Authors: Abigail Drake
“Do the women hunt, too?”
Michael shook his head. “They can’t. It’s forbidden because the risk is too great. The Moktar discovered if they impregnate Traveller women, the resulting babies would have a touch of our powers. Our women don’t leave the compound unless it’s during the day and only with an escort. If the Moktar got them, they would be gang raped. If no child resulted, they’d have their heads cracked open and the Moktar would fight to the death over their hypothalamus.”
I took a shaky breath. “Lovely.”
Michael watched me closely. “You’re handling this extremely well.”
I yawned. “I have a low tolerance for alcohol and a high tolerance for weirdness. Also, I spent years in the southern pageant circuit. Brain eating Moktars are only slightly worse than some of the stage mothers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. So Andy was fast because he was half Traveller?”
“He’s an anomaly. Usually, only babies born to Traveller women have these powers.”
“Are there many mixed marriages?”
“It happens, but it’s frowned upon.”
“Why?” Suddenly, I was very interested in examining the remaining contents of my wine glass.
“Some people feel babies born of mixed blood are…wrong. It’s the same sort of nonsense that keeps us from going to school and turns our women into nothing but housewives and breeding machines.”
“Speaking of Traveller women, why did Margaret call the council?”
He frowned. “She thinks you’re a threat because of her dream.”
“What if the council agrees with her?”
He reached for my hand. “It’s not going to happen. I won’t allow it.” He started to stroke the back of my hand with his thumb, which almost made me forgot what we were talking about.
“Your dad said this council thing wasn’t just about me. What did he mean?”
Michael stood and pulled me to my feet. I wobbled a bit, so he held my shoulders a moment to steady me.
“You’ve heard enough for the night, little Dweller.”
enough for the night, too. I’m three sheets to the wind.” I swayed, giving him a loopy smile.
He took me into his caravan and helped me slip out of my jacket and shoes. I changed into my pajamas in his bathroom and insisted on brushing my teeth and washing my face before he tucked me into bed. Being a little sloshed didn’t mean forgetting about basic hygiene.
“Thank you for telling me the truth,” I murmured as I laid my head down on his pillow.
“We’ll see if you still thank me in the morning,” he said with a wry little smile.
I heard him take off his jacket and boots, and then felt the weight of his body as he climbed into bed. I sighed contently, just knowing he was close.
“It’s wrong, you know.”
“What’s wrong?” Michael’s voice was a soft rumble.
“What they did to the burakamin. What they do to you.”
“Sweet dreams, Emerson,” he said, and I felt his lips brush my forehead as I closed my eyes and fell fast asleep.
This is a dog eat dog world, and you just came in wearing pork chop underwear.
I woke up kissing Michael Nightingale. We’d been asleep, and somehow our lips brushed and clung together, causing a sweet quickening of my heart. A very pleasant way to start the morning. When I pulled back and opened my eyes, his face was inches from mine.
“What about everything I told you last evening?”
His voice sounded scratchy and deep, heavy from sleep, but we were both completely awake now. That single chaste kiss had worked better than any alarm clock. I reached up and touched his cheek. He needed a shave, his skin prickly under my fingers, and I noticed a little bruise near his eye that hadn’t quite healed yet, but to me he was perfect. He was also worried, his blue eyes filled with caution and doubt.
“It doesn’t change anything,” I said.
Everyone had a weak point, something that made them open to attack. I’d become a master at seeing these vulnerable spots, the reason I had won a bunch of martial arts medals and a few beauty pageant titles as well. Michael might be big and strong and arrogant, but he had a weakness. He fully expected rejection.
“How can you be so calm?” He pushed a strand of hair out of my eyes, gently caressing the curve of my ear.
“Would you rather I freak out?”
“That would be the normal response,” he murmured.
“I’m not exactly normal. At least we have that in common.”
“You believe me?” Pain and doubt hid under his words.
“Of course I do.” I took a shaky breath. “You’re keeping me safe from the monsters. You might prefer wearing black, but you’re one of the good guys.”
He stared at me a moment, stunned, and then leaned forward to kiss me again, in earnest this time. A flood of emotions rushed over me as his tongue met mine. Hesitant at first but soon demanding and hungry, he ignited a frantic need inside me. I couldn’t help myself. I stuck my hands under his shirt, stroking his smooth, warm skin and running my fingers up and down his back, but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to caress every inch of him. I wanted his naked body touching my naked body, and I wanted that now.
When he pulled his shirt off, I gasped. His torso, covered in tattoos, formed a complex maze of Celtic symbols. That wasn’t the only thing I found interesting.
“Oh, lordy. Nipple rings. I knew it.”
Small, silver, and very erotic, when I stroked them he made a noise like a growl deep in his throat that sent shivers of pleasure through my entire body. I got even happier when his big, calloused hands went under my shirt, caressing the delicate skin of my stomach and sliding up my rib cage.
As soon as his hands reached my breasts and slid under my bra, common sense should have clicked in, but it didn’t. I arched against him wantonly. I didn’t even notice he had taken my shirt and bra off until I felt his lips on my body. His mouth, delightfully warm, and the air so cool, made my entire body react.
When he brought his head up, he was breathing hard. His eyes met mine as his hand found the waistband of my pants, and then he froze, turning his head to one side and listening.
“Is that your phone?” he asked his voice, rough.
The faint sounds of “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” came from my backpack. I squealed and fell off the bed, pulling my shirt back on as I reached for it. My shirt was both backwards and inside out, but it didn’t matter. I waved my hands at Michael frantically.
“Put your shirt on,” I hissed, holding the phone in my hands. “It’s my daddy.” Michael gave me an absolutely incredulous look, but he complied.
“Hi, Daddy.” My voice seemed louder than usual, and I was afraid my father might somehow know I’d almost been doing the horizontal mambo with Michael Nightingale.
“Did I wake you up, lazy bones?”
“Oh, no. I was studying. Anatomy.” Michael had gone into the bathroom, but he stuck out his head when he heard that. I winced, and he gave me a sexy little grin.
My father paused. “You’re taking an anatomy class?”
“Ha, ha.” I tried to make it sound like a natural laugh, but I was buying time. “I meant, anatomy of…a poem.”
Michael came out of the bathroom, flopped back on the bed, and pretended to applaud. Silently, of course. I waved a hand at him in irritation. “Sorry, I was distracted. How is Grandma Sugar?”
My father caught me up on all of the news, and it pulled at my heart just to hear his voice. His normal Sunday morning call and everything seemed the same back in Kentucky, but for me everything had changed. I now lived in a world where monsters, gypsies, and chariots of fire and lightning existed.
I hung up the phone and turned to Michael. “I have to go back in December whether that thing is dead or not.”
“I’ll get you home to him, Emerson. Promise.”
I nodded, trying to convince myself it was true. “I know you will.”
I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and freshen up. My face glowed pink from rubbing against Michael’s stubbly cheeks, and my lips felt warm and a little swollen. I touched my mouth. Thinking about his kisses did funny things to my insides.
Splashing my cheeks with cold water, and patting them dry with Michael’s towel, I realized two important things. First of all, Michael’s towels were fluffy and white and his bathroom absolutely pristine, odd for a guy his age. Secondly, I’d been completely wrong about what I wanted from him. Maybe hanging around Lucinda and her revolving door of sexual partners had made me think I could have a casual fling and go home none the worse for wear, but now I knew the truth. I wasn’t that kind of girl and nothing with Michael would ever be easy or casual.
When I walked back into the bedroom, Michael had made the bed and lay sideways on it reading my
“You find any useful makeup tips in there?”
He held it up and showed me what he was reading. “It’s a quiz. ‘Are You Desirable?’ I want to see how I score.”
“Oh, you’re desirable. Trust me.”
I grabbed it out of his hands and shoved it into my backpack. “About this morning…” I began, and turned away, not sure what to say. I tried to think of something from
The Art of War
that would help me with this situation, but Sun Tzu left me high and dry. After chasing Michael all over York, I’d finally caught him and now didn’t know what to do with him.
He walked up behind me and turned me around to face him. “If you’re talking about the kissing, you needn’t worry. It won’t happen again.”
“It can’t.” He touched my hair, wrapping a curl around his finger. “You remind me of a painting I once saw of an angel. She had the same golden hair, the same innocence.” He let it go, his hands falling back to his sides, his eyes haunted. “I’m the farthest thing there is from an angel, Emerson. I kill for a living.”
“Monsters, not people.”
He shrugged, the famous Michael Nightingale shrug. “It’s all one and the same.”
I wanted to shake him. “No, it’s not.”
“It’s better for you if I keep my distance. Trust me.”
I blew out a sigh, ready to take a chance and leap into the deep end without my floaties on. “What if I don’t want you to?”
He laughed, but it held no humor. “You’ll grow to hate me and everything I stand for because we aren’t the same. Face facts, Emerson. I’ll bring you nothing but heartache. We aren’t just from different countries and different social classes. I’m as much a monster as the creatures I battle every night.”
As soon as he spoke, I understood. Sun Tzu hadn’t deserted me. He’d taught me to listen to my gut, and my gut told me Michael needed a slap upside the head.
I snorted. “Don’t be such a drama queen.”
His blue eyes were incredulous. “A drama queen?”
“You want to be with me just as much as I want to be with you, and don’t you dare deny it.”
Michael’s faced reddened. I’d touched a nerve. “If you keep throwing meat at a dog, eventually he’ll bite. What I feel is a physical reaction, and well under my control.”
Michael glowered down at me from his great height. I tilted my chin up and looked him straight in the eye. He’d thought he could offend me with his words, and fully expected me to run away and hide in a corner, but he didn’t know me very well. He’d just issued a challenge, and I could never resist a challenge.
I stood on my tiptoes, wrapped my arms around his neck, and pulled him down so I could kiss him. He responded immediately, his arms encircling my waist and his velvety tongue dancing with mine. In minutes, we were both panting, but this time I pulled away first.
“Liar, liar pants on fire.”
He was about to answer when we heard a knock at the door and his father’s voice. “They’ve come, Mikey. The council is here. Get dressed and bring the lass with you. You have an hour.”
“We’ll talk about this later.” Michael’s voice was tight, and his words carefully enunciated. I couldn’t resist giving him another kiss on the cheek.
“Whatever you say, darlin’.”
I wasn’t sure how to dress for a gypsy council meeting and a funeral, but did my best. I dried my hair with a towel, and put on a gray cashmere twinset and a narrow black skirt with black stockings and flats. I stuck on a strand of pearls and some pearl earrings, and put a touch of color on my lips. I thought about doing more makeup, but decided against it. Today was a funeral for a sixteen-year-old boy. It wasn’t a party.
“Travellers will come from all over the north of England,” Michael explained as he handed me a large cup of coffee. I stood next to him, letting the warmth from the cup seep into my hands. He’d brought in a tray of breakfast food, and had gone somewhere else to shower and dress, changing into a black suit with a white shirt and a narrow black tie. He looked delectable, and at least his signature color happened to be perfect for funerals. I wondered if that was on purpose.
“I noticed a lot of the men shave their heads.”
“The Moktar use hair to keep a scent. It helps them follow their prey.”
“That’s why it took some of mine?” I swallowed hard, setting down my coffee.
He read the fear in my face, probably pretty easy to do. “I’ll keep you safe, Emerson.”
“I know you will.” I reached out to touch his cheek, and he didn’t jump away. In my book, that was progress.
He reminded me of a feral kitten I once found in Pappy George’s shed. At first, it was terrified and hissed and struck out every time I came near it, but I wouldn’t give up. I brought it food every day, making it come closer and closer, until finally it allowed me to pat its soft little head. It never became a house cat, and it always had a certain wildness within it, but, eventually, it grew to know me and even rubbed against my legs when it saw me. I figured the same strategy would work on Michael Nightingale. Proximity was the key. He just had to get used to me. I slid onto the chair next to him; close enough my thigh touched his. Then I smiled at the perplexed look on his face, and ate my breakfast.
Today we had sausages, beans, eggs, and toast. Starving, I slathered rich marmalade on my toast and ate everything on my plate. I had several cups of coffee, too. When the time came to leave for the meeting, I was fully alert and ready to rumble.