Antoine stood over Jack sleeping peacefully. Usually Jack was wound tight, but in his sleep, he appeared innocent, setting Antoine's heart racing. How wonderful it would have been to have known Jack as a boy. Before the war, before the ravages to his body, before his life changed.
With his forefinger, he feathered Jack's square jaw and pressed the tip in the dimple edging the side of his broad mouth. Antoine smiled at the memory of those enticing lips and that hot, wily tongue. Their first and only sexual encounter was enough for him to realize the importance of Jack Hunter. All-American in looks: healthy complexion, robust physique, tall and commanding. Once Jack had given in to his desires, he did not disappoint. His American arrogance remained, demanding and powerful. That kiss in the alley two years ago might not have led to sex, but it told Antoine all he needed to know. Jack liked men.
For someone of Jack's disposition, being a sexual deviant was paramount to committing the most horrid of mortal sins. If he learned the reason behind Antoine's seduction, who knew how he would react?
Antoine smiled tenderly as he smoothed Jack's short cowlick. His once-military buzz cut had grown out, his hair now a rich mahogany cap. It was not easy to love this man, but he was worth the long chase. Never had Antoine been in love, not really, and this man was his equal. Equal in power, intelligence, and courage. And equal in the depth of his loneliness, which was evident from the sadness in Jack's eyes.
Antoine kissed the top of his khalid's
head, breathing in his scent, letting it seep into his being, exciting him. He knew he would settle for nothing less than love with his khalid, his life mate.
Jack groaned before his eyes fluttered open. Antoine stepped back from the awareness brightening the blue-green hue of Jack's eyes. He smelled Jack's irritation, tinged with fear.
Jack kicked off the quilt, stumbling from the chair. ìWhat are you doing?î
Antoine picked up and folded the quilt, and laid it across the back of the chair, ignoring Jack's outburst. The man perfected crankiness. ìYou've been asleep for two hours. Dinner's prepared.î
Jack's stomach gurgled, and he lowered his gaze, pressing his hand to his stomach. ìIt's been a while since my last meal.î
Antoine smiled at the sound of Jack's hunger. He strolled toward the exit, expecting Jack to follow, and his smile widened at the heavy stomp of Jack's boots behind him.
The dining room was at the end of the hall, off the kitchen. Like the other parts of the house, the decorations were a mix of Asian and European antiques. Antoine had kept certain pieces handed down from his family, and especially loved the silver Louis XIV candlesticks now lit on the damask-covered table.
Jack sat across from Antoine. The formal dining table sat eight comfortably but was rarely used to its capacity. It had not been safe for friends to meet during the war. The Nazis had been suspicious of groups, and in particular, of Antoine's friends. Of course, they had reason to be.
Dinner was a simple affair of vegetable soup served with bread and butter. French country fare that suited Antoine. He had always been a man of the country rather than the city, preferring to live in near isolation to protect his secrets.
ìWe have our own garden,î Antoine explained. ìI'm afraid there's no meat.î He had taken the last of his rabbits and chickens to feed the children in the nearby town. So much of the land had been scorched or deliberately burned by the retreating Germans. He could not bear to see the children suffer.
Jack picked up his glass of wine. ìIs this drugged too?î
Antoine chuckled. ìDrugs are so pedestrian. I used a voice spell.î
Jack grunted. ìFucking pervert.î
ìYou needed your rest,î Antoine snapped.
Jack shook his head, warily taking a sip of wine and swishing it around in his mouth before swallowing. He scooped the soup with a thick slice of bread, muttering a compliment between bites. Antoine enjoyed Jack's enthusiasm as he attacked his meal. Everything about Jack fascinated him.
Antoine placed his elbows on the table and thought back to the first time they had met. He had heard the rumors of a soldier who had been enhanced by experimental drugs. He had expected to be disgusted, not entranced. When Jack walked into Sentinel's headquarters, something about those intense teal eyes, tinged with lost hope, struck at Antoine's heart. The intensity of the feeling shook Antoine to the core. Jack's scent, borne of the earth, captured his soul and his heart. He knew he had found his khalid.
Jack pushed his empty bowl aside, wiped his mouth with a napkin, and shoved it under the rim of his bowl. He leaned back in his chair, loosening the knot of his tie. ìSo talk to me about the murders.î
ìThere have been three. All friendsóî Antoine's voice broke. He dipped his spoon into the bowl of half-eaten soup, but now his appetite was shot. ìAll killed in the same manner.î
ìI saw the photos. They were torn beyond recognition. How did you ID them?î
Misery cut into Antoine's chest. ìTheir scent and blood.î
Jack's nose wrinkled. ìSo you were in your other
ìYou don't have to look so disgusted,î he said. ìI patrol the woods once a week. It's also when I hunt.î He shook his head, stray curls slipping down his forehead. ìIt's necessary for me to feed on animal flesh at least every few months.î
ìOnly on animals?î
ìI didn't kill my friends,î he seethed. ìYou know me better than that.î
ìI don't know you at all.î
ìI failed to protect my friends and have enough self-contempt without you giving me a hard time.î
Jack frowned, twirling an invisible ring on his left hand. ìHow did you know them?î
ìThe Resistance. It was from this region that we delayed German reinforcements during D day. They were good men, honest men. They didn't deserve this kind of death.î
Jack stared at Antoine long and hard. His face remained passive, but Antoine detected a slight twitch in his jaw. ìAre they being targeted?î Jack asked. ìHow many are in your group?î
ìFifteen, but seven died during the war. Believe me, I thought of this already. It doesn't make sense. The war's over. Who would bother to kill a group of Resistance fighters now? If anything, it's the French collaborators who need to watch their backs. And there's the beast to consider.î
ìSo you're convinced it murdered these men because?î
ìTo get to me.î Antoine's expression tightened at the mere thought of the beast. ìHave you heard of Le BÍte du GÈvaudan?î
Jack set down his glass but kept hold of the stem. ìIsn't that a myth?î
ìI killed the myth in 1767. I'm an excellent marksman.î
Pride flushed Antoine's cheeks. It had taken weeks to track the creature. When he and his men had Le BÍte surrounded, he had shot its right eye, bringing it down after several shots to the head.
ìLouis took a personal interest in Le BÍte, as this area was always troublesome to the poor king. He paid me handsomely to bring him the corpse.î
ìWhat happened to it?î
ìThe king displayed it, then buried it.î
ìAre you sure it's the same beast?î
Antoine rubbed his arms. ìI never forget a smell. Or those eyes. I saw it, and it saw me.î
Jack raised an eyebrow at this but continued his questions. ìDo you have any objects from the murder scenes? Maybe I can corroborate your theory, pick up on something.î
Antoine regarded Jack with a steady look. The good soldier had an uncanny ability to sense images by merely touching an object. ìYes, a kerchief.î
Jack clasped his hands, his eyes darkening. ìThat'll do.î He poured himself another glass of wine from the decanter. ìI still don't understand. Why waste its time killing these men? Why not just come after you?î
ìYou're not that naive, are you, darling? It lives to kill, to see the terror in its victims' eyes before it tears their throats out. It likes taunting me.î
ìQuit the 'darling.'ì Jack took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his shirt pocket. He lit the cigarette, and its smoke curled seductively into slow-winding wisps in the air.
Antoine could not stop staring at Jack's square hands, remembering how those hands felt on his back. Desire flushed through his body, igniting his bloodlust. He pushed aside his bowl and rested one elbow on the table, the other hand stroking the tablecloth.
Jack's gaze fell to Antoine's hand caressing the cloth. He frowned as he fidgeted with his cigarette, nervously tapping the tip on the rim of the ashtray. ìHow in the hell could it resurrect itself?î Jack looked up at Antoine.
ìI know of one man who can raise the dead.î Antoine stood up, splaying his palms on the table to lean forward. ìEidolon.î The man who had killed his parents, the man who had turned Jack Hunter into a killer of immense skill and strength.
Jack drained the rest of his wine and set the glass down with a forceful clink
. His eyes narrowed, and his mouth took on a menacing sneerósigns that his dangerous side was beginning to emerge. That was the look Antoine was hoping to seeóthe hunger for revenge. A low growl bubbled in Antoine's throat. His upper lip curled back. Jack's bottled-up rage gave off a most seductive scent. It weaved around Antoine's sensitive nose, heating his blood, heating his groin. The first sensations of his tiger persona stirred close to the surface.
Jack stared at Antoine wide-eyed, as if he sensed the change. He crushed his cigarette butt in the ashtray.
Antoine's excitement edged into his voice. ìThis is our chance to kill him.î
ìThat's why you asked for me. You knew who was responsible.î
ìI suspected. I'll need you to verify it.î Antoine's lips then curved into a slow, sexy grin. ìAnd I missed you. That kiss in the alley was a tease, darling. You were so forceful, magnificent. The feel of your arms around me, the taste of your lipsÖî
Jack gripped the edge of the table and stabbed a finger in the air. ìThat kiss meant nothing. You're a fool if you think I care one whit about you. I despise you, hate you for what you areóa flaming faggot.î
Antoine struck a deliberate suggestive pose and kissed his fingers toward Jack. ìAh, but you kissed me back. Even now I smell your arousal from across the table. You want it, badly. And you want it from me
Jack shoved his chair back so fast, it crashed to the floor. He leaned his muscular chest forward. A flash of silver, and Antoine found a pistol pointed at him. The air crackled with tension and unspoken emotion. Jack's forearms bulged, his finger poised on the trigger.
ìI'll blow your fucking head off if you dare touch me, kiss me, breathe on me. This gun is loaded with special bullets made just for you.î
ìCobalt-tipped? Those are rare, even for you, my hunter.î Antoine lifted his hands in a mock shrug. ìYou could have killed me the night I kissed you in the alley. Your threats, darling, aren't very believable.î
The bullet breezed past Antoine's ear, cleanly slicing off a curl. It drifted to the floor, a dark spot on the pale carpet. Antoine's eyes rounded in surprise, but he did not move a muscle.
ìAh, darling, it isn't wise to waste such a precious bullet. They're hard to come by.î
ìI was a good boy for Christmas. I have more than one.î Jack holstered his pistol, a deep scowl marring his handsome face.
Antoine's hands shook, the bullet having passed dangerously close. Still, he could not help but smile at such a violent reaction. His keen scent had picked up Jack's arousal from across the table. The man could not hide it, but he would let him off the hook, for now. ìLet me get you the kerchief. I'll meet you back in the library.î
Antoine left for his bedroom on the second floor. The kerchief was neatly folded in an airtight box kept on the dresser. He picked up the box and sat on the mattress, his hands still shaking. It had been a close call. A cobalt bullet through the heart would surely have killed him. The sobering thought caused another shiver to run from his head down to his toes.
Clutching the box, he inhaled deeply to steady his hands. In many ways, Jack was his equal, but Antoine had years of experience over the soldier. Risk taking was his way of life. He played the faggot to disarm his opponents, and with Jack, to tease, to poke at that stern exterior and break it apart. Maybe he had gone too far, but Jack provoked him with his ironfisted denial of the truth. That night in the alley, Jack had
kissed him back.
ìWhat's taking so long?î Jack stood in the doorway, his arms folded over his chest. ìWhere is that damn kerchief?î He entered the room and sat down on the far end of the bed, keeping a fair distance between himself and Antoine.
ìPatience.î Antoine unlocked the silver box, then handed Jack a tissue-wrapped package.
Jack sat stiffly on the bed as he unwrapped the tissue. Antoine needed air, and he walked over to the window and opened it a crack. He kept his gaze on the twilight sky. Too many stars twinkling bright promises, promises not for him. Turning away, he intently watched Jack clutch the kerchief in his hand.
Jack was rocking slowly, his eyelids half-shut, his dimple pronounced. Low, gut-wrenching moans rose from his chest, his mouth grimaced in pain. No clue was worth seeing Jack suffer. Antoine snatched the cloth from Jack's fisted hand. Jack's eyes flashed open, unfocused and blank. It was as if he saw nothing but empty space in front of him.
Antoine massaged Jack's fingers, trying to bring him back to the present. Jack's hand felt hot and moist, and incredibly strong. Before he could rationalize why he should not, Antoine caressed Jack's cheek, amazed how a simple gesture brought forth a windstorm of desire. Without thinking, he kissed Jack, thrusting his tongue forward but meeting with a tightly seamed mouth. Jack began to struggle, but Antoine's vise grip on his shoulders was enough to hold down his prey. He went for Jack's neck and bit the tender skin, drawing a bead of blood. He licked it, the taste warm and metallic and exciting.
Jack's blood. Jack's scent. Le Tigre yearned to mate with his khalid. Bloodlust seared through his veins. But before he could kiss Jack again, he was thrown onto his back, his arms held above his head. Jack's powerful body smothered him, igniting an even-hotter blaze.
Jack fiercely snarled, ìDon't mess with me.î
Antoine mocked, ìI believe you're
the hunted now.î