“It’s been a long time, Melody.” He was giving her that look. The one that used to have her tearing her clothes off in seconds.
“Don’t call me that and don’t look at me that way.” She took a step closer to him only because she needed to get control of this situation. It was imperative that she prove she could handle being in this space with him at this moment. “You made me lose him. You, of all people, know that time is money.”
“What’s the bounty?” His calm demeanor still infuriated her. They’d just killed seven vampires and who knows how many more downstairs and he was standing there talking like they’d just met up by chance on the street.
She had no idea why he was here, nor did she care. He obviously had his job and she had hers. More importantly, at this moment, she had to get a grip, to still that incessant churning in the pit of her stomach that hadn’t stopped since the last time she’d seen him. “I knew my target was here and then you barged in and I lost him.”
“How much, Mel? What’s the price for you to bring him in?” He wasn’t asking for a name or what the vampire had done that caused someone to put a bounty on his head. Why did his persistence come off in such a cooler, more focused way than hers? That had always been a question that plagued and irritated her to no end.
From the day she’d started with the Collectors and later had been paired with Aiken as her trainer, she’d noticed their differences. No matter how many times he’d tried to tell her they were the same because of the type of beast that loomed inside of them.
“One million.” Stalling was pointless and would only prolong how much time she’d need to spend in his company. And lying to him had never been an option.
Mel saw the moment realization hit the russet brown tone of his eyes. The orange that formed a striped pattern when his beast was on full alert had slipped away after the other Drakon left. He’d wanted to look at her with his human eyes, the way he often did. She couldn’t allow herself to be affected by any of this because none of it mattered anymore.
“Look, I’ve got to get out there and track him again. This client wants a fast turnaround.” It took a moment before she could convince her feet and legs it was time for them to move.
He stepped in her path as soon as she did. Like a part of her knew he would.
She sighed. “Three days.”
“You have to find a vampire in three days to claim a million-dollar bounty. It has to be a Lord and since you’re here tonight, I’m guessing it’s the same one we’re looking for.”
“If you get out of my way, I’ll find him again.” And maybe, just maybe, she’d be able to convince her human self that what the beast inside her wanted was still inconsequential. She didn’t have to give in, she couldn’t give in. Losing herself was not an option.
“I know you’ll find him, but the next time we’ll be with you. Come on, we’re going to the Office.” He turned away from her, walking in that confident and sexy as hell way he always did. It never occurred to him that she wouldn’t follow or wouldn’t go along with whatever he was planning. That’s because he didn’t know how much she’d changed in eighty years.
A gust of cold air slapped her in the face the moment she stepped outside. January in Burgess definitely packed an arctic blast. She pulled the lapels of her jacket close around her at the same time Aiken looked over his shoulder.
“Still fighting it,” he said with a shake of his head.
She didn’t respond, didn’t want to entertain the conversation they’d had too many times to count. Instead, when they came to the bottom of the steps leading away from the house, Aiden turned in one direction to head to his truck and she kept straight, going across the street to where she’d parked her nondescript company-issued car. Before she could run her fingerprint over the computerized lock strip on the door, Aiken was by her side.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m getting in my car and going to find my target.”
They were in a standoff, like so many times before. Only this time, the seven-inch difference in their height seemed bigger as his six-foot-one-inch frame loomed over her. The heat radiating from his body engulfed her, taking away the chill she hadn’t allowed her beast to assuage.
“We’re after the same guy. Even if you get to him first, we’ll be on your tail, because what we need from with him.” In another time and place everything about this moment would’ve turned her on. That’s the way it’d been between them. The heat she denied herself from her beast was replaced by Aiken’s burning desire for her. A desire that fueled her, pushing her to meet him equally on every level—especially sex.
Mel didn’t want to think about why that was now. She didn’t give a damn about Drakon folklore or pre-destined connections. All she wanted to do was complete this job and collect her fee. Money was her life source now, not Aiken.
“He’s mine. I tracked him once and I’ll track him again. You don’t even know who you’re looking for.”
“You’re right. We don’t know his name, but we know he’s a danger to this realm and possibly all the other realms as well. We know that if we don’t stop him, all the money in the world won’t mean a damn thing.”
“Damn, you’ve gotten pretty melodramatic over the years.” That was the best retort she could manage, considering he’d almost had her ready to ask exactly what he was talking about. But that didn’t matter. Collectors didn’t need those types of details. All she needed to know was that there was a price on his head.
He moved closer, until every breath she took was full of him. She turned her head away as the familiar aroma tickled her nostrils and filtered through her body like a drug she’d been rehabilitated from. Every part of her trembled and it took her a second—more like thirty to forty seconds—until she was strong enough to stare him straight in the eye once more.
“And you’ve grown more reckless. Come with me and I’ll make sure you get your payment. Insist on going at this alone and you’ll lose. You know I play to win, always.” He never lied. Not once in the two years they’d been together had Aiken ever lied to her, about anything. As far as relationships go that might have been considered a terrific feat. In the track record of Mel’s life, it was a miracle.
“This is my livelihood, Aiken. I need this. You don’t.”
He moved and she watched in what felt like a trance as his fingers touched her hair.
“Trust me, Melody. We all need this vampire caught and dealt with as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t ask you to change your hunting plans if that weren’t true.”
The plan was the road map, it was the carefully considered steps that would lead to the payday. That’s what Aiken taught her the first day she started working as a Collector. Any deviation from the plan could delay the payday and give a competitor the advantage, unless the deviation terminated the target as it had on their last hunt together.
“I know what you’re thinking.” His fingers moved easily from her hair to brush along her chin. “Just like that night, this deviation is necessary. It’ll save millions of lives. Trust me.”
Aiken was right about her attempting to leave, he would track her the same way she planned to track her target and if she wasn’t cooperating with him, he’d probably take the target and she’d never get paid. What harm could it do just to go with him? To see what his plan was? As long as she got her money in the end, that was all that mattered. She could walk away from him again, just like she had eighty years ago. She could and she would, there was no doubt about that in her mind.
“Fine. But I’m driving my car.” She swatted his hand away from her face and touched her thumb to the lock, listening for the second it disengaged, and she could open the door.
The sound of his laughter set off a pulse of desire that swirled through her body like a storm. Damn, she hated him and this stupid attraction between them that wouldn’t die.
“Of course, you’re driving your car. Always obstinate, but still sexy as hell in the process. That’s my Mel.”
He walked away before she could correct him, so she yanked the car door shut instead. She wasn’t his “Mel.” Not anymore. And when she pulled off to follow the black truck he’d gotten into, she reminded herself again that her heart wasn’t breaking because of that fact.
(C) A.C. Arthur, Carina Press, 2020. Shared with permission from the publisher.
Aiken and Mel never thought they would see each other again.
Fate, and a brewing war with a vampire army, had other plans.
After the love of his life walked away, powerful half-human, half-dragon Aiken French isn’t about to risk his emotions on a woman ever again. It doesn’t matter that his Drakon beast wholeheartedly disagrees, or that his powers of telekinesis are suffering as a result. He can’t live through that kind of heartbreak again. But with a long-buried vampire stirring, he might not have a choice.
Bounty hunter Mel Kane never wanted a preordained future—she will be in control of her life, not some Drakon beast who supposedly selects her mate for her. She had to leave, even if it just about killed her. But if she’s going to decide her own future, she’ll need to stay alive long enough to see it, which means trusting Aiken with her life, even though she couldn’t trust him with her heart.
With war on the horizon, Aiken and Mel must track down the rogue vampire behind it all. Temptation leads them back into each other’s arms, but even fate isn’t a sure thing when faced with a legion of the undead determined to kill them all.
Book 1: Awaken the Dragon
Book 2: Claim the Dragon
Book 3: Tempt the Dragon
Fantasy Urban | Fiction | Romance Paranormal [Carina Press, On Sale: January 11, 2021, e-Book, / eISBN: 9781488058875]
Not your ordinary romance
A.C. Arthur was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland where she currently lives with her husband and three children. An active imagination and a love for reading encouraged her to begin writing in high school and she hasn’t stopped since. Her debut novel Object of His Desire was written when a picture of an Italian villa sparked the idea of an African-American/Italian hero. Determined to bring a new edge to romance, she continues to develop intriguing plots, sensual love scenes, racy characters, and fresh dialogue--thus keeping the readers on their toes!
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