He was glad when she burst into tears, because it meant the shock had worn off. He'd been worried this last thing might break Denise. There was only so much one person could take, after all, and it had just been last week he thought she'd snapped from stress, before he knew about her demon brands and the threat to her family. Christ, if he were Denise, he'd weep, too. And possibly stake himself.

Spade held her tighter, leaning back on the bed, pulling the blanket around them since she was still shivering. He shifted to curl his body closer around hers. Her head was tucked against his chest, hiding her face, and her shoulders shook with sobs she was now trying to choke back.

He wished he could do something more for her than the pitiful comfort he was providing. Had he helped her at all since she came to him? It didn't feel like it, and her hands certainly seemed to be damning evidence of his failure. What part of Denise would pay next if he continued to fail, warped into monstrosity by the demon's essence continuing to grow inside her?

I won't let that happen, Spade promised himself, his arms tightening around her. Her wretched relative Nathanial had found a way to defeat Raum for several generations. Spade was a centuries-old Master vampire; he'd be damned if he'd fall short where a human had succeeded.

"It will be all right," he told Denise, and meant it this time.

She made what sounded like a gasping snort. "You've got a delusional sense of optimism, you know that?"

Brave, lovely, stubborn Denise, making a joke when she should be senseless with horror over her circumstances. Spade laughed even as something clicked in his heart that he knew would be permanent. This wasn't just lust he felt. It went so much deeper than that.

"It's my secret shame," he told her, brushing his lips across her hair and not caring that it shouldn't feel as right as it did.

She sighed, a choppy, hoarse sound. Her previous shaking had faded to a recurring shiver and her sobs had been replaced with a slight hiccup. Spade marveled that it was less than ten minutes since she'd first seen her hands. Bloody strong woman.

"That's one coat, two shirts, a house, and a boat I've cost you," she muttered. "God, Spade, save yourself. Walk away."

He leaned back against the high headboard, still keeping his arms around her. "No."

"This isn't your - "

"Could you argue with me later, darling? I'm rather knackered now."

So saying, he closed his eyes, silently willing her not to keep battling him - and not to get up, either. He wanted to keep holding her like this. It was the source of the most contentment he'd felt in over a century, though he'd also told the truth about being tired. The sun was high and he hadn't slept aside from a couple of hours knocked unconscious from blood loss and drugs. Denise also had to be exhausted. She hadn't slept at all after he'd drained her blood and then Raum performed his evil workings on her.

She didn't say anything. Spade waited, inwardly tense even though his limbs were loose. She still had her face ducked against his chest, her mahogany-colored hair spilling across him, her hands still wrapped in his coat under the blanket. The minutes began to tick by, but she remained quiet, and she didn't try to leave. Gradually, her breathing lost the congested irregularity from her previous tears to become slow and even.

He didn't fully relax until he knew she was asleep. Then he allowed himself to drift off, one arm still wrapped around her, his other hand cupping her head to his chest.

Denise stretched, yawning, her eyes still closed. The big, hard body next to hers shifted, pulling her closer while murmuring something unintelligible. She wrapped herself around him before her slowly returning consciousness took note of the situation.

You're in bed with Spade.

Denise's eyes flew open. Spade's face was only inches away, his arms encircling her, his legs tangled in hers. That was the good news. The bad news was that her br**sts were pressed against his chest and his thigh rested between her legs, snug against her crotch. She couldn't be closer to him unless they were welded together, and the tangle of blankets around them said they'd been like this for a while.

Spade was still asleep. Even though her heart began to thump at their intimate proximity, she couldn't help but take a moment to stare. His hair was so black against his pale skin, several long locks falling over his cheek. His brows were equally dark and thick, curving over closed eyes that were framed by sooty, long lashes. His nose was a straight bridge between two high cheekbones, his mouth full enough to be sexy, and strong enough to be nothing but masculine.

Denise remembered what those firm, supple lips felt like pressed to her forehead. Then how his mouth had felt when he'd trailed it over her neck so sensually and thoroughly before he'd bitten her, and a long-denied ache began to throb within her. She was seized with an overwhelming desire to kiss him, to know what those lips would feel like against her mouth.

Spade's eyes opened, startling her, because not a muscle on him had moved before in warning. Denise jerked back guiltily, afraid he'd know either from her scent or from her expression what she'd been thinking, but his arms hardened, preventing her escape. She was caught between hoping he'd let her go and hoping he wouldn't as she stared at him, trapped inside the circle of his arms. Spade's eyes began to fill up green. His lips parted, showing the tips of fangs...and it only made the throbbing heat inside her grow.

Did he want her, too? Or were those signs of hunger of a different nature? After all, how could he want a demonically deformed human -

Denise gasped as her gaze settled on her hands, freed from Spade's coat sometime while she'd slept. Gone were the hideously long fingers and clawlike nails. They were hers again. Normal.

"Spade, look!" she exclaimed, waving her hands between them.

His eyes turned back to their natural tiger-colored shade and he let her go, sitting up to examine her hands.

"It's as if nothing ever happened to them," he said musingly, turning them over in his grip.

Relief flooded through her so completely, she almost felt dizzy. A wide smile broke across her face. She wasn't a monster. Not yet. There was still time to save her family and herself.

And at the same time, her stomach let out a yowl that extended into an ominous-sounding roar. Spade's brow lifted and his mouth twitched.

"Perhaps it's time to get you something to eat."

An hour later, Denise cleared her third plate, ignoring Ian, who watched her with a sort of mystified fascination.

"Where do you put it?" he finally asked, his turquoise gaze sliding over her. "Or are you one of those lasses who vomits?"

She shot him a glare, but didn't answer. Maybe one day, she'd ask Spade how he ever came to be friends with someone like Ian. If Ian had another side in addition to rude schmuck, she hadn't seen it yet.

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