Blood Rage by Tory Michaels
For eighty years since the Great Awakening, humans and non-humans have lived in relative peace together. The peace is threatened when three bodies turn up less than a mile from the Bureau of Non-Human Affairs in Tampa, all bearing the signature of vampires who once terrorized Europe.
The Bureau’s chief liaison to the vampires, Dara MacKechnie, learns that the Tampa victims are not alone when her ex-lover, and head of the vampire’s Great Council, Anthony Caldwell comes calling.
The pair discovers the lie that separated them two centuries ago only banked their passion, not extinguished it.
Dara must decide whether she can trust Anthony with her heart a second time as they try to head off the war that threatens all they hold dear.
Lead up: They were lovers long ago, but in the intervening years, Dara was brutally attacked and hideously scarred. Anthony hasn’t seen her naked since then, and she’s convinced he won’t want her once he sees the extent of the damage.
Her throat closed over, and she shook her head. I can’t do this. Not with him.
“Now, Athdara.” His tone sounded calm, patient, but left no doubt in her mind that he meant the words as a command. “It won’t get any easier if I have to chase you down, and I will if you make me.”
Dara gathered all the calm Xanthea had worked with her so long to achieve, shoved her doubts down, and forced herself to turn with her arms at her side to not hide anything.
His breath caught in his throat, but he said nothing. Dark eyes trailed over her torso, along the quadruple line of claw marks that ripped her from right shoulder to left hip, overlaid with a mishmash of knife cuts and claw gouges that left no more than an inch of undisturbed flesh anywhere over her chest and abdomen. The scars continued down her legs and even, though Anthony wouldn’t see them, onto the bottom of her feet.
“You are exquisite, Athdara Genevieve,” he said in reverent tones. Her gaze, centered on the plush carpet at his feet, shot up in disbelief. “How could you ever doubt that?”
Dara found she couldn’t move, couldn’t look away, not even when tears brimmed and blurred her vision. “You, you don’t mean that.”
Irritation flashed, and he tapped her nose in warning. “I don’t lie, and I don’t like your repeated belief that I would. Much as I do dislike basic demonstrations,” he growled before, in a blur of movement, he dragged her against him, and the hard ridge that pressed into her belly left little room for argument on the subject. “Unless you think I can somehow falsify that particular reaction, I suggest you withdraw the suggestion that I might lie.”
With the evidence of his words digging into her stomach, that would be impossible. He’d trapped her wrists in the small of her back and held her in an implacable grip. In strangled tones, she said, “Consider it withdrawn.”
The harsh look of insult faded from his face, replaced by a more thoughtful one as he studied her. “You never look at yourself in the mirror, do you, Athdara?”
A subtle attempt to twist free resulted only in a slight frown, and she nodded. “Of course. It’s hard to miss seeing myself after a shower.”
“I wonder,” he said slowly, considering. “You look, but do you see?” She stumbled as he released one hand and used the other to tow her into the bathroom, planting her squarely in front of the mirror. “Look now.”
Her lips tightened, and she shook her head until her hair fell loosely over her chest. The silken tresses tickled her sensitive flesh.
She squeaked in surprise when his palm slapped against her bare backside. It didn’t hurt, but it startled her, coming with no warning as it did. Yet she felt no outrage, only the illicit excitement from the silent warning that she didn’t want to admit, even to herself. “Look in the mirror, and tell me what you see.”
Dara hadn’t spared herself more than the most cursory glance in the mirror since the night Xanthea had let her see exactly what the monsters had done to her, in all its vivid horror, and she didn’t want to look now. The sight of the scarlet stripes across her flesh still haunted her dreams, though she knew intellectually that the marks were long faded.
With reluctance, she lifted her eyes to the mirror and stared at herself. It wasn’t a particularly attractive sight, a chubby, short woman with a gorgeous, long and lanky man. What an obscene mix. He deserved someone like Chris or Verissa.
“I see a dumpy little redhead and a golden ass standing behind her.”
Anthony’s mouth twitched, but no chuckle escaped. “Do you want to know what I see?” One arm swept around her waist, and he rested his chin on her shoulder, dark brown eyes meeting emerald in the surface. He didn’t wait for her response. “I see a woman forever caught in the prime of life, so perfect that none of those stick-figures that model for the lingerie companies can hope to compare to, no matter the implants and hair extensions they purchase.”
Warmth infused her blood as she found herself unable to look away from his face in the mirror while he spoke.
His eyes never left hers as he continued, deep voice caressing her ears as his long fingers circled the tips of her nipples, teasing them until they tightened into taut peaks. “I see breasts that were made for my hands. Not too big, not too little. Just right.”
Dara’s womb tightened, and moisture gathered between her thighs. “Anthony.”
“Shhhh, pet. You said your piece; now I will say mine. We will never mince words, you and I.”
Still his eyes held hers in the glass. She watched, enthralled by the low tones and soothing touch as he traced along the ridge of one of the delicate lines left by one of the monsters from the underside of her right breast until it ended, just below her collarbone.
“Your hair reminds me of the sun as it rises just before a storm at sea, promises of the fire that you make me burn with. An emperor would give his kingdom for emeralds the color of your eyes. And yet those eyes look at me when we are in bed together, and I thank whatever gods you may believe in that it’s me with you, and not some other man.”