“Sit.” He motioned to a painted white circle in the middle of the floor.
She bit her bottom lip and slowly moved into the center of the circle.
“Are you having second thoughts about being here?” She nodded.
Dayne crossed to the far wall and selected a large and well-worn book from the uppermost shelf. He took a small needle from the desk drawer nearest the bookcase and opened the book to the correct page.
He pricked her finger, ignoring her indignant cry, and squeezed several drops of blood into the center of the circle. When he released her hand to say the incantation, she sucked on her finger.
It took every ounce of willpower for his eyes not to linger on her pretty little mouth.
He focused more intently on chanting.
When he closed the book, the werecat stood and placed her hands on her hips. “I didn’t want to come to you for help. You were my only choice. You’re the strongest magic user in the city, and we dislike the same people. I don’t know what your problem is, but I don’t want to die. My moth . . . Jaden gave me your address. I was in cat form so I couldn’t exactly ask questions but . . . ” Before she could finish the sentence, she was lying on her back, Dayne’s hand wrapped around her throat. He stopped squeezing when he registered the look in her eyes. She’d clearly forgotten she was stronger than he was. Something he could use.
“Who did you say sent you?” He poured menace into his voice, intent on keeping her on edge and pressing his advantage.
“Jaden . . . I . . . Please . . . ” Greta’s fingernails dug into his arms in panic.
He released her. “Forgive me. I have trust issues.”
“Yeah, no shit.” Greta shot back to her feet, the slight crouch of her body showed she was ready for him. She rubbed her throat.
“Did I hurt you?”
“You scared me. I almost shifted.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“I can’t fight worth a damn in my fur.” She crossed her arms defensively over her chest.
Her face flushed in anger. “Are you? Because the way it looks to me, we both have a problem and we both have a solution. You need blood; I have blood. I need protection; you have protection.
This doesn’t seem all that complicated to me. Does it seem complicated to you?”
Dayne crossed his arms over his chest. “I have ground rules, Were.”
“Fine. I have a ground rule too.”
One brow rose. “Oh? Do tell.”
While it was indeed true that she could kick his ass without blinking if he suddenly developed laryngitis, he would wager he could chant faster than she could drop kick him. Not every spell required books and herbs, candles or circles, or any of the million and one accoutrements the magical set swore by.
“Don’t call me Were. If you’re really that old, you know that’s offensive. Whatever your therian issue is, put it aside, I’m not whoever did you wrong. I would prefer to be called by my name if that wouldn’t be too much trouble.”
He cocked his head to the side and studied her. She alternated so quickly between timid and smart-mouthed, he thought he might be dealing with a multiple personality. It wouldn’t be the first time in his long existence. Dayne’s mouth curved in a genuinely amused smile before he caught himself and returned to his former cold expression. “Very well, and your name?”
“Is that your only rule, Greta?”
She nodded, the wind going out of her sails as she returned to being the frightened kitty. He wondered if she was aware of these highly irregular mood swings.
“My rules are as follows: You will not leave this house until after the full moon. If your tribe truly plans to sacrifice you, the wards will keep you safe as long as you remain inside. If you leave, you will not be allowed back in. Since I can’t keep an eye on you 24/7, when I can’t watch you you’ll be locked in the guest room.
For my own personal safety, of course.”
She stood perfectly still for a moment, the tension radiating off her body as she clenched and unclenched her hands at her sides.
“I won’t let you lock me up.” She’d said it calmly, her tone completely even, but she turned and ran up the stairs. Moments later, the front door slammed.
He shook his head and sighed. The spell hadn’t lied. He had. He hadn’t needed her blood to strengthen the wards. The wards were fine as they were, barring his bad habit of voluntarily opening the door without looking through the peephole first. He’d needed her blood for a truth spell.
The light that had glowed around her immediately after he’d finished the incantation should have left no doubt to her honest need. Though again, he wasn’t running a charity service. So why he should feel the need to help random Weres in distress like some sort of magical halfway house, he couldn’t be sure.
He’d felt the fear pouring off her and conceded no one was that good an actress. He’d watched her eyes flash between brown and yellow as she’d tried to stop from shifting. Still, he wouldn’t put it past Jaden to be using her.
Dayne shrugged. It was no longer his problem. Let someone else handle it. He wasn’t going to become a hero; they didn’t normally survive long.
He climbed the stairs and found Greta’s abandoned bag beside the front door. Rifling through it, he found makeup, clothes, and a few tacky books with shirtless men and women with heaving bosoms.
He crossed back to the computer, loaded the web browser, and typed, “Sacrifice,” “Therian” into the search box. Several sites popped up, most about werecats. This breed liked their sacrifice.
Dayne clicked the link that looked most helpful. The screen filled with morbid drawings of beautiful women, sometimes men, chained down to stone slabs, blood being drained from them into a type of moat around the altar as the others shifted into their animal form.
The images showcased a type of twisted sadism that most reserved for those not of their kind. Further down the page were photographs. One in particular caught his attention.
The woman’s hair was longer than Greta’s, but the same shiny dark brown. Otherwise, she resembled her enough that Dayne could almost see Greta on the slab instead. He scrolled the mouse over the arrow to leave the page.
A warmth prickled over his senses. The kitty was still in the house. He should have been angry, but after the photos what he felt was relief that she was still safely ensconced in his well-warded fortress. Somewhere. Cats were experts at hiding. If he’d been a human without magic running through his veins, he might never have known.
And now she was terrified of him. Had he worked the evil persona so strongly that he’d become so? He wasn’t all fluffy goodness and light, but he hadn’t thought he’d sunk to mustache-twirling levels of evil.
He focused on the bookcase, causing one of the books to fly off the shelf into his hand. He flipped to the appropriate passage and whispered the incantation necessary to lock all the doors and windows, then he allowed the book to fly back to its place.
He needed to get out and socialize more. Even ten years ago, Dayne never would have made a speech like the one he’d made in the basement about locking her up. It sounded like it had come out of Evil for Dummies. A less insane sorcerer would lock up the books he didn’t want her in, not lock her up. Or perhaps a sorcerer would lock her up.
He started down the hallway, his footfalls light and measured.
“Here, kitty kitty.”
RETA huddled under Dayne’s bed, her fur pressed flat Gagainst the wall. She’d barely maintained her form in the basement. Now she was too keyed up to shift back and climb out the window. Footsteps thudded and stopped with heavy finality just outside the door.
Please don’t find me. Please don’t find me. Her heart beat erratically in her tiny chest, in tempo to her silent pleas. She wondered if a cat could hyperventilate. If it had been Simon outside the door, he would have heard her panting and it would have been all over.
She tried to stay focused on the plan. Of course, Dayne would return to his room. That was the point. He’d finally go to sleep and she could slip out and eat something, then keep out of sight until after the full moon.
After all, what kind of idiot hides in the bedroom of the bad guy? It was probably a bad question given her current circumstances, but it had seemed halfway brilliant at the time she’d thought of it.
She couldn’t be sure why she’d slammed the door earlier without first going through it, except that Dayne was her only hope.
Without magic to cloak her, she was at the mercy of the tribe.
And no one else in Cary Town was strong enough to counteract the magic of the few witches in the tribe’s employ. If Jaden thought Dayne was her only chance, then he was.
The bed dipped above her and the bedsprings creaked as Dayne laid back and sighed. “You can come out now. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Yeah right. She remained hidden, though she was sure he could use magic to bring her out. She couldn’t be that difficult to levitate at house cat weight.
“Greta . . . ”
The bed creaked again as his weight lifted, then his eyes were level with hers. He held out a hand. She hissed.
“I’m not having a conversation like this,” he said, his voice sounding so reasonable she almost trusted him. “You have to come out eventually.”