“I haven’t seen you here before,” the man to her right did not have to raise his voice above the music.
Alpha, she identified immediately. Something in the magic of the wolves ensured that he was always heard and obeyed by the person he intended to hear him, whether they were wolf or human, it did not matter, as long as they were less dominant than he.
He was gorgeous in a very masculine way, with his shiny, brunette curls overgrown and tumbling into his golden-brown eyes, and the stubble of several days’ growth combined with the tattoos that curled up his neck gave him a dangerous edge. He filled his t-shirt exceptionally well, the fabric stretched over broad shoulders and fabulous biceps. His long, muscled legs were well displayed in the well-worn jeans he wore, and his boots were of an expensive make, but scarred with wear. Whatever he did for a living, it was physical work.
She would bet he made an impressive wolf. He made an impressive man.
The book handed down by the women in her family stated very politely that werewolves had a strong animal magnetism. Reading it and experiencing it, however, were very different things, she thought ruefully as she felt her pulse pick up, and her skin heat.
His lips were perfectly balanced, the line and swell of them sensual, and she had a sudden urge to taste them. Instinct told her he would kiss well, and the image of his mouth on hers and her fingers in his hair had her biting her lip against a flush of lust.
Werewolves could also detect a body’s chemical and physical response to stimuli she remembered and felt a flush crawl up her neck. His aftershave, with notes of citrus and lavender, had her stomach curling with desire and that he would be able to smell it on her was just plain embarrassing.
Get a hold of yourself Lia.
“Yes, you’re my first. Table, I mean,” she babbled, and tried to withdraw hoping that the layers of aftershave, alcohol, and the sweat of the dancer on stage would disguise her reaction to him.
“What is your name?” His voice held her. She was sure that the drag of her breath was audible to his wolf-keen ears above the music of the show on stage, the sound somewhere between fear and want. She was also sure that her underwear was soaked.
“Lia.” She hoped he would let her go, or she would be in trouble before she even managed to serve another table, or, even worse, she might succumb to the demands of her body and do something completely out of character for her, like crawl onto his lap.
“I am Raiden,” he told her, and then selected a beer and leaned back in his chair.
“Nice to meet you.” She hurried back to the bar with her tray, the flight of prey from a predator, she thought, her heart pounding. Animal magnetism was an understatement. The man was like her own personal walking fantasy made flesh and blood. She would be running the battery of her vibrator flat thinking of him when she went home, she thought trying to inject some humor into the exchange.
“He is so hot,” Paris said to her as she passed with a full tray, saying out loud what Lia was thinking. “Raiden, that is. He is a regular. One of Brock’s crowd.”
Lia did not have the opportunity to reply. There was another tray waiting at the bar. She picked it up. Table one. Her path took her past table four, and Raiden, who nursed his beer and watched her as she walked towards him, his expression thoughtful.
Do not look at the werewolf, Lia, she told herself sternly. Despite her self-talk, she met his eyes as she passed and half expected him to stop her again from the way that he was watching her, but he let her pass without interruption. She approached the VIP booth against the back wall scolding herself mentally.
The men within the booth stopped speaking as she approached with the tray. Vampires, she thought with alarm and embarrassment, because their sense of smell was just as strong as a werewolves’ and she knew she would simply reek of desire courtesy of the werewolf whose eyes she could still feel against her back.
What sort of club was this, that it had werewolves as regulars and vampires in the VIP section? She avoided looking at them, knowing that a blush was creeping up her cheeks as she placed the tray onto the table surface and offloaded the carafe of red wine and glasses, collecting up the dirty glasses on the table.
She looked up involuntarily. The man that had spoken was another spectacular example of masculinity.
He would not have looked out of place smouldering on a billboard advertising aftershave, his grey eyes striking against the dark hair that he had pulled back into a ponytail bound by a leather strap low on his neck, and his cheekbones high and sharp.
He wore an immaculate and expensive suit in charcoal, and a gold signet ring on his right ring finger. The ring told her that he had been born a vampire, from one of the older lines and it fit, she thought, there was something aristocratic in his bone structure and the way he held himself, the sort of refinement bred into a person over generations of privilege.
“Yes, just starting tonight,” she dropped her eyes realizing she was staring for more than a normal human would do. His well-crafted and tasteful glamour presented him as a good looking, but not extraordinary man.
“What is your name?”
Was every table going to require a personal introduction? “Lia.”
“I am Elior, the owner,” the man told her.
“Oh,” she glanced up at him again. “Hello. Paris said you needed…”
“Yes,” he narrowed his eyes as he evaluated her much as if he were purchasing her, which, she supposed, he was in a way. “I am grateful you were able to step in on such short notice, Lia. Are you finding your way around?”
“Yes, thank you.”
It was a dismissal, and she stepped away with her tray, meeting Paris’ eyes as they crossed paths again. Paris raised her eyebrows. Lia shrugged as she retrieved the next tray. She delivered it to the table and made her way back through the room, aware that she was watched both by Raiden and Elior as she did so.
Being the subject of such scrutiny made her nervous. Elior, she thought, watched to evaluate her potential as an employee. Raiden, on the other hand, probably watched her as a result of her betraying physical reaction. She wondered what the werewolf thought of it, or whether women frequently melted around him, and it was nothing out of the ordinary for his day.
“Hey,” a man grabbed her wrist as she passed with her next tray. She checked the number on his table.
“Oh, sorry sir,” she told him pulling back against his grip instinctually reacting to the expression on his face. “This is for table ten, not your table.”
“I know,” his grin was the disagreeable vulpine smirk of a man used to taking advantage of those weaker than himself. “Are you a dancer?”
“A dancer?” She repeated, glancing to the stage where a pole dancer currently proved her upper body strength in a seemingly impossible pose.
She looked back at the man. He was dressed in a suit. Had he recognized her from school? There were many people of his kind that sponsored her dance academy and held season tickets and she had a moment of fear that he had identified her from there.
“No.” She decided that denial was the best response.
“Are you sure? You look like a dancer,” he tried to tuck a twenty-dollar bill into the top of her stocking as he tugged her towards him, his hand quickly moving from stocking to higher. His friends burst into laughter when she tried to squirm away from his groping hand, protesting against his groping.
“No. I am not. Let go,” she struggled not the spill the drinks on the tray, escape his grip, and avoid his roving other hand at the same time.
“Release her,” Raiden’s hand clamped on the man’s wrist, hard, jerking his hand away from her thigh and lifting the man out his seat as if he weighed nothing. The twenty-dollar bill drifted to the floor. “You do not touch the girls.” He growled the words out, the flash of the Other in his eyes as he lifted the man to eye-level, the alpha ringing in his tone so that the man could not look away.
“Hey,” the suit shrunk under his gaze. He was mankind and did not know the truth of what he faced, but he knew enough to recognize an alpha and someone who was not intimidated by his suit. “You are hurting me.”
His friends were suddenly not so amused.
“Do not touch,” Raiden growled again and dropped the man back into his seat. He leaned over, scooping up the twenty, and placed it on Lia’s tray. “Yours,” he said to her.
“Thanks,” she was breathless from the suit’s attack, and Raiden’s display of strength, the werewolf standing so close to her that she imagined that she could feel the heat of his body on her skin. She moved on to table ten, delivering the drinks, and almost bumped into Elior when she turned.
“You are unharmed?” He asked coolly, his grey eyes holding hers. The Other flashed red in the depths of his pupils.
In almost nineteen years, she had never had cause to be this close to either werewolves or vampires, and here, in one night, she had somehow drawn the attention of both. Her grandmother would have told her to leave, right away, and not to come back. But her grandmother had also hidden in her house with almost paranoid agoraphobia for the majority of her adult life.
Lia felt a flutter of fear that the vampire intended to fire her for the disruption to the club. She needed the work. She needed to supplement her trust fund with an income. Unlike her grandmother she had neither the means, nor the inclination, to stay inside her house like a prisoner.
“Yes. Fine, thank you.”
“They will be escorted out,” he nodded to someone over her shoulder, and she saw another Vampire lean over the table of men and say something quietly. The men rose with shame-faced meekness and filed out, leaving a generous tip on the table. “And will not be permitted entry again. We do not tolerate that sort of behavior.”
He smelled wonderful, of rosewood and patchouli. For the second time that night, she felt her body betray her. What was wrong with me? She scolded herself. Nineteen years and no interest in men, and in one night, she was getting turned on by werewolves and vampires, the latter of which was her boss.
“Oh,” she was flustered by her reaction to him. “Well… That is good. Thank you.”
He turned back to the booth, and she clutched her tray to her chest as she made her way back to the bar. Her heart was a frantic rhythm in her chest, and she knew that the werewolves and vampires would be able to hear it, as well as smell the fear and desire on her. She also knew that the betraying body signals were appealing to both groups of others, stimulating their predator response.
She was not surprised to find the entire table of werewolves watching her, the Other flashing golden in multiple eyes. Raiden’s expression was tense – he knew what Elior was, Lia thought, and was alert in response. Was the werewolf protective of her? Because Paris was dating Brock, perhaps? Or because… Lia hardly dared to finish the thought. Her grandmother would scold her for where her thoughts had turned. It would be unwise to get involved in the Other world.
“Are you alright?” Paris murmured as she joined her at the bar.
“Yes, a little…” She held her hand out and showed that she shook. “I will be alright,” she sighed it out. Predators all around, Lia, she told herself, human and Other both.
“Elior likes you.”
“Oh, good.” She was not sure if that was a good thing. She liked Elior too, she thought wryly, at least, how he looked and smelt - a little too much. What did the book say about Vampires, again? Nothing about animal magnetism. Hypnotic appeal rang a bell and blood addiction. She would have to look it up when she got home…
“And Raiden has not taken his eyes off you all evening,” she added. “He is looking at you right now.”
She knew that. She could feel his eyes like the touch of a lover. “I had better keep moving.” There was no clock in the room, and she had left her mobile in her bag. “How long do we have?” She asked as she collected another tray.
Being in a closed space with two groups of Other was distorting her sense of reality, she thought. And playing on her hormones.
“Feet hurting?” Paris smiled with sympathy. “Half-way through.”
Only half-way, Lia dug deep for her strength of will. She began to get a rhythm as the time passed however, and her confidence improved, until she landed a tray for table four again. She met Raiden’s eyes as she made her way over with their order.
“Brock is taking Paris out for a ride after your shift finishes,” Raiden told her, his voice toned low, as she slid the beers onto the table. His voice made her knees want to give way and brought to mind decadent images of skin against skin. “I will give you a lift home.” It was not an offer - it was an order.
“Oh,” she struggled against the alpha command. “That is not necessary.”
“It would be unsafe for you to go home alone,” he replied. “I will take you home.”
“Okay,” she sighed it. He had a point – traveling home at that time of the morning by public transport wasn’t the safest thing to do. But neither was accepting lifts from strangers. “Thank you,” she added for the sake of politeness.
“Hey,” Paris caught her at the bar. Her makeup was beginning to sink into her skin, the eyeliner around her eyes fuzzing slightly into the eyeshadow, and her lips stained in the creases with lipstick rather than wearing any. “I am catching a lift home with Brock. Raiden says he will take you.”
“Paris,” Lia protested. That would be very dangerous, she thought, considering her reaction to the werewolf. Cars and sex had been connected since the first teenagers decided to get inventive in the back seat. If the werewolf used his alpha command on her, she would not be able to resist. Hell, if the man so much as looked at her suggestively, she suspected she’d make like Paris and drop her panties. “I do not know them. It is not exactly safe to get into a car with strangers.”
“That is fine,” Paris laughed. “As it will be a motorbike.”
“Paris!” Could you have sex on a motorbike, Lia wondered immediately, and then felt like burying her face into her hands. What was her obsession with sex all of a sudden?
The rest of the shift seemed to fly by, perhaps because Lia was now torn between dread and anticipation of the end of it.
The two werewolves lingered at the bar talking with Elior in lowered voices long after the club closed and the other guests were shown out, and Paris and Lia wiped down the tables and stacked the chairs on top of them aware that all three men watched them discretely.
Lia met Raiden’s eyes as she and Paris slipped through the door into the dark hallway. He smiled in a reassuring way, his eyes warm and friendly. Trust me, his smile seemed to say, I’ll look after you.
Yes, Lia wanted to reply, but they probably had different ideas of what looking after her meant. Her mind slid into the decadent gleam of bronzed skin and muscle moving in sensual ways, and she tried to pull herself together as she followed Paris down the hall.
In the change room, Paris split their tips as Lia steamed their uniforms. Paris was excited about her date with Brock and chattered brightly as she divided the money and fixed her makeup.
“Are you sure?” Lia hesitated as they turned off the lights in the change room and made their way down the dark hallway to the alleyway door.
“Trust me, Lia. I’ve worked here for three months now. They’re good guys. It’s safer than dating a guy off an app.”
“I don’t date guys off apps,” Lia muttered as they stepped out into the cold.
Two motorbikes blew steam out into the darkness, waiting for them. There was something savage and dangerous about these growling mechanical beasts patiently biding their time until the two women mounted them. Something primal and basic, and utterly in character for werewolves.
“That’s because you just don’t date. Relax, have fun for once,” Paris’ said under her breath, before smiling and running up to Brock. She put on the helmet he offered her and swung onto the motorbike behind him without hesitation.
Lia approached Raiden cautiously. “I’ve never been on a motorbike before,” she admitted releasing her hair from its ponytail and sliding the tie around her wrist, feeling as if this lift home had far more significance than the werewolf helping his friend to spend some time with his girl by making sure her friend got home safely.
“Here,” he grinned, flashing strong white teeth, and slid the helmet over her head before doing up the strap. He was being very careful, she thought and wondered if she looked as if she would bolt at the slightest provocation. “You look cute,” he told her, holding the helmet between his palms.
“Sure, I do,” she said dubiously, smiling despite herself. “How do I get on?”
He swung a long leg over the bike easily. “Footrest,” he showed her, “and over just like I did.”
“You’re not wearing heels and a skirt,” she laughed, half in protest.
“No,” he agreed with a grin. “C’mon, you’re a ballerina, right? This is nothing compared to one of those high kicks.”
She put the toe of her shoe onto the footrest and swung herself into the seat behind him.
“Good,” he said with approval. “Hands around my waist.”
She had no choice, she realized, but to move closer to him and wrap her arms around his waist. God, she thought as she gingerly did so, the situation was designed to spike her pulse and drive her body to the edge of its tolerances. The leather of his jacket combined with the smoked scent of lavender and citrus was just like the man himself, an intoxicating mix of safe and dangerous.
She felt his body shake with laughter.
“Don’t be so polite,” he took her wrists and brought her tighter against his back until her palms were against his stomach. The jacket was open, and there was only the thin fabric of his top between her hands and the muscles she could feel tense with his chuckle. “You don’t want to fall off.”
He did something to the bike, and it began to roll down the alleyway at a sedate pace, the bike bumping beneath her as it rolled over the pavement and onto the road. She tightened her grip reflexively and felt him laugh again.
The bike picked up speed, weaving between the cars, and she clung on, before laughing as they burst free of the traffic.
It must be a little like flying, she thought, feeling the wind against her as she hurtled forward at speeds a human body had no way of achieving on its own. She leaned against Raiden’s back and laughed as they raced through the darkness.
He made his way unerringly into the suburbs, slowing as they approached her street until he stopped in the driveway. She was almost certain that he had been the biker who had seemed to stare back at her through her window and flushed remember how he had features in her fantasies before she had even seen his face or known his name.
She slid from the bike and struggled with the release of the helmet. He took his helmet off easily, hanging it off the backrest of the bike, and swung off the bike.
“Here,” he said, laughing. His brunette curls were a mess from the helmet. He untied the helmet from beneath her chin and lifted the helmet from her.
She ran her fingers through her hair. He put the helmet onto the rear seat and reached out, smoothing his hands over her hair, still laughing at her.
“There. Beautiful,” he murmured as the expression in his eyes changed from laughter to desire, and the air was stolen from her lungs as he pulled her against him.
His body was big, hot, and hard, and the scent of citrus and lavender clung, as he kissed her, his tongue sweeping into her mouth, the lingering flavor of beer giving way to something that was just him and made her pulse race wildly. He tasted right, she thought, as if she had spent her life waiting for that subtle, undefinable flavor.
She felt her knees give, and he seemed to take that as invitation to draw her closer, tugging her hips against his, so that she could feel his hard on pushing through his jeans. Her pulse raced, and she moaned, her body knowing very well what it wanted and pressing back against his, so that they both groaned. His lips caressed their way to her ear.
“Invite me in,” he breathed, his voice hoarse with desire. There was no alpha command in it. He was not coercing her into it. But he did not need to. She wanted to, very much. Her body craved his skin against it, and her heart pounded hard.
“I can’t,” she whispered reluctantly fighting against herself.
“Why not?” He was working his way down her neck and her head dropped back heavily on her neck, exposing the column of her throat to him. Oh, god, she thought, arching into him, as if lifting her breasts in invitation. “You want me,” he said it with absolute certainty, as he had every right to, she admitted. His keen sense of smell would be telling him exactly how much she wanted him, and she wanted him oh so very much.
“Maybe because she has a guest,” someone said from her front porch, making her jump.