Authors: Jodi Redford
To Kelli, for always being there for me exactly when I needed it most. You’re an awesome CP and an even better friend. Love ya, chickie.
And to Sasha, the best editor in the whole world, and breaker of a certain werewolf’s heart. Someday your epic love affair will come to pass. Someday…
Nothing sucked more than having your soul on a seven-year layaway plan. No, scratch that. Having the layaway plan on the brink of expiration?
really blew the big one.
Her exhale loaded with extra weariness, Clarissa Miles turned her Miata down the rutted path that was trying to pass itself off as an actual road. There were a million and one more productive things she could be doing than destroying her shocks on the dusty back roads of Georgia, looking for a nonexistent address. But no matter how many times she reminded herself of that little factoid, she kept repeating this pointless mission.
The reason? Her damn fixation with tracking down Seventy-seven West Seventh Street. Locating it had become something worse than an all-consuming obsession in the three months since receiving the letter from Seven that called in the marker on her life.
Almost as if it were an irresistible force drawing her focus, she glanced toward the passenger seat, where a single sheet of paper fluttered against the edge of her purse.
Your seven years is almost up. Collection is expected in full
. She’d looked at the damn summons countless times, and it still rankled that her soul only warranted two lousy, freaking sentences. Not even a paragraph, for goddess’s sake. Apparently that would have required too much effort and ink.
Thunder rumbled, and she slid her sunglasses down to stare at the azure, cloudless sky just as a fat raindrop plopped onto the polarized lens. “Great.” Pressing the brake, she pulled toward a thicket of snake grass overtaking the shoulder of the road. She reached for the button for the retractable hardtop, and the screen on the GPS suddenly lit up.
“Turn left at the next street, and you will have reached your destination.” Despite the GPS’s perky announcement, Clarissa gaped at the unit like it was possessed—a perfectly logical conclusion, considering the circumstances.
Shaking her head, she returned both hands to the steering wheel and gripped it tight. “I’m probably going to regret this, but…here goes nothing.” Stepping on the gas, she cruised past the bend and veered left at the almost-hidden side street. Her pulse accelerated in tandem with the Miata’s speed at her first glimpse of the imposing Greek Revival mansion tucked behind a massive gothic iron gate.
She’d traveled every square mile of these back roads. No way in hell that building was there before today. There could only be one reasonable explanation for a house instantly materializing overnight.
Seven was back.
Despite knowing this day would come—hell, the letter had given her plenty of warning—cold dread still prickled the nape of her neck. She wasn’t ready to face what waited for her in that mansion. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Self-preservation kicking into high gear, she punched the car into reverse, aiming for the narrow tractor path she’d spied earlier. She glanced in the rearview mirror—on the lookout for the turnaround—and nearly jumped out of her skin when she spotted a silver-haired man dressed in a butler’s uniform blocking the road. Yelping, she slammed on the brakes. The tires squealed in protest, sending up a choking cloud of dust.
Heart threatening to catapult right out of her chest, Clarissa stared at the figure emerging from the billowing dust. Strangely enough, not a speck of dirt clung to his black jacket or pinstriped trousers. He stopped beside her door and clicked the heels of his immaculately polished wingtips together before sweeping her a curt bow. “Ms. Miles?”
It took a moment to find her tongue. “Err…yes?”
“I’m Harrison, Master Seven’s majordomo.” He reached into an interior pocket of his jacket and extracted a manila envelope. “This is for you,” he announced, passing the missive to her.
She frowned down at the correspondence. Terrific. Another letter. Apparently Seven wanted to become some twisted version of a pen pal. Shit. If only that were the case. “How did you know I’d be out here?”
A whistling breeze the only response, she lifted her gaze to discover she was alone on the road. Whipping her head around, she looked for any sign of Harrison. From the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of black moving on the mansion’s expansive porch. The shadowy figure disappeared behind the distinctively red front door before she could verify whether or not it was the butler.
Bemused, she returned her attention to the letter clutched in her grip. Swallowing a lump of apprehension, she tore open the envelope and unfolded the paper stashed inside.
Tatum’s. Tomorrow at seven p.m. Don’t be late
A heavy anchor of dread plunged inside her chest. Of all the places for Seven to choose, it would have to be Tatum’s. She hadn’t stepped foot within the establishment in the past seven years, for a multitude of reasons. Top one being that there was too much chance of running into her mother. Crumpling the offensive paper in her fist, she tossed it on the floor and backed the Miata up.
Twenty minutes later, she pulled into the Beaumont coven house’s driveway. A hodgepodge of vehicles blocked the entrance to the garage. Typical. For one tempting moment, she debated punching the gears in reverse and hightailing it into the city. It’d be easy enough to squirrel away in the dusty back room of Charmed Moon, the coven’s metaphysical store, and pretend to be busy logging inventory. But unfortunately Constance was running the shop today. With Con’s strong intuitive skills, she’d instantly know something was up and would dig for details.
Left with no alternative, Clarissa parked behind Jade’s beat-up yellow mustang. Even from where she sat, she could make out a fresh ding near the car’s tailpipe, testimony of yet another fender-bender racked up by the teenager. At this rate, they’d have to take out a damn loan just to afford to pay Jade’s insurance bill every month. Abandoning the Miata, Clarissa took the porch’s steps two at a time. She yanked open the door and collided with the solid wall of muscle that was Logan Scott.
Electrical pulses of energy zinged across her skin, and she shuffled a safe distance away from Logan. Damn it, the last thing she needed to deal with was her body’s annoying reaction to her werewolf familiar. She crossed her arms over her camouflage tank top, portraying an air of chilly indifference that she most definitely didn’t feel as she took in the snug, navy blue T-shirt that molded to Logan’s broad chest. “I didn’t see your truck outside.”
“Probably because I left it back at the dealership, shug. Though it means I’ll have to find someone to drive my truck back to my place later, I couldn’t resist taking my new ride for a spin.”
Logan’s mouth curled into that boyish grin that always managed to make her tummy do a funny flip. “Finally decided to put my mourning aside and buy a new hog.”
She’d wondered how long it’d take him to replace his prized Harley after one of Antoinette Delacroix’s zombies rode the bike to an early grave back in June. If nothing else, Logan was unbelievably loyal when it came to his hog. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for the countless women who’d warmed his sheets. Her werewolf familiar brought a whole new meaning to the word horndog, and as such, he moved on from a woman pretty much the second she rolled out of his bed.
More than enough reason for her to scold her hormones whenever they decided to sit up and beg for a little werewolf attention. In Logan’s case, that pretty much equated to all the freakin’ time. She might have had a shot in hell of getting over this ridiculous obsession with him if he hadn’t kissed her—
now, damn him—and verified that the chemistry between them was set somewhere between nuclear and apocalyptic.
Yeah, apocalyptic seemed most likely. Because goddess knows, allowing Logan into her bed would turn her life tilting on its axis. Even more than it already was.
“Got the new Harley warmed up and ready to go whenever you are.”
She blinked at him, her fuzzy brain taking a fraction too long to process beyond the “warmed up and ready to go” part of his declaration. Mentally shaking her head once she realized he wasn’t referring to her constant state of arousal where he was concerned, she stepped around Logan and plunked her purse on the Queen Anne secretary resting in the corner of the entry.
“I don’t have time to take a joyride with you.” She picked up the small stack of mail and rifled through it, giving her mind something to concentrate on other than the steady clomp of Logan’s motorcycle boots on the marbled tile as he approached.
“Come on, shug. It’s been way too long since I’ve gotten you on a bike.” Warm, strong hands settled with lazy assurance on her hips, and the catalog she’d been aimlessly leafing through plummeted from her fingertips. Logan’s spicy, masculine scent wafted around her, making her dizzy. Her lightheadedness intensified when his palms coasted dangerously close to her pelvic bone. He nuzzled the side of her neck. “Plus we both know how you love the vibration of 3000 rpm between your thighs.”
She sucked in her breath at the sexy edginess of his tone. Her cheeks burning hot, she flashed back to the near orgasm she’d almost fallen victim to during their last ride, all thanks to the wicked rumbling of his Harley’s engine. It hadn’t helped at all having her breasts squashed against Logan’s back at the time, either.
“Damn you, did you peek inside my mind while we were riding that day?” Given their witch-familiar link, it was certainly something he could do. Obviously she’d have to be more prudent from now on about safeguarding her X-rated musings.
“Don’t be angry, shug.” The pads of his thumbs swept distracting circles over her hipbones, heading toward the zipper of her jeans. “My nose was filled with the scent of your wet pussy. Do you have any idea the hell that put me through? I damn near went loco with the need to bury my tongue between your legs and lap up all your sweetness.”
A tremor ran through her, and her clit throbbed in reaction. “D-don’t say things like that.”
“Why? It’s true. I told you once before I’m done pussyfootin’ around our relationship.”
a relationship. Not beyond a witch and her familiar, anyway.”
“Not yet. But we will. Now the ban’s been lifted, there’s nothing keeping us from doing dirty, naked things with each other.”
Her pulse kicked into high gear at the wicked promise in his gravelly tone. Times like this, she didn’t know whether to rejoice or wallop each member of the guild with a two-by-four for their decision to lift the decades-old ban that’d forbidden any emotional and physical love between witches and their familiars. Although she’d never truly supported the ban, it’d certainly made it easier to keep her distance. And it’d given her a perfect excuse to tell Logan to keep his hands to himself—something he seemed to require constant reminders of every other second. Particularly lately. “I know it’s hard for your ego to hear this, but we’re not having sex.”
“And it’s not ego,” he continued as if he’d conveniently not heard her firm denial. His lips brushed her earlobe. “It’s destiny.”
“Now you’re just being delusional.” Ignoring his husky chuckle, she shoved free from the tempting cage of his arms and pivoted toward the hallway the same instant a gunshot boomed outside. Her shoulders jerked. “Who the hell is shooting out there?”
“Ms. Peach. She’s brushin’ up on her marksman skills.” He said it as if he weren’t the least bit perturbed by the idea of a seventy-five-year-old woman with cataracts handling a loaded weapon.
Good goddess, protect us all.
She pushed past him and streaked out the front door and down the steps, heading toward the rear of the coven house, where the gunshot seemed to have originated. The steady crunch of gravel behind her announced that Logan was following her. They rounded the corner of the house, and she spotted Peach taking aim at an improvised target fashioned from an old fertilizer sack that’d been tossed over a sawhorse. She had no idea how the woman managed to haul the bulky contraption on her own. Unless…
She spun and pinned Logan with an accusing glare. “Did you carry that out here for Peach?” Guilt flushed Logan’s cheekbones, and she bit the inside of her cheek to keep from growling. Pivoting, she shot a spark of energy at the rifle, causing it to jam in mid-fire.
Ms. Peach frowned and checked the safety before glancing over her stooped shoulder. Soon as she spotted Clarissa, the older witch groaned. “Son of a bitch. Shoulda known the grim reaper of fun would show up.” Lifting her free hand to shade her eyes, Ms. Peach squinted in Logan’s direction. “Would ya do the rest of us a favor and give ole broomstick-up-her-butt over there a tumble now and then? Maybe if she got laid once in a blue moon her main goal in life wouldn’t be making
A low, sexy chuckle rumbled from Logan. Not trusting any response he might have forthcoming, Clarissa cleared her throat. “Would you put that rifle down before you shoot your toe off? Or worse.”