Chapter 4. Not once in her entire existence had Bride ever felt more awkward


Not once in her entire existence had Bride ever felt more awkward. What did a woman say to a man who had bailed her out of one of the worst moments of her life?

" Thank you" was so inadequate for what she felt for him. He was truly a hero to her.

She left the apartment and headed back toward her store while the movers continued to unload her belongings.

At first she didn't see Vane anywhere. Had he left?

His motorcycle still stood where he'd parked it.

Frowning, she looked inside the store and found him browsing through a rack of slinky dresses that had come in earlier that morning.

He paused at a snazzy black number that had caught her attention. It was made of heavy silk with a halter top that would look great on someone built like Tabitha. She'd ordered them on impulse because she knew instinctively that the dress would really set off the beaded choker Vane had bought for her.

She'd originally planned on displaying the two items together.

Bride opened the door and headed toward him. " Would you like to try one on? " she asked playfully.

He laughed at that. His entire face lightened and his green eyes sparkled. Gracious, no man should be so handsome.

" I don't think I have the cleavage to pull it off and it'd probably make my ass really flat."

She laughed.

He pulled the largest one out and held it up to her. " You on the other hand beautiful."

" Oh no, " she said, smoothing the cool silk with her hand. " It's too clingy for me. Besides, I don't like anything that shows off my upper arms."

He looked confused by her words. " Why? "

She shrugged. " I don't know. It makes me really self-conscious."

He looked at the dress, then at her, as if he were imagining her in it. " Yeah, you're probably right. Too many guys would ogle you, then I'd have to hurt them."

He was serious. Amazed by that, Bride arched her brows as she took the dress from him and returned it to the rack.

Vane watched her closely as her scent wrapped around him. The thought of her in that dress

He was so aroused by her that it was all he could do to stand here and not leap. He stared at the bared flesh of her neck, wanting to press his lips there and taste that delectable skin.

In the wild, he wouldn't have hesitated to pull her to him and kiss her until she begged him for mercy. But the humans he'd seen didn't behave that way. There were protocols to courtship that he wasn't sure about.

She turned toward him.

Vane looked away, afraid she could sense how badly he wanted her. How uncertain he was.

In his realm, a timid wolf was a dead one. In the human realm

Did timid win or lose?

Damn, he should have paid more attention.

" So how about that dinner? " he asked, trying the middle ground between timid and forceful. " Want me to give you a couple of hours to get the movers straightened out and then come back? "

She bit her lip. " I don't know."

" Please? "

She nodded, then blushed prettily.

For some reason he couldn't explain, he felt like howling in triumph. He reached for the dress on the rack and pulled the skirt of it out. " Would you wear this? " he asked hopefully.

Bride looked at it doubtfully, but the expression on his face made her reach out for it. He'd been so nice to her so far

" Only if you swear you won't laugh at me in it."

His look seared her. " I would never laugh at you."

She swallowed at the fierce tremor that went through her at the deep sincerity of his words. He really was too sexy for his own good. " Okay. What time will you be back? "

He checked the time on his cell phone. " Six? "

" It's a date."

The satisfied look on his face sent an unfamiliar thrill through her. Bride, don't. The last thing you need is to have your heart broken by Mr. Bodacious.

Maybe he would be different.

Or maybe he'll be worse.

She wouldn't know unless she took a chance.

Breathing in deeply, she took the dress from his hands. Bride McTierney had never been a timid woman. Occasionally she'd been stupid, such as when she'd let Taylor use her, but never cowardly.

Bride met life head-on and she wasn't going to be afraid with Vane. " Six o'clock, " she repeated.

" I'll see you shortly, " Vane said. He bent down and laid an extremely chaste kiss on her cheek.

Even so, it warmed her every bit as much as a fullblown caress. Bride watched as he made his way out of her store.

Outside, he actually paused to look back at her and smile before he put his sunglasses on.

Hissing at the splendid sight of him, she watched as he started the bike, then rode it off the sidewalk, into the street.

" Oh please, Vane, " she whispered under her breath. " Don't break my heart, too."

Bride took the dress to the dressing room and did her best not to remember how fine Vane had looked naked in here. How good he had felt inside her. The look of supreme satisfaction on his face as he rocked her gently in his arms.

She hung the dress up and went to find accessories for it. She didn't know where he was going to take her, but she was going to look her best if it killed her.


Vane made his way back to the doll store where he'd left Ash.

He had a date.

With Bride.

Panic was already setting in. What on earth did humans do on a date besides have sex?

He'd seen humans in the bar interact with each other, but those encounters had been similar to what wolves did. Someone would come in, look around, find the partner they wanted to claim, and take them home to screw them. Dev had told him from the very first night that that wasn't the way the human world normally worked. That some things at Sanctuary were different.

The other, more subdued humans who came in were already dating or married to each other. They usually seemed to be having a good time unless they were fighting. But Vane had never paid very much attention to them.

He didn't know anything about trying to make a human actually " like" him. He'd spent the last four hundred years of his life either killing those who threatened his siblings or trying to scare the rest away.

What would make Bride fall in love with him enough so that she would agree to be his mate?

After parking his bike on a side street, he went back to Liza's for some help.

Vane hesitated as he entered the front room where two women were browsing the doll collection while talking to Liza. One of the women was an exact copy of Tabitha, except she didn't have the scar on her face.

She must be Kyrian Hunter's wife, Amanda. Vane had crossed paths with the ex-Dark-Hunter from time to time, but had never met his wife. Marissa was in Amanda's arms, playing with her mother's hair. The other woman, a short brunette, he knew well. She was Dr. Grace Alexander, the human psychologist who kept telling him nothing would help his brother until Fang was ready to be helped. Grace held her son in her arms while Amanda stopped mid-sentence.

All three women turned to stare at Vane, who hesitated just inside the door.

" He's in back still, " Liza said, as if she knew who he was looking for.

" Thanks."

He heard Liza explain who and what he was to Amanda as he headed toward the back room.

Vane passed through the curtains to find the demon gone and Kyrian, Nick Gautier, and Julian Alexander talking to Ash.

He knew Nick from the number of times the young human had come into Sanctuary to see his mother, Cherise. Nick was strange, but since he served the Dark-Hunters and they loved his mother, the bears treated him like another one of their cubs. Kyrian was slightly taller than Julian, with blond hair that was a shade darker. Even though they were mostly human, the two men possessed enough authority and skill that Vane respected them.

" What's up, wolf? " Ash asked as he reclined against a worktable that was littered with doll parts and fabrics. Ash had his butt resting on it, with his legs stretched out before him and his hands braced on either side of his long, lean body.

Nick, Julian, and Kyrian stood in a semicircle between him and Ash.

Vane hesitated. He didn't relish the idea of a public consultation, but since two of the men were married to modern-day women and Nick was known to date a lot, maybe they could help him out.

" I need dating advice. Fast."

Ash arched a single brow at that. " I'm useless. I've never been on one."

The three human men turned to gape at him.

" What? " Ash asked them defensively.

Nick started laughing. " Oh man, this is priceless. Don't tell me the great Acheron is a virgin? "

Ash gave him a droll look. " Yeah, Nick. I'm lily-white."

" How did you get through life without a date? " Kyrian asked Ash.

" It wasn't an issue back then, " Ash said curtly.

" Yeah, well, it's a serious issue to me, " Vane said, nearing them. " Julian, how did you meet your wife? "

Julian shrugged. " My brother the sex god cursed me into a book for two thousand years. Grace got drunk on her birthday and summoned me out of it."

Vane rolled his eyes. " That's useless. Kyrian? What about you? "

" I woke up handcuffed to Amanda."

Vane could work with that. " So I need to get a set of handcuffs? "

" Not on a first date, " Ash said with a smirk. " You'll scare her to death if you handcuff her."

Kyrian scoffed. " It worked for me on a first date."

Ash gave him a bored stare. " And so did having an insane Daimon out to kill the two of you. But I don't think Vane wants to go that route."

" So what do you wolves do to date? " Nick asked.

" We don't date, " Vane said. " When a woman is in season, we fight for her and then she picks who mounts her."

Nick gaped. " Are you kidding? You don't have to buy her dinner? You mean you don't even have to talk to her? " He turned to Acheron. " Dayam, Ash, make me a wolf."

" You wouldn't like being a wolf, Nick, " Ash said. " You'd have to eat raw meat and sleep outside."

Nick shrugged. " That sounds Like a typical Mardi Gras to me."

" What else? " Vane asked them, interrupting Nick's recitation of his Mardi Gras habits. " What did you guys do when you were human? "

Kyrian thought about it before he answered. " Well, in our day, " he said, glancing at Julian, " we took women to chariot races and plays."

" Oh jeez, " Nick said. " You guys are pathetic. Chariot race, my ass." He stepped forward and draped an arm around Vane's shoulders. " All right, listen to me, wolf. You get some cool clothes and impress her with a lot of cash. You need to take her somewhere good to eat. There's a place down on Chartres where you can get a two-for-one dinner"

" Nicky! "

They all turned to look at Amanda, who stood between the curtains, glaring at them.

" What? " Nick asked.

" Don't you dare tell him how to date." Amanda came over and handed her daughter to Kyrian. " Have you ever noticed that Mr. Suave here seldom dates a woman twice? There's a reason for that."

Grace clucked her tongue at the men as she joined them. " I swear, we should make all of them take a rudimentary dating course. It's a wonder any of you got married."

Julian offered his wife a devilish grin. " I didn't hear you complain when"

She covered his mouth with her hand, then placed her son in his arms. " You two go home before you get into any more trouble."

" And you, " Amanda said to Ash, " are old enough and wise enough to know better."

" I didn't do anything, " Ash said, but there was a gleam in his silvery eyes that belied his denial.

" Yeah, right." Amanda shooed him toward the door.

Ash sauntered out as if greatly amused by the women.

Nick started out after him, but Amanda grabbed his arm.

" You wait here."

" Why? " Nick asked.

Amanda pulled a set of car keys out of his shirt pocket. " Because you are going to loan Vane your car tonight."

" Like hell. Since when can a wolf drive a Jag? "

Grace looked at Vane. " Can you drive? "

" Yes."

" It's settled, then, " Grace said. She turned back to Nick. " Take the Jag to the car wash and for heaven's sake clean the McDonald's Happy Meal boxes out of it."

" Hey, " Nick said, his face offended. " That's a low blow. Those boxes are collectibles."

Grace ignored him. " What time is your date? " she asked Vane.

" Six."

Amanda handed the keys to Nick. " Okay, Nick, have the car at the house by five-thirty."

" But, but"

" No buts, just do it."

They forced Nick out the door, then turned to face Vane with hands on their hips.

It was a good thing Vane wasn't a goose. Even so, he felt thoroughly cooked when two women looked at him like that. He had a distinct feeling he was in for it.

" All right. You want to date a human? " Amanda asked.

He nodded.

" Then come with us and listen well."


Bride checked her watch. It was six on the nose and there was no sign of Vane.

" He'll be here, " she told herself as she checked her hair and makeup again in the mirror while trying not to see anything below her chin.

If she did, she'd want to change clothes, and it had taken her a long time to get up the nerve to wear the low-cut, revealing dress Vane had liked. She opened the front door of her apartment only to find no sign of either Vane. Her wolf hadn't been back since he'd run off on her.

She hoped that wasn't a bad sign.

" Get a grip, " she said to herself. She hadn't been this nervous in years.

But then she hadn't been this crazy over a man


Someone beeped a horn in front of her gate.

Bride frowned at the silver Jaguar that was idling there. Was that Vane's car? She grabbed her purse, locked the door, and crossed the courtyard to see a man in the driver's seat she didn't recognize.

" Can I help you? " she asked as she drew near.

Around her own age, the man was extremely good-looking, with about a day's growth of beard on his face. Dressed in a tacky blue Hawaiian shirt, he had dark brown hair and a charming grin.

" Are you Bride? " he asked.

" Yes."

He got out of the car and pulled his sunglasses off to show her a set of beautiful blue eyes. " Nick Gautier, " he said, holding his hand out to her. " I'm your chauffeur, sort of."

" My chauffeur? "

" Yeah, Vane got tied up, and they told me to get my butt over here and make sure you got to the restaurant on time with no waiting. He said he'd meet you there."

Nick walked to the passenger side of the car and opened the door for her.

Bride got in and adjusted her dress while Nick came around to the other side.

" Do you work for Vane? " she asked as he slammed his door shut.

Nick laughed out loud. " Nah. But I've learned not to argue with my boss's wife. She might look all nice and sweet, but she's a nasty thing when you get her riled. Amanda said for me to do this, so here I am not making her angry."

He threw the car in reverse and almost gave her whiplash as he spun it around and stomped on the accelerator.

Bride suddenly had second thoughts about being in the car with Nick. He was an odd man.

Who couldn't drive.

He drove them a few blocks over to Royal Street, which was now open for traffic, and pulled up in front of Brennan's Restaurant.

Bride expected Nick to get out again and open the door for her, but he didn't.

" He said he'd meet you inside as soon as he could."

" Okay." She let herself out.

Nick took off, tires squealing, the minute she was on the sidewalk.

Okay he must have had something else to do.

Bride adjusted her beaded shawl around her bare shoulders and glanced about, hoping for a sign of Vane.

There wasn't one.

Gathering her failing courage, she opened the door and went inside. A young woman dressed in a white blouse and black skirt was at the matre d' stand. " May I help you? "

" Um, yes. I was supposed to meet someone here for dinner. Vane Kattalakis."

The girl looked over her ledger. " I'm sorry, we don't have a reservation for anyone by that name."

Bride's heart sank. " Are you sure? "

The woman turned the ledger to face her. " It's with alright? "

Bride scanned the names. Her stomach tightened even more when she spotted a familiar name.

Taylor Winthrop.

She wanted to die right there in the foyer. Brennan's was her favorite restaurant and Taylor had refused to bring her here. He'd always said it was too pricey for him and that he couldn't see spending that kind of money on a single meal.

What he'd meant was that he didn't want to spend it on her.

She was a fool.

" Thank you, " Bride said, stepping away. She balled her hands up in her shawl as she debated what she should do.

All of a sudden, she felt like she was fifteen again, waiting for her prom date to show.

He never had.

He'd found someone else to take and hadn't even bothered to tell her. She'd learned about it the next day from a friend. And when Tabitha had found out, she'd put liquid heat in the guy's jockstrap and a poison-ivy potion in his underwear.

Bride loved Tabitha to this day for that.

But there was no Tabitha here tonight to make it better. Surely Vane wouldn't be so cruel.

Would he?

Had this all been some kind of set-up?

No. He'd be here.

Her stomach in knots, she waited a full ten minutes before the door opened. Bride turned, hoping to see Vane. Instead, it was Taylor with a tall, black-haired woman. She wasn't overly pretty, but the woman had the body of a brick house.

Taylor pulled up short the instant he saw her.

Bride derived a small, evil bit of satisfaction to see that he had a black eye from his earlier encounter with Vane.

He raked her with a sneer. " Meeting your parents here, Bride? "

" No, " she said. " I'm waiting for my date."

He leaned over and whispered something in the woman's ear. She looked at Bride and laughed.

At that moment, Bride felt so small that it was all she could do not to run from the restaurant. But she refused to give him the satisfaction.

A male matre d' approached from the back of the restaurant. " May I help you, sir? "

" Yes, we have a reservation for two for Taylor Winthrop. And make sure you give us a romantic, secluded table."

The matre d' checked his name off the list and nodded. " It'll be just a few minutes, Mr. Winthrop."

Taylor passed the man a tip. The matre d' turned to her. " May I help you, madam? "

She felt her face heat up. " There was a mix-up with our reservations. I'm just waiting for my date to arrive."

The man nodded again while Taylor laughed at her.

" That's what happens when you date losers, " he said to the woman with him.

Bride's first instinct was to return the insult, but in truth she felt sorry for Taylor's trophy date. The poor woman had no idea what a snake she was dining with.

She just hoped the woman never found out.

Bride pulled her shawl up higher over her shoulders and felt three times more self-conscious. Of course, it didn't help that Taylor and his date kept looking over at her, whispering and then laughing.

She wanted to die.

Just as she was about to leave, the door finally opened and in came Vane.

He was devastating. Dressed in a black Armani suit, he had left his black shirt open at the collar, showing off the powerful tendons of his tanned neck. The ebony color really brought out the green of his eyes. His dark, wavy hair hung loose, and his face was freshly shaved.

He'd never looked more dangerous. More appealing.


Bride heard Taylor's date suck her breath in sharply at the sight of him.

She half-expected Vane to look at the woman. He didn't. He had eyes only for her.

He made his way straight to her side, placing his large warm hands on her shoulders and kissing her lightly on the cheek. She melted instantly as she inhaled the masculine scent of him and his aftershave.

It was all she could do not to purr.

" Why are you waiting at the door? " he asked as he pulled back slightly.

" We don't have reservations."

Vane scowled at her. " I never have reservations. I don't need them." He took her hand and led her over to the counter.

The matre d' appeared instantly. " Mr. Kattalakis, " he said, smiling. " It's so good to see you again."

" Hi, Henri, " Vane said, placing his arm around Bride's waist. " Is my table ready? "

The smile faded as Henri's gaze went to Bride. He turned instantly contrite. " Oh, I didn't realize she was your date. She said" He turned to Bride. " Madam, please accept my deepest apologies that you were kept waiting. Was it Tiffany who left you standing here unseated? She's new, but I will have her instantly reprimanded for it."

" It's okay, " she said, smiling happily at Vane as her heart pounded with relief.

" You sure? " Vane asked.

" Yes. It wasn't her fault."

Henri breathed a sigh of relief. " I will still have a word with her and this will never happen again. I promise you."

The woman with Taylor huffed loudly. " Why do they get a table without waiting, Taylor? He's not on TV."

Vane turned toward them with a penetrating glower that shut both of them up immediately.

" Please follow me, " Henri said. " We have your terrace table waiting."

Bride looked over her shoulder at Vane as Henri led them through the restaurant. " How do you get such great service? "

" It's good to be king, " he said with a shrug as he tucked his hands in his pockets. " Money talks and a lot of money sings and dances."

Yeah, but still

They were led to a corner table upstairs that overlooked the beautiful courtyard below. It had a breathtaking view of the flowering fauna. Henri held a chair out for Bride, who scooted into it.

Vane pulled out his wallet and handed several hundred-dollar bills to Henri. " Do me a favor. That guy downstairs Taylor. Give him the worst table in the house."

Henri's eyes danced with amusement. " For you, Mr. Kattalakis, anything."

Vane took his seat as Henri walked off.

" That was so bad of you, " she said with a coy smile.

" Do you want me to take it back? "

" Hardly. I was merely pointing out that it was bad."

" What can I say? I'm just a big bad wolf." Vane took her hand in his and laid a sweet, endearing kiss to her palm where that strange mark was. It was kind of odd that he didn't seem to notice it. " You look good enough to eat."

Heat exploded across her face. " Thank you. You look pretty scrumptious yourself."

" I'm sorry I was late, " he said, pulling a single red rose out of his jacket and handing it to her. " It took them a little longer to get my suit ready than they thought it would."

" You bought a new suit for our date? "

" Well, yeah. I'm not really a suit kind of guy. I'm more of a natural beast."

Two waiters came up to the table dressed in black jackets and ties. One was an older, distinguished-looking gentleman, and by his short stature, accent, and coloring, Bride would take him for a Cajun. The other was a younger man in his early twenties.

" Mr. Kattalakis, " the older one greeted. " How nice to see you with company for a change."

Vane gave her a hot, searing look. " Yeah, it is nice, isn't it? "

" Would you like your usual wine? " the waiter asked.

" Sure."

They looked at Bride.

" Evian, please."

" You want some wine? " Vane asked.

" No, water's fine. Really."

He frowned while the waiters went to get their drinks.

Bride picked up her menu and noticed that Vane didn't bother looking at his. " Just how often do you come here? "

He shrugged. " A couple of times a week. They have a really good breakfast and I've become addicted to their Bananas Foster. What about you? Do you ever come here? "

She squelched the pain she felt at the thought of Taylor and his date, and Taylor's refusal to bring her here. " I haven't in a long time, but yeah, I love their food."

Vane looked relieved by that.

Bride tried to read the menu, but it was hard since he didn't take his eyes off her. There was something extremely animalistic and powerful about the way he treated her. The way he watched her.

It was flattering and, at the same time, almost scary.

She glanced up at him. " What? "

" What? " he asked back.

" Why are you staring at me? "

" I can't help it. I keep expecting you to not be real."

His words floored her.

The waiters came back with their drinks. " Are you ready to order now? "

Bride set her menu down. " I'll have the Brennan salad with no cheese, please."

He wrote it down.

" And? " Vane asked.

Bride looked up at him. " And what? "

" What else are you eating? "

" Just the salad."

Vane frowned at that. " Bernie, " he said to the waiter. " Could you please give us a minute? "

" Sure, Mr. Kattalakis. Take your time."

Vane waited until they were gone before he leaned forward. " I know you're hungry, Bride. What did you eat for lunch? Half a deli sandwich? "

His question surprised her. " How did you know that? "

" It was a guess since I can hear your stomach rumbling."

She put her hand over her stomach. " I didn't realize I was so obnoxious."

He growled at her. Bride shifted nervously at the sound that wasn't quite human.

" Look, Bride, " he said, his voice deep and resonant. " I'm going to be honest with you. I don't know what I'm doing tonight, okay? I've never had a date before and I was told that women liked to be taken out someplace nice to eat. Grace and Amanda said that I should be myself and not try to impress you. So here we are at my favorite restaurant, but if you don't like it here, we can go someplace else and eat something you want."

Bride's eyes teared up at his words and what they meant. " You asked someone how to date me? "

He let out a sigh and glanced down at his clenched hands. " Great. Now I've made you sad again. I'm sorry. This was a really bad idea. I'll just take you home and you can forget that you ever laid eyes on me."

She reached out and took his hand into hers. " Okay, since we're being honest with each other. I don't know what I'm doing, either. A week ago, I knew what I wanted. I was a fairly successful business owner, dating a guy I stupidly thought I loved and one I planned on marrying someday."

" In one afternoon, my entire life shattered and then all of a sudden this great guy comes along like some mythical knight in shining armor. He's gorgeous, loaded, and says all the right things to me. He makes me feel like I can fly, and every time he shows up, he makes everything better. I'm not used to this, okay? And I'm not used to being with a guy who is so incredibly sexy that he makes me feel like the booby prize."

" I think you're beautiful, Bride."

" See! " she said, gesturing toward him. " There you go being perfect again. I think you need your head examined."

He looked extremely offended by that.

Bride pulled back and sat up straight. " Okay, let's try this again." She held her hand out to him. " Hi, I'm Bride McTierney. Pleased to meet you."

His expression said he thought she was the one who needed her head examined. He took her hand into his. " Hi, I'm Vane Kattalakis and I'm starving. Would you like to have dinner with me, Bride? "

" Yes, Vane. I would."

He smiled at her. " Okay, so now is this the part where we share sex stories? "

Bride burst out laughingso loudly that several people nearby turned to stare at her. Covering her mouth, she looked at him. " What? "

" That's what Nick said you should do to get to know a woman."

" Nick? " she asked in disbelief. " The tacky-shirt-wearing, I-can't-drive-my-way-out-of-a-paper-sack Nick? "

Vane's eyes turned dark. Dangerous. " Did he offend you when he picked you up? Say the word and I'll kill him."

" No, but if I were you, I don't think I'd take dating advice from him."

" Why? He gets women all the time."

" Yeah, but does he ever keep any of them? "

" Well no."

" Then don't take his advice."

" Okay." Vane motioned for the waiters who were waiting nearby. " You want to share the Chateaubriand Bouquetire with me? Since it's supposed to serve two they get kind of scared when I wolf it down by myself."

She bit back a smile at his words. " I would love it."

Vane looked up as Bernie returned. " We'll start with two Crepes Barbaras for appetizers, then the Chateaubriand Bouquetire."

" Very good, Mr. Kattalakis. Very good."

Vane handed them the menus, then leaned forward. " And make sure to save room for the dessert."

" I don't know if I can hold it, but I'll try. If you want a woman who can eat all that, you need to date my friend Tabitha."

He took her hand into his again and massaged it as if it were unspeakably precious. " I don't want to date Tabitha, " he said, laying her hand against his smooth cheek. " I only want to be with you."

Bride had never felt like this in her whole life. She felt so desirable around him. So feminine.

He somehow even managed to make her feel petite.

" So how is it a guy like you has never had a date before? "

Vane took a drink of wine as he thought about how to answer her question. He didn't want to lie to her, but he couldn't exactly tell her that he was a wolf who had grown up living in the woods, sleeping in dens with other wolves.

That might scare her a bit.

" I grew up in a commune of sorts."

She seemed nervous now and reminded him of a cornered rabbit. " What kind of commune? You're not one of those religious nuts who's going to kidnap and brainwash me for my money, are you? "

Vane shook his head. This woman got the strangest ideas. " No. Definitely not. I just grew up in a way most people don't. What about you? "

" I grew up here. Both my parents are vets. They met in grad school and got married when they graduated. There's really not much to tell. I had a very normal, average life."

Vane tried to imagine such a thing. In his world, where they could command magic, the elements, and even time itself, normal didn't really factor in. In a way, he envied Bride her human world where the impossible wasn't reality. " That must have been nice."

" It was." She took a sip of her water. " So what do your parents do? "

" Think up creative ways to kill each other." Vane cringed as that flew out of his mouth. He was so used to saying it that he didn't think about it until he'd heard himself say it.

" No, really."

Vane looked away uncomfortably.

Bride's jaw went slack as she realized he wasn't kidding. " Why would they do that? "

Vane actually squirmed a bit before he answered. " It's a long story. My mother ran off not long after I was born and my father wants me dead, so here I am With you."

She didn't know what to think of that. " This um this family insanity, it's not hereditary, is it? "

" It doesn't appear to be, " he said seriously. " But if it creeps up on me, feel free to shoot me."

She wasn't sure if he meant that or not. So, suddenly grateful that they were in a public place, she decided to change the subject to something a little safer. " How do you have so much money? After what you just said, I don't think your parents gave it to you, did they? "

" No. I make investments. Sometimes I sell artifacts."

Now that sounded interesting. " What kind of artifacts? "

He shrugged. " This and that."

The waiters brought their appetizers. Bride sat back and watched as Vane set about eating. He looked regal and refined as he ate in the traditional European manner.

" You know, for someone who grew up in a commune, you have impeccable manners."

A deep, dark sadness came over him. " My sister taught me. She said well, she felt that people should eat as people and not animals."

Bride heard his voice break as he spoke of his sister. It was obvious that his sister meant a lot to him. " Where is she now? "

His sadness increased tenfold as he swallowed. The pain in his eyes was so profound that it made her ache for him. " She died a few months ago."

" Oh, Vane, I'm so sorry."

" Yeah, me, too." He cleared his throat.

Her heart breaking for him, Bride reached out and brushed her fingers against his cheek to offer him comfort. He turned his face into her arm and kissed the inside of her wrist.

The look in his feral eyes made her quiver.

" You're so soft, " he breathed, then kissed her hand and moved slightly away from her. " If I keep smelling you, we might make a spectacle here tonight."

" What kind of spectacle? "

" I just might toss you over my shoulder and carry you out of here so that I can ravish you again."

She laughed at the thought. " Would you really? "

She saw the raw, ragged truth in his eyes. " I would if you'd let me."

Bride retreated to her side of the table and they spent the rest of the meal in idle, safe chitchat. Vane was witty and warm. A rare treat.

Once they had polished off dinner and dessert, they made their way back downstairs where she saw Taylor and his date sitting outside the kitchen door. Neither one of them looked pleased.

" You are so bad, Vane, " she said again, laughing at the sight of them.

" Hey, that's kind compared to what I want to do to him. At least this way, he's still breathing."

Henri bid them good night as they left and headed back toward her home.

" Do you mind walking? " she asked him. " It's really nice out tonight."

" Walking doesn't bother me."

She took his hand and led him toward Iberville.

Vane watched the way the moonlight played in the tendrils of her auburn hair and reflected off the beaded choker he'd bought her. Her dress set her curves off to perfection and the halter top reminded him just how easy it would be to slide his hand inside it and cup her breast gently in his palm.

His groin tightened. Over and over he remembered what she had felt like. How warm and tender her caresses had been.

He craved that now. The wolf in him was howling for a taste of her.

Bride was a bit nervous from Vane's intense stare. There was something animalistic about it. Devouring.

There were times when she was with him that she felt like prey to his predatorial nature.

They didn't speak much as they walked back to her apartment. At the gate, she called for her wolf.

" You don't think they picked him up, do you? "

" No, " Vane said. " I'm sure he's okay. He's probably out enjoying himself tonight."

" You think so? "

He grinned wickedly. " Yes, I do."

She sighed. " I hope so. I'd hate to have anything bad happen to him."

He followed her to her apartment door. Bride opened it, then hesitated.

Vane dipped his head down to the crook of her neck where he inhaled her scent. He rested his warm hands on her shoulders. " I want to be inside you again, Bride." He lifted his head up and cocked it in a way that reminded her of the wolf Vane. " Would you take me in? "

Bride was uncertain. She wanted him too, but what kind of relationship was this?

She started laughing uncontrollably.

Vane frowned at her. " What's so funny? "

" I'm sorry, I just heard this horrible cliche in my head of 'Will you still respect me in the morning? '"

He looked baffled. " Humans don't respect each other after they have sex? "

" You know, when you say things like that, you sound like an alien from outer space."

" I feel like an alien from outer space. A lot."

What an odd thing for him to say. " How long did you live in that commune of yours? "

" All my life. Up until eight months ago."

" Oh, my God. Really? "

He nodded.

No wonder he didn't know how to date. She couldn't imagine living isolated from the world.

He brushed his hand over her shoulder. " Since then I've been staying with friends who own the Sanctuary bar on Ursulines. They've taught me a lot about how people behave, but Amanda said that you wouldn't appreciate my using the lines and moves that the men in the bar use to pick up the women they meet there."

Bride tried not to focus on how warm his hand was on her bare skin. How good his caress felt. It sent chills all the way through her, straight to her breasts, which hardened, aching for his touch. " Amanda who? "

" Hunter."

Bride started at the name. " Tabitha's twin sister? "

He nodded.

Good grief, what a small world. But if he knew Amanda, that was a relief. Amanda, unlike her twin sister, wasn't a lunatic and didn't, as a rule, hang out with psychos. If Amanda had really helped Vane, then he was most likely safe.

" You said no one dated in your commune. What did you do when you found a woman you liked? "

He looked a bit frustrated. " 'Like' doesn't have the same meaning where I come from as it does to you. We didn't really 'like' anyone. If you were attracted to someone, you slept together and then moved on. We didn't get our emotions tangled with our bodies the way you do."

" How is that possible? It's human nature."

Vane sighed. It might be human nature, but it wasn't animal nature. " We just thought differently."

She stiffened indignantly. " So you think nothing of sleeping with me and then moving on to the next woman? "


" No. That's not what I meant." He toyed with a curl that was brushing her bare shoulder. " I want to be with you, Bride. Only you. I want you to accept me."

" Why? "

" Because I need you."

" Why? "

Vane ground his teeth. How could he explain to her the feral yearning inside him to claim his mate? This infectious insanity that wouldn't rest until they were joined.

He'd never understood what had driven his father to attack his mother. Now he did. Every part of him simmered for her. It was feverish and raw and he wasn't sure how to control it.

How did a wolf mate with a human?

" I'm scaring you, " he said as he smelled her fear. " I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone now."

He started away from her.

Bride took his hand. She was being stupid and she knew it. Vane had done nothing to hurt her. He'd gone out of his way to make her happy and to be kind.

What was she so afraid of?

The mere fact that he was willing to just walk away told her he would never do her harm.

Before she could stop herself, she pulled his lips down to hers and kissed him soundly.

Every hormone in her body sizzled at the taste of him. He crushed her against him, holding her in those steely arms she remembered so well.

He was overwhelmingly masculine.

His breathing ragged, he pulled back from her. " Tell me to go, Bride, and I will."

She stared up at him in the moonlight and saw the sincerity of those hazel eyes. " Stay with me, Vane."

His smile made her knees weak as he threw his head back and let out an eerie howl.

Before she could move, he picked her up and carried her through the door of her apartment.


" You were right. They're not dead."

Markus Kattalakis looked up from the bonfire where his wolf pack was gathered around as fury grabbed hold of him. For the last two months, his pack had been out in the backwoods of Nebraska, tending their young and biding their time until the pups would be old enough to jump time periods under the light of a full moon.

" What? " he asked his second in command, Stefan.

" Your senses were correct about Vane and Fang. I shifted to Sanctuary myself and saw Fang there."

" Why didn't you kill him? "

" He wasn't alone. One of the bears was with him. Their female cub. It appears the Peltiers have made them welcome. I can't strike at either of them while they are there. Not unless you wish a feud with the Peltiers."

Markus curled his lip at the news. It was tempting. But wolves and bears

It had been a long time since Katagaria clan had fought clan. To engage the bears, who were renowned for maintaining one of the few Were-Hunter sanctuaries, was suicide. If the bears and their miscreants didn't kill his clan, others would. The Peltiers were respected by all.

To take them on would be to break their one and only cardinal rule.


" For once you showed good judgment, " he said to Stefan. Damn it, though. He needed those two killed. He should have sent someone sooner, but he kept hoping that he was wrong. That the Daimons he had sent for Vane and Fang would return with news of their deaths.

He'd hoped the Daimons had merely absconded with Vane's and Fang's powers. He should have known he wouldn't be so lucky.

" You will have to catch them outside the perimeters of Sanctuary. Take a patrol and"

" Father, you can't."

Markus turned to see his youngest adopted daughter, Matarina, standing behind him. Barely fifty years old, she looked to be no older than a human teenager. She was young, and hopelessly devoted to the two half-human sons he had once fathered on his Arcadian mate.

Matarina would never believe that Vane and Fang posed a threat to their pack.

Only he knew, and he intended to keep it that way.

" They have to die."

" Why? " she asked, moving forward. " Because of Anya? That was an accident. I know Vane would never have allowed her to die. He loved"

" Enough! " Markus roared. " You know nothing of it, child. Nothing. They were charged with seeing her pups safely home and instead they let them die. I will not allow such abominations to live while Anya and her pups lie in their grave."

By the look in her eyes, he could tell she knew he was lying. Revenge for Anya was only one of several reasons he needed Vane and Fang dead. So long as Anya had lived, he'd had partial control over his two werewolf sons.

With her death they would be uncontrollable. Unstoppable. Zeus have mercy on them all if Vane ever came home.

He turned back to Stefan. " Take a tessera and go finish their death sentence. Kill anyone or anything who tries to stop you."

" And the Peltiers? "

" Only if necessary and never on their home ground. If you kill one, hide it, but don't hesitate to do whatever is necessary to finish this."

Stefan inclined his head before leaving to follow Markus's orders.

Markus took a deep breath, but it didn't help him relax. Every animal instinct he possessed told him that sooner or later Vane would be back to exact revenge on them all.

He was, after all, his mother's son.


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