"That's it, Denise. Your blood changed after Raum branded you. That's how we'll track Nathanial. Through his blood."

Spade strode into Ian's parlor without waiting for the butler to announce him.

"Who would I go to if I were looking for some Red Dragon?"

Ian clicked off his telly with a snort. "I say, Charles, you've truly turned over a new leaf since you started shagging this one, haven't you?"

"Don't speak of her that way," Spade growled at once.

Denise looked pleased that he'd corrected Ian's rudeness, but Ian's slow smile confirmed he knew the real reason behind Spade's response. He cursed himself for his possessive reaction. It was one thing to act as though Denise were his while they were in public. Quite another to feel that way, however. Spade felt like he was in quicksand when it came to his emotions for Denise. The more he struggled, the deeper he sank.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Ian drawled.

Spade gave Ian a single glare.

"Looking for some Red Dragon, you say?" Ian replied, his arched brow saying he'd drop the matter...for now.

"I don't remember talking about a dragon," Denise whispered.

Spade glanced down at her. "Chasing the Dragon is an expression for seeking a narcotic high. Vampires call their drug Red Dragon, because it's only through tainted blood that we can be affected by a chemical stimulant."

Though now he knew the stimulant in Red Dragon wasn't chemical at all. The vampires who sought it out either didn't care what ingredient in it gave them the high, or knew not to ponder it publicly. Consuming or selling Red Dragon was against vampire law. After all, hallucinating, out-of-control vampires threatened the secrecy of the race, and nothing was of more concern to the undead world than keeping their existence a secret.

Denise had no idea how dangerous her blood was. If the Law Guardians found out she was a walking drug, they wouldn't give her the chance to find Nathanial and have the brands taken off. They'd kill her without a moment's hesitation. And if the suppliers of Red Dragon discovered Denise was another source for their illicit, highly expensive trade, they'd turn her existence into a living hell.

A muscle ticked in Spade's jaw. Damned if he'd allow either to happen.

"Can't say I have any," Ian went on, with a shake of his head. "Very hard to come by, of course. I tried it once. It was fun for 'round an hour, but then it gave me the most rotten dreams plus a headache the next day - a bloody headache! Why would you want to trifle with that poison, Charles?"

"I have my reasons," Spade replied.

Denise glanced at her feet, shuffling uneasily, but not saying a word. Smart lass. He'd trust Ian with many things, but not this.

Ian's clear turquoise gaze considered him. Spade kept his face impassive. If Ian couldn't direct him to a source, he'd go to someone else who could. Red Dragon might be rare and illegal, but there were ways to find it. There were ways to find anything, if one was prepared to look hard enough.

"I'll tell you who I got mine from," Ian said at last. "Can't promise the bloke is still dealing it; that was a few years ago. In any event, his name's Black Jack, and at the time, he frequented the high-stakes games at the Belaggio."

"The Belaggio in Vegas?" Spade clarified.

Ian shrugged. "It is Sin City, after all."

That muscle ticked in Spade's jaw again. "So it is. That offer of a room still open, mate?"

"Why?" Denise blurted.

Spade took her hand and gave it a light squeeze, but Ian just laughed.

"Don't care for me, poppet? I suppose it's those wretched stories Cat must have told about me. Women do like to exaggerate."

"You're saying you didn't try to blackmail Cat into having sex with you by threatening to kill some of her soldiers?" Denise asked, ignoring Spade's tightening grip on her hand.

Ian's smile was shameless. "Ah, that? Yes, I did that."

Denise's hand seemed to get warmer while her scent sharpened with anger. "That's more than enough reason not to like you."

"Denise." Spade turned her to face him. "Trust me on this."

She shot another mutinous glare at Ian, but nodded.

Glad she wouldn't argue further, even though Ian had been deliberately baiting her, Spade pressed a kiss to Denise's forehead. As soon as his lips touched her skin, however, she froze. So did he.

Kissing her felt like such a natural thing to do, he hadn't even thought before acting on the impulse. But now the memory of the last time his mouth had been on her flashed across his mind.

Spade couldn't stop the flare of heat inside him. Some of Denise's response could be rationalized as the normal reaction any human would have to a carefully placed vampire bite. Not all of it. Not even half of it. Despite her aversion to the vampire world, her PTSD, and the grief that still shadowed her for her slain husband, Denise wanted him.

And despite her humanity, the growing danger she was in, and his own common sense, he wanted her, too. So badly it burned.

Spade's lips slowly left her skin, her heat still lingering on them. When he caught the deepening fragrance blossoming from her, it was all he could do not to press them to her mouth.

"Will you be needing that room now?" Ian asked with heavy irony.

Denise wasn't amused by Ian's comment. She spun around and walked away.

"Second floor, third door on your left. Springy mattress, too," Ian called out.

Spade crossed over to Ian in a blink, stopping himself just in time, though his hands were still curled into fists.

"Were you about to strike me, Charles?" Ian asked, disbelief replacing the amusement on his face.

Spade relaxed his hands. He'd never acted in such a way over a human in all the centuries he'd known Ian. In truth, he'd never acted such a way over anyone, vampire or human. He had to get control of himself when it came to Denise. The situations they'd be in to track Nathanial wouldn't allow for witless, possessive responses like this.

"I know it's your nature to act this way, Ian, but try to curb it when you're around Denise," Spade managed to say in a very calm tone.

Ian stood, his movements slow and deliberate, then he placed his hands on Spade's shoulders.

"I don't know what's going on between you two, but it's starting to concern me. Sneaking behind your best mate's back. Seeking out Red Dragon. Your temper snapping over any perceived slight to her. Have a pause, mate. This isn't like you."

No, it wasn't, and Spade knew it. But he couldn't pause. Time was running out in more ways than one.

"Don't fret about me," he replied, touching Ian's hands briefly before stepping away. "I know what I'm doing."

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