“I think we should go,” I say, and start to move. “I’m hungry as holy fucking hell on goddamn wheels.”
I take one step, swagger, then two more steps, and I’m walking straight toward Rhine. A large, cocky grin spreads across his face, and straight white teeth glare at me. “What the hell’s so funny?” I say. I shake my head, trying to clear the fog. “I gotta get something to eat. Sugar’s low.”
“That ain’t it, darlin’,” Noah says. “Rhine?”
Just as the words leave Noah’s mouth, I start to fall. The Kansas track playing over the mall’s intercom has been set on repeat, apparently. We’re back to “Dust in the Wind.” I fall into Rhine’s arms, and his face is inches from mine. “I love that song,” I say. “But I wish they’d play ‘M-M-M-My Sharona.’ The Knack. I love that one, too.”
His cocky grin is the last thing I see. “Yeah, I know.”
Blackness washes over me, and I feel weightless; voices around me soften, mumble, and weave together until I can’t understand anything anyone is saying. It’s a low hum, vibrating around me. Sleep washes over me, and I float until I feel . . . only peace.
My eyes flutter open, and a thick white mist floats all around me. The ground is slightly squishy beneath my feet, but still solid. The scent of clover and something else unique and twangy fills the air, my nostrils, and I inhale. I see nothing but the sallow vapor around me. I’m outside. On a slight incline. I’m climbing.
After a while, I stop and squint, trying to peer through the mist. What am I doing here? Where am I? I continue looking around, searching . . . for something. Or someone. I don’t know right now.
Then, ahead, I see a figure. The mist thins enough for me to make out a little. Tall. Wearing all black. Dark hair. Wide stance. Arms hanging at his side. Then he lifts one of those arms and beckons me with his outstretched hand.
Is it Eli? I think it is. My pace quickens, and I hurry, stumbling up the hill, using my hands now to grab on to clumps of dead heather to pull myself along. Not sure why I don’t just hurl myself upward. I try . . . try to jump, move as fast as my tendencies will allow. They don’t work here. I’m breathless from the climb. I’m just a regular ole human.
I’m closer now, and the figure—it’s Eli, I can tell—stands at the top. The wind picks up, catching the tails of his trench and billowing it open, like a black cape, or the outstretched wings of a giant raven. He awaits me. I sense no threat. No hatred. No violence. Only . . . desire.
I reach the top, and a space of about six feet separates us. The wind tears through the vapor, scattering and swirling it into a mass of white soup around his body, obscuring his face. I step closer. “Is it really you?” I ask. “Eli?”
“Don’t speak,” he says. “Come here.”
An uncertainty claws at me, but I’m helpless to stop my feet from advancing toward him. His arms open, like raven wings, and unable to do anything else, I walk into them. His arms close around me, pulling me against his lukewarm body. His hand splays against the back of my head, holding me securely to him. Lips caress my temple. His other hand lowers, caressing my lower back, and then lower still, over my buttocks. When he pulls me against him, his hardened state of arousal is evident as it pushes at my groin. Something worries me; I can’t figure it out. So overcome by finally having his arms around me, I ignore the worry. I only want him. Eli.
In the next instant, he leans, catching me under my knees, and scoops me up. I still can’t see his face; so much mist. He begins to walk with me, and I rest my head against his chest. It’s hard, muscular, as are the arms that hold me.
He leaps, and we’re weightless for a few moments, and then he lands solid on the ground, his arms tightening around me. He’s walking now, and I can’t see anything. We stop. A door opens. Creaks as it closes behind us. His footfalls sound against a hard floor, echoing in my ears. It almost sounds as though we’re in a tunnel.
I try to open my eyes. I want to see. We’re inside now, so the mist can’t obscure. I try to speak, but my throat tightens. I can’t talk. I can’t move. Panic seizes me, and I feel my heart pound. Adrenaline surges within me as my alarm rises. I’m paralyzed.
“Shh, shh,” he soothes. He presses his lips to my temple, and it calms me.
He continues to walk with me, and now we’re moving up. Stairs. We’re climbing now, and finally, we level once more and he moves with me down a corridor. I inhale, and all I can smell is his spicy scent. It’s . . . somewhat familiar. A door opens. Closes.
He lowers me, my back sinking into a soft, downy bed. I can see now, but the room is cast in shadows. No candles. No lamps. Only a sliver of moonlight through the small crack in the drapes across the room. I can see his silhouette. He pulls his arms out of his trench, drops it to the floor. His fingers begin to unbutton his shirt, and soon he drops it, too. I see only his outline. He’s bare from the waist up.
When he moves over me, his body settles over mine. A heavy, muscular thigh wedges between my legs, pushing them apart. Bracing his weight on his elbows, his hands on either side of my head, he slants his mouth over mine and kisses me.
“Touch me,” he commands in a whisper against my lips.
Unable to stop myself, I do as he says. My hands encircle his back and trail up his spine, and the muscles bunch beneath my fingertips. He deepens the kiss, tasting my lips with his tongue, then moving his mouth to my throat. His groin grinds against me, his erection hard against my thigh, and his hand moves from my head to my breast, lowering over my stomach until his hand finds my skin beneath my tank. Over my ribs, he pulls my bra aside to find more skin, and caresses me. His mouth finds mine once more, and he kisses me hard, frenzied, and panic seizes me once more.
Something is terribly, terribly wrong.
He lifts his head then, leaving my lips. His hand covers my breast. His heavy cock pushes against me.
The moonlight catches enough of his profile for me to see.
With all of my might, I shove him off, and I leap up. Free at last.
He leaps, too. He’s off the bed. Standing, backing away from me, wordless.
Anger surges inside me, and I lunge—
“Fook me!” a voice grunts beneath me as we hit the floor. My vision is foggy at first, but soon starts to clear. I stare at the figure below me. I blink several times. It’s getting clearer now.
“Shit!” I mutter, and scramble off Rhine, who I’ve got pinned beneath me on the floor of my room at the Crachan. I extend a hand. “Rhine, I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?”
Rhine grabs my hand and I yank him up. The fool is grinning at me.
“Aye, ya did,” he says, still smiling. “But I was warned.” He rubs his jaw, his eyes locked on to mine. “’Twas worth it, I’d say.”
I’m still somewhat dazed; I glance around the room, at the window. Light gray spills from behind the drapes. It’s daylight. Late afternoon.
“You’ve been out for forty-six hours,” Rhine explains. “That’s some bloody dream you were havin’ there.”
I walk to the window and pull the drapes aside. Cars and pedestrians are moving along the street at the end of the Crachan’s entrance. I turn my head and look at Rhine.
“What are you talking about?” I say.
Rhine rubs his chin and walks to me. He ducks his head. “You dinnae remember what you just did?”
“I’m scared to ask.”
Rhine chuckles, a throaty, guy sound. “Miles warned me no’ tae wake you, but you yelled. I came in, and you were breathin’ hard, like you were angry, and trapped maybe.” He shrugs. “I shook you, called your name.” He grins now. “Next thing I know, you’ve got me on the floor. Like I said . . .” His smile widens. “’Twas worth it.”
My mind searches, scrambles to make sense.
All at once, it hits me. My dream.
I pray it was a dream.
Panic seizes me. Panic and a deep, cellular fury.
It wasn’t Eli.
I fly to the door and yank it open.
I turn and look over my shoulder at Rhine, still standing at the window. His eyes lower, down my body, then back up. “No’ that I’m no’ appreciatin’ the beauty o’ it, but I’m feelin’ a bit stingy and unsharing.” He inclines his head toward me. “Dinnae ya want tae get some clothes on?”
Only now, when I glance down at myself, do I realize I’m standing in my Crachan room, with Rhine at the window, staring like a hungry wolf, in only my sports bra and boy shorts panties.
Jesus H. Christ.
I rush over to my duffel and start yanking out clothes. My mind wonders briefly who exactly pulled the other ones off me, and I quickly push the thought aside.
I’ve got new worries now. Newer and bigger.
“That is . . . simply amazin’,” Rhine says.
I look at him. He’s staring at my back. I turn to my duffel, pull out a pair of soft, old, faded jeans, complete with raggedy holes, and pull them on. “Thanks,” I answer. I’ve got other things on my mind, though, and Rhine’s appreciation of my inked dragon is not top priority. Finding a white long-sleeved tee, I yank it over my head and stuff my arms into the sleeves. Turning, I sit on the bed and start pulling on clean socks. “Where’s Noah?” I ask. Spying my boots, I grab them, yank them on, and pull the zipper on each.
“Och, he just went out,” Rhine says. “As in fell asleep. What’s wrong?” he asks.
My dream washes over me as I stand, and it almost makes me dizzy.
No way is this happening.
“Riley?” Rhine says. He’s moved closer. Concern lights his green eyes.
I shake my head and go to my weapons duffel. I pull on my leather holster and start loading my sheaths with blades. I shove one in its place at my ribs, and I look at Rhine. “That dream? It included an unwanted and unexpected intruder.” I shove the last blade in and find my jacket draped over the end of the bed. I pull it on. “I gotta fix it.”