Authors: Elle Thorne
SERIES OF SHIFTERS FOREVER!
Only After Dark takes place in New Orleans. The Arceneaux shifters, led by Lézare, Vax’s white tiger cousin—on his mother’s side. The Arceneaux are the black sheep of the family. Lézare doesn’t cave to public opinion. He dictates policy in the area he rules and he shuns old school European rules and regimes.
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he last time
Lézare saw her he promised to spank her curvy derriere. This time, he may do a lot more than that!
Curvalicious Natalya thought she’d never have to grow up. And then she met Lézare. The man who makes her want to be the woman she’s never been. Except his family hates her, and as far as she knows, he does to. So the only option she has is to go to the Shifter Masquerade Ball in disguise.
Lézare desires Natalya. There’s something about this spunky, sassy, mouthy, pouty curvy girl.
ou’re not going
to invite them. You can’t.” Evie stomped her foot, eyes flashing.
Lézare Arceneaux held back a laugh. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate his little sister’s angst. He’d suffered his own share of heartbreak. Hell, he was still living in heartache.
That’s what you get for falling for a woman you can’t have.
He forced a stoic expression onto his face while a battle raged on within him. His tiger knew the one for him.
Lézare was attracted to that woman. God knew, this Arceneaux man was more than smitten, but what was he to do when she had no interest in him? She refused to regard him as anything other than the enemy who’d thwarted her plans.
“Evangeline.” He put a hand on her shoulder.
Evie—Evangeline Arceneaux—was a hotheaded one.
He had to admit, all his sisters were. Such temperamental creatures, white tigresses, stubborn and beautiful. They all took after their mother, curvy, dark-haired all, but with varying degrees of burnished copper highlights. Those were courtesy of their mother’s gene pool as well.
“Simmer.” He pulled her close for a hug. “Surely you can manage a little party, and not let his being there bother you.”
He had a habit of using his mother’s French, though truth be told Lézare knew he butchered the language horribly. That didn’t deter him. He had the accent down pat, even if he couldn’t say the words with the precision that glorious language required. It wasn’t easy juggling a southern accent with a French twist.
“Look,” he continued. “It’s a big house.”
That wasn’t an exaggeration. Arceneaux Point was huge. It stood on a former plantation, originally owned by the man who’d held their father’s people as slaves, long ago, before his great-great-grandfather Étienne could pass for white.
Étienne had built a life for himself elsewhere, far from Louisiana, never once even whispering of his slave heritage, allowing his white gene pool to dictate the course of his life and the path of today’s Arceneaux clan.
Lézare’s great-great-grandfather had been one of the rare shifters who wasn’t born a shifter. He’d been turned. How he was turned was a secret he’d carried to his grave, saying that the world had enough shifters.
Étienne had fled after he was turned, built a life in the North and returned decades later as a wealthy, successful, and unmated shifter. Étienne had two goals when he returned. The first was to eradicate the bloodline of the people who’d held his people as slaves. The second was to take over their home.
And that was how the Arceneaux home—Arceneaux Point—became theirs.
What Étienne hadn’t planned on…
Something that changed the course of Arceneaux history…
When he’d had snuck into the room of the Arceneaux’s twenty-two-year-old, auburn-haired only child Celine, he’d planned to take her life. It was to be the ultimate revenge. She was the last of the Arceneaux.
The unplanned part?
That was the way she’d made him feel. She’d captured his heart and made it hers as securely as if she’d shackled it.
Celine’s father gave her hand away to the man he thought was a Northerner, and died never knowing that Étienne was not only a former slave of, but also a descendant of his own ancestors. He never learned that Étienne had left decades ago after being turned into a shifter in the swamps of Louisiana. That former slave had become the owner and the patriarch of a formidable set of shifters at Arceneaux Point.
Evie interrupted his musings.
“I don’t care how big the house is, I don’t even want to be in the same state as Mason Martinez.” Her face flamed crimson with fury. “Why did our cousin have to go and mate with his brother? I’m so mad at Veila!”
Lézare did laugh this time. “I’m sure a thirty-thousand-square-foot house is big enough for you to go hide in, since you don’ want to see your former beau.”
Lézare never left Louisiana, unlike his sisters, who’d spent a lot of their time in boarding schools and out-of-state at college. His accent was far more pronounced for the area, the letter tee often dropping off his contractions. He noticed the difference in their speech most when he was around his sisters.
Could have had something to do with the amount of time he spent with his grandfather
, he mused,
who spoke the same way
“It’s. Not. Funny.” She punctuated each of her words with a fist to his arm.
On the last one, he reached out, his tiger reflexes supernaturally fast, and took her fist in his hand.
“Enough.” He moved her fist to her side, his grip on it firm until she’d unclenched it. “You can be a cordial hostess or you can be absent. They are family now, too.”
Family mattered to Lézare. It mattered greatly. His father had been a distant cousin to Vax and Veila Tiero’s mother. After her death, Lézare and his sisters had been forbidden to associate with Vax and Veila by Vax’s father Giovanni Tiero. Gio’s orders and mission were clear: He wanted the Tieros to have nothing to do with the Arceneaux, nothing to do with his dead wife’s side of the family, which was open to diversity among shifters. For Giovanni Tiero, tigers belonged with tigers, lions with lions, and so on and so forth. To him, the worst infraction of all was mating with humans, which Gio’s own son Vax had done.
The old code brewed bitterness in Lézare’s gut.
“What’s that look about?” Alexa, who’d been quietly observing Evie’s tantrum, finally spoke.
“What look?” He wiped his scowl away.
She shook her head. He and Alexa were the closest of all the siblings. Second in birth order after Lézare, she was also second in charge of the Arceneaux organization. She was an alpha in her own right and brooked little dissension.
“Evie.” Alexa addressed their younger sibling. “You’ll have to figure something out. Mark and Veila are invited, and so is Mason. What you and he had in college, however it may have ended, is in the past. You cannot disrupt this occasion as you did the Shifter Council Meeting.” She softened her diatribe with a smile.
“The Arceneaux Shifter Masquerade Ball only happens once a year. Why do I have to do that? It’s our party. It’s an Arceneaux event,” Evie huffed. Her claws extended as ire pushed her toward a shift. With a slight creaking sound she shifted into her white tigress, turned back, snarled at her siblings, and left the room in two long jumps, bounding out of sight.
“That went well.” Lézare took a beignet from the tray.
Maylene, the housekeeper, had slipped the still warm concoctions onto the table in the midst of their melee, then had left without a word, with only a furtive glance at Lézare.
“Real well.” Alexa’s voice held as much sarcasm as his own.
She looked at her phone, then frowned, her brows dipping in a stern vee.
“Not a word. Not a text. Not a call.”
Valencia, the youngest of Lézare’s sisters, was en route from Georgia.
“Maybe we should be happy she’s not texting and driving.” Lézare took a bite, careful not to breathe out so the confectioner’s sugar wouldn’t scatter.
“Lézare.” Alexa was looking out the front window. “Someone’s here.”
Lézare put the beignet on the plate. “Who is it?”
“I don’t recognize the vehicle.” Alexa frowned. “Change that. I don’t recognize either of them.”
“We’re expecting at least a dozen or so who will be staying on the premises instead of in the city. It’s no surprise that vehicles are pulling up.”
By “the city” he meant New Orleans.
He approached his sister, put his arm around her. “What’s going on? I’m sensing something’s up with you, Alexandria.”
She gave him a mock dirty look at his use of her full name. He hadn’t planned on using her nickname. He simply wasn’t a nickname kind of guy.
“Nothing. I’ve got this feeling. Maybe it’s stress, or Evie and Mason.”
“She needs to relax.” He glanced out the window at the sizable staircase that led to the landing at the top of the stairs at the front door. Half a dozen of his security team had already opened the door and were awaiting the new arrivals.
Lézare’s security team was much more than just security. They were his associates, his backup, his muscle. Fiercely loyal to Lézare, they were available in any capacity they were needed. Their lead, Theo, glanced at the window where Lézare was standing and gave him a subtle nod. Lézare acknowledged the nod with a slight inclination of his own head.
“Lézare, I don’t think you understand the depth of their feelings. You’ve never been in…”
She didn’t finish her sentence, but he knew what she was going to say: that he’d never been in love.
He bit back a response. Just because he didn’t advertise his feelings didn’t mean he had none. They wouldn’t like his choice in women, anyway.
“If they have feelings for one another, they should act on them.” He was one to speak—he wasn’t acting on his desires or his feelings
The door on one of the Suburbans opened. Alexa squealed and bounced up and down.
Lézare flinched and covered the ear nearest to her.
“It’s Callie!” Her voice was a high-pitched screech of jubilation.
His cousin Vax, Vittorio Tiero, was helping his mate Callie out of the vehicle. She was nearing the final stages of her pregnancy.
“You didn’t tell me Vax and Callie were coming!” Alexa was still squealing in his ear.
He stepped away from her and the din she was letting loose.
Who would have thought such a short package of a woman could be capable of such volume?
“He wasn’ sure he’d make it. He said it would depend on Callie and the baby.”
“She looks like she might have it any time now.”
Lézare scowled at his sister. “We’re not equipped to have a birth here.”
His next thought went to Vax’s sanity. Was he crazy, bringing her so far from Dallas? She might give birth at their plantation home, a good thirty-minute ride from the city, and who knew how far away from a qualified obstetrician.
It wasn’t like she’d be giving birth to just any child. She was carrying a shifter’s baby. What sort of issues could her delivery be plagued with?
The other doors on that Suburban and the second one opened.
Lézare stepped away from Alexa because he knew if he didn’t she’d blow out his eardrum.
Sure enough, she started to squeal again, hopping around.
Veila Tiero and Mark Martinez stepped onto the driveway. Right behind them, Cy helped Lila out.
From the second Suburban, Doc and Mae exited. Lézare exhaled a sigh of relief. Doc was here. He could deliver the baby if something happened.
Gavin helped Layla out of the same vehicle Doc and Mae had been in.
Lézare turned to Alexa. “No Sophie?”
Lézare knew that Alexa had a special relationship with Sophie. Alexa had helped Sophie hide her pregnancy, and she had been the only one Sophie had told about it. Of course, when Alexa needed help, she’d had to bring Lézare in, but he’d kept Sophie’s secret—even kept it from her entire family, including Vax, whom he was very close to. It was Sophie’s secret to tell.
“She decided to stay abroad a while. She’ll be back.”
Lézare nodded. “If Gavin, Vax and Veila are here, that means Dane’s running the place.” Lézare was happy. He liked the black panther. He’d heard rumors about Dane’s early years; the shifter was due a good life.
“Let’s go greet our family.” Alexa tugged on his sleeve.
“Notice something?” he asked her.
She glanced back. “What?”
Her lips parted, her mouth making a perfect letter O. “I wonder how Evie’s going to take that.”
“She didn’ want him here, remember?” Lézare shook his head. Women. So confusing.
“Yes, but she doesn’t want that to be his decision, I’m sure.”
He ran his hand over his two-day growth of beard, scratching at the roughness. “She needs to get her head checked.”
He raised his hand, held up his finger for silence. “Please don’ feel the need to tell me that I know nothing about love again.”
“Let’s go see our guests,” she harrumphed, but her lips twitched with a smile for her big brother.