“Maybe because she has a guest,” someone said from her front porch, making her jump.
Raiden’s head came up, and he growled low in his throat, the gold Other flashing in his eyes and catching the street lights. “Who the f-k are you?” He demanded. He did not release Lia, but she eased away, embarrassed and flustered to be caught wrapped around him so promiscuously.
“I am Cael,” the man who leaned against the top rail of the balustrade that edged the porch was golden blonde, and clean-cut good looking - the polar opposite to the man who held her. She recognized him, immediately, from the dance academy, even in the dark of night and shadows of the porch, he seemed to glow. “Cecelia Alexis? I saw your advert at the dance academy, for a room to rent?” He said to her with a crooked smile full of charm.
A man, she thought, used to winning people over with his looks, and entirely confident in the power of them.
“Oh,” she was astonished that he had chosen to pursue her advertisement so late on a Friday night. How long had he been waiting on her porch? It was decidedly odd, she decided, torn between her need for the room to be rented, and her uneasiness in his sudden reappearance. “It is very late.”
“Early, actually,” Cael smiled brightly. “Technically. My flight got in today – I did not exactly have a lot of planning time in order to secure lodging. It was either come here and hope you would take mercy on me by providing me with shelter, or sleep in the academy’s halls.”
“I am sorry,” Lia said awkwardly to Raiden. She wanted, very much, to ask him inside, but at the same time was frightened by her sudden recklessness after a lifetime of being sensible in her pursuit of dance. She wasn’t even on contraceptives, she told herself sternly. She was hardly prepared to start bringing virtual strangers into her bed. It was good luck that Cael was there, before she did something silly.
Raiden stroked a lock of her hair behind her ear, his eyes gentle. “It doesn’t matter. Next time,” he said softly with easy acceptance. “Do you know this guy? Will you be safe with him?” He added very quietly, the magic of an alpha behind the tone, ensuring that he was not overheard by the blonde man on the porch.
“I am sure it will be fine,” she looked over her shoulder at Cael dubiously. The blond man grinned widely as he watched from the porch. There was almost a competitive one-up-man-ship triumph to Cael’s grin – that he would be going inside, whilst Raiden would be staying out.
The grin almost changed her mind, almost had her inviting the werewolf in, but she wasn’t ready, she decided, for what that would mean.
“Where’s your phone?” Raiden asked, drawing her eyes back to him. She pulled it out of her bag. He opened contacts and entered his name and number in. “Call me if there is any trouble,” he told her meeting her eyes. “I can be here in less than five minutes if you need me. Or,” he added. “Just call me because you want to.”
“Thank you, I am sure it will be okay,” she was touched by the offer, and her body still craved his against it. “He is from my dance school.”
“Okay then,” he leaned forward and kissed her, lingering, and she felt the heat rise between them again. It was very tempting, very, very, tempting to invite him in, she thought again her body rebelling against her mind, and when he drew back, she saw from his eyes that he knew it.
He smiled. “Until next time, Lia.” As she stepped away, he held her hand until the last second, their fingertips grazing still as she made her way up the path. He watched from the bike as she unlocked the front door, starting it with a roar and putting on his helmet only once she was in her front hall, with Cael following behind with his bag.
“Your boyfriend?” Cael asked looking around the hallway with interest, his mind only half on the question.
She looked up at him. He had the right physique for a dancer, tall, his shoulders broad and strong. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she knew his face from somewhere – maybe she had seen him dance, or on the pamphlets of the school. The not knowing was like an itch she could not quite reach in order to scratch.
She glanced over her shoulder to where the bike retreated down the road. “Yes, I think.” It gave her a thrill to think of. Was she really thinking of taking a werewolf as her lover? Yes. Yes. Yes. Why not? Just, not in such a hurry, she told herself firmly. Hopping straight into bed might work for Paris, but it simply wasn’t in her nature to do so.
But she’d make an appointment at her GP and start some form of contraception. Just in case the relationship went that way, and she suspected, very much, that it would. There was something between them, something very physical, and, for the first time, she thought it might be worth the complications to her life to explore that.
“Doesn’t seem your type,” Cael replied disdainfully, his attention still more on the decore then her romance. He stooped to peer into the display case filled with china dolls. “Creepy.”
She shot him a look from under her lashes. “I seem to have a type?”
He shrugged a shoulder as he straightened. “I don’t know,” he said with an easy smile. “You seem like the type to have someone… more civilized.”
“Civilized?” She repeated, bewildered as she led down the hall.
As Paris had chosen the upstairs room, he would be across the hall from her. She opened the door and turned on the light. It was a plain room, basically furnished with what she and Paris had not wanted. With the dated decore, it was not a pretty space. “Has its own bathroom,” she pointed out as compensation for the ugliness of the room.
He looked around. “It’s great.” His tone was droll. He dropped the bag he held onto the bed.
“Great,” she smiled tightly staying in the doorway as he poked around the room and it’s tiny en-suite. “First month upfront, and we split utilities.”
She suddenly, bitterly regretted letting Raiden go. It was the smart thing to do, she told herself again, but her body desperately wanted him in her bed, and she wanted to taste him again, feel the warmth of his big body against hers, feel the caress of his breath on her skin, and the touch of his hands... F-k, Cecelia, she shook her head at her own thoughts. She would have to warm up to a vibrator instead, she scolded herself, and hope that grandmother’s ghost did not stroll into the room at the wrong time.
Cael was watching her as if he knew exactly where her thoughts had gone.
“So, kitchen,” she said hastily, the bed behind him suddenly threatening. She took him down to the rear of the house to the kitchen and dining area and showed him the refrigerator. “Paris and I split the grocery bill, but you don’t have to if you want to buy your own – just label it as yours. If you want into the group cooked meals though you will contribute. Alright?” She asked him, putting a hand onto the jar she and Paris used for groceries.
“Alright,” he said softly.
She looked up and met his bluer than blue eyes. He had moved closer her, so that he leaned over her, his pupils dilated. He was, she thought, very tall and just so handsome. And so familiar, as if she had seen the way that the light caught in the gold of his hair as he leaned down over her before, as if she had seen his face cast into shadow in just this way.
“How old are you, now, Cecelia?” He murmured, his voice dark and dreamy.
Her eyelids were heavy over her eyes, and she inclined towards him. His breath against her skin was like a caress. “Mhm? Nineteen.”
“That would explain it,” he said, his lips only a hair from her cheek. His hands closed on her hips and drew her against him, until she could feel the rise and fall of his stomach muscles as he breathed, and the throb of his erection against her. She could smell the slightly metallic residue of magic and wondered vaguely at its origin.
“Explain what?” She felt she spoke from a dream, her body heavy, weighted, and hot with desire. She wanted nothing so much as for him to lay her down upon the floor, or any surface, and strip her to the skin. She wanted to arc beneath him as he drove his flesh into her…
“You’re on heat,” he breathed into her ear. “Ripe for mating.” She moaned, and his hands explored her curves, his breath heavy against her ear, leaving her in no doubt that as needy as she was, he shared the feeling. “The Lycan was a fool to leave.”
She felt the cold tiles against her back and knew that he had lowered her to ground. His golden hair fell over them both, softening the harsh light from the light bulb. “But you’re mine, aren’t you, Cecelia?” He said against her lips.
The roar of motorbikes raised his head and broke into the dream-like quality that held her in thrall. She gasped in a breath, and rolled away from him, regaining her feet in the doorway. Their eyes met, and he rose to standing slowly, with a lascivious smile.
“You…” She started to accuse him of using magic to seduce her, and the words caught in her throat. She had never spoken to anyone about her magic, or her knowledge of it, and yet, with this man, she had come so close.
“Can’t blame a man for trying?” He suggested.
“Oh my god,” she was appalled, and withdrew, finding her way down the hallway to her room. She pressed her back against the door. On heat? “What does that mean?”
Obviously, she understood what that meant, but she was not a dog… Was she? Cael did not look Other, but the effect he had on her, and his comments… He was something, of that, she was sure. Was she on heat, like he said? What did that mean? And how long did it last for?
She locked her door and went into the walk-in-robe, striking the hidden catch that opened the wall into a secret staircase, shivering as the cooler air struck her. She went into this room as infrequently as she could, and it was musty as a result.
She wound her way up into the turret, the roughly finished stone bricks pressing in on her, and the wooden steps creaking, their treads worn treacherously smooth by generations of feet. In the turret room, the walls lined with bookcases heavy with arcane objects and ancient texts, she lit the candle over the desk pressed beneath a stain glass window and opened the grimoire.
She held her hand over it and tried to calm her heart and remember the lessons her grandmother had fought so hard to teach her. She had never been interested in this side of her heritage, preferring dance to magic.
“Heat,” she commanded, and watched the pages lift and flicker. The first spell it landed on was one for warmth. “Next,” she said impatiently. Perhaps she was doing it wrong?
A spell for starting fires.
“Heat,” she repeated, trying to think about the search engines of the internet. “Mage heat.”
There was a pause.
“It is not a spell,” her grandmother’s ghost observed. “It is an inherited biological response. The book cannot answer your question.”
“What the f-k is it?” Lia whirled to face her. “Why have you never mentioned it to me?
“Language Lia.” Her grandmother arched a transparent eyebrow. “What does it sound like? You have reached an age where it is appropriate to find a mate and create the next generation. As to why I have never mentioned, I’m quite certain I did, you just were never prepared to listen.”
“Right,” Lia said sourly. “And what constitutes an appropriate mate, exactly, grandmother? A human, a werewolf, a vampire, a… whatever?”
The book flickered into life, flashing pages from werewolf to vampire, to angel, to devil, to gargoyle, as if presenting her with an array of choices, a catalogue of potential sexual partners.
“That’s a good question,” her grandmother’s ghost smiled indulgently. “Something our women have been asking for generations, as we are compatible with all and sundry. You can choose, of course, sweet Cecilia, my little blind one. You can choose who you take as mate, and accordingly, what your future holds.”
What your future holds, Lia repeated as she brushed her teeth in the en suite. Five years before, she had aspired to dance full time professionally. She was in her final year in the academy and seemed to be relegated to the backdrop, whilst lesser dancers got the lead roles. Family mattered in an industry which relied on rich investors to survive, and she simply did not have the right family connections.
Background dancers did not get offers to join companies.
Paris was right, they needed to create their own work. Entertainment dancers was almost a dirty word in the academy, but if being an entertainment dancer meant that she could continue to dance and make money, then she would do it. So, if wearing a French Maid’s outfit was the way onto the stage, then she would lift trays Friday and Saturday nights.
The pay wasn’t bad, she added as she put the tips into the little safe hidden in her walk-in-robe.
As for taking a mate… She sighed as she folded back the bed covers.
Dancing had filled all the spaces boys might have taken. There was always a rehearsal or a class that meant she could not go out, and she had always been watching her weight, so drinking or going out for dinner simply held no appeal.
She had dated a couple of male dancers since joining the academy, kissed a couple of them, but romantic disputes caused so many issues for her friends that she had decided it was best to avoid them. She had dreams, she had told herself, and there was nothing a man could offer her that her vibrator couldn’t achieve.
The was before she had encountered Raiden, however, and in one night, she had almost brought the werewolf into her house, her room, her bed. She’d never done that before. With anyone. But what there was between them was powerful… Or was it the heat and not the man? Did all witches and warlocks go on heat? Did the Others go on heat? Werewolves, she could understand, because of their nature…
Raiden would be able to smell she was on heat, she realized. Was that why he was interested? But, no, that just didn’t feel right either.
And Cael… Cael was a problem. She was not entirely sure that she wanted him living in the house after he had almost taken advantage of her. Using magic to do so was just… playing dirty, she added. How many humans had he used his magic on in order to seduce what he wanted from them? And he had asked if Raiden was her boyfriend, and she had told him yes. He’d had no place seducing her knowing that.
She had not exactly resisted, though, she scolded herself.
He had to be a warlock. It made sense why he did not have the Other in his eyes, and how he had used magic to seduce her. Witches and warlocks were not Other, exactly. What they were was a little vague, but they were not the same, and they were very difficult to distinguish from humans, unless they did something specific to give themselves away, like use magic, as Cael had done.
She would speak to Cael in the morning when she got his month’s rent from him. She would let him stay, she decided, but she would make clear that it was strictly hands off. He also might be able to tell her more about the heat. Before she had to go to work, at a club full of vampires and werewolves.