Only 2 more weeks until the release of…
Trixie knew she was coming around too often but she couldn’t help herself. Perched in her favorite spot among the treetops, she picked up the shrill chirp of a cellphone as it filled the air for a moment or two before Chelsea answered it. A smile bloomed on the woman’s face as she spoke to whoever was on the other line.
Satisfied she was both safe and happy, Trixie knew it was time to go. But when Chelsea turned and stepped away from the sink, she revealed her swollen pregnant belly. A smile curved Trixie’s lips because Chelsea’s tummy looked much bigger than it had a couple of weeks ago.
She was at least seven months along. Maybe more. Trixie had seen Chelsea’s boyfriend several times over the past year and it was obvious he was the father of her unborn child. Were they going to get married? Trixie imagined Chelsea walking down the aisle in a white wedding dress, and a pit of sadness bloomed in her chest.
Yet one more milestone in Chelsea’s life that Trixie wouldn’t be a part of. Trixie was a ghost, a specter lurking around in the trees like a creepy fucking Peeping Tom.
The sound of a car coming down the long gravel driveway pulled Trixie from her bout of self-pity. The blue sedan stopped in front of the house and a few moments later, Chelsea came out. Bundled up in a warm coat to protect her from the chill in the early November air, she opened the front passenger door and climbed in.
Trixie’s stomach rolled when a faint but familiar scent wafted out of the car and a cramp wracked her stomach. Gritting her teeth against the unpleasant scent, she gripped the branch above her with both hands. Her black-painted fingernails dug into the bark as she wrinkled her nose and shook her head in an effort to get rid of the stink. Chelsea’s boyfriend smelled like rotten fruit, or old flowers or something and it actually made her a little nauseated.
“Jeez,” Trixie whispered in a rush as the car backed down the long driveway. “What the hell does he do for a living that makes him smell like that? There’s no way Chelsea can smell that or she’d never hang out with him.” She wrinkled her nose. Having heightened senses wasn’t always a blessing. “Phew.”
The subtle but distinctive sound of air rushing nearby made her freeze in place. She wasn’t alone. Another vampire had landed in the vicinity. Why the hell would any other vamp come here to Chelsea’s house in the middle of the freaking woods? Fear, panic, and an overwhelming desire to protect the young woman swelled inside of her. She would be damned if any vamps would mess with this particular human—let alone feed on her.
All of her senses went on high alert and as the headlights vanished in the distance, Trixie dropped soundlessly to the ground. Standing in a battle ready position, her feet firmly planted on the needle-covered surface and her hands curled into fists at her side, she scanned the area for her unwelcome visitor. A gust of November wind whisked over her, rustling the fallen leaves on the ground. With it came the all too familiar scent of sandalwood, cinnamon, and leather.
A potent rush of arousal and anticipation fired through her, a feeling she had all but forgotten until a certain vampire cowboy came to the city two years ago and turned her world on its ear. She’d been turned on since becoming a vamp but not like this, not in such an uncontrolled way. Trixie had always been the one to seek out sex as a way to scratch an itch but this was different.
This time the itch was hunting her.
“I know you’re here, Dakota,” she said in a sing-song voice. He might make her feel all kinds of out of sorts, but that didn’t mean she had to let him know that.
Trixie stood taller, Shane had been training her to fight and she discovered she had a knack for it. In fact, she enjoyed practicing so much that she’d installed a kickboxing stand in her apartment and spent several afternoons beating the crap out of it.
Learning how to defend herself, and her coven, was empowering and cathartic.
Her fighting skills might come in handy now, especially if old blue eyes tried to get too friendly. Wound tight with a mixture of lust anxiety, and she hated to admit it, a healthy amount of curiosity as well, she scanned the moonlit forest.
He was out there…watching.
He was out there…watching.
“You know,” she shouted. “For a sentry you kind of suck at sneaking up on people. What’s your deal, man? Did you come out here to take me up on my offer to kick your ass?”
An owl hooted in the distance and a fat raccoon waddled by quickly. Tension filled the air and just when she thought she would scream with frustration, a tall broad-shouldered figure stepped out of the moonlit shadows of a neighboring tree. He slipped his hands in the pockets of his long leather sentry coat and leaned casually against the massive pine. Cocky as ever, he winked at her and acted like it was no big deal that he had been following her.
“Hello, darlin’,” he drawled in that I’m-just-a-good-old-boy tone. “You only noticed me here because I let you. I kept my distance until the humans left.”
“What are you doing out here?” Trixie demanded. She strode toward him, hands on her hips, but stopped about two feet away. Best to keep some space between them. Like it or not, he was now a part of her coven. Sort of. Flirting was one thing but if he actually did make a move, rejecting him would make things super awkward between them. “Seriously. Why are you following me?”
“Curiosity got the better of me. You’ve been runnin’ off every other Sunday night for the past couple months and not tellin’ anybody where you’re gettin’ off to.” He pushed himself off the tree and fished one of those damn lollipops out of his pocket before popping it in his mouth. “Not only that. Suzie said I should.”
“Oh really?” Trixie folded her arms over her breasts and cocked her head. “I call bullshit on that, smart guy. Suzie barely speaks to me, her coven mate, let alone you, a newcomer.”
“Well, she did speak to me and I ain’t that new.” A touch of irritation edged his voice and for a second he looked almost wounded. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been here for two years.”
“Whatever,” she said as casually as possible. She had noticed. A lot. “That’s new as far as vampires are concerned.”
“True.” He took a step closer and she held her ground. “Suzie said you might be gettin’ yourself into trouble and that I should check on you. Now, I was thinkin’ you found a prime huntin’ ground that was out of the way of the city, where your hunts wouldn’t be noticed. Is that what this is?”
He inched nearer and his voice dropped low. He dragged the little white stick from his lips and pointed it at her. “You casin’ out this house and the humans who live here for a feedin’ frenzy? If so, how about lettin’ me in on it? I haven’t had a live feed in a long while.”
Live feeds, while not illegal, were strongly discouraged because they could lead to unwanted complications. Even though she missed the buzz that came with feeding from a human, Trixie didn’t miss getting the blood memories.
She hadn’t fed off a living breathing human in over a year and the idea of anyone feeding off Chelsea was downright revolting.
“You won’t touch her,” Trixie hissed. She bared her fangs, grabbed the lapels of his coat and shoved at him. He didn’t move. She might be a vampire with the strength of twenty men but Dakota was bigger, older, and stronger. “She is not prey for me, you, or anyone else. Do you understand me? I don’t want anyone in the community to know about her. Chelsea is off limits,” she seethed. “And if you know what’s good for you, you won’t come here again.”
Dakota was just over six feet tall and towered over her, but Trixie was not going to back down. The stench of silver from the weapons hidden in his coat scorched her nostrils, but the comforting scent of sandalwood clung to him, soothing the burn. Damn. He smelled good. Too good. Her fingers curled tighter around the smooth leather of his coat and her knuckles met the firm, unyielding muscles of his chest. She’d long suspected the man was nothing but bone, muscle, and sinew under all that leather.
Why was she attracted to a man who was as deadly as he was cocky? Glutton for punishment. That had to be it. Even as a human she never could lay off the boys who were no good for her and look where that had gotten her?
“You lookin’ to tangle with me?” Dakota leaned into her grasp and arched one eyebrow. “I’m happy to oblige.”
He was trying to intimidate her into submission. Trixie wasn’t easily intimidated by anyone; she sure as hell wouldn’t be by him, his weaponry, his position as a sentry, or his penetrating stare.
Dakota inched closer and pressed his firm body further into her grasp. His lips tilted, giving her a glimpse of the tip of one of his fangs. Trixie let out a strangled groan and licked her lower lip. Why was seeing only a part of his fangs such a fucking turn-on?
“If by tangle you mean have me kick your ass?” She hoped like hell he couldn’t see right through her. “Then, yeah, and for the record, I’m not afraid of you.”
Dakota’s bluish gray eyes peered at her beneath his furrowed brow. His short-cropped dark blond hair glistened in the silvery moonlight. His hands hung at his side and his lack of response both frustrated and confused her. He was a sentry for the Presidium and she’d basically just attacked him, but the guy did nothing. Most sentries, even Shane, wouldn’t take crap from vamp like her.
“Say something.” Trixie softened her tone.
Maybe she’d get a more favorable response if she wasn’t so bitchy. The worst part of this whole stupid mess was that her instinct was to be nice to him. She liked him but she didn’t want to want him. Not like this.
“How about,” she began slowly, “if you promise me that you won’t come here again. Ever.”
In a surprisingly disarming move, Dakota’s large hands settled on hers and he held them against his chest. A rush of warmth whisked over her skin when his flesh covered hers, and her blood hummed with awareness. She’d touched other vampires before, platonically and otherwise, but none of them made her feel like this. For a human, a vamp would feel cool to the touch. To another vampire, their skin was basically room temperature or neutral.
But not Dakota.
His hands were warm, firm, and rough. They were the hands of man who knew a hard day’s work, and damn if that wasn’t a turn on. What was it about a man’s man that could get a girl’s blood moving? She thought of the little horse he’d carved for Emily and something inside her quivered. These hands of his could put down an enemy with swift precision but they could also gently and painstakingly cradle a piece of wood, massaging it and whittling it carefully until it became a delicate treasure. There was more to this cowboy than met the eye.
Tender and rough. Sweet but lethal.
What it would feel like to have these hands running over more sensitive parts of her anatomy?
To be cherished, cradled, and coveted?
What was she doing? Trixie blinked. He was a sentry, a soldier who dealt in death and violence. There was nothing tender about that. But still….
Pinned beneath his intense blue stare and his impossibly warm hands, she fought the surge of desire that sizzled and simmered in her blood. Her arms were crushed between their bodies and it was impossible not to notice the subtle movements of his muscles as he inched closer.
“I’ll make you a deal,” he whispered, his thumb rasping lightly over her knuckles. “You tell me why you’re comin’ to this house in the middle of nowhere, and I’ll promise to keep your secret.”
“You don’t know my secrets.” Trixie tried to tug her hands from beneath his but he refused to release her. “Please let me go.”
“Not yet.” He held her in a vice-like grip, cool as ice. “So you have more secrets than these little visits to the woods?”
“I said, let me go,” she ground out.
“Why?” He asked in an almost lighthearted tone. “The sun won’t be up for a few hours and you still haven’t answered my questions. I am a sentry for the Presidium; you know that pesky vampire government? Didn’t anyone teach you to respect authority?”
“Yeah, you may be a vamp cop,” she scoffed. “But your boss is my maker. I win.”
“You are spitfire of a woman, do you know that? You remind me of a horse that hasn’t been broken yet. All skittish and full of wild energy.”
“Are you for real?” Her jaw fell open. “Did you just compare me to a horse?”
“It’s a compliment. You’re spirited. I always preferred wild horses to the ones who’d been saddled.” His eyes twinkled with mischief and flashed at her in the dark, twin pools of silver that harkened of desire and danger. “I like that in a woman. And tellin’ me you have secrets is like throwin’ a scented shoe in front of a hound dog. Only makes me want to find out what they are.”
“Whatever secrets I have are mine and they’re called secrets for reason, genius. It’s stuff I don’t want anyone else to know about. Okay? It’s personal. I don’t know you well enough to tell you my favorite band, let alone my secrets.”
“All right, then. Let me guess.” Dakota tilted his face toward the sky and pursed his lips together. “Give me a minute.”
“Careful, you might hurt yourself with all that thinking.”
“I got it,” he said abruptly. He tilted his smiling face to her and looked totally satisfied with himself. “Definitely.”
“What?” Panic shimmied up her back. “My secrets?”
“No. Your favorite band.”
Trixie gaped at him but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Now, based on that colorful hair of yours, I’m thinkin’ you’re a fan of that Sid Vicious fella, or maybe The Clash.” His hold on her loosened and his thumb made another lazy pass along hers, sending whispers of gooseflesh up her bare arms. “Now, me? I think Johnny Cash is about the best there ever is, was, or ever will be. Somethin’ about the way he tells a story, you know? Like he can see right inside my soul. Too bad he never got turned vamp. We’d be gettin’ new songs from him forever.”
Trixie was speechless. Absolutely without words.
Here they were in the middle of the woods. She had just threatened to kick his ass. And the guy was talking about Johnny Cash. Not only that, but he was right. She did love Sid Vicious and The Clash.
Damn it. How annoying. And charming. Crap.
“Am I right?”
“Are you going to do as I ask?” Trixie’s voice wavered and she retracted her fangs. “Will you stay away from here, from Chelsea’s house?”
“On one condition,” he murmured. His full lips curved and he tugged her closer.
“Fine.” Trixie swallowed the rising swell of desire as his firm, muscular legs brushed against hers. “What?”
“Did I get your favorite musician right?”
“Yes.” She suppressed a grin because he’d hit the nail on the head. “Fine. Yes, you did. Those are my two favorites. Okay?”
“Good.” Dakota abruptly dropped her hands and stepped away. The warmth of his body dissipated swiftly as the space between them increased. “Now, are you gonna tell me why you’re comin’ out here all the time, or what?”
“You’re a piece of work.” Trixie almost laughed out loud. He’d guessed her favorite musician and now wanted to know everything else? What-freaking-ever. “No. Like I said, my secrets are exactly that. Secrets. And if you know what’s good for you, you won’t come out here again, let alone follow me around like a creep. I don’t, like, need some throwback from the fifties tailing me on my nights off. Got it?”
“Is that so?” Irritation flickered across his face. “You know, missy, I only came out here because your maker and the rest of that crazy ass coven told me I had to check up on you. I’ll be happy to let you run all over creation all by your pretty little self if that’s what you—“
Dakota stopped speaking mid-sentence when a gust of wind rushed over them. It whispered over Trixie from behind, sending a tiny tornado of leaves whirling around them. A growl rumbled in Dakota’s throat. His nostrils flared and he bared his fangs as he looked past her to the driveway of the house. Before she could say a word, he flew over to the gravel-covered drive and tilted his nose to the sky.
“What are you bugging out about?” Trixie flew over to him and landed on the steps of the house. There was no way she was letting him in there. “No one here but you, me, and forest creatures. Jeez, what’s your damage?”
“How long you been comin’ out here?” He asked as he scanned the area like the trained sentry he was. Any and all humor had vanished; he’d gone from good old boy to lethal weapon in a matter of seconds. “You run into any trouble out here on your visits? Supernatural or otherwise? Notice anythin’ out of the ordinary?”
“No.” She sat on the top step of the porch in a not-so-subtle attempt to block the entrance. She was getting a weird feeling in her gut; the one that warned her trouble was coming. “I’ve been visiting ever since she moved out of the city. Not that it’s any of your business, but I like to check on the woman who lives here. That’s all. No trouble. No drama. She’s just a human woman living her life.”
“Right.” Dakota said tightly. His jaw clenched and the muscle there flickered with tension. “Chelsea, is it?”
“Whatever.” Shit. Trixie cracked her knuckles and rose to her feet. She’d let the girl’s name slip. “Yeah. But she’s gone now and we should be too. Let’s go.”
“Why is she important to you?” Dakota strode slowly toward her, the gravel crunching beneath his heavy boots. All of the sweetness was gone from his voice and his expression was tense and serious—a side she rarely saw. “Who is she? What do you know about her?”
“I know enough, and you know too much.”
Before he could respond, Trixie shot up into the air and landed on top of a small pine tree. She braced her feet on the top branch and clung to the trunk with one hand. She peered down at Dakota who remained on the ground.
“And one more thing, cowboy,” she shouted down to him.
“Keep your hands to yourself.” She smirked.
“I’ll try.” Dakota slipped his hands in his pockets and flashed a fang filled grin at her, his white teeth glinting in the moonlight.
“You’ll try?” Trixie scoffed. “How about you give me your word?”
“No way, darlin’.” He flew up to the roof of the house and landed noiselessly in a crouching position, a cocky grin curving his firm looking lips. “I’m not makin’ any promises I don’t aim to keep.”
Trixie let out a sound of disgust as Dakota shot into moonlit night and streaked across the sky like a bullet, leaving a trail of mist in his wake. She wanted to tell him fat chance, and no way he was gonna touch her again. But deep down, underneath the stream of protests, was a long silent voice of desire that whispered…yes.