By the time Damali had administered the Caduceus to the last Guardian brother, sweat had formed a huge V in her T-shirt, and her clothes clung to her like second skin. Even though Marlene and Marjorie had repeatedly asked to assist, Damali declined for their safety. Who knew what the guys had dragged home? Foul and funky energy, some unseen spiritual parasite, who knew? The team had been there, done that, and Damali felt way

better keeping an unknown agent, especially from the probable sources it had come from, contained within one team healer - her.

"Okay, J.L.," Damali said, slowly straightening and stret ching her back. "You're good to go, man." She gripped the long golden staff that was nearly as tall as she, watching the dual serpents on it slither into place and settle down to become inanimate again. J.L. peered up at her from the sofa with a sheepish grin. "They never landed a blow on me, D."

She gave him her hand and a smiling scowl as she pulled him up. "Yeah, but you oughta know by now that down there, they don't have to nick you - they can blow smoke up your nose with a phantom tagging along in it to have you acting crazy." J.L. held up his hands in front of him. "You're right, my bad." Rider chuckled. "Give it up, brother. We're outnumbered and outgunned. They think faster and hit harder."

When several of the younger Guardians gave Rider a quizzical look, Big Mike chuckled and shook his head.

'They'll learn," Mike said in a rumble, beginning to grin broadly. He pulled Inez against him. "Y'all don't fight fair -  low blows, hit a brother hard. Dang, girl, you'd cut me off forever?"

Inez laughed. "Turn into something real crazy, hear, and see what happens."

"I rest my case," Rider said, beginning to collect his spent weapons. He glanced at Bobby and Dan, then over to Jose and J.L., finally settling his gaze on Berkfield. "You better tell

'em, medic."

Berkfield laughed. "Every man for himself. I'm already in the doghouse."

"Oh, no you're not," Marjorie said softly, going to him.

"You might wanna school some of us old heads on how you just pulled that coup, Richard," Shabazz said laughing, giving Marlene a hopeful glance.

"Oh, so now everybody's got jokes," Marlene muttered, but a smile escaped despite her clear determination to remain peevish.

Relieved laughter finally overtook the room, which Damali knew the brothers were angling for. Even Carlos had to laugh as they watched each man cop a plea and try to jus

tify the previous bullheaded move that could have gotten him killed or worse. But now that the apparent danger was over for the moment, the bravado and banter were back.

"All right, people, listen up," Marlene said, rallying the group in a no-nonsense tone. "You senior squad know the drill, but I'm repeating this for the newbies. Strip at the door; drop your gear into a plastic bag that has my special anti-demon blend in it Let your partner tie up the bag, pray over it, anoint the top, and set it outside so the sun will hit it in the morning. You don't bring that mess deep over your threshold before sealing it up, and you stop at the door and say out loud, 'No demon may enter in the name of the Almighty,'

before your partner walks through that door to strip."

Marlene's gaze traveled to each male face, making sure they got it, but waited until their wives nodded. "Okay. This is critical. Shower that splatter off you first, and bomb the drain with holy water behind it. Use my special white bath soap - wash your hair, everything - then, and only then, do you step into that white bath tub." Damali hung her head back. "Maaaan ... as soon as you all leave I'm gonna have to smudge this whole suite out with white sage and be casting out vibes 'til dawn,

practically." She looked at Carlos hard. "See ... y'all just don't know." Holding her purple silk robe up and off her body by two fin gers, Marlene looked at each female Guardian hard. "Same deal with your clothes. We hugged 'em, don't know what could have been attached, gotta do the shower and bath routine, too."

"Aw... maaan ..." Inez grumbled under her breath and then elbowed Mike in the ribs.

"Like I said, meaner and hit harder," Rider said with a sigh. "Okay, we know. This is not a drill."

* * *

shabazz hung his head back and groaned as Marlene stood in the shower with him and scrubbed his locks down to the scalp. Shower spray beat on his chest as Marlene's soapy hands got down into the places that made him close his eyes.

"I swear you do this kinda stuff, man, just so I'll wash your hair," Marlene fussed, her body loosely spooning his as she reached up to be sure she didn't miss a spot.

"Can you blame a man?" he said, breathing out another soft groan and tilting his head as she paid attention to a particularly sensitive area. "Oh, yeah ... right there." She laughed and scratched his scalp harder. "You need to stop."

"I'm not doing anything," he said, reaching back to stroke her slick hip. She swatted him and turned him around. "Douse."

She looked down and then quickly looked back up. He laughed.

"What can I say - I'm a tactical."

"Douse," she repeated, trying to ignore the shiver that claimed her stomach. "No exchange of nothin' in this shower. You still have to get a bath, and you know it - how many battles have we been in and cleaned up after?"

"Maybe that's why I go to war so much, ever thought of that?" he asked with a half-smile.

"This is the best part... and knowing I can't act on impulse in here and have to wait, really messes a brother up."

She stared at him and fought a smile, also fighting the way his voice and the tone it contained had made a familiar ache creep between her legs. Just watching him stand there under the spray, eyes closed, thick arms lifted as he rinsed out his black-coffee locks, each muscle group a complex steel cable network that moved as his fingers scrubbed... water cascading down his ebony chest... each section a defined block of pure muscle right down to the bricks in his abdomen, and Lord have mercy anything lower, she had to look away.

"Turn around and let me wash your back," she said more quietly than intended. He obliged and she slicked her hands with more lather that released eucalyptus and myrrh around them.

"Oh, man, Mar... this is the best part," he murmured, dropping his head forward while his voice bottomed out. He leaned into her touch as she pulled at tight muscles. "Yeah, right there, my draw-shoulder. Damn, woman, that feels so good..." Her fingers kneaded down either side of his dark chocolate spine after she took her time pressing out the hard cords across his shoulders. As she made her way down his back, pressing her thumbs against either side of his vertebrae, she could see a blue-white arc beginning to flicker in his locks, but then die out as though he were trying his best to suppress it Just witnessing that did something to her and she had to redouble her efforts to stay focused on the cleansing.

Despite her best attempt to remain clinical, the sounds he released almost made her forget her own instructions, espe cially when she hit the small of his back and he arched, plac

ing both hands on the tile wall. She was caught up, and she knew it, yet still couldn't keep her hands from paying homage to that special dip he had in his spine, the one that came just before the high rise of his firm ass ... all muscle. Then her fingers found the cord that began the rise, each thumb kneading in an opposite direction until he was breathing in short pants.

She had to stop when she saw the blue static take over his locks, and then flow down his back to cover her hands like blue lava. "I promise I'll finish the massage after the white bath, all right?" she murmured, stepping in close but trying not to press too much of her nakedness against him.

He nodded and pushed away from the tiles to turn and stare at her. "I'ma hold you to that, Mar, but I need to wash your back ... and your hair, too."

"I don't think I can take your touch right now," she admit ted in a quiet voice. For a moment they both just looked at each other, listen ing to the spray. He didn't say a word, and didn't argue, but just gently moved her to stand under the water while he soaped his hands. She closed her eyes and braced herself. The moment his static-charged hands touched her locks, she moaned and hung onto the walls.

"C'mon, 'Bazz, you've gotta go get in the tub and let me wash my own hair. The water just makes it worse."

"Yeah, I know," he said on a warm stream of breath close to her ear, his hands working lather into her hair and then ca ressing her shoulders, down her arms and over her breasts -  making her gasp.

He knew Marlene was right, but he couldn't help it. Her beautiful walnut skin, slicked and wet, her hands had done him in, then her gorgeous, knowing eyes had paralyzed him ... the way small runnels of water cascaded down her regal face and over her lush mouth and breasts ... Not touching her felt like he'd severed a limb. His hands reveled in the sensation of touching her, rolling her distended raisin-hued nipples between his fingers with soapy hands. Blue-white static charge spilled over her skin - he couldn't help it, it was reflex, like breathing. Her heavy cone-shaped breasts fit exactly in his palms. He stepped in closer as the water beat down against her, needing to seal the space between her pelvis and his erection.

"We really have to finish the cleanse," she said, her breathy gasp betraying her as she hugged him.

"Yeah, I know," he murmured, still sliding against her slowly without entering her. He nuzzled her wet, clean, velvet-textured locks, water splashing his face as his hands slid up and down her arms then over her hips. "C'mon, baby, let's hurry up and get in and out of the tub."

She looked up at him, breathing hard, and for a moment neither of them spoke.

"Please, turn off the water," she said in a hoarse whisper, closing her eyes. "I can't move." Her admission almost made him take her mouth on im pulse, but he complied with a shudder and stepped back as the water nearly stopped. He was breathing through his mouth now, trying in vain to occasionally take in a deep breath through his nose. But the sensation of her hands going over his shoulders and down his back wouldn't leave him. It was as though she'd coated him with liquid heat and it was spilling over his ass, which had

ached for the promise of her caress, but was denied. His thighs were jonesing for that feeling that she'd spread along his once-sore biceps, and his chest needed it, too ... yet not half as much as his ab domen did. His stomach clenched just thinking about it, which made his erection bounce.

" 'Bazz," she murmured, turning her face up to him with her eyes closed, softly touching his chest to try to back him up.

The simple caress made him let out a moan that stunned him His nipples were on fire, felt like they were stinging with the need for her to brush them, lick them, and pull them between her lips. It made no sense how bad the ache her touch there created. Worse, it raced down his abdomen straight to his groin, filling his shaft. He was getting ready to turn off the shower and had flat tened her against the tiles, but she pushed against him more firmly and that's when he saw it as she brought her hands away from him quickly - the blue-static discharge of a tactical. Pure reflex put his hands on her shoulders, and the shud der that ran through her opened his third eye. She looked at him, stunned for a moment as they both shut their eyes tightly. "Baby, don't," she whispered in a tense plea. "Not 'til we get in the tub."

"I don't think I can make it, Mar," he told her honestly. "You're not a tactical, I'm not a seer, but blending this up in here right now... you have to be the rational one." He dropped his forehead against hers. "You have to do the prayers over the water - I can't even think about nothing else but making love right now."

"I know. C'mon, baby, just..." Her voice trailed off as the image of the first time they got together in New Orleans arced from his mind into hers with all the sensory detail that went with it. "Oh, God, 'Bazz."

But she turned her head away as he bent to aggressively kiss her, and hurriedly stepped out of the shower. His slow saunter behind her made her breath hitch. Moving like a madwoman, she grabbed the jug of holy water off the edge of the sink and poured three heavy splashes down the drain.

She practically skidded on the floor rushing to the tub to turn it on, and her hands were shaking as she dumped the white bath contents into it. Shabazz was standing just outside the shower, eyes closed, water coursing down his impressive six-foot-two frame in rivulets, taking in deep breaths, his erection dripping water and pre-cum arousal ooze, his hands in a tent before his mouth as though he was summoning every Zen fiber within himself to relax.

Glimpsing him from the corner of her eye, she could re late. The way his erection moved up and down slowly with his breathing was just too much visual stimulation - she looked at the wall. This was so sacrilegious. She had to pray over this water, asking that it be a barrier to all things evil, that it cleanse the person sitting in it. Yes, get back to center, Marlene, she told herself as she dropped down on her knees. Seeing her down on her knees, bent over the tub, he had to look away. Blue-static charge covered her whole body now. Before it used to just be in her hands, which was bad enough. But if her shapely, toned legs wrapped around his waist with that charge ...and her entire torso hit his, and if her third eye locked with this new thing in him ... he ... would lose ... his mind.

Shabazz raked his locks and turned away from her. Just like her hands had started to hold his charge, he'd been able to glimpse into her thoughts, but the New Orleans thing - damn,

he was right there again like it was twenty years ago. No com pound, no team, before their lives got complicated, when it was just the two of them hunting alone and surviving it all.

Bad part was, though, if two senior Guardians like him and Mar, the original foundation of the team, couldn't get it together to take a post-battle white bath, then he didn't even want to think about the predicaments of the newbies.

Right now he wanted Marlene so bad that tears were standing in his eyes. The woman had him so jacked up he practically couldn't breathe. So how were the youngbloods on the team gonna get through this process? Or maybe it was just him, tripping, after a crazy-ass battle. Maybe after a shape-shift... the first time in his life he'd ever experienced something intense like that. Intense... yeah ... that was the word, that was the feeling, after he'd shifted, everything was too intense.

"Water's ready," Marlene murmured.

Her voice sent a shudder through him. He turned and looked at her and then came over to the tub, half-afraid to get in it with her sitting on the edge. Something indefinably primal made him study her and have to actively resist dragging her into the water under him.

"Thanks, baby," he said quietly, and bent to kiss her out of reflex, and then stopped short as he remembered. "I guess right now I've got a one-track mind. My bad." He chuckled and slipped into the warm water and then slid down all the way to his neck. The sensation of the smooth salts, and heady frankincense and myrrh wafting off of it with Marlene's charge made his eyes cross beneath his lids. Only able to open his lids halfway, he watched the blue-static charge ripple across the surface and then arc to her hand, and finally race up her arm to begin a slow fan out across her body. She looked down and then closed her eyes to keep her mind on the straight and narrow. But his chest rose out of the water like a dark, thick slab of polished, carved wood that disappeared into the milky substance, then the engorged head of his hard member crested the opaque water, the groove in it glistening, making her want to lean over and kiss it so badly that she gripped the porcelain to stay put.

It was clear as day that the more aroused she became, the more it turned him on, and vice versa, even though they were both pretending to allow him to peacefully soak in a cleanse bath. Neither of them needed to be a seer to know that. The charge was in the humid bathroom steam - thick. She tried to send her line of vision to something else and wrest her mind toward a quiet, meditative thought. Yet her gaze kept drifting back to that glistening place in the tub flanked by his thick, muscular thighs. When he captured her hand and stared up at her, it was all over. His charge entered her, imploding between her legs and pushing a deep moan out of her.

Next thing she knew, she was in the water, the floor had taken a huge tsunami-like splash, and a strong arm was around her waist. She tried to keep him from a hard rollover, knowing that would be all she wrote, but centrifugal force was against her.

'"Bazz, baby, not in a white bath -  we can't!"

"We'll take another one, I don't care, Mar," he said in a harsh gasp against her hair, entering her hard.

She almost sat up from the exquisite sensation - him, the double-helix charge, the image in her head, the water, the smooth salts and oils making him seal-slick. Her hands found the high curve of his ass and followed it, causing his thrusts to come harder, more erratic as

her legs tightened around his waist.

Water was everywhere, her locks nearly standing on end, her spine barely protected by his hand beneath it. Normally a more quiet and controlled lover, he sounded like she was murdering him. Shabazz's voice bounced off the tiles, mak ing her crazy, making her think of things and remember things between them that she hadn't thought of in years ... and the more she did, the more his fledgling second-sight absorbed it, bringing pleasure sobs to both of them the harder he worked.

His dominant tactical charge spilled over the edge of the tub, skipped across the puddles on the floor, and zapped in an arc to the shower, then climbed the walls. She clung to him, half to keep from drowning, when her hands ignited with his spinal chakra points and he hollered her name in waves - head back, eyes squeezed shut, one fist pounding tiles, locks swinging water and orgasm depth charge.

The convulsion that hit him stunned her womb with plea sure so deep and feral that for a moment no sound came out of her mouth. Then she choked out his name in a broken twopart stutter and collapsed. His face was burning against hers. She could feel his jaw move and the muscle in it clamp down as though holding something back. Sweat rolled down his temple and back as he gave up trying to breathe through his nose and gulped air. Her hands felt it all, the way each massive half of his back expanded and contracted while he heaved in breaths. Flick

ers of aftershock static raced down his spine and she started to pull her palms away, but he tensed.

"Baby, don't break the connection ... oh, shit, not yet, let it run its full course." She didn't move, just allowed the sweet flickers to make her fingertips and canal tingle. But when he finally lifted his head to begin to withdraw from her, that's when she felt the huge aftershock that had been building.

The sensation rocked her so hard that she dug her nails into his shoulders and arched up, mouth open and face con torted. Sound exited her body that belonged to another woman, a banshee, as he flattened a palm against her spine, hit her base chakra, and released the last trapped charge. She almost banged her head on the edge of the tub she'd whiplashedjerked so hard, and she couldn't have stopped moving against him until it was over if she'd wanted to.

Spent and half-dazed they finally looked at each other. Shabazz was the first to crack a smile. That was it. She burst out laughing with him, but that only made him wince from her tightening sheath around him.

"What was that, Shabazz?" she asked, kissing him with a huge smile. "Dang, brother."

"I don't know," he said, still breathing hard. "I guess that's what you call a brother losing his complete mind."

"Whew ... you have to lose your mind more often, then," she said, leaning up to kiss him.

"Puts a new meaning to a white bath, though, don't it?" She glanced around at the floor. "This don't make no sense." He chuckled and then got serious, tracing her cheek with a finger. "You know, when I shifted, it sorta took me out a little, Mar."

All the mirth dissipated from her eyes as she cupped his cheek but remained mute to let him talk.

"All of a sudden I was burning up, like every cell I owned would explode. Then this vast

... I don't know how to ex plain it ... other than incredible power and raw energy just slammed me." His troubled eyes searched her face as he spoke in a low, private murmur.

"I'd slipped out of my clothes, I don't even know how, and was free, primal. It felt like there was no division between me and anything - then when it was all over, I was standing with the team, dazed for a second, bloody and naked, dead demon bodies every where ... and I had to go put my shit on. Find my pants, Mar, you know? The brothers were staring at me for a few with their mouths open, and for a minute I was so damned embarrassed that I almost wanted to put my own nine to my skull." He looked away. "Do you know what I'm saying?"

"Yeah, I do," she whispered, tightening her hold on him. "I had it happen to me, remember?" But the moment she'd said it, she instantly regretted it - because then that one teeny statement would unnecessarily remind him of how such a scenario came to be. Old lovers, dead or alive, were skeletons that had already leapt out of the closet, but that now needed to stay dead and buried.

No way to recover, she simply pressed her forehead to the center of his chest. "I love you

... and I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go there."

"Water under the bridge," he said quietly. "Me and you are too old to rehash the past." He turned his mouth into her hand and kissed it as she touched his cheek, then captured her palm with his to place a gentle kiss on her ring finger, which was laden with a large oval diamond.

"Yeah," she whispered as he withdrew from her. The sud den loss was profound.

"Thing is," he said, climbing out of the tub and helping her out behind him. "I could feel the energy band connec tions in everything, Mar, does that make sense?" She nodded and brushed his mouth with a kiss as an an swer. This time she grabbed his hand and kissed his ring fin ger, toying with the thick gold band etched with Adinkra symbols that matched hers. If she didn't make this man understand anything else, it was that she loved him. Not that she wanted anyone to lose their life, but the man holding her close right now didn't need to be the one to die out on the battlefield in Morales months ago, or in Lilith's lair tonight, for that matter. God knew what He was doing when He gave her back Shabazz. She was just fine with that decision from On High.

"I ... I don't know," Shabazz finally said when she broke their kiss. "When I agreed to allow an assist, I didn't know it would come like this." Marlene nodded. "The bathroom is wrecked, how about if we go in the bedroom and I finish that massage?"

He kissed her long and slow and deep, not needing his newly developing third eye to know that neither of them wanted to talk about it just yet.

* * *

inez inspected his hand as though she were working for the Feds and his fists were contraband coming in from a for eign nation. Amused, Mike stood just inside the door, stripped, a plastic bag at his feet, waiting for his new bride to complete her assessment.

"They were just cut up so bad before," she said, gently spreading his huge hand out in hers. "No matter how many times I see one of the healers do it, it just amazes me to watch the wounds go back to normal when they're done."

"Yeah, suga, sorry about that. Razor tails, vicious little fangs, straight-edge wings.

Sucker-punching that funnel cloud was like I threw a punch into a switchblade blender." He sighed and stared at her. "Baby, I think she got it all out... but I wouldn't ever do anything to - "

Her kiss backed him up to the door as she stood on her tip toes.

" 'Nez, we ain't supposed to - "

Where her touch landed stopped his words and made him deepen a new kiss. Her curvaceous body fit against him in all the right places and her hands were causing delirium.

"I gotta get this battle off me, suga, then I swear I'll make restitution. I'm so dirty, you don't want none of this 'til I clean up."

"Are you kidding me?" she whispered. "I want all of it, Mike. What would I do without you?"

Kisses pelted his chest and shoulders and his Adam's ap ple as he lifted his head to try to keep his mouth from hers. He didn't want to go against Marlene's wisdom, but damn, this woman was driving him outta his natural mind.

Inez's hands splayed wide, her fingers stretching, huge square-cut diamond catching light as she pressed against him, letting her satin-finish tongue glide over every brick in his ab

domen. A shudder put his back against the door; a warm whis per of a kiss caressed his navel until his groin contracted. Although she was just an itty-bitty thing by comparison, the places she could reach with her short, fine self were buckling his knees. When she kissed him there, right where it hurt so good, he slapped the molding.

"Suga, you gonna make me mess up Marlene's instruc tions, girl... c'mon now. You better quit while you're ahead." His protest sounded weak even to his own ears as his rough palms glided over butter-smooth, brown skin, and lush, squeezable curves when she stood.

"If something woulda happened to your big, crazy ass, Michael, I would have died," Inez said, closing her eyes to rub her cheek against his chest. "Damali would have been trying to restart my heart, but I swear to you, man, I would have refused to come back out of the Light." She smothered him with another kiss when he leaned down to receive it, and then threw her arms around his neck.

He lied to himself, thinking he had no other choice but to pick her up and take her into the bathroom with him. That's what he was saying in his mind the whole time her micro-braids teased his shoulders and her plump, juicy behind made him stupid while he kneaded it as he walked them across the floor. He remembered something Marlene had said about them both having to get doused, and after doing purges a hundred times over the years, half-memory kicked in, and he functioned on autopilot.

It was just that somehow he forgot to let his baby girl get out of her pretty teddy. The shower went on and she went in with it. And somehow it was impossible to make himself actually put her down. She was in charge of soap, he was doing the heavy lifting, the soap was working as greased lightning against friction, and the quick prayer they'd both said at the door would have to handle the rest.

* * *

"don't touch me!" Dan nearly shouted as he hopped around in a circle stripping down.

"Don't even hold the bag, back away from it, honey. Oh, shit, your period is late, and I brought this home ... remind me to kick my own ass once I'm out of the tub."

"Dan ... it's - "

"No, no, sweetheart, I swear I'll take care of everything. Don't you worry," he said, frantic, yanking off combat Tim berlands and stuffing his clothes in a bag. He didn't under

stand how women could just smile and be cool at a time like this. He looked at her for a moment and stopped struggling with his clothes. "You are so beautiful..." Then he returned to his crazed stripping.

"There's so many things I gotta do - gotta call my parents, gotta make sure I have a living will and set up a trust fund, and make sure there's enough in an IRA, should something happen and - "

"Daniel," she murmured, coming close to him.

"Ohmigod, are you crazy, Heather! Don't touch me!" He bolted away from her and into the bathroom, jumped in the shower, then peeked through the glass door when he heard her come in.

Panic sweat mixed with the shower spray as he looked at her gorgeous gray eyes and profusion of auburn ringlets that fell to her toffee-hued shoulders. But he couldn't stop staring at her.

"Oh, God, Heather, I love you so much and wanna hug you so bad right now ... If I had known ..."

"I love you, too," she whispered, touching the edge of the opened door. "But you were supposed to go with the other men, or you would have never been able to live with your

self, Dan. And then, how could I live with me for not allowing you to live with you?" He closed his eyes and hung his head, the slight accent of her sweet Scottish brogue washing through him and making him want her. She was so open and giving and so everything he'd prayed for... correction, everything he'd begged Heaven on his knees for, and now she might be carrying his child?

For several seconds he just stared at her, allowing the shower spray to pelt his back. It was too much to absorb af ter the night he and the fellas had just had. And his wife, a woman who loved him enough to take his name and bear his children was this gorgeous redhead ... her Scottish mother providing the luscious silken tresses and startling gray eyes, her Ghanaian father giving her skin a perpetual, stunning tan, and the Creator designing her voluptuous body by his dreams and the stars ... Daniel shut the shower door, ashamed of his body's reac tion to the beauty on the other side of the glass, and began soaping. Just as soon as he closed the door, he heard it open, and he turned to see Heather naked and joining him.

"What... what're you doing?" He backed up, trying to make himself fit into the far corner so he didn't touch her.

"They said we both had to wash, right?"

"Yeah, but you're pregnant." He glanced over his shoulder at her. "You can't be in here."

"Might be pregnant," she said with a sigh. "True I'm late, but a lot of things can throw off a woman's cycle, not the least of which is battling demons, stress, and - "

"So, so, that means that until we know for sure, we should be careful... and this isn't being very careful. We have to stop all kinds of risky stuff, like taking showers together when we're supposed to be purging, and, and, other stuff. You know?" She fought not to laugh and a smile held it back. "Women can still make love while they're pregnant, you know, love?

You don't have to wait nine months and then six weeks more .. like a year before you

touch me again."

He turned slightly in the spray to half-face her without straining his neck. "Really?" Heather covered her mouth with two fingers, the laughter brimming and ready to pop out at any second. He was so dear and so charming that she wanted to run her hands through his thicket of blond hair as she stared into his crystal blue eyes. Panic was etched across his handsome face, but after the stories of heroism she'd heard and knowing that she could have easily been sobbing her eyes out as a brand-new widow versus a honeymooning bride, he had no idea how much she wanted him right now.


They both stared at each other.

Had he any idea how long she'd waited for a man of his caliber to come into her life? A decent, honest, honorable soul who had befriended her and caressed her spirit long before he'd ever touched her... and when he did touch her... gracious. Heather briefly closed her eyes as a quiver overtook her belly. The fact that Dan was trying to hide an erection from her because he thought she'd be offended, simply because she might be pregnant, drew her to him despite all his fears. Didn't he know that his tactical blue-arc gave him away? His body was practically glowing from the waist down.

"Daniel," she whispered, backing him up against the tiles and taking his mouth. "Let me wash your back, love."

* * *

the agreement was implicit as they both stripped by the door. Jose glanced up at Juanita, their eyes met at the same time, and they both shook their heads.

"Uh-uh, that's how we met."

She nodded. "In the shower. Too hot."

"You know me, 'Nita," Jose said with his hands held up in front of his chest. "When it comes to you, baby, I ain't got that kinda willpower."

"Me, either," she said quietly, her gaze raking down his body. The man was built like a brick house, and she had to wrestle her line of vision away from his dark caramel skin that was stretched tight over hard-packed muscle. But his in tense gaze caught her breath in her throat. Jose's deep brown eyes and thicket of unruly black hair made her take a step closer to him.

"Don't start," he warned, the tone much gentler than the strong one he'd had in his mind.

"I never stopped," she murmured.

He tilted his head, inhaled deeply, and allowed his eyes to briefly slide shut. She'd gotten wet for him and the sensory awareness contracted every muscle in his groin. Just looking at her in the buff was making the muscle in his jaw work. Big brown eyes in a beautiful face, mouth that would make a man stupid, dark brown hair that felt like silk flowing through his fingers ... milk-in-tea-hued skin so soft he was almost afraid to bruise it. His gaze slid down her body and stopped at her naked breasts. When she lazily trailed her fingers over her pebbled cinnamon nipples, he let out his breath in a hot rush like he'd been punched.

"You wanna get in the shower first so you can start your bath first?" She shook her head slowly, and then turned to saunter over to the tub, glancing at him over her shoulder. "Uh-uh," she said quietly. "You go first so you can watch."

* * *

the moment the last article of clothing hit the bag and the offending garments were sealed away, he got body slammed. It was so fantastically unexpected that his arms and legs functioned on mental remote. With Krissy's mouth on his, her long flaxen hair spilling over his shoulders as he heaved her up to his waist and her creamy thighs gripped him, he almost forgot to head for the shower.

The way her body moved against him as he held her made him stagger. Mentally reprimanding himself as being a senior Guardian, he tried to remember what Marlene had said. In order to do that, he had to at least stop kissing Krissy as he made his way across the suite. A jarring tactile differ ence in textures underfoot from rug to hard surface gave him a little perspective. He was finally able to tear his mouth away from Krissy's eager kiss as he crossed the threshold to cool bathroom tiles.

"We've gotta - "

A hungry kiss cut off his argument, just as her feral tongue dredged a moan up from his chest.

"You almost died, ohmigod, J.L.," she panted, raining kisses onto his forehead, lashes, and nose.

"Kris, I'm all dirty and - "

"Put it in, I don't care," she gasped, capturing his mouth again. The request and her kiss imploded in his groin, but as turned on as he was, he knew better than that.

"We can't," he said, breathing like something was chas ing him.

"You said they never even touched you," she moaned, dropping her head back. "You were too fast for them ... oh, J.L., I can see it in my mind!" The pitch of her voice connected with his spinal column, just like the request had zapped on his blue-white charge. He stumbled across the room blind with her in his arms, feeling for the shower controls in a series of frantic slaps against the tiles until he found them. Logic was edging away in nanosec onds, competing with Krissy's wet seal against his belly. Her slick need tortured his stomach, slowly seeping down it to pool at his base while her firm round breasts bounced as she moved against him, coaxing his entry.

"We can't," he finally said on a thick gasp, pulling one of her tight, pink nipples between his lips. "Just lemme get the crud off, then you won't be able to get me off you." She felt like a crazy woman as she quickly grabbed the soap and lathered his hair, running her fingers through his jet-black silk. His almond-hued skin against hers made her feel dangerous as her druid gift of kinetic expression absorbed all the erotic impulses he'd had and shot them back at him. Her kisses forced him into the spray, water blinding them, soap rushing away, breathing in bursts of passion before mouths locked again. She loved him so much, this kind, gentle war rior with intensely private eyes and a razor-sharp mind, who'd chosen her... and he'd married her. Body friction more than soap had cleaned him off. But the moment her kinetic energy entwined with his tactical sensory capacity, he lost it.

"Kris, baby, right now - I gotta be in you." He backed her into the wall, a deep moan reverberating off the tiles.

She couldn't catch her breath, but seeing him come unglued sent a sliver of logic into her brain at the last sec ond. "You sure, 'cause you said - "

"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure, baby, oh yeah, oh God, yes, oh ... yeah, I think we're both clean enough."

* * *

he used a crystal rocks glass from the suite's bar to pour the milky white bath through her hair. Mesmerized by her long, blue-black ropes and how the opaque water drizzled through it, it was all he could do to not touch her flawless ivory skin. But having been strongly rebuffed in front of the team by his brand-new wife, the last thing he wanted to do was add in sult to injury. He'd followed Marlene's rules to the letter, as hard as that was to do while watching Jasmine's petite nude body move like a water nymph in the shower. However, the last thing he wanted to do was mess up some ritual as the youngest guy on the team - or be the loose link that allowed terror into the family.

So, he was gonna do the right thing, stay on his knees and wash her hair like she had so lovingly washed his first, even though he'd been in the wrong. And if he stayed on his knees and kept his body pressed close to the edge of the huge tub, then maybe the hard-on would die down before she got an gry again. If he could just get his hand not to tremble as he poured the milky water over her gorgeous hair... and if he could stop staring at her cinnamon-brown nipples that played a bobbing game of hide-and-seek in the water with him ... he had to also ignore the peaceful expression on her beautiful face and the way her dark brown, almond-shaped eyes almost hunted him as he worked. Her small, heart-shaped mouth was nearly his undoing as her pink lips parted and she took in a sip of air. Her eyes slid shut as he massaged her scalp. Yeah, on his knees was just where he should be - in the right position to beg her not to be angry anymore. Bobby swallowed hard and touched Jasmine's face. "You still mad at me?" he asked, hearing the toiletries on the bathroom counter begin to rattle.

"No," she said, without opening her eyes as she relaxed in the tub.

"You sure?" he murmured, noticing towels begin to slip from the racks on their own.

"I was just afraid," she murmured. "I never want to lose you. I've lost all my family in the Philippines ... those that I knew, and then we lost Gabrielle - who was your aunt, but like a mother to me. But, Robert, I've never known love like this." Jasmine sat up slowly and opened her eyes. His voice caught in his throat as she took his mouth. She'd used his formal name ... the name that made him sound more like a man than the team kid the old dudes treated him as. He pulled her to her knees with only a short rise of porcelain between them as his hands caressed her hair to slide down to her shoulders and arms, then glide over her breasts.

"Say it again," he whispered against her neck, kinetic en ergy flowing through him so hard that her hair was beginning to levitate off her shoulders. He hoped she knew what he was asking as his grip tightened around her.

"Robert," she said in a low, sultry rush of breath into his ear. It happened so naturally, the sliding fall where she slipped over the edge of the tub into his arms and his back hit the floor... just as naturally as she fit against him and he fit into her and the water droplets in the tub rose and fell in kinetic ecstasy, dancing to the rhythm that naturally oc curred in the middle of the floor.

* * *

she yanked off his vest and ripped his T-shirt over his head. He bent quickly to unlace his combat boots and drop his pants. Her nightgown was gone in one deft move. They worked in tandem to get everything into the plastic bag and said a quick Hail Mary over it, then embraced.

His tongue was down her throat before she could gasp his name. Her hands raced up his back and then caressed his bald head. He began to walk her backward, and she almost fell.

"What about the shower and whole thing?" she said, barely able to catch her breath.

"Later. In about twenty minutes," he gasped.

"But," she said on a hard pant, breaking away from an other ardent kiss. "Marlene said -


"After being married for twenty plus years, Marj, raising kids, and being through all we've been through together -  can anything come between me and you?" He pulled back and looked at her hard, gulping air.

"No," she said, the response almost a broken shout. She covered his face with kisses, dragging him toward the bedroom. "But Richard Berkfield, if you die on me, ever, I will never forgive you."

He guided her to the edge of the huge king-sized bed in their suite and then pushed her hand down his stomach while looking into her eyes breathing hard. "Does that feel like a dead man, Mrs. Berkfield?"

She slowly closed her eyes and stroked him. "Oh, no, Mr. Berkfield, no, no it most certainly does not. Sit down."

* * *

"you have every right to be pissed off, darlin'," Rider said, yanking off his favorite silvertoe, hand-tooled, demon-hunting cowboy boots and tossing them into the plastic bag. He kept a steady eye on Tara as he opened his belt and stripped down his black jeans and Fruit of the Loom boxers. "So, I'm not gonna try and make any excuses. Tem porary insanity was the cause. Yep "

He watched her watching him with a smoldering hurt in her eyes. Even while furious she was gorgeous, perhaps even more so then. Low room light lit her Native American features within African-American parentage, making her smoky dark eyes darker, and her sculptured cheekbones create a breath-stopping profile. Then her mouth, good Lord... full and lush, a mouth to drown in, and her hair was like a heavy black, velvet drape down to her shoulders. His gaze swept over her scantily clad body, causing her arms to fold tighter.

"Aw, c'mon and get naked with me." He wiggled his eye brows. "Might relieve some stress, who knows?"

"You, Jack Rider, are incorrigible," she said, pointing at him as she untied the sash of her silk robe and discarded the item in the plastic bag. But she slowed her movements down as she peeled off her long, flowing nightgown, seeming somewhat uncomfortable, or at the very least, unsure about stripping in front of him while still so thoroughly annoyed.

"Damn . .." he murmured, allowing his gaze to pour liq uid heat over her as it slid down her throat and over her breasts, following a trail down her belly before it slid over her mound and her long, to-die-for legs. "I am thoroughly in corrigible ... no lie."

"And you haven't heard a word I've said," she fussed, covering her breasts by folding her

arms over them to block his view. "In fact, I think you're crazy, is what it is - that's the root of it. Insanity."

"Wanna know what else makes me crazy?" he asked with a wry chuckle. He looked down, making her smile. "Guilty as charged. You make me crazy."

"Get in the shower, Jack Rider," she said, trying to stay in character and pretend to be piqued.

"Now, you know, it's only because you recently came back from the Light that I am minding my manners." He talked as he walked, watching her peevish expression mellow as he passed her. "I didn't wait thirty years for you to be my wife, sleeping in the same bed, to screw it up with some demon cooties."

From the corner of his eye he saw her quietly giggle be hind her hand. He turned on the shower full blast and hollered over the spray as she stood in the doorway.

"See, I can deal with delayed gratification - so I can wait you out. If you need to stay mad at me for blowing away some bad vamp types with crazy Rivera, I can accept that. I'm philosophical. Because you see, I can recall a time when I was soooo horny for you, missed you soooo bad that... hey, darlin', I'd just about dry hump a haystack trying to pre

tend it was you."

"Oh, Rider, just stop it," she said blushing, but coming farther into the bathroom.

"I bullshit you not, lovely lady. I would go to sleep drunk as a skunk, and wake up hollering for ya." He looked down again and then grinned. "This ain't nothing, it'll keep." Tara swallowed hard as he turned into the spray. She watched the water run through his dirty-blond hair and course over his muscular shoulders. She loved his voice and wished he'd say something else, just so she could hear it echo through the bathroom. He made her laugh, he made her cry, he made her shout, he made her gasp, he made her crazy -  God, she loved her some Jack Rider.

It was hard to watch him soap himself down without going to him. His humorous banter always had a zing to it, and the way that man could turn a phrase when he was serious ... whew. And if he said those wonderful things while he made her look into his intense hazel eyes, she might have to break down and jump his bones.

Butterflies had escaped in her belly and the dense humid ity in the bathroom was making her hair cling to her neck and shoulders.

"All right, I admit it. You weren't alone in that missing-somebody department."

"Huh? What did you say?" Rider chuckled and spun around to peer over the door at her.

"Miss you? No, wrong word completely. Crave. That's it. Tara, I craved you. That was insane. It was easy to give up thirty-five years or so of smoking Marlboro Reds ... Jack Daniel's, too, no problem, compared to giving you up? Sheeit." He stared at her, smiling, but his eyes were serious. "That was like giving up a kidney, maybe a lung."

"It wasn't that easy for me, either," she said, her tone sud denly sad. She opened the shower door just to see him better, and so he could hear her. At least that's what she told herself.

But she wasn't prepared for his stone-serious expression that didn't match the upbeat tone of his voice. Nor was she prepared for the way his arms just opened up for her to fill them without anything being said. His shudder when she touched him said it all. And when his fingers tangled in her hair with soap, memory snapped back so hard she cried out.

"That's right, baby, our first time was me washing your hair ... lemme do it again ... this

time over the side of the tub like before . .. with nothing between us ... no jeans, no sundress." He nuzzled her neck as his hands aggressively traveled over her spine and the swell of her behind. "Laven der, oh, God, the lavender you wore ... just a passing whiff from a florist gives me wood. You're right; I'm completely insane for you." She took his mouth and kissed him hard, unable to forget a single moment they'd spent together before she'd turned, and so many moments after. She found the sweet spot on his neck where she'd marked him, and the sound that escaped him ran all through her. His wide palms were spreading heat through her body as they swept across her in slippery strokes. She wanted to climb up him, but he wouldn't let her and the frustration of his denial sent her hands over his hard body in a frantic rush.

But he took her mouth slowly, his tongue in charge, danc ing in a slow waltz that made her go limp in his hold.

"Let me wash your hair and take my time, darlin', until you holler."

* * *

it was gonna be a long night. Carlos watched Damali march around the suite with a smudge stick lit, her eyes set hard and her tone resolute as she banished the potential of any demon essence. Every threshold had been salted and covered, every entry point anointed, and his clothes had been stashed in a safety bag with hers. He trudged to the shower like he was going to the gallows.

After the shit he'd seen, and they'd been through, he didn't feel like talking about it or arguing. He understood her point, and was glad that she finally understood his. But for the first time in a very long time, the real stress of being the team's head of household weighed him down. What if she'd been right? What if he lost a man in the firefight? His boy Yonnie was AWOL. Kamal's entire team had been lost, when it very easily could have been anybody on their squad. Now Heather was possibly pregnant and he felt like a nervous grandfather suddenly responsible for Dan's safety - and Heather's went without saying. Damali slid into the shower behind him. "C'mere," she said gently. "Lemme do your hair and your back."

"Thanks, baby, but I'm all right. I'll get out of your way in a minute." She didn't say anything for a moment but lathered his back anyway, spreading wide swirls of suds against it. "It's hard being the one everybody looks up to," she murmured, her touch soft as she attended his skin. "I understand that."

"At first you bit my head off, though," he said, still a little salty. He expected a comeback but instead she pressed her body to his, fitting against him in a snug, warm seal.

"I love you so much, Carlos Rivera, that sometimes I have to back up from that just not to suffocate or scream." She turned him around and let her fingers cradle his cheek.

"How many times did I almost lose you, then lose you, then you came back from the dead, only to lose you and..."

He smiled; she closed her eyes.

"That's what I was waiting for."

He pulled her into a slow embrace. "I started the Ar mageddon, D ... I'm a little freaked out, for real, okay?"

He stared at her without blinking as she pulled back. Water coursed down his handsome

face, droplets catching in his long lashes. She slid her hand across his jaw to bring his face forward.

"Oh, you did not. It was coincidence," she said, trying to make herself believe that was true.

He sighed and pulled her into his embrace and she held him tight. "I didn't mean for it to go down like that, D. I was going in to smoke some vamps that had done our whole family wrong. In and out. Hit the targets hard and be gone." Again, silence filled the void between them and she gripped his arms tightly. "You know what? Okay, maybe you did kick it off." She stepped back and folded her arms over her chest. "Who else to do it?" When he looked down and turned into the spray, she grabbed his arm, making him look at her. "My husband is the baddest shut-your-mouth on the planet, okaaaay? And my man is soooo wild and off the hook that he went in and did some crazy soldier shit, and kicked off the galactic prophecies of old. He's got sooo much juice, all right, that Heaven picked him to make it jump off." She smiled wider as a sly half-smile snuck out of hiding on his face.

"You think so ... think they actually wanted me to do this?"

"Did you get a vibe?" Damali's hands were on her hips. He turned to fully face her. "Yeah. For real, I did."

"Well, did Adam come and help you, no questions asked, like they dropped the Caduceus on me from just a shout out? They must have had a reason."

"Yeah, D ... now that you mention it, there was no static about what went down." They stared at each other for a long time.

"I am so proud of you, Carlos."

He traced her cheek. "That's only because you're insane, like me."

"Yeah, true," she said, her expression serious. "But I still love you so much."

"Baby, you know I love you," he whispered over the spray, his hands sliding down her arms. "I'm just glad you're not still mad at me, because, D, I couldn't have stopped myself from doing that drive-by if I wanted to."

"I know... because it was a prime directive from a higher source than this team." She touched his face, suddenly wanting to just be out of the water, dry and curled up with him, warm in the bed. "I've had a few of those prime directives.... Some I listened to, some, in my headstrong days, I missed and didn't listen to ... but I only got angry because this is some scary bullshit - that's why we all had that reaction, at first... still, I am proud of you."

She took his mouth nice and slow and allowed her wings to gradually unfold. She wrapped them both away in her protective covering as his hug pulled her in closer.

"I'm sorry I'm always so crazy, D, starting shit... it's just who I am."

"I'd do lifetimes of crazy with you, Carlos," she whis pered, closing her eyes as she laid her head on his shoulder, "rather than the alternative of never having done crazy with you at all."

Tags: L.A. Banks Vampire Huntress Legend Vampires