Shades of Midnight (Chapter Fourteen)

Alex walked into the one-room cabin and closed the door behind her to seal out the cold and, she hoped, steal a minute of privacy so she could deal with the tumult going on inside her. She leaned back against the weathered panel and exhaled a long, tremulous sigh. "Get a grip on yourself, Maguire." She wanted to pretend the kiss didn't mean anything, that the simple fact Kade had pulled away first should tell her that even he thought letting things get heated between them was a bad idea. Except things were already heated. More than heated, and denying it wasn't going to make the fact go away. There wasn't anywhere far enough that Alex could run to outpace the desire she had for Kade. And the kicker was, she didn't want to run from that feeling. For the first time in her life, there was something that scared the hell out of her but didn't make her itchy to bolt.

No, even worse, her feelings for Kade made her want to draw closer to him. Scarier still, she felt that Kade might be someone strong enough to lean on, strong enough for her to open up to–really open up to–about everything she'd been holding inside her for so long. Some part of her wanted to believe he might be the one man strong enough to stand beside her through any storm, even one thick with monsters, where the night had teeth and the wind roared, bloodthirsty with hunger. Kade would stand with her.

Alex knew that in much the same way she had always known when someone lied to her. Although she couldn't seem to read him as she could other people, the same innate sense of hers told her that it was because Kade was unlike other people in some way. He was unlike any man she'd ever met or might ever meet again.

That same odd but unshakable instinct had been at work on the flight out from Harmony, when she had come so close to telling him the truth–all of it–about why she and her dad had fled Florida. The truth about what exactly had killed her mom and little brother.

It had been a struggle to work against the impulse that wanted her to let Kade in, and as she'd tossed him the polished lie that she'd used on so many others without the slightest compunction, not being honest with Kade had made her feel awful. Imagine that–she'd withheld one of the most fundamental truths about herself from everyone in Harmony who'd known her since she was a child, yet after just a few days of flirting with a stranger, she was ready to lay it all out on the line for him. But Kade wasn't a stranger to her now. He hadn't felt like a stranger, not even that first night in the back of the church, when his bright silver eyes had met her gaze across the room. And if all they'd been doing in the time since was merely flirting, then why did her heart feel like it was battering against her sternum every time she was near him? Why did she feel, against all logic and reason, that she belonged with this man?

With the cold of past memories and the uncertainty of the future crowding in on her, she needed something strong and warm to hold on to.

Not just anything, or anyone … but him.

She needed Kade's warmth now–his strength–even if only for a little while. The woodshed in back of the cabin had a decent supply of seasoned, split logs, kept dry and stacked inside the snug outbuilding that bore Henry Tulak's initials above the door. It was customary in the bush that wanderers looked out for one another, leaving fuel and food for the next person and respecting the land in order to preserve it for others as well as oneself.

As Kade pulled from the supply and set his logs aside, he considered what he might leave in exchange for the fuel he would be burning for Alex in the cabin. He knelt down and unzipped his duffel bag. The only thing he carried that would prove useful to someone in the wild would be his weapons, but the Rogue-killing guns he carried were far too valuable to leave behind. A knife, then. He had more than one in his pack.

As he reached into the duffel in search of a blade he could stand to part with, his boot heel caught on something hard and white, jammed between the floorboards of the woodshed.

"What the hell?"

He moved aside to get a better look at what he might have crushed under his foot. A bear tooth. The long, sharp ivory point was wedged deep into the seam of two boards, as though it had been ground in by countless boots before his. But it wasn't the tooth itself that made Kade's blood go cold in his veins. It was the thin length of braided leather attached to the tooth.

Precisely the same kind of leather band that had been fastened to another bear tooth he'd seen just recently.

The one he'd found stained with dried, aged human blood and hidden in Seth's private cache of little treasures. The twisted collection of souvenirs, kept by a killer.

His brother had been here.

Ah, Christ … had Seth killed the human who'd been found dead and scavenged in this spot last year?

Kade wanted to deny the proof in his hand as mere coincidence, but the coldness that settled in his chest told him that his twin had been in this very spot a winter ago, when Henry Tulak took his last breath.

"Son of a bitch," Kade whispered, sick with the understanding, even though he'd been searching for evidence of it since his arrival in Alaska.

Now that it was staring him full in the face–the certainty that only an identical twin could have about his other half–there could hardly be any more denying what he'd known in his heart for a long time. His brother was a killer. No better than the Rogues Kade had always hated and now hunted as a member of the Order. Fury raked him, outrage not only at Seth but at himself, for still wanting to believe he was wrong about his brother. In his heart, Kade knew there was no mistake. No more doubt to excuse Seth, or the repugnance of his actions.

Kade worked the bear tooth free with the tip of the knife and held it in front of him, staring in revulsion at the evidence that had just damned his brother. That same evidence now compelled Kade to do what was just and right–to do what was his duty, not only for the Order but as a male whose personal code of honor demanded justice.

He needed to find Seth and put an end to his killing.

He needed to leave, right now. He was too on edge with fury and resolve to fly back to Harmony with Alex; he would head out on foot to begin his personal hunt while the noon daybreak was still a couple of hours away. He would cover the whole damned interior on foot if need be–call the wolves to help him find Seth if he couldn't track him down fast enough on his own.

Kade shoved the bear tooth charm into the front pocket of his jeans and set the knife on top of the logs, an offering in trade despite the fact that he had no use for the wood now. The only thing he needed now was to get the hell out of there and do the job that had brought him home to Alaska in the first place. By the time he made the trek around from the shed and up to the cabin, he was a powder keg of anger and deadly purpose. But when he opened the cabin door, ready to offer some lame excuse to Alex about why he had to abandon her there, he was greeted by warm air and the golden glow of a fire crackling in the small pipe stove in the center of the cabin.

And Alex, seated within a fluffy nest of sleeping bags and soft wool blankets. Her blond hair was loosened from its braids, falling down in tousled waves around her bare shoulders. Bare, naked shoulders, just like her long, slender legs, which peeked out from beneath the tattered blanket that only partially covered her.

Holy hell … beautiful, sexy Alex, naked and waiting for him.

Kade cleared his throat, suddenly at a loss for words, let alone the excuses he meant to hand her about why he had to leave right away.

"I, ah … I found some wood and matches in the bucket over there," Alex said. "I thought I'd warm things up in here."

Warm it up? If she was any hotter, Kade's body would have gone up in flames where he stood. His heart was still pounding from the unpleasant discovery in the woodshed, but now its rhythm took on a deeper, more urgent beat. He felt a muscle jerk violently in his jaw as he watched the soft firelight dance over her smooth, creamy skin.

"Alex …"

He gave a weak shake of his head, unable to summon the words to deny her. The dozen or more reasons why this was a bad idea–particularly now, when duty compelled him to put aside his own selfish cravings and focus wholly on the mission he'd been sent there to do–fled from his lust-drenched brain. Hunger swamped him, desire flooding over the rage that had consumed him not even a minute ago outside. This was bad, this need he had for her. Given its timing, he wasn't sure that taking things between Alex and him to an intimate level could possibly be any worse of an idea right now. That is, until she stood up and began to walk toward him. The threadbare blanket that draped her form so loosely, trailing behind her, now split open in the front and gave him an unhindered glimpse of her lean, endless legs with every slow step she took. And as she drew nearer, the thin fabric shifting to bare the soft white flesh of her left hip, Kade saw the tiny crimson teardrop-and-crescent-moon birthmark that pushed this entire situation out of the realm of your basic bad ideas and squarely into the disaster zone. She was a Breedmate.

And that changed everything.

Because Alexandra Maguire wasn't merely a mortal, human woman he could play around with, pump for information, maybe fuck for a while, then eventually mind-scrub and forget. She was as good as kin to one of his kind, a female to be honored and revered, as precious as gold. She was something rare and miraculous, something he damned well didn't deserve, and she had no bloody idea.

"Ah, Christ." He set the duffel bag down on the floor. His business with Seth and the Order would both have to wait. "Alex, there's something … we need to talk."

She smiled, a sensual, playful curve of her lips. "Unless you need to tell me that you have some kind of disease or that you're actually into guys …"

He stared at her, wondering if there had been clues he'd missed along the way. But he hadn't been looking at Alex as anything more than a source of information at first, an unwilling witness that he would need to pry open by any means necessary. Once he'd talked to her, he had begun to like her. And once he'd begun to like her, it was hard not to crave her.

And now?

Now he was honor-bound to protect this female at any cost, and that damned well included protecting her from falling into the hands of a male like him. He was putting her in danger just by being with her, dragging her deeper into his mission for the Order and closer, especially after today, to the horror of his brother's sick little games. If he was half the warrior he had pledged himself to be, he would sweep Alex out of this place and get her the hell back home, never to see or hear from him again.

"Kade?" She cocked her head slightly as she came closer, still waiting for his answer, her tone still playful. "That's, um, that's not what you need to tell me, is it?"

"No. That's not it."

"Well, that's good," she said, practically purring the words. "Because I really don't want to talk right now."

Kade drew in a breath as she drifted up close to him, no more than an inch and a paltry scrap of wool between them. And the scent of her … warm skin, feminine heat, and the spicy-sweet trace of something even more elusive that he now knew had to be the Breedmate's unique blood-scent. Even without the damned birthmark, hell, in spite of it, Alexandra Maguire was an intoxicating combination that wrapped around him–through him–like the most potent drug. She looked up at him, her caramel-brown eyes darker than ever, deep pools to drown in. "I want to be with you, here and now, Kade." Slowly she opened the blanket, baring herself to him completely as she wrapped her arms around him, ensconcing them both within its folds. The heat of her naked body seared him, imprinted itself on his memory like a brand. "I'm tired of feeling cold all the time. I'm tired of feeling so alone. Just for now, I want you to touch me, Kade. I just want to feel your hands on me." She didn't have to ask twice. He knew the courage it took for her to admit her vulnerability to him, to put herself out to him like this. He couldn't pretend that he wanted this any less than she did. He'd craved her since the moment he first saw her. Now all of his good intentions–all of his thoughts toward duty and honor–incinerated in an instant.

He brought one palm up along the delicate line of her spine; the other rose to caress the graceful curve of her cheek and the silky skin of her nape. Her pulse fluttered against the pad of his thumb as he stroked the tender skin over her carotid. As he played that soft, erotic patch of flesh with his fingers, she closed her eyes and tipped her head back, granting him more access than was wise. Kade's own pulse hammered, each tick of her heartbeat, each small quiver of her body against him as he stroked her, spurring his most primal hungers. He dipped his head and nuzzled his face in the cradle of her neck and shoulder, daring only the briefest kiss when his fangs were quickly filling his mouth, his tongue eager for a taste of her. He exhaled the urge on a low growl, trailing his mouth around to the front of her throat, then lower, bending as he palmed one perfect breast and lifted the rosy nipple to his lips. He suckled her, careful not to graze her with the sharp points of his fangs as he tugged the tight little bud deeper into his mouth, rolling it with his tongue and reveling in her breathless gasps of pleasure. He reached down with his free hand, gripping the sweet swell of her rump, then teasing the seam of her body from behind. She felt so good in his arms, so right. He crushed her to him, letting his fingers cleave deeper, into the slick folds of her sex. She was wet and hot, her flesh a welcoming haven as his touch delved within her.

"Oh, God," she gasped, arching into his embrace. "Kade …" On a moan, he released her breast from his toying bite and came back to her lips, capturing her sigh in a deep, hungered kiss. Although she matched his fevered pace, he was the one who set it, more urgent than intended, but he was too far gone to take things slowly. He was also too well aware of the changes coming over him–changes that would require some explaining, which would also require talking, something she had not been interested in before and something he was incapable of at the moment. Still kissing her, unable to take his mouth off hers, he guided her back toward the nest of blankets near the fire. Together they undressed him, a hasty stripping off of his coat and shirt, boots and jeans. Kade shucked the rest of his clothing as Alex broke their kiss and trailed the tip of her tongue down along the side of his neck. He shook with the sudden jolt of desire that flooded his veins, felt the rush of blood racing through his limbs and down to the throbbing length of his cock. His skin prickled with the transformation of his dermaglyphs, the pattern of Breed markings that tracked over his chest and arms and down onto his thighs. The glyphs, normally a shade or two darker than his own skin color, would surely be saturated with color now, deepening to reflect the desire he felt for Alex.

"Ah, fuck," he growled, drawing in a sharp hiss as she nipped playfully at the tender skin below his jaw. He didn't know how much more he could take. When she reached down and stroked the length of his shaft, he couldn't bite back his animal snarl. She palmed the blunt head of his sex, her touch both curious and demanding as she slicked his moisture over the sensitive skin.

"Lie down with me," he said, his voice ragged, his breath sawing in and out of him. He took her by the arms and sank with her to the blanket-covered floor of the cabin, kissing her as he gently pressed her beneath him. She was so soft and warm against his body, her arms wrapped around his shoulders, her thighs parted where his hips wedged between them. His cock nestled into the wet cleft of her sex, rampant with the need to drive deep, but Kade only played at entering her, sliding between the plush petals of her body as he teased his mouth along the flickering heartbeat at the side of her neck. He reached down to grasp himself, rubbing his hard flesh against her softness, using the broad tip of his penis to stroke the tight little bud of her clit. She moaned, arching to meet his tempo, spreading her legs to invite him deeper. He resisted the temptation, but only barely.

She'd asked him to make her warm, and so she was, but he wanted to make her hotter than she'd ever been. The sudden, unfathomable need to brand himself upon her body–to bring her pleasure unlike anyone had before him–beat in his blood like a drum. Stunned by the feeling, he drew back slightly. But Alex looked too good, felt too good, and before he could remind himself that she deserved better, he was kissing his way down the front of her body. He savored every sweet inch of her from the small mounds of her breasts to the firm muscle of her belly and the damning little birthmark at her hip that made all of this pleasure and selfish need of his so wrong.

But wrong or not, as selfish as it was for him to give in to his desire for Alex, he was well beyond resisting now. The feel of her beneath him kicked the flame in his blood to full boil. The scent of her pulled him like a magnet toward the downy patch of curls between her legs. He kissed her there, using his lips and tongue and teeth until she was writhing against his mouth. And still he didn't stop. He suckled her and stroked her, pleasuring her until she arched up beneath him and cried out with a shattering, shuddering climax.

And still he didn't stop.

He kept kissing and suckling and stroking her, bringing her to the crest of another wild release, and then, only then, did he rise up to cover her with his body, thrusting deep and roaring as the hot, wet walls of her sheath contracted around his pumping shaft. He drove into her, realizing that he too had needed this warmth, this sense–even if temporary–that he wasn't alone. He'd needed Alex like this, in this moment, as much as she only thought she needed him.

Kade's release coiled hard in the base of his cock, intensifying with every fevered thrust. Hotter and hotter, tighter and tighter, until he couldn't hold back a second more. He went taut with the force of it and plunged as far as she could take him, burying his face in her shoulder and giving a hoarse shout of release as his seed exploded from him in a heated, liquid rush.

He couldn't have held back if he'd tried, although there was no threat of pregnancy so long as there was no exchange of blood. But even that proved more tempting than it should be. Kade's fangs punched long from his gums as he lost himself inside Alex's molten heat. He heard her pulse racing, felt it in the frenzied echo of his own heartbeat. And where his mouth rested in a tight grimace against her skin, he felt the rush of her blood pounding just beneath the surface of her delicate skin.

"Ah, Christ … Alex," he hissed, tormented by the flood of sensations she aroused in him. Everything Breed in him demanded that he make this female his own, that he lay claim to her blood as he'd just laid claim to her body.

Kade clamped down hard on that further need, but damn, it wasn't easy. He rolled her against him, spooning her from behind to help conceal the changes that had come over him in their passion.

"Are you all right?" she asked him as he struggled to get ahold of his impulses and some scrap of rational thought.

"Yeah," he managed after a moment. "Better than I have a right to be."

"Me, too," she said, her smile evident in the drowsy contentment of her voice as it fanned warm and light over the top of his forearm. "In case you're wondering, my pilot services usually don't include getting naked with my clients."

"Good," Kade said, little better than a growl as he gathered her closer to the front of his still-heated body. He didn't want her getting naked with anyone, he realized with a jolt. He wouldn't have liked the idea before what just happened between them today, and he sure as hell wouldn't take it well now.

"What about you?" she asked as he covered them both with the blankets to shield his glyphs from her view.

"What about me?"

"Do you … do this often?"

"Get naked with sexy Alaskan bush pilots in the middle of the frozen wilderness?" He paused for a minute, letting her think he was giving the question serious consideration. "Nope. This was a first for me." And so was the fierce sense of possession that still drummed in his blood when he thought of Alex being with any other male. He wondered idly if it was the fact that she was a Breedmate that had drawn him to her from the first. But even as he thought it, he knew that the birthmark that connected her to the shadowy world he inhabited as one of the Breed was the least of the qualities that attracted him to Alexandra Maguire. The last thing he needed right now was an emotional entanglement, least of all with a female bearing the teardrop-and-crescent-moon mark.

But he was entangled. In fact, he had just tied a few more knots in an already impossible situation. Cursing himself for the first-class fool he clearly was, Kade kissed the top of her head and gathered her close as he waited for his eyes to resume a normal appearance and his fangs to have a chance to retreat. It took some time, and even after his body settled into a comfortable peace, his hunger for the woman in his arms remained.