Sequel to Damian's Oracle
By Lizzy Ford
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Copyright 2011 by Lizzy Ford
Cover design copyright 2011 by Matt Edmondson
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This book contains explicit language that may be inappropriate for children under the age of 18.
"Sweetie, you can lay down in the bed next to your daddy's."
Bianca looked from her pale brother lying too still on the hospital bed to the smiling nurse. The room was dark except for the light above Jonny's bed and the red and green lights dotting the machines keeping him alive.
Adults would argue with her if she told them she wasn't leaving Jonny's side until he was healed. They thought her too young to understand words like coma and deteriorating, and they accused her of lying when she said she could help him.
The nurse handed her a thin blanket then pointed to the phone.
"Call me if you need anything, ok? All you have to do is pick up, and I'll answer."
"Thank you," she said again.
Satisfied, the nurse swept up the linens she'd changed and left. Bianca waited until she heard the door click closed and looked across the small bay to where her daddy slept.
She'd been able to do that. Why couldn't she heal Jonny? She scooted forward, frustrated and tired, and touched her brother's arm. She felt death within him, as she had with her cat Snickers after a car ran him over.
She'd saved Snickers. She'd kept the flowers around Jonny's bed as fresh as the day they arrived last week. She'd helped her father sleep.
She couldn't help Jonny.
Maybe daddy was right. Maybe she was too small. But she was nine, and Jonny was even smaller at four. He really wasn't too much bigger than a cat, not when compared to an adult.
She cried again, snuffling and wiping at her nose before she pushed herself off the chair. She tried another wilted flower, bringing it back to full bloom.
"Jonny … " she whispered. "I'm so sorry Jonny!"
It was her fault he was in the hospital. Her step-mother - Jonny's mother - had said as much. Bianca cringed as she had earlier that day when her mother and Jonny's mother screamed blame at each other until the nursing staff kicked them out of the room.
She didn't mean to hurt him. He was annoying, and she wanted him to leave her alone. All he ever wanted to do was play with his stupid baseball, and she'd taken it and thrown it into the forest. He went after it, and she played with her toys all day.
He didn't come back, even when it got dark, and it was time for them to go inside.
"I can help him."
She twisted in her chair to see a man near the dark windows whose eyes were the color of her bright purple Easter dress.
"Are you a doctor?" she asked, wiping her eyes.
"You want to help him?"
"I can make it so he doesn't remember that you did this to him."
Her chin trembled as guilt flowed over her.
"You understand that medical treatment isn't free?"
"It will cost you something."
She dug through the pockets in her jeans and pulled out the stash of one dollar bills she'd been given for trips to the candy machine down the hall. She counted them with shaking hands.
"I only have four," she said with some dismay.
"I require more than that."
She looked up. His eyes seemed to swirl, around and around, changing from the color of her mother's tulips to a color almost as dark as the night. He wasn't like the other doctors. His voice wasn't kind. He had no emotions, like a man in a Halloween mask.
"I don't have more," she said, voice shaking.
"What else do you have?"
She checked her pockets again then looked around.
"I don't have anything else!"
The man with purple eyes knelt in front of her. His face didn't look rubbery like a Halloween mask, but neither did he look normal. She took a step back.
"You have to help him," she whispered. "Please!"
"I will help him, Bianca. If you make me a promise."
She nodded uncertainly.
"You must keep this promise no matter what, or your brother will get sick and die. Do you understand?"
"There is a man you will meet when you are older, a man who -"
"This is low, even for you."
She jumped as a hand clamped on the man's shoulder. Her eyes flew up to another man with eyes the color of their Christmas tree. He had Papaw's face, with wrinkles around his eyes and a kind smile.
"By divine code, you can't interfere," the man with the purple eyes said in a tone that made her shrink away.
"By divine code, neither can you."
Purple-eyes rose. Green-eyes stepped between them, and Purple-eyes backed towards the window again.
"We're so much better than this, brother," Green-eyes said. "Children are off limits."
"For your kind, Watcher. There are no boundaries for us."
"Divine code disagrees with you and the rest of the Others."
Purple eyes looked at her, and she shrank behind Green-eyes.
"The Grey God will destroy us all, brother. You can stop this war here, now," Purple-eyes said with a look that made her snap her eyes closed.
"You're a fool led by a fool. Go, brother."
She held her breath and waited, able to feel the tension between them even with her eyes closed.
"He's gone, Bianca," Green-eyes said.
She opened one eye, then the other, confirming his words. She started crying again.
"Jonny's gonna die!"
"You can save him."
"I can't! I tried! I can't!"
He took her arms and sat her in a chair, handed her a fistful of tissues, and knelt. She blew her nose loudly and looked at him through blurry eyes. His small smile was kind, his bright eyes unblinking.
"You have a very special gift. No one else has one like you."
"But I'm too little to save Jonny."
"Nonsense. You can save Jonny. You hear his body speak of the death in him?"
"It's awful," she whispered.
"If you listen really hard to what his body tells you, you can save him. No one wants to die, and his body will tell you what it needs from you. You need to rest tonight, sleep as much as you can. In the morning, you'll be able to heal him."
"But I've been trying for days!"
He touched her again, his hand cool but the electricity that shot through her warm.
"I've woken your gift completely," he said. "You must promise to keep it a secret and to make Jonny keep it a secret."
She blinked rapidly, startled by the sensations going through her.
"Do you promise?"
"You must also never harm another. It is the way of ancient healers. Do you understand?" he asked.
"In time you'll learn more. Do you understand what I ask of you?"
"I don't know. I think so."
"Can you promise to keep Jonny safe?"
"He's my brother," she said, sniffling again.
"Good. Go to sleep, Bianca. I'll watch over your brother tonight. In the morning, you'll save him."
"You're not a doctor," she ventured.
"No, but I'm a friend here to watch over you and Jonny."
Something about the man made her feel safe, and the warm electricity in her body made her sleepy. She kissed Jonny goodnight and crossed the bay to curl up with their father.
When she'd gone, the Watcher placed a hand on Jonny's forehead.
Come back, god-slayer. Your time is yet to come.
As strong as the girl was, she was too small to bring Jonny back from the place the Others sent him. The Watcher's hand fell away, and his gaze went to the dark side of the bay, where the little girl was already fast asleep.
A healer and warrior born to the same family.
Fifteen years later
What a waste of five years.
Bianca drew a heart around his name, then a huge X.
"I probably shouldn't have come back to Miami," she said into the phone pressed to her ear, wishing she could talk to him without the butterflies in her stomach. "I should've just sold all dad's things after he died."
"I wish you'd told me he died when you left last year. But I'm glad you're back," was the smooth reply."
She rolled her eyes.
"Sorry to hear about your split," she managed. "She was a nice lady."
"Thanks. It's been a bit rough lately for both of us. I could use a friend. I'm sure you could, too."
Not falling for it this time.
At her silence, he continued.
"If you have time while you're in town, we could get together for coffee or something."
"I don't think that's a good idea," she said.
"Might as well. You're too sweet to get over me," he teased.
"Just because I dropped at your feet whenever you called for five years doesn't mean I'll do it now. It's been a year since I found out you were married and we split!"
"Hey, I really am free this time. Got the divorce paperwork to prove it."
She'd pined for him for five years, accepting his excuses of flying around the world for work while he just went across town to his wife. She'd left town a year ago to get away from two heartbreaks: papa's death and Aaron's unavailability, only for him to call out of the blue when she just so happened to be in town. She blamed Jonny for that one. He'd always wanted a big brother and idolized Aaron.
A part of her still longed for him, to smell him and feel his skin against hers. She'd fallen for him the day she met him seven years ago. He was her world, but she'd been nothing more than an afterthought, strung along with promises for years.
And now, he could deliver what he'd always promised: a life together.
"I'll even bring the paperwork with me," he offered. "Lunch, nothing else. If we still click, we'll go from there."
She chewed her lip. By the confidence in his voice, he expected her not only to agree, but to resume her place on his arm.
"Lunch," she agreed slowly.
"Great! How about a week from Sunday? I'll send you an email of where and when."
She hung up, sick of him and her weakness. She'd sworn off men - especially this one - a year ago! Of all the Jonny's childhood injuries she'd healed, she couldn't fix her own heart!
Uncurling from the couch, she started to the bedroom of her father's small Miami apartment. Jonny stayed after their father's death while she moved closer to her mom on the west coast. He hadn't changed a thing, as if expecting papa to come home at any minute. Saddened, she considered calling him to check in when a sudden pounding at the door made her jump.
Her heart soared. She clawed her way into a sweatshirt as she hurried to the door. The pounding didn't stop until she wrenched it open.
"Kyle?" she asked, looking up at the freaky-looking youth in Goth clothing and multiple facial piercings.
He pushed his way into the small apartment and flung the unusual Miami rain from his clothes.
"Jonny's not here," she told him.
The pale, dark haired youth was drenched, but it was the wild look on his face that made her stop in the middle of the foyer and watch him pace with agitated energy.
"I don't know," he said at last and flung himself into a chair, planting his hands against his forehead. "I feel funny, like really cold."
She was used to the teenage fits of temperament after spending the summer with her newly turned 20 year old brother. She tied her hair back and straightened the sweatshirt, somewhat relieved it hadn't been Aaron at the door after all.
"You want some cocoa?"
"B, I did something wicked wrong!" Kyle said, following her into the kitchen. "I have to tell you about Jonny."
"He's visiting our grandparents. He'll be back next weekend," she said. "You wanna call him or something?"
"No, B, he's … "
Kyle met her gaze, flushing. She leaned against the counter. There was blood on his trenchcoat. It mixed with the rain to drip pink puddles on her ceramic floor.
"Are you hurt?"
"Jonny didn't go to your grandparents!" Kyle blurted out. "He was seeing this girl, and he told you he was going to go so you didn't think he'd spent the night with her and … you know … "
"Jonny's not in Indiana?"
"He's in trouble, B, and it's all my fault!"
"In trouble how?"
"His girlfriend is so hot but she's like a vampire," Kyle said and ran his hands through his wet hair again.
"He went to see her yesterday, and he asked me to stop by and meet all her friends tonight. I went. Fuck … I mean, shoot, B, it was terrible. They really are vampires! They were killing people in front of me, and his girlfriend bit him, and now he's going to be a vampire. They said - "
"Kyle, are you on drugs?" she asked, baffled by his story.
"No, B, I promise. I've been clean as long as Jonny."
"Jonny's on drugs?"
"Not anymore. I didn't want to come here but I know about … he told me - and I never told anyone I swear it - about your healing ability."
He'd been Jonny's best friend for ten years, and they'd started the Goth-vampire stage when they got to college. She never thought much of their black clad, piercing decorated vampire girlfriends but couldn't help being irked that Jonny had told his friend her biggest secret!
"What're you telling me, that Jonny's hurt?"
"I think so."
"You think he's been eaten by a vampire," she said.
"Just bit his … actually, it was his arm, right here. She bit him there."
"Kyle, you're scaring me. But, whatever. We'll talk about the drugs later. I'm going to get him."
"I'm not going back there," he said resolutely.
She studied him, alarm swirling through her for the first time.
"You've been inseparable for ten years," she said. "What gives?"
"I don't know, Bianca," he whispered. "You shouldn't go either. We should just call the police. They can go. We'll stay here. You'll be safe."
She'd never seen him so upset in all the years she'd known him! She retreated to her bedroom to grab her purse.
"Show me where this party is," she told him. "You sure you're not hurt?"
He gripped his forearm in the same spot he'd told her Jonny had been bitten but shook his head. More blood trickled onto her tile. She frowned, uncertain what to think of his story.
She planted her hand on his forehead, coolness flowing through her. His arm was wounded, and something akin to poison ran in his blood. She couldn't quite understand what the poison was; it wasn't a normal infection, and yet it couldn't be anything else.
"You were hurt," she murmured, pitying her brother's friend. "And if you tell anyone I can do that, you'll be in big trouble."
He stared at her, trailing her out the door.
"I feel strange," Kyle murmured.
"How far is this party?" she asked, rustling around her handbag. "Oh, wait, don't shut the - "
The door to the apartment clicked shut, locking automatically.
"I forgot my keys," she groaned. "You have a car?"
He nodded and led them into the rainy night. His ancient, rusted Camaro was illegally parked in front of the building. She almost scolded him before stopping herself. The kid was upset about something. His body assured her he wasn't on drugs, and she couldn't grasp that any normal party would upset the usually jovial young man.
Something was really wrong.
She pushed fast food trash from the passenger seat and sat, giving up on the jammed seatbelt after a few useless tugs.
She glanced at him.
"How do you do it?"
"The healing thing."
She rolled her eyes, irritated that her brother hadn't taken his promise to her seriously. Of course, if he was on drugs and running around with a vampire chic at parties instead of going to Indiana like he was supposed to, she shouldn't be surprised he'd spilled the beans.
"I don't know. It's just something I do," she replied.
"Have you ever told anyone? Like a doctor or scientist or something?"
"It's not your normal conversation starter," she said with a small laugh. "Hi, I'm Bianca, I have magic voodoo healing powers."
He smiled, and she gazed at him, wondering when he and her brother had grown from youths into handsome young men. His features were no longer soft, his body filling out. She was so used to her brother that she didn't notice him grow up, but she saw it in Kyle.
His knuckles were white as he clenched the steering wheel, and his tall body hunched forward.
Her unease grew as they reached a seedy neighborhood outside of Little Havana. It wasn't somewhere she'd ever venture, even in daylight. There were thugs in the streets, bars on the windows of sagging houses, and cars on blocks.
He continued through the streets and slowed when he reached a dilapidated, boarded up church on a corner. Light strobed through cracks in the boards, and the sidewalks teemed with shady looking characters dressed all in black.
She heard the blaring trance music before she opened the car door and smelled the unmistakable scent of marijuana mixed with incense and body odor.
"Stay here, Kyle," she said, looking uncertainly at the intimidating scene before her. "I'll go get him. Do you know where he is exactly?"
He shook his head and squeezed the steering wheel until one of his fingers popped.
"Here's my phone. If I'm not back in twenty minutes, go someplace safe and call the police, ok?" she said, placing it on the dashboard. "And I'm leaving my purse."
"You'll lose it if you don't," he said wisely, accustomed to helping Jonny help her search the house for keys, purses, and anything else she lost.
"Yep," she agreed. "Wish me luck!"
He looked at once panicked and guilty. He hesitated, then shook his head.
She gave his teenage temper the benefit of the doubt and patted him on the shoulder as she left the car. Her heart quickening, she started towards the entrance of the church. Several of the men in black eyed her.
The interior of the church was packed with bodies writhing to the deafening, throbbing music. At under five and a half feet, she wasn't sure how she was supposed to find her brother among the people around her.
Most of them were men. She didn't notice until she'd jostled her way into the center of the church. All of them wore eerie red contact lenses. A shiver of alarm went through her, but she gritted her teeth and pressed on, hoping to find her brother fast.
The church was hot and loud, the scents that overwhelmed her outside stifling. She found a chair jammed against the wall and stepped on it to see the crowd.
She didn't see her brother's bleached hair and familiar face anywhere in the crowd. She hopped down, oblivious to the attention channeled her way by the red-eyed men around her. Light spilled across the church as a door leading to the chambers in the rear opened.
She made her way to the hallway and breathed more easily at the less crowded space. Men and women lined the halls, most making out. Several of the rooms on either side were open, revealing couples in various stages of undress, a room with junkies shooting up and potheads lighting up, and a room filled with what looked like people sleeping.
She reached the exit at the end of the hall and stopped, puzzled. Jonny hadn't been there at all. She faced a shorter hallway leading into what may have been a kitchen at one time. Worried that something had happened to her brother in the time between Kyle leaving and her arrival, she crossed her arms and climbed the stairs to the kitchen area.
She froze, Kyle's words returning to her.
A naked, unconscious woman lay atop the island in the center with five of the men with red eyes chewing on various parts of her body, one on each leg, one on each arm, and one at her neck. She backed away, heart racing.
Someone snatched her arms from behind and shoved her into the kitchen. She looked away from the scene, unwilling to believe what she saw was real.
"What's a B?" someone else snickered.
One of the men drinking blood from the naked woman straightened, and she gasped.
"Hi B," he said, eyes glazed and blood running down his chin to his white polo.
"Jonny, what are you doing here?" she demanded, pulling away from the man behind her.
"It's his initiation day," the man said.
She faced the speaker and took a step back. He was large and thick with glowing eyes and teeth sharpened into fangs.
"Talon, this is B," Jonny said in a breathless voice.
"A pleasure, B."
She took a step back, overwhelmed by the scene before her. She stared at her brother, who seemed unaware of where he was or what he did. Talon looked her up and down in a way that made her skin crawl before he took her arm. He sliced her forearm, watching in satisfaction as it healed before his eyes.
She wrenched away.
"The kid wasn't lying," he said. "You and me, babe. This could be fun."
She turned to run, panic flying through her at the feral look he gave her. He snatched her and half carried, half dragged her through the kitchen's opposite door. She struggled, but he wrapped his arms around her in a hold she couldn't break.
"Jonny!" she shouted.
"Do what I say, bitch, and I might not kill him!" the man named Talon snarled.
"The police are on their way! They'll be - " she cried.
"Shut the fuck up!"
He shoved open a door to the dark night and carried her to an awaiting car. She planted her legs against the frame of the car.
"Jonny!" she screamed.
Fiery pain tore through her as he stabbed her in the neck.
* * *
White God's Commander
of the Western Hemisphere
We'll meet soon, brother.
Dustin, the White God's chief assassin and commander of the Western Hemisphere, awoke in a cold sweat with his heart racing. The clock blazed 3:30 in his otherwise dark condo. An hour of sleep was the longest he'd managed in over a week, and he felt more tired than when he lay down.
He'd dreamt many times before about his sister and his family, but she'd never talked to him directly. Her soulful blue gaze and gentle words gave him the creeps. She appeared as he remembered her the day of her murder: a ten year old with long blonde hair, striking blue eyes, and golden skin. Her words fueled the sense of dread he'd felt the past two weeks, since he'd lost contact with his brothers.
He sat as the dream faded and patted the necklace with the dangling sun-star symbol marking his demi-god status. It was a comforting combination of the symbols belonging to his adopted brothers and BFFs: the sun worn by Damian, the White God, and the star worn by Jule, the expelled immortal and Eastern Hemisphere's commander.
His condo swayed in the harsh winds of the latest storm spawned from the massive tropical storm in the Gulf. Rain splattered hard against his windows, drawing his gaze to the windows.
We'll meet soon, brother.
Dusty rose to pull on his gym clothes. He'd never thought twice of his mortality - he had none. Damian granted him immortality along with his other demi-god powers and the one authority no other immortal had: the ability to kill one of their own who got outta line or broke the divine codes. He'd been Damian's most trusted executioner for thousands of years.
He'd also been anonymously voted least popular by a disgruntled Guardian on their online discussion boards, and he was about 99% sure his BFF Jule was leading the pack on that one as his latest attempt to win a bet with Damian.
We'll meet soon, brother.
Yeah, creepy was the right word.
He rubbed his face and crossed to the bathroom. He'd lost another five pounds this month. He'd dropped twenty in the past six. He stepped off the scale, snagged a protein bar, and walked the twenty floors to the gym in the bottom of his condo building. He couldn't remember when he'd last had a full five hours of his own, and he knew he wasn't likely to get another break for awhile.
The moment he returned from the gym, his phone rang.
"Where, Toni?" he answered.
"Little Havana. I texted you the street address. Better hurry, boss. We gotta clean up before the cops get here."
"On my way."
A short time later, Dusty surveyed the blackened ruins of the church in the grainy light of dawn. The rain had quit for the day, though the tropical storm spinning around in the Gulf guaranteed another week or so of sporadic storms.
"There are fourteen-ish bodies towards the back of the church. The fire destroyed everything else," Toni said.
"Third flash-n-dash this week."
"TGIF, boss," the Guardians' Miami Station Chief, Antonio, said with cheerfulness out of place for the scene in front of them.
"If there's nothing here linking this to otherworldly activity, we're done here," Dusty replied. "The city can clean it up. You get the DNA from the bodies?"
"Not really, no. They're too crispy."
He glanced at his long time Miami Station Chief, the handsome Hispanic man who looked as severe as he was lighthearted.
"We've got tire tracks," one of the Guardians called, kneeling near the driveway. "Looks like an SUV of some sort."
"I found a cell phone!" another called as he scoured the gutters around the church. "No battery."
"Take it to HQ," Toni directed.
Dusty looked around them, gaze settling on the only car on the streets that didn't belong to him and wasn't on blocks. It was a beat up Camaro parked half a block down. He sensed rather than saw that someone was in it, watching them.
"Toni, send your transporter to grab the driver in the Camaro down the street," he said, returning his gaze to the charred building in front of him. "Send me a report when you're done."
"You want me to call you if we see another one of these?"
"Not unless there's something different about it. I'm going to get a pulse check from the network to see what the fuck the vamps are doing."
"We got info on a stash-house on Broad Street. I'm waiting for Jenn to confirm, and we'll schedule to take it out tomorrow morning."
"Good. Have fun killing things."
"Ok, boss. Happy Friday."
Dusty smiled faintly as Toni walked towards the back of the church, whistling. He blinked and used his power to transport himself to his study. Someone had been using his computer; he returned the mouse and computer screen to their appropriate angles before seating himself. The house was quiet, the way he preferred it. In all of thirty minutes, some sort of drama would emerge once the inhabitants awoke.
Come see me, he texted his spy chief.
He sat back and waited, counting down from ten.
"Hey Boss," Jenn purred, emerging from the shadows.
One of the rare female Guardians, Jenn was tall and willowy with dark hair and green eyes, a studied air of seduction, and the ability to penetrate any group he sent her to. She didn't try to hide her sex appeal and wore clothing tight enough to leave little to the imagination.
"Three," he said.
"Still under five seconds," she said with a sultry smile.
She pulled up a chair across from him and straddled it, her direct gaze settling on him.
"What can I do for you?" she purred.
He smiled to himself, enjoying the game they always played.
"Shall I make a list?" he returned.
"I'll start at the top and work my way all the way down."
"Fuck that. You'll start all the way down."
"For you, anything, any way you want it, anytime."
"I love it when you say that."
"You know what a girl likes. I don't mind trying to make your day as good as you make mine. How bout now?"
"We got real work to do," he replied.
She rested her chin on the back of the chair, waiting with a sexy pout.
"Don't," he warned. "You know you won't win."
Jenn laughed and sat back.
"Fine, boss. Work then play. Must be serious."
"Our vamp friends have had three flash-n-dash events this week so far," he started.
"Toni told me," she said. "A total of about thirty bodies."
"We haven't seen this anywhere else."
"Talon's boys are more violent than most of them. These are essentially huge orgies and feasts for initiating newbies."
"What do you have as far as sources in Talon's org?"
"Not much," Jenn admitted. "The Natural I planted there called this morning and said they were waiting to burn the place until something got there."
"He didn't know what it was but said it wasn't a vamp and it wasn't their dinner."
Dusty was quiet, surprised. While violent, Talon wasn't the smartest brute in the world. That he may have planned something for a reason other than to eat, fuck, or recruit was unusual.
"No word on what? Cell phone intercepts? Anything?"
"Not that I know of," she replied. "He's normally really loud and stupid about what he's doing. We don't usually have a problem tracking him, but this changed about two weeks ago. Either he got smart fast or someone tipped him off."
"I'll need whatever you can get me," he said. "I have a feeling something else is going on."
"So do I, boss," she said pensively. "Dusty, if I didn't think it was impossible, I'd say Talon's gonna make a play for the Black God's job."
"Something is just … I don't know. Maybe it's just a spy's paranoia. Talon's reckless, but he's cunning and he's suddenly playing very smart. We caught some of his vamps tracking Czerno's vamps more than once, and we've caught them in firefights, too."
He said nothing about the presence of one such Black God in Miami. The Black God, Czerno, had been wreaking havoc in Europe until a few days ago. He didn't know if a two-bit thug like Talon rated the attention of the King of Darkness or if Talon was stupid enough to challenge an immortal so much more powerful. Maybe the Black God was in town for a bit of vengeance while the White God was across the ocean, or maybe he'd found out about Dusty's wards, the mate and brother of the White God.
He didn't know what was going on, but he felt as uneasy as his spy chief.
His gaze went to his watch.
"You sure you don't have time?" Jenn asked too casually.
"I've got a meeting at eight."
She leaned over the chair and kissed him, a long, slow kiss.
"That's enough time for me," she whispered.
Dusty rose in response, peeling off his shirt. Her eyes went to his body hungrily, and he gripped her belt, pulling her against him. He transported them to his condo on the beach for privacy. He rarely turned down the offer of no-strings-attached sex, especially when his partner was so good at it. In all his years, he'd not found anything as soothing to his nerves as a woman's silky skin, heady scent, and warm body.