Lark shouldered her duffel and headed down the Jetway, hoping to avoid the cute and nice-smelling hipster college student who’d been trying to pick her up since they took off.
She really should have undone the spell she used to hide the bloom of purple, green, and yellow that bruised up her neck and onto her jaw. That sort of thing tended to lead women to take her aside to ask in concerned tones if someone was hurting her at home.
The answer was yes, of course, just not the way they thought. As it was against the rules to tell them a feral werewolf jumped her in MacArthur Park two days before, it was best left hidden to most eyes and avoid scenes with well-meaning humans.
It was nice to know people didn’t just turn a blind eye when they thought someone was being beaten up at home and it was a good reminder to use the obscura spell to hide evidence of her unconventional life.
By the time she caught sight of the escalators down to baggage claim, he’d caught up with her because he was all legs.
“Hey, do you need a ride or anything?”
“No, thanks. Someone’s meeting me here.”
“Do you want to get together? You know, while you’re in town?”
If she was just a regular old human woman, she’d be all over this cutie pie like icing on cake. She’d broken up with someone two months before and it’d been a dry spell since. But she wasn’t regular anything and she’d only break him. It was inevitable with humans, which is why she never allowed herself to partake in anything they had to offer.
Her life was filled with weapons and other not-human beings with weapons, or those she had to use her weapons on. They never understood it, the life she led. She had to hide her true nature from human men, and that was never a good way to have a relationship.
“I appreciate the offer. But I’m here for work and my time is pretty much booked until I go back home.”
He frowned, apparently unused to his charms failing.
“Oh. Well.” He continued to walk alongside her as they approached their carousel. And that’s when she saw the giant, beautiful man holding the sign with her name on it and she forgot tall college boy even existed.
Mentally, she wiped her brow and fanned her face. So masculine the heat and power of him radiated outward. His hair was thick and dark, cut perfectly. A tousle that made her instantly think about what he’d look like right after a long, slow kiss. His facial hair only drew the attention to that mouth. Full, gorgeous lips that were currently drawn into a wary, yet casual line as he scanned the area.
Denim covered unmistakably powerful thighs and long legs right down to a pair of boots she had no doubt were handmade by someone somewhere.
Lark had always tended toward men who were of the cute, college-hipster type currently walking at her side. Scruffy beards, lanky, sexy glasses. The kind of man who not only wore scarves but looked totally adorable in them.
Sign guy was not one of those men. At all. He was one of those capital-M Men. Huge. Broad shoulders and narrow waist. The kind she enjoyed working with because they were smart, strong, nearly fearless, independent and yet controlled. And without a doubt totally and utterly fuckable. She imagined though, a man like him would be a hell of a lot of work to have a relationship with.
His eyes were dark, fringed by thick lashes. Those were fuck me eyes. Though, she noted, he looked around the room just like she did. An Other. Her heart kicked and her attention honed on him in a new way.
“Well, have a great quarter. Nice chatting with you.” She said it offhand as she wandered toward Sign Guy.
She paused, cocking her head and opening up her othersight—the second sight she’d been trained to use since she could walk. Othersight was a way of viewing the world all around her through her magick, allowing her to see another layer of existence layered against what most people saw every day. Energy had a signature and every living thing had pattern unique to them, but within that were other indicators such as their make up—human, vampire, witch, whatever—and this one was a shifter. No, not quite. The same, but slightly different. Not Fae, though his magickal signature was similar.
His nostrils flared, as if he sensed her magick. And then he focused his attention on her as she approached. Like a predator, he went very still and there was no mistaking the way he took in every detail.
“I’m Lark.” Still fascinated, she held her hand out for him to shake.
He smiled, a slow, sexy smile designed to part women from their underpants. The hand that took hers easily engulfed her fingers.
“Simon Leviathan. Meriel sent me.”
Lark nodded. “She said she was sending a friend of the Clan. Thanks. I appreciate the ride.” Her suitcase hit the conveyor belt. “Can I leave this with you while I grab my bag?”
“Which one is it?” He took the bag she’d been holding.
“The red one.”
But before she could move, he’d already taken three steps to the carousel and had grabbed her bag.
“Yes, thanks. I can get those.” She reached for the duffel but he just sent her a raised eyebrow and turned slightly to continue holding the bag.
“I’m sure you can.” He squeezed her upper arm with his free hand and then paused. “I’m really sure now. But I can hold them just as easily. We need to go upstairs to head to the parking garage.”
And then he sort of ushered her exactly where she wanted to go.
She was still mildly annoyed at how he just sort of took over. And yet interested enough that she let him get away with it. She ruminated on that as she snapped her seat belt. While she remembered, she sent a quick text to Meriel letting her know Simon had met her and was taking her to her hotel.
He slid in on the driver’s side and though the car was pretty large—she hadn’t been surprised by the big, black Cadillac—he seemed to fill every inch. Tinted windows. Swank interior. Smelled good too. Him and the car.
He paused before he turned the engine over. He didn’t glance at her, he examined her. “You look tired. Would you like to go to Meriel’s? Or straight to sleep? I know you’ve got the meeting with Clan Owen’s governance council tomorrow.”
Surprising how easily she found herself responding to him. A near stranger, she’d heard Meriel refer to Simon, knew he co-owned a nightclub with Meriel’s man, Dominic. That Meriel had sent him to pick Lark up told her that he was to be trusted, even if her gut hadn’t already told her the same thing.
“It’s already nine. I’ve gone over my presentation several times.” Including once with her sister and father, and really she couldn’t think of anything she wanted to talk about less right then than mages and death magic. “I’ve eaten and slept this stuff for the last few months. I’m as prepared as I’m going to be. I think.”
“Are you hungry?”
“Um. I figured I’d get room service when I got the hotel.” She’d been in such a hurry after her last meeting with her sister, Helena, she’d missed dinner though she did eat a giant bag of M&M’s on the plane.
“Do you like steak or are you a vegetarian?”
He said vegetarian as if it were a suspect class.
“I like steak. Vegetables too.”
He hmmed but it was laced with suspicion. “You’ll be staying in Meriel and Dominic’s old apartment.”
“I don’t want to intrude on them.” She liked Meriel but that didn’t mean she wanted to stay with her. A hotel meant she could walk around in her underwear and eat ice cream from the carton. Being around people took work. She had to be nice and polite and make small talk if she stayed with people.
“They don’t live there. They recently bought a house and had two months left on the lease.”
Well, that was nice actually. An apartment meant she’d have a kitchen and some room. Of course that meant she’d have to go grocery shopping. Though if she knew Meriel as well as she thought, that fridge was most likely well stocked already.
“Good to know. Thanks for the ride. You’re not a shifter.”
He continued to look at the road but one of his brows rose.
“I’m sorry. I have a hard time telling the difference between blunt and rude.”
His mouth twitched.
She leaned closer and breathed him in, so excited she forgot it was rude to get up in someone’s business and start sniffing. “Oh! I’ve never met anyone from the other side of the Veil but a Fae warrior.”
Simon had no idea what to make of this woman. His wolf liked the way she smelled. Sharp like he did. Like a warrior did. But she had blue streaks in her hair. Hair she most likely cut herself. Maybe not even in front of a mirror.
She most likely listened to bands no one ever heard of and went to shows in clubs with sticky floors. Clearly she liked shopping in thrift stores and probably had gloves that were once someone’s sweater.
The smudge of her energy was bright and clear blue. Blue like her eyes. Earnest eyes, but the shadow of a warrior lived there. Even as she rattled on at random, her gaze roamed, keeping track of where they were and who was near.
“How long have you been here? And by the way, if I, you know, fall over the line into rude, please just poke me and say so. That’s what my family does.”
“I’ve been here for ten of your years.”
“I bet your house has very clean lines. Nothing fussy. You don’t have knickknacks and I bet you fold your shorts.”
“I don’t follow.”
She sighed. “You’re a very spare guy. I mean you don’t have any fuss about you. You don’t use four words when three will do. It’s an admirable trait. One I do not possess. I bet you don’t leave your clothes on your bedroom floor or have stacks of magazines anywhere.”
He paused as he processed her stream of words. It’d been a while since he’d met anyone as interesting as this one. Plus she was small and most likely hungry. He wanted to feed her. And maybe show her his house since she thought he lived in a monk’s cell or something like that.
“Tell you what. I’ll make you a steak at my house. You can see for yourself.”
He caught her grin.
There was an odd sound and they both looked around. And then she cursed and dug into her coat pocket. Hubba hubba, hubba hubba. That’s what it kept saying.
“Clever. Oh yes, I’ll totally take you back now. What do you want?”
Much like a shifter, he had excellent hearing so the other end of the call was audible.
“Why you gotta give me such a hard time?”
“I’m working. And hanging up now.”
“I forgot to tell you. I put a new grip on your Sig. I think the balance should be better. And you should take me back.”
“Thanks for the tip on the Sig.” She disconnected.
“What did he do?”
She laughed. “You assume he’s the one who messed up.”
“If it had been you, he wouldn’t be the one begging to be taken back.” He had enough experience with such events. Enough that he’d ceased having anything more than flings.
“I’ll tell you, but only if you have some vodka at your house to go with the steak.”
“I have whiskey and some tequila. Will that do? I own a bar, it’s not as if I can’t stop to get vodka.”
“You’re very accommodating for a guy who just met me less than an hour ago.”
He liked taking care of people. And he was intrigued by Lark Jaansen and her colorful contradictions. She pleased his senses. In an entirely platonic way, of course. He sure as hell wasn’t going to be nailing her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t interesting to man and wolf.
“You’re one of Meriel’s. She’s the woman of a man who is like my own brother.” He was raised to honor family and your connections to people. She was important to his family and so she was someone he would protect.
He got off the freeway.
“Whiskey is fine. Or tequila. Thank you.”
His phone rang this time and when he answered, Meriel’s voice sounded over the speaker.
“Is Lark with you?”
“Yes, of course.” He turned his attention to Lark as he took the steep turn on the drive up to his house. “I thought you said you called Meriel?”
“I texted her to say I had arrived and was with you.”
“Texting is not calling.” Meriel’s voice underlined this point.
He hoped Meriel wouldn’t hear the smile in his voice. “She’s here with me. I’m going to feed her. She’s a little thin. And give her a drink. I’ll be sure she gets back safely. Tomorrow all you witchy types will have your war talks and all that jazz. Let the girl have a good steak and a decent night’s sleep.”
“Gage is going to pick you up first thing. We’ll get you a car as well. Our old place is warded up tight. No worries at all on that front. No one will breach your security there.”
“Good to know about the warding. I expected nothing less. As for Gage, yes, I spoke with him before I left L.A. I’m good. I promise I can take care of myself, Meriel. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon. Appreciate the use of your place, by the way.”
“We’re climbing the hill to my place. Cell service is going to get sketchy. Talk to you later.” He hung up and Lark laughed again.
“World-class skills, Meriel Owen. I’ve yet to meet a cannier witch when it comes to politics. She constantly pisses people off and yet they always listen to her. Take her seriously. Clearly you’re like she is. Just because I’ve never met a Lycian before doesn’t mean I can’t see you’re clearly a superior specimen. I mean, top of the food chain in Lycian speak or whatever. Why aren’t you back home ruling the pack?”
The blunt thing was refreshing. Witches weren’t usually so plainspoken. He liked it. “I’m the third son. My oldest brother already leads the pack in my father’s name. My next youngest brother is his right-hand man.”
“Ah, so like you have the heir, and then the spare and what about you?”
“There are corollaries. I’ve got eleven brothers and four sisters. We each find our place and path. Mine led me here.”
She leaned forward, gripping the dashboard, getting her fingerprints everywhere he was sure. “Holy crap. Simon, is that your house?”
Pride warmed him as she gawked at the grounds and the edifice of the house through the windshield.
“They’ve been building it for a year. Just finished everything a month ago.”
“You could totally play basketball in here.” She got out once he’d closed the garage door.
“I have a basketball court. Do you play?” He motioned toward the doors that led to the breezeway between the house and garage.
“Of course you do. My weapons are in my suitcase. I shouldn’t leave them out here. They’re kitted for taking down things far worse than a deer.”
The wolf inside him responded with pleasure.
“We can talk weapons while I get the steaks started.” He grabbed her bags from the trunk. “Come on.” He indicated the door to the breezeway. “Rest assured that this ground is safe.” He bowed his head and she realized he meant it. He took it as a matter of pride and responsibility that anyone on his land would receive safe passage. It was old-school honor.
“Thank you. This place is amazing. I hope you won’t be offended if I said I’d like to be outside for a little while. Would you mind?”
She’d spent a few hours in a plane and in cars and she wanted to clear all that from her system and get her magick centered again.
“Not at all. Let’s drop this in the house and I’ll take you to the gardens.”
As she let him lead her to the main house, she couldn’t help but admire everything she saw. The house sat on a large lot with a view from every window.
He took her to the heart of his house and she felt the deep well of his connection to the land beneath them. It was so clear, this harmony between Simon and the earth, it seemed to sing through the air at times.
He put her bags down in an entry.
“She likes you here.” Lark followed her senses through his house, looking up at the soaring ceilings and walls of glass. It was just as clean and elegant as she’d imagined it would be. But with a surprising warmth and masculinity.
“The earth I mean. Just in case you were following along at home.” She liked the confusion on his face, followed by understanding that she was referring to her earlier comment about the earth liking him.
“Meriel says this too. It’s reassuring to hear it from another person I suppose. Welcome to my home, Lark Jaansen.” He bowed, courtly.
“Thank you for having me here. This is beautiful.” She turned in a circle when he took her to his living space. “I was right.” She smiled at him.
“Should I be flattered?” He flipped a switch and the walls of windows opened up to a deck with a view that had her moving outside before she’d known to do it.
“Yes. It’s not serial-killer-scary neat. It’s clean and simple. You’ve created a place where nature is totally inherent to the overall design of the house.”
Three levels of decking and entertainment areas sprawled down the slope of the land.
“I wanted to occupy the land and still respect the shape and sense of wildness.”
He’d certainly succeeded. Her breath caught as she stepped from her shoes and pulled her socks off. The intensity of connection to the well of magick at her feet shocked through her system. The font clicked into place as it accepted her, as the land at her feet recognized her as Owen through her connection to Gennessee. Their foremothers were the same and their magick still flowed strong here.
She breathed in deep, simply letting the energy hum through her system, filling her up and washing away the exhaustion and agitation of the day. “This is stunning, Simon. Truly.” She continued to meander and he steered her around one path and directed her back up toward the house.
“You’re not wearing shoes, that path is for shoes and I don’t want you to get hurt. Would you like a drink? If you’re ready to go inside?”
“Yes, thank you.” She looked out over the mountainside and to the world below. “Such a riot of nature here. Every time I visit, it strikes me, the thin veil between nature and humanity. So much natural beauty here and yet just ten minutes down this mountain and you’re back into the buttoned-up control of a city. At home it’s different. My magick isn’t stronger or weaker really, it’s just that the ways I access my magick are different. So much light, the salt of the ocean, the energy of all that humanity hums through the concrete.”
She followed him back inside and toward the large, open kitchen that shared the heart of the house.
“And here it’s as if I breathe the magick in through my pores.”
Simon watched her through his careful, assessing eyes and it felt as if she passed muster when he nodded. “Would you permit me to choose the drink?”
She shrugged. “Sure, why not?”
He went to a bar and studied it for long moments before he pulled a bottle out. She leaned against the counter and watched as he pulled two black stones from the freezer and put them in glasses. He poured the amber liquid—scotch, she could scent the oak of it—over the stones and then once again with the second glass.
“One of my brothers has a boutique whiskey distillery. Try.”
She breathed the scent of the whiskey in before she took a sip. The smoke of it danced across her tongue.
He didn’t pester her to ask what she thought. Instead he moved to the sink to roll up his sleeves and wash his hands.
“I like it. I’m not normally a whiskey drinker. But for this I’d make an exception. Can I help?”
He paused to look her over. “There are tomatoes over there on the counter. Fresh mozzarella in the fridge.”
She moved to wash her hands the way she’d seen him do it. “Do you have balsamic and olive oil?”
He snorted at her audacity. “Do I look like a man who wouldn’t have olive oil and balsamic?”
“I’m not sure most men do. Though it’s pretty cute you assume that.” She shrugged and sipped the whiskey again. “I notice you’re less terse. Is it the whiskey?”
He laughed, putting the steaks on the grill on his center island as she cored and seeded tomatoes.
“I’ll let you know after the next glass. For now, tell me about the bruise on your neck.”
Surprised, she reached up to touch. “You can see it?”
“I assume you used some sort of glamour on it? To hide it from humans?”
“People always think I have a boyfriend with big fists and it’s not like I can tell them a rogue werewolf tried to twist my head off or whatever. But you can see it?”
“Glamour spells don’t work on me.”
“Handy. Though I suppose I’ll have to keep that in mind. I’m pretty good at glamours. Good thing I’m so charming otherwise.”
He struggled against a smile and she realized it was sort of fun to poke at his careful reserve.
“I’ll keep that in mind. As for it being handy? Sometimes, yes. What happened to that werewolf?”
She shrugged as she washed some basil to go with the tomatoes she’d just sliced. “He’s no longer a problem.”
“Is that an issue? Rogue wolves? And if so, why doesn’t the local pack take care of it?”
“It’s a big problem this year. The population of feral wolves has tripled. Things have gotten worse in many ways over the last year or two. The local pack is pretty good, though they prefer to pretend rogue wolves aren’t an issue. Since they can infect others and seem to do it without a lot of thought or care, I happen to disagree. Annoying that I have to play police to a wolf issue. But it helps me if I’m having a bad day. It’s always a good work out to kick some shifter ass.”
He seemed to think that was hilarious and she gave him a raised brow as she sliced the basil into ribbons.
“Sorry. I’m not mocking. I’m just imagining what the Alpha must think of you.”
She shrugged. “It’s not the Alpha so much as their Enforcer, who frowns on it. Though you all do like to frown. Still, she knows it’s a problem and in the end, we’ve achieved some level of détente. I get to be the scary monster out to kill them if they get out of line. It’s sort of fun to be the boogeyman.”
He nodded, moving about with that grace she’d always associated with shifters. “If they won’t take care of it, you have to. Of all Others, shifters should know this.”
“I know it’s not as crazy here. I’ve been reminded a hundred times that Seattle is so much calmer. Truth be told, I’m sort of excited.”
“It used to be true, yes. Peaceful territory. Clan Owen has been in charge for a long time. But lately . . . well, lately things haven’t been so calm and quiet. You might have to show them how to throw some more punches.”
“I’m good at that too.”
He looked her up and down. “I can believe that. Now, tell me about the ex.”