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Brent Braddock had never been the type of man to beat around the bush when it came to something he wanted. He was straightforward. Determined. Persistent.
One hundred and fifty years as a vampire who fed off both blood and sex hadn't changed him much.
While the average bloodsucker tried to curb the lust with a little roll in the hay, Brent preferred going straight for the jugular, no pun intended.
Not that he didn't like sex.
He loved it, and he sure as shootin' fired off a round whenever possible. Once upon a time, he'd been one of the fastest guns in the Confederacy and the most precise. Now he called himself a bodyguard and offered his skills to the highest bidder, which meant he spent a great deal of time in the big cities.
New York. Chicago. L.A. Prime hunting ground when it came to getting down and dirty. He could fall into bed with the prettiest filly around and never run the risk of seeing her again.
But this was small town central.
If he bedded a woman tonight, he was sure to bump into her again and again before he said goodbye to this map dot. While she might not remember him thanks to his vamp mojo, he would remember her. Worse, she would become more than a face. And that he didn't like.
He didn't want to know that she'd been voted Most Popular back in high school or that her dad owned the local feed store or that she went to the VFW Hall every Thursday night for spaghetti dinner. He didn't want to know her, period.
Knowing made it harder to turn his back and walk away.
And Brent Braddock always walked away.
"I didn't sign up for this," muttered the woman who pushed through the rear Exit of the Dairy Freeze. "I'm a waitress not a bus boy. I do tables, not trash."
The door creaked shut behind her, muffling the whir of a shake machine and the hisss and poppp! of a burger grill. June bugs bumped against the single bulb that burned near the back door.
She wore a white button up blouse with her name embroidered in pink across the right pocket, white shorts and a pair of white sneakers. Her breaths echoed in his ears and he tuned in to the steady thump of her pulse.
A knife twisted inside of him and his muscles clenched. Heat hummed the length of his spine. His hunger stirred. He watched as she dumped an empty banana crate near the dumpster a few feet away from where he stood in the shadows.
She started to turn, but then her gaze hooked on him and she started. "Holy Toledo," she touched a hand to her chest, "you scared me." She eyed him. "We don't allow customers out back."
"I'm not a customer."
"Then what are you doing here?"
"Waiting." His words slid into her ears and just like that, her annoyance faded and her interest piqued.
Her brow smoothed and her eyes sparked. "For who?"
"Who do you think?" He stared deep into her eyes and tuned into the rush of feelings bombarding her. Her anxiety because she was only one of two carhops on duty on a busy Friday night—the other was old lady Dolly who waited tables about as fast as a Thanksgiving turkey sharpened his own ax. Her anger because she'd spotted her ex, aka The Rat Bastard, having a banana split with some tramp named Bernice. Her insecurity because she should have remembered to put on a swipe of lipstick before taking out the trash.
Talk about stinking rotten luck.
In the six years since she'd graduated high school, she'd spent a fortune trying every dating service known to mankind only to meet Mr. Tall, Dark and Yummy on her way to the f-ing dumpster.
She licked her lips and tried to think of something witty to say. "Why don't you come around front? I'll bring you one of our new Fat Cow burgers. It's a double decker with bacon and three slices of cheese. It sounds like a heart attack just waiting to happen, but it's really awesome. Especially with our double deluxe strawberry malt—"
"I don't want a hamburger."
"Then what do you want? If it's French fries, I could definitely make that happen—"
"You," he murmured again, but this time he made sure she got his meaning loud and clear. "I want you." He held her stare and willed away everything except the passion bubbling inside her. "Don't talk." He fed her lust with his own until her cheeks flushed. "Don't think." Her breaths quickened. Her eyes sparked. "Just feel."
The clenching inside your body.
The wetness between your legs.
The heat licking at your skin.
He sent the silent messages and her gaze smoldered. Her hands trembled as she stared back up at him, her expression slightly bewildered. Then a light bulb seemed to go off and suddenly she knew exactly what he wanted. Her eyes sparkled as she slid the buttons free on her blouse. The material parted, revealing a white lace bra. She popped the front clasp and pulled the cups apart. Her breasts sprang free. Her nipples pebbled at the instant rush of air.
His gaze fixed on a faint blue vein barely visible beneath her translucent skin. Her heartbeat drummed in his ears, the sound as intoxicating as the ripe smell that spiraled into his nostrils. His gut tightened and his desperation stirred and then everything faded into a sweet red rush.
He leaned her back over his arm, opened his mouth wide and sank his fangs deep into the flesh just to the right of her nipple.
Soft skin cushioned his lips and liquid heat spurted into his mouth. His fangs tingled and his entire body convulsed. He drew on her harder, deeper, her essence tunneling down his throat and warming him from the inside out. She trembled and gasped and he knew she felt the pleasure as keenly as he did.
It rolled through him after several delicious seconds and the tightness clenching his muscles started to ease. The fist in his gut loosened and suddenly he didn't hurt so much.
He indulged for a few delicious seconds before sanity sent up a red flag and a loud Enough! The beast was sated.
Easing the pressure, he retracted his fangs. He licked the tiny prick points, savoring the last few drops before leaning back. He caught her gaze and willed her to forget everything.
No tall, dark cowboy lurking in the alley behind the Dairy Freeze.
No uncontrollable lust urging her to strip down.
No fangs sinking into her breast.
Nothing but a sweet, intoxicating orgasm brought on by a very delicious daydream.
He pulled her blouse together. His fingertips lingered at one ripe nipple before he pulled away, buttoned her up and sent her back inside to finish her shift.
After that, he turned on his heel and did what he'd been doing for the past century and a half, ever since he'd been turned into a vampire on that fateful night so long ago—Brent Braddock walked away and never looked back.
"What can I do you for, sugar?" asked an ancient woman wearing a white button-up blouse, white polyester slacks and a pink apron.
"I'll have a double chocolate malt." Abigail Trent gave the hand-held plastic menu another once-over. "With extra whipped cream."
Dolly—according to the name embroidered in hot pink on her left pocket—pushed up her cat's eye glasses. "You sure about that?" She gave a pointed stare at Abigail's plain black combat boots before shifting up, over a pair of worn Levis, to her Go Navy hoodie. "We've got some nice fruit smoothies, sugar. Why don't you have one of those?" The old woman winked. "Half the calories."
Abby ignored the pinch to her ego and held tight to her resolve. "I'd rather have a malt."
Dolly wiggled her carefully penciled in eyebrows as if she were about to dangle a carrot. "We've got fresh mango banana."
"I don't like bananas."
"I don't like kiwi."
Dolly gave her another once over. "You know, sugar, you're not half bad. What I can see, that is. If I were you, I'd definitely lose that there Unibomber look you got goin' for yourself. Especially if you want to rope a cowboy."
Abby narrowed her gaze at the presumptuous woman. "Do I know you?"
"The name's Dolly Cook and the real question is, do I know you?" She waved a crippled hand. "See, I know everybody in this town. Been working here for the past forty-eight years since me and my husband opened up the place. He passed on about five years ago, God rest his soul. My son took over the kitchen on account of the arthritis in my hands makes it impossible to grip a spatula. Luckily, it ain't spread to my feet and I can still walk up a storm." She indicated the white orthopedic shoes that she wore. "I handle the tables on account of I have a crackerjack memory and don't need to write anything down." She narrowed her gaze. "I ain't never seen you here before. You're new in town." Dolly arched a white brow. "Visiting family?" Abigail shook her head and the old woman added, "Looking for a job?"
Abby shook her head. "A person."
"Just what I thought." She waved a hand. "We get it all the time, what with the divorce rate sky high and the number of good men dropping faster than the stock market on a bad day. Why, women drive in from at least a dozen counties to scope out the local pickins. It's closer than driving to San Antonio or Austin and there's a lot less traffic, lemme tell ya."
"I'm not here looking for—"
"'Course when they realize the women around here are just as desperate," she went on before Abby could finish, "they usually end up heading for the city. Take that group over there." She let her gaze shift to a nearby table full of women nursing glasses of pink froth. "They'll load up on strawberry smoothies and then head for the honky tonk out on Route 9. When they strike out there—and they will strike out on account of every man this side of the Guadalupe will be over at the VFW for poker night—they'll head for Austin. They might have better luck there, but I wouldn't put my money on it. A good man is hard to find these days." Her gaze shifted back to Abby. "Sugar, if you want to lasso yourself a decent cowboy, you need to give yourself every advantage. That means ditching the fatty malt."
"I'm not trying to lasso a cowboy."
"Sugar, you can deny it all you want. But I see what's right in front of me. You've got desperate, hopeful and horny written all over your face. You're looking for a man, all right."
Yeah, she was. But it wasn't what Dolly thought.
Command Master Chief Petty Officer Abigail Trent wasn't looking for just any man. She was hot on the trail of her man, aka Rayne Montana, the best of an elite group of Navy Seals that Abby had hand-picked and trained herself. He'd gone AWOL two weeks ago in the mountains outside of Afghanistan.
Her first thought was that he'd gotten himself killed. But they'd yet to recover a body. If he'd been kidnapped (her second thought), his abductors would have contacted the Navy to bargain a trade for one of their own by now.
The MPs had come to the conclusion that he'd snapped from the pressure and bailed. They were in the process of tracking a credit card trail from Afghanistan to Switzerland.
But Rayne was too smart to leave such obvious clues. Even more, he was too good to cut and run. Too loyal. Too trustworthy. Like Abby, he'd been career military. Married to his job. Proud of each and every operation. He took his duty seriously.