“More,” he repeated, the word slurred. He bit at her lips, nibbling. “I need more of you.”
A car honked, jolting them both. Panting, Hector jerked up his head. He peered down at her, comprehension and horror dawning in his eyes. Why horror? She tried to kiss him again, to help him forget whatever troubled him, but he turned away.
Again she was cut off. “Down, Noelle. Now.”
Little chips of ice joined the fire in her blood, cooling her down. The moment her feet hit the pavement, he leapt away from her as if she were toxic, ensuring no part of them touched. Her knees were weak and nearly buckled, but she managed to remain upright.
She looked him over. His expression was now chiseled from granite, his jaw clenched, his lips swollen. His erection, gone. And there was a faint blue glow emanating from both of his arms. Arms he quickly hid behind his back.
She must have been mistaken. Surely he hadn’t glowed. No time to reason things out, though. As she inhaled, she caught the scent of burning cotton and frowned. A swift scan, and she realized her tank had been singed at the straps. Her brow furrowed in confusion. How had that happened?
“You’re not being kicked out,” Hector rasped. “You’ve excelled at every exercise, and for that, Mia Snow thinks you’ve earned a second chance. You won’t get another.”
Mia Snow thought. Not Hector. “Thank you,” she replied with only the barest tremor.
“Don’t thank me. Thank Mia.”
He wasn’t going to say anything about what had just gone down between them—and what had almost gone down. Had it not been for that honk, they would have kept going, would have had sex right here, against the wall.
His rejection, when she still trembled with need for him, cut deeply. He didn’t like her, was probably ashamed about kissing her. Probably? Try definitely. That horror …
Despite her money, he probably thought she wasn’t good enough for him. That she was flighty, selfish, and stupid, after all. You pander to that mind-set. You can’t blame him.
I’ve got your number, he’d said. As she’d suspected, he hadn’t really.
“You’ve got two hours to make it back to camp. The tunnel’s been locked, so you’ll just have to hoof it the long way,” he said. “Which means you’re going to need every second of those two hours. I’d get started if I were you. And Noelle?” he added before she could take a step. “Don’t sneak out again, and don’t ever—ever—kiss or touch me.”
“Then don’t kiss or touch me back,” she snapped. “And don’t play this game with me,” he shouted. “Understand?” He didn’t wait for her reply but stomped away.
“Ava,” Noelle whispered, shaking her friend awake. The bunkhouse was dark as hell, and Noelle was drenched in sweat and dirt, but she didn’t want to take a shower until she’d spoken to her friend.
Ava bolted upright, reaching for the razor she kept under her pillow. Then she paused, caught her breath. Her glassy gaze cleared. “Noelle?”
“I kissed Hector, even though you had dibs.” And now I think I hate him.
After he’d stalked out of the alley, he’d climbed into a nearby car. He’d followed her back to camp. As she’d run. The entire freaking way. Not once had he checked on her, offered her something to drink, or taken pity on her and allowed her to catch a ride with a stranger.
“First taste is free. You’ll have to buy the second one. So … how was it?” Ava asked, falling back on her mattress. Only curiosity filled her tone.
“Let’s just say I did you a favor. He’s such a bastard.”
“Did he not finish what he started?”
“Worse. He told me to never, ever kiss or touch him again, as if I’m toxic.”
“Want me to kill him for you?”
See? This was why she loved Ava so damn much. “Nah. Let’s just torture him a little.”
“If by a little you mean until he’s writhing and screaming for mercy, I’m in!”
GOD HAVE MERCY. IF Hector died of a massive coronary this morning, Noelle Tremain would be at fault. He had to be closing in on the number of erections one man could experience—and ignore—in a single week before he just up and died.
Hector wasn’t the only one suffering with unrequited lust, either. Every man in the area watched her with differing levels of arousal. And that didn’t piss him off; he’d simply woken up in a bad mood. Again.
He wasn’t getting any sleep. Not before their bone-melting kiss, and certainly not after. Every night he dreamed about her. About kissing and touching her, and that only deepened his need for her, the ever-growing obsession. Because he kept thinking that while he’d rolled his tongue against hers, he hadn’t cupped her breasts, or felt her nipples bead under his palm. Hadn’t delved his fingers deep into her wet, dripping sex.
And he never could.
But now he wanted to do those things more than he wanted to breathe.
So what had started out as a small attraction was now a full-blown case of the must-fucks.
If this was what happened in seven days, imagine what would happen in fourteen. Then twenty-eight. And, God forbid, fifty-six.
He couldn’t. Not without sweating.
He never should have gone near her that night, but she’d peered up at him with such defiance, he’d practically wrapped himself around her in a bid to intimidate her. At least that’s what he’d told himself. All while drinking her in, luxuriating in the sparkle in her eyes, the sultriness of her scent, the feminine curves of her body.
And the kiss? He had no excuse for that. It was the stupidest thing he’d ever done. He’d known it then, and he really knew it now. Especially since his desire to have her had been so consuming, his arms had fired up and he hadn’t freaking cared.
He’d burned her shirt, had nearly burned her skin, risking her safety, his own. Even his freedom.
No one at AIR knew what he could do, and that’s the way he wanted it to stay. Because if anyone ever found out, they’d either lock him up and toss the key or feed him the barrel of a .22. And he would deserve it!
Even still, he would never allow anyone to lock him away. He’d spent most of his childhood in a four-by-four cage, laughed at, starved, bruised and broken after being forced to fight other disposable kids, time and time again.
Most had been picked up off the streets, but some, like him, had parents looking for a quick buck. Parents who’d pit their own children against each other, while adult men and women bet on the winner and the condition of the loser.
Hector had worked hard to free himself, and had had to kill a lot of people along the way. Something he did not regret. His life might not be fun or easy, but he made his own choices. Made a difference in the world. Helped those who suffered as he once had. He had purpose.
Thankfully, Noelle hadn’t noticed the glow. Had she, she would have said something. She wasn’t the type to remain mute. About anything.
You’re good to go, but if you keep this thought process up, you won’t be. Concentrate on the here and now. On what matters. Anything but that kiss.
The trainees had been roused from their beds less than ten minutes ago. ’Course, they’d only gotten two hours of shuteye before that, so most were dead on their feet. Once the horn blasted, signaling it was time to rise and shine, they’d had five minutes to dress, do whatever they needed to do, and line up outside.
Noelle had emerged in the tiniest, tightest pair of pink shorts he’d ever seen, and an equally tight white tank top. She should have looked like any other female in the camp, but he could see the curve of her ass, and goddamn. No one else in the entire freaking world had an ass like hers. Toned, curved, perfect. Biteable.
Her hair was anchored in a ponytail on top of her head, and the length swung back and forth, back and forth with every perky step she took. Perky steps that bordered on lascivious because of the red lace winding up her combat boots.
Her face was scrubbed clean of makeup, giving her a fresh, dewy appearance. And with the rising sun behind her, framing her with golds, oranges, and pinks, she was every man’s fantasy come to sizzling life.
A fantasy. That’s all she could ever be to him. So he’d just have to pretend he didn’t notice that her nipples were hard from the cool, too-early morning air. Nipples he’d felt against his chest. And oh, sweet Jesus, there were goose bumps winding around the band of skin seductively revealed between the hem of her shirt and the waist of her shorts. Her navel dipped so exquisitely, it would be a playground for his tongue.
Don’t you dare go there, asshole. A plea from a deeply rooted need to protect himself.
“Start running,” he shouted to the twenty-four recruits remaining at the camp. Two had already dropped out due to injuries, two had been kicked out for finishing last, and one short, effeminate man with a thin mustache and a habit of sleeping in the female barracks had simply disappeared.
Shockingly, Noelle hadn’t been among the out-for-the-counters. “And don’t stop until you’re told,” he added. “You do, you go home.”
The group shot into action so quickly their moans of not-this-again barely had time to register. Desperate for a distraction—one that would actually work—Hector kicked into gear, determined to run this bitch of a course himself.
This was his last day here. At least until next month. Like the others, he was supposed to stay, but because of his ability, he’d gotten permission to leave campus the weeks he wasn’t in charge. Not that his boss knew the truth.
When Hector first joined AIR, he’d lied about a medical condition. A skin disease that demanded his coworkers remain hands off, that he sometimes wear gloves, and sometimes, when “the agony” became too much, that he stay home. Most of them respected the first, all of them laughed about the second, and on rare occasions, a few of them brought him chicken noodle soup because of the third.
Now he had less than twelve hours until he adiosed, which meant he had twelve hours to get rid of Noelle. He should have fought Mia when she’d said, “Tremain snuck out? So what. I like a girl with initiative. She stays.” Instead, he’d jumped in his car and burned rubber into the city to go and get her.
All the way there, he’d told himself she was too young for him. He’d told himself that screwing a trainee was unethical, but his mind had snagged on the word “screwing” and the rest had ceased to matter. He’d told himself that, if he ever talked her into bed, she would consider him such a bad lay, she’d laugh about their encounter for years to come, but his mind snagged on the words “lay” and “come,” and he’d started plotting ways to taste her.
Bottom line: she shouldn’t have lasted this long.
Yeah, she was more intelligent than he’d first given her credit for, but you needed more than smarts to succeed at this job. How would she react at the scene of a gruesome murder? Vomit? Pass out? Probably both.
He’d cleared most of his cases before coming out here, and all of them had been bitches. Especially that last one. A human teenager had fought a Teran teenager, and neither had walked away, leaving a bloody mess. The Teran’s claws had slashed the human into a thousand different Christmas ribbons. Then, knowing otherworlders were judged harshly and sometimes things like self-defense were forgotten, the Teran had killed himself rather than spend the rest of his life in AIR lockup.
Kids, man. Their murders and suicides affected Hector in a way nothing else ever had. They hadn’t yet truly lived, and they didn’t know there was something better out there.
Noelle had only ever been pampered. What did she know of pain and suffering?
And her arrests? He still wasn’t buying. Not to that degree. If she lived through camp and somehow became an AIR agent, she’d be ripped to pieces on the streets. More than that, she would hinder whoever was unlucky enough to be paired with her. Guaranteed, she’d contaminate evidence and shit like that. Rules meant nothing to her.
Last night, she’d managed to smuggle in food—and not through the tunnel. Actually, he didn’t know how she’d done it. She wasn’t talking, and neither was anyone else. And because he couldn’t prove any rules had been broken, Mia had once again put her foot down with a smug, “She stays!”
Hector never would have known about the contraband if not for Dallas, who was always hungry and had followed his nose like a hound. And Hector, thinking the shithead just wanted a peek at Noelle in the shower, had followed the agent. What he’d found: the trainees huddled together, ripping meat off chicken bones as if they were at the Last Supper.
That’s what this fifteen-mile run was about. And why the trainees would be living outside for the next month.
Still. Hector didn’t think the location change would break Noelle. She’d say something excruciatingly optimistic like, Camping is fun, and twirl. So it was time to step up the torment. Time to … hurt her.
“I think I forgot to tell you good morning,” she said as she passed him, that smoky voice tugging him back to the course. “So, allow me to remedy that. Good morning, Hector.”
He almost tripped over his own goddamn feet. Honest to God, she’d said his name as if he were already inside her and thrusting. “That’s Agent Dean to you,” he snapped. Not with anger, as he should have, but with more of that crackling arousal.