Detective Marx peered through the break in ivy vines and greenery draping the VIP section, his eyes so wide they could pop out of their sockets. “Are you sure you didn’t spike my drink?”
Caleb’s lips quirked into a crooked smile, and he fiddled with the Arx talisman around his neck. Luckily, Lorcan still had it when they locked him in a cell downstairs. “You haven’t had a drink yet.”
The detective shook his head and dragged his hand down his face. “I could really use one right now.” He jerked his thumb toward the main club. “What are the ones with wings? Do you have them?”
“Pixies,” Caleb said from his spot next to me on the plush velvet couch. “And no, what you see with me is what you get.”
Marx motioned to his ears. “Yours aren’t pointy either.”
Caleb shrugged. “Not all fae have pointy ears.”
We’d led the detective into a private section in Shade, and I used a spell to lower the music for our conversation. I’d hoped the public venue would ease some of Marx’s obvious apprehension, but I didn’t expect Tinkerbell to pull on his super fae powers and block the other glamours in the club so Marx could see the real magic of this place.
The guy had caught glimpses of gossamer wings, pointed ears, shimmery skin, and plenty of otherworldly elements, including a few red-eyed vampires. At least he wasn’t at Pulse. Witnessing some of those demons without their human guises might send him over the edge.
Tressa sashayed into our area, balancing a tray of cocktails. “Here you are, Caleb.” She fluttered her lashes and dipped lower as she passed his drink, giving him a stellar view of the cleavage spilling out of her gold bikini top. “With a twist of lime just like you like it.”
A vile creature stirred inside me, wanting nothing more than to claw her beautiful face off for even looking at my consort.
I ignored the jealousy beast and used magic to snatch my drink and Marx’s off her tray. “Thanks. You can go now.”
Caleb chuckled under his breath. “You’re adorable when you’re jealous, Rose Thorn.”
“Keep it up, Tinkerbell, and I’ll be really adorable while kicking your ass.” I passed Marx his glass of bourbon.
He took it with shaky fingers, studying me from the chair adjacent to us. “Thanks.”
Tressa stood and tucked the tray under her arm. “I thought she was engaged to Lorcan.”
Caleb rested his arm over the back of the couch, his fingers toying with a few strands of my hair. “Not anymore. We’re married.”
The elf stumbled on her gold stilettos. “Excuse me?”
“Kind of,” I said.
“I’d say being bound by a grand witch on Beltane is more than just married.” That arrogant twist of Caleb’s lips was both annoying and arousing.
Tressa shook her head and spun, heading toward the exit. “I give up.”
“As you should,” I called.
Marx cleared his throat. “So, uh, you’re a witch, Thea?”
“Actually, it’s Thorn.” I took a sip of my fruity cocktail and then placed it on the table in front of us.
The detective rubbed his hard jawline, his eyes—like pools of melted chocolate—becoming pensive as he digested the overload of supernatural bombs we’d dumped on him. “And your friend Aiden? What’s he?”
“He used to be human, but he’s a demon now.”
The detective choked on his bourbon and set it on the table. “A demon?” He slammed his fist into his chest to clear his airways. “Like from hell?”
I’d been saving the demon explanation for the end since most humans had the hardest time with that group. “They’re from the Underworld, another realm like Illyria and Faerieland.”
“I’m going to need a whole bottle of liquor after this conversation.” Marx rubbed his forehead and then ran his hand over his short, close-to-the scalp onyx hair. “How can I be your ally?”
“I just want you to do your job,” I said.
Marx raised a single brow, which seemed to be his signature look of skepticism. “My job would be to arrest a bunch of humans and vampires for the slaughter that went down outside.”
“That’s not an option.” I tucked a lock of hair behind my ear and turned my full attention to him, which proved difficult with Caleb’s constant presence taunting me. “You’re a detective. Your job is to find answers. And I want you to investigate the ravens.”
We’d already explained what had really happened outside and who was responsible. Marx had also recalled the injured panther we spotted a few weeks ago and the other strange occurrences he’d noticed.
The detective leaned back in the chair and ran his fingers over his dark-pink lips. “You want me to find out who these people are, where they convene, and who leads them?”
“We have a lot on our plate, and we could use a skilled investigator’s help.” I rubbed a spot on my forehead that began to throb. Dealing with vigilante humans on top of the grand witch and the relics was more than a lot. It was a freaking tidal wave of bad looming just offshore.
Marx grabbed his bourbon and stared at the amber liquid. “Don’t you think some of these ravens are really in this because they believe they’re protecting humans? Maybe someone should consider their reasons before you wipe them out.”
Did the detective have a point? Some nightworlders fed on—and killed—humans, and none of them even thought twice about it because that was the way it had always been. We were at the top of the totem pole. Nightworld belonged to us.
Caleb grew rigid. “Ravens have murdered innocent nightworlders too, including the female fae you saw with an arrow sticking out of her back.” He crossed his arms as angry heat poured off him in choking waves. “Being human doesn’t make them innocent, just as being a nightworlder doesn’t make us evil.”
The detective lifted his hand to slow Caleb’s rant. “Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of human monsters. I don’t doubt their guilt in what happened tonight. I’m only trying to understand.”
“Understand this, Detective Malcolm Marx.” Caleb leaned forward, pinning him with a burning stare. “If those ravens keep coming after nightworlders, they’re going to start a war they can’t win.”
Marx’s lips thinned as he remained still, contemplating his options. After a few moments of heavy silence, he nodded and set his drink on the table. “I’ll help. If I know anything about war, it’s that the innocent end up as collateral damage, and I’d like to prevent that from happening in my city.”
“Good choice, Marx.” Caleb grabbed his glass and downed his cocktail. “Of course, you have to keep your mouth shut about all of this.”
The detective snorted. “That goes without saying. No one would believe me anyway, and I’d probably lose my job and get a one-way ticket to a psych ward.”
The breath I’d been holding finally expelled from my lungs, and my shoulders loosened.
Caleb shook his head while a humorless smile crossed his features. “Don’t get too relaxed, Rose Thorn. My father will call a summit with the other Nightworld leaders, and convincing them to agree on a course of action will be a fucking disaster.”
The tension returned to my muscles, ratcheting up a few levels. “We’re going to that meeting.”
He smirked. “I wouldn’t miss that shit-show for anything.”
Cyria had the nerve to sit next to me in the hidden summit room in Garfield Park Conservatory, swirling her glass of red wine. “Would you like some merlot?”
I choked back the urge to snatch the glass and smash it in her beautiful, ice-princess face. “I would like you to help me get my father out of whatever prison the grand witch tossed him into.”
She flicked her cascade of platinum hair behind her shoulder and tsked. “Sorry, but I’d rather not get involved with that witch again. She’s a bit unstable.”
Purple sparks of magic popped on my fingertips. “Why are you here?” I turned toward the long marble table at the head of the room where the leaders of Nightworld sat. “Why hasn’t she been punished for attempting to create an army of demons?”
The demon queen scoffed. “We have bigger things to worry about than my past discretions.” She tilted her wine glass toward the leaders. “Does everyone agree?”
“Cyria’s right.” The new vampire king rolled his shoulders before grabbing his blood cocktail, the ruby liquid swishing along the glass, making me queasy. “These human vigilantes are our priority. They need to be stopped by any means necessary.”
Oberon had replaced Hugo, and while he lacked the former king's charm, he definitely wasn’t deficient in the intimidation department. Thick muscles covered in ebony skin roped his body, and the collection of tribal tattoos peeking from his clothes made me wonder if he’d been some fierce warrior before he was turned. His designer jeans and form-fitting T-shirt couldn’t mask that predatory nature.
His twin sister wasn’t a dainty flower either. Ozella had similar tattoos, and her ferocious energy practically roared at me from the row of wooden chairs behind us.
Caleb rested his hand on mine to quiet the magic intensifying on my fingers. A line of fire shot down my spine from his touch, going straight to my center. He flinched in his chair beside me, having felt the flood of desire.
Warts on a witch. This consort bond was really starting to strengthen the sexual tension between us—if that was even possible. Much to Caleb’s annoyance, I was still putting off completing the bond, meaning I refused to sleep with him. The fear that he would wake up one day and realize what a monumental mistake he’d made had me in a vise grip.
The fae prince leaned into me, his lips brushing my ear. “Keep that up, Rose Thorn, and I’ll carry you out of here and find us a nice private spot in the tropical greenhouse.”
His rumbling voice vibrated against my throat like the purring of a wild cat about to pounce on his mate.
I crossed my legs and shifted in the seat, pretending my thoughts hadn’t taken a nosedive to the naughty side. His husky chuckle told me he wasn’t buying my bullshit one bit.
Why would he? He could feel my emotions, and the fact that he was just as turned on as me wasn’t making matters any easier.
“I think we can all agree that these,” Head Alpha Lex flipped through a notebook in front of him, “ravens need to be dealt with but slaughtering them is not the answer.”
Sitting on his right, Nisha drummed her nude nails on the marble. “That’s always been the answer. Any time we’ve had an issue with a human too nosy for their own good, we’ve ended them. And since these ravens can’t even be compelled or glamoured, this is the only choice.”
Lex dragged his fingers through his thick, copper locks. “Why do demons and vampires assume murder is the only answer?”
“Because it usually is,” Oberon mumbled under his breath.
“Or maybe it’s just the easy answer.” Lex crossed his arms against his chest, making his plaid shirt strain against his bulging biceps. I was surprised the material hadn’t split yet. “How did your vampires know to show up outside of Shade in the first place?”
Oberon twisted the blood-red ruby ring—the one that used to belong to Hugo—around his finger. “One of my subjects overheard a few humans talking at a diner about their plan to ambush fae hanging outside of Shade.”
“And you didn’t think to alert me?” Lachlan shifted in his seat to deliver a cold glare at the vampire king. “I know you’re new to this leadership position, but this is the kind of information that should be passed along between the heads of Nightworld. I could have prevented that pixie’s murder and multiple vampire deaths had I been able to intervene earlier.”
Oberon used his bloody drink to point in our direction. “Perhaps if your son and his girlfriend hadn’t decided to fight against the vampires, none of them would have died.”
Caleb remained in his lazy, reclined position, but the atmosphere around him roiled like a tempest on the verge of erupting. “Keep staring at Thorn that way, and I’ll rip one of those roots right from the wall and impale your heart.”
The vampire bared his fangs, the sharp points extending even more as he growled. “Are you threatening a Nightworld leader?”
“I think that was pretty obvious.” Caleb’s fingers tightened around my hand.
Oberon started to stand, but Lachlan gripped his arm. “Stay in your seat. My son is not one to back down from a fight, especially when she’s involved.” He shot Caleb an exasperated expression. “Must you always cause trouble?”
The prince shrugged. “I only cause trouble when trouble’s needed.”
I elbowed him. “Would you stop? And I don’t need you to fight my battles.”
Nisha rubbed her temples before sipping her white wine. “Can we please get back on topic?”
“Yes.” Lex stabbed his finger at his notebook. “Instead of murdering the ravens, we should be concerned with why they can’t be glamoured.”
Cyria lifted her glass. “That’s a good point. We don’t want this immunity or whatever it is to spread to other humans.”
And that was one answer Detective Marx wouldn’t be able to uncover no matter how hard he tried. Caleb and I would have to figure that one out.
The heads continued bickering over the best course of action while I tried to ignore the tingles radiating through my veins as Caleb used his thumb to draw circles over the back of my hand. Of course he knew exactly what he was doing. The bastard could barely contain that cocky smirk.
“I can’t promise that I won’t kill these ravens if I see them.” Oberon downed the rest of his blood cocktail and slammed his glass on the table, sloshing a tiny bit of crimson liquid onto the white marble. “But if I encounter any of them attempting to attack vampires, they’re as good as dead.”
Lachlan nodded. “That would be allowable as long as it’s in defense.”
Lex grunted. “Really, Lach? You’re going to agree with these two?” He jerked his thumb toward Nisha and then Oberon.
The fae king fiddled with his cobalt tie, even though it was as straight as a board. “I don’t condone seeking them out for slaughter, but we can’t sit by while they attempt to eradicate us. Surely, you understand that, Lex.”
“Speaking of killing…” Oberon angled toward the fae king, a dangerous look crossing his dark features. “I heard that your eldest son has returned from the grave, and you have him locked up in Shade’s basement.”
Lachlan didn’t move, but the ice slithering over his already chilly eyes had me shivering. “That’s none of your business.”
Caleb stiffened, and I could feel the mixture of anger and guilt washing through the bond. He hated that his brother was being kept a prisoner, but he knew it was better than Ellexia sinking her poisonous claws back into him.
“It is my business if Lorcan is such a threat his own father has him imprisoned.” Oberon cracked his knuckles as a scarlet hue bled into his irises. “Perhaps we should all be let in on your family secrets.”
Lex abruptly stood from the table. “I think we should call a snack break before a fight erupts.” He pushed his chair in and skirted around to Lachlan. “Why don’t you show me where you hide that blue fae wine stuff. I need something strong to continue this meeting.”
With one more scathing glare, Lachlan stood, smoothing his onyx blazer before marching away with Lex on his heels.
Caleb rolled his shoulders and climbed to his feet, slipping his hand out of mine. “I’m going to find out what they’re talking about.” He studied me, his lips pursing. “Are you going to be okay by yourself?”
My brows slammed down. If he wasn’t so sincere, I’d punch him. “What do you think will happen within a few minutes?”
“Things tend to happen when I leave you alone, Rose Thorn.” He flashed that cocky grin. “You’re a magnet for trouble.”
I flipped him off. “We’ll see how much trouble I can conjure later when we’re alone.”
Caleb’s tongue flicked his lip ring. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Heat swept through my center. Hellfire and Hecate, the fae prince could make me combust without even touching me. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold off on completing the consort bond.
I stood and stretched, trying to shake off the lingering lust Caleb brewed in me. Cyria had disappeared outside, probably to do something evil, while the vampire twins whispered in the back of the room. Nisha stood at a table on the left, opening another bottle of pinot grigio.
I strode toward her, the scuff of my Doc Martens on the stone floor announcing my approach. “Are you going to help me get Asher out?”
Her vibrant blue demon eyes slowly lifted, and she released a long sigh. “Cyria warned me about this.”
“So, you’ll help me then?”
Nisha pulled the cork from the bottle with a resonating pop. “I am not getting involved with Lexie. She’s lost her mind, and I’d rather steer far away from that kind of crazy.”
“But he’s your brother.” I crossed my arms against my chest to keep from reaching out and smacking her. “Don’t you want to get him away from her?”
The interim demon queen poured a generous glass of wine. “Asher knew the consequences when he decided to help rescue you, and Cyria only did it to piss off Lexie. On the other hand, I have no intention of going anywhere near that witch.”
I gritted my teeth so hard they threatened to shatter into a fine dust. The death raker unfurled in my center, spreading shadows, but I shoved the hungry bitch back down. I didn’t want to prove Caleb right about causing trouble while he was gone. “How do you and Cyria know Ellexia?”
“We knew her when she was just a witch—before becoming obsessed with power.” Nisha took a deep sip of the pale golden wine. “She’s not the same person anymore, and I’d rather spend a decade stuck in the wastelands of the Underworld than five minutes in her presence.”
“Demons really aren’t big on family, are they?” Cyria even tortured me when she knew I was her niece.
Nisha gently patted my shoulder. “Asher will get himself out. Besides, he wouldn’t want you risking your life to save him, not when he’s tried so hard to save you.” She flicked her icy locks and sashayed back to the table with her glass of wine.
My fingers curled into tight fists as magic crackled on my palms. I’d have to go after my father alone then. Even though he abandoned me in the grand witch’s grasp, I wouldn’t do the same to him.
“I hope I never get on your bad side.” Lex approached the table and grabbed a bottle of lemon juice, squeezing it into his Frosthuckle wine. “This stuff is so sweet I might as well be drinking pure sugar.”
A grimace pulled at my lips. “I’ll have to agree with you there.”
“I heard about your brush with the grand witch in Illyria.” He flashed his charming smile that had most falling under his spell. “I’m glad to see you back in Nightworld and safe.”
“I’m glad to be back.”
Lex dropped a few ice cubes in his drink to further water it down. “What is Ellexia’s endgame? The war ended more than eleven years ago, and I find it odd that she hasn’t tried to retaliate against the fae. She must have a reason for keeping Lorcan alive and brainwashing him for so long.”
I grabbed a bottle of vodka and poured a few sips into a crystal tumbler to avoid his gaze. Out of all the
Nightworld leaders, I trusted him the most. He possessed fierce alpha energy, but he didn’t seem to have a power-hungry bone in his body. He was also against the flagrant killing of humans.
Should we allow Lex in on Ellexia’s search for the relics? He was the last person in Nightworld—any world—that would covet the power in the Conclave. If anything, he’d want to keep it from falling into anyone’s hands.
“Ellexia has a lot of secrets,” I said, swirling the clear liquid in my glass before taking a sip, the alcohol burning my throat. “And she’s not one to give up on a fight. Not until she wins.”
Lex’s finger touched my chin as he swiveled my head in his direction. “I just hope you don’t get pulled into anything again. I’d miss your pretty face around here.”
I bit my bottom lip as a blush swam into my cheeks. Shit. What was it about this guy that could turn the opposite sex into giggling idiots, even me? Was it some hypnotic shifter pheromone?
A line of fire zipped through my stomach moments before Caleb appeared by my side, plucking Lex’s finger off my chin.
“You should save your alpha shifter charm for someone else, Lex.” The prince’s smile was one of nightmares. “And keep your fingers to yourself unless you want them broken.”
I would have scolded Caleb and shoved him off if I didn’t feel the intense waves of jealousy flowing through him. He knew his behavior was irrational—borderline insane to threaten the head alpha—but he couldn’t stop himself.
Lex’s eyebrows rose, disappearing into the messy locks falling over his forehead. “We were only talking.” The alpha tilted his head and studied Caleb. “That’s interesting.”
The prince pulled me into him, the tumultuous storm calming a few levels as we touched. “What’s interesting?”
The shifter motioned his scarred finger between us. “This thing with you two. You’re acting like shifter mates.”
A strong consort bond was the closest thing to fated shifter mates.
“There was this magic ceremony thing.” I shrugged and sipped my vodka.
Lex scratched the thick shadow covering his jaw. “So a magical bond, but it’s not finished yet.”
“Not for lack of trying,” Caleb mumbled.
I elbowed him.
“Well, if it’s anything like shifter mates, you better get to finishing it because those emotions will run haywire.” Lex’s laugh rumbled the ground beneath my feet. “Don’t be surprised if you end up fighting other guys for even looking in her direction, or you might find yourselves trying to tear each other’s clothes off in the middle of a public setting.”
I swallowed thickly. Yep. I could definitely see the latter happening very soon.