Authors: Jennifer Ashley
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fiction
He and Dina had protected Andrea with everything they had, and once Andrea had learned to shift, she’d been grudgingly accepted if not trusted. Accepted because Andrea had been damn careful to hide any part of herself that was too Fae, like her small healing ability. But Glory hadn’t been allowed to see Andrea at all, and once Glory’s pack had been relocated to Texas after taking the Collar, all chance of them meeting had gone.
Andrea sighed, put everything back into the folder, slid the folder under the mattress, and went downstairs. She planned to continue tracking the ley lines, mapping them through Austin, but she’d need to get a car. She was saving every penny she made at the job Liam had given her toward one, but vehicles were expensive, even ones Shifters were allowed to buy.
Outside it was freakishly warm for midwinter, but the weather here could swing like that, Glory had told her. Colorado Springs would still be buried in snow, but temperatures today in Austin were pushing eighty. Andrea hopped up on the wide balustrade at the end of the porch to enjoy a patch of warm sunshine.
The Morrisseys’ house next door was a mirror image of Glory’s, a two-story bungalow with a deep porch and Craftsman-style windows. It was a homey place, kept freshly painted, the yard trimmed. The curtains on the downstairs windows were wide open, letting Andrea glimpse the cluttered living room beyond, a contrast to the neat yard outside.
Three men lived in that house—Liam, Sean, and Connor—with Kim the only female. Andrea imagined that Kim had her hands full keeping the place straight, and she smiled in sympathy. Andrea had lived with her stepfather in a tiny house and knew firsthand how messy males could be. And how they blinked in surprise whenever a female commented on it.
Glory’s house, on the other hand, was pristine. Maybe another reason Dylan had fled?
Andrea hadn’t sat there long before Sean rode up on a black motorcycle, already out and about for the day. Andrea wondered what he’d been doing, where he’d gone. She had no idea what the man did all day, only that he was around to watch her all night. What did Guardians do in their spare time?
Sean pulledonto one of the two strips of concrete that made the driveway, turned off the motorcycle, and dismounted.
Andrea swung her leg, foot bare in a sandal, and gave him a smile. “Morning, Sean.”
Sean nodded. “And a good morning to you.”
He fetched a toolbox from the porch, slid off his leather jacket, and squatted down to examine something on his motorcycle’s engine. Andrea wasn’t familiar enough with motorcycles to know what he was doing, but she enjoyed watching his biceps play and his thighs move under his jeans as he worked.
A Shifter woman emerged onto the porch of the house beyond the Morrisseys’, another Feline, dressed for the warm weather in a low-cut sleeveless top and shorts. She hopped up on her porch railing and dangled her legs as Andrea did. “Hey, Seanie.”
Sean gave her a brief glance. “Caitlin.”
“I’ve come home from San Antonio.”
“I can see that.”
Andrea watched Caitlin grumpily. If the woman leaned any farther forward, she’d fall off the porch, not to mention right out of her blouse.
“You should come over and say hi, Seanie,” Caitlin said. “A girl might think you’d forgotten her.”
Sean grinned but kept his gaze on his motorcycle. “Oh, I haven’t forgotten you, Caitlin.”
Andrea’s chest burned. Goddess, she wasn’t jealous of that overly obvious Feline girl, was she? Andrea had always thought her Fae blood suppressed her mate-possessive instincts—she’d never had them for any other male she’d ever met. But the minute this woman with her breasts spilling from her top cast a glance at Sean, Andrea’s fighting instincts stirred to life. She growled low in her throat.
Oh, gods, she
jealous. Proprietary and jealous, like a she-wolf in heat.
“Hey, Sean,” Andrea couldn’t stop herself from saying. “Thanks for walking me home last night.”
Sean glanced up at her expressionlessly. “Just doing my job.”
“Seanie likes his job,” Caitlin sang. “He’s a sweetheart. So
Sean returned his attention to his motorcycle, not bothering to answer.
“Well, well,” another female voice drawled. “If it isn’t Sean Morrissey.”
A woman stopped on the sidewalk in front of Sean’s house and folded her arms. She was a bear, tall like Glory but more muscular, though her muscles didn’t detract from her beauty. She was strong but thoroughly feminine.
“Rebecca,” Sean greeted her, voice neutral. “How are you this fine morning?”
“Better now that I’ve taken in the sights.”
Andrea stifled another growl. These females were perfectly in their rights to flirt with Sean, because according to Shifter rules, Sean would not be off-limits until he and Andrea had the official mate blessings. Until then, Sean was fair game.
In the unfair world of Shifters, however, the mate-claim put Andrea
the market, females being scarce and jealously guarded. No other male would dare try to move on Andrea until she rejected Sean’s claim, unless that male wanted to challenge Sean for her. And Andrea had the feeling that no sane male would challenge Sean. The aura of raw power he walked in would make them run away in terror before they even got close.
“Go on with you now,” Sean was saying to Rebecca. “You must have better things to do than watch a man fix a bloody stubborn bike.”
Rebecca shook her head, still smiling. “Not really.”
“Me either,” Caitlin called from the other porch. “I could watch you all day, Seanie. In fact, why don’t you bring that bike over here, and I’ll make us some lemonade?”
“Or you could come to my house,” Rebecca said. “I’d give you Guinness.”
Rebecca was a little older, probably more experienced than Caitlin, who wasn’t much beyond cub years. Neither of them were looking for mates, Andrea could tell. Just mat
“What we really want is to see all you’ve got, Sean,” Andrea called. She barely stopped herself from snarling, her fingers wanting to turn to claws. “We
we’ll give you lemonade or Guinness, but it’s only to get you out of those sweet jeans.”
Sean glanced up, the skin around his eyes tightening. “Is that so?”
“That is so. Right, ladies?”
Rebecca laughed. “You are so right. Is it boxers under there? Or a thong?”
Sean’s brows rose. “So, you’re taking bets on my underwear now?”
“Come on, show us what you’ve got, Seanie,” Caitlin said.
“Yes, come on, Sean,” Andrea said, forcing herself to remain relaxed. “Settle the bet.
“You don’t know Seanie then,” Caitlin almost crowed. “It’s boxers. Black satin.”
Rebecca touched her lower lip. “I’m holding out for a thong.”
Sean stood up, socket wrench in hand, his gaze locked on Andrea’s. “You’re serious.”
Andrea gave him a slow smile. “You betcha. Who’s right,
Sean fixed his unreadable blue gaze on her for a long moment. His eyes sucked her in, made her want to leap off the porch and fall at his feet, begging him to be gentle—but not too gentle. She’d be down there kissing his boots in a second. Pathetic.
Andrea met his gaze with a steady one of her own, challenging, daring.
A smile of pure sin spread across Sean’s face. “If I settle the bet, will you ladies let me get on with some work?”
“Depends on the answer,” Andrea said. “Go on, Sean. Make our day.”
Sean kept up the wicked smile a few seconds longer. Then he shrugged, dropped his wrench, unbuckled his belt, and slid his jeans down his backside.
He wore no underwear at all.
Caitlin and Rebecca screamed in delight. Andrea remained silent, but her heart pounded so hard she heard a rushing sound in her ears.
Sunshine touched a backside that was slightly paler than the rest of Sean but still tanned. He must expose his entire body from time to time, probably right after he shifted. Sweet thought. Andrea wanted to leap down and bite that firm, bare ass, nip it, taste it.
The show lasted only a few seconds before Sean pulled up his jeans again. “You all lose,” he said as he buckled his belt. “Satisfied?”
Rebecca ran her tongue over her lips. “Oh, I might be satisfied for the rest of the week.” She turned away and walked on, her low laughter drifting behind her.
Caitlin lingered awhile, all but rubbing herself on the porch railings as she cooed at him, but Sean switched his entire focus to the bike and paid no attention. Playtime over. Caitlin evidently didn’t like being ignored, so she said a sugary good-bye and waltzed back into her house.
Andrea lifted herself from the porch and made her way down to Sean’s driveway. Her body was shaking and hot, but she pretended coolness as she stuck her hands into her back pockets and watched him work.
“Is it a Feline thing?” she asked. “Going commando?”
Sean kept tinkering. “No, it’s a ‘no clean laundry’ thing.”
Andrea tried a grin, but her heart was still pounding. “What, won’t Kim wash the big, bad alpha’s underwear?”
“She’s a modern woman, Kim is. Which means she’ll look after her mate but not his good-for-nothing brother. She makes Connor do his own laundry too. Says it builds character.”
“She makes you males work the washing machine? That must be something to see.”
“Oh, I know how to,” Sean said, still not looking away from his task. “I just forgot to.”
Andrea leaned down, hands on her knees, and got lost in watching the muscles in his arms work as he tried to wrest a stubborn bolt loose. He smelled like sunshine and dust, and she didn’t blame Caitlin and Rebecca for wanting to grab him and haul him off.
“While you’re standing there all pretty,” Sean said, grunting with effort, “will you come down here and grab on to this stiff thing for me?”
Hot words to make her hot.
I’ll hold anything you want me to, Sean Morrissey.
She crouched down. “To what?”
The glint in his eyes told her he’d phrased the question that way on purpose. “Right here.” He steered her hand to the handle of a wrench that was closed around the bolt. “Just keep a grip on it, and don’t let go.”
Andrea touched her tongue to her lip. “You’d be amazed at what a tight grip I have.”
Sean growled low in his throat. “You walk the edge, Andy-girl.”
She did, and Sean always made her want to leap right over it—to land right on top of him. He steadied her hand again with his strong one, and she held the wrench as he loosened a piece beneath it. The whole assembly came out, Sean and Andrea lifting it away together.
Nice. Sean’s face hung near to hers, a smudge of grease on his cheek. He smelled of sweat and bike grease, the outdoors, and all she could think of was the sunshine kissing his sweet backside.
Sean set the piece aside. He started to reach for the next thing he wanted to yank off, but Andrea touched his shoulder. Sean turned back to her, his breath on her face, eyes darkening.
Andrea was never sure who leaned forward first, but she was melting toward him and, next thing she knew, felt the scalding pressure of Sean’s mouth on hers. He kissed with strength, barely masking his power, and Andrea closed her eyes and drank it in. His hand stole to the back of her neck, arching her up to savor more of her.
“Come inside with me,” he whispered against her mouth, and she tasted his breath. “You can make sure I wash my underwear. How’s that?”
She wanted to; oh, she wanted to. No one was home, and they could explore what they’d started. More kissing, more touching, and Andrea could slide her hands into his jeans and cup his firm, sun-touched backside.
She pulled away slightly. He watched her, wanting and yet cautious, trying not to scare her. That worry for her twisted her heart around, and at the same time, she wanted to lick the moisture from between his lips.
“Your pants are vibrating,” she whispered.
“What?” Sean jerked. “Aw, damn it.” Andrea watched with amusement as Sean unfolded to his feet and yanked his cell phone from its holder.
As she rose with him, she heard the grating tones of Sean’s father, Dylan, come clearly over the line.
“Son,” he rumbled. “Fetch the sword. You’re needed.”
he warmth and vibrancy drained from Sean’s eyes. “I’ll be right there.” He clicked off the phone, looking grim.
“What is it?” Andrea asked. “What’s happened?”
Sean shoved the phone back into its holder. “My cousin Ely in San Antonio. Another drive-by shooting. Dad says he’s still alive, but ...” The way Sean trailed off said it all. “He’s asking for the Guardian.”
The darkness Andrea sensed in Sean came forward with a vengeance. His smiles were gone, as was the charming lilt with which he’d asked her to go inside with him. Then he’d sounded like a warm man seeking pleasure on a sunny morning; now he was the cold man who’d looked upon so much death.
“Sean, I’m sorry.” Andrea rubbed his tight forearm. “I don’t understand, though. The San Antonio Shiftertown has a Guardian, doesn’t it? I thought the humans made each Shiftertown use its own.”