Authors: Zenina Masters
Tags: #Adult, #Erotic Romance, #Fey, #elf, #Paranormal, #Shapeshifter
“In the restaurant. Al is particularly skilled with his hands when it comes to food.” She winked.
“Is he a hedgehog as well?”
“Nope. He is all swan. I like to get him drunk and ruffle his feathers.”
Lyros looked down and his beer was empty. “I suppose this is as good a time as any to go to the Meditation Centre and ask about my missing female.”
“You are that sure about her?”
“The seers are, and she saved my life, so I definitely need to express my thanks.” He bowed slightly and smiled. “I will see you later, Mistress Spike.”
“Bring your lady in, Lord Lyros.” She winked and moved off to attend to the other clients.
He straightened his shoulders and left the Crossed Star. The Meditation Centre glowed warmly in the evening light, and he moved through the glow of the crescent moon to find out if he could change the classification of the woman he was seeking. He really wished that the seers had given him her name.
Lima yawned as she wandered down the street in search of breakfast. The hostel was only a place to sleep. If she wanted food, she had to go get it.
“Lima!” Teal waved at her and beckoned her over.
“Good morning, Teal.”
“Morning. I have something to ask you that somehow got missed during check-in.”
Lima smiled. “Shoot.”
Teal looked around. “Would you care to come inside?”
Knowing that the other woman was uncomfortable, Lima decided to cut her some slack. “Sure.”
Teal walked in and sat cross-legged in front of a table with some scrolls, a tea set and a plate of mouth-watering muffins.
“Help yourself.” Teal smiled and poured two cups of tea.
Lima took a small plate and placed a muffin in the centre of it, breaking it carefully into quarters before popping one in her mouth. It melted away in buttery, blueberry goodness.
Teal placed the tea in front of her and inclined her head. “May I say that I am a little embarrassed that we forgot to ask you this, but would you consider a fey as a mate?”
Lima took the tea carefully and sipped slowly. “Of course. I work with them all the time and have no hang-ups on that score.”
Teal sighed. “That is what he said.”
“Lord Lyros. He has also offered to upgrade you to a bed and breakfast for as long as it takes for you to find a match.”
Lima felt a blush come to her cheeks. “He did?”
“Yes. He came over here last night and asked us if we had offered you the fey-acceptance contract. We were a little embarrassed when we hadn’t.”
Lima shrugged. “You were busy. How did he know?”
Teal grinned. “Apparently, he was looking for you. He could sense you but not see you.”
“Oh.” She remembered his scanning expression but hadn’t realised that the charm on her wrist had hidden her.
She worked on the muffin, and when it was gone, Teal moved the plate aside and showed her the contract.
The scroll opened, and Lima read through the details of what she was being offered. Room and board, any clothing and food she could want, spa treatments, basically every amenity that the Crossroads could offer was at her disposal. She nodded at the mention that if she found a shifter mate, the contract would remain in place. It just wanted her to consider a fey mate.
She gave Teal a sly look. “Can I have another muffin?”
“You can have as many as you like, whether or not you sign the document.”
Lima scribbled her name, pricked her thumb and left her blood on the page. Teal raised her brows at that.
“Sorry. Force of habit. Hyenas do everything in blood.”
“What kind are you? There is a strange aura around you; it throws me off.” Teal sipped at her tea.
“Spotted. Most of the shifter hyenas are striped. I am bigger, meaner, and when I am in shifted form, my junk looks a lot like a male’s. Not my favourite attribute, but it is why I like half shifting. More power and none of the awkward genital jokes.”
Teal blinked. “That would explain the mixed aura. The strength of command is all around you, but the feminine power is so strong, it is frightening.”
Lima shrugged. “I get that a lot.” She reached for another muffin.
While she was reaching, her charm changed. A small gem appeared in it and glittered.
“Well, that was simple.” Lima set the plate back in front of her and divided the muffin again.
“Can I ask why you are doing that?” Teal gestured to the plate.
“Oh, my mother insisted that only those strongest enough to eat do so, so I took to dividing all of my food in quarters and giving it to my siblings. It drove her nuts, but it was my share, and I could do what I wanted with it. As long as there was more than one piece on the plate, I would share, so I broke all my food into small pieces.”
Teal blinked. “Wow. That sounds a little harsh.”
“As a royal swan, you know that expectation can weigh on you.”
Lima watched the other woman stiffen.
“How do you know that I am a royal?”
“I have been to the Stargus home. Your portrait is still above the mantle.”
Teal exhaled. “That is a surprise. Why were you there?”
“I was young and doing security for a gala. I have been in and out of most of the homes of the high families.” Lima chuckled. “That is why I have heard the comment on my aura before.”
Teal smiled with understanding. “Right. Folks do love to quantify everyone around them.”
“And some of us simply defy description.”
Teal suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Just so you are aware, your mother is taking bids for you.”
“That is the next phase of our courtship, so it is not unexpected.”
“Why is she doing that?”
“Well, it is to her advantage to have strong but subservient females near her. I am not subservient, so my mother is trading me for either wealth or political advantage. She isn’t going to want me in a politically advantageous position, so selling me to someone weak and wealthy is to her advantage. Or wealthy and sadistic. Either will suit her purposes.”
Teal made a face. “Ouch.” Teal kept her cup filled.
“Yup. So if I can get a vacation here on the fey and have a chance at finding someone that I choose on my own terms, I would like to do that.” She sipped at the tea and ate the last of her muffin.
Teal grinned. “You have siblings?”
“I do. Two brothers and a sister. The last of them just got married on the weekend. I came here after my mother and I had a bit of a conflict at the reception. I knew she would lash out, so now that my siblings are safe, I am free to find my own mate.”
They settled in and kept chatting. Teal was full of questions, and Lima answered them all. Lima already knew about the history of the guardian in front of her, and there were definite similarities.
When they had finished all the niceties, they got to their feet. Teal said, “I will help you move your things.”
“That isn’t necessary. I only have the one bag.”
“Humour me. I was inattentive to you once; I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”
Lima surrendered, and they walked to the hostel where she cleared out her locker. With her bag over her shoulder, she let Teal lead the way to the Open Heart.
Lima had already met Teebie and explained why she wasn’t staying at the djinn’s fine establishment. Andor smiled a welcome and took her bag from her as she stepped inside the building. He escorted her past the open doorway of the dining room and up the stairs.
Andor chuckled. “Lyros told us last night that you would be joining us, so Teebie made a new room next to his.”
“You mean made up a room?”
He grinned. “No, she made a new one. I offered to try, but she was afraid I would blow a hole in the building.”
“Some things need to be left to the experts.”
“I heartily agree.”
The room he showed her to was a lovely space in gold and black. She loved the colours. They were the same ones she saw every time she shifted.
“Thank you. The room is lovely.”
“It is our pleasure. Lyros told me of your efforts to rescue him and your decisive moves in battle. You made a deep impression on him.”
“No, that was the men who were holding him. I just helped him escape.”
“Don’t sell your actions short.” Andor smiled and bowed. “Breakfast will be served for another hour if you care to come downstairs.”
“I have already had a few muffins.”
“Ah, but we have bacon.”
She winked. “See you in five minutes.”
He left, and she eased the door closed. She took a moment, washed her hands and face and then headed down the stairs to get some coffee. She had consumed the tea out of politeness. She was a true coffee drinker.
Teebie and Andor were sitting at the table, holding hands. It was adorable.
“Good morning, Teebie.” Lima nodded and went toward the sideboard to get some coffee.
“Sit, Lima. The coffee will come to you.” Teebie flicked her free hand, and the pot of coffee lifted and floated to the table.
Lima sat, and the rest of the food, cutlery and crockery floated in one by one. She forked a serving of bacon onto her plate and slid some muffins next to it. She divided the muffins up and did the same to the bacon. Her hosts didn’t comment, so she slowly started eating.
Her first sip of coffee was heaven. When her cup was empty, the floating pot filled it again.
Teebie grinned, “So, you have made an impression on Teal.”
Lima shrugged. “We had a good conversation.”
“It is surprising that you get on so well with the women here. Normally, folk take a subservient posture when they arrive. They let the workers of the Crossroads take control. That was not the case with you.”
“No. I know what I am, what I can do and why I am here. I suck at playing at being something else. I can do it, but I am not good at it.”
Teebie smiled. “How long are you giving yourself?”
“As long as it takes. My mother is trying to sell me back in the human world, so unless I come back with a mate, I am going to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.”
Andor stared. “That is barbaric.”
Lima shrugged. “That is our way. The alpha female has to find places for all those in her immediate family. My sister and one brother were wed to a neighbouring pack, and my brother came here to the Crossroads and found his mate. He snuck away, but he was a male and it didn’t really matter.”
Teebie nodded. “Dira has mentioned that in some of the shifter cultures, selling or trading offspring for advantage is just as common as in the human world.”
“Is Dira here? I thought I heard that she was back at the Crossroads. The guild hall was all abuzz.”
Teebie smiled. “She is. Her control is a little off with her pregnancy, so she has concluded that the Crossroads is the safest place for her to be. Mak is completely fine with it, and they can keep abreast of their business from here.”
“She’s expecting? I hadn’t heard that. That’s wonderful.”
Andor smiled. “The problem lies in her inability to guess at the probable length of her pregnancy. There are no records for a female dragon. Her own parents surrendered to time before she was interested in asking about such things.”
“Ouch. It must be difficult to be one of a kind.”
Andor chuckled. “I believe that one gets used to it.”
Teebie squeezed his hand this time, and Lima watched them as they cuddled together.
She wanted something similar for herself. Someone that she trusted with all of her feelings as well as her secrets.
Lima cleared her plate, drank her coffee, and when there was no idle chitchat left, she took her leave and headed for the path in the woods. She really needed to clear her head.
The thought of meeting Lyros in a public space was actually making her uneasy, and she was a woman who charged into fights with only her senses to guide her.
She needed some time in the woods to get her mind braced for whatever happened next.
“You know, the charms actually make you glow bright, even in the shadows.”
Lima whirled and crouched, facing the speaker with her clawed hands ready.
She didn’t know how she could have missed him; he was sitting on a fallen log and leaning against a tree with one leg drawn up. Dappled sunlight moved across his skin.
She stood slowly. “I see that you are looking much better than when I last saw you.”
Lord Lyros nodded. “Thanks to you. If you hadn’t had the foresight to remove the wards from the floor, I would have burst into flame when you pulled me across them.”
“No one could find you, so it made sense that the glyphs on the floor were keeping your own seers from locating you.” Her hands relaxed back into her human appendages.
He slowly rose to his feet. “We have not been formally introduced.”
She smiled. “No, but I have seen you naked.”
He chuckled. “Lyros Atherton, fey ambassador, at your service.” He bowed and remained in that position for a moment.
“Lima Pellin, hunter of the Shifter’s Guild.” She bowed and straightened gracefully.
He straightened and stepped toward her, taking her hand and pressing a kiss to her knuckles. “I have been looking forward to our meeting.”
He stood upright, and she watched him sway. “Lyros, sit down. You aren’t yourself yet.”
He nodded. “Sound advice. If you had not been so quick to head out here, I would have waited a week and sent the seers’ emissary to convince you to come to the Crossroads.”
He let her help him back to the log, and she settled him back against the tree.
“You were going to have them lure me here?” She smiled.
“I was, and then, I found out that you were here already. I despise rushing.” He stroked her cheek. “But the seers were sure that you were the woman for me, and I am fairly confident that they were correct.”
He shrugged. “A kiss would help in determining things.”
Lima gave a wry smirk. “I don’t know if you are up to it.”
“Well, I am already sitting down, so if you do all the work, I should be fine.”
It seemed sudden but also completely right. She settled beside Lyros and scowled. She couldn’t reach him.