Home > Kiss of Crimson (Midnight Breed, #2)(4)

Kiss of Crimson (Midnight Breed, #2)(4)
Author: Lara Adrian

Then, silence.

He waited for a second, gauging his surroundings.

Something bigger than a bullet flew through the air toward the boathouse. It clattered heavily onto the planks of the dock and rolled to a stop.

Holy Christ.

They’d lobbed a frigging grenade at him.

Dante sucked in a breath and flung himself into the river a mere instant before the thing blew, tossing the boathouse and half the dock into the air with a giant explosion of smoke, flame, and shrapnel. The percussion was like a sonic boom under the murky water. Dante felt his head snap back, his entire body racked with unbearable pressure. Above him, debris rained down onto the surface of the river, backlit by a blinding spray of orange fire.

His vision clouded as the concussion dragged him under. He started sinking, drifting with the strong pull of the current.

Unable to move as the river swept him, unconscious and bleeding, downstream.

 

 

CHAPTER Two

 

 

Special delivery for Doctor Tess Culver.”

Tess glanced up from a patient’s file and smiled, despite the late hour and her general fatigue. “One of these days, I’m going to learn to say no to you.”

“You think you need more practice? How about if I ask you to marry me again?”

She sighed, shaking her head at the bright blue eyes and dazzling all-American grin that were suddenly turned on her. “I’m not talking about us, Ben. And what happened to eight o’clock? It’s fifteen minutes to midnight, for Pete’s sake.”

“You got plans to turn into a pumpkin or something?” He pushed off the doorjamb and sauntered into her office. Leaning down, he kissed her cheek. “Sorry I’m so late. These things don’t tend to adhere to the clock.”

“Uh-huh. So, where is it?”

“Around back, in the van.”

Tess stood, pulling an elastic hair band from her wrist and fastening it around her unbound hair. The mass of blondish-brown curls was unruly, even freshly styled. Sixteen hours into her shift at the clinic left it in a state of total anarchy. She blew a wisp of hair from her eyes and strode past her ex-boyfriend to the hallway outside.

“Nora, will you prep a syringe of ketamine-xylazine, please? And ready the exam room for me too—the big one.”

“You bet,” chirped her assistant. “Hi, Ben. Happy Halloween.”

He shot her a wink and a crooked smile that would have melted the knees of any red-blooded woman. “Nice costume, Nora. The Swiss Miss braids and lederhosen are a great look for you.”

“Danke schön,” she replied, beaming at his attention as she skirted the reception station and headed for the clinic pharmacy.

“Where’s your costume, Tess?”

“I’m wearing it.” Walking ahead of him through the kennel area, past half a dozen sleepy dogs and nervous cats peering at them through their cage bars, Tess rolled her eyes. “It’s called the Super Vet Who’s Probably Going to Get Arrested for This One Day costume.”

“I won’t let you get into any trouble. I haven’t yet, have I?”

“What about you?” She pushed open the door to the back storage room of the small clinic and walked through with him. “This is a dangerous business you’re in, Ben. You take too many risks.”

“You worried about me, Doc?”

“Of course I worry. I love you. You know that.”

“Yeah,” he said, a bit sulkily. “Like a brother.”

The rear door of the place opened out onto a narrow alley that was seldom occupied, except by the occasional homeless person using the wall of her low-rent animal clinic near the riverfront as a backrest. Tonight Ben’s black VW van was parked there. Low growls and snuffles sounded from within the vehicle, and there was a gentle rocking of its shocks, as if something big was pacing back and forth inside.

Which, of course, was exactly what was happening.

“It’s contained inside there, right?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry. Besides, it’s as docile as a kitten, I promise you.”

Tess slid him a look of doubt as she stepped off the concrete stoop and walked around to the back doors of the van. “Do I want to know where you got this one?”

“Probably not.”

For the past five years or so, Ben Sullivan had been acting as a personal crusader for the well-being and protection of abused exotic animals. He researched his rescue missions case by case, as cleverly as the most covert government spy. Then, like a one-man SWAT team, he moved in, liberating mistreated, malnourished, or endangered and illegal animals from their abusive caretakers and turning them over to legitimate sanctuaries that were equipped to properly care for the creatures. Sometimes, he made an emergency pit stop at Tess’s clinic to get treatment for various animal wounds and injuries that needed immediate care.

It was actually how they’d met two years ago. Ben had brought in an abused serval with an intestinal blockage. The small exotic cat was recovered from a drug dealer’s house, where it had chewed up and swallowed a rubber dog toy, and it needed to have the blockage surgically removed. It was a painstaking, lengthy procedure, but Ben had stayed the entire time. The next thing Tess knew, they were dating exclusively.

She wasn’t sure how they’d gone from fooling around to falling in love, but somewhere along the way it had happened. For Ben, at any rate. Tess loved him back—adored him, really—but she just didn’t see them going past the stage of good friends who happened to sleep together from time to time. Even that had cooled off lately, by her own initiative.

“Would you like to do the honors?” she asked him.

He reached out and grabbed the handle of the double doors, carefully swinging them wide.

“My God,” Tess breathed, utterly awed.

The Bengal tiger was emaciated and mangy, with an open sore oozing on its front leg from an apparent shackle burn, but even haggard as it was, it was the most majestic thing she’d ever seen. It stared back at them, its mouth slack, tongue out and panting, fear dilating its pupils until they were nearly full black. The tiger grunted, knocking its head against the bars of Ben’s containment cage.

Tess cautiously moved closer. “I know, poor baby. You’ve seen better days, haven’t you?”

She frowned, noting the odd shape of its front paws, the lack of definition near the toes. “Declawed?” she asked Ben, unable to mask the scorn in her voice.

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