FOR MY READERS
BLAZE MCGUIRE PULLED her waist-length red hair into a high ponytail at the back of her head and contemplated the fact that she was going to die tonight—and it was of her own choosing. She was going to war with the Hallahan brothers and their mobster boss. They didn’t know it yet, but they would be walking right into hell. They thought they were going to have everything their own way, but they were wrong. Very wrong. She was a woman. She was young. They dismissed her as no threat to them. And in that they were making a very, very big mistake.
Her hair wasn’t just red hair, it was red. Her hair had been that vivid, insane color of red since the day she was born. Hence the name her father had given her, staring down at his newborn daughter who was already giving the doctors hell for dragging her out of her safe little world, kicking and screaming into the cold light, her hair blazing along with her lungs—and that should have given them a clue what they were buying when they murdered her father.
Most people didn’t know when they were going to die, she mused as she rigged the explosives on the door to blow, the charge precise, sending anyone in front of it outward with little blowback into her beloved bar, hopefully leaving it intact. Still, if the charge didn’t kill them all before they got inside, she would give up the bar’s interior in order to take the battle to them. Tonight, the four Hallahan brothers were going to come for her, and she would take as many of them with her as possible.
Sean McGuire had been a good man. A good neighbor. An even better father. The bar was successful because he had a reputation for being honest and was a good listener, because he genuinely cared about his customers, his neighbors and especially his daughter.
He knew everyone by name. He laughed with them. He attended funerals when they lost someone. He got them home safely at night if they drank too much. He cut off the ones that were spending too much and needed to be home with their families. He was just a good man. A good man some mobsters had pulled out of the bar and beat to death because he wouldn’t sign his establishment—the one that had been in the family for two—now three—generations over to them.
Sean had also served in the U.S. Marines and he knew his way around weapons, especially the making of bombs. He was a specialist in the field, so much so that he actually had helped out the local bomb squad the three times they’d gotten calls, because what he knew about explosives, few others did—and what he knew, he taught his daughter.
Blaze had been given an unusual education and she’d loved every minute of it. Her father made it clear he loved her and was always proud of her, and he’d always been patient with her, but he believed in teaching his daughter everything he would have taught his son. He was patient, but he didn’t make it easy because she was a girl. She was required to do everything—and learn everything—he knew about defense and offense. She’d soaked up the training.
It had always been the two of them, Sean and Blaze, after her mother left. Truthfully, she remembered her mother as a disconnected woman who was never happy—when she could remember her, and that wasn’t often. Her mother left when she was four. They’d never done one single thing together. Not one. She couldn’t even recall her mother holding her. It had always been her father.
Sean had been a boxer, a mixed martial arts cage fighter, and he enjoyed the lifestyle. He had always insisted his daughter work out with him. She had—since the time she was two. She grew up boxing her father. Learning martial arts. Street fighting. She learned to fall properly, and she knew all about joints and pressure points. More, Sean hadn’t neglected teaching her how to shoot or to use a knife. He certainly hadn’t neglected her training when it came to explosives.
Later, when she was ten, Emeline Sanchez came into their lives. Emeline lived mostly on the street, shuffled from one home to another, but mostly on the street. Emeline became a family member and spent a great deal of time crawling in Blaze’s bedroom window from the fire escape and sleeping inside with her. Sean pretended he didn’t know. Emeline, thankfully, was away from all of this and in Europe, where Sean had sent her to protect her. Blaze had called her, of course, but told her to stay where no one could harm her.
Blaze smiled grimly to herself as she laid out a grid pattern on the floor of the bar and then paused to glance out the window, looking down the street. This had once been a good, decent neighborhood, a place she had called home for twenty-four years. She’d grown up in the apartment over the bar. It was a big building, right on the corner, prime property. The building and three others on either side had been in their family for generations. Her family had taken good care of them and never sold, not even when property values had soared.
Her eyes narrowed as she returned her attention to the delicate job of setting wires throughout the bar. Low. Mid-calf. Thigh. Hip. She crisscrossed them, building a web. Yeah. They should have known all about that redheaded baby when they dragged her father out of his own bar and beat him to death. They’d broken nearly every bone in his body before they killed him. She knew, because the ME had told her.
Rage welled up. Swirled in her belly. Deep. So deep she knew she’d never get it out. She knew why they’d broken his bones. She’d heard about the “persuading” technique from a few of the other business owners. The mobsters wanted properties signed over to them. Her father had already signed his property over to her. She owned the bar. They’d gone after the wrong person. And now they were coming for her because she’d sent them an invitation. Not to buy her out, but to war.
She would have signed over the bar in a heartbeat to them if they’d called her and told her they had her father. They thought it was important to teach the neighborhood businesses a lesson: what they wanted—they got. They weren’t going to get what they wanted, not even after they killed her. She’d made certain of that. They wouldn’t touch Emeline, either. They wouldn’t get to harm the last person in the world she loved.
Blaze pressed her fingers to her eyes to stop the burning. She hadn’t slept, not in days, not since she’d come home to find her father gone, the door to the bar open and blood on the floor. She’d been frantic, running through the streets like a maniac, calling the cops repeatedly only to be told they couldn’t do anything for twenty-four hours, but they’d send someone by. They hadn’t. She’d sat alone in the apartment over the bar, arms around her knees, rocking herself, trying to tell herself that her father was strong and he knew how to take care of himself, but there was so much blood.
She taped a knife under the table closest to the stairs. If she lived through the initial attack, she would have to have an exit plan. She needed to rig the stairs. If she got to the apartment—and she knew the chances were slim to none—she could go out the fire escape and up to the roof. She did that often. She’d been doing that with Emmy since she was ten years old. Once on the roof, she could choose any direction. She would stash a couple of weapons up there as well.
Two factions of mobsters had moved into the neighborhood, the first and the most brutal one, a year and a half earlier. Four brothers—Irish, by the look of them, but Sean hadn’t known them and he knew every Irishman in the city—who went by the name of Hallahan. The four were always the front men for one of the crime lords, with their grim faces and their ugly demands, and all four were quick to dirty, extreme violence. And they owned the cops. The police, who had always spent evenings and sometimes days in the bar playing pool, had stopped coming around. She knew they worked for a man by the name of Reginald Coonan. Their boss always stayed in the shadows, but he liked blood, and his men liked violence.
A few weeks earlier, a tall, extremely good-looking man in a business suit came by the bar and handed a business card to her father. It had a number printed on it, nothing else. The man was soft spoken and simply told them if they needed protection, to call that number and someone would come. She found it significant that her father hadn’t thrown the card away, even though they both thought this was another crime lord intending to take Coonan’s territory from him. Sean had never discussed the incident with her, but he kept the business card safe, right by the phone.
Blaze had never moved the card. But she’d looked at it numerous times. She’d done a little investigating, and it hadn’t been easy to uncover the identities of any of the mobsters. She knew now the four Irish brothers. Each of them had grown up in Chicago and had moved to her city. The Hallahans were all short, muscular and very scary. They had come here because it had gotten a little too hot for them where they’d grown up and, she suspected, because Reginald Coonan, their boss, had moved from Chicago as well.
She had very little on the other mob faction. The man that had come so silently into the bar was named Tariq Asenguard. He owned a dance club—an extremely popular one in the neighborhood. He was quiet, only came out at night and owned a very kick-ass estate edging the water. The entire place was fenced—and he had multiple acres, a gatehouse and a boat. She didn’t know where he’d come from, and every avenue she’d tried to find out more had been shut down.
Everyone knew he had money—lots of it. He was also a very scary man. He could take over a room just by walking into it. She had heard mixed reviews about him. Half the people who had encounters with him thought he was the devil. The other half was certain he was a saint.
He had a partner. A man by the name of Maksim Volkov, whom no one knew anything about. He was the silent partner. He owned the property bordering Tariq Asenguard’s estate, but few ever saw him. He was partners with Asenguard in the dance club. Asenguard, who was there often, was clearly the face of the club, but few actually ever saw Volkov. There was something about his name that made Blaze shiver—and she wasn’t given to flights of fantasy. Tariq Asenguard was definitely a badass, but he was cool about it. Maksim Volkov was a question mark. She knew others worked for them, but it didn’t matter now. She didn’t care. They hadn’t murdered her father, so therefore, she was throwing in with them. After she was dead.
Methodically, Blaze positioned weapons throughout the room and around the bar, and then practiced getting to them. She didn’t want to hesitate. She’d need every second she could get. If nothing else, she wanted to take the Hallahans with her when she went. She felt calm. Nerves would come later. And then the kick of adrenaline.
She glanced at her watch. Outside, light was beginning to fade. The streetlights wouldn’t come on. Someone had shattered the old-fashioned gas-looking lights that lent character to the streets. The four brothers almost always came at night. She knew they didn’t care if anyone saw their faces and knew who they were. Everyone was far too intimidated by them to come forward.
She just plain wasn’t the come-forward-and-testify type, not when she didn’t believe for one moment that there would be a conviction. These men had killed her father. They’d tortured him first and then they’d killed him and thrown his broken body out of a moving car, in front of the bar like trash, right at her feet. She hadn’t seen them torture or kill Sean, only throw his body at her.
The brothers had timed it just right, coming into the bar at closing when Sean was standing just inside the door. The ME said he found Taser marks, puncture wounds where her father had been taken down, not by one Taser, but by four. The moment they had incapacitated him, they had struck brutally, leaving behind a good amount of blood. It had been Blaze who came home to find the bar unlocked, blood on the floor and her father missing. Even with the blood, the police had done nothing. They promised to send someone around to take a report, but no one showed up. That hadn’t surprised her. The cops had all but abandoned her neighborhood and everyone in it.
Blaze looked around the bar. The building—and the bar—was over a hundred years old. She didn’t understand why the mobsters spared some of the properties and went after others. Their takeovers seemed random. She’d tried to put together a pattern, but she couldn’t find one. It wasn’t the businesses they wanted, because after they acquired property, they never opened the business again. The dry cleaner’s six doors down was closed. The lovely little grocery store on the opposite corner remained closed, forcing all the residents to go out of their neighborhood to get food.
She made her way up the stairs, leaving a trail of weapons. She didn’t believe she would ever get to them, but still, she had been taught to plan for every contingency, and living was one of them. The apartment where she’d grown up was large. She loved it. It had been home all her life.
Home. Her father had done that. Given that to her. He laughed a lot. His eyes lit up when he laughed. So many times he’d whirled her around the living room floor, singing at the top of his lungs, making her laugh with him. He lived life large and he’d wanted her to do the same.
She knew her father dated women, but he never brought them home. She asked him a million times why he didn’t remarry, because she was always afraid if she found someone he would be lonely, and she didn’t want her father ever to be lonely. Sean simply told her there was no point in settling. It was either the right one or no one. He’d learned that lesson the hard way and he hadn’t found the right one, but he was still looking.
She had always wanted that for him. Wanted someone else to love him the way she did, but he’d never let anyone other than Emeline fully into their lives, and maybe that was what made her the same way. She dated, but she never gave herself to anyone, because she knew it wasn’t the one. Maybe there wasn’t really the perfect one. The right one. She’d never know now because she was going to die tonight.
She stashed a go bag with clothes and money on the roof by the fire escape, tucked out of sight. Two more guns and that was it. She was more than ready for war. She stood on the roof for a few minutes just looking out over her neighborhood, remembering the sound of laughter. There had always been the murmur of voices and the sound of laughter. Now there was just . . . silence.
Blaze sighed and made her way back down the stairs to the bar. It was a beautiful bar, all curved mahogany. Gleaming dark wood. The long mirrors and bottles and glasses stacked neatly. She was a good bartender. Fast. Efficient. Flashy. She could flip the bottles and do tricks with the best of them, and some nights her customers called for that. Her father would stand back, shaking his head and laughing, but his eyes were always alive with pride in her.
She’d nudge him out of the way with her hip, tell him, “Let me show you how it’s done, old man,” and perform a few outrageous tricks, getting the customers fired up. When she did that, they always had a spectacular night. It brought in crowds outside of their neighborhood, so the bar was nearly always full. They didn’t lack for money. Still, the mobsters who had murdered her father weren’t after the money. They wanted her home. The property. And they were never going to get it, not even after she was dead.
She caught up the phone and dialed the number on the business card, and then idly tapped the edge of the card on the surface of the bar while she waited as the phone rang. Two rings only.
“Talk to me.” The voice was soft. Male. Scary beautiful. Just plain scary. Definitely not the same man who had come by the bar and left his card. This man had an accent she couldn’t place. He sounded dangerous, like a man who didn’t have to raise his voice to command a room. Like a man you never—ever—wanted to cross.
“I’m Blaze McGuire. Someone with this number came by a couple of weeks ago. The Hallahan brothers killed my father and they’re coming for me. An envelope containing the deeds to the properties will be sent to you on my death. Tariq Asenguard and Maksim Volkov will inherit. You can deal with what’s left of the Hallahans after tonight.”
There was a small silence, and then that voice whispered into her ear. Low. Commanding. “Get. The. Hell. Out. Of. There. Now.”
She froze, her fingers curling around the phone. She felt every single word resonate right through her body. He was good with that voice. Even through the phone she wanted to obey him, and she wasn’t all that good at obeying anyone—not even Sean sometimes.
“Can’t do that,” she said softly. “I’m going to die tonight and they’re going to pay. If they don’t get inside, and I’m gone, be careful. The entire bar is rigged to blow. One wrong step and you’re dead. In the envelope you’ll receive instructions for disarming everything. Where you can safely step and what to avoid. How to get through the maze.”
“Blaze. Get. Out.”
He said her name as if he knew her. Intimately. As if he had the right to be worried about her. Protect her. As if she belonged to him. Blaze was a name that, to her, didn’t sound feminine. He made it that way, his accent caressing the name, making it something altogether different.
Her tongue touched her upper lip. Her breath caught in her lungs. She had to fight the pull of his voice.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “And you don’t need to. I have to do this. They aren’t going to get away with this.”
“No, sweetheart, they are not, but this is not the way to do it. Get out of there and wait for us. We are on the way.”
The way his voice moved over her body, stroking like a caress, rasping like a tongue, yet still commanded, sent a chill down her spine. More than anything she wanted to obey. Not because she was afraid of dying, but because the note of command in his voice was affecting her in ways she didn’t understand.
“Not going to happen,” she whispered, her heart pounding. She had the feeling that he was on the move and that he was moving fast. “They killed my father.”
“I know, draga mea.” His voice was even softer. More persuasive. Sliding into her mind so she felt warmth where there was darkness and cold. Where there was rage. Where she had to keep a hold of that rage and not allow whatever was in his voice to warm that cold. “We will handle this for you, and these men will pay. Get to safety. We are on our way.”
She pressed her hand hard to her heart. It was beating far too fast. Pounding. Her mouth had gone dry. Even her head hurt, as if by defying him, her physical body protested. It didn’t make sense to her. She’d always been her own person, able to stand up to anyone. She didn’t want to talk to him anymore, but she couldn’t pry her fingers loose from the phone. She just stood there, one hip to the bar because it was holding her up. Her body trembled when she hadn’t been trembling faced with certain death.
“I-I . . .” She found herself stammering. All she had to do was put the phone down, but she couldn’t. Her fingers were locked around it.
“You do not want your beautiful bar blown all to hell,” his voice continued to whisper in her ear. “Our way is so much better. You will continue to have your property. Your home. The neighborhood will be rid of a couple more of the monsters.”
So soft. So intimate. As if they were in bed together. Tangled up. Arms and legs. She could almost feel him moving in her. That intimate. And she couldn’t drop the phone. She should. But she couldn’t. She was mesmerized by his voice. She stared out the large window that took up nearly one entire wall. On the other side of the window were thick iron bars. She’d cried when they’d had to install them. She’d lived there most of her life in complete freedom, and then someone somewhere made the decision to ruin their neighborhood.
“People are dying.”
“I know, draga mea. We will stop them, but giving them your life is giving them another victory.”
“They killed my father.” The words broke from her. She hadn’t cried. She’d refused to cry, not even when she’d told Emeline. Not until after. Not until the men who killed him were dead. “They broke him into pieces and then they killed him.”
“I know, inimmea,” he whispered.
She had no idea what language he spoke, only that he spoke it with the most intimate accent possible. She didn’t dare look away from the window or she would have closed her eyes. To hold his voice to her. Wishing she had known him before she was a stone inside. Before her smoldering fire had grown into a wildfire burning out of control, for vengeance.
“Let us handle this. It is what we do.”
“After.” She tilted her chin. Straightened her shoulders. “You handle them after.” She forced her fingers to loosen their death grip on the phone. His voice was so mesmerizing, so hypnotic, she could almost believe he was a dark sorcerer bent on controlling her through his voice alone. But she wasn’t given to flights of fantasy. She had been raised to deal with any issue, and the murder of her father was personal. “After,” she whispered again. “You deal with them after.”
“Wait. Blaze. Wait for me.”
His voice. That voice. It seemed to be inside her. Inside her head. Stroking her from the inside out. She had always relied on herself or her father. Sean had taught her that. Given her that confidence. But his voice and the way it seemed to be inside her head made her feel as if without him, she wasn’t Blaze anymore. She was adrift.
“At least do that for me. Go up into the apartment. I’m about four minutes out. We can deal with them together. You go upstairs. I will come to you from the roof after we get rid of them, and we will make a plan. Together.”
Blaze closed her eyes and forced her numb fingers to work. She hung up. The moment she did, she felt sick. More, her head hurt. Not a little bit, but pounding, as if by hanging up, something inside her got left behind and set off little jackhammers tripping in her skull. She pressed a hand to her knotted belly and picked up one of the guns lying on the bar. Her hand shook and that shocked her.
She had absolute resolve when it came to bringing justice to her father’s murderers. Of course she was afraid. No one wanted to die. But she was confident. And utterly committed to her cause. Still, her hand shook when it never had before. That was how much his voice had shaken her.
A slow heat curled in the pit of her stomach, and a small shiver went down her spine. She would have liked to have met the owner of that voice. Then again, maybe not. She talked with men all the time, the bar separating them. She could laugh and flirt and know there was that boundary no one crossed. His voice had crossed it.
She slammed the magazine into her weapon and turned her attention toward the bar-covered window. She saw the flash of headlights as the car raced down the street toward her property, and she knew instantly it was them—the Hallahans. They had come. Her stomach settled. Adrenaline began to pump. She took a few deep breaths as the big SUV slammed into the sidewalk and screeched to a halt. All four doors popped open and the men spilled out.
She could see them all clearly, even in the waning light, because she’d changed the lightbulbs outside the bar to illuminate the sidewalk. She’d used a high-wattage bulb, uncaring of what the electricity would cost. She wasn’t going to be around to pay it. She studied them, these men—no, monsters—who had beat her father to death. They’d broken his bones on purpose to torture him. They could have called her, but they hadn’t. They’d enjoyed hurting him.
She didn’t take her eyes from the window, watching them come up the sidewalk, moving with confidence, their beefy frames rolling side to side as they moved together to approach the bar.
Everything went silent. Time tunneled, as it often did when a fight was close. Her attention focused on the door. She became aware of her heart beating. Each separate beat. Each pulse. The ebb and flow of her blood as it rushed through her veins. Everything around her went still. Utterly still. She didn’t hear insects. She didn’t hear traffic. There were no solid footsteps as the men with their steel-toed boots came closer. There was only Blaze and the gun in her hand.
Her hand was rock steady now, and she took a slow breath, watching the window, keeping an eye on the door handle of the bar. If they touched that, if they opened the door, it would set off the charge.
Without warning, the Hallahans backed up, moving toward their car, all four of them. Blaze took a step forward, her body hitting the bar. She shook her head. They couldn’t leave. She moved quickly around the bar and stopped dead, looking at the web of wiring. The entire room was a trap. She would have to spend an hour dismantling everything. What had tipped them off? They hadn’t even gotten close to the entrance. Damn. Damn. Damn.
CURSING, BLAZE RUSHED up the stairs, automatic cradled in her arms. She raced through the apartment for the fire escape. Slinging the weapon across her back, she climbed fast and made it to the roof before the SUV with the Hallahans in it was all the way down the street. It was moving fast, but still, as she leaned out over the thick cement wall that formed the railing, she counted all four of them inside the vehicle.
She closed her eyes briefly. She was going to have to take the fight to them, on their turf. Never a good idea. In the meantime, she couldn’t leave her bar rigged with explosives. If somehow, someone innocently found an entry point, it could be very bad. She sagged against the low wall and slowly pulled the gun from around her neck.
All that preparation and now she would have to start all over. She knew where the Hallahans holed up. They owned a strip joint just a few blocks over. Well, they didn’t own it. Their boss owned it. The faceless man who called himself Reginald Coonan. There were no pictures of Coonan. None at all. He owned a significant amount of property in her neighborhood as well as a few buildings between her neighborhood and the one where the strip club was located.
There were no properties in residential areas listed as belonging to either the Hallahans or Reginald Coonan, which meant she was going to have to work a lot harder to get to them. She’d start with the club Coonan owned, but she had no idea where they actually lived. She bit out a few more curses and kept staring down the empty street. Nothing moved. “Damn it,” she said aloud as she turned back toward the fire escape to climb back down to her apartment entrance. “Just damn it.”
Going to the mobsters’ lair would be really dangerous and would call for completely different tactics. She didn’t want anyone innocent to get hurt, especially the dancers and employees at the club. She couldn’t imagine that the Hallahans treated the strippers with respect and would mind if the dancers were caught in a cross fire.
She removed the magazine from her weapon and tossed it on the kitchen table. She had the blueprints for the club. It hadn’t even been that difficult to get them. There was an apartment over it, like she had over the bar, but they didn’t stay there. They only used it to take their women. So where did the Hallahans actually reside? She would have to do a little surveillance and follow them, find a way to take the war to them without endangering innocents.
With resignation, Blaze started down the stairs to the bar. She had a lot of work to do to remove all the traps and explosives she had rigged. She gathered up the weapons she had placed on the curved stairway and made her way to the bar. She’d taken two steps in when arms came around her, large male hands removing the guns.
Blaze whirled around, hands up, ready to defend herself, heart beating wildly, shocked that anyone could have penetrated the bar without blowing themselves up. Shocked that she hadn’t heard a sound, or sensed a presence. The man facing her was already a distance away, and she hadn’t seen or heard him move. He was utterly still, his arms relaxed at his sides, the guns loosely in his hands.
She drew in a breath, knowing, without him speaking, exactly who he was. This man had to be Tariq Asenguard’s silent partner. She’d never seen a more handsome man, not in the traditional sense of handsome. He was too rough for that. But he was undoubtedly sexy and all masculine. His shoulders were set wide. His hair was as black as night and long. He had it pulled back and secured behind his head. That wasn’t why she took a step back. Away from him. She wasn’t a coward. She really wasn’t. But this man wasn’t just dangerous. He was terrifying. His eyes were absolutely the blackest—and the coldest—eyes she’d ever seen in her life. There was no expression on his face at all. He was remote. Removed. Ice-cold.
His gaze moved over her and left behind a chill. He didn’t miss anything. He took his time, still, not moving a muscle, yet conveying a readiness to deal with anything. All with no expression.
She knew he wasn’t in the least bit like the Hallahans. They enjoyed violence. This man didn’t enjoy anything at all. He was too removed from it. Too removed from humanity. He didn’t seem capable of emotions. He would explode into violence, but he would do it all without even the slightest hint of feeling.
Time slowed down. Tunneled. Blaze couldn’t breathe for a moment, taking another step back—toward the bar. She let her gaze shift, just for a moment, to the room. The grid was gone. Something that would take her an hour or so to unravel, this man had done in minutes. How he had gotten in, she had no idea.
She had made a terrible mistake choosing Maksim Volkov and Tariq Asenguard to be allies. She’d told them about the envelope giving them the property when she died. The Hallahans had turned and gone away without so much as pulling a gun. Were the two factions of mobsters really allies, working the neighborhood?
She knew his partner was close, right there in the room. She could feel him, but he was somewhere behind her. She hoped not close. The gun was taped under the edge of the bar. She just had to get to it. They couldn’t have cleared out every weapon, not when they had to dismantle the explosives she’d rigged throughout the room.
“Do not try it,” he said softly just as she moved.
She ignored the compulsion to allow his words to rule her, already, thankfully in motion, diving over the bar in an aikido roll, tearing the gun from the tape beneath the edge of the bar. She felt the solid slap of the stock in her palm; her fingers closed around it, and then her wrist was caught in a fist so tight she couldn’t release the weapon, but she couldn’t use it, either. He pinned her arm across his chest, the barrel of the gun directed away from him.
She smelled him. All man. He smelled good. Too good. He felt like a rock, hard and unyielding, as if instead of skin he wore armor. Instinctively she held her breath, afraid to take anything of him into her body.
“I do not want to hurt you, Blaze,” he said, his mouth against her ear. “You clearly know what you are doing and I cannot take any chances. Release the weapon to me.”
There it was again—that need to obey him. She barely obeyed her own father. Why she felt such a need to do what this man told her—simply from the low, very soft sound of his voice, she didn’t know, but she couldn’t let him stop her. If she stopped, even for a moment, she’d have to face the sight of her father’s body, bloody and broken, thrown out of a moving car to roll onto the sidewalk and come to rest there beside the door of the bar, right at her feet.
Reflexively her fingers tightened on the stock, and she tried to shift her body weight in order to use his weight against him. There was no getting him off-center. He didn’t shift, not even when she did. His fingers didn’t move. Didn’t waver. He didn’t seem to even take a breath. She wasn’t altogether certain he was human. He was too still. Too confident. Too easily anticipating her every move, and she was very well trained.
A million butterflies took wing in her stomach. That had never happened to her before. Never. She didn’t have butterflies. She didn’t react physically to men. She especially didn’t react when the man was an enemy and her father’s body had barely been put in the ground. Still, she nodded slowly because she had no other choice. One arm, feeling like an iron bar, was around her belly, and he held her there, immobile.
She nodded again. Swallowing. Trying to get her brain to think past feeling like a captive, an immobile one, and come up with a plan of action. Trying not to feel what his body felt like against hers. Not to be aware of herself as a woman—and him as a man.
“Let go of me,” she hissed. She kept her voice low as well, but it didn’t come out commanding the way his did. She sounded shaky. She felt shaky.
“Release the weapon to me and I will step back. I am not going to harm you. Neither is Tariq. We came to help you. You asked us, remember?”
She relaxed her fingers, allowing him to take the gun from her hand. The iron bar disappeared from around her belly and he was gone, moving so silently she didn’t hear him, but she knew he was no longer pressed up against her. He’d taken all the warmth with him.
“I don’t remember asking you to come here until after,” she reminded. She turned, allowing her gaze to sweep the bar. She caught sight of the other one. Tariq Asenguard. Her heart accelerated even more, if that was at all possible. He looked as remote as his partner. She thought a nightclub owner would be all about fun and passion. These two men were ice-cold. “In fact, I’ve totally changed my mind and would like both of you to leave.”
“I am Tariq Asenguard,” the one to her left introduced himself. He waved a hand toward the other one—the one with the mesmerizing voice. “This is Maksim Volkov. We were very sorry to hear about your father. He was a good man.”
She winced. She couldn’t talk about her father. She couldn’t think about him. If she did, she would totally go to pieces, and the men who had murdered him would get away with it, just like they got away with murdering others.
“Mr.—er—Asenguard—I appreciate you both getting here so fast, but the Hallahans turned tail and ran. Now I’m going to have to take the fight to them . . .”
Maksim shifted his position, and her gaze jumped to his face. His expression hadn’t changed, but emotion flared in his eyes. Something dangerous moved there and was gone. He was back to ice-cold. No, glacier-cold. But his shift, as minute as it was, had moved him closer to her.
She could feel his heat again. Not in a good way. He was absolutely expressionless, but she felt fury radiating off of him. It sucked the air from the room and replaced it with something heavy and oppressive. She took a step back and bumped the bar. He took a step toward her and his step was a lot longer than hers. He was in her space. Both arms extended so that he gripped the bar on either side of her, effectively caging her in.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed? Is that your ultimate goal here?”
He bit the words out between very white teeth. Very white. She found herself staring at his mouth. At those teeth. Strong. Straight. But not perfect, not when two of them came almost to a point and looked—sharp. Her heart jumped at the sight of his mouth. Sensual. Hot. Defined lips. Straight nose. Aristocratic. Still, those eyes, so cold. So black. A dense glacier that had never been touched.
“Of course not.” She managed not to stammer, but he was too close. His body heat seeped into her pores. His scent swirled in her lungs. She held her breath, desperately trying to keep from inhaling him. He was invading. Taking her over.
“You. Are.” He bit the words out around his beautiful, clenched teeth.
She opened her mouth to protest and then closed it. Light dawning. Was she? She felt guilt that she hadn’t been home. She felt guilt that her father had signed the properties over to her. Her name had been on the deeds ever since she was born, but he’d quitclaimed them on her twenty-first birthday.
“I was out that night. It was my shift, but there was a class I wanted to take on bar tricks. Jimmy Mason was teaching the class and he’s the acknowledged master. I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . .” She trailed off, realizing she was blurting out private information to total strangers. Worse, something inside her was shifting. Breaking apart. She couldn’t let that happen.
She couldn’t think about the terrible night of waiting. Of knowing. Of trying to hope. Of utter despair. She’d been so desperate, she’d driven to the strip club, but the Hallahans weren’t there. Or if they were, no one was saying.
“Inimmea,” Maksim said softly. His hand came up to slide along her cheek. “I am sorry about your father. He was a good man. We were out of town. The moment you called, we were on the move.” The pads of his fingers, whisper soft, traced over her high cheekbone and then swept down to the curve of her jaw as if he was memorizing her. “These men will be taken down. But not by you. Let us handle this.”
His voice slipped inside her mind. So gently. So softly. Almost not there, but still she felt it—the compulsion to obey him. To give him what he wanted. Still, she shook her head resolutely.
“It’s too late for that. They murdered him and then they threw him out of a moving car like so much garbage right at my feet. I have to do this. You don’t have to understand. I don’t expect you to understand.” Nice girls didn’t plot revenge. They didn’t rig a bar full of explosives and hide weapons from one end of the bar to the next. Nice girls did what they were told. She hadn’t been born nice. She hadn’t been raised nice. She didn’t feel nice.
Blaze didn’t like the fact that she was showing this beautiful man just who she was inside. She knew he saw—saw the need for vengeance and her resolve that she would bring the fight to the Hallahans. She closed down all reaction to this man. She wouldn’t think about him or dream about him or fantasize. She didn’t care if he thought her the worst person on the face of the earth. And she didn’t care if he didn’t understand. It only mattered that she did.
“Then we do it together. You cannot take them down alone, and I think you know that.” The pad of his thumb moved to her lower lip. “We do it smart and we do it right. Blowing up your bar is not the right way to go about it, Blaze.”
If she wasn’t going to survive, it was. But living . . . that meant she kept the bar and her home. That meant she faced the fact that her father was dead and she was guilty because she’d insisted on going to take Jimmy Mason’s “cool” class on doing tricks while fixing drinks. Her father was old-fashioned, but he’d gone along with her learning because she’d had fun flipping the bottles in the air and juggling them back and forth with him. He’d done that—for her. He’d taken her shift—for her.
There it was again. Only her name. But the way he said it, as if he knew what she was thinking and he was comforting her.
“You have to know they would have found a way to take your father regardless of where or when they did it. The attack was not in any way random.”
She couldn’t think about that yet. His broken, bloody body. She turned her head away from his cold, black eyes. Eyes so black she felt she could see all the way into the very depths, and she didn’t dare look. She didn’t understand why she was so drawn to him. The man or the voice. Especially now.
“I know. They want the property, but I don’t understand why. They shut down the businesses the moment they acquire the buildings. What’s the point? They aren’t making any money from the businesses,” Blaze said.
Tariq moved closer and when he did, Maksim dropped his hands to his sides, but he didn’t get out of Blaze’s space. If anything, he took a step closer so that his body brushed hers, turning as he did so to face his partner. Blaze thought it might be the opportune time to try to slide away from him and the bar, but he wrapped an arm around her belly and tucked her front against his side.
Possessively. Protectively. There was no mistaking the gesture. Not even for her when she knew nothing about men. He was claiming her. No man had ever done that before. No man had dared to. She didn’t put up with it. She didn’t respond to it. At least not until she’d heard his voice on the phone. Not until he was so close to her that with every breath she drew, she pulled him deep into her lungs.
Not only was she aware of Maksim Volkov as all male, but she was suddenly aware of herself as a female. Her body, instead of being the body she’d trained for combat from her second birthday, was soft and pliant. Needy. Hungry. Aching. Her breasts hurt. There was a throbbing between her legs, and she felt every single pulse beat in her most sensitive core. Right there.
“I am going to do another sweep of the bar,” Tariq said, ignoring Maksim’s body language. “Get her upstairs and settled. We still have to track the Hallahans tonight.”
She sent the man a scowl. “I’m going after them, not you. No one else is taking out the men who killed my father. Not unless I’m dead. That was the point of the phone call, to tell you about the deeds, so hopefully if I fail you would take over.”
“Your plans are going to have to change, Blaze.”
It was Maksim who answered, not Tariq, and his voice was that soft command she recognized from her phone call. There was no doubt it had been Maksim who answered the phone. She found herself shivering, icy fingers traveling down her spine. He was not a man to cross. She got that. She got that neither of them wanted her to kill the Hallahans. She straightened her shoulders and lifted her gaze to Maksim’s. Forced herself to stare into the twin glaciers.
“Is there a reason you don’t want me to kill them? Are you allies or something in this takeover of the neighborhood?” She didn’t care if she sounded melodramatic or like she was quoting a line from a bad mobster movie. She needed to know.
Tariq ignored her. He turned his back to her and began a slow perusal of the bar. She had the feeling he’d lost interest in her and the conversation. He was wholly focused on what he was doing—and she couldn’t see that he was doing much.
Maksim’s fingers settled around her biceps. Gentle. Barely there. Still, she felt shackled, and the wild part of her wanted to fight.
“Do not,” he said softly. “If you fight me, you will not win and then you will be afraid of me.” He tugged gently and took a step toward the stairs.
“Do you read minds?” She was joking, of course. Clearly she didn’t have a poker face, and he could read everything she was thinking. She went with him because it was the least line of resistance. If he thought she was cooperating with him, then he’d go away and she could do whatever she wanted to do.
She glanced at him as they moved up the staircase toward the apartment. His expression hadn’t changed, not even when he joked. She didn’t think he was human enough to joke and that surprised her. He still looked as remote and as cold as he had when she’d first laid eyes on him.
“I bet you can play poker,” she muttered, annoyed.
“I enjoy the game once in a while.”
“Do you win?” Distracting him.
She bent to retrieve a gun she’d slipped between the ornate dowels of the railing. The moment her fingers closed over the stock, his hand wrapped tightly around hers. His body covered hers, pressed her down so she couldn’t straighten.
She hadn’t realized he was a big man. He was so well proportioned, she hadn’t been able to tell he was so tall, or that he was so enormously strong. Wrapped around her like he was, she felt the muscles in his body. The sensation was like being enveloped in steel. There was no budging him.
“Relax,” she said, forcing the tension from her body. “I was just getting the gun so it wasn’t lying out in the open.”
His arm locked around her belly like a vise. He dragged her upright as he removed the gun from her hand. “Not only do I read minds, I hear lies. You do not know me yet, so there is no trust between us, but know I do not like lies. Especially coming from you.”
He was telling her something important, but she wasn’t certain what it was. His statement wasn’t just about lying. She let her breath out and tried not to feel his body. Willed herself not to react. She didn’t understand why her body had chosen him. Why her muscles went soft and her blood went hot when she was so close to him.
“I can hear your heartbeat,” he said softly. “I can see it, right here.” He touched her pulse on the side of her neck.
It was all Blaze could do not to jerk away from his touch. The pad of his thumb felt like a brand against her skin. She was aware that her heart pounded, raced even. Her breath felt ragged and labored, caught in her lungs in spite of her determination to remain impassive to him.
She went very still. “Please don’t touch me.”
“I am not hurting you.”
She steadfastly refused to look at him. She didn’t want to be alone with him in her apartment. “I know.”
“I will not hurt you. I give you my word that I will protect you with my life.”
She closed her eyes briefly; her heart jerked hard in her chest. Her stomach performed a slow roll, and deep inside where she shouldn’t even acknowledge him, she felt him and there was a reaction, a hot seep of liquid, a clenching that reminded her she was a woman and he was a very, very attractive man.
He meant that promise. She tried to tell herself this stranger was playing her for some agenda of his own, but she knew better. She didn’t understand what was happening, or why she was so drawn to him, but she had the terrible urge to turn her body fully into his and wrap her arms around him.
Intellectually, she knew the situation was intense. She had expected to die. She’d planned to die. She’d just buried her father. Only a few days before, his broken, dead body had been tossed at her feet. She could understand why she would be feeling raw and vulnerable—even needy, when she wasn’t a needy person.
Maksim’s hand transferred to the small of her back and he urged her to continue climbing the stairs to the apartment. “I realize that it’s difficult to wait, inimmea. The Hallahans have a master. One who sends them on his errands and decides who will live and who will die. And how. They are his puppets. We have to find the man behind them.”
She stumbled at the doorway, and his hands steadied her. “I have to go after them.” She sounded as desperate as she felt. She knew she did. But if she stopped, if she had time to sit down and process, she’d have to face her father’s death. She couldn’t do that. She just couldn’t.
Maksim reached around her and opened the door for her, waving her into the apartment. “We will get them. We will. But you need to be on your game, not grieving and ready to die. Willing to die.” He pulled the door shut behind them, closing them together inside her home. It felt—intimate.
The moment the door closed, Maksim shifted position. He glided. Or the floor moved. However it was done, she didn’t actually see him move. Suddenly he was standing in front of her. Close. The fingers of his hand curled around the nape of her neck and he leaned even closer.
“You are not going to die, Blaze. I will see to that. If you intend to be a part of this hunt, make up your mind to that. Because. You. Are. Not. Going. To. Die.”
WHEN A HUMAN male waited for years to find the right woman—and he found her—he guarded her as best he could and treated her right. When a Carpathian male had waited for centuries to find the only woman who could save him, he didn’t just guard her. He surrounded her with every protection possible. Maksim Volkov stared down at the woman who held the other half of his soul.
Carpathians rarely saw the outer shell of a person. For him, his lifemate was the only and the most beautiful. Always. He could see, though, even by human standards, that his woman was truly beautiful. She was also a warrior, trained to fight, and she had every intention of bringing that fight to the men who had killed her father.
Blaze stared back up at him with her amazing green eyes. She thought she was good at hiding her emotions, but he had been around for centuries, and even without the ability to read her mind, he was more than adept at reading expressions. There was defiance in the set of her mouth. That beautiful mouth kept his attention riveted to it. Defiance was in the set of her chin—the chin he wanted to taste. Her rebellion showed in the glitter of her green eyes.
There was something wild in her. Something untamed that matched the wildness in him. He was predatory. As high up on the food chain as it got. He didn’t know anyone who defied him. Or disobeyed him. Or looked at him with feigned innocence, all the while plotting to do exactly what she wanted—but Blaze was doing just that.
For his species, there was only one woman to complete a male. She didn’t have to be born a Carpathian. She could be a human psychic, they’d learned, and she could be born in any century, in any part of the world. It was a big world and there were many centuries to hunt in. Finding his lifemate was truly like looking for a needle in a haystack—but with even worse odds.
“Did you hear me?” he asked, keeping his voice pitched low. She was susceptible to his voice, although compulsions didn’t seem to work very well on her.
He had spent over a thousand years in a gray world. Without any emotion whatsoever. It was a void that few could stand and remain honorable. After the first few centuries, it was impossible to believe one would find a lifemate. He had lived a life of honor, changing as much as possible to fit into each century, but he lived in a bleak world where only his ability as a warrior was important—as a hunter of the vampire. The vampires were those of his own kind who had chosen to give up their souls. Every second he remained alive during those endless, bleak centuries, he was at risk to become the very thing he hunted—until he had picked up the phone and heard her voice.
“I heard you,” she replied, just as soft.
He crowded her body, but she didn’t move away from him. Blaze McGuire was no shrinking violet. She was afraid of him, but not because she thought he might harm her. She was too smart for that. She was afraid of him for all the right reasons. He was going to change her world and she knew it. She just didn’t know how or to what extent.
“I can get the information we need on Reginald Coonan,” Blaze volunteered and made a subtle movement to escape.
Maksim stepped into her, forcing her to take a step back. He did it again and she retreated a second time. That was as far as she could go. The door was at her back. “Reginald Coonan does not exist,” he informed her, still keeping his voice pitched low.
For the first time that he could remember since he was a child, he was uncertain how to proceed. She belonged to him. There was no denying that. The moment he heard her voice, he saw in color. Vivid, brilliant, overwhelming color. So bright he’d had to close his eyes against the blinding beauty.
Taming Blaze was not going to be easy, and one wrong move would set him back. He didn’t have time to make mistakes with her.
“Of course that isn’t his real name,” Blaze said. “I know that. I know he made up his entire history, but he’s still collecting properties in that name.” She looked him directly in the eye. “What exactly is going on here?”
He felt the impact of her gaze hitting him right in the gut. Green gems weren’t as beautiful as her eyes. He hadn’t realized he’d be so susceptible to a woman—even his own lifemate. He hesitated, unsure what to say. How much to say.
“Maksim,” she said quietly, “I don’t like surprises. You’re a huge surprise. I’m not going to pretend I don’t feel your pull, because I do, in a big way. But something is happening here I don’t understand, and if you’re feeling anything at all for me, like I am for you, it’s best if you’re just honest with me. If you’re not, this is going nowhere.”
He heard the ring of truth in her voice. He couldn’t help but admire her. She laid it out for him, just like that.
“A lot of people say they want honesty, Blaze, but they really cannot handle the truth. If I give you reality, the absolute truth, you could have a difficult time accepting it—and me. And you will accept me. That much I will tell you straight. You are not walking away from me, not when I spent lifetimes searching for you.”
She didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow at his carefully worded answer. She didn’t look away. She continued to look him straight in the eye, something most humans found uncomfortable. He moved in her mind. She’d heard the word lifetimes. She hadn’t even flinched. Not physically and not in her mind—almost as if she knew.
“Reginald Coonan is not human. The Hallahans are, but he isn’t. He’s using them because he cannot go out during the day and he has learned, over the centuries, if he wants to remain alive, it is better to stay in the background and have his pawns take the heat. That is one of the many reasons we interfered tonight. Aside from the fact that I do not want you dead, we need to find him. The Hallahans can lead us to him.”
She reached behind her for the wall. This time, her lashes fluttered and he felt her inhale. He felt it, because he’d moved that close. So close he could feel her breathing.
“You probably think I am crazy. Most humans who hear something like this would, but you asked, so I am giving you the truth.” But she didn’t think he was crazy. She had gone still inside. He stayed in her mind. She was waiting. So still. Knowing, not wanting to know, but knowing all the same.
“If he isn’t human,” Blaze said carefully, “what is he?”
“Have you been following the murders in the city? Mostly homeless and prostitutes, but a few have been business owners from this neighborhood. Not the ones the Hallahans beat to death for show, but the ones torn to shreds, as if a wild animal has killed and partially eaten them? The ones with very little blood left in their bodies?”
She put a hand on his chest and exerted pressure. “You can stop right there. We’ve already been approached and we said no. My father wasn’t about to be recruited by fanatics believing in vampires and hunting just about anyone they didn’t like. That kind of witch hunt belongs in another century, not this one.”
There was a bite of contempt in her answer. He didn’t flinch. He’d expected it, although he was a little shocked that she and her father had been approached. Although he shouldn’t have been, he realized. Sean McGuire and his daughter were both highly skilled—and Blaze was psychic. If that was common knowledge or if she had ever been tested, she would be on the society’s radar. He knew she had to be psychic because she was his lifemate.
“The ones who call themselves the Society for the Preservation of Mankind. I am not affiliated with them, and they wouldn’t know an honest-to-God vampire if the monster came up and bit them on the neck.”
“Move back,” she cautioned when he didn’t budge.
There was a threat in her voice. In a strange, perverse way, he liked that she felt confident enough to threaten him. He liked that she was a warrior and she didn’t hesitate to defend herself.
“Blaze, you wanted the truth. At least hear me out. Did you think I would tell you this and expect you to take it on faith alone? I have proof of the things I am telling you. But you need to understand, attacking me is not going to work. I have stated repeatedly that I do not want to hurt you. I have no intention of harming you. You asked for this and against my better judgment, I am giving you the stark truth.”
He studied her face. She was scared, but she wasn’t exactly not believing him. She didn’t want to know the truth. Somewhere, deep inside her, she was already prepared to hear this, but she didn’t want it.
“Please will you step back?” This time she asked. “I can’t think straight when you’re so close to me.”
Even as she softly made the request, her foot came down hard on his, and her open palm rushed toward his nose. At least that was her intent. Maksim shifted before she could complete the maneuver. Her foot came down where his had been and her hand shot out hard and fast, but he dissolved right in front of her eyes. Was gone. Blaze gasped and took two steps forward, frantically looking around her living room trying to find him.
Maksim locked one arm around her belly from behind and caught her head in a firm grip with the other. He sank his teeth deep, part in need and part to teach her a lesson. The instant he did, he knew it was a mistake. He had fed thousands of times and he had never felt anything when he did, not that he had memory of. This time, everything was different. So different, and he hadn’t counted on that.
He was vaguely aware of her gasp, the soft cry of pain when his teeth bit into her soft, exquisite flesh, her body struggling against his tight hold. He was enormously strong, and rather than aggression or fear on her part, he felt each movement of her body as erotic. The smoldering burn he’d felt, from the moment he heard her voice, flared into a bright, hot fire.
Feel me, sufletul meu. My soul. The very air I breathe. He didn’t give her the translation in her mind, but he meant every word. She was the other half of his soul. He had no time to court her properly. They were in a war and he needed to get her on his side, but more than that, he needed her to know he would protect her from anyone and anything—even herself. Feel us. You belong to me.
He didn’t try to soothe her. He didn’t need to. She felt the strength of the pull between them all on her own, without compulsion. A need that went so deep, that was so strong, Maksim couldn’t possibly resist—so how could she? He let himself feel everything. The beat of her heart matching the rhythm of his. The taste of her, bursting in his mouth like a fine wine, like the blaze of her hair, fiery and passionate, wild and untamed. It was all there in her blood. So rich. Perfection. He was instantly addicted and knew he’d never get enough of that taste.
Te avio päläfertiilam. You are my lifemate. Éntölam kuulua, avio päläfertiilam. I claim you as my lifemate. Ted kuuluak, kacad, kojed. I belong to you.
He whispered the vows that would tie their souls back together for all time, meaning every single word. The ritual binding words were imprinted upon him before his birth and he had thought, through the long centuries of gray, bleak, endless nothing, that he would never have the opportunity to say them to his woman.
Essentially, in the Carpathian world, they would be married, but so much more. They were tied for all time, one life to the next. Always together. Bound by their souls. Once bound, never able to be torn apart. He hoped to bind their hearts together as well.
Élidamet andam. I offer my life for you. Pesämet andam. I give you my protection. Uskolfertiilamet andam. I give you my allegiance. Sívamet andam. I give you my heart.
She began to struggle. Her body was on fire, just as his was. He felt the way her soft sank into his hard. She molded herself to him, but she heard the vows he pushed into her mind, and she felt the tiny unbreakable threads tying them together. He felt them, and joy burst through him. She felt them and panicked. Still, he couldn’t stop, even knowing her just from the exquisite taste of her blood.
The knowledge was there on his palate, in his body, soaking into every cell and organ. She was more than wild. She was feral, a woman who went her own way and made her own decisions but could ignite with the right man, turn into a storm of passion that would threaten to consume them both. And she was his.
He tightened his hold on her. Be still, Blaze. You have no need to panic. I could never hurt you.
What are you doing? You’re scaring me.
He was shocked at how strong the psychic connection between them was. She had no problem speaking to him, mind to mind. She was frightened, but not because he was taking her blood. She was frightened at the words he pushed into her mind and the way he made her feel. The bond that was already growing so strong between them. She didn’t understand the ancient Carpathian language, but he interpreted for her in English—in her language, so there was no mistaking what he was doing.
Maksim was determined that he didn’t deceive her. She had asked for honesty and he was being honest. This was the truth between them. She was his lifemate and there was no escape. None. No out. She had to learn to live with him and he with her. He needed her to survive. His soul needed her to redeem him. Without her, he had nothing and he never would. Everything that had gone before, his very honor, would be in jeopardy. And that was not going to happen.
Sielamet andam. I give you my soul. Ainamet andam. I give you my body. Sívamet kuuluak kaik että a ted. I take into my keeping the same that is yours.
“Stop. Stop right now.” She whispered the plea. “Maksim, you have to stop.”
He felt her slump against him and instantly swept his tongue across the twin pinpricks in her neck, his arms sliding behind her back and knees. He lifted her and carried her to her bedroom, to lay her gently on the thick comforter there. He didn’t know if she was pleading with him to stop because she felt the vows every bit as strong as he did, or if she felt weak and that frightened her.
She hadn’t lost consciousness, but she was very vulnerable. Her green eyes had gone from burning to glittering. That defiance was there, the need to struggle, to fight, but she had too much control. She knew she was helpless. He’d allowed her to feel his strength and he’d shown his ability to shift. He had begun the binding ritual and she felt that as well. She was dealing with shock and her mind trying to tell her that what she saw with her own eyes couldn’t be true. What she heard in her mind and what she felt, had to be impossible. But all along she had known the truth. She hadn’t wanted to accept it—however she’d first learned it—but she had known of his kind or at least of the undead.
Maksim had taken her blood and he hadn’t put a compulsion on her. He hadn’t calmed her. She had remained calm. He sensed the moment the pain was gone and erotic pleasure took its place. She felt that. He felt it with her.