***Note: these two chapters are included in the ebook version of Eternity Embraced, but are not in the print short story found in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance.***
* ~ * CHAPTER FIVE * ~ *
Tayla Mancuso hadn’t been sure what to think when she’d gotten the call from the head of The Aegis’s Portland cell. Sure, Guardians transferred all the time, but the Regent, Shawn, said that this was a special case, and he wouldn’t elaborate.
Then, when one of the Guardians he’d called about, Andrea, contacted Tayla and asked to meet at the apartment Tay shared with her husband, Eidolon, instead of at the New York City cell’s headquarters, Tay had gotten real suspicious. There were very few reasons a Guardian wouldn’t want to meet at a cell’s highly fortified headquarters, and topping the list would be if said Guardian couldn’t make it past the wards that prevented underworld beings from entering. Or if the Guardian was worried about being recognized by cell members for some reason.
Or if the Guardian wanted to get Tayla alone, somewhere unprotected.
Tayla went through all of the scenarios, and though she was suspicious, her internal danger alarm hadn’t triggered. She’d meet Andrea, but she’d make sure Eidolon was safe.
Tayla never lied to E, but before she agreed to see Andrea, she’d made sure he was working a shift at Underworld General, the hospital he and his brothers ran for anyone who couldn’t be seen at a human medical facility.
Eidolon was a demon, a rare breed of incubus, and there was no way Tayla was allowing a demon slayer into the apartment with him there.
Granted, Tayla was half-demon herself, and no doubt rumors were already spreading since she’d revealed the fact to some Aegis bigwigs in Egypt last month, but she was also a Guardian, and she was fully prepared to take on Andrea if this was some sort of trick.
Or assassination attempt.
So yes, she’d agreed to meet Andrea while Eidolon was at work. Not that he couldn’t defend himself — he was a powerful fighter. But Tayla wasn’t taking any chances.
Funny how protective she’d gotten. When they’d first met, she’d tried to kill him.
Now she was walking down the hallway of the expensive Manhattan apartment they shared, her fingers flexing over the stang at her hip. The double-bladed S-shaped weapon was an Aegis special, the first weapon she’d been trained on, and she wanted it at hand if there was trouble.
Because she suddenly had a hinky feeling, and she sensed that behind the door was more than just a woman wanting to transfer from the City of Roses to the Big Apple.
She opened the door, and her hand flew to the stang at the sight of a black-haired woman Tay assumed was Andrea…and a blond male who Tayla had no doubt was a vampire.
Neither Andrea nor the vamp missed Tay’s hand action, and though they stiffened, they didn’t make any aggressive or defensive moves. Wise, since Tayla also had a wooden stake at her ankle, and the ability to turn into an unstoppable monster if the situation called for it. Which she hoped didn’t happen. Shifting into her Soulshredder form, with her veiny black wings and six-inch claws, stung like hell and made her cranky for hours afterward.
“I’m Andrea.” The female, dressed in jeans and a bulky sweatshirt that no doubt concealed a buttload of weapons, took the vamp’s hand, and he tugged her protectively against him. “And this is Kaden.”
Suddenly, Tayla got what was going on. A slayer had fallen for a vampire. How very Buffy.
As if Tayla had room to talk, given that she’d slept with Eidolon before she’d learned that she was also a demon.
“So,” Tayla said, “I’m guessing that you know about me and my situation, and you’re hoping that by coming to me, you’ll find a cell sympathetic to your situation.”
“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Kaden said, his voice as dark as his leather pants and jacket.
Still wary, Tayla gestured for the couple to enter, and then she followed them to Eidolon’s study, where they took seats on the leather couch. Kaden sat stiffly, his body language making clear that he was ready to throw down if Tayla made a move against Andrea. Having an overprotective mate herself, Tayla understood his precaution. Having dealt with prejudice inside The Aegis on a daily basis, she also got his paranoia, so she’d give him a break. She wasn’t however, stupid, and she took a casual stance near the door.
“Okay,” she began. “So how is your situation more complicated?”
“I’d like to know the answer to that, as well.” Eidolon’s deep voice made Tayla jump, and she whirled around to see him moving toward her in that smooth, confident gait that always made her hot. “What, you think I didn’t know you were hiding something from me? We’re bonded, remember?”
She sighed. Yeah, they were bonded. Linked by a blood ritual and the matching glyphs on their arms. They could sense each others’ emotions and needs…especially the sexual needs, given that he was an incubus.
“Look,” Kaden said, coming to his feet. “We didn’t mean to cause trouble. But we couldn’t go to Tayla’s Aegis headquarters because I can’t enter, and even if I could, I’d be slaughtered before I made it past the threshold.”
Tayla folded her arms over her chest. “So explain what you two need.”
“Kaden’s not just a vampire,” Andrea said, coming to stand beside said vamp. “He’s a Guardian.”
Jesus. Okay, Tayla hadn’t expected that. “You were turned while you were an active Aegi?”
“My little accident happened while on the job, in fact,” he said wryly. “Crazily, The Aegis has no workman’s comp program for people who get turned into vampires during work hours.”
So the guy had a sense of humor. Tayla had to offer up thanks for that. There was nothing worse than a broody freaking vampire. “How long ago?”
“A couple of weeks,” Kaden said. “I’m a newbie vamp.”
Cocking her head, Tayla studied the couple. “I’m guessing you were together before this happened?” At their mutual nods, Tayla whistled, long and low. It couldn’t have been an easy thing for them to go through, but they seemed solid and happy.
Andrea ran her hand up and down his back in an affectionate gesture. “He’s been working undercover with vampires to feed us information. Thanks to him, our cell wiped out a really nasty nest, but now that they’re gone…”
“Your cell isn’t playing nice,” Tay finished.
“I get that,” Tayla sighed. “So what is it you want? What makes you think my cell is any different from the Portland one.”
“We heard…” Andrea cleared her throat. “We heard that you are, ah…”
Tayla didn’t put the poor girl through more discomfort. “You heard I’m half demon. And that I’m mated to one.”
“Yes,” Kaden said gruffly, shooting Eidolon a wary glance.
“Well, you’re right,” Tayla said. “I didn’t know about my demon half until I met Eidolon.” She smiled at him, and he returned it. He was just so cute. “He’s a Seminus demon, a rare species of incubus. He runs Underworld General Hospital, which you might have heard of.”
Kaden nodded. “The rumor has filtered down through The Aegis, but it’s definitely known among underworld beings.”
“Okay,” Tayla said. “Here’s the thing. You’re Guardians, which means you think all underworld creatures are evil. Except now that Kaden is a vampire, you have doubts. I’m here to tell you that underworlders run the gamut from good to evil the same as humans do. I’ve got my Aegis cell working with some, because demons can provide awesome intel. If you join up with us, you’ll catch shit, because Guardians don’t change their minds easily. And it also means that you have to have respect for the demons I call friend and family. Understood?”
Andrea and Kaden exchanged glances and then inclined their heads.
“Good,” Tay said brightly. “Now, want a beer?”
* ~ * CHAPTER SIX * ~ *
Turned out that being a vampire Guardian instead of merely an outside “informant” as Kaden had been in Portland was pretty cool.
He hadn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms into the New York City cell, more like with wary looks and a few snide remarks, but once he started working and got into places human Guardians couldn’t, he earned a lot of respect in very little time. And when he got his arm nearly hacked off by an orc-like demon twice his size, Eidolon treated him at Underworld General as if he were part of the family.
Three months after moving to the New York City Aegis cell, he and Andrea married beneath the full moon on the lawn at headquarters, with all their cellmates attending.
Now he and Andrea were spending their first night in their new home, a house they’d bought in the country near the cell’s headquarters and had altered to seal out light during the day and to provide an escape tunnel from the basement. Yeah, Kaden was a little paranoid, but more than one Aegi had been targeted by demons and dragged out of their homes, and Kaden wasn’t going to let Andrea become one of those.
“Hey.” Her hand came down on his bare chest as she climbed into bed, where he’d been waiting for her for what seemed like an hour, but was really only about five minutes while she’d washed her face. “You seem distracted.”
“Nah.” He reached for her, snared her around the waist, and dragged her on top of him so she straddled his waist. His cock was already hard, and she was wet, and now they were in perfect position to do what he’d been wanting to do since he’d awakened from his day-sleep. “Just thinking about how lucky we are.”
She rotated her hips, rubbing her slick sex over his shaft as she playfully trailed a finger down his torso. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice lower and rougher than it had been a moment before.
A teasing smile lifted one corner of her mouth as she dragged her finger back up his chest, over his neck, and to his mouth. “Are you hungry?”
Her sultry voice kicked his pulse up a notch. Yes, vampires still had pulses…according to Eidolon, their stomachs took over the work of their hearts, moving blood through their system.
“Very.” He only fed from Andrea every three days or so, supplementing between feedings with pig or cow blood from the butcher. Well, there had been a few humans now and then, scumbags who had been dumb enough to try to rob him on the streets while he’d been hunting demons. And he’d eaten a shapeshifter or two that had tried to kill him.
Her finger penetrated his lips and began to stroke one of his fangs, which lengthened in response. He freaking loved it when she did that. His canines had become erogenous zones, and last week they’d discovered that he could come if she played with them for long enough.
They’d also discovered that as a vampire, he could have multiple orgasms and maintain an erection for as long as Andrea could stand it.
And his wife had a lot of stamina.
So. Damned. Lucky.
“And where,” she purred, “would you like to feed from tonight?”
Odd question. He always took her vein in the neck so he could make love to her as he fed. Even now, he was eyeing her slim throat as she rocked on top of him, coating his erection with her silky juices. The friction was amazing, almost too much, and he lifted his hips, seeking entrance, but she shifted, denying him.
“Vixen,” he murmured. “Why are you asking about feeding?”
Her naughty smile got his blood pumping even faster. “Because I do have other veins that might interest you.”
His cock jerked, as if agreeing. It had always been on her side, the little bastard.
She lowered her mouth to his chest and kissed him right over his heart. Her tongue slipped out to lick a lazy circle there before she nipped him and then laved the spot again, soothing the erotic pinch. Then, slowly, sensually, she crawled up his body as she kissed his chest, his shoulders, his neck. Her lips were soft as satin as she nibbled her way along his jaw to his mouth.
His entire body undulated, his cock seeking her but not finding her warm heat. A growl of need escaped him, and he felt her lips stretch into a smile on his.
“Impatient, are we?”
The soft swells of her breasts brushing over his chest made him groan. “I only have so much control when it comes to you.”
“I know,” she whispered against his lips. “And I love that.”
He growled again, but she cut it off with the slide of her tongue against his. The deep, hot kiss had him reaching for her, digging his fingers into her hips as he tried to pull her down onto him, but she was strong, and she held on, practically daring him to hurt her in order to get what he wanted.
He would never do that.
Her tongue flicked over one of his fangs, and he shuddered with pleasure, unsure how much more he could take. When she stroked it, running her tongue up and down and then scraping the sharp tip, the first spasms of release shot up his spine.
Andrea knew, and she stopped with the “fang-job,” as he’d discovered vamps called it. Before he had time to guess what she was doing, she scooted up his body even more, placing one knee next to his head and leaving the other propped on his chest so she was straddling his face.
“Oh…fuck…yeah.” The erotic sight nearly detonated him, and he had to avert his gaze before he embarrassed himself. Flipping his eyes up, he met Andrea’s smoldering gaze.
“The vein there, in my groin. Take that one.”
She didn’t have to ask twice. Gripping her leg, he tugged her down as he raised his head and sank his fangs into the sweet, firm flesh of her inner thigh. Her moan of pleasure ramped him up more, and he slid one hand along her smooth skin to her sex. Her slick heat welcomed the penetration of his finger, and as he swallowed her powerful lifeblood, he swirled his finger inside her, drawing little gasps and mewls from her lips.
Her channel pulsed and clenched as the beginnings of orgasm took her, but it wasn’t enough for him. He needed more. He wanted to taste her climax. Hastily, he withdrew his fangs, licking quickly to seal the wound, and then he latched onto her core with his mouth, replacing his finger with his tongue. She cried out, bucking against him as she came.
When her spasms weakened, he hauled her around and flipped her so she was on her back and he was on top, mounting her with desperation. He drove into her so hard they both gasped, and then his body took over, his control shattered. His hips surged, sawing back and forth as he pumped into her. The wet slap of their flesh striking together filled the room, combining with the sensual noises of the bed creaking and the sheets rasping.
“So…good…” She broke off in a series of whimpers, and son of a bitch, she was beautiful. Her hair was a shiny curtain spread out on the pillow as her head kicked back in ecstasy. Her toned muscles flexed in powerful ripples beneath skin that was flushed and glistening with sweat.
The sight undid him. Heat shot like flame through his balls and up his shaft as his release blasted through him. They both cried out as she joined him, her thighs crushing his waist in that primal way every male loved, and he came again, his cock pulsing against her tight walls.
He sank bonelessly on top of her when it was over, his limbs trembling, his vision blurred. When he could move again, he rolled off her and brought her with him so they were tangled together and facing each other. He liked holding her like this, liked watching her as she drifted off with a satisfied smile on her kiss-swollen lips.
“Kaden?” She opened her eyes, which were bright and not sleepy at all.
She propped herself up on one elbow. “Turn me.”
He sat up with a start, unable to believe he’d just heard that. They’d never talked about their future, not even when he’d asked her to marry him. The fact that she was human and would grow old and die while he lived on had been a sleeping werebear in their relationship, and he’d carefully tiptoed around it.
He hadn’t wanted to hear that she was okay with dying, but at the same time, he didn’t want to hear that she would be willing to give up her humanity.
So yes, he’d been fully engaged in avoidance mode.
“Turn you?” he rasped. “Andrea–”
“Not right this minute,” she said, sitting up and taking his hand. “Not even this month or this year. But eventually. I don’t want to get old and force you to watch me die.” She nibbled on her lower lip for a moment, as though trying to come up with her next words. “I’ve learned so much about the underworld in these last few months. About vampires and the demons we call our friends.”
That still blew him away, that he could actually be friends with demons. But Tayla and Eidolon regularly invited them to dinner and hospital events, and Kaden and Andrea had spent a lot of time at Eidolon’s brother Lore’s Italian house he shared with his mate, an ex-angel named Idess.
Kaden reached out and tucked her hair behind one ear, more of an excuse to touch her than anything. “So hanging out with these people has you jonesing to become one of them?”
“It’s made me realize that I can do a lot of good if I’m stronger and harder to kill. It also means I can spend more time with you.” She cupped his cheek and brushed her thumb lightly over his skin. “Well, what do you think?”
“I think I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So yeah, I’ll make sure we have really long lives.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “Though you might come to regret that.”
Her laughter buzzed through him, all the way to his soul. “I told you I’m through with being a quitter. You’re stuck with me, buddy. For eternity.”
He wrapped his arms around her and sealed his lips to hers. “I’m ready for eternity, Andrea,” he whispered. “Ready when you are.”