Authors: Bobbi Romans
Tags: #Paranormal, #Romance
This edition published by
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, Ohio 45242
Copyright © 2013 by Bobbi Romans
ISBN 10: 1-4405-6901-0
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6901-2
eISBN 10: 1-4405-6902-9
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-6902-9
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123rf.com
Grace McKinney leaned over the dock’s edge and tried to ignore the restless feeling that left her all itchy, lost in thought as she stared out into the serene Florida swamp. This was the one place where life stayed pretty simple. Survive. No second-guessing whether you said or did something wrong. Wake, eat, drink and avoid the predators. Boom — done. No drama. Well, unless you were eaten by something bigger and hungrier than you. Unlike now, where she wondered and worried about the sexy shifter, Damien. She met him while rescuing her niece from the clutches of the swamp witch Octavia. The once fabled dark entity that stalked the swamps gobbling up virile young men who caught her eye. Turns out the bad ass fable was sadly true.
Then to get slammed with the fact they killed the old hag only to have her dramatic and equally evil son rise in power. Perfect. Just fucking peachy. The bright spot had been meeting Damien. An acquaintance of Moss’s. Not necessarily friends prior to the battle, the frenemies put aside any and all differences to form an alliance and really pack a punch in the fight.
She’d been so sure Damien had begun settling to life outside his secret domain. Yeah, she understood her armadillo swamp shifter friend would be nervous. Accepted it would take awhile for him to become as comfortable here in her world, which included run-ins with the public, as he’d been in his. Really thought they’d made progress. Then one evening, while sitting fireside at her cabin, Damien grew quiet — oddly so considering he’d been the one to encourage her to open up and prompted most of their conversations. Grace suspected he’d had a change of heart. When she awoke the next morning, he’d gone. She assumed back to his cave in the heart of the swamp lands. She did her best to pretend she wasn’t disappointed. Hurt even.
After all they’d gone through with her niece, Beth, and Beth’s fiancé, Moss, during the melee with Octavia, Grace thought she and Damien had formed a bond of sorts. Hoped Damien would chose to stay. Even considered briefly maybe they could be more than friends. The battle they’d gone through together had been grueling, and though they’d won, the war still brewed. Turned out the evil Octavia, who’d cursed both Damien and Moss into the shifters they’d become, bore an illegitimate son. Just their luck that son, Demetrius, decided to take over his deceased mother’s helm in some secret and evil society.
At the very least, Grace wished Damien would have lingered long enough to say his goodbyes in person. If nothing else a letter. But there was no note. No thanks for your hospitality. Nothing.
Knew I should have offered him my bed. Least then I could have eased one thing ailing me.
When Beth took Moss back to her place, Grace offered Damien the guest room. Prude she wasn’t, but that said, they didn’t really know each other. She’d hoped the sparks flying between them would build, not diminish.
“Knock, knock. You home?”
“Out here.” She didn’t want to even try explaining to her niece how she felt, because truthfully she hadn’t a clue.
“I take he hasn’t contacted you yet?” Beth spat.
Though they’d always been close, since the battle, they’d become ever closer. More than just family love. Her niece had grown into her best friend and confidant. She’d even let her in on the secret of her past. Her deepest heartache. That of her long missing fiancé, Henry. He’d gone into the swamps back in their youth and never returned. Until Moss and Damien explained about the rumor of the swamp, of the one shifter that chose to become one with the creature he’d been cursed with, she’d thought Henry killed by one of the many swamp predators.
“No. Damien needs time. All of this,” she waved her hands around the place, “among the humans is a rather big adjustment for someone like him.” In truth she was sure of that. Hiding in the swamps for years because of Octavia’s curse had to have taken some sort of mental toll.
“Yeah, maybe. He’s still being an asshat though.” Beth leaned over and hugged her, apparently noting her goose bumped skin when she rubbed her arms.
“How long have you been out here?” Beth asked, worry lacing her words.
“Not long, but the temp is dropping quick. Want me to make us some hot tea … ah, hell. Want a shot of Scotch?”
“Now you’re talking.” Beth piped up.
“You know what’s kinda weird? I’d have laid money on Moss suffering the first meltdown.”
“Not saying anything against your Bog Man, but yeah, I rather thought the same. But seems Moss took to town life like a lizard to a heat lamp.”
Beth chocked on her Scotch at the reference to Moss and his reptilian side. Happily, it came with night vision, strength and aquatic feats that would shame the best of Olympians coupled with the sexy as hell tattoos, which in fact were silken-esque scales.
“Oh well. We all have our reasons for things. He’ll probably contact me one day to explain his reason for leaving.” Grace hoped sooner rather than later.
“He could have at least said goodbye.”
“I’m sure he will. We’ve all been through too much. Speaking of, you’ve been holding back with the all those magical abilities of yours.” Ice tinked as Beth tipped her glass back and forth smiling, yet thinking.
“Honestly? Not really. Much like you coming into your own now, sometimes it takes the extreme, like a life or death situation to unleash what’s been lying dormant.” Grace ran a circle over her heart.”Magic is purest when used towards saving another.”
“Makes sense. But that whole projection thing … you should so ditch your cell phone company.” Beth teased, Grace knew to try and lighten her sadness over Damien’s sudden departure.
“While the savings would be great, using projection, or telepathy, is quite taxing. It’s there and I can tap it during emergencies but doing so for chatty conversations with my niece would be a bit much.” She jibbed.
• • •
Damien felt like death. Being sober after a weeklong drunk held a steep price. One he now paid. His head pounded and even the low lighting hurt his eyes.
You’re a complete loser. You had a gorgeous, smart woman who wanted you. And what did you do? Haul ass. Nice move, bro.
He still couldn’t believe how spooked he’d become.
Yeah you did, because Grace is so far out of your league a real relationship isn’t even plausible, dumbass.
Man was she sexy. Tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed. Grace had everything. Looks and brains and she’d intimidated the hell out of him. Damn, he’d taken on all kinds of bad … and yet one sultry woman had him tucking tail and booking it back home where he remained king and secure. She was so perfect and
Too much of both for the likes of someone like him.
He chucked the empty whiskey bottle across his chamber and watched the shattering amber glass rain down in jagged shards. He ran his fingers through his shoulder-length dark hair. Damn, but if his dick didn’t get hard simply thinking about her. Oh he had it bad and she held the cure to fixing that bad.
Damn shame you’re too much of a pussy to go get cured.
The sound of tumbling pebbles sent him to high alert.
Someone lurked about in his cave. Considering it sat off the beaten path in the middle of the alligator-infested swamp, it wasn’t some spelunker out exploring. Damien snatched his machete and blew out the candles, plunging his domain in darkness. Whoever intruded would soon regret their chosen path.
Damien crept through the tunnels, listening for any telltale signs of movement. Sure enough, far off to the right, he made out a light scuffling. Snuffing out the last candle, he laid flat against one of the cave walls crevices and waited.
Closer the intruder came, step by step until close enough for Damien to take out.
His knuckles contacted bone. Teeth clattered. Flesh struck flesh as he fought to neutralize the trespasser, who was definitely male.
“Fuck, dude, I mean you no threat. I came bearing a message.”
Each had one hand around the other’s throat and one fist drawn back to strike.
“Who the fuck are you?” Damien asked in a strangled garb and strained vocal chords.
“Name’s Trick and I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me to be. I can assure your stank ass of that.”
Damien grinned when the kid grabbed for his stomach after he tapped it. With his fist.
“Dude, what the hell?”
“That, dude, was for calling me stank ass. This however,”
“is for intruding on my personal space.”
Damien watched the kid double over and spit blood before straightening again.
“So, what’s the message and who’s it from?”
“He didn’t give me his name, only the message to warn you about being around some chick named Grace.”
Damien bristled at the warning. There was only one person left who held any kind of power over him. Demetrius, the son of his maker, Octavia, the swamp witch. He understood the warning wasn’t a threat against his person, but against Grace. Demetrius had taken a shine to her, and Damien didn’t doubt he wouldn’t do whatever he had to in order to obtain her. That including threatening her and all those she held dear.
And he’d tucked tail and left her alone at the cabin.
“Okay, message received. Now get the fuck out of here.” He turned, planning to grab some shit and head back to Grace’s when he realized the kid lingered.
“Not waiting on a tip are you?” The kid snickered and looked like he wanted to ask something, but wasn’t sure if he should.
“Oh for Christ’s sake. Ask already.” He didn’t have time to coddle, not that he would, but he didn’t want to head down the tunnel leading to his chamber until the punk was gone.
“What are you?”
“What’s it to you?”
“Nothing. Curious is all.”
Something about the kid intrigued him. Big, but young. Early twenties at best and appeared more than a bit lost. Still seemed uncomfortable in his new skin. Damien wondered how long the kid had been cursed. He’d bet recently. Maybe even Octavia’s last curse.
“Tell you what. Why don’t we agree to say neither of us are exactly who we once we were. Work for you?”
Though Damien didn’t see any immediate harm in disclosing the animal he shared within, he didn’t trust anyone one hundred percent and chose to keep mum. Fact was, he didn’t know the kid.
“Catch ya around.”
“Uh, yeah, okay kid.”