Authors: Jennifer James,Michelle Fox
“Yeah?” She cocked her head, the inch-wide strip of naturally white hair that grew from the nape of her neck caught between two fingers and her thumb in an unconscious gesture.
He wanted to grab her. Kiss her. Take her home and keep her in bed until she stopped fighting him. Until she agreed to leave Vegas behind and live with him in Wyoming. He lifted his hand to grasp her, drag her into his body, and embrace her.
“You look like a woman who could use a shower, then a bath, and then a massage.” He took her bag and slung it over his shoulder. She could maintain her independence while letting him at least carry this fucking bag for her.
Her mouth dropped open, eyes wide and cheeks flushed. Oh, she liked that idea.
“I’d be happy to give you a rub down,” he winked. “Help you work the kinks out.”
The tip of her tongue flicked over her lip and she inched toward him. Her body wanted him even though she was determined to fight their bond.
“I’m going to kick you in the nuts if you keep flirting with me.”
“No you’re not.” He brushed her cheek with his thumb. Her pupils dilated. “You had some salt there.” She didn’t, but he wanted to touch her. “When’s the last time you talked to Jase?”
“Jase? I don’t know. A week ago? How about you?”
“Jase hasn’t returned any calls for about eight days to anyone in the clan. The alpha sent me to find him.” Kit didn’t want to unearth how no one in the clan wanted Jase as the alpha except maybe Jase’s father—although that was up in the air as well.
Colton Barrientos never showed his hand until and unless he had to.
She broke a leaf off a flowering plant and played with the greenery. “I haven’t seen him to spend more than a few minutes together in about three weeks. We are good friends. At least, I thought we were. I trusted him. So that was pretty stupid of me.” Cars whisked by and groups of people meandered along the extra wide sidewalk. “He was supposed to do me a favor and instead he dropped off the map. Don’t know why I’m surprised.” She rolled her eyes and shrugged. “At first I figured he’d gone off with a new girlfriend or took off to the desert for a few days, but then I started getting calls from other people who were looking for him.” Rhiannon strolled down the sidewalk toward the train station, flicking her fingers at him to follow. “Maybe we can help each other find him. Teaming up would be a good idea, especially since there’s at least one other person looking for him besides us. Some woman I ran into in jail. She said he’s got a price on his head. He’ll be safer if we find him first, right?”
Kit allowed himself a long look at the way her pants clung to her thighs and ass, the tucked in curve of her waist, and the tendrils of hair swaying just under her shoulder blades. Even with the salt water residue all over her, Rhiannon heated his blood and made his mouth water in anticipation.
“What? Come on. We’re on a time limit here. You can stare at my ass later. And after we find Jase you can leave again, easy peasy.” She trotted over to him, grabbed the bag, and yanked. “Seriously, let’s go. We can take the train—”
Kit hauled her in close, until they touched from shins to chests in a sizzling line of heat. He paused, memorizing the gold flecks in her eyes and the smattering of freckles on the bridge of her nose. The weight of her in his arms, her softness a perfect counterbalance to his harder, heavier frame. Her arms slid around his waist and she went still. Anticipating.
“I’m not leaving you. Not again. Plus, I’ve been good for hours. You make it so hard to behave.” He kissed her with all the longing and regret and slow simmering passion that he’d harbored deep inside since the last time he saw her. The bite of her nails prickled along his spine through his shirt and she opened to him, meeting his tongue with her own. She groaned, a low, sweet sound he wanted to steal from her. “Mate.”
“Stop saying that.” She broke away first, refusing to make eye contact. She walked away, her attention focused on the sidewalk. “Damn it Kit, don’t do that to me. Don’t say that. I won’t go down that road. I’m not your mate. If you want to look for Jase with me, you can’t say that word. ”
He hadn’t meant to hurt her with the kiss. But he had. “You’re my mate.”
“Mmm.” Rhiannon shook her hands out and backed away. “Right.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Do you remember what happened that night?
night.” She scuffed her shoe on the cement sidewalk.
How could he forget? It’d been his first time. “I remember. You were so gorgeous I thought I’d come in my pants.” He slid his hand over her hair in a feather light caress. “I almost did come in my pants.”
Chuckling at his own joke, the laugh died in the air between them. The train station loomed ahead, a two story building with huge tinted windows and six doors across the front.
“What I remember most is the part where you were inside me for less than thirty seconds...which wasn’t the bad part, I thought we’d try again...no, what I remember is you jumping off me like I was diseased and running away buck ass naked with the condom still on your cock.” She played with the bangle bracelets on her left wrist. He opened the door to her right before she could reach the handle herself. She skirted around him, careful to keep several inches of space between them. “There I was, alone in the dark, freezing my ass off in the back of my dad’s pickup truck, wondering what was so wrong with me that you didn’t come back. At first I figured you were having trouble controlling the urge to shift and that you’d be back in a little while.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” God, he’d fucked up so much. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, not ever. “I should have—”
“The time for apologies was when I had to drive myself back home around sunrise and meet my parents at the kitchen table.” She passed through the glass and steel door of the train station. “I thought I’d be with you forever, that we were soul mates and I wouldn’t have to... Mates don’t walk away from each other.”
A bank of ticket selling machines covered an entire wall. Pausing long enough to not-so-subtly jostle Rhiannon aside so he could pay for their passes, he let her choose the ride option and handed her one of the printed cards.
“I wish I could take it back, fix it.” How did he repair the damage? “I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn’t have any way to support you, and I knew you wanted to go to college. I didn’t want you to feel trapped.”
“What’s done is done. I wish you’d talked to me before you just went and made a decision without talking to me first.” Flicking the ticket with her thumb, she cleared her throat. “You had covered me in hickeys that night too. The worst part was my father finding the condom wrapper left in the bed of the truck. My father called me ‘shifter whore’ and a dirty cat fucker every time he got drunk until the day he died five years ago.”
Acid soured his stomach. They marched through turnstiles and mounted the stairs to the platform, a crawling sense of fury growing in the pit of his stomach. For the way her family treated her, but more for the way he’d treated her.
He done everything wrong. Everything. And after his initial screw up, he hadn’t been able to find her. He should have searched longer, but he’d run out of money. He hadn’t known how the clan would react to her, a human.
Now he knew that worry was a stupid one. His rank in the clan meant the rest of them could kiss his furry ass.
But here she was, by his side. Subconsciously giving him another chance, despite the way he’d fucked up, he had hope she’d forgive him.
And maybe over time, in like a hundred years, he’d forgive himself.
“I can’t take any of it back. If I could, I would.” He tipped her face back and met her gaze. No tears there, just resolve and determination. “I left because I thought I was going to hurt you. My beast was on the brink of being out of control. But I should have come back and made sure you got home safely. Talked to you about the future. Our future together.”
Kit brushed a kiss across her forehead, amazed at the contact, the intimacy and trust she imbued in him with allowing the act.
“Eh, I would have pounced and tried to get you to have sex with me again. There wouldn’t have been any time for talking.” She smirked, her lips tugging up at the corners.
“I was wrong. Don’t sugar coat it or try to make me feel better for what I did. I own that.” How many times had she taken the blame for someone else’s misdeeds and buried her own hurt?
“You saying that is great, it’s nice and all, but it doesn’t change anything. We’re not mates. You left, and mating magic wouldn’t let that happen.”
The muscles in his chest tangled up into a knot. “Mating magic is different for every couple.”
A half-hearted shrug lifted her shoulders. “Maybe.”
“No maybes.” Her refusal to accept the truth of their mating, of the way their souls were meant to be entwined sent an array of emotions through him. Despair. Rage. Frustration. Disappointment. Determination. A growl rumbled around in his chest and throat. “I know you can feel the bond, I know you’re scared and angry and you think you need to protect your heart. We’re mates. I’ll prove it to you. I don’t care how long it takes. I’ll keep your heart safe.”
She cleared her throat, sniffed once, twice, and released a shaky breath. She whispered, “I want to believe you. So much.”
Rhiannon pulled away, half jogging across the train platform. He let her go, let her have the illusion of space between them. “I wasn’t kidding about there being someone else looking for Jase. She knew we were close friends. So if we’re going to find him, we need to move fast.”
“Was she human?” Kit curled his hands into fists to help control his urge to touch her, to hold her close.
“I don’t know for sure. I think not though because she disappeared from plain sight in the jail and she worked magic on me, despite me being covered head to toe in salt.”
Kit didn’t know crap about magic, but he did know most spells could be broken with a cleansing element. Salt being one of the most powerful. “Did you get a name?”
The monorail train came into view.
“Lilith Delacrux.” Rhiannon pointed with a shaking finger to the car stopping directly in front of them. “Oh fuck. She’s right there.”
The female Rhiannon indicated appeared to be a slight brunette with multi-colored hair and eerie blue eyes the shade of a dead man’s. The air around the woman wavered like a mirage and her pretty face melted away to reveal the visage of a half-rotted corpse.
Kit’s heart stopped, then started again with a painful lurch.
Demon. Demon. Demon.
The cougar screamed at him, slamming and tearing at his shields.
“Run. That’s not a human.” He was no match for this creature in his human form. The change cascaded over him in a series of pulsating waves. “That’s a demon.”
hat? Demons aren’t real.” Rhiannon lunged for her bag and draped the strap crossways over her chest. “Are they?”
Kit roared and tore at his shirt, toeing his boots off, ripping at the button on his jeans. The claws sprouting from his partially shifted hands hindered him, popping holes into the fabric. “Get out.... Run...now.”
The train wouldn’t be in the station for long, and Lilith loitered on the other side of the glass door directly in front of Kit. Lilith’s skin glowed, and blood ran from the corners of her eyes. A mocking laugh reverberated through the station. The demon had both hands raised palm out. The doors to the train opened.
“Oh, this is going to be fun. A cougar shifter to play with.” Lilith looked almost bored, her chin tipped down as she tapped out a text message on her phone. “Where’s Jase?”
“I told you I don’t know.” Rhiannon kept her gaze trained on the demon.
“I don’t believe you.” The demon stepped out of the train, rolled her neck from side to side, and cracked her knuckles. “Tell me where he is and I won’t kill you.”
Kit roared again, the sound raising goosebumps on Rhiannon’s arms.
“I don’t know where he is! I’m looking for him too.”
Lilith frowned, her chin dipping down and to the left. “Huh.”
Kit attacked without warning, going for Lilith’s throat with his fangs. His rear feet slashed at her abdomen, his toes tipped with lethally sharp claws. They went down in a tangle of limbs.
Rhiannon whirled and sprinted for the stairwell at the far end of the platform. A crowd of people surged up in front of her, chattering and laughing. Several held souvenir drink cups. The laughing, stumbling crowd blocked her entrance to the stairs.
“Demon! There’s a demon! Run! Get out of here!” She waved her arms and tried to duck between people. They stopped and milled around in confusion. “There’s a motherfucking demon up here and it’s going to kill us all you idiots,” she shrieked.
A concussive blast knocked her to her knees. The screech of nails on metal reverberated and a cougar’s chuffing snarl made the hair on the back of her neck rise. Rhiannon scuttled around the ground on all fours, trying to make her way through the crowd of terrified, scrambling tourists.
Someone trampled her right hand, another kicked her in the ribs and fell over her. A freezing splash landed on her lower back, and sticky liquid flowed down her waistband. Glass shattered, and the cement under her knees and palms heated to a blistering temperature.
Rhiannon clambered to her feet and backtracked toward the train. The entrance to the stairwell was clogged with people. Heading in the opposite direction meant trying to get past Kit and Lilith.
“Oh no.” Poor Kit currently hung suspended a few feet above the ground, his tail only inches from the super-heated cement. Lilith had her right hand held up in front of her in a choking gesture. Blood saturated the demon’s clothing, arms, and legs. “Let him go.”
“Tell me where Jase is.” Lilith smiled, a baring of teeth.
She was killing Kit. That bitch. Rhiannon warred with herself for less than a second, caught between leaping onto the train and running toward danger instead. It’d be the height of idiocy to try and help Kit. It’s not like she had a spell book or an axe to swing at the demon’s face.