Kept

3,860
05.03.2019

For another, he’d been hot, debonair even. Except for the evil.

Despite the danger he exuded, Greta turned the doorknob and slipped into the cottage.

“Don’t do this to me, Mick. You know I need this blood.” Dayne stood at the other end of the room making a pot of coffee, his back to her. A cordless phone was pressed between his ear and shoulder.

Greta dropped the duffel bag on the floor without a sound and tuned her amplified hearing in to listen to his phone call. The other man’s voice trembled over the phone.

“I . . . I . . . understand that sir, but we have a f . . . firm policy of only delivering to those who follow our code of ethics and it’s been b . . . brought to my attention that you . . . don’t.”

“I’m very unhappy about this. It was Alistair wasn’t it? That little shit was my bestest best friend until he found out I wasn’t out saving the world every night.”

“Please, Sir, I’m just doing what my boss told me. He said to tell you it’s a conflict of interests to continue delivering your ship-ments.”

“I see. Well, don’t think I won’t be reporting you to the Board of Magical Merchants for discrimination. There are laws against this sort of thing.”

Greta heard Mick’s sigh of relief over the phone. Someone like Dayne Wickham reporting him to a board of magical anything was minor, the equivalent of an angry shopper threatening never to return.

Dayne stabbed his finger against the button to end the call, then flung the phone across the room. Greta froze. His back was still to her when he spoke.

“I thought I told you to leave. Or was my dismissal not clear enough? Perhaps it would help if I spelled it out with catnip.” He turned to face her. “Or I could carve the message.” His glance shifted to a gleaming silver ritual knife balanced precariously on the edge of the desk. Silver wouldn’t kill her necessarily, but it burned like hell and was much harder to heal.

Dayne blazed across the floor and grabbed Greta by the wrist, hauling her back to the entryway. “Have you any idea the danger you put yourself in when you trespass on a sorcerer’s property?

Shall I enlighten you?”

Greta wrenched herself free of his grip. “You don’t have a supplier now. I’ll give you the blood you need if you’ll let me stay until after the full moon. I won’t cause any trouble.” She wasn’t sure why she was still asking to stay. He’d just made a not so subtle hint about using her skin as a carving block. Hiding in a hollowed-out tree for the next several nights was sounding like a more sane option than remaining with the unhinged sorcerer.

Dayne had crossed his arms over his chest, his stance wide, and to the human eye, relaxed. But Greta could smell the tendrils of controlled anger coming off him. She’d always been able to smell emotion, but the scent seemed sharper now.

“They send one of you, all pretty and in distress, and I’m supposed to fall all over myself trying to protect you? Let’s get one thing clear. I’m the bad guy. I don’t rescue fair maidens.” Greta flushed at the pretty part, glossing right over the bad guy part.

He muttered something in Latin with his arm outstretched, and for a moment Greta thought she was about to die. Instead, the cordless phone floated from behind him to his waiting hand. His eyes remained trained on her as he punched the numbers into the phone.

“Clarissa, I’m sorry to wake you love, but I was wondering if you might be persuaded to set aside a pint of werecat blood for me.

I need it by the full moon.”

“Mr. Wickham, um hi,” a sleepy voice on the other end answered. “No, it’s okay. You’re our best customer. We actually don’t have any therian cat blood in stock. We can get some, but it’ll take six weeks; our supplier’s backed up. You could try a local therian.”

“Meow,” Greta said, still in human form.

“I see. Well, thank you anyway.” Dayne clicked off the phone and glared at Greta, as if she’d somehow personally gummed up the works.

“So, then I can stay?”

“I’ll have to erect stronger wards. Please keep in mind, you are here for my convenience due to inventory troubles. I’m not your knight in shining armor. I don’t care about your personal problems.

And if you wander from the protection of this house, I will not be lured into the trap to save you. I don’t get involved with Weres.”

“Therians,” Greta said, returning his glare.

“If I were you, I would remember that although I would like to do this ritual this full moon, there are infinite full moons available to me. You might not be so lucky. I’ll be in my study gathering supplies for the wards.”

His footsteps receded down the hallway, and Greta made a face.

Finally alone, she took in her surroundings.

She’d expected a medieval-looking castle equipped with a full dungeon, or some austere mansion. His home was neither. It was . . . cozy, though larger than the average cottage. The fireplace crackled with dying embers that had recently warmed something in a small iron cauldron.

The main room was lined with dark oak bookshelves and rows upon rows of books. The walls were stone but emitted a sense of warmth, the direct opposite of Dayne.

Maybe it was a timeshare.

Greta suppressed a giggle as she tried to imagine Dayne Wickham, the hapless victim of a timeshare scheme. It would explain his sour demeanor.

Two windows on either side of the fireplace were open with long lightweight crimson drapes hanging in front of them. A storm was brewing. As the wind howled outside, the curtains were sucked into the screen, then puffed back out as if the wall itself were breathing. Greta was still staring at the windows, mesmerized by the sensation of the house breathing, when Dayne returned.

“Come with me. I’ll need some of your blood, since you seem to be in a donating mood.”

Her eyes drifted back to the knife on the table.

“If I were going to harm you, I would have already done so. I grow very quickly bored with the practice of building trust in others only to crush it at the last possible moment. Unlike some species.”

Greta flinched at the look he gave her. But when he turned, she followed. The dwelling went deeper than it appeared from the outside, and it occurred to her that the floor was sloping downward as they worked their way to an underground part of the house.

The hairs on the back of her arm stood at attention as the passageway narrowed until it was only big enough for two people.

Then it began to spiral more steeply down, and the smooth slope became stairs. It was such a gradual transition, she wasn’t sure if it was the architecture itself, or magic.

At the bottom of the stairs was a large stone room with shelves of books lining the walls, as well as potions, pots, wands, and grisly items in cloudy jars. Cobwebs had grown over much of the area.

There were a couple of unlit torches on the wall, though the room’s illumination came from a dome light in the ceiling. A steel cage stood in the back, its purpose most likely not on the up-and-up.

Greta shivered. So much for Dayne not having a dungeon.

Chapter Three

E had to admit, she was a good little actress. Almost as Hgood as Jaden had been. The werecat stood at the bottom of the stairs barely inside the cavernous room where he performed his more complicated rituals. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her, a protective barrier against him, no doubt.

He didn’t want to be paranoid, but he wondered if the tribe had been responsible for his were-blood supply being cut off. The timing was too coincidental for his liking. There had been rumblings that the tribe leader was getting more powerful these days. Could Simon know Dayne planned to act against him on the next full moon?

It had been thirty years since Dayne’s last encounter with Cary Town’s werecat tribe. He’d nearly died thinking he was saving Jaden’s life, only to be led into a trap. If he hadn’t fortified himself with so much magic, he would’ve been killed.

He’d gotten lucky. Shapeshifters, though made of magic, didn’t know how to wield it. He’d taken out most of the tribe and managed to escape, sustaining several injuries, including a few to his pride.

Now they were sending this little number to lure him away.

Didn’t they have any new material? Dayne’s eyes drifted to the cage in the back corner. One never knew when one might need such a contraption. He ran his hand idly over the bit of stubble growing on his chin as he contemplated the cage. He should lock her up until the ritual, use her blood, then throw her out.

If anything, such an act would send a message to the tribe that Dayne Wickham was not to be fucked with. He was suddenly glad he was acting against Simon now, rather than later. He’d put it off far too long. For whatever inane reason, Jaden loved Simon. It had taken years for Dayne’s love for her to diminish to the point that he could dispatch her lover without guilt.

He considered taking the Were’s blood now and getting rid of her. Except, even he wouldn’t stoop to that level of dishonor. It had nothing to do with anything the tribe may plan to do to the girl.

“Are you cold?” he asked. Dammit.

She shook her head.

Eventually, a pouty-lipped woman, like this one, was going to get him killed. Prudence would dictate he wait for another full moon, but the effects of the spell wouldn’t be nearly so strong at any other time. Simon was ready to end this now, and Dayne might not get another chance.