"Can I have a Screaming Orgasm, Maxus?" Tara leaned against the mahogany counter and glanced around at the growing crowd. Even on a weeknight, the Place was hopping. That it catered to the paranormal crowd and operated between the hours of six p.m. and six a.m. only helped.
"Sure thing, sweetheart. I get off about two. When do you want to get off?"
Tara choked on her own saliva. She'd set herself up for that one. Maxus was a flirt; she knew that. She should be used to his teasing banter by now. She recovered quickly as he set the drink in front of her. "If I thought you'd take me up on the offer, handsome, I'd say every hour on the hour."
"That's what I love about you, Tara. Your comebacks. I'm going to miss you when you move on."
"Yeah, well, you know. A rolling stone gathers no moss, or whatever."
"Sweetheart, you're no rolling stone."
"Thanks." Tara took a deep sip and enjoyed the way the vodka, Bailey's, and Kahlua hit the spot, numbing her, at least temporarily.
"I really do wish you'd let me set you up with someone. Trust me, hon, a real screaming orgasm would do you wonders."
"You know why I can't." Tara looked away and focused on the jukebox against the far wall. Those memories needed to stay buried. Remembering was too painful. There was nothing she could do about it now, but she could make sure she never hurt another person as she had hurt Chad.
Tara glanced back at Maxus as he moved down the bar to serve his customers. He was a pleasure to watch. All hard, toned muscle, tanned skin, and blue eyes that either saw right through her or made her want to melt into an orgasmic puddle at his feet.
When she had first come here, Maxus had intimidated her, but now that she had gotten to know him very well, the incorrigible flirt had etched a spot in her heart forever. Too bad he wasn't her type. As much as she protested, she wanted that orgasm. Without another warm body it just wasn't as good.
Maybe she should let him set her up. Soon she was moving on, anyway. As much as Tara wanted to stay here at the Place with Maxus looking out for her, she couldn't. Her job as a singer was temporary. Once she had enough funds, she would move on. Again.
Perhaps she could convince Maxus to follow through on his teasing offer to get her off. He knew what she was and could protect himself better than anyone else she'd met. But then what would happen to their friendship? He was the only person she'd ever met who wasn't frightened by her special ability. Not only wasn't he frightened, he seemed to embrace her uniqueness. She was no fool. Most of his customers were special, and they all got the same treatment she did. Still, he made her feel human.
Many different types of people lived in Yorba Linda. Vampires, shape-shifters, and many others that were more than welcome here at the Place, but so far she'd not met anyone like herself.
"Don't let Maxus get to you."
Tara turned to her left and looked up into eyes as dark as midnight. She sucked in a startled breath and inhaled part of his essence. Vampire. She took an automatic step back as she absorbed his aristocratic features and full, kissable lips. Kissable? Shaking her head, it was as if clouds suddenly parted. The freaking jerk had tried to mesmerize her.
"Watch it, buddy. Those kinds of tricks aren't welcome here."
He frowned, his eyebrows drawing together as he studied her. "Sorry if I startled you."
His eyes widened at her statement. Poor sucker. He was so used to women falling all over themselves to be with him that he didn't know how to react to someone he had no power over.
"Okay, sweetheart. Your turn to rock the house." Maxus reached for her glass and automatically washed it as he looked back and forth between her and the vampire. "Long time no see, Chase."
Chase. Tara shivered as the vampire's gaze slid over her one last, lingering time before he turned to Maxus with a huge grin. "I should have known you wouldn't forget a fellow, mate."
As the house band switched to one of her numbers, she prayed the night would go by fast. The new vamp's interest was more than annoying. The vibes he gave off made her nervous and queasy. Why couldn't he ignore her for a sure thing like one of the groupies sitting near center stage? They loved a good sexing and bloodletting.
The number the band picked was a slow love song, something she would have preferred to sing as a closing, and thinking about the new vampire wouldn't enable her to do the song justice. Brandon was a much better man to focus her thoughts on. But she'd vowed to stop thinking of Brandon that way. The sexy shifter wanted to get serious, and she didn't.
Maybe if she gave in and let him have his way with her, he'd give up trying to capture her. Wasn't it the man who was supposed to avoid commitment like the plague? Someone should enlighten him. When she found her gaze searching among the patrons for him, she decided it was time to call it a night even if it was a little earlier than usual. Maxus would understand. As soon as the set was over she headed back to the bar.
"Great job, Tara." Maxus smiled and handed her another drink. "This one is a Quick Fuck. I figured I owed you one since I didn't take you up on your offer."
"You don't know what you're missing."
"Oh, I think I do. But it's my loss." He laughed.
Tara laughed with him. The man was incorrigible. "Thanks. I really need one after that last song. That final note always takes a lot out of me." She took a healthy sip and glanced around the bar. Most of the patrons had left. Dawn was rapidly approaching, and many of the people in here wouldn't risk getting caught in the daylight.
"You okay, sweetheart?"
"I know I shouldn't drink while I'm singing, but sometimes I need it to dull everything."
"I understand. Why don't you call it a night?"
"But--" She bit her lip. She'd been prepared with a bunch of excuses. His suggestion caught her off guard.
"No buts. If you keep it up, I might bite yours."
"I bet you say that to all the ladies." She shook her head and laughed. Let him tease her; at least it gave her something to take her mind off the impending doom that weighed heavily on her chest. Restless and eager to leave, Tara set her empty glass down and headed for the door before the creepy vamp noticed her again.
"You have a magnificent voice, Tara."
Damn. Too late. Even as she turned with a forced smile, she wondered why this man was so interested in her. "Thanks. Chase, is it? One of Maxus's friends?"
"Yes, and I'd like to be your friend too."
"There's a whole table of groupies. You can have your pick of them. Leave me alone."
A deep growl came from behind her as warm hands settled on her shoulders. "Hands off. She's mine."
Brandon. One of the regulars. A friend of Maxus's, and a Were. If she had to guess, she'd say Werepanther, but since she'd never seen him change, she wouldn't bet on it. But she would bet on him wanting to get in her pants. He'd dropped many hints over the past two months, some subtle and some not so much so. He was cute but not her type. Who was she kidding? He was tall, dark, and drop-dead handsome...and the kind of guy who didn't do one-night stands.
It didn't matter what he did and didn't do. Chase gave off really bad vibes, and Brandon was a safe haven. One she planned to use tonight, even if it made her a tease--as long as it kept the vampire away from her.
Tara leaned back against Brandon, relaxing into him. He sucked in a breath and stiffened for a second before he relaxed and pulled her closer.
Brandon was hot. He made her want things she couldn't have. Things she shouldn't want. One night with him wouldn't be enough. He wasn't the kind of man you just fucked and walked away from. He was a forever kind of a man. Not her man, even if he thought he wanted to be hers.
"Sorry, I didn't know she was taken." Chase shrugged and turned back to the bar. She didn't like the way he kept them in his sight as Brandon led her over to an empty table, but she couldn't do anything about that.
She shivered. The way he said her name sent tendrils of pleasure skittering through her body. She wanted him. Using him was a mistake. It wouldn't be enough. They'd both get hurt. Or worse. Abruptly, she slid across the booth, putting some much needed space between them.
"Are you okay, Tara? Did he hurt you?"
"No." Even as she denied it, she felt the vampire's gaze on her again and wondered if Maxus had told Chase what she was. No, he'd never betray her, not even to a fellow vampire.
"Maxus called and told me to get over here. He said there was going to be trouble and I'd better stake my claim on you before someone else did."
So Maxus didn't trust Chase either. Was Brandon the one Maxus kept trying to set her up with? He'd certainly pushed them together often enough in the past. He had to be if Maxus had called and warned him to come rescue her from the creepy vampire.
"Is that what you were doing?" Startled and disappointed, she blinked back irrational tears before meeting his gaze.
"I don't need a hero!" She hadn't realized she'd raised her voice until a few heads turned their way. She leaned close, ignoring the heat that spread from the point of contact when Brandon covered her hands with his. This was another reason she avoided him like the plague. Desire. He sent her blood racing in a way that even Maxus didn't. He made her want dark, dangerous things.
Fighting a growl, she argued, "You don't have to worry about me going out with him. Other than the fact that he's a vampire, he's not my type."
"Do you even have a type?" When she opened her mouth, he waved his hand and cut her off before she could speak. "I'm sorry. I'm still angry because I came in and saw him trying to get you alone. I want to know if I need to go over there and kick his ass. What did he do to make you so scared that you would turn to me for protection?"
"I wasn't scared. I don't need protection." She tugged her hands free and put them on her lap. This really wasn't going well at all. Now she was safe from Chase. At least for the moment. For some reason Brandon seemed to pose a larger threat. Maybe it was the way he only had to look at her and she wanted to melt into a puddle. His scent was like nothing else. So male. So him. It was such a turn-on. Resisting him was nearly impossible, but she had to if she wanted to keep her sanity. He made her want to lose control. No matter what, she couldn't do that. Bad things happened when she let go.
"That's debatable. And right now you're stuck with me whether you like it or not."
"No, I'm not. I can get up and walk away from you right now."
"And then that vampire will go right back to pursuing you. He wants you, Tara, and he doesn't seem the type to care if you are consenting or not."
Tara glanced over at Chase. Even though he made a show of talking to Maxus and the others at the bar, she sensed his attention was directly on her. Why? What did he want? Her throat tightened, and panic clenched her heart in a tight fist. She couldn't do this again. She didn't want any more deaths on her hands. She couldn't handle the guilt as it was. Tara turned back to Brandon, hoping he didn't call her on her weakness. "Okay. You win. Please get me out of here without any fuss."
When a group of young shape-shifters walked past, Brandon tugged Tara to her feet, wrapped his arm around her waist, and followed the group outside. He didn't stop rushing her along until she was seated safely in the car. Keeping his back away from the bar door, Brandon hurried around the car and started the engine. Not until he'd put the car in gear and squealed out of the parking lot did he speak again.
"What does that vampire want with you?"
"I really don't know. I'm not sure that I want to know, either." Her stomach rolled even though Brandon had slowed the car once they'd merged onto the highway.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Stop worrying about me and concentrate on the road."
"You say he's a friend of Maxus's, but if that's the case, why did Maxus call me to come to your aid?"
"I don't know, Brandon. Can we just get somewhere safe and then discuss this?" Brandon had a bad effect on her. One that made her forget to maintain her shields. Hell, being near him made her want to drop a lot more than her pathetic shields. Like her clothing, for starters.
He grumbled but remained silent for the rest of the drive. Tara tried to ignore the way his muscles moved when he shifted gears and the way his scent filled the car--and her--with desire. The man was solid muscle, utterly divine, and probably tasted really good covered in thick, rich, sweet chocolate sauce. Tara clenched her thighs together and tried to ignore the aching her thoughts had caused.
"I'm taking you to my place. We'll call Maxus from there and see what's going on."
Tara nodded. When he looked at her with quirked eyebrows, she wondered if he'd expected her to argue. Of course he did. Under normal circumstances she would have. But not tonight. Tonight she needed him. In more ways than one.