An hour later, Penn had satisfied one of his body’s most pressing needs. He’d ordered the biggest, rarest steak the restaurant had to offer. Jora had merely rolled her eyes and settled for a grilled veggie sandwich and a large salad. He’d accused her of grazing instead of eating, but she’d taken his teasing with good humor.
Now they were cruising the local discount store to stock up on a few things. While she headed for the clothing department, he’d made a beeline for the pharmacy for a box of condoms. He didn’t want to presume, but neither did he want to risk not being prepared.
He also picked up a few groceries since their room had a small fridge and a stove. The less time they spent out in public, the better. Besides, breakfast in bed sounded pretty damn good to him. He got in line to pay for his purchases, wanting to keep that one little item secret until he knew for sure he’d done the right thing by purchasing it.
Once he got through the line, he looked around for Jora. Where was she? She’d said she only needed a couple of toiletries and a couple of items of clothing. If she didn’t appear soon, he’d go hunt her down.
He was about to do just that when he finally spotted her heading toward the checkout counter. He waved to get her attention. She gave him a quick nod as she unloaded her hand basket. Odd. What had she picked up that had her blushing?
Rather than crowd her, he waited for her near the door, figuring he’d find out once they were back in the room. Still, the possibilities had his mind venturing into territory better left unexplored. The thought of getting naked with Jora was having a predictable effect on his body, one that would make concentrating on anything else—such as driving—difficult.
The sun had gone down while they’d eaten dinner, and it was late enough now that the parking lot was pretty empty. He automatically scanned the area for anyone who might be paying undue attention to them.
“Did you find everything you needed?” He frowned. “I meant to ask if you needed any money.”
She shook her head. “Thanks for asking, but I had enough for all of this. Besides, you’ve already paid for too much.”
“Don’t sweat it.” Honesty had him adding, “In truth, my boss is footing the bill for most of it. And he’d rather we use cash so it can’t be tracked.”
Jora stashed her bags on the floor at her feet. “That’s why I’ve been reluctant to use plastic. Until we know who’s behind all of this, it’s safer to assume they can track any transactions.”
As they drove the short distance back to the motel, he could feel tension coming from the other side of the cab. Was she having second thoughts about sharing the room or sharing the bed? He couldn’t blame her if she was. This situation had thrown them together with little chance to really get to know each other.
Maybe under different circumstances, they could have their time getting acquainted and let nature take its course. Instead, in less than two days she’d been driven out of her home and forced to take refuge with a total stranger. Then there was that whole mess in the cavern. Without her intervention, they both could have died under tons of rock.
It was no wonder she was looking a bit ragged. He had no business thinking about getting her into bed for anything but sleep—dammit!
He parked the truck, then said, “I’m feeling a bit restless, so after I take my stuff in, I’m going for a walk. Don’t wait up for me.”
“But I thought . . .” Her voice trailed off, then she said, “Be careful out there. I’ll leave a light on for you.”
“Don’t bother. I see pretty well in the dark.”
“Fine. Have a nice time.”
Was that disappointment in her voice? Probably just wishful thinking on his part. She followed him inside, and once they were in the room she set her things down. “How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
Once again there was a note in her voice that he couldn’t quite recognize. He waited for her to look at him so he could gauge what was going on in that pretty head of hers. “Jora, would you rather I not go out?”
Her eyes slid to the side. “No, that’s fine. We could both use a little time apart.”
She didn’t sound very convincing. Short of calling her on it, he had little choice but to go for his unwanted walk.
As soon as he was out in the hall, he knew he was making a mistake. He paced down the hall and back, taking plenty of time to think this through. Jora b’Larth was Kalith, despite having grown up in his world. She didn’t trust Paladins, not even him, which was smart thinking on her part. He had only her word that she wasn’t the one screwing around with the barrier and the caldera that simmered beneath Yellowstone. Maybe she’d been trying to manipulate the energy herself, and bit off more than her personal mojo could handle by itself.
She had little in common with the women he’d dated in the past. They’d all known going in that they’d share a few laughs, scratch a mutual itch, and then go their separate ways. There was far too much innocence in Jora’s pretty gray eyes for him to lightly take the next step with her. If they crossed that line, it had to be because he thought they had a future together.
He stared down at his right hand as he flexed it, feeling the tight tug of the tendons. Until he knew if it would ever heal, he couldn’t plan beyond the next day.
The weight of an uncertain future pressed down on him—stretching out before him, filled with no purpose, barely existing as his friends lived and died for the cause.
God, sometimes he wished that he’d died from the wound that night or at the end of a needle full of toxins because there was too little of him left to save. It was a helluva thing to think, but it was the truth.
He stood outside the door to their room. Thanks to his enhanced Paladin DNA, he could feel Jora moving around inside, hear her heart beat, and even sense her pain. Or maybe it was his own that he was feeling. Suddenly the night air seemed a whole lot better than spinning his wheels in nowhere land.
He slammed the bar that opened the door to the parking lot. Abusing a piece of metal was better than punching someone—or taking Jora to bed because he so desperately needed to feel something besides pain again.
He hit the parking lot with no destination in mind, already breathing as hard as if he’d been running for miles. To the right lay quiet neighborhoods, with only pools of light from the streetlights. Down to the left he could see the flash of neon lights, maybe from a bar.
Well, if he couldn’t hold a willing woman in his arms, at least he could drown his sorrows. But the tiny voice of his conscience reminded him that his duty was to stand guard over Jora b’Larth, and he kept going past the neighborhood tavern, counting off the minutes until he figured it was safe to return. Surely Jora would be sound asleep by now. With luck, he’d be able to slip into their room unheard, snag a pillow off the bed, and curl up on the floor, with the extra blanket.
Come morning, he’d get Jora her own room or at least one with two beds. Her alien bloodlines should’ve been enough to mark her as off-limits, but what his mind was telling him and what his body was demanding were two separate things.
He trudged the last block back to the motel, taking satisfaction in knowing that the miles he’d walked had left him numb and ready to sleep. Once Barak and Larem were there to act as a buffer, it would be easier to control this burning need to bed Jora.
Jora sat up to straighten the tangled sheets and blanket. Despite the long, hot bath and cup of herbal tea, she just couldn’t unwind enough to sleep.
Where was Penn? She wanted him—not just back in the room, but in her bed. Which was stupid, since he’d obviously lost interest in her. He couldn’t wait to get away from her fast enough.
It was amazing how much that rejection had hurt, even though she’d been having second thoughts, too. But she now knew exactly how it felt to be wrapped up in those powerful arms, to be cuddled up against his chest, and her body wanted more. Badly.
She tried to concentrate instead on what she was doing, and got out of the bed to pick up the pillows that had fallen to the floor.
The door opened with no notice, surprising a small shriek out of her. She spun around, clutching the pillow in front of her as if it would protect her from an attack. The light next to the door flipped on, making her blink against the sudden brightness.
“Yeah. Sorry if I woke you.” His voice sounded rough. Tired, maybe.
“You didn’t. I had trouble relaxing, and managed to tear the bed up.”
His dark blue eyes looked past her at the bed, then back to her face. “Why couldn’t you sleep?”
How should she answer? Well, she’d been honest with him until now and saw no reason to change that. “I was waiting for you.”
“I’m sorry to have kept you up.” He moved farther into the room.
She took a few brave steps forward herself. “Why did you stay gone so long?”
“I thought you might want a chance to . . . I wanted . . . I was afraid . . .”
She wasn’t going to let him off easy. “What were you afraid of, Penn? That I was going to jump your bones first chance I got? A simple ‘not interested’ would have been enough.”
“It’s not that.” He was but a few feet away, his hands fisting.
She flung the pillow at him in frustration, leaving her standing there in her new oversized sleep shirt. “Then why?”
Penn snagged the pillow out of the air and tossed it aside, staring down at her bare legs. “Because I want to be fair with you, Jora. Yes, I wanted to crawl into the bed with you and see where it took us. I still do, but I can’t offer you anything but a few hours of mindless sex. A woman like you shouldn’t have to settle for that.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “A woman like me? What’s that supposed to mean? Because I’m alien, an Other? Or because I’m short?”
He glowered at her. “Don’t be ridiculous. That’s not what I meant. You’re not like my usual dates—you’re a nice woman.”
That did it. “You won’t sleep with me because I’m too nice? Is that code for you think I can’t satisfy you?”
Planting her hands on her hips, Jora stalked over to him. “Well, listen here, Paladin: I would rock your world. And since you’re too damn stupid to figure that out yourself, I’ll just have to prove it to you.”
She looked an enraged Paladin straight in the eye. “Where do you want me to start?”
With her heart beating double time, she blatantly checked him out from head to toe. Realizing that she was actually licking her lips, she decided that maybe she’d gone a little over the top. What if he really wasn’t interested?
“Uh, Penn, I . . .”
She wasn’t sure what she’d been about to say, but he never gave her a chance to finish. Using those lightning-fast reflexes that Paladins were known for, Penn’s hands snapped out to grab her arms and snatched her up against his chest. Then with a sexy grin, he swept her up in his arms and headed for the bed. He lowered her down to the bed with tender care, then his much bigger body was pressing down on hers. He nudged her legs apart, settling the impressive bulge behind his zipper right where she needed it, and Penn rocked against her with a delicious swivel of his hips.
She dug her heels into the back of his thighs as she tangled her fingers in his hair and culled his mouth down to hers. Their tongues tangled and teased as his callused hands traced the curve of her hips, lifting her even more securely against him.
“Too many clothes!” she managed to say between kisses. “Get rid of them!”
Smoking-hot laughter filled Penn’s voice when he asked, “Mine or yours?”
He rolled to the side to help her pull off her sleep shirt and tossed it aside. Penn immediately lowered his mouth to her breasts, working her nipples into tight points. The tugging sensation of his lips and tongue had a direct connection to her feminine core. She groaned and pressed her thighs together, trying to ease the ache.
Penn smiled against her breast. “Let me help with that.” He eased his hand beneath the lacy thong she’d bought just for him and teased her slick folds with his wickedly clever fingers.
“Oh, yes!” she moaned.
Needing his skin against hers, she yanked his shirt free so she could feel all those wonderful muscles with her hands.
When she dragged her nails down his spine, Penn shivered and then pinned her hands over her head. If they didn’t slow this down, it would be over before they got to the main event.
“Hold that thought.”
He rolled off the bed and rooted through the shopping bags, pulled out the box of condoms he’d bought, and cursed as the cellophane wrapper defied his overanxious fingers.
When he finally managed to tear it off, he spilled the contents out onto the floor. No doubt he was really impressing Jora with his smooth moves. He grabbed up a handful of the packets and tossed all but one onto the bedside table before risking a look in her direction.
“Why don’t you give me that while you dispense with your clothes?” she asked. When he did so, she sat up to watch him.
No woman had ever shown such pleasure in watching him shed his shirt and jeans. When he tugged down his boxers, her eyes widened as she let out a long, slow breath. Was that approval? He thought so. He hoped so.
He knelt on the bed and she quickly ripped open the foil packet and sheathed his cock, not trusting his control another second. This was going to be good. Better than good. He just knew it.
Even so, he needed to make sure this was really what she wanted. “Are you ready for this?”
Jora’s answering smile was everything he’d wished for. “I think I’ve been ready for this moment my whole life.”
He swallowed hard, not knowing what to say to that. He settled for showing her how special this was for him by making it as perfect for her as he could. He started by kissing her long and slow and deep, showing her with light touches and soft squeezes how much her body pleased him.
Finally, when both of them were breathing hard and frantic with need, he settled between her legs and positioned himself.
As petite as Jora was, it was going to be a tight fit. He raised up over her, bracing himself on his elbows. “I’ll try to go slow. If it’s too much, let me know.”
She bit her lower lip as he pressed forward, stopping a few times to let her body adjust. His hold on his sanity was pretty damn fragile by the time he was fully seated inside her warm welcome. The connection between them was amazing, as if the world had shifted on its axis and was finally right.
Cupping his face in her hands, Jora slowly rocked her hips, meeting his thrusts with hers. Oh, yeah, this was good. He gradually picked up speed, still keeping a close rein on the power behind his movements.
Soon Jora was arching her back, her hands digging into his shoulders. “Don’t hold back, Penn! Please!”
Her heartfelt plea shattered his control, and his hips moved like a pile driver running at top speed. The slap of his flesh against hers, the sexy catch in her throat as he took her, the pressure building in his brain and in his balls. . . . There was nothing left of the universe beyond this bed as they strained for completion. When that pure joy finally washed over them both, he had no idea where he left off and Jora started. He only knew that this was the best, most perfect moment he’d ever had.
And that scared him more than facing a dozen crazed Others with swords in their hands and death in their eyes.