Bewitching the Werewolf By Caroline Hanson Also by Caroline Hanson: Love is Darkness Love is Fear (Dec. 2011) Copyright Carrie Avila 2011 Published by Host of the Hills Publishing at Smashwords Cover Illustration by Kim Van Meter. This is a work of fiction any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author. Chapter 1 “I don’t get paid enough to deal with a werewolf that can’t get laid.” My boss frowned at me. He was under the mistaken impression that I didn’t have enough tact. The truth was, I had no tact. My co-worker claims that this frown—the one that makes a groove in my boss’s forehead the size of the grand canyon—is reserved for me. Who says I’m not special? “Zackary Connor is the pack master and is willing to make it worth your while for making the trip out there.” I did an eyebrow raise to show mild interest. Hmmm, money? “How long will it take?” “It shouldn’t take longer than a full moon. The problem isn’t so much that he can’t choose a mate but that he won’t.” “It kills me to say this, but has this guy taken a look at my love life? The odds of me being able to help him score seem low to slightly above non-existent.” “Since he doesn’t want your advice, it shouldn’t be a problem. And let’s be clear: he’s not paying for your attitude. Go in there, do a little love spell to get this thing going and leave.” “By ‘this thing’ do you mean his penis? Because that’s a different spell and, boy, will it cost extra.” I gave him my innocent-eyed expression. He took a deep breath and looked out the window, no doubt fantasizing about being far away from me. He was just too easy to irritate. Fortunately, I’m the best Wiccan in a two state area. So my personality literally can’t get me fired. “Okay. Here is the file. You are expected to show up tomorrow. How does that work for you?” “The full moon is four days away! What the heck am I going to get done in four measly days? I thought you meant next month.” “He wants you there now,” my boss said flatly and then he turned his shiny bald head back to his computer screen. I gave him a sarcastic salute and left. Where the hell was I going? Chapter 2 Twenty-four hours later, I was shown into a large office with an amazing view of path lush forests and a gurgling stream. I was 40 miles from anywhere. The beaten was now only visible by GPS. Zackary Connor’s office building was made of glass, endless windows giving the impression of being outside. It was exactly how I liked nature—air conditioned and bug free. The door opened and a well-preserved blonde in a black Chanel suit walked in. She was preceded by a roll of energy that was a pleasant yellow color. Werewolf. She extended her hand and I took a step back. “I’m sorry but I can’t shake your hand. It messes with my magic.” She raised a well-plucked eyebrow at me. “Fine. I’m Nancy Connor. Thank you so much for coming.” “Oh. Hi.” “I was hoping to get a chance to speak with you before my son arrived. You must understand how distressing it is that your services are needed. My son is very conflicted over the situation and… well, don’t let him run you off.” Great. “He didn’t hire me, did he?” I asked. I could see the answer already. “In time, I’m sure he would have.” There was a painful pause where we didn’t make eye contact and each tried to think of something to say. “Don’t worry he doesn’t bite.” She laughed. I was expected to laugh. The classic dog bite joke used to reference a werewolf. Hysterical, I thought sarcastically. “What would you like me to do? Magic is tricky, especially with something like a love spell or lust spell. If he’s not open to it, it’s very unlikely to work at all. A deep voice that raised every hair on my body came from the doorway. “My mother has a knack of getting to people first. It’s very irritating.” The hottest man I had ever seen was standing in the door. If this man couldn’t get it up, that was a crime against humanity. I had a sudden impulse to provide some pro bono work, emphasis on the bono. He came forward slowly, looking me up and down, a flash of gold glinting across his green eyes. Sure, he was tall, dark and handsome but he was more too. Chocolate hair with a hint of a wave, expensive suit…did I mention the hair? Most werewolves have long hair and run around in crappy clothes. More Russell Crowe while this guy was very 007. The excuse being that they’re more in touch with their ‘animal.’ Plus, they don’t want to ruin good clothes by wolfing-out in them. But that’s no reason for bad hygiene. This guy didn’t seem like a werewolf at all. He seemed like an Ivy League over-achiever. One of those guys one reads about but never meets—at least not when he’s single. He should be married to some wasp whose parents came over on the Mayflower. Like his mother. He gave me a polite smile. “I’d offer to shake your hand, but I understand that’s not the proper Wiccan greeting.” Zackary had a relaxed air about him, as though he didn’t mind that I was standing in his office talking to his mom about his ability to get off. Sure, he didn’t. “That’s right, we don’t do well with physical contact.” Zackary was staring hard at his mother, wanting her to leave while she studiously looked out the window, pretending to be oblivious. I thought I’d give him his money’s worth. “Mrs. Connor, it was very nice to meet you. Will I see you again?” She snorted indelicately and turned towards the door, then paused and went back to her son. Nancy seemed like a bit of a Ball-buster and I wondered if she was going to berate him in front of me. She touched his chest, stroking his tie lightly as though it had a crease. It didn’t. “Zack. Please.” She sounded delicate and a bit sad. “Just try.” He squeezed her arms and she backed away, going out the door and closing it. Zack walked past me to the window, standing in the same spot I had just left. He could have been looking at the view but werewolves were odd. They were obsessed with smells and energy. So it was possible he was drawn to that space simply because I had stood there. Who knew? “Well, Miss Stephens, you’ve met my mother and survived the encounter.” “Oh, yes. She’s still trying to charm me. But if things don’t work out I wouldn’t mind an armed escort back to my car.” He looked back at me, his gaze perusing me from my feet to face in a quick flicker. “Does that work?” “What?” Why was my heart beating so fast? “Charming you?” I wanted to giggle or make some odd noise to show how squeamish I was with any flirtatious overture. I knew I was deluding myself, even impotent this guy was way out of my league. How depressing. I sat down in a leather chair that faced his massive desk. There were some papers on it, but it was neither a mess nor so clean that I would have had to wonder if he actually worked. “Charm works better than shouting,” I said, holding onto the conversation like grim death. He gave me an odd expression and turned away from the window before sitting down behind the desk. He rubbed his hand across his forehead as though he had a headache and sighed deeply. “I’m sorry. Things have been stressful around here.” “Mr. Connor-” “Please, call me Zack.” “Zack, the file was a little vague as to what the problem is. But I don’t have to be here. If you want me to leave, I can come up with some reason to get your mother’s money back.” He leaned back in the chair and watched me inscrutably. “First of all, it’s my money. I did hire you. But it was at the Council’s insistence. We are the oldest werewolf pack in America, but we are no longer the most powerful. They think it’s time I took a mate. I’m thirty. I respect that and I’d feel the same way if I was lower in the pecking order. But….” Here he paused, then drummed his fingers against the table nervously. Crap. I‘d be nervous too if I had to tell someone I couldn’t get it up. “The wolf is a part of me and it’s refusing to choose a mate. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s not just me that’s the problem. It’s the wolf. We…play and flirt with the females, but when it’s a bonding time, the wolf is not just resistant but refuses. And it’s creating instability in the pack. “What’s the worst case scenario?” I asked. “The pack dissolving. They wouldn’t have any other choice but to leave. The only way for a wolf to produce offspring is for the alpha to be in a mated pair.” “Why?” “I thought you were the supernatural expert?” he said, a faint sadness lingering around him, making his aura a little purple. He took this as a personal failure. “I’ve only heard rumors. Why pass up the chance to get it straight from the… wolf’s mouth?” He gave me a wan smile. “I subscribe to the theory that it’s related to resources. Just as a human woman won’t ovulate if she’s starving, our females won’t go into heat unless the pack is likely to thrive.” I nodded and blushed. “Have you ever had intercourse?” I found I was whispering. Very seriously, brow furrowed, Zack leaned forward, his fingers laced together on the desk as he brought his face closer to mine, “Yes. I’m not impotent. But thanks for whispering.” “Thank god for that!” I said, then tried to cover up my totally irrelevant enthusiasm, “That makes it easier to fix…hopefully…I’m sure we’ll get you—” Please, don’t let me say aroused “Uh… up and at ‘em in no time.” I was on the verge of having a hot flash like my Aunt Maurine. He looked like he was enjoying my discomfort. “Oh, really?” “Yes! We’re gonna get a handle on this—fix this, asap!” I think he looked briefly at my chest, and then, I think he said, “I hope you do get a handle on the situation.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean it suggestively, that he was just repeating my own words back to me, but my libido heard it differently and I almost combusted on the spot. He cleared his throat and adjusted his tie a little, which was a bit endearing. Then he started talking again. “People have been waiting for me to find a mate for years. Did you know that an alpha mates young? I should have been mated at 25. But they were patient with me. Now the patience is gone. If you can’t do it-- raise a spark in me or help me find my mate-- I’ll have to come up with something else. I don’t know what but I can’t leave these people with no children. I can’t fail them.” “And there is no one you want?” “Look. I’ve tried. I’ve dated. I’ve slept around. I’ve been to other packs and felt the moon’s call with them but there has never been that click. A wolf mates forever. It’s instantaneous and we know. That’s what I’ve been told. But not for me.” The thought of him sleeping around really bugged me but it was none of my business. I tried to push the jealousy away. He turned and looked at me then picked up a crystal paperweight from his desk, tossing it up and down in his hand absently. “The council believes I need to be more aggressive, take more partners until the beast decides.” “They want you to sleep around.” He gave a small smile, “Yeah, why am I arguing right?” “Why are you arguing? Isn’t it like a male fantasy to sleep with everyone in sight? Be panted over by lots of hot…bitches?” I wondered if it was alright to say bitches since they were female dogs. It should be technically correct. “I’m not sure if I can say this without sounding like an asshole but…I’ve done that. I’ve slept around and I’ve played the field. Now I’m ready to…possess. I want to own my mate and be owned in return. That’s what missing. I don’t want to fuck every woman hoping she’ll be the one, but it’s getting to the point where something drastic will have to happen.” He scrubbed his face with his hands and then he looked at me with an earnest, almost pleading look. “My whole life I have expected to find my soul mate. I’ve seen it happen to others over and over…everyone says when it happens you know. So I thought I would. Now I wonder if I missed it or if maybe there is something wrong with me.” “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you,” I said on a dreamy sigh. He frowned at me. “Sorry. Okay, how can I help you?” “Shouldn’t you know the answer to that question?” There was no animosity in his voice, but I could tell he was at a bit of a loss. “You are exactly right.” And if you were not messing with my hormones I’d have a game plan. I stood up. “So, I’m gonna go and think about this and come up with a plan. I will need to see you interact with the pack and with… the females. A little hocus pocus and hopefully you’ll be poking your one true love in no time.” Oh man, I really said that. I was backing towards the door, while he looked at me like I was an injured bird he might have to put out of its misery. “Fine. There is an auction tonight. A fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy at 7pm. I’ll pick you up at 6:30.” I blinked. He smiled and I almost said something obscene. Little lines appeared at the corners of his eyes, and a trace of a laugh line was on each side of his mouth. Zack was even hotter when he was happy. Figured. “We only run around naked and eating rabbits on the full moon. Most of the time we are quite civilized.” “Oh.” Not my wittiest response. And then I bolted. Chapter 3 I took the opportunity to dress up very seriously. It sounds stupid, but I have a thing for little black dresses. Especially when they are on a clearance rack. And it happens a lot, because all women love a little black dress, and yet, have nowhere to go. Hence, they go on clearance until some chump like me comes along and buys it. Even though I know I’ll just stick it in my closet and watch it turn grey from dust. But not tonight! There was a knock on the door at 6:30 sharp. I opened the door and there was Zack. He was wearing a tux. An expensive, custom made tux, which meant that not only did I get to see how square his broad shoulders were, but I could see his lean waist and imagine the washboard abs that were undoubtedly rippling with every breath. Dogs aren’t the only ones who drool. “Hi. You look wonderful.” He was looking me up and down like he meant it. I blushed and beckoned him inside. I just needed perfume and my purse. He followed me in, glancing around the room. I grabbed my perfume off the bed and was about to spritz it on when Zack spoke up. “Sorry, could you not put perfume on? I’ve got a massive headache and my super power is a heightened sense of smell.” He seemed apologetic. “Sure. No problem.” Super-smell? I couldn’t imagine that was much of a plus. “I already put on body lotion. Hopefully it’s not too strong.” I wasn’t sure what else to say. I’d never had to apologize for smelling good before. “Do you want me to get rid of your headache?” He looked at my lips. “Can you do that?” I tried desperately not to lick them or slap my hand over my mouth to hide myself away from him. “Yeah. Start getting your money’s worth, huh? Just sit down.” He unbuttoned the jacket of his suit and sat down on the bed. The only chair was covered in clothes. There is no magic spell for putting clothes away, trust me. My stomach flip flopped. I had this desperate urge to push him back and climb on top of him. Hot, hot, man. Trapped in my room. And now he’s on my bed. Unbuttoning his clothes. Yowzah. Zack looked at me, his nostrils flaring slightly and I had this sudden and profound worry that he could smell my desire. His hands went to his thighs and he rubbed his pants briefly as though cold. “Or I could give you an Advil?” I said, hoping he’d take me up on it. It was entirely possible I would sexually assault him if I got too close. And I think that might be enough to get me fired. His gaze met mine before sliding down my body like I was a bloody steak. It was the wolf who was watching me now. Cold and calculating instead of the Ivy League businessman. His voice was little more than a growl that vibrated through me. “No. You do it.” Oh mama. I took a step closer to him and then another, so that I was standing right between his legs. A chair would have been better-- then I could have stood behind him. But the only thing worse than standing between his legs would be crawling onto the bed behind him. He leaned back, tilting his head up so he could watch my face. He appeared relaxed but I didn’t see how he could be. He inhaled as I came close to him, eyes closing in a long blink. When he opened them again, they were golden. I raised my hands to his hair while he watched me. My fingers sank into the soft mass and I think one of us moaned aloud. His hair was soft but crisp, thick and dense. I felt his aura, had to push through the invisible barrier to reach him. Zack was the alpha for his pack. All that energy tightly coiled around him, protected him and gave him some natural immunity to witchcraft unless I was able to get underneath it. I shivered, then breathed deeper, trying to relax and let his aura coat mine and focus on him alone. After a few moments, I looked down at Zack. “Are you staring at my chest?” “No. That would be wrong,” he said, still staring at my breasts that were inches from his nose. “Can you relax and try to open yourself up a little so I can reach you?” “Open myself up a little,” he murmured, like he didn’t quite understand. He shifted a little and I felt him try to accept me, my aura suddenly merging with his. It was a little disorienting, like I was suddenly me and a little bit someone else. I took several deep breaths, trying to calm myself down and channel my energy and magic from me to him. Magical energy that nipped across my nerves like red ants swept up my body, seeped from my core and heart down through my arms, into my fingers and into him. His hands tightened on the bedspread and I felt his whole body go tense. It shouldn’t hurt but he looked like he was in pain. “I’m almost there.” “Tell me about it,” he mumbled darkly. Uh-oh. Magic is unpredictable. It affects different people in different ways. Sometimes it’s relaxing, other times it hurts and, occasionally, magic is pleasurable. Even pleasurable magic has levels, it can feel like that fleeting sensation one has on that first bite of ice cream. Or it can be like an adrenaline rush that makes one’s heart pound and steals your breath. And every now and again, if the chemistry is just right, the planets are aligned, gods are smiling down upon you, etc., it can feel like that shining moment just before orgasm. And there is always a backlash. A fraction of whatever they are feeling comes back to me along with the magic. Or in this case, the pain from his headache. And it was just about to hit me. I’ve done this awhile. I knew which category he fell into and I also knew that if we were not careful we’d have sex on this bed-- fundraiser and gainful employment be damned. I tried to brace myself a little. Like adjusting my stance for a punch. But the magic returned to me, slamming into me like a WWF wrestler on Crank. The magic had me damp and panting, feeling desperate and empty. My body felt like one of those videos of a flower blooming at high speed. I swayed forward, arching my body closer to his, forearms along both sides of his head, almost shoving his face into my cleavage as I tried to reel the magic back into my body. With a moan, I climbed onto the bed, my thigh sliding along the outside of his so I could straddle him and shove him back onto the bed. Instantly, his hand grabbed onto me, just below my ass, pulling me into him with a guttural noise. His other arm wrapped around my waist, hauling me into his lap, his fingers sliding my little black dress up to my hips so he could press his erection flush against my core. This was very bad. He was huge, hard and perfect against me. Impotence was definitely not the problem. Any second now he was going to throw me down on the bed and take me. His aura had changed, spiked with desire and passion, his hands were on my waist, trembling in agitation to move as he held still. “It’s almost done. Just a second!” I gasped out. His fingers clenched against my skin, moving along the silky material so he had a good grip on each cheek as he tried to get me a little closer to his cock. My magic sped through him like a tornado instead of a breeze, the areas of pain and tension like a red neon sign blurred in the fog. My aura coated his, dissipating the tension, channeling it back into me. It was quick, no more than a few seconds. I pulled my magic back out of him, neutralizing it and pushing it away from me. The magic was gone but the desire wasn’t. Don’t fuck the client. I jerked backwards, nylons making my legs slippery on the bedspread. I was falling to the floor but he caught me, righting me so we both stood, facing each other. I pulled away from him and went to the chair, sitting down with a thunk, on top of all the clothes. Zack sat back down on the bed, his head in his hands as he took deep breaths. Now he really looked like a man in pain. Very calmly, head still in his hands as he looked at the floor, he said, “You know, we used to have a witch on retainer. And it never felt like that.” Then he turned, a very forbidding and closed expression on his face as he scrutinized my appearance. “Magic is unpredictable. That was my fault. I should have shielded differently… uh, it won’t happen again. We don’t want to be late.” I stood up and grabbed my purse from the table, making a beeline for the door. I reached for the handle but he was right behind me, hand on the door near my head, keeping it closed. “Not so fast. Has that happened before?” I didn’t want to turn around. See him that close to me, lips close enough to touch, body close enough to press up against. I felt his head descending towards my neck, heard him sucking in a deep breath. “Do you want all your clients this much? Is this why you get the big retainer?” My laugh was brittle. “No. But it happens sometimes. Not often, thankfully.” I actually didn’t know anyone that it happened to. It was one of those rumors wiccans tell each other—the orgasmic aura—like ghost stories, a get rich spell, or having multiple orgasms. It wasn’t supposed to be true! I was here to find this guy a mate, not sleep with him. “Did you do it on purpose? Get me all hot and bothered, then send me into a room full of my own kind and hope I fuck someone in a darkened corner while every professional contact I have is there? This isn’t just fundraising but networking and talking to clients. It’s not a joke. Whatever you are going to do is something I need to know about and approve. I’m not going to be led around by my dick, do you understand?” I turned around and had to look up to him. He was too close so I pushed on his chest, moving him back from me a little. “I didn’t do it on purpose! I am actually a professional. It was an accident and it won’t happen again, alright?” “If it does, you’re fired.” “If it does, I quit!” His eyes were a golden brown and I could almost see the wolf pacing inside of him. He licked his lips and took a step closer to me, the air whooshing out of my chest as I realized that he was about to kiss me. “You’re not going tonight. I’ll call you in the morning. This may not work out, you understand? Be ready to pack your bags.” Then he reached beyond me, yanking open the door, while I scampered out of the way. He jerked past me, the door pulled open so hard it slammed into the wall. He cursed and threw me an irritated glance, clearly infuriated at the loss of control. Then he was gone. And I had the sad realization that I was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Chapter 4 Actually that wasn’t entirely true. Yes, I did stand around for a moment or two wondering if I should do what he wanted, or even worse call to apologize. But then I realized that doing what I was told would be totally out of character. So I did a little glamour spell to ensure that no one would be able to see me at the party. The place was hopping and I had a moment of chagrin. If I had just given the man a damned pill I could be here right now, on his arm—like candy, probably of the penny variety— but at least I would be able to ogle and hold onto him. Hear his jokes or listen to him talk about business, but instead I was incognito. I paused next to the buffet table while I looked around the room. Why did I care about what had happened? Why did I want to hang onto Zack? He was just a job. And the job was terrible. Find hot guy his mate even though I had a crush on him. Already. So pathetic. That’s why I’d behaved like a new little witch and tried to take away his headache magically. I had wanted to impress him…and touch him. And see how our energies combined. Stupid. I saw Zack across the room talking to an elderly couple, champagne glass in hand. I meandered over, listening in on the conversation, “They think they’re only going to be giving a 5% yield but their last three projects have had a return of over 20%. We’d be stupid not to invest in it.” Voice sexy, words boring. Then the couple walked away and Zack set off, cutting through the people to the other side of the room. I followed him, feeling a bit let down when he stopped before his mother. I’d thought something exciting was going to happen, like I could follow him into the men’s room or something. “She’s here.” His mother’s eyes widened, “You’re sure?” She began looking around the room, almost frantically. “I’m positive.” My heart started pounding and my palms started to sweat. Btw, those are two things that mess with magic. Excitement and fear can really mess with a spell. I decided to get out of there fast, worried my magic would fail and I’d be caught with my glamour down. As it was, I could deny it tomorrow. Sure, he thought I was here, but he couldn’t actually see me. I’d just tell him I had stayed in the room like a docile dachshund. I followed a handsome man out the door and turned to the right, walking back to my hotel feeling unaccountably bereft. He’d been really irritated that I was there. I feared that maybe I should just quit now and go back to New York. Chapter 5 The next morning I had a plan. I was going to keep it professional and bring him a coffee. He couldn’t fire me if I came with a mocha, could he? One Grande, half chocolate mocha with light whip, and one percent milk later, I went waltzing into the office building. People were working at desks and computers in a huge open space, but apparently Zack hadn’t come in yet. His secretary let me into his office, keeping the door open, to wait. Zack came in twenty minutes later looking a little disheveled and tired. He saw me and his mouth made a hard line before giving me a tight smile. Shit, I’m still fired. “I brought coffee! A mocha, actually.” “Thanks.” He threw his briefcase onto the desk haphazardly and it slid off, hitting his chair and then bumping to the ground. He looked surprised and then jerked his gaze back towards me, frowning at me. Distracted much? “Sorry, I’m a little off my game. My mate is here. But a coffee is really nice of you.” I stood up straight, felt my stomach plummet into my two inch pumps and gave an odd smile, “Mocha, actually. Well, that’s great. I guess you didn’t need any hocuspocus after all.” “What?” He threw me a confused look. “No, last night she showed up at the gala. But I couldn’t find her and now she’s back again. She’s here, somewhere in the building. “Well, I’ll just leave the coffee here and see you…never. It was nice to meet you, I’m sure they’ll want at least half the retainer but you’ll need to work that out with them. I just make the magic happen, don’t get involved with the billing much, you kn—” “Why do you have verbal diarrhea?” he said frowning. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I think you bring out the worst in me. He picked up the mocha from his desk and took a sip. That comment made me frown. But I’d heard about my effect on people before so I was willing to let it go. “Eww. No I don’t. I was just trying to say goodbye in a polite— “Hold up. You can’t leave yet. Can’t you do like a locator spell or something?” It was my turn to give him ‘confused face.’ “You lost her already?” He growled at me and I took a step back. It was kind of hot, but mostly it just reminded that this guy wasn’t as human as he looked. Definitely outside my comfort zone. “No. I couldn’t find her last night. She left the party before I could find her.” “What about your super power?” I tapped the side of my nose. “There were two hundred people in that room, believe me it was hard to smell anything. And that was probably for the best. Chanel no. 5 and salmon don’t mix.” I wanted to say eww again. “Eww. Then how did you know she was there?” He leaned back against his desk, legs crossed at the ankles. “I felt it.” For a moment it seemed like he was talking just to me. I found myself walking closer, stopping a foot away from his crossed ankles, close enough to smell his cologne. It smelled really nice. “Hey, why do you wear cologne, I thought you didn’t like smells?” “I’m used to it. I don’t notice it. And she’s here now.” “Really?” I looked around, expecting some tall leggy blond with red nails like claws to jump out from behind the door or something. “Not in here, out there” He made a waving motion. “In the office.” “Well then why are you here? Go get her. Atta boy. Fetch.” He looked at me with cold patience. “Do you know how many people are in this building?” “No. I don’t work here, I have no idea,” I said reasonably. “Three hundred.” “You’re right. That is a lot.” “I have no idea how to narrow it down. But I have to find her. I can’t risk her leaving.” His gaze slid away from mine and I felt like there was something he wanted to say but was trying not to. “I can’t locate her. I would need something that belonged to her. We’d have to know who she was first. But here is a thought. What if you pulled the fire alarm, like as a test, and as people filed out the door you’d know when she left the building. We could watch on the surveillance cameras.” He looked at me in shock. “That’s a great idea!” “Do you know how often people tell me that? And they always look just as surprised. It’s really irritating.” He gave me a small smile, and we headed down to the first floor security office. The security officer was named Chuck and he had a gut the size of a basketball. He also worked with a gal named Heidi. But, boy, was she misnamed. She was the female version of Chuck. And I was pretty sure they batted for the same team. They made an announcement that they were going to test the fire alarm and have everyone gather at the very edge of the parking lot, about five hundred yards away. Hopefully, it would be far enough. We watched them file out of the building, Zack and I were staring at the screen, a few feet apart, arms crossed, leaning in as though that would make the image clearer. As the minutes ticked by, my shoulders started to ache with tension and I forced myself to relax. Finally, everyone was out of the building and shock— nothing had happened. “Well?” I asked, desperately curious. “She’s still here. I didn’t feel any change, she hasn’t disappeared or gotten closer or anything.” I had a horrible urge to giggle. “So either she’s out there and we missed her, she’s in the bathroom with stomach poisoning and hasn’t left yet. Or it’s Heidi.” Heidi didn’t know what we were talking about but she gave us an evil glare. I bet she had a mean softball arm. Zack looked at me, giving me a quick once over, voice soft and intense. “Those are the only options you came up with?” Gulp. “You better go outside,” he said in a low tone. “Heidi is coming too!” I said. “Fine. No offense Heidi, I’m sure you’re a lovely woman but I suspect you’d be just as surprised to find I was your mate as I would be.” She grunted and left, hitching up her pants as the door closed. Chuck chuckled and talked about being in a pickle or stuck in a sandwich or something. I was frankly so shocked my ears were ringing a little and I didn’t catch it. “It’s not me.” “Go outside so we know for sure.” “There is absolutely no reason to. It isn’t me.” He growled again. “What makes you so sure?” “Well, I hate doggy-style for one.” Chuck high-tailed it out the door, and oddly, it made the room seem smaller. Zack was looming over me. He took a step closer and I backed up, ass hitting the security system controls. “Then you haven’t done it right. Go outside.” His voice was so seductive my nipples turned to stone. My throat was dry. I went. I walked outside, and with every step, I heard an echo in my brain, a little mantra, ‘I’m not his mate’, ‘I’m not his mate’ and every fifth or sixth step would be overlaid with his comment about not doing it right. Jesus. Ten minutes later we were told to come back in. Zack was nowhere in sight. What did that mean? I went back to the office, imagining that everyone’s eyes were on me. Totally imagining it. For a brief moment I wondered what it might be like to be Zack’s mate. The one person in all the world that was meant for him. My eyes got a little teary eyed and I blamed it on the fluorescent lights. He was hot, charming, a leader, funny, hot, sure he turned furry every now and again. But once a month I was no picnic either. But I just couldn’t fathom that it was true. Zack’s door was slightly ajar, so I knocked and heard him tell me to come in. I peeked my head around the door and he was standing next to a little winebar. “Brandy? Scotch?” he asked me in a flat voice. Oh, fuck. “Is it to celebrate my lack of matey-ness?” “Nope.” He swallowed his back in one huge gulp. I wasn’t offended, I’d drink too if I found out I was my mate. He poured me a glass of something and prowled towards me, almost proprietarily. I blushed and almost took a step back, but thought it was a good idea to stay still. Otherwise, he might think I was submissive. Wait, was that actually how it worked? mate. Holy shit, was he going to treat me like a dog? It didn’t matter, I wasn’t his “Hold up, hound dog. So I guess that when I left the building the ‘feeling’ went away?” “You got it. The only thing I didn’t understand was how I felt her presence last night even though you weren’t there. But I just made a phone call and guess what I found out? Apparently the house car dropped you off outside the party last night. So you were there, weren’t you?” “Yes,” I said, like I was facing the guillotine. “Do you want me to explain the joys of doggy style to you or just give you a demonstration?” he said it half-jokingly, but the look in his eyes was dead serious. I backed up. “I’m not your mate! There is another explanation. Down, Kujo.” “You yuck it up with those dog jokes but you’re going to pay for each and every one of them.” He wrapped an arm around my waist and yanked me flush up against him. I felt him through my clothes, hard and ready, his hips against mine. It was exciting, frightening, made my legs a little weak and my panties a little damp. “How--” I had to breathe and swallow before I could say anything else, “out of curiosity, would I pay?” “I’ll show you once I get you out of these clothes.” And then he kissed me. Softly, like a friendly, nice-to-meet-you-can-I-stripyour-clothes-off-and-bury-myself-inside-you-kind of kiss. I finally pulled back, but I didn’t want to and hoped that I had been able to convey a yes-you-can-and-why-haven’t-you-done-it-already response when I’d moaned and shoved my tongue into his mouth. “What happens if I am your mate? Where do we go from there?” I mumbled, unwilling to allow him to get too far away from me. I kept my arms twined around his neck and looked into his eyes. “Station wagon, two kids, the whole deal. And maybe a wolf litter or two.” That made me feel a little nauseous. Something must have shown on my face because he spoke again, and gripped my hips tight to hold me still. “We’d date. Get married and try to live happily ever after. Isn’t that what most women want?” Oh god. I could feel myself on the verge of hyperventilating. The plane was going down and I couldn’t even say may-day. “You don’t seem very happy about the idea that we might be perfect for each other. Why is that exactly?” He nuzzled my neck and I could feel his warmth seeping into my frozen bones. “You’re a great guy. Really. You seem…amazing. But I’m not a soul mate kind of person.” He jerked away from me, staring at me intently like he’d know whether or not I lied by close study. “You don’t think it’s possible?” he asked, shocked, like I was a five year old telling him I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. Which told me that he did believe in soul mates. This guy believed in soul mates and he thought I was his. My body felt a little trembly. “No. It’s…possible. Just not for me, with someone like you. You know, the whole package. You’re like all that and a bag of kibble,” I said. “You walked in the door and it was like being punched in the stomach.” “That good, huh?” He chuckled. “Worse. But you were so…prickly and different to what I expected that I just couldn’t believe you were my soul mate.” “And now?” “Now I’m thinking there are going to be a lot of dog jokes in my future. You’re smart, funny, have a great body, why wouldn’t you deserve a catch like me?” He sounded self-deprecating and it was really adorable. “Don’t you think you deserve to be happy?” Oh. Ouch. Did I deserve to be happy? That was a brain teaser. Yeah, sure I did. But I didn’t expect it to be so…imminent. To be confronted with it and have to make a choice for it. I guess I had thought I’d date some guy and a lot of time would pass, we’d get married and I’d realize I was in love— it’d take me unawares, like a mugger in the dark. He wanted me to make a conscious decision, to have faith in him, myself and the enigma idea of ‘us’. “What happens if I say yes?” I asked. “We will leave here immediately and go to your hotel or my house. I’ve got a raging, enormous…headache. And then, we get dinner.” “It’s ten am!” “It’s a very serious headache. I expect I’ll need repeat applications of whatever you did before.” “But I would get dinner? Somewhere nice I hope,” I said, trying to keep it light, disbelieving that I was making plans to not only sleep with this guy but more… like permanent more. “You can hope. I’m thinking it might be room service.” I shivered and felt myself skip a breath. He must have seen my panicked look. “Trust me. Just walk out the door.” So I did. We walked side by side to his car, the strangest and most uncomfortable walk I’ve ever been on. I knew he was near me. I could almost feel him there. I couldn’t look at him directly so I watched the ground and the parking garage, catching glimpses of him out of the corner of my eye. He walked over to my side of the car and opened the door for me. I walked past him, imagining a little crackle of energy between us, like static cling when my underwear stuck together. He closed the door and walked around the car while my heart beat a million times a minute. He opened his own door and sat down in the driver’s side, closing the door. The keys were in his hand and I saw him squeeze his fist tight. He didn’t start the car, just sat there looking out at the parking garage. “Jesus,” he said quietly, still staring straight ahead. I turned to see him, not having my seat belt on yet, and all I wanted to do was lunge across the space and straddle him. have sex with him here and now. He was too close, like all our energies were getting pent up in the little car, making me more and more desperate to have him inside me. He took a breath before putting the keys in the ignition. Then he turned to me, car still off. His voice was low, almost pulled from him like he didn’t really understand the question or the answer but was thinking about something distant and very far away. “What do you think, your hotel is about twenty minutes away?” “Yup.” And I was thinking the exact same thing. I couldn’t stop looking at his lips. They flattened as he watched me. “What time is it?” He looked at his watch and answered his own question. “Ten. No one will be leaving for lunch for quite a while.” I watched as he turned and faced forward, running one hand through his hair as he looked at our logistics. It was a large parking garage and where we were was secluded and dark. The odds of someone seeing us having sex, if they even came out, were low. “Not much of a backseat,” I said, and yet I was already leaning forward, trying to get closer to him. Be on him. Take him. “Fuck. God, I can smell you. You’re everywhere,” he said, voice like misery. It was so hot, so primal and then we were kissing, our mouths already having sex while the rest of our bodies tried to catch up. His hand was behind my head, holding me where he wanted me. His arms dragged at me and I climbed over the seat, both of us panting hard. “Wait. One moment,” he said. Zack reached down and the seat gave a huge jerk as he pushed it back, reclining it so I wouldn’t break my back on the steering wheel. I made a squeak at the sudden movement and he looked at me with a slightly sheepish smile. We both laughed a little and then we were kissing again, kissing with a trace of a smile that I thought I could taste. It was so right, so necessary. But all I could think was now, now, now. His hands slid up my thighs, under my skirt and there was a sharp tug, my underwear ripped away from me. His mouth slanted beneath me, plunging deep, the taste of scotch on his tongue an aphrodisiac. He moved his fingers against me, finding exactly where I needed to be touched so that I cried out, moments from flying apart. “Don’t stop!” I gasped into his mouth, writhing upon him. “Never. You’re mine. Do you understand?” His breathing was harsh next to my ear, each exhalation licking over my skin and then I was suddenly coming, hard and fast. I heard the sound of his zipper, felt his knuckles graze me as he parted the fabric of his clothes. I kissed him and reached down, grasping him in my hand. His hands slapped to the backs of my thighs, trembling, his breathing harsh. I leaned back, looking him in the eyes, the depth of emotion on his face shocking me. The passion was obvious but he was also looking at me like I was a wonder, something perfect and fascinating. I slid down and his eyes closed, air whooshing out of him. His hands left my thighs, roaming upwards, over my stomach and to my breasts. He thrust upwards from below, deeper and faster, breath sawing out of him. And then his hand was in my hair, a loose fist at the nape of my neck, urging me to look at him. “You’re so beautiful,” he said. My heart melted a little bit and then his thrusts were faster, deeper until he held my hips hard, grinding me down onto him with a hoarse groan. I felt him come inside me, his head dropping forward to rest on my chest. I ran my fingers through his hair, thinking about how thick and nice his hair was in a dazed sort of way. “Let’s go to your hotel and get your things. I’ve got a nice little doggy house built for two.” “No more dog jokes.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “What the hell will we talk about?” I laughed. “There are just too many punch lines about me being your—” “Poodle?” he interrupted with a smile. “Exactly.” I slid back over to my seat and he released me reluctantly, started the car and began to drive. Two minutes later his phone rang. After saying hello he was silent for a moment and then he hung up the phone. We parked the car and left it with the valet. Zack wrapped an arm around my waist, pulling me into him and leaving no space between us while glaring at every male that was nearby. The elevator doors closed and he grabbed me, pushing me against the wall and kissing me fiercely. The elevator opened and we stood outside my hotel room for a moment while I looked for the key. “My office called.” I put the card into the lock, looking for the green light so we could go in. “Half the staff walked out, said they were taking a sick day.” “That’s weird,” I said, not really getting it. “No it’s not. I found you and the pack knows. It’s proof. Now you know you’ll always be my—” I kissed him, and do you know, it’s still the best way to shut him up. THE END An excerpt of my book Love is Darkness, available on amazon for 99 cents, follows. The blurb is below. Valerie Dearborn wants a cotton candy life, but it’s more like a puffer fish: pointy, unusual, and—if not prepared exactly right—deadly. In London for graduate school, Val knows she's finally free. Her father and exalmost-boyfriend are back in California and she's out of the Vampire hunting biz for good. Or is she? She draws the attention of Lucas, a 1600 year old Vampire, and King to his kind. He’s also wicked hot. As golden as Lucifer, and just as tempting, he makes Valerie an offer she can't refuse— help him find out if the Others (Empaths, Fey and Werewolves) still exist or he'll stop protecting those she loves. Lucas tells her that Empaths were a Vampire’s biggest weakness before going extinct hundreds of years ago. While the Fey or a Werewolf might kill a Vampire, an Empath could enslave them, seducing or harming with emotions at will. The one detail he leaves out? Valerie is an Empath. And after 1600 years of an emotionless existence, Lucas wants Valerie like a recovering alcoholic wants a wine cooler. Can she keep those she loves alive, stop Lucas from munching on her, survive a fanged revolution and still find a way to have that boring, normal life she’s always wanted? Probably not, but boy is she gonna try! If you liked this story, I would love it if you left a review. You can follow me on twitter @caroline_hanson or check out my blog http://carolinehanson.blogspot.com/ Thank you for taking the time to read my story, I know there are lots of options out there, and millions of books to read. Knowing that someone was willing to sit down and spend time reading something that I created and hold dear is a wonderful thing. Thank you! Prologue Prague, Czech Republic 15 years ago He wasn’t God. Although there had been a handful of years between his ascendancy to the throne and the killing of the Others, where he may as well have been. The world had not only responded to his whims but feared them. He wasn’t death. He’d created death, given death, even taken death away by making someone immortal. But death had never come for him. Time to rethink that one. He supposed it was fitting that he would die like Gaius. Lucas, a 900 year old, vampire ‘upstart’, had walked straight up to him and cut off his head without Gaius even blinking in protest. One swing of his sword, a clearing of ash and he had taken the throne. Gaius had sat there for weeks, staring at nothing like a mindless fool, until Lucas had decided it was enough, that faded glory and reverence only lasted for so long. But now death was stalking him, sinking claws into him slowly and sweetly so that he barely noticed. Did it matter? Did he care? If he went back into that catatonic state and never came out again, would it be so bad? He shuffled memories like a deck of cards in his mind, turning over static pictures of his life: himself laughing, despairing, fighting, even fucking. Events that should prompt vividly colored reactions, yet all he felt was gray. From birth he had known his death would be in battle, fighting for something with all his heart. And that’s how he knew he wasn’t death. Because death knew what he wanted and was able to keep it well out of reach. The sound of wild masculine laughter floated up the stairs to his room and Lucas returned to himself quickly, his heart thundering loudly as it sped up, momentarily blotting out the sound from below. His heartbeat calmed and he blinked, thick, dark lashes shuttering his pale blue eyes. There was a rustle of silk outside the door; Marion was coming. He'd sired her centuries ago. She knocked and he bid her to enter. Almost quivering with agitation she went down on one knee, head bowed modestly. “My King, Roberto has returned from the New World. I would ask that you come to see him, if it pleases you.” A thread of excitement weaved through her words. She was uncommonly tall, almost six feet, and painfully thin, her features sharp and harsh. Marion's hair was a vivid auburn, her eyes forest green. She looked just as she had at eighteen, the year she had died and become a vampire. But centuries of hard living, dissipation and unhappiness had hardened her, leaving their mark upon her frailness so that her vitality was a brittle mask. Lucas stood and went down the stairs, the vampire guards straightening as he passed with Marion at his heels like a vengeful spaniel. The New World she called it, as though she'd never heard of the United States of America. He looked at the grandfather clock as he passed, noting that it was now the 30th and he'd been inward for... twenty one days. Was it possible? His hands tightened into fists and he felt a pang of worry that the episodes were getting longer. In the entryway to the great hall, Lucas and Marion came to a halt, taking in the tableau before them. The room was almost empty and dimly lit. A vaulted ceiling was high over-head, the beams dark with age. A gigantic limestone fireplace dominated one wall, necessary to generate enough warmth for the room which could easily seat two hundred people for dinner. Roberto was standing on a table, walking heel to toe in a careful process like he was drunk. He began singing, a soft song in Spanish. “What did you do?” Lucas' voice was deep and deceptively calm as he eyed the vampire up and down before pulling out a chair from the dining room table and sitting, crossing his legs casually as he studied Roberto. “I was in California, and I found a woman,” he started giggling then tried to stop. “She was like...flowers, like drugs or candy— ” He gave a loose shrug, like he was giving up on finding the right words. There was a long pause and when he spoke again his voice sounded dreamy, maybe even a little regretful. “Stupid to have drunk her in one.” He sighed, his red lips tilting downwards into a frown. “Her blood burned me it was so sweet. An explosion and now it’s like colors racing through me.” Lucas stayed still. He didn’t want to make any gesture that might betray his shock. “Everyone out.” Marion waited as though ‘everyone’ didn’t include her. After all these centuries did she finally think she was powerful enough to challenge him? Then she bowed and left. He dismissed her from his mind. She was irrelevant. As soon as the room was empty, Lucas began asking questions. “How many people did you kill?” “Just the one! But her daughter was there. Saw the whole thing. Don’t know if she’d taste that good.” “What is the family name?” Roberto looked up, a cunning expression on his ferret-like face. “Why? You want some, too? I would be happy to take you. Umm, the name. Happy, no that’s not it. Dee—oh wait. Dearborn. I think.” Then he laughed again. Roberto was behaving like he’d drunk the blood of an empath. But they were extinct. It was impossible. When was the last time he’d drunk from an empath? Four, five hundred years ago? Lucas remembered the man clearly. The bold, intense flavor of the blood as it had coursed down his throat. Like drinking wine instead of vinegar. Afterwards, he'd gone berserk, killing humans and vampires alike until the gamut of emotion had fled and left him yearning for death. Only Marion had risked coming to find him, his murderous rage keeping the others away. She'd found him in Austria, next to the lake he'd grown up on, crying and waiting for the dawn to kill him. Marion had held his hand and spoken to him soothingly, her maternal instincts at the fore as she convinced him it was just the blood and the empath’s magic that made him so upset, he didn’t really want to die. Didn’t want to kill everyone he met. When she'd tugged him up off the ground, the sky pink and yellow with the coming sun, he'd gone with her, feeling wrecked and defenseless. She'd led him to safety, finding them refuge in a cemetery. The same cemetery where he'd buried his wife and children centuries before. Lucas had dreamed and felt, reduced to near humanity all because of that man’s blood. They’d been a vampire’s biggest weakness, both a curse and a balm. A drug that he'd thought long exterminated. But here was Roberto, high as a kite, reeking of magic and blood, the woman’s bright scent on his clothes and skin. Dangerous. But his fangs ached from the sudden craving that swamped him. Even after the last time, the pain he'd felt, he still wanted it. At least it was emotion, something to feel when all he'd felt for hundreds of years was empty darkness. It would be madness to indulge; a potential nightmare instead of Roberto's drunken happiness. But the woman was dead, wasn't she? No revenge, no psychic connection where she could control him and manipulate his feelings. Roberto said there was a daughter, but her blood might be normal, the power an aberration. This could be the last chance to experience an empath’s gifts. Decision made, Lucas grabbed Roberto, biting into his neck before Roberto could defend himself. Blood coursed into him with a hot rush. The taste was bitter because it came from another vampire, but underneath that was a faint sweetness and spice that infected him. Just a taste and then I’ll stop. He knew that for a lie. He’d stop only when the blood finished riding him. Lucas drank furiously, like he’d just emerged from the desert, some unknown amount of time passing before he became aware of himself and his surroundings. Gathering himself, he forced himself to slow his drinking, feeling a physical pain as he released fangs from flesh. He threw Roberto from him and Roberto scrambled away, his hand at his neck, holding the torn flesh together. Lucas paced away from Roberto, hand over his mouth. What am I doing? His hand was frozen, blood coating his lips and now his fingers. He wanted to lick his lips, suck his fingers clean, go back to Roberto and find more. What a mistake. His hand trembled, in moments he'd be overwhelmed. His whole body pulsed in time to his heart, the blood snaking through him, leaving each nerve, blood vessel and cell altered and waiting for the magic to strike. He was a rod in a lightning storm. Was there even time to dispose of Roberto before he succumbed to the blood? He had to kill him, couldn't risk anyone finding out about the daughter. The daughter. Swiftly, he went back to Roberto, circling behind the crying man, hiding death for a few moments longer. With one solid blow his fist punched through Roberto’s back and into his chest, gripped the man’s heart in his hand and tugged it free, Roberto dissolving into ash. Lucas felt caged, the need to move, run, cry, laugh and hurt all vying in him for control. No. He could control himself. After almost two thousand years he was his own master. He was the oldest and the strongest. Lucas was his own law. His hands clenched. Emotion touched him like a cattle prod and he fell to his knees, dead heart pounding in a staccato rhythm. His hand rose to his chest like he could catch the sharp pain knifing from his heart outwards. Then it was gone. For just a second he thought that was it, that over the last four hundred years he’d become so deadened and powerful that the magic touched him, sputtered and died. Then there was a pulse. It’s not over. A small kiss of sensation that was almost visible, like heat shimmering off asphalt, tickled down his spine. This was a fatal mistake. Emotion crashed over him. Feelings of joy filling him until he wanted to laugh like Roberto had, laugh like he was happy, carefree and mortal. But he couldn't remember how to laugh, a rough sound erupting from him instead. The feeling changed, became a heavy pulse that left a deep throb in his sex. He was suddenly hard, full to bursting, aching painfully. Desire gripped him and he began to tremble in his need to— No. But the blood twisted through him, invaded every cell and molecule of his being, urging him onwards. He'd forgotten this power. The tide of emotion that even a small amount of blood had upon him. He'd known and forgotten. Lucas remembered being a man, the pleasure taken and given. He could almost smell feminine heat around him, what it was like to feel a woman's thighs lock around his head in pleasure. The whimpering cries as he kissed her deeply. Once he'd become a vampire, sensations and feelings had become muted, but not now. Now he felt human again. Desire became a fire within him, consumed him so that he was nothing but need. He fell to his knees, staring at his fisted hands. He swore, surprised to find his own hand gripping his cock. His hips rose jerkily, body demanding release even as his mind resisted. And lost. His whole body seized, feelings of pleasure twisting within him, the power rebounding. He shouldn't fight it, he knew that, but it went against his nature to give in, and so he tried to hold out against the blood's call. His breath sawed out of him as he remembered the blood's rich sweetness. He squeezed himself reflexively, the memory of flavor flashing through his mind and then his body. Like a landslide, the orgasm swept through him, his mental shields collapsing and he felt the heavy spasm of his cock as he came. He breathed heavily, unable to move as the aftershocks of pleasure gripped and released him. An empath. Stumbling to his feet, Lucas went to his rooms, discarding his clothes haphazardly on his way to the shower. His mind raced and he remembered the world as it had been centuries ago. An uneasy balance of vampires, witches, werewolves, empaths and Fey. For centuries there had only been vampires, the Others gone. But an empath had escaped. Maybe the vampires were not as alone as he’d thought. Maybe the Others were scattered or hiding. What if they could come back? Restore a balance to the world and keep vampires under control. Could he find them? Did he want to? The thought was… intriguing. And then he remembered the dead empath had a daughter. Interesting. Chapter 1 San Loaran, California 5 years ago “Why?” Valerie's heart was hammering in her chest, a dull ringing in her ears. If I puke, I hope it’s on his shoes. She inhaled deeply, trying to keep the nausea at bay. She looked around the living room, at the boring furniture, the slider that led to the backyard, then to the front door, which she’d no doubt be leaving through in a few minutes. Unless she was crafty. Who was she kidding? The odds of her being crafty enough to get out of this were just about as good as a hamster seeing a shiny new wheel and choosing not to run. I might die and I can barely drive. Her father, Nate, looked at her disappointedly. “Valerie, I've been lenient with you. I had hoped that given a little distance, a little time to mature, you would get over your fear, but that hasn't happened. Don't you want to survive?” This is a trick question. Val felt her palms get damp as she tried to think of the right thing to say— something that would make him leave her alone. If she said she could defend herself he'd want her to prove it. But, if she said she couldn't defend herself, then he’d take her out there to learn. This is so messed up. Jack stood beside her father, examining the floor and trying not to draw attention to himself. He was 19, her father's apprentice, and the star of every fantasy she had. And it was always a fantasy, because in real life he didn’t want her. And he certainly wasn’t going to stand up for her like a fantasy man should. Jack probably knew she'd attack him if he tried to leave her here with dad while he snuck off, so he stood there, but he wouldn’t help. Jack was too good. He owed her father, was grateful that he'd given Jack a purpose in life. Her father gave an impatient sigh and she tried to remember the question. Oh yeah, don't you want to survive? She felt the tension building, her father becoming frustrated by her silence. She gave them an overly bright smile, hoping it would make her dad think she wasn't about to pee her pants. “I have a quiz tomorrow in science and I'm not ready. Doesn't school come first?” Her father was a tall, thin man. His hair had been light brown but was now mostly gray. His eyes were brown and sad. In old pictures, his eyes were different. Valerie thought grief from her mother's death had changed them, sucked the vitality right out of them. Even though her mom’s death had been over a decade ago, he still hadn't recovered. He never would. Those sad brown eyes stared at her like he was deciding whether or not to confront her on her probable lie. She did have a science quiz tomorrow, but she wasn't worried about it, knew she'd get an A. But did he know that? her. “I'm sure we will be home in time for you to study.” Nate raised an eyebrow at Could an eyebrow express 'gotcha'? Apparently. “Perhaps next time you can study appropriately, during the allotted time, and then you won't find yourself with a time conflict. Life is about juggling obligations, Valerie. You need to study smarter, not harder.” Great. What did that even mean? If I could study smarter, wouldn't I be doing it already? “You're right! That's why I make sure to do my homework before cheerleading, and stay at school to do it. That's why I get to school early on Wednesday so that I can go to swim team.” Her voice was rising and she felt some air quotes coming on, “If I have warning I can put it in my schedule, and study “appropriately”. Surprisingly, random vampire stake-outs don't fit into my schedule easily.” Crossing her arms under her chest defiantly, she waited for the verdict. He gave a small frown and turned to Jack who was being ‘one’ with the wall. Yeah, you’re still here, you jerk. “What about you Jack? You seem to make it all fit and you're in college. That's a lot harder than high school, Valerie. How do you plan on being successful if you can't schedule your days?” “My back up plan is to drop out and get pregnant,” she said. Jack's shoulders straightened a little, pulling at the corners of his long sleeved black t-shirt. His lips thinned in disapproval, perhaps a hint of a smile, but she doubted it. “Yes, because the one thing that will give you more time to get school work done is to have a child out of wedlock.” He shook his head, “Just go get in the car.” Nate turned away from her and she heard him mutter something about pitchers, or catchers, something sports related, and Jack gave a stilted laugh. She went to the car and sat in the backseat, waiting for them to come out. Morbidly, she began imagining all the terrible things that might happen to her tonight. She imagined her father dying, a vampire drinking Jack's blood, then discarding him and coming for her. She slapped her hands on her thighs, trying to distract herself. Impending death requires chocolate. Val reached into her back pack and found a pack of M and M's. By the time the guys got to the car she'd eaten all the red, orange and brown ones separating them out into little piles that rolled around the seats and occasionally vanished. She looked at her watch. Well, that took care of five minutes. Her father opened the back door and threw a huge, orange duffel bag of weapons down next to her, the wood making a hollow thunking sound as the stakes bounced against each other. The station wagon backed out of the driveway and Valerie looked longingly at her room as they drove away. She turned back to the front and saw Jack watching her in the rear-view mirror, his slate-gray eyes intense. She stuck her tongue out at him and slouched back into her seat, hoping he wouldn't see her blush. Jack was so impossible lately. He was high on power now that her father had started taking him places. It seemed like he was always watching her in a disappointed way, looking for faults and quick to 'helpfully' criticize. Jack said it was 'helpful' because it was in her best interest. They were both so worried about her staying alive and yet tonight they were taking her to fight a vampire. How could they not see the logical flaw? If she was the Einstein of this group then they were in deep crap. Jack had studied martial arts since coming to America with them at the age of thirteen. Now he was nineteen and he’d been going with her father to hunt for three years. He wanted to be here, whereas she was being dragged to her doom. What would she do if a vampire tried to attack her again? Val almost moaned in fear. Where was Child Protective Services when she needed them? She chastised herself, rubbed her hands together and thought about her 'game face'. Was that the same as a poker face? Val needed to be irritated and sarcastic, that was her fall back persona when her father was trying to get her killed. “Wax on, wax off,” she mumbled. They drove down the Garden Highway, a two lane stretch of road that was sparsely populated and next to the river. It started in San Loaran but went for miles. It was dark, the city lights far away. If she were a vampire she'd live downtown. How the hell did this guy get food when he was so far away from everything? “So, what's the deal with this clown?” Val asked. Her father kept looking at his map of the area, ignoring her. He'd already been out here during the day, so she didn't know why he was looking at the map anyway. They pulled off the road and onto a dirt track, bumping along for a mile or two before turning down another path, this one graveled. The car stopped in front of an old cemetery that was in the middle of nowhere. Her stomach flip flopped. “A cemetery?” she said plaintively, “Why is he living in a cemetery? Couldn't we have come for him during the day?” Nate turned around and gave her an irritated look. “No, we couldn't come for him during the day. We tracked him here yesterday but he disappeared. I'm not sure where he's staying. He could be underground, in a family crypt, I just couldn't tell. And before you ask, we can't wait because he's already killed someone. I won't risk him doing it again just to make our lives a little easier. If we catch him when he's just starting to rise, he'll be confused and it should be relatively easy.” She didn't like the way he said we. “Yes, you will. I'm sure the both of you will have a very easy time staking him.” Her father’s voice was quiet. “You listen to me, Valerie. I think you have been sheltered quite long enough. Being lenient with you hasn't sweetened your personality either. Tonight, you are going to help. I'm not asking you to fight. You can stay near the car, but if we need weapons you will be expected to bring them, do you understand?” He had a mean stare and wasn’t shy about using it. Valerie's mouth flopped open and closed like a fish. She looked to Jack, but he was staring at the road and staying out of it. Wuss. She felt the anger rising up like a fist inside of her, choking her. Nate undid his seatbelt and got out of the car, started walking towards the side where the weapons were. Jack undid his seat belt slowly and she knew he was about to say something supportive. “Don't bother. If you knew how much I wanted to hit something right now, you’d keep your mouth shut.” Jack put up his hands, like he was surrendering to the police, and then got out of the car, slamming the door shut behind him. She heard him say something to Nate but didn't know what it was. Val threw her door open and stuck a leg out but she'd been too aggressive and the door rebounded back on her, slamming into her shinbone. She managed to hold back a yelp of pain, but felt stupid and even angrier. Her father took the weapons from the backseat and set them on the hood of the car. Jack was right behind him and she was relieved they hadn't noticed her clutziness. A helpful lecture about how anger 'hurts us more than anyone else' would have sent her screaming off into the woods, vampires be damned. She limped to the front of the car, thinking she should 'shake it off', and about how the pain was 'getting better'. It was, honestly! Any moment now she wouldn't notice it and tomorrow how she'd laugh. Her leg began to throb. The sun was almost down and vampy would be stumbling out of his crypt pretty soon. Jack and her father were ready: a knife strapped to one forearm, a stake on the other, spare gun in a shoulder holster and some holy water sitting on the hood. Her leg tickled and she looked down at her calf, blood staining the leg of her pants. Shit, she'd cut herself on the stupid door! Her father was striding off towards the crypt but Jack was looking at her leg and he looked worried. He took a step closer to her, and she could smell his woodsy cologne. Jack was taller than her father, but lean, his teenage metabolism devouring the fat from his body. His dark, coffee colored hair was a bit tousled from running his hands through it, a five o' clock shadow visible on his jaw. “You should get in the car. You can't be out here with a bleeding leg, it will draw them to you like...well, like vampires to blood.” His tone was worried, urgent as he tracked the darkening skyline. She wasn't sure what to do. Her dad had told her to stay out and help but man she wanted to be in the car with the doors locked. Val heard the sound of grating stone— harsh and loud. Jack swore, then ran towards Nate. “Get into the car!” he shouted over his shoulder. She stood indecisive for a moment and then decided Jack was right. Lord knew there would be other vampires she could help with. She watched for a moment longer, Nate and Jack with their guns drawn, ready to shoot the monster that came out. As she reached for the door, a pale, hairy hand appeared in front of her, holding the door closed. Her eyes jerked up, taking in the vampire who looked at her like she was a deed fried Twinkie at the state fair. He was close to her height, his eyes a glowing honey-brown. He shoved her, knocking the wind out of her so she couldn’t scream, her chin hitting the hard metal roof of the car before his cold hand clamped around her mouth, dirty nails digging into her cheeks. She felt the drag of gravity as he lept, forcing them upwards and away. It was different than flying, as though he'd bounded into the air, using all the power his body contained to propel them into the sky. The ground shrank as he took them thirty feet into the air. As soon as they landed, he'd kill her, she thought frantically. Jack and her father were in the crypt and she knew they hadn't seen the vampire take her. Val’s whole body shook with fear, and the way the vampire's arms clamped tighter around her, his body pressed flush to hers as though he knew she was terrified, and liked it, made her skin crawl. He was like a python, squeezing a little tighter with each frantic exhalation. She reached for the stake in her pocket, her wrist turned at a painful angle so she could reach it. Don't make it too easy. The wood was warm in her hand from her tight grip. Adjusting the stake, she turned her wrist so that it was angled towards his body. His feet hit the ground and as he bent his legs to absorb the shock, the stake sunk into his stomach. She heard a startled grunt and he pushed her away, the stake sticking out of his stomach. She fell forward hard, her knees jarring painfully upon impact, even though he'd borne most of their weight. Scrambling frantically, she tried to get to her feet and run but he recovered, grabbing her ankle and pulling her back to him. Her fingers clawed into the ground, trying to stop her backwards slide. Her nails caught and broke; small pine needles and bits of leaves forcing their way deep into each nail bed. I’m going to die in the damned woods. I knew it! Although it would have been nice to be wrong this time. Then everything got worse. Another vampire appeared, landing in front of her. His movements were too quick, his landing too graceful to be anything but vampire. Her eyes swam with tears, making him a blurry image of black clothing and golden hair. It was fully dark, and the only light came from the moon, giving his paleness an odd cast. She saw long hair, golden and straight, that fell halfway down his back, but his face was shadowed. He was a giant, towering over her and the vampire who knelt behind her. The golden vampire crouched to his knees before her, forearms resting loosely on his thighs. His face was close to hers, the desire to scream choked in her chest by his proximity. His cold hardness slapped at her, feeling like an almost physical barrier between them. He was hard and terrifying. The most terrifying vampire she had ever seen because he was beautiful. He was death and she wanted to touch him. Then he spoke to her and it was like all the blood in her body wanted to well to the surface and spill out towards him. “Be still Valerie. You will be well.” She heard a huff behind her and the vampire who was gripping her leg, suddenly let go. He swatted her on the butt before moving away a little. “Don't you go anywhere,” her captor said, like she was a disobedient animal. He had a rough accent. Irish, maybe? Then he ignored her, turning to the golden one who was still next to her. “Well, that's a bit rich. She'll only be well in my stomach. What brings you out on a nice night like tonight, my Lord?” “You do,” the golden vampire said, his voice gravelly and dark. “I don't share well, but it would be an honor to make an exception for you, my Lord. In fact, we can celebrate! What's it been now, ten years? Five? Who knows, am I right or am I not wrong?” He laughed, as if keeping track of time was a crazy concept. Val needed to move but couldn't. Frozen like a rabbit, she trembled and tried to think about what she should do. She wasn’t five anymore. She wouldn’t lay here and let them kill her when they got around to it. She wouldn’t be her mother. Then run you damned fool! Run! “This one is forbidden. You will release her.” The man chuckled, “She's a bit young for you and scrawny to boot. I'm surprised. Not your usual style, Lucas.” Her arms jerked under her, ready to push herself up and run away. Then Lucas put his hand on her jaw, searing her like dry ice, forcing her to look into his blue eyes. And she didn’t want to run away anymore. Lucas. King of them all. It would be worse— much worse, to die by his hand. Because I wouldn’t fight him. His strength and emptiness, the lack of pity and kindness made promises deep inside of her. Those cerulean eyes still held her tight, and she heard herself sob, hoping it was someone else. He compelled her with his voice. “Stay there Valerie Dearborn. Stay there and be calm.” Val blinked and tried to move, but couldn't, his words locking her limbs into place. She felt an artificial calmness come over her, her back shifting so that she could settle against the tree more comfortably and wait. Trees surrounded them from all sides, casting long inky shadows that would, at another time, have been scary. But there was no point in being scared of what might be lurking in the shadows when the biggest bad, of all big bads, was gazing at her intently. The calmness he told her to feel weighed on her oppressively, snaked into her thoughts, like sleep trying to claim her. She knew that if she relaxed at all it would overcome her, and she wouldn't fight but give in to it utterly. Tears coursed down her cheeks as the vampires both watched her impassively, waiting for her to succumb to Lucas' commands. The shorter vampire crossed his arms, head tilting to the side lightly, “That's interesting, isn’t it? Quite resistant to your compulsion. Think you're losing your touch?” Lucas seemed to ignored him, his eyes fixed on Valerie. She could see him looking at her face: her mouth, hair, chin, forehead, back to her lips and settling on her eyes. Val looked away. She took a deep breath and watched her hand, tried to make a fist, wanting her own body to obey her will. She tried to stay afraid and belong to herself despite his compulsion. But it’s so hard. His golden hair was shining, even in the dark, and Valerie watched it with deep fascination. She lifted a hand and hit the ground hard, the pain breaking up his insidious words. His power receded and she thought she was almost free of him, but then her gaze met his, and his power coursed over her again, like a big wave knocking over a toddler wading in the shallows. “Calm and Still Valerie.” His gaze hit her and she was under the waves, the fight over. Val stopped struggling, the desire to flee, even survive, swallowed by him. I’ll wait for him. Wait just a minute, until she recovered from the scare she'd had. That was a reasonable thing to do, wasn't it? She could leave later, after...something. The vampires turned away from her, resuming their conversation. “The reason for her protection is none of your concern,” Lucas said. The words were cold and flat. Why are my hands shaking? I’m scared. Why? The vampire looked shocked and surprised at Lucas’ words, his features reminding her of a pale pug. “My lord, please, let's be reasonable. I came here to check on my new child, Oliver. He's having some trouble blending in, gone all homicidal. Very disappointing to be sure. This girl, Valerie you say, is with some Hunters. I have to defend myself.” He spread his arms out in a ‘isn’t it obvious’ sort of gesture. Then he looked even more confused. “The girl even staked me! Look at that!” He lifted his shirt, a gray t-shirt that said, “The Pogues” on it and which now sported a bloody tear. His skin was parted nastily, the blood viscous and black. Not human. “Did she?” Lucas said, almost sounding proud. Valerie looked at the vampire’s torn flesh, shaking harder. I did that. The calmness was fracturing, tendrils of fear seeping through her mind like ivy. Once the fear consumed her, she’d run. Lucas turned to look at her, a small frown on his face, as though both disappointed and surprised by her. “She drew my blood, tried to kill me. Not sure why you have your panties in a twist to be frank.” He paused and looked at the golden vampire again. “Err...my lord.” “She is forbidden. The punishment is death.” Lucas said, his gaze still fixed on Valerie. The Irish vampire's eyes were wide in surprise and outrage, “She's not worth all that! What do you care about a Hunter’s daughter? Tell me what to do to make it right and I'll be on my way. Even take Oliver with me.” He tried to make his voice sound reasonable, but fear pitched it higher and the words ran together. “Oliver will be dead soon.” The man frowned and spoke angrily, “You will let the Hunters take my child? Be damned to you then!” He swung forward in a smooth arc, his fist flying towards Lucas' jaw, but Lucas moved, grabbing the hand in mid-air, inches from his face, holding back the vampire with ease. A terrible smile on his lips. “You seek to attack me?” There was a hint of incredulity to Lucas’ words. “Perhaps Marion is correct and I should make more displays of my power.” Lucas squeezed the man’s hand hard and blood began to drip from his closed fist. The vampire cried out in pain, kicking hard, wanting to break free of Lucas’ grasp. Lucas blocked the kick, squeezing harder and the vampire dropped to his knees in pain. Lucas let go and the man swayed for a moment, gripping his crushed hand protectively. Lucas punched him. But harder than it sounds. His fist making such solid contact that the vampire’s face was instantly altered, bones shattered, half of his skull slightly depressed. Valerie scuttled away from the tree, Lucas’ compulsion suddenly falling away like unlocked chains. She stumbled to her feet but he was there in front of her, hand on her chin, wanting her to look at him, trying to take her will away. She could feel his power directed at her— marching over her skin, waiting for her to open her eyes so she’d be his. Val kicked blindly, making contact with some unknown part of him, hearing a slight oomph in response. And then she was free. He wasn’t touching her. She opened her eyes, running forward—and he was in front of her. This time the wave of power hurt, like a wave of acid taking her under instead of sea water. Her body halted, mid-motion and she waited. The pain vanished, like he’d whipped it away from her, but still she couldn’t run away. Val breathed in and out, then a little faster, making her lungs do what she wanted instead of what he wanted. He wanted her calm, she worked to be wild. She made her hands open wide, got her toes to curl. She turned, faced the two vampires, unable to leave but terrified of what was going on behind her. When her death came she wanted to see it. Figured the only way she’d get near a man that hot was if he was going to kill her. Her vision cleared, and she saw that things had changed. While Lucas had been distracted, Mr. Irish had stabbed Lucas. The stake was embedded near his stomach. Lucas pulled out the stake like removing lint from a sweater—casually, dismissively, as though it made not the slightest impact that he’d been stabbed. Then he tossed it aside andit landed at her feet. She wanted to reach for it, but her body wouldn't move. What did it mean that he threw that to her? His control broke again, and Valerie grabbed the stake, gripping it tightly in her right hand. When she looked up, the fight was finished. Mr. Irish was pinned to a tree, Lucas’ arms keeping the other still, as he struggled pathetically, only his head thrashing from side to side. “Goddamn you, Lucas!” her attacker shouted angrily. “No more talking,” Lucas said. Power laced his words and her ears rang from the vibration. The Irish man’s eyes widened but he didn’t speak, body tense with rage. “Come to me, Valerie. Come and kill your attacker.” His voice was deep and caressing, rubbing over her skin like velvet, burrowing inside of her, the feeling intimate and alien at the same time. She stopped herself from looking up, not wanting to meet his eyes again. She felt the need to go towards Lucas and do what he bid, but her heart thundered in protest. He’s dangerous. A killer. Going to him is stupid. She walked forward. Wait. Valerie stopped and imagined her feet rooted into the ground like a tree trunk, refusing to move. “Look to me,” Lucas commanded her gently. Val made a frustrated sound of betrayal as her body acted without her consent, meeting his flat stare. His blue eyes were pale, shining brightly, almost oddly in the dark. She knew it when their eyes locked, felt it in a real and visceral way. One that was too intimate and personal. “I release you to yourself.” Valerie's whole body trembled and she felt fear spreading through her, all traces of calmness and restraint gone, like heavy wet clothing removed from her body. “Kill him, Valerie. He attacked you.” Huh. That’s a twist. She shook her head and dropped the stake, hands nerveless in fear. “No. I don't want to.” “Worse will come for you. You must learn to protect yourself. I cannot be here at all times. Do it now and with my protection. No harm shall come to you by my hand.” Her heart leaped. “Why?” “Your fear is crippling.” No shit. “Do you want me to compel you? Take your fear from you?” The words were gentle, without judgment for her cowardice but her eyes welled with tears. “There is no shame in not wanting to be as strong as others expect you to be.” His tone matched the dark night around them. She couldn't speak, panic overwhelming her again. Val took a step backwards and heard Jack's voice calling for her in the distance. “Valerie, look to me,” he said quietly, urging her to trust him. The words were stilted and she realized he had an accent. Nothing easily identifiable, more like he'd spoken dozens of languages over the centuries, acquiring a small accent from each of them. It was lyrical, beautiful even. And totally irrelevant. “Why?” The question was insufficient for what she wanted to know. Why would he protect her? Why choose her over a vampire he knew? Why did he care whether she killed a vampire or not? Why did he care whether she lived or died? “Violence has touched you. Taken from you and you need to know your own strength in return.” She felt a lump in her throat and it made it hard to talk. “What's it to you?” Val dreaded the answer, had no idea what it might be, but was afraid nonetheless. Lucas ignored her, the quiet of the night registering during the pause. “Shall I help you?” he said like she was a spooked horse. She stared hard at the ground. “Compel me, you mean?” “Yes.” “Will you...release me again?” Why was she even thinking of trusting him? Because he hasn’t killed me yet. She wanted to freeze time so she could think it through, but she only had this moment, and if she didn't keep up, he'd make her fate for her. The vampire was still struggling, but it was as futile as a moth struggling when a child has it by the wings. Decide. Run or stay. Her heart pounded ten times louder than the words. But he was a vampire, he'd hear it anyway. “Make me then.” Val looked back to him almost aggressively, deciding to own her decision. She threw herself into his eyes like jumping off a cliff. His will surrounded her until she was floating in the warm sea of his blue eyes, watching actions that belonged to someone else. It was someone else who gripped the stake tighter. Someone else who walked forward, eye level with the monster who had just been about to kill her. And behind him was Lucas his large presence overshadowing everything else. She smoothed the rumpled Pogues t-shirt, wanting to hit his heart on the first try. She struck hard and fast but the stake didn't go in far enough. Val tried again, using two hands and pressing forward, all of her weight pushing forward. It was like cutting a grisly steak with a plastic knife. “Harder,” Lucas said. Val heard a grunt— her own— and pushed, her arms burning with exertion, until the stake slid forward and the vampire paused in mid-struggle. His skin turned ashen then disintegrated, bones falling around the stake and clunking to the ground before her, dust settling on her tennis shoes. Her momentum carried her forward, the stake still raised, about to pierce Lucas. Deftly, he turned and caught her, his strong hands gripping her arms, keeping her and the stake away from him. “I think one vampire is sufficient for tonight,” he said dryly. Val stepped backwards and looked up into his eyes. She thought of a gas fire, the blue that surrounded the flames, the same color and heat of his eyes. “I release you,” he said softly, looking down at her. Valerie came back to herself, the blue ocean throwing her out, cold night air biting through her clothing, her shin painful and still bleeding. She looked down at the wound, then back up but Lucas was gone. She heard Jack calling her. Dropping the stake, she ran; calling for Jack and her father, tripping over tree roots and slipping on damp leaves as she followed Jack's voice back to the car. Her father looked her over, disappointment, maybe even irritation, etched on his face. “See Jack, I told you she was fine. You think that's a funny game, Valerie? Run off into the woods and scare us witless? If you couldn't help, or I guess wouldn't help, then you should have stayed in the car. You were stupid and reckless, Valerie.” Her father strode to the driver's side of the car and got in, leaving Val in the cold night air. She supposed she should tell him what had happened. But she didn’t want to. Did she fear Lucas? Hell, yeah! She wasn’t a total idiot. But would he hurt her? No. Her mind and body knew it, the answer resonating through her like the vibrations of a bell. Part of her wondered how she could know, wondered at the risk she was willing to take, and then that worry resolved too. Irrationally, she knew. He wouldn’t hurt her. They drove home in silence and Valerie went to bed thinking about Lucas and her decision to stay quiet. He'd known her name, protected her, and tried to help her get over her fear. Even though she hadn't been in control of her actions, she felt a little better, like she'd kind of done it, and could maybe protect herself in the future. He was like Lucifer, the angel so beautiful that all others paled in comparison. Men didn't look like him, features so bold and striking, so harsh and perfect that he was frightening. When she thought about boys, she thought about Jack. She spent most of her time imagining kissing Jack, she'd even dreamed about it. Lucas was not a boy. Lucas wasn’t the stuff of girlish fantasies. He was too predatory to fantasize about. It was like a kitten admiring a lion. Val pushed the uncomfortable thoughts away, and was glad she’d decided to say nothing about Lucas. She didn’t want to think about him, have Nate and Jack talk about him. They couldn’t do anything anyway. Lucas had crushed that other vampire with a punch. She knew who Lucas was. All the Hunters did. He was their leader. King. And he could kill her and her family with one careless swipe of his arm. And if she told them about Lucas they’d have questions. Questions she didn’t have the answers too and that she didn’t want said aloud. She was alive tonight because of him. Why did he come for me? Why did he save me? What does he want? And worst of all…when will he come back for me?
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