Predatory Game – Christine Feehan

The lights from oncoming cars hurt his eyes and seemed to pierce right through his skull, stabbing at his brain until he wanted to scream. He quickly tuned the radio station until the soft, sexy voice of the Night Siren flooded the car. It was taped, but it helped. His vision tunneled, so that everything took on a dream-like quality. Buildings flashed by, cars appeared as streaks of light rather than solid matter. “Where are we going?” He jumped. For a moment he had forgotten he wasn’t alone. Throwing an impatient glance at the whore seated beside him, he felt the terrible pounding in his head, which had just begun to ease, return. In the dark she looked a little like the woman he needed. If she kept her mouth shut, he could pretend. Tempted to tell her she was going to hell very soon, he forced a slight smile instead. “You’re getting paid, aren’t you? What difference does it make if we drive around for a little bit?” She leaned forward and fiddled with the radio. He slapped at her hand. “Don’t touch anything.” He had the station tuned right where he wanted it—needed it.

The Night Siren’s voice was drifting out over the airwaves, making his body hard and his head clear. The woman wasn’t going to make it through the hour if she touched that dial again. He kept his eye on the car he was following. He knew what he had to do. He had a job and he was damned good at it. The whore was such a good cover, and gave him such an anticipation of the pleasure to come later. He hadn’t been caught yet. Damn Whitney for his interference. The doctor had threatened to send someone else again. Stupid man didn’t like his reports.

Well, fuck him. The doctor thought he was so superior, so intelligent, and was worried—worried—about the situation deteriorating. What a crock of bullshit. There was no situation, nothing was deteriorating. He could handle surveillance on a GhostWalker any day of the week. Whitney thought his precious GhostWalkers were supersoldiers to be revered. Well, screw that. GhostWalkers were genetic mutations, aberrations, abominations, not the fucking miracles Whitney purported them to be. The entire lot of them should be wiped from the face of the earth, and he was the man to do it. They were government experiments that should have been scrapped long before they were ever let loose on the world.

He saw himself as the guardian, the lone man standing between the mutants and the humans. He should be revered. Whitney should bow down to him, kiss his feet, thank him for his reports and his attention to detail… “You never told me your name. What do I call you?” The voice jerked him out of his reverie. He wanted to slap the little whore. To pound his fists into her face until there was nothing there but bloody pulp. To take her head between his hands and hear a satisfying crack just to shut her up, but that was for later. If she kept her mouth shut he could fantasize that she was the Night Siren. The Night Siren belonged to him and he’d have her soon enough. He just had to get rid of the GhostWalkers once and for all.

And then she’d do everything he told her. “You can call me Daddy.” The whore had the audacity to roll her eyes at him, but he resisted the urge to punish her. He had other plans for her. “I am a naughty girl,” she said and leaned over to rub his crotch. “And you obviously like me that way.” “Don’t talk,” he snapped, and sighed when she opened his jeans. Let her just go to work on him while he took care of business. It would keep her mouth and hands occupied. He could look at her skin and hair and everything would be all right.

It was going to be a long night tonight, and at least he could look forward to later. Up ahead the car he’d been following pulled to the curb. It was a strange thing to do, but he couldn’t get caught—and he couldn’t lose them. He pulled over as well and waited while the whore worked on him, the rush beginning to flood his veins like a drug. CHAPTER 1 Saber Wynter leaned back against the plush seat in the low-slung sports car and stared incredulously at her date. “Am I hearing you right?” She tapped a long, perfectly polished fingernail against the armrest. “You’re saying you’ve taken me out on three dates, and you’re claiming you’ve spent a hundred dollars…” “A hundred and fifty,” Larry Edwards corrected. One dark eyebrow shot up in disbelief. “I see. One hundred and fifty dollars, not that I have any idea what you spent it on.

Your favorite restaurant is a truck stop.” “The San Sebastian is no truck stop,” he denied hotly, staring into her violet-blue eyes. Unusual eyes, beautiful and haunting. He had noticed her voice immediately on the radio—the Night Siren, everyone called her. It seemed a husky whisper of pure sensual promise. Night after night he’d listened to her and fantasized. And then when he met her…she had great skin and a mouth that screamed sex. And those eyes. He’d never seen eyes like that. She looked so innocent, and the combination of sexy and innocent was just too hard to resist.

But she was proving to be difficult, and damn it all, what did she really have to brag about? She was skinny, looking like a lost waif, nothing to be all haughty and uptight about. In fact, she should be grateful for his attention. As far as he was concerned, she was nothing but a tease. She shrugged in a curiously feminine gesture. “So you think because you spent this money on three dates it entitles you to sleep with me?” “It damn well does, honey,” he snapped. “You owe me.” He hated that distant, clinical look she gave him. She needed a real man to put her in her place—and he was just the man to do it. Saber forced a smile. “And if I don’t—how did you so delicately put this?—if I don’t ‘put out,’ you intend to dump me off right here in the middle of the street at two o’clock in the morning?” She hoped he would make a move or force the issue, because he was going to get a lesson in manners he was never going to forget.

She had nothing to lose. Well, almost nothing. She had stayed too long this time, made too much of a life for herself, and if she wiped up the floor with good old Larry the Louse before she disappeared, she’d be doing the women of Sheridan a favor. “That’s right, darling.” He smirked at her complacently. “I think you’ll agree you need to be a little reasonable about this, don’t you?” He slid his hand along the back of her seat, fingers not quite touching her. He wanted to. Usually by now he was doing a lot of touching, loving watching the woman squirm. Loving the power he had over them. He didn’t understand why he wasn’t forcing her mouth to his, yanking open her blouse and taking what he wanted, but as much as he longed to do that, there was something inside of him warning him to go slower, to be a little more cautious with Saber.

He was sure that very soon she would sit quietly and he’d be able to do whatever he wanted with her. He expected her to cry and plead for him not to leave her there, but instead, perfect little white teeth gleamed at him like bright pearls, making his stomach clench. He looked so smug Saber wanted to slap his boyish good looks right off his face. “I’ve got some bad news for you, Larry. The sad truth is, I’d rather pull out my fingernails one by one than sleep with you.” She slipped out of the low-slung car. “Your breath stinks, Lar, and let’s just face it—you’re a creep.” She slammed the door with such force he winced visibly. Fury swept through him. “This is a bad section of town, Saber.

Drunken cowboys, drug dealers, deadbeats. Not a good idea to stay here.” “Better company, I’m sure,” she taunted. “Last chance, Saber.” His eye twitched angrily. “I’m doing you a favor here. Sex with a scrawny thing like you is no Fourth of July. Basically you’re a pity fuck.” “So tempting, Lar, so very tempting. Did that get results from some scared teenager? Cuz it’s really not working with me.

” “You’re going to be sorry,” he snapped, furious that nothing he said seemed to get the reaction he wanted. She talked down to him like a princess to a peasant and made him feel like slime under her shoe. “Don’t think it’s over, hotshot,” she warned, still hanging on to her smile. “This will make a great little story on my radio show. I’ll build an entire program around the theme: worst jerk you ever dated.” “You wouldn’t dare.” “You’re not dealing with a sixteen-year-old, Larry,” she informed him coldly, too angry to laugh at the situation. He had no idea who—or what—he was dealing with. The idiot. He thought he could force her into sleeping with him by threatening to dump her in a bad part of town? She wondered if his plan had actually worked for him before.

The idea made her fingers itch to get at him. She held on to her cool and stared him down. Swearing furiously, Larry revved the motor and, laying a trail of rubber, screeched away, leaving her standing in the middle of an empty street. Saber stamped her foot as she glared at the disappearing tail lights. “Darn it, Saber,” she muttered, kicking at the curb in frustration. “If you insist on going out with jerks, what do you expect?” She was tired of trying to be normal. Weary to death of pretending. She was never going to fit in, not in a million years. Raking a hand through the mass of thick, blue-black curls spilling in unruly confusion around her face, she took a long, slow look around. Larry hadn’t been kidding—it was an appalling part of town.

Drawing a deep breath, she muttered, “Just wonderful. There are probably rats down here. Starving rats. This is not good, Saber, not good at all. You should have kicked the hell out of him and stolen his car.” Sighing heavily, she headed down the cracked, dirty sidewalk toward the only streetlight, which illuminated a telephone booth. “It will be my luck the stupid thing is broken. If it is, Larry,” she vowed aloud, “you will definitely pay for your sins.” Because, of course, she couldn’t have a cell phone like everyone else. She didn’t leave paper trails for anyone to follow.

Next time, if there ever was a next time that she was stupid enough to go on a date, she would take her own car and she would do the dumping. A forty-five-minute wait for a cab. Bravado would only carry so far. She was not going to wait forty-five minutes in the dark surrounded by rats. No way. How incompetent of the taxi service not to have planned their resources better. In a fit of temper she slammed the phone in its cradle, giving only a fleeting thought to the dispatcher’s ear. Saber kicked the side of the booth and nearly broke her toes. Howling, jumping around like an idiot, she vowed eternal revenge on Larry. She should have stayed in the car and faced him down instead of letting him drive off.

He was a worm crawling his way across the earth, but he was no monster. She knew monsters intimately. They dogged her every step, and soon—far too soon if she didn’t leave—they would find her again. A slimebag like Larry was a prince in comparison. Larry certainly hadn’t recognized the monster in her. If he had touched her…She pushed the thought away and made herself think normal. She should have decked him though, just once, for all the other women who would be put in the same situation because he liked power. She was fairly certain most women would have had the desire to at least punch the bastard. Saber sighed softly and shook her head. She was putting off the inevitable.

She wasn’t walking home and she couldn’t very well stay where she was. She was going to pay royally for this, but what was one more lecture out of several hundred? Fighting for a deep controlling breath, she punched in the numbers, her fingertip unconsciously using a rather vicious stabbing motion on the blameless telephone. Jess Calhoun lay sprawled out full length on the wide, leather, specially built futon, staring up at the ceiling in the darkness. Suffocating silence surrounded him, wrapped him up and pressed heavily down on him. The sound of the clock ticking was only in his mind. Endless seconds, minutes. An eternity. Where was she? What the hell was she doing out at two thirty in the morning? This was her night off. She wasn’t at the radio station working later than usual, he’d already checked. Surely she hadn’t been in an accident.

Someone would have notified him. He’d called every hospital in the area, at least he could console himself with the knowledge that she wasn’t in any of them. His fingers curled slowly into a fist, beat impotently once, twice, on the leather. She hadn’t told him she was going out. She hadn’t even called to say she would be late. One of these days he would be pushed too far by mysterious, elusive Saber Wynter, and he would just strangle her. The first memory of her washed over him unbidden, reminding him it was his own folly that had landed him in such an uncomfortable position. He had opened the door ten months earlier to find on his doorstep the most beautiful child he had ever seen, worn suitcase in hand. No more than five foot two, she had raven-colored hair, so black that little blue lights gleamed through the riot of curls. Her face was small, fragile, with classic delicate bones and a faintly haughty nose.

Soft flawless skin, full mouth, and enormous violet-blue eyes. She had an innocence about her that made him want—no, need—to protect her. She was shivering unbearably in the cold air. She’d wordlessly handed him a piece of paper with his ad on it. She wanted the job at the radio station, vacated when his night crew had been killed in a car accident. The accident had left everyone shaken, and Jess had taken a long time before he thought about filling the position, but he’d recently advertised for someone. It had been her eyes and mouth that had given her away. This was no child wrapped in a thin denim jacket several sizes too large, but a young, exhausted, exotic, disturbingly beautiful woman. Those eyes had seen things they shouldn’t have had to, and he wouldn’t—couldn’t—turn the young woman with those eyes away. It had taken a moment to close his mouth and move back into the foyer, inviting her in.

His hand had completely enveloped hers, yet he could feel the strength of her grip. Beneath the deceptive peaches-and-cream skin were muscles of steel. She moved with flowing grace, her carriage so regal he pegged her for a ballet dancer or gymnast. When she had finally offered a tentative smile, she had taken his breath away. Jess raked a hand through his hair, cursing himself for inviting her in. From that moment, he had been lost; he knew with a certainty he always would be. Over the past ten months she had cast a spell and he didn’t even want out. He had never had a reaction to a woman the way he had to her. He couldn’t let her go, no matter how illogical that had been, so instead he’d opened his home, offering her the job as well as light housekeeping in exchange for a place to live. Of course he’d investigated her; he wasn’t entirely out of his mind.

He owed it to his fellow GhostWalkers, members of his elite military team, to know who was sharing his house, but there was no Saber Wynter in existence. It wasn’t exactly shocking, he suspected she was hiding from someone, but it was very unusual that he couldn’t find out every last thing about her, especially when he had her fingerprints. The shrill ringing of the telephone sent his heart slamming hard against the wall of his chest. His hand flew out, the swift striking of a coiled snake, and snatched up the receiver. “Saber?” It was a prayer, damn her, a blatant prayer. He inhaled deep, wishing he could draw her into his lungs and hold her there. “Hi, Jesse,” she greeted him breezily, as if it were noon and he hadn’t been climbing the walls for hours. “I sort of have this teeny little problem.” He ignored the relief racing through his body, the tightening of his muscles at the sensual sound of her voice, and the instant hard-on that never quite went away when he thought about her—which was all the time. “Damn it, Saber, don’t you dare tell me you landed yourself in jail again.

” He really was going to strangle her. A man could only take so much. Her sigh was exaggerated. “Honestly, Jesse, do you have to bring that silly incident up every time something goes wrong? It’s not like I tried to get arrested.” “Saber,” he said in exasperation, “holding out your hands with your wrists together is asking to be arrested.” “It was for a good cause,” she protested. “Chaining yourself to an old folks’ home to call attention to conditions is not exactly the right way to go about changing things. Where the hell are you?” “You sound like an old grumpy bear with a sore tooth.” Saber tapped out a rhythm with a long fingernail on the booth wall, one of the nervous habits she’d never overcome. “I’m stuck out here near the old warehouses, sort of, um, like by myself—without a car.

” “Damn it, Saber!” “You already said that,” she pointed out judiciously. “You stay put.” Cold steel was in the deep timbre of his voice. “Don’t leave that phone booth. You hear me, Saber? I’d better not find you throwing dice with a bunch of deadbeats down there.” “Very funny, Jesse.” She laughed, actually laughed, the little brat. Jess slammed down the phone, itching to shake her. The thought of her, so fragile and unprotected, down near the warehouses, one of the worst parts of town, scared him to death. Saber hung up and leaned weakly against the wall of the phone booth, momentarily closing her eyes.

She was trembling so hard she could barely stand. It took an effort to pry her fingers, one by one, from the receiver. She hated the dark, the demons lurking in the shadows, the way the black night could turn people into savage animals. Her job at the radio station, the job she owed to Jess, couldn’t have been better suited to her, because she could stay up all night. And tonight, her first night off in ages, had to be spent with Larry the Louse. He just had to dump her butt in the worst section of town he could find—not that she couldn’t take care of herself, and that was the problem. It would always be the problem. She wasn’t normal. She should be afraid of what lurked in the night, not afraid of harming someone. She sighed.

She had no idea why she had gone out with Larry at all. She didn’t even like him or his rotten breath. The truth was, she didn’t like any of the men she dated, but she wanted to like them, wanted to be attracted to them. She sank down in the small booth, drawing her knees up to her chest. Jesse would come for her, she knew it. It was as certain as Jess’s silly story about needing someone to rent the upstairs apartment, or how it was so cheap because he needed someone to do light housekeeping for him. The place was a palace as far as Saber was concerned. Wide open spaces kept immaculately clean. The upstairs was no apartment, had never been an apartment. The second upstairs bathroom had been added after she had moved in.

The huge, well-equipped weight room and full-size swimming pool were an added enticement that he’d said she could use anytime. For the first time in her life, Saber had swallowed her pride and had taken a handout. The truth was, as much as she hated to admit it, she had never had cause to be sorry, not once since she’d moved in—except that she’d known she couldn’t stay too long. Jess was the real reason she stayed— not his house, the swimming pool, or her job. Just Jesse. She closed her eyes briefly and rubbed her chin on her knees. She was getting far too attached to the man. Six months ago it wouldn’t have occurred to her to call for help, now it didn’t occur to her not to. The revelation made her uneasy. It was time to leave, past time to leave, she was getting too comfortable.

Saber Wynter had to go out in flames and a new identity had to rise from the ashes, because if she stayed any longer, she was in terrible danger, and this time, it wasn’t going to be anyone’s fault but her own. The van rumbled up to the curb in record time. Jesse thrust his handsome face out the window. His eyes were dark with shadows as he looked her over rather anxiously. The drift of those gorgeous eyes had her stomach flipping when she didn’t want to feel anything but relief. Saber stood up slowly, a little shakily, and dusted off the seat of her jeans, allowing herself time to recover. “Saber,” he growled, cold steel very much in evidence. She hopped in, leaning over to give him a quick kiss on his shadowed jaw. “Thanks, Jesse, what would I do without you?” The van didn’t move, so she made a slight face at him and, under his watchful gaze, she snapped her safety belt around her. “Let’s not find out.

” Velvet over steel. He said the words in exasperation, his glittering eyes sweeping her small, slender figure possessively, assuring himself she wasn’t hurt. “What happened this time, baby? Someone convince you these little warehouses are death traps and you decided to commit a little arson?” “Of course not,” she denied, but she studied the buildings with a prejudiced eye as they drove by. “Although now that you mention it, someone should probably look into the problem.” Jess groaned his annoyance. “So what happened, angel face?” She shrugged with casual disdain. “My date dumped me off after a little tiff.” “I can imagine,” Jess said, but something dark and dangerous began to smolder in the depths of his eyes. “What did you do? Suggest stealing someone’s chairs from their porch? A raid on the YMCA? What was it this time?” “Has it occurred to you that it just might be Larry’s fault?” she demanded indignantly. “Sure, for all of two seconds, although I intend to find this friend of yours and beat him to a bloody pulp.

” “Can I watch?” Saber grinned at him, inviting him to laugh at the entire incident with her. That was the thing about Jesse she loved so much; he was so protective and dangerous. He gave the illusion of being a teddy bear, but underneath…underneath all that muscle was something deadly that drew her like a magnet. “It’s not funny, you little brat, you could have been mugged, or worse. Now what happened?” “I’m quite capable of taking care of myself,” Saber informed him haughtily. “You know I can too.” “I know you think you can. That isn’t quite the same thing.” He turned probing, hawk-like eyes on her. “Now stop avoiding the question and tell me what happened.

” Saber stared sightlessly out the window. It almost made her resentful that she was going to tell him. She didn’t want to, but for some reason she seemed to tell him anything he asked. Worse, she never felt uncomfortable with him afterward. She was definitely getting too close—and that meant she had to leave him. Leave him? Where had that come from? Her stomach dropped out from under her and her heart did a strange little flip that was very alarming. “Stop sticking your obstinate little chin out, Saber; it always means you’re about to become stubborn. I don’t know why you bother, since you always tell me what I want to know in the end.” “Maybe I don’t think it’s any of your business.” She said it decisively, pretending she felt no guilt.

“It’s my business if you have to call me out at two thirty in the morning when one of your lowlife boyfriends dumps you out on the street.” Instantly Saber’s temper flared to life. “Hey, I’m sorry I bothered you,” she said belligerently, because the way he made her feel was scaring the hell out of her. “If you want me to, I’ll get out of your precious van right now.” He sent her a long, mocking, ice-cold stare. “You can try, sweetheart, but I can guarantee you won’t make it.” His voice gentled, became a velvet caress, smoothing over her skin and sending a current of electricity snaking through her bloodstream. “Stop being your usual contrary self and tell me why he dumped you.” “I wouldn’t sleep with him,” she muttered in a low voice. “Run it by me again, baby, this time looking at me,” he suggested silkily.

Saber heaved a sigh. “I wouldn’t go to bed with him,” she repeated.

.

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