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Alex stood at the door, his heart pounding. He had no plan for this--he wasn't a planner at the best of times, and he was in no shape for last-minute stratagems. Even though the temperature hovered in the twenties, he was on fire. As he'd flown across the country, he'd imagined her as a beacon drawing him ever closer. Once he hit the tarmac and took his first breath of thin, bone-dry mountain air, the pull became tangible.
Yet he'd never met her. Three days earlier his mother had pressed a scrap of paper into his hand. On it was a name and a fragment of an address. Information she'd gleaned from a dream. The key to his future.
He stepped back and gave the house a dubious once-over. The sprawling behemoth was worlds different from the row house he'd grown up in, or the loft he lived in now. The faded pine wreath on the door, the basket of pinecones and deer antlers on the stoop struck him as exotically Western. The doormat said, "Bless this Mess." He stamped the snow off his feet, ran his hand through his hair, muttered "Fuck it," and rang the bell.
He heard the buzz, and on its heels, a furious yapping. Great, a dog.
"Quiet! No barks! No!"
A woman's voice, coming from deep inside the house. Was it her? He pricked his ears and caught a scuffling noise. Slippers on tile. She was on the other side of the door. The heat of her body radiated through the wood. He opened both his nostrils and sucked in her scent. She'd been eating popcorn, and some oily vanilla concoction covered her skin--hand lotion, no, bath oil. And beneath that ... Damn.
A little dizzy, he leaned his head against the door. His mother wasn't wrong.
The peephole turned dark. Alex straightened up for inspection. It seemed the moment to say something profound, but that didn't happen. "Hi. My name is Alexander Faustin."
As she answered, he paid more attention to the intriguing, throaty quality to her voice than what she said. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Please, I have an important message for Helena MacAllister. Am I speaking to her?"
"What kind of message?"
Alex put his eye to the peephole. He couldn't see her, but he could feel her and all her considerable powers of resistance, and was beginning to fear she would never open the damned door. But he checked his impatience and smiled at the little circle of glass, praying he oozed charm. It was hard to play suave when his nerves jumped in anticipation of seeing her. "It's good news, but it's awkward talking through the door. Will you come out?"
"Uh, hold on a sec." He heard her bellow, "Mike! Pause the movie! I'll be just a minute."
Alex pretended to cough to hide his grin. There was no one else in the house. His wife-to-be was clever, cautious...
And very cute in her fuzzy pink bathrobe. Her wet dark hair swung in a blunt line at her jaw. Good--he hated fishing hair out of his mouth. On one side it was tucked back, revealing a neat, pointed ear made for nibbling.
A low growl broke his train of thought. She held a dog under her arm, and it was snarling at him like a stuffed toy from hell. He raised his brow at it, and it began another volley of yaps.
She shouted over the noise. "I'm sorry, she's not usually like this." Her tone was apologetic, but her eyes were suspicious. She was wise enough to trust her dog.
"It's okay." Alex lifted his hand toward the dog's muzzle.
"Oh, don't do that!" she cried. "She might bite."
The dog wouldn't bite. Instead it sniffed his hand like crazy, having never smelled anything like him before. Alex caught its eyes and demanded submission. It calmed, and she put it down with a shrug.
"So what's this good news?" Suddenly at ease, she leaned her shoulder against the door frame, her pixie face alight with mischief. The foyer gleamed warm and gold behind her. All he wanted to do was come out of the cold and take her in his arms.
"Don't tell me I've won the lottery?" She leaned over the stoop and looked both directions. "Is Ed McMahon in the bushes?"
Alex swayed on his feet, overwhelmed by her presence. He'd hoped she'd be attractive, but attractive was a weak, sad word. She was...
"Are you okay?"
That was it. And still she waited for him to explain himself. Problem was his brain wasn't wired for talk anymore. All he could manage was her name. The three syllables rolled off his tongue like some old incantation. "Helena."
In response her pupils dilated, turning her blue eyes black. Her expression questioning. Curious.
Just as curious, he lifted his hand and brushed her cheek with his knuckles, then turned his hand over and cupped the side of her head, burying his fingers in her wet hair. Locking his eyes with hers, he thought on some level she had to understand who he was, what this meant. This was destiny.
Her pink mouth rounded in surprise, as if she'd just remembered something. There wasn't any fear in her. In fact, under his touch she let out a long exhale, her breath curling white in the air between them. Red velvet desire blanketed his brain. There would be time for explaining later.
"Helena, you are my only." No time for explaining at all. Not when he was falling into a vortex. He pulled her close, and she was there for him, her lips yielding, her body folding against his with a small moan. Soft, thick chenille bunched under his fingers.
She was the one. Definitely. Nobody else would taste so good. Hungry, he licked butter and popcorn salt from her lips. Blood roared in his ears. He clamped her head between his hands and plunged his tongue into her waiting mouth.
Her sweet scent drifted up from the collar of her robe, so pure he knew she was naked beneath it, there for the taking. Alex's vision went hazy. When she began to roll her hips against his erection in wicked, inviting circles, he lost all common sense. He wanted to consume, penetrate, possess this woman in every way possible, as soon as possible. Desperate to touch her skin, he yanked her robe open.
Awash in her fragrant heat, he staggered. They fell against the door frame. Still kissing her, he took the weight of her breasts in his hands. They fit his palms perfectly. Beneath his right hand her heart beat like a bird's wings. Had she known he was coming? Had she bathed to be sure that she would greet him all damp and soft?
Meanwhile, she'd found her way under his coat and was running an exploratory hand down the front of his trousers.
Holy mother. This is out of control.
He broke the kiss. They were within a zipper's length of public intercourse. Not that he usually had any problem with that. But this was different. Alex took a deep breath and fought to control himself.
Helena wasn't helping. He caught her hand just before it slipped inside his fly. Indolent, she leaned back, her robe wide open, her lips swollen, her eyes erotically unfocused. By all appearances, she'd been enthralled, but he hadn't done anything. Maybe they enthralled each other.
Making a lazy "mmm" noise, she rolled her head to one side and offered him her throat. Her perfect, unbroken skin shone pale gold in the porch light. It was an instinctive gesture of submission--and it made him forget all of his good intentions.
Yanking her to his chest he began to explore the length of her carotid artery. Using his teeth and tongue, he teased her with all the skill he could muster, alternating sucking kisses with little bites, going as far as he could without breaking her skin.
Helena purred with pleasure. He lifted her thigh, inviting her to straddle his knee. Peeling back the collar of her robe, he exposed the fluttering pulse above her collarbone. He nuzzled her throat, rubbing his face against her skin, his mouth open to pick up the scent of live blood coursing beneath the surface.
Helena gasped and clasped his head, clenching his hair in her fingers. The scent rising off her turned primal and lush. It made his nostrils flare and his saliva run. She was about to come. Alex couldn't repress a deep growl.
Dingdongdingdongdingdongdingdong. A terrible noise cut through the red haze. The doorbell. It took him a moment to figure out that Helena was leaning against the buzzer. He pulled her upright and the noise stopped. She began to thrash and shout, wild with desire. He could barely contain her in his arms.
"Beloved." Maybe he said it, maybe he only thought it, but he knew she understood. His mouth stretched open, his teeth raked her flesh.
Helena kneed him viciously, straight up between his legs. The pain dropped him to the ground. She retreated over the threshold. He scrambled after her on all fours. The door cracked against his skull.
"Ow!" He actually saw stars, just like in the cartoons. The dog was barking again.
Alex knelt for some time on the "Bless this Mess" doormat, one hand on his head, the other between his legs, moaning with the pain and thinking this would not happen to his brother Mikhail. Mikhail would have arrived at the door with a plan. And his other brother, Gregor--well, Gregor wouldn't let himself be beat up by a woman.
But within minutes of meeting his bride-to-be, Alex was on his knees, concussed and bellowing like a sick cow. Bull, rather. Former bull.
"Helena! You don't understand. I've come to marry you!"
"You'd better get out of here. I've already called the cops." Her voice came from above. Wincing in pain, Alex looked up. She was leaning out an upstairs window, her cell phone cupped to her ear. "I'm talking to 911. Oh. I'm not supposed to talk to him? Sorry. Well, he's tall, at least six feet, black hair. Yeah, tall, dark and handsome. I know, it is a shame. He's wearing an overcoat. I'm not sure how old he is. Maybe thirty? Said his name is Alexander Fast--Fastino?--something like that."
"Yeah, he's just kneeling on my porch. Making funny noises."
"Helena, call them off. Let's talk."
"Yeah, right, pervert. Like I'd get within ten feet of you without a cattle prod." She spoke to 911 again. "Yes, he came to the door, said he had a message for me and then attacked me."
"Attacked you? Oh, come on!"
"I think I hear sirens."
Alex had already heard them and knew how close they were. Of course, they might have sent a silent cruiser ahead. He considered firing up the rental car, but a pathetic chase through a strange city in a Chevy Cobalt would be the cherry on top of a failure of an evening. And vamps didn't do well in prison settings.
He'd have to go by his own power. Muttering to himself and all too aware of Helena watching him above, he went to his car and pulled out his rolling bag and laptop. The cops were almost there.
"We will marry, Helena MacAllister," he said in a parting salvo--a proud moment for his kind, to be sure. "You can count on it!"
Maybe he'd just immolate with the sunrise.