“I’ll lock that dog up when I find him. Hog tie him so he’ll never run away again.” For the third time Lucille pushed aside the underbrush. For the third time the branches grazed her arm, drawing blood in a series of parallel scratches. They’d heal fast but sting like hell until then.
Digger loved this place. Rabbits bounced around most of the day, giving him easy access to his favorite pastime.
He wasn’t even her dog. Drew should take better care of him; then Lucille wouldn’t spend half her days trying to locate the pooch when he trespassed on other people’s land. The owner of this place didn’t come here often. Hadn’t called in to check his property for years, although he had staff to keep the house and land in order. She sniffed. Absentee landlord
. Since they were kids, she and Drew had played here, daring each other to go farther in. She’d sneaked in the way she always had.
The man who owned this ranch created scandal wherever he went—at least her friend Missy Holbrook said. Missy should know because she’d seen guests coming to one of his parties dressed like something from the French Revolution, but with significant differences. She doubted they’d gone about in public with their breasts bared. Missy worked in Lucille’s bar and waitressed all the swanky events for the ranchers who lived hereabouts, so she got to see and hear a lot.
This time Lucille pulled the sleeve of her jacket down before she shoved back some branches. No dog.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she chanted, releasing a tiny amount of the tension that threatened to build to a headache. She’d forgotten to put on a hat, so the heat would probably worsen the pressure. Couldn’t help that. Noon was not the best time for wandering around hunting for a stupid mutt who got himself lost, especially in May in Texas.
“Looking for this?”
The cool male tones forced an alarmed yell from her, and she nearly hit the branches headfirst with her start. “Fuck!” She straightened too fast, and the undergrowth sprang back, a twig scraping her cheek.
The sting of the scratch added to her shock and anger. She should never allow anyone to creep up on her that way. She turned a black glare on the newcomer. “Who the fuck are you, and why do you have my dog on a chain?”
The man facing her sketched an ironic bow like some knight of old. Despite his casual dress of well-worn jeans and faded T-shirt, he carried an air of authority. But then, someone over six feet with intense brown eyes and cheekbones that could slice a watermelon had a natural advantage on a five-and-a-half-foot redhead.
“Because it was the best way to get him to stay to heel.” He’d clipped a chain to Digger’s leather collar, and the damned dog was standing by his side as if he did it every day. Now
the mutt had the nerve to sit by this man’s long legs, neat and obedient. Nothing like the animal she’d been hunting for, but the shaggy coat and happy expression marked him as Digger.
Wait. English accent. Tall, dark, and bad. Oh shit
. “Do you know the owner of this land?”
He raised a brow, which gave him a sardonic aura the devil would find hard to beat. “Intimately.” He held out a hand. “Jay Trevino at your service.”
Flushed with embarrassment, knowing she was in the wrong for trespassing, Lucille glanced away, using the pretext of wiping her palm on her jeans before she took his hand. The gesture gave her time to regain some calm.
When he enclosed her hand in a firm grip, an involuntary shudder passed through her. Skin to skin.
She shook the sensation off. Weird and stupid, completely unlike her usual reaction to strangers. She’d had to woman up after her dad disappeared, and the experience, bringing her directly in contact with the world outside their home, had taught her a lot. Too much, she sometimes thought. She fought a compulsion to confide in this man she’d never met before, lean on him, and tell him her troubles. Maybe he had that effect on everyone. His air of command certainly left that impression.
“Sorry. He escapes. He Houdini’d his way out of an old chicken house.”
Jay Trevino tilted his head to one side, meeting the animal’s guileless stare. “He’s a large dog. Could cause some damage if he runs wild.”
“I know, and I apologize. He’s not strictly mine, but I’m looking after him today, so I’m responsible for him getting away.”
A smile quirked one corner of his mouth as he lifted his head. “I want a forfeit for the trespass. A kiss should do it.” His eyes melted her, chocolate in heat.
By the way Digger was sitting passively by this man, she’d get no help there. Disloyal canine. She glared, not answering.
Jay Trevino raised a sardonic brow. “I could have you prosecuted for trespassing. The ranchers wouldn’t appreciate a mutt in their fields.”
She stuck her nose in the air. “How would you know?” Why didn’t he get his fine British ass out of here? Why buy this land anyway?
“Is it me, or all men you despise? Maybe you don’t like me because I’m a foreigner? Or because I threaten you in some way?” He took a step forward. “Rudeness sometimes disguises unease. Discomfort.” He lowered his voice to an intimate rumble. “On occasion that can be a good thing.”
Before she could move away, he was on her, his free arm coming around her in a firm cinch. Make that arms. Digger sat at his feet, not trying to escape despite the fact that the man had dropped the chain.
“Nice,” he said, his presence even more lethal when they were closer. “I’ll settle for this.”
He bent his head and pressed his lips to hers. Alarm spiked, and then warmth spread from her mouth through the rest of her. Seductive, soft, but with an edge of desire she couldn’t deny.
After one ineffectual struggle, she subsided, deciding she’d have no chance if she fought. She’d get this over with and wait for the right moment to escape. He was bigger and stronger than she was, but weirdly she had no sense that he’d take this any further than the kiss. Reassurance seeped through her, relaxing her in his hold.
He kissed her with an instant intensity she’d never known before. His caress held a mastery that spoke of long kisses through hot, steamy nights, experience far surpassing hers although she was no virgin. He guided the embrace, flicking his tongue against her lips, tracing and tasting until she sighed in pleasure. Her traitorous body no longer screamed Danger!
It wanted more.
When he gave it, she softened, including her knees. His arms tightened around her, holding her so close she might as well have been naked.
Oh, Lordy, she shouldn’t have thought of that. An image of them bare to the stars opened in her head, his powerful frame deliciously dominating, hers meltingly submissive.
Her mind floated as if trying to break the grip this man had on her, but he brought her back, his mouth insistent. His hands splayed across her back, supporting her as he plundered her.
Warmth entered her, seductive and hot. The heat of desire? Communication. He breathed “Hello”
into her head, a definite telepathic connection.
Instinctively, she responded in the same manner. “Fuck, no!”
Working her hands between them, she flattened her palms against his chest and shoved. At the same time she slammed her mental barriers closed. She covered the telling gesture with a confusion of thoughts and a scrambled mess of images as near to normal human activity as she could manage.
He let her pull away from the kiss, but he didn’t allow her to shove away from him. Instead, he completed the caress softly and held her still despite her struggles. “Don’t. I’d let you go, but the ground’s uneven, and I don’t want you losing your balance.” They pressed together indecently close, the intimacy too much to bear. This man burned her, and knowing she’d betrayed herself, she stared up at him, too vulnerable for her liking. She hated that emotion, did anything to avoid it.
“What did you do?”
“You know,” he said, sounding soothing and infuriatingly in control. “I read your mind.” He smiled. “You’re a Talent, aren’t you? I had no idea the town of Taken had vampires in its midst. Apart from me, of course.”
JAY DIDN’T LET her go until he was sure she wouldn’t stumble and fall. She was still weakened with shock, he noted when he released her gently, but he didn’t move far away, just gave her breathing space. He’d kissed her to put her off balance, to read her in case she was an intruder with nefarious intentions, but it hadn’t ended that way.
It had startled him, the way she fit against him, her body a blatant invitation for his hands, whether she knew it or not. A strong urge to protect her invaded him, not unusual with Talents of his kind and his age, that instinctive impulse to shelter their women. But this wasn’t the eighteenth century, she wasn’t his woman, and he couldn’t do what came naturally. But he wanted her back in his arms. Rather badly.
Perhaps this visit wouldn’t be wholly business after all.
He glanced down to where the giant dog sat docilely by his side. She’d lost this monster? He wasn’t surprised. It had taken some displays of superiority on his part before the animal had accepted his domination. Taking any excuse for a distraction, he said, “You should get a smaller dog. This one will pull your arm from its socket.”
“I told you, he’s not mine. He belongs to my brother.”
His eyes widened. “There are two of you? Both Talents? Are there any more locally?”
She shook her head. Her mind was closed to him. He didn’t want her to do that with him.
Talents kept their minds strictly ordered. They retained their private thoughts under the initial barrier, but courtesy demanded they keep an outer section open where they could communicate and reveal themselves to each other. He wanted her back, wanted that gentle mind brushing his again like a caress. “You can read me if you want.” He dropped his shields that prevented sensitives from detecting him as a Talent. Let her into the public area of his brain, the outer part.
Thank fuck she took his invitation.
The first touch of her thoughts to his gave him a delicious internal shiver. She stroked his senses with gentleness. Did she do that to everyone she read? He coveted that mental caress. To claim it, hold it, and keep it for his own.
She jerked a nod and withdrew, tempting him to follow, to trace her mind with the same tender touch. His cock twitched.
“There’s only my brother and me in Taken,” she said. “He’s gone off somewhere, probably Houston. He gets restless.” She frowned. “He’ll come back soon, or he’ll contact me.”
Thoughtless young barbarian. “Does he often leave without telling you where he’s going?”
“Sometimes.” She met his gaze directly but glanced away quickly, obviously uncomfortable with the confession. “His telepathy’s not too good.”
“It only works over short distances, and skill varies.” Just how secluded was she, and how much did she know about their community?
She nibbled her lip, plump from their too-brief kiss. “Maybe that’s it. But he has a cell phone.”
Jay nodded. Cell phones gave mortals an unfair advantage. He missed the old days.
Her brother’s lack of communication irritated her, but he detected a trace of worry in her thoughts too. When she talked about him, she looked away from him as if revealing too much, but recovered herself fast. A woman of spirit.
As he watched, she straightened and lifted her chin. When he ventured into her mind again, he found everything as it should be, her thoughts strictly ordered and her sigil on display. All he learned was her Talent, that she was a vampire, which he already knew from the pattern of her mind, and her family, one he didn’t know. Parker. He didn’t recognize the name, but then he wasn’t familiar with every vampire in the USA.
This one, though, this one he wanted to know better. The boy’s absence concerned him. Jay wouldn’t tell her. Until he’d discovered a bit more, there was no sense worrying her about something that might not matter.
Sometimes he felt so fucking old.
“How did you get here?” he demanded.
She shrugged. “Car. I parked it about a mile away.”
“I’m glad at least you didn’t drive on to my land.” He waved his hand. “I have guards patrolling the perimeter.”
She raised a slim brow. “Somewhat extreme?”
“Not with the guests I’m expecting tonight.” VIPs and a small group of people who required extraordinary care.
He began to walk. When the dog refused his invitation, he jerked the chain, and the monster got to its great, furry paws and trotted by his side. She stuck her hands in her pockets and strode on the other side. He’d have thought her nonchalant if he hadn’t detected the emotion churning inside her. For him, he noted with satisfaction. He’d interested her, much as she’d prefer to deny it.
He liked her in jeans. If he lagged behind on the pretext of urging the dog, he’d get a fine view of her butt. Not that he’d dream of doing that. Not in the least. But he wanted to get his hands on her one day. Soon. “This way?”
She nodded. “Do your men have guns?” Worry tinged her words. “Would they hurt Digger?”
He gave a short laugh. “Yes, they have guns. But I doubt they’d shoot a dog. Just a person showing signs of wandering deeper.” He shrugged. “My guests appreciate their privacy.”
She shot him a startled glance. “Talents?”
“You talk spiffy. Like an old-fashioned Englishman.”
He huffed a laugh. “It intrigues the natives.”
She shot him a quick grin. “Patronizing, much?”
“That’s me.” This woman amused him. To meet a vampire so young was a rarity. He was enjoying the fresh attitude of someone who truly belonged to this generation.