Celeste Anwar

Chapter One

The heavy bass pounded the air of the club as lights flashed to the deafening techno beat. Glowsticks twirled in the semi-dark. Dancers twisted in sensuous movements to the throbbing tempo that suffused their limbs. The floor was thick with scantily clothed, sweaty men and women rolling on X and other erotic drugs.

Curling wisps of smoke and artificial mist hung over the crowd, clinging in the half darkness like a lover’s touch.

It was Saturday night--and it was crowded. The club, Inferno, was the most popular night spot in the city since the blue law had been lifted. For the unwary, the naive, it was sometimes the last stop they ever made.

Across from the dance floor, shielded from the flashing lights and the near ear-splitting music, tables stood for those resting from the dance--or those interested in pursuing more carnal delights.

Cloaked in shadow, Raoul Etienne followed the movements of the dancers, two fingers of scotch sitting untouched before him on the scarred, wooden table. His gaze unwavering, he fingered the rim of his glass, watching one woman in particular—the same woman he’d come to see night after night. Clara. He’d learned her name the previous night when a friend had called out to her. His ears had perked immediately to the sound of her voice, as husky and seductive as its owner. Raoul caught glimpses of her through the crowd as she danced and tossed her hair, two shades too red to be natural but mesmerizing nonetheless.

He sensed movement to his left, and Navarre Lyssandro strode forth and sat beside him without a word. Navarre scowled as he followed the line of Raoul’s gaze. Raoul ignored him, unwilling to cease his vigil for a moment. He hadn’t since he’d discovered what had happened, and still that bastard had managed to mark her a second time. He would not allow it again.

“You’ve been here all week, just watching her. How long will this continue?” Navarre asked.

Though the music drowned out Navarre’s words to other listeners, Raoul heard him just as easily as if there’d been no music at all. Raoul didn’t spare him a glance. “It is the third night. The third mark.”

“You are certain?”

“I can smell it, practically taste it on my tongue.” He paused a moment, then said, “She does not know Danior has marked her.”

Navarre sniffed the air, looking at the dance floor. Past the sweat of many bodies, the smoke, the liquor, he caught the faint scent that he had missed before. Navarre was silent a moment, contemplating the weight of this discovery. “Better you take her against her will than he?”

Raoul turned fierce eyes on his friend. “At least she would not die,” he growled, menacingly low, then remembered to whom he was talking. He forced his raging blood to calm as if thrust into an icy river. It did no good to be angry at his friend--he was only pointing out the obvious. But if Danior Blake took her again tonight, she would cross over into the un-dead, into the festering world of the vampire. Already he saw her lagging endurance. He knew not how the vampire had enticed her here, but it was moot. The damage had been done.

“You would have her as your femme entretenue? You know she could never be your mate. She is not of our kind.”

“I need no permission to keep a woman, nor do you need remind she is not louve.” Not wolf.

Navarre remained stone faced regarding him. He leaned forward, propped his elbows on the table and cocked his head toward Raoul. “I know your true motives, mon ami. I should stop you. It’s foolhardy coming to his lair to take the woman.”

“That never stopped us before.” Raoul picked up his glass and threw back its contents in one swallow.

“No, it hasn’t.”

Raoul grinned, wolfish. “You hate them as I do, as do we all.” He stood abruptly, pushing his chair back with a scraping rattle.

Navarre leaned back and stretched his arms behind his head as he watched him. “You could start a war.”

“Then let it begin.”

* * * *

It was impossible for Clara Falkner to be unaware of the strange man’s attention. At every turn, she could feel his gaze roaming her body as palpable as a caress. It was intimate. Almost ... hungry. And she enjoyed it. Never had she been a woman to garner admiring glances from a man. The chill of goosebumps made her shiver despite the cloying warmth of many bodies pressed close.

He’d been watching her for the past two days---ever since she’d arrived at Inferno with no knowledge of how she’d gotten there. It could be her memory loss and lethargy were just coincidental with the stranger’s regard, but for some reason that teased the edges of her brain, she didn’t think so. And it merely intrigued her all the more.

In the movements of the dance, she casually turned to peer through the haze to where she knew he sat, watching her. He was talking with another man she hadn’t noticed before, this one as fair as he was dark. He seemed to sense the moment her gaze alighted on him, for he looked up and caught her staring. Clara felt a shockwave jump between them as their eyes met.

She looked quickly away, breaking the contact, then glanced back when she thought it was safe. The hairs rose on the back of her neck as she saw him rise from his seat and stride purposefully across the room, allowing nothing to distract him from his goal.

Her mind immediately conjured an image of a wolf moving in for the kill.

And he was coming for her.

She knew it as surely as she knew her own mind. The scene seemed to play before her like a movie moving in slow motion. Agonizing seconds ticked by.

Her heart pounded in her chest, her blood pumping furiously through her veins, throbbing deafeningly in her ears. She knew she should run, knew she shouldn’t be so fascinated by the stranger, but she couldn’t. The dance was forgotten. Clara ceased moving at all, became deaf to the music thumping in her ears ... and ignored that warning, inner voice that had shielded her all her life. Unable to do anything, she could only watch him move toward her with the confidence of a predator claiming his quarry. The throng parted unconsciously at his approach, allowing him an unobstructed path straight toward her.

Despite his height and muscular breadth, he exuded a predatory grace that was unnerving. The black mesh shirt he wore left little to the imagination. Rather, it enhanced the bulging muscles of his chest and the rippled abdomen that tapered down to his lean, leather encased hips. A silver ring in his nipple, barely hidden by the mesh, glinted in the flashing lights. Strands of long, black hair fell across his forehead, over his broad shoulders, drawing her gaze. On another man, it might have appeared effeminate, but there was no mistaking his masculinity. And Clara had always responded to men with long hair.

Eager to study his face, which she’d been fearful of looking overlong at before, she lifted her gaze, past full, kissable lips and his straight nose, until she met his eyes and was caught. He held her like a trapped bird, hypnotized. The amber orbs almost seemed to glow with an inner fire. She was helpless to look away from him.

Inexplicably, she could feel her heart slowing its rapid tattoo, calming as he reached for her. He placed a hand behind her waist and pulled her flush against him, against the hard bulge of his erection. She was instantly aroused.

Sound returned, fear and excitement, as the music swelled and he moved with her in the dance. Clara draped her arms over his shoulders, rolling her body against him, her breasts pressing tantalizingly against his chest with each rocking movement. He cupped the cheeks of her ass, grinding his hips into her, spreading her legs. Clara gasped as he rocked his erection against her sex, clinging to him. She was blinded to anything but his eyes, boring into hers. Her short skirt rode high on her thighs, and she felt moisture creep into her sex with his

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