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chapter one Red Santiago crawled out of the dark tunnel straight into the jaws of hell. Something growled near her ear and the hair on the back of her neck rose. She swallowed hard, then chanced a glance over her shoulder. She saw Morgan Hunter and Demery Wilson frozen in place. They were staring at something behind her. Red followed their gaze and her heart stammered in her chest. She had never seen so many carnivores. Something primal rose inside her as the mixed pack of canids closed in around them, their jaws snapping in anticipation of an easy meal.
Morgan began to peel his clothes off. His movements were deceptively unhurried. Demery’s dark eyes took on a red glow and his fangs lengthened. Out of habit, Red reached for her laser pistol.
Before she could pull the weapon, Morgan shook his head. “We don’t want to give away our position.”
They’d removed their identi-chips so satellites couldn’t track them, then they’d slipped across the boundary fence that divided the republics from no-man’s-land. They’d done all this to remain undetected. And they’d succeeded so far. One shot from a laser pistol would change that.
Red cursed under her breath at her carelessness. She knew how the International Police Tactical Team operated and what guidelines they followed. As an officer with IPTT, it had been her job to enforce those rules.
But there were no rules here. Her tactical team training was useless. The sound of canid paws scrambling over the sand grated on her already frazzled nerves, leaving her edgy. Red flexed her hands, easing them away from the pistol. Why didn’t they just attack already?
Morgan was naked now, poised for the pack’s next move.
The largest canid, a coyote hybrid, stilled, sensing the change in its prey. Something in its bloodline had given it added size and darker coloring from the rest. Saliva dripped from its powerful jaws. It yipped, which in turn spurred the whole pack on. They all started baying. Starvation overrode the alpha’s naturally cautious nature as it broke away from the pack to attack.
Morgan shifted, his scream fracturing into a pained howl. His amber eyes gave off a predatory gold glow as talons sprouted from his fingertips and his canines lengthened. Blood painted the sand crimson as his bones broke and muscles reshaped. His hair thickened, along with the skin on his chest and abdomen, which now formed a protective covering for his vital organs. Standing on two legs, Morgan was more wolf than man.
He was already moving by the time Red glanced around to judge the distance of the pack closing in behind them. He’d targeted the alpha male, his challenge for supremacy clear.
Demery hissed a warning to a few of the coyotes, wolves, and wild dogs that’d gotten too close. He swiped at them, his movements graceful and swift, but they remained out of reach.
Morgan tackled the alpha, his teeth going for the coyote’s ruff. They tumbled upon contact, end over end. The hybrid was quicker. It leapt to its feet. Teeth bared, its head snapped back. Powerful jaws found Morgan’s arm and bit down— hard. Blood welled in the canid’s mouth as it shook its head, attempting to tear off bits of flesh. Morgan cried out, then slammed the heel of his palm down on the animal’s muzzle, trying to break its grip. Red could tell that despite the pain he had to be in, Morgan was trying not to hurt the starving canid.
The coyote released its hold, licking the blood and bits of flesh from its teeth as it did so. The hackles on its back rose higher and its tail stiffened as the alpha prepared for a second attack.
Pain seared Red’s hands as claws shot out of her fi ngertips, ejecting her short nails in the process. It couldn’t have hurt more had she been playing with razor blades. She screamed, drawing the alpha hybrid’s attention away from Morgan. He lunged, rolling the animal beneath him.
He placed his forearm over the alpha’s throat. The other hand held the coyote’s body to the ground. Morgan sunk his teeth into the animal’s neck. It stopped struggling. He held the coyote and growled, until its tail tucked between its legs. The hybrid exposed its abdomen and whimpered in defeat. Morgan slowly let the animal up. The coyote dropped its head and slunk away. The excited yipping stopped. The silence made the hair on Red’s arms stand on end. Was it over?
Morgan stood and made eye contact with each animal. In turn they ducked their heads and kept their gazes averted. A few tried to challenge him, but all it took was a rumbling growl from Morgan to bring them into line.
“That’s more like it,” Demery said. “Way to go, wolfman.”
Blood smeared his skin. Morgan could smell its coppery tang. The aroma filled his nostrils and stimulated his senses, nearly making him drunk with desire. His mouth watered for a taste. He knew it would be hot, sweet, and sticky. Morgan licked a blood drop from his bottom lip and his gut clenched. What was happening to him?
He knew without looking that his eyes were glowing. They did anytime the wolf came out to play. But would they still be gold or had they started turning red—thanks to the vampire blood Raphael Vega had given him. Morgan had almost been killed that night in Nuria, fighting his cousin Kane for the alpha position. If Raphael hadn’t come to his aid, Morgan had no doubt he would’ve died. But living came with a cost. One Morgan wasn’t sure he could pay.
He’d lived so many years with his wolf. Through war, pain, and triumph. The feral nature of the beast was as natural to him as breathing. Morgan didn’t know what he’d do if it went away. The wolf was what kept him bound to Gina, his little Red. If he lost that tie, then everything they’d sacrificed, everything they’d worked to protect would be for naught.
The thought that he might lose himself to the blood pulsing through his veins scared him more than he cared to admit. Without his wolf, who was he? There were no easy answers. Morgan would have to settle with knowing that for now he was still a wolf and Gina was still his mate. And he’d fight to his last breath to keep it that way.
He threw his head back and howled. The heart-pounding sound wasn’t animal and not quite human either. When he finished, the pack scattered into the darkness and his gaze fell upon Gina. Morgan’s nostrils fl ared and his cock began to rise.
“Come here.” His guttural voice raked the air, scoring the night.
Gina’s knees visibly quivered. She glanced over her shoulder at Demery.
“I’ll be waiting for you three dunes over. Make it fast,” the vamp said, grinning with more fang than usual. Demery hadn’t fought, but he appeared to be worked up thanks to the blood dripping down Morgan’s arm.
A growl rumbled out of Morgan’s chest. A warning and a promise, letting the vamp know he would fight to keep Gina and his blood. Demery’s dreadlocks shook as he laughed. Morgan watched the vamp go and didn’t stop until he’d disappeared over a dune.
“I said come here,” he repeated. This time his words weren’t nearly as garbled. Morgan’s ironclad control was gradually slipping back into place.
Gina hesitated, then slowly approached. Morgan’s gaze sharpened as he circled her, demanding her submission. He stuck his nose in her long, black hair and inhaled deeply. Under the dust and sand, he smelled warm, musky woman. His cock jumped at her quick intake of breath.
“Mine,” he said, sounding more like himself. “Now take your clothes off before I rip them from you.”
Gina’s fingers trembled as she unbuttoned her shirt. She wasn’t scared. Morgan would’ve smelled it had she been. No, fear wasn’t fueling her reaction to him. It was anticipation. Gina wanted him, almost as badly as he wanted her.
She pulled at the last two buttons and they popped off, dropping onto the ground to be swallowed by the sand. They’d barely had a chance to share a kiss much less do anything else, since Demery had been with them hiding out in the remains of Kane’s house for the past week.
But he wasn’t here now.
The tension thrumming between them created heat waves, electrifying their nerves, while ratcheting their need. Morgan’s breathing deepened and his muscles quivered. He was afraid to touch her for fear he’d ravish her.
Gina’s gaze locked on his mouth and she licked her lips, her hunger palpable.
Morgan shuddered. “Take off the rest,” he rumbled when she hesitated.
The air rushed out of his lungs as Morgan’s world narrowed to those luscious hard peaks hidden beneath a wisp of synth-material. One taste and he knew he’d be lost. He inhaled, catching the sweet scent of moisture gathering between her thighs as she seductively shucked her shirt and slipped her boots and pants off.
He hadn’t bothered to shift entirely back into his other form. Morgan remained perched somewhere in between the animal and the man. He tongued his long, sharp canines in anticipation. Morgan couldn’t wait to taste the delectable treat in front of him. By the way she was looking at him, Gina couldn’t wait either.
“Get on all fours.” He gently raked her with his claws. Gooseflesh rose on Gina’s skin. Morgan needed this connection, this bond. It was what kept him alive when Roark Montgomery had him wrongly imprisoned and later tried to kill him. It was why he willingly crossed into lawless no-man’s-land. And why he fought so hard to clear their names. “Please, Gina,” he begged, laying his heart bare.
Morgan waited for her to drop, his breathing ragged from restraining his feral nature. The second Gina’s knees hit the sand, he was on her. He pushed her onto her hands and swiftly entered her from behind. One thrust into Gina’s tight warmth and Morgan was home. The only home he’d ever need. It seemed like forever since he’d last lost himself in her body. Morgan trembled, caught between savage need and emotional overload.
Gina moaned. The sweet sound coaxed him, drove him on to claim her. There was nothing gentle about his taking, though. Morgan’s hips pounded her round bottom as he guided them toward hot, sensual bliss. He couldn’t seem to get deep enough. He wanted to crawl inside her until they were one heart, one being.
His claws gripped her trim waist firmly, but managed not to puncture her skin. Morgan brushed a kiss against her neck and felt his canines lengthen into fangs. He was too far gone to stop. Along with the intermingling of their juices, he could smell the blood coursing in her veins. Just one taste.
Morgan’s mouth began to water and revulsion fi lled him. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t bite her again. Gina’s delicious scent wafted in the air. Desire swamped him, demanding the ultimate release. Morgan might as well have been trying to hold back the moon. “Please forgive me.”
His gaze fastened on his mark at the curve of her neck. He began to tongue the spot, licking the salty sweat from her skin. Gently at first, then growing in fervor. Morgan needed to mark her again, reinforce his claim while he was still able. He kissed Gina once more and she quivered, her body clamping him tight. Morgan growled, then latched onto her shoulder, biting deep where he’d bitten her the first time they’d made love.
Gina mewed and her legs nearly gave out, but he held her up. He wasn’t done yet and neither was she. Morgan could feel the desire growing inside her. It throbbed in time with the pull of his mouth.
He rumbled deep in his chest, his rough tongue lapping at her tender flesh while his hips continued to piston. Skin slapped heated skin. Bonding two bodies. Repairing wounded souls.
A chorus of grunts and moans punctuated his movements as Morgan conquered Gina’s flesh and laid siege to her heart. His love deafened him to the world around them.
“Mine,” he ground out, pressing his lips to the side of her neck and drawing deep. “And I’m yours.”
“Always,” she said.
In the whirlwind of frenzied coupling, they mended their relationship, erasing all the pain that had come with the separation they’d experienced thanks to Roark Montgomery’s machinations. With Gina’s blessing, Morgan had been able to lay his past to rest, no longer haunted by the wife and child he’d lost in the last war.
Morgan reached under Gina’s body and stroked her sensitive flesh. By the third caress, she exploded on a long, drawn-out gasp, her body gripping his erection like a vise. His movements lost rhythm and became even more frantic as he rushed to follow her into oblivion. “I don’t deserve you.” The hot brush of his breath bathed her neck as tears silently fell from his eyes. He lost focus. Morgan jerked three more times, then he bellowed in release.
They both collapsed onto the sand. Morgan lay on top of her, licking the blood he’d drawn from biting her shoulder. His fingertips glided over her skin, loving her, memorizing every inch. He couldn’t believe she was really real and not something his desperate mind made up to soothe the beast. His claws were gone now. So was the extra hair and skin that had covered his body. He pressed his lips to her nape.
“I’m sorry I bit you. I promised myself I wouldn’t, but . . .” his voice trailed off. How could he explain to her that he couldn’t control himself? The excuse sounded lame in his mind.
Gina looked over her shoulder. “You know I love it when you bite me.”
Morgan frowned. She didn’t understand. How could she, when he barely understood it himself? “It’s different now. I’m not sure what’s happening to me. Raphael’s blood has changed me somehow. I’m a wolf, but my desires have altered.”
Her eyes crinkled at the corners. “You are still the man I love. I’ll take you in any form I can get you,” Gina said, her voice a rich husk.
Morgan didn’t deserve her. He’d meant what he had said. He was a hard man to love and he knew it. There was no denying his nature, but he was still grateful to have her. “I’ve missed you so much. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again after Roark locked me up,” he said, sliding off her.
The loss of warmth was acute.
Gina rolled over to meet his amber gaze. “Don’t ever leave me again.” She touched his cheek.
“I won’t.” Morgan pressed his lips to her palm.
“Promise?” she asked.
“On my life,” he said, tenderly brushing the hair off her forehead. He’d die before he would allow them to be separated again.
“Good.” She smiled. “Because I’ll kill you myself if you do.”
He laughed, a big belly of a sound that eased the last of the tension taking refuge in his shoulders. Morgan pulled her close. “I wish we could stay here like this forever.”
Gina snuggled against him. “Me, too.”
“But I doubt Demery will wait for us much longer and we don’t want to lose the cover of night.”
“Are you guys about done?” Demery called out from nearby as if on cue. “I’d like to walk for a few hours before we make camp.”
He didn’t sound three dunes away. If the shifting sand was any indication, he was on the other side of the dune they were lying on. Morgan tried not to smile.
“You better have just walked back,” Gina warned. She gave a quick look around. “Or I’m going to kick your ass.”
Demery was silent.
Morgan chuckled and began to gather his clothes. He slipped on his pants, then picked up Gina’s clothes and handed them to her.
“Are you two coming or do I have to come over there and get you?” Demery asked, amusement in his voice.
“He wouldn’t dare.” Gina’s eyes widened as she looked at Morgan.
He grinned. “I learned a long time ago never to encourage a vampire.” Excerpted from Crimson by Toni Allardice.
Copyright © 2009 by Toni Allardice.
Published in November 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.