Authors: Rhenna Morgan
She shouldn’t be able to hear him in such a crush, let alone register a physical impact, but damned if she wasn’t processing both loud and clear. “I don’t even know you.”
He offered his hand. Long, strong fingers stretched out, showing calluses along his palm. “Eryx Shantos.”
Wingman stared straight ahead, his aqua eyes cold enough to freeze a soul.
“Lexi Merrill.” As their palms met, a rush fired up her arm and down her spine, and she shook as though she’d cozied up to a blow dryer in a bathtub. She ripped her hand away and rubbed the tingling center up and down her jean-clad hip.
Eryx didn’t so much as blink, his sword-colored gaze glinting with dare and determination.
Maybe fatigue was taking a toll on her imagination. Or the flu. Or a desperate need to get laid. Gripping the bar for support, she took an order from a cute little brunette trying to avoid a middle-aged, bald guy’s come-on.
Except for a slow pull off his beer, Wingman stayed stock-still. His angry expression screamed,
“Stay the fuck back.”
“Now you know me,” Eryx said. “Have dinner with me.”
“I have to work.”
“I work then too.” A lame excuse, but true. Two jobs and part-time college didn’t leave a lot of room for being social. Not that socializing ever managed to work in her favor.
A half-hearted laugh slipped out before she could stop it. “You’re persistent, I’ll give you that.”
“You have nooo idea.” Wingman tipped his longneck for another drink, fingers loose around the dark glass despite his tight voice.
Eryx shot him a nasty glare.
“Your friend doesn’t talk much.” Lexi grabbed a few empties and dunked them in a tub of soapy water.
“His name’s Ludan. And he may not be able to talk at all by the time the night’s over. Depends on if he manages to keep his tongue intact.”
“Yo! Need a few Bud Lights.” Two college-age men in need of a manners class shoved their way to Ludan’s free side.
Ludan straightened and pushed the men back a handful of steps with nothing more than a glare.
No way was she dealing with the fallout from a brawl, even if the young punks could use the lesson. “Stand down and kill the scary badass routine.”
Ludan faced her, his eyes a shade closer to white than blue. It took a tense breath or two, but the muscles beneath his black t-shirt relaxed and he smirked. He eased down on his barstool and snagged his beer. “Your woman’s got bite, Eryx.”
She snatched a pair of Buds from the cooler and popped the tops off. “I’m not his woman.”
“Not yet.” Eryx’s calm retort landed between them—part taunt, part promise. The sheer resoluteness in his expression sent a rush she didn’t dare analyze clear to her toes.
Better to get down to business and add some distance before she did something she’d regret. “Tell me what you want to drink. I gotta get back to work.”
“I’ve already told you want I want.”
Lexi planted a hand on her hip and thanked God he couldn’t see her pounding heart. “A tall order that’s not on the menu.”
Eryx nodded, a slow, sultry move that intimated a whole lot more than simple agreement. “Some things are worth waiting for.”
A blast of déjà vu hit and left her stunned. A hot gush of frustration shoved in behind it and spun her back toward her half of the bar. With a thump on Jerry’s arm, she motioned toward Eryx. “He’s all yours. I want the sane side back.”
She worked her portion of the crowd with single-minded enthusiasm.
Worth waiting for.
It was just a line. Guys like Eryx were landmines waiting for a trigger.
A couple nuzzled nose to nose, an out-of-place intimacy amid the harsh lights from the dance floor. Her heart stuttered. Was she bypassing something good? Maybe she should circle back. See if he needed another—
He was gone, his wingman with him. A gaggle of women, one with a naughty tiara and last-night-of-freedom sash wrapped around her, crowded between the leather and chrome barstools.
The tiny thread of hope she’d refused to acknowledge snapped in half. She snatched a bag of ice from the back cooler and shook it over the longnecks along the front bin of the bar. She knew better than to wish for things like love. Hell, she hadn’t even done a double take on a guy in more years than she could count. She could get a massage from a team of Chippendales and she probably wouldn’t get excited. What made her think she’d ever find anyone worth laying her heart on the line?
She turned for the rear register and shoved her disappointment deep. Better to study that topic later—say in about five years. She’d finish out the night, prep for tomorrow like she always did, and be glad she’d avoided the drama.
Pinpricks raced down her spine and warmth surrounded her. Not the slick and humid dance floor variety, but comforting, infused with leather and sandalwood. Out of place. Delicious.
Ordinary patrons reflected in the wide mirror before her, faces bright with the glaze of alcohol. Nothing stood out. No danger.
But she could have sworn warm, rough fingertips grazed her cheek.
* * * *
Perched on the high retaining wall at the end of the parking lot, Eryx glared at the streetlight overhead. One flick of his wrist and he could fry the whole damned contraption with an electric pulse. Better on his patience for sure, but not so great for his plans. Smart women like Lexi weren’t usually keen on dark parking lots at two-thirty in the morning.
Tapping his boot heels against the wall, Ludan cracked his knuckles and scanned their surroundings for the fiftieth time. As Eryx’s somo, Ludan looked out for his wellbeing, but the nasty bastard sometimes took the job too deep into mother hen territory. “We need to go back to Eden. Recharge for a few days and then come make a play for your woman. If the Rebellion catches us here with our energy this low—”
“The rumors are just that. Rumors.” Eryx shifted on the cold concrete, anything to get the blood flow back into his too-stationary ass. “The Rebellion hasn’t launched an attack worth merit in over seventy years. I bet I couldn’t find five people who’ve seen Maxis in more than that. I’m not cranking my men into a tizzy over hypotheticals.”
“And the ellan?” Ludan’s cool gaze slid to Eryx. “You gonna keep ignoring them too? The old coots are chomping at the bit to know what’s got you so tied up in the human realm.”
“Only half of them are old coots. The rest are as young and eager to modernize our race as we are.” If you could call one hundred and fifty-two years old young. From the human perspective, it probably seemed closer to eternity.
Ludan looked away and gripped the ledge. Better than throwing a punch—which would probably be his preference.
Hard to blame the guy. Ten years helping Eryx look for the woman who visited his dreams every night would send most people running. Ludan? Loyal to the core and still right here with him. But that didn’t mean he’d give up on his argument. Ten more seconds tops before he chimed in again. Ten. Nine. Eight. Se—
“You’re the malran. You call the shots.” Ludan crossed his arms. “But even without the Rebellion threat, you’re risking your throne and a death sentence.”
And there it was. The lecture he’d had coming since he finally tracked a clue from his dreams to Lexi’s workplace. Humans were a no-no. Do business with them? Walk freely in their realm? Tangle in a bout of good, hot, sweaty sex? All fair game. Fill them in on the Myren race or interfere in human destiny? That shit earned you the axe, a mandate passed down by The Great One himself when he’d created Eryx’s people.
“We’ve been here too long,” Ludan said. “Both our powers are damned near gone. Any attack outside of one-to-one and we’re screwed.”
The service door
Eryx shoved off the ledge.
“Sorry, man.” The bartender he’d bribed ambled toward the mid-size pickup on Eryx’s left with a sympathetic shake of his head. “You’ve got it bad.”
Eryx leaned against the brick wall, crossed his arms, and notched one boot over his ankle. “You telling me she’s not worth the trouble?”
The man’s keys jangled against the quiet night and a perky chirp mixed with a flash of headlights. He shrugged and tugged open the driver’s door. “Hard to say. Never met a man who made it through the gauntlet.” He tossed his black duffel bag across to the passenger’s side, shot a man-to-man nod at Ludan then smirked at Eryx. “Good luck.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic. Your dream woman’s the hard-to-get type.” As the truck pulled away, Ludan leapt to the asphalt and planted his hands on his hips. “We’re never getting home.”
Crickets and the drone of cars on the interstate filled the silence.
“Would you go back if you were me?” It was an underhanded question. Ludan knew the toll Lexi’s dream visits took on his ability to reason. How he woke strung out with need, zeroed in on the single purpose of finding his mate. “If you were this close, would you risk losing her?”
Ludan didn’t exactly hang his head in defeat, but he sure studied the asphalt hard. “No.” He turned and stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Better not to fuck with The Fates.”
The door rattled and eased open.
His skin buzzing, Eryx pushed to full height.
Ludan sidled further away and switched to telepathy.
“You sure you wanna do this? You can’t be sure she’s Myren.”
“I’ll figure it out.
The pictures in her mind were definitely of Eden.”
Under the unforgiving street lamps, Lexi’s tan skin glowed. Soft-black hair brushed her shoulders and her hips swayed, slow with an unpretentious sexuality. A distracted frown tugged at her lips, her face downcast. She looked up and froze, bits of gravel crunching beneath her fancy shoes. “You gotta be kidding me.”
“I told you I was willing to wait.” He tried for a lighthearted tone, no easy task. A decade of tracking one irresistible woman did crazy things to a man’s insides.
She zigzagged a look between Eryx near her red Jeep Wrangler and Ludan a stone’s throw away then glanced at the closed door behind her. She adjusted the purse strap at her shoulder and narrowed her blue-gray eyes. “You’re one step past stalker.”
He held up his hands. “I swear it’s not like that. I really do want to take you to breakfast.” So he’d gone a little further with his scan of her memories when they’d shaken hands than he should have. She always caught an after-work breakfast with a man who looked to be in his mid to late fifties, and she drove the Wrangler parked behind him.
“It’s nearly three AM.”
“And we’re all hungry. Perfect timing.” He lowered his hands and hoped Ludan wasn’t sporting his perma-scowl. Non-threatening wasn’t his strong suit.
“Smart girls don’t go to breakfast with strangers.” She nodded toward her Jeep. “Let alone get near a vehicle with unknown men nearby.”
“Your bartender pal clued me in.” Hopefully, she’d buy the lie, not that it felt good on his tongue. “And you could always call a friend to join us. Public place, your own car.” He paused to let the idea sink in. “What’s there to lose?”
A breeze ruffled her loose hair. Her face slackened and a flutter of energy drifted across the parking lot, barely perceptible.
Ludan perked up.
It was Lexi. It had to be. Humans couldn’t generate such a ripple—at least not any he’d ever met.
She tugged her purse to her chest and rooted around inside. “Waffle House. A few miles down the road.” A wad of keys settled in her palm, she dropped the purse back to her hip. “I meet a friend there after work. A cop, just to be clear. So don’t get any ideas.”
Satisfaction fired hot in his veins, the fact some strange older man would be along for the ride a paltry detail. He closed the distance, slow and steady, and traced the angle of her cheekbone.
Her eyes widened.
The Fates were never wrong. They might be coy with their reasons and damned vague in their instructions, but there was one thing he was sure of. They’d led him to his mate.