A cat’s meow pierced the cold, rain swept night. A woman floated toward the sound, picking the animal up with one dainty hand. Her black trench coat fluttered around her, and she tucked the cat inside it for warmth, smiling down into his blood-red eyes.
“You’ve fed well, little one,” she whispered, her voice low and smoky. The cat’s small head rubbed against her chin, and she laughed, the rich sound echoing through the darkness.
Leila had too. Rainy nights were good for easy prey. Bars overflowed with men searching for an inviting smile and a ready pair of lips, and Leila’s lips inevitably surprised them.
Approaching a small house on the edge of town, Leila turned the key in the lock and slipped inside. Bengal jumped from her arms with a yowl, shaking the excess water from his fur.
Leila sighed as her mood turned pensive, and she strolled across the parquet floor to the large arched window facing the dense forest behind the house. Usually a sliver of moon was visible through the foliage, but tonight, thick rain clouds hung low over the trees, barring any ray of light.
How appropriate for the anniversary of that night.
Bengal meowed and nudged her leg, but before she could bend to pick him up, he scurried away, his steps silent. Shivering, she absently leaned on the deep windowsill and peered out at the night sky. Four centuries ago, a night just like this had left her with nothing. Homeless, friendless, and alone. She’d had to start from scratch, living and working like a human, seizing on the small opportunities women were given in that age. A night blooming flower, so fitting for a blood drinker.
Her heart heavy, she trudged into her bedroom and switched on the light. “Bengal?
A rumbling purr answered from the crimson silk chaise in the corner. The soft scent of vanilla mixed with roses drifted toward her, and Leila smiled, her sadness dissipating. A woman reclined on the chaise, gently scratching the cat behind his ears. Dark blue eyes gazed out of a face so stunningly beautiful that Leila was rendered immobile for a moment.
“Ma cherie.” The feminine voice was low and honeyed in its sweetness, filled with warmth and affection.
“What are you doing here?”
The magnificent eyes fixed on her. “I felt your loneliness. Surely you did not expect me to stay away.”
“No,” Leila murmured as Solange rose with fluid grace and moved toward her. “No.”
Solange, entirely nude, pressed Leila against the edge of the bed and slowly removed her clothes, her hands lingering in warm places. Leila let her gaze drift along the other woman’s exquisite form, the dusky nipples and chestnut curls at the apex of her thighs the only color upon her flawless ivory body. Without a word, Leila slid backward onto the cool sheets, relishing the silky smoothness against her bare skin, drawing her lover down with her.
Solange’s full mouth curved into a small smile, and she lowered her head to Leila’s neck. Leila drew a slight breath at the wave of pleasure the gentle caress sent through her body. Soft lips glided down the column of Leila’s throat, and a delicate fingertip trailed across her breast, gently fondling her nipple. Solange’s hand stroked her belly and curved around her hip, pulling her closer.
“Is it better now?”
With a languid smile, she burrowed deeper into Solange’s arms and gave a little sigh of contentment. “Oui, merci.”
Reaching up, she touched Solange’s silken hair; so dark it was almost as black as her own in the dim light. Her other hand reached down and stroked the other woman’s thigh, the skin smooth as satin beneath her fingers. The comforting vanilla fragrance hung in the air, and Solange’s lips and soothing embrace lulled her to sleep.
* * * *
Marcus nodded to the doorman and strolled through the crowded lobby to join the group of people waiting for an elevator. He glanced swiftly at his watch—still only ten minutes to eight. When the doors slid open, he stepped into a packed car, squeezing himself between a group of well-dressed men and the button panel. As the doors closed, a woman slipped inside and pressed in front of him. A delicious scent wafted up, something that reminded him of torrid desert evenings and ripe, sensuous fruits. His cock hardened in an immediate response. Marcus held completely still, so as not to bump against her and betray himself.
The elevator stopped with a lurch, and a few more people got in. The woman took a step back to accommodate them. Her soft derriere pressed against his groin, and his cock swelled further. He clenched his jaw, trying to control his reaction. Shit, this was embarrassing. When they reached the fifty-seventh floor, he began to step around her to exit the car, but she preceded him. As she sauntered away from him, she turned and glanced over her shoulder. Shock hit him so fiercely he stopped in his tracks.
Dark, fathomless eyes held him entranced. For a full moment, he couldn’t move. Cherry lips curved into a slight smile, and he cursed silently. She’d felt him against her. He swallowed, his gaze dropping to that luscious mouth. A current of electricity shot through his body. He opened his mouth to speak to her, but the moment passed, and she vanished down the corridor, her slender hips swaying with every step.
In a daze, Marcus walked into his office and placed his briefcase on his desk. Sinking into his chair, he stared straight ahead. Who was she? He’d never seen her here before. His cock throbbed almost painfully, and he cursed again. He wasn’t some lusty teenage boy, anymore. Random women weren’t supposed to give him instant hard-ons. Lifting a sheaf of papers from the box on his desk, he tried to push the encounter from his mind.
* * * *
Leila headed to the office where Bill Cartwright had interviewed her for his position. The plush space was now her own. An ornate desk dominated the room, and the sunlight poured in from a massive window facing east. The decoration was sparse and purely masculine, but she could remedy that.
To start anew, over and over again … it was the crowning maxim of her life. A new job in a town she’d haunted for two centuries. And change still made her somewhat nervous. Perhaps it always would. In Solange’s embrace last night, her loneliness had melted away to leave a slight feeling of anxiety in her stomach, but now an unexpected emotion replaced the dread.
The odd encounter in the elevator, that potent stranger, had stirred something in her that hadn’t been tapped for longer than she could remember. He had stopped dead when he saw her, his hazel eyes blazing with heat. Her breath came faster in response, but no, she could not think of lust. There was a time for everything, and now was not the proper moment.
A tall, appealingly plump woman rapped on the open door, a broad smile creasing her pleasant face. “Ms. Kemal? Welcome. I’m Kate Mackenzie, your assistant.”
“Oh, it’s lovely to meet you.” Leila tried to control her wayward thoughts and shook hands with Kate who sat down in the red leather chair across from her, chatting merrily.
“We’re really all quite glad to see you here. Mr. Cartwright called off retirement plans so many times, we started to think he’d never leave.” She gave Leila a droll look. “Not to say he wasn’t a good lawyer, he was the best, but…” her voice lowered to a mock conspiratorial whisper, “…he was so long past retirement age, he was getting a bit, shall we say … cranky.”
Leila shook her head, laughing. “Well, I hope I can measure up.”
“Oh, no doubt you will. Now, you have a meeting with the other partners at around two in the conference room, and that’s just down the hall on your left.” Kate briskly explained some other details and excused herself, telling Leila to call her if she needed anything.
After Kate left, Leila sorted through the files Bill Cartwright had left for her. She raised a brow, impressed. The man represented some of the most important clients in the country in some major trials. She had quite a pair of shoes to fill.
* * * *
“But, sir, she’s disturbing the peace.”
Marcus sighed, passing a hand over his face. “I’m sorry. I’ll speak to her.” Even as he hung up, he knew it would do no good.
It was the third complaint he’d received about his mother in the past two months. He had just moved her into a new neighborhood as a result, and after four days there, the police were already calling him. The house was in his name, because Mary Creston was the furthest thing possible from a responsible homeowner.
Or a responsible human being, for that matter. Fierce anger rose in his chest like a wave. Thank God he’d gotten Brigitte out of there. His mother had neglected to care for her, and he’d found the poor dog half-starved and trembling with fear. In a closet, of all places, where Mary had stuffed her when she’d started howling in response to the wild music and constant flow of obnoxious guests. Marcus shuddered in disgust. No matter where he moved her, Mary’s house always reeked of pot and cigarette smoke. Blatant evidence of cocaine lay scattered on various surfaces … small wonder he attempted to stay out of her domain as often as possible.
A commotion sounded outside his office, wrenching him from his dismal thoughts. Glancing up, he glimpsed a small group of associates clustered in the hallway and walked out to join them. “What’s going on?”
“The new managing partner’s a woman.” A man laughed. “All I can say is ‘damn.’”
“You saw her?”
“Oh, yeah.” The other man grinned. “Wouldn’t mind waking up next to that. Dark hair, killer curves, and legs to make you crazy.”
Marcus’s stomach dropped so fast he winced. It couldn’t be … could it? Because if it was, he was fucked. And not in the good way.
* * * *
When she glanced at the clock again, a full hour had passed, but at least she was getting accustomed to the sort of cases the firm took on. A light knock sounded, and the door opened.
Kate poked her head in. “Leila?”
“Someone wants to meet you.”
“Now? I thought I was meeting everyone in…”
She broke off and glanced over Kate’s shoulder. The man from the elevator stood in the doorway. The man whose … reaction she had felt against her backside. Slowly, she rose from her chair and walked toward the pair.
“This is Marcus Creston, one of your senior associates. Marcus, Leila Kemal.”
“It’s a pleasure, Ms. Kemal.” His voice was deep and soft, a rich caress. A shiver passed through her body; that voice sent her mind in a whirl, to thoughts of midnight kisses and smoky, tempestuous passions. He extended his hand in her direction. Even, hazel eyes watched her carefully.
She stared at him for a moment, hypnotized, before placing her hand in his. “Leila.”
His sensual lips curved, and his large hand squeezed hers gently before releasing it. A lock of dark hair fell onto his broad forehead, lending him a boyish look. His face was firm and his jaw square with a slight cleft at the chin. “As we’re going to be working together rather extensively, I thought I’d drop in and introduce myself.”
Leila merely nodded, captivated by his face. Her people were typically perfect in their beauty, but humans were often flawed. He was the closest she had ever seen to perfection; his only blemish a small white scar near his eyebrow. Frowning to herself, she wondered where he’d gotten it.
He straightened, and his blue dress shirt stretched across his powerful chest, drawing her attention down from his face. The collar was parted to reveal his tanned throat. She inhaled sharply, passing her tongue over her lips. What would that smooth skin taste like?
Marcus cleared his throat, and her gaze flew to his eyes once more.
Embarrassed, she forced herself to say something coherent. “Well, it’s good to meet you, Mr. Creston. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other.”
With a small smile, he nodded and turned on his heel. She watched him until he disappeared at the end of the corridor.
* * * *
Quite an impression that must have made.
Marcus groaned softly and dropped his head in his hands. His boss. And now she must think he was some sort of crude boor, or perhaps a freak with an uncontrollable libido. But it was her fault … she had been so very intoxicating. The exotic fragrance, the soft curves, shapely legs … he was only a man, dammit. What sort of a man wouldn’t have a reaction to such exquisite beauty? In her office, she’d been close enough to kiss. Just one more step, and… He drew a sharp breath. Ridiculous, that’s what this was. He was going to make partner one of these days, and not by fucking the boss.
But the memory of her scent lingered.
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