Sunday, February 25th, 2018
Fetching Analia

“You have got to be kidding me,” Kellen said at seeing the white unicorn leave a long scratch along the side of a silver BMW.

He had places to go, women to fuck, and now this. This!

And oh yeah, he saw exactly how this was going to go down. Barking, biting, chasing—not that he minded a good chase, but risking having his jaw broken and his canine teeth knocked out because a sorcerer just couldn’t help himself…

Kellen growled, a low, deep sound that was nearly identical to the one he would have made in his hound form.

A hundred feet in front of him, the aggravated unicorn lunged, impaling a tire in an attempt to get at the dog, a brindle boxer with floppy ears, that cowered beneath the vehicle.

The tire deflated in a hiss. The dog whined and trembled so hard that Kellen felt for the animal. Poor beast’s only crime was going into the backyard for his little person’s birthday party.

Wrong place, wrong time, not unlike himself. If he’d already made it to the night club…

He’d still have been called out since his other form wouldn’t alarm the humans. Taine, standing next to him, sure as hell couldn’t shed his human skin and become a dragon. Though a stream of fire directed at the party responsible… And barbequed unicorn…

Both appealed to Kellen.

“Sorcerers,” Taine muttered. “Just when you think you’ve seen it all…”

“Yeah, just when.”

On the other side of the BMW, another unicorn blocked the dog’s escape route while casting a wary glance at them. The animals weren’t any more intelligent than horses when pulled into the human realm, they were just deadlier. And contrary to the rainbows, butterflies and hearts that seemed to make it into human depictions of unicorns, haul them unwillingly into a different realm—especially this human world where their horns and magic gave them an advantage—and they weren’t going to be sweet, loving or docile.

Kellen’s keen hearing enabled him to catch the sound of a sports car approaching at illegal speed.

“Finally,” Taine said on a relieved sigh, also hearing the car, and shifting from one foot to the other as he did his best not to notice the women pushing their chests out each time they peeled their attention away from the unicorns or Kellen and focused on him. Apparently being mated to Saffron didn’t lessen the dragon’s appeal to humans.

A brunette’s gaze caught Kellen’s. She licked her lips, her eyes sliding downward to the front of his jeans.
Beneath the material, his cock twitched but didn’t start to fill until he thought about the scent he’d encountered days ago, a combination of woman and magic that’d entranced him while he was patrolling the All Things Supernatural Fair in his hound form.

Uneasiness shimmered through him at the strength of the compulsion that came with that memory. Days later and he still wanted to hunt the source of that scent and look at her with human eyes, touch her with human hands, push into her with a human—

Monday, March 21st, 2016
Dragon’s Flame

The scent of burning rubber and scorched paint burned Taine’s nostrils. He locked his jaw, as much in frustration as to avoid having his tongue coated with the taste of the yellow Maserati going up in flames. He’d yet to claim her and he already knew one thing for certain when it came to Saffron Greene. She was going to be a troublesome kind of mate.

Sirens grew louder, as did the crowd of humans gathered to watch an expensive sports car meet its end. They held their cellphones at arm’s length, recording his loss and no doubt posting images of it to a mind-boggling number of places.

He grimaced. With his luck, this would go viral and end up on the San Diego news channels, there for fellow IRE agents—and worse, his boss Maksim—to see. Then again, maybe it was a toss-up whether that would be worse than having word of his loss of control be carried back to his family in the dragon realm.

They’d worry for him, might pool their treasure to buy a charm that’d shore up his magic. He was their pride, the first of his family to have enough personal magic to be able to enter this realm on his own, without incurring a debt.

Watching as those closest to him tap-tap-tapped away on their phones, launching evidence of his loss of control into cyberspace, had Taine longing for the days when news traveled by messenger. Back then if a dragon wanted to prevent the spread of information, the problem was resolved by swooping down and eating the messenger.

Those were the good old days. Not that he’d actually lived in those glory times when dragons dared to show themselves to ordinary humans. He was a hundred and fifty as measured in this realm, but had been here a mere twenty-five years, no time at all when compared to many of his coworkers.

Taine huffed out a breath—carefully, very carefully, controlling his fire.

The female attention that had been ping-ponging between him and the burning Maserati shifted to something behind him and to the right.

That kind of reaction usually signaled the presence of a supernatural male. He unlocked his jaw, did the same to spine and hips, affecting a slouch and feigning nonchalance, as if it were every day he destroyed a new treasure in such a public fashion.

True to his prediction of worsening luck, one of the agents he most often partnered with stopped next to him. The dark-haired, gem-rich golden dragon said, “My curiosity is ablaze.”

Steps away from them, a human female with unnaturally large breasts swooned, overcome by proximity to the scion of one of the most powerful families in his and Crew’s native realm. Luckily for her, friends caught her before she crashed to the pavement.

“Ha ha,” Taine said to Crew, a growl in his voice thanks to the loudening sound of the approaching fire engine.

Crew flashed a smile, undeterred. “Isn’t this the very car you won four days ago from Gaige?”

“It is.”

The fire consuming the Maserati flared, sending a wave of heat outward, though it was no doubt Crew’s laugh that caused another human female’s heart to flutter and weaken so she sagged and had to be held upright by her companions.

“At least this one didn’t cost you anything,” Crew said. “Though I’m not sure Gaige will be amused. He had a fondness for this particular car, something to do with twins and the beach. How many does this make in the past month?”

Taine refrained from looking at his sometime partner. “Three.”

Thursday, September 10th, 2015
Josiah’s Bride

“Sit here,” Josiah said to the boy, and the boy slid into the booth to the right of the club entrance, where the building corners were reinforced by thick layers of steel and impenetrable by bullets.

Josiah kept going, aware of the glances his men sent in his direction, aware too of the absence of women though the scent of perfume lingered.

Tables gleamed, capturing lantern light on surfaces as shiny as any that’d be found in gentlemen’s clubs serving the elite behind the towering wall of New San Jose.

He reached the long mahogany bar. Stopped next to DeAngelo.

“Would have brought your drink out, jefe,” Blaine, acting as bartender, said, a smoke stick dipping at the corner of his mouth.

Blaine set a tumbler on the bar, lifted a bottle of whiskey imported from Diego’s warren and poured, stopping halfway up the glass. “Want the kid to have the same but watered down?”

DeAngelo, his ass half planted on a bar stool, the studs in his ears catching the light, snorted. “Kid’s only five.”

Blaine shrugged. “This isn’t New San Jose and the boy’s a warlord’s son.”

Josiah’s gaze went to the fancy mirrored panels on the wall behind Blaine. Like the polished tables and refined air of the place, the mirrors would have been commonplace before the Final War. It’d taken nearly a year to acquire and get them smuggled out of New San Jose.

The boy’s image was captured in the panels, his head ducked, his forearms on the table, his hands curled protectively around the handmade book.

“Serve him juice,” Josiah told Blaine. “You can take it out to him.”

Blaine made it orange juice, left the area behind the bar, the gun shoved into his waistband at the center of his back visible in the mirror as he walked toward the booth.

Josiah lifted his glass and drank, the burn of the whiskey accompanying a hot flash of pride. This was his place. This was his warren. These men were his men and he’d been able to arm them in a world where guns were hard to come by and men who could be trusted at your back were rarer still.

Blaine set the glass of orange juice down on the table. Josiah looked toward the back of the club. Most of the men present sat around tables playing poker, but a group that included Ciro stood facing targets pinned to the soft wood wall.

In New San Jose, there’d be dartboards. But darts weren’t nearly as practical as knives and stars. And hitting a colorful grid wasn’t nearly as interesting as targeting a man.

Jeans riding low, the black tank revealing a tatted arm, Ciro flipped a knife end-over-end, getting a feel for its weight.

Ricardo, one of Ciro’s charges, the teen’s face not free of pimples, said, “A city silver piece that you can’t put it between his eyes.”

Blaine returned to his place behind the bar. He poured himself a whisky, “A fool and his coin.”

“He’ll learn not to bet against Ciro.”

Ciro caught the knife and threw. It sliced through the air then hit the wall, its tip embedded between the target’s eyebrows.

Blaine tilted the mouth of the whiskey bottle toward Josiah. “Another?”


Ciro pocketed the easily won city coin and sauntered to the bar.

“Robbing babies now?” DeAngelo said with a smirk.

“When the babies ask to be robbed.”

Blaine retrieved a mug, pulled beer from a wooden keg, then slid the drink across the counter to Ciro.

Ciro lifted the mug, took a long swallow. His gaze flicked to the boy sitting alone in the booth before meeting Josiah’s. “What’s the point of you being at the bar?”

Josiah forced his eyebrows upward. “I’m not entitled to a drink, amigo?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”

“The boy is my concern.”

“And that’s obvious how?”

“Careful, amigo.”

“There was a point to banishing the women?”

“Now there’s a good question,” Saul said, joining them at the bar, radiating the leashed violence of a warlord though he hadn’t fought for territory along the towering wall encircling New San Jose.

“Nothing is keeping either of you here,” Josiah said. “Leave, go find women.”

There were plenty who were willing to spread their legs for him or his men. He was the warlord, the law in this warren and his men were his soldiers. They were servants of his justice and protectors of the people who looked to him to maintain order.

Ciro tipped his mug toward the booth. “The boy needs a father. He needs a mother.”

“Too bad Jax paid the ransom,” DeAngelo said. “His woman was a looker. I’d have done her if Josiah passed. Might even have made that one permanent.”

Saul snorted. “Brave words from a man who’s rarely with the same woman twice.”

Blaine poured a shot of tequila and pushed the glass to a stop in front of Saul.

Saul tossed the drink back. “Let the whores in, Josiah. There’s no point in protecting the boy from the truth about women, your sister and Rosa excluded.”

In the mirror, Josiah saw the boy looking at him, a quick, shy glance toward the bar followed by the curl inward of small shoulders.

Mierda. He needed to do something.

Rosa’s care wasn’t enough. She might soothe. She might be as fierce and protective as a hen guarding a house occupied by a small brood.

Her will was finely honed, her words like a sharp beak pecking at resistance until those in her charge—even a much-feared and powerful warlord—conformed to her expectations. But she was old enough to be the boy’s grandmother. She hadn’t been a part of the boy’s life from his earliest memories as she had been for Makayla and him.

Josiah set the empty glass on the bar.

“Another?” Blaine asked.

A nod and it was poured. Josiah polished it off but the drink didn’t provide inspiration. It didn’t send him to the booth though he was not a man who sought courage in a bottle.

Coward. He called himself what he’d kill another man for saying about him.

He’d brought the boy here, into the company of his men, hoping it would ease the way. Hoping it might help him find a comfortable way to relate to the boy.

Dios, how quickly his life had changed, his needs had changed, his plans had changed.

In the mirror, the boy carefully moved to the next page of his precious book, bringing the memory of walking into the parlor and seeing him snuggled next to Jax’s woman as she read to him on the love seat.

It weighed down Josiah’s heart, and sensing the weakness, Ciro said, “Get the boy a mother, Josiah. You don’t have to care about the woman you choose, only ensure that she’s protected. All that matters is that the boy loves her.”

“Truer words have never been spoken,” DeAngelo said, slipping one of the throwing stars from the bandolier draped across his chest. He placed the star on the counter and spun it on the glossy wood. “Gather candidates pretty enough to fuck and let the boy choose his own mother.”

The boy would have chosen Jax’s woman. He’d waited at the door, eyes begging her to stay. He’d cried in his room after she left with Jax.

The boy needs a mother. Not a day passed when Rosa didn’t give him that same lecture.

Josiah tapped the wood next to the empty tumbler. Blaine dutifully poured another drink.

“I won’t take a bride from the warrens,” he said, not his warren, not one controlled by another warlord. He wouldn’t be able to trust the woman not to betray him.

“Fuck me,” Saul said. “You’re not seriously considering marriage.”

“It’s the only way,” Ciro said. “The vows would bind her to the warlord, but more importantly, to the boy.”

Saul stroked the first of the twenty-five bullets in his bandolier. “Loyalty is everything. The oath only means it’ll make it cleaner when it’s decided she needs killing.”

Ciro shook his head. “Dark predictions, amigo. Dark thoughts when it comes to women. I pity the one who catches your eye for more than a fast, hard fuck.”

Saul dropped his hand to the bullet that rested with its copper tip above his heart. “This one’s for that mythical creature.”

Ciro downed the rest of his beer. “And which one is for me?”

Saul’s mouth tipped upward at the right corner. “I won’t waste a bullet on you, brother.”

Refilling Ciro’s mug, Blaine said, “Now that we’ve gotten the lovefest out of the way, let’s talk about where a bride should come from. Two choices.”

DeAngelo smirked and spun the throwing star. “Two? You’re seeing us straddling horses instead of the motorcycles? You’re suggesting we bust our nuts out in the wild lands hunting down a tribe so Josiah can bargain for a woman?”

Ciro lifted his mug and tipped it toward Blaine. “That’d give his balls more action than they usually get.”

Blaine’s smoke stick dipped. “Fuck you.”

Ciro laughed. “See what I mean? Man’s desperate for some action.”

“A woman from the wild lands is out,” Saul said, nodding in the direction of the teen who’d bet a silver piece against Ciro. “First chance she got, she’d grab whatever her tribe wanted and be gone, probably leaving at least a couple of fools with their throats slit.”

“And the voice of darkness speaks again,” Ciro said. “Not that he’s wrong about a woman from the wild lands. But I can’t see a woman from New San Jose giving up the safety of the city, and that’s assuming Josiah could meet one he’d want.”
Saul tapped a finger against the bullet at the bottom of his bandolier. “That’s assuming he wouldn’t end up with one of Merati’s spies.”

“And we circle back to killing,” Ciro said.

Saul shrugged. “Truth is what it is. The boy can grow up without a mother. Half the men in this room did, or would have been better off without one.”

Josiah’s gaze met Saul’s, held steady there rather than dip to the scars they both knew existed beneath the shirt and bandolier.

The message in his underlord’s hard eyes was clear. Don’t take bride.

But when Josiah’s attention flicked to the boy, his thoughts went to how the boy had been with Jax’s woman, then burrowed into his own memories of the mother he’d adored before she died.

Blaine took the smoke stick and tap-tapped it against the counter. “The apothecary has a daughter.”

DeAngelo whistled. “Fucking brilliant. Leverage could be applied to Elliot to get him to agree to a marriage.”

Blaine pointed the smoke stick at the bullets on Saul’s bandolier. “Unless she wants her mother and father killed, odds are she’d tell Josiah if Merati tries to turn her into one of his spies. And if Merati does approach her, we can use her to feed him information, maybe draw someone out for target practice. Be more of a challenge for Ciro than hitting pictures on a wall.”

DeAngelo spun the throwing start. “It’s not like the daughter isn’t fuckable.”

Blaine tucked the smoke stick back into the corner of his mouth. “Only caught a glimpse of her once. But long blonde hair, big tits, what’s not to like? And she’d be a virgin. You know how it is behind the wall, a fucking double standard but it’d work to the big jefe’s advantage.”

Josiah pictured Elliott’s daughter. He’d only seen her once himself, and at a distance. She was beautiful. Fuckable. A man wouldn’t need a dark room or to close his eyes.

She’d be forgettable when he was away from her, unlike the sultry brown-haired beauty who’d sometimes been in the workshop with Elliott. Now there was a mamacita to star in a man’s fantasies. There was a woman who would become a distraction.

When she’d been present, his thoughts had strayed from the business at hand. His thoughts still strayed to her. She’d glanced at him from beneath thick lashes, her innocent eyes revealing she had no idea what kind of desires the quick, shy dart of her tongue put into a man’s head.

He’d imagined tumbling her onto the workshop table and taking her there. He’d imagined more.

But an indentured servant wouldn’t give him the leverage he needed. And the last thing he wanted was to crave his wife.

He’d learned his lesson about falling prey to a beautiful woman with the boy’s mother. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Josiah glanced at the boy. He knew nothing about Elliot’s daughter, not even her name. It was a risk. But take her from the walled city and everything familiar, give her a purpose—to mother a boy aching for love. Give her a position of power as wife to a warlord…

It could work. And it would solve his problem, a problem he wanted quickly solved.

He set his empty glass down. “Make the arrangements, Ciro. Tell Elliot I’ll marry his daughter in two days.”

“Two days? You don’t want to give the choice a little more thought?”

“Taking back your claim that the boy needs a mother, amigo?”


DeAngelo returned the throwing star to the bandolier. “You’ve had a fast trigger finger since the boy arrived. Maybe a virgin in your bed will save a few bullets.”

Josiah smiled and lifted his hand, cocked it as he would a gun, a finger pointed at DeAngelo’s chest. “I’ve only killed men who deserved to die.”

“We’ll collect her at the gate in our territory?” Ciro asked.

“No. Tell Elliot to enter the warrens as he normally would, then cross from Jax’s territory where section two becomes section three. Tell him to bring his wife as well as his daughter.”

“To the public square?”

“No. We’ll do this at the stronghold. Out front, surrounded by soldiers. There’ll be plenty of witnesses.”

Ciro tipped his head toward the booth. “One of those witnesses needs to be the boy.”

“He’ll be there, at my side when she says her vows.”

“What time?”

Josiah shrugged. “It doesn’t matter as long as it’s done by sunset. Santiago can be sent for as soon as they cross from Jax’s territory.”

Ciro drained the mug of beer and put it on the bar. “I’ll go take care of the business of marrying you off. Going to be a lot of whores crying when they hear you’ve taken a bride.”

“Who says I’m going to limit myself?”

His father never had. His mother hadn’t cared.

Ciro laughed and pushed away from the bar. Saul’s gaze met Josiah’s, eyes holding the message, This will end as badly as the last time.

Josiah ignored the message, his chest swelling again with pride, at having gathered such fine men. Even hating the boy’s mother, Saul would sacrifice himself to the cause of vengeance. He would give his life protecting the boy.

“Anything from the men in Krish’s territory?” Josiah asked his underlord.

“Nothing.” Saul’s attention shifted to the booth. “But it’s only a matter of time.”

“That’s always the case, amigo.”

Josiah left the bar. Crossed the room, the eyes of his men on him as he slid into the booth opposite the boy.

His son? If only he had the answer to that question.

A week ago, he hadn’t known the boy existed. Now he was supposed to be a father.

Monday, November 10th, 2014
Eliana’s Warlord


She walked into the bar and Jax knew she was trouble.

Perfect trouble. Heart-pounding trouble. The kind of trouble another man might just be willing to die for.

She came in with her shoulders hunched and head ducked, the black hoodie that might mean she was coming out of Elias’s warren pulled forward in a vain effort to hide a beautiful face.

Good luck with that. What little he could see of her caramel-toned features was enough to get him straightening out of a slouch, his body humming and his dick going hard in a scorching rush of I want.

This was his place. Painted green with his graffiti tagged on either side of the door instead of just at the building corners.

She’d known coming in that there was a good chance he’d be here. She’d known coming in that for a warlord, I want and I’ll have were indistinguishable.

His territory. His turf. His little kingdom carved between the towering external wall of New San Jose and the wild lands.

A quick glance in his direction, the barest touch of her eyes to his before she looked away and the voices around him went silent.

He willed her to look at him again so he could signal her over to the table.

She ignored him, making a straight line for the bar. And fuck if her disobedience didn’t make him a different kind of hot.

Behind the bar, Enrique stopped bullshitting with a customer and started moving, combing back long black hair with his fingers and anticipating where she was going to be when she reached the polished wood.

Enrique’s expression said, I’m going to fuck this one.

Not until after I’m done, Jax thought, and stared hard enough to have Enrique look away from the woman and at him.

A minute shake of Jax’s head said, Mine.

A tip of Enrique’s chin downward. Acknowledged.

Jax’s cock was already throbbing, pulsing against his jeans in a let-me-out-to-play beat that had him reaching down and adjusting himself.

They might not make it out of the bar before he took her. Hell, they might not even make it to the back room.

Wouldn’t be the first time he’d fucked a woman in front of his men and the hangers-on and whoever else happened to be there, spies included.

A feminine hand landed on his stomach and pushed beneath his waistband to grasp his dick, reminding him that he hadn’t been alone when she walked into his place.

His cock jerked in Shell’s hand, animal reaction, but his dick wasn’t really interested. Been there, done that. More than once. Hell, more times than he could remember, because these days convenient trumped the effort required to summon a woman to his table or his bedroom or wherever else he wanted to take one.

Steps away from the bar, the woman he wanted veered and headed toward the hallway leading to the bathrooms and back room.

Jax grasped Shell’s wrist and pulled her hand away from his dick. “Go keep Enrique company.” Only fair to toss tonight’s bartender a consolation prize.

The woman slipped from sight. Jax slid out of the booth.

He lifted his gun off the scarred wooden table.

The law of New San Jose said only those with permits could own a firearm. The truth was, only the privileged elite were wealthy enough to pay the fees.

But this was his warren. And he was the law here.

He jammed the gun into his waistband at the middle of his back and headed toward the hallway without a glance at Shell.

Half a step from the table and she’d ceased to exist for him. Fuck, he couldn’t even remember the last woman who’d had his dick banging to get free of his pants or his heart beating fast.

Jax reached the hallway entrance. Anticipation surged through him, heat that hurried his steps. A couple of minutes max and she’d be stripped and flat on her back.

Long strides took him to the women’s bathroom. He banged the door open.

A blonde at the sink spun and gasped. Her hand flew to her throat. Her eyes widened to a pleading, terrified look that told him she thought she’d caught his interest but she belonged to somebody she loved.

His bar. His warren. Everything in it was his for the taking.

“Out,” he said.

She fled past him.

He was almost insulted by her relief. He might have a reputation for doing several different women in the same day, but he’d never killed a man over a woman. Never taken one who belonged to someone else unless she was offered to him. Hell, he’d turned down plenty of women who did belong to someone else.

Jax looked at the five bathroom stalls but didn’t bother bending to see which one she was in.

His hand dropped to the front of his jeans, gripped his cock through the rough material. Fuck, he wanted her. How could just a quick glimpse of her face and barest touch of her eyes to his have him panting after her like a man without enough money to visit a whorehouse?

“Come out of the stall,” he said, and even he heard the dark hunger in his voice.

A toilet flushed.

His cock pulsed through the jeans, demanding he unzip.

A twist and the slide of a latch preceded the slow swing inward of the stall door closest to the frosted window.

He fought against stepping forward. She’d come to him. Not the other way around.
A redhead emerged, feverish anticipation in her blue eyes, lips wet and blouse unbuttoned to reveal deep, creamy cleavage.


“Out,” he growled.

She registered surprise. Then confident expectation, not believing he could be rejecting her.

He’d seen her around a lot in recent weeks. Contemplated taking her up on the offer in her every glance, but let the opportunity go when one of his men went after her first.

She came toward him, the way she moved an invitation for him to order her onto her knees with her mouth open, or to brace against the wall and hike her nothing of a skirt up and spread her legs.

Maybe another time.

He hardened his expression, used the jerk of his head to tell her to go around him. Not that he’d be surprised if he found her waiting at his table, claiming she thought that’s where he meant her to go.

She passed him, close enough he smelled her perfume.

Behind him the door opened and closed. He felt the emptiness in the bathroom then.



He ripped open the closest stall door.

Then a second. A third.

The fourth.


Jax slammed out of the bathroom. His muscles tightened in a rush of aggressiveness.

He stalked to the door leading to the back room. Stabbed the keypad to the right of the door, each metallic click adding to his impatience.

Only his inner circle had the code for the lock, but she better not be in the back room.

A final click and he surged through the doorway.

Samuel was boning a blonde on the couch, the darkness of his skin magnified by the paleness of hers. He jerked, growled, “What the fuck!”

His face turned toward Jax and he sighed, levered himself upward, the plaited hair he was so proud of sliding off his shoulders. “You need the room? Or you need me for something?”

“I’m good.”

Jax stepped backward, pulling the door closed and not liking the relief that swept through him.

He touched his hand to his shirt, pressed the tattoo inked above his heart, not that he needed any reminders of what a woman was capable of and why he’d never let one have power over him.

The only reason he was chasing after this one was because she’d managed to catch and hold his interest, that’s all. He’d fuck her and set her free, same as all the others.

His attention snapped to the men’s bathroom. His muscles tightened again. Three fast strides and he entered, the door hitting the wall and rebounding.

Empty. But she’d been there.

Cool, night air flowed into the room where she’d climbed on a urinal and opened the window to leave unseen.

Jax spun and went straight to the bar.

Shell was on her knees giving Enrique head behind the counter, but having his dick in her mouth wouldn’t have made Enrique less observant.

“She come back through?” Jax asked.


“Anyone just come in?”


Jax headed for the front door. Luke, sitting near it, gently lifted his woman off his lap and got to his feet.

Rand, in a booth to the left, shoved the brunette hanger-on he’d been making out with aside and stood.

There was a scrape of chairs behind Jax, three of his other men readying themselves for action. And fuck, he didn’t want any of them with him.

He put his hand up to stop the ones behind him from following, saw Luke’s expression go tight, gaze flicking to a newcomer who’d shown up earlier and had the vibe of a spy belonging to one of the New San Jose elite.

Luke put his muscled bulk between the door and Jax. “The woman?”

“Went out the bathroom window.”

“I’ll find her.”

His woman didn’t like that. She crossed her arms, holding back the protest even if she let it take over her face.

Luke’s massive arm went across her shoulders. He pulled her against his side to mollify her.

She was a looker with her rich brown skin and large breasts. Jax got the attraction but he still couldn’t wrap his head around Luke trusting his heart to a woman.

Some of his other men, yeah, they’d come from a different kind of family. It didn’t surprise him they’d settled on one woman. Made no apologies about getting their woman’s name inked above their hearts and keeping their dicks in their pants except for pissing. But Luke…

He shrugged it off. Their lives, their choices. It’d never be his.

“Move,” Jax said, the word coming out harsher than he’d intended.

Luke cocked his head. The bare hint of a smile on his lips was nearly an invitation to fight. Just because they’d been willing to put their lives on the line for each other since they were kids didn’t mean they pulled punches or were afraid to draw blood.

Jax bared his teeth. “Get out of my way.”

Luke showed more of his, the smile moving to his eyes.

“Sure thing, Jax.”

Luke got out of the way and Jax stepped into the cool night air.

They’d give him a head start, but at least two of his men would follow, most likely three since he hadn’t given a direct order to remain behind.

He peeled to the right. A shot of adrenaline hit at facing the narrow alley between the bar and one of his storehouses.

In a little while the moon would be high enough to light the long strip between buildings. But right now it was all darkness. Enough to cover her escape or hide someone waiting with a knife and a death wish.

He touched the gun at the base of his spine. Smiled and entered the alley without pulling the weapon.

Moving fast, his eyes adjusting, he reached the place beneath the open bathroom window where she would have dropped to the ground.

It hit him then, she was running from someone, not escaping his interest.

It only made him want her more.

Fucking perverse. But maybe things had been too quiet for too long and that’s why he was in the mood for trouble.

He jogged to the end of the alley, emerged at the back of the bar. Rand, Leon and Luke waited there.

Jax’s lips quirked upward at thinking about Samuel’s reaction to them cutting through the back room and interrupting his fuck.

“See anyone?” Jax asked.

Rand shook his head. “No.”

Jax looked at Luke, ground his teeth against reacting to the I’m going to enjoy this smile. “Go back inside. Anybody shows up from now on who isn’t a regular, sweat them. I want her name. I want to know who she’s running from and why.”

Luke punched in the code and pulled open the back door.

“Fuck it!” Samuel yelled at being interrupted again.

Jax laughed along with the others, but just as fast the humor evaporated. “If she circles back, keep her here,” he told Luke. “And make damn sure nobody touches her.”

“Sure thing.” Luke stepped through the doorway grinning. “Happy hunting.”

Leon touched a finger to the dark soul patch he’d taken to wearing. “I’m seeing the potential here. Maybe we should start sending some of the whores running and hiding.”

Rand smirked. “Women you’ve been sticking your dick into lately, I can see why maybe it’s starting to feel like you’re shooting fish in a barrel.”

“Back at you,” Leon said. “You’ve been doing the same women. So has Jax.”

Wide mouths opening and closing on dicks. Thighs flapping open and bodies flipping over to be taken from the top or from behind, yeah, kind of like fish in a barrel, which was why he was out here chasing a mystery woman instead of inside fucking Shell.

Question was, how well did his mystery woman know his warren and where was she heading? A specific destination? Or was she just looking for a place to stop and hide for the night?

His territory was pie-shaped, kissing the New San Jose wall for a relatively short distance, then widening and becoming more and more like the wild lands the further out it went. He didn’t waste resources lighting streets, but the full moon meant the market square a few blocks away would be packed with vendor carts and musicians hoping to grab extra business. It meant the bars closest to the square were selling less liquor but had a steady stream of men drinking with their buddies outside then coming in to warm up between the legs of the whores who worked the upstairs rooms.

It was as good a place as any to start looking for his mystery woman.

Jax started jogging in that direction.

Rand pulled up next to him. “Sweat anyone who comes in looking for her? Make sure nobody touches her? Not like you to go all caveman over a woman.”

“You’ve lost it if that’s what you think. Wanting answers is not going caveman.”

Rand grinned. “If you say so.”

“I say so.” Putting sarcasm in his tone, Jax added, “You happen to notice she was wearing Elias’s colors?”

“And that matters how? Unless maybe she’s a stray and you’re planning on being neighborly and returning her.”

Jax clenched his jaw rather than let Rand goad him into saying that unless she was wearing some other man’s ink, he wasn’t interested in returning her, only fucking her.

Ahead of them the laughter and easy chatter of the marketplace changed to a buzz carrying the word fight.

Jax closed the distance at a faster pace.

At the back of the crowd, money was already changing hands.

Rand took point, putting his hands on the shoulders of the two men in front of him.

They half-turned, fuck if I’m going to let you through on their faces and about to leave their mouths until they saw who wanted through.

They stepped aside, telling the people in front of them.

Nobody wanted to be standing anywhere close if a fight broke out with the warlord and his men.

A path opened, straight to the front of a fight circle.

“I got fifty standard copper pieces on hoodie,” said a slurred-voiced man standing two back from the circle’s edge.

A gray-haired woman in front of him and to the right turned. “I’ll take the fifty.”

Jax hit the edge of the circle and there she was, the gathered crowd trapping her with Tanya, one of the regular vendors selling pig meat in the square.

The black hood was thrown back, revealing warm caramel skin and light brown hair that reached her shoulders, each strand softly kinked a dozen times.

His hands flexed. Need burned through him at imagining himself fisting her hair and using those soft, silky strands to draw her to him.

Fuck, she was beautiful. Up close he didn’t think once or twice would do it for him. It might take twenty, thirty rounds to get her out of his system.

He’d let her fight as long as it didn’t look as if she’d get hurt. He’d give her a chance at victory, and then he’d claim his prize.

“What started it?” he asked the old woman who’d taken the drunk’s bet.

“Tanya’s man took an interest in her.”

Jax turned hard eyes on the man in question.

The sun hadn’t been down long and already Tanya’s man swayed from too much drink.

“He touch her?”

Jax felt the excitement of those close enough to hear the growled question.

“Grabbed her,” a sweaty, rank-looking man standing on the other side of the woman said. “Tried to kiss her.”

Fury moved through Jax. Nobody touched what belonged to him, and until he said he didn’t give a fuck who she was with, she wasn’t available.


He stopped before giving the order to drag Tanya’s man over so he could break his fucking hands and rip off his lips.

“Yeah?” Rand asked, I fucking called it, you’ve gone caveman over a woman in his voice.

Jax clenched his jaw. A muscle spasmed in his cheek.

He dismissed the order with a shake of his head. Ignored the flash of Rand’s teeth.

Rand took a silver piece from a pocket, walked it through his fingers. “I’ll put this on hoodie, Leon. You on?”

Leon shot a look at Jax, then Rand. “Suck-up.”

Rand laughed. “Can’t blame me, can you?”

Jax crossed his arms over his chest. Fuckers had been with him too long for him to get mad at some of the shit they pulled.

In the ring, Tanya swung a meaty fist.

His mystery woman ducked but she didn’t follow it by launching an attack.

Tanya charged.

His woman leapt away. Kicked, landed a blow to Tanya’s back and sent her crashing forward—

And again, failed to attack.

Whoever she was, she’d had some self-defense training, the kind someone might have taught a younger sister to help her get away from trouble, not engage it.

Tanya charged again, face reddened.

She swung a beefy fist and again his woman dipped, dodged, danced to the side, making Tanya appear clumsy.

Some in the crowd cheered.

More booed.

“Going to get uglier if hoodie doesn’t engage,” Rand murmured.

Jax agreed. He could feel the mood shift to impatient. The crowd wanted blood, not the beauty of lithe, evasive movement.

And every one of hers was just that. Lithe. Evasive. Sensuous. Every one of hers made him want to get his hands on her, to strip away the rest of her clothing.

She danced away from Tanya, kicked again and made contact.

Tanya grunted and staggered.

It wasn’t enough to satisfy the crowd. Like a predatory animal with one mind, the crowd closed in, tightening the circle to force an escalation into violence.

Sensing it, or perhaps sensing that she’d lost whatever advantage she’d gained by entering his bar and escaping through the window, she went on the offensive.

Three lucky strikes, one with a foot, two with fists, and Tanya was on the ground, a couple of teeth glistening on the sidewalk and blood seeping from beneath the hands held to her face.

Jax moved in before the circle collapsed and his woman tried to dart through an opening and disappear. Her back was to him but he knew the instant she became aware of his approach.

She surged forward, away from him.

The couple in front of her closed the gap.

She turned slightly and the scrawny man she faced paled and threw his arm across the shoulders of the muscled man to the right.

Jax’s smile was hard and satisfied. His inner circle could get away with treating him as if he wasn’t warlord, but the people in his warren knew better. Whether they’d won money or lost money betting on her, no one in the crowd was stupid enough to open a path and allow her to escape when he was the one coming after her.

He reached her. Locked a hand around her upper arm.

Electric pleasure traveled from his palm to his chest and then straight to his dick. “Let’s go.”

Saturday, August 16th, 2014
Mallory’s Hunt

Mallory rolled the black Rubicon to a stop in front of the white adobe apartment building. If her informant was right, they’d find Larsen’s skip inside.

Tommy Henderson. Bonded-out and free to prowl for his next victim, free to rape again, free to ruin lives. Hiding out and thinking he could escape justice.

Despite the cold blasting from the air conditioning, heat swirled like sinuous flame in her stomach. Don’t run, Tommy. Run and you could end up dead.

She didn’t want to serve as judge and jury and executioner. She didn’t want to lose her grip on humanity, not today. But Dane… Dane was already missing some of his.

She glanced at him, black menace and lethal promise, two-legged brother now on four thanks to their sire. The bulk of Dane’s mass was in the back of the Jeep, but his neck was draped over the passenger seat so he could take the hit of air conditioning in the face.

Reaper Hounds. Death Hounds. Hellhounds. The myths didn’t get it right.

They were all killers. Or killers in training.

She cut the engine and opened the door, flooding the Rubicon with the smell of diesel and asphalt and ocean. “Alive, Dane. Let’s take him alive.”

He didn’t follow her out of the car.

She leaned down and looked at him.

His lips lifted to reveal a hint of teeth. He glanced at the glove box then at her, his message clear. Use the fucking charm, Mal.

The street was empty except for an old lady pushing an equally old man in a wheelchair. That didn’t mean their presence hadn’t been noted. But with the temperature in L.A. ninety and climbing, the gangbangers weren’t obvious.

“The Jeep will be okay.” Though she could understand his protectiveness since her own Rubicon, granite-colored to his black, had been firebombed on another job.

He didn’t budge.

She dropped into the driver’s seat, not wanting to give Tommy Henderson time to run.

Opening the glove box, she snagged the charm. Pulled the switchblade from her back pocket. A tap and it snicked open.

A quick stab and blood welled on her index finger.

She touched blood to the charm lying flat on her palm.

The stench of sulfur wafted upward. The stench of Hell-spawned magic. The stench she carried, along with the fear that the magic coursing through her was like black ink injected into the bloodstream to coat heart and soul.

She fisted the charm to suppress a shudder. Not that she could hide what she felt from Dane, not that she needed to. He struggled with his own desire to retain his humanity.

The old lady pushing the old man reached the building where Tommy Henderson was holed up. She propped the door open with a bag of groceries taken from the man’s lap. Turned the wheelchair so it faced the street then pulled it through the doorway, the two of them disappearing from sight before she returned to reclaim the bag.

Mallory hung the charm on the rearview mirror. They could leave the Jeep’s doors open, the key in the ignition and the engine running and the chance of having anything happen was slim.

She got out. Dane followed.

The building was a three-story with the entrance to the far left. He peeled off to the right to circle it. She went through the doorway, scent assaulting her.

Dirty diapers.

Burned bacon.

Spicy chicken.

Unwashed bodies.

Tide detergent and Febreze.

She forced her conscious mind to stop categorizing.

Panted sounds of struggle and soft, sharp sobs had her hand twitching, her awareness of the 9 mm shoved into the waistband at the base of her spine heightening.

Following the sounds, she found the old lady struggling to pull the wheelchair backward up the stairs, the old man dragging himself after her.

Mallory’s gaze flicked to the hallway. Her thoughts spun to Tommy Henderson.

Another sharp sob snapped her eyes back to the stairwell’s occupants. What was she supposed to do? Pretend not to see?

She climbed the stairs, passing the man with his twig-thin fingers outstretched on stained and faded linoleum.

She reached the old woman with her fingers tight on the wheelchair handles.

“Second or third floor?”

Washed-out brown eyes measured intention. Arthritis-swollen fingers relaxed their grip on the chair, allowing it to rest against Mallory.

The sack of groceries was too valuable to leave at the bottom of the stairs, too valuable to surrender to a stranger The old woman lifted it off the seat, arms shaking until she had the bag clutched to her chest. “Third floor.”

“No elevator?”

“Broken. They said it’d be fixed yesterday. And the day before yesterday. And the day before that.”

Mallory collapsed the chair and maneuvered it past the old woman. She hauled it to the third floor and returned, taking the stairs several at a time.

The man had kept moving. She crouched next to him, unwillingly categorizing the scent of decay and death and despair, a body under attack and losing.

She doubted he weighed more than a hundred pounds. “Can I help you up to the third floor?”

He hesitated. Reluctantly nodded.

On the first floor, a door opened. Rubber fast-slapped against linoleum toward the front door.

The instinct to chase flared. Mallory’s mouth watered and her tongue swept across her lips.

She forced her attention back to the old man. “Can you manage some of your weight?”


The building door opened and closed.

She eased the old man across her shoulders in a fireman’s carry. His arms and legs were thin, brittle sticks. His gasp was fear and pain and the expulsion of pride.

On the third floor she put him in his chair then bounded down to the first, going to the apartment where Henderson was supposed to be, in case she was wrong about the footsteps and the hasty escape.

No answer.

She pulled picks out of her back pocket. The locks were cheap. It took less time to get them opened than it’d taken to reach the apartment door from the third floor.

The lack of heartbeat and breathing inside the apartment told her the place was empty. The heavier scent in it matched the trace of fresh in the hallway.

She left the apartment building at a run.

Henderson had vanished.

Dane separated from the Jeep’s shadow and flowed into existence.

“He just left.”

A head cock asked how the hell that had happened. But he trotted over and placed his nose to the ground, caught the scent and took off running.

Mallory raced after him, heart tripping into a faster pace, doubling again when he broke from sight and began baying, the unmistakable sound of a hunting Hound whose quarry was in sight.

Past and present blurred. She stumbled, body stretching, arms out, not to brace against a fall but for hands to become paws though she didn’t possess the power to shift forms voluntarily in this world.

Saliva pooled in her mouth as quickly as the hot Los Angeles air dried it. Eight years of conditioning in her sire’s realm, the world she considered Hell, warred with a desperate grip on humanity.

Part of her was a hound running, chasing. Feeding on fear and shrieks of terror. Anticipating the kill, the shredding of flesh, the destruction of bone and the reeving of soul from body. And part of her was human, only human, clinging to the belief that she wouldn’t become the conscienceless killer her Reaper Lord sire intended her to become.

Residences gave way to industrial buildings the closer they got to the docks. A scream plunged adrenaline into her system.

She ran harder, faster, even though running was so very dangerous for the rapist she chased.

Alleged rapist.

Another scream cut through the thick, hot air like a knife-created rent in a circus tent.

She rounded the corner, sprinted.

Dane pulled Henderson off the chain-link fence he’d been trying to scale.

The scrawny man screamed all the way to the ground.

“Don’t, Dane, don’t!” she yelled.

He let go of the jeans.

Lunged at Henderson’s throat.

Mallory’s arm was there first.

Dane’s teeth slid through skin and muscle to hit bone and fill the air with the scent of blood.

He released, eyes a Hound’s liquid gold instead of fiery red because he hunted beneath the sun instead of the moon.

Dane backed away, snarling and growling, the hair along his nape lifted, his muscles taut and limbs rigid.

Pain pulsed up her arm in throbbing, heated agony. Nausea accompanied it in waves.

Henderson scrambled to his feet and bolted.

She was on him in two steps, switchblade in hand, the sharp edge against his neck, the rich, metallic scent of his blood filling her nostrils and coating her tongue with memory.

Next to her, Dane’s body vibrated with the urge to kill and hers echoed it, as if together they were a perfectly pitched tuning fork. Purpose hummed through her. Rip this soul from its fleshy body and cast it directly into the realm their sire ruled.

Knife. Gun. Hands. A Hound’s glistening teeth, it didn’t matter. All of them would accomplish the task.

“No!” Panted. Fought for. Because it would cost her far more than it would cost Henderson.

The acrid stink of piss merged with the lush scent of blood. Henderson trembled beneath her, prey now, not predator.

Alleged predator.

He hadn’t been judged guilty.


Dane’s hot breath hit her face. His low growls urged her to finish the hunt with a kill.

“Enough! Back off, Dane!”

Henderson’s rabbit-paced heartbeats marked time.

A minute.



Dane’s fur smoothed. His eyes lost the amber sheen, but that was only an illusion of safety. He retreated but didn’t sit.

Her mouth inches from Henderson’s ear, she said, “Don’t run again, Tommy.”

She took the blade from his neck, wiped the blood on his shirt then closed the knife to exchange it for cuffs.

“Hands behind your back.”

He complied.

She secured his wrists, blood rolling down her forearm and dripping onto his shirt. She stood, wrenching Henderson to his feet, the front of his jeans piss-wet.

“Let’s go.”

She attached Henderson’s cuffs to a tie-down ring in the back of the Jeep then tilted the passenger seat so Dane’s only choice was to cram himself into the front.

The adrenaline rush dropped, bottoming out in her stomach with a nauseating lurch. Her arm throbbed.

Close one. The third or fourth since Dane had left his apartment human and days later showed up outside hers as Hound.

She shuddered. Accepted that she couldn’t put off visiting Bastian any longer. He held the answer to what it would take to get Dane out of fur and into skin.

At the jail she left Dane in the Jeep, the engine on, the air-conditioning blasting.

She dumped Henderson off and got a receipt for him.

Now Bastian.

Her stomach roiled even before she stepped into the jail’s visiting area.

She hardly dared to breathe, could barely handle the body odors and emotional stink. Every surface held scent. It permeated every air particle. It coated her tongue with a residue no amount of rinsing would dispel.

Her heart thump-thump-thumped like a Black Hawk over jungle at imagining herself behind bars. It could happen. It could so easily happen.

A chill swept over her, at what it would be like to be caged, her movements controlled. At what it would be like to be trapped in a place full of prey.

She’d been created to hunt, kill, to deliver souls into her sire’s keeping.

Her mouth watered despite the revulsion, the soul-deep longing to be fully human, not Hound. The urge to bolt spun her toward the exit. The announcement ending one visitor session and beginning the next kept her from fleeing.

She went to the station where she was directed. Crossed her arms and stood.

Bastian appeared on the other side of thick Plexiglas, a nightmare déjà vu of her own future. Coal-black hair, pitch-black eyes, their sire had marked them with his looks as thoroughly as he’d marked them in a thousand other ways.

She’d spent the last eleven years avoiding Bastian. In the beginning, when she returned to this world, she’d tried to stay away from Dane. But the pack instinct was too strong to deny, and the challenges of coping in this world after being in their sire’s care, too much to handle alone.

The Plexiglas barrier prevented Bastian’s scent from reaching her. It didn’t matter.

Meeting his abyss-black eyes was enough to trigger the nighttime smell of their sire’s forests. It was enough to fill her head with the sound of baying Hounds and piercing shrieks and terrified screams.

Bastian lifted the phone receiver. She did the same.

“Long time no see, Mallory,” Bastian said, voice dripping with twisted amusement, with secrets he’d go to his grave before telling. “What brings you here?”


Why kill when you didn’t have to?

Why kill in a way you knew you’d never get away with?

Not the answers she’d come for, but the ones her soul demanded.

“Worried for yourself?”


He laughed, knowing it was a lie.

“I got tired of fighting my own nature. Why bother? You’ll find that out for yourself.”

“I won’t make the choice you did.”

“Tell yourself that if it makes you feel better. But it just makes you more of a fool.” There was savagery in his smile, in his eyes, in the bond between them.

“You’ll fall in love with someone, and if that doesn’t bring out your true nature, you’ve got that nice little family you should have walked away from when you got back to L.A. Eventually someone will threaten one of them, someone will hurt one of them.”

A steel fist gripped her guts and twisted. She didn’t want to be judge and jury and executioner. But for her mother, for Sorcha and Austin, even for Phillip…

“I won’t make the choice you did.”

“Grow up, Mal. We’re a necessary evil. Jail isn’t redemptive. Humans adapt. That’s why they’re not walking around with their knuckles dragging on the ground. No one sits in here and rots. It’s home. It becomes the only world that matters.”

“Some lines shouldn’t be crossed voluntarily, Bastian.”

“And some things are inevitable.”

His eyes bored into hers and the wildness howling inside him sliced through the Plexiglas like the sound of the horn through still air, signaling a hunt.

“You’re too soft, Mal. Always have been. You’ll fail because of it, then what will happen?”

“I won’t fail.”

He smiled, a mocking stretch and curve of lips, so reminiscent of the one their sire wore that hate blazed through her. And that reaction made him laugh. His gaze flicked to the bandages covering the punctures and bruises on her forearm.

“I take it Dane is still mostly useless to you.”

So he knew Dane was trapped in fur. Because one of the others had been here and told him? Because he was alpha? Or because the link between an alpha in this world and a Reaper Lord in Hell meant their sire’s thoughts and will could reach him? She shuddered at the possibility.

“He’s not himself,” she said, careful with her words given the lack of privacy. “I’d like him to be.”

Bastian’s laugh was a sharp bark. “Let him loose on the streets of L.A. and he’ll be nothing but himself.”

“Is that the reason for the change in him?” To kill? And be killed in this world?

“You’ll figure it out soon enough.”

“Could you help him return to normal?”

“Why would I?”

“Is that a no you can’t?”

His smile was a Hound’s lip curl. “Summon our sire. Take my place and find out what’s really possible.”

Her heart fluttered with the wild panic of a trapped finch. Her thoughts arrowed into Hell, to the alpha bitch of her sire’s pack, a Hound without a human form who’d had the power to force her into a different shape.

“What’s wrong, Mal? Don’t love Dane enough? He’s not really family, so you’ll sacrifice him and pretend you’re somehow different? News flash, no good deed goes unpunished. Yours won’t keep you from ending up like the rest of us.”

She dug her fingers into the bite wounds. “I’m not taking your place.” Dane and I will manage somehow.

The mocking smile returned. “You can’t outrun what you are, what he means for you to be.”

“I can.”

Bastian stood. “Learn the hard way. Don’t come back, Mal. I’ve said all I’m going to say to you.”

She slammed the receiver into its cradle. Wiping her palms against her jeans, she turned away from the Plexiglas, her skin tight and uncomfortable.

Long strides took her away from taunt and threat and possible truth. Outside she pulled her phone from a pocket, rolled it in her hand as she walked.

She stopped with the Jeep in sight and scrolled to an LAPD direct line. Bastian was wrong. The things she did mattered, they’d keep her from becoming a cold-blooded killer.

Detective Nathan Davidson answered and she asked, “Need me for anything?”

His laugh was more tire going flat than amusement. “Ever thought about taking a vacation?”

“Can’t afford to right now. But I have some time to hunt.”

Quiet filled the line where once it wouldn’t have, fallout from being so obviously related to Bastian. Her hand tightened on the phone. A Hound’s hearing allowed her to pick up the muted tap tap tap of fingers drumming on a paper-covered desk.

Wariness had crept into the eyes and scent of more than one of the cops she’d dealt with on a regular basis. They knew her history. They knew about the missing years, though not where she spent them. And now at least some of them knew of her connection to Bastian.

A soft sigh preceded Nathan’s lowered voice. “I’ve got a runaway you can look for. Not my case, but I’m willing to go out on a limb.”

“I’ll be there in a few.”

“No hurry.”

She pocketed the phone. Her right hand went to her left upper arm. Her palm rubbed over the ridges and scar tissue beneath the shirt sleeve as if she could force the skin to become smooth, unblemished.

You can’t outrun what you are, what he means for you to be, Bastian’s voice taunted.

“I can. I will,” she whispered, lengthening her strides and getting to the Jeep, heat shimmering off concrete and asphalt in rippling waves.

Habit had her reaching beneath the seat, fingertips brushing the 9 mm and switchblade.

Dane’s low growl expressed his disgruntlement at the seeming lack of confidence in his ability to guard the weapons.

She laughed, her mood lightening.

He growled again when they approached Nathan’s station house. This time she ignored it.

A call brought Nathan out to collect her. His slight frame always made her feel like an Amazon. His loosened tie and sweat-stained underarms made her aware of her dry skin.

“Come on back,” he said, eyes cataloging her appearance, lingering on her injured forearm. “The dog?”

Was gossip already making the rounds about the slice on Henderson’s neck and the piss on his jeans?

“Hazard of the job.”

The mix of body washes, perfumes and burned coffee clogged her throat and made her struggle against sneezing.

Folders covered Nathan’s desk. He pulled a sheet of paper from one of them, handing it to her. The girl pictured on it was blonde, blue-eyed. The resemblance to Sorcha sent unexpected uneasiness sizzling down Mallory’s spine like acid dripped on steel.

“You recognize her?”

“No. Made me think of my sister, that’s all.”

Mallory read the details—Amanda Edson. Fourteen, not Sorcha’s eleven, but she could pass for it. Under identifying marks, a flower tattoo at the base of the spine was listed. On the original copy, someone had scribbled a note: described as garish, probably looks more tramp stamp than art.

“Aunt was the one to report her as a runaway,” Nathan said, “not the mother. Addresses for both are on the back.”

The light drum of his fingers had Mallory meeting his eyes. “But they’re off limits?”

“Like I told you on the phone, this isn’t my case.”

She left the yes, they’re off limits to you, implied.

“Reason for running?”

“When the mother finally got around to responding to inquiries, she said the girl has been out of control and playing with drugs since she was eleven.”

“Any leads?”

“Not that haven’t been checked out.”

Mallory folded the picture and slipped it into a shirt pocket.

Nathan walked her back to reception.

At the door she asked, “You have any contacts in San Pedro?”

“Police or other?”

“Someone who could put some pressure on a building owner. I came across an old man and old woman in a bad way, having to use the steps to get to the third floor because the elevator was down and has been, sounded like for a while.”

“Text me the address. I’ll make a couple of phone calls.”


She texted it on the way to the Jeep.

Dane’s bulk was crammed into the front passenger seat with spillover into the driver’s. His gaze followed his nose to Nathan’s scent on the flier in her pocket.

“Move and I’ll show it to you.”

He climbed into the back, circled and draped his neck over the seat.

She tugged the flier out and unfolded it.

His low whine said he saw the resemblance to Sorcha. His growl said he’d kill to defend a kid whose only relation to him was through her.

Mallory’s throat tightened. Guilt crept in at not being willing to summon their sire in order to free Dane from fur. And Bastian’s mocking taunts about good deeds and family and Dane gnawed and shredded and stripped at her insides like Hounds on a carcass.

Monday, June 9th, 2014
Madison’s Quest

Shane’s cell rang with Bulldog’s tone.

He answered it.

His grandfather said, “I need you to go to the rental car center at SFO. A client just came in. Her name is Madison York. Pick her up and bring her to the office.”

Shane pocketed the phone, relieved at having an escape.

“I’m gone,” he said.

He left the chips. Cole would cash him out and hold the funds.

His exit forced Cole and Renata to break the lip lock—not that they wouldn’t be right back at it when the poker game ended and their company was ejected.

Once the love shining in their eyes would have had him shaking his head and saying not for me. Even thinking about being tied down like that would have had him pulling an imaginary choke-chain off his neck and landing the next gorgeous babe, doing her right there on the beach if he was out surfing or, if not, doing her on some other surface.

But now…

Driving toward the rental center, he admitted to himself that now he wanted what big brother had. Not in the same one-on-one way Cole had it, but he wanted the connection that came with permanent.

The fun of nailing a conquest, or being someone else’s easy lay, had turned into an empty kind of pleasure. It’d probably been creeping up on him even before that night in Vegas.

He caught himself playing with the nipple ring and forced his hand down, his thoughts forward. A new client was just the thing to keep him occupied, and he’d rather work close to home than go back out on the road.

There wasn’t any point in speculating about the case. Bulldog took whatever interested him, or whatever he thought would interest them, though occasionally favors got called in or he lost a bet.

That’s how Cole and Renata had ended up working together, though in that case, Grandma Maguire was the one who’d ended up winning a little side bet at the poker table that included promises from Bulldog and Renata’s employer, Orrin.

Lately there’d been a shitload of cases that had led to hooking up and falling in love.

Lyric and Kieran. Cady and Kix. Cole and Renata.

Calista with Dante and Benito.

Erin with Dasan, though that one hadn’t finished playing out yet. When it did, someone was going to win big money.

Grace with Cade and Mace—good thing for all of them that big brother Michael was on the other side of the country when Grace’s first solo case led to that hook-up.

Shane laughed, almost wishing Grandma M would turn her sight on Michael—and then his pulse skittered at catching sight of the blonde waiting in a passenger pick-up zone. His heart tripped into to a hard I’ve got to have you beat.

He was royally fucked if this was the client, because here was one more example of someone it’d be better not to want.

He pulled over, rolled the window on her side down.

His mouth went dry. His freaking mouth went dry, like it hadn’t done over someone of the opposite sex since maybe seventh grade.

Truth, probably sixth. The Maguire brothers had all stopped thinking of girls as gross early on.


“That’s me.”


“Shane. I Googled and saw a picture of you with your grandfather.”

She might as well have shoved her hand down his pants and curled it around his dick. Heat and pleasure, that’s the effect her voice had on him.

She’s a client.

His dick didn’t care.

His dick knew the big head was capable of rationalizing so the little one could get what it wanted.

Except for Tyler.

Shane got out of the Jeep, helped her load the guitar, their arms brushing, heating him up on the inside, her scent as seductive as the rest of her.

First sight and she’d become the other half of his personal coin toss. Heads, he wanted her. Tails he wanted Tyler.

Scrub the earlier thought about not leaving town. He should tell Bulldog he’d gotten a last-minute invite to a high-stakes game.

Only—didn’t that sound like a guy trying to outrun fate?

Shane’s heart did a freaky fluttering, as if Lyric and Braden weren’t the only ones who had glimpses of sight. Maybe he should swing by Grandma’s place, see if she wanted to lay a prophecy on him.

He dropped back into the driver’s seat. Grinned. Hell no, it’d be more fun riding this out.

Saturday, June 7th, 2014
Cade’s Dare

Braden polished off the beer, set it on the table. “My work here is done. Now to reward myself.”

He headed straight toward a table of five women. Cade held for a count a ten, used fingers on the rim of the empty glass to spin it on the table.

He met his brother’s gaze. Waited for another ten count, for Mace to say what they were both thinking, that Grace shouldn’t be working this case to begin with. That it was time to step into her life and take charge, keeping her safe.

The cold sweat returned when Mace didn’t say anything.

Come on, Mace. Don’t make me do this. You want her as badly as I do. I’ve seen the way you look at her when you think no one is watching.

Mace didn’t break the silence.

Cade nearly signaled the waitress. Didn’t.

A spasm went through his chest. Okay, if that’s the way you want to play it.

He stood. “Are you in or out?”


Ache dead-centered in his heart. Desperation made him say, “Take her with me once, I dare you.”

A muscle jerked in Mace’s cheek. “What is this, high school?”

“No. It’s the rest of my fucking life.”

Mace lifted his glass. “Then have at it. Enjoy yourself.”

It was too flip. Too casual. And they were too close, too tight for him not to understand just how hard Mace was fighting answering the dare, fighting against a future that centered around Grace.

He’ll come around.

Or he won’t.

Cade steeled himself, accepting the possibility if that’s what claiming Grace meant. “See you when I see you,” he said, leaving the bar.

His blue Porsche Boxster was parked next to Mace’s dark gray Tesla Roadster. Cade got in, grimaced at seeing it was a few minutes past midnight.

Bright. Real bright leaving it so late. But the time didn’t deter him from going straight to Grace.

She was home, her silver VW Beetle parked in the driveway and a light on in the house. He heated up the closer he got to her door, wondered if she’d ended up with one of the dachshunds Lyric had rescued a while back and if it was going to bark loudly enough that whoever was living in Bulldog’s other houses would see him and start a betting pool.

Didn’t matter. Hell, by morning this was going to be a done deal. Grace would have a permanent man in her life, though he could always hope big brother didn’t get wind of it until things were completely settled.

He rang the bell. Heard a muffled bark and smiled.

The outside light came on. The door opened.

Fuck. She was even more beautiful than the last time he’d seen her. Or maybe it just seemed that way because he was finally here to stake his claim.

“Cade,” she said.

The sound of her voice fisted his dick. Desire scorched through him, nearly dropping him to his knees.

He wasn’t alone in feeling it. He’d always been able to read her desire, though she’d tried to hide it and denial had allowed him to ignore it—for a while. Not any longer.

The funeral in Los Angeles today might have been the catalyst. Braden’s showing up at the bar might have given him an added excuse for arriving at Grace’s door, but this moment had always been coming. It’d been coming since the day they’d laid eyes on each other.

The same want he’d first seen three years ago was there in the flush across Grace’s cheekbones, in the parting of her lips, in the way she looked at him, in the softening of her body beneath loose sweats that did nothing to downplay her beauty.

She practically vibrated with the need to submit, to give herself over to a dominant man’s keeping. He intended to be that man in Grace’s life. One of two men. If Mace would stop fighting the inevitable.

“You going to invite me in, Grace?”

Sunday, December 15th, 2013
Daamon’s Choice

A hush descended on the crowd, the only sound the rustle and swish of wings above. His mother clutched at his hand. His father’s wing pressed to hers, her other hand caught between the two of his.

By the stars, by the will of the wandering god, let the news be good.

And the healer spoke simply, “Laith and Rykken will step outside momentarily to introduce their new daughters.”

Emotion charged through Daamon’s chest, swept upward, making his throat raw and his eyes wet. He turned toward his parents, hugging them and being hugged in return. Doing the same to those who stood near, Amato and Vesti alike, all of them caught in the wild surge of happiness. For the first time since the Hotaling virus had been let loose on their planet, children had been born.

Around him, males and females of both races wept openly, joyously, all the differences between the two races, the history that sometimes separated them into hostile camps set aside by hope for the future—though that hope was not yet fully realized.

His mother’s hand found its way back to his, the tremble there a reflection that even as they celebrated, they worried, anticipation colliding with fear as they imagined Laith, Rykken and Cyan placing the bands on their infants’ wrists.

He looked down at his own, crafted and put there by his parents, the silver locked onto his body and engraved with the device of their clan-house, sleek images of mongooses chosen by one of his father’s distant ancestors. But the Ylan stones embedded in the bands had been chosen by him, when he came of age.

Until then, his bands had contained both the diamond-hued crystals that had migrated at his birth from his mother bands, and the citrine-gold of his father’s bands.

The stones were necessary in order to survive on this planet, without them there was no entry to Belizair, no exit from Belizair, no life on Belizair. Even those who called it home did not fully understand the Ylan stones. They were a mystery never solved, wonder never ceasing, the study of a lifetime.

Minutes felt like the crush of hours as they waited for word that these children had been accepted by the planet. And then the door opened again.

Laith, with his feathery, gold-edged wings, stepped outside, accompanied by Rykken, his suede-textured wings as deep brown as his hair. Their faces were wet, their expressions holding the same joy and wonder as those gathered.

Each held an infant against his shoulder, their wings revealed. Laith’s daughter had feathers streaked with brown and gold. The leather-like wings of Rykken’s daughter were a dark chocolate.

“We present our daughters,” Laith said. “Asha and Amala. Both mean Hope.”

A woman in the crowd called out, “Which is Asha?”

Another yelled, “Which is Amala?”

Rykken and Laith shared broad smiles then carefully exchanged the little girls so they held babies whose wings differed from their own—for an instant.

Daamon heard his mother’s gasp above the rush and roar of his own heart. His hand tightened on his mother’s in equal measure to her returned grip, though he stood transfixed.

Instead of dark-chocolate suede, the daughter in Laith’s arms now had feathered wings of spun gold. Instead of feathers streaked with brown and gold, the daughter Rykken held had wings of solid black. And Belizair was forever changed not just by the humans who now called it home, but by the children who in small measure could do what their shapeshifter ancestors could once do.
Shocked awe became hundreds of voices, whispering at first then growing louder and louder, all of them saying, “The Fallon return.”

And Daamon saw the children on Belizair generations into the future, changing not just the shape and color of their wings, but their bodies. He saw them as the Fallon had once appeared to those on Earth, as mythological beasts and ancient deities.

Pride and pleasure coursed through him, that in some small measure he had played a part in saving their world. And this was just the beginning.

They hadn’t yet found an answer for those already mate-bonded, or for the single females of either race, but these births symbolized their ultimate victory over the virus that had so devastated their world. And he had more reason to believe in that victory than most, given his current assignment on Earth.

He was suddenly anxious to get back to his duties. He started to turn, intending to tell his parents goodbye—only to have the memory of every sexual encounter with a female washed from his mind like a beach returned to pristine order.

Miciah d’Vesti, one of the most powerful of the Council members, touched his mouth to his Amato co-mate’s in a passionate public kiss, in a sundering of deeply entrenched Vesti taboos forbidding same-sex liaisons.

Desire flooded Daamon in a tidal-wave rush with a solitary focus—Grayson, the human scientist he had been guarding for months. And the force of that desire plowed through his ability to deny his own needs and nature.

His mind filled with images of the things he wanted to do to and with Grayson, the ways he wanted to touch and be touched. Blood surged downward, filling his cock so it throbbed with each heartbeat, the thin loin covering doing nothing to hide the impact of the revelation.

His heart thundered, battering against ribs and muscle. Only his mother’s hand kept him from unfurling his wings and launching skyward.

He fought through the daze gripping him, at the depths of his desire for another male, allowed heightened color and heightened need to fade before turning toward his parents.

I need to return to Earth, he said, glad he didn’t have to press the words through a constricted throat or speak them with a dry mouth. Glad and guilty alike, at having a Council-sanctioned reason to leave Belizair so he could act on awakened desire. He could explore what it meant to be with another man on a world where duty required him to pretend to be human and where Vesti taboos didn’t apply, even if some of those on Earth held the same beliefs.

“Of course,” his father said, embracing him before his mother did, the pride shining in their eyes deepening the guilt that came with his intentions. How would they react if they knew the truth?

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
Inked Destiny

Eamon felt the early dissolution of the sleep spell like a boomerang crashing into his personal shield. He quickened his steps, entering the room where his second and third in command played backgammon.

Rhys glanced up from his study of the board. The red sun dangling from his ear caught in room light. Its brilliance was no less than the rounded, polished rubies he’d chosen as game pawns.

Across from him Liam had chosen onyx pawns, their color as black as an assassin’s heart was said to be. But where Rhys couched his greeting and question in silence and the lift of eyebrows, Eamon’s third did him no such favor. A wicked smile slashed across dark features. The braided mane of Liam’s hair left the impression of a lion in a night lit by only the barest of moons.

“Tired already of sharing your intended?” Liam asked, laughter in his voice. “Had you but asked, I would have tendered my services.” His deadly, very fatal services. “You know I live to make your life easier.”

Eamon refrained from challenging the statement, directing his comment to Rhys. “Call Myk and Heath home, then take what humans you deem necessary and go to Etaín’s apartment. Settle her lease and move her things here.”

The red sun of Rhys’s earring shimmered in a hint of movement, suppressed amusement or unspoken objection, it could have been either, though neither was present in his voice when he said, “You do live dangerously, Lord.”

“An understatement,” Liam said. “Lucky for us, we’ve got front rows seats to this grand courtship. I can hardly wait to witness the next act given how interesting the first one was.”

Liam’s comment coaxed a laugh from Rhys. He stood, the backgammon game abandoned for the moment. “I’ll see to my task and hope you’re not banished by the time I return.”

“Hardly a likelihood considering the humans our Lord must now be concerned about thanks to his intended’s choices.”

“True. You might yet get to kill someone who offers a bit of a challenge.”

Liam snorted. “Among humans? You come very close to insulting me.” But all lightheartedness fell away when their attention landed on Eamon’s ears, and the additional protections he now wore above the sigil-inscribed studs that served as focal points and magical draws.

“She grows stronger,” Rhys said.

“Her gift changes.”

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Vampire’s Companion

Israel exited the car, waiting for Karen to walk around and join him. They were of equal height, of similar coloring, her hair like his, cascading in black waves to the middle of her back, giving them the appearance of being a matched pair.

He opened the wrought iron gate and they proceeded along a walkway lined with night-blooming flowers. He found their scent cloying, stirring memories of visiting the funeral home as a child when his grandfather died.

The club’s entrance was hidden from the street, with good reason. Two vampires stood on either side of the doorway, fledglings he guessed, possibly being punished given their lack of clothing, or perhaps they found pleasure in being displayed.

A wide, tight cock ring stretched the male guard’s penis, while slim chains tethered to nipple rings and strung taut kept his cock head lifted. It bobbed with Israel’s glance, the hole in its tip glistening like a tear leaking from an eye.

He looked away.

The female at the other side of the door was similarly outfitted, though instead of piercings and cock ring, she wore clamps on her nipples and clit, the thin chains connecting them adorned with weights.

“We’re expected,” Karen said.

As a pair, the vampires opened the doors to reveal an elegant, tiled foyer, its walls decorated with graphically erotic paintings and photographs.

Moans of pleasure escaped into the night air. They were followed by the slap of flesh against flesh.

Inside, the scent of sex replaced the smell of flowers. Israel glanced to the right, halted, turning fully to watch as those who wished to have their activities whet the appetites of the newly arrived, or were merely too lazy or enthralled to venture deeper into the club, had stopped to play.

A male companion gripped the back of a chair. The pendant identifying and protecting him swayed, glinting in the light as he was taken from behind by a man as dark as the companion was white.

Various scenes played out in the room, male and female vampires being serviced with mouths on their genitals while others fed at necks and breasts and at the insides of thighs. But it was the male vampire and his companion who held Israel’s attention and had him fighting against grasping his cock as their faces contorted in ecstasy, the human partner’s semen jetting when his vampire lover came.

Dark hands left pale hips, moving upward and around. The companion’s slick back was pulled against a solid, ebony chest. Vampire lips sought and found tender neck, fangs emerging, piercing.

Israel’s throat closed. Longing shuddered through him. He looked away, not wanting to contemplate unfulfilled dreams, unfulfilled hopes, the unfulfilled life that had become his sentence for ignorance and failure.

Female cries drew his attention. A willowy redhead without either slave bands or companion pendant writhed in the throes of pleasure while a male vampire drank from her femoral artery.

Israel’s cock leaked. Once the sight of a woman’s pleasure wouldn’t have aroused him but now it did.

Vampires—a cure for homosexuality. Who’d have guessed?

His lips kicked up.

Only to turn downward when the woman’s cries became moans. Then the silence of someone who’d moved beyond ecstasy and onto the road leading to death.

Her hands flopped like weak, beached fish struggling to get back to the ocean.

Israel took a step forward.

Karen’s hand gripped his upper arm. Crimson-tipped nails dug into his flesh. “Not your business.”

He jerked his arm free. He still had his humanity. He wouldn’t stand by and watch someone die.

She grabbed him again. The scent of Estelle’s perfume assailed him.
The vampire lifted his head, signaling an end to the feeding. With lithe grace he stood and walked away.

Israel ducked his head to avoid eye contact, only breathing again when the vampire passed and the barest whimper said the human remained alive. Karen’s nails dug into his bare forearm as if she feared he’d delay them further by going to the woman. “Tell someone inside if you must.”

He allowed her to pull him from the foyer, going through a door on the left rather than traveling down a wide hallway that ended at a staircase guarded by vampires far different than the ones at the club’s entrance, though they were all lethal.

A human slave in a minuscule dress was stationed to collect clothing. “There’s a woman in the foyer—”

“I’ll have her seen to.”

It was the best he could do.

He and Karen moved deeper into the club, past couches, loveseats and chairs, all of them occupied by couples or multiples, all of the furniture wide and heavy, all of the furniture sporting openings or rings for tethering, all of it slick with sweat and blood, semen and lubrication.

Music pulsed through the air, beating against his skin and through the soles of his feet, a frenetic dark cadence his heart followed then tried to flee. This wasn’t his scene. This wasn’t where he wanted to be. This was hell garishly masquerading as heaven.

They entered a room that could have been an extravagantly themed nightclub in any one of the casino hotels. Color danced off rounded columns reminiscent of those in Greek and Roman temples. It struck and was reflected in golden collars worn by slaves, many of them naked.

The scent of alcohol and sex and blood permeated air that vibrated with pleasure overlaid onto heady, aphrodisiac-inducing fear.

Life and death could both be had in this place, laced with ecstasy.

He shuddered. Better to be ignored by Estelle than to be part of the entertainment, where the driving beat of song was like vulgar maestro or manic ringmaster in a carnal circus, snuffing out reason and overriding inhibition.

Habit drew his gaze to the bar where the man behind it created a fiery drink for an appreciative audience. The sight caught him in memory, taking him back to the life he’d had before Estelle, before he understood vampires were reality rather than myth, before he became a slave. To Terach and the attraction that had driven him to prove he could handle a relationship with a partner who was also attracted to women—who was more attracted to women than to men.

He and Terach had never been lovers though their conversations had moved well beyond the superficial. Lust had surged between them, full of fiery heat made more so by Terach’s reluctance to act on it.

From the moment Terach had first stepped up to the bar to order a drink, he’d believed they were meant for each other. He’d believed in destiny, fate.

Or I was delusional. Searching for love in a stranger’s eyes.

And look where that had landed him.

Would he go back to ignorance if he could? Knowing as he did now that Terach was a vampire?

Pointless. There’s no going back.

He twisted a nipple bar, embracing the pain. There was only going forward, somehow clinging to his humanity and the hope that ultimately this path would take him to the thing he had always wanted, the committed relationship of marriage in the everyday world that was defined in this one by the title of companion.