Lover's Bite Chapter 8

She didn't trust him. She didn't trust him as far as she could throw him, Jack thought, as he tried to keep his hands from shaking and managed to get back into his clothes. He'd heard her thoughts, felt her emotions. And they were big ones. She was damn near swamped in emotions surrounding him. But they were too confused to fully identify. For some reason, that bugged the hell out of him.

But why should it, when he was just as confused about his feelings for her?

No, no, he wasn't. He knew what he felt for her. It was simple. He wanted her. He liked her. And yeah, he felt guilty for hurting her. That was it. Simple.

You're sticking with that bull, even after what just happened between you?

He ignored the voice of reason in his head, or maybe that was the voice of insanity in his heart, and continued his cool analysis. Topaz's feelings for him must be pretty similar to his for her. She wanted him; she liked him, in spite of her better judgment; and she was still stinging from the hurt he'd dealt. She'd loved him once, but she didn't anymore. That much was clear in her own inner determination never to love him again.

But she didn't trust him.

Damn, why did that bother him so much? She shouldn't trust him. He was a confidence man. She would be stupid to trust him.

Except she wouldn't be, because he wouldn't betray her again. Not come hell or high water. And he wanted, right then, to give her back the rest of her money to prove it to her. But if he did that, she would know he'd had it all along, that he'd lied to her. Again. And that certainly wasn't going to do much to make her trust him. He would have to figure out a way.

In the meantime...

"Just so you know, that didn't mean anything, Jack. We're not getting back together." She was righting her clothes, buttoning her blouse, running a hand through her long, mink-soft hair the way he'd been doing a few moments before.

"I know."

"I just want to be clear on it. What happened between us doesn't change things." She started for the house.

"It changes things. Don't kid yourself." He caught up to her, went ahead to open the door.

She preceded him inside before turning to face him, her hair sailing over one shoulder with the motion. "Like what?"

" I know you still want me. As much as I want you."

She rolled her eyes. "You already knew that."

"I wasn't as sure of it as I pretended to be." He closed the door, flipped the lock. "And I know that you care. You pretend to hate me, but you don't. You can't. There's our bond."

"The blood bond. I know, but I couldn't just let you die."

"Because you care. But that's not the bond I was talking about. It's the other one. The one we share because of our mothers and our childhoods and everything that's led us to become who we are. Our stories are so similar, Topaz."

"And yet we turned out so differently."

"You'd like to think so. But you know better. We're alike, you and I. Two peas in a pod."

"That's bull." She started toward the stairs but stopped when he went on.

"There's one more thing that's changed."

"What's that?" she asked without turning.

He walked up behind her, slowly. She didn't move away. He brushed the hair away from the back of her neck and leaned down to trail his lips over her nape. He felt her shiver.

"It changes our bargain. I said I wouldn't touch you until you wanted it. And now I know you do."

"I should have known you'd never keep your word," she whispered.

Even though he knew she was lashing out in self-defense, it stung. He drew back from her.

"I suppose it's safe to stay here while we rest," she said, changing the subject completely. "Wayne Duncan doesn't have any reason to come back and bother us now."

"I suppose that's true."

"I'm not sure there's any reason to keep digging into this," she said. "I don't think we're ever going to find any proof one way or the other. The only person who really knows who killed my mother is dead."

"So what's next?"

"We pack up and leave. Go our separate ways."

Jack closed his eyes and felt a blade sink deep into his heart. God, why? Why did the thought of never seeing her again cause him this much pain?

The good thing about being a vampire, Topaz thought, was that you could never lie in bed awake, tossing and turning and worrying, when you were supposed to be sleeping. The day sleep didn't give you a choice.

She put on a lime-green satin nightgown, thin and light, with spaghetti straps, cut to midthigh length, with lace around the hem and neckline, and slid in between the cool, clean sheets. Moments later, Jack slid into the bed beside her, wearing boxers and nothing else. She didn't argue. And she didn't argue when he pulled her against his chest, wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

It was the last time they would ever be in bed together, after all. And she didn't have the strength to deny herself the pleasure of drifting to sleep in his arms. Or of waking there again, come sundown.

She didn't want to deny herself those things. Even though they made her heart ache like it hadn't ached since he'd left. Why the hell did she still have this weakness for him, when she knew he was no good for her?

When the sun went down and she stirred awake, his arms were still around her, but his eyes were already open, scanning her face. And they were deep and welling with something she knew damn well was false.

"Don't look at me like that."

"Like what?" he asked with all the innocence of a six-year-old.

"You know like what. Don't try to make me think you feel anything for me, Jack, when we both know you don't."

"That's not true. I care about you."

"You destroyed me," she told him. And she realized that it was high time she told him all the things she'd never said. Things that had been eating at her, things she'd buried. They all came tumbling out in a rush of release and emotion she hadn't seen coming, a rush so powerful it seemed to launch her from the bed to the floor without thought.

"How could you hurt someone the way you hurt me if you cared about them? I loved you, Jack. I adored you. And you walked away, left me like I didn't matter. Do you know what that did to me? Do you?"

"I know," he whispered.

"No, you don't," she said, pacing the floor. "You couldn't possibly know. I felt worthless. I felt like the worst fear I'd ever had-that no one could ever truly love me-had just been verified once and for all. I felt unattractive, unwanted, rejected, humiliated, beaten. I cried-no, sobbed-violently every waking moment for almost a month, Jack. And then, for the second month, I only woke up crying every evening and cried myself to sleep again every morning, but managed to keep the tears in check during the night. Unless I thought of you, or saw something that reminded me of you, or heard your name. The third month I managed to get to where there were a few days every week when I didn't cry at all. By the end of the fourth month, those days even outnumbered the ones when I did.

"But even then, I dreamed you would come back, and I was so stupid that I prayed for it. I would have taken you back, even after what you did to me. That's how bad it was. I barely fed. I got weak and sick and went half-insane."

"I'm sorry. I know it's not enough, but-"

"I actually thought about ending it, you know that? There were several days, not just one, but four or five of them, when the pain was so bad, I thought about just walking into the sunrise and letting it all go. It didn't seem like there was any other way to stop the hurting. I planned it all out. What I would wear, whether I'd leave a note, whether anyone would really give a damn that I was gone. I was close, and that's not me. That is so not me. I'm a strong, powerful woman, Jack, but you reduced me to nothing. Less than nothing. A pain-wracked, desperate, broken shell of a woman with nothing left of herself or her soul. That's what you did to me."

Tears had somehow managed to flood her eyes, and they were streaming down her face now. He stared at her, shaking his head, regret in his eyes, though God only knew if it was real or just another mask. He was too good an actor for her to tell.

"And now, Jack, now at long last, I thought I was over it," she whispered, brushing her cheeks with a hand. "But I guess it's just been lingering inside me all this time. And I'm not sure I'll ever get rid of the hurt you caused me. Not entirely. But I did get past letting it cripple me. I found a way to pick myself up, dust myself off and go on living. I got my strength back. I got my power back. I convinced myself that you had lost something incredible when you let me go, and that I hadn't really lost much at all. Only a man who never loved me, a man who used me, took all I had to offer, and gave nothing in return. A man cruel enough to take the love I gave him and toss it on the floor, and then step on it as he walked away. I didn't lose much."

She stomped right up to the edge of the bed. He'd sat up now, feet on the floor, watching her as she ranted, with something like shock in his eyes.

"But you did, Jack," she said, her voice hoarse, tears flowing even harder. "You lost so much. Because I am the most incredible woman you are ever going to find, if you live ten thousand years. I'm beautiful, and I'm smart, and I'm funny. I'm generous and kind, and successful, and let's not forget wealthy, and when I love, I love with everything in me. You'll never find someone to love you the way I did, because it was beyond physical or even emotional. It was soul-deep, what I felt for you. And you're never going to have sex like you had with me, either. It'll never be that good again. Sex like that doesn't just happen with anyone. That's what you threw away, Jack. And I've been waiting a long time to tell you so."

He nodded slowly, taking a breath, waiting as if to be sure she was done. Then he said, "I deserve every bit of that. And I can't even argue with you."

"I am the best thing that ever happened to you, Jack Heart."

He lowered his eyes. "Don't think I don't know it."

"All I wanted was your love." A sob choked her. She spoke around it, her voice tight and hoarse, as her heart asked the question she'd never been able to answer. "Why couldn't you just love me?"

He was quiet for so long that she didn't think he was going to answer. She turned and started to walk away from him, but then he said, "I never thought love was real. But I guess it must be, if you felt it that strongly. I guess it's just not real for me. I don't think I'm capable of it."

She nodded her head. "Everyone's capable of it. You're just too damn selfish to offer it. Loving someone is a risk, and as I've learned the hard way, you're not going to risk yourself for anything or anyone. It's not that you can't, it's that you won't. You weren't even willing to try. Not even for the only person in your entire life who would have gladly died for you." She shook her head slowly. "It's your loss, Jack. I don't think you'll ever know just how much you threw away. Way more than what you took me for, though. Immeasurably more."

She left him then, heading into the bathroom to shower away her tears.

She'd been right about one thing, he thought. He'd had no idea how she'd felt. A whole month before she could even stop crying? And he didn't doubt her. She wouldn't lie, not about that. What she'd said to him had been fed by raw emotion, contained too long. It had erupted without forethought, like a volcano when the pressure gets too intense. He couldn't doubt her, because she had been utterly open-as open as the gates of hell-as she'd let those pent-up feelings come rushing out at him. He'd felt the pain he'd caused her, and it didn't feel good.

His remorse was multiplied. And he knew she was right. He had thrown away the best woman he would ever find. The problem was, he didn't want a woman. All right, he wanted one-this one-but not as a partner, not in some kind of relationship, not in love. Hell, maybe he was selfish. Or maybe he just didn't know how to fall in love, but...

It didn't matter. What mattered was that he had hurt her far more deeply than he had ever realized, and she wasn't going to let him get close enough to do it again. She would never trust him again, no matter what he did to try to show her that she could. And he still didn't know why the hell it mattered to him.

He only knew that it did.

While she showered, he drove to the crypt and gathered up his things. Then he headed back to the house, feeling oddly empty and almost lethargic.

She was waiting in the living room, hair damp, wearing a bright sundress, her eyes still red.

"Topaz, I-"

"I'm sorry," she said.

"You're sorry?"

She nodded. "I guess all that stuff needed to come out. And you probably deserved it, but not now. I mean, it's over now. It's in the past. If I was going to dump on you, it should have been then. I know you regret hurting me, and that you've been trying to make up for it by helping me now. I also know there's nothing you can do that will ever make it right for me. So all that venting was pretty useless."

He licked his lips, shook his head. "I had it coming. I didn't know most of what you told me, and I probably needed to know it. And if it got some of the hurt out of your system, then it did some good."

Nothing will ever get the hurt out of my system.

The thought was like a slip of the tongue, Jack realized, because she slammed her mind closed on it almost instantly.

"You were right about one thing," she told him. "I don't hate you. I never will."

He nodded, relieved to hear that. "Topaz, I regret hurting you like I've never regretted anything in my life. And I will spend eternity regretting it. I hope you believe that."

"I think I do."

"Friends, then?" he asked.

She held his eyes but didn't answer. And then there was a knock on the door that prevented her from saying she would never be his friend, which was what he was pretty sure he'd seen in her eyes.

Jack went to answer the knock when Topaz made no move to do so. He sensed no malice coming from the person on the other side, so he opened the door. A man in a familiar uniform stood there, a twenty-four-hour delivery service truck in the driveway at his back. "Yes?"

"I have a delivery for Ms. Tanya DuFrane."

"She's here. I'll see that she gets it."

Nodding, the man handed Jack an electronic box with a stylus attached. "Just sign on the screen, there by the X."

Jack scrawled something illegible and handed it back. The delivery man handed him an eleven-by-thirteen cardboard envelope. "Have a nice night."

"You, too." He watched the guy leave, keeping track until the truck was down the road and out of sight. Then he closed the door and looked at the envelope. "It's from Rebecca Murphy."

"My mother's lawyer," she muttered, and she met him halfway, taking the envelope from him with a sigh. "I don't suppose it matters at this point, but..." With a tired shrug, she tore it open and fished the documents from inside. There was a single sheet of paper on the attorney's letterhead, along with a small, business-sized envelope, plain, white and sealed, with nothing written on its face.

Frowning, Topaz walked to the sofa and sat down.

"Dear Tanya," she read aloud. "Your mother asked me to deliver this letter to you when you turned thirty years old, but by then you had dropped out of sight. I kept it, always hoping. And I offer it to you now, to give you the closure you obviously need. Having read this myself, right after your mother's death, it's my opinion that she wasn't murdered at all, but that she arranged her own death. Suicide by hit man. I swore to myself that I would never reveal that theory to anyone other than you, unless they arrested someone for the crime-someone innocent. If they got the actual killer-the one I believe she hired herself-I would gladly have watched him fry.

"I couldn't bring myself to tell you any of this when we met the other evening, not without the letter from your mother, so you could read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I had to retrieve it from the safe-deposit box where I've kept it all these years before I could proceed.

"If there's anything else I can do for you, please don't hesitate to call. I loved your mother more than any client I've ever had. We were more than business associates. I thought of her as I would have, I think, had she been my own daughter. And that affection extends to you.

"With sincere concern and sympathy,


Topaz lifted her head, met Jack's eyes. Hers were damp. Damn, he hated seeing her cry, and twice in one day was almost too much. More than that, he knew exactly what she was going through right now. He knew the feelings, the turmoil, the shock.

With trembling hands, she lifted the small envelope and held it out to him. "I can't."

He took it, caressing her hands with his as he did. They were cold and shaking. "You want me to read it?"

She nodded, the motion jerky, and Jack sat on the sofa beside her and opened the envelope. The single sheet of stationery still held a faint trace of scent-lavender. A mortal probably wouldn't have detected it after so much time, but to a vampire, it was still fragrant.

"My precious daughter," he read aloud.

"I've loved only once in my life, and that love was the love I felt for you. I hope you will never doubt it. I am more sorry for leaving you the way I'm about to do than I've ever been about anything before, but I have no other choice. I'll regret it more than you will ever know. I'll watch over you, always, and my love for you will never die.

"With all my heart, I wish you happiness.

"Your mother, Mirabella DuFrane."

When Jack stopped reading, Topaz snapped her head up. "That's it? That's all?"

"That's all," he said. "I'm sorry. I know how you must be-"

"That can't be all. There has to be more." She snatched the letter from Jack's hands and looked at it.

And then everything in her seemed to freeze. She stared at the letter, her eyes registering shock and disbelief.

"What?" Jack asked. "Topaz, what is it? What's wrong?"

Blinking, she laid the letter flat on the coffee table and got to her feet. Her gait was leaden as she moved across the living room, like an accident victim wandering in shock from her wrecked, flaming vehicle. She took her handbag from where she'd left it, on the stand just inside the front door, snapped it open as she made her way back, and then poured its contents onto the coffee table, burying the letter.

"Topaz, will you tell me what's wrong?"

"I'll show you," she whispered, her voice tight as she fumbled through the pile, tugging out the silver cigarette case. She opened it, took out the other letter, the one left for her by the vampiress who'd made her. The one she'd kept all this time in her mother's monogrammed cigarette case. Holding that letter in one hand, she pushed all the other items aside, to uncover the letter from her mother. And then she placed the vampiress's letter beside Mirabella's and stared at them, blinking back tears.

Jack was still watching her face, feeling sick with worry for her. She was taking this far harder than he would have expected her to.

"Don't you see it, Jack?" she asked, gaze still riveted to the letters. "Don't you see it?"

With an effort, he dragged his gaze from her face, and focused instead on the letters resting on the table. And then it was his turn to go still, his eyes widening. "The handwriting-"

"Is identical," Topaz whispered.

She lifted her head and turned to him, and he met those moist eyes and held them. "My mother isn't dead at all. She's undead. Like us."

Topaz was in shock. So deeply in shock that a half hour passed before she could bestir herself enough to do more than sit on that sofa, staring blankly into space as tears streamed down her face and a thousand thoughts battled for prominence in her mind. Mostly she just ignored them and lost herself in her pain.

For a while.

Then she felt other things. The warmth from the fireplace, which hadn't been burning the last time she'd looked. The surge of power from the blood Jack must have managed to coax down her. She didn't remember swallowing, didn't remember the taste, but she felt it inside her, coursing through her veins, clearing her mind, and she realized that she had indeed fed.

Even as she blinked past the fog in her mind, Jack was draping a fire-warmed blanket around her. Without noticing, she'd shifted on the sofa. She was reclining now, with her back against the arm. He slid onto the other end, pulled her feet into his lap and began massaging them.

Her voice like ice, she said, "You don't have to do that."

"I want to. Trust me, it'll help." His thumbs pressed the balls of her feet, fingers kneading the tops.

"She didn't have to leave me, Jack," Topaz whispered. "She didn't really die. The whole thing must have been staged to give her an out. That's why the body was taken. No one stole it. She just got up and walked away." Fresh tears welled. "She walked away."

"I know."

"Why didn't she take me with her?"

He started rubbing each toe in turn, tugging them gently. She felt some of her tension starting to melt away under his hands.

"Come on, Topaz, how is a vampire going to raise a child?"

"It's been done before," she reminded him.

"She had no way of knowing that." He moved up to her ankles, and his touch was magic. Muscles in her shoulders eased; her spine softened. She relaxed a little more deeply against the cushioned arm. "Besides," Jack said, "you were famous, too, as famous as she was simply because you were her child. How was she going to cover you both disappearing? She couldn't fake your death, as well, could she?"

"Of course she could have. She could have taken me with her," she said. "We could have just run away. Vanished. We could have hidden."

"Your mother's face would have been instantly recognized, no matter where she went. She was loved by the entire world, Topaz. It probably seemed impossible to her. On her own, maybe she could have flown under the radar, vanished into the protective world of the undead, but with a baby...? It would have been impossible."

He was massaging her calves now. Topaz's neck muscles went warm and soft, and she let her head fall back on the sofa cushions and rest there.

"She said she had no choice."

"She was definitely shot that night," Jack said. "False reports might show up anywhere else, but not with the CIA. Their investigations showed gunshot wounds, blood everywhere. They found the casings, for heaven's sake. Those had to be real."

"Part of the cover. She had someone shoot her. Had someone else waiting there to transform her before she actually died."

Jack shook his head, kneading his way back down her legs to her ankles and feet again. "Too risky. Someone would have seen. She couldn't have counted on staying alive until she got to the hospital, where whatever vampire helped her could get to her to make the exchange. There's no way she could have been sure she would live that long, not with three gunshot wounds to the abdomen."

Topaz sighed, relaxing now into his ministrations, welcoming them. "It doesn't make any sense. If she planned this herself-and it's clear from her letter that she did-then she must have figured out how to stay alive long enough to be transformed. It makes no sense."

"Maybe we'll never know how she did it." He sighed. "Selfishly, I'm glad it wasn't my mother who killed yours. That takes a load of guilt from my shoulders."

"It was never your guilt to bear."

"Knowing that is easy enough. But I felt it anyway."

She closed her eyes. "That really is helping."

"Reflexology. Every point in the foot corresponds to a point in the body. You work them, the body responds."

"A hidden talent I never knew about."

"I have all kinds of talents you don't know about, lady."

She opened her eyes, met his. They were soft with sympathy and what looked like genuine caring. "I need you tonight, Jack."

His hands stilled on her feet. Then he rose and leaned over her, sliding his arms around her, beneath her shoulders, and gathered her to him, drawing her closer until she was sitting across his lap. She draped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him. She didn't hesitate at all. And he held her even closer, tightening his arms around her waist, bending over her, kissing her back and feeling as if his very soul was pouring itself into hers.

He wanted to take her hurt away. And he only knew one way to do that, so he gave it his all. He rose from the sofa, carrying her with him, and continued kissing her all the way up the stairs and into the bedroom. Soft kisses. Long, deep, lingering kisses that kept the fierceness of his desire controlled, doling it out in lingering bits. He lowered her to the bed, and there, in the darkness of the room, he undressed her, one piece of clothing at a time. The sundress. The bra. The lacy panties that matched it. And then he moved over her body, kissing a path from her breasts to her navel, then lower. As he pushed her thighs apart, he kissed her most intimate places, then used his tongue to give her the relief she so desperately needed tonight. And also to try to convey his feelings. He cared. He really did.

He held her, fondled her, licked and tasted her, until she was screaming with ecstasy and pushing his head away. And then he climbed up her body and sank himself inside her.

It was heaven to feel her surrounding him. So warm. So wet. So welcoming. And it felt right, this union. When they connected this way, he didn't see anything lacking in his life. It was perfection as he moved inside her, as she arched her hips to meet him every single time, whether he quickened the pace or slowed it, deepened his thrusts or held back. She always knew, always anticipated. It was as if they were one mind, one soul, when they made love.

Made love. It felt like that, he thought. He'd never thought of it that way before, he realized.

And then he was through thinking anything at all, because she was moaning his name, and her head was twisting back and forth on the pillows, and he knew it was time to push her to the brink again. So he slid his hands beneath her bottom and held her to him, as he thrust into her harder and deeper and faster than before.

She clutched his shoulders, her nails digging into his flesh. Her eyes flew open and met his, and he saw tears pooling in them as she came this time. Just as he reached the precipice himself, those tears of hers began rolling down her cheeks.

Spent, Jack relaxed onto his side and pulled her into his arms, cradling her, rocking her there. "Baby, please don't cry. Everything's going to be all right."

She sighed. "They're tears of relief, Jack. Thank you for that."

"In that case," he told her, "there's a hell of a lot more where that came from. Come here." And he pulled her on top of him.

At a quarter to dawn, Topaz lay sated, glowing with satisfaction in Jack's arms. Her heart and mind were still reeling, but he'd given her an outlet for all the emotion that had been overflowing in her. He'd taken it all from her, as if drinking away toxic blood. He'd taken it onto himself, bearing the brunt of her emotions, which she'd left lying open to him. As open as her body was to his.

All of that, he'd taken somehow. And it had to hurt, because he was feeling exactly what she felt. She knew that. She knew how it worked among their kind. And yet he didn't block it out. He made love to her, straight through her storm, pushing and pushing, until the physical pleasure became bigger than the emotional pain and finally drowned it out.

All in his arms.

If he never did another thing for her, Topaz thought, he'd done enough that night-more than enough-to make up for all his past wrongs. He'd ridden out the storm with her, helped her to get through it without losing her mind. Not an easy battle. In a vampire, emotional pain was as magnified as the physical variety. It could have driven her mad. Perhaps sent her into catatonia, or even killed her. She would never be sure.

Thank God, she thought., thank Jack.

"Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you, Jack."

"Don't thank me for spending the night in ecstasy. Trust me, it was no sacrifice."

"You took the pain, and we both know it."


She shook her head, thinking it had to be more than that.

"What are you going to do next, Topaz?"

She drew a breath, snuggled closer in his arms, and didn't give a damn that she was letting herself fall in love with him all over again. Then again, who was she kidding? She'd never really stopped.

"I'm going to find her," she whispered. "I have to."

His arms, muscles like whipcords, tightened around her in a way that felt so incredibly safe and reassuring that she could almost believe it was real. "Do you even know where to begin searching?"

She nodded against his chest. "The last place I know for sure she was. Mexico."

He nodded. "Makes sense." And he was tense then. It was in his jaw and in his voice. She felt it.

"I don't want to go there alone, Jack," she whispered, and it was like laying her heart on a guillotine and waiting for him to drop the blade. That was how vulnerable it felt to put herself out there for him again after his rejection, his betrayal.

"You're not going there alone, Topaz," he told her. "Not as long as I'm undead, you're not."

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