Enjoy this Sneak Peak of Wyrd Love: Book 5

Starting Fires

Chapter 1

Bill’s ‘55 Mercury roared to life, the engine rolling in pitch with angry rumbles and grumbles, then it fell silent. Crickets and owls filled the air with their music after the cacophony, leaving Bill’s temples throbbing. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as uneasiness burrowed deep into his spine.

“Yeah, I know, Beast. It’s bugging me too,” Bill answered.

He was parked in front the opulent home of Damien Cole, hidden deep in a national park outside of Denver. It was particularly difficult to reach, especially for Beast, but there was no way Bill was walking into a werewolf’s compound without backup. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, jaw clenched.

Turn back. Drive away and find another job, his instincts urged.

Another five minutes passed and he still hadn’t moved. He wanted to listen to the impulse to run but that giant price tag was too tempting and he was too desperate. The big bounty. The last bounty. Yet something about it stung like a fresh hangnail.

Bill pressed a hand over the Nordic knotwork that circled his bicep, the warm, black ink prickling his flesh. Even just thinking about his dues made it burn, throwing memory after terrible memory into his path. A reminder he could never forget.

 You’re mine forever, góður drengur minn, that voice whispered in his mind.

A high-pitched whine twisted from Beast’s hood, pathetic and soft.

“No, it's not your fault we're in this mess.” Bill put up a hand before the car could protest. "No guilt. Cole’s money will help us finish this shit off.” He gritted his teeth, muttering, “I swear to the Gods, this time I’ll kill him when I see him.”

Beast didn’t respond. His usual enthusiastic replies had dwindled, year after year. Same empty promise. Same chicken shit lies from Bill. No matter how many furious oaths, he still had yet to ram a blade through that old bastard’s gut. Too many centuries of fear had conditioned him to never raise his hand.

You’ll always be mine, góður drengur minn.

Haakon’s promise was holding true. Bill growled, slamming his elbow into the door so hard it left a dent. Beast let out an annoyed honk and the impression popped out, the apoholstry good as new.

Bill winced. “Sorry, bud. I started thinking again.”

A series of ticks and rattled came from the hood.

Bill cracked a smile, petting Beast’s dash to settle him. “I know, I know.  Reforming is a pain in the ass. I get it,” he said. “Look, I’ll make it up to you. After all this, I’ll buy you a set of whitewall tires.”

One enthusiastic engine rev and the driver’s side door popped open. Beast was a vain creature, even in his present form. Bill took a deep breath, desperate to settle the rolling waves of acid in his gut; the last thing he needed was to puke on Cole’s shoes. Yeah, that would be a bad business practice.

There was only one person that could calm his nerves, now. She always had since he’d found her. Bill held his breath and lowered Beast’s sunshade, a wave of respite washing over him as soon as his eyes fell on that breathtaking creature.

Her.

His pure, pin-up perfection.

The only female he would ever need.

The only one who’d ever want you, dumbass.

She wore a barely-there yellow nightie and baby blue heels, the sides of her ruby hair rolled in a classic style, the rest cascading down her back. Bill wet his lips, brushing the pads of his fingers over the faded cardstock. The only peace he ever felt was with her. Those smoldering honey brown eyes, her full red lips, and a smile that said “Hello, Sailor” made him positive that every inch of her body tasted like fire. Bill had lost count of how many times he had fantasized about burying his hands in her fiery curls while burying his shaft inside her hot core. So many achingly lonely nights were cured by that reverie.

Too bad she was made of paper.

Gently, Bill pressed his fingers to his lips, then against the pinup’s cheek.

Business now. Fantasies later.

He smoothed his hair, gathering it to braid, but his fingers froze as bile crawled up the length of his throat. Dammit, he almost fell into his old habits again.

No braids. You’re not a troll anymore. You didn’t earn those battles.

He’d rather be anything else in the Wyrd than similar to that evil son of a bitch, Haakon. Bill tied his hair in a simple queue at the base of his neck, then held out his arms, examining his scarred flesh. No green, just dusky olive human skin. Good. That green made him sick to his stomach. If he could chop off his damn horns, he’s be golden. Too bad that would hurt like a bitch. Bill brushed his hair over the obsidian points and his jagged ear tips, hiding them as best he could.

“Bring me luck, beautiful,” he said to his pin-up. “I’m going to need it.” Then he flipped up the sunshade, snatched his machete from the floor, and shoved himself out to the gravel drive.

Bill rang the bell. Nothing. He peered through the front door's crescent cut windows, hoping to see a figure coming to greeting him but only saw slashes of an empty hallway.

“Really?” BIll groaned and rapped his knuckles against the carved teak. And waited.

And waited.

...and waited.

Another knock brought more nothing.

Bill was about to flip the house the bird and storm off when the door opened with a loud creak. A tall, well-groomed male stepped out, his shoulders as broad as a barn and slick hair dark as night. The thick scruff on his jaw obscured a scar that ran from his lower lip all the way to his jugular. That must have been a close call.

“Ah, the troll is here,” the werewolf said, a distinct edge of disgust on the word troll. Bill bristled, the tone putting his teeth on edge.

The wolf offered a hand to shake, his fingernails well manicured.

Perfect crease in his pants?

Check.

Shined shoes?

Check.

Teeth that were so white they practically sparkled?

Double check.

Regardless of his disgust, Bill took his hand.  “Damien Cole?”

The wolf’s jaw ticked at the name but he continued to grin. “That’s my brother. I’m Sebastian Cole. This is my pack.”

Bill arched a brow, biting his cheek before he asked why Damien didn’t answer his own damn call. But after this introduction, Bill figured he was lucky anyone had greeted him at all.

Don’t punch him in the face. You’re too close to freedom.

He pushed his ire away and concentrated on the money.

“You’re hard males to find,” Bill said.

“Precisely how I want it,” Sebastian replied. “Follow me. He’s waiting for you.”

Sebastian started off but Bill remained glued in place. “What’s the job?” he asked, still lingering on the porch.

Sebastian paused in mid step, his perfect smile wavering. “It’s not mine to explain.”

“If not the pack leader, then who?”

“My brother, Damien hired you. This is his thing. Not mine.” Sebastian’s tone was curt as he swept his hand down the entry. “So, do you want to get paid or not?”

Bill met his aggressive stare, fists clenched. Something about this male was setting off every one of his red flags. Sebastian’s vibe was dark. He smelt of old blood and rage.  Bill was hardly a saint but just standing in the wolf’s presence made him want to steam clean himself. Gods, if the pack leader made skin crawl, what the hell would his brother be like?

Money. Freedom. Suck it up and do this.

“Invite me in, and we’ll get this started,” Bill said.

Sebastian chuckled; a droll, mocking sound that almost made Bill bare his teeth. “What, are you a vampire, too?”

“No. I’m just not an idiot.” Bill wagged a finger at the door jam. “If you don’t want to be found, then this is warded with security spells. Bad ones.” He opened his hand, a tornado of blue, force magic sparking in his palm. “I can pass through my way, but you wouldn’t like it.”

“Ah, a magic user? Mage blood perhaps? We all know they passed through your lands centuries ago and…” Sebastian sneered. “Bred.”

Bill didn’t answer, only waited for the invite despite the burning in his temples. He clenched his fists,his  thoughts chanting, Think about the money, just about the money and gestured to the door again, trying not to glare at the prick.

Sebastian cooed as if he just watched an infant crawl for the first time. “Here I thought your kind were all brute strength and grunts. Such a smart boy. By all means. Bill the Skinner, I invite you inside.”

Bill stepped through the threshold, hand resting on the handle of his machete. Vibrations of power tingled over him as the spells fizzled out. Yup, the place was warded up the ass. That hook of dread latched into his gut, pulling with the expertise of a fly fisherman.

“Heavy wards,” Bill said.

“We have our reasons,” Sebastian replied.

I’m sure you do, asshole.

Bill bit his tongue before he spoke out loud.

They strolled past gilded furniture and oil paintings worth more than all the bounties Bill had collected in his life, and down a hall of glimmering crystal chandeliers, plush oriental rugs, and polished suits of armor that were definitely not replicas. Everything was placed just to overwhelm visitors with intimidating wealth.

“So, they call you Bill?” Sebastian spit out his name as if it tasted bitter.

“Yup,” Bill replied, waiting for the usual exchange to come.

“Odd name for a troll.”

And there it was. Bill only nodded.

“I figured you’d be more…” Sebastian rolled his wrist before finally deciding on, “Nordic.”

“I prefer Bill.”

Sebastian's Gods’ damned laugh made Bill want smash the nearest expensive knickknack over his head. He opened his mouth to retort when he felt eyes on him. Bill turned. A male was hunched on a red velvet chair, his piercing blue stare steady. His jaw twitched as if to speak but he remained silent, his hands clenched white knuckle tight in his lap. For a moment, Bill thought maybe that was Damien but he didn’t have that same rotting aura that was rank on Sebastian. This one was gentler, and his fear all but slapped Bill in the face.

The male raked back the golden waves that curled over his forehead, revealing a yellowing bruise around his left eye and an expression that screamed, help me. Sick churned hot and quick. Bill’s mind spiraled; the brutal fists, the slash of a whip on his back, the screams. His screams. His pain.

Stop! Stop please, faðir! Please!

Bill’s fingers went numb, lungs tightening, throat closing. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move.

You’re mine forever, góður drengur minn.

Sebastian flicked his hand at  the male. “This isn’t the place for you, Christian.” His voice was sharp despite the slight smile.

Christian rubbed the colorful sleeve of tattoos on his left arm, face screwed up into a hateful grimace before he stood, uncurling a lean and solid body that matched Sebastian in strength. He looked ready to speak but cringed from the pack leader like a scolded puppy and slunk away. Bill’s breath returned, a cry of relief locked behind his lips. Was everything tonight going to remind him of Haakon? He conjured up images his pin-up girl. Her honey brown eyes and flirty smile, soothing his nerves as they continued on.

Sebastian led him to an old fashioned study, giving the sturdy door a knock as he pushed it open. “Damien,” he called. “Your troll is here.”

A hulking body was hunched over an intricately carved desk, a slender female leaning over him, her long raven hair spilling down her shoulders and surprise peeling over her delicate features.  Bill caught the angry flash gold in Sebastian’s eyes and the brief curl of his lip. Then he held his arms open.

“Beloved!” he bellowed, more in warning more than affection.

She straightened, then gave a sweet, seductive grin to Sebastian, tucking her hands behind her back. In two strides, he was before her, kissing her cheeks. The female curled against him. Mates? More than likely. Bill shifted on his feet as the couple moved from sweet pecks to full open mouth snogging.

Gods, what kind of sick, dysfunctional crap did I walk into?

Bill cleared his throat, which did absolutely nothing, then looked to the figure at the desk, almost losing his dinner.  The male was hideous and burned beyond comprehension. The flesh was melted from half of his face, his mouth twisted into a permanent snarl. His left eye socket was hollow and a large patch of his chestnut hair was gone, replaced with leathery scarring. He stared back at Bill with his one good eye, its color a dark, penetrating blue. Wrinkled blotches crawled down his neck and rolled out of his sleeve into a deformed claw of three gnarled fingers.  Wyrd beings could heal from just about anything with time, especially werewolves. Whatever fire caught had him had been magical. Magical and powerful.

“Bill the Skinner?” the monster asked, words slick and wet.

Bill nodded, doing a bang up job keeping his repulsion covered with a bland expression. He was right, Damien’s vibe was even worse than his brother; nothing but blood, stink, and fury. He tucked his hands behind his back, hiding the gooseflesh that crept up his arms.

The male’s mouth curled. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, then rose, offering his good hand to shake. “I’m Damien Cole.”

By now, Sebastian and his mate had unlocked their lips, their stares like bullets. Damien limped out from behind his desk.  Every inch of him was pure muscle like his brother but his gait was weak, trembling with every step.

“I’m a male of few words so let’s cut to the chase,” he said. “I need you to retrieve a phoenix.”

“A phoenix?" The laugh exploded from Bill before he even knew it was coming. “This is a joke, right?”

What was left of Damien’s eyebrows lowered. “I’m not joking!”

Bill wiped the mirth from his eyes, trying to hide how tickled he was that two giant predators couldn’t haul in a tiny, defenseless bird. The image shook away the dread that was squatting over him.

“Your reaction tells us you don’t want the job,” Sebastian said from the sidelines.

“No. I just think it’s a waste of your cash,” Bill replied. “Phoenixes are creatures of beauty, not battle. They party, they eat, and they fuck. That’s it.  Hiring me for this is like building a snowman with a bulldozer. And frankly, I’m a little insulted.”

“Look at me troll!” Damien lurched forward, his one eye flashing with rage.

Bill’s hand went for his machete, every muscle coiling as amusement died.  Dammit, he was serious.

“Do I look like the creation of a creature of beauty?!” Damien asked. “The pain I suffer every day is a testament to what she did to me!”

“You’re telling me a phoenix did that to you?” Bill asked.

“And enjoyed every minute of it! She lured me to the middle of nowhere only to…to...” Damien touched his deformed face, his expression withering before he marched to the desk and punched his meaty fist onto the blotter. The desk groaned and the floor shook.  Over and over he struck, the varnish chipping as he chanted, “I want her! I want justice! I want her! She’s mine! Mine, mine, mine!”

Bill swallowed as the tantrum raged on. Thank the Gods for his unbreakable poker face.

“Belinda,” Sebastian groaned giving his mate an exasperated nod. She broke away, hands lighting as she passed them over Damien’s face.

“Peace, Damien,” she soothed. “Your plan is in place. You will have her.”

“Yes. I will.” Damien’s voice went slack as a haze of tranquility shrouded him. “Thank you, Belinda. Thank you.”

Mind magic.

The Missus was a mage.

Well, this group of assholes was getting more and more exciting. Bill clenched his jaw, making sure his mental blocks were in place. He didn’t need one of her ilk poking around in his head and hearing his less than flattering thoughts.

“Damien, let’s not waste anymore of the troll’s time.” Sebastian yawned into the back of his hand then rolled his wrist with impatience. “The feather, please.”

With a reluctant sigh, Damien pulled a large, glimmering plume from his pocket, turning it between his fingers this way and that.  It shone like living fire, flashes of red, orange, and gold making him ache at its beauty. Damien glazed over at his prize, saliva spilling down his chin. When Bill reached for it, he jerked it away, fangs growing sharp.

“Mine,” he hissed.

“You want me to do my job. You have to give me something to track her with,” Bill said.

“It’s mine!” Damien repeated.

“Damien,” Sebastian warned. “Hand it over. He’s a troll.  He hardly has the natural senses we do to find her.”

Damien winced, like a naughty child. He scowled at his brother then ran the feather under his nose, taking a long, lecherous sniff before obeying. The display made Bill’s stomach curdle but he took the plume and tucked it into his pocket, safely away from the wolf’s clutches. Damien’s pout made the corner of his mouth twitch up.

“It’s the last one I was able to salvage,” Damien said. “You can use it to scry for her, if your magical prowess is as good as they say.”

Bill narrowed his eyes.  “If you two keep insulting me, you can find another bounty hunter.”

Damien cackled. “Your kind is known for strength, not intelligence.”

“Maybe,” Bill replied. He made a display of patting his pocket, enjoying the way Damien’s crooked mouth twitched. “But I’m not the one who got their ass kicked by a phoenix.”

Sebastian slapped a hand against Damien’s chest before he charged, shoving him back. Damien barked but one sharp look from his brother silenced him.

Sebastian smiled coldly, stepping in front of Bill. “There’s no need to be confrontational, troll.”

“Your brother is the confrontational one. I have no problems walking out that door if he keeps it up.” Bill stood firm, hands balled into fists. It was a bluff, but one he was sure they’d take. Damien was too desperate. “Make your mage scry if you don’t trust my skill.”

Belinda looked down her nose at Bill with a sneer. “I have more important things to tend to.”  

And I bet your scrying skills are shit, Bill thought, not caring if she heard it.

When Belinda’s face turned sour, he knew she had poked past his shields. He smirked, swallowing down the vitriol he longed to spew. Usually he didn’t bait his clients but something about the Coles told him they deserved it.

Easy, Bill. Stay focused.

“My mate is helping me with other duties which is why you were called.” Sebastian shot his brother a hard look. “The phoenix has proven to be a clever little bird. We’ve hired others. But she has escaped every single one.”

“What others?” Bill asked.

“Our own pack hunters,” Damien said. “After that, we contacted the goblin networks.”

“There’s your problem. Goblins are sloppy bastards,” Bill said.

“Sloppy but tenacious,” Sebastian replied.

“Can’t argue that.”

“I’m tired of failure, troll,” Damien growled as he stalked back to his desk. “I want results.”

“You want her alive or dead?” Bill said.

More drool spilled down the corrupted side of Damien's face as his eyes glassed over. “I need her alive and unharmed. Touchable.”

Touchable? The hair on the back of Bill’s neck rose. “What will you do with her?” he asked, surprised by his own question.

“None of your business,” Damien replied.

Bill frowned but nodded. Damien was right. It wasn’t any of his business. And if he had any sense, he’d keep it that way. “Four million.”

Sebastian sighed but Damien nodded as if Bill asked him to loan him a quarter.

“You do have ways to restrain her? Keep her fire from rising?” Sebastian asked.

Damien bared his teeth at his brother. “I don’t need some damned spell to…”

One glare was all it took. Damien snapped his jaws shut and Sebastian continued. “Do you, troll? I won’t have some psychotic phoenix buring my compound to the ground.”

“I have precautions for all Wyrdlings, when it comes to that.” Bill said.

Well he did ever since a crazy Dryad almost cost him a bounty and shoved a tree up his ass. After that fiasco, Bill needed a power neutralizing item for future troublemakers.

“And a bonus million if you can get her here within the week,” Damien said without hesitation.

A bonus? Bill almost slapped the wolf on the back and cried, “You got a deal!” That was more than enough to pay off the last of his debt.

Damien stalked around the desk, plucking a large envelope from the tattered blotter. “I have photos, details, and last locations. And I heard that you make a vow on each bounty you take.” Damien said. A sloppy breath oozed through his teeth.

“That’s right,” Bill replied, tucking the envelope under his arm.

“That’s either very bold, or very foolish.” Damien gave a rusty laugh, wiping his lower lip with the back of his hand. “You don’t keep a vow, you die. That’s how the Wyrd works.”

“No shit. I think my track record speaks for itself,” Bill replied.

“Does it?”

“I’m alive, aren’t I?”

“Then do it.”

Damien offered him a shake once again, this time with his deformed hand. The melted digits trembled, waxy and pink. Bill grabbed, it with no hesitation. Damien probably expected him to cringe. Expected and wanted it as an excuse for a fight. Bill wasn’t about to give him what he wanted. The only thing he’d be getting is his bird.

“I vow I will walk her through this door within the week, alive and unharmed,” Bill said.

The electric tingle of magic crept up Bill’s arm, sealing the vow.  Without another word, he was dismissed and the three carried on as if he was never there. Bill snorted and showed himself out.

Soon he was sitting inside Beast, envelope in his hands, anxiety still churning. He shoved it deep, concentrating on the task before him. “Four million, bud. And a bonus. Don’t know why they’re willing to spill so much on this. They want a phoenix, of all things.”

If engines could rev giddily, Beast would be giggling.

He pulled the phoenix feather from his pocket, rolling it between his fingers. Heat radiated from its vane, and a hint of amber filled his nostrils, smokey and sensual, urging him to rub the tip against his chin, which he did. His eyes closed and he laid back against his seat, imagining the female that went along with that heavenly balm. When his cock grew hard, he dropped the feather onto the passenger side with a shake.  

“I’ll toss this at the scry stone. We’ll be right on her doorstep. Easy money,” he said.

Bill tore the envelope open, rummaging through Damien’s papers.

Her name was Kindle. Bill snorted. How appropriate. She was in her fifth century which wasn’t very old for a phoenix. Most were usually into their first millennium, which meant Kindle was young and probably stupid. A good start for him. A wrinkled Polaroid photo winked at him from between the papers. Bill plucked it free, squinting in the dark at the faint outline of a petite female.

“Beast, light,” Bill said.

The interior lit up with a click, making Bill flinch. Once his vision cleared, he held up the snapshot, giving it a good, long look. Kindle was indeed a curvy number, fuller on the bottom than the top.

Nice.

Her hair was done up in one of those old fashioned hairstyles where it was rolled on the sides and neat as a pin. Even in the photo’s dulled colors, her mane shone as bright ruby fire. Her mouth was half open in a smile, her eyes twinkling in mischief, reaching out to what appeared to be a bartender, as if to pat his hand. One more squint and Bill’s breath hitched. She was covered head to toe in freckles. Beautiful, delectable freckles all over her face and arms. A low growl of approval rolled from his throat. Well, at least she’d be something to look at other than...

Two images collided with a thundering crash and his libido fell limp with a thud.

“No,” he whispered. “There is no way.”

The photo shook in his grip as he stared, mouth growing dry. He wanted to crumple it up and throw it away but he only clung to it, eyes wide and heart slamming against his ribs.

Her hair.

Her eyes.

That same coy smile.

“No fucking way.”

Slowly, Bill lowered the sunshade, his stomach bottoming out as he raised the photo beside his postcard.

Kindle was a dead match for his pin-up girl. 

Chapter 2

“It’s time, Kindle! A happy birthday gift to you, from you!”
Kindle studied her reflection in the cracked bathroom mirror, trying to decide which dramatic sun hat disguised her better; the yellow straw one or the black felt. She plopped the first onto her head, grimaced, then after patting her victory rolls back into place, put the other one on, the indistinct voices from the humming television keeping her company.
Nope. 
She still looked like herself.  
 Kindle never got the hang of disguises. A face like hers was hard to hide and hair dye didn't take well to her fire. She spent most of her time hiding in whatever remote place she could afford, well out of sight from prying eyes that would recognize her.
“Oh well,” Kindle sighed. “It’s not your fault that you’re devastatingly attractive.” 
She tried to laugh but instead slumped, bracing herself on the sink. Her flimsy cheer dissolved. Today was a bad idea. Kindle had hardly left her sad little apartment since those slimy goblins had chased her to Nevada. Four months of living on take-out, home deliveries, and watching her cruddy little television that only got three channels.  Four blissful months of not running, all thrown away because her whiny keester was coming down with a bad case of cabin fever. 
 Kindle tightened her fists, letting out a shaky breath. Maybe if she just stood still long enough, that need to be outside would pass. It always had. This time, it stuck around, tugging at her, telling her something spectacular was waiting, something she desperately needed. After waking in a puddle of her own sweat, she couldn’t ignore the call any longer.
Something spectacular? Feh. No, something bad is going to happen. 
There it was. Her fear. Kindle rolled her eyes at the voice in her head.
“No. It’s your birthday and you need the sunshine,” Kindle snapped at her reflection. “And birthdays are great. Today will be great. Nothing bad will happen today.  Not this time.”
After another round of switching chapeaus, the black felt hat was tossed away like a Frisbee, the other deemed less eye-catching. Kindle tilted the wide brim at a jaunty angle, turning it this way and that, and ignoring the rolling storm forming in her belly. 
It’s only a matter of time before he finds you.
Kindle frowned, jabbing a finger at the mirror. “Don’t start with me today, brain. Just don’t.”  
Damien will find you. He’ll win. You won’t ever see the sunshine again, so you might as well go outside. One last look at the world. 
Kindle fell into a sit on the side of the bathtub. She pressed her hands over her ears as if that would stop her thoughts from steamrolling over her. “Stop it, Kindle. Stop it, now.”
You should have stayed inside with Piper that night, but no. You had to go out and have a good time. And here you are doing it again. 
Kindle swallowed her tears. “If you start crying now, it will ruin your eyeliner.” She sniffed out a small laugh. “You’re one of the good guys. And the good guys always win.”
You’re not a good guy. You’re weak. This is what you deserve for not finishing the job. Damien will find you. Find you and make you wish you could die. 
“Shut up!” 
She curled up into a ball, sucking in long, slow breaths before the sobs started. One breath. Two breaths. Three…
By the time she got to ten, she peeled her hands from her ears, waiting for another onslaught of negativity. The tsunami in her stomach quieted and Kindle lifted her head, exhaling between her thinned lips. That longing returned, overpowering the anxiety. She rubbed her cheeks, letting it drive her to her feet then turned back to her reflection to paint on a fresh coat of her favorite lipstick. 
 "You can do this. A few moments outside and you’ll feel like your old self.” She smacked her lips together, admiring the bright shade of red, then clicked the lid back onto the stick and carried it to her purse. 
Las Vegas Boulevard was minutes away. It had been a bucket list destination for her and Piper for decades.  Kindle passed by her window, stopping to watch the flashing lights of The Strip winking at her. She pressed her fingertips against the glass, holding her breath. The hair on her arms rose, her pulse speeding with every flicker of white, yellow and red on the horizon.
Get out! Get out get out get out! It’s waiting for you! You need it. You need it now. No more waiting.
If only that stupid feeling would tell her what the heck “it” was, she’d feel a little less apprehensive of walking out the door.
“Thirty minutes tops. You’ll be fine,” she said. “Just don’t talk to anyone.” 
Kindle winced. Telling herself to not be social was like telling a cat they weren’t allowed to chase a laser pointer.  She strolled out of the bathroom, surveying her one-room shack. A sad little cupcake sat on a bland chest of drawers, a single candle shoved into it askew. Her birthday gift she had delivered from a local bakery. Kindle picked it up, took a bite, her eyes closing as the warm pink frosting melted against her tongue. A tiny piece of heaven in the purgatory of her current existence. She snatched her purse off her dresser, giving it a thorough search. A thick wad of cash, a change of clothes, and her makeup bag were all in place, just in case she had to run… again. 
“This is crazy. This is so, so crazy,” she muttered. “Kindle, you must have flipped your wig!” She finished her cupcake and blew a frustrated puff between her clenched lips with a hearty “thpppt!”
Kindle went to turn off the T.V. but paused as the static, blurred image of Humphrey Bogart strolled on screen. Casablanca. She clutched her hands against her heart as the actor shoved his hands into his trench coat pockets. She loved every one of Bogie’s films but this one was her favorite. After he walked off into the fog, she summoned the will power to turn off the television. 
“Do it for Bogie,” Kindle said. “Be a dame he’d admire.” And with that, she walked out the door.
Seeing Las Vegas Boulevard for the first time was like Dorothy opening her front door to the explosive color of Munchkinland. The sparkling marquees, and flashing bright lights were like magic, even in the broad afternoon sun. Kindle pressed herself against the taxi’s window, wide-eyed and ecstatic as they rumbled down the street. As soon as they came to a stop, she launched herself to the sidewalk.
“Wait a sec!” The driver shouted. “You owe me twenty bucks!” 
She tossed her cash at the driver through the window, fighting the high-pitched squeal, behind her grin. 
“Hey! What the hell, lady!”
 Kindle turned to see her money was now sticking to his sweat covered forehead after she had tossed it in his face.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, handsome,” she said, then leaned over, making sure to give him a good view of her cleavage as she wiped the bills from his face. “I’m just being a silly thing, aren’t I?”
The driver’s irritation flipped to dreamy lust as he stared down her blouse. “Oh, it’s nothing, miss. Nothing at all.” 
He didn’t even notice when she repocketed some of her bills. Kindle gave him a flirty wink and the driver peeled away, wearing a stupid smile. 
“Works every time,” she said as she buffed her nails against her chest. 
 Kindle soaked up the summer heat like a gleeful little girl would a chocolate milkshake, her scarlet cha-cha heels clicking merrily as she strolled past towering, ostentatious hotels. Her brassy, colorful curves blended in with the tourists and flashy gamblers dotting the streets, the perfect urban camouflage.  Thirty minutes of freedom turned to forty, then an hour, then two as she darted in and out of hotels; discovering their lobbies, raiding their bars, and snagging a martini or two. By the time she made it to The Bellagio, her belly was full and her ears were ringing with the metallic sounds of slot machines. Yet that longing still nagged the back of her mind, urging her to keep wandering, to keep searching for that… thing. 
The opulent lobby ceiling was made up of glass flowers sparkling with rich reds, yellows, purples, and blues, casting colorful shadows along the floor. She beamed, giving them a nod as if to say, “Thanks for brightening my birthday." The smell of fresh-cut flowers filled the air, as the delicate sounds of trickling fountains and piano music tinkled along. Kindle pulled the brim of her hat low, her cat-eyed sunglasses still in place as she watched the hustle and bustle. Humans everywhere. Young ones, old ones, and ones with body parts obviously not made of organic material.  She watched wide eyed, making up backstories for them all when a greasy voice behind her crooned, "Well helloooo, beautiful!"
Daydreams shattered as hypervigilance kicked in. A human male sat on a gilded couch; skin leathery and orange, and hair like an oil slick. He grinned, one gold tooth twinkling in the overhead light.
 Kindle removed her sunglasses and flashed him a polite smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Oh. Um, hello.” 
And goodbye, she thought.
The human fingered the cheap gold chain around his neck, his leer filled with heat. He stood, creeping closer. “You look lonely.” 
Kindle’s joy from the previous hours vanished into the air conditioning. She slipped one foot behind the other, inching away. She knew that lecherous look.
And the last time I saw it was on Damien's face.
Ice filled her belly. 
“I was just leaving,” Kindle said.
The man grabbed her hand. The trail of feathers on the back of Kindle’s neck stood straight as he hooked her arm into his elbow and dragged her to the couch. Her heels scraped across the marble floor, desperate to slow him but he sat her down, his arms creeping around her waist. The stale smell of cigarettes slapped her as he let out a long exhale, his tongue darting across his lower lip like a lizard’s.
“What's your hurry?” he asked. “Don’t you want to... talk?” The way he leaned on the word talk said he wanted to do everything but. 
“I simply must be going,” Kindle insisted, trying to untangle herself from him. She had to run, had to scream.  Why wasn’t she doing either?
Because you’re a coward, her mind whispered.
“A beauty like you has to be a dancer here, eh? I like dancers.” The grease ball chuckled. When she squirmed, his fingers dug into her hip and his eyes went hard. “There’s no hurry, honey. Settle down.” He fingered the edge of her shorts, slipping his palm to her inner thigh. The scream in her throat stalled, crawling back into her chest, her body frozen. 
 “Mmmm. You smell smoky,” he whispered. “I bet you’re a fiery bitch when you fuck.”
Flames tickled Kindle’s fingertips. No death, just a quick burst. Just enough to give her time to run for the nearest cab. Enough to teach him a lesson. She rested her hand on the man’s elbow, fire making her red nails glow. He gave a confused hiss as she melted through the polyester of his suit jacket.
Do it. Be fierce for once in your life!
Damien’s horrible screams, tore through her mind. The smell of his cooking flesh, popping like fat on a grill, scalding claws cutting her flesh.  There was his face, in place of the human’s. Smoke rose from his nostrils, his eyes melting into burning coals. He bared his fangs, ready to tear her throat out. Kindle screamed, stumbling backwards to her feet. He towered over her diminutive form with clenched fists, and a displeased sneer. 
“What’s your problem?” he snapped.
Kindle blinked, and the sleazy human returned.  A crazed laugh shook her and she almost felt like hugging the jerk for not being a werewolf. But when he made a grab for her she dodged, almost falling onto her backside.
“I have to go!” Kindle shouted. 
The lobby fell silent and she looked around, half expecting a gaggle of sallow skinned goblins swarming near. The man was not detoured by her outburst. He was on her again, taking her arms. 
“Whatever. I like them crazy,” he said with a grin.
You can talk your way out of this. Charm and lies, Kindle. Piece of cake.
Kindle gathered confidence she didn’t feel and tossed her hair over her shoulder, smiling. Her fingers brushed across her collarbone and the human’s gaze fell upon her freckled cleavage. God, even his gaze felt greasy.
 “Aren’t you just delicious wrapped in a… leathery shell.” Kindle frowned. Not the best compliment she could have tossed, but he was too busy staring at her boobs to comprehend her words. “Say, why don’t you go buy me a drink? I’ll wait here, and then maybe after a martini or two we’ll get…” She whipped her sunglasses off and nibbled on an end with a wink. “Cozy.”
Usually, a cock of her hip made males run to do her bidding. This one only leaned in, his nose touched hers. “I’m not letting you out of my site, gorgeous. Not for even a second.”
So much for breast hypnosis. If Kindle swore, it would have been epic.  The human buried his face against her neck, igniting panic once again. He wasn’t going to let her go. He would bash her over the head. He’d put her in the trunk of his car. He’d do exactly what Damien had done to her. 
It was starting all over again.
No!
“You can’t! I’m meeting someone!” Kindle shouted.
“Who?” He snickered, grin filled with disgusting promises. “Your weightlifting, violent boyfriend?” 
A commotion of frightened murmurs flooded the lobby. Tourists parted like the red sea, leaping out of the way as the answer to Kindle’s prayers strode through the front doors. Her sunglasses slipped out of her hand as a male, comprised of nothing but muscle and menace, swept into view.
“Oh, my,” she gasped.
His olive-toned body was chiseled like rock, every inch covered in scars. A black tank top clung to his massive chest showing off his tree trunk-sized arms, cargo pants slung low across narrow hips.  The male scowled, scanning the lobby as if looking for something or someone. He swung his head and light glinted off two dark points under his thick, black hair. 
Horns. 
Kindle’s mouth curved.
Big boy was a troll.
Holy cow, he was a Wyrdling! What luck! One thing Wyrdling males loved were damsels in distress. Well, she was a damsel, and boy was that human distressing. 
“Him.” Kindle jerked her head towards the troll. “He’s who I’m meeting.”  She flung herself free and ran, waving her hands, calling, “Yoo-hoo! Honey! Here I am!”
The troll spun, teeth bared. When he saw her flailing like one of those wacky inflatable sign men, his thick eyebrows rose, and he let out a satisfied, “Huh.”
 Kindle popped the second button on her gingham blouse, exposing the satin yellow bow of her bra, and making her sure her breasts bounced with every step. “This is crazy, this is crazy, this is so crazy!” she whispered to herself. 
Before the troll could protest, Kindle hopped up, threw her arms around his neck, and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek with a loud, “Mwah!” 
I am insane! she thought.
“What took you so long, sweetheart?” Kindle asked. She gave the troll’s other cheek a kiss for good measure, stopping a moment to murmur, “Just bear with me a moment, will you, handsome?” in his ear.
 I am completely insane!
The troll answered with another amused, “Huh.”
“Here he is! My boyfriend!” she called, still hanging off the troll’s shoulders. “My weightlifting, violent, boyfriend!” 
The human started forward then, after a quick glance to the baffled troll, thought better of it and stayed put, glowering.
Victory! 
Well, almost. 
The troll could provide an entirely new set of problems, but she’d consider that after she was on the sidewalk. The troll cocked his head, studying her. The rough pads of his thumbs brushed her lower back and a delightful shiver raced up her spine. No revulsion. How weird. If any other stranger had touched her like that, Kindle would have screamed, but his touch was gentle. All that passion with not one ounce of possessiveness or violence. Comfort. The first comfort she had felt in decades. Her longing from before roared to life, urging her to look up into his eyes. 
 Seas of emerald crashed over her, soft, and completely out of place on that rough face, yet oddly perfect. A boyish element to his otherwise frightening visage.  Kindle fell back to her feet, knees wobbling as desire took its hold. She had been touch-starved for decades, and this magnificent male hit her so hard.
“Easy,” The troll said, steadying her by the shoulders. 
 Was it getting warm? Kindle fanned herself with her hand, turning back to the human with a cheeky grin.  “Ta-ta!” she called, waving as she escorted the troll towards the doors.  As soon as he was out of spitting distance, she deflated, giving the troll’s bicep an appreciative squeeze. “Yeesh. That was unpleasant.”
“What was that all about?” the troll asked.
Kindle fluttered her hand, trying to dismiss that her heart was beating like a snare drum. “Nothing. Just a minor agitation.” 
“A minor agitation?” 
She blushed and patted her victory rolls. “Ok, maybe more of a major agitation. But still, no biggie.”
He smirked. “Huh.”
His masculine scent wrapped around her; rain on stone, fresh and musky. Kindle wobbled once again.  Maybe she’d drag him a block or two to indulge in this heavenly male before running back to her hovel.
“Thanks so much, honey,” Kindle said, patting his hand. “You did me quite a favor.”
 “I did you a favor?” The troll laughed.
Aw, he was flattered.  “You sure did.”
He laughed again and the rough sound hardened her nipples, making her want things she shouldn’t. She wanted to take him home for a night of tangled, sweat-soaked limbs and cries of pleasure. It had been so long since she had indulged in her favorite sin, so long since she had talked to anyone, touched anyone, and this male was calling to her.
Instead of climbing him like a tree, Kindle gave his cheek a peck, inhaling the musky scent of rain one last time. Walking away from his orgasms would take every last ounce of her will power but if she wanted to keep her head, she’d leave before the bounty hunters came a sniffin’.
“If I could keep you, I would, big guy,” Kindle said, then clicked her tongue and tapped the tip of his nose. “Here’s looking at you kid.” 
She had always wanted to say that line to someone.
Kindle turned to leave, only to jerk to a stop. He had her arm, smirking in arrogance. So prideful. So swoon worthy. Kindle hadn’t spent much time with trolls but she was fast finding them her favorite males in all the Wyrd. She wetted her lips, the dangerous rush of kissing a stranger making her forget all her troubles.
What are you waiting for! Grab him! He’s yours! Can’t you feel it?!
Why not? Her instinct had taken her to him. Clearly the Wyrd had given her a birthday gift. It would be impolite if she didn’t accept. Caution was thrown to the wind and Kindle gave the troll her most seductive smile. Yes, she’d give into him. He felt right. Safe. Perfect.
 “Oh, so you want to hang on to me, eh, handsome?” she asked.
“Yeah, I do,” His deep voice shook her core, turning her to jelly. 
The troll pulled her close. Her eyes closed, hands slipping up and over his shoulders, playing with the ends of his ponytail. Judging by his beautiful mouth, she’d bet dollars to donuts he was a magnificent kisser. She couldn’t wait to find out.
“Kindle, be a good girl and come with me quietly,” he murmured into her ear.
Kindle’s eyes flipped open. 
He knew her name.  A gasp barely whisked from her thickening throat, sweat trickling down the back of her neck. The troll clutched her arm so tight her fingertips began to tingle.
Oh, no. Oh no, no, no.
The voice that had urged her into his arms hightailed it into oblivion, leaving her clinging to the shoulders of a bounty hunter. A big, mean looking one.  And here she was, grinding against him like a drunken sorority girl.
 “Oh... pudgenuggets,” she groaned.

Chapter 3

By the Gods, she was so warm, as if she had been laying naked in the sun, all day, just for him. Now that his pin-up girl was flesh and blood, standing right in front of him, Bill forgot why the hell he was in Vegas in the first place. There she was. Touchable. Kissable. His fantasy made flesh and covered in… freckles?
Gods. Never thought those freckles could be so damn hot.
The female in his postcard was plain and pale but the one before him was coated in delicious tan speckles. They covered her face, the tops of her thighs, and probably everything in between. And that gut-punching smile would bring any red-blooded male to their knees.  He’d bet his soul that she was pure passion with everything; eating, laughing, living…
…Fucking.
Oh, Gods above, what would she be like in his bed? Moaning, arching to his touch, legs wrapped around his hips as she begged for more.
 Kindle’s whimper of distress slapped him back into reality and Bill growled at himself. Dammit, a pretty face never threw him off task. But none had resembled the female he had been lusting over since the 1940’s. That moment of weakness could have cost him his freedom. This did not bode well for Bill’s already suffering libido.
Put your dick back in your pants and get your head in the game, moron.
“So, you’re one of them?” Kindle hit her last word as if afraid to say bounty hunter.
“Yeah,” Bill replied giving her his best scowl. 
“And he sent you?”
“Yeah.” He deepened that frown to send a message.
“What a…” She bit her lower lip before finishing with, “Jerk!”
“...jerk?” Bill’s fierce expression dropped. “Damien Cole?”
 Jerk was the worst name she could come up with? He waited for a string of curses to follow, but she only blew out a frustrated “thpppt!” from between her lips, scattering her hair everywhere.  Her muscles tensed against his palm. She was going to bolt, or worse, blaze up and turn him into a chuck roast
Bill bit back the unexpected laugh and tightened his grip on her forearm, readying his shields. He held his breath, awaiting the roar of heat to consume him .But she didn’t light up. Hell, she didn’t even shout at him. Kindle only trembled like a trapped animal, her eyes darting around the lobby.  
“Yes,” she said, her voice distant. “Damien is a great big, festering jerk.”
The way she said the wolf’s name was as if she were swallowing poison. The same way Haakon’s name felt on Bill’s own tongue.  His grip slackened but before he could contemplate what Damien had done to her, Kindle smiled, every trace of her terror evaporating. The sudden mood swing gave him whiplash.
“Troll?” Kindle asked.
 “I… What?” Bill stammered.
“You're a troll, right? You’re big enough to be a dragon and I really can't tell what you are if you're not green.” She rose up to her tiptoes, brushing the stray hairs off his forehead. “I really love the color green,” she murmured against his ear.
 Her fingers were like velvet. Bill’s lids went heavy, imagining what her hands would feel like wrapped around his-
Knock. It. Off. Bill.
 "Yes, I'm a troll,” Bill snarled. “Get moving.”
Kindle traced the jagged ridge of his ear, expression full of mischief. Her magnetic touch drew him closer. He couldn’t pull away, wanted her covering every inch of him. The gentle brush of those fingertips would barely sate him.
“Ah ha! I was looking for those cute little horns!” she cheered. 
Her hands ran up his neck, brushing over the obsidian peaks. And just like that, he was rock hard and groaning. 
What are you doing?!
“So Bill,” Kindle’s voice was a breathy whisper.“I heard that a troll’s horns are an erogenous-”
Bill jerked his head away, breaking the spell. “You heard wrong,” he snarled.
“You sure?” she asked.
 He flicked a claw against his horns with a sneer. “Pretty fucking sure.”
Well, mostly he was sure. Touching his horns did nothing for him. Usually. Kindle was proving to be the exception to the rule. He scowled again, running a nervous hand over the points.
“Sorry. It’s just that it’s been years since I’ve seen one of your kind. I’ve always liked trolls. They're so...” Kindle twisted a ruby lock around her red nails, brushing it’s end in her cleavage. “...Big.”  
The lace of her bra peeped out from behind red gingham. Yellow. Just like his pin-up’s nighty. Bill looked towards the heavens for help. As expected, none came. 
“Stop screwing around. Let’s go.” He gave her arm a tug.
"Oh say, we should go get some pizza! You want to get some pizza?” Kindle clasped her hands in front of her perfect bosom, her expression akin to a kid heading to a birthday party. “I haven’t even had lunch yet and I’m starting to get peckish.” 
“Are you for real?” Bill asked flatly.
She wiggled her bottom with a wink. “Why don’t you give me a pinch and find out?”
Bill continued to stare as if she had sprouted five extra limbs. Either this female was utterly fearless, or completely bonkers. Bill predicted the latter. He rubbed his temples with a grunt, the oncoming headache rolling in fast. 
“Are you going to keep this shit up or come quietly?” Bill asked.
“Oh, I don’t come quietly,” she purred. “I never have.”
Before he could really contemplate that innuendo in full color, he threw up his hands. “That’s it. We’re done.”
Bill fished into pocket of his cargo pants, retrieving a pair of silver handcuffs. Kindle’s sexy demeanor withered.
 “Oh! Hey now! Let’s not get dramatic in front of the humans!” Her giggle was strained as she crept away but Bill’s grip on her was strong.
“You brought this on yourself.” He spun her around.
 Kindle windmilled her arms, making him chase her wrists. He was about to throw her over his shoulder and be done with it, when a stare poked him. He looked up. That greasy human she was with glared from across the lobby, his wild gestures saying either “Back off, she’s mine!" or "Touchdown!" It was hard to tell from the furious gyrating. Bill pulled Kindle behind him and away from the heated looks the bastard gave her ass.
“Your boyfriend looks cranky,” he said.
After a quick glance over her shoulder Kindle frowned. “That is not my boyfriend,” she said, curling in on herself to escape the ogling. 
“Huh,” Bill growled.
 A long slumbering instinct roared to life, pounding like a jackhammer as the need to rip the man’s arms out of their sockets surged. Bill bared his fangs, his eyes turning black with fury. The male gulped. When Bill lunged, he squealed, tripping over himself and running into the crowds. 
 Kindle giggled, her cheeks glowing with pleasure, beaming at Bill as if he were her hero. A pleased snort flared his  nostrils and the thirst for murder faded in her light, pride bowing his chest. Then he blinked, cursing under his breath. No, he didn’t frighten that human just to please her. That male was a speed bump. That was all. Nothing else.
“Move,” Bill said gruffly.
Kindle’s hips rolled as she walked, her sensual display making it hard concentrate. 
“Soooo, no pizza?” she asked.
Bill jerked her to a stop, speaking slow as if to an unruly child. “Listen, bird. I want this to be easy. And you want this to be easy too.”
“Do I?” She laughed. “I thought I wanted pizza.” 
“We're going to walk to the parking structure and we’re leaving. Then we'll have a pleasant drive to the Cole compound.”  He yanked Kindle by the nape, getting nose to nose with her. Her sharp squeak made it clear that she was listening. “Or, I can haul you out of here cuffed and screaming. What will it be?”
Even her freckles went pale. Her throat bobbed as she swallowed, fingers tangling together in a nervous dance. Bill held his breath waiting for her reply. He didn’t like scaring her, but if he didn’t bring the hammer down now, she would only make things worse for herself. Bill’s freedom was too close for him to fuck around with the likes of her.
“Easy it is,” Kindle whimpered.
Bill nodded, satisfied with her answer. “Good girl.” He steered her by her nape towards the parking elevators. 
“So, do you have a name, handsome?” Kindle patted her fingers across her damp collar bone then quickly buttoned her blouse again, making Bill grumble in disappointment.
“Do you really care?” he asked.
“Well, since we’re going to be traveling together, it would be nice to have a name.” 
 “Bill,” he said.
Kindle giggled. “Bill?” 
Here we go again.
“Laugh it up. It’s still my name,” Bill said.
“I figured you’d have a name like Arfast or Gunkell. Something Nordic and intimidating. Something that I’d have trouble pronouncing.”
She wasn’t wrong. Bill’s given name was Baldur, but he hadn’t gone by that for centuries and never wanted to again. Bill was easier to pronounce, sounded more local, and had no association with Haakon. And soon, more than just his name would have no association with that foul asshole.
“Bill the Skinner,” he added. He glanced down waiting for her to cringe. They always did at his full moniker.
She gave smile. “Well, that’s a colorful name.”
So much for that. Damn her surprises. Bill tightened his hold on her neck. Silk brushed his palm and he flicked his thumb to feel it again. Feathers. Her tell. All full blood beasts in the Wyrd had at least one thing that couldn’t be disguised by shifting alone, like Bill’s horns, and it looked like he had stumbled right onto hers. 
Kindle let out a tiny moan, her eyes fluttering closed. She liked being touched there? Another gentle brush of that trail and she shivered. Bill bit the inside of his cheek, willing away his erection.
"And you're Kindle," he coughed into his fist, disguising the quiver in his voice.
Kindle shook the pink from her cheeks and threw out her arms in a tah-dah! pose. "In the flesh! No last name. Just Kindle. Like Cher or Madonna. I'm not taking autographs right now, though. Sorry."
The elevator doors slid open with a ding, saving Bill from a possible chuckle. He ushered her inside, giving a deadly look to anyone who wanted to share the car with them. The doors shut with a soft clack, leaving them in silence save for the mild version of Girl from Ipanema wafting from the speakers.
 Alone. 
Just him and her. 
 Bill hands twitched and he swept the hair off the back of her neck before he could tell himself to stop. Kindle gasped when he gathered her mane in his fist, stiffening a moment before her back molded against him. There it was, a shimmering line trailing down her neck and under her collar; gold and scarlet, sparkling in the glaring elevator light. Brightness in an otherwise dim world. He ran a finger down the length, wondering how far it went. To her shoulders? To the delicious curve of her lower back?  
Another moan trickled from Kindle and Bill lit up like a bonfire. No female he had ever met made such delicious noises. He basked in those wanton sounds, her backside pressing against his hips, rolling until he hooked his fingers into the waistband of her shorts, ready to tug them down and shove his throbbing shaft inside her.  Kindle’s palms grew hot as a forge, almost sizzling his flesh as they curled around his arm.
So fucking hot.
 With a lurch, Kindle twisted away, pressing herself against the elevator as far from him as possible. Bill stumbled back, following suit, his shoulders slamming against the wall, mouth hanging open as his heart threatened to shatter his ribs.
“Shit!” He scrubbed his face then gave himself a good slap. What the fuck was he doing?!
 Kindle gaped at her palms as they flashed, then winked out with wisps of smoke. She shoved the offending appendages behind her back. 
“How would you like it if I grabbed you by the horns, huh?!” she shouted. “You didn’t seem to like that idea earlier!” 
Bill shook his head. He had never touched a female bounty in his life, especially like that.  The apology sat heavy on his tongue, ready to spill out in a puddle of word vomit. The best he could muster was, “Won’t happen again.”
Kindle edged away from the corner, attention locked on him. After a long, scrutinizing look she said, “Good,” then patted her hair, as if this was all part of whatever cock-eyed plan she was brewing. 
Suspicion welled. She was up to something. Another deep breath and his erection waned. The elevator doors slid open with a bright ding and Bill took another hold of her, this time on her upper arm.  Kindle glanced to his hand then nodded as if this form of touch was acceptable.
“I suppose I can forgive you for wanting to see my feathers,” she said with a toss of her head. “I mean, they are pretty fabulous.” 
When Kindle tugged on her blouse, the outline of her hardening nipples prominent. Bill’s ego did a double backflip. Well, well, the great seductress wasn’t immune. He jerked his chin towards her chest.
“You liked it,” he said smugly.
Kindle looked down at her breasts, then folded her arms across them with a smirk. “What if I did?”
Not the answer Bill was expecting. His dick went instantly erect at her breezy confidence and hissed between his clenched teeth. At this rate, he’d pass out from all the blood constantly rushing to his groin.
The parking structure was mostly empty on their level, a few human tourists dragging their luggage into the nearest elevator but not much else. The lack of onlookers was reassuring and Bill quickened his step, Kindle hopping frantically alongside him. Beast sat in his parking space, probably asleep after their non-stop drive to Las Vegas. Bill glanced to Kindle then back to Beast, his upper lip dampening with sweat. 
Freedom. 
It was so close that Bill ached. He sprinted for the Mercury, hand reaching for the door when he was yanked to a stop. Kindle had gone as still as the grave. Her gaze swept to Beast’s rear end, stopping on the trunk, chest rising and falling with rapid breaths.  Bill looked between Beast and her then groaned.
“What, now?” he asked.
“I...I just...Uh…” Her words were mushy as she stammered. “I’d rather not.”
Bill almost laughed. “You don’t have a choice, bird. Now come on.” 
He gave her a pull. She didn’t budge, just gaped as if Beast was an executioner’s block, her pulse skipping erratically against his fingertips. It was an act. It had to be an act. Yet that inkling of dread returned, not as strong as it was when he was at the Coles’ compound, but hovering like an oncoming storm cloud.
 “You said you’d be good. Now, be good,” Bill said.
Kindle’s knuckles were white around the strap of her leather bag.  “Promise me you won’t put me in the trunk?” she whispered.
Bill pinched the bridge of his nose. The trunk? Where did she get that idea? In all the decades he had hunted with Beast in this form, not one bounty ended up in the trunk. His dread grew, nudging his heart. He had no time for that, just had to get her moving again.
“You’ll be in the front with me,” he said, then quickly added. “Unless you do something stupid.” 
 Kindle’s rigid posture released, but she was still fixed on the trunk, eyes as big as dinner plates.  “What constitutes as stupid?” she asked.
“Escaping,” Bill replied.
Kindle’s mouth quivered. Bill stiffened, waiting for her to finally light him ablaze, but there was nothing but her smile. Weak, but grateful. Warmth spread through Bill’s extremities as soon as she relaxed. He tapped his forehead. These feelings were not going to get him his freedom if he let them steer the way.
Her teasing manner returned in a blink. “Seems fair, Billy Boy.”  
Bill jabbed a finger at her. “Don’t call me Billy.”
“Why not? It’s cute,” Kindle said.
“Do I look cute to you?” 
 “Maaaaaaybe?” 
Dammit, she was waggling her eyebrows. The crazy female was making a fool of him and she knew it. “Get your ass in the car!”
Kindle stumbled back from his shout. Her rump hit Beast’s door before Bill could catch her. Beast’s horn flared, windshield wipers flicking frantically back and forth as woke from a deep slumber. Bill slapped his hand over his ears and Kindle took off, heading towards the stairwell. 
“Dammit!” Bill shouted.
He grabbed for her but she slipped from his fingers, running faster in heels than most did in tennis shoes. Bill dashed after her, snagging her waist, hauling her off her flailing feet and pinned her to a concrete pillar by the shoulders. He leaned in, eyes shifting to a furious black. 
“I thought you were going to be good!” Bill bark.
“And I thought we were getting pizza,” Kindle replied shakily. “But clearly neither of us are getting what we want today.”
Her smartass expression lit his temper on fire. Enough was enough. He pulled out his cuffs again. “I’m done screwing around.”
Kindle pressed her back against the pillar with a nervous smile. “I’ll be good!”
“Too late.” Bill grabbed her arm
“Aw come on, Billy Boy! Please don’t do this!”
“Give me one good reason not to."
Kindle chewed on her lower lip before offering, "I’m adorable?”
“I need a better reason.”
“I’m really adorable?”
Bill wrestled her into his grip, but Kindle freed her other hand, slapping the cuffs to the ground. They landed on the blacktop with a metallic clink, sliding out of reach. Bill cursed, clutching her throat and that same wild terror covered her. Haakon’s shadow crept over him, applauding his violence, his satisfied laugh turning Bill’s blood to ice. 
Yes, góður drengur minn, Haakon crooned. Follow in my footsteps.
Bill pulled away, raking a hand through his hair. No, he couldn’t become Haakon, he wouldn’t. Out of the corner of his eye, Kindle tilted her head, her fear melting to curiosity, eyes shimmering as their gazes locked. He leaned in, hoping to continue his intimidation but Gods, she was so warm. So close. Her haunting scent of amber wrapped around him like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.  Her heart pounded against his chest, his own falling into rhythm. The world around them faded. No parking structure. No Beast. No Bounty. Just him and her. 
Connection. 
Craving. 
Need. 
Kindle closed the gap between them with a scorching kiss. 
Bill never thought her mouth could be so sublime, didn’t expect to fall so fast under her enchantment. She tasted like cinnamon, biting and hot but sweet. Addicting. When her teeth grazed his lower lip, Bill lost his mind. He crushed her against the pillar, hands running into her hair, pulling until she gasped. Desire begged him to give in, to take her, claim her. His claws lengthened, ready to rake across her upper thigh and mark her as his forever. 
 Bill scented her arousal, felt it as she thrust against him.  Bill tugged at her shorts, desperate to get them off and Kindle nodded furiously, her hurried breaths brushing over his neck, hands burning like a brand. Fuck it all, he’d bury himself inside her that very instant, tourists and humans be damned. Bill needed her to cry his name as she came. He needed release. 
He needed her.
Kindle pulled away, heavy lidded. Bill grunted, about to fall back into their kiss when she whispered, “I’m so sorry about this, Bill.”
Roaring flames blinded him. Wings beat against his face, their sound deafening, their wind fanning smoke into his eyes. Bill swiped the air blindly, black and yellow spots swirling his vision as he fought to catch the silky feathers slipping through his fingers.
Silence.
Seconds later, his vision returned, the warm taste of cinnamon still on his lips, and his cock straining against his zipper. He stared at the fading sparks falling from the air where Kindle had once stood. 
“Shit,” he said.
 Bill slapped his hands over his face, pressing until the final blind spots faded. The stench of burning hair stung his nostrils and he touched his eyebrow. One was half singed off.
“Shit!” 
Bill’s roar echoed off the thick concrete, sending freshly arrived humans scattering. How could he have been so stupid? Why the hell did he let his fucking erection do all the thinking? Beast rolled up, giving a beep of his horn.
 “You could have done something!” Bill shouted.
Beast flashed his headlights and popped open his driver’s side door, falling guiltily silent. 
Bill sucked in a breath. He had to turn his panic into a far more productive emotion. Like anger. Anger was much easier to deal with than fear. He smoothed back his hair, counting to ten. As soon as his anxiety ebbed, he searched for any remaining sign of Kindle; a hair, a feather, anything he could use to scry with. But the damn bird had disappeared without a trace. Bill slammed his fist into the pillar, cracking the cement. 
“Son of a…”
Orange flashed against his shirt. He pause mid rage, carefully plucking the bright piece of down free. It was just a tiny puff, hardly bigger than his thumbnail, but it was just enough to scry with. Bill’s mouth twitched and he let out a surprised laugh. 
“The bird is molting!” Bill cried. “Thank the Gods for summer!”
Bill dove inside Beast, popping the glove compartment, and retrieving an oblong stone. It pulsed with light as he dropped the down onto its marbled surface, dissolving it with a crackling hiss. Steam billowed through the cab, images flickering through the clouds in a puzzling language that Bill knew exactly how to read. 
 A map. And it led him right to her.  
A malicious grin curled BIll’s lips.  “Game on, bird,” he said. “Game. Fucking. On.”