“A Dangerous Kind of Help” – excerpted from DOUBLE TAKE
copyright 2007 by Esther Mitchell
He paused in his office doorway, not sure if he was more surprised that Analeise was talking to thin air, or that she was actually there. His wry glance passed over the clutter of books that hadn’t been there when he left, either. Apparently, she raided Jason’s archives. Wonder if Jason knew.
“Damn it!” The sudden oath, punctuated by the sharp sound of flesh striking wood as she slapped the desk – hard – snapped Jesse from his musing. She looked pissed, and the furious light in her eyes shouldn’t turn him on, but damned if it did. Lust surged toward his groin, and he stifled his groan only through sheer force of will. So he had a thing for bad girls. No surprise there; Natalya had been as bad as they come, and he fell head-over-heels for her.
Jesse heaved a silent snort of disgust. Natalya should be all the warning he needed to stay away from Analeise. Tangling with another bad girl was liable to get him killed, even if that was more difficult these days. His eyes fixed back on her, and the rush of heat was instantaneous at the memory of her hot, welcoming body and eager responses. Both heat and memory were expected, though neither was appreciated. Still, it was the tiny twist in his gut at the layer of vulnerability beneath that anger that bothered him most. She looked innocent, and that was such a contradiction he wanted to grin, but his swollen, split lip protested the attempt, and he hissed in pain.
Analeise’s head jerked up, a gasp of surprise flying from her, and she stared at him as if he was a ghost. The irony of it was, without Victor, he would be – twice, now. He uttered a bitter laugh, but it ended on a groan as his bruised ribs protested. Good thing he was a fast healer, these days. A year ago, a beating like that would have laid him out for a good week, if he survived it. Now, a good night’s rest, and he’d be right as rain, as he mother put it; or, as right as a man under a vampire’s curse could be, anyway.
“You’re bleeding!” He didn’t realize she moved, but her hand was suddenly there, a cotton handkerchief in it, pressed against his mouth. He jerked away with a surprised hiss as the thrum of the pulse in her wrist filled his ears.
Goddammit! Jesse clamped down on the impulse that urged him to take her arm, and sink his teeth into her soft, warm flesh. Strong as the urge was, he wasn’t an idiot. He knew the ritual of Turning – he burned it into his brain those first few months after Victor’s impromptu gift, terrified he had no choice but to become a monster. He couldn’t begin to describe his relief when he discovered that wasn’t true.
Turnings were elaborate rituals, full of ceremony and magic. At least, most of the time. Problem was, there was no recorded precedent, no history for cases like his, where a vampire essentially gave a life-saving transfusion. It just wasn’t done. The closest Jesse could find, in a year of desperate searching, was the mention of a young girl from the fourteenth century who was miraculously restored to health after a terrible fall, by a nameless traveler. Unfortunately, the story didn’t leave him with much hope. By the account, later the same year the girl accidentally swallowed some blood while tending to an injured family member, and became an unnatural creature. She was eventually burned as a witch, for her thirst for human blood. Jesse’s stomach had plummeted after reading that. One taste was all it took to Turn her. One accident. How many bloody scenes did a cop – particularly a homicide detective – see in a week? Too many. So he quit the force, unwilling to take that chance. Not that it mattered, now. Whenever his adrenaline surged, the urges were there. He feared it was only a matter of time.
No. He dragged his mind from the thought with a shudder. It wouldn’t happen. Not to him. Jesse Guardian would not become a damned monster. Hell, he was probably damned anyway, but at least he could still make a conscious choice. He could choose to avoid temptation, to not take that first taste. He could choose to avoid the subtle scent, the rich, sweet wine of blood, the siren pulse of life…
He yanked his mind from the thought with a muttered oath. He wasn’t about to go that route, damn it all. Especially not with this woman; she already fascinated him too much. He blinked, and found her watching him with worried mocha eyes. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he rasped, and focused beyond her, on the desk where she’d been sitting when he came in. “What are you doing here?”
Her brows knit as she backed off a step, and her dark eyes searched his face. “Helping you. I think you should go to the hospital and–”
“I’m fine,” he repeated sharply, with one upraised hand when she would have continued her protest. “Really. And I didn’t expect you to stay here all night.”
That flash of vulnerability was back, and something else that tugged him toward her like an invisible guide wire. She met his gaze, and the smoky quality of her eyes sucked the breath from him. Her tongue darted over those lush lips, and he could barely focus on the words that followed, through the lust roaring in his ears. “I… I wanted to help.”
“Help?” Was that croak really his voice? He swallowed hard, even as a hundred images of how she could help him right this moment cascaded through his mind.