A dead wereraccoon on your doorstep is no way to start
Neither is a whiney vampire dressed like a naughty
I raised my brows at her. â€śEdith Anne, Iâ€™m sorry you
didnâ€™t get to kill anything. If youâ€™re this bored, why donâ€™t
you go home or find someone to snack on?â€ť
Edith Anneâ€™s blue-black hair shone like satin in Tahoeâ€™s
early-morning sun. She swung her knee-high red leather boots
over the railing where she sat and?good Lord, I donâ€™t think
she was wearing panties beneath her tiny plaid skirt?stomped
across the wooden floorboards, careful to avoid the blood
and pus pooling around the body. â€śOh, Celia.â€ť She said my
name as if sheâ€™d caught me eating her shoes. â€śThe master
says you and yourâ€ťâ€”Edith Anne scowled and motioned to my
three sisters behind meâ€” â€śweird-ass family are now under his
protection. I canâ€™t leave until he knows youâ€™re safe.â€ť She
protruded her fangs, picked something off one with her
perfectly manicured nails, and flicked it to the side.
â€śBesides, I ate before I got here.â€ť
If I didnâ€™t know vampires needed only small amounts of
blood to survive and were forbidden from killing humans, I
would have staked her. â€śDid Misha say you had to do anything
to keep me safe?â€ť
Edith Anne rose to her full height, which meant her chest
was right in my face. Oh, goody.
She pursed her bright red lips. â€śWhy?â€ť
My grin widened. â€śIâ€™ll take that as a yes. Why donâ€™t you
start patrolling the perimeter of the house?you know, in
case the bad guys try to sneak up on us?â€ť
Edith frowned. â€śYour grass is muddy from the rain and Iâ€™m
wearing four-inch heels.â€ť
I glanced down. â€śYes, you are. Theyâ€™ll make a perfect
weapon should some scary monster show up. Be sure to aim for
Edith blinked her large brown eyes at me. â€śBut what if he
comes while Iâ€™m out back?â€ť
â€śI promise to yell really loudly.â€ť
â€śBut what if??â€ť
â€śGet moving, freak,â€ť Taran snapped, coming to stand next
to me, arms crossed, attitude at the ready. As the second
oldest, I could always count on her to have my back.
Edith Anne stuck out her bottom lip before turning on her
four-inch heels and storming down the wooden steps. â€śYou
She adjusted her bosom beneath her lacy red bra as she
sloshed through the mud and disappeared around the house.
Edith Anne was all about class.
â€śSon of a bitch, Ceel.â€ť Taran stared at the dead were.
The wounds gurgled pus like a fountain, deep from where the
cursed gold bullets had lodged.
But the pus, and the blood, and the death were not what
made Taran clutch herself protectively. I moved a little
closer and whispered so our other sisters, Shayna and Emme,
couldnâ€™t hear. â€śDid you dream again, about those . . .
I didnâ€™t want to say â€śdemons.â€ť And neither did Taran. Yet
the dread surrounding her nightmares over the past few weeks
and the way she described those things?reptilian bodies,
leather wings, and strangely humanoid facesâ€”left us few
choices from which to select. Gargoyles didnâ€™t exist.
Neither did any type of Fae. But demons? If a good, loving
God existed, and darkness still reigned in our world,
something not so good, not so loving, had also found its
place among us.
Taranâ€™s petrified blue eyes peered out to the horizon
where Tahoeâ€™s gentle waves sparkled beneath warming April
sun. The magic within her stirred, causing wavy strands of
her jet-black hair to flutter around her stunning Latin
features. Either the divination of the lake stimulated her
gift or sheâ€™d attempted to lure it to do so. She knew that
Tahoe both settled and enlivened my beast?the literal
tigress within me, who emerged when the superscaries came
out to play. And while she didnâ€™t understand how to draw its
magic, something happened. A trickle of rising power brushed
past me from the direction of the lake and into Taran.
Whatever she gathered, though, didnâ€™t seem to be enough. She
shook her head, disappointment crinkling her neatly shaped
brows. â€śIt was the same dream, Ceel, the one where I see
them sweeping down on us like locusts. They cover my body
and claw at me and . . .â€ť She shuddered. â€śShaynaâ€™s cries are
the last sound I hear before I wake up screaming.â€ť
She jumped when I placed my hand on her shoulder and
scowled hard enough to set me on fire with her power. â€śDamn
it, Ceel. Donâ€™t touch me when Iâ€™m?â€ť She shut her lids tight
and shook it off, swearing a mantra beneath her breath. When
she opened her eyes, her scowl deepened, erasing any
remaining susceptibility. Taran didnâ€™t allow herself to
express vulnerability very often. Attitude, yes. Bitchiness,
daily. But thatâ€™s what kept her safe. And in the
supernatural world we lived in, a little bit of boldness
kept you very much alive.
I reached for her once more, moving slowly to avoid
irritating her fragile nerves. My fingers squeezed her arm.
â€śWe have a pack of werewolves watching out for us.â€ť I
smirked when I thought of Misha. â€śAnd a guardian angel
master vampire who feels indebted to us for saving his
billion-dollar backside. Weâ€™re going to be okay.â€ť
I had an inner beast. Taran, an inner bitch. They both
worked well to help us through our struggles, just in
different ways. She sighed. â€śYeah. Maybe.â€ť She stomped back
to the body, scrutinizing our unexpected visitor from his
gushing head to his seeping toes. â€śWhen the hell are the
weres getting here? No offense to this poor sap, but heâ€™s
making a ridiculous mess.â€ť
I tried not to think about the mess. Or the wereraccoon.
Iâ€™d first found him riffling through our garbage a month or
so back. Since then he periodically hid, watching us, in
tall dense firs surrounding our house. Was it creepy? Oh
yeah. Did I want him around us? No. But heâ€™d been one of
many supernaturals that had shown up since my sisters and I
were â€śoutedâ€ť to the mystical community. And unlike the other
audacious idiots I pounded, this guy seemed . . . skittish.
Streaks of blood and puss ran from the thick brush behind
our house and up the porch steps to the body. The wereâ€™s
feet hovered over the threshold while the rest of his naked
body lay facedown across our dark chestnut wood floors.
Blond curls stuck to his scalp. His head twisted in an odd
angle and his eyes stared blindly beneath our couch. He
couldnâ€™t have been more than twenty-five, like me. Too young
to die, especially like this.
Our training as nurses drove us to try to save him. But
his throat had been slit where his pulse should have
drummed, and the pungent scent of death told me there was
nothing left to save. I didnâ€™t have many friends. And I had
the feeling the wereraccoon hadnâ€™t had any.
Shayna played with her phone. Sheâ€™d taken one look at the
body and called her behemoth werewolf boyfriend right away.
Since then she hadnâ€™t stepped anywhere near the were and had
kept her eyes averted. She knew as the earthâ€™s guardians,
her boyfriend and his kind would take care of it. Or maybe
it was the pus. Shayna and I delivered babies for a living.
While we dealt with other body fluids, pus never reared its
ugly head. â€śKoda says theyâ€™re almost here . . . and that
Aric says not to do anything stupid.â€ť
Aric. His name filled me with heat while chills shot down
my spine. I wanted to see him. I just wasnâ€™t exactly ready.
And I especially wasnâ€™t ready for him to see me standing
over a corpse. Again. â€śAricâ€™s coming?â€ť
Shayna nodded hard enough to make her silky black
ponytail bounce behind her. â€śHe cares about you, Celia. He
wants to make sure youâ€™re safe.â€ť
The cool April breeze swept through the opened door,
sending goose bumps scurrying from my arms up to my neck. I
wrapped my bare arms around my body. I usually dressed in a
tank and jogging shorts when I went for my run; otherwise my
inner tigress made me unbearably hot. But standing still did
nothing to warm me. She flicked her tail inside me, excited
to see Aricâ€™s wolf. I only wished my human side shared her
enthusiasm. â€śI doubt he cares as much as you think,â€ť I
â€śAric hasnâ€™t called?â€ť My sweet sister, Emme, curled her
arms around mine. She reminded me of Natalie Portmanâ€”pretty,
gentle, and soft-spoken. I almost smiled. Against my gold
skin tone and lean muscles, her fair skin appeared lighter
and her delicate arms more fragile.
A twinge of the pale yellow healing light that matched
her hair slowly built until it completely enveloped us. I
shook my head. â€śDonâ€™t, Emme.â€ť She attempted to soothe my
emotions with her healing ability?the way she did my
physical wounds. But disappointment was nothing to heal,
rather just something to get over. â€śIâ€™m not mad at Aric. You
donâ€™t have to calm me.â€ť
Emme released me, sympathy further softening her gentle
green eyes. She nodded and leaned against the back of our
sofa, smoothing the skirt of her long blue dress.
Shayna frowned and stepped toward me, but apparently she
was too close to the body. She backed away again and tucked
her iPhone into the pocket of her jeans, fiddling with the
holster of her sword as she spoke. â€śBut you said Aricâ€™s
texted you quite a bit.â€ť
Shaynaâ€™s glass remained perpetually half-full and often
overflowed with hope. I supposed it complemented her perky
cheerleading persona. Me? No one would have referred to me
as perky, and letâ€™s just say my cup didnâ€™t runneth over.
â€śOnly to tell me heâ€™d call soon, but we havenâ€™t spoken since
. . . you know.â€ť I didnâ€™t want to mention the morning Iâ€™d
woken in bed with Aricâ€™s arms holding me tight. Good grief,
had that only been a little over a week ago? I was trapped
inside a burning mansion with a psycho master vampire. Aric
had saved me from being burned to cinders.
My fingertips swept absentmindedly over my lips. Heâ€™d
kissed me long and hard that morning. And I willingly
returned his affections. My heart pounded, my skin sizzled,
my body begged for his . . . and then he jerked out of bed
and left. Just like that. Without explanation. Without a
good-bye. Just a promise to call. The wandering hands I
expected never explored, the tongue I wanted to skim along
my flesh never tasted past my lips, and the werewolf I
expected to stay in bed with me didnâ€™t bother. Despite the
record-breaking heat between us, we hadnâ€™t made love. Maybe
it was better. Iâ€™d only had sex three times in my life, when
I was seventeen. And while the experience could be described
as sweet, the words â€śawkwardâ€ť and â€śclumsyâ€ť also came to
mind. I still remained unsure whether the first time even
Shayna leaned on the cream-colored couch next to Emme, a
safe distance away from our deceased guest. â€śAricâ€™s probably
just been busy, dude,â€ť she offered.
â€śKoda calls you every day, throughout the day.â€ť And
spends every night with you, I didnâ€™t add.
Shaynaâ€™s bright smile and blue eyes lacked their famous
sparkle. â€śKodaâ€™s neither a pureblood nor a Leader like Aric.
He doesnâ€™t have the responsibilities Aric has.â€ť
â€śNor does he have to answer to his Elders for dating
outside his race.â€ť I knelt over the body, my anxiety over
the wolvesâ€™ arrival riling my beast.
Taran tossed her midnight waves so they fell behind her
shoulders. Since first realizing Shayna called Koda, sheâ€™d
rushed to change out of the camisole sheâ€™d slept in and now
donned a chic pale olive dress and silver gladiator sandals
that added four inches to her five-foot-three frame. Sheâ€™d
dressed for Gemini, Aricâ€™s Beta. Taranâ€™s blue eyes peered
beneath the shroud of thick lashes sheâ€™d inherited from our
Latina mother. â€śIt could be worse. He could pat your damn
Taranâ€™s allure crushed men like potato chips. You know
those women men ignored their dates to ogle? Taran was one
of those. She could have had any male she wanted. Anyone,
but Gemini, it seemed.
Emme placed her hand over her mouth. â€śOh my goodness. Is
Gemini still petting you?â€ť
Taran twirled her platinum and diamond bracelet?a gift
from Misha. â€śYup. Just last night.â€ť
â€śDo you think perhaps itâ€™s a wolf thing?â€ť Emme offered.
Taran dropped her hands to her sides. â€śDoes Liam pet
you?on the couch, in bed, in the tub?ever?â€ť
Emme blushed. â€śUm, well, no?â€ť
Taran turned to Shayna. â€śHow about Koda? Any head rubbing
â€śNo, dude. But?â€ť
â€śThen donâ€™t tell me itâ€™s a damn wolf thing. Iâ€™d give
anything for that fine hunk of Japanese ass to kiss me,
touch me?anything but the damn head pat!â€ť
Emme frowned, making her appear bunny rabbit fierce.
â€śDonâ€™t swear in front of the dead fellow. Itâ€™s
Taranâ€™s harsh brows softened as she took in the dead were
once more. â€śI really donâ€™t think he gives a shit, Emme.â€ť
In the distance, my sensitive hearing fixed on three
speeding SUVs. I rose and nudged Taran. â€śThe wolves are
here.â€ť Seconds later the vehicles screeched into our small
development, Kodaâ€™s silver Yukon in the lead, followed
closely by a black Escalade. Aricâ€™s Escalade. A red
four-by-four pickup pulled against the curb last, and three
males I didnâ€™t recognize stepped out. Koda and Liam raced
in, leaping one by one over the body and hurrying to Shayna
and Emme. Aric and Gemini jogged out of the Escalade. Gemini
reached the door first. His dark almond eyes widened upon
seeing Taran, but quickly regained their composure. He held
out his hand. â€śWill you stand outside with me, in case any
A spark of blue and white flame ignited on Taranâ€™s
fingertips. She nodded. Gem pulled her into his arms and
swept her down the steps. A gallant Prince Charming move if
only Prince Charming hadnâ€™t patted a pissed-off Snow Whiteâ€™s
Aricâ€™s pace slowed the moment he caught sight of me, his
light brown eyes bright against his navy shirt and five
oâ€™clock shadow. Unlike the others, Aric didnâ€™t fuss over me
and stopped a few steps in front of the wereâ€™s feet. â€śYou
Aricâ€™s deep tenor voice tugged at my heart, yet a nod
remained my only response. When I said nothing more, he fell
to one knee and examined the body. The were whoâ€™d driven the
pickup?a tall male with military-cut black hair and ebony
eyes?hustled to his side.
Commando Guy shook his head after taking a sniff. â€śNot
one of mine.â€ť
â€śLone?â€ť Aric asked.
Lone were, he meant. I was right, this were hadnâ€™t
belonged to a pack.
Commando nodded. â€śYeah. And not from the area. I keep
track of the few lones around here. Who found him?â€ť He
scowled. â€śAnd why the hell do I smell vampire?â€ť
I stepped forward. â€śI found him, and, uh . . .â€ť Hmmm, how
to explain why the vampire family of Aricâ€™s enemy was here?
Before I could ease Aric into knowing Mishaâ€™s keep
arrived ahead of him, Edith Anne leapt onto the porch in her
muddy boots. â€śCan I go now?â€ť
Edith returned Aricâ€™s glare with a smile that clearly
said, Why, thank you, Iâ€™d love a bite.
I groaned. â€śYes, Edith Anne, please go.â€ť The last thing I
needed was another dead thing on my doorstep. Thank God the
porch rails and potted plants hid the view from our nosy and
Edith twisted her body playfully as she twirled the edges
of her long hair. She kept her eyes on Aric when she spoke.
â€śOkay, Celia. Be sure to wear something sexy for dinner. The
master has arranged for a cozy meal and looks forward to
seeing you again.â€ť Her smile widened as the burning scent of
Aricâ€™s shock and anger singed my nostrils. â€śOh, Iâ€™m sorry,
mutt. Didnâ€™t you know Celia and the master have been
spending time together? Why, just the other night?â€ť
â€śGood-bye, Edith!â€ť I hissed.
Edith tossed her hair back and strutted back to her
candy-apple red Mercedes. She blew one last kiss Aricâ€™s way
and sped off. Where was something sharp and pointy when you
Aric turned back to me once Edith disappeared. â€śPaul,
this is Celia Wird. Celia, this is Paul Nalis, Leader of the
Raccoon Gaze in the area.â€ť
Paul stepped over the threshold and held out his hand for
me to shake. His grip was strong, yet lacking the challenge
Alphas notoriously threw in the faces of unknown
preternaturals. So why did Aricâ€™s brow knit into a tight
frown as he watched us?
â€śGood to meet you, Celia,â€ť Paul said before releasing my
hand. â€śCould you tell me what happened?â€ť
I focused on him, rather than Aric. â€śMy sisters were
sitting down to breakfast and I was getting ready for a run.
I heard something hard smack against the door while I was
tying my shoes. When I opened it, he fell through.â€ť My head
angled back toward the were. â€śHis skin was barely warm when
I touched him, and his heart had stopped. He bled out in
puddles of blood and puss. Iâ€™d never seen anything like it.â€ť
Paul huffed. â€śYeah, that much gold in a wereâ€™s system
will have that affect.â€ť He stuck his black boot beneath the
raccoonâ€™s chin and lifted it, lolling his head side to side.
â€śThe dagger used to cut him was gold, too. You can tell
since thereâ€™s no evidence his body had tried to heal him.â€ť
â€śIâ€™ll take your word for it.â€ť Iâ€™d seen gold mess up a
vampire. Preternaturals couldnâ€™t even hold the stuff without
making them want to hurl. Except Iâ€™d never seen damage to
this extent. The poor guy had been brutalized.
â€śDid you hear the shots or see anything suspicious?â€ť
I shook my head.
â€śWhat about them?â€ť He motioned to my sisters.
â€śCeliaâ€™s inner beast is a golden tigress. If she didnâ€™t
sense anything, the others wouldnâ€™t have, either.â€ť
Aric didnâ€™t typically answer for me. And it would have
bothered me had I not picked up on the underlying
protectiveness of his tone.
Paul gave me the once-over. â€śBut sheâ€™s not were.â€ť
Aricâ€™s tone grew more of an edge. â€śNo. She canâ€™t heal.â€ť
The corners of Paulâ€™s lips curved into a smile. â€śWhat a
Judging by the way Aric leapt over the body and wedged
his way between us, Paul didnâ€™t pity my lack of healing
abilities. â€śWatch it, Paul.â€ť
Paul cocked his head to the side. Something he saw in
Aric forced the smirk from his face. â€śJesus, Aric,â€ť he said.
I glanced at both of them, confused about what had
â€śJust get him out of here,â€ť Aric growled.
Paul leaned against the wall and whistled. Two more
wereraccoons appeared sporting thick rubber gloves?the kind
I suspected could be found at any local nuclear power plant.
We moved out of the way. One of the weres grabbed the legs
and the other the wrists. On the count of three, they
lifted. The air rippled and translucent waves pushed against
And thatâ€™s when the body exploded.