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That was all Sergeant Brett Cooper had time for when the headlights of his cruiser speared into the figure who seemed to have dropped out of the December night sky. She froze, caught like a deer in the swath of light, and Brett yanked the cruiser's wheel.
The black-and-white fishtailed wildly on the frost-rimmed dirt road. Brett had to employ every skill learned during his eleven years with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to keep the squad car from skidding into one of the bur oaks crowding the narrow country road. Cursing, he pumped the brakes and brought the Crown Vic to a lurching halt.
His muscles had gone wire tight under the bulletproof vest he hadn't had time to shed since coming off shift. Rolling his shoulders to unkink them, he aimed the cruiser's powerful side spot at the woman now lurching toward the patrol car. She threw up an arm to block the vicious beam, but not before Brett registered the essentials to call in a report if necessary.
Female, Caucasian or possibly Hispanic. No blood or visible signs of injury. Hair, dark red, long and wavy. Weight, approximately one-twenty. Age, twenty-two to twenty-four. Height, five-seven or -eight, although some of those inches were due to her spike-heeled boots.
The knee-high boots were black, he noted with a cop's precision, as were her thigh-hugging leggings and the turtleneck sweater she wore under a silvery fox-fur vest. Perfect get-up for a cat burglar, except for the expensive vest. And the fact that there wasn't a house or a barn worth robbing within a thirty-mile radius.
Her shout carried clearly on the frigid air. Weaving from side to side, she shielded her eyes with her bent elbow and stumbled toward the squad car.
"Thurn that thing awf."
The erratic movements and slurred speech made Brett roll his eyes. Not a wise move, given that his lids felt as though they'd been scraped with industrial-grade sandpaper.
"Great!" he muttered in disgust as he grabbed his flat-brimmed Smokey the Bear hat from the passenger seat and settled it with the chin strap at the back of his head. "Just friggin' great!"
Six days and nights on a statewide manhunt for the murdering bastard Brett had helped put behind bars five years ago. Another twenty-two hours pulling a double shift so his pal Dave could spend Christmas weekend with his family. To make matters worse, an Arctic blast had swept in early this afternoon, icing the roads and causing countless pileups. Now, less than two miles from his cabin and the sleep he craved, Brett had to run into a probable Drunk and Disorderly.
He kept an eye on the D&D as he exited his vehicle. He could have her on the ground in a heartbeat if necessary. She didn't look tough or belligerent, though. Only stoned.
"Stop right there, ma'am."
"Put both hands up where I can see them, please."
Her right arm pushed into the air. Her bent left arm went up, as well, but quickly dropped again.
"I can't put my hanth up," she whined, swaying back and forth like one of those dashboard bobble toys. "The light ith too bright."
Christ! The woman was so spaced-out she could hardly stand. Or sick. Her face was pale and white, almost translucent in the harsh glare of the spot.
"Turn away from the light," Brett instructed, "but keep your hands where I can see them."
The half turn almost proved too much for her. The needle-sharp heel of her boot caught in a rut and she rolled like a drunken sailor.
"Okay, ma'am," Brett said when she'd regained her balance. "You want to tell me what you're doing out here on a deserted dirt road at 3:00 a.m.?"
She glanced from side to side. Her face took on an expression of astonishment, as if she was noticing the bare trees and dark, empty road for the first time.
"I, um, must be loth."
"Where's your car?"
When she glanced around again, baffled, Brett swallowed an impatient sigh. He'd better run her, see if she'd reported a stolen vehicle. He'd also check to see if she had any priors or outstanding warrants. Both were a distinct possibility if this was a chronic condition.
"Do you have ID on you?"
Lips pursed in concentration, she patted the front of her fur vest.
"I don't think so."
Her hands went south, and Brett tracked their movement closely. His interest was purely professional, of course. He had to make sure she didn't reach under the vest and pull out a concealed weapon. But he was only human. Watching her palms slither over slender hips and thighs did a number on his concentration.
"Nope," she announced. "No ID."
"What's your name?"
"Delilah." She thought hard for several seconds before breaking into a brilliant smile. "Wentworth. Delilah Wentworth."
Whoa! Without the smile she was a class-A looker. With it, she damned near lit up the dark December sky.
"Where do you live, Ms. Wentworth?"
"I know that one!"
The force of her excitement made her sway so that Brett had to jump forward and catch her arm to keep her from toppling over.
"Denver." She beamed up at him. "I live in Denver."
He needed more than a name and a state to run her, but her face went blank when he asked for a social security number.
"Date of birth, then."
"May thixth. Eighteen eighty-eight."
He made the mental correction. A DOB of May 1988 would put her age at twenty. Younger than he'd estimated, and under the age for legal consumption.
"How much have you had to drink tonight?"
"I haven't. Drunk, I mean." She dropped her gaze to a spot just below Brett's chin. "I need to, though," she murmured. "I'm thoooo thirsty."
"What did you take?"
"Are you on drugs?" he asked patiently. "Or medication?"
"Yeth! The dentith shot me full of something."
"I chipped a fang. On Christmath weekend!" Her auburn brows snapped together in a scowl. "You ever try to find a dentith during the holidath?"
"Ith not easy." She stabbed a forefinger in the direction of her left cheek and glared at Brett, as if her dental problems were his fault. "I don't know what he gave me, but the whole side of my face ith numb."
That explained the slurred speech and dilated pupils, but not what she was doing out here, alone and on foot, miles from the nearest town.
Brett swallowed a grunt. Sleep would have to wait another three or four hours while he drove the woman back to the county jail.
He could take her to the nearest motel and let her sleep it off. It was Christmas weekend, after all. And he was so tired his bones ached. He looked her over once again and decided to give both her and himself a break.
"I'm going to drive you into town and get you a motel room. But before I put you in the squad car, I have to do a cursory pat-down. You're not under arrest," he assured her when she blinked at him, wide-eyed. "I just need to make sure you don't have a weapon on you."
Not likely, given those hip- and thigh-hugging pants. But the furry vest might have an inner pocket and the knee-high boots could conceal a knife.
"Put your hands on the hood of the squad car, please."
She wobbled the last few steps to the Crown Vic. When she leaned forward to plant her palms on the hood, her vest rode up to display a nice, trim rear.
Brett eyed it appreciatively but was careful to follow procedures for patting down a female. He used only the back of his hand on her upper torso. He had to slide his palms down her thighs and calves, however, to check inside the boots. He was pretty sure the search didn't take longer than absolutely necessary.
"All right, Ms. Wentworth, let's get you in the car."
She pushed off the hood and tried to swing around, but her ridiculous boots tripped her up again.
Brett caught her. Again. This time, though, her knees gave out completely and he had to scoop her into his arms to keep her from collapsing in a disjointed heap.
Her head lolled back. He could see the thin, golden-brown rim of her irises surrounding huge pupils. Whatever the dentist had pumped into her was powerful stuff.
Brett couldn't pull his eyes from hers. The pupils were so deep, almost mesmerizing in their intensity. He felt as though he was falling into their dark, compelling depths when her mouth curved in a slow smile.
"I'm thoo thirsty," she said again in a throaty murmur that kicked up his pulse. "I had just begun to feed when I chipped my fang."
She slicked her tongue to one corner of her lip. Brett's mouth went bone-dry as he followed its progress.
"May I drink from you?"
His heart hammered against his Kevlar vest. The urge to crush his mouth down on hers exploded inside his belly. He fought it, but the effort made him dizzy.
"Yeah, sure. I've, uh, got some bottled water in the squad car."
He hefted her higher in his arms and started around the hood. Before he'd taken two steps, she'd nuzzled her face against his neck. An instant later, something sharp sank into his throat.
Eleven years on the force had conditioned Brett to react to any situation with lightning reflexes. He knew he could take this woman to the ground, yank her arms behind her back and cuff her before she drew another breath. Yet he didn't move, didn't blink, didn't so much as tighten a muscle.
The sensations spreading through him were like nothing he'd ever experienced before. They came in waves, each one stronger and faster than the next. His weariness evaporated, and pleasure rolled over his body.
The woman in his arms shifted, pressing closer, and pleasure became desire. Hot, heavy, urgent. Within seconds he was rock hard and aching below his Sam Browne belt. Then, just when the erotic sensations grew so intense they verged on pain, she drew her head back.
Her breath steamed on the cold night air. His came hard and fast. Panting, he gripped her tighter while the dark, swirling haze behind his eyes cleared a little. Just a little. Barely enough to see her lick a trickle of red from a two-inch-long incisor.
"You weren't kidding." He shook his head, fighting to clear the fog. "You really do have fangs."
Her only answer was a smile so slow and incredibly sensual that Brett had to battle its erotic pull. Summoning every ounce of strength he possessed, he scowled down at the face turned up to his.
"Lady, you don't need a regular dentist. You need an orthodontist. A good one."
The sharp comment pierced Delilah's sensual satisfaction. Sated from her feeding, she blinked at the man frowning down at her.
Uh-oh. She recognized the wariness in his blue eyes. And the edge to his voice. She should. She'd encountered both often enough in the past century. Sighing, she struggled to swim out of her medicinal soup, amplified now by the hot rush of pleasure this man had given her.
She hadn't drunk deeply. Her blasted tooth was still too sore. She'd be a long time forgiving the idiot who'd eagerly offered his throat, then whipped his head around to see what was happening at precisely the wrong moment! Instead of sinking her teeth into soft, warm flesh, she'd clamped down on his jawbone and broken off the tip of her fang.
She didn't understand why the tooth hadn't healed itself. The rest of her recovered almost instantly from any injury. The only rationale she could come up with was that her retractable fangs had emerged after she'd been turned. They weren't part of the body she'd inhabited as a human. Hence, they didn't heal as quickly as her once-living and now-undead parts.
Whatever the reason, she'd had the devil's own time getting the stupid fang fixed. The first dentist had tripped over his own feet trying to get away when she explained that her chipped incisor wouldn't emerge unless she scented fresh blood. She'd left him passed out on the floor of his office.
The second dentist had shut down his office at noon so he and his staff could party. Not surprising, given that today was the start of the long Christmas weekend. Delilah had used her not inconsiderable powers of persuasion to convince him to reopen for business.