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Kiss of Crimson (Chapter Sixteen)

Dante lifted his eyelids, waiting for the splintering headache to blind him. Nothing happened. No staggering aftershocks, no cold sweat, no bone-numbing fear.

He blinked once, twice, staring up at a white acoustic-tile ceiling and an extinguished fluorescent-light panel above his head. Strange surroundings–the muted-taupe walls, the small upholstered sofa underneath him, the tidy wooden desk across from him, its orderly surface illuminated by a ginger-jar lamp next to the computer workstation.

He breathed in, smelling none of the familiar smoke or other burning stench that had filled his nostrils in the hellish reality of his death vision. All he smelled was a spicy-sweet warmth that seemed to cocoon him in peace. He brought his hands up from his sides, smoothing them over the fleece throw that only partially covered his big body. The plush cream-colored blanket smelled like her.

Tess.

He turned his head just as she was coming into the room from the hallway outside. The white lab coat was gone; she looked incredibly soft and feminine in an unbuttoned pale green cardigan over her beige knit top. Her jeans rode her hips, baring a thin wedge of smooth creamy flesh where the hem of her shirt didn't quite meet the top of her pants. She'd let her hair down from the plastic claw that held it before. Now the honeyed brown waves fell down around her shoulders in loose glossy curls.

"Hi," she said, watching him sit up and swivel around to put his feet on the carpeted floor. "Are you feeling better?"

"Yeah."

His voice was a dry croak, but he felt surprisingly well. Rested. Cooled out, when he should have been jacked up tense and hurting–the usual hangover that came in the wake of his death vision. On impulse, he ran his tongue along the line of his teeth, feeling for fangs, but the fearsome canines were receded. His eyesight felt normal, not the sharp, otherworldly twin laser beams that marked him as one of the Breed.

The storm of his transformation, if it had come at all, was past. He moved the fluffy throw off him and realized he was missing his coat and boots. "Where's my stuff?"

"Right here," she said, pointing to the black leather coat and the lug-soled Doc Martens that had been placed neatly on a guest chair near the door. "Your cell phone is on my desk. I turned it off a couple of hours ago. I hope you don't mind. It was ringing pretty continuously and I didn't want it to wake you."

A couple of hours ago? "What time is it now?"

"Um, it's quarter to one."

Shit. Those calls were probably the compound, wondering where the hell he was. Lucy was gonna have some 'splaining to do.

"Harvard's resting, by the way. He's got a few problems that could be very serious. I fed him and gave him fluids and some IV antibiotics, which should help him sleep. He's in the kennels down the hall."

For a few seconds, Dante was confused, wondering how she could possibly know the Darkhaven agent and why the hell he'd be medicated and sleeping in the kennels of her clinic. Then his brain kicked into gear and he remembered the mangy little animal he'd used as a means of ingratiating himself further with Tess.

"I'd like to keep him overnight, if you don't mind," Tess said. "Maybe a couple of days, so I can run a few more tests and make sure he's getting everything he needs."

Dante nodded. "Yeah. Okay."

He looked around at the small, comfortable little office setup, with its minifridge in the corner and the electric hot plate that sat next to a coffeemaker. Obviously, Tess spent a lot of time in the place. "This isn 't the room I was in before. How did I get here?"

"You had some kind of seizure in the examination room. I got you on your feet and helped you walk back here to my office. I thought it would be more comfortable for you. You seemed pretty out of it."

"Yeah," he said, rubbing his hand over his face.

"Is that what it was, a seizure?"

"Something like that."

"Does it happen frequently?"

He shrugged, seeing no cause to deny it. "Yeah, I guess so."

Tess came toward him then, taking a seat on the arm of the sofa. "Do you have medication for it? I wanted to check, but I didn't feel right going through your pockets. If there's something you need–"

"I'm good," he said, still marveling at the absence of pain or nausea following what had been the worst assault he'd experienced to date. The only one that had ever come on while he was awake. Now, aside from being a bit groggy from a hard sleep, he could barely tell he'd had the damn vision at all. "Did you… give me something, or maybe… do something to me? I felt your hands on my back at one point and moving around my head… "

A strange expression came over her face, almost a look of momentary panic. Then she blinked and glanced away from him. "If you think it will help, I have Tylenol in my desk. I'll get you some and a glass of water." She started to get up.

"Tess." Dante reached out and took her wrist in a loose grasp. "You stayed with me the whole time– all these hours?"

"Of course. I couldn't very well leave you here by yourself."

He got a sudden, clear mental picture of what she must have seen if she was anywhere near him while he fought the onslaught of his death vision. But she hadn't run away shrieking, and she wasn't looking at him in terror now either. In fact, he had to wonder if being with her hadn't somehow eased the worst of his nightmare before it had even begun.

Her touch had been so soothing, so cool and tender.

"You stayed with me," he said, awed by her compassion. "You helped me, Tess. Thank you."

She could have drawn her hand out of his easy hold at any moment, but she hesitated there, a question in her blue-green gaze. "I think… Since you seem to be all right now, I think it's time to call it a night. It's late, and I should go home."

Dante resisted the urge to point out that she was trying to run again. He didn't want to scare her off, so he slowly got up from the sofa and stood near her. He looked at their fingers, still touching at the tips, neither one of them willing to break the unexpected contact.

"I have to… go," she said quietly. "I don't think this–whatever this is that's happening between us–is a good idea. I'm not looking to get involved with you."

"And yet you've been sitting here taking care of me for the past four-plus hours."

She frowned. "I couldn't have left you alone. You needed help."

"What do you need, Tess?"

He curled his fingers, capturing hers in a firmer hold now. The air in the small office seemed to constrict and throb with awareness. Dante could feel Tess's pulse kickstart into a faster beat, a vibration he picked up through her fingertips. He could read her interest, the desire that had been there when he'd kissed her at the art exhibit and been sorely tempted to seduce her in front of a few hundred witnesses. She had wanted him then, maybe even last night too. The delectable, trace scent coming off her skin as she held his meaningful stare told him plainly enough that she wanted him now.

Dante smiled, desire flaring in him for the woman whose blood was a part of him.

The woman who just might be in league with his enemies, if Tess had any hand at all in her onetime boyfriend's pharmaceutical ventures.

She wasn't thinking of the human now, that was for sure. Tess's eyes darkened, and her breathing picked up speed, rushing shallowly from between her parted lips. Dante flexed his biceps, just the slightest pull of his arm to bring her closer. She came toward him without resistance.

"I want to kiss you again, Tess."

"Why?"

He chuckled, low under his breath. "Why? Because you're beautiful, and because I want you. And I think you want me too." Dante brought his free hand up to her face and gently stroked the line of her jaw. She felt like silk against his fingertips, as delicate as glass. He brushed his thumb across the dusky swell of her lips.

"God, Tess. I'm dying to taste you right now."

She closed her eyes, exhaling a sigh. "This is crazy," she whispered. "I don't… this isn't… something that I normally–"

Dante lifted her chin and bent to press his lips to hers. He'd meant only to sample the feel of her mouth on his, an urge he'd been harboring since those few heated moments they'd shared at the museum reception. Then he'd been something of a ghost to her, stealing a taste of her passion, then slipping away before she could know if he was real or imagined. Now, for a reason he could hardly comprehend, he wanted her to know he was flesh and bone.

He was, evidently, a goddamn idiot.

Because right now he wanted her to feel him–all of him–and understand that she was his.

He'd meant only to taste, but she was too sweet on his tongue. She was so responsive, her hands coming up around his neck to hold him closer as their mouths crushed together in a deep, prolonged joining. Seconds melted into a minute, then minutes more. A mad, timeless oblivion.

As he kissed her, Dante buried his hands in the luxurious mass of her hair, reveling in the softness of her, the heat of her. He wanted her undressed. He wanted her naked beneath him, screaming his name as he pushed inside her.

God, how he wanted.

His blood was pounding, hot and furious, through his body. His sex was stiff with need, the hard length of him fully aroused, and he was only just getting started with Tess.

The way he felt now, he hoped this was only the start.

Before Dante could stop himself, he was guiding her around to the sofa, easing her down onto the cushions.

She fell back, looking up at him from under those thick-fringed lashes, the aqua color of her eyes gone dark like stormy azure. Her mouth was glistening and swollen from his kiss, her lips blushing a deep, dark rose. The front of her neck was pink with the flush of her desire, color that fanned down into the V of her clingy shirt. Her nipples were hard little buds, straining against the fabric with each rise of her breath. She was ripe with want, and he had never seen anything more exquisite.

"You're mine, Tess." Dante moved over her, kissing a path from her lips to her chin, then along her throat, to the soft skin below her ear. She smelled so good. Felt so good against him.

Dante groaned, his nostrils picking up the sweet perfume of her arousal. Lust made his gums ache with the stretching of his fangs. He could feel the sharp points coming down, throbbing with the steady beat of his pulse. "You are mine. And you know that, don't you?"

Although her voice was small, little more than a breath of air rushing out of her lungs, Dante heard her plainly, and the word went through him like fire.

She said yes. God, what was she saying?

What was she doing, letting herself be kissed and touched–seduced–like this?

It was reckless and so unlike her at all. Probably dangerous too, for a dozen reasons she couldn't quite bring herself to care about right now.

She'd never been easy–far from it, given her general distrust of the male gender–but something about this man made fear and inhibition fly right out the window. She felt linked to him somehow, a connection that went deeper than anything she knew, into uncharted territory that made her think of fairy-tale concepts like fate and destiny. Those things weren't part of her normal lexicon, but she couldn't deny that despite all she should be feeling about this moment, it just felt… right.

It felt too good to doubt, even if her body was inclined to listen to reason. Which it wasn't, not when Dante was kissing her, touching her, making all that was female in her awaken as though it had been asleep for a hundred years.

She didn't resist as he carefully pulled off her sweater, then lifted the hem of her shirt up over her breasts. He drew in a sharp breath as he bent down and kissed her bare stomach, teasing her with gentle nips as he moved up her belly to the front closure of her bra. He snapped it open and slowly peeled the satin away from her breasts.

"Christ, you are lovely."

His voice was rough, his breath hot on her skin. Her nipples ached to be touched, to be drawn into his mouth and suckled hard. As though he knew the direction of her thoughts, Dante flicked his tongue over one of the tight buds. He pulled with teeth and tongue, while he took the other in his palm, caressing her, driving her crazy with need.

Tess felt him reaching down for the button of her jeans. He worked it free, then tugged the zipper open. Cool air hit her abdomen, then her hips, as Dante nudged her pants down around her thighs. With a long pull of her nipple, he lifted his head and looked at her partial nakedness.

"Exquisite," he said, the same word he'd spoken the other night.

He reached up tenderly, smoothing his palm down the length of her throat, then along the center of her. Her body arched up for him as though attached to an invisible string that he was pulling. When he reached the core of her, he slid his fingers underneath her panties, not stopping until he found her moist cleft. Tess closed her eyes in tormented bliss as he cupped her, one long finger cleaving between her folds.

His breath leaked out of him in a hiss. "You feel like silk, Tess. Wet, hot silk."

He penetrated her as he spoke, just the tip of his finger, the smallest invasion. She wanted more. She lifted her hips, a quiet moan in her throat as he drew back, teasing, sliding her moisture up around her clit with the tip of his slick finger.

"What?" he asked her in a gruff whisper. "What do you want, Tess?"

She writhed under his touch, reaching for him. Dante bent down and kissed her stomach as he put both hands on the loose waistband of her jeans and pushed them down. Her panties followed. Dante kissed her navel, then traced his tongue in a downward path, toward the small patch of curls at her groin. With one hand, he lifted her thigh, spreading her open.

"Do you want me to kiss you here?" he asked, pressing his mouth to her hipbone. His dark head moved lower, to the sensitive skin of her inner thigh. "How about here?"

"Please," she gasped, her spine arcing as heat roared through her.

"I think," he said, moving off the sofa and positioning himself between her slack legs, "that you want me to kiss you… here."

The first press of his mouth to her sex took her breath away. He kissed her deeper then, using his tongue on her, driving her wild. Tess's pleasure spun higher, tighter. She didn't know it was possible to feel this kind of need, but now that she was burning with it, there was only one thing that could sate it.

"Please," she said, her voice sounding broken and thick. "Dante, please… "

"Do you want me inside you, Tess? Because that's where I want to be right now. I want to be driving into you, feeling all of your wet heat milking my cock dry."

Oh, God. He was going to make her come just thinking about it.

"Yes," she managed to croak. "God, yes. That's what I want."

He drew back and stripped off his shirt. Tess opened her eyes, watching him through heavy lids as his muscles bunched and flexed in the dim light of her office. His chest was bare, sculpted like something out of Roman myth, and decorated with an amazing pattern of tattoos that tapered down the ridge of his firm stomach and beneath the waistband of his pants.

At least, she thought they were tattoos. Through her desire-soaked eyes, the geometric designs seemed to change colors as she stared at him, the lines muting from deep wine red to purplish blue and oceanic green.

"Your skin is beautiful," she said, as curious as she was awed. "God, Dante… your tattoos… they're incredible."

She glanced up at his face and thought she saw something flash like amber in his eyes. And when his lips curved into a smile, his mouth seemed fuller somehow.

Dante unfastened his black pants and pulled them off. He wasn't wearing anything under them. His sex sprang free, huge and erect, as breathtaking as the rest of him. To her surprise, the beautiful pattern of tattoos continued all the way down here, curling around the root of his erection like adoring, multihued fingers. Thick veins ridged the length of his long shaft, which was crowned with a broad head, as supple and dark as a plum.

She could have looked at him forever, but then he reached over to her desk and doused the light. Tess mourned the darkness that hid him, but an instant later his heat was covering her and she let her hands explore everything her eyes could no longer see.

He pressed her down beneath him, parting her thighs with his pelvis as he moved into position between her legs. His sex was hard, so hot, as he wedged it between her folds, just teasing her with the length of him, making her crave him even more.

"Dante." Her breath heaved out of her, she was so ready for him, so needful of him. It took immense focus to break from the havoc he was wreaking on her senses and think rationally for a second. "Dante, wait. I'm… I'm on the pill, so I… but maybe we should–"

"It's okay." He kissed her as his erection nudged the mouth of her core. His tongue swept between her lips, the taste of her own juices a musky sweetness that lingered on his tongue. "You're safe with me, Tess. I promise you."

Ordinarily she would be the last person to rely on trust alone, but somehow she knew that she could believe him. Incredibly, she felt safe with him. Protected.

He kissed her again, pushing his tongue deeper. Tess let him in, kissing him back as she arched her hips and seated herself on the blunt head of his penis to show him what she wanted. He exhaled sharply, pelvis bucking as their bodies began to join.

"You are mine," he gasped against her mouth.

Tess couldn't deny it.

Not now.

She clutched at him hungrily, and then, with a low growl, he thrust forward, plunging deep.

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