Mary Ann wouldn’t have traveled so far from the library, even to lose herself in the crowd. One, she couldn’t afford it, and two, information was her crack, and she’d want to be close to the source, just in case a new idea struck her and she needed a snort. So. Cheap motel, here I come. Riley trotted from the building, always sniffing, until he found the correct trail. There! Anticipation flooded him, and he picked up speed.
First thing he’d do when he found her was shake her. Second thing, kiss her. Third, shake her again. Fourth, kiss her again.
She’d probably taken a hundred years off his life. And he wasn’t grateful! Shifters didn’t live forever, but they did have a long, long life, and he wanted every moment of his.
His parents had died before their time, with too many regrets. He didn’t want that for himself. ’Course, they’d died in a fairy raid and not because of one little human girl who drove them crazy.
Fairies, man. They had such a God complex, always slaughtering other supernatural races in the name of protecting humans, when the truth was, they just wanted to be the most powerful beings on the block.
Kinda like Vlad, who had raised Riley. Whom Riley had always served. Until Aden had taken the crown. Then Riley’s loyalty had switched, and even when he’d discovered Vlad still lived, Riley hadn’t betrayed Aden. The bond had already formed.
This new Aden, though… There was something different about him, something Riley didn’t like. What, he wasn’t sure. Still, he wouldn’t betray his new king. Once he had Mary Ann safely tucked away and guarded, he would help Aden rediscover his old personality. Some how.
The scent of magic increased, and Riley slowed. His gaze sharpened, darting past colors, slicing past shadows. Across the street, he spotted two telling glows. One a metallic gold, the other a brownish gold. Magic.
His ears twitched as he listened to all the conversations around him—and even those miles away, and inside buildings—discarding idle chatter, focusing, focusing…
“—have to strike now, while she’s without protection.”
He knew the voice. Marie. A witch. The leader of the coven that had come to Crossroads.
“I know. But her wards are a problem.” He knew that voice, as well. Jennifer. Also witch. The student. “We’ll have to plan our strike precisely. We can’t allow those wards to save her.”
Mary Ann was currently protected against death by physical injury and mind control. To bypass those, the witches would have to…what? Cause mental injury through some kind of trickery? He wasn’t sure how they’d pull something like that off.
How many others were nearby? Had they seen Mary Ann already? They obviously hadn’t attacked her. Determined to discover the truth, he drew closer to them.
“The boy will have to be taken care of, as well,” Marie said on a sigh.
What boy? Him? Or someone else? Jealousy sparked.
“He’s done nothing wrong,” Jennifer said.
Powerful could mean Aden but could also mean Riley. However, the “done nothing wrong” part eliminated them both. Riley’s jealousy sprouted wings with razored tips and flew through his entire body.
Marie continued, “We can’t risk his coming after us. He could do serious damage. Especially if he decides to aid the other one, the new king. And since Aden has Tyson stuck inside him…”
Tyson? One of the souls BD? Before Death.
Riley made a mental note to tell Aden, see if the name sparked a memory in a soul. He stopped when he reached the front doors of an apartment building. One of the crumbling, rundown ones. The witches were inside, their auras practically crackling beyond the bricks. So badly he wanted to charge through the building, biting and chewing the magic wielders to pieces. Threaten Mary Ann and hurt. That was the lesson they needed to learn. But he was without wards. His wolf skin couldn’t hold them. The witches could cast a thousand different spells—death, destruction, pain—and he would be helpless.
That was why wolves never challenged witches without a vampire by their side.
A low growl slipped from him. He hated walking away from a fight, but he did it. He clomped back into the shadows and saw the motel across the street—and the four telling auras inside it. Those auras crackled, glitter swirling in a rainbow of colors.
They were here, too. Dread slithered through him. His ears twitched as he honed in, listened.
“—reach her before the witches,” someone was saying. Female. Possibly Brendal, the fairy who’d tried to mind-control Aden into doing as she wanted. A princess, and the dead and ghostly Thomas’s determined sister. “She’s mine.”
Oh, yes. That was Brendal.
Riley sped into action, Mary Ann’s scent strengthening the moment he reached the Charleston Motel. The sign underneath read Weekly Rapes Available. Nice. Someone had screwed with the letters.
Would Mary Ann have gone inside such a dilapidated facility? Doing so was completely out of character for someone known as a Goody Two-shoes. (And what the hell did that mean, anyway? Why were shoes considered good?) She might have, though, simply to throw off whoever was following her.
And the witches and fairies had seen her. No question of that now. Why else would they be here, talking about her?
As his anticipation and concern returned, strengthened, he raced across the street. Headlights washed over him, a car horn blared, tires squealed. Shoulda looked both ways, he supposed, jumping out of the way. The motel doors opened from the outside, rather than from an inner hallway. His favorite. He sniffed each one until he caught another whiff of Mary Ann.
The instant he did, his blood heated with all kinds of gooey emotions only girls were supposed to feel. She was here.
He shifted to his human form, naked and suddenly cold, picked the lock, shifted back to his wolf form, settled his mouth around the knob and gave a little twist. Or tried to. No movement, which meant she’d done more than lock it. Good. Not that any kind of rigging would stop the witches, the fae or him.
Rather than shift back to his human form and undo her handiwork—perhaps waking Mary Ann and giving her time to run, hide or call “the boy” the witches had mentioned—Riley slammed into the door with all his considerable wolf weight. Hinges snapped, and wood shards rained.
He remained there in the entrance, taking stock. First thing he noticed: there was someone on the floor, sitting up, glaring. Tucker Harbor. Second thing: someone on the bed, sitting up, gasping. Mary Ann. That fall of dark hair, her aura the dark red of fear, the blue of hope.
In an instant he knew. Tucker was “the boy.” The powerful, supposedly done-nothing-wrong boy.
In a blink, the scene changed. No longer was anyone on the floor. No longer was the person on the bed gasping at him with a combination of fear and hope.
Now, there were two people on the bed—and they were having sex.
Another growl left him, this one as savage and lethal as a dagger. Probably cutting much deeper. He’d already decided to kill Tucker, but now he was going to make it hurt.
Riley shifted—uncaring that he was naked—and closed the door as best he could. With the damage to the hinges, he could only prop the fake wood against the opening. Then he turned and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I know what you’re doing, you bastard, and you can stop.” Illusions. This was an illusion, and he knew it soul deep. Neither person on the bed, so lost to pleasure, cast any kind of aura.
The sound of his name on those lips affected him. His blood heated another degree and not with fury.
“Tucker,” she said next, pleasure giving way to irritation. “Stop, or I’ll stab you.”
A funny threat, coming from her, but effective. Tucker dropped the illusion, and once again Riley saw that Tucker was on the floor and Mary Ann was on the bed.
She looked away from Riley, even as she tossed him a sheet, a hot blush staining her cheeks. “For frick’s sake, Riley, cover yourself. Tucker’s here.”
Had she just said for frick’s sake? And, if he didn’t obey? He wanted to ask but didn’t. He caught the sheet and wound the material around his waist, tucking in the end to ensure it stayed put. He recrossed his arms over his chest. “I’m sure Tucker’s already come to grips with the fact that everyone he encounters is bigger than he is, so don’t worry that he’ll slip into a shame spiral and kill himself. Just start talking.” Before I start maiming. “What’s going on?”
“Can’t you tell?” Tucker asked, smug enough to boil Riley’s good intentions. “We’re dating again, and she’s playing hard to get.”
Riley ran his tongue over his teeth. “Not another word out of you, demon. Mary Ann?” She’d ditched him to go on the run with her cheating, evil ex. Riley had never been more stunned—or more pissed. “You’ve got witches across the street, fairies here in this building, and both are planning your execution. You can either tell me what’s going on now, or tell me after I kill Tucker.”
“Good choice.” Man, she was beautiful. Not just quietly pretty, he realized, but drop-dead beautiful. And, yeah, maybe the fact that he’d missed her so much was responsible for the change, but just then she was perfect in every way. Except for the ex. Tucker was an accessory that would not go with any of Mary Ann’s outfits.
Tucker stood. He wore a T-shirt and a pair of boxers. Both would look so much nicer torn to ribbons. Along with his skin. “You want a piece of me, wolf? Then come and get it. ’Cause your girlfriend sure did earlier.”
Another gasp left Mary Ann. “You are such a liar! I’ve changed my mind, Riley. We can talk after you kill him,” she added primly.