Seattle, Washington A few weeks later . . .
Back in the Bronx, Eliana Maria Garcia’s weapons of choice had been a smart mouth, the occasional threat of a knife, and her fists. Now, standing with her back pressed against the brick wall behind Monk’s Café, Ana Martin had something even better—a gun. One she was hoping she wouldn’t have to use.
Confronting the man who’d been following her, how- ever, was unavoidable. She’d noticed him at the bank yesterday, then the market. But last night she’d seen him outside her house. And moments before? Across the street.
That was one coincidence too many. She’d left Primos Sangre over seven years ago, but if there was one thing the gang had taught her, it was that survival meant con- fronting danger head-on rather than running from it. Since she didn’t trust the cops—didn’t trust anyone—her only choice was to handle this herself. Her way.
If only she wasn’t so scared. But she’d put her old life behind her, and even though she wasn’t happy—could never be happy without her sister—she was often con- tent. Sometimes when she looked in the mirror she even managed to like the person she saw looking back at her. The thought of losing that scared her more than any threat of physical harm ever could. And it scared her enough that she was willing to fight to make sure it didn’t happen.
The sun had set long ago. Now and then a stab of light from a passing car pierced the shadows of the alley where Ana was hiding, forcing her to dodge back. Invisible, shrouded in darkness, she waited. When she heard footsteps, she knew it was him.
Forcing her near-numb fingers to tighten their grip on the gun, she watched as he walked past her, then made her move, coming at him from behind, pressing the barrel of her gun against the back of his head.
He didn’t even jerk.
From the back, he looked big. Broad. Muscles rippling. Dangerous.
But from the front? Even from a distance, he’d looked more than dangerous. He’d looked deadly. Beyond handsome. Midnight hair and eyes just as dark. Savage and sophisticated at the same time. She’d never seen his equal. Certainly never met anyone that came close.
Part of her knew she’d gotten the drop on him a bit too easily. That perhaps she was doing exactly what he’d been expecting. Hoping.
But it was too late to go back now.
“Hands where I can see them,” she managed to get out.
Slowly, he raised his hands in surrender. Only she still wasn’t buying it. Her nerves screamed at her to run, but logic kept her feet planted firmly on the ground. Somehow, she knew if she ran, he’d only come after her.
“Why are you following me?” No answer. No surprise.
With her free hand, she patted him down, the way she’d learned to do in the gang. By the time she’d frisked him from the back, she was the one who was sweating. And not from exertion.
Nothing about him was small. He was tall and buff, more than big enough to overpower her slight frame. Sangre-style paranoia set in, and it occurred to her that this guy might be undercover. She instantly recalled the run-ins she’d had with cops as a teenager. The way they’d often pulled her long dark ponytail, hard enough to make her back arch and breasts lift. The way they’d sometimes copped a feel or implied they’d leave her in peace if she made it worth their while. She’d never given them that satisfaction.
But no, she decided. This guy’s vibe was just too different. Not so much cop as outlaw.
His entire body was contoured with interesting ridges and bulges and planes. This close she could smell him, a subtle spicy scent that managed to convey unabashed maleness and warmth despite what seemed to be a rather low body temperature. The man held himself in control. Unlike her. Gritting her teeth, she ignored the rush of heat to her cheeks and moved faster to disguise the tell- tale trembling of her hands.
“Turn around,” she commanded.
Slowly, he did.
Despite the heat in his gaze, his mouth was tipped into a mocking smile, as if he knew how affected she was by touching him. What he didn’t know—couldn’t know— was how confused she was by her reaction. He made her feel . . . restless. Edgy. Vulnerable.
She hated it.
As such, she hated him.
Methodically, she frisked him from the front, delving between his denim-clad legs to make sure he wasn’t packing more than nature had provided.
He grunted slightly and said, “Keep that up and you might find more than you want, princess.”
His accent was clipped and tidy—upper crust British. Despite herself, her gaze shot to his.
“Don’t call me that,” she said automatically, just be- fore she found the gun tucked into a sleek holster concealed inside his waistband.
She pulled it out, and the sight of the Luger didn’t surprise her. The well-made weapon suited him. Swiftly, she slipped it out of his holster and into the front of her own waistband.
The only other time she’d seen a Luger was when she’d delivered a package to Pablo, the leader of Devil’s Crew, another street gang, and he’d insisted on inspecting the contents before he paid. He’d told her the guns had been stolen from some Richie Rich who liked fancy cars as well as fancy guns. When he’d asked her what kind of car she drove, she’d told him the truth. None. She’d only been fourteen at the time.
Even so, her youth hadn’t stopped her from fighting the gang leader when he’d decided to inspect more than the package she’d delivered. All she’d gotten for her trouble was a beating and the ugly scar on her face.
To her, big and male was synonymous with power and violence.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man in front of her said softly, as if he’d read her mind. “If you’ll listen to me, I can help you, Ana.”
The fact that he knew her name shocked her . . . and scared her even more. “Fuck you,” she snapped without meaning to. Swearing was an old habit, one she’d fought hard to break, but sometimes it came out. When she was angry . . . when she felt threatened . . . the tough girl inside her lost control, cursing and spitting and speaking Spanish in an effort to protect herself despite the fact that it merely revealed how vulnerable she really was.
She bit her lip, furious that he’d sensed her fear. Furious that his offer of help made her easily long for things she couldn’t possibly have.
She’d gotten soft. Too soft. And once again she was paying the price. The only question was how high the price would be this time.
“Move.” She gestured with her gun. “Face the wall.” He had her so rattled she was second-guessing herself. She needed to frisk him again. Make sure she hadn’t missed anything the first time.
He merely stared silently at her, and she forced herself to snap, “Now.”
Unbelievably, he practically rolled his eyes just before he obeyed, cursing when she suddenly shoved him face-first against the brick; Eliana Garcia, gang member, was quickly chipping away at the civilized, respectable woman Ana had been trying to become.
But instead of retaliating, he waited while she frisked him yet again. When she was done, when he failed to make a move on her, she relaxed slightly. “Face me.”
As he did, she saw the slight trickle of blood now drip- ping from a cut on his forehead. She felt a momentary pang of guilt. Along with it came the strange temptation to wipe the blood away and kiss the wound better. To kiss all his hurt away. Hurt she somehow sensed was there.
Which was beyond ridiculous. Like one of those tearjerker movies where the love of a good woman saved some useless son of a bitch.
He didn’t need her to wash his freakin’ pain away. He needed to know who was boss. Besides, she didn’t take care of anyone but herself anymore. It was better that way. Safer.
Instinctively, she gripped her gun tighter while he leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, no longer smiling but watching her with an intensity that made her shiver.
“You’ve been trailing me since yesterday,” she said, “and not just because you like my coffee. ¿Porqué?”
At her lapse into Spanish and the thickening of her accent, Ana clenched her teeth, then deliberately modulated her voice so it was once again white-bread Americana. “Why are you following me?”
He smiled again, as if her speaking Spanish had amused him.
Embarrassment washed over her and she wavered, accidentally lowering the gun. “Answer me, bastardo—”
In a blur of movement, he grabbed her wrist, wrenched the gun from her hand, flipped her to the ground, and covered her body with his much larger one.
Reflexively, she struck out, striking him in the face before he pinned her arms and his body simply weighed her down. Damn it, she’d known it had been too easy. He’d set her up. And the way he’d moved . . . Faster than anything she’d ever seen before.
But oddly enough, he had his body braced so his full weight wasn’t on her. As if he wanted her pinned but not hurt.
As if he was taking care of her.
Breathing hard, she stared into his mesmerizing face. His scent would be all over her, she thought absently. When he shifted, rubbing his lower body against her, she blinked at the unexpected warmth that flooded her. He was cold, yet he made her feel so good. So hot. Literally. For another crazy second, she wanted to grab either side of his face, pull him closer, and kiss him.
Ah Dios. She was losing it.
He tsked. “It was your f-bomb that finally got to me, you know. Normally, you hold back. You don’t have to. Your cursing. Your use of Spanish. I like it. I more than
like it. I just had to see if you felt as good as you look. As you sound.”
Again, that dazzling smile. The British perfection in the way he modulated his words. Those cold eyes. Danger emanated from him like a flashing red light, while charm oozed from him like honey.
He leaned closer and whispered. “Lucky me. You feel even better than I’d anticipated.” When she failed to respond, he raised a brow. “What? I’ve rendered you speechless? Or are you just holding back again? I told you I’m here to help. That starts with offering you a job.”
Now that she hadn’t been expecting. She snorted and shifted underneath him, working to twist her way out from under his weight. The intoxicating feel of her limbs rubbing against his made her want to move slower. To relish the contact.
Instantly, she ceased her attempts to get away from him.
“I’m not stupid or gullible—” she began.
“No. In fact, Téa believes you’re extremely smart. One of the smartest she’s ever worked with.”
Ana went rigid with hurt. Téa—a woman she’d thought was the closest thing she had to a friend—had sent him here with no warning? “Please get off me,” she whispered when what she really wanted to do was scream. Cuss. In Spanish and English.
He kept his gaze locked on hers for several seconds, then said, “As you wish.” Pushing himself to standing, he held out a hand to help her up.
She ignored him and scrambled to her feet, immediately backing several steps away. “How do you know Téa? Why did she—”
Ana jerked when she heard Paul, one of her employees at the coffee shop, call her name, but she didn’t take her eyes off the man. “I’ll be right there,” she shouted back.
The man in front of her didn’t bat an eye.
She shook her head. “Téa misled you. I don’t want anything from you.”
“Not even information about your sister?”
Her heart stopped beating and for a moment the world around her blurred. She fought against the wooziness, focusing on the man’s face. Excitement tickled the back of her throat and sent a buzzing up her spine.
Ana hadn’t seen her sister, Gloria, for seven years, not since Ana had tried to jump them both out of Primos Sangre. Gloria had only joined the gang after returning from living with her grandparents. Ana had barely recognized her. Gloria had been angry. Distant. Wanting her sister’s company one minute and hating it the next. After the shooting, she’d written Ana in prison, making it abundantly clear she blamed Ana for her injury and never wanted to see her again.
Had Gloria changed her mind? Had she sent this man to tell her that? A wash of excitement shot through her. Buoyed her. Maybe the stranger that had returned from living with her grandparents had finally turned back into the loving sister Ana remembered. Without even realizing what she was doing, she stepped closer. “You know Gloria?”
“I know about her.”
“But did Gloria send you to find me?” she asked, hope reducing her voice to a whisper.
Disappointment. Suspicion. Dismissal. All cut through the excitement and hope, scattering them to the wind.
Nothing had changed. As such, this man had nothing she needed.
As if he could read her mind he said, “I told you, I’m here to offer you a job.”
“I’m not interested in anything you’re offering.” Slowly, her eyes never leaving him, she retrieved her gun, tucked it into her waistband right next to his, covered them with her sweater, and started walking back- ward toward the cafe entrance.
“I’m quite fond of my gun, you know,” he called out. “It’s mine now.”
“It’s also a violation of your parole for you to carry a firearm.”
That made her freeze, but only for a second. She turned and walked to the coffeehouse door, her steps slow and lethargic. Over her shoulder, she muttered, “So tell my parole officer. Téa always knows where to find me.”
Ty sighed as Ana walked back into her coffeehouse. She moved fast and loose, as if tackling a guy in an alley and pointing a gun at him was par for the course. He sup- posed given her background it was like riding a bike— you never forgot how, not when your very survival was at stake. But that didn’t mean she hadn’t been shaken up by their encounter.
She seemed to fit in well with the college crowd she served. In fact, in her uniform of short tees and tight jeans, she could have been a student herself. She worked. She went home. She kept to herself.
But she wasn’t happy with her life. Far from it. She’d simply convinced herself she couldn’t have more. Some- times, however, her true nature came through despite her best attempts to hide it.
Soon after he’d arrived in Seattle, Ana had ceased to be a fuck fantasy. The hot ex–gang member with the checkered past turned out to be a woman to admire. She kept her distance, but she was hardworking and good to her employees. He’d also been right about her smile. She didn’t use it often, but when she did, her hotness ratcheted into heart-stopping beauty.
His surveillance had also alleviated any lingering concerns he’d had about her refusing to do what they wanted. Because as hard as she tried to keep herself apart from others, she clearly longed for the type of connections she didn’t allow herself.
He’d seen how she’d stared longingly at the couple playing footsie in the corner of her coffee shop. How she’d stared at two women at the grocery store, arm in arm, obviously loving sisters. And how she’d helped a frail young man with MS across the street; she had watched him walk down the block until he turned the corner and disappeared from view.
Over the past few weeks, his protective instincts had kicked in. So many times, he’d wanted to go to her. Wrap his arms around her. Comfort her. But of course he hadn’t. Because she would have fought him, yes, but also because his hunger had grown almost unbearable.
When she’d confronted and challenged him, he’d managed to hang on to his control, but just barely. He’d known she was waiting for him in the alley and he’d been prepared for her to touch him, even if it was simply to disarm him. Although he’d allowed himself to touch her back, he’d done so with ruthless restraint. He’d led Ana to believe he was just a strong human rather than a hungry vampire lusting after her blood and her body. His sheathed fangs ached the way his dick did, longing to penetrate and take everything from her: her sweet blood and her complete surrender.
Once again he reminded himself it wasn’t going to happen. No matter how he admired her, and no matter how she made him feel, she was a job and that was all she could ever be.
He took out his cell and punched in Carly’s number. “You found her?” Carly’s voice was husky. Feminine.
It was flat-out sexy—deliberately so—and he couldn’t help compare it to the gravelly, clipped speech that Ana had used, her occasional melodic slip into Spanish aside. Despite the sentiment behind her words, the flow of them combined with the touch of her body had made him hard, harder than the brick wall he’d been pressed against. The intensity of his desire as well as his decision not to push her too far—yet—had been the only reasons he’d remained against that wall. Despite carrying an illegal gun, Ana had turned her life around. He didn’t want to take that away from her. And she had no reason to hurt him unless he gave her one. Besides, it wasn’t as if one of her bullets could kill him anyway.
As far as he knew, nothing could.
“She’s not going to be as easy as the others,” he said in response to Carly’s question.
“I wouldn’t say the others have been easy.”
“She’s good. Even managed to get my gun.”
“Right,” Carly answered, her tone laced with the knowledge that if Ana had gotten Ty’s gun, it was because he’d let her do it. Just like he’d let her spot him watching her in the first place. “Did she shoot you?”
“No, she did not shoot me. She cursed me, though. In Spanish. Something that seemed to bother her.” It had certainly bothered him, but only because he’d liked it. Too much.
He closed his eyes and replayed her words, enjoying the way it made him think of heat and skin and sweaty, slippery silk sheets. With her golden skin, cinnamon eyes, and dark hair, he could easily picture her spread beneath him, begging him for release as he crooned back to her in her native tongue:
Todavía no. Not yet.
Un poco más largo. A little longer. Dé a mí. Give to me.
He bit back a groan.
Give to me.
Even now his dick twitched, ready to get busy, ready to immerse itself in Ana’s warmth.
He couldn’t have her. Not sexually. Not in ways that might involve her heart as well as her body. And that made him angry.
It fucking made him want to kill someone.
Thankfully, Carly seemed oblivious to his internal struggle. “Excellent,” she said. “You’re right about that, she hates it when she speaks Spanish. She’s trying to deny who she is—who she was—but even after all these years she can’t. She’s still the tough little girl from the Bronx.”
“Yes. The little girl packs quite a punch, too.” Raising a hand, Ty rubbed at his mouth, grinning when he saw the blood. She might not be able to kill him, but she sure as shit could make him bleed.
“Was that before or after she got your gun? Pity. I know how fond you are of it.”
His silence just seemed to amuse her. True to form, she pounced on it.
“Oh my. Are you saying you can’t handle this one?” she purred.
God, he hated Carly sometimes. Hated her bitch-on- steroids act. Hated the necessity to partner with her at all. But she hadn’t always been like this. Years ago, as a fellow newbie agent with the FBI, she’d been good at her job but she’d had a gentle side, too. That part of her had long been quashed. And now? Sure, she’d helped Ty and Peter when they’d needed her most, but her assistance had been more about using them than saving them. Carly was doing what she needed to adjust to her new life, part of a team but very much alone. Just like him.
Ty glanced in the direction Ana had disappeared. “No,” he said, this time letting a trace of humor leak into his voice. “I can handle her. I’ll just have to be a little more direct, that’s all.”
“You don’t have authority to reveal what you are, Ty,” Carly snapped. “Not yet. We have one month until the leaders of Salvation’s Crossing attend the Hispanic Community Alliance fund-raiser, and we need Ana fully invested before we show our hand.”
“I have no plans to tell her I’m a vampire right now. But she still has my gun, and I have no intention of let- ting her think she can take anything from me and just walk away.”