God, she wanted to jump him.

Mal stared, watched Xavier's exit with hungry, greedy eyes. He looked so good from behind. Even if he was walking away from her.

With a sigh of self-disgust, she dropped back on the pillow and closed her eyes. Truly, it stung that Xavier was staying with her out of obligation-not out of want. Or desire. She'd thought, fantasized, about being alone with him for so long, and now here they were. Not making out as she'd hoped, but residing in two separate rooms, both clothed, both breathing normally, skin not coated in a thin layer of sweat...

She groaned and turned on her side.

And yet, no matter the reason, he was staying.

For three days and three nights.

She wrapped herself around her extra-long pillow and squeezed, a glimmer of something akin to hope and wonder moving through her blood. In her mind, she saw him. Emerging from the bayou, his beautiful brown skin wet, his muscles flexing, his dangerous blue eyes catching hers as he stepped onto the bank.


Her skin hummed, and she grinned as old memories and new fantasies collided. She wanted to release this long-held need she had for him, but it just clung so tightly to her. He was perfect. The body of a Hunter, the heart of a Nurturer and the brains of a Geek. He was everything she'd ever wanted.

Well, with one exception.

He refused to see her as grown or sexual or even female.

I'll be taking care of you.

Her breasts tightened at just the memory of his deep, husky promise, and between her thighs, heat radiated. She was a strong female, passionate, and a truly capable Hunter. Rarely did she lose the prey she sought. And damn, she sought Xavier something fierce. She wanted his touch to be her first. Obligation or not, she'd already 'captured' him. Now she just had to make her gorgeous prey see what was right in front of him.

Hugging her pillow close, she drifted off to sleep with a confident, hungry smile.

* * *

I'm @ clinic. Quarantined w/Ashe's sister. Her blood being tested. Take care of Mal 4 me. 3-4 days, they think. Thx, mon ami. I owe u.

Seated on the couch in Aristide and Amalie's living room, two of his laptops open on the coffee table in front of him, Xavier read the text from his best friend again. The text he hadn't even known he'd gotten until one of his Geeks dropped off his phone, along with his laptops, at the house a few hours ago. The thing screamed at him. Gave him the finger. Threatened him with pitchforks, torches and the sharpened claws of a pissed off puma brother.


Take care of her? Shit, it was like asking a forest fire to take care of a pile of dry brush. But he'd do it. Hell yes, he'd do it. Aristide was his best friend, true, but he was also family. It was Aristide and Amalie's parents who had helped Xavier's mother find her smile again after his father's death. The two Nurturers had always been there for him. For advice, a meal, a place to crash when he was being a hardheaded cub and his mom couldn't handle him. And he wouldn't betray them. Not with their own daughter, for fuck's sake.

His eyes slid to the screen on his right. Along with photos of Isi's shop, photos of the camera from several different angles and close-ups on the serial number, there was a list of high-end camera shops within a ninety miles radius that carried the model. For the past few hours, he'd been working the web on his second computer, seeing if any of the images from the camera had been uploaded. Then he could backtrack, searching the serial numbers embedded in the jpegs. But so far he hadn't had any luck. Looked like he was going to have to go through the records of each camera store.

His phone rang, and for a second he thought it might be Aristide. But one glance at the readout and he saw that the call wasn't coming from the clinic, but from Geek central.


"You get anything?" Robby asked. The male Geek had started off as Hunter, but he'd quickly found his home with the other tech heads. Even took on the screen name "Robin Hood" because he was all about stealing information if it helped someone in trouble.

"Not yet," Xavier told him. "Going to have to do a little breaking and entering."

"Mmm, my favorite," he said. "Send me some, I've got a few hours to kill before bed."

"No. I'm going to bring Captain in on this one. I have another job for you."

"I'm not bringing you pajamas, so don't even ask."

Xavier snorted. "Not necessary. First off, because I don't wear them and second, because Danny brought me everything I need."

"Too much info, bro. The first part."

Chuckling, Xavier explained, "I need you to hack into the computer at Isi's shop, The Care and Feeding of Voodoo."

"Nice name."

"Don't start hatin', Robin Hood."

"Fuck you."

Xavier laughed.

"So, what do you want me to look for, bro?"

"Anything on the computer about Chayton, anything in her emails. Any correspondence with people who have interest in Chayton, or finding her father. Do the store's website, too. Any posts, questions, comments, that type of thing."

"You got it."

"I'm sure she has some kind of firewall up."

Robby laughed, said arrogantly, "Please."

"Take it down in under ten seconds and I'll let you stay on the Geek squad."

"Under five and I'm the new leader," Robby countered.

"Keep dreaming, bro." Staring at the screen, Xavier sobered. "I'm just afraid this guy's gone completely off the grid."

"Everyone's got a footprint, X. You know that."

"Well, lets hope so. I'll talk to you later."

"It is later, bro," Hood said with a grin in his voice before he hit the end button and killed the connection.

Tossing his cell onto the couch cushions, Xavier glanced at the time on the top of his screen. Five in the morning. Shit, he hadn't realized how long he'd been at it. Going hard and heavy for five hours straight. Maybe he needed a break. Maybe he needed a drink. Damn, maybe he needed...

Before the thought cleared his brain, his nostrils flared, scenting her arrival seconds before he heard her.

"What's all this?" Amalie said, moving toward him.

Xavier's entire body flared with heat, but he didn't acknowledge her presence until he closed both computers. "Work."

"More with the human woman?" she asked, her tone only mildly curious as she walked around the side of the couch.

"No, this cybertracking job was a solo all-nighter-"

The words died in his throat, and he inhaled sharply. What the hell-

His breath came out in a rush, and before he could stop it, his puma broke from his control and blazed to the surface of his skin. His hands balled into fists. His mind screamed at the cat to retreat. Never in his life had he experienced such a reaction. Such a wild, instinctual response. To anything or anyone. He didn't understand it, and quickly forced it back down, beneath his pounding heart where it belonged.

Panting, his eyes raked over the female standing in front of him. "What the hell are you wearing?"

"A towel." She looked at him like he was crazy. "And was that your puma I just saw? Flashing in and out of your features?"

He shook his head. No. That wasn't possible. He didn't do the uncontrolled cat thing. "I'm just tired, that's all."

"Then maybe you should get some sleep." She gestured down the hall, which meant she released the front of her towel with one hand.

Thank fuck she had two.

"Aristide's bed is available," she said, her dark eyes glistening. "And mine too, if you'd be more comfortable in a clean and fresh-smelling environment."

It had been said with halfhearted humor, but once again, the puma inside him rushed upward, flaring to life. What the hell was going on? He glared at Amalie, praying she and her barely clothed self weren't the cause. Hoping it was truly lack of sleep and maybe lack of food that was making him so edgy.

"Why are you in that goddamn towel?" he ground out.

She cocked her head. "Shower."

"In the living room?" he countered blackly. "Are you trying to make me crazy?"

Her brows lifted and a smile played about her lips. "Why? Would it work?"

"I'm male, Amalie. And you're..." His gaze traveled over her and he growled.

"I'm what?" she encouraged.

His eyes narrowed. "A devious brat."

She laughed. The sound pierced his skin and went straight to his groin.

"Shower's outside the house remember?" she said.

"Right." Goddammit. So, this was going to be a regular thing over the next three days? Showering? The untouchable goddess walking around in skimpy towels, making him drool and growl and hunger for things other than food?

"I'm on patrol in an hour," she said. "Better get soaped up."

Stay the hell down, he warned his puma. "Next time wear a robe," he said as she started past him.

She paused, gave him a lopsided smile. "Why?"

"You know why, Amalie." His tone was like ice. Ice that wanted to be melted in a hot shower with a hotter female.

"You see me as family, right?" she challenged. "So what's the problem?"

He turned back to his laptops and opened them. "Go. Take your shower. Get to work."

She chuckled. "Have a good day, Xavier."

"Yeah, you too," he muttered to himself.

But she heard him, and called over her shoulder, "Oh, I will."

Xavier told himself not to turn, not to look, not to watch her move down the hall in that goddamn scrap of white cotton, but it was impossible. Like iron to a magnet, he ripped his eyes from the screen and glanced over his shoulder. With flared nostrils and a tight chest, he watched as her towel slipped down her back to her hips as she sauntered away, giving him a view of her back and the rise of her ass.

This time when his puma rushed to the surface of his skin, he let it.

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