Susan Sizemore

Excerpt


I Thirst for You

by

Susan Sizemore

(From Pocket - June 2004)

Chapter One

Two things pain can do for you: sharpen you up, dull you down. It never does anything for your mood. He’d been in pain for over a week now, and the crystal clarity he’d run on was dulling down to shards of scoured glass. He’d been running on adrenaline, when he needed blood. That was going to have to change – soon -- if he was going to survive. Blood was survival. If he survived long enough out in the desert he was free he could start thinking about revenge. He yearned to think about what he’d do to those who’d imprisoned him, but letting those thoughts surface could easily lead to hallucinations, a sure way to get himself caught again.

"Not going to happen," he growled, the low whisper a rumble of thunder in the desert night. Right now the name of the game was survival, and survival meant paring himself down to pure animal instinct. Blood. That was the only order of business.

He crouched on the ground where scorpions scurried to get out of his way, rested his hands on the thick base of a Saguaro cactus, and concentrated on finding blood. Animal blood wouldn’t do; it had to be human. Preferably female.

He could hear the soft breathing of doves nesting in the cactus. Bats fluttered and flitted overhead, and he could hear their sonar squeaks piercing the air. Hearts beat all around him, so many small living things going about their nocturnal business. He was surrounded by life, but had never been so alone.

He concentrated, blocked out everything else, and searched for the one heartbeat that had to be out there. Had to be waiting for him. When the need was the greatest, that was when you found The One. Wasn’t that how the old myth went?

Eventually his head came up, turned, nostrils flaring.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered.

A slow smile creased his pain-ravaged features. He rose, gave a quick look up at the full moon, and whispered an ancient word of thanks. Then he turned south and ran, spending all his remaining energy in a burst of desperate speed.

##

The stars were huge overhead, and the moon rode high in the sky. Stevie Nicks’ voice was in her ears, singing about sorcerers and sapphires. Maybe she should have been enjoying the deep silence of the desert night, but she preferred the music coming through the headphones of her Discman as she lay on a sleeping bag outside her tent and drank in the vast emptiness.

She’d always liked being alone, but since the plane crash and the head injury, she craved privacy more than ever. She’d been called brave and heroic, and she hated that. She’d been the pilot, and she survived – which seemed so wrong to her. The admiration made her cringe, so did the sympathy. She hoped the solitude would be healing.

She’d always absorbed other people’s emotions too easily, and it was worse now, since her head had been smashed open when the plane hit the ground. The physical trauma had healed, but her mind was still open. Things poured into it, thoughts and emotions, things that had nothing to do with her. She used to be able to control it most of the time. "Empath" a witchy friend had called her once, A Sensitive.

Once it had been kind of fun to have this psychic ability; now it made her a fugitive. Now the need be alone was the reason she’d camped out in the national forest south of Tucson. Here, she had some peace from joys and pain and hungers that didn’t belong to her.

Right now she concentrated on the music to get away from the pain that did belong to her. Four people had died in the plane crash. Four others had lived besides her, but lives saved didn’t make up for the guilt of lives lost. No one called it pilot error. It had been a freak storm. Wind shear. Lightning. An Act of God. But she should have—

Something. There must have been something she could have done.

Try not to think about it. Try to move on. She’d heard those words so many times. But where did you move on to when by all rights you should be dead?

Maybe she was dead and hell was having to hide away from the rest of the human race to keep from—

Hell? You don’t know anything about hell.

The thought raced out of the night, straight into her heart. The thought wasn’t hers. She didn’t have a voice like an avalanche with a New York accent.

Then hunger shot through her, hunger like she had never known. Hunger that was a burning pain that set her writhing on the ground and clawing feverishly at the earth. Then hunger absorbed her, nauseated her, leaving her twisted up in a sweating, cringing ball when the pain withdrew.

Gradually she realized that the pain was not hers…but it was coming for her.

In that instant she realized she did not want to die. In that way, the rising fear was a gift.

Terror pumped adrenaline through her, bringing her to her feet, and she turned to run from the unknown danger.

And found that she had turned toward the very thing she feared, as he came rushing at her like a runaway freight train out of the night.

She caught a quick glimpse in the bright moonlight of a big man, densely muscled. At least, he was shaped like a man. But his eyes belonged to a hungry, hunting beast. Fire burned in those eyes, the deep red of glowing coals, and the anguish in them was terrifying.

##

The woman’s fear speared him, but he kept on coming. He had no choice: He was hunter, she was prey. He felt her pain when she pivoted and twisted her ankle trying to escape him. She ran despite the sprain, instinct made him follow.

After being pursued so long, being the pursuer brought him pinpricks of pride, and pleasure. He almost remembered what it felt like to be Prime.

It was a short chase. He followed the pounding of her heart and quick, sobbing breaths a few yards, then grasped her around the waist and brought her to the ground. They landed in the spiky shoots of a yucca, but he pulled her out before any cactus spines penetrated her skin. Her blood belonged to him. Every drop and how he took it was under his control.

Another time he might enjoy subduing her struggles, but he didn’t have time to waste with love play now. He was growing weaker.

He ripped off her loose-fitting shirt while she wriggled and scratched at him. He was aware of her surprise when he didn’t go for her bra or try to rip off her pants. He stroked a thumb down her long, lean throat, feeling her blood like blue heat beneath satin skin, loving the strong, fast pulse. His fangs were out already, had been hard in his mouth for days.

He pushed her down and fell on top of her. Her scream punctured remained of the remaining shielding that protected his mind, and her fear penetrated him like a stake. Shock sent him into her mind. He found psychic injury, a torn-open place that left her nearly helpless all the time.

He pulled out quickly, unwilling to take more from her mind than he must, but at least now he could ease this for her. There would be a give as well as take. He drilled a thought into her head, and made sure she understood.

Then he forgot about everything but need. He kissed the side of her throat once, because he could not bear to make this intimate act completely impersonal. Then he sank his fangs into her. His need was so desperate, he couldn’t make the bleeding a slow, sensual sipping. What he did brought her to powerful orgasm within a moment.

It brought him life, and he drank and drank and drank.

Chapter Two

Jo Elliot woke up not sure what had happened, but knowing it was not a bad dream. It was real, as real as the crash, and just as life-changing. Her mind didn’t want to dwell on memory, but her body was keenly aware of it. It?

For a while she was barely conscious, but gradually she recognized the cooing of doves, a sound she’d always loved. Then the buzz of an airplane engine in the distance. She recognized the make of the motor.

Very nearby she heard the sound of breathing -- not just her own, but someone else, whose breaths were unnaturally slow and deep.

There was weight on her, hot and heavy against her thighs and hips and across her chest. She didn’t want to open her eyes, she didn’t really want to see what held her down. Skin pressed to hers, sweat to sweat. His face was next to hers, it was his breath that sounded in her ear.

He had come out of the night, and he had…

She didn’t know what he had done. Whatever it was, she felt weak. Used. Her bones were melted, and her brain was fried. She felt hung over and hard ridden, but—

She had no memory of rape. No memory of pain, yet something had happened. He’d done it. And she knew he wanted more.

She didn’t want the new day to begin, because a totally new reality waited for her. Because, he wasn’t going to let her go.

"That’s right," Marcus Cage said. He lifted his mind from her surface thoughts, and his head from her shoulder. He looked at her, knowing she deliberately kept her eyes closed, not wanting to see what the monster looked like. Thanks to last night’s feasting his fangs were now under control and safely sheathed once more. He looked like a man, and felt like hell.

It was a few minutes after dawn. He wanted to get out of the growing light soon, but he took a few moments to study his captive. She had short blond hair and fine-boned features, with a short, sharp nose, high cheekbones and a stubborn, square chin. She was on the skinny side, with breasts smaller than he liked, but he admired her long, slender neck. Marc was definitely a neck man.

He shook his head. He didn’t have time to sentimentally memorize his beloved’s features. Now that he had her blood in him, he could find her at the bottom of a pitch black mine shaft during a total eclipse. He didn’t have time to waste on anything, not even on letting her get used to the idea of his being there.

He took her by the shoulders and gently shook her. "Look at me," he ordered. "Get used to me. I’m not going away."

Her captor’s deep, rumbling voice penetrated Jo’s mind, and his touch sent a bolt of electricity through her. Suddenly almost as angry as she was afraid, and her eyes flew open.

"Get off me!"

"Fine."

He got up, and pulled her to her feet after him. Standing, Jo had to keep looking up to look him in the eyes. He was very big, with a hard muscled body. He’d obviously spent a lot of time pumping iron. In a prison exercise yard, was her guess. His body was magnificent, but a heavy jaw and large nose spoiled any chance of his ever being called handsome. He looked like a thug, but there was something about his full-lipped sensual mouth and the expression in his dark brown eyes that belied the initial impression of his being a monster.

A beast that thinks, she thought; a beast that feels.

"That still makes me a beast," he said.

A beast that reads minds?

She started to scream, but his huge hand was across her mouth before any sound came out. His other arm was around her, holding her to his chest. She was aware of the sharp male tang of his sweat, and the heat coming off of him in almost visible waves. It was barely past dawn, yet his slightly olive skin was already starting to burn.

She could almost, not quite, feel his pain. It wasn’t anything like last night. He had himself under control now, but it was like a wild animal straining on a leash. It could get loose again. She became very still, afraid of provoking that animal.

"I’m going to let you go," he said. "And you’re not going to run."

He wasn’t asking, he wasn’t threatening, it was a statement of fact. Jo didn’t even bother with nodding agreement. When he stepped back she stayed put, and was oddly aware of his absence.

She was trying not to think about his reading her mind. Marc almost chuckled, but knew that a normal person running into the paranormal coped with the weirdness any way they could. He’d be sympathetic if he had the time, and if this woman was a normal mortal. She was probably one of those psychics who pretended they weren’t different. Those kind of virgins were fun to court under normal circumstances, but right now there was no time for anything cute or coy.

"You belong to me," he gave her the flat-out truth. "What’s your name?"

He looked around, to see if anything among all of her camping gear would be useful. The light hurt him -- but he needed to feed again as soon as she could take it, so they had to get to somewhere sheltered quickly.

"Do you have a gun?" he asked. "A knife? Do you know what could happen to a woman alone out here?"

"Jo. Yes. No. You," she answered his questions in the order he’d asked.

"Where’s the gun?" She pointed toward the bright blue Jeep Cherokee Sport parked beyond the small tent. "Pack up," he said as he headed toward the Jeep.

"What do you mean, pack up?" she called after him.

He turned to face her outrage. "It’s your stuff," he told her. "I don’t know what to do with it." He couldn’t help but smile at her.

"Or do you expect me to be a gentleman and do all the heavy lifting?"

"I expect you to steal my car and go," she said. "Just – leave. Okay?"

She looked really pretty when she was angry as hell, with the sun shining in her golden hair. He also liked that she was standing up to him. It was too bad he couldn’t do what she wanted.

He came back to her and held out his hand. "Forgot the keys."

She fished them out of her pants pocket and slapped them in his palm. "Go."

"Pack up," he repeated.

He found a 9mm Beretta in the storage compartment between the front seats. He came back to where she was folding up the tent, and showed her he had the weapon in his belt. "You probably think that if you’d had this with you last night it would have done you some good," he told her. "It wouldn’t have."

Jo pretended to ignore him as she finished with her gear, but she was all too aware of him. She could feel the intensity of his dark eyes on her as she moved, and knew she wasn’t imagining it.

When she bent to roll up the sleeping bag, she saw a couple of white buttons lying on it and she realized that her shirt was hanging open. A vague memory stirred, though with no clarity. There were a few brownish specks on the bag as well, where her head had been not so long ago. Drops of dried blood? Jo put a hand to her throat. Her neck was aching -- because she’d slept on it funny, right?

Even as she made this logical excuse she turned on her captor. "You bit me!"

He answered with the faintest of gestures with a hand that moved far too gracefully for someone of his size. "Hurry up," was all he said. "Forget the tent."

"What?"

"Do it."

Jo knelt beside her clothing duffel and quickly shrugged off the ruined shirt, and pulled a Hysteria tour tee-shirt over her head. The screaming face on the black background certainly suited the situation. There was no way she was going to change anything more than her shirt in front of this man. She was grungy and sweaty and—

"You’re not the only one who needs a shower. Come on."

"Stop that!" she snapped. He’s not really reading my mind. He’s just reading body language, making obvious guesses. "And give me a hand if you’re in such a hurry," she added.

He sauntered away from the Jeep, and took the sleeping bag in one hand. Jo kept the duffel. When he moved to the back of the Jeep, she fished the spare keys out of the duffel’s side pocket and sprinted for the driver’s side door.

"Cute," was his comment when he appeared in front of her and snatched the keys from her hand.

Her momentum caused her to run hard into his big, broad body. It was like hitting a wall. She bounced back and landed flat on her butt on the rocky ground. She could read no expression on his face as he loomed above her for long, menacing seconds, but her own terror brought up images of his brutalizing her for daring to attempt escape. The unnatural speed with which he’d intercepted her added to her fear.

She flinched and tried to scramble away when he reached down. He picked her up and hauled her over his shoulder as if she was light as meringue. The ease with which he handled her was as shocking as his speed. Okay, he was a big guy and she’d lost weight after the crash, but she wasn’t a feather.

He carried her to the Jeep and put her in the passenger seat. "Fasten your seatbelt," he told her as he closed the door.

"It’s going to be a bumpy night," he heard her mutter the line from an old movie as he went around to the driver’s side.

Marc might have laughed, but he was too strung out to let any emotion through. Even with the blood he’d taken from her last night, he was still on the edge of being feral. Flight triggered pursuit. Although the ancient instinct was the first thing a young male was taught to suppress, the instinct never went away. If he’d let himself react when she ran he might have bled her dry this time. He was still fighting hard against the need to drag her beneath him and take her, blood or no blood. Catching her meant he’d won, and winning was an aphrodisiac.

He gave his head a hard shake. He had no time for this! He got in the Jeep and slammed the door, grateful for the small shade the interior provided. He hoped the Cherokee came equipped with air conditioning.

Now, where to go? Having the SUV and the woman gave him a chance, but only a small one. They weren’t going to stop coming for him -- Gavin wasn’t the kind who ever stopped.

He’d heard a plane in the sky around dawn, but they hadn’t spotted him then. Luck couldn’t be counted on to last, since he was too weak to get very far yet, He badly needed a place to sleep, to eat, and to get the drugs out of his system; a place to lay low and recoup. But where?

He couldn’t head home; that would not put his Family stronghold in jeopardy.

Maybe there was a map in the duffel on her lap. Marcus reached across the seat and had to tug it away from her, because she was holding it in a death grip. Her nerves were as tightly strung as his, and he knew she was too afraid to be aware of what sang between them. He wished he could stuff the awareness down a hole in his conscience.

He undid all the many zippered compartments of the bag and combed through it. Since she’d had a spare set of car keys, there might be a spare weapon in the bag as well. He found only a few items of clothing, some cash, a Discman, a CD case, and her driver’s license.

"Josephine Elliot," he read. She lived in Phoenix. She was twenty-seven and was five foot five inches tall. She certainly didn’t match the weight listed on the license.

He flipped through the CD case and was disgusted with the music selection. Chick stuff like Alicia Keys and Jennifer Lopez.

He looked at her chest. "I’d thought you’d have better taste, Josephine."

Jo realized he was talking about the rock band logo on her shirt.

"This was a present. Leave my stuff alone."

"I like road music. You have any rap? Hip hop? And what are you doing with a cop gun like a Beretta?"

"It was a present," she said again.

"Your dad a cop?"

"Mother." She didn’t know why she was telling him these personal things.

"And my sister."

Her dad was a pilot, as was her brother. She’d always wanted to fly. She’d flown, and then she’d fallen, and now here she was with a monster. No one expected her home for at least a week, and no one knew exactly where she was going. She didn’t even have her cell phone with her. Stupid, stupid, stupid. What had she been thinking?

She hadn’t been. She’d been hurting. She’d let the hurt take over her life, and look where it had gotten her.

Her only awareness was of this man; she was attuned to him in a way she’d never experienced before. She supposed this hyper-awareness was some sort of survival instinct.

Marc found a pair of wire rimmed sunglasses on the visor. They didn’t fit him very well, but at least they blocked the blistering desert light.

He also found a bottle of fancy ‘sports’ water in Josephine’s bag. He’d drank deeply from the woman the night before, but he was still dehydrated, along with all his other problems.

He drank half the water, then tossed the bottle to Josephine. "You need liquids," he told her. "And plenty of sleep."

She unscrewed the lid and gulped down the other half the bottle. Then she eyed him nervously. "Now what?"

"Sleep, Josephine." He used his dwindling reserves of energy to make the command a telepathic one that she couldn’t help but obey.

Then Marc finally started the Jeep and drove back along the track she’d made to her campsite. Eventually he’d find a road. He’d decide which way to go when he got there.

Chapter Three

Jo lifted her head from the pillow and sniffed. "What’s that?"

She knew what the aroma wafting through the small motel room was, but normally her stomach wouldn’t have rumbled or her mouth begun to water as she caught a whiff of cooked meat.

Her captor closed the door and crossed the few steps to the bed where he’d left her tied to the metal frame.

She had vague memories of the day, very vague. She’d dozed a lot, and he’d run the air conditioning too high. There must have been a stop for gas. She’d heard his deep voice asking questions, though she had no recollection of anyone answering, no memory of any stranger’s emotions intruding on her.

She’d lifted her head while they were stopped, intending to call for help. But he’d been beside her instantly. He held a bottle of cold water to her lips, and she drank greedily. And there’d been candy bars. She remembered salty peanuts and chocolate that she’d devoured with greedy lust at his urging, as though it was the best food in the world. His voice was like chocolate, dark bittersweet whispering in her ear, or maybe inside her head, urging her to take care of herself while somehow making it sound like sin.

Now the aroma of greasy meat brought her fully back to consciousness. Even though she couldn’t quite sit up, she looked around and found that she had some memory of being guided into this room by a hand on her arm.

It was a small, square cell of a place. The walls were a dull gray, the furniture sparse and shabby, and the double bed sagged in the middle. An air conditioner covered the room’s only window. There was a door that led to a bathroom, and the door to the outside. She had a feeling he was always going to be between her and the door to freedom.

"That’s right," he said, and put two brown paper bags on the bedside table. He switched on the lamp, which gave more of a fitful glow than any real illumination, then squatted beside the bed and untied her.

He’d used strips from her shirt to restrain her. "I don’t have that many clothes with me," she complained.

"This one was already ruined," he reminded her.

"I could have replaced the buttons."

It was silly to complain about something so unimportant as a piece of clothing, but it was easier than thinking about why the shirt had been destroyed. A shudder of fear went through her. She wanted to ask how long he was going to hold her prisoner, why he was keeping her, what he was going to do.

She asked, "What’s in the bags?"

"Hamburgers." He pulled the only chair over by the small table. It creaked when he sat on it. He took one of them out of the bag and handed it to her.

The wrapped bundle was warm and heavy in her hand. The fragrance made her mouth water. The look she turned on him was accusatory. "I’m a vegetarian."

"Not anymore."

She wanted to refuse to eat, but why be a hypocrite? She wanted it. She wolfed it down in three large bites, then licked mustard and ketchup off her lips. She held out her hand, and he put a second burger into it. She didn’t make such a quick job of this one, but settled back against the headboard with the thin pillows at her back and her legs folded beneath her, and savored. He handed her a small carton of orange juice, and that was delicious too.

Marc settled his big frame as comfortably as he could on the wooden chair and watched Josephine. The food he’d brought her wasn’t anything fancy, yet she took absolute, sensual pleasure out of it. She took these moments to forget he was there, to forget her fear and simply enjoy what she had.

She was living in the moment, and that was a good thing. She hadn’t been doing that when he’d found her. She’d been living in the past, and in pain

.

He ate two of the burgers he’d brought, but they only satisfied a small part of his need. He was hungry for her, but it wouldn’t be safe for her if he indulged that hunger so soon after last night. The mark he’d left on her throat hadn’t healed yet, a sure sign he’d taken too much too quickly.

It still amazed him that she’d been there for him. All her psychic senses had been wide open, waiting -- calling. Though this mortal woman didn’t know the psychic connection her soul craved, he recognized his future mate even maddened by thirst.

He’d never believed in fate and legends, or even the ancient moon goddess the Families revered, but old Selene had come through for him in his darkest hour. Now it was up to him to make the most of the miracle, and protect what the goddess had given him. As much as he could. His own freedom had to come first.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, gently probing the edges of her mind.

"Where are we?" she asked him.

He sensed that she was still hungry and passed her a third hamburger.

"There’s milk." She held out a hand and he twisted off the cap of the plastic bottle before handing it to her.

"You haven’t answered me," Josephine said after she drained the milk.

"Eat," he suggested.

"We’re in a motel." She looked around, with more care than when he’d come in. "How? Where?"

"There’s no phone. No one knows you’re here."

He’d paid cash for two nights, and had been as hypnotically persuasive with the run-down motel’s owner as the drugs in him and his weakness allowed, telling the old man to forget about him, to ignore the man in room two. He’d been equally persuasive with the counter man at the greasy spoon across the dusty road that ran through this tiny excuse for a town.

She brought an annoyed gaze back to him. "What’s your name?"

"Cage," he answered.

He got a skeptically raised eyebrow at this. He knew it sounded dramatic, but vampire culture was like that.

"Really. Marc Cage."

Marcus Cage of Family Caeg to be formal about it. Someday the knowledge might mean something to her, but this was no time to consider possible futures. Live in the moment. Always live in the moment when in trouble, concentrate on getting out.

She wished she hadn’t asked, didn’t know why she had. Putting a name to the brute humanized him somewhat. Which might not be a smart move. She didn’t want to think of Cage as a person. He was her kidnapper. She had to keep emotional distance. She didn’t want to worry about what he was feeling and thinking, other than how it applied to her survival.

There were some basic things she needed to know: Are you going to kill me? Are you going to rape me?

"What now?" she asked.

"You want more to eat?" When she shook her head he got up and said, "Come on."

He took her arm again once she was on her feet. She hoped they were going outside; maybe she’d get a chance to shout for help. Instead he took her to the bathroom.

"Ladies first," he said, and pushed her before him into the room.

Jo looked at the toilet, then back to where he stood blocking the doorway. "I don’t use that with anyone watching."

"I won’t watch." He turned his back to her. "I’ll even close my eyes."

"You could wait outside."

He didn’t answer, just stood there filling the narrow doorway like a statue carved out of dark marble. After a few moments she gave in to the call of nature. While she did, he stripped off his clothes. She tried not to look, but by the time she was done, her view was of his naked backside.

Every muscle was beautifully sculpted, and Michelangelo could have signed the work. His skin was as smooth as marble, perfectly proportioned from wide shoulders to narrow waist and down to the curve of his ass and hard muscled thighs and calves. He had no scars, she noted. There was not a mole or freckle on him.

"Done?" he asked.

"Yes." She stood and backed into the farthest corner of the small bathroom.

"I’m turning around now," he told her.

She gasped.

He chuckled. "Don’t stare. It’s rude."

When he moved, she closed her eyes. This was no protection, of course. Pretending this juggernaut of a man wasn’t there was stupid. He was standing next to her in only a couple of steps. She was aware of his presence like a shadow passing across the sun. Only instead of cooler, she grew warm.

His hands touched her hips, then skimmed up her waist. She pressed herself back against the wall; wedged between the sink and toilet. There was nowhere for her to go, and his hands were on her. Her head spun, and her body went heavy and hot in a way that was totally unexpected and unwanted. It took her a moment to realize that he’d taken her shirt off, and that she’d lifted her arms to help him do it. What was the matter with her?

Marc wasn’t surprised when Josephine’s eyes flew open, and the dreamy expression that briefly crossed her face disappeared in a burst of panic. Her reaction shook him enough to make him remember the reason they were in the room. He stepped back and turned to the shower. "You want to go first?" he asked, and turned on the water.

Jo abandoned modesty as soon as water began spraying out of the shower head. She took off the rest of her clothes and squeezed past the naked man into the stall. He passed her a sliver of soap and closed the thin plastic curtain. She made the most of this sudden privacy to quickly wash off days’ worth of grime. She worked the soap into a pitiful lather, scrubbed at her hair and skin. It was surprising how quickly basic things like food and cleanliness came to feel like the ultimate in luxury.

"Save some for me," she heard Cage say.

"No," she called back over the sound of the water.

"Then we’ll have to share."

She knew it was a mistake to even try to tease this man when the shower curtain was shoved aside a moment later.

Marc slid his big body into the small space. Cramped as it was, he almost felt like he’d died and gone to heaven as water washed over him, and the scent of Josephine’s skin, warm from the water, sleek and slippery with soap was crushed against his chest and thighs. He grew hard instantly. His erection pressed against her. He put his arms around her, having to move slowly and carefully in the confined space. He stood for a long time, holding her, letting the water work on tired muscles, waiting, hoping she would relax.

After a while he began to touch her. He had to move very slowly in the tight space, but that made him gentle. The gentleness helped her. He needed her to get used to his touch. He wanted her craving it, and perhaps that would come in time. If they were to bond it was necessary for desire to grow between them.

He glided his hands up and down her back, over her lovely rounded buttocks, over her hips and up her waist. He sleeked his hands down her thighs, then came up to rub his fingers through her hair, massaging her scalp.

Her head moved against his hands, and the small sound she made was one of pleasure at last. The fear was still inside her, quivering in her belly, beating in her heart, roaring in her head, but her skin enjoyed his touch.

Her head fell back, her face full in the stream of water. He kissed her then, his mouth covering hers as the water beat against his back. He was all too aware of her breasts pressed against his chest, of her taste, of the clean scent of her skin She opened her lips for him. She stayed still in his embrace, but a fear-driven spike of adrenaline shot through her. She wasn’t ready for this.

Besides, more than her body, he still needed her blood, and couldn’t spare giving her his. She wasn’t ready for that yet, either.

This was no time for him to think about a bonding courtship.

He lifted his head and turned off the water. "Time for bed," he told her. He snatched thin white towels from the shelf over the toilet, and handed her a couple.

Jo shook as she dried herself off. She was so weak she could barely stand, so confused she couldn’t think, so aroused she could hardly bare the shame. Her head was spinning, and she couldn’t feel what he was feeling. Maybe because she was feeling too much herself? Maybe because he could shut himself off from her? She should be glad of that, yet it made her lonely. She was used to reading emotions. This time she made herself do it the hard way, and looked at him.

At least her captor didn’t look angry. What she saw was a man weary to the point of collapse. Her heart went out to him, though sympathy for the devil was stupid.

It made her even more confused when the devil picked her up and carried her to the bed cradled in his arms like a baby. She couldn’t manage to protest, not even when he turned off the dim light and lay down beside her. The sagging mattress made sure that they rolled together.

For a long time she was acutely aware of her back pressed to his front, the animal warmth they shared, his arm across her body, holding her prisoner yet somehow comforting. She was aware when his breathing shifted from wakefulness to sleep. She counted those slow breaths like another person might count sheep, and eventually she drifted off, too.

Chapter Four

Doors. Where had all the doors come from? Endless corridor of doors. Each one locked, with little barred windows. People could look in, but no one could get out. Everything was white. They wanted blood red, but all was white. Cold, frozen white. No fire outside, only on the inside. Burning – pain, fever. Fear? Nofearnofearnofear. Don’t give them fear.

Fear. There was nothing but fear, and the ground and the sky changing places over and over. Twisting. Screaming metal, screaming wind. Screaming inside, silent outside. It would be so easy to scream, impossible to stop. No time to scream. Hands working, eyes working, voice calm. Training. All training. A puppet going through the motions. Trying to live, waiting for death.

Death was part of the plan. Had to be. Cold, calculated, step-by-step torture leading down to the door marked death. Endless nights and days of torture. Needles filled with fire. Needles filled with ice. Fading in and out – pain that came with sleep, pain that came with waking. And hunger. Always the growing hunger leading to weakness, madness, murderous need.

As the needle slid into her arm she looked into the stranger’s face. It was cold, hard; the only expression in the eyes was one of faint curiosity. A merciless man in a merciless place. She was a lab animal laid out on a cold metal slab. Restraints held her down. Her skin was freezing cold. Everything was white, walls, ceiling, floor. Gleaming metal monitoring machines reflected the whiteness. There was a door in the distance, behind the torturer’s head. She had to get to that door, to all the doors beyond that door. She had to get out.

"You’re going to kill me."

Her voice was not her own, but deep and male. Her skin was not her own, but her mind filled the muscular body, and her mind wanted answers. There was no answer. They never talked to her.

Then the reaction to the injection kicked in, and the world turned to fire.

He couldn’t make his hands work. They didn’t look like his hands, they were soft and small, and shaking. There were controls in front of him he didn’t know how to use, even if he could stop the shaking. His gaze riveted on lights flashing ominously red, and data he had no idea how to read. Fear clawed at him, but the guilt was beyond bearing.

He was going to die. Worse, others were going to die because of him. Through the cockpit window he saw the mountain rushing toward him. Rushing, but in slow motion. Everything happened far too fast, and far too slowly at the same time. This made him dizzy. His head began to spin, and the plane began to spin, auguring in toward the ground.

No one to blame but himself.

Falling. Falling.

Marc flinched hard as his soul crashed back into his body. It brought him half out of the bed, and off the woman tucked half-beneath his. He wiped a sweaty hand across his face -- fear sweat, he hated to admit. His heart rate was kicked up a notch, pounding close to human normal as the dream still half-filled his head. He sat up, placing his bare feet on the rough, worn carpet.

He looked at his hands, flexing fingers that were large and competent. In the dream they been numb and useless. He’d been useless.

At least he hadn’t hit the ground. He’d heard somewhere that if you dreamed of falling and hit, you died in your sleep. Of course, it that were true, how would anyone who’d actually finished the fall convey the information back to Urban Legend Central?

These nonsensical thoughts made him smile, almost made him feel normal. It reminded him that there had been a time when he’d been more than a creature pared down to fixation on his continued existence. There’d been a time when Marc Cage wasn’t an abusive jerk.

Nightmare images rushed back, dizzying, devastating, and he realized suddenly that the nightmare was not his.

He turned, suddenly aware that Josephine was caught in a nightmare of her own. He touched her shoulder, discovered muscles stiff as stone. The physical contact brought him awareness of what was going through her subconscious.

The white room. Cold. Fire. The watcher.

She was curled in a frozen ball of pain and fear that didn’t belong to her, any more than his nightmare had belonged to him.

"Josephine." He spoke her name out loud, then in her mind. "Josephine."

The sound was like an alarm sounding far away, beyond the doors, beyond the impassive observer’s face, beyond…

"Come back to me Josephine."

Not a sound. It was a name.

Hers.

She blinked, and the restraints faded. The face faded. The room faded. The pain—

Jo woke with a soundless scream. Her eyes flew open to—

"It was a dream."

The rich, deep voice – was not hers – but she had sounded like that. In the—

"It wasn’t a dream." She turned a glare on Cage. "Those were memories. What the hell happened to you?"

"You had a dream. A bad dream. That’s all."

He put his big hands on her shoulders, and she felt engulfed by them. His presence was overwhelming, and more than just physically. He caught her gaze and held it. There was a lot of power in the depths of those deep, dark eyes. "It was a nightmare." He wanted her to believe it.

The memories of the white room and torture were clean and crisp and horrible, but she went along with his wishes, and nodded. She couldn’t bear to do anything else at the moment.

"You had a dream about a plane crash," he said.

That wasn’t what she’d dreamed at all. Had he dreamed about the crash? Was that possible? It seemed like he could read her mind, and bring her comfort if she’d let him. Maybe it was possible – no. She shook her head.

"You’re a pilot, aren’t you? It happened. That’s what left your psychic senses open and screaming when I found you."

"I wasn’t screaming until after we met."

"I heard you."

She found herself looking at his chest rather than at his face. She would not look into those eyes. She would not let him pull her life out of her. He had no right.

But – what had he been through?

It didn’t matter, she told herself. Beside, it must have been a dream. Psychic senses, her ass. What the hell was he talking about? All right, so the head injury had messed up her head.

"Being around people hurt." She hated that she admitted that much. He was the last person she should be talking to, but he was the only one who seemed to understand.

"Survivor’s guilt," he said. "That’s what made you so vulnerable. It’s not safe to be alone out in that desert. People disappear out there every year and are never heard from again. You weren’t consciously looking for trouble when you found it, but you were waiting. You didn’t have your gun nearby—"

"You said it wouldn’t have done any good."

"With anyone but me it would have." He shook her gently, like reprimanding a child. "There are easier ways of committing suicide, Josephine."

"I don’t want to kill myself!" "But you’re guilty about being alive."

His words stung like ice water in her face. "This is none of your business, Cage."

She was fully awake now, all the dreams and memories put in the back of the mind where they belonged. What she was not was angry, and aware that they were two naked people on a bed, bodies touching, emotions running high.

"Wrong."

That was all he said, one simple, adamant word. A word that unequivocally stated that everything about her was his. Absolutely everything.

"Oh, good lord." Tears sprang to her eyes, and she wasn’t quite sure why. She wasn’t exactly afraid. Something inside her sizzled, but it wasn’t exactly anger.

His arms slipped off her shoulders and came around her. He pulled her close, and just held her. Her head rested on his shoulders, and the tears came. She tasted salt on her lips, and felt the moisture on his skin where her cheek rested against him.

"You shouldn’t cry," his bass voice rumbled in her ear. "You’re already dehydrated."

She lifted her head off his shoulder. "Bite me."

He didn’t take this as the insult it was intended to be. "Later," he told her.

She wondered what time it was, how long they’d been sleeping, how long they’d been awake. The room was dim and cool, like a cave they’d run to to hide from the world, a place to lick their wounds and recover strength There was danger all around. She sensed it from Cage.

She’d never been so aware of anyone in her life – mentally, psychically, physically.

He was being hunted, and she was his ticket to freedom. She had to make herself remember that she meant nothing to him besides his own selfish ends. Her emotions danced like static electricity through all Marc’s senses. His Josephine was a confused whirlwind of feelings. He shouldn’t have comforted her, or confronted her. But she needed both, even if she didn’t want it, even if giving it and drawing her closer to him endangered them both.

Even worse, he’d made claims and staked territory and she knew it without his having to be explicit about it. Stupid Prime instinct. It wasn’t good for a species when the mating drive kept trying to override the need for survival. Or maybe it was the need to bond that overwhelmed every sensible instinct in a psychic species.

He was an idiot. Worse, he was hungry, and his control was slipping. He wasn’t all that noble, or much of a gentleman. Her naked body was pressed close to his, and the feel of her was exciting him more by the moment. It wasn’t only blood he craved. It had been a long time since he’d had a woman. It had been a long time since he’d had any contact that didn’t bring pain and humiliation. There were a lot of bad memories he needed to wipe away. Like any Prime, he needed to establish dominance and control in every possible way.

And it would be so good to share pleasure once more.

He ran a hand down the length of her relaxed spine, appreciating her soft, supple skin. Her head came up off his shoulder and she was suddenly stiff, faintly trembling with a sudden surge of fear.

All right. He knew how to make love. He could make her want him, if he started slowly and gently, and used everything he knew from decades as a sexually active Prime to get her so keyed up she’d beg him to take what he wanted. It would only be a matter of slow, deliberate, delicious coercion, arousing her flesh so thoroughly that it would override any objections her mind could bring up.

Or, he could bite her. When a Prime drew blood from a partner he gave pleasure in exchange. It was a fair price for life-giving sustenance, but she’d already been roughly overwhelmed by that kind of pleasure once; it had nearly been too much for her already bruised mind. So much so that she probably didn’t remember exactly what had happened out in the desert night. If he drank from her now, he was in control enough to give her the time of her life. He could sate her body, satisfy his blood thirst, then have her in as many ways and as many times as he wanted. That kind of sex would make up for a lot of privation.

She was a helpless prisoner and he was totally in control. She couldn’t stop him.

Marc let her go and scrambled to his feet. He turned his back on the woman and rubbed his hands across his face. He knew too well what it felt like to be helpless and at his captor’s mercy. Not that they’d had any.

He was shaking when he turned back to her. She was kneeling on the bed, back arched, hands fisted at her sides, her face turned up to look at him. He couldn’t keep from devouring her with his eyes, and those eyes saw beneath sweet female flesh to the tracery of vital life beneath the skin. He could sense her body heat, smell the mingled scents that made the unique perfume that was her. Combined with all that was the vibrant swirl of her emotions.

He was hard, and shaking with need.

"You have no idea how you look to me, do you?" His deep voice was rough with his need.

She met his gaze, blinked. "Your eyes are glowing."

"Yeah. That happens."

Her gaze slid down the length of his body. "Are you going to rape me?"

Her frank stare almost made him want to cover his erection. He concentrated very hard on calming down. He managed the faintest of gestures. "I’m not going to," he answered.

"Right now?"

He shook his head. "Not ever."

She slid cautiously toward the end of the bed, and brought up the worn bedspread to cover herself. "Never?" she persisted. "Can I trust you not to touch me?"

"No," he admitted. He was no saint, or a chivalrous Clan boy who’d die before dishonoring their chosen lady. "But I’m not going to touch you right now. That’s all you can count on. We don’t need the complication."

He didn’t give her much to go on, but Jo found Cage’s honesty reassuring. She watched, wrapped in the bedding while he turned away and put on his ragged trousers. Muscular as he was he still moved with compact grace that was hard not to appreciate.

Had his eyes really been glowing? There was so much about him that was strange. "Didn’t you have a sunburn yesterday?" she asked as he walked toward the bathroom.

"I’m a fast healer. Come on," he added. He gestured for her to follow. "I need your help."

She didn’t want to be confined with him in there again, but she didn’t suppose there was any getting out of it. She rose to her feet, and tied the bedspread around her like a sarong. It wound around her slender body a surprising number of times, and that somehow made her feel safer, though it weighed her down when she moved.

She followed him, and he waited at the doorway to gesture her in before him. "Help you do what?" she asked as she moved past him.

"Shave," he answered. "Maybe you’ll even get lucky and cut me."

Copyright © 2004 by Susan Sizemore


I Thirst For You is available June 1, 2004.