Hawke stared at the smiling girl, his mind at once
racing and blank, his pulse thrumming a fast, erratic beat.
She was a little odd–looking, with dark hair painted
bright blue at the ends and one ear entirely enclosed in
earrings, yet she was...extraordinary. That smile...
Goddess, that smile could slay an army, knocking them all
to their knees. Though of average height, her features were
small and pert, giving her beauty a pixieish charm.
Beautiful. And clearly too young.
He told himself to keep his gaze on her face, but his
eyes had a mind of their own. He couldn't help noticing
that her thin sweater, the same blue as the ends of her
hair, clung to small, sweet curves, and that the sleeves
half covered her hands. On slender legs she wore holey
jeans. On her feet, badly worn sneakers.
Slowly, he forced his gaze back to her face, to that
smile that sent his pulse into a wild flight all over
again, then up to eyes that held an odd mixture of
awareness, laughter, and shadows. And a wisdom that had him
reassessing her age. Perhaps she wasn't as young as she
Relief had his smile widening. "Hi."
"Hello." Her eyes began to sparkle, her voice light and
musical with a slight European lilt, as enchanting as her
He passed close to her as he tore his gaze away and went
to help Vhyper with the luggage, close enough to catch a
whiff of soft female and raspberry sweetness.
She followed. "I'm sorry," she said as Hawke reached in
and pulled out a huge suitcase. Vhyper already had four of
them sitting on the pavement. "I think he's used to
"We'll break him of that quickly enough," Vhyper
Hawke grunted. Maxim was a fool if he thought they'd put
up with that kind of attitude. Perhaps it was a defense
mechanism that would ease once he felt like he was one of
them. They could only hope.
Vhyper grabbed three of the huge pieces of luggage and
started toward the house. The woman watched him go, her
smile gone, her brows dipped in worry.
Hawke felt the need to ease her mind. "Don't worry about
Vhyper, or Maxim, for that matter. Newly marked Ferals are
rarely at their best. While their bodies come to terms with
the animal spirit, they tend to be unpredictable,
aggressive, quick–tempered, you name it."
The woman turned to him, wrinkling her nose.
"For how long?"
"The worst of it will pass when he's brought into his
animal—his first shift. But for some, it takes
She sighed. "Wonderful."
He grinned at her. "I'm Hawke."
Her expression shifted with delightful speed, awe lacing
her gaze and her words. "You're the hawk shifter."
"I am. And who might you be?"
"I'm Faith. I'm with Maxim, though I'm not sure that's
something I want to admit at the moment."
With Maxim. He didn't like the sound of that. "His
daughter?" he asked hopefully.
She laughed. "I was born in 1899. I just try to look
like a teenager."
Not too young at all. Which would be beside the point if
she was truly with Maxim. Ferals never, ever poached
another Feral's female.
He held out his hand. "It's nice to meet you, Faith."
Her eyes sparkled as she slid her slender hand into his
on a rush of soft pleasure. "It's nice to meet you, too."
He found himself suddenly torn between modern manners,
which dictated he simply shake her hand, and a surprising
desire to raise her knuckles to his lips in the old way.
The desire to inhale the scent of her skin, to feel her
flesh beneath his lips, was dismayingly powerful. But until
he knew which way the wind blew between her and Maxim, he'd
be wise to err on the side of caution.
With a twinge of regret, he shook her delicate hand,
then released her and turned to pull out another of the
suitcases. "Is there a reason you enjoy looking like a
teen?" He glanced back to find her brown eyes sparkling
like dark gems.
"It's either piercings or tats or I'd look like a
poser." She shrugged a delicate shoulder. "The tats are
permanent. The piercings aren't." Immortal flesh healed any
wound, even those inflicted intentionally.
And piercings she had, at least on the one ear. "A poser
to whom?" Genuinely curious, he set the suitcase on the
Her smile grew, one corner quivering with suppressed
laughter, drawing his gaze to that lovely, kissable
mouth. "To the street kids."
"What street kids?"
Her expression sobered, the pixie disappearing as if
she'd never been. "The lost ones. Mostly girls."
And he realized this was no game to her. In the dark
depths of her eyes, a crusader's passion gleamed. And
suddenly he understood. "You enter their world. You earn
their trust in order to help them."
The look she gave him was a mix of surprise and
approval. "They need help, and I have a lot of experience
with gaining their trust and finding them that help.
Setting them on the right paths."
He nodded, unaccountably moved by the emotion he saw in
her face, the deep well of compassion and fire. Many
Therians worked among the humans to earn a living. But how
many, he wondered, threw the whole of themselves into
bettering the short lives of a few mortals? And he felt
certain that's exactly what Faith did.
"Humans," he murmured.
She lifted her chin. "Human kids." A note of
defensiveness crept into her voice, a small warrior
standing before him now. "The most defenseless creatures of
"I'm not criticizing you for it, Faith. I'm impressed.
Not many Therians would bother."
Dark, intelligent eyes studied him as if searching for
the truth of his words. But he'd meant what he'd said and
the smile that slowly began to spread across her face told
him she'd figured it out. Her smile burrowed inside him
like a small ball of heat deep in his chest.
He reached for another of the suitcases as she bent
forward to grab a small, worn duffel that looked
incongruous beside the large, expensive luggage. Their arms
brushed, her sweet scent flowing over him sending a thrill
through his system.
She turned to him as she pulled out the duffel, slinging
the strap over one shoulder. "In my experience Therians
don't often care what happens to humans."
He wanted to argue that point, but in all honesty
couldn't. The Ferals and Therians of his acquaintance were
careful with humans, protecting human life wherever
possible. But dedicating their lives to the betterment of a
few individuals? No.
She tilted her head at him, her eyes curious. "Do you
have a human mom or dad?"
"My father was a Feral Warrior." He leaned in to pull
out the two remaining suitcases. "He was the previous hawk
shifter and my mother the Radiant."
Her jaw dropped a little before snapping shut. "You're
He started, then laughed. "I've never heard it put like
"So why the affinity for humans? Are you really as nice
a guy as you seem?"
A nice guy. He'd always been that, or tried to be. He
liked people, humans and Therians alike, more than many of
his brothers. He liked kids, in particular. But nice guys
didn't erupt in fits of rage, endangering anyone and
everyone around them. And that was something he definitely
did these days. Goddess, she shouldn't be out here with him
alone. For a few enjoyable minutes he'd forgotten the rage
that simmered inside of him.
He blinked. The rage was barely noticeable. When had
The moment Faith smiled at him.
He set the last two suitcases on the pavement. "I'm not
entirely sure what I am any more." As soon as the words
were out, he wished he hadn't answered quite so truthfully.
It wasn't something he wanted to talk about. "So how did
you come to accompany Maxim to Feral House?"
Her eyes lost their sparkle. "I think I'm going to be
His mate? Hawke tried to mask his dismay, but knew he'd
failed when she shrugged.
"We're not exactly a matched pair."
Hawke tried to laugh, but the sound was forced. "Not
His mate? He'd feared they might be lovers. By the way
Maxim had walked off and left her in the car, he'd hoped
she was just his servant. Disapproval curled in his gut.
Newly marked or not, the man was lacking basic manners if
he could treat the woman he'd chosen to spend his immortal
life with so carelessly. That Feral didn't deserve this
jewel of a woman.
But it didn't matter, did it? They'd clearly chosen one
another. Maxim had brought her with him all the way from
Poland. Soon, Faith would be just another of his brothers'
mates, living at Feral House permanently. Just one more
happily ever after for him to watch from afar. Except...he
hadn't been attracted to the others. This one he was.
"You've been with Maxim a long time?" he asked as
casually as he could manage.
"Not exactly." The sheepish twist of her smile had him
lifting a brow. "I met him yesterday."
Hawke frowned. He didn't try to hide his surprise and
wasn't sure he could have even if he had. She'd chosen to
come all the way to America with the man, to bind herself
to him for eternity...the first time she saw him?
"Don't judge." Her words were soft, her expression
serious. "The moment we met, we knew we were meant to be
together. Sometimes it happens that way."
"Does it?" He shook his head. She was talking about
binding herself to a stranger for eternity. Once the mating
bond was formed, there was no severing it except by death.
And the death of one mate often left the other living a
half life. But it wasn't his business. In the current state
he was in—his animal hijacking him at every possible
juncture—he didn't need to be worrying about anyone
As Hawke picked up one of the suitcases, Faith reached
for another. Hawke shook his head. "I'll get it."
"I can take one of his. I have two empty hands."
Hawke eyed the small duffel on her shoulder, then
snorted. "That's all that's yours?"
Faith shrugged, that pixie grin lifting her intriguing
mouth. "I travel light."
He reached for the duffel. "Let me have it."
All he earned himself was a good–natured
scowl. "I'm not going to walk in empty–handed while
you carry all this. I'm not helpless."
Maybe not helpless, but she was as slender and pretty as
a lily and he wasn't having her schlepping luggage. "Once
you move in, you can carry your own weight. Today, you're a
guest." He motioned her to hand it over, pretty certain her
soon–to–be mate wouldn't appreciate her
carrying her own duffle even if it was microscopic. Which
might serve him right. But Hawke wanted to carry her bag.
For some reason, it was important to him. "You'll bruise my
She laughed, the sound making the air sparkle between
them. "It's a duffel."
He felt those sparkles inside him. Goddess, when was the
last time he'd felt so...free? "Give me the bag, Smiley."
"Smiley?" Though her smile remained, something about it
His own dimmed. "I shouldn't have called you that."
"No, it's okay. I just...haven't heard that name since I
was a child. One of my human friend's dads used to call me
He'd hit a memory, if not a nerve. He was sorry for
that. "Give me the duffel and I won't do it again."
As he'd hoped, her grin returned full force, even as she
rolled her eyes. "You're relentless."
"Always." With a sigh of mock resignation, she pulled
the duffel off her shoulder and handed it to him. "I'll
give you the duffel, but..."
Slinging the small bag over his own shoulder, he waited,
watching her intently, not sure he was going to be able to
pull his gaze away when he had to. "But what?"
Her teeth tugged at her lower lip in a move that was at
once shy and charming. "But you don't have to stop calling
me Smiley. I like it."
Warm pleasure burst inside him. "Good," he said quietly
as their gazes locked in a way they hadn't...quite...before
now. He felt himself sinking, felt the ground turning soft
and unsteady beneath his feet as he stared into those
twinkling brown depths. His pulse accelerated with the
strange feeling that he was losing his balance even as he
knew his boots were planted firmly on the pavement.
She was the first to look away, confusion clouding her
What was he doing? She was about to become the new fox
shifter's mate. And even if he thought that was insane, he
had nothing better to offer her. With a shake of his head,
he grabbed three suitcases and started forward, Faith
falling into step beside him as they started up the brick
"Did you have a good flight?" he asked, trying to find
his footing again.
"It was wonderful." The smile she tossed him was nothing
short of brilliant.
The ground beneath his feet tilted precariously. "As
good as that?"
"I've never flown before."
He looked at her with surprise. "Never?"
"No. I loved it, rising through the clouds, seeing them
floating below." She looked at him with wonder. "I can't
imagine what it must be like for you to fly as a bird, the
wind in your face, soaring under your own power."
His gut tightened. "It's incredible." And he'd lost the
ability. Not since he'd left that spirit trap had he been
able to fly and retain his awareness of it. And he missed
it bitterly. But that wasn't something he needed to share
with her, not now. Not when she was smiling. "I wish I
could take you up there with me. If I could upsize like
some of the animals can, I'd grow to horse–size and
carry you on my back." A fanciful thought for a man facing
disaster, but she made him feel...light as air.
An impish gleam leaped into her eyes. "Or shrink me to
bird size. Blue–haired Barbie."
He threw back his head and laughed so loud, he startled
the birds out of the nearby trees. Tighe stepped through
the front door, meeting his gaze with a curious smile and a
speculative glance at Faith.
As they started up the steps, Tighe grabbed one of
Hawke's suitcases, glancing at Faith. "I'm Tighe."
"The tiger shifter?"
Tighe sketched a quick bow, flashing his dimples. "One
and the same."
"I'm Faith. Maxim's soon–to–be mate."
Tighe lifted his chin, as if to nod, but the downward
tilt came slowly, his gaze cutting to Hawke, his smile
disappearing. "After you, Faith." Tighe motioned Hawke to
follow her, but as he drew beside him, Tighe threw him a
look of sympathy and frustration. A look that said, You
can't catch a break, can you, buddy?
Hawke shrugged. It didn't matter. Even if Faith were as
free as the wind, he wasn't. His connection with his animal
spirit was a screwed–up mess and he was a danger to
anyone in his vicinity.
He followed Faith into the foyer where Maxim stood with
Lyon and Paenther. In his white silk turtleneck and black
suit jacket, his hair slicked back with some kind of
styling cream, Maxim stood with his chest puffed out and
chin lifted as if he thought himself too good for the lot
of them. The new Feral met Hawke's eye, his mouth tight,
his gaze hard as he held out his hand to Faith. She went to
him without a backward glance or a moment's hesitation.
Jealousy slid like a blade between Hawke's ribs.
But even as Maxim pulled Faith tight against his side,
his gaze remained locked on Hawke, sharp with warning.
Hawke's jaw hardened, anger sparking inside him, ignited
by a jealousy he had no right to feel.
Tighe nudged him from behind. "Upstairs. This suitcase
Which was a lie, but Hawke took the hint and moved
toward the stairs, tearing his gaze from the couple. But
even as he climbed, he remained intensely aware of the
woman below him, every sense tuned to Faith.
He'd never believed in love at first sight, but
infatuation was another matter. And he was suddenly,
inescapably, drowning in it.
In the space of a handful of minutes he'd fallen for the
woman destined to become another Feral's mate.