Mind over matter. As if he hadn’t tried that. “The danger …” A flash of Kira, lying naked in his bed, a hole burned in the center of her chest. “If I were to fail …”

“Well, how badly do you want her?”

No need to think it through. “More than I can even say.”

Dallas’s expression was total well, there you go. “Start training. Get yourself hot and bothered and practice touching vegetables or something.”

An intriguing—if disturbing—thought. “I will.” And that was the God’s honest truth. He’d practice. For however long was necessary.

Would Noelle want him, though?

Would she wait for him?

“I did some digging,” he said. “She used to date him, you know. More than date him. Live with him.”

Another lethal scowl pinned his friend in place. “Will you keep up? Noelle. She used to live with Corban Blue. For a year. Twelve goddamn months, and that’s all that was documented. So they could have been seeing each other long before they were ever caught by the media. And they could be alone right now. Together. Talking about their baby.”

“You mean their babies. Plural. Word is, now she’s having twins.”

Hector jumped up and pounded the tabletop, ratting glasses, steam rising from the gloves. Calm down. Now.

Dallas held up his hands, palms out. “My bad, dude. They’re only having the one kid.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure. The imaginary baby is yours. Continue.”

He did, just kind of falling back into his chair. “I’m nothing like him.” Deep breath in, deep breath out. Gradually the steam dissipated. “I’m not polished, rich, or cuddly. I’ll embarrass her, I know I will.”

After tossing back two shots of his own, Dallas choked out, “Backtrack a minute. You think Corban Blue is cuddly? The guy’s lean, true, but he’s taller than you are. And I felt the energy kicking off him. Powerful energy. Stronger than Kyrin’s, even.”

There was no telling what kind of abilities Corban possessed. Because, if Kyrin could control humans with his mind, move faster than a determined vampire, and teleport, Corban could certainly do that and a whole lot more.

He’d be the perfect one to test the shields in Bobby Marks’s house. If he was still alive in the morning.

“He can touch her without worry,” Hector groused. “I think I’m going to break his throwing arm into four pieces. That way, he won’t be able to touch her or a ball.”

Hector couldn’t have her—yet—but he wasn’t going to let anyone else have her, either, he decided. Whether she still wanted him or not. Whether she would wait for him or not. He’d make her wait.

Maybe that was the alcohol talking. Then again, maybe it wasn’t. She’s mine.

Dallas tried to change the subject. “So any luck with the sketches? Any possible matches in the database?”

“She was supposed to have dinner with me tonight,” he plowed on, anger morphing into irritation—with her. “But did she call to cancel? No. Is she answering my calls? No. She just stood me up without a fucking apology.”

So what that he’d done the same thing to her this morning. So what that he’d told her they were done. She had better manners than he did.

“I did some digging of my own, just like you asked,” Dallas continued, “and you’ll be highly interested to know—”

“The fact that she just accepted my dismissal without a fight is telling, you know?” Pound, pound, pound—metal creaking as it bent. “Does she think I know how to handle this kind of thing? A relationship, intimacy, acceptance, and rejection, all in one day? Well, I don’t.”

“Maybe she doesn’t want anything from me anymore. Maybe I was a good time, only good enough until someone better came along. Someone more suitable. And now that someone has. Corban Fucking Blue.”

“—just up and disappeared, though he left a note behind. Something about taking off to find himself—”

Hector laughed, but it was an ugly sound. “If she’s not going to wait for me, I need her to tell me so that I can start with the forcing. Think I’ll begin by killing everyone with a penis.”

“—but he’s never written another letter, never contacted anyone else and there were also several businessmen who committed suicide supposedly, though their families—”

“Fuck this,” Hector growled. He drained another shot, and then his beer. “I’m going to her house.” He was on his feet a second later, the table teetering, falling with a crash. “We’re going to chat. She’s always telling me I need to trust her, I need to open up to her. Well, she’s getting her wish and she better like it.”

After grabbing for the napkin with the redhead’s phone number, Dallas joined him. “I’ll drive you. Noelle might decide to kick your ass, and after my huge sacrifice, I deserve a little entertainment.”

To kick his ass, she’d have to put her hands on him. Hector was totally okay with that.

Dallas laughed. “I wonder if she had any idea what she’d signed up for when she’d picked you.”

They strode outside, the cool night air wafting between them. Full parking lot. Vehicles in his damn way. “What does that mean? I’m a fine choice.” Never mind that he’d said he wasn’t.

“You’re like a caged bear. A cage she’s somehow opened. Now the bear is on the loose and hungry. If she isn’t careful, she’s going to be the meal.”

I want her to be the meal.

“I realize now that you’ve always kept a part of yourself on a tight leash wrapped in an iron fist,” Dallas said. “Noelle has done what no one else has been able and destroyed the leash. Poor girl.”

When they reached their car, Hector claimed the driver’s side. He punched the coordinates for Noelle’s address, and the thing eased itself into motion, out of the parking lot and onto the road. More civilians than usual were out this time of night, and he felt like someone was watching him.

Ten minutes in, he was seventy-five percent sure that someone was following him. He disabled autopilot, a steering wheel rising from the car’s front console. Pedals popped up on the floorboard.

Yeah, he was quite possibly drunk, but other cars were on autopilot and wouldn’t hit him no matter where he swerved. He purposely made some wrong turns, doubled back, circled a few other parking lots, and worked his way behind the vehicle in question. A dark sedan, windows tinted to black, like a thousand others he’d seen on the streets.

“Phone in the plates,” he said.

Dallas made the call as the vehicle sped up, skidded around a minivan, tires squealing. “In pursuit,” he said into the speaker, then rattled off his coordinates.

Hector couldn’t believe the stupid driver was making him do this. A few seconds later, they were told the vehicle was stolen. Chase on.

They soared around corners as if they were on rails, sped through lights, nearly hit oncoming traffic. Thank God for sensors that did more than differentiate between green and red. All Hector had to do was stay on the sedan’s tail until reinforcements found them and caged the bastard. Or managed to nail the hood of the guy’s car with a handy little device that would shut off the engine.

Which happened in three minutes flat. AIR swooped in from every direction, until there was no place for the culprit to go. They also pegged the hood, just in case. Hector parked and stormed outside, pyre-gun already drawn. Dallas did the same, approaching from the other side.

“Open the fucking door,” Hector demanded, barrel pointed at the darkened window, his finger on the trigger. Guy had picked the wrong night for this shit. The alcohol had destroyed the rest of Hector’s restraint. “And keep your hands in the air.”

A moment passed, then the metal was lifting and moving out of the way. A squat, fat balding man came into view, skin pasty and dotted with sweat. He had his shaky sausage hands in the air, palms out.

In a trembling voice, he begged, “Don’t hurt me, please.”

Hector spun him around and pressed him into the car, then patted him down. No weapons. “Where’d you get the car? It’s not yours.”

“From my ex-wife. She loaned it to me.”

“Try again. She reported it stolen.”

The guy attempted to lift his head from the metal. “That bitch is—”

A flick of his wrist sent the guy back into position. Bang. “Why were you following me?”

A thready pause, beady gaze angling to find Hector’s gun. Then, “The story. The pregnant Tremain heiress … I saw her with you earlier, and I … here, take the cameras, take whatever you want, just don’t hurt me.”

A fucking reporter. He’d known this would happen if he hung out with Noelle. Even though they weren’t together—shit!—his face still might be plastered over the news.

He’d counted on a bone-deep fear to hit him and make him do what needed doing. Instead, he felt numb. Noelle already knew everything about his past. And to be honest, the rest of the world didn’t matter anymore. “Well, this just in,” he said. “You’re under arrest.”

THE NEXT MORNING, HECTOR rooted through the cabinets in Noelle’s kitchen, nursing a killer hang-over—and a raging temper he barely had under control. He should go home. His arms were burning and itching, and steam was already rising from his gloves.

Noelle had stayed out all night. He knew, because he’d broken into her home. She hadn’t answered his knock. Concern had gotten the better of his drunken mind—fine, jealousy had—so he’d busted in her door. Set off her alarm. Disabled her alarm. And waited.

He was still waiting.

Dallas was asleep on the couch.

When the local PD had arrived to check out the disturbance, he’d flashed his badge and an I’ll-murder-you vibe, so they’d quickly taken off. Noelle should have been alerted; she should have raced back. Clearly she needed better security.

And where the hell did she keep her painkillers? A couple hundred should do the trick, but though everything from the dishware to the canned food had a place, and a weird one at that—the brownies were next to the peas—he couldn’t find a single medicinal bottle.

He paused for a moment, stuck on the food placement. Was there a method to her madness? Like Noelle would eat the brownies, and then feel guilty for her lack of nutrition so she’d go for a vegetable next. Hence, the peas.

Know her so well, do you?

Well, yeah, he kinda did. In his almost stalkerish watching of her the past few months, he’d noticed she treated rich people the same way she treated poor people when they reached her tolerance for bullshit. She enjoyed comfort in every form. Clothes, food, as well as her living and work spaces. She wouldn’t jog a mile if she could drive it, and she loved pretending the world revolved around her.

Hell, it probably did.

He heard a muted “What the hell?” and stiffened in relief, pleasure, and a renewal of fury.

She had a shit-ton of explaining to do. “Back here,” he called, careful to keep emotion out of his voice. He might scare her away before he’d had the chance to scream at her.

As if anything would scare that woman. Except Corban Blue.

Stomping footsteps, mumbled curses. A moment later, she entered the kitchen, pausing to glare over at him. His jaw nearly unhinged. She looked fucking eatable. Dark hair brushed to a glossy shine, face scrubbed free of makeup and all the more exquisite for it.

A short, skin-tight black dress molded to each of her curves, shoving those breasts of hers under her chin. Black ribbons wound down her calves, ending in killer five-inch heels.

Heart slamming against his ribs, Hector decided not to ask her where she’d been. Wasn’t his place. They’d made no promises to each other. That didn’t stop red from dotting his line of vision as he said, “Your security sucks. You had no idea anyone was here.”

A flick of her wrist sent her hair flinging over one elegantly bared shoulder. “My system is great. I knew you were here all along.”

All along? Hardly. “The PD phone you?”

She propped a fist on her hip. “My system is synced to my phone, so I had your name the second you stepped onto my porch. I figured you had rewired the door. What I didn’t know was that you’d ruined it!”

Wait. Back up. “So you knew I was here, but you didn’t come back.” Because she’d been in bed with the Arcadian? The red thickened, bleeding into everything he saw.

“Exactly,” she said haughtily, unaware that she stood in the crosshairs of peril. “I was busy.”

“Were you busy with Corban Blue?” The barely suppressed fury escaped, too big for even his body to contain. You weren’t supposed to ask her about that. Speculating was bad. Having it confirmed was even worse—like the burning and itching in Hector’s arms.

He needed to leave before he inadvertently torched Noelle’s house.

“If you must know,” she snipped with her chin in the air, “I went to a dinner party.”

“Did the party last all night?” You really have to stop this. “Did something happen between you and Corban?”