Drive Me Wild
In Manhattan, witches and werefolk have been giving each other the silent treatment for nearly 400 years, but now someone wants to renew diplomatic relations. When she's picked for the job, Tess Menzies can't believe it. She might be a witch, but she's hardly a miracle worker.
In the end, tracking down Rafael De Santos, the head of the Council of Others, turns out to be the easy part. The hard part is falling in love with him. And the really hard part is convincing this werecat to stop tomcatting around. Luckily for Tess, some things are just meant to be.
The minute Rafael De Santos stepped out of the front door of Vircolac, he knew he was being followed. He could have credited a sort of preternatural sixth-sense for the knowledge, a combination of the heightened hearing and sight of his feline heritage, but that wouldn’t have been precisely true. Because the fact was, whoever was tailing him was doing a piss poor job.
Maybe Rafe’s perceptions of this sort of thing had been colored by all the time he spent with the Lupines of the Silverback Clan, who were renowned for their abilities at covert actions like tails and stakeouts. It could be that the contrast between their expert maneuvers and the bungling of the figure behind him tonight made an otherwise perfectly adequate tail look inept. Then the tail tripped over a crack in the sidewalk and fell sideways into a garbage can and Rafe shook his head. No, his stalker really was that bad.
Which begged the question, why was someone tailing him in the first place? To begin with, Rafe was not in the sort of neighborhood where one was likely to be mugged. Admittedly, crime in Manhattan knew no real borders, but this swanky neighborhood in the Upper East Side was as safe as you were likely to get without abandoning the city entirely. So he didn’t think the tail was a common street thug.
He supposed it could be another Felix come to challenge him for his territory, but judging by the figure’s general size and shape—not to mention apparent clumsiness—the upstart would be in for a rude surprise if he attempted anything of the sort. Again, not very likely. He briefly considered the possibility it might be another rogue Fae. After the incident a few months ago with Seoc and Fergus and the ruckus those escapees from Faerie had caused, just the thought made Rafe nervous. But again, this tail was way too clumsy to be one of the Beautiful People.
So what was left? Rogue Lupine sounded about as likely as a Felix challenger, given their proximity to Graham Winters’ home and business. Any werewolf who attempted to act without Graham’s consent in the heart of that Alpha’s own territory would be three steps past stupid and not a little foolhardy and would likely have charged him by now. It was a puzzle, and Rafe was enough a man of his blood to be very curious about puzzles.
Keeping his gaze straight ahead and his pace steady, he quietly turned the tables on his stalker and let the hunter become the hunted.
It didn’t take much for him to win the advantage. In his tailored suit and Italian loafers, he had the advantage of surprise. No one ever expected an obviously wealthy man to know the first thing about defending himself or about tracking prey. Luckily, Rafe was more than just another wealthy man.
He was Felix.
He felt his mouth curve at the inherent arrogance in that statement of fact. There didn’t seem to be a way to state it without arrogance. His people had been worshipped as gods centuries before man ever entertained the thought that a single god might sustain the complexity of human life. That sort of thing tended to breed arrogance in a man. Then of course, the very nature of the cat beast within him made arrogance an indelible stamp on his nature. The jaguar occupied the top of the food chain in its native jungles of South America. When one had no rivals at all, one stopped seeing rivals even when they existed.
Rafe liked to think of himself as more than just his beast, though, more than the jaguar spirit that slept within him. He embraced and appreciated that part of his ancestry, that aspect of his nature, but as a modern civilized man, he liked to think of his nature as more complex than ‘man by day and jaguar by night.’
He had, after all, grown up in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, not in the dense, tropical jungles of his father’s childhood. He had attended private schools and a prestigious university, learned how to ace an exam and order fine wine for sophisticated companions. He knew which fork to use at even the most exalted tables and could debate with intelligence and gusto topics ranging from Kierkegard to Handl to the politics of eastern European nationalism. And he could do it all with a droll wit and an urbane smirk.
None of that negated the feral predator lurking in his soul. The one that knew it could turn on his would-be stalker and rip out the man’s throat before he could even voice a scream in protest. It was the same beast that first realized his stalker smelled like a woman. And not just any woman. She smelled like a witch.
The fragrance roused his curiosity even higher. Witches and werefolk rarely had contact with one another, and it had been that way for as long as Rafe could remember. He had heard a few stories over the years about why that was the case—tales that ranged from stories about ancient race wars inspired by divine edict, to a magical version of the Hatfields, the McCoys, and that infamous pig. Rafe doubted either story could claim the crown as the whole truth, but he realized he’d never before bothered to wonder about it. Not until he found himself being stalked by a female witch on a deserted street in Upper Manhattan on a Wednesday night. Funny how that sort of thing could spring itself on a man.
More determined than ever to satisfy his curiosity by finding out what the stalking witch wanted with him, Rafe continued to lead his unsuspecting hunter straight into a trap. He imagined things could get interesting tonight, and after a run of boring business meetings, the diversion might prove to be just what he needed.
Tess Menzies stifled a snicker as she crouched in the shadows of an old brownstone, her eyes glued to the elegant façade of the building across the street. She’d been lurking here for close to three hours, and her muscles had long ago given up their protests. She hoped that wouldn’t pose a problem when she tried to force them to move again. According to her intelligence, her mark should be making his move any second now.
The thought inspired yet more snickering. This whole episode just screamed for the use of language like “mark” and “intelligence,” even though the closest Tess herself had ever come to espionage or intrigue was watching old Humphrey Bogart movies on satellite. The idea that she’d gone straight from curling up on her sofa in Tribeca, on dateless Saturday nights, with a bowl of popcorn and the opening credits of The Maltese Falcon, to staking out a private club on the Upper East Side…that just struck her funny.
She supposed her grandfather could have picked someone less suited for carrying out this particular favor, but she figured it would have taken a lot of time and some serious effort. After all, she knew of one former marine, three former police officers, a retired private investigator and a (mostly) reformed thief just in her grandfather’s immediate circle of friends. Any of them could probably have located this man and delivered their message with a tenth of the fuss and muss Tess instinctively knew she could cause given half the chance. She just had a knack for these things.
You’d think her grandfather would take that into consideration before assigning her this kind of task. But no. When Grandfather got a notion into his head, nothing short of a seismic catastrophe could shake him from his course, and the jury still deliberated over whether even that could do the job.
Sighing, Tess wrapped her arms around herself and chafed her hands up and down to try and generate some heat. The crisp October night that had felt so pleasant just an hour ago had taken a decidedly chilly turn. She indulged in a moment of regret that she hadn’t stopped to fill a thermos with coffee before she set herself up here to wait, but shrugged it off. If she had coffee, she’d be drinking it, and if she drank coffee, she’d have to pee, so it really was just as well. She couldn’t exactly knock on the door of the building she was using for concealment and ask to use their bathroom. She’d probably give the poor owners a heart attack.
Since she had read somewhere once that the best cure for boredom on a stakeout was fantasizing, Tess let her mind wander down that path for a minute. She could just see herself, clad head to toe in black, from her black jeans and supple black boots, to her thin, black turtleneck sweater. She looked more like a cat burglar than anything else. Not exactly a reassuring sight to find on one’s doorstep at two thirty-seven a.m.
She swallowed another chuckle and shifted her weight subtly, her gaze still on the doors across the street. Her little fantasy was probably way off base, though. Judging by the ornately carved doors of the buildings around her, the beautiful, historical architecture and the pricey addresses, no one on this block or the next answered his own door, even at two thirty-seven a.m. That, she assumed with a smirk, was what butlers were for.
In that respect, Tess was certainly out of her element here in the land of milk and money. Her own perfectly adequate loft a block shy of SoHo would probably fit inside the foyers of most of the houses on this street, especially the house she currently had her eye on. The four-story limestone building sat in the middle of the block like a grande dame holding court. It bore no signs—unless you counted the classic brass address numbers as a sign—or other marks that indicated it housed one of the most exclusive and prestigious private clubs in all of Manhattan. But then, when your club catered to vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night, neon was probably not a particularly wise choice.
For at least the last two centuries, Vircolac had easily reigned as the best kept secret in Manhattan. The only reason Tess had learned of it was because the Witches’ Council had a vested interest in some of the most important people who passed through its thick, oak doors.
Well, people might not exactly be the correct term, since the membership of Vircolac consisted entirely of the less human members of New York society. Vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters of all kinds filled the club’s membership list, and the only humans who ever made it past the doorman were rumored to be closely connected with the club’s owner, Graham Winters. A werewolf himself, Winters supposedly kept a tight rein on his club and on the Silverback Clan, the werewolf pack he led. In his spare time, Tess supposed wryly.
Winters, though, was not why she was crouching in the shadows of a stairway on a Wednesday night in October. She didn’t have to deal with the werewolf, thank the gods. Her grandfather had sent her here to bell the cat.
Rolling her eyes, Tess shifted her weight and sighed. Right. Like she was so qualified to chase down a werecat with nothing more going for her than a diplomatic message and a sunny disposition. Looking back at her conversation with her grandfather, she could recall bringing up those very salient points to him, as well. She had mentioned that she wasn’t even a member of the Witches’ Council, let alone a representative; that she had precisely no knowledge of or experience with werefolk of any kind and generally tended to end up with her foot in her mouth at any and all available opportunities. So what made her the choice for this assignment again?
Oh, right. Grandfather’s standard answer: Because I said so.
She grumbled to herself and pressed the button on the side of her watch to illuminate the dial. According to the information the Council had provided, the werecat she’d come to see was already ten minutes late from his regular timetable. Apparently he didn’t realize he had a stalker with a schedule to keep. Sighing, she trained her gaze back on the door to Vircolac and settled in for an extended wait.
She didn’t get one. Almost as soon as she had the carved oak doors back in her sight, the right side opened and a figure stepped out. It paused for a moment to speak to someone on the threshold.
“Finally,” she breathed, freezing in place, gaze fastened on the man across the street.
She got a brief look at his face while he stood in the pool of light cast by the fixture over the club’s doors, so she knew it was her guy. His features had the angular, slightly exotic cast of his Latin ancestors, and even in the artificial light, she saw the bronze hue of his skin and the way his black hair gave off almost blue highlights. Add that to the tailored fit of his suit, the arrogant, graceful way he held himself and the liquid quality to the way he moved, and Tess had no doubts. She had a bead on Rafael De Santos.
The problem was that she hadn’t expected him to be gorgeous.
Tess sat mesmerized for several minutes before a moth flying perilously close to her cheek reminded her that not only was her mouth gaping open like the legs of a cheerleader on prom night, her tongue was probably hanging out, too. She clamped her jaw shut with a click, but her reaction seemed to be beyond her control.
The man took her breath away. For some reason she’d had this picture in her head that the shapeshifter would be unappealing, sort of bestial and feral, his humanity a thin film over his more savage nature. She knew that image didn’t exactly mesh with his reputation as a charming if feckless rogue, more Casanova than killer, but her mind had apparently discounted the stories as rumor. And now, here she was, finding them to be absolute fact. The only evidence she saw of his bestial side was the animal magnetism she could feel rolling off him, even from fifty feet away. It made her fingers itch, her mouth dry out, and her—
Well, she really didn’t want to think about what her other parts were doing.
Focus, Tess. Focus.
Dragging her eyes off the werecat’s butt—conveniently positioned toward her as he spoke with the figure in the doorway—Tess ordered her heart to slow down and her thighs to unclench so she could get back to the task at hand. She’d need all her faculties operational for this one. She could just feel it.
Why does he have to be so gorgeous?
She eased herself to her feet and hugged the side of the stairway, completely engulfed in the shadows. She would be a lot more relaxed about taking a message to the leader of the Council of Others if he were a short, ugly were- gopher, instead of a mouthwatering, take-me-now leopard man.
Where’s the justice in the universe?
She got no answer.
Great. Now even my own subconscious is ignoring me.
She waited for him to wave farewell to the doorman and start off down the deserted street before easing from her hiding space and trailing after him in the shadows. She made it approximately three steps before she tripped over her own feet and went stumbling sideways into someone’s trashcan. Thankfully, it was plastic and not the old-fashioned metal kind. With that much noise, she might as well just have shouted his name.
She felt kind of stupid following him like this—instead of just walking right up to him, introducing herself and taking care of business like a reasonable adult—but not stupid enough to change her approach. She told herself she was just taking a few minutes to build up her courage before taking the plunge. She just wished she were naïve enough to believe it.
Okay, so how about, “Excuse me, Mr. De Santos? I have some information you might be interested in.”
No. Too Jehovah’s Witness.
Um… ”Hey, are you Rafael De Santos, the famous wereleopard and leader of the Council of Others?”
Nope. Too Bellevue escapee.
“Mr. De Santos, I come bearing an urgent message from the High Priest of the Witches’ Council.”
Ugh! Too sci-fi B movie.
Hm, maybe, “Mr. De Santos, my name is Tess Menzies, and I’m—oof!”
The “oof!” was never intended to be part of the speech, but it’s what burst out of her mouth when two hundred and some-odd pounds of male muscle barreled into her from the side and drove her deep into a service alley halfway down the street. Before she had time to yell, “Hey!” —and she called herself a native New Yorker! —she was pressed flat against the brick wall of one of the adjacent buildings with her hands yanked over her head and six feet of man pinning her in place.
“Who are you, and why the hell have you been following me?”
His growl rumbled through her with a menace she could feel down in her bones, and she knew instinctively that if he’d given her a full-fledged roar, she’d be fighting for control of her bladder right about now. Even so, his efforts would probably have made a normal person cry. The man had intimidation down to an art. He projected pure rage and menace, and the snarl he rumbled out right up against her face did manage to make her take a hearty gulp, but she rallied quickly and dealt with the situation the way she always did. She brazened through it.
“Sheesh.” She managed to get it out without squeaking and congratulated herself. “If you usually come on to women this strongly, I have to wonder that you ever get a date.”
What the hell are you doing? a voice inside her demanded.
I have absolutely no idea, she answered.
He snarled again. Lower this time. More menacing. “I said, who the hell are you?”
“I heard you.” She swallowed a knot of fear and lifted her chin. “I just didn’t think it was any of your business.”
His expression, which she could see clearly given its current location about a nanometer away from hers—he had really great skin, she noticed, all smooth and even and bronze—turned incredulous.
“Pardon me? Unless I’m very much mistaken—and I know I’m not—you’ve been tailing me for three blocks. That makes your name, rank, serial number and intentions very much my business.”
She grinned and watched his golden eyes blaze. “My name’s Tess, my rank is absolutely nothing, I’m horrible with numbers, and my intentions are a little too complicated to explain to you in a dark alley. Plus, I generally talk with my hands, and you’re currently making that a wee bit difficult.”
He snarled. “I have no time for smart-aleck retorts. Why are you following me?”
She blinked up at him with wide blue eyes that generally made men smile at her indulgently and tell her to let them handle things and not worry her pretty little head over it. “Well, I thought that would be obvious. I wanted to know where you were going.”
He ignored the eyes. How could he ignore the eyes?
“Not good enough. Explain. Now.”
Tess blinked, her mouth curving into the standard Plan B pout. “That’s the truth. I wanted to know where you were going. You know, for someone with such a reputation for being a ladies’ man, you could use a little work on your manners.”
“My manners are fine when I’m with a lady. I’m not entirely sure you qualify.”
“Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that in my experience, ladies don’t follow men through deserted streets at two-thirty in the morning. That’s what criminals and cowards do.”
The pout had clearly failed as miserably as the big blue eyes and suddenly Tess felt a lot less confident about her Plan C. It didn’t seem to be working. At all. Instead of being smitten with her, the werecat seemed to be pissed off at her. His exotic amber eyes looked hard and impatient, and his sensual mouth looked tight and unamused. This was not the sort of reaction she was used to getting from men.
Shifting nervously, she tried tugging her hands free, but his grip only tightened. She gave a hard yank and he responded with a low warning growl. Before she could seriously give in to panic and start struggling, he leaned into her and used his body to keep her immobile against the cold brick wall.
“Your explanation. Now.”
Tess swallowed hard. It was about the only movement she could make. He kept her hands pinned above her and now his chest crushed her flat and his hips pressed tightly against hers. She could feel the way he bent his legs to even out their heights, because those legs crowded against hers to keep her still. She couldn’t move a damned muscle, which meant she also couldn’t cast any damned spells. She was helpless. Time for Plan D—the truth. Just not too much of it.
“I already explained, sort of. I was supposed to wait for you outside Vircolac until you came out. Then I was supposed to deliver a message and leave. But I got curious to see where you were going in the wee hours of the morning.”
She made her tone and expression sullen, as if she had given in reluctantly. That much was true.
“If you hadn’t jumped me, you’d never have known I was following you. I was just going to see if you were going to a nightclub or something. I’ve never been to one and thought it would be fun to see where the cool ones are. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
That last part wasn’t.
“Don’t ask me. It’s written down in a sealed envelope. It’s not like I read it or anything.”
Neither was that.
She saw his nostrils flare as he inhaled deeply. His eyes narrowed. “You’re lying. I can smell it on you. I can smell something else, too. There’s something...different about you.”
Tess felt her eyes widen before she caught herself. “Well, I showered right before I left home,” she joked weakly, trying to shift even an inch away from him. “If you can smell me, I think I need to switch soaps.”
He didn’t appear to be listening. Instead he leaned forward and pressed his face into the curve of her neck. She froze as her stomach clenched. She felt the stir of his breath against her skin and felt a swift shock of arousal. Apparently, her body hadn’t forgotten its first impression of him. It remembered quite clearly how attracted she’d been. and it chose now to remind her.
“That’s not it,” he muttered and she could feel the movement of his lips as he spoke. “You smell...different...” Sniff. “Exotic...” Sniff... “Powerful...” Sniff, sniff. Then the dart of a tongue that rasped against her throat. “Other.”
His head turned and Tess found herself staring into golden eyes that blazed with impossible heat.
“You smell like a witch.”
Tess stared up into those amber eyes and felt her first wave of fear. Suddenly she remembered that this man wasn’t just a man. He was a Felix, the most powerful Feline in the history of the city, and he could tear out her throat with a swipe of his finger. With the tension radiating off of him, she wasn’t sure he didn’t intend to do just that.
“Well? Are you a witch?” He asked it in that rasping growl as he shook her by the hands he held pinned. “You aren’t human. I can smell it.”
“You smell wrong.” She could feel how wide her eyes had grown, but this time it wasn’t a ploy. It was fear. “I am human. My name is Tess Menzies.”
He pressed his nose against the hollow below her ear and inhaled, and she had to bite back a moan as her pussy clenched in reaction.
“You’re not. Humans smell…muddy. Thick. You smell clear. Sweet. Spicy.” Again that tongue, rasping like damp sandpaper across her skin. “Taste that way, too. Not human at all.”
Fear prodded her into temper. “Eaten many humans, have you?”
She felt his mouth shift into a grin. “A few here and there. Want me to eat you?”
That sensual, amused purr had nothing to do with food, but a hell of a lot to do with sex. Sheesh. Did the man usually come on to women when he had them pinned against the wall during an interrogation? The image brought a surge of heat to her belly, and she cursed.
“Hmm, smells like you like the idea.” A lazy stroke of the tongue. The soft, delicate scrape of teeth. “I’d love to see if you taste as good as you smell. All sweet and hot and creamy.”
His legs shifted, forced hers apart. He settled between them until she could feel the ridge of an impressive erection nestling against her mound.
“I’d like to lap it all up. And I will. Just as soon as you answer my question.”
Her stammer made him chuckle, and she gritted her teeth.
“Yes, question.” He nuzzled the sweet spot below her ear and pressed his hips against hers when she tried to squirm away. “The one where I asked if you’re a witch.”
If he really wanted to know what she was, horny was the most honest answer, but she didn’t feel inclined to share it. “I told you. My name is Tess and I’m as human as the next person.”
“Considering the next person at the moment is not human at all, that fails to convince me of anything.”
This time when she felt the scrape of his teeth, she could feel the elongated canines, and she gasped. He didn’t sink them into her flesh, and she didn’t expect him to, but the message was clear. He was far from human and far from civilized, no matter what he looked like on the surface.
“It’s the truth.”
He pulled back at that and stared down at her with eyes that had gone molten. Even in the darkness, she could see the way his pupils had elongated to feline slits.
“You’re very stubborn, and very wrong. Also very unsurprised to find a man with fangs and cats’ eyes pinning you up against an alley wall. Would you care to explain why?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Not really.”
“Do it anyway.”
Stalling for time seemed like her best bet. Well, honestly, it seemed about as hopeless as anything else, but it made her feel better. “How about you let go of my hands first and give me some breathing room? This Spanish Inquisition thing is getting kind of uncomfortable.”
“I find it very comfortable, indeed,” he purred, shifting his hips to press his hips tighter against her. “The way you breathe now is positively entrancing. But if you truly wish to be free, I suggest you begin to cooperate.”
Tess had never taken suggestions very well. “Or what? You’ll beat the answers out of me?”
He shifted his grip, transferring both her wrists to one of his large hands, but though she redoubled her efforts, she still couldn’t break that grip. “Hm, would you like that, sweet Tess? Would you like it if I turned you over my knee, bared that lovely bottom to the moonlight and turned it pink and glowing with the weight of my hand?” His free hand slid around her back and cupped her bottom, kneading the muscle and making her quiver. “Would you like that, Tess?”
Christ, for a woman who’d never been into bondage, the mental image hit her like an unexpected jolt of electricity. She ignored it and concentrated on not wrapping her legs around his waist. “Trust a man to resort to violence.”
“Only if it pleases you, sweetheart.”
“What would please me is you letting me go!”
That damned chuckle again. “Ah, but it would not please me, sweet Tess, and since I am currently the one in control here, it is my wish that counts.”
Tess harrumphed. “And isn’t that just like a man.”
“Or like a beast.” His eyes flashed and his gaze slid to her lips. “And you know the truth about beasts and beauties, don’t you? The beasts always take what they want and damn the consequences.”
Her only warning was a flash of gold before his head dipped and his mouth settled hot and hungry over hers.
Rafe purred his approval at her taste. Rich and sweet, like whipping cream, it made him want to lap her up. Her lips parted readily beneath his, probably more from shock than desire, but he pressed his advantage. His tongue slid inside to tease and taste, exploring her flavors and textures like a mapmaker charting new territory. She was more than he had expected, and the overflow threatened to swamp his senses.
He leaned into her, acquainting his body with hers, learning the heat and scent and curve of her. He felt the tension in her muscles and the subtle yielding in her lips as they began to cling to his. Christ, she tasted good. Her flavor seemed to deepen with each taste, flooding through him and feeding his arousal.
He’d thought at first it was just reflex. When he’d felt himself begin to harden against her hips, he’d written it off as a natural and unavoidable reaction to his proximity to an attractive woman. After all, she’d been pressed up against him like a lover, and he had a healthy sex drive. It was only natural.
What wasn’t natural was the way her scent wrapped around him, teasing him with that indefinable foreign quality that had started his curiosity. It tickled the edges of his brain like a forgotten memory...the idea that he should recognize it, whatever it was. He felt like he knew what it was if he could just remember...
Then she whimpered against his mouth and he felt his curiosity fading. It didn’t matter who she was. Didn’t matter that her scent was getting stronger as her arousal flared, getting muskier, hotter, smelling more intensely of magic—
The thought slammed the door on his libido. He wrenched his mouth away from hers and snarled. “Damn you. Tell me who the hell you are. What kind of witch are you?”
His question startled a laugh out of her, curving those kiss-swollen lips in surprise. “The regular kind, I guess. I didn’t know we came in thirty-one flavors.”
Damn, but he’d like to taste every flavor she did come in.
He stuffed the thought down and lifted his body away from temptation. “So I was right.”
She must have read the skepticism in his face because she shrugged and scowled. “It’s not like I was lying. Just because I’m a witch doesn’t mean I’m not human.”
He wasn’t in the mood to debate her. He’d lived among humans all his life. He knew how they smelled, how they tasted, and he knew she was different. “So tell me why you were following me. What does a witch want with a Felix in a dark alley in the middle of the night?”
Unable to resist, he leaned forward to nuzzle the rapid pulse at the base of her throat.
“Aside from the obvious.”
“I’m not the one who forced us unto the alley, Einstein, so why don’t you tell me?”
He felt her struggles, but he also heard the barely audible hitch in her breathing and knew her confrontational façade was an act. “I asked first.”
“Oh, and this is suddenly the third grade? Fine. Like I said, I was following you.”
He lowered his head to snarl at her and noticed how she licked her lips and jerked away. So his little Tess didn’t want his kisses? He smiled.
“I knew you were following me, sweet Tess.” He bent his head, nuzzled the line of her jaw, flicked his tongue out to taste her skin. “Now I want to know why.”
He felt her jaw clench under his tongue. “I already told you, I was supposed to deliver a message and I got curious.”
The hand on her ass shifted, squeezed. “And why would you have any kind of message for me, sweet Tess? You don’t even know me, do you?”
She snorted, the sound less than elegant but very clear. “Your name appears in the papers so often you practically have your own section. I doubt there’s a person in Manhattan who doesn’t know you.”
He digested that as he flicked his tongue against her earlobe. She quivered in his arms. “You may be right. But with all those people who know who I am, very few of them have ever tried tailing me through the streets in the middle of the night. Unless they planned to mug me. Were you planning to mug me?”
“Were you planning to check yourself into Bellevue?”
“I didn’t think so.”
He’d get the truth out of her eventually. Even if he had to keep her here for hours. He nuzzled her ear, inhaling that intoxicating scent. Days even. His hand stroked her truly fine ass through the snug denim. Maybe weeks.
“You need to tell me what sort of message you have for me, sweet Tess, before I find something else to occupy myself.” He pressed his erection arousal her belly and felt her freeze.
“Let me go and I’ll tell you.”
“Tell me and I’ll let you go.”
She gave a credible growl of frustration that made him grin against the curve of her shoulder. “When I get free, I am turning you into a guppy and feeding you to my cat.”
“Tell me, Tess, before I decide I don’t care about the answer.”
She bucked one last time against his hold before falling into a sulk. “I told you, I never saw the damned message. It was given to me in a sealed envelope.”
She scowled at him. “That’s the truth, damn it. I was told to deliver the message to you, unopened, when you left the Council meeting tonight.”
He pulled back to frown down at her. “What Council meeting?”
Tess rolled her eyes. “Just because I was careless enough to let you see me tailing you does not make me terminally stupid. What Council do you think I’m interested in that meets at one a.m. on the nights of the new moon?”
“And what would an ordinary, very human witch know about t
Suddenly her luscious scent and feminine body slipped a few notches down on his immediate priority list. The Council, of which he was the reluctant head, had operated for centuries in the city without incident, mainly because it kept itself a guarded secret from the mortal world. If this woman knew about them, they could have a serious problem on their hands. If she had succeeded in tracing him to the council chambers in the secret basement at Vircolac, the consequences would be far-reaching and bordering on disastrous.
The sobering thought had his hand sliding away from her ass and bracing against the wall beside her head.
“Not a whole hell of a lot, or I wouldn’t have had to wait for you outside until it was over, would I? Because everything I could find out about it told me it didn’t officially exist.” She glared at him from big blue eyes that should have looked innocent, but instead snapped with fire and irritation. “You seem to have better security than the Pentagon.”
He dismissed that. “The Pentagon has lousy security. But you knew I was on the Council. You shouldn’t even know the Council exists.”
“If it’s any consolation, I didn’t know until two weeks ago.”
“And what happened two weeks ago?”
She paused and he could almost see her weighing her answer. “I got hired to tail you.”
“You’ve been tailing me for two weeks?” The thought blindsided him. Surely he’d have noticed that kind of presence. He still had instincts. He couldn’t have gotten that soft, not even living in the middle of a city for so long. “That’s impossible.”
She rolled her eyes. “And you’re so modest, too. No wonder all the ladies go for you.”
He felt his eyes narrow and he pressed back up against her. “Shall we see how quickly I can make you go for me, sweet Tess? Or would you like to confine your comments to answering my questions?”
Rafe watched her mouth open, then close again with a snap. He waited for a moment before he continued. “Were you watching me for two weeks?”
“Not exactly. I kept track of when you were seen in public places to get an idea of your schedule, but I wasn’t tailing you.”
That sounded an awful lot like being tailed to him. “If you kept turning up wherever I was going, I should have noticed you.”
Again, she rolled her eyes. It seemed to be a habit.
“Right. Like you notice every woman who stares at you when you’re going about your business. Sweetheart, you are so used to being ogled, you don’t even see it happening any more. I would have needed to slip my hand down your pants to get your attention. And I’m sure most of the other women watch ing you seriously considered that option.”
He found that to be a very distracting mental image. Not the other women, but the idea of this woman, who smelled of spice and magic, sliding her hand down his pants. He imagined the feel of her smooth fingers gliding over his skin and growled. He apparently needed to keep his thoughts on a leash around this woman.
“But there was no reason for you to pay attention to me,” she continued. “I didn’t follow you from place to place, just occasionally popped up where you were, noted the time and left. I wasn’t stupid enough to think you wouldn’t have noticed if I had been tailing you.”
“All right, I’ll set that aside. For the moment.” He eyed her pointedly. “I still want to know who hired you and what they want.”
“I can’t tell you what they want.” She must have seen his mouth open to protest, because she quickly cut him off. “I’m just the messenger. I don’t know the text of the message, and I imagine that if they had wanted me to know about it, they wouldn’t have given it to me in a sealed envelope. You’ll have to read it and ask them what they want.”
He snarled. “And just who are they?”
She drew a deep breath, blew it out and glared at him. “The Witches’ Council.”
The Witches’ Council?
Rafe frowned and pulled back another inch. He’d never even heard of a witches’ council. Oh, he knew there were witches in the world, and probably some in Manhattan, but he hadn’t known they were organized. Of course, as far as he knew, the last diplomatic contact between a witch and the Others in New York had happened in 1627, so him being in the dark wasn’t that surprising.
Given the present distraction, he thought remembering the whole 1627 thing was pretty damned impressive.
He looked down at said distraction and flexed his hands around her wrists, not so much squeezing as kneading the captive limbs. “So you’re a witch who was hired by a Witches’ Council to follow me and confront me in a dark alley, but you don’t know what they want with me?”
“Like I said, they didn’t see fit to share that with me.”
Rafe gave in to temptation enough to lean in close and taste her skin again. Her fear was fading, making her sweeter, and her irritation increasing, making her hotter. He could make a meal of her. If his curiosity would leave him in peace. “Would you care to hazard a guess?”
“What, are we playing twenty questions now?”
He had to stifle the urge to grin at her expression. Somehow the narrowed eyes, twisted lips and crinkled nose looked less than threatening on her. The curls that were dark gold in the faint light and those big blue eyes just spoiled the effect. He schooled his expression into a feral mask and scraped his teeth delicately along her jaw line.
“Not yet,” he purred, “but we could. I could ask you what you taste like, what you look like spread out on silk sheets, how much it would take to make you beg me to touch you...” He lapped at the sensitive skin beneath her chin. “Do you want to play that game with me, sweet Tess?”
He heard the desire as well as the defiance in her snort. “What part of this conversation has been about what I want?”
He chuckled. “Why don’t you tell me what you want, sweet Tess.” He paused to inhale deeply, catching the ripeness of her scent. “Or better still, I can tell you what you want…”
She shivered in his arms and the telltale motion made him smile. His little witch was just as affected by him as he was by her. That offered some interesting possibilities.
“I have another idea,” she said, and her voice sounded strained. “How about I just give you the bloody message, you let me go, and we both pretend this never happened.”
He laughed. “Oh, I don’t think so, Tess. I think we have much too much to talk about for that to happen. No, I think you should come with me.”
He pulled her wrists down in front of her and tugged her away from the wall and toward the mouth of the alley. He managed to move her about seven feet before surprise wore off and she dug in her heels.
“Wait. Where are we going?”
“To the building I just left. A friend of mine lives there. He’d be happy to provide us with someplace to discuss this message of yours where it’s a bit more comfortable. And better lit.”
She tugged at her hands and refused to budge. “You’re going to take me to Vircolac?”
“So now you know about the club as well?”
“I was waiting for you outside of it a few minutes ago, wasn’t I?”
“It’s not supposed to be common knowledge.”
“It isn’t. That’s why I’m surprised you’d think of taking me there. I thought humans were barred from ever setting foot inside.”
He smiled as he remembered Missy Winters’ opinion of that particular decree. “The rules have been...relaxed a bit recently.”
“I don’t care. I’m not taking any more chances tonight. If you want to keep talking to me, you can keep talking to me in the alley. I’m perfectly comfortable here.”
He turned back to her and raised an eyebrow. “But I’m not,” he purred. “And unless you intend to make me more comfortable—which, I feel I should warn you, would involve taking off all your clothes and laying down under me for three or four hours—I suggest you come with me to the club.”
She leapt for the alley entrance with such speed, she almost ended up dragging him along behind her.
In the darkness, Rafe laughed and wondered how long it would take him to change her mind about the appeal of that particular manner of getting comfortable.