A strong, well-remembered hand closed around Charlie’s automatically outstretched right. Then the man before Charlie pushed that hand aside and grasped Charlie’s left, white cane and all.
Charlie laughed as lean, muscular arms pulled him close and tightened around his back. It was
Luis. His nose had been right.
“I was planning to see you here,” Luis whispered in Spanish, his voice richer than the thrum of the best-played bass. “But I didn’t think it would be so soon.”
Charlie drank in Luis’s scent, relishing how Luis held him. Then he pulled back slightly, though he was still safe in Luis’s embrace. “It’s good to see you.” That was an understatement, and he was hard-pressed not to resume the kisses he’d run from in March. He had no right to such a warm welcome, and for a breath his heart lodged in his throat.
Then another smell--a stench compared to Luis’s heady aroma--invaded the library, and Charlie stepped away completely. He held up one finger. “Un momento.
Luis retreated several paces, and Charlie blinked at the psychic vampire’s discretion. Luis hadn’t possessed anything close to circumspection or respect for duty when they’d worked together in Tampa.
Charlie went to the library doors, meaning to close them, but the werewolf he’d smelled stood before him. He made the conscious switch to English, realizing he must be overwhelmed by Luis’s presence if the change needed to be willed rather than instinctive. Or maybe I’m intoxicated again.
As he’d been when he and Luis had tumbled into bed for a single, blissful hour. Maybe it wasn’t the Lady Lavender drinks that got me drunk in March. It could’ve been Luis.
“Yes?” he asked, pushing for the authority he didn’t technically have here but that he should. If only.
“I came to see if everything’s all right,” said the female wolf.
Charlie blessed his quick ears and his quicker memory. “Thank you, Cassandra, but Agent Delgado and I are fine.” It had crossed his mind to say satisfied
or more than comfortable
. Five minutes in Luis’s presence, and I’m ready to throw in all the hard-earned camouflage.
“He’s here regarding the peace summit.”
Luis whispered in Charlie’s mind. “She’s intimidated by you already. Don’t spoil it.”
That was why Charlie had fled Luis. The psychic vampire couldn’t be trusted not to spy.
“Get out of my head.”
Aloud he said, “Thank you for your diligence, Cassandra.” He reentered the library, closing the doors in her face. He crossed to Luis, and the two of them sank onto the leather sofa. “Thanks for telling me, but ask my permission next time before you jump into my thoughts.” As if such a reminder would keep Luis in check. Charlie had watched, back in March, as the psychic vampire tapped indiscriminately into people’s heads.
Luis had pissed off Agent Tavery, when angering a water dragon wasn’t wise. He’d also barged into an unshielded human’s mind in the name of doing his job.
“It’s not that I’m not grateful for your insight,” Charlie continued in Spanish, in case Cassandra still lingered by the door. “But I’d appreciate it if you’d stay out of this pack’s minds.” Now that was interesting. He’d planned to say my pack’s
. What had changed his mind?
“I’ll be good.”
Even though Luis sounded repentant, Charlie didn’t believe. Still, it was a step in the right direction. So he spoke more gently. “They’re all suspicious. How did you handle getting in here?”
“I hid my eyeteeth when I smiled. And of course I sent out a general impression--not into anyone’s mind specifically--that I’m harmless.”
If Luis hadn’t been a SearchLight agent, such things would be accepted as a matter of course. SearchLight’s employees were held to a higher standard, however, and Charlie wondered how Luis had risen to such a high position--second in command of his department--with such a slipshod modus operandi. Then, remembering that Luis was a tracker and that trackers were allowed many freedoms, Charlie set aside his frustration. It felt too good to see Luis. There would be time for chewing the younger magical creature out. Surely Luis would give him plenty of opportunities.
So Charlie smiled a little to hide his feelings. “Since when have you known how to manipulate werewolves?”
Luis took Charlie’s white cane and set it aside. Then he began massaging Charlie’s left wrist and forearm methodically.
Charlie did his best not to melt under the ministrations. Except for that one night, he hadn’t let Luis touch him much beyond a handshake. Because he was attracted to Luis, who was a psychic vampire, a Tampa-based SearchLight tracker, and fifteen years Charlie’s junior. Of those three reasons, that last was the least important. Age hardly mattered between most magical creatures, who tended to be essentially immortal. Even though Charlie thought he’d gotten his father’s long-lived genes--he based this on the fact that he still looked twenty-five rather than his forty-two years--he couldn’t be sure that applied to a half-and-half.
He smirked mentally at that term. Besides the name “half-and-half,” his kind were called “creamers” and “halfies,” not to mention a few more disrespectful nouns.
Luis said, “I’ve commanded werewolf trackers a time or two, although it’s usually Ethan and me, not me versus five other trackers and twenty-five werewolves with their own ideas and prejudices.” He laughed quietly. “I’m scared to death, but it will be all right. The team I’ve been given is competent.” He nodded toward the closed door, the movement of his head surely exaggerated for Charlie’s near-sighted benefit. “What’s her problem anyway?”
“She’s-- It’s not a problem. She’s protective and curious in accordance with her species. Like a certain psychic vampire I know.” Charlie groaned, working to keep the sound quiet. “Stop, please. That feels good.”
“That’s a contradiction.”
Charlie pulled away. If he didn’t maintain some sort of distance, he’d lose his concentration completely. “Which part? That she’s--”
“That you want me to stop because it feels good.” Luis caught Charlie’s wrist between firm palms and resumed the massage.
And it was purposeful misunderstandings like this that helped me ignore your blatant desires back in March. Not to mention mine.
Still, he couldn’t pull away yet, and Luis’s closeness drew the truth from his lips. “I’ve missed you.” He used the fingers of his right hand to trace Luis’s stubbly jaw. He stroked the psychic vampire’s long hair back, relishing its soft texture. In many ways, Luis was a god.
In too many ways, he knows his effect on others and uses it to his advantage.
Luis caught Charlie’s hand, kissed the palm lightly, and let him go. “Me too.”
Lured by Luis’s voice, Charlie closed the distance until he held the psychic vampire.
Charlie felt Luis’s heart pound and knew his pulse was just as high. Do you know how badly I want to give in to this and kiss you?
That thought brought Charlie up short. To kiss a psychic vampire was to take their virginity. Not sexually, as for humans and most other magical creatures, but to take their soul sanctity. Perhaps Luis had given that up long ago, but Charlie couldn’t be sure. And even losing one’s virginity in the more well-known way didn’t make one a slut.
Charlie drew back, leaving only his left arm, which Luis still seemed to want to massage, in the psychic vampire’s power. He refocused, working to remember why Luis had come here. “Who put you in charge of so many trackers and civilians?”
Luis’s frustration showed in his voice, and Charlie laughed. “She is
a meddlesome pain in the ass, isn’t she?”
Luis didn’t relinquish Charlie’s hand, and he managed to sound businesslike as well as annoyed. “That’s a polite way of putting it. In her seventeen pages
of written orders, she commanded me to make Firos William’s acquaintance first thing. I take it he’s not home?”
Strange how Agent Weinberg, with all her preparatory statements, verbal and written, hadn’t mentioned to Charlie that Luis would be here. “He’s not.” Although it took you long enough to get to the point of your visit.
This thought was unfair, so Charlie didn’t share it. Besides, he might not have gotten to enjoy more than a few seconds with Luis if he’d announced earlier that his father wasn’t here. “You get his erstwhile son instead. I’m here at SearchLight’s request. As their long arm of the law, so to speak. And of course as a physical reminder of SearchLight’s interest in peace.”
“Madre de Dios.” Luis laughed. “Apparently those words have a habit of jumping from mouth to mouth.”
Charlie raised his eyebrows, but it had never been like Luis to share inside jokes, so he didn’t press. “What do you need to ask? I’ll do my best to answer.”
“My team’s assembled. Our delegation’s all here. We’re staying at the Palace Hotel several blocks south of here.”
“Were there any squabbles over your delegation taking the smaller accommodations?”
“Not once I pointed out how historic and beautiful the Palace is.” Luis’s teeth gleamed in a quick, sun-kissed smile.
Charlie’s heart constricted, and he fumbled his right hand up to Luis’s face again, needing desperately to touch him, to know this wasn’t a dream. “Really?”
Luis laughed softly but said nothing.
The straight werewolf delegation had claimed the Merrik Hotel in downtown Buffalo. Because they had more clout--and more money, for the most part--they got what they wanted. The LGBT delegation had been relegated to the Palace on Delaware Avenue, a beautiful old building with historic ties to the city. But it was significantly smaller. “Tell me the truth. I knew you possessed a silver tongue, but that’s a bit much.” Yes. I remember your silver tongue.
Luis had licked him all over with that talented muscle.
Luis continued the massage, moving on to Charlie’s forearm. “I’m not quite that good. I pointed out how much easier the Palace would be to defend, and the eighteen werewolves with good sense shouted down the ones without. With a little help from Ethan.”
That’s the second time he’s mentioned this man Ethan.
Vaguely Charlie remembered a short, black-haired werewolf who had accompanied Luis to the Tavery-Morrison wedding back in March. It was after the wedding that Luis and Charlie had slept together. “Is Ethan your second-in-command on this mission?”
“He’s my partner. We’ve worked together for almost six years now.”
Charlie dragged his mind past that word. Romantic partner?
He repressed a stab of jealousy. Of course, he thought. Ethan had joined Luis at the reception after Mark Tavery’s wedding, so it made sense the psychic vampire and werewolf were romantically involved. They hadn’t been “together” enough to keep Luis from wanting to jump Charlie.
And vampires, psychic or otherwise, tended to have many sexual partners at one time.
Charlie forced himself to listen as Luis continued.
“Ethan’s different than anyone I know. I’ve never met a werewolf with so little interest in leading a werewolf pack yet who has so much ability to convince alphas that his way is the right way.”
That is special.
Even if Luis sounded half admiring and half in love.
Charlie’s heart ached. He’d never know the joy of working with a werewolf like that. He hated the notion of being someone else’s beta or gamma, but that was the only way he’d become a member of a pack. LGBT wolves accepted psychically able humans--and halfies--into their packs. But no pack would ever follow a human, half or otherwise. “Ethan must be incredibly loyal.”
Luis leaned close. “I don’t want to talk about Ethan, though.” He spoke with a sultry, forget-the-world, love-me voice that made Charlie break out in goose bumps.
As Luis moved even nearer, Charlie stared at his lips. They were thick and slightly pinker than the rest of Luis’s olive complexion. Charlie struggled to think clearly. This time he failed. Using one finger, he traced the shape of Luis’s smile.
Luis kissed Charlie’s finger before briefly sucking the digit into his mouth.
“I know we can’t do anything here and now,” Luis whispered after releasing Charlie’s finger. “But is there a time, maybe later today, when you can get away?”
The thought of escaping this house, where he had to be so polite and he was watched all the time, made Charlie’s heart lighter than it had been since Agent Weinberg roped him into this assignment. But then he thought of what excuse he could possibly use to leave his post. None presented itself, and he knew any reason would come off self-serving.
Besides. As much as he enjoyed Luis’s body, Luis’s touch, he couldn’t trust Luis to stay out of his mind. Sexual attraction knew nothing of trust, but at this point in his life, Charlie wanted more than a series of now-and-then tumbles.
He sat back, folding his hands in his lap. “I can’t.”
Luis sighed. “I understand.”
Moving past the disappointment he heard in Luis’s voice, Charlie asked, “Is there anything else you need to tell me?”
Luis drew back far enough to be out of Charlie’s ready sight range. “Probably nothing you don’t already know or suspect.” He shifted forward again. None too discreetly, he pressed his knee against Charlie’s thigh. “Both sides have agreed to SearchLight’s presence, but there weren’t enough werewolf trackers willing to protect the LGBT wolves. My security team’s made up of enough psychically strong agents to defend, or defend against, the twenty-five wolves we’re guarding.”
That caught and held Charlie’s attention. “Do you expect those you’ve brought to cause problems?”
Luis laughed softly. “Werewolves are as hotheaded as vampires. There will be many disagreements at this peace summit. And telling alpha wolves to run one way or another in response to danger may prove to be like telling a toddler to stop eating things off the ground.”
Charlie nodded. “True.”
“Ethan and Agent Stanford are the only werewolves among my team. The other members are fae, although I don’t know their specific species.”
Luis sounded annoyed at that idea. Charlie had become a professor at SearchLight Academy during a time when the fae--elementals, fairies, and many others--were encouraged to keep their species private if they wished. However, because not knowing often caused misunderstandings and hurt feelings from fae and nonfae alike, the academy had started a new trend: when dealing with other magical creatures, tell your species no matter what you are, and have confidence that others will treat you fairly. That policy had only gone into effect at the academy last semester.
Charlie considered the news of three nature spirits working together. Surely a water elemental, another of air, and a tree sprite could act as one if given the opportunity. But how would they deal with two werewolves and a psychic vampire?
Luis said, “Not a single heterosexual werewolf could be bribed enough to work with my team.”
Charlie buried the familiar frustration that rose in response to Luis’s words. “SearchLight is a model of acceptance, but that doesn’t mean every employee can be taught the difference between honoring traditions and thinking for themselves.” Aware of his duty as a language and cultural expert, he added, “And would a single LGBT wolf serve as a security guard for the straight wolves?”
Luis made a slightly choked but amused noise. “No. Ethan would have volunteered, but I wouldn’t allow it.” He gripped Charlie’s hands. “I’ve talked about everything I came here to say. Mostly I wanted to make Firos William’s acquaintance before tomorrow. Failing that for now, I’d like to steal a moment of your time. Or I could steal you.”
Too tempted by that suggestion for comfort, Charlie stood up. “No.” He couldn’t smell Cassandra or any of the other wolves who’d stayed behind, but he didn’t need that warning. His time with Luis hadn’t ended well in March, and it would play out less well now that August had come with increased responsibilities for both of them.
“Stay out of my head, please.” He reinforced his shields, bringing them up to the strength they’d often been when he and Luis had worked together in March. Not that it was Luis he’d guarded himself against back then. The psychic vampire was no real threat. Not to Charlie, whose telepathic talents rivaled those of everyone he’d ever met. Luis was just a horny kid.
I’m horny too. Now that he’s so close...
Charlie clamped down on that thought, and when he spoke, he did so as much for himself as for Luis. “We’re both here in an official capacity, and neither of us can afford the distraction.” He held out his hand. “May I have my cane?” He cursed the formality of his tone the moment he’d spoken, and once he felt the rubber grip between his fingers, he said, “Thanks. I’m sorry we can’t talk about this now, but we can