Della got into the ring thinking there would be a bell, thinking she'd come up with a way out of this crap, but nope-on both counts. Before she had a chance to catch her breath, the girl attacked.

Della still didn't have a clue what to do. But when she took a fist to the cheek and it hurt like hell, she decided letting this girl beat the crap out of her wasn't a good plan, either.

Della ducked the girl's second punch. The crowd booed.

The were came at her again and Della grabbed the girl by the arm and unceremoniously tossed her across the ring. She landed hard, but was back on her feet in seconds. As the girl danced around throwing punches like some boxing queen, Della briefly found Steve in the crowd. He glared right at her and then cut his eyes upward again.

The second of lost focus cost Della dearly, for the girl struck again, this time kicking Della right in the ribs. Air whooshed out of her lungs as pain caused her to stumble back. That's when her gaze caught the slight opening in the ceiling, where an air vent had once been.

Okay, now she knew Steve's plan, but didn't he realize that these other vamps could fly, too?

Another foot came at Della's face. She grabbed the leg by the ankle and slung the girl outside the ring. Yelps and cries for blood echoed from the crowd. The girl landed in a group of vamps, but she must have been made of rubber, because she bounced back up and charged again.

She leapt into the ring. Her eyes glowed the notable orange color of a pissed-off were. She kicked up her foot, Della went to block it. A bad mistake, because she didn't see what the B with an itch had in her hands until it was too late.

The knife came right at Della's heart. Her only defense was to block it with her arm. The blade sliced into her forearm and it felt like a burn, hot, yet cold at the same time. The smell of blood filled her nose.

Her own blood.

She heard the hungry cries from the audience.

The girl took a step back, but only to charge again. The knife was aimed right at Della's chest. A roar, not from the crowd, but from some exotic feline animal, rang in Della's ears.

Fury, hot red rage, filled Della's heart at the same time the knife sank into her chest, right below her collarbone. Amazingly, she felt more anger than pain. Grabbing the girl by the shoulders, she slung her. It looked like slow motion. Felt like slow motion, as the knife sliced its way out of Della's chest. Breath held in pain, she watched as the girl flew away, the knife, still in her hands, dripping blood from the tip of the blade.

Then Della saw the supersized lion, AKA Steve, charging toward the ring mauling anyone who dared get in his way. Go Steve! She pointed up and then with everything she had, she leapt straight into the air, barely fitting through the tight little exit. And right behind her, hauling ass, was a Peregrine falcon.

She continued upward knowing the vamps, at least the ones who could fit through the tight opening, would be behind them. She ignored the burning sensation in her shoulder. Suddenly aware she didn't hear the flap of a bird's wings, she glanced back. Steve had returned to the roof, transformed into a dragon, and was in the process of breathing fire into the hole in the old building. Damn, but the guy made a nice-looking dragon.

Obviously, the building had some sort of insulation that wasn't fire resistant, because smoke started billowing out of the roof almost immediately.

In seconds, sparkles started popping off around the dragon and Steve was back to being a Peregrine. They flew off hard and fast. She kept looking back, praying the rogues weren't there. Thankfully, only the darkness chased them.

Suddenly, Steve started down.

"No," she screamed at him. "We need to keep going. They'll come after us!"

He didn't listen, but continued down and landed in a dark alley much like the one they'd been in last night. Six-foot-high wooden fences lined the pathway, as if too keep riffraff out. The overflowing garbage cans that smelled like spoiled fruit seemed to hold up the fences, some of which looked rotted. By the time she landed, Steve was already human.

"Shit," he said, grabbing her arm. The sweet smell of her own blood chased away the smell of garbage and filled Della's senses.

"You know," she said, flinching at the pain both in her arm and her upper chest, "you did good."

"You are not going to die!" he seethed.

"Who said anything about dying?" She found it hard to focus on him and she blinked a couple of times.

"You just complimented me," he said in a low growl. "That tells me how seriously hurt you are."

She grinned and she couldn't hold the gesture in place. "I'm not that bad, am I?"

"No, you're not that bad. Just stubborn..." he met her gaze, "and perfect," he said, but his voice sounded distant. "I need to get you to a hospital."

"No," she said, feeling her knees weaken. "I need blood and I'll heal. She didn't hit any major organs, or I'd be dead. Just get me blood, Steve. That's all I need. Vampires heal really quickly."

He frowned and pulled his phone out. "Don't you dare call Burnett!" she seethed, but her knees folded and she dropped to the ground. "Please," she begged, feeling tears fill her eyes. "I want to impress him. I can't let him down." She batted at her tears and saw Steve looking down at her with compassion.

Relief fluttered inside her when she saw him put his phone back into his pocket. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you," she repeated, but she'd no more gotten that last word out when she smelled the dirty scent that hinted at rotten meat. They had company. Not the rogue vamps.

Weres.

Oh, shit! She really didn't want to die today.

She stood up, her whole body trembled. She prayed she looked a lot more menacing than she felt. There were three of them, big mean-looking dudes. Hair so dirty she couldn't distinguish the color, and clothes that looked just as unclean.

They'd obviously smelled her blood and came looking for a bite to eat.

"Leave," Steve growled at them. "Or I'll kill you." Sparkles started popping off around him. A loud roar filled the dark alley. The lion had returned, only this time it was even larger, the size of a small van.

Two of the weres backed up, but one, obviously the most stupid, started running at Steve, his canines extended, his eyes glowing orange. Steve swatted one paw and knocked the were across the alley. He hit the fence with a loud thud. The two smarter weres ran like hell was on fire and chasing them.

It took Della a second to realize she hadn't done anything. She hadn't even growled at the intruders to help Steve stand against them. But how could she when it took everything she had to stand?

With the echo of the fading footsteps running down the alley, she watched the lion charge at her. But what she didn't understand was why everything was spinning. Round and round the world goes, where it lands nobody knows. Her mind created the singsong words in her head to go with the light-headed feeling washing over her. Just when she was about to get used to the light-headedness, black spots started popping off like firecrackers in her vision.

The last thing Della remembered was falling against the big beast and thinking that even as a lion, Steve smelled like some spicy male soap.

* * *

Della felt someone lift her head up.

Then she heard a male voice with a Southern accent as sexy as the voice was deep. "You either wake up and drink this or I'm going to have to call Burnett. You hear me? Wake up, sweetheart."

Sweetheart? Della lifted her eyelids and looked up at the dark-haired, soft brown-eyed guy sitting next to her on the huge bed. He had one hand behind her head and the other holding a cup up to her mouth. It took her a second to realize who he was. It took another one for her to remember everything.

The mission.

The vampires.

The weres.

Steve's kiss.

Oh, yeah, she remembered Steve's kiss.

"Thank heavens," he muttered when he saw her looking at him. "Can you drink?" He pressed the cup to her lips. "Just a couple of sips."

The sweet smell of blood filled her nose and she opened her mouth and sipped. It tasted so good, she took another sip.

Steve lowered her head on the pillow that was so soft it practically swallowed her head. She glanced up at his smile.

"I think you need to drink more, but we'll give you a few minutes," he said.

The silky feel of the sheets against her bare back and the soft pillow surrounding her head told her two things. One, they weren't back at the cabin, and two, she was practically naked.

She moved her gaze around and took in what appeared to be a fancy hotel room. Then she reached down to the sheet that covered her chest and lifted it up an inch to check for clothes.

Yup, naked. Well, practically naked. She still had on her red silk panties. And a bandage over her wound.

She dropped the sheet down against her chest and frowned up at him.

"Where are my clothes?"

"I threw them in the bathtub and rinsed them just in case any weres or other vamps were around. Didn't want them to smell you."

How could she argue with that? She couldn't. Well, she could, not every argument had to be based in logic, but face it, she was too tired to argue a logical point much less an illogical one.

"Ready for some more blood?" He held the cup out.

She wanted to say no, but she knew the blood was the only thing that would help her. Leaning up on her elbow, or trying to, she slipped back into the pillow. She looked up into his soft, concerned eyes and felt ... she felt naked, weak, and vulnerable. This was so not her best day.

He reached down and helped her sit up. She felt the sheet slip down and she barely managed to catch it before it exposed her breasts. He held the cup to her lips and she sipped.

When he pulled the cup away, he smiled at her again-all sweet like. He wasn't even looking at her like she was naked under the sheet like most boys would. He was smiling at her like ... like she was someone he cared about.

Definitely not her best day.

She didn't want him to start caring. Because then she might start caring about him. That was dangerous.

Closing her eyes, she leaned back and in few minutes she felt sleep claim her.




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