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Asexy eighties song filtered through the air of the elite Padre Island Men's Club, a lush brunette atop an oval stage, swaying to the beat.
Dim lights added flavor to a room designed for sin and seduction, dancers scattered at various other locations throughout the room, working the music and the men. In the far corners the walls were lined with couches for those who wanted to remain discreet, while private shows were available for those willing to pay the price.
Preferring both his entertainment and his women full of excitement, Des had chosen to sit front and center, at the edge of the stage. Here he had a perfect view of the dancer who called herself "Veronica" as she seduced the audience with her curvy hips and inviting, full breasts.
Beside him, two of his fellow Knights of White, Rinehart and Rock, each nursed a beer. Des preferred the bigger bite of tequila. He was immortal, after all. It wasn't as if the stuff was going to kill him. Even getting a buzz, for their kind, was nearly impossible.
"Veronica" eased closer, kneeling in front of Des as she sang the words of the song. Then she turned the song into a question. "Do you think I'm a nasty girl?" she whispered.
"I don't think, mi hermosa," Des murmured in a low voice, his hungry eyes taking in her naked body, her pebbled nipples. "I know."
She'd been quite the feast two weekends before. A hot Mexican mama who matched his heritage and did a good job of trying to match his lust. But as good as that night had been, he wouldn't be repeating it. He never allowed himself to repeat. Repeat performances invited questions about his past, about his life, that he didn't welcome.
Talk, no. Sex, yes.
Besides,tonight was about Rock, not him. The kid had it bad for their Healer, Marisol, which meant he was out of luck. Healers were considered off-limits, forbidden physical pleasure, a rule Marisol took seriously despite her own obvious desire for Rock. In other words, the consequences of following her desire would be some deep trouble. Of course, helping the kid was no easy task. Rock really was as stubborn as a rock, though Des doubted that's what the name meant to the kid. How ironic he'd chosen his immortal name to be something so fitting. They all chose one name to define their existence within the Knights, something special to them and them alone, leaving behind their pastor at least trying to forget what once was.
With Rinehart as an accomplice, Des had convinced the kid to join them for a night out, with one agenda in mind hooking Rock up with a woman. This particular dancer's flavor of "nasty" was exactly the kind of distraction Rock needed.
Des drew a C-note from his pocket and leaned toward the stage. The Knights had money and he didn't mind using his. They'd all been given healthy trust funds after completing their training; money to live on. He'd been smart and invested his money well, though he didn't share that little bit of information with the others. If they were smart, they had as well. An eternity of living demanded funds. Besides, Des would be damned if the lack of money would ever make him feel beneath anyone again. He'd been there, done that, was never doing it again.
Motioning the woman forward, Des whispered in her ear. She leaned back and smiled, waiting patiently for her reward. Sliding his fingers up her thigh, he placed the money under her garter. She stood and walked toward the stairs in a sexy strut.
"Tell me you didn't," Rock said, running a hand over his short, sandy brown hair, a muscle in his jaw jumping.
Des eyed Rinehart, an ex-military man who sat arms crossed, cowboy hat pulled low over his buzzcut, shadowing his eyes. "Tell me you did," he said. Eyes that were normally cold and calculating now twinkled with mischief.
"Come on, Rock," Des said. "You know you have to."
Each Knight possessed a soul, but each had also been touched by a Beast. Each had turned into a demon later saved by Salvador, a recruiter for the Knights. Now, they lived with that Beast inside, some more than others, forced to fight their primal urges. To control the urges, they needed to put them to use. To burn them out. A task best achieved in war or sex.
But Rock was so hung up on Marisol he took risks he couldn't afford to take. He let himself live on the edge. "She knows, man." Des lowered his voice for Rock's ears only. "Marisol knows you have no choice. And you both know Healers are off-limits. As in, you're not going there, so stop thinking you are. You're wound tight. You need this. It's a woman or the battlefield, and since the Beasts are remarkably quiet right now, I'd say it's the woman."
Veronica appeared floor level, her body working in a sultry rhythm meant for Rock's exclusive pleasure. Yet, the younger Knight started to complain. "Des, man, I told you, no. I" Veronica straddled him and Rock lost his words.
Rinehart laughed and held up his beer in a mock salute of Des. "May Rock's pleasure be our sanity."
"Hell, yeah," Des said, laughing at the truth of the statement. "I'd say that calls for another drink."
Raising his hand to flag a waitress, Des spotted their new security specialist, Max, in the doorway. Des grimaced at the unexpected visitor. He didn't like Max, and he didn't know why. Something was off with the guy.
Taking advantage of his position of observation, Des sized Max up, trying to put his finger on what it was. The newcomer appeared normal enough. As normal as an immortal who fought demons could come off. Des sized Max up as he often did, trying to figure out the newcomer. His brown hair, a bit longer than Des's own, touched his shoulders. The biker getup Max favored of leather jacket and matching pants had to be hot as hell, though, in the current hundred-degree Texas heat. That was exactly why Des stuck to jeans and a T-shirt. Simple. Easygoing. But nothing about Max was simple.
Des's eyes locked with Max's and they stared at one another, a standoff of sorts. Rinehart turned, following Des's gaze, but he didn't comment on Max's appearance. Rock didn't notice Des's distraction at all. Veronica had him standing at attention.
Des wasn't about to be the first to break eye contact. A topless waitress did the job for him, stopping in front of Max, and giving both Knights an excuse to change focus.
"What's Max doing here?" Des asked, shooting Rinehart a suspicious look.
"Guess he was thirsty," Rinehart replied with a nonchalant shrug, adjusting his gaze as if he were checking out Rock's private dancer, which was bullshit.
Des knew damn well Rinehart wasn't checking out the dancer. He was in avoidance mode. "You invited him." It wasn't a question; more a statement of disbelief.
"You might make your dislike a little less obvious," Rinehart commented, sidestepping a direct answer.
"I don't trust him," Des said. "The guy shows up out of the blue one day and he's a Knight, no training needed. He's already trained. By who? And where?" He shook his head. "Makes no sense."
"Jag trusts him," Rinehart offered.
Des ground his teeth and wished for another tequila. "Right. I forgot."
Rinehart snorted. "You're just pissy because Jag won't tell you Max's story. For once, you're like the rest of us. You're being told things on a need-to-know basis, and apparently, you don't need to know."
Des shot Rinehart a "go to hell" look. "Drink your damn light beer and shut up. If I want your opinion, I'll ask for it."
Rinehart tilted his beer back, but not before he fixed Des in a far too perceptive stare and let out a bark of laughter. They both knew Rinehart had hit the nail on the head with his assessment, but probably not for the reasons Rinehart thought. Jag's recent closeness to the Knights' creator, Salvador, was part of being their leader, a part of the new powers he'd been gifted when he'd found his mate. Des understood that.
Yet Des's exclusion from Jag's inner circle bothered him and not because he wanted to have his damn hand held. He worried about what Salvador had told Jag about him. Des knew full well he walked a little too closely to his Beast. Jag had always worried that Des embraced his Beast too readily. Des argued it allowed him control over his darker side. But maybe Salvador knew just how close to that dark side Des felt some days.
Max appeared beside the table, snapping Des out of his reverie. "Looks like they'll let anyone in this place these days," Des said, grinning as he acted as if joking, though they both knew he wasn't.
Grabbing a chair from an empty table, Max turned it so that his arms rested on the back, legs straddling the seat. "You're afraid I'll steal some of the attention," Max said, with a half smile.
Max enjoyed egging Des on. In some ways, Des enjoyed it, too. Kept things interesting. He sort of liked disliking Max. Gave him somewhere to put all the tension when he wasn't on the battlefield or in bed. "Hey," Des said, giving a nod. "If you can earn it, take it." A hint of challenge laced his tone, subtle but evident, by intention. "How'd you even know we were here?"
"I told him," Rinehart admitted, grinning, the look in his eyes daring Des to give him crap about it.
And Des wanted to. His hand itched to reach up and smack Rinehart's big-ass cowboy hat right off his head. Instead he said, "I'd say you owe me a tequila, cowboy."
Des shifted his gaze to Max, about to tell him he was buying the next round after Rinehart paid up, but before he could get the words out, his cell phone rang. He frowned when he noted the number.
He glanced up at Rinehart. "It's Jag."
All three of the Knights were instantly on alert. Jag wouldn't call to simply say hello. Des stood and started walking, punching the button to answer the call while he worked his way to the back of the room where it was quieter. An unnecessary attempt to find quiet considering the call lasted all of sixty seconds. Jag's instructions were short and to the point.
"Duty calls," Des reported to Max and Rinehart when he returned to the table. "We need to hightail it back to Brownsville."
Rinehart's brows dipped, his expression registering concern. "Any idea why?"
"Nope," he said, not elaborating because the truth was, when he'd opened his mouth to ask, he'd been met with a dial tone.
Rinehart and Max were already standing. "He didn't give you any idea?" Max probed, as if he thought Des was hiding something.
Des grimaced. "What did I say, Maxwell? He said nothing."
"Max. The name is Max."
Waving off the words, Des had nothing else to say to the guy. Max set his teeth on edge. The man had a dark edge that cut like a knife. Once during battle, Des had even thought he'd seen a glimpse of red in Max's eyes. That, along with the secrets Max kept, rang a bell in Des's head. Max was trouble. His secret was trouble. Maybe Jag didn't tell Des about Max's history because it was so damn dirty, Des might flip out.
Des eyed Rock, noting how well Veronica had taken him into oblivion. Letting out a heavy sigh, he accepted defeat. Rock wouldn't be finding satisfaction after all, and they'd all feel the pain of his bad mood tomorrow.
He exchanged a look with Rinehart and held up two fingers an inch apart. "We were so close to getting him taken care of."
"Another week of his grumpy ass," Rinehart said, shaking his head. In a defeated tone, he added, "I'll get him."
The waitress appeared with Des's drink and he grabbed the shot glass from the tray, downed the contents and returned it to the tray. He shoved money into her tip glass. "Thanks, sweetheart."
But the drink did nothing to calm the rush of adrenaline already shooting through his blood. The low hum of edginess that had started taking form with Max's entrance turned to an outright scream. He reached deep, in a way he'd taught himself years before, pushing away the discomfort, wrapping himself in control. He inhaled and let it out as a smile touched his lips.
He needed to funnel his Beast. Trouble was brewing, and Des couldn't wait to introduce himself.