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Authors: April Zyon

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“Yes, and I’ll do worse if you
don’t shut it,” Jason growled through his teeth.

“He can’t be more than thirty,
so that’s definitely not old,” Viv retorted and glared at James. “I’m thinking
that maybe I should kick you, too. Just for good measure and all that. I mean,
seriously? Calling him old? You’re a very bad man.” She was trying to keep from
laughing as she spoke.

old,” James defended. “You don’t know just how old he is, but
he’ll break it to you one day soon, I’m sure. You won’t believe him right off.
No one really does. Except for Riley, but she’s got her whole thing going on
about always knowing the truth. I think you’d like her. She’s pretty funny,
keeps her guy in check really well. Anyway, that’s all beside the point. Now,
you planning on eating that last potato skin, or can I have it?”


right, then.” Vivian shook her head. “
You can have it. I’m looking forward to our full meal. They
have an amazing lobster and steak dinner that’s fit for a king. And if you’re
able to finish the whole thing, you don’t have to pay for it. The steak is a
thirty-two ounce Kobe beef, and it’s the best you’ll ever taste. I only get it
when Fia isn’t around. She’s a vegetarian.” Vivian wrinkled her nose. “Thinks
just because she has that tie with nature that she can’t eat meat. Not me.”

“Sounds like another appetizer
to me,” James commented. “I think I’ll have to get me one of those. I may not
be royalty, but I like a well-cooked meal as much as any king around. And I
definitely love steak.”

“Well, you’ll totally love this
one, but don’t be surprised when you can’t eat all of it. Just know that I told
you so.” She looked at Jason and smiled. “Want to split one with me?” she asked
him. “It would be nice to be able to actually finish it, even if it does mean
that I finish it with help.”

“I’d like that. But I wouldn’t
count James out. He can eat a lot in one sitting. I have a feeling he’ll be
getting his meal for free tonight. He’ll also want dessert at the end.”

“Damn straight, I will. Did you
see the list?” James asked. “I’ll have died and gone to heaven if they taste
half as good as they sound.”

She stared at James with her
mouth agape. “Good Lord, are you kidding me? Seriously, are you really going to
be able to eat all of that? And then dessert, too? You’re just too much.” She
was astounded, but she would be even more so
he did it.

“Absolutely.” He nodded. Then he
shot her a sly look. “Care to make a wager on it?”

“Don’t,” Jason warned, shaking
his head. “Never, ever gamble with James. He’ll clean you out, and you won’t
even realize it until he’s six counties over. And definitely never bet on him
eating, or not eating, anything. He’s mostly hollow inside and could pack two
of those meals away, have three desserts, and come back for more because he was
still peckish.”

“Well, that’s just mean, taking
my fun away like that. I’d have kept it to a friendly wager. Only a grand or

“No,” Jason said. “Flag down the
waitress and order us up two plates,” he told the man.

“Oh God, I don’t have a grand or
two to bet. Seriously?” She shook her head. “You’re such an ass,” she teased.
“I like it, though. Your girlfriend or your wife seriously has her hands full
with you.”

A shadow passed over his face,
and his smile slipped a little before he got it back in place. “Not married. No
girlfriend. I’m footloose and fancy free. Maybe one day I’ll have someone
trying to keep me in line.”

“I’m sure she’s out there.” Viv
reached out and squeezed his arm. “You just have to find her. When you do,
she’s going to knock you on your ass. I just really hope that I’m around to
watch, because I think it’ll be fun to see.”

“I hope you’re right.”
Shrugging, he seemed to shake off the mood he’d slipped into and lifted a hand.
When she glanced around, she saw the waitress heading their way.

“Did you want a refill on your
drink?” the woman asked when she got to their table.

“Yes, please, and we would also
like two of the king lobster and steak meals. This one here,” Vivian pointed to
James, “loves a bet and thinks he’ll be able to eat not only the meal but have
room for dessert, too. And we,” she gestured to Jason and smiled, “are sharing
one, so can we get an extra plate?”

“Absolutely. Did you fellas want
another drink?” the server asked.

“Yes, ma’am, that would be
wonderful,” James answered with a nod. “And some extra napkins? I tend to have
a little trouble with lobster. Better to protect everyone around me from what’s
to come.”

The waitress shot him a
disbelieving look but made a note before leaving their table, shaking her head.

Vivian giggled. “Okay.” She
watched as the woman walked away, then laughed out loud. “Oh, James. Don’t be
surprised if she asks you out.” The way she’d wiggled her bottom as she had
moved away was too funny.

“He’s already collected
twenty-two phone numbers since we arrived the day before yesterday,” Jason
piped up. “He’s going to need more memory on his phone soon.”

“Seriously?” She looked at James
with wide eyes. When James just nodded, she shook her head and licked her lips.
“Wow. I mean, you’re an impressive man, seriously sexy as all get out, but I
would have thought it would be Jason collecting all the numbers,” she teased.

offered a lot but turned them all down. He’s not big on all
that. He’s been looking for
the one
for a while now. I like having options. At least until my
shows up to flip my life on its ear.”

“You do know that you have to
work to find the one, right? You have to work on making sure that you’re able
to get your lives in sync. It’s not some mythical thing that will just fall
into your lap. There isn’t some perfect someone out there for every person.”
Well, that’s what she
but then she’d touched Jason and found herself reaching out to him over and
over again.

“If that’s what you believe,”
James rebutted. “I happen to know differently. There
one predestined person for each of us out there in the world.
Whether or not I find mine is another story, but she’s out there. It’s getting
us both in the right place, at the right time, for that perfect moment that’s
the tough part. After all, look at you and Jason.” He grinned. “You two had an
instant connection as soon as you met, and you keep getting pulled to each
other. How else do you explain meeting up here tonight out of all the places
you could have gone to?”

“Luck of the draw?” Vivian asked
and looked to Jason. “Besides, we might be getting pulled into the same place,
but it doesn’t mean that we’re preordained or whatever.”
There’s no one perfect someone, right?
Then she caught Jason’s

In that second, she felt it for
the truth that it was. She felt the impact of that knowledge and wanted to pass
out from the heady pleasure at the thought that
might be the perfect someone for her.
Holy. Crapballs.

“Doesn’t it?” James asked
softly. “The universe has a plan for us all. Sometimes we can deviate from it a
bit. Sometimes we can alter the course, but eventually we’re back on the path
set out for us by our birth, how we were raised, and all that. There’s still
free will—you have the right to turn away from anything you want at any time.
But always you have to consider, if you do turn away from something that feels
so right, is it really for the best, or because you’re scared that you’ll fuck
it up. I, personally, think it’s better to try and screw up than to tuck tail
and run.”

“Some of the best things come
from screw ups, right?” She was looking at Jason now. “What do you think?”
Again she took his hand in hers without thinking. It felt good, right, and Viv
didn’t want to let that go.

“Everyone makes mistakes at some
point in their lives. It’s the ones who learn from their mistakes and don’t
allow themselves to become discouraged who are truly strong. In a relationship,
it takes two people to mess it up and two people to make it work. As long as
both parties acknowledge they’re not perfect, work together, and talk to one
another, anything is possible.” Jason squeezed her fingers gently before
rubbing his thumb over her knuckles.

“Anything is possible,” she
repeated softly. “I like it. Working on things together.” She nodded, then
moved her drink aside as the waitress approached. Later, they would talk about
things. Right now, she simply wanted to eat with these two amazingly handsome
and funny men. Jason held her hand as they waited for the waitress to set one
plate before James and the other before him. The extra, empty plate went in
front of Vivian.

Once the woman left, James
tucked a napkin into the collar of his shirt, draped another over his lap, and
gleefully rubbed his hands together. Jason shook his head and began to
distribute some of the meal from the plate before him onto hers.

Vivian watched as James took his
first bite of the steak. Then she looked at Jason. “Thank you.” She pulled back
from him so that they could eat.

“You’re welcome.” With a brush
of his fingers to hers, they set about enjoying their dinner.



Chapter Three


Jason let out a chuckle at her
side. “You still look stunned that James finished his meal,” he commented. They
were out, walking along the quieter streets of Seattle at ten p.m. after
leaving James in the hotel to pursue one of the many women who’d caught his
eye. “He told you he could do it. I told you he could do it. And yet you’re
still shocked.” James had, in fact, eaten the entire meal and had two desserts.

“I’ve never seen anyone eat that
much in my life. Never. I just … I’m stunned. Completely stunned.” She laughed.
“I swear I think that every single man and woman was in there watching him in
awe.” She shook her head. “Seriously, that’s wild. Where did he put it all?”

“Hollow leg.” Jason shrugged. He
gave the hand he was holding a gentle squeeze and tugged her around a corner.
“He’s always been able to pack away the food. Does it all the time. I knew it
would be no challenge for him. Later, he might even get another snack because
he’s still hungry. Been like that since I’ve known him.”

Vivian shook her head. “And he’s
so physically fit, too.”

“We all train extensively so
that we’re in the best shape we can be. We never know what we’ll face when
we’re out in the field. So we do whatever we can to give us the best odds of
survival. All of us tend to eat a lot. It takes a lot of energy to do what we
do.” He stepped in front of her, facing her, bringing their forward momentum to
a halt. “I’m more than willing to let you see whatever you’d like, Vivian. The
choice is yours, will always be yours.”

“And if I have no idea how to
proceed? I’ve had exactly three relationships, and they lasted a collective
total of five months,” she confided as she moved her hands to put them on his
chest. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from touching him, not once since she
had met him. “So, what do I do … if I want to see and feel and experience

“Depends on what you’d like to
do next.” Jason stepped in closer, his hands coming to rest on her hips. “Go
with your gut, whatever feels right to you, but just remember that we’re out in
public, so keep it family friendly for the time being.”

“A kiss?” Vivian asked and moved
her arms up to wrap around his neck. She moved in one more step, her body
touching his as much as possible. His lips brushed over her skin, closer to her
mouth, then touched hers. He lifted one of his hands to cup her cheek, holding
her still as he kissed her lightly, taking his time and giving her time, too,
she realized.

Vivian kissed him with the same
desperation and need she had felt since she had met him. The way that she was
feeling for this man was intense. When they parted, she licked her lips and
kept her palms on his neck, her thumbs brushing up and down on his pulse line.
“So, since we have an audience here, do you want to move this somewhere more

“I’d like that,” he answered in
a deeper, rougher voice. Dipping his chin, he kissed her again. This time, he
was the one in control, and she felt it through her entire body. When he broke
away, he nipped at her lower lip. “I have a suite. Or we can go to your place,
if you’d be more comfortable.”

“Come home with me?” She wanted
to have him in her space, wanted to have him touching her, tasting her, and
loving her there. She needed to feel him in her place. “I want to have you with
me,” she whispered. “Please?”

He gave a nod and smiled gently,
then kissed her one more time before he stepped back. “I’ll grab the truck, and
we can head over there. We’ll need to go up to my room for the keys, but that’s
it.” He took her hand in his and squeezed.

“That sounds good. I don’t live
very far away, but you being able to have your vehicle so you can leave when
you want is a good thing.” After all, she had barely met him.

He came to a stop again and
pulled her in closer to him. “I don’t want to be out on the street after dark
with a killer on the loose. It’s a safety issue, not a way to get away from
you, Vivian. I’ll leave when you tell me I need to, but I won’t just up and
take off on you, sweetheart.”

Vivian smiled up at him. “And if
I have a desire to never want to say that to you?” Viv didn’t do things like
this. She wasn’t impulsive. But in that moment, she couldn’t help herself. She
wanted to keep this man close to her, needed to keep him close, and she didn’t
understand it at all.

“All you have to do is say the
word,” he whispered. Lowering his head, he kissed her unhurriedly, his lips
moving lazily over hers. Then, slowly, he drew away. “We need to get a move on,
Vivian. Preferably before I combust here on the sidewalk. God, I want to be
inside of you.”

She shuddered in reaction to his
words. Licking her lips, she caught his gaze with hers. “So maybe we should
stay at your hotel tonight and go to my place in the morning?” That quickly,
she had changed her mind.

As he nodded, his nose brushed
hers, his breath passing over her lips for the briefest of moments before his
forehead touched hers. “Let’s get up there sooner rather than later. I would
really hate to get ourselves arrested for indecent exposure.” Another kiss,
then another, before he drew back with a groan. “Room, now, quickly,” he told
her, taking her hand firmly in his. With determined strides, he headed for the

“Couldn’t agree more.” She went
with him, her shorter legs moving rapidly beside his. She skipped a couple of
times, and when they got into the elevator, she was laughing. As soon as the
doors closed, she settled into his arms and was swept away in a kiss that made
her toes curl.

Her back hit the wall as his
hands burrowed into her hair, and he pulled her head back for his kiss. A low
growl vibrated from his body to hers, causing her desire to ramp up. His
erection rubbed against her belly as he did a slow grind with his hips and
devoured her mouth.

Viv lifted her leg and wrapped
it around his thigh. She found herself yanking his shirt from the waistband of
his jeans. Her hands hit his back, and she dug her nails into his skin in a
frenzy to have him closer.

He growled louder as he sucked
on her lower lip, tugging hard. Then a subtle bell sounded, and he turned his
head. A moment later, his hands landed on her bottom and lifted her so that she
could wrap her legs around his waist as he began to walk through the hall.

Vivian moved her fingers up
Jason’s back and let her nails rake along the smooth muscles there. She ground
her hips against the hard length of his cock and moaned, her head falling back.
“Oh God. Yesss.” The words came out as a hiss.

He stumbled slightly. Then her
back hit a hard surface. Jason was panting as he fumbled near her leg, likely
in his pocket. Her guess was right when a beep sounded and the surface at her
back began to move along with him. His mouth was back on hers as the door
slammed shut.

As soon as it closed behind
them, Vivian tugged at Jason’s shirt, drawing back so she could push it off
him, but stopped when he put his mouth back on hers. She relished the way that
he devoured her.

When he let her up for air, they
were moving again. She didn’t know, or really care, where they were going at
that point. Only the barest of impressions about the room broke through his
quick movement through the space. The only thing that did catch her attention,
moments before she felt it under her, was the very large bed.

Vivian looked up at Jason and
grinned. She wiggled then and pulled one of the decorative pillows from under
her, tossing it to the side.

He was staring down at her
intently. “I really, really hate to mess up this moment, but we need to talk
about something first. I want to do it now, in case you decide I’m crazy and
you want to run out of here.”

“Can we talk later?” Vivian
asked and rose to a seated position. She reached out and put her hand on his
chest, stroking her fingers over it, then frowning. Cocking her head to the
side, she put her hand over one spot and asked, “Why is just this one area

Jason let out a breath and,
reaching over his head, yanked his shirt up and off. As soon as he did, she
could see the heavy scarring on his side that presumably wrapped around to his
back. “Everything I’m about to tell you is the truth. You likely won’t believe
me. You may run out of here screaming for the police. I won’t blame you if you

“The reason that spot is warmer
than normal is because the medallion that rests there is warming up. It senses
you, my soul mate, close to it, and our emotions, which turn it into a sort of
tuning fork. Kind of.” He shook his head and waved it off. “I was killed when a
boat, my damn boat, actually, collapsed on top of me and crushed me to death.
Someone got me free, put the medallion in place, and resurrected me. Around
twenty-four hundred odd years ago.”

“What?” Viv put her back to the
headboard, watching him. “What do you mean?” She felt the bubble of protection
rise up around her, something that was instinctive when she thought there might
be danger. “I don’t understand. No one can be that old.” She gulped in fear.

“I’ve walked the earth for a
little over two millennia, Vivian. The man who found me, pulled me out from the
wreckage, and gave me a new life and purpose is named Mercury. He was tasked by
a goddess who has many names, to fight the rising darkness. We call them
monsters, the evil ones. Like the goddess, they have many names, but unlike
her, they are pure evil.

“Everything they do, every life
they take, is for the sole purpose of feeding their dark lord and bringing the
earth one step closer to being overrun by true evil the likes of which the
human race has never before seen. One they could never survive. There are pure
souls out there, ones that are neither good nor evil, that we search for. We
call them the vestal virgins, or VV’s for short. They have unique abilities,
gifts, which they can use to help our fight, if they so choose, or can be used
to further the path of the darkness.

“You’re one of these vestal
virgins, Vivian. You’re a descendant of a god, or goddess, somewhere way back
in your lineage.” Jason reached out to the bubble around her, gently pushing
until his hand slid through. He turned it palm up. “I would never hurt you,
Vivian, but there are those out there that will.”

No one had ever been able to get
through her shield before. She found herself moving and putting her hand into
his. “I believe you.” Oddly enough, she did. She believed in him. She trusted
him, and she wanted more with him. She stroked her thumb over his skin and
shook her head. She let the shield drop and added, “You look good for your age,
by the way.”
God, am I willing to trust

But as soon as she asked herself
that question, she knew the answer. She was more than willing to trust him,
because she knew that there was more out there than could be explained.

He gave her a small smile and
shrugged. “The medallion keeps me looking as I did when I died. Well, except
for a couple additional scars I’ve managed to pick up over the years.” His
fingers closed over hers, but he didn’t pull. He just held them in a light hold
she could leave at any time.

“James and I are both here
because Mercury, our boss for all intents and purposes, believed the murders
were committed by the evil ones. They like going after pure souls, ones that
are ripe with new beginnings and yet easily swayed. Anyone in their late teens
and twenties are prime targets. Before they’ve learned some hard life lessons
that make them wary of offers too good to be true. If the evil ones can get
them at the perfect time and have them do something to tip the balance, then
kill them, it’s an additional soul to feed their lord.”

“That’s it.” She sat up, the
names—and faces—of the victims clicking into place. “That’s what’s been bugging
me.” She moved and tossed her arms around him, hugging him tight. “The people
who’ve been killed. You made it click.” She put her hands on his cheeks and
leaned back. “They all belong to the same support group.”

Then she paled. “Shit. Fia is a
member of that group, too.” She saw the questions in his eyes and licked her
lips. “VA. There are eleven of them total.” She dropped her voice to a whisper
and added, “Virgins Anonymous. They all support each other in a day and age
where sex is all around us. All of them decided that they wanted to give that
special part of themselves to the person that they were meant to be with
forever. A while back, Sophia dragged me to one of the meetings. I’m not a
virgin, but she’d just started going, and I wanted to support her.”

Jason seemed to process the
information, then frowned. “One or more of them could be a vestal virgin,
Vivian. You need to get word to your sister. Have her warn them that a killer
is on the loose, looking specifically for virgins. It’s not the whole truth,
but it’s the most believable. Have her get them to suspend all meetings for the
time being. A couple of weeks, at least.

“Warn them all that they may
already be targeted, that they need to stay in groups as much as possible,
especially after dark. In daylight it’s not so important, but they shouldn’t
take alleyways or any shortcut where there aren’t a lot of people. Can you do

She nodded, immediately going to
retrieve her cell phone. When three calls to her sister went to voice mail, she
groaned in frustration. “I can’t reach her,” she said, fear now living inside of
her. “There isn’t a phone at the residence, and she isn’t answering her cell. I
love her like crazy, but when she starts painting, she ignores everything else.
Her phone’s probably at the bottom of her purse or shoved into a drawer right
now.” She felt a little panicked. “I have to go there. The ferry starts to run
again at five a.m. and I have to go.”

BOOK: Protected
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