"What else do you do while you're here? Read my mail? Look through my underwear?"

"No. I don't go through your things. I just come once in a while to make sure you're in one piece. I like knowing you're safe, asleep in your bed. I haven't stolen anything . . ."

I ripped my left arm out of his hand and slammed my elbow into his solar plexus. He exhaled in a gasp. I lunged for the dagger and sat on top of him, my knees pinning his arms, my dagger on his throat.

He lay still. "I give up," he said and smiled. "Your move."

Er. I was sitting atop the Beast Lord in my underwear, holding a knife to his throat. What the hell was my next move?

Curran's gaze fixed on a point on my shoulder. "That's a claw mark," he said, his voice gaining a hard edge. "Wolf. Who?"

"Nobody!" Oh, now there was a brilliant answer. He would believe that.

"One of mine?" Gold flashed in his eyes like lightning.

Well, since every shapeshifter in Atlanta was one of his, that kind of answered itself, didn't it?

"Since when do you give a crap about my welfare anyway? I think you're confused as to the nature of our relationship. You and I, we don't get along. You're a psychopathic control freak.

You order me around and I want to kill you. I'm a pigheaded insubordinate ass. I drive you mad and you want to strangle me."

"Once! I did it once!"

"Once was plenty. The point is, we don't play nice. We - "

He jerked his arms out from under my knees, pulled me to him, oblivious to the dagger, and kissed me.

His tongue brushed my lips. Heat rolled through me. His hand caught in my hair. Suddenly I wanted to know how he tasted. He'd kissed me before, just before we'd fought the Red Stalker. I'd been remembering that kiss for four months now. It couldn't have been as good as my memory made it out to be. I should kiss him and exorcise that phantom kiss so I would never think of it again. I opened my mouth and let him in.

Oh. My. God. The Universe exploded.

He tasted intoxicating, like wild wine.

I sank against him, drunk on his taste and his scent, seduced by the feel of his hard body wrapped around mine. My head swam.

Kiss me more. Kiss me again. Kiss me, Curran.

What the hell was wrong with me?

"No!" I struggled against the stone wall of his chest. He held on a moment too long and released me with a low, hungry growl. I jumped off him and backed away, unsteady on my feet. "Are you out of your mind?"

"What's the matter? Forgot that 'not if you're the last man on earth' bit?"

"Get out!"

He just lay there on my carpet, lounging like a lazy cat with a smug smile. "How was it?"

"It was flat," I lied. "No spark. Nothing. Like kissing a brother."

My head was still spinning. I wanted to touch him, to run my hands up his T-shirt, to slide my fingers along his rock-hard arms . . . I wanted to feel his mouth on mine.

No! No touching. No kissing. No. Just no .

"Really? Is that why you put your arms around my neck?"

Sonovabitch. "That was temporary insanity." I pointed to the door.

"You sure you don't want me to stay? I'll make you coffee and ask you about your day."

"Out. Now."

He gave an exaggerated sigh and leapt to his feet without the help of his hands. Bloody show-off.

He offered me my dagger, hilt first. "Do you want this back?"

He'd made me drop the dagger. I never dropped my weapons unless it was on purpose.

I swiped the weapon from his fingers and chased him to the door, keeping a blade between us.

Curran opened the door and paused in the doorway. "Seventy-two hours, Kate. That's all Jim gets. He knows it and he knows I'm looking for him. Now you know it, too."

"Got it," I snarled.

"You sure you don't want to kiss me good-bye, baby ?"

"How about a good-bye kick to the throat?"

I slammed the door closed, leaned against it, and slid down to the floor to review the situation.

The Beast Lord. Lion of Atlanta. Sir My Way or the Highway. A frustrating, infuriating, dangerous bastard who scared me into blind panic until all the brakes on my mouth malfunctioned.

He kissed me. No, he admitted to breaking into my apartment to watch me sleep, he pinned me down on the floor, and then he kissed me. I should have broken his nose. Instead I kissed him back. And I wanted more.

I tried to put it into perspective. I had told him I'd never sleep with him. He told me I would.

For him it was a game and he was simply trying to win. Someone once explained to me that if you lined up all of Curran's former lovers, you could have a parade. He was sizing me up for another notch on his bedpost. If I gave in, I'd be a footnote in his procession of girlfriends: Kate Daniels, Investigator for the Order, whom his Furry Majesty had banged briefly until he got bored and moved on to bigger and better things, leaving her street cred in tatters.

An open relationship with Curran meant professional suicide. The agents of the Order were impartial by definition. Nobody would deal with me after I slept with the head of the shapeshifters. More important than that, when Curran lost interest in what I had to offer, he'd take my heart, smash it with a hammer into bloody mush, hand me the ruin, and walk away untroubled.

I understood all this and still I wanted him. He drew me like a damn magnet. I wanted him more than I'd ever wanted anybody before in my life. For those few moments, he'd made me feel safe, wanted, needed, desirable, but it was an illusion. I had to get a grip.

The more I thought about it, the more pissed off I got. He thought he had me bagged. His Majesty was long overdue for a rude awakening.

I growled and went to dress.

BY SEVEN I REACHED THE OFFICE. THE ORDER OCCUPIED a plain box of a building, crude, brick, sturdy, and warded so heavily when the magic was up that an entire division of the Military Supernatural Defense Unit could batter it for days. There had to be another facility in the city, a state-of-the-art headquarters, but I didn't rank high enough to know its location.

I climbed to the second floor, opened the door, and stepped into the hallway. Long and gray, it stretched into the distance like a narrow, drab tunnel at the end of which loomed a black door.

A heraldic lion of polished steel reared in the center of the door, identifying it as the office of the knight-protector, the head of the Chapter and my immediate supervisor.

"Good morning, dear," Maxine's voice said in my head.

"Good morning, Maxine," I said. Technically I could have just thought it, if I'd concentrated hard enough for Maxine to pick it up, but talking worked better for me. I could grasp an undead mind with mine and crush it like lice, but telepathically I was a complete dud. I ducked into my office, expecting a two-foot-tall stack of paperwork. My desk was clean.

Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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