Authors: Cynthia Eden Shelly Laurenston
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
All I’d asked was, “Do you think I’m pretty?” And I was a little offended by the silence on the other end of that phone. Is it really that hard for an editor just to tell her writer what she needs to hear? Especially when all she has to say is, “Of course you are!”
Instead, her response was a much more vague, “What does that have to do with what we’re talking about?” And boy, is there
“I don’t want to talk about that,” I say with a dramatic flair I’m quite proud of. “For I am an artist. And artists don’t explain their art. Their art just
I hear a loud noise on the other end of the phone and it sounds as if my editor has accidentally banged her head against her desk…several times. Funny how strange things sound through a cell phone, huh?
“Please, Shelly,” she says after a few moments. “Do this for me.”
“But I’m an—”
“Artist. Yes. I got that. But do this for me because I’m your editor…and I have no problems killing you.”
I frown, convinced I misheard part of what she said. “I’m sorry? I missed that last part.”
“I said, because I’m your editor and I care so much for you.”
And honestly, how can I turn such a loving statement down? I actually had to wipe tears it touched me so deeply.
So here I am, dear reader, to explain that the story you’re about to read is set in the far distant past of 1984 when leg warmers were a fashion choice;
was in the theaters for the first time; and a synthesizer was actually considered a musical instrument. So, break out that Devo or Flock of Seagulls cassette tape and the all-important hair gel (this is of über-importance if you’re from Long Island, New York) and settle back for a little
“Where do you get those stockings from, doc?” growled Niles Van Holtz, Van to his friends and family. Those stockings, with that one sexy line up the back of each leg, were like something out of a 1940s movie. He bet she wore garters too. Man, the woman drove him absolutely crazy and she didn’t even notice.
Cold, brutally pale blue eyes turned and locked on Van. “Ah, yes,” she sighed out. “Niles Van Holtz. My night at these charity functions wouldn’t be complete without your biting wit and continual obsession with my underclothes.”
“Why else do you think I’d drag myself to the science building, of all places, except to see you?”
Van had known a lot of mean women in his time. Coming from a wealthy background filled with lethal predators, he was more surprised to find a nice female than a mean one. But Irene Conridge, PhD several times over and Rhodes Scholar by the time she was fifteen, made mincemeat of them all.
Irene Conridge was what one would call a child prodigy. At least she had been. But at a luscious twenty-five she’d left her “child” anything long behind.
From the time Irene had walked onto the university campus, Van had locked onto her scent and had hunted her relentlessly ever since. She’d been eighteen at the time and Van twenty. He’d thought she was just another freshman. Or, as his buds had liked to call them, freshmeat. But he’d found out quick enough—when she’d coldly laid into him, leaving him standing speechless in the middle of the Square—that she was actually a guest professor. And a big deal. Ivy League universities all over the country and Europe had fought for her. But, for some unknown reason, she’d taken the job at this small but elite university on the border of Seattle, Washington. She’d turned down Harvard, Yale, MIT, Berkley, Oxford…all of them.
No one understood it, but Van did. Why go to a big university with a bunch of other former prodigies when you can go to a smaller one and be Head Shit in Charge? Because Irene had gone “small,” she ruled. They denied her nothing, gave her whatever she needed, and strove hard to keep her happy. In return, Irene kept the university’s name alive in academic circles, had students begging to get into the school so they could enroll in her class—until they actually had to get
one of her classes—and kept the money flowing in. The woman wasn’t charming but somehow she dragged money from some of the richest families in the Northwest. His included.
“Besides, I’m only obsessed with
underclothes, doc.” He knew she
when he called her that. “Tell me, do you wear garters under those clothes?”
“Yes,” she replied plainly. “I don’t like pantyhose. I find them too binding.”
Van couldn’t help himself; he growled again. Enough that she turned and looked at him directly. “Did you just growl at me?”
“It was much more of a purr.”
“No. You’re not. But the fact that a grown man would growl over garter belts is fascinating. I’m sure the psychology department would find you a fascinating test study.”
She frowned, and it wasn’t a frown of annoyance or concern, but one of deep thought. “Am I? I’ve been told I’m cold and quite removed.”
Van had to try really hard not to laugh. To be honest, he didn’t know a colder woman on the planet. Female cavewomen who had been frozen in blocks of ice for millions of years were warmer than Irene. And yet…he simply couldn’t leave her alone.
His sister, who currently floated around the party avoiding anyone who annoyed her, didn’t understand his obsession over that “plain girl,” as she often called Irene. He’d heard it before. Irene called “plain” or, his personal favorite, “not hideous.” But Van didn’t know what they were talking about. The woman was absolutely adorable. Black shoulder-length hair that had an out-of-control curl thing going that made him, for some unknown reason, think constantly of sweaty, rough sex. Full lips he’d seen in more than one wet dream over the years and a regal nose. A long, curvy body she constantly hid behind boring prim and proper power suits in the dullest colors, but she always wore those sexy stockings and killer shoes. It was the eyes that did him in though. He saw eyes like hers on arctic wolves. So pale blue he didn’t really even think of them as blue at all. He’d heard more than a few people call her eyes freakish or disturbing, but he could stare into those eyes forever.
“I bet you’re not really cold, doc. Not underneath it all.”
“Actually, I am. Oh. And Jackie and I have a bet going.” She motioned to her roommate, Jaqueline Jean-Louis, a former child music prodigy. The two women had known each other for years and Jean-Louis taught in the university’s prestigious music department. What Van found fascinating about the whole relationship was the fact that Jean-Louis was a shifter. A jackal, specifically. He always wondered if Irene knew. If she did, she absolutely never showed it. But it wouldn’t be unusual for her not to know. Many shifters went through their entire lives successfully hiding who they really were from the full-humans close to them. It was important to their kind to hide who they were. In fact, hard choices were sometimes made in order to keep their secret.
“Is that right?” he asked, taking a glass of champagne from the tray passing by.
“Yes. I’m convinced you believe I’m a virgin and all this time you’ve been hoping to defile me.”
No matter what he did, he couldn’t keep from choking that champagne right back up.
She simply didn’t understand. For nearly seven years now, the man had sought her out. At every charity event. Every university function. Anything she had to go to in order to fulfill her responsibilities to the university, Niles Van Holtz was there. He wouldn’t pounce right away. He’d wait until she’d finally entertained the thought that he’d decided not to attend and then
. He’d be there. Usually easing up behind her and asking her something rather inappropriate in her ear. You could almost say she’d come to expect it.
Irene looked up into Van Holtz’s handsome face. And he was handsome. Gorgeous, in fact, if you followed the normal societal standards. Dark brown hair that had streaks of white, black, and gray nearly covered those oddly colored eyes of his. Kind of a gold amber or something. She wasn’t really a color person; she left those sorts of decisions to Jackie. Even now the gown Irene wore—a pale silver…thing—her friend had picked out for her.
Van Holtz also had a rather square jaw and a nose she bet once had a deviated septum, based on the way it went crooked right below his brows, and a rather abnormally large neck.
Yes, a very handsome man. And, perhaps, one of the most arrogant beings she’d ever come across. Truly, if she had any emotional investment in this man, she’d be forced to have him wiped from the planet. But Irene had very little emotional investment in anyone. Jackie and Jackie’s boyfriend, Paul, pretty much covered her emotional investment. And she was quite okay with that.
More than okay.
Van Holtz cleared his throat. “Um…and why do you think it would matter to me if you’re a virgin?”
Irene shrugged. “You have that demeanor. I imagine you probably like it when the virgin tells you, ‘Ow! You’re too big. Please, we have to stop!’ And you say”—she lowered her voice several octaves to match Van Holtz’s—“‘Don’t worry. I’ll make it good for you, sweet little virgin girl.’”
Van Holtz stared at her for at least a full minute and Irene began to wonder where Jackie had wandered off to. She brought the woman with her to stop Irene from doing things like this. Saying something that would cause huge repercussions financially. The Van Holtz family gave the university a lot of money and with a stupid attempt at honesty, Irene may have caused that money supply to dry up.
But then Van Holtz threw his head back and laughed, shocking Irene and causing everyone in the room to turn around and stare at them. Not surprisingly, Jackie suddenly appeared at her side.
“What’s going on?” she immediately asked, a lovely fake smile on her face.
“I’m unclear as to whether I’m being laughed at or laughed with,” Irene told her friend.
“Laughed with, doc,” he finally managed. “I promise. You just never fail to amuse me.”
“Knowing that, my life is now complete.”
Jackie tugged a lock of her hair. A signal that she needed to shut up now.
As it happened any time Irene found herself in a conversation with Niles Van Holtz, two people always showed up if they were around. His older sister, the less than pleasant Carrie Van Holtz. And Farica Bader. A woman clearly interested in Van Holtz for herself. The two women surrounded them while eyeing each other cautiously.
“Did I miss something?” Carrie asked her brother.
“Yeah. But I’ll tell you later.” Those amber-colored eyes glanced at Irene. “I was just spending some time with my favorite biophysicist.”
“Why?” his sister asked, and Irene had to appreciate her honesty. Of course, Jackie didn’t. And she gave a little warning snarl that almost made Irene smile. Except Irene didn’t smile. When she did it felt weird and uncomfortable. So she never bothered unless caught off-guard.
“Van,” Farica breathed huskily, going up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek, “I missed you at last week’s get-together.”
“Sorry, Farica.” Van Holtz swiped a quick kiss across the back of her knuckles, but his eyes stayed focused on Irene. “I had to go to San Francisco to check on the new restaurant.”
“I thought your father handled that sort of thing.”
“Normally he does,” he murmured, his eyes traveling down Irene’s dress and back up again. “But lately he’s become quite the demanding prick.”
“Perhaps he’s considering retirement.” And even Irene could hear the hopefulness in that cold, cultured voice. The Baders were a small family but clearly had hopes of becoming more powerful among the Seattle elite. Connections with the Van Holtzes would ensure that. Especially marriage. Although from what Irene had heard these past seven years, getting Niles Van Holtz down the aisle would take a team of oxen and many chains. The man never stayed with one woman for any length of time, although he may go back and forth between his favorites.
Sex. It all had to do with sexual intercourse. Something Irene actively avoided if at all possible. As she’d told Van Holtz, she wasn’t a virgin. Two years at MIT ensured that. But she’d never enjoyed it and she’d tried it with several different partners. She found the whole process rather revolting. She had the distinct feeling she’d one day have to explain that to Niles Van Holtz so he could stop looking at her like his next conquest. As handsome as he was, the idea of getting naked with him and writhing around did nothing but make her feel slightly ill. It wasn’t him per se. It was the physical act itself.
Irene shuddered a bit merely thinking about it.
Van Holtz stepped closer, invading her personal space. “Are you cold?”
“No,” she answered plainly. “Just disgusted.”
“Why? Did you look in a mirror recently?” Farica commented.
Irene didn’t even blink. She’d been insulted by Farica before and she never worried about it. The woman had her own painful insecurities to deal with, lashing out at Irene gave her little satisfaction, and Irene refused to be baited. But Van Holtz turned on Farica Bader so fast, the woman took several steps away from him only to crash into his sister. The unholy smile on that woman’s face made it clear Carrie Van Holtz would happily throw Farica into a pool of sharks if the opportunity presented itself.
But Jaqueline, Irene’s self-appointed protector, moved forward, her hands curled into ready-to-fight fists.
With a sigh, Irene grabbed her friend’s arm and dragged her back. “Come on, Jack. I want to show you my new computer. In my office.” Irene walked off, Jackie stomping behind her.
She didn’t bother to turn around and look at Van Holtz or his sister. As with most human beings, she’d already forgotten about them as soon as she stepped out into the hallway and headed up the stairs to her office.
“Don’t ever speak to her that way again,” Van snarled. If they were on a hunt, he’d have Farica Bader on her back, belly exposed, with his jaw wrapped around her throat.
If she thought knocking down Irene would somehow endear her and her tiny Pack to Van, she was sadly mistaken.
“I didn’t realize you were so attached, Van.”
“I’m not attached. It was mean. Unnecessarily so. Do you beat up kittens, too?”
Carrie stepped between the two of them. “Go away, Farica. My brother is not interested in you. And I’d hate for us to have to wipe out your Pack for, ya know, amusement.”
With a last glare, Farica turned on her overpriced shoes and stormed away to lick her wounds.
“Tell me you never slept with her.”
“Are you high?” Van slammed his now-empty champagne glass on another tray moving by. The fact that those trays were attached to actual human beings, he rarely noticed. “That woman wants one thing. And that’s to be marked and mated to a Van Holtz. I’d rather chew off my own arm.”
“I’m glad to hear that. But”—and Van knew he was about to have one of those painful conversations with his big sister—“I want to see you mated and happy one day to someone. Like I am. But preferably not to Irene Conridge.”
Van snorted. “Mated? With Irene? Wait. Let me rephrase that. Mated? With
Not going to happen, big sister.”
“You have no intention of marking anyone as your own?”
“Christ, what a load of shit Mom and Dad handed you. And you’ve bought into it. I thought you were smarter than that.” The idea that biting a female made her yours forever to the exclusion of every other pussy available seemed beyond ridiculous. Van didn’t believe any of those old She-wolves’ tales. He simply had too much sense. Not only that, but he’d never give up having access to an array of females. Why should he? If they were there, wet and ready, he would fuck them. He kind of saw it as his civic duty…yes, he
“To answer your question, no. I don’t plan to mark anyone”—he used air quotes here—“‘as my own.’ I have way too much sense to do that to myself.”