I’ve tasted her. Been inside her. “I thought you said this thing was black and white,” he managed to croak. Have to get inside her again. Soon.
Have to make it safe for her first.
A wanton smile that started his heart back up, but it was jacked into an unsteady rhythm. “It is.” That silver gaze swept over him when she paused on the last step. “You look… amazing.” There was reverence in her tone.
He actually felt himself blush like some stupid kid. “I won’t embarrass you?” He’d rather die.
“No, but I might embarrass you.” She closed the rest of the distance to trace her polished fingernails up the lapels of his jacket. The scent of jasmine and honeysuckle accompanied her, his favorite, as sultry and drugging as a moonlit night, and his stomach tightened. “I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my hands off you.”
Then she stepped back, ending the connection. Her expression cleared, and he had to fight the urge to return her to where he wished she could stay forever. In his arms.
Noelle had known Hector would look amazing in a tailored tux, but nothing could have prepared her for this. He was perfection personified. Sexy and devilish and utterly irresistible. Jacket, vest, tie—no bowtie for him—in black Italian silk, and he wore every piece with confidence.
During the entire twenty-minute drive to the old Glassky mansion where the party was being held, she stared at him, craving. He hadn’t bothered to style his hair, yet the results were stunning. Those dark strands were exquisitely disheveled, the locks of flax like moon-kissed highlights. The hard gleam in his eyes gave him a don’t-mess-with-me vibe, especially since one of those eyes had been blackened during his fight with Gordman and had only just now begun to fade.
She wanted him in her bed. Wanted to fall asleep in his arms every night, and wake up to him every morning. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make that happen, either.
This past week, he’d managed to keep his distance. But every morning at the office, when he’d first spotted her, he’d looked a little more despondent for not having locked their relationship down, his temper sharpened another degree. Any day he would break. And when he did, she would make sure he never regretted it.
Their car stopped at the base of a hill. Just outside her passenger door was a pier of steps that led to the front doors of the home. A red carpet had been rolled out, and reporters consumed both sides, holocameras flashing bright lights in the darkness.
The mansion itself was red and white brick, with multiple rectangular windows. The sides stretched wide and wrapped backward, as if hugging the jewel-toned gardens just beyond. Steepled layer after steepled layer made up the roof, with eight different chimneys adding to the height.
“Are you ready—” She stopped. Hector had turned an unpleasant shade of green. She leaned over, making sure to brush her lips against his ear, and whispered, “I want you so much, it’s like a fever in my blood. Now get out of the car and come get me. Also, I forgot to wear any panties.”
He nearly tore the door of the hinges during his hasty exit, but when he reached her side of the vehicle and helped her out with a gloved hand, he was steady as a rock, his expression blank, even bored. Good boy.
The night was colder than usual, and he wrapped an arm around her waist to keep her warm. Voices called out to them. “Who are you wearing, Noelle?” “Are the two of you dating?” “How’s the baby?” “What does Corban Blue think of you seeing another man?”
Without a word, Hector tossed his remote for the car to the valet. A remote that would bypass the voice and fingerprint controls, allowing someone who wasn’t programmed in to operate the panels.
They ascended the steps, and Noelle tossed an easy smile this way and that. She made a mental note to download every newspaper in the city tomorrow morning. A little computer magic, and she’d replace Hector’s tux with a bunny suit and her dress with skin, and tease him, make him laugh.
God, she adored his laugh. The undertones were still rusty, still gravelly, but much easier to evoke now than when she’d first met him.
When they entered the foyer, Noelle claimed a glass of bubbly from the waiting waiter—a Mec whose skin pulsed with the happy glow of pink—uncaring what anyone thought about her feeding alcohol to her bun in the oven. She scanned, but caught no hint of Phillips.
The crowded ballroom was something out of a fairy tale. A domed ceiling seemingly carved from solid gold, with intricate symbols framing the sides. The chandelier in the center was tiered, each tier wider than the one above, thousands of crystal teardrops cascading into a shimmery waterfall.
Alabaster columns opened into separate rooms, some with tables of food, some with artwork on display, some with lush, fragrant gardens. No matter where you stepped, soft music played in the background, blending with the sound of idle chatter and clinking glasses.
“Ava’s happy I dragged you to this rather than her,” she said to Hector. “She always hated these things.”
He snorted, relaxing into the conversation. “I more than hate it.”
To be honest, Noelle would rather be at home with the man she adored, snuggled up, watching TV, making love. Would that stun Hector? Horrify him? Or actually tempt him? “So … what if our guy doesn’t show?”
“He will. AIR hasn’t approached him, so he’s probably relaxed, thinking Gordman hasn’t given us his name. And won’t.”
“True, but—” From the corner of her eye, she spotted her mother and brothers making a beeline for her. Damn it, they’d told her they weren’t coming because they were too embarrassed by her disgraceful pregnancy.
“Will you excuse me, Hector?” Heart drumming, stomach clenching, she looked back and forth between her man and her family. “I’m going to run to the ladies’ room.”
He frowned at her, didn’t appear to believe her, but all he said was, “Don’t be long.”
“So commanding,” she tsked under her tongue and took off like her heels were on fire. After placing her empty glass on a passing tray, she made sure her family noticed her change of location and followed her.
As she prepared herself for war, she led them to the far end of the room. Double doors opened into a gorgeous marble statue garden. No one meandered about, the air perhaps too cold and damp. Hadn’t stopped the vultures out front.
The unfamiliar male voice came from behind her, and she whirled. Someone had shut the doors before her family had reached her. From the shadows of one of the statues stepped the handsome guy she’d seen in Alfonzo’s, when she and Hector had interrogated Brenda Marks.
He wore an expensively cut tux, polished loafers. “You shouldn’t be here,” he said again.
“And why is that?” She didn’t see a weapon on him, but she wasn’t taking any chances. Her fingers reached past the side-slit in her dress and closed around the butt of her pyre.
The moment she touched the handle, he disappeared from view—only to materialize behind her and grab onto her wrist, shocking the hell out of her.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “No weapons.”
Threat! Throwing her head back, she nailed him in the chin and he released her.
She spun, aimed—only to watch him disappear once again. “Coward,” she growled. “You want to play, because I’ll play. Prison rules.”
“Damn it, woman. I’m not going to hurt you. Had I wanted to do so, I would have. I’ve had numerous opportunities.”
He’d spoken from her left, but when she turned, he’d already moved on. “Who are you?” she demanded, still not seeing him.
“Mia Snow’s informer. For now, you can call me Anonymous.”
His voice had come from the right this time, but again, when she turned he was nowhere to be seen. Her heart thundered in her chest. “You’re also an otherworlder.”
“Part Arcadian, to be exact. Now, then. I’m going to appear in front of you, and if you fire at me, I’ll dodge, easily, and take off. You won’t get to hear the tidbit I’ve got for you.”
Indecision battled with curiosity inside her, but in the end the curiosity won. She lowered her gun to her side. “Start talking. If I don’t like what you’re saying, bad things are going to happen to you.”
A warm chuckle rose. As promised, he appeared in front of her. She studied him anew, noting details she’d missed at first glance. His eyes were the same electric blue as Mia’s. In fact, Noelle thought, frowning, the two shared similar facial features, too. The same sloped nose, the same cut cheekbones, the same full lips. It was like looking at a taller, penis-toting version of the AIR captain.
Were they… could they be… related?
No way, she decided next. He’d said he was Arcadian. Had proven it with his abilities. Mia was human. Right?
“I’m emailing you an address,” he said. “There you’ll find another of Phillips’s victims.”
“His competition. A year ago, he treated Gerard Hendrick to the same pyre-fire as Bobby Marks. I watched him.”
Was that so? “And you never reported it, even though you’ve been helping us? Why would you omit a detail like that?” Their investigation would have gone a lot smoother and a lot faster.
“Because Phillips is mine.” Hard tone, determined. “I don’t like him, and I don’t like what he’s doing. When I see an opportunity to cut at him, I take it, as long as I know he won’t be captured.”
She recalled the theory she’d batted around with Hector. “He took a woman from you? Someone you love? You’re searching for her.”
The blue in his eyes darkened to black as he nodded. “If he’s dead, I’ll never find her.”
“If he’s locked up, you can talk to him any time you want.”
The corners of his mouth lifted with condescension. “You’ll never lock him up. Anyone who tries to take him in will die. But let’s say a miracle happens, because I can practically hear your thoughts and know you think it’s possible to catch him. He’d just escape. Believe me, I know. I’ve been watching and studying him for over a year.”
“Well, I haven’t yet had a crack at him.”
“Wouldn’t make a difference. He’s always a few steps ahead of you, keeping tabs on your progress.”
The words left him so easily, and yet each was like a rock slamming into her skull. “How? Do we have a mole in AIR?” If so…
“Not to my knowledge, but then, watching AIR isn’t hard to do. Anyway, right now Phillips isn’t sure whether you have his identity or not. He’s content, still doing business as usual. You approach, and that ends. He’ll want to know what you know, who you’ve told, and he’ll do anything to find out.”
“Even kill us all, yeah, yeah, you informed me of that already.”
Her flippancy irritated him and he scowled. “Maybe he’ll simply interfere with your investigation by getting rid of you and your partner and making everyone else too afraid to take on the case.”
“Kinda like what he does with his customers, huh?” As if she and Hector couldn’t handle themselves.
“Exactly.” His eyes narrowed, his gaze lasering into her. “So listen up. I know you’re planning to do something stupid tonight, like talk to him. Don’t.”
Trying to tie their hands, hold them back. “We’re not afraid of him, Mr. Anonymous. Someone has to take him down.”
“Yes, and that someone will be me.”
“You’ve had a year,” she reminded him. Merciless, like Hector. “Maybe longer. You haven’t exactly succeeded, now have you?”
“I’ve done a better job than you.”
“Ha!” Was she this annoying when telling people how much better she was? “We’ve had a week. Give us another, and Phillips will be behind bars and Big Daddy’s bitch.”
His fingers flexed before curling into fists. “You have no idea the shit storm you will unleash if you continue on this path.”
Whatever. Nothing she couldn’t handle. “Why not tell all of this to Mia? Why come to me directly?”
White teeth flashed in a sudden grin. “Big scary tattoo guy is more likely to listen to you than to her. And now, enough questions. I told you what I wanted to tell you. You tell Mia I want that list of names and descriptions of every female you’ve found.” The smile faded, leaving an expression of pain. “And tell her… tell her that Dare is back.”
BY THE TIME NOELLE returned to Hector’s side, the guy—Dare?—had indeed emailed her an address, which she forwarded to Mia with a note about what had been said. No reply had come in, but then, she hadn’t expected one. Mia wouldn’t contact her until she’d verified the information.
Frown fierce, Hector eyed her up and down. “I was about to start a search and rescue. Where were you?”
She grabbed another glass of champagne. “You’ll never guess what just—”
“Noelle,” her mother huffed from her left, cutting her off.
Damn it! Her family may not have followed her outside, but they’d sure as hell waited for her return, hadn’t they. And they were about to pounce, fangs and claws probably bared.
A quick glance, and she spotted her mother decked out in a regal black dress, diamonds glittering at her neck and fingers, her hair upswept. All three of Noelle’s brothers trailed behind her.