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Kiss of Crimson (Chapter Four)

Blood surged into Dante's mouth from the twin punctures in the female's neck. He drew from her with deep, urgent pulls, unable to curb the feral part of him that knew only need and desperation. It was life pulsing over his tongue and down his parched throat, silky, cinnamon-sweet, and so very warm.

Maybe it was the severity of his need that made her taste so incredible, so indescribably perfect to him. Whatever it was, he didn't care. He drank more of her, needing her heat when he was chilled to his marrow.

"Oh, God. No!" The woman's voice was thready with shock. "Please! Let me go!"

She clutched at his shoulders reflexively, fingers digging into his muscles. But the rest of her body was slowly going still in his arms, lulled to a boneless sort of trance by the hypnotic power of Dante's bite. She sighed a long gasp of breath, sagging limply as he eased her down onto the floor beneath him and took the nourishment he so badly needed.

There was no pain for her now, not since the initial penetration of his fangs, which would have been sharp but fleeting. The only pain here was Dante's own. His body shuddered from the depth of its trauma, his head splitting from a concussion, his torso and limbs laced open in too many places to count.

It's okay. Don't be afraid.

You are safe. I promise.

He sent the reassurances into her mind, even as he held her tighter, brought her more firmly into the cage of his arms, his mouth still drawing hard from the wound at her throat. Despite the ferocity of his thirst, a need amplified by the severity of his injuries, Dante's word was good. Beyond the bite that startled her, he would not harm the female.

I'll take only what I need. Then I'll be gone, and you will forget all about me.

Already his strength was returning. Torn flesh was mending from the inside out. Bullet and shrapnel wounds were healing over.

Burns cooling.

Pain fading.

He eased up on the female, willing himself to slow, even though the taste of her was beyond enticing. He'd registered the exotic note of her blood scent on his first draw, but now that his body was rejuvenating, his senses coming back online fully, Dante couldn't help but savor the sweetness of his unwilling Host.

And her body.

Beneath the shapeless white lab coat, she was strong, lean muscle and long, graceful limbs. Curvy in all the right places. Dante felt the mash of her breasts pressing against his chest where he pinned her on the storeroom floor, her legs tangled with his. Her hands were still gripped hard on his shoulders, no longer pushing against him but simply holding on to him as he took a final sip of her life-giving blood.

God, she was so exquisite he could drink from her all night.

He could do a hell of a lot more than that, he thought, suddenly aware of the erection that was wedged hard and demanding at her pelvis. She felt too good beneath him. His blessed angel of mercy, even if she' d come into the role by force.

Dante breathed in her spicy-sweet scent, gently dropping a kiss on the wound that had fed him a second chance at life.

"Thank you," he whispered against her warm, velvet-soft skin. "I think you saved my life tonight."

He smoothed his tongue over the small punctures, sealing them closed and erasing all traces of his bite. The female moaned, stirring from her temporary thrall. She moved under him, the subtle shifting of her body only heightening Dante's desire to be inside her.

But he'd already taken enough from her tonight. In spite of the fact that she would remember none of what had occurred, it seemed less than sporting to seduce her in a puddle of stale river water and spilled blood. Particularly after going at her neck like an animal.

He moved slightly off her and brought his right hand up near her face. She flinched, understandably wary. Her eyes were open now–mesmerizing eyes, the color of flawless aquamarine.

"My God, you are beautiful," he murmured, words he'd casually tossed out to numerous females in the past but surprisingly never meant more than he did now.

"Please," she whispered. "Please, don't hurt me."

"No," Dante said gently. "I'm not going to hurt you. Just close your eyes now, angel. It's almost over."

A brief press of his palm against her brow, and she would forget all about him. "Everything's all right," he told her as she shrank back from him on the floor, her eyes locked on to his as if she waited for him to strike her. Dared him to. Dante smoothed her hair off her cheek with the tenderness of a lover. Her felt her tension ratchet a little tighter. "Relax now. You can trust–"

Something sharp stuck him in the thigh.

With a vicious snarl, Dante rolled away, flipping onto his back. "What the hell?"

Heat spread from that stabbing point of contact, burning through him like acid. A bitter taste gathered at the back of his throat, just before his vision began to swim crazily. Dante tried to heave himself upright from the floor but fell back again, his body as uncooperative as a lead slab.

Panting rapidly, those bright blue-green eyes wide with panic, Dante's angel of mercy peered over him. Her pretty face warped in and out of his vision. One slender hand was pressed to her neck, where he'd bitten her. The other was raised up at shoulder level, holding an empty syringe in a white-knuckled grip.

Holy Christ.

She'd drugged him.

But as bad as that news was, Dante registered something even worse as his blurring gaze struggled to hold on to the small hand that had managed to fell him with one blow. Between her thumb and forefinger, in that fleshy juncture of soft skin, the female bore a small birthmark.

Deep scarlet, smaller than a dime, the image of a teardrop falling into the bowl of a crescent moon seared into Dante's brain.

It was a rare mark, a genetic stamp that proclaimed the female sacred to those of Dante's kind.

She was a Breedmate.

And with her blood now pulsing within him, Dante had just completed one half of a solemn bond.

By vampire law, she was his.

Irrevocably.

Eternally.

The very last thing he wanted or needed.

In his mind, Dante roared, but all he heard was a low, wordless growl. He blinked dully, reaching out for the woman, missing her by an easy foot. His arm dropped like it was weighted down with irons. His eyelids were too heavy to lift more than a fraction. He moaned, watching his erstwhile savioress's features blur before his eyes.

She glared down at him, her voice edged with defiant fury.

"Sleep tight, you psychotic son of a bitch!"

* * *

Tess leaped back from her attacker, breath heaving out of her in a raw, rapid pant. She could hardly believe what had just happened to her. Or that she had managed to escape the crazed intruder at all.

Thank God for the tranquilizer, she thought, relieved that she'd had the presence of mind to remember the syringe in her pocket. Not to mention the opportunity to use it. She glanced at the spent needle, still clutched tightly in her hand, and winced.

Shit. She'd plugged him with the entire dose.

No wonder he dropped like a ton of bricks. He wasn't going to be waking up anytime soon either. Eighteen hundred milligrams of animal tranq was one long kiss good night, even for a massive guy like him.

A sudden pang of worry stabbed her.

What if she'd killed him?

Unsure why she should be concerned about someone who seemed bent on tearing her throat out with his teeth just a few minutes ago, Tess inched her way back to where the man lay.

He wasn't moving.

But he was breathing, she was relieved to note.

He was sprawled flat on his back, his muscular arms flung out on the floor where they'd fallen. His hands–those large mitts of brutal strength that had held her in a vise grip as he'd attacked her–were slack and still now. His face, which had been concealed by the fall of his dark hair, was almost handsome at rest.

No, not handsome, because even unconscious, his features held their stark angles and knife-edge planes. Straight black brows cut dark slashes over his closed eyes. His cheekbones were razor sharp, giving the slope of his face a lean, feral quality. His nose might have been perfect at one time, but the strong line of its bridge had a faint jag in it from an old break. Maybe more than one.

There was something strangely compelling about him, although she was certain she didn't know him. He wasn't exactly the kind of guy she'd associate with, and trying to picture him coming into the clinic for pet care seemed absurd.

No, she had never seen him before tonight. She could only pray that once she called the cops to come and collect him, she'd never see him again either.

Tess glanced down, and her gaze caught on the glint of metal concealed beneath his sodden jacket. She moved the leather aside and drew in her breath to see a curved blade of steel sheathed under his arm. An empty holster on the other side seemed to be missing a gun. Other hand-to-hand implements studded a wide black belt that wrapped around his slim hips.

This man was a menace, no doubt about that. Some kind of thug, who made the hard-asses down here on the riverfront look like rank poseurs. This man was hard and deadly, everything about him throwing off an air of violence.

His mouth was the only bit of softness on him. Wide and sensual, lips parted slightly in his drugged state, his mouth was profanely beautiful. The kind of mouth that could wreak havoc on a woman from about a hundred different angles.

Not that Tess was counting. And she hadn't forgotten about those wicked canines either.

Moving cautiously around him despite the heavy dosage of tranquilizer that was swimming through his system, Tess reached out and lifted his upper lip to get a better look at him.

No fangs.

Just a row of perfect pearly whites. If he'd been sporting costume teeth when he attacked her, they'd been pretty damn convincing. Now those huge fangs seemed to have vanished into thin air.

A fact that made no sense at all.

A quick visual scan of the area around her came up empty. He hadn't spat them out somewhere. And she sure as hell hadn't been imagining them.

How else would he have been able to pop her throat open like a soda can? Tess brought her hand up to the bite wound in her neck. The skin felt smooth beneath her fingertips. No blood or stickiness, no trace of the holes he'd chewed into her jugular. She probed the whole side of her neck with her fingers. The area wasn't even tender.

"That's impossible."

Tess got up and hurried into the nearest exam room, flipping on all the lights. Smoothing her hair away from her neck, she walked up to a mounted paper-towel dispenser and peered at her reflection in the polished stainless steel. The skin on her neck was clear, intact.

Like the terrifying attack had never happened.

"No way," she told her stricken expression. "How can that be?"

Tess stepped back from the makeshift mirror, astonished.

Thoroughly confused.

Not more than a half hour ago, she was fearing for her life, feeling her blood being drained from her neck by the heavily armed, black-clad stranger she'd found lying unconscious near the clinic's back door.

It had happened.

So how on earth could her skin show zero trace of the assault?

Tess's feet felt detached from her body as she walked back out of the examination room and toward the storeroom. Whatever he'd done to her, no matter how he managed to disguise the wounds he'd inflicted on her, Tess intended to see him arrested and charged.

She came around the open doorway of the back room and drew up short.

The puddle of river water and spilled blood her attacker had brought in with him swamped a large area of the linoleum floor. Tess's stomach gave a little turn at the sight of it, but there was something else that put a knot of ice-cold terror in her gut.

The storeroom was empty.

Her attacker was gone. A gorilla-size dose of anesthetic, yet he was somehow up and gone.

"Looking for me, angel?"

Tess spun around and screamed.

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