Authors: Jennifer Ashley
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fiction
Once in a while, a Fae emerged and coupled with a Shifter or a human to produce a half-Fae offspring. Those were the dangerous kind. The half Fae could live among humans—they weren’t as fragile as the full-blooded Fae who weren’t easy with all the iron now in use in the human world. Half Fae weren’t affected by iron, and they had that Fae charm. It had been a half-Fae human and his son who’d helped convince the human government that Shifters were dangerous and needed to be kept on a leash—the Collars had been the half-Fae human’s idea.
And now there was this half Fae, half Shifter. Andrea Gray, scared and angry, the Shifter-Fae war being fought inside her own body.
You can trust us,
Sean had said. He’d really meant,
You can trust
Andrea touched his throat, tracing Sean’s own Collar. Sean closed his eyes to enjoy. The feel of her light fingers around the edges of the Collar was erotic and enticing, and yet, he also loved simply bathing in her warmth and the scent of her.
Sean jumped when her lips brushed his chin. He opened his eyes to find her face an inch from his, and then she closed the space between them and kissed him.
A slow, leisurely kiss. A slide of lips, moist with heat. She smelled good, like honey and that bite of mint that was the Fae in her.
Her mouth moved on his, and Sean answered, licking, stroking. He caught her tongue and gently suckled it, and she made a sound in her throat that made his already hard cock lift.
But this wasn’t a night for mating frenzy. It was cool in the room, they were warm snuggled under the blankets. This was a time to kiss, touch, nip, getting to know each other. Shifters mated for life. If Andrea accepted his claim, there would be time. So much time.
Andrea nipped and tasted Sean back, her touch light on his shoulders. She was fragile and strong at the same time, her body honed but fine boned, her curves round and delicious. Shifter but different.
Sean nuzzled Andrea’s cheek, and he feathered kisses along her jaw. Her hair smelled good, a fine place to bury his nose and inhale.
“Dylan will know you’re here,” she whispered.
He bit her earlobe. “Of course he knows I’m here. Even if Glory didn’t tell him, he can scent his own son.”
“He doesn’t like me.”
Another bite. “He likes you fine, love. He’s uncertain, but he was clan leader for all his life. It’s his job to be suspicious of anything different.”
“Different like me.”
“Give him a chance. He’s giving you one.”
Sean left off the enticing fun of licking the shell of her ear. “Love, if Dad didn’t want you here, you wouldn’t be here. Never mind that Liam’s now Shiftertown leader. If Dad thought you a true threat, your request would never have been approved, no matter what your pack leader wanted, no matter how many times I insisted on making the mate-claim.”
Andrea looked puzzled. “Dylan doesn’t have say over Glory’s pack leader. He’s Feline and not the leader of Shiftertown.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Sean wanted to laugh. “You think power only flows within a pack or a clan? That nothing outside can influence it? Living in a Shiftertown has taught me a lot about dominance and power, leadership and control. It’s not who wins in the pecking order, it’s who has true dominance. And my father has it. Liam’s leader now, but he still listens to Dad.”
“What about you?” Andrea’s mouth softened into a smile. “Do you listen to your father?”
“Mostly.” Sean traced her lips. “But he also listens to me. If I say you’re the one for me, he’ll concede. Eventually.”
“I never know what to make of you, Sean Morrissey.”
“Not many do. Come here.” Sean kissed her again, soft touches, his hand stealing around her back. She responded by nibbling his lip, running fingers through his hair.
Sean kissed her lips and face and throat, then he gently rolled her so that she faced away from him. He spooned up against her back, arm around her waist. “You sleep now. No more nightmares. I’m here to drive them off.”
“With your big stick?”
Sean chuckled and moved his hips, his hardness through his briefs finding the cleave in her panties. “Bikinis,” he said. “I knew it.”
“We’re strangely fond of each other’s underwear.”
“I promise not to wear yours if you don’t wear mine.”
Andrea started to laugh, her body shaking in a wonderful way. Sean hid a groan. He had to be crazy, lying here with her, promising himself he’d leave her alone.
“The big, bad Guardian in women’s underwear,” she said.
“You hush now.” Sean kissed the soft skin behind her ear. “Sleep.”
She giggled some more, a sound that drove heat into his bones. “I’ll dream about that. You big, strong Shifter, you.”
Sean turned the kiss to a nip. “Hush.”
“No doubt about who’s the dominant in
Andrea laughed again, the sound softer as she relaxed back into him. Sean held her in a safe embrace, cradling her like a cub until she fell into limp, dreamless slumber.
hen Andrea awoke in the morning, Sean was gone. She didn’t like the bite of disappointment that gave her.
Last night, Sean had held her like a mate would, kissing and cuddling, touching, nuzzling. Shifters did that in their animal forms, curving around each other and basking in the safe joy of being together. Her stepfather had done so when she was little, holding her after her mother died, the two of them united in grief.
She’d not had the comfort of such a thing in a long time. Sean was tearing down the walls Andrea had built against the world, and she wasn’t certain whether to embrace that or cower in terror.
Andrea showered, dressed, and went downstairs to find Dylan in the kitchen drinking coffee, alone. Cowering in terror started to sound good. Glory’s scent was all over Dylan, and from the way his eyes flicked to Shifter white and back to blue, Andrea knew that he could smell Sean’s scent all over
“Nothing happened,” she said as she moved to the coffeepot.
“Sean is almost at his century mark,” Dylan said in a dry voice. “He can sleep with whatever female he likes.”
Andrea poured herself coffee from an old-fashioned percolator pot, carried the cup to the table, and sat down across from Dylan, making herself face him. Andrea remembered how he’d looked at her the night Glory had brought her home, with a white-hot stare that Sean must have learned from him. Dylan had blue eyes, like his sons’, and a touch of gray in otherwise black hair, but he possessed a grim darkness that Liam and Sean both lacked. Dylan was a few centuries old, born long before the Shifters ever considered making themselves tame for humans. His eyes carried the weight of his years, and he hadn’t hidden the fact that a half-Fae Lupine was not someone he wanted living in the same house with him.
“You know, I didn’t come here to make trouble,” Andrea said. “Not between you and Sean, or you and Glory. Honestly. I just wanted somewhere to lick my wounds, somewhere to find my equilibrium.”
Dylan nodded, eyes settling again to human blue. “And this is a fine place to do it. You’re safe here, Andrea. I promise you.”
Andrea turned her coffee cup on the placemat, breathing the coffee smell to keep up her courage. Dylan might not be Shiftertown leader anymore, but that didn’t mean he’d run off with his tail between his legs. Slipping in the hierarchy meant that he was only a
less powerful than Liam.
She drew a breath. “Sean told me that if you hadn’t wanted me to come here, I wouldn’t have been allowed.”
“Then what made you let me?” Andrea sipped the coffee, cool enough to drink now. It was rich and good; Glory’s coffee always was.
“Glory. She’s fond of you and thought it would be best if you came here. I trust her judgment.”
“Then why did you take off the minute I walked into the house?” That still bothered her. “I didn’t even know you lived here. Glory sprang that on me when I was walking up the porch steps. ‘Oh, by the way, I’ve shacked up with the most powerful Feline in South Texas.’ ”
Dylan didn’t smile. “Liam is the most powerful Feline in South Texas. Sean and I are neck and neck for second, though Sean will pull ahead soon. He’s younger, and I’m tired of the game.”
Andrea traced the rim of her coffee cup and made herself look into his intense blue eyes. “You didn’t answer the question. Why did you leave the moment I arrived?”
“Clan business.” Dylan raised his cup, took a sip. “Nothing to do with you.”
“And it’s coincidence that this business happened the same night I got here?”
His smile was so quick she would have missed it if she hadn’t been looking hard at him. “Yes.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it.”
“You will, yes.”
Glory clicked down the stairs and into the kitchen at that moment, tall and slim and dressed from head to toe in hot pink. “Oh, good, you’re chatting. Sean went home?”
“Apparently,” Andrea said.
Glory smiled. “But you didn’t have any more nightmares, did you?”
“No.” Something tight loosened inside Andrea. “No, I didn’t.”
“Good. Dylan’s going to make breakfast, then we’re having a pride meeting at Liam’s bar. About the shootings.”
Andrea looked at her in surprise. “Do you want me there? I’m not part of the pride.” Neither was Glory.
Dylan rose and headed for the stove. “You’re a witness. You and Glory and Ronan. So, yes, Liam and I want you there.”
He proceeded to clatter frying pans and cook up an amazing concoction of sausage, eggs, and potatoes. Discussion over.
An hour or so later, Andrea found herself seated next to Kim Morrissey in the closed bar. Liam lounged on a chair next to Kim, his long legs up, feet propped on the table. Like Sean, Liam wore motorcycle boots, although Sean’s were hooked around the legs of his chair as he sat backward, arms on the slats.
Remembering how good Sean had felt curled up behind her made Andrea flush. She didn’t know why—they hadn’t done anything sexual. Kim caught sight of her flush and smiled knowingly, which made Andrea blush even harder.
Ronan was there too, the big Ursine giving Andrea a wave. Ellison came in behind him. Ellison, as usual, had dressed in cowboy boots, a black shirt, a big silver belt buckle, and a black hat, which he hung up near the bar, smoothing out his honey-colored hair.
Annie, the other waitress, was there, with a tall human man that Annie had her arm around. Annie had mentioned her human boyfriend in passing, a friend of Kim’s, she’d said, but Andrea hadn’t met him yet. The thin man didn’t look frightened to be in a roomful of Shifters, but Annie’s stance was protective.
Hurt him and you’re toast,
her body language said.
“The owner of the bar wanted to close it because of the shooting,” Liam began without preliminary. “I convinced him to keep it open and not give in to terror tactics. Besides, how would poor Shifter bar managers and the waitresses make any money?”
Liam flashed his charming Irish smile, and the Shifters smiled with him. Silas, Annie’s human, looked a little confused, but Andrea understood Liam’s joke. If humans were too short-sighted to catch on to how Shifters could survive on part-time pittance, then they deserved to be duped.
“But this is a serious situation,” Liam went on. “Sean’s been talking to the police. Sean?”
“I had another chat with the detective yesterday morning,” Sean said. “She didn’t have much more to tell me.”
“She?” Andrea asked.
Sean didn’t seem to notice Andrea’s sudden possessive growl. “The woman didn’t look happy to have our problem dumped on her, but I managed to talk her around.”
Andrea imagined him smiling his quiet smile, and the female detective being unable to resist his charming blue eyes. She wondered if the detective had realized that Sean had gone commando that morning, and she wanted to growl again.
“She said she’d continue to look into it,” Sean said. “But she suspects it’s gang kids who have decided to make Shifters their target. Sort of counting coup, she said. She looked up the license number of the car, and as you suspected, Liam, it was stolen. In her opinion, it’s kids up to no good. The shooting in San Antonio yesterday didn’t change her mind, at least it hadn’t when I spoke to her again this morning. Random, she said. No one seems very interested in our little problem.”
Sean delivered the story in a calm voice, but Andrea sensed his simmering anger.
Liam listened without changing his expression. “Ronan, what’s your assessment?”
Ronan shrugged his big shoulders. “At first glance, a lowrider full of gang kids, like the cop said.”
“And at second glance?”
“It was too organized, and they weren’t kids. In human terms, adults. The attack was exactly timed when there weren’t a lot of people outside the bar and when I went off to use the gents’. I kinda do that every night at about the same time. Usually there isn’t anyone but Shifters in here then, although we got some humans out barhopping that night.”
Liam took this in. “So a planned hit at a time there would be only Shifters inside—they thought—when they know the guard steps away from the door.”
“Sorry, Liam,” Ronan said. He no longer looked mournful, but his eyes held shame.
Dylan, standing behind him, put a hand on Ronan’s shoulder. “Not to worry, my friend. No one blames you.”
“Dad’s right,” Liam said. “You chased them off, Ronan, before they could do more damage. Well done.” He flicked his gaze to Dylan. “Now, we move on to the shooting in San Antonio. Dad?”
“I’ve been down in San Antonio for a while, cleaning up clan business,” Dylan said. There were knowing nods around the table, indicating that everyone but Andrea and Annie’s friend knew what he was talking about. “Ely Barry, one of our clan, and his family were at a café in Alamo Heights. He was having lunch—a double cheeseburger, he made sure to mention. A car drives up, two young men get out, unload their weapons, jump back in, and roar away. Most of the Shifters hit the deck, but Ely had to be a hero and pull a cub out of the way. Cub was fine; Ely took four shots to the stomach.”