A Shade of Midnight

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Extended Sample

Midnight Shifters, Book 4

Renee George

Published 2016 by Book Boutiques.

ISBN: 978-1-944003-13-5

Copyright © 2016, Renee George.

All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Mina Vail patted her 9mm pistol resting comfortably on her hip. Guarding Siggy Mayhem, a minor pop star with a major ego, brought out her inner homicidal maniac. Siggy’s manager, Brick Mason, had hired Artemis Protect Services after Siggy received multiple death threats via social media. It wasn’t hard to see why someone wanted to kill him. A little less than thirty minutes with the guy, and Mina was ready to shoot him.

Siggy leaned against the wall near the elevator. He made grunting noises while playing a video game called Zombie Pigeons on his smartphone. Every time he frantically swiped at the screen, she wanted to punch his boyishly handsome face.

She pushed the button on her Bluetooth earpiece. “Bobby. All clear?”

“All clear,” came Bobby’s reply.

“Copy that,” she said into her mic. Her partner in Artemis Protective Services, Bobby Porter, a black belt in karate and an expert in multiple weapons, had been Mina’s friend for several years. In her past occupation, Bobby had helped her out a jam more than once. He was ex-military, and for a human, he’d seen too much to be surprised by her abilities. Tonight, he was in charge of securing the lobby while she babysat the money. They’d recently hired Mike Bodine, a former Marine, as backup muscle. It was Mike’s first gig with them, and Mina and Bobby were both curious to see what kind of mettle the former soldier was made of—hopefully not at the client’s expense.

“Yes!” Siggy shouted while pumping his fist. He caught Mina’s look and grinned. “Level fifty-six, baby.” He wore a pale blue T-shirt with a deep-vee and skinny jeans that sagged around his hips but hugged his legs. He was good-looking—if you liked the Justin Bieber-One Direction type. Siggy had come to Kansas City to play Kemper Arena, and it was Mina’s job to make sure he survived his press conference and autograph session.

Mina was just hoping she could survive him. A ding alerted her to the elevator’s arrival. She peeked around the corner. No passengers. Good. Mina ushered Siggy swiftly into the car and pushed the button for the first floor.

“Hold the elevator,” a deep masculine voice yelled from the hallway.

Mina peered down the hall and wet her lips. Mmm. Nice.

He was tall, at least 6’4”, medium blond hair, and under the tight black pants and a cobalt single-button Jacket, she could see he had broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and long muscular legs. Tempting, but uh-uh. She was off men, even if they happened to be unbelievably beautiful.

Tall, dark, and off limits arrived at the doors just as they were closing. His arm shot out in between the sliding panels, making them bounce open. Mina stepped forward with cat-like quickness, placing her hand on the man’s chest. Incredible heat poured down her arm, not burning hot, just strong sensual warmth. Her nipples went rigid under her black leather jumper.

Shit.

His mouth—upper lip slightly fuller than the lower—curved upward in a gorgeous smile. His remarkable bright green eyes were accented with gold rings around his pupils. Her breath caught in a short gasp and her tongue went tingly. This guy exuded major sexual mojo. He was definitely other worlder. Had to be. A human wouldn’t affect her empathic ability with such force. She couldn’t detect any sense of malice or threat from the stranger. It seemed the only danger he posed was to her libido.

Heat and desire rolled off the man, and Mina fought the impulse to close the distance between them and kiss his luscious mouth. Instead, she shook her head and nudged him back one step into the corridor. “Sorry, stud.” She swallowed the thick lump in her throat. “You’ll have to take the next elevator.”

He tilted his head to the side, raised an eyebrow, and backed away. “No problem, hot stuff.”

Yikes! His smooth low voice sent goose bumps over her body.

He winked. “You don’t remember me do you?”

Mina shook her head. “I never forget a face, mister, and believe me, if we had met, I would not have forgotten you.”

He smiled, his eyes alight with amusement. “Flattering.”

Mina tightened her grip on her 9mm as the doors closed between them. “Damn,” she mumbled then turned her attention back to protecting the client.

The pop star must have heard her exclamation, because he leaned against the elevator rail and whispered to her, “Hey, Mina, what say we blow this joint and take a little me and you time?”

“I don’t get paid enough to babysit after hours.”

He snuggled his body in closer to hers. “Ouch. You’re going to hurt my feelings.” His chin brushed against Mina’s shoulder.

“If you keep touching me, you won’t survive the trip to the lobby.”

Siggy put up his hands defensively. “Hey, baby, what’s with the ’tude? Why wouldn’t you want the Siggy-experience? After all, I’m going to be a legend.” He smiled—very self-assured.

Mina shook her head at the idiot then tapped her earbud. “Bobby, everything set?”

A voice came back over, “Yeah, boss, good to go.”

“Mike, you set?”

“Yeah, no problem,” said the new recruit. She hoped Mike had the stuff because she’d hate to find out he didn’t during such a critical event.

The elevator slowed to a stop. “Stay right behind me and to the left,” she told Siggy.

“Jesus, you’re all business,” he huffed.

“That’s why you pay me the big bucks.” The doors opened to the lobby. Mina let a hint of a smile tug at her lips before she stepped out between Siggy and a mob of screaming teens chanting his name.

* * * *

The meet and greet autograph session had gone on for thirty minutes. Over twenty-nine too long by Mina’s estimation. Siggy’s manager, Brick Mason, had joined them. He stood behind his client, his gaze glued to his phone and fingers flying as he texted. Mina scanned the people crammed into the space. She was amazed at the gaggle of teenagers, boys and girls alike, along with some twenty-somethings who wanted to get close to Siggy Mayhem.

A sudden wave of rage slammed her empathic abilities, effectively bringing her to a halt. The channeler of those negative emotions—a stocky man with dark glasses and a gray trench coat—weaved his way through the press of bodies. Though Mina couldn’t see his eyes, his hatred for Siggy was easy to read, but it was a bit more difficult to decipher his intentions. One thing was certain, however. He wasn’t a line-jumper trying to get a poster signed.

“Mike,” she said into the headset, “glasses at two o’clock.”

“See him, boss lady,” was his response.

“Bobby?”

“Copy that, partner,” Bobby said.

Staying close to Siggy, who was too busy flirting with a giggling brunette to notice imminent danger, Mina tracked Bobby and Mike as they threaded through the crowd.

Five-ten, with dark brown hair cut in a military fade, and built like a bulldog, Bobby Porter intimidated men twice his size. Mike, built leaner and slightly taller than Bobby, was no slouch in the intimidation department either. They started to close in on the target, coming at Mr. Trench Coat from different angles.

“Take it slow, boys. We don’t want to cause a panic.”

They both gave slight nods. Siggy leaned back in his chair. “You look hot in black leather, baby.” He patted her on the ass, and if he hadn’t been paying her five hundred dollars an hour, she’d have broken his hand.

Her gaze returned to the angry man.

He reached inside a pocket.

“Be alert. He’s digging.” She wanted to knock the guy on his backside, but no sense in getting arrested for assault because a suspicious-looking character was hunting for his phone.

Mina laid her hand on the Siggy’s shoulder as she pulled her 9mm and laid it against her thigh. Mr. Trench Coat withdrew the object from his pocket and Mina instantly recognized the grip of a gun.

She shoved Siggy off his chair and pinned him to the tile. “Get down, Mr. Mason.” Brick dropped to the floor without an argument. Kneeling behind the table, she watched as Bobby and Mike moved swiftly toward the threat.

“You, like, can’t treat Siggy like that,” said a girl with pink hair. “He’s, like, a star.”

Mina ignored the girl, and whispered, “He’s packing. Take him down.”

Bobby tackled him from the right side as Mike threw his body low to the man’s left. Mr. Trench Coat slammed to the floor on his backside, struggling as Bobby and Mike attempted to subdue him. The crowd drew back, murmuring as they pulled out their smartphones and started taking pictures and filming.

Mina’s gaze switched to the perpetrator. Damn it. Somehow the bastard managed to keep a hold of his gun. He raised the barrel and aimed toward the ex-Marine.

“Mike!”

Mina’s shouted warning came too late. The gun wielder squeezed off a round, nailing Mike in the shoulder. He fell back, blood spurting. People screamed and panicked, some running toward the exit, others toward the back of the room, and yet others hiding behind each other.

Bobby kicked the assailant’s hand and the gun skittered across the floor. Following with a knee drop to the chest, Bobby ended the fight by cold-cocking him with the butt of the 9mm. He rolled the guy over and put cuffs on him.

Mina allowed Siggy to sit up, and the man looked pale and shaken. She gestured to his manager. “Get him out of here.” Brick didn’t need to be told twice. He hauled Siggy to his feet and hustled him toward the elevator.

Mina went to check on her men. Bobby knelt next to Mike using cloth napkins to keep pressure on the wound. “How bad?” she asked.

Bobby smiled. “Went clean through. I called 9-1-1. Ambulance is on the way.”

Mike grimaced. “It hurts like shit.”

“Well, kid,” she said, “welcome to private security.” She patted him on the back. “Nice move out there, by the way.”

“Thanks, boss.”

“How’s the client?” asked Bobby

“I think he’s going to need a new set of britches.”

Grinning, Bobby shook his head. “They don’t pay us enough to change diapers.”

* * * *

Eric Bishop watched from across the street as the police hauled away the trench-coated man. He hadn’t expected to run into Semina Vail, not after all these years. He’d been meeting with the hotel’s vice president and security officer now that he’d brought the company on as a new client for their top of the line security system. Seeing Mina, feeling her touch, had taken all his energy—the heat he’d felt in her presence and the rush of his own blood pounding his arteries until he thought he would burst, had nearly undone him.

Eric had been a normal kid. Nothing special. But when he’d reached puberty, something inside him mutated, and with the mutation, his physical appearance changed as well. He grew six inches, his skin cleared up, and suddenly women, and some men, couldn’t resist him. He learned quickly he had no real super powers except the ability to seduce just about anybody whether he wanted to or not. When his grandfather saw what was happening to Eric, he revealed a dark family secret. Eric carried a demonic presence inside him. An incubus.

Eric had almost laughed in his grandfather’s face, but he could be scary when angered, so Eric resisted the urge. According to the old man, the incubus gene occurred every two generations in the males of his mostly human family. He’d been in the second generation since the last and the only male. His grandfather told him he had to hide what he was at all cost. There wasn’t a cure, the elder Bishop explained, but finding one right lover might keep his incubus side from seeking out many.

* * * *

Mina spent most of the night downtown at the cop shop. Dealing with human law enforcement meant a shitload of bureaucracy and red tape. At least, she wasn’t in front of a warden tribunal. When the new Triune of Caledon dissolved the group, Mina had had her doubts about the wisdom in doing away with a system that had kept others in check for more than a thousand years, but Gray and his shadow warriors had been even scarier in some ways. The incidence of OW crimes had gone down significantly, even the crimes against humans, which in the past, the wardens usually ignored.

After she had signed her witness statement at the police station, she spent the rest at the hospital with Mike. The ex-Marine was tough and finally talked her into going home. She arrived at her apartment about four a.m. She shed her clothing and put on her favorite night shirt. A faded blue shirt, with a cartoon panda on the front, his arms open, the words “I’m huggable” underneath, and made of the softest tee-shirt material ever, hung just past her thighs.

She couldn’t stop thinking about the well-dressed man at the hotel. He’d definitely made an impression. Mina had chosen a solitary life, but she never felt settled.

She rubbed her eyes, turned on the lavender infuser next to the bed, and flopped back on her pillow. Fantasies would do for now. She concentrated on the gorgeous man who’d managed to raise her desire with a simple touch. Oh, my green-eyed mystery man, make my wet dreams come true.

With one last wistful sigh of regret, Mina closed her eyes and conked out.

Chapter 2

The phone rang, rousing Mina from a hard sleep. She looked at the alarm clock. Jeezus, it was six in the morning. Fumbling for her smartphone, she knocked it on the floor. “Damn it!” When she retrieved it, she swiped open the call and said, “Hello. You’ve woken Mina Vail. Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

“Semina?” the female voice on the other end answered. “You sound gruff, babe. Rough night?”

“Hey, Charlie.” Mina relaxed. “You should know better than to call me before ten.” Charlie had been her best friend since the sixth grade, and she was one of the few people allowed to call Mina by her legal name.

“I know, I know,” she said, “but I have a favor to ask, and I wanted to catch you before I headed to work.”

Rubbing her sleep-worn eyes, Mina sat up on the edge of the bed. “Name it.”

“Well, why don’t you hear what it is before you make any promises?”

* * * *

After Mina hung up the phone, she found herself wide-awake despite getting only two hours of sleep. She tried closing her eyes and making her mind blank. When that didn’t work, she tried reading and soft music, but nothing helped. Charlie had asked Mina to escort her younger brother to a formal business party later in the week. Apparently his date had canceled at the last minute, and he needed someone on his arm to impress. Charlie was the one person Mina never wanted to disappoint, so she’d said, “Yes.”

Charlie’s little brother had been sixteen the last time Mina had seen him—gangly with a bad case of acne. Strange boy, really. That had been twelve years ago during her senior year of high school. He’d been a nice kid. Too eager to please, but pleasant enough. It was the same year Mina’s empathic abilities had developed. Since she’d been in the foster care system at the time and a ward of the county, they hadn’t quite known what to make her. That same year Keane Silvertail found her and recruited her to become a warden for Caledon. In other words, a complete lifetime ago. Back then she’d been a slightly damaged teenage girl, abandoned by her father, no mother, and who dreamed of a having a family like Charlie’s. She’d worked too hard to shed that girl, but sometimes she really missed the innocence that came from never having killed another person.

Rolling over, she checked out the clock, again. Shit, it was only seven—her prime sleepy time. She brushed her teeth and checked out the tube. An old rerun of Supernatural played. It made her think of her super hunky ex Gavriil Doyle. He was a homicide cop—and someone she’d dated for six months until he asked for more and she panicked. If she could love anyone, it would be Gav, but still not in the way he wanted. Marriage, babies, and house with the white picket fence. Normal wasn’t something she could see for her own future.

However, Gav conveniently lived in the apartment right across the hall from hers.

Mmm, Gav. One hot ticket, a beautiful body, curly black hair, and blue eyes. His father was Irish and his mother, Greek. The lethal combination made him look like he belonged on Mount Olympus with the other gods.

Mina really liked him, more than liked him, but that whole life mate idea—so not for her. Gav was a leogenus, a werelion, born to it on his father’s side, and once a leogenus pair bonded with someone, it was game on. She’d already been down this path with her Gav, and it had been a colossal mistake for both of them. Why did she keep falling for the furry and determined?

Besides, his family hated her. Specifically, his mother. Aspasia Doyle, Azzy to her friends—and practically anyone else—insisted Mina call her Mrs. Doyle. The woman talked loudly, succinctly, and with lots of gesticulations. She whole-heartedly believed that Mina wasn’t good enough for her golden child. Though, it didn’t really matter what his mother thought. She’d already told Gav their relationship couldn’t have strings attached.

Unfortunately, Gav hadn’t seen it that way. He didn’t know about her past. Maybe if he did, he’d have less of a problem seeing her as strictly as a booty call. Or maybe he’d hate her. A man like Gav, someone moral and ethical, wouldn’t be able to get past that part of her life. But it didn’t stop her from fantasizing. The man was sexy as hell.

Lord, just thinking about him made her twitch. She turned off the TV. Damn it! She focused on the door, wishing he would come-a-knocking. She considered doing a little early morning knocking herself.

No, she told herself, I will not go across the hall.

Gav had made it perfectly clear that unless Mina wanted more than a bedmate, he was out. Besides, he had started dating some woman named Linda or Belinda or Calinda—or something like that.

She sat quietly on the couch, her frustration creating an ache that begged for release. “Fuck it,” she mumbled. Gav didn’t leave for work for another two hours, and who knew…

Mina didn’t even bother to comb her mess of long, black hair. Instead, she bee-lined across the hallway to Gav’s apartment and knocked on his door.

From inside she could hear, “Just a minute.” Then a small crash. “Shit, Jesus, fucking plant.” Finally, the door opened, and Gav, wearing nothing but flannel pajama pants, his broad muscular chest staring her in the face, or rather her staring at the firm pecs, stood eye to eye with Mina while holding his big toe. Not a great start.

He looked confused. “Is something wrong? Something’s gotta be wrong if you’re ringing this early. I heard about the shooter last night. You didn’t get hurt did you?” He let go of his foot. “Not that I was checking up on you. Pierce in intake called last night. He thought we were still dating.”

He’d gotten a call about her? Wow, cops really were a tight-knit bunch. She didn’t like that he might be keeping tabs on her, but it warmed her to know that he still cared. Still wanted to be a part of her life, even if only peripherally.

She crossed her arms as he examined her from head to toe with a quick glance up and down. “You look like hell, Mina.”

She put her hand up and stalked toward him. “Stop talking before I change my mind.” She kissed him. His lips were unyielding at first, but quickly they warmed to hers. His tongue slipped between her teeth. She put her hand on his groin, feeling it swell beneath the flannel.

“Wait, wait…” he said a little breathlessly. “I can’t do this.”

“Because of your…girlfriend?” The word was bitter on her tongue.

“It’s not…”

Mina’s grip tightened on his shaft, not enough to hurt, but enough to get his attention. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”

Heat touched Gav’s blue eyes as she pushed him into the apartment, closing the door behind them. She wrapped her arms around him. He captured her lips in a hungry kiss and explored her mouth. His hands brushed down to caress her ass.

“Mmmm, nice Panda.”

Mina blushed, remembering she was wearing her panda nightshirt. She stripped the nightshirt over her head, leaving only black silk panties against her pale skin. “How’s this for something sexy?”

Gav smiled as he stared at her leanly muscled body and her bare breasts standing erect and ready for attention—not so erect that she could pass the pencil test, but still… “It works,” he said.

She moved closer for another kiss. “You’re just lucky I brushed my teeth.” She playfully bit his lower lip.

Gav, a couple of inches taller than Mina, growled, lifting her off the ground. He cradled her body, kissed her neck, and carried her to the kitchen counter. Sidling between her legs, he rubbed a hand between her breasts then down to her abdomen. “You’ve got a great body, sweetheart. I love the way it feels in my hands.”

She put her tongue in his ear and whispered, “I don’t need sonnets, Romeo. More action.”

In response, he looped a finger around the wet silk of her panties, and she moaned as he slid the tip between the folds of her wet sex. “Damn, do you walk around in a constant state of horny? You’re the only woman I know who’s always ready.”

“That a bad thing?” She squirmed with frustration, grinding against him as he withdrew his hand and placed it on her shoulder. Crap!

His face grew somber and serious. He had the “we need to talk” expression. Never good news. “Yeah, sometimes it is. I want more than sex from you, and I’m not willing to settle for scraps anymore.” He stepped away from the counter and scooped her nightshirt from the floor. “I think you should go home.”

She hadn’t expected that. Thanks to her empathy powers, she felt his desire, his anger, and his frustration. “Fine. I don’t need you,” she said through gritted teeth.

“Oh, I know.” A glint of anger flashed in his blue eyes. “You are nothing if not self-sufficient.” He gestured to the door. “Goodbye.”

A small scream of aggravation slipped from her lips. “You’re such a… such a… pussy!” She grabbed her clothes from his hands. Never smart challenging an alpha male, but he’d pissed her off.

Before she could get to the door, Gav was on her, shoving her against the wall. The nightshirt dropped to the floor, leaving his chest pressed against her bare flesh. He cupped her naked breast, molding the soft mound in his palm as his mouth went to her lips, her jaw, kissing her, his teeth grazing her skin.

“You’re treading in dangerous waters, woman,” he whispered in her ear.

She answered by sliding her hand into his pants and felt the heat of his rigid cock. Her fingers tangled in the curly hair surrounding it. Her other hand traveled to the back of his head, holding his mouth firmly to her skin as his mouth moved down her chest, his lips capturing her nipple, sucking it in.

Gav grasped her leg, pulling her thigh up to his hip. Mina moved her hand from his cock and rubbed her wet core against the rigid length. A barking grunt sounded through the quiet apartment as he lifted her off the ground and carried her to his bedroom.

He threw her on the bed, and she landed with a whoosh of breath leaving her body. He tugged the waist of his pajama bottoms down to his thighs, his feet doing the rest of the work as the flannels hit the floor. She drank in the sight of his body, fine black hair covering his broad chest with a pleasure trail leading to the rough curly hair framing his large erection.

“This is a mistake,” he whispered, but his eyes told a different story. Gav wasn’t going to stop, and Mina’s body rejoiced.

She slid to the edge of his bed, pulling his hips to her, and took his length into her mouth. He moaned, his hips bucking forward in response. As her lips slid along the tender skin, her hand snaked into his nightstand drawer and pulled out a condom.

She wasn’t afraid of STIs, but she was afraid of pregnancy. It would be exactly what Gav would need to tie her to him as his mate, but Mina wasn’t mommy material. Frankly, the idea of having a kid scared the ever-loving shit out of her. She hadn’t had the best role model growing up. Her dad took off when she was eight, and her mom drank herself stupid in between bad relationships. Just thinking about her mother nearly deflated her lady boner.

Nearly.

She licked the slit at the tip of Gav’s luscious cock then sheathed the thick length of him with the condom. “Gav,” she whispered, nearly begging. “I want you inside me.”

Gav, standing at the edge of the bed, reached down and pulled her legs up, pushing her thighs back to position the swollen head of his shaft at her opening. “Damn, you’re so fucking wet,” he said, sliding the tip back and forth against her clit.

She squirmed, trying to force him inside. If he didn’t hurry, she would come before he could fill her. “Stop teasing me.”

A ferocious grunt escaped his lips as she felt the apex of his cock enter her, followed by his entire length. He thrust his hips forward, savage. Again he thrust, holding her thighs down, her knees to either side of her chest. The angle allowed for deep penetration, filling Mina completely. She reached down to her swollen clitoris, aching to be touched. She slid her hand further until she could feel Gav, slick with her juices, slip back and forth between her middle and ring fingers. The tension in her body pulled like strings on a marionette, yanking and tugging. The pressure of unadulterated pleasure began to build, growing to volcanic proportions.

“Oh, God,” she whispered, tears forming in her eyes as his fingers dug into the muscles of her thighs. Desire overwhelmed her senses…and love. His love, it poured from him, choking Mina with the enormity of the emotion. He’d never let his guard down like this before, never let her experience all of what he felt for her. Until now. “Gav,” she breathed. “Gav, Gav, oh, shit, damn.”

A jolt of ecstasy took her, exploding into the rapture of pure joy that came with an orgasm as her hips bucked against his. Her arms flew up and behind her head as she tried to grasp onto something, anything to keep her grounded. Mina moaned into a pillow that she managed to grab. Her body shuddered as her back bowed while she came and came.

As the orgasm subsided, Gav’s thrusts quickened, but remained steady. He used his thumb to massage her clit. Mina moaned. She could feel the pressure of a new climax building, working its way through her once again. He leaned forward, taking her breast into his mouth, sucking the nipple, teasing it with his teeth and tongue.

“Feels so good, so good…” Her words trailed into a shout of rapture when Gav bit her breast, not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to mark her as the next wave of pleasure hit.

Mina pushed her legs upward until her feet were beside his head, taking the entire length of his shaft deep into her slick, swollen heat. Gav gripped her thighs and pulled her fiercely toward him with every hard thrust of his hips. She looked into his blue eyes, now the color of midnight, intense, possessive. With a snarl on his lips and his teeth clenched tight, he bucked forward. Mina came again as Gav pumped his climax into her. He held her tight as he spent the last of his energy.

After a few moments, listening to the joined sounds of their labored breaths, Mina smiled. “That was fantastic,” she said.

Unfortunately, Gav didn’t smile. Solemnly, and with regret she noticed, he withdrew from her. “What does this mean, Mina?”

“It doesn’t have to mean anything.” She remembered the outpouring of love she’d felt while Gav had been taking her. She didn’t know how to be the woman he wanted. Mating was out of the question.

She offered a light-hearted grin. “It was fun, right?”

Disappointment covered his expression, she could tell by his body language, even as the look on his face went cold. She put up her own walls to block his emotions. They were too much. Always too much.

Gav sat next to her on the bed. “I can’t do this again. It hurts too much.” Exhaustion rimmed his eyes, creating dark circles she hadn’t noticed before. “If you care about me at all, please stay away.”

“I do care about you. But you know I’m not the hearth and home type. I’ve never lied about who I am.”

“Maybe you’re lying to yourself.”

Mina pressed her lips together as anger surged. “I won’t bother you anymore.” She picked up her clothes and left.

* * * *

Gav flopped back on his bed and put his forearm over his eyes. More than anything in the world, he wanted to stop loving Mina Vail. He knew she was empathic, which made her, like him, other worlder, but it also meant he’d had to work very hard to keep the intensity of his feelings from her. He was a leogenus, and lion shifters uniquely formed instant pair bonds with their mates. Unfortunately for Gav, his biology had chosen Mina for that instant connection. Even more unfortunate, since she wasn’t a leogenus, she didn’t have to same chemical and physical reaction. They’d dated steadily for six months until he’d introduced his mother to Mina. In hindsight, that had been a colossal mistake. Azzy could be tough to take, even for her loved ones.

He’d asked Mina to marry him that very evening. She’d said, “No.”

Since then, Gav had tried to move on with his life, but getting over Mina Vail, especially when she lived right across the hall, had been extremely difficult. He’d made it three months. Three whole months with only the occasional awkwardness of running into her in the hallway.

Then she had to go and knock on his door. He rubbed his face and sat up. His phone rang, the vibration walked it toward the edge of his night stand. Gav picked up. “Hello.”

The voice on the other end was his lieutenant, Parker Hill. “We’ve got a body in an alley on the Plaza. It’s a strange one. Your specialty.”

Gav finished getting the details and hung up the phone. His heart quickened at the excitement of an investigation. At least now he’d have something to think about besides his broken heart.

Chapter 3

Mina slipped on a tight red silk-blend dress with spaghetti straps and a split up the side to accentuate her long legs. It was like a glorious path that led down to her new designer three-inch pumps. She turned her ankle out to admire them. They’d cost a pretty big chunk of change. But when you’re five-feet-eleven-inches tall, you have two choices, try to hide your height or flaunt the hell out of it. It had been three days since her fight with Gav. It still ached to know how much she’d hurt him.

At six-fifty-nine, Charlie’s little brother knocked at the door. At least, he was prompt. When Mina opened the door to find Mr. Green Eyes wearing an impeccably tailored black three-piece tuxedo that fit his narrow waist and lusciously slim hips perfectly, she nearly fainted. “Uhm, I think you have the wrong apartment.”

He smiled, sultry and sexy, the sizzle in the air palpable. “Hello, Semina.”

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! An orgy of emotions overwhelmed her. “Eric?”

He looked around. “Were you expecting someone else?”

Oh, how his voice sent shivers up and down her spine. “You’ve, uh, grown up some since the last time I saw you.”

“Just a little.” A devilish grin crossed his face.

Her gaze lingered on Eric for a moment longer than she’d intended.

“Semina,” he said in a soft, deep voice.

“I go by Mina now. No one calls me Semina anymore.” Except Charlie. You know. Best friend forever, Charlie. The Charlie whose brother you will not bang. That one.

“It’s good to see you again.” He leaned close and kissed her cheek. “Hmmm. You smell good.”

The touch of his lips, innocent and simple, made her feel weak and, frankly, horny as hell. I will not molest Charlie’s brother in any way.

“By the way, does your sister know you’re OW?” OW was an acronym used amongst the other worlders when talking about their kind.

Eric raised his brow. “I’m not sure what you mean?”

Mina leaned in and inhaled his scent. Woodsy, a pleasant smokiness, and just a smidgeon of sweet musk. In other words, all sexy. “A leiol, if I had to guess. But how? Charlie is definitely not other.”

Eric smiled. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

“You are putting off enough pheromones to start an orgy in church.” She leaned, inhaling his masculine scent. “Yep, definitely leiol.”

“What is this leiol, and why do you know about them?” He gave her a curious look.

“You really don’t know?” She didn’t feel any deception from Eric, just desire. “Jesus, you need to learn to put the ju-ju away. A leiol is a creature that oozes lust from its pores.”

“Like an incubus?”

“Well, demons aren’t real, but there is speculation that all myths and legends have an origin in other worlder evolution.”

Other worlder?”

She was talking too much. Telling too much. Eric obviously had no clue about who he really was or where he came from. He’d survived in the human world without any issues, and Mina knew she was borrowing trouble by telling him about OWs. Besides, leiols were horrible, nasty creatures. Good-looking, sexy as hell, but they also ate human flesh. Eric didn’t look like wanted to eat her. At least not in a way that would leave a mark. Rawr. No, she chided herself. BFF’s bro. No rawr.

“You don’t seduce women just so you can eat their hormone saturated flesh afterward, do you?”

Eric’s eyes widened, his expression slightly horrified. “That’s gross.”

“Good. Forget what I said then. You’re a nice normal human.” She smiled. “Just like me.”

“Thanks for agreeing to be my date,” he said.

“No need to thank me. We’re family.” Though she was decidedly having un-familial thoughts about Eric. Mina shook her head and grabbed her blue Coach clutch—small enough to be feminine, but large enough to carry lip gloss, a credit card, ID, some cash, and a sub-compact Beretta. 9mm, of course. “Now, before we go, there are some ground rules that have to be established.”

He nodded and even that looked sexy.

“Cut that shit out.”

Eric smoothed his hair, his eyes going all bedroom GQ. “Cut what out?”

“That.” She pointed to his adorable face. “Okay. Pay attention,” she told him, shaking her head to clear her hormone-addled thoughts. “Hand holding’s fine, slow dancing is negotiable, but there will be absolutely no touching of any body parts covered by this dress.” Of course, even the touching of uncovered body parts might not be a good idea.

“Absolutely,” he agreed, but his emerald eyes sparkled with mischief.

So the red dress didn’t cover much, but her intent was still clear. No touchy. She grabbed her wrap and linked arms with him. “This is a favor for your sister, buddy. Nothing else.” Even if her body disagreed.

“Okay, Mina.” He winked. “Got it.”

She adjusted one of her shoes, and they headed out. In the hallway, the door opened to 37B. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Gav hadn’t looked so damn good—tight black jeans and a black T-shirt to match. She glanced at Eric. What was it with men in black? Well, to be fair these two fellas would’ve looked good in brown paper bags.

“Hello, Gavriil.” He hated to be called Gavriil.

He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Mina.” He looked at Eric then back to her. “You babysitting tonight?”

Mina’s face went hot. Eric grabbed her hand and kissed it gently, all the while watching Gav. One tiny little gesture that nearly sent her into a frenzy wanting to strip off his clothes and knock boots right in the hallway—with both of them.

She forced herself to calm down and caressed Eric’s face. “Best gig I ever got.” That slapped the smug right out of Gav. She waved at him as they walked away. “Ta-ta, Gavriil.”

His apartment door slammed shut by the time the elevator door opened. Mina and Eric tumbled into the carriage laughing. “Thanks,” she said to Eric.

“Ex-boyfriend?”

“Ex-something,” she murmured. He put his arm around her, and for a moment, she snuggled in, but she quickly came to her senses and put a few feet between them. “Hey, now. The rules still stand as prearranged.”

Eric smiled and went obediently to his corner of the elevator.

“And stop smiling!”

* * * *

Jesus, that fucking woman! Gav seethed with jealousy and anger, and beneath that lust. Something in the man she was with had triggered an almost primal reaction in him. He’d felt his skin ripple with the first signs of shifting. His animal side wanted to screw anything and everything that moved. It was only his rage that kept him from doing the unthinkable. Lose control. That guy had to be an other worlder, but what kind, Gav couldn’t say. His reaction to the man’s scent had been intensely, almost painfully, physical.

As it was, he had more important things to worry about. Like a sadistic butcher. The murder on the plaza baffled Gav. He’d never seen the likes of it before. The victim, a male in his late forties, had been skinned from head to toe. The crime scene techs were thorough, and the killer hadn’t even left a hair follicle behind. His sense of smell wasn’t as developed as a werewolf’s but it was well-honed. He picked up faint odors beneath the blood and rot of the corpse. Ash, copper, and some kind of sweet floral scent. Maybe Plumeria, but he couldn’t be certain without further tests.

Was this crime other worlder? Again, maybe. There were too many questions to be certain about the answers.

His phone rang. It was Doctor Azan, the pathologist. “What you got for me, Doc?”

“I dyed the wound on the back of the head. I’m sending you a picture. I don’t know what he was hit with, but I thought maybe you might be able to find out.”

“Thanks. You think it is…”

Other worlders,” Azan said. “Likely. I don’t see a human skinning someone with this kind of precision.”

Azan was a dagar, the equivalent of what humans thought to be an elf, but he didn’t have pointy ears or pale blond hair or shiny braids. Nor did he go around with a longbow shooting orcs from the back of mutant pigs. That was strictly fiction. He was, however, an educated and keen observer.

A double beep notified him of an incoming text. Gav pulled the phone from his ear and looked down at the screen. It was a crisscross pattern. He put the phone back to his ear. “That looks like the same pattern from that young woman on the docks last month.”

“Good eye,” said Azan.

Shit. “Thanks again, Doc. Call me if you find out anything more.”

“Will do.”

End of Extended Sample

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