Wooing the ladies with an excerpt:
Background: Dante, our vampire half-breed, eventually comes to our world, and his former captive, Alexis, is now his guide in this new and different world. On an impulse, she’s taken him to a community center where there’s an arts and crafts room. In the Dark One world, he’d created beauty using often macabre and gruesome things, the only things he had to hand, and so she thinks he might like the exercise of creating with more innocuous material, while having a way of observing human behavior where he won’t get into as much trouble. Children are less threatening to him. At this point he can speak in her mind, since he bloodmarked her.
* * * * *
Shaking her head and holding onto her smile, Lex turned to organizing the items he’d wanted thus far in a way that ensured he had a clear work space. But when she returned to him, he’d changed tactics. He was putting away the things he’d been looking at while she was busy. As she approached, he looked toward an older girl working on a clay bunny. She gave him an approving nod, her multiple pigtails and bows nodding at different velocities.
“She told me I had to put away my own things.” He gestured at a rule board on the wall. “Every person cleans up their own mess. Not mommy or daddy, or even my friend. You.”
“Oh.” She lifted a shoulder, not sure what to say to the faint accusation in his tone, even as her mouth quirked at his dutiful obedience to an imperious nine-year-old. “I like being considered your friend.”
He gave her an assessing look. “My mother said vampires have few close friends. She said we do not trust easily, and we are very territorial. A close friend was someone who could be trusted, relied upon to help if there was trouble. When I asked why her close friends didn’t help her now, she said they were too far away to help. That they might not even know she was in trouble, because vampires often disappear for long periods of time.”
Looking down at the multi-colored pompoms he held, he closed his fingers over the soft give of the balls. “So far, it seems you are my friend.”
Her humor gone, Alexis nodded, closing her hand on his forearm. “I hope I am. But a close friend also looks out for your best interests, even if you don’t agree with them. They have to be brave enough to risk the friendship, tell you the truth when you need to hear it.”
He gave her an ironic look. “So why didn’t you tell me the rules? Why did you…clean up my mess?”
Alexis sighed, gave him a helpless shrug. “Sometimes a friend also knows when to ease up. When you need room to figure things out, without a lot of interruptions.”
“All right.” He digested that, turned toward their table. Before they got there, however, he stopped again, drawing her face up to meet his eyes. “A softhearted friend may give too much. Make herself too vulnerable, causing me to be more protective than she thinks I need to be.”
Alexis narrowed her gaze. “I’m sorry, we’re only psychoanalyzing you today. You’re the one from an alternate dimension.”
He raised an eyebrow, but before he could say anything else, the nine year old piped up. “You can’t fight in here. That’s rule number eight.” She pointed to the board for emphasis.
“No fighting,” Dante agreed, glancing at Alexis. “You must accept my opinion, so we will not fight.”
Alexis had a colorful response to that, but she issued it in her mind so she didn’t break rule number four. His mouth twisted, and she waited, hoping she might see his first smile, but instead, he gave her a quick look over the top of his sunglasses, his red eyes glinting with the promise of a retribution so adult, it wasn’t covered on the rule board.
“Behave,” she whispered, though she couldn’t help the shiver as he slid his knuckles down her arm.
Fortunately, he did for a time. While he tried paints, clay and other mediums, each scrape of a chair on the floor, a higher decibel of laughter, would earn a quick tilt of his head, a shift of the extraordinary eyes behind the glasses. When five women entered, a craft club who wanted to work on their scrapbooking, there was a new level of chatter and gossiping to assimilate. As she hoped, he appeared to be analyzing how children and adults alike interacted with one another.
But none of that stopped the nimble movements of his fingers. He worked with the clay, then moved to drawing paper, becoming familiar with the pencils and charcoals. The weaving was pushed aside after a few moments, unable to claim his interest.
As time passed, the hum of relaxed, creative activity spun its tranquility such that some of his guarded wariness relaxed, though it didn’t abate the intense interest he was creating among all of them, particularly the women. While the presence of an adult male like Dante making crafts might be curious, it didn’t explain her own fascination. So she wouldn’t stare at him like a besotted idiot, Lex had chosen a foam cut out kit and created a cat out of the brown and orange pieces, complete with a pipe cleaner tail, big silly eyes and whiskers made out of fishing wire. She’d give it to Clara, who loved her cat, T.
When she was done with that, however, she perched on a stool behind him so she could lean back against the wall and indulge herself. Despite the flow of the poet’s shirt, it stretched taut over his wide shoulders. He was used to dealing with his hair, for he’d used a black pipe cleaner to pull it back into a tail so the strands wouldn’t slide forward into the paint or clay, or obscure what he was trying to do with the pencil. It let her see his profile better, the concentration of the glowing eyes behind the glasses, the hard press of his lips.
Oh, hellfire. It was against her nature to restrain her impulse to touch what she wanted. She’d never felt any inhibitions about it before. It was natural to connect with other life. Keeping herself from it now was a herculean effort, because his scent, his appearance, the strength and grace of his body, the way his hands moved over his task, took it past pleasant indulgence into obsessive desire. Leaving the stool, she slid her arms over his shoulders and around his chest, pressing her cheek to his temple. He stilled beneath her touch. Where her breasts pressed into his back, she could feel his heart beating. When she stroked his chest, it accelerated.
You told me to behave.
This is just affection, not seduction. But she suppressed a smile at his mental snort and made herself straighten. Studying his hair, she eased the pipe cleaner free, separated the strands and began to braid, imagining muscular Indians in war paint and brief loincloths. “What are you working on?”
Reaching back, he followed her fingers. When he glanced toward the young girl with braids, she was impressed, as always, with his quick connection. She was even more impressed when she looked over his shoulder and found the answer to her question.
A woman’s face stared up at her from the pencil drawing. He wasn’t as accomplished with the pencil yet, having never held one before, but it was still a lovely face, though the mouth was drawn tight, the eyes stark and darkly lined to show pain. She wondered if he’d drawn in the ice or muck of the Dark One world. Shifting her glance to the clay, she found he’d flattened the clay down and was pinching and stroking it into the woman’s face, so the pencil drawing was a rough study for the sculpture. As he resumed that project, she bent forward and realized his eyes were closed behind the glasses, letting his mind guide his hands.
Her gaze drifted across the table. Earlier, he’d used tissue paper and created what appeared like the geraniums in front of her townhouse in vibrant fuchsia, blue and yellow, a scattered bouquet. Wire and his new knowledge of scissors had added stems and jagged leaves that looked natural due to their lack of uniformity. On another side of the table he’d formed a vase out of sugar cubes, using a razor blade available only to the adults to sculpt the edges and create a rounded surface on the outside. Studying Will’s castle, he’d then employed glitter.
Done with the braid, using the pipe cleaner to hold it, she reached around him and put the flowers in the vase carefully, so they didn’t dislodge the cubes still drying. Not wanting to disrupt his concentration, she returned to the stool and leaned back, dropping her shoes to the ground to wiggle her feet under his buttock through the chair’s open back. Her toes were cold, as were her hands. When she put her head against the wall, she thought about letting the room’s rhythmic noise lull her into a very short nap. The frustrating fatigue had caught up with her again. Whenever she most needed her energy, it seemed to be deserting her.
It is because you have not allowed yourself time to fully recuperate. Dante straightened, and turned in the chair, shifting his taut backside on her feet. When he rose and touched her face, he brought the soothing smells of clay, paint and sugar. Lie down right there, Alexis.
She followed his direction and saw one of the mats that were scattered about the room for the children to play on, or in this case, nap. “I’m fine,” she assured him.
“It was not a question or a request.” He pointed. “Down there. Now.”
She met his gaze, though it was obscured by the glasses. “I’m not yours to order around.”
“Are you not?” The question was soft, dangerous, and sent a thrill running through her veins, even as she struggled to be offended.
“Hmm. Then come here.” He tugged her off the stool and brought her to sit next to him at the table, only he didn’t put her in one of the small chairs. Instead he had her sink to her knees on the floor next to him. She wondered if he was going to let her lay her head on his thigh and stroke her hair, but that was something she’d want, not something he would know how to do.
“Until I saw it in your mind,” he commented. “But I will do that later. Be still.”
He’d dipped his finger in one of the open paint pots. Tracing paint along her temple, he moved down to the middle of her cheek. She thought to pull her hair back and held it in a tail as he brought several other pots closer. It felt like he put a dot at one corner of her mouth, then turned his finger, dragging it in a jagged line. It was soothing and arousing at once, to be under the stroking touch of his fingertips and the total focus of his attention. She wanted to take his glasses off, yearned to see his eyes, but since she couldn’t, she focused instead on his expressive mouth, even reaching out to touch him there. He nipped her finger, then caught her wrist and took her hand to her lap again, caressing her palm before going back to her face.
He didn’t stop there, though. He trailed paint down her throat, made her tilt her head back so he teased the firm line of her esophagus, then along her collar bone. Unbuttoning two buttons of her soft knit shirt, he widened the collar to slide it to the points of her shoulders.
“Dante…” She warned, not daring to look around, even though he’d exposed nothing inappropriate.
“Sshh.” He kept on with his work. A few minutes later, she realized he’d drawn a different kind of attention. The girl with the pigtails and Will were on the other side of the table, staring at his handiwork. She could tell he was aware of them, but it didn’t seem to increase his tension. When he wiped his hands with a damp towelette, a box of which were kept in the center of each table, the girl spoke. “Will you do me next?”
Alexis looked toward the large mirror, placed on the back wall to help parents keep track of where their children were in the room. In her mermaid form, Anna had elaborate, silver markings on her flesh. When she was younger, Alexis had traced them with small fingers, following the Celtic-like curls over Anna’s arms and wishing she had them. Her father often did something similar to her mother, with a far more sensual intent.
Dante had decorated her with as much artistry as Nature had decorated her mother. He’d used a dark blue and brown with touches of pink to swirl a design down her right cheek, a slash of color on the opposite cheek bone, and then further twists down her throat. She looked like some mystical earth fairy, her face peering out from the vines and flowers of the plants she cherished. It was not too much or too little, a perfect design to attract his admiring fans.
The little girl was taking a seat on the table at his direction so he could examine her face. When Alexis shifted, intending to return to her stool, his hand came back, caught her wrist. Rising, he guided her toward the mat, putting a hand on her shoulder. She resisted, despite his height advantage and intimidating expression. I’m fine.
She set her jaw. She was really, really tired all of a sudden, but that wasn’t the point. You can’t order me around. And you shouldn’t shift mothers out of your way with your weird alpha dominant male routine. It’s…rude.
He lifted a brow. Is there a “not rude” way to make you do my will?
You’re missing the point. But yes, you can ask me to lie down. Tell me you’re worried and it would make you feel better if I lie down and take a rest.
Dante’s impassive expression didn’t alter. “Please lie down. I’m worried because you look tired and it will make me feel better if you rest.”
Then he took another step, and damned if she didn’t do just as the mother had, shifting back so she was standing on the mat in her bare feet. His hand rested on her hip, tightening with proprietary intent. As he stood there, she realized he was waiting to see if her way would work, or if he would have to resort to his own measures. From the pulse of lustful aggression she felt, he was hoping for the latter.
“Fine. Thank you. I’ll rest,” she said ungraciously, plopping down on the mat at his feet."