CHAPTER 4

This was not the adventure he’d planned. Twenty-four hours ago he had been drinking with the boys, on his way to a race, had had money in his pocket, and been a free man looking for tail in a honky-tonk bar. One woman later, and he was nearly broke, was running from the law, was dealing with a minister who carried a shotgun to the door but gave him an underground passport, and he’d bought so much female junk that it wouldn’t fit in his bike. Here he was, like a fool, balancing women’s clothes on his lap and trying to ride slow enough not to lose his parcel. Not to mention, the wind was like a razor on his jaw, ever since he’d submitted to a bunch of old men in a barbershop who had brutalized his beard and had shaven his face as clean as a baby’s butt.

Was he out of his mind? Yes. Was he pulling up to a motel with stronger headache medicine, hoping that the ruination to his life felt better? Yes. Did an hour away from her feel like a year? Yes. Did he almost go skinny-dipping with some chick he really didn’t know, and not care that he didn’t have a condom? Hell, yes. Oh, brother, he was in too deep. Best bet, the most rational thing to do, would be to give her all the stuff he’d bought, just hand it over at the door, let her buy a new bus ticket with the money he’d put in her new purse, give her an I’ll-catch-you-later kiss, then ride like the wind.

That would have been employing common sense. So why was he standing at the door, knocking three times, and holding his breath for her to open it? Easy answer. He’d lost his mind.

“Hi,” she said, peeking from behind the door and shielding her eyes.

“How’s the headache?” he asked, coming in quickly and sealing off the sun’s glare.

“Better,” she said, nodding toward the one lamp that was on. “A good shower helped a lot. Thank you.” Then she looked at him hard and slowly covered her mouth with her hand. “Oh, my goodness… you shaved?”

“Wasn’t nuthin’,” he said, dropping his parcels on the bed. He had to keep his eyes on the packages and not on her. She had wrapped a thin, white towel around her and her hair was dripping wet. It formed gorgeous, curly, jet-black tendrils about her shoulders and hung down her back. The fact that his new jawline pleased her had run all through him. Every minute under the barber’s straightedge razor had been worth it just to hear that appreciative gasp come from her.

“I just picked up some odds and ends.” He looked at the chintzy towel around her, ready to kick himself for not buying a thicker, fluffier one of those for her, too.

“My dress was so dirty, I didn’t want to put it back on. It was making me nauseous.” She glanced down at her towel and held the corner of it tighter.

“Well, then, great minds think alike.” He smiled at her from a sideways glance, and then thought about what he’d just said. “No, what I mean is—not that you made me nauseous… but I figured the dress was in pretty bad shape.”

“It was.” She laughed and he relaxed. “Man with a good heart, you’re crazy, you know that?”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” he said, chuckling at himself. “Yeah, I’m out of my mind,” he added, and began unpacking the first bag.

“This,” he said, holding up extra-strength tablets, “is for those nasty, stress-induced migraines.” He raised one eyebrow. “If I was with my boys, I’d have something much stronger than that to kill the pain, but… since I’m with Mother Teresa, we’ll go with over-the-counter meds.”

She held the edge of her damp towel harder and shook her head with a smile. “Thank you, Rider. These will be fine.”

“But wait,” he said, waving his hands over the bag like a magician, “there’s more.”

She watched in awe as he produced an array of every possible thing that could bring her comfort under the circumstances. She smiled as she looked at the brush and comb, knowing her heavy hair would break them. He had so much to learn about her difference, but it counted for everything that he’d tried. She looked away as the objects on the bed got blurry and he handed her shampoo and conditioner. For a man like him to go to all that trouble, and he didn’t even know her, had already done too much, and had not harmed her in any way, but was so kind…

“Now, don’t cry over lotion and shampoo. If I can’t at least do that for you, then what good am I, huh?”

It was the tone of his voice and the way he looked her in the eyes, wasn’t raking her body, that made her want to weep. Great Spirit, please don’t fail me… this is the one.

“Well, look,” he said fast, appearing self-conscious, “I tried my best to figure out your size, but I don’t know anything about women’s stuff. So, I hope you like the dress… and the jeans and whatnot are so we can ride hard and make time when you’re feeling up to it.”

He spread the dress out on the bed and placed a pair of jeans beside it, then dug around in his bags for other items, so that she had to slowly sit down.

“I got that ammo, too, like you suggested. I’ll take a shower, we can go get something to eat, and before it gets dark, I’ll pack some shells with dirt. Okay?”

All she could do was nod.

Then he took the bag away, and she could hear there was still more stuff in it. He gave her his back to study while he fished around and talked a mile a minute.

“Oh, yeah, got toothpaste, toothbrushes, a newspaper, uh, some shaving cream so I can look human… the rest of the bag is just junk. Nothing important. I’ll, uh, just go outside and, uh, do some stuff while you get dressed. Cool?”

She nodded and opened the shampoo and smelled it. “You bought lavender?”

“Yeah, well,” he said, shifting from foot to foot. “You said I had the nose… If you don’t like it—”

“I love this fragrance. Thank you so much.”

For a moment, neither of them said a word.

“I’m sorry I didn’t have it before you washed your hair.”

“That’s all right. When you’re done,” she said shyly, “I may go in there and just try a bit… if you don’t mind?”

Was she crazy? That’s why he’d bought it—to please her.

“Gimme a minute,” he said, moving to the door. “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going? I thought you wanted to get in the bathroom first?”

“I’m going to the front desk to get some cleanser.”

“What?” Then her heart sank. Of course he’d want to clean the tub after her… some things hadn’t changed since this country began. “I did leave a mess,” she said, salvaging her dignity. She stood and gathered up her old dress.

He stopped and leaned against the door. “If you’re going to wash your hair after I get in there… as long and as pretty as it is…” He laughed and looked at the bathroom door. “You think your dress made you nauseous, after I’m done, the tub will make you go running into the parking lot in your towel.”

He loved the sound of her laughter and the way her dark eyes shone when she was happy. “In fact, the practical thing would be for you to go on in there and wash it first, I can wait. Then, I can wash your dress out with that paramilitary crap they call soap.”

He watched her sit down with a smile, drop the old dress on the floor and reach over and pick up a pair of new lace panties. He almost didn’t breathe as he watched her study them in her hand. He prayed she wouldn’t get bent out of shape.

“You even bought these?”

“Yeah.” He shrugged, hoping that she would understand by the color of them that he’d meant no disrespect. He’d purposely bypassed the reds and blacks and purples and all the colors he was used to seeing… hoping she’d understand what he’d meant. “I figured you’d be all clean and fresh after a shower, and that would be something a girl would like—if I did the wrong thing by buying ’em, it wasn’t me trying to be fresh.”

If she hadn’t been sitting down, her knees might have buckled. She took a deep breath and pasted on her calmest smile. He was going to wash out her dress for her, clean the tub… had even thought of her down to her underwear? That he’d noticed every single detail about her was making it hard to breathe.

“Tell you what,” she said carefully. “Why don’t you go get the cleanser while I try to organize some of this stuff? You take a shower first, because I know how good one feels—it’s relaxing, and we’ve both been through a lot. And if it’s not too much trouble… when you’re done, maybe you can help me wash this bird’s nest?” She ruffled her hair and stared at him, hoping he’d clearly read what she was trying to tell him: he had a green light. She tried her best to casually make her signal clear. “You were so right. That hard soap just tangled it all up.”

He didn’t move for a moment; couldn’t. Was she saying what he thought she was saying, or did she just want him to wash her hair? And if it was the latter of the two options, that was fine by him, too, because he’d been wanting to run his hands through her thick tresses since the moment he’d laid eyes on her—yesterday it was a dream, today it was a near reality… and that meant other fantasies might also come true. He had to remember to breathe.

She smiled and looked at her lap when his expression went stone serious, and he slipped out the door without a word.

She would be calm, would sit quietly, and would seem platonically interested. Certain things took time, should progress slowly—the problem was, time wasn’t her friend. Still, there was no real reason to feel all jumpy. The butterflies in her stomach would go away. He was a decent soul, biker or not; she was in the company of a true gentleman. The problem was, however, he was in the company of an almost vampire. But she had to stop being silly. She hadn’t actually turned into one, yet. All she had to do was get to her grandmother’s. So it was best that they both ignore the huge white elephant in the center of the room—the bed.

True, she had turned on the green light with her offer to allow him to wash her hair. But that was a signal with a caution flag to let him know she was interested, would like things to progress, and that she considered him a suitor… but…

Tara looked at the closed bathroom door and listened to the water. She briefly closed her eyes and let her mind wander, wondering what he looked like with suds running down his strong back and broad shoulders. The momentary fantasy produced a wave of desire, and she quickly opened her eyes. Oh, no, no, no, no, no—not until she was safe. This man had been so good to her, but he was in mortal danger and didn’t even know it. Right now the best and most prudent course of action would be to develop the friendship, allow the courtship to proceed, get to Grandma’s, then let nature take its rightful course.

But it was going to be challenging, especially when she could see him through the door in her mind. That new awareness made her tear her gaze away from his direction and cast it into the paper that she couldn’t concentrate on to read.

She was getting stronger. More of the dark power was taking hold as the afternoon sun lowered. Yet, they said she was a seer. Maybe it wasn’t the thing that would remain nameless within her. What if the fact that he was a guardian was increasing her sight?

Tara clung to that thought as her hands tightly gripped the newspaper.

He almost slipped and cracked his head in the tub, he was in and out of it so fast. He’d nearly blinded himself as he’d tried to scrub road dirt out of his hair while cleaning his fingernails, and brushing his teeth in the shower at the same time. He had to clean the tub, and dry the floor, and get on his jeans, and go out there calm, cool, act like this was just a walk in the park. Just another spring day. Couldn’t let her see him behaving like a fool over the idea of washing her hair. But the finest woman he’d ever seen in his life was in the other room, sitting on the side of the bed, naked under a towel, still damp, reading the newspaper. He stumbled twice as he zipped up his pants, willing away an erection, trying to mop up the floor with his feet, using the towel.

“You ready?” he asked brightly, his voice almost cracking from anticipation as he burst out of the bathroom more eagerly than intended.

“Yup,” she said, popping up from the bed and bringing the shampoo and conditioner into the bathroom clutched in one arm.

“Cool, uh… right,” he said, coming into the bathroom behind her quickly and turning on the tub, adjusting the water temperature as she got on her knees and leaned over the edge of it. He’d never done anything like this in his life… never washed a woman’s hair. He’d done a lot of things, but this was too intimate. It was messing him up, big time. Then what was protocol—where was he supposed to stand? The tub was running, she was waiting. The practical position would be to straddle her and bend over, but that might seem too suggestive. Holy Moses.

She glanced up over her shoulder, and threw her mane over into the tub and leaned against the side of it deeper. It exposed the delicate nape of her neck, and her supple spine stretched and flexed when she did so. The sight was disorienting. The towel barely skimmed the back of her thighs. Her already wet hair formed little wisps and ringlets at the nape of her neck and before her ears. God, she was gorgeous, a stark contrast to the all-white glare in the confines of the tiny tiled room.

“Rider, the hot water is going to run out, if you don’t hurry up.”

“Yeah, sure,” he said fast, wondering if there was some female code to what she’d just said. “Uhmmm… I’m not trying to be funny, but I need to stand a certain way, because your hair is so long.”

“Go ahead, no problem. I trust you.”

He swallowed hard and put one bare foot on either side of her and bent over to capture the heavy weight of her hair in his hands. For a second, he closed his eyes as the water fused with velvet in his palms. He suddenly became aware of how rough his hands were from everything he did in life. Working under a hood, working on motorcycle engines, playing the guitar, all of it made his fingers snag the silk he was holding and he was almost ashamed to even touch it. Almost.

His legs felt like steel on either side of her hips. She willed herself not to think about his sensuous stance, and refused to allow herself to consider the gentle way he stroked her hair. His tenderness was dissolving her into lather. She was practically a puddle on the floor. This was a bad idea. How in the world was she going to keep her distance from him if he worked on her like that?

“I need to wet it up good and then I’ll put the shampoo in.”

“Okay,” she murmured and let out a slow exhale. She had to remember to breathe, and to not assume every word he said had a double meaning.

He almost dropped the bottle while trying to open it. It was the way she’d breathed out the word “okay.” He poured way too much in his hands and the excess lather immediately created billowing white suds. The fragrance from it brought tears of anticipation to his eyes as he made gentle swirls with it.

A gasp was trapped in her throat, and she quickly swallowed it away. No, the gentle strokes had to stop or she’d never make it through the night with him. She had to just be calm, talk to him like they were doing something else, like watching TV.

“Oh, c’mon. You can do it harder than that. I’m not a baby, and I’m not tender-headed.”

He paused with her hair in his hands, shampoo lather dripping in large globs into the tub as her words made him breathe through his mouth. “Cool,” he said quietly, scrubbing her scalp a little harder. “Like that?”

“Yeah,” she murmured, “harder, though.” She’d meant her voice to stay light and cheerful, but when he stopped and took a deep breath… his voice had dropped to a low timbre that practically vibrated through his legs where they touched her hips.

He closed his eyes and let his hands work with the erotic textures under his palms. The way she’d asked for it harder… Okay, he had to pull himself together. This was ridiculous. He was simply washing her hair and needed to remember that. He added a bit more pressure but was unsure. “Like that… it’s not too hard, is it?”

“Uh-uh… that feels really good,” she said on a heavy exhale.

The response made him pause, then redouble his efforts. He couldn’t think about the sound of her voice and the many ways what she’d just said could be taken. He made his fingers work out the frustration, scratching her crown, the sides of her temples, the back of her skull till she gasped. The moment the sound escaped from her, he wanted to drop to his knees behind her so badly that the muscles in his thighs were twitching. But he knew better than that, and stopped his own agony by rinsing out the suds. He could do this and remain cool. He had to.

Just rinse it and let me get up, she begged him in her mind. This was such a bad idea. The man had made her tremble with a touch, and it was time to put an end to it. She had to be responsible, she reminded herself. And she also knew herself well enough to realize that at this point, she couldn’t take another soaping—not the way his hands felt.

Her hair squeaked as he stripped her long tresses of lather, and he watched it turn into long ringlets, just transform in his hands. Mesmerized, he wanted to do it again, just one more time. He was fascinated by the way it went straight under the flow of the water, then as soon as the air hit it, it became a thick mass of unruly curls.

But when he reached for the shampoo, she chuckled.

“I think my hair is clean,” she said, “but it could use some conditioner.”

“Right… right… that’s right. You’ve already washed it once.”

He straightened his back and locked his knees to give his legs a short rest. He was glad her head was in the tub, and was too embarrassed when he looked down at his blue jeans. He should have bought the black ones, then a wet spot in them wouldn’t have been so obvious. This didn’t make any sense. He grabbed the conditioner and slathered some into his palms and bent over her again.

However, the viscosity of the fluid in his hands was like straight sex. The way it slid down her hair, the slickness of it under his palms, the sound of it going on, made him shudder in earnest. She glanced over her shoulder, and he didn’t even care. He was beyond worrying about appearances when her spine dipped so she could look at him.

“You okay? You need a break? My mom always said doing my hair broke her back.” If he didn’t need a break, she sure did. She hadn’t expected the feel of the conditioner going in under his hands to melt her. She had to keep the conversation light. Yes, that was the only way. Her face was hot, her throat felt flushed, and he’d awakened other parts of her that she dared not admit to herself.

“No, I’m good,” he lied, rubbing the slippery conditioner through her hair and reveling in the textures of her scalp, the fluid, and the curls, with the scent of her and the sight of her wearing him out.

“How long do you have to leave it in?”

“How long do you want it in?” he said hoarsely, his eyes closed against the sensations that were rocking him.

He felt her tense, pause, and turn her head.

“It says on the bottle, three to five minutes,” he said quickly, trying to recover.

“Oh…” For a moment, she thought she’d lose it—had almost moaned. It was time for distance.

“How about five?” she said quietly, turning off the water. “It’s really been a long time since I’ve done this right. Some things you just can’t rush.”

He stepped away from her, leaned against the sink, shut his eyes, and nodded. “Uh-huh. Know what you mean.”

“You sure you’re all right?” she asked, squeezing excess water out of her hair and turning so her tresses could hang over the tub, but so that she could lean against it while sit-ting on the floor looking at him. She would not read more into his expression than warranted. “You didn’t hurt your back, did you? I mean, you ride that bike all the time, and could have—”

“I’m cool,” he said, gazing at her, “but this is breaking my back.”

“I knew it,” she said with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s not what I meant.” He just stared at her.

“Oh…” She leaned over and turned on the spigot, then got on her knees. She had to stop looking at his intense hazel gaze. “If it’s any consolation, it’s breaking mine, too.” She put her head under the water and closed her eyes. She turned the cold faucet on full blast. Oh, no… she hadn’t misread him, had heard every word he’d said just as it had been intended. But the fact that he’d made her just say what was on her mind, so openly, made her cheeks burn. It sent the butterflies loose within her again, and then something imploded like a sudden heat.

While her admission was profound, if he was reading her right, it didn’t help matters in the least, since it was obvious that she wasn’t prepared to take things to the next level. If she had been, she wouldn’t have turned on the water and begun washing the conditioner out. He watched her struggle to do it unassisted, loving the conflict as it unfolded, her towel sliding away, and then she’d grab it, trying to tuck it so it wouldn’t fall while trying to get her head farther under the spigot.

“It hasn’t even been three minutes yet. You’re rushing it.”

“I know,” she said, almost out of breath. “It’s hard to do it by yourself.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said, finally going to help her. “Then why didn’t you let it sit there for a few more, and wait it out? Patience is a virtue, I’m told.”

“That’s always been my weak point,” she said, glancing up at him with a look that made him stop rinsing her tresses. “I’m trying to get this stuff out of my hair so it doesn’t mess up the bed.”

What was she doing! The words had just tumbled out of her mouth. Humiliation paralyzed her.

He blinked twice, then almost fell in the tub as he pulled her up, hair dripping, water still running, and kissed her hard. The inside of her mouth had the consistency of raw honey, mint hit his nose, and his tongue tangled with hers till he couldn’t breathe. He broke away, took a huge gulp of air, and buried his face in her wet hair, then dragged his jaw down the side of her neck. Her immediate gasp blurred his vision, it hit his system so hard, just like her wet form molding to his bare chest did, her satin skin pure butter under his palms.

She almost passed out when he scored her throat where it had once been bitten. He didn’t understand what he was about to unleash. But as his strong arms enfolded her, and he smelled so good… his pulse beat so hard, and Great Spirit help her, she’d never felt like this in her life. Her hands trembled as they slid up his back, the muscles within it pure cable. The way he tasted made her weak in the knees.

“Why didn’t you just say so?” he murmured hotly against her ear, then captured her mouth before she could answer. Then she did something that almost made him pass out. She bit his shoulder and gently dragged her teeth up the side of his throat while her palms slid down his chest, one hand finding the middle of his back, the other finding the center of his groin, all in one fluid, graceful, feline motion. It forced the air from his lungs as her grip on his length tightened, and the sudden expulsion of air came out as a ragged groan combined with a gasp.

He didn’t even feel it when his back banged the door on the way out of the bathroom. All he was aware of was her as he lifted her up and kept kissing her while walking, knowing his way to the bed blind. Her arms were around his neck, her legs wrapped around his waist, the attention she paid to his neck at the jugular was bringing tears to his eyes. He had read every signal wrong, but he was clear about this one. Caution was the wind itself, fleeting, unimportant, and something neither of them could summon.

They fell so hard they almost took out a slat in the bed. He fought with his jeans as her legs threaded around his and she arched. He felt a bite at his throat that made him see colors beneath his lids. He heard her whisper, “I’m sorry,” and he couldn’t even answer her, it felt so damned good. He returned the kiss hard, and then bit her neck even harder, and the sound she released almost made him release in his jeans.

She helped him push the barrier down to his knees, and when he entered her the sound of his voice was foreign to his own ears. The sensation was so immediately explosive that he had to look at a point on the wall for moment to hold back the inevitable. But when she leaned up and took one of his nipples into her mouth, his eyes literally crossed. The way she held his back made her part of his skin, and the way her pelvis worked in unison against his created pinpoints of light inside his head. He could feel them both sliding to the edge of the bed, about to go over the side of it as he began chanting her name on every other thrust. Then she called him by name, his real name, on a heave that became a shudder, which transformed into a jerking spasm that made him go blind for a moment when his body convulsed with hers so hard that he was sure he’d stripped a gear and had a hernia.

He couldn’t even shout what his mind was screaming, it felt so good. Oh, God… Aftershocks were slamming him, her body was still moving, it was pleasure so profound that tears were running down the bridge of his nose. Jesus… I’ve never felt anything like this in my life. This woman had called him like that by name.

It took a while for him to stop panting and to get enough air into his lungs. He looked at the tiny goddess under him and kissed her forehead, too afraid of what her lush mouth could do to him. Her eyes were closed; tears stained her cheeks, her hands caressed his shoulders, then she sobbed as she stroked his hair. Oh, yes, he was a blessed man. So what that he’d never made it to the hidden box of protection in the bag? Yeah, he’d marry her. Whatever. All he knew was, he wasn’t letting this one go. Uh-huh, make it last forever, baby.

She opened her eyes and peered at him as he petted her hair while he was still lodged deep within her. “Oh, Rider… this wasn’t supposed to happen until—”

“Shush,” he said, kissing away her words and banishing them. “This had to happen.”

“But—”

“Uh-uh,” he murmured, sliding his hand up and down her side and finding her breast. “Don’t get nervous on me now. I’m over the top and crazy about you. Whatever happens, happens.”

“I’m crazy about you, too. That’s the problem. But this happened too fast.”

“How is that a problem?” He looked deeply into her eyes, loving the fact that he’d put tears of pleasure in them.

“Because I want to make it last forever.”

He kissed the bridge of her nose, her face, and found her earlobe. “Tell me how that’s a problem… like I told you in the bathroom, all you had to do was say so.”

“I have to get something to eat. Soon.”

He stared at her for a second, and then laughed. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I forgot we were supposed to be getting something to eat. It’s just that when you came to the door in that towel, wet, and then put that lavender dress up to your pretty skin… then I touched your hair. I lost it.”

“You promised you’d pull out.” She smiled at him.

He closed his eyes. “Tara… I couldn’t… so help me, God.”

He felt her cringe and knew that he’d messed up, knew that he should pull himself from her deep, warm valley to let her up, but that was next to impossible at the moment. And the thought of having to sheathe latex between him and that sensation, after knowing how good she felt, was going to be impossible, too.

“Rider, if I don’t eat, I’ll die.”

“Okay,” he said, bracing himself for the knife of cold air that would slice him when he pulled away from her. “All right. But when we get back to the room, please tell me you’ll still feel the same way.”

She touched his face and then kissed his cheek. “Once I eat and the sun goes down… I have this really dark side, sweetheart, that, uh… might make you feel differently. It might shock you.”

He closed his eyes and flopped back on the bed, so grateful to be alive. His prayers had been answered. She was beautiful on the inside, gorgeous on the outside, was kind, gentle, funny, sexy, smart, passionate, and she knew how to handle herself on the back of his bike, plus loved music… she was trying to tell him that she had a little bad girl in her? Oh, yeah, he was definitely a blessed man.

“Let’s get you something to eat, so we can get back here pronto and then you can shock me all you want.”

She just looked at him for a moment, then her gaze went to the window. The sun was low, she could tell by the orange glow at the edge of the drapes. He didn’t understand. She brought her hand to the side of her neck where he’d instinctively bitten her, as though he knew just the thing that would send her into a frenzy. But how could that be? No one uninitiated knew the secret. She let her breath out in defeat. A soul-mate would know, would have an instant roadmap to her body, just like he’d stumbled upon an immediate trail to her heart. All of it was working her mind way too hard.

He laughed when she sighed, trying to will his erection away. This woman had him tied to her in a way no other woman ever had and he loved every minute of it. He laughed. She was going to be the death of him yet.

“The lady said she wanted it rare, not medium. If she wants the steak still mooing when you put the plate down, give it to her, so please take this one back.”

“Thank you,” Tara said quietly, ignoring the indignant look the diner waitress gave her. It was already late afternoon, and she sat in the local diner they had found and studied Rider. She’d bitten the man so hard that the side of his neck had a huge purple blotch on it. She was just thankful there weren’t puncture marks. The sunglasses he’d bought her had helped, and every once in a while he would stare at her hard and ask if she was all right. It made her smile. She was flattered that he was so anxious to get back to the room that he was fidgeting with the silverware. She understood all too well, she could barely sit in the vinyl booth herself. His hair was still damp from the shower, and the heat in the diner and drips from his hair made his T-shirt cling to his torso. She watched the muscles in his shoulders work beneath the thin cotton fabric. Just looking at him was making her want to slide out of her seat.

Nobody had ever made her feel this way. At least not a man with a soul. He was a gift she wouldn’t squander. She felt his caring all the way down to the bottoms of her feet. He was special. Suddenly she desperately hoped he’d be asleep by the time it got dark. Maybe the blood hunger wouldn’t hit her so hard tonight. Maybe she could beat this thing and come out on the other side with a real life with someone who cared. As long as she didn’t take his blood, they had a chance.

Lavender suited her. The dark rush of her skin against the pale color just twisted him in knots as he watched her practically inhale her steak. Just when he thought he had her all figured out, he learned something fabulously new about her.

He could almost see her coffee-brown nipples through the sheer fabric of her dress, could remember what every inch of her smooth skin felt like, and that scent, and the way she’d gathered up her hair into one easy-to-make-fall bun. He had to remember to stick his fork in his food and cut it, bring it up to his mouth, then chew it. Where she’d bitten him still burned and the signal resonated in his groin like reverb. It had been damn sexy. Suddenly he wasn’t hungry anymore. Just watching her made a whole other hunger surface—the one he had for her.

But as he stared at her, many thoughts came to his mind. Reality was trying to blow the groove. He could hear them talking about rains hitting Texas soon. He was traveling by bike. Before her, that wouldn’t have been a problem, yet there was no way he could put her on his bike in a driving rain. And if they had to hole up for a few days in a motel, that would eat into his shrinking budget.

The original plan had been to hit the races in Arizona, the money in his pocket was for incidentals, Snake was gonna cover his room and board… which meant that he needed a way to make some cash along the way to travel with her right. He couldn’t take her to the roadside joints he and the fellas would crash at. He couldn’t take her to some biker hangout trailer in the back woods where for a pound of weed they could stay for free and drink.

The preacher had had a point: they had to keep to the main highways, especially if they were on the move at night. And it wasn’t about getting some side mechanic work around these parts—everybody knew how to go under the hood. Being a good mechanic was a matter of supply and demand. In L.A. there were a lot of cars and a lot of people who didn’t know squat about how to fix them. But in no-man’s-land, everybody could fix their car, do plumbing, carpentry work, hunt and shoot, and pretty much do whatever needed to be done—or they had a brother or cousin who could.

Rider rubbed his face with both palms. A cigarette was calling his name, so was Jack Daniel’s. Since he’d put out the last butt before he’d gotten to the preacher’s house, he hadn’t even broken the seal on the carton he’d bought in town. He looked at Tara as she ate the last of her steak. Riding with a woman in tow was much more expensive, was much slower, but worth every damned minute. The question was, how to make it work?

“You look tired,” she said, dabbing the corners of her mouth with a napkin.

“Just need a smoke,” he said, stretching and trying to let his brain rest.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she said quietly. “It’s bad for your health, and I want you to live for a long time.”

He wanted to lean across the table and kiss her, but thought better of it, given where they were. He smiled instead. “I’m going to live forever, don’t you know that, darlin’?”

Her eyes held his, suddenly deadly serious. “Do you want to?”

Desire slammed him full force. “With you? Yes…” He could feel desire come back with a vengeance. “Let’s get out of here. We can hit the road tomorrow morning.”

“We might have to travel at night,” she said with hesitation. “I’m better then, have more energy. Sometimes the sunlight saps my strength.”

He smiled and allowed his gaze to rake her. Then he leaned forward and dropped his voice to a low, private murmur. “You don’t need strength. You just hold on, baby, and leave the driving to me.”

She just shook her head and smiled.

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