Authors: Rhyannon Byrd
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Paranormal
She shook her head, craning her neck as she stared up at him. "I never said you were a vampire."
"Then why did I..." He jerked his chin toward her throat.
"I only know what I've been told. According to Elaina--"
"Christ," he grunted, lifting away from her. "I don't want to hear any more bullshit about what my dead mother has told you."
Breathlessly, she said, "I'm telling you the truth. I swear it."
"Yeah, then explain--"
"--how I'm able to wake up in my bed with the taste of your goddamn blood in my mouth!"
"And this time, don't lie about it! I want to know how it happened, Molly!"
She slammed her left hand down on the table, tired of him yelling at her...of not knowing how to make him listen. "I don't know how it happened! I swear. I've never dreamed about you before. I've never had anything like this happen to me before--sharing a dream with someone that is somehow, in some way, actually happening. All I know is what Elaina has told me, and I've been trying to tell you, but you won't listen! She led me to you, told me where to find you. Wanted me to warn you that you're in danger--that you're being hunted."
"It's the nightmares," he growled, his gorgeous, arrogant face set in a hard, obstinate expression that made her want to scream with frustration. "You've done something to me."
"No, that's not true. Think, Ian. You've been having nightmares for weeks now, and we only just met. I swear, I have nothing to do with them. The darkness...this all has to do with what's hiding within you. You know that. I know you do. Elaina's been telling you stories about the Merrick since you were a little boy."
He stumbled back another step, eyes bleeding to black, and shoved his hands into his hair.
Locking his fingers behind his head, he glared up at the ceiling with his jaw clenched so hard it looked painful. Molly stared at the dark tufts of hair under his arms, the stark lines of his throat, wanting so badly to reach out and touch him. To place her hand over the center of his chest and feel his heart pounding against her palm, vital and urgent and strong.
"Ian, I know you don't want to believe me, but after what's happened, how can you still think I'm here to con you? This thing is real. I have the bite marks on my neck to prove it. We need to help each other figure it out, because I can guarantee you this is more than I signed up for.
Elaina told me how to find you, wanted me to talk to you. To tell you things that she's afraid no one else will. But she didn't say a damn thing about...about whatever the hell it was that happened tonight. She told me this thing inside of you needs to feed for power, but she didn't say..."
Her voice trailed off, and he lowered his gaze back to her, muttering, "That it would feed off you? That it would take your blood?"
"Yes." She swallowed nervously, folding her arms across her chest, resisting the urge to lift her fingertips and touch the tingling warmth of the bite on her throat, the tender flesh slowly throbbing with residual pulses of pleasure.
His eyes narrowed, studying her with fierce intensity, and then he rasped, "Son of a bitch.
You actually liked it, didn't you?"
"What?" She blinked, floundering for the right thing to say.
"Face it, Molly. Any other woman would have run screaming in the other direction by now.
Would have hauled her ass out of Henning the second she woke up and found her throat bleeding. But look at you, coming here, wanting to talk. To help me. What is it with you?" He stalked toward her again, his body closing off any escape route. "You got a death wish? Or do you just get off on the hard stuff?"
Towering over her, his callused hand slipped under the fall of her hair again, his rough fingertip smoothing over one of the two puncture wounds, and she gasped at the insane rush of sensation that curled through her center, settling heavily between her thighs. Her sex heated...swelled, feeling heavy and empty all at once, and his nostrils flared, those dark eyes cutting to her own confused stare, and she knew he could smell the need. That dark, uncontrollable ache twisting deep inside, clawing at her, making her crave. Making her need things that she didn't even understand. That she feared.
"What's your answer, Molly?"
Shakily, she said, "Be crude if it helps you deal. I have a thick enough skin by now to take it.
You may piss me off, but it's not going to scare me away. I'm not going to run."
"And you're not going to give me any answers, either, are you?"
Her eyes slid closed, tears threatening to spill from the excess emotion crashing through her system. "I wish I could explain how the dream happened, Ian. But I can't."
He sighed, the heat of his body covering her like a glittering ray of sunshine. "Okay, I'll bite,"
he drawled in a deep, graveled voice, and she could feel the press of his eyes on her face, watching her. "It's not like your story won't be entertaining as hell. So let's hear it. What can you tell me?"
With a deep breath, Molly lifted her lashes. "I can tell you about Elaina. I can tell you what she's told me."
"In your dreams, right?" he murmured, his gaze settling heavily on her mouth, making her lips tingle.
"That's how she talks to me, yes. Don't ask me why, because I don't know. It's just the way that it's been since I was a teenager."
He latched on to that like a pit bull with a bone, suddenly holding her stare. "What happened when you were a teenager?"
Flustered, she tore her gaze away from his and focused it on the table. In the center sat one of those store-bought scented candles that freshened the air, its name no doubt flowery and feminine. And that easily, something inside of her softened, shifted into a calmer focus, her body relaxing in the chair, tension releasing like the gentle escape of air from a balloon. She silently laughed at her screwed-up logic, ridiculously reassured, comforted even, by a freaking candle, as if it made him seem less dangerous. God, maybe she was crazy. The fact that he owned a scented candle didn't make him any less of a threat to her stability. Didn't make him domesticated or tame. He probably just didn't like his kitchen smelling like cigarette smoke.
Pressing one hand to her stomach, holding in the wild spiral of emotions, she said, "What happened to me isn't important. It's what's happening to you that we need to focus on.
There's something...inside of you, Ian. Something that you need to learn to control.
Something that will cause you to be hunted. That's going to put the people you care about in danger."
"I told you before, there's no one I care about."
"I don't believe that," she argued. "I bet there's someone that you're worried about tonight.
Elaina told me there is. And she's in danger from this...this evil that's going to try and hurt you both."
He moved closer, hands braced on the back of the chair, his warm, earthy scent surrounding her, the heavy look in his eyes as sexual as it was angry. "And what makes you think I care about her, or even like her?" A hard, gritty laugh slid past his lips, low and sexy as hell.
"Trust me, little Molly-Do-Right, people like Kendra and me don't need to like the people we have sex with."
His head tilted to the side. "Why what?"
"If you disliked her so much, why sleep with her?"
For a moment she didn't think he was going to answer as he pushed away from her again, as if she were something not to be trusted that could turn on him at any moment. He grabbed the black T-shirt hanging over the back of a nearby chair, then pulled it over his head, turned and stalked to the cupboard to the right of the sink. Pulling down a short, thick glass and a half-empty bottle of scotch, he splashed the liquor into the bottom of the glass. "You wanna know why I slept with her? Because I liked her body. Liked the fact that she didn't ask for more than I was willing to give. Liked that she kept it light. I don't have to like or care about the women I take to bed," he told her without turning around, voice a gritty rasp of sound. "In fact, I rarely do."
She swallowed the thick feeling in her throat. "I see."
His eyebrows lifted as he turned to look at her over his shoulder. "Do you?"
Molly nodded. "Emotional safety. You don't get too close. I wonder if Kendra felt the same way, or if she hoped you'd fall in love with her."
Tossing back the dark amber liquor, he wiped the corner of his mouth with the back of his wrist. "Why the hell are we talking about her like she's dead?"
His question startled her, and with it came a nauseating sense of certainty. Molly didn't know why she'd started referring to the woman in the past tense--but she feared the heavy knowledge settling like a sickening bulk of reality in her gut. Her brow broke out with a clammy sheen of sweat and she pressed one hand over her heart, its rhythm rapid and light against her palm. "I warned you something would happen, Ian. I have a horrible feeling that it already has."
He didn't say anything. Just settled his lower back against the counter and stared, probably thinking she was the biggest freak alive.
"Why do you think Elaina picked you?" he rumbled, his deep voice low and rough.
"What?" she asked, caught offguard by the change in topic.
He stared, hard, as if trying to figure out a problem. "Why you?"
"Oh, I don't really know. I don't know why any of the voices I hear come to me. Maybe I'm able to draw them in some way. Maybe she couldn't find anyone else who would do something this crazy." Her words came faster, cut with frustration. "Right now, we have something much more important to talk about. Were you even listening to what I said?"
"Yeah," he said, his voice raspy. He took another drink. "I was listening."
"Then will you try calling her?" Panic was crawling its way up her spine, making her dizzy...nauseous. God, she'd been sitting here arguing with him, and a woman was dead.
Murdered. She didn't know how she knew, but she was certain of it. Just as she was certain it had something to do with the man standing before her, glaring at her as though she was something he wanted to scrape off the bottom of his shoe and be done with.
When he didn't immediately respond--just kept staring--she added, "Please, Ian."
Sighing, he slammed his glass down on the counter, went to the phone hanging on the wall beside the softly humming refrigerator and quickly punched in a number. He held the receiver to his ear for a moment, then set it back into the cradle. "She isn't home," he muttered, glaring at her. "Which means she probably hit her favorite haunt tonight and made a new friend."
"Or maybe something terrible has happened," she argued, lifting her chin.
A rude sound of impatience rumbled in the back of his throat. "Christ, you just don't let up, do you?"
"I don't have time to sit around and beat you over the head with this. I need you to listen to me, to believe what I'm telling you and help me make things right, and then I need to get back home." Where she might have to beg for her job back, if they'd decided to fire her for leaving so suddenly, and hope that the voices in her head would finally stay quiet, leaving her in peace. Giving her a goddamn break for once in her life.
"Where's home?" she heard him ask through the pity party she was throwing in her mind.
"Not important," she snapped, frustrated with herself and the whole horrible situation. "Will you come with me to check on Kendra?"
He slowly shook his head from side to side. "You've got to be kidding."
"There's no way in hell I'm going to go skulking about in the dark because you think the bogeyman's out there. Get real."
"Fine. If that's the way you want it, then I'll go alone."
She stood, walking toward the living room, and he grabbed her arm, his long fingers biting into her flesh as he gripped her in a tight hold and spun her back around. "Are you crazy?"
"You don't believe me. Think I'm out of my mind. So fine. What's it to you if I go wandering about in the dark?"
"You're not going anywhere," he growled, anger roughening the edges of his speech, "except back to wherever you came from."
"Wrong. I'm doing whatever I damn well please. Whatever it takes to get your mother out of my head so she can move on to wherever she's meant to go!"
"Christ," he grunted under his breath, releasing her arm. He rubbed his palm against the scratchy edge of his jaw, then quietly said, "The sheriff's going to laugh his ass off when he finds out I let myself get dragged out into the night by a little pain in the ass like you."
"Don't worry," she whispered, struggling to hold back her relief that he'd caved. She wasn't exactly thrilled to be spending more time with him, when he insisted on being such a jerk, but she couldn't deny that she'd rather deal with his crass rudeness than handle things alone.
Especially when she still didn't have a clear understanding of exactly what she was up against. "If I'm wrong and she's okay, then you can laugh in my face and tell me to get lost.
The sheriff will never have to know."
IAN SHOOK HIS HEAD at her softly spoken words. The woman was unbelievably naive if she thought they could go wandering about town and keep it from Riley.
He was aware of her slim figure following behind him as he walked into the dark living room, the press of her eyes on his back as she watched him through the long shadows. Grabbing his cell phone off the coffee table, he turned back to her, saying, "He'll know." He grimaced with a wry twist of his lips. "Trust me. He's like Santa Claus. He always knows."
Her brows pulled together in a quizzical frown. "Are you friends with the sheriff?"
"You could say that," he muttered, pulling on his shoes before scanning the room for the keys to his truck. "I'm surprised Elaina hasn't mentioned it."
"It's not like we have chats," she said with a sigh. "Basically she just nags me about coming to find you and delivering the warning I gave you this afternoon."
"Huh. That sounds like her. God knows that woman loved to nag," he grunted as the phone he'd stuck in his pocket began to buzz. Flipping it open, Ian couldn't believe the name glowing on the screen. "Speak of the devil."