Saturday, 19 April 2014

Tears of the Fallen Ch. 15



Chapter Fifteen

“Cassia…”

She knew it was too good to be true when she made it five steps away from the Jeep before Pietro called her name. For the fleetest of moments she thought she’d get away without having to talk to him until later, but he quickly put a dampener on that idea. Sighing, Cassia smiled at Trish and passed her bags to the girl.

“Take them over to the lab. Tell Mallen I’ll be there shortly.” She watched the younger woman walk away before turning to face her mate. His expression wasn’t very promising.

“Pietro, I need to report in to Rafe or Aaron and then I need to get back to the lab. Some of my experiments will be completing soon. Can our talk wait until later?”

His scowl deepened and she sucked in a deep breath. How was it possible a male could looks so sexy when he was in such a foul mood? Her wolf was practically prowling in anticipation watching the glorious vampire before them. It wanted to throw him down and bite him all over. It was also hoping he would do the same to them. It was downright criminal that her intelligence went flying out the window whenever Pietro was close.

“You want to leave me festering until later? That’s your call, Niña.”

The words were practically a growl and they sent a shiver down her spine. “Pietro, I’m not deliberately avoiding you. I have to report to my Alpha. Pack safety has to be the utmost priority to me. Surely you can understand that? I have to protect Trish and all the other vulnerable members of my pack.”

For a long moment he regarded her with an intent stare, and then there was a slight loosening of the tension in his shoulders and he gave the barest of nods. “How long do you need?”

“Two hours maximum. I’ll meet you at the lake.”

When he nodded once more, she took that as a sign to leave and turned to resume her way over to Rafe’s house. She really did have to report what she’d seen in town and pass on Jared’s message. She’d made a couple of attempts to tease some conversation out of Pietro on the way home but he wouldn’t be drawn. In the end she’d given up and decided to wait until they were alone. Trish was already shook up by the strange Weres in town as it was, and any sign of conflict in the Jeep would just have unsettled her more.

Heading inside the large house that was home to the Alpha and his family, as well as Aaron and his, she paused at Rafe’s study door. She could scent that he wasn’t alone and debated whether to interrupt. Her experiments were due to complete though, so she didn’t have time to hang around. Taking a deep breath she knocked on the door.

“Come in, Cassia,” her Alpha called out loud enough so she could hear.

Turning the doorknob she entered to find Gard and Rayne sitting on the large sofa beneath the window with Rafe standing at the fireplace.

“How was the trip into town?” Rafe asked, giving her a smile. “Aaron said you took Trish and Pietro with you. Did it go okay?” It was clear he had no objections to her discussing events in front of the other senior pack members.

“We encountered a group of five strange wolves,” she answered, moving to take a seat when her Alpha waved in the direction of one of the office chairs in front of his large desk. “They were clearly fighting men from the way they carried themselves. They spotted us practically straight away so I decided to approach them to try to find out why they hadn’t checked in with the local packs.”

“Was that wise?” Gard asked, a small frown crossing his face.

“I was stronger than any of them and I had Pietro with me to take care of Trish. They were highly unlikely to start anything with so many humans around.” The Ancient’s question gave her an inkling as to why Pietro was being so surly and she filed that away for later.

Turning her gaze to Rafe she saw some concern in his eyes too but he didn’t vocalise it. He wasn’t one to repeat a question that one of his senior pack members had already highlighted. “Did you find out anything?” he asked, his tone authoritative as it always was when dealing with pack matters.

Cassia shook her head. “Not really. The one who did the main talking is called Fox. They’re clearly European by their accents and the level of distrust they have towards vampires. He intimated that they hadn’t checked in with the packs because of who our friends are.”

“What are European wolves doing over here?” Rayne asked, her expression concerned. “Could this be something to do with the threat from the European vampires or are they checking us out to see if we can be of some assistance to them? From what we know, the animosity between the two groups over there is pretty extreme.”

“Extreme sounds such a tame word compared to what we’ve heard about the way the vampires react to all Weres over there,” her mate commented. “It’s downright genocide.”

“Whatever is going on, maybe you can gather some intelligence about it while you’re over there?” Rafe asked, his brow drawing down into a deep scowl. “I don’t like having so many strange wolves in our neck of the woods. Proper etiquette is they should check in with the local packs, regardless if they’re comfortable with our allies or not. Until I hear otherwise, I’m considering them potentially hostile.”

“They disappeared when Jared showed up with Brody and Willow,” Cassia informed the Alpha. “Jared said he’d be in contact with you later to share any intelligence he’s uncovered.”

Rafe nodded his thanks, turning his attention back to Gard and Rayne. “We can’t put off your trip to Europe any longer. How soon can you leave?”

“We’ll arrange a flight for later today, if possible,” Gard answered, glancing at Rayne to see if she was agreeable. His mate looked a tad hesitant.

“What about Kothi? He shouldn’t be left on his own for a prolonged period. Maybe we should take him with us?”

Rafe was shaking his head in the negative before Rayne had finished speaking. “Under no circumstances do I want any of the Vârcolac over in Europe until we know what’s going on. I appreciate your concern, Rayne, but the pack can look after your son until you return.”

She clearly didn’t like it but she didn’t argue with the exception of muttering under her breath, “I’m a Vârcolac…”

Gard laughed softly, gathering her against his side and dropping a light kiss on her lips. “We know you are, darling, but you’re aware of what Rafe meant. Kothari will be fine. He’s a grown man.”

“I’ll ask Dara to keep a close eye on him,” Cassia volunteered. “Of everyone, he has an affinity with her and is more likely to open up to her if he needs a bit of support.”

“Good, that’s settled then,” Rafe said, drawing the debate to an end. “Let Caleb have your travel plans,” he added to Gard and Rayne. “He should be able to set you up with some locals that can help.”

Cassia had given her report and knew she wasn’t required any further. Wishing Gard and Rayne a safe journey, she headed out of the study and made her way over to the lab. That was one task down and one to go before she had to meet Pietro. She fervently hoped she would be able to find the antidote to the poison soon so she could set her mate’s mind to rest. She longed to tell him that he would never have to worry about being subjected to the pain and suffering he’d already been through. Her incentive to find the cure had always been strong, but it was doubly so now her mate was involved.

Entering the lab, she was surprised to find Trish there on her own. The younger woman was sitting on a high stool at one of the benches, peering over a printed report. “Where is everyone?”

Trish looked up, giving a dramatic eye roll. “There was a minor skirmish on one of the pack borders. We were told there were some strange wolves in the area testing our alertness. It didn’t erupt into fighting but some of the younger males were patrolling the area and got a little exuberant, from what I understand. Two of them managed to fall into our own pit traps!” For a wolf still so young herself, Trish’s exasperated tone made Cassia smile.

“Aaron came over a little while ago and asked Mallen and the others to help out in the medical centre,” she added.

Cassia could only imagine the injuries her pack mates would have sustained. Whoever had been supervising them needed a kick up the ass for allowing the youngsters to get out of hand. There wasn’t much chance that Mallen or the others would be back soon so that meant she’d have to analyse all the test results herself. “Do they need me over there?”

“No, Mallen said to stay here and check on the experiments though he did want me to come over as soon as you arrived.” Trish gave her an apologetic smile as she slipped from the stool and handed Cassia the report she was reading. “It’s not looking too encouraging, Cass.”

Her words made Cassia’s heart sink but she tried to keep a neutral expression. “Maybe some of the others are more encouraging.” She gave Trish her most confident smile. “You’d better get over to the medical centre. I’ll finish up here and lock up.”

As the younger woman left, Cassia’s experienced eye ran over the report in her hand and her heart sank lower. Trish was right…the first report didn’t tell her anything she hadn’t already known.  Sighing with frustration, she headed over to the next experiment that was just concluding and tapped out the instruction to print the report.

There were two more scheduled experiments to finish in the next hour after this one. Perhaps there would be something concrete in one of them if this one didn’t bear any fruit either. Snatching up the sheets from the printer, Cassia sat down and began to read the test summation.

Nothing? Really? She skimmed the rest of the report, a feeling of dejection washing over her. How could there be no concise results? They had an active sample of the poison! Could it be because of the time it had taken to get the sample to the lab? Demetri had gotten it to them as swiftly as he could. She didn’t think it was that but they couldn’t rule it out.

What the hell was the last component of Amort? Thereasa had been high level in her coven and even she didn’t know what the plant extract was…or did she? Was the former vampire keeping it from them as a bargaining tool for later? Cassia didn’t think so but she had to consider all possibilities. It would be negligent of her not to.

Running a weary hand over her face, the Vârcolac checked her watch and noted she’d already used up an hour of her allotted time she’d given Pietro. At this rate, she was going to be late meeting him. She hoped he would understand and wait for her. Should she hurry over and let him know? The beeping on the next experiment put paid to that thought and she walked back to the printer to grab the report printing out.

Cassia couldn’t halt the small exclamation that escaped her as she read the summation. Again, there was nothing of worth in the results.  She wouldn’t have any positive news to tell Pietro when they met. She would have to admit to him that she’d failed and he was still at risk of being hurt again.  Swallowing back tears, she stared at the damning piece of paper in her hand, helplessness overwhelming her.

She had been so sure she’d find the cure this time. She had needed to find it, as she’d never needed anything before in her life. Why couldn’t she do it? Why couldn’t she protect her mate and the countless others at risk from this abhorrent weapon? If there was just one thing she had been born to do in this life, why couldn’t it be this one? Cassia lowered her head to the workbench and tried hard not to weep.

*****

Pietro paced restlessly beside the lake, making a conscious effort not to look at his watch. He didn’t really need one, his innate ability to tell the time at any given moment was something he had always been able to do. He didn’t need to look to know that she was late. Cassia had said two hours maximum and it was already closer to two and a half since they’d last spoken.

His annoyance was barely contained. While a part of him knew there had been no real danger in the meeting in the city, the part of him that was so used to being the dominant male couldn’t reconcile the fact someone he cared about had deliberately put herself in danger…and he did care about Cassia…too much than was probably good for him. His heart had almost stopped when she’d walked over to the other males and calmly started telling them off without it appearing she was doing so.

He had been aware he still hadn’t recovered enough to be of any real help to her if she’d needed it. All he had been good for was babysitting the younger wolf. Not that he had any real objections to protecting Trish, he would have done that anyway but that wasn’t the point. Cassia ordering him to do it had rankled. She’d been letting him know that she considered him too weak to be of any real use and that sparked his temper like nothing else could. If he was so ineffective then why was she with him? Did she see him as some charity case…toss the poor wounded vampire a bone because he almost died?

That thought was the one that had his irritation at boiling point. He had no idea what was going on between them…but he did know he wasn’t the kind of man who could ever accept being helpless and inferior to the woman in his life. If that was what Cassia Romanov thought then it would be better to end their dalliance right here and now and he would tell her that when she eventually arrived.

He was so busy scowling and pacing she was almost upon him before he realised she was there. Whirling around furiously, whatever he was about to say fell silent on his lips as his eyes hungrily searched her tired face. Cassia’s curls had almost completely escaped the clip she’d tied them back with, and there were signs of fatigue in her pale blue eyes. There was apprehension in her gaze as she watched him warily and that just seemed wrong. He didn’t like seeing that expression on her beautiful face. Was he really the cause of it?

Fighting down some of his irritation, Pietro held out a hand, pulling Cassia into a tight embrace when she accepted it with no hesitation. For a long moment he just held her, delighting in how she came to him so easily as if he were the one person in the world she wanted to be with. “You’re late,” he finally said, his tone rough but not too irritated.

“The experiments took longer than anticipated and then I had to analyse the results. I’m sorry I made you wait.”

“Any luck?” He asked the question, hoping for some positive response. If they could find the antidote then the danger would be moot and no one else would have to endure what he had. He didn’t wish that on his worst enemy…or maybe he would on his very worst enemy. He wasn’t that good a man; the beast did live within him as it did all of his kind. Sometimes its need for justice would result in the cruellest of punishments. It was something he had lived with all his life and couldn’t be changed.

Cassia made a strange sound in the back of her throat, which had him leaning back so he could look down into her face. The misery he saw there was like a kick in his gut. Her eyes were moist and he could see she was close to crying.

“I’m so sorry, Pietro. I really thought having some of the poison in liquid form would make detecting the missing ingredient so much easier but every test we’ve run has come up negative. Until we know what the plant extract is, we can’t synthesise an antidote.”

A tear escaped, rolling down one perfect cheek and he growled deeply, crushing her against him so tightly he was afraid he might hurt her. She was crying because she couldn’t find a cure? When she looked so tired it was a wonder she could stand on her own two feet? It was criminal to hear the recriminations in her voice, as if she’d somehow let everyone down with her inability to make an antidote.

“Don’t you dare,” he hissed through clenched teeth, feeling her shake against him. His hand stroked down her back in long slow movements, soothing her as best he could. “Don’t you ever apologise for working yourself to the point of exhaustion trying to help everyone, Cassia Romanov. No one could work any harder, try any harder than you are. You have nothing to apologise for.”

“I want you to feel safe,” she whispered in a shaky voice. “Oh Pietro, I need you to feel safe! Every part of me is pushing relentlessly to find this antidote so you’ll never be hurt like that again. I forget to eat or sleep I’m trying so hard and nothing I do works. I keep failing!”

Despite the note of anguish in her voice, there was something about her words that tugged at his heart. He didn’t want her to feel a failure on his behalf, but hearing that he was the reason she tried so hard, made his heart kick up a beat and his stomach tighten in a hard knot. She was doing this for him, because she cared about him.  It was an exhilarating thought but also a concerning one. Only moments before he’d been wondering just what it was they had between them. The strength of her determination told him she felt as strongly about him as he was discovering he was feeling about her.

“You are not a failure, Niña,” he sighed against her neck, giving in to the temptation to brush his lips against her delicate skin. Having her so close made him hungry for her. Having her mould herself against him and hold onto to him for comfort brought out his protective instincts. “You are the strongest, most beautiful woman I know. You will succeed in all you do, Cass. It will just take a little longer than you would like.”

His words appeared to ground her or perhaps it was the way his lips were flowing against her skin or the way they were sliding sensually down to her collarbone nipping roughly at her fragile flesh. The urge to sink his fangs into her to taste her sweet essence was overpowering, but she was so tired he restrained himself. Pietro tried to remember what it was he’d felt the need to speak to her about earlier but whatever it was had flown right out of his head.

“That feels so good,” Cassia sighed, rubbing against his taut muscles. “It feels so good to have someone I can come to, to tell my fears to. I know you’re cross with me for earlier. I didn’t mean to make you feel concern over my safety. I didn’t mean to make you feel powerless, I swear I didn’t.”

He went to cut her off, realising he didn’t want to have this conversation any more but she took a step back, sliding out of his arms to stare at him intently.

“What you perceived as a slight was in fact me placing my trust in you, Pietro. I knew the wolves weren’t going to fight. You were aware of that deep in your own heart too. However, even though I knew it, I still erred on the side of caution. I don’t think you truly understand what a pack is, what my pack means to me. That’s through no fault of yours, this is your first time being closely associated with one. By giving Trish into your protection, that was me placing my trust in you to keep her safe. That was me acknowledging you as a protector of my pack.”

When she phrased it like that, it all made perfect sense to him. No, he didn’t fully understand the pack structure he was living in. He’d been so angry for so long that his friends, people he valued so highly, could harbour the woman who’d been one of the architects of his torture within the same pack. As he gazed into Cassia’s eyes, he could see the appeal there for him to understand just how important each and every pack member was to this beautiful woman; to all of the pack.

Reasa was Liam’s mate and therefore his very existence depended on the pack accepting her, protecting her. To do otherwise had the potential to devastate the pack as a whole. Now he could start to understand, maybe he would be able to resolve some of the fury that lived within his soul every time he thought of the former vampire. It wouldn’t be easy, but he could try, for Cassia.

Where he had seen a slight, she had been giving him the highest gift she could as a Were, the protection of one of her pack. Instead of being angry with her about it, he should have been thanking her for the honour. Living with the wolves, his attraction to the woman before him, it was all so new on top of everything he’d been through. He wasn’t sure if he could trust his own judgement any more. Perhaps it was time to accept what Cassia was offering him…someone to lean on and learn from, as he navigated his slow healing process.

“Thank you.” He said the words quietly, but the emotion in his voice was heartfelt. This exquisite woman before him accepted him despite his scars, despite his erratic moods. She looked at him as a man and saw something of worth in him. Yes, she was a Vârcolac and as such, so much stronger than he was. But she didn’t use that strength against him, as he’d imagined she was doing earlier.

Instead, she came to him, soft and vulnerable, leaning on him as she wept at her inability to find the solution to the danger that not only affected him, but every other vampire she cared for. She was strong and resilient and yet, with him, she was soft and passionate. She bared her soul to him and he couldn’t believe that barely moments before he was thinking of walking away from her. He had to be all kinds of a fool.

Pietro’s heart twisted inside him, stunned realisation roiling through him in a cascade of emotion. He was in love with Cassia Romanov! How it had happened…when it had happened…he didn’t know but it was there as he drew his thumbs tenderly against her cheekbones, wiping away the last stray remnants of her tears. He had fallen in love…with a wolf of all things.

He remembered back to first meeting Loretta, when she had entered the Dive all sass and swaying hips and demanded to see Andrei. The natural enmity between their races had reared its ugly head and yet, he’d found himself oddly impressed with Loretta’s bravery and the reaction she had on his volatile friend. He had wondered then if maybe one day he would find his own mate in a wolf but it had been a passing thought rather than any real expectation that he would.

Did Cassia see him as her mate? Her anguished words at failing to find the antidote to protect him did sound heartfelt. Should he ask her? What would he do if she said yes? Could he mate with her, join her pack, the one that Thereasa would join when she mated with Liam? He didn’t think he could right now. Perhaps one day he could find some resolution to his hatred of the former vampire but at this moment in time it was still too raw, a festering wound that threatened to erupt into violence at any given moment.

No, he wouldn’t ask the question of Cassia, not until he knew he could commit to her the way she needed him to. But he could still love her with all his heart. He could still be with her, holding her, stroking her soft skin with his hands and lips. He could be content with that for the moment.

*****

Pietro had gone so still, a myriad of emotions crossing his face before he wiped his expression clear, his miss-matched eyes turning inscrutable. Cassia stared into those arresting eyes, wondering what it was that had caused him to shut away all evidence of what he was thinking. She found she couldn’t look away from him, her mouth turning dry as she drank in his beauty.

His eyes fascinated her, both on a professional level as well as personally. She knew the medical term for his different coloured pupils was heterochromia. The condition was often caused by an extreme injury. She supposed there wasn’t anything more extreme than having someone gouge an eye out. If the Amort hadn’t been in his system, his normal coloured iris would have grown back. Instead, he was left with one dark obsidian iris that appeared to suck the entire surrounding light deep within.

Was it wrong that she loved that uniqueness about him? While she ached for the pain he had endured getting the injury, she was enthralled by the dark intensity she saw every time their eyes met. She loved every chiselled bone that shaped his face into a work of art. While he used his hair to hide the worst of the scarring on his face, she wanted to tie it back so she could drink in each jagged line, so she could trace each wound with her eyes and her hands and marvel at the courage those marks reflected.

Pietro saw his scars as a sign of failure. She saw them as a sign of strength. He had endured so much and he was still standing. He continued to show how fiercely overprotective he was. He retained that arrogance that only came from a male who was used to being at the top of the heap, someone whom others feared to cross. Cassia lived for the day that he would finally come to understand that the marks he’d earned in battle were a badge of honour as opposed to a sign of weakness. She would do everything in her power to help him come to know that.

For now though, she was tired, both physically and emotionally. She hated crying. It was always such a wearying activity. She also hated showing that sign of weakness and yet, Pietro’s earlier annoyance had waned in the face of her needing him. It was easy to show her softer side to him because she respected him, as did her wolf. He was their mate, and it was part of his role to stand strong for them when they had a moment of weakness and needed that strength. It was what mates did.

And that was why she felt like crying again. He had shut her out. “What?” The word sounded accusing, and she didn’t mean it to. She just wasn’t able to add any more disappointment to the existing feelings of failure she had.

“Nothing.” He smiled and it was a soft smile, tenderness crossing his face as he reached up and unclasped her hair. “You look exhausted. I should let you go home and rest but I don’t want to be alone right now.

Cassia remained silent, lost in his eyes. His hands were gentle as they slowly pull her t-shirt over her head and unbuttoned her jeans. She placed a hand on his shoulder to brace herself, stepping out of the denim as he knelt before her. He rose silently, peeling his shirt off quickly, and then stripping his jeans from his body after kicking off his boots and socks.

Pietro stood before her in all his naked glory, his hungry eyes devouring her body. Her own gaze flickered over his beauty, her hands moving to unclip the front fastening of her bra.

“No.”

It was one word but it was filled with so much dominance that she let her hands fall back to her sides and waited to see what he would do. The way his voice deepened to a raspy tone when he was aroused sent a shiver down her spine and she could feel a tightness begin in the pit of her stomach.

Pietro moved, so quickly she let out a startle squeak. He swooped her up in his arms and walked into the cooling lake while she was still in her lingerie.

“Pietro! I’ll get wet,” she protested as he removed one arm and lowered her into the water. The smoky look he gave her had her heart starting to thud in her chest.

“I know…”

Before she could say anything else, he was kissing her hard, crushing her body to his chest as the cool water lapped around them. It was a kiss full of lust, making her think of all the sinful things they could do together. Suddenly, she didn’t feel half as tired any more, as she stroked her tongue against his, loving the taste of him in her mouth.

The kiss seemed to last an eternity, until she felt lightheaded and had to pull back so she could suck in some much needed air. When she did, Pietro’s large hand travelled leisurely between her covered breasts until it gentle applied pressure, pushing her backwards. Cassia didn’t fight the pressure, allowing herself to be bowed over the arm still supporting her lower back. Her curls brushed the water, her wet lace bra leaving no secrets uncovered as she was arched up to his heated gaze.

“So beautiful,” he growled, one long finger teasing her hardened nipples through the lace, his touch so light it gave no surcease to the building tension in her body. He flicked gently, first one nipple and then the other, all the while keeping her bowed backwards and at his mercy. It was sweet torture but she didn’t want it to end. Opening her eyes and seeing the naked lust in his as he worshiped her body was enough to keep her in whatever position he so desired.

He was making a point, as he had when they had first made love. He was letting her know that no matter what, he was the one in control when they were like this. It was a novel experience, to trust a male so implicitly that she could allow that level of dominance over her. Oh, she had no doubt she would rebel against it sometimes, but for the most part, it was the most deliciously wicked feeling in the world.

“Pietro…”

“Yes, Niña?” His sexy rasp, the way he called her that pet name…it turned her blood to molten lava and filled her with a need that could never be quenched.

Cassia couldn’t complete whatever she’d been about to say. She was so caught up in his spell that she could only lay back and allow him whatever liberties he wanted to take.

“Do you trust me?”

He had to ask when she was baring everything to him, when she had wept in his arms not so long ago? She could only allow herself to be that vulnerable with someone she trusted implicitly.

“Do you?”

Lost in a haze of passion, she forced her eyes open as his maddening fingers continued to tease at her nipples, slowly rotating around the peaks before lightly grazing them. “Yes.” She almost sobbed the word out, trying to press her upper body more firmly into his grasp, but he withdrew his hand when she did, and she was forced to accede to his demands.

“Close your eyes, Niña. Lie back and relax.”

She did as he ordered, feeling him move until she was floating on the water with Pietro bracing her body with one hand on her lower back. Cassia let herself go limp, feeling the water caress her skin, feeling the stress of the day slowly ebbing away to be replaced by a quiet, languid feeling. The sun had set and only the moonlight and the odd stars pierced the darkness.  All around her was the gentle sound of the water lapping over her skin, the quiet exhalation of breath from Pietro, and the rustle of the nocturnal animals coming out to play. It was the most peaceful moment of her life.

This was what trusting her mate was all about. It was laying herself vulnerable to all external influences and knowing that he would always be there, guarding her back from any harm that may come her way. Cassia felt a lump in her throat, a feeling so intense that tears leaked from the corner of her eyes. This moment with him was the most beautiful moment she could ever remember experiencing. He had seen her fatigue, recognised her need for comfort, and he was soothing her soul in the most wonderful of ways.

“No tears,” he whispered, bending down so his breath brushed her cheek. “Just connect with everything around you. Forget about today or yesterday, don’t anticipate what tomorrow will bring. Simply live in this moment, feeling the textures, hearing the sounds. Feel your heart beat with each breath you take, Niña. Feel the life that flows all around you.”

His voice blended in with night, the cadence low and sultry, and his words so perfect she knew she would remember this night for the rest of her life. Whatever challenges life may throw at her, Cassia knew she would always find solace in this memory, that she would always find peace with her wonderful vampire. Surrendering completely, she drifted on the water, safe in the protection of her mate.

She didn’t know how much time passed before she felt Pietro move once more, gently rocking her through the water until they were close to the shore, the large overhanging rock they’d first made love on, balanced above their heads. Every bone in her body felt as if it were as soft as butter, every brush of his skin against hers lit a tiny spark of electricity within.

“Now we can begin,” Pietro growled, lifting her clear from the water and laying her back against a large boulder halfway out of the water.

Her lingerie clung to her body, transparent from the water. The air felt damp and humid, still warm from the day’s heat but beginning to cool as night took hold.

“Exquisite,” he breathed, bending down towards her body, raising her hips up so he could drag his tongue against her wet panties.

It was so erotic she moaned at the touch, raising her hands to his head to pull him closer.

“Hands on the rock, Niña.”

She didn’t want to, she wanted to touch him, to run her finger through his hair but one look at his face told her he wasn’t to be denied. “Don’t tease me, Pietro,” she countered, even as she did as he asked and placed both hands flat on either side of her.

“Behave…and you shall receive everything you dream of,” he laughed softly, clearly amused at her petulant tone. He didn’t wait for her answer, instead, he buried his head between her thighs once more and began to taste her through the lace barrier that separated him from her intoxicating sex.

Stroke after stroke, he licked against her, sending her into a frenzy of need, her hands remaining at her side. Desperation invaded her body, her sexual hunger rising so swiftly she was ready to scream at him to make love to her, to send them both into that wonderful sexual high that left them both breathless.

“Pietro, please,” she whimpered, needing so much more.

His response was a deep growl and then his teeth ripped at the lace obstructing him and the panties disintegrated.  Cassia cried out as his tongue finally connected with her flesh, stroking in rough, fast strokes all over her most intimate place. There was no more teasing, now he was a man possessed, demanding everything she had to give him, and then requesting more.

Pietro kissed and licked, teased and suckled, until she was a mass of raw nerves, her climax only a hairsbreadth away. And then he stopped and she cried out in disbelief, trying to urge him to continue but he moved away a fraction and just stared down at her.

“Patience is a virtue, sweet Cassia.” He laughed loudly, a deep laugh as she called him a rude name, then he flipped her over until she was on her stomach, and gave her backside a light swat. “Such language from a lady.”

“Bastard…” she muttered under her breath, flushing instantly as she realised what she’d said. She wasn’t usually one for swearing but then, she didn’t usually have idiotic males playing dominance games with her.

“I believe my parents were married when they had me,” Pietro chuckled, pressing her legs apart and sliding between them. “Such a naughty word to use…do you know any more?”

As she spluttered at his words, he thrust forward hard and fast, joining them together in the most intimate caress of all. Her breath whooshed out and she groaned her pleasure into the night air, clinging onto the rock as he withdrew and surged back in hard. This was what she wanted, what she needed. Pushing herself up, she ground back on his thick shaft, using her body to urge him on.

Pietro slipped a hand around her front, removing her bra and tweaking one nipple hard as he rocked into her again. Cassia’s wolf howled its glee, baring its teeth as their mate took them roughly. This was what it wanted, this was what she wanted, Pietro to be fierce and unrelenting, proving to them how much he desired them that he lost control.

A hand fisted her curls pulling her further up as he rocked into her, his mouth coming to kiss her neck…to lave his tongue against that special place she longed for him to claim her as his mate. He wasn’t ready yet…she had to wait to claim him, but she could live with him just feeding from her for now. When the time was ready…when she bit into the scar that marred the place all wolves mated, then his bite would seal them together forever.

The tension in her body was unbearable. Her breath was panting out, her stomach clenching with the deep need to come. Pietro was thrusting so hard, so fast it was difficult to catch her breath but she didn’t want him to stop. She wanted him to stop playing with her, to stop nibbling at her neck and to bite her. Why was he waiting so long?

“Pietro…!”

“Soon.”

“Now…please…now!”

Sharp fangs sank into her neck, his venom lighting up her soul from within. Growling, Pietro thrust hard and fast, pulling at her neck, drinking her life giving blood as they soared towards completion.

Cassia cried out, stiffening as colours exploded behind her eyes, wave after wave of pure bliss flooding her body. She heard her mate’s roar, felt him stiffen against her as he followed her into the abyss, his seed flooding her body as he shuddered against her.

When she opened her eyes, she was no longer in the water, instead she was lying on the overhanging rock, Pietro curled behind her. She couldn’t remember moving, didn’t know how they had gotten into this position but they were there and the night was cooling rapidly. Yawning loudly, she turned her mind inwards, searching for that magical place that set her, and the rest of the Vârcolac apart from normal wolves. She’d only ever conjured up personal clothes before but she didn’t think it would be much different creating the blanket she’d told Pietro she could do.

“Does that come with pillows?” Pietro’s sleepy question had her rolling over to face him. She cuddled into his embrace as he tucked the blanket around her, wrapping her securely in his arms.

“Too tired to try,” she yawned again. “You make an excellent pillow anyway.”

His light chuckle made her smile and she glanced up when he didn’t answer her. “Pietro?”

He was already asleep, his face peaceful in repose. Snuggling closer, Cassia closed her eyes and let sleep claim her.

*****

Are you all set?” Dante ignored the glower in the eyes of the elder vampire, instead letting his gaze sweep over the assembled coven members in front of him. Michael had chosen well from first glance, the group were older than most and appeared up to the task.

“I don’t need you watching my every move,” the blond vampire growled, bristling at his question.

“Really? That wasn’t the impression Louis gave me,” Dante remarked, his tone dry. “Weren’t you fundamental in bringing an Ancient down on our heads not so very long ago?”

Michael ignored him, signalling to two of his men to start loading up the waiting cars with their packs. As they worked, he turned back to the interloper in his coven, suspicion blazing from the depths of his eyes. “I don’t know why Louis trusts you, Dante. My gut tells me you’re trouble and it’s never wrong. I always knew Louis was misplaced when he gave his trust to Thereasa, and look where we are now.”

“Yes, we have someone in the heart of a Were pack closely linked to the vampire Council. Imagine what kind of intel she could have that would aid us in remaining safe. It would be tragic if we lost that valuable information because you’re too caught up in your blood-lust.” Dante couched his words carefully, knowing what he said could be taken as treasonous.

Michael’s body stiffened, and his expression darkened, signalling that he wouldn’t be slow in taking the words just so. “Louis has marked her for death.”

Dante sighed, rolling his shoulders to release a little of the tension suffusing his body. He would have to play this one very carefully. Michael was not as stupid as he first looked. “Louis is reacting in anger and not thinking clearly at the moment. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find out what Thereasa knows? If she does have something that is a threat to all the European covens as she intimated, doesn’t it make more sense to find out what that is, instead of blithely wading in and assassinating her? Think, Michael. Use your head for once.”

Dante’s words continued to border on betrayal, but there was a certain ring of truth to them. Michael hesitated, mulling them over though his eyes still contained a healthy dose of suspicion. Thereasa had said she had important information. If he could get that information out of her before he killed her then perhaps Louis would reward him? He might even be elevated within the coven ranks.

Michael still didn’t trust Dante one iota, but the more he thought about it, the more the other vampire’s words sounded logical. Backing down a bit, he nodded his head acknowledging he would consider what he’d said.  “I’ll think about it,” he answered, the words coming out reluctantly.

“You do that,” Dante sighed, feeling fairly certain he’d bought a little time or at least put some doubt into the elder vampire’s mind. There was something about Michael that set warning bells ringing. He’d seen insanity many times over the long centuries he’d roamed the planet, and Michael was showing signs of being close to stepping over that edge.

If he returned from this mission, Dante would need to look a little closer at Michael and decide whether or not he needed to be removed permanently. Things were far too unstable already without insanity being thrown into the mix.

To be continued…