Authors: Cynthia Garner
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction / Romance - Paranormal, #Paranormal, #Fiction
A quick rap on her bedroom door was followed by the door swinging open. Rand poked his head around the edge. “Good morning. You went out early. Or is it that you came in late?” His head tipped to one side as if he were considering a complicated brain teaser. “Oh well, no matter. What’s that?” he asked, his gaze on the device in her hand. He came into the room wearing jeans, his chest and feet bare.
“Rand!” Tori closed her fist around the object in question and fought the urge to hide it behind her back. She wanted to deflect him from the device, not call attention to it, and putting her hand behind her back would make him all the more curious.
Lifting a hand, he lazily scratched his chest. His mouth opened wide in a huge yawn.
“You can’t just barge in here. You need to wait for me to tell you to come in.” She scowled at him. “What if I’d been getting dressed?”
“Then I’d have seen bits of you I don’t necessarily want to see,” he said. Tori had lost her East End accent long ago, but even after all these decades, Rand’s tones still held the flavor of his British human host. He stuck his fingers into the front pockets of his jeans and hunched his shoulders. “I dare say I’d have recovered from the shock eventually.” He glanced at her hand. “So, what
Though she was certain she could trust her brother, she was duty-bound not to divulge the secret. She liked Tobias. More than that, she admired him. She wouldn’t betray his trust in her. As nonchalantly as she could, she replied, “It’s just an MP3 player a friend asked me to try to fix for him.”
Rand raised his brows, skepticism shadowing his eyes. “And why would he think you could fix it?”
“I was a radio communications technician back in the day. I’ve kept up with all the new gadgets as a hobby,” was all she offered. She didn’t want to talk to him about serving as a communications officer in the American Army during World War II. If he was as pacifistic as he’d been before their Influx, he wouldn’t approve. She was sure he’d felt right at home during the sixties. Hell, he probably started the whole “Make Love Not War” movement. He would overlook the nobility of the cause, and right now she didn’t want to get into an argument with him. Not when they’d just found each other again.
It was time for a change of subject. “So, what do you think of Arizona?” She kept her eyes on him and her hand wrapped around the device. It wouldn’t do for him to get too close a look or he’d see it wasn’t an MP3 player. She kept her voice cheery, hoping to distract him. “I mean, I know you’ve been here only a few days, but how do you like it so far?”
Her brother looked like he wanted to pursue the other topic, but for now he let it drop, for which she was grateful. While ordinarily she had no problems discussing her job or, in this case, a special assignment, this situation was different. He was her brother, and she didn’t like being deceitful with him. She wanted him to feel like he could trust her because maybe, just maybe, he’d be more inclined to stay. But if he thought she was being disingenuous with him, it could be all the encouragement he needed to leave.
“I don’t know,” Rand said. His shoulders hunched further. “I like it well enough, I suppose. I don’t believe I’ll be staying here for the long term, though.” He grimaced. “It’s hotter than hell, for one thing. I mean, who the hell lives where it’s a hundred and ten degrees, for crying out loud?”
“Right now it’s hot, yeah. But it’s perfect in the winter months.” Tori bit back her disappointment. Rand didn’t have to stay in Scottsdale with her, but she’d like him to be close. “And of course I want you to stay here, but wherever you end up, we have to stay in touch.”
“Absolutely.” He walked over to her dresser, making her stiffen for a moment. Not that there was anything he could get into—the schematics to the device were under her pillow. When all he did was stick a finger into the glass bowl of potpourri, she relaxed. He stirred the fragrant mixture around, making the scent of lavender and vanilla permeate the room. “It’s been great to finally find you,” he said without glancing her way, his tone one of a stranger making small talk. They might as well go back to discussing the weather.
He sounded less enthused about being with her than she’d like. It befuddled her. What was going on beneath that brush cut? She’d thought they had been on their way toward rebuilding the relationship that had been put on hold by their trip through the rift all those years ago, yet he seemed remarkably disinterested.
Before she could delve into it further, her cell phone rang. With a murmured apology, she slipped the rift device under her pillow and then grabbed her phone from the nightstand. She noticed her brother’s sharp eyes hadn’t missed the fact that she’d hidden the alleged MP3 player. She’d have to make sure to find a better hiding place than a book and her underwear drawer. She answered the phone on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Got a brouhaha over on Chaparral, just east of Hayden,” the council dispatcher said without any formal greeting. He was an irascible werebear who didn’t put up with a lot of crap, though he sure could dish it out. “Local LEOs have things in hand at the moment, but you need to get your furry self over there.”
“What happened?” All business, she rose from the bed and headed toward her closet. For now, at least, the Scottsdale police had things under control. She paused as she reached for a blouse and wondered if Dante MacMillan was already at the scene. A sensual shiver worked its way through her. There was something about that man, something that, even though he was human, called to everything feminine and primal within her.
“Some kind of skirmish between a werewolf and a vamp,” the dispatcher answered, drawing her back to the conversation, “with a human bystander caught between ’em. Think the human’s okay, though. Well, mostly okay.” The werebear gave a little growl. “As okay as one of ’em can be in the middle of a fight between two prets, I suppose. But you need to get over there pronto.”
“Ten-four.” She grinned at the dispatcher’s disgruntled snarl. He really hated it when she used police codes. Tori rang off and looked at her brother. She shoved the phone into the pocket of her robe. As she pulled the blouse from its hanger, she started, “Rand, I—”
“Let me guess,” her brother said. His voice held a hint of sarcasm that dismayed her. “You have to go.”
She nodded and went to her dresser to pull out a clean pair of jeans. “Rand, we really—”
He slashed a hand through the air. His face darkened, glittering gaze meeting hers. “Just forget it, Tori. It’s always been this way with you. Job first, family second.” He sounded like a sulky child.
She tamped down a surge of irritation even as she felt the need to defend herself and her choices. “That’s not true!” She dropped her clothing on the bed and went over to him. She put her hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I love you, you know that. And I love having you here. It’s just like old times. With you around, it makes this place, this planet, feel like home.” For the first time since she’d arrived in this strange, new world it felt… comfortable. Family made all the difference.
She was surprised to see a film of tears make his blue eyes shine. “It’s not that I don’t like being here with you,” he said, his voice low, a little hoarse. “It’s just…” He shook his head with a sigh. “I’ve always felt like I existed in your shadow. ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’ ” he mimicked in an excellent approximation of their father’s bellicose tones. “ ‘Your sister never disappoints us.’ ” He went back to his normal voice. “I knew he was disappointed in me. Always disappointed. And I’m just not sure that, if I stay, things will be any different. I’ll be known as Tori’s little brother, the inept one. The loser.”
“Rand, no you won’t.” Tori felt much more compelled to build up Rand’s self-esteem than to defend her father. He had been strict, demanding perfection from a son who was too emotionally fragile to withstand the pressure. She gave her brother’s shoulder another squeeze. “You’re not inept. And Father loved you. You know he did.”
“Did he?” Rand shrugged. His fingers started tapping against his thigh. “Whatever.” He wore the same churlish expression he had when he’d been a teen. She felt momentary dismay that he could still be so immature. Hadn’t he learned anything from his trip through the rift? Had he not grown at all in the century and a half they’d been on Earth? He seemed to shake his mood, because a slight smile tilted his lips. He lifted his hands, spreading them in a sheepish gesture. “Listen, I’m just being…” He shook his head. “Don’t pay any attention to me. Go. Get to work. Save the day,” he said in an approximation of a superhero’s voice.
She returned his smile, though she couldn’t get rid of the worry niggling at the back of her mind. He was lost and alone and resisting her attempts to make him part of her life again. If she pushed too hard she might lose him again. On impulse, she hugged him and quickly released his thin but firm body. Anyone who made the mistake of thinking he’d be physically weak might make the last mistake of their lives. She pressed a kiss to his cheek and tried to ignore the sour-milk scent of his sullen discontent. “I’ll see you later, all right? We’ll have dinner together. Think about what you’d like, and I’ll stop by the grocery store on my way home.” She searched his eyes, looking for a sign, any sign, of what he might be thinking, what he was feeling. “We’ll talk. Catch up some more.”
“Yeah. Sure.” He gave another smile, though this one was definitely forced. With a nod he left the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
Tori grabbed the device and schematics from beneath her pillow. She slipped the folded paper into the pocket of a fleece jacket she hardly ever wore and tucked the device into the toe of one of her boots. The jeans she shimmied into were formfitting, and the blouse was frothy in various shades of turquoise. Her women’s athletic shoes were serviceable with bright purple along the edge of the sole. Being a werewolf was so much a part of what she was, she needed to find ways to feel like a woman. To be feminine. To be more than the beast. Purple shoes and filmy blouses helped.
She brushed her still-damp hair and braided it, then slipped her brush into the fanny pack she usually wore instead of carrying a purse. After shrugging into her shoulder holster, she retrieved her Magnum from the gun safe. It was a requirement of the council that all liaisons, in essence law enforcement officers for preter-naturals, had to carry guns. Tori didn’t usually mind, but sometimes the gun was the least favorite part of her job. While it often made her feel sexy, it rarely made her feel feminine.
Besides, when it came to defending herself or running down a suspect, all she really needed were her claws and fangs.
Kiss of the Vampire
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