Come. On. As much as he loved knowing he could do this, he wanted to reach the end. To know he’d be okay even then.

He tried softer strokes, then hard again, softer then harder. Harder still.

Nothing worked—until Noelle’s image took shape in his mind. Tall, slim, her glossy brown hair hanging past her shoulders, the sun glittering behind her and forming a halo around her. Her eyes were languid, the lids at half-mast, those lovely gray irises becoming liquid silver as she traced them over his body. Her lush mouth was parted, as if she couldn’t quite catch her breath. As if the sight of him had aroused her.

Next he saw her on his bed. She was naked, her nipples pink and beaded. Her stomach hollowed, and as he watched, enraptured, she dabbled her fingers around her navel, teasing herself—teasing him.

A moan escaped her as she arched her back and spread her legs wide. The curls between her legs were dark and glistening with her desire. So much desire. For him. Only him.

“Hector,” she said, a prayer and a curse all at once. “I need you.”

Yes, damn it, yes. He needed her, too. He imagined himself sinking inside this pliant, dream Noelle with a single thrust. Imagined the way she clutched him, hot and wet and so incredibly tight.

His cock loved the imagery as much as his mind, and his pleasure deepened. His strokes became jerky, but oh, shit, they felt good.

“Don’t stop,” she pleaded, all smoke and eagerness as her knees squeezed at his waist.

“Yes, Hector, yes. Touch me. Please, touch me. I love it when you touch me.”

Yeah, he thought again. He was going to touch her. Touch her everywhere. Was going to brand her, own her, become all that she knew, all that she wanted to know. Was even reaching for her …

His balls drew up tight, sensation ramping … ramping … Oh, hallelujah! He squeezed the head of his penis and jetted white-hot into his palm. Finally, finally, thank you God, finally.

When his shudders at last calmed, he simply stood there, sliding down from the high, the pleasure, and glorying in his success.

His. Success. The two words echoed inside his mind. He’d done it. He’d actually gotten himself off without hurting himself or anyone else.

It was a miracle. It was … his salvation. Whispers of excitement rushed through him. From this moment on, he could take care of himself. More words echoed. He could actually take care of himself!

His body must be immune to the heat and the atomizing. And damn, he should have realized that sooner. Felt stupid that he hadn’t, and yet that still didn’t dampen his joy.

Grinning, he walked into the hallway bathroom, tossed the gloves, washed up, and righted his clothing. The itching and burning in his arms had subdued completely. He was utterly calm, under control. It was like his slate had just been wiped clean. He felt wonderfully normal.

And now, any time his arms acted up, or his need became too much, he could take care of himself and feel this way again. He wouldn’t have to call a hooker. He found himself laughing, the sound rusty.

He went to his bedroom and sat at the edge of his bed—such a terrible start to his day, with such a spectacular finish—then dialed Mia Snow, his bitch on wheels of a temporary boss. Jack Pagosa, his real boss, had taken a leave of absence for heart problems or some shit like that and had left Mia in charge of the New Chicago offices.

Truth be told, Hector had been a little surprised by Jack’s choice. Mia was a good agent, one of the best, certainly, but Hector had been on staff just as long as she had, and had just as many arrests and kills. Same with Dallas. Hell, same with Ghost and Jaxon. And Jaxon was the most diplomatic of them all. Or rather, he used to be.

Probably didn’t hurt that Snow was dating one of the most powerful men on Earth. An Arcadian who was as rich as Noelle, maybe richer, with the ability to move faster than the speed of light, control people with his mind, and predict the future.

Hector was a little envious of Kyrin’s openness. The guy didn’t care who knew about his origins or his powers. How nice would it be to have that kind of freedom? To just be who he was, unconcerned about anything else?

But Hector’s abilities destroyed, caused pain, and with pain came fear. Fear brought a whole new pot of problems to the table. Someone—probably multiple someones—would want to put him down to “protect” the innocent.

“This is Snow,” she said five rings in.

“Hey. It’s Hector.” No preliminaries, just the facts. “Where are my girls being held?”

Breath crackled over the connection. “You beat me to the punch. I was just about to call you.”

The tension in her voice distressed him. Mia wasn’t touchy-feely by nature, and hardly anything threw her off her game. Took something major to upset her. “What’s wrong?”

“Missing?” His happiness vanished in an instant. His fingers squeezed the cell, nearly cracking the plastic. Relax. “Tell me.”

“They were in the hospital, hooked to IVs, with guards at their doors. Doctor goes in to check on one, and she’s gone. He thinks she left on her own, so he goes to the next room. She’s gone. Same deal with the rest.”

“No one. I’m sending a team to dust for prints, check for voice recordings, but …”

“You don’t think you’ll get anything.” Recorders were set up strategically throughout the city, and because alien voices were so different from that of humans, in ways humans couldn’t detect without the proper machinery, those recorders only picked up otherworlder conversations.

When you had a location and a time, pinpointing specific conversations was easy. However, otherworlders knew about the recorders and knew to commit their crimes quietly.

“Correct,” Mia said. “I’ve already watched video feed and there was no one coming in or out of their room except the medical staff. And none of the staff wheeled anything out that was big enough to hold a body.”

“The women could have fought whoever grabbed them. Maybe they said something during the struggle.” They were alien, so their voices would have been recorded.

“I’ll let you dig through the recordings.”

“The hospital will be my first stop.” For someone to grab the girls so quickly, so effortlessly, and without drawing a single bit of notice, teleportation had to be in play. “Any Arcadians working there?”

“A few, and I’ve already got men hunting their locations to pull them in for questioning.”

A lot of Arcadians could teleport, yes, but there were ways to prevent them from doing so. Like certain metals that were mined from other planets. Expensive as hell to acquire, and hard as hell to drag through one wormhole after another—the standard way to planet hop—but AIR HQ and all AIR vehicles were comprised of the necessary materials.

If you weren’t near AIR or your vehicle, lasercuffs worked just as well. They weren’t metal, but the light they produced bonded to skin, any kind of skin. When an Arcadian was restrained that way, and he teleported, the bands would heat, just like Hector’s arms, and his hands would literally melt off. Brutal, but necessary. AIR had to take precautions to protect the innocent.

“So here’s a question,” Hector said. “How did the abductor know the girls were in the hospital?”

“We aren’t sure,” she said. “Too many options. A chatty or even corrupt hospital employee. A chatty or corrupt friend of a hospital employee. The spread of idle gossip to the wrong people. An isotope tracker. Maybe one of the girls called someone, and that call was traced. We’re checking the lines, but the other theories require more time to investigate.”

His free hand fisted. “The MO for this abduction, as well as the other one, is similar. Therefore, it’s safe to say that whoever took our first batch of girls took our second.”

“I agree. And since the first one was yours, this one is all yours, as well,” she said. “Wrap it up quick.”

I’ll do my best. He always did. “No anonymous tip to help us out this time?”

“And we have no idea why the girls are being taken and locked away?” Made no sense, really. Why take them if you weren’t going to use them in some way? Why starve them?

He’d studied pictures. Each girl was pretty, very pretty, and his first thought had been sex slaves. He’d busted a few whorehouses throughout the years. Otherworlder females were promised lodgings on Earth, a job, whatever. So they came here expecting to start a new life.

They started a new life, all right. In some rich guy’s bed. And that’s if they were lucky. The unlucky ones were placed in those whorehouses, forced to service countless men and women each and every day.

But again, why take these girls and not put them to work right away?

“We don’t,” Mia said. “We hadn’t gotten any other answers out of them. Not any we understood, anyway.”

Very well. “After I finish at the hospital, I’ll go over transcripts of what was said. Maybe I’ll pick up on something.”

“And, uh, Mia.” Self-preservation rose. “I don’t want to go back to camp.”

“For personal reasons. And I swear to you, they’re good reasons. Important. Life-threatening even.”

A weary sigh. “I’ll give you some time off, no prob. You rarely ask. And okay, sure, miss your second week at camp. I’ll deal with Dallas’s whining, as always. Because yes, he will complain about the injustice of someone taking a break without him.”

Actually, Hector thought Dallas would be happy to have Noelle to himself, but whatever. He didn’t care. He—

Smelled melting plastic and realized his hand had heated to the point of deep-frying in mere seconds. Despite his sexual release. What the hell? He was so jealous, so possessive, he immediately reacted to the thought of anyone else with Noelle?

He’d never had a woman, all to himself, and he—

Didn’t need to be thinking that way. Breathing in and out, Hector forced a surge of calm. “Thanks,” he said to hurry the conversation along. “I owe—”

“But you’re going back to camp for the final month,” she cut in, heartless as only she could be. “I value your opinion, and I need to know how the remaining trainees have progressed.”

He didn’t point out that Dallas could tell her. Or Jaxon. Or Ghost. Phoenix was the youngest and newest member of the team, so no one would care what she thought. “Okay. I’ll go back.” Maybe.

Hopefully, he wouldn’t be thinking about Noelle every spare minute of every day. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be thinking about her at all. But even if he was, he now had a method for dealing, he reminded himself.

“Good,” Mia said. “Now get to work, Dean. Oh, and say hello to Noelle Tremain for me when you finally return to camp. I hear you guys are tight.” Her laughter echoed over the line.

“Uh, no. Don’t blame him for your infamy. There’s a video of your KO, and it’s all over the web. At least thirty people have emailed me a link. Congratulations, you’re a star.” Click.

Hector tossed his phone on his nightstand and padded to his bathroom, where he hopped in the shower. The dry enzyme misting from the overhead and side spouts caused the plastic he’d melted to dissolve quickly.

Six weeks, he thought. Then he and Noelle would once again cross paths.

He had a feeling only one of them would survive. He wondered just who that would be.

Noelle hadn’t seen Hector since she’d laid him flat, oh, around six weeks ago.

Maybe she should have gone easier on him. Two little taps, though. Love taps, really, and he’d dropped as if he were the slowest gazelle in the pack and she the hungry lion who’d won rights to first bite. Then he’d collected himself, stood, and walked away without uttering a word.

In her defense, he’d kind of deserved it. Not just for the way he’d eyed her with such disgust the day they’d met—and had since admitted he’d been wrong about, she reminded herself—but because he’d knocked Johnny Deschanel on his ass and looked at Noelle, all this is what’s going to happen to you if you stay here.

Well, she had stayed—but he hadn’t.

She sat at the window cubby in the bunkhouse. Night had long since fallen, but the lamps surrounding the instructors’ quarters provided the perfect spotlight. Hector had just driven up in a sleek black Porsche, emerged without looking around, and carried a bag up the steps, finally disappearing from view.

She had not watched the way his pants pulled tight against his perfect, muscled ass with every step. And she had not thought of him while he’d been gone. Not more than a few hundred times.

And she really hadn’t thought about the way he’d removed his T-shirt that day, revealing cord after cord of hard-won strength, tanned skin glistening with sweat, and a smattering of dark hair. Or how she’d gasped when she had first spied him, awed and aroused and aching to put her hands on him.

Something else she hadn’t thought about: how his right arm had sported fewer tattoos and how, just before he’d tugged on his gloves, those tattoos had shimmered, softly glowing like they had that night in the alley.

She hadn’t thought about why he glowed—optical illusion on her part? exposure to a toxic chemical on his? allergic reaction to alien cuisine? weird fluke of nature?—or how hot-off-the-streets sexy he was.