Kiss of Crimson (Chapter Ten)

What the hell was he thinking?

Dante paced the shadows outside the museum, strung out in a bad way. Mistake number one had been coming here in the first place, thinking he'd just take another look at the female who, by Breed law, belonged to him. Mistake number two? Seeing her on the arm of her human boyfriend, looking like a vivid jewel in her dark red dress and strappy little sandals, and thinking he wouldn't have the need to look closer.

To touch.

To taste.

From there, things had pretty much sped out of the poor-judgment category and straight into disaster. His sex was raging for release, his vision sharpened by the narrowing of his pupils, still contracted to slits by his desire for the woman. His pulse was throbbing, his fangs stretched long in carnal hunger, all of which did nothing to curb his frustration over nearly losing control of the situation in there with Tess.

Dante could only imagine how far he would have been tempted to take things with Tess if her boyfriend hadn't returned when he did, with the crowd watching or not. There had been a moment, as the human male approached them from the bar, that Dante had entertained some rather primitive thoughts. Murderous thoughts, brought on by his want for Tess.

Jesus Christ.

He should never have come here tonight.

What had he been trying to prove? That he was stronger than the blood bond that linked her to him now?

All he'd proven was his own arrogance. His raging body would be reminding him of that fact for the rest of the night. The way he was knotted up right now, he might be strung out for the rest of the week.

Although he was finding it damn hard to regret feeling Tess melt for him so sweetly. The taste of her blood on his tongue when he'd nicked her lip with his fangs stayed with him, making the rest of his torment seem like child's play.

What he felt right now surpassed base need, carnal or otherwise. It had only been sixteen hours since he'd last fed, yet he thirsted for Tess like he'd gone sixteen days without nourishment. Sixteen hours since he'd last gotten off, and yet he could think of nothing he craved more than to bury himself inside her. Seriously bad news, that's what he was dealing with here.

He needed to get his head on straight, and quick. He hadn't forgotten that he still had a mission to contend with tonight. He was more than ready to focus on something other than the furious pound of his libido.

Digging into the pocket of his dark coat, Dante pulled out his cell and dialed the compound. "Chase report in for patrol yet?" he barked into the device when Gideon picked up the call.

"Not yet. He's not due 'til ten-thirty."

"What time is it now?"

"Uh, it's quarter to nine. Where are you, anyway?"

Dante exhaled a dry chuckle, every cell in his body still hardwired for want of Tess. "Somewhere I never thought I would be, brother."

And far too much time to kill before his second night of show-and-tell with Harvard began. Dante didn 't have that much patience normally, let alone now. "Call the Darkhaven for me," he told Gideon. "Tell Harvard that class begins early tonight. I'm on my way there to pick him up."

Ben insisted on escorting her up to her apartment after the taxi dropped them off. His van was parked on the street below her place, and while Tess had hoped for quick a good-bye at the curb, Ben was intent on playing the gentleman and seeing her to her door on the second floor. His footsteps echoed hollowly behind her as the two of them climbed the old wooden stairs, then paused outside Apartment 2-F. Tess opened her evening bag and felt around inside for her key.

"I don't know if I told you," Ben said softly at her back, "but you look really beautiful tonight, Tess."

She winced, feeling guilty for going with him to the exhibit, especially in light of what had so unexpectedly happened with the man she'd met there.

With Dante, she thought, his name sliding through her mind like dark, soft velvet.

"Thank you," she murmured, and stuck her key into the lock. "And thank you for taking me tonight, Ben. It was very sweet of you."

As the door creaked open, she felt his fingers toy with a strand of her loose hair. "Tess–"

She pivoted to tell him good night, to tell him that this would be the last time that she would go out with him as a couple, but as soon as she was facing him, Ben's mouth came down on hers in an impulsive kiss.

Tess drew back just as abruptly, too startled to couch her reaction. She didn't miss the wounded look in his eyes. The flash of bitter understanding reflected there as she lifted her hand to her lips and shook her head.

"Ben, I'm sorry, but I can't… "

He exhaled sharply, running a hand through his golden hair. "Nah, forget it. My mistake."

"I just… " Tess struggled for the right words. "We can't keep doing this, you know. I want to be your friend, but–" "I said forget it." His voice was curt, stinging. "You've told me how you feel, Doc. I guess I'm just a little slow on the uptake."

"This is my fault, Ben. I shouldn't have gone with you tonight. I didn't mean for you to think that–"

He gave her a tight smile. "I don't think anything. Anyway, I've got to go. Things to do, places to be."

He started moving back toward the stairs. Tess came out into the hallway, feeling terrible for the way things were going. "Ben, don't leave like this. Why don't you come in for a while? Let's talk."

He didn't even answer, just looked at her for a long moment, then pivoted around and jogged down the steps. A few seconds later, the door of her apartment building banged shut. Tess went back inside, locked her door behind her, then drifted over to watch from her front window as Ben climbed into his van and sped away into the dark.

Behind the cover of dark sunglasses and the flickering light of strobes in the dance club, Dante scanned the crowd of flailing, gyrating humans. Since picking Chase up from his Darkhaven residence a couple of hours earlier, they'd run across only one Rogue, a rangy-looking male who'd been sniffing out prey among the homeless. Dante had given Harvard a quick lesson in the miracle of titanium when it meets a Rogue's corrupted blood system, smoking the suckhead on the spot.

More's the pity, because Dante was still itching for some up-close-and-personal combat. Before the night's patrol was through, he wanted to get bruised and bloody. Call it attitude adjustment, after the clusterfuck way he'd kicked things off tonight.

Harvard, on the other hand, looked like he'd kill for a long shower. Maybe a cold one, Dante thought, following the vampire's gaze across the club, to where a petite female with a long mane of cascading pale blond hair was standing with some other humans. Every time she tossed some of that flaxen silk over her shoulder, the Darkhaven agent seemed to crank tighter. He watched her hungrily, tracking her slightest movements and looking like he was ready to pounce.

Maybe she sensed the heat of the vampire's stare; human nervous systems tended to respond instinctively to the feeling of being stalked by otherworldly eyes. The blonde twirled a length of hair around her finger and cast a sidelong look over her shoulder, zeroing in on the Darkhaven agent with dark, inviting eyes.

"You're in luck, Harvard. Looks like she digs you too."

Chase scowled, ignoring Blondie as she broke away from her pack for an obvious flyby. "She is nothing that I want."

"Could have fooled me." Dante chuckled. "What, you Darkhaven types don't do hot and interested?"

"Unlike others of our kind, I find it personally degrading to give in to my every urge, like some kind of animal who can't be brought to heel. I try to maintain some level of self-control."

There was certainly something to be said for that, Dante thought irritably. "Where the hell were you with that advice a few hours ago, Dr. Phil?"

Chase shot him a questioning look. "Excuse me?"

"Never mind." Dante gestured to a knot of clubbers near the other end of the place. Among the humans was a small group of Darkhaven vampires, young civilian males who seemed less interested in the females throwing off fuck-me vibes than they were in whatever one of the human males appeared to be peddling in the center of the rowdy crowd.

"Some shit going down in the far corner," he told Chase. "Looks like they're busting out party favors. Come on, let's go crash–"

He'd barely gotten the words out before Dante realized what he was seeing. By then, all hell had broken loose.

One of the vampires took a hit of something, snorting it hard. His head snapped back on his shoulders and he let out a deep howl.

"Crimson," Chase snarled, but Dante had already gathered that.

When the Darkhaven youth's chin came down again, he roared, baring long fangs and feral, glowing yellow eyes. The humans screamed. Chaos sent the small group scattering, but it was a clumsy break, and one of the females wasn't quite fast enough to escape. The vampire lunged for her, leaping on top of her, knocking her to the floor beneath him. The kid was lost to sudden, swift Bloodlust, his sharp teeth stretching longer in anticipation of his kill.

Two hundred people were about to witness a very bloody, very violent–and very public–vampire feeding.

Moving too fast for human eyes to see, Dante and Chase sliced through the crowded dance floor. They were closing in on the catastrophe taking place in the corner when Dante caught a glimpse of the human who was standing there holding a spilled vial of Crimson powder, his jaw slack with horror in the split second before he bolted out the club's back door.

Holy hell.

Dante knew the son of a bitch.

Not by name, but by face. He'd seen him just a few hours ago–with Tess, at the art museum.

The Crimson dealer was her boyfriend.