There’s a bloody unwelcome sight.
Ronan Wolvesey wandered into his usual haunt, The Witch"s Brew, with his twin brother, Raiden, close behind. The rowdy London pub always drew a noisy, unusual crowd: athletic types, businessmen, goth girls…and many of magickind"s unmated. A surprise, considering its owner was pure human.
It was that very human Ronan now watched, all swinging golden curls and enormous blue eyes, as Kari Keswick leaned over the bar, her brief blue t-shirt exposing a band of soft skin at her midriff. She spoke to another wizard, a big dark-haired one with gray eyes and the look of a predator. Tynan Someone-or-other, he"d been told.
Fighting a gust of wind, Ronan slammed the little pub"s door. Kari didn"t look his way.
Instead, she gripped Tynan"s shoulder as she looked into his eyes and smiled softly.
Bloody hell! He feared this wretched feeling poisoning his blood was the emotion humans called jealousy. He"d rather swallow battery acid.
“Your eyes will burn holes in her if you stare any harder,” Raiden murmured.
“He"s been here too often this past month, talking to Kari.”
“Why do you care? It"s not as if you"ll spend tonight alone. In fact…” He looked away.
“I see two splendid possibilities by the window. Come on.”
Raiden saw such possibilities every place they went, and rarely was he wrong. Ronan knew he would not spend the night alone…but he fantasized about spending it with Kari. If he approached her now, she would likely refuse him—just as she had for the past two years. Until now, he"d assumed Kari didn"t want to cross that human-wizard line. Given her present company and their coziness, it appeared her refusal was more personal.
“In a moment.” Ronan headed for the bar.
Raiden grabbed his arm. “She"s not for you. Forget her.”
Ronan refused to concede defeat. “Shove off.”
“She"s hardly the most beautiful female you"ve ever seen. Last week"s blonde was more stunning by half. What was her name?”
He had no idea, and that was the problem. He grew weary of waking up in a different bed, beside a different body every morning. At just ninety, he was young by magickind"s standards. He couldn"t live this way for another ten minutes, much less eight or nine centuries.
“There"s something about Kari,” Ronan confessed. “I"ve nearly gone mad trying to discern it.”
“The fact she said „no," a word you never hear?” Raiden shrugged. “Plenty of other lovelies. Pick one and move on.”
As if all women were interchangeable. For Raiden—and the rest of the Wolvesey clan—
“Chat up the girls by the window, then. I want to pop over to the bar, say hello.”
Raiden rolled his eyes. “Be quick. Besides, she looks…busy.”
At that, Ronan turned back to Kari to find her laying her soft pink lips against the big wizard"s cheek. She looked so delicate and fair against his strong, sun-bronzed jaw. Then Tynan grabbed her hand and squeezed.
The sight ripped a hole in Ronan"s chest. He clenched his jaw so hard, it was a wonder he didn"t grind his teeth into powder.
Stalking across the bar, he yanked out a stool near Tynan"s. It screeched across the old stone floor. Still, Kari did not look his way.
To his left, the heat from the brick hearth flamed to ward off the coming winter"s chill.
Heavy alternative rock played in the background as some wizards laughed at their attempts to play billiards without magic. Human females at the end of the bar toasted something with stout red wine. Ronan scarcely noticed any of it. As always, Kari drew him in utterly, her smile shining as brightly as her golden hair. Her otherworldly blue eyes seemed to take up half her sweet face. A glance at her bowled him over.
There was something…fresh about her. Almost pure. If he could figure it out exactly, maybe he could rid himself of this odd obsession.
“Kari?” he called.
She blinked several times, then tore her gaze from Tynan"s. The other wizard released her, giving her permission to greet him. Was she bedding the wanker? In love with him? The thought screamed across his brain like a battle cry.
“Ronan.” She sidled down to his end of the bar. “A scotch?”
“Double, no rocks.” He glanced down at Tynan. “New…friend?”
“I see your brother has already made yours for the night.” She looked just over his shoulder at his brother with a sarcastic twist of her pretty pink lips. “I hope you"re in the mood for a brunette tonight. It appears she"s yours by default. Raiden always takes the redheads.” Then she looked at her watch and whistled. “Quick work. That"s a record, even for him.”
Ronan grimaced. He didn"t like coming here to find women, but his twin insisted nowhere else was more expedient or target-rich.
“I don"t care who Raiden"s found. He can have them both. I came for you,” he confessed.
Kari reached behind her for a glass on the shelf. “We"ve been over this. I won"t spend the night with you.”
“Why? It"s not because I"m a wizard.” He glanced at Tynan. “Clearly.”
“Don"t ask me again. Please.” She slammed the glass on the well-worn bar between them.
Ronan grabbed her hands. They were soft and fragile, and at a mere touch, desire burned him alive, eating at his composure. “You"re like a fever to me. I need to touch you.”
“That line work for you often?”
Kari thought the admission he"d had to choke out was a ploy? He scowled. “It"s not a bloody line.”
She shook her head, blonde curls brushing breasts he"d dreamed about touching, and extracted her hands. “Like any fever, you"ll recover from it.” Kari then withdrew a bottle of scotch, filled the glass, then shoved it his way. “Six pounds.”
With a sigh, Ronan shoved his money across the bar. “I simply want to talk to you.”
“No, you want to shag me. And then forget me as you have every woman you"ve ever met here and shagged for the past two years. The notches on your bedpost are long, as is the line.
I have neither the time nor inclination.”
With that, she turned away and headed to the other end of the bar.
Raiden motioned him over, and Ronan went, pasting on a smile. He glanced at the brunette. Pretty enough. Nice mouth. Small hands. Maybe he could close his eyes and pretend she was Kari. It would hardly be the first time. But now that he knew wizards weren"t off limits, he vowed someday—soon—that he would have Kari for a night.
With the slam of the door, Ronan and his date for the night were gone. Kari bit her lip, steeling herself against the pain of the all-too familiar sight. Still, it hurt more each time he left with another stranger, knowing he"d be holding her while she tossed in bed alone, wanting what she would never have: his devotion forever. “Who is he?”
Kari looked over to her newest regular, Tynan O"Shea. Polite, quiet—for now. A brewing storm, for certain. He was obviously haunted by the loss of the woman he"d loved. She didn"t know much about magical politics or villains. In fact, as a human, she shouldn"t know about magickind at all. Indiscreet wand waving after too much liquor had changed that a few months ago. But this Mathias D"Arc creep who had killed Tynan"s lady love sounded right scary. And if Kari could do anything to help him find happiness again, even if it was merely listening to how much he missed his beloved Auropha, she would do it.
She shrugged, trying to appear unaffected. “A regular who thinks he can crook his finger and I"ll shag him.”
Tynan paused. “Has he ever kissed you?”
“No.” Not that Ronan hadn"t tried. Not that Kari hadn"t thought about his full mouth on hers, demanding as her fingers gripping his long midnight hair. Or her palms skimming his five o"clock shadow while his green eyes devoured her…
“Hmm. Ever…been with a wizard?”
That question gave her pause. “Not that I know of.”
“If you"d slept with one, you"d know.”
“Really? You look like human men. Prettier perhaps, but I assumed the anatomy worked the same.”
“Yes and no.”
“That"s it? That"s all you"re going to tell me?”
Tynan sighed. “Everything I"m about to tell you must remain secret. We cannot let word of our existence spread.”
Not that she"d reveal their existence anyway…or that anyone would believe her. They"d all think she was raving mad if she tried. “Of course.”
“Wizards are much like human males, except we have more…” He cleared his throat.
Oh! The thought of shagging Ronan all night long made her flush everywhere. She hadn"t bothered with sex since discovering that her fiancé Edward had a revolving door to his bed.
Despite Ronan having the same habit, something about him made Kari remember all the reasons celibacy sucked. And Tynan"s words were only making her flush with need. “I see.”
His voice dropped another octave. “We also have extra senses.”
Fascinating. “Such as?”
Tynan leaned closer. “Wizards sense their lifelong mates by taste. We know very quickly if a woman is ours.”
“A deep sharing of mouths, kissing away a tear…sampling a woman"s arousal, any will tell us if she"s destined for us. Making love to her only cements the belief.”
He was joking, right? Capitalizing on the fact she knew little about wizards. “Are you suggesting that Ronan could kiss me and determine I was his…”
“Like a wife?”
Tynan hesitated. “Deeper. More permanent.”
His smile had vanished, and the tight ache in Kari"s stomach told her he was quite serious. “What happens if a wizard mates with a woman?”
“Happens? Well, he Calls to her. That is to say, he speaks ritual words offering a vow to her. If she wishes to accept, she Binds to him by speaking ritual words in return. Once they"re mated, if she"s human, she assumes a magical lifespan equal to her mate"s, at most a thousand years.”
Kari gulped. A whole millennium? “Incredible… But what I meant was, if a wizard mates, does he…love her?”
“Always. Forever.” His answer was quick and absolute.
“Auropha was your—”
“Yes.” He looked down at his hands. “Or would have been once she"d grown up a bit.
Another three or four years, and I would have Called to her.”
When his face tightened with grief, Kari felt instantly contrite. “How many years had you been waiting for her?”
He flashed her a sad smile full of memories and regrets. “Twenty.”
The poor man. He"d loved her deeply and long, and never had the opportunity to make her his. “I"ve said it before, but I really am so sorry. Is it possible for you to find another mate?”
Tynan hesitated. “Not im possible, but unlikely.”
If he had belonged to Auropha in his heart, did that mean…? “Can a mated wizard find another woman, then decide to mate with her instead?”
“In rare instances, usually when the mating was motivated by something other than instinct and love, a wizard may meet another who is his true mate. But if he has that instinct when he enters into the mate bond, then he is hers forever.”
At that, Tynan"s face broke out in a smile, and Kari was amazed at the way it transformed him. His stark, handsome face turned downright dishy. Too bad for her that she had eyes only for Ronan.
“Impossible,” he assured.
Kari nearly signed with relief, then caught herself. Ronan had never kissed her, and given the hundreds—maybe thousands—of women he had, if he hadn"t yet found his mate, he was unlikely to press his lips to hers and suddenly decide she was “the one.”
“Lovely to know, but pointless. Ronan merely wants to make me one in his long list of conquests.”
“I wouldn"t be too certain of that.”
Her heart nearly stopped. “Why not?”
“I overheard him. Bits, mind you, but he favored you over another perfectly acceptable female.”
“Because I"ve said „no" each time he"s tried to seduce me.”
“I might have agreed, except he said you were like a fever to him.”
“Lust.” She shrugged.
“Perhaps, but a wizard can sometimes sense his mate even before he tastes her. A fever is a good description.”
“That wasn"t a line of crap?” Kari"s heart beat double-time, and she gripped the bar to steady herself. Was there any chance Ronan might be interested in her beyond making her one of his many lovers?