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Gray shoved Jewel to the ground and threw himself protectively over her body. When she regained her breath, she flailed, trying to make herself the shield. His strength prevailed.

"Damn you," she cried.

He merely meshed his lips into hers for a quick kiss, twisted, and raised his blade. Ready to attack and defend. The vampires' speed was incredible, almost faster than his eyes could see, making them a blur of movement. He didn't know how he was going to fight all of them, or how he was going to save Jewel. He only knew he'd fight to the death if needed.

And it looked like that might be needed.

They were almost within reach, murder in their eyes... almost... His body tensed, readied for impact and battle.

Neither race touched them.

"What the hell?" Shock pounded through him.

The vampires had flown past them and caught the demons midair, crashing together. Hisses rebounded, followed by the sound of sucking. The smell of sulfur blended with a metallic twang.

The centaur bolted into motion. Gray jumped up, pulling Jewel with him, and tried to follow the path the horse-woman had taken.

"Wait," Jewel said, trying to jerk him to a stop.

"Where's that safe house you mentioned?" He tugged his hood back over his head, covering his pale locks, determination propelling him onward. After a quick left and right perimeter check - and spotting several Mers - he ushered Jewel to another alleyway.

"Wait!" she repeated.

This time, he spun and faced her. Half of her face was shadowed by the hood, but her lips - those soft, pleasure-giving lips - were perfectly visible. "Baby, this is life and death. We can talk when I've got you tucked away safe."

"I read his mind."

His brow furrowed. "Who?"

"Layel. King of the vampires. I read his mind."

Understanding dawned. He dragged her inside a nearby cart and slithered the canopy over their heads. He didn't like remaining sedentary, but flattened himself on top of her, pressing her back into the splintered wood. "All right, I'm listening." He kept his voice quiet, not wanting the sound to carry. "What did you learn?"

She shivered at the contact. "Layel wants to help us." "Why?"

"I don't know."

He leaned into her until their breath mingled, the light in his silver eyes piercing her with its intensity. The hard length of his body fit perfectly against hers. "How can you know one and not the other?"

Jewel licked her lips and liquefied against him. Gray had been so distant with her since awaking this morning. He'd barely touched her. And now that he was, she couldn't control her reaction. She wanted him again.

"Concentrate, baby."

"People do not think in sequential ways," she said, forcing her mind on the task at hand. "I want to help them because of this reason and that reason."

 

He cursed under his breath. "You're right. I'd feel a lot better knowing his motives, though."

"Yes." Her hands itched to slide up his chest, to have his hands slide down hers. "His men are keeping the Mers and demons away from us. He wants us to stay here."

"Are you certain he won't hurt you? You can't predict danger against yourself."

"I'm sure about this. Very sure."

He shifted, his erection pressing between her legs. She gasped. He wasn't immune to their contact, either. "All right," he said. "We'll wait for him."

She brushed her lips over his jaw line, tingling erotically when his beard stubble teased her. Hands climbing up his back, she spread her legs and welcomed him deeper.

He stopped her action with a shake of his head. "Don't. We can't do that here." "We're perfectly safe."

"Doesn't matter. I don't want to get caught with my pants down and besides that, our physical relationship is over."

"Why?" she whispered, freezing inside. A hollow beat drummed in her chest. "You're touching me now." "You know what I mean." His stark tone lashed out.

"No, I don't."

His teeth ground together, and he remained silent for a long while. Finally, he snapped, "I'll hurt you, damn it."

Hurt her? "The only way you'll hurt me is by not touching me."

His mouth twisted in a scowl. "Things are different now. I'm different." His fist pounded into the cart, right beside her head. "Damn it. I want to drink your blood. Every time I get close to you, I can smell your blood and I want to taste it."

Her eyes widened. He expected her to be horrified, scared. Disgusted. How could he know she was not like the women of his acquaintance? She had been raised in this world, where vampires were the norm.

His desire excited her.

She'd never been bitten before, but she wanted to share a deeper part of herself with Gray, wanted to be the first and only woman he drank from. Perhaps it would link them, far stronger than they were already linked.

"I want you to bite me." Not giving him a chance to protest, Jewel meshed her lips into his. He groaned then opened eagerly, without protest, his tongue quickly taking control. His flavor, male and heat, invaded her mouth, a welcome conqueror. Their teeth scraped together as their bodies strained for closer contact. Her breasts pressed into his chest. His hands cupped her bottom and jerked her hard against his erection.

Desire rocked her, hot and hungry.

"You taste so good," he muttered raggedly. "We shouldn't be doing this." "I want you so much," she breathed.

He kissed his way down her face, her chin, her neck, and his tongue flicked out, laving the sensitive skin. She felt his teeth elongating, readying for insertion. "I shouldn't do this."

"Please, do it now." Her body was crying out for all of him. She'd loved him for so long, desired him for so long. Craved him. "Maybe my blood will ease the changes inside you and help you conquer them."

"Stop me if I hurt you." He opened his mouth against her neck and applied a slight pressure. Just about...

"Now, now, children." The flap covering them was whipped aside. "You should take that somewhere private."

Gray sprang up, facing the intruder with a feral growl. Everything about him, from his posture, to his clenched fists and his glowering red eyes, screamed his intention to attack. His breathing was quick, shallow.

Jewel drew in a shaky breath and hopped beside him, her legs almost buckling under her weight. She curled her hand around his forearm. Instantly he relaxed.

"Layel," she said, straightening her shoulders.

The vampire king inclined his head in acknowledgement. His handsome features were so perfect they could have been chiseled from stone. "Leave the Inner City," he said. A drop of black blood trickled from the side of his mouth. He licked it away with a shudder of distaste. "The demons always taste sour." He flicked Gray a glance. "I don't recommend them."

Another low growl purred from Gray. "State your purpose, vampire."

Layel arched an uncaring brow. "Marina is determined to have the girl back."

"She's mine."

Layel chuckled, the sound filled with rich masculine humor. "Neither of us wants the queen to recapture her. For different reasons, I'm sure. My men will see you to safety."

Jewel opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. "You know you can trust me in this." She nodded. "However, it is your motives I question."

"You do not have to fear for your human," Layel said. "While I'm sure he would make a tasty snack, I'm quite full. And besides that, he has a bit of demon blood, does he not? I'm only interested in dessert at the moment, not more of the same rotten meal."

"Give me your hand," she persisted, "so that I can assure myself - " He backed away hastily. "You will not touch me."

And in that moment, Jewel felt his fear. He was hiding something and did not want her to know it, but she sensed that it had nothing to do Gray. She dropped her hand to her side. "Very well."

"I don't trust him," Gray said, stating the words loudly. He struggled to get himself under control, to dim the bloodlust rushing through him. He'd almost bitten Jewel, had almost drunk her blood after he'd fought so hard to ignore the craving.

He should have been disgusted with himself. He wasn't.

He was only enraged that he'd been interrupted.

He didn't like this vampire king and didn't like the way the man watched Jewel, as if inviting her to be his friend. But more than that, he didn't like the fact that the evil creature was swooping in and becoming the hero. Irrational, yes. But it was Gray's job to protect Jewel, and he'd be damned if he'd allow anyone else to get near her. Especially a vampire.

The irony of that didn't escape him.

The woman was hunted like a prized twenty-point buck during deer season, and he didn't dare trust anyone with her.

"Without me, you'll lose her," the vampire said.

"I will allow your men to see us out of the city." Better to keep them close and use them to escape the demons. "After that, they must leave."

"Or what?" Layel asked with amusement.

"Or I'll do to your men what I did to the demon castle."

Layel lost his smile. His ice-blue gaze narrowed menacingly. "Very well. If Marina captures you, however, I will kill you both before I allow her to use the - "

"Layel!" Jewel shouted, nervousness blasting from her voice. "You cannot kill me, and you know it. Now be on your way. Marina is looking for you and she is not pleased."

The vampire actually grimaced. "Until next time."

And then he was gone, two other vampires standing in his place. "Let's go," one of them said. "We don't have much time."

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