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usty dreams of a tall muscular man with long dark hair have filled Julie’s mind for the last few months, leaving her wanting alone in her bed. It would be one thing if he was only a figment of her imagination, but he was flesh and blood, and had even asked for her phone number. But had he called? Hell no.
So when he shows up out of the blue at her job, she really wants to push him away. But there’s something primal and erotic about this man that calls to her.
Luken is reluctant to get involved with a human female, but for some reason he can’t get her out of his head. He has enough on his plate with running his new pack, but the little blonde seductress presents a temptation he can’t resist.
But when Julie’s past catches up to her, Luken is prepared to offer his protection, along with his bite, making her one of his own.
A Romantica® shapeshifter paranormal erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave
Copyright Virginia Cavanaugh 2013
Julie Drake ground her teeth as she tried to block the annoying man calling her. The crowd seemed extra rowdy tonight at Harry’s Bar, and Replacement Waitress Number Three didn’t seem to provide much help. Why in the hell did Tyra have to quit?
A deep breath entered her lungs as she loaded her tray with the drinks from the bar. Little skeleton straws poked out from some of them. Only another hour of this mess until last call. A pang of guilt speared her chest. She knew better than to hold a grudge against Tyra for quitting. People moved on. Some to greater things and others… Well she just had to look for the silver lining.
“Hey, Jules? You all right?”
Julie looked at the burly bartender, Mark Hinley, who stood in front of a large Happy Halloween sign. Concern flashed in his green eyes as he wiped his meaty fists on a white towel. “Yeah. I’m good. Just hoping the next hour passes quick.”
He gave a curt nod and she picked up her tray, turning from the bar and heading through the pool of bodies. Mark could be a real sweetheart and had even asked her out once. Julie wished she could have said yes, but truth be told there wasn’t any spark when she looked at him. Maybe it would’ve been different if she hadn’t been haunted by fantasy-filled dreams of a man with long dark hair and olive skin. Luken.
All she had was a first a name—no way to even look him up in the telephone book. As if she would. She didn’t want to come across as a desperate woman who couldn’t wait for him to call. But damn, it had been four months since he’d come into the bar and asked for her number. She’d been sure he’d call her. Now with Tyra gone, she didn’t have a way to ask what happened. Hell, she was even curious about what happened between Tyra and the hottie who had been sitting with Luken. But no one had heard from her since she’d quit.
That had been a strange night. The bar had been hoping and Tyra had come in with a glum look on her face, but as the night had progressed she’d started to smile. And not just the, I-need-to-make-tips-so-smiles-make-more-than-frowns kind of smile. It had been genuine. But then a really good-looking blond guy had come up to her and it had looked as if her whole world came crumbling down. She’d raced from the bar with him and had never come back.
Julie gasped, seeing the disaster coming, but unable to avoid it. Glass crashed and shattered as various glasses filled with alcohol sloshed and spilled. First one tray hit the floor and then a second. Laughter and applause filled the room at a deafening roar as Julie tried to count to ten, booze dripping from her face and soaking into her clothes. Replacement Number Three apologized profusely as she pulled sopping wet napkins from her own pocket, offering to help clean up the mess. Neither of them had managed to avoid being splattered.
Julie wasn’t mad at her directly. The girl couldn’t help that she was a klutz, but the rude patrons who seemed to get a kick out of her soaked state had pushed her limits of control.
Without a word she shoved past the people who had gathered around to witness her humiliation, and she bolted toward the back door. She just needed a minute—a breath of fresh air. A year’s time had done nothing in making this new lifestyle any easier. Country music blared in the background as she forced yet another person aside who sought a chuckle at her expense. Drunks could be such assholes. Her hands met the door and she plowed through it, seeking refuge.
Cool air danced over her wet skin and she shivered as her arms came up to hug her middle. The metal door swung shut behind her with a thud. Her gaze panned the back lot, not looking for anything particular as she tried to rein in her emotions. The trees swayed lightly in the breeze, dumping more of their golden and red leaves onto the ground.
“The money and ease of my old life isn’t worth it,” she whispered into the night as she squeezed her eyes shut, willing back the tears that made them burn. She knew this would be a better life deep down, but some nights were harder than others in believing that fact. Being the wife of a drug lord had many perks, but it was the other end of the spectrum that turned her stomach.
Her ex-husband Ivan Volkov sat in prison where he belonged. There would be no more deaths in the living room at three in the morning. No more beatings. No more bodies jerking and gasping as they died from too many drugs. And for that peace she could suffer through waiting on drunks. She just wanted to move on.
“Looks like you’re having a bad night.”
Julie whipped her head to the side at the sound of the deep rumbling voice, searching for his frame in the darkened area near the trash Dumpster. She knew that voice. Had she imagined it? Booted feet thumped the pavement a second before he stepped into view. Luken.
His long hair swayed against his broad shoulders. A few dark strands gripped the material of his jacket, freezing in place as the rest of the silken length continued its gentle movement. Kissable lips quirked up in a half smile, pulling the skin of his face just slightly tighter over his high cheek bones. The yellow glow of the security light masked the golden-olive skin she knew covered his body. Native American blood ran thick through his veins. All around, he was such a contrast in looks when compared to Ivan. Whereas Ivan was light and fair, Luken was dark and sensual. Luken stood tall and lean, his muscles toned, but not overly large. He had a very athletic build, and even though she couldn’t see through the V-neck T-shirt he wore, she figured his abs would look like a washboard. Her heart rate quickened as she stared across the space separating them. Desire began to bloom inside her, mixed with excitement. Then irritation took its place. He hadn’t bothered to call her and now he wanted to show up when she looked like a mop? “As if it matters.”
A full smile spread across his mouth as he continued to approach. “Of course it matters.”
She huffed a breath of air and turned, reaching for the handle of the back door. “I’ve got to get back inside.” It was just too much. A suck-ass cherry on her suck-ass night of a sundae. God, why did he have to show up now?
A warm hand clasped her arm before she could grip the door handle. She looked down. Strong fingers encircled her wrist. Warmth radiated into her skin from the contact and her heart rate increased. She turned and looked him in the eye.
“Don’t go yet.”
She sighed, wishing she could ignore the tingling awareness his touch brought. It radiated up her arm and settled in her chest. She recognized the fusion of hope and anticipation. Such a dangerous mix. “I’m working.”
“I meant to call you.”
She gave a half-hearted laugh. “Meant to? But didn’t. I really need to get back inside.”
“I’ve thought about you a lot.”
“Why are you saying these things now? I mean, you could’ve just called.” Damn if she didn’t hate how wounded her words sounded to her own ears. He would probably think her pathetic. She sure as hell thought of herself that way right now.
His lips scrunched into a slight grimace. “Things have been busy.”
“Well, now’s not a good time for me.” She shivered as another gust of air whirled past. According to the weather report a cold front was supposed to be moving in. Her gaze followed his to the front of her soaked T-shirt. Her nipples drew into pebbled peaks, now visible beneath the material. She pulled from his grasp and crossed her arms in front of her chest, glad the ugly yellow lighting wouldn’t show the blush rising in her cheeks.
Luken’s gaze snapped back to her face as he shrugged out of his jacket and swung it around her shoulders. He gripped the lapel and pulled it closed around her. His body heat seeped into her skin as the intoxicating scent of him entered her nose. Cologne like none she’d ever smelled before. Warm summer nights mixed with a hint of spice. Her lower tummy tingled, spreading to that spot between her legs that had her clenching her thighs together.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call.”
She met his gaze. Dark-brown eyes stared down at her. It had been awhile since she’d felt the quickening of desire that now began a slow roll through her. “Why didn’t you?”
She pulled back, trying to remove the jacket, but he wouldn’t release his hold on the front. “Where I come from, the translation is you have a wife.” Too good to be true as usual.
He gave a tug on the jacket, pulling her closer to his chest. “No. I don’t have a wife. Things have just been…complicated.”
Complicated was definitely something she didn’t need to add to her life right now, even if it came in such a yummy package. “Listen. Why don’t you come find me again when things aren’t so complicated?”
“And what if I want to just keep you where you are right now, complications and all?”
His whispered words fanned hot, sweet breath over her face. She felt herself leaning toward him even though the warning signals in her brain were firing off like mad. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
His head leaned in until his lips hovered above her own. She took in a staggering breath as she wondered if he would kiss her.
“Right now it seems like an excellent idea. I want to taste you.”
She licked her lips, ready for him to close the gap. She had a feeling this would be one hell of a kiss.
“Hey! Get the hell away from her!”
Julie blinked, stunned as she pulled back from Luken. Was that a growl? Her head turned and she saw Mark approaching. Awareness hit. He’d thought Luken was trying to assault her. She quickly held up her hands and stepped in front of Luken, but he advanced, bringing his chest in contact with her back. “No, Mark. It’s fine. I’m fine.”
She could feel the tightening in Luken’s muscles behind her and knew he held Mark’s stare. Neither male said anything for a few breaths as they let their testosterone-fueled battle of wills play out. Finally Mark moved his gaze back to her, and she couldn’t miss the flash of hurt she saw in the depths of his eyes.
“I need you to come back in. The whole damn place is in an uproar and Rachel won’t stop crying.”
Julie flinched as she felt another pang of guilt for letting the new waitress take on the madness inside as she’d retreated. “Okay. I’ll be right in.”
Mark shot one last pissed look at Luken before he stomped inside. Julie released the breath she’d been holding as she turned to glance at Luken again. “Sorry, I have to go.” She stripped off the jacket and tried to hand it back to him.
“No. You keep it. Your wet shirt is clinging to your breasts, and as much as I like the view…”
She scrambled to put the jacket back on. The sleeves were too long so she shook her hands to shimmy the material down her arms. Before she could reach for the front, Luken gripped each side. Her breath caught as he slowly pulled the zipper up, his knuckles brushing across one sensitive nipple. Even through the thick fabric of the jacket the light touch made her want to moan. She bit into her lower lip, wishing she didn’t need to return inside. It had been awhile since she’d had sex and her body protested the idea of walking away from the drool-worthy man in front of her.
“When will I see you again?”
Luken shrugged. “Not sure.”
She wanted to prolong the moment, but knew she needed to get back to work. Would he kiss her goodnight? “I should go.”
Luken brushed his knuckles across her cheek bone and down the side of her neck. “Yeah, you should go.”
She shivered, her eyelids dropping to half mast as her tongue darted out to moisten her lower lip. And then he stepped back. Blinking, she slightly shook her head as she noticed his retreat. She wanted to shout her frustration as she watched him walk away. Teeth clenched, she turned and strode into the bar. How could he come here and get her all worked up and then just walk off as if it didn’t faze him? Damn, it was going to be a long night.