Shades of Midnight (Chapter Twenty)

Alex sat on the sofa in her living room, sharing a piece of buttered toast with Luna, both of them watching Kade walk a repeated track from the kitchen and down the hallway as he spoke on satellite phone to Boston.

In the time since they'd been back to her house, he'd brought her up to speed on a few more things about himself and the work he'd been sent to do in Alaska. Her mind was still reeling over the fact that he wasn't precisely human. Now she understood that he was also part of a group of Breed males pledged to maintain peace between their race and humankind. From the way he described it, the Order sounded almost military, which made some kind of sense to her when she looked at Kade and observed his dark combination of lethal strength and laser-sharp confidence.

And despite the danger that rolled off him in waves, especially what she'd witnessed today, Kade was gentle with her, protective. As shaken as she was by all she had seen and heard in the past few hours–the past few days–she felt secure with him.

Even when he'd gone on to explain the worst of the threats that faced him and the warriors of the Order.

He had told her about the enemy the Order was doggedly pursuing and committed to destroying, a second-generation Breed male called Dragos. Alex had listened in quiet but horrified comprehension as Kade had described the many evils Dragos had perpetrated, not the least of which being the mass abduction and abuse of an unknown number of women like her–Breedmates, tracked down and collected over a period of decades to be used as vessels for the personal army of assassins Dragos had bred. What truly gave her pause, and what made her blood run cold in her veins, was one final truth that Kade revealed to her tonight. The fact that a creature not of this world–a creature far worse than the bloodaddicted Rogues who'd killed her mom and Richie–was somehow loose in the Alaskan interior. Even Kade was grim when he spoke of the Ancient to his friends at the Order's Boston compound, describing to them the damaged freight container and the presence of vampires and Minion workers at the old mining company location. Although he kept his voice low, it was impossible for Alex to miss the fact that he and his brethren were preparing for battle against the new threat.

The thought of Kade walking into harm's way made her breath come a little shorter, her heart beat a bit heavier. She couldn't bear it if something happened to him. Not after the time they'd shared, an incredibly short time, in which he was somehow becoming an inextricable part of her life. In just a couple of days, he had become her friend and her lover, her confidant. Somehow he was coming to mean something even more than all of that.

Could she possibly be falling in love with him?

Falling in love … with a vampire.

No, he wasn't that.

Kade was Breed, and that was different. He was different. It was hard for her to reconcile that he was cut from the same fabric as the monsters that had attacked her family. Hard for her to believe that somewhere in his DNA, he carried the genes of something completely inhuman, unfathomably lethal. Something not of this Earth. It was hard for her to reconcile that the strong, proud, devastatingly sexy man prowling her modest little house was actually not a man at all, but something different. Something so much more.

Alex watched him in fascination, all the more so for what she'd seen him do outside the mining company grounds with the wolf. In an instant, he'd become part of the beautiful animal, connecting on some unspoken level that had left Alex gaping at him in awe. Even now, she marveled, feeling the current of wildness, of dark, commanding power, lingering in him still. He was intense and mysterious, strong and seductive. And yes, hot as hell.

Everything about Kade captivated her.

She merely had to look at him and she burned.

And he knew it, too. She saw the spark of awareness light the silver of his eyes as he wrapped up his call and set the phone down on the end table next to the sofa.

"How are you holding up?" he asked, seating himself beside her. "You must be exhausted. I know this is a lot to handle."

She gave a vague shrug. "My head's still spinning, but at least I have answers now. The things that never made sense to me before are clearer. Not exactly reason to jump up and cheer, but it's good to finally have the truth, however terrifying it might be. So, thank you for that, Kade." He took her hand in his, their palms pressed together lightly as he ran his thumb over the thin skin of her wrist. His touch was warm, soothing. Achingly tender. "God, I hate that you've been dragged into this. There are places that you can go where you'll be safe, Alex. The Breed has numerous Darkhavens that would take you in–secure communities where you would be welcomed and protected. Better than what I can do for you now. After seeing what we did out at the mine, this has all gotten too real. Too dangerous–"

"I'm not going anywhere," she said, curling her fingers around his and holding his grave gaze. "I'm not going to run. Don't ask me to, Kade."

His jaw went tight as he stared at her. His dark brows lowered over his eyes, mouth going flat as he grimly shook his head. "This is my battle. The Order's battle. Tomorrow some of the warriors will arrive from Boston. I'll be meeting up with them when they get in, and from there we'll launch an offensive strike on Dragos's operations at the mine. We don't know what we're going to find. I just know that I want you as far away from this mission–and any possible fallout–as you can get." He reached up and smoothed his fingers lightly over her cheek. "That also means getting you as far away from me as possible, before I put you any further at risk."

"No." Alex turned her face, pressing her mouth to the warm heat of his palm where it rested against her. She kissed the heart of his large hand. "I can't hide anymore, Kade. I don't want to live like that, always looking over my shoulder, afraid of the things I don't understand. You can't ask me to, not when meeting you has given me the strength to believe that I can face my fears. Meeting you has given me the strength to understand that I must face them."

He cursed harshly, but his caress was soft, his gaze penetrating, the pale silver color that ringed his pupils dark with desire. "You give me too much credit. You were stronger than you realized, to have gone through what you did as a child and not let it destroy you. Not many could. That's courage, Alex. You didn't need me for that. You still don't."

She smiled, reaching out to hold his face in her hands as she kissed him. "I do need you," she whispered against his mouth. "What's more, I want you, Kade."

His breath rasped out of him on a sigh as she slanted her lips over his again and moved closer to him on the sofa. His arms went around her, holding her in a loose cage as she climbed up onto his lap and pushed her tongue into his mouth.

He groaned, caught her tongue with his teeth … then abruptly broke contact and turned his head away from her.

"What's wrong? Why did you stop?" She panted the words, her lips and tongue stinging with a delicious heat. She tasted blood, only the smallest trace, but instinct brought her hand up to her mouth and the tip of her finger came away wet with a scarlet stain.

She glanced at Kade's downcast face and felt his torment in the way his big body vibrated with barely leashed control, as though he were waging a private war inside himself.

leashed control, as though he were waging a private war inside himself.

"Look at me," she whispered. When he didn't immediately comply, she lifted his stubborn chin and physically brought his gaze back to hers. "Look at me … let me see you."

"Trust me, you will not want to," he muttered, glancing away quickly. But not before she noticed the change that had come over his eyes. He hadn't been able to turn quite fast enough to hide the fact that their normally pale gray color was now shot with fiery amber. And his pupils … something was different about them, too.

"Kade, please," she said gently. "Let me see you as you really are." Slowly, he lifted his face. His dark lashes flicked up, and Alex was stunned by a blast of ember-bright color that glowed like lit coals. And in the center of all that fire, his pupils had narrowed to catlike slits. It startled her, the strangeness of his gaze, the way it transformed his face, sharpening the angles of his high cheekbones and squared jaw. She stared, robbed of words. All but robbed of breath.

"I don't want you to be afraid of me, Alex." His deep voice rasped, sounding oddly thick to her, and then she realized why. She saw the gleam of sharp white teeth behind his lip as he spoke. His fangs. Not quite hidden, despite his obvious effort to conceal them from her view. When he looked at her now, there was a desperation in his amber eyes. Desperation and longing like she'd never seen before. "I don't want you to hate me, but this is who I am, Alex. This is who I truly am."

Despite the tiny shiver of wariness that kicked her heart into a more frantic beat, Alex leaned forward and cupped his face in her hands. She held his tormented gaze, then let her eyes travel downward, to his parted lips and the bright points of his fangs, which seemed to have grown even larger now, sharper.

"I'm not feeling anything close to hate," she whispered, tilting her head up and wetting her suddenly dry lips. "If you'd just kiss me again, you'd know that."

Sparks flashed like lightning in his eyes in the moment before he descended on her. Alex felt the leashed power in him, and she sensed the control he exerted to keep that power in check as he took her mouth in a hot, hungered, claiming kiss.

Alex gave herself over to him, reveling in the warm, wet brush of his lips on her mouth, her chin, her throat. She slipped her hands under the black cotton of his long-sleeved T-shirt, running her palms up the firm, satin-smooth muscle of his back. She could feel the vague outlines of his tattoos under her fingertips, a complicated pattern of swirls and arcs that she traced with her nails but really wanted to follow with her tongue.

"Let me see your body. I want to see all of you," she murmured, tugging at his shirt. She pulled it over his head and could only stare in wonder once she'd unveiled him. "My God," she gasped. "Those are not tattoos, are they?"

"Dermaglyphs," he said, settling back to let her look at the intricate design that pulsed across his torso, shoulders, and arms as though it were alive. The markings that had been only a shade darker than the rest of his skin were now flooded with variegated hues of deepest wine, indigo, and gold. "We're born with them, the same way Breedmates are born with their mark."

"They're beautiful, Kade." His dermaglyphs were artful, lacy intertwinings, a glorious web of shifting colors. Alex leaned in to run her finger along a particularly graceful line that tracked around the flat disk of his right nipple. The deep purplish hue blushed darker under her touch. She looked up at him, amazed. "How'd you do that?"

"You did it." His mouth quirked. "The colors of the glyphs change according to a male's mood."

"Oh," she said, going warm at his dark, meaningful look. "And your mood is?" He didn't answer, just moved forward and took her in another long, slow kiss that turned her core molten. He pressed her down onto the sofa beneath him and began to undress her, prompting Luna to jump off the far end and slink into the kitchen on a disgruntled huff.

"Uh-oh. I think you may have just lost points with her," Alex murmured in between kisses. He chuckled, a low and deep rumble that vibrated against her mouth. "I'll apologize later. Right now, there's only one female whose opinion matters to me."

He took his time stripping her of her double layer of fleece and cotton shirts and loose-fitting jeans. He covered every inch of her with his mouth, kissing a long, hot trail down her neck and breasts and abdomen, stroking her bare limbs as his glowing, fevered gaze drank her in.

By the time he had her naked, Alex was panting and aching with desire. He knelt on the sofa above her, his thick thighs wedged between the spread of hers. He was still in his jeans, which sat low on his lean hips, straining tight across the large swell of his groin.

She raised up and reached out to him, needing to feel his warm flesh under her hands. All over her body.

Deep inside her.

He said nothing as she unfastened the button of his pants and edged the zipper down. He was naked beneath the dark denim, his rigid cock spilling over as soon as it was freed of its confinement. He rose up as she tugged his jeans off his hips and pushed them down around his knees, a move that brought his gorgeous length within an inch of her mouth.

Alex couldn't resist the temptation. She cupped his shaft and balls and brought him to her, wrapping her lips around the broad head and delighting in Kade's strangled moan as she slid her mouth all the way down to the base of him.

He felt so good against her tongue, hot and earthy, as soft as velvet wrapped around a column of solid steel. Alex drew him deep again, then eased back to suckle at his crest, all the while watching as the glyphs on his abdomen and upper thighs churned in ever-deepening hues.

"Ah, Christ," he hissed as she played her mouth around the rim of his head, then took him all the way to the back of her throat. His fingers speared into her hair, clutching her skull as his body went tight as a cable. "Alex … ah, fuck …"

His hands were trembling as he set her away from him. His eyes threw off an intense heat, and his face was stark with passion as he hastily shucked his jeans to the floor. Gloriously naked, he moved toward her once more and gently wrapped his palm around her nape. His touch was firm with possession, yet he didn't simply take. His transformed gaze was hungry yet patient. His kiss passionate yet tender. There was nothing simple about him.

Nothing simple about the way he made her feel.

Kade was simply a mass of contradictions, each one more fascinating than the last. He made her feel safe and protected, perhaps the biggest contradiction of all. He made her feel cared for … even loved.

And dear God, did he make her burn.

Her body arched into him as he stroked her, every inch of her hypersensitive and greedy for his touch. She couldn't get close enough, couldn't hold him tight enough, as he prowled on top of her and spread her thighs wide with his.

"I want to take this slow tonight," he said, his voice rough and dark, almost unrecognizable. "I just want to savor you … savor us."

He watched her as he entered her, thrusting slowly, filling her with deliberate care even though his hips bucked and the tendons in his neck popped tight under his skin. He rocked her gently, stoking her building climax with maddening restraint.

She wanted to scream for him to go faster, to take her as hard as he could if it would ease the coil of need that he'd put inside her.

But making love to him felt too good to rush. She didn't want the feeling–or this night–to end. Neither did he; she could see that in his face. She could feel it in every measured thrust of his hips. In every hot, savoring caress of his mouth as he kissed her breath away.

The hours would pass quickly enough. Tomorrow his mission with the Order would begin again. Tomorrow all the death and danger that lurked outside the haven of this moment would return. Much too soon, Alex thought.

And so she wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around the slow, torturously wonderful pump of his hips, and she let herself spin out into a blissful abandon. She welcomed every deep thrust. Sighed with every long retreat. Relished in the weight and warmth of Kade's magnificent body rubbing against her.

When she came, it was a delicious unraveling of her senses. Alex cried out, shuddering as the orgasm rocked her from a place so deep within her, it seemed to detonate from her very soul. She clung to him, catching the muscled bulk of his shoulder between her teeth as an aftershock rumbled through her.

"Kade," she gasped brokenly. "Oh, God …"

He groaned with sharp force and lifted her pelvis up off the cushions. His thrusts gained strength, driving deeper now, yet still bridled by his rigid control.

"Let go," Alex whispered. "Just let it go. I want all of you, Kade." He snarled, a raw, animalistic sound of refusal. When he scooped her into his arms and tried to hide his face from her view, Alex pushed back. His face was wild with torment, constricted with pleasure and pain. And his fangs … Good lord, the bright white points filled his mouth as he stared down at her, thrust so powerfully, she couldn't hold back her sharp cry.

Her own pleasure was cresting once more, bringing with it a keening hunger that twisted tight in her belly, beginning a slow boil in her blood.

"Oh, God … Kade." She panted with sensation and need, all of it centered on him. She dug her fingernails into the bulk of his arms, buried her face in the curve of his strong neck and shoulder as he crashed into her with long, punishingly intense strokes.

The coil of hunger within her contracted even more, burning into a need so primal it shook her. The scent of his skin, its silky, smooth heat against her lips, against her tongue, made her dizzy with desire. His tempo roughened as he rode her, harder and deeper, grunting with each urgent grind of his pelvis. Alex sighed his name. She moaned, lost to the swelling rush of another orgasm. She cried out as it washed over her, a quenching flood of pleasure and release that should have doused the smoldering thirst that lived in her now, but only made it explode into a gnawing demand.

She wanted to taste him.

Not in any way that she had already, but in a way that shocked her. In a way that should have terrified her, but only made her blood race hotter, faster, alive with a dark power she could hardly tame. Beneath her open mouth, she felt the quickened thud of his heartbeat knocking in the vein at his throat. She pressed her tongue against it, then her teeth. Closed them experimentally over the corded tendons and the heated pulse that seemed to beat in the same desperate rhythm within her, as well. Kade snarled a dark curse but only pumped his hips with more fury. Alex reveled in the feel of him losing control. She ran her tongue and teeth over the tender skin, then clamped down harder …

Kade arced sharply above her, threw his head back, and roared.