Jubilee stared at the numbers of the elevator as they continued to climb. Why had she gotten into an elevator going up? Worse, why had she gotten into an elevator in which someone had pressed several upper floor buttons at random? Damn kids. She needed to get to the first floor and out of the hotel. When the elevator continued past the twentieth floor, her stomach bottomed out. Fisting her hands, she bounced from her heels to her toes and back again.
“Come on. Come on.”
The chant didn’t speed the elevator up, but, when it halted, she squeezed through the doors before they’d finished opening and ducked out onto the twenty-seventh floor.
After looking one way and then the other, Jubilee dashed down the quiet hallway and straight for the stairwell. Sweat slid down her spine, and her heart hammered. Her old beat-up leather coat was too damn hot, but she didn’t dare take it off. She needed her hands free.
Thank God, she didn’t run into anyone in the hallway. Pushing the stairwell door open, she paused and listened. Hearing nothing suspicious, she raced down the stairs and winced every time her boots skidded on the metal lips. She was making an ungodly amount of noise. A door thumped open below her, and she froze.
A man's voice snarled. “Go up,” she heard him say. Then he said something else, but she couldn’t quite make out the words. She didn’t have to, though. She recognized the voice. It was Andropov, her brother’s dealer and a cold-blooded killer. If he caught her…well, she’d be lucky if all he did was slit her throat.
“Find that fucking bitch.”
Yeah, she didn’t think she would be lucky. Footsteps pounded against the stairs. They were coming up and getting closer.
Fuck Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck.
Backing up the stairs, Jubilee tried to climb more quietly, but how the others couldn’t hear the thunder of her heart she had no idea. One level up, she found the door to the twenty-third floor and got it open. As soon as she put her feet on the hallway carpet, she began running. An older couple, dressed in clothes that probably cost more than she could make in a month, came around the corner ahead of her, and she forced herself to walk. It didn’t surprise her when the woman stared askance in her direction and the man nudged his wife to the side.
She knew what they saw, what everyone saw—a scrawny girl with black spikey hair, too much makeup, a hollow face with too-sharp cheekbones. Then there was the black. From her lace top to her leather jacket, careworn jeans, and motorcycle boots, Jubilee looked exactly what she was, a street rat who did not belong in the expensive part of Manhattan.
Well, fuck them.
Lifting her chin, she kept a steady pace and strode down the hall. The elevator was a bad idea but preferable to being in the stairwell with Andropov and his goons. A ding sounded from ahead, and she halted. In the middle of the hallway, she had nowhere to hide, and she dropped the relaxed act and darted down a cross hall. The hotel was laid out like a big rectangle.
Running, she made it to the next hall and around the corner before she glanced back.
Two men strode in her direction. She didn’t know who they were, but she recognized the type.
Where to? All she saw behind her was another endless hallway filled with closed—and locked—doors.
Daring to look back at her pursuers, she found them closing in. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. They’d seen her, and they broke into a run. Cursing, she spun and ran like hell. She made it to the end of the hall and flung herself around another corner. This would bring her right back to the first hall, and maybe she could make it to the elevators.
A hand fisted her jacket and yanked her backward. Screaming, she whirled and let her momentum propel her into Thug Number One. He was huge, but she’d been fighting bullies her whole life. Slamming her steel-reinforced boot down on his foot, she was rewarded by his grunt, but he didn’t let her go. The other guy was there, and he got hold of her around the middle. Kicking out with her legs, she struck the first man over and over, finally landing the money shot.
It was his turn to curse as he went down. Steel-toed boot to the junk had to hurt. Her captor slammed her into the wall, and the world went spotty. Blood filled her mouth, and she turned in time to catch the back of his hand across her cheekbone. Pain exploded in her face, and she fell, but she was also free.
She scrambled to her feet and started running.
“Fucking bitch!” The man was after her again, but Clutches-his-Nuts was still on the ground. Ahead of her, a door opened. Jubilee didn’t have time to think. She hurtled straight toward it, squeezed through the opening, and slammed it shut even as Thug Number Two hit the door bodily. The thud vibrated the wood.
Three things struck her at once. A very muscular Asian man wearing only a towel filled her view, he was dangerous, and she was alone with him. She jerked her gaze up from his rippling pecs to meet the most darkly handsome face she’d ever seen. But his eyes…they were cool and appraising and fierce. Her stomach cramped, and terror swamped her. He filled the room. His presence occupied every inch of the available space.
If Andropov and his goons scared her, this guy filled her with panic. She had to get out of the room. Whirling, she grabbed the door handle and twisted. Somehow, between dashing into the room and seeing its occupant, she’d forgotten how close behind her pursuers had actually been.
The two goons filled the doorway, and she was face to face with a gun.
I’m going to die. The thought barely had time to crystallize before she flew backward and landed with a bounce on the bed. The man in the towel was suddenly between her and the goons. Acting on instinct, she rolled off to land on the floor on the other side of the bed.
They were going to shoot him, but the gun didn’t make any sound, at all. Crawling on her hands and knees, she peeked around the edge of the bed and froze.
The man with the gun lay on the carpet—dead. His face. Oh, my God. His face. What was left of it had been torn from his forehead to his cheekbone to his throat—not that he had a throat left. It’d been sliced wide open, and blood soaked the carpet beneath him. His mouth was twisted in a rictus of horror. A thud echoed through the room, and she glanced up to find the second thug dangling from the towel man’s upraised arm, his head canted at an odd angle. The door to the hallway was closed, but it didn’t matter. Her erstwhile rescuer stood between her and the only avenue of escape.
As if reminded of her presence, he let Thug Number Two drop and pivoted to look down at her. His eyes had turned a deep topaz and seemed lit from within. She opened her mouth to scream and a squeak escaped. Retreating, she ducked behind the bed like a child in the hope he wouldn’t do to her what he’d just done to Thug One and Thug Two.
The whisper of movement rasped over her nerves, and she braced her back against the wall and pulled her knees up to her chest. Somehow, she wrapped her hand around a power cord and tugged the alarm clock off the table and into her hand. As weapons went, the clock wasn’t much, but she wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Tall-Hot-and-Deadly squatted down a foot away from her. All the moisture in her mouth fled because he’d lost the towel, and, if his chest was a work of art, his thighs and his… Don’t look. She jerked her head up to meet the considering gaze in his topaz eyes.
“Hello, little one.”
His voice rolled over her like creamy butterscotch, and her panties went wet. She felt her eyes widen, and all the oxygen backed up in her lungs. A person could drown in that voice.
“Are you hurt?”
No. She was just fine. As long as he kept talking. She loosened her death grip on the alarm clock.
He extended his arm and brushed two fingers against her bruised cheek. Electricity flooded through her, and her face pulsed at the contact. She flinched, and he withdrew the touch.
“It might be broken.” He was so calm. “We’ll have to get that looked at. Did they hurt you anywhere else?”
He looked her over, and, belatedly, she realized his manner reflected true concern.
“Bruises.” One word. It fit. She hurt where they’d slammed her into the wall. And her stomach ached from being squeezed in the hard band of Thug Number Two’s arm. Thug Number Two with the broken neck. Fear soured the shivers of lust quaking in her system, and she bit her lip.
“Are you going to rip my face off?”
Would it be insane to ask him to kiss her before he did? The unbidden thought popped into her head, and she shuddered. Clamping her knees together, she tried to think of a reason why she wanted him to kiss her, beyond the obvious sexy-as-sin body. She dipped a look down to his cock. It seemed to stiffen under her regard, and her fingertips tingled with the urge to touch.
She was a street rat, not a streetwalker. Maybe I hit my head harder than I thought.
“No.” He chuckled, but the amusement on his face faded almost as quickly as it appeared. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do with you.”
Somehow, the response was a lot less comforting than she’d hoped. Jubilee swallowed and tried to look away from the gorgeous man, but that left her staring at the torn-open throat of Thug Number One. Sour bile filled her mouth.
“Don’t look at him, little one.” He rose with a fluid grace. The muscles of his thighs flexed, and he turned.
She forgot all about the dead men. His ass was a sculpted work of art, all tight and hard, and she bet she could bounce a quarter off it, but she’d rather bounce on his thighs. Her sex clenched, and a fresh wave of dampness escaped.
The pace of her heart escalated. The man reached for the coverlet on the bed and yanked it off with a swift gesture. It took her a moment to realize he’d done so to wrap it around the body on the floor. Gratitude waded into the fray of her conflicting emotions, and, when he was done with the first body, he turned back and stripped the sheet from the bed.
A little hysterical giggle bubbled up in her throat. She was alone in a hotel room with the hottest naked guy she’d ever seen while he dealt with the bodies of two men he’d killed. Killed.
Reality crashed in around her, and she bolted to her feet. Why the fuck am I still sitting here? Getting the hell away from the psychopath—granted, exceptionally sexy psychopath—made a fuck-ton more sense than sticking around to become Body Number Three.
She’d almost made it to the door when those hot arms closed around her and caged her back against his naked body. The warm, tangy, masculine scent of him coated her, and she stopped struggling immediately. Hell, she could feel the weight of his cock pressed right against her ass, and she wanted to rub against him.
“I’m losing my mind,” she moaned.
“Shh.” His voice wrapped her up more snugly than the linens he’d used to shroud the dead men. He stroked a hand over her short, spikey hair, and she wished she’d had time to shower. It wasn’t fair that she was all dirty and sweaty and pressed up against that wall of muscle.
“I’m not going to hurt you, little one. But it’s not safe for you out there.”
His lips were pressed right up to her ear, and every word stoked a fresh shiver of anticipation, so much so that she didn’t quite process the words. “But you killed them.” Oh God, he’d killed them. She was locked in a room with a killer, and she was running from drug dealers. How the hell had she gotten herself in this mess?
“I can hear others out there, and, from their conversation, they are looking for you.” He stroked her hair again, and the tension began to bleed out of her. “How many were there?”
“Four?” She didn’t know, not really, and she didn’t care. “Andropov probably has an entire posse with him. This hotel is his favorite, and word on the street is he keeps a mistress here. I just wanted him to leave my brother alone.” The confession poured out of her.
“I can make that happen,” and it was a sensuous promise. He carried her over to the bed and set her down. “Stay put, I’m going to make a call.”
She wanted to weep when he let her go because he took all that delicious heat with him. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. The need to flee had been supplanted by the need to do exactly as he’d said.
Maybe he’d come back and touch her again. Instead of abandoning her, however, he cupped her chin. She tried not to wince. Her face hurt all over again, and her right eyelid twitched in time with her heartbeat.
“You need ice, and I want that looked at. What’s your name, little one?”
Even as she wanted to surrender, survival instinct clamped her jaw shut. Maybe if she didn’t tell him, he wouldn’t kill her. Every minute she lived was a minute closer to the possibility of escape. But I don’t want to escape.
“I’m Fox,” he told her as if following her thoughts’ crazy train. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
She wanted to believe him. But she’d seen his face. She could describe him in detail. But I won’t. No way she’d turn him in, even if he was a killer. “Do you promise?”
A smile deepened the creases at the corners of his mouth, and the tension around his almond-shaped eyes relaxed. “I don’t want to hurt you, I promise. Come on, tell me your name, little one.”
No, she shouldn’t do it, but her mouth opened, and she said, “Jubilee.”
“Jubilee.” He wrapped his lips around the syllables of her name, and she wanted to come from the caress of it. He was still naked, and she could, too. It wouldn’t take that long. He stroked his thumb against her lower lip. “Look at me, Jubilee.”
And she couldn’t do anything but stare up at him. “You’re pretty,” she said. Heat scorched her face and made her wounded cheek hurt all the more, but she wanted the pain if it meant she could keep staring at him.
Fox chuckled. She liked his name. “Thank you, Jubilee.”
When he said her name again, another wave of lust crashed over her. Yes, she could be naked in seconds, but she didn’t dare pull away from his touch. Maybe when he let go of her chin, she’d get her too-hot jacket off. Her nipples went tight, and she licked her lips.
“I want you to do exactly as I say, all right?”
“Yes.” She caved immediately to her desire. “Anything. Can I touch you?”
He frowned, and her world crashed. “Not yet. Stay here, close your eyes, and go to sleep. We’ll talk in a little while.”
Sleep? She didn’t want to go to sleep. She wanted to touch him, and, if she couldn’t have that, maybe she should go back to her original plan, which involved running like hell. But her eyelids drooped even as her mind protested, and she rubbed her uninjured cheek against his hand.
One moment she was upright, and the next she was curled on her side. Fox smiled at her, and her internal protests turned off.
“Will you be here?” She didn’t want to miss a moment. Maybe he would lie down with her. If he did, she really didn’t want to miss that.
Another frown tightened the lines between his eyes. “You’re a stubborn one, Jubilee.” There it was again, the liquid caress of her name on his lips. The sound made her feel as though his mouth was on hers, and the fire in her belly stoked even hotter. She shifted restlessly. Want burned like an ache from her sex to her breasts.
“Go to sleep.” His voice firmed, and her eyes closed obediently.
But I don’t want to. It didn’t seem to matter. Her body didn’t care what she thought. It wanted to do only what Fox said, everything he said, and she tumbled into the abyss drenched in the warmth of his scent.
Fox studied the scrawny, slumbering woman and drew a finger along the bruise shadowing her cheek. The red mark and the surrounding puffiness angered him. He didn’t know which of the two men had inflicted the injury, but it gave him satisfaction to know they’d never touch her again. Her arousal perfumed the air despite the stench of death—and doubly so when she’d seized the alarm clock as a weapon.
More fragile than the wing of a baby bird, and she’d fought him. That alone was enough to intrigue him, but her scent wrapped around him. She seemed so intent on soaking into his every breath. He yearned to pound his scent into her, but he didn’t fuck innocents. She looked young despite the dark eyeliner and punk clothes. Pulling his hand away, he glanced down at the dead men.
Killing them wasn’t a problem. Hell, cleaning up the bodies wasn’t a problem. Jubilee…fuck, even her name was provocative. Jubilee was a problem. Raking his hand through his hair, he was considering his options when he heard movement in the corridor.
Two men from the sound of their heavy footsteps. Harsh, angry breaths punctuated their words.
“Where the fuck is she?”
“I don’t know. Yuri said she was in sight, but he isn’t answering.” Right on cue, a buzzing noise hummed in the room.
“He lost her.” The first man cursed again. “Have them go floor to floor and keep someone on the doors. I want that little cunt found. No one steals from me.”
Fox’s claws slid out. He’d kill the first one that tried to touch her. The law didn’t specifically prohibit him from eliminating them. They were drug-dealing scum. Unfortunately, they were also human. Enoch, Kincaid, and Sage would need more convincing to accept the kills than the fact that Fox couldn’t stand them.
Rolling his head from side to side, Fox alleviated some tension with the popping of each vertebra. Bodies first. Jubilee second. Hunt third. His claws retracted, but the need to spill blood wouldn’t quiet. He dragged his gaze off Jubilee. No, the woman, better still, the human. Yes. Human.
Distance. He needed to distance himself from the hunger she had awakened in him. He didn’t get involved, and he didn’t need the complication of a woman he would most likely be ordered to kill. After locating his cell phone among the clothes he’d discarded upon arriving in the hotel room, he called the office.
The direct line took him straight to maintenance. Just his luck, he got Aja on the other end.
“You’re supposed to be off the clock for the next forty-eight hours.”
He hated the she-cat. She lived for gossip and loved to sharpen her wicked little claws on him.
“I need a clean-up crew.” He slowed his breathing and forced the unfamiliar protective anger down a notch. Impersonal orders beckoned fewer questions. “Send them to the Marriot. Twenty-third floor. Room 2313. Make it snappy.”
“You’ve been on vacation all of two hours and you need a cleanup crew?” Her laughter raked over him. “Damn, you’re getting sloppy.”
He heard Enoch’s voice murmur in the background.
“Why does Fox need a cleanup crew?”
Fuck me. The goddamn nephilim would never let him hear the end of it…and, right on cue, the fallen angel appeared in the room. Handsome to the point of painful, Enoch slid his hands into the pockets of his pants and swept his too-keen gaze over the room, taking in the packaged-up bodies, the pool of blood, and then pausing on the slumbering Jubilee. Ending the call, Fox moved between the angelic invader and the girl.
“I have it handled,” he said. “You don’t need to be here.”
“Really?” Enoch’s smile wasn’t a friendly thing. “You’re not usually this messy or naked.” He tilted his head to look around Fox. “And she’s overdressed for play.”
“They were hunting her and decided to attack her in my room.” Fox shrugged. “I don’t like bullies.”
“Hmm. Did she see you kill them?” Of course, he’d zero in on that point.
He couldn’t lie directly. “She was hiding.”
“She was hiding.” Skepticism rifled through Enoch’s dry tone. “That’s the best you can do?”
“It doesn’t matter. She’s here. I’ll take care of it.”
Maybe she hadn’t noticed. She’d been in shock; that much had been clear. Who wouldn’t be traumatized? Her racing heart and the acidic odor of her fear had blanketed him the moment she’d pushed into his room. Already pale, she’d turned ashen when face to face with him, and, in her rush to escape, she’d jerked the door open.
The two men had blocked her only avenue of escape, and one of them had a gun to her face. At that range, no one could miss. Fox hadn’t hesitated; he’d pulled her away and sent her across the room with one hand and taken the gun with the other. A rake of his claws, and he’d sliced the man’s face and then his throat. The other had charged him, and it had taken him mere seconds to snap his neck. All told, less than a minute after Jubilee sought shelter with him, he’d dispatched her pursuers.
A movement from the corner of his eye had drawn his attention. Jubilee had stared up at him with too-wide eyes and a ghostly pallor. He’d dropped the second man and walked around the bed to find her huddled against the wall. Terror and desire twined around her like the most provocative of perfumes, but it wasn’t blood lust that spurred him on.
“Yes, she saw you,” Enoch said, and Fox took a step back as the nephilim released his mind.
“I fucking hate when you do that.”
Bad enough Enoch could be wherever he wanted whenever he wanted, but he didn’t have to dig around in Fox's brain for information.
“Next time, don’t try to keep it from me. I can take care of the woman. You can get back to your vacation.”
Shaking his head, Fox tried to clear the cobwebs of Enoch’s invasion and held up a hand. “I said I’ll take care of her.”
Not a trace of compassion softened Enoch’s demeanor. “This isn’t a debate or a discussion, Fox. You know the law.”
“If she knows what I am, yes, I do. But all she saw was me snapping that guy’s neck. Humans can do that.” Fox would be in the position to know. Maybe he didn’t need the complication, but that didn’t mean Jubilee had to die because she’d had the misfortune to stumble into his room.
“You don’t have anything to feel guilty about. They would have killed her if they’d caught her and likely given her a far uglier death.” Enoch actually sounded bored. He walked over to the body of the first man. Yuri was what the men in the hall had called him. Blood seeped through the coverlet. “Why make her suffer?”
“Like I said, I’ll handle it. We don’t know if she knows. If she doesn’t, we clean this up, let her think it’s just a bad trip, and send her on her way.” Taking advantage of Enoch’s distraction, Fox pulled his pants on. They weren’t clean, but he’d need to shower again anyway after all was said and done. Hell, half the reason he’d chosen this hotel for his “sojourn” had been for the shower. Pity he’d have to give up the reservation, at least until he was certain Jubilee could go home.
He’d take her back to his apartment or, better, his estate. It was outside the city, and quiet. They could take their time there, and he…
Pivoting, Fox glared at Enoch. “Would you get the hell out of my head?”
Enoch leaned against the dresser and folded his arms. “You want to turn her.”
No, he didn’t.
“Yes, you do. Or fuck her. Or both. She’s a little scrawny by your usual standards.”
Exhaling a long, steadying breath, Fox stuffed all his irritation into a little corner of his mind and shut it off. He hadn’t achieved his position by blowing up at the least little provocation. Enoch knew how to get in his digs.
“Do you really care what I want?” Fox asked.
Not that Fox had any fucking clue what he wanted, beyond the idea that Enoch wasn’t touching her. If that pitted him against the nephilim, then so be it. A soft laugh echoed through the room.
“Fine, Fox. Take your plaything and enjoy her. You are still on leave. In forty-eight hours, you bring her to me to be turned or you kill her.” The world shifted sideways, and Fox found himself standing in the sitting room of his estate. His nostrils flared, and he turned. Jubilee slept on the divan, her dark grace out of place on the white fabric.
Remember, I’ll know if you lie. Enoch’s warning whispered through his mind. Don’t disappoint me, old friend.
And then the nephilim’s presence vanished. Dropping his chin to his chest, Fox scowled. Forty-eight hours might be long enough to work off the unfamiliar need. Bending down, he scooped up Jubilee. Her weight was so slight he barely noticed it.
First things first. He wanted another shower, and she needed to be watched. They could accomplish both in his bedroom…among other things.