Dylan didn’t like country music. He especially didn’t like it loud, so with a slight mental nudge, he brought the volume down a bit. He’d accept the song, but not if it shattered his ears.
He sat at a secluded corner table of an establishment called the Roadhouse and carefully surveyed the crowd. Mostly human, though he sensed the fading vibration of something paranormal. The signature was too old to identify, most definitely not fresh. He drained his beer, caught the waitress’s eye, and signaled for another.
Not as good as a Guinness, but still quite good; it was their house draft. There was a wild edge to the brew, and he had no doubt nature and the brewery had a little magic on their side. The beer intrigued him enough that he’d done a title search on the property, doing his best to unravel the minor mystery.
Funny, too, that the business would be open on Thanksgiving. The holiday was foreign to him, yet it appealed to his pagan core. A harvest festival of giving thanks celebrated during the most barren point of the year. Nothing grew; no crops waited for gathering. Perhaps Thanksgiving served as a reminder that life remained in the dead fields and dried branches, and that after the longest night, the sun eventually rose again.
He sipped his ale and pondered the mystery of human behavior. American behavior in particular. This was a family holiday, yet nearly one hundred souls crowded in here, frantically denying their loneliness.
Dylan felt quite comfortable in their midst.
His phone rested on the table in front of him; the screen lit, and a brief, cryptic text stared up at him. It was Master Ulric, demanding a status report and reminding Dylan of the consequences of failure.
Like he could forget? The bastard had been driving the point home for centuries now.
This target would be tricky. Not only was he protected by living inside Arcada; he was to be taken alive. Ulric hadn’t shared much, but as usual, the broker was playing politics with life, getting involved in someone’s feud, and some other poor person was just unlucky enough to be caught in the middle, right along with Dylan.
And wouldn’t you know, the object of his hunt lived just a mile or so away—so close he could taste it. Threads of dreams danced through Dylan’s mind, too muffled to listen in on. Problem was, he was stuck outside the town, and the magical barrier blocked Dylan’s talent. If he could cross the border, he might be able to locate the man and lure him out of hiding. Sadly for Dylan, he’d been thwarted by Arcada repeatedly, and he had the feeling time was not on his side.
It should have felt like a disgrace to be close for so long, but Dylan didn’t care. Circumstances led him to Arcada, and while the town rejected him, she’d also hooked him like a fish on a line. He had enough money to remain indefinitely. This one final job would free him, and when he finished, he could stay, even if he merely lived on the fringes of the town’s power. He needed
to be here. After his many years in exile, Arcada was a precious gem, a place where the human world overlapped the magical, much like Homewood, from which he’d been cast out so very long ago.
The waitress swapped out his beer for a fresh one and smiled at the hefty tip he set on the tray, then rewarded him with a saucy twitch of her jeans-clad ass. Dylan was horny, and he watched appreciatively as she wound through the crowd, deftly avoiding tipsy blondes and drunken bikers. He’d come out for company tonight, and the waitress was looking like a viable option. She passed a young man, and Dylan glanced from the waitress to the boy—and caught the marker he was looking for. His skin prickled, and the hair on his nape stood on end.
He narrowed his eyes. The kid wasn’t as young as he seemed. He was this side of tall and deceptively slender. An unruly mop of dark curls framed his almost angelic face. Tight blue jeans, a white T-shirt, and a battered leather jacket gave lie to that borderline innocent appearance. The young man surveyed the room boldly, as though he owned each and every chair and table in the place. His arrogance was challenging in more ways than one; Dylan’s body surged with a need to confront the kid, to force his submission. It responded in other ways as well, causing his cock to lengthen and grow tight. He didn’t have the ability to scent like other predators, but Dylan’s sharp gaze caught the feral grace of the young man, the coiled strength and banked heat.
Shifter. Damn, he was far too refined and pretty to be a wolf. Yet he looked oddly similar to that big, butch alpha wolf Dylan had spotted months ago. A cross, maybe? If Dylan had to bet, he’d say the young shifter had more than a touch of the Fair Folk in his background. He stretched out his legs, getting a bit more comfortable in the hard wooden chair.
Dylan wasn’t the only one watching the kid. Women of all ages stared at him avidly. Their men glared. He met their glares head-on, never flinching, never dropping his gaze. He was either supremely confident or amazingly stupid. Whatever the case, after the bartender poured him a beer, the shifter headed for the ratty old jukebox and dropped in his quarters, hands braced against the machine as he made his selections. And then he grinned and shook his ass, dancing as he turned to survey the chaos he’d just wrought. Joan Jett and her rock ’n’ roll overtook country, throwing the dancers completely off step and out of the mood. The dance floor emptied, the pool tables filled up, and Dylan smiled behind his beer, wondering how long till someone took a swing at the punk. He glanced at his watch, guessing it’d take no more than five minutes.
The first blow came in four, just as “Bang a Gong” began to ring through the bar.
The kid ducked the drunken swing, laughing and holding his drink steady. He slapped the trucker on the ass, whispered in the man’s ear, and then hopped backward as the drunk bellowed in anger. Dylan’s hearing was sharp, but even he
couldn’t hear over the throbbing music. No doubt the shifter had made an outrageously indecent proposal.
After dodging that fight, the shifter moved to the pool tables, got in on a game, and lost badly. He set his drink down on the edge of the table, then dug out a wad of cash from the pocket of his perfectly too-tight jeans. The gaze of more than one man dropped to the front of his pants and appraised the substantial bulge behind his fly. Some were humbled, others unwillingly tempted. Those looked away, their faces tight with mortification.
The young charmer might not know it, but he was playing to both sides of the fence. Dylan enjoyed the slow burn of his arousal. There hadn’t been much sex for him on this job, and he hadn’t particularly missed it. His needs were fairly basic, yet his tastes were quite specific. The young flirt was exactly what he liked: brash, beautiful, and with a surprising edge of vulnerability. Under that cocky attitude was a frightened youth. A kid who was getting off on the rush of his fear.
The waitress came by with another draft, and without looking away from the shifter, he paid her. Normally he’d have quit at two and headed back to his room, but now he was intrigued and feeling the draw of the hunt. It was instinct, just as blood to a vampire and challenge to a werewolf. He could use this shifter in more ways than one. He watched, willing him to notice.
And just like that, he did.
And his eyes were so very blue.
A MAN IN black. How predictable. How hot.
Travis bit the inside of his cheek, pushing the thought from his head. Since Lukas had shacked up with his vamp, insidious thoughts invaded Travis’s mind and libido on a daily basis. Not a big surprise; he’d always had an eye for a hot guy, but he wasn’t in a position to indulge in temptation of the male variety. If he did and the pack found out, he’d be spending time ass up over a stump as bigger, stronger males indulged their insecurity through dominance.
He looked back at the stranger and caught his gaze, then held it with every ounce of “fuck you” in his system. This was a new guy, seemingly human, but from his looks he could be something more. He wore a simple black shirt and jeans. His boots were leather, without ornamentation. A silver ring gleamed above the knuckle of his index finger. Not Goth as Travis had initially believed. Sure as hell not a biker or a trucker. His hair was as pale as the moon outside, not really blond, but not gray. It should have made him look older, but instead he looked ageless. Other.
Travis shivered. His cock felt hard enough to hammer nails, but that was because of all the sweet asses and outrageous cleavage on display. Hell, he should’ve left the country music on. The hot little redhead who’d been shaking her booty on the dance floor was smiling in his direction; her big, bad boyfriend was nearly snarling… It could have been fun. Travis liked to dance.
He gazed at the man again and evaluated him the best he could in the crowded bar. He didn’t scent vamp or shifter. In fact, sweaty, horny humans were pretty much all he could smell. The scents called to him, making him want to grab some girl, take her out back, and…
Damn, the stranger was still staring. And Travis’s hard-on went a little harder.
Shit. I am not like my brother.
To prove it, he crossed the room, pushing men out of his way with strength they would never have expected from him. Heat flushed his cheeks, and Travis felt his temper rise. He drew closer and finally stood at the corner table where the stranger sat, his casual stance betrayed by the intensity of his stare.
“Well, shit. You’re not human.” Travis nearly bit his tongue. Stupid!
The man gave him a smile that tilted up a tiny bit higher on one side. It was oddly whimsical on his austere, beautiful face. If Travis had been into guys, well, this was one he’d go for. If
. Fact was he only did girls. Usually. Most of the time. He’d been known to practice some bad judgment while under the influence, but mostly it involved someone on his knees in front of him. And damn if the man’s steady gaze didn’t make him itch to drop to his
knees, which was just not going to happen.
Those dark eyes weren’t brown, and they weren’t blue. They were some wild green color, like moss-covered stones at the bottom of a creek. Not human. Couldn’t be. His fair hair was thick and lush, not thin and lank as Travis would expect from someone this bleached out. But then, the hair wasn’t dyed, because no bottle could create a color so pure. It was pulled back from a widow’s peak and held by an ordinary elastic band.
Nothing else was ordinary about the man, and Travis couldn’t figure out why no one in the bar gaped at him. Every line of his face was perfect—lips, nose, and cheeks. His forehead was high and smooth; the chin had a gentle cleft. Everything about him screamed fae, but there wasn’t the slightest scent of other
in his chemistry. He smelled like every other man in the room. He was a plain old mundane human.
The man’s smile finally faded, and he took a drink, indicating that Travis should sit. Travis started to, then stood back up. “Sorry. Didn’t mean that. You just… You look like you should be in a movie. You know…Lord of the Rings
“Don’t tell me…Gandalf the Gray.” He lifted a single dark brow.
Travis slowly sat down again, mesmerized by the stranger’s faint accent. It was like nothing he’d ever heard. Not German, but close. Almost Irish. He shook off the fascination.
“No, you know what I meant. Not many folks have hair like yours.” Warmth rushed through him again, with the accompanying beat of blood down there in his pants. In spite of his beer, his mouth was dry, so he took another drink. And they stared at each other.
Well, hell. He wanted to fuck the guy. It made the blood in his head pound.
“Why are you watching me?” Travis’s voice came out odd, kind of breathless and faint.
“Isn’t that what you want? You came in with an attitude. You disrupt the dancing, flirt with the girls, knowing you’re pissing off their men. I’m not quite certain what your goal is, but you remind me of a naughty child—bad attention is better than no attention at all.”
Travis fought his instinctive reaction, which consisted of flipping the guy off and stalking away. That was how he’d react to his brother. But this man was not his brother—far from it. Damn, something told Travis to step carefully around this one.
“Just want to be clear. I don’t do guys, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Pity.” The man set his mug down and licked a bit of foam from his lips. Travis couldn’t help but stare at his beautifully carved mouth. He changed his mind again: he’d never met a human so sinfully compelling. This guy was something, but he couldn’t figure it out. “But I didn’t invite you to my table. You came over all by yourself.”
“Because you were staring.” Travis narrowed his eyes threateningly.
“So are a lot of other people.” The man glanced around the room and then back at Travis. “Anyhow, the name is Dylan. And you’re free to leave anytime you want to.”
Travis settled deeper into the chair. “Dylan. As in Bob Dylan or Dylan Thomas?”
“Either way. Just Dylan. And you are?”
“Travis.” He didn’t extend his hand, nor did he give his last name. His mother sometimes said there was power in names. He didn’t want to give this guy any sort of an edge. They sat there, their beers on the table, the room growing oddly quiet. When he looked back at the bar, people were still dancing, the music still playing, people laughing and chatting. He felt like he and the stranger were in a bubble. Travis swallowed nervously but then fought down his reactions. This man…Dylan…he didn’t seem to be scenting him back, nor was he appraising Travis like a hunk of meat. He just sat there with a half smile, drinking his beer, and every alarm Dane had ever instilled in Travis went off. He was alone here, without pack to watch his back. He needed to get away from this man. But when he tried to stand, he couldn’t. He gazed into beautiful green eyes and stayed like a fucking dog. The world narrowed down to the stranger across the table.
Oh, Travis wanted him so badly. He let his hand stray under the table and his fingers rest over his cock, feeling the beat of his heart in his fingertips, in his cockhead. He stretched out a leg, his foot brushing the other man’s calf, and to his surprise, Dylan jerked in reaction and pulled his leg away.
Obviously the dude didn’t like to be touched. Weird, since he was clearly coming on to Travis.
From the corner of his eye he caught sight of a bright yellow billed hat and the tall, lanky man who wore it. Relief filled him, and Travis took a half second to appreciate the irony. He was here to make a buy—a risky trade that could land him in his father’s jail—and the dealer looked like an angel come to deliver him from sin. He slugged back his beer and stood.
“Nice meeting you, Dylan. Gotta go talk to a fellow.” Surprise crossed the man’s face, and Travis winked. He was flirting now, and he damn well knew it, but somehow it was just a blast. He felt like he’d tugged the tiger’s tail and lived to tell the story. With a shaky grin, he turned away and felt the other man’s gaze on him as he left.