The sun had barely begun to set when the shrill ringing of Ash’s cell phone roused Altania from a troubled sleep. She almost groaned aloud when she heard Ash’s deep voice answer the call with a short, “Ash speaking.”
She thought she had dreamed the whole thing. Her entire slumber had been riddled with dreams of Ashton, her sister, and the events of not only the past few hours, but also the events from all those years ago.
The memories were still so fresh, the reality mixed in with the recollections and offset with her wild, subconscious imagination. She had discovered her sister’s cold body on the floor of Ashton’s basement in dreams dozens of times now, like the whole thing was on a giant loop, finding her sister dead and then discovering herself in Ash’s arms, his body pressed against hers as he held her closely, running his fingers through her hair and murmuring over and over again how sorry he was, how he regretted hurting her and her sister and wishing he could erase the sadness from her heart forever.
Again, it felt like it was two different people, like Ash was two different people, the Ashton Jones that had brutally murdered her sister in cold blood, and the vampire Ash, passionate, loving, willing to do whatever it took to keep her safe and happy.
Altania’s mind and heart were conflicted, being pulled in so many different directions. Coming from beneath the veil of sleep, it took her a few moments to right the world, to come to grips with the stark realization that she was being forced to work with the man who had not only taken her sister from her, but a man who she was finding greatly changed the longer she was in his company. The former she could learn to live with, but the latter troubled her more than she would like to admit.
“Alty.” The sound of his voice so close shook her out of her thoughts. She turned towards him, his voice and body too close for comfort at the moment.
“Yeah?” she asked a bit groggy, sitting up in bed and pulling the scrunchy from her hair. She let the dark locks fall around her shoulders, running her fingertips over her scalp to massage some of the soreness out from having worn her hair up for so long.
“We’ve got a problem.”
Altania looked up at him as he said that word, her body stone still. She knew from experience that hearing that word, that sentence, was never going to end well.
“You remember that little elemental that we were supposed to be meeting this evening, the one named Ethereal?” He didn’t wait for her to answer as he continued, “The Council thought she might be able to help us gather intel on the whereabouts of Dakota.”
While he spoke Ash removed the shirt he had worn to bed, the sight of his half-naked body causing Altania’s eyes to wander. Feeling herself flush uncomfortably, she averted her eyes while he shrugged on a new shirt, the sight of his chiseled abs and multitude of scars marring the skin of his back forever burned into her mind.
Altania tried hard not to snort when Ash said the woman’s name. What was the deal with the supernaturals in this country? Who was naming these people? Better yet, did they think the names were actually cute? Who ever heard of an elemental fey named Ethereal? That would be like naming a vampire, well, Requiem or Stealth or Ash. If this were a book instead of real life, she’s be rolling her eyes, wondering if the author thought he was really being original, or thought readers were that daft in the head to not realize just how corny everyone’s names were.
She tossed the covers back on the bed as Ash continued to talk, digging around inside her bag until she produced a fresh set of clothes. No matter what he was about to tell her, she still had to get dressed.
“The Council has been unable to get in contact with her since right before sunrise this morning. Her cell phone is going straight to voicemail. It’s probably nothing, but the Council wants us to check it out just the same.”
Ash followed her past the curtain that separated the sleeping and bathing areas as he talked.
“What are you doing?” she asked, turning around to glare up at him.
He stared back at her for a split second, not sure what she was talking about. “What?” he asked a split second before realization dawned on him. He laughed then, a short chuckle that echoed off the tiled walls. “I’ve seen you naked before, Alty,” he said matter-of-factly. “Besides, we don’t have time for this right now. We have to get on the road.”
The words were barely out of his mouth before she let out a half scream, half shriek as she lunged at him, her hand drawn back with the intention of landing a much-deserved slap across the face. Ash caught her hand easily enough, his fingers curling around her wrist.
“What part of ‘protect your partner with your life’ did you have problems with?” he asked her quietly, his nearly black orbs boring into hers.
She did scream this time, in frustration and anger, her other hand swinging for his face again. He could have stopped it had he wanted, but he chose to let her hand make contact with a resounding smacking sound against his cheek. His own hand snaked out faster than her mortal eyes could see, his hand capturing hers a mere second after she landed the blow.
He held both of her wrists within his for a moment before pulling her roughly against him. Her heart was hammering inside her chest, partly from anger and now from a mixture of fear and something else, something that scared her far worse than the vampire whose arms were now holding her tightly.
Ash’s right hand moved to the small of her lower back, holding her firmly against his body as his left hand moved up to grip the back of her neck firmly. He dipped his head, allowing his cheek to brush against hers as he whispered, “I said we don’t have time for this, Alty, but I’m game if you are.”
His words, their indication, swept through her mind and straight to her body. An uncontrollable shiver ran down her spine, her body trembling as he held her so closely against him. She was acutely aware of how her body was pressed against his, the feel of hardened muscle meshing with softened curves. Her breathing had become slightly labored, her heart beating loudly in her ears as her blood rushed to the delicate parts of her body, her nerve ending more sensitive to what was happening than she thought possible. She tried to pull away from him, demanding that her body separate itself from his, but instead she discovered herself moving closer to him, her body making demands of its own that had her mind screaming in protest.
Ash pulled her impossibly close, the feel of her breasts moving against his chest as she struggled to breathe creating an immediate reaction in his own body, his organ becoming hard and throbbing despite his lack of fresh blood in nearly a day. He lowered his head until his lips hovered over the vein in her neck, his ears picking up the enticing tattoo of her beating heart.
The sudden and intense scent of blood wafted up at him, his mind instantly splitting into concern and hunger. He pulled back slightly, noticing the spreading stain on her shirt. His brow furrowed, realizing that Alty’s sudden movements only moments before had broken open the wound on her shoulder.
Ash released his hold on her neck to move the shirt out of his way, a movement that had Altania struggling against him in earnest. Her thrashing caused the shirt to rip a bit, adding fuel to her frenzied mind.
“Be still, Alty,” he demanded, his voice firm and quiet at the same time. She ceased her struggles when she noticed that her shirt had a growing blood stain inches from the fangs of a hungry vampire.
Alty grew very still, knowing that any sudden movement might set him off, trigger the predator that lay inside of him. She had seen how he behaved around her fresh wound yesterday, knew he could control himself better than most vampires five times his age, but her animal instinct was kicking in, telling her to be very still and ready to run if need be, the fight or flight instinct growing ever more prominent in her mind.
The sweet smell of the fresh blood was maddening, but at the same time his concern over her well-being was keeping the hunger in check. Ash let go of Alty completely for a split second, just long enough to rip the already shredded fabric from her body. For Alty it felt like her shirt exploded away from her in a fraction of second, the sudden violence making her cry out in surprise. Looking down, she realized that she was now standing bare-chested within the arms of the man whom she had sworn undying hatred towards.
She groaned inward, cursing herself for not taking the time to at least put a bra on before putting her clothes on last night. She had been in such a hurry to get any type of barrier between her bare flesh and Ash that she had rushed into her clothes before she was even half-dried from her bath. Now the loss of her tank top had her bare breasts pushed up against Ash, the soft mounds within hands’ reach.
She looked up, seeing Ash’s eyes drinking in the sight of her body, a slight smile curling up the sides of his mouth. Seeing that slight smirk, the total enjoyment he was having at her expense sent her over the edge. She hissed through clenched teeth, pushing against Ash in an attempt to free herself.
Her struggles caused the soft mounds of her breasts to jiggle irresistibly, the feel of her body squirming against his and the scent of her skin and blood had Ash about to explode inside his jeans. He was hungry and the attraction he had always felt towards Altania was almost more than he could bear with her naked body locked tightly in his arms.
Ash let his breath out in a low, whistling hiss, the predator in him taking over for a mere breath of a second as he suddenly picked Altania up and turned around, sitting her atop the vanity that had been at his back. He grabbed her hips and pulled her hard against him, one leg on either side of his waist, her pubic mound grinding into his as he leaned in towards her. He held the lower half of her body captive with his left hand and arm as his right hand wrenched her head to the side.
Ash was breathing hard, something that vampires only did when they were on the brink of losing control of their base urges. Somehow Alty knew this, could feel his body coiled as if ready to strike, a slight tremor in the muscles that rippled beneath her hands. She had stopped struggling, her hands on his shoulders doing little more than keeping her from collapsing into his arms. Her legs had wrapped themselves around his waist at some point, her body on fire, every fiber in her being now trembling at his touch.
“Ash,” his name was breathless on her lips, barely audible; her mind was trying desperately to remind her body that he was not only the enemy, but a predator that could easily rip her apart. Right this second, however, she was less fearful of his fangs and more concerned about the man whose organ was barely contained within the confines of the material of his jeans. And if she was truly honest with herself, she half hoped he would take what he wanted, what she wanted to give, and was too angry to admit.
“Altania,” his voice was rough, throaty as he tried to speak, his cheek pressed against hers as he whispered in her ear. “I’m not going to tell you again to be very, very still. I’m hungry, in more ways than one, and if you do not stop acting like a late breakfast then I cannot be held accountable for my actions. There is only so much I can handle with you.” He pulled back, those black eyes desperate in his need as he added, “And to be honest, Alty, I’m less interested in the blood right now and much, much more interested in you.”
She didn’t speak, afraid that all it would take for him, and for her, to claim what he so frantically wanted was just one word of encouragement. Altania became very still, allowing her body to rest against his. Her breath was still labored, her heart beat becoming less like the erratic tattoo of fear and a deeper, more rapid beat of one in the heat of passion.
Altania allowed herself these few moments to revel in the feel of her naked flesh against the rough texture of his shirt, the rigid muscles rippling beneath.