Hounded:A Steamy Shifter MysteryBy: Tasha Black
“Do you want me to walk you back?” Seth asked.
But she had already taken off across the street and down toward the cafe, red and yellow leaves swirling in her wake.
Dulcie tried to remain calm as the whole town rocketed past. She clung to Van’s waist with all her might, doing her best not to imagine what would happen to him when they inevitably crashed his motorcycle. He’d given her his helmet.
Who would travel this way on purpose?
She thought longingly of the latte she’d left behind and her sensible old Saab parked in front of the real estate office. This would have been a blissful voyage under its trusty sunroof with that cup of sweet coffee beside her.
She had envisioned exactly that sort of drive to the Barrymore place, but when she told Van where she was going, he insisted on taking her.
Before she knew it, they pulled beneath the canopy of lumpy sycamores that led the way to the most beautiful homes in town. She sold one of them once in every blue moon. Generally, once you made it to this part of town, there was no place to go afterward but the cemetery.
The Barrymores’ driveway was long, wending its way around a murky pond full of stone mermaids, and up past the grape arbor to the front of the house.
At Halloween, this was one of the houses that would be skipped over. It was too spooky, and too far off the beaten path.
Much to Dulcie’s relief, Van parked the motorcycle in the grass just off the foot of the drive.
She handed him back his helmet and tried to make the best of a bad hair situation. If only she were the kind of girl who carried a giant purse, she could take care of this.
She looked up to find him studying her again with the same bemused expression he’d given her back at the office.
“Looks nice, very nice,” he murmured.
He leaned forward and she could smell the leather of his jacket.
Almost carelessly, he reached toward her, and ran his fingers through her hair.
His touch was electrifying. Dulcie tried not to close her eyes and lean into his hand. It wasn’t easy.
Van’s eyes narrowed and a halo of something dark presented itself to Dulcie. That was often the way her gift worked - not an exact reading, but a hint of mood or intention.
He pulled his hand away and his lip curled in a snarl.
Dulcie was confused, until Seth’s little blue car zipped up the drive.
Classic. At least a dog shifter could smell what was coming.
“Let’s go,” Dulcie said with the gamest smile she could muster.
“Wow,” Van murmured as they passed the pond.
It was admittedly a pretty creepy sight. Dulcie naturally remembered the pond as it had once been, a bit unkempt but basically very beautiful. Now the stone mermaids seemed to be gagging on the scum, and crawling out, not to sun themselves, but to beg for assistance.
“Mr. Barrymore was getting up there in years. He’s been very generous with the town,” she heard herself excuse the old gentleman.
Van nodded as they reached the arbor.
“Was he a big drinker?” he asked, indicating the fruit withered on the dormant vines and raising an eyebrow in a way that made Dulcie want to faint.
“I don’t think so,” Dulcie replied. “I’ve met Mr. Barrymore maybe three times in my life. Once was at an event where he donated the funds to rebuild the library. He’s been an old man with a white beard for as long as I can remember.”
“A generous old man,” Van added.
“Yes, he was. He was never one to make a big fuss, but I’m pretty sure he’s had a hand in about every project this town has ever begun.”
“That’s really nice,” Van said. “Where I come from, the rich people don’t exactly make a habit out of sharing.”
Dulcie thought about that.
They continued on in silence until they reached the top of the drive.
“You brought him?” Seth asked in a disappointed tone as soon as they were in sight.
“Van has experience with crime scenes,” she said diplomatically. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Van trying to hide a smile.
“Hmm. Well, it’s a pretty cool estate, eh, Dulce?” Seth asked, shortening her name and gracelessly yapping about the dead man’s estate when they were practically at the door.
Dulcie tried not to wince.
“It’s beautiful, Seth,” she said in a tone that implied that she remembered their purpose here.
Seth smiled, not taking the hint, and bounded up the rest of the steps, ringing the front bell before Dulcie and Van had made it to the porch.
The door creaked open. The gentleman behind it gave Seth a disapproving glance. He was older, not quite old enough to be her father, but closer to that than her own age. He looked like an English gentleman from one of those shows on PBS - impeccably groomed, white button down shirt, jacket, and a red cravat.
“Hi again, I brought back Dulcie, like I said I would, and her associate, Van. Guys, this is Mr. Barrymore’s…” Seth seemed to be trying to find a word that wasn’t butler or friend since he clearly didn’t know if the man was an employee or not.
“Companion,” the gentleman introduced himself unhelpfully. “Jack Wenderly.”