Wolf Gone Wild: First 3 Chapters

January 6, 2020

 

Early Preview: Chapters 1-3


 

Chapter 1

 

~MATEO~

 

“Would you like another beer?”

 

If I thought it would do any damn good, I’d have a hundred more. But it was no use. Nothing helped. It was only getting worse.

 

That meathead at the bar is staring at us again.

 

Please just be quiet for five minutes. I need to think.

 

 

Yeah, keep lookin’, asshole. I’m going to bloody your face good.

 

Christ. He wouldn’t shut up tonight. The intensity of his urges were worse than ever. At least he leaned more toward violence than sex. His push for a fight was somehow easier to tolerate than his constant commands for me to get laid. Small blessings.

 

Look! He’s standing. He’s coming to challenge us. Good. Prepare for combat.

 

He’s leaving. Settle down.

 

Follow him. 

 

“Sir?” The young waitress stared at me, wide-eyed with concern. I didn’t blame her.

 

“No.” My eye twitched. “Thank you.” I pulled out a twenty and set it on the table, then headed for the door.

 

That’s right. Time to wipe that sneer off that asshole’s face.

 

He wasn’t sneering. You’re imagining things. As always.

 

I’ve been imagining my fist knocking out his teeth. Now I want action.

 

Once outside, I took two seconds to scan the block, just in case Alpha was right and that guy was looking for a fight. He made me paranoid. Jittery. 

 

My wolf might need to break someone’s bones, but I didn’t. I needed help. I couldn’t put it off any longer. The offending sneerer was talking to some chick and paying us zero attention, so I headed quickly up Magazine Street in the opposite direction.

 

You’re going the wrong damn way!

 

No, I’m not. We’ve got more important things to do than brawl on the street.

 

A growling snort sounded in my head. Oh, yeah? Like what?

 

We’re going to meet a witch.

 

You may be a coward, but you’re no fool. A woman is exactly what we need to take the edge off.

 

Aaaaand, here we go again.

 

Preferably a curvy one. Need something to hold onto when I’m—

 

A horn honked as I crossed Magazine, the nightlife still kicking even as some bars were closing down.

 

All supernaturals in New Orleans knew about the Savoie sisters though I’d never met them. They had individual talents to help supernaturals in need. And sometimes humans. Those who actually knew about our existence, that is. I’d pay anything right about now for their help. I’d take out a mortgage on my gallery and home if necessary. But I also had heard they were fair. One of them was a Hex-breaker. She’s the one I was looking for.

 

 Coming up on Ruben’s Rare Books & Brew, I slowed my stride. The bookstore was closed this time of night, of course, but patrons of another variety veered around the corner and down the alley. Beautiful human women hung on the arms of inhumanly perfect men who escorted them to the back entrance of The Green Light. A throaty laugh belted from a pin-up gorgeous blonde in a pink latex dress. Vampire. She tugged her handsome catch for the night down the gas-lit alley to the back entrance.

 

Leaning against the corner of the building, seemingly disinterested in the comings and goings, was a tall, black-haired guy smoking a cigarette. He wasn’t just hanging on the corner. He was working for Ruben, the lord of the New Orleans vampire coven. I knew what he was within twenty yards of him. A wave of darker urges tugged on my psyche and my body. 

 

Alpha rumbled a purring growl at the heady sensation the grim reaper stirred. We called them grims. Not because they escorted souls into the afterlife, but because they carried an aura of darkness, pulling on impulses and cravings that people liked to suppress, to keep in check. 

 

Of the four supernatural creatures, grims and their powers were the most mysterious. My cousin Nico told me once that he’d seen six of them show up at an apartment complex fire when he lived in Houston. They slipped into the burning building without the firemen seeing them. Knowing lives had been lost, Nico thought maybe they did have something to do with transporting souls after death. Who knows? They never gave out information about themselves, but for some strange reason, they always seemed to know a hell of a lot about everyone else. 

 

A grim was the perfect employee to hang on the corner of a vampire den. The supernatural law was that blood-hosts must go willingly to feed a vampire for the night. A grim standing near the entrance—arousing a human’s suppressed cravings for danger, lust, and vanity—would definitely tempt them into the vampire underworld.

 

Most humans were oblivious to the supernaturals living amongst them. Until they weren’t. Those in some inner circles knew about us. But they kept our secrets—out of fear or respect or both. 

 

Though I didn’t like standing in the personal space of a grim, I figured if anyone had the information I needed, it would be him. I wasn’t sure who the Hex-breaker was, but I bet this guy did.

 

“Hey. You know the Savoie sisters?”

 

The grim—his features sharp and his intelligence sharper by the looks of his all-seeing brown-black eyes—sucked a deep drag of his cigarette before responding. 

 

“No. I don’t know the Savoie sisters.” He measured me from head to toe, flicking a tip of ash onto the sidewalk. “But I know about them.”

 

Smartass. Break his nose.

 

Shut up.

 

“Do you know anything about the Hex-breaker?”

 

He regarded me with a nonchalance that rang false. This guy observed, calculated, and stored away everything with those dark eyes. He probably knew more about the people in the Bohemian, trendy district of Magazine Street than anyone else.

 

“The second sister, Eveleen. Redhead. Spunky personality. Expert level curse breaker. One hundred percent success rate according to the Witch’s Coven Guild database. Works four to five nights a week at the Cauldron, which the sisters co-own. Including tonight.” He glanced up and narrowed his eyes as if trying to recall something. “I don’t think she’s closing tonight.”

 

Whoa. “How do you have access to their database?”

 

He shrugged, refusing to answer as he scanned the street, watching passers-by with that hooded gaze. He was done feeding me information.

 

“Quite a gig you’ve got here.” I nodded to the alleyway.

 

He blew out a stream of smoke and stubbed his cigarette against the brick wall behind him. “Better than some other jobs grims are hired for.” His voice had dropped to a low, threatening level.

 

Alpha growled a warning.

 

“Is that so,” I said as a statement more than question. I could believe it. And I sure as hell didn’t want to know what jobs he referred to.

 

“Standing on a street corner, smoking cigarettes, and people-watching for $150/hour? Yeah. It’s a good gig.”

 

Damn. Ruben paid well. I’d never met him, but everyone knew of him. Good to know he appreciated his employees. I was fairly sure Ruben had access to the information database in this dude’s head for that kind of hourly rate.

 

“I guess I owe you a tip for the information.” I reached for my wallet in my back pocket.

 

“Nah.” He grinned, his wide mouth quirking up more on one side. “Knowing a wolf is about to walk into the Cauldron is payment enough.” Shaking his head and grinning, he looked down and pulled out his pack of cigarettes from his back jeans pocket.

 

“Why’s that?”

 

He lit a cigarette, squinting as he inhaled. The tip turned orange, his brows creasing in sympathy. Suddenly, I had the urge to punch that look of pity off his face.

 

Go with this feeling.

 

His gaze sharpened on my own. He must’ve caught a flare of the wolf in my eyes. The longer I stood here, the more my insides fizzled with urgent agitation and the need to do violence. Hot blood hummed in my veins, pushing me harder. Shifting from one foot to the other, I kept my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t reach for him.

 

The grim stood straighter, but not to buck up on me. That would be stupid. He might be near my height, but he had no idea who he was really dealing with. Actually, he probably did. Perhaps, he was preparing to run, which told me he was far wiser than I’d suspected.

Bring it on, grim.

 

He spoke, his tone even and low and full of warning. “They don’t deal with wolves. Never have.”

 

I nodded, narrowing my gaze on the witch’s place down the street, needing to shift my attention to the goal at hand.

 

Mmmm. A redhead. I like.

 

If she’s going to help us, you’ve got to keep your mouth shut.

 

A dark chuckle rumbled in my mind. 

 

Fine. I had no choice, one way or the other. With a parting nod to the grim, I strode with purpose toward the Cauldron.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

~EVIE~

 

This is the last thing I needed. After a ten-hour shift, a frat boy puking on my boots, and a drunk-ass chick singing an off-tune, super slutty rendition of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” on our bar-top, I now had a werewolf begging me to break a hex.

 

A fine werewolf at that. And, okay, maybe he wasn’t begging. I wasn’t sure a man like him knew how, but the thought sent a primal shiver from the top of my spine down to where it zinged between my legs.

 

“You’re Eveleen, right?”

 

While the never-break rule of No Werewolves kept pinging around in my head, his smoky baritone told my lady parts it was a silly, silly rule. 

 

“It’s Evie. And yes. But I seriously doubt yours is a hex.”

 

“It is.” 

 

Did he just growl at me?

 

“Look, Wolfman.”

 

“Mateo.”

 

“Whatever.” I hopped up on the bar-top, spun my legs over to the other side, and landed beside him. “I wish I could help. But we’ve got rules. No werewolves. Sorry.” 

 

It didn’t matter how beautiful he was with those broody, soulful eyes and that unruly dark hair falling past his chiseled jaw. Jules would kill me. I tried to ignore the pained look hardening his expression as I passed behind him. Jules hadn’t laid down the laws for no reason. She was smart and cautious. All in an effort to keep us safe. Ever since our mom relinquished reign of New Orleans to Jules and hightailed it to the Alps with my dad for a well-deserved retirement, Jules had taken her job very seriously. That’s why I ignored the torturous tightening of his mouth and furrowed brow and kept on walking.

 

“I’ll pay you whatever you want.”

 

He followed me as I upturned the stools onto the bar-top so the cleaning crew could do their job once we locked up. Behind the counter, JJ dried the tumbler glasses, glancing between us and eyeing the Wolfman appreciatively. He arched a perfect brow with a smirk. His smirks could mean a number of things. This one could have said either “Don’t let that fine ass out of your sight” or “Danger, don’t touch that.” I needed to get better at reading JJ’s hidden messages.

 

“Look. It’s not about money.” After I hefted the third stool upside down onto the bar, a giant hand wrapped entirely around my forearm. 

 

“Please.” 

 

Turning to him, my ponytail swished over my shoulder. I looked where he held me until he dropped my arm.

 

“Sorry,” he grumbled. “I’m just… I need help.”

 

Okay, maybe he wasn’t beyond begging. In the intensity of his eyes flaring hazel-gold then cool brown, I could see he definitely had some kind of supernatural twitch. It bothered me, I admit it. But rules were rules.

 

 I propped a hand on my hip and stared out at the street, still buzzing with nightlife. We closed the Cauldron at midnight, but other bars and clubs on Magazine Street stayed open much longer. Biting my lip, I swiveled back to him. “Have you talked to your people?”

 

“My people?”

 

“Yeah, your werewolf club. Lycans. Your familia.”

 

His expression blanked. “I have none.”

 

“None?”

 

“No one.”

 

“No one?”

 

“Am I making myself unclear somehow?” His scowl deepened, and his voice dropped a few decibels into a super growly range. I didn’t point out his dark mood swing was exactly why Jules enforced her no-werewolves rule.

 

I chewed on my bottom lip and debated. He had that preternatural stillness I’d seen vampires get when they were hyperaware of every move of every living thing in the room. It made me uneasy. I was about to tell him one more time that I couldn’t help him and he should seek out his own kind when the dude in the corner who’d had one too many of our Blood Orange Old Fashioneds stumbled into him from behind.

 

Wolfman had him by the throat and pinned to a tabletop with wicked-fast speed. The warning rumble building inside the werewolf’s chest raised the little hairs on my arms. Then I realized it wasn’t a warning. He was squeezing the life out of the drunk guy.

 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” I eased closer with slow movements, wrapping my hand around his forearm. A well-muscled and nicely veined forearm, I might add.

 

JJ leaped over the bar and strode toward us, coming way too fast. The werewolf’s growl deepened, but his eyes remained on the dude he was choking. I shook my head at JJ. He stopped midstride, keeping his distance but his eyes on the threat.

 

“Easy…easy,” I crooned to the dangerous man about to commit murder in our bar.

 

I maneuvered my body between him and the tabletop and put both my palms on his chest. I sucked in a breath at the furious vibration of his body. He was hot. And I don’t mean just fine-ass-hell hot. I mean volcano-rumbling-with-lava hot. Hissing between my teeth, I pumped a gentle surge of magic into him, like I would to move an object telekinetically. The pulse didn’t budge him, but it jarred his death stare from the drunk to me.

 

“Mateo,” I whispered gently. “Let him go. You don’t want to hurt him.”

 

With a flash of his fire-gold eyes and a sudden jolt, he jerked away and released the guy. Spinning around, he planted his hands against the wall behind him and sucked in great gulps of air, his head hanging low, his dark hair covering his face.

 

In the few seconds I made physical contact, I’d sensed a number of things. The hardest to swallow was the overwhelming wave of painful desperation ripping through the core of this man. I didn’t have the gift of reading emotions like my sister Clara, but there was no doubt this man was hurting. Badly. And what kind of witch was I to turn my back on him? When I might be the only one who could help him?

  

“JJ,” I said calmly, nodding toward the drunk guy. “Go help this guy into an Uber and get him home.”

 

“Whuz that ’bout?” slurred the drunk, rubbing his neck and trying to stand. He obviously didn’t realize he almost died a second ago.

 

“Are you sure I should leave you here?” asked JJ, fisting his hands, reminding me why he doubled as a bouncer. 

 

“Yeah.” I stared at Mateo’s wide back as he heaved air in and out of his lungs, his six-and-a-half-foot frame bowed with what I could only describe as anguish. Regret. “We’re good now.”

 

JJ stalled for a few seconds while he got drunky on his wobbly feet and shuffled him out the door.

 

Violet had taken off early so that left me and JJ to close up, so I was now alone with the werewolf. I should’ve been scared as hell, but strangely, I wasn’t. Though he acted on his violent impulses, it all stemmed from a deep-seated pain. Exhaling a sigh, I knew what I had to do.

 

“Mateo?”

 

Slowly, he rolled his muscular shoulders back, the only sign he heard me. He shoved off the wall and cleared his throat before turning to face me, his arms loose at his sides, his eyes downcast. 

 

“I’m sorry. That was…unacceptable.”

 

“Yeah,” I agreed in a soft voice. “That was a serious lapse in control.”

 

He nodded, finally lifting his gaze off the floor. Semi-calm brown eyes met mine. Though I expected to see the rage still riding him, I found sadness. It reflected what I’d sensed when I touched him.

 

“Does this happen often?” I asked with a sympathetic lilt.

 

“This never happens. That has never happened before. I need…help.” It seemed to pain him to admit how badly. 

 

Something pinched in my chest. “Right.” 

 

I offered a soft smile, but he didn’t return it, agony still tight in the set of his mouth and eyes. If I did this, it would likely get my ass chewed out, but I didn’t care. A memory of Mom popped into my head. 

“A good witch sees the truth, absorbs its goodness, and honors her gift.”

 

“But how do I honor it?” I asked her.

 

She cupped my chin and gave me her all-knowing Mom smile. “By sharing it with those in need.”

 

I stared at the werewolf, my mind made up. “Okay. Come with me.”

 

I wound through the tables and behind the bar toward the exit to the alley. I didn’t need to look to see if he was following. I could feel him. This wolf carried a heavy aura. No, not heavy exactly. Potent was more accurate. Whatever it was that made him what he was, it felt like a lick of flame at my back. I led him through the now empty and darkened kitchen, past the storage room to the alley entrance. I unclipped the keys dangling from the short chain that stretched across my belt-loops and opened the door.

 

Holding it open, I gestured for him to walk through. He did, his hands now in his front jeans pockets. Figuring he was trying to look less threatening, I snickered and locked the door behind us. He couldn’t look harmless if he tried. Not after that display of crazy in the bar and not since there was an electric charge simmering around his body like a lightning rod that had just been zapped twenty times.

 

“Is something funny?” he asked. Scowly face was back.

 

“Yep.”

 

“Care to share?” 

 

He fell in step beside me as we followed the alleyway that separated the Cauldron from our corner shop next door, Mystic Maybelle’s. Our house was a short walk down the side street crisscrossing the intersection. The night was still hot but less humid as we crept into late October. Let me clarify. It felt less like swimming in soup and more like bathing in dogs’ breath. Any day now, we’d have our first cool front that would slowly shift the tide toward cooler weather, but that please-come-before-we-melt-in-Mordor moment hadn’t happened yet.

 

“Hmm. Let’s see.” The sidewalk buzzed with a few late-night partiers, the streetlights giving off a sense of security. A false one for anybody who rubbed the anxiety-riddled guy next to me wrong. His shifty gaze roamed the pedestrians talking and laughing among friends. “I had a rather shitty night at work, then a werewolf pops in right at closing time, claims he’s got a hex put on him—”

 

“I do.”

 

“Begs me to help him, but I politely tell him no, so then he nearly strangles one of our regulars to death.”

 

“I wouldn’t have killed him.”

 

“Are you sure about that?” I wasn’t being snarky. I was asking him seriously.

 

Silence. He looked away, his dark locks blocking my view of his eyes. Shame, that. When I stopped in front of the wrought-iron gate that opened to the walkway to our front door, he then finally faced me. Measuring me from head to toe, his gaze snagged on my chest. I wasn’t sure if he was staring at my perky boobs or my T-shirt with a black cat holding an arm bone that read I found this humerus. 

 

I thought he might actually crack a smile, but then he looked at me like I was crazy—not an unusual occurrence—and did that shivery thing he’d done back in the bar, as if shaking off a bad dream. Not exactly the look a girl wanted when a hot guy checked out her goods.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

He clamped his mouth shut, his jaw tightening with a hard grind before he said, “You don’t understand what not being able to change is doing to me.”

 

I thought about him bending that guy over the table and choking him with one hand. “I think I have an idea.”

 

“I need to release the wolf.” 

 

That agonizing expression was back. That pleading look. Though I didn’t tell him, he didn’t have to convince me of anything else. It was clear to me he wasn’t lying or exaggerating. He needed my help, and I planned to follow my instincts first. Not Jules’s rules. 

 

With a stiff nod, I opened the gate and led a werewolf up the porch and into our house. I must be out of my damn mind. 

 

As expected, soft music played from the back of the house where Jules was doing her nightly wind-down routine. He followed me down the entrance hall, past a small den and an arch leading to the left toward the large living room and our open kitchen. We continued down the hall toward the music. It appeared only Jules was in the main house. 

 

Clara and Violet must be settled in bed in the carriage house over the garage since I didn’t hear either poking around in the kitchen. Isadora and Livvy were still out of town. So that left Jules alone in the study. Good. I didn’t want an audience to the shit-storm I was about to start.

 

Before we reached the open doorway, I stopped abruptly. The rhythmic tune of her favorite pagan folk band with its bagpipes, flutes, drums, and Celtic harp floated into the hall. A good sign. If it was that Mongolian metal band with their throat singing about crushing their enemies, then I’d have pushed him back out of the house and tried this tomorrow. 

 

With a deep breath, I glanced over my shoulder at the man standing a head taller and awfully close. “Don’t speak until I tell you to. Or she does.”

 

He ground that perfect jaw again. “Why not?”

 

“Because my sister is the one who doesn’t like to work with your kind. And she’s a Siphon.”

 

He flinched at that. Yeah. Siphons, also called Enforcers, were more powerful than Nulls, witches who could freeze a supernatural’s powers. Jules could do far more than freeze powers. She could take them all away. Permanently. A Siphon was also the one kind of witch who was more powerful than a centuries-old vampire. Hence, the reason our witch coven reigned in New Orleans and not Ruben Dubois, the overlord of the vampires in this district.

 

Visibly shaking, Mateo glanced toward the open doorway. A werewolf was cursed in a way that he couldn’t lose the beast roaming inside his blood no matter what. But he could lose the magic that comes with the werewolf curse. The added strength and speed, the longer life, and the creative gift that every werewolf was born with alongside their wolfish beastly needs. 

 

I walked into my oldest sister’s sanctuary with a bright smile on my face, faking my light-hearted mood as best I could. She was tucked into her loveseat by the window, her knees bent, a book open on her upturned lap, a glass of red wine on the side table. Her gaze swiveled to the door, skimming right past me to the werewolf at my back. 

 

I raised my hands in surrender. “Okay. Before you say anything, there’s a very good explanation for this.”

 

She didn’t move at first. Her steel-blue gaze dragged from Mateo to me then back to him. With forced indifference, she closed and set her book aside, then stood and crossed her arms. Of the six of us sisters, she was the shortest and the tiniest in stature. Her short, blunt bob softened the sharper edges of her high cheekbones and pointed chin. But it did nothing to tamp down the you’re dead glare she was giving me.

 

“Jules, this is Mateo. He’s a—”

 

“I know what he is. Why is he in our house?”

 

She’d dialed her maternal tone up to Defcon three. But at least she hadn’t reached screechy levels. 

“He claims there’s a hex put on him keeping him from shifting.” I turned to him, his attention fixed on my sister. “How long has it been since you last shifted?”

 

“This will be the third month.” Some of the anguish was gone from his voice, though I wasn’t sure what was putting him more at ease. It certainly wasn’t my sister’s bitch queen impersonation.

 

Jules just stared and said not a damn thing, but I could see her hamster wheel working hard. She was debating whether to show him the door or hear him out. By some miracle, she chose the latter.

“Why do you believe this is a hex? And not a normal dormancy?”

 

He chuffed out a sound between a cough and a laugh. “I’ve heard of wolves going dormant, but in those cases, their beast became distant and quiet. Mine most definitely is not.”

 

His eyes flared that fiery gold again, but he kept his posture non-threatening. 

 

“How so?” she asked coolly. 

 

“I have…primitive urges.”

 

I barely contained another shiver at his heated admission. And yes, he’d growled every word. He also seemed to be holding something back. 

 

“Jules,” I started, turning serious. “He struggled to control his violence just now in the bar with a customer who bumped into him. More so than I’d say is normal for werewolves. Though I admittedly know none.”

 

“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” he protested. “This feels like, I don’t know, like I have a block. Like my wolf wants to come out, but something is keeping him inside. It’s not natural. A hex is the only explanation.”

 

“He’s a danger to the public,” I added. “And if we don’t at least try to help him, then we’re as much at fault as he is. If something should happen.”

 

I let Jules infer whatever that something could be. He was totally staring at me, but I refused to look at him. 

 

“And what do you sense?” she asked me.

 

This was where it got tricky. “I don’t know for sure.” When he grabbed me in the bar, I felt something, though I couldn’t place what it was.

 

“You probed him then?”

 

“Not very deep,” I answered softly, hardly able to admit that I’d actually been afraid of him in the bar. There was no way I was about to ask him to gaze into my eyes and let me step inside his mind while he was trying to strangle one of our patrons. Telling Jules the truth wouldn’t help me sway her to our side at the moment.

 

“Try again,” she commanded, nodding toward Mateo. “Here.”

 

Alrighty then. I stepped up to face Mateo and blew out a deep breath. Bending my arms at the elbows, I reached out. “Hold your arms like this and grip mine.”

 

He didn’t question why, but obeyed quickly. Smart werewolf. When we locked arms, the surge of heat emanating from his body rippled through my fingertips and palms. 

 

Locking on his brown eyes, which flickered fiery gold, I pressed my magic forward. Gently. Very gently. Even so, a rumble stirred in his chest, a rough growl tingling along my senses. And while I knew it was a warning to be careful, I couldn’t prevent the delicious sensation it piqued on every nerve ending in my body. Like a lightning zap, it electrified my insides, spreading goosebumps along my skin.

 

“Easy,” I whispered like I would to an injured or scared animal. “I just want to take a look.”

 

That’s essentially what I did when I probed for hexes. With finger-light brushes, I slid my magic inside him, seeking out the foreign magic. Usually, I could identify what kind of hex and from what kind of witch a spell had been cast on another person. 

 

Sometimes, it wasn’t even cast on the person who was hexed, but had ricocheted off someone near them. That was rare, but it did happen. In those instances, I couldn’t always pinpoint the spell, but I could still pull it out and evaporate the magic.

 

As I swept deeper inside him, I felt…resistance. It wasn’t just a block, a walled-up spell from another witch, but more like a push. I didn’t sense the telltale signs of a hex—the electric spray of foreign magic that didn’t belong. I sensed the presence of a powerful being—his wolf—and an invisible fence around him, but also another aura pushing me away. 

 

It was so weird. Hexes didn’t typically work that way. They weren’t usually aggressive in nature. Just there. Like an object set on a table. Whoever had put this object on Mateo’s table had added something extra to the spell. I didn’t like the feel of it.

 

When Mateo’s growl rumbled deeper, I let go and took a step back. Not because I was afraid, but because I didn’t want to anger the beast. 

 

For a second, all I could do was stare at Mateo. His gaze shimmering with gold slowly melted back to that cocoa brown. His chest rose and fell more quickly, but there was no sign of violence or anger. Just a look of wonder, actually.

 

“Well?” asked Jules.

 

Dragging my attention back to her, I said, “There’s definitely something there. But I can’t pinpoint what kind of hex it is or what kind of witch put it there, if even on purpose. It’s very…unusual.” I glanced from her to Mateo. “To be honest, I think it may be that I’m just not familiar with werewolves and their magic. It’s easy for me to do this with humans, other witches, and even vampires. I think maybe your inner…wolf is pushing me out for some reason.”

 

Mateo huffed out a laugh with zero humor attached to it. “I don’t think my wolf is pushing you out.” His intense gaze pierced me with what I could only surmise was the hard truth. That meant we were dealing with a hex I’d never encountered before.

 

Jules looked over at her bookshelves, filled with just about every damn book ever written on supernaturals—from historical origins, to the Spanish Inquisition witch-hunts, to craft, spells, and talismans. She didn’t walk over and pluck one off the shelf like I knew she wanted to, but stared hard for a full three minutes. Then she swiveled back to Mateo, and I knew she’d made her decision. 

“Do you know of anyone who means you harm? Holding a grudge against you?”

 

He combed a hand through his hair in frustration, disheveling it even further. “No.”

 

“It’s not our custom to work with werewolves,” she said in her usual, matter-of-fact tone.

 

He flinched. Still calm, he sucked in a deep breath, then said, “Yes. Evie said as much.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his hands curled at his sides. “But I’m only a danger if this hex isn’t broken.”

 

“I see that.” Her admission shocked me. Jules was a stick-to-your-guns kind of gal. She stepped closer, arms still crossed but loosened and hanging lower at her waist. “I don’t know that we can help you, but I trust my sister. If she says you’re a safety hazard, then I believe her. I’d like to do some research and get back to you.” She angled her head at me. “Evie will have to do some of her own research as well.”

 

“Thank you.” He exhaled a ragged breath, then turned to me, his expression gutting in its intensity. “Thank you.”

 

The thank you he gave me was deeper and more passionate. More personal. It came from both the man and the wolf, I was sure of it.

 

Shaking off a shiver before it became visible, I said, “I’ll see you out.” I spun for the door before Jules changed her mind, then guided him back down the hall, through the front door, and to the gate.

Tucking my hands into the back pockets of my jeans, I rocked back on the balls of my feet. “Well, you’re lucky. She was in a good mood tonight.”

 

He blew out a half-laugh. “That was a good mood?”

 

“Don’t go insulting my sister,” I teased. “Only I can do that.”

 

“Does she make all your decisions?”

 

“Nope. Just the ones that could get me killed if I don’t think it through.” I tilted my head to the right, my ponytail shifting over the front of my shoulder. “It’s not easy, or always safe, being a witch these days. And I tend to—”

 

I pressed my lips tightly together. For some strange reason, I was pouring out too much information to this man I’d just met.

 

He leaned closer, his head lowering to capture my gaze. “You tend to what?”

 

I let out an embarrassed laugh on a shrug. “To trust too easily. To want to help too much sometimes.” 

 

His wide mouth slid into a brilliant smile, forcing me to admire his perfectly straight, white teeth.

Strange that a werewolf should have such a beautiful smile. No yellow fangs or remnants of his killings anywhere to be seen. I was beginning to wonder if he really was a werewolf. He wasn’t scary or intimidating at all.

 

“I don’t see how that’s a problem. To be trustful and kind isn’t a defect, Evie. It’s rather wonderful really.”

 

Oh, my. His voice dropped deep and gruff and harsh on my name. He’d framed it with an emphasis that rumbled and tumbled down my spine.

 

I blew out a nervous breath. “Thank you.” Because what else do you say to something like that? I tried not to think about how my tendency to help others had gotten my heart stomped on a time or two. Really just the once, but we won’t think about that right now.

 

Mateo nodded, taking me in again with a leisurely perusal. “I owe you.”

 

“Pretty much.”

 

He chuckled. I wanted to lighten the weighty tension between us. Beyond breaking his hex, this guy needed to laugh. And he needed a friend. I had a feeling he didn’t do much of the first and didn’t have enough of the second.

 

“Thank you. And goodnight, Evie.”

 

Again, his voice dipped into that deep, rumbly register on my name, then he shied away like he’d done something wrong. So strange. Were all werewolves a bit odd? 

 

“Night.” With a flick of my hand in goodbye, I headed back up the walk, yet again feeling his heavy stare follow me to the door. When I reached the porch and glanced over my shoulder, he was gone.

 

I knew I wouldn’t get to bed without an ass-chewing, so I headed into the kitchen where I heard Jules moving around. Sure enough, she was pouring another full glass of merlot. 

 

I took a seat at the island and popped my butt up on the butcher-block top. “Go ahead and get it over with.” 

 

Leaning back against the sink, she said, “You did the right thing.”

 

Wait, what?

 

“Come again?”

 

“If what you say is true, then he’s a threat to society. That means it’s our responsibility to help if we can.”

 

It was the role of the Savoie sisters to keep the peace among supernaturals in New Orleans. Our family had ruled as the head coven here for three generations, therefore it was our role to enforce the laws. 

In most regions, it was an old vampire who was most powerful and held this role, but not here. Our grandmother Maybelle was a Siphon, then my mother, and now Jules. 

 

Witches and vampires were well-organized, each with their own local guilds who held regular meetings at least twice a year. Grims were super secretive. They flew under the radar and rarely stepped out of line. Jules said a different grim showed up at each of the guild meetings, so no one ever knew who was in charge of them. They were…odd. The werewolves were a disorganized lot, preferring mostly to live alone and off the supernatural grid, or in packs that moved from city to city. There was no werewolf guild in any region that I knew of.

 

My family had a reputation for being tough but just, so there was rarely any question about our authority. But like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “With great power must also come great responsibility.”

 

Maybe that’s why Jules so quickly changed her tune about this werewolf. Still, it wasn’t like her to change her mind so easily.

 

“Are you serious? I was sure you were going to break out your ten commandments or something. Isn’t No Werewolves number three?”

 

She rolled her eyes. “I meant don’t date them, don’t be friends with them, don’t become emotionally involved.”

 

“No, I never remember hearing that distinction. Of course, I’ve never had reason since I’ve never met a werewolf, so there’s that. You won’t even let one in the bar.”

 

“Jesus, Evie. That’s not true. You’re so dramatic. You act like I’m some kind of werewolf bigot.” 

“Well…”

 

She moved closer to me and set her wine glass on the butcher block. “The reason I wanted you and your sisters to stay away is because they’re dangerous.”

 

“No more than vampires.”

 

Her stormy eyes glinted with anger. I smiled, knowing what that was all about. Well, sort of.

 

“Vampires can be controlled. Most of the time.” Her nostrils flared. “Werewolves can’t. Do you remember what they did—?”

 

“In the 1400s? No, because I wasn’t alive that long ago, but yes, I remember your incessant history lessons about the werewolves helping witch hunters.”

 

“They’re temperamental and often violent.” She heaved out a breath and softened her voice, sounding more like Mom than I think she knew. “Tell me, what did this wolf do tonight at the bar that set you on edge? And what’s his name by the way?”

 

“Mateo.” Then I muttered begrudgingly, “He almost choked a guy.”

 

“Really?” She raised her eyebrows in mock surprise. “Shocking.”

 

“But it’s because of this hex.” I hoped Jules didn’t hear the defensiveness in my voice even though it was pretty obvious.

 

“And you’re sure it’s a hex,” she added as a statement not a question.

 

“It’s weird. I can’t feel it the way I normally can. But…” 

 

“But what?”

 

“Well, when we touched in the bar, I sensed the block he talked about. His wolf is trapped against his will, that I know for certain. But when I probed, it was much more aggressive. Whatever kind of magic it is.”

 

“So, not a low-cast spell.”

 

“No,” I agreed. “Something much more complex. Something I don’t recognize. Or maybe it’s just I’m not familiar with werewolves enough to recognize it.”

 

“So you think his hex has given him these violent urges.”

 

Again, a statement. I shrugged with one shoulder. 

 

Jules sipped her wine before adding, “And when this hex is broken, and he can shift into a bloodthirsty monster once a month, he’ll be perfectly calm and biddable.”

 

I picked at the frayed hole in the knee of my jeans. “Maybe not biddable.”

 

“Ha!” She drained her wine, rinsed her glass, and set it in the sink. “Eveleen Marielle Savoie. Hear me now. We’re going to help this guy because it’s our job. But you are not to get emotionally attached to this Mateo. I know you have a soft heart, but this isn’t one of your strays you bring home to keep.”

 

“Please, Jules. This is a job.”

 

“Exactly. So treat it like one.”

 

Bristling at her condescending tone, I asked, “As opposed to what?”

 

“As opposed to one of your little fix-it-and-make-it-better projects. Like Mr. Harvey.”

 

This again. I rolled my eyes. “Mr. Harvey was very appreciative of my healing potion.”

 

“Oh, yes. He certainly was. That energy elixir you infused with magic finally knocked him out of mourning for his wife and had him chasing after every eligible widow within a six-block radius.”

 

“Well, the elixir worked.” I should’ve kept my mouth shut. But no. I just had to open a door for Jules to point out the specifics of my meddling mayhem.

 

“It worked so well, Clara had to warn him against crashing her book club every week. Ms. Ferriday was threatening a restraining order, and then he had that incident with Viagra.”

 

“How was I supposed to know that Viagra and magic-infused energy potions were a dangerous mixture?” I snapped defensively. 

 

Jules tilted her head, actually letting out a little laugh as she gave me that look like I was a puzzle she couldn’t quite figure out.

 

“Evie. Just stick to animals for your little projects.” She shoved off the kitchen counter, holding my gaze with her gray eyes. “That Mateo is a man. And a werewolf, which means he’s—”

 

“Dangerous. I know.”

 

With an arch of her superior brow and a satisfied smile, she said, “Good. Then we’re on the same page.”

 

She flitted out of the kitchen and up the stairs at a quick gait. I let her words sink in before I jumped off the counter. No biggie. I could do my job. Spend a few hours a day with the werewolf, keep my distance and not overstep, then break the hex and be on my way. Easy peasy. 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

~MATEO~

 

Waking up to brutally painful morning wood had become the norm since last month. I meant, it was nice to know the plumbing worked, but this was ridiculous. Yet one more problem made worse by this hex.

 

I rolled out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom, heaving a sigh at the disaster in my boxer briefs.

 

You gonna do something about that?

 

Christ. Too damn early for him.

 

Because you could hammer nails with the tent pole down there.

 

I was going to go insane. Certifiably insane if I had to listen to him pushing me this early in the morning.

 

Just rub one off so you don’t look like a freak out on the street. Or you could find an actual female to fuck. You do remember what that’s like, right? 

 

Shut up.

 

How about that girl last night? I like her.

 

I know exactly how you feel about her.

 

He wouldn’t stop yammering about her smell, her skin, her pretty ponytail that he’d like to grip while he took her from behind. I’d almost lost my goddamn mind just trying to have a civil conversation with the girl. 

 

Look, we need her help, so I suggest you behave when we’re around her.

 

Throaty laughter echoed in my mind. The last thing I want to do around her is behave.

 

I stared at my reflection, thankful I didn’t look as crazy as I felt. I scratched at the scruff that was bordering on a beard. If I had a split personality disorder, at least I wouldn’t know when the other voices took over. That would be my idea of heaven right now. But no, I had to exist on the same plane as my animalistic ego. Or my id. Or whatever part of me my wolf represented.

 

Alpha. My name is Alpha, and you know it.

 

Before the hex, I’d only ever heard his voice during the monthly change. I’d have fleeting memories of him taking over and driving me during the shift. But now that I couldn’t let him out, he’d beat his way into my psyche, living alongside me every second of every damn day, torturing me with his running commentary on who he’d like to kill and who he’d like to fuck. Which was pretty much every stray dog or human being we came across. I was exhausted by it. By him.

 

And now he’d zoned in on Evie. The trusting, kind-hearted witch who’d convinced her prickly sister to help me. She didn’t have to do that. I was well aware of the reputation of my kind among other supernaturals. We were the ones you shunned to the outcast table. Even grims were more acceptable to witches and vampires than we were. Yes, I understood my ancestors had dug our own graves with a long history of witch-hunting and massacre. That’s why I was fine living alone, being alone. What I couldn’t endure was Alpha dirtying my mind with constant thoughts of his salacious plans for Evie.

After a frigid shower where I ignored Alpha’s incessant grumbling, I ate a quick breakfast of fried eggs and sausage, then headed downstairs to my studio. My delivery date for this latest commission was quickly approaching, and I had to find a way to focus if it killed me.

 

The problem was that it was nearly impossible to channel my muse when Alpha was so present. His urges were violent and hard. My metalwork, while intense in craft, required a sensual hand, a gentle touch. Alpha wouldn’t know sensual or gentle if it hit him over the damn head.

 

Hey. I can be gentle. Go get that red-haired witch, and I’ll show her how gently I can smack her ass.

 

Fucking hell. Save me. 

 

I slammed on my welding helmet, jerked on my gloves, and took the torch off its holder before flicking on the fire. After returning to my sculpt, I moved a dozen stainless steel wires to my work table, then settled onto my stool. With the welding tongs, I lifted a twelve-inch string of galvanized wire and heated it with the torch. Leaning forward toward the juncture where the ocean waves merged into the leaping mermaid, I set to work, layering the waves with wire and motion.

 

I’d settled into a flow, placing one heated wire of steel after another, roping the mermaid’s tail into an intricate pattern. Then I changed direction, creating the illusion of a soft torso and silken skin.

 

He’d actually shut up when I’d found my groove. I’d gotten at least eleven minutes of blessed silence, finally falling into the perfect space between reality and fantasy where my muse took over.

 

Her tits are bigger.

 

I exhaled a deep sigh. 

 

What the hell are you talking about?

 

The witch. Hers are bigger. Make the mermaid’s like hers. 

 

“Fuck!”

 

A perfect handful.

 

I can’t believe this shit.

 

What? You know you’re thinking about her. 

 

I shut off the torch, ripped off my welding helmet, and threw it across the workshop. Spearing a hand into my hair, I contemplated heavy drug use. With my luck, it would just dull my senses and make him even louder.

 

Why don’t we stop playing with metal women and go find a real one? One with red hair.

When was the last time he’d shut up for more than fifteen minutes?

 

Ponytail girl likes us, too. I can tell. 

 

Ponytail girl? She has a name.

 

Didn’t notice. I was kinda distracted.

 

Evie. It’s Evie.

 

Mmmm. Yeah, that’s it. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I like her.

 

I know you like her. But trust me, she doesn’t like you—I mean us—the same way. 

 

Agree to disagree.

 

Wait. Last night. After we left the bar, he’d shut up for a while. He hadn’t said a word all the way to her house or even while meeting her sister. Now that I thought of it, he didn’t start his shit again until after we’d left and I’d passed a muscle-head leaving a club. Alpha had wanted me to beat the shit out of him for being a buff male. 

 

He needed to know who was boss.

 

Come to think of it, even though Alpha had detailed every way he wanted to bend her over the bar, the frenzied buzzing under my skin dimmed the second I had touched her. It still hadn’t kept me from almost strangling that drunk, but I remembered feeling lighter somehow by the time I’d left her house. I chalked it up to having a possible solution to this problem, some relief, knowing the witches were going to help me. But…what if it was more than that? What if the feeling came from her?

 

That was it.

 

That was what?

 

You’re getting your wish. We’re going to see the witch.

 

Sweet. It’s time to claim our woman.

 

She’s not ours. Jesus. Would you settle down? We just met her.

 

A wolf wants what he wants.

 

I grabbed my keys hanging by the door, locked up, and headed east on Magazine Street. It was just a few blocks to the pub. I knew they served lunch, but it was early. If no one was there, I knew where she lived. She might not want me to bombard her at home, but I was desperate. 

 

I agree.

 

The coffee drinkers were settled in with their laptops and iPads under the café awnings. I kept my hands in my pockets and my head down, trying to avoid any confrontation. Last month, Alpha had pushed me into a brawl with a morning commuter. I was in my truck, delivering my last commission in the business district, and this asshole sits on his car horn while I was legally parked to unload the sculpture. If he’d just stayed in his car and not gone all road-rage on me, then it wouldn’t have ended with him on the pavement with a bloody lip. 

 

You should’ve torn his throat out.

 

Are you serious right now?

 

That lowlife scumbag needed to be put in his place for good.

 

Really? He deserved to die? For yelling at another driver? Nice.

 

I swear I could feel a furry shrug inside me.

 

That day was when I knew I was in trouble. I’d never lost my temper and acted in violence. Unless necessary.

 

It was necessary.

 

No, it wasn’t, asshole. 

 

*snort*

 

Anyway, that’s when I knew for sure that I was on edge from not shifting. Since then, it had only gotten worse to control my urges.

 

I wish you’d lose control of your dick, because my balls are so blue you could sprinkle glitter on them and hang ’em on a Christmas tree.

 

Yeah, well, I wish you’d shut the fuck up, but I haven’t gotten my wish yet either.

 

Not yet, but maybe soon.

I walked faster.

 

I strolled up to the Cauldron and peered in the window. Damn. No one in sight yet or they were in the kitchen. I kept walking past the bar. As I crossed in front of Mystic Maybelle’s, I sensed movement on my right. It was some kind of psychic and crystal shop. I glanced in, then came to a sudden stop. Evie. She stood on a ladder, putting something on the top shelf on the back wall.

 

Mmm. She looks good from behind.

 

I stepped inside, tinkling a bell over the door. 

 

“Just a minute,” she called out.

 

She was trying to balance a glass orb with a transparent marbleized design on some kind of stand. A decorative crystal ball. Not wanting to distract her, I strolled over to the right wall, checking out what they sold. There was a shit-ton of different kinds of colored crystals and polished stones with names like amber, obsidian, amethyst, ametrine, and blue aragonite. There were small tented cards with labels that read for joint healing, for anxiety, for meditation. Another shelf displayed a few books for sale. Titles like Oracle Guide, Find Your Inner Medium, and Unblock Your Chakras. 

 

I shouldn’t have been surprised that witches ran a witchcraft and metaphysical shop, but somehow I was. Humans didn’t realize there were actual witches living among them. On the second shelf near a display of Tarot cards, there was even a stuffed cat. They might’ve found a better taxidermist because the thing’s hair looked coarse and thin, its spine jutting up a bit too far. They could’ve at least had the taxidermist add some padding to this old pet they’d stuffed. 

 

But then the stuffed cat slowly turned its head and looked at me.

 

“Fuck!”

 

Kill it!

 

“Oh,” came Evie’s voice. 

 

I heard her coming down from the ladder, but I kept my eyes trained on the aberration. Its glassy orange eyes blinked. One at a time. In a slow robotic way. I gaped at what it did next. It smiled. I’m not kidding. Smiled. Like it was seriously wasted or high.

 

Fucking abomination.

 

“That’s just Z.” Evie maneuvered in front of me and lifted the horrifying creature into her arms. She actually cuddled it under her chin. “He’s a little shy.”

 

It made a strange sputtering noise, like a small motorboat engine stopping and starting. He must be sick or something.

 

“Is he okay?” He did not sound okay.

 

“What? Oh!” She laughed, her whole face lighting up. “Yeah, his purr is a little rough. He’s kind of old.” She scratched behind his ears and his weird purr grew louder. “But isn’t he so cute?” 

 

Not exactly the adjective I was thinking of, but I didn’t want to insult her right before I asked a huge favor. I needed to test my theory first.

 

“Will he bite if I pet him?”

 

“Z? No way.” She laughed. “He’s as gentle as a lamb.”

 

A deranged, half-dead lamb. Finish it off.

 

I reached up and stroked a finger over its oddly large head, brushing the top of her hand that lay on his back.

 

Yes. Immediately, a sweep of calm shivered through me. Instant relief. Like cool water on a hot day. I knew it.

 

I glanced down at her white T-shirt. This one had the silhouette of a man and woman’s hands touching fingertips with #Reylo4Ever scripted in hot pink. I couldn’t help but notice how the letters swelled over her breasts. This is probably because Alpha was constantly infiltrating my thoughts. But then again, he hadn’t said a word.

 

I looked up at the creepy smiling cat and chuckled.

 

“Something funny?” She inched back a little and arched her brows in concern. 

 

“No. Not funny.” Pathetic, actually. But I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

 

“Well, you’ve got this kind of crazy look.” She thought I was nuts, and I guess I was. “We don’t have anything new for you on the hex yet.”

 

I nodded, easing back another step. But not too far. I needed her nearness. “I came for something else. I’d like to ask a favor.”

 

“Another one?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Okay.” She set her cat on the counter where he wobbled a second before curling gracelessly into a ball. 

 

I hesitated, trying to find the right words that wouldn’t make me sound like a freak or a stalker. Nothing came to mind. Swallowing what little pride I had left, I tucked my hands into my jeans pockets and went for it. “I’d like to pay you to spend time with me.”

 

Her face paled. “Uh, I’m not sure what kind of witches you think we are, but we’re not whores.”

I choked on my own spit. Somehow, Alpha remained blessedly silent. “No, no, no.” I put my hands up in protest. “That’s not what I meant. I assure you.”

 

“Then what did you mean?”

 

“I mean”—I dropped my voice lower—“there’s something about you that calms the wolf.”

 

She smirked. “Come again?”

 

Combing a hand through my hair, I tried to figure out a way to say this without it making me sound completely insane. But there really wasn’t one. I’d have to tell her the truth. If there was anyone who’d believe me and understand, it was a witch. 

 

Clearing my throat, I started again. “It’s not just animalistic compulsions that I’m troubled with right now.”

 

She stared. Said nothing. Just raised her eyebrows as if to urge me to go on. So I did.

 

“I can hear his voice in my head.”

 

“His?”

 

“The wolf’s.”

 

Alpha, motherfucker. It’s Alpha. Introduce me proper.

 

For Christ’s sake.

 

“He actually has a name.”

 

“Which is?”

 

Exhaling a heavy sigh, I looked at the shelves of quartz and crystals. “Alpha.”

 

When she didn’t snicker or laugh, I looked back. Her pretty mouth was tipped up on one side, an expression of pure curiosity heightening her brow.

 

“I know, I know. If I could lie to you, I would, but then he’d be even louder in my head, and it’s hard enough to concentrate as it is.”

 

She placed a hand on the countertop, drumming her fingers, then leaned a hip against it. “He talks to you all the time?”

 

“All the time.”

 

Her eyebrows shot up further, drawing my gaze to the deep green of her eyes. There were tiny gold flecks circling the pupil, and somehow, I’d never call them hazel. They were such a shocking shade of green, like the new leaves of spring. I lost my train of thought, trying to figure out exactly what they reminded me of. 

 

She cleared her throat. “Like right now?” An amused smile creased her mouth.

 

I jolted from my musings on her eyes, reprimanding myself for being a creeper, then glanced away for a second. I nodded, trying to come across casual and normal. The opposite of how I felt these days. “He insisted you know his name.”

 

She stepped closer and stared keenly into my eyes, as if she were trying to look through me to him. Funny that she showed zero fear at my supernatural schizophrenic confession. I clamped my jaw tight when Alpha purred a wicked growl. 

 

I knew it. She likes me.

 

“So he was talking last night?”

 

I laughed. “Oh, yeah. He was running his mouth nonstop last night.”

 

“That explains a lot,” she said, tilting her head and examining me intently.

 

I cleared my throat, nervous. “How do you mean?”

 

“You seemed, I don’t know, distracted. On edge. And don’t take offense, but a little weird.”

 

A bark of laughter escaped me before I pressed my lips together with a nod and another nervous rumple of my hair. “I was distracted, on edge, a little weird.”

 

She smiled, then her brows pinched together. “I’m confused then. What does this have to do with me?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

 

“Try.” She crossed her arms, accentuating her assets Alpha loved so much.

 

Don’t even try to fucking fool yourself. You love them as much as I do.

 

Realizing how creepy my request was going to sound, I eased around her toward Z on the counter, curled in a lumpy ball.

 

Alpha bristled inside me, rumbling with a low, menacing growl only I could hear. 

 

I reached out.

 

Don’t you do it. He used his gravelly, aggressive tone with me.

 

Calm down.

 

Don’t touch that hell-spawn.

 

Fuck off.

 

I stroked the cat’s head with one finger. It’s motorboat purr sputtered louder. 

 

“I was trying to work, and he just wouldn’t shut the hell up. I’ve hardly been able to work since last month when he became even more…well, just more.”

 

She sidled up in front of me, leaning a hip on the counter. In jean shorts, I got an eyeful of her long, well-toned legs. Strange that Alpha let me enjoy the moment without yelling obscenities. He truly was more docile with her around. 

 

“What do you do?”

 

“Sorry?” I jerked my gaze up to hers.

 

“You said you can’t work. What do you do for a living?”

 

“Oh. Right. I’m a metalwork artist.”

 

Her tilted smile widened, nearly knocking me out. She was a pretty girl. Straight auburn hair that leaned toward brunette made her emerald-green eyes even prettier. Her face was more round than oval, making her look much younger than she probably was. Of course, witches aged slowly with their longer lives. All supernaturals lived longer than humans. Not immortal—not even vampires as myth would have it—but our lifespans were much longer than humans. Her nose was a little small with a sprinkle of freckles across the bridge. Her mouth was perfect, her top lip a defined bow-shape. Distractingly perfect. But it was her smile that elevated her from pretty to beautiful. 

 

“Maybe I’ve seen your work. Where’s your gallery?”

 

“Not far. A few blocks up on Magazine. The Prometheus Gallery.”

 

Her eyes widened. “I know that place,” she said excitedly. “I’ve window-shopped a bit. Did you make that sculpture of Hermes on flying sandals?”

 

Smiling, I nodded. “Yeah. That one just sold last week.”

 

“Wow. That is so cool.” 

 

A flush of heat rushed up my neck at her compliment. “You like art?”

 

“Yeah.” She eyed me a minute, her thoughts seeming to wander away. “So, how will spending time with me help you?”

 

I licked my lips, my mouth suddenly dry. Unsure if it was nerves or being this close to her or what, I tried to explain this without coming off like a complete freak.

 

Too late.

 

“It’s like I said. Being around you calms him somehow. Must be because you’re a Hex-breaker, I guess. All I do know is that last night, the longer I was with you, the quieter he became. And since I’ve walked in, he’s become...less.” I eased closer, trying to dial down the desperation I felt. “If you like artwork, I’ll create a sculpture for you in payment. If you want. Or I’ll pay you in cash. Whatever—”

 

She held up a hand. “I don’t need payment.”

 

“But I’d need access to you every day. Your time is worth something.”

 

“Whatever Jules decides as far as payment goes for the hex-breaking job, that’ll be payment enough.”

 

“You don’t decide your own fees?”

 

“I do. We have standard fees for individual jobs. But this will require her input, it seems, so the cost will be hefty enough.”

 

Whatever price they set, it wouldn’t break me. What would break me was enduring another day with Alpha’s nonstop diatribe of obscenities.

 

“So you’d do this for me for free?” I asked, disbelieving.

 

“I’ll do this for you as part of the job until we break the hex,” she clarified. “And no offense, but I’m not spending all day with you. How about two hours?”

 

I huffed and stepped closer. She arched a brow at my nearness. And possibly my sudden aggression. I needed longer than that to get my commission completed on time.

 

Easing away, I countered, “Six hours.”

 

“Six? Are you out of your mind?”

 

“To be honest. Yes.”

 

Her mouth hung open a second before she rounded the counter and pulled her cellphone from underneath. While texting speedily, she said, “Four hours, and that’s it. I do have a life, Wolfman.”

 

“Mateo.” I winced. “Please.”

 

She tucked her phone in her back pocket and propped a hand on her hip. “Fine. Mateo. But I’ve got stuff to do today. It’s Wednesday, and I’ve got a standing date on Wednesdays. So you’re coming on an errand with me first.”

 

For a second, I was frozen, basking in the sweet sound of her husky voice saying my name. Such a small thing, but I wanted to hear her say it again. And again. 

 

I’d like to hear her scream it.

 

He could really ruin any perfect moment. Truly. Shaking him off, I glanced around. “Don’t you have to work the shop?” 

 

“Clara had some morning errands, so I was supposed to watch the shop for her. But Violet will be here in a minute. She can take over for me.”

 

“Who’s Violet?”

 

A slim woman with blue hair—taller and less curvy than Evie but with the same fair complexion and shape of face—stepped in from a door in the back.

 

“Well, well. Who’s Mr. Tall, Dark, and Fuckworthy?”

 

I like her. But sorry, babe, we’re already taken.

 

Taken by whom, I’d like to know?

 

He snort-laughed in my head. By the sister. Who the hell do you think I mean?

 

Stop obsessing over Evie. She’s not mine. Or ours. Or anything.

 

She will be.

 

“Mateo, meet my sister, Violet. She’s got the mouth of a sailor. Sorry for that. Violet, this is Mateo, our newest client.”

 

She sashayed within a foot of me, leaning one hand on the counter, devouring me with her eyes. “Nice to meet you, werewolf.” She winked.

 

Poor sweet thing. She wants us. They can’t help it, brother. We’ve got animal magnetism.

 

I cringed. Or you’re just a narcissist on top of all of your other fine qualities.

 

Yes, it’s true. I do have fine qualities. A consequence of being an apex predator.

 

Jesus. He didn’t even get sarcasm.

 

Evie grabbed my forearm and led me toward the door, that wash of tranquil bliss bleeding into my veins. I nearly groaned at how good it felt.

 

“Nice to meet you,” I called over my shoulder, but my gaze was locked on the pretty witch swinging her ponytail in front of me.

 

****************************************************************************

 

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