Playing With Fire (CHAPTER TWENTY)

ROME TURNED TOWARD ME, and I turned toward him. When our gazes caught, held, the warmth inside me flared to a low burn. I licked my lips. It seemed as if I'd waited for this moment forever. Maybe I had.

"Nervous?" he asked.

"Yes." I didn't try to deny it.

"Me, too."

My eyes widened. "You? I didn't think anything got to you." Then realization slammed into me, and my shoulders slumped. "I understand. You're afraid I'll burn down the woods or something."

Moonlight couched his features, bathing him in gold. His eyes glowed bright blue, shimmering. "No, nothing like that. I'll filter any heat you create."

"Then what are you nervous about?" I asked, confused.

"I want to be your best. I want to set you on fire. Over and over again. I want to make you wet."

Everything inside me tingled with delight, with bliss. With pleasure. Moisture pooled between my legs, drenching me. "You already have," I said.

"More," he replied. His head slowly lowered toward mine.

I went up on tiptoes, meeting him halfway. At the moment of contact, I opened for him, and his tongue swept inside. The taste I was becoming addicted to-savage man, wild beast-flooded me.

He took his time with the kiss, laving my tongue, exploring me. Enjoying. My blood simmered, my bones liquefied. I melted into him.

"You taste so good," he said. "You smell so good. That's the first thing I noticed about you. You were horribly sick, but you smelled like apples and cinnamon and total woman."

While he spoke, he traced his fingertip down my chest, over the ridged peak of my nipple, the sensitive plane of my belly. Where he touched, I quivered. He gripped the hem of my T-shirt and slowly worked it over my head, then dropped the material at our feet.

I did the same to him, reveling in the ropes of his muscles, the feel of velvet-encased steel. I yearned to lick every inch of him. To savor him, to have his cock inside me, hard and hot and eager. I'd wrap my legs around his waist and he would sink deeper into me.

"Your turn," he said. He reached behind me and unhooked my bra. My breasts sprang free, aching for him. He kneaded them and plucked at the wanting nipples.

I gasped at the heady sensation, the consuming need. "Now you." I worked at his weapon holster. My fingers were trembling, so it took me longer than I wanted, but the thin black strap soon lay in the puddle of clothes.

When I attempted to unsnap his pants, he tsked with his tongue, the sound rough and raspy. "You don't get to go twice in a row." He worked the button of my pants and pushed them over my hips, down my legs. "Step out of them."

I was aching so much I nearly didn't have the strength to obey. I had to grip his shoulders to hold myself up. Slivers of moonlight illuminated him, my dark angel. He stepped back, his gaze roving over me. Only a pair of lacy panties shielded me.

Usually I was comfortable with my body. I didn't own a car, so I had to walk a lot, which kept me fairly trim. But having Rome see me like this… Did he like what he saw? Did I turn him on?

"Take them off," he rasped. "I do get to go twice. I'm bigger."

I hooked my fingers in the sides of my panties. Rome still had his pants on, and if I did what he asked, I would be completely naked. Completely exposed. A daunting thought, yet…

I shimmied them down my legs, stepped out of them and straightened. Nervousness blended with my arousal, a hot and cold combination. I wished he would say something, anything. Wished he would touch.

As if he knew my deepest desires and wanted only to cater to them, he reached out and swirled a finger in my belly button, saying, "You are, without a doubt, the sexiest woman I've ever seen."

My breath caught. The words were so rough I could barely make them out. When I realized exactly what he'd said, any lingering doubt about my decision to be with him died the sweetest death. My nerve endings sparked with desire so complete it nearly slayed me.

He worked quickly, furiously, at his pants, no longer content to slowly strip. Finally he, too, was naked. I drank in the sight of him. The golden rays of the moon paid him absolute tribute. He was a buffet of muscles and corded strength. He was big and strong, utterly majestic, and I needed him inside me.

Neither of us said a word as we stepped toward each other in unison. I gasped; he growled. His arms closed around me; my arms closed around him. Our tongues clashed together, and his breath became mine. I burned for him, just as he'd wanted. Though my emotions were frayed and raw, I felt passion boiling inside me, flooding from me into Rome.

He instantly captured and caged the heat. Wave after wave beat around us. A groan purred out of my throat. My hands were all over him-his back, his stomach, his penis. I allowed my fingers to curl around the long, thick length of him, and my other hand gripped the heavy weight of his testicles.

He hissed in a ragged breath and suddenly I was falling down, falling backward. The kiss didn't break. Instead of slamming into the ground as I expected, I landed on top of Rome. He had twisted, taking the brunt of the fall himself.

"Straddle me," he said roughly.

I did. With pleasure. My legs settled around his waist, placing the core of me at the tip of his cock. The sensation of flesh against slick flesh rocked me. He tugged me down until my breasts rasped against his chest. Oh, delicious abrasion. Then he slid me up until my nipples perched above his waiting mouth. As he sucked and licked, I rode his cock without actual penetration. I arched and strained against it. Sensation after blissful sensation tore through me.

The deliciousness… the riotous intensity…

He captured my other nipple, giving it the same attention he'd bestowed on the first. " Rome," I said, his name a desperate plea. Up and down, I rubbed myself on his penis. The fire in my blood continued to spill into him. "I'm going to-"

"Ride my fingers," he commanded. He reached between us, his decadent fingers gliding over my stomach, past my pubic hair. "Fuck them like you did before. I've thought about it a thousand times since and got hard every time."

Quivering, I lifted slightly and gave him complete access. He sank two fingers into me. That's exactly what I'd wanted, a part of him inside me. I fucked his fingers as he'd requested, like I wanted, riding them, driving myself to satisfaction.

"That's it," he praised.

My head fell back, and a cry parted my lips. Felt… so… good. Flashing lights winked behind my eyelids as I erupted. Pieces of me soared out of my body, to the stars. While my inner walls clenched and released, tide after tide of pleasure pounded through me. I don't know how long I milked the orgasm, but when the last spasm tapered away, I collapsed on Rome 's chest.

He flipped us over. Reaching out, he clasped his pants and dug inside one of the pockets. Expression tense, he withdrew a condom.

"When did you put that in your pocket?" I asked breathlessly.

"After meeting you, I put a condom in every pair of pants I own."

I arched my brows and chuckled. "That sure you'd get laid?"

"That hopeful." Sweat trickled down his temples. With muscles bunched, poised for release, he rolled the condom over his length, and then his mouth was covering mine. Consuming. Feeding me kiss after kiss.

I wouldn't have thought it possible, so replete was I after that mind-shattering climax, but in seconds I began to heat up again. I arched and writhed against him. I strained. I purred.

I gasped his name.

He shouted mine.

"Inside you. Now," he growled.

"Inside me. Now," I commanded. I spread my legs, anchoring my ankles on his back. God, yes.

He slammed into me, all the way to the hilt. No more foreplay. No more going slowly. We were too far gone for that. My back arched. I cried out. My nerve endings caught on fire. Flames licked at me.

Rome drew them inside himself, and I think that must have increased his own pleasure because he pulled out of me and drove home again. Hard. In and out. Over and over. We strained against each other. As the pleasure increased, his strokes quickened. My nipples rubbed against his chest, a decadent friction.

He kissed me again, our tongues battling, following the same in and out pattern as our bodies. My eyes squeezed shut as I savored a frantic thrust, then I opened them-forced them open, really. I wanted to watch him, watch his face when he came.

I saw glimpses of the beast inside him, flashes of fur and fang, and God help me, it excited me all the more, pushed me over the sweet edge for a second time. Another orgasm blasted through me.

"Belle," he roared, as he, too, erupted. "Belle, Belle, Belle."

AFTERWARD, I LAY in Rome 's arms for a long while. Thankfully, the only fires I'd started had been inside us. The trees were intact. The animals went about their business without interruption.

My body ached with satisfaction. It had been a long-long-time for me, and never like this. Sweat beaded our skin, sticking us together. I stretched languidly. "I'm going for a swim," I announced.

"Mmm, but I want you to stay in my arms."

I planted a kiss on his mouthwatering chest and eased to my feet. My bones protested, but I forced myself to remain standing. If I lingered in his arms, I was more likely to allow myself to think about what we'd done, more likely to fall deeper in love with him. I was already addicted to him.

"I do like the view," he said, his tone heavy with admiration.

I tossed him a grin over my shoulder as I stepped into the water. The coolness of it lapped at me, making me shiver. I dove under, soothing my overheated cheeks and staying there as long as my lungs would allow before coming up for air. The pond was deeper than I'd thought. And tranquil. I treaded water, staying afloat.

"You should come in here," I said. He was bathed in shadows, and I could barely make him out from my vantage point.

"No, you should come out," he said, his tone deadly serious. Without a hint of teasing.

"You just want to see me naked again."

"Actually." His shadow grew taller as he stood. "I don't want to be eaten by that alligator."

I screamed-an ear-piercing, end-of-the-world scream-and scrambled out of the water as quickly as I could. I threw myself in Rome 's arms, my heart pounding so fast I thought it would burst from my chest.

He was laughing. The ass!

"That's what you get for Tasering me."

I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing, too. "You play dirty, Mr. Masters."

"You were right." He nuzzled my cheeks with his nose. "I really did want to see you naked again. I'm sorry I scared you."

"You'll be sorrier when I never let you see me naked again." I dressed, and he reluctantly followed suit. "Catch me if you can," I said, and raced to the cabin.

Rome jogged after me, his laughter echoing through the night. I loved the sound of it; he didn't laugh often enough. He wrapped his arm around my waist and led me to the cabin's threshold, where he shouldered the door open. "You're going to-" He stopped abruptly and sniffed the air. A strange look crossed his features, chasing away his good humor. He stiffened. "Get in the car," he said quietly.

What the hell was going on? I turned, but-

"No need to leave," an unfamiliar voice called from inside the cabin. "You might as well let her come inside, since I'll shoot her if she takes a single step toward the car."

The voice startled me, and I spun back around. I expected Rome to morph into cat form. Attack, at the very least. Instead, he strode blithely inside, pulling me behind him and keeping me shielded from the stranger with his big body.

Trying not to panic, I searched for Tanner. The kid sat on the couch, and our gazes locked. He was pale, but he was alive and looked unhurt. I relaxed a little.

When Rome ground to an abrupt halt, I didn't stay behind him. I moved to his side. He cast me a surprised glance, as if he couldn't believe I'd chosen to fight with him rather than stay protected, but there was also pride in his eyes. Then his gaze narrowed on the intruder. Mine did, as well-and my mouth fell open at the vision the man presented.

He was an angel, fallen straight from heaven. The most gorgeous man I'd ever seen lounged in the cabin's only recliner. His hair was so blond it was nearly white, almost silvery. His eyes were freaky-amazingly freaky. They were metallic silver and seemed to… spark. Yes, spark. Pop and crackle with energy. His features were perfectly proportioned-a sloped nose, high cheekbones, full pink lips.

"He doesn't have a gun," I told Rome through the side of my mouth. "He's unarmed."

"Oh, he's armed, but his weapon is much worse than a gun." With barely a paused, Rome nodded his head in acknowledgment and said, "Cody. I wish I could tell you it's nice to see you again."

So. They knew each other. I didn't know whether to take comfort in that or not. For all I knew, this guy could hate Rome and want him dead.

"I parked a ways out and wiped my tracks," Cody said. "I hope you don't mind."

"I happen to have a big problem with that." I folded my arms together and prayed I appeared strong and menacing.

His angelic lips lifted in a menacing grin. "Too bad." He returned his attention to Rome. "I'm glad you two finally decided to join us. We were about to come looking for you. Why don't you and your woman have a seat with the boy." It was a statement, not a question.

I glanced at Rome. He gave a nearly imperceptible nod of his head. His mouth was compressed, firm. His jaw was clenched. Should I wait for him to give me a deep-fry signal or not? If I created a distraction, he and Tanner could escape.

"Should I start a fire?" I whispered. If I could. I wasn't sure I had the energy.

The man, Cody, uttered a short laugh devoid of humor. "If you want a fire, sugar, I can start one."

"Sit," Rome told me. "Do nothing."

I eased reluctantly onto the couch beside Tanner. The boy squeezed against my side and gripped my hand. "I'm sorry about earlier," I whispered.

He nodded in acknowledgment. "Do you know this loser?" he asked me quietly.

I shook my head.

" Rome and I work together," Cody supplied, as if Tanner had asked the question of him.

Oh. Oh. Shit! Not good, not good at all. Most likely, Cody was here to apprehend me and take me to John. A hard lump formed in my throat (how many of those things had I swallowed lately?). I released Tanner's hand and buried my own between my knees, covertly stretching my fingers. Drawing on my emotions would be difficult. I was tapped out, so to speak. But I wasn't leaving this cabin. Not without a fight. Rome 's orders be damned.

Cody eased to his feet, squaring off with Rome. The two men stood nose to nose. "John wants to see you. My job was to find you, then the girl. But I see you saved me some trouble." He motioned to me with his chin, then turned back to Rome. "You haven't phoned in a while. We were worried, but now I see there was no need." Accusation laced his tone.

"I won't allow her to be taken," Rome said with deadly calm.

Cody arched a black brow, the harsh color a surprising contrast to his pale hair. "So it's like that, is it?"

Rome nodded. "It's like that. I don't want her recruited."

"You know the rules. You know how things work. You took the assignment. Now you have to finish it or it will be finished for you."

"She didn't volunteer like we did, Cody."

"That doesn't change the strictures of your assignment."

"She stays."

"They won't do anything to her that they didn't do to us," Cody said, exasperated.

"I told you. We volunteered. She didn't."

"Doesn't matter. Word is, she's dangerous. She can start fires."

"So can anyone with a lighter," Rome countered.

"Lighters can't cause thunderstorms," Cody replied. "Nor can they freeze buildings."

"You want her to freeze your ass, keep talking," Tanner piped up.

The men ignored him.

I shifted nervously on the couch, wavering between attack and patience. They were discussing me as if I weren't in the room, and I didn't like it.

" Rome, don't give me shit about this," Cody said. "I've been ordered to bring the two of you in and that's that. If she's not taken to John and trained it will only be a matter of time before Vincent and his men find her. All John wants to do is test her and put her in the field. She'll be doing the world a public service, taking down the bad guys."

Should I maybe try to freeze him? Give Rome time to decide what we should do with him? I mean, it wasn't like the icebox would kill him. " Rome," I interrupted.

He knew what I was asking. "No," he said. "Do nothing."

"She may not be able to help herself," Tanner muttered. I elbowed him in the stomach and he hmphed.

Cody grinned. "I'm an electrophile, sweetheart, and Rome 's afraid I'll hurt you." I must have worn a blank look because he added, "I have an affinity for electricity. I wield it, control it, and if you attempted to use your powers against me, I'd have to give you the shock of a lifetime."

"You know that Taser you used on me?" Rome asked without turning to face me. "Cody can send a thousand more volts than that through your body."

Cody's grin widened. "She took you down?"

Rome gave one jerky nod.

"Good for you, sweetheart," the gorgeous (traitorous) man said to me.

"You won't think so when I do it to you." I gave him a confident smile-a smile I wished I actually felt.

Cody laughed. "I see why you want to keep her, Rome. Not many are so brave and foolish at the same time. She's perfect for PSI."

Rome gave no reply.

"Right now, John doesn't realize you've decided to walk. He just wants you and the girl delivered safely."

"What will happen if Rome refuses?" I asked.

Cody shrugged, lifting his big, wide shoulders. "That's assuming I'll let him."

"I'll be hunted," Rome told me, "as will you."

"The government can't afford to have people like us running loose with no one to pull our strings," Cody added.

"We either work for them or against them. And working for them isn't a bad deal. I once got to neutralize a woman who sucked the soul right out of a man during orgasm. Literally."

"You killed her?" I gasped.

He frowned. "No, I put her to sleep and she was locked in Château Villain with the other scrims. Anyway, if you're a good girl and do grunt work for a while, like chasing down the fake psychics and crap, you'll eventually get to handle gems like the little sex fiend. Best assignment of my life. If you continue running, well… " He shrugged again. "It's the whole can't-let-anyone-else-have-you thing."

Rome would be hunted if I didn't cooperate. I didn't care about myself. Well, I did, but not as much as I cared about Rome. If he was at risk, that would put Sunny in even more danger. Rome must have expected that. Accepted it, even. But…

Maybe the best way for me to help him with his ultimate goal was to turn myself in so he wouldn't be blamed for my escape. That would take some of the heat off him. I closed my eyes for the briefest of seconds, unable to believe what I was about to do. But I forced the words out. "I'll go in," I said.

Rome whipped around, facing me, finally taking his attention off Cody. His eyes glowed with fury. "Don't say another word," he snapped.

"I'll go in." I stood, squared my shoulders, all the while eyeing Cody. "Do you have to handcuff me or anything?"

His silver eyes gleamed wickedly. "I will if you ask sweetly."

"You don't have to do this, Belle," Rome said. "And for fuck's sake, Cody, quit flirting with her!"

"Yeah," Tanner reiterated, standing beside me. "What he said."

"I want to do this," I said softly. These men had done so much for me already. Rome had chosen me over his job. He'd helped me break into Dr. Roberts's house. He needed me now, and I wouldn't let him down. "Cody said it wouldn't be very bad for me," I offered, trying to soothe him.

Rome sighed. "Then I'll go with you."

"Me, too." Tanner assumed battle position, arms locked behind his back, feet spread.

"Excellent." Cody's tone sounded gleeful, but his expression was one of surprise and confusion. "We can have a celebration on the way."

"You're not taking us to headquarters," Rome said, turning back to Cody. "I don't want her anywhere near the lab."

The blond angel lost his smile. "I know what you're trying to do-"

"Just shut the hell up and call John. Unless you want a fight, those are my terms."

There was a long pause; a heavy tension. Then Cody shrugged. "Fine."

"Tell him we'll meet him at the park near his house in two hours. And no agents. Got it?"

"No one knows where he lives," Cody said, brows arched.

"I do."

Admiration sparked in Cody's expression. He nodded. "I'll make the call."

WE DROVE FOR AN HOUR. Tanner and I sat in the back seat of a very comfortable sedan. The interior was leather, the standard black that seemed to be preferred by all types of agents. Overall, pretty nice. As far as prison vehicles went, that is.

"How much of a fight did John put up?" Rome asked as he steered down the winding roads.

Cody chuckled. He'd made Rome drive so he could keep his own hands free. The better to subdue us with. "I've never heard him so angry. How'd you find his place, anyway? He's so guarded I doubt his wife knows where he lives."

"I tracked him one day." Rome 's tone suggested his words were no big whoop, but I sensed his pride.

"That'll teach him to make a jungle cat, eh?"

Dawn tinged the sky, lighting it up with pinks and purples. I yawned. I'd been without sleep for… what? I couldn't remember. Seemed like forever. But then, these last few days hadn't exactly been tame. And on the bright side, I was too tired to be scared of the approaching confrontation.

"Stop there." Cody pointed.

Following the direction, Rome eased the car to a halt near a beautiful park. Flowers bloomed, a sea of yellows, reds and blues. There were two swing sets and a merry-go-round. Several slides.

No people.

I had a tingling sensation at the back of my neck, though, as if I was being watched. Probably John. I started to unbuckle.

"We've been spotted," Rome suddenly said, "and not by John. See the two SUVs? Black? Tinted windows?"

Cody glanced out the passenger mirror. "Vincent. God, the man is a walking clich��."

"He wants Belle just as bad as John does," Rome said.

"Well, we can't let him get near John. If John were hurt, PSI would be placed in major upheaval and Vincent could try to take over. Again."

"Pussy," Tanner mumbled, acting brave, as if he could defeat Vincent single-handedly. "No offense, Cat Man," he added.

"Cut it out, Tanner." Rome thrust one hand through his hair and gripped the steering wheel with the other. "Shit. Are you ready for another roller coaster ride, Belle?"

"Floor it," I said, dread filling me from head to toe. And here I thought I'd be too tired to fear my fate. I glanced skyward. Thanks a lot for proving me wrong. To my way of thinking, this proved beyond a doubt God was actually a man.