She could feel his erection as it pressed against the center of her body, igniting her desire even more.
It’d been so long since she’d been with a man. So long since she had felt a desire this potent to wrap herself around one. But she wanted Valerius badly, even though he should be completely off her menu.
Valerius’s head swam as Tabitha trailed her lips along the length of his jaw, then under his chin, to his neck. Her hot breath blistered him. It had been centuries since he’d taken a woman who knew what he was.
A woman he didn’t have to kiss carefully for fear of her discovering his fangs.
Not once had he ever been with a woman this exciting. One who met him so openly. So wildly. There was no fear whatsoever in this woman. No holding back.
She was fierce and passionate and completely feminine.
Tabitha knew she shouldn’t be doing this. Dark-Hunters weren’t allowed to get involved with women. They weren’t allowed any emotional attachments at all except for maybe a Squire.
She could sleep with Valerius just once and then she would have to let him go.
But more than that, her entire family hated this man and she should, too. She should be repulsed by him. Only she wasn’t. There was something about him that was irresistible.
Against all sanity and reason, she wanted him.
You’re just horny, Tabby, let him go.
Maybe it was just that simple. It’d been almost three years since she’d broken up with Eric and in that time she hadn’t been with anyone else. No one had even appealed to her as anything more than a passing curiosity.
Well, except for Ash, but she knew better than to make a move on him.
And even he didn’t make her sizzle like this. But then, he didn’t have the pain inside him that Valerius carried-or if he did, he was better at hiding it around her.
She felt as if Valerius needed her somehow.
Just as she reached for the zipper of his pants, the phone rang.
Tabitha ignored it until Marla used her walkie-talkie to say, "It’s Amanda, Tabby. She says for you to pick up the phone. Now."
She groaned in frustration. She gave Valerius a hot, quick kiss before she got up. "Please don’t say a word while I’m on the phone," she warned him.
Since Amanda had married Kyrian, she had become incredibly psychic, and if she heard Valerius’s voice, she would know instantly who he was. Tabitha was sure of it. It was the last thing she wanted to deal with.
She picked up the wall phone in the kitchen. "Hey, Mandy, whatcha need?"
Tabitha turned to watch Valerius as he put himself back together. He pulled his hair back and replaced the small black tie she had removed.
He returned to being regal and rigid as he picked up his fork and began eating again.
Her sister was babbling on about a bad dream, but it wasn’t until the term "Spathi Daimon" came up that Tabitha pulled her attention away from Valerius.
"I’m sorry, what?" she asked Amanda.
"I said that I had a bad dream about you, Tabby, that you were seriously hurt in a fight. I just wanted to make sure that you were okay."
"Yeah, I’m fine."
"Are you sure? You sound kind of strange to me."
"You interrupted me from work."
"Oh," Amanda said, accepting the lie, which made Tabitha feel a little guilty. Tabitha wasn’t used to keeping anything from her twin. "Okay. In that case, I won’t keep you. But you be careful for me. I have a really bad feeling that won’t go away."
Tabitha felt it, too. It was something undefinable and at the same time persistent. "Don’t worry. Ash is in town and there’s an extra Dark-Hunter he moved in. Everything’s fine."
"Okay. I’m trusting you to watch your back… But, Tabby?"
"Stop lying to me. I don’t like it."
Tabitha hung up the phone, feeling a little odd about her conversation. And she felt even odder about Amanda’s prediction for her health. It concerned her a lot, especially when combined with her own uneasy feeling.
She’d almost died twice three years ago when Desiderius had been out to kill Amanda and Kyrian. Since then, no Daimon had gotten near her. Mostly because she had honed her skills and become much more observant.
But the ones last night…
They’d been tough kills and a group of them had gotten away. Surely they wouldn’t be back. Most Daimons vacated the area very quickly after they ran into her or one of the Dark-Hunters. Courage wasn’t exactly something they were known for: Since they were young and the idea was to stay alive, very few Daimons wanted to run head-to-head with Artemis’s army, which was comprised of warriors with hundreds, if not thousands, of years of combat experience on them.
Only Desiderius-who had been a half-god-had possessed the strength and stupidity to fight the Dark-Hunters.
No, the Daimons from last night were gone and she would be fine. Amanda must have had bad chicken or something.
She returned to Valerius, who was finishing up his food. "What are your powers?" she asked.
He looked a bit taken aback by the question. "Excuse me?"
"Your Dark-Hunter powers. Do they include premonitions or precog?"
"No," he said before taking a drink of wine. "Like most Roman Dark-Hunters, I got rather, and please excuse the crassness of this, ‘shafted’ in that department."
Tabitha frowned. "How do you mean?"
He took a deep breath before he answered. "Artemis didn’t care for the fact that in Rome, she wasn’t a major deity. Rather, she was mostly revered by our lower classes, slaves and women. So she carried her grudge over to us when we were created. I’m stronger than a human and faster, but I don’t have the elevated psychic powers that the rest of the Dark-Hunters do."
"Then how do you manage to fight the Daimons?"
He shrugged. "The same way you do. I battle more skillfully than they."
Yeah, maybe, but she often found herself bloody from her battles. She wondered how often he did, too. It was hard to fight a Daimon as a human.
"That’s not right," Tabitha said, angry on his behalf that Artemis would create such a disparity among her Dark-Hunters. How could the goddess turn them loose, knowing what they were up against?
Man, Simi was right. Artemis was a bitch-goddess.
Valerius frowned at the anger he heard in Tabitha’s voice. He wasn’t used to anyone taking his side in any matter. Neither as a man nor as a Dark-Hunter. It had always seemed his ill fate to end up on the losing end of any matter regardless of whether he was right or wrong. "Few things ever are fair."
He drained the last of his wine and rose to his feet, then inclined his head to her. "I thank you for the food."
"Any time, Val."
He stiffened at her use of a nickname he despised. The only people to ever use it had been his brother Markus and his father, and then only to mock or belittle him. "My name is Valerius."
She looked at him dryly. "I can’t call you Valerius. Jeez. It sounds like some broken-down Italian car. And every time I hear that name I feel the deep need to break out into Vo-lar-ray, Oh, oh, oh-and then I start thinking of the movie The Hollywood Knights and believe me you don’t want me to go there. So to save my sanity from that crappy song echoing in my head and images of a lunatic running around a high school gym doing unspeakable things, you can be known as Val or Babycakes."
His gaze darkened. "My name is Valerius and I will not answer to Val."
She shrugged. "Fine then, Babycakes, have it your way."
He opened his mouth to protest, but already he knew better than to argue. Tabitha had a way of doing just as she pleased, all arguments be damned. "Very well," he said grudgingly, "I shall endure Val. But only from you."
She smiled. "See how painless that is? Why would you hate the name, anyway?"
She rolled her eyes at him. "You must really be fun in bed," she said sarcastically.
Valerius was stunned by her words. "Excuse me?"
"I’m just wondering what it would be like to make love to a man who is so concerned about being rigid-then again… Nah. I can’t imagine someone so regal getting down and dirty with it."
"I assure you, I’ve never had any complaints in that regard."
"Really? Then you must be sleeping with women who are so cold you could freeze ice cubes on them."
He turned to leave the room. "We are not having this discussion."
But she gave him no reprieve as she followed him toward the stairs. "Were you like this in Rome? I mean, from everything I’ve read, you guys were raw with sexuality."
"I can just imagine the lies they tell."
"So were you always this uptight?"
"What do you care?"
Her response stunned him as she pulled him to a stop. "Because I’m trying to figure out what made you like you are now. You are so closed off, you’re barely human."
"I am not human, Ms. Devereaux. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m one of the damned."
"Baby, open your eyes and look around. We’re all damned in one way or another. But damned is a far cry from dead. And you live like you’re dead."
"I’m that, too."
She ran a hot look over his scrumptious body. "For a dead man you look remarkably fit."
His face hardened. "You don’t even know me."
"No, I don’t. But the question is, do you know you?"
"I’m the only one who does."
And that simple sentence told her everything she needed to know about him.
He was alone.
Tabitha wanted to reach out to him, but could sense that she needed to give him some space. He wasn’t used to interacting with people like her… then again, few were.
As Grandma Flora, the gypsy seer of their family, always said, Tabitha tended to come on to people like a freight train and mow them down where they stood.
Tabitha sighed as he took another step away from her. "How old are you, anyway?"
"Two thousand, one hundred-"
"No," she interrupted. "Not Dark-Hunter years. How old were you when you died?"
She felt a profound wave of pain go through him at the thought. "Thirty."
"Thirty? Jeez, you act like an old, wrinkled-up prune. Did no one laugh where you came from?"
"No," he said simply. "Laughter was not tolerated or indulged."
Tabitha couldn’t breathe as his words sank in and she remembered the sight of the scars on his back. "Never?"
He didn’t respond. Instead, he continued up her stairs. "I should retire now."
"Wait," she said, rushing up the stairs to sneak around him so that she could keep him still. She turned to face him.
She could feel turmoil inside him. Pain. Confusion. She knew just how hated this man was. Maybe he deserved it, but deep inside she wasn’t so sure.
People didn’t close themselves off from the world without reason. No one was happily this stoic.
And in that moment, she realized something. It was his defense mechanism. She got brash and wild whenever she was out of sorts or uncomfortable.
He turned cold. Formal.
That was his facade.
"I’m sorry if I said anything that offended you. My sisters often tell me that I’ve made offending people an art form."
A smile tugged at the edges of his lips and, if she didn’t miss her guess, his eyes softened ever so slightly. "I wasn’t offended."
Valerius was tempted to stay here and talk to her, but he felt uncomfortable with the thought of it. He’d never been the kind of person other people chatted with. Even as a man, his conversations had revolved around battle tactics, philosophy, and politics. Never chit-chat.
His conversations with women had been even fewer than his conversations with men. Not even Agrippina had ever truly spoken to him. They had passed comments, but she had never shared her opinions with him. Merely agreed with him and did as he asked.
He had a feeling Tabitha would never agree with anyone, even if she knew they were right. It seemed a matter of principle that she had to disagree with everything.
"Are you always so outspoken?" he asked.
She smiled widely. "I know no other way."
Suddenly Lynyrd Skynyrd’s "Gimme Three Steps" started playing on the radio.
Tabitha let out a small squeak of happiness and dashed down the stairs. Valerius barely had time to blink before she cranked the volume up, then ran back toward him.
"I love this song," she said as she danced to it. Valerius found it hard to focus on much of anything except the sway of her h*ps as she danced and sang to the song.
"C’mon, dance with me!" she said at the first guitar solo. She ran up the stairs to take his hand.
"This isn’t really dancing music."
"Sure it is," she said before she broke into the chorus. In spite of himself, he was greatly amused by her. In all his lifetime, he’d never known anyone who enjoyed life so much, who took such pleasure from something so simple.
"C’mon," she tried again when the singing paused. "It’s a great song. You have to admire anyone who can rhyme ‘feller’ with ‘the head color yeller.’" She winked at him.
Tabitha paused. "Oh, my God, he does know how to laugh."