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By´╝ÜCaris Roane

Just before dawn, Alesia turned the diner lights out and stared at a shadow beneath the lone pine tree at the far edge of the gravel parking lot. She held her breath, waiting to see if the dark shape turned into a friend or someone out to kill her.
The last of the cars had left over an hour ago. Most of her customers had headed home for the day to avoid the damaging, or in the case of vampires and fae, deadly sunlight rays. She owned a small diner in the south of Merhaine Realm, an area known to have a lot of enemy traffic.
The shadow finally moved, heading in her direction, and her heart set up a loud thumping in her ears. Sweet Goddess, she went through this every night, wondering if this time one of the dreaded wraith-pairs had finally shown up to finish her off.
However, when Zephyr came into view instead, the air rushed from her lungs, both in relief and with the excitement she always felt when she saw him. He was a powerful vampire who made war against the wraith-pairs and who saw her home every night just to make sure she was safe.
Even though she’d already dated him, slept with him and broken up with him several months ago, she still had such a thing for the man. Which begged the question, would she ever really get over him or would she feel this hunger forever?
As he made his way toward the diner, she left the lights off but warmed up her fae vision so that the closer he drew the better she’d be able to see him. Her vision was one of the most useful abilities she’d gained from her fae mother. Her human side, however, wreaked havoc with her sensibilities, having decided that this warrior vampire was exactly what she wanted to take home with her tonight. He walked up the steps of her diner, carrying his two-hundred-and-forty pounds like a god.
He opened the door with an easy shove of his hand. He stood six-five and because he worked out, he had massive shoulders and arms, which were well-defined by a snug t-shirt. He had clear blue eyes and his thick, wavy black hair hit the space just above his shoulders. A freaking sexy look for him.
She’d always loved his hair, the coarse feel beneath her fingers and especially the way it had moved when he’d made love to her, swaying in rhythm. His hair even smelled good, the same way he smelled, like a woodland of oaks: strong, slightly bitter, woodsy.
As he stepped inside, his scent wrapped her up and made her feel about a hundred things she shouldn’t be feeling. As attracted to him as she was, she’d ended things for a reason and had no intention of resuming their relationship. But for her, perhaps forever, he was nothing short of temptation on two legs.
And here he was again, performing his last self-assigned duty of his rogue policing activities for the night. Zephyr was a one-man show, who worked apart from Merhaine’s vampire Guard, patrolling the south, the poorest part of the realm, the same area where she had her diner.
She at least had this much in common with him, that each served the poorer element of Merhaine. She provided good, cheap, home-cooked meals for the locals and Zephyr battled the Invictus every night to keep the community safe. With just the power of his battle frequency and the energy he could release from the palms of his hands, he had more kills than any of the traditional Guardsmen who worked the region.
If she’d been in support of all that death and destruction, she’d be proud of Zephyr. Instead, she despised his nocturnal killing efforts, the source of the contention between them and the exact reason she’d never give herself to him again. She believed in the absolute necessity of rehabilitating wraith-pairs. Simply put, he didn’t.
“We’re closed,” she stated, opening their age-old argument. She didn’t need him to fly her home, and it would help her a lot to get over the vampire if she didn’t have to see him every night.
“Alesia, you didn’t lock the door. What the hell is wrong with you?” His voice fell into the lower timbres, not quite bass but damn close, a sound that teased her in all the wrong places.
She shrugged. “Do you honestly believe that a lock is going to keep out a powerful Invictus wraith-pair?” The bonded pairs had an amplified level of power that could easily take down the solitary realm person.
“I think turning that damn lock would give you an extra few seconds to escape out the back door.” He glanced around. “I take it you’re all set for the night.”
“I am, which means you can go now. I can see myself home.”
He snorted. “Like hell. You know the drill, Alesia, and we can do it the hard way or we can do it my way.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine. You can fly me home. Will that make you happy?”
“Damn straight it will. You serve the community, something I’ve always admired about you. It’s my job to keep you safe.”