Authors: Sara Humphreys
Copyright © 2012 by Sara Humphreys
Cover and internal design © 2012 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Jamie Warren
Cover images © Stephen Youll’s Photography; Martin Harvey/Jupiter Images
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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“A sibling may be the keeper of one’s identity, the only person with the keys to one’s unfettered, more fundamental self.”
For Megan, Charlie, and Kate…
keepers of the keys.
Why wouldn’t her legs go any faster? Her lungs burned with effort, and sweat dripped down her back as she stumbled blindly through the fog-laden woods. He was right behind her. Always. His energy signature, the spiritual fingerprint that was so distinctly his, rolled around her in the mists. Behind her. Above her. In front of her.
her, but still—she couldn’t see him.
Layla’s breath came in heavy, labored gasps, and a bare branch caught in her long, curly red hair as she tripped over a log. She pulled the tangled strands away, swore softly, and ducked behind the trunk of a giant old elm tree. Layla pressed herself up against it, praying he wouldn’t see her. In response to her silent plea, the fog in the dream realm thickened and provided additional shelter from her relentless hunter.
She’d been able to avoid him so far, but tonight it felt as if he was dreadfully close to finding her—and claiming her. His powerful energy swamped her and stole from her lungs what little breath she had left. She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that the tree and the fog would swallow her up. Could she do that? Could she control the environment of the dream that much? Just as she was about to try, an unfamiliar voice tumbled around her.
Why do you run from me?
smooth, deep baritone flooded her mind and filled every ounce of her being in a shockingly intimate way. The sharp pang of desire zipped through her and made her breasts tingle. The sudden onslaught caught her off guard and had her head spinning.
He’d never spoken to her before. She could barely hear him above the rapid pounding of her heart and wondered for a moment if she’d imagined it.
You did not imagine it.
Please answer my question
Why do you run away from me?
her. It reverberated in her chest just like the deep bass beat of one of her favorite songs.
Why are you afraid of me?
it. Now she was pissed. He was laughing at her? First he haunts her sleep every night for the past two weeks, and now he’s making fun of her? Oh, hell no! Layla’s eyes snapped open, and she expected to find him—whoever he was—standing right in front of her. However, she was met only with the thick fog she’d created.
I’m not afraid of you.
mist. Layla tilted her chin defiantly.
I just don’t want anything to do with you. So why don’t you piss off!
Rich, deep laughter floated softly around her.
You make it sound as if there is a choice in the matter.
You bet your bossy ass there is.
I decide my fate. Me. Layla Nickelsen.
Me. Not you or anybody else.
waited. The beautiful sound of silence encircled her. Was he gone? She sharpened her focus and found him quickly. No. His energy still permeated the dream but had lessened. He had backed off? Interesting.
tree, and the fog retreated in response. She steadied her breathing as her heartbeat slowed to a normal pace. A victorious look came over her face as she found herself gaining control. She pushed her hair off her face and watched the familiar woods where she had grown up come slowly into focus. A satisfied smile curved her lips; she nodded and made a hoot of triumph.
Fate can kiss my ass.
tall, hard, and most definitely male body. Stunned and uncertain of what else he might do, Layla stayed completely still and glanced down to discover that her hands rested on two much larger ones. She could feel his heartbeat against her back as it thundered in his chest and thumped in perfect time with hers.
head, and warm, firm lips pressed an unexpectedly tender kiss along the edge of her ear. Luminous heat flashed through her with astonishing speed, making her breasts feel heavy, and sending a rush of heat between her legs. It took every ounce of self-control to keep from sinking back into his strong, seductive embrace. Her body’s swift reaction was positively mortifying. She shivered, bit her lower lip, and fought the urge to turn around and kiss him. Why, and how, could she be turned on like this? Layla stiffened with disgust at her lack of self-control and her body’s obvious attraction to his.
You cannot outrun your destiny.
low, and his breath puffed tantalizingly along the exposed skin of her neck
sensations, but it was like trying to stop the tide as it throbbed through her relentlessly.
And for future reference, Firefly, the only one kissing your ass—or anything else on your beautiful body—will be me.
The shrill ring of the motel’s wake-up call tore her from sleep. Without even looking, Layla picked up the receiver and slammed it down harder than necessary. For the first time in a long time, she hadn’t wanted her dream to end. That was a switch. She pushed herself up onto her elbows and blew the bed-head hair out of her face. She looked around the cheap motel room and squinted at the sun that streamed so rudely into her room.
“Why can’t the damn curtains ever close all the way in these places?” Her sleepy mumble echoed through the empty room. The memory of last night’s dream was still fresh and raw, which was painfully evident by the heat that continued to blaze over her skin. Layla flopped back down and threw her arm over her eyes. It looked like her bossy stalker was right.
There was no escaping fate.
“Something’s different about you,” Kerry said with a suspicious look in William’s direction. She cocked her head and studied him intently from across the dining room table of her spacious apartment.
“I’m not sure what you’re implying,” William said coolly. “I simply came by to see how the two of you are doing now that you’re married.”
He folded the newspaper neatly and placed it on the mahogany table, exactly in the spot he’d found it. He sipped the cold orange juice and checked his watch, hoping to keep Dante’s irritatingly perceptive mate from knowing just how much her intuitive nature unnerved him.
“On the surface… you look exactly the same.” She waved one manicured hand at him. “Three-piece suit. Hair tied back and not a smile in sight. You seem to be as uptight as ever, the cold bastard most of us have come to know and love.”
“Charming,” he murmured. “What exactly do you mean?”
“I mean,” she said, lowering her voice to conspiratorial levels. “You’re uncharacteristically distracted, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say that your unannounced visit this morning has more to do with
, than it does with Dante and me.”
“Really?” He glanced out the large picture window, pretending to be interested in the New York City skyline as opposed to her observations. “And why would you think that?”
“Well, for starters”—she laughed as she buttered her toast and prepared the rest of her breakfast—“most people don’t just pop in on newlyweds for a visit first thing in the morning, let alone you. I mean, let’s be honest, William. You’re emotionally anorexic, and in the brief time that I’ve gotten to know you, you’ve rarely shown concern. In fact, the only emotion that I think I’ve ever seen you exhibit is anger, but you
been stabbed at the time, so that was certainly understandable.”
“I wasn’t angry,” he said humorlessly. “I was irritated.”
“Forgive me.” Kerry took a bite of her toast. “You were annoyed that you got stabbed, not angry.”
“Hey,” Dante interrupted. Clad in his bathrobe and toweling off his wet head, he sidled up to his mate and gave her a kiss. “I thought you weren’t pissed about that anymore,” he said as he helped himself to some juice. “You know it was an accident. I was trying to kill that crazy Purist bitch Pasha, not you.”
“He wasn’t pissed.” Kerry elbowed him. “He was irritated,” she said in a tone that William assumed was her best attempt at mimicry.
He liked Kerry and appreciated her directness. It was, in his opinion, her finest quality, but he wasn’t in the mood for jokes. Then again, he was rarely in the mood for joking around.
“Ah yes, it’s a feeling I’m familiar with again,” he said pointedly to Kerry.
“See? Something is definitely up with you. A few weeks ago, it took getting stabbed to ruffle your feathers, but now, a little teasing, and you’re already annoyed. Ever since we left New Orleans, you’ve been just a bit… off.” She extended her hand to William and smiled. “C’mon, fork it over.”
He flicked a glance to her outstretched hand and back to a pair of mischievous brown eyes. He knew what she wanted him to do.
Kerry was a hybrid—half human and half Amoveo from the Panther Clan. In addition to the Amoveo abilities inherited form her father, her human mother had passed on her gift of second sight. With one touch she could see inside of people and the secrets they buried deep.
William shook his head. “There’s no need for that.” He turned his attention to Dante. “Your mate is quite perceptive, even without using her second sight.”
“Ha,” Kerry shouted. “I knew it.” She clapped her hands. “What is it?” Her eyes grew wider, and she leaned both elbows on the table as she peered at him. “Wait just a minute. It’s not a
at all… it’s a
… isn’t it?”
“You found your mate?” Dante said with a wide grin. “That’s wonderful news. Is she a hybrid, like Kerry and Samantha?”
“Not exactly.” William stood and straightened his vest.
He walked to the window and looked out over the sea of tall buildings, longing to shift into his gyrfalcon form. He wanted to fly and soar over the world, away from his doubts, because for the first time in his life, he was unsure of himself.
a hybrid.” He kept his back to them, for fear of revealing his uncertainty. “However, there is one very large difference between my mate and yours.”
“What? Is she from some unknown Hamster Clan or something?” Kerry asked with her usual teasing tone.
“No,” William bit out. He kept his hands clamped firmly behind his back and struggled to keep his growing frustration at bay. “She knows what she is.” He finally turned to face them and found them looking as shocked as he had when he realized the truth. “She knows that she is half Amoveo.”
“Wait.” Dante’s brow furrowed with obvious confusion as he looked from William to Kerry. “She knows that she’s a hybrid?”
“Yes.” He nodded in Kerry’s direction. “You were correct about New Orleans. That’s where I found her. It’s Layla Nickelsen.”
“The photographer from my shoot.” Kerry slapped Dante on the arm. “I knew there was something up with her, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.”
“Well”—Dante winked—“you were a bit distracted with your own… issues.”
“Hot damn! Way to go, William!” She wiggled her eyebrows at him. “If memory serves, she’s one spirited chick. Something tells me that you’re going to have your hands full with her.”
“You have no idea,” he mumbled. “Although, the thrill of discovering her has been rather short-lived.” He ran a hand over his face and paced back and forth by the windows, almost forgetting the two of them were even there. “I assumed that she knew nothing of her Amoveo heritage, just like you and Samantha, but when I connected with her in the dream realm… she ran from me. At first, I thought it was because she took the connection for an unusual or unsettling human dream, but last night… she confronted me.”
“Confronted you—how?” Dante asked.
“I’ve connected with her in several dreams over the past few weeks, and she continued to elude me, but last night she stopped running.” William adjusted his tie and smoothed it down, as if it could calm his growing confusion.