Authors: J.C. Daniels
His nostrils flared.
“Justin’s back in town,” he said, his voice neutral.
“Yeah.” I hitched a shoulder in a shrug.
His nostrils flared again, lids hanging low. I braced myself because I knew what he was doing. Damon was a shifter and that meant he could smell things no human or half-human could possibly pick up. He was analyzing the scent layers on me. “Somebody’s dead, Kit.”
“Somebody needed to die, Damon.” I gave him an innocent stare. Son of a bitch. I should have spent another thirty minutes in a shower—or a steam bath. Determined to make him think about
other than the fact that I smelled like human blood, I said, “You haven’t seen me in almost two weeks and you’re more interested in other people than me.”
He came in a little closer and I froze as he dipped his head, breathed in.
Then, as his breath drifted over me in a soft sigh, he murmured, “No…never. I just don’t like thinking about what could happen if somebody found out you’d killed a human. I’d have to slaughter the world, Kit.”
Now he lifted his head. While his eyes swirled and the intensity of his emotions beat against me, I eased back.
“Ah…” I blinked. “That would be a bit of overkill. And relax. I know what I’m doing.”
He sighed. Then, with a gentle touch, he smoothed a finger over my brow. “You got sick from her biting you. The virus…it lingered.” He smoothed a finger across my brow. “It made you sick.”
“What…oh.” I shrugged as I remembered the debacle with Alice at the ball. “I’m fine. It was just a fever. No big deal.”
His gaze roamed over me and I knew he was looking for some sign of injury, but I was standing there all but
and it didn’t take long for him to pick up on it.
His lashes drooped as he drew in a deep, slow breath and his big body seemed to ripple—everything in him drawing tight.
When he looked back at me, I felt it as intimately as if he’d stroked his hands over me.
“I…um…” My brain tried to kick in. “Look, I should go.”
He took a step toward me.
The list of names Chang had given me was burning a hole in my vest and I wanted to demand Damon tell me who Shanelle was, and why she’d been coming here. I don’t care that I’d had Chang’s explanation. There was the
explanation and there were the reasons a woman would give a former lover—and she’d
? That sly voice murmured in the back of my mind and doubt slid in.
Before it could take root, though, Damon reached out.
His fingers slid up my cheek, tangled in my hair.
“I was going to call you when I left here,” he said, his voice low.
“Were you?” Heat skittered and danced in my veins.
“Hmmm. Am I still coming over tonight?”
I turned, my answer on my lips. But then it died…faded away, as his mouth covered mine.
Why would I want to talk when I could be kissing him?
A rush of heat and hot skin and hunger later, Damon caught my hands as I went to shove his shirt up.
His chest was heaving, his skin hot under my hands. When he tried to pull back, I just followed his mouth with mine. Stop? Why in the world would I want to do that?
Damon groaned and reached up, cupping my face in his hands. His arms were now an effective barrier between us, too.
“Kit…baby girl. Stop…”
He dropped his head on my shoulder.
The ragged rhythm of his breath on my skin, the heavy brush of it all over me was enough to have my nipples drawing tight. I clutched at his hips, desperate hunger clawing at me.
In the next second, Damon was by the door and I was gripping the desk to catch my balance.
He dragged his hands down his face. “That’s…okay. Enough. I have to be able to walk out of here.”
Involuntarily, my gaze dropped lower and then I turned away because I was tempted to rush him. Sex up against a wall—it wasn’t an unknown for us. Even as some part of my brain was wary, the rest of me was all for crashing ahead at full speed.
“Yeah. Um. I don’t think I could face Chang if we…” I looked at his office and my face went hot and red. Ohhhhh, no. I’d die of embarrassment. I wasn’t particularly shy, but Chang would know in a hot second if we had sex up here. Hell, he’d probably know how close we’d come to having sex up here and that was already pretty bad.
A hand brushed down the back of my hair. A kiss ghosted over my shoulder.
I would have caught his hand, but he was already sliding through the door.
“You’re coming over tonight, right?” I asked, knowing he’d hear me.
“Still want me to?”
I licked my lips. “Yeah. I’ll be home…probably late. See you there.”
There are some people who could get in trouble with a wet bag and a rubber ducky.
I’m one of them.
There I was, standing with a wet bag, eggs oozing out of it, half of my groceries for tonight all over the ground and a rubber ducky in my hand. I’d dropped one of the bags when a small tornado had almost bowled me over. I’d held onto the other, although thanks to the smashed eggs, the stuff in it was probably ruined.
Sighing, I looked down at the bag and then the ducky.
Said duck belonged to the little girl cowering at my feet.
Or maybe not…
“This doesn’t concern you.”
The words were delivered in a cloud of garlic and undercooked meat as a man came storming my way. He went to snatch the duck away and I whipped my hand out of his reach.
“She stole it,” he said.
“I’ll pay for it,” I said calmly. “Just tell me how much it is.”
“I’m not selling it to you.” His lip curled and he glanced down at the girl. He went to grab her. I dropped the rest of my groceries and shoved my hand against his chest.
He went flying back.
I took advantage of the momentary distraction to pick up the girl and put her in my car. I’d only barely had the chance to shut the door when he came rushing at me. Magic sparked around him as he swung out at me.
Splintered power danced in the air around him. An untrained witch, probably watered down—just enough ability to light a fire—or make him feel tough.
Ducking under the punch, I slammed my fist into his gut and spun away.
He lumbered after me.
I caught the next punch.
His face went red as I started to squeeze. I heard bones break.
As he started to squeal, I flung his hand away.
“Well. This is entertaining.”
With a disgusted sigh, I looked up as Megan Banks came striding up.
Megan was the second in command for the local wolf pack. She looked like a soccer mom, cussed like a sailor and had a jaw like a brick wall. I’d broken my hand on that jaw of hers. As I caught sight of the amusement in her eyes, I relived that moment. It had been worth it.
Blowing out a disgusted breath, I looked at the groceries I’d dropped when the little girl had plowed into me. The eggs were a lost cause. “Hi, Megan. Long time, no see. Oh, you’re in a hurry? Sorry to hear that. See ya.”
She chuckled as she knelt down next to me. “I’m here to speak with the man you made cry like a baby.” She picked up a packet of steak and held it out. “Planning on having company?”
I just stared.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Alpha. Perhaps I should swing by and just touch base. It’s a courtesy…from the pack to the clan.”
“Come by my house tonight and die,” I said.
She threw back her head and laughed.
Trying to ignore her, I stacked up the groceries that weren’t ruined. I’d need another bag.
“Don’t worry. I’m here to pick up a cub. You’re safe…I’ll be playing mama.” Her voice went soft then.
A cub…? I looked up, watched as she rose.
I did the same, fighting the urge to glance back to my car.
“I thought you were here to talk to him.” I jutted my chin at the man who had finally gotten to his feet, although he was still clutching his mangled hand.
“I am.” Distaste thickened her voice. “Maurice called and said he had a stray kid in the store—was positive she was a wolf. We pay rewards for anybody who finds a youth.”
Narrowing my eyes, I looked over at him, thought about the way I’d seen him going to grab her, the fear in her eyes.
“How long ago did he call you?” I asked softly.
She frowned. “He left a message—it’s been about two hours or so. He said she was secure. I couldn’t get here immediately. I was tending to…a problem.”
I fought the urge to snarl. “You might have another one.”
I pointed to my car, and she turned just in time to see the tiny child duck into the back, hiding.
“Now, see here…that’s not fair!” Maurice jabbed a thumb at his chest. “That’s
“You had one of
wolves locked in a
,” Alisdair MacDonald said. The words sliced through the air, vicious and feral.
“The kid tried to run! She bit me! She stole my merchandise!”
I started to laugh.
Dair cut me a cold look.
“It was a rubber duck,” I said. The child was currently sound asleep in the other room—with the rubber duck. We could see her through the open door—or I could. The raised voices didn’t disturb her at all, so either she was that exhausted or she was used to them. Either scenario tugged at my heart. “She took a rubber duck. She’s five years old, if that, and she was scared.”
“She’s a thief.” He jabbed his splinted hand at me. “And you…
…I’m filing a complaint against you.”
“I’m quivering,” I drawled.
“Do it,” Dair said, his voice silky. “And I’ll have you before the Assembly on charges of child cruelty.”
Megan said, “Alpha, I’m sure Maurice doesn’t realize that locking her in a closet counts as child imprisonment.” She gave Maurice a polite smile, but the look in her eyes said the opposite—she was sure Maurice
realize it…and he didn’t care.
I was pretty sure of that myself.
“She tried to run away!” Maurice shouted again.
“Then you should have let her.” Dair lifted a shoulder. “You’d notified us. We could have tracked her. Instead you chose to manhandle and traumatize her.”
“If she ran, I didn’t get paid—”
He snapped his mouth shut, but it was too late.
Even if he hadn’t spoken, Dair already knew.
knew. I’d known the moment Megan had mentioned a reward. “You don’t get paid now, do you?”
He waved a dismissive hand. “Megan, see him out.”
Maurice looked like he wanted to argue, but he followed Megan. Just before she would have opened the door, Dair said softly, “Maurice, I expect to still receive phone calls from you should another young wolf end up in your establishment. You know this.”
Maurice gave a jerky nod and then he ducked out, moving like his ass was fire.
I was left alone with Dair.
“I’ll have Megan issue you the fee.”
“Don’t.” Jamming my hands into my pockets, I glared at him. “She was a scared kid. I didn’t do that for money.”
Before he could argue, I asked, “Does that happen a lot? You get calls about kids randomly showing up with no parent?”
“No.” He blew out a quiet breath and tipped his head to the sky. “No, thank God, we do not. But…it does happen.”
Intense dark eyes leveled on me. “There are no easy answers to that—and at the same time, the answers are ridiculously easy. My pack is stable. We have few fights outside those for advancement within the pack, but the same can’t be said for others. Travel a hundred miles from here and you’ll encounter another clan where they’d kill their neighbor simply because they didn’t like the man’s shoes. Children are most often ignored in such fights, but then they are left to fend for themselves.” He shrugged. “Sometimes they end up here. Sometimes…they end up dead.”
He looked away then, weariness seeming to weigh down on him. “That’s simply one explanation. Another…I cannot tell you how many wolves I’ve known who’ve just decided to end it. They leave behind husbands, wives, children, mothers, fathers…”
My mind flashed back to the day I stood on a cold, steep gorge, only moments away from flinging myself over the side.
Dair’s voice dragged me back. “Sometimes they see no other outlet.”
He said nothing else and a strained silence spread between us. Clearing my throat, I rose from the chair. On my way to the door, I swiped my hands down the front of my trousers.
“Thank you for helping the child, Kit.”
“No problem,” I said.
“If there’s anything I can do…”
I paused, then.
“Well, yeah.” Slowly, I looked back at him. “How about some information?”
The promise of bed and oblivion awaited me yet again.
I groaned as I remembered.
He was coming over and my food had been trashed.
I’d been planning on a big dinner, followed by…well, hopefully sex.
Once I’d decided to take the child to the wolf den, I’d just ditched the food. The little girl hadn’t wanted to come out of my car—and the car smelled bad now. I don’t think the poor thing had had a bath in weeks.
I was halfway to my condo before the air cleared and I had another workable menu in mind. It wasn’t red meat, which meant Damon would grumble, but oh well.
The sun had slid below the horizon by the time I pulled into the parking lot.
I didn’t let myself worry.
I was getting better about that.
I couldn’t live my life behind locked doors every time the sun disappeared.
Or maybe I could.
Cold wind brushed down my spine, even though I still sat in my car—my locked car. And the air was still.
That wasn’t the source of the energy, though. It was the vampire.
I couldn’t see him, but I felt him.
Fear screamed through me. Instinctively I flexed my hand. My palm went hot and tight—but there was nothing there. No blade came to my call and the music in my head was gone.