Roman offered his hand, knowing the woman before him wouldn’t take it. She flinched and pulled back while staring at the brown-and-tan Burmese python resting his head on Roman’s hand. Sighing with equal parts annoyance and resignation, Roman glanced over his shoulder to Godfrey. “This is why I told you to stop.”
Godfrey opened his mouth and inhaled in preparation to speak but Roman turned his attention back to the woman. “You can leave.”
She squeaked, nodded, and then rushed out of the room. A single black feather wafted to the ground in her wake. It showed the severity of her agitation that she dropped the plume while in human form.
Roman mentally counted to ten to give the woman a head start. He had no choice but to follow her. They were both headed for the front door. He hoped to avoid theatrics by allowing her enough time to flee, but that left him in the room with Godfrey.
“I won’t stop, Roman. You are an alpha of our unkindness. As such, you should be paired with a mate who will give you alpha children.”
“I renounced my ties to this unkindness. That I continue to heed your summons is out of respect. A respect that wanes that much more each time you try to force another potential mate on me.” The heat of Godfrey’s glare warmed Roman’s back but Roman refused to face the man. “The days when I could have had a nice raven girl as my mate have passed. I am bonded to a python. No raven will have me. This conversation is over, now and forever. Good day, Godfrey.”
Roman left the room. The heels of his Oxfords thudded against the carpet, revealing his sour mood. His usual stride made no noise, and he blamed Kenz for its presence. The six-foot python added one hundred seventy-six pounds to Roman’s lithe form. “You could walk, you know.”
Kenz tightened his coils, squeezing Roman’s waist.
Roman decided against complaining. Today was a rarity. More often than not, Kenz was the one carrying Roman.
Though Roman thought he might, Godfrey didn’t chase them. The days of chasing should be over. Godfrey had to acknowledge the truth. No raven woman would want to be mated to a man tied to a snake. The two were natural enemies. Roman saw it as a cosmic joke that he’d ended up with Kenz — proof that Fate had an evil sense of humor.
Roman exited the house and went to his car. Once he opened the door, Kenz slid onto the passenger’s seat. His clothes were piled in the back for when he shifted to his human form. Roman got behind the wheel and aimed the car toward the highway.
We headed to Guardian now?
Roman nodded in answer to Kenz’s mental query. Their connection as lifemates allowed them the private means of communication. Not all lifemates were afforded the privilege. Roman wondered if the ability had something to do with them both being alphas. Or maybe it was meant to force understanding between them so they wouldn’t kill each other.
The start of their relationship had been rocky and volatile. If not for being in each other’s heads all day and night, hearing each other’s thoughts whether they wanted to or not, he and Kenz might have ended their relationship in death.
Those days had passed. With understanding had come acceptance and the knowledge of how to block. Roman heard Kenz’s thoughts when Kenz allowed it and vice versa. A thankful reprieve because Kenz’s mind wandered to self-pleasure more often than was healthy.
I heard that.
“I wanted you to. And you do think about masturbating far too much.”
I’m hard up, and you are too. We haven’t been laid since we bonded.
Roman’s cell ringing cut off his reply. He tapped the steering wheel button to answer the call. “This is Roman.”
“This is Guardian.”
“Guardian? To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Spare me the false congeniality. It’s unbecoming.”
Roman shrugged. He’d tried. Kenz got on his case no less than once a day about his apathetic attitude and his lack of niceties during normal conversation. He didn’t see the point and hated wasting the effort. “Why the call?”
“That’s better. I need you and Kenz to come in. I have a mate for you.”
A glance at Kenz showed he appeared as surprised as Roman felt. Roman gripped the steering wheel to keep the car steady. “A potential mate.”
“I said what I meant.”
“Are you sure?”
“Think about who I am, what I do, and realize why that’s a stupid question.”
Roman glared out the windshield, sorry he couldn’t show the expression to the woman herself. “Your last three attempts failed.”
“My last three weren’t attempts. They were fishing. No bites. I can’t do that with Letha. A riot might ensue.”
“Letha.” Roman breathed in the name and found he liked the feel of it on his tongue. “Why a riot?”
“Come meet her and see.”
“We’re on our way.”
“See you in a few.” The phone clicked.
Roman threw his signal and took the exit that led to Guardian’s building.
What do you think?
“A riot? That worries me. Is she that beautiful? That powerful? What about her could cause Guardian to forgo her normal method of matching mates to simply call us? The sex that happens in the mating chamber boosts her powers. There would have to be a good reason for her to skip it.”
My guess is powerful. Maybe she found us a nice demigoddess.
Roman snorted. “You wish.”
I wish for someone besides me to play with my dick.
“You and me both. You forget to block while you’re jerking off. I’m sick of being inundated with your imaginings of barely legal contortionist cheerleaders.”
Don’t forget the nude golf MILFs.
Roman pressed on the accelerator to hurry along the journey. “Your taste in porn is truly special, like you. I will be happy when I am no longer subjected to them. This trip to Guardian will rectify that issue.”
“She called us. She said our mate is waiting. I have to believe that or else I might do something drastic, like cutting off the Internet.”
And force yourself to go into town to work? Not likely. Don’t make threats you can’t keep. So long as this mate pans out, my need for porn will decrease. Yours too.
Roman sighed. As much as he harped about Kenz’s porn habit, Roman’s was no better. He hoped Guardian’s fourth try succeeded. No. He needed Guardian’s fourth try to succeed. Both he and Kenz knew they had a third out there — a woman who would complete their triad, making them all whole.
“This time for sure.”
Kenz snorted, or tried to. It resembled a loud sniff.
Roman agreed, but not aloud. Guardian was their only hope. If she couldn’t find their mate, Roman might be doomed to share in Kenz’s stash of porn. The thought made him want to ruffle his feathers in disgust. He settled for a full-body shiver and a shake of his head.
Guardian had never failed. He would trust in her and know the woman he and Kenz sought was out there looking for them too.
Nothing on the nondescript brick building gave Letha any indication she had found the right place. No number, no sign, not even windows. The building was a cube situated at the back of a semi-full parking lot. Rereading the directions didn’t help.
She sighed with a roll of her eyes as she approached the front entrance. Hopefully she had the right place and hadn’t stumbled across a weird club. Knowing her luck, this might be the hideout of some drug cartel or a secret entrance to an underground city or empty and she had an overactive imagination from watching too much TV.
The knob turned when she tried it. The door swung open when she pushed on it. Cool air and the scent of citrus and vanilla surrounded her. A soft wind chime jingled over her head but she didn’t see one when she looked up. The woman sitting behind a reception desk smiled. “Welcome to Guardian.”
Letha let out a thankful breath. She had the right place. “Hello. I’m Letha Knotts. I have an appointment at three with Guardian.”
“Hello, Letha. I’m Rosaline, Guardian’s secretary.” Rosaline waved to the chair in front of her desk. “Have a seat. I need to have you fill out some paperwork.”
“Sure.” Letha gave a nervous laugh as she sat where Rosaline indicated. “I almost thought I had the wrong place. I was standing outside for a while before I decided to come in.”
“I know. I saw you.”
Rosaline gestured toward the door. Letha turned and gaped at the glass wall that hadn’t been there a second ago. All glass from floor to ceiling with a perfect view of the parking lot outside.
“But that… It was brick.” Letha went to the door and poked her head outside.
The building was made of brick. She touched it to be sure it wasn’t a veneer over the window. The rough stone wasn’t a façade. She waved her hand outside while looking at it from inside. Behind her, Rosaline chuckled.
Letha looked at her. “How is that even possible?”
“Simple illusion magic. It’s necessary to ensure our privacy. Most people pass by the building without paying it any attention, which is what we want.”
“Magic. Of course.” Letha returned to her seat. “Sorry. This is all still new to me.”
“I understand. Most mundanes who visit for the first time react the same way. Mundanes are humans who don’t know about preternaturals.”
“Is it okay that I know? My friend Johan gave me the number to this place. He didn’t give much of an explanation to go with it. He just said to call and make an appointment.”
“You wouldn’t have an appointment if it wasn’t okay. Those in the community are very careful about who learns the secret of preternaturals really existing, and Guardian is even more so.”
Letha snorted. “I wouldn’t call the way Johan introduced me to the community careful. It was actually an accident.”
“Regardless, you know, and Guardian has agreed to see you.” Rosaline handed a clipboard with papers attached across her desk to Letha. “Please fill out the highlighted areas. You can have a seat in the waiting area. Guardian will call you back shortly.”
“Thanks.” Letha took the clipboard and moved to a chair a few feet from the one she’d just left. One other man sat cross-legged in the waiting area, reading a magazine. He hadn’t moved through her entire exchange with Rosaline. Letha almost thought he was a statue, except he flipped to the next page and kept reading. Was he waiting for Guardian too? He was gorgeous enough that he shouldn’t need help finding a significant other.
The man glanced at her and Letha jerked her gaze down to the clipboard. She hoped the man didn’t take offense at her staring. He was very, very good looking.
“Don’t,” Rosaline snapped.
Letha looked at the woman in surprise. Rosaline aimed an expression of disapproval at the man reading the magazine.
“I only wanted to say hi,” he said in a voice rich as honey.
“You only want to sit there and mind your own business or else I’m sending you home.”
“Fair enough.” He winked, crossed his legs in the other direction, and resumed reading the magazine.
Letha frowned at the exchange.
Rosaline said, “Ignore him. My husband is an attention hog.”
“Husband?” Letha glanced at the man and then back to Rosaline. “Congrats.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew him.”
“Okay.” Letha focused on the clipboard. Whatever that was about had nothing to do with her. She filled in the form and had to tamp down the feeling of visiting the doctor’s office thanks to the health history questions and emergency contact section.
She’d flipped to the second page when the door behind Rosaline’s desk opened. Letha gaped at the woman who exited. She was stunning. No. Awe-inspiring was a better descriptor. Letha didn’t need Rosaline to tell her this woman was Guardian. Her powerful presence proclaimed that.
“Are you here again?” Guardian aimed that disdainful question at the man reading the magazine. “Don’t you have a hobby?”
The man grinned at Guardian. “Annoying you, my lady. I thought you knew that.”
Rosaline said, “If I could find a way to make him stay home, I would.”
Guardian patted Rosaline’s shoulder. “Not your fault.” She turned her attention to Letha and raised her hand. “Come.”
Letha jumped to her feet and rushed forward. “Hello.”
“Hello. This way.” Guardian stepped out of the doorway so Letha could pass her. Once inside, she closed the door. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you.” Letha perched on the chair across from Guardian’s desk. “I’m Letha Knotts.”
“I know.” Guardian sat behind her desk. “I know why you’re here.” She held out her hand.
Letha passed the clipboard across the desk. “I’m not finished.”
“No need. This is busywork to keep you occupied while you wait.” Guardian placed the clipboard on the side of the desk, ignoring it. “I find having my clients do something keeps them from getting antsy and anxious with all the power floating around. Most mundanes don’t know how to react to it.” Guardian looked over Letha with an assessing gaze. “Though you handled yourself quite well, even against my cousin. I’m impressed.”
“Cousin? Rosaline’s husband is your cousin?”
“Yes. He is a demigod, like me.”
“What do you mean against?”
“Sebastian loves admiration and being the center of attention. He probably planned to flirt with you so he could bask in your adoration before his wife put a stop to it.” She shook her head. “He knows better than to siphon power while in my temple. But that’s a topic for another time. We’re here to talk about you.”
“A figure of speech. Pay it no heed.” Guardian folded her hands in front of her and rested her chin on her hands. “Tell me what kind of man you want.”
“A loyal one.”
“I’m not picky about looks or anything like that. I simply want someone who is loyal and devoted and enjoys being with me.”
“Sounds like you want a dog, not a mate.”
Letha let out a strained laugh. “I’m not a dog person.”
“That’s good. My best dog recently found a home he doesn’t want to leave and now only takes odd jobs that keep him close to said home. The other two are good workers and loyal but devoted is asking a bit much.” She held out her hand.
Leaning over the desk, Letha placed her hand in Guardian’s.
“Just as I thought. I felt it humming off you but I had to touch you to be sure.” Guardian released Letha and picked up the phone beside her computer, dialing before she put the receiver to her ear.
“Sure of what?”
“You’re not as human as you think you are.”
“What does that mean?”
Guardian held up one finger. “This is Guardian.” She shook her head with a roll of her eyes. “Spare me the false congeniality. It’s unbecoming.” Nodding and smiling, she said, “That’s better. I need you and Kenz to come in. I have a mate for you.”
Letha let her mouth fall open. What? Just like that? She hadn’t known what to expect from this visit but instant turnaround hadn’t been it.
“I said what I meant.” Guardian drummed her fingers on the desktop, exuding annoyance. “Think about who I am, what I do, and realize why that’s a stupid question… My last three weren’t attempts. They were fishing. No bites. I can’t do that with Letha. A riot might ensue.”
Riot? Letha started to ask but Guardian held up her finger again. What had Guardian felt when she touched Letha? Was it something bad? That would explain the rush. Guardian probably wanted Letha out of her building as quickly as possible.
“Come meet her and see… See you in a few.” Guardian hung up the phone. “Roman and Kenz are on their way.”
“What did you mean I would cause a riot? And why would you say I’m not human?”
“You are, just not one hundred percent. There’s a little preternatural in you. That little bit would cause a lot of fighting if I went about finding you a lifemate in the normal fashion — that being gathering a group of shifters to help you orgasm until one recognizes you as his mate.”
“Excuse me?” Letha stood, shaking her head. “Never mind. I think this might have been a bad idea.”
“I’m not –”
Letha lowered back onto the chair.
“The way preternaturals do things is not the human way, which means it clashes with your society-defined sense of propriety. You’ll need to get past that in order to have a preternatural mate. You are not a woman destined for one, but two.”
“Two.” Letha digested that word and let the meaning sink in. “As in two men? Both of them with me?”
“Yes.” Guardian’s brow furrowed and she appeared thoughtful. “I don’t think Roman and Kenz are together sexually. I never asked.”
“I didn’t come here to be part of a threesome. That’s a little out of my comfort zone and not what I asked for at all.” Letha stood again. “Thank you for your time.” She hurried to the door before Guardian called her back.
She opened the door and had to stop short when she almost ran into a tall man with a snake coiled around his body.
The man lowered his hand. He must have been about to knock. He stared at Letha with the same shock playing across his face that she felt. Did he also hear his heart thudding in his ears the way she did?
“Hello,” he said in a soft rumble.
Letha couldn’t return the greeting because her mouth didn’t work. She stared into the man’s light brown eyes and found herself succumbing to the spell they cast on her. Why else would she stand there as this unknown man cupped the back of her head and lowered his hot lips against hers?
She inhaled his airy scent, like the windswept plains. Leaning into him, she pressed her body against his and opened to him. Between them, the snake shifted until he circled both their shoulders and brought them closer together.
What was she doing? She didn’t know this man or his snake and yet his lips were the sweetest and most welcoming she’d ever tasted. The hands he buried in her hair sent heat licking through her body straight to her toes.
They were both overdressed. The mystery man must have had the same thought at the same time because he moved his hands to her waist and tugged at her shirt.
Guardian cleared her throat, loud and long. “As much as I’m enjoying the power spike, could you not fuck in my doorway?”