By Loribelle Hunt
Available From Cobblestone Press, LLC
The world was going to hell and determined to drag her along with it. As soon as the shooting started, Calista ducked into an alley. She wasn’t stupid—it was never safe to stand in the middle of flying bullets. She risked a peek out to see if it was anyone she cared to assist. Meaning they could pay for her trouble. Hey, altruism only went so far and a girl had to eat.
Dust flew through the air as the north end of New Peachtree filled with Union soldiers. On the south side of the road, rebels took cover in doorways and behind carts through the haze. Sighing, she backed up far out of view and straightened, hands instinctively resting on the heels of her revolvers. She turned around, looking for an exit.
Wouldn’t you know I’d get stuck in a dead end alley?
There was a door at the back of one of the buildings near the alley’s rear wall and she headed for it. She wanted to get clear before the opposing forces started lobbing dynamite each other.
Crap! The door had no knob. Did she risk being heard banging on it? A soft thud had her whirling, hands on the butts of her pistols again. If she had drawn as she turned, she might have had the advantage, but she was too slow. The blue-eyed devil before her had much quicker reflexes, speed, and strength. Werewolves put a real crimp in her style.
“What do you want, Kane?” she asked, seriously considering that door now.
“Looks like you got trouble.”
He grinned. Why did her heart have to flutter in response?
“Not me. Them.” She jerked her head toward the street and shrugged. “Nothing to do with me.”
“’Cept you’d rather not get caught in the middle of it.”
She nodded absently, turning to examine the wall. Maybe she could scale it. Her stomach spasmed at the height. It had to be at least nine feet tall and as smooth as she imagined a baby’s bottom would be. No handholds. No toeholds.
“Need a hand up?”
She scowled at him. What was his game this time? Kane was a competitor. Sometimes an ally, sometimes an enemy. Sometimes a lover. They shared a motto—nothing is free. His help would come with a price.
Out on the street the shooting started again, and he smirked at her. A cat ate the canary grin. It made her immediately suspicious. She blinked and he moved closer. So close she had to crane her neck back to see him. He knew that pissed her off.
“What’s it going to be, Calista?” he asked, a husky timbre to his voice. “Do I stay? Or do I go?”
Frustration riding her hard, she stepped away and faced the end of the alley, putting her hands on her hips. There weren’t any sounds of retreat from the street. She could settle in for a long wait or accept Kane’s help.
“Oh, hell,” she muttered. What choice did she have?
Turning to face him, she nodded acceptance and stepped up to the wall. She expected him to give her a boost, so when his hands settled on her hips she didn’t have enough warning to repress a flinch. As usual, even his most casual touch left her feeling like she was in free fall, the bottom dropping out of her belly and her head spinning. She clenched her fists and tried to step back, but he held on, his fingers gripping the flesh of her backside. She liked his roughness, liked his ragged breath across her ear as he whispered to her, knew it was a sign she made him lose control just as much as he made her lose control.
“Invite me to stay tonight,” he said softly, not allowing his voice to carry in the sudden silence that reigned from the street.
Oh, hell, no. She reminded herself of all the good reasons she had for staying away from Kane. He messed up her focus. He was jealous and possessive. He stole her business. That thought almost cooled her body enough to reconnect to her brain. She had two sisters to take care of. She couldn’t afford to lose any income. And, yes, she had an independent streak a mile wide too. If she weren’t careful, he would steal away her freedom like a thief in the night. She pulled free of his grasp and glared at his relaxed pose. The interlude seemed to mean nothing to him, while her body was still raring to go.
“Just get me out of here. You can get your slap and tickle somewhere else,” she grumbled, unwilling to admit she was jealous as hell over whoever’s bed he’d spent the last few months in.
He pushed a lose strand of hair over her ear, the tender gesture at odds with the intense gleam in his eyes. Meshing his hands together to form a step, he moved closer. She set her foot on his palms, felt the power gathering through his body as he prepared to lift her up.
“Wait for me at the top,” he said.
Then he pushed her up, almost catapulting her over the top. Fast. Too fast. The speed of her assent took her by surprise and she barely remembered to grab onto the ledge of the wall. She got it just in time, leveraging her upper body high enough to fling one leg over and sit up. She glanced down to where Kane waited and her belly dived again, this vertigo not unlike her one experience of riding in one of the newfangled hot air balloons. Wrenching her gaze away from the ground she focused on the wall she sat on, wishing Kane would get his butt moving. The longer she sat up here, the heavier her breathing and her panic grew. She’d learned the hard way years ago that everyone had weaknesses. This just happened to be one of hers. Man—and woman—kind were not meant to be feet off the ground. Well, unless they were one of the new breeds. But she was one hundred percent human, and her feet were meant to be firmly planted on the dirt. The air whooshed around her as Kane jumped up to join her on the ledge, and she tilted her head back up to meet his worried gaze. He would know. The bastard.
“You’re going to have jump to me, Calista.”
She cringed, knowing her eyes widened like saucers when she looked at him. It hadn’t occurred to her how she would get down. Hell and damnation. Her nod was jerky. She’d close her eyes and bite her lip as she dropped if she had to, but she sure as hell wasn’t staying up here all night. Kane didn’t wait for further discussion, instead lifting his leg over the side of the ledge and leaping off. In less than a second he stood on the ground waiting for her, and she decided she just couldn’t do it. She’d sit here forever.
“Come on, sweetheart. You can do this. You know I won’t let you fall,” he crooned.
Her hackles rose. So she didn’t like heights. Didn’t mean he needed to talk to her like she was a child. She swung her leg over the side and perched there, eyes focused on the ground. If he didn’t catch her, it was going to hurt like hell. Then she would have to retaliate, of course. She spent a minute ruminating over ways to torture Kane and her thoughts turned carnal—they always did with him—recalling a set of silk scarves Daphne had recently given her.
“Calista, darling, we don’t have all night here.”
She jerked back to the present when she heard the tension in his voice. She’d accepted his senses were much sharper than hers long ago. They’d saved her ass more than once and something had him on edge now. Closing her eyes, she sent up a quick prayer and jumped. She dropped so fast the fall didn’t even register before his arms closed around her, cradling her close to his chest as he took off in a run down the new alley.
They burst onto the street and she struggled to look around. It had been dusk when she’d been trapped in the alley, but now it was dark, the night black with no moon out. Boom! The ground shook. Kane staggered, nearly falling before he righted himself. Her heart thundered in her chest and her ears rang. Lifting her head, she opened her mouth to speak, but he shook his head. His expression was grim enough to make her rethink, the demand for answers sticking to her tongue.
After several blocks, his pace slowed to a fast walk, and he began navigating his way back around to the other side of the city where her house was.
“You can let me down now,” she grumbled against his chest.
He grunted, making no move to release her. When he responded his voice was so low she was unsure of his words. “Not yet. That was too close.”
They came around a corner and right into a waiting crowd. She recognized New Peachtree and Gardenia under the dim gaslights, then heard the rumble of an approaching steam car. Kane lowered her until her feet hit the ground, but he kept a tight grip on her hand, pulling her farther into the crowd. The car zoomed past, and she craned her head to see. The contraptions were new enough to still be a novelty, and the crowd oohed and ahhed over its passing. Calista was amazed there were people wealthy enough in New Atlanta for such an extravagance, but the habits and expenditures of the super rich had always confounded her. Her work kept them comfortable, but far from rich, super or otherwise.
After several more blocks, they entered the residential area she lived in with her sisters. Kane led her in the back way, and they entered through the garden gate. The house was brightly lit, and she heard her sisters calling to each other inside, though she couldn’t make out the words. She tugged her hand free and opened the backdoor before he could, planning on putting him off and saying goodbye as quickly as possible.
She’d forgotten how fast he was. Spinning her around, he wrapped an arm around her waist and backed them through the open door, kicking it shut behind them with his boot heel. She hoped it didn’t scuff. Daphne would give her hell.
“Not so fast, sweetheart,” he whispered, leaning forward and scraping his teeth along the pulse pounding in her neck. “Don’t I get a kiss for my trouble? Dinner at least?”
His tongue soothed away the sting where he’d just bitten her. “How ‘bout dessert? I’d love to stay for dessert.” His voice dropped even lower, taking on the seductive timbre she well remembered.
He lifted his head, his lips inches from hers, and she knew he was going to kiss her. And she wasn’t going to stop him, wasn’t going to free herself, even though she knew she should. She shouldn’t go down this road again. His eyes flared with knowledge as her body tuned itself to his, subtly turning, pushing, her pelvis pressed against the erection straining his pants. The first touch was feather soft, so light as to be negligible. She waited for more. More pressure, more passion. But he stopped; releasing her so abruptly she almost fell. He steadied her, turned her around and pulled her in front on him just as her sisters came down the hall.
“There you are.” Daphne’s exasperated tone combined with hands thrown in the air made it clear Calista was late. Damn. She’d forgotten all about the party.
“I’m sorry, Daphne,” she said, in an effort to avoid the kind of scene her middle sister was no doubt working up to. Even Isadora had managed to drag herself from her lab to prepare in time. “I’ll be quick.”
She eased past Daphne, feeling her glare as she hurried down the hall to the front stairs and winked as she walked by Izzie. Grabbing the bottom post on the staircase, she spun the corner and sprinted up, then down the hall to her room. She let the door bang open, wincing at the tirade soon to come for that, and unbuckled her pistol belt, dropping it to the bed.
She stripped off her clothes, dropping them to the floor in her haste, and wrapped a robe around her body before hurrying down the hall to the newly installed bathroom. She stepped into the small room and reached behind the curtain to turn on the water spigots, twisting the hot and cold the same amount and praying the contraption actually worked this time. The walls groaned as water rushed through them, and she dropped the robe, stepping over the lip of the big tub and under the spray. She sighed in relief. Soothing warmth, not scorching heat or frigid cold. Modern conveniences would be much more convenient if they worked consistently.
The door creaked open and she ignored it, certain Daphne was lying in wait for her. She untwisted her hair, letting it fall down her back, and reached for the lavender soap sitting on a nearby shelf. The curtain opened behind her and a solid, hard body brushed against hers. She jumped, but was unable to twist around in the confined space.
“Let me help,” Kane whispered, taking the soap from her hands.
She sputtered in protest, but couldn’t find the words or will to kick him out. She felt him behind her, naked, his body hard and pulsing in need, and she fought down a sigh, fought down a sense of contentment that didn’t belong to her. He doesn’t belong to me, she reminded herself. Not really.
He rubbed the lather through her hair, his fingers massaging her scalp as he went, dragging it through the long length. She stopped fighting and relaxed back against him. A deep sound of satisfaction rumbled from his chest, almost like a purr.
“I like it when you go all soft and relaxed and pliant. You should try it more often.”
She snorted her response but didn’t budge. He felt too good, and her pleasures in life were few and far between. She might as well enjoy him while she could.