"I'll bet the little whore told you she was innocent." Don Demonesini laughed, a wicked, ugly sound. "Look at these photos. She begged to pleasure me. Begged for my attention. Nothing could satisfy her." He threw the pictures in Franco's face. "Your Madonna, the mother of your children, with her legs spread for another man. Crawl on home, Scarletti, and be a man for once in your own home. Throw her out in the street where she belongs."

Byron could feel the viciousness in the man. There was a gloating triumph, much like the feeling of a vampire, evil and empty and rilled with malevolence. Don Demonesini was a man who hated. The hatred ran deep, was embedded in his heart and soul. He enjoyed power and domination over others. His main purpose seemed to be the misery and ruination of others.

Franco radiated rage. He didn't so much as glance at the pictures strewn around the floor at his feet. "You belong in jail." His tone dripped with contempt. "How many other women have you raped and blackmailed? There must have been more than my wife."

"Your whore you mean," Demonesini goaded.

Byron realized Demonesini's intention. He wanted Franco to lose his temper. There was a weapon hidden beneath the desk, Demonesini's hand gripping it, waiting, hoping to be able to kill a Scarletti. He would claim Franco came at him and he was forced to defend himself. The pictures would be proof to the world, and he would have the added satisfaction of exposing the graphic photographs and further embarrassing the Scarletti family. It was a perfect plan.

Byron stepped into the room, baring his teeth, his dark eyes glowing with the beast struggling for supremacy. "Good evening, Don Demonesini. How good to see you looking so healthy. I feared for your well-being and thought I would drop by to check on you." He didn't wait for Demonesini to respond but looked him straight in the eye, pushing hard past the barrier. The very core of Demonesini was corrupt, evil. He wouldn't respond in the normal way to hypnotic suggestion.

Byron didn't wait. He simply leapt across the desk, catching Demonesini's wrist, preventing him from bringing up the gun. Holding the don still with his enormous strength, he bent his head to the pulse beating strongly in the side of the neck and drank.

Franco gasped. Keeping a wary eye on Byron, he gathered the photographs. He could only stare at the incisors buried in Demonesini's neck.

Byron drank his fill and shoved the man across the room with a casual flick of his hand. "Where are the negatives and all the copies you made of these pictures?" He spoke very low, his voice velvet soft, but it carried such power the walls in the room seemed to expand and contract. "I want you to get them right now and hand them to Franco."

Demonesini slowly picked himself up from the floor, backing away from Byron, his eyes wide with terror but holding the cunning of a cornered animal. Once his gaze shifted to the gun Byron had tossed so carelessly aside. When the don hesitated, Byron shrugged and studied his hand. One by one, his fingernails lengthened into razor-sharp talons. He smiled down at the curved claws before raising his gaze to Demonesini. "I am not going to make the request twice."

The don used a key to unlock a cupboard and pull out a drawer. Byron glimpsed several files in the drawer. Demonesini tugged one folder free of the others.

"Just put them all on the desk, close and lock the cupboard."

Demonesini hesitated. A soft growl spurred him to action. He piled the manila folders on the desk. "These are private files."

Franco flipped one open and swore under his breath. "Photographs of another woman, Byron."

"I suspected as much. Make certain Marita's negatives are there."

Franco thumbed through the folders, distaste evident on his face. "Everything is here, Byron."

"Take them and go, Franco. If you meet Christopher or anyone else in the house, stop and have a pleasant chat with them. If they ask you about the folders, tell them Demonesini gave them to you for a private project. Then walk away and do not look back. When you get home, burn those files without looking at the rest of them. I am certain you will know more than one of those women socially."

"I came here to rid the world of him."

"I know. I am family. Trust me to do what is necessary." Out of the corner of his eye, Byron could see Demonesini edging closer to the gun lying on the floor on the other side of the desk.

"Since you're family, I'm not going to ask you about anything I saw here tonight. And don't bring it up later. In return, I won't tell you about jaguars and how close our family is to them." Franco gathered the stack of files into his arms. His gaze, filled with contempt, flickered to Demonesini. "You deserve whatever you get."

The don made a dive for the gun. Byron closed his fist hard, staring at Demonesini's chest. The man went rigid, his face twisted with pain.

Franco hesitated. "Keep going," Byron said softly, his gaze fixed on the don. "Walk away, Franco."

Don Demonesini clutched his chest, falling to his knees. His color was mottled, his eyes bulging.

Franco left the room, the manila folders safe in his arms.

He didn't look back. Not even when he heard the sound of a body falling to the floor. He hurried through the villa, trying to look as casual as possible, but he was grateful he didn't run into anyone. His car was parked beneath the shade of several trees, a short distance from the circular drive and the wrought-iron gates. He hastily stuffed the folders into the trunk of his car and yanked open the driver's-side door, sliding behind the wheel.

His heart slammed hard in his chest when Byron materialized beside him. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack? Don't do that!"

Byron grinned at him. "I thought we should talk about the fact that you think I am a vampire. I know you said you would prefer not to, but I am going to marry your cousin, and it is best to clear the air."

Franco sat for a moment and then leaned forward to turn the key. "You're saying you're not a vampire?"

"No, I am not. I am something altogether different. If you wish to keep this knowledge, I would have to take your blood. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to remove your memories of this encounter."

Franco drove through the streets with more speed than vision. "You can remove memories?

Dio, Byron, does Toni know what you are?"

"Of course." His tone lowered an octave. "You cannot betray us for any reason, Franco. If you did, I would know, and I would have no choice but to protect my people."

Franco glanced at him, noted the hard lines etched into Byron's face. "You mean it, don't you? I understand loyalty, Byron." A small grin spread across his face. "Once you marry Toni, we'll be family. I don't think it'll be so easy to harm me."

"It wouldn't be so easy now, Franco. Make your choice."

"I like knowing you have certain abilities. They may come in handy sometime. I know Toni doesn't really want to run the family business. Sooner or later, Nonno

is going to have to turn it over to me. I think having you at a board meeting would be very helpful."

"Helena had an affair with Tasha and Paul's father. Esteben was her son, not her nephew. Helena thought she deserved the Scarletti fortune. I believe she was responsible for the deaths of Antonietta's parents and even Tasha and Paul's parents. Esteben probably killed Enrico. Helena and Esteben arranged accidents for Don Giovanni and fed poison to members of your family. They were both able to shift into the form of a jaguar. They were the ones killing the locals. They probably could not control the urges of the beast when they were in the form of the cat."

"You are telling me something."

"Do not shift into the form of a jaguar and expect to stay in control. It is dangerous."

"How did you know?"

"You accepted my differences far too easily."

"I would never have suspected Helena. She seemed so much a part of our household. What a waste Had she just gone to Don Giovanni and told him about Esteben, they would have been welcomed into the family." He parked the car in the large garage. "Marita doesn't believe Margurite is my child."

"What do you believe?"

"She is a Scarletti through and through. And I love her. She's my daughter, and she'll always be my daughter, no matter what a paternity test says."

"She is a Scarletti." Byron smiled. "There is no mistaking the scent and thought patterns of your family."

Franco leaned back in his seat and smiled. "

Grazie, Byron. Do whatever you think necessary to protect your people. Your family is tied to my family now. It is what any of us would do."

And hurry please. I am lonely for you.

Antonietta startled him. She learned fast, staying a shadow in his mind even when he was no longer aiding her.

I am coming. He sent his assurance to his lifemate.