rusti." She sounded defiant even to her own ears.
He smiled in an infuriatingly male way that told her he knew she was afraid of him. The smile did nothing to warm the black ice of his eyes. He bent his head slowly toward her until she could feel his breath against her neck. Her skin tingled in anticipation. Every cell in her body went on alert, screaming a warning.
"I asked you what your name is," he whispered into her pulse.
Rusti took a deep breath and made herself remain perfectly still, unflinching. If they were playing a game, she was not going to make a wrong move. "My name is Tempest Trine. But everyone calls me Rusti."
His white teeth flashed again. He looked like a hungry predator eyeing its prey. "Tempest. It suits you. I am Darius. I am the guardian of this troupe. What I say goes. Obviously you've made the acquaintance of my younger sister, Desari. Have you met the others?" He felt an unfamiliar rage rip through him at the mere thought of any of the other men around her. And in that moment he knew that until he made Tempest his, he was extremely dangerous, not only to mortals but to his own kind as well. In all his centuries of existence, even in the early years, when joy and pain still existed for him, he had never experienced such jealousy, possessiveness, or any other emotion remotely like it. He had not known what rage felt like until that moment. It was sobering to realize just how much power this small human woman wielded.