oni straightened and marched around to the other side of Jacken’s wet bar. “I need a drink.” She crouched down and rummaged noisily through the cupboards. “Dammit, don’t you have any booze?”

“There’s beer in the mini fridge.” He shifted carefully in his chair, very aware of the blood still loitering in the vicinity of his crotch.

“That’s it?”

“I don’t drink hard alcohol.”

She thrust rigidly to her feet. “Life as I know it went sayonara, Jacken. I need something a little stronger than beer.”

Yeah, okay, from here on out he’d keep an emergency bottle of J&B stashed away because this totally sucked. She—

He went still. Something just happened to her face.  

If he’d had any hair on his body, every follicle would’ve been standing on end right now. She was eyeing him with distinct speculation in her gaze, her focus aimed right at his… Hold on. Was she checking out his lips?

“You know what,” she said. “If I’m heading down the booby hatch, anyway, I might as well go all the way.” She stomped toward him.

He gave in to a spurt of alarm and leapt up, sending his chair crashing over behind him. He scrambled to get away from her, his feet tangling momentarily in the rungs, and backpedaled at a near run.

She matched him step for step, pursuing him right into a corner of the room.

He pressed his spine into the wall, even going up on his toes to get as far away from her as possible.

“Do you mind telling me,” he croaked out, “what’s going on?”

“Bite me.” Not as in, screw you, but in the good way.

His mouth went slack.

“You just told me that being bitten gives pleasure…or that fiinţă stuff does.”

A hugely doofus move on his part, telling her that.

Her tongue slipped out and touched her lips. “I want to know what it feels like.”

Sweat rolled into his eyelashes and he blinked at it, struggling to make some kind of coherent sound come off his vocal chords. A denial would be good at this point.

A spot on her jaw quivered. “Do you realize how long it’s been since I’ve experienced any sort of pleasure?” Her tone sounded accusing, like he should be in the penalty box for that. “I haven’t had a boyfriend for a year, and I faked with him.”

Did he want to know that? No. Maybe a little. The suck-o part, at least.


“Stop,” he barked. “Just stop. Vârcolac don’t have flings, Toni. I can’t…give you pleasure without bonding to you. Permanently.” Never had a single word sounded so fatal.

“Okay.” Her cheeks flushed the moment after she spoke. It looked like she wanted to glance over her shoulder to see who’d actually said that.

Meanwhile his vocal chords gummed up again.

“We could—”

“Have you gone insane?!” he blasted, finding his voice on a hard exhale.

She offered up a laugh that cracked at the end. “I think we’ve already determined that.”

“Even if I wanted to take advantage of your temporary idiocy, I couldn’t.” He worked his jaw once. “I’ve taken a vow of celibacy.”

“You’ve taken a…? Why?” She stared at him with a whole lot of you dolt showing in her expression.

He clenched his teeth briefly. He was really getting sick of her whys. “Because it was the only way I could stay in Ţărână, that’s why. Half-Rău bloodlines like mine don’t mix well with Vârcolac DNA—or with Dragons’. So we three Brun Brothers were allowed to live in Ţărână if we promised never to let our tainted lineage into the community. We took the damn vow, of course. So, that’s it.” He chopped his hand down. “No women.”

She hesitated still.

He could tell that she was trying to be brave about it, but…her bottom lip wobbled. Now he wanted a bottle of J&B. Not to drink, but to crack over his head and escape this totally screwed situation.

He glanced aside, his voice dropping into his chest. “You once accused me of hating women. I don’t. Not by a long shot. But because I can never have one, it’s…very hard being around them.”

He looked at her again. “I’ve given my word to Roth about this, Toni. I won’t go back on it. Can you understand that?”

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