Read Darklands Online

Authors: Nancy Holzner

Tags: #Fantasy, #General, #Fiction

Darklands (8 page)

BOOK: Darklands
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All too soon I opened my eyes, and the problems of the past days elbowed their way back into my consciousness. My business was still crumbling. Maria and Gwen were still fighting. Simone Landry was still after Kane. And Pryce was still out there somewhere, probably getting ready to attack me again.

Welcome to another day in the life.

I checked my bedside clock and found it was only four thirty in the afternoon. I turned over, thinking I could catch another hour’s worth of z’s. But it was no good. All the things that were on my mind might as well be lined up by my bed, poking me with sticks. Sleep wasn’t an option. I threw back the sheets and got up. I started some coffee, and took a shower while it brewed.

As I toweled off, I inspected my wounds from last night’s Harpy attack. Everything was healing nicely. The edges of the wound where the Harpy had gouged my leg had knit together and scabbed over. There’d be a scar, but I couldn’t do anything about that.

Dressed in jeans and a blue cotton sweater, I sipped a mug of strong black coffee. I turned on the phone’s ringer and checked for messages. Just one—the exact number of clients I had left. I crossed my fingers.
Please don’t let it be a job cancellation.

It wasn’t. The number was Kane’s. “Hi, it’s me,” he said. His warm, deep voice sent tingles shivering through me. “I’ve been thinking all day how great it would’ve been to have breakfast in bed with you. Couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.” He chuckled, and the tingles reached my toes. “Especially because I have to work tonight. Simone is giving a talk at a meeting of the Human-Paranormal Women’s Business Association, with some potentially big donors in attendance, and I need to be there.”
Oh.
Funny how fast tingles can evaporate. “It wasn’t on my calendar—I guess her assistant forgot to notify my assistant or something. Simone told me about it this morning, right after you left.”

I’d bet she did. She was probably batting her eyelashes and telling him how much she needed him there before the door had closed behind me.

“I know you’re working tonight, too,” Kane went on, “so
maybe I’ll see you tomorrow? Oh, not for breakfast, though. I’ve got another meeting with Simone in the morning. Always the way, isn’t it? And this month’s retreat is almost here. I hope we can get together before then. If not, I guess it’ll have to be some time next week. Call me when you can.”

Always the way
—well, yes and no. In some ways, it was a typical message from Kane. Our work schedules didn’t have a lot of overlap, and one or the other of us was always canceling plans. But what wasn’t typical was hearing another woman’s name woven through his message.
Simone, Simone, Simone.
I knew what she was trying to do—push herself between us until the werewolf retreat, when she’d have him all to herself.

Why was he managing her campaign, anyway? Kane had never been interested in Deadtown politics before. He was all about getting the norms to recognize paranormal rights, preferably in Washington. How had she talked him into this?

Those triumphant green eyes. That smug assurance that she’d win.

I needed to talk to Kane. And not on the phone. It wasn’t yet five in the evening, and he never left the office until six. If I went there now, maybe—just maybe—he could pencil me in for an appointment between Simone and Simone and goddamn Simone.

THE NORMS’ RUSH HOUR WAS RUSHING FULL FORCE AS I walked along Tremont Street toward Kane’s office near Government Center. Sidewalks and streets were choked with people, all in a hurry and yet not getting anywhere very fast. As I approached Kane’s building, workers poured out the front door. Among them was a woman in an emerald green blazer. A woman with long, wavy chestnut hair.

She turned right, walking away from me. But there was no mistaking Simone Landry.

That damn shampoo-commercial-gorgeous hair of hers was so unfair. I ran a hand through my own hair—whatever I tried to do to it, after a shift it always returned to the same straight, short, strawberry-blonde style. How come werewolves lucked out with their luxurious hair?

Inside, I crossed the lobby and took the elevator to Kane’s floor. Iris, the blonde human receptionist who kept things
running while the firm’s werewolf staff was on retreat, was leaving. She smiled when she saw me.

“Is Kane still here?”

“Do you have to ask? He always beats me to work, and he’s always here when I go home. Sometimes I wonder if he lives in his office.”

“Me, too.”

“Your timing is good. He just got out of a meeting.”

“With Simone Landry?” God, my voice sounded tight. I coughed some of the tension out of it.

“Yes. She left a minute or two ago. I was waiting for her to leave so I could lock up.” She held the door open for me.

“Thanks.” I passed into the reception area.

“Must have been a good meeting,” Iris remarked. “Simone was grinning like she won the lottery when she came out.” She closed the glass door and turned the key. Then she waved and headed for the elevators.

I unclenched my fists and inspected the half-moon fingernail marks in my palms. Okay. Simone was hanging on Kane like a monkey on a banana tree. But she wasn’t here now. I’d finally have him all to myself.

Kane’s outer office looked like the offices of any other top-tier law firm in the city: elegant and understated. The reception area held black leather chairs and sofas, with accent lighting showing the tasteful artwork to its best advantage. Simone, in her tailored suits, would look right at home here. I glanced down at my jeans, wishing for a moment I’d dressed up. But that was silly. I shook my head and walked down the hallway. Kane’s door was last on the right, the corner office.

I tapped on the door, cracked it open, and peered inside. Kane sat at his desk, his suit jacket draped over the back of the chair, his shirtsleeves rolled up. When he saw me, his don’t-interrupt-me scowl morphed into a grin. Tingle alert. He pushed back his chair and came around the desk, then opened the door wide and drew me inside. His arms were strong and solid around me as he greeted me with a deep kiss.

Simone who?

Yet there was a lingering scent of perfume in the office, sweetly floral with spicy notes and a musky undertone. If I could detect Simone’s perfume, to a werewolf’s sensitive nose it was probably as though she were still standing right here. Which, no
doubt, was her intention. She was making sure that she’d register in some part of Kane’s brain, even while his mind focused on other things.

I frowned and pulled away, wishing the big plate glass windows were the kind that open. The room needed air.

Kane curled his fingers around mine with one hand and smoothed his tie with the other. We sat in the visitors’ chairs that faced his desk. “This is a nice surprise,” he said. “Did you get my message?”

“I did. But I wanted to see you, not play our usual game of phone tag for the next couple of days.”

“I’m glad.” He held my hand in both of his and gazed at me. I saw no trace of guilt in his eyes, nothing but pleasure that I was here.

And yet Simone’s scent floated between us like a ghost.

“I was finishing up a couple of things here, and then I was going to grab a burger before Simone’s event. Do you want to get something to eat? It’ll be quick, but—”

“Why are you managing Simone Landry’s campaign?” Okay, so I’d blurted, but at least I’d asked the question. I watched his face, but all I saw there was surprise.

“You mean why am I wasting my time managing a bid for a figurehead position that has no real power?” He chuckled. “Good question. Well, Simone’s a friend, and she asked me to. But…” He stopped and remained quiet for a moment. I leaned forward, my heart beating way harder than I wanted to admit, waiting to hear what came next. “But you’re thinking there’s more, and you’re right. I’ve been wanting to discuss this with you, but work’s been so busy I’ve hardly seen you.”

No,
my heart thumped.
No, no, no. Don’t break up with me. Not over her.

If Kane saw what I was feeling, he didn’t show it. He kept talking. “Simone’s campaign is a practice run. I want to see from the inside how a political campaign works, because I’m thinking of running for Congress next year.”

Congress. A werewolf could be elected to Congress about as easily as I could take a running jump and land on the moon, but so what? If anyone could pull it off, it was Kane. And I liked the sound of “I’m running for Congress” way better than “I’m starting a pack with Simone.” I sat back, my heart no longer threatening to leap out of my chest.

His eyes shone, staring into some far-off place, perhaps the marble halls of the Capitol. “What better way to change the system than from the inside? I’m tired of standing on the outside, banging on the door and begging to be thrown a few scraps of justice.” He refocused on me. “But that’s a long way off. Right now, I’m just exploring the possibility. And as I said, my main reason for helping Simone is that she’s a friend. Our families go way back.”

My head was buzzing—it was too much to take in. “Does Simone know?”

“About—? Oh, you mean that I’m considering a run for Congress? Yes, I’ve mentioned it. Why?”

Simone didn’t care about being reelected to the Council of Three. She was campaigning for a different job: politician’s wife. I mean, who would look better standing beside Kane at political events—a successful politician with model looks and a tailored wardrobe, or a demon exterminator whose only dress was crumpled in a ball at the back of her closet? There was no contest, and Simone knew it.

Now, she was showing him what an asset she’d be to his political aspirations. And soon, at the werewolf retreat, she’d do whatever it is she-wolves do when they’re after a mate. Kane didn’t stand a chance.

I
didn’t stand a chance.

“Don’t look so stunned,” Kane said, squeezing my hand. “I know running for office would be a big step. But like I said, I haven’t decided yet, and we can discuss it after I get back from Princeton.” Princeton was the location of the werewolf retreat closest to Boston, the one Kane—and, I had no doubt, Simone—attended each full moon.

I searched his eyes again. Why was I even looking for guilt? I had no special hold on this man—and after all, that was how I’d always said I wanted it. I wasn’t cut out for the wife-and-mother routine. If he wanted to start his own pack, he’d find a suitable mate, and we both knew it wouldn’t be me. I had no right to hold him back.

So why did I suddenly feel like I was choking on the cloying scent of that damn perfume?

“Vicky.” Kane’s hand traced light circles on the back of mine. “Was there something you wanted to tell me?”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

“Well, most of the time I practically have to make an appointment to see you. Today you appear unexpectedly both before and after work. Don’t get me wrong—I like it.” His smile was warm. “I like it a lot. But you have to admit it’s unusual.”

The warmth of that smile. I didn’t want Simone basking in it. I didn’t want it shining on anyone but me.

“I…well, I was thinking that maybe I’d go to Princeton with you.” The words were out of my mouth before I knew I’d say them.

Now it was Kane’s turn to look stunned. His smile froze. His hand stopped moving on mine. “To the retreat?”

“Oh, well, if you don’t want me to go…” If I backpedaled any faster, I’d be halfway across Boston in a minute.

“Want you to go? Of course I do. That invitation is always open. Always. And you know how long I’ve been hoping you’d say yes. But I didn’t want to push you. No pressure.” The surprise left his eyes as his smile went supernova. “So, when were you thinking of coming? Some time in the summer?”

“This month.”

“But…have you looked at a calendar? This month’s retreat is less than two days away.”

“Maybe I don’t want to lose my nerve.” My attempt at a lighthearted laugh sounded idiotic. “Maybe I want to, you know, close my eyes and jump in at the deep end.”

“Vicky, if you’re worried about losing your nerve, perhaps you should wait.” When I started to object, he held up his hand. “I don’t want you to close your eyes and jump. I want you to be sure. You know, I’d accepted that it wasn’t going to happen. But now you’re sitting here telling me not only do you want to come, you want to come this month—that means the day after tomorrow. It’s sudden.”

“So you’re saying you don’t want me to come.” I spoke slowly, as though that would keep my voice from shaking. It didn’t.

“That’s not what I’m saying at all. I want you there with me. Of course I do. But not on a whim.”

“It’s not a whim,” I lied. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. My schedule opened up—more clients canceled.” Well, at least that much was true. I tried to decipher the concern on his face. Was it for me, or for a missed opportunity with Simone? “But if you’d rather wait until the summer…”

“The hell with summer.” He pulled me from my chair onto
his lap. He nuzzled my neck, and I gasped at the touch of his lips. “If I could, I’d be running through the woods with you right this minute. Vicky, I have wanted this for so damn long. I can’t even tell you how happy you’ve made me.”

“I’m happy, too.” At least, I thought I was. It felt so right to be close to Kane, surrounded by his strength, his warmth. Feeling his lips brush my skin, then press harder. Breathing his scent that always sent a shiver through me. Feelings I loved, that I never wanted to end.

But somewhere inside all that, a tiny voice whispered, “What have you done?” I wasn’t a werewolf. I didn’t want to pretend to be one.

I shook off my doubts and reached for him.

For the first time since I’d known him, Kane said his work could wait. We went out for a celebratory burger. Well, he had a burger; I had coffee. It was too early in my day for a heavy meal. The whole time, he talked about what to expect at Princeton. Picking me up and traveling there together. Checking in. How the day cabins were arranged. How packs were based around family units, and who belonged to which pack.

“What about Simone Landry?” I asked, trying to sound disinterested. “Does she have her own pack?”

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