Authors: Bianca D'Arc
The Purrfect Stranger
transferable. They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement of the copyright of this work.
THE PURRFECT STRANGERS
Perfect Strangers Collection
Copyright © 2012 BIANCA D’ARC
Cover art by Amanda Kelsey
Edited by Trinity Scott
ISBN 10: 1-936387-42-5
All Romance eBooks, LLC
Palm Harbor, Florida 34684
This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or business establishments, events, or locales is coincidental.
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever with out written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First All Romance eBooks publication: February 2012
Another sucky Valentine’s Day. Valerie twirled the straw in her rum and coke as she sat at the restaurant bar. She had been there an hour already. Val had wanted to get there early and scope out the place, but she’d been a little too eager to leave home and been way too early. The ice in her mixed drink had melted, watering down the concoction, but she didn’t care.
She had looked forward to having a date for the first time in years on Valentine’s night. Even if it was a blind date set up by her cousin Suzy. Suzy, who had encouraged Val to
take a walk on the wild side
. Those were the fledgling witch’s exact words to her older cousin who didn’t have enough magic in her to boil water. She was a disgrace to the entire Faber Clan. Teachers of magic from time immemorial. To have such a powerless child in their midst was both an embarrassment and practically a sin.
Good thing her brothers and sisters had proved to be exceptionally powerful warlocks and witches, or her parents might have been completely disgraced. As it was, not a single mage worth mentioning wanted to date the Faber’s freak child who had very little magic of her own—most of it quite useless.
But Suzy had always been a kind child. She’d grown into a gracious young woman who had a soft spot in her heart for her magicless older cousin. Suzy was her one true friend in Clan Faber. Without her, Val would’ve long ago left the family fold and struck out on her own in the real world. The world where magic didn’t intrude on every aspect of life. The world where Valerie didn’t feel like a freak all the time. A world without her beloved cousin, Suzy.
Without Suzy, Valerie wouldn’t be sitting here, waiting for a blind date.
Valerie hated blind dates as a rule, but she’d been on her share of them. Most didn’t work out. One or two had led to short-lived affairs. Yet, she was still alone. Unwanted by the magical community. Nothing terribly special among those who didn’t have a clue magic existed either. Just plain old Valerie, the eternally alone.
She was feeling single and pitiful, sitting by herself in a restaurant full of lovers on the alleged most romantic night of the year. Val sighed, trying to look invisible on her lonely barstool. All around her, people were mingling, sipping colorful drinks while they waited two-by-two for their tables to be ready. One quick glance told her she was the only single person sitting at the bar. She’d intercepted a few pitying looks from some of the other women in the room, but refused to acknowledge them.
She would sit here for another five minutes and if her date didn’t show by then, she was leaving. No matter how humiliating it would be to walk the gauntlet of paired off people on her way to the coat check and ultimately, the door.
“Is this seat taken?” A deep voice asked from above.
Expecting to see some guy and his date, Valerie looked up from her drink, only to be ensnared by dark eyes in the most handsome face she’d ever beheld. A quick check behind him showed no date in evidence, but Valerie was cautious. No way a guy this gorgeous would be on his own on Valentine’s night. Maybe his date was in the powder room?
“It’s free,” she answered shortly, turning back to her drink. She needed a minute to collect her thoughts. No doubt some slinky woman would show up to claim Mr. Handsome in a minute or two. Best not to make a fool out of herself before then.
“You’re Valerie, right?”
Be still her beating heart. Mr. Hunkalicious was her blind date? Way to go Suzy. If his packaging was anything to go by, Valerie owed Suzy big time for setting her up with this major hottie. Her radar went off at the thought. There had to be something wrong with him. Why else would a gorgeous guy like him be scrounging for a blind date on Valentine’s Day?
“Keith?” she asked, just to make sure. Her cousin had only given her the mystery man’s first name. Nothing more. Not even a description of his bodacious bod to tempt her. And man-oh-man, was she tempted.
“Yes, ma’am. Keith Redstone.” He offered his hand politely and she took it. There was something about his last name that tickled her memory, but she let it pass.
When her hand touched his, tingles of magic wove up her arm in a startling dance that teased her senses. Something special indeed. She’d never had such an immediate reaction to a man. And never one so magical. If touching hands did this, what would it feel like when he touched her in other places?
“Valerie Faber.” She returned the self-introduction, seeing no harm in giving him the power of her family’s last name. If he were the least bit acquainted with the magical world, he’d recognize it immediately and know she had powerful friends, even if her own power was negligible.
He held her hand longer than was strictly necessary, but in the end he let her go before she got too uncomfortable with the energy zinging from him to her and back again. She felt jazzed. Like little tickles of electricity were touching her skin everywhere, especially her most sensitive places.
His finger moved over the back of her hand and she felt it in the tightening of her nipples and a little pulse farther down. Oh, boy. The man’s energy was downright dangerous if it could make her squirm from three feet away. What would happen when he was up close and personal? More than anything, she wanted to find out.
But as he let her go, the niggling thought returned. There had to be something wrong with him. Some reason he had to resort to a blind date. She knew her problem. No magic. But he had magic to spare if the reaction dancing across her skin was any indication. He had power. Raw power.
As she took a really good look at him, she tried to figure out what it was that made her see him differently than the other warlocks she’d met. His magic had a different flavor. One that was more easily accessible to her starved magical senses. What was it about him?
“Looks like our table is ready.” He stood and held her chair as the maitre d’ signaled for them. Keith was the soul of politeness as he escorted her through the busy restaurant to their table.
Valerie noticed the appreciative stares of the women they passed as they got an eyeful of Keith Redstone. Oh, yeah. He was hot with a capital H. Even the married women couldn’t help but throw appreciative glances his way as they walked through the busy dining room.
And for tonight, at least, he was all hers. Goddess bless cousin Suzy.
She was going to kill cousin Suzy.
“You’re a shifter?” Valerie tried not to let her feelings show.
Inwardly she was appalled that her cousin would have thought she’d sunk so low as to date someone who was half animal. Fabers did not associate with animals. Even if they walked on two feet most of the time. Valerie had never even been near a shifter before, and frankly, she didn’t know much about them.
“Technically, I’m a werecougar.” He kept his voice pitched low as he poured more wine into her glass. He had good manners, for an animal. “The Cougar Clan is one of the few big cat shifter Clans that are part of the
hierarchy. Most of the other big cat varieties follow a different governing structure set up in Europe during the Renaissance, I believe.”
“Really?” She hadn’t expected that. It sounded like they were actually organized in some way. Despite herself, she was intrigued.
“Michelangelo organized it, or so they say. They have different rulers for each kind of big cat. The
, who is a white tiger. It’s all very complicated.
simply obey the edicts of our Clan leaders and whoever the current Lords are. It rotates every generation, usually, what form the Lords take. The current Lords are wolves. They say the next set of twins in line are grizzlies. Cougars have a looser organization than the other cats.”
Their food arrived and their conversation ceased out of necessity. Keith had been speaking in low tones only she could hear since the restaurant catered mostly to normal humans who had no clue about the magical world all around them. Only when the waiter had finished delivering their dishes, did Keith speak again.
“Forgive my asking, but why don’t you know any of this?”
“I’ve never met a shifter before.” She knew she was blushing and fought against her own embarrassment.
“Yet you know about us. So then, what are you?”
“I’m a hereditary witch of Clan Faber. Our clan has taught the uses of magic for thousands of years and contains some of the most powerful mages in the country, if not the world.”
Keith was silent a moment, appearing to digest her little speech while his steak sent up tendrils of steam from the table in front of him, close to forgotten. He just looked at her, hiding his thoughts well behind a curious expression.
“You’ve met magic users before?” She spoke into the silence, wanting it over. His scrutiny made her uncomfortable.
“Once or twice,” he finally answered, though there was a new suspicion in his gaze that she didn’t like.
“Not pleasant experiences?” she prompted, hopefully.
A minute ago she’d been appalled by the idea of having dinner with an animal but now, perversely, she wanted his approval. Damn her fickle nature. She didn’t understand why this man—this shifter—could get under her skin so easily in such a short amount of time.
“You could say that,” he answered evasively.
His gaze dropped and he went about the motions of cutting up his steak, signaling to her clearly that he didn’t want to discuss it. She followed his lead and picked up her knife and fork, cutting dainty bites of her chicken.
“I didn’t mean to pry,” she apologized softly as they began to eat their meal.
His head snapped up and his gaze met hers. “It’s okay.” His tone was gentler and his gaze tempered with something that could almost be regret. He sighed and returned to his meal.
A few moments later, he broke the uncomfortable silence.
“Look. I’m sorry. Nobody mentioned you were a magic user. I have nothing against you personally. It’s just that there was some suspicion that a mage involved in the murder of my aunt and cousin a few years back. Since then, the Redstone Clan steers clear of mages.”
“I’m sorry.” Her whisper was heartfelt. She saw the true pain in his eyes when he talked about the deaths of his family members.
“Thanks.” His response was subdued as they continued eating.
“You don’t like mages, yet you have strong magic of your own. Do all shifters have your level of power?”
She’d certainly gotten his attention with her seemingly innocuous question.
“When you touched my hand. Didn’t you feel it?” She blushed, talking about the reaction so openly, but he had to realize… or didn’t he?
“Feel what, exactly?”
“The way your magic met mine. It tingled all the way up my arm like little sparks of energy against my skin.”
“Does that happen often?” He appeared truly curious.
“Never before in my experience,” she admitted.
“Have you met Bill Redstone? He’s dating Suzy Faber, who I assume is your cousin, right?”
“Bill? Yeah, I’ve met him a few times.” She was surprised by the change in subjects, but immediately recognized the significance in her cousin’s boyfriend’s last name. “Is he a shifter too?” To say she was surprised by the idea would be an understatement.
Keith nodded. “Have you ever touched him?”
“We’ve shaken hands a few times and he helped me down from a ladder once where I sort of fell on him. Good thing he’s as big as a tree or I would’ve flattened him.” She smiled at the memory, though it had been embarrassing at the time. She wasn’t the most graceful of women.