She wished she could ask him to back away so she could come out on her own, but her cat-shaped mouth wouldn’t form human words, and it seemed unlikely he was fluent in the subtle nuance of the meow. When she’d finally edged out, he picked her up. She reacted.
“Ow!” Dayne howled, dropped her, and cradled his bleeding arm. “Fuck!”
Greta scrambled onto the bed and burrowed underneath the pillow, her little black face poking out at him. Her eyes widened at the long bright bloody trails she’d left. Didn’t Dayne know anything about cats? It wasn’t like she could shut that instinct off.
She inched out from under the pillow, arched her back, and hissed. She expected to see anger in his eyes, instead she saw . . . guilt? She settled on top of the feather pillow and wrapped her tail around her as Dayne disappeared into the bathroom. When he returned, his arm was bandaged. She could smell the hydrogen peroxide he’d used to disinfect the cuts as if he’d been wounded on a battlefield instead of a few cat scratches. Men could be such babies.
“I don’t like blood,” he said.
“Mrarr?” Greta cocked her head to the side. He’d taken her blood not an hour ago. He didn’t seem to have a problem then.
“My own blood. I have no trouble with the blood of others.” Those calmly spoken words should have had her fleeing back under the bed to the safety she’d just left, but she remained frozen in place. She would have felt better if she could shift back to a form she could fight in. But she couldn’t, not with him there.
“If I sit next to you, are you going to claw me again?” She shook her head, and Dayne settled beside her.
“I apologize for my earlier behavior. I was nearly killed because of Jaden many years ago. So I have a hard time trusting Weres.
Especially Weres from your tribe.”
“Therians,” he corrected. “However, at this point I don’t believe you’re lying to me. Ordinarily I wouldn’t get involved, but you’re right. I need your blood. This is how it used to be done. None of this ordering blood off the Internet nonsense. Magic shouldn’t be so sanitary. It has no right to be.”
He’d started absently stroking Greta’s fur, a soothing rhythmic motion from the tips of her ears to the end of her tail. It was causing an inappropriate response, and before she could stop herself, she’d shifted.
Dayne turned as fur changed to soft flesh under his hand. Greta was lying on her side, her legs curled into her, trying to cover her nudity. It was a strange and oddly endearing quirk for a Were.
Usually they flaunted whatever they had to flaunt, in their skin or in their fur.
“Could you go get me some clothes out of my bag? Please?”
As he made his way down the hall, a visual came unbidden of those beautiful legs on his shoulders, and Greta moaning and writhing beneath him. He had to shake himself physically to loosen the thoughts from his mind.
If she’d been a dog, no pun intended, he might not have had such a problem. His resolve with her would be melted way before the moon reached fullness. And if history was choosing to repeat itself, by the time he needed her blood he’d contract a full-blown case of stupid. Dayne retrieved a pair of faded blue jeans and a T-shirt, which barely qualified as clothing.
He returned and tossed them to her, then looked away. He heard her catch the garments and bit the inside of his cheek as he listened to the fabric slide over her skin.
“Okay,” she said.
Dayne turned. Clothing did nothing to help the situation. The jeans hugged the curves of her hips too enticingly, and the shirt was cropped to reveal a small expanse of golden stomach. Without a bra, her nipples protruded through the thin pink material.
For a moment, neither of them spoke.
“The gardens are warded as well,” Dayne said, looking for anything to say so he could stop looking at her nipples. His eyes darted up to catch hers as she nodded. Her cheeks were flushed. Who knew a werecat could blush? Jaden had been shameless.
“Will you be sleeping in the guest room?”
“Are you going to lock me up?” Her eyebrows rose in challenge as the pink faded from her cheeks.
“I shouldn’t have said that. I’m not used to being around people. I’m sorry.”
This was an understatement and a testament to how much the tiny creature unnerved him. Once he’d had time to think, he’d realized how extreme it was. All the dangerous books required extensive magical knowledge to decipher. It wasn’t as if she could cast a curse on him or destroy any of the wards he’d built.
“We’re going to have to try to trust each other.” He watched her lips draw into a tight line at the hypocritical comment, but she nodded again.
He wondered if she felt the room charge as he did. He wanted to shove the jeans past her hips and bend her over the bathroom counter. He wanted her in his bed.
“I’m hungry,” Greta said, interrupting his fantasy.
Dayne’s hand, of its own accord, reached out and brushed a strand of hair off her face as she passed him. She flinched.
“Sorry,” he said.
“You’ve said that a lot today.”
He didn’t know why he’d touched her. He had no right. There were no strong wizards or good witches she could go to in the city.
She must have been very desperate and afraid to come to him, and he hadn’t done anything to put that fear to rest.
He followed her down the narrow hallway. A picture on the wall of his uncle Arthur reflected oddly in the domed hallway lighting. The photograph showed Arthur with a disapproving look on his stern features. The camera had never captured him without that look, not once in his 443 years of life. Nevertheless, Dayne felt the old man stood in judgment of him now beyond the grave, how far Dayne’s humanity had slipped in recent decades.
Greta moved ahead of him with an animal grace, each step precise. It was difficult to understand how normal humans couldn’t sense what she was. Dayne could feel the magic pulsing off her, just as intoxicating as the last time he’d felt it thirty years before with Jaden.
It called to him, begged him to take a taste of that raw natural power, that elusive something trained magic users just didn’t have.
A sorcerer, witch, or wizard just knew how to manipulate the magic around them; shapeshifters were made of magic.
He kept to the corners of the room, doing an old trick he’d learned in his apprenticeship days to make himself fade into the background. It wasn’t full invisibility, more like unobtrusiveness.
He wasn’t sure of its effectiveness on a shapeshifter, but at least it would keep his presence from spooking her further.
He had to restrain himself as Greta took the milk from the fridge and drank it straight from the carton. At first, the restraint was because she was no doubt spreading germs all over the container.
Then it became about something else as he felt himself grow hard.
A few drops of the creamy white liquid dribbled around the sides of the carton and down her chin and long neck. She arched back, and some of the liquid dripped down to dampen her shirt.
She moved on to a steak Dayne had planned to grill for dinner the next day. He couldn’t bring himself to protest as he watched her carefully unwrap the meat and make a show of eating it. A woman eating raw meat wasn’t generally a turn-on. It was the kind of thing seen in a traveling freak show, but somehow the werecat managed to make an act that emphasized bloody death into the most erotic teasing.
When she’d finished, she dumped the empty meat tray in the garbage and stretched her arms languidly over her head. She paused by the door on her way out of the kitchen. “Goodnight, Dayne,” she practically purred.
He shed the useless glamour. “Nice kitties don’t tease.”
“I never said I was a nice kitty. Nice sorcerers don’t stalk.”
“There are no nice sorcerers.”
He frowned as the confidence slipped off her face like a mask.
She turned and scurried off to the guest room without a backward glance, the spell she’d woven broken.
He didn’t know what kind of game she was playing, but he was disappointed to be the winner.
VER the days that followed, a routine and tentative truce Oformed. Dayne stopped threatening Greta and tried to stop suspecting her of trying to destroy him. Mostly he suspected Jaden. He’d once allowed Jaden’s musical laughter and shapely ass to cause him to lose sight of everything he’d learned as a sorcerer, something he was in danger of doing again now with Greta.
Jaden had been beneficial in her way. The slaughter in the tribe’s sacred space had ensured the reputation he now enjoyed. It was a reputation he’d cultivated and cared for like a garden full of delicate seedlings. The consolation prize for losing the girl.
Overall, it had significantly reduced the hassle in his life. Now everything was “Yes, Mr. Wickham,” “No, Mr. Wickham,” “Please don’t kill me, Mr. Wickham.” That suited him fine.
Whatever Jaden’s plan now, Greta at least believed she needed to be saved. And he needed blood. What was it they said about a gift horse?
He’d made a trip to the grocery store, stocking enough to feed an army. Weres had quite the metabolism. She could pack it away, but where she put it all, he had no idea.