This book’s been out a for a few months, but I don’t remember ever sharing an excerpt from my story in the anthology. So, I thought I’d correct that oversight today. The story is called “Viper’s Bite” and features a character from the My Immortal Knight series. Viper appeared in All Hallows Heartbreaker as a very bad dude, and then we saw an inkling of what was really going on with him in Navarro. I hope you enjoy! ~DD
“You know, they have a dress code here,” she murmured, eyeing his black leather jacket and T-shirt, and then letting her glance slide quickly down his legs before rising again. A faint blush tinged her pale cheeks.
Viper’s eyelids dipped. “I’m not planning on going inside. I was waiting…for someone.”
“Lucky girl,” she said softly, then shook her head again. “It’s not like I have reservations or anything, and I’m not dressed for it either. I’m not really sure why I stopped…”
His glance panned the line of people waiting patiently for their numbers to be called by the restaurant hostess who roamed outside, taking names on a clipboard. “Would you like to go somewhere else?” he said, quickly, not wanting to let her go just yet, needing to work the moment in order to build her trust.
Time stretched between them. Her gaze flitted down the row of well-lit shops, still open with people walking leisurely along the covered walkway. A soft evening mist muted the glare of the streetlamps and the sounds of the people passing them by as they stood at the bottom of the steps leading into the trendy restaurant.
“I promise I don’t bite,” he said, fighting the urgency building in his body to keep his words light and casual. “We can just take a walk. Find a cup of coffee, if you like.”
He wanted her to say yes, without any extra “persuasion” from him. Wanted her to choose him of her own free will.
A long indrawn breath lifted her chest, and she gave him a small, tentative smile. “There’s a Starbucks at the end of the strip.”
Warmth seeped into his chest. And although he knew tomorrow he’d pay a heavy price, he needed to spend tonight…with her.
Viper tugged his hands from his pockets and crooked an elbow, feeling a little foolish for the old-fashioned gesture. His manners felt a little rusty.
Her hand slid around his forearm, her fingers lightly resting atop the leather. Through the barrier he shouldn’t have been able to note the heat of her hands, but he did.
“Shall we?” he asked, and then stepped out, shortening his natural stride to allow her to walk comfortably beside him.
“You haven’t even asked my name.”
It’s Mariah. “You haven’t asked mine.”
Soft, rueful laughter floated around him. “I’m not like this. I don’t let strangers lead me around.” She ducked her head, perhaps to hide the new blush staining her cheeks. “I’m Mariah Cohen.”
He pressed his lips to halt the automatic response. Tonight he wasn’t Viper. “I’m Daniel Vacarro,” he said softly and held his breath. Would the name niggle at her memory?
“Daniel. Not Danny?”
She laughed again. “Not manly enough?”
He gave her a narrowed glance.
“See?” she said, a smile curving her lush lips. “We’re already getting to know each other.”
“Are you always a smart ass with complete strangers?”
“We aren’t strangers, Daniel. I admit, tonight I feel just a little reckless, but I recognized you right off. We’re just taking a short walk in the middle of a crowd of people. What’s the worst that can happen?”
Viper shook his head. The woman was crazy. But she was right. The only danger he posed was to her sweet, curvy body. His fingers curled over hers, pressing them against his forearm. “This is the place.” He swept her into Starbucks and stood in the long line.
As the people waiting in front of them peeled away, one at a time, some patting pockets for “missing wallets,” some squinting at the menu board as though they suddenly couldn’t read it, Mariah stood quietly beside him, bewilderment rounding her eyes as the line melted completely away. “This never happens.”
“What would you like?” he deferred to her, hiding a smug smile. So, he’d worked a little of his magic on the other customers. Bite me.
She placed her order, and then lifted a brow.
“Nothing for me.”
“You didn’t come for the coffee?”
“I’m not an addict.”
“Afraid you won’t be able to sleep tonight?”
“Who’s gonna sleep?” he murmured under his breath.
Her tongue swept out to wet her lower lip, but she let him pull her aside to wait at the end of the barista’s counter. “But you didn’t pay.”
Viper shrugged. “I know them.”
“Right,” she said, her tone indicating she didn’t quite believe him. “Did you wink at the girl or something?”
“Why? Do you think I’m irresistible?”
Her soft feminine snort was followed by a slow, dazed shake of her head. “I’m here, aren’t I? And we just met ten minutes ago.”
Viper closed his eyes for a moment, trying to keep his memories at bay and just enjoy the moment. She had no way of knowing how much her innocent comment ate at his resolve. They’d met a long time before this night.
Her name was called, and he opened his eyes, watching as she gave him a concerned look, then stepped forward to claim her cup. “Do you want to stay here?” she asked.
The press of warm-blooded bodies around him felt suffocating and far too tempting. “Let’s walk.”
Outside again, he raised his face to the warm breeze and drank in the cleansing air. “Sorry about that. I don’t like crowds much.”
“I got that. There are tables just down the way. Want to sit down?”
He nodded, hoping his sudden melancholy would vanish. He had only a few hours to spend with her, if she let him, before he had to return to his world.
As she walked, she played with the plastic lid, then took a quick sip. Her eyes drifted closed. “Mmmm…this was just what I needed.”
They reached the tables outside a café. Viper chose one at the outer edges of the extended courtyard and pulled out a chair, waiting as she settled before taking his own beside her rather than across the table.
She didn’t seem to mind, just sipped her coffee quietly while eyeing him above the rim of her cup.
He wondered what she saw.
He’d been careful with his appearance. Sure he wore the same weathered jacket, a plain T-shirt, and jeans. But he’d polished his boots, used a brush on his long, black hair instead of his fingers. He knew women found him attractive, but Mariah wasn’t into dark, dangerous men with sharp-edged features and hungry eyes. Or at least she hadn’t been.
“Are you always this talkative?”
Right. He should at least pretend to be polite, however out of practice it felt. “Does it bother you? My not talking.”
“It’s a little unnerving.” Her glance met his then slid away quickly, but her shoulders tilted toward him. “I expected you’d be hitting on me by now.”
The subtle body language, crossed messages of shy interest, set his blood simmering. “Are you disappointed I’m not?”
“Just a little uncomfortable,” she said, placing her cup on the table and wrapping her hands around it.
“Because I’m tempted to hit on you.” She wrinkled her nose. “I did just say that, didn’t I?
His lips stretched. “Yeah, you did.”
Her head canted as she eyed his mouth. “Are you gay?”
“Do I give off that vibe?”
“Not at all. But in my experience, a man doesn’t need more than a smile as encouragement to bust a move.”
“And you think I might be gay because I’m trying to be a gentleman?”
“You have to try?”
He nodded slowly.
She blew out a breath between pursed lips. “That’s a relief. Although I’d already guessed you’re a predator.”
He lifted both eyebrows. “Do I seem that sinister?”
“Not like a serial killer, but you could probably have any woman you want without even trying, so why haven’t you tried…with me…seeing as you’re not gay?”
“I wasn’t sure you were interested. You seemed to hesitate back there at the restaurant. I didn’t want to spook you.”
“So you do…” She sucked her lower lip between her teeth.
“I do what?”
“Want me?” Her gaze rose slowly to his again, her breath hitched, lifting her small breasts.
He swallowed, wondering if he’d subconsciously sent out the idea, making it impossible for her to choose.
Her eyes blinked rapidly. “Don’t feel like you have to,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. I guess I’m just in a funny kind of mood. I don’t want to say goodbye to you. Not yet.”
Viper settled back in his chair. “You don’t have to invite me to your bed if all you want is company,” he said gruffly.
Her glance slid away as she pretended to study the string of lights surrounding a toy shop across the courtyard. “But what if I want more?” she whispered.
Because he wanted to read her expression, he gave in to the urge to touch her hair and tucked a softly curling lock behind her ear.
Her gaze swung back to him. Her lips parting as she drew in a soft, shaky breath.
He cleared his throat, and leaned closer to whisper for her ears only. “I’d ask, why me? Why tonight?”
Again, her plump lips pressed together, then parted. “Well, it’s not because you were the first man to say hello to me tonight, if that’s what you think. I wasn’t really prowling for sex.”
“Then what was it?”
“Fishing for compliments?” When he didn’t respond, she lifted her shoulders. “Guess you don’t need them.”
Viper held himself still, determined to wait her out.
Her finely arched brows drew together, and her jaw tightened for just a moment. “All right. I just feel…I don’t know…a little lonely tonight. I thought maybe you felt the same way.”
Viper felt a burning at the back of his eyes and looked away. Because he couldn’t speak past the lump lodged at the back of his throat, he nodded his head.
Her hand reached out and smoothed over the top of his. Her large brown eyes looked at him with sadness that mirrored his own. “Maybe we just need each other tonight. That’s all it has to be.”
She was reassuring him that there wouldn’t be any strings? “You should expect more,” he rasped.
“Maybe tomorrow I will. But tonight, I’d just be satisfied to know you don’t want anyone but me.”
Viper forced a small smile. “Want to fall in love with me tonight?”
“Does that sound so silly?”
His hand lifted and cupped the side of her face. “It sounds just about perfect.”