Bride was stunned. She wouldn’t have thought he could ever become better looking, but with that devilish grin, he did. Worse, the intense, feral look of that languid hazel-green gaze made her shivery and hot. Never in her life had she seen a man even one-tenth as good-looking as this one.
"Hi," she said back, feeling like nine kinds of stupid.
His gaze finally left her and went around the store to her various displays. "I’m looking for a present," he said in that deeply hypnotic voice. She could have listened to him speak for hours, and for some reason she couldn’t explain, she wanted to hear him say her name.
Bride cleared her throat and put those moronic thoughts away as she came out from behind her counter. If her cute ex couldn’t stomach her looks, why would a god like this one give a rat’s bottom about her?
So she decided to calm down before she embarrassed herself with him.
"Who is it for?"
"Someone very special."
His gaze came back to hers and made her tremble even more. He shook his head slightly. "I could never be so lucky," he said, his tone low, beguiling. What an odd thing for him to say. She couldn’t imagine this guy having trouble getting any woman he wanted. Who on earth would say no to that?
On second thought, she hoped she never met a woman that attractive. If she did, she would be morally obligated to run her over in her car.
"How much are you wanting to spend?"
He shrugged. "Money doesn’t mean anything to me."
Bride blinked at that. Gorgeous and loaded. Man, some woman out there was lucky. "Okay. We have some necklaces. Those are always a nice gift."
Vane followed her over to an alcove against the far wall where she had a mirror set up, with a multitude of beaded chokers and earrings that were on cardboard stands around it.
The scent of her made him hard and hot. It was all he could do not to dip his head down to her shoulder and just inhale her scent until he was drunk with it. He focused his gaze on the bare, pale skin of her neck He licked his lips as he imagined what she would taste like. What it would feel like to have her lush curves pressed up against his body. To have her lips swollen from his kisses, her eyes dark and dreamy from passion as she looked up at him while he took her.
Even worse, he could sense her own desire and it whetted his appetites even more.
"Which is your favorite?" he asked, even though he already knew the answer. There was a black Victorian choker that had her scent all over it. It was obvious she had tried it on recently. "This one," she said, reaching for it.
His c**k hardened even more as her fingers brushed the black onyx stones.
He wanted nothing more than to run his hand down her extended arm, to skim his palm over her soft, pale skin until he reached her hand. A hand he would love to nibble.
"Would you try it on for me?"
Bride trembled at the deep tone of his voice. What was it about him that made her so nervous?
But then she knew. He was intensely masculine and being under his direct scrutiny was as excruciating as it was disconcerting. She tried to put the necklace on, but her hands shook so badly that she couldn’t fasten it.
"May I help?" he asked.
She swallowed and nodded.
His warm hands touched hers, making her even more jittery. She looked in the mirror, catching sight of those hazel-green eyes that stared at her with a heat that made her both shiver and burn. He was without a doubt the best-looking man to ever live and breathe and here he was touching her. It was enough to make her faint!
He deftly fastened the necklace. His fingers lingered at her neck for a minute before he met her gaze in the mirror and stepped back.
"Beautiful," he murmured huskily, only he wasn’t looking at the necklace. He was staring into the reflection of her eyes. "I’ll take it."
Torn between relief and sadness, Bride looked away quickly as she reached to take it off. In truth, she loved this necklace and hated to see it go. She’d bought it for the store, but had wanted to keep it for herself. But why bother? It was a six-hundred-dollar handmade work of art. She didn’t have anywhere to wear it. It would be a waste, and the pragmatic Irishwoman in her wouldn’t allow her to be so foolish.
Pulling it off, she swallowed the new lump in her throat and headed for the register. Vane watched her intently. She was even sadder than before. Gods, how he wanted nothing more than to have her smile at him. What did a human male say to a human female to make her happy?
She-wolves didn’t really smile, not like humans did. Their smiles were more devious, seductive. Inviting. His people didn’t smile when they were happy.
They had sex when they were happy and that, to him, was the biggest benefit to being an animalrather than a human. Humans had rules about intimacy that he had never fully understood.
She placed the necklace in a large white box with a cotton pad in the bottom.
"Would you like it gift-wrapped?"
Carefully, she removed the price tag, set it next to the register, then pulled out a small piece of paper that had been pre-cut to the size of the box.
Without looking up at him, she quickly wrapped the box and rang up his sale.
"Six hundred and twenty-three dollars and eighty-four cents, please."
Still she didn’t look at him. Instead her gaze was focused on the ground near his feet.
Vane felt a strange urge to dip down until his face was in her line of sight.
He refrained as he pulled his wallet out and handed her his American Express card.
It was laughable, really, that a wolf had a human credit card. But then, this was the twenty-first century and those who didn’t blend quickly found themselves exterminated. Unlike many others of his kind, he had investments and property.
Hell, he even had a personal banker.
Bride took the card and ran it through her computer terminal.
"You work here alone?" he asked, and quickly learned that was inappropriate since her fear returned with a scent so strong it almost made him curse out loud.
She was lying to him. He could smell it.
Good going, jackass. Humans. He’d never understand them. But then, they were weak, especially their females.
She handed him the receipt.
Aggravated at himself for making her even more uncomfortable, he signed his name and handed it back to her.
She compared his signature to his card and frowned. "Katta"
"Kattalakis," he said. "It’s Greek."
Her eyes lighted up just a bit as she returned the card to him. "That’s very different. You must have a hard time spelling it for people."
She tucked the receipt into her drawer, then placed the wrapped box in a small bag with corded handles. "Thanks," she said quietly, setting it on the counter in front of him. "Have a nice day, Mr. Kattalakis."
He nodded and headed for the door, his heart even heavier than before, because he had failed to make her happy.
"Wait!" she said as he touched the knob. "You left your necklace."
Vane looked back at her one last time, knowing he would never see her again. She was so beautiful there with large, amber eyes set in the pale face of a goddess. There was something about her that reminded him of a Rubens angel. She was ethereal and lovely.
And far too fragile for an animal.
"No," he said quietly. "I left it with the woman I wanted to have it."
Bride felt her jaw go slack as his words hung in the air between them. "I can’t take this."
He opened the door and headed out into the street.
Grabbing the bag from the counter, Bride ran after him. He was heading quickly down toward the center of the Quarter and it took her some serious rushing to catch up to him.
She took hold of his arm, amazed at the tautness of his biceps as she pulled him to a stop. Breathless, she looked up at him and those beguiling hazel-green eyes. "I can’t take this," she said again, giving the bag to him. "It’s way too much."
He refused to take it. "I want you to have it."
There was so much unfathomable sincerity in those words that she couldn’t do anything more than gape at him. "Why?"
"Because beautiful women deserve beautiful things."
No one unrelated to her had ever said anything so kind. Today more than any other, she needed to hear it. She’d never thought any man would ever think of her that way. And to hear it from this gorgeous stranger meant the world to her. Those words reached so deep inside her that that She burst into tears.
Vane stood there feeling completely at a loss. What was this? Wolves didn’t cry. A she-wolf might tear out a man’s throat for pissing her off, but she never cried and especially not when someone had complimented her. "I’m sorry," he said, completely confused by what he’d done wrong. "I thought it would make you happy. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings."
She cried even more.
What was he supposed to do now? He looked around him, but there was no one to ask.
Screw the human in him. He didn’t comprehend that part of himself, either. Instead, he listened to the animal part that only knew instinctively how to take care of someone when they were hurt.
He scooped her up into his arms and carried her back toward her store.
Animals always did better in their native environment so it only stood to reason that a human might, as well. It was easier to cope with familiar things around.
She latched on to his neck as he carried her and wept even harder. Her hot tears raised chills on his skin and he ached for her.
How could he make this better?
Bride hated herself for breaking down like this. What the hell was wrong with her? Worse, he was carrying her!
Carrying her! And he wasn’t complaining that she was fat and heavy, or grunting from the strain of it. She’d jokingly asked Taylor to carry her over the threshold when they had moved in together and he had laughed, then asked her if she was trying to give him a hernia.
Later that night, Taylor had agreed to do it only if she bought him a forklift for it.
And yet here this total stranger carried her with ease down the street. For the first time in her life, she almost felt petite.
But she wasn’t that delusional. Bride McTierney hadn’t been petite since she was six months old.
He opened her door, stepped inside, then closed it with his boot heel.
Without breaking stride, he took her to the tall stool behind her register. He sat her down with care, then untucked his white T-shirt and used the end of it to blot her eyes.
"Ow!" she said as he almost poked her right eye out. It was a good thing she didn’t wear contacts or she’d be blind.
He looked contrite. "Sorry."
"No," she said, looking up at him through her tears.
"I’m the one who needs to apologize. I didn’t mean to have a nervous breakdown on you."
"Is that what this is?"
Was he serious? He definitely appeared so.
She drew in a ragged breath and wiped her eyes with her hands. "No, this is me being stupid. I’m so sorry."
He offered her a small, seductive grin. "It’s okay. Really. I think."
Bride stared at him in disbelief. Why was this man in her store being so kind to her? It didn’t make sense.
Was this a dream?
Trying to regain some of her dignity, she pulled his credit slip from the register box. "Here," she said, handing it to him. "Why are you giving me this?"
"Oh, come on. No one buys a necklace this expensive for a complete stranger."
Again he didn’t take it. Instead, he reached inside the bag and took out the box. She watched as he unwrapped it, then placed the choker around her neck again. The contrast between his hot hands and the cool beads made her shiver.
He laced his fingers through the tendrils of her hair while gazing at her like she was some delectable dessert that he was dying to taste.
No one had ever given her such a hot look before. It wasn’t natural for a man this handsome to look at her like that.
"It belongs on you. No other woman could do it justice."
Tears welled in her eyes, but she blinked them back before he called the psycho ward on her. The heat of his hand against her neck was searing. "What? Did you lose a bet or something?"
"Then why are you being so nice to me?"
He cocked his head as if puzzled by her question. "Do I need a reason?"
Vane was completely baffled. Humans needed a reason to be nice to each other? No wonder his kind avoided them.
"I don’t know what to say," he admitted. "I didn’t know there were rules for giving gifts or for trying to make someone feel better. You looked so sad as I walked by that I only wanted to make you smile."
He took a deep breath and handed her the credit slip. "Keep the necklace, please. It looks good on you, and I have no one else to give it to. I’m sure my brother wouldn’t want it. He’d probably shove it someplace real uncomfortable if I gave it to him. And if he didn’t, that would scare me even more."
Finally, she laughed. The sound lightened his heart instantly.
"Is that a smile?" he asked.
She nodded and sniffed delicately before she laughed again.