Excerpt—DARK WARRIOR MINE

PROLOGUE: NATHALIE

"Hi, Nathalie." Luke Bruoker smiled, leaning his hip against the metal door of his locker.

Walk away, the voice in her head commanded.

Shut up, Nathalie thought back.

Just do it. You know what he's thinking.

As if she needed Tut to freaking tell her what was on Luke's mind as he flashed her, Nutty Nattie, the perfect set of teeth that had all the other girls wetting their designer panties. With his good looks and rich daddy, Luke was one of the most popular guys in school, and for giving her the time of day, he probably expected her to fall at his feet in gratitude.

Not this girl, not going to happen, buddy.

Trying to ignore her too handsome and too full of himself locker neighbor, Nathalie stuffed the books she came to retrieve in her backpack.

But what if she was wrong? What if Luke was just being nice? And anyway, even if he wasn't, she didn't want to be rude.

“Hi, Luke.” Nathalie lifted the corners of her lips in a tight smile and waved goodbye.

You're not wrong, Tut snickered. But if it's any consolation, he thinks you're hot.

It's not.

Unfortunately, there was no way to hide things from the stowaway sharing her cranium space.

You're such a liar. Tut's laugh echoed in her head before slowly fading away.

Well, what did he expect? She was only human and couldn't help but feel flattered.

He was such a pain, but if she were lucky, for the next few hours he'd leave her alone. Tut, or tutor, as he'd introduced himself after chasing all the other voices away, hated math class. In fact, the ghost in her head didn't like school, or homework, or tests—which was probably the main reason she was such a good student. The only time Nathalie could be alone in her own skull was while studying.

Tut claimed that he was teaching her about life.

Yeah, right, more like ruining it.

Watching TV with him was a nightmare, he wouldn't shut up for a moment with his nonstop derisive commentary about everyone and everything. And hanging out with friends or going to the mall was more of the same.

Who was she kidding? As if anyone wanted to hang out with Nutty Nattie—the girl who talked to herself.

Nathalie pulled on the straps of her heavy backpack, hiking it higher on her back as she walked faster—pretending to rush so no one would notice that she always walked alone.

Mostly, she felt invisible. No one would look at her, except maybe for some of the nicer girls who would occasionally give her a pitying smile—as if she was retarded or deformed. The best she could hope for was to be regarded as the crazy genius. Unfortunately, even though she was smart and worked harder than most, she deserved only the first part of the title.

But at least her hard work had gotten her accepted into this overpriced private high school. Trouble was, her parents couldn't really afford it—not even with the generous financial aid they'd been awarded—and she knew for a fact that they were dipping into their equity line to finance the difference. The school called the discount a scholarship, but it wasn't. None of the rich kids were getting it, not even those who were excellent students.

Still, it wasn't as if anyone was privy to that information, but it wasn't hard to guess either. Her classmates arrived at school in Mercedes and BMWs while she drove a three-year-old Toyota Corolla hatchback.

Not that she was complaining, her car was great—the previous owner had hardly driven her, and she was almost as good as new. Besides, this was the best her parents could afford. God knew they had always given her everything they could, and probably more than they should—spoiling their only child.

When she was younger, she'd thought it was her due, but lately, it was making her feel guilty. It seemed as if by giving her all of their love, her parents were left with nothing for each other.

In fact, this morning, her mother told her that she'd filed for a divorce.

Oh, God, what is Papi going to do?

The coffee shop wasn't making much, and they could not have been able to afford much of anything without her mother's government pension.

How is Papi going to survive without it?

Thank God, it was her last year of high school, so at least this expense would be gone. And since she'd gotten a full ride scholarship to the University of Virginia, college wouldn't cost her parents anything.

But savings aside, it meant that her father would be all alone once she left.

At sixty, her mother was still a knockout, while Papi, two years her junior, looked like a grandpa. It had to do with his love of baking—and eating. He was at least fifty pounds overweight and almost bald. But he was the sweetest guy. Which was probably why his business wasn't doing so well. He had never turned away anyone who was hungry, regardless of their ability to pay.

Not fair.

The God her father believed in so earnestly should've smiled upon a man like him, rewarded him for his good heart and generosity. But instead, his beloved coffee shop was barely staying afloat, and his beautiful wife was leaving him.

She had a feeling that her mother had been just waiting for Nathalie to finish school and go to college to make her move. Eva hadn't been happy for years—even when Papi had been much thinner and still had hair. She always looked troubled, almost fearful, though Nathalie couldn't figure why.

Maybe her mother suffered from some mental disease—like Nathalie did. Though instead of hearing voices of dead people in her head, Eva might've been anxious or depressed.

It was about time she talked with her mother and cleared things up. She was definitely old enough for a grownup conversation. Perhaps they both could benefit from psychiatric help. And maybe, just maybe, with treatment, Eva might change her mind about leaving.

But even if she wouldn't, to be rid of Tut, it was worth a try.

Problem was, psychiatrists were expensive.

Maybe that was why her parents had never taken her to one, even though they must've known that her so-called imaginary friends had been very different than those of other kids.

But Papi had said that it was harmless, nothing to worry about, and her mother had agreed. They'd cautioned her that it was okay to play pretend at home, but she shouldn't be talking to herself in public.

Nathalie had tried.

As she had grown older, she’d realized that it wasn't normal, and that the people talking to her in her head were probably just elaborate hallucinations. A mental disorder and not ghosts. She’d stopped telling even her parents about it.

But here and there, she would forgot herself and respond out loud—hence the damn nickname.

Nutty Nattie.

CHAPTER 1: ANDREW

I've just landed, taxiing in, I can be at your place in an hour. Andrew texted Bridget as soon as it was okay to turn cell phones on.

She answered. Waiting impatiently ( '}~{' )

It took him a few seconds to decipher the meaning.

Cute.

For an immortal, who was born God knew when, she was surprisingly well versed in current texting lingo and etiquette. Better than he was. He'd never asked Bridget how old she was, in part because he felt it was impolite, and in part because he was afraid to find out. For a forty-year-old man, it would've been beyond weird to know that his girlfriend was hundreds of years old.

Andrew wondered how Syssi dealt with her husband's age. His baby sister, thirteen years his junior, had fallen in love with Kian before finding out that her Greek-god-lookalike boyfriend was so ancient.

The few clan members Andrew had gotten to know since he'd been sucked into their world ranged in age from nearly two thousand, like his new brother-in-law, to Amanda, who was over two hundred. Not to mention their mother, the Goddess, who was over five thousand years old or more.

This was another lady who Andrew would never dare ask for her age. He was an adrenaline junkie, but he wasn't stupid enough to court certain death.

After a day of endless meetings, followed by a five-hour flight from Washington back to Los Angeles., Andrew would've preferred for Bridget to come over to his place. Trouble was, whatever was in the fridge had probably spoiled over the two weeks he'd been gone.

True, he could've ordered takeout, but there was also the issue of his bed being messy, and probably not quite fresh smelling. He couldn't remember the last time he'd changed the linens. Not that they were all the way into the gross category, but Bridget deserved better.

He'd thought about buying her a present in D.C. but eventually had given up on the idea. First of all, Bridget was probably loaded, just like all other clan members, and what Andrew defined as a reasonably-priced gift, she might consider trash. Secondly, he had no idea what to buy for a woman in general and for this one in particular. Dr. Bridget's tastes gravitated toward the practical, except she had a thing for red.

Damn, just thinking about those spiky red heels of hers was enough to get him hard. But it wasn't as if he could buy her shoes. And even if he were one of those guys who could guess a woman's shoe size, hers were probably the kind that cost over a thousand bucks—not something he could afford on his government salary.

So yeah, the only things he felt confident buying for a woman were chocolates and flowers.

But at least he wasn't as clueless as Bhathian, who didn't even know how to behave around one, or what to say. The guy had been terrified of going to see the long-lost daughter that Andrew had found for him by himself. Bhathian had asked Andrew to accompany him to her coffee shop, just so they could sit there, pretending to be customers.

It hadn't been a good feeling to bail on the guy.

Her place had been closed on the evening Andrew had delivered the news of her existence, and the next day he'd been told to pack up a suitcase and hop on a plane to Washington.

He'd wasted two fucking weeks in Homeland Security headquarters in boring meetings with bureaucrats who believed they knew best, devising a plan of action that could've been condensed into five paragraphs on one yellow-pad page. Actually, it was exactly what he'd brought back. One fucking page. They could've bloody emailed him. No one had listened to what he'd had to say anyway.

Fuck, he hoped Bhathian hadn't waited for him to go see the girl. Correction, woman. Sometime this year, the guy's daughter had turned thirty.

An hour later, Andrew knocked on Bridget's door. Luckily, no one had hitched a ride with him on the elevator that had taken him from the clan's private parking level up to her floor. And by no one, he meant Bhathian.

Andrew would call him after his reunion with Bridget.

He and the doctor had a lot of steam to release. The entire time he'd been away, he'd been preserving his energy  for the insatiable immortal. Today, he would show her staying power.

She opened the door in a long white T-shirt, spiky red heels, and nothing else.

"Andrew, you have no idea how happy I am to see you," she purred.

"Not as happy as I am." He lifted her up for a kiss, kicking the door closed behind him.

She was naked under that semi-sheer thing, every curve and shade of her generous breasts and aroused nipples clearly visible, and the bedroom was too far away. He turned around and pinned her against the nearest wall. She wrapped her legs around his hips.

"I can't wait," he groaned, holding her up with one hand and going for his belt buckle with the other.

"Let me." She pushed his hand away and opened things up for him, freeing his shaft and guiding it into her moist heat. She was already drenched, and he hesitated for no more than a split second before ramming inside her with one powerful thrust.

On a groan, her head hit the wall behind her.

With the wall holding part of her weight, and her thighs locked in a tight grip around his hips, he needed only one hand on her ass to keep going, and he put the other one to good use, pushing her shirt up and palming a breast. Bridget did one better and pulled the thing over her head then tossed it on the floor. Now, she was completely bare save for the shoes. Those could stay on.

Damn, this was so fucking hot.

Thumbing one perky nipple, he pinched and tugged, taking turns and giving each the same loving attention.

Bridget's hands shot into his short hair, and she gripped his skull, bringing his head closer for a hungry kiss. As their tongues and teeth dueled, her sharp incisors were winning, and as she bit down on his lower lip, he was pretty sure she drew blood.

Feisty immortal.

He brought his hand down on her butt with a loud slap, then gripped both cheeks and begun pounding with gusto.

"Yes! Oh, dear fates, yes!" Bridget seemed oblivious to the fact that she was being banged into the wall with such force that the plaster was cracking, and small particles of paint were flying in the air.

If she were mortal, she would've been bruised.

Liberated by her resilience, Andrew kept going hard.

It was so fucking good to feel vital, strong, male. But as he neared his completion, Andrew was dimly aware that as amazing as this was, something was still missing.

"Now," Bridget hissed, and he obeyed her command, synchronizing his climax with hers and coming hard inside, her sheath milling his shaft harder than any fist.

"God, Bridget…" He fumbled for words as he lowered her down.

Her thighs trembled a little, but as her feet touched the floor, she was steady. "Come to bed." She bent and pulled his pants up. "I don't want you to trip."

To his relief, he saw that although her back was slightly reddened, the skin looked intact. But as she sauntered ahead of him, he noticed that one of her curvy butt cheeks still bore a faint outline of his handprint. That one, he didn't mind. Not at all.

In fact, he felt his shaft give a twitch.

Two hours later, a Victoria Secret lineup naked parade wouldn't have gotten a rise out of him. And if tongues could get sprains, his would've been sporting a brace.

The merry tune Bridget was whistling in the kitchen was like a slap to his manhood. She was going to kill him, pleasurably, but he'd be dead nonetheless.

Andrew closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Damn, Bridget's linens that had been nice and fresh when they had gotten in bed were now in desperate need of washing. One didn't need an immortal's superior nose to smell the thick scent of sex on the bedding, and if Andrew had an ounce of energy left in him, he would've gotten all domestic and taken them off for her.

Still naked, Bridget sauntered into the bedroom with a loaded tray and placed it on the side table. "Sit up. I'm going to nourish you. You look pale."

"I wonder why?" he said as he propped himself up on the pillows and took the coffee mug she'd handed him.

"Poor baby. Too much for you?"

Now, that was mean.

"Not at all. Give me an hour and I'm back up." Not if my life depended on it…

"Aha. Sure. Whatever you say." She handed him a pastry.

As he chewed, he was reminded of the call he owed Bhathian. However, it will have to wait until he could move.

"This is good. Where did you get it?"

"I was on Fairfax earlier today, and the smells lured me into this new bakery. I don't remember the name, but it's on the box if you want to write it down. I bought an assortment to try it out, but I'm afraid this is the only one left." She smiled sheepishly.

"Oh, yeah? Who ate all the rest?"

"I did."

"How many?"

"Eleven. There were twelve in the box."

And here he'd thought that Bridget only ate veggies. With an appetite like this for baked goods, it was a miracle she wasn't fat.

He appraised her lean midsection. "Where do you pack it all?"

"Breasts and butt." She patted the aforementioned parts.

"Then by all means, eat more. I love your curves."

A sad shadow clouded her eyes, but only momentarily. She shook it off so fast Andrew wasn't sure if it had really been there or if he'd just imagined it.

She grinned. "You and the construction workers renovating that old office building on Olive. Every time I pass by, they whistle."

"Want me to beat them up for you?"

She laughed. "Why on earth would I want that?"

"Some women find it offensive." He shrugged.

"I don't mind the whistling, but the comments they think I can't hear…"

"My offer is still on the table."

She leaned and kissed his cheek. "You're so sweet."

"What is it with immortal females and calling me sweet? Even my own mother never called me that."

She kissed him again, on the lips this time. "What's the matter? Your machismo got hurt?"

He crossed his arms over his chest. "Yes."

Bridget refilled his coffee mug and offered him a piece of an apple as a peace offering.

"Can you stay the night?"

And prove himself a liar when even three hours later he remained as limp as a noodle? No way. "I wish I could, but I got to talk to Bhathian. There is something I promised him to do, and I didn't have a chance because of that damn useless conference my boss sent me on with barely any notice."

"You could come back later…I'm flying out to Baltimore tomorrow…"

"I thought Julian's graduation was next week."

"It is, but I want to spend some time with him, and he's made plans for a road trip with his roommates for after."

Damn, he hated to disappoint her, but he hated the prospect of staying even more. His suitcase was still in his car because he'd come here straight from the airport, and tomorrow was another long workday. He needed to go home.

Andrew pulled her into his arms and kissed her lips gently. "I'm sorry, but I just have to go home and unpack, check what alien life is growing in my fridge…" He tried for humor, and it worked.

She smiled. "Fascinating, save me some samples of it in a jar."

"I promise to save something better than disgusting growth for you to play with."

"And what might that be?"

"Life force? Energy?" He made a face.

Bridget laughed. "After another ten days of nada, you'll need it."

"I know."

I hope you enjoyed the preview chapters.
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