I give Noah a sidelong look. “Are you clinging to me just to piss Vic off?”
Noah almost chokes. “Clinging? And no. Make that hell, no.”
I grin. “Okay, then. Just for a sec. I’m beat.”
His mercury eyes study me far longer than necessary. “Something’s up with you,” he says. “You never used to sleep so much. And what about the ear ringing? Is it better or do you need to see the doctor?”
“It’s better, I guess. Still there but not so intense. Probably just a head cold brewing.”
“Nice try,” he says.
“Well, then, I have no idea. I was just thinking it myself.” I look at him. “Maybe because I’ve gone from slightly eccentric yet full-blown human, despite what others might say, to human with tendencies. Maybe it’s all . . . catching up to me.” I shake my head. “I don’t know. But, damn, when I fall out, I’m out.”
“Yeah, I know.” He opens the door for me, and I walk through. He follows, we cross the foyer, and he pulls me aside, into the sitting room just off the main entrance. Only a slight light shines through a crack in the drapes not yet pulled for the day. His stare finds mine and holds it. His body is close, and he brushes loose hair back from my face. “It’s dangerous, Ri. Too dangerous for you to be alone. Ever.”
I let my head fall back and I close my eyes. “Noah. For God’s sake.” I lift my head back into position and look up at him. “What is so freaking big-deal special about my safety? Not that I don’t value my own life, but . . . damn. Everyone is so worried about keeping me safe.” I grab his hand and squeeze it. “None of us are impervious to death here. Even the immortals can die. All of our safety is at risk, not just mine.”
“Yeah, well, you’re the only one here I vowed to keep safe,” he threads his fingers through mine and squeezes hard. “And I keep my goddamn vows.”
Lifting his hand, Noah scrapes the pad of his thumb over my lip. “I keep them, Riley Poe. You’re important to me.”
The sincerity in his unusual eyes gleams true, even in the haze of an early-morning, nearly darkened room. Emotions come from nowhere within me, and I suddenly feel so vulnerable, so . . . weak. I miss being embraced, being cherished. I know it sounds ridiculous, but . . . I can’t help it. I lost someone I loved with all of my heart. And it was a helluva long struggle to give that hard heart of mine away.
Noah’s eyes soften. “Your heart is far from hard, woman.” He brushes my cheek. “Never has been.”
Out of nowhere, I get the hugest sensation to just . . . fall into Noah’s embrace. But I don’t. Instead I squeeze his hand and smile. “Sure it has. I promise to be careful. You have my permission to watch over me mercilessly.” I start out of the sitting room and look over my shoulder. “See ya in a few.”
Mercury eyes stare silently at me as I leave.
I’m halfway up the stairs when Victorian is suddenly at my side. “You didn’t call me.”
I jump on the step. “Jesus!” I look at him and elbow him. “I’m sorry—I forgot. Don’t do that again.”
“I don’t trust Miles,” Vic blurts out. We hit the platform on the second floor and start up the corridor. “I don’t like him, either.”
I laugh. “Well, trust me, the feeling’s mutual.” I look at him. “Why don’t you trust him? You mean with me?”
Victorian nods, and walks with his hands behind his back. “Now that your man is gone.”
“He may think the same of you,” I say. Truthfully, I’ve always felt a reaction from Noah. I just brushed it off as powerful vampire sexuality. Maybe I was wrong.
“He has good reason to,” Victorian answers bluntly, and stops at my door. “I know you mourn your man,” he says, looking down at me with those dark brown eyes. “And I know you ache to be held, to be comforted,” he says, and lifts my hand and kisses it. “I am here for you, love. If ever you want me.”
I blink. “Not much for beating around the bush. Are you, Vic?”
He gives me a slight grin. “I suppose not.”
“Well,” I step around him and open my door. Over my shoulder, I look at him. “I appreciate the offer,” I say. “And you’ll be the first to know if ever I want to take you up on it. Good night.”
I shut the door, but not before I see a huge, ridiculous grin spread across his handsome face.
“I will win you over one day,” Victorian mutters in Romanian on the other side of the door.
“I know what you just said,” I say back in Romanian.
Vic swears and leaves the hall.
Finally, my bed.
I peel out of my clothes, kick them onto the floor in a pile, and crawl into bed with only my bra and panties. Within seconds, I’m asleep.
At least before the dreams plague me again.
HEAVEN AND HELL
It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.
—Edgar Allan Poe, “Silence—A Fable”
I see the pain in Riley’s eyes, and I feel so sorry for her. To have lost her mate, Eli, and in the manner in which she lost him . . . it’s unbearable to think of it. But, damn, she’s a fighter. She hides her anguish well, and puts the team and innocent lives over her own pain. I’ve never seen anything like it. To be frank, I’m glad to be on her side. She hasn’t exactly warmed up to me yet, but she will. I hope.
I’m in a place so deep, so dark, and so heavy, it takes all of my effort to breathe. I’m not sure what it is—whether it’s the place itself or my company. I thought I was alone. I thought I was in my bed.
I’m definitely not.
In an instant, a slight haze filters through the clouds, and it barely illuminates my surroundings. I’m at a lake? Some body of water. I glance down. I’m wearing nothing more than my bra and panties. It’s October, yet I’m warm. Not cold at all. Actually, it feels like a summer’s day back home in Savannah.
“I thought you’d never wake up.”
I jump, startled, and turn to see who has crept up on me. Familiar, yet I don’t recognize the silhouette. Male. Tall. Broad shoulders. Long hair pulled back. Muscular. The slight haze of the moon doesn’t give me access to his features. His accent, though, is . . . unique. Appealing.
I almost can’t help but be attracted.
“I’m . . . sorry. I just couldn’t wait,” he says, and steps closer to me. I allow it, and I don’t know why. Again, I can’t seem to help myself. Butterflies stir inside of me, and I take a deep breath to try and dissipate the feeling. It doesn’t work.
He—I have no idea who he is or what his name is, and, for some reason, I don’t even ask—stops a breath away from me. With that hazy moonlight behind him, I can’t see his face. I just know the allure he has hits me in a place I’m not used to being hit. Only Eli gets me there. I think this is Eli. But is it? I feel him. Sense him. Yet . . . he’s different. I’m confused as hell. Again a deep breath. Again it doesn’t work. Useless.
Next his large hands grasp my jaw on either side and his lips brush against mine in a whisper. “I’m going to kiss you, Riley,” he says, and uses the slightest pressure to urge my mouth open. He angles his head and presses into me, taking in a long breath as he kisses me.
My own breath hitches and I drown in the slow, erotic brush of his lips, shoving my fingers through hair that feels like heavy silk, and taste him back.
His hands graze my sides, then move upward and cup my breasts through my bra. Quickly, he unsnaps the front clasp and pushes the silky material from my shoulders. It drops to the ground below. With callused hands, he caresses me, and my eyes close from the feel of it. His mouth claims mine, and the warmth from his hands against my breasts makes me sink into him, but he makes no further moves—only deep, possessive kissing.
Then he stops.
Resting his forehead against mine, he slides his hands around my back and pulls me close. Why do I want him so badly? Who is he? Why is he so familiar? And why am I so out of control right now?
I push his hair aside and move my mouth to his ear, brushing the lobe with my tongue. When he shivers, I whisper, “Please don’t leave me, Eli. Not yet. I can’t bear it.”
He stills, pulls back, and looks at me. I can’t see his eyes, only a dark glare, but I know he’s studying me. Contemplating. Wondering what the hell I’m doing.
“I . . . Jesus, I need you, Eli. So much it hurts,” I say, my voice a broken whisper.
Without another word, he does as I ask.
“Are you sure? I . . . don’t think I can stop if I start.”
“Yes,” I whisper, my breath ragged. “I won’t want you to stop.”
He then lifts me in his arms and begins to walk toward the water. “I can smell you—almost taste you, so potent are your needs.” He keeps moving, his long fall of silk hair brushing my bare shoulder, making me shiver. He lowers his head and sniffs my neck, an animal on the prowl. “I have dreamed of tasting you fully, of feeling you explode against my tongue. Never did I think you would have me . . . like this.” He sets me on my feet, and the warm water rides up to my waist. He circles behind me and stops, his head bent close to my ear, his whisper a deep purr, yet still not touching, sending vibrations of pleasure across my wet skin. “I’m going to bury myself deep inside of your tight wetness, feel your woman muscles grip my hard length as you take all of me in,” he says as he licks my lobe, his warm breath caressing my cheek. “But first,” he says, his raspy words vibrating against my throat, making me shiver with excitement, “I’m going to make you lose control right where you stand.”
Every nerve ending in my body hums with power, ready to unleash the energy simmering in my veins. So erotic are his words, his voice, his promise, that damned sexy accent, I have to clench my muscles to keep from coming right then. I reach for him.