Mating Bite—Prologue

“I understand that my cousin introduced you to a new addiction.”

Carter Sinclair sat in a leather chair, his pose relaxed, but tension hummed just beneath his skin. Inside, the beast he carried was snarling—more than ready to rip and tear into the bastards around him. But for the moment, Carter’s control held. For the moment. He lifted one brow. “Sorry…I don’t think we were properly introduced.” He waved a hand toward the goons who’d crowded near his chair—and then toward the asshole who’d spoken, the guy who sat behind the big, fancy desk, the guy with a smirk on his face. “Who the hell are you? And why did your guards grab me off the street?”

The jerk behind the desk—a big fellow with jet-black hair and cold, green eyes—blinked. “I’m Antoine Abandonato.” He announced the name dramatically, as if it should mean something, and actually, it did.

Because the Abandonato family—they were damn vampires. Born vampires. Some of the baddest of the bad. But Carter had known what the jerk was even before the big name reveal. When the goons had approached him, he’d caught the vamps’ scent, and he’d noticed more than one fang flashing in the room. He wasn’t particularly concerned about being in a room loaded with vamps. No, fear wasn’t entering the equation for him. They were the ones who should be afraid. And if they knew just how badly he was jonesing for vamp blood…

“My cousin Isabella mated with your pack leader.” Antoine rose and sauntered around the desk, moving closer to Carter. A huge mistake. Wrongly, the asshole probably assumed that Carter had been overpowered by the goons and brought in for this little one-on-one chat by force. The fellow didn’t get that Carter had known the vamps were tailing him—he’d been aware of them for days. And since he wanted something from them—something very, very important—he’d let the jerks bring him in without a fight.

“Isabella,” Carter repeated the name softly. Then he shrugged. And he smiled, flashing his own fangs. A werewolf’s fangs were, after all, much sharper and stronger than a vamp’s. “Never heard of her.”

Some of the arrogance slid from Antoine’s face. Except for the dark hair, he didn’t look much like Isabella. “I know she saved your life. You were mortally wounded defending her, and she gave you her blood.”

Carter squinted as if he were thinking about Antoine’s words. “No…” Carter announced slowly. “Don’t think that ever happened.”

Antoine moved in a fast lunge. One moment, he was standing beside the desk. In the next instant, he’d yanked Carter out of his chair. Antoine held Carter in the air, holding him by one hand, a hand that was locked around Carter’s neck.

Carter wasn’t sure…was he supposed to be impressed by that move? Because he wasn’t. Still, though, he didn’t fight, not yet.

“Don’t lie to me,” Antoine snarled. The vamp errand boys gathered in the room all tensed menacingly. “I know Isabella mated your pack leader, Griffin Romeo. I know you were injured fighting to protect her. And I know she gave you her blood.”

Antoine sure seemed to know an awful lot about werewolf business—and that wasn’t good. It meant someone in the pack had sold them out to the vamps.

“She wanted to save you,” Antoine continued grimly. “But in the heat of the moment, dear Isabella forgot one important point.” His smile stretched. “A werewolf can’t take vamp blood, not without becoming fucking addicted.”

And, just like that, the fun was over. Carter didn’t like the prick’s arrogance, and he damn well didn’t like the fact that Antoine knew his secret weakness. Carter’s claws burst from his fingertips and he shoved them deep into Antoine’s chest. Blood immediately soaked the vamp’s shirt, and he screamed in pain, dropping his hold on Carter’s neck.

The vamp guards lunged forward—

But in a flash, Carter had yanked Antoine in front of him. And now his claws were at Antoine’s throat. Carter glared at the vamp goons as he said, “Take another step toward me, and I’ll take his head. It will be thudding to the floor before you can so much as touch me.” That wasn’t an empty threat. Carter didn’t make empty threats.

One of the vamps licked his lips and—

“Stop!” Antoine shouted. “Don’t come any closer—actually—” His voice was wheezing. “Get the hell out.”

Carter let his claws sink into Antoine’s throat. More blood spilled. The scent of that blood was calling to Carter. Driving him to the brink of his control.

Don’t give in. Don’t…

“You heard the man,” Carter said, his words guttural. “Get the hell out.”

And they did. The big, bad vamps backed away at his order. Had the fools really thought they held the upper hand? At all? Wrong. He waited until the door slammed shut behind them, then Carter let out a low laugh. It wasn’t a fun sound. “Guess you’re wishing now that you’d never had me brought in.” He spun the jerk to face him, fully expecting to see fear on Antoine’s pompous face.

Instead, Antoine was smiling.

Hell. Smiling vamps were always bad.

Blood soaked Antoine’s shirt and trickled from his neck. “No,” Antoine said, and the guy was happy, judging by the glint in his eyes. “You’re exactly what I need.”

Now this was just getting weirder. “Are you insane?” He knew very little about Isabella’s family, so maybe there was lots of insanity in her family tree. If you lived as long as born vamps did, well, you probably had to go mad after a few centuries.

“No, I’m not insane. And I’m also not the one addicted to vamp blood.”

Carter growled.

“Easy,” Antoine murmured. “You and I…we can help each other.”

Carter was about to help himself to some blood. Why waste it all?

“Isabella…she was always too soft. Thinking it was wrong to hunt humans. She was so clueless.” Antoine sighed, as if in sympathy—or pity. “She also had a tendency to act without thinking things through. Take you, for example…”

Since the vamp wasn’t attacking, Carter slowly moved his hand away from the guy’s throat. For the moment.

“Isabella wanted to save you, so she gave you her blood. In the heat of the moment, she wasn’t thinking about the future—or about the fact that once you give a werewolf vamp blood…the werewolf craves that blood. Hell, it’s the whole reason our factions have been fighting for all these centuries. Werewolves get addicted to our blood, they crave it above everything else.”

The vamp was only telling part of the story. A very twisted part. Carter lifted his brows in mock surprise. “That’s why we’ve been fighting? Huh. And here I thought it was because you bastard vamps rounded up as many werewolves as you could find a few centuries back, and you held us prisoner as you tried to figure out which wolves could be mates for vampires. You know, so we could protect your sorry asses during the day.”

Antoine’s eyes narrowed. “That’s one version of events.”

What a dick—

Antoine rolled back his shoulders and adjusted his bloody shirt. “In both versions, we know that when a werewolf drinks the blood of any vamp who is not his mate, then the werewolf gets pushed to the brink of sanity. His body starts craving the blood—needing to drink vamp blood again and again—because power comes to the beast through that blood. The wolf in you wants that power, so he’s constantly pushing you now to get more vamp blood. To keep feeding on my kind.”

Sweat trickled down Carter’s temple.

“Isn’t that the reason you left Vegas?” Antoine pushed. “Because you started craving the blood of a vampire, and the only vampire close by…that was your pack leader’s mate, Isabella?”

Yes, that was why he’d left, but he sure wasn’t going to make that confession.

And Antoine obviously wasn’t in the mood to stop talking. “You left so that you could hunt vampires, so that you could drink from them, without your pack knowing just how far you’d fallen from grace.”

Carter locked his jaw.

“I can help you,” Antoine promised.

That was an option. Not one that Carter liked. Instead…“I can gorge myself on your blood right now.”

Tension crept into the room. Thick, heavy. The air around Carter seemed to chill.

“I don’t think you quite know who you are dealing with.” Antoine’s eyes were cold. For the first time, a faint accent had slid beneath his words. Italian.

“I don’t give a shit who I’m dealing with. I—”

“Unlimited vampire blood. I can give you that. I’ll make sure you have all the blood you need, and in return, I want you to do one job for me.”

Why does this feel like I’m about to sell my soul to the devil? “I could just kill you and the goons you have outside. I could hunt any vamp I want.”

“No, you couldn’t, because if you open that door and I’m not standing at your side, my men will put so many silver bullets in your body that you won’t be able to survive. You’ll be dead, and then I’ll just have to go out and find another werewolf to do the job I have waiting.”

Did those assholes really have silver bullets ready to use on him? Shit. Probably.

Antoine’s eyes gleamed. “It’s a simple job. You just go out, you use those powerful werewolf senses of yours—senses that I’ll make sure are heightened even more with a few donations of vamp blood—and you find my missing mate.”

What? Carter laughed. “You lost your girlfriend? That’s what this shit is about? You lost your girl—”

“Werewolves are the best trackers out there.” Antoine wasn’t laughing. “I need you to find my Lauren and bring her back. Time is of the fucking essence. You hunt her, you bring her to me, and I’ll make sure you have all the vamp blood you crave.”

Interesting. “How’d you lose your girl?” Then before Antoine could answer, Carter fired, “Better question…why’d she run from you?”

Antoine’s face tightened. “Lauren is new to the vamp world. She doesn’t understand the way things work. She ran because she was afraid, but I can’t let her stay out there unprotected. I have too many enemies. Too many who would use her, hurt her, in order to hurt me.

He was supposed to buy that BS line? Like Antoine was all soft and good? That he cared about this missing woman?

“If you can return her to me within the week, I will give you anything you want,” Antoine told him. “Anything.”

Well, in that case…Carter ignored the twisting, burning fire in his gut—the craving that always filled him now because he was fucking frantic for more vamp blood—and he said, “I think we have a deal.”

Antoine’s smile would have chilled a lesser paranormal. “There’s just one more thing, wolf. You can never, fucking ever drink my Lauren’s blood.”

Carter stared at the vamp.

“Taste her,” Antoine continued darkly, “and I’ll make you wish for death.”

Carter simply smiled. “Promises, promises…”

Mating Bite—Chapter One

Werewolf Rules To Live (or Die) By…

Rule One: If a werewolf encounters a vamp…the vamp dies. Immediately.

Her fangs were out again. Oh, shit. Lauren McIntosh shoved two beers across the bar at the two men who’d just placed their order, and then her hand flew up to cover her mouth. She’d felt the burning and stretching in her gums—the tell-tale sliver of pain that meant her canine teeth were growing.

Her fangs grew when she got hungry. Unfortunately, Lauren was getting hungrier—or, thirstier—by the moment. She was working at a small bar on the Georgia coast, nestled on a side street in Savannah. Music was playing, laughter filled the air, and Lauren had an overwhelming urge to bite someone.

She hurried away from the bar and ran into the backroom. She was so intent on getting to safety that she didn’t see the man who stepped into her path, not until she ran straight into him.

It was rather like hitting a brick wall.

She stumbled back, but his hands flew up and locked around her shoulders. “Easy.”

Easy was the last thing she felt. Her gaze snapped up, and she found herself staring into the darkest, deepest eyes that she’d ever seen. For just a moment, she could have sworn that the music muted, that the laughter faded, that there was only him. The man with the dark eyes and the golden skin and the hair that was blond and sun-streaked—God, I miss the sun!—and that hair was a little too long. Just as the guy’s face was a little too handsome. High cheekbones, strong jaw, and a long, straight nose. She’d already made one seriously fatal mistake by falling for a too handsome man before, and Lauren wasn’t about to be fooled twice. “Let. Me. Go.”

His hands immediately lifted. “Sorry.” His voice was warm and rumbling, and a woodsy, rich scent—the fresh outdoors—clung to his skin. “Just trying to stop you from falling.” He gave her a wide smile. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

She didn’t smile back at him. “You don’t scare me.” But I should scare you.

He frowned at her.

Oh, crap. Had she flashed fang when she spoke to him? “Listen, buddy—”

“Carter. My name’s Carter Sinclair.”

Did she look like she cared? That she was in the mood for a pick-up? She was in the middle of a freak-out! She didn’t have time for the sexy guy. “Wonderful. Fabulous for you.” Lauren jerked her thumb back over her shoulder. “There is a bar full of gorgeous women behind me. Why don’t you go and meet them? I need to get in the storage room and restock the bar’s liquor supply.” Total lie, but so what? Lying was the least of her sins these days.

And to think, once upon a time, she’d been such a good girl. Never breaking the rules, always being kind to strangers and stray kittens, and what had she gotten for all that good behavior?

Eternal damnation. So unfair.

The guy didn’t move out of her way. He was big, well over six feet, and designed along muscled, strong lines. He had broad shoulders and a build that told her he could get shit done.

And that he was also trouble. Far more trouble than she wanted to handle. “Out of the way,” Lauren gritted out through clenched teeth. “My boss will be furious if I’m not back at my post soon.” Another lie. Whoops. She was sinning left and right.

Carter moved. He stepped to the side, and she rushed past him. Their bodies brushed, and she could feel the heat of his skin scorching her. A pulse of heat ran through her entire body at the contact, and, for an instant, Lauren froze. Her gaze whipped back to his.

Carter smiled at her. “I’ll be waiting for you at the bar.”

“Lauren. My name is Lauren McIntosh.” Why in the hell had she just said that?

“Beautiful name for a beautiful lady. Like I said, I’ll be waiting for you.” Then he turned and sauntered away.

Cocky. She didn’t like cocky. He could wait at the bar all night long, and it wouldn’t matter to her. She was getting out of that place. If she didn’t get out, then Lauren was going to do something very, very bad. Bad like…biting the patrons.

Her hand slapped against the door to the storage room, and she hurtled inside. Her breath was heaving out and her heart raced as her fangs extended even more in her mouth.

For an instant, her gaze shot to the mirror that hung on the nearby wall. Her reflection stared back at her, and, to Lauren, it was truly like looking at a monster.

I’m a vampire. An actual freaking vampire!

Sure, her heart still beat, and she still needed air to breathe—as noted by her current frenzied breathing pattern—but she had fangs. She had superhuman strength. She burned in the sunlight. And she was pretty much on a liquid only diet. Her liquid of choice was blood.

This is wrong. There had to be a way to get her old life back. Lauren threw open the back door. The night air hit her, still warm because it was always warm in this part of Georgia. Her feet hurried over the cobblestone pathway. Even the alleys were covered in cobblestones. Shadows loomed around her, and once, those shadows would have terrified her, but now, Lauren could see in the dark. She could see—

The man and woman waiting for her.

She staggered to a stop.

The man straightened away from the wall. His eyes—a piercing blue—shone from the darkness. “I smell…fresh meat.”

Her hands fisted.

The woman behind him let out a low laugh. “I smell…” Her heels clicked on the stones. Very high heels—spikes. “I smell fear.” Her words held positive glee.

Lauren’s stare jerked between them. The man was tall, with close-cropped hair and a rough, beefy frame. By contrast, the woman with him was absolutely tiny. Her long hair cascaded over her back, and gold hoops hung from her ears. “I don’t want trouble…” Lauren began.

“You don’t?” The woman sounded surprised. “If you don’t want trouble, then you shouldn’t have asked for a meeting with a witch.”

For an instant, Lauren’s heart stopped. “You? You’re the Dealer?” That was the name she’d been given for the powerful witch who supposedly controlled all the magic in the southeast. And since Lauren now found herself trapped in the supernatural world, she’d wanted the witch’s help.

“Um…that’s me.” The woman walked around Lauren, eyeing her carefully, while the man—had to be her guard judging by the way he stood at attention and watched every movement—didn’t make a sound. “And you’re the vamp who wants to go back to her human life?”

“Yes!” Lauren grabbed the woman’s hands, holding on tight. “Please! I will give you anything—”

“And I’ll take it.” The woman stared into her eyes. The witch’s gaze was a swirling hazel. “But not here, new vamp. Let’s go back to my place. Once we’re there, I’ll end the nightmare for you.”

Those words sounded wonderful.

The woman turned away. Lauren started to bound after her only…

I’ll end the nightmare for you.

Maybe those words weren’t as wonderfully perfect as they’d originally sounded. Lauren hesitated. “You’ll make me human?”

The woman kept walking. The hulking man—he was edging closer to Lauren.

I smell…fear.

“You’ll make me human?” Lauren called out again. She took a tentative step forward. Hope was such a desperate beast. The hulking guy—he was almost close enough to touch her now, and Lauren didn’t know what she should do. Go with them or run?

“No, sweetness, they won’t make you human.” The words seemed to rumble from the darkness, and they’d come from right behind Lauren. Her nostrils flared as a rich, woodsy scent—Carter Sinclair’s scent—teased her. She spun around, and he was just standing there. Too damn close. He’d snuck up on her, not making a sound. He stood there, his arms crossed over his chest, looking all big and bad and sexy. “There is no going back from what you are.”

Two things…first, had he just called her sweetness? Like he knew her? Like they were familiar, intimate? Like they were lovers? Hell, no.

Second…no going back? Did that mean he knew what she was?

She opened her mouth to reply to him, but at the same instant, a big, beefy hand hooked around her shoulder. She knew that hand belonged to the Dealer’s guard, and Lauren didn’t like that he was getting rough with her. She jerked her elbow back, slamming it into his ribs, and his grunt filled her ears, but he didn’t let her go. If anything, his hold on her tightened. Lauren let out a pain-filled cry.

“Bad mistake,” Carter announced as his voice hardened. “One you are going to regret, buddy.”

Then, Carter shot forward. He caught the guard’s hand and yanked it up, and Lauren was sure she heard the snap of breaking bones. A rather chilling sound. She didn’t exactly linger to see if she was right, though, instead, Lauren sprinted for the mouth of the alley. She needed to get away, and fast.

But the Dealer stepped into her path. Lauren staggered to a stop. The Dealer was small, tiny, and Lauren was way bigger. She could take this chick…I’m a vamp. I can do this.

“Not so fast,” the woman spat as she glared at Lauren. “You never said you had a guard dog.”

A what?

A sharp cry sounded behind her. Lauren looked back, and the hulking guy was struggling to push himself to his feet. But before the guy could get fully upright, Carter drove his fist into the side of the guard’s face. The fellow crumpled with a groan, and he didn’t get back up.

Carter’s frantic gaze locked on Lauren. “Get the hell away from her, Lauren!” Carter yelled. “Get away before she—”

“I fucking hate vamps,” the woman whispered, pulling Lauren’s gaze back to her. “But you know which vamp I hate the most of all in this world? Antoine Abandonato.” Her hand came up in a quick flash. Lauren didn’t see the knife until it was almost too late. She stumbled back. The blade cut across her chest and shoulder, and Lauren cried out in pain. The woman—the Dealer—just laughed. And she brought the knife down again.

But this time, the sharp blade didn’t pierce Lauren’s skin. This time, Carter was there. He tore the blade right out of the Dealer’s fingers, and he threw it toward a dumpster. He grabbed the woman, jerking her toward him. “You just made the wrong enemy.”

Lauren lifted her hand, trying to stop the flow of blood. She was bleeding, a lot. She staggered back as the witch began making wild promises to Carter.

“I can give you anything! Everything! Let me go…we’ll deal!”

Dizziness hit Lauren. She sank to her knees, right beside the unconscious guard.

You want a mate? I know you do…your kind always wants a mate.

Mate? His kind always wanted to mate? Had the Dealer just said that Carter always wanted to fuck?

Lauren’s body trembled. Her hand flew out. She grabbed the guard’s wrist. Oh, yeah, that was definitely a broken wrist. She lifted it to her mouth.

“What is she doing?” The Dealer’s shriek was ear-splitting.

Lauren’s teeth had just sunk into the man’s wrist. His blood spilled onto her tongue.

“She’ll kill him! New vamps can’t stop! She’ll kill him!”

The Dealer tried to break past Carter.

And sweet, sweet blood filled Lauren’s mouth. With every drop, the pain she’d felt lessened. The weakness slid away. Power surged inside of her body. She liked power.

Carter grabbed the witch, locking his arms around her waist. “How’s this for a deal? I’ll stop her, and, in return, you stay the hell away from Lauren.” He didn’t give the woman a chance to answer. Instead, he stalked toward Lauren.

Lauren kept drinking. Once she started drinking from prey…

Stop me. Please, stop me.

Lines of tension bracketed Carter’s mouth. She saw his nostrils flare. “An awful lot of blood…” he muttered. “And it’s yours.

Her shirt was soaked with her blood. Courtesy of the witch.

“Fuck me.” He stopped walking. His eyes closed. The guy looked as if he were in physical pain. “Fuck me.” Didn’t exactly sound like an invitation. More like a damnation.

The guard let out a low groan. The sound pulled Lauren’s attention back to him. Inside, part of her was horrified. I’m sorry! I shouldn’t be doing this…

But…

He had grabbed her. He’d been planning some kind of kidnap scene, not the help she’d wanted. And she was only taking a few sips. She’d be able to stop, maybe, she’d—

Strong hands curled around her shoulders. The hands weren’t rough—not like the guard’s had been. And those hands…they made her body feel…warm?

“Let him go.”

Carter. Carter was touching her. He was staring at her, and she realized there was gold hidden in the darkness of his eyes. Not a lot of gold. Just a little.

“You want to bite, sweetness? Then you can take my blood. Come with me, get out of this alley, and I’ll give you what you need.”

Where was the Dealer? She’d attack again, Lauren was sure of that. There had been so much hate in the other woman’s voice. I need to get out of here.

Carter smiled at her, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Come with me. Trust me on this, my blood is way better than his.” He leaned toward her. “My blood has a rush that you wouldn’t believe.”

She couldn’t look away from his eyes. And…Lauren pulled away from her victim. She dropped his wrist back to the ground. She stared up at Carter, her body crouched, the guard’s blood in her mouth, and her body slowly healing from the knife attack. “Help me?” Lauren asked him, hating the desperation in her voice, but she was at the end of her rope. This man—he’d tried to protect her. No one had helped her since this nightmare began. No one, but him.

Carter’s smile tightened. “I’ll help you.” He caught her hand and yanked her up—up and into his arms. He held her easily, as if she didn’t weigh a thing, and she wondered about him. Was he…like her? A vamp, too?

If so, she should be absolutely terrified. She should run as far and as fast as she could. Vampires were evil. They were monsters.

She was a monster.

Carter moved quickly, running with her in his arms. And as he moved, she curled her arm around his neck. Her mouth pressed to his throat. The terrible hunger still filled her. She wanted to bite. Needed to bite. His pulse was so strong. And it was right there. Her tongue swiped over his racing pulse. Her fangs scraped against his skin. When the hunger hit her, Lauren’s control pretty much shattered. She was helpless.

She bit him.

And…

Everything changed. His blood—it wasn’t like any blood she’d tasted before. Sweeter, but richer, too. Fine, like fancy wine. So freaking good. It slid onto her tongue and her whole body ignited. Power filled her, coursing through every single vein. But it wasn’t just some wild-ass power surge. Desire beat in her blood. Her nipples tightened. Her sex ached. Need tore through her, and she moaned as she drank from him.

His blood was different. He was different, and through the haze of lust, Lauren knew she should be afraid. She knew she should pull away. She just…couldn’t.

“You’ve got to stop now, sweetness.”

He pushed her head back.

Lauren blinked. Her body was a little…wait, why did she feel drunk? Could she actually get drunk on someone’s blood?

And where the hell was she?

“Take a breath, okay?” He urged her. “I know vamps still need to breathe, and after all the shit that went down tonight, I think you could be in shock.”

Her eyes were on his throat. He leaned forward, pulling a seatbelt over her shoulder and securing it at her hip. I’m in a truck. When I did I get in a truck? But she stopped caring about that matter as his wonderful neck came back within range of her mouth—

She tried to take another bite.

But he pushed her back—he controlled her furious movements—with surprising strength.

“As good as it feels when you bite—and believe me, it feels fucking fantastic—I need to get you out of here.” His words were rough, but his hold, though unbreakable, was still gentle. “So take that breath, get your control back, and keep those sexy fangs in check.”

Impossible. Did he get that? She couldn’t control her thirst, and that was the problem. She took and took and—

“Look at me, Lauren.”

Her gaze flew to his.

“You’ve got enemies chasing you.”

His words pierced the fog of her hunger.

“They’re closing in. I want to get you to safety, but that means hauling ass right now.”

Blood. His blood. I need…

“I can’t drive us out of here if you’re drinking from me. Hell, I can barely do anything…you’re sexy as all hell, and when you bite me, I want to fuck you.”

His words pierced right through her. Lauren’s eyes widened. “What?” No, he was lying to her. She was a freak now, not sexy at all. No way would he want to have sex with her. Especially not when she was biting him, for goodness sake!

But he backed away from her. Slammed the door shut. Then, moments later, he was sliding into the driver’s seat. Only he didn’t crank the vehicle. Instead, he shoved his hands under the dash board.

Need still pulsed in her body. She was shaking, and all Lauren wanted was to reach out to him. To touch. To take. To bite. But…

He’s helping me. No one has helped me. I can’t hurt the man who’s helping me. “Wh-what are you doing?” She tried to focus on his hands, not his neck. Not his racing pulse. Not his insanely tasty blood.

“Hot-wiring the truck.”

It took too long for his words to sink in, and when they did, he’d already hot-wired the truck, and the vehicle was surging forward as it raced down the road.

“Wait!” Lauren cried out. “You’re stealing someone’s vehicle?”

He laughed, and it was a rough, but sexy sound. “Not like I had a whole lot of options at the time. Your fangs were in me, and if I didn’t get you out of my arms, fast…” His head turned and his laughter had faded. “I would have fucked you up against the nearest alley wall while you drank from me.”

Carter’s words should have terrified her. They should not have turned her on. She didn’t even know him. He didn’t know her. She was a vampire, she was—Lauren blinked at him. “You aren’t freaking out.”

He grunted and drove faster.

She fiddled with her seatbelt. It had been nice of him to secure it for her. “You, uh, I bit you.”

“Hell, yes, you did.” His eyes were on the road. “I can still feel the bite on me,” he added, voice deepening even more. “It’s like a brand on my skin.”

Lauren winced. Some of her control was coming back—a bit—and she was pretty sure it was because of his powerful blood. She’d never felt this way after drinking. Every cell in her body felt alive. No, not just alive. Amped. “Sorry about that. I’m new at this vamp business, and I…may have been a little too rough.”

He slanted her a quick glance. “I like rough.”

Oh, wow. “Who are you?”

His hands tightened on the wheel. “Told you already, Carter Sinclair. If you’d come back to me at that bar like you were supposed to, then none of this would have happened.” His jaw hardened. “You wouldn’t have gotten stabbed right in front of me, and I wouldn’t have started a new war.”

Um, a new war? That was kind of dramatic, but she’d circle back to that part, later. For the moment… “Why aren’t you freaking out?”

“Don’t really have time for that, do we?” He glanced in the rear-view mirror. “They’re going to follow us. They aren’t going to let either of us just vanish.”

Why aren’t you freaking out?” Lauren demanded again. “I’m a vampire! You get that, right?”

“Hard to miss when you sink those sexy fangs into my throat.”

“You should be freaking out. You should be running from me.” She blinked because tears had muddied her vision. “Or maybe you should be the one trying to take my head.” Her hand rose to her neck. “I think that’s what she was doing—not stabbing me, but trying to cut my head straight off. Only I dodged, and she missed her target.”

He growled. The sound was dark and animalistic, and it sent a shiver over her.

“No one,” he said, the words rasping from him, “is taking your head. I’m not going to let that happen.”

“You’re…helping me?” He was—obviously. That was why they were racing away in a stolen truck, and he’d gotten her out of that alley. “Why?”

He took a hard turn. Didn’t even slow as he took that turn, and her body slid in the seat.

“All these questions,” he murmured. “Shouldn’t you just be glad I saved your ass?”

No, because there was a price for everything. She knew that. She also knew that fear had settled heavily in her gut. He was so strong—stronger than she was, and that was saying a whole lot. “Are you a vamp?” She held her breath as she waited for his response. Held her breath, but prepared to rip out of the seatbelt and throw her body out of the truck. If he was a vamp, she’d have to run.

But Carter laughed. “Oh, hell, no.”

Her shoulders relaxed.

“No damn way,” he added, and there was a note of rage underlying his words—a rage that had her shoulders stiffening right back.

“You don’t like vamps.” Her voice had turned into a whisper. That means you don’t like me.

He looked into the rear-view mirror again.

“If you don’t like vamps, why are you helping me?” Nothing was making sense to her. “I mean, what, is this your deal? You go out of your way to help a stranger who bites you and then you steal a truck and then you—”

“If you don’t want my help, I can stop the truck and let you out right here.”

Her lips snapped together. The Dealer had been her last option. She hadn’t realized the witch was going to go all knife crazy on her. “Keep driving,” she urged. “Drive really fast.”

He laughed. “Right. Good idea.” And he did.

And Lauren…she stopped asking questions. Mostly because she wasn’t sure she was ready to hear any answers from him.

***

The vamp bitch had gotten away and she’d taken blood from Roy. Natalie Kingston knelt by the man who should have been guarding her. Her fingers went to his wrist, and they came away wet with his blood.

Roy groaned. “Will I become…a vamp?”

“Not damn likely. You have to die first, then be brought back.” Roy was injured, but he’d definitely live. And he’d better not get his ass bit again. “Human transformations are incredibly rare.” She swiped her fingers over her shirt and rose to her feet. “Most humans die. They don’t get to come back.” Most.

Despite the magical enhancements she’d given her guard, Roy was still a human at his core. Just a very strong human. And one with superior senses.

Her gaze turned to the mouth of the alley. Her prey was gone. Dammit.

Lauren McIntosh wasn’t like most humans. Instead of dying, dear Lauren—dear unremarkable Lauren—had actually rose from the dead. She’d come back, and in doing so, she’d become very, very important to Antoine Abandonato.

Roy rose to his feet and swayed. “Didn’t think…didn’t think she’d stop…”

No, Natalie hadn’t thought the fresh vamp would stop, either. Not when the blood lust hit her, but the stranger—tall, blond, and incredibly strong—he’d stopped Lauren.

He’d also taken her away.

“He stole my prey,” Natalie muttered. She’d been desperate to make a deal with him because Roy…he was her friend. One of the few she had in the world. Would the stranger remember the deal? Would he come back to her, looking for his mate?

Because I know what you are, hero. I could smell the beast on you.

If the stranger came back to her, then she’d bring him to her side. A mate would be worth far more to him than a useless vamp.

And if he didn’t come back…

“I’ll find that vamp,” Natalie swore. She had plenty of power at her command. Dark magic. Magic that she’d traded bits of her battered soul for over the years. She’d use her magic. She’d have her revenge.

She would make Antoine suffer. He’d feel the hell she’d experienced. She’d rip his heart out…

And then she’d laugh while he bled.

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