"It was the first sign of trouble. His priorities had shifted to 'win at any cost.' I thought it was odd at the time, but crazy shit kept happening and I let it slip. He became paranoid. All security chiefs are paranoid, but Jim took it further than most. He began to obsess with preventing future threats, and when Derek screwed up and got his face bashed in, it pushed Jim over the edge. He couldn't handle being responsible for Derek's death and for my having to kill the kid. He had to fix it at any cost. Basically, there was a problem and I missed it. And he sure as hell didn't bring it up."
Dear Beast Lord, as your chief of security, I must warn you that I have deep-seated inadequacy issues . . . Yeah, hell would sprout roses first.
"I can't keep up with everyone all the time," Curran said. "And Jim's the one who never went nuts on me. It was his time, I guess. So to answer your question fully, there's no reason to demote him. He has a talent for his job and he's doing reasonably well considering what he's up against. If I sack him, I'll have to replace him with somebody who has less experience and will screw up more. This is a lesson. Three months of dragging giant rocks around will help him get the stress out of his system."
We sat quietly. I sipped my beer, feeling a bit fuzzy. Funny how six months sober had turned me into a lightweight. Curran rested the back of his head on the edge of the hot tub and closed his eyes. I stared at the way his face looked, etched against the darkness of the wall. He really was a handsome bastard. Poised like this, he seemed very human. Nobody to impress.
Nobody to command. Just him, in the hot water, tired, hurting, stealing a few precious moments of rest, and so irresistibly erotic. Well, that last one came out of nowhere. It was the beer. Had to be.
Despite all his growling and threats, his arrogance, I liked being next to him. He made me feel safe. It was a bizarre emotion. I was never safe.
I closed my eyes. That seemed like the only reasonable way out of the situation. If I couldn't see him, I couldn't drool over him.
"So you didn't want to see me hurt?" he said. His voice was deceptively smooth and soft, the deep, throaty, sly purr of a giant cat who wanted something. Admitting that I took his well-being into consideration might have been a fatal mistake.
"I didn't want you to have to kill Derek."
"And if he had gone loup?"
"I would have taken care of it."
"How exactly were you planning on pushing Jim aside? He was the highest alpha. The duty was his."
"I pulled rank," I told him. "I declared that since you had accepted the Order's assistance, I outranked everybody."
He laughed. "And they believed you?"
"Yep. I also glared menacingly for added effect. Unfortunately, I can't make my eyes glow the way yours do."
"Like this?" He breathed in my ear.
My eyes snapped open. He stood inches away, anchored on the tub floor, his arms leaning on the tub wall on each side of me. His eyes were molten gold, but it wasn't the hard, lethal glow of an alpha stare. This gold was warm and enticing, touched with a hint of longing.
"Don't make me break this bottle over your head," I whispered.
"You won't." He grinned. "You don't want to see me hurt."
We lunged for each other at the same time and collided, crazy with need and starving for a taste. Warnings and alarms wailed in my mind, but I shut them down. Screw it. I wanted him.
He found my mouth. The thrust of his tongue against mine made my head spin. He tasted like heaven. I kissed him back, nipping, licking, melting against him. It felt so good . . . His lips traced a fiery line from my mouth to the corner of my jaw and down my neck. My whole body sang in warm liquid triumph. His voice was a ragged whisper in my ear. "Only if you want to . . . Say no, and I'll stop."
"No," I whispered to see if he would do it.
Curran pulled back. His eyes were pure need, raw and barely under control. He swallowed.
It was the most erotic thing I had ever seen. I reached for him and slid my hand up his chest, feeling the taut muscle.
He caught my hand and kissed my palm gently. Heated, tightly controlled want shone in his eyes. I pulled my fingers free, pushed from the wall, and kissed his throat just under the jaw.
This was bliss. There was no hope for me.
He growled, closing his eyes. "What are you doing?"
"Pulling on Death's whiskers," I murmured, letting my tongue play over his skin, rough with stubble. He smelled divine, clean and male. My hands slid up his biceps. His muscles tensed under the light pressure of my fingers. He was trying very, very hard to stand still and I almost laughed. All those times when he'd called me "baby" . . . Revenge was sweet.
"Is that a yes or a no?" he asked.
I slid against him and nipped his bottom lip.
"I'll take it as a yes." The steel muscles of his arms flexed under my hands. He grabbed me, hoisted me up onto him, and kissed me, thrusting into my mouth with his tongue in a hot, slick rhythm, greedy and eager. I threw my arms around his neck. His right hand grasped my hair; his left cupped my butt and pushed me closer against him, his erection a hard, hot length across my lap.
"Let me in," Derek growled at the door.
The guard said something. Curran's hand found my breast and caressed the nipple, sending an electric shock through my skin, threatening to melt me . . .
"Yes," Derek snarled. "I'm a member of the damn team. Ask them."
"Curran," I whispered. "Curran!"
He snarled and kept going. The door swung open.
I hit him on the back of the neck. He submerged. Help. I've drowned the Beast Lord.
Derek strode to the edge of the tub. Curran surfaced at the other wall. His face wore a snarl.
"What is it?"
"The Reaper woman brought another box. This one had a hand in it. Not Livie's, doesn't smell like her, but a woman's hand. Smells about two days old, maybe more. They must've iced it."
I closed my eyes and let the reality sink in. Somewhere a woman was missing a hand. Her body was probably eaten. Revulsion squirmed through me, followed by indignant rage.
"Turn the hand over to the Red Guard. There's nothing we can do about it until tomorrow,"
Curran watched me from the other end of the tub, the water separating us like a battlefield.
His eyes were still glowing like molten honey backlit from within. I had to get a grip. To him it was a contest of wills. He said he'd have me, I said he wouldn't, and he wanted to win at any cost.