"That was very well done," Cole said softly, giving me a grin that reached his cool blue eyes. "Even if a lot of it could be considered stretching the truth."
"Hey, better that than getting your head kicked in by an aggrieved crowd."
"Too right," Dusty muttered, then gave me a smile and a wink. He had a nice smile on the rare occasions that he flashed it. "Although the heads getting kicked in would be theirs, not ours, and the boss hates that."
I grinned and glanced at my watch. It was nearly eleven thirty, which meant if I didn't get my butt into gear, I'd be late for my meeting with Kye.
I refused to call it a date. Not when he was basically blackmailing me to be there.
I glanced at Cole. "Could you send me the details of the car once it's traced? I'm betting it's stolen, but Jack will still want me to follow it up."
He nodded. "I sent the details into headquarters, so it shouldn't take long."
He nodded and got back to work. I rose and walked back to my car. Time to head home and get changed, because jeans and a top would never be classed as 'something nice'. Although I refused to wear something sexy, because the damn man didn't deserve that, either.
Of course, finding something that could be classed as nice without being overtly sexy was another matter entirely. I was a werewolf. Sexy was my thing.
In the end I chose a very basic floral sundress, and teamed it with a black leather belt, which nicely matched the black and white print. Classy and neat, even if the floral print was last year's style. Not that Kye would care.
So why did I?
I grimaced at my own fussiness and, ignoring a small tremor of excitement, grabbed a change of clothes, then headed out.
Franklin's turned out to be at the top end of La Trobe Street, just down from Exhibition. It was a pretty, blue two story building with lots of lovely fretwork and arched windows. The glass was mirrored, suggesting it was one way, and there was very little signage out front - which left me wondering what sort of restaurant this place was, beyond the fact that it was obviously one that didn't want to be easily found.
I parked in one of the spots down the road then walked down, my heels clicking quickly against the concrete - a rhythm that matched my pulse.
There was no handle on the double doors out front, just a discrete buzzer. That had wariness flaring.
It was very tempting to just turn around and walk away, but I didn't trust Kye not to follow through with his threat.
Besides, part of me wanted to know what this place was. A dark and utterly stupid part.
I pressed the buzzer lightly and a moment later, a sultry female voice said, "Franklin's. How may we help you?"
"Riley Jenson. I have an appointment with Kye Murphy."
"Ah yes, Mr. Murphy has been waiting for you. Please come in."
The door softly clicked open, and I went through into a small foyer that was all dark marble and gold fittings. A small desk sat to the right, and a plush gold sofa and several potted plants to the left. The petite blonde behind the desk gave me a warm smile.
"Good afternoon, Ms. Jenson," she said, and waved an elegant hand to another door. "If you'll just go through there, Christine will show you to your table."
I did as bid, but the second I went through that other door, I knew this place wasn't just a restaurant.
The soft music that caressed the air was sensual and erotic - a melody designed to relax and seduce the senses. The air was as heated as the music and rich with the scent of lust and sex and rich, spicy food. Despite my misgivings, I breathed deep, allowing the ambiance to soak through my pores, right into my very bones. An answering tremor of excitement coursed through me.
Franklins was a wolf club - a very discrete wolf club. One that obviously only catered to certain levels of clientele. Certainly I'd never heard of them before, but I guess that was no surprise because they weren't targeting the likes of me. It was surprising they allowed the likes of Kye, but I guess he could probably afford whatever this place cost. He was one of the top hit men in the country, after all.
The door swung shut behind me, and another petite blonde appeared. "Riley Jenson?"
I nodded, my gaze roaming past her, studying the dark wine walls. No cameras, no deadeners, nothing security related that I could see, but I imagined it would all be there. If this place was catering to upper class clientele, they couldn't afford not to be careful.
The blonde gave me smile that lit up her brown eyes. A woman who enjoyed her job, obviously. "Mr. Murphy awaits you in the green room. This way, please."
She escorted me down a long hallway that was all pale gold and green. It wasn't trying to be sexy, just warm and welcoming, and in that it succeeded. There were doors to the left and the right, and the scents coming from them were a mix of food, alcohol and lust. But not sex. That scent seemed to be drifting down from above, though I could hear no noise that suggested mating. They obviously had good soundproofing.
The blonde stopped at the second last door to the right, just before a sweeping gold and glass staircase. As she swiped a card through the reader slot, I leaned forward and looked up the stairs. Two oversize doors waited at the top. A grand entrance to a grand dance floor, perhaps.
"There you are, Ms. Jenson."
I gave her a somewhat tense smile and walked in. The room was on the small side, but lushly furnished. The walls were a rich, dark cream, and covered on three sides with oil paintings that depicted various forest scenes in which naked people ran about. The fourth was covered by green velvet curtains, and in front of it sat a leather sofa so well padded it looked as if it would envelop you once you sat down. A black table dominated the rest of the room, the chairs well padded and the same rich green as the curtains and the sofa. The far end had been set for two, although the table looked able to seat at least eight.
Kye was leaning against a mantle, although the fire itself wasn't lit. Which was just as well, given the warmth in the room. But the air was nothing compared to the heat that flashed between us when his gaze met mine. It hit like a punch to the gut and I stopped, momentarily breathless.
He looked good. So good. His black pants fit his long, strong legs superbly and made the most of his well toned butt. His shirt was roughly rolled up at the sleeves, revealed his muscular arms. The color was dark green, and contrasted richly against the gold of his eyes, making them seem even brighter.
Or maybe that was just the heat in them. The desire.
His gaze swept my body - a caress that left me hot and sweating. I clenched my hands, digging my fingernails into my palm, using the sharp sting as a buffer against need.
I didn't want to want this man, but fate had taken that choice from me
. But I'd be damned if I'd step into his arms without a fight.
"Why the pretence of a meal, Kye? Why not just save some money and attempt this seduction at one of the regular clubs?"
"Because I rarely go anywhere public these days. In my line of business, that can be dangerous."
"Meaning there's a contract out on your head?"
"Not yet, but I don't believe in taking chances."
"Then use a disguise. You're well versed in the art." I walked across to the table, poured myself a wine, then added a little acidly, "Actually, you're pretty damn good at lying, too."
He raised an eyebrow. "And why would you say that?"
"Because it's true." I took a sip of the wine and almost sighed in pleasure at the sweet taste. Brown Brothers really did make a decent white.
Though I really didn't want to know whether he'd known it was one of my favorites.
"It may be true, but I'm curious as to why you've suddenly mentioned it now."
"Because you lied to me about your discussion with Mandy Jones."
He smiled. The heat of it burned deep inside of me. "I asked her to report the dead vampire simply because, if I'd reported it, you wouldn't have come."
"It could have been any guardian who was sent there."
"Then I would have missed out on seeing your sweet face, wouldn't I?"
I snorted softly. "Cut the crap, Kye." I grabbed the back of the chair and pulled it out to sit down. "What do you want?"
"You can't have me."
He merely smiled, and this time there was nothing sensual or heated about it. A shiver crawled across my skin.
It didn't abate the need, though. Far from it. My wolf was entranced and she wanted him - heat, ice, danger and all.
"You would do well to remember, Riley - " his voice was soft and without inflection. The wolf at his deadliest - "that you have people you care about and I do not. I will get what I want, one way or another."
"You hurt anyone I love, and I will kill you."
"No, you won't. You couldn't even shoot that baby vampire." His expression was mocking. "Besides, you love life too much to ever shoot your soul mate."
Yeah, I loved life, but if he hurt Rhoan or Liander or Quinn, then I would shoot the bastard and worry about surviving the effects afterward. That he didn't know that showed how little he really understood me.
"I will have you," he added softly.
Why was the question that surged my lips, but I didn't give it voice because I very much suspected I already knew the answer.
It was the challenge I represented. Nothing more, nothing less.
Which meant that maybe my best option would be to give in to this heat and hope that once he'd gotten what he wanted, he'd leave me in peace.
Of course, giving in might just cause additional problems, and I didn't really need that right now.
"You may get me physically. I certainly can't deny the burn is there." I studied him for a moment, noting the lazy half smile teasing his lips, the determined glint in his eyes. And I suddenly realized the challenge I represented went even deeper than I'd realized.
"But you don't just want my body, do you, Kye?" I added slowly. "You want the complete package. You want what I'm giving Quinn."
He didn't say anything, but I knew I'd guessed right. I gave him a smile that held a nasty edge. "I'm telling you now, no matter what you do, you won't ever have that. You may have my soul, but that's all you'll ever get."
Anger flared briefly in his eyes, but was just as quickly gone. Control was this man's forte, and he wasn't about to lose it over a well aimed barb. He pushed away from the mantle and strolled over to the table. I shifted as he sat, crossing my legs and pointing them away from him so that there was no danger of our knees meeting. I wasn't sure my hormones could stand such a touch, however light or accidental.
But he was close enough that his delicious scent and the heat of his body swirled around me, teasing my senses and making my pulse race. I took a large gulp of the wine. It didn't do anything to help lessen the fires.
"I thought you might be hungry after your efforts outside Dante's this morning, so I've already ordered lunch," he said conversationally. "I do hope you like roast lamb."
I leaned back in my chair and wondered who he'd been talking to. Two of my favorite things appearing on the menu was one coincidence too many. "Why were you at Dante's this morning?"
He gave me a smile that was all sharkish charm. "Following a lead."
"Yeah, and tomorrow armies across the world will throw down their arms and live in peace."
"Let's hope not. If everyone lived in peace, I'd be out of a job."
"So what is your job this time?"
"Causing problems for you." He glanced around as the door opened and a waiter entered. "Ah, excellent timing. Thank you, Joseph."
Obviously he came here a lot if he was one first name terms with the waiters, because they certainly weren't wearing name tags. "You didn't answer the question."
"Yes, I did."
Frustration swirled through me, but I bit back my retort and gave the waiter a smile as he placed a plate in front of me. The rich smell of lamb wafted upwards, and despite my annoyance, my mouth watered.
I picked up my knife and fork and hopped into it. I might not want to be here, but I sure as hell wasn't going to waste a delicious meal. Especially when I wasn't paying for it.
Not with money, anyway.
The silence stretched between us. The only sound stirring the air was soft music and the clink of cutlery against fine china. But while we may not have been talking, I was all too aware of his every move. Of the way his gaze rested on me as he ate. Of my own heart racing and the deepening ache in my body.
Eventually I finished and slid the plate away with a sigh that was part pleasure and part regret. The meal was finished. That just left the rest of it.
"Okay," I said, picking up my wine and filling the glass again. "What is it you really want, Kye?"
He smiled and leaned back in his chair. "Have you got any leads on the beheadings?"
I countered his question by repeating one of my own. "Why were you at Dante's this morning?"
He raised an eyebrow, his gaze briefly sweeping me, coming to rest of my crossed legs. He reached out and snagged one foot before I could react, then slid off the shoe and tossed it to one side. His quick, clever fingers began to knead my instep and tremors of delight shot up my leg. I licked my lips, torn between the desire to enjoy and the knowledge that that would only lead to complications I'd been fighting to avoid.
"I've been employed by a desperate husband," he said softly, his gaze on mine as he continued to rub and stroke my foot. "His wife is a blood whore and it is endangering his reputation. He's hired me to track her down and take care of her."