Nic walked around the outside of Club Entourage looking for anything suspicious. He had a memory scent of the killer from the other crime scenes. He didn’t smell the man in the normal smells outside the club. There were other unsavory scents, especially behind the club near the garbage. Of course no alley would be complete without the pungent odors of urine and vomit.
Nic braced himself to enter the club. Shifter males gave off heightened hormones human females were susceptible to. In a highly charged sexual environment, to human females already attempting to attract bedmates, he was the equivalent of a tall glass of water to a person lost in a desert.
He passed the coat check, descended the club’s stairs, and tried to blend in with the crowd. His Western-wear shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat stood out more than he’d anticipated against all the vampire costumes.
He mingled, dodging grasping hands and caresses. When he was positive the killer wasn’t inside, he took up a station against the bar, which allowed him to see the entrance and up onto the balcony. He hadn’t noticed any curvy witches, but it was early in the evening.
He glanced at the slender redhead dressed as Venus at his side. Her incense-and-musk perfume assaulted his nose. She held a glass of champagne and smiled at him through lips that were a little too red. Normally the color made him think sensual thoughts; hers just reminded him of blood.
“Ma’am.” He kept his gaze neutral.
Her smile lost some of its luster. He looked away and caught a flash of gold near the entrance. He focused on the luscious sight before him. It took everything he had not to straighten, cross the room, and capture the woman at the top of the stairs.
She was exquisite. Her hair fell to her shoulders in wild, natural brown coils adorned with a thin gold braided headband. The golden undertones of her medium-brown skin were set off by flawless makeup and the gold accents trimming the barely there costume. And it was barely there.
The dark brown gladiator costume was held up by gold straps that matched the embroidery on the cleavage-baring neckline. Wolf-shifter females were tall and sleek, but this woman was lushly curvy. Her waist dipped in under the body-hugging costume, and her hips flared out, hiking up an already short hemline. She wore gold bangles at her wrists and a short crimson cape. Her legs were full and tantalizingly encased in high-heeled gold gladiator sandals that laced up to her knees.
She was sexy as hell, and she knew it. She posed with her body angled to the side, one bent leg slightly in front of the other, and a hand resting on her hip.
There was a hush as she paused at the top of the landing. She scanned the crowd nonchalantly, as if every eye wasn’t on her. Then she stepped down to the next step. His mouth opened slightly as he watched her body move under the costume. He might have drooled a bit. The wolf in him was close to the surface, and he swallowed a growl as he noticed a tall blond man dressed as a race car driver move forward to greet her at the bottom of the stairwell.
“How dare she? He’d better not dance with her.”
He’d forgotten the woman next to him. The redhead moved into the crowd and made her way toward the blond race car driver. Nic watched as the female gladiator, guaranteed to star in his most lascivious dreams tonight, shunned the hand of the man in front of her and strutted toward the bar. She never looked at Nic, and he was violently disappointed.
She stopped next to him, pressed her palms to the bar, and leaned forward. “Rum and cola, please.”
His already stiff cock throbbed at the throatiness of her voice. She smelled divine. The soft floral hint of her perfume didn’t overpower the scent of the woman underneath. He could lap up every trace of the tantalizing fragrance from her skin and other places hidden on her body.
A frisson of power brushed against his wolf, signaling he was in the presence of a magical being. He concentrated. Witch.
Hell, he stood lusting after a curvy witch wearing a dress so short he swore he could see the shadow of her ass under the back hem. She was everything the Brain Surgeon would be looking for. She was the reason he’d been drawn here.
His wolf was also telling him she was everything it was looking for.
He stared. Finally, she looked up. Her eyes were large in her pretty face. She smiled, and he focused on the fullness of her dark red lips. Her teeth peeked through, and in his mind he saw her biting her plump lower lip just before stroking him slowly with her soft palm. He suppressed a shudder.
He took one of her hands from the bar and held it. “I’m Nic.”
He smiled. “May I buy your drink, Leila?”
“It depends.” Her tongue peeked out to lick her upper lip slightly.
He followed the action with his gaze. “On what?”
One corner of her mouth lifted, and pure mischief entered her eyes. “What I have to do to earn it.”
His mind immediately went to Leila on her hands and knees as he pounded into her from the rear. “How about a dance?”
He really shouldn’t. Technically he was on duty. He had to touch her, though. He tugged on her hand lightly to draw her toward the dance floor. She held his gaze as she slowly peeled her body away from her pose leaning against the bar. Should watching her perform the simple action give him such visceral pleasure?
All around them couples gyrated to the blaring pop music. Nic made room for the two of them on the floor. He pulled her close and moved with her to the beat of the music. She swayed sensuously, making it seem a natural extension of the dance when she slid against him. Everywhere they touched, little pinpricks of awareness cascaded along his skin.
He held her flush against his chest, guiding her body the way he wanted it to go. It was easy to dip low and wedge his thigh between her legs. She rode him, undulating and moving fluidly as he tilted her back and cradled her, drawing her near again. Even among all the humans, he could smell her desire.
His reaction to her was strong. Almost too strong. He brought his mouth closer to hers. His wolf demanded he take her mouth. It didn’t understand human convention that forced his human half to play by civilized rules and not devour her on the spot. This woman made him want her on every level. It demanded he take her. Mine.
He caught the costumed race car driver’s hand before it could land on her arm. He couldn’t quite suppress the growl that spilled over from his throat. Nic squeezed the man’s hand back, and its owner winced. He felt the surge in her magic, heard her whispered words, and fought the calm that tried to descend over him. He never released the other man.
“Hey, what’s happening?” Race Car Driver looked slightly dazed.
Nic smirked in Leila’s direction. “I think you overdid it.”
“The extra push was for you,” she mumbled. “Hal, what do you want?”
Maybe she should have used the calming spell on herself. She stared hard at the other man, one hand on her hip. If her brown eyes had contained any more fire, Hal would have combusted on the spot.
“You’re embarrassing yourself. This type of getup is for our bedroom only.”
She’d been with this clown? Anger and possessiveness flowed through Nic. He didn’t want this man anywhere near Leila. Nic applied more pressure until the other man was contorting to keep Nic from breaking his wrist.
“That’s enough! Nic!” Leila’s voice was frantic as she pushed against his arm.
He looked at her.
She shook her head. “Hal and I aren’t together anymore. Not that it’s any of your business.”
He was appeased she’d said the last part so low it was likely only he’d heard her. He eased the pressure on the guy’s hand and wrist. He’d stay between them, though. If good ole Hal tried anything, he’d be more than happy to break a few of his bones.
She made a chopping motion toward the sweating Hal. “We’re over, Hal. Or did I suddenly lose a few pounds? Go away. I don’t like you.”
Nic released the man with a shove. “Take her advice and stay away.” He watched as Hal stumbled back among the ring of gawkers.
He turned back to Leila as she poked him in the side.
“I’m going to say this in a whisper because I’m assuming by all the growling coming from your throat you have pretty good hearing. What you did was unnecessary. I can defend myself.”
“Don’t ever try to control me again.” Witch.
“Try not to need to be controlled. What am I saying? There won’t be a next time. We’re complete strangers. Hopefully this will be the last time we ever meet.” She turned and pushed her way through the crowd.
He admired her ass as she walked away. He loved the way she placed one foot almost in front of the other, so each hip cocked with every step. He could watch her walk all day. He came to his senses when she was swallowed up in the crowd. He moved then. He wouldn’t crowd her, but he would follow her. She was wrong. She’d be seeing him very soon.
OUT OF ALL the men to meet tonight, Leila would run into a shifter. She didn’t know what his animal was, yet she was sure she wouldn’t like it. Arrogant man. Sexy beast.
She wasn’t going to deny it. His beautiful, sharp features spoke of his Latin roots. Over six feet tall, broad shouldered, and darkly tanned, Nic was a hard man to resist. When she’d gotten closer to the bar, she’d felt the tingle in her limbs alerting her there was a magical being nearby. Nic’s shifter pheromones explained the immediate attraction she’d felt for him. Shifters were primal, carnal beings. Women of almost every species found it hard to resist them.
Leila stomped up the steps to the coat check. She’d worn a light trench coat since she really was indecently exposed. The only reason she’d decided on the costume was for revenge. She looked around at her frenemies staring at her from across the room. She smiled and pinky waved at the bitches. Their mouths fell open before they turned away.
Earlier in the day, she’d peered down from her hidden spot decorating the club’s balcony at Deidre, Amy, and Li, who were doing the same in the main room below.
Deidre had tucked a strand of her red hair behind her ear before marking off an item on her checklist. “Ooh, I can’t stand her. What did Hal ever see in her?”
Li’s wimpy behind had chimed in too. “She dresses in such bright colors. It’s so gaudy.”
“And she’s too big for all those colors,”
Amy had said.
When the women laughed, Leila’s hand had begun to glow a faint blue neon as energy swirled and gathered in her palm. She’d contemplated just hitting them with a mild spark. It wouldn’t have hurt…much. She’d closed her hands and eyes slowly, and the energy ball had dissipated. She couldn’t do it then. She wouldn’t do it now, either. Her grandmother had always warned her about being careful with the intent behind her magic. Using it for petty revenge would rebound against her.
She’d thought the women were her friends. Their conversation proved how wrong she’d been. They were just jealous, anyway. Each of their boyfriends had hit on her in the last twelve months. She was fat all right. PHAT—pretty, hot, and tempting.
She’d settled on the gladiator costume rather than the more conservative nurse she’d planned to be for the costume party. She’d wanted all eyes on her, and they were. Including the shifter’s.
She sensed him watching her. She looked around as she put on her trench. She didn’t see him. Why did he have to be a super-alpha jerk shifter? She and the sexy Latino should have been headed back to her place right now. She could still feel every place he’d touched her. Her pussy continued to throb. Her nipples rubbed against the constricting fabric of her bra.
What a waste.
Shifters and witches didn’t mix. At least not in this town. Coldwell had one hard-and-fast rule for its magical inhabitants. She’d been raised to believe shifters were crude and animalistic, fae were untrustworthy tricksters, immortals were meddlesome and coldhearted. The list went on and on. Even humans were said to be dangerous, fearful, and judgmental. Her mother hadn’t been too happy when she’d decided to associate with them.
She thought of her former friends and ex-boyfriend. Maybe her teachers had been right. Having personal relationships with other species was unwise. What would Deidre have done with the knowledge if she’d known Leila was a witch? She shuddered.
Everyone knew to stick to their own kind. She’d learned her lesson. She and the shifter were a bad idea. So it would be another lonely night with just her and her vibrator, Sam.
The club was in a renovated warehouse at the edge of town. The parking lot was lit brighter closer to the club and dimmer farther back where she’d parked. Walking all alone in a poorly lit, deserted parking lot was the price she paid for wanting to make an entrance. She could just hear her mother asking her if she intended to be a mugging waiting to happen.
Her mind turned back to Nic, and she stopped. She’d promised herself she would take a chance with the next guy she felt chemistry with. But a shifter?
Did it matter? She’d felt the desire between them. It was a smoldering fire all over her body, and she couldn’t deny it. If she was honest, prejudice had forced her out of the club and away from Mr. Hotness. A woman confident in her sexuality would go back.
The hint of magic touched her before the sound of footsteps did. A hand closed around her mouth just as a black-clothed arm wound around her neck. She was jerked back forcefully. Heart racing, she struggled. She scratched and pulled against her assailant. Her nails slid off the fabric. Quickly, she reached for her power. It surged within her, bright and familiar. She was about to give this bastard the shock of his life, then run like hell.
Except her power began to dim almost immediately. He didn’t release her. He dragged her deeper into the shadows. Her limbs began to tire first, and her head hurt. Her power faded. Was he sucking it from her? She tried to struggle, but she was so tired. Her eyelids drooped and closed despite her attempts to stay alert.
Her eyes cracked open when she heard the growl. She sighted a gray blur. A large wolf barreled toward them, teeth bared. Her attacker released her, and she dropped to the ground, unable to support her weight. Her entire body tingled and throbbed as hands did when they fell asleep. Behind her she heard running feet and snarls.
She knew Nic was the wolf. She felt it deep within. She mustered her final bit of energy. “Nic.”
Would he leave her there? She didn’t want to die in the parking lot outside a stupid costume party. She should probably be grateful he’d run her attacker off. Would she have been as helpful, or would she have seen a shifter fighting and fled the scene, shaking her head about how violent and beastly they were?
The thoughts grew vague as her mind fogged. Her heartbeat, loud and slow in her ears, reminded her she was alive. She willed her limbs to move, but they remained useless. She was going to slip away, a nameless victim killed within rows of cars, discarded and alone.
Suddenly, a wet nose nudged her cheek, then her hand. She opened her eyes enough to see the large gray wolf. Tears welled. Nic hadn’t left her to die alone. He shimmered before her, and she watched in awe as bones contorted, popped, and reformed. It appeared painful and somehow grotesquely beautiful.
His magic pressed against her, and she absorbed a bit. She couldn’t help it. She knew she was close to dying. She’d be ashamed of the forbidden act later.
“Sorry.” She wouldn’t steal any more of his energy.
Nic squatted before her, beautifully naked. “Don’t worry. You need it. I have to get you to a hospital.”
He lifted her into his arms. She felt so weak. So empty. More tears slid down her cheeks as his face blurred and wavered before her.
She needed a supernatural healer, not a hospital. “Mama Tui.”
“You need medical—”
“Medicine can’t help me. I’m dying.”
“You won’t die. I won’t let you.”
His voice was determined. Somehow she believed him. He moved swiftly in the dark. Her eyes closed, and she forced herself to focus as she was jostled. He opened the door to a black SUV and deposited her on the passenger seat.
“Did it help when you touched my spirit wolf before?”
Was that what she’d done when she’d repurposed his life energy? “Yes, but I shouldn’t have. It is forbidden to take someone’s energy the way I did, and I don’t know what damage I’ve caused.”
He took her hand in both of his. Warmth traveled up her arm, and she realized she had been cold since he’d released her.
“My wolf didn’t mind. He liked it.”
Before she could protest again, he shifted, and she automatically reached out and absorbed a little more of his magic. The pressure in her chest eased, and her head cleared. She only took a little, but it was enough. She could make it to Mama Tui.
Able to focus again, she watched as Nic pulled on a shirt and pants. Where had he hidden clothes? She missed the warmth from his body. She was so cold.
She nodded. He closed her door before walking around the SUV to the driver’s side. He pulled his cell phone from the glove compartment and dialed.
“This is Detective Lobo. There has been an attack at 4902 Talen Lane.”
He was a detective. If he hadn’t been there, she would be dead now. Was it his role as a policeman allowing him to help her? Or was it something intrinsic about Nic? Was this wolf a better person than most witches she knew? He’d come back for her, gathered her up, and was helping her get help. He’d even allowed her to steal his magic without trying to kill her.
She stared at him as he made his call. His midnight hair was cut close on the sides and longer on the top. His golden skin stretched taut across his strong jaw as he rattled off information and orders over the phone. His hand dwarfed his cell phone.
Ending his call, he glanced at her. His deep brown eyes showed his concern.
“Thank you, Nic.”
“We’re a few miles away from the healer.” He slid his hand along her arm and then released her to grip the wheel.
So he wasn’t good with gratitude. He would have hers forever.