Valentine's Day Anthology: Hearts and Handcuffs, page 4
His words hung in the air. I shook my head slowly. My father had driven himself half insane trying to figure out if the Broken had been helped by someone on Valenteen, until finally the Corazons shut him down. “There was no proof.”
“Your father was the first Corazon in centuries to pick up a bow. It didn't go unnoticed.”
“My grandparents were mortified. They only let him join the Academy because he promised to return home and take a wife when he was of age.” A seed of unease took root in my gut.
“But even after he married and started teaching he pulled off the occasional Connect. Did you ever think your mother's murder wasn't because your dad was working on a Connect but a warning to give up hunting?” Eyes still on mine, Syras pulled his transmitter from his pocket. “I think this is the man behind it all.”
My heart slowed as he pulled up a photo. If what he was saying was true, then my father had been right all along.
My eyes widened as I took in the man in the photo. “Rupert Heart?” I studied the familiar round face of the man who'd kick started the Corazons move from Hunter to high society.
“This is his grandson. Rupert Heart the third,” Syras corrected, taking his transmitter back from me. “When I looked back into the Academy’s records I found letters from him, warning them not to allow your father to train as a Hunter. He’d seen it as a threat to the new order of things.”
“Now you think he's after me?” I met Syras's gaze.
He nodded as he ripped open the sterile packaging of a curved needle.
“Do you have proof?”
“No,” he grimaced and lifted my arm. “He's careful.”
Breathe. I closed my eyes, his theory spinning around my head. If it was this Rupert guy then did that mean Cupid knew? And Fate? Was she trying to marry me off so I wouldn’t be targeted too?
I flinched as the needle pierced my raw skin.
“Sorry.” The look on his face hinted that it wasn’t just the pain he was sorry about.
“So, it’s all just speculation unless we catch him red handed.” I squeezed my eyes shut, my whole body strung tight as I waited for the next pinch of the needle. Getting stitches sucked.
“You need to relax, Raz.” Syras's fingers brushed around my eyes and they opened a crack. “It hurts less if you relax your muscles and breathe.”
“I am relaxed,” I whispered, unable to force myself to pull away from his fingers still stroking my face. Why was he stroking me? Why did it feel so good?
He leaned towards me, his face so close his breath tickled my cheeks. The scent of citrus and maple syrup and man surrounded me, invading my mind, lacing it with want. I licked my lips, gaze locked on his eyes.
“I won't let him hurt you.” His stroking fingers turned to cup my chin, and the air around us crackled.
My heartbeat danced to some rhythm I didn’t recognize, its thumping loud in my ears. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know.” Still cupping my face, he dipped his head until his lips hovered millimeters from mine. “Tell me to stop.”
His deep moan vibrated through me as he pressed his mouth against mine. Tell him to stop. Push him away. Ignore the fire threatening to incinerate me from the inside. I did none of those things. My lips parted and I pushed closer.
My mind wasn’t my own as I twisted to press my body against him, grazed my teeth over his and wound my fingers into his hair. His tongue slid over mine and I welcomed it.
Pain sliced through my arm with my careless movement, forcing a whimper from my lips. Forcing his mouth from mine.
His body tensed and he pulled back. Lips shining, breathing hard, he stared, blinking the need from his eyes until the only thing left was confusion.
“I... Fuck.” He released my neck and covered his mouth, his gaze dropping to my arm and the wound that still went unstitched. “I don’t...” His eyes shifted to the needle in his hand and he cleared his throat.
An awkward silence sucked the air from the room. What was there to say? It didn’t change anything.
Unflinching, I let him lift my arm and pierce the needle through my skin.
I was an idiot. A supreme fucking idiot.
Her arm sewn and wrapped in a waterproof second skin, she slid off the stool to her feet. The pale gray of her eyes stared, filled with questions I had no answers to. I’d kissed her – and she’d let me.
This changed everything.
I’d kissed women before, enough to know that this residual need, this acute longing wasn’t anything I’d ever experienced.
“I need to shower.” Her voice, softer than I’d ever heard it, broke through my dazed mind.
Adjusting my jeans, I went to stand. “I’ll get you some clean clothes.”
“No – in my own Cube.”
The thought of her leaving slithered uneasily down my spine. “If you think I’m letting you out of my sight...”
It was like there was an invisible thread pulling her up, her spine straightened and her shoulders went back. Any softness I thought I’d seen hardened to a steely glint.
“If you think I’m getting naked here, you’ve got another think coming, ass-hat.” Cheeks flushed, her gaze slid down my body settling on my crotch.
Shit. Not helping.
I was being an ass. There was no reason not to let her go. The tracking chip behind her ear wouldn’t wash off and there was no way she’d notice it. I knew this, but that didn’t stop my protective side from rearing its head. I didn't want her out of my sight. “If you want to leave, you’ll need my code or my hand, and I’m not giving you either.”
She glanced towards the door, indecision creasing her brow until finally her shoulders sagged and she returned her gaze to me, her lips lifted into a smirk. “Fine... I want your Black Death, Rock Till You Die T-shirt – and you’re not getting it back.”
She drove a hard bargain. It was my favorite. “Done.” I nodded once.
Why did I feel like I’d just been played?
Ugh, I looked like shit. Hands on either side of the basin, I narrowed my eyes at my dirty-faced reflection as steam from the shower filled the bathing compartment with its sticky heat. My fingers lifted to touch my lips. How could something so blatantly stupid feel so ridiculously good?
Frustration pulsed from my core. There was no escaping it. He’d woken something inside me and I had no idea how to put it back to sleep. He needed his ass kicked for this.
I breathed out a long breath and closed my eyes. Focus. The memory of his lips against mine played incessantly behind my eyelids. I ground my teeth. Focus. I didn’t have time for this. The Connect was tonight. I needed to shower and get back out of here.
I tugged at the zipper of my vest. It got half way down then jammed. Really? I pulled again. It refused to budge in any direction. Sweat trickled from my forehead. Fucking really? I tried gripping the bottom with the hand of my bad arm. My bicep flexed and the pain ripped a yelp from me. Was it too much to ask to have a fricking shower?
“What the hell’s going on in there?”
Raising my hand, I thumped the open button, hard. Then instantly wished I hadn’t. Pain shot through my arm. “Fuuuuuck.” As the door slid open I doubled over. I hated today. Really fucking hated it.
“Shit, Raz.” His face appeared beneath mine. Concerned eyes stared up from where he’d crouched before me, surrounded by the now claustrophobic steam. “You okay?”
“No, I’m not okay,” I snarled as I forced myself to straighten and prepared for whatever sarcastic comment he was about to hit me with. “My zipper's stuck, my arm hurts and I just want a god-damn shower.” Breathing hard, I stared resolutely at the floor and waited.
Nothing. No mocking laugh? No quick one-liner? I glanced up into his face.
Without a word he gripped the zipper and wiggled it.
“It won’t work. It’s jammed.” A bead of sweat dripped between my breasts and I swayed bac
“Rip it?” His eyes caught mine in an uncertain stare. “Right.”
A sharp pull later, my vest hung open and the air from the door cooled my bared skin. His stare didn’t waver from mine.
“Turn around.” Voice husky, hands on my shoulders, he gently guided me around to face the shower cubical and slipped the vest down my arms, leaving me naked from the waist up.
Arousal, overwhelming in its thickness arched my back when his fingers skimmed from my neck to my pants in a touch so light I could almost convince myself I’d imagined it.
“I...” He cleared his throat and stepped away. “I’ll leave you to it.”
I paced the Cube and raked my fingers through my hair. I had one simple mission; take her back. She was a pureblood Corazon for fuck's sake. Too good for the touch of a fucked-up Hunter like me. Fate would lock me up and throw away the key if she knew I’d even kissed her.
Head in the game. I needed to get my fucking head in the game. Finish the Connect then transport her to the Second Plain. This attraction was nothing more than infatuation. I was stronger than that bullshit.
I froze at the hiss of the bathing compartment door, unable to look away as it slid open. My breath left me, my heart pounded in my chest.
She stepped barefoot from the steam-filled room. Her wet hair was pulled over her shoulder, falling to her waist in a curtain of black silk.
Dressed in nothing but my T-shirt and a pair of my cotton boxers, she padded towards me, hands linked behind her back. Her eyes shone, her heat-flushed cheeks almost as bright as the pink in her eyes. Her gaze flitted down the length of my body and back up to my mouth.
It was like a fucking beast growing inside my chest, this need to claim her, to kiss her, to make her mine. I should have known that one kiss would never have been enough.
Hands still behind her back, she lifted herself onto her toes and brushed those shining lips against mine in a tentative offering. My soap smelled different on her; better, the citrus mixed with her natural floral scent intoxicating.
I’d been fooling myself; I couldn’t fight this – I didn’t even want to.
A groan vibrated from somewhere inside me, pained but rough in its need. It was nothing, barely a kiss. Just a soft press of her mouth against mine, but its ramifications seared white hot through every nerve in my body. There was no going back.
And I could even bring myself to regret it.
My body took over, hands brushing carefully up her arms to cup her face, tongue teasing the seam of her lips until they parted with a sigh so sweet I’d give up everything I had to hear it again.
I had a sinking feeling I already had.
I ignored it and sank deeper into the kiss, hardening against the irresistible press of her body.
Her lips curled into a smile against mine, her fingers slipping into the waistband of my jeans just far enough to tease a groan from my chest. She grinned and pushed me until the bed brushed the backs of my calves and I tumbled backward onto it, dragging her with me.
Full bottom lip clasped between her teeth, she climbed my body until the straining bulge at my crotch fit snugly between her thighs. Eyes on mine, she guided my hands above my head and rolled her hips, her breasts against my chest, nipples hard peaks beneath the cotton.
I didn’t hear the click until it was too late.
“Raz?” Syras’s eyes widened, and he twisted his cuffed hands.
A strangled moan escaped my lips when he thrashed his legs. My insides throbbed as the hard bulge I sat on thrust up with his movements. Regret bubbled low in my belly.
I could just... My thighs clenched on either side of his hips and I rocked my pelvis, earning myself a swift flash of pleasure and menacing growl from the man between my legs.
Wow. Shit. Right. No, that would be wrong.
“Quit struggling,” I huffed when he twisted his torso to glare at his restraints. “It’s for the best, Syras.” Hands on his chest, I leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his stubbled jaw, breathing in that citrusy smell that would forever remind me of him. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
He stilled beneath me and pinned me with a seriously pissed off gaze. “Razzeline.”
My name slid off his tongue, rife with warning. This was the only way. I couldn’t let him take me in, no matter how much I wanted to stick around and ease this need he’d somehow infected me with. Maybe if I got off him it would wear off.
“You can’t run forever, Raz.” Pain laced through his rough voice. “If I thought there was another way...”
“You’d what? Let me go? Ignore a direct order from Cupid?” A sigh left my lips, and I patted the solid muscles of his chest before climbing from his body. I instantly missed his heat. Holding his stare, I dragged my fingers over his hard abs until they came to the waistband of his jeans and the Humaning chip attached to it.
He flinched but didn’t move.
“Then you’d be on the run too.” I unclipped it then jumped off the bed. “Trust me, it’s better this way.”
Silently, he watched me pull on my pants, fasten my utility belt around my waist then pull my hair into a tight ponytail. No words were needed. Anger and frustration rolled off him in waves as his black eyes followed me around the room.
“You know my code.” It wasn’t a question. Again, he yanked on his restraints, his face grim with understanding.
My head jerked in a tight nod as I pulled on my boots. Why didn't this feel better? This was the part where I was supposed to shoot him a witty one-liner then leave without a second thought.
“Don’t do this.”
I started, caught off-guard by the sadness that tinged his words. I couldn't force myself to look back. “I wish things could have been different.”
His roared “Fuck” vibrated through me, followed by a defeated sigh. “Take my jacket. It’s cold.”
Fingers hovering over the control panel, I ignored the almost crippling need to go back to him.
My transmitter flashed the second I stepped from Syras’s Cube.
WP MISSION UPDATE: Location 2 obsolete. Park closed due to suspicious activities.
The sensible thing would be to throw the Connect and get as far away from New York as possible. Dragging my lip between my teeth, I squinted against the low afternoon sun and rubbed my thumb over the Humaning chip clipped to my belt.
What would my father do? I knew the answer even before the question formed in my mind.
He was a Hunter, and Hunters never missed a Connect.
I nodded slowly. It was a risk. Eventually Syras would find a way to break himself free. The question was: What would he do when he did?
Rolling the sleeves of his ugly plaid jacket up my forearms, I jogged to the side of the high-rise and leaped over the edge. I’d use the chip to stay invisible until it was time to make the shot.
What could possibly go wrong?
Being visible to humans sucked the big one. Hands at my collar, I pulled Syras’s jacket closer around my neck. Surrounding myself with his scent did nothing to help the guilt gnawing at me for leaving him like that. A disgruntled shiver rippled down my spine, adding another layer to my uncontrollable trembling. What the fuck was it with this cold?
Bitter wind slapped at my cheeks, making my nose run and my ears numb. I stamped my feet on the cement roof of the three-story coffee shop and rechecked the time on my transmitter. Five minutes until go time.
Syras’s feral grin when he’d toppled onto the bed flashed through my mind, twisting at something in my chest. It didn’t change anything. I shook it off, dropped onto one knee and leaned through the hole in the Giant O of the huge neon-pink Coffee Mugs sign.
My transmitter beeped its minute warning tone. I flicked my wrist, and my crossbow shot into my hand. Time to get shit done.
Scanning the street below, I deactivated the Humaning chip.
Breathe. I rested my elbow on the smooth curve of plastic and blew out a steady breath as I lowered my eye to the view finder.
Lips pressed together, I aimed at the exact spot the pair were set to cross paths.
Focus. Aim. Fire. Don’t over think.
A bubble of calm dissolved the city sounds from my consciousness, and my finger tapped on the trigger. One, two, three. The Connect stepped into the circle of my viewfinder and I squeezed.
The weight of a big body knocked the wind from my lungs, and the world swirled back into focus. The scream of car horns, and the low rumble of their engines, the steady thrum of human chatter and the far-off howl of sirens demanding their way through traffic rushed my stunned mind as I turned, wheezing to catch a citrus-scented breath.
“What the fuck, Syras? If you’ve fucked up this Connect...”
A warm stickiness coated the hand pressed against his chest, and the unmistakable metallic smell of blood burned my nostrils. What the...?
Still dressed in his human-friendly clothes, Syras pulled himself off me then slumped back against the glowing O, his gaze darting over my body. “Are you hit?”
“What? No.” I shook my head, my eyes glued to the tip of the black dart peeking out through his shoulder. “But you are.”
“You need to get out of here.” His face had paled to a sickly green. He puffed out a breath and tried to get up. “Use the Humaning chip. Go.”
“I’m not leaving you like this.”
The words had barely left my mouth when something cracked against the back of my skull and everything went black.
My eyes blinked open, the darkness slowly receding, tiny flashing lights taking its place.
“There she is.”
My vision cleared, and I jerked awake. Cupid’s control center? What the fuck just happened?
Syras’s pained moan sounded from beside me on the cold granite floor. Ignoring the dull ache at the base of my skull, I pulled myself up and shifted to cradle his head in my lap. His eyes were closed, his skin clammy. “What have you done, Cu?” Pressing my hand against the wound in Syras’s shoulder, I glared over to where Cupid hovered on his fluffy white cloud, arms folded over his Buddha-like belly, chubby face creased with displeasure. “It’s only a shoulder wound. Why does he look so...” I glanced down into Syras’s green-tinted face. “... So sick?”