"Hi, Bride," he said with that perfect capped-tooth smile of his. "Are you alone?"
Her wolf started to growl.
"Hi, Taylor," she said, reaching down to touch and soothe her companion.
"Except for my pet, yeah."
"Pet?" He peeped over the counter to look at Vane, who was now on his feet with his ears laid back.
Taylor stepped back. "That’s a hell of a pet you have there. Did your dad give him to you?"
"What do you want?" she asked. "I know you didn’t just come to shoot the breeze with me."
"I’ve, um, I’ve got your stuff outside and wanted to know what to do with it."
She looked outside to see a small moving van parked behind Taylor’s red Alfa Romeo. "You were supposed to have it here two days ago."
He made a disgusted sound at her. "Yeah, well I’ve been busy. You know, I actually have a life."
She rolled her eyes at him as anger took hold. "You know, I do, too."
"Yeah," he said with a laugh. "Eating bonbons and watching TV is so time-consuming."
She gave him a reproachful glare. "You are such a jerk. What did I ever see in you?"
He held his arms out as if he were presenting himself to her and smiled.
"Same thing every woman sees in me, babe. Face it, we both know you’ll never have another guy who looks as good as me interested in you."
Vane leaped at him.
"No!" Bride snapped, but it was too late. The wolf had already latched on to Taylor’s arm.
Taylor screamed out in pain.
She grabbed the wolf and pulled him back. Vane strained against her, barking and snarling ferociously as he finally let go of Taylor’s arm.
She pulled him into the back room and locked him up.
Taylor held his bleeding arm to his side. "That’s it. Consider yourself sued."
"Don’t even try it," she said, her own temper snapping as she came back to where he was standing. "You were on my property. I’ll tell the police you were threatening me."
"Yeah, right, who would ever believe that?"
"Any anchor person at the other two stations who hate you as much as I do."
His face went pale.
"Yeah, Taylor," she said evilly. "Remember who all the little fat chick knows in this town. I’m the last person you want to screw with."
He turned on his heel and went outside.
Bride followed him and heard him yell at the movers, "Just dump her shit on the street."
"Don’t you dare!"
"Do it," he snarled at the men.
To her instant chagrin, the movers opened the back of their truck and started putting boxes on the curb.
Bride was aghast. "I’ll pay you three hundred dollars to take it to my apartment around back."
The movers passed a look to each other, then nodded and headed for her gate.
"I’ll double whatever she offers you to leave her stuff on the street like the trash that it is."
They set the boxes back on the curb.
"You unbelievable bastard!"
He opened his mouth to respond, then closed it as a motorcycle came roaring toward them.
Bride frowned as the rider jumped the curb in front of the Alfa and parked it right outside her shop. The instant the rider removed his helmet, her heart pounded.
It was Vaneand not the furry one.
Dressed in a black leather jacket and faded jeans, he looked good enough to eat.
And his rugged handsomeness made a mockery of Taylor’s pretty-boy features.
Taylor stared at them as Bride closed the distance between them. Vane put the kickstand down, then slung a long, masculine leg over the bike. In one fluid move, he pulled her against him and kissed her like something out of a movie.
"Hi, Bride," he breathed against her lips.
She smiled up at him. "Hi."
"Who the hell is this?" Taylor asked.
Vane gave him a once-over that said he didn’t think much of Taylor. "I’m her lover, who the hell are you?"
Bride bit her lip as happiness tore through her. She could kiss him again for that.
"I’m her boyfriend."
"Ah," Vane said. "You’re the skank dickhead." He looked back at Bride. "I thought you threw this loser out."
She smiled even wider before she cast an evil glare at Taylor. "I did, but he came back begging."
Vane looked over her shoulder at the movers, who were quickly piling her furniture and boxes on the sidewalk. "What are they doing?"
She drew a ragged breath at Taylor’s cruelty. "Taylor is paying them to leave my stuff on the street like trash. Whatever I try to pay them to take it to my apartment, he’s going to double it."
Vane looked less than pleased by that. "Really?" He lifted his chin. "Hey, guys?"
They paused to look at Vane.
"Ten thousand dollars to take her stuff inside and put it wherever she wants it."
The tallest of them laughed. "Yeah, right. You got it on you?"
Vane left her side. He pulled his cell phone off his belt and handed it to the man. "Press one and it rings Wachovia. Ask for Leslie Daniels, she’s the bank president, and give her your bank and account information. She’ll wire it instantly into your account, or to Western Union if you prefer."
The man looked skeptical, but did as Vane asked. As soon as he asked for Leslie, his eyes bulged.
He looked at the rest of the movers and then went to the truck to pull out his checkbook.
Vane winked at her.
A few minutes later, the mover came back and returned the phone to Vane.
"She wants to talk to you to make sure you’re Mr. Kattalakis."
Vane took the phone. "Hey, Les, it’s me Yeah, I know." While he listened, he passed an angry glare at Taylor. "Tell you what. Make it fifteen thousand for them. They seem like damn decent men Yeah, okay. I’ll talk to you later." He hung up the phone and looked at the movers.
The one in charge offered him a nod of admiration. "Okay, guys, you heard Mr. Kattalakis. Be careful with the lady’s stuff and put it wherever she wants it."
Vane passed what could only be called a shit-eating grin toward Taylor.
"You feel like doubling it now?"
Taylor started toward them, but the feral look on Vane’s face made him take a step back.
Taylor raked them with a disgusted curl of his lip. "You’re welcome to the fat bitch."
Before she could blink, Vane had Taylor thrown across the hood of his car and his hand wrapped around his throat.
Bride ran to them while Vane beat Taylor’s head against the hood.
"Vane, stop, please! Someone will call the cops."
Snarling, Vane let him go. "You ever insult Bride again, I swear I’ll rip your throat out and feed you to the gators in the swamp. You understand me?"
"You’re crazy. I’m swearing out a warrant for you."
Vane smiled tauntingly. "Please try it. All I have to do is press two on my phone for my attorney. I’ll slap you with so many suits for so many years, your grand-kids will be the ones who go to court."
Crawling off the hood of the car, Taylor narrowed his eyes, but he clearly knew he’d been outmaneuvered. His breathing ragged, he grabbed open his car door, got in and squealed off.
"Hey, lady?" the mover asked. "Whenever you’re ready to show us where to put this stuff, please let us know."
Bride left Vane long enough to open the gate and show them to her studio in the back. When she came back, she found Vane leaning against the side of her building, looking at the moving van.
Her heart pounded. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I’m really glad you came by when you did."
He reached to toy with an idle curl she had lying on her shoulder. "Me, too."
"I, um I’ll have to make payments to you for the movers."
"Don’t worry about it. It’s a gift."
"Don’t worry about it," he insisted. "I told you, money has no real value to me."
How much money would he have to have to be able to say that about fifteen thousand dollars? And why would a guy this rich be hanging out with her?
"Well, it has value to me and I don’t want to be obligated to you for anything."
"You’re not obligated to me, Bride. Ever."
"No, I have to pay you back."
"Then have dinner with me and we’ll call it even."
She shook her head at him. "That’s no way to pay you back."
"Sure it is."
She opened her mouth to respond, then remembered her other Vane. "Oh no, I have to go get my wolf. He’ll be beside himself!"
Vane went pale at her words, but she didn’t notice since she was already headed back into her store.
He looked around to make sure the movers couldn’t see him, then flashed himself back into the closet in the back room as a wolf.
He had barely made it before she opened the door.
"There you are, boy," she said, kneeling down to pet him. "I’m so sorry I had to put you in here. You okay?"
He nuzzled her gently.
She gave him a tight hug and then stood up. "C’mon, baby, I have someone I want you to meet."
Vane ground his teeth at her words. How on earth could he meet himself?
He was powerful, but that was beyond even his abilities.
Instead, he bolted for the half-open door and kept running until he was sure she was out of sight.
Bride went running after her wolf.
"Vane!" she called, rushing to the door. She couldn’t see a trace of him anywhere.
She jumped, then turned to see the human Vane behind her. "No, my wolf"
"Is named Vane?"
She opened her mouth as her face heated. "It’s a long story."
He just smiled at her.
Oh Lord, how did she get herself into these predicaments?
"Well, I wouldn’t worry about him. I’m sure he’ll come back."
"I hope so. I’ve gotten kind of attached to him."
Vane’s heart sank. That was the last thing he wanted her to tell him. But in truth, he’d gotten attached to her, too. Something that was lunacy.
He dropped his hand from her hair even though what he really wanted to do was pull her into his arms and kiss those lips. Both parts of him wanted nothing more than to strip their clothes off and rub himself against her. To feel her soft skin sliding against his. Taste her flesh with his tongue Bride swallowed at the look on his face. He stared at her as if she were a cake he was about to devour.
No man had ever given her such a hungry, needful look. She was paralyzed by it.
She jumped at the mover’s call. "Yeah?"
"Where do you want us to put the bed?"
She looked up at Vane. "I’ll be back, okay?" He nodded. She left his side and felt his hot, heavy stare on her the whole way as she went to the movers.
Vane struggled to breathe as he watched her walk away from him. That woman had the best-looking ass he’d ever seen. And he loved and hated the way she wore her hair up. Tendrils of it hung down, grazing her neck, making him want to lick every inch of that tantalizing flesh.
Did all wolves feel like this with their mates? Or was it something about Bride?
He didn’t know for sure. But he was now human with her. God help them both.
Not once in her entire existence had Bride ever felt more awkward. What did a woman say to a man who had bailed her out of one of the worst moments of her life?
"Thank you" was so inadequate for what she felt for him. He was truly a hero to her.
She left the apartment and headed back toward her store while the movers continued to unload her belongings.
At first she didn’t see Vane anywhere. Had he left?
His motorcycle still stood where he’d parked it.
Frowning, she looked inside the store and found him browsing through a rack of slinky dresses that had come in earlier that morning.
He paused at a snazzy black number that had caught her attention. It was made of heavy silk with a halter top that would look great on someone built like Tabitha. She’d ordered them on impulse because she knew instinctively that the dress would really set off the beaded choker Vane had bought for her.
She’d originally planned on displaying the two items together.
Bride opened the door and headed toward him. "Would you like to try one on?" she asked playfully.
He laughed at that. His entire face lightened and his green eyes sparkled.
Gracious, no man should be so handsome.
"I don’t think I have the cle**age to pull it off and it’d probably make my ass really flat."
He pulled the largest one out and held it up to her. "You on the other hand beautiful."
"Oh no," she said, smoothing the cool silk with her hand. "It’s too clingy for me. Besides, I don’t like anything that shows off my upper arms."
He looked confused by her words. "Why?"
She shrugged. "I don’t know. It makes me really self-conscious."
He looked at the dress, then at her, as if he were imagining her in it. "Yeah, you’re probably right. Too many guys would ogle you, then I’d have to hurt them."
He was serious. Amazed by that, Bride arched her brows as she took the dress from him and returned it to the rack.