Steam floated from the ceramic coffee mug in Jade’s hands. Hard rain droplets pelted the windows and the roof, the wind gusts picking up.
“Raining again,” Jason noted with a yawn.
Jade shifted in the wooden chair at the round kitchen table. “Steady for a week now.”
Something felt off. The thick and suffocating air, the heavy silence, even her own heartbeat. The strange feeling in her gut wouldn’t go away, the night sweats and panic reoccurring on a nightly basis. Maybe her nerves were shot from settling into the house. She had that unshakable feeling of impending doom. The weight of it lingered over her, made her heart pound harder than it should.
She bit her lip, nervously twisting it between her teeth.
She hated that feeling. Bad things happened when she got that feeling.
Dragging her fingers through her unruly curly hair, she eyed the water droplets running down the window pane. Hell, maybe it was her. Did Marcy’s cat and mouse game finally wreak havoc on her sanity, and now her anxieties had blossomed into pure paranoia?
Yep, the few marbles she had left were finally rolling away.
Jason opened the fridge, scratching his pale and lean chest. “Dom’s gonna be pissed that I ate all his Oreos,” he mumbled and pulled the gallon of milk out.
Who was he again? And what did he have that would stop Marcy from eating out her heart?
A few seconds later, he plopped a cup of milk and a fresh pack of Oreos on the counter in front of Jade. Dropping in the chair across from her, he tore into the cookies.
He looked up, licking his fingers. “My asshole cousin.”
“The owner I’m guessing?”
“So, what kind of work does he do?” She glanced around at the black countertops, stainless steel appliances, and cherry wood cabinetry. The man obviously ran a business or something.
“He, uh . . . does odd jobs here and there.”
“He do roofs for a living?” She cocked a brow.
“Don’t be like that with me. You don’t need to know what he does. All you need to know is that he can protect you.”
But she couldn’t stop herself. “An assassin? A secret agent?”
“He had an inheritance, okay? He just travels a lot.” His eyes flicked away from hers. A good sign he was lying.
“What is he?”
Jason choked on his milk, hacking like an old man.
He cleared his throat and wiped his mouth. “What do you mean?”
“I swear to God if he’s a dragon I won’t be able to deal. That last one kept burping fireballs.”
“Lucien? He’s a good guy.”
“His farts smelled like sulfur.”
Jason shrugged. “I thought it was funny.” He dunked another cookie in the cup. “You know what, if you beat me at nine-ball, I’ll tell you what he does and what he is?”
“Okay, come on.” Jade stood.
“I meant later.”
“No, we’re doing this right now.
Bending at the waist, Jade readied her stick, lining her eyesight with the cue ball, hitting it with just enough power. Jason frowned as the cue ball tapped the nine into the side pocket.
“So . . .” she said.
“I’ll give you twenty bucks to walk away so I don’t have to answer the question.”
“Shouldn’t have wagered if you couldn’t afford to lose.”
“Touché.” He sighed.
“So what is he?”
“Complicated. That’s what he is.” Jason massaged his temples, and with the straightest face he gave the big finale. “He’s the son of Satan.”
She rolled her eyes, sighing. “I beat you and you still won’t tell me the truth.”
His lip lifted into a half-smile. “Did you really think I’d tell you anything?”
Erica sat her margarita on a nearby table. “Let’s go, blondie.”
“You rack it, red.”
Jade held the pool stick as her sister racked the balls. She eyed the quivering liquor bottles that lined the shelves. Earthquake? The crystal glasses started to rock on the flat surface, swaying back and forth. The brown wood walls suddenly quaked, along with the floor beneath her feet, the ground feeling like it was about to open up and swallow them whole. The wide flat screen plastered to the wall did a jig.
A gust of wind shook the inside of the house like a shock-wave, rattling drinks and shattering some as they fell off the edge of the shelf and onto the floor. Erica and Jason stood on the other side of the pool table, looking around the room and then at each other with wide eyes. Some sort of hellish power just shot its way through the room and no one seemed to know where it came from.
“Was that an earthquake?” Erica asked, steadying herself with hands on the pool table.
Jason stared about the room curiously. “Doubtful.”
Back against the wall, Jade scowled as her gaze flashed to him. He wasn’t panicked; he ran a calm hand through his tousled gold hair. But he wasn’t thrilled either. On the other hand, Erica anxiously played with the bun of her hair and, for the first time, Jade thought she saw a speck of fear in her sister’s green eyes as she faced Jason. The two shared a moment of their own. It was a fleeting look, and instantly both had a display of understanding on their faces.
“I can already tell this is going to work.” A big, fat smile lit up Erica’s face, and her gaze slid to Jade as she took the pool stick out of her hands.
“God, don’t jinx us.”
Jade’s scowl grew even deeper. Those two were up to something. They both looked as if they’d just fed a thousand starving orphans. Which meant they either committed a horribly good deed or a terribly bad crime. Her sister’s giddiness meant it was probably both.
“What did you do?” Jade asked, raising a brow.
“Committed suicide, sweetheart.” Jason’s lips thinned.
The front door slammed into the wall, and Dom stepped into the foyer, soaked from head to toe. He paused, half expecting Len to be waiting for him in the dark hallway. Thankfully, the witch was smarter than he’d given her credit for. Granted, he had a few words for her, and possibly a few new ways to die too.
As he continued inside, he stiffened, nostrils flaring as a scent so powerful nearly knocked him off his feet. The sweetest hint of lavender raised the hairs on his arm and set his skin and body afire like a bolt of lightning.
The beast within came to life, and Dom struggled to shove him back down. Holy hell, he could drown in that scent. Fucking bathe in it.
He needed to find where it was coming from—had to—wanted to bury his nose in it and just . . . breathe and become one with it. Shaking the goose bumps off, he stepped forward, his combat boots leaving mud-prints along the marble floor. His gaze swept over the stairs, flashed from the barroom to the living room, and landed at the end of the hall where the dining room and kitchen set dark and empty.
“There a problem?” Aidyn asked as he stepped beside him, a black duffel bag slung over his shoulder.
Dom shot him a look.
Aidyn cocked a brow. “What?”
He scowled. “You can’t smell that?”
“I farted before we came inside.”
“Not that, you idiot. The lavender—you can’t smell the lavender?”
Man, it was all over the place, down each corridor, in every room.
His brother dropped his bag to the floor. “Mm, no. All I can smell is my fart. I feel like it followed me in.”
Dom ignored him, rubbing his bottom lip as he walked down the hall slow and hesitant, afraid he’d pass by whatever emanated that scent. He swore he smelled it before . . . he just couldn’t remember where.
The laughter of women came from the lounge, stopping Dom in his tracks.
Aidyn tilted his head back and sniffed the air. “Hmm. Humans.”
In his home? No, no, no. What idiot decided it would be okay to house mortals? This wasn’t an animal shelter. Or a fucking refugee camp. This was the only place that let him escape the clutches of humanity and the brink of insanity, and right now it seemed he had an abundance of both. His eyes narrowed into slits and his blood boiled.
The beast doubled back. With an uneven breath, he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to keep it at bay.
Aidyn watched him with caution and patted his back. “Calm down, Dom.” He smirked. “At least they’re women. Might be some fun for us.”
Dom shrugged off his brother’s hand as he headed for the lounge doors. “They’d better be tall, tanned, and blonde.”
Gripping the handles of the double doors, he pushed them open and his eyes scouted the room, first connecting with the two women standing by the pool table. They weren’t blonde—in fact, they weren’t tall either. And only one of them was anywhere close to tan. The red head was ghost white. Almost blinding in her paleness. His eyes settled on the back of a familiar head of golden hair, and in his mind, he was bashing that head against a brick wall. Repeatedly.
Just brains everywhere.
His brother whistled, catching everyone’s attention. Jason spun around, stumbling over his own feet as his pool stick slipped out his hand and landed on the floor with a loud “clack.”
“Oh, uh, hey guys. I didn’t know you’d be back so soon.”
“Yeah, you did.” Aidyn nodded toward Dom. “You fucked up his car.”
“Actually, that was Len. Len fucked up your car.”
“What a snitch.” Aidyn chuckled, walking toward the group. “You must have the biggest brass balls of anyone I know. First, you bring humans in his home,” he looked to the women and winked, “not that I mind at all,” and then focused his stare on Jason, “but then you deliberately fuck up his baby. It’s sitting out there in the rain, not wanting to start. We had to push that bitch all the way up the driveway. You do know how long that driveway is, don’t you?”
Sweat dripped from Jason’s forehead. “Three miles . . .”
“Yeah, Jason, three miles. We pushed it three miles up hill in the damn rain with Zeke’s fat ass asleep in the backseat.” Aidyn cocked his head to the side. “So, I can assure you Dom’s not in a good mood. And we all know he’s got anger issues.”
He did; he didn’t categorize that as “issues” though.
His glare flicked to his brother who shrugged. “Just being honest.” Aidyn turned back to Jason. “You think he looks calmer than normal?”
“Yeah, yeah, he does.”
“Maybe those breathing techniques are working,” his brother muttered.
Negative. He was too busy deciding who to kill first.
Dom’s face darkened as he slid his gaze across the women again. A part of him swore the redhead seemed familiar, especially the half smirk she gave him. Then his eyes trailed to her—the brunette trying to blend in with the dark wood of the wall. All color drained from his face as dread bunched under his flesh.
Right then, he realized why that smell of lavender was so familiar. He couldn’t forget her face or the scar running along her throat in a million years. Or those goddamn freckles. Fists clenching, he stepped forward, all the dread replaced with hot billowing rage.
With his constant lack of sleep, he could have strangled her for damning him to torment night after night. He had enough hate for her to last a lifetime.
The honey eyes that haunted him glanced over and took him in. He held his breath, waiting for some kind of reaction—for her to speak and the shame churning inside him to come rushing out.
Yet, all he got was a lick of the lips and a hot stare.
She didn’t recognize him at all. And though he should’ve felt the least bit relieved, he grew angrier instead. He gritted his teeth so hard he heard them grind against each other. He should’ve left her ass beneath that freezing water, helpless and drowning in that cold ice of the current.
If an abyss had eyes, Jade imagined they’d looked much like the ones glaring at her. The man had the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Solid black like an onyx stone. Cold and hollow. No light bounced off them, not even the slightest glint or reflection. Still, he was handsome. Short-trimmed jet black hair narrowed into a widow’s peak.
The well-built man towered over her and the others. His massive body and dark aura filled the doorway, the air growing heavier with every footfall of his boots. Huge tattooed arms crossed over his chest as he paused in the middle of the room. That full bottom lip twitched and, like a bee drawn to honey, she licked her own.
Water dripped from his wide shoulders and rolled down olive skin. Dear God, she loved olive skin. Never in her life did she have the urge to lick someone, but damn if he didn’t bring the idea to mind. And that strange urge was strong, prompting her to step forward like a dazed cat.
Maybe, instead of just licking, she’d dive downward. Skim her teeth across those prominent hip muscles that dipped beneath the fabric of his dark jeans. And then she’d probably go even lower to—
“Jade.” Her sister’s fingers locked around her wrist in a vice grip. “You look like you’re about to go right up and dry hump him.”
Erica lightly guided her back to the wall. Somewhere in a parallel universe she had switched bodies with her sister. Danger and evil—they suddenly looked tempting.
He stared right at her, pinning her with that unwavering soulless leer. The left side of his face bore a long, jagged scar down his brow and over his eye, adding another heavy dose of villainy to his devilish appearance.
“Now, Dom, I know you’re mad, but don’t take your anger out on the girls.”
For a fraction of a second, his eyes flashed to Jason, and then slid back to her.
A part of her wanted to curl up in a corner and hide. Yet, the other part of her—a dark side lurking near the gates of hell—wanted a taste of him. A lick. A touch. A kiss . . .
And again like a mindless fool, she stepped forward, completely absorbed by the man.
“You know I wouldn’t ask you for a favor unless I was in serious trouble.” Jason’s words stopped her in place.
He was Jason’s cousin? The one that could supposedly protect her from Marcy? She found that hard to believe because, at that moment, he looked like he’d feed her to the witch himself.
“Jesus, Jason, what the hell did you get into now?” The shorter man with black hair and turquoise eyes asked with a huff.
Dom didn’t say a word. His stare hardened on her as if he somehow knew she was the problem.
“It’s Marcy’s feeding time,” Jason answered.
Turquoise glanced to Dom. “I thought you killed her years ago?”
“Her sister—he killed her sister, Matilda,” Jason chimed in.
With a shrug, Turquoise rolled his eyes. “There’s, like, twelve of them. They’re all the same.” Then he made a face and looked to Dom again. “Didn’t you give Matilda’s heart to Marcy?” Jade’s breath caught in her throat, eyes widening. The sweet heat stirring in her gut burned out and shriveled in fear, “So, who’s the lucky pick this time?” Turquoise smirked.
Clearing his throat, Jason wiped the sweat from his forehead and motioned to her. “For three very . . . very long years, I’ve been hiding Jade all over the world. Dodging hitmen, fleeing in the dead of night, and driving countless hours to get away from Marcy.” He took a breath. “But she always finds us.”
“I’m not trying to play devil’s advocate,” a disheveled man with long brown hair stood at the opening of the lounge, aviator sunglasses covering the eyes—yes, inside the house—and his hand holding the frame for support as he lifted a bottle of scotch to his lips. He took a swig, drops of liquor splashing onto his beard, “but why out of all places would you come here?”
“It’s the last place she’d look.”
The drunk gave a hearty chuckle. “That’s because he’s more dangerous than she is,” he muttered, sobering just enough to walk to the sectional couch and plop down with a grunt.
The evil man’s gaze finally lifted from her as he scowled toward the drunk.
Jason walked towards him with caution. “Look, Dom, I am beyond sorry for springing this on you. I just—” His words cut short as a giant hand gripped him by the throat and lifted him off the floor.
She froze, fear pounding her heart like a steel drum. Another emotion also pushed its way into her body, one that had her tummy fluttering with all sorts of notions. Power radiated from him.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Calm down, Dom,” The man with turquoise eyes pleaded, placing his hand on the bigger man’s bicep. “Put him down before you bash his face in. I don’t feel like cleaning blood off the floor again,” he said in a hushed whisper.
The man named Dom threw the other guy a frustrated look, his expression a warning. Daring Turquoise to test him again. With a twist of his foot, the man hurled Jason through the two open oak doors, a loud crash echoing from the near the stairs, and the stranger headed for him, his gait the equivalent of a lion’s as the muscles in his broad shoulders flexed.
Turquoise cleared his throat, shifting his attention to her and her sister.
He clapped his hands together. “Uh, excuse us for a moment, while we . . . settle things,” he said, leaving the room and shutting the doors behind him.
Jason crashed into the staircase, sending the wall of the stairs into a fierce shake. Dom wasn’t playing around. He knew what Jason wanted—the same thing that everyone else came knocking on his door for. Protection. Whether it was for their selves or someone else.
Dom grabbed him by the throat and held him up at eye level. “I let you stay in my home, and this is how you repay me? By moving humans in while I’m gone? Especially her.”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to do. You know I wouldn’t have brought her here unless it was my last option. And believe me, I’m out of options.” The faerie’s gaze fidgeted.
“You had Len fuck with my car, so I’d come home and play Captain Babysit with your damn human?” Jason wouldn’t look him in the eye. “You. Fucked. Up. My. Car.”
“I had to. You don’t understand—”
Not wanting to hear his excuse, Dom drew back his fist and swung, packing a heavy blow that landed somewhere near the faerie’s left eye. Punch after punch, he mastered all his rage into his fists, paying the sorry SOB back for his car more than anything. He slung the faerie into the hall wall, his head bouncing off the wood.
“You’re paying for my goddamn car.” Dom slammed a boot into his ribs as Jason slumped to the floor in a heap. “And you’re packing your shit and taking these humans with you.”
A sob wracked Jason’s body, and he curled into a ball and snuggled into the molding of the wall.
“Damn, Dom. What the hell’d you do to him?” Aidyn walked out the dining room with a box of crackers in hand.
Dom’s brow knotted as he stared down at the faerie. It wasn’t like this was the first time Jason had the shit knocked out of him. Hell, this wasn’t even Dom’s worst beat down.
“He break your nose again, Jason?”
“No.” He sat up, his face bloody and swollen. “I’m supposed to protect her and I can’t, okay?” Jason wiped the snot and blood off his nose with a palm. “I’ve failed as a man.”
“I’d say so,” Dom muttered.
Another sob. “I should’ve made you take her.”
Dom’s eyes widened and his heart stopped for a split second. Aidyn looked to him for an answer.
“Don’t look at me. I don’t know what he’s talkin’ about.” But he did. And if the faery kept talking, he’d save him the bitter taste of failure and replace it with a boot to the teeth.
His brother kneeled beside the battered fae. “What are you talking about?”
Instead of speaking directly to his brother, Jason locked eyes with him. “Dom, if you make us leave, she’ll die.” The fae swallowed hard and shook his head. “You’re strong—you can take on anybody. I’m not . . . I can’t protect her like you can.”
“Not my problem.” Dom turned away from the fae. “Pack your shit and get out.”
Cousin or not, the fae could drown in failure for all he cared. He wasn’t letting humans stay in his home under any condition. He wasn’t a babysitter, and he wasn’t a guardian. If Jason wanted that kind of protection, he’d have a better chance praying in a church. Dom jogged the stairs and rounded the corner of the third floor, slamming his fist into the wall and rattling the row of lamps down the corridor.
Sliding his tongue over his teeth, he slowed as he neared his bedroom. That mouthwatering devil of a fragrance had found its way back to his nose, overwhelming him as he came to a halt at his door.
He arched a brow at the door across from his. Was she staying in that room?
He checked over his shoulder to make sure no one was coming and then twisted the doorknob. The sweetness hit him like a brick wall as it flooded the corridor. The TV lit the room, which judging by the blankets and clothes that set neatly folded on top of the bed, was inhabited by a female—unless there happened to be a cross-dresser in the house that he didn’t know about.
Of course she’d choose the room right across from his.
He kicked the door shut as he peered around. The old version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre played on the screen, flashing scenes of Leather-face. He skimmed his fingertips along the edge of the bed, the smooth silk brushing against his skin. He closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath, and savoring the freshening aroma that filled the room.
Lavender surrounded him. Blended in with the air so naturally.
He didn’t remember her smell being so heavy and intoxicating, so deathly addicting and overwhelming that he swayed with lightheadedness. He steadied himself with a hand to the bedpost.
His eyes shot open as he shook off the dizziness and blinked. The hell was that?
A deep breath fell from his lungs but the fuzziness didn’t go away. It lingered over his head like a cloud of fog. When he was sure he wouldn’t fall over, he moved toward the wooden dresser, noticing the leather notebook that sat upon it.
He opened it, peeling back the black binding. Pictures filled the first few pages. He flipped further, passing one after the other until stumbling upon a middle page overflowing with a bunch of sketches. As he picked them up, his ears perked at the sound of footsteps approaching the room. He shoved the papers back in, shut the book and took it with him as he hid behind the bathroom door, the darkness enveloping him.
She walked in with Jason trailing her.
“If anyone can protect you, it’s him.” Jason bowed his head. “I don’t have the physical strength to stop her from taking you.”
“But I take it he said no.”
She grabbed a tall pile of clothes off her bed and stacked them on her dresser. “Could be worse, I guess. They could be vampires.” Her nose scrunched.
“See, aren’t you happy they don’t look like death?”
“I wouldn’t insult death like that. He might be offended.” She lifted a gold chain off her neck and placed it on her dresser as well. “My sister’s not gonna be too happy about leaving.””
The lines around Jason’s mouth deepened. “Damn, I gotta get back in the car with that.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m pretty tempted to leave her ass here. You think they’ll notice?”
“Uh, yeah, especially the tall one. I think he’d lose his shit,” she said with a yawn. “By the way, did you see him glaring me down?”
“That’s just Dom. He’s got an undying hate for humans.”
“He didn’t look at my sister like that.”
“True. You got me on that one.”
Dom studied the human from behind the door, becoming aware of how curvy she was. Thick hips, round ass, sweet thighs he could grip. She was kind of pudgy in the tummy area, but he liked that. Made her soft-looking.
He rolled his bottom lip into his mouth. She had one of those bodies that screamed for attention, and here she was hiding it in a blue Rolling Stones t-shirt and dark blue jeans. A waste of curves if you asked him.
Jason smirked as the human leaned against her bedpost. “Pack your stuff. We’ll leave in the morning.”
As he left, the woman went over to her dresser and hesitated, eyes roaming the surface. Dom grimaced. She noticed the book had disappeared. He knew she did because in an instant she was searching frantically, moving objects out of the way, looking under the desk, standing on her tippy toes and peeking behind the dresser.
He glanced down at the book in his grip.
What was in there that was so damn important? A map to Never Land?
“Dammit,” she said as she moved to her bed and sifted through all the clothes. “House must have some serious ghost issues.” Suddenly she stepped back and waved. “Look here, ghosts, I know I put my book right there on that dresser. Give it back and I’ll give you a nice show in the bathtub.”
Dom’s gaze darkened, and he contemplated putting the book back on the dresser. And as if someone else read his mind, he felt a tug on the book.
An invisible tug.
As he looked down, the tug became more forceful, feeling as if there were more than one hand pulling at the book. He frowned as he jerked it back and tucked it under his arm.
She combed her fingers through her dark tresses and headed for her bathroom. “I’m going insane.”
Dom leaned back against the glass wall, the blanket of darkness enveloping him. She walked by, completely oblivious to him standing there, eyeing her as she passed. The blissful smell of her swallowed him whole, rising his hunger out of its den. But it wasn’t food he hungered for.
No, he was hungry for something else. And so was the beast.
There had to be something wrong with her—humans didn’t smell that good. At least none he’d ever been around. The damn woman needed to get out of his home because her pheromones were screwed up—therefore, screwing him up. He had enough problems without her adding to them.
The bathroom door clicked shut, and his chance to slide out opened.
I need a drink. Lighting a cigarette, he started for the door.
He looked down at his right hand and realized he still had the book. Shaking his head, he put it back on the dresser as he walked by. Only one night, that was all and then she’d be gone. Then he’d never have to deal with her again . . . except when he slept.
He reached the door and hesitated, glancing over his shoulder at the hardcover bound in black leather. He wondered if she wrote about the accident, wondered what she remembered. She had to remember him—she had looked right at him and . . . He shook his head.
She already thought the book was missing. Keeping it for the night wouldn’t hurt.
“Fuck,” Dom muttered, stalking back to the dresser and snatching the book.
Just curious, that’s all, he told himself as he walked out the door.
Jade eyed the man sitting beside her. The long-haired drunk laid his bare feet on the table and picked his teeth with a toothpick. She slid her gaze to the end of the table where the other guy lay passed out in his bowl of mashed potatoes.
Really? This was the safe home he’d brought her to? She’d be safer in a cardboard box in an alleyway.
Jason nudged him. “Aidyn. Aidyn, wake up.”
“Wake up, man. You’re gonna drown in your food.”
The man sat up, wiping clumps of potato off his face. “How long was I out?”
“A few minutes.”
Aidyn nodded, pulling a baggy out his pocket. He dumped the white contents of it into a pile on the table and took a razor blade to it, forming the substance into a thin, straight line. She gawked at him as he dipped his head and snorted it off the surface.
She raised her brows. Well . . . she hadn’t been expecting that.
When he straightened, his turquoise eyes were alert, alive, and dilated.
He looked around the table, blinking before looking down to his plate. “Where’d my mash potatoes go?”
“You should probably check your hair.” Jade clued him in.
Her sister leaned over to him. “Here, let me get it out for you.”
Jade snorted as her sister batted her green doe eyes at him, all the while dusting food off his hair. She couldn’t decide what was more hilarious: the fact that Aidyn still had potatoes in his hair or the fact that her sister was flirting with a coke addict who had potatoes in his hair.
Within a day, the woman would be proclaiming her love for the man. Jade could already see it. And yes, her sister would sink that low if the looks were right.
“It’s amazing women still come onto you,” the long-haired man beside her said, his emerald eyes darting back and forth between her sister and Aidyn.
He smelled like a brewery and looked like he’d been stuck in the basement of one for five years. He ran a hand over his weeks’ worth of beard growth, bringing her attention to his strong, square jaw. It was different than his brothers—their jawlines not as wide.
These were the worst kind of men when her sister was involved because she’d want to host a party in her bedroom.
Dress code: naked.
The patio door in the kitchen slammed, and the 6’6 man with hellish attributes walked into the dining hall, water dripping from his forehead. Droplets raced from his shoulders to the curve of his hip bones. She swallowed hard, her mouth watering as her eyes devoured. The sight of him had her breath catching in her throat. No man had ever thrown her off like that. Gave her all those funky feelings.
Her sister wouldn’t be getting him. No, she had already mentally called dibs on him. That ass was hers.
Active imaginations didn’t compare to the reality standing in front of her. Not in the slightest. He emulated everything that a man was supposed to be: Big. Strong. The warrior type.
“Finally decided to join us, huh, Dom?” Aidyn asked.
The man halted in the archway. His black stare roamed the table, pausing on her. She noticed his lip curl when her stare hovered for too long on his scar. Averting her eyes, she tried to keep her gaze from drifting downward again, afraid she’d jump up from the table and dry hump his leg.
His thick body was wrapped in ropes of muscle, biceps sculpted, thighs crafted, abdomen defined. This man was built to fight, just like he was built to fuck and feed.
He walked around the table and snatched up the filled plate that sat across from her, but not before looking at her as if she were the dirt beneath his feet. She cast her eyes down as he stalked out the room.
“Don’t mind him,” Aidyn said, cutting his steak with his knife. “He’s not a people person.”
Jason cleared his throat. “You mind talking to him for me? Maybe persuade him to let us stay?”
The man sitting next to Jade snorted. “Good luck with that.”
“He probably won’t change his mind but,” Aidyn shrugged, lifting his wine glass to his lips, “I’ll try. So, do we get an introduction, Jason? Or do we have to guess each other’s names?”
“Mm, sorry.” Jason pointed to Erica with his fork. “Erica, meet Aidyn.” Then he pointed to her. “And over there is Jade. Jade, meet Aidyn and Zeke.” He did a quick round.
He was becoming slack with introductions.
“I think that’s the quickest introduction I’ve ever had,” Zeke said with a grin.
Dom pawed his eyes, wiping the sleep from their corners. Leaning against the stone railing of the balcony, the two gargoyles guarded his sides as he stared out at the dark mountains. Light rain droplets fell from the misty clouds above, tapping the top of his head and shoulders with the cold stray runaways. The bitter chill of late August raised the hair on his arm. Another sign that autumn lingered right around the corner.
He put a cigarette in his mouth, lit it, and cracked his neck. Letting his head fall back, he savored the silence, something he’d been lacking for the past 72 hours. His brothers followed him everywhere, one step behind him at all times, never shutting up. It was like they were babysitting him to make sure he didn’t do anything too terrible. In reality though, he was the one babysitting them.
Zeke was too drunk to walk half the time, and Aidyn was usually nose deep in cocaine. And stuck in the middle of their presence was Dom, the loner who just wanted to be—believe it or not—left alone.
But did they listen? Did they get the hint? No, of course not. Sometimes he questioned if they were related to him at all.
Honestly, it wasn’t their habits that bothered him. It was their ability to overlook and forget—well not necessarily forget—but ignore. It amazed him because he couldn’t forget. He couldn’t ignore. In fact, he drowned in remembrance as if he were brainwashed. Permanently stuck in the muddy thoughts and memories that called his mind home.
He couldn't forget. He wouldn't. Forever branded with the memories and scarred with the pain.
The beast inside was the outcome. Uncontrollable. Vicious. Bloodthirsty. His brothers believed if they were around they could stop it, chain it up, and prevent it from killing again. He hated to tell them they weren’t as strong as they thought.
The scars on his shoulder blades ached with vigor. He rubbed the left side, massaging the raised rough skin, wincing as the soreness spread to the bone. They seemed to be the only wounds that never healed.
His bedroom door opened, and his moment of peace slipped away at the snap of a finger. He didn’t have to glance back to know who it was.
“You got it too damn empty in here. It doesn’t even feel like a room.” Aidyn’s footsteps carried forward. “And it’s cold as hell. You know you can turn the temperature up?”
“What do you want?” Lightning streaked across the sky, striking somewhere behind the hills.
“You really gonna throw Jason and those girls out?”
He threw him a look.
“I mean, I just think we could . . . have use for them—if you know what I mean.” Aidyn quirked his brows as he settled against the railing. “That brunette in there could definitely get your mind off that dream you’ve been having.”
Shaking his head, Dom’s grip tightened on the banister. “No.”
“Come on, just think about it.”
“I said no,” the last word ended in a growl.
His brother gave a defeated sigh. “Fine, I’ll have them out in the morning.”
Dom pivoted, drowning in frustration as he pushed past Aidyn. The depressing gray walls around him reminded him of his old prison cell. Cold and dark just like it. The room was nearly barren, with a wooden table in the corner, two stands at his bedside, a dresser with a few clothes, and a bed dressed in gray sheets that he rarely slept in.
“What’s this?” his brother asked.
Dom turned halfway. Aidyn pointed to the black book that sat on his bureau in the corner.
Aw, shit. He needed to learn to put things up before people decided to barge into his room.
“None of your damn business.”
“Okay, okay, calm down. No reason to get snippy with me.” Aidyn held his hands up as if surrendering.
After shoving his brother out of his room, Dom grabbed the human’s book off the table and paced in front of his bed as he flipped through its pages. He turned another page and five folded pieces of sketch paper floated to the floor. He saved the sixth one from falling and unraveled it. The crease between his brows pinched together as he squinted at the pair of eyes sketched on the vanilla paper. The cobalt blue orbs stared back at him, familiar, forgotten, lost all the same. A muscle ticked in his jaw, and he slung the book at the wall, the pages and pictures raining across the floor.
The next morning, Dom pounded his fist against the closed oak door. He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose as a sick feeling bubbled in his stomach. For the tenth time, he asked himself the same question.
What the hell am I doing?
The door creaked open and Jason poked his head out, his eyes widening as they settled on him. “We’re leaving in an hour, I promise.”
Dom’s face scrunched. “You can stay.” The words tasted sour.
“Don’t make me repeat myself.”
The faery’s face lit up with a big grin, and Dom had the urge to knock it clean off.
“Wipe that smile off your face, boy.” Jason turned to stone as Dom took a step closer to him. “Understand if they mess with my shit—I throw them out. They eat the food in my kitchen that’s meant for me—I throw them out. They get in my way, and I throw them out,” Dom grounded out. “Got it?”
And he meant it. This wasn’t the pound. He wasn’t taking in strays, feeding them, and taking them out to piss because some witch wanted to cut open a heart. His home didn’t even count as a sanctuary.
Jason gulped and nodded. “Yeah.” Good.
“And no, I’m not protecting her. You can find somebody else to do that job. You’re fucking lucky I’m letting those humans breathe in my presence.” Dom stepped back. “They are your problem. Are we clear?”
He only let them stay so he had time to find a way to rid himself of the dreams. If she disappeared again, chances were he’d be stuck with them for life. And to be honest, he’d rather be stuck with her and her sister for a few months than keep reliving the same dream over and over.
The faery stared at him, mouth opening and shutting like a fish.
“Are we clear?” he asked again.
Jason blinked. “Uh, yeah, yeah, of course.”
Leaving a stunned Jason in the hall, Dom climbed up the stairs and made his way back to his room. Right before he reached his door, Jade stepped into the hall. Her black band t-shirt clung loosely to her shape and her jean shorts cut off at mid-thigh. Out of habit, his gaze ran down the length of those smooth tan legs.
A thought flashed in his mind. Her. Him. Licking those thighs. His Adam’s apple bobbed and his mouth watered. The smell of her overwhelmed him once again, and he had to grit his teeth to control himself from the wolfish urges.
For one second, she met his eyes and cringed, quickly looking away. And then he realized why—he’d been glaring the fuck out of her. But that was his normal approach to humans, and he wasn’t planning on not glaring at her just because she smelled good.
“He’s letting you stay?” Aidyn asked again as he pulled a dark blue shirt over his head.
Jason took another bite of his bagel smothered in cream cheese. “Yeah, whatever you said must’ve changed his mind.”
Jade washed her fork and plate at the sink, flicking a glance at the two men every few seconds. Was she eavesdropping? No. Was she being a good listener? Yes.
“Pff, he told me ‘no,’ and that was that.” Aidyn stood at the island, leaning on the stainless-steel counter to grab one of the freshly baked croissants.
“Maybe he’s had a change of heart.” Jason licked his fingers and handed his dirty plate to Jade.
“Now, now, Jason, let’s not delude ourselves. Dom doesn’t have a heart.” Tapping his finger against his mouth, Aidyn sighed. “He has a reason. He doesn’t do things that don’t benefit him.”
“And how do we benefit him?”
“Well, you don’t benefit anything, but,” Aidyn nodded toward Jade as he pushed off the counter, “they’re women. There’s a lot of benefits when it comes to women, human or not.”
“He better think again. He’s not touching either of them.”
“Says the guy he beat the shit out of last night.” Aidyn smirked and headed for the backdoor with Jason following behind him like a lost puppy.
As they left, Jade rested her back against the sink counter and looked around. What the hell did these guys do for a living? With the giant kitchen made up of stainless steel and dark granite, somebody would think they were CEO’s of a large cooperation. But since the owner seemed to hate everyone, she remained completely stumped at how they managed to live this good.
She glanced at the fridge. Did they have any snacks? She hated to raid their goodies, but Erica and Jason had emptied her room of every edible content—Cheetos and all. Opening the refrigerator, she studied each shelf. Beer. More Beer. Bacon. Oreos? Typical guy food.
The fridge door shut, nearly taking her face with it. Her eyes followed the large hand gripping the handle and trailed up a tattooed arm. Dom stood beside her, shirtless and in a pair of black boxers. After she was done admiring the view, she noted his dark eyes were narrowed into slits.
She put up her hands in surrender and, not wanting to squeeze by him, went the long way around the island counter so that he could have the fridge all to his greedy self.
His eyes didn’t move from her as she left the kitchen. With a sigh, she walked through the dining room and past the lounge.
I damn sure didn’t sign up for this, Jade thought as she trudged up the stairs.
When she got to her room, she went inside and dropped on the bed with a huff. She covered her hands with her face.
The door to the room flew open so suddenly it made her bolt upright from the bed. Jade’s hand flew to her chest, and she blew out an annoyed breath when she saw that it was just Erica.
“Do we have a problem?” Jade asked with an attitude.
Erica grinned big as she closed the door while twirling a yellow flower in her hand. “Guess who gave me this?”
“I’m assuming the cokehead did?”
“I think I’m in love!” Erica threw herself on the bed beside Jade and stuck the yellow flower to her nose, her vibrant red hair falling over her shoulder. “It smells like love.”
“You just met him last night.”
Her sister’s smile grew. “Well, unlike some people, I believe in love at first sight.”
Jade cut her eyes. “You’d have better luck kissing a toad and hoping it’d turn into a prince.”
“We’re gonna watch a movie later tonight.” Erica closed her eyes, as if she pictured the two of them together. “Maybe you and Zeke should join us.”
Sometimes, Jade wondered where her sister’s mind disappeared to when men were involved.
“Negative, ghost rider. Take your Cinderella story elsewhere.”
“I don’t know why I talk to you most of the time. You’re such a Debbie-downer.” Her sister prodded at the pedals with a frown.
“Because I’m the only one that listens to you.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s right.” She pushed her hair behind her ear. “We’re gonna be spending the next few months here. We might as well get to know them.”
Jade turned on her side. “Don’t you ever get sick of getting to know people? Don’t you ever just wanna be left alone?”
“No, not really. I like people.”
Her mouth thinned at her sister’s response.
“Besides, you need a boyfriend or something. You’re gonna be turning twenty-four this year. You need to live life to the fullest before you die.”
“Hey, I’m just being brutally honest. You need a good fucking from someone who knows how to do it.” Erica winked and waggled her eyebrows.
“That man is too drunk to do anything right.”
“I was referring to the one across the hall. In there all alone. I bet he’s got a big one, and he looks like he knows how to use it.” Her teeth pulled at her bottom lip.
“Go for it.” He’d be a step up from the cokehead.
“You don’t want him?”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s been glaring the hell out of me.”
“He wouldn’t if you knocked on his door with no clothes on.”
“You obviously have not seen the death stare he’s given me.”
“You didn’t see the way he looked at you earlier when you passed him outside. His eyes were on your ass.” She giggled and threw the flower at Jade. “I saw him lick his lips.”
“Your lying game is impeccable.”
“I’m being honest. Swear on mom’s grave,” she said, putting a hand over her heart. “Go over there naked. He’ll pull you in and fuck you harder than a whore on a Sunday morning.” Erica’s expressions were getting out of hand.
Jade’s brow knotted. “No thanks.”
Her sister sighed with frustration and threw herself down on the mattress. “Jesus, have you ever lived?”