Hounded:A Steamy Shifter MysteryBy: Tasha Black
“Love that,” Van murmured.
“Nothing,” he replied. “Big yard.”
They were crossing through the deep rear garden of the Barrymore Estate to the woods beyond. The summer roses were gone and the trellises were nothing but thorns, yet they still had an eerie beauty against the pergola that surrounded the black water of the pool.
On instinct, Dulcie turned back to the house. Its granite walls loomed high even from half an acre away. A single light warmed a huge window in the rear of the house. Silhouetted in it was Jack Wenderly, Mr. Barrymore’s companion.
Dulcie wasn’t sure if he could see them in the twilight, or if he were alone with his thoughts. She was too far away to try and get a sense of him. In any case, it was a haunting sight and she shivered.
“Are you cold?” Van asked, breaking her reverie.
“I’m fine,” she replied, thinking wistfully of her sweater back at the office.
“No, you’re not,” he said, pulling off his leather jacket to reveal the tight white t-shirt, bulging biceps and bands of tattoos.
Dulcie blushed as he held out his jacket for her. She said a little prayer as he put it on her, but his shoulders were so huge it slid on easily. She didn’t try to zip it up for fear her breasts would not comply.
Instantly, she was enveloped in his body heat and the spicy scent that belonged to Van alone. She let her eyes close for an instant.
“Oh, that’s nice,” he murmured.
Her eyes popped open. That was flirting, it really was. Why was he always flirting with her? Why couldn’t he leave her to fantasize in peace?
Dulcie could just make out the amber fog of desire clinging to his form, but she chose to ignore it. It was probably wishful thinking on her part.
“Let’s keep moving,” she said briskly. “We want to get there before it’s completely dark.”
Van shrugged but followed her lead.
“So, you’re a shifter too, aren’t you?” he asked, completely disregarding the rules of the game.
Shifters and wizards didn’t ask those questions of one another. Not unless they were good friends or lovers.
As a new arrival, it made sense that he might not even know there were rules. But most of those called to Woodland Creek had a good instinct for silence.
“Not really,” she hedged.
“Oh yes, you are, I can tell. But I can’t figure out your animal,” he replied.
“How do you know I’m not a teapot?” she asked.
“You smell too good,” he replied, one corner of his mouth lifting in a crooked smile so sexy it took Dulcie’s breath away.
“Teapots smell good,” she blurted out.
“Touché,” he smiled, his eyes crinkling this time, warming her insides.
They walked on. Dulcie wondered if it was possible to be drunk on someone’s scent. The jacket and Van’s close proximity were getting to her.
A few more steps into the woods and the trees were closer together, making it seem as if it were the dead of night except for the ribbons of pink twilight that filtered through their branches. Pine needles made a fragrant bed beneath their feet.
“A butterfly,” he said, snapping his fingers.
Dulcie turned to look, and almost lost her footing, but Van shot out a hand to steady her.
“Where?” she asked.
“Earlier,” Van said. “You said you thought about getting a tattoo once. I bet it was like a butterfly on your ankle, or something like that. Just the right level of rebellion, but easy to cover up.”
“Actually,” she began, but Van cut her short by wrapping an arm around her protectively and spinning them around, sniffing the air as he did.
They froze in place for a moment as he searched the woods for a scent. Dulcie’s heart beat against his arm and she rued her shifter animal once again for having no skills whatsoever to assist her in a dangerous situation.
At last he straightened, but didn’t let go of her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
He loosened his arm enough that she could turn to face him, but still didn’t let go.
“There was someone, or something. I know it.” His eyes darkened as he gazed at her. “But they’re gone now.”
“How do you know?” she asked stupidly, grasping at anything to distract her from those eyes.
“I just know. Do you think I would ever let anything happen to you?” he demanded.
“I’m just your real estate agent,” she murmured.
He threw his head back and laughed, hard. The sound echoed in the silent woods, and reverberated back until Dulcie felt it on her skin and in her bones. A haze of orange merriment haloed Van, and she realized she’d never seen him laugh before.
The sight of it was so delightful that Dulcie laughed too.
When she stopped and smiled up at him, he suddenly cupped her cheeks in his big hands.
“I love that smile,” he whispered fervently.
The next thing she knew, he was kissing her, his lips warm and insistent against hers.
Dulcie melted into him, her hands still by her sides.
Van thumbed at her jaw, urging her to let him in.
When she did, his tongue crashed over hers, stroking her firmly, then teasing and flicking.