“Aspic!” Runa’s cheeks burned with mortification.
“Runa,” the leather man said softly, as though testing the feel of her name on his tongue. “Would you like to take a ride?”
“She’d love to,” Aspic said, and plopped his coffee in front of him.
Runa shook her head. “I don’t think—”
“Good,” he said, as he threw down a ten-dollar bill. “Keep the change. Let’s go.”
Before she could utter a protest, he grabbed his coffee, came around the counter, took her hand, and led her toward the back door. She planted her feet at the threshold. “Look, Mr. …”
Odd name. Then again, she worked with a girl who called herself Aspic. “Mr. Shade.”
“Shade, then. I’m afraid I can’t go anywhere with you.”
He cocked one black eyebrow and pushed open the door. “Who said anything about going anywhere?”
“But, you said ride.”
Her flowing skirt whirled around her calves as he whisked her into the side street and toward the alley. “Yep.”
Panic flared. This man could be a serial killer or a rapist, and here she was, half his size, be-bopping into an alley with him. “I can’t—”
Suddenly, she found herself against the wall of the building, his body pinning hers, his mouth against her ear. Both of his hands were on her shoulders … what had he done with the coffee?
“I can smell your desire, Runa,” he murmured in a coaxing, seductive tone. “You’re blooming for me like a flower.”
He rocked his h*ps into her. The erection behind the fly of his pants massaged her belly, promising an experience she’d never forget. The man was sex on legs, an overwhelming mass of muscle, testosterone, and sensuality for which she had no defense. Nothing had prepared her for something like this. She doubted any woman could be prepared for Shade. At least not mentally. Her body was preparing itself without her go-ahead.
Her br**sts tingled and tightened, her heart pounded frantically against her rib cage, and a rush of liquid dampened her panties. She squeezed her thighs together to relieve the ache between them, but that only made things worse.
The situation was rapidly tumbling out of control, and as his tongue swept along her neck and his hands stroked her hips, she found she couldn’t care.
He fisted her skirt and drew it up to her hips. “Do you want this?” He nuzzled her throat and pressed a thick thigh between her legs, creating the most delicious pressure. “Tell me to stop, and I will.”
This was her out. Her chance to get away from him. To go back inside her failing shop and then home to her dying brother. On the way home she could get robbed and shot. Run over by a taxi. Stabbed in a subway station.
And she’d die knowing she should have taken a risk for once in her life.
Shade’s fingers slipped between them, stroking her core over the wet fabric of her panties. “Well?”
“Don’t stop. Please don’t stop.”
A low, sensual rumble came from deep in his throat as he kissed her. Not a proper kiss, but a lick across her lips and then a deep, hot meeting of tongues that had her panting and clinging to his jacket as if she would never let him go.
The rip of fabric registered in her ears, alongside the hum of passing vehicles, the laughter of someone on the sidewalk. None of it mattered, not even the flutter of her panties against her legs as they fell to the pavement.
God, this was crazy. Sex with a stranger in an alley. In the middle of the day.
A moment of clarity punched through her sexual haze as he unzipped his pants. She stopped him with a firm grasp on his wrist. “Why me?” she rasped. “There were other women in there, prettier, sexier—”
“I sensed your need.”
It was a strange answer, but then he was pushing against her entrance despite her restraining grip, and she didn’t care why this whirlwind had happened. Instinct took over, and she wrapped her legs around his waist and groaned as he eased the tip of his erection inside.
“Oh, man,” he breathed. “You’re so tight.” He pulled back a little, and then pushed inside again, just the head. The mild stretching sensation eased into a shimmer of pleasure as the crown of his penis worked the ring of nerves at her entrance.
“Wow.” She arched her back, and he slid his forearm behind her, cushioning her spine. “More. I want more.”
As though he’d been waiting for permission, he thrust deep, destroying her pleasure with a wave of pain. He froze, his expression tight. “You okay?”
“Fine,” she managed, as the pain faded. “It’s just been a long time.” Years, in fact. She’d lost her virginity her senior year of high school to a boy who swore he loved her, but two days later he’d loved someone else in the same way.
“You should have told me,” he growled. “I could have been gentler.”
“Just finish it,” she said, and with a harsh curse, he started moving inside her.
There was no slow buildup like she’d expected. No mildly pleasant stirring of sensation. No gradual warming.
There was an instant shattering, an explosion that would have had her screaming if he hadn’t slapped a hand over her mouth. His powerful thrusts rammed her into the building but she didn’t care, couldn’t care, because she was coming again and he was shuddering, moaning, jerking in a powerful release.
When they could both breathe again, she lowered herself to her feet and he pulled out, tucking himself swiftly back into his pants. Warm, tingly fluid dripped down her leg, blasting her back to reality.
“Oh, my God. You didn’t use a condom.”
“I’m sterile, and I’m not a carrier for diseases.”
He silenced her with a kiss. When he drew back, she felt dazed. He took her hand and led her toward the shop’s rear entrance. Just before she reached the door, a flash of lightning sizzled through her veins.
“Oh!” She gasped as another orgasm rocked her body. Shade held her through it, his massive body taking the impact of her spasms.
“That’s going to happen a couple more times. You might want to hide out in an office or break room for a few.” He waited until she was steady on her feet, and then sauntered off. At the corner, he glanced back over his shoulder. “By the way, I drive a Harley.”
Frowning, she stepped inside the building. Aspic grinned. “So? What kind of bike did he have?”
Runa laughed. “A Harley. He had a Harley.”
Shade had contacted her later, and they’d dated for a few weeks. Then her brother’s medical condition worsened. Shade had come to her house, spent a few minutes with Arik, and within days her brother had made a full recovery.
It was only days after that that she’d been attacked by the werewolf, and Arik had taken her to the R-XR for lifesaving care.
The secret military installation had been a shock—she’d thought her brother was regular Army, just another soldier. But he’d been working for the R-XR for years, along with a select group of about a hundred others, some active duty, some civilians. And a handful were even wargs—military members who had survived attacks and been snatched out of their regular units to work for R-XR.
Because of their lycanthropy, they’d felt isolated from their fellow soldiers, and they’d formed a pack, as their new instincts demanded. They’d allowed her into their inner circle, but without a military background, she’d still felt like an outsider no matter how often they’d invited her to their backyard barbecues and nights out at the base bar.
Arik had not been happy about any of that. He’d been convinced the alpha, a too-hot-for-his-own-good male chauvinist named Brendan, had his sights on making her his alpha female, but then, Arik had always worried about her. From the time they were children, he’d been her watchdog, dragging her away from their father’s fists. Then later, when Arik had been awarded guardianship of her, he’d made sure every high school boyfriend understood the consequences of hurting her.
A grinding noise yanked Runa out of her thoughts. The door to the cell swung open, and the Nightlash and the two imps dragged Shade inside. He was na**d, his arms and legs bound, his chest and thighs caked with dried blood.
His eyes, glowing gold, fixed on her. An instant, uncontrollable urge to go to him had her straining against her chains. He bellowed, battled his captors as he struggled to get to her, and although she didn’t know why he wanted her so badly, she could feel his desperation right down to the way her body heated in response.
The Nightlash slammed a thick club down on Shade’s skull. The sharp crack echoed through the cell like a gunshot. Shade grunted and settled down, but his eyes still glowed, and he still watched her …
Watched her with the single-minded intensity of an aroused male who wanted one thing.
And wanted it now.
“Talk to me, Shade.”
Runa stretched to the end of her chain. Their captors had left him secured to the wall with a collar around his neck and just out of her reach. He’d gone crazy at first, leaping at her like something possessed, giving her a glimpse of the demon beneath the human appearance. Eventually, when his throat began to bleed from the struggles, he’d curled into a fetal position and lain there, panting and moaning, for what had to have been half an hour. His vulnerability broke through the barrier of anger she felt for him, until her fingers had itched to smooth his hair away from his face, where sweat had beaded on his brow.
Idiot. The man … creature … whatever … had tossed her away like garbage. She didn’t give a crap about his you-know-my-nature bullshit. For the first time in her life, she’d taken a risk, had believed that maybe it was time to put aside the past and let herself be happy.
Her anger roared back, and she welcomed it like an old friend.
“What did they do to you?” she asked, her voice steely.
“Need …” He broke with a shudder. “Pain.”
“I know it hurts. What can I do?”
“Pain. Hurt … me.”
“Yes, they hurt you—”
“No.” His face twisted into an agonized grimace as he stretched until his toes made contact with her fingers, at which point he hissed. “I need you … to cause me pain. Make it … hurt.”
“What? No.” She jerked away from him. “I’ve been dying to do that for a long time, but if you want it, it sort of takes the pleasure out of it.”
“Please.” He opened his eyes. Dark shadows framed them, and the gold was gone, replaced by the near-black that always sucked her in.
She stared at his foot, wondering what she could do. There was nothing within reach she could strike him with. But maybe … no, if she shifted into a werewolf, the manacle around her ankle would hurt like hell as her size doubled.
“Runa.” He shuddered so hard his chains rattled. “I’ll die … if you don’t.”
Oh, damn. No matter how angry she was at him, she couldn’t let him die. He fell still as she stripped off her shirt, as though he knew she’d decided to help. She peeled off her jeans, as well, but had to leave them hanging off the cuff around her ankle.
Bracing herself, she shifted. Skin stretched. Bone popped. Excruciating pain ripped through her face as her jaws extended and teeth erupted. Sure enough, the ankle manacle squeezed like a vise, sending such intense waves of agony up her leg that her vision blurred. Shade watched with wide eyes as she leaped to the end of her chain. Her larger size and canine muzzle gave her the extra length she needed to clamp down on Shade’s foot with her mouth.
He yelped, a brief shout of pain before he smothered the sound with a moan. Between her teeth, she felt bones give but not break. His skin didn’t fare as well, and she tasted blood.
“Enough,” Shade growled, and she released him.
Her leg throbbed as she shifted back to human form. She lay on the ground, exhausted from the transformation, feeling spent and hoping no one had seen. If their captors learned she could voluntarily shift form into a warg, they might not wait until the full moon to take her pelt.
She gagged at the coppery taste of blood in her mouth and spat into the straw.
“Thank you,” he said hoarsely, and if she didn’t know better, she’d think his shredded voice was the result of hours of screaming. But he’d endured his torture and suffering in silence. He sat up, pulling gingerly at his foot, but he seemed much better despite the amount of pain the wound must have caused. “Why can you shift at will?”
Weakly, she faced him, her gaze dropping to his na**d body before she could catch herself. Even sitting there, chained up and injured, he radiated masculine power. She raised her eyes to his caduceus pendant. She’d recognized it as a medical symbol back when they were dating, but now that she knew where he worked and what he was, the odd design made more sense. The common staff had been replaced by a dagger circled by two sinister-looking vipers, and the wings above their heads were batlike and tribal.
“You first,” she said, as she pulled her jeans up. “Why do you feel better even though I just gnawed on you like a Rottweiler’s chew toy? What did they do to you?”
He threw his head back against the wall and stared at the ceiling. “They forced a female on me. It’s a curse of my species that once we’re aroused beyond a certain point, we need release, or the pain becomes disabling. If it goes on long enough, we die.”
“Oh. So the female …” she trailed off, not wanting to know what the female had done to him.