An Excerpt from Storm Kissed

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Ten years ago

Reese Montana had survived her parents' divorce, a grabby-fingered stepfather, and hitting the gang-infested streets at fifteen. She had survived—barely—being targeted by the leader of one of those gangs, and had turned police informant to help bring him down. But now, at nineteen, she was sick of surviving. She wanted to live. And, damn it, she wanted to do it with the man who was squared off opposite her in the main room of their shared two-bedroom, looking like she'd just gut-shot him.

"Reese," he grated. "Don't do this."

Mendez meant it as an order, but it came out more like a plea. His pale hazel eyes slid from hers, but he didn't move, just stood there—six seven worth of wide-shouldered, rawboned energy wearing jeans and a leather jacket he shouldn't have been able to afford, with an angular face that hadn't been carded in years, though he'd only just turned twenty-one.

His big body vibrated with the same tension that ran through hers—the need to fight, to kick ass, to burn off the heat that had been growing between them for months now. But although he would fight for her, fight with her, he wouldn't fight her. His control, like his protection, had been his promise. And she was sick of both.

"Sorry. I've had it with your timetable." She kept her voice dead level, knowing that if she got shrill and snippy—or worse, let him sense her nerves—he would find a way to put her back in the "little sister" box inside his rock-hard head. But she wasn't his sister, hadn't ever been.

Closing the distance between them, she splayed her hand on his chest as she had often done in their early days together, when they had huddled in abandoned squats, sharing body heat and vigilance. His heartbeat was fast against her palm, his chest a solid wall of muscle.

Heat pooled alongside her nerves, and her stomach gave a little flutter. She knew his body completely, yet she didn't. The shared-warmth cuddles had ended a year ago when they'd finally started making enough to get into an official flop with actual utilities, a signed lease, and the locks he'd installed on the insides of both their bedroom doors. And she was sick of that, too. More, she was afraid that if she didn't do something, he was going to decompress. He'd been driving himself too hard lately, straying way too close to the line between right and wrong. The thought of him going all the way over that line scared her worse than the idea of being rejected.


"Don't push me, Reese." His words vibrated against her palm, setting up resonant quivers inside her. "Not—" He bit it off, but she heard it anyway: Not now.

"Why not now?" She wasn't quite brave enough to wrap her arms around his neck, though she badly wanted to, had envisioned herself doing just that when she'd played it out over and over again in her head. Instead, she shifted to grip the edges of his leather, leaving a scant inch of space between their bodies. "We've got jobs and a place of our own."

Outside it was night-black and pissing rain, cold and hard-edged with the chill of early fall. The sharp drops hammered against the room's single window, but inside the apartment they were warm and dry.

He shook his head. "It's not enough."

"This is what we've got. This is our life." She tightened her fingers on his jacket, willing him to listen to her, to really hear her this time. "Maybe in a perfect world things would've been different. You wouldn't have been raised by your crazy-assed godfather. My dad wouldn't have left, or my mom would've believed me rather than Number Two. But that's not the way it happened. We got through it. We made this." Her gesture encompassed the two of them and the space around them. The three-room apartment, with its crappy flooring, Salvation Army decor, and Febreze-defying funky smell, still felt like heaven to her.

His look labeled it a dump. "You deserve better." But then his eyes softened and his voice dropped an octave. "Damn it, Reese, you deserve the dream. We both do."

But the fantasy of escaping to a place with wide-open skies had been just talk, a story she would tell when he fell silent. She hadn't grown up like him, didn't know the things he did, so she'd taken a picture that was burned into her brain and turned it into an imaginary world. For her, it had been a way to avoid the reality of growling stomachs, frozen toes, and constant vigilance. For him, it had become a goal. "Someday I'll give you a palace," he would say. But she wasn't a princess and she didn't want him to surround her with stone walls and armed guards. Which was exactly what he would do if he got the chance.

He'd been just three when his parents and baby sister died in a horrible fire, and he still had nightmares about being dragged away by his godfather, Keban, who had spent the next dozen years alternating between teaching him the history of warfare and subjecting him to bizarre, often bloody rituals. So she got why he didn't want to let his guard down—even with her—until they were far away from the gang that had made their lives, and the neighborhood, a living hell. He wanted to feel safe. More important, he wanted to know that she was safe, that he wouldn't lose her the way he lost his family. And having seen too many other street kids start with big dreams only to wind up with a kid or two of their own, stalled in a crappy apartment only a couple of streets away from where they started, he didn't want things to go any further between them until they were someplace better.

Stubborn ass that he was, he wouldn't talk about it. Boom, done, end of discussion.

But she didn't want to be on a pedestal, damn it. If she wanted something she'd earn it herself, and if she felt threatened, she could deadeye a rat across a cluttered warehouse with her .38. But she hadn't gotten anywhere with that logic, or with anything else. And the more she pushed him, the harder he pushed himself.

Something had to give, and she wanted it to be her.

"I've already got the dream, dumbass. You're my dream." Stomach fluttering like it was filled with crackhead moths, she shifted her grip to his collar, used it as leverage to pull herself up onto her toes. And kissed him.

She must've been taller in her fantasies, because she'd always pictured herself hitting his lips. She got the side of his throat instead, tasted the faint salty tang of his skin, and felt his quick indrawn breath when the move brought their bodies flush. Her heart drummed in her ears as he stiffened and grabbed her upper arms. But he didn't push her away. And the pulse beneath her lips throbbed hard and fast.

"Reese. Don't." His voice was a low growl of warning.

But she was done playing by his rules. So instead of backing off, she leaned in, grazed her teeth along the throbbing vessel and bit down, not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to say: I want you, here and now. Against his throat, she whispered, "I know you're working to get us someplace better, and I want that too. But don't you understand? We're safest when we're staying sharp and watching each other's backs. And if you think ignoring what's going on between us isn't a distraction, then you're a bigger idiot than I thought… unless you're not distracted, in which case I'm the idiot."

His answering laugh was part groan. "You're not an idiot." He got a hand on the back of her neck and pressed her face into the crook of his neck, though she wasn't sure if he was trying to hold her close or stop her from kissing him again. Beneath her ear, his words rumbled hollowly as he said, "But you know what happens when people pair off around here. They fucking stay here."

"Not us," she said firmly. "We're better than that. We won't let ourselves stall." But she would do her damnedest to slow him down a little before he crashed and burned. "We can be together and still have our dreams." She might not want a wide-open prairie anymore, but she hadn't stopped picturing tomorrow, didn't ever plan to.

He held himself still and silent for a long moment as thunder rumbled beneath the rattling raindrops. Then, softly, he said, "Do you really think so?"

For a second she thought that she had to have imagined the question. But there was no mistaking the way one of his hands slid from the back of her head to her nape, the other from her shoulder to her waist. Suddenly, he wasn't holding her captive against him anymore. He was simply holding her.

Holy shit. The air left her lungs in a rush as she realized that she was getting through to him. Or maybe he'd finally gotten to the end of his self-control—maybe, probably, a combination of the two. She didn't know, didn't care. Putting all her certainty into it, she said, "I know so. We're better together than apart, and that's a fact."

Together, they had waged war on the Cobras, had helped Detective Fallon's task force weaken the powerful gang and its reign of terror. They had watched each other's backs, watched each other grow up. And if he had been the boss of their joint ventures more often than not, she had been okay with following his lead… at least until now.

Now, she was taking the lead. And he'd better catch up.

"I don't want to get this wrong," he rasped. "It's too damn important." But his hand dropped to her hip and his fingers curved in a warm, possessive grip.

Her pulse hammered. A gust rattled the windows, making her feel as if the storm was inside her, inside him, racing between them. The beat of the rain was the rush of blood in her veins; the lightning was the searing electricity she saw in his eyes. "I don't want to make a mistake either," she said softly. "But I'm tired of waiting to start our lives. I want to live them instead."

Thunder rumbled as he tightened his grip on her. "Reese, there's something else I need to—"

"Love me," she interrupted, forcing the words past the weight of nerves because her gut said it was time to stop talking. "Please love me, because… Hell, because I love you." She had never said the words before; neither of them had. Not, she suspected, to anyone. And the moment she did, lightning flashed hard, something went zzzt outside, and the electricity died.

Holy. Crap.

It wasn't the first time they had lost power during a storm—far from it—but it was the first time she'd been in Dez's arms when it happened, the first time the darkness had made her so vividly aware of her other senses. She smelled the newness of his leather and the stormy air that still clung to him. And when he said, "Damn it, Reese," she heard loud and clear the too-serious tone that meant a lecture was coming.

She tightened her grip on the collar. "Don't even think—"

He cut her off with a kiss that made her senses spin even as the reality froze her in place.

Dez. Was kissing. Her.

Nerves and heat collided and combined as she closed her eyes, memorizing the moment in her heart… and then threw herself headfirst into a kiss that was everything that she had hoped for and nothing like she had planned.

His lips were softer than she had expected, their press more a question than a demand, but the contact was electrifying. Warmth furled through her as he framed her face in his hands and kissed the corner of her mouth, her cheek, the point of her jaw, and back again. The difference in their heights meant that they weren't plastered together anymore, but she leaned into him, opened to him, and felt the electric jolt of contact when their tongues met in an achingly soft caress. Her heart shuddered with the restraint he was using to show her how he felt, even if he hadn't said the words.

As he kept things soft and slow, though, her frustration built. She could sense his coiled tension, knew it was costing him to be so gentle. But, damn it, she wanted him—the stubborn, arrogant, know-it-all who always had to be in charge—not this careful, watered-down version that was still trying to protect her, still saw her as some fragile-assed princess.

Hissing out a breath, she deepened the kiss, sliding her tongue against his and adding a scrape of teeth that had him groaning deep in his throat. "I won't break," she said against his lips. "Kiss me for real, or I'll find someone who will."

It was an empty threat, but he froze, not even breathing. Lightning flashed, illuminating them in a starburst of blue-white, and she saw raging heat in his eyes, a barely leashed fury that was almost enough to make her retreat. Almost. But this was Dez. This was what she wanted. So she reached for the zipper tab of her sleek black sweater and eased it down a few inches, far enough that when the lightning flickered again, he could see the edge of her bra beneath. And nothing else.

He growled her name, followed by a succinct: "Fuck it."

She laughed, because that was the man she knew, the one she wanted. But the sound quickly turned to a gasp as he spun them in a dizzying whirl that put her up against the nearest wall. His lower body pinned hers in a full-contact press that let her feel the hard lines of his thighs and the rigid bulge behind his fly, but she had only an instant to ride the slashing, adrenaline-charged sense of victory. After that, his lips slammed on hers, all hard edges, heat, and the frustration that had been building for far too long.

And then she couldn't think at all.

She sucked in a breath, floundering for a split second, and in that moment of hesitation, his tongue surged through her parted lips and his mouth clamped on hers, sealing them together. Wild heat lashed through her, and she let out a desperate moan as he boosted her up and urged her to twine her legs around his hips.

Their lips parted, then reconnected in a deeper, darker kiss as he ran his hands up her arms and then inward, to cup her aching breasts and drag his thumbs across her nipples, which were so hard they hurt. When he touched them, though, the pain became pleasure, sharp and acute, and like nothing she'd ever felt before. All of a sudden, none of it was like anything she'd ever experienced—not the wildfire sizzle in her veins, the yearning ache in her core, or the sudden clawing need to be skin on skin with him, to have him surrounding her, filling her.

She had dated a rookie cop from the gang task force for a few months the year before, and had gone out a few times with a guy who worked at the electronics shop on the corner two blocks down. She'd kissed them both, had slept with the cop. And she had wondered whether she was missing something, or if sex, like baseball, was one of those things the media had hyped into something far more interesting than it actually was.

Apparently not. Or rather, yes, she had been missing something, but it hadn't been the sex. It had been Dez. It always had been.

But as much as she had thought she knew that, she hadn't known it would be like this. She arched against him as he kissed her lips, her throat, his mouth as rough and demanding as his touch. She slid her hands beneath his leather, into the layer of heat that was trapped between the jacket's slick satin lining and the soft fabric of his tee, which she bunched up and dragged out of his waistband to touch him. He groaned and leaned into her, deepening a kiss that had already been impossibly deep.

Cool air touched her skin as he unzipped her sweater the rest of the way, pulled it off her arms and chucked it, then shucked out of his coat and tee. He still had her braced up against the wall, their bodies fitted together through the frustrating barrier of their jeans as they kissed and twined together, bare-skinned above, save for her lacy bra.

She was wet and ready, greedy for their jeans to be gone and him to be inside her. His bedroom, hers, the couch, the floor, up against the wall—she didn't care about the where; she cared only about the what, who, and when. Sex. With Dez. Right now. But when he swept her up in his arms and carried her to his bedroom, kissing her as they went, her heart shuddered in her chest. His bedroom. God.

In the small, sparsely furnished room, wan illumination came from a set of working emergency lights on the building across the way, limning his body in a sodium yellow that traced his muscle-ridged abdomen, then gleamed on the width of his shoulders as he lowered her to his bed and followed her down. She raked her fingernails down his spine, then down along his ribs until he shuddered against her.

He pressed his hot cheek to hers, so he was breathing warmly in her ear when he whispered, "Gods, Reese. Tell me I'm not dreaming this."

Her answer died on her lips. Gods? "What do you—"

He cut her off with a kiss that quickly became a clash of lips, tongue, and teeth, held more passion than finesse, and brought the salty tang of blood.

Without warning, he jolted against her and gave a strange, strangled cry that was more surprise than passion. Then a slash of electric awareness raced through her, sweeping her up and carrying her with a crazy-hot wave of passion and connectivity. For a second, she felt like she was inside him, feeling his heartbeat, his arousal, his confusion as the air around them took on a hint of red-gold sparks. She heard a strange buzzing noise and felt a hot, rushing sensation that was partly sexual, partly something else. Then the connection snapped as he tore himself away from her.

She blinked up at him in shock as the lights flickered and the power came back on, turning the darkness back into the reality of the two of them together in his normally off-limits bedroom. He was kneeling on the mattress beside her—shirtless and buff as hell, with his jeans unsnapped to show the sharply defined interplay of muscle and bone at his hips. If she had taken a picture just then, it would've read as sex personified. But this wasn't a picture, and the look in his eyes didn't read as passion. It was more along the lines of "oh, shit," and the sight turned the heat of moments before into a sharp stab of pain.

Heart thudding, she started to reach for him, then pulled back and curled her fingers into a fist. "Dez," she began, but then stalled on a slashing wave of disappointment, because what was left for her to say? She had made her play, and it hadn't been enough. He was already pulling away.

"I'm going out," he grated, avoiding her eyes.


He stood, grabbed a shirt from the lopsided bookcase that served as his dresser, and pulled on the tee with jerky motions. He stalled at the bedroom door, though, made like he was going to put his fist through the wall, but slapped it flat-handed instead. Pressing his forehead to his knuckles, he grated, "This isn't about you. I'm… Hell, I don't know what I am these days, but it's not good. And I can't put that on you."

She glared at him, letting him see the hurt and the gathering tears. "Yes, you can, damn it. We're a team."

But he shook his head as he pushed away from the doorframe. "Not this time." Moments later, the door banged shut, and he was gone.