Daylight came, and with it, Amara. She stepped into Parker’s garden, knowing her vampire would be asleep at this time of day. “Hello, Brian.”
The Renfield smiled. “I’ve been expecting you. Did he tell you about his problem?”
“There’s a weed that needs pulling.”
Brian coughed. “Ah. I thought you might see it that way.” He stared at her, his expression turning stern. “Is Parker under your protection?”
He was acting as Parker’s Renfield, and Amara couldn’t be happier. “Don’t ask me why, but yes. I plan on having him meet my tree tonight.”
His relief eased her mind that she was doing the right thing. “She’ll like him.”
“I think so too, but until I know for sure, I plan on holding him at a distance.” Of about a foot, but she wasn’t going to tell Brian that. He might be her friend, but he was also Parker’s Renfield. She had no doubt if it came down to it, his loyalties would lie with his vampire.
Not something she could complain about, since it was beginning to feel like that was where her loyalties would lie too.
“Understandable.” He looked around, hands on his hips. “How can I help?”
“Is Greg here?”
“Can you reassure him that what I’m going to do will protect Parker?”
“Of course. He’s right here. He
“I can’t see
Brian’s cheeks reddened. “Sorry. To me, he’s
“Yup.” She twisted her hands together. “Greg? Do me a favor, will you? Don’t say anything either. If Parker knows what to expect, he might not be willing to meet her.”
“I’ve heard meeting a dryad’s tree can be pretty intense.” Brian looked off to his left. “Greg just wants to double-check that there’s no chance this could hurt Parker.”
“I don’t think so. Unless he’s planning on harming me in some way, she’ll only touch his soul. That won’t hurt a bit.”
She’d never seen quite that expression Brian’s face before. It was equal parts disbelief, worry—and was that laughter? “Okay. We’ll make sure he doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.” She turned back toward her garden. “I’ll talk to you later, Bri. I have some things I need to do before I see Parker tonight.”
“Going to your secret garden?”
“You know me so well.”
“Have fun. We’ll see you later.” Brian waved goodbye and sauntered back into Parker’s house.
Amara entered her garden and went for the secret gate that led to the trail through the woods. She wanted to check on the garden she and Glinda had planted all those years ago. She smiled, thinking about the wild forest garden they’d managed to create. It looked like part of the landscape, but each and every plant and decoration had been carefully selected and placed to enhance its beauty rather than compete with it. Stone benches mimicked the rocks around them, with flat surfaces for people to sit and admire the greenery. They’d even thought of putting in a pond or waterfall, but there was no electricity this far from the house, so they’d decided against it. Besides, the garden didn’t need it. It was perfect the way it was, built out of the love Amara and Glinda had shared for the natural world.
It took an hour to reach the garden at the base of the mountain. She stepped from behind the bush that guarded the entrance and came to a screeching halt. “Oh no. Who…? What the
The garden had been utterly destroyed, the tall trees twisted and broken, their branches hanging limp, leafless and lifeless. The rock benches were cracked and stained with moss. The flowers Glinda had planted lay broken and black on the ground. Nothing lived within the once pleasant grove but moss and lichen. The stench of death was nearly overwhelming. The stone she’d recently set as a memorial to Glinda was cracked in two and covered in lichen; the words of love and loss she’d asked Rock to etch onto its surface, completely obliterated.
The flame in Amara’s heart leaped to life in a frenzy of anger. Whoever had done this would pay. Her head flew back, and Amara screamed her challenge to the sky.
Parker woke the next night with a sense of anticipation he hadn’t felt since…well, since a certain bonfire in the desert all those years ago. Despite the fact that their date wouldn’t go beyond dinner and possibly a few kisses, he was eager to see Amara. Bedding her would have to wait. He had to be at work at midnight, and the first time he made love to Amara would take much longer than a few hours.
It might take days.
He grinned and hopped out of bed, ready to face the night.
“I have another date with Amara before work.” Parker grabbed his favorite black T-shirt and dark jeans, determined to go casual. He began to strip off the boxers he’d slept in, unconcerned Greg was in the room. They’d been roommates for so long, he didn’t even think twice about it. “Why?”
The guilty way Greg said it had him pausing. “What do you know that I don’t?”
The man never could lie worth a damn. “Greg. Tell me.”
A knock came on the door. “I have a message from Amara, Parker.”
He pulled his boxers back up and answered the door. “What?”
“She says to meet her in her garden.”
“Thank you, Brian.”
Parker shut the door and proceeded to get dressed. “Greg?”
Parker whistled tunelessly on his way down the stairs. “Has anyone seen my boots?” He cocked his head, the only sounds in the house the rapid beating of a heart, a low moan and slick, wet noises that—
“Oh my bloody Goddess.” Parker found his damn boots and raced out of the house. “I did not hear what I thought I heard. No way. Uh-uh.” He shook his head and tried his best to fill it with visions of Amara as he’d seen her last night, licking the ice-cream cone. That thought led to her licking other flesh-colored objects, like one attached to a very happy vampire.
Oh yeah. That did it. He couldn’t wait to see his girl and kiss her silly before heading to work. He reached the gate that led to Amara’s garden and knocked. “Hello? Any dryads home?” A low laugh filled him with warmth. The gate swung open, and there before him stood the object of his lusty thoughts. “Hello, sweet.”
Oh no. Had he insulted her somehow?
“Are you upset with me?”
“Should I be?”
“No, not at all.” She looked stunned.
“And you know I’ve been asleep all day, yes? So I couldn’t have done anything, right?”
“Then why did you call me sour?”
Her expression cleared. A sunny smile brought out her sweet dimples. He nearly slid in his drool. “Because sweet and sour go together.”
He knew his mouth was open because a gnat flew into it. “Gah.” He coughed, trying to bring the bug back up.
“Oops. It was supposed to make you laugh, not croak.” She pounded on his back with more strength than he’d have given her credit for. Hell, with more strength than he figured a troll would have.
“Sorry.” She backed off, her face a study in contrasting emotions.
“Go ahead, laugh at me. I’m the one choking to death on a gnat.”
She bit back her laugh manfully. “Come in?”
“Thank you.” He closed the gate and leaned against it. “Let’s try that again, shall we? Hello, sweet.”
“Hello, sour.” She giggled.
He rolled his eyes and pulled her shaking form into his arms. “Someone’s begging for a tickling.”
She wiggled for a second, a mulish expression on her face. “I’m not ticklish.”
Someday he’d go ahead with his dastardly plan to make her giggle until she cried uncle, but for now? He had more important things to do. He leaned down, taking a deeper taste of her than he had the night before, sweeping his tongue between her lips for a hello kiss that left them both wanting more. “Mm. So. Will I regret it?”
“Hmm?” That sexy, mysterious smile was back, the one that made him want to kiss her even more.
So he did, turning until her back was to the gate. She slid her arms around his neck, holding him close, tight almost to the point where he was glad he didn’t
Her answering groan was music to his ears. His fangs descended in preparation to feast on the precious woman he held in his arms. He needed her like no one else.
His fangs nipped her lip, drawing blood. He reeled as her flavor exploded on his tongue, damn near coming in his pants at the rich, earthy flavor of Amara’s blood. He sucked on the tiny wound he’d inflicted, already addicted to her taste.
Much more of this and he’d be missing work for all the right reasons.
He pulled back instantly, the loss of her touch painful.
She touched her bleeding lip, her eyes dark and wide. “You bit me.”
He shook his head. “No. My fangs. I nicked you by accident, I swear.”
And that thought terrified him even more.
“I believe you.” The relief that rushed through him was short-lived. “But I need you to meet someone.” She took him to a stunning Schwedler Norway maple crowned in brilliant crimson leaves. “Beautiful.”
She smiled again, and it felt like the moon had come out from behind clouds. “Thank you.”
“This is your tree?” He figured introducing a potential mate to your tree was a big deal for a dryad.
He glanced down at the smiling woman beside him and licked his lips. Her taste lingered on his tongue, and he shuddered.
“Touch the tree, Parker. She wants to say hello.” A dryad and her tree couldn’t be separated. If Amara accepted him but her tree didn’t, Parker
There was no real choice. Parker would do anything his
By the time it was done, Parker was ready to drop from exhaustion. The tree withdrew from his thoughts with a final farewell caress that meant he’d been accepted at the deepest levels.
“She likes you. She really likes you.” The pleasure and satisfaction in Amara’s voice mirrored his.
“Oh dear.” Amara gasped as Parker hit the ground with a resounding thump. “Oh boy.” She glared at her tree and tapped her foot. “What did you do to him?” Leaves rustled, the maple’s equivalent of soundless laughter. “Uh-huh. Well, at least I’m sure now Parker had nothing to do with what happened in my garden.” A leaf fell, one crimson tear shed for the loss of Amara’s last link to the woman she’d thought about calling
Maybe she could ask Parker to help her figure out who had done it and why. The townspeople were prime suspects, but they’d never before damaged the garden. Indeed, some of the people who actively disliked her loved that garden and would be as devastated as she was at its loss.
One way or another Amara would get to the bottom of the destruction. The destroyer would hurt when she was done with them. Then she could begin rebuilding the dream she and Glinda had shared. She’d made a start already by clearing away some of the death and destruction. She’d prepare the ground, fertilize it well, and when the growing time came, she’d be there as always. It would take years for the mature trees to grow back, for the plants to spread and thrive.
Amara picked Parker up and slung him over her shoulder, careful to keep his head from bouncing on the ground. He was a foot taller than her, and she didn’t want to accidentally damage him. “I’m taking him home. You be good. We’ll talk when I get back.”
She carted him through the gate and back to his house. “If he can go in without an invitation, then so can I.” She opened his front door, only to shut it again so quickly she feared she’d permanently bruised his right butt cheek. “Or not.” She blinked, trying to erase the sight of a naked Brian bent over the arm of Parker’s leather couch. “I do
She sighed and shifted Parker. He wasn’t all that heavy, but his limp body was terribly awkward. “Guess you’re sleeping at my house tonight. Where do vampires sleep anyway? Do you need a coffin? A pile of dirt? Blackout curtains?” She hoisted him through the door, almost knocking over her antique umbrella stand with his head. She’d better call Dragos. The elder vampire would know what to do.
She carted Parker to her room, hoping her scent would soothe him if he woke up, then headed back downstairs and picked up the phone. She didn’t bother to dial. She didn’t have to. “Dragomir Ibanescu.”
The click of the phone being answered was faint. “Yes, Amara?”
“I have a vegetarian vampire in my bed who’s had a conversation with my tree.”
There was a pause. Then again, whenever Amara called Dragos he paused to process whatever she was telling him. It had long ago ceased to bother her, but she did wonder sometimes why her calls were so unusual. After all, she wasn’t the strangest person he knew, not by a long shot. “And?”
“Ah. You are worried he is injured?”
Dragos’s faint accent never failed to send a shiver down her spine. Was that why Parker’s accent was so irresistible? Maybe she had a thing for tall, dark, exotic men with lovely accents. “I don’t know how long he’ll be out or how to keep him safe from the sun.”
“And where is his Renfield?”
“Uhhh—” she coughed, “—busy. Very busy.”
Again one of Dragos’s infamous pauses filled the air. “I see.” He was amused. “Make sure the room you put him in gets little sunlight. Unlike the movies, he won’t combust to ash at the merest touch of Helios’s rays, but he will be very uncomfortable if left in direct sunlight.” The amusement turned to gentle teasing when he added, “He is a plant that requires shade. Too much time in the sun will burn him to a crisp.”
She blew the mayor of Maggie’s Grove the wettest raspberry she could.
“You’re welcome.” The connection cut off, but not before Dragos laughed.
Really. People thought the elder vamp was cold and unfeeling. Amara knew better. Dragos was a friend. Hell, her tree liked him, and that was good enough for her.
Amara dialed Parker’s employer. Now, this was a conversation she was
“The Greenhouse, Miss Ferguson speaking.”
“Mollie? It’s Amara.”
“Oh. Hello, Amara. Is there a problem?” Mollie’s tone instantly chilled.
“I introduced Parker to my tree, and now he’s unconscious. Was he supposed to work tonight?”
“Yes, he was.” The chill turned to concern. “Does he need a doctor?”
Amara held back her sigh. “No. He’s physically uninjured.”
“Does he need the witchdoctor, then?”
She gritted her teeth and kept her tone polite. “My tree wouldn’t hurt him that way.”
“Amara. I’m sorry, but you are what you are. Should you call Selena?”
This time the pause was uncomfortable. She’d much rather talk to Dragos any day. “Tell him to call me when he can return to work.” The chill was back.
“I’ll do that.” Amara hung up without any further words. None were needed. That chore taken care of, she ran a circuit of both her garden and Parker’s. “No weeds. Good.” She dusted her hands off and knocked on Parker’s front door, praying Brian and Greg were finished with whatever they’d been doing, because she really didn’t need to see it again.
The front door opened. Brian, disheveled and happy, had a huge red mark on his neck. “How did you get a love bite?”
He blushed almost as fiery red as the leaves of her tree. “Hello to you too. Where’s Parker?”
“My place. I introduced him to my tree.”
Brian winced. “Oh. He’s out, huh?”
She frowned. “Did you expect that?”
“I bet fifty-fifty odds that he’d go down, yeah. Greg owes me—uh. Never mind.” He rubbed at the hickey. “Did your tree like him?”
“Yes, she did.”
He grinned. “Then I expect I’ll see some love bites on
Amara covered her lip.
“Ooooh. Did he get a taste?” Brian turned his head, looking at something she couldn’t see. His face softened; his smile gentled. “Yeah, Greg. I’ll ask.” He turned back to her. “Can Greg go check on Parker? He’s worried about him.”
“Of course. He’s in my room. Does Greg need help finding him?”
He tilted his head, listening. “Nope. He has some sort of spiritual connection to Parker, so he knows where he is. He’s just being polite.” Brian’s eyes widened. “You
Brian nodded and wiped his eyes. “Yes, he was. He cast a spell so that when he was reborn, he and Parker would always be able find each other. But he forgot a deathbed spell is much stronger than a usual one, and instead of being reborn—”
“He came back as Parker’s Casper.” Amara grinned. “Something you’re reaping the benefits of?”
Brian caressed his hickey once more. “Yeah.” His hips jerked forward, a startled look crossing his face. “Would you mind very much if I came over too?”
“Sure, not a problem.” Amara stepped aside to let Brian, and presumably Greg, out the door and to her house. “I’m getting my exercise tonight and I haven’t left the same fifty yards.”
“Now you know how a gerbil feels. All you need is a wheel and some—No, wait, we have the wood chips.” He pointed toward the mulch in one of the flower beds.
Amara stared up at him, wondering if the stress had finally gotten to him.
Brian shrugged. “What?”
She led him into her house and to her room. “You’re weird.”
“And you’re not?”
She opened the door, happy to see Parker was sleeping peacefully. “Of course I am. That’s why I fit in so well here.”
Brian winced and stroked her arm in apology. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
“Yeah. I know.” She patted his cheek to let him know his apology was accepted.
The low, inhuman growl that came from the bed startled them both. Amara turned to face a drastically altered Parker. His fangs had dropped; his mouth was lifted in a dangerous snarl. Parker was motionless, his red eyes glued to the man Amara had so innocently touched.
What the hell?
Amara took a step toward Parker and held out her hand. “What’s wrong?”
She was yanked forward so quickly she had no time to react. Parker jerked her beneath him, his clawed hand around her neck. He growled at Brian, but his thumb caressed Amara’s neck just below her pulse.
She dug her fingers into his arm. “Parker? It’s all right. Brian’s a friend.” She glanced at Brian and gasped. The Renfield knelt on the floor, with his head back and his eyes closed, baring his neck. He muttered ancient words that soothed Parker. She could feel the tension leaving Parker’s body as the vampire accepted the Renfield’s submissive display.
Or so she thought.
When Parker moved closer, she assumed it was all over, until she saw that his eyes were still glowing red, still focused on the Renfield.
His fangs pierced her neck before she could blink.
Amara’s whole body bowed. White-hot pain shrieked through her, followed so quickly by mind-searing pleasure so intense, she never wanted it to end. Long pulls at her neck pulsed through her, like hands intimately caressing every part of her body. She wrapped her legs around Parker, desperate to get closer, to climb into him the way she did her tree and meld them together until she didn’t know where she ended and he began.
In the background Brian continued his chant, but she didn’t care about Brian or Greg or anything but the pleasure rolling through her. She grabbed Parker’s head and held him in place, offering herself up to him, letting him take his fill. Whatever he needed, whenever he needed, if she could provide, she would so long as he
Claws ripped through her jeans, scratching long lines down her legs. She noticed his jeans were off when she reached down to clasp his ass and touched firm, bare flesh. Parker buried himself inside her in one powerful thrust, and Amara shrieked, coming so hard the room went dark.
“More.” The gravelly voice was barely recognizable as Parker’s, the red glow of his eyes barely dimmed by the feeding and the fucking. Not that Amara was complaining. The feel of Parker inside her was insane, incredible. Warm and hard and so deep she could practically taste him.
“More,” she agreed, pulling him even closer. She thrust up against him, uncaring that her strength might be more than he could handle.
It turned out it wasn’t. He smiled at her, his teeth stained with her blood, his eyes bright as he pounded into her so hard the bed almost danced across the floor. A mortal woman would have been bruised, possibly injured. Even another dryad would have had trouble taking the force of Parker’s thrusts.
Thank the Goddess she wasn’t normal, because she was loving every minute of Parker’s fucking. She gave as good as she got, arching against him, tugging at him, tearing his shirt from his back so she could feel the muscles flex and bunch under her palms. “Fuck me, Parker. Harder.”
That low, menacing growl was aimed at her, but she wasn’t afraid. He was giving everything he was to her and she reveled in the gift.
Amara was enthralled. This was someone whose strength was a match for hers, whose fear wouldn’t hold him back.
This was a mate
Her orgasm built again, ripping through her. She barely had time to take breath before she was robbed of it, every muscle in her body clenching with the force of her pleasure. This time she dragged him along with her, pulling his orgasm from him in a rippling tide that left them damp, limp and sated to their toes. He collapsed on top of her and buried his head in the pillow beside her neck, caressing her damp skin.
When Parker finally lifted his head, his gaze was back to warm brown. “Fuck.”
“Mm-hmm.” Amara pressed a kiss to Parker’s sweaty neck, damn near purring in sleepy satisfaction.
“Did I hurt you?”
Something in Parker’s tone disturbed the humming pleasure throbbing through her. “No.”
“Good.” He was so relieved she had to wonder if he’d ever accidentally hurt anyone during sex, but that didn’t seem like the Parker she knew.
“I’m fine. Hell, I’m better than fine. You blew my mind.” She pushed his hair back from his damp forehead and grinned when he licked the twin pinpricks on her neck. “Thank you.”
He snorted. “You’re thanking me? For what?”
He huffed a laugh. “That doesn’t sound ominous, does it?”
She pinched his side, delighted when his laugh deepened. “What was that all about, anyway?”
“Oh Lord. Brian—did I hurt him?”
She shook her head. “He’s fine. He did some freaky chanting thing, and your attention turned toward me.”
He froze. “I was that far gone?”
Okay, this was getting weird, even for her. “Care to explain?”
The look he gave her would have been scary if his cock weren’t buried, hard as a rock despite the mind-blowing orgasm, inside her. “Weres aren’t the only supernaturals with a beast inside them.”
“He didn’t like you and Brian touching.”
It only took her a moment to figure out what had brought out his beast. “You felt possessive of me.” He nodded and pulled out and away, his expression closed off.
“And can you accept mine?”
“You didn’t hurt me.” She stroked his cheek. “Far from it.”
“I acted like a caveman.”
“You acted the way your nature dictates. If I got angry with the robin for singing, what good would it do?”
He ran his hands through his hair and sighed. “I’m more than my beast. I should have had better control than that.”
“Were you fully awake when you saw us?”
He grimaced, thoroughly frustrated and disgusted with himself. “No.” Not at all the look she wanted to see right after he’d made love to her.
“Well then. The beast took over and protected me from a perceived rival.” She shrugged. “You didn’t hurt Brian. You didn’t hurt me. Hell, I loved what we did. Couldn’t you tell?”
“Are you sure?”
She stared up at him. “Other than I think you should apologize to Brian for scaring the bejesus out of him for nothing? Yeah, I’m sure.” She tugged on his arm as hard as she could, enchanted when bones didn’t snap.
He blinked. “Again?”
“Yes.” She frowned when she realized his cock had gone flaccid. “Again.” Hmm. What could she do to make it nice and hard? She bit her lip and took a firm hold. She rubbed her thumb over the flared head, pleased when he growled his pleasure.
The first glimmer of humor appeared on his face, and Amara relaxed. “I think I can have another go at it.”
“Good.” Amara continued to stroke him until he was as hard as the first time. “Because I’m planning on this time being even better.”
He gulped. “Better?”
“Mm-hmm.” She flipped him onto his back and straddled him. “It’s my turn now, cowboy.”
“Yee-haw.” He grabbed her hips, steadying her. “Saddle up, pardnur.”
She giggled. It didn’t sound right with his upper-class English accent.
“Are you laughing at me?”
“Hmph.” An evil grin crossed his face as he wiggled his fingers at her. “Guess I’ll have to do something about that.” And Parker proved once more that he was strong enough for her. The last guy who’d tickled her had wound up in the hospital with a broken hand. Parker wrestled her down and dug in. He ignored her squeals. He stopped most of her kicks. He proved he was much faster than she was, blocking her hands in an eyeblink before returning to her sides.
“Stop!” She was reduced to breathless begging, laughing so hard she could barely speak.
“Say the magic word.”
“Yes!” Parker collapsed next to her. “I doubt you’ll make fun of my Southern accent ever again.”
He thickened his accent so much she started giggling all over again.
His fingers danced over her skin, not quite tickling her once more.
She latched on to his wrists. “No! Uncle. I give. You’re the epitome of a Southern gentleman.”
“Thank you.” He folded his arms under his head and crossed his ankles, totally relaxed. His cock bobbed against his stomach, still hard. “By the way. Why are you wearing your shirt?”
She glanced down and, sure enough, her shirt and bra were still in place. She took them off and tossed them over the side of the bed. With a jaw-cracking yawn, she turned on her side and curled up against him, ready for a nap.
“Yeah.” She was, more than she’d thought. The man had managed to wear her out.
Parker rubbed the spot he’d bitten her, all traces of humor gone. “You need some orange juice first?”
“Mm-mm.” She didn’t want juice. She wanted Parker. When he went to get out of bed, she grabbed him and held him down. She draped herself over him, one leg between his, one arm over his stomach. She wiggled until her head was under his chin. “Stay.”
He wrapped his arms around her, cradling her close. “My pleasure.”
Amara drifted off, serene in the knowledge her vampire would be there when she woke up.