He was dreaming.
Black eyes flashed fire. Saliva poured into his mouth and dripped from his fangs. He swallowed hard. His reptilian stomach burned with need. It tightened into a knot as he smelled the meat.
As the breeze carried the scent, red-lined nostrils flared. The smell of food nearly overwhelmed him. He forced himself to remain still, swallowing, inhaling and sorting the scents.
A trace of muskiness came to him. It was a subtle, sultry scent. Its effect on him was potent. The prey was female.
Below his stomach he felt an achy yearning. Back and forth his powerful tail swished, the scales rasping on the rocks.
In the thick darkness, she was unseen, a black shadow in a deeper blackness. But she was near. He could feel the heat radiating from her body.
The rasping sound made her turn. He drank in the stink of her sudden fear.
Talons ripped into hot, yielding flesh. Teeth sank into the meat. He buried his mouth in spurting wet heat.
Chelsea let out a startled yip.
“You bit me,” she said, jerking away. “I don’t want to now. Go back to sleep.” She pried loose his hands where they dug into her shoulders.
Harper didn’t move. He breathed heavily. His eyes darted around the room. Familiar shadows. Bedroom. His. It was dark save for the dull glow of the city lights through the row of uncovered windows.
The woman–Chelsea–he remembered her. Hours before he’d picked her out of a crowd. Their eyes had met across the room. Passion burned in that first look, an immediate knowing.
“I’ve never done this before,” she had said that same night, as they lay still joined on his sofa. Her skin was slick with sweat. Harper inhaled the rich smell of sex. The musky, lustful smell made him want her again. He pulled her mouth down onto his, probing his tongue deeply into the warm, wet cavern. “I’ve never done this with someone I just met,” she had whispered against his ear. “I just knew when I saw you that it would happen.”
“I made you know,” Harper had told her.
Now, still caught in the spell of the dream, he poised over her. It was powerful, the burning knot of hunger, the feeling of smooth strength in his muscles as he had leapt, the taste of living blood, the control. . .
Chelsea had dozed off. Harper clutched his pillow hard, to keep himself from clutching her. He stared at the ceiling willing the flat, leaden sanity of day to come quickly, fighting the urge to sleep, fighting off the dreams.
As the first rays of dawn entered the bedroom, Harper shook Chelsea roughly.
“I want you to leave,” he grated, purposely filling her mind with loathing for him.
The slam of the door rang through the apartment minutes later. You’re lucky. Harper rolled over in the tangled sheets and moaned, “No more. Not again.”
He held out one night. . . two. . . a week.
She was alluring and innocent, swaying in the music and the pulsating lights. Their eyes met and he promised her the moon with his look. He made her believe it.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” her voice murmured as he pulled the clothes from her body. Shut-up, his mind commanded her. I don’t even want to know your name.
He was dreaming.
Tonight he was in human form, his own body, his own shape, but still a hunter.
Sluggish waves stirred restlessly across black rocks. Across the bay a woman stood clothed only in cold, white moonlight, swaying to unheard music. Into the water she slipped, stroking slowly across the bay toward him.
Each stroke through the inky waters brought her closer to him. The water was sharply clear and warm as blood. Another stroke and she lifted her face, dripping, to stare at him. On the rocks he stood in unmoving silence, watching her. No expression crossed the rugged contours of his face.
He lit a cigarette, the red glare harsh in the sapphire dark. Another stroke. She reached a delicate hand up to him, stretching her fingertips upward.
He stood without moving. He inhaled deeply on his cigarette, the glowing tip flaring up, coloring his face crimson.
Her head went under the water with a jerk.
He didn’t move.
The woman came up, struggling, fighting. As her head went under, her hand thrust up, reaching toward him, pleading.
He reached toward it, stopped, clenching his hand into a fist at his side.
The hand disappeared beneath the water leaving faint ripples on the surface.
He stared at the water for a long time. Absently, he raised his cigarette, burned down to the end, glanced at it and tossed it into the water. As it touched the surface, the hot ember hissed.
The hissing grew louder.
Harper jerked and woke. The grey light of a cloudy dawn filled the bedroom as the street sweeper moved past his windows. The hissing ebbed as it passed.
For a long time Harper stared at the windows, unwilling to look down into the bed beside him. He knew what he’d find. Finally, sighing heavily, he turned to the blue, waxy face and staring eyes resting on the pillow beside him.
He’d have to dispose of her body. Like the others, he thought, like the others.
. . . eyes met.
You. Want. Me.
“What?””My name. It’s Ariel,” she said, tossing back her thick, tawny hair.
I don’t want to know your name.
“It means lioness,” she told him and licked his neck. Her fingers pulled at the buttons of her blouse as she pushed his body down to the bed beneath the row of windows that showed the full face of the night.
“I’m Harper,” he whispered. And you’ve never done this. . .
“And–I’ve–never–done–this–before,” she recited in a stilted tone. Was that a chuckle he heard as Ariel slide her strong, naked body on top of his?
She was dreaming.
In the thick heat of the veldt, tall grass moved in shimmering waves, silvery in the starlight. Wet, slurping sounds came from a clearing by a thorn tree. Ripping her teeth into the hot flesh of a fresh kill, the lioness purred.