Zarek turned more to his side all the while his fingers stroked and delved.
She shivered at the warmth of his touch as the cool surf rushed around them. The heat of the sun on her skin was nothing compared to the heat his touch provided.
He made her burn.
He nudged her legs farther apart.
Astrid moaned as his mouth covered her.
Her head swam in pleasure as he ran his tongue over the center of her body where she craved more of his touch. His tongue flicked across her, spearing her. Enticing her.
His hands gripped her h*ps as he pressed her pelvis closer to him so that he could torture her with more wicked delights.
Zarek shook at the sensation of tasting her while she tasted him. This was so much more than sex they shared.
She was right, they were making love to each other.
And it shook him all the way to his missing soul.
They took their time with each other, stroking, caressing, making sure that they were both sated. They came together in one pure burst of emotion.
Astrid pulled back as Zarek continued to tease her.
So intent on her, Zarek wasn’t paying attention to the water. Not until a large wave rolled over them.
He sputtered as he swallowed a large amount of water.
The wave rolled back, leaving both of them choking and gasping.
Astrid laughed, the sound dulcet and vibrant. "Now that was interesting."
He kissed his way up her body so that he could smile down at her. "More aggravating, in my opinion."
She reached her hand up to touch his cheeks. "Prince Charming has dimples."
He stopped smiling instantly and looked away.
She turned his head back toward her. "Don’t stop smiling, Zarek. I like this side of you."
His eyes flared angrily. "Meaning you don’t like the other side of me?"
She made a disgusted sound at him. "You are so surly." She ran her hand down his back until she could cup his nak*d butt in her hands. "After today, haven’t you realized I’m rather fond of all sides of you? Even though some are more prickly than others." She ran her hand over his whisker-covered cheek to emphasize her point.
He relaxed a degree. "I shouldn’t be with you."
"And I shouldn’t be with you. Yet here we are and I am very happy about it." She wiggled her bottom against him, making him groan in response.
He looked at her as if he couldn’t believe she was real, and in his mind she wasn’t. She was only a dream.
Astrid wondered how he would react when he woke up. Would any of this help or would he withdraw further from her?
She wished she could strip his bad memories from him. Give him a happy childhood filled with love and tenderness.
A life of joy and friendship.
He laid his head down between her br**sts and stayed there quietly as if content to feel nothing more than her under him while the sun warmed them both.
"Tell me of a happy memory, Zarek. One thing in your life that was good."
He hesitated for so long that she didn’t think he would answer. When he spoke, his voice was so soft that it made her ache. "You."
Tears gathered in her eyes. She hugged him with her body, cradling him, hoping that in some way she soothed his troubled, restless spirit.
Astrid knew then that she would fight for this man, and in the back of her mind came a frightening realization.
She was falling in love with him.
For a moment, she couldn’t breathe as the notion hung in her thoughts like a frightening specter.
But there was no denying what she felt for him, the lengths she would go to see him safe and happy.
His breath teased her nipple while his heart thudded against her stomach.
No one had touched her the way he did and it wasn’t just the sex. He made her feel soft and womanly. Desirable.
He didn’t baby her and yet he did such kind things to take care of her.
Closing her eyes, she let his weight and the water soak into her. Let his slick, cool skin soothe her.
What was she going to do? Zarek wasn’t the kind of man to let anyone love him.
Especially not a woman who had been sent to pass judgment on him.
If he ever learned what she was, he would hate her.
That knowledge ripped through her, stealing the happiness of the day.
But eventually, she would have to tell him.
Jess left the black Ford Bronco and slid his sawed-off shotgun out from under the seat.
Just in case.
The night winds were frigid, the moonlight bright and eerie as it reflected off the snow. He adjusted his sunglasses, not that they made much difference.
The Alaskan climate was hard on a Dark-Hunter’s sensitive eyes.
Zarek’s house was dark and empty, but a bright red snow-machine was parked in front of it Jess’s Squire, Andy Simms, who had come up here with him from Reno, ambled out of the Bronco and eyed the snowmachine suspiciously.
Barely six feet in height with black hair and brown eyes, Andy had just turned twenty-one. He’d only worked for Jess a few months and had come in after Andy’s father retired last spring.
Jess had known the pup since the day he was born, and tended to look on him like a little brother.
Pesky and all.
"Is that another Squire?" Andy asked, indicating the snow-machine with a nod.
Jess shook his head. The Squires were in the two SUVs pulling up behind them.
They made more noise than a herd of nervous cattle as they left their four-wheel-drives and gathered round him.
There were twelve of the Squires altogether, but Jess only knew a couple of them.
Otto Carvalletti was the tallest of the group. Standing a cool six feet five inches, he had jet-black hair that was a bit long, but well styled, as if the man spent a lot of time on it.
He glared penetratingly at all times, and Jess figured if the man ever did manage to smile, it would crack his face.
One half of Otto’s family was Italian Mafia while the other half was one of the oldest Squire families known. A real blue blood, Otto’s grandfather had once headed up the Squires’ Council.
Tyler Winstead came to them from Milwaukee. Barely five feet seven, the blond man was wholesome looking until you caught sight of his eyes. There was nothing wholesome in his gaze. Only intensity.
That left Allen Kirby. Another multi-generational Squire, Allen had been called out from Toronto for this hunt. Since Otto never spoke two words, Allen was the smart-ass of the herd.
But, something told Jess, Otto could easily outdo Allen’s biting comments if he chose to do so.
"I knew he’d be here," Allen said as he eyed the snow-machine with pert malice.
Jess passed a bored stare at him. "It’s not Zarek. Believe me, red isn’t his color."
But he suspected the snowmachine did belong to a Dark-Hunter. He could feel the drain on his powers already.
"How do you know it’s not him?" Tyler asked.
Jess rested the shotgun on his shoulder. "I just do."
He ordered the Squires to stay put and ambled up the driveway toward the snowmachine. Using his teeth, he pulled the glove off his left hand and placed it on the engine.
It was cold but that meant nothing in this subzero temp, he realized all of a sudden, and he felt like a jackass for even bothering. The snowmachine could have been here five minutes or five hours. In this kind of cold, even a raging fire would be chilled within minutes of going out.
So who did it belong to?
He looked left and right and saw no sign of anyone.
Until he heard a soft thud to his left. He barely had time to pull his gun off his shoulder before four Daimons broke through the foliage.
They paused at the sight of him, then put their heads down and ran headlong toward him.
Jess caught one with a shotgun blast to the chest, then flipped a second one up and over using the stock of his gun.
A crossbow bolt shot past his face, narrowly missing him and striking one Daimon as Jess killed the one at his feet. The last one attacked, but didn’t get more than a step before another bolt landed square in his chest and he burst into powdered dust.
"Nasty bloodsucking rats."
He arched a brow at the soft, feminine voice that preceded the appearance of a tall, well-built woman.
Her long, black hair was braided down her back and she wore a tight black leather pantsuit that reminded him a bit of Emma Peel from The Avengers. Only it was much more devastating on the woman approaching him.
A second Dark-Hunter came out of the woods behind her. He was a good four inches taller than Jess with white-blond hair and a predator’s lope that said "mess with me and get hurt." He was dressed in a long fur coat and he seemed extremely comfortable in the arctic chill.
The woman paused by Jess’s side and offered him her hand. "Syra of Antikabe."
Jess inclined his head and took her hand. "Jess Brady, ma’am, pleased to meet you."
"Sundown," the other Dark-Hunter said as he joined them. He kept his hands in his pockets. "I’ve heard a lot about you. You’re a long way from home."
Jess eyed him suspiciously. "And you are?"
He inclined his head in turn to the Viking warrior. Rumor had it Bjorn had been one of the original Norsemen who had invaded Dark Age Normandy.
"I’ve heard of you," he said to Bjorn, then he turned to look at Syra. "But no offense, ma’am, you I don’t know."
"Sure you do. The ass**les on the loop call me Yukon Jane."
He smiled at that. Yukon Jane was an Amazon warrior from the third or fourth century b.c. She was rumored to be almost as ill-tempered as Zarek. She loved to hunt and kill, and was stationed in the Yukon because she’d once maimed a king who annoyed her.
"Well, now," Jess drawled with a wicked grin as he gave her elegant pose an appreciative once over, "all I can say is none of them that insult you have ever had the pleasure of your company, Miss Syra. Otherwise, they’d be calling you Queen Jane."
She smiled warmly at that. "You are a charmer and polite, too. Zoe was right."
Jess’s grin widened.
Allen cleared his throat. "Well, Lord Debonair and Lady Lethal, if we can have a minute of your time, we do have a psycho to hunt."
Jess glared over his shoulder at Allen, but before he could comment, Syra shot another bolt from her crossbow.
Allen went flying and landed flat on his back in the snow.
Syra walked over to him and stared down. "I don’t particularly like Squires and I really hate the Blood Rites. So save yourself some pain and don’t speak to me again. Or next time I’ll use a Daimon bolt on you."
She reached down and picked up the flathead bolt she’d used.
Jess laughed. He liked a woman with gumption.
And a deadly aim.
"So," she said, turning around and eyeballing the lot of them. "I’ve been chasing a group of Daimons for the last four days as they headed toward Fairbanks. Bjorn followed a tribe of them up from Anchorage. That explains why we’re here. What about the rest of you? Jess, did you trail Daimons from Reno to Alaska?"
Otto moved out of the group of Squires and paused in front of Syra. "We’ve come to kill Zarek of Moesia, and if you get in our way, little girl, we’re going to kill you!"
"I’ll be damned," Jess said, pulling his sunglasses down low on the bridge of his nose to stare at Otto. "He speaks. Or rather growls."
"But not for long if he doesn’t watch his mouth." Syra gave Otto a mean and lethal glare. "For the record, Squire, it would take more man than you to even scratch me."
Otto returned her glare with a flirtatious smile. "I live for a woman who scratches. Just make sure you keep it on the back, baby. I don’t like scars."
Otto brushed past her.
"I really hate Squires," Syra snarled. She pulled another flat bolt out and loaded it, then shot it at Otto.
Moving so fast he could hardly be seen, the Squire turned around and caught it without flinching. He held the bolt up to his nose and inhaled it lovingly. "Mmm," he said. "Rose. My favorite."
Jess exchanged a knowing look with Andy. "Perhaps we should leave you two alone."
"Yeah," Allen said with a short laugh, "this does remind me a bit of the mating rites of the mean and the surly. All we need now is Nick Gautier."
Otto slung the bolt at Allen who grunted as it made contact with his stomach.
Syra’s face was beet red as she glared at Otto, who ignored her and sauntered toward the cabin.
"Do you have a Squire, Jess?" she asked as she and Bjorn walked beside him.
He nodded toward Andy. "Raised that one from a whelp."
"Does he listen?"
"You’re lucky. I shot my last three." As she headed toward the cabin, Syra added, "And it wasn’t with the flat bolt."
Well, at least things were a mite more amusing with the two new additions to their crew.
But as Jess entered Zarek’s cabin behind Bjorn, Syra, and three of the Squires, his humor died.
The rest of the group had to wait outside since no one else would fit in the small square space.
This wasn’t a case of the cabin being bigger inside than it looked outside. It was just the reverse.
Inside, the place was well kept, but cramped and dismal.
The Squires held halogen lanterns up, illuminating the stark interior. There was a pallet on the floor with an old, worn-out pillow and a few threadbare blankets and furs. The television was set on the floor and the walls were lined with bookshelves. The only pieces of furniture in the house were two cupboards.